Stuck in a Locked Classroom.
Disclaimer: If it belonged to me, the show would still be on.
A/N: A review would be really nice. Please? Come on, it'll bring you luck! Or something!
"Fine, fine, ok. I'll tell you. I'll OPEN UP. Whaddaya wanna know?" Helga chewed her gum furiously, annoyed that she was letting herself be goaded into talking about herself. Then again, it was Arnold who was asking her to. It was very hard to say no to Arnold, with his mild face, half lidded eyes, and pleasantly low voice. It was especially hard if you were Helga G. Pataki.
"Hey, look," said Arnold, shrugging. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable or anything. I just think you should open up more, and I'd like to get to know you. That's two birds felled with one stone. If it makes you any happier, I'll be glad to talk about myself too. We could take turns at asking each other stuff. Would you like that?"
"Would I." Helga smirked, folded her arms and leaned against the wall. "Okay, Arnoldo, lets do it. I don't have any particular interest in knowing the boring details of your boring life, but we're going to be stuck in here for a while, and any conversation is better than no conversation. But I have one rule."
"What?" asked Arnold.
"That if there's any question I REALLY don't feel like answering, you won't force me to."
Helga's heart warmed to the boy sitting next to her. Every day he gave her a new reason to love him, and she already loved him so much, she was afraid she might burst some day. It just kept growing and growing, and you don't expect that to happen with an unrequited crush you've had for like eleven years. But here he was, wanting to get to KNOW her. What fourteen year old boy wanted to get to KNOW anybody? Wasn't it all about who had developed the most over summer? Whose hair was the shiniest? Who wore the trendiest clothes? Yet, Arnold wanted to get to KNOW her. How was he this amazing?
All right, granted, they were stuck in this classroom for an indefinite period of time, and there wasn't anything else to do. They'd come in here to retrieve a very mean letter Rhonda and Nadine had written Curly and left in his desk. It was a long story, the point of it being that Arnold had found out and thought it was a horrible thing to do, and had enlisted Helga's help to sneak into school after hours. They'd managed it all right, but it turned out that this was the time the classrooms got locked for the night after all the cleaning got over. The janitor hadn't thought to look inside the classroom, not expecting there to be any students around at this hour, and had locked them in. By the time they'd found the letter and discovered that they were trapped in, the janitor was long gone, and nobody was around to hear them thumping on the door.
"Okay, you go first," said Helga, stretching her legs out in front of her. After sitting in the cramped desks for about an hour, they'd decided they had enough of sitting on them during school anyway, and had settled themselves on the floor against the wall at the back of the classroom.
"Okay," said Arnold. "Who is your least favourite person in the world?"
"Oh that's easy," said Helga, scowling. "Olga."
"Really?" said Arnold. He had been expecting her to say Lila, or maybe Harold. She always seemed to think Lila was irritatingly perfect, and Harold was ALWAYS stealing her food. "Your sister?"
"Yeah, my so-called sister," scoffed Helga. "I can't stand her. Bob comes a close second. Then Miriam."
"Your whole family?" Arnold was just a little shocked. He knew that Helga's home life wasn't exactly all roses and cream, but her LEAST favourite people in the WORLD?
"Yup. That's THREE questions, Football Head. It's my turn."
"Okay, hit me."
"Who is YOUR least favourite person in the world?"
Arnold considered, and Helga grinned.
"Boy, this oughta be good," she remarked. Goody-two-shoes Arnoldo fessing up about his deep dark demons. If he has any. Come on, Football Head, whaddaya got?"
"I think maybe Rhonda,"
"Why am I not surprised. I'm guessing it's because she's all high-handed and snobbish and insensitive?"
"Because she's mean to everyone?"
"Oh, Arnold." Helga looked at him pityingly, shaking her head.
"What?" said Arnold, bewildered.
"You don't like her because she's mean to everyone. But Rhonda has always been nice to YOU. Why isn't there anybody you dislike because of how they behave towards YOU?"
"Well, most people are nice to me, I guess," said Arnold, confused.
"I'm not." said Helga firmly.
"You weren't, but you've been okay to me lately."
"New leaf," grinned Helga. "You know what your problem is, F.H., you think about other people too much, and you don't think nearly enough about yourself. That's never a good idea. People are going to walk all over you. They already do, sometimes."
"Hey, I'm always glad to be of help!" said Arnold, smiling. Helga sighed.
"Have it your own way, F.H."
"An abbreviation?" said Arnold, raising his eyebrows.
"Yeah. We've never had a conversation long enough for me to address you more than once, before this. It gets tedious saying Football Head over and over again after a while. It's like I'm using your full name or something."
"Can't you just call me Arnold?"
Arnold grinned. Helga was always amusing, he noted. She could be mean and snappy and selfish and had a serious dearth of moral values, but she was always interesting to be around. Helga could never bore you. He liked that about her.
"Your turn, F.H." said Helga.
