A word to the wise: Don’t try to be the little spoon while sleeping on a couch. You’ll fall off, for one, and wake up with a cramp in your neck, for two. And most likely, when you wake up alone on the floor with your father staring down at your shirtless body sprinkled with the detritus from an overturned bowl of popcorn, you’ll be grounded.
“Sebastian slept over?”
“Um . . .” I sit up when Dad asks this, looking around. Without even looking in a mirror, I can tell my hair is standing straight up. I pull a sharp kernel of popcorn away from where it is dangerously close to my nipple. “I don’t actually know. I think he’s gone.”
“Kind of like your shirt?”
It’s hard to take his gruff tone seriously when he’s wearing the Cookie Monster pajama pants Hailey got him for Chrismukkah two years ago.
“You’re running late,” he says, and turns. I catch a glimpse of a grin. “Get dressed and eat something.”
I grab a bowl of cereal and sprint straight to my bedroom. I have a lot to write down.
- • •
Sebastian doesn’t answer the chicken/popcorn/beach landscape emoji text I send him just before school starts, and he isn’t in the Seminar this afternoon. I send his private e-mail a short note when I get home.
Hey, it’s me. Just checking in. Everything okay? I’m around tonight if you want to stop by. —Tann
He doesn’t answer.
I try to ignore the familiar sinking ache that takes residence in my stomach, but at dinner, I’m not hungry. Mom and Dad exchange worried looks when they ask if I’ve talked to Sebastian today and I answer in a grunt. Hailey even offers to do the dishes.
I send our old standby—the mountain emoji—the next day, and get nothing in return.
At lunch, I call him. It goes straight to voice mail.
From there, my texts to him pop up in a green bubble, as though his iMessage has been turned off.
- • •
It’s been four days since he was here, and I heard from him, an e-mail.
I’m so sorry if I miscommunicated anything to you about my feelings, or my identity. I hope my lack of clarity hasn’t brought you too much pain.
I wish you nothing but the best in your upcoming adventures at UCLA.
I don’t even know what to say or think after I finish reading it. Obviously, I read it about ten times, because the first nine times, I can’t believe that I’m reading it right.
I go to my folder, the one with the letters from him. I read different phrases, totally blown away by the distance and formality in the e-mail.
Is it weird that I want to spend every second together?
Sometimes it’s hard to not stare at you in class. I think if people saw me looking at you for even a second, they would know.
I can still feel your kiss on my neck.
But no, he miscommunicated his feelings.
- • •
I send my official acceptance letter to UCLA, but my hand shakes when I sign the acknowledgment that my acceptance is dependent on my grades this term. The plan is for me to move August 7. Orientation is August 24. I text Sebastian and tell him, but he doesn’t answer.
I counted today: In the past six days, I’ve sent him twenty emoji texts. Is that crazy? It feels like nothing compared to how many real ones, with words, I’ve started and deleted. I have Auddy and Mom and Dad ready to listen anytime I need them. Manny and I had lunch, and it was quiet, but actually pretty easy just to hang in silence. Even Hailey is being sweet.
But I just want to talk to him.
- • •
My book is due tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. Sebastian shows up in chapter two. Fujita told me I need to turn in at least a hundred pages to get a grade, but he knows I have more. If I gave him even the first hundred, he would get right to the part where Sebastian told me he’s attracted to guys. He would get to where we kiss.
The funny thing is, if you’ve watched me for more than two minutes in that class, it wouldn’t matter what changes I make. I could move it to an alternate universe on a planet called SkyTron-1, rename him Steve and myself Bucky, and give us both superpowers, and it would still be obvious what this book is about. I can’t hide anything when he’s in the room, and my heart is on every page, regardless of the details.
If I get a D in this class—what I’d get if I didn’t turn in the final book or only gave Fujita twenty pages—I would still graduate, but would lose my honors ranking. I think UCLA would still take me. I think.
I realize the end of this book sucks, and I’m barely trying to make it anything worthwhile, but this is the end I have. What kind of idiot was I to start a book about writing a book and just assume the ending would be happy? That’s my framework—happy endings, easy life. But I guess it’s better that I learn this lesson now instead of later, down the road, when I’m not living at home and the world isn’t so kind.
I have been a lucky asshole, one with no idea how the world really works.
- • •
I stand outside Fujita’s office. He’s in with a student—Julie, I think—who is crying and probably stressed about turning in her book, but I feel oddly numb. No, that’s not entirely true. I feel relieved, like both of my looming fears—the fear of Sebastian ending things again, the fear of having to deal with the book—have come to pass and at least I don’t have to worry about either of them anymore.
When it’s my turn, I walk inside. Fujita looks at the laptop in my hands.
“You didn’t print me a copy?”
He stares at me, puzzling this out.
“I don’t have anything I can turn in.”
There’s something almost electric about hearing a teacher say “Bullshit.”
“I don’t.” I shift on my feet, uncomfortable with the intensity of his attention. “I wrote something, but I can’t turn it in. I can’t even give you a hundred pages.”
Even that I can’t explain. I look past him, at his messy desk.
“What do you expect me to do?” he asks quietly.
“Sit down,” he says. “Take five minutes and think this through. Have you lost your mind?”
Yes, I have. What other explanation could there be?
So my laptop is open on my lap, and I’m typing words