"So who is your friend?" Harley's mother asked. "Not one of your reprobate criminal associates, I hope."
"Uh, well," Harley hesitated.
Ivy sighed. "It's not like we can hide it, Harls," she said as she started unwrapping herself. As she unfurled the scarf covering the bottom half of her face, she caught a glimpse of Harley's mother's face. This must be how the Invisible Man felt, she thought.
"Mom, this is - "
"Poison Ivy," her mother said curtly. "How nice. The psychopath who doesn't beat you."
"Well, then that's an improvement, right?"
"And it's Pamela," Ivy added. "Pamela Isley. Since we're all using real names here." She stripped off her winter coat. "I'm going to find a closet."
She left the room before Harley's mother could stop her. At this rate, they'd be too well entrenched in the house to be thrown out.
You couldn't say that Ivy had been expecting a warm welcome, but she'd thought the woman would have enough sense to hold her tongue around "the psychopath who doesn't beat" Harley. (Honestly, Ivy was right there.) Still, she'd known it would be an uncomfortable visit. And she'd decided before she even entered the house. She would not grab Harley's mother, pull her hair out by the roots, and strangle her with it. No matter how much she deserved it. Girlfriends probably didn't appreciate that kind of thing.
And when their stay was over, and Harley recognized what a tremendous job Ivy was doing by keeping her temper in the face of her family's hostility? Then she'd understand that the whole unpleasantness had been her fault, and that while technically neither of them was in "control" in this relationship, they'd both be much better off if Ivy simply remained in charge of everything in the future.
That little epiphany was more important than anything a small-minded woman could throw at her. Besides, Ivy could put her in her place just a bit . . .
"I let you in because I thought you'd moved on with your life!" Ivy heard the mother hiss.
"I have!" Harley said plaintively. "I haven't even broken the law in months!"
"That should change by the time we're in Belize," Ivy murmured to herself. Ah, this must be the closet.
"Oh? So you've gone straight? And your friend too?"
"Well, um, Red is a very - determined woman."
"Harleen, you will break our hearts all over again if you stay here."
"There," Ivy said as she returned. "Everything's put away. Harley - Harleen said we could stay in one of her siblings' rooms?"
Harley's mother said nothing. She just scowled at her.
"Red," Harley said anxiously, "this is my mother, Henrietta."
Henrietta, Harleen, Herbert - and Winifred. How did Winifred avoid being christened "Hortense"?
"Harleen, I would prefer it if you and your friend just left before your father gets home," Henrietta said.
"That's nice, Henrietta," Ivy said before Harley could respond, "but why don't we all pretend you'd prefer we stay?" She smiled unpleasantly. "That way we can avoid any difficult topics, such as how you intend to make me do anything."
"Red!" Harley gasped, scandalized. "She's my mother!"
"I'll call the police," Henrietta warned Ivy.
"Sure thing. Campus cops? Hey, at least they're not security guards."
"Ivy, please!" Harley said. "Stop it. Mom, can't we just stay overnight? I haven't talked to you in years! And whether you can see it or not, I've changed. I'm not the girl I was last year."
Henrietta looked indecisively at her daughter. She glanced at Ivy, who said nothing. She was willing to give Henrietta the out and let Harley believe they could stay because she wanted to spend time with her daughter.
But Ivy knew Henrietta could see the implacable look in her eyes.
"Very well," Henrietta told them. "You can sleep in Herbert's room for the night. Winifred will be arriving in the morning tomorrow, and she'll be staying for dinner." She looked pointedly at them both, clearly hoping they wouldn't stay that long.
"Then I would love to stay for dinner," Ivy said sweetly. "I can't wait to meet Harleen's sister. I'm sure they must be like two peas in a pod."
Harley winced, though, and Ivy wondered if she'd done the wrong thing. If Harley had wanted Ivy to meet her parents, why would the sister be any worse?
"I wouldn't go that far," Henrietta said flatly. "Winifred is a successful trauma surgeon. You know, the kind of person who repairs the injuries caused by the kind of person you are."
"How nice. I'm so fond of doctors."
"I'll take you two upstairs. Wilbert will be home later, and I'd like time to prepare him for your arrival."
Suddenly Winifred is making more sense.
"Here they are," Henrietta said as she returned from the attic. "I knew we had them somewhere."
