When Cassie was sixteen, she had her first boyfriend. They dated for one year. Toward the end of their relationship, the subject of kids came up because one of his cousins had announced that she was pregnant. “Do you want to have kids?” Cassie asked him. They were in his bedroom with the door open. He sat in his desk chair, and she was on the floor, playing with his family’s cat.
“Yeah, a couple, maybe three,” David said nonchalantly, eyes still on his computer screen.
That sounds terrible, said Cassie’s brain, before she even realized she was thinking it. “Why?” she asked.
David looked at her funny. “It’s just what you do,” he replied, in a tone that clearly implied that she should know this.
They broke up not long after that conversation. Cassie told her friends that it was because they were going off to different colleges and didn’t want to be in a long-distance relationship, which was true. In the back of her mind, though, she knew that they weren’t compatible. She wasn’t what he would want, in the end.
Cassie went to a small liberal arts college in the northeast. It was close enough to home that she could take the train in and out of the city without much trouble, but far enough that she had some distance from her parents. She felt at home at school almost right away. Her roommate was a pink-haired girl named Vanessa, and she introduced Cassie to clove cigarettes and hard seltzer. Before Thanksgiving break, she painted blue streaks in Cassie’s light brown hair, which upset Cassie’s mother, but now that Cassie was eighteen all she could do was grimace and look away.
Cassie avoided dating during college because she was so confused and concerned about her disdain for the standard life script that she was expected to follow — marriage, house, dog, kids, white picket fence. She distracted herself by experimenting with her appearance and becoming an active member of the college student body. The blue streaks in her hair became fire engine red a few weeks later, and she was a bleached blonde for a short time during her sophomore year. She pierced her eyebrow, her tongue, her belly button, and subsequently got tired of the piercings and let them close. She joined the art club and the Political Action Committee. She eventually declared political science as her major.
In her junior year, Vanessa, who Cassie had become close with and continued to room with, confided in Cassie that she was pregnant. This happened late one Sunday afternoon while Cassie was studying for an exam the following day in her Political Theory class. Vanessa didn’t bother to knock on Cassie’s door, she opened it and slipped inside in one motion, closing the door behind her. “I think I fucked up,” she said.
“What’s wrong?” Cassie asked, putting her pen down. She could hear the panic in Vanessa’s voice.
Vanessa bit her lip and said, “I think I’m pregnant.”
Cassie felt her eyes widen. “Oh my god.” She closed her eyes. “Okay. I think there’s a Planned Parenthood like twenty minutes away.” She opened her laptop to look up the address.
“What? No,” Vanessa said, closing the laptop again. “I can’t do that.”
Cassie stared, not understanding what her friend was saying. “What are you talking about? You’re in college. Like, you can’t.” The idea was so absurd, she couldn’t help but laugh.
Vanessa shook her head. “I told Brad. I mean, we both want kids someday anyway. And it’s not like school’s going well. I’m about to get put on academic probation.” She picked at her chipped blue nail polish. “Brad thinks I should be a stay at home mom and he’ll get a job when he graduates. So we don’t have to use daycare.” She smiled slightly, in a far off way that Cassie had never seen before. “I hope it’s a girl,” Vanessa said.
Years later, Cassie would look back on this moment as a turning point. She felt her respect for her friend deplete when she chose to leave school and have a baby with someone who, in Cassie’s opinion, didn’t even treat her very well. She felt lost because the person who she thought she had so much in common with — they weren’t so much alike after all.
Cassie graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Political Science. Vanessa attended graduation and sat in the audience with her baby.
Cassie’s college career had been successful — she’d joined clubs, had internships, made a lot of friends and some potential networking connections. She’d gotten drunk and high for the first time. She’d already been on two job interviews. But she had not dated, her fear of the future or even discussion of the future so strong that she had no choice but to stay away from it. All she could do was hope that she’d grow into acceptance of a real adult future, in the same way that she grew into high school and college and every other part of normal life.
Cassie moved to D.C. for her first real job. She rented a tiny apartment and lived life essentially the same way she had in college — she made friends, went to happy hours, joined a gym. Her coworkers occasionally asked her if she was dating anyone. “God no, I’m way too busy,” Cassie would say.
The years went on. Cassie got a promotion and rented an apartment that had more than two rooms.
