chapter 6

After working on the centerpiece for about an hour, Helga took her legally-required break and came back out like nothing ever happened. She hollered to Connie across the room, asking if she wanted to go to the party with her tonight. "You can bring Steven too, if you want," Helga shrugged. "I don't think it's that exclusive or anything. You're going to Rhonda's party too, right Lila? Oh, I just called Mips and Dips, they're coming to the party."

Lila and Connie shared a concerned look. They were used to Helga's mood swings, but this was extreme. Clearing her throat, Lila responded.

"O-of course I'm going, Helga. Um, we actually have…special instructions to deliver Rhonda's cake by 6. We as in, you and I have to deliver this cake, specifically."

"Ugh, of course Princess Lloyd would try to ruin my life as much as possible." Helga muttered. "Well, whatever. It's kinda weird, but as long as you can drop by my house so I can change out of this stupid uniform, I'm good."

The rest of the day went by quietly, all three girls focusing on getting their work done for the day. Lila and Helga had to leave early to deliver the cake, and Connie promised she'd be fine until one of the closers got there.

"I'll…see you guys in a few hours, then?" she asked, unsure. Lila nodded emphatically, clearly wanting Connie to attend the party too. "I mean, y-yeah! See you two later!"

"You…sure you're okay, Helga? I didn't want to bother you at work but, um…I'm pretty sure you had an anxiety attack at school—" Lila looked at Helga through the rearview mirror. Helga had to sit in the backseat of Lila's car with the cake.

"I'm fine, Lila. Arnold just…scared me, is all." Helga crossed her arms, huffing.

Lila frowned. "You don't have to hide anything from me."

"I'm not, I just…I got over it, okay!" she exclaimed, falling her arms. "Is that a crime?!"

"Careful with that cake, Helga…keep a grip on it." Lila gently chided. Helga huffed again, knowing she was right.

"You know, if I didn't know any better, I would say that…well, Arnold is making you rather uncomfortable, isn't he?"

"He's just…annoying, is all." Helga muttered, wishing that the ground would just swallow her whole already so she could get out of this stupid conversation. "I mean, criminy, the guy just up and leaves for five years, and he wants to act like nothing ever happened! Like I just didn't—"

Helga's sentence was interrupted by her phone ringing, again. Finding this as good a distraction as any from another dreaded Arnold conversation, she answered the phone, albeit very annoyed.

"What!" she snapped. "What! What do you want? What! You've been calling me all da—rrn day!" Helga grimaced as she looked up at the mirror at Lila, who let out a muffled giggle. "Nice save" Lila mouthed, knowing that Helga tried to control her sailor's mouth while talking to Olga. Not that she really cared what her sister thought, but every time she let a curse slip through, Helga never heard the end of it.

"What do you want?….Okay, well, I'm almost home! Criminy! What do you mean—I had to work!… Anyway, I'm busy, I have a party go to to. I have to drop off that cake, remember? Didn't Lila tell you about it?…Alright, alright, alright, look, I'm almost there. See you soon. Bye—ugh. Love you too."

Lila giggled at the almost reluctant affection Helga showed her sister. Helga caught on and stuck her tongue at the auburn girl.

"Olga's been bugging me all day long about some…something about our mother, I don't really know what it is." Helga fibbed, still not ready to say the words my mother's up for parole out loud. Maybe if she didn't say them, it wouldn't be real.

"I do hope everything's okay…" Lila responded, worry lacing her voice.

Helga waved her off. "She's fine. ….I assume, you know? I-if my mother was hurt, she'd tell me, you know?" Ugh, she forgot how hard lying was sometimes.

The rest of the ride to Helga's house was quiet with the occasional comment here and there. Helga asked if Lila wanted any clothes to change into, and Lila said she'd appreciate them ever so much. She didn't want to change back into her school clothes, either; "they're just so gosh darn dirty after school," she said, even though Lila was the cleanest person on Earth and seemed to never spilled anything on her clothes.

"You again?!" Helga asked as she entered her house and saw Bob and Olga sitting at the kitchen table.

"What do you mean, you again?" Bob retorted. "I pay for this house, don't I? Now, sit your fanny down, missy, we've got a conversation that needs to happen."

