Mmy name is Anna Carlton. I’m almost nineteen, and four years ago, I had an abortion. I think about it all the time.

When my boyfriend and I were sophomores in high school, we had sex. It was the first time for both of us. He said he loved me and would never leave me. I believed him, but he was such a liar!

I got pregnant in January. I thought about keeping it and delayed having an abortion. I bought bigger and baggier clothes, which I love to wear anyway, and I was sure no one would know. I finally had the abortion that summer, and as far as I knew, no one found out about it – not even my parents. The clinic I went to said I didn’t have to tell anyone, so I didn’t. There were rumors around school, but my boyfriend and I denied everything. Then I had the abortion. He left town to go live with his mother, and I haven’t seen Aaron Michaels since. Now I’ve finished my second year of college and am sitting on the porch at home, working on a landscape. I discovered last year that painting calms me. I can escape into the picture and empty my mind of problems and worries. I can imagine a place where there is no pain; no harm ever comes to the people there. No one condemns anyone else for choices they have made, and no one ever feels guilty, because in this place, people do no wrong. Only peace reigns, and for the length of time I work on a painting, I live in that wonderful place.

The sound of a car turning into the driveway brings me out of my reverie. Since Aaron’s dad is my dad’s regular golf partner, I’m not surprised when Mr. Michaels opens the door and steps out.

“Hi, Mr. Michaels!” I call.

“Hello, Anna. Are your parents home?”

“No, they went shopping. I’ll tell them you stopped by.”

“Actually — ” he hesitates. He shakes his head, then shrugs. Finally, he decides to speak.

“Aaron’s home. There’s something he wanted to tell your parents.” I freeze as he catches himself, perhaps afraid of saying too much. “I’ll call later tonight.”

Mr. Michaels turns to leave, but I jump up, afraid to ask what he wants yet desperately needing to know. “Wait! I mean, Aaron’s here?” He turns and nods. “But I thought he lived with his mother.”

Mr. Michaels sighs. “Sit down, Anna.” He comes up on the porch and sits beside me on the swing. “Aaron has been home because he’s going to college, and it’s closer to me than to his mother. He also has someone with him he wants you to meet.”

“A girlfriend?” I ask. I begin imagining her. She would be tall and pretty, a complement to Aaron’s trim physique. I wonder if they are serious.

“No, it’s a boy.” Mr. Michaels looks at me as if I should know what he is talking about.

“His roommate?” I guess. How nice of Aaron to bring him home for his dad to meet. Aaron has always been thoughtful that way. But why would he want me to meet his friend?

“No, it’s his son.”

I am stunned. Aaron has gotten someone else pregnant? The dirt-bag! I feel cheap, like an old rag, used and tossed away in favor of a clean one. I ask, “Who was she?”

“You.”

At first, the word does not register. But then it hits hard. “Me? That’s not possible.”Mr. Michaels just sits there staring at his hands like he has never seen them before.

“You can’t be serious,” I continue. “Aaron and I never–”

“Had sex?” Mr. Michaels breaks in. “That’s what Aaron said at first. He said it was all a misunderstanding, and they sent the wrong boy. But he looks just like you, Anna. He’s like a miniature you with Aaron’s personality. So even if you deny it, we will all know the truth.”

He lowers his voice and says gently, “What really happened, Anna?”

I slowly twirl my paintbrush between my hands, studying it from all angles.

“Look, Anna. You don’t have to tell me. Aaron’s side of the story was enough. I just thought you might want to tell someone instead of keeping it inside.”
I place the brush on the easel’s rack and look at my visitor. “You were going to tell my parents, weren’t you?” It’s more of a statement than a question.
He nods. “Aaron said they didn’t know about you two, er, being romantically involved. I was going to leave things alone, but when Jeremy came, I had to do something.”

Jeremy. The name echoes in my mind. I had always told myself that if I ever had a son, I would name him Jeremy.

“Where did Jeremy come from? Who sent him to Aaron? Why didn’t they send him to me?” The questions tumble out like stones rolling down a hill, gathering speed as they go. It’s impossible for me to stop them. I am suddenly interested in this Jeremy, who was a part of me yet distanced from me. I don’t yet fully realize that he is mine.

