CHAPTER TWO: IN THE PARK
Marlene and Mort were sitting on a wooden park bench, with their faces turned towards the sun.
"Feeling better, Mort?" asked Marlene, stealing a glance at little Lemur.
Mort nodded his head with alacrity. He was busy watching a colorful butterfly flying hereabouts in the park.
There was another wave of rancour that overtook her mind. She felt a nasty emptiness in the pit of her stomach. Something was bothering her. But she didn't have a clue what it really was. She let out a deep sigh and clutched her paws tightly.
Suddenly she heard someone coming by. She turned her head back and froze. It was Skipper. He was waddling up towards their direction, his arms folded back. She could hear him muttering to himself:
"Cherry one for Rico, rawspberry one for Kowalski, strawberry one for Private.. cherry one for Rico.. rawspberry one for Kowalski, strawberry one for Private... Cherry one... oh hey, Marlene! How is it going?" he asked, faint smile brightening his face.
"We're just having a nice sunbath on the bench" replied Marlene, grinning back at him.
"Is Mort feeling any better?"
"Yeah, I guess he is" she said. "At least much better than he did an hour ago.. but what's up with the rest of the team? What's with Rico and Private? Are they okay?"
"Well right now they are" answered Skipper, fixing his eyes on the ground. "But there has been a small sickness emergency due to that crisps trash, you know, the one I caught them stuffing themselves with. Kowalski is taking care of them. I'm out to buy some snowcones for them, you know.. just to make them regain good frame of mind. It always helps." he winked at her.
Marlene blushed slightly.
"How is it going, little fella?" asked Skipper, leaning over Mort who was now sitting on the ground and drawing some penguin figures with his blue chalk. "This one looks like Kowalski!" he laughed, pointing at one of the portraits with his flipper. "Surely, Mort has got a talent."
"Yeah I've noticed that too. He's always been showing great interest in drawing." nodded Marlene.
There was a short pause.
"He wanted to play in a sandbox but there are lots of kids over there right now" she pointed with her head at the nearest playground, full of toddlers.
"It may take a while until they're done" admitted Skipper. Then his walkie talkie rang.
"How is it going, Kowalski?" he asked. "Feeling any better? Well, that's good.. yeah, okay.. well I'm in the park right now.. I'm sitting on a bench with Mort and Marlene" which he just did, by hopping up on the bench and placing himself right next to the otter, his left back scuffing slightly against Marlene's fur. Marlene shivered a little bit. "Alright, soldier. Take good care." He switched off and turned his attention to Marlene.
"Rico and Private are back on their feet again, thankfully. Rico is watching TV and Private is cleaning his bunk." he reported, and hid his walkie talkie in his pocket. "Seems like there is no need for me to hurry." he stated, gazing somewhere out in the space.
Marlene smothered the grin twisting her lips and choked quietly. She didn't say anything but... if Skipper could only see that invisible, white comic cloud of: "Yaynesssss!!!!" forming above her head.
"The sandbox is all clear now" informed Skipper and patted Mort on the head. "you can go and enjoy yourself, Sad Eyes."
"Yaaay!" tweeted Mort, dropped his blue chalk and ran towards the playground. He threw himself on the sand and started rolling over to and fro, clouds of dust floating up in the air.
"So good to see him feel better" confessed Marlene with Mort's joyfull, childish laugh in the background.
Then she noticed a small, puffy squirrel, peeking at Mort from behind the tree. He was holding a big hazel nut in his paw and biting it nervously with his teeth. Marlene realized he must had been around Mort's age.
"See that little guy other there?" she asked Skipper and pointed her paw at the opposite tree.
"Seems like he is looking forward to playing with Mort."
"Hey, Sad Eyes! You've got company!" cried Skipper.
Mort froze for a while and glanced at Skipper with his eyes wide open. Then he turned his head around and spotted the squirrel.
"Hii!" chirped the squirrel and waved to Mort with his paw. He sneaked out of the bush and leaped up towards the sandbox, pressing a couple of hazel nuts to his fury chest. "Wanna try some nuts?" he offered.
"Yey, suuuure!" answered Mort somewhat confused and astonished.
"My name is Albie!" said the squirrel. "I live in that tree, other there. My Mum is preparing dinner right now but she said I could play in the park for a while." He stretched his hand with a hazel nut and offered it Mort. Mort accepted the gift, rejoiced and started consuming.
