Arkham High

Chapter 17

"So, Mr. J, let's see how you did," said Harley, taking the practice test from him. "The answer to question one is 'c.' And you put…'c'." She beamed at him. "Rightaroonie, puddin'," she breathed, planting a kiss on his lips.

He pulled her close, but she drew away. "The answer to question two was 'b.' And you put…'b'." She smiled, and kissed him again. "I can see my little kissing reward incentive is working out," she murmured

"And the answer to question three was 'c,' and you put…" She frowned. "You put 'a.' Uh oh. No kiss for you," she sighed, as she put a big 'x' over the answer.

"No, look, toots, that's clearly a 'c'," said Joker, pointing at the answer. "See? It's just funny looking."

"I need to teach you how to write too?" said Harley, grinning. "If you can't make the letters look distinct, puddin', how are the teachers gonna know you got the answer right?"

"I think they could show a certain amount of favoritism toward the class president," retorted Joker. "Everyone likes a guy with power, huh, sweets?" he murmured, leaning forward to kiss her.

"Don't you dare try to abuse your power like that!" giggled Harley, pushing him away. "Now why did you miss this one? Show me your work, so we can figure out what you did wrong."

Joker sighed. "Can't we take a study break, toots?" he asked. "I got a headache."

"They ain't gonna let you have a break during finals, puddin'," said Harley. "It's four hours of straight testing, and you gotta pass."

He sighed heavily. "But if your head's really bothering you, I guess a five minute break won't hurt," she murmured, grinning. "I can kiss your boo boo and make it better," she whispered, kissing his forehead.

"You know where else I hurt, kiddo?" he murmured. "My mouth. It's like I got some kinda ulcer there. You wanna see if you can kiss it better?"

"Nah, I'll probably just get infected," retorted Harley, grinning. "And I kinda wish you'd told me about it before. Guess I can't kiss you for the rest of the day, huh?"

"Hey, it was a joke!" he protested.

"Can't take any risks, though, can I, puddin'?" she asked, smiling at him. "Shame. I was really enjoying our study smooching. Oh well."

"C'mon, Harley, this ain't funny," growled Joker.

She grinned, returning her attention to his paper. "The answer to the next one is 'a.' And you've written…'a'." She looked up at him, beaming. "Mmm, I shouldn't, but you're just too irresistible."

"Allure of power, kid," he chuckled as Harley kissed him tenderly. "Nobody can resist it."

Their kiss was interrupted by a key turning in the lock. "That'll be Mom and Dad," said Harley, pulling away from him reluctantly and straightening her clothes.

"How do I look?" asked Joker, smoothing his hair back.

"Gorgeous," said Harley, kissing his cheek and taking his hand. "They're gonna love you."

The door opened and Mr. and Mrs. Quinzel entered the apartment, carrying a bag of groceries each. "How's the homework coming, Harl…" began Mr. Quinzel, but he stopped talking suddenly as he saw the boy holding his daughter's hand.

Harley cleared her throat. "Uh…Mom…Dad…I just wanted to introduce you to my…uh…boyfriend. This is J," she said, prodding him gently forward.

He held out his hand. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Quinzel."

Mr. Quinzel shook his hand slowly, and to Harley's relief, wasn't shocked by a joy buzzer, unlike the first time she shook hands with J. "It's…nice to meet you too, J," he said.

"Would you…uh…like to stay for dinner?" asked Mrs. Quinzel, shaking his hand.

"Thanks, Mrs. Quinzel, that'd be great," he said, smiling.

"It's funny…Harley didn't tell us you were going to be here," said Mrs. Quinzel, heading into the kitchen to unpack the groceries.

"No, I wanted it to be a nice surprise," said Harley. "It is a nice surprise, huh, Dad?" she asked, glancing at her father in concern.

"Oh yeah, sure, Harley," he said. "I think we're both just a little confused…this is J, did you say?"

"Yeah," said Harley, nodding.

