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I loved this book! It was my first fully LGBT+ book and I think it did a wonderful job of showing how being religious effects being gay. I loved the characters and the story was well planned out. The ending wasn't my favorite but don't let my personal preferences stop you from reading this beautiful book.
07 January 2021 (02:05)
It's not letting me read it even though I have downloaded it and ithe has worked for other books
28 January 2021 (02:14)
I have read better !
19 April 2021 (00:32)
really liked it, we have so many ways to look at problems the MCs have, and i felt like the author made me understand a lot of it better. romance wise is super cute and heart warming. recommend.
04 May 2021 (16:53)
Today i finished reading this book and I'm so hooked about Tanner and Sebastian, Like I need them to be real! This book is so heart warming 100/10 for me. I have the Paperback of this book but i sold it because i need money without reading it. Thats why i downloaded it and i regret solding it tbh </3
09 May 2021 (10:59)
I read this book..tbh this is my first lgbt book and it's good. This book is the one that made me love the books from this genre.
20 May 2021 (12:58)
This was one of the first books I read when I realized I was gay. Being Mormon and queer I felt so lost. This book is literally my story and made me cry so much because of how overall personal and close these experiences are to me. Great book. Don’t think I’d be where I am today without it.
04 July 2021 (21:14)
Really good, easy to read and at the same time felt realistic.
22 July 2021 (20:26)
the Tanner and Autumn twist is really unnecessary!!!!!!! I feel like this rather absurd plot might make the stigma on bisexual people worse. Or it this a cultural gap thing? And somehow the character can be BOTH responsible and FECKLESS at the same time....I don't get it. BUT apart from this, everything is perfect. It is definitely not a slow burn but their love story is so heartwarming. Love Sebastian, he is so vulnerable yet so brave.
19 October 2021 (18:00)
One of the most Amazing gay romance books anyone and even I have ever read.
I can't tell you the number of times I prayed that I would be gay in my next life after reading this book.
It's a MASTERPIECE?❤️
I can't tell you the number of times I prayed that I would be gay in my next life after reading this book.
It's a MASTERPIECE?❤️
26 November 2021 (13:39)
Thank you for downloading this Simon & Schuster ebook. * * * Get a FREE ebook when you join our mailing list. Plus, get updates on new releases, deals, recommended reads, and more from Simon & Schuster. Click below to sign up and see terms and conditions. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP Already a subscriber? Provide your email again so we can register this ebook and send you more of what you like to read. You will continue to receive exclusive offers in your inbox. For Matty, because this book would not be here without you. And for every teen who has ever needed to hear it: You are perfect, exactly the way you are. And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside. —LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA CHAPTER ONE The end of our final winter break seems almost like the beginning of a victory lap. We’re seven semesters into our high school career, with one last—token, honestly—semester to go. I want to celebrate like your average guy: with some private time and a few mindless hours down the YouTube rabbit hole. Unfortunately, neither of those things is going to happen. Because, from across her bed, Autumn is glaring at me, waiting for me to explain myself. My schedule isn’t complete and classes start up in two days and the good ones fill up fast and This is just so like you, Tanner. It’s not that she’s wrong. It is just like me. But I can’t help it if she’s the ant and I’m the grasshopper in this relationship. That’s the way it’s always been. “Everything’s fine.” “Everything’s fine,” she repeats, tossing her pencil down. “You should have that printed on a T-shirt.” Autumn is my rock, my safe place, the best of my best—but when it comes to school, she is unbelievably anal-retentive. I roll onto my back, staring up at her ceiling from her bed. For her birthday sophomore year—right after I moved here and she took me under her wing—I gave her a poster of a kitten diving into a tub of fuzzy balls. To this day, the poster remains sturdily taped there; . It’s a super-cute cat, but by junior year I think the innocent sweetness of it had been slowly sullied by its inherent weirdness. So, over the motivational phrase DIVE RIGHT IN, KITTY! I taped four Post-it notes with what I think the creator of the poster might have intended it to say: DON’T BE A PUSSY! She must agree with the edit because she’s left it up there. I turn my head to gaze over at her. “Why are you worried? It’s my schedule.” “I’m not worried,” she says, crunching down on a stack of crackers. “But you know how fast things fill up. I don’t want you to end up with Hoye for O Chem because he gives twice as much homework and that will cut into my social life.” This is a half-truth. Getting Hoye for chem would cut into her social life—I’m the one with the car; I chauffer her around most of the time—but what Autumn really hates is that I leave things to the last minute and then manage to get what I want anyway. We’re both good students in our own way. We’re both high honor roll, and we both killed our ACTs. But where Autumn with homework is a dog with a bone, I’m more like a cat lying in a sunny window; if the homework is within reach and doing something interesting, I’ll happily charm it. “Well, your social life is our priority.” I shift my weight, brushing away a trail of cracker crumbs stuck to my forearm. They’ve left a mark there, tiny red indentations in the