I drive home still in sort of a daze, barely aware of anything that happened after lunch. Classes are a blur. I helped Autumn with her calc homework until late, but I’m not confident I was very helpful—or that her answers ended up being correct.
I’ve replayed my conversation with Sebastian over and over, and every time I wonder whether he looked as happy to see me as I think he did. We were flirting . . . I think? The idea of good, clean-cut Sebastian leaving school for what I suspect was the simple thrill of doing something he wasn’t supposed to is causing a serious malfunction in my brain.
I’m also trying to wrestle with the idea that Sebastian will be gone for the next week. I’ve always liked school, but seeing him in Seminar is pretty much the only thing making this final semester of high school bearable.
A thought occurs to me, and I fumble for my phone.
Can u text me while ur gone?
I regret sending it almost instantly, but figure at this point, what do I have to lose? Thankfully, he doesn’t let me spiral too long, and my screen lights up again.
I’ll be working with my editor and don’t know my exact schedule, but yeah, I’ll try.
I climb out of my car and shut the door, still smiling down at my phone when I stumble into the kitchen. Mom is at the sink, already wearing her bright rainbow pajamas, washing dishes.
“Hey,” I say, tucking my phone away and slipping out of my jacket. I’m distracted and drop it twice in an attempt to hang it up. “You’re home early.”
“Let’s just say I needed a glass of wine,” she says, closing the dishwasher door. She motions to the fridge. “Saved you a plate in there.”
I thank her with a kiss to the cheek before heading across the kitchen. It’s not that I’m particularly hungry—thinking of my lunch with Sebastian is enough to send my stomach back into roller coaster territory—but if I don’t eat, I’ll just disappear into my room, where I’ll obsessively reread his texts and possibly venture into less-than-wholesome territory. Which—let’s be real—is most likely going to happen anyway.
The plate has a Post-it note stuck to the Saran Wrap that says, YOU ARE MY PRIDE AND JOY. I pull it off and smile, although I can tell I’m too frantic, eyes too wide.
Mom watches me from the other side of the kitchen island. “You look a little . . . wound up. You okay?”
“Yeah, totally.” The weight of her attention follows me as I heat my food and pour myself a drink. “What happened at work?”
She steps around the counter, leaning against it like she’s going to answer. My phone vibrates in my pocket. As usual for this time of night, there’s a text from Autumn.
But there’s also a text from Sebastian.
Thanks for lunch btw.
I wasn’t having the greatest day and you turned it around.
The roller coaster inside my stomach reaches the top of the hill and goes careening over the edge.
“Tanner?” Mom pulls her hair up into a ponytail, securing it with an elastic from around her wrist.
I tear my eyes from the screen. “Yeah?”
She nods slowly and pours herself that glass of wine before motioning for me to follow. “Let’s talk.”
Oh, crap. I asked her about her day and then stopped listening. Leaving my phone on the counter, I follow her into the living room.
On the giant easy chair in the corner, my mom tucks her feet beneath her, watching me sit down. “You know I love you.”
Inwardly, I wince. “I know, Mom.”
“And I’m so proud of the man you’re becoming, I could nearly burst.”
I nod. I’m lucky. I know I am. But there are times when the declarations of adoration begin to feel . . . excessive.
She leans forward, uses her gentle voice. “I’m just worried about you, honey.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to what you had to say about work.”
“That’s not what this is about.”
I know this already. “Mom, Sebastian is a Mormon, not a sociopath.”
Mom lifts her eyebrow sardonically, as if she’s going to crack a joke, but she doesn’t. And in a wild rush of relief, I’m glad she doesn’t. Defensiveness for him rises like heat in my chest.
“But everything between you is still platonic, or . . . ?”
I grow uneasy. Our family talks about everything, but I can’t stop thinking about their faces the other night at dinner and the realization that they have a very specific idea of the kind of guy I might end up with someday: someone just like us. “What if I had more than platonic feelings for him?”
She looks pained and nods slowly. “I don’t think I’m entirely surprised.”
“I went and saw him at lunch.”
I can see her swallowing her reaction down like a thick mouthful of cough syrup.
“You’re okay with this, right?” I ask.
