"Let's be friends so we can make out."
Let's Be 'Friends'
Chapter One: Single Problems
Everywhere Helga looked there were couples. Kissing, groping, practically inhaling each other's faces, holding hands, being cute. It was borderline unsanitary and disgusting to watch.
But everyone at Hillwood High had paired off.
Even Wolfgang, the most disgusting and vile junior in the school, had found a cute little sophomore to hook up with.
Helga didn't mind being single. She preferred it, actually. No one to bother her all the time, no one to worry about, no reason to get dressed up and waste precious hours of her life on dates. The last thing she wanted was someone to answer to, someone who'd want her available all the time. Boyfriends were stupid.
But she wouldn't mind kissing a boy every once and a while.
. . .What? She had needs, just like every other hormonal sixteen-year-old in the world.
Helga leaned against her locker, eyes narrowed at the freshmen couple across the hallway. Maybe if she stared hard enough they'd stop kissing and burst into flames.
It was after school and most of the hallway was empty. Kids were at practices, clubs, or walking home. Helga had missed the bus because she was talking to their biology teacher about her most recent grade. She didn't feel like walking home, so she figured she'd wait around for her best friend to drive her home.
"What are you doing?"
Helga jumped. "Jesus, Football Head, are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
"No, but I am trying to get to my locker." Helga sighed and stepped away, still keeping her back to the metal. Arnold smiled, "So what are you doing over here?"
"Phoebe and Geraldo were too busy sucking face so I decided to wait away at a safe distance."
Arnold continued emptying in backpack, shaking his head, "I told him to tone it down. Guess he didn't listen."
"Of course he didn't. He's hornier than a unicorn."
Arnold laughed, "Poor Phoebe."
"In this situation, I almost want to say poor Gerald." Helga smirked, "Of course, Phoebe said it was more like 'Our biological needs for mating begins as we reach our late teens and our sexual urges need to be expressed.' Or something hoity-toity like that. I zoned out after 'biological'." She leaned her head back against the wall, "Speaking of needs, where's your needy girlfriend?"
Arnold shut his locker with a little more force than Helga expected. The clanging metal echoed in the back of her head. "We broke up two weeks ago."
"Oh." She cleared her throat, suddenly feeling awkward, "Sorry to hear that."
On the inside she was doing backflips. She wished someone had clued her in sooner! Little Miss Perfect Lila Sawyer with her big, innocent green eyes and perfect auburn hair and all around goody-two-shoes nature always left a sour taste in Helga's mouth. And it definitely felt like a kick to the gut when Lila and Arnold became a couple. It was torture to see them in the hallway, holding hands and sharing quick kisses. Her fourth grade nightmare had come true.
Hallelujah it was over!
"It's okay, Lila and I were always meant to be friends."
"So are you still going to the dance with her?"
"No. She's already asked a guy from Valley High."
Helga let out a low whistle, "That girl doesn't go down easy." Arnold's face contorted as he tried to hide a smile. Helga watched him, mind suddenly catching up to what she said. "Oh, grow up, Hair Boy." She playfully smacked his arm, "That's not what I meant. I meant that she bounced back fast, is all."
"I know, sorry. I couldn't help it. I could just hear Gerald laughing in the back of my mind. That guy can make anything perverted."
"Yeah, I've had the pleasure of spending hours with him at Phoebe's. He is sick sometimes." Helga's lip curled in disgust.
"So are you going to the dance tonight?"
Helga stared at Arnold, "Are you kidding me? Homecoming is just another chance for everyone to dress up and hump each other to rap music for four hours. That's the last thing I need to see."
"Oh. I overheard Sid say something about you two going together."
Helga was half-listening to Arnold. Her eyes had set on the freshman couple, still locking lips. It was like they didn't need to come up for air! Stupid kids.
"He's just saying that so Rhonda Wellington-Lloyd will get jealous and want to go with him. I agreed to be part of the rumor, but that doesn't mean I'm actually going."
"What if she doesn't agree to go?"
Helga laughed and put her hand on Arnold's shoulder, switching her tone to condescending, "Oh, Arnold. Let me clue you in to something. Rhonda hates me. And she'll do anything to piss me off. So stealing my 'date' would 'crush' me."
