“How’s your week been?”
The question came from Rose Hernandez, Harley’s heterosexual life partner and other best friend, who was helping Harley put the finishing touches on her outfit as the two prepared to hit the town for the evening.
“Pretty good. Went to karaoke with Ben the other night. Then he took me for dinner in Hollywood at that little place I’ve always wanted to try. Next week, we’re gonna try that place in Pasadena.”
Rose opened Harley’s fridge to get a bottle of wine. The only items the fridge held were pizza boxes, peanut butter and a bottle of Jameson’s.
“It’s a good thing someone’s feeding you. You live like a guy,” Rose said as she settled for a tumbler of whiskey.
“Never been a delicate flower. You know that.”
But her outfit belied that statement. Black jeans, black t-shirt and a scarlet and black scarf took Harley’s strong figure to just the right side of feminine. Rose gave her a once over before saying playfully, “I hate you.”
“Stop it. You’re gorgeous. Every guy I know wants to date you.”
Rose was definitely giving Harley a run for her money, albeit in a more on the conservative side.
Harley laughed. “But much to their chagrin, you love Eamon.”
“I know. Just… sometimes I think I miss dating.”
Harley grabbed the bottle of whiskey from Rose and poured her own hefty shot.
“I think I miss the idea of it more than the actual sport of it,” Rose explained as she clinked glasses with Harley. “But I’ll get to live vicariously through you as you navigate the treacherous waters of new relationships.”
“You make it sound so enticing.”
“Seriously. I’d love to see you get out there.”
Harley took a moment to check her purse, allowing her to avoid looking at Rose. “First of all, I’m not even divorced yet. And… I’m not sure I’m done with Marty.”
Rose frowned at her best friend.
“We’ve been talking…”
“You’ve been talking…”
A ghost of Marty materialized near Harley, his expression sweet and enticing. This is the man she fell in love with so many years ago. His ghost smiled at Harley and mouthed “I miss you,” the words floating over to Harley. “I think he misses me.”
The words and the ghost faded as Rose grabbed her and made Harley look at her.
“Harley, he stopped just short of hitting you. I was always worried he would do something stupid when he was angry with you. Like accidentally push you down the stairs or hit you when he threw something.”
Harley looked over to where Marty’s ghost had been, but there was nothing there anymore. “I know.”
“He never supported you. Didn’t he even try to stop you from doing the comic book?”
“Yeah, but –“
Rose saw the hurt on Harley’s face and backed off. “I don’t want to tell you hat to do.”
Harley sat down on the Swedish chair, staring deeply into the whiskey for answers.
“I just wonder if we should try it again. He always said he would never leave me. And if I left him, he wouldn’t let me go. Maybe this is him not letting me go.”
Rose stood behind her friend, wanting to say the right thing but also not wanting to let the bullshit pass.
“Is he not letting you go because he wants to keep you, like he keeps all those books? Or is he not letting you go because he really doesn’t want to let you go?”
“I think I have to find that out.”
Rose reached over her shoulder and hugged Harley from behind as Harley struggled to hang on to her emotions.
“I never thought it would even get this far. I thought when I told him I needed some time to figure things out that he’d just give me the space to do that.”
Suddenly, ghosts of Marty floated up through the floor and the walls and the ceiling. Every shape and size, every expression. Their whole relationship filled the room.
“He was supposed to be the one, the rest of my life. And if he’s not the one, I don’t know that there’s another one out there. We were so good together.”
“Until you weren’t.” Rose’s words shattered the ghosts and sent them back from whence they came. “And that’s the problem. You’re so used to being a piece of him and not your whole self that you’re feeling lost. Don’t go back to him just because you’re feeling lost.”
“I just need to know.”
Rose moved around to kneel in front of her friend and took her hands. “You know I’ll support you no matter what you do. But if he hurts you again…”
Harley laughed. “Murder, death, mayhem. I remember the speech.”
Harley stood up and hugged Rose, their embrace saying everything they couldn’t.
“Now, let’s get out of this place before I feel compelled to discuss your décor – or lack thereof.”
Harley grabbed her keys and they headed to the door.
“Hey, I’m an artist, I don’t need décor.”
