Autoboyography

Chapter 17

Dad is still up when I get home, mug of tea in his hand, and the you’re-cutting-it-a-bit-close-for-curfew frown weighing down his features.

I feel the curl of apology begin to tug down the edges of my smile, but no, this smile is bulletproof. I am in an echo chamber and Sebastian’s touch is reverberating all around me.

Dad’s brows twitch, like he’s puzzling out my grin. “Autumn?” he asks, but sounds unsure. He knows I don’t look like this when I’ve been hanging out with Autumn. Or anyone.

“Sebastian.”

His mouth makes the Ahh shape, and he nods again and again as his eyes move across my face. “You’re being safe?”

Oh my God.

The smile wobbles under the weight of my mortification. “Dad.”

“It’s a legitimate question.”

“We’re not . . .” I turn to the fridge, opening it to grab a Coke. Warring images flash through my thoughts: Sebastian on top of me, over me. Dad sitting here, eyes tight and invested. “You know Mom would murder you for that, for your semi-unintentional blessing that I deflower the bishop’s son.”

“Tanner.” I can’t tell if he wants to laugh or smack me. To be honest, I don’t think he knows either.

“I’m kidding. We’re not there yet.”

Dad puts his mug down, and the ceramic scrapes across the countertop. “Tann, eventually you might be. I just want to know you’re being careful.”

The top to my soda cracks open with a satisfying hiss. “I promise I won’t get him pregnant.”

His eyes roll skyward, and Mom chooses this exact moment to walk in, stopping short just inside the doorway.

“What?” Her voice is flat, eyes wide. I take a moment to appreciate that she’s wearing a nightgown that says LIFE GOES BY TOO QUICKLY, with rainbow-colored words highlighting the LGBTQ acronym.

Dad laughs. “No, Jenna. He was out with Sebastian, but it’s not what you think.”

She looks between us, brows furrowed. “And what do I think?”

“That he and Sebastian are . . . serious.”

I blink over to Dad. “Hey. We are serious.”

“Serious as in love?” Mom asks. “Or serious as in sex?”

I groan. “Which would be a bigger problem?”

“Neither would be a problem, Tann,” Dad says carefully, eyes on Mom.

Based on this silent exchange, I’m convinced my parents spend more time talking about me dating the bishop’s son than they do talking about everything else combined right now.

“You’re lucky, you know,” I tell them, walking over to envelop my mom in an enormous hug. She melts into me, wrapping her arms around my waist.

“How’s that?” she asks.

“I’ve never freaked you guys out before.”

Dad laughs. “You’ve given us a few heart attacks, Tanner. Don’t kid yourself.”

“But this one seems to really have thrown you.”

His expression sobers. “I think this has been harder for your mom than she’s let on.” Mom makes a noise of agreement into my chest. “It’s brought up a lot of feelings, a lot of anger. Probably some sadness, too. She wants to protect you from all that.”

My ribs seem to grow too tight around my lungs, and I squeeze her tighter. “I know.”

Her words come out muffled. “We love you so much, kiddo. We want you in a more progressive place.”

“As in, as soon as I get my college acceptance letters, I should run and never, ever look back,” I say with a grin.

Mom nods against me. “I’m praying for UCLA.”

Dad laughs. “Just be safe, okay? Be careful?”

I know he isn’t just talking about the physical stuff. I walk over to him next, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Will you quit worrying about me? I’m fine. I really like Sebastian, but I’m not unaware of the complications.”

Mom shuffles over to the fridge to get a snack. “So, putting aside his parents and their feelings, you know he could be kicked out of school for just being with you tonight? The church might be more accepting than when I was growing up, but you’re aware the BYU honor code doesn’t allow him to do whatever it is that you did tonight?”

“Mom, when does it get to just be this exciting thing I have?” I swear, the last thing I want to do right now is analyze every little bit of how this could go wrong. I do enough of that all day long anyway. “The problem isn’t with Sebastian and me; it’s with the rules.”

She looks over her shoulder at me, frowning. Dad jumps in. “I get what you’re saying, but it isn’t that simple. You don’t get to say just because the rules are wrong that you can do whatever you want.”

