Author's Note: Hey Arnold on Netflix Instant has sent me plunging back into my love for this show. It just gets better with age, too. Anyway, I've seen a lot of stories floating around the HA Fandom that do a kind of 'What if Arnold grew up in San Lorenzo?' type of story; this is my little addition to that niche.
Arnold woke up when he heard his Dad trip down the stairs.
"Ow ow ow ow OW! Damnit! I hate these stairs!"
Arnold heard his grandpa chuckle. "Well son, the stairs obviously love you; you haven't stopped falling down them since you've been back!"
"You know what, Dad? You're a real..." Dad's voice trailed off, as well as Grandpa's. They must've been walking towards the kitchen.
Arnold rolled onto his back and kicked off his blankets, staring up at the blue sky through his room's skylight. It was beautiful outside. That was always a good sign. Maybe today wouldn't be so bad. Maybe today would reflect that perfect blue sky.
Arnold smiled and got up. He needed to take a shower. He rubbed his face thoughtfully. And probably shave.
"Ouch! Not so rough, Stella!"
Arnold walked into the kitchen and sat across from his Mom. She gave him a small smile before turning back to her task at hand: stitching a gash on Dad's palm.
Arnold opened his mouth to tease Dad for being a klutz when his Grandma dropped a plate of pancakes in front of him. "Eat up, Tex. You're gonna need it for today." She walked back towards the stove.
"Last stitch...okay, you're done." Mom put down the needle and reached into her First Aid kit, taking out a roll of gauze. She gently began to wrap it around Dad's hand. "She's right, Arnold. Eat up. Big day, today." She gave him a worried look. "Are you sure you want to do this? You can wait until next year, you know."
Arnold shrugged, and dug into his pancakes. "Why wait? I'll be going eventually. I don't want to put it off."
Mom frowned. "But-"
Dad interrupted her. "Ah, Stella, don't worry. Arnold braved the jungle for sixteen years. I think he can handle high school."
"Yep," Grandpa said, walking up behind Arnold and clapping him on the back. Arnold choked on his pancakes a bit. "That's right! Plus, I'm sure that he wants to impress some girls with some of his jungle stories." He winked, and Arnold looked down at his plate, blushing. He did want to meet some girls. Actually, he wanted to meet the girl, the way Dad met the girl. Arnold had never had a girlfriend. He'd only kissed one girl, Lucia, when he was thirteen and that was only to make her boyfriend jealous.
But Arnold had a good feeling about Hillwood. He'd meet the girl here. Maybe it'd even be like one of those John Hughes movies Mom loved.
After all, this was America.
"Alright class, settle down!"
Arnold stood awkwardly at the front of the classroom while his 1st period English teacher, Mr. Simmons, tried to get the class's attention. He glanced around the room; most of his classmates were talking to each other, totally ignoring Mr. Simmons. One blonde girl in the back was reading a book, ignoring everyone. Arnold's eyes fell on a redheaded girl sitting in front. She gave him a supportive smile and he smiled back. She was pretty cute.
Finally, an Asian girl with glasses who was sitting next to the redhead firmly rapped her knuckles against her desk three times. Everyone immediately shut up and faced the front. Suddenly, all eyes were on Arnold. He fidgeted nervously under their gaze. He noticed the blonde girl in the back was still reading. The Asian girl cleared her throat. The blonde sighed and rolled her eyes, but she closed her book and faced the front.
"Thank you, Phoebe," Mr. Simmons said gratefully. The Asian girl - Phoebe - smiled and nodded.
"Okay class, welcome back! I hope you all had a very special Spring Break! Before we start, I want to introduce you to our new transfer student, Arnold...um...sorry, your last name is smudged out on this form..."
"It's Shortman," Arnold supplied.
"Thank you, Arnold. Anyway, Arnold just moved here from San Lorenzo, which is in South America! How special you are, Arnold! I hope you all give Arnold here a very special warm welcome."
The entire class was silent.
"Welcome to hell," the blonde girl deadpanned. Some boys sitting around her snickered.
Mr. Simmons narrowed his eyes. "Helga..."
Helga kicked out her feet in front of her. "Sorry." Arnold didn't think she sounded sorry at all.
