Through prose and comics alike, these heart-pounding short stories for young adults ask hard questions about a range of topics from sexuality and addiction to violence and immigration. Here is the perfect tool for starting tough discussions or simply as an introduction to realistic literary fiction. In turns funny, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking, I See Reality will resonate with today's teens long after the last page has been turned.
Contributing authors include Jay Clark, Kristin Clark, Heather Demetrios, Stephen Emond, Patrick Flores-Scott, Faith Hicks, Trisha Leaver, Kekla Magoon, Marcella Pixley, James Preller, Jason Schmidt, and Jordan Sonnenblick.
"These 12 stories manage to capture all of the laughter, tears, struggles, horrors and highlights of being a teenager and I loved every minute of it!" - TeenReads
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I See Reality
Twelve Short Stories About Real Life
By Grace Kendall
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Grace Kendall
All rights reserved.
THREE IMAGINARY CONVERSATION WITH YOU
I'm breaking up with you today.
After two years, four months, three weeks, five days, and eight hours of being Gavin Davis's Girlfriend I am breaking up with you.
You won't see it coming. Your little high school girlfriend who never says no to you, the one who blows off her friends for your college keggers, the one who just sits there when you tell her she's a drag and that dating a girl in high school fucking sucks — that girl is Breaking Up With You.
I'm breaking up with you even though Christmas is next week and I already bought you a present it's too late to return.
I'm breaking up with you even though the thought of breaking up with you hurts.
This is how it will go down:
First we'll go to The Nutcracker because your mom bought us tickets as a Christmas present and I'll decide it'd be shitty not to go because she'll feel like I'm rejecting her and I only want to reject you. This will be a terrible decision, but I'll make it anyway because when we end, your parents — who see me as a daughter who's going to be in their family forever — will be collateral damage. I want them to hurt as little as possible. Obviously what I plan to do after the show is even more shitty, but at least your mom won't feel like she wasted the money. I just know that if I don't do this before Christmas, I never will. Because if I wait, you'll get me a sweet gift like you did last year (Who buys a first edition of a girl's favorite childhood book? You.) — and I won't be able to go through with it.
I have to do this.
I've pictured it a thousand times, a thousand different ways. This is one of them.
When you come to pick me up, I'll wonder if I should wait just a few more days because of how your eyes light up when you see me in my dress. I'll think about how in a few hours those eyes are going to be red-rimmed and pleading. (Note to self: wear something terrible.) And, of course, you'll be crazy hot, wearing a tie or something and the thought of you dressing up for another girl after we break up will make me insanely jealous, which is so stupid, but I won't be able to help it. Then I'll start psychoanalyzing what that means, like, if I feel jealous, then doesn't that prove that, deep down, I want to stay together? Meanwhile, I'll feel even more uncertain as I watch you play with my little brother, who you genuinely adore and constantly compare to the kid in Jerry Maguire. You'll call him little dude, which he loves. I'll see Sam kiss you on the cheek before we leave for the theater and you'll kiss him right back and it'll be the sweetest goddamn thing I've ever seen. Fuck you for that.
On the way to the theater, we'll get into a little argument and I'll feel vindicated. You're upset that my parents want me home by eleven. You'll sigh and shake your head, like you're the most put-upon boyfriend in the universe. "You're lucky I love you so much." Compliment and criticism rolled into one, as usual. But the thing is: I'll believe you. Because I know my parents are super strict and I'm a little bit of a prude. And because I still can't shake the awe that when we were in high school together, you chose me over girls who were so much prettier, so much more. I don't understand why you still choose me over college girls who are independent and flirty and fun. So, yeah, maybe I'm lucky. I'll still want to break up, though.
In the theater parking lot or going up the fancy staircase inside, I'll think about that day at the park, when we were on the swings and you said, Jessa, you have no idea how hard it is to love you. But I can't stop. I won't stop. You expanded on this. You went on and on about how hard I am to love with my negativity and my strict parents and my crazy ideas about chastity. You call me Eeyore, as in the depressive donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh, and not always affectionately. You say I'm a wet blanket and a tease and you don't care how much I get punished when I come home after curfew. You don't care what price I have to pay for us to be together. This is my ammunition and I have stored it carefully inside me: proof we are bad together.
After the show (you'll be a perfect gentleman, buying me the expensive souvenir program and kissing my neck), we'll be sitting in your mom's car outside McDonald's, our typical late-night-snack place. You'll have coffee, black. I'll have the McFlurry I don't want (You'll buy it for me even when I say not to because you hate eating or drinking or doing anything alone. You'll tell me I love McFlurries and that will be that).
"Hey, I know it's early, but ..." You'll reach into your pocket and I'll shrink away. (Crap! I thought I was doing this early enough!) You'll hand me a long, thin velvet box. A jewelry box. I won't want to know what's inside, so I'll decide not to open it. This time, I won't let you trick me into staying together.
