It was unexpected, the way Harley showed up on her doorstep. Ivy had just changed into her gardening clothes when she heard the bell ring. It rang once, then twice. Ivy was considering just ignoring it, but then the knocking started.
“Red? Are you in there?” A wet little sniffle that was enough to break Ivy’s heart in two. Harley wasn’t supposed to be here today.
She opened the door.
Harley’s bun was fighting against the hair tie and she was still in her pajamas. She had on suede ankle-length UGGs—Ivy was pretty sure that’s what they were called, anyway—that looked misplaced with her pale pink polka dot shorts and the fact that it was June. Her eyes were red, her stomach twitching like she was holding back sobs.
Ivy wanted to touch her, hug her, grab her hands and hold on hard.
Without a word, she pulled Harley inside and looked her over: she was shaking pretty badly, but she didn’t seem to be hurt, at least not externally.
“He forgot. He forgot again, Red. He didn’t remember.” Her voice was terrible, hoarse and breaking. “He forgot my birthday. ”
“Shhh,” Ivy said. “It’s okay. Shhh.” She put her arms around Harley, pulled her close. Harley’s head went down on her shoulder and she started to sob.
They stayed like that for God knows how long—long enough for the shoulder of Ivy’s sweater to soak up all the snot and tears it could hold. Ivy’s arms were getting tired and her knees were starting to buckle, but she didn’t want to let Harley go. “Let’s go sit down, okay?”
“Okay,” Harley mumbled into Ivy’s shoulder.
Just looking at Harley made Ivy’s chest feel like it was about to burst open. How could someone be so cruel? She’d always known Joker was deranged, but this bordered on inhumane. Even after seeing all the abuse he’d inflicted, this particular indifference made her sick.
Ivy sat herself down and opened her arms for Harley.
“I just...don’t u-understand.”
“Sometimes, I feel like he doesn’t even like me, and it hurts so bad. Oh God, it hurts.” Harley’s hands wrapped around her stomach and her face seized in a grimace like she’d taken a punch to the gut.
“Shhh. I know, baby. I know.” Ivy felt helpless seeing Harley like this. She didn’t know what she was supposed to say, and she sort of felt like she was drowning. She would've given an arm and a leg for someone to give her the right words.
“Why doesn’t he love me?”
Because he doesn’t have a soul. Ivy almost said it but decided to bite the inside of her cheek instead.
“I d-dunno why he doesn’t love me.”
Ivy said, with a touch of impatience, “He’s a blind, ungrateful fool.”
Harley pretended not to hear that. “What’s wrong with me?” She asked it sincerely, like she expected an answer, like she needed one. “Huh? What is it? What’s wrong with me?” The desperate look in her swollen eyes sent strange things fluttering through Ivy’s brain, cold and frail as moth circlings. She shivered. It was times like this that made Ivy doubt that Harley knew what she was doing. She looked so helpless, too helpless to be faking it.
“Nothing.” Ivy rubbed her back in circles and couldn’t help but smile when goose bumps began layering the skin around Harley’s shoulders. “Nothing is wrong with you.”
“That feels....s-so good.” Harley had her eyes closed, but she was still crying. Her face reminded Ivy of a newborn kitten trying to smell out its mother before it could see: she looked so lost. “Please don’t stop.”
They sat in silence for awhile before Ivy finally cleared her throat. “You know, Daffodil,” she swiped her thumb under Harley’s eye to catch the tears, “I think I still have some cake mix in the pantry.”
“I don’t wanna make a cake.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t let that deranged buffoon ruin your day.”
Ivy rolled her eyes. “It isn’t too late. It isn’t even twelve o’clock yet!”
Harley said nothing, just turned her face away.
“Fine. I’m guessing that means you don’t want your present, either.”
“Present?” Harley said automatically, and Ivy’s heart lifted.
“Yeah. I’m sorry you’re not feeling up to it.”
Harley’s head came up and she stared at Ivy, rubbing her eyes with her fists. She sniffled. “‘No, I’m feelin’ up to a present. I’m always feelin’ up to a present, Red.”
Ivy laughed, quietly, to herself. “Well, sit up then, so I can go grab it.” Harley moved off of Ivy. “I’ll be right back.”
She stood up and made her way to the master bedroom. The box was sitting neatly on the bottom shelf of her closet, unwrapped and exactly where she’d left it three weeks ago. It was common knowledge by now that there was no taking away Harley’s grief, but Ivy liked to think that she at least helped a bit. She picked up the Three Stooges box set and tried to remember if she had any gift bags, even though she was pretty sure she didn’t. She let out an irritated sigh and went back to the living room.
“I’m sorry it isn’t wrapped. I didn’t know you were coming over today.” Ivy held the box behind her back and gave Harley a wicked grin when she tried to peek.
“Oh, c’mon. Can I see? Pretty please? The suspense is killin’ me.” Harley’s eyes were still swollen, but there weren’t any fresh tears.
Still grinning, Ivy slowly—to Harley’s obvious frustration—moved her arms in front of her and held the box out to her.
Harley’s eyes widened. “Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick! Is that all the seasons?” She leapt off of the couch and snatched the DVDs out of Ivy’s hands fast enough to leave skid marks. Her eyes frantically ran over the description. “Holy shit, it is all of the seasons!”
Ivy brought a hand up to her mouth and giggled.
“Oh, Red! I love it so much!” Setting the DVDs onto the coffee table, she flung her arms around Ivy and gave her a hug that felt more like a choke hold. Then, in a quieter voice, “God, you’re the best. Really, though. I dunno what I’d do without ya’.”
