“You better start seeing how. You don’t have much time to change her mind.”
At five-thirty, Bella ushered her last client out of the examining room. She lingered while he paid his bill and carried his cat out of the clinic, then shut and locked the front door behind him.
“Okay, spill it,” she said to Hannah. She leaned on the counter and watched as Hannah turned her computer off and gathered her things.
“What do you mean?”
“What is going on? You haven’t been yourself all day.”
Hannah thought about telling a white lie and leaving quickly, but she knew that wouldn’t help matters any. “You won’t believe it.”
“I bet I will. Come here.” Bella gestured toward the waiting room. She took a seat on a plastic chair and leaned back. “Start at the beginning.”
Hannah joined her. “There’s good news and bad news.” She wiped her suddenly damp palms on her slacks. “I applied to Montana State and got in. I start classes in February.”
Bella’s eyes went wide. “You’re going to graduate school? You never said anything!”
“It isn’t exactly graduate school. I have to take a few extra classes this semester before I can apply for the grad program I want.”
“That’s great, Hannah. Don’t worry, we’ll figure out your hours and everything. I’m so proud of you. What are you going to study?”
Hannah felt a blush creep up her neck. She knew it was silly, but sometimes when she’d pictured telling Bella, she wondered if her friend would think she was copying her. “After I’m done with my preparatory classes, I’d like to go to veterinary school.”
Bella leaped from her seat with a whoop and came to hug Hannah. “Oh, my goodness. I’m thrilled. We desperately need more vets! We’ll be able to be business partners someday!”
“Really?” Hannah’s voice broke. “I didn’t know if you’d be mad.”
“Mad? You’re kidding, right? I can’t wait!” Bella hugged her again and tears of relief pressed against Hannah’s eyes. She tried to hold them back.
“Hannah! Hannah, what’s wrong? Is it the money?”
Hannah shook her head vigorously.
“What is it?” Bella crouched down beside her.
“I screwed up. Big time.” Hannah’s tears fell faster. She dropped her head into her hands. “I slept with Jake.”
“Okay, you slept with Jake. That’s… kind of nice, isn’t it?” Bella asked. “I’ve seen how he looks at you. He likes you. Did he do something?”
“He proposed!” Hannah wailed. “He wants to get married and have kids…”
Understanding dawned on Bella’s face. “His timing wasn’t so great. But that’s okay, you can be with him and wait on the kids, can’t you?”
Hannah shook her head again. “The condom… it broke…”
“Oh, honey,” Bella swept her into another hug. “Sweetie, oh, I’m so sorry. But you can’t know yet that anything’s happened. You won’t know for a while. Chances are that everything will be fine. You’ll just be more careful in the future, right? Aren’t you on the Pill?”
“No. I’d been having issues, so I went off them a few months back. I have a doctor’s appointment next month to try another kind…” She dragged her sleeve across her face and shrugged. “I guess it’s too little, too late.”
“What did Jake say?”
“He wants to marry me—right away.”
“Well, that’s… good,” Bella said. “At least Jake loves you and wants the child, if there is one.”
“This is all happening way too fast.”
“Okay, first of all, congratulations on your acceptance to Montana State. Whatever happens, you’ll do a great job there and you’ll be a great veterinarian. Second, until you know whether you’re pregnant or not, you don’t have to do anything as far as Jake’s concerned. Just try to relax and focus on other things for a few weeks. If you do turn out to be pregnant, you still have plenty of time to make decisions, right?”
“I guess so. But Jake wants an answer in two weeks.”
“Too bad. He’ll just have to wait. This is an important decision, Hannah. You have to think it through.” She stood up. “Come on, let’s go give the animals in back a little love while we talk.”
Hannah nodded and followed her to the shelter at the back of the clinic. Bella stopped at a kennel in which an older mutt lay chewing on a bone. “Where will you go for vet school? To Colorado like I did?”
“I’ll go wherever I get in,” Hannah said. “You know what the competition for spaces is like.”
Bella nodded. “I do know. Can I ask a personal question?”
“Sure.” Hannah waggled her fingers through the bars of a cage where a tan puppy lay curled in a fluffy ball. She loved this guy. If she had her own place she’d adopt him in a heartbeat.
“How are you going to pay for school?”
“I have a little savings to get started,” she said. “Enough to cover spring semester. I’m going to pick evening and weekend courses and still work as much as possible. Then there’s financial aid and scholarships. I’ve already got a bunch to apply for.”
“No.” Bella said, petting the mutt’s floppy ears. “Forget it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re not going to work full time, go to school full time and try to fit in all those hours of homework, too.”
“I’ll manage just fine. Everyone does.”
“No, you won’t. Because I’m offering you the first Bella Mortimer Full-Ride Scholarship for veterinary students.”
Hannah’s mouth dropped open and for one second her heart surged with hope. Just for one second, though. Nearly as quickly, reality set in. She shook her head. “No way. I’m not taking your money.”
“You know, I’d buy that line in any other situation than this one,” Bella said. “I mean, if I was some random friend of yours who offered to pay for school out of the goodness of my heart, you’d be right to turn me down and pay your own way. That’s not the case here, though, is it? First of all, I wouldn’t have won so much money if you hadn’t signed me up for the reality show. I should pay your way for the rest of your life. Second, I wouldn’t have married a man who’s even richer than me if you hadn’t signed me up for that show. So I should doubly pay your way for the rest of your life. In fact,” she grew serious, “I’ve been trying to figure out how to do just that, Hannah.” She reached for her hand. “I owe you everything. I can’t carry that burden forever. I’ve been talking to lawyers about how to set up a trust for you. Just let me pay for your schooling. It’ll be so much simpler.”