Helga groaned. "You didn't tell me he was still here." she said through gritted teeth. Olga shot her a sympathetic look, and mouthed a "sorry". Not that she really minded spending time with her dad anymore, but she needed (a) to be prepared for it and (b) it not to be about her mother getting out of jail and turning their lives upside down again. They had a good thing going here! She didn't need to come back and mess it all up! Regardless, this was a conversation for another time, she really needed to head to Rhonda's right about now.

"Look, as much as I would love to sit down and chat about all this right now, I'm running on borrowed time here. I really just came to grab a change of clothes. I need to deliver this cake to a party, pronto, care of the Wellington-Lloyds." Now that she knew Bob was still there, with Olga, very obviously waiting for her to get home, she was actually painfully eager to go to the stupid, god-forsaken Arnold party that she was dreading earlier today.

"So that bakery of yours promoted ya to delivery driver, eh?" Her father leaned back in the kitchen chair, a smug smile on his face.

"Oh…uh…no…" Helga started tentatively, still not used to hearing her father's approving voice. "It's actually for a friend's party…kind of of a long story, actually. She just ordered it through the bakery, we made it, and I'm just doing her a favor by dropping it off." As if a cake decorator would be promoted to delivery driver, she thought haughtily. Wait, that was actually really pretentious and snobby, the delivery drivers were pretty cool.

Big Bob Pataki was actually proud of his daughter's work, as strange as that seemed to Helga (and Olga, honestly.) Cake decorating, she assumed Bob thought, was silly housewife nonsense, what one's bored wife did to pass the time and impress her husband's clients. It was not a suitable career. It was a "sissy" job, unfit for his tough-as-nails younger daughter. Right? So when she finally got an actual job as decorator at the semi-prestigious Dino Land Bakery, she wasn't in a rush to tell her dad during one of their monthly conversations when he returned to Hillwood from his condo upstate.

"You know, Olga's shown me some of your work, little lady." he said over dinner one night. "I gotta say, not too shabby. I heard you got accepted into some fancy, high-class bakery."

The County and State Fair awards that her and Lila won from their baked goods entires probably didn't hurt, as they were proudly displayed alongside Olga's trophies in the Trophy Room.

"Well, if you're only dropping off a cake, you can come right back here in sit down in that chair so we can all have a long talk, little lady."

"Daddy! I already said that Helga could go to the party! You can't make me go back on my word, I would look like a horrible guardian!" she sent Helga a subtle wink. "Plus, the boy she likes will be there!"

Oh, thanks Olga! Thanks. The quickest way to get a father to agree to letting his daughter go to a party is to tell her that a boy is going to be there. Thanks. Thanks.

Ever since she invited her non-PS. 118 friends to the party, she felt a lot better about going. She didn't get to spend a ton of time with Dipper, since he, Mabel, and Connie went to the high school across town. Unfortunately, Dipper wasn't the boy Olga was talking about.

"Boy? What boy?" Bob asked suspiciously. "You're not talkin' about that boy with that weird-shaped head, are you? The one that you were all gaga over? For cryin' out loud, Helga, you cried for weeks when he moved away!"

"Yes! Thank you!" Helga cried, holding her arms out. "Finally someone with some common sense around here! Don't worry, Dad, I'm staying far away from him tonight, thanks. Plus, hey Olga, don't you remember I'm like, dating my coworker's twin?"

"She's what now?" Bob raised his voice, looking at Olga in alarm. "How come I'm the last to know about everything around here?"

It's because you're not here, Dad she thought, and from the fact that Olga's eyes met hers at the same moment, Olga was thinking the same thing. But that sad look vanished from Olga's face as quickly as it appeared and she started talking to their father, trying to pacify him. It was way easier for Olga, and Helga took this opportunity to go upstairs and get ready.

Fumbling around her (shrineless) closet, she was trying to hurry up and choose an ironic tee already.

" 'sorry ladies, i'm married to the ocean'? Oh hell yeah, dude." she dryly commented as she grabbed the light blue shirt and a pair of denim shorts and changed out of her uniform. She searched her accessory drawer until she found two identical shark bows that matched her "party outfit". She took off her pastel pink bows that matched her shirt earlier and replaced them with the sharks. Checking that the bows were straight in the mirror, she decided to quickly spruce up her space buns since they were looking kinda beat up.

