In their sleepy little corner of suburban Saint Canard, there is no family in the neighborhood hated more than the Mallards.
Drake Mallard was an unpleasant duck with an ego that could have rivaled Darkwing Duck’s and none of the skills to back it up. His hellion daughter caused more trouble with her street hockey and energy than even most bullies in the neighborhood. And then there was Launchpad McQuack, who would have been a welcome addition on his own, but his rose-tinted adoration of his roommate Drake turned him into an amplifier and enabler of Mr. Mallard’s ego.
Most of the neighborhood counted down the days to when that family might move out when they finally took the hint that no one wanted them here.
The Muddlefoots knew better, and couldn’t have asked for a better set of neighbors.
“How ya’ doing, Drakey?” Herb asked, waving over his hedge fence. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Sure, Herb,” Drake muttered under his breath.
Herb’s neighbor avoided all eye contact, glaring at the newspaper in his hands. Taking a glance at his own, Herb noted the front cover with Darkwing Duck and his two biggest fans standing in front of him— Gosalyn and Launchpad. No wonder Drake was in such a foul mood.
Herb would be worried sick too if his kids were running around with super heroes. With a daughter as creative and outgoing as Gosalyn and such long work hours, Herb couldn’t even blame Drake for not being able to keep her in the house.
Herb grinned and leaned over the fence. “Binkie and me were planning to have a movie marathon this afternoon while the kids were at a birthday party. Care to join us?”
“Thanks for the offer but I can’t. I have a desk that needs reorganizing and a couch to fix after Gos tested her newest hockey gear on it,” Drake said. He rolled the paper up and walked back toward the house. The mumbled, “I’ve got enough torture to deal with thank you” under his breath was barely audible.
Nothing Herb hadn’t heard before.
“Let me know if you change your mind!” He called out after Drake, ever the optimist.
It wasn’t as if the Muddlefoots weren’t aware that Drake Mallard was a prickly individual that was unpleasant to be around at the best of times.
It was just that as his direct neighbors, they got to see a different side of Drake. They knew things about him the rest of the community refused to put into the big picture that was the Mallard family.
To start, where most people saw a lenient dad with an out-of-control kid, The Muddlefoots saw a brand new single parents struggling to raise a troubled child all by himself.
Binkie set her empty casserole tray down on the counter. She’d meant it as a housewarming gift for the new neighbors to last the week, but she had severely underestimated how much Mr. Mallard’s roommate and daughter could eat!
They’d completely devoured the dish before even Mr. Mallard could get a piece after needing to take a quick phone call.
If she’d known that, she would have made the portion she normally made for Herb and Tank instead of her regular sized one.
“What’s got you looking so down, sweet pea?” Herb asked, sticking his finger in the pan. He wiped up a glob off the side and stuck it in his mouth. “They clearly liked your cooking—who wouldn’t? So what happened?”
“Oh, Herb,” Binkie said, giggling. She tapped the chair next to her and he sat down. She put her elbows on the table and dropped her shoulders. “Did you know Mr. Mallard adopted that little girl four days ago?”
“No kidding?” Herb said. He crossed his arms and hummed. “I never would have guessed. And he only moved in six days ago, so he must have bought a house here for her.”
“That’s what I think,” Binkie said.
“But why does that have you looking so down?”
“I feel a little bad that I know,” Binkie said. She patted down the bottom of her dress and sighed. “I saw the adoption paperwork on the kitchen table before he cleared it off for the casserole. I didn’t mean to read it, but it was hard not to.”
“You think he wants to hide it or something?” Herb asked. “Why would he want to do that?”
“I think Gosalyn might be sensitive about it,” Binkie said. “She calls him ‘Dad’ so naturally and so easy for someone that’s only been adopted for a few days that it makes me wonder how they met each other. I think she’s really proud no one would be the wiser that those two weren’t blood related if they didn’t know better.”