“About you leaving campus?” She leans back, studying me. “Not really, but I know everyone does it, so I’m willing to pick my battles. About your sexuality? Absolutely. You never have to worry about that with your dad and me, okay?”
Now, I know this isn’t the reality for most queer kids. I know I am endlessly lucky. My word comes out a little thick with emotion: “Okay.”
“But am I going to be okay with you pursuing an LDS kid, boy or girl?” She shakes her head. “No. Tanner, I’m not. This is just me being honest. And maybe it’s my blind spot, but it genuinely troubles me.”
My gratitude is immediately extinguished. “How would this be any different from his parents saying guys are off-limits?”
“It’s completely different. Among a hundred other reasons, going to church is a choice. Being bisexual is simply who you are. I’m protecting you from the toxic messages of the church.”
I actually laugh at this. “And his parents are doing it to protect him from hell.”
“It doesn’t work like that, Tann. The church doesn’t threaten fire and brimstone.”
My lid blows. “How would I know what the LDS Church says about anything?” I ask, voice rising. “It’s not like you give us any level perspective on what they actually believe and how they function. All I know from you is they hate the gays, they hate women, they hate, they hate, they hate.”
“I don’t actually feel like the Mormon Church hates much of anything. You’re the one who hates them.”
Her eyes go wide, and then she turns her face away, taking a deep breath.
Oh, shit. I went way too far.
If Mom were a violent woman, she probably would have stood up and smacked me just then. I can read it in the stiff line of her shoulders, her deliberately calming breaths.
But Mom isn’t a violent woman. She’s gentle, and patient, and unwilling to rise to my bait. “Tanner, honey. This is so much more complicated for me than you can possibly imagine, and if you want to talk about my history with the church, we can. Right now I’m worried about you. You’ve always led with your heart first and your head second, but I need you to think about this one.” Tucking her leg underneath her again, she says, “You and Sebastian come from two very different places, and even though it’s not the same thing your dad and I or Aunt Emily went through, it’s not completely different, either. I assume his family doesn’t know he’s gay?”
“I don’t even know if he’s gay.”
“Well, for argument’s sake, let’s assume he is and your feelings are reciprocated. You know the church thinks it’s okay to have same-sex attraction but you aren’t allowed to act on it?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Would you be able to be with him without touching him?” It’s rhetorical, so she doesn’t need me to answer. “If not, how would you feel being a secret? Would you be okay going behind his parents’ backs? What if his family is as close as we are? How would you feel if his parents cut him off because of his relationship with you?” This time she waits for me to reply, but I don’t honestly know what to say. This feels like putting the cart before horse—hell, before the entire stable. “How would you feel if he lost his community, or if the two of you genuinely fell in love, but in the end he chose the church over you?”
I deflect with a joke. “We’re barely texting. I’m not ready to propose just yet.”
She knows what I’m doing and gives me a patient, sad smile. “I know. But I also know I’ve never seen you this intense about someone before, and in the excitement of all the firsts, sometimes it’s hard to think about what comes after. It’s my job to look out for you.”
I swallow. Logically I know she has a point, but the stubborn part of my brain insists that the situations aren’t exactly the same. I can handle this.
- • •
Although Mom means well, my thoughts about Sebastian are a runaway train: The engineer is gone and the engine is basically on fire. My attraction is beyond control.
But once I’m up in my room, thinking about what she said, I calm down enough to realize that she’s shared more with us than I gave her credit for. I know how devastated Aunt Emily was when she worked up the courage to come out to her family and her parents told her she was no longer welcome at home. I know she lived on the street for a few months before she moved into a shelter, and even there it wasn’t very welcoming; she tried to commit suicide.
This was the final straw for Mom. She dropped out of school at the University of Utah and took Emily with her to San Francisco. There, she enrolled at UCSF and worked night shifts at a 7-Eleven to support them both. Mom went on to get a master’s at Stanford. Emily eventually got her own master’s from UC Berkeley.
Their parents—my grandparents, who I know live somewhere in Spokane now—cut both of their daughters out of their lives and their will, and have never tried to find them.
Mom tries to pretend like it doesn’t still hurt, but how can that possibly be true? Even though they make me insane sometimes, I would be lost without my family. Would Sebastian’s really kick him out? Would they disown him?
