Chapter Five: Making Friends
“Wake up!” Chee sang. “Wake up!”
I swear she could go days without sleeping, Kenobi thought. Nevertheless, he surrendered to the hyperactive chion’s “wake up” call. As he got up, he brushed his back under Naomi’s chin as he stretched, then looked up and kissed her pink nose. She smiled at him warmly.
“Morning,” she said sleepily.
“Same to you,” Kenobi replied. “Chee’s up early,” he said, jerking his head back to her, his black braid swinging over his shoulder.
Naomi looked past her son to see Chee, her half-sister, bounding and whooping in an uncontrollable fit of energy. It was nothing new. Naomi turned back to Kenobi. “Did she say where she went yesterday?”
Kenobi told Naomi Chee’s story.
“I’ll have to have a talk with her,” Naomi said when Kenobi finished. She got up and strolled toward Chee, her copper hips swaying as she walked.
Kenobi watched her go before he lay down and attempted to go back to sleep.
Later, Kenobi woke in his usual manner: the birds singing, the lionesses talking about last night’s hunt… cubs talking? That was different. Kenobi saw the cubs, even Chee, talking to Garoe and attempting to get him to play. Kenobi, though a fire burned inside him, bided his time and waited until the cubs gave up and let Garoe be while they went to play.
After they were involved in their game, Kenobi stalked quickly toward Garoe, who sat under a small tree, surrounded by tall savanna grass.
Garoe gasped when he saw Kenobi narrowing his green eyes at him. He hadn’t heard him coming.
Kenobi growled in his throat. “Look,” he said in anything but a friendly tone. “Those are my friends, not your friends, though they might claim to be. I make the rules here. I was here first. So, if you don’t want to get hurt…” Kenobi paused and forced Garoe to back into the tree. “I suggest you stay out of my way… and out of my brain. Got that, small-fry?”
Garoe, confused and frightened by Kenobi’s attitude stuttered, “I—I think so. But—”
“Good,” Kenobi cut him off. “Now, get out of my way.” Kenobi rudely shoved Garoe aside and strutted past him to the other cubs, playing at the bottom of the hill. All were still playing, but Manzi.
She’d seen Kenobi with Garoe, but she hadn’t heard what was said. Whatever it was, she could see Garoe trembling with fear. Manzi thought of going to check on him when Kenobi came up to her. “Come on! Let’s go before Chee wins all the games!”
Manzi glared at him.
Manzi didn’t answer. She ran up the hill to the tree where Garoe was. Garoe had fear in his visible eye. He looked as if he were about to cry. Manzi wouldn’t allow that. She wrapped an arm around Garoe and rubbed against him gently, the way her mother did when she was upset.
Garoe rubbed against Manzi gratefully and sighed.
Manzi pulled away after a moment and looked at him. “What did Kenobi say to you? He scared you?”
Garoe looked down at the other cubs. Kenobi was watching him and Manzi. Ruka and Tibali wrestled with Taiche. Mifi and Neona lounged on opposite sides of the playing field. Garoe looked at Kenobi again. Then he looked at Manzi. “He asked me to stay out of his way.”
“Okay,” Manzi said. “Just do as he says for now. I’ll try to go to his mom later. I’m gonna play now. Wanna come?” she asked, smiling.
Garoe’s lips lifted into the smallest smile that Manzi had ever seen. “I think I will watch you.”
Manzi and Garoe went down the hill. Garoe stood at the bottom of the hill while he watched Manzi run to the others and plow into the wrestling match.
She bit Tibali’s brown ear. He yelped with surprise. “Hey, Taiche!” he called to his brother, laughing. “Give me a paw, here!”
Taiche stood off to the side next to Mifi. “Sorry, bro; you gotta learn to fend for yourself someday. I’m with the Mifster for now.”
Tibali, still laughing, told Manzi to pick on someone her own size as she started tickling his light brown underbelly. “Help, Neona!” he called, almost sarcastically.
Neona called back in an irritated tone. “Girls don’t wrestle.” She seemed to be chiding Manzi. “In fact, I’m busy right now. Even a beauty needs her beauty sleep.”
Tibali, left to his own devices, pushed Manzi off… but she came right back again.
Ruka laughed so hard, he was rolling on the grass.
Garoe turned to see Taiche and Mifi talking about something. He brought up his courage and decided to take a look.
“Hey, Mifster,” Taiche said, padding a paw into Mifi’s golden shoulder. “Do ya wanna go grab some grub? I found this stash yesterday, just over the ridge. Wanna go?”
“Pawesome!” Mifi said. “Do I ever! Let’s go!”
Taiche waited for Mifi to catch up to his side before he started walking. He was surprised when he ran into Garoe. “Uh, hi, Garoe,” he stuttered.
Mifi just smiled nervously.
Taiche decided that Garoe would get them in trouble with the lioness if he knew where they were going. The cubs weren’t supposed to leave the pride without supervision. “Hey, uh, Mifi,” Taiche said, suggestively. “Do you wanna, um, take him along?” He gestured between himself and Garoe with an extended claw.
Mifi took the hint, even though he thought Garoe was creepy. “Uh, sure.” He nodded. “Why not?”
“Where are we going?” Garoe asked.
“Follow me,” Taiche said quickly as he moved past the mud brown cub.