skin, the same way gravel might. She could stand to spread some of her obsessiveness to room cleaning. “Autumn, my God. You’re a pig. Look at this bed.” She responds to this by shoving another stack of Ritz in her mouth, crumbling another trail onto her Wonder Woman sheets. Her reddish hair is in a messy pile on her head, and she’s wearing the same Scooby-Doo pajamas she’s had since she was fourteen. They still fit . . . mostly. “If you ever get Eric in here,” I say, “he’ll be horrified.” Eric is another one of our friends and one of only a handful of non-Mormon kids in our grade. I guess technically Eric is Mormon, or at least his parents are. They’re what most people would call “Jack Mormon.” They drink (both alcohol and caffeine) but are still reasonably involved in the church. Best of both worlds, he says—although it’s easy to see that the other Latter-day Saints students at Provo High don’t agree. When it comes to social circles, Jack Mormon is the same as not Mormon at all. Like me. A few dry flecks of cracker fly out when Autumn coughs at this, feigning repulsion. “I don’t want Eric anywhere near my bed.” And yet here I am, lying on her bed. It’s a testament to how much her mother trusts me that I’m allowed in her room at all. But maybe Mrs. Green senses already that nothing will happen in here between me and Auddy. We did that once, over winter break our sophomore year. I’d lived in Provo for only five months by that point, but there was an immediate chemistry between us—driven by a lot of classes in common and a comfort from our shared defector status with the Mormon kids at school. Unfortunately, the chemistry dissolved for me when things got physical, and by some miracle we dodged the post-make-out awkward bullet. I am not willing to risk it again. She seems to grow hyperaware of our proximity at the same moment I do, straightening and pulling her pajamas down her torso. I push up so I’m sitting, leaning against the headboard: a safer position. “Who do you have for first?” Autumn looks down at her schedule. “Polo. Modern Lit.” “Same.” I steal a cracker, and—like a civilized human—manage to eat it without dropping a crumb. Scanning down my paper with an index finger, I feel pretty good about this last term. “Honestly, my schedule isn’t too bad. I only need to add something for fourth.” “Maybe you can add the Seminar.” Autumn claps joyfully. Her eyes are flashlights, beaming their thrill into the dusky room: She has wanted to take this course since she was a freshman. The Seminar—I’m serious; when the school references it in newsletters or announcements, they even capitalize it like that—is so pretentious it’s unreal. WRITE A BOOK IN A SEMESTER, the catalog cheerfully dares, as if that could happen only in this class. As if the average person couldn’t throw together enough words in four months. Four months is a lifetime. Students who apply need to have completed at least one advanced placement English course and have a minimum of a 3.75 GPA for the previous term. Even if that includes seventy kids in our grade alone, the teacher only enrolls fourteen. Two years ago, the New York Times wrote an article and called it “a brilliantly ambitious course, earnestly and diligently directed by the NYT-bestselling faculty member Tim Fujita.” (I know that direct quote because the piece was printed out, enlarged to about five thousand times the original size, and framed in the front office. My frequent gripe is the criminal overuse of adverbs, which Autumn thinks makes me petty.) Last year, a senior named Sebastian Brother took the Seminar, and some big publisher bought his manuscript. I don’t even know who he is and I’ve heard his story a hundred times: He’s a bishop’s son! He wrote a high fantasy novel! Apparently, it was amazing. Mr. Fujita sent it to an agent, who sent it to people in New York, and there was some sort of civilized warfare for it, and boom, now he’s across the street at BYU and apparently delaying his mission so that he can do a book tour and become the next Tolkien. Or L. Ron Hubbard. Though I guess some Mormons might take issue with that comparison. They don’t like to be lumped in with cults like Scientology. Then again, neither do Scientologists. Anyway, now—other than BYU football and the sea of Mormons—the Seminar is the only thing anyone ever talks about anymore when they mention Provo. “You got in?” I confirm, not that I’m surprised. This class means everything to Autumn, and apart from already meeting the actual requirements, she’s been devouring novels nonstop in the hope that she’ll get a chance to write her own. She nods. Her smile stretches from sea to shining sea. “Badass.” “You could, too, if you talked to Mr. Fujita,” she says. “You have the grades. You’re a good writer. Plus, he loves your parents.” “Nah.” I’m expecting acceptance letters to colleges anywhere but here—Mom begged me to only apply out of state—and a yes from any one of those schools will be conditional on my grades this last semester. Regardless of how easy I think this might be, this is not the time to be taking chances. Autumn picks at a beleaguered fingernail. “Because then you’d have to, you know, finish something?” “I finished your mom earlier. I think you know what I mean.” She pulls my leg hair, and I screech out a surprisingly feminine sound. “Tanner,” she says, sitting up, “I’m serious. It would be good for you. You should take this class with me.” “You say that like I would want to.” Glaring at me, she growls, “It’s the Seminar, asshole. Everyone wants to.” See what I mean? She’s got this course on a pedestal, and it’s so nerdy it makes me a little protective of Future Autumn, when she’s out in the world, battling her Hermione Nerd Girl battles. I give her my best smile. “Okay.” “Are you worried about coming up with something original?” she asks. “I could help