1. Continue to live or exist, esp. in spite of danger or hardship
2. Remain alive after the death of (a particular person)
3. Manage to keep going in difficult circumstances
For as long as she can remember, Helga G. Pataki has considered her life a fight for survival.
She learned early on that she didn’t need anyone else in order to embrace and adapt to life’s daily challenges. It was easier for her to rely only upon herself. When things actually worked out in her favor, Helga was pleasantly surprised. And of course these situations fell few and far between.
Throughout her life she embraced this philosophy and continued to persevere on her own, pushing away others as a defense mechanism and trusting only a short few. This number grew as she got older. By age nine she had Phoebe Heyerdahl as her best friend, which in turn gave her confidence to embrace other relationships as she got older.
But only one thing remained consistent throughout Helga’s life -- the only person she knows she can rely upon is herself.
The life that Helga leads at twenty-two is so different than the life she imagined for herself at ages nine, twelve, and sixteen.
She’s 3,500 miles away from home, living on her own and doing what she does best: surviving.
It’s a phone call on a random Friday evening in July that brings her past into her present.
Helga is putting the finishing touches on her hair and make-up as she gets ready to join her coworkers at the Wishing Well - her favorite dive bar in the city. She’s humming the last stanza of The Burning Reason’s latest hit (“Douchebag Petting Zoo”) as she does her best to quell her excitement about seeing them on the stage tonight. But her good mood is shattered when her phone rings and the caller ID flashes up with her sister’s name.
“Criminy Olga,” says answering the phone in haste. “This had better be important because my ride is almost here.”
There’s a moment of silence on the other end but Helga can hear heavy breathing. “Hello Helga...”
Olga’s voice is as pleasant as usual, but something is different in the tone. It’s almost difficult for Helga to hear her sister on the other line and Helga wonders if she’s winded from running to the phone or if there’s a substantial amount of background noise interfering. Helga checks her watch again to see how much time she has left before Michelle arrives to pick her up for the concert.
“What do you want?”
“It’s Dad --” she hears Olga say.
Helga’s eyebrow rises as her curiosity is piqued. Olga’s phone calls and emails are few and far between, usually only if there’s important information to pass along about the family - such as their mother’s progression through Alcoholics Anonymous - or to remind her about familial birthdays. Was this another lame attempt to convince Helga come home for Big Bob’s 60th birthday next week?
“He had a heart attack, Helga.”
A shiver runs down Helga’s spine. She’s barely able to mutter, “And?”
“He died... about fifteen minutes ago.”
Helga feels the blood drain from her face and is unable to move because it feels like someone has punched her in the gut. Her fingers loosen their grip on her cell phone and she barely catches it before it falls to the floor.
Big Bob is dead.
And her whole world is about to change.
She lets out a deep sigh and puts the phone back to her ear. Olga’s voice, while soft, asks if she’s still there. Helga just simply gives a “hmm-mmm” in response.
“The service is on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Holy Trinity with Father Jones.” Olga pauses for a second, catching her breath and speaks in her familiar dreamy tone. “Helga, his one regret was not seeing you one last time. I hope you can make it, baby sister --”
“I’m not in the mood for a guilt trip.”
Helga ends the call and turns of her cell phone, placing it gently on her desk, then takes two steps backward before collapsing on her bed. She turns her attention toward her dresser where she has her purse and tickets for The Burning Reason show, then back to her closet where she sees the two purple suitcases she packed all of her belongings in when she moved out for years ago.
She grabs a pillow from the bed and throws it at the wall.
Helga knows she could only run away for so long before her past caught up with her.
She’s got a 3,500 mile journey to pack for.
Two days later Helga finds herself riding in the back of a Super Shuttle en route to her childhood home. She pulls her iPod out of her purse and puts both ear buds in her ears in an attempt to dissuade the other passengers from engaging in idle chit-chat.
Helga is simply not in the mood to deal with people.