Jesus, this is getting more intense than I expected. I thought it would be a short crush, a curiosity. But I’m in it now. And I know that Mom isn’t wrong that my pursuing Sebastian is a terrible idea. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s going to be gone from class when he’s in New York.
- • •
I head up to visit Emily and Shivani for the weekend and—strangely—don’t even feel the desire to text him. I’m sure Mom told Emily all about what’s going on, because she tries to talk to me about my “love life” a couple of times, but I skirt the issue. If Mom is intense about it, Emily is nearly vibrating.
They take me to see some weird art-house movie about a woman who raises goats, and I fall asleep in the middle somewhere. They refuse to let me have wine with dinner, and I ask them what the hell having two heretic aunts is good for anyway, but Emily and I play pinball in the garage for about four hours on Sunday, and I eat about seven plates of Shivani’s chickpea curry before driving home, feeling pretty damn great about my family.
It’s amazing how a bit of distance and perspective seems to help clear my head.
But then Sebastian comes to class the following week wearing a dark gray henley with the button open at the throat and his sleeves pushed halfway up his forearms. I’m faced with a landscape of muscle and vein, smooth skin and graceful hands, and how am I supposed to handle that?
Besides, he seems more than happy to come over and look at my first few pages. He even laughs about the reference to Autumn’s pussy poster and asks me with thinly veiled curiosity whether the book is autobiographical.
As if he didn’t already know.
The question hovers in his eyes—Am I in it?
That depends on you, I think.
Obviously my “distance” and “perspective” didn’t last very long.
I had a fleeting thing for Manny when we first met—even had a moment or two of alone time imagining what it might be like with him—but it didn’t last, and my attention was snagged by the next person who came along. Kissing boys feels good. Kissing girls feels good. But something tells me kissing Sebastian would be like a sparkler falling in the middle of a field of dry grass.
Outside of school and a few Snaps of her meals, I haven’t seen much of Autumn lately. When she stops by around dinner one night, my mom doesn’t even try to hide how excited she is to see her and invites her to stay. Afterward, we disappear into my room and it’s just like old times.
I lie on my bed, trying to organize the day’s worth of Post-it notes into something coherent for my next chapter, while Autumn goes through my clothes and gets me up to speed on school gossip.
Did I know that Mackenzie Goble gave Devon Nicholson a blow job on the balcony of the gym during the teacher basketball game last week?
Did I hear that some kids went through the ceiling tiles in one of the bathrooms and made their way to the area above the girls’ locker room?
Did I hear that Manny asked Sadie Wayment to prom?
This gets my attention, and I blink up to see her standing in one of my T-shirts. My parents have a strict door-open policy whenever anyone is over—boy or girl—but it doesn’t seem to apply to Autumn. Which is honestly hilarious, because in the time I’ve been staring at my notes, she’s been undressing and trying on my clothes. “I forgot people are already talking about prom.”
She gives me the look that tells me I’m being slow. “It’s less than four months away. I brought it up in the car last week.”
I sit up. “You did?”
“Yeah, I did.” She looks at herself in the mirror, tugging on the shirt. “It’s like you don’t hear anything I say anymore.”
“No, I’m sorry. I’ve just . . .” I push my pile of Post-its away and fully face her now. “I’m sucked into my project and distracted. Tell me what you said.”
“Oh,” she says, annoyance extinguished for the moment. “I asked if you wanted to go together so we didn’t have to make it a big thing.”
Wow. I am a jerk. She essentially asked me to prom and I didn’t say anything. I haven’t given it any thought at all. It’s true Autumn and I have gone to dances when neither of us had dates, but that was before.
I am an idiot.
She studies me in the mirror. “I mean, unless there’s someone else you wanted to take?”
I look away so she can’t see my eyes. “No. I guess I just forgot.”
“You forgot about prom? Tanner. It’s our senior year.”
I grunt, shrugging. Abandoning my closet, she sits on the edge of the bed next to me. Her legs are bare and my shirt hits her about midthigh. It’s in moments like these I realize how much easier my life could be if I felt for her the way I feel about Sebastian. “You sure you don’t want to ask someone? Sasha? What about Jemma?”