"A manipulative little rat, but hey, if he gets his dream girl, it's gotta be worth the little white lie."
Arnold slung his backpack over his shoulder, now leaning against his closed locker. "So you're really not going to the dance?"
"Criminy, Arnoldo, I already told you I wasn't."
He shrugged, "I think you should. It's your second to last homecoming."
"Or it could be my third to last, depending on if I fail junior year like Wolfgang did."
Arnold laughed lightly. "You're too smart for that, Helga."
"In everything but biology. Science and I just don't mix," she sighed.
The freshman couple had finally split apart, holding hands and walking towards the cafeteria. It made Helga sick. Why did they get to be happy?
So what if Helga was failing biology and the life lessons that their health teacher had tried so hard to keep from happening. Maybe she should just give up going to school.
"Doesn't Phoebe help you?"
"She's been too busy tutoring her boyfriend in anatomy."
Arnold's eyes went wide, "Oh."
Helga shuddered. "It makes me sick."
"You're just saying that because you-"
Helga clenched her fist and held it in his face, "I dare you to finish that sentence, bucko."
"I was going to say because you've never liked Gerald." His eyebrows knit in confusion, "What did you think I was going to say?"
Helga tensed, speaking through her clenched jaw, "Nothing."
Helga had heard it a million times from other girls. 'You just don't like Gerald because you don't have a boyfriend and Phoebe does. You don't like dances because you don't have a date. You don't like couples because you never get asked out.'
Okay, so maybe two out of three were slightly true. She just never liked Gerald period.
Arnold watched Helga direct her attention to everything but him. She looked at the other lockers across the hallway, the water fountain, the doors towards the back parking lot. She kept her face brooding, arms crossed over her chest and backpack at her feet.
He took this moment to really study her. She was one of the tallest girls in the junior class at 5'10", and still threatened everyone who even thought about looking at her. She kept her blonde hair long, now it was falling past her chest. Her outfits had changed from pink dresses to baggy black jeans and large dark t-shirts. She'd waxed her eyebrow after a mean comment from Rhonda in seventh grade. On occasion he'd see her wear pink again, but it wasn't very often. She still called everyone by insulting nicknames and hardly ever smiled.
Not much had really changed since fourth grade.
Helga finally glared directly at Arnold, realizing he was staring at her.
There was a reason she always wore baggy clothes. After starting puberty in the end of eighth grade, her classmates started treating her differently because she had hips and breasts. She'd inherited the same figure Olga had, one of the few genetic gifts she'd gotten from Miriam. Other than the body and blonde hair, she was Big Bob Pataki through and through. And that was an unsettling feeling.
"What?" she snapped.
"Nothing. I was just trying to think of a reason to make you come to the dance."
"Why do you want me at the dance so badly?"
Arnold smiled, "Come on, Helga, you and I both know we're the last single people in Hillwood High."
"Are you trying to convince me or make me hit you?"
"Helga, will you go to the dance with me? You know, as friends?"
She started laughing. "Just because you're desperate, Arnold, doesn't mean I am. So, no."
Phoebe had finally rounded the corner, waving at Helga near the doors by the parking lot. Helga picked up her backpack, flipping her hair over her shoulder, "See you on Monday, Football Head. Have a great time at the dance."
Arnold turned around and reached for her arm, but she was too fast. "Helga, wait!"
He watched Gerald kiss Phoebe on the cheek before heading in his direction. Arnold pouted slightly at the sight of Helga finally leaving the school.
Gerald Johannsen had been dating Phoebe Hyerdahl since seventh grade. They were the longest running couple HHS students knew of. All of the girls loved Gerald because he was a sports star, captain of the basketball and baseball team. Not many people understood what Gerald and Phoebe had in common since Phoebe was a genius and uninterested in sports, but Arnold thought their relationship was really special because they took each other's interest to heart and worked on keeping things good.
Gerald walked over and slung his arm around his shoulder, "Sup, man? You ready to go get ready?"
"I don't think I'm going to go," Arnold sighed, "I'm not really in the dancing mood."
"Are you sure? You do realize you'll be missing the chance to check out all the fine ladies in their short little dresses."
Arnold shoved Gerald's shoulder, "You have a girlfriend! Who also happens to be best friends with the girl who could kick your ass."
