She leans against the open window, breathing heavily. It's nearly fall; she can tell by the wind pushing against her face and the dryness of the air. Fall reminds her of the beginning, when she met Tara.
Climbing back into bed, she pulls the comforter tightly around her. She reaches for her mug of chai and swallows the steaming liquid even though it burns her lips.
The file rests against her thigh. She tries to ignore it, briefly considers putting it on the floor out of reach, and fails. Her fingers reach for it and cradle it in her hands, and her eyes travel down the first page.
Demographic and physical data:
She pauses, trying to imagine this hulk of a man. They've picked him, they like to joke, because he can combine their physical traits in a way that would be least offensive to look at. Willow has been pleading with genetics not to pass on her red hair, despite its dominance. She knows all too well of the pain it can bring to a shy kid.
Her cell phone is on the bedside table. She picks it up, juggles it from hand to hand, and wills someone to call her. She feels like talking, words seem to be swarming on her tongue, but she doesn't want to wake Tara. Her wife has had a hard week and this is her chance to rest.
Instead she recalls Tara's phone conversation with the donor, a few days previously. Willow had watched intently, barely able to suppress her eagerness as Tara nodded, smiled and joked. Every time the blond said something along the lines of "sure, that's fine with us," Willow wanted to shout out, "what's fine with us? Tell me." But she trusted Tara. She was just desperately impatient.
They had talked this through over and over again. As the sun bled into dusk each day they would hold hands and make lists and plans. In the night, when honking cars and screeching birds shattered the calm of the street, they'd curl together, their breath mingling. Voices low and intense, they built their future in words.
When Tara put down the phone, Willow had literally pounced. Every answer Tara gave wasn't enough. Willow needed to know what his voice was like, for one. When Tara said "he sounded nice enough", Willow narrowed her eyes. "There's no such thing as nice enough," she'd protested, "not for our baby."
So Tara would smile obligingly - luckily she had been blessed with the virtue of patience - and allow Willow to extract answers and opinions.
It would have been practical for Willow to make the first contact with their donor. After all, her pursuit of perfection was not short of excessive. It would have saved the blond many hours of recounting and answering questions. But this was not to be. Willow had just smiled and said, "I need you to do it, baby," and nothing else had needed to be said.
Willow smiles to herself and takes another sip. Tara understands her every quirk, the peculiar mannerisms that once made her mother worry she would not make friends or find a partner, and the strange habits that cause people to look at her with concern.
She turns to look at Tara whose body is wrapped and tangled in the comforter. Her thick, glossy hair has spilled over the pillow, and Willow reaches out a hand to stroke it. She loves the feel of Tara's hair; running her fingers through it is an addiction.
Willow watches cars speed along the road outside her window and wonders where the drivers are headed in the darkness. She glances at the clock and sees that it says 04:06. 'Damn', she says to herself, it's too early to wake her. She takes the nail clippers from the bathroom and trims her nails. When she finishes - and guiltily drops the clipped ovals onto the bedroom floor - she wonders what to do next.
"Tare," she murmurs, "are you sleeping?"
Tara grunts and shoves her face into the pillow.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you, honey," Willow replies, in a normal conversational volume, "I just thought if you were awake we could talk."
Tara squints at her, disbelieving. "Baby, what time is it?"
Willow looks at the clock, feigning ignorance. "Oh, god, it's 4am. Sorry, baby. Go back to sleep." She adjusts her pillow and yawns but continues sitting upright.
Tara sits up, her face indented with lines from the pillow. She shivers at the cool morning air and folds her arms over her breasts. "What is it, Will?"
"Well," Willow says hesitantly, "I'd like to call our donor. Again."
"What?" Tara takes Willow's hands, and rubs her thumb tenderly over the soft skin. "Honey, we're not really supposed to call him again, now that we've made the arrangements."
Willow nods. She's already gone through all of this in her head. No matter what Tara argues, she has a response. "Yes, I know, but I just thought - I really need to be sure. My great-Aunt says that just by speaking to someone you can tell if they have a good heart." Her eyes implore Tara's. "Please?"
