She thought the night sky was playing tricks on her. She blinked rapidly at first, then slowly, letting her eyes adjust. Nothing worked. There was too much darkness, and too few tiny pinpricks of light for her eyes to focus. And when trying to focus began to make her headache, she sat up and stretched her stiff muscles.
"Where are you going?" came the sleepy voice next to her. She tried to pretend. Tried to lay down and look equally sleepy. But sleep evaded her. She wasn't tired, anyway.
"Nowhere. Go back to sleep." she replied, trying to keep her tone soft. Harsh tones came easier to Helga. Like an old pair of shoes with a hole in the side. All comfort, no work. Bur, she was told (more times than she would have liked to) that she had to be "strong, for him", and she surmised that part of that meant being less abrasive and more accommodating.
"You should head home, and get some rest." he told her, barely fighting off his own yawn. Needless to say, Arnold looked worse for the wear. Mussed hair, red eyes, and now, the seam of his shirt left an interesting pink pattern across his face where he fell asleep on his arm. "Your dad will be worried."
Helga shook her head and waved off the comment. "He'll understand." The silence was greater now that he was awake. After the two left the hospice center, and Arnold proposed going back to the boarding house, Helga thought it would be so that they could sit in his family room (like always), surrounded by framed photos of his family, and the members of the boarding house milling around, trying not to look nervous or sad. She thought that, maybe he's pull one of those old albums from a shelf and show him pictures of his grandparents as kids, or something familial and nostalgic like that. She'd only seen them once or twice. It would have been nice to hear the story of his grandparents first date again.
When he suggested that they retire to the roof, she was half relieved, half scared. People in…his situation usually didn't go to roofs to do anything smart. But Arnold was smart. She trusted that, even if she fell asleep, even if she failed to be strong for him for one moment, he wouldn't do anything crazy.
And he didn't. First, he asked her to talk to him About anything. She was quiet at first. She didn't want to talk about anything that made her too happy…an idea for a story or poem, a coworker who finally got their comeuppance for finding ways to not work, even the series finale of her favorite science fiction show that aired the night before. If she sounded too…cheerful about anything, she didn't want him tot think she forgot his pain. That it no longer mattered to her once the Hillcrest Hospice Center was in her rear view mirror.
After much imploring, she opened up. He asked he to describe the day that they met. Once, when they first started dating, she tried telling him about the rain outside Urban Tots, his comment about her hair, and Harold's food larceny, even then. And much to her chagrin, he didn't remember it quite so vividly. He remembered her, but not complimenting her pants, he remembered her jumping on Harold's large belly, but not why. Her attention to detail, though appreciated, was not reciprocated. So, she recounted other days in their life, most of them embarrassing to one or both of them. The gentle squeeze of his hand over hers spurred her on.
When she ran out of stories, she quoted movies. Some of his favorite, and some of hers that he'd never seen. Then she read. She read to him books she all but memorized, and the ones she didn't, she just explained. Reading, even if by memory, turned into half-hearted singing. Not the foolish pop ballads she head on the radio in the mornings, but songs she made up. She sang him a song about Superman and Lois Lane having a picnic, and Lois forgetting the potato salad in the fridge. It was the first time he heard her laugh since that morning.
Since before the hospice care nurse noticed his grandmothers shallow breathing and cold fingers.
"Do you know what tomorrow is?" Arnold asked, as Helga started picking at the rubble on the roof.
"The eighteenth." she said. She knew why they asked. Sentimentalist, Helga Pataki was not, but, every night he'd call her and ask, "Do you know what tomorrow is?", and she couldn't find it in herself to pretend that she wasn't counting too.
"One month." he said, sighing. "Where did the time go?"
Helga nodded silently. She couldn't tell if he was counting down for her or lamenting about how much time they should have had left.
"Don't feel bad."
Helga looked over her shoulder at Arnold, still on his back with his hands behind his head. He looked up at the sky, having a better time focusing on it than she.
