Chapter Ten: A Dangerous Game
You want to do something tomorrow? -Milhouse
The message floated out there somewhere in the limbo of the air waves, waiting for his reply. Of all the times to receive a message from Milhouse, this had to be the most awkward with his whole family sitting around speculating about certain sexual orientations he may or may not have. Finally swallowing back his own apprehension, Bart wrote him back.
yeah sure. -Bart
Lisa leaned over Bart's shoulder, trying to peer down at his phone until he shoved her away.
Great. See you then. -Milhouse
So that was it. Had they now fallen back into their friendship as if nothing had ever happened? Even so, there would now be this nagging suspicion that the one friend he'd known for what felt like forever, close as a brother even, might possibly have a secret attraction to him and it was quite unsettling. It was a suspicion that he couldn't ignore even if he wanted to.
The next day after school, Nelson had invited Bart over to his house so he saw no harm in bringing Milhouse along with him since Milhouse hadn't specified any plans in particular. Nelson's house wasn't much more than a dilapidated old shack in the bad part of town, but it had a certain rustic charm to it, to put things mildly. Nelson opened the door to greet them and the first thing they saw upon entering was Mrs. Muntz lying on the couch with a blanket around her.
"Is she alright?" asked Bart.
"Oh yeah. She's fine, just partied a little too hardy last night," said Nelson. Of course knowing Mrs. Muntz, that was no surprise. "I threw a blanket on her since this was one of her topless days," Bart and Milhouse both snickered. It was nothing seeing Mrs. Muntz walking around topless. At first, it had been unexpected and a little shocking years ago, but these days it was nothing new.
"Would you boys shut up? I'm trying to take a nap here!" growled Mrs. Muntz, fluffing the pillow under her head. Nelson leaned in near Bart and Milhouse, placing a hand on their shoulders and speaking in a low voice.
"I've got a present for you guys in the back room, come on."
"This present isn't going to hurt is it?" asked Bart warily, still worried that there might be one last lingering knuckle sandwich in store for them even though Nelson seemed to have renounced his bullying days.
"Just follow me," Nelson grinned. It was a grin that Bart didn't like too much, especially coming from Nelson as it used to involve pain.
"Shut up!" Nelson's mom yelled again to which he just laughed and ushered them along to his room.
"Okay. What's the big surprise Nelson?" asked Milhouse, a bit of apprehension in his voice as he wasn't as close of a friend to Nelson as Bart was. Nelson rummaged through his ratty wooden dresser and pulled out something that looked like a couple of black hoodies. Upon closer inspection, Bart read the word 'Hooters' with the classic orange owl logo printed across the front.
"Here you go. You like?" Nelson handed them each one.
"Yeah, these are cool! Thanks man!" said Bart, taking the hoodie and inspecting it.
"Yeah, they're cool alright," Milhouse exclaimed, "but I don't think I'll be able to wear it around my mom or at school."
"You two really... really like them right?" asked Nelson to which they both nodded in unison. "Alright, that'll be five bucks then," Nelson snatched the hoodies back from them and held them out of reach.
"Hey!" Bart yelled in protest. "I thought you were giving them to us?"
"Yeah, well... My mom won them in a wet t-shirt contest and said that I could hand them out to friends since they didn't fit, but you didn't think I would just give them away did you? Besides, five bucks is dirt cheap!" Nelson reasoned.
Bart shared a glance with Milhouse for a moment, before giving in and shelling out the five bucks, handing it to Nelson. Milhouse did the same.
"Thank you. It was a pleasure doing business with you," Nelson handed the hoodies back to them, before going back to the dresser and pulling out a couple of white Hooters t-shirts. "Five more bucks and you can have these too."
"But shouldn't the t-shirts be a lot cheaper than the hoodies?" asked Milhouse hopefully.
"Yeah, I don't think I have another five bucks on me," said Bart, hoping to negotiate a cheaper price since there was nothing more cool at his age than the lure of something so taboo and adult. His mom would never let him buy a shirt like that and Lisa would think it was sexist, but he just knew his dad wouldn't mind and would probably be annoyed that they weren't in his size.
