“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 listahan for the Breeding Program on her computer. Marlene’s name was on it. From the moment he saw it, his puso 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 sinabi as he approached her.

“Nothing much. I was just dropping sa pamamagitan ng to check on you. Is everything okay?” he asked with his puso 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 you been — um, lonely?”

Marlene’s smile faded. “Excuse me?”

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

Skipper hesitated. “It doesn’t bother you that they’ll be setting you 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 madami comfortable to start things off with people you 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 or Phil. Leonard’s scared of me, anyway. And all the other mga hayop are either too small or too big,” she explained. A thought came to her and she hesitated. “Unless . . . one of you guys wants to . . . you know,” she suggested with an inquisitive stare.

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

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

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

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

Marlene smiled back. “You think so?”

Skipper saluted. “I know so.”