Autoboyography

Chapter 11

Mom and Dad are waiting up for me when I get home, mugs of tea that have grown cold in front of them and tight, expectant smiles in place.

Of course I couldn’t lie to them on my way out the door about why I’d be eating elsewhere, but it wasn’t an easy exit, either. They’d stood on the porch and watched me drive off, wordless. I honestly felt like I’d been stealing something.

“So?” Dad asks, patting the barstool beside him at the counter.

The chair scrapes across the tile, and we wince. For some reason, I find the jarring cacophony hilarious, because it’s already a pretty loaded moment—me, home from dinner at the house of the bishop, whose son I’m sort of falling in love with, my parents disapproving vehemently—and the horrible screech seems to only lend more weight here.

My parents have their own kind of secret language; an entire conversation happens in their single shared look. I work to swallow the hysteria bubbling up in my throat.

“Sorry.” I sit down, slapping my hands on my thighs. “So. Dinner.”

“Dinner,” Mom echoes.

“It was good. I think?”

They nod. They want more.

“His family is super nice.” I widen my eyes meaningfully. “Super. Nice.”

Mom laughs a little unkindly at this, but Dad still seems more concerned than anything.

“But it wasn’t, like, a date,” I clarify. “I mean, obviously. This wasn’t me meeting the family. It was just dinner.”

Mom nods. “They like knowing his friends, especially if they don’t know you from church.”

I stare at her for a few beats. “That’s exactly what Sebastian said.”

“Think about it,” she tells me. “Everyone they know goes to their church. Having your son—especially if you’re a bishop around here—spending time with someone who isn’t LDS? You want to make sure they’re okay.”

“Except I’m not, at least not as far as they’re concerned.”

I can tell Mom doesn’t like this answer, but she waves her hand, like she wants me to keep going. So I tell them about the evening and how his parents met in high school. I tell them about my gaffes about Emily, and Mom’s past. Mom makes a face—because these shouldn’t be gaffes at all. I tell them that we talked about his mission again, for only a second though, and they listen the entire time, rapt.

Still, I can see the worry etched into tiny lines in their faces. They are so genuinely afraid I’m going to fall for him, and it will end in heartbreak for one or both of us.

“So . . . you liked them?” Dad asks, ignoring the way Mom turns and stares at him like he’s a traitor.

“Yeah. I mean, they didn’t feel like my tribe, but they were nice enough.”

Now it’s Dad’s turn to make a face. Family is everything to my parents, but maybe especially to my father because, obviously, Mom’s parents aren’t in the picture. My dad’s family makes up for it in spades. His mother comes to live with us for three months every year and has since I was a newborn. Since my grandpa died six years ago, she doesn’t like being home alone, and Dad is happier when she’s here under his roof. After she’s with us, she goes and stays with his brother and sisters in Berkeley and Connecticut, respectively, taking turns with the grandchildren.

If I could have Bubbe here year-round, I would. She is amazing, and witty, and brings a certain type of comfort into the house that we can’t seem to muster when it’s just the four of us. My parents are great—don’t get me wrong—but Bubbe makes things feel warmer somehow, and over the last two decades my parents have been married, Bubbe and Mom have grown very close. Dad wants a relationship like that with us when he’s older, and for us to have it with our in-laws, too. Honestly, it probably bothers him more than it bothers Mom that she doesn’t talk to her parents anymore.

I can see these thoughts pass over Dad’s face as I’m talking, and I reach out, patting his shoulder. “You look stressed, Dad.”

“I haven’t often seen you . . . invested in someone before,” he says carefully. “We worry this isn’t the ideal first choice.” His eyes move away, to the window.

Taking a deep breath, I try to think of the best thing to say. Even if what he says is true, that truth feels like a sticker on the surface of my emotions: easy to peel off. I know Sebastian isn’t right for me. I know how likely it is that I’ll get hurt. I simply care more about trying than I do about protecting myself.

So I tell him what I think he wants to hear: “It’s just a crush, Dad. He’s a nice guy, but I’m sure it will pass.”

For a second, he lets himself believe this. Mom, too, stays notably silent. But when he hugs me good night, he holds me tight for three deep breaths.

“Good night, guys,” I say, and jog upstairs to my room.