you.” “Come on. I moved here when I was fifteen—which I think we can agree is the worst time to move from Palo Alto, California, to Provo, Utah—with a mouth full of metal and no friends. I have stories.” Not to mention I’m a half-Jewish queer kid in a straight and Mormon town. I don’t say that last part, not even to Autumn. It wasn’t that big a deal in Palo Alto when, at thirteen, I realized I liked the idea of kissing guys as much as kissing girls. Here, it would be a huge deal. She’s the best of my best, yeah, but I don’t want to risk telling her and finding out she’s only progressive in theory and not when a queer kid is hanging out in her bedroom. “We all had braces, and you had me.” She flops back on her bed. “Besides, everyone hates being fifteen, Tanner. It’s period emergencies and boners at the pool, zits and angst and unclear social protocol. I guarantee ten out of fifteen students in this class will write about the perils of high school for lack of deeper sources of fiction.” A quick scan through the Rolodex of my past gives me a lurching, defensive feeling in my gut, like maybe she’s right. Maybe I couldn’t come up with something interesting and deep, and fiction must come from depth. I’ve got two supportive—maybe overly supportive—parents, a crazy but wonderful extended family, a not-too-terrible-although-dramatically-emo sister, my own car. I haven’t known a lot of turmoil. So I balk, pinching the back of her thigh. “What makes you so deep?” It’s a joke, of course. Autumn has plenty to write about. Her dad died in Afghanistan when she was nine. Afterward, her mom—angry and heartbroken—cut ties with the Mormon Church, which, in this town, is a huge defection. More than 90 percent of the people who live here are LDS. Being anything else automatically leaves you on the outskirts of the social world. Add into the mix that on Mrs. Green’s salary alone, she and Autumn barely scrape by. Autumn looks up at me flatly. “I can see why you wouldn’t want to do it, Tann. It’s a lot of work. And you’re lazy.” • • • She baited me into adding the stupid class, and now, as we drive to school together the Monday after winter break, she’s being brittle and clipped because I told her I got in. I can feel her heated glare on the side of my face as I turn onto Bulldog Boulevard. “Fujita just signed your add card?” she says. “That’s it?” “Auddy, you’re insane if you’re pissed about this. You get that, right?” “And . . . what?” she says, ignoring my rhetorical and turning to face forward. “You’re going to do it?” “Yeah, why not?” I pull into the student lot, scanning for a spot close to the door, but of course we’re running late and there’s nothing convenient here. I slip into a spot along the back side of the building. “Tanner, do you realize what it is?” “How could I attend this school and not know what the Seminar is?” She gives me an aggressively patient look because I’ve just used my mocking voice and she hates it. “You’re going to have to write a book. An entire book.” When the end of my fuse appears, it is predictably mild: a rougher than normal shove of my door open into the frigid air. “Auddy, what the hell? I thought you told me to add it.” “Yeah, but you shouldn’t do it if you don’t want it.” I pull out my best smile again, the one I know she likes. I know I shouldn’t, but hey, you use the tools you have. “Then you shouldn’t call me lazy.” She lets out this savage growl I think I like. “You’re so lucky and you don’t even know it.” I ignore her, grabbing my backpack from the trunk. She is confusing as hell. “Do you see what I mean, though, that it was so easy for you?” She jogs after me. “I had to apply, and interview with him, and, like, grovel. You walked into his office and he signed your add slip.” “It wasn’t exactly like that. I went to his office, chatted him up for a bit, updated him on my folks, and then he signed my add slip.” I’m met with silence, and when I turn, I realize she’s walked in the other direction, toward a side entrance. “I’ll see you at lunch, best friend!” I call out. She raises her middle finger. The warmth inside the hall is heaven, but it’s loud in here and the floors are soggy with dirty, melting snow knocked off boots. I squeak down the hall to my locker, sandwiched between Sasha Sanderson and Jack Thorne, two of the best-looking—and nicest—people at Provo High. Socially, things here are mixed. Even two and a half years later, I still feel like the new kid, and it’s probably because most of the students here have gone to school together since kindergarten and live within a handful of wards—meaning, they’re in the same congregation and see each other for about a million church activities outside of school. I essentially have Auddy, Eric, and a few other friends who happen to be LDS, but cool, so they don’t drive us too crazy and their parents don’t worry we’re corrupting them. Back in Palo Alto, my freshman year, I was sort of dating another guy for a few months and had a whole group of friends I’d known since kindergarten who didn’t blink when they saw me holding Gabe’s hand. I wish I’d appreciated that freedom more at the time. Here, girls flirt with me, sure, but most of them are Mormon and would never, not in a million years, be allowed to date me. Most LDS parents hope their children will marry in their Temple, and that just can’t happen with someone like me, a nonmember. Unless I converted, which . . . is never going to happen. Take Sasha for example. I feel something brewing between us; she’s super flirty and touchy, but Autumn insists it could never go anywhere. To an even greater extent, the same is true of my chances here with guys, LDS or otherwise; I don’t get to test those waters in Provo. I’ve had a crush on Jack Thorne since tenth grade, but he’s off-limits for three important reasons: (1) male, (2) Mormon, (3) Provo. Before she got