Callahan Prescot held the metal stylus between his thumb and forefinger, poised above a sleek tablet on his lap. The cursor in the notepad app blinked, waiting for input.

The woman across from him watched, offering nothing but a cold gaze.

“So”—she looked around, eyeing the modern room—“new office.”

“New office,” affirmed Cal, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose.

White vid-walls, metal and wood furnishings; a single plush white rug beneath her plastic chair and his large minimalist desk.

“Nicer than the old place, I guess.”

“You guess?” Cal scoffed. “I certainly paid enough for it to be.”

“It’s cold.” She toyed with the fray at the edge of her black skirt. “Feels like a tomb.”

Cal fought to keep his face calm, but prickling heat rose anyway. He considered ending the session; decided against it.

“Is my décor really what you want to talk about, Mara?”

“Why not? There’s nothing else to say.”

“Are you sure?” Cal pressed. “There’s nothing to talk about?”

Mara snapped to face him with a glare. “Yes, I’m sure.” The surge of anger dissipated as quickly as it arose.

“Therapy is supposed to be cathartic,” he said. “But it can’t be if you won’t talk to me.”

“You know,” Mara began, standing from her chair and striding in slow, purposeful steps across the room, “my mother told me once if I couldn’t have an honest conversation with someone, I should reevaluate my relationship with them.”

“Smart woman,” muttered Cal.

“Do you think this is an ‘honest conversation,’ Dr. Prescot?” Mara crossed her arms, tapping one stiletto-heeled shoe against the thick white rug. “Do you think any of this has been?”

“Do you?”

“No.”

“Why is that?”

Mara walked forward until she was only a foot or so away from his desk and glared down at him with anger so hot he imagined she would have set him on fire. “The release agreement,” she spat, teeth clenched.

He shifted in his seat; craned his neck to look up at her. “What about it?”

“The court-mandated therapy period is up. Sign the release.”

With a sniff, Cal jotted down a note on the tablet; more for something to do than anything of relevance. Mara watched him, taking it all in, giving nothing back. When he didn’t answer, she spun and returned to her seat.

“Why do you want to go?” asked Cal, his foot tapping ever so. “I would have thought you’d enjoy the extended duration.”

“Not that I don’t adore these conversations,” said Mara, the last word like a soft curse, “but it was supposed to be ninety days. It’s been six months.”

“Well, it wasn’t your therapy session, now was it?” Cal’s foot began, against his will, to tap faster. Mara’s gaze slid to the crossed leg on his lap. Even behind the desk, he knew she would see the bubbling anger he was trying to hide. He put both feet on the ground; resettled his tablet on the desk. “It was mine. Government-mandated because of what you did—”

“And it was supposed to end, Cal. Three months ago.”

“Well then.” He leaned forward, irritation sluicing through his well-practiced professional voice. “I want to talk about it.”

“No,” said Mara. “I already told you, no.”

“You owe me that.”

“I don’t owe you anything,” she spat. “You’ve taken everything from me. How much longer are you going to keep me here?”

Cal chewed the inside of his cheek, his foot still tap-tapping against the rug. “As long as it takes to get answers. To have closure, Mara.”

“Right,” Mara said with a bitter laugh. “Your closure, not mine.”

“You’re here for my therapy. This is your fault.”

“Of course. It’s all about you. Always has been, always will be.”

“Just tell me,” Cal insisted, sucking in a deep breath, “why you had the abortion.”

Mara flinched at the word; shook her head, gaze hollow.

Cal settled his stylus next to the tablet and laced his fingers in his lap. “Who’s incapable of having an ‘honest conversation’ now?”

“Fuck you, Cal. You’re an asshole.”

“And you’re a withholding bitch.”

“No,” said Mara, leveling her gaze at him. “I’m dead.”

Silence descended. Mara’s fingers twitched the way they did when she was jonesing for a cigarette. Cal considered pulling one out and smoking it just to spite her.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Not once the whole time we were together did you ever consider—or even ask—what I wanted or needed. Why should I expect it to be different now?”

“Mara—”

“So what is it, hmm? What is it you want to know?” She ran her hands through her hair; wiped the tears from haunted eyes. “What sordid details will convince you to sign the release agreement?”

Cal’s foot stilled. “I want to know why,” he whispered, “you got rid of my baby.”

Mara barked out a laugh; eyes narrow with rage. “Unbelievable. That you can still manage to make this about you. Did it ever occur to you that it wasn’t actually about you?”

“How was it not? You were pregnant with my baby. You went and—”

“Did it occur to you,” Mara continued, unabated, “that I wasn’t ready to be a mom—”

“I proposed to you!” Cal shouted, jumping to his feet.

“After I told you I didn’t want to get married!”

“I was willing to be there for you and take care of everything, and you… you went and murdered my baby—”

“And you murdered me!” screamed Mara, standing and pointing an accusatory finger.

Cal glared at her. “You knew the consequences when you got an abortion. You’re the one who broke the law. I didn’t ‘murder’ you.”

“You’re the one who turned me in,” seethed Mara. “Same thing.”

They regarded each other, wary, panting. Mara shook; Cal’s hands curled into fists.

“I was going to break up with you. You know that?” she asked, voice soft.

“Yes. From Bret. Sarah was upset when you told her what you’d done.”

“Oh, I bet she was.” Mara swore; closed her eyes. “Tell me something, Cal.”

“What?”

“Did the condom really break?”

“What do you mean?”

“That night. Was it really an ‘accident?’”

Cal’s chest was still heaving when he replied, “Yes.”

Mara smiled, but there was no joy in it. “Cal?”

“…What?”

“You’ve always been a terrible liar.”

Cal reached into the drawer and pulled out the small canister that held her DNA remnants. It was no larger than his palm and yet contained everything she’d been in life—even down to the defiance. He stroked a thumb over the smooth metal box. Therapy was supposed to be soothing; at least, that was what they’d told him. But he didn’t feel soothed. He didn’t feel anything but anger. When he looked up, Mara was crying, and it enraged him; filled him with indignation. He looked away and pressed the small button on the side of the box.

“Cal—”

Mara’s projection faded from view.

Cal twisted the device in his hands and placed it on the desk in front of him. A few weeks more might make her sorry. He forced a grin and prepared to meet with his first patient of the day, then glanced down at the sonogram picture on the desk; wondered if she’d seen it.

In just a few months, the government-appointed surrogate carrying his and Mara’s baby would give birth. He was glad he’d opted to get Mara’s eggs frozen before her destruction; at least some good could come of the life-giving gift she’d chosen to squander.

He grabbed his tablet and stylus and settled into his seat.

Maybe after the baby was born, he could forgive her for what she’d done. Maybe holding their child would finally soothe him, and he could release her once and for all.

Maybe.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Merethe Walther is a professional editor, author, and short story writer whose work has won awards with Readers’ Favorite and Writers of the Future. When not writing, you can find her playing video games and board games, reading, and spending time with her husband and cat in Atlanta, GA.

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