Chapter 3

Monday afternoon: We are homework-free, Mom is home early, and she sees it as a sign that she needs to take her children shopping. My sister, Hailey, is thrilled at the opportunity to get more funeral wear. I agree to come, albeit unenthusiastically, mostly because I know if I were left to my own devices, I would spend hours on my laptop, with multiple browser tabs open, trying to learn more about Sebastian Brother.

Fortunately, Autumn is tagging along. Mom’s superpower seems to be her uncanny ability to find the ugliest clothing for her children. In this way, Autumn is a great wingwoman. But unfortunately, having all three of them around means any mobile Sebastian investigation needs to be done covertly. Autumn might raise an eyebrow if she caught me googling pictures of our hot male TA. Mom and Hailey know I like guys, but Mom in particular would not be thrilled to know that the object of my current interest is the local bishop’s son.

Organized religion isn’t something that’s regarded too fondly in our house. My dad is Jewish but hasn’t been to temple in years. Mom grew up LDS, just north of here in Salt Lake City, but defected from the church at nineteen, when her younger sister, my aunt Emily, came out in high school and her parents and the church cut her off. Of course, I wasn’t around then, but I’ve heard some of the stories and see Mom’s forehead vein make an appearance whenever any aspect of the church’s narrow-mindedness comes up. Mom didn’t want to break up with her parents but, like any normal, compassionate human, couldn’t justify alienating someone she loved because of a bunch of old rules in a book.

So then, you might ask, why are we here, living in the most LDS-dense place in the world? Also, ironically, my mother. Two and a half years ago, a massive, super-loaded software startup based here lured her away from Google, where she’d been the only senior software engineer with an XX genotype, and she basically cleaned the floor with everyone around her. NextTech offered her the CEO position, but she asked for the CTO job instead, which came with an almost unlimited tech-development budget. Right now her team is developing some 3-D holographic modeling software for NASA.

For any other family with two six-figure incomes still barely cutting it in the South Bay, the decision would have been an easy one. A salary hike in a place where the cost of living could fit in our smallest Palo Alto closet? Done. But because of Mom’s past, the decision to move was agonizing. I still remember hearing my parents arguing about it late into the night while Hailey and I were supposed to be sleeping. Dad thought it was an opportunity she couldn’t possibly turn down, and one that would feed her imagination. Mom agreed—but worried about how it would affect her children.

In particular, she worried about how it would affect me. Two months before the offer came in, I admitted to my parents that I’m bisexual. Well, “admitted” might be taking too much credit. For her graduate school project, Mom created undetectable software that helps employers keep track of what their employees are doing. Turns out it’s so user-friendly and has such a pretty interface that a consumer version was created and sold to nearly every household with a working computer in the States. I probably should have put two and two together and realized my parents would also be using it on our home network before I discovered I could stream porn on my phone.

That was an awkward conversation, but at least it resulted in a compromise: I could go to certain sites, and they wouldn’t stalk me online as long as I didn’t lurk on places that, as Mom put it, “would give me unrealistic expectations about how sex should be or what our bodies should look like.”

In the end, my stridently anti-LDS parents moved their emo-scene daughter and queer son back into LDS wonderland. To compensate for their guilt over making sure I protect myself at all costs (read: be very, very careful about who I come out to), my parents have made our home a gay, gay den of pride. Autumn and I spend most of our time together at her house, and Hailey hates almost everyone (and no one from her angry coven ever comes over), so LGBTQ essays, PFLAG pamphlets, and rainbow T-shirts are handed to me at spontaneous moments with a kiss and a lingering look of pride. Mom will slide the occasional bumper sticker into my pillowcase, to be found when the sharp corner meets my cheek at night.





Autumn has found a few of them here and there over the years but shrugs it off with a murmur of “San Francisco, man.”

It’s funny to think about these now in the car, surreptitiously scrolling slack-jawed through photos of Sebastian, because I start imagining them read to me in his deep, gentle voice. Even hearing Sebastian speak a mere three times today, the sound of it still hovers like a drunk honeybee inside my head.

