Chapter 58: Goodbye
It only took Tempest a moment to decide. She looked up at Mani with her ice blue eyes. His expression was unreadable.
She looked at her parents now and said, "I'm going home with you. I know I'm old enough to live without my parents, but I don't think I ever could. I love you all too much." Tempest nuzzled her mom and dad. "And you runts too." She teased, ruffling Koru's hair with her paw. Dayya playfully swatted her sister's arm and laughed. Her parents smiled at her. Tempest turned to look at Mani again. She had tears in her eyes, but Mani had the same blank expression.
"I'm sorry, Mani…I love you but… I could never part from my family."
"That's okay, Tempest. Because I'm going with you." he said simply.
Tempest's eyes lit up and her ears rose high. "Really?"
"Of course." he stepped toward her and wiped a tear off her cheek with his muzzle. "If your parents will allow me to join their pride, that is." Mani's yellow eyes darted up to Tome and Vitani. They were smiling.
"We'll be glad to have you." The black manned lion said. Mani and Tempest beamed, and nuzzled each other.
Jayden ran as fast as she could without stopping.
"This can't be happening… this can't be happening!" she chanted in her mind.
She didn't know where she was going or who she wanted to see. Of course she needed to speak to Dark, but she had no idea how to tell him she was leaving.
"I'm leaving…" she thought. "Probably forever! What am I going to do?" Tears flowed down her cheek like a powerful stream or drenching rain. If her tears were the rain, then her heart was the dark, heavy clouds. She was heartbroken all over again, too soon after being neatly mended.
"This isn't fair!" she screamed in her head as she made it to Pride Rock. She bounded up the steps and burst inside the cave. She passed some lionesses who looked at her strangely, but she ignored their stares. She went to a bed someone left of soft grass and flopped on it belly first. Paws covered her eyes and she sobbed.
"What am I going to do!" she thought again. "This is stupid! Why am I being forced to leave? How am I going to live without Dark?"
A dozen scenarios of how to avoid leaving or otherwise convince her mother to let her stay flashed through her mind. Each one had one flaw or another. She thought of running away, then coming back after her parents left without her, but Jayden knew they could easily track her. She thought then, she and Dark could run away together, but Vitani's words come to her, You are still a cub.
"It's true… I still need an adult… I can't hunt for myself and Dark yet. God, why'd this have to happen now?"
The dark brown cub lay there with her paws over her eyes, crying quietly for a long time.
Kivu waited outside the cave's mouth for her the entire time.
A couple hours later, the cub emerged. Her eyes were red and puffy and her fur stuck up at odd angles, probably from tossing in the bed.
"Hey." Kivu said to her. She only acknowledged her with a glance. "I'm sorry." he said simply and genuinely, implying her predicament. She sighed, looking much older than she was.
"I can't avoid it." was all she said. She had come to the hopeless conclusion she had no choice but to go with her parents back to their first home. There was no way around it.
"You should see your friends." Kivu suggested. Jayden nodded and padded away to find them. Kivu went off to find Vitani to let her know her cub was better now and wasn't going to try running off.
Jayden padded slowly toward the shady underside of Pride Rock. There, Sanai was babysitting Zuna, Zula, Malowa, Clous and Dark. The noticeably larger stomached lionesses, Tamani and Tikana were resting nearby too.
The cubs were playing quietly. Even Dark seemed playful today. Jayden just sat at a distance for a while. She hated to have to ruin Dark's good mood with the bad news. The terrible news… She thought, and she felt the prickled of tears in her eyes again as she saw Dark smile hugely as he pounced on Clous's tail. He turned on the black cub and with an angry expression, lashed out with a sheathed paw.
Zuna and Zula then jumped on the dark orange cub and he groaned loudly. Dark laughed so loud then, it almost made Jayden's heart stop.
"I'll never see that again…" Jayden thought, crying.
Suddenly, as if he felt her presence, Dark's eyes turned on Jayden. Her heart danced when their eyes met, but then he died when she remembered her heart would never dance again after tomorrow.