I'll shake my head. You'll think I'm being coy and you'll smile your sweet, sexy smile — not the cruel one — and you'll push it closer. (Pushing — you're so good at that, aren't you?) I'll hug the door of the car, keep my hands behind me. Your smile will slide off your face and, God, I won't be able to do this. Because I'll see your heart breaking, like you already know what's going to happen.
"What's up?" you'll ask. Your voice shakes a little, but you'll try to keep it casual.
For a minute, I won't be able to answer because you are so familiar to me and I'll start thinking (like I always do) about what it would be like not to have this: you, across from me, having our little traditions like coffee and McFlurries. I'll start wondering if this is the last time I'll ever sit in this car and my resolve will start to waver, just a little. I'll watch you for a minute because even then, preparing to break up with you, I can't stop looking. I can't stop wanting you.
Your hair is blond and the fluorescent parking lot lights make it gleam. I used to call you Prince Charming, before, when you were the popular senior captain of the water polo team, the guitar-playing god who noticed mousy little me and said I'm taking you out tonight. I'm only now realizing that wasn't a question. Technically, you never asked me out. You didn't give me the option of saying no.
At some point between leaving the theater and arriving at McDonald's you'll have grown tired of the tie and dress shirt and changed into the shirt I bought you two years ago, right after we got together. Just a stupid Hollister shirt, but you love it and sometimes ask me to sleep in it so it'll smell like me. It's faded now and has a hole near the shoulder and isn't that us, I'll want to say right then, Isn't that us?
I'll take a deep breath. "Wehavetobreakup."
You'll go still. Utterly, completely still.
You'll swallow. Look at the little box in your hand. A truck full of guys will rev past us and I'll jump. They'll swing into the drive-through and order half the menu while we sit there, staring at each other. You'll set my Christmas present on the dashboard.
"I'll kill myself if you break up with me."
You've never said this before, but when I imagine breaking up with you, I hear this. Because you said it to someone else, didn't you? And when she had the courage to do what I'm about to do ... you did try to kill yourself. And, silly me, at the time I thought that was beautifully tragic. I saw you as the spurned lover, the ultimate romantic. God, what was I thinking? You were insane. I was reading too much Byron at the time, that must have been what it was.
I'll sit there in the passenger seat of your mom's sensible, slightly expensive car, the one with the seats that warm our asses, and my mind will freeze, like brain freeze only worse.
And then I'll get angry. Just imagining you doing this and putting your hypothetical suicide on me — it makes me so angry. Angry is good. I'll need to stay angry. That's how your ex did it and that's how I'll do it. I'll think about how you're saying this in a McDonald's parking lot. In a McDonald's parking lot. And I'll think: Aren't you supposed to declare the intent to end your life in an abandoned alley or on a windswept moor — something just a little bit poetic?
Then I'll be scared. Because ... what if you mean it?
"No you won't." I'll whisper those words, as if saying them more quietly will calm the sharp-beaked thing inside you.
You'll take the keys out of the ignition and grip them in your palm and I am the keys, I am the one being held so tightly in your white-knuckled fist.
"Yes. I will." This will be said slowly, as if you were talking to a child, as if me still being in high school and you being in college automatically makes you the mature one. This is your Calm Boyfriend voice. I hate it now and I'll hate it then, too.
"I've thought about it before," you'll say. "I have a plan." You'll look at me. "You know I'll go through with it."
"Do you want to know how I'll do it?"
"No." Then I'll explode. "What the fuck is wrong with you? That's sick."
"Do you think I like being like this?" You'll hit the steering wheel with your fist, hard. "It's your fault, for saying shit like that."
"I meant it. I don't want to be with you anymore." I'll start shaking and I won't be able to stop because I'll feel it slipping — me, my resolve, all of it.
"Then I mean it, too. Leave me, fine. I just hope you'll go to my funeral."
"What the fuck, Gavin?"
And I'll hear my best friend's voice, as though she's right in the car with us: Stop letting him manipulate you, Jessa. He knows exactly what to say to keep you with him. He always does.
It'll be quiet in the car for a long time and my mind will start to wander, to try to get away. In these almost-break-up moments it does that. I'll think about weird stuff like how I need to dust my bedroom or rework the thesis for a paper. But this night, I'll think of Adam. I know because I haven't been able to stop thinking about him for the past two weeks, since the cast party for the school play. You didn't want me to go. You wouldn't come because it was a "stupid high school party," but I finally put my foot down. It's my senior year and I want to enjoy it. I'm tired of ditching my friends because they're too lame for you.
So while you sit there imagining your suicide, I'll replay the cast party. It has become my happy place.
Adam is just my friend. I don't know if I like him as anything more than that, but when I was hanging out with him at the cast party, I realized that I might be feeling something for someone who isn't you. Nothing serious, just a tiny revelation that there are other guys in the world. I found myself wondering what it would be like to kiss him. Or even hold his hand. I didn't. I just imagined it.