Hey, guys.

Oh, the book is out in June.

I’m here to help, however you need me, so use me.

I almost lost it when he said that.

A Web search doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Most of the results for “Sebastian Brother” are for a steakhouse in Omaha, links to articles about the Seminar, or announcements about Sebastian’s book.

Google Images is where I hit the jackpot. There are photos of him playing baseball and soccer (yes, I save one), and a few of him doing interviews for local papers. When I click through, his answers don’t say much about him—they seem pretty canned—but he’s wearing a tie in a lot of the photos, and combined with his hair? I’m ready to start the Sebastian Brother Spank Bank folder.

Really, he’s the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in person.

Facebook is a dead end. Sebastian’s account is locked (of course it is), so not only can I not see his photos, but I can’t see his relationship status, either. Not that I care, or will beyond a few days. He’s Mormon eye candy. This flash of infatuation won’t go anywhere interesting. I wouldn’t let it—we’re on opposite sides of a very thick fence.

I close every window on my phone’s browser before I fall prey to the worst social media stalking possible: the futile hunt for his Snapchat or Instagram. Even the idea of stumbling upon a sleepy shirtless Sebastian selfie wreaks havoc on my nervous system.

At the mall, Autumn and I follow my mom as she weaves through the racks of the guys’ department at Nordstrom. I’m bored putty in their hands. Mom leads me to table of shirts, holding a few up to my chest. She narrows her eyes, asks Autumn’s opinion, and the two women confer before wordlessly rejecting most of them. I don’t comment; I know how this works.

My sister is off somewhere getting her own things, giving us a nice reprieve from her constant need to bicker with us. Autumn and Mom get along, and when they’re together, I get a break from having to pay attention to anything anyone is saying; they keep each other entertained.

Mom holds a hideous Western-themed shirt up to my chest.

I can’t let this one slide. “No.”

She ignores me and looks to Autumn for her opinion. But Auddy is Team Tanner, and scrunches her nose in distaste.

Hanging the shirt back up, Mom asks her, “How is your schedule this term?”

“I love it.” Auddy hands Mom a short-sleeved blue button-down from RVCA. I give her a covert thumbs-up. “I may need to switch Modern Lit to Shakespeare, and calculus is probably going to be my death, but otherwise—good.”

“I’m sure Tanner would love to help you with calc,” Mom says, and I feel Autumn throw an eye roll in my direction. “What about you, honey?”

I lean against the rack, crossing my arms over the silver bar. “I added biology after lunch, and now I’m sleepy last period.”

Mom’s blond hair is smooth and pulled into a ponytail, and she’s traded her work clothes for jeans and a sweater. She looks younger dressed like this, and if Hailey would drop her Wednesday Addams thing, she and Mom would look like sisters.

As if on cue, Hailey materializes from behind me, dropping a giant heap of black fabric in Mom’s arms. “I didn’t like any of the pants, but those shirts are cool,” she says. “Can we eat? I’m starving.”

Mom looks down at the load in her arms. I can see her mentally counting to ten. As long as I can remember, our parents have encouraged us to be ourselves. When I started questioning my sexuality, they told me their love for me was not dependent on where I stick my dick.

Okay, they didn’t use those exact words; I just like saying it.

Last year, when my sister decided she wanted to start looking like a corpse, they bit their tongues and encouraged her to express herself however she wanted. Our parents are saints when it comes to patience, but I’m getting the sense that this patience is wearing thin.

“Three shirts.” Mom hands it all back to Hailey. “I told you three shirts, two pairs of pants. You already have a dozen black shirts. You don’t need a dozen more.” She turns back to me, thwarting Hailey’s rebuttal. “So, biology makes you sleepy. What else?”

“Auddy should stick with Modern Lit. It’s going to be an easy A.”

“Oh. Our Seminar TA is super-hot,” Autumn tells her.

As if moving on some protective instinct, Mom’s eyes slide to me and then back to Auddy. “Who is he?”

Autumn lets out a distractingly breathy sound. “Sebastian Brother.”

