SHORT STORY CONTEST
ALL THE ACORNS ON THE FOREST FLOOR
by Kim Hooper
“I’ve been watching it all day,” Chris says.
“It” is the hummingbird nest constructed in the tree outside the window above his work desk. “It” has become somewhat of an obsession.
He wanted to name the mother bird, so we chose Georgina, Georgie for short. When we wake up first thing in the morning, one of us goes to the window to report on her status: “Georgie’s there!” We do the same before bed.
“No sign of her?”
He shakes his head, sullen. Usually, when I come home from work, he is sitting on the couch, watching some kind of sporting event on TV, a dog on either side of him, a laptop on his thighs, a beer on the coffee table in front of him. Today, he is in the back room, his home office, where he can best keep watch. His eyes are wide with more distress than I’ve ever seen on his infamously- stoic face.
The nest is so small, a compact cup made of scraps of bound leaves and something that looks like cotton. It must have taken the mother several days to make it, several days of gathering materials from around our yard and weaving them together into a home for her future offspring. There is a certain level of meticulousness involved; that much is obvious.
We never saw the eggs. We just saw her sitting on the nest and assumed they were there, warmed by her. The internet said there were likely two. The internet also said that hummingbirds lay the smallest eggs of all birds—smaller than jelly beans. It was plausible that two jelly beans could fit in that tiny cup of a nest, but I couldn’t imagine how hatched babies would have enough room.
We know they’ve hatched. We’ve used a step ladder to peek in. We’ve seen the little black bodies, pressed so close to each other that it was difficult to determine if there were one or two. There were two, evidenced by two tiny gold beaks.
Now that the mother has not returned to tend to them, we wonder if she saw us, if she thinks we are predators who either consumed or tainted her babies, if this is our fault.
“I think they’re about two weeks old,” Chris says. “They have stippling.”
I’ve never heard this word—stippling. He’s been Googling.
It’s been heart-wrenching to watch them, he says. Every half hour, their skinny, ill-supported necks emerge from the nest, their beaks open. They need food. He went to the pet store and bought some nectar. It’s in what looks like a child’s juice box. He emptied a bottle of Visine and put the nectar in there. He’s started climbing up the ladder to place a few droplets in their open mouths.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says.
I want to cry just watching his agony. He will be a great father.
A few weeks ago, I was at my gym—a family-run place where people know each other by name—when one of the trainers found an injured hummingbird on the outdoor running track. Something was wrong with one of its wings. She put the bird in the palm of her hand, then into a shoebox. She went online and found a hummingbird rescue nearby. “Who knew?” she said.
I tell Chris about the rescue and we find the website. The rescue is run by one woman, Monique, out of her house. He emails Monique with the subject line, “Abandoned babies.” I tease him for being too dramatic.
She calls us within a half hour. We are on our way to the park to watch the sunset. This is how we are celebrating our anniversary this year—a couple of pizzas from Agostino’s and the dogs and the park that overlooks the harbor. We wanted to have a bonfire at the beach, but all the fire pits were taken. When we got married on Memorial Day weekend three years ago, we didn’t anticipate the crowds at our future anniversary celebrations.
Chris is driving, so I talk to her. “We think they are about two weeks old.”
She says if that’s the case, they are old enough to regulate their own temperature, so the mother does not have to sit on them. She says the mother is probably out getting food and that she comes by so quickly that Chris has missed seeing her. I know him, though. I know that when he says he’s been watching, he’s been watching. He is intense that way. He marches to the top of Mt. Whitney without stopping. He wakes up some days and decides to embark on 100-mile bike rides. I’ve joked that he should start an adventure company called On a Whim and a Prayer.
“I mean, we’re not sure of the age. We’re guessing,” I say. “Maybe they’re younger.”
This frustrates her. “If they were younger and without their mom for as long as you say, they wouldn’t be alive.”
She is talking to me like I am an idiot.
“Are their eyes open?” she asks.
“No,” I say.
She huffs. “Then they are not two weeks old. You need to give me more accurate information if I’m going to help you.”
I want to cry again. It’s the hormones, I guess. They are coursing through my body, though I feel relatively normal now that the phase of constant queasiness has passed.
“Send me a picture,” she says.
I tell her we are out, that we will hope to be home before sundown so we can get a good photo. There is judgment in her voice, asking how we can possibly be “out” with this potentially life-threatening situation in our backyard. She doesn’t know it’s our anniversary.
