Harley knew he had a rough childhood. There was no denying it. But he could hide it out of shame and fear.
Until Peter Parker.
Peter was the type of person who made you want to be better. No matter who you were, what you’d done, he didn’t judge. Which made it pretty hard to hide anything from him. Harley didn’t want to hide it from Peter, but there was always something that stopped him. Fear. Fear that this would be the one thing Peter couldn’t accept.
And normally, Harley did a pretty good job of repressing everything about his past, but to tell Peter about everything, meant really taking a deep look. Harley couldn’t hide from anything anymore. And Tony always talked about healthy coping mechanisms, so maybe talking to Peter would be his.
“Hey, darlin’,” Harley greeted, as he sat on his bed, smiling over at his boyfriend.
“Hi Harls,” Peter responded, shifting over to sit closer to Harley.
“Can I talk to you?” Harley asked, softly.
“You can always talk to me,” Peter assured, a light laugh on his lips. “What’s up?”
“I- uh- I don’t really talk about my past much,” Harley began. “But, I want to tell you about it,”
Sitting up straighter, Peter looked Harley in the eyes.
“Are you sure?” Peter questioned, lovingly.
“Not completely,” Harley admitted. “But, I need to do this. For me,”
If Harley really thought about it, most of his problems can be traced back to his childhood. And he doesn’t mean like teenage years, cause they were the result. No, it goes deeper. Harley’s the first to admit, he’s got some serious daddy issues. But, who can blame him? When your daddy leaves one day, it’s messes with your head just a little bit. Slight understatement but, oh well.
Harley hated talking about his dad. That was one of the rules he set up in life. But, if he was screwing all the others, he might as well.
It hurts that, even if he was only five, Harley remembers that night vividly. Maybe a few details had been lost through the years, but not enough to get rid of the pain it’d put him through for, probably, the rest of his life.
Harley normally likes his good memory. He’s got a damn near perfect one. But this is one time he’d love to forget.
That day, Harley’s dad had spent the day at home. He was normally at work so it was like a special little treat. Abbie had just been born but his mama went back to work almost immediately. ‘The people at the diner need me’ she would always say. And Harley would always whine that he needed her more, the clingy shit that he’d been. He hadn’t realised how true it was.
Harley had been playing in the snow with his dad, he’d watched Christmas movies, he’d played with Abbie. It was a normal day. But, it was a good day.
When Abbie had been settled down for bed, Harley’s mama had come back from her shift, a smile on her lips. Harley remembers how he’d shouted for his daddy and had been shushed, cause Abbie would be a nightmare if he woke her up. But, when his daddy had come to greet his mama, it had been all smiles and quiet giggles. The four of them had all been under one roof, a family, complete.
Well, even if Harley’s mama had fallen asleep on the couch, it was still good. His daddy told him not to wake her before pulling on a coat. At the time, Harley had thought it was odd that he had a suitcase with him. He’d just chalked it up to that fact that he was an adult. And adults were weird.
When his daddy hugged him, he said something Harley would never forget:
“You look after your mom and your sister when I’m gone. You’re the man of the house once I’m gone.”
Which really was odd. His daddy was only going to get scratchers. But, oh well, Harley didn’t understand adults.
Harley’s daddy put a letter on the table. Harley wasn’t bothered about reading it, it was just paper.
When his daddy closed the door behind him, Harley couldn’t explain it, but something felt off.
And, when his mama woke up, he finally started to understand.
The first thing she’d done was ask where Harley’s daddy was, which he answered. She calmed down until she spotted the letter, which was when things got bad.
Harley had never heard his mama cry before but, once she got over the shock of the letter, she’d been a wreck. She’d shouted and cried and told Harley to go to his room, which he definitely didn’t understand.
When he’d returned to the living room, Harley saw his mama lying on the couch, surrounded by what looked like an army of different coloured bottles. He’d been too scared to ask, so he’d just gone to bed.
Life was never the same after that.
His mama stopped going to work for a while. She had to look after Abbie. But, when the food started to spread thin and the money ran out, Harley and Abbie spent nearly every day at their grandparents’ house. That was when Harley realised that having a tiny, baby sister wasn’t so fun all the time. He also realised it was his job to protect her. He was the man of the house now.
After a month of tears and confusion, Harley had asked his mama when his daddy was coming home. When his mama told him the truth, it really hit Harley that everything was different now.
He’d never been a crier, but that day he’d hidden in his room and bawled like a baby. But, he couldn’t let his mama or Abbie hear. He had to be strong for them.
What made it worse was his mama’s sad little glances.
He’d always been told “Oh, you look just like your father,”
His mama always sounded so happy and excited when she said it.
But, now that Harley thought about it, Harley’s uncanny resemblance to the man who left her cause his mama nothing but pain. A little part of him died inside every time she looked at him. There was a strange look in her eyes. Harley knew his mama loved him, she told him all the time. But, maybe she hated that she loved him so much when he came from Harley’s daddy. He thinks it was easier for her to raise Abbie, who had no such resemblance.
And that hurt just a little.
Harley never consciously blamed her for that but he knew Abbie was her favourite. But, Harley couldn’t blame his mama, Abbie was a lot of people’s favourite.
Life wasn’t made any easier by Rose Hill, the smallest town in Tennessee, where everybody knew everybody. It was hard to ignore the stares they got in the streets. Each and every person knew what Harley’s daddy did.
Some people told them they were sorry, some laughed, but everyone steered clear mostly.
They’d become freaks in the town they’d always known.
It was only when Harley started kindergarten that things started to change in Rose Hill.
Instead of ignoring him like he expected, Harley’s classmates asked him questions. Some friendly, some not, some that meant well but still stung.
‘Why’d your daddy leave?’
‘Did he cheat on your mama?’
Harley didn’t really appreciate that kind of attention, but what could he do? He couldn’t tell a teacher, they looked at him the same way. Besides, he wasn’t no snitch.
It’s only when the questions became insults and bullying that Harley really started to get upset. He couldn’t understand. He didn’t even know why his daddy left and, suddenly, some other boys were telling him it’s his fault, that he’s just a bad son.
Harley felt like they were right for a really long time.