Behind us, my sister groans, and we turn, waiting for the inevitable. “His sister Lizzy is in my class. She’s always so happy.”

I scoff at this. “Gross, right?”

“Tanner,” Mom warns.

My sister shoves my shoulder. “Shut up, Tanner.”


Autumn works to diffuse this by redirecting us to the point at hand: “Sebastian took the class last year. Apparently his book was really good.”

Mom hands me a paisley T-shirt that is so hideous I won’t acknowledge it. She thrusts it at my chest again, giving me mom face. “Oh, he sold it, right?” she asks Autumn.

Autumn nods. “I hope it gets made into a movie and he’s in it. He has this floppy soft hair and his smile . . . God.”

“He’s a splotchy boy blusher,” I say before I can think better of it.

Beside me, Mom stiffens. But Auddy doesn’t seem to hear anything odd in what I said. “He totally is.”

Mom hangs the shirt back up and laughs tightly. “This one might be a problem.”

She’s looking at Autumn when she says this, but I know without question she’s speaking to me.

• • •

My interest in Sebastian Brother’s visible attributes hasn’t diminished by class on Friday. For the first time since I moved here, I’m struggling to fly under the radar. If it were a female TA I was attracted to, it wouldn’t be a big deal for someone to occasionally catch me staring. But here, with him, I can’t. And the effort it takes to play it cool is frankly exhausting. Fujita and Sebastian make regular rounds of the room while we jot down ideas in any manner that works for us—outlines, random sentences, song lyrics, drawings—and I’m basically doodling spirals on a blank sheet of paper just to keep from tracking his movement. Beside me, Autumn pounds out what seems like thousands of words per minute on her laptop without coming up for air, and it’s distracting and maddening. Irrationally, I feel like she’s sucking my creative energy somehow. But when I stand to move to another part of the room for some space, I nearly collide with Sebastian.

Chest-to-chest, we stare at each other for a few seconds before we take a step back, in unison.

“Sorry,” I say.

“No, no, it was me.” His voice is both low and quiet, and it has this hypnotic rhythm to it. I wonder whether someday he’ll give sermons with that voice, whether he’ll throw down judgment with that voice.

“Fujita said I should work with you more closely,” he says, and I realize now that he was coming over to talk to me. The blush pops in a warm bloom across his cheeks. “He said you seemed to, um, be a little behind on the plotting stage and I should brainstorm with you.”

Defensiveness and nervous energy creates a strange brew in my veins. We’re only three class sessions in and I’m already behind? And to hear it from him? This buttoned-up Bible-thumper I can’t get out of my head? I laugh, too loudly. “It’s okay. Seriously, I’ll catch up this weekend. I don’t want you to have to take time—”

“I don’t mind, Tanner.” He swallows, and I notice for the first time how long his throat is, how smooth.

My heart hammers. I don’t want to be this affected by him.

“I need to sort it out in my own head,” I say, and then push past him, mortified.

I’d expected Sebastian to be a short fascination, a single night of fantasizing and that’s it. But even watching him move through the classroom rocks me. Standing so close to him nearly sent me into a breathless panic. He has command of the space he occupies, but it isn’t because he’s an imposing jock, or somehow bleeding macho into the room. The light just seems to catch his features differently than anyone else around us.

Autumn follows me over a few minutes later, putting her hand on my arm. “You okay?”

Absolutely not. “Totally.”

“You don’t have to worry about how far ahead everyone else is.”

I laugh, brought back to the other stress: the novel. “Wow, thanks, Auddy.”

She groans, dropping her head to my arm, laughing now too. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

When I glance to the side, I see Sebastian just before he looks away from us. Auddy stretches, kissing my cheek. “Still up for Manny’s birthday party tonight?”

Laser tag to celebrate turning eighteen. Only in Utah, man. “I don’t know.” I like Manny, but in all honesty, I’m merely human. I can stomach only so many nights of laser tag.

“Come on, Tann. Eric will be there. I need someone to hang with so I have something to do besides look awkward in front of him.”