“Maybe,” Herb said. He leaned over and kissed Binkie on the cheek. “But don’t you worry, sweetie. They’ll tell us on their own if they want us to know, and in the meantime, we’ll keep it to ourselves.”
“Thanks, Herb,” Binkie said. She picked up her tray and took it to the sink. “I think I’m going to make them a pie for tomorrow, though.”
“Yes,” Binkie said. She brushed her hands on her apron and smiled. “While his house is certainly clean enough, I think that house could use a little motherly touch with two bachelors hanging around. I saw a few cookbooks in his kitchen, but none of them had desserts.”
“I bet they’ll love it.” Herb said. He grinned and held up his fingers. “As long as you make three? You know I love your pie, too.”
“Of course,” Binkie said. She paused and thought of her casserole dish and how fast that disappeared. “On second thought, I think I’ll make eight. You can never have too much pie!”
“That’s my girl!” Herb laughed.
It was easy to mistake Drake Mallard for an uncaring individual (aside from the rare exception of his daughter, of whom he doted on rather liberally and even the neighborhood had to give him that). He lived off snide remarks, forced smiles, and had an occasional vicious streak that made a few of them wonder if his side job was as a super villain.
Herb Muddlefoot recognized a lonely man with little social experience when he saw one.
“Herb Muddlefoot,” Drake said, shoulders lowering and brow twitching. “What brings you here?”
“Just stopping by to say hello, neighbor!” Herb said. He invited himself in and was happy to hear Honker and Gosalyn playing in the backyard through the open windows. “Thought I’d drop by and see how you were doing before I picked Honker up for dinner.”
“You shouldn’t have,” Drake said, slamming the door a little hard after Herb when he walked in. “Would you like a drink while I go get them?”
“Nope, I’m good,” Herb said, sitting on the couch as Drake slammed open his kitchen door and disappeared toward the back.
You met a lot of people selling Quackerware door-to-door. It gave you a good insight into a whole slew of different sorts of people from the super social to the shut ins. And most of them were more than happy to talk about their lives, for better or worse, to the friendly salesman trying to help organize their kitchens.
Herb Muddlefoot would bet every dime he’d ever earned that Drake Mallard was bullied something fierce when he was a kid and a teenager; he just had too much of an over-compensating vibe for someone that good looking.
He was probably a duckling that grew into himself too late to realize all the good things he had going for him.
When that sort of thing plagued your youth, it was easy to turn into a lonely, bitter man trying to make it work on his own.
Why didn’t he just assume Drake was a straight-up jerk like the rest of the neighborhood?
Because Drakey at least made an attempt to be polite. All his pleasantries were through gritted teeth, forced out like they were painful, but he tried. Whether it was for the sake of his daughter who was so very fond of Herb’s own little Honker, or because he knew it was the right thing to do, Drake made an effort.
You didn’t make attempts to be social and try to avoid hurting people’s feelings, even if you disliked them, if you were a complete jerk. It just wasn’t done.
So what if Drake Mallard didn’t like Herb Muddlefoot and his family yet? Relationships took time, and considering Drake only had one friend, he must have been hurt something bad. That sort of trauma was hard to break through, he’d learned.
“Here he is, Honker ready to go for dinner,” Drake said, pushing Honker lightly on the back. He grabbed Herb’s arm next, tugging him off the couch with a shove to his back. They were both out the door while Drake spit out, “Went and got him just like I said. Hope you two have a good evening, and goodnight!”
The door slammed behind them booth, and Herb worried for Drake’s doorframe (he wasn’t very good with handy duck stuff, and it wasn’t safe to have a broken front door!).
“Did you have fun playing with Gosalyn, Honker?” Herb asked as they both walked home.
His boy pushed his glasses up. “Yeah. She got a new set of hockey gear after the last set uh, broke.”
Herb ruffled the top of his boy’s head. “Glad to hear. Now let’s get home and see what your mom’s made for dinner.”
“Um,” Honker said, shifting a little. “Do you think we could bring some leftovers to the Mallard’s house?”
