Chapter 5: Lifeline
Homer parked his car in the driveway sideways, his head splitting. Whether by miracle or skill, he somehow managed to take up as much of the driveway as possible without hitting his wife's red station wagon. His head was splitting open. He remembered the bar...he remembered telling Barney that he had fun spending the past few days with him, but it was time for him to go home and try to save his marriage...
He remembered having a few more rounds...then a few more...and a few more...all courtesy of some guy who walked in...What was his name? Mack? Jack? Ringo?
Homer shook his head and shrugged. No matter. Checking his hair, he slicked back what little was left of it, popped in a breath mint, exited his car and strolled towards the front door ready to lay on the schmooze.
"Hoooooney, I'm hoooooooooooome!"
Homer announced his entry to the home in grand style. His expression changed to perplexed when he noticed Marge cowering on her knees in the middle of the room, her back to him. Her entire body was quivering, one hand clutching her robe, the other clutching something Homer could make out.
Homer closed the door quietly, not noticing the two daughters, alerted by his loud arrival, who appeared at the top of the stairs, ready to bound down to their daddy but given pause when they laid eyes on their mother, instead hovering at the top of the stairs near the banister.
Homer definitely did not notice the man now renting his son's room, standing behind Lisa in blue pinstripe boxers and a wrinkled white t-shirt.
"Marge...Maaaaarge, it's your Homie. You OK?" Homer tiptoed up closer to his wife, trying to get a peek at what she was staring at so intently. "What'cha got there sweetie?"
Marge stopped quivering almost immediately, rising slowly to her feet with a murderous intent that caused Homer to pause and take a step back.
Marge turned with a dagger glare at the befuddled man, who peeked a glance at what appeared to be photographs spread on the floor. He recognized a pink car. "Umm...is something wrong Marge?"
Marge was so infuriated she could barely form a coherant thought that involved Homer keeping his head attached to his body. She growled through gritted teeth as she stalked closer to the focus of her rage. "You...I get an envelope in our mailbox of you having...SEX in the back of OUR CAR outside that SLEAZY BAR..."
Lisa covered Maggie's ears.
"...and YOU walk in here, like nothing happened, giving me the SWEETIE? And that my HOMIE is home?" Marge was choking on her own breath. Homer still had no idea what was going on, but he was beginning to get defensive.
"Look, Marge, I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't do anything except hang out with Barney and the guys. Now calm down and let's go talk elsewhere, you're embaressing me in front of the kids." Homer began to stand a little straighter.
Marge was on the verge of spitting fire. "I'm embaressing YOU? YOU're rolling around town sleeping with anything on two legs, and I'm EMBARESSING YOU?" Marge's face was so red Paul thought her hair was going to erupt and spout lava. "WE'RE RENTING OUR SON'S ROOM TO A STRANGER TO MAKE ENDS MEET, YOU'RE GONE FOR DAYS DRINKING AND SCREWING, AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT? THAT STRANGER HAS BEEN MORE OF A FATHER TO OUR GIRLS THAN YOU!"
That last comment hit Homer like a ton of bricks. Furrowing his brow, he shot out and grabbed Marge's wrist. Leaning over her, he forced her to the ground, her robe splaying open to reveal that she forgot her panties getting out of the shower. The only one who noticed was Paul, though. Lisa gasped in horror as Maggie wimpered her mother's name under her breath.
Homer's tone became violent. "STOP THIS MARGE, NOT IN FRONT OF THE KIDS!" Marge yelped in pain as Homer squeezed harder. "I don't know what you saw, but I DIDN'T FUCK ANYBODY!"
Marge winced as Homer bent her arm a little, still stammering, calling him out on his claims. "I saw the pictures you...you...BASTARD!"
That was the last straw. Homer raised his hand, clenched in his fist.
Paul saw the perfect moment to seal the deal.
