The pause that followed felt like several hours.
"What do you mean, pregnant?" Mel rolled her eyes.
"Well, there's pretty much only one thing that could possibly mean."
Jamie was silent for another minute as he processed this information.
"I just mean... are you planning to keep it?"
It wasn't a hard question for Melanie, but nonetheless, she paused, moving her eyes down from his face for the first time since she came in.
"Yes." She swallowed hard as Jamie raised his eyebrows. She had anticipated this reaction but had hoped for better. "What reasons would we have to... end it?"
"Loads of reasons? You were applying to PhD programs two weeks ago. Do you think you can do that with a baby? And I'm looking at being promoted within the year." he stopped speaking as she looked displeased and pushed his hands through his hair. "Look, I'm not saying you have to end it, but you can't deny the timing is bad."
"Better than loads of people! My mum and dad were only 16. Do you think they were better off than we are? We both have good jobs, maybe not exactly the best we could hope for, but we have decent salaries, and I even have flexible hours, which is great for childcare. They were penniless and teenagers, but they pulled together to make it work, and if they hadn't, I wouldn't even exist!" she scowled as he rolled his eyes. "It's true!"
"Yeah, I know your parents' love story is selfless and awe-inspiring or whatever..."
"It is!" she cut him off, and he didn't say anymore. Mel's father died when she was too young to remember him; discussing her family was sensitive.
"The bottom line is, I am pregnant." tears started to prick at her eyes, but she continued. "We can either adapt and adjust to parenthood or destroy any chance of this child coming into the world. There is no third option - I'm not having a baby and giving it away."
Over the next few weeks, it almost felt like nothing had changed. Mel hadn't seen much of Jamie, and she didn't even want to. She knew they needed to make some practical arrangements for the baby's arrival but kept putting it off.
The problem was, she felt disconnected from the pregnancy. Even when throwing up for an hour one morning, Mel barely felt like an expectant mother. Arrangements didn't feel urgent enough to give her a push because she could hardly believe she was having a baby.
She knew what the problem was; she hadn't told her mother yet. The two were very close, and usually, Mel would share milestones with her mother before even anyone else. She was avoiding telling her for reasons she couldn't understand. Mum will be thrilled, she told herself. Why are you even avoiding it?
Telling mum will make it real. She pushed the thought down almost as soon as it appeared in her head. It needs to be made real - that's the whole point. It's a good thing.
She finally turned up at her mother's house after sending a text informing her that she had news - making sure she couldn't back out once there.
"I'm having a baby." Mel tried to say it with as much enthusiasm as possible, but Jean's face still displayed more surprise than delight.
"Really?" was all she said, still taken aback.
"And you're happy about this?" the mild concern on her mothers face almost annoyed Melanie.
"Yes, why wouldn't I be?" she didn't want the conversation to take an unpleasant turn, but she couldn't help but feel insulted at the insinuation that she wouldn't be happy to be a parent. After all the times she'd said how much she was willing to sacrifice for motherhood, it felt like a slight on her generosity.
"I mean, I just thought... with your PhD applications... well anyway, that's great! When are you due?"
"I don't know." she felt her face flush. After her initial defensiveness, the last thing she wanted was her mother realising how underprepared she was. Indeed, she noticed a slight narrowing of her eyebrows quickly replaced by a smile.
"Well then, we should be setting up an appointment, shouldn't we?"
The following week they went out shopping together.
"What about this?" Mel turned around to look at an oversized blue t-shirt that she presumed would come down to her knees. She frowned slightly. "You're being very picky, you know", her mother pointed out.
"I just don't like any of these - they're all so... motherly". Mel's words were met with an eye roll.
"Heaven forbid maternity wear be 'motherly'".
Mel continued to browse aimlessly among many varieties of maternity wear, feeling inspired by none of them.
"Oh look, this is adorable!". Mel's stomach flipped when she saw her mother holding not an item of maternity wear but a baby-gro with Winnie-the-Pooh on it.
"Oh, come on, we don't need to get that stuff yet, surely?" Mel swallowed hard, trying not to let her discomfort show on her face.
"Better sooner than later! It will be the time sooner than you think!" her mother cooed.
As if Melanie could forget. July 29th was seared in her head like a sentence. No, like a celebration, she reminded herself. It's a joyous occasion.
Back at her house, Jean was quiet. Melanie attempted to force small talk - sensing something was bothering her mother. Eventually, she had to draw attention to it.
