"Well, here we are," said Mr. Quinzel, as he pulled up the car in front of his daughter Harleen's new high school. "First day of school. You excited?"
Harleen stared at her father in disbelief. "Am I excited?" she repeated. "You drag me outta my high school in Brooklyn one year before graduation, take me away from all my friends, move us to this dump of a city, and throw me in here, just expecting me to make new friends and keep my grades up when I'm still adjusting to this whole new life you've forced me into? No, Dad, I ain't excited. I wanna go home," she muttered, folding her arms across her chest.
"Sweetie, you know I have to go where the job takes me," replied her father. "I didn't have a choice. This is your home now, and this is your school. And I'm sure it won't be as bad as you think it's gonna be. I've spoken to Principal Leland, and she seems like a really nice lady. And I know you'll make lots of new friends here – you're a great girl! They'll love you!"
"You know I don't do well with socializing, Dad," Harleen muttered, kicking under her seat. "I was lucky to have friends in Brooklyn – I just don't fit in with people. And I don't have a chance of fitting in here."
"Sweetheart, I think if you just put on a smile, things will work out better than you think," said her father, gently. "Now I know my daughter. She's a smart, bright, funny, kind, thoughtful young lady. And the kids here are gonna see that. They're gonna be crazy about you. Just like I am," he said, kissing her cheek. "Now, c'mon. A little smile for me?"
Harleen sighed, but forced a smile. "That's my girl!" he exclaimed. "Go get 'em, kiddo!"
Harleen climbed out of the car, slinging her backpack over her shoulder and adjusting her glasses. She waved at her father as he drove off, but dropped the smile right after he was gone, turning with dread to face the looming building in front of her. The sign out front read Arkham High School, but someone had written under it: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!
"Great sense of humor they've got," muttered Harleen sarcastically, as she climbed up the stone steps. She took a deep breath, putting her hand on the door. "C'mon, Harley, you can do this," she muttered. She nodded to herself, adjusted her glasses again, and then pushed open the door, looking for the first time upon her new high school.
The first thing that assaulted her was the noise. Everywhere people were talking and shouting, but the words were lost in a deafening roar of sound. And the second was the mess. Books, papers, and trash were lying everywhere, paper airplanes sailed through the air, and Harleen could only stare in astonishment at the scene, which seemed more like a prison than a high school.
She was startled out of her thoughts by someone slamming into her, knocking her to the ground and causing her own books and papers to fly everywhere. "Hey, watch where you're…" she began, glaring up at the figure who had run into her, but she stopped talking and could only stare in astonishment at the most unusual boy she had ever seen.
He was tall and lanky and extremely pale, making his red lips seem even brighter by comparison. His eyes were a bright green, the same color as his hair, which flopped into his eyes, so that he constantly had to smooth it back. He smiled at her, the biggest smile she had ever seen, and held out his hand to help her up, murmuring, "Hi."
"H…hi," stammered Harleen, stunned, as she took it.
Whatever spell she was under suddenly broke as a bolt of pain shot through her, and she cried, "Ow!" The boy had a joy buzzer in his hand, which he shocked her with as he pulled her violently to her feet and hastily dusted her off.
"There, you ain't hurt, no harm done!" the boy exclaimed. "Try not to get in people's way again, huh? Gotta run!"
He dashed off. "Hey, wait…" began Harleen, but another boy suddenly raced toward her.
"Which way did he go?" demanded the boy.
"Uh…over…" began Harleen, pointing, but the boy saw his target at that moment and raced past her, leaping forward and tackling the boy who had run into her.
He wrestled him to the ground, shouting, "Don't even bother struggling, J, I tackled twenty bigger guys than you at the game last weekend!"
"Great job, Bruce, you got him!" exclaimed another boy, running over to where the two were struggling. "I went and got Principal Leland – she's on her way. Just hold him down until she gets here."
"No problem, Harvey!" retorted Bruce, still holding the other boy down. "I said stop struggling, J…ow!" he shouted, as the boy with the joy buzzer pressed it against his cheek. Bruce released his grip, and the boy leapt to his feet, about to dash off again, when the other boy, Harvey, grabbed him by the back of his collar.
"Oh no, you don't!" snapped Harvey, glaring at him. "You're gonna pay for what you've done, J! Principal Leland, over here!" he called, waving at a woman who was fording her way through the crowd.
"Yes, Harvey, what's he done now?" sighed Principal Leland, folding her arms across her chest and glaring at the boy, who still struggled to get away.
Harvey held up a poster. "He went around and scribbled out half my face on all my campaign posters!" he snapped. "I look like an idiot!"
"Don't blame me for that, Harv!" chuckled the boy. "You look like an idiot even with an entire face!"
Harvey raised a fist to punch him, but Principal Leland intercepted it. "And anyway, how do you know it was me who defaced your posters?" asked the boy, shrugging. "Could be any of the freaks in here. I might have been set up, for all you know. Framed!"
"Nobody else would think that's funny, except you, J," growled Harvey. "Because it isn't funny. I worked hard getting all those made up, and in a few minutes, you ruin all my hard work!"