It feels like gas bubbles when the baby moves. It’s very sporadic, much to my chagrin. I keep thinking that if I concentrate hard enough, I can mentally connect with our unborn daughter and tell her to move in a way that reassures me she’s alive. But, that’s not the case. Our daughter is already her own person; she moves when and where she wants. She’s likely rolling her eyes at my worry, asking me to trust her.
We have a name for her, but I struggle to use it. Chris doesn’t. I suppose I’m too afraid to get attached to her, only to lose her the way we lost her brother.
Miles, her brother, our son who wasn’t. I hesitated to use his name, too, because of the others we lost before him. Even though those losses were earlier, before we knew the gender, before we had names, I mourned the could-have-beens with tears that scared Chris.
* * *
We email a photo of the birds to Monique before we go to bed. We don’t expect her to respond quickly, so we go to sleep, telling each other that the morning will reveal whether the mother bird is truly gone. If she is, the babies will be dead. They wouldn’t be able to survive the night.
The next morning, before using the bathroom or making his coffee or feeding the dogs, Chris goes outside and climbs the ladder to the nest. I sit up in bed, waiting for his report.
“One of them is dead,” he says.
I accept this fact quickly; I am good at receiving bad news now, a pro.
“But one is alive?” I say.
We, as humans, are conditioned for happiness. In the worst tragedies, we look for silver linings, bright sides.
“One is alive,” he confirms.
He checks his email and there is a message from Monique, sent after we fell asleep:
“If those photos are current, these birds are very young. The mother should be sitting on them. Something must have happened to her. You need to bring them inside.”
We feel guilty now, like we are responsible for the death of the one baby.
Chris uses a pair of scissors to cut the branch from the tree and bring the nest inside. I plug in my heating pad on the kitchen counter, the heating pad I used to “warm my uterus” when we were trying to get pregnant this last time. I thought warmth would encourage the embryo to implant and grow. Perhaps I was right.
He places the nest on the warm heating pad. He manages a few drops of nectar down the baby’s gullet, but then it—we call the bird an “it”—stops opening its beak.
Chris calls Monique. She says we should bring the survivor to her. She says to give her twenty minutes; she needs to make herself decent.
“Is there any chance of survival here?” Chris asks her.
“This is a difficult one,” she says. “That bird is very young.”
* * *
I marked each Saturday in my day planner with Miles’s age—8 weeks, 9 weeks, 10 weeks. I only marked one week at a time, didn’t get ahead of myself. I thought if I marked up to 40 weeks, he would die, a punishment for my overconfidence. Turns out he would die anyway.
On those Saturdays, I allowed myself to look up “This week in your pregnancy” information online. “This week, the baby has paddles that will become arms.” “This week, the digestive tract and reproductive organs are forming.” “This week, the eyelids and eyebrows have developed.” These are things I reported to Chris.
The websites always compared the baby’s size to food: A poppyseed, then a peppercorn, then a pomegranate seed, then a blueberry, then an olive, then a cherry, then a kumquat, then a Brussel sprout, then a passion fruit. It was around the time he was the size of a passion fruit that we saw him on ultrasound, his arms waving and legs kicking as he floated in the black sea of amniotic fluid that was his home. I went out and bought him his first outfits—nautical-themed onesies, an Angels baseball T-shirt. In retrospect, as irrational as this may be, I wonder if this jinxed us.
At 15 weeks—Why do they measure in weeks? Chris asked. So there are more milestones to celebrate, I said—I invited my mother to our ultrasound appointment. “He was dancing around on screen last time,” I told her.
This time, though, he wasn’t moving. We stared. The black sea of amniotic fluid was gone. There were just small pockets of black now, the baby squished between them. He was tucked in on himself, contorted. It was difficult to know what we were looking at. His heart rate was fine, but he was measuring small. Without the space provided by the fluid, he couldn’t stretch and grow.
The doctor told us it could be a deformity with the kidneys or urinary tract, meaning Miles was swallowing the amniotic fluid, but not processing and excreting it properly. He also said it could be a problem with the placenta. He told me to rest and come back in two weeks. When we asked what would happen if the fluid levels did not improve, he told us the baby would become more constrained and would likely press against the umbilical cord, reducing blood flow and causing … He didn’t say it outright, but we knew what he meant. Death.