"Okay, Arnold, why don't you go ahead and take a seat...it looks like the one across from Helga is open."
Somebody started humming the funeral march. Helga slammed a hand down on her desk and the humming immediately stopped.
Arnold slowly walked towards his desk and slid into his seat.
"Okay class, now open your books to page 142...oh, Arnold, you can share with Helga until I get you a textbook. Okay, page 142..."
Helga let out a dramatic sigh before turning and glaring at Arnold. He shifted uncomfortably under her stare.
"Well?" she said impatiently. Arnold leaned over, trying to look at her book. Helga rolled her eyes and reached out and grabbed the edge of his desk, yanking him closer to her. The legs of his desk made a high pitched screech when she pulled him over, but nobody seemed to notice (or care). She laid out the book between them.
Arnold read silently for a few minutes, before sneaking a glance at the girl next to him. This girl seemed pretty tough. She had dark eyebrows, which contrasted with her light blonde hair. A section of her bangs kept falling in front of her right eye; she'd brush it out of the way every once in a while. It all added to her tough persona.
Except for her dress. She was wearing a knee length, pink gingham dress. It looked almost 50's-esque. Arnold tilted his head. Now that he thought about it, the dress actually complimented her tough girl persona as well...
"What the fuck are you looking at?" Helga hissed. Arnold stiffened in his seat. Busted.
"Nice dress," he blurted out. Helga stared at him, her face a mixture of weirded out, confused, and touched. She opened her mouth to reply when the large guy with the backwards baseball hat sitting in front of her turned around.
"Ooooo, Helga! You said the f-word!" he whispered.
Helga's eyes narrowed at first...but then she took a deep breath and gave the guy a confused look. "What, 'fantastic'?" she questioned.
Helga drummed her fingers on her desk. "Oh, right! Fuuhh"- she drew out the word -"nny?"
"YOU SAID FUCK! FUCK, OKAY?"
"Oh my goodness...Harold!" Mr. Simmons had a hand pressed to his chest, a look of utter terror on his face. "You know I don't permit that kind of language in my classroom! Detention!"
"Aw, man!" Harold glared at Helga. She just shrugged. He pointed at her maliciously. "Madame Fortress Mommy!"
Helga gave him an overdramatic pout. "I'm hurt, Harold. Wounded. Golly, how will I ever recover?"
Harold let out a frustrated sigh and turned back around. Helga turned back towards her book. After a minute, she looked back up at Arnold, who was staring at her in wonder.
"This book isn't gonna read itself, you know. Don't want to fall behind on your first day." When Arnold didn't move, she sighed and reached behind his head, gently pushing down until he was staring at the book.
"There ya go," she said casually. "Read on."
The rest of Arnold's morning classes were dull in comparison to English. He couldn't seem get his mind off Helga. Talk about first impressions...which she obviously did not care about at all, given her attitude. She was kind of scary...but also kind of impressive. She had an amazing presence, that was for sure.
Arnold walked over to his locker and put his books inside. Now, to find the cafeteria.
Arnold shut his locker door and looked at the guy standing next to him. He was taller than Arnold by, okay, a lot (why did he inherent Mom's height instead of Dad's?) but he had a friendly smile. Arnold smiled back.
"I'm Gerald. We're in the same English class."
"We are? Sorry, I didn't notice..."
Gerald laughed. "That's okay, dude. You were probably distracted by the one and only Helga G. Pataki."
Arnold felt his face grow hot. "Well..."
"Don't sweat it. She scares everyone. Most of us have just spent enough time around her to be used to it. If you think she's bad now, you should've seen her in grade school. Anyway, you goin' to lunch? You can sit with me and meet the guys."
"Okay. Sounds cool."
They walked towards the cafeteria together. Arnold saw Phoebe standing outside the cafeteria doors. She smiled when she saw Gerald.
"Hey sweets," Gerald said. He leaned down and gave her a quick peck on the lips. "Arnold, I believe you already know Phoebe."
Phoebe smiled at Arnold warmly. "Hello, Arnold."
Gerald wrapped an arm around Phoebe's shoulders. "Phoebe here is President of National Honors Society. She's the first Junior to ever be elected President."
Phoebe rolled her eyes, but a blush crept up her cheeks. "Gerald! I thought you stopped telling people ages ago."
