“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 corazón 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 dicho as he approached her.

“Nothing much. I was just dropping por to check on you. Is everything okay?” he asked with his corazón 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 tu been — um, lonely?”

Marlene’s smile faded. “Excuse me?”

Skipper spread his flippers. “I’m sorry, that was a really bad pregunta 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 tu suddenly felt like tu 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 dicho with an irritated roll of her eyes.

Skipper hesitated. “It doesn’t bother tu that they’ll be setting tu 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 más comfortable to start things off with people tu 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 animales are either too small o too big,” she explained. A thought came to her and she hesitated. “Unless . . . one of you guys wants to . . . tu know,” she suggested with an inquisitive stare.

Skipper remained silent for a moment. “No. I just don’t want to see tu 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 tu find what you’re looking for,” he dicho softly. He turned away and started for the exit.

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

Skipper locked eyes with her. “No, Marlene. I’ll see tu 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 tu think about me.”

Skipper narrowed his eyes quizzically. “How do tu 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 tu 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 tu 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 tu 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 tu listen to it, it’ll lead tu in the right direction,” he reassured her.

Marlene smiled back. “You think so?”

Skipper saluted. “I know so.”