“Die, probably.” Ivy rolled her eyes, but it was benign. Harley giggled.
“True,” she said, placing a kiss on Ivy’s cheek. “By the way...is it too late to ask if we can make that cake?”
“Ooh! I wanna crack the eggs! Can I crack the eggs, Red? Please?” Her voice was high-pitched and loud like she was trying to talk over someone. Usually, that would’ve irritated Ivy, but today it was making her smile.
They had the radio from the living room set up on the counter. It was quiet and crackly and made the 50s and 60s chart toppers wafting through the speakers sound oddly warm. Even the potted plant sitting beside it seemed lulled.
Ivy smiled at her. “All yours.”
The whole kitchen smelled like it was drizzled in vanilla, and each breath was like inhaling sugar without the sting. Ivy had always been more of a salt person, but she loved the way the cake smelled, how it made her feel giddy and twenty years younger. Vegan lasagna was delicious, but it could never pull this off.
Harley leaned across the counter and pulled the carton of eggs towards her. “I’m real good at crackin’ eggs.”
“Are you now?” Ivy said, raising her eyebrows and crossing her arms over her chest.
Harley touched the egg to the edge of the counter and eyeballed it. “It’s all about the form,” Harley explained as she cracked it in one fluid motion and pulled it apart over the mixing bowl. “See? Egg-squisite.”
“That was awful .”
“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that. I couldn’t help myself from crackin’ that joke.” A shit eating grin so wide Ivy could hear it. Harley walked over to the sink and dipped her fingers into the trickle of water.
“Jesus Christ.” Ivy laughed in spite of herself, a real laugh that came from her chest and echoed around the kitchen. Today was turning out to be a good day after all.
Harley shook the water droplets off of her hands and leaned over the cookbook on the counter. “‘Kay, so it says here that,”—she squinted at the frosting recipe—“that, uh... Huh. Actually, I dunno what it says. I forgot to put my contacts in this mornin’, so everything’s a little blurry.”
“Let me see.”
Harley slid the book over to Ivy.
“‘Gradually add 4 cups of sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Think we can handle that?”
Harley’s brows pulled together. “What does that even mean ?”
“Here,” Ivy said, grabbing the powdered sugar container from the center of the island. “Do you want to be in charge of the mixer or the sugar?”
“The mixer.” She gave Ivy a sneaky, knowing little smile. “I’m real good at mixin’ things.”
“Right.” Ivy removed the lid and pulled out the measuring cup. “I’m going to be adding a half cup of this every minute or so while you mix. Try to keep it on a low speed, okay?”
“Aye aye, captain.” That sideways, warm flick of a smile again as she turned on the mixer.
Ivy dug the cup into the powdered sugar and ran a butter knife over the top. She dumped it into the mixing bowl.
“Six more scoops of sugar, a little beating, and voilà —we’ll have ourselves butter cream frosting.”
Ivy dropped in another scoop. Then another.
“Hey, wait! It ain’t all mixed in yet!”
Ivy shook her head. “It’ll be fine.” Another scoop. Then a click. Then—
“ Harley! Turn the speed down!” White powder was flying out of the bowl and into the air. She shut her eyes tightly until she heard the mixer go off. When she opened them, she saw the sugar had made a white blanket over the counter and had stuck to her shirt, her lips, her hair, her nose. It had even gone down the dip of her sweater. She sneezed.
“Oh, crap! I’m so sorry! I thought if I beat it a lil’ faster, it would help, swear-ta’-God,” Harley said. Then, “You should see ya’self right now, Red. It’s stuck in your eyebrows, and it looks really funny!” She was shaking with half-suppressed laughter as Ivy swatted at the powder on her shirt.
Ivy should’ve been furious, but all she could feel was every muscle loosening like she was six years old again and cartwheeling herself dizzy in her front yard, like she could run around the block fifteen times and never run out of breath. She ran a finger over one of her eyebrows and burst out laughing. “I feel like a yeti.”
“I can help with that.” Harley stood on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on Ivy’s nose, then her cheek, then her lips. “See? Nice and clean now. Well, ‘cept your eyebrows.”
Ivy’s head was spinning, but not at all unpleasantly. “I think my lips may need a little more work.”
Harley grinned. “Yeah?” she said as she went in for another kiss. “You taste good.”
Ivy swept Harley off of her feet and placed her on top of the counter. “As do you, my dear,” she whispered and began playing with the string of Harley’s pajama shorts. She smirked at how quickly the goose bumps began running up and down her bare legs, how her breath was shivering and her cheeks were flushing. Being able to do that to someone she cared for with so little effort...it felt powerful. Ivy took a small step back. “But that’ll have to wait until we finish the frosting.”
“Oh, forget the fuckin’ frosting,” Harley said, wrapping her legs around Ivy and pulling her back. “I’m not waitin’ another second.”
“Fine, then.” They were still close enough that the tip of their noses touched, but nothing else. A swift painful pang went through her then, but she couldn’t figure out why; it was much too complicated, too far away.
She stayed there for a moment, just breathing, before Harley’s hands came up, fingers tangling in her hair, moving down across her cheek, tracing the line of her mouth. The fierceness of her took Ivy’s breath away. When they pulled apart again, Ivy’s heart was running wild.
What happens tomorrow? Ivy thought, with the one clear drop of her mind.
Harley’s mouth, the corners curving in a tiny smile, was very close to hers. Her hands were on Ivy’s shoulders, her thumbs moving in long gentle strokes along the line of her collarbone.