He gave us a printout of the ultrasound image. Chris wouldn’t look at it and I couldn’t blame him. Miles looked like an alien, his head turned toward us, the black circles of his eyes seemingly saying, “Help! I’m in trouble.” This image gave me nightmares for months.
I bought a fetal Doppler online so I could check to make sure Miles was alive. I lay in bed, squeezed gel on my belly, and moved the wand around. There it was—a strong heart rate of 159, like a muffled recording of a horse galloping. The next day, I tried for hours and couldn’t get a reading. “Let me try,” Chris said. He didn’t have any luck either. “We’re probably not doing it right,” I told him. “The baby is so small and moves around.” This is what women on the online message boards said. I wanted to believe them.
The day after that, I wrote in my journal, “I woke up not feeling pregnant. I think the baby has passed.”
At our follow-up appointment, the doctor asked me the usual questions about how I was feeling. He tricked us into thinking this was just a normal appointment. But then he moved the transducer over my belly, sighed, and said:
“I’m not seeing a heartbeat.”
It was April Fool’s Day. For a brief second, I thought, hoped, he was playing a demented joke on us.
The doctor kept moving the transducer around my belly, investigating. I hated the medical interest on his face, the intrigue.
“Can you stop?” I screamed.
He stopped. Chris clutched my ankle, held on to it like it was a railing in a fast-moving subway car.
Miles was the size of an avocado.
There were two choices: They could induce labor so I could give birth to Miles and see him; or I could have surgery, a dilation and evacuation (D&E). I didn’t want to see Miles as a lifeless, gray, very-miniature human. When I told Chris I wanted to do the surgery, relief spread across his face.
The diagnosis on my surgery packet: fetal demise. I can’t imagine a more depressing pair of words. When I woke up after the procedure, I was crying—either because of pain or because I knew, even in my unconscious state, that they were taking our baby.
In the days that followed, my breasts were engorged and sore because my body thought I’d given birth and needed to feed the baby. My belly was a pooch of failure, its protrusion reminding me of what I’d lost. I couldn’t sleep, even with the sleeping pills prescribed to me. It was like I was wired to listen for a crying baby who wasn’t there.
The mornings were the hardest. I’d wake up thinking it was just a nightmare and, when my psyche refused to exit denial, I had to relive the whole ordeal all over again. I’m not seeing a heartbeat.
Chris couldn’t be around me. While I sobbed and bled, he left the house for hours of work meetings he probably didn’t need to attend. On one of those first nights without Miles, he went to a hockey game with his brother. I hated him at the time. I hated that he couldn’t sit next to me and put his hand on my shoulder. I hated that he couldn’t cry with me. He busied himself with too many tasks, behaved the same way he did when his parents died— going on long runs, scrubbing the cement in the backyard, volunteering to collect signatures for local causes that were of no real importance to him. When some weeks had passed, when we’d both silently forgiven each other for our respective ways of grieving—I fight through feelings; he flees them—he said something that he probably doesn’t remember saying: “It’s just that you’re my rock. If you crumble, I don’t know how to deal.”
* * *
I sit with the heating pad and the nest in my lap as the robotic voice on my phone directs us to Monique’s home off Ortega Highway. We decided to leave the dead baby with its sibling. For warmth, we said. But, really, I think we couldn’t bear to dispose of it. We would leave that task to Monique, the professional.
When we turn onto her street, it’s easy to guess which house is hers. The front yard is overgrown with bushes of flowers, an idyllic feeding ground for the birds she loves enough to save. Chris parks the car and comes around to open my door. As we walk up the steps, we hear a woman’s voice inside.
“Do you think she’s talking to another human or to all her birds?” I say.
He manages a laugh.
She opens the door. I had expected someone with dyed red hair and a flowy dress and bare feet, someone with crystals hanging around her neck. But, Monique is just an average fifty-something woman with slightly-frizzy brown hair and a round, kind face. On the car ride over, we’d wondered aloud if she would have hummingbird figurines in her house, if her passion extended to other birds like parakeets and parrots. She doesn’t invite us in, though. She pulls the door shut behind her, joins us on the porch. This is her home, after all. She doesn’t know who we are. We could be as strange as we assume she is.