High school is such an incestuous little pool. Autumn has a thing for Eric, who is pining over Rachel, the sister of the girl I kissed after homecoming last year and who I’m pretty sure dated Hailey’s best friend’s brother. Pick almost anyone here and it’s like six degrees of second base.

But it’s not like there’s anything better to do.

• • •

The sound of music and electronic chimes seeps through the double glass doors outside Fat Cats. The parking lot is packed. If this were any other town I might be more surprised, but it’s Friday night; miniature golf, laser tag, and glow-in-the-dark bowling are about as wild as it gets.

Autumn is at my side, and the light from her phone illuminates her profile as she does her best to type and walk across the icy sidewalk at the same time.

Looping my arm through hers, I guide her around a group of junior high kids with their eyes glued to their own phones and lead us both safely inside.

The year after we moved here, the Scott family drove in Dad’s Prius to Vegas for my aunt Emily’s wedding to her girlfriend, Shivani. Hailey and I were saucer-eyed the entire weekend: digital billboards, strip clubs, booze, and bare skin . . . There was a spectacle everywhere we looked.

Here, apart from the obvious differences, like sheer size and the distinct lack of scantily clad cocktail waitresses walking around, there’s the same kind of frenzy in the air. Fat Cats is like Vegas for kids and teetotalers. Spiral-eyed patrons slide token after token into blinking machines in the hope of winning something, anything.

I spot a bunch of people I know from school. Jack Thorne is playing what I’m sure is a rousing game of Skee-Ball with a string of tickets slithering along the floor at his feet. Soccer Dave is playing pinball with Clive and has a soccer ball predictably clamped between his feet. The birthday boy himself, our friend Manny Lavea, is goofing off with a few of his brothers near a row of tables in the back, but much to Autumn’s chagrin: no Eric in sight.

I search the silhouettes in front of the giant movie screens suspended above the bowling lanes—sorry, Thunder Alley—before giving up.

“Are you texting him?” I ask Autumn, looking down to find her still staring intently at her phone.


“Then what has you glued to your phone tonight? You’ve barely come up for air.”

“I was just typing up a few notes,” she says, taking my hand and leading me past the ticket redemption center and toward the tables. “For the book. You know, random thoughts that pop into my head or pieces of dialogue. It’s a good way to get stuff down. Fujita is going to expect something on Monday.”

Stress tightens my gut, and I change the subject. “Come on, Auddy. Let me win you something.”

I win her a gigantic tiger, which I’m guiltily aware will soon become landfill, and we wander back over toward the party room as they’re bringing out the food. A haggard woman named Liz tries to bring the party to some sort of order before giving up and dropping a tray of veggies and dip on the center table. Truthfully, we’ve been here so many times, Liz could go out back and smoke a pack of cigarettes and we’d be fine getting through the night.

Eric finds us as Manny’s mom is handing out paper plates, and our entire group—about twenty of us in total—moves in a line on either side of the long tables. There’s the normal fare of bad pizza and Sprite, but I help myself to some of the dishes his mom has prepared too. Manny’s family is Tongan, and when I first moved here in tenth grade from the diverse wonderland of the South Bay, it was such a relief to find a brown person in the smiling sea of white faces. Because of missionary efforts in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, there’s a surprisingly large number of Polynesians in Utah. Manny and his family are no exception, but they’re among the LDS families who don’t keep only to themselves. Manny is big, and hilarious, and nearly always smiling. I’d probably be into him if it weren’t such an obvious waste of time: He is roaringly heterosexual. I would pull out every penny I have and bet that Manny isn’t going to be virginal when he marries.

I step up next to Autumn, opening my mouth to tease her about how she’s got only a single breadstick on her plate, but the words fall out of my brain. Sebastian Brother is standing across the room, talking to two of Manny’s brothers. My pulse takes off in a surging gallop.

I didn’t know he was going to be here.

Auddy pulls us over to a bench to sit down, and sips a cup of water, distracted. Now that I look closer, I see she’s put more effort into how she looks tonight: She straightened her hair. She’s wearing sticky, shiny lip gloss. I’m pretty sure her shirt is new.