Dark saw the look on her face even from that far away, and he trotted over to her quickly. Cloud and the others stayed put, continuing to play-wrestle.
"Jayden, what's wrong? What's happened?" he said, concern dripping in his grey-blue pools of eyes.
"Has Dayya been by?" she asked.
"No. Why? Is she missing?"
"No, no. Not anything like that."
"Then what, Jayden? You look like you've been crying."
"Well um…I have bad news…can we go for a walk?" she said.
"Let me tell Sanai." Dark dashed off toward where Malowa's mother lay watching. The cubs were still playing.
"Sanai, is it okay for me to go on a walk with Jayden for just a minute? We'll stay close and I'll come back quickly."
Sanai looked at the tall cub with her soft yellow eyes. "Well if you were one of the younger cubs, I wouldn't let you, but you're not. And you're going with Jayden, so go ahead. But be back within a reasonable amount of time, or I'll come looking for you."
"Thank you." he dashed off. As he passed his friends, who watched him now, and he murmured, "Be right back."
As he re-joined Jayden's side, they began walking away.
"We need to go somewhere where we'll be alone." Jayden said, leading the way.
They quickly walked to their favorite tall grassy area. Jayden was almost taller than the grass now.
"Hey, this is our fun spot." Dark said with a playful grin. Jayden couldn't help but giggle. This was one of the only places they got to be close. Dark closed the distance between them and nuzzled Jayden. She breathed in his scent deeply, putting it to memory. It was soft like grass and rain.
"Tell me why you were crying." he said.
She swallowed hard, not knowing how to say it.
I'm leaving you forever… Came to her mind bluntly.
He moved back when she didn't say anything, so he could look her in the eyes.
"Tell me." he said gently.
More tears welled up in her eyes and she looked down, still unable to move her mouth.
He nuzzled her cheek, "Tell me, Jay." he whispered.
"I …um…" was all she could say.
"Do I have to tickle it out of you?" he teased.
"I think I do."
She began to smile. "No."
He touched his paw to her ticklish belly and she pulled away, giggling. "No!"
Encouraged by her grin, he moved close and tickled her belly again. She yelped and pulled away. Soon, he was chasing her about the tall grass and she was running, laughing. It felt so good to prance about and play with the boy she loved. She pretended they could play like this forever so she could have a short moment of joy.
Dark caught up to Jayden and pounced on her. She turned belly up and tried to push him away, but he was heavy.
"Gotcha!" he began tickling her.
"Nooo!" She wailed and laughed loudly.
"You give up?" he said, smiling.
"Never!" she struggled to get him off, but the tickling made it hard.
"Okay then…" he kept tickling. Her sides felt like they were about to burst, so she put one giant effort and pushed with all four paws with an 'oomph.' Dark was flung from Jayden and landed hard on the grass. It folded underneath him.
"Haha!" she said, prancing over to him. "Gotcha."
He didn't move.
"Come on, don't play that. I can tell you're faking." she said standing over him. He still didn't move. She licked him on the cheek, but still nothing. Still unconvinced, she began tickling his belly.
He opened his eyes and started to laugh and tried to swat away her paws, but she was fast.
"There you are!" Jayden said triumphantly, still tickling. "Did you think I would keep kissing you til that revived you?" she teased.
"I had hoped!" he said between laughs. She giggled too and after a moment, stopped tickling. He panted and caught his breath as she flopped down on her back. He lay beside her, nuzzling her shoulder.
"We should tell everyone about us." he said suddenly. "So we don't have to hide when we want to be close like this."
Jayden's heart sank again. Not yet… she told herself. I don't want to tell him yet.
Her more responsible voice answered, You've played long enough. It's time he knew.
Jayden sighed. "There would be no point for us to do that."
Dark pushed himself up on his shoulders to look in her eyes. His eyes reflected hurt. They both stood now.
"Why?" he asked simply.