pissed at me this morning, Auddy handed me, without comment, a sheet of sparkly dinosaur stickers. So, without question, I pocketed them; Autumn is known to hand me things that will be of use at some unknown point in time, and I roll with it. As I open my locker, I realize her motive: I am notoriously bad about remembering my A and B day schedule—we practice an alternating-day class schedule here, with periods one through four on some days and periods five through eight on others. Each term I need to tape my schedule to my locker, and each term I find myself without any tape. “You’re brilliant,” Sasha says, coming up behind me to better see what I’m doing. “And ohmygod, you’re so cute. Dinosaurs! Tanner, are you eight?” “I got them from Autumn.” I hear Sasha’s reaction to this in her silence, the unspoken, Are they, or aren’t they? Everyone wonders whether Autumn and I are casually banging. As ever, I leave it unanswered. Her suspicion is a good thing. Unwittingly, Autumn has been my shield. “Nice boots,” I tell her. They reach a suggestive height: just past her knees. I wonder whose attention she’s aiming for the most here: the guys at school, or her parents at home. I give her a dinosaur sticker and a kiss on the cheek as I slip past her down the hall with my books. Provo High is not by any means a religious school, but sometimes it feels that way. And if there’s one thing you learn quickly about Mormons, it’s that they focus on the positive: positive feelings, positive actions, happy, happy, joy, joy. So Modern Lit with Mrs. Polo starts out with an unexpected and decidedly unhappy bang: The first book we’re reading is The Bell Jar. I feel a faint murmur around the room as students shift in their seats to make surreptitious eye contact in such dramatic unison that their covert efforts are wasted. Mrs. Polo—wild hair, flowy skirts, rings on thumbs, you know the deal—ignores the commotion. In fact, I think she’s sort of enjoying it. She rocks back on her heels, waiting for us to return to the syllabus and see what else she has in store for us. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, Elie Wiesel’s Night, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, and on and on into Toni Morrison’s Sula, and even James Goddamn Frey’s fake memoir. Perhaps most shocking is Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, a novel dealing with fanatical religion and a tent-revival-style creepy preacher. It’s pretty on the nose. Mrs. Polo is ballsy, and I for one like seeing their cages rattled. At my side, and still giving me the silent treatment, Autumn is sitting up, eyes wide. She’s read almost every book on this list, and if I know her, I know what she’s thinking: Is there time to transfer to Shakespeare with Mr. Geiser? She turns and looks at me, her eyes narrowing as she reads my mind right back. She growls again, and I can’t help the laugh it pulls from me. I’ve read almost all these books too. Autumn insisted. I lean back, lacing my fingers behind my head and giving her another good smile. Piece of cake. I have an easy semester ahead. CHAPTER TWO 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. One week. 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.” CHAPTER THREE Monday afternoon: We are homework-free, Mom is home early, and she sees it as a sign that she needs to take her children shopping. My sister, Hailey, is thrilled at the opportunity to get more funeral wear. I agree to come, albeit unenthusiastically, mostly because I know if I were left to my own devices, I would spend hours on my laptop, with multiple browser tabs open, trying to learn more about Sebastian Brother. Fortunately, Autumn is tagging along. Mom’s superpower seems to be her uncanny ability to find the ugliest clothing for her children. In this way, Autumn is a great wingwoman. But unfortunately, having all three of them around means any mobile Sebastian investigation needs to be done covertly. Autumn might raise an eyebrow if she caught me googling pictures of our hot male TA. Mom and Hailey know I like guys, but Mom in particular would not be thrilled to know that the object of my current interest is the local bishop’s son. Organized religion isn’t something that’s regarded too fondly in our house. My dad is Jewish but hasn’t been to temple in years. Mom grew up LDS, just north of here in Salt Lake City, but defected from the church at nineteen, when her younger sister, my aunt Emily, came out in high school and her parents and the church cut her off. Of course, I wasn’t around then, but I’ve heard some of the stories and see Mom’s forehead vein make an appearance whenever any aspect of the church’s narrow-mindedness comes up. Mom didn’t want to break up with her parents but, like any normal, compassionate human, couldn’t justify alienating someone she loved because of a bunch of old rules in a book. So then, you might ask, why are we here, living in the most LDS-dense place in the world? Also, ironically, my mother. Two and a half years ago, a massive, super-loaded software startup based here lured her away from Google, where she’d been the only senior software engineer with an XX genotype, and she basically cleaned the floor with everyone around her. NextTech offered her the CEO position, but she asked for the CTO job instead, which came with an almost unlimited tech-development budget. Right now her team is developing some 3-D holographic modeling software for NASA. For any other family with two six-figure incomes still barely cutting it in the South Bay, the decision would have been an easy one. A salary hike in a place where the cost of living could fit in our smallest Palo Alto closet? Done. But because of Mom’s past, the decision to move was agonizing. I still remember hearing my parents arguing about it late into the night while Hailey and I were supposed to be