The tiếp theo morning, Antonio arrived at the chim cánh cụt habitat promptly at noon. The other penguins went on with their duties while Antonio and Skipper sat across from each other at the bàn in HQ.
“So, what do bạn want to know?” Skipper asked folding his flippers on the table.
“Well, I’m not sure where to begin,” Antonio replied. “I want to know everything,” he đã đưa ý kiến wistfully, resting his chin on his fist and closing his eyes. When he opened them, Skipper was staring at him impatiently, with an eyebrow arched. Antonio awkwardly cleared his throat.
“Well,” Skipper started, breaking the silence, “how about bạn just tell me about yourself and I’ll tell bạn what Marlene would like.”
“Good idea,” Antonio said. “Well, I was thinking for our ngày later, I would take her to get some cotton candy.”
“Okay, let me tell bạn where you’re going wrong,” Skipper đã đưa ý kiến casually.
Antonio blinked in surprise. “What?”
“First off, dial back on calling it a ‘date,’” Skipper đã đưa ý kiến putting air trích dẫn around date. “Even if she does like you, she’ll feel like you’re moving too fast.”
“Not a date,” Antonio acknowledged. “Got it.”
“Second, if bạn want to get to know each other, wait before getting something to eat, unless she asks for it, of course,” Skipper explained. “Marlene likes to talk, but she also likes to listen. Be sure there’s an equal balance there. Eating will be a distraction.”
“Talk a lot, listen a lot,” Antonio agreed.
Skipper nodded. “All right. Um, what do bạn consider a ‘good time’ with a woman?” he asked studying him carefully.
Antonio thought for a moment. “Well, I like to make my women feel special. What would make her feel special?” he asked leaning phía trước, chuyển tiếp on his elbows.
Skipper rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “She likes to feel important, like bạn care about her. But she also values her independence. Don’t be too clingy, and don’t make her feel like she’s fragile, because she’s not,” he đã đưa ý kiến shooting him a warning look.
Antonio shook his head. “Never. Um, what would make her feel fragile?” he asked.
“Things like wanting to do everything for her hoặc calling her delicate,” Skipper replied.
Antonio seemed reluctant, but he nodded. “Give her independence, don’t make her feel fragile,” he said, distastefully emphasizing the word fragile. “What else?”
“Don’t play games with her, like buying her a snow cone just to make her cold and bạn can ‘keep her warm,’ hoặc getting her nice things just so bạn can be ‘rewarded,’” he đã đưa ý kiến narrowing his eyes. “She wants someone real.”
“I give bạn my word, señor,” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến putting his right paw over his tim, trái tim and raising his left, “I would never treat Marlene in such a disrespectful manner. She deserves to be treated like the fine lady she is,” he assured him.
Skipper studied him carefully, and then nodded. “Agreed.”
Antonio smiled. “Do bạn think I should bring her flowers? She seems to tình yêu flowers,” he asked.
“She does,” Skipper replied. “Her các sở thích are the lisianthus—purple, preferably.”
“My, bạn do know Marlene very well, don’t you?” Antonio observed studying him carefully.
“Affirmative,” Skipper replied. “What else do bạn want to know?”
“How long have bạn known her?” Antonio asked.
“Almost six years,” Skipper answered. “Why?”
“Have bạn two ever . . .?” His voice trailed, unsure of how to finish the question.
“Ever what?” Skipper asked sternly, narrowing his eyes.
Antonio swallowed. Something told him not to tick him off. “Nevermind. Thank bạn for your help,” he đã đưa ý kiến standing. “I hope I am welcome to return if I require your advice?”
Skipper stood with him. “Sure. I need to keep my eye on you, anyway. Might as well make it up close and personal. It’ll save me the trouble of finding out where bạn live,” he đã đưa ý kiến emotionlessly.
Antonio started laughing, but Skipper just arched an eyebrow, as if trying to understand what was funny. Antonio’s smile faded and he coughed awkwardly.
“I think I’ll go meet Marlene early. I’m not sure I can wait much longer,” Antonio said, attempting to change the subject.
“How much earlier are we talking?” Skipper asked.
“About an hour,” Antonio answered.
Skipper rolled his eyes. “Do bạn know anything about women? Never pick your lady up early. If she’s really getting ready to see you, she’s going to need that hour,” he said.
Antonio nodded. “Of course. You’re probably right. I guess I’ll, um, see bạn later, then?” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến without meeting his eye.
“Guess so,” Skipper affirmed.
Antonio nodded and made his way for the hatch. He was starting to think Skipper hadn’t been joking, and maybe never was.
