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

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

PR: Did “Cassie, Two Kids” come from something you’d heard about, or personally went through? Or was it pure invention?
IB: In high school, I worked at an ice cream store. In the winter, nobody bought ice cream, because ice cream is cold and therefore redundant. So we wasted time playing games on the store’s computer. But that’s where my personal experience ends and the invention begins. 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.
PR: Cassie is kind of into Stevie. Stevie is kind of into Cassie. Do you think Stevie has a realistic idea of what he might be in for, if they became a couple?
IB: Nope. And not just because Cassie has children. Any time you intertwine your life with someone else’s there are unexpected complications. And even once Stevie and Cassie begin hanging out and hooking up, I don’t think Stevie really understands how profoundly his life would change if they became serious. It’s one thing to visit a young family like that. It’s another thing entirely to become a part of it.
PR: In the story, Stevie’s mom has to deal with Where did the idea for this story come from) her son’s wanting to date a young mother and What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story) her daughter’s coming out. Do you think her handling of one affected her handling of the other? Would she maybe have reacted differently to either one if they weren’t happening simultaneously?
IB: I think she might indeed have handled these things differently, had the two events been independent of each other. I’m not a parent, but I imagine it’s difficult to see your children grow up and assert their differences and individuality. Stevie’s mom wants her children to be freethinking and independent, but it’s still hard for her to process such sudden developments. 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.
PR: Here’s a really goofy question, but I can’t resist: If you were Stevie’s Life Coach, what would you want him to take away from the experience of trying to date Cassie? And how does that compare to what he actually takes away?
IB: Stevie’s a pretty smart kid. And that’s actually part of the problem. He’s perceptive and intelligent, and, as Cassie says, he’s a “fast talker.” But he needs to see that, even though he’s quick on his feet and mature for his age, there’s still a lot he can learn from people who have more life experience than he does. 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.
PR: What are you working on now?
IB: I’m working on a middle grade novel about a band of kids living out of abandoned strip malls in post-apocalyptic Philadelphia. When conditions in Philly become too difficult, they depart on a quest to cross the world, to reach the only place where there are still blue skies and ample food: Bulgaria, home of the world’s crown jewel, the Bulgarian National Circus. Yes, it’s a really strange idea. We’ll see what happens.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
IB: A professor told me that you should take your favorite sentence in your story, and cut it immediately. I hope she didn’t mean it literally. But I always keep that advice in mind when I revise. You shouldn’t be married to particular sentences or paragraphs or ideas. You should be ready to change anything, even your favorite sentence, if that change will improve the work as a whole. I think if you commit yourself to that idea, and stay open-minded, you’ll edit and revise better. 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.