"Mum, is there something wrong?" She asked, almost dreading the answer.
"Baby, listen." She drew in a deep breath. "I need to ask you. Is Jamie, or indeed someone else, pressuring you to have this baby?"
Melanie reeled in shock.
"No! Why would you think that?"
"Honey, it's just... you don't seem excited. You seem to want to avoid the topic altogether. You barely even acknowledge your pregnancy." There was a pause before she continued. "I've tried to be happy for you and supportive because you keep saying that this is what you want, but your smile just isn't meeting your eyes, hun."
"What are you suggesting, that I would... terminate? When you had so much less than I did, but you carried on anyway? When you've always said to me how you and dad fell in love because you brought a baby up together? How could I, then, just get rid of pregnancy even though I have a job, and a flat, of which you had none? What if the baby turns into the best thing in my life, like you say I was for you? How could I take the risk of depriving myself, and Jamie, of a child, the child of life and...." Melanie didn't mean to drop such a tirade, and she inwardly cursed herself as her feelings came bubbling to the surface.
Jean's eyes were wide in shock and filled with tears as she looked at her daughter.
"Darling, I never meant to put pressure on you." She put her head in her hands and took a deep breath before continuing, almost in a whisper. "I wanted an abortion."
Of everything that had happened over the past few weeks, nothing had shocked Melanie quite like this.
"What?" she gasped.
"Before I tell you this, you need to understand something; I don't regret having you. I love you more than anything. I'm telling you this now because I need you to know that you do have options."
"Honey, I was only sixteen when I got pregnant. And I didn't know how to look after a child, or if we would be able to financially or anything really. But your father, he was a traditionalist, he insisted we have the baby. He was a couple of years older, as you know, and he had a job, albeit poorly paid. He promised me he would pay our way, and the baby would be fine. He told me that the baby deserved to live, that not having the baby would be akin to murder. I believed him, and I continued the pregnancy."
"Pregnancy was difficult. I was so sick I could barely eat, and I was too young, really. My body wasn't ready for such a thing. Giving birth was so incredibly complicated, it almost went wrong in multiple different ways."
"I told you that we always lived with my parents, but that's not quite true. For the first few months after you were born, we tried living in our own apartment together. When you were about three months old, your father told me he was leaving. He said it wasn't what he pictured, that his life had turned upside down, and he wanted to focus on building a career. I begged him not to go, but he did. He didn't even pay me any money, my mum pushed me to take him to court, but I didn't want to. For some time, I naively believed he would come back, but I was wrong. After some time had passed, I just thought it would be dragging up old wounds."
"I didn't know how to tell you." Jean was fully crying now, with tears running down her face. "I knew you would eventually ask questions about why you didn't have a dad, and I didn't know what to say. I didn't want you to feel rejected, firstly by him, but also I thought you would surely ask why I decided to have you and I couldn't give you an honest answer. I never wanted you to think I didn't love you."
"When I heard that he had died, I figured you didn't need to know. I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have lied. But you deserved a good dad, who loved you, and I felt that in some way, I could give you that, through a memory of him."
"I stand by what I said; I don't, for even a second, regret having you. But going through pregnancy, and birth, and then having a child is a huge thing, and it's something you should do for you, not out of pressure, not out of guilt, not for someone else."
Melanie's head was spinning. She could barely process all this information. She felt that she ought to be angrier, more upset, that the lie should rewrite her whole relationship with her mother. But deep down, she felt relief, relief that overshadowed her feelings about revelations concerning a man she'd never known.
"Are you saying I should have an abortion?" Mel was also crying when she spoke, and she felt a barrier come down in her mind, the barrier of her own creation that had prevented her from truly considering her options.
"No, I'm not saying anything." Jean shook her head. "All I want you to do is make your own choice. It's you that has to do this, so it's you that has to make the call."
Melanie had a spring in her step as she walked down the corridor. Handing in her notice felt so symbolic. Even though she had another month left, it felt amazing to be leaving the office. Her PhD course would start in September, and she couldn't wait to be back in a learning environment.
She pulled out her phone to text Jamie, and her heart skipped a beat when she saw the date. She didn't understand the significance for a brief moment, but then she realised; it's my due date. A wave of nostalgia came over her, remembering the pregnancy that felt so long ago. I would have a child today, she thought, picturing how different her life could be right now. It was almost a scary thought, and she internally thanked her lucky stars that she was where she was, doing what she loved and embarking on a whole new chapter of life.