"Great," Harley muttered. That explained why her room had become a study. So they could move all her things into storage, and erase all signs of her life from their home.
Red had wanted to see things from Harley's childhood, however. Harley wasn't sure why. The best she could come up with was Ivy telling her, You dragged me here, Harl. Now you get to live with your decision.
That would also explain why Ivy had accepted what could technically have been a dinner invitation, but which sounded a lot more like a time for them to depart by. Harley had been more than ready to take the hint, but Ivy ruined that. Winnie. Harley groaned to herself. Unfavorable comparisons, here we come!
Even so, Harley couldn't for the life of her imagine why Red hadn't blown her stack four times by now. She could see by the flash in her eyes and the set of her jaw that her mother had offended her, oh, about eleven times. But Ivy let it roll off her back! What was she up to?
"What are these?" Ivy asked blankly, pulling some papers from the top of the box.
"Harleen's report cards."
"Yes, I can see that, but why would you save report cards?"
"They were reminders when she was in school," Henrietta said. "Reminders of what she was capable of, and of what was expected of her. Believe it or not," she added, cutting Harley with a look, "Harleen was once a straight-A student."
Clearly Red didn't believe it. She stared at Harley, astonished.
Harley rolled her eyes. "Once every three semesters, maybe," she said.
"That was only because you made it so difficult for yourself. You rarely committed yourself fully to your studies, Harleen."
If by "committing myself fully", you mean, "abandoning anything faintly resembling a social life", Mom, then I guess so.
"And then college!" Henrietta went on. "You almost flunked out!"
"I got a bunch of C's, Mom! I wasn't exactly in danger of being expelled."
"Future psychiatrists do not get C's, Harleen." Henrietta shrugged. "Besides, you got your act together and got the A's you needed."
Ivy looked at Harley but didn't say anything. Harley tried not to squirm. Obviously her parents didn't know that she'd earned a little "extra credit" by taking her clothes off.
"You're a smart girl, Harleen. You always were. That's why your decision to take up with that disgusting vermin was so unthinkable!"
"You and me both," Ivy murmured.
"We're over, all right? We're done. Can we stop talking about it now?" Harley pleaded.
"Trophies?" Ivy asked, fishing something else out.
"For gymnastics," Harley said quickly, taking the chance to change the subject. "I competed through college."
"You competed through high school," her mother corrected her. "We made you drop out your sophomore year of college when your grades suffered. Harleen was a relatively gifted gymnast," she told Ivy, "but she had to make a choice between her studies and her hobbies. And she made the pragmatic choice. At least," she added darkly, "it seemed so at the time."
"I really liked gymnastics," Harley grumbled. "I was relatively gifted because you stopped paying for lessons."
"Very, very few people make any money in gymnastics. We had more in mind for you, Harleen."
"Harleen," Ivy said slowly, as if she were speaking to a slow-witted man she'd just kissed, "is an extremely talented acrobat. In fact, it's probably her strongest asset in her - line of work. So you could argue that she made her money that way after all."
"As a felon! No parent wants her child to become a criminal," Henrietta snapped.
For some reason, Harley saw a bitter smile cross Ivy's face before it vanished.
There was a noise downstairs. "Your father is home," Henrietta said, wringing her hands. "I should go speak with him. Harleen, would you and your friend - "
"We've had a very long drive," Ivy said. "If you won't mind, we'll just retire for the evening."
Henrietta looked at them. "I suppose that will be best. Good night, Harleen."
"Night, Mom," Harley said as her mother brushed past without even the offer of a good night kiss. She turned on Ivy as soon as they were alone. "Why did you offer to stay for dinner?!" she hissed.
"Your mother seemed quite put out that we were here," Ivy said calmly, but Harley immediately picked up on what Red wasn't saying. She was pissed. "If she'd been more pleasant, perhaps I wouldn't have wanted to impose further. Why the long face when she mentioned your sister?"
"Why do you think? Because Winnie thinks I'm a total bimbo! And Mom and Dad are going to go on and on about her career, and all the people she's helped save, and how well she's done," Harley ranted. "And she's going to rub it in my face!"
Ivy actually looked a bit contrite. "I didn't realize."
"No, of course not," Harley muttered. You only cared about your own satisfaction, not me!