"Ugh... Fine. Four bucks you cheap skates," said Nelson.
"Three and we have a deal," Bart offered his hand to seal the deal. Nelson stared at him tentatively for a moment.
"Three it is then," Nelson relented, shaking Bart's hand. "Though the joke's on you. I haven't washed my hands in a week," Nelson smirked.
"Neither have I," Bart countered.
"Ew, you guys are pigs!" said Milhouse. Both of them handed over the payment which Nelson took in exchange for the shirts, handing them to Milhouse.
"An easy sixteen bucks," said Nelson, satisfied as he counted the money before pocketing it. Bart and Milhouse both thanked him.
"Don't mention it," Nelson replied. "Now I gotta go take a leak. I'll be right back."
"Don't forget to wash your hands," Milhouse called out as Nelson left the room, shuddering with disgust.
"Hey Milhouse could you hand me one of those shirts?" asked Bart, eager to try one on. Bart swiftly removed his own shirt and tossed it to the ground without a second thought. Bart waited, but Milhouse seemed to be a little distracted, his eyes slowly raking down over every inch of Bart's exposed skin. Saying that it felt a little strange to have his friend so blatantly ogling him would be an understatement. It just felt so wrong... so taboo. Which made it exciting right? Bart shook his head as if trying to shake out such a ridiculous notion.
"Huh?" asked Milhouse cluelessly after a moment.
"Give me that," Bart sighed, yanking the shirt out of his hand and quickly put it on. He then grabbed the hoodie and put it on as well since it was still a little chilly out side even with the arrival of Spring. This was going to be hard to get used to, Milhouse fawning over him like that, but hopefully it would be just a phase like everything else he became interested in.
"I-I think I'll... wear mine later," said Milhouse timidly. So now his best friend didn't want to change in front of him like he used to? Bart laughed quietly to himself. What, was he afraid that he wasn't in shape or something? Bart didn't care one way or another, Milhouse was just Milhouse; he wasn't supposed to be hot.
"You know I was just thinking, " said Nelson as he came back into the room. "that with those shirts, you dorks can really match just like a real couple," Nelson mocked.
"Get bent Nelson," Bart replied, hoping to move on swiftly from the comment for Milhouse's sake. "So now what? Got anything fun to do around here?"
"Eh. I got nothin'. I was hoping you guys would have some ideas," Nelson shrugged.
"Hey, why don't we go skating boarding?" Bart suggested, "I brought my board and I know you can skate Nelson."
"Sure. Yo Milhouse, you gonna need a board? I've got an extra," Nelson asked, picking up an old busted up board he had lying at the foot of his bed.
"No, that's okay, I'd rather just watch. Ice skating, rollerblading, skateboarding... doesn't matter which," Milhouse sighed. "I'd just fall on my face either way."
Somehow, Bart guessed that Milhouse wouldn't be too keen on skateboarding, but he still wanted to include him anyway. Maybe later they could find something that they would all enjoy. He just hoped that he wouldn't fall back into the old habit of neglecting Milhouse's needs too much like he always had before. He didn't like it when Milhouse hated him.
Bart and Nelson had found a rather secluded area of the park where they wouldn't get in the way and hopefully, wouldn't get into much trouble as they skated. Nelson had improved a lot over the years, but he wasn't quite as good as Bart at keeping his balance. Milhouse sat on the bench, watching from the sidelines, even after Bart had urged him to give it a go on his board.
"So guess what. Cassie finally got a job and it's at a local pet shop," Bart jumped the board, flipping it beneath his feet on the concrete path a couple of times.
"Oh really? That's great! So will they be moving out soon?" asked Milhouse from the bench.
"I hope so. My parents are about to lose it man. I mean, Homer... he's about to go insane having to share all his snacks and whenever Cosette's little brats come over, they cook and eat nearly everything in the house," Bart complained, flipping the board successfully one more time beneath his feet before stopping to rest one foot onto the ground. He was really starting to worry about the strain that the moochers were having on his parent's marriage; though he doubted anything serious would come of it. Surely the moochers would be moving out soon now that at least one of them had a job; it was just a matter of time.
