It's been ten years since she's seen him and she can't shake the nerves that threaten to engulf her. Frankly, it pisses her off that he still has such a hold on her. It wasn't like he was all that. Stupid football shaped head and that plaid shirt hanging out from his pants. No matter what she said to him, no matter how mean she got, he never let it get to him. She lifts the ragged pile of poems she'd found last week after cleaning out her old bedroom. Ninety-five pages of verse devoted to a boy who probably hadn't thought about her in years.
“Helga, are you there?”
Helga buries the papers in her drawer as she hears Phoebe begin to climb the steps. “In here, Pheebs,” she calls, picking up her hairbrush and trying to tame the mess she'd made of it earlier.
“I can't believe how long it's been since I've been in this room!” Phoebe says as she walks through the door. “Helga, you're not ready yet?”
“Of course I'm not ready yet,” Helga snaps and then sighs, setting down her brush. “Are you sure he's going to be there?”
Phoebe looks at her and a soft, sad smile tugs at her lips. “I promise you he's going to be there and that he's coming alone. Gerald wouldn't lie to me.”
“I'm a mess,” Helga says, picking up the brush again.
“Here, let me,” Phoebe says as she crossed the room, taking the brush from Helga's lax fingers. “You're worrying over nothing. You look amazing, you're successful at your career, a career that has nothing to do with your father, by the way.”
“Pheebs, you don't have to,” Helga says even as she secretly preens at the recognition. It'd taken a hell of a lot, but she'd distanced herself from Big Bob and his amazing beepers, or whatever it was that he was selling when the semi had crossed the center line and demolished the BMW he and Miriam had been in.
“I do have to, it's the truth,” Phoebe said as she slowly began making a hairdo come out of the stick straight mess she'd started with. “You're a great catch.”
“Thanks, Phoebe,” Helga says, meeting her eyes in the mirror. “I don't know what I'd do without you.”
She spins around and it's like she's nine again, wearing that stupid pink dress her mother had loved so much and her hair up in pigtails. He smiles at her and she melts, her knees going weak and her stomach doing the rumba. “Arnold?”
His smile is wide, stretching nearly the width of his face. “Yeah, it's me.”
“You look...” She tilted her head, studying him. He was the same, but different. The same measured gaze, the same messy hair – albeit longer. His shirt wasn't untucked from his pants but overall, he was the same boy who'd made her heart beat faster and had her composing sonnet after sonnet. “The same,” she said softly.
“You look different,” he said, letting his gaze slide slowly down from her face. “Softer,” he said after he'd taken a slow but thorough perusal.
“I'm uh, sorry about your parents,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“It was sudden,” she said quickly, cringing even as the words came out of her mouth. “I mean, they didn't suffer.”
“I'm glad you're back,” he said suddenly, breaking the awkward silence that had sprung up. “I mean, well, I mean I'm glad to see you.”
Her heart thuds so hard in her chest that it feels like it's going to beat right out of her skin. “I'm... I'm glad to see you too,” she says slowly, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
“Do you want to go somewhere and catch up? Just you and me?”
Helga nods, the smile erupting fully across her mouth. She was wrong, it wasn't like when she was nine. It was now and it was perfection, the beginning of something she'd never thought would happen. As she meets Phoebe's gaze across the room, she waves before turning and following Arnold out of the crowded room.