“Why aren’t you eating?” I ask, unrolling the paper napkin from the plastic utensils.

In an effort to prove she’s not looking at Eric, she takes a Snap of her food, examines her handiwork, and then types something before turning her phone to face me. It’s a photo of her breadstick on a plain white paper plate with the caption “dinner” written beneath it.


“The pizza looked greasy and the other stuff was weird,” she says, motioning to my own plate. “That salad thing has raw fish.”

I look up again and subtly glance over her shoulder to see that Sebastian has moved to the table next to us. There’s a backpack on the bench next to him. I’m instantly obsessed with the idea of where he’s been. School? The library? Does he live on the BYU campus? Or at home with his parents?

I turn back to my food. “It’s the same ceviche you had at that place in Park City. You liked it.”

“I don’t remember liking it.” Autumn reaches her fork across the table to steal a bite anyway. “By the way, did you see who’s here?”

As if I could miss him.

Eric and Autumn throw out some small talk, and although I’m not really listening, I’m paying enough attention to notice the flashes of awkward every few seconds. Anyone would notice. Autumn’s laugh is too loud. The silences stretch and then are broken with a burst of them speaking at the same time. Maybe Eric is into her too, and that explains why they’re both acting like a couple of junior high kids. Is it bad that I’m relieved she’s into him, even if it could crash and burn, affecting all of us? My friendship with Auddy matters the most to me, and I don’t want there to be any residual romantic crumbs between us. If things can go back to normal for good, maybe I can eventually tell her everything.

Maybe I’ll have someone to talk to about this Sebastian dilemma.

And with that, the cat ears of my thoughts have turned back around, focusing behind me. It’s like Sebastian’s mere presence hums. I want to know where he is every second. I want him to notice me.

This plan is prematurely thwarted when Manny drags a bunch of us to the laser tag arena. I go begrudgingly, following them into the briefing room where we await our instructions.

Autumn has opted to watch from the observation area in the next room, so I stand with Eric, wondering if there’s a way for me to slip out unnoticed before the game starts. But when I move toward the doorway, I see Sebastian and Manny’s brother Kole step into the arena. I nearly choke on my gum.

I’m not even pretending to listen when the instructor comes in. I’m unable to drag my eyes away from Sebastian and the way his jaw and his face and his hair look in this light. He must be having a hard time paying attention as well, because his gaze flickers away to scan the room and he sees me.

For one,


three seconds,

he stares back.

Recognition flashes across his face, and when he smiles, my stomach lurches like the floor has dropped out from under my feet.

Help me.

I smile back, a wobbly mess.

“My name is Tony, and I’m your game master,” the instructor says. I blink away, forcing myself to turn toward the front. “Have we chosen the two team captains?” When nobody volunteers, he points to where Sebastian and Kole are standing on the periphery and gestures for us to follow him to the vesting room.

Somehow in the shuffle, Eric winds up at the end of the line, and I’m right next to Sebastian. May God bless Eric. On each side of the room, there are rows of vests outfitted with power packs. Tony instructs us to slip one on and secure it in the front, miming the action like a flight attendant readying us for takeoff.

“Remove a phaser from the charging station and pull the trigger,” he says. “You’ll see a code name appear on the LED screen. Everyone see theirs?”

I do as he says, and the name “The Patriot” flashes across the small screen. A covert check of Sebastian’s shows the name “Sergeant Blue.”

“Remember that name. It’s how your score will be posted on the boards outside, after the game. To score points and win, you have to take out your opponents on the other team. You can do this in one of six places.” Tony reaches for Manny’s sleeve and pulls him to his side. “Here’s where you should aim,” he says, dramatically pointing a finger to each of the illuminated packs attached to the vest.

“If you’re hit in the shoulder or back, your vest will flash, and the hit will be counted. Get hit in the chest and your vest will flash, but your phaser will also lock. You can still be hit, but you won’t be able to fire back. You’ll be a sitting duck until you get to your base or find a place to hide until your gun powers up again.”