Tara leans wearily against Willow's chest, and Willow tightens her arms around her wife, holding her close.
"Like I would ever say no to you." Tara's tone is light, dancing in the space between them. "There's a reason we picked a donor that didn't mind communicating with us. And we may as well take advantage of that," she says, smiling. "But Will, let's wait until at least seven to call him, okay?"
Willow nods against her. "Sure. I can do that." She lies down again, still holding Tara. Her eyes close and she's about to fall back to sleep when she hears Tara's sleepy voice.
"Baby? You made up that great-Aunt thing, didn't you?" Tara searches for a mental image of Willow's great-Aunt. The attitude-filled, scarlet-haired lady that springs to mind doesn't seem the type to talk about matters of the heart.
Willow smiles to herself and falls asleep.
Several hours later, Willow stands under the shower. The hot water trails down her belly and she presses her hands against it. She makes an effort to curve her hands around it, but her stomach is too flat.
She doesn't notice Tara come into the bathroom; the blond stands to one side and watches with a lopsided grin.
"Will, I think that a few months down the track, you might have more to feel there."
Willow washes herself with the sponge, watching the suds rush over her body and down the drain. "I hope so. Otherwise it's going to be a pretty small baby."
"Were you a big baby?"
Willow shakes her head. "I was one of those miniature babies. I was so premature that I came out wrinkled, like a dried petal."
"That would have been a cute name for you."
"Wrinkled? Or Petal?" Willow rinses the conditioner out of her hair.
Tara laughs as she takes a towel off the rack. "Neither." She sticks out her tongue. "Came."
Willow turns off the tap, then reaches for the towel and wraps it around her hips. "You'd make a better Came. You have to get me pregnant after all, dearest." She winks at her wife.
They sit down on the bed together and put the phone between them.
Willow instantly begins to fret. "What do I say?"
Tara pretends to muse over this. "How about, hey, my great-Aunt is a believer in good hearts, so I need to talk to you to check yours out." She pulls Willow close and kisses her just above her ear. "You can do this, baby. Ask him anything that worries you."
Willow picks up the phone and dials.
"Hello?" It's a polite, male voice.
"Uh, hi. This is Willow. Willow Rosenberg. I'm just calling about the, uh, insemination that my partner and I will be partaking in." Willow looks at Tara, who nods encouragingly.
The guy has a smile in his voice when he answers. "Um, I think you're after my roommate, Steven."
"Oh. Sorry!" Willow blushes. She covers the mouthpiece and turns to Tara. "Eek, wrong guy."
"Hello, Steve speaking."
This time Willow is more cautious. "Hi Steven, this is Willow Rosenberg. Uh, just to clarify, are you the donor for myself and Tara Maclay?"
"Yes, that's me." He sounds surprised. "I wasn't expecting to hear from you again so soon. Is anything wrong?"
"Oh, no. I just wanted to talk to you and get an idea for myself of what you're like. If you don't mind." Willow's voice gains a pleading edge.
"Sure. Well you know my basics. I'm in grad school. We're on break at the moment, and I'm going away in a few days. My parents live on the east coast and are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this weekend."
"Congratulations! That's wonderful," Willow says.
They continue to talk, and all the while Tara watches her wife. When Willow puts down the phone, her hands are trembling and she is smiling through tears.
"Are you okay?" Tara asks, concerned.
Willow's eyes are bright. "I'm fine. He's really nice."
"So, what's with the sad?"
Willow shakes her head. "There's no sad. It just finally feels real.''
It has almost been a year since we decided to have a baby.
It was actually Willow's 27th birthday. We were away for the week; the newspaper I work for had sent me to Canada to cover a new environmental policy, and to our delight I was given permission to bring a partner.
We stayed at a hotel overlooking English Bay Beach. It was the middle of summer, and the days stretched into night. We strolled along the water, hand in hand.
Willow was glowing. She wore the presents I had bought her: a long, sequined skirt that she'd admired in a store back home and a silver bracelet with our initials intertwined. She had crowed with pleasure when she opened the velvet jewelry box, and I had also seen her sneaking looks at it throughout the day, a smile spreading over her face.