She stares at the cityscape through the van’s window and the music plays like a soundtrack for her journey; she realizes with each song that she’s approaching the last place she clearly wants to be right now. As each passenger disembarks from the van at their final destinations, she feels herself sinking lower into the seat.
When the Super Shuttle pulls up at the Pataki home, the bright green door and cement steps look the same to her as they did the day she left. Suddenly Helga G. Pataki feels like she’s nine years old again.
The driver helps her with her bags while she looks around and wonders if she’s living one of the novels she read in her college literature class.
"Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home,” Helga thinks as she tips the driver before turning around to face the green door. She lets out a deep sigh. “But here I am.”
Her hands wrap around the two purple rolling suitcases and she awkwardly begins her ascent up the stairs. Of course it would be easier to lift them one-by-one; she’s not looking for easy. Because she knows that behind that door is a scenario she’s not ready to handle.
Helga hesitates for a moment as she begins to raise her hand to knock on the door, uncertain if she’s ready to enter the house; she is surprised when Olga opens the door and almost knocks her over with a huge hug.
“Baby sister, I’m so glad you came home!” she says as she wraps her arms tighter around Helga. “I saw the shuttle drop you off and ---”
“Criminy, Olga... I get it. I get it,” Helga says as she tries to push her sister off of her. Olga finally catches the hint and lets go. “I’ve had a really long day with the flight and I was hoping to get settled before we got all touchy-feely.”
Olga frowns. “Of course,” she says, backing out of the doorway to give Helga space to enter the house. “When you’re ready, we’ll be in the living room.”
Before Helga can open her mouth, her sister turns around back to the crowd of people consoling their mother, ready to take center stage as usual. “Christ, you can’t even help me lug one of these suitcases up the stairs? Don’t want to ruin your perfect manicure, do you, dear sister?”
Helga catches the attention of a few ladies in the living room and gives a polite wave before grabbing her two suitcases and lugging them up to her old room.
Opening the door to her old bedroom is like opening a time capsule to when she was 18 - it’s just the way that she remembers last seeing it.
“ And it smells like it hasn’t been aired out in four years either ,” Helga thinks as she drags the suitcases into her room.
Once she closes the door behind her, Helga feels like she’s transported back to her senior year of high school. She walks around the room and takes in her surroundings, trying to remember the girl she left behind and how different she was from the woman she has become.
A group of picture frames on her dresser catch her attention. She slowly approaches and glances at each one -- all from her time during high school. Phoebe and Helga on the first day of freshman year in front of Phoebe’s house; Rhonda, Nadine, Helga and Phoebe smiling at the camera during lunch; Sadie Hawkins with Gerald, Phoebe, and Arnold...
Her stomach sinks as she picks up the picture and looks at it closer. It was their first date as an official couple, when Helga finally got the nerve to progress their friendship to a relationship. he didn’t say anything until their junior year of high school, when, under the guise of hanging out with their best friends, their comfortable friendship morphed into a romantic one.
Helga places the picture back on the dresser and scans the room slowly, her eyes zeroing in on her most precious secret.
Her darkest secrets hidden behind the door.
Helga sprints across the room and throws open the door, pushing back the clothes hanging on the front rack and walks slowly to the very back of the closet, where her shrines to Arnold were once housed. She thinks back to her childhood and smiles, remembering her preoccupation of having the right amount of bubblegum for her first sculpture.
As she grew up, she became less obvious with her obsession with Arnold, and she packaged away some of her more incriminating evidence. A cardboard box catches her attention from the corner of the closet and she walks over to it to sneak a peek.
While she bends over and kneels down to the floor, she recognizes her handwriting - when she was in her cursive phase with the little circles over the i’s. She reads the text --- When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things.
She peels back the tape slowly to avoid damaging the integrity of the box, then lifts the flaps to reveal what she tried to bury deep. A few of Arnold’s sweaters and blankets line the top of the box, but she digs deeper and all of the memories come back to her. The Sadie Hawkins dance ticket; the dried corsage from their senior prom; the stuffed animal he won her at the school carnival...