“I think I’ve got at least a half cup a’ sugar up my cooter right now,” Harley told her as she continued tracing patterns on Ivy’s skin. “Sexy, right?” Her hair was standing up in powder-covered cowlicks where her bun had loosened and she had frosting smudged on one cheek and she had no idea how beautiful she looked to Ivy.
A car drove by outside and spun the sunlight coming through the windows, glossy and magic as the lights of a carousel. The radio was whirling with music so sweet Ivy could hardly bear it. To lead a better life, I need my love to be here... In that moment, all Ivy wanted in the world was for Harley to stay. She wanted to skim off the solitude of her life light as a bird and keep Harley for good. Ivy had as much right as anyone else to love, to joy, to a partner, to a life. Here, making each day of the year. Spring naps in the hammock as plum blossoms fell softly onto their legs, tracing constellations with their fingers in the cloudless summer sky, the quiet smell of old books and cinnamon in the fall, warm embers sparkling on frost-crystallized window panes during the holidays—she could see it all so clearly. Changing my life with the wave of her hand.
Ivy carefully hooked a stray lock of hair off of Harley’s face. Nobody can deny that there's something there.
“I wanna remember today,” Harley said. “I wanna get it tattooed onto my body so I never forget it.”
“We can have a thousand more days like today. We can have all of the time in the world.” Ivy squeezed Harley’s hand. There, running my hands through her hair. “You know, Harl, whenever you’re not here, I miss you. You have no idea how much I miss you.”
Ivy thought she saw a flicker of something in Harley’s eyes, but she couldn’t tell what. “I miss you too, Red.” Both of us thinking how good it can be
“Then stay. Here. With me . ”
“Ivy, ya’ know I can’t do that.” Someone is speaking but she doesn't know he's there.
And that’s when Ivy remembered how fragile moments like this were. They were so easily broken, and when they broke, they broke in an instant.
Harley must have read the look on Ivy’s face. “I’m sorry, Red. Ya’ know I can’t leave Mistah J, even for you.” I want her everywhere and if she's beside me I know I need never care.
“Harl, he hurts you.”
“He doesn’t mean to, really. Ya’ never see all the sweet things he does for me.”
“Like what?” Ivy knew then that she should retire the subject, move on, but the wave of pure frustration was smashing over her so hard she wanted to scream. But to love her is to need her everywhere.
“Well...I can’t think—”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Harley! When are you going to learn? How many fucking times does he need to hurt you before you realize that he doesn’t love you and that he never will?” She was boiling over, but she hardly cared. “But me, Harley, I... care about you. I always have!” Knowing that love is to share.
Harley glanced sharply at her, but Ivy couldn’t stop. The anger was hitting her like speed through her blood, pounding high up in her throat. “I mean, for fuck’s sake! Are you really so dense that you can’t see that? He treats you like garbage. Why do you always pick him when I’m the one that’s here for you? I’m the one that listens to you and laughs with you and wipes away your tears and supports you and cares about you and remembers your fucking birthday . Joker, though? He couldn’t care less. You’re the gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe, and that’s on a good day.”
“My Puddin’ loves me,” Harley said quietly. There was a rough edge to her voice. Each one believing that love never dies.
“Harley, you said it yourself—he doesn’t love you! He doesn’t care about you the way I do. He can't even be bothered to remember the day of your birth. ” Her voice was rising fast. Beneath the rush, it struck Ivy that she had been waiting a long time to lose her temper like this. “Has he ever taken you out on your anniversary? What about Valentine’s day?” Watching her eyes and hoping I'm always there.
“You dunno what you’re talking about. Mistah J loves me more than you could ever dream of lovin’ me. He just...makes mistakes sometimes, but he loves me. And ya’ know what? I love him, too. More than you’ll ever know.” I want her everywhere and if she's beside me I know I need never care.
“That’s not love. That’s an illness ! You’re sick, Harley. Please, just listen to me.”
Harley examined her for a moment. “I know ya’ think you’re angry, Red, but you’re not,” she said. “You’re scared right now, scared shitless .” But to love her is to need her everywhere.
Ivy paused, raised an eyebrow. “And why’s that?”
“Because ya’ know I’ll never choose you.” Knowing that love is to share.
Ivy flinched, but the adrenaline kept her going. “You’re a tool to Joker, a toy, something to play with and break. But to me, you’re my best friend. Don’t you get it? You’re an equal to me. I see you as a person, and believe me when I say that I care deeply for the person I see. I care about you, Harley. You’re not a toy to me.”
Harley shook her head. “I’m not... he doesn’t—” Each one believing that love never dies.
“He does. He does see you as a toy. He sees everyone as a toy, and you want to know why? Because he’s soulless fucking monster who doesn’t have a conscience. ”
“No, Ivy, you’re the monster. It’s you —”
Ivy slammed both of her hands onto the counter, her face inches from Harley’s. Harley jumped, wild-eyed. She had a hand pressed to her mouth. “Do I really mean so fucking little to you that you’d compare me to that...to that thing ?”
Harley shook her head roughly into her palm and started to cry.
“Don’t pretend to be the victim right now. Don’t you fucking dare. First, you tell me you’d never choose me over him, then you call me a fucking monster —”
“I dunno why I said that—” Watching her eyes and hoping I'm always there.
“Because you know that he doesn’t love you. Because you know that I’m right.”
Harley straightened up at that, swiped at her tears. It made Ivy wonder if they were real to begin with. “He does love me! He does!”