"Oh, right," Arnold pulled himself together. "What… is… your… favourite food?"
"Lasagna," said Helga. "That was a really lame question. S.F.H."
"S stands for stupid?" hazarded Arnold.
"Congratulations, you win first prize," Helga said sarcastically. Arnold snorted, which made her laugh. Her face was quite different when she laughed.
Helga had been really really homely as a kid. Up until the seventh grade, she had a monstrous unibrow. She even got braces in the fifth grade, and they lasted two years.
Finally, at the beginning of the eighth grade, Helga appeared looking very different. Her braces were gone, for one, and her overbite had reduced considerably, making her mouth look much more pleasant, and giving her quite a pretty smile. She had also learnt how to tweeze pretty well, resulting in two very well-arched eyebrows. She had stopped tying pigtails, and her blond hair hung around her face and developed a few loose waves on its own. She never really styled it, but it looked good on her the way it was.
Helga would never really be a girly girl. She couldn't stand high heels for one thing, and anyway all that beauty stuff bored her. Cleansing your face every night. Getting manicures. Rubbing lemon juice into your elbows. Bah! What a waste of time.
However, be that as it may, Helga WAS a girl, at the end of the day, and though she didn't have the patience for anything elaborate, she did want to look good. Hence the weekly torture of tweezing, and a little makeup, even. Nothing big, just some simple eyeliner and lipgloss. Sometimes mascara. That was mostly it.
"My turn," said Helga, spitting her gum into a piece of paper and folding it up. She got up to throw it in the dustbin. "What is the one thing you wish for the most in the world?"
Arnold sighed softly. This was an easy one. "To see my parents again," he said, looking at the floor. "To know that they're alive."
"Wow," Helga got back from the dustbin and sat down beside him. "Your wish is the exact opposite of mine."
"I know," said Arnold, looking up at her. "But I can't let go of it. I know it's been years. I know they're probably long dead. But I can't stop hoping. I never got any kind of closure, see."
"All right, Arnoldo," said Helga briskly. Arnold had been expecting her to be brisk, she generally always shied away from any kind of emotion. "I'm going to be straight with you. I don't think you really want your parents to be alive. Think about it. What if they are alive, out there, somewhere? Do you really like that they haven't come back for you? That they don't contact you? That they don't appear to miss you at all? It all comes down to this, Football Head. Would you prefer it if your parents were alive and didn't care about you? Or would you prefer to believe that they're dead, but that they loved you with all their heart when they were alive?"
Arnold didn't know what to say to that. Helga had a point.
"Hey," her voice was softer this time she spoke, and a strand of yellow hair swept over her eyes. She touched his arm very lightly. "I have parents who are very alive, and they don't care a whit about me," she said. "It sucks. You don't want that. I'm sure your parents loved you very much."
Arnold nodded at her, grasped by an irrational desire to take that strand of hair and push it gently behind her ear. How strange. Why would he want to do that? She tossed it back herself a second later. Ah well. It was a stupid idea, anyway.
"It's your turn, F.H.," she said, leaning back again and sounding more like herself.
"Oh, right," said Arnold, making an attempt to sound more like himself as well. "Okay. Whom do you like? As in a guy? As in LIKE, like?"
Crap. Why did he ask her that? What a dumb question to ask! What would she think now?
Helga was looking at him in a strange way, her face unreadable. "I want to pass this question." she said.
"But why? Come on, Helga. I won't tell," said Arnold.
"Arnold, I told you if I really didn't want to answer it not to force me."
"Wow, you called me Arnold. You're serious." He laughed. Helga didn't crack a smile. Arnold subsided. "Okay, okay. Different question. Ok, hypothetically, for you to like a guy, what is the first quality you'd look for in him?"
Helga rolled her eyes. "Wow, you really are fixated on this liking business," she said. "Fine, all right. Here you go: I would look for somebody who valued me as a person. Sappy, I know, but all my life I've been kind of neglected and unnoticed and, in the cases of people I beat up, feared. So that's what I'd look for. Somebody who liked me for me, and didn't want me to change and do my hair like Rhonda's and grow C-cups all of a sudden, and giggle maniacally like those other morons. That's what I'd look for first in a guy."
Arnold nodded. Wow, this girl was deep.
He'd always known that, of course. Helga Pataki was years above her peers in emotional maturity. Maybe it came from having a hard childhood, having to take care of herself most of the time. Maybe it came from the fact that she had to learn how to stand up for herself early on, something that had earned her the title of bully in elementary school. Helga was a very strong person. She was closeted at all times, her emotions shuttered. She wouldn't let herself be vulnerable to anybody. Her best friend Phoebe was perhaps the only one she opened up to at all. And Phoebe was a very quiet, trustworthy little thing, so nobody else really knew what went on in the head of Helga G. Pataki.