It’s only eight on Friday night, and I know I won’t be tired for hours still. Autumn texts that she’s going over to Eric’s. I’m relieved that I won’t feel guilty for bailing on something with her yet again and send a long string of eggplant emojis to which she replies with a long string of bird flip emojis.

I wonder if Sebastian updated his emoji keyboard and what he feels about having that crude gesture on his phone, whether he’s even noticed it, whether he’d ever use it.

Everything, everything circles back to him.

• • •

Mom is on a run, Dad is at the hospital, and Hailey is stomping around the house, complaining that no one does any Saturday-morning laundry anymore.

I point out that her hands aren’t broken.

She punches me in the side.

I put her in a headlock and she screams bloody murder, trying to reach up to claw at my face, screaming, “I hate you!” loud enough to shake the walls.

The doorbell rings.

“Good job, asswipe,” she says, shoving away from me. “The neighbors called the cops.”

I reach forward, swinging the door open with my best she-did-it smile.

My world stops spinning.

I didn’t know what “bemused” meant until I looked it up last year. I always thought it meant something like “coyly amused,” but in fact it’s more like “bewildered,” which is exactly how Sebastian looks standing on my porch.

“What the—?” My surprised grin spreads as far as it can, east to west.

“Hey.” He lifts his hand to scratch the back of his head and his bicep pops, smooth and tan.

I am goo.

“Sorry.” I step back, gesturing him inside. “You walked in on a murder in progress.”

He laughs, taking a step forward. “I was going to say . . .” Blinking up past me, he smiles. I can only assume Hailey is standing there, shooting death rays at my back. “Hi, Hailey.”

“Hi. Who are you?”

I want to shove her into the wall for being so rude but resist because with this one bitchy question she’s made it seem like I’m not walking around gushing about this guy constantly. “This is Sebastian.”

“Oh. You’re right. He is hot.”

And there it is. Turns out I do want to shove her into the wall.

With a small laugh, he reaches out to shake her hand. To my horror, she stares at it for a breath before taking it. When she looks at me, I lift my eyebrows in an I’m-going-to-finish-killing-you-later gesture. If Mom or Dad were here, she would be nothing but manners. With just me, she’s prime asshole.

“Want to come upstairs?” I ask him.

He glances at Hailey, who has already stomped back down the hall to the laundry room, and nods. “Where are your parents?”

“Mom’s on a run. Dad’s working.”

I think he gets the subtext here. The air between us crackles.

Beneath our feet, the wood stairs creak, and I’m hyperaware of Sebastian behind me. My bedroom is the last at the end of the hall, and we walk down there in silence; my blood feels like it’s bubbling up to the surface of my skin.

We’re going to my room.

He’ll be in my room.

Sebastian walks in, looks around, and doesn’t seem to flinch when I gently click the door shut behind me—breaking Mom and Dad’s open-door policy. But hello: kissing might happen here, and Hailey is in beast mode. That door is getting s-h-u-t.

“So this is your room,” he says, taking it in.

“Yeah.” I follow his gaze, trying to see it through his eyes. There are a lot of books (none of them religious), there are a few trophies (most of them for academics), and a few pictures here and there (I’m not holding a Bible in any of them). For once I’m glad that Dad makes me keep my room clean. My bed is made; my laundry is contained in the basket. My desk is empty except for my laptop and . . .

Oh shit.

Sebastian wanders over, thumbing the stack of blue Post-it notes. It’s already too late to say anything. I know what the one on top says.

WE LEAVE EACH OTHER

CUTTING SHORT AT THE USUAL STALEMATE.

I IMAGINE WHERE HE GOES THERE’S A QUIET DINNER

SECRETS STUCK LIKE GUM BENEATH THE DINING TABLE.

HE IMAGINES WHERE I GO THERE’S SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

AT BEST: RIOTOUS LAUGHTER, GIDDY FREEDOM

AT WORST: CURSING, VAGUE SIN.

MAYBE I’M GIVEN SIPS OF WINE.

BUT EVEN IF THIS IS WHAT HE THINKS

HE ISN’T JUDGING ME

I HOPE SOMEDAY HE LOVES ME

GOOD NIGHT, HE SAYS

I WANT TO KISS, AND KISS, AND KISS HIM.

“What is this?”

