“Hey, Skipper,” Marlene đã đưa ý kiến hopping onto the penguins island, where đã đưa ý kiến chim cánh cụt was looking out over the zoo with binoculars. “What are bạn doing?”
“Classified,” Skipper replied without looking at her.
Marlene rolled her eyes. “I was wondering if bạn wanted to go to the park with me. What do bạn say?” she asked.
Skipper looked at her finally. “Well, I’m a bit busy at the moment. What are bạn going to the park for?”
“I thought I’d get a snow cone hoặc something, maybe swim around in the pond,” Marlene replied.
Skipper thought for a moment. “It’s been a few months since bạn overcame your ‘wild tendencies,’ hasn’t it?” he asked.
Marlene shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, why?”
“It just seems that ever since, bạn still haven’t gone to the park on your own. May I ask why?” Skipper asked.
Marlene shifted again and crossed her arms. “I guess I’m just afraid that—I’ll go wild again and no one will be there to snap me out of it,” she admitted.
Skipper smiled warmly. “I’m pretty sure those days are behind you,” he assured her.
Marlene thought for a moment. “I don’t know,” she said.
Skipper sighed with sympathy. “Tell bạn what: bạn go on to the park, and if you’re not back in half an hour, I’ll come hunt bạn down,” he offered.
Marlene smiled. “Not the best choice of words, but sure, I guess we could do that,” she agreed.
“See bạn later, Marlene,” Skipper đã đưa ý kiến with a salute.
“See ya,” Marlene replied as she turned and left the habitat.
When she arrived at the zoo gates, her mind flooded with doubt again. What if half an giờ was too late? She debated going back and asking Skipper to make it fifteen minutes, but decided against it. It was time she got over her silly fear of the other woman returning. She leapt phía trước, chuyển tiếp and ran into the park on all four paws.
It felt great. The sun was brightly shining and glinting off her lông, lông thú and the breeze pushed past her face. She felt an adrenaline rush and decided to stop before she got too excited. She fell back in a small patch of flowering weeds near the pond and closed her eyes. After a few minutes, she heard a loud splash! and opened her eyes. Propping herself up bởi her arms, she looked across the pond. There was no one to be seen.
With a shrug, she laid back down again with a relaxed sigh and picked one of the weeds, studying the bud on top, which was fully open to accept all the sun’s rays. She heard movement from the water again and absentmindedly glanced over, but snapped into attention at what she saw.
Emerging from the pond was a lean, muscular con rái cá, rái cá with sea green eyes and a dashing smile. Water dripped off his sleek, hạt dẻ lông, lông thú that glimmered in the morning sun. He saw her and made his way over.
“You are—new here, no?” he asked in a thick Spanish accent. “I’m sure I haven’t seen bạn around before.”
Marlene blinked a couple times before realizing he’d asked her a question. “Oh, um, yeah. I live in the zoo,” she answered.
“The zoo? A beautiful lady such as yourself shouldn’t be in a zoo. Much too, ah,” he thought for a moment, “confining. bạn must be free,” he finished.
Marlene smiled a little. “Well, I can pretty much go anywhere I want after hours. I’ve always lived in captivity.”
The con rái cá, rái cá knelt down tiếp theo to her. “Really? Then perhaps bạn need some adventure in your life,” he đã đưa ý kiến taking her paw. “My name is Antonio,” he đã đưa ý kiến gently pecking her paw. “Yours?”
“Marlene,” she replied, “and I’d say my life is pretty adventurous for someone that lives in a zoo.”
Antonio arched an eyebrow. “Really? How so?”
Marlene laughed. “If bạn had neighbors like mine, you’d know exactly what I mean.”
— § —
“Great work, boys,” Skipper đã đưa ý kiến as he exchanged high fives with his men. “Kowalski, file the mission and leave it on the table. I need to go check on something.”
“Yes, sir. May I inquire as to where you’re going?” Kowalski asked.
“Just gonna head to the park for a few minutes. I’ll be back shortly,” Skipper answered as he started for the hatch.
When he got to the park, he looked around. Marlene wasn’t near the snow cone hoặc cotton kẹo vendors. He made his way for the pond. It didn’t take him long to realize that there were two otters sitting at the edge of the water. Marlene was laughing about something when he came in earshot.
“Marlene?” Skipper called.