— § —
“Ah, there bạn are, Skipper,” Kowalski đã đưa ý kiến from Alice’s computer as Skipper hopped up on the desk. “How was your discussion with Antonio?”
“It was fine,” Skipper replied looking at the screen. “How’s it coming on getting a location on our shipment?”
Kowalski glanced at him. “Should be here in a couple of days. So, what’s Antonio like? Do bạn think he’s a good match for Marlene?”
“So far, I think he seems like an okay guy. Pretty clueless, but decent,” Skipper replied.
Kowalski arched an eyebrow. “Like, Julien clueless hoặc just romantically clueless?”
Skipper thought for a moment. “As far as I know, just romantically.”
“What makes bạn say that?” Private asked.
“Well,” Skipper reconsidered, “maybe just clueless in being romantic specifically with Marlene,” he admitted.
“Well, that’s why he wanted your help,” Kowalski said, “so he could fix that.”
Skipper nodded. “Right.”
“Is something wrong, sir?” Private asked.
Skipper shook his head. “No, nothing’s wrong. I just keep feeling like there’s something about him I don’t like, but I can’t pinpoint what exactly.”
Kowalski thought for a moment. “Do bạn think he seems too forthcoming?”
Skipper shook his head. “No, it’s not that. I don’t know, maybe I’m just paranoid that he’ll hurt her,” he đã đưa ý kiến growling, his face twisting into a grimace, “because if he does . . .”
Skipper didn’t need to finish his sentence for the team to get the picture. Rico whistled as if surprised bởi his remark. Skipper took a deep breath to soạn thảo himself.
“Apologies, boys,” he đã đưa ý kiến without making eye contact. “I just don’t like the thought of good Những người bạn getting hurt.”
The boys nodded in understanding. Marlene was their friend too. If Antonio did hurt her, they would be thêm than happy to help Skipper give him what he deserved.
— § —
Antonio laughed. “You know, in all my life, I have never met anyone quite like you,” he đã đưa ý kiến leaning toward Marlene, who was sitting tiếp theo to him in the cỏ under a cây in the park.
Marlene shrank bashfully. “Is that a good thing?” she asked pushing some lông, lông thú behind her ear.
Antonio smiled. “That is a very good thing,” he replied tipping her chin. Marlene looked up at him and then turned her head back down, fiddling with the grass. When she glanced back up, Antonio was watching her with a calm smile.
“So,” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến breaking eye contact, “I brought bạn these,” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến reaching behind him and pulling out some flowers.
Marlene gasped in surprise. “Purple lisianthus? How did bạn know these are my favorite?” she asked accepting them and smelling their sweet fragrance.
Antonio arched a brow. “Are they? I just happened to see them and was struck bởi their beauty, and I was reminded of you,” he đã đưa ý kiến gently tracing her jawline with his finger, causing her to hide her face behind the hoa timidly.
“Antonio!” she protested. “We barely know each other.”
“Ah, but I want that to change,” Antonio replied. “I want to know everything about you. Marlene, I just can’t get bạn out of my head! Please, querida, go on one ngày with me, and if bạn never want to see me again, I will leave bạn alone.”
Marlene looked at him over the hoa and smiled. “O-Okay,” she agreed. “When?”
Antonio smiled broadly and got to his feet. “Tonight? About seven?” he asked helping Marlene to her feet.
“Okay,” Marlene agreed, clutching the hoa to her chest.
“¡Estupendo!” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến happily. “Then I will see bạn at seven?”
Marlene smiled. “Seven.”
— § —
“I don’t know,” Skipper đã đưa ý kiến to Kowalski atop their island, “all I remember is some samurai wannabe dressed like Bruce Lee.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Kowalski replied.
Before he could say anything else, Antonio dropped into their habitat.
“Ah! Skipper!” he đã đưa ý kiến picking him up and spinning him around.
“Whoa!” Skipper protested.
Antonio set him down. “Lo siento, mi amigo. I am just so happy. Marlene agreed to go on a ngày with me. I was hoping bạn could give me some tips on where to take her.”
“Sure,” Skipper replied, “let’s go down in HQ.”
Antonio followed Skipper down the hatch and the two sat across the bàn from each other as they had earlier that day.
“So, what should I do? I want everything to be perfect,” Antonio said. “I was thinking I could take her for a swim as the sun sets.”
Skipper thought about it. “You could, but if you’re looking for romance, wait until the moon comes out for the swim. bạn won’t believe what the moonlight does to her eyes,” he đã đưa ý kiến looking at the edge of the table. When Antonio didn’t reply, he looked up to see him studying him carefully. “What?”
