Autoboyography

Chapter 9

On the walk back down the mountain, I don’t even know what to do with my hands, let alone the gnarled tangle of my emotions. What just happened back there is tattooed onto every synapse I have; I’m sure I’ll remember the sensation of every touch, even four decades from now.

Mom always tells me to take an accounting of my feelings. So, other than dizzy with lust, I’m feeling

Nervous.

Hesitant.

Desperate for that to happen again, and soon.

But the more queasy emotions are paled by the elation.

I

Kissed

Sebastian.

I felt his mouth on mine, and his tongue, and his laugh reverberating in the space between us. We kissed over and over. All kinds of kisses too. Fast and messy, and the slower deep ones that make me think of sex and long afternoons safely hidden in someone’s bedroom. He bit my lip, and I did it back, and then he let loose a sound that I’ll hear echoing around the frenzy of my thoughts for the rest of the weekend. It felt . . . so fucking right. Like, whatever I did before, with someone else, wasn’t really kissing. Maybe it sounds dumb, but it was like every cell in my body was engaged. It makes everything else I’ve ever done feel sort of whitewashed and hard to remember. We kissed until the chill started crawling beneath our clothes.

Actually, now that I think about it, we kissed until Sebastian pulled away when my hand was flirting with the hem of his shirt.

He said he’s never done anything with a guy, but it’s clear the mechanics of this weren’t new to him, and I’m betting he’s had girlfriends. Still, we were both literally shaking with the same manic hunger, so maybe for him this was as different as it was for me.

Has he . . . had sex before? I’m guessing he hasn’t—I’m sure Autumn would laugh and say that some of the LDS kids are the dirtiest kids at school, but something about Sebastian tells me he’s different in that way, like, other than what we did today, he honors those sorts of rules.

But would he? With me?

The question triggers anxiety and heat in my blood.

Clearly I am getting way ahead of myself, but I’m worked up and high and don’t know how this proceeds. Are we . . . dating, or something? Even if only on the down low?

Will he see me again?

In my thoughts, my Mom taps a foot in the background, urging me to take a closer look at this. But the thought immediately evaporates. The feel of Sebastian is still too fresh.

When we stood up and dusted ourselves off, it felt a little like puncturing a bubble. Even out in the open up there, we seemed to be genuinely alone. But every step we take down the hillside dissolves more of that protective film. Provo spreads out, vast and tidy, below us.

I don’t want to go back down there. I don’t want to go home; no matter how much I love my house and my family and my bedroom and my music, I like being with him more.

Sebastian is predictably quiet. He’s walking a safe distance away, out of reach, with his eyes on the spot his feet land before him on the trail. I’m sure he’s more of an internal mess right now than I am, but I’m pretty messy, and it makes it hard to figure out what to say, whether we should be talking about what we just did.

In this type of post-make-out situation with girls—my only Provo experience to date—we’d be holding hands, and I’d be working to get my body under control as we walked back to town. No doubt with guys the same would apply, but not Mormon guys who—our silence and lack of touching seems to suggest we’ve realized this in unison—would be in for a heap of discussion and prayer if found walking down the mountain holding hands.

Still . . . despite it all, I hope this silence isn’t a bad thing. Every now and then he looks over at me and smiles, and it makes me glow inside. But then I remember his easy smile (despite his stress) after his mom left the room, his easy smile when girls talk to him at school (but he only likes guys), and his easy smile in the photos of him on the wall at home (where he has to hide one of the biggest things about himself), and it feels like a shallow knife wound to wonder whether I could tell the difference between an easy smile that’s real and one that’s fake.

“You okay over there?” My voice gives an awkward waver.

The smile barely falters. “Yeah.”

I dread what happens in five minutes when we reach the sidewalk outside his house. If there were some way to take him out of this town and drive until we ran out of gas and spend the night talking about this and helping him work through it, I would. I know what he’s going to do, because it’s a more dramatic version of what I did when I first kissed a guy: go back to his room and tell himself over and over the reasons why what happened can be explained by simple curiosity, nothing more.

“What are you doing this weekend?”

He inhales sharply, as if answering the question first requires putting himself back together. “I have a soccer tournament tomorrow, and then Lizzy and I are headed to Orem to help a family move in.”

Ah, service. And Orem. Oof. The houses there are sometimes nicer but, if possible, it’s quieter than Provo. “Where are the poor sacks moving from?”

The look he gives me is bewildered. “From Provo.”

“You say that like no one would move to Orem from anywhere else.”

This pulls a real laugh out of him, and I drink up the sight of his crinkly eyed smile. “No. I just mean . . .” He considers this and then laughs again. “Yeah, okay, I don’t think anyone would move to Orem from anywhere but Provo.”