Come to think of it, she actually looked pretty beat up. Sighing, she took out the foundation she hardly ever used to give herself a little color. She's surprised the darn thing hasn't molded over yet, she's pretty sure she's had the same one since 8th grade.

Stress didn't look very good on her - she didn't carry it well. She also touched up her winged eyeliner, since her tears totally ruined it. Usually, she didn't care about her appearance— but she didn't want people to ask why she looked so pale and and why there were bags and streaks under her eyes. Ugh. Concern. Gross.

Once she thought she looked healthy enough for people not to comment on her sickly appearance, she grabbed one of Lila's dresses that she left over in her room, ran downstairs, yelled out "Okay bye!" and ran out the door into the car and away from her pressing responsibilities. She didn't know how long she'd be able to avoid her family duties - but at least she could avoid it tonight.

But, she realized, she was running from her family issues and running straight into her Arnold issues. Just freakin' wonderful.

"I mean, she might live in a house that's comparable to like, a medieval monarch…but she's just so down to earth, you know?" Helga commented to Lila as they both pulled up to the Wellington-Lloyd house early. Helga hated being the first one at a party, as she preferred to either slip in unnoticed or not go at all, but she had a delivery to make and Rhonda insisted that the cake be delivered at 6 pm. The bakers and decorators hardly ever made deliveries, but of course Rhonda specifically requested that Helga and Lila do it. Ugh. That trickster!

Lila laughed at Helga's comment, relieved that her friend seemed to be feeling better. "Helga! That's so mean. It's not like she can control where she lives!" but regardless, she continued to laugh.

"What? It can be mean and true at the same time." she smirked. "Now lets hurry up get this cake in there. The sooner we get in there, the sooner we can leave."

The two girls held the cake together and walked inside. Rhonda was outside the door, waiting for them. Once inside, Rhonda directed them to where the cake was being set up. The two girls set down the box and, carefully, revealed the cake that was inside.

Once Rhonda saw the cake, she shrieked.

Oh crap, I messed up! Does she know what I did? You ruined a perfectly good cake, you moron. Helga's thoughts swam around in her mind as she tried to dissect Rhonda's sound.

"Look at it! Oh, it's flawless! Those bright colors contrast so well with the muted tones we chose for the cake! Helga you are an absolute genius, an artist!" Rhonda gushed as she crushed Helga in a hug.

Looking away sheepishly, Helga responded. "Um, thanks? B-but it was really Lila who did most of the work, I just…worked on the centerpiece," she gave a nervous laugh and looked up at Lila's face. She looked concerned. Helga shot her a frown in return.

Rhonda pulled away from the hug, only to crush Lila in a similar one. Once she was done with the formalities, she instructed the girls to make themselves at home while she was getting the finishing touches done.

"By the way, I spent a great deal of time on the playlist for tonight. Oh, it's just perfect." there were a few seconds of silence, as if Rhonda was waiting for someone to ask her to continue. Lila and Helga looked at each other, and Lila spoke up.

"Oh…what, um, what…is on the playlist, Rhonda? I'd…ever so much, like to know." Lila said, a bit unsure.

"I'm glad you asked! Why, it's a hand-picked collection of 90's R&B songs. Just perfect for tonight. Now if you'll excuse me, ladies, I really need to take care of the final decorations…" she left the room, leaving Lila and Helga alone to wait.

"90's R&B? Criminy, what an Arnold amateur. Everyone knows Arnold likes jazz. What is she even trying to pull?" Helga asked, looking unimpressed. Her eyes grazed over to the refreshment table. "Oh, we have unlimited juice? This party's going to be off the hook." She wasn't sure if Lila would get her Arrested Development reference or not, but it's not like she was lying. Rhonda got a lot of juice and soda.

Helga didn't drink alcohol, for obvious maternal reasons. She was relieved that there were plenty of single-serve cans of soda that wouldn't be spiked or tampered with. The last thing she needed was to be at this Arnold Celebration, totally plastered.

—-

Arnold never asked for a party to be held in his favor. While he was excited to see all of his old friends again, he didn't think his arrival was that big of a deal. He was away for - what was Rhonda constantly describing it as? - half a decade? so he wasn't expecting his classmates to really care that much about his return. The only people who consistently wrote to him were Gerald, Lila, and Phoebe…and Helga, although she stopped writing to him after around the second year of his departure.