"Hey, lighten up, moron, it was just a joke!" snapped J. "And I still don't see any proof that I…"
Principal Leland grabbed J's hand, turning it over. "Was your face scribbled out in blue pen, Harvey?" she asked.
"Yeah," growled Harvey.
"And it's just a coincidence that you've got blue pen all over your hands, huh, J?" asked Principal Leland.
J shrugged. "Could be," he agreed. "Ain't so uncommon a color for a pen…"
"J, just admit it," growled Bruce. "Everyone knows you did it. And it's not like you to not want to take credit for your own so-called jokes."
J shrugged again. "All right, I admit, it was me!" he chuckled. "And personally I thought it was a laugh riot! Vote for the president – he's two-faced! It's satirical humor! I could probably have got away from you too, Brucie, if this dumb blonde here hadn't got in my way," he said, glaring at Harleen.
"Dumb blonde?!" she repeated, offended. "Listen, pal, I got a 3.9 GPA at my old school…"
"You must be Harleen Quinzel," said Principal Leland. "She's just transferred here from Brooklyn. Harleen, this is Bruce Wayne, captain of the football team, and Harvey Dent, who's running for class president."
"Uh…pleased to meetcha," said Harleen, nervously, shaking their hands. "Call me Harley. Everyone does."
"And this is J," said Principal Leland, glaring at the boy. "Our self-styled class clown, although some would just call him a lazy slacker. I'm so sorry you had to meet him on your first day, and in such an unpleasant set of circumstances."
"Yeah…I won't be shaking his hand again," muttered Harley, glaring at him.
"Oh, lighten up and learn to take a joke, dollface!" snapped J.
"J has a very unusual sense of humor," said Principal Leland. "Some would call it cruel and unusual."
"Is he going to be punished?" demanded Harvey, angrily.
"Yes, we're going to have a little talk," said Principal Leland, nodding. "Come with me, J. And you too, Harley – I'd like to give you a quick tour around the school after I have a word with J."
"Just have a seat there," said Principal Leland, pointing to a couple chairs outside her office. "I'm going to have to call your parents, J, and tell them the same thing I'm gonna tell you."
"Which is?" asked J. "You gonna suspend me again, Leland? I can't think of a better reward – not having to go to school and not getting in trouble for it!" he chuckled.
"I really shouldn't be saying this with Harley here," said Principal Leland, sternly. "But if you don't bring up your grades and straighten up your behavior, you're not going to be graduating. Do you understand what that means, J? You're going to be held back, kept in here, not free to go out into the world like your peers, but stuck in this school until you learn how decent people behave."
She entered her office and slammed the door. J glared after her, and then leaned back, putting his feet up on the chair opposite him and chewing a wad of gum loudly.
"What?" he demanded, as he noticed Harley looking at him. "You think I'm scared of her?"
"No," said Harley, hastily, gluing her eyes to the floor. She could feel J glaring at her now, blowing a bubble of gum and popping it loudly.
"I ain't," he muttered. "I ain't scared of nothing."
Harley nodded, not meeting his eyes.
"So, new girl," he said, taking the gum out of his mouth and twisting it between his fingers. "Your old school have anyone like me in it?"
"No," repeated Harley. "I can honestly say…I've never met anyone like you."
"Good," he snapped, popping half of the gum back into his mouth. "Ya want some?" he asked, holding the other half out to her.
"Uh…no thanks," stammered Harley.
He shrugged. "Suit yourself," he said, popping the other half into his mouth. "So, what are you?" he asked.
"I'm…sorry?" said Harley, looking at him in confusion.
"What are you?" he repeated. "What's your peer group? I'm the only guy in the world who don't fit into a peer group – everyone else here has their place. Ya got the nerds, the jocks, the preps, y'know, the usual. Which one are you? I'm betting nerd from the glasses," he said. "And the 3.9 GPA."
"I…think it's important to do well in school," agreed Harley. "Although I know that doesn't seem to matter to you."
"Nope," he agreed. "Nothing much matters to me. That's why I'm such a happy guy!" he chuckled. "Anyway, you'll be a real treat for the nerds. Most of 'em probably ain't ever seen a woman before, let alone hung out with one. Don't let 'em get too close, though – you don't want nerd cooties." He frowned. "Actually you probably already got 'em, being one yourself. And I probably got 'em now from running into you."
He punched her shoulder suddenly. "Ow, stop it!" cried Harley.
"Just giving you your cootie shot," he said, punching his own shoulder too. "Though I don't know if it works once you've already got 'em. We'll have to see," he laughed, smoothing his hair back from his eyes again.
"J, inside!" snapped Principal Leland, holding open the door to her office.
J stood up, grinning. "See ya later, toots!" he chuckled, winking at Harley as he strode into Principal Leland's office. "And welcome to Arkham!"
His mocking laughter echoed after him as Harley sat, rubbing her shoulder and trying not to cry. This place was much worse than she could ever have imagined. Much, much worse.