Chapter Eighteen: Losses, and Changes

Todd Flanders pled guilty on all charges. He claimed to have seen the light, and through himself at the mercy of the court. Nine psychiatrists had examined him; six of the nine said that he was a perfectly normal young boy, with no paraphilias or social diseases. A polygraph showed that, as far as it could measure, he was perfectly honest when he said that he was sorry for his actions. Father O'Flaherty, Bart Simpson, Martin Prince, the Bishop, and Seamus all testified that, as the Bishop phrased it, "The Flanders child met the Roman Catholic Church's strict criteria for the Ritual of Exorcism, and that the ritual was performed, and, as far as we can discern, the ritual was successful." Brain scans: normal. Luckily, the appellate judge was not just a faithful Catholic, but also a cousin of Judge Snyder. A "writ of things-are-goin'-on-here-that-are-beyond-our-comprehension" was declared, and Todd was punished with a fine of twenty-five thousand dollars, two-hundred and forty hours of community service, was placed on probation, and had to make an apology to every family he had harmed. Considering that he was facing the death penalty, he got off easy.

After he finished his sentences, Todd, after much discussion with his father, and Father O'Flaherty, filed for emancipation, which was granted. He left town. It was for the best, he had said, for, regardless of what had been accomplished, he felt that he would never again be clean. The town, he said, could never again trust him

It was a brisk Autumn day. The night loomed. The sun was fleeing. Bart rode his bike down the streets. The air was filled with excitement, for the Night of All Hallows' Eve was a week away, and the feasts of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years were but months away.

He rode down the familiar streets in the daring light. He watched as the houses grew in size, and the streets became wider. Soon, they were lined with tall, ancient trees, whose leaves looked aflame in the dusk.

He came to the house he had set out to see. But something was wrong. A moving van was parked in front of the house, and clumsy teenage movers were struggling with a couch. He saw Jessica standing by the garage, looking down at her feet.

"Hi Bart…" she said half-heartedly.

"Jess, what's goin' on?"

"We're moving, Bart. Mom's sending me to boarding school in Maryland."

"Way the hell Back East? Why?"

"She said that it's the only way to save me. She's gonna live with her parents in Philadelphia."

"Jess…"

"Bart…would you…could you take a bike ride with me through the park? One last time…"

He nodded. She ran and fetched her old pink Schwinn from the garage. They road off together.

(Cat Stevens' "Joanie", a.k.a. "Wild World", plays in background for following scene.")

The rode through the park. They watched the ducks as the paddled lazily about, meandering back to their nests for the night. They sat on a wooden bench and watched as the children played on the sand, oblivious to the evils of the world, the evils they both new so well. Bart ran and got them both some ice cream. They ate it in silence. As a couple of horribly obese joggers came tromping by, they laughed as they paused and stared longingly at their ice cream and trim, young figures. They went and got sodas at the Kwik-E-Mart, then sat and loitered in front of the old "No Loitering" sign.

They went to the tree at the edge of town. They searched it's gnarled base for their old signature. Amongst all the carvings and initials they found 'Bart n' Jessica', carved inside a crude heart. It was faded now, it's edges lost amongst the countless other hearts carved on the old tree. Bart took his penknife, and traced the lines of the heart and the initials until they looked as though they were carved in shadow in the dim red light. He paused, and looked at Jessica. She smiled. Then, feeling bold and young, he added "4EVR" under their initials, scraping and driving the knife deep into the skin's wrinkled skin.

He stood back, admiring his handiwork, his labor of love undying. He looked at Jessica, who patted the soft grass beside her. He sat with her for what seemed an eternity, watching the sun set, listening to the throb of the city. She leaned her head against his shoulder.

"Bart…I love you, Bart." She whispered, her voice trembling with pain.

He looked at her. Absent from her eyes was all the malice, all the greed, and the lust and the desire to take, and seize, and make hers. Only sincerity and sadness was there.

"But…Bart, it just can't be…Oh Bart, I'm so sorry."

"Jessica…no…"

"Bart, no, it's my fault. I ruined myself. We were meant for each other, but Todd…Rod…I gave something…I…" and her voice trailed off, breaking.

"Jess, listen…"

"Bart, I'm damaged goods! I'm ugly! I'm ruined. I…I'm just no good…no good for you. You can't save me Bart, and I can only hurt you. I have to live with what I've made myself."

"Jessica, if there ever was an adult I've listened to, it's Father O'Flaherty. And I he told me, he said that God forgives."

"He forgives, but he doesn't shelter you from the consequences of what you've done. Bart, this is what I get. I'm leaving Springfield, leaving my friends, and all I love. It's for the best."

"Jess…I…"

There was nothing left for either to say. He placed his arm around her young shoulder. She leaned against him. They watched as the sun sank into the sea. Thus, all must come to an end. They watched, silent, empty tears fell, till the sun had finally set. It was the last sunset they would see together as children.

They rode back to house, knowing that they had to return, and for it they hated the sight of it. The van was filled, and was now locked. The house was empty and dark.

"Mom still must be at Moe's."

"What's she doin' there?"

"Well, with my dad dead, everything I've done, and us leaving in the morning, she has nothing more to lose."

A light shone on their faces; a taxi had come around the corner. It stopped in front of the house. The driver got out and helped the rather pissed (in the British sense) Mrs. Lovejoy of his now quite-soiled backseat.

"Wow, watch it now, jeez, lady."

"And that…Marge Simpson…she has webbed toes, you know that?"

Jessica cast an embarrassed look at Bart. She sighed and went to unlock the door. As Mrs. Lovejoy staggered up to the door, Jessica cast a longing look at Bart. He waved. She waved back. The door closed.

Bart awoke the next day. It's Saturday, he remembered, I can sleep some more. Then, with a start, he remembered Jessica. He ripped off his PJs, put on his clothes that he had left on the floor from the night before, and charged down the stairs. He dashed into the garage, grabbed his bike, and pedaled madly down the street.

It seemed to take an eternity, but Jessica's house was in sight. A car pulled out of the driveway.

"NO!"

He saw Jessica in the back seat. He pedaled as hard as his legs would permit. The gears of the bike were whining.

"Jessica! JESSICA!"

She heard him, or sensed him. She turned, and saw him. She rolled down he window.

"Jessica!"

"Good-bye, Bart…"

And she was gone. Bart hit a sinkhole and fell, scraping his arms.

"Aw, shit!" he said as he cradled his injured arm. Something brought his attention to the small slip of paper that was slowly flipping through the air. He snatched it, and infolded it.

"Dear Bart,

I wish that I had not caused you so much grief. If I had only realized who you were, and what you meant to me, I would have never done any of this. I will always love you.

All My Love,

Jessica

P.S.: Here's where I'll be staying, and how you can reach me…

Bart kissed the letter, then folded it reverently and placed it in his pocket. He picked up his bike, and paused, watching a flock of geese on their way south. He looked at his watch. First Saturday of October, he thought. He checked the time. 7:30. I can still make it to Mass…

THE END