So he begrudgingly accepted the gracious, em, party invitation that Rhonda practically forced on him, going on about how he just had to be there and this party was going to be the most grand event he's ever seen after being away from civilization - Arnold knew she didn't mean to be so full of herself, but that point of view agitated him a bit. Just because he was around different cultures and different ways of life, doesn't mean they were uncivilized. Ugh.

Of course, Gerald thought the whole thing was hilarious, and tried to push him into this Guest of Honor role. Although today after school, he seemed a bit different. After that thing with Helga happened, Arnold tried to press on about it but Gerald refused to budge. All he said was to 'just please try to be more careful around her, man, can't you tell you're bugging the crap out of her?' and similar themes. So, he promised to Gerald, tonight he would be on his Very Best Behavior, and he would let Helga ignore him. No greetings, no questions, no hugs, no innocent remarks that could be construed into something different.

It was still early yet, when they both arrived at the party - there were a few people here and there, but Arnold insisted on being there at 7 pm, when Rhonda said the party started. Gerald tried to get him to ease up a bit, saying that no one showed up that early, but Arnold had this annoying habit that made him be on time for everything.

He glanced at the cake that he knew Rhonda ordered from Helga's work . It was still half-hidden, probably for a big, dramatic reveal, but he could catch slivers of it. Did she make it? He didn't know - but he couldn't get a closer look, as once Rhonda knew he arrived she whisked him away and introduced him to all her new friends. People that - well, he didn't want to be rude - but people that he couldn't frankly care less about right now. Maybe later, in a few weeks or months, but all he cared about was seeing the familiar faces he missed so much.

Out of the corner of his eye, he constantly saw Helga, even though he knew she was trying to avoid him, and he was okay with that for tonight. Every time one of his friends would whisk him away to another area or room, and Helga happened to be there, she quickly left once she noticed him. But he relished the moments that she was unaware of his presence - when she would be dancing with Lila or one of her coworkers, or pouring some juice while she talked and laughed with Phoebe and Nadine. She looked so different than when she was around him; she was calm, and happy, and at ease. Hearing her genuine laughter was so nice, but so was hearing her sarcastic quips and her harsh laughter after she told a joke. He loved seeing her eyes sparkle when she laughed at a story Phoebe was telling, or her tender, precise movements when she was slow-dancing with Lila.

He recognized two of her coworkers from the other day, he was happy to see that she had good friends besides Gerald and Phoebe.

After an hour or two of being tugged this way and that, by Rhonda, and then Harold, then Stinky, and Sheena, and Eugene, and Lorenzo, ect, and being filled in about the details of their everyday lives for the past five years, Rhonda finally cleared her throat, motioned for the DJ to cut the music, and announced in her own dramatic fashion to let them eat cake. Or maybe it was just time to cut the cake, or just for everyone to eat the cake - Rhonda and her bourgeoisie household reminded him too much of a revolution-era french noble, especially compared to the huts and camps he was used to.

So he finally got a good look at the actual cake. Rhonda did announce that it was Helga (and Lila, and their bakery) that made the cake, and it was so divine and exquisite that everyone must simply go there for all their baked good needs.

She was right, it was exquisite. It wasn't as big as he was expecting, for a party that Rhonda was hosting, but he assumed it was due to the time restraint. Helga wasn't there admiring it. Once Rhonda made the announcement to gather around the cake, he saw her take someone out to the balcony. He imagined she was probably sick of the cake already. He heard about what a short deadline Rhonda gave her, and he can only imagine how difficult Rhonda is to work with.

But there was something…off about it. The whole cake was pretty, but the centerpiece seemed so…random. It was an amalgam of a bunch of different flowers, many of them not being white, red, or pink - to match the rest of the cake. There were a bunch of purples, yellows, and a few blacks and blues - a few stripes, a few greens, some wildly different shapes, too.

The flowers were odd, placed together. But at the same time, they seemed to fit. There was a common theme linking them all together…

There was an asphodel on that cake, he noted. That was a weird choice, why would Rhonda want an asphodel? It was a pretty flower, sure, but not very common. Along with a narcissus, another white flower. That was another weird one - surely even Rhonda knows what a narcissist is, right? Not that the two are the same, but it's another weird flower to ask for. He also noticed the weird choice of greens that were chosen, as well— wormwood, dandelion, mint, even a fungus or two.