She went on a handful of first dates and zero second dates. Her dates were guys that she let her friends or coworkers set her up with, and her routine was the same for each date. They’d meet at one of the local bars for happy hour after work. Cassie would order a martini and a second martini. She’d make polite conversation and laugh at her date’s jokes. After exactly two drinks, she’d make an excuse (“Ugh, sorry, I’ve had such a long day, I have so much work to do”), hug them goodnight, and head home.
She felt bad because they were perfectly nice. But she knew what they were looking for. She could see it in their eyes, it was so was obvious. They were in their mid-twenties, after all. They wanted what they were supposed to want — marriage and family. And she wasn’t sure if she could give it to them.
When she was out, she saw women her age with kids. They looked stressed and tired. They wore sweatpants and an extra twenty pounds. Cassie, from afar, allowed herself to think Nothing about that looks fun, she thought, sipping her iced tea as she sat outside at a coffee shop, watching a woman trying to wrangle two toddlers and an infant.
Cassie liked her life. She liked her job. She wasn’t sure if she could give it up.
Cassie met Evan at the coffee shop. She was sitting outside like she always did, reading and drinking iced tea. He asked her how she liked her book. He’d read it before. Eventually, he sat down at her table, and they continued to chat through the afternoon. He bought Cassie a pastry and another iced tea.
At one point, their conversation was interrupted by a crying baby, and a young mother trying to shush it, anxiously looking around, aware that people were eyeing her with annoyance. Evan glanced at her, then back at Cassie. “Yikes,” he said. “That doesn’t look fun.”
Something slid into place in Cassie’s mind. “Do you want to have dinner with me tomorrow night?” she asked.
Cassie eventually told Evan that she didn’t want to have children. It was the first time she’d told anyone and admitted it out loud. Evan was supportive. He agreed that he wasn’t sold on the idea of having kids. He liked his freedom too much, he said.
After two years of dating, Evan proposed, and Cassie happily accepted. They married six months later.
About a year after they got married, during dinner one night, Evan mentioned that his brother and his girlfriend were expecting. “That’s cool,” Cassie said, stabbing into her salad with her fork and taking a bite.
“I think it would be really cool if their baby had a cousin close to his age,” Evan said, taking a sip of water.
Cassie paused. She put her fork down. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean, we’re almost thirty. Our careers are stable. The apartment is plenty big enough. Why not?” Evan said.
“I don’t want to have kids,” Cassie said. “You know that. We talked about it. You said you didn’t either.”
Evan shrugged and looked almost embarrassed by what he said next. “I guess I changed my mind.”
It took a while, but Evan eventually wore Cassie down. He told her what a good mom she’d be, she could continue to work, they’d find great daycare, pregnancy wouldn’t be so bad, they’d figure it all out, he’d do all of the nighttime feedings if she wanted.
Cassie stopped taking her birth control pills. She felt lost and scared, despite her secure, happy life. Her brain yelled at her to run away. She ignored it.
Several months later, Cassie wasn’t pregnant, and Evan was distraught. “I’m afraid something’s wrong,” he said, rubbing his forehead anxiously. He sat on the edge of their bed one night, where Cassie lay, reading a book.
Cassie had never considered whether or not she was capable of physically having children. She’d never had to. Never thought she’d have to, she thought forlornly. “I’m sure everything’s fine,” she said halfheartedly, trying to sound reassuring. “These things take time.”
A couple of months later, Cassie was peeing on a stick behind the closed bathroom door. Her period was late. She couldn’t figure out if her nausea was because she was pregnant, or because she was sick with fear.
When she was done peeing, she placed the pregnancy test on the bathroom counter and started the timer on her phone. She couldn’t stop jiggling her leg nervously. She had to force herself not to look at the test until the timer chirped.
She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply before opening them and looking at the test.
Two pink lines.
Later that night, Cassie lay in bed next to a sleeping Evan, staring at the ceiling fan above her. She had promptly thrown away the pregnancy test and taken out the trash, so there was no chance of Evan finding it.
She thought about her life. She about what she wanted from her life. She thought of how much she loved Evan, and how happy he made her. She thought about the adventures they could have together.
The next morning, getting ready for work, Evan looked closely at Cassie while she was brushing her teeth and he was drying off from his shower. “You okay?” he asked.
She kissed his cheek. “I’m great,” she said.
