Arkham High

Chapter 2

Things didn't improve for Harley as the day progressed. Her first class was biology, where she once again was forced to deal with J. He sat in the back of the class, rolling spitballs and shooting them into the hair of the girl sitting across from her, a very attractive redhead.

"J, quit it!" the girl shouted, turning around suddenly. "Mr. Woodrue! J's shooting spitballs at me again!"

"Geez, Pammie, lighten up!" chuckled J. "I'm just trying to distract your goo goo eyes away from Woody there! Wouldn't want the two of you getting into any trouble!" he laughed.

"I wouldn't sleep with a teacher, you sick freak!" hissed the girl.

"Yeah? Just every other guy in the school, then?" he asked, grinning.

"Not you either!" she snapped, turning her attention back to the teacher. Harley turned to glare at J, who pointed at the girl across from her and began making obscene hand gestures.

"J, that's enough!" snapped the teacher, Mr. Woodrue, glaring up at him. "One more word and you're going to be sent out of class!"

"I wasn't saying anything, Woody," retorted J, sticking his tongue out.

"Outside, now!" snapped Mr. Woodrue. J shrugged, standing up and heading for the door. He took the wad of gum out of his mouth and stuck it in the redhead's hair before leaving, causing her to shriek in fury and race to the bathroom. Harley returned her attention to her book, regretting more than ever that she had to be in this stupid school with these stupid kids.

At lunchtime, Harley took her pick of the less than impressive cafeteria selection, and then looked around for someplace to sit. She looked for a familiar face and saw the redhead from biology sitting next to a pretty girl with short, black hair.

"Uh…hi," said Harley, coming over to them and putting on a smile. "Mind if I sit with you?"

They both looked her up and down, from her clothes to her glasses. "Um…why doncha try the nerd table instead? I think you'll fit in better over there," the redhead said, nodding at a table at the end of the hall.

"Oh…uh…ok," stammered Harley. "Sorry for bothering you."

She carried her tray over to the indicated table, empty except for three boys. Two of them were reading books, and one sat playing with what looked like some kind of rubix cube.

Harley cleared her throat. "Can I sit here?" she asked.

They all looked up in astonishment at her. "Good…Lord," stammered one of them, a skinny, red-haired boy with glasses. "That is…yes, yes, of course you can," he said, moving aside so she could sit down and shutting his book. "I'm…sorry, I don't think we've met."

"No, this is my first day," said Harley. "I got transferred here from Brooklyn. My name's Harleen Quinzel, but you can call me Harley."

"It's…wonderful to meet you, Harley," stammered the red-haired boy, sincerely. "My name is Jonathan Crane, and this is Jervis Tetch and Edward Nygma," he said, gesturing to the other two. "Jervis is an exchange student from England, and Edward is president of the chess club."

"And the riddle club, of which I'm the only member," said Nygma, his eyes fixed on the rubix cube in his hand. "So it's not really a club so much as a place for me to think up puzzles and riddles for other people to solve."

"Oh. That's…nice," said Harley, slowly. "And you're from England, huh?" she said, turning to Tetch. "Wow, you must feel like a long way from home. And I thought I came from far away!"

"If everybody in the world minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does," murmured Tetch, not looking up from his book.

"Er…sorry?" said Harley.

"It'll be an Alice in Wonderland quote," explained Crane. "Jervis is very fond of that book – he talks of little else."

"I do not talk at all of Alice in Wonderland, Jonathan, for there is no such book," retorted Tetch, looking up from his book at last. "I talk of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. One should call a thing by its proper name, wouldn't you agree, Miss Quinzel?"

"Uh…sure," said Harley, slowly. "And…most people call me Harley."

"It's a very pretty name, even if your hair wants cutting," said Tetch, shutting his own book. "Though I must say it is positively charming after all this time to have an Alice come and join our tea party. We have the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, and now Alice," he said, gesturing from himself, to Crane, to Nygma, and finally to Harley.

"Oh…well, I'd be happy to play Alice…" stammered Harley.

Tetch's eyes narrowed. "You can't play Alice," he snapped. "You can only be Alice. And you are only almost Alice, but you'll have to do, since the real Alice is as unattainable to me as the sea is to the snail," he sighed, glancing forlornly over at another table, where a very pretty blonde girl sat laughing with a handsome young man.

"Now Jervis, Harley doesn't need to hear about all this on her first day," said Crane. "Can't we try to be a little more cheerful? Isn't it nice that such an attractive young woman wants to eat lunch with us?"

"I suppose," sighed Tetch, returning to his book. "But she's not Alice."

"Yes, riddle me this, Harley," said Nygma, looking at her suspiciously. "Why are you eating lunch with us?"

"Oh…well…I asked that girl, and she seemed to think this is where I'd fit in best," said Harley, pointing at the redhead.

