“How was everyone’s day?” Jenny asked as she sat at the dinner table.

Phil shrugged. “Same old, same old.”

“I got accepted to Northwestern,” Madison offered.

“What?” Jenny shouted. “That’s amazing! When did you find out? Why didn’t I see the letter?”

“It’s current year, mom. Nobody sends out letters now. I got an email saying there was an update to my portal information, and I went there and the little status indicator went from applied to accepted.”

Jenny scowled. “Well that’s no fun. Anyway, that’s great news, honey. I’m very proud of you. Did they say what the financial aid package is?”

“Not great. About twenty thousand,” she said.

“Not terrible,” Phil said. “That’s per year?”

“Yeah, so our cost is about forty. They don’t do loans themselves, but they said I’m eligible for about five thousand in federal loans if I want them. And there’s a little work-study, but that’s just about fifteen hundred. So I’m still way, way short.”

Jenny pursed her lips. “Hmm.”

“I can kick in about ten a year,” Phil said.

“You will not,” Jenny reprimanded.

“Look,” Phil continued, “I get that you don’t want to rely on me for stuff. I get that. But the school doesn’t see it that way. They looked at my income when they did this calculation. And anyway, this is between me and Madison. I want to help her with her college. I’m not helping you, I’m helping her.”

“Thank you, Phil,” Madison said. “That’s huge, actually. So with the federal loan we’re down to twenty-five. If I do that with private loans, I graduate with a hundred thousand in student loan debt.”

Jenny scowled but said nothing.

“What’s a reporter’s salary these days?” Phil asked.

“Depends where you live, of course,” Madison said. “The national average is about thirty-five starting out, and it doesn’t move much from there. It’s definitely not a job you go into for the money.”

“Thirty-five? Ouch,” Jenny said.

“But it’s more if you go to a big city, but then it costs more to live there. Plus, there’s no guarantee I get a job at all. Reporter jobs aren’t easy to come by these days.”

“A hundred thousand in loans will cost you about five hundred a month after you graduate,” Jenny said.

“How do you do that?” Phil asked.

“I do this all day, every day, Phil,” she replied.

“So that’s six thousand a year,” Madison said. “If I can get a job paying forty, that doesn’t seem too bad.”

“And if you can’t, you just default on them,” Phil said with a smile.

“Nice,” Jenny said, the scowl intensifying. “Don’t listen to him, honey. I don’t know. It’s a lot. And that’s assuming you can get a private loan at all. My credit is crap.”

“I can cosign,” Phil said. “My credit’s pretty good, actually.”

Jenny rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“What?” he protested. “It’s not like she’s actually going to default on it. She’ll pay it back on time. It’ll be fine.”

“So what’s the next step?” Jenny asked.

“I accept their offer of admission, which is kind of assumed because I did the early decision thing. And then I look for loans and work my butt off to make as much money as I can by next year.”

“You can work while you’re in school, too,” Phil said.

“Maybe,” Madison said. “I’m sure there’s lot of competition for the kind of job I’m qualified for up there. I know a girl who started there two years ago, and she said she couldn’t find any work that was practical. What with classes and living on campus and all that. I might just have to rely on my work study job the first year.”

“You can work extra shifts next summer, though,” Jenny suggested.

“Right. Once I graduate, I’ll have all the time in the world. I’ll just work my ass off.”

“I’m really proud of you,” Jenny said. “It’s quite an accomplishment to get into that school.”

“Go Wildcats!” Phil shouted.

“You and I will talk later,” Jenny scolded Phil.

“Go easy on him, mom,” Madison pleaded.

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