125/366 – Waddles the Penguin

I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my room, double-checking that the buttons of my shirt lined up with my belt. I resorted to the shoes I had used for chorus practice in high school since I didn’t have anything fancier.
“I’m almost ready!” I called to the door. “Be honest when you see me, please. I really want to impress Julia tonight. Also, I’m going to apologize in advance if I don’t talk to you enough.”
I walked over to the door and swung it open, allowing Waddles, my imaginary penguin, into the room. He did his namesake on his way in and waited by the side of my bed.
“What do you think, Waddles?” I asked as I spun in place, letting him see my outfit.
Waddles responded with a series of pips and squawks as he flapped his wings and nodded, which I assumed meant ‘you look handsome.’
“Yeah? You don’t think that the button-down shirt is too much?” I asked. “Should I wear a tie?”
Waddles flapped a few times, shaking his head, which I thought meant ‘a tie would be too much.”
“You’re probably right,” I agreed with a nod. “Are you ready? Do you want me to dress you up a little?”
Waddles ignored the comment and walked from the room in his usual fashion when he thought I was ridiculous. Following him down the stairs and out the front door, I could feel my heartbeat speeding up. Waddles turned to face me and squawked and clicked a few times tilting his head, which I knew meant ‘should I stay home.”
“You’re coming with me, bud,” I said, “I don’t know that I can make it through tonight without you. What happens if she doesn’t like me? I can’t imagine being alone after that. Julia is practically perfect. She’s into all the things I am and to top it off, she likes her space, which would give us tons of time to hang out.”
Waddles did his best impersonation of a shrug and turned to the van, walking forward until he bounced off the door, making the van rock.
“Hold on, man,” I said, patting my pockets. “I forgot the keys!”
I ran back inside, grabbed the van keys, and locked the door on my way out. I pressed the unlock button twice, then the automatic door button to open the van for him as I ran around to the driver’s seat. Buckling up, I adjusted my mirrors and started the vehicle with a deep breath to try to calm myself down.
Waddles gave a high-pitched squeal from the back, which I thought meant, ‘let’s go!”
“Alright, alright,” I said, backing the van out of the driveway, “I don’t know why you’re in such a rush. It’s not like you have anything to worry about, no one can see you.”
Waddles clicked a few times at me in a low tone, which I won’t translate here for the sake of propriety.
“Watch your mouth!” I gasped as we drove down the road. “You can’t be talking like that around Julia. Please, I’m begging you, just hang out and be cool for this one.”
Waddles was already looking out the window, ignoring me as he watched the buildings we passed. We arrived downtown a full half-hour early and found parking not too far from the restaurant.
Putting the van in park, I looked in the mirror, “You know the drill, bud.”
Waddles squawked and nodded once.
I got out and opened the sliding door on the sideway side and made a show of searching for something in the empty van while people walked past us. Waddles popped out of the door to the pavement with a handful of clicks. I closed the door and turned to look at the restaurant.
I tugged on my collar, trying to allow a little more air into my lungs. “I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous,” I muttered to Waddles as I shot him a glance.
He squawked, clicked, then screeched at me, which meant, ‘Remember the time you jumped from the high dive and lost your shorts in the pool?’
“I don’t want to talk about that,” I replied, “and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring things up like that. Now I’ll probably talk about it at dinner. You know I don’t have a filter when I’m nervous.”
Waddles gave a few quick clicks as an apology.
“So we just have to figure out how to get you in without being too obvious,” I said, scratching my chin.
Waddles proceeded to walk forward and reached the door as a person came out. For a six-foot imaginary penguin, he seemed to have an uncanny ability to sneak into places. I followed behind, careful not to walk too fast to give him enough time to get past the host behind the podium.
“Can I help you, sir?” the host asked as Waddles pecked his coat jacket.
“Table for two, please. I believe I made a reservation under the name Wallace?” I replied.
The host looked down at the sheet before him, sliding his finger down the list before giving a quick nod.
“Right this way, sir,” the host said as he grabbed two menus. “You’re a little early, though. Would you prefer a drink menu instead?”
“No, thank you,” I replied as we wove our way between tables, Waddles close behind. “It takes me a minute to order what I like anyway.”
“Of course, sir,” the host replied, stopping at a small table. “Could I have the server get you something to drink while you wait?”
“Water would be great,” I said with a nod as I opened the menu, “Oh! Could you also make sure that there is a double order of tuna steak, rare, ready to go when we’re done? My roommate loves tuna.”
“Of course, sir,” the host replied with a quick bow before running off.
From where I sat, I watched Julia walk past the large front window and turn into the door. My breath caught in my chest when I saw the beautiful ice blue dress she was wearing. Her hair was put up, letting the brown curls in her hair barely brush her bare shoulders. She spotted me almost instantly, tilted her head with a smile and a slightly amused expression on her face. She waved off the host and pointed to me when he tried to speak to her before walking across the room and sitting opposite me.
“Sorry, I know I’m super early. I have a hard time finding what I like in menus, and I’m super nervous,” I sputtered. “How was your trip in-”
Julia stopped my talking just by raising a finger. Her eyes were looking directly over my shoulder as she pointed. I turned to look, but Waddles was standing in the way, blocking the view of everything behind him.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked.
“What’s up with the six-foot bird?” she asked.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“A penguin is standing right there, six feet tall, looking from me to you and back again. You can’t see that?” she said, lifting one eyebrow.
“I mean-I don’t-I think,” I stopped and winced before speaking very slowly. “You can see him?”
“How could you miss something like that?” she said, a smile spreading across her face.
Waddles clicked, squeaked, and squawked, flapping his wings rapidly, which meant a significant number of things.
“I know, bud,” I whispered over my shoulder. “I know.”
“You can understand it?” Julia asked.
“Him, actually. Waddles. That’s his name,” I replied, with an asymmetrical shrug, “I kind of get the idea of what he’s saying most of the time.”
“What did he just say,” Julia asked.
“No. I really-”
Waddles slapped the back of my head with his flipper as he squawked.
“Alright!” I said, “He said you’re a keeper, and he was surprised you could see him, and that you’re very beautiful.”
“Really?” Julia said, sitting back in her chair, the amused look not having left her face. “What else does Waddles say?”
Waddles clicked a few times with a squeak at the end.
“He likes tuna,” I said with a chuckle. I shook my head a little and felt my body relax. “I think this is going to be a good night.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Julia replied as the waiter arrived with my water.

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