"Let' make a sandcastle!" proposed Albie, grabbing one of the plastic buckets. "I love making sandcastles!"
"Aawwww... just look at them, isn't that cute?" said Marlene, clasping her paws together.
Skipper nodded his head thoughtfully, and smiled gently.
"Have you been to this park before?" asked Albie, filling the bucket with sand.
"M-mm!" mumbledd Mort, evidently upset.
Skipper and Marlene exchanged mouthfull looks.
"Because I come and play here almost every day!" continued Albie. "But only after kids are gone. One of them tried to chase me all over the park. He almost got me!.. and oh! Have you seen my brand new bicycle?" he pointed at the small yellow bike lying under the tree.
Mort widened his eyes in astonishment.
"My Mom bought it for me two days ago. It's fantastic!" he said proudly. "Wanna try?"
Mort curled up and covered himself with his tail which he always did whenever he felt embarrassed or stressed.
"Don't tell me you never rode I bicycle before?" said Albie, squinting his eye in astonishment.
"Poor Mort" mumbled Marlene to herself on hearing this conversation.
"Oh come on, now, it's easy, I'll show you!" said Albie. He hopped on the saddle, grabbed both handlebars in his paws and started making slow circles around the sandbox.
"See? It's not that tough!" he cried cheerfuly.
"Albie dear, dinner is ready!" said Mother Squirrel.
Albie pressed the break cable and stopped his bike.
"My Mom's calling me, I gotta go. But you can borrow my bike and practice a little bit. You can leave it under my hollow by the time you're done. T'was really nice to meet you Mort! I hope we'll see each other soon!" he waved to him and leaped back to his hollow.
"Never rode a bike before, eh?" remarked Skipper, waddling up towards Mort.
Mort dropped his head.
"Why won't you just try? There is nothing to be afraid of!"
"Do you want Skipper to teach you?" asked Marlene, smiling. "Come on, Mort, it will be fun!"
Mort peeked at Skipper from behind his bushy til, fear and anxiety written all over his face.
"Nothing bad is going to happen to you as long as we're by your side" assumed Skipper.
Marlene's heart throbbed. She got that strange feeling, that she'd already heard that line before. Wasn't that two weeks ago, when the penguins wanted to sneak out of the zoo to buy some snowcones and invited her to join in?
Skipper lifted Mort from the ground and placed him on the saddle. "I'll secure you from the back" he said. "All you have to do is to keep the balance when riding. Try not do make any violent moves, otherwise you'll fall over. Now grab the handlebars tightly and put your feet on the pedals. That's it.."
"You can make it Mort!" chirped Marlene, putting her thumbs up.
"See, everything is fine!" said Skipper, stamping carefully after. He was holding his left flipper on the back of the saddle, keeping an eye on Mort's each move. "Just calm down" he added, when Mort started to shake. "Keep the balance, soldier! Remember! Fear is your worst enemy!"
Two minutes later Mort started to make evident progress.
"Now try a little faster!" said Skipper.
"But don't let me go!" asked Mort, clutching the handbars in his paws.
"Nah, of course I won't!" replied Skipper, menacing smile twisting his beak. Mort nodded his head and increased the speed.
"Nice and easy, Mort, nice and easy!" repeated Skipper. He winked to Marlene, and carefully removed his flipper from the saddle.
"Make sure you don't let go!" cried Mort, pedaling jauntily along.
"Congratulations, soldier, you did it!" cried Skipper, Marlene laughing heartedly.
"Yaaaay!" tweeted Mort, against Skipper's and Marlene's clapping.
"You really ARE a good teacher, Skipper!" said Marlene.
"Guilty and charge!" replied Skipper blushing slightly and giggled.
After two hours of joyfull ride, Skipper, Mort and Marlene gave the bicycle back to squirrels house. Mort ran back towards the playground and hopped on a swing.
"You're hungry, Mort?" asked Skipper, waddling up to him. "Look what I've found. One of those kids has left a banana on the grass. I guess this is your favourite!"
"Yay!" Mort stretched his hand out to grab the banana.
"But only after you're done with the swing, soldier!" stated Skipper. "Otherwise you're gonna have a nasty stomach ache."