A clipboard rests on her forearm. We trade items—she gives me the clipboard and I give her the nest. While I fill out the intake form with details of the bird’s life as we know it, she pets the living baby with more force than I thought its small body could handle. There is no apprehension in her touch. She makes sure the other one is, in fact, dead and says, “What a shame.” I swallow hard.
“This is baby season,” she says. “I have eight of them right now.”
“Eight? Wow,” I say.
I wonder if she can ever go on vacation, if she can ever leave her house at all. Maybe she is like me, happy to have an excuse to decline social invitations, disinterested in elaborate out-of-town trips. Maybe she likes the purpose that comes with feeding baby birds every half hour.
“It’s hard to get the babies, but it’s even harder when someone brings an injured female adult,” she says, shaking her head. “I just know she has a nest somewhere, you know? I know those birds will die without her. I tell the people to look for the nest in the area they found the bird, but the nests—they’re so small.”
I tell her that this one, this nest, was right outside our window, as if the mother placed it there, as if she knew she would abandon her babies and wanted to ensure someone would help them, like a teenager leaving her newborn in a basket in a hospital lobby.
“Something must have happened to the mother,” she says.
According to the internet, hummingbirds get in fights. They are one of the most aggressive birds, despite their size. They will attack crows, even hawks, who infringe upon their territory. They are easily injured.
“Do you think this one has a chance?” Chris asks her.
She sighs, still petting the small body, coaxing the baby to stretch its weak neck upward.
“It’s hard to say. Even in the best of circumstances, only about half of hummingbirds make it to maturity.”
Nature is very wasteful. After we lost Miles, one of the many miscarriage books I read said, “Just look at all the acorns on the forest floor.”
* * *
I will always envy women who pee on a stick and throw a nine- month-long celebration party, women whose greatest worry is weight gain and what color to paint the nursery, women who post their ultrasound photos on Facebook with reckless abandon. I will never be one of them.
When I found out I was pregnant this time, I did not even take a picture of the test. I did everything possible to keep hope at a comfortable distance, thinking if I hoped less, the pain of loss would be less, thinking I could have some kind of control over my possible heartache.
I decided against early blood testing that would confirm the embryo’s viability—the numbers have to double every couple days; if they don’t, the baby never had a chance. Just look at all the acorns on the forest floor. I didn’t want the stress of the testing, the waiting for the results, the near-panic attack when the phone number of the doctor’s office flashed on my screen. We decided to hold our collective breath and wait for our first ultrasound appointment. There would either be a heartbeat or there wouldn’t. I didn’t bother Googling about every little twinge. I’d done it all before. I pretended to be emotionless. I pretended to be Chris.
Chris signed up for city-sponsored disaster planning courses, started watching shows like “Doomsday Preppers” about families preparing for the apocalypse. Once, he left his laptop on the kitchen island and went to the bathroom, so I peeked to see what had his attention. On his screen was a webpage entitled, “Can you drink pool water in an emergency?” Every Thursday, for three hours, he learned about fire safety and disaster psychology and medical operations and search and rescue and CPR and terrorism. He wanted to be ready. For the worst.
There was a heartbeat at our first ultrasound appointment. I was lightheaded, dizzy, nearly fell off the table as the doctor—a new doctor (I couldn’t bear the sight of the one who’d said, “I’m not seeing a heartbeat”)—pointed to the flicker on the screen. In his office, he reviewed the basics of pregnancy and I nodded, though I wasn’t listening. My ears were ringing. The stress of it all would give me a migraine the rest of the day.
Chris started taking the dogs on longer and longer walks every morning. I didn’t realize why until he came home with a four-leaf clover. “I’ve been looking everywhere for this,” he said. He kept looking even after that first find, brought them home to me whenever he found them, collecting good luck, banking it.
Most people would say, “We’re having a girl!” I shudder at the arrogance of those words. When we started telling select loved ones, we said, simply, “It’s a girl.” We didn’t know if we’d be lucky enough to have her. I’ve kept a list of the people who know about the pregnancy so I don’t have to wrack my brain to remember who to tell if something goes wrong. The day after they removed Miles from me, I delegated that task to Chris, desperate to avoid a clueless friend texting to ask, “How’s the mama-to-be?”