sleeping. Dad thought it was an opportunity she couldn’t possibly turn down, and one that would feed her imagination. Mom agreed—but worried about how it would affect her children. In particular, she worried about how it would affect me. Two months before the offer came in, I admitted to my parents that I’m bisexual. Well, “admitted” might be taking too much credit. For her graduate school project, Mom created undetectable software that helps employers keep track of what their employees are doing. Turns out it’s so user-friendly and has such a pretty interface that a consumer version was created and sold to nearly every household with a working computer in the States. I probably should have put two and two together and realized my parents would also be using it on our home network before I discovered I could stream porn on my phone. That was an awkward conversation, but at least it resulted in a compromise: I could go to certain sites, and they wouldn’t stalk me online as long as I didn’t lurk on places that, as Mom put it, “would give me unrealistic expectations about how sex should be or what our bodies should look like.” In the end, my stridently anti-LDS parents moved their emo-scene daughter and queer son back into LDS wonderland. To compensate for their guilt over making sure I protect myself at all costs (read: be very, very careful about who I come out to), my parents have made our home a gay, gay den of pride. Autumn and I spend most of our time together at her house, and Hailey hates almost everyone (and no one from her angry coven ever comes over), so LGBTQ essays, PFLAG pamphlets, and rainbow T-shirts are handed to me at spontaneous moments with a kiss and a lingering look of pride. Mom will slide the occasional bumper sticker into my pillowcase, to be found when the sharp corner meets my cheek at night. NOTHING WOULD BE THE SAME IF YOU DID NOT EXIST! COURAGE IS BEING YOURSELF EVERY DAY IN A WORLD THAT TELLS YOU TO BE SOMEONE ELSE. LOVE KNOWS NO LIMITS. NORMAL IS JUST A DIAL ON THE WASHING MACHINE! Autumn has found a few of them here and there over the years but shrugs it off with a murmur of “San Francisco, man.” It’s funny to think about these now in the car, surreptitiously scrolling slack-jawed through photos of Sebastian, because I start imagining them read to me in his deep, gentle voice. Even hearing Sebastian speak a mere three times today, the sound of it still hovers like a drunk honeybee inside my head. Hey, guys. Oh, the book is out in June. I’m here to help, however you need me, so use me. I almost lost it when he said that. A Web search doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Most of the results for “Sebastian Brother” are for a steakhouse in Omaha, links to articles about the Seminar, or announcements about Sebastian’s book. Google Images is where I hit the jackpot. There are photos of him playing baseball and soccer (yes, I save one), and a few of him doing interviews for local papers. When I click through, his answers don’t say much about him—they seem pretty canned—but he’s wearing a tie in a lot of the photos, and combined with his hair? I’m ready to start the Sebastian Brother Spank Bank folder. Really, he’s the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in person. Facebook is a dead end. Sebastian’s account is locked (of course it is), so not only can I not see his photos, but I can’t see his relationship status, either. Not that I care, or will beyond a few days. He’s Mormon eye candy. This flash of infatuation won’t go anywhere interesting. I wouldn’t let it—we’re on opposite sides of a very thick fence. I close every window on my phone’s browser before I fall prey to the worst social media stalking possible: the futile hunt for his Snapchat or Instagram. Even the idea of stumbling upon a sleepy shirtless Sebastian selfie wreaks havoc on my nervous system. At the mall, Autumn and I follow my mom as she weaves through the racks of the guys’ department at Nordstrom. I’m bored putty in their hands. Mom leads me to table of shirts, holding a few up to my chest. She narrows her eyes, asks Autumn’s opinion, and the two women confer before wordlessly rejecting most of them. I don’t comment; I know how this works. My sister is off somewhere getting her own things, giving us a nice reprieve from her constant need to bicker with us. Autumn and Mom get along, and when they’re together, I get a break from having to pay attention to anything anyone is saying; they keep each other entertained. Mom holds a hideous Western-themed shirt up to my chest. I can’t let this one slide. “No.” She ignores me and looks to Autumn for her opinion. But Auddy is Team Tanner, and scrunches her nose in distaste. Hanging the shirt back up, Mom asks her, “How is your schedule this term?” “I love it.” Auddy hands Mom a short-sleeved blue button-down from RVCA. I give her a covert thumbs-up. “I may need to switch Modern Lit to Shakespeare, and calculus is probably going to be my death, but otherwise—good.” “I’m sure Tanner would love to help you with calc,” Mom says, and I feel Autumn throw an eye roll in my direction. “What about you, honey?” I lean against the rack, crossing my arms over the silver bar. “I added biology after lunch, and now I’m sleepy last period.” Mom’s blond hair is smooth and pulled into a ponytail, and she’s traded her work clothes for jeans and a sweater. She looks younger dressed like this, and if Hailey would drop her Wednesday Addams thing, she and Mom would look like sisters. As if on cue, Hailey materializes from behind me, dropping a giant heap of black fabric in Mom’s arms. “I didn’t like any of the pants, but those shirts are cool,” she says. “Can we eat? I’m starving.” Mom looks down at the load in her arms. I can see her mentally counting to ten. As long as I can remember, our parents have encouraged us to be ourselves. When