She almost choked on her own tongue when she realized what she'd almost said. Ivy would have been furious, and she would have been right. How could she think such a thing about Red?
Because of what happened before Halloween.
Harley's stomach clenched. But Red had changed! She had!
At least, she hoped so.
"That must be Winifred," Henrietta said as she got up from the table.
Ivy could just barely hear the groan to her right. She smiled at Wilbert. "This spinach is excellent," she said.
Wilbert didn't say anything. The next word he said to her or Harley would be the first. Ivy wondered how he taught anything.
Henrietta returned with a woman who looked almost nothing like Harley. She favored Wilbert, though, with her squat body built like a fireplug and her severe haircut. Her eyes were intelligent, and she had the face of someone who didn't suffer fools or delay gladly. Whereas Harley was too fond of fools by far.
Whatever that said about her, Ivy didn't care to know.
"Harleen," Winifred said. "It's been a while. I almost didn't recognize you without the disguise."
Harley looked down. "Hey, Winnie. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Winifred echoed. She glanced at Ivy. "No need to introduce yourself," she said. "I've seen your handiwork."
Ivy smiled thinly. "Well, I hope you stitched them up nicely."
"Winifred is an excellent surgeon," Wilbert growled. "She's become everything we expected of her since she graduated from medical school."
Harley hunched her shoulders.
Ivy looked around the room. She'd started regretting her decision to stay last night, and while she hated regrets, they'd grown only stronger. The atmosphere had been unpleasant since they came down for breakfast that morning. Wilbert was nowhere to be seen, and Henrietta was distant and abrupt.
And now they'd be sharing a table with Harley's sister as well.
Ten minutes later, it was clear that while they shared a table, they didn't share a conversation. Winifred had talked almost nonstop about her work, with her parents interrupting only occasionally to make approving noises or encourage her to continue. Kiss-ass. Harley, meanwhile, was trying to fade into the woodwork.
And Ivy, well, she was beyond irritated. Clearly Harley's parents only rewarded their children with love and affection if they were successful. If Ivy had required professional competence to love someone, she would have lost interest in Harley after two weeks!
"So," Winifred said, having finished talking about a man whose left foot had been twisted one hundred eighty degrees in a skateboarding accident. "What have you been up to, sis?"
"Nothing much," Harley said. "I'm - not seeing my old boyfriend any more."
"Wow," Winifred said. "Maybe you should stay single. You don't have much of a track record."
"I noticed you didn't bring anybody along, Winnie," Harley muttered.
"I don't have enough free time in my life to play fast and loose. I won't commit to a man until I find one who's worthy of me. Unlike some people," Winifred added.
Ivy contemplated kicking Winifred under the table.
"Look, how many times do I have to say it?!" Harley burst out. "It's over. OVER. We don't even speak any more. Why can't you just appreciate that instead of beating me over the head with my ex?"
"Beating you over the head. Hm, interesting choice of words," her sister said.
Ivy clenched her fork tightly.
"It's relevant because of who you brought along, Harleen," Henrietta said sharply, although Ivy noticed she wouldn't look her in the eye. "Are we glad you're no longer in that sick, abusive relationship? Yes. But we cannot support you when you continue to consort with people like him - "
"Red is NOT like him!" Harley retorted before Ivy could tear Henrietta's throat out. With the soup ladle.
"And when you can't promise me that you're through violating the law!" Henrietta snapped. "You're a career criminal with criminal friends. What do you want me to do, throw you a parade?"
"It's Christmas, Mom!" Harley said plaintively.
"That doesn't excuse things, Harleen!" her mother told her. "You were a bright girl. A bit lazy, with your head in the clouds, perhaps, but bright! Top marks, a college education, a good job! What were you thinking when you threw that away?"
As much as she despised Harley's mother, Ivy couldn't dispute the fundamental truth behind that question. It had bothered her for years. And Harley clearly came from a smart family. Sure, she evidently got more B's than A's in school, and Ivy knew about that professor she'd seduced in college, but . . .
Ivy paused. She didn't even hear Harley's latest incomprehensible excuse. She just thought about the last thirty-six hours. And she thought about Harley's family.
Then she dropped her fork.
It all made sense now!
Ivy suddenly realized that everyone was looking at her. "Did I say that out loud?"