Ivy softened as she saw more tears running down Harley’s cheeks. They coming fast now, too fast for her to keep up with. They rolled over her fingers and onto her thighs, down her knees. Ivy had known for years that Harley was sick, but that was the moment when she understood that all of those years had done more than made her sick—they’d broken her heart. Harley had staked everything—her career, her friends, her freedom, her life—on this one, shining love, and she had lost. She’d bet on a shit hand.
Harley must have caught the sorrow off of Ivy’s expression because her eyes lit up with pure fury, like a trapped animal. “He does !”
“Harley, listen to me,” Ivy said, and then her throat closed up; she could hardly breathe. “Please. I can help you.” She didn’t even realize that her hand was gripping Harley’s arm.
Harley slapped her hand over Ivy’s, removed it from her arm, and placed it roughly on the counter. “Lemme down.” I will be there.
“ Harley. ”
“Lemme down.” And everywhere.
Ivy stepped aside. “Remember how you felt this morning when Joker forgot your birthday?”
Harley slid off of the counter and took a shaky breath. She seemed discombobulated and uneven, like she thought the ground might start rippling under her feet. “Yeah,” she said with a touch of asperity, but it didn’t land right. She wouldn’t meet Ivy’s eyes. Here.
“That’s how I feel every time you leave me for him. To this day, I’m not always sure whether you genuinely like me or if I’m just something you need to take the edge off.”
Harley turned to look at her then, and there was something in her eyes that went beyond kindness, beyond compassion, beyond sympathy: understanding. Dr. Harleen Quinzel was alive and blazing in front of her. “I love you, Ivy.” There.
“Then why do you always leave?”
Harley thought about that for so long, Ivy thought she’d forgotten the question. “Because I don’t know how to do anything else,” she said finally, and then she walked out the same way she came in.
And everywhere. Something snapped inside of Ivy then. The anger, the despair, the fear—it was all too much. She kicked the counter, hard enough that for a second she thought she’d broken her toe. The lights were too bright. The sugar in the air was too sweet. The music was too loud. It was making her sick. Stop. On a wild impulse, she grabbed the radio and yanked it straight out of the outlet. It wasn’t heavy, but Ivy threw her whole body into it, sent it flying off of the counter. To her horror, it wasn’t the only thing that fell: the cord had somehow slid the potted plant sitting next to it over the edge, and it smashed onto the floor with a horrific crashing noise and an explosion of roots and dirt and shards of glass. The pieces stared up at her, curving and wicked against the tile.
“Oh, God.” Her heart was going ninety and she could hardly see. She knelt down next to the plant, didn’t even flinch when a piece of glass pressed into her knee cap. If anything, she was thankful for the pain. It seared her mind white and empty. “It’s okay, baby. Shhh. I’m sorry.” Hands trembling, she scooped the plant into her palms, gently, like her mother had done with birds that ran into the window when she was little.
The plant was whimpering. Ivy could only think of a handful of times she’d hated herself more.
She stood up, and this time she did flinch when a shard of glass sliced her foot. “God fucking dammit.” She could hear the floor sizzling away as drops of green blood dripped onto the tile. It almost sounded like a bubble bar hitting water, but not quite. There wasn’t another sound in the world that truly came close to the sound of acid melting through solid tile.
She kept walking and tried to ignore the trail of holes following her into the greenhouse, a terrible little road map to ensure she’d never forget today, that she’d never lose her way back.
When she got to the door, Ivy stared down blankly at the mess of roots that demanded both of her hands, watched the pretty pattern the window was casting onto it.
There were times when she wondered how much longer she could keep this up, whether she’d know when she was spent. The thing about Harley others didn’t seem to understand was that she took you places, dark places. She did things to the air sometimes, stained it with her lethal colors and let you breathe it in.
At the beginning, Ivy never let Harley take her anywhere. She was immune to toxins, after all. Actually, when it was just starting out, she thought she’d been using Harley—for sex, for company, for something to do. But now...she was completely submerged, and the irony of it? Harley had been the one using her the whole time, and what was worse—Ivy let her do it. Even now, Ivy was letting her do it, free-falling into whatever the hell they had together, full fathom five and sinking deeper. Harley poisoned the air around her, coming and going as she pleased. It broke Ivy’s heart, but she just couldn’t bring herself to fix up an antidote. She couldn’t bring herself to let Harley go.
At the very edges of her mind, she thought she heard the door squeal open—she really needed to oil those hinges—and a pair of vines ushered her inside.
Everything was streaky and too fast to follow, but somewhere in that tangle of time, she repotted her plant, gave it the nicest pot she could find. “I’m so sorry.” She was stroking its leaves, trying to calm it down. She was thinking about painting the pot yellow.
Then, she startled the living hell out of herself by bursting into tears. Ivy hadn’t cried in ages, not for herself, not for Harley, not for her plants, not for anybody, but she cried then. She pressed the sleeve of her sweater over her mouth and bawled her eyes out.
What have I done? The whole incomprehensible scene seemed to be moving in slow, tilting circles all around her, so she dropped her head to her knees until everything was still again. There was no going back now.
Late-afternoon sun was flooding in through an open window and she could hear the wind ruffling the grass, could feel it brushing up against her skin. She thought of Harley laughing into her pillow at four in the morning, sticking her tongue out to catch falling snowflakes. Something felt like it was breaking under her breastbone, and for a moment, she was positive that she was about to be sick.
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Ivy lifted her head and wanted to howl but didn’t have the breath. Her insides felt inflamed. Vines were rubbing her back in a soothing, gentle rhythm and singing softly into her ear. After a while, one of them reached into the main house and passed her a box of tissues.
