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When she and her family vacation in Kenya's Amboseli Game Park, twelve-year-old Anika Scott and her older half-brother Rick find themselves involved in chasing some elephant poachers.
Moonlight painted stripes on the mosquito net above my bed. It was the middle of the night. I lay still and listened to the sounds of the African night. I wanted to see if I could tell what woke me up. The lion roared again.
My heart beat faster. I grinned with excitement. We were in Tsavo National Park, and there were lions in the night. I put my hands behind my head and looked up at the thatched roof. My brother Rick was here.
For the whole twelve years since I'd been born, I'd never known I had a brother. Last month I found out. Actually, Rick was really my half brother.
Sandy was excited about having a big brother. I wasn't so sure. I mean, I had liked our family just fine the way it was before. Besides, Rick wasn't even a Christian.
I twisted uneasily against the sheets and remembered what had happened in the car yesterday. Mom had been quiet for a while. Suddenly she turned around toward us and said, "I'm so sorry." There were tear marks on her face.
My insides lurched. She kept talking. "Sin hurts for so long. Don't you girls ever make the same mistake I did. The Bible is right. Sin makes pain. It seems OK at the time but it makes pain." She paused, trying to get her voice in control. I stared at my feet.
"Mom, it's OK," Sandy said desperately.
"It's not OK!" Mom said. "The only hope we have for things to be OK is God's promise. In Romans 8:28, it says that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him. I'm just holding on to that promise for all of us."
Daddy pulled the car off the road. Then he reached across to hold Mom's hand.
Mom said, "I know you're young for this, but I feel I have to tell you. I don't want you to repeat my mistake. I'm going to tell you what happened."
Sandy was staring at Mom, wide-eyed. I swallowed hard. I wanted desperately to know, but I hated this. Moms weren't supposed to have done things wrong.
Mom took a deep breath and started, "I was fifteen. Your grandfather had a hard time adjusting to having a teenage daughter. He spent a lot of time yelling at me. I felt like dirt at home. School wasn't much better. When Jim started asking me out, it made me feel better. He was one of the cute, popular guys and he noticed me. After a while he started asking me to have sex with him. I was scared to say no. I felt like if I said no, then nobody would care about me."
She paused for a long time, looking down. Daddy rubbed her shoulder. Finally she said, "When Jim found out I was pregnant, he never talked to me again."
She started to cry. "I never saw the baby. I had to give him up. It was the only thing I could do."
Daddy hugged her. After a second I crawled into the front seat. Then Sandy came too. We all sat there in a hump hugging each other.
Daddy said, "Let's pray."
He thanked God that Rick had found us. Then he asked God to make things work out so it would be good for everybody. He prayed for Rick too, but that was nothing new. He and Mom have prayed for Rick ever since they got to be Christians. For a long time they didn't even know his name. They found out his name when Rick came to find us.
Rick came when we were climbing Mount Kenya. He didn't tell anybody he was coming. That was a very weird time for us! Sandy and I didn't even know about Rick before that. I was mad. I guess I was pretty rude, too. I didn't want anybody else in the family. God helped me get things straightened out. I even decided to pray for Rick.
We never got a chance to get to know Rick while we were climbing Mount Kenya. Daddy decided he and Mom would take time off work so our family could go to the game parks, and Rick could go with us. Now we were here. Rick was sleeping in the cabin next to ours.
I stared up at the ceiling. It was so complicated. I still wasn't sure I wanted a twenty-two-year-old half brother. I turned over with a thump. My foot tangled in the mosquito net, and I shook it loose impatiently.
The lion started grunting. He sounded closer this time. Maybe it was a different lion.
"Huh! Huh! Huh!" The grunting built up to a roar that shook the air.
Sandy's bed squeaked and thumped. I looked over. She was sitting up. Her eyes were as big as saucers. Sandy is ten and she gets scared easier than I do. Her bangs were sticking straight up. That made her look even more scared.
"It's OK," I said. "The lions can't get in here."
"Shhh!" she whispered. "What if they hear you?"
The lion started to grunt again. We both held still to listen. It sounded as if he were right outside the thin wall of our cabin. Then he roared. The noise shook my insides and vibrated the bed. My muscles went stiff with excitement. A lion was right outside!
Sandy's bed was squeaking and thumping. Her sleeping bag looked like a worm with convulsions. She was crawling down to hide in the bottom of it. I stayed still, listening.
Finally the lion started to grunt again. He sounded farther away. He didn't roar. When he was quiet I said, "Sandy, you can come out. He's going away."
She didn't answer. I untucked my mosquito net and got out of bed. The concrete floor felt cool on my feet. I shook Sandy, "You can come out. You'll suffocate in there."
"Is he gone?" she asked in a muffled voice.
"Uh-huh," I said, and I jumped for my bed. We weren't supposed to go barefoot at Tsavo because of scorpions. Sandy sat up. Her hair was all over the place now.
I giggled. "Did you think that the lion wouldn't eat you in a sleeping bag sandwich if he wanted to?"
"He was close!" she said, wide-eyed. "I wonder if Rick was scared."
