When Max and Dale perform, the grand finale of their show is an obstacle course competition between the two. The loser bottoms for the winner—not that either of them minds when he loses. But although the show secretly calls for Max to win, Dale has an unexpected surprise for Max.
Butch the shark-man had written “Congrats Dale and Max” on the glass in big, fancy letters with grease marker so we would see it as soon as we came in. Next to that, Serena, one of the mermaids, had drawn a fantastic caricature of Dale and me. I was juggling dumbbells while Dale swung over my head on a trapeze; pink and red hearts were everywhere.
There were more grease markers on both sides of the glass, and many beast-folk had written messages or drawn pictures. We beast-folk are truly members of a big family, and today I was feeling their love more than ever before.
It was almost time to go back to our habitats, and I was taking a moment to enjoy a quiet chat with Tess, my best friend at The Zoo after Dale. She’s a dog-human blend like me, but she’s a Border Collie and I’m a Swiss Mountain Dog. Our colorings are sort of similar, but her coat has no brown and is much longer than mine in certain places. I think it makes her look really pretty, but she’s one of those people who is uncomfortable with compliments, so I only tell her once in a while. We sat side-by-side, at the end of the top row of seats.
“So, you guys are gonna be our fourth mated couple,” Tess said to me.
“Yeah,” I replied. There were already Rio and Pacifica (male and female otters), Aurora and Frija (female polar bear and female arctic wolf), and Ama and Rojo (female ocelot and male macaw).
“You two make the best couple. But…can I confess something?” she asked softly. “Dale kind of intimidates me.”
“Really? I’m surprised! You always cover it well when you come over for sleepovers.” Tess lives in The Farm habitat, and there’s so much greenery in there that the horticulture staff need to do a really thorough clean-up and seasonal re-planting every few months. When that happens, Tess and her roommates come spend the night with Dale and me.
“Well, it’s not like he scares me to death,” she clarified. “It’s just that he’s so intense.”
“Oh,” I laughed, “I know what you mean. He can come on pretty strong. But you should know, he thinks you’re super cute, especially your ears.” Her ears are more perky and fluffy, while mine are floppier. “And he really means it when he says he’s amazed that you can play so many different instruments.”
“Pppbbf,” she snorted. Like I said, compliments are hard for her.
“You know when he really loosens up? Watching movies. You should suggest a movie you’d like to watch next time you come over. He enjoys pretty much anything, and it’ll give you two something to talk about.
“It’s funny you said that, though. Mariah intimidates me a little bit,” I admitted. Mariah is an Arabian horse who also lives in The Farm habitat.
“What?” she gaped, then thought about it for a second. “I guess she does have a bit of a temper, but really she’s very kind! And she says you are ‘just as sweet as apple pie’.” We both smiled; it was exactly the sort of thing Mariah would say.
“She and Dale sure get along.” We looked across the room where the two of them were playing Hangman on the window. They both tended to get bored quickly at these gatherings. Mariah looked fine-boned and elegant, compared with Dale’s brick-shithouse physique, but no one could ever doubt her personality was just as strong. They were cheerfully debating, probably arguing about the finer points of Hangman strategy.
“Must be a horse thing,” we both said at the same time, then grinned at each other and laughed.
“Two minutes, children,” Master announced via the attendants’ microphone.
“Thank you, Master,” we all chorused. A buzz of conversation swirled around the room as beast-folk said their goodbyes and went to meet up with the keepers who would walk them back to their habitats.
“Oh! Max!” Tess put her hand on my arm. “I just remembered! You know my keeper, Miss Jennifer? She makes necklaces as a hobby! I bet she would help you make something to give Dale.” I gasped in relief.
“Would you ask her for me, please? Please please please?”
“Sure will! Take good care of your fiancé!” She said “fiancé” in a singsong voice like a teasing seven-year-old.
“Thank you, Tess! Have a great week, okay?” I licked her on her fluffy ear. She grabbed my ear so I would bend down for her to give my face a lick.
“Can’t wait for our next sleepover! I’m going to think of a good movie to watch. Ready to go, guys?” Her other roommates, Paco and Pig, had walked up to get Tess. We all farewelled each other, and I went to meet up with Dale.
We are arguably the strangest family on the planet.
But I think that also makes us the best family on the planet.