Late Saturday afternoon, Autumn jogs after me, down my driveway. Finally we are free of my house, and she lets loose her barrage of questions.
“Were you talking to him when I got here?”
“You’re telling me he doesn’t like you? Tanner, I see how he looks at you.”
I unlock the car, opening the driver’s side door. I’m 100 percent not in the mood for this. Even after talking to him this morning, Sebastian’s words from Thursday still bounce around my head.
Not . . . that.
I’m not gay.
“You don’t see how he looks at you?”
“Auddy.” It’s not a denial; it’s not a confirmation. It’ll have to work for now.
She climbs in after me, clicking her seat belt in, and then turns to face me. “Who is your best friend?”
I know the right answer to this one: “You. Autumn Summer Green.” I turn the ignition, and laugh despite my dark mood. “Still the best bad name ever.”
Auddy ignores this. “And who do you trust more than anyone in the world?”
“After him.” She holds up her hand. “And after your mom, grandmother, family, blah, blah.”
“I don’t trust Hailey as far as I could throw her.” Turning, I look over my shoulder to back out of the driveway. Dad won’t let me rely solely on the backup camera in the sensible Camry I drive.
Autumn slaps the dashboard. “I’m making a point! Stop thwarting me.”
“You are my best friend.” I turn the steering wheel and set out of our neighborhood. “I trust you the most.”
“So why do I feel you aren’t telling me something important?”
A dog with a bone, this one. My heart is a hammer again, tap-tap-tapping against my sternum.
I was on the phone with Sebastian when Auddy got to my house. We were talking about his afternoon away at a church youth activity.
We were not talking about how un-gay he is.
We were also not talking about my book.
“You’re with him all the time,” she needles.
“Okay, first of all, we’re honestly working on my book,” I say, and a metaphorical knife pokes my conscience in reprimand. “You chose to work with Clive—which is fine—but now I’m paired with Sebastian. We hang out. Second, I don’t know if he’s gay, or what”—and that’s certainly not even a lie—“but third, his sexuality isn’t our business.”
The only reason it’s mine is because . . .
Only now does it register that giving this relationship oxygen outside our Sebastian + Tanner bubble would be amazing. Even the idea of talking to someone other than Mom and Dad about this makes me feel like I can take a full breath for the first time in weeks. I want more than anything to talk with someone else—Auddy, especially—about what happened on Thursday.
“If he is gay,” she says, chewing a nail, “I hope his family isn’t too terrible about it. It makes me sort of sad.” She holds up her hand. “I know you aren’t gay, but shouldn’t the bishop’s son be allowed to like dudes if he wants to?”
This conversation makes me feel mildly queasy. Why haven’t I come out to Auddy yet? Yes, Mom’s panic before we moved was mildly traumatizing to me, and Auddy’s friendship is my bedrock. I guess I’ve never wanted to risk it. But still. Autumn Summer Green is the least closed-minded person I’ve ever known, isn’t she?
“Someone needs to have a revelation,” I say, glancing at her. “Call the prophet; let him know it’s time to accept the queer folk into his heart.”
“It’s gonna happen,” she says. “Someone is going to have a revelation. Soon.”
Revelations are a big part of the LDS faith. It’s a pretty progressive idea: The world is changing, and the church needs God to help guide it through these times. After all, they are the Latter-day Saints. They believe anyone can have a revelation—that is, a communication directly from God—as long as they’re seeking it with the intention of doing something good. But only the current living prophet—the church president—can have revelations that make their way into church doctrine. He (always a he) works with two counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (also men) “under the inspiration of God”—to determine what the church’s position is on any given matter and whether rules get changed.
For example, the hot button: Polygamy was okay back in the day. Autumn’s mom once explained it to me that, at the time of early LDS settlements, there were many women and few men to protect them. By taking on multiple wives, men could better provide for the women in the community. But in my own digging, I read how the US government didn’t love this aspect of the church and wouldn’t grant Utah state rights. In 1890, Church President Wilford Woodruff declared that plural marriage was no longer acceptable to God—apparently, he’d had a revelation about it.
Conveniently, it was what the US government needed to hear; Utah became a state.
The idea of a revelation about wholly accepting openly LGBTQ members in the church is pretty much the single golden thread I hang on to for hope whenever I let myself think past today or tomorrow with Sebastian. Brigham Young himself said, in essence, he hopes that people in the church don’t just take what the leaders say as God’s truth; he wants them to pray and find that truth within themselves, too.