Again, Mr. Michaels keeps his voice soft and gentle. “The abortion clinic sent him. It seems the baby wasn’t quite dead, and the nurse who found him couldn’t bring herself to finish what the abortion started, even though he was so tiny. So she did some digging around and found out whose he was. She probably figured you didn’t want him, so she contacted Aaron.” Mr. Michaels looks at me directly. “Young as he was, Aaron loved you. He didn’t want you to have the abortion, but he didn’t know how to tell you, so he chose to ignore the problem and live with his mother. You know, if you had told your parents in the first place, this probably wouldn’t have happened. You could have given him up for adoption or raised him yourself. But since you didn’t choose either of those options, I will have to look after Jeremy until Aaron finishes college and can find a job to support them.”

The words begin to settle in my brain. All the emotions rush to me, anger at being found out as well as guilt and the need for absolution. I decide to take advantage of my willing listener who doesn’t seem interested in judging me. “Mr. Michaels, I wanted to tell my parents, but I didn’t want to admit I’d had sex. Besides, I figured it was all over, and since no one knew about it, I didn’t want to bring it up.” The words are hard to say, but giving them voice opens a small hole in the wall I had built around my heart four years ago. Like water breaking a dam, the words widen the hole until the wall crumbles. Tears run down my cheeks. “I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I didn’t want to keep this a secret, but I just couldn’t tell my parents. They would have been devastated.”

Mr. Michaels smiles in a funny kind of way. “Yes, at first. But don’t you think they would’ve realized you were trying to protect them?”

Before I can say a word, Mr. Michaels goes on. “It took me a long time to understand that. You did what, at the time, seemed like the best thing to do. You may not know this, but even though you were thinking about the trouble you’d be in if you told your parents, at the same time you didn’t want to hurt their feelings by admitting you let them down this way.”

I sniffle and try to blink away the tears. “How do you know that?”

“Let’s just say I’ve done many wrong things in my life, and the ones I tried to cover up were the ones I thought would hurt someone the most. But what I finally learned is that it hurts much worse if I tell lies or say nothing at all.” He slips an arm around my shoulders. “I’m not saying what you did was right, but it happened. And in a way, I’m kind of glad about it, because I love Jeremy more than anything in the world next to Aaron. And I’m also glad that you’re the mother.”

“Thank you,” I whisper hoarsely, then pause, afraid to ask my next question. “Can I see Jeremy?”

He shifts his position on the swing. “As a matter of fact, that’s another reason why I came over here. You see, Aaron wants to see you, and he wants to bring Jeremy. He also wants your parents to know. I agreed to come and support him. He promised to be here as soon as possible. He had to stop off on an errand.”

“I’m not sure I can see Aaron,” I say. “I mean, I let him down by. . . and then he went and left me.”

“I understand, Anna, but Aaron has put that behind him. It’s time you did, too.”

At that moment, an old, beat-up car pulls up beside the curb. It’s Aaron. He gets out of the car and goes around to the passenger side to open the door. A beautiful, redheaded little boy eases himself out of the car with some help from Aaron. Jeremy’s body is twisted, and he has trouble walking on his own. Aaron helps him up to the porch.

“Hello, Anna.” Aaron’s voice has changed since I had last seen him, but the loving tone he used to say my name is still there.

A sob as hard as a rock sticks in my throat as I look at the boy with Aaron. Jeremy has my red hair, freckles, and blue eyes, but the expression on his face is one Aaron has worn many times before. Jeremy seems to be looking through me, as if he knows my hidden secrets. Then he speaks. “Hello, Mommy.”

The rock shifts, and I sit crying. The speech is garbled, but I understand him perfectly. I can’t tell if Aaron told him what to say or not, but the words tear at my heart.
“Oh, Jeremy!” I rush toward him. “Let me hold you.”

He allows me to hug him but squirms when I try to pick him up.

“He doesn’t like strangers,” Aaron says. “I try to take him places to get him used to people, but I haven’t had a lot of time. I guess I haven’t paid as much attention to him as I should.”

I stand up from kneeling in front of Jeremy and look into the face of the boy I once loved, even though we both had been barely teenagers. “I’m sure you did your best, seeing as how you’ve been in school,” I reply.

“It’s not easy caring for a child with cerebral palsy,” Aaron answers, “but I do what I can. Dad’s been a big help.” He looks at his father gratefully.

Mr. Michaels shrugs. “It’s not easy,” he agrees, “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Jeremy is a very special boy.”

Aaron looks at me with his gentle brown eyes, a smile playing at his lips. “Anna, I never stopped loving you. I was angry with you when I found out what you had done to our baby, but when I put myself in your shoes I realized that I probably would have done the same thing. The hardest and saddest words I have ever spoken in my life were the ones I used when I told my parents about my part in Jeremy’s coming to be. Mom and Dad were very upset, so I tried to blame you.