"What makes sense, Red?" Harley asked, when no one else seemed willing to engage Ivy.
Ivy looked at Harley, then back at her mother. "Actually, Henrietta," she said, "Harley's not that bright."
"What?!" Harley said, shocked.
"Oh, you know what I mean, Harl. I'm not saying you're stupid or anything! I just mean that you're not as smart as your mother keeps insisting you are."
"Oh, well that makes it all right," Harley groused.
"Now see here - " Henrietta began.
"No," Ivy interrupted. "I've heard all of you weigh in on this subject all day. Now it's my turn." She looked right at Henrietta. "I think it's all your fault."
"Of course, every criminal's excuse!" Henrietta replied. "It's their parents' fault, it's society's fault!"
"If you interrupt me again," Ivy said coldly, "I'll shove what's left of that turkey up your ass."
"Face it, Henrietta. You screwed up. You blew it. You just couldn't consider the possibility that one of your kids wasn't a genius like the rest of you," Ivy went on. "You couldn't look at all those B's and say, 'Gee, maybe I should lower my expectations a little'. Instead you rode her ass until she gave you the grades you wanted."
"Red - "
"No, Harley," Ivy said. "They made you give up gymnastics. And I meant what I said. That's what you do best. I've seen it twenty times. Sure, you're a little clumsy when it comes to the kitchen, but you never miss a landing. But your mother couldn't see that," she growled. "All she could see was 'wasted potential' and 'silly hobbies'. You lashed those unrealistic expectations to Harley's back, Henrietta! And she did the best she could, because she's obviously afraid of you - "
"My daughter - "
"But she couldn't do it forever. For Gaia's sake, Henrietta, do you know what kind of psychologists end up at Arkham Asylum? Incompetent ones, unreliable ones, and the ones who are trying to make a quick buck! I don't know which one Harley was, but I'm betting it was the last one. Harley was going to put in her two years and write a book. Why not? She wouldn't be the first, or the sixth," Ivy sneered.
"Red," Harley said unhappily. "Why do ya have to be mean?"
Ivy stopped. "I'm sorry, Harley. I'm not trying to hurt your feelings. I'm just trying to explain to these Einsteins that they're part of the reason you ended up with that sick fuck!"
"Sure, pass the blame," Henrietta hissed.
"Over twenty years with people who expected more from her than she could ever give," Ivy shot back, "and who does she end up with? A man who expected nothing from her. I think Harley subconsciously chose a man who wouldn't want her to think any more. It meant freedom from you!"
"I won't have this in my house any longer," Wilbert thundered, rising to his feet.
"Maybe if you had gone on paying for her fucking lessons like she asked," Ivy spat, mirroring his rise, "then she'd be the success you always told her she could be! But no, she had to be the success you wanted her to be!"
"You are a sick, twisted, hateful woman!" Henrietta screamed at her. "And I will not stand to have you insult us in our own home!"
"Your own home," Ivy sneered. "You can't stop me from doing anything in your own home." She snapped her fingers.
There was a potted tree in one corner of the kitchen. That morning Ivy had thoughtfully added a drop of her special formula to its soil, along with every other plant in the house. And with her one gesture, the roots began to grow enormously quickly. The ceramic pot quickly shattered as thick brown roots extended outward. Similar sounds of things breaking could be heard in other rooms.
"We're leaving now, Harley," Ivy said, moving Harley's chair back so she could stand. "The air in this house is too poisonous even for me."
Tendrils of vines carried their bags down from their room just as Harley and Ivy reached the stairs. They joined vines and roots that were already crisscrossing the floor and choking the furniture. They weren't choking Harley's family, but they wouldn't be moving or speaking any time soon. Which was fine by Ivy. Another word and she'd have gotten mad.
Harley looked around. "Bye, house," she said softly.
"Such people!" Ivy grumbled as they made their way outside. "When in your life weren't you being mistreated by someone?"
"I guess that could have been worse," Harley said mournfully.
"I don't see how! And let's say you're right. Then I suppose this accursed holiday hasn't been entirely awful so far," Ivy replied, irritated. "A great deal of unpleasantness, but hey, at least it wasn't a complete nightmare."
Harley hunched her shoulders and looked down. "Yeah," she whispered. "You had the right idea all along. Thanks for defending me in there . . . sorta."