She starts to feel a tear or two well up as she thinks back to her times with Arnold. It’s too much to handle, especially when her real purpose is to be with her family after her father’s death. But it’s difficult to focus on that as she drops the items in her hands and props herself up to leave her closet.
Some wounds, no matter how deep, never heal.
And what Helga chooses to do what she usually does when things get too hard ... she runs away.
1. to depart quickly; take to flight; flee or escape
2. to have recourse for aid, support, or comfort
3. to make a quick trip or informal visit for a short stay at aplace
“ The next time I leave for fresh air, I’ll remember to bring my jacket , ” Helga thinks as she rounds the street corner and heads down towards her old elementary school. She brings her hands to her arms as she lightly rubs away the goosebumps - uncertain if it’s a defense mechanism as her legs carry her closer to her old stomping grounds or if she’s simply just cold.
The autumn air feels crisp against her skin and for the first time in several hours, she feels like she can actually breathe. Helga rubs her bare shoulders are few more times, picking up her pace as she tries to warm up her body - and doing her best to not face-plant in her heels.
She wonders why she didn’t bother to change her before she left for her walk, still dressed for California’s version of Fall. She supposes it was easier for her to walk through Hillwood when she was a teenager, before she left and hadn’t been introduced to actually dressing like a young woman. Her college roommate, Michelle, had been the one to pluck away the uni-brow and trade in Helga’s converse sneakers for heels and frumpy dresses for more form-fitting jeans and blouses. Helga protested at first, but welcomed the change as the first step in creating a new life for herself.
But as she passes the empty lot where her she played baseball with her friends and looks across the street and sees the diner where Phoebe, Rhonda and the other girls would gather after class once a week to study for their Spanish vocabulary tests, she ponders for a moment why she even left at all.
Helga crosses the street and starts heading north on Vine Street before she realizes where her legs have taken her. She hadn’t planned on going this far north when she left home, but it seemed inevitable that she would eventually end up here.
It seems all streets in Hillwood lead to the Sunset Arms boarding house.
She recognizes the building in a heartbeat; the bright green door and orange paint. A man sweeps the steps that she used to spend her summer nights with Arnold, looking at the stars.
“Oh great!” she thinks. “You went on this walk to clear your head, and the first place you run to is Arnold’s old house?”
Helga takes two steps backwards in hopes that the man won’t see her, but her right heel catches a crack in the cement and she loses her footing, falling to the ground before she can catch herself.
The man halts his sweeping as he turns around to see what happened. And when Helga sees him straight on, she’d recognize that face anywhere...
“Oh boy, as if this day couldn’t get any worse...” she thinks as Arnold drops the broom on the steps and walks over. She can see him closer now as he stands over her - no longer the skinny teenager she remembers, but a grown man.
She opens her mouth to speak but cannot find the words to even greet her ex-boyfriend. It’s a fabulous first impression after not seeing him in four years - fallen on the cement and unable to speak.
“Helga?” he asks, taking a few steps back and giving Helga plenty of space to stand up. She holds out her hand but he shakes his head.
“Not going to help me up? Guess chivalry really is dead,” she snips while brushing herself off and making sure her heel didn’t break when she lost her footing.
She follows Arnold back to the steps where he sits down, but not before he removes a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. He smacks the carton around in his hands a few times before pulling one out. He gently lays the pack on the stairs, then reaches back into his shirt pocket with his free hand for his lighter - putting the cigarette into his mouth and lighting it up. Helga sits down next to him as he takes in a breath and exhales; smoke fills her nostrils and she begins to relax a little.
She watches him repeat the inhale and exhale of smoke before he finally glances at her, offering the cigarette to share but she politely refuses.
“When did you start smoking?” she asks, a bit puzzled.
“When did you quit ?” he asks before taking another drag.
She gives an awkward laugh but Arnold’s face hasn’t changed. His barriers are still up and he’s strangely calm, which makes Helga feel more uncomfortable.