"And wasn't he the boy you said was a total jerk?" asked her father. "Didn't he have a cream pie spring outta your locker and ruin your clothes?"

"Yeah, he did do that," agreed Harley. "And I did say he was a total jerk. But it turns out he ain't so bad."

"It was a childish prank, Mr. Quinzel, you gotta forgive me," said Joker, sincerely. "I'm completely over those now, and I've apologized to Harley repeatedly for the way I treated her when she first got here. There was no excuse for that. All I wanna do now is be a better person and get my grades up, so I can be the kinda guy worthy enough to take Harley to the prom."

"Well, that's…very admirable, J," said Mr. Quinzel, nodding. "I'll just…uh…go help your mother in the kitchen, Harley."

"Don't worry – you're doing great," said Harley, squeezing Joker's hand as her parents disappeared into the kitchen. "I think they're just a little shocked. I ain't ever had a boyfriend before."

"Yeah? Guys in your old school must have been a buncha blind losers," retorted Joker, grinning.

She kissed him. "And I'm sorry for telling my parents you were a jerk," she said. "But you were."

"Hey, don't worry about it," said Joker, shrugging. "Nothing an audience likes better than a reformed sinner. Though I think 'jerk' may be a bit too strong a word…"

"I'm not sure that's the word I used," she retorted. "Is it, Mom?" she asked, as Mrs. Quinzel came out to set the table. "I didn't call J a jerk, did I?"

"I think you called him an ignorant slacker who would never amount to anything," replied Mrs. Quinzel. "But it's nice to know you've changed your mind."

Joker glared at Harley. "Oh, c'mon, that's what you used to be like!" she retorted.

"And you said his hair was stupid," said Mrs. Quinzel, returning to the kitchen.

Joker gaped at her. "There is nothing wrong with my hair!" he snapped.

"It's green!" she retorted.

"So?" he demanded. "I thought you liked it!"

"I do like it!" she cried. "But I was angry that you humiliated me, so I was just criticizing everything about you!"

"Well, that's real mature, ain't it, toots?" he snapped.

"I ain't mature when I'm angry!" she retorted. "And don't you dare talk to me about maturity! All your jokes and pranks are completely childish!"

"I thought you liked my jokes and pranks!" he exclaimed.

"I do!" she cried. "I told you – I was just upset!"

"Dinner's ready," said Mrs. Quinzel, entering the room again.

Joker and Harley headed over to the table, glaring at each other. An awkward silence pervaded as her parents sat down. "Well, you both seem…really happy together," said Mr. Quinzel, slowly.

"We are, as long as Harley don't insult my hair," growled Joker.

"I like your hair!" snapped Harley.

"Why did you choose to dye it green, J?" asked Mrs. Quinzel.

Joker swirled his fork around his plate. "If you gotta know, it was an accident," he muttered. "I…uh…accidentally got my Mom's bleach mixed up with my hair tonic and…uh…it came out green. And it's kinda permanent. But it looks great, actually, so I can't complain."

Harley giggled, and he grinned at her. "This is great grub, by the way, Mrs. Q," he said, nodding at Mrs. Quinzel.

"Oh…thank you, J," said Mrs. Quinzel. "What nice manners your parents have taught you."

"Yeah, they tried," agreed Joker, nodding. "Didn't take much of it in, though. I'm a slow learner. Ask Harley."

"But when he wants something, he really puts in the effort," said Harley, squeezing his hand. "I think that kinda passion and dedication is pretty rare. J's class president now, y'know."

"No, I didn't," said Mr. Quinzel, impressed. "Congratulations, J. That must have been a lotta hard work."

Joker shrugged. "Actually, it was a steal," he said, smiling. "It's amazing who people will vote for if you market yourself as the 'fun' candidate. I mean, everyone likes fun. Except Bruce Wayne, but he's a square."

"Bruce Wayne is J's fellow hall monitor," explained Harley.