Lisa was about to scream out, to plead for her father to stop when she saw Paul launch himself past her, sliding down the railing. Landing on his feet, he sprang up and delivered a menacing haymaker of a right hook to Homer's jaw.
The blow sent Homer reeling back, his grip released on Marge's wrist. She held the sore arm close to her chest, hunching up in a defensive position, looking in shock at Paul leaping to her defense. Maggie shirked behind her big sister, Lisa herself close to tears. Both were too scared to do much of anything as Homer crashed into the grandfather clock.
Paul stepped back, placing himself between Marge and Homer, taking an offensive fighting stance. Nobody said a word as Homer stared at his assailant, part of him swearing he had seen the guy before somewhere.
Finally, it was Marge who spoke. Her voice was soft, subdued and brimming with rage. "Homer...get out...and never come back..." Without looking at him, Marge took off her wedding band and threw it at the once again befuddled but loveable oaf.
Homer got to his feet, shocked beyond belief. "But Marge...Honey..."
"GET OUT! Before I ask Paul to throw you out!"
Homer opened his mouth to protest. He glanced at Paul, saw him with his ice-cold stare and fist ready to go, and thought it was better to leave. "OK Marge...I'll leave for now...but you'll come back to your senses...You can find me at Moe's."
The door slammed behind Homer as he walked through the door, Paul relaxing. Marge remained hunched over herself, hugging her arms close as Lisa and Maggie came down the stairs. "Mom, you alright?" Maggie pleaded.
"I'm fine," Marge replied in the same tone, giving her daughters pause. Lisa had never heard this tone from her mother, and it scared her.
Marge spoke again, still not facing anyone. "Paul...can you do me a favor?"
Marge didn't react with her usual uneasyness at the use of her first name. "Take my car. Can you take Lisa and Maggie somewhere? I need to be alone right now."
Paul looked at her. This was a woman that had suffered her last straw. He nodded, confident that she wouldn't do something like call Homer back. "Sure thing Marge. Maggie, Lisa...go get dressed. We'll go get some breakfast, OK?"
Lisa began to speak up in protest. "But mom...dad..."
Marge snapped back, clenching to herself tighter. "JUST DO WHAT I SAY, LISA!"
Lisa's lip quivered at the sharp rebuttal, before drooping her head. She started up the stairs, beginning to unbutton her pink silk pajama top as she turned the corner of the hallway. Maggie followed close behind.
As Paul turned to go upstairs to get dressed, Marge began to sob gently. She didn't notice him grinning as he headed up the stairs.
Paul dressed quickly, adding blue jeans and footwear to his ensemble. Coming back downstairs, he noticed Marge was curled up on the couch in the sitting room. Paul thought of something to say that would help him, but he couldn't think of anything.
"Sometimes," he thought to himself, "silence is the best thing to say."
The steps behind him alerted him to Lisa and Maggie descending the stairs. Maggie was wearing a simple light blue sun dress that hung down below her knees, matching the color of the bows in her pigtails. Lisa's outfit oddly resembled Paul's, a simple white t-shirt and blue jeans.
Paul picked up the keys from the side table. Noticing a cell phone next to the keys, he pocketed that as well. "Marge," he spoke firmly, "I'm taking your cell phone...send a message when you're ready, OK?"
Marge didn't respond. Paul put on his best fake sigh as he lead the girls out the door, softly closing and locking it behind him. As he turned up the walk, he saw a bespectacled man approach at a quick pace with a panicked look on his face.
"Girls, I heard figh-diddly-ighting. Is everything alright?" Ned Flanders paused and looked at Paul, his expression becoming suspicious. "And who are you?"
Before Paul could respond, Lisa pipped up, stepping between Paul and Ned. "It's alright Mr. Flanders. This is Paul. He's renting Bart's room." Lisa stifled back a few tears, resolved to play the strong older sister. "And everything is alright. Mom...mom just kicked Dad out."
Ned looked absolutely horrified. "What? Well what the heck for?"