Chris started my maternity wardrobe for me when I complained that I couldn’t zip up my pencil skirts for work. He went to an expensive boutique in North County, left the shopping bag for me on our bed, the receipt sticking out the top. A sweater, two pairs of pants, a loose-fitting shirt, and a quintessential pregnant- woman shirt with the ruching on the side to allow for belly expansion. I was afraid to try on the clothes, to admit to the universe that I was a pregnant woman, a woman with something to lose. I did, though. Everything fit except one pair of pants— Chris was brave for trying; pants are never easy for me.
When I went to return them, the clerk said, “Sorry, we only do store credit.” So I picked out a shirt. I still had twenty dollars to spend. The only items that cheap were baby clothes. I pawed through them, telling myself not to “ooh” and “aah,” even in the privacy of my own mind. I’d told Chris I didn’t want to buy anything for the baby, didn’t want to tempt fate that way. But, the store credit forced me to confront my illogical superstitions. I bought a pair of newborn pajamas with kitty cats on them. The clerk asked if I wanted to add my name to their contact list. I declined, thinking that if I lost the baby, I didn’t want to keep getting emails about discounts on breastfeeding-friendly blouses. When I came home, I gave Chris my guiltiest look and said, “I did a bad thing,” pulling the pajamas from the bag, revealing the potential jinx.
There are moments I ask Chris, “Am I really pregnant?” There are moments I wonder if I’m so grief-stricken over Miles that I’m delusional, that I’m imaging this. I have dreams that I’ve lost the baby. And in the dreams, I keep forgetting I’ve lost the baby and I have to keep reminding myself. I have dreams of waking up in a pool of blood, the loss all over the sheets. Nearly every morning, it takes me a moment to orient myself, to confirm our reality. I step on the scale daily, not because I care how many pounds I am gaining, but because the weight assures me that our daughter is really inside.
I’ve started writing letters to her, our daughter, in an attempt to connect with her, after all these weeks of attempting not to connect with her. I don’t tell anyone about these letters, want them to be between me and her. If we lose her, only she will know how I got attached to her when I should have known better. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . . . What is that infamous definition of insanity? Continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome? We are crazy, I think.
The receptionist at my office touched my belly the other day. Look at you! I barely know her. There is no hiding it now. It is no longer my secret, protected and safe. I am on display for all to see, a public marvel. Is this your first? People keep asking that and I don’t know how to answer. If I say, “Yes,” I am denying the existence of Miles and the others. If I say, “No,” I have to explain. Sometimes I say, “My first that’s made it this far,” which usually elicits confusion.
People say they are “so excited” for us. I can’t match their enthusiasm. I force a smile. I refrain from lecturing them on all the things that can still go wrong. Placental abruption. Umbilical cord strangling. Listeria. Toxoplasmosis. Cervical incompetence. Premature labor. Unexplained stillbirth. Don’t they know? How do they speak with such confidence about the baby’s arrival? How is it possible that they think I am constructing a nursery?
I thought my disdain of pregnant women would vanish at this point, but it has not. I can’t relate to them—their discussions of swollen feet, their obsession with baby clothes, their photos of their growing bellies, their “babymoons,” their baby showers (and “sprinkles” for second and third and fourth children) where they smash chocolate bars in diapers and guess belly circumference for fun and prizes. How can they make such light of something so serious? The bliss of their ignorance grates.
Friends have started asking about my baby shower. They think I’m being coy when I say I don’t want one, but just the thought of accumulating all those things—the clothes, the toys, the gadgets— before she’s even here makes my heart race. “You’ll change your mind,” they say. They assume I’ll relax, that my worrying will abate. I made the mistake of assuming this as well. I told myself, “I’ll relax when I hear the heartbeat.” Then: “When I get past the perilous first trimester.” Then: “When the genetic screening tests come back.” Then: “When the anatomy scan is normal.” Then: “When I feel the baby move.” I’ve come to accept that I’ll never be at ease. I’ve come to accept that this is motherhood.
* * *
Monique emails Chris to say that the baby bird is doing well. “He’s warm, he’s eating,” she says. She uses the word miracle. I wonder if she’s surprised when Chris keeps contacting her, asking for updates. The most recent: “His eyes are open now.”
We fly to Michigan for Chris’s cousin’s wedding. I worry about germs on the plane. I worry about straying from my superfoods diet. I worry about taking all my vitamins. I worry about finding a half hour to take a walk every day. I worry about having trouble sleeping—I always do when I’m away from home.