“Heyyy, Sebastian?”

His cheeks flush at my tone, and his smile is somehow both shy and seductive. “Yeah?”

“Are you okay with what we just did?”

He blanches, and his answer comes too readily for my liking: “Yeah. Totally.”

“You sure?”

Shy and seductive gives way to magnanimous, and I feel like we’re talking about whether he genuinely liked my mom’s overdone pot roast. “Of course.”

I reach out, intending to touch his arm out of some instinctive need to connect, but he flinches and then looks around us in a momentary panic. “We. I, no. We can’t.” His words come out so choppy, like clumsy hacks at a tree trunk.

“Sorry.”

“Not so close to town.”

Clearly I’m not as good at schooling my emotions on my face as he is, because he winces, whispering, “I’m not trying to be a jerk. It’s just reality. I can’t . . . talk like that . . . not down here.”

• • •

I avoid Mom all night when she gives me that lingering wanna-talk look, and claim I’m swamped with homework, which is true, but it’s a Friday night and I’m not fooling anyone. Autumn calls. Manny calls. Eric calls. Everyone is headed somewhere, planning to do something, but it’s the same nothing-something we’ve been doing for almost three years. Drinking three-two beer or root beer and watching people peel off to go make out in the dark corners doesn’t sound like what I want to be doing tonight.

I want to be alone—but not so I can scroll through my Instagram feed full of hot male models. I want to replay the hike over, and over, and over. All but the end.

It’s just reality.

Not down here.

I could spiral into this depressing truth, except Sebastian texts me before bed with a simple snowy mountain-top emoji and it’s kerosene dumped on the flickering candle in my chest.

Standing, I pace my room, grinning down at the screen.

A mountain. Our hike. He’s in his room, maybe, thinking about our hike.

My brain takes a detour. Maybe he’s in bed.

A tiny voice raises orange flags, working to get my thoughts back on track.

I resist replying with a rainbow, or eggplant, or tongue and instead send the one of a sunset over the mountain. He replies with a soccer ball. Ah, his weekend. I reply with an emoji of a boat—a reminder of what we could do this summer . . . if he’s around.

My phone buzzes in my palm.

Can we talk more about your book?

Yeah, of course.

My heart takes off running. In the flurry of our anxiety and admissions and kisses, I’d forgotten that he read my chapters and knew they were about him. I’d forgotten—though clearly he hasn’t—that I have to turn this book in, eventually.

I can fix it.

I can change it so it’s not so obvious.

We can talk about it in person, if that’s okay.

I wince, cupping my forehead. Be more careful, Tanner!

Sure, of course.

After that, he sends a simple

Good night, Tanner.

I reply the same way.

And I remember something he said earlier today: I can’t tell if this feels good or terrible.

• • •

“I have around fifteen thousand words,” Autumn says Monday afternoon, in lieu of a greeting. She sits down at her place in the Seminar room and looks over at me expectantly.

I scratch my chin, thinking. “I only have about seventy Post-its.”

It’s a lie. I have chapter upon chapter written. Despite what I promised Sebastian, the words pour out of me every night. I haven’t changed anything. I’ve added, wanting to capture every second.

“Tanner.” She sounds like a schoolmarm. “You need to think of this in word count.”

“I don’t think of anything in word count.”

“I am so surprised,” she deadpans. “A book is around sixty to ninety thousand words. You’re writing on a pad of Post-its?”

“Maybe I’m writing a children’s book?”

She glances down, eyebrows raised. I follow her attention to the space in front of me. A Post-it sticks out from the bottom of my notebook, and the only words visible are

LICK HIS NECK

“I’m not writing a children’s book,” I assure her, tucking it back in.

She grins. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“How many words are on a page, anyway?”

Autumn’s sigh is long-suffering, and she probably comes by it honestly. I would drive me crazy too. “About two hundred and fifty, for twelve-point, double-spaced font.”

I do some quick mental math. “You’ve written sixty pages?”

I’ve written more than a hundred.

“Tanner.” She repeats my name with more emphasis this time. “We need to have the book done in May. It’s late February.”

“I know. I’m fine. I promise.” I want her to believe me. But I don’t want her to ask to see. Even showing my fake version to Sebastian was mortifying. If he was already anxious about the transparency of “Colin,” and “Evan,” and “Ian”—imagine if he read what I wrote Saturday night where Tanner and Sebastian made out on the mountain?

“Where were you Friday?” she asks, absently poking her pencil into a groove created in the top of her desk by a hundred other students doing exactly what she’s doing.

“Home.”

This gets her attention. “Why?”

“I was tired.”

“Were you alone?”

I give her a flat stare. “Yes.”

“I saw you and Sebastian walking up Terrace on Friday afternoon.”