"Man... letting someone move in has never worked out for your family has it?" Milhouse questioned. "First there was Gill, then Otto, then the college nerds that Homer invited to stay..."
"Hey didn't Sideshow Bob stay at your house once too?" asked Nelson, rocking his board beneath his feet.
"Ugh... don't remind me," Bart laughed. That was certainly a time that he would never forget; especially after Bob sneaked into his room at night right before he was about to go to sleep and taped his mouth shut, preparing to do god knows what to him and only changing his mind at the last minute. Such primal rage in those eyes, full of blood lust and plans of murder as he wielded a knife over the vulnerable ten year old, only to find that he couldn't go through with it. Something in him wouldn't allow that to happen. Bob just couldn't kill him.
Bart looked towards the bench that Milhouse was sitting on, suddenly realizing that it was the very one that Bob had been sitting on last fall when Bart had been spying on him from behind the trees. Strange, how long ago that seemed and just how deep he had let his paranoia control him.
The next few weeks went as well as could be expected. There were several awkward moments such as Milhouse reacting whenever their fingers brushed together accidentally, simple things like that, but for the most part things hadn't changed too dramatically, much to Bart's relief. Bart greatly missed the days long ago when Milhouse had a crush on his sister Lisa or even Samantha Stanky despite how jealous Bart had been of their relationship at the time, but this was like a new world; a new bizarro world that he had come to know as his reality. It was a reality where his best friend was attracted to him, his house had become a pigsty for the down-trodden, and he was the stalker as opposed to Bob; though fortunately he'd taken to the web for all of his stalking needs rather than physically following Bob around. Thank god for social media websites.
Christmas and New Year's had come and gone, everyone had exchanged cheap crappy gifts that would inevitably be re-gifted next year and the new school semester had begun, but unfortunately, it seemed that Bart and Milhouse were taking less classes together than ever before, especially now that they were taking separate elective classes. While Milhouse went the creative arts route with band and drama, Bart went with wood-shop and typing, wood-shop since he had a knack for building things and typing only because he knew he could ace it.
One class that had become quite more entertaining than he had expected was his history class, more precisely, his teacher Mr. Greg Dullman. He was a rather thin and pale man with sharp features, glasses and short black hair that was slightly graying on the sides. He was impeccably dressed, always wearing a suit and tie.
At first glance the man seemed rather calm and boring, but one only had to look close to see that he was a ticking time bomb with his unusual, eccentric behavior and volatile personality. One minute he would be the pinnacle of calm, then the next, he'd be all fidgety and on the brink of a nervous breakdown, lashing out at the first student that dared even look at him the wrong way.
Mr. Dullman was also a very obsessive compulsive individual. Things on his desk were never to be touched, moved or even breathed on. He never shook hands, he had to chew his food twenty five times and he also didn't tolerate note passing or cell phones in his class as Bart would learn first hand that day.
"So ladies and germs, I expect you to take full artistic license with your projects... videos, reenactments, written projects, music... anything that shows what life was like for our soldiers, confederate, union or both," Wendell raises his hand which Mr. Dullman acknowledges with a nod his way.
"What does artistic license mean?" asked Wendell, Bart's constantly nauseous classmate he'd known since grade school, his question provoking several amused snickers from the class. Bart could hear Milhouse's distinctive nasally laugh and looked up, a couple of rows ahead.
"It just means to be creative with the subject material Wendell," Mr. Dullman sighed with annoyance before moving to write something on the board, muttering to himself. "They don't pay me enough to watch these little..."
Alberto appeared to have just finished writing a note and was urging Milhouse to pass it over to someone on the other side of the classroom. He had been passing notes all week long much to the teacher's displeasure and half of the time Milhouse was the one getting in trouble for it since he was a little less than discreet when it came to note passing. Once the teacher turned away, Al stealthily passed the folded note to Milhouse, flashing one of his signature gleaming smiles.
