Homer observes Lisa as she becomes close to Patty's newest girlfriend. Written for Yuletide 2006.
Homer took a long look at the can of Duff he'd been taking out of the fridge, then sadly put it back. Even he could figure out that it probably wasn't a good idea to start drinking when he was already hearing things. Then he turned around and looked down at Lisa. "What was that, honey? Daddy's a little delusional right now."
"/Dad!/," she whined, "I asked you to take me to Aunt Patty's!"
"It happened again!" Homer shook his head and smacked himself in the ear a couple of times, trying to fix whatever had gone wrong in his brain. If it worked for the TV it had to work for people, right? "I thought I heard you say you wanted to go to your Aunt's house." The idea that anyone in the family other than Marge might ever want to go there willingly made him laugh.
"That's what I said!" she replied, then, oblivious to his surprise, gushed on, "Oh, dad, Aunt Patty's new girlfriend is the most amazing woman I've ever met! She was actually one of my professors that time when I was sneaking into classes at Springfield University, and she remembered me when she saw me! She's written four books on ancient Mesoamerican culture, and every year she goes on archeological digs in Central America as a volunteer for research for them and she has the most incredible stories to tell about it! And her mom and grandmother were both suffragettes, and because of them she got to know Lucy Burns and Alice Paul when she was young. Can you believe that?"
When she stopped talking, breathless from her excited babbling, Homer tried to make sense out of anything she'd said. Archeohuh and Mesoawhatsit? And how could Lisa have been going to college when she was only eight? She was only eight, right? Finally he ventured, "Lucy Burns... is she related to Mr. Burns?"
"No, Dad. Lucy Burns was one of the most famous people in the suffrage movement. She helped get women the right to vote!"
"Women can vote?" Lisa made a scandalized face, and Homer laughed. "Daddy was making a joke, Lisa. Even I know /that/."
He thought he should probably feel insulted by her skeptical expression, but she dropped the subject there. "Anyway, can you take me? I can't ask mom because she's at the hair dresser's, and you know how long that takes."
They both knew that Homer would rather chew glass than go to Patty and Selma's apartment--especially those little pieces of colored glass that he thought looked kind've like rock candy, and boy did candy sound good right then--but Lisa looked so thrilled that he found himself saying "Okay, you go wait in the car while I get my keys" instead of no. At least he had the sense to call after her as she left the kitchen, "But you'll have to go up to their apartment on your own! I'm not getting out of the car and facing those two!"
"I didn't expect you to!" she called back, and he was glad that she knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't want to do that. Though he guessed, after thinking about it for a second while he went to retrieve his keys, that she'd have to be a really bad daughter not to know that about him. That wasn't something he'd ever say about her, things like barbeque-ruining aside.
- - -
It wasn't like he hadn't known Patty had a new girlfriend. He hadn't known her name, or what she looked like, or anything about her, but he'd known she existed. After all, it was hard work coming up with excuses good enough to duck out of every occasion she was supposed to be at. He knew Marge was getting sick of it and that Patty and Selma were probably taking it as an excuse to come up with even more nasty things to say about him, as if they didn't already have enough to last them the rest of their miserable lives. He just didn't want Patty to be able to say that part of what had attracted her to a woman was how much they both hated him /again/, and the easiest way to keep that from happening was to never meet her.
But even if he didn't go himself, a better father would've probably noticed that after the first dinner she was supposed to be introduced to them all at Lisa had started coming home late almost every day. Or within a week or two. Or at all before that car ride where Lisa happily kept up a mostly one-sided conversation he couldn't understand half of about how great the woman was, and how glad she was that she got to spend so much time with her because of Patty.
Homer privately believed that she couldn't really be that great, not if she was interested in Patty for all people, but he could tell that that was one of those thoughts that was better if it stay inside his head. At least until he could go to Moe's, where the guys wouldn't care about who he was insulting, if they even remembered it after their hangovers wore off the next morning.
But he thought she was probably still better than he was. A good father would have at least noticed that it was a stranger's car that Lisa kept getting dropped off in.