My high over Sebastian’s touch, over what we did, starts to fade, and I want to get out of the room as fast as I can. It sucks feeling this way with my parents. I like that I tell them everything. I like that they know me so well. But every time we talk about this, their concern becomes this dark shadow that slides in front of the light. It eclipses everything.

So I don’t reply. The more I argue, the more they’ll calmly reason. Dad sighs before giving me a small smile and lifting his chin like Go. Like he can see I need to escape and pour this night out somewhere.

I kiss Mom, and then run upstairs to my room. The words are bursting out of my head, my hands. Everything that happened, everything I feel pours out of me, liquid relief.

When the words are gone but the feeling still fills my chest—of seeing Sebastian collapse back on the hood of my car, wearing that lazy revelation of a grin—I pick up my Post-it pad and climb into bed.

WE SPENT THE AFTERNOON BUILDING

“FOR SERVICE,” HE SAID.

NEW PIECES, NEW PLACES, NEW PARTS

TO BE PUT THERE AND TAKEN FOR GRANTED.

BUT IT FELT GOOD, AND I TOLD HIM THAT.

HE RESTED A PLANK ON HIS SHOULDER

LIKE A BAYONET.

AND I NEARLY LAUGHED, THINKING,

IS THIS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO FALL IN LOVE

WITH A SOLDIER ON THE OTHER SIDE?

I close my eyes.

• • •

I should probably have predicted this. After Saturday night, I should have known that things would be awkward in class on Monday, because in between those two days was a whole lot of time back at church.

Sebastian doesn’t look up from what he’s reading when I walk into the Seminar on Monday afternoon, but I know he senses me the way I sense him, because his shoulders pull back a little, his eyes narrow, and he swallows thickly.

Even Auddy notices. At my side, she shuffles her books onto the table and tilts her head to mine. “What’s that about?” she asks under her breath. “Are you guys okay?”

“What?” I look at him like I don’t know what she means, and shrug it off. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

But inside I’m tripping over my own heartbeat. He didn’t text me yesterday. Won’t look at me now.

Something feels off, and the flippant way I brushed aside my parents’ concern feels like it’s about to bite me in the ass.

Asher rips into the classroom with a shrieking McKenna on his back, and the entire room goes still as he lets her down in the lewdest way possible. She slides down his back, all giggly, and his hands are basically glued to her ass. Their entrance is so preposterous, so attention-whorey, even Burrito Dave lets out a bewildered, “Dude, seriously?”

They kiss in front of the entire class, announcing their reunion.

“Okay, then,” I say. Anger spikes in my chest. McAsher can PDA it all over campus and, outside of a little eye rolling, no one cares. They’re both Mormon, by the way, and if I’m not mistaken, shouldn’t be engaging in this kind of behavior anywhere, let alone in the middle of school, but will they be ridiculed or shunned or threatened? No. No one is going to report them to their bishop. They can’t get kicked out of school. And yet they’re chaos fodder, getting back together because they’re probably so bored with the lack of gossip they’re subconsciously making something for people to talk about. I’m willing to bet that McAsher has had sex in every conceivable manner, and yet Asher will still go on his mission and come home and marry a good Mormon girl—maybe even McKenna—and be as self-righteous about LDS values as any of the rest of them. Meanwhile, Sebastian can’t even look at me in class, probably because he’s beating himself up over our comparably innocent touches on Saturday.

My stomach turns sour and then starts to boil.

“I think the impending prom made them feel amorous,” Autumn says beside me.

“Or desperate.” I pull my laptop from my backpack and glance back up at Sebastian. He still hasn’t turned around to even look at me.

I wish I could throw something at the back of his head or shout an unashamed “HELLO, REMEMBER ME?” in front of everyone. Instead I just pull out my phone and, beneath the table, send him a quick Hey, I’m over here text.

I watch as he reaches for his pocket, pulls out his phone, reads.

And then he turns, offers me a wan little smile over his shoulder without actually making eye contact—his eyes swim somewhere above my head—and turns back.