I started questioning my sexuality, they told me their love for me was not dependent on where I stick my dick. Okay, they didn’t use those exact words; I just like saying it. Last year, when my sister decided she wanted to start looking like a corpse, they bit their tongues and encouraged her to express herself however she wanted. Our parents are saints when it comes to patience, but I’m getting the sense that this patience is wearing thin. “Three shirts.” Mom hands it all back to Hailey. “I told you three shirts, two pairs of pants. You already have a dozen black shirts. You don’t need a dozen more.” She turns back to me, thwarting Hailey’s rebuttal. “So, biology makes you sleepy. What else?” “Auddy should stick with Modern Lit. It’s going to be an easy A.” “Oh. Our Seminar TA is super-hot,” Autumn tells her. As if moving on some protective instinct, Mom’s eyes slide to me and then back to Auddy. “Who is he?” Autumn lets out a distractingly breathy sound. “Sebastian Brother.” Behind us, my sister groans, and we turn, waiting for the inevitable. “His sister Lizzy is in my class. She’s always so happy.” I scoff at this. “Gross, right?” “Tanner,” Mom warns. My sister shoves my shoulder. “Shut up, Tanner.” “Hailey.” Autumn works to diffuse this by redirecting us to the point at hand: “Sebastian took the class last year. Apparently his book was really good.” Mom hands me a paisley T-shirt that is so hideous I won’t acknowledge it. She thrusts it at my chest again, giving me mom face. “Oh, he sold it, right?” she asks Autumn. Autumn nods. “I hope it gets made into a movie and he’s in it. He has this floppy soft hair and his smile . . . God.” “He’s a splotchy boy blusher,” I say before I can think better of it. Beside me, Mom stiffens. But Auddy doesn’t seem to hear anything odd in what I said. “He totally is.” Mom hangs the shirt back up and laughs tightly. “This one might be a problem.” She’s looking at Autumn when she says this, but I know without question she’s speaking to me. • • • My interest in Sebastian Brother’s visible attributes hasn’t diminished by class on Friday. For the first time since I moved here, I’m struggling to fly under the radar. If it were a female TA I was attracted to, it wouldn’t be a big deal for someone to occasionally catch me staring. But here, with him, I can’t. And the effort it takes to play it cool is frankly exhausting. Fujita and Sebastian make regular rounds of the room while we jot down ideas in any manner that works for us—outlines, random sentences, song lyrics, drawings—and I’m basically doodling spirals on a blank sheet of paper just to keep from tracking his movement. Beside me, Autumn pounds out what seems like thousands of words per minute on her laptop without coming up for air, and it’s distracting and maddening. Irrationally, I feel like she’s sucking my creative energy somehow. But when I stand to move to another part of the room for some space, I nearly collide with Sebastian. Chest-to-chest, we stare at each other for a few seconds before we take a step back, in unison. “Sorry,” I say. “No, no, it was me.” His voice is both low and quiet, and it has this hypnotic rhythm to it. I wonder whether someday he’ll give sermons with that voice, whether he’ll throw down judgment with that voice. “Fujita said I should work with you more closely,” he says, and I realize now that he was coming over to talk to me. The blush pops in a warm bloom across his cheeks. “He said you seemed to, um, be a little behind on the plotting stage and I should brainstorm with you.” Defensiveness and nervous energy creates a strange brew in my veins. We’re only three class sessions in and I’m already behind? And to hear it from him? This buttoned-up Bible-thumper I can’t get out of my head? I laugh, too loudly. “It’s okay. Seriously, I’ll catch up this weekend. I don’t want you to have to take time—” “I don’t mind, Tanner.” He swallows, and I notice for the first time how long his throat is, how smooth. My heart hammers. I don’t want to be this affected by him. “I need to sort it out in my own head,” I say, and then push past him, mortified. I’d expected Sebastian to be a short fascination, a single night of fantasizing and that’s it. But even watching him move through the classroom rocks me. Standing so close to him nearly sent me into a breathless panic. He has command of the space he occupies, but it isn’t because he’s an imposing jock, or somehow bleeding macho into the room. The light just seems to catch his features differently than anyone else around us. Autumn follows me over a few minutes later, putting her hand on my arm. “You okay?” Absolutely not. “Totally.” “You don’t have to worry about how far ahead everyone else is.” I laugh, brought back to the other stress: the novel. “Wow, thanks, Auddy.” She groans, dropping her head to my arm, laughing now too. “I didn’t mean it like that.” When I glance to the side, I see Sebastian just before he looks away from us. Auddy stretches, kissing my cheek. “Still up for Manny’s birthday party tonight?” Laser tag to celebrate turning eighteen. Only in Utah, man. “I don’t know.” I like Manny, but in all honesty, I’m merely human. I can stomach only so many nights of laser tag. “Come on, Tann. Eric will be there. I need someone to hang with so I have something to do besides look awkward in front of him.” High school is such an incestuous little pool. Autumn has a thing for Eric, who is pining over Rachel, the sister of the girl I kissed after homecoming last year and who I’m pretty sure dated Hailey’s best friend’s brother. Pick almost anyone here and it’s like six degrees of second base. But it’s not like there’s anything better to do. • • • The sound of music and electronic chimes seeps through the double glass doors outside Fat Cats. The parking lot is packed. If this were any other town I might be