“My head is pounding and I’m so exhausted that I’m seeing double,” she said.
“Then sleep,” the vines whispered, and she did.
Ivy opened her eyes to a pale orange sky. She heard banging, somewhere, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with her, so she let it go by and drifted off again.
She woke with a start to a crash somewhere in the house. It took Ivy a second to work out where she was: curled up in a pile of vines with her head tilted back at an awkward angle. She was sore. Her shirt was cold and clammy with tears, and she was shivering. Somewhere outside, she could hear dogs barking.
She unfolded herself in stages and stood up. Bad move. Her head lurched into a sickening spin and she had to grab at the ivy to stay upright.
Outside the greenhouse, the world had turned a sweet, ghostly blue-gray, not a cloud in sight. She slapped herself across the cheek to make sure she was grounded and walked over to the door. For a second, she was afraid to step into the house—what if somebody had broken in?—but then she remembered who she was and stepped inside anyway.
She tiptoed down the hall and tried to ignore how fast her heart was beating. The trees outside were casting shadows onto the floor, letting them dance on the walls. Ivy had never believed in ghosts, but in that moment, she wouldn’t have thought twice if one walked straight through her front door.
She passed the dining room and the den, but there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary. That left the kitchen and...
The living room window was smashed, broken glass peeking out in between strings of carpet. She narrowed her eyes and absently wondered who in the hell she’d have to call to get that fixed. It looked amature—nothing she couldn’t handle—but she couldn’t shake the layer of unease building in her chest.
Ivy’s hands curled around the seeds in her back pocket as she forced herself forward. Whatever moron had decided this was the ideal house to rob had a nasty fate awaiting them. The thought was almost enough to put a smile on her face. Her venus fly traps would be absolutely ecstatic: they loved people.
Somewhere in the house, a toilet flushed, and Ivy went cold all over. She immediately pressed herself against the wall so hard she could feel the little grooves that her eyes had never caught. In her rational mind, she knew she had no reason to be afraid. She was Poison Ivy for fuck’s sake. Essentially, she was invincible, but her emotions still ran like they did when she had just been Pamela. She pushed her feet down hard into the floor and tried to pull her head together.
She held her breath and clutched the seeds until her knuckles went white. A door opened. “Dammit, Red, I know you’re mad, but that was really mean. Ya’ almost made me water the shrubs!”
Harley’s voice hit her like a breath of pure oxygen. She wanted to laugh so badly she was almost dizzy with it, like a teenager in love. She clapped a hand over her mouth just in time.
“Ya’ knew I had to pee since I got here. I woulda’ opened the door for you, ya’ know.” More footsteps. Ivy could see her walking towards the front door. “C’mere, babies! Yes, hello .” Bud and Lou came hurling through the second she opened the door. Harley sniffled and Ivy realized she was crying.
It was ridiculous, hiding in her own home, but she wasn’t sure what else to do. The part of her that wanted to laugh, that made her chest warm—it was retreating, and fast. In its place, she felt a ripple of something scaldingly hot, like it was burning through her insides. She put the seeds back in her pocket.
“Red, I know you’re in here!” For now, Bud and Lou seemed more interested in the powdered sugar on the counter than anything else, but Ivy knew that once they’d licked it all up, they’d find her—she’d worked that much out. What she hadn’t worked out yet was whether or not she cared.
Harley ran a hand through her hair, smoothing it hard. It wasn’t in its bun anymore. “Look, I know I screwed up, bad, but I’ve been here since four o’clock. I’ve been cryin’ my eyes out, but I didn’t leave, not even when I thought I was gonna pee my pants. I’m tired and I’m hungry and I’m real sad and I’m in a lotta’ pain. You can yell and be mad all ya’ want later, I swear, but right now, I just really need a hug.” The note in her voice was weighted, like a deep bell tolling.
Ivy’s nails were cutting into her palms and her heart was hammering out of control. She knew it was wrong, but there was an almost sweet satisfaction in hearing Harley beg like this. This time, Harley was crying over her , not Joker, and something about that felt really, really good. It felt fair.
Harley blew her nose wetly into the top of her shirt. Bud and Lou were pawing at her legs now, licking her knees. “I won’t leave again, Red. I know I say that a lot, but I really mean it this time, promise. I decided I’m choosin’ you.”
Ivy stared down at the crooked little hole in the floor next to her toe. I’ll never choose you. In that second, she realized her jaw was clenched so hard it was shaking and that she was absolutely livid.
“That’s shit!” Ivy yelled, banging her fist against the wall. Harley gasped and nearly fell to the floor, but Ivy didn’t care. “That’s such shit I won’t even listen to it.”
“Red, it’s not—”
“No! Stop it!” Ivy’s voice was stern enough to stop her mid sentence. “You don’t just get to keep doing this—breaking my fucking heart and coming back like it’s nothing—because you know what? It isn’t nothing. This is my life and it’s not a fucking game and I hate you so much I can’t even look at you!”
“You don’t hate me, Red. Don’t even say stuff like that.”
“I don’t feed people lies like the absolute fucking gutter trash bullshit you feed me, Harley. I don’t say things I don’t mean.”
Harley said nothing, just stared like she’d been slapped straight across the face.
“What, you thought I’d just let you keep running this ongoing little fuck fest until the day I dropped dead? You’re unbelievable. And just so we’re clear, there’s no chance I’m continuing to let my life go down the toilet all because some stupid girl is too wrapped up in her own best interests to give a damn about anything or anyone else. Not a chance in hell.”