"Well, now I had someone new to tell." Phoebe giggled. Gerald leaned in for another kiss.
Arnold cleared his throat and the two broke apart. "I kinda figured you were important. That was pretty impressive what you did back in class, the way you got everyone to pay attention by just knocking on the desk."
Phoebe beamed. "Thank you, Arnold! I actually learned that trick from my best friend."
"Speaking of..." Gerald trailed off and motioned behind Arnold. He turned around and saw Helga stomping towards them, flanked by two guys, one shorter than her, one taller. The shorter guy was yelling at her.
"Helga, I swear, when the zombie apocalypse comes and you turn into a zombie, I'm hunting you down first."
"Oh get a grip, Sid. It was just a frog. A dead frog."
"Exactly! You promised you'd try to get the pig to dissect! I'll never trust you again." They all stopped in front of the cafeteria doors and Sid pointed an accusing finger in Helga's face.
Helga batted his hand away angrily. "Fuck, what is with you losers and pointing in my face today? I told you, I tried to get a pig. But Sheena got the last one. You should be thanking me - that unborn pig that barely fits on her dissecting tray. Ugh, I'll never eat a hot dog again."
Sid crossed his arms and turned away from her. "I'm not speaking to you." Helga threw up her arms and threw the taller guy a look. The taller guy stepped forward and rested a hand on Sid's shoulder, rubbing it gently.
Nobody said anything. Finally, Sid turned around. "Alright, I forgive you Helga."
"Thank you so much for your mercy," Helga said sarcastically. She turned towards the taller guy. "And thank you too, Stinky. Seriously." The tall guy - Stinky - smiled.
"Alright, are you guys done with the Degrassi drama?" Gerald said impatiently. "I'm sure Arnold thinks we're all crazy."
Sid, Stinky, and Helga looked at Arnold like they hadn't even realized he was there. Sid and Stinky gave him apologetic smiles; Helga just crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. She opened her mouth to say something but Gerald grabbed Arnold's arm and drug him inside, cutting off any biting remarks Helga planned to say. Helga looked annoyed at first, but eventually followed them into the cafeteria with Phoebe, Stinky and Sid not far behind.
"So...do you like it here so far?" Gerald asked Arnold as they got their trays. "Or is it a total nightmare?"
Arnold followed Gerald in line, mimicking his actions to a T so he wouldn't look nearly as lost as he felt. "It's different, but I like it. I used to live in a hut in the middle of the jungle. There are a lot more girls here. Uh, I mean..." Arnold rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. Gerald smiled and gave him a knowing glance and Phoebe giggled. Helga gave him a disgusted look. Arnold looked down at his shoes sheepishly.
Sid saved him from his embarrassment. "A hut in the jungle? Boy Howdy, you must have been surrounded by all sorts of nifty frogs and stuff!"
Helga, Phoebe and Gerald groaned. Sid looked offended. "Hey, they're cool!"
Stinky leaned down and whispered in Arnold's ear. "You'll have to excuse Sid," he said in a slow drawl. "He really loves frogs."
Sid glared at Stinky and he straightened up immediately. "What did you say?"
"Just recommending the lemon pudding to Arnold here," Stinky said smoothly. He took a cup and put it on Arnold's tray.
"Crisis averted," Gerald whispered to him. "You're lucky - Stinky and Sid's lover's quarrels are what Degrassi dream scripts are made of."
"Oh," Arnold said, confused by all the information being thrown at him. He followed Gerald out of line towards the tables. "Uh, what's Degrassi-"
Arnold was cut off when he bumped into a rock wall of some sort. He fell backwards onto the floor. Dazed, Arnold looked up. He hadn't run into a rock wall, it was Harold. Arnold's food was smeared across the front of Harold's shirt.
"Uh," Arnold started. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you-"
Harold interrupted his apology with a frustrated cry. "Aaaaah! This was my favorite shirt!" He glared down at Arnold. "You're dead!" Harold grabbed the front of Arnold's shirt and lifted him up with one arm. He made a fist with his other hand and drew his arm back. Arnold closed his eyes and covered his arms over his face.
"Wait! Don't touch him!"
Arnold opened his eyes and peered through his arms. He dropped them in shock when he saw Helga standing in between him and Harold, her hand covering Harold's fist.