“Oh? Why, son?” Herb asked.
“It’s just that, Mr. Mallard’s had to work late these past few nights and Launchpad’s commuting to Duckberg this week,” Honker said. “Mom always makes so much, and I think he could use a break from cooking dinner, that’s all. Whenever he gets stressed like this, he tends to resort to peanut butter sandwiches and Gosalyn was already complaining about it before you got here.”
“Of course we can share dinner with them,” Herb said. He hugged Honker close and grinned. “That’s my boy! Always thinking of others. You make me so proud.”
“Aw, shucks,” Honker said. “Thanks, Dad.”
Herb really was proud, and he knew this would make Binkie’s night, too! She loved making food for the neighbors. It helped her know they were eating right!
Besides, even if Drake was never happy to see Herb, everyone was happy to see one of Binkie’s dishes!
The more you got to know Drake Mallard, the easier it was to see that the man had self esteem issues a mile long.
No one who wanted to be that praised that much (whether it be for a sprinkler system or just that he fixed anything) was confident in themselves, no matter how haughty they may act.
Binkie had figured out a long time ago that it was pretty specifically Herb that ruffled Drake’s feathers the wrong way.
He was indifferent to Tank, and he obviously had a soft spot for Honker, so he had no problems with either of them. As for Binkie, Drake was never super happy to see her when she showed up unannounced, but the smiles weren’t nearly as forced and the walls of defense weren’t nearly as high as they were when Herb was around.
She was disliked by association with her husband, mostly.
In the half a year that she’d known Drake and his daughter, she’d learned a few things about him: He was amazing at housework and simple cooking (when he had the energy for it, the poor overworked, dear), was a fantastic father, and absolutely lousy at any sort of home improvement project.
Worse yet, he was too proud to let Launchpad help him, so most of his attempts at fixing up the house outside of cleaning, ended up in rather glorious disasters.
Considering her Herb not only was a master around the house, but kept the best lawn in the neighborhood for ten years running, it was easy to see how Drake might get a little jealous of that part alone.
Herb was also well liked, successful with a job he loved, and still had free time for hobbies—the icing on the jealousy cake.
However, when Binkie came over by herself, she saw a slightly softer side of Drake Mallard that didn’t want to shove her and her husband out the door as fast as possible.
“So, what brings you over today, Binkie?” Drake said, setting down a glass of juice. “Gosalyn didn’t break anything, did she?”
Binkie giggled into her hand and shook her head. “Oh, no! She and Honker are doing homework upstairs. They’re being perfectly well behaved.”
“How’d you manage that miracle?” Drake snorted, sipping his own drink. “I have to practically bribe her to get her to even open the book.”
“It helps when it’s her best friend insisting over her father, I’d imagine,” Binkie said. She took her glass and spun it. “But if you’re wondering why I dropped by, I was just wondering if you wanted help for your part of the bake sale. I know desserts aren’t your strong suit and a hundred brownies can be quite a lot!”
“Bake sale?” Drake said, putting down his glass. “What bake sale?”
“The big one coming up at the end of the week they’re having down at the convention center? The whole school is participating in the fundraiser. They announced it at the start of the month,” Binkie said. Drake’s face fell and he covered it with his hand. Binkie winced. “Did Gosalyn not tell you?”
“No, no, she did not,” Drake said. “Me and that little lady are going to have a conversation when she comes home.”
“Oh, don’t be too hard on her,” Binkie said. “I’m sure it just slipped her mind.”
“Yeah, like every other teacher’s note she gets sent home with,” Drake sighed. In a rare moment of vulnerability, he sipped his water and opened up. “You know I’m called into the office at least twice a week for some stunt she’s pulled? It’s like she wants to get expelled.”
“That must be difficult,” Binkie said. She’d heard one or two of those accounts first hand from Honker and Tank. And she thought she had her hands full with her oldest son and his bullying! “At least the school seems supportive of helping her out.”
