Helga picked at the pink Fender laying across her lap while her roommate tapped out a beat with the end of her pen against her notebook. Helga and Ryan were almost twins, both with blond hair, thin limbs, and hot tempers, which worked fine for the rock band they were in. Helga's long golden locks were raked with a few hot pink streaks, some wisps of hair having snuck out, hanging around her face as she focused on the notes vibrating off the strings.
Ryan, who was often mistaken for a boy from her name, looked slightly less approachable than her friend, a green glass stud in her nose and a hoop around the left side of her lower lip, her almost white hair cut shorter with more angular layers and green, purple, and black dye fading from her tips to her roots. Ryan couldn't keep the scowl off her face. Helga's dad had moved them across the sea to live in Dublin. Helga had been attending Rathdown since she left Hillwood in the sixth grade. She and Ryan had been roommates since then, swooning over their English and music classes together and grumbling about math and science. It was unfair in both their eyes that Bob had chosen the middle of Helga's junior year to move back to Hillwood. Surprisingly, Helga had come to terms with it. Ryan wasn't so easy to give up on it.
"Why are we even writing a new song if you're going to be gone in two weeks?" Ryan burst out suddenly, tossing her pen across the room and capturing Helga's attention. "It's not like you'll even know anyone there. The only one who's even kept in touch with you is Phoebe. And I know I'll always have the lads, but it won't be the same as my twin."
Helga signed and placed her guitar aside. She hated it just as much as Ryan, but she had come to terms with it a while back. There was no arguing with Miriam and Bob. "I know." Helga sighed as she slid on the bed next to Ryan, patting her shoulders lightly. "I honestly don't even know how I'd go back there. I mean, I'm sure everyone hates me."
Ryan shrugged and rolled on her stomach, looking up at her friend. "I'm sure everything will be fine. You were just a kid and it's been years. Now you only lose it on someone if they deserve it. As long as I'm around at least….we're never going to survive without each other, are we?"
"We can only hope." Helga yawned before yanking her hair out and shaking it loose. "Ready for bed?"
Ryan nodded and threw her notebook on the other side of the room, ignore it as it sprawled out on the floor. She crawled into her bed as Helga shut the lights off. Ryan wasn't going to give in so easily.
Helga's stomach did flips as she watched the familiar town flash by her. Not much had changed, paint on buildings here, new stores there, but besides that nothing had really changed. They pulled up to the front of their old house and she only snapped out of her thoughts when Bob told her to come on and called her Olga. As always, she sharply reminded him that her name was Helga and stomped into the house. She wished that Ryan could have come along. Ryan had a way of cooling Helga's temper off and vice versa.
Bob had the TV hooked up first and was watching a wrestling match with a beer in his hand as his wife lay passed out on the sofa. It would be a while before the movers got to Helga's room. Still, she vanished into the empty space with her guitar in hand before picking out the notes from the song Violent Pornography by System of a Down.
The last thing Helga wanted to do was start school on Monday with all those familiar faces. It was all just going to be so complicated.
Arnold and Gerald stepped into the boarding house from the bitter snow falling outside, happy to be inside. They were both much taller than they had been back at PS 118, but they had certainly changed. Gerald's tall mound of hair was replaced by a much shorter version of his childhood do, dark stubble lining his chin. Arnold was almost as tall a Gerald, still sporting his wild messy hair. His head was still football shaped, but he'd grown into it, making it much less awkward.
"Man, I can't believe we have to go back to school in a few days. It feels like winter break just barely started."
Arnold only shrugged, "It won't be too bad. At least we've had some time off."
Gerald hung his coat in the closet and raised an eyebrow at his best friend. "Always the optimist."
Arnold only shrugged before he and Gerald raced up the steps.
"Hey! Shortman." Gerald and Arnold stopped so Arnold's grandpa wouldn't chase after them.
"Yeah grandpa?" Arnold asked.
"We have a new tenant. Just moved everything in today. Names…Ryan James, I think. So just be quiet Shortman. Kid's about your age and had a LONG trip."
"Came all the way from China!" Arnold's grandmother sang, springing out from behind his grandpa.
Grandpa Phil's brows furrowed. "No, Pookie. Ryan's from England."
"England?" Gerald repeated. "What's he doin' in Hillwood then?"
Phil shrugged. "Beats me. Just make sure and introduce yourself when you get a chance."
Arnold nodded. "Sure grandpa."
When Arnold woke up for breakfast, he had decided it would be nice to invite Ryan to play hockey with the gang. Only when Arnold went to his door. There was no answer. Grandpa said Ryan had slipped out to do some shopping so Arnold slipped a note under the door saying:
Hi, we haven't met yet, but I'm Arnold. My grandparents own the boarding house. Anyway, I was wondering if you weren't busy if you'd be interested coming down to the rink and pass the puck around with me and the gang at about noon. No pressure if you don't want to, I just thought it might be fun to meet some new people. Let me know if you're interested.
The next morning, Arnold found note passed under his door. On his way to the kitchen he unfolded it and read it:
Thanks for inviting me to your hockey game, I'd love to come join in! I have some more errands to run and I didn't want to wake you. By the way, I may have my friend meet me there if that's alright. I look forward to meeting you.
Arnold couldn't help but study the writing and note that Ryan had good handwriting. Messy, yet legible with a degree of personality and grit to it. He had a feeling that Ryan would get along just fine in Hillwood.
"OLGA! Mail for you!" Bob yelled from the living room.
Helga was already halfway down the stairs. "It's Helga." She snarled for what must have been the millionth time in her life.
"Yeah yeah, whatever." He mumbled holding up the envelope which she snatched out of his hand.