He lets go of Manny and looks around the room. “There will be two teams playing in the arena, and each team’s vest will be lit with that team’s specific color.” Pointing to Kole’s vest, he says, “Team red.” And then he points to Sebastian’s: “Team blue. Shoot at any color that isn’t your own. Each team’s base corresponds to your color, and you get triple points for hitting and destroying your opponents’.”

Beside me, Sebastian shifts, and I see him look briefly my way, his eyes dropping down to my feet and back up. Goose bumps erupt across my skin.

“Now, before we begin the battle,” Tony says, “a few rules. No running; you will run into someone or something. No lying down on the ground. You will be stepped on. No physical contact of any kind, and that includes making out in the dark. We can see you.”

I cough, and Sebastian shifts at my side.

Tony finishes up, warning us against beating each other with our weapons or—God forbid—profanity, and it’s time to start.

It was dim in the vesting room, but it still takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the arena. Our teams spread out among walls that look like neon brick, and I spot our base in the center. Black lights illuminate the glowing set pieces, but it’s hard to make out much else. The sound of phasers powering up one by one moves like a wave across the arena, and a countdown begins overhead.

Five . . .

Four . . .

Three . . .

Two . . .

One . . .

Sirens pierce the air. I race around one wall and then another. It’s so dark I can barely see, but the partitions and perimeter of the room are marked with textured neon paint or strips of colored light. A green tank seems to glow in the corner, and I see a flash of red, a rush of movement in front of it.

I fire off a shot and the vest pulses red, registering the hit. My own vest flashes when I’m hit rounding a corner. “Target hit,” my gun says, but it must have been in the shoulder because when someone dodges in front of a wall, I’m still able to fire, blasting their chest sensor and ensuring their gun is useless.

Two other players come from opposite sides, and I turn and run, racing toward the base. It’s hot in here with absolutely no air movement. Sweat rolls down the back of my neck; my pulse is frantic. Music and sound effects throb overhead, and if I closed my eyes, it would be easy enough to pretend we’re all in a rave, instead of rushing around a dark room shooting at each other with plastic laser guns. I take out two more players and manage a series of rapid-fire hits on the red team’s base when I’m hit again, this time in the back.

Retracing my steps the way I came, I run into Eric.

“There’s a couple of them near the tank,” he says. “They’re just sitting there waiting for people to rush by.”

I nod, able to make him out only by the white of his T-shirt and the packs on his vest.

“I’ll go around,” I yell above the music. “Try to get them from behind.”

Eric pats my shoulder, and I race around a partition.

The arena is a two-tiered maze, with ramps you can jump on to avoid fire, or climb up to get a better shot.

“Target hit. Target hit. Target hit,” my gun registers, and my vest lights up. Footsteps race behind me. When I lift my gun to fire back, there’s nothing. I’ve been hit in the chest. I look around, searching for my team’s base or somewhere to hide, when I feel a body crash into mine, whoever it is pulling me into a small corner just as Kole and one of his teammates run by.

“Holy—thank you,” I say, wiping my arm across my forehead.

“No problem.”

My pulse trips. I’d almost forgotten Sebastian was here. He exhales, out of breath, and a shiver of heat makes its way up my spine.

It’s too loud to talk, and we’re too close for me to turn and look at him without it being weird, too intimate. So I stand still while my brain goes haywire.

He’s holding my vest, and my back is pressed tight to his front. It’s less than ten seconds—the time it takes for my gun to unlock—but I swear I feel every tick of the clock. My breath sounds loud in my ears. I can feel my pulse, even above the music. I can feel Sebastian’s breath, too, hot against my ear. My fingers itch to reach back and touch the side of his face, to feel whether he’s blushing, here in the dark.

I want to stay in this dark corner forever, but I feel the moment my gun powers back up in my hand. He doesn’t wait, gripping the side of my vest before pushing me out and shouting at me to follow, toward the red base. Eric rounds the corner, and we sprint across the floor and around the partition. “Go! Go!” Sebastian shouts, and we fire in unison. It takes only a few blasts before the base flashes red and a recorded voice sounds overhead.

“Red base destroyed. Game over.”