“But I...I thought you’d be happy.”
“Fuck you,” Ivy said, and the shake in her voice sounded like she was dangerously close to tears. “Fuck you. How stupid do you think I am? Why on earth would I be pleased about you crawling back?
“I’m so sorry, Red. I...you have no idea how sorry I am. I can change, though. Things can be different now, just like ya’ said before. Remember?”
“‘Change’? Harley, in all the years I’ve known you, I have never seen you change, not once. I’m not buying it, not this time. You had to know that there would come a time when I got sick of being your toy.”
Tears were running down her cheeks too fast to be fake. “Red—”
“I want you out of my house, now.”
Then, in a tiny devastated voice that was just barely above a whisper, “I’m beggin’ ya’ to give me another chance. I love you.” Harley’s mouth was open, one hand trembling inches from it. She sounded as terrified as a kid in the dark, and that’s when Ivy realized she meant it. “I’ve just had one of the worst fuckin’ days of my entire life. All I want is for you to call me Daffodil and rub my back like you always do. I know I’ve got no right askin’ ya’ this, but I feel like I’m fallin’ apart and I just really need you right now...” Harley’s hands came up, reaching out; her whole body was moving towards Ivy.
The adrenaline drained from Ivy’s blood and she felt so sad, all of a sudden. She wanted the anger back, wanted to feel that power all over again, but compassion was putting up a good fight. Maybe it was because Harley looked so pathetic, begging for someone who so vehemently claimed to want nothing to do with her, or maybe it was something else entirely, but Ivy felt a piece of herself shift. She remembered the reason why she’d never been able to let Harley go: she was in love. Before she understood that she was doing it, she walked over to Harley and wrapped her in a hug. Harley’s hands grabbed at her like a lost child as she buried her face in Ivy’s chest.
Ivy knew that she shouldn’t be doing this—letting herself fall back into the one person who could hurt her, who had hurt her and may very well continue to hurt her. It was careless, and it was dumb, but she didn’t know how not to do it.
“What are you doing here?” Ivy asked and pulled back to get a good look at Harley’s face. Now that she was closer, Ivy could see that one of her eyes was swollen and maroon, edging in on purple, and her nose was bleeding. “What the hell happened to you?”
Harley tried to smile, winced, and left it alone. “Oh, this?” She wiped at her nose, staring at the streaks of blood that came off onto her hands with a sort of detached disinterest. “It’s nothin’ serious, just hurts a little. That’s all.”
Just like that, Ivy forgot all about being mad at Harley, stashed it in the back of her mind to deal with later. She surrendered herself to compassion. “Does it hurt anywhere else?”
Harley shook her head. “My arms are a little cut up from the window and my stomach kinda hurts, but it’s mostly just my face.” Then, to Ivy’s concerned expression, “I could use a Band-Aid, though. Maybe more than one, actually.”
Ivy led Harley into the kitchen and pulled two glasses out of the cabinet.
“Whatchya doin’?” Harley asked as Ivy dug around in the fridge. She slammed a can of Coke and a bottle of Grey Goose onto the counter. “Have a drink,” she said, pouring a big sloppy vodka and Coke and passing it to Harley. She’d never been a fan of soda, but she always had a fridge full for when Harley stayed over.
Ivy filled her own glass up with three fingers of vodka and took a sip. It was rich and sweet and it burned trails of warmth right down to her fingertips. With a bit of lazy effort, she gave the fridge door a good roundhouse kick shut and opened the drawer where she kept her first aid supplies.
“What plant jizz am I gettin’ this time?”
“Rubbing alcohol. This is going to sting a little, okay?” she told Harley as she prepared a spray bottle.
“Wait you’re...putting it in there?”
“Yes, now hold still.”
Harley flinched harder than Ivy was expecting her to when she started squirting the cuts. “God almighty! Is that stuff burning my skin?”
“Not exactly.” Setting the spray bottle down, she tipped her head back and finished off her drink.
“Ya’ look like you could use another drink.” Harley nudged the Grey Goose towards her. She started to shake her head automatically, but then she changed her mind and took it: what the hell.
“You know, you’re right. I could really use another drink.” God knew she needed it. And really, it was the truth: Ivy did need another drink, badly. She’d had enough of her feelings for the day, maybe even the week.
With a flourish, Ivy topped off both of their glasses.
“Here’s to the end of an absolute fucking trash day.” Harley raised her drink to the ceiling.
“I’ll drink to that.”
Harley took a long swallow and grimaced. “I feel like my skin is gonna start meltin’ off the bone any second now.”
Ivy rolled her eyes, carefully dabbing at the wounds with a paper towel to soak up the rubbing alcohol. “You think this is painful? Imagine being obligated to have sexual intercourse with Harvey Dent.”
“Ah! A joke!” Harley laughed, a small rough sound.
“I mean, honestly, I would’ve had an easier time climaxing with a bendy straw.”
“Ah! Another one!” Harley said, grinning at Ivy. There was a reckless, risky merriment in her face that almost won out over the puffy leftovers from crying. “Does that mean I’m back in your good graces, Red?”
Ivy’s face went blank at that one. She wasn’t sure how she felt about Harley right now. The anger she’d shelved before was still looming in the back of her mind, but she wasn’t convinced that that was the issue. Anger was hot, and she didn’t feel hot. She felt...hollow.
