For the first time in my high school career, I don’t need my schedule taped to my locker with dino stickers to know where I’m supposed to be. Our first week back, Fujita’s Seminar is on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. This week, it’s Tuesday and Thursday. It alternates pretty steadily until the end of the year.
I can see three ways this could go:
One, I could love M, W, F weeks because there are three chances to see Sebastian.
Two, I could loathe M, W, F weeks because there are three chances to see Sebastian, but he only attends one class regardless.
Three, I could loathe M, W, F weeks because there are three chances to see Sebastian and he’s there all the time but doesn’t show me the time of day.
In this last scenario, I grow resentful that I can’t seem to shake this crush on an LDS diehard, drown myself in cheese fries and fry sauce, grow a gut, do a crappy job in the class, and lose my admission to the out-of-state school of my dreams.
“What are you thinking?” Autumn appears behind me, tucking her chin over my shoulder.
“Nothing.” I slam my locker shut, zipping up my backpack. In reality, I’m thinking that it isn’t fair to think of Sebastian as an LDS diehard. I don’t know how to explain it, but he seems so much more than that.
She growls in mild irritation, and turns to head down the hall toward the Seminar.
I catch up and dodge a group of juniors having a piggyback race down the hall. I’ve been trained well by her, and bounce the question back. “What are you thinking?” If nothing else, her elaborate answer will keep me distracted from my own spiral into madness.
Autumn hooks her arm through mine. “I’m wondering how your outline is coming.”
Ah, right, my outline. The skeletal document with proverbial tumbleweeds blowing across the tundra. “It’s fine.”
One . . . two . . . three . . .
“Want me to take a peek before we go in?”
I grin. “No, Auddy, I’m good.”
She stops right at the entrance to class. “Did you finish it?”
From the flare of her nostrils, I know my best friend is imagining me dead and bloody on the floor. “The outline.”
A mental image pops into my head of the Word doc with two lonely lines I wouldn’t dare show a soul: A half-Jewish, half-nothing queer kid moves to an LDS-infested town. He can’t wait to leave. “No.”
“Do you think you should?”
I offer her a single arched eyebrow in response.
This is only our fourth class, and despite the hallowed reputation of this room, already we seem to have a rhythm, a certain comfort being hooligans until Fujita shows up. Soccer Dave, with his ever-present soccer ball, starts kicking it with alternating feet while Burrito Dave counts out the number of times he does it without letting it hit the floor. Julie and McKenna are loudly discussing prom, and Asher pretends to not notice (McAsher—their shipper name, obviously—are a former couple, and his artless breakup with her has left the rest of us a wealth of rubbernecking fodder). Autumn hounds me to show her my outline—remember: dog with a bone—and I distract her with a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors because, on the inside, we are both still ten years old.
A hush comes over the room, and I glance up, expecting to find Fujita, but Sebastian walks in, holding a folder. The effect of seeing him is like a needle screeching across one of my dad’s old forty-fives in my brain, and I throw Autumn some unknown hand symbol that roughly approximates a bird claw.
She punches my arm. “Rock beats whatever that was.”
“What’s up, guys,” he says, laughing as he puts down his folder.
The only person not paying intense attention to him is Autumn, who is ready to keep playing. But I’m back in the laser tag arena with Sebastian pressed up against me. He assesses the room with his calm, remote gaze. “You don’t have to stop talking when I walk in.”
McKenna and Julie make half-hearted attempts to return to their conversation, but it’s hard to be subtly scandalous when everyone else is being so silent, and it’s also hard in the face of Sebastian’s presence. He’s so . . . present. He’s beautiful, of course, but he also has that air of goodness to him, like he’s a genuinely good human. It’s one of those things you can tell from across the room. He smiles at everyone, has what I’m sure my mother would call great posture, and I’d bet all the money in my savings account that he’s never said—or thought—my favorite word that begins with F.
A horrifying thought occurs to me, and I turn to Autumn. “Do you think he wears Jesus jammies?”
If she thinks it’s weird that I’m asking her whether Sebastian wears garments, the modest undershirt-and-shorts underwear worn by the majority of faithful adult Mormons, she doesn’t show it. “You don’t get your garments until you take out your endowments.”
“Do what?” My mother needs to do a better job educating her children.
She sighs. “Until they go through the Temple.”
I try to sound casual, like I’m just making conversation. “So he hasn’t gone through the Temple yet?”
“I doubt it, but how should I know?” She bends to dig through her backpack.
I nod, although this doesn’t really help me. I can’t ask Mom, either, because she’ll want to know why I’m asking.
Auddy sits up, clutching a newly sharpened pencil. “He’ll go through the Temple when he’s about to get married or go on a mission.”
I tap my pen to my lip, scanning the room as if I’m only half listening to her. “Ah.”
“I doubt he’s married,” she says, more curious now, nodding to where he stands.
He’s reading through something at the front of the room, and for a beat I’m left speechless by the reminder that he could be married. I think he’s nineteen.
“He’s not wearing a ring,” she continues. “And didn’t he postpone his mission for the book launch?”
She looks at him and then back at me. To him, then to me.
“I’m not following what you’re trying to tell me.”
“He’s here,” she says. “You leave for your mission—for two years—usually after high school, or around now.”
“So he’s not wearing garments?”
“Oh my God, Tanner! Do you really care what kind of underwear he’s got on? Let’s talk about your goddamn outline!”
You know those moments? The ones where a girl yells in the cafeteria, “I got my period!” or a guy yells, “I thought it was a fart but I crapped my pants!” and the entire room has gone silent? That happens. Right now. Sometime between So he’s not wearing garments and Oh my God, Tanner, Fujita entered the room and everyone but Autumn and I went quiet.
Fujita chuckles, shaking his head at us. “Autumn,” he says, not unkindly, “I promise no man’s underwear is as interesting as you hope.”