No doubt Daddy Young wasn’t talking about homosexuality, but there are those of us who live in the modern world, who are not LDS, and who sincerely hope that a revelation about homosexuality not being sin is just a matter of time.
And yet even with the legalization of same-sex marriage, it still hasn’t happened. Autumn taps her fingers on her thighs in time with the music. I hadn’t been listening to what’s been playing, but now it’s a song I love. It has this slow, building beat, and the singer’s voice is throaty, scratchy. The lyrics seem innocent at first, but it’s clear it’s about sex, just like nearly every song on the radio.
It makes me think about sex, and what that would be like with Sebastian. How it happens. How we’d . . . be. It’s this vast unknown, both thrilling and terrifying.
“Did you talk to Sasha?” Autumn asks me out of the blue.
She stares at me. “About prom.”
“Seriously, Auddy. Why are you so hung up on this?”
“Because you said you were going to ask her.”
“But why do you care?”
“I want you to go to your senior prom.” She smiles winningly at me. “And, I don’t want to go alone with Eric.”
This sets off an alarm bell in my brain. “Wait, why?”
“I just want to take things slow with him. I like him, but . . .” She looks out the passenger window, deflating when she sees that we’ve arrived at the lake.
“But what?” I ask, pulling into a parking spot.
“No, nothing like that. He’s good. I just want you there.” She holds my eyes for one . . . two . . . three. “Are you sure you don’t want to go with me?”
“Do you want to go with me? Dude, Auddy, I’ll go with you if that’s what you need.”
She slumps. “I can’t back out with Eric now.”
Relief floods my blood. Sebastian would understand, surely, but the idea of dancing with Autumn when I’d rather be with Sebastian doesn’t seem fair to either of them.
Turning off the ignition, I lean back, closing my eyes. I don’t feel like being here with Manny or any of the other kids from school, messing around in the parking lot with remote-controlled cars. I feel like going home and writing out this tangle and heat in my head. I’m upset with Sebastian, and hate that he’s gone for the entire day when I feel so twisted inside.
“How many girls have you been with?”
I blink over to her, startled by the abrupt question. “What?”
Even in hindsight, I feel this weird twinge of disloyalty to Sebastian for having slept with anyone else.
Autumn is blushing. She looks sheepish. “Just curious. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only virgin left.”
I shake my head. “I promise, you’re not.”
“Right. Like, I’m sure you have a whole bunch of stories I don’t even know about.”
God, she’s making me uneasy.
“Auddy, you know who I’ve been with. Three. Jessa, Kailley, and Trin.” I reach for her hand. I need air. “Come on.”
• • •
Utah Lake used to be gorgeous. It was full, and splashy, and a great place for all kinds of environmentally irresponsible water sports that positively horrified my parents when we first moved here. If you ask my dad, Jet Skis are the devil’s work.
Now the water level is low and the algae cover is so thick that even if it were swimming weather, we probably wouldn’t venture in. Instead, we just lurk between the parking lot and the shore, eating the pizza Manny brought and throwing stones as far out into the horizon as we can.
I dream about college life and living in a big city where I can spend a day in museums or at a bar watching soccer, or doing any number of things that don’t involve sitting around, talking about the same crap we talk about every day at school. I dream about convincing Sebastian to move with me and showing him that being gay isn’t a bad thing.
Kole brought a few of his college friends I’ve never met, and they’re flying radio-controlled helicopters near the parking lot. They’re big, footbally, and the kind of loud, frequently swearing guys that have always made me mildly uncomfortable. I’m no Manny, but I’m not small by any stretch, and I know there’s a certain calm to me that’s often interpreted as threatening somehow. One of them, Eli, sizes me up with a frown before looking at Autumn as if he’s going to roll her up in a slice of pizza and eat her. He’s muscular in a suspicious way, with a thick neck and splotchy, acne-scarred skin.
She shuffles into my side, playing the girlfriend role. So I immediately take on the boyfriend role, tucking my arm around her, meeting his gaze. Eli looks away.
“You don’t want to experiment with that?” I joke.
Auddy grunts out a “No.”
After our call this morning was cut short by Autumn’s arrival, Sebastian left for an activity at some park in South Jordan. I know he isn’t going to be home until after six, but it doesn’t stop me from obsessively checking to see if I have any cryptically suggestive emojis in my text box.
