She never intended to follow him to college. In fact, the plan was to start over while she was there, without him. Her childhood crush hadn’t eased up and ever since she told him how she felt, Helga found her feelings for Arnold to be nothing more than a burden. She’d tried everything to get rid of them. She’d had a few boyfriends –even convinced herself she liked them for a little while—and even took one of them on a double date with Arnold while he was dating Lila their sophomore year hoping that seeing him with that goody-goody and the fact that she had her own boyfriend would give her brain some sort of reality check and allow her to somehow forget her feelings.
Despite all of this however, that crush remained like a ghost haunting her from her childhood. Her final tactic was to lose him from her life all together in the form of the University system.
She listened to him talking to Gerald about schools during the last semester of their senior year. He had plans to go to a university just a half hour from home, so that he could continue living with his grandparents. The old coots were as agile as ever but he still felt better staying with them in case his grandpa’s back went out again or his grandmother went on another jungle expedition through the city.
Arnold’s college plans worked out well for Helga. Big Bob had been pushing for Helga to attend his alma mater ever since her summer job with him at the beeper-turned-cellphone shop, so getting him to help pay for tuition in order to go to college a good 4 hours away from home not only allowed her to move out and away from her family, but it was far, far away from that football headed blonde that she couldn’t get her mind off of otherwise.
So how is it there he was in the common room of her co-ed dorm? Why was it his dumb head bent over his cellphone with a goofy smile on his face and an open text book in his lap? How had she still not gotten away from him?
Ruth. That’s why he was there. During the summer he’d reunited with her while she was home visiting family. Sometime while Helga was busy packing her life away, ignoring her sister’s wonderful college advice and her mother’s drunken depression after realizing she’d soon be adding “empty nest syndrome" to her list of disorders, Arnold was bumping into Ruth on a trip to the mall. They caught up and chatted and started dating over the course of a couple of months between high school and college and he decided to start going to her school so that they could spend more time together.
Helga chose a coed dorm because she despised girls. The only one she ever appreciated having around was Phoebe, who had went on to college a year early and was currently attending some fancy university on a full scholarship and living with Gerald now that he’d graduated. Helga decided even though there were still girls in a coed dorm, at least there would be less of them. However had she known she’d be stuck under the same roof as Arnold, she might have chosen to deal with the nagging and the makeovers and the menstrual irritability.
When she first saw him, her initial reaction was that uncontrollable jump in her chest. The one she once lost herself in while hiding behind lockers or in closets and alleys. However the immediate afterthought was that of pure anger. How dare he? How could he? Following her like a curse she’d never deserved into her university. Her new life. And when that thought passed through her, she dropped a pink sock in his white laundry.
Arnold wished he were rooming anywhere but under the same roof as Helga G. Pataki. Literally. Anywhere. He attempted camping on the campus green until campus security made him leave. He didn’t feel like the streets were safe enough—though Helga wasn’t much less dangerous—and Ruth had already paid her tuition and her roommate was completely against him even spending the night, let alone living there. He’d asked Ruth about getting an apartment over winter break, but she was convinced he was moving too fast.
In the end he decided it wasn’t impossible to avoid Helga in the dorms. There was a lock on the door, and besides, his new roommate, a fine arts major named Duke from Kentucky, wasn’t that bad. Not to mention, outside those walls, just across the campus green in the girls dorm was Ruth. And she made the torture endured during the time he spent in the common area of the dorms a little more bearable.
It wasn’t that Helga was as mean as she ever was to him. In fact, she’d changed a lot since elementary school, and her bullying became a lot less physical. She decided to rely more on pranks and insults and a few obscene hand gestures his way. Nevertheless, it definitely put pressure on his attempt at being civil with her.
Luckily there were no more “heat of the moment” confessions to make things more awkward between them than they originally were. When Helga first confessed her feelings—and admitting to most likely a certifiable amount of obsession—Arnold didn’t know how to handle the situation. They had both agreed without agreeing to pretend it never even happened and that it was nothing to begin with, but they both knew. They’d always know. Luckily since fourth grade it seemed to him as she had finally moved on. He assumed her harassment was just a longtime habit and he’d have to deal with it.
Other than the harassment, however, Helga had physically changed a lot. Helga had grown to be a bit better endowed, unlike her older sister who stayed a dainty thin form. Not only had she been able to fill out all of the Nancy Spumoni clothing she’d saved up her summer earnings on, but she began to possess more dominant features than her mother and sister, most likely coming from her father’s side of the family. She’d grown into long legs and a large bust and shapely hips typically shown against her clingy Nancy Spumoni jeans and pink shirt.
She’d left her pigtails long in the past but her pink bow was a dominant feature of her style whether it be in the form of a decoration on her pink flats, as a charm on a necklace or sometimes held the sides of her hair back out of her face. Thanks to her days of attempting to move on, she’d learned her way around the beauty section of the drug store and kept her eyebrows waxed and wore just enough makeup that she didn’t feel like she were wearing a second skin.
Arnold hit his growth spurt during freshman year, out growing many of his classmates except for Gerald and Stinky. He was tall and lanky and his sense of style hadn’t changed much, a pair of blue jeans and some sort of sweater or button up—sometimes both—pretty much summed up his every day since of style. His pants typically had one or two holes in them—he never threw them away unless they were completely unwearable—but he pulled it off like one of the high end distressed jeans someone would get from a department store. He never spent money on new shoes, instead he wore the same pair every day, a beat up pair of sneakers he’d had since junior year.
Like most guys he never really changed his hair style. It didn’t keep it’s youthful form of spiked on top of his head and began to lay back instead, but he never put too much effort into how it turned out when he left his dorm and many times people would claim he was intentionally going for a bedhead look, but the true story is that he would only run a brush through it once a day and nothing more. He was just one of those guys that seemed to make a style out of not caring about his style.
Helga tried avoiding him as much as possible, and luckily the feeling was mutual yet unspoken. If they did pass each other in the halls of the science building or the caf, he would politely wave and she would greet him with a smirk, eye roll, or middle finger, depending on her particular mood. The second semester however, they somehow became lab partners, and vocal interaction became completely unavoidable.
“We never have good luck as lab partners. Did the professor just think it was funny pairing up the two from the same school?” Though both annoyed at the union, Helga was the first to voice her irritation. She worked while toying with the tongs, picking up pencils and balls of paper and dropping them while leaning her face against her hand with a total lack amusement.
“We’ll just have to make the best of the situation.” Arnold starting pulling together all of the items for the particular experiment and getting them situated. He noticed Helga’s eye roll as she shook her head and put the tongs down. She muttered something about his “damn catchphrase” under her breath. “Look at least we know each other. And we know how the other works. So how about we just try to get through this semester without killing each other?”
She scoffed a bit under her breath but shook his offered hand in agreement. She couldn’t look at him when she did, though. Shaking his hand was hard enough without eye contact. The experiment began, they both pulled on their goggles, Arnold poured some sort of chemical into the beaker while Helga heated another chemical over a flame. Every once in a while he’d bump her or she’d bump him, and they’d both pretend not to notice but silently agreed, this was going to be a long semester.