"You don't think I was completely off-base, do you?"
"No," Harley said regretfully. "I don't know why I fell for Joker, but did I enjoy growing up with that kind of pressure? Would I have had to take my clothes off for - " She shuddered and shook her head vigorously. "Can we just go to Hawaii now?"
Ivy looked at Harley, grimly satisfied. She had been right all along. Harley understood that later than Ivy would have liked, but they'd only wasted two days. And Ivy had even defended her to her family! All things considered, she was being very generous with her sidekick.
Girlfriend, she meant, not her sidekick, her girlfriend.
Was it so easy for her to forget?
Appalled, Ivy stared at Harley. She looked miserable. And Ivy had been satisfied by that? This was the reaction Ivy had been hoping for? She'd been so focused on asserting herself that she didn't consider the pain it might cause Harl. That was the kind of behavior one would expect -
A shudder crawled all the way up her spine. No. Whatever changes that required, she would not be like the Joker!
"Come on," Ivy said suddenly. "We're leaving."
Harley nodded. "We should stop at the lair first. I didn't bring any clothes for the beach, and – "
"We're not going to Gotham."
"Huh? But the nearest airport is – "
"We're going somewhere else first," Ivy told her as they got to the car. "Keys."
Harley handed them over, looking bewildered. "Where are we going?"
Ivy bit her lip. She didn't want to do this, but she felt like Harley needed it. And Ivy needed, needed to be the person who made her feel better, not worse. Unlike everyone else in her life. "Metropolis," she mumbled.
Harley realized she wasn't the smartest person in the world (even if her parents didn't), but not even a genius could have wrapped her brain around the past thirty-six hours. It was unbelievable. She had told Red she had been right, offered to drive them back to Gotham so they could fly to the tropics . . . and Red just took the keys and headed west for Metropolis.
Metropolis, as in one of the biggest cities in America, where Red could expect to see almost as many poor, defenseless murder victims as she would in Gotham. Why the heck were they going there? Red sure as heck wasn't saying.
Whatever it was, Red didn't seem to be looking forward to it. She gripped the steering wheel so hard that her knuckles were a pale, sickly, radioactive yellow-green. She had the look of a woman in an arranged marriage, driving to meet her fiancé for the first time. Okay, sure, "poor defenseless murder victims". But this was bigger somehow.
And yet she seemed determined to get to Metropolis as soon as possible. They'd stopped just once, at a fleabag motel where Harley suspected Red was in the mood again. Instead Red had held her, kissed her neck, and went to sleep for a few hours.
Harley was distracted from her thoughts by a noise. She realized it was coming from Red. She was making a low, rattling noise that came up from her lungs and forced its way through clenched teeth. She sounded like an infuriated housecat.
Harley looked past Red and through the driver's-side window. Her suspicion was confirmed as she spotted a Christmas tree lot disappearing in the distance. "Do you want to turn around?" she asked.
"No," Ivy growled.
"Because we just hit the Metropolis suburbs, and you know it's only going to get worse, Red."
"Sooo, we made it to Metropolis. Now what?"
Ivy scowled. "Striker's Island."
Harley gaped at her. "The prison? Are you joking?"
"Never use the J-word around me!" Ivy snarled. "I may kid, I may be humorous, but I - do - not - joke!"
"Okay, fine, you're serious," Harley said, frightened. This had never been a rule with Ivy before, but she supposed there was no depth for Red's hatred of the Joker. Although why she thought anyone might confuse her with the Clown Prince of Crime, that was beyond Harley. "Why there?"
Ivy turned an even deeper shade of green. "I'm taking you to see my family," she muttered. "That's what you do when you meet someone special, right?"
Harley was stunned. Her family? But Red had been quite clear that her father had passed away, and she'd said her mother worked in a laundry.
Oh. Had Red neglected to mention that it was a prison laundry where her mother worked? "Your mother is in jail?"
Ivy nodded curtly.
"So? It's not like we're upstanding citizens, Red. What is there to be ashamed of? What did she do, burn down a national park?"
"It's not that she's in prison," Ivy said. "It's that she's impossible. I don't like speaking of her because I sure as hell don't like speaking TO her."
"What's she in for?"
Ivy chuckled, but there was no humor in it. "Life imprisonment. Murder in the first degree."