Antonio sighed and shook his head. “Nothing. So, moonlight swim, even better,” he agreed.
“Remember what I đã đưa ý kiến about balancing talking and listening, too,” Skipper said.
“Right,” Antonio replied.
Skipper thought again and shrugged. “Well, she’d probably be up for almost anything,” he said. “What else did bạn have in mind?”
“Anything,” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến thoughtfully.
“Almost,” Skipper warned.
Antonio held up his paws innocently. “I know, I know,” he đã đưa ý kiến defensively. “You are muy protective of her, aren’t you?”
Skipper met his eye. “I told you; she’s one of my closest friends. bạn bet your cá hồi I’m protective of her.”
Antonio felt a chill tapdance on his spine at his threatening tone and glare. He cleared his throat and nodded. “Of course. I assure bạn I will be a complete gentleman to her. She deserves nothing less,” he said.
Skipper still didn’t look convinced, but he let it go—on the outside, at least. “Anyway,” he đã đưa ý kiến breaking eye contact, “continue.”
Antonio furrowed his brow. “What were we talking about?”
Skipper rolled his eyes. “The date? Things to do on it?”
“Right, right,” Antonio đã đưa ý kiến shaking the confusion out of his head. “Um, what do bạn think we should eat?”
“She loves oysters on half-shells,” Skipper replied.
Antonio thought for a moment. “Where would I find those?”
“I’ll tell Private to score bạn some from our thực phẩm storage,” Skipper offered.
Antonio smiled. “¡Gracias! bạn are a true friend, señor,” he đã đưa ý kiến putting a paw over his heart. Skipper looked at him quizzically, as if questioning the sincerity of his statement, but then he shrugged.
“Yeah, yeah, de nada hoặc whatever,” Skipper answered with a dismissive wave of his flipper. “So we have a moonlight swim and oysters. What else?”
“Maybe a walk around the park, just to talk,” Antonio suggested.
“Good,” Skipper replied. “Anything else?”
“I was thinking I might play a song for her on my Spanish guitar,” Antonio said.
Skipper darted a look at him. “You know Spanish guitar?” he asked.
“Sí,” Antonio replied. “Why?”
Skipper looked down thoughtfully. “Marlene loves Spanish guitar,” he đã đưa ý kiến feeling the texture of the table.
Antonio grinned. “Even better,” he đã đưa ý kiến with excitement. “I must prepare a song for her before I meet her tonight,” he đã đưa ý kiến getting to his feet.
Skipper looked up. “What time tonight?” he asked.
“Seven,” Antonio answered wistfully. “Why?”
“Just asking,” Skipper replied as he rose to his feet as well. “Good luck.”
“Gracias,” Antonio said. “Hasta luego.”
Skipper nodded as Antonio made his way toward the hatch. Kowalski dropped in as soon as he left.
“How did it go?” he asked coming to the table.
“Fine, I guess,” Skipper answered. “He’s got a ngày with Marlene at seven,” he đã đưa ý kiến looking across the room in thought.
Kowalski arched a brow. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Something’s still off about him. I can feel it in my gut. Just hearing his name makes me—cringe,” Skipper answered with a grimace. “Maybe he’s a government spy.”
Kowalski rolled his eyes. “Unlikely,” he đã đưa ý kiến impassively.
Skipper looked at him. “I don’t really understand it. He hasn’t done anything to render suspicion,” he đã đưa ý kiến rubbing his chin, “but my gut has never been wrong before.”
“Hm,” Kowalski replied thoughtfully, “maybe it’s just your fear that Marlene will be hurt if he isn’t the one. No one wants to see a good friend upset.”
“So bạn feel it too?” Skipper challenged. “That wrenching feeling in your gut whenever bạn go near him!”
“Well, no,” Kowalski answered. “I think he seems like a decent guy, but I can’t say I’m not keeping an eye on him too, if only at a distance.”
“Well, I feel it. There’s something he isn’t telling anyone. I know it,” Skipper replied narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
“What are bạn going to do about it?” Kowalski asked.
Skipper looked at him. “I think I’m going to oversee this ‘date,’ just to make sure he doesn’t try anything,” he said.
“Do what bạn need to do,” Kowalski replied. “I never câu hỏi your gut. If bạn need help, just let me know.”
Skipper nodded. “Thanks, Kowalski, but I think I’ll do this alone. It’ll be easier to stay hidden that way,” he said.
Kowalski nodded back. “All right. Be careful.”
— § —
querida = darling
estupendo = great
lo siento = I’m sorry
muy = very
de nada = you’re welcome
sí = yes
hasta luego = see bạn later