Family vacations are boring. Nothing interesting ever happens, Dalen thought.
A brisk spring breeze shook loose buds from tree branches. Dalen tugged at his jacket and tried to pull the zipper free. He gave it a final pull and it zipped. He tucked his fingers in pockets and wriggled them about to get warm.
“Honey bunny, come here.” His mom motioned. “Sweetheart, look at the baby giraffe.”
Embarrassed to be called such names at the age of fifteen, Dalen checked to make sure no one had overheard, before he dragged himself closer to the fence.
“Isn’t it adorable?” his mom cooed. “See, aren’t you glad you came to zoo with the family today?”
“I didn’t have a choice,” he mumbled, half-way hoping his mother would hear, but also not wanting to hurt her feelings, he added, “Yeah, that’s cool.”
His dad picked up Dalen’s six-year brother and hoisted him up on his shoulders. “Dalen, do you want to take William to see the big cats? Your mom and I are going to go stand in that long line to get some lunch. We’ll bring the food back and meet you two at the tables near the tigers.”
Dalen rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure. But only if I get French fries with my cheeseburger.”
His dad laughed. “Anything else, mister grumpy?” He set William on the ground. “Try to have a little fun. And be nice to your little brother.”
With hunched shoulders, Dalen grabbed William’s hand and led him down “Big Cat Row.”
Perhaps because of being a weekday, there weren’t many visitors at the zoo.
Lions yawned and napped in the sun. A cheetah lounged under the camouflage of a bushy tree. Two leopards licked their paws and groomed one another.
At last, they reached the final exhibit, the tigers. Occupying the large secluded pen, the black-and-orange striped felines couldn’t be viewed from the pathway. Instead, there was a side walkway that branched off toward a couple of benches.
“I’m tired.” William groaned. “Can’t we sit down?”
More than happy to take a break, Dalen agreed.
“Where are the tigers? I want to see the tigers.”
Dalen sighed. “I don’t know. Just look for them.”
“I can’t see them. Show me. I want to see tigers. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please.”
“Be quiet or I’ll feed you to the tigers!” Seeing the pout and teary eyes, Dalen regretted yelling at the little brother who idolized him, followed him around everywhere, and even imitated him. “Come on, I got to go to bathroom. Let’s go.”
“No, I don’t want to. I don’t have to go.”
“Well, I need to go. It’s just over there.” Dalen pointed. “Let’s go now.”
“You can’t make me.”
“Fine, you stay here and I’ll be right back.”
“No, don’t leave me,” William whimpered. Then he kicked Dalen in the leg. “You’re mean.”
Dalen punched William in the arm. “Jerk.”
“I’m telling on you. I’m telling dad that you hit me. And you’ll get in big trouble if you leave me here alone.”
“I can’t wait any longer. I have to go to the bathroom. Nothing’s going to happen.” More out of fear of punishment rather than remorse, Dalen added, “I’ll buy you an ice cream. Then will you stay put for a minute?”
He grabbed his little brother’s hand and dragged him around the corner to an ice cream vender. Even though the snack was overpriced, Dalen pulled his allowance money out of his wallet.
Within moments, they were back in front of the tiger cage. William licked the vanilla as it dripped around the sides.
“Now, sit here,” Dalen said. “I’ll be back.”
Satisfied that his little brother would stay put, Dalen walked away. He had noticed a group of cute girls his age back at the lion den and he wanted to check them out on the way to the restroom.
As he passed the leopards, he heard a terrifying scream. He turned to listen. Another scream followed a ferocious roar. Dalen ran in the direction of the chaos.
His chest heaving from the sprint, he stood in view of the bench. William jumped on the bench, tears rolling down his cheeks. A tiger pawed in the air, only inches from Dalen’s little brother. The tiger’s whiskers twitched as he leaned in toward the ice cream cone.
“Give him the ice cream!” Dalen yelled. “Throw it!”
Launched from William’s hands, the cone flew through the air. The tiger leapt after it.
Before Dalen could think of his next move, zookeepers appeared and shot the tiger with a couple of darts. The large mound of orange and black flesh and fur crumbled to the ground. Another zookeeper rushed the boys out of the way.
William ran into Dalen’s arms. Dalen picked him up and carried him over to the picnic benches at the other end of the walkway.
“I’m so sorry,” Dalen said. “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad I left you alone. I promise I’ll never leave you alone again. I love you.”
William wiped his eyes.
After they had fifteen minutes to calm down, they spotted their parents carrying trays of food.
Their dad came over and ruffled Dalen’s hair. “Hey, big guy. Your mom and I were talking about it, and if you two are really bored, then we can go home.”
William and Dalen exchanged a glance.
“No, it’s okay,” Dalen said. “The zoo isn’t so boring after all.”