My brain is a blender. Mom’s voice pushes to the surface again, calming, reminding me that Sebastian is leaving soon and has pressures I’ll never understand. What if this was the first time he prayed and felt worse afterward?

The class ticks by in enormous, redwood-size chunks while I continue to spiral. Almost everyone is done drafting, and Fujita is giving us tips on revisions. At least I think he is. I’m glad Autumn is taking meticulous notes because I’m not catching a word of it. Instead, I bend, crouching over my Post-it, writing,

THE MOON WAS GONE,

LEAVING ONLY THE YELLOWING GLOW OF THE LAMPS BEHIND US.

DIRT ROAD STRETCHED BACKWARD FOR ETERNITY

AND FOR ONCE WE WERE ALONE.

I’D TAKE THE HEAT OF YOU ON THIS TINY CAR

EVERY DAY

OVER THE MEMORY OF YOU IN MY BED.

IN MY HAND, SO HEAVY.

A LIFETIME OF WANT, FILLING MY PALM.

YOU BIT MY NECK WHEN YOU CAME

AND THEN KEPT YOUR EYES CLOSED WHEN YOU KISSED ME.

And doing everything I can to not stare at him.

• • •

I grab my things and am out the door seconds after the bell rings. Autumn calls after me, but I keep going. I’ll text her later and explain. I’m at the end of the hall when I hear my name. It’s not Autumn.

“Tanner, wait up.”

My feet slow, even though I don’t want them to.

“Hey.” I keep my eyes glued to the span of lockers near me. I shouldn’t do this right now; I’m hurt and mad and embarrassed by his avoidance, and afraid of what I might say.

“ ‘Hey’?” he says back, obviously confused. And it’s no wonder; I think this is the first time he’s been the one to come after me.

Standing in the middle of the hall, we’re like a stone in the river, a steady stream of students moving to make their way around us. I wouldn’t describe this spot as inconspicuous, but if he’s here, I’m here.

“Were you headed to class?” he asks.

I don’t know why the storm is choosing this second to build inside me. Why this moment? Why now? Everything was so good this weekend. We had one day of silence and one weird interaction in class and boom—my brain is taking this to DEFCON-1 levels of panic.

I’m back on the mountain, hearing him say, Not . . . that. I’m not gay.

And there’s something today, some set in his jaw, some weird lean in his posture away from me that tells me Saturday did more harm than good. He’s fighting something, and he doesn’t even know it. He’s so far buried in his own dogma and his own world of shoulds that he can’t admit to himself that he’s into dudes, that he’ll always be into dudes, that it’s a piece of him, a perfect part of him, and it deserves admiration and respect and space the same way anything else about him does.

“It’s the end of the day,” I tell him. “I was going home.”

He shakes his head. “Right, I knew that. Tanner, I’m s—”

Sebastian never gets to finish that thought, because Manny is coming toward us. “Hey, guys,” he says, smiling in our direction.

But he doesn’t just say “Hey,” he says “Hey, guys.” Not like we’re two people, but like we’re two people together. Like we’re a couple. When I look over to gauge Sebastian’s reaction, I know he made the distinction too.

Jesus, Manny. Would it be possible for you to be supportive more quietly?

“Manny, hi,” Sebastian says.

I blink away and nod toward Manny’s letterman’s jacket. “Game tonight?” I’m careful to keep my voice conversational, despite feeling like a constellation of small explosions have started inside my chest. I never told Sebastian about the conversation with Manny. I never told him that he knows.

“Yeah, basketball. Listen, we’re opening my pool this weekend, and I wanted to invite you both over. It’ll be a few kids from here, some of my brother’s friends . . .” He pauses, eyes going from me, to Sebastian, to me again, and if I had to guess what we look like based on his expression, it’s bad. He turns to me. “But, Tanner, it’s not the guys from the lake. Everyone will be cool, so you don’t have to worry or anything.”

Sebastian’s head tilts slowly to the side before he asks, “What do you mean?”

The air leaves my lungs in a rush.

Manny’s eyes go wide, and the only way this would be more awkward would be if Manny opened with You guys are the cutest couple. “I just mean . . .” He looks to me for help. “Sorry, I saw you guys on a hike the other week and thought . . .”