Then there were the colors other than white, that didn't seem to match at all; flowers like red dahlia, yellow tulips, and…columbines? Love lies bleeding?

Wait a minute.

Oh.

Oh.

"Rhonda…" Arnold asked slowly as he turned to face the host. "Did you…choose the flowers for the centerpiece?"

"Me?" Rhonda responded. "Oh, no, of course not. I suggested roses, but I also gave them creative freedom. And just look at how well I made that decision! No no no, apparently, the flowers were all Helga's doing." she smirked at him, and gave him a wink. He doubted that she knew what he was going at; she probably thought those flowers meant something significant to them as a couple.

There was something linking these flowers together. Their meanings. They all meant something like, despair, or unrequited love, or hopelessness, or even death. All sad, tragic, defeated meanings.

"Red Dahlia…" he muttered out loud. "Betrayal…and, dishonesty? I think? But it's definitely…betrayal at least."

"Hmm?" Gerald asked, beside him, but Arnold wasn't paying attention. He was too busy deciphering this cake.

"Anemone. That's cute. I know that one means sickness…" Is she sick of him already? "I know dandelions mean…overcoming hardship."

"Uhh…what are you going on about, there?" Gerald asked. "Are you…talking to the cake, buddy?"

"Oh…no, no…just…" he didn't know how to tell Gerald what he was doing. Maybe he should try to control what he was saying out loud. He didn't want anyone getting into the middle of this, if his suspicion was true and Helga really did do this petty, undermining sabotage of his cake. "I…I just recognize some of these flowers, is all." he gave a nervous laugh. He quickly scanned through all the other flowers he recognized, and racked his brain for the meanings — bird's-foot trefoil? Revenge. Sweetbriar rose? A wound to heal; was she hurting? He felt a pang of guilt before he moved on to the flower right next to it, which was a columbine; the emblem of deceived lovers.

His eyes widened, forgetting the guilt he felt moments before. For the first time this week, he understood where Helga was coming from, in terms of feeling pure shock coming out of nowhere - he imagined this is exactly how she felt when he startled her at her work a few days ago.

But this wasn't an innocent little surprise - this was deliberate. She knew what she was doing, and Helga knew that he would know what she was telling him. How could she not? His mother taught him everything he knew about flowers - including old Victorian flower language, along with their modern meanings. His mother taught Helga about flowers, too; how could she forget?

Arnold prided himself on not being the angry type. He was calm, rational, and he always thought situations and conflicts through to try to come up with the best solution for both parties.

But this? This blatant message, disrespect? He's been nothing but nice to Helga since he got back. And sure, he knew that him leaving during their early relationship wasn't easy on her, but she seemed to be doing just fine now! What did he do?

The promise to Gerald was quickly forgotten.

He abruptly turned around and sped towards the balcony, where he saw her head to just minutes ago. He heard Gerald call out to him, but he was quickly hidden by the massive crowd around the cake.

He had to see her. He had to know what was going though her mind when she decided to do this; he had to know what he did, if anything, that prompted this flippant disregard for him.

He stood in the doorway for a minute, just looking at her. She was deep into conversation with someone else, a boy. He was an inch or two taller than she was, although it looked like she could overtake him easily if she stood on her tiptoes. His messy brown hair was covered by a white and blue trucker's hat. He had on a red and black flannel, despite the fact that it was a warm late spring evening.

"Helga…" he croaked out once he finally could. "What was that all about?"

"Ehh…what?" Helga gave a nervous laugh, turning away from her conversation partner to look at him. "What do you mean?"

"What—? You and I both know what you did…" Arnold said, trying to get her to realize that the jig was up, he new all about her little display.

Helga glanced toward the person she was talking to, before looking at him again. She leaned toward him a little, encouraging him to continue. "Uhh…" she gave another nervous laugh. "What did I do?"

"What did you—t-the flowers! Are you kidding me?"

"The…the flowers?" Helga squeaked. "W-what ever do you mean?" she asked, trying to sound innocent, but Arnold's been around her enough to know when she was trying to cover something up.

