Autoboyography: Chapter 23

FIRESTORM Sebastian Brother

The title doesn’t have any meaning yet to Tanner. Maybe it never will. The idea of spending—he flips to the back—four hundred pages with Sebastian’s creative brain seems nearly unbearable. Maybe someday, when he’s moved on and this all just seems like a tender bruise in his history, he’ll open it up, look at his name scrawled generically there, and actually be able to appreciate the story between the covers.

“No, I mean, this is weird for me,” Autumn says, breaking into his thoughts. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like for you.”

“I’m starting to wonder what the hell we’re doing here. This could be a disaster.”

“You don’t think he half expects you?”

Tanner gives it some more thought. He hasn’t tried to contact Sebastian, not since the brush-off e-mail. No doubt he thinks Tanner will just disappear. He probably should just disappear. “No.”

She points ahead of them, down the block. “Well, we are conveniently close to the Emergency Essentials store if you need anything.”

“That is such an LDS thing to have in a town,” Tanner mumbles.

Autumn doesn’t argue. They stare at the strip mall sign, with the three largest businesses advertised in bold letters: Deseret Book. Emergency Essentials. Avenia Bridal.

“This is all very LDS,” she agrees.

“Do you miss the church?”

She leans into him. Her head barely reaches the top of his shoulder, so when he puts an arm around her, she tucks neatly beneath his chin.

“Sometimes.” She looks up at him. Anyone watching would think they were a couple. “I miss the activities and that certainty that if everyone is happy with you, you’re doing everything right.”

Tanner wrinkles his nose at her. “Gross.”

“Exactly,” she says, patting his chest. “That’s exactly my point. Sebastian wasn’t doing anything wrong with you.”

He looks around meaningfully and lowers his voice, “So we say.”

This time Autumn whispers. “You aren’t wrong to be here.”

The line starts to move, and Tanner’s stomach drops. Aren’t they wrong to be here, at least a little? If this isn’t the definition of blindsiding, it’s awfully close. Yeah, Sebastian and Autumn went behind his back to turn in the book, but this is public. Sebastian will have to keep it together. Tanner will have to keep it together.

He takes the pen from Autumn’s hand when she finishes writing down her name and writes his own. He doesn’t do it to be cheeky; he does it out of practicality: It’s entirely possible that Sebastian will be too flustered to remember how to spell T-a-n-n-e-r.

The line moves slowly. Tanner imagines Sebastian behind a counter or a table, charming everyone who comes through.

His stomach growls, and the sun hangs low in the sky before giving up and diving below the mountains. With the sun gone, the air cools down for the first time all day.

Autumn swats a mosquito on his arm. “Okay, let’s go through this.”

“Go through what?”

She gives him a concerned look. “What you’re doing here.”

He takes a deep, sharp breath. “I’m just going to thank him for what he did—he’ll know what I mean—and wish him good luck on his tour, and his mission.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

She stretches, kissing his jaw. “You’re sweet.”

“You’re a menace.”

“At least I’m not a virgin menace anymore.”

The people in front of them turn around, eyes wide in scandal.

Autumn lets out a faux-mortified “Oops.”

Tanner ducks, trying not to laugh. “One of these days, that joke is going to land very, very badly.”

“That was pretty close.”

They’re almost to the door now, and can see inside that the line goes only about fifteen more people before it reaches the end. Sebastian.

Tanner can’t see him, but he has a front-row view of the odd, jovial vibe. The roomful of men in suits, women in dresses, celebratory cups of punch. There’s a table with cupcakes and veggies with dip off to the side. Someone made a cake. Not only is this a signing; it’s a launch party.

Sebastian’s parents are there, talking in a small half circle to a woman with a name tag and another person—a man in a suit and tie. Autumn steps inside, and Tanner follows, holding the door for the person in line behind him. The door knocks into a display table, and at the sound, Dan Brother looks up, smiling on instinct, before his expression turns stony.

It hadn’t occurred to Tanner that he would see Sebastian’s parents, that they would recognize him, that they would associate him with the cancer infecting their son. But of course they do.

“And there’s the dad,” Autumn says, nodding to Dan across the room.

“Yeah.”

Sebastian’s mother looks up at Dan Brother to gauge his reaction, as if seeking guidance. After a pause, they both manage to shift their expressions back to neutral.

Autumn tucks her arm through Tanner’s. “You okay?”

“I want to leave. But it’s too late.”

It is too late. They’re two people back now, and Tanner can see Sebastian. He gets an eyeful of him too, wearing a neatly pressed blue dress shirt and dark tie. His hair is shorter. He’s wearing his mask of a smile. But even in this LDS bookstore, behind a wall of LDS people, he still looks like the guy on the hike, the guy eating Chinese food, the guy on the hood of the car.

Then Sebastian looks up and sees who is next in line, and the mask crumbles, for just a second. No—longer. It’s a double take, and it’s so achingly familiar.

Tanner steps up, holding his book out. “Hi. Congratulations.”

Sebastian’s jaw tics, and he clears his throat, brow furrowed. “Hi.” He looks down, pulling Autumn’s book closer, slowly peeling the Post-it from the front. “Um . . .” He exhales, and it trembles its way out of him. He clears his throat again, flipping the book open to the title page, lifting his pen with a shaking hand.

Autumn looks frantically back and forth between them. “Hey, Sebastian.”

He looks up at her, seeming to blink into focus. “Autumn. Hi. How are you?”

“I’m good. Leaving for Connecticut in a couple weeks. Where’s your first tour stop?”

“After this? I head to Denver.” He ticks off the cities robotically: “Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, Austin, Dallas, Atlanta, Charleston, Chicago, Minneapolis . . . um . . . Philadelphia, New York, and then home.”

“Wow,” she says. “That’s insane.”

Sebastian lets out a dry laugh as he signs her book first, writing a simple Good luck at Yale. Best wishes, and thank you, Sebastian Brother.

He hands Autumn her book and then pulls Tanner’s copy closer. After a brief scowl at the Post-it note, he balls it up in his fist and drops it into the trash can at his feet.

Tanner has been quiet for a few seconds, and Autumn gently elbows him in the side. Say something, she mouths.

“I came to say thank you,” he says quietly, hoping he’s out of earshot from the people around them—specifically, Sebastian’s parents. Sebastian stiffens, and focuses on whatever it is he’s writing. “For what you did. I’m not sure I understand why you did it, but I’m grateful.”

“Thank you so much for coming tonight, Tanner,” Sebastian says magnanimously. Having recovered his composure somewhat, his voice projects out beyond the protected space of the table.

The tone is so sickeningly false that Tanner nearly laughs. Finally, he meets Sebastian’s eyes again, and it’s devastating. His voice may have recovered, but his eyes haven’t. They’re tight and shiny with tears.

“Oh my God, I’m sorry,” Tanner says quietly. “I shouldn’t have come.”

“Are you a fan of the fantasy genre?” Sebastian’s voice is still forcibly bright. He widens his eyes, working to pull the tears back inside.

This hurts them both, and now Tanner feels like a monster. “I hope your book tour is amazing,” he says, not bothering to carry on the other side of a fake conversation. “I hope your mission is too. I leave for LA in August, but call me anytime.” He gives one final glance up. “Anytime.”

He takes the book from Sebastian’s hand without even looking at it and turns, leaving Autumn to pay inside. Tanner pushes through the crowd and back out onto the street, where there is oxygen, and space, and a complete lack of dancing, lake-in-the-sun eyes staring up at him.


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