The cafeteria was loud and full of different smells, not all of them pleasant nor appetizing. Arnold took his usual spot next to Gerald.
"Hey Arnold," Said Gerald, taking a bite of his sandwich. "What's with the Charlie's Angels lunch box?"
"It's Helga's. Her mom packed it for me." Arnold's face turned to stone as he opened the plastic container.
"What's wrong?" Gerald took a swig of milk.
"There's a plastic knife and Spork set, a napkin, and an empty thermos, but no actual food in here!" Arnold said.
"No way! No mom would actually…" Gerald grabbed the box and peeked inside. "I don't believe it!"
A baloney sandwich wrapped in plastic fell from above. "Here you go, Arnoldo, but for now on, make your own lunches, ok?"
The football headed boy smiled at Helga. "Wow, thanks Helga, that was really nice of you! I guess you figured your Mom would…"
"Yeah, it's not the first time." Helga frowned and pointed. "Don't say I never did anything for you!" And with that she stalked away.
The two boys looked at each other, then Arnold pushed out his chair. "Helga wait!"
The blonde girl was on the tetherball court, punching the ball as hard as she could around the pole.
Arnold caught up with her. "Helga?" He panted.
"What?" She snapped. "You want mustard on your sandwich?"
"No," He caught the ball as it whizzed towards him. "I just wanted to say thanks again." He pushed it back towards her. She punched it.
"Yeah well, don't get used to it, Bucko! It was a once in a life time deal!" Arnold nodded.
"I know." He hit the ball with his knuckles. "How'd you like my house?"
"Pff! You live with a bunch of nuts!" Helga smacked the ball as hard as she could. "They made me play Chutes and Ladders ten stinking times in a row!"
Arnold sighed. "I know. I can't stand that game. For some reason Grandpa thinks it's my favorite. But you know, they're my family." Arnold grew quiet. "You know, Helga, I think I know why you scowl and yell and act so mean all the time."
Helga rolled her eyes. "Oh boy, bring it on, Freud! Sure go and ahead and analyze me, Football Head."
"Well," Arnold started. "I was up last night thinking about this, and I think that maybe you push away people because you're afraid…"
"Afraid?" Helga laughed. She swung her fist into the ball. "Helga Pataki ain't afraid of anything, Buster!"
Arnold gave her a knowing look. "You're afraid of rats, Helga."
The girl grinned sheepishly. "Oh yeah."
Arnold knocked the ball away. "Anyway, maybe you're afraid that if you get too close to people that they'll hurt you, plus the fact that your family's not too close either. Your dad wouldn't even tell me how his day was."
"You asked him how his day was?" Helga echoed. "Please! My dad doesn't open up to anyone, especially strangers!"
"Yeah, well, maybe a little of that has rubbed of on you."
Helga's face grew angry. "What do you mean? My life is an open book, Pal! No secrets here! What you see is what you get!" She checked his face to see is her bluff had worked. It hadn't. "Aw, Criminy." She muttered as she swatted the ball to Arnold. He caught it.
"I think there's a lot more to Helga Pataki than meets the eye." He studied the bumpy yellow surface. "And maybe you're not ready, but someday, I'd like to see the other side of Helga. I think she's probably a nice, caring person."
Helga was stunned by his words. Only the tetherball striking her in the gut brought her back. "Yeah…well…" She struggled for words. "Shows what you know!" But she smiled a thin little smile and he smiled back.
"Hey Arnold," She asked as they continued to bat the ball back and forth. "How did you know about…you know?"
Arnold knocked the ball around the pole. "I walked a mile in your shoes, Helga."
Across the playground, a group of kids sat watching the two play ball. "Umm, umm, umm!" Gerald shook his head. "Helga and Arnold playing together! This ain't right!"
"I know, and why is it always 'Umm, umm, umm' with you?" Sid asked. Gerald gave him a look. Sid threw up his hands innocently. "I'm just asking! You're always doing the 'Umm' thing!"
Curly crept up behind Phoebe, who was sitting next to Gerald. "Hey, Phoebe! Chicken!"
"AHHH!" She cried, jumping up so quickly that her hand hit Curly in the face.
"Come on you guys," Gerald interrupted. "What you think about this? Why are Helga and Arnold playing tetherball? Next thing you know, it'll be foursquare, then dodgeball, then…"
"You know, Gerald," Said Nadine, putting down her book on Scarab Beetles and their relatives. "You always freak when those two are together! Quit blowing things out of proportion, ok?"
"Proportion:" Harold recited. "'A statement of size equality between two ratios in which the first of the four terms divided by the second equals the third divided by the fourth…"
"Will you stop that!" Gerald snapped at the larger boy.
At the classroom window, Mr. Simmons watched Helga and Arnold play tetherball. "Well, looks like my very special project has worked out better than I thought." Then quietly, he added, "Way to go, Helga!"
(Yes, I know, the ending is a bit sudden. But it just feels right to end it here. If you're a writer, you know what I mean.)