Mr. Quinzel looked at her in shock. "Well, Harley, he certainly seems a lot different from the J you told us about. You sure he's the same guy?"

"Oh, there's only one Joker, Mr. Q!" chuckled Joker.

"Joker?" he repeated.

"Just a nickname of mine," he explained. "But I'm gonna make good use of it at prom. What about you, kid?" he asked Harley. "What's your costume gonna be?"

"Oh…well…I already got this nice dress from Pamela, so I guess I'll work around that," said Harley. "I'm sure I can come up with something that describes me for this Identity Parade. It's red with black diamonds."

"Diamonds," said Joker, thoughtfully. "You could be a…baseball diamond! Not that that really describes you…I mean, you don't even really like baseball for all I know. What about a…diamond in the rough? That's definitely you."

"I'm not sure how I'd go about dressing as that," replied Harley.

"Diamonds are…forever. Diamonds are…a girl's best friend…" continued Joker.

"Don't worry, Mr. J, I'm sure I'll figure something out," said Harley. "Maybe I can go as a biker, 'cause of the whole Harley thing," she laughed.

"Harley," repeated Joker. "Harley Quinzel. Harley Quin…" He trailed off, smiling. "That's it, sweets!" he exclaimed. "You can go as Harley Quinn! Y'know, like a harlequin, a clown, kinda like me."

"Well…I am kinda like you, Mr. J," agreed Harley, smiling at him. "And harlequins traditionally wore diamonds."

Joker shook his head. "Too many coincidences. It's gotta be fate."

"What's gotta be fate?" asked Harley.

"The whole you and me thing," he replied. "Joker and Harley Quinn, two clowns who belong together."

"Ain't he just the most romantic guy in the universe, Mom?" sighed Harley, gazing at Joker dreamily.

"Yes," she agreed. "He's nothing like you said, in fact, Harley. And I mean that in a nice way."

"No offense taken, Mrs. Q," said Joker, nodding. "I used to be a pretty bad guy. But it's amazing how nice people are to you when you stop trying to torment them."

Harley felt the atmosphere relax as her parents continued to talk to Joker, and as the evening passed in conversation and board games, Harley felt like they were all one big, happy family, which made her incredibly glad.

"It's getting late, J – can we offer you a ride home?" asked Mr. Quinzel, after a final game of Clue.

"No thanks, Mr. Q. The last thing I wanna do is share a car with a guy who was twice convicted of murdering Mr. Boddy!" chuckled Joker. "I'll be fine getting back."

"I hope we haven't kept you out too late," said Mrs. Quinzel. "Won't your parents be worried?"

Joker shrugged. "Nah, they…uh…let me have my freedom generally."

"Maybe we can meet them soon," suggested Mrs. Quinzel.

"Yeah…maybe," agreed Joker, smoothing his hair back. "They're not much…uh…like you, though. I mean, they probably don't even know I'm gone – they're probably not home from the bar yet…"

He trailed off. "I'm sorry that's…more than I meant to say." He cleared his throat. "Goodnight, Mr. and Mrs. Q."

"I'll see you out," said Harley, taking his hand and leading him to the door of the apartment.

"Look, what I said about my parents…try to forget that, huh?" asked Joker, gently. "I don't want you thinking about me as some kinda latchkey kid whose folks don't care if he's around or not. I mean, that's kinda pathetic, right?"

"I don't think you're pathetic," murmured Harley. She leaned forward and kissed him tenderly. "And I do care that you're around," she murmured. "Goodnight, Mr. J."

"Such a nice boy," said Mrs. Quinzel, clearing away the dishes as Harley shut the door. "Shame about his…circumstances, but I'm glad he has you to help make him a better person, sweetie."

"Didn't I tell you you'd fit right in here, Harley?" asked her father, smiling at her. "And that everyone here would be crazy about you, and you'd be happy?"

"Yeah, Dad, you did," sighed Harley. She grinned back, hugging him tightly. "And thanks for being mature enough not to say I told you so."

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