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Chapter Two

March 1

For some reason that is completely unknown to me, my daughter is fascinated with the arthropod exhibit. For those not in the know, arthropods are creepy crawlies. Bugs, spiders, crustaceans...basically everything I hated in life.

I sometimes wish there was such a thing as a maternity test.

Anyhow, Rielynn had her little face glued to the case housing the Mexican Redknee Tarantula while I stared at the ceiling trying not to think about all of the free spiders living happily with their caged brethren. The thing was above seven inches from furry leg to furry leg and it was more bumble-bee colored than red. As for knees, well, I didn't even know spiders had knees.

"Cookie? Cookie?"

Rielynn's chirpy voice made me look down. She had one of her animal crackers pressed to the glass, trying her damndest to feed the thing. I squatted down, trying not to make direct contact with the monter.

"Spider doesn't eat cookies," I said. My eyes darted to the sign. "He eats crickets are," I swallowed hard. "baby mice."

It was Charlie's theory that we shouldn't sugar-coat anything for Rielynn. I knew that came from a person with a scientific mind, but then again he didn't have to explain to a two-year old why---

"Baby? Baby?"

Her eyes grew wide.

My point exactly.

Needless to say, the arthropod exhibit was mercifully cut short. I knew that she would forget about this little trama by the next time we visited, but at least today we were going to be able to enjoy the more cuddly creatures a little longer before she totally copped out on me.

We had lunch at a picnic table setup between Flamingo Lagoon and the Critter Encounters. I had learned on my first trip that it was wise to have lunch before your child stuck her hand into a hungry animal's slobbery mouth. Rielynn was fixated on the flamingos, bringing small broken up bites of PB&J without much thought. Her cheeks puffed out as she chewed, a little grin appearing every few seconds.

"Jews, jews, jews!!!"

In another setting, one would think an anti-Semite was among us, but on a Friday at the zoo, it was just a toddler screaming for his juice. I turned to look, my suspicions confirmed when I saw a blonde little boy near Rielynn's age, arms flailing as he tried to climb out of his umbrella stroller.

No crisis.


The blonde guy sitting on the corner of the other picnic table was rooting through a giant white insulated cooler, split down the side and held together with duct tape, looking panicked. He glanced at the boy and then back down.

"Park, just a second," he said.

I knew I should look away, after all I had been there, done that more times than I cared to admit, but I didn't. Two energy drinks, an unopened container of (unwashed, I'm sure) strawberries, potato chips, and an unopened pack of Kraft American Cheese singles came out of the cooler.

No juice.


Even though his eyes were hidden behind a pair of designer shades, sheer panic spread across the dad's face. The little boy was beginning to hold his breath. He would either blow or pass out if---

"I have some extra juice."

From my insulated, pink and white polka dotted lunch container (complete with hippo plastic sandwich containers), I pulled out an extra box of apple juice.

"Yum!" Rielynn said, grabbing her sippy cup full of the liquid as if I had produced the box as a reminder of her own afternoon cocktail. I stood up, waving the box like one of Willie Wonka's golden tickets.

To the dad, that was exactly what the box appeared to be. I could see it in the way the lines around his jaw faded as he took it. He made quick work of dumping it into the boy's sippy cup.


"Thank you."

He slid off his glasses and smiled. "You saved my life."

His eyes were a gorgeous shade of blue, brought out more by his tan. I didn't think it was fair that anyone have a tan in March. "I'm Nick."

"Macie," I said. The smile didn't fade.

"You have no idea how bad Juice-opalypse can get."

"Oh," I looked over my shoulder. "I think I can."

Rielynn had finished her juice. She had finished her sandwich. The cookies were out of her reach. She drew in a deep breath.

I braced myself.


Nick started to laugh.

"I think these two should meet," he chuckled. I made the three long strides back to our table and dug into the bag. A second later, Rielynn was in soggy cookie heaven. I looked back at Nick.

"Rielynn," I said, by way of introduction. Nick smiled.

"Parker." He slid his shades back on. "Petting zoo?"

I hesitated. Sure, I had just saved him and his son from Juice-opalypse, but he could be an axe murderer. For all I knew the kid wasn't even his. He could have gone to rent-a-kid and this was just some big ploy...

A ploy to what? Spend time with a woman who had literally just yanked her hair into a ponytail without even brushing out the giant knot she'd been working on for days?

"Sounds like a plan," I found myself saying.

"Awesome," he sounded relieved.

"I hate to take on the goats all by myself."