Harold glared at Helga; she held his glare. Reluctantly, he let go of Arnold's shirt.
"Why not?" Harold said angrily.
Now that the threat had subsided, Helga looked confused at her recent actions. She shook her head slightly and regained her composure.
"You know why." Harold gave her a confused look. "Oh, wow. You really are a dipshit."
Helga threw up her arms. "I'm helping you. Aren't you like one fight away from being expelled?"
Realization dawned on Harold's face. "Oh yeah, that's right! Well, thanks Helga!" He gave her a genuine smile.
Helga looked down at her shoes, a small blush on her cheeks. When she looked back up, the blush was gone. "Yeah, well, you're welcome, you dip. But I don't think you're gonna get off as easily with your little princess." She pointed behind him.
Arnold followed her finger to a girl with short black hair. The girl's high heels clicked across the linoleum in a frantic rhythm as she stormed towards them.
Harold groaned. "Aw, man!"
"Harold!" she screamed. "You! Said! No! More! Fighting!" The girl accentuated each word with a slap across Harold's shoulders.
"Ow! Rhonda, stop! I didn't do anything!"
Rhonda stopped her assault. "I know. I saw. You owe Helga big time, Mister." Rhonda looked over at Helga and gave her a thankful look.
"I'm keeping a list," Helga teased. Rhonda smiled.
Helga turned around and looked at Arnold. "And you." Arnold straightened under her gaze. "Almost forgot. Are you okay?"
Arnold nodded slowly.
Rhonda looked at Arnold, then nudged Harold towards him. Harold sighed deeply. "Hey, look, I'm really sorry about beating you...well, almost beating you up. Old habits die hard, you know? No hard feelings?" He held out his hand.
Arnold looked down at Harold's hand, then back up to his face. He shook his hand and smiled. "No hard feelings."
Harold beamed. "Hey, you're pretty cool, uh...what's your name?"
"You're pretty cool, Arnold. Isn't he, Rhonda?"
Rhonda was staring at him thoughtfully. "Yes. You're quite the...gentleman, Arnold." She looked Arnold up and down, sizing him up.
Gerald swung an arm around Arnold's shoulders. "So, do you still like it here or has the nightmare set in?"
Arnold walked to his locker after the final bell, his mind preoccupied with the events of his first day. Despite almost getting beat up, Arnold though the day went really well. He already made some friends. In fact, Gerald and the guys were going to show Arnold around town on Saturday. He smiled to himself.
Arnold walked past Rhonda, who was leaning against her locker talking to the pretty redhead from his English class. He gave Rhonda a small smile and she smiled back. She leaned towards the redhead and whispered in her ear. The redhead turned around to look at him curiously.
As Arnold opened his locker, he noticed a blur of pink rush past him. He quickly grabbed his books and slammed his locker door shut. "Hey, Helga!"
She stopped and turned around. She was holding a few books loosely under one arm. "What do you want, football head?"
Arnold tilted his head, confused. "What? My head doesn't look like a football. Footballs are round. My head's more...oblong." He shifted his books from one arm to the other.
"Since when are footballs round? Where are you from...oh, wait. You are from South America. Forgot football was soccer down there...anyway, that fell flat. What do you want?"
Arnold took a step towards her. "I didn't get a chance to thank you for what you did in the cafeteria. So, umm...thank you."
Helga waved a hand dismissively. "Yeah, whatever. Don't let it go to your oblong head."
"I wasn't! Just...thanks. Really. It was nice of you."
Helga stared at him. She sighed. "Okay, okay, you're welcome." She turned back around and started to walk away. After a few steps, she stopped and faced him.
"Um...thank you, too. For what you said earlier. About my dress." She stared at him determinedly, her books pressed tight against her chest.
Arnold smiled warmly. "You're welcome."
She gave him a small smile, before shaking her head and giving him a sly smirk. "See you tomorrow."
Arnold watched her leave. She sidestepped a couple kissing in the middle of the hallway, then stiff-armed a boy that was stumbling towards her.
Arnold turned around. The pretty redhead was standing behind him. She had her hands clasped behind her back and was looking up at him shyly. His heart thudded in his chest.
"Hi," Arnold said dreamily.