AN: I think I like writing Hey Arnold one-shots. They're something to keep me busy over winter break – enjoy them while I have the time!
Of Bows and Pigtails
Helga Pataki sat silently at the lunch table, Rhonda's words ringing in her ears.
"Why is Helga still wearing her hair in those ridiculous pigtails? She's had that same hairstyle since preschool, for goodness' sake!"
Helga and Phoebe stopped short before they rounded the corner of the hallway, where Rhonda and her gang were standing in front of their lockers, gossiping. The girls surrounding Rhonda giggled collectively, unanimously approving of their leader's judgment. They always did.
"Someone should tell her she looks like a ten year old. Come on, sweetie, we're in high school now. It's time to grow up."
The group of girls laughed again, and this time, Nadine piped in with, "Do you remember that time in fourth grade where she showed up at your sleepover with her hair all done up?"
The girls burst into roaring laughter, even some of the girls who hadn't been there.
"Oh yes," Rhonda said, between laughs, "She should try something like that again. It'd be a little more age appropriate this time around."
Her groupies tittered, and Helga turned her back to them. "Come on, Phoebe, let's go grab lunch."
And here they were now, sitting in silence in the cafeteria. Phoebe occasionally sent her friend worried glances as she nibbled anxiously on an apple, but Helga remained silent. She almost wished Helga had responded in her usual way and had confronted Rhonda, threatening her with her life. Anything would have been better than this eerie silence.
As it happened, this was not the first time the subject of her hair had crossed Helga's mind recently. Every morning for the past few weeks, when she woke up and placed her pink bow on top of her hair, she wondered if it was maybe time for a change. For the longest time, she had loved her hairstyle and the giant pink bow, if only for certain comments made by a certain football-headed boy back in preschool. She'd be lying if she said she hadn't been keeping this same style, with the same accessory, for as long as she had because of him.
Years later, Arnold still wasn't noticing her. They interacted on occasion, but in the complicated world of high school, they had drifted further apart than when they were enemies. Now they were worse than enemies, in Helga's mind – they were acquaintances.
She saw the girls he spoke with in the halls: this year's Ruths – following the latest fashion and beauty trends so well they looked like they could be on the cover of a magazine. Arnold was one of the most well-liked guys in school – and all Helga ever did was terrorize him. No wonder he didn't give her the time of day…but she couldn't help but feel the way she looked had something to do with it.
Maybe it was time for a change.
"Pheebs?" Helga suddenly spoke up, "Do you…do you think what Rhonda said is true?"
Phoebe turned and gave her best friend a reassuring smile. "I love your hair, Helga. It's…you!"
Helga snorted, "Don't give me that obligatory best friend blather, Phoebe, just tell me the truth."
Phoebe shook her head violently. "No, it's true, I swear!"
Helga sighed. Of course Phoebe would try to save her feelings like that…wrong person to ask.
"But," Phoebe said, slowly, "I think that if you want a change, then maybe you should take action." She smiled at Helga. "Do you like your hair, Helga?"
Helga sighed again, lowering her head. "I…I don't know."
Phoebe reached out and put her hand on Helga's shoulder. "Well, if you don't feel great in your hair, you should do something about it. Who cares what other people think! All that matters is how you feel."
Helga was silent again for a few moments, then she raised her head and smiled. "Thanks Pheebs."
Helga stood at her locker, examining her reflection nervously. She hadn't changed her look too drastically. She had only changed her hair. She hadn't chopped any of it off, hadn't spent hours poring over teen magazines absorbing every fashion shot, hadn't bought new clothes or new shoes. She hadn't worn her pink dress since elementary school – now she chose simple jeans and t-shirts, and today was no exception. She wore no make-up, as usual, the only thing she had changed was her hair.
She hadn't even done all that much. In essence, all she had really done was not put in pigtails. Her hair was long and naturally held a few waves. She had showered the night before and went to sleep with her hair down, so when she woke up in the morning, she merely tousled it a little, using a bottle of hairspray she found in Olga's bathroom that promised volume. Unwilling to give up her pink bow completely, she replaced it with a headband with a smaller pink bow, slightly tilted to the side.
She sighed again at the little mirror in her locker, and ran a hand lightly through her hair, tossing it a bit more. She liked it – it didn't seem like too drastic of a change, it was easy to upkeep, and she liked the way she looked in it. But still, she wondered what Rhonda and the girls would say. Would they know she had done it because she had overheard them and mock her for it? And, more importantly, what would…
Helga froze at the familiar voice. She slammed the locker shut, and turned around abruptly. Arnold stood right behind her, looking at her with a peculiar look on his face.
"Wh—What do you want, Football Head?" She stammered.
Arnold stepped closer. "You changed your hair," He said, cocking his head.
Helga blushed deeply, turning her face away from him, so he wouldn't notice. "Yeah, well…just thought I'd see what this looked like. There's no crime against that, is there? Cr—criminy…"
"No, no, I was just…" Arnold stuttered.
Helga peeked back over him. He was still staring at her, head tilted, as if he were seeing her for the first time. She felt a little uncomfortable, but she turned to face him full on, lowering her head, bashfully.
"You look nice," Arnold finally said. He flashed her a smile. "I like your bow."
"Th…thanks, Football Head…I mean, Arnold."
"I'll see you around, Helga," Arnold said, as her turned to leave, shaking his head to himself, smiling softly.
"Bye…" Helga whispered as he walked away.
When he had turned the corner, she opened her locker again, and reexamined herself in the mirror. Suddenly, it didn't matter what the other girls would say.