I grunted. I didn't feel like talking about Rick. Just thinking about him made my stomach hurt. I lay down with my back to Sandy. A nightjar called. The lion grunted again, farther off.
When I was almost asleep, I heard a door slam. Then there was a sound of running feet. I was too sleepy to wonder what was happening.
Our cabin had two rooms with a little porch in front. We ate breakfast at the table on the porch. Rick was supposed to come over from his cabin to eat breakfast with us. He hadn't come yet.
While we were eating, Dad said, "Do you know what Jesus told his disciples? In John 13:35, Jesus said, 'All people will know that you are my followers, if you love each other.'"
A brightly colored bird landed right beside my chair. It was one of the African starlings that always beg at these cabins. I threw it a bit of toast.
"Pay attention, Anika!" Mom said. "What your father is telling us is important."
I sighed and sat up straight. I could still see the bird out of the corner of my eye. It was eating the toast in quick pecks.
"Anika, what does the verse I just told you mean?" Daddy asked.
"Um, that we're supposed to love each other," I said, shrugging.
"It's more than that," Mom said. "How we get along makes a big difference to our witness."
"You mean Rick won't want to be a Christian if Anika and me fight?" Sandy asked.
Daddy laughed. "It's not quite that simple, but like the verse says, God's love should show in our actions to each other. That's what will draw Rick—God's love in action. If he doesn't see us loving each other, he will think the things we say about God's love are just a fancy lie."
"We have to love him too ... right?" Sandy asked.
"Love and accept him," Mom agreed, and she added, "but the way we treat each other is just as important."
Strong in love and built on love, I thought, remembering the verses from when we were climbing Mount Kenya. I didn't say anything. I still wasn't sure I wanted to love Rick. I looked for the bird. He was behind Mom's chair. His head tipped as he looked on the floor for crumbs.
I slid out of my chair and held out a toast crumb on my hand. The bird hopped closer. Its bright red-and-blue front glowed in the sun. I held still with my hand out. Two more birds landed and hopped toward me. The first one was almost up to my hand now. His bright, beady eyes watched me. Suddenly all the birds flew away as Rick walked onto the porch.
I watched Mom hug him and Daddy shake his hand. Sandy was right in there too. Part of me wanted to walk over and be with everybody. But I couldn't. It was like my feet were stuck to the floor.
He's handsome, I thought. Rick was taller than Daddy. His eyes were the darkest blue. He had on shorts and a T-shirt. I could see big muscles in his arms and legs.
"Quit staring, Sis, and come say hi!" Rick said, turning to me with a grin.
I ducked my head and mumbled, "Hi!"
"So, did the lions steal your voice?" he asked.
"No," I said, and frowned at him. "Why? Did they scare you?"
"Yeah, did you hear them?" Sandy burst in eagerly. "They sounded like they were right outside!"
"Hear them!" he said. "I was halfway to the outhouse when the lion roared the first time. I dodged inside and slammed the door. Something ran across my foot, and I nearly died. It was one of those little gecko lizards that live on the walls. Still, I figured I'd rather be inside with the lizards than out with the lion."
Daddy asked, laughing, "Didn't you say you were going to be a zoo vet? I thought you'd like wild animals up close."
Rick laughed too. "Give me time to get used to it. I thought I was practically in the lion's mouth the last time he roared. I sat there with the lizards for what seemed like years. Finally I heard him grunting to himself farther off. Then I made a run for it."
Mom said, "You were probably safe enough close to the cabins. People are killed by lions sometimes if they walk alone in the bush at night."
"Well, I don't intend to get into a wild lion's space," Rick said. "Last night the walls of the outhouse actually jiggled when that lion roared. I felt like a fly in a stereo speaker."
We were still giggling when we got into the car to go look for animals.
A dusty, spicy smell came in through the car windows. The lion-colored grass was dotted all over with grey thornbushes. My eyes flicked over the bush, searching for any shape that meant animal.
"Do you think we can find the lions?" Rick asked.
"There!" Sandy interrupted. "Look, giraffes."
Their long necks showed above the thornbushes.
Daddy drove closer. A big giraffe peered down at us from over a bush. His long lashes blinked over huge eyes.
Mom laughed and said, "God makes the strangest creatures."
I looked uneasily at Rick. What would he think of us talking about God? I couldn't tell if he had even heard what Mom said. He was leaning out his window taking a picture of the giraffe.
Suddenly the giraffe opened its mouth. A huge, long, purple tongue came out. It wrapped around a bunch of thorny leaves and slurped them back into the giraffe's mouth.
Rick swore softly. "Look at its tongue!" he blurted.
I'd heard people use God's name in vain before, but never a member of my family. I looked at Daddy, wondering what he'd do.
"He can see it," Daddy said.
"Huh?" Rick said. He looked puzzled.
"God's name matters to us, Rick. He is our God," Daddy explained.
Rick turned bright red. "Oh, sorry."
I squirmed in my seat. It was bad enough having Rick swear, without Dad getting on his case. I looked back at the giraffe and burst out laughing. It was staring at us in a superior way, as if it was shocked at how we were acting.
