Cassie, Two Kids
by Isaac Blum
Issue #21 • August 18, 2014•Buy Now!
It was a cold Friday night. Mid-winter. Cassie and I were passing the time playing a trial version of Family Feud that we’d downloaded onto the ice cream store’s computer. It was free for a month, but we found we could trick the software by setting the date back on the computer. So every time 30 days passed, we’d set the computer’s clock back, and buy ourselves—or, rather, deliberately not buy ourselves—another 30 days. At this point, we knew what all the surveys said, and it became more a game of memory than a game of guessing. But it made the shifts go by much faster. Since it was slow, the boss said we could head out early, so I shut down the computer, said my goodnights to him and Cassie, and climbed into my mom’s SUV. But I’d only driven a few blocks when I got a call on my cell from “Cassie (Two Kids).” Her car wouldn’t start. Would I drive her home?
Cassie had gone to my high school, but then she’d dropped out before our senior year. Now she had her GED and she worked at the ice cream store to support her children.
She and I pretty much never spoke outside of work. She had two kids, which was odd for a girl of eighteen. We live in a wealthy, liberal area, where kids don’t generally have kids. And I was confused as to how exactly Cassie had produced two children. I understood how it worked logistically, but I didn’t really get, like, how it had happened. Had she planned it—twice? Was she not familiar with contraception? Did her God forbid it?
Regardless, her car troubles gave me an opportunity. Also, I’m not a jerk who abandons people in cold, empty parking lots, so I made a U-turn and picked her up.
Isaac Blum has an MFA from Rutgers University, Camden. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The New York Times, The Iowa Review, Sou’wester, and elsewhere. He’s from Philadelphia. Find him online at facebook.com/blumwriter.
Patrick Ryan on Cassie, Two Kids
When I was fifteen, my best friend at the time—a girl who was a year older than me and lived just down the street—became pregnant. She wasn’t married and didn’t have a steady boyfriend; she was just dating here and there, and she got pregnant. She told me this one afternoon while we were walking to the 7-11 to play Space Invaders. She also told me she intended to have the baby, and keep it, and raise it (all of which she did). The news was shocking, for sure, but I got used to it soon enough.
What turned out to be an even bigger shock for me was the reaction of everyone else in my immediate life. My sister, for example, nearly drove her car off the road when I told her. My mom got red-faced, panicked, flipped out. A few of the neighbors made a point of stopping by to ask my parents what I intended to do about “the situation.” It took me a little while to realize their reactions were twofold: 1) Was I the father? and 2) What will people think?
In our new issue, “Cassie, Two Kids,” Isaac Blum’s characters grapple with similar circumstances. Cassie, the young, unwed mother of two, has already been living with people’s various opinions of her for some time. And while no one is wondering if Stevie is the father of these kids, this is still tricky territory for him. All he wants to do is date a girl he likes. And all everyone around him wants to do is weigh in with their own concerns—their own “take” on the matter.
That’s one of the many interesting things to observe here, and one of those “lessons” life teaches you over and over again: Everyone has an opinion about everything. And everyone wants to share.
I loved this story the first time I read it. And each time I re-read it, I enjoy and admire it even more. Stevie is a narrator who will make you laugh, and when his world causes him to shrug in confusion or roll his eyes in frustration, you’ll feel yourself doing the same. I couldn’t be happier that One Teen Story is shepherding Stevie and Cassie—and her two kids—into the world of readers.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
People’s lives are often broken up into segments: home, school, work. And it’s always interesting when these different worlds come together. What’s your teacher like outside of school? What happens when your parents meet your friends or girlfriend? What happens when you try to date your co-worker? When you mix these separate worlds together, you often get interesting and unexpected results.
Katie’s coming out takes her mom by surprise, and it’s not something her mom is prepared for: it’s not something she’s experienced before, and she doesn’t know exactly how to deal with it. So when Stevie wants to date Cassie, she seizes an opportunity and says, basically, “Okay, I do know how to deal with this one,” and I think she’s more assertive—or pushy—about the Stevie-Cassie situation than she might have otherwise been.
Were I Stevie’s Life Coach, I’d like him to view the whole Cassie situation as a learning opportunity. This experience will serve him well in his future friendships and relationships. I think he’s a little too hurt—too discouraged—to feel that right now. But he’ll get over his resentment toward Cassie and his mom. And when he does, I think he’ll feel good about the choices he’s made, and hopeful about the adult life that awaits him.
Yes, it’s a really strange idea. We’ll see what happens.
That advice made it a lot easier for me to accept constructive criticism. And the stories and essays I’m most proud of are all the result of relentless revision, and the ruthless criticism of friends and editors.