“I can do it myself!”
Sheila irritably swatted away Bentley’s hand. She ran her own down her arm, scooping up a layer of mud, which she cast into the sink with a vicious swipe.
“My apologies,” Bentley said sincerely, but once again Sheila wasn’t interested. Not that he had expected her to be. She’d been in a mood with him ever since he’d pushed her into that muddy puddle. It was her own fault, in truth – it had been her idea to go for a walk even though the Alpen winter had turned the ground into a marsh; it had been her idea to respond to his complaint of cold, mud-soaked feet by scooping up a mudball and trying to slap it on the back of his head, so really she only had herself to blame when he’d seen her coming and pushed her away, sending her sliding face-first through the slime. But he didn’t dare voice any of those feelings. He knew better than to start a row when Sheila’s temper was already on the boil.
Sheila scraped more mud from her body and slapped it into the sink. She’d cleaned most of the excess off, but much had sunken into her fur and rendered it stained and knotted.
“Would you like me to run you a bath?” Bentley asked.
“What do you think?” Sheila snapped.
Bentley shrugged it off and disappeared into the bathroom. When he returned she had finished cleaning off the worst of the mess, and was leaning against the counter with her arms crossed, waiting for him.
“I’m not happy,” she said simply.
“My sincerest apologies,” Bentley said again.
“You know you’re bigger than me. Your arms are thicker than my body, for crying out loud. You need to be more careful.”
“I’m sorry. One is often a bit swift to react when one is sneaked up upon.”
There was no intent behind Bentley’s words, but Sheila clearly saw one. Her lips turned into a snarl.
“Oh, so it was my fault, was it?”
“You’re blaming me for you pushing me into the mud?”
“I said no such thing.”
“Yes you did! You said I sneaked up on you and because of that I ended up in the mud. Way to blame the victim, eh? Next time you take a whack from a Rhynoc I know it’s going to be your fault because you’re such a big, clumsy oaf!”
Bentley felt the nerves in his head begin to fray.
“Sheila, can you just calm down, please…”
“No! I’m not going to calm down, because you’re refusing to take the blame.”
“Well if I’m to blame for pushing you into the mud then you’re to blame for making me do that!”
Sheila growled, “I’m sorry?”
“If you hadn’t tried to hit me with a mudball then none of this would have happened. I will certainly take responsibility for pushing you down, but one must accept I wouldn’t have done such a thing if you hadn’t decided to act like an infant.”
“Oh, ‘cause shoving someone into a puddle is so mature, isn’t it?” She shook her head, “I don’t get why you’re being so unreasonable.”
“One could say the same thing about you.”
“What you did wasn’t my fault.”
“But the reason I did it was.”
“Urgh!” her voice rose into fury, “Why won’t you just accept it?”
“Because I’m not going to be bullied by you!” Bentley shouted back, the little house shaking under his yeti roar.
“Are you saying I bully you?”
“Right now you are.”
His accusation only succeeded in making her angrier.
“Why are you getting so worked up about this?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
“God, you’re so bloody sensitive.”
“And so are you! You’ve escalated a petty squabble about mud into this!”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying you’ve started a needless argument!”
“And you’ve kept it going!”
“And you haven’t tried to stop it either. If this is how we react to a fight about mud then Heaven help us should we argue about something important.”
“Well if you’re scared of that then maybe we shouldn’t be together!”
Silence. An unthinkable thought wrapped around the minds of the yeti and the kangaroo, throwing water on the fiery anger burning in their heads. They locked eyes for a moment, then swiftly looked away as a wave of emotion crashed over them. Guilt; shame; fear, all sinking straight to their stomachs and gnawing on them. No, it mustn’t come to that. It couldn’t come to that. They’d had far too many good times together. Lying in a boat together on Evening Lake, watching the stars; seamlessly working together as they beat up the bandits in the Dino Mines; using the cold Alp and Outpost climates as an excuse to cuddle. All of that gave them feelings of warmth, and to throw it all away over an argument about mud? In perspective it seemed silly, and they both felt like utter fools.
Bentley stole a glance at Sheila. She was pawing awkwardly at the floor with her foot, her shoulders hunched as she tried to hide the blush of embarrassment on her face. Though the mud covered most of it a few patches of deep red shone through. It inspired him to say something, reassure her and end this needless tension, but the words wouldn’t come, and any that could have her whisked away when Sheila caught him staring.
“Hmm?” she said. Timidly, a far cry from her rushing anger of just a few minutes ago. Bentley took a deep breath to buy him time to think. He had to speak now, but nothing he thought of seemed to fit. He breathed out, and it came as a desperate sigh. He just had to let his mind flow and pray whatever came out worked.
“I-I,” he stammered, “I was just thinking.”
“I-It’s just…I think you look cute with mud on your face.”
Bentley’s heart thumped. That was the best his mind could come up with? Sheila blinked at him, and then her brow furrowed. His pulse spiked, but it calmed when she followed it up with a devious smile, painting an image of a kangaroo he knew and loved.
“You think I look cute covered in mud, do you?” she said playfully, “You think being covered in freezing cold dirt makes me pretty? Well let’s see if the same can be said of you!”
She leapt at him. Her body was much smaller than Bentley’s, but the strength of her legs gave her the momentum to knock him to the floor. Laughing, she smeared her muddy paw down Bentley’s cheek, and managed to paint his other cheek as well before he finally grabbed her hands and stopped her.
They stared deeply into one-another’s eyes, breathing heavily from the sudden exhertion. Bentley let go of her arms, but instead of smearing mud she gently cupped his cheek, leaned forward and kissed him. Bentley eagerly returned it, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her tight, and when she finally broke the kiss snuggled as deep into his fur as she could go.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Me too,” he whispered back.
Sheila gratefully nuzzled his neck. Bentley gently rocked her from side to side, scooping up her tail so he could cradle her.
“That was all a bit stupid, wasn’t it?” she said.
“Indeed it was.”
She gave a small laugh. “I guess we’re not perfect.”
“Nobody is. At least we’re both smart enough to realise when what we have is more important than what we disagree on.”
“I suppose,” she tickled his chin, “You might be a big Pommie oaf, but you’re my big Pommie oaf. Come here.”
She curled her arms around his neck and squeezed him tight. Bentley was about to sink contentedly into her embrace, but a sound in his ear rudely held him back.
“Oh, the bath!” he exclaimed. He sat up, Sheila still in his arms, “I hope it’s not overflowing.”
Sheila’s ears twitched. “No, not yet. You can hear it hitting the wood if it is. I imagine it’s pretty close though.”
“Then you’d better get away and stop it.”
He set her back down on the floor, but Sheila didn’t move an inch. He stared at her in confusion.
“Aren’t you going to go and take your bath?”
“Oh, I am, it’s just I’m not the only one covered in mud anymore,” she took his hand, “And I dare say the bath is big enough for two people.”
She winked and shot him another of her devious smiles. Bentley’s face broke out into a broad grin. Laughing, he stood up and scooped Sheila up along with him. She too broke out into giggles as he carried her into the bathroom. She grabbed his head and pulled it down so she could plant a kiss on his lips. Bentley did nothing to resist, and as their lips touched he pushed the bathroom door closed.