“Helga,” he begins, pausing for a moment before looking directly at her, his eyes stone cold. “I think we often do things that are harmful for us because at the time they feel good.”
The words sting. Right away, Helga knows that he’s not just talking about the cigarettes. It’s about her. And deep down, Helga knows that Arnold is right. She knows that what she did to him was a completely selfish move, and she has spent the last four years justifying her actions, trying to tell herself that they were in her best interest.
“Arnold... I...” She hesitates for a moment, but takes a deep breath and finally comes clean. “I had to go. There was no other choice.”
This time, it’s Arnold who looks surprised. His eyebrow rises and he glares at her. His fingers clench around his cigarette.
“No other choice?” he asks. “Helga, do you even remember what happened? You ran off to California the day after graduation without a reason or explanation--”
“-- I wrote you a note. It was on your--”
“Nightstand. Yeah, I got it, but it still doesn’t explain why you left.”
And then it dawns on Helga what Arnold is actually trying to say. He’s not upset about her leaving for college early. It’s more that she left him behind.
“Look I really don’t have time for this right now.” She looks at Arnold and sees a mixture of anger and hurt in his eyes. Oh yes, she knows she royally fucked this conversation up.
And for the second time that afternoon, Helga does the one thing she does when a situation gets to be too difficult ... she runs away.
The funeral service is uncomfortable to sit through.
Helga isn’t sure iif it’s her inability to handle the death of her father or the fact that everyone describes him as a man she doesn’t recognize that makes it so hard to believe that this is actually happening. Nearly the entire community of Hillwood comes to Holy Trinity to pay their final respects and to share stories to remember the man.
Stories and experiences that Helga would deem as lies had they been shared under any other setting.
Helga knows what Bob was like behind closed doors - when he would come home after a long day at the store and would toss aside his businessman facade and show his true colors. He would dote on Olga and praise her for her accomplishment of the day and he’d yell at his wife about something she forgot to do or did incorrectly because she drank herself into yet another stupor. Helga knew at an early age that this destructive cycle would repeat itself until the one day she came home after school in seventh grade and found her mother face-down in a puddle of her own vomit, nearly choking to death. That afternoon was her mother’s wake-up call to finally get help, but also for Helga to open her eyes and realize that Bob’s praise and approval didn’t deserve the value she’d always given it.
It’s Olga that finds Helga as she exits the women’s restroom.
“There you are - we were worried about you,” Olga says as she runs toward Helga and puts her arm around her. “Are you feeling okay?”
Helga shrugs and does her best to wiggle out of Olga’s grasp. “I’m fair to partly cloudy...”
“I wanted to let you know that we’re heading out to the car.” Olga points to her mother who is still being greeted by community members expressing their deepest sympathies. “Her sponsor recommended that we get her home before she becomes too upset.”
“I appreciate the offer but I think I want to hang around here a little bit longer before heading home,” Helga says. She looks at her watch then eyes the last group of people saying their goodbyes and talking about the service. “I’ll take the bus back to the house in a little while.”
Olga nods then walks back to their mother, not pressing the issue any further. Helga is grateful that once again Olga wants to be the perfect doting daughter and leaves Helga to her own devices.
The church is empty, save for the casket at the front of the room. The black 18-gage steel of the casket catches the reflection of the candles on the edges of the aisles and Helga wonders if it’s morbid to think that it’s actually quite pretty. She approaches the casket with caution. It’s much more difficult to do now that Big Bob is actually inside the casket than it was when she went with Miriam and Olga to pick it out from the funeral parlor earlier that week.
It dawns on her that it’s the first time since she left Hillwood that Helga has seen her father.
“Well, old man, you finally got your wish. I’m home,” Helga says as she looks over the casket. She sees Bob laying there at peace and wonders if this is the first time she’s ever seen him so relaxed. She had to give the morticians credit for removing the permanent scowl on his face.