At work, she settled into her desk and checked her email. Then she opened her web browser and entered Planned Parenthood into the Google search bar.
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Hi Amy! I was reading back through the winning stories and reread this. For the first time I read this story's comments, many of whom are rather hurtful. I'd like to say that though I don't agree with a few of the views/scenarios in this story, you are a wonderful writer and expressed "Kids" exquisitely. Deserved win!
Congratulations, Amy! I applaud you for doing the most terrifying thing a writer can do: Putting your work out there for public comment. You now have people talking about something that clearly resonates deeply with them, and you deserve kudos for that, as well. My main critique on this piece is that I feel like I'm kept at a distance from Cassie. We span fifteen years in under 2k words, and it almost feels more like a biography than a short story. I longed for an emotional connection to Cassie, but I was never given the opportunity to con...
An interesting read! I'm personally really glad that it didn't end with Cassie going through with having a kid and changing her mind about them. Mainly because it's still so rare and frowned upon for women to not have kids (and do so because they choose not to). It still would have been a fine story, but one which I think is much more common. A couple of typos, but given that there was only a week to write this, overall, I thought it was constructed really well! Personally, I've always been a fan of the more "distanced" style as I like to a...
Interesting story, I think it pretty aptly describes the real emotions that go into place when a person is against such social norms.
I enjoyed reading your story very much. As someone who is about 98% sure that I don't want to have children, I feel this story is very relevant to my life, espescially that bit about dating. I was a bit conflicted about the ending, but I suppose it's served its purpose in making the reader think.
I thought the story was a great interpretation of the theme but I was a little put off by the pacing and the matter-of-fact way that much of the story was told. i felt like we were both rushing through things and taking too long to get to the point in some places. It may be the word limit that was the constraint though.
I like this. I think it could use a bit more editing, but get I hints of Morrison in this. She never to tip-toed around the difficult subjects. And this is a difficult subject. I really enjoy how you take Cassie's life from a birds-eye, almost scientific view. I also enjoyed how you ended it. I, unlike many of the commenters here, find it to be more open-ended. I don't know what Cassie is going to choose to do. Anyways, thank you for sharing, it's not often that us kid-free people get a story.
Wow! what a powerful story. I really enjoyed reading this, it certainly makes you think. I also laughed at the description of the women with kids looking tired & plus twenty pounds, I used to be one. We all have choices & desires in life, don't change who you are to fit in.
Great story that will surely resonate with a lot of women. Don't worry about the haters; they're just threatened their regressive opinions are being challenged and eradicated from the modern world.
This is so fantastic!
Good job! Quite an interesting one. Writing is indeed a way of expression.
Amy, thanks for recognizing the toxicity of society forcing the maternal instinct on women. :)) Great story.
As a woman who knew as a teenager that I never wanted kids and have stuck to my guns, I adore this! I wouldn't have gone so far as Cassie did in getting pregnant, but I understand you wanted to show the full range of experience. I've known friends who were in relationships with people who'd agreed they didn't want kids but changed their minds. Terrible situation. I'd consider it a contract broken, but procreation persists as the "norm" despite the population soaring beyond the planet's ability to provide for all.
Amazing story, I felt that it really fit the prompt and was really well written.
I read your story. And after reviewing all the comments, it made me reread your story with an educated perspective. I liked the story a lot. It made me feel for Cassie, the second time around, because she felt conflicted and unsure about her future. I could see her leaving Evan. The story's main point was centered on kids, throughout the piece, even to the degree of how Cassie felt incompatible and unwanted. And pushed further to the extent she felt there was no commonality because of the one issue: having kids or not having them. Congratula...
Ooh! I like this. I love how it shifts to one year to another each paragraph, and has amazing detail meanwhile. I hope I make sense.
I love this story, so glad I found this site. Great story, kept me wanting more but I’m 43, married, have no kids, and never wanted any. Life couldn’t be better!
The part about the women her age wearing an extra twenty pounds made me want to both laugh AND cry. I am one of those women, always looking worn down and stressed out. There is such a social stigma against women who do not want kids, and that is so wrong. I think that this was a brave, but important story to write. Thank you for sharing it.
Excellent story! This story is a great depiction of life from a point of view that is unexpected and makes you think. Made me appreciate the options and choices that I’ve been fortunate enough to have. I found it easy to read and I related to the MC. And congratulations on the win😻