I wrinkle my nose. “They’re both LDS.”
Oh, the irony.
“Yeah, but they’re cool LDS.”
I tug her closer. “Let’s see how it goes before we decide. I haven’t lost hope that Eric will pull himself together and make an honest woman out of you. Like you said, it’s our senior year. Don’t you want it to be a big deal?”
“I don’t want to—” she begins half-heartedly, but I pull her down over me and then roll her into a ball, tickling her. Autumn squeals and laughs and calls me names, and it’s only when Hailey is pounding on my wall and Dad is yelling at us to keep it down that I finally move, satisfied that the subject of prom has been forgotten.
- • •
Life here gets easier when the seasons change and the days grow longer. Other than the occasional hike or day of skiing, none of us have spent much time outdoors in months. It’s left me stir-crazy, with too much time to think. By the middle of February I’m so sick of my room and my house and the inside of the school that when the first real warm day comes, I’m willing to do just about anything as long as it happens outside.
The snow pushes away from the sidewalks a little more each day, until there are only a few patches left on the lawn.
My dad left the truck, the trailer, and a to-do list with my name on it taped to the fridge Saturday morning. I tow our boat from the side of the house to the driveway and pull off the tarp. Silverfish scamper away; it’s musty and dark inside, and I survey how much work I have ahead of me. We’re still months away from being able to use it, but it needs some serious TLC.
There are puddles of melting snow everywhere on the driveway. With the oil from the street and the tangle of leaves and branches, it looks disgusting, but I know where it leads: sunshine and outdoors and the smell of barbeque all weekend long. We’re having the seats reupholstered and the marine carpet replaced this April, so I start pulling the old stuff out along with the adhesive. I wouldn’t categorize any of this as enjoyable, but since I don’t have an actual job and gas doesn’t buy itself, I do what my dad tells me.
I get out everything I need, laying another large tarp down on the grass to make hauling it away easier. I’ve just pulled the driver seat out when I hear brakes squeaking mildly, hear tires coming to a stop on the driveway behind me.
I swing around to see Sebastian standing next to a bike, squinting up into the sun.
I haven’t seen him outside of class in two weeks, and it causes a weird ache to push through me. Straightening, I walk over to the edge of the deck. “Hey.”
“Hey,” he says back, smiling. “What are you doing up there?”
“Earning my keep, apparently. I believe you call this ‘service,’ ” I say, using my hands to form air quotes around the words.
He laughs, and my stomach clenches. “Service is more”—finger quotes—“ ‘helping others’ and less”—more finger quotes—“ ‘fixing my dad’s fancy boat,’ but okay.”
Holy crap, he’s teasing me. I motion to the mess at my feet and strewn across the tarp. “Do you see this monstrosity? This is not fancy.”
He peers over the side. “Keep telling yourself that.”
Kneeling down, I bring my face within a few inches of his. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“I was tutoring in the neighborhood. Thought I’d stop by.”
“So you go to school, write, work as a TA, and tutor? I am lazy.”
“Don’t forget all the church service.” Stepping back, he looks away, cheeks burning. “But I wasn’t really in the neighborhood.”
It’s taking my brain a moment to get from point A to point B, and when it finally connects the dots—that he came here specifically to see me—I almost jump over the side and tackle him.
Of course I don’t. I can see by the way he’s gripping the handlebar that he’s not entirely comfortable with the admission, and a pang of hope blooms inside me. This is how we reveal ourselves: these tiny flashes of discomfort, the reactions we can’t hide. In some ways, it’s why it’s so terrifying to live here and have my sexuality safely known only behind my front door. Outside, I could give myself away by a twitch of my lips at the word “faggot,” by staring at someone too long, by letting a guy friend hug me and doing it wrong.
Or, by being nervous simply because he wanted to stop by.
I’m probably just projecting, probably seeing this out of my own hope, but still, I want to climb down, gently pry his hands from the bike, and hold them.
I crack a joke instead. “I notice you didn’t disagree with the lazy part. I see how you are.”
The line of his shoulders eases, and he lets go of the handlebar. “I mean, I didn’t want to say anything, but . . .”