"It's…what I came here to tell you…" she gulped. Go away, tears… she told her eyes. "We…I mean… my parents… well they…" she heaved a huge sigh. This was hard to say, but she had to force it out, now. "They want to go home. Where I was born. And my parents are making me go with them."
"Like a visit? Then you'll be back soon?" Dark said and Jayden's heart was breaking.
"No. We're staying there."
Dark seemed to be getting it now as the meaning of her words sunk in.
"You're leaving…?" he said quietly.
"I don't want to! I have to. They're making me. My mom said she would drag me the whole way if she had to, and I know she would do it. She's not bluffing." Jayden began getting cross. "This is all her fault! She doesn't like it here. What's not to like? It's safe, there's lots of food, all my friends are here, you're here and she has friends here too, there's lionesses she grew up with here, but she hates it!" the brown cub cried.
Dark pulled her into a hug. She went on, "It's all her fault, she's so selfish! It's not fair that just because she's restless here, she gets to uproot her whole family."
"What did Dayya and Koru say about this?"
"Nothing! They just stood there, saying nothing. They will want to stay with mom, there's no doubt. They were always closer to Mom and Dad…I could have convinced my parents if my own siblings had been on my side, but they aren't. I know they aren't."
"And Tempest?" Dark asked.
"That's the worst part!" Jayden scoffed. "Mom is letting her choose! Why? She's not an adult yet. My mom just doesn't get it. She's not supposed to pick favorites. I hate her."
Dark hugged her tight and let her cry on his shoulder.
"Your mom is putting you through a hard time, but you shouldn't be mad at her."
"Not be mad? She's ruining my life! We'll never grow up together, Dark. After tomorrow, we'll probably never see each other again!"
"…T-tomorrow?" he said with a small voice.
"Yes!" she sobbed uncontrollably now. He couldn't stop hugging her. He licked her head and neck.
"It's not fair." She managed to say after a minute. "I need you. I'll miss you." she whispered.
"I'll miss you too." he said quietly.
The two stayed like that for a time. Even though they stayed out longer than they meant to, Sanai didn't come looking for them.
After a time, once Jayden managed to stop crying, the two slowly walked back to Sanai. Now they would have to appear normal in front of the others.
When they got there, Dayya was there now, giving the others the news. They all appeared sad, and everyone gave her a quick hug. When Jayden and Dark met up with the group and everyone gave Jayden a quick hug too. "We'll miss you." They told her. She responded robotically.
Dayya hugged Dark tightly and told him she would miss him a lot. It didn't bother Jayden now, to watch them like that. Not even when Dayya whispered in Dark's ear, just loud enough for Jayden to hear, "I'll still love you when I'm away." Dark only blushed in response.
The rest of the day, they spent playing together, though Jayden did half-heartedly. Jayden watched her sister a few times and noticed she didn't look sad at all. It made her feel a twinge of resentment. She wished she wasn't the only one to be feeling the pain.
A little later, Koru joined them to hang out too. "Mom is mad at you." he told Jayden.
"I don't care." was Jayden's reply.
It was night time when Kivu and his friends were gathered on Pride Rock's steps.
"This will be the last time our team will be complete." Jai observed quietly.
"Everything changes eventually." Tempest said, but not without a touch of sadness in her voice.
"I remember when you first came here." Ciara said to Tempest. "I didn't like you." She admitted with a blush and a smile.
The young peach lionesses laughed. "Cause I was hitting on your man?" she teased, with a suggestive eyebrow. Ciara giggled and swatted her arm.
"Tempest, when we first saw you, you were just a skinny stickling with a bloody shoulder." Kivu said playfully.
"Don't make me remind you what you looked like the first time I saw you, Mud Mane." She retorted.
Kivu scoffed. "Well I have a real mane now." He puffed his chest out. His tuft reached from one shoulder to the other, though it didn't reach under his chin yet. It wouldn't be long before the chest tuft grew to meet his neck tuft, as Mani's already had.
Tempest reached out a paw and jabbed him in the chest, as she often liked to do to Mani. Kivu exhaled and she laughed.
