By the time fourth period rolls around, Autumn is buzzing with nerves. She’s excited for the Seminar, but still irritated that I wormed my way into it. I trail just behind her down the hall and try not to let her see me smile when she purposefully evades me inside the door, moving toward a group of desks where only one seat remains free.
“Over here, Auddy.” Standing in the back row, I hold out an empty chair for her beside one I plan to claim.
She has the option to come join me, or look mysteriously petulant, so she shuffles over, glowering. “You’re a pest.”
“I love you, but only a little.”
She laughs. “Don’t ruin this for me.”
And there, right there, it is. I could ruin this by being a total jackass about something she’s put her whole heart into. She thinks I’d want to?
The way I’m acting, she probably does.
“I won’t.” I slide my good-luck eraser onto her desk, the one she gave me for Christmas two years ago, with the old-school He-Man illustration printed into the rubber. What used to be a white square is now a gray nub. Present-day Eraser He-Man barely has a face, and only one leg.
Her freckled nose wrinkles as she scowls at me without much commitment. I am forgiven.
Mr. Fujita walks in, arms filled with a teetering stack of books. He slides them gracelessly onto his desk in the center of the semicircle of worktables and ignores them when they slide onto a messy pile. A copy of Stephen King’s The Stand slaps harshly to the floor, landing facedown and open. He ignores it; in my peripheral vision I can see Autumn sit up straighter, and I know she is now intensely worried about the pages of the enormous book growing crumpled under its own weight the longer it sits there.
“Morning!” Mr. Fujita sings, and then looks up behind us at the clock on the wall. “Oops! Afternoon! I’m Tim Fujita. Everyone just calls me Fujita.”
I’ve always really liked Fujita, but the way he hands out his own nickname makes me like him about 7 percent less.
We murmur greetings in return, quiet from intimidation or because we’re tired after lunch, and he grins at us, taking in our faces one by one. I glance around too at the class composition: Josh, Dustin, Amanda. Julie, Clive, Burrito Dave. Sabine, Soccer Dave, Asher. Kylie, McKenna, James, Levi.
Every single one of them is Mormon. Trimmed hair, modest sleeves, good posture. In the back row, Autumn and I are a pair of gangly trees looming over a lush, manicured lawn.
Fujita winks when he sees me. He thinks my mom is a superhero. Beside me, Autumn lets out a measured exhale through her nose; because of my mom (a computer genius) and my dad (a highly profiled cardiac surgeon who, according to the papers, saved the governor of Utah), I’ve received special treatment from teachers since the day I moved here. Fujita adding me to the Seminar is clearly one such perk.
“Welcome, guys.” He spreads his hands out and then takes another sweeping glance around the room. “Where is he?”
At our puzzled silence, Fujita scans the room again and then looks at us for answers.
“Who?” Dustin, seated—as ever—right up in the front, finally asks.
Fujita glances at his watch as if to confirm that he’s in the right place. “I had hoped this would be a cool surprise, and I assume it will be anyway, but I guess he’s running late.”
We reply with anticipatory silence as his eyebrows slowly lift skyward. “We’ll have a special aide this term,” he tells us. I can imagine the drumroll he’s intending, but his dramatic pauses give the moment a bewildering, anticlimactic feel instead. “You’ll be thrilled to hear that Sebastian Brother will be mentoring each of you!”
A chorus of excited noises pours out of the fourteen other bodies in the room—a Mormon hero, coming to spend time with us. Even Autumn has clapped her hand over her mouth. To her—LDS or not—Sebastian is a local celebrity.
With his hands laced together in front of him, Fujita rocks back on his heels. “Seb has a very busy schedule, of course”—I mentally groan. Seb—“but he and I both feel that his experience can benefit each of you. I believe he will inspire you. After taking this very course, he is only nineteen and on his way toward a prestigious literary career.” Leaning in, Fujita adds confidentially, “Of course, I’ve read his novel. It is stunning. Stunning!”
“Has he heard of Christopher Paolini?” I whisper to Autumn.
She delivers a shut up by way of an icy glare.
Fujita grabs a stack of papers from a torn folder and begins handing them out. “I assume we can skip the Why-Are-You-Here. You’re here to write a book, right?” Nearly everyone nods enthusiastically. “And you will. Four months isn’t very long, it’s true, but you will get it done. You will figure it out. That’s why I’m here.
“We’re going to hit the ground running.” He makes his way around the room. “I have a suggested reading list, and I have a variety of resources on how to get started and what types of writing processes are out there, but in truth, the only way to write a book is to write it. However you get it done—that is your process.”
I look down at the syllabus and proposed drafting schedule he’s slipped on my desk and feel my forehead heat, feel that prickle-pin crawl of panic up my neck.
I have this week to come up with an idea.
When I feel Autumn’s attention on me, I turn, giving her an easy smile. But apparently, it isn’t as easy as I hope; her own grin falters, cracking at one side.
“You can do this,” she says quietly, seeing straight through me.