He clenched his hands into fists at his side. "What did I ever do to you?" his voice raised a little. "I mean, you put columbines on my cake? Really? Columbines?" his voice cracked. "Do you think I don't know what those stand for? Or how about the wormwood, or the white tulips? Huh?"

"I…I don't know what you're talking about!" she said quickly. "Rhonda said we could go crazy on the flowers, so I just picked up one of those bridal magazines we had a-and copied the bouquet." She quickly tried to lie. But it wouldn't help her now.

"Really, Helga?…" he chided her softly. "My mom's a botanist."

Helga paled as she realized she's been caught. "You weren't…supposed to know…" she breathed out.

Of course she should have known that. Of course. Mrs. Shortman is a botanist. Don't you remember all those spring hours spent planting sunflowers, you stupid piece of shit? You loved those flowers. The day they grew taller than you, that crisp fall day, was one of your favorite days of your life. You absolute fucking moron. Way to go. You fucking clown.

"It was just…" she croaked out, trying to find the right words to explain or excuse her actions, "I didn't ever think anyone would find out, I don't know, I just—I—"

But there was no explaining or excusing this. She instantly clammed up, feeling cold, although she could feel sweat dripping from her forehead. Please don't let this be the third one this week, she thought.

Ignoring the Independent Women, Part 1 that was blasting from inside, Arnold pressed on.

"Helga! You can't just do things like that without consequence! It's mean, a-and insensitive! I thought you weren't like that anymore! How is something that supposed to make me feel?"

Whatever timidity or reluctance she felt, it evaporated once that sentence left his mouth. "You?" the shrillness of her voice surprised them both, making her flinch, but she ignored it and carried on. "How does that make you feel?" she yelled, pushing herself off the balcony railing.

"Well, what about how I feel, huh?" she inched toward him after every syllable that left her mouth. "Like you could ever understand how I feel!" she exclaimed. Her eyes flashed with an anger he was sure he hasn't seen since he told her he was moving to South America.

"And by the way, bucko, maybe the cake thing wasn't about you at all, huh? Newsflash! Not everything in town is about Arnold Shortman!"

"W-what?" he asked breathlessly, his question loaded with confusion. "Who else would it even be about?"

"Maybe, it was about me!" she yelled. "Maybe it was my way of dealing with my emotions!" she yelled, breathing heavily. "Maybe it was my way of dealing with the two— count 'em!— two anxiety attacks you gave me this week! Ever think of that?"

Stunned into silence, he didn't know how to respond.

"Of course you didn't." she muttered sharply, after a few seconds. "It's always going to be about you, isn't it?"

Arnold didn't know what to say after that. Sure, her actions were still pretty uncalled for, but he had no idea he was effecting her so badly to the point where she was getting anxiety attacks. He didn't even know she had anxiety. This was Helga G. Pataki. He never thought just existing would mess her up like this.

"Uhh…excuse me…" Arnold heard a voice besides Helga after a few minutes of silence. "Who…are you, again?" the voice cracked.

Arnold looked to the source of the voice. Through all the commotion, he forgot she was talking to someone…he assumed it was her boyfriend, or whatever they were. Helga was always weird with labels.

"What?" Helga asked, over-the-top dramatically, spinning around to face the boy. "You mean you don't know who Arnold Shortman is? Why, he's only the most important boy in all of Hillwood!" she yelled, arms outstretched as she spun around to meet Arnold's gaze with a maniacal smile gracing her face.

"Helga…" Arnold warned. Okay, now this is the Helga he knew and could respond to.

"Anybody who's anybody knows who Arnold is!" she broke the facade and started laughing. "I mean, they don't leave me alone about the guy!" she said in-between hard fits of laughter. "I can't catch a break!" As she continued her rambunctious laughter, it soon turned into fits of crying.

That brought Arnold back from the clouded anger he had moments earlier. Helga? Crying? Between this and the anxiety - did he break her? The two boys' eyes met briefly before they both landed on Helga again.

"Helga, I'm so sorry, I—" Arnold went over to comfort her "I didn't mean to—"

"Oh, h-hang on, I got this." the brown haired baby lumberjack held up his hand to stop Arnold. "I got this one…b-boyfriend duties, you know?" he gave a nervous laugh. He opened up his jacket, yelled "Cocoon time!", and wrapped her in it as he swayed back and forth.