"Ah yes. You've met Pamela Isley, have you?" said Crane. He frowned. "I don't think I have, come to think of it. Not properly. Although she and her friend Selina Kyle are known more by their reputations. People call them Poison Ivy and Catwoman."

"Why do they call them that?" asked Harley, puzzled.

"I don't know," confessed Crane, honestly. "I think it might be some sort of…sexual innuendo. They're known to be…uh…what's the word?"

"Loose women," supplied Tetch.

"No, popular," retorted Crane, firmly. "We'll say they're popular. Especially among men. Though they do both have boyfriends – Selina is going out with Bruce Wayne, captain of the football team…"

"Or as I like to call him, testosterone for brains," said Nygma, returning to his puzzle.

"And Pamela is currently dating Harvey Dent. You may have seen his posters around, although they've been defaced…"

"Yes, I was there for that little incident," said Harley, nodding. "In fact, the first guy I met here was J."

They all looked up at her. "You mean…the Joker?" gasped Nygma.

"The Joker?" she repeated. "Is that J?"

"That's what he likes to be called," said Tetch. "Is he here?" he whispered, looking around nervously.

"No, I haven't seen him since biology," replied Harley. "Why do you all look so scared?"

"You'd do well to be scared of him too!" snapped Tetch. "The Joker is a terrifying man, and he thinks it's terribly funny to pick on our kind!"

"He's shoved my head down the toilet more times than I can count," agreed Crane.

"He likes to shove me into the lockers," said Tetch, shuddering.

"Wedgies," whispered Nygma, staring at the table in horror. "So many wedgies. And nipple twisters."

"Geez…I knew he was a jerk, but I didn't know he was such a bully!" said Harley, horrified. "You guys never fight back?"

"Fight back?" repeated Tetch, aghast. "That would only make him angry!"

"And it couldn't possibly do any good – he'd overpower us," said Crane. "He's remarkably strong for his build – you realize that when he's got your head pressed into the toilet bowl. And he just keeps flushing…"

"Well, he'd better not try any of that while I'm around," retorted Harley, firmly. "I don't put up with bullies."

"And just how are you going to stop him?" demanded Nygma. "He won't hesitate to pick on a girl. The man has no sense of decency."

"I'll just stand up to him," retorted Harley, firmly.

"Well, here's your chance," said Nygma, nodding. Harley turned to see that the Joker was heading over to them.

"Afternoon, boys!" he exclaimed, sitting down next to Tetch, who flinched. "Who's got some lunch for me? Or some lunch money? If you give it to me now, I promise I won't hang you from the flagpole by your underwear. You remember last week, huh, Eddie?" he chuckled, as Nygma hastily reached into his pocket and shoved some bills at Joker.

"Give him his money back," said Harley, quietly but firmly.

Joker turned to look at her, grinning. "That's pretty low, Eddie, getting a girl to fight your battles for ya," he said. "Especially the new girl, since she don't know not to mess with me. I'll forgive it this once, sweetheart, since you don't know any better," he said, pinching her cheek.

Harley slapped his hand away. "Give him his money back," she repeated.

Joker smiled. "Or what?" he asked, leaning over her.

"Or…I'll have to fight you," said Harley. Inwardly she was terrified – she had never been in a fight before, and she was pretty sure the Joker wasn't the type of man to take it easy on her because she was a girl. But she also knew she couldn't back down now, or she'd be bullied like the others for the rest of her time here.

Joker laughed. "You're gonna fight me?" he asked.

Harley nodded. He chuckled, standing up and holding open his arms. "All right, kid, gimme your best shot!" he said. "First punch is free! Lemme have it!"

Harley stood up. The cafeteria had silenced, and all eyes were on her now. She drew a deep breath, raising her fist.

"Is there a problem?" asked a voice. They turned to see Bruce Wayne standing behind them, arms folded across his chest. "Fighting a girl, J, really?" he asked, raising his eyebrow. "I didn't think even you could sink so low."

"Why doncha mind your own business, Rich Boy?" snapped Joker. "The doll said she wanted to fight me, so I'm giving her what she wants!"

"You know fighting's not allowed in this school, right?" asked Bruce, turning to Harley. "And you know you'll get in just as much trouble as him for it?"

"Yeah, but…he stole his lunch money," said Harley, nodding at Nygma. "It's the right thing to do."

Bruce stared at her, impressed. Then he turned back to the Joker. "Give Eddie back his lunch money, J," he snapped. "Or I'll fight you."

"I ain't scared of you, Rich Boy," snapped Joker.

Bruce beckoned someone over. "Have you met our new quarterback yet?" he asked, gesturing to the giant figure who approached them. "He's an exchange student from Santa Prisca. We can't pronounce his real name properly, so we just call him Bane."

Harley stared at the figure – he must have been about eight feet tall. "Still wanna fight me, J?" asked Bruce, lightly.

Joker growled, throwing the money back on the table and turning to go. "This ain't over, kid!" he hissed at Harley. "You're gonna really regret crossing me! Nobody messes with the Joker!"

