The mellow afternoon sun of late autumn, streaming through the large west window, muted the yellow tones in the Halversons’ combination family/living room. Elise was thankful for it, for she could see her parents’ reactions more clearly without the glare of the western sunshine.
Dr. Halverson and his wife sat across the coffee table from Elise. His wife had made a pot of herbal infusion, which she placed on a tray on the table, along with a plate of an assortment of cookies that she baked at least twice a week. Two cups steaming with the greenish brew of peppermint and chamomile lay, untouched, on saucers directly set on the table. Elise leaned on her chair and sipped her herbal tea.
He said, “You look good to me—very good, in fact. So what’s your mother so upset about?”
Before Elise could answer, her mother said, “You'll probably be more upset than me once you hear what she has to say.”
He scowled at his wife, but said nothing. He leaned forward towards his daughter, “Well?”
Elise had been staring into her cup as she drank slowly. She raised her head and faced her father.
“I’m pregnant.” She did not bat an eyelash.
“What? Come again?”
“I am pregnant.”
“What do you mean you're pregnant? How could you be? I would have thought that you, of all people, would be careful not to let this sort of thing happen to you.”
“Well, it just happened. I never meant it to.”
“I’m having trouble understanding this. How could you let this happen?”
“How many months?”
“Three months. And, no, Dad, I won't have an abortion.”
“I told you. I have argued with her about this and she wouldn't listen. This is a disaster.” Mrs. Halverson sprang up from the couch.
Her husband clenched his jaw as he watched her, for a moment, pace around the room. He turned to Elise. “What about law school? You only have one more semester to go.”
Her mother interjected before Elise could answer. “Yes. Make her understand how very bad her timing is. This is the last thing any of us needs. One semester left and she throws away her future. Nobody considers abortion that bad anymore. I never thought your daughter would.”
“This semester’s practically over. I’ll take a leave of absence after this. I’ll graduate one semester later, that’s all.”
Her mother jerked a hand up in her daughter’s direction. “That is what I mean. She doesn’t see the problem and thinks it will resolve itself magically.” She stopped in front of Elise.
“You have no idea what it’s like. It’s impossible! Impossible to study when you have a baby. Especially when it’s screaming for attention. Never mind having a career. I’ll tell you this right now. Raising a child on your own is a full-time job.”
“It’s harder, but it can be done.” Elise looked directly into her mother’s eyes; her voice was clear and strong. She glanced at her father for an instant. “With your help, at first.”
“What? Well, I won't. I’ve already raised three children and that’s enough.”
“I will take care of my baby. But I will need your help. To look after him when I have to go to school. That’s a few hours a week, not a few hours a day. Most of my last semester will be independent study. I won’t have much class time.”
“Hah! Independent study! Guess what happens when your baby is crying to be fed. Or, when it refuses to stop crying all night. Or, it gets sick. That’s where all your independent study goes.”
Dr. Halverson watched his usually mild-mannered wife screaming at their daughter. He reached out, grabbed her hand, and pulled her back down on the couch next to him. He placed an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. She pushed him away, but he merely drew her closer and whispered into her ear.
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