Lisa looked down, unable to emit the words from her lips.
"For cheating on mom," squeaked Maggie from behind Paul's leg.
Ned looked at all three with an abject look of horror on his face, fighting the urge to just sweep both kids up in a great big hug. "Oh my lord...I don't believe it!"
Paul spoke up. "Mr. Flanders, Ms. Simpson asked to be alone for now. She asked me to take the girls out, take them around town. Distract them a little while she gets her thoughts composed. You understand."
Flanders glanced at Paul with a slight nod. "Yes...Yes, I suppose, if that's what Marge wants." Lisa nodded in confirmation. Flanders sighed, lowering himself down to look at Lisa and Maggie closer to their level. "Well, if any of you need anything, you don't hesitate to give me a ringy-dingy, alright?"
Lisa nodded. "Thanks Mr. Flanders..." With that, the three turned and continued on their way. Climbing into Marge's red station wagon, they backed out and drove off towards the sunrise. As Ned watched Paul drive off, he clicked his tongue and frowned a little.
"Something mighty strange about that young man..."
Meanwhile, in a cold courtroom in Capital City, a scared teenage boy named Bart Simpson glanced around the room. As the gavel sounded, his heart twisted inside his chest when he couldn't find his mom in the gallery.
Paul got the call later in the evening.
He was relieved that Marge was ready for him to bring the girls home after making sure they were fed dinner. Master plan or no, Paul was woefully inexperienced at entertaining a twelve year old, much less her seven year-old sister.
As the three walked in the front door, Paul let out a small, genuine sigh of exhaustion. "We're back Marge," he called out.
"Thank you Paul," Marge called back from the dining room. "Girls...could you go play out back or something? I need to talk to Paul alone."
Lisa began to protest again. "Mom...about dad..."
Maggie interrupted Lisa, tugging on her arm. "Come on Lis, let's go out back. I want to play in the treehouse."
Lisa smiled at her little sister, appreciating the perspective she sometimes holds on the situation. "Ok Mags, let's go."
As the two filed out back, Paul walked into the dining room. Marge was sitting at the table, still dressed in her robe. It hung a little loosely, her cleavage showing in the middle, framed by strands of blue hair hanging down from her frazzled beehive hairstyle.
She looked like she had been crying the entire time they were gone. Spread out in front of Marge were what appeared to be bank statements.
"He took it Paul," she whimpered as Paul sat across from her. "He took everything. Even the account I kept secret from him, the one I opened with your rent." Marge looked up at her tenant. She would be crying now if she had any tears left to shed. "He cleaned out everything...what am I going to do Paul? How will I take care of my girls? How will I help Bart? I already missed his hearing today..."
Marge put her head in her hands. "God, Paul...what am I going to do?"
Paul leaned on the table. "This is it," he thought. She was desperate and broken, reaching out for the slightest bit of stability in the tempest of her life.
Time to sink in that first hook.
"Marge," Paul started. Marge looked back up at him, her sobbing stilled momentarily.
"I think I'll be staying in this town awhile. I would like to go ahead and pay some of my rent in advance."
Marge sniffled, wiping her eye with the sleeve of her robe. "But Paul...I couldn't. How would you..."
Paul raised his hand and cut her off. "Trust fund, remember? I'll secure a place to stay for a few more months, and you'll have what you'll need to get what you need done, done. We both benefit." Drawing out a checkbook, he cut a check and handed it to Marge. "I believe that covers six months rent, no?"
Marge gasped a little as she was handed the check. "I...um," she stammered. "I'll have to open another new account...god, I'll have to file divorce papers quickly before Homer finds out about it..." She paused and gulped a little, looking up into Paul's emerald eyes.
"Thank you, Paul...I promise, I'll make it up to you somehow."
Paul smiled, genuinely, but not for the reason Marge thought.
"I'm sure you'll figure out something appropriate."