We climbed over some rocks and found a deserted part of the beach. I was singing softly to her, watching the waves crash, when Willow startled the heck out of me.
"Tara," she said, her eyes expressive, "I would like to start a family."
Of course, it wasn't completely out of the blue. We had discussed it before. We'd made the typical jokes, reminding each other to pack condoms so we didn't find ourselves with a heat of the moment "surprise". We would stand in Barnes and Noble's parenting section, our eyes combing the array of books, albums and diaries, and turn to each other wistfully. We had made a promise to each other that when we could afford it and felt ready, we'd definitely go ahead.
I stared at her. I didn't see a hint of humor on her face; all I saw was my wife giving me the most solemn look I had ever seen.
"Will," I said at last, exhaling, "what brought this on?"
Her fingers absently played with her bracelet. "I've been thinking about it lately," she admitted. "I've been feeling so, well, clucky. Maternal."
I laughed lightly. "We always feel that way, honey."
She didn't smile. "I know. But Tare," she lifted her shoulders, a nervous Willow trait, "think about it. Everything we were waiting for has happened. You've got a great job, a secure paycheck. My firm is happy with my work and wants to keep me on. We have a house with a spare room, we live in a nice neighborhood and we're happy. I think it's the perfect time to have a child."
I nodded, still hesitant.
"What's holding you back?" she asked quietly.
"How will we know what to do? We haven't even discussed which of us should give birth, and who will stay home."
Willow didn't answer. She let me figure it out.
"Your work would happily give you maternity leave," I said slowly. The law firm she worked for represented labor unions and women's employment rights.
I saw her snicker.
"And I could work from home, do some freelancing for a while. That way I could look after her, and still bring in some money."
Willow's shoulders started to shake and I realized she was laughing. She looked up at me, her eyes shining. "Her?" She grinned at me. "Tara Maclay, if I didn't know better, I'd think you wanted a baby."
I was embarrassed. "Oh, come on, Rosenberg. You know I think about her, too."
My wife leant her head against my shoulder. "So why do you act so disinterested?" she asked, challenging me with her eyes.
I slid my hands down to rest on her legs. "Because," I said pointedly, "there needs to be someone practical in this relationship.''
As we walked back to our hotel, the sun bathed the sea in gold. We watched families pack up their beach gear and head home. We hadn't made a definite decision but there was a spark of excitement between us, and we were having trouble wiping the smiles off our faces.
Willow is in the bathroom, urinating. With a yawn, she unwraps the purple drugstore bag, and takes out the urine test kit.
"Tare," she yells, "I'm doing the pee-test if you're interested."
Tara runs down the hallway and into the bathroom. She holds a stack of papers in her arms and looks eagerly at Willow.
Willow glances at her wife. "How is it that you're not sick of watching me test my pee?"
"Check it," Tara instructs.
Steven's frozen semen is being quarantined at their local clinic. It has been there for four months; their doctor called a few weeks ago to let them know that as soon as Willow ovulates she can inseminate.
Willow glances at the colored bands. The test band is unmistakably darker than the control band.
"Tare," she declares, "I think I'm starting to ovulate."
Tara already has her sneakers on before Willow can finish the sentence. Along with the sneakers, the blond is wearing pajama pants and a T-shirt. "Let's go," she commands.
When they arrive at the clinic, the doctor shakes hands with each of them and has them sit at a table.
He can tell - hell, anyone could - that they are impatient, but he has to talk them through the procedure again, just to be sure. He describes the necessity of waiting until the semen has thawed and reached room temperature. Tara starts to drum her fingers on the table.
"Doctor, please don't take this the wrong way, but we own every piece of literature of donor insemination written in the last fifty years. Can we please go home and do this?" Tara's blue eyes are desperate.
He nods, expressing an audible sigh.
The two women stand, pushing back their chairs, and rush to the door.
"Don't forget to elevate your rear with a pillow! You don't want the semen to leak out of you," he calls after them, to the amusement of several couples in the waiting room.
Tara nods, not even bothering to turn around.
'Lesbians are the most impatient,' he laments.