The পরবর্তি morning, Antonio arrived at the পেংগুইন habitat promptly at noon. The other penguins went on with their duties while Antonio and Skipper sat across from each other at the টেবিল in HQ.
“So, what do আপনি 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 ব্যক্ত 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 আপনি just tell me about yourself and I’ll tell আপনি what Marlene would like.”
“Good idea,” Antonio said. “Well, I was thinking for our তারিখ later, I would take her to get some cotton candy.”
“Okay, let me tell আপনি where you’re going wrong,” Skipper ব্যক্ত casually.
Antonio blinked in surprise. “What?”
“First off, dial back on calling it a ‘date,’” Skipper ব্যক্ত putting air উদ্ধৃতি 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 আপনি 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 আপনি 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 অগ্রবর্তী on his elbows.
Skipper rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “She likes to feel important, like আপনি 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 ব্যক্ত 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 অথবা 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 আপনি can ‘keep her warm,’ অথবা getting her nice things just so আপনি can be ‘rewarded,’” he ব্যক্ত narrowing his eyes. “She wants someone real.”
“I give আপনি my word, señor,” Antonio ব্যক্ত putting his right paw over his হৃদয় 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 আপনি think I should bring her flowers? She seems to প্রণয় flowers,” he asked.
“She does,” Skipper replied. “Her পছন্দ are the lisianthus—purple, preferably.”
“My, আপনি do know Marlene very well, don’t you?” Antonio observed studying him carefully.
“Affirmative,” Skipper replied. “What else do আপনি want to know?”
“How long have আপনি known her?” Antonio asked.
“Almost six years,” Skipper answered. “Why?”
“Have আপনি 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 আপনি for your help,” he ব্যক্ত 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 আপনি live,” he ব্যক্ত 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 আপনি 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 আপনি later, then?” Antonio ব্যক্ত 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 আপনি are, Skipper,” Kowalski ব্যক্ত 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 আপনি 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 অথবা just romantically clueless?”
Skipper thought for a moment. “As far as I know, just romantically.”
“What makes আপনি 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 আপনি 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 ব্যক্ত 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 দ্বারা his remark. Skipper took a deep breath to রচনা himself.
“Apologies, boys,” he ব্যক্ত without making eye contact. “I just don’t like the thought of good বন্ধু getting hurt.”
The boys nodded in understanding. Marlene was their friend too. If Antonio did hurt her, they would be আরো 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 ব্যক্ত leaning toward Marlene, who was sitting পরবর্তি to him in the ঘাস under a বৃক্ষ in the park.
Marlene shrank bashfully. “Is that a good thing?” she asked pushing some পশম 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 ব্যক্ত breaking eye contact, “I brought আপনি these,” Antonio ব্যক্ত reaching behind him and pulling out some flowers.
Marlene gasped in surprise. “Purple lisianthus? How did আপনি 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 দ্বারা their beauty, and I was reminded of you,” he ব্যক্ত gently tracing her jawline with his finger, causing her to hide her face behind the ফুলেরডালি 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 আপনি out of my head! Please, querida, go on one তারিখ with me, and if আপনি never want to see me again, I will leave আপনি alone.”
Marlene looked at him over the ফুলেরডালি 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 ফুলেরডালি to her chest.
“¡Estupendo!” Antonio ব্যক্ত happily. “Then I will see আপনি at seven?”
Marlene smiled. “Seven.”
— § —
“I don’t know,” Skipper ব্যক্ত 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 ব্যক্ত 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 তারিখ with me. I was hoping আপনি 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 টেবিল 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. আপনি won’t believe what the moonlight does to her eyes,” he ব্যক্ত 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 ব্যক্ত 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 আপনি have in mind?”
“Anything,” Antonio ব্যক্ত thoughtfully.
“Almost,” Skipper warned.
Antonio held up his paws innocently. “I know, I know,” he ব্যক্ত defensively. “You are muy protective of her, aren’t you?”
Skipper met his eye. “I told you; she’s one of my closest friends. আপনি bet your স্যালমন মাছ 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 আপনি 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 ব্যক্ত 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 ব্যক্ত shaking the confusion out of his head. “Um, what do আপনি 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 আপনি some from our খাবার storage,” Skipper offered.
Antonio smiled. “¡Gracias! আপনি are a true friend, señor,” he ব্যক্ত 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 অথবা 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 ব্যক্ত feeling the texture of the table.
Antonio grinned. “Even better,” he ব্যক্ত with excitement. “I must prepare a song for her before I meet her tonight,” he ব্যক্ত 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 তারিখ with Marlene at seven,” he ব্যক্ত 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 ব্যক্ত impassively.
Skipper looked at him. “I don’t really understand it. He hasn’t done anything to render suspicion,” he ব্যক্ত 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 আপনি feel it too?” Skipper challenged. “That wrenching feeling in your gut whenever আপনি 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 আপনি 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 আপনি need to do,” Kowalski replied. “I never প্রশ্ন your gut. If আপনি 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 আপনি later