“Um.” I walk over, pulling it off the top to read it as if I’m not sure what it is. In fact, I couldn’t be more sure; I wrote it just last night. “Oh. It’s nothing.”

I count to five, and five, and five again. The whole time, we’re just staring at the bright blue Post-it note in my hand.

Finally, he takes it back. “Is this about me?”

I nod without looking at him. Inside my chest, feet stomp and animals roar.

His hand comes up my arm, from my wrist to my elbow, tugging gently so I’ll turn to look at him.

“I like it,” he whispers. “But it’s not going in your new book, right?”

I shake my head. Lie number two.

“Are there more?”

I nod.

“Use your words, Tanner,” he says, laughing at the end.

“There are more, but I’m, um, writing about something else now.”

He nods. “What’s the new one about?”

I blink over to the window, making this up on the fly. “Same idea, but he doesn’t fall in love with the bishop’s son.”

I watch as the words “fall in love” roll over him. His mouth twitches. “So you’ll let me read it?”

“Yeah.” I nod quickly. “When there’s enough to read.” The implication of this makes me queasy, but I know at some point I’ll have to stop writing about Sebastian, write something else, and let him and Fujita read it. The weirdest part? I don’t want to stop writing about Sebastian. It’s almost like I need to keep writing it in order to find out how it ends.

He lets go of my arm and walks over to my bed, sitting down on it. My heart dumps fuel everywhere; there’s drag racing happening in my veins.

“I got my author copies today. I want you to read my book too,” he says, fidgeting with a hangnail. “But I’m worried you’ll think it’s terrible.”

“I’m worried I’ll think it’s amazing and I’ll be even more obsessed with you than I am.”

Thankfully, he laughs at this like I hope he will. “I’m nervous.”

“About the book coming out?”

He nods.

“Are you writing a second one?”

Another nod. “It was a three-book deal. And I really love it. It feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.” He looks up at me, and the light coming in the window catches his eyes in a way that seems nearly divine. “After the hike,” he says, and then nods to me for confirmation, as if I would somehow not know what he’s referring to, “I went home and . . .”

Jerked off? “Freaked out?”

He laughs. “No. I prayed.”

“That sounds like freaking out.”

Sebastian shakes his head. “No. Praying is calming.” He stares at my wall, where I have a framed photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge that Dad took a few years before we moved. “I haven’t felt guilty about it,” he says, quieter now. “Which is unexpected.”

I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear him say that until he did. I feel like a pool raft, lazily deflating in the sun.

“Guilt is sort of a sign that I’m doing something wrong,” he says, “and when I feel peaceful, I know God approves of what I’m doing.”

I open my mouth to reply, but turns out, I have no idea what to say to that.

“Sometimes I wonder whether it’s God or the church that feels the strongest about these things.”

“My opinion?” I say carefully. “A God worthy of your eternal love wouldn’t judge you for who you love while you’re here.”

He nods at this for a few seconds and finally smiles shyly up at me.

“Will you come over here?” he asks, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen him wearing an unsure smile.

I ease down next to him on the bed, and not only can I feel how much I’m shaking, but I can see it. I clamp my hands between my knees to keep them from flapping across the mattress.

I’m around six foot three. He’s probably five foot ten, but right now his emanating calm seems to loom over me like the shade of the big willow tree out back. He twists, planting his right fist at my hip, and his left hand comes up to my chest, pressing gently until I realize he’s urging me to lie back. Having lost all voluntary muscle control, I essentially collapse onto the mattress, and he hovers over me, looking down.

He got a haircut this morning, I realize. The sides are cut close to his scalp again, and the top is soft and floppy. His dancing lake-in-the-sun eyes stare down at me, and I’m possessed by heat, and need to feel, and feel, and feel.

“Thanks for coming to dinner last night,” he says, and his gaze is doing a full circuit of my face. Over my forehead and down my cheeks, hovering near my mouth.

His eyes flicker down, watching me swallow before I say, “Your family is nice.”

“Yeah.”

“They probably thought I was a lunatic?”

He grins. “Only a little.”

“You got a haircut.”

His eyes go unfocused, staring at my mouth. “Yeah.”

I bite my lip, wanting to roar because of how he’s looking at me. “I like it. A lot.”