Harley held her breath for a moment. "She didn't - kill your dad, did she?"
"Heh. No, although that's probably her one regret. No, my mother killed a judge, an attorney, a police officer, a banker, a civil servant, a doctor, a retailer, and a college professor. All of them men." She paused. "I can't fault her choice of targets, at least."
"Whoa," Harley said. "Why did she do it?"
"The victims were 'symbols of the patriarchal society in which women are subjugated and oppressed in all forms of life'," Ivy quoted mechanically. "Have you ever heard the term feminazi?"
"She's one of them?"
"Not only is she one of them, but she's the reason that word was coined in the first place," Ivy explained. "That's what the tabloids came up with - the Feminazi."
Harley digested this. "That must have been hard for you."
"Not really," Ivy admitted. "My parents divorced the year before and my father got custody. By the time my mother snapped, we were living a thousand miles away. The papers said that her attorney wanted to call me as a character witness, but they couldn't find us. Fortunately."
"When's the last time you saw her?"
Ivy shrugged. "Several years ago. She always asks when I'm going to break her out." Then she snorted. "Like that's ever going to happen. As long as she's in prison, I'll never have to worry about finding her a nursing home."
Harley blinked. Red had a really weird relationship with her mother. It made her own family situation seem positively quaint . . .
Then she gasped.
"Red - is this about trying to make me feel better about my family?" she asked hesitantly.
"Don't get silly ideas," Ivy retorted. "I had to suffer through your family, so you get to suffer through mine."
Harley didn't say anything. She just smiled. Gaia forbid Red ever admit to doing something nice for someone - or to being nowhere near as subtle as she thought she was.
Ivy sighed as she waited for the prison officials to finish running their check for outstanding warrants. Like she would ever risk her freedom visiting her mother.
She wondered how Harley had guessed why they came here. Clearly sometimes she was much more insightful than Ivy gave her credit for.
"All right, Isley," the head correctional officer told her. "You're cleared. You've got thirty minutes. You make a move we don't like, we're coming in."
Ivy smiled thinly. Female correctional officers, all bravado when they faced her because she couldn't use her powers on them. It was obvious how they ended up in a job that required more muscle than brains. Exactly what did they propose to do if she did something they didn't like?
"That goes for you too, Quinn," the glorified guard warned her.
Harley pulled the skin down below one eye and stuck her tongue out.
"Let's go, Harl," Ivy said. "Wouldn't want to waste a minute of my time with Dear Old Mom."
"Sure thing, Red."
Ivy's mother was waiting for them in the area reserved for private visitations. She didn't look very different from the last time Ivy saw her, she felt. Prison tended to age people right away, and then they looked the same for the next twenty years.
Nor did her appearance reawaken any kind of filial devotion in Ivy's breast. If Ivy's inability to be a mother in her own right could be traced directly to her transformation, her inability to be much of a daughter wasn't so easily explained. She supposed it was due to her mother's determination to be such an embarrassment and annoyance all of Ivy's adult life.
"Pamela," her mother said when they came in. "Are you finally ready?"
"Ready? Ready for what, mother?"
"You know," her mother said meaningfully.
Ivy rolled her eyes. "No, mother, I have no plans to free you from prison any time soon."
Her mother scowled at her. Ivy was told there was a resemblance when she did that. Ivy didn't see it. "So what is this then? Neither of us celebrate Christmas any longer."
"Because of all the murdered trees?" Harley asked.
Ivy's mother laughed. "No, that's her silly excuse. I simply refuse to celebrate a holiday that elevates yet another man to mythical, godlike status."
"For Gaia's sake," Ivy said, exasperated, "who gives a shit about Santa Claus when lives are being destroyed?"
"A tree's just a tree, Pamela. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you can put your talents toward more worthwhile efforts."
Ivy clenched her fists. "Mother, this is Harley. I'm sure you've heard of her."
Harley was evidently taken aback by the way her mother stared at her with undisguised loathing and scorn. "You're Harley Quinn?"
"I've heard all about you. About how you willingly allow that sadistic lover of yours to dominate you! You're a disgrace to women everywhere! Why my daughter allows you in her presence is utterly beyond me. Pamela, when will you cut this idiot loose?"
