Not exactly the ugly duckling

BY : DancingBear
Category: +G through L > Hey, Arnold!
Dragon prints: 4508
Disclaimer: I do not own Hey Arnold, nor any of the characters. I do not, and will not make any money from this story. (Original creator: Craig Bartlett)

 

The thing about Helga, was that she could have turned into the swan, but she just didn't want to.

By the time her class graduated from High School, she was the tallest girl in her year. 'All legs and scowl' her father said, sneering at her as he passed her on the stairs.

Things hadn't gotten better after school. Once beepers were obsolete, her father had turned his hand to cell phones. Then her mother died of pancreatic cancer. Not particularly surprising, seeing as the old lady had been pickling herself from the inside out for years. Helga was stillunearthing her mother's old vodka bottles from their various hiding places.

The house was dead now. It hadn't been that lively to begin with, but it was now a tomb. Helga could go days without seeing her father. And she preferred it that way. A mean, fat old man, that's all he was.

She was working at the local offices of a major cell phone provider, a job she had gotten by regurgitating her fathers cell-phone-salesman bullshit. She had started in reception, but had gradually worked her way up to being the PA to the general manager. As was the case with most admin staff, she knew the company inside out, and could have done her bosses job with her eyes shut. But management was as old-boys club, and Helga wasn't a boy.

On this particular Thursday night, Helga missed her bus. For once, the public transports service was on time, and she had stepped out of her offices buildings, only to see her bus go screaming down the street, feet from where she stood.

Shit. She thought to herself. If she hadn't spend those last few minutes putting together the projected sales for the next quarter…

Helga strode to the bus stop, and stood square in front of the timetable. Her shoulders were tense. She wasn't really busy, she wouldn't be missing anything by waiting at the bus stop for an extra twenty minutes… but she hated to feed inactive… she hated waiting.

She was a long girl. Her teen aged gangly-ness had grown into slim elegance. She was among the tallest in her office, much to the chagrin of her manager, who had to look up at her to put her down. She tried to compensate, to wear cuffed shirts, tucked into man-cut long pants, and she never, ever wore heels, but she was still all lithe limbs.

Muttering sourly beneath her breath, she balled her hands into fists. The next bus would take her a few blocks from her house. Perfect. She grinned her rather shark-like grin, and settled herself on the bench seat, scaring off a trio of young boys.

Half an hour later, Helga swore to herself as her stop went whizzing past her window. "Give me a god-damned break!" Stumbling to her feet, she pulled at the rope and pushed through a gaggle of school girls, just in time to leap out of the door. "Where the hell am I?"

She roved her eyes around the sentinel of tall, thin town houses, their faces closed off to the street with blinds and curtains. This street seemed familiar. Music poured out of the house opposite her, the only building where the curtains were open, and the dark silhouettes of individuals joined together to dance in front of the windows.

Cursing to herself, Helga shifted her black patent handbag from one shoulder to the other. She turned resolutely to where the bus had come from, and tried to get her bearings, when a faded mark in the concrete caught her eye.

Helg

Gera

Stin

Arno

A shock of recognition shivered through her. Helga bent down, her ballet flats popped off her heels. Her long fingers traced the letters, sluiced through wet cement more than a decade before. A new slab of concrete had been poured over the end of the names, but she could remember making her mark here, as clear as it was yesterday. Helga, Gerald, Stinky and Arnold.

"We were the ones that didn't have a home-time." The whisper wouldn't have been audible to anyone who didn't have their ear to Helga's lips, so no one heard. Turning her head back to the lit, lively house, she remembered who had lived there, and a little smile played across her lips. Football Head. A lot had changed in the street since then. The empty lot was now a new, white development. The weeds that had pushed up through the crack in the side walk were gone. The street had been re-sealed, the houses had been re-painted.

"Gee-zus!" Helga exclaimed to herself. With the cold understanding that can only be known to those who close themselves off from the world, Helga realized that she hadn't seen her old school friends for four years. She stood up, and tried to shake the strangely fuzzy feeling of nostalgia from her head. Stalking a few meters yards to the closest bench, she slumped into the seat, let her head fall against the hard wood, ignored the people walking past her. On a whim, she snaked her hand into her bag and pulled out her cell-phone. Without even looking, she dialled a number, and held her breath until the call was answered.

"Helga?" The voice was soft, high.

"Oh, hey, Phoebe! Uh…" There was a long, awkward pause. Helga cringed inwardly. This is why she didn't try to keep in contact with people. It was always so forced.

"God, Helga! It's so good to hear from you! What are you doing? Are you in town or something?" Helga's heart pulsed as she heard the enthusiasm in Phoebe's voice.