Instead of responding, she looked down and moved a finger absently around the rim of her glass, watching the vodka bloom and dim as her shadow moved across it. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Harley open her mouth, then shut it again and bite her lips. She grabbed the bandages out of the drawer, started wrapping them around Harley’s arms.
After she had finished, Harley cleared her throat. “Could I get some ice, please? For my eye?”
“Sure.” Ivy turned to the freezer. With her back to Harley, she said, almost casually, “So what happened?”
She didn’t have to see Harley to know that she flinched. This was obviously a sore subject. “Well I, uh, told him I was leavin’. For good this time.”
Ivy hated herself for the way her heart jumped at that. She hated herself for how badly she wanted to believe it, too. She turned to look at Harley, only for a moment, before hiding herself in the freezer again.
“Aren’t ya’ gonna say somethin’?” If nothing else, Ivy had learned that Harley didn’t take her life too seriously. She held it as lightly as a wildflower tucked in her hair, just skipped along the road and rolled with whatever came her way. It was always 50/50 when she made a promise: either she’d keep it or she’d break it, and not even Harley knew which she’d do until she’d already done it.
“I don’t think that I have an ice pack, but I could just grab a ZipLoc bag—”
“Not about the ice, Red. About me. About us. ”
“If I’m being completely honest with you, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to say.”
“I mean it this time, ya’ know. I—”
“Why did you come back?” The question had been nagging at her since she first heard Harley’s voice. When Harley had walked out earlier that day, Ivy had thought that would be the last time she’d see her.
“Earlier today, you said you would always choose him, so what are you doing here? Did he hit you? Did he kick you out? Did he hurt Bud and Lou?” Ivy knew she was being a bitch, but a part of her thought Harley deserved it.
“I regretted leavin’ the second I walked out that door, but I was too scared to walk back in.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Harley’s eyes clouded over a bit and she looked at the floor. When her head came up, she seemed sturdier, more present. “I was lookin’ at the flowers ya’ have out front—ya’ know, the perennials?—and I just got to thinkin’ about how little time there is in this world. Those flowers have such a short time to bloom, but ya’ know what? They really make the most of it. They’re beautiful ‘cause they spend what little time they have soakin’ up sun and bein’ the best they can be,” she said. Her head went back and she took a breath.
“I know ya’ said we could have all the time, but what does that even mean when there’s hardly any in the first place? There are some mornings where I open my eyes and I just can’t believe how much time I’ve let slip by. I mean really, though: I’m thirty now. Thirty! Can you believe it, Red? Time goes by so fast, whether you’re enjoyin’ it or not, and, well, I’m not. I’m...I’m not happy. Did ya’ know that? I’m really unhappy , actually. Miserable, even. I feel like I spend most of my time chasin’ after somebody who doesn’t wanna be caught, who’s not even runnin’. I’m on a schedule for gettin’ torn apart and eaten alive. I may be alive, but I can’t breathe,” she said. There was a high, precarious wobble in her voice.
“I’ve had so many days that I thought were my last, and ya’ know what? Every time I think I’m outta’ time, I don’t think about Joker. I don’t think about Ma or Da or Bud or Lou. Whenever I feel like I’m gonna die, the last thing I think about is you.” Harley was white and as wide-eyed as she could manage. She looked as stunned as Ivy was. “I think about your garden and the way ya’ play with your hair when you’re lost in thought. I think about how ya’ went on the Ferris wheel with me at the carnival last year, even though ya’ don’t like heights. I think about your perennials and how lucky they are to be in bloom. The last thing outta’ my mouth is your name, every damn time.
“You’re my one mercy in this sicko world. And ya’ know what? I’m tired a’ bein’ ripped to shreds. I don’t wanna waste what little time I have bein’ miserable. I wanna breathe. I need to breathe. Truth is, the clock is always tickin’ and the sand is always fallin’, and there’s nothin’ I can do about it. But here’s the thing: I don’t have to fight it. Those perennials...they’ve surrendered. Time is kind to them, and I think it could be kind to me, too. When I was walkin’ down your sidewalk, I realized that time doesn’t have to be my downfall. It could be my—our—friend, if only I’d let it.” Her eyes were clear and unfaltering on Ivy’s.
Our friend. Ivy let the words fill her up, leave her buzzing, and laid a hand on Harley’s cheek.
“So when I got home, I decided I was givin’ myself a present this year, for all the birthdays he forgot. I grabbed Bud and Lou, but when I was tryin’ to pack a duffel, he found me. That’s why I don’t have any clothes.” Harley winced, like she could feel the blows all over again. “So... I guess this is me sayin’ I’m sorry. I’m askin’ for forgiveness, for today and for every other day, too. But it’s more than that: I’m askin’ for another chance. I’ll get down on my knees and grovel if that’s what it takes. Seriously.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” As much as Ivy would’ve loved to make Harley do that, she didn’t want her accidentally kneeling on a piece of glass.
“Look, we both know that I’m a slow learner when it comes to this stuff, but I’m gonna try. God damn am I ever gonna try. I’ll try with all the time I have left if you’ll let me, because Pamela Lillian Isley, I am so in love with you it’s hard to breathe sometimes.”
“Good,” Ivy said on a sigh, and her hand came up to cup the back of Harley’s head. “I’m glad to hear it.” Harley’s eyes were closing before the sentence was finished. “But don’t think this means I’m not pissed about my window.” Ivy grinned and flicked the end of Harley’s nose with her finger.
“Hey! The pipes were about to burst and you wouldn’t come to the door!”
“First of all, I was asleep. Second of all, that’s still not a good reason.”