more surprised, but it’s Friday night; miniature golf, laser tag, and glow-in-the-dark bowling are about as wild as it gets. Autumn is at my side, and the light from her phone illuminates her profile as she does her best to type and walk across the icy sidewalk at the same time. Looping my arm through hers, I guide her around a group of junior high kids with their eyes glued to their own phones and lead us both safely inside. The year after we moved here, the Scott family drove in Dad’s Prius to Vegas for my aunt Emily’s wedding to her girlfriend, Shivani. Hailey and I were saucer-eyed the entire weekend: digital billboards, strip clubs, booze, and bare skin . . . There was a spectacle everywhere we looked. Here, apart from the obvious differences, like sheer size and the distinct lack of scantily clad cocktail waitresses walking around, there’s the same kind of frenzy in the air. Fat Cats is like Vegas for kids and teetotalers. Spiral-eyed patrons slide token after token into blinking machines in the hope of winning something, anything. I spot a bunch of people I know from school. Jack Thorne is playing what I’m sure is a rousing game of Skee-Ball with a string of tickets slithering along the floor at his feet. Soccer Dave is playing pinball with Clive and has a soccer ball predictably clamped between his feet. The birthday boy himself, our friend Manny Lavea, is goofing off with a few of his brothers near a row of tables in the back, but much to Autumn’s chagrin: no Eric in sight. I search the silhouettes in front of the giant movie screens suspended above the bowling lanes—sorry, Thunder Alley—before giving up. “Are you texting him?” I ask Autumn, looking down to find her still staring intently at her phone. “No.” “Then what has you glued to your phone tonight? You’ve barely come up for air.” “I was just typing up a few notes,” she says, taking my hand and leading me past the ticket redemption center and toward the tables. “For the book. You know, random thoughts that pop into my head or pieces of dialogue. It’s a good way to get stuff down. Fujita is going to expect something on Monday.” Stress tightens my gut, and I change the subject. “Come on, Auddy. Let me win you something.” I win her a gigantic tiger, which I’m guiltily aware will soon become landfill, and we wander back over toward the party room as they’re bringing out the food. A haggard woman named Liz tries to bring the party to some sort of order before giving up and dropping a tray of veggies and dip on the center table. Truthfully, we’ve been here so many times, Liz could go out back and smoke a pack of cigarettes and we’d be fine getting through the night. Eric finds us as Manny’s mom is handing out paper plates, and our entire group—about twenty of us in total—moves in a line on either side of the long tables. There’s the normal fare of bad pizza and Sprite, but I help myself to some of the dishes his mom has prepared too. Manny’s family is Tongan, and when I first moved here in tenth grade from the diverse wonderland of the South Bay, it was such a relief to find a brown person in the smiling sea of white faces. Because of missionary efforts in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, there’s a surprisingly large number of Polynesians in Utah. Manny and his family are no exception, but they’re among the LDS families who don’t keep only to themselves. Manny is big, and hilarious, and nearly always smiling. I’d probably be into him if it weren’t such an obvious waste of time: He is roaringly heterosexual. I would pull out every penny I have and bet that Manny isn’t going to be virginal when he marries. I step up next to Autumn, opening my mouth to tease her about how she’s got only a single breadstick on her plate, but the words fall out of my brain. Sebastian Brother is standing across the room, talking to two of Manny’s brothers. My pulse takes off in a surging gallop. I didn’t know he was going to be here. Auddy pulls us over to a bench to sit down, and sips a cup of water, distracted. Now that I look closer, I see she’s put more effort into how she looks tonight: She straightened her hair. She’s wearing sticky, shiny lip gloss. I’m pretty sure her shirt is new. “Why aren’t you eating?” I ask, unrolling the paper napkin from the plastic utensils. In an effort to prove she’s not looking at Eric, she takes a Snap of her food, examines her handiwork, and then types something before turning her phone to face me. It’s a photo of her breadstick on a plain white paper plate with the caption “dinner” written beneath it. Honestly. “The pizza looked greasy and the other stuff was weird,” she says, motioning to my own plate. “That salad thing has raw fish.” I look up again and subtly glance over her shoulder to see that Sebastian has moved to the table next to us. There’s a backpack on the bench next to him. I’m instantly obsessed with the idea of where he’s been. School? The library? Does he live on the BYU campus? Or at home with his parents? I turn back to my food. “It’s the same ceviche you had at that place in Park City. You liked it.” “I don’t remember liking it.” Autumn reaches her fork across the table to steal a bite anyway. “By the way, did you see who’s here?” As if I could miss him. Eric and Autumn throw out some small talk, and although I’m not really listening, I’m paying enough attention to notice the flashes of awkward every few seconds. Anyone would notice. Autumn’s laugh is too loud. The silences stretch and then are broken with a burst of them speaking at the same time. Maybe Eric is into her too, and that explains why they’re both acting like a couple of junior high kids. Is it bad that I’m relieved she’s into him, even if it could crash and burn, affecting all of us? My friendship with Auddy matters the most to me, and I don’t want there to be any residual romantic crumbs between