* * * * * * * * *
Harley lived for the days when she taught art at House of Heroes, a very prominent comic book store. Nothing made her happier than to watch her kids draw their comic book heroes and discover the heroes within themselves. She also enjoyed listening to the dissertations of the loyal nerds who came in to argue super powers, artwork and general nonsense that made no sense to anyone outside of the geek community. House of Heroes had been her haven during her marriage and it continued to make her life complete.
Harley was keeping an eye on the time as the kids hurried to finish their work for the day.
“Okay, guys, we have to start cleaning up now.”
The kids all moaned in unison but began doing as they were told. They each brought their artwork to her for her approval.
“Who wants to share first?”
Just as seven-year-old Phillip Black joined Harley at the front of the area, his uncle, Will Black, joined the fray of parents coming to collect their kids. He and Harley exchanged familiar smiles and Will turned his attention to his nephew.
“Phillip,” Harley said, holding up his Spider-Man drawing, “what did you want to share?”
“I like my Spider-Man.”
“That’s great. What do you like about him?”
Phillip looked over to his uncle, who just encouraged him with a smile. “Ummmmmm….”
Harley caught Will’s eye and then turned to Phillip. “Well, you know what I think? I think you did a great job of finding the shapes to make Spider-Man look really cool. Does that sound good?”
“Excellent. Anyone else? Okay, great job today, everybody. I’ll see you next week.”
Chaos ensued as parents grabbed their kids and navigated their way through the geeks. Will joined Harley and gave her a quick, friendly hug, a warm glow surrounding the pair.
“Hey, Harley. How’re you doing?”
“Doing all right, Will. You?”
“Good. How’d he do today?”
They both turned their attention to Phillip as he packed his backpack.
“Better. His concentration was better and he managed his frustration well.”
“Great. My sister’ll be glad to hear that.”
They chatted innocuously about pencils and things that Phillip needed to make his artistic life easier. Will agreed to pick up some new supplies to help take the burden off his single-mother sister.
“You’re the best uncle ever,” Harley teased. Will got suddenly serious as he watched Harley drop her game face for a quick moment.
“You really doing okay?”
“Getting by, figuring things out. Thanks for asking.” She shifted her focus and turned it back on him. “You working on anything?”
“Got a few days shooting something next week and then some meetings on a script of mine. So things are moving along.” But his eyes had never left Harley’s face. “You let me know if you need anything.”
But with the perfect timing of a seven-year-old, Phillip ran over and grabbed Will. Will laughed. “You ready to go, buddy?”
“Been ready for a long time, Uncle Will.”
Harley and Will shared a laugh, a shimmer of energy passing between them as their eyes connected. But it only lasted a second, barely even a blip on the radar.
“Waiting on you now, Phillip. Say good-bye to Harley.”
And Phillip was halfway through the store as Will turned back to Harley.
“Guess we’re outta here. See ya.”
“Have a good week. Say hi to Carol for me.”
Will trailed after his nephew, Harley still smiling after them.
The restaurant looked different compared to the last time she was there with Marty, which she took to be a good sign. Maybe Marty would be different as well. She studied him across the table from her – same receding hairline, same angry mouth, same beautiful brown eyes. Even though it hadn’t been very long, she felt that maybe she missed those eyes just a little bit. And the look on his face told Harley that he missed her deep hazel eyes as well. Small, tentative tendrils of energy reached across the table as the two kept the conversation light and simple.
“So she’s quitting and they’re putting another guy in her position,” Marty told Harley. “Things should be so much easier now that she’s gone.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I know how much you’ve struggled with her.”
“You were a big help through a lot of that, helping me figure out what to say to her, how to talk to her.”
“That’s what wives do…” That brought the conversation to a halt, each looking down at their plates as though that’s where the secret key to the evening lived.
Marty cleared his throat. “Did you actually get the comic book done?”
The word “actually” hits home for Harley. “Of course I did.”
“It’s just that it’s such a big thing to do by yourself.”
Harley felt herself growing smaller and smaller as Marty tried gamely to recover from his blunder. “I just wondered because it didn’t look like you could do it.”
Harley grew a bit smaller but she tried valiantly not to show it. “The first issue is coming out in a couple of weeks. Pre-orders are good, which is awesome. They want to talk about developing another one if ‘The Wraith’ does well.”
Marty just couldn’t help himself. “Do you really think it’s gonna do well?”