All the blood drains from Sebastian’s face.

“Manny—” I start, but he waves me off.

“Nah, guys, I get it. Whatever. You’re both invited, or—either of you, separately, whatever works.” He’s such an easygoing guy, and I hope it comforts Sebastian that he clearly couldn’t care one way or another what we do together, but Sebastian is like a statue beside me. With a quick glance over his shoulder, Manny is gone, and Sebastian turns on me.

Oh, shit.

“What did you tell him?”

I hold up my hands. “Whoa—I didn’t tell him anything. He just said he saw us on a hike.”

God. Which hike? There are so many now, and over time we just got so comfortable being on the mountain, kissing like we were behind closed doors. The idea that Manny saw some of that . . . that maybe someone was with him . . . My stomach feels like a bubbling cauldron.

Sebastian turns, and his profile is a portrait of tight anger. This is probably the first second I feel like we’re actually a couple. How ironic, too, that it’s happening while we’re at school, the halls thinning out but for a few stragglers here and there who have no idea we’re together, that we’ve kissed, that I’ve seen what he looks like when he’s lost to pleasure, that I’ve watched him cry and held his hand. That I’ve seen his generosity and felt that pride I feel when I realized he’s mine. None of those moments feel as real, as coupley, as this one right here, where I know we’re about to start arguing in earnest.

“What happened at the lake?”

“Some guys were being dicks, and he came up to me and Autumn after and said—”

His voice rises several pitches. “Autumn knows too?”

Someone passes, and Sebastian startles to attention, rearranging his features into the mask and giving her a mild, “Hi, Stella.”

When she’s gone, I lead him out the door next to us, to the parking lot. It’s dead out here—like, there are no students in this lot, no teachers, barely anyone walking down the sidewalk—but even still, Sebastian keeps a healthy distance from me. A Mormon distance, my mind sneers.

“I mean, clearly Manny saw us. He came up to me and Autumn when we were leaving the lake—because someone called someone else a faggot—and told me he was sorry. It was awkward—like that,” I say, gesturing back to the hallway, “and Autumn grilled me for, like, two hours.”

“Tanner, this is so bad.” Sebastian glares at me and then blinks away, exhaling slowly. I imagine a dragon and fire.

“Look. Manny saw us. Not just me—us. I’m not exactly waving the rainbow flag here. I don’t tell people I’m bi. Autumn—my best friend—didn’t even know until a week ago, and I didn’t tell her about you. I told her I had feelings for you, not that they were reciprocated.”

“I just thought . . . after Saturday night . . .” He shakes his head. “I thought maybe you said something to Eric or Manny.”

“Why would I do that?” I know I shouldn’t say this next part; it’s childish and petty, but my mouth doesn’t get the memo: “Unless, you know, I wanted contact with someone about this important emotional event in my life.”

His head snaps up. “What does that mean?”

“Just that it would have been nice to hear from you yesterday and get some acknowledgment from you today that you saw me and you weren’t freaking out.”

Sebastian’s expression screws up into irritation. “Tanner, I was busy yesterday.”

Oh, that just feels like a slap. Palm open, handprint to my cheek. “Tons of church to do, I guess.”

Sebastian picks this right up and runs with it. “It’s what we do on Sunday. Have your mother educate you on how we operate. If she remembers.”

One . . .

Two . . .

Three . . .

Four . . .

Five . . .

I keep counting. I remember that he’s just scared. I remind myself that he’s confused. If I take a step back from this second, I know I would want to tell myself, This is not your battle. This is Sebastian’s battle. Give him space. But isn’t it mine, too? Even a little bit? Are we in this as a team, navigating this first together?

He’s turned away from me, hand pulling at his hair as he paces the small corner of the parking lot. He looks like he’s ready to run. It’s funny to realize that’s probably exactly what he wants to do, because it’s not just that he doesn’t want to have this discussion here; he doesn’t want to do this anywhere. He wants to be together without any expectation or discussion. It’s a cloud formation—here for now, gone sometime in the nebulous future, undefined.

So I ask him, “Do you ever imagine telling your parents that you’re gay?”