Mom and Daddy and Rick were quiet after that. I couldn't tell if they were mad or what. I was glad there were animals to look at.
Once we saw elephants far away. Up close, we saw redgold impala. Their babies looked just like Bambi. Something scared the impala. They jumped across the road in huge graceful leaps. We saw four turkey-sized ground hornbills. They had huge beaks and movie-star eyelashes. One caught a lizard and banged it with its beak to kill it.
I kept looking at Rick. Was he mad at Daddy? Sandy talked twice as much as usual. It was like she was trying to fill in the quietness.
"Look! There's a waterbuck," she said, bouncing on her seat and pointing out the window. "How come they have such long hair? Uncle Paul told me that their meat tastes terrible. How come they don't ever come in herds like impala? Impala are better. They can jump higher too. Did you ever see an impala before today, Rick?"
"Yeah, I had an old 1972 beater, but it couldn't jump very high," he answered, grinning. (Later on Daddy told me that Impala is also a kind of car.)
It was getting close to noon. The sun poured down. Even with the car windows wide open we were roasting. The shadows of the thorn trees looked like black puddles on the sun-bleached ground.
"There!" Mom said suddenly. "Ears! Under that bush."
"I see them! I see them!" Sandy said, bouncing on the seat. "It's lions!"
In the dark shadow under a thornbush, there were three pairs of round ears. Daddy drove closer. Another lion picked up its head. Three more stayed lying down flat. There were seven lions lying sprawled out like contented tomcats. One male that had only a little bit of mane reached out lazily and pawed at a lioness. She didn't even open her eyes. The lions looked contented and cuddly.
"I'd like to pet one," Mom said. "Don't they just look like they'd purr?"
We sat and watched. The only thing that moved were the flies on the lions' faces.
Rick chuckled and said, "They look laid back."
"This bunch won't move until it's cooler. I wouldn't mind getting out of the heat either," Daddy said. "We can come back and try to find the lions again this evening. Why don't we go to Kilaguni Lodge for lunch, and then to Mzima Springs?"
"All right!" Sandy and I both yelled together. We hardly ever got to go out to eat, and Kilaguni Lodge was neat.CHAPTER 2
The inside of Kilaguni Lodge was air-conditioned. When we walked in, the cool air washed over me like water. It seemed dark inside after the bright sun. Big flagstones on the floor shone dimly.
"Hazel! Kevin!" a high voice called. I spun around to see a stranger heading toward us. She was tall and pretty. She came toward us, talking the whole way. "I didn't know you were here in Tsavo," she said. "Cliff and I came down two days ago."
She hugged Mom and shook hands with Dad. Then she looked at the rest of us. "So these are your girls. Hi!" She smiled at us. "Let's see. You must be Anika," she said, nodding at me, "and you're Sandy. You were at boarding school when I met your Mom and Dad. It's nice to meet you two."
I smiled back at her. She seemed nice. A man came up behind her and put his arm around her shoulders. He wasn't cute, but he had a friendly face. She looked at him and said, "This is my husband, Cliff."
He grinned and nodded at us.
"This is Rick Shaw," Dad said, introducing Rick. "He's a vet student from Oregon who is visiting with us."
I sighed with relief. I'd been holding my breath, wondering if Daddy was going to say who Rick was.
"He's really our brother," Sandy said, smiling happily. "Well, half brother anyway."
There was a dead silence.
Sandy looked at us, then ducked her head. Rick shuffled his feet. I could feel my face get hotter and hotter. Dad and Mom looked at each other. Daddy quirked one eyebrow up in a question. Mom nodded.
"With Hazel's permission, I'll explain," he said. "This isn't a secret, but it is awkward." Then he explained who Rick was. He told how Rick found us.
"Hazel and I have been praying for him ever since we came to know the Lord," he said, then turned to look at Rick. "Both of us are glad he's here."
Rick nodded uneasily.
Mr. Geisler reached out to shake Rick's hand. "Glad to meet you."
"Thanks," Rick said.
We went in to eat with them at the restaurant. The waiter came over to take our order. Everybody ordered the buffet. Then Rick said, "I'd love a cold beer. Have you got Budweiser?" Then he looked at us, shook his head twice quickly, and said, "Um, never mind. No beer. Um ... how about a Coke?"
Mrs. Geisler had been asking me about school. She stopped when Rick ordered the beer. When Rick cancelled the order so quickly, Sandy and I giggled. Mrs. Geisler didn't. She had an odd look on her face.
I felt weird, too. It would have been better if Mrs. Geisler had said right out, "Your brother drinks!" Instead, it was like everyone was keeping a secret.
People talked. Rick even told some funny stories about vet school. It felt like a play, all fake. The Geislers went back to the buffet for dessert, and I followed them. As I came up behind them, I heard Mr. Geisler say, "His being here will hurt their witness for God. They can't possibly stay as—"
Excerpted from Ambush at Amboseli by Karen Rispin. Copyright © 1994 Karen Rispin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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