Fifteen and Pregnant – from my novel Hog Wild

Fifteen and Pregnant

I was fifteen when I met the man with the handsome mustache and the beautiful Oldsmobile convertible. In the summer, I worked two days a week at the Eagle Grove Dairy Sweet making ice cream cones, sundaes, and shakes. It was a Wednesday evening when JR stopped for an ice cream cone. He got my attention by paying me a five dollar bill and telling me to keep the change. That was about four dollars in those days.  His rugged body, handsome face, and dark mustache had already caught my eye; this was not one of the boys I usually dated.

Two nights later, he was back. It was almost closing time when he came to my window and ordered a chocolate peanut butter milkshake.

“That sounds different,” I said.

“Ever had one?”

“Never in my 18 years,” I lied, about my age, not my lack of experience with peanut butter and chocolate.

I have a pretty good figure. I might get away with a little lie. Some people say they think I look eighteen.

“Want to try one?” he asked. “I’ll buy.”

“Sure.”  I glanced at his car.  “That’s a cool convertible you have there.  Olds?”

“Yep. An 88. Great car. Want to go for a spin?”

“How old are you? You may be too old for me.”

“You’re eighteen. I’m four years older. I guess we’re both legal age.”

His lie covered the truth that a handsome twenty-eight year old man left his wife at home and invited a fifteen year old girl on a date. I was pretty naive.”

JR drove me toward an old gravel pit. I leaned back and thrilled at the feel of the wind flying through my hair. We parked and sipped our milkshakes.

“This is tasty, JR. These are the first two chocolate peanut butter shakes I’ve ever made.”

We sat and talked. JR worked at the coop in Webster City. Said he was from Fort Dodge, played football in high school, and went to the Junior College. He told me his dad had 1200 acres where he grew corn and soy beans and raised pigs. He wanted to go to Iowa State and study engineering. I was impressed. He was a cool guy. Then he kissed me. The boy could kiss. None of my classmates could kiss like that. That night, he was kind of shy, but a month later we were parked at the pit and he didn’t act shy at all. The next month, I missed my period. Then I found out he was really twenty-eight.

I was scared. I was pregnant.  And I was mad.

“Why would you lie to me?” I screamed at JR.

He looked down and didn’t answer.

We talked about marriage. I told him I was too young. He told me he had a wife.

I wanted to get an abortion.  He didn’t want me to.

Finally, he offered, “Karla, I have a deal for you. Have the baby. Sarah’s wanting to have a child, but we can’t seem to get pregnant. It seems obvious now that it’s her fault since you got pregnant damn fast. You have this kid. Sarah and I will adopt it.”

“And how does that help me? I think I need to make a trip to Planned Parenthood; should of made the trip months ago.”

“I’ll make you a deal. You have my baby. My wife and I will adopt it. And I’ll pay your tuition and give you $400 a month for all of your college.”

For five minutes, we sat in JR’s convertible listening to the chirping of the crickets and frogs.

I asked, “And what guarantee do I have that you’d follow through?”

“Easy. Obviously, I don’t want my wife to know all of this. Here’s my business card. It has my home phone and my cell phone numbers on it. If I don’t produce, you call my wife. She will shoot me dead. I do not have 1200 acres; more like 3000. I can afford to send you to college and pay you a stipend and if you need any extras, let me know. It’s worth a lot to me and Mary to have a child. Also, I’ll draw up a contract. It’ll say that you agree to give birth to the baby and give him up to me. You will also agree to never contact my wife or the child. If you do, you will owe me all I’ve paid you plus a $100,000 penalty. I will agree to pay your college tuition and $400 per month toward room and board. Do we have a deal?”

“I want to see the contract.”

“Ok. Fair enough.”

JR took my hand. “One more thing.”

“What?”

“Can we make love one more time?”

I said. “We already made love one time too many.”

I gave up my baby boy. I traded him for my college education. His father and stepmother got to hame him. JR paid for my college and for my law degree. He and Sarah named my son, Cletus.  It isn’t the name I would have chosen, but he owned it so I loved it.

During his high school years I watched Clete play football and was tied in knots as I attended his wrestling meets. I never missed driving from Des Moines to Gandy Center to watch an athletic event. It was hard to keep up. I subscribed to the Gandy County Gazette and made a scrapbook. Every time his name showed up in the paper I clipped and pasted the article.

By the time Cletus graduated from high school, I had been married for three years and divorced. I had dated other men, but no one I loved; only Clete.

Today, I think of myself as the best employment lawyer in the state. I make a difference in people’s lives, especially young women who are abused by employers who think they own the woman.