"No, no. Nothing like that." She couldn't help but feel disappointed. She suddenly felt like company. "But I caught the wrong bus tonight, and ended up in front of Arnold's old place. Remember, just up the block from the lot?"

"OhMyGodYes!" Phoebe was breathless. Was it really that strange that Helga was calling? I mean, they were supposed to be best friends, weren't they?

"Yeah, well, I suppose I just got all nostalgic or something?"

"Oh, Helga! Have Gerald and those guys been in touch? We're all trying to get back for summer! There's supposed to be a big party at Arnold's house next week! It's going to be amazing! Won't it be exciting? Seeing everyone again?" Phoebe was gushing, her small voice animated with anticipation.

Helga's stomach dropped. No one had contacted her about any kind of reunion. "Uh. Yeah. Well, I've heard about it, obviously. But I might be out of town, for work. Not sure if I can go…"

Helga could hear Phoebe's breath catch at the other end of the line. "Oh. Well. I hope you can make it. Could you try get out of work? Take a sick day or something? It wouldn't be the same without you."

College had changed Phoebe. She was more… verbose than she had been. "I'll try. But you know it is…" Bull. Phoebe had no idea how itwas.

There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Disappointment radiated through the phone. "Okay. Well, I better go, I was just on my way out when you rang. I hope you can come next week. But even if you don't, I'll catch up with you, okay?"

Helga muttered a half hearted response. She would rather be forgotten about than be pitied. "Miss you." The declaration was so low that Helga barely caught it. Suddenly, all of her negative feelings dropped away, and she only felt love towards her oldest friend.

"Yeah, Me too." She sighed, and dropped her head forward. "Seeya, Phoebe." She mumbled, and snapped her phone shut.

"God-damn-it" she whispered and closed her eyes. Loneliness, an emotion that Helga normally stubbornly refused to acknowledge, settled down onto her. It was a Thursday night, the unofficial start of the weekend. Most of the people from her office would be at the pub across the road from work, but no one ever bothered to invite her any more. She hated most of the people she worked with, why did they assume she wanted to spend time with them voluntarily?

A few week rays of evening sun slanted onto her face from between the buildings. She could hear the music coming from Arnold's old house. She hadn't heard that his family had moved from there, but then again, she hadn't heard anything about anyone in a long time. There was going to be a party, at Arnold's house. Butterflies tickled her stomach just thinking about it. She could go, there was no work trip keeping her from seeing all of her old school friends.

Arnold's house. Arnold. She hadn't consciously thought about him in years. She dreamt of him, every now and then, and sometimes caught herself picking out his features in the faces of others. But her massive school-girl crush had dissipated years ago. She smirked to herself, how did she even get that old photo of him that she used to carry around? Probably through some faintly psychotic means. She sighed, slouching further down onto the bench as a cool breeze whipped down the street.

Arnold, with his blonde spiky hair and round blue eyes. Was it him or Gerald that she used to call 'Hair Boy'? She couldn't really remember any more. She tried to remember the last time that she had seen him. Probably at the graduation party, but she couldn't recall exactly. She started as the cell phone in her hands burst into life. Glaring at the little screen, she groaned. "Great."

"Yeah?" Irritation coloured her voice. "I don't know… No… Well, I don't feel like cooking… You're a big boy, heat up some of that chicken curry from last night… Jesus Bob, it's just garlic, it won't kill you!" Tension crawled up her back as her needy, pathetic father grumbled at her over the phone. She closed here eyes, and moved her hand to press her fingers hard against her forehead. "Look, I'm going out tonight. I'll be back later, okay? Just get some takeaways if you don't want the curry… Yeah, bye." She clamped her phone shut and slumped forward a bit, her shoulders hunched around her ears.

Now she was stuck, she couldn't go home for a few hours without her father pressing her to feed him, but she had nowhere to go. Maybe she should see if the old theatre was still open, go see a movie. She could almost smell it, the warm, buttery popcorn and the leather seats. She hadn't seen anything advertised recently that appealed, but there was bound to be some subtitled arty film showing that could keep her distracted for a few hours.

But what would she do if the theatre had been shut down, like they had tried to do over a decade ago? Should she catch another bus back into town and see a movie out there? She was debating her options, when she vaguely registered that someone had stopped behind her. She screwed her eyes shut tighter, hoping that whoever they were, they would just keep walking. She heard soft footsteps move around to the side of the bench, and there was a pause before a quiet, husky voice said her name.

"Helga?"

Her head jerked up. She probably shouldn't have been surprised that someone here recognized her, after all, she had lived on this block for the first fourteen years of her life. But she just gaped up at the guy standing over her, a shock of blonde hair falling into his eyes, which he pushed back with long fingers as he gazed down at her. Slowly, Helga realized that she was staring, and straightened her shoulders to acknowledge him.

"Arnold?"



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