- - -
"Dad, you won't believe what happened today!" Lisa exclaimed, bouncing onto the couch next to him while he was trying to watch football.
"Probably not," he said, craning his neck to try to get a view of the screen without her arm waving in the middle of it.
She frowned at him then glanced at the screen, taking in everything that was happening with one look. "Michigan's going to win, but the game isn't going to pick up until at least halfway through the second quarter. Now can you turn it off and listen to me."
"Michigan? But the game's barely started and they're down sixteen points!"
"True, but just look at their eyes and you can see the fire kindling in them, while the other team is mired in carefully practiced routine. Believe me, passion will win this game in the end." Then she grabbed the remote and flipped the TV off, ignoring the way Homer groaned. "I've got great news!"
"Can't you tell it to your mother?"
"She's grocery shopping," she said, then, when he started opening his mouth to speak again, added, "And Bart's off with Milhouse trying to find out if birds will really explode if they eat instant rice and have a drink of water."
"Okay, okay," Homer said, resigning himself to the fact that he'd be missing a few minutes of the game. "What's your big news honey?"
"Peggy--she said I could call her Peggy instead of Ms. Duffy just like I'm another adult, isn't that great?--said that in a few years, if she and Aunt Patty are still together then, she'll try to work things out so I can go to Belize with her when she goes to a dig. Can you believe it?"
Homer pushed back distracting thoughts about how maybe if that woman's last name was Duffy it meant she was related to the people who made Duff beer, which would mean that maybe since she liked Lisa they could get some free cases, which would mean a happy Homer, and scrambled through his memories of the last few few seconds of her talking that he hadn't really listened to trying to come up with something relevant to say. "But, Lisa, you've already been to Africa. Our tour guide became president, remember?"
From the look on her face he could tell that he'd picked the wrong thing to say, but for the life of him he didn't know why.
- - -
Marge was starting to get jealous of the Duff-lady for spending so much time with Lisa, Homer could tell. It was the little things, like how she kept finding things for Lisa to do when she wanted to go to Patty's apartment, or how she'd started making Lisa's favorite foods every day even though everyone else was getting sick of having tofu instead of meat, and how she said to Homer "I know I shouldn't be jealous of Peggy, but, ooooh, she's stealing my baby!"
He didn't know why Marge would feel like that. After all, she was the one who knew where Belize was and could talk to Lisa about what she wanted to do there, and she knew how to make tofu curry that tasted so good that Homer barely even missed the meat really, and she was the one who could tuck Lisa in in exactly the right way without cutting off her circulation, and the one who could always help her with her homework when she needed it. Well, the one who would drive her to the library when she needed to check out books for an assignment, but it wasn't Marge's fault that that was the most help Lisa ever needed.
In fact, Homer thought Marge might just be the best mom in the world, so why would she have to worry just because Lisa was spending a lot of time with another woman? A woman who knew lots of stuff, and could talk to her about the sorts of things she was interested in when Homer could never understand what she was talking about for more than a sentence or two at a time, and who he found out actually liked listening to Lisa play her saxamaphone and even asked her to bring it with her sometimes?
Why would Marge have to worry about Lisa meeting someone who was actually smart enough to deserve a little girl like her?
- - -
"Say, Homer," Carl said one day, interrupting him in his latest bitter spiel about the newest thing Lisa was fawning over the Duff-lady for. "Don't you worry that that woman's trying to turn your daughter into a... /you know/."
"Yeah," Lenny added. "I remember on that Ellen show they said they got free toaster ovens just for recruitin' people. And you know she'd know, because she's that way herself!"
"No, guys, you wouldn't say that if you knew Lisa!" Homer quickly said. "You should hear the way she sounds when she talks about this boy at her school, Langdon Alger. Young love is so cute. ...As long as he never, ever lays a finger on my little girl." Then he remembered that that was supposed to have been a secret, and that she didn't like him anymore anyway, but by then Lenny and Carl had already lost interest in the subject so it didn't really matter.