"Remember how beautiful you were saying Tempest was?" Tali said to Kivu with a smirk.
Kivu shrugged. "She is beautiful."
"Ew, she's your cousin!" Mani said playfully, and protectively put his arms around Tempest's shoulders. Kivu just stuck his tongue out, then turned to lick Ciara on the cheek. "You're ten times more beautiful." He whispered in her ear. She smiled.
"Someday, we'll come visit and you two better have a cub by then." Mani said.
Tempest giggled. "Yeah!" she agreed.
"Us?" Ciara said, a little embarrassed. "Well, same goes for you two! You'll probably have three cubs by then." Ciara teased.
"Maybe more!" Tempest joked, sticking her tongue out at her. Mani clutched his paw to his chest as if he were having a heart attack then fell over. Tempest giggled at him.
"Tempest," Tali said, "Don't be afraid to take the cubs away and bring them here if Mani doesn't turn out to be a good father. And just a warning, he gets pretty hungry sometimes, so if the kids go missing…." Tali trailed off.
"I'll keep that in mind." Tempest said.
"Thanks, sis." Mani said.
They all laughed together as the moon rose high. The six friends stayed up talking and joking through most of the night.
Morning came pretty quickly for Tempest. She was awoken by a paw touching her shoulder. It was her father. "It's time to go." Tome said, gently.
She woke Mani beside her, and noticed everyone else was getting up as well. The news had spread the day before about their leaving. All were sad to be losing Vitani again, and this time the rest of her family, but all knew Vitani would be happier this way.
All Prideland lions who weren't already outside, stepped out into the early morning.
"Is it time already?" Koru was saying sleepily, standing next to Vitani.
Tempest noticed Jayden and Dayya standing near their mother's feet. Jayden had her back to her mother, and seemed to be very angry. She felt bad for her younger sister, and even wished she could stay so Jayden could be happy too. But she knew she had no stay in the matter.
"Would you like to eat before you go?" Kovu was saying to Vitani now. "I can send the lionesses out quickly."
"It won't be necessary. We will hunt along the way." Vitani replied.
"Very well." he said, then addressed all lions who were gathered around them, "Shall we accompany Vitani to the border of the Pridelands?"
"Yes!" the lions said. Even the cubs, standing by their respective mothers seemed eager to go.
"Then let us go for one more walk together." Kovu said, turning toward Vitani and her family.
The Pride took their time making their way to the border. Most lionesses talked and joked with Vitani along the way, particularly those who had been in Zira's Pride before they became Pridelanders. Simba was talking quietly with Tome while Larne conversed with Mairu. She was giving her a few last minute instructions about mixing plants and herbs. Larne had learned a lot during her stay at the Pride Lands and was ready to be an advanced medicine lioness.
Jayden followed closely to her mother's feet, as instructed. She stared at the ground as she walked. Tears would no longer come from her eyes; there weren't any left. She could hear her sister beside her going on and on to Malowa. She didn't seem to be sad at all to be leaving their friends. Jayden suspected maybe Dayya had begun to be closer to Malowa, but she didn't seem to care that she would be leaving him, so maybe it had just been her imagination.
Jayden assumed Dark was hanging back by his mother, since Dayya hadn't been talking his ear off. Jayden knew she should be talking to him, or at least walking beside him since these were her last few minutes in the Pridelands. But she just couldn't bring herself to do it. She was afraid she'd blurt something she knew she shouldn't. Or at least she told herself she shouldn't. She had tossed and turned all night trying to decide whether or not to ask Dark to wait for her. Stay faithful to her and still love her and only her until she was old enough to take care of herself and make it back to the Pridelands to be with him.
Playing out that scene in her mind was light bright magic in her heart. But it would darken all over again when her inner voice said, "That's not fair to Dark…" Jayden knew it really wouldn't be fair to expect Dark to wait for her. Even if some other girl came into the picture, how could she expect him not to notice her? Not continue his life. Not move on. How could she expect him to stay hurt and broken over her while she was away?