“You could stop hassling me and come up here and help.”
Sebastian pushes his bike to the grass and slips off his jacket, surprising me when he easily hops onto the trailer and up onto the stern. “See, now you’re getting what service is all about.”
I know there’s a joke in there about servicing, but I manage to keep it to myself.
With his hands on his hips, Sebastian looks around. “What needs to be done?”
“I need to pull out the seats and rip up the old carpet. Oh, and scrape up the adhesive. Bet you’re sorry you’re such a good person now.” I hand him my gloves and give myself three seconds to stare at him. There’s not a wrinkle, or a stitch out of place. He’s been outside in the sun lately too. His skin is a warm brown.
“You don’t need to give me those,” he says, pushing them away.
“I think there’s another pair in the garage.”
Sebastian concedes, and I hop down, taking a second to breathe as I slowly make my way toward the garage and back to the boat again. If I were taking Mom’s advice, this would be the perfect opportunity to lay out a boundary about things, to clarify that although he knows something about me that no one else knows, nothing between the two of us could ever happen.
Soon, I tell myself. I’ll tell him soon. Probably.
We manage to get the other front seat out, along with the bench, and even though it can’t be above sixty degrees—a record for this time of year—we’re both sweating by the time we tackle the carpet.
“So don’t take this the wrong way,” he says, “but why is your dad having you do this instead of . . . I don’t know”—with a guilty tilt of his head, he glances over at my house—“paying someone?”
I follow his attention to my house. Our neighborhood is arguably the nicest in this part of Provo. Houses have curved driveways and long, rolling lawns. Everyone has a finished basement, and many of us have in-law quarters over our garages. It’s true that my parents make good money, but they are anything but spendthrifts. “Mom will save a penny anywhere she can. Her reasoning: She already let Dad buy a boat. She’s not going to let him hire someone to maintain it.”
“Sounds a lot like my mom too.” Sebastian tightens his grip on a particularly tough section of carpet and pulls. A satisfying rip moves through the small quarters. “The saving a penny part, anyway,” he clarifies. “Her motto is ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.’ ”
“Please never tell my mom that. She’ll put it on a shirt.”
Or a bumper sticker.
With the carpet finally pulled free, Sebastian stands and throws it over the side, where it lands on the tarp with a whack and a plume of dust. Using the back of his arm, he wipes his forehead.
It feels like a crime the way I have to force my eyes away from his torso.
Looking around us, he surveys the damage. “Still. Old or not, this is a pretty nice boat.”
“Yeah, it is.” I push to stand, climbing down onto the driveway. Both of my parents are still gone, and inviting him in seems tantalizingly criminal. “You want something to drink?”
Sebastian follows me through the garage and into the house. In the kitchen, I open the fridge, grateful for the refrigerated air on my face, and survey what we have. Dad is at the hospital and Mom and Hailey are shopping.
I’m grateful, but also acutely aware that we’re alone.
“We have lemonade, Coke, Diet Coke, Vitaminwater, coconut water—”
“My mom likes to drink it after she works out. Personally, I think it tastes like watery sunscreen.”
Sebastian steps up behind me to peer into the fridge, and my breath catches in my lungs. “It’s a wonder they don’t put that on the package.” When he laughs, I can feel the way it moves through his chest.
I am not okay.
He clears his throat. “Vitaminwater is fine.”
I pull out two bottles and hand him one, pressing the other against my face when his back is turned.
“Your dad’s a doctor?” he asks, taking everything in. I watch as he untwists the cap and puts the bottle to his lips for a long drink. My heart beats in time with each swallow . . .
. . . one
. . . two
. . . three
. . . and I’m pretty sure I don’t breathe again until he does.
“Yeah, up at Utah Valley.” I turn back to the fridge, hoping my voice doesn’t crack. “You want something to eat?”
Sebastian walks toward me. “Sure. Do you mind if I wash my hands?”
“Yeah, good call.”
Side by side, we stand at the sink, lathering our hands and rinsing them under the tap. Our elbows knock together, and when I reach across him for the towel, my hip bumps into his. It’s just a hip, but my mind goes from hips to hip bones to what’s in between in a fraction of a second. My perving is nothing if not efficient.