Ask me to differentiate trigonometric functions and I’ll nail it. Give me a molecular modeling kit and I’ll build you the most beautiful organic compound you’ve ever seen. But ask me to pull something straight from my gut and share it with the world? Mental mayhem. I don’t particularly relish working, but at odds with this is my other hatred of doing a shitty job at anything. I’ve never tried to be creative before and realize it only now that I’m sitting here.
To make it worse, Fujita adds, “Now, experience tells me that most of you already have an idea in mind. But over the next week, Sebastian and I will help you hone it. Polish it. And then: You dive right in!”
I can’t even enjoy that he’s repeated Autumn’s inspirational pussy-poster slogan verbatim, because for the first time in . . . well, maybe ever, I feel like I’m in over my head.
Autumn slides my He-Man eraser back onto my desk and uses it as an excuse to squeeze my hand.
The side door opens, and chairs scrape mildly across hardwood as people turn. We all know who it is, but we look anyway.
- • •
The one and only time I’ve ever seen Autumn drunk was this past summer, which is also the one and only time she admitted she was in love with me. I thought we’d been on the same page after our make-out session two years ago, but apparently not. Sometime after drinking four Mike’s Hard Lemonades but before shaking me awake on her floor and begging me with boozy breath to forget everything she said, she babbled for an hour about the secret feelings she’d been harboring the past couple years. From the haze of my own inebriation and the tangle of her alcohol-fueled incoherence, I remember only three clear sentences:
Your face makes sense to me.
Sometimes I get the weird feeling that I wouldn’t be enough for you.
I love you, but only a little.
Being who we are, the only way to move past the potential for profound awkwardness afterward was to joke about it for a solid week.
I love you, but only a little became our new best-friends motto. Autumn tried to explain the logic of my face making sense to her a few times to no real success—something about symmetry of features and how they’re pleasing to her on an instinctive level—but it’s still one of my favorite non sequiturs when I see her getting stressed about anything. I just say, “Auddy, calm down; your face makes sense to me,” and she breaks. Every time, she laughs.
The second sentence—Sometimes I get the weird feeling I wouldn’t be enough for you—hit too close to home. Although I’d been working up the nerve to come out to her, after she said this, I changed my mind. Auddy’s words twanged that dissonant chord inside me, the inner conflict about what it means to be bisexual. There’s the devil on one shoulder, the ignorant perception that I get from all sides, both inside and outside the queer community, who say bisexuality is really about indecision, that it’s impossible for bisexuals to be satisfied with one person and the label is a way to not commit. And then there’s the angel on the other shoulder—who the queer-positive books and pamphlets encourage me to believe—saying that no, what it means is I’m open to falling in love with anyone. I’m happy to commit, but the specific parts don’t matter as much as the person.
But as I’ve never fallen in love and never felt that clawing ache for any one person, I never know which of them will end up being right. When Autumn said that about not being enough for me, I let it go and pretended I didn’t remember. The problem is, I do remember. In fact, I obsess about it, while pretending I’m not painfully waiting for the moment when someone knocks me over, makes me feel sure about them in a way I’ve never been sure about anything in my whole life.
So when Sebastian Brother walks into our class and he sees me and I see him, I have the sense of falling sideways out of my chair.
I am drunk.
And I know now what Autumn meant about faces.
I’ve seen him before, in the halls around school, but I never paid much attention: He’s one of the perfect, über-LDS kids—the son of a bishop and, as far as I can tell, incredibly devout.
But here I can’t seem to drag my attention away. Sebastian isn’t a kid anymore. I notice his defined jaw and down-turned almond eyes, ruddy cheeks and anxiously shifting Adam’s apple as he swallows under the weight of our stares.
“Hey, guys.” He gives a small wave, walking haltingly, deeper into the room to shake Fujita’s hand. A classroom’s worth of eyes track him like crosshairs.
Fujita beams at us. “What’d I tell you?”
Sebastian’s hair is shaved on the side, floppy up top. His smile is so wide and bright and pure: He is fucking beautiful. But there’s something beyond it, something in the way he moves, that catches my fascination. Maybe it’s the way his eyes don’t settle on any one person too long. Maybe it’s the way I sense he is slightly wary of us.
As he faces the class from the front now, his eyes flash when they meet mine—for a tiny flicker of a second, and then again, like a prism catching light, because he does a double take. That fraction of a heartbeat is long enough for him to register my immediate infatuation. Holy shit, how quickly he recognizes it. This must happen to him all the time—an adoring gaze from across the room—but to me, being so instantly infatuated is entirely foreign. Inside my chest, my lungs are wild animals, clawing at the cage.
“Oh, man,” Autumn mumbles from beside me. “His smile makes me stupid.”
Her words are a dim echo of my own thoughts: His smile ruins me. The feeling makes me uneasy, a dramatic lurch that tells me I need to have him or I won’t be okay.
Beside me she sighs in disappointment, oblivious to my own internal meltdown. “Too bad he’s Mormon.”