“Yeah? Good.”

God, enough small talk. I pull him to me, my hand on the back of his neck, and he comes down immediately, mouth over mine, weight partially on me, breath leaving his lips in a relieved gust. It starts so slow, this relieved, leisurely kissing. First through self-conscious smiles and then with the confidence that this—us—is so good it aches.

And it ramps up from there, like a plane at takeoff, and we’re infected at the same time with something wilder and more desperate. I don’t want to think that we’re hungry like this because there is a ticking clock. I am unwilling to play the chess game too many moves ahead. Instead, I think we’re hungry like this because we feel something deeper. Something like love.

His chest rests on mine and his hands are in my hair and he makes these small, deep sounds that slowly unravel me until the only word I can think, over and over, is yes.

Everything feels yes.

His mouth is yes, and his hands are yes, and over me, on top of me now, he’s moving and yes, yes, yes.

I run my hands down his back and under his shirt to the warm skin of his torso. Yes. There’s no time to appreciate that I’ve answered my own garment question because then his shirt is off, yes, and mine comes off; skin to skin is

Y

E

S

and I’ve never been on bottom like this, never wrapped my leg around someone’s hip, never felt this kind of shifting and friction, and he tells me he thinks about me every second

yes

and tells me he’s never felt this way, he likes to suck on my bottom lip, he wants to pause time so we can kiss for hours

yes

and I tell him truthfully that nothing ever felt as good as this does, and he laughs into my mouth again because I’m sure it’s obvious how into this I am. I am a monster beneath him, with arching hips, an octopus with hands everywhere at once. I don’t think anything in the history of time has felt this good.

“I want to know everything about you,” he says into me, frantic now, his mouth moving over my jaw, stubble scraping my neck.

“I’ll tell you anything.”

“Are you my boyfriend?” he asks, and then sucks my bottom lip before laughing at himself, as if this isn’t the most amazing thing anyone has ever said to me in the history of my life.

“Um, yes.”

Boyfriend. Yes.

“Even if I’m your boyfriend now, I won’t tell anyone about this,” I whisper.

“I know.”

His hand comes over me, between us—oh my God—and through my track pants it seems so innocent and so dirty at the same time, but the dirty is washed away when I look up and realize he’s watching my face, awestruck.

And I get it. I’ve never done that either.

In a daze, I reach down too. His eyes roll back before they fall closed.

It doesn’t feel real. How can this be real?

He moves forward once, and again, and this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done—

I don’t even hear the footsteps or the door before I hear my dad’s mortified “Oh!” and the door slam shut.

Sebastian vaults off me, turning to face the wall, his hands pressed to his face. In the ringing silence, I’m not sure what’s just happened.

I mean, I know what happened, but it went so fast that for a few pounding heartbeats I think I can pretend that he and I just shared the same hallucination.

This is so bad on so many levels. No longer do I get to play the We’re just friends! angle with the grown-ups downstairs. Now we’re in it, and I’m going to get an earful from one or both of my parents.

But without a doubt, this is so much more humiliating for Sebastian.

“Hey,” I say.

“This is bad,” he whispers. He doesn’t drop his hands, doesn’t turn back to me. His back is bare, and a map of muscle. I’m drowning in dueling reactions: giddy that I have a hot boyfriend now, and terrified that this one moment has ruined everything.

“Hey,” I say again. “He’s not going to call your parents.”

“This is so bad.”

“Just come here, okay?”

Turning slowly, he walks back over, lowering himself onto the bed without looking at me.

He groans. “Your dad walked in on us.”

I take a beat to find the best response, settling on, “Yeah, but he’s probably more mortified than we are.”

“I highly doubt that.”

I knew he wouldn’t go for that line of reasoning, but it was worth a try. “Look at me.”

After about ten seconds, he does. I see how he softens, and the relief of that makes me want to stand up and pound my chest. “It’s okay,” I whisper. “He isn’t going to tell anyone. He’s probably just going to talk to me later.”

As in, he will for sure talk to me later.

With a defeated exhale, Sebastian closes his eyes. “Okay.”

I lean forward, and I think he senses my proximity even if he doesn’t open his eyes because his mouth twitches in a suppressed smile. Pressing my lips to his, I offer up my bottom lip, the one he likes to suck, and wait for him to respond. Slowly, he does. It’s nothing like the heat of before, but it’s real.