Bart watched with casual interest as Milhouse fumbled with the note and dropped it to the floor in the middle of the aisle. The teacher's attentive ears must have caught on to their little game because as soon as Milhouse bent down to pick it up, Mr. Dullman already had his shoe stamped down firmly onto the note. Milhouse slowly looked back up to the teacher's smirking face.
"Well, Mr. Van Houten. That's what... the fifth time today I've caught you in the act?" the teacher asked, the note still firmly in place under his foot. Milhouse sat back up in his seat and looked over to Al pleadingly, however Al just shrugged, unwilling to take the wrap; though, Bart couldn't blame him. As bad as it sounded, Bart had often done just that, letting Milhouse take the wrap for his own misdeeds; though, watching it objectively from afar and as an observer made it seem far worse.
"I guess that means you'll be spending detention with me, watching me grade papers. How exciting hmm?" Mr. Dullman bent down and picked up the note, stashing it in his pocket before turning on his heel and walking back up to the front of the room to his desk.
"Yeah... exciting," sighed Milhouse in defeat, slouching down in his chair. Al smiled at him appreciatively and reached over to give Milhouse a playful shove before looking back at Bart. His expression was unreadable, but he wore the same gleaming grin that he'd given Milhouse and it was just sickening. Bart looked away and began taking notes from the board just to get his mind off of Al. He had an instant dislike for the guy ever since he'd first seen him with Milhouse and what he just saw made him dislike the guy even more. It felt like the Samantha Stanky incident all over again though at least she was somewhat likeable and less manipulative.
Even though Bart and Milhouse were now back on good terms, Al seemed to be taking up a lot of Milhouse's time, but that was probably just because they were rehearsing for a play. Bart had stayed after school one Friday to watch one of the rehearsals and of course, Al had the lead role playing the part of Danny Zucco in the school's production of 'Grease' while the twins Sherry and Terry shared the role as the leading lady, which broke out into a cat fight over which girl would be fortunate enough to do the kissing scenes with Al. Milhouse played the part of the sidekick Kenickie and his acting skills had improved somewhat, but he was still far from winning an Oscar.
Things around the Simpson household were growing even more stressful and tumultuous as the weeks passed. Even with Cassie's new job at the pet shop, her and her mother seemed no where near being ready to move out soon since instead of saving for an apartment, they blew all of their money as fast as it was made buying junk that they didn't even need. Homer spent more and more time in the basement where he'd set up his own 'man cave' of sorts, away from all the chaos. Down there, he had his own TV and stash of snacks and it seemed like his own slice of heaven on earth. That is, until someone had to do the laundry.
Bart sat next to his dad on the couch, both watching a college basket ball game on ESPN, when down came Cassie with a basket full of dirty laundry.
"Don't mind me, just doing the laundry," said Cassie, to which neither of them paid her any mind.
"So, who do you think is gonna win?" asked Bart.
"Ah, I don't care," said Homer, mindlessly munching on a bag of chips as he watched the TV. "I don't really like either team, I'm just watching it to lessen the effects of Super Bowl withdrawal."
Bart laughed. He heard Cassie struggling with the dryer and looked back to she that she'd cleaned the lint, but now she couldn't get the filter back in and was trying to force it. Suddenly, as if this had set off some 'super mom' alarm, Marge came rushing down the steps and quickly grabbed the lint filter away from Cassie in a dramatic fashion.
"No no NO! You never force it! You'll break it!" yelled Marge. She looked down at the lint trap in her hand to see that it already appeared ripped and all bent out of shape. Marge sighed. "Cassie... I hate to say this but... I'm going to have to make the washer and dryer off limits from now on. There's a laundromat down the corner. We can't afford to keep buying things after they break."
"Oh that's fine. I don't mind if it's broken. I'll just stick it back in and it'll work fine," said Cassie, attempting to take the broken lint trap from Marge's hands. Bart could see the anger in his mother's eyes, being quite familiar with it himself.