One spring morning I awoke to the ding of my phone. CLETE’S BIRTHDAY flashed upon the screen. I thought, My son is twenty-six today. I wish I could send him a card. I brushed aside a tear, showered and dressed for work. Depositions today. I need to look good.

That afternoon, my secretary interrupted the deposition, “You have two visitors, Karla. They won’t tell me anything. The young man is determine. He insists he must see Karla Freeseman.”

“What’s his name?”

“He won’t say. He says he and you used to be very close twenty-five years ago.”

“An old boy friend?”

“Not unless you were robbing the cradle. And the woman. She must be eighty-five. Spry as a spring chicken, though.”

“His mother?”

“He called her Aunt Hattie.”

“I’m almost finished with this deposition. Tell them I’ll see them in five minutes.”

The secretary knocked on my door.

“Yes?”

The door opened.

“Ms. Freeseman. This is Cletus and … .”

“Hattie. I’m Clete’s aunt.”

A chill came over my body.  I swallowed hard, sitting at my desk, keeping the straight face that lawyers are good at.  I couldn’t make myself get up and shake hands with them.  “How do you do?” I forced out of my mouth.  “Won’t you have a seat?”

Clete and Hattie sat. My secretary left, closing the door behind her.

I was speechless. I’m never speechless, but at the moment I could not talk.

Cletus broke the silence, “Hi, Mom.”

I reclined in my chair. My hands were clasped casually in my lap. I had the expression of a trained attorney who never showed emotion.

Then I looked my son in the eyes and said, “What took you so long?”

“I didn’t know you existed until two weeks ago.”  He was staring straight at my face.  “It’s taken me two weeks to gather the nerve to come here.”

“What do you want? I’m not giving you any money.”

“I don’t know. I mean I don’t want money from you. You’re beautiful. Are you a great lawyer?”

“The best employment lawyer in Iowa. If you have a problem with your job or if your boss is harassing you sexually, I’m your gal.”

“It’s not a lawyer I’m looking for.”

Another pause.

“I watched you graduate from high school.”

“You were there? In Gandy Center? You saw me?”

“You didn’t get many awards or scholarships.”

“People thought I was dumb. But I’m not. I’m good at figuring things out. I can fix things.”

“You didn’t go to school after high school. If you are smart, then why didn’t you go to school? Be a professional? Maybe an engineer or a tech specialist?”

“I didn’t think I was smart enough.”

“You’re young enough. You could still go to school.”

“I’m pretty old.”

“You are twenty-six today. I celebrated your birthday. I celebrate your birthday every year.”

A shy smile crossed Clete’s face.

“August is not a month of holidays.  On my birthday, there was always a card from Hattie and often John and Sarah.  They gave me a card and some cash. I always knew that Aunt Hattie loved me, but nobody else ever did much to make me feel important.”

“I always remembered your birthday,” I said. “I celebrated every one.”

I leaned forward toward my son.  “I told you I wouldn’t give you money, but if you really want to go to school, I might help you. If you can earn good grades.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because you are my son.”

“And you … are my mother.”

Clete’s hand was on the desk.  I reached across and touched it. “You are my son and this is the first time I’ve touched you in twenty-six years.”

Clete looked at my face. He must have seen the parallel lines of tears leaving lines of black mascara down my cheeks. I looked at his eyes. My son’s vision must have been blurred by the tears welling in his eyes.

For a minute, it was quiet. Then Clete rolled his wrist and took my hand in his.

“That’s the first time I’ve touched my mother in twenty-six years. It feels right.”

After another long pause, Clete asked, “What about my dad? Can you tell me who he is?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Yesterday, I was an orphan with adoptive parents who never really liked me very much. Now I have a mom and I think you like me — at least a little.”

There was a moment of silence in the room.

Then, “It would be nice to know my dad.”

The room was silent for two minutes.

“I made a promise never to tell who your father was. I was fifteen years old and I knew I couldn’t do much for you. We would have had a huge struggle together, Cletus.” I squeezed his hand. “I got a chance to give you up for adoption to a young couple. I thought you would have a much better chance for a successful life with them. I cried for days after I gave you up.

“Your father gave me money to go to college and law school. He called it a scholarship and deducted it from his income taxes. He was very generous. We never talked, but whenever I needed money for tuition or books, I wrote to him and he sent it. The money took the stress away from paying for college”

Hattie asked, “So you were the recipient of the Ralph Rawlins Memorial Scholarship, named after my father?”

“That’s the one.”

“So my adoptive-father is my real father?” asked Clete.

“I didn’t tell you that.”

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