Realizing I can’t just stand there at the sink and think about his hips, I hand him the towel and return to the fridge. “Sandwiches okay?”
I pull out lunch meat and cheese and whatever else I can find and snag plates and a few knives from the dishwasher. Sebastian has taken a seat on one of the kitchen stools. I slide the bread across the counter toward him.
“So how’s the project coming?” He untwists the plastic bag, placing bread on the plates.
He laughs, leaning forward to meet my eyes. “You know, the book? For the class you’re in?”
“The book, right.” The lunch meat is new, so it requires a little of my attention to open, which means I get at least ten seconds to stall. It’s still not enough. “It’s great.”
He lifts a brow, surprised. “Great?”
Everything I’ve written lately is about you, but it’s cool. No need for things to be awkward between us.
“Yeah,” I say with a shrug, unable to come up with anything more articulate under the weight of his attention. “I feel pretty solid.”
Sebastian rips a piece of lettuce off the head and places it neatly on the center of his bread. “You going to let me read more?”
“Yeah, totally,” I lie.
My answer comes out too sharply: “Not yet. No.”
“You could come by after school next week, and we could look through it.”
A mouthful of water seems to solidify in my throat. With effort, I swallow. “Really?”
“Sure. How about Friday?”
It gives me nearly a week to edit the book. “Okay.”
“Bring me the first few chapters.” His eyes twinkle.
I have just over five days to triage my book. Change the names, at the very least. Maybe take this book out of diary territory and into novel territory.
Lord, give me strength.
We eat in silence for a few minutes, passing the bag of chips back and forth and finally cracking open a few caffeinated Cokes—so scandalous!—when Sebastian stands, walking over to a photograph stuck to the fridge. “That’s a great picture,” he says, leaning in to get a better look. “Where was this? This building is insane.”
It’s a photo of me the summer after tenth grade. I’m standing in front of a towering, elaborately constructed church. “That’s the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona.”
Sebastian blinks over to me, eyes wide. “You’ve been to Barcelona?”
“My dad had a big conference and brought us along. It was pretty cool.” Moving to stand just behind him, I reach over his shoulder and touch part of the photo. “It looks different on each side. Where I’m standing is the passion side, and it’s simpler than the others. And in these towers”—I point to the stone spheres that seem to stretch into the clouds—“you can take a lift to the top.”
“Your expression.” He laughs. “You look like you know something the person taking the picture doesn’t.”
I look down at him, so close I can see the freckle he has on the side of his nose, the way his eyelashes practically touch his cheeks when he blinks. What I want to tell him is that I’d made out with a guy on that trip, only the second guy I’ve ever kissed. His name was Dax, and he’d been visiting with his parents. We snuck off during a dinner with a bunch of the other doctors and their families and kissed until our lips were numb.
So yeah, I guess I did know something the person taking the picture didn’t know. But I told Dad and Mom about Dax a few months later.
I want to tell Sebastian that he’s right, if only to see his reaction when I explain why.
“I have this thing about heights,” I say instead. “And nearly lost it when my parents explained we had tickets to go to the top.”
Lifting his chin, he looks up at me. “Did you go?”
“Yeah, I did. I think I held my mom’s hand the entire time, but I made it. Maybe that’s why I look a little proud.”
Sebastian steps away, sitting at the counter again. “We drove forty miles to Nephi once,” he says. “I think it’s safe to say you win.”
I cough out a laugh. “Nephi sounds pretty cool.”
“We visited the temple in Payson and watched a handcart reenactment along the Mormon trail. So . . . yeah.”
We both laugh now. I cup a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “Okay, maybe you’ll win the next one.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he says, grinning at me over the top of his Coke. His smile dumps endorphins into my veins.
“Maybe when we get the boat finished we can take it out.”
He sets his can down next to his plate. “You’ve done that before?”
“I mean, I’ve never pulled the trailer by myself, but I’m sure I can handle it. You could even come when we go to Lake Powell in July.”
Sebastian’s face falls for a fraction of a second before his standard perfect persona slips back into place. “Sounds good.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll warm up soon,” I say. “An early summer.”
I wonder if he can see the way my heart is banging against my ribs. “I hope so.”