"No it won't!" said Marge sharply. Homer watched with interest, dropping a potato chip from his mouth upon hearing the harshness in Marge's voice. "It's already broken and it's not fine and I actually DO mind since it's my machine! You and your mother are constantly breaking everything and I'm tired of you taking my clothes out before they're even done, leaving them dripping wet, just to do your own laundry!" Marge yelled, her fists clenched with anger that had been building up for months.
"I'm sorry Aunt Marge," said Cassie. "It really was an accident, but you use the machine more than anyone else so if it is broken..." Cassie's sentence trailed off insinuatingly. Marge took a deep breath, all too accustomed to Cassie's brand of 'poor me' and 'nothing's ever my fault' mentality.
"Be that as it may... now I will have to go out and buy a replacement lint trap and money doesn't just grow on trees you know," said Marge, giving one of her annoyed/disapproving growls.
"My point exactly, which is why I can't afford going to the laundromat so I'll just finish my clothes here and-"
"I said no! It's my damn washing machine and this is my house! I tried being the nice and gracious host, but things are getting way out of hand! Now you're just going to have to make do with my rules while your under my roof!" Marge glared at her silently for a moment before Cassie finally got the hint and left the room, leaving her laundry in the basket on the floor.
"Way to go Mom; you really kicked some ass!" Bart cheered once Cassie was out of earshot.
"Yeah! I didn't know you had it in you." said Homer with surprise.
"Well... It IS my damn washing machine." Marge muttered quietly, throwing the broken lint trap into the garbage. "I've been wanting to say that for months! It feels so good... yet so wrong at the same time. I just hate yelling at people, especially our guests." said Marge, biting one of her nails apprehensively. "I think I'll do her laundry for her to make up for it... just this once."
"Don't sweat it Marge." said Homer, grabbing his bag of chips and resuming his gorging. "They stopped being our guests months ago, now they're just a nuisance."
"Hey mom!" said Lisa, bounding down the steps and into the basement. "I just opened this letter from our ISP! They're cutting off our internet because of illegal downloading activity!"
"What?" Both Homer and Bart yelled. How could they survive without the internet? It had become such a big part of their lives that Bart was already beginning to feel the withdrawal symptoms setting in just like Homer had when the Super Bowl had ended.
"It say's that someone's been downloading CSI Miami and that this was the final warning! Any further illegal activity could result in a $2000 fine!" Lisa shouted.
Everyone knew that Cassie and Cosette were both as obsessed with Horatio Caine as Selma and Patty were with MacGyver so they were the obvious suspects of the illegal downloading. Marge sighed disappointingly, snatching the letter from Lisa's hands and stomping up the stairs with it.
"Cosette! We have a little problem here!" yelled Marge as she exited the basement.
So for the time being, Bart and the rest of the household would have to use public Wi-Fi since all of their neighbor's internet networks seemed to be securely blocked. Bart had even tried to trick Flanders into reducing his network security in hopes that he could break into his connection, but he had no such luck as Ned's wife Edna, who Bart still preferred to call Ms. Krabapple, had overheard and had put a stop to Bart's scheme.
So for the next two weeks, Bart had settled on various Wi-Fi hotspots for all his computing needs until he found a nice coffee shop in the mall that was quiet, out of the way, and much cheaper than Starbucks. He ordered a mocha frappé, having grown a liking to the frosty beverage, and sat down at a table in the back where he had a nice view of the whole place. It was only his third visit to the coffee shop, but he was starting to like the peaceful atmosphere and even being amongst all of the intellectuals that hung out there. It made him feel smart.
Bart took his laptop out of his backpack, placed it on the table and booted it up. It was a rather crappy hand me down he'd gotten from Milhouse's mother for fifty bucks last year, but it wasn't bad for the price. It took a while to load so Bart took a sip of his drink from the straw. He listened to the sounds of the mall bustling in the distance and of the customers taking their orders, until a familiar voice caught his attention, one with a distinct Shakesperian lilt. A cultured, not quite American, not quite British accent.