"Payaso loco," muttered Bane, slouching off.

"C'mon," said Bruce, taking Harley's hand. "Come eat lunch with us. I thought that was really brave what you did, standing up to him like that."

"Oh…well…ya gotta stand up to bullies," said Harley, slowly. "That's the only way they'll stop."

"I agree," said Bruce. "Let me introduce you to the gang. This is my girlfriend, Selina, and her best friend, Pamela," he said, gesturing to the two girls who had refused to let Harley sit with them. They now had forced smiles on their faces.

"Hello," said Pamela. "Harley, is it? I hope you'll forgive us for the little misunderstanding earlier."

"Oh, that's…no problem," said Harley.

"I think you've met Harvey Dent," said Bruce, nodding at his friend. "And this is my teammate, Billy Dodgson, and his girlfriend, Alice Pleasance."

"It's really nice to meet you, Harley," said Alice, sincerely. "You ever done any cheerleading? Selina and Pammie and me are all cheerleaders."

"No, I…I used to do gymnastics as a hobby," said Harley. "But I ain't ever tried cheerleading."

"You should try out for the team!" said Alice, enthusiastically. "You'd be a great addition, huh, ladies?" she asked Selina and Pamela, who looked less than thrilled at the suggestion.

"Yeah…sure," said Selina, slowly. "She should definitely…try out."

"We're short a girl anyway, since one of our fellow cheerleaders left us to go to Germany," explained Alice. "She met this exchange student, Victor, when he was here, and they fell madly in love and got married, so she went with him when he went back. We miss her, but she's happy, and she sends us lots of letters. Apparently it's really cold in Germany, but Nora doesn't mind, because she's got Victor's love to keep her warm. Isn't that romantic?" she sighed.

"Yeah," agreed Harley. "Yeah, it is."

"Do you have a boyfriend?" continued Alice. "Back in Brooklyn, I mean."

"Er…no," said Harley, slowly. "No, I…ain't ever had a boyfriend."

Pamela snorted. "That's ok – we'll set you up with someone here!" said Alice, happily. "There are lots of nice guys at Arkham! What's your type?"

"Uh…I dunno," stammered Harley. "I ain't never really thought about it before."

Alice snapped her fingers suddenly. "I know! After the tryouts, the girls and I will take you to get a makeover! Maybe some new clothes, and some contact lenses, and get your hair and nails done! You'll feel like a totally different person, and the guys will just love you!"

"I…uh…ain't sure I wanna feel like a totally different person," stammered Harley. "I'm kinda ok…being me."

"Oh. Well, it was just an offer," said Alice, shrugging. "Never mind."

"No, I think it's a great idea, Alice," said Pamela, smiling. "And you wouldn't want to offend us, would you, Harley?"

"Oh…no, of course not," said Harley. "It might be…kinda fun. I guess."

Harley wasn't the kind of girl to give into peer pressure, but she was also acutely aware for the first time in her life that she had managed to end up with the cool kids, and she didn't want to instantly ruin that.

The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. "Why doncha meet us after school for some practice on the football field, Harley?" asked Alice, as she gathered up her things.

"Sure, Alice, that'd be nice," said Harley.

"Great! See you then!" she exclaimed. As she turned to go, she accidentally bumped against Jervis Tetch. "Oh, sorry, Jervis!" she exclaimed. "Good to see you again!"

"Yes…good…seeing…you…Alice!" stammered Tetch, gazing after her longingly.

"I see you've managed to end up with the popular group, Harley," said Crane, smiling at her. "Congratulations."

"Well, I doubt it'll last," said Harley. "Hey, uh, is there any kinda book club at this place? That's kinda more my thing than cheerleading."

Crane looked pleasantly surprised. "Oh…yes…uh…the three of us often meet to discuss books, or do homework, or study. We're in a competition to see who can become valedictorian."

"Well, count me in," said Harley, smiling. "I think that's a challenge I have a shot at winning. Not this cheerleading stuff. Just lemme know when you're meeting, huh?"

"Oh…yes," gasped Crane. "Yes, I…I will."

"Smitten, Jonathan?" asked Nygma, as Harley left. "I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you. She's with the popular crowd now – far too good for the likes of us."

"Yes. Yes, I'm sure you're right," agreed Crane, gathering up his books. "But did you see the way she stood up to the Joker like that? It was just…so…unbelievable."

"So is your romance," snapped Nygma. "Trust me, don't get your hopes up. She's not for you. And the last thing I wanna do is hang out with two lovesick morons. Tetch is bad enough on his own with this Alice fixation. But hey, if you wanna waste your time mooning over some unattainable woman, it gives me a better shot at winning valedictorian."

He clapped him on the back and strode off. Crane sighed heavily. "I may not win Harley, Edward," he muttered. "But I will win valedictorian. You can bet your life on that."

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