And, he thought, why would it matter anyway? Sure, he'd gone a little bit crazy when he'd thought that maybe Bart was gay, but that was before he'd been saved from a bunch of reindeer by a gay man's santa, and before he got a kiss from a roommate that he still had totally masculine and not at all confused thoughts about. And he guessed it would be okay even if those things never had happened, he just would've thought it was God evening out the scales. He'd gotten a daughter who was much better than he could ever possibly deserve, who was so smart and so good that she could probably even be president some day, so there had to be something wrong with her.
But he was glad that he had had those learning experiences, because it meant that now if that ever did happen he'd know that he didn't have to think anything was wrong at all.
- - -
"Lisa, Lisa!" Homer yelled, running into the house. He was so excited that he'd come home early to make sure he would catch her before she left if it was one of the days she visited Patty and Selma's apartment.
"Dad! Dad!" she yelled back as she came to meet him. For a minute he was disappointed, thinking she'd already heard the news, then she said, "Peggy said that I could come with her and Aunt Patty when she goes to a conference for female writers next month! And she said that every year they give a scholarship to a girl they think deserves it, and she bets that when I'm old enough to go to college for real and apply they'll give it to me, especially if they already know me! Can you believe it?"
He blinked at her, not understanding why she'd even have to ask. She was the smartest person he'd ever known, and that was what they picked those things for, right? "How could they pick anyone else?" he asked, honestly wanting to know the answer.
But Lisa didn't give one, just blushed with pleasure and said, "Oh, /dad/. So, can I go?"
"Yeah, sure, honey," he said, then, unable to hold back his own news anymore, he blurted out, "And the next take your kid to work day is next month too! Remember how much fun we had together last time?" He held out the flyer he'd torn off of the notice board in the power plant break room for her to see. "You'll come again right?"
"Of course, Dad!" she said, already skimming the flyer. "I wouldn't miss it for the-- Oh."
"'Oh?' What 'Oh?' That's a bad sound, isn't it?"
"Um, well, Dad, this says it's the same day as the conference."
"It is? But, that means..." He thought about it for a second, then continued in a slightly panicky tone, "You'll come with me, right? You'd rather spend time with your daddy than with a bunch of old ladies, right?"
Dad!" she snapped sharply. "They're not a bunch of old ladies! All of my heroes are going to be there! The ones that're still alive anyway..." Her voice softened, and she stopped meeting his eyes. "Getting to talk with them is a once in a lifetime chance. You understand, don't you?"
He crossed his arms and turned away from her. "I thought I was supposed to be your hero."
- - -
He spent the rest of the month with Bart instead of using it to plan how to make take your kid to work day as fun as possible like he'd meant to. It was time for the annual soap box derby race again, and this time Bart promised that he wouldn't ride in any racer other than Li'l Lightnin' II if Homer would help him make it. Part of him had hoped that when Lisa saw how much fun they were having together she'd ask to join, but he didn't mind when that didn't happen. It was good to just spend some time with the boy, really.
And when Li'l Lightnin' II went out of control in the middle of the race and sent Bart crashing through the door to the crazy old cat lady's house then out the other side with one feral cat clinging to his helmet and more being thrown after him by the ranting woman herself, things almost felt completely normal again.
Then, as he was straightening up from a laughing spell, he happened to look across the street and saw Lisa at the ice cream parlor there, a woman with her back to him next to her and Patty waiting at one of the tables sitting out nearby. He froze, wondering if he should hide, or call out to her, or walk right over there and yell at that lady for trying to steal his daughter's love.
Then Lisa looked up and smiled as she saw him, immediately darting away from the counter towards him. "Hi, Dad!" she said when she reached him. "I was wondering where you were in the crowd."
"I didn't even know you were coming! Why didn't you ask me to bring you? I didn't think smarty-pants professors would like watching a kids soap box derby race." He couldn't keep the sarcasm from creeping into his voice.