In the envelope, on crisp clean paper was a typed out message reading:
You can't hide forever. Come to the skating rink at noon. I know you don't have any plans so don't try to back out of it. You're in for a pleasant surprise.
-Someone You'd Never Expect
Helga's eyebrows came together, giving the illusion that she still had the unibrow she plucked away years ago. Her heart fluttered and for an instant she believed it could be Arnold. She had hardly thought of him since going to school in Dublin, but it wouldn't have been so horrible to believe that it could be him. Rather than arguing with herself, she climbed the stairs and started getting ready.
"Man, you haven't even met the guy and you invited him to play hockey?" Gerald groaned.
"Yeah. So?" Arnold challenged, lacing up his skates.
"So he could be like Eugene!" Gerald moaned. "He could be tiny, clumsy, and helpless. No one wants to destroy the new kid before we've even had a chance to meet him."
On the other side of Gerald, Sid worked at his skates. "Or he could be bigger than Harold and kill us all."
"I reckon that would even up the playin' field." Stinky joked as he carefully stepped onto the ice.
"Hey you can't come in here right now!" Harold fumbled over his words as tried to keep a small girl from entering the building. "We have the rink reserved."
"If you would just listen to me!" the girl snapped back as she tried sidestepping him.
"Man, what are you doin'?" Gerald moaned over on his bare foot. "She's just a girl. Let her come in and watch."
The girl looked between Gerald and Harold, mouth slightly agape before she stepped around them both, ignoring Harold's apology and Gerald's trifling smile. "Alright!" she bellowed, ensuring she had everyone's attention. "Who's Arnold?" With her voice raised it was hard to discern her British accent.
Sheepishly, Arnold raised his hand. Her face softened and she closed the distance between them, extending her hand. "I'm Ryan. It's nice to finally meet you."
Gasps echoed off the walls of the rink and Arnold's mouth fell open. She pulled her hand back and put it behind her, trying to hide the scowl on her face. "You only invited me because you thought I was a boy, didn't you?"
Arnold sheepishly scratched the back of his neck. "Well…yeah. I'm sorry. We're going out for lunch after the game and you're more than welcome to come. I'll even treat for the misunderstanding."
A bag on her shoulders fell at his feet and she crossed her arms over her chest. "I can play just as well as any of you."
Sid snickered and hid his mouth behind his hand. "You wouldn't last five minutes, princess."
"Call me princess one more time and I'll be sure what I do to you looks like an accident." she growled lowering her face closer to his.
Arnold laughed, hiding his grin behind his mouth. "What's so funny?" she demanded.
"You just remind me of someone I used to know. If you think you'll be ok I'm alright with you playing."
She smiled. "Thanks, mate. Now who's captain?"
Gerald and Arnold called captain first and Arnold picked Ryan, ignoring Gerald's laugh and taunts of him losing. Ryan only rolled her eyes and proceeded to tie on her old worn out figure skates. Harold tried telling her that she was wearing the wrong skates, but she ignored him and stepped onto the ice anyway. She'd played street hockey with the lads back home plenty of times to know how to handle a puck alright and she'd been figure skating since she could walk. She tossed her coat and hat onto the bench, revealing dark gray yoga pants and a dull green jacket, her blond and rainbow hair tied up off her face. Arnold tried getting her to play goalie, but she refused.
Ryan surprised everyone when she'd managed to get the puck out from under the sloppy dog pile the boys had formed and into the net. She yelled triumphantly skating around the boys, crossing her legs from front to back as she shouted 'That's how we do it in London, lads!'.
Helga walked into the rink, ignored by the brood playing hockey. Her eyes scanned the group and she was surprised to see almost all of the boys from the old gang. There was Harold, Gerald, Stinky, Sid, and Arnold. Just seeing him in passing made her heart thunder. Then she saw the sixth player and her mouth fell open as Ryan passed the puck to Stinky, the hit it into the goal. She watched as her friend gave Stinky a high five before gliding back to the center of the rink.
She turned around just in time to her Harold stupidly yell out, "Hey! We still have the rink for another fifteen minutes!"
Everyone turned to stare at the back of her head, but Ryan squealed and raced for the edge of the rink and pulled off her first skate before hopping over to Helga before being able to remove the second and flinging her arms around Helga. "Don't run off, love. We've yet to say hello."
Helga wheeled Ryan in front of her before returning the embrace. "I don't-I just-how?" Helga finally managed to spit out.
Ryan smiled, looking quite proud of herself. "A lot of beggin' and pleading is all. You'd be surprised how glad my mum was to have me half way around the world. I'm living in an old boarding house and we're going to the same school! And you can come over and visit any time you like and." Ryan cut herself off with another screech. "Aren't you just so excited?"
"Well now that I have you here there's at least SOMEthing to be excited about. I just don't want to be in front of them yet." Helga motioned to the rink.
Ryan looked over her friend's shoulder. "You mean the lads? They'll all great, don't worry. They'll love you."
Helga stopped Ryan before her friend could pull her away to meet 'the lads'. "I already know all of them. I used to bully them all."
Ryan's face filled with realization. "Oh….well now's as good a time as any to introduce yourself."
Helga pulled away. "I'm going home."
"Wha- no! Wait! Let me walk with you." Ryan insisted. Helga sighed and leaded against the doorframe, being sure no one could see her face. Ryan made quick work of redressing and pulling her combat boots back on. "Sorry lads." She shouted as she approached Helga. "I can't wait to see you all on Monday, but it seems there's a bit of a dilemma and…well, chicks before dicks."
Helga laughed aloud before pulling her shorter friend out the door with her. "Come on, let's get some food."