“Uncle!” Joe said, slinging his ukulele case from his shoulders and onto the sofa. He closed the door behind him and tossed the keys on the coffee table. “Oye, uncle!” Joe walked to the TV room, where the uncle usually hung out and found no one.
“That is odd,” Joe said to himself as he walked back to the living room. He noticed a folded strip of paper under a paperweight and took it up.
“Joe,” the note read, “I’m going to run some errands around the city, probably going to talk to Markus. I’ll see you when I see you.”
Joe reread the note wondering a bit when the doorbell rang.
“Coming!” Joe yelled out, slipping the note in his pocket. He opened it to find a massively built snow leopard, dressed in a wrinkled t-shirt and biker shorts. What was worse was that he recognized the clothes as his uncle’s workout ensemble.
“Uhm, hello,” Milhouse said, blinking worriedly. “I’m here to pick up my laundry.”
“I wouldn’t call it a pickle,” Cindy said, placing an oversized coffee mug next to her employer’s elbow. “I guess Joe had the best interests in heart.”
“Best interests?” Mr. Huxley said. “That guy is almost as bad as Alexander was.”
Mr. Savage smiled slightly at the comparison. “Are you saying that Mister Moose is an opportunist?”
“No,” Huxley said, “but I can’t deal with this.” He started to beat his fingers on the desktop.
“From the reports I’ve seen online,” Savage said, “I would say that Mister Moose is quite interesting.” He reached over to his coffee mug and sipped slowly. “Of course, he has been on the floor only once.”
Huxley nodded, still beating his fingers.
“Is he to be on the floor tonight?” Savage continued.
“Yes he will,” Cindy said before Huxley did. “I looked at tonight’s schedule, and he will be in for seven.”
“So he’ll probably in at five,” Savage said, nodding. “Is he ready for waiting on tables?”
“I would give that another day or two before he’s ready for that,” Huxley said, now his hands around the mug. He took a sip of coffee and slowing inhaled the steam coming from it. “After Milhouse tried attacking him, I gave him the night off yesterday.”
“Ah, Milhouse,” Savage said, fairly purring the words out. “I have a bit of news concerning him. Apparently, someone paid the bail.”
Huxley nodded. “Cindy told us that yesterday, during Joe’s welcoming party.” He raised the mug to his lips.
“But did you know that it was Mister Moose who paid it?”
Huxley choked mid-sip. “What?” he rasped out. Cindy started to pat the bison on the back. “Why?”
The feline shrugged slightly. “I do not know. Apparently, Mister Moose is the forgiving type.”
“Easy to anger, easy to calm?” Cindy said.
“Moose are not generally the angry type,” Savage said, draining his cup and setting it down on the table. “I have business elsewhere tonight unfortunately,” he continued, standing up. “If you can invite me sometime when Mister Moose is ready for serving, I would be most grateful.”
The bison cleared his throat. “Of course.” He took another sip of coffee to soothe the throat. “Cindy, can you escort him out, please?”
“With pleasure,” she said, reaching over and opening the door. Savage walked out with Cindy following, closing the door behind her. A moment or two later, the door opened again, with Mike poking his head through.
“You’re available?” he said.
Huxley nodded and motioned the ‘roo to the chair. “Just had a visit from Savage.”
“I passed by him and Cindy on my way over there,” Mike said. “May I ask what’s going on?”
“Nothing really,” the bison said, tossing a sheath of papers to the wired ‘Out’ tray. “A few things about Joe.”
Mike’s eyebrows raised. “Oh?” he said warily.
Huxley shrugged. “Just that Savage is interested in keeping him here in the place. Fascinated by him for some reason.”
“Oh,” Mike said, feeling his shoulders suddenly relaxing. He leaned into his chair. “He’s coming over tonight?”
“No, he has another engagement,” Huxley said.
There was a knock at the door, and Cindy opened it, holding a small group of letters. She placed them in the ‘In’ tray and picked up the papers in the ‘Out’ folders. She briefly pored through the pages. “The usual responses, sir?”
Huxley nodded, and Cindy withdrew.
Mike took a deep breath and came to a decision. “I have to tell you something,” he said.
“You did WHAT?” Moose said, almost yelling the question.
“Look, it wasn’t my idea,” Milhouse said, his fiery blush changing the fur into a charming shade of pink. “I thought he was going to kick me out. Next thing I know, he’s kissing me like crazy.”
Joe facepalmed, his fingers rubbing the temples and the bridge of his muzzle. “Let me guess what happened after. He invited you to his room, you two went hard and heavy, and then woke me up with your activities.”
Milhouse looked away and started to nervously rub his right shoulder. “I-I didn’t mean to. He has that charm with him. I couldn’t resist him.”
“At least I can explain that,” Joe said, scratching his chest a bit. “Apparently, we can charm felines.” He held up a hand to forestall questions. “Don’t ask me why or how, it’s part of the family tree. My dad used to tell me we have the kind of scent that is alluring to cats. All cats.”
As if on cue, the piebald jumped up on Joe’s lap and sat loaf-like, purring gently.
“Anyway,” Joe continued, gently stroking the cat, “you got here last night drunk, ready to beat me up, and instead pass out on the doorstep.” He did not wait for Milhouse’s nod. “This morning, you talk with my uncle and in return he screws you. And here we are, talking.” He shrugged. “It’s a weird world.”
Milhouse looked at Joe. “You’re taking this better than I thought.”
A small smile flittered across Joe’s face. “Uncle always said I take things too lightly, and he’s right. I should be angry at this, but I can’t find the energy to be so.” He put the cat down, stood up, and motioned the snow leopard to do the same. “Whatever you and my uncle do is none of my business. All I can ask you is if you want to visit, just don’t be drunk when you do, okay?”
The leopard grimaced. “Look, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to–”
“It’s alright,” Joe interrupted. “I understand.”
“Do you?” Milhouse said. “Really?”
Joe shrugged. “If my uncle accepts you, so do I. No questions.”
Milhouse took a long look at Joe, then nodded as if he was coming to a decision. “Thanks.” He went over to Joe and gave him a tight hug.
“Careful,” Joe wheezed out, “you’re gonna break my ribs!”
“That’s what your uncle said when we were in the bed,” Milhouse said as he separated. “Erm…about my clothes…?”
Joe nodded, ignoring the first comment, and motioned him to the laundry room, where they noticed a small pile of folded clothing on the dryer. “This is yours, I guess?”
Milhouse nodded and reached over to take them. As he did so, a small paper fluttered down. He picked it up and read it.
“I take it my uncle wrote that?” Joe said, seeing the leopard’s incoming blush.
“Y-yeah,” Milhouse said, shoving the note into a fold of the laundry. “He says I can keep what I’m wearing at the moment.”
Joe raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure there are other things you’re wearing at the moment,” he said, and he chuckled as the blush intensified. “You’re like me: easily flustered. I can see why my uncle likes you.” He escorted the feline back to the front door. “If you want to come back to visit me or my uncle, do so. Just give us fair warning, alright?”
“Alright,” Milhouse said warily, mindful of Brian’s earlier warning.
“Alright, then,” Joe said, bringing the leopard into a much gentler hug than before. “You stay safe, okay?”
Joe nodded and let Milhouse out.