"I'll have a Cappuccino please, thank you," said Bob. Bart's head whipped around to the direction of the voice, but Bob was no where to be seen. He had just been at the counter ordering, where had he run off to? Bart turned back around and was shocked when he saw Bob staring back at him from the seat across from him, his coffee mug on the table.
"Bob! What the hell are you doing here?" Bart yelled loudly, holding a hand to his chest as he struggled to catch his breath from the sudden shock. Several patrons sitting at the surrounding tables were staring at them, but Bart couldn't care less at the moment.
"Mind if I take this seat?" asked Bob innocently.
"Jesus Chr-" Bart took a deep breath before speaking again. "Just... give me a second would you?"
"Of course," said Bob, picking up his mug and drinking from it, his eyes never leaving Bart. Bart closed his laptop and stared back at Bob irritated, yet on the inside feeling curious and extremely tense under that gaze, just as he always had. "Unfortunately for you, I can't stay long," said Bob at length.
"What are you even doing here?" asked Bart, his heart still racing as Bob stared back at him dangerously, wearing the usual smirk. He was like a predatory animal, barely even blinking.
"Bart," Bob's voice lingered on his name as he leaned engagingly towards him, "I can understand the hostility you bear towards me, with me trying to kill you and all, but really. What are you, seventeen now?" asked Bob. Bart nodded, his birthday being on April 1st which wasn't long ago. "All I want to do is to just... bury the hatchet." Bob chuckled slightly as Bart leaned further away from him, the smug smirk on his face becoming even more annoying. The man was infuriating, yet at the same time, inexplicably fascinating.
Bob was enjoying this. Even after all those years, he still drew some sadistic pleasure from reminding Bart of his sick fascination in terrorizing him. It was in stark contrast to Bob's otherwise fairly sane and normal behavior. When Bart didn't say anything, Bob sat back, relaxing in his chair.
"All joking aside, I see no reason why we must continue this game of ours. Despite how... thrilling it may be, it really is... exhausting and it could ultimately lead to dangerous circumstances."
"I'm glad to know it's thrilling for you as well Bob." said Bart sarcastically as he broke their strained eye contact; however deep down, he knew that there was a bit of truth that resonated within, that despite the danger, there was this element of excitement to the strange cat and mouse game of theirs. They were practically Itchy and Scratchy personified.
"Of course you too find it thrilling," Bob spoke, looking down to his coffee and running one finger along the rim hypnotically. "You're an adrenalin junky just as I am; though, you get off more from the masochistic end of the spectrum I'd wager," Bob smirked, his voice low enough that it didn't travel too far. Bart opened his mouth to speak, but Bob cut him off.
"I simply can't stay any longer Bart," Bob smiled, loosing some of his former intensity. "Who knows what I'd do to you if I stayed any longer," he whispered, as he leaned forward to stand, placing a hand firmly on Bart's shoulder. Bart felt warning signals rushing all over his body from Bob's warm breath on his ear, warning him of impending danger, or maybe reminding him of the more primal urges his body so shamelessly demanded against his own better judgment.
Bart swallowed and took a deep breath as Bob finally withdrew his hand and left, his cappuccino barely touched at all and sitting there as a reminder of Bob's presence. Bart quickly finished off his own drink and took Bob's, sharing germs being the least of his concern at the moment as Bob's voice still rang through his thoughts and straight to his groin. Either Bob was intentionally playing mind games with him, or the man was seriously depraved; likely both. One thing he could deny no longer was the feelings of pure attraction he had for the man and he hated it. He hated the reactions just his voice could have on his unfortunately tumultuous and unforgiving hormones.
A.N. - Just to clarify, Marge really isn't Cassie's aunt in this story, she just calls her that, but I believe she's more like a distant cousin somewhere along the Bouvier family line.
And about the coffee shop, me personally I just like just black coffee with a little sugar. I know nothing of the world of frappe mocha or whatever it is, but with every chapter comes a little research.