He didn't have to do it for long, after about five seconds she emerged from the…cocoon and was laughing.

"Dipper! You dork!" she playfully shoved him. "Why do you keep doing that?"

"Uh, because it works?" he joined her in laughter.

"But it's so dumb!" she continued to laugh and wipe her tears away. "S-sorry, about that, you know, crying junk. I've had really bad week, and you know how bad my stupid puberty tears have been lately."

"Puberty tears! Haha, yeah, okay, whatever you say, Helga." Dipper winked and ruffled her buns. She stuck her tongue out and blew a raspberry in response.

A small spike of jealousy ran through Arnold. That was his phrase. And speaking of this dude, Helga didn't yell at him at all. Didn't painfully shove him away when he showed affection. Public affection. It seemed like she welcomed it. Didn't run away when she showed embarrassing emotions. Hey, that wasn't even an actual shove. She didn't even get mad? That wasn't even a mean laugh? What is going on here?

"What's that thing Mabel says? You're a pisces, dude, you just cry and cry all the time."

"Shut up!" she laughed. "You're the pisces, you loon!"

"I am not!"

Is this what he missed out on? This relationship with a non-volatile Helga Pataki? He seemed to always get the brunt of her emotions when they were together when they were younger. She would get mad when she showed any vulnerable emotion. And here she was, crying openly at a Rhonda party, out of all places, and she didn't try to run away. And just as quickly as it happened, she got over it. She didn't storm off out of embarrassment, or threaten to punish anyone who would dare to utter a single word about this incident.

"Thanks, Dips…but I think I need to talk to Arnold alone for a second."

Both boys were shocked, and actually looked at each other before looking back at Helga.

"Uh…you sure about that, Helga? Isn't this the same dude you've been complaining about for like, three days straight?" Dipper asked.

She gave another laugh. "Haha, yeah. But I'll be fine, don't worry, I'm a tough old broad." she gave him a playful punch to the shoulder. "I'll be in in a minute, it won't take long. Hey, maybe you can try that dumb cake that's giving me so much trouble, eh? Let me know how it tastes!" she stood on her tiptoes and gave his forehead a kiss.

"Haha. You're so sweaty, it's kinda gross." she teased him. Dipper rolled his eyes and started to leave the balcony. "If you say so." he said, pointedly ignoring the sweaty comment. "But…" he glanced at Arnold, who was still just staring at them. Not even avoiding his gaze, his face just had shock written all over it. "I'm, uh…gonna keep an eye on you two. He seems like…kind of a shifty fellow…" he saw Helga make a questioning face, and quickly added, "I just…want you to be okay, you know? He's already made you cry enough times…"

Arnold's ears grew read as he heard Dipper talk to Helga. He's already made you cry enough times. Real nice, Football Head.

He heard the couple continue speaking, but he wasn't listening to their words anymore. He's already made you cry enough times. He's already made you cry enough times. Kept going through his head. Two— count 'em!two anxiety attacks you gave me this week!

Now he felt like a real jerk.


sorry about the confusion - if you think you read this chapter before, you did. i took this chapter down thinking it might accomplish a certain goal i had in mind, but it didn't.

i've lost a lot of motivation for this story and i'm not sure i'd like to continue. but 41 people follow this story, and i know i like to get as much content as i can as a reader, so i put this chapter back up. i know this chapter is almost like a cliffhanger of some sort, so i apologize. but whenever i sit down to finish the next chapter i feel like i'm doing a disservice to the characters and i feel too uncomfortable writing. as a protip to some of you more "passionate" reviewers - if your review demotivates the writer, you have failed in your critique. be kind and sensible when you are trying to help someone improve. no one owes you a good story for free.

if anyone's read this story and wants to continue it on my behalf, i'm giving you permission to do so. if anyone wants to take this premise and rewrite it, go ahead! i'd love to see it. i'd be happy to share my playlist and future chapter ideas if you'd like to take this story and make it your own.

this doesn't mean i'm abandoning this story forever - but i'd like to be upfront with my readers. i'm taking a break from this fanfic for the foreseeable future. thank you to all my reviewers who genuinely liked this story - you motivated me to keep going. :)