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“He’s flirting with you,” Marilyn whispered as she leaned toward her coworker’s side of the long reception counter where they worked side by side each day.

“Stop it. He is not,” she protested through slightly clenched teeth as her gaze again wandered to the intriguing stranger seated on the couch near the door to the interior office suite.

“Oh, yeah, he is,” Marilyn pressed. “He is checking you out.”

She could feel heat radiating from her flushed cheeks and the inside of her mouth had suddenly become dry. If Marilyn only knew, she thought to herself.

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.

“Leaving?” she responded breathlessly to the curve ball fate had just pitched directly to her. “No, I’m not leaving. I’ll be back in a few moments.”

“Oh, good!” he said genially. “I was hoping we could catch up a bit.”

She studied his eyes, remembering all the times that, as a young woman, she had looked expectantly — hopefully — into them. He looked exactly the same save for the small but distinct lines at the corners of his eyes that had grown more pronounced when he smiled and a few gray highlights in his hair. He was as impossibly attractive as ever.

The telephone began ringing just as she closed the door to her hotel room and started down the hallway toward the elevator. She never even considered not turning back to answer, confident that the call was either from her son or Dennis.

“Hey, Mom,” her son said cheerily before she even had a chance to say “hello.”

She knew what she had to do — and that she needed to do it now. Procrastinating would only make the task ahead more difficult — for both of them.

Her circumstances — and the future of her unborn child — required that she be fearless now. Decisive. Determined. Protective.

As she showered and dressed in anticipation of Dennis’ visit, she vacillated between being extremely angry with herself for not being more responsible — the thought of using birth control had never even entered her mind on that fateful New Year’s Eve — and worry about what her future held. She knew that her discussion with Dennis this evening would only be the first of many conversations she would be having in the coming weeks and months with the people she loved. She wondered how she would tell her parents, knowing that they would be disappointed, but fiercely protective. Although she had not had time to fully evaluate her financial circumstances, she presumed that she would need to move back into her parents’ home and secure employment back in her home town, dependent upon her parents to assist with child care and other responsibilities.

“Are you coming, Grandma?” she called up the stairs lightly.

“Yes, dear,” was the response. “I’ll be down in just a few moments. I’m moving a little slower than normal this morning,” the old woman giggled. “I’m not complaining, though. You just sit tight and be there in a flash.”

“All right, Gran,” her granddaughter laughed. “I know it’s all my fault . . . I kept you up too late.”


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