“It was Olga who called me and broke the news about your heart attack. I immediately thought that you were trying to find a way for me to come home because I ignored your other requests and schemes,” she explains as she lets out a sigh. “Though I guess in a way you won because I’m here. I’m fucking home.”
She raises her hand and pokes Bob’s body with her finger, his body cool to the touch and his expression unchanging. Yep. He’s really gone.
“All I could think about on the plane ride was what I would say to you. I had a speech all worked out in my head. But here I am and all I can think about is why things happened the way they did. Why did you feel like I was never good enough? Why did you always compare me to Olga?
“The truth is, I’m not Olga and I will never be her. And yeah, there were times where you and Miriam tried to acknowledge my accomplishments, but it felt like I would never be good enough in your eyes. You would always find some lame ass fault. If I won an award it wasn’t special because Olga probably won it first. Or if I placed second, you would be mad at me because it wasn’t first.
“I left because of you! I only came back to home to see if you were callous enough to plot your own death to get me to come back. You know, most kids don’t have to go to therapy in high school to realize they’re a decent person who is capable of being loved...” Helga feels the tears well up in her eyes as she pauses her rant.
“I hate the fact that this is the first time you’re actually letting me talk and you’re listening. Except you’re not listening; you’re laying here dead in a casket because you never took care of yourself. I just...” She hesitates for a moment, pushing back her pain and frustration. “I just hope that wherever you are, you’re finally at peace and you understand that what I did wasn’t to spite you or whatever. I moved away for me because I had to break free. I couldn’t be Olga’s younger sister or Bob’s failure of a daughter anymore.”
She wipes the tears from her eyes and takes a deep breath. “But I’m stronger because of how I was raised. I just wanted you to know that no one will ever get one over on Helga G. Pataki.”
She lets out a long sigh and turns around to head out of the church, only to find a familiar face staring at her.
“What are you doing here?” Helga says, doing her best to regain her composure. “Is crashing funerals your new hobby? Or are you trying to make me feel worse after yesterday’s conversation?”
Arnold shrugs and walks closer to her - they meet in the middle of the aisle. “Perhaps,” he says. “But that was before I realized why you came back to Hillwood.”
Helga just stares.
“The way I talked to you yesterday... I was hurt,” he says, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “But then I read in the paper about Robert Pataki’s funeral service. I’m really sorry, Helga.”
Her emotional barriers start to retreat a little bit as her face relaxes. She looks at Arnold for a moment, meeting his gaze and they don’t say anything to one another for a couple of moments until Arnold breaks the ice.
“I really am sorry,” he says again. “If you want to talk about it, I can walk you home so you’re not alone right now.”
Helga takes a couple steps towards Arnold and holds out her hand. “I’d like that,” she says.
Arnold grabs her hand and wraps his fingers between hers. She lets out a small squeak as he clinches her hand tightly. It’s just as she remembers it - only his hands are more rough from working at the boarding house.
They walk out through Holy Trinity’s doors in silence.
The walk back to the Pataki house seems shorter than a mile and a half.
Helga’s hand remains firmly grasped around Arnold’s as they walk down the street towards her house, but they do not speak to one another. As they round the last street corner, Arnold releases his hand from Helga’s and pulls the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He removes one from the packaging, lights it up and takes in a deep breath.
Helga looks at him for a moment before holding out her hand in front of him.
“Mind if I take a drag?” she asks as Arnold stops walking. It’s the first time she has said anything since they left Holy Trinity.
“I thought you said you quit?”
“Seems old habits die hard,” Helga says as she grabs the cigarette from his hand. She takes in a breath and for the first time that evening, she feels relaxed.
“Your room is just like I remember it,” Arnold says as he walks in, following Helga. “It’s like a time warp. Nothing has changed since the last time I was in here.”
Helga nods and heads towards her bed. “You should have been here when I first got home and opened the door. I’m pretty sure Miriam hasn’t opened the door in four years.”
