Friday

Arnold and Gerald were on the playground, sitting on the swings, but not really swinging on them. Gerald was quiet. Arnold found himself looking across the playground to the jungle gym, where he saw several classmates talking to Helga. She was animated in her conversation, and laughing. He couldn't tell what she was talking about, but whatever it was, she was in her element.

"Have you ever noticed before that Helga has blue eyes?" Arnold blurted out.

Gerald shot him a death stare, mixed with confusion. "What?" he asked in irritated disbelief.

Arnold realized the mistake he just made. "Oops," he said sheepishly. "Sorry, Gerald."

"Let me be VERY clear. I do not want to talk about Helga Pataki right now. Seriously, ANYTHING but her," Gerald said assertively, with a tinge of desperation in his voice.

"Right," Arnold said. He decided to shift the conversation to his birthday weekend.


It had been a good day for Helga.

She still couldn't believe Gerald let her put him in a chin lock, as well as several other compromising positions, in front of the whole class... consensually. It was executed perfectly. As Helga broke down the moves step-by-step, the class seemed to be interested. When she put Gerald in embarrassing positions, it emitted giggles from their classmates, which was what she wanted. She couldn't stand the guy, but she didn't want the class to laugh him out of the place. She just wanted to deflate his giant ego a tad. She had a heart, you know.

Later, on the playground, a few of her classmates even approached her, revealing that they, too, watched wrestling. Maybe there was something to this Uniquely You presentation. Simmons was still a granola boy, but hey, this project singlehandedly improved her week: she discovered some mutual interests with several of her classmates, she got to mortify one Gerald Johansson (with his consent... she couldn't stress that enough), and she had several pleasant heart-pounding encounters with her beloved. She hadn't felt this good in a long time.

And it was only going to get better: next week, no homework.

It was early evening. Bob was in the mood for Chinese take-out, so for once, he actually managed to order it and make it happen. Helga's belly was full and she felt satisfied. In fact, she felt like taking a walk to walk off her dinner and enjoy the beautiful October weather.

She found herself at Tina Park. She stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets, feeling the evening air get chillier. Up ahead, she saw what she thought to be her beloved Football Head sitting on a bench. She had to do a double take, as she often gets distracted by football-shaped objects around her: clouds, flower arrangements, shadows, plants... you name it. She had to get a closer look. As she got closer, she confirmed that it was, in fact, him.

This is surprising, Helga thought. He normally hangs out with Tall Hair Boy on Friday nights.

In a good mood and feeling a bit feisty, she approached the bench. "Hey, Arnoldo. What's shakin'?"

Arnold looked up at her, surprised. "Oh, hi, Helga." He gave a small smile that faded immediately. He resumed looking back down, fiddling his fingers together.

Something's bothering him. "Mind if I sit with you?" she asked. Arnold shook his head, and she sat down next to him.

They sat in silence for a second. Normally, Helga would've felt intense awkwardness in a situation like this. However, she felt uncharacteristically calm. Wow... I need to strangle my frenemy in front of my classmates more often.

Before she could say anything, he spoke up. "Can I ask you something?" he asked.

My beloved, my muse, my sun and stars, wants MY advice? Oh, my kind-hearted football-headed darling, how I wish to relinquish your anguish with my words and lift you back up to your noble fortitude. "Yeah, sure."

"Let's imagine it was Phoebe's birthday weekend. What would you be doing?"

She felt kicked in the stomach. She could see where this was headed, and she didn't like it. She took an unobserved deep breath in before responded. "Well," she said through the exhale, playing it cool, "I'd probably be spending it with her doing something she wanted to do."

"Exactly!" Arnold exclaimed with his arms outward for emphasis.

"Why?" she urged. She knew the answer, but she wasn't about to show her hand.

Arnold sighed. He leaned forward, placing his elbows in his knees, his hands touching each other. "It's my birthday on Monday, and I wanted to spend the weekend doing fun stuff with my best friend," he said, with his anger picking up. He sat up. "But he's busy. Can you believe that?"