He pulls away, standing and reaching for his shirt. “I’m going to head home.”

“I’m going to stay right here.”

Sebastian fights another grin at the implication of this, and then I watch as the mask slowly slips into place. His forehead relaxes, and a vibrant light comes into his eyes. The easy smile I’m learning to distrust spreads across his face. “Walk me out?”

• • •

It takes Dad only fifteen minutes after Sebastian has left to come to my room. His knock is tentative, almost apologetic.

“Come in.”

He steps in, shutting the door carefully behind him.

I’m not sure whether I should be angry or remorseful, and the combination sends prickly static across my skin.

Dad walks to my desk chair and takes a seat. “First, I should apologize for not knocking the first time.”

I place my open book facedown on my chest, looking over at him from where I’m lying on the bed. “Agreed.”

“I don’t know what to say beyond that.” He scratches his jaw and then reconsiders. “No, that isn’t quite true. I know what I want to say, but not where I should start.”

Pushing to sit up, I swivel to face him. “Okay?”

“I know how you feel about Sebastian. And I’m pretty sure it’s reciprocated.”

“Yeah . . .”

“I also know that you feel this genuinely, and not out of some curiosity or rebellion.”

How do I even respond to this? I nod, aware that my expression is mostly one of vague confusion.

“Does Autumn know?”

I blink, confused. “Auddy?”

“Your best friend, yes.”

“I’m not out to Autumn, Dad. I’m not out to anyone, remember? Like Mom wants?”

“Look,” Dad says, resting a hand on my knee. “Two other things I want to say. I’ll start with the easy one. It’s tempting, when you fall for someone, to ignore everything else in your world.”

“I’m not ignoring Audd—”

“I’m not finished,” Dad says, voice gently stern. “I need you to promise me that you are taking care of your other relationships. That you are spending time with Autumn and Eric and Manny. That you are still being a role model for Hailey. That you are being an attentive and helpful son to your mother.”

I nod. “I promise.”

“The reason I say that is because it’s important you keep your life full, regardless of how deep your relationship with Sebastian becomes. This is independent of his religion. If it continues, and works out somehow, then you’ll want friends who accept and support you. And if, for whatever reason, it does not work out, you’ll need to have people you can turn to.”

I stare at the floor, feeling an odd warring reaction inside. He’s right. It makes sense. But I hate the implication that I don’t know this already.

“The other thing I wanted to tell you . . .” Dad scratches his jaw, looking away. “I don’t share your mother’s history with the church, so my reaction to your relationship is drastically different from hers.” He meets my eyes again. “That said, I don’t think she’s wrong. I don’t necessarily agree with each of her reasons for warning you off, but I do agree that it’s complicated. I assume his parents wouldn’t approve?”

“I think it goes a shade beyond disapproval.”

Dad is already nodding at this. “So anytime you’re with him, you’re going behind his parents’ backs.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t love that,” he admits quietly. “I like to think that if the situation were reversed, you would either be open with us, or not betray our wishes while you lived at home.”

“The difference, Dad, is I can be open with you.”

“The thing is, Tann, you’re eighteen, and what you do with your body is your choice. But what you do under my roof is still something I have a say over.”

Oh.

“I love you and your sister and your mother more than anything on this planet; you know that.”

“I know.”

“And I know you are attracted to girls, and boys. I know you’re going to experiment, and I never, for one second, begrudge you that.” He meets my eyes. “The complexity here is not that Sebastian is male. If I had walked in on you with someone outside the church, I probably wouldn’t have even said anything, and we’d exchange a knowing look across the dinner table and that would be that.”

My desire to curl into a ball and rock in the corner rises. This is so awkward.

“But I don’t want you and Sebastian using our house to sneak around behind his parents’ backs.”

“Dad,” I say, face hot. “We don’t have a lot of other options.”

“Sebastian is an adult. He can move out if he wants his own space with his own rules.”

This, right here, is essentially Dad closing the door on any discussion. I know this opinion comes from experience. And sitting here, staring at the face I know nearly as well as my own, I realize how hard it is for Dad to say this to me.

After all, according to his family, he fell in love with the wrong woman twenty-two years ago.