“For now,” Drake said, slumping in his chair.
Binkie reached across the table and patted him on the back. “Maybe showing up with extra double-fudge, chocolate chip brownies will help win some, dare I say it, brownie points with the school officials? They’re my speciality, you know.”
Drake snorted, showing off one of the first real smiles she’d ever seen on that duck. “I might borrow the recipe.”
“I’ll help with the first batch,” Binkie said, standing up. She tightened her apron and headed into the kitchen. “Get a notebook.”
“Hey!” Drake said, squawking. “I don’t need help baking!”
He scrambled after her, complaining and grumbling the whole time, but reluctantly let Binkie help him make the brownies. No one was complaining when they had their first test batch ready when Gosalyn and Honker came back to the Mallard home, either.
Drake Mallard came to every single event that he was invited to by Herb Muddlefoot if he knew about it ahead of time. Sure, he turned down most sporadic invitations, but if it was a event with a set date like a birthday party, or a neighborhood get together, he’d show up.
Drake always looked like he hated being there, but it was hard to miss that softened look of fondness he’d get watching Gosalyn and Honker play together.
Considering what a crazy work schedule Drake had, The Muddlefoots weren’t sure the rest of the neighborhood knew what a big deal it was that he made time to show up.
“You’re looking a little under the weather there, Drake,” Herb said. He noted the hour and the slump of his neighbor’s shoulders as he trudged up the porch. Drake yawned loudly into his hands, and the bags under his eyes were unmistakable. “Are you doing okay?”
“Long night,” Drake said, slamming his key into the lock. “I’m going to bed.”
“Night,” Herb said, knowing full well it was nine in the morning on a Saturday, and that Drake would have to be up in a couple hours to go to Gosalyn’s field hockey game (that Herb was taking Honker to as well; he should probably see if they wanted to drive together later).
Drake must have worked all night again at that job of his. Herb still hadn’t wrangled out of the duck what he did for a living, but it must have been exhausting to have such unpredictable hours.
It was no wonder Gosalyn and Launchpad had all that free time to follow around Darkwing Duck when Drake had to work so much.
Herb had hinted at other jobs that were hiring once or twice, but the papers were always shoved back in his face with a “Thank you, but no thank you.”
There was only so much pride a duck could have!
But, Herb also admired it a bit. He wouldn’t trade his own Quackerware job for anything, but Drake must really like his job if he put himself through heck and back for it.
Maybe he was in the secret service, which was why he couldn’t talk about it?
Herb looked across the yard at Drake collapsing into his chair though a window.
Nah, that wasn’t it.
It was more likely he had a lousy office job that had him at their beck and call and no way out on his own and didn’t trust anyone else enough to help him escape.
Well, Herb was still whittling away at Drake’s friendship, so maybe once he was there he could help find the guy a better job, too.
Most importantly, though, Launchpad McQuack loved Drake and Gosalyn Mallard more than any other ducks in the world.
If a guy like that could see past Drake’s mean exterior to see the good guy down deep, well Herb and Binkie Muddlefoot wouldn’t stop looking for it either.
“Gee, Mrs. Muddlefoot, this is the best cake I’ve ever tasted! Even better than last time,” Launchpad said, eating a slice right off the plate with his hands. “Drake’s gonna’ love it.”
The portion he’d saved for Drake was on the table, neatly wrapped and separated so that the hungry hands wouldn’t get to it.
“I’d say he’d be upset he didn’t get to eat it fresh, but I doubt he would have given up chaperoning Gosalyn on her school trip for it,” Launchpad laughed. He grinned and reached for another slice. Binkie was glad she had made extra! “He’s been looking forward to this trip to the museum since she told him about it.”
“Probably because she actually told him about it,” Binkie said, slicing fixing up a small jar of extra icing. Gosalyn tended to steal her dad’s portion, and she noticed that was his favorite part. Maybe with more to go around they’d both get some! “Unlike the bake sale.”
