Harley woke slowly, the blackout curtains keeping the morning light at bay. She looked around, confused for a moment. This wasn’t her bed. This wasn’t her bedroom. Finally, she relaxed as she realized she was in Ben’s bedroom and the memory of the night before came flooding back to her. Instead of sadness, anger drove her out of bed. She left on the t-shirt Ben had lent her and slipped into her jeans before heading downstairs to see what he was up to.
As she hit the bottom of the stairs into the living room, she spotted him and stopped.
Ben was curled up asleep on his couch, still in his clothes. He looked like a little boy, sweet and vulnerable. Harley padded quietly over to him, her energy reaching out to him. Her spirit leaned down and kissed his forehead just a beat before she did the same. Ben slowly opened his eyes, smiling sleepily as he rubbed the sleep from his eye.
“Hey, you,” he yawned, shifting a bit to make room for Harley on the couch.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“No, it’s okay. I wasn’t… okay, I was. But that’s okay.” He put his arm out and Harley snuggled underneath it.
“Thanks for letting me stay,” Harley said as she got comfortable. “I just couldn’t face that empty apartment.”
“Anything you need,” Ben assured her. “You have my extra key, so any time you want to come over and work or just hang out, you’re welcome to. I’ve got gigs all week so I’ll be out till the wee hours.”
“I appreciate it but I won’t be there much longer.”
“Offer still stands.”
Ben shifted, stretching his stiff limbs. “What’re you gonna do?”
Harley sighed. “Start looking for an apartment.”
“I do have that extra room…”
Harley laughed, giving him the space to stretch and wake up. “I don’t think it’d be a good idea. You’re one of my best friends and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Just thought I’d offer.” He finally stood up, trying to wake up. “Should we make breakfast?”
“You actually have good in your fridge?”
Ben stopped, then smiled at Harley. “Let me rephrase. Where would you like to have breakfast?”
* * * * * * * * * *
A short time later, Harley found herself in a new neighborhood, looking at a new apartment. The area wasn’t too bad, if you didn’t mind the gang tags or the loud mariachi music blaring from most windows.
But inside, Harley chose to ignore the noise. The apartment was actually quite nice. One large studio with a teeny kitchen, a small bathroom off to the side and that was about it. At the top of a long flight of stairs, it definitely was not as great as her current apartment, but something about the funky burgundy paint job and the big windows made Harley smile. Ben poked around but Rose kind of stood off to the side, surveying everything with a critical eye.
“It’s not bad,” Harley claimed as she opened the cupboards in the kitchnette.
“Yeah,” Rose replied sarcastically. “Think of the security. No other gang is going to kill you, just the one in this neighborhood.”
“TIffany’s lived up the street for five years and never had a problem. It’s becoming more of a family neighborhood, so it’s not as bad as you might think.”
“That’s exactly where I want you to live,” chided Rose, “somewhere that’s not as bad as I think it is.”
Ben shot Rose a critical look and Rose shut up. Harley missed it as she checked out the bathroom.
“At least this one has a tub.”
Ben laughed. “I kinda liked the one where the sink was in the shower and you couldn’t shut the door if you were on the toilet.”
“I’m still thinking about that one myself,” Harley agreed as she joined them again. Then she stopped and really looked around the place. She was quiet for a moment. “Marty would hate this place. Too small, too grungy, too… whatever.”
Ben came up and just stood thisclose to her. “All the more reason to take it.”
The reality of the situation hit Harley. “This is all I can afford right now.”
Rose framed her with Ben. “You should go after him for support. If you made him sell his books and all those collectibles, you’d be comfortable for at least a year.”
Harley shook her head. “No, it would still give him control over me and I won’t have that.”
“If that’s what you want.”
Harley stepped away from them, taking one more look around. “It is. I’m gonna take it.” Rose and Ben both give her a big hug.
“Welcome home, Harley Jackson,” Ben joked, still holding her. “Welcome home.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Slowly but surely, Harley’s new apartment came together, with much help from Rose and Ben. Unlike her other apartment, Harley began to hang her own artwork on her walls, filling the space with her unique black and white comic book style paintings. She hung a framed poster of the cover for “The Wraith of Love”, putting the finishing touch on the apartment.
With that one gesture, the ghosts of the old apartment faded away and this became home.
* * * * * * * * * *
Several days later, Harley stood over Ben, watching him finish hooking up her cable and all the stuff that goes along with that. She smiled indulgently as he puttered behind and around all the wires and things.
“I could have done this you know,” Harley told Ben’s back as he plugged in the final pieces.
“C’mon, let me be manly,” he joked as he slithered out from behind the electronics. He hit the power button and the studio apartment was filled with all the wonder of cable television. “There ya go, m’lady.”
Harley curtsied. “Thank you, good sir. Much appreciated.”
Ben stuffed the cables and everything out of sight. “So what’s your plan for the evening?”
“Rose was gonna come by for a bit,” replied Harley as she grabbed a couple of glasses of wine. Ben joined her on the couch. “And then maybe work on the book. The next issue is due in a week. And I have that signing for the first issue next week.” Ben clinked glasses with her.
“I think you deserve a drink.”
