Arkham High

Chapter 4

"Oh God, it's that time of year again!" muttered Crane, stopping by his locker and noticing the posters put up on each one. "The utter humiliation and tediousness of having to endure watching everyone awkwardly ask each other to the prom, and knowing that no one would ever go with you in a hundred years!"

"You never ask anyone," retorted Tetch. "Faint heart never won fair lady, Jonathan."

"And who do you suggest I ask?" demanded Crane.

"Well, this year there's a definite candidate," said Tetch, nodding as Harley approached them.

"Morning, Johnny! Morning, Jervis!" she said.

"Oh…good…good morning, Harley," stammered Crane. "How was your cheerleading practice?"

"Uh…not great," replied Harley. "But it ended kinda ok, actually. What's this?" she said, noticing the poster.

"Oh…that's…uh…a notification about the upcoming rhythmic ceremonial ritual," stammered Crane.

"The what now?" asked Harley, reading it. "Oh, you mean prom!"

"Yes, prom," agreed Crane.

"Guess I won't be going to that!" laughed Harley, as she fiddled with her combination. "I can't imagine anyone would ask me."

Tetch elbowed Crane in the ribs. "Uh…well…Harley…I…er…um…that is…I…uh…"

He was cut off by Tetch crying out as he was suddenly grabbed and thrown into his locker, the door slamming shut after him. "Morning, nerds!" exclaimed the Joker, who was the one holding the door shut. "Great day to be stuffed into a locker, wouldn't you say?"

"J, let him out!" demanded Harley, rushing over to pull the locker open. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"

"Like you, dollface?" he asked, grinning. "I'd be happy to resume our little fight of yesterday if you are. Hear that, everyone?" he shouted to the school at large. "I'm making the new girl prove that she ain't a chicken without the whole football team to back her up! Go ahead, sweetheart, throw a punch," he said, smiling at her.

Harley stared at him, confused and hurt. He had been so nice yesterday…maybe it had all been an act. "Uh…no," she muttered, returning her attention to her locker. "I don't wanna fight you…"

She opened the door to her locker and a cream pie suddenly hit her in the face, splattering all over her clothes and hair. Joker began laughing hysterically as Harley slowly tried to process what had just happened, shaking from the shock.

"Ok, now we're even, sweetheart," Joker said, grinning at the assembled onlookers. "You humiliate me, so I humiliate you…"

"You jerk!" shrieked Harley, her shock turning to rage. "You utter creep! I can't believe you would do something like this! It's all over my hair, and…my clothes…they're ruined!" she cried, feeling hot tears rushing to her face.

Joker snorted. "No loss, is it?" he said.

The tears began falling. It hurt more than the humiliation would anyway, since he had seemed so sweet and compassionate yesterday. Obviously that was just a joke to hurt her more. She choked on a sob, and then raced down the hall, crying loudly all the way to the bathroom.

"You…brute!" gasped Crane, breaking the silence from the surrounding students.

"Oh, shut up, Johnny, or I'll give ya another swirly," muttered Joker. "It was just a gag. She should lighten up."

"It was cruel, J," snapped Alice. "As cruel as anything Selina and Pamela said yesterday. I don't know why everyone's being so mean to Harley – she seems really nice. And I'm gonna go see that she's ok. Excuse me," she said, heading for the bathroom.

"I ain't nothing like those two bitches!" shouted Joker. "It's not cruel – it was a joke! Just a joke! Gal's got…a sense of humor…"

The bell rang and everyone began heading for their classes. Joker stood alone for a moment, and then made his way over to the bathroom.

"J, you can't be in here!" shouted Alice, who was helping Harley rinse the pie filling out of her hair. "This is a girls' bathroom!"

"So kick me out," retorted Joker, folding his arms across his chest. "If you can. Go report me to Principal Leland."

"What are you doing here?" muttered Harley, studying her hair in the mirror. "Come to gloat?"

"No, if you must know, I came to apologize," retorted Joker. "Apparently some people have interpreted my joke as being cruel. It wasn't meant to be cruel – pie in the face gags are hilarious!"

"And that jibe about my clothes?" demanded Harley.

He shrugged. "Well, you could dress nicer…" he began.

"Listen to me, you selfish creep!" snapped Harley. "You wanna know why my parents moved here from Brooklyn? Because my Dad lost his job! He came here because he got another one, one that pays a lot less than it used to! He moved us into this cramped apartment with barely room for the three of us, because that's the only kinda place we can afford now! And he can't afford to buy me a lotta new, nice-looking, designer clothes just so I can fit in with the other kids! And even though I know that means I'm gonna get teased and bullied for the way I dress, I ain't selfish enough to make him feel guilty about it and beg him for some! And the last thing I wanna do when I have to adjust to a new school and a new city and a new life without any money is to be picked on by the likes of you, some stupid, self-centered slacker who only seems to be interested in a buncha dumb, cruel jokes! Now just get lost, would ya?"

Joker stared at her. "Look, Harley, I didn't mean…you gotta believe me, I didn't mean…to upset you. I thought you had a sense of humor! I thought you'd enjoy the joke!"

"No one enjoys being a punchline to a joke, J," she snapped. "I certainly don't."

She wiped her clothes off one final time, and turned to glare at him. "I thought you were a nice boy, deep down inside," she muttered. "Guess we were both wrong. C'mon, Alice."

She headed for the door. Joker caught her arm. "Look, tell me what I can do to make it up to you," he said. "I'm serious – I'm sorry for what I said and did, and I wanna prove it."

"I don't care what you want, and I don't care what you do," she retorted, coldly. "And I take back my offer to help you study. You deserve to fail."

"J, what are you doing in the girls' bathroom?" demanded Principal Leland, entering at that moment and seeing him. "Get out right now!"

Joker glared from her and Harley, and then stormed out. "Are you two ok?" asked Principal Leland. "Harley, what happened to your clothes?"

"J set up a cream pie to hit me in the face when I opened my locker," replied Harley.

"Oh, for the love of…" hissed Principal Leland. "Alice, get to class. Harley, come with me. We'll call your parents and have them bring you something else to wear."

Harley nodded, tears in her eyes as she followed her out of the bathroom. "Honestly, these kids!" sighed Principal Leland, under her breath. "I'd rather be running an insane asylum!"

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