Five minutes later, when Mort was wolfing down his favourite banana, Marlene spotted something round and red, shining between the leaves.
"Look Skipper, there is a balloon tangled up between the tree branches." she said, pointing at the nearest tree. "Some kid must have left it there. Mort, do you want me to pull it down for you?"
"Yay!" answered Mort, jumping in joy.
"All right, so you wait here guys and keep an eye, and I will go and climb up" commanded Marlene and sneaked up to the tree trunk. She hopped on the branch, reached her left paw and grabbed the string of the balloon, then hopped smoothly down. But she found herself light enough for baloon to lift her up two feet above the ground.
"Hold on, sister, I will pull you down!" said Skipper. He waddled up to Marlene, with Mort hurrying after.
"Geese, at least something good has come out of my newest diet!" commented Marlene. "Seems like I've lost another two kilos! That's great!"
"To be honest with you, Marlene, you and Mort are the last animals in the zoo which should go on a diet." remarked Skipper.
Marlene shivered when she felt Skipper wrapping his strong flippers around her waist.
"There you go" he said, when she had finally found herself on the ground. "Now we should think about something which would make this balloon heavier".
"Yeah, I guess we should" said Marlene unvoluntairly, still reliving the complement she had just heard from her colleauge. "That was really nice indeed" she thought, pink blush covering her cheeks.
Then she heard a toddler sobbing somewhere in the distance.
"My balloon!" they heard him crying out desperately.
"Oh God.. seems like someone IS looking for it" she stated.
They both looked at Mort, pain and dissapointment written all over his face.
"You know what is going on, don't you, little fella?" asked Skipper delicately. "That little guy has lost his balloon and is now searching through the whole park, looking for it."
"You surely don't want him to cry, do you, Mort?" asked Marlene gently, leaning over the lemur and stroking his hair. "Seems like he's really looking forward to finding it. How about we give it back to him, ha? That will be a good deed!" she stated, nodding her heard with alacrity.
Mort lips trembled. She glanced at his balloon, swinging happily in the air, and let out a painful sigh.
"All right" he said languidly, dropping his head.
"No need to worry, Mort" said Skipper. "I'm gonna ask Rico to regurgirate you one, once we get back to our HQ".
"There you see?" asked Marlene. "All right, guy's, I'm gonna tangle this balloon somewhere in the bushes so the kids can notice."
"Okay, guys, how about getting some snowcones?" proposed Skipper when Marlene rejoined them five minutes later (the boy with the baloon was now withdrawing towards the central park gate, carrying his bane along and jumpying joyfully across the path).
"I have to get a rawspberry one for Rico, strawberry one for Private.. no! Rawspberry one for Kowalski, cherry one for Private... Damnit, I've forgot!" he snapped, clasping his flipper against his forehead."I'd better call them" he stated and pulled out his walkie talkie from the pocket. "Excellante! The battery is off!" he mumbled.
"You can always get them a multiflavoured one!" proposed Marlene.
"That's the idea!" laughed Skipper. "You're going to get some as well, Sad Eys, not to worry" he added up quickly and patted Mort on the head.
"Tell me Mort, what is your favourite flav... ah yes, all right, silly me, I guess it will be banana!" she chirped.
"With coconut!" added Skipper. "Would you like some coconut - banana snowcone, Mort?"
"Yaaay!" jumped Mort.
"You see, don't need that much to make him happy again!" smiled Skipper. "All right then, let's go. It's getting late."
"Uh- oh.. looks like someone's feeling sleepy" commented Marlene, seeing Mort's eyelids falling down languidly. They had just finished eating their snowcones. Mort was clutching a bag of delicacies they had bought for him. Skipper was carrying three multiflavoured snowcones for Kowalski, Rico and Private in his both flippers.
"No wonder, he had a really busy day" he stated.
"What shall we do with him. He is on the verge of falling asleep" said Marlene with Mort's loud yawning in the backround.
"Okay then, you take care of the snowcones and I will carry Sad Eyes" decided Skipper, handing her the ice-creams. "We should also cover him with somehting just to keep him warm" he spotted a lost green towel hanging over the fence.
"This one will do" he stated. He wrapped Mort in the towel and lifted him up. "Of we go, soldier!" he commanded and they headed off towards the penguin's HQ.