"D-doing what?" Helga asked. She felt the nervousness in her voice. She really hoped he wasn't going to say what she thought he was going to say.

"Homework," he said incredulously. "You think he would've planned his time better to be able to hang out with me on my birthday weekend, right?"

Helga felt like she got sucker-punched in the stomach. Arnold confirmed what she had feared: Gerald was busy doing her essay. She just knew it. By holding up his end of the deal, Gerald had to sacrifice his time with his best friend on his birthday weekend. She felt terrible.

Arnold got quiet. "I don't think I'll be seeing him much this weekend."

Helga couldn't take it anymore. She had to take care of this and make this right. She sprung up. "That sucks, Arnold," she started, "but I just remembered that I have to... feed my cat." She inwardly winced at the terrible excuse she just made. She started to walk away quickly before turning around and saying, "I hope your weekend gets better," before running off.

Arnold scratched his head. "Helga has a cat?"


Helga knocked on the green door. It was getting dark now, and she was officially shivering. When she put on her light jacket when she left the house, she didn't realize she'd take a one hour detour.

A man with a serious face answered the door. "May I help you?" he asked. His tone was firm, yet he was poised. With a blowhard for a dad, she definitely didn't know what having a dad like this was like.

"Hi, Mr. Johansson," she said. He seemed like the type of guy who liked formalities like that. She had something to take care of, and she just wanted to appease him and get him the heck out of her way. "I need to talk to Gerald. It'll only take a minute."

He scrunched his eyebrows downward. Maybe I was too direct, she thought. "Okay," he answered, "but only for a minute. It's getting late, you know."

She nodded her head in understanding. He called for his son, in a stern, yet still-asking kind of way. The whole thing felt foreign to her.

Gerald appeared at the door. When he saw her, his face became hard. "What do you want?" he asked in disgust.

"The deal is off," she said firmly.

Gerald's face softened. "What?" he asked, as if he didn't quite understand.

"You heard me. The deal is off. You don't have to do my homework anymore, and I don't need to be nice to Hair Boy anymore. It's done. Finished. Kaput. Capiche?"

Gerald looked like he couldn't believe his luck. However, he was still confused. "But why? You've basically held your end of the deal. Why back down now?"

Oops. She hadn't thought this far ahead. Better think of something fast, and this time, nothing involving cats. "It's too hard to be nice to the ol' Football Head. I can't take it any longer." She crossed her arms and put on her signature scowl, signaling that she wanted this conversation to be over.

Gerald did a small laugh and shook his head in disbelief. Helga hoped that he would, in true Gerald form, not prod Helga further. "If you say so, Helga," he receded. He reached behind the door and excitedly started to put his jacket on. "Well, since my weekend is now wide open, I'm heading out. I interviewed Harvey the mailman this afternoon. Do you want me to send you the audio, and you can use it for your project?"

Helga nodded. "Yeah, that'd be cool. Thanks." She paused, hoping she wouldn't sound too interested when she asked the next question. "Where… um, are you going?"

"To Arnold's," he said, without skipping a beat. "It's his birthday weekend, after all. He's pretty bummed that I couldn't hang out with him, so I'm going to go surprise him."

Helga tried to act casual. "I saw him at Tina Park near the east entrance on the way here."

Gerald was too preoccupied to notice her pretense. "Cool, thanks, Pataki." He shouted to his family that he was going out. He closed the door behind him as he bounced down the steps past her.

Before heading off, he turned around. "Hey, uh, thanks again… for being nice to Arnold this week. It really made his week."

"Yeah, yeah," Helga said with a wave of her hand. "Don't say I never did you any favors, Geraldo."

Gerald smiled, turned around, and ran off eagerly down the street.

Helga watched him go. When she was sure he was out of earshot, she placed her hands on her heart and whispered, "Happy birthday, Arnold."