"Doesn't mean I can't look. It's natural man."
"No, you're just a natural player. I don't know how Phoebe puts up with you."
"I look, but never touch. You know me, Arnold." He stopped walking, pulling Arnold back. "What is up with you?"
"Nothing," he ran his fingers through his hair, "I just was talking to Helga-"
Gerald nodded and started walking towards the front of the school, "Ah, you're just crabby from dealing with the Wicked Bitch of the West. But that'll fade."
"I asked her to the dance."
Gerald gave his friend a pointed look that said Arnold was crazy. "I take it she said no."
"Yeah, and she laughed at me. I think I also insulted her. I'm not really sure."
"Mmm mm mm," Gerald shook his head back and forth, "I had no idea you were that desperate for a date."
"I'm not desperate, Gerald."
"Sure, because asking out your own personal tormenter doesn't just scream 'desperate.'"
"Look, can we drop this? I'm just gonna go home and rot infront of the tv all weekend." The two best friends spent their walk home discussing what Gerald should wear to homecoming. Arnold was sure to crack a few jokes regarding Gerald's intense care for his looks.
Helga sat in tense silence in Phoebe's car.
"What's wrong, Helga?"
She crossed her arms over her chest and kicked her feet up to the dashboard, "Arnold asked me to homecoming."
"Wow, that's wonderful!" Phoebe nodded, keeping both hands on the wheel.
"As friends. And I laughed, said no and called him desperate."
"Oh, Helga." Phoebe offered a sympathetic smile as she pulled up to the curb of the Pataki household. "Maybe you should call him and apologize?"
"When's the last time I apologized for anything I said to him?"
"He did ask you out. Maybe this time you owe it to him. Who knows, you guys could finally end up on a real date together."
"I talk to you later," Helga slammed Phoebe's blue Prius door and bolted up her front steps. She didn't stop running until she was locked safe in her room.
After Helga turned eleven, she realized her home life was getting worse every day, so she started picking up hobbies. Some days she'd do her homework in Tina Park and people watch while buying hot dogs for dinner, other times she'd go into different stores and kill a few hours.
She'd been frequenting a music shop since she was twelve and learned to play guitar. At the time, a seventeen-year-old girl worked behind the counter and offered to give Helga free lessons when the store wasn't busy. Which was basically every weeknight.
Anna always dyed her hair different colors and painted her nails black during her breaks. At her young age, Helga idolized the girl. She was cool and funny and liked Helga. Anna went off to college two years later, but worked every summer until she graduated and moved away last year.
Helga had spent so much time at the place that the manager asked to hire her at fourteen. She worked part time after school doing the late shift from 5 till closing and all day on weekends. She taught guitar and helped people become informed on which instrument was truly for them.
On her sixteenth birthday, she had saved up enough to buy an acoustic guitar.
The place then had to fire her because it was running out of business, just like a lot of other local companies. Helga was sad to see the place go, but was happy she'd at least learned something from her four years spent there.
Once Helga was in her room, she made sure the door was locked before tossing down her backpack and picking up her guitar. She'd always search YouTube for different chords to random songs, then spend two weeks learning it. She'd sing the lyrics softly to herself to keep her on track, but didn't really like the sound of her voice.
Helga knew Miriam was passed out on the couch so she decided to sing a little louder just to get some frustration out. Why did she say no to Arnold? Helga decided she was insane and was going to leave it at that.
At six, Helga had at least ten texts from Phoebe, each one telling her to apologize and ask Arnold for a second chance. "Fat chance I'll ever do that, Pheebs," Helga said to her phone as she tossed it to the side.
At seven, with Homecoming just an hour away, Phoebe had sent even more texts: PLEASE RECONSIDER. JUST COME DANCE ANYWAY. YOU'LL HAVE FUN AND I BET SID AND WOLFGANG WILL TRY TO SPIKE THE PUNCH.
Helga laughed at the image of seeing her classmates drunk on the dance floor. She did love a good show.
Her phone vibrated again: AND ARNOLD WANTS TO SEE YOU.
Helga responded quickly, clearly not believing her friends last attempt to convince her.
I WOULD NEVER LIE TO YOU, HELGA.