Lisa sighed heavily. "Dad, I know you're not happy about--"
"No, no, you don't need to explain it to me. I'm just your dumb old dad, after all. I know you'd rather spend time with someone you've only known for a few months than me."
"Dad, I already told her--"
"I said you don't need to explain."
She sighed again and rolled her eyes toward the heavens before saying, "Why don't you just come over and meet her? I bet you'll like her too. And you can have ice cream!"
Lisa knew exactly how to tempt him, holding the ice cream cone she was carrying tilted toward him, a single melting drop sliding down its surface on the side facing him in a delicious, chocolately trail. But he held strong. "No, Daddy has to go get your brother and take him to get rabies shots now. But later we can go get ice cream together, just you and me. We can get the biggest sundae they have, with peanuts, and whipped cream, and caramel sauce, and sweet, /sweet/, fudge..." he trailed off, unable to speak clearly through how much drool was in his mouth.
"Okay, Dad," she giggled, then held out her cone to him. "Here, you can have this one for the road. I can just get another."
"Aw, thank you sweetie." He accepted the cone and immediately sucked a big mouthful off of it with a loud slurp, giving her hair a ruffle with his free hand.
"You're welcome. I'll see you later, Dad!"
She turned to start back across the street, but Homer had a thought and called out to stop her. "Here, Lisa," he said, pulling his wallet out of his pocket and digging out a few bills for her, fumbling around to keep from dropping the ice cream. He managed to do it while only getting a few chocolatey finger prints on the wallet, which he knew he'd notice again the next time he needed money and would end up licking off even though they'd be dried and lint covered by then. "You get yourself any sort of ice cream you want, on me."
She beamed at him before turning to dart away one more, calling over her shoulder, "Thanks, Dad!"
He watched her go, then his eyes shifted up to her destination, where Patty and the woman who had to be the Duff-lady were standing together now.
He couldn't help but feel a malicious burst of glee when he noticed the distance they were keeping between themselves, and how the way Patty was standing reminded him of what Milhouse's mom looked like next to Kirk just before she left him. And if it was bad enough that he could notice it, well, it was just a matter of time.
- - -
"Dad, wait!" Lisa hopped out the front door, tugging one of her shoes on with one hand and dragging a comb through her hair with the other.
"I'm sorry Lisa," Homer said, not feeling any such thing, as she opened his car door. "You'll have to get your mother to drop you off at Patty and Selma's today. I'm going to be late for work."
"That's okay," she said, jumping into the passenger seat in spite of what he'd told her. "I'm not going there today."
"But, that conference..." Homer trailed off, confused.
"It's okay. I realized that there was someone else I'd rather spend the day with!"
"What?" Homer's hands clenched tightly around his driving wheel. "There's some other jerk you'd rather spend time with than me? Have I even heard about this--"
"Dad!" she broke in, laughing. "I meant I was going to work with you, silly!"
"But you said you weren't going!"
"I know I did, but I talked with Peggy and she said that if I didn't spend time with you now I'd regret it when I'm an adult."
"Oh, I get it." Homer ground his teeth together, the anger that had been draining out of him returning. "You're only coming with me because she said so. Well, I don't need your pity! I might not be as smart as her, or know famous people who aren't actors or musicians, and I can't teach you smarty-pants college professor things, but I have my pride!"
"Dad!/," Lisa said, rolling her eyes. "/This is why I didn't tell you I was coming with you sooner, because every time I tried to bring up today you started acting crazy. I'd already told her I wouldn't be going with them today, that's just what she said when I told her why. I just meant that she was okay with it!"
"So..." Homer said, trying to make sure he'd gotten this right. "That means you really do want to go to work with me more than you want to go with her?"
"Of course, Dad!" She smiled at him as she buckled her seatbelt. "After all, you're my hero, right?"
"Woo-hoo!" Homer whooped, thrusting his fists in the air. He was so happy he only let out a small annoyed grunt when they slammed into the roof of the car above him. "Take that/, Duff-lady! /I'm her hero! Not you, me!"