Even though it was cold as hell, we sat by the edge of the pool at Jason Scheffer's house and talked all night and laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. For the first time in so long, I wasn't ashamed to be in high school. To be a kid. I told him about my necklaces, about how each one I make means something, has a story. I told him about how I collect the beads, sometimes for months or even years, and I wait until I can put the story of the necklace together. And the next day, he gave me a bead. Sea green with white swirls. He'd found it in the greenroom, when he was helping pack away costumes. It was such a small thing — literally, figuratively — but it felt huge. It was a gift from another guy and I kept it. I kept it. This scared the shit out of me, contemplating me with Adam or even just me without us. Our lives, after two years together, have become so entwined that the thought of unraveling you from me is almost as bad as the thought of never kissing someone else.
But back to the McDonald's parking lot. I need to picture all of this before you pick me up looking hot in your suit and kissing my little brother's cheek. I need to imagine the worst-case scenario because then when it happens, it'll be old news and you won't be able to shock me into staying together. So, you'll say you're going to kill yourself. I'll think about how I love you and how I don't want you to die. God, that's exactly what you'll want, isn't it? I love you + I don't want you to die = I don't break up with you. But they don't have to add up to that, they don't. I'll decide to be strong. I'll think about that bead and the possibility of dating lots of guys and not being Gavin Davis's Girlfriend, but instead ... me. That will sound kinda nice. It will give me courage, that thought.
"Gavin." I'll put my hand over your fist. "I still love you. But I think we're over."
"You're my life," you'll say.
Wait. If you tell me this ... what will I do? Because ... I'm your life? Not your band or your friends at school or whatever, but ... me? You've never told me that before. The doubt creeps in and I hate it because it's telling me to wait. Just one more chance, you always say. I didn't know you felt that way ... I can change ... I'll give you more space ...
I'll stare at you. Your eyes will be more blue than green and I'll think that no one really knows that but me — how your eyes change color. Tonight they'll be sad and desperate and full of love.
"We can be so good together, you know that," you'll say. "Once you graduate, this will all be a bad dream, I promise."
Memories, so many. I'll think about the time you made me soup when I was sick and how you skipped the party for the water polo championships and stayed curled up next to me, risking the flu and reading me my favorite picture books. And of course I'll think about the first song you wrote me and how you serenaded me as I came out of math class. You even got some of the water polo team to back you up. (I still don't know how you convinced them to do that.) And, God, our first kiss: in the rain, against a wall in an alley — even now it makes me blush.
But I'll remember that there are words in my head, ones I've been practicing for months and never have the guts to say because right when I'm going to say them you do something wonderful. But I think I'll be able to say them tonight. You can do this, I'll tell myself.
"Gav. We aren't happy together." I want happy. So, so much. "We fight. All the time. You're always in a bad mood when I'm around."
"Because your fucking parents never let me see you!"
"I'm seventeen!" I'll be yelling now. There's always a point where we start yelling and when you talk about my parents as your fucking parents, that will be the button you push that I can't ignore. I love my fucking parents. "I have a curfew. I have class every morning at seven thirty. I can't stay out until three a.m. like you do."
"Okay, I'm sorry. Jessa, please —"
You'll reach out and your fingers will touch the necklace around my neck. Because I'm feeling sentimental, I'll be wearing the one I made the week we got together, in a total frenzy, where each bead represented a daydream about you. Your fingers skim over the beads, over those fantasies about you and guilt, guilt, guilt because I'll think of that glass bead, which has been in my pocket since the day Adam gave it to me. How many times have I touched it over the past two weeks thinking, what if, what if?
"We have to break up," I'll say again. If I keep saying it, then maybe it will happen.
You'll turn away from me and take the necklace with you. I'll feel it go taut against my neck and then it'll be gone, beads everywhere, flying all over the car. I'll only know it's an accident by the shocked look on your face.
I'll have this thought: I'll never be able to put it back together. The necklace, us. Never, never.
You'll say you're sorry about a million times and we'll look at the beads and then, God, you'll be crying. Sobbing, almost. Fuck. Fuck. I'll want the anger to stay, but it's going ... going ...
"You're my soul mate, Jessa. We're supposed to be together. Forever. That was the deal."
Then you'll shatter right in front of me, just like you did when your dad said I can't do this anymore and walked out your front door with a suitcase in his hand. And I'll have to clean you up, put you back together. I'm glue. I'm glue.
"Don't be like him," you'll whisper. "Please, Jessa. I can't watch someone else walk away."
Excerpted from I See Reality by Grace Kendall. Copyright © 2015 Grace Kendall. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsThree Imaginary Conversations with You - Heather Demetrios
The Downside of Fabulous - Kristin Elizabeth Clark
The Night of the Living Creeper - Stephen Emond
Makeshift - Kekla Magoon
Things You Get Over, Things You Don't - Jason Schmidt
Coffee Chameleon - Jay Clark
Hush - Marcella Pixley
Blackbird - Trisha Leaver
Gone From This Place - Faith Erin Hicks
The Sweeter the Sin - Jordan Sonnenblick
The Mistake - James Preller
The Good Brother - Patrick Flores-Scott