Author's note: I don't feel like all of this actually "sounds" like Phoebe. Maybe I just couldn't find my inner Phoebe or something. So if you feel like the way she thinks doesn't fit her, I apologize. You're not the only one. Perhaps in the future this will be revised, but for now I can't seem to adjust that aspect. I still like the story even if it's not 100% satisfactory, so that's why I'm still posting it. Doing so might encourage helpful reviews with suggestions of how to "sound more like Phoebe" anyway. * wink wink * Story inspired by the song "Made of Steel" by Our Lady Peace.
Helga's family doesn't do many … shall we say, family activities together. I know very well how distant both of her parents are. She's complained about it to me, the situation is often mentioned through her sarcastic outbursts, and I've even seen it in action. However, occasionally her father has strange ideas for ways for the family to bond, at least when Helga's older sister Olga isn't around. Sometimes Mr. Pataki feels the urge to spend "quantity time" with Helga and her mother. I believe the word he meant was "quality time", but sometimes that grammatical error seems more appropriate.
This time, Mr. Pataki decided to go on a road trip. I admit it didn't seem very family-oriented, as all of the locations were ones only he seemed interested in, like both baseball and football halls of fame. Helga, of course, was extremely reluctant to go. I was not surprised when she pleaded with me to accompany her on the trip. Her parents have never minded my presence, and my parents agreed since it was during spring break and I wouldn't miss anything important except for some private instrument lessons. Such things can be rescheduled quite easily although I was a bit hesitant about missing them at first. However, I felt it was more fitting to provide support for my best friend when she needed it.
I always make myself available for Helga, when she asks for it. I must admit that she does this quite often, and sometimes it is not so much asking as demanding, but I don't mind. It may seem as though she never does the same for me but the matter is simply that I hardly ever have need to ask something of her in return. I am content to give what I may and receive a lesser kindness in return.
No, that seems too harsh. It's not that Helga is unkind, it's that she doesn't quite know how to show kindness. Her growth in her particular environment has conditioned her to push kindness down. She has learned strength is needed to survive, so that's what she shows. She is strong. It can just be misinterpreted as coldhearted. But for those of us who believe know her well enough – and that is a very small number of individuals – we see that showing outward affection is simply more difficult for her than for the average person. I know not to hold that against her, even when I am tempted to abandon my patience.
So whatever she needs of me, I try to provide. It's a challenging task but someone has to live up to it and I feel accomplished for my chance at that effort. When I do get to see her smile and I know it's due, directly or indirectly, to me, it brings me happiness. So I also admit that I don't do these things entirely for Helga's benefit, but my own as well. That's simply human nature.
I was happy to favor Helga's wish and so I sat for many long miles next to her in the backseat of her family's car. I remember at one point when our conversations had been exhausted and I pulled out a novel while she produced a little pink book. I've seen her write in this and other little books, although I have never read the contents. Of course I am curious as to what exactly she scribbles so fervently about but I know better than to bother her about it. If she wanted me to see, she would show me.
She was writing one page particularly slowly, I noted. The slowed scratching of her pen and the long silences prompted me to look up. Because my attention was so divided, I saw her suddenly rip out the page and toss it, annoyed, to the floor of the car and then turn back to her work. I watched as the crumpled ball, still moving with the force of her throw and also jostled by the movement of the car on the winding road, came to a rest not far from my feet. Curiosity nagged at me to pick it up and read it, but I quelled the urge and returned to my book.
We had stopped at a restaurant not long after that and got dinner. Mr. Pataki announced that we would be staying at a nearby hotel that night not far from the restaurant and warned us not to get too comfortable in the car again because he didn't want to carry any more things than he had to. I am glad I'm conservative and a light packer. It seemed like Helga was always bringing more than she ever needed, but I wouldn't tell her that.
When we returned to the car, I saw the paper ball that I had forgotten about during dinner. Automatically I picked it up and smoothed it out to scan over the contents. Curiosity acted before I could stop myself, and being a fast reader I saw nearly everything on the page. I must have let out a small gasp because Helga was suddenly leaning towards me to see what was in my hands, and then she let out a small yelp. She quickly tore the paper from my grasp, but I had already seen most of what was written on the paper.
It was a poetic piece of prose that seemed forged in the depths of Helga's soul. Through it she was venting out just how bad things were with her parents. I had always known it wasn't a good relationship but with that bit of writing she created a more vivid image than I could have guessed, of the pain and frustration she felt every day. She spilled out her never-ending hope that a certain boy, Arnold, would come to her rescue one day. I had guessed that she had a crush on him long ago. I may be near-sighted, but I am far from blind and certainly not ignorant. I had pieced it all together from her odd behavior, her excuses, her slip-ups, and her hypothetical questions. But I had never seen it clearly stated, nor did I quite know the full extent of her infatuation.
I looked up at her horrified, pleading, embarrassed eyes and smiled softly. I then reached out and held her hand, quietly stating, "It's quite all right, Helga. I understand. That's what being a best friend means."
She smiled back. Just the smallest curve of her mouth, but I knew her by now, and it was enough. I looked thoughtfully at this girl who was my best friend. In truth, I was a bit uncomfortable with the fact that she couldn't tell me everything she could write on a paper. I wanted her to trust me more than that. I could be patient with what I got from her, but that wouldn't stop me from wanting more. I wanted to be a true best friend and have one in return.
I looked down at that tattered sheet of paper and then back up at Helga. I tried my best to express myself through my gaze. For once I didn't know how to put anything into words. Normally I have a sufficient vocabulary to express myself, but now it seemed beyond my ability to state my intentions directly, here in the back of the Pataki's car, her parents inches in front of us (no matter how little attention they paid the two of us).
I tried to say it all through my eyes as she looked back at me. I remembered the words on the paper. Helga, I know you want a hero in your life. I know it's a boy – which I certainly am not – and you pine for him constantly. I know you suffer with your want for better things. A better family, a better personality, a better life. I know you want that hero tonight. I am not that hero. I'm not strong, like the steel you make yourself into so easily for the outside world to see. But I can assure you that I will always be here, your best friend. These secrets are safe with me. These secrets, and every other.
We shared a moment of just staring at each other, coming to an understanding. I knew that tonight after her parents had fallen asleep, there would be quiet conversing between the two of us as we became best friends.