Chris’s family is surprised to see my pregnant belly. “We didn’t know,” they say. Of course they didn’t. My grandmother still doesn’ t know. During the father-of-the-bride speech, Chris’s uncle mentions that he’s been fighting a cold. So when he leans in to congratulate me on the baby, I hold my breath as long as I can.
When we come home, I ask Chris if he’s heard from Monique. He says he hasn’t.
“It’s hard not to think about the one that died,” he says.
“Yeah, I know.”
I keep thinking about the mother. I hope she didn’t come back to find her babies gone. In a way, I hope she died.
“We should ask if she does visiting hours,” he says.
“We can show up with a Get Well Soon balloon,” I joke. He rolls his eyes and I realize he was serious.
He emails her. I wonder if he’ll blame my hormones, my sentimentality, for this strange request.
Just twenty minutes later, his phone rings and he says, “It’s her.” He puts the call on speaker so I can hear.
“Hi, Monique,” we say in unison.
“Well, hello there,” she says.
“You got my email then?” Chris says.
“I did. And I’m sorry to tell you, but our little bird is gone.”
My heart plummets to my feet and I kneel instinctively, as if to pick it up off the floor. I had this same feeling when the doctor called during the early days of blood testing with my second pregnancy. The numbers weren’t increasing appropriately; a miscarriage was inevitable. I’d slammed the phone so hard that my hand rebounded off the counter and I hit myself in the face. I had a black eye for a week.
“Gone?” Chris says. His voice cracks in a way it rarely does. He has a deep, strong voice, a reliable radio voice, a voice that doesn’ t falter.
“Oh,” she says, hurriedly, “Not gone gone. To the aviary. He was ready to fly the coop.”
The look on Chris’s face is that of a child who has just won a goldfish at a county fair—excitement, awe.
“So he’s doing well?” he says. He is desperate for confirmation. I place my hand on top of his, interlace my fingers with his, squeeze.
“As far as I know. I don’t think he’s going to check in with me. You know how teenagers are.”
The three of us laugh. We thank her for saving him and she says, “I just fed him and kept him warm. You saved him.”
* * *
On Mother’s Day, Chris surprised me with flowers and chocolate- covered strawberries, telling me with gestures instead of words that I am already a mother, even if I am reluctant to call myself that.
He is already a father. That I can admit. At the gym, he listens to books about the brain development of babies. Did you know the baby can hear the dog barking? he says. He has already started calling daycare centers. He is eager to move our bed to make room for the bassinet. Father’s Day is today and I have gotten something for him.
“It’s nothing big,” I say. The box it arrived in is big, so I feel the need to say this.
He unwraps. It takes him a moment to realize what it is. It’s not a typical one—plastic and red. I wanted something nicer than that. This one is made from a glass antique bottle.
“A hummingbird feeder?” he says.
“We can start our own rescue,” he says.
“I’m not sure we’ll have time for an official rescue when the baby arrives.”
When. This may be the first time I have spoken of our daughter as if she will be here.
“I was thinking,” he says. “We should move your desk into my office so we can start working on the nursery.”
One luxury of our current childlessness is that we have our bedroom, an office for Chris, and a guest room that includes a desk where I write the stories only he reads. The guest room will become the nursery when she is here.
He goes on: “This book I’m reading says you should be nesting.”
“Nesting,” I say.
This is something Chris does when he’s unsure—repeat back what’ s just been said to him. If I suggest Chinese for dinner and he says, “Chinese . . .,” that means he’s not convinced Chinese is the best choice, but he hasn’t figured out what to offer instead.
“We can always move it back, if we need to,” he says. “Let’s just see how it looks. Just think—you’ll have a view of the hummingbirds.”
I can’t help but think of the mother bird, of the tiny cup of a nest she built with such care, of the babies she abandoned—likely against her will. I can’t help but think of her sadness. If she is alive, she will go on to make another nest, to try again. Nature is as stubborn and persistent as it is wasteful.
“Okay,” I tell him. Then again: “Okay.”
Kim Hooper is the author of PEOPLE WHO KNEW ME, hailed as “refreshingly raw and honest” by the Wall Street Journal. Her second novel, CHERRY BLOSSOMS, will be published by Turner on October 30. She lives in Southern California with her husband, daughter, and a collection of pets.