"Val?"

"Son-Gui." The sounds run together on her tongue in a familiar lilt. I search the studied calm of my partner's eyes and find nothing. The control in which she holds herself is absolute, and my insides ache for her. I note the space her voice seems to create between us, and consider the consequences of trying to bridge that distance. Is it too soon, the pain too raw? I desperately want to feel her against me, but hesitate.

We step out of the elevator and back into the dank parking garage. Finding our well-used station wagon exactly where we left it, mere hours before, seems surreal to me. Between the yellow lines, but barely, the end stanting noticably towards the left; I remember pulling into the space, setting the parking brake and stepping out of the car, my door almost hitting the car parked beside us. Had it only been hours?

Had we just destroyed a life?

The paradoxical nature of it all suddenly gripped me. What is life if not happiness, I ask, and then what is happiness if not life? But I never doubted the vibrant growth we had stilled. We had meant to bring a living thing into this world, created by the love of two people, and now it no longer existed. I sense my thoughts plummet towards philosophical pontifications on the value of life.

I don't intend to lie to myself, deny my anger. My disappointment, and sorrow. Even, I will grudgingly admit, my sense of betrayal. That was my first reaction, betrayal. We had spoken about this; I felt assured of the mutuality of the decision. Only to be blasted into defensive positions, retreat. I suddenly realized my own vulnerability, and an acute need to protect myself manifested soon after.

I know she has not told me everything. I don't know if she ever will, and I don't know if it is my right to know, although sometimes it seems as if I need to. I clench my solid will around my fists just to keep myself from shaking her roughly. What happened Val? Why can't you talk to me? Who hurt you?

I pull into the parking garage beneath our apartment building and shut off the engine. Valerie still holds herself eerily upright and stiff and I let a small sigh escape from my lips. I wisely do not try to touch her, instead remaining seated in the driver's seat-a comfortable distance away it seems. I let my eyes wander over to rest uneasily on her shadowy profile.

"Are you okay?" A safe question to start off with, I reason. Yes or no, and we'll go from there.

Her impossibly impenetrable armor does not yield, although a slight frown dents the skin on her forehead. "Yes. The doctor said to rest for a few days." Her voice remains tight, causing me to slide out of the car and hurry to get her door.

I can't imagine what she's feeling now. I'm not intimate, like she is, with the pain that moved her to terminate our pre-child. She has shown me bits of it, tiny portions of this hurt in her heart which was intensified by the thought of this inkling-child growing within her. I try to understand, and when I can't understand I try to simply support her decision. I try to recognize when a decision is out of my hands. Her body, her temple. I try to control the anger threatening very near the surface towards whatever, whomever had hurt this precious being.

Does she feel guilt? Yes, I know she must. A contract reneged and two people in tears. She backed out, couldn't take the heat, lost her courage one could say. She knew the rules; making a promise means keeping it. But this isn't some goddamned boardroom, and I'm not some corporate executive. I don't want her head on a platter if she doesn't deliver.

We navigate the staircase, my hand resting carefully on her back. I unlock the door to our apartment and she flicks on a light. I hope she recognizes a good conversation opening when she sees it. "Want something to drink?" I steer her over to the couch.

*** several days prior ***

I noticed the tension in her body immediately, but did not question her about it. Hard day's work, I figured. Anxious about the holidays. Any number of things. I brought two cups of tea and the newspaper to the table and sipped casually, waiting while she went to change. I had been home just long enough to change myself, and steep the tea.

She emerged from the bedroom in a pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt, barefoot. I looked up to greet her, glancing briefly into her eyes as she folded herself into the chair next to me. I felt her stiffness, coldness perhaps. I looked again at her face and reached out a hand to trace the line of her jaw. I saw the worry in her puckered brow and frowning eyes. The melancholy seemed to seep from her skin.

"Hey there, you going to tell me what's wrong?" An innocent question I assumed.

I heard the sob catch in the back of her throat and my arms went around her. She reciprocated the movement and held my body close, rocking slightly. I felt her shoulders shake, and the unexpected threat of tears behind my own eyes surprised me. I rubbed the fabric on her back and waited for her to speak.

After a while her sobbing subsided and I heard her take a deep breath. I felt her muscles relax against me. "Shh.. What happened?" I slid my hand under the hair on her neck and gently massaged the knots.

"It's the.. baby." Valerie met my eyes in a gesture of pure anguish, and I abruptly relaxed my hand and let it fall to her shoulder. I struggled to remain impassive, masked as calm, masked as indifference, and all of which I knew she saw right through.

"The.. baby?" I asked, purely on reflex. We both knew it wasn't just the baby, but our baby. Real panic took over my mind, but I managed not to let go of the body pressed against mine. Whatever happens, we had said.

"I can't have this baby, Son-Gui. Please forgive me."

***

I hold out the glass of water to her and smile. God I love this woman, and I hope she tells me what happened.