“The Other Man That Doesn’t Exist Yet”
December 11, 2014

Skipper stood outside Marlene’s habitat. Earlier that day, the team had snuck into Alice’s office to order some sweet elusive Polish sauerkraut, and Alice had left the sign-up lista for the Breeding Program on her computer. Marlene’s name was on it. From the moment he saw it, his cuore fluttered. He wasn’t quite sure why. It was just the thought of Marlene feeling as if she needed someone. Why that would bother him was another mystery. He took a deep breath and entered.

“Hey, Skipper! What’s up?” Marlene detto as he approached her.

“Nothing much. I was just dropping da to check on you. Is everything okay?” he asked with his cuore rate beginning to accelerate.

Marlene smiled humorously. “Um, of course. Why would anything be wrong? Did something happen?”

“Oh, no, nothing happened,” Skipper answered. “I was just wondering . . . have te been — um, lonely?”

Marlene’s smile faded. “Excuse me?”

Skipper spread his flippers. “I’m sorry, that was a really bad domanda to start with. I just . . . Look, the truth is, I accidentally saw your name signed up on the Breeding Program,” he admitted. “I was just worried about why te suddenly felt like te needed somebody.”

Marlene crossed her arms and became defensive. “Well, I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” she said.

Skipper shifted on his feet awkwardly. “It’s not. I was just worried.”

Marlene sighed and dropped her arms. “Well, don’t worry about me. I just — feel like I’m ready to get out there. I don’t know. I heard about the Breeding Program starting up again and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It’s not like I have anything to lose. And it’s not like I’m getting any younger,” she detto with an irritated roll of her eyes.

Skipper hesitated. “It doesn’t bother te that they’ll be setting te up with complete strangers?”

Marlene cocked an eyebrow. “Isn’t that the whole idea of dating?” she pointed out.

Skipper folded his flippers. “Well, I was just thinking that it might be a little più comfortable to start things off with people te already know,” he replied.

Marlene laughed melodramatically. “Like who? I already tried Fred. Julien and Maurice aren’t exactly my type, and it’s obvious why I wouldn’t go for Mort. I can’t see anything happening with me and Mason o Phil. Leonard’s scared of me, anyway. And all the other animali are either too small o too big,” she explained. A thought came to her and she hesitated. “Unless . . . one of you guys wants to . . . te know,” she suggested with an inquisitive stare.

Skipper remained silent for a moment. “No. I just don’t want to see te get hurt.”

Marlene looked at the ground and sighed. “I appreciate that, Skipper,” she said, looking at him, “but I’m a grown woman. I can take care of myself. I promise.”

Skipper looked away. “Fine.” His voice suddenly rose threateningly. “But if any of them hurt you, I’ll —” He caught Marlene’s wide eyes and took a deep breath. “I hope te find what you’re looking for,” he detto softly. He turned away and started for the exit.

“Skipper,” Marlene called. Skipper reluctantly stopped and turned back. “Are te sure there isn’t anything te need to tell me?”

Skipper locked eyes with her. “No, Marlene. I’ll see te later,” he said, heading for the door again.

Marlene watched him leave. Skipper had never acted that way before. She ran out after him.

“Skipper, wait!” she called just as he was about to hop over her wall. He stopped with an irritable roll of his eyes and turned around.

“What is it now, Marlene?” he asked.

“I was just —” Marlene exhaled. “I hope this doesn’t change the way te think about me.”

Skipper narrowed his eyes quizzically. “How do te think I think about you?”

Marlene looked down. “Um,” she started, completely unsure of how to respond. “I don’t know. I just don’t want te to think I’m — desperate,” she said, hugging herself uncomfortably.

Skipper sighed and braced his flippers on her shoulders. “I don’t think you’re desperate. I think it’s —” He took a breath. “I think it’s high-time in your life that te find a — mate,” he said, almost forcing out that last word. “Just don’t let any of them take advantage of you, all right?”

“I won’t, Skipper,” Marlene assured him. “I’ll take care of myself. To be honest, I’m a little scared,” she said, looking down. “This is new to me, the whole ‘getting out there’ thing. I want to be ready, but . . .” Her voice trailed.

Skipper dropped his flippers. “But you’re afraid te might not be seeing what’s already right in front of you?” he suggested quietly.

Marlene looked at him — really looked at him. “Yeah. Something like that,” she admitted.

Skipper smiled. “Well, Marlene, I don’t know a lot about what goes on in your mind most of the time, but I do know your heart’s always one hundred percent. I think if te listen to it, it’ll lead te in the right direction,” he reassured her.

Marlene smiled back. “You think so?”

Skipper saluted. “I know so.”