That was very true. Helga jumped up from her bed and began searching her closet. She knew she had to have at least one nice dress in here. Once she found it in the back of her closet (that was now shrine free after it started rotting in fifth grade) she responded to Phoebe's text: I'LL SEE YOU IN THIRTY MIN.
Pulling the simple black dress over her legs was easy. The hard part was getting the hooks to connect in the back. The dress was only one-shouldered and backless. It fell mid thigh and stretched more every time her legs went a little too wide. The dress' gap in the back created a heart shape. Helga thought the dress was overkill and trying to hard to be sexy, but she had to admit she felt great when she wore it. And her hair fell down pretty far down anyway, so it would be easy to cover up most of her back.
Helga didn't mind walking to school. It was a nice night, still a little warm with the arrival of fall, and a gentle breeze was rolling through. She was thankful she chose not to wear heels. She was tall enough anyway and her ballet flats were surprisingly comfortable.
Phoebe was waiting excitedly outside for Helga. As soon as she saw her through the chain link fence outside the gym, she ran forwards. "Helga! You look great!"
Helga smiled and hugged Phoebe's shoulders. "I'm only staying for a little while, okay?"
Phoebe and Helga entered the gym. Helga rolled her eyes at the scene: all the kids were on the dance floor jumping around and grinding to some stupid pop song. The girls were screaming the lyrics and waving their hair around while the guys shared smug smiles and head nods to acknowledge the fact that girls were touching them.
Phoebe made a beeline towards her boyfriend, dragging Helga along. She didn't want to see Gerald because she knew Arnold would be right beside him.
Both guys smiled brightly at the pair, Gerald slipping his arm low around Phoebe's shoulders and giving Helga a nod to acknowledge her arrival. Arnold smiled and leaned over to speak over the music, "Great to see you made it."
Helga tried not to inhale to deeply at the scent of Arnold's shampoo. That scent had hypnotized her for years and now it was right in front of her, filling her senses completely. He was dressed in a black button down and slacks, his white tie standing out in contrast. He looked good, as usual, with his blond hair naturally standing up wherever it felt like.
"Well, as Phoebe said, a party isn't a party until I show up."
Arnold laughed, happy to see Helga in a better mood. "You look great, too."
Some little perky cheerleader type had walked up to the four, nodding at Gerald and smiling brightly at Arnold. She twirled the end of her platinum blonde hair, that looked like it was styled in a salon and weighed down by pounds of hair spray, and waved.
Helga practically growled at the sight of her. The girl's dress was pretty short, barely hooking around the end of her perfect underage ass. The gold fabric was metallic, shimmering every time a strobe light flashed around the gym. She looked fairly young. Helga guessed she was a sophomore at the oldest. And her perfume was definitely Eau de Desperate. "Do you want to dance, Arnold?"
Arnold looked at the girl and smiled. He really did not want to. But he was too nice of a guy to just flat out reject her. "Just one, I don't want to leave my date too long." Arnold flashed Helga a pleading look.
So she decided to play along. Winking at him, Helga forced a smile, "Just don't get too handsy, alright, Arnold?"
Gerald nudged her bare shoulder, "That was pretty cool of you to play along."
"Yeah well, she doesn't look like too much fun so I know he's gonna get bored real quick."
"Will you be okay by yourself for a few minutes?" Helga nodded at Phoebe, shoving her towards the dance floor, "Go have fun!"
Arnold fled the dance floor as soon as the song was over. The dancing was uncomfortable, the girl pretty much made him stand still as she started to grind against him. He felt a little violated and incredibly awkward.
Helga laughed, handing him a cup of punch, "You okay?"
He nodded and stepped closer so he wouldn't have to shout over the music. "Freshman. Really wanted to be seen as cool."
Helga shook her head, "Tsk tsk."
"Since you're my date now, would you like to dance?" Arnold smiled and bowed at Helga, who looked at him with amazement.
"Did you just bow?"
"That's how a gentleman acts in the presence of a beautiful lady, madame."
Helga's face broke out into a huge grin. Arnold was acting like such a goofball. Maybe Wolfgang did make it to the punch. "So if I lose a shoe should I expect a house call? Or have you been reading too many Jane Austen novels?"
"I'd rather be Prince Charming than Mr. Darcy."