Harley gestured with her glass. “Um… For what?”
“Then I should have a drink every night.” Harley’s energy collapsed down around her feet. Ben packed up his few tools, watching Harley carefully. He sat down beside her, putting his arm around her.
“You wanna come out and hear some music tonight?” he asked.
“Chris’ guitar player broke…something.. and he asked if I’d fill in. You game?”
Instantly, Harley’s energy climbed back into her and she smiled up at Ben. “Sure. Let me call Rose and see if she wants to come, too.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The bar was one of those nondescript but very cool bars that has no sign on it but everyone seems to know it. The hip and trendy hung around outside, listening to the music pouring out through the open door.
Inside, the place was packed and the music rocking. People danced to their own rhythm, especially one particular hippie-throwback-chick, who writhed in her own contemporary-meets-seizure style. Everyone politely made room for her and let her have her moment.
Ben, Harley and Rose elbowed their way through the crowd. Ben spotted his bandmates off to the side and, with a wave of his hand to Harley and Rose, made his way over to them. The ladies pounced on a tall table suddenly vacated and roosted there.
Rose couldn’t help but notice how many times Harley glanced over at Ben. “So, how’re things going with Ben?”
“What things?” But Harley’s blush belied her feigned ignorance.
“You two seem to be spending a lot of time together.”
“He’s been helping me out a lot, that’s all. And keeping me entertained so I don’t turn into a big weeping puddle on the floor.”
“You guys have been out together almost every night lately.”
“I’m just saying.”
Harley looked back toward Ben. “He’s just taking care of me.”
Ben caught Harley’s look, their gaze connecting. For a moment, everything went quiet as Harley saw nothing but his stormy green eyes.
Rose broke the moment. “Uh huh.”
Rose got up from her seat. “Fine. I’m gonna get a drink.”
Rose disappeared into the crowd. Harley looked back to where Ben had been but he was no longer there.
Suddenly, bands of energy sneaked around Harley. A hand appeared with a drink. She turned to find Ben a breath away, standing behind her, trapped there because of the crowd. She took the drink and a small shower of sparks erupted when their fingers touched. She could barely breathe with him so very close.
As his energy wrapped around her, a spirit of him did the same thing, pulling her own spirit closer while their corporeal bodies remained apart. Everything slowed as the energy intensified.
Then real time snapped back into place and their spirits vanished.
The band on stage finished their set and started packing up.
“That’s my cue,” Ben said, stepping away from her a bit.
“Knock ’em dead.”
Harley watched him move back to the stage as Rose returned, a fruity, brightly-colored concoction in her hand.
“Harley, I swear,” Rose proclaimed as she sat down, “if you give him one more Disney princess eyelash bat, you’re going to turn into a cartoon character.”
“That’s ridiculous. He’s…”
“…one of my best friends,” Rose finished for her. “Yeah. Best friends who should fuck.”
“It’s not like that.”
But she could see it as she looked over at Ben. Something in his eyes reached back to her and she couldn’t look away, her heart in her eyes.
* * * * * * * * * *
After a great night of drinks and music, Ben finally drove Harley home. Rose had abandoned them some time earlier, claiming an early morning. But really, she just wanted to let them have their time together.
Ben pulled up to Harley’s building, gallantly getting out and opening her door for her. She laughed as he offered his hand to her and helped her out.
“Thank you, kind sir.”
“‘Tis nothing, m’lady,” he responded as he bowed deeply. His smile widened as Harley laughed again.
“And thank you for a great night.”
“Glad you had fun.”
“And you were amazing. Can’t believe you didn’t even rehearse with them.”
“I’ve filled in a few times,” Ben explained, “and I’m a big fan of their music, so it’s not that hard.”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“I think you can do more than you give yourself credit for.”
“Yeah, right.” Harley’s mood darkened, despite the pleasant company. “I can’t even manage to pay for my own drinks.”
Ben gently took her face in his hands. “You walked away from an abusive marriage, put your own life back together, started you own comic book. Yeah, that’s not doing anything.” He lifted her chin so she had to look at him. “I’m so very proud of you, if I haven’t told you that.”
Harley’s eyes filled with tears. “I couldn’t have done it without you. You caught me when I fell.”
Ben just smiled. “You didn’t need catching. You just needed someone to help you stick the landing.”
They were so close, it’s impossible not to kiss. But they don’t. Their spirits did it instead. And it was one of the best kisses ever. But only the spirits enjoy it. Finally, Ben took a step away, sending their spirits back into the ether.
“I’d better go.”
Harley had a hard time catching her breath. “Do you want to come up?”
Ben’s eye said it all – yes, please, okay, right now, oh, my god, what took so long, are we there yet? But instead, his mouth said, “Next time.” He gave her a long hug, having a hard time letting go of her at the end of it. Bands of energy trailed after him as he walked back to the car, Harley’s eyes filled with everything she couldn’t say.
At the car door, Ben stopped. Harley held her breath as he finally looked back up at her.
“What?” she asked hopefully.
The air crackled with energy and hope and potential.
Until he smiled and shook his head.
The energy sank with Harley’s heart as his car drove off into the night.