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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Black and White

They both really like penguins. It’s not something that other people know about them, either of them, because it’s never crossed the line into a full-fledged interest, so neither of them ever talk about it.

But one day, sitting at lunch, she glanced up from her yogurt and motioned with her chin for him to look over his shoulder. He turned to see Michael waddling into his office, muttering something to Dwight about icepacks and gear-shifts and how they always make it look so easy on TV.

He turned back around with saucer eyes and a smirk, and she stopped giggling long enough to point out how much Michael reminded her of those penguins from Madagascar, the really oblivious ones that always think they know what they’re doing, and now with the waddle, the resemblance is spot-on.

So that got them to talking, and soon they realized that they both found penguins just a little more amusing than everyone else seemed to, and that they both always gravitated toward the penguin house at the zoo, even though it almost always reeked of fish and it was freezing cold in there and the penguins never really did anything, just sort of huddled together with their backs to the glass, and despite the fact that the polar bear was just around the corner. But the polar bear didn’t bob back and forth when it walked, or, if you were there at the right time, shoot straight up out of the water and land perfectly on its feet, or remind them of their boss; so they chose the penguins.

And that was enough.

They sat close on the bench, coat sleeves just touching. He glanced over, and could see that her nose was a rosy shade of pink that was really quite pretty, and her breath was coming out in cotton candy puffs. She sensed him looking and turned, smiled, before turning back to the glass, her gaze drifting over the clustered tuxedo shapes. Roy had left for a weekend camping trip an hour ago.

“I’m glad he didn’t ask me.” Her voice, even amplified by the echo in the otherwise empty room, was quiet. His heart readied itself, the way it usually did when she spoke about Roy, when her voice sounded more like a six-year-old girl’s than a twenty-six-year old woman’s. But his chest didn’t seize up until she had spoken a few more sentences.

“I know he needs his guy time, and I respect that. How can he not, right? I mean, he doesn’t just want to listen to me talk about art all the time. But it hurts when he doesn’t even ask me. To know that he doesn’t want me there.

But I’m glad he didn’t ask me this time.”

Her words rolled over him as he focused on the tall one in the back, the one standing a little apart from the group, the way he normally focused on the blinking cursor of an open, blank email document whenever his emotions overwhelmed him. It happened sometimes after lunchtime, after shared looks and private laughs were interrupted by Roy, calling her babe, asking questions without listening to her answers. He watched the bird slowly wobble toward the group and silently cursed Roy for invading the penguin house too. He didn’t even need to be in town for his presence to corrode.

“Roy would have wanted to go see the polar bear,” she was saying, and his eyes blanked a little. “He only likes the big animals, the dangerous ones…He doesn’t like the penguins.”

His heart didn’t break until he felt her take a silent, shuddering breath. “I wouldn’t have gotten to see the penguins if he was here.”

He turned, and she was looking at him, and he felt her fingers suddenly through the leather of his glove, seeking a spot among his own. He curled his fingers around hers until they were linked. Crystal beads looked like snowflakes on her eyelashes, and one fell down her cheek. She smiled.

“I guess some people just don’t get penguins like we do.”

shortlatte is the author of 2 other stories.

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