"Oh, God, don't tell me."
"What can I say? I'm a closet romantic."
That's what I was afraid of, Helga thought as she forced a grimace. Arnold held his hand out again, "Please? Just one dance?"
The DJ then switched to a slower song, some stupid cliché 80's Ending Scene song, before encouraging the ladies to grab a man.
Helga's heart was racing as she placed her hand in his, following him to the dance floor. Arnold gave her a soft smile as he hand fell against the small of her back. He blushed at the touch of skin on skin.
They were just rocking, really, not dancing. It was sweet and gentle, though, because Arnold had not stopped smiling at her or staring into her eyes. She started to get a little self-conscious, fearing her make-up smeared or something.
Suddenly a chill shot up Helga's spine when she realized Arnold was tracing patterns against her skin. Circles and swirls, just moving his fingers against her exposed back.
And he still hadn't stopped smiling.
What felt like an eternity later, Arnold pulled back and bowed again, winking as he lead Helga off the dance floor.
"Well, that was. . .fun. And the most excitement I really needed," she laughed a little, "so I think I'm gonna head out." She saluted Arnold before heading towards the door. Arnold was fast, picking up his jacket from the table and chasing after her.
"You honestly thought you could lose me that easily, Pataki? Come on, when's the last time I ever let you walk home at night?"
"I'm fine, Football Head. I stay on well lit streets and took karate when I was younger. I'm a big girl, I can handle myself."
"I don't doubt it, but I'd still feel better."
Helga crossed her arms under her chest and sighed, "Fine."
They had walked three blocks in silence before Arnold decided to try a conversation, fumbling to come up with a topic. There were a million things he could talk to Helga about, but at that moment he forgot them all. It could've been because she looked happy and was smiling at him expectantly, hanging on his every breath for a word.
She finally broke down, "How's single life treating you?"
"No one to kiss," Helga puckered her lips before pouting. Arnold laughed.
"That and 'cause I liked being in a relationship. It was nice caring about someone."
Helga laughed, "You're such a sap."
"So you don't do relationships at all?"
She shrugged, "Friendship is about as far as I go."
"Don't you ever. . . I don't know, get bored?" Arnold smirked when Helga rolled her eyes. "I'll take your silence as a yes."
"No, I don't get bored. I'm a very entertaining person. I'm fine on my own."
Arnold didn't respond, but instead focused intently on holding his instincts back. He wanted to hug her and tell her she wasn't alone, and maybe even kiss her. Whoa, where did that thought come from?
"It's okay to want to be with someone. Even for. . .uh. . .releasing tension."
"Like. . .?"
He shrugged, "Friends With Benefits, or you know, casual stuff."
"I can't imagine you in a casual anything, Arnoldo. You just scream commitment."
"I am so not like that."
"Prove me wrong." Helga stopped walking and cocked her hip, just begging him to challenge her.
Arnold nodded, but kept walking, suddenly fearing the direction of this conversation and for his life. Was she serious? "How?"
"You know, like," she cleared her throat from behind him, "you and I try friends with benefits? I mean, you said so yourself, Football Head, we're the only two single people in school."
Arnold pursed his lips, mind racing with thoughts. He had to admit he was a little curious as to why Helga would want to kiss him, her personal victim. But maybe this was all a trick? Yeah, okay, so he had a few fleeting thoughts about kissing her. . .but that didn't mean much, right? He turned around, feeling as if the wind was knocked out of him. Helga was still watching him, her eyes flickering with a mix of hope and something he couldn't quite name. Anxiousness?
Oh, wow, this was serious.
. . .Hooking up with Helga.
He had to let that idea sink in for a second.
They were forcibly close through association, but knew a lot about each other after being classmates for thirteen years. He was always comfortable around her and didn't mind her company too much when she was in a good mood. If they did kiss, it would be fairly easy to avoid each other if it was awkward. Could this possibly end up being a win-win situation?
Helga watched Arnold roll his tongue over his bottom lip. He looked a little shocked, mostly confused.
"If you're being serious, Helga, I need time to think about it."
Helga nodded, opening up her front door, blood rushing in her ears. She wanted to faint on the spot. The fact he was even considering her ludicrous idea was amazing. "Well, you know how to reach me."