By: Lauren Carr


Charles Town, West Virginia - Twenty-Four Years Ago

“I get it. It’s cold,” Sandy Lipton told the meteorologist on the news. “That’s why I’m inside where it’s nice and warm. Like why do I need to watch you shivering outside and telling me that I should be inside because it’s freezing?” Snickering at how clever she sounded to herself, she shoved her hand down between the cushions of the threadbare sofa to find the remote to change the television channel.

During the search, the baby inside her stomach kicked as if to object to her waking it up.

“Sorry,” she said while rubbing her plump tummy. “I’m sure you’ll be much more comfortable next week after you come out and we officially meet.” She aimed the remote at the television and changed the channel to a daytime court program.

Across the street, a steady stream of vehicles arrived at the Sure Thing Diner, the most popular lunch spot for jockeys, trainers, and other employees of the Charles Town Races’ stables. Her family owned and operated the greasy spoon and the apartment complex behind their home.

With a cringe, Sandy hoped her mother wouldn’t leave the lawyer’s office until after the lunch time rush had finished. It was difficult enough for her brother, Carson, to cook meals for a diner full of hungry patrons without Ethel Lipton showing up to push his buttons.

No one put Carson in a bad mood faster than their mother.

The memory of Carson’s face, twisted with fury, flashed through Sandy’s mind. Her heart flipped and then flopped. She clutched her chest until the pain subsided.

That’s been happening a lot lately.

Sandy rubbed her stomach. She was in no condition to be on her feet waiting tables so close to her due date.

She could barely manage the apartment complex. The convenient location, inexpensive rent, and month-to-month leasing made The Sure Thing Apartments the go-to for the transient racetrack crowd that frequented the Charles Town Races, the biggest thing in the West Virginia town.

Named after George Washington’s brother, Charles Town fought to cling to its colonial atmosphere. The state’s eastern panhandle had become a magnet for escapees from Virginia’s and Maryland’s metropolitan areas. Train service and highways made commuting easy for families working in and around the nation’s capital to take advantage of living in the Shenandoah Valley.

Nestled just outside the Charles Town city limits, the Thoroughbred racetrack hoped to play a role in the area’s growth. It had no choice. Dwindling attendance drove the high caliber horses to more popular tracks. Lack of revenue meant fewer employees, which had a direct effect on tenants in the apartment complex and patrons at the diner.

The frigid wind outside and bare trees against the gray sky foretold a future that sent a chill down Sandy’s spine. She pushed herself up from the sofa and waddled into the kitchen.

Catching a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror in the back of the china closet, Sandy stopped. Chris Matheson would have made some sort of joke if he could see her long skinny arms and legs and pregnant stomach. She smiled softly.

I miss Chris.

The baby tickled her insides. Lovingly, she rubbed her hands across her stomach and giggled. The baby must have also seen her. He or she must have a sense of humor like Chris.

The sound of a car engine in front of the house prompted her to check the time. Eleven-thirty.

Mom must have finished her meeting with the lawyer. Strange that she would meet with him about the paternity suit without me.

She had enough hope to think that her visitor could have been Chris. The possibility was remote, but it was enough to spur her to run to the door. Just as quickly as the thought crossed her mind, reality set in.

As mad as Chris had been the day before, he’d never come back.

A wave of remorse washed over her when she recalled the fury in his gray eyes.

At least he’s alive. That’s what counts the most.

Sandy checked her reflection in the foyer mirror. The pregnancy had wreaked havoc with her complexion. It didn’t do much good with her hair either. What had once been chestnut had dissolved into the color of dull dark ash. It would all be over in one more week. She wondered how long it would take her body to return to its former slender shape. At eighteen years old, she had youth on her side.