But you only had to look at their friendship to see that Helga wasn't remotely shallow or mean. She was unwaveringly loyal, and stood up for Phoebe anytime anybody picked on her. The fact that they were best friends after eleven years was telling in itself. Most other girls in their class regularly changed best friends every few months.
Arnold also knew that Helga wasn't shallow because she was so self sufficient. She never sought attention, or fame. She was very quiet about her talents. In the seventh grade, it was discovered that Helga had an amazing singing voice, but she hated going on stage and being applauded. She liked her space, and liked it a LOT.
"My turn," said the self-sufficient Helga. "And I'm going to put you in the same spot as you put me. What is the first quality you'd look for in a girl for you to like her?"
Arnold ruminated, scratching his head. He'd always thought that he'd want somebody NICE. Somebody with a soft voice and a kind smile, somebody who liked animals and children. Somebody very NOT Helga. Now, for some reason he wasn't so sure.
It's because she's being so interesting to be around, he told himself. I mean, if everybody liked sweet girls, there'd be nobody who liked Helga, and she doesn't deserve that. She's a pretty cool person. He suppressed a quiet voice in his head that was saying something completely different. Hey, well, this is about ME, he thought. And I like nice girls.
"She should be really nice and sweet," he said out loud.
"Sheesh," said Helga. "Your brains are totally soft. You're mush, Football Head."
"I guess I am," said Arnold, grinning at her.
"Don't smile at me like that, it's pathetic. It's beyond pathetic, it's disgusting. You really want a girl who's 'ever so nice'?"
"Wait, what?" said Arnold. Was she thinking that he liked Lila? Why would she imitate her way of speaking otherwise?
"Seriously, Arnoldo. So you wouldn't care if she was the dimmest person alive? As long as she smiled and twirled and played with little kids, you'd be okay with it?"
"I didn't say THAT," said Arnold, perturbed. What was with Helga? Why was she making him think so much about the ideas he'd established in his head so carefully over the past fourteen years? And why was she making him change his mind? How was she so right about everything? He couldn't even deny that she was! Sure it'd be nice to have a sweet girlfriend, but what if she had nothing to talk about? Wouldn't she bore him within a week? "Well, sweet and smart," he said.
"You only get to pick one quality," Helga told him.
"Well, what if your guy who likes you for you is dumb, huh?" he countered, feeling out of his depth in this conversation. He had to one-up the girl somewhere, and fast.
"Hey, news flash, Football Head. It's ME we're talking about," said Helga, poking him in the shoulder. "I don't think anybody is going to like me for my beauty, or my excellent social skills, are they? It's going to take some probing, some getting to know me. I'm guessing anybody who has the patience for that isn't exactly stupid, ya know."
Again! She was right, again! Why was this happening?
"Hey, I'm probing, and getting to know you," Arnold joked, hoping to get SOME kind of rise out of her. She looked at him, the strange unreadable expression back on her face.
"You aren't exactly stupid, ya know," she said, and stood up. "Anyway," she added, "Even though you know me, you don't like me for who I am, do you. So that's out."
Arnold didn't know what to say about this. 'I do like you for who you are' would sound like he was asking her out. 'You're right, I don't' would just be mean. Finally he settled for: "Hey, I don't know ALL about you yet. Who's to say how I'll feel when I do?" Helga blushed visibly. She stood there, in her pink shift dress and messy golden hair, her blue eyes wide and shocked.
Arnold was ecstatic. Finally, a reaction. Then he realized what sort of reaction that was. Oh crap. Why did he keep saying stupid things like this? Where was his brain? Why did he feel so confused? What was even happening? Stupid Football Head, he said to himself. Great. Now his brain had become Helga. What was going on?
"Yeah, well, I don't think so," said Helga shortly, and turned her face to the window, away from him. "Anyway, whatever. I'm sick of this game. Let's do something else."
They ended up playing tic tac toe for the next half hour, and then word association. Finally, Arnold's grandfather turned up with a custodian, and got them out of the classroom. Helga's parents probably hadn't noticed she was missing. They high fived each other goodbye and went to their respective houses.
"What did you do in there for all those hours with that girl, short man?" Grandpa asked him on the way to the boarding house.
"Nothing. We played stuff. You know. Passed the time." But he knew that what had transpired in that locked classroom was more that just the passing of time. Something had changed between Helga and himself, he could feel it. She'd let him see a side of her she usually hid, and it was different from the normal Helga Pataki. It was also different from any other girl he knew. He'd never seen it coming, but Helga Pataki's other side intrigued him, and he wanted to see more of it. He didn't know what this meant, but he did know that he didn't want a sweet, boring girl anymore. He also knew that when he finally found his perfect girl, he would like her for who she was.
END... or is it?
A/N: OK, so what do you think? Worthy of continuation? Not worthy of continuation? Coz I'm kind of sort of getting an idea for another chapter. You know, about how things start changing between those two, and what everybody thinks of that, etcetera etcetera. Come on, review! What are you still reading this crap for?