She couldn't. She couldn't take away his freedom. He could even grow to resent her for that if she tried to make him stay loyal.
It had occurred to Jayden that after she and Dayya left, there wouldn't any other female cubs in the Pridelands, besides his sisters. And even though Zuna and Zula weren't related to Dark by blood, she knew Dark could only have sibling fondness for them and nothing more. But Tikana and Tamani were pregnant. One or both of them could have girls. And even though Dark would be older than these cubs, they could still end up in love someday.
They'd be just like Tempest and Mani. Even Mom and Dad. He's probably twice her age…
Love doesn't have rules. Jayden remembered the phrase Vitani had told her long ago.
She almost growled to herself, already mad at Tikana or Tamani's not yet existent cub. I hope they both have boys. She thought, then became sad because she had no control over that either, no matter how hard she wished it. It's probably best that I don't come back. I don't know if I could come back and then see Dark all grown up and in love with someone else… It's best if I never see him again.
Somehow fresh tears found their way to her eyes, and she cried silently. Suddenly, she felt someone move to her side. She knew by scent that it wasn't Dark, though she wished it had been. She moved her head slightly, and saw Clous's concerned blue-green eyes.
"You love him, don't you?" was all he said. Jayden nodded, knowing he knew. She didn't know how her cousin had figured it out, but he had.
Clous leaned on her as a comforting gesture for a moment, and then walked silently beside her, seeming to understand everything, without the two of them exchanging any words.
The Pridelanders had made it to the border; the whole group had come to a stop. For a moment, there was only silence except for the call of a bird flying overhead, and the rustle of grass and leaves being blown in the wind. The sun was still rising and it was bright and warm.
Vitani turned toward the Pridelanders. Her adoptive family.
"Well, this is it." she said. Her friends began nuzzling her and telling her goodbye.
Mani turned to Kivu and Jai and gave them a big hug each. "Work on your manes, you two." he said, swiping Kivu with his paw. Kivu swatted back playfully, and Jai joined in. "Don't start this now!" Mani said, pretending to snap his jaws at his friends. Kivu laughed and pounced on the larger lion.
"You started it!" Kivu said. Jai and Kivu playfully double teamed Mani for one last time.
Tempest laughed. "He'll miss having someone to tease." she told Tali and Ciara. She hugged each of them. "I'm so glad I met you." she said, getting teary-eyed. "I thought it was just me against the world until I came here. You both have taught me so much."
"You taught me a lot too." Ciara admitted, thinking of the times she was so confused about her feelings for Kivu.
"Well, Tali helped too." Tempest said.
Tali chuckled. "Ciara needed all the help she could get. But good thing you're the type to blurt things out, otherwise we still might be here today with Ciara still holding in her feelings."
Ciara and Tempest giggled. The three hugged one more time.
Dayya was going around nuzzling all her friends, Zuna, Zula, Malowa and Clous. "You're my best friends ever and I'll miss you all!" she said. When she got to Dark, she gave him an especially long hug, and suddenly licked him on the muzzle. Dark looked a little surprised and Dayya whispered in his ear, "I'll remember your promise for us to be boyfriend and girlfriend one day." She pulled back and winked at him.
When Mani had finished his tumble with his friends, he went to his mother. Kanai was smiling widely at him. She had tears in her blue eyes.
"Goodbye, Mom. Thank you for everything you taught me." he said, embracing her.
"Oh my son, I am so proud of you. I am so glad you can make this decision on your own and not once did I want to hold you back. Not because I don't want you here," she said, squeezing extra tight. "But because you're a grown lion now. My grown son." She pulled back and grinned at him, with tears streaming down her cheeks.
Kiara moved to Kanai's side. "You've come a long way from playing 'Save the Princess,'"
Mani smiled as he remembered how Kiara used to baby-sit him and Tali when they were cubs.
"Now you got yourself a real princess!" Kanai said, gesturing with her head at Tempest.
