When Rhiannon discovers she’s pregnant, she’s not sure how Daniel will react. Together, alone, he always talks of them being together, but when she encounters him at the hospital, it’s as though they hardly know one another outside of their professional association. When she does tell him, one evening at her apartment, his reaction is almost clinical, absorbing the info, carefully considering it, but otherwise displaying nothing on how it affects him.
“And you’re certain that —”
“Don’t even finish that,” Rhiannon cuts him off. “Of course it is.”
After several minutes of awkward silence, he tells her he needs time to think things over and leaves. A few nights later, Rhiannon receives an unexpected phone call.
The only person Rhiannon has confided in about the affair is her coworker and best friend, Chip, an older, male, nurse at the hospital. Today, they’re in the cafeteria discussing the latest development.
“When did you get the call?” Chip says.
“Last night, after dinner. I was expecting Danny and thought it was him. Instead it was some woman calling on behalf of Elspeth Hawkins. How do you think she found out?”
“Sweetie, let me clue you in on something. Dr. Hawkins may run this hospital, but it’s Elspeth who calls the shots.”
“You think so?”
“Hello! We work in the Armstrong annex. The one Elspeth Armstrong Hawkins built in memory of her family.”
“I see your point.”
“You’ve not been around that long, but the romance between the dazzling surgeon and the tragic heiress was once the stuff of fairy tales in Portland.”
“I’ve heard something about that, but don’t have a lot of details.”
“It had all the elements of great romance — the fiery crash which instantly killed her father, mother and brother; the handsome doctor who spent eight hours in surgery trying to save her little sister, all in vain. In a single afternoon, she lost her entire family.”
“I feel for her. It can’t be easy to deal with that kind of loss.”
“You couldn’t tell it by her. Whatever she was feeling, she was a rock in front of the press.”
“Are you serious?”
“Ever see the photo of Jackie Kennedy on Air Force One after the assassination? The one where she’s standing there watching LBJ get sworn in. That’s what it reminded me of.”
“The woman redefined stoicism, let me tell you. Jackie O had nothing on this lady. When rumors started circling that Dr. Hawkins had rushed to her side to comfort her, the press couldn’t get enough.”
“I just wish Danny would contact me.”
“Hate to be the bearer of bad news, buttercup, but you’ve heard the last from him. He’s not even in town. His secretary said he’s at a conference.”
“That can’t be right. He’d have mentioned something like that.”
“It’s over, kid. Time to face the music.”
Rhiannon takes out a tissue, though she manages to hold back tears.
“I feel like an idiot. I believed everything he told me.”
Chip takes her hand.
“Life lessons, sweetie. Remember, I’m here for you. You’re not alone.”
She places her free hand on her stomach.
“No. I’m not. But thanks for your support. It means so much.”
On the appointed day, Rhiannon goes to the Hawkins residence. She’s admitted by a nervous, but efficient woman who introduces herself as Nan, Elspeth’s assistant and gives several stern rules for interacting with Elspeth.
“No excitement, no physical contact,” she says. “I’ll be just outside in case there’s any drama.”
“I’m just planning to talk to her,” Rhiannon says.
“Remember what I said,” the assistant warns.
Rhiannon is led down a short hallway and into a study, where Elspeth sits in an overstuffed chair. She thanks the assistant and dismisses her.
Elspeth is at least ten years older than Rhiannon and seven or eight months pregnant. While she appears to have made every effort to put on a good facade, Rhiannon can’t help but notice that she looks tired. Still, she gives Rhiannon a pleasant smile, and directs her to sit on the sofa.
“Can I offer you anything?” she says.
“If you change your mind.”
“Do you mind if I ask when you’re due?” Rhiannon says.
“Not at all. The doctor tells me mid-March.”
“Your third, correct?”
“That’s right. I’ve managed to space them several years a part, but that doesn’t make the process any easier.”
“Tell me about it.”
“How far along are you?”
“Month, month and a half.”
“I suppose we could continue to exchange pleasantries for a while longer, if you prefer.”
“I doubt it will make this any less awkward. I’d rather we just get down to it.”
Elspeth nods. “You may think I’m angry with you, Ms. Worthy, but I’m not. Rather I feel sorry for you. I can only imagine what Daniel’s told you about our marriage and what his plans for you were.”
“I suspect you have a reasonable idea.”
“Maybe I do. No matter. We’re here to discuss what it’s going to take for you to move past this.”
“What makes you think I can move past it?”
“Regardless of what you’ve been told by my husband, there’s no future for your relationship. Unlike you, he entertains no such notions. Daniel likes to feel he’s in control and his occasional dalliances give him that illusion. It sometimes becomes necessary to remind him what’s at stake.”
“You seem to have this down to a science,” Rhiannon says.
Elspeth regards her with a half smile.
“I’ve been married to Daniel for fifteen years. Do you honestly believe this is the first time I’ve had to deal with a situation like this?”
“Why do you put up with it?”
“In the world I inhabit, that’s what women do. We protect our families no matter what.”
Rhiannon leans forward.
“I’ll make this easy for you, Elspeth. I don’t want your money or the strings that go with it.”
“That’s all well and good but I need assurances there will be no trouble from you.”
“As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of returning to Seattle. A hospital there has made me an offer.”
“Yes. I’m aware of that.”
Rhiannon considers this.
“I see. Then you’ll be happy to know I’m going to take it. That should put enough distance between me and Danny. Plus I have a mother who needs me and will probably command most of what little free time I’ll have. You won’t be hearing from me again.”
“What are you going to do about the child?”
Rhiannon looks her in the eye.
“I protect my family as well.”
Rhiannon rises and heads for the door. Elspeth calls after her.
“Taking care of an invalid parent is very expensive, particularly with a child on the way. Perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the assistance I’m offering.”
“I see your point.” She remains where she’s standing while she considers it. “I want my mother to have the best care available. Currently my sister’s paying for the facility she’s in. It’s adequate, but could be much better. Plus, I want to relieve my sister of that burden.”
“Nothing for you?”
“I told you, I don’t want the strings that go with it. Besides, I make a good salary. At least I guess I still will.”
“You won’t be disappointed.”
“You weren’t what I was expecting, Ms. Worthy,” Elspeth says. “Good luck.”
“Same to you.”
Rhiannon returns to her apartment before allowing herself any tears. Over the next several days, Chip and his partner help her pack up her things. She has no further contact with Daniel or Elspeth.
When her daughter arrives several months later, she names her Abigail Rae, after her parents.