Arnold joins Helga on the bed and the two of them face one another, the tension still feeling a bit heavy. For Helga, it’s like being back in high school and feeling the butterflies in her stomach. Her thoughts betray her as she remembers the last time they were together on her bed that they were making out.
“So....” Arnold is clearly doing his best to break the ice. “I didn’t have the chance to tell you earlier, but you look good. The shorter hair and the tan - California treated you well.”
Helga raises her eyebrow. “Oh?”
“It seems like the time away was good for you. You looked... happy.”
“Appearances can be deceiving, Football Head,” she says calmly. It’s weird how quickly she can fall back in line to how things used to be, where the nickname from childhood became a term of endearment. She lets her body fall backward on to the bed and Helga suddenly doesn’t care if her dress rides up too high on her thighs. She kicks her heels off towards the wall as she looks up at her bedroom ceiling. “I learned that lesson today at the funeral.”
Arnold leans back on his elbows and turns his head towards Helga. “It gets easier... losing loved ones, I mean. The first one is always the hardest but after that, you sort of learn to dull the pain until you just remember the good stuff.”
Helga’s voice is barely above a whisper. “I never did ask you - how are your grandparents?”
“Gone,” Arnold says, as though it doesn’t affect him too much. “Grandpa broke the family curse by living to 93; he died from a pneumonia infection last year. And Grandma died in her sleep three years ago.”
Helga feels her heart sink. She loved Arnold’s grandparents, and they always treated her like she was one of their own. “Sorry to hear about that. I remember when we helped her move into the nursing home. That was rough.”
“You’d think Grandpa and I would have figured out the Alzheimer’s. We celebrated the Fourth of July on Thanksgiving every year.”
Helga frowns. “Remember that one Thanksgiving when we were nine or ten and we left our family celebrations so we could try to find one that was perfect ?” Arnold nods. “And we only figured out afterward that our own celebrations were about as good as it was gonna get...” Helga picks at the hem of her dress. “That was really the first time that Bob, Miriam and Olga missed me when I wasn’t around.”
Arnold takes his hand and puts it to Helga’s face to have her attention focused directly at him.
“I was at the service, you know. I saw the whole thing - when your family showed up, when you ran out, and when you came back to say your peace after everyone left.” Helga’s eyes widen and she starts to feel the blood rush to her face. “You told your father how you felt with such emotion behind it, but Helga, I still don’t get it. What really happened that made you leave four years ago?”
She sits up and thinks about it for a minute, trying hard to find the words and decides to just let herself talk because it’s the only way to get all of her emotions out.
“What I did to you four years ago was cowardly and me being selfish,” she begins as she feels her cheeks flush. She’s unable to look at Arnold and stares directly at the wall. “I mean, I always thought of myself as this big time survivor and I see now who I am - a scared little girl who talks big and runs away from her problems. I did back then what I’ve always done: run away. The opportunity presented itself and I ran as far away as I could.”
“But why, Helga? All these years, I couldn’t understand why you did it.” Arnold sits up and looks directly at Helga. “Graduation was the best night of my life. The ceremony and then the grad night celebration in the gym - they were great. I can’t believe Harold took our bet to fit that many jelly beans up his nose. And remember when the hypnotist had convinced Phoebe she was a chicken?”
Helga nods and smiles, letting out a small laugh. It feels good to laugh. “I also remember Gerald sneaking in a flask or two of booze for us to drink when the chaperones weren't looking.”
Arnold nods. “Exactly! There were so many wonderful experiences that night. But the highlight was you coming back to my house and we finally slept together - and then I woke up and found a note that said I’m sorry, you deserve better. I went looking for you as soon as I read it but your sister told me you took off early for college and couldn’t give me any more details.”
“I know,” Helga says. “The truth is that I got admitted into UCLA’s summer semester so I could start early. I used the money i earned from poetry and writing competitions for my tuition and living expenses until my financial aid and scholarship awards kicked in later that year.”
“And you couldn’t tell me that?”
Helga shakes her head.