"Feel bad about what?' Arnold was always better at hiding his emotions. She would never have admitted to it years ago, maybe because she had to do it more often. But these days, he was a pro. She only saw him break down once all day, when the physician said what was happening to his grandmother was "natural".
"Don't feel bad that…she won't get to see you in your wedding dress."
'So much for being strong for him…' she thought, quickly turning around so he wouldn't see her face getting flushed and her eyes getting dewy. 'Damn…' she thought, as she heard him moving behind her. When he tried to put an arm around her shoulders to draw her in she gently pushed him off. "Hey! Cut that out. I'm supposed to be comforting you."
Accustomed to Helga's instinct for fortifying the walls that made up so much of her life, Arnold resumed his comforting gesture and brought her head to his shoulder. He could tell she wasn't crying, at least not hard enough to make it obvious. And as much as she wanted to be his rock, something about holding her, having someone he loved so much so close to him, and warm and alive made the pain easier to bear. He rubbed her back until she started to squirm, and smiled that after three years of dating and 133 days of engagement, she still wasn't used to being held for too long.
"Are you sleepy?" he asked, motioning toward the blanket and pillow they dragged up to the roof.
Helga shook her head but laid down anyway, tucking her forehead under Arnolds chin. The night sky was still as dark as before, but instead of focusing on all the tiny dots she wasn't even sure were there, she gazed intently at a few twinkling lights, glistening in silent harmony.
When Arnold began to hum, her forehead at Arnold's throat made the melody clear as day. And as she fell asleep, the familiar old tune reverberated in her head.
"When you're feeling under the weather,
And the dark clouds are getting to you…
Keep your troubles light as a feather,
And soon you'll be seeing a bright patch of blue, you…
Gotta look up, you gotta be storng, you gotta take things as they come.
'Cause everything new that happens to you is better when you
A/N: So…I guess I owe you guys an explanation? Of course, I've only been on an entirely unannounced hiatus for…2 years now. Yikes. Okay, first things first: I'm so sorry. I hate to blame it on life, but when it hits you, it hits you. If only I could be 14 again and update my fics monthly. Boo. I can hardly pay my bills monthly.
Also, big update in the world of PO…I'm engaged! Yeah! Its amazing. This fic is actually dedicated to my fiance, Richard, whom I love more than anybody on the face of the earth. When we started dating his grandmother (also for whom this was written), was on remission from her 4th battle against cancer (Breast, Lung, other Lung, Brain, in that order) and one of the things that I remember from our earlier dates is that his grandmother and my car have the same name. I'll reveal what it is at the end of my insanely long authors note. About a year ago, the cancer in her brain returned, with a vengeance and bearing the word no one wants to hear EVER: terminal.
So, the fic you just read is about my day today, or yesterday, July 17th. She was rushed to a Hospice Care Facility with not much time left and by the time this is posted, she may already be gone. It's been an emotionally taxing day for the whole family, and I've been getting a lot of advice to just stay strong for him, which is actually really hard when you feel like crying all the time. SO, this is how I stay strong. I write. What you just read is almost verbatim to the conversation I had with Richard only a few hours ago. This just helps me. I had to get it out, and I did and I'm still sad (typing the lyrics to "Look Up" took a lot out of me), but I'm getting through this. So now I really can be strong for him. Oh, and we really are a month away from our wedding, and I really did bring my dress over to the house so she could see me in in, but she wasn't feeling well. And I really did make up a song about Auperman and Lois Lane having a picnic (he's a comic book nerd, so it made him smile).
Oh, and back in high school, when The Compromise was horrible (it still kind of is! Shhhh!), I inherited my sister's car, a dark blue Hyundai Elantra. I named her Geraldine, after my favorite character's middle name. Five years later I met an amazing guy whose grandmother's name is also Geraldine. And now, I've written a fic about a girl, (middle) named Geraldine in honor of my real life Geraldine.