“Now, don’t get touchy. It’s just that comic sales aren’t what they used to be.”
And smaller. “I’ve got a good publisher. You know that. If they’re optimistic, I’m optimistic.”
“I’m just saying that the industry is struggling…”
“Are you in ‘the industry’?”
“Okay, then. Just let me and my publishers worry about the sales, okay?”
“Fine. I was just saying…”
“I got it.” Harley could no longer look at Marty, all of her optimism squashed as she tried not to disappear into her chair.
Marty covered his discomfort by charging blindly into familiar territory. “It’s a good thing I introduced you to comics.”
“You didn’t really introduce me…” Harley corrected him.
“You didn’t really read them before we got married.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Not regularly. And not the good ones.”
Harley couldn’t help herself. She laughed. “Good ones?”
Marty gave up civility at this point and reverted to exactly what Harley remembered. “You wouldn’t have found Frank Miller if it wasn’t for me showing you the ‘Sin City’ books. Those books defined your whole style.”
“Well, I don’t know about that…” Harley tried to defend herself but Marty was just louder.
“I did have something to do with developing my style, I think. There’s also a deco influence in there, a little Tamara DeLimpka thrown in. Some Russian propaganda…”
“Yeah, but you didn’t -” Marty never did know when to stop, Harley thought.
“Drop it, please.” Harley had almost completely disappeared. For once, Marty seemed to notice the impact he had on his soon-to-be-ex-wife.
“Anyway…” Marty couldn’t find anything else to say.
“Anyway…” Harley couldn’t either. Marty gave in and signaled for the check.
* * * * * * * * * * *
It didn’t get any easier as Marty walked Harley to her car after the disaster that was dinner. When they got to her car, Harley decided to choose to be gracious. “Thanks for dinner, Marty.”
“I just wanted… I don’t know. To see you.”
Harley weighed his words, looking into his eyes. There was no deception there, just honest emotion. She let her guard down a bit. “I wanted to see you, too.”
He stepped closer to her, slight bands of energy reaching out to her. “I thought there were things we needed to talk about.”
Harley’s energy reached back cautiously. “Me, too. Talking is good.”
For a moment, there was hope. Hope they could be what Harley remembered they could be. Hope that they could find their way back to something. Hope.
“I gave notice on the apartment,” Marty informed Harley, pulling his energy and emotion back from her like a bungie.
“The one I’m living in?”
“I figured you weren’t gonna stay there. I mean, you don’t make that much between the comic book and teaching.”
As small as Harley became in the restaurant, she suddenly returned to her normal-sized self. Maybe even a bit bigger.
“You didn’t think to talk to me about it before you did this? I was trying to find a roommate.”
“My name’s still on the lease.”
This pattern was familiar. Marty demanding and deciding and berating, Harley left to defend herself uselessly. “And I’m still living there. And I thought, eventually, we would…”
“And I filed the papers.” Marty took away all of the hope with that single sentence.
“What?” Harley could barely get the word out.
“I should have them in the next few weeks.”
“But I thought… I just needed some time. I never said I wanted a divorce.”
The distance between them might as well be miles as Marty continued. “My mother hired me a lawyer. Because I can no longer be fiscally responsible for you.”
Harley barked out a harsh laugh. “‘Fiscally respon…’ That’s how you’re gonna end this? ‘Fiscally responsible'”?
Marty just shrugged, a momentary flash of shame and sadness touching his face. But it didn’t touch Harley. She opened the car door, barely able to control her anger.
“Fine,” she snapped through clenched teeth as she got into the car. “Let me know when you get them. Or have your mama call.”
“Harley, wait…” But Marty’s plea was too late. Her taillights lit his face red and hid her face so he never saw the tears begin to fall.
* * * * * * * * * *
Ben worked through some chords on his guitar, stopping to make notes on the sheet music. His apartment would be shabby chic if it weren’t so shabby. But like a typical musician, his first consideration was for his equipment and his instruments, not trying to duplicate ideas from the Pottery Barn.
A knock on his door stopped him from his practice. Frowning, Ben checked the time and cautiously went to the door. He looked through the peephole and immediately opened the door.
His energy wrapped up Harley even before the door finished opening. His big, comforting arms wrapped her up the rest of the way.