Everyone laughs, delighted in this third-grade level of scandal. She opens her mouth to contradict him, to explain that it was me asking about underwear, but as soon as Fujita agrees that yes, let’s discuss our outlines, the opportunity passes. I’m shoved passively to the left when Autumn slugs my right arm, but I’m distracted, wondering what he’s thinking about that entire exchange. Of their own volition, my eyes flicker to Sebastian just as his eyes dart elsewhere.
His cheeks are that splotchy, irresistible pink.
Fujita has us pull out our outlines, and I swear it seems like everyone unscrolls these long, highly detailed manuscripts. There’s a gentle thump as Autumn pulls out a bound packet of paper and drops it on the desk in front of her. I don’t even bother opening my laptop to the two skeletal sentences of my outline. Instead, I pull out an empty swath of binder paper and tap it against my tabletop, looking industrious.
“Tanner, want to start?” Fujita calls out, his attention attracted by the noise I’ve made.
“Um.” I glance down. Only Autumn can tell that the pages I’m reading are blank. “I’m still working on the overall idea—”
“That’s okay!” Fujita crows, nodding: a beacon of enthusiastic support.
“—but I’m thinking that it will be a . . . coming-of-age novel about a kid”—I don’t say queer—“who moves to, um, a pretty religious town from a bigger city and—”
“Great! Great. Still forming, I get you. You should sit down with Sebastian, talk through it, yeah?” Fujita is already nodding at me like I’ve been the one to suggest it. I can’t tell if he’s saving me or chastising me. He turns, scanning the room. “Anyone else have an outline they’d like to share?”
Everyone’s hand shoots up except Autumn’s. Which is interesting, given that her outline is probably the most detailed. She’s been working on it for nearly a year. But she’s also my best friend, and in this case, I have no question that she’s saving me; if she went through hers after that incoherent ramble I just gave, I would look even worse.
The class breaks out into smaller groups, and we bounce ideas around, helping each other plot out story arcs. I’m stuck with Julie and McKenna, and since McKenna’s book is about a girl who gets dumped and turns into a witch and exacts revenge on her ex, we spend about ten minutes discussing the actual book before devolving into more prom talk and McAsher breakup processing.
It’s so boring I push my chair away from them and curl over my paper, hoping inspiration strikes.
I write the same word over and over again:
It’s at once a weird place and an everyplace. Being of Hungarian and Swedish descent, I don’t have any features that, anywhere else in the country, would particularly scream other—but in Provo, being dark haired and dark eyed is enough to make me stand out. Back in the South Bay, most people aren’t just white Middle America anymore, and being LDS wasn’t a given, not even close. Also? No one back home had to explain what it means to be bisexual. I have known since I was thirteen that I was into boys. But I knew before then that I was probably into girls, too.
My words slowly morph, turning into something else, a face, a thought.
I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU.
SO WHY DO I FEEL LIKE
I MIGHT LOVE YOU?
(BUT ONLY A LITTLE)
I look over my shoulder, worried that Autumn might catch me using our line when I’m thinking about something else—someone else—but my breath is sliced in half when I see him standing behind me, reading over my shoulder.
Pink cheeks, unsure smile.
“How’s the outline coming?”
I shrug, sliding my hand over the four stanzas of insanity on the paper. “I feel like everyone is so far ahead.” My voice shakes. “I didn’t actually expect to need an outline before I started. I sort of assumed we’d be doing that here.”
Sebastian nods. Leaning down, he speaks quietly. “I didn’t have an outline for a few weeks.”
Gooseflesh pricks up my arms. He smells so intensely of guy—the tang of deodorant and this hard-to-define maleness.
“You didn’t?” I ask.
He straightens, shaking his head. “No. I came in without any idea what I was doing.”
“But you ended up writing something brilliant, apparently.” I gesture to my mostly blank page. “I’m not expecting lightning to strike this class twice in two years.”
“You never know,” he tells me, and then smiles. “I felt the Spirit with me when I was writing. I felt inspired. You never know what will call to you. Just stay open to it, and it will come.”
He turns, moving on to the next group, and I’m left completely confused.
Sebastian knows—he has to know—that I am attracted to him. My eyes are helplessly bouncing around his face, his neck, his chest, his jeans whenever he’s in the classroom. Did he read what I’d written? Does he realize that just then he was inspiring me? If so, then why throw in mention of the Spirit?
Am I being toyed with?
Autumn catches my eye across the room, mouthing, What? because I’m sure I look like I’m struggling to perform some complex mathematical process in my mind. I shake my head and pull my hand back, revealing the words on my page again.
Something lights up in me, the weak flicker of an idea, the thread unraveling from that night in Autumn’s room to now.
The queer kid. The LDS kid.
“Sebastian,” I call after him.
He looks back at me over his shoulder, and it’s like our eyes are connected by some invisible tether. After a couple seconds, he turns and makes his way back over to me.
I give him my best smile. “Fujita seems to think I need your help.”
His eyes are teasing. “Do you think you need my help?”
“I have two sentences written.”
He laughs. “So yes.”
I expect him to suggest we walk over to the far table near the window, or meet in the library during my free period. I do not expect him to say, “I have some time this weekend. I could help then.”
It feels like the rest of the room falls away when he says this, and my heart takes off in a frantic sprint.
This is probably a terrible idea. Yes, I’m attracted to him, but I worry that if I dig deeper, I won’t like him.
But that would be for the best, wouldn’t it? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get some time outside of this class, to get an answer to my question: Could we even be friends, let alone more?
God, I have to tread lightly.
He swallows, and I watch as it moves his throat.
“Does that work?” he asks, pulling my eyes back up to his face.
“Yeah,” I say, and swallow. This time he watches. “What time?”