"They're not together any more, mother," Ivy snarled, infuriated (even if Harley's relationship with the Joker had driven her to distraction too). "So shut up."
"Oh. Well, it's about time."
"This, Harley," Ivy growled, "is my mother."
Harley raised a hand in a tentative wave. "Um, hi, Mrs. Isley."
Ivy closed her eyes and sighed. She should have prepared Harley better.
"I am neither a Mrs. nor an Isley!" her mother snapped. "Mrs. is a title that labels me as another man's property, and Isley is the name my former husband compelled me to take. My name is Evelyn. Evelyn XX."
"XX?" Harley asked.
"Every married woman throughout history," Ivy explained before Evelyn could start ranting again, "was forced to take on their male oppressor's last name. Therefore, women's true names have been lost in time. So she calls herself Evelyn XX - two X's because of the female chromosome, you see."
"Oh, sure, I see," Harley said, even though she clearly didn't.
"So," Evelyn said, "why are you here, Pamela?"
"I thought you should meet, since Harley and I are lovers now, mother."
Evelyn sighed and put a hand over her face.
"Mother doesn't approve of lesbians," Ivy told Harley. "She says they're gender traitors."
"Pamela, what is the duty of every woman?" Evelyn demanded.
Ivy raised her eyes heavenward. "To find the perfect man - and ruthlessly bend him to her will."
"Precisely. If every woman did that, males would no longer have control over us," Evelyn said. She pointed a finger at Ivy. "You're abdicating your responsibility, both of you!"
"I have no problem with finding a man and dominating him. I do it all the time, in fact. It's part of what I do. But I'm certainly not going to tie myself to some tripod for life to satisfy your fanatic ideology, mother. I'm in love."
"All that wasted potential, Pamela. You're such a disappointment."
Ivy looked at Harley. "Sound familiar?"
Harley nodded, eyes wide.
"Young lady - "
"Thank Gaia I'm nothing like you, mother."
Ivy looked at Harley with some concern after they exited Striker's Island. She had appeared shell-shocked even before they left her mother. Ivy realized that Evelyn was hard to get used to, and Harley probably had to be wondering how a woman like that ever had a daughter like herself. But Harley was practically catatonic.
Harley blinked and looked at her. "Y-you - "
"Well, wasn't that fun?" Ivy said sarcastically. "At least I've upheld my filial duty for the next decade."
"You said - you said you're in love."
"Back there. You told your mother you were in love."
"Oh," Ivy said. "Yes, I suppose I did."
"You love me?"
Ivy gaped. "You didn't know? I thought I made my feelings clear years ago!"
"You've never said you love me, Red!"
"Surely you're mistaken."
"You once said that the words 'I love you' meant that you were someone who was vulnerable, weak, and had lost all control, Red."
"Well - " Ivy paused. It sounded like something she would have said.
"Wow," Harley said. "You really have come a long way since Halloween." Then she pounced on her.
"Harley, get off, you're making a scene!"
"Oh, Red, that's the nicest Christmas gift you've ever gotten me!"
"That's because I don't feel the need to celebrate the annual genocide by handing out presents!"
Harley put her hands to either side of Ivy's head. "I love you too, Red."
Ivy froze. "You do?"
She nodded. "For years you've done things for me that you never would have done for anyone else. And just in the past three days you defended me - sorta - from my parents, you suffered through your own mother to make me feel better, and you completely exposed yourself to me. I don't think it would be possible for anybody to make me feel as special as you do."
"So you love me and you'll never leave me? Never?" Ivy asked intently. Gaia, when did she start sounding so needy? Oh yes, the second or third time Harley went back to the Joker.
"Ever," Harley said before kissing her. Despite that, and the fact that Ivy was still holding her up, Ivy managed to not fall over. "So can we go to the beach now?"
"Hey, you drove us to Metropolis."
"At least the airport is close. Parts of Belize are beautiful, you know. You can get lost in the trees for days, and - "
"Not until I get my tan," Harley said.
"But Harley - "
"Not until I get my tan, Red. I have four new bikinis that you haven't seen me in yet. And each one is smaller than the last."
Ivy swallowed. "Well, I guess the trees can wait a few extra days."
Harley beamed. "You really have changed."
(The Wicked Trilogy will be concluded on February 14th in "No One Scorns the Wicked".)