Even after I realized that it takes two to make a baby, I blamed you for getting an abortion. I blamed the doctor for botching it, which is why Jeremy has cerebral palsy. But deep down, I knew it was my fault as well. I don’t want Jeremy to feel like he was a problem or an inconvenience, so I take full responsibility for everything because I wasn’t man enough to say no to sex and to your abortion. When the lady from the clinic called and told me about a boy they had found. I knew what I had to do. I had to raise my son the best way I knew how. These past four years have been like a second chance for me. Even though I had made a big mistake, I felt like I could make up for it by being the best father I could be. I named him Jeremy because I knew you would have. Also, he came to the house in August — on your birthday. I took that as a sign that I should give you a chance to be involved in the rest of Jeremy’s life, and I also decided right then and there to tell the truth to my family and to yours, though I’m sorry it’s taken me until now to approach you. No, Anna, even through the four hardest years of my life, I have never stopped loving you for giving me my son.”

I let the tears flow freely. Aaron slides off the railing and comes over to the swing. He sits beside me and holds me, letting me cry. My brain resists processing all this new information. From the moment Mr. Michaels drove into the yard to the moment Aaron cradled me in his arms is a blur. Phrases and questions whirl through my head. In the split second it takes for me to think a thousand thoughts, I know what my answer to the all-important question is. I pull away and look into Aaron’s eyes. “Aaron,” I whisper, “I do love you. I don’t think I stopped loving you, either. But when you moved away, I thought I’d never see you again, so I tried to erase you from my memory but never quite succeeded. And now that you’re here, I realize how much I’ve missed you. I needed you, Aaron.”

He lowers his head. “I needed you, too, but I didn’t want to admit it.” He looks me full in the face. “Running didn’t solve anything. I’m back now, and I want to apologize and ask for your forgiveness.” He stops and swallows. “I also want to marry you.”

“You what?” This is totally unexpected. I had given up thoughts of marriage long ago and planned my future accordingly. And even if the right man does come along, I can’t get married now — I’m still in school.

As if he read my thoughts, Aaron says, “I don’t mean right away. After we graduate. We’ll go anywhere you want. You can paint, and I’ll be a journalist. For now, I think Jeremy should live with Dad and me. It wouldn’t be fair to put him up for adoption now. He’s so sensitive to strangers, and I want to be sure he gets the care he needs from someone who wants only the best for him. Plus, Dad and I love him so much. After graduation, we’ll have whatever kind of wedding you want and be parents together.” He speaks hurriedly, like he’s afraid of forgetting something. I pull away. “Don’t do this for Jeremy’s sake. Would you still want to marry me if

Jeremy were not around, if it were just the two of us again?”

He wrinkles his forehead. “I already said I love you.”

“I know.” I stop, unsure of how to articulate my thoughts. “I love you, too, and I want to do what’s best for Jeremy, but is this right for us? Are we meant to be together?”

“I was meant to be with you,” Aaron answers simply, “but if you weren’t meant to be with me, well, I never considered that. But it’s okay. I can take care of Jeremy on my own.”

I shake my head and smile at him. “We’ll take care of him together. We’ll get married when we get out of school, and we’ll be the best parents we can be for Jeremy.” I glance away. “I’d like to start on that part now, if it’s okay.”

“You’ll be a great mother, Anna.” Aaron takes my hand and squeezes it.

I lean on Aaron’s shoulder. “I wish I hadn’t missed so much of Jeremy’s life already.”

“Well, you can come to Dad’s this evening and start catching up.”

“Aaron, you’re wonderful.”

“I know,” he says smugly, grinning broadly.

“Just don’t let it go to your head,” I warn, punching him playfully.

Aaron stiffens. “Isn’t that your parents’ car?”

I look into the street. Sure enough, Dad’s car is turning onto our block.

What will I say, Aaron?” Panic rises in my voice. What will they think? What will they do? Maybe this is a dream — or a nightmare — and Aaron isn’t really here. I’ll wake up and find that this afternoon never really happened.”The direct approach would probably be best,” is his answer. “And I’ll be here right beside you.”  I swallow hard. This is the last thing I want to tell my parents, but I have to do it. And I won’t be alone. As the car stops in the driveway and my parents begin unloading groceries, I stand and walk down the porch steps, gripping Aaron’s arm with white knuckles.

“Hi, honey!” Mom calls. “Who’s your friend?”

I fight to keep my voice steady. Aaron puts his hand on mine. “He’s someone you’ve already met. We have something to tell you.”

The End

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