Lisa just rested her hand on her forehead, grateful that nobody she knew was likely to come along to see this display before he remembered that he had to get going for work. But, even with how embarrassing he was acting, she couldn't help but smile.
- - -
It was almost a week later that Homer heard someone knocking on the door. "Marge, can you get that?" He called out, then, when that went unanswered, "Bart? ...Maggie? Ohhhh, my couch groove is gonna get cold." He knew it would be pointless calling for Lisa because he could hear her playing her sax up in her room and there was no way she'd hear him over it, so he finally slowly pushed himself up from the couch and went to answer it.
A grey-haired woman he couldn't remember ever seeing before was standing there. "Hello," she said with a friendly smile, "you must be Mr. Simpson."
Homer groaned. "Look, lady, whatever you're selling we probably already have five of, so go next door and bug Flanders."
"I'm not a door-to-door sellsperson, Mr. Simpson. I'm Peggy Duffy, perhaps you've heard of me? I've certainly heard a great deal about you."
"You're Patty's girlfriend?" he asked, backing away from her into the house. "I don't care how convincing she was, I was not raised by the chimps at the Capital City zoo. ...They just looked after me one time when I got lost."
She stepped inside, apparently taking his attempt to get away as an invitation to come in. "I was dating Patty, yes. But that's over now."
He remembered seeing them during the soapbox derby race, and it was all he could do to keep himself from smirking. "Oh, I'm so sorry/. Lisa seemed to think you were /such a good couple."
"Well, Lisa is a child. However smart she might be, she's yet to have real experience in these sorts of things. I'm sure it's not a real surprise to you, you must have wondered why I was spending so much time with your daughter when I was supposed to be with Patty." Homer hadn't, actually. Sometimes the kids just found an adult who they visited a lot, until one of them learned some valuable lesson and then they never saw each other again. The only thing different about this time was how long it had gone on. But he didn't want the woman Lisa liked so much to think he was an idiot, so he just made a noncommittal noise and let her go on. "I knew it wouldn't work out too, if I was honest with myself, but she made me laugh, and the sex was /fantastic/--"
"D'oh!" Homer yelped, cutting her off. "My head... the /pictures/..."
"Ah, my apologies. I was talking without thinking, I shouldn't have said that. It's a bad habit of mine, I'm afraid," she said with a wry smile as he continued to whimper quietly at the horrible mental images. "Anyway, that wasn't enough to base a relationship on. But you might be surprised to know that you're the one who really let me see how unsuited for each other we were."
"Me?" he asked, hoping the conversation would distract him.
"The insults I heard about you every time Lisa visited, rather."
"I already said--"
"I didn't believe you were raised by chimps, Mr. Simpson. I heard enough good things about you from your daughter to draw my own conclusions about what you must be like. Still, every time she came over Patty would go on and on about how much she disliked you. Such a bitter woman, and she wouldn't listen to me no matter how often I told her I wasn't interesting in hearing her complain about you." She sighed, absently pushing her hair back over her shoulder. "I know things wouldn't have worked out anyway, but that made it very clear earlier than it might have been otherwise."
Homer had tuned out on most of this, focusing all of his attention on one important part. "Good things? Lisa told you good things about me?"
"Well, of course. You are her father after all." There was a pause in the music, and Peggy looked up the stairs. "That's her playing, isn't it? Do you mind if I just go up? I need to head back to the university soon, but I wanted to let her know that she won't be seeing me at Patty's again."
"Sure, go right up. Just follow the noise." She nodded to him and followed his instructions, and he went back to his couch groove.
And... that was it, he guessed. Lisa would get sad, but the Duff-lady, Peggy, would promise to keep in touch with her. And maybe they would see her again sometimes, when they were part of a crowd or passed by the school, but she wouldn't be anything more than a background character to their lives after that. It had happened to the kids over and over again that past year, and to him and Marge too for that matter, and Lisa would forget all about this time when it happened again sometime soon.
But, he was her hero/. And she'd said good things /about him to someone.
Homer thought that maybe this time was worth remembering a little longer than usual.