Marlene and Antonio turned their heads. “Oh! Skipper!” Marlene đã đưa ý kiến in surprise. “I forgot that bạn were going to come look for me. Has it been half an giờ already?”
“Affirmative,” Skipper replied. “Who’s this?”
“Oh, um, Skipper, this is Antonio,” Marlene đã đưa ý kiến as the two got to their feet. “Antonio, this is Skipper,” she đã đưa ý kiến gesturing to the respective men.
“Nice to meet you, mi amigo,” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến holding out a paw.
“Igualmente,” Skipper replied taking his paw and shaking it.
“I didn’t know bạn spoke Spanish, Skipper,” Marlene said.
“I spent some time in Mexico,” Skipper replied nonchalantly. “I picked up a few things.”
“Marlene has told me much about you,” Antonio said.
“Good things, I hope,” Skipper đã đưa ý kiến arching an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Antonio replied with a laugh. “Well, for the most part,” he added winking at Marlene, who bashfully looked away in response.
Skipper eyed the two curiously, but shrugged off their behavior. “Well, it seems that you’ve managed to stay sane, so I guess I’ll head off. See bạn later, Marlene,” he đã đưa ý kiến with a salute before leaping onto his belly and sliding off.
Antonio furrowed his brow. “What did he mean, you’ve managed to stay sane?” he inquired.
Marlene looked down. “Um . . . nothing important,” she đã đưa ý kiến with a nervous laugh as she scratched the back of her neck.
Antonio didn’t look convinced, but he nodded anyway. “I will respect your privacy,” he said. “So, he’s the famous Skipper, hm?” he asked looking in the direction the chim cánh cụt had left.
“Yep. He can be downright psychotic sometimes, but he always gets the job done. He’s one of my closest friends. He knows thêm about me than most,” Marlene replied.
“Really?” Antonio inquired looking thoughtfully at the zoo. “And he lives right tiếp theo door to you, bạn say?”
“Uh, yes, why?” Marlene asked.
“No reason. Just seems like a handful to have to live tiếp theo to,” Antonio replied with a smile.
Marlene laughed. “You have no idea.”
— § —
A few hours later, Antonio walked Marlene back to the zoo and to her habitat.
“I had a most wonderful time talking to you, Marlene,” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến taking her paw and kissing it again.
“Heh, I had a nice time, too, Antonio,” Marlene replied bashfully. “I can’t believe we’ve been talking for almost four hours. I’m glad the zoo’s closed today, hoặc I would’ve been in trouble.”
“We wouldn’t want that,” Antonio replied. After a couple of moments of gazing into her eyes, Marlene broke away, thankful for the lông, lông thú hiding her burning cheeks. Antonio smiled. “I hope to see bạn again very soon. Say . . . tomorrow? Two-ish?” he asked hopefully.
Marlene looked back up and smiled. “I’d like that,” she said.
Antonio smiled again. He held out his paw to respectfully shake her hand, but Marlene opened her arms for a hug. The two laughed and switched positions, and then awkwardly laughed again. Finally, the two settled on the handshake.
“Until tiếp theo time, Marlene,” he đã đưa ý kiến suavely.
“Until tiếp theo time,” Marlene replied before hopping into her habitat.
Antonio watched her leave and sighed. After a moment, he spread his arms wide open with a grin. “Yes!” he đã đưa ý kiến to himself before relaxing. He looked across the aisle and saw the sign for the chim cánh cụt habitat. With a deep breath, he hopped over the wall, looking over his shoulder to ensure Marlene wasn’t watching.
“Um, hello?” he called softly. The habitat was completely empty except for the water around the island, and the fishbowl in the corner. Before he could react, the island opened up beneath his feet and swallowed him, and the tiếp theo thing he knew he was hanging upside down bởi his feet. He started ranting angrily in Spanish before he saw the penguins in front of him in some kind of room.
“What is going on here?” he demanded.
“Who are bạn and why are bạn in our habitat? Who do bạn work for?” Kowalski interrogated.
“What?” Antonio asked in a panicked confusion.
“Wait,” Skipper đã đưa ý kiến approaching from behind, “I know you. Antonio, right?”
“Uh, yes?” Antonio snapped, as if it shouldn’t have even been questioned.
“Um, bạn know this otter?” Kowalski asked.
“Yeah, he’s a friend of Marlene’s from the park. Let him down,” Skipper ordered, but then he leaned toward Kowalski. “But stay frosty,” he whispered suspiciously.