“Whoo boy, don’t remind me about that,” Launchpad said. He snorted and tugged his hat. “I got such an earful about that since Gosalyn only told me.”
“She told you?” Binkie said, stopping what she was doing. “Why didn’t she tell her father?”
“Gosalyn didn’t want to bother him with it,” Launchpad said. He fixed his scarf, tugging on the end. “He’s always so busy she didn’t want to add baking a hundred brownies on top of everything else. So, she asked me to help instead. Drake’s so bad about overworking himself, I sort of agreed to keep it on the downlow.”
“While I’m sure he appreciates the thought,” Binkie said, “he probably felt left out.”
“Yeah, we figured that out, pretty quick,” Launchpad said. He ate his cake slower. “But that’s why Gosalyn asked him immediately this time when she found out they needed chaperones. He was so happy, you should have seen him.”
“I’ll bet,” Binkie said. She screwed the lid on the extra icing and put it with the small take out quackerware tub with Drake’s cake. “I hope to hear all about it from Honker, myself.”
“You bet, Mrs. Muddlefoot,” Launchpad said. He looked at his watch and got up from the table. “Thanks for the cake! I gotta’ go clean do the tune ups for the Thunderquack while I can.”
“Does Drake mind that you’re always running off to be Darkwing’s sidekick? I imagine that worries him as much as when Gosalyn sneaks out,” Binkie asked. She’d always wondered, but never wanted to ask around Drake. This seemed like as good a chance as any. “It seems so dangerous.”
“Dangerous is Darkwing Duck’s middle name!” Launchpad said with a hand in the air. He pulled it back down and fixed his jacket. “Getting to be his sidekick is an honor!”
Binkie noticed he dodged the main part of the question.
“As long as you stay safe,” Binkie said.
“Always,” Launchpad said. “I’ll see you later. Thanks for the cake!”
She waved as Launchpad headed out the door, forgetting the cake for Drake on the counter.
“So many forgetful men around here,” Binkie said. She picked up the small package and set it back on the counter. She’d have Herb take it over later when the kids got back from their trip.
Even though she knew Launchpad cared about Drake and Gosalyn, it was somehow easy to forget there was a third Duck that took up a good chunk of his affection, too.
Ah well, if Launchpad put Drake Mallard on the same pedestal that he put Darkwing Duck (forgotten cake aside), she shouldn’t be too worried.
The majority of the neighborhood hated the Mallards.
But they didn’t know the family the way the Muddlefoots did.
So if the Muddlefoots had made it their priority to include the Mallards as much as possible as welcome members of the community and valued friends, the rest of the neighborhood could learn to deal with it.
It’s just what good neighbors did!
“I’m glad you came, too, Dad,” Gosalyn said under her breath as Drake hung his coat by the door. Herb did his best not to look like he could hear her whispering. “I know you don’t like this sort of thing, but it means a lot to Honker.”
“I’m sure it does,” Drake said, just as quiet with a smirk on his face. “Company means Tank can’t torture him at the dinner table.”
“And tonight his mom’s making his favorite,” Gosalyn said, grabbing her dad’s hand. “So I bet he’s extra thankful.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” Drake muttered before raising his voice, “Herb! Nice to see you.”
“Nice to see you too, good buddy!” Herb said. Gosalyn had already dashed off to sit with Honker, and he saw good things in the future for those two. Which meant it was more important than ever to get along with the might-be-a-future-in-law. Herb slapped Drake on the back and pushed him toward the table. “Have a seat! Binkie’s just about to serve.”
“I can’t wait,” Drake said. He leaned on the table, body slumped and face strained in his usual tight smile.
It loosened just a touch when Binkie put down a plate of fresh veggies and fish cooked to perfection.
It had fallen into a genuine smile by the end of dinner as the family listened to Gosalyn and Honker talk about their latest adventure tagging behind Darkwing Duck.
It had been hard work getting Drake involved with their little family, but seeing him this relaxed and happy made Herb know it was all worth it.