Half an hour later found Andi glaring at a sweaty palomino mare drinking her fill from the watering hole in the north pasture. The hot August sun beat against Andi’s back and she was red as a strawberry.
“Taffy, why didn’t you listen to me?” she groaned. “This is where the boys found the cougar tracks this morning. They’re going to kill me when they find out I came out here!”
Taffy ignored her and continued to drink from the water, then lifted her head up and stuck her tongue out at Andi.
Andi couldn’t help it, she burst out laughing and haltered up the horse. “You silly girl. Come on, let’s get out of here before we run into any trouble.”
Andi decided that since it was such a long walk back to the ranch she might as well ride, she would be in enough trouble as it was when they found out she’d disobeyed. Unless of course they haven’t realized I’m gone yet. Fat chance of that.
Leading the mare over to a rock, Andi tied the halter rope like a pair of reins and hopped onto Taffy’s back, settling in and then cuing her horse to a walk.
She was about to turn Taffy onto the trail that led through the treed area when Andi caught sight of the tracks her brothers had been ranting about. She reined Taffy in and stared at the tracks, her mouth dropping open. Chad was not kidding, this cat is HUGE! Andi couldn’t imagine a cougar this big. She’d only seen one or two in her life, the first one when she’d been out with Justin riding towards town and second one was when Mitch shot it and brought it home.
Taffy put her head down and smelled the tracks, then locked her feet in place and froze, her head up and her ears straight forward. “Yeah Taffy, I know,” Andi murmured, stroking Taffy’s neck as she stared at the tracks. “That’s gotta be one mean ol’---"
She should have been paying attention to what Taffy was staring at.
Before she even knew what was happening Taffy reared up and took off towards the trees, dumping Andi right then and there next to the water.
“Taffy come back!” Andi screamed, leaping up as she saw the last glimpse of the palomino’s tail as she faded from view. Snap. A stick broke.
Andi whirled around back towards the water and gasped. Her heart nearly stopped as she stared into the eyes of the biggest cat she’d ever seen. A lion.
Andi couldn’t move. She couldn’t scream, she couldn’t cry, she could barely breath! Her sister Melinda told her once about what a lion looked like after she’d been to a circus with Justin, but what was a lion doing on the Carter ranch?
The lion stood less than four feet away from Andi, licking his lips and staring up at her. His mane was a tan blackish color and his eyes were yellow. His body was colored just like a mountain lion but he was built much thicker.
Andi didn’t know what to do. Should she run? Should she yell for help? Oh dear God, she closed her eyes and prayed, please help me. I’m scared and I don’t know what to do, I feel like I’m Daniel in the lion’s den and this lion may want to eat me. Send your angels to protect me and keep me safe.
Somehow, even though she didn’t know what to do about this cat who might attack her at any given second, Andi felt better. She opened her eyes and squealed, falling backwards and landing on the ground with a thud.
The lion stood right over her, his face almost inquisitive as he bent down to sniff her.
Andi didn’t move, she held her breath and let the lion nose her. He is so big! She couldn’t get over how huge he was, he had to have been at least three or four feet tall!
She clenched her fists shut and hoped he didn’t sense her fear as he sniffed her face. Oh please don’t bite me! Her heart pounded against her chest as she remained still.
What happened next was the last thing she expected.
He licked her.
“Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed in a whisper as he lay on her lap, his weight making it impossible for her to get up. “Oh my goodness! What are you doing, lion?”
The huge cat rubbed his head against her and rolled onto his back, still pinning her to the ground.
Andi wasn’t sure if she should laugh or cry as the truth dawned on her. “Why you’re tame, aren’t you?” she asked. She reached out with a trembling hand and stroked the lion’s mane, and he head butted her hand in an affectionate manner. “My goodness, I can’t believe this!”
Thoughts raced through her mind. “So the cougar tracks Chad found weren’t cougar tracks at all, they were your tracks, boy! Where did you come from anyways?”
The lion continued to rub her and then stood up, shaking his mane. Andi took the opportunity to slip out from underneath him and stand.
She was much more confident now and ran her fingers through the lion’s mane. She was no longer scared but excited. How often did a twelve-year-old girl in California get the chance to pet a lion?
Suddenly Andi stopped petting the lion as a new thought was introduced in her mind. “Wait a second, that means you killed those cows!” she cried. “How could you!”
As if to prove he wasn’t capable of such violence the lion licked Andi’s hand.
“Well, I guess you didn’t have anything else to eat.” She sighed. “But you better not do that again or Chad will shoot you.”
The name Chad reminded Andi that the whole ranch was probably out looking for her now. “Well Mr. Lion, I should go now. I’ll have to tell my brothers about you so we can catch you and find whoever tamed you. A circus just went through town, maybe you came from there? Anyways I gotta go.”
Andi breathed a prayer of thanks to God that he’d kept her safe and gave the giant cat one last pat. She turned around to leave and got no farther than the woods before she realized the lion was following her.
“No no, you need to stay here.” She told him.
The lion yawned and rubbed his head on Andi again, nearly toppling her over.
Andi petted him again and started walking away once more, only to find the lion did not intend to leave her. “What’s the matter boy? I need to go home so I can tell the boys about yo…”
Andi’s voice trailed off as an idea popped into her head. Why not show the boys the lion instead! After all he seemed pretty tame and he wouldn’t stop following her, might as well get some fun out of this!
“This is going to be the biggest surprise I’ve ever pulled off!” Andi told the lion. “Just wait until they see you!”