Mani blushed, then realized Tempest actually was a princess since Vitani would be the queen of their pride once they left the Pridelands. Mani realized he may even be King one day when Tome passed the lands on to him and Tempest.
Mani straightened up when he realized this, and looked in his mother's eyes. It was evident she had already thought about it before when she said, "Go on now, Mr. Royalty."
Mani licked his mother on the cheek, then moved on to his sister. Tali walked a few steps to meet him, and the two looked in each other's eyes for several moments. There were no words, but smiles as the brother and sister softly pressed their foreheads together. They stayed like that for just a handful of seconds. More was said between them in the silence than any words would have. They came apart at the same time, and Mani moved away toward Tempest, and her family. The goodbyes were coming to a close.
Vitani and her family were beginning to separate from the Pridelanders. Koru was saying a hurried Goodbye to Clous and the other cubs. Jayden knew this was her last chance to say something to Dark.
Say something. Anything! She told herself as she quickly padded up to Dark. Just don't say 'wait for me' even though those are the words you want to say the most…
She seemed to reach Dark too quickly, because she was face to face with him with nothing to say. He blinked quickly as if surprised she so boldly walked over to him.
Sanu, who was standing next to Dark, bent lower. "Aren't you going to say goodbye to Jayden?" she said. "Her mother looks ready to leave, so you better hurry." Dark nodded, not taking his eyes off Jayden's.
Jayden wished they could be alone, but this was the best they could do. She wanted to hug him, knowing that would be okay since all their friends had been hugging, so it would cause suspicion if they hugged this once. But Jayden didn't trust herself. She thought maybe if she hugged him, she would never be able to let go, or she'd start crying again, or she might whisper the words to him that she both wanted to and didn't want to say.
Jayden cleared her throat. "Well um… goodbye, Dark."
"Goodbye, Jayden." His eyes were sad.
She began suddenly wishing to herself that he'd tell her he'd wait for her. If he chooses to wait on his own, then it's not like making him. Yes, if he loves me, he'll say he'll wait. He'll say it!
He only looked into her eyes.
"I'll uh…miss you." she said, trying to say something a friend would say to another. "And I'll never forget you."
"Yeah." was all he said.
He's not saying it…He's not saying anything! Jayden felt she was about to cry again, she quickly turned away, saying goodbye over her shoulder one more time, then dashed to her mother's side. Her heart felt black. Empty. Non-existent. It was over between her and Dark. Life felt like it was over.
"Are we all here?" Vitani said, tossing her head from side to side, seeing all three of her cubs, Mani, Tome and Larne. "We are ready."
Vitani faced Kovu one last time. They smiled. Kiara joined Kovu's side as well.
"Goodbye, sister." he nuzzled her.
Kiara nuzzled Vitani too, feeling as if she had become her sister as well. "Please come visit sometime!" Kiara pleaded.
Vitani chuckled. "Count on it."
Vitani began backing up, glancing over the Pride. She would miss them all. "Goodbye everyone!" she called.
"Goodbye!" they shouted.
"Thank you for teaching us!"
"We're true fighters now!"
The Pridelanders cheered for Vitani as she turned away. Her family followed suit.
"Goodbye!" the Pride called after her again and again as they walked away.
Kivu joined in the chorus of goodbyes as he watched his aunt, four cousins and best friend walk away. One time didn't seem enough, so he shouted, "Goodbye!" over and over, louder each time.
The Pridelanders called out to Vitani and her Pride until they were just dark figures in the distance, but all stayed to watch for an even longer time.
Finally, Kovu sighed and stood to face his pride. "Let's go home." he said simply.
Ciara, who had moved to Kivu's side, looked up at her love and smiled. He gazed into her lovely green eyes, and took in the warmth of that smile, and couldn't help but grin back. She nuzzled him and Kivu thought about the life they were about to begin together, and maybe even the cubs they would have by the time Tempest and Mani came to visit.
The Pridelanders all stood with the sun at their backs, wind in their fur and healthy grass in their paws and headed for home.
major editing 2014