“What, like you wouldn’t a’ done the exact same thing.”
“Actually, yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. I would not have done the same thing,” Ivy said with a signature touch of arrogance. She felt like herself again. “Honestly, Harl, I would’ve done literally anything but break through someone’s window.”
“I didn’t have another choice!”
Ivy thought about that for a minute, twisting a finger delicately through one of Harley’s curls. “You could’ve gone outside or something. Why are we still talking about this?”
“But if I just went outside, what would I wipe with?”
Harley made a face like she was insulted Ivy would even suggest something so vulgar. “No offense, but the only poison ivy I want touching my puff pillow is you.”
“You know what? On second thought, you need to leave.”
“Not a chance .” Harley lunged at her then, wrapped her legs sloppily around her waist, and started kissing her.
Ivy held her neck out at an undignified angle to avoid her. “Guards! Guards, come quickly!” She could feel Harley laughing against her neck, and soon she was laughing, too.
When Harley finally caught her breath, her eyes opened wide. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! What happened to the radio?”
Ivy hadn’t prepared an answer for that one. “Oh, I was angry.”
“So lemme get this straight: you’re judging me for breakin’ your window while you’re in here smashin’ your radio?”
Ivy grabbed a Ziploc bag out of the cabinet and turned to the freezer. “Touché”
“I think it’s the universe tellin’ us we belong together.”
“Maybe,” she said, and held the bag of ice out to Harley.
“I think it is, though.” Harley hopped up onto the counter and swung her legs.
Ivy waved her hand at her “Don’t get too comfortable. We have a lot of cleaning up to do.”
“Aw, Red. I don’t wanna.”
“Well ya’ gotta!” Ivy said in a nasally voice that sounded impressively similar to Harley’s.
“The real reason ya’ want me is for my cleaning services. Well use me, use me ‘cause you ain't that average groupie!” The corners of Harley’s mouth twisted into a smirk. She dropped her feet to the floor and nuzzled into Ivy’s upper arm.
Ivy let out a snort. “A little accountability would be nice, Harl. The mess is yours, too.”
“I know, Red. Cool your jets. I just wanted an excuse to tell ya’ that you ain’t that average groupie.”
“Oh, God. Please stop,” Ivy said, but she was smiling at Harley, a mischievous flash of a grin.
“I wanna get you home and ugh, double-up, ugh, ugh .” That sent Ivy into a round of helpless, undignified giggles that made her stomach hurt.
“I ain't talkin' bout Playboy ‘cause silicone parts are made for toys!”
She had to stick her fingers in her ears until she could get her breath back. When she finally did, she looked up to see Harley staring at her with a goofy smile on her face. “I’m glad I came back.”
The words were warm and shining, bouncing off of the shattered glass cut-free. “I am, too.”
Later that night, they were cocooned in the duvet in the master bedroom, her arm wrapped around Harley’s middle. She was just barely awake, swerving in and out of sleep. They’d vacuumed the kitchen and the living room, and placed a piece of cardboard over the broken window that Ivy thought really brought out her home’s potential as a crack den.
Ivy said nothing, just kept her eyes closed and pretended to be asleep. She had reached the peak of exhaustion, both physically and emotionally, and she couldn’t handle a conversation.
She felt Harley squirming to face her. Again, Ivy played dead.
“ Ivy .” This time, Harley pinched Ivy’s cheek and gave it a wiggle.
“Oh my God, what is it ?” Ivy said with an edge that was dulled by sleepiness.
“Oh, cheer up, buttercup. You’re gonna think this is pretty funny—I know ya’ are—so guess what?”
“I’ve gotta pee again,” Harley said with a hint of a grin.
Ivy laughed, a little burst of air that bumped a piece of her hair up. She shut her eyes again. “Oh for fuck’s sake.”
“Told ya’ you’d think it was funny.”
“You are quite the catch, my dear.” She gave Harley’s nose a quick little peck.
“Well, now I don’t wanna get up.” Harley’s grin had grown wider. “I’d rather just stay and collect my sleepy-Ivy kisses while you’re still awake.”
“Harleen Quinzel, if you wet this bed, I will personally drag your ass back to Arkham.”
Harley giggled. “Oh, Red. I love you,” she said, pressing a kiss to Ivy’s forehead. She watched Ivy expectantly for a moment, hoping she’d say it back, before sighing and getting out of bed.
When she heard the bathroom door close, Ivy rolled onto her back. “I love you, too,” she whispered to the ceiling and wondered if one day she’d have the guts to say it out loud. Even though it wasn’t a question she had the answer to, she felt satisfied to leave the future question marked. If she’d learned anything, it was this: time would give you answers, whether they were the ones you wanted or the ones you feared. Ivy figured it was best to surrender herself to this, to the whims of the little time she had, so she could soak up every drop of light while the sun was still out.
The bathroom door opened and Harley snuck back under the duvet. “Miss me?”
Ivy took a shallow breath. Her heart was slamming against her chest at a force that was knocking the wind out of her. In that moment, she decided to be the best she could be. “I love you, too, Harley.” Saying that out loud went against every instinct she had, and it was oddly exhilarating.
Harley smiled and her eyes filled up with sleepy tears. “You’ve never said that before.”
Ivy looked at Harley’s smile and felt like she’d known it by heart her entire life. She wanted to keep free-falling into whatever it was she had with Harley, to trust blindly and enjoy their bloom while it was still in season.
“I really hope you stay this time,” Ivy said.
“I will. I promise,” said Harley, and Ivy made the choice to believe her.