Private hit a button and Antonio hit the ground with a thud and a painful grunt. He pushed himself to his feet and dusted off his fur.
“Gracias,” he đã đưa ý kiến bitterly.
“So, why are bạn here?” Skipper asked folding his flippers.
“I was hoping I could ask for your help, amigo,” Antonio admitted.
Skipper arched an eyebrow. “Beg your pardon?”
“Marlene, she is—” Antonio thought for a moment— “asombrosa,” he finished.
“Okay,” Skipper replied patiently, “where do I come in?”
“Marlene tells me bạn know her very well,” Antonio said.
“Well, yes. We’re good friends,” Skipper acknowledged.
“I was hoping maybe bạn could help me, ah, win her heart,” Antonio requested hopefully.
Skipper blinked. “Um, excuse me?”
Antonio sighed with infatuation. “Marlene is just so caring and beautiful . . . I don’t want to mess this up. Ayúdame, por favor,” he pleaded.
Skipper shifted. “I don’t know. I don’t think Marlene would appreciate me meddling in her tình yêu life, especially with how it ended last time,” he đã đưa ý kiến looking up in recollection.
Antonio arched a curious brow, but dismissed the comment. “Por favor, señor,” he begged getting down on one knee and clasping his paws together. “I only want whatever Marlene wants. If bạn are really a good friend, wouldn’t bạn want to know that Marlene is happy?”
Skipper considered. Marlene did deserve happiness, and this guy seemed like someone that she could find that with, and he did want to be sure he was legit. He sighed.
“All right,” Skipper said, giving in, “I’ll help you.”
Antonio smiled and got to his feet. “Oh, ¡gracias, Señor Skipper!” he đã đưa ý kiến taking his flipper and shaking it gratefully. “I owe you.”
Skipper retracted his flipper. “No problem,” he đã đưa ý kiến watching him carefully. “I’ll be holding bạn up to that.”
Antonio laughed as if Skipper were joking. “Marlene was wrong! bạn do have a sense of humor!” He picked up the chim cánh cụt in a tight hug and set him back down. “I am meeting Marlene tomorrow afternoon. Shall I come over tomorrow?” Skipper was about to respond when Antonio said, “¡Magnífico! I’ll see bạn around noon. ¡Adiós!” he đã đưa ý kiến as he pushed past them. Then he stopped and looked around before turning back. “Um, where is the way out?”
The penguins slowly raised their flippers to point at the fishbowl hatch. Antonio looked up and laughed.
“Of course! bạn sneaky penguins!” he đã đưa ý kiến climbing the tường ladder to the hatch, pushing the fishbowl aside, and leaving.
There was a moment of silence before Kowalski turned to Skipper. “Um . . . what just happened?” he asked.
“Uh, long story short,” Skipper started, “Marlene met Antonio in the park today, and I guess they hit it off, and now Antonio wants me to help him win Marlene’s heart.”
Kowalski thought for a moment. “Well, I don’t know much about women, but Marlene . . . are bạn sure she’d be okay with this?”
Skipper sighed. “I don’t know, but I do know that Marlene deserves happiness, and I’m thêm than willing to help her find it. Maybe it won’t work out, but at least I can say I tried,” he said.
Kowalski studied him. “I can’t say that Marlene would be okay with this, but are you? bạn seem unsure,” he observed.
Skipper took a breath to soạn thảo himself. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just want to be sure this Antonio character is right for Marlene. At least in helping him, I can get to know him better, too,” he đã đưa ý kiến nodding in thought.
“Well,” Private broke in, “how would bạn know who would be right for Marlene?” he asked.
Skipper looked at him. “Well, like he said: I know her. I know what she likes, what she dislikes, her interests. I’m not going to make any decisions for her. I’m just going to get to know Antonio and make sure I can pinpoint his intentions,” he đã đưa ý kiến narrowing his eyes.
“Beg your pardon?” Private asked innocently.
“You’ll find out when you’re older,” Kowalski đã đưa ý kiến patting his back. He turned back to Skipper. “Well, good luck with that. Come on, let’s get back on schedule.”
— § —
mi amigo = my friend
igualmente = same to you
gracias = thank you
asombrosa = amazing
ayúdame, por favor = help me, please
señor = sir/mister
magnífico = magnificent
adiós = goodbye