We’re on the bus from our school in Tallahassee to Kennedy Space Center, and I’ve got a plan. When Claire Collins comes back down the aisle, bobbing her shiny, brown ponytail, I will hand her the note.

I’m in the window seat and Travis is on the outside, picking at the seat in front of us, which is covered in grey vinyl and wrinkled like elephant’s skin. I’ve got the note in my hand, ready to go, folded into a little triangular football with her name on the outside, but when Claire actually passes by, I chicken out.

She pauses for a second, looks down at Travis’s head, at his greasy white-blonde hair that falls in scraggles to his shoulders. “You need a haircut,” she says and continues down the aisle, swinging her hips in those tight black leggings. Claire Collins, Jesus Christ. Just looking at her is painful.

Travis tugs at his hair, sniffing the ends, then sticks a finger deep into the seat gash, rooting around absently and pulling out nubbly balls of flesh-colored stuffing. He’s got a wispy, almost transparent mustache, and he touches it with the tip of his tongue.

“Why didn’t you do it, man?” he says, and I wince, cause he always calls me man and it’s starting to get to me. Hey man, how’s it going? Gruesome Sniper, man, that’s the best game there is. Oh man, man, why’d you kill the Doritos? To deliberately break my heart?

Erin Somers

Erin Somers holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. Her fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Green Mountains Review, Slice Magazine, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn.

Patrick Ryan on “Astronauts in Love”

Ever wonder what would happen if a man and a woman who both happened to be astronauts fell in love and made a baby—while in outer space? Well, that’s not really what the new issue of One Teen Story is about. Close, but not quite.

“Astronauts in Love” is about a group of teens that goes on a fieldtrip to the Space Center in Florida. While they’re touring the facility, they learn about a baby that was conceived in space and was recently born at a nearby hospital. And one of the teens gets it into his head that it would be really, really cool to hold that baby. It might even be a great way to impress the girl he’s crushing on.

If that sounds like a recipe for disaster (or, at the very least, embarrassment), I invite you to dive into Erin Somers’s “Astronauts in Love” and find out firsthand. This story is funny from the get-go. It’s also a great portrait of an average guy who’s willing to risk it all for the sake of something that feels as meaningful to him as it seems quirky to his friends. Just don’t take too long to read it because, as one character puts it, “Space Baby’s not gonna hold itself.”

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Would you describe Brandon, the narrator of “Astronauts in Love,” as an optimist or a pessimist? The reason I ask is that I’m wondering if he’s able to envision a life with Claire Collins that’s better than the life his parents seem to have with each other. (He’s crushing on Claire pretty hard from beginning to end.)
ES: I see Brandon as an optimist. The seed of this story came about when a friend told me about the Golden Voyager Record. Briefly: NASA sent a record player to space along with a recording of human voices, animal sounds, and music in hopes that alien life or future humans would find it someday and know that life on Earth existed. This seemed to me to be such a hopeful, romantic gesture, an almost emo-level romantic gesture, on NASA’s part. The idea of launching what is basically a mix tape into space even though it might never be found. They sent actual shouts into an actual void! I wanted to write a character with that kind of optimism. A character who believes he can do better than his parents, or even if he suspects that he can’t, even if he suspects that his crush on Claire Collins is doomed, he finds the guts to try anyway.
PR: Your story just happens to be set in my hometown. Have you ever been on a school trip to the Space Center in Cape Canaveral? If so, did you find it fascinating or—as some of the teens in your story find it—lackluster? (I promise not to mind, however you answer.)
ES: I went to the Space Center with my parents when I was very young, maybe eight or nine. I was a little bored but bravely pretended I was into it for my dad’s sake. It’s a shame, because now I follow all that stuff: the Mars Rover, the flying saucer NASA’s testing right now, that astronaut who answers questions on YouTube. I guess one’s interests evolve between the ages of eight and twenty-nine.
PR: The teens in “Astronauts in Love” seem bent on forming their own temporary “adult” society while on this fieldtrip. They gravitate toward one another with a unified purpose—they want to behold (if not actually hold) a “Space Baby,” and they don’t seem at all desirous of adult company. Did you intend this, or did it just happen as you were writing a story about a fieldtrip?
ES: The temporary society of teens (TSOT) was one of those things that got teased out of the story after many drafts. The more I circled the idea, the more the TSOT seemed true to me. I remember in high school abiding strongly by the code of “kids versus adults for life no take backs.” We adults walk around so obviously damaged, hemorrhaging from our flaws really. Our vulnerabilities are often immediately apparent to young people, who are much more perceptive than they are usually given credit for. Who wouldn’t want to distance himself from such a pack of screw-ups? I still see the logic of the TSOT. Yikes, no thanks, I’ll pass. I’ll make a little world with my friends here, and you guys can continue to get divorced and drink red wine and misunderstand pop culture or whatever over there. It goes back to optimism, to the conviction that we will do better than the people that came before us. It’s possible that we need that conviction to survive as a species. Certainly we need it to survive adolescence.
PR: What are you working on now?
ES: I’m putting together a collection of short stories. I’ve also just begun work on a longer thing. I’m still in the throat-clearing and knuckle-cracking stage. I’ve opened a Word document, anyway. That’s a vital first step.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
ES: I took a workshop with Christine Schutt once and she compared writing a short story to giving someone a tour of your house. You lead your reader into the house, but you don’t let her go in the sun-drenched kitchen, you don’t let her peek into the sprawling living room, you don’t let her linger in the foyer. You take her directly to the closet and show her the inside. That’s what a short story is. The inside of the closet and nothing else. I think about that all the time.