My heart takes off sprinting out of the room and down the hall. It doesn’t even look back. Until now, it hadn’t even occurred to me that anyone would see us, or anyone would care. But Autumn cares about nearly everything I do. And she saw us walking off onto a hike together—a hike, of course, where we ended up making out like the teenagers we are.

“We just went for a hike.”

She smiles widely, like of course it was just a hike. But do I see something beneath the surface there, some suspicion?

Maybe I’m not playing it as cool as I thought.

“Auddy,” I whisper. Just then Sebastian walks in with Mr. Fujita. My entire body seems to burst into flames, and I hope no one notices. Autumn stares straight ahead, and Sebastian’s eyes meet mine before he looks away. His face flushes.

“Auddy.” I tug at her sleeve. “Can I borrow a pencil?”

I think she can sense some panicky edge to my voice because she turns, expression softening. “Of course.” When she hands it to me, we register in unison that I’m already holding a pen.

“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re thinking what you’re thinking,” I whisper, now acting like I asked for the pencil just to get her to lean closer to me. “But it would matter to him.”

She makes a screwball face of confusion. “What would I even be thinking?”

My heart unclenches.

When I look to the front of the class, Sebastian quickly turns his attention away from us. We haven’t seen each other in six days. I’d wanted our first interaction after the hike to carry a secret, precious weight, but instead it’s loaded with weirdness. He probably saw Autumn and me huddled together talking and then looking over at him. Is he worried I told her something? Is he worried she’s read my book—the real version? I try to shake my head to communicate that everything is fine, but he’s not looking at me anymore.

And he doesn’t look at me for the rest of the class. When we break into smaller groups, he spends the entire time with McKenna and Julie, who flutter and fawn all over him. When Fujita goes to the front of the room and talks to us a bit about character development and narrative arc, he stands to the side of the class, reading through some of Asher’s book.

When the bell rings, he simply turns and walks out, down the hall. By the time I get my things shoved into my bag and follow him out, all I see is his back as he pushes out of the exit and steps into the sun.

Over lunch, I pace and pace and pace, trying to figure out what to text him to let him know—without being obvious—that there’s nothing to worry about.

“You’re acting insane,” Autumn says from the concrete block where she’s spread out her tray of hummus and veggies. “Sit.”

I plop down at her side to appease her, stealing one of her carrots and eating it in two crunching bites. But anxiety over Sebastian is a rubber band pulled tight around my rib cage. What if he’s really upset about this book thing? Can I start over? Yes.

I can start over. I should.

I begin jiggling my leg in a new type of panic.

She doesn’t seem to notice. “You should ask Sasha to prom.”

“Prom again.” I shove my thumbnail between my teeth, gnawing it. “I don’t think I want to go.”

“What! You have to.”

“I don’t, though.”

She kicks my foot with hers. “So . . . Eric asked me.”

I turn and gape at her. “What? How did I not know this?”

“I have no idea. I posted it on Instagram.”

“Is this how we’re sharing information now? Random posts on social media?” I pull out my phone. Sure enough there’s a picture of her garage door covered in colored Post-its arranged to form the word “Prom?”

Super creative, Eric.

“You should ask Sasha. We could go as a group.”

My breath seems to be lodged in my windpipe, and I take her hand. “I can’t, Auddy.”

She tries to hide the way her face falls. This is all good and terrible.

I mean, it’s not like Sebastian would go with me, not in a million years. But my heart belongs to him right now, and until he decides what he wants to do with it, I can’t take it back.

Autumn watches me, and we breathe in and out in this weird unison for a few quiet seconds.

I pull out of her grip and take another carrot, this time without any guilt. “Thanks.”

She stands, leaving her lunch for me to finish and kissing the top of my head. “I’ve got to meet Mrs. Polo before sixth. Text me later?”

With a nod, I watch her disappear into the building before I grab my phone from where it lies beside me. Typing out a few efforts at fixing this, I settle on

How was your weekend?

He begins typing immediately. Blood rushes too fast in my veins.

The dots are there for a while, and then they disappear, and I’m expecting some dissertation on soccer and moving houses from Provo to Orem, but all I get, after about five minutes, is

Good! image-OMJV2T6V.jpg

Is he kidding me?

I stare at my phone. My heart isn’t just in my windpipe now. It seems to be beating in every organ, every empty space in my body. If I closed my eyes, I could hear it. I don’t even know what to say. So, I just send a thumbs-up and put my phone away.

Four more carrots later, I check.

Sebastian replied with a mountain emoji and, a few minutes later, something else.

My grandparents are coming down from Salt Lake this weekend. Mom told me to invite you to dinner. I’m sure it sounds terrifying to you, but I promise they’re nice.

And I’d like to have you there.