He’s not even surprised I’ve gone here so quickly, I can tell. There’s no startle, no double take. His scowl deepens, and he takes a step even farther away from me. “I would need to figure out a lot of things about myself before I’d have that kind of conversation with them.”

I stare at him. “Sebastian? Are you gay?”

I mean, of course he is.

Right?

He looks at me like he doesn’t even know me. “I don’t know how to answer that.”

“It’s sort of a yes or no thing.”

“I know who I want to be.”

“Who you want to be?” What the fuck does he even mean?

“I want to be kind, and generous, and Christlike.”

“But what does that have to do with my question? You’re already that person. You’re also good, and thoughtful, and loyal. All those qualities that make you the person I love. You are him already. Being gay doesn’t change that.”

And I can see the moment that it hits, the moment that the word settles into his skin, when it’s absorbed. I said it. Not gay. I said “love.”

He says my name under his breath and then looks to the side.

He’s not even looking at me, and I just told him that I love him.

Somehow this next question feels so much more important than the one that came before it. “Sebastian, did you hear what I said? I love you. Did that register at all?”

He nods. “It registered.”

He’s blushing, I notice the blush still, and I know it’s a happy blush. I can see it; now I know the different colors of emotions; how weird is that?

He likes hearing that I love him, but he doesn’t, too. “It’s too much for you,” I say. “Isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I mean, honestly, that’s a lot to hear right now. And it isn’t even about what you asked before”—his voice drops then, and he looks around furtively—“whether I’m gay. It’s a lot to say to me right now because I have a book coming out, and I’m going on a mission, and there’s so much going on.”

“So it’s inconvenient to hear me say I love you?”

He winces. “Tanner. No. I just mean, I don’t know that I can give you the same thing that you want to give me.”

“It isn’t a matter of wanting to give you my feelings.” I actually laugh at this. “It’s just how I feel.”

He looks at me like I’m insane.

Like, maybe, he doesn’t believe me.

“I love you because of who you are, not because of your blush, or your eyes, or the things you make me feel when you touch me,” I say, and he blushes again. “The things that I love about you aren’t going to go away when you go on your book tour, and they’re not going to go away when you go on your mission. I’ll still be here, and I’ll still be thinking about all those things. I’ll still be working on being a better person, a better friend, a better son. I’ll still be wondering what it would be like to be a better boyfriend for you. And you will be on your mission, thinking about how much you wish you weren’t gay.”

He’s mad, I can tell. My first instinct is to wish I could take the words back, but it vanishes like smoke as reality hits me: I meant every single one of them.

“I won’t wish . . . ,” he starts, but then turns away, jaw ticcing in anger.

“So this is it?” I ask him. “We’ve reached the limit of what you’re willing to give?”

He shakes his head but says, “You want me to be something I’m not.”

Something. Not someone, something.

“I just want you to be okay with who you are now. I know I’m not the only one who has feelings here.”

He aims, and shoots, his face a mask of calm. “I think we should break up.” Sebastian pauses, watching while my organs turn to bricks and crumble inside me. “This isn’t right anymore.”

• • •

The rest of today is going to be hard to explain.

I left right after those words fell from his mouth, and even now I don’t really remember what I did. I went out to the lake, maybe. Drove around, and around, and around.

When it’s dark and my phone is lit up with a million texts from Auddy and none from Sebastian, I turn my car around, land softly at the curb near her house.

I never noticed before that her room smells like vanilla candles and that her lamp casts a calming blue light. I never noticed before how she hugs in phases. Like, she’ll take me into her arms and then squeeze, and then she’ll squeeze harder, and in my head we’re moving through different levels of comforting, from Hey, what happened, to Tanner, talk to me, to Oh my God, what’s wrong?

And then we hit some other level, because she’s coaxing me down. Her hands are on my face—I’m crying; I didn’t know—and she’s kissing away tears, and I’m babbling. I’m admitting that Sebastian and I were together. I’m telling her about what happened, how he ended it, how small I feel.

Her mouth is near mine, on mine, opening in surprise and then something more.

I fuck it up right here.

This is where I ruin everything.