When Chloe saw Susan walking toward her, she felt some relief and took her first deep breath of the morning. Positioned at the entrance to the mall’s large, centrally-situated cafe, she watched Susan navigate the throng of window shoppers.

Chloe could not remember a time in her life when she had not known Susan. They met when Susan’s family moved into the house down the street from her family home in the summer of 1974. They were both three years old and immediately became fast friends. They attended the same local public schools until they selected different colleges and found themselves separated for the first time in their lives. They remained close, though, visiting each others’ campuses on weekends and spending breaks together back in their home town. When Susan married, Chloe served as the maid of honor and was thrilled when Susan asked her to be the godmother to both of her children. And when she divorced, Susan moved back to their home town to raise her daughters in close proximity to her large family.

She entered the reception area, and warmly greeted the young woman stationed at the front desk.

“Hello, Angie,” she said. “How’s this semester going?”

“Great. My classes are hard, but I love my professors and I’m learning a lot,” Angie enthused. “They’re doing an art project right now.”

“Thanks,” she said as she initialed the logbook, noting the time — 3:15 p.m. Luckily, she did not have any parent-teacher conferences, teachers’ meetings or other obligations today, so she was able to leave school immediately after dismissing her students, tidying up her room, and posting tomorrow’s assignments on the blackboard. She glanced at the clock and smiled slightly as she resolved to prepare pork chops for dinner that evening. She was looking forward to a leisurely Thursday evening at home with her family.

As she walked down the hallway, she passed several brightly decorated classrooms. In one, the children were sitting in a circle on the floor, singing — or, in some cases, shouting — along with a recording. She stopped in the doorway for a moment and watched their wildly animated hand movements. The teacher turned and waved as she continued leading the enthusiastic chorus.

“Come on in and make yourself comfortable,” he said warmly, gesturing toward the west side of the large, sunny room where a couch and two chairs separated by a small table were arranged casually in a semi-circle. “Sit wherever you’d like,” he continued as he picked up a manila folder from the desk on the far wall and sat down in the large, overstuffed chair in the middle of the room facing the other furniture.

“Thank you,” she said softly, selecting the wicker chair with the seat cushion, as he made a mental note of her choice. She had picked the most uncomfortable seat in the room. The one that would require her to sit virtually upright during their entire time together since it offered the least lumbar support and made squeaky, squishy noises when its occupant squirmed in a vain attempt to find a more suitable position. However, it was deliberately placed most directly across from and in line with his chair. By the time she returned next week, the chairs would be rearranged to facilitate his observation of whether she will pick the same chair or the chair in the same position relative to his.

“You’ve been across the street a good while,” he said. “I saw you there when I arrived for my first appointment this morning. That was more than two hours ago.” He studied her expression.

“I arrived early,” she responded, squirming in the chair in a futile effort to get comfortable.

As he stepped up to the podium, he felt slightly dizzy, but his determination buoyed him. He looked out into the auditorium, thankful that the lights focused upon…

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