“Would you believe me if I told you that, ever since I was a little girl, the most important thing in my life was you?” She waits for Arnold to say something but he’s still looking at her blankly. “Remember when we started dating and I told you the story of our first day at preschool together, and you started to get why I was so rough on you when we were kids? The truth is -- you were the single greatest thing to happen in my life and I didn’t want that to get tarnished or ruined because of a stupid long distance relationship.”
“So you thought it would be better to leave a note and never talk to me again?”
“I never planned on coming back.”
She finally admits it. Helga does her best to turn away from Arnold, but he grips her hand and she cannot help but look back at him. She’s relieved to see that he doesn’t look angry.
“I know,” he finally says. “I knew that once you left, you were on to bigger and better things - because that’s who you are.”
“You think so?”
Arnold nods. “One thing that I’ve always admired about you, Helga, is the fact that you’ve always managed to persevere no matter what got thrown at you. You use the word survival to describe your life, but I think that’s not really who you are. You’re a person who accepts a new challenge and does whatever it takes to be the best. And, especially considering your past and everything that has happened over the years, I think you’ve done really, really well.”
She’s blushing. She’s blushing and feeling like for the first time in her life that things are starting to make sense.
“Yeah well, I went out there and started my fancy new life, but it’s felt like something was missing for the last few years.”
“What was it?”
“I’m not sure what you call it, but I felt it as soon as the Super Shuttle drove back into Hillwood. I saw all the old places and then thought of the people I left behind... Phoebe, Gerald, Rhonda, Nadine, the other girls... and you . I guess that’s why I went on that walk. I wanted to see what happened to you and if everything turned out okay. I guess a part of me still cared for you... still cares for you.”
Arnold blinks. “You do?”
“Well, I like think I turned out pretty okay,” Arnold says. “I manage the Sunset Arms during the day, and take night classes at the university. I figured it was the right thing to do after Grandpa died - I couldn’t leave Ernie and everybody without a place to live.”
Helga nods, then looks back at her two purple suitcases sitting by the door. “I packed up all of my crap before I came home. I guess I knew that i wasn’t going back to California before I actually admitted it to myself”
“The job market isn’t great right now for journalists. I was working part-time at a Starbucks and spent my freetime trying to find freelance work on the side. Not much was there,” Helga explains. “Besides, there’s a lot to sort out with Bob’s will, and somebody needs to make sure those jerks at the cell phone store aren’t running the place into the ground. Miriam is still in a state of grieving and Olga has other more important things to accomplish in life, like curing cancer or something.”
And then Helga notices that Arnold’s smiling, like a genuine smile. It feels like no time has passed at all and things sort of are falling into place as they were before she left. She looks deep into his eyes and he looks back at her.
She’s preparing for a kiss -- but Arnold blinks his eyes twice and backs away a bit.
“Uh, this might be kind of forward, but I’ve got a vacancy at Sunset Arms ... if staying in your old room feels uncomfortable.”
“That would be... nice,” Helga says as she looks at her feet. “I know it’s a big gesture considering our history and ---”
“Don’t worry about it,” Arnold says cutting her off. “I just want to help.”
Before Helga can say anything in response, Arnold looks at his watch. “I hate to run when we’re in the midst of catching up, but I am going to be late for class if I don’t get going. If you’re free tomorrow around 10 I can show you the room.”
Helga nods as Arnold gets up from the bed and makes his way to her bedroom door. “That sounds good.”
“Listen, before I go... I want you know something,” Arnold says. “If you ever need anyone to talk to, I’m available. We could go for coffee, share a cigarette on the front porch - whatever you want to do.”
Helga nods as she stands up to let Arnold out of her room and wishes him goodnight. She leans against the door as she listens to his footsteps carrying him down the stairs and feels her knees get weak, like she’s suddenly nine years old.
“Some habits really do die hard,” she thinks to herself as she heads back to her bed and flops down face-first into the mattress.
Suddenly being home again doesn’t feel like such a bad thing after all.