I hate the way we left things—with a casual “Talk later”—and I especially hate that he doesn’t seem to have any sense how his words on Thursday affected me. It’s something I’ve read about in the pamphlets Mom has left out—how queer kids sometimes feel this hovering sense of doubt, knowing someone could reject us not only for who we are specifically but who we are more deeply—but I’ve never really felt it before now. If Sebastian doesn’t think he’s gay, then what the hell is he doing with me?
I pull Autumn closer, calmed by the solid weight of her against me.
Manny recruits a few guys to help him build a huge radio-controlled Humvee, and when they’re done, they take turns hurling it over the uneven ground, the path down to the lake, small boulders bordering the parking lot.
Our attention is drawn away by a scuffle in the distance, near my car. Kole’s friends are wrestling, laughing, and we watch as a big guy I think is named Micah takes down Eli. Beneath him, Eli bucks and shoves, but he can’t get up. I don’t know what he’s done to get wrestled to the ground, even if it’s clearly good-natured, but I can’t help enjoying the sight of him pinned down there. We’ve exchanged zero words; he just has that asshole vibe about him.
“Get off me, faggot!” he yells, noticing how much attention they’re getting now.
Absolute zero: Everything stops moving inside me. Every particle of energy is focused on schooling my expression.
Beside me, Auddy freezes too. The word “faggot” seems to echo across the surface of the lake, but the only people it seems to have hit somewhere tender is the two of us.
Micah gets up, laughing harder, and helps Eli to his feet.
“I bet you just got the biggest boner, you fucking homo.” Eli brushes off his jeans. His face is even redder than it was before.
I turn away, acting like I’m just going to squint across the horizon at the beautiful mountains in the distance, but when I catch a glimpse of Auddy, she looks like she wants to rip Eli’s balls off with her bare hands. I can’t really blame her—I’m horrified to realize that people still talk like that . . . anywhere.
Wandering off, Micah seems unconcerned. The rest of the group turns to walk over to where Micah is picking up his fallen remote control toy, and the moment seems to pass as easily as a wave breaking on the rocky shore.
“Gross,” Auddy whispers. She looks up at me, and I try to smile through my repressed rage. I try to channel Sebastian, and for the first time, I understand his amazing fake smile. He’s had so much practice.
She stands, swiping the dried grass from her jeans. “I think we should head out.”
I follow her. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Just not my crowd. Why would Kole hang out with these douche bags?”
Not my crowd either. I’m relieved. “No idea.”
Manny follows, protesting. “Guys, you just got here. Don’t you want to race these cars?”
“I told Tanner I wasn’t feeling great this morning,” Auddy lies. “I feel worse.”
“I’m her ride,” I say, shrugging as if she’s dragging me out of here against my wishes. But remote-controlled vehicles and homophobia just aren’t my cup of tea, I guess.
He walks us to my car, stopping me at the driver’s side. “Tanner, what Eli said back there . . .”
Heat pricks at the back of my neck. “What did he say?”
“Aw, man, come on.” Manny laughs, looking to the side in a don’t-make-me-say-it gesture. “Whatever, Eli’s an idiot.”
I move to get in the car.
This is so weird.
This is so bad.
It’s like he knows about me. How does he know?
Not to be detoured, Manny pushes his sunglasses up on his head, squinting at me in confusion. “Tann, wait. Just so you know, we’re cool. Yeah? I would never let someone say that crap to you.”
I don’t resist when he pulls me into a hug, but I feel like a two-by-four against him. Reels and reels of memories are flying past. Somewhere in my brain a poor, underpaid theater geek is trying to find the footage of Manny realizing I’m into dudes. I can’t locate the memory, the possibility anywhere. “Manny, dude. We’re cool. I don’t even know what this is about.”
He pulls away and then looks at Autumn, who is standing very, very still. Manny looks at me again. “Hey, no, man, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
He backs off and turns, leaving Auddy and me in a cloud of silence and wind.
“What was that?” Auddy asks, watching him walk away.
“Who knows?” I look at her, preparing some easy explanation in my head. I mean, this is what I do. I’m fast on my feet. I’m usually so fast. But today, I don’t know, maybe I’m tired. Maybe I’m sick of protecting myself. Maybe I’m leveled by Sebastian’s denial. Maybe the hurricane of my feelings and the lies and the half-truths just knocked the covers off my windows and Auddy sees straight through, inside.
“Tanner, what is going on?”
It’s the same voice Sebastian used on the mountain. I don’t understand why you’re so upset.
Just like Sebastian, she does understand. She just wants me to say it.
“I’m . . .” I look up at the sky. A plane flies overhead, and I wonder where it’s headed. “I think I’m in love with Sebastian.”