us. If things can go back to normal for good, maybe I can eventually tell her everything. Maybe I’ll have someone to talk to about this Sebastian dilemma. And with that, the cat ears of my thoughts have turned back around, focusing behind me. It’s like Sebastian’s mere presence hums. I want to know where he is every second. I want him to notice me. This plan is prematurely thwarted when Manny drags a bunch of us to the laser tag arena. I go begrudgingly, following them into the briefing room where we await our instructions. Autumn has opted to watch from the observation area in the next room, so I stand with Eric, wondering if there’s a way for me to slip out unnoticed before the game starts. But when I move toward the doorway, I see Sebastian and Manny’s brother Kole step into the arena. I nearly choke on my gum. I’m not even pretending to listen when the instructor comes in. I’m unable to drag my eyes away from Sebastian and the way his jaw and his face and his hair look in this light. He must be having a hard time paying attention as well, because his gaze flickers away to scan the room and he sees me. For one, two, three seconds, he stares back. Recognition flashes across his face, and when he smiles, my stomach lurches like the floor has dropped out from under my feet. Help me. I smile back, a wobbly mess. “My name is Tony, and I’m your game master,” the instructor says. I blink away, forcing myself to turn toward the front. “Have we chosen the two team captains?” When nobody volunteers, he points to where Sebastian and Kole are standing on the periphery and gestures for us to follow him to the vesting room. Somehow in the shuffle, Eric winds up at the end of the line, and I’m right next to Sebastian. May God bless Eric. On each side of the room, there are rows of vests outfitted with power packs. Tony instructs us to slip one on and secure it in the front, miming the action like a flight attendant readying us for takeoff. “Remove a phaser from the charging station and pull the trigger,” he says. “You’ll see a code name appear on the LED screen. Everyone see theirs?” I do as he says, and the name “The Patriot” flashes across the small screen. A covert check of Sebastian’s shows the name “Sergeant Blue.” “Remember that name. It’s how your score will be posted on the boards outside, after the game. To score points and win, you have to take out your opponents on the other team. You can do this in one of six places.” Tony reaches for Manny’s sleeve and pulls him to his side. “Here’s where you should aim,” he says, dramatically pointing a finger to each of the illuminated packs attached to the vest. “If you’re hit in the shoulder or back, your vest will flash, and the hit will be counted. Get hit in the chest and your vest will flash, but your phaser will also lock. You can still be hit, but you won’t be able to fire back. You’ll be a sitting duck until you get to your base or find a place to hide until your gun powers up again.” He lets go of Manny and looks around the room. “There will be two teams playing in the arena, and each team’s vest will be lit with that team’s specific color.” Pointing to Kole’s vest, he says, “Team red.” And then he points to Sebastian’s: “Team blue. Shoot at any color that isn’t your own. Each team’s base corresponds to your color, and you get triple points for hitting and destroying your opponents’.” Beside me, Sebastian shifts, and I see him look briefly my way, his eyes dropping down to my feet and back up. Goose bumps erupt across my skin. “Now, before we begin the battle,” Tony says, “a few rules. No running; you will run into someone or something. No lying down on the ground. You will be stepped on. No physical contact of any kind, and that includes making out in the dark. We can see you.” I cough, and Sebastian shifts at my side. Tony finishes up, warning us against beating each other with our weapons or—God forbid—profanity, and it’s time to start. It was dim in the vesting room, but it still takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the arena. Our teams spread out among walls that look like neon brick, and I spot our base in the center. Black lights illuminate the glowing set pieces, but it’s hard to make out much else. The sound of phasers powering up one by one moves like a wave across the arena, and a countdown begins overhead. Five . . . Four . . . Three . . . Two . . . One . . . Sirens pierce the air. I race around one wall and then another. It’s so dark I can barely see, but the partitions and perimeter of the room are marked with textured neon paint or strips of colored light. A green tank seems to glow in the corner, and I see a flash of red, a rush of movement in front of it. I fire off a shot and the vest pulses red, registering the hit. My own vest flashes when I’m hit rounding a corner. “Target hit,” my gun says, but it must have been in the shoulder because when someone dodges in front of a wall, I’m still able to fire, blasting their chest sensor and ensuring their gun is useless. Two other players come from opposite sides, and I turn and run, racing toward the base. It’s hot in here with absolutely no air movement. Sweat rolls down the back of my neck; my pulse is frantic. Music and sound effects throb overhead, and if I closed my eyes, it would be easy enough to pretend we’re all in a rave, instead of rushing around a dark room shooting at each other with plastic laser guns. I take out two more players and manage a series of rapid-fire hits on the red team’s base when I’m hit again, this time in the back. Retracing my steps the way I came, I run into Eric. “There’s a couple of them near the tank,” he says. “They’re just sitting there waiting for people to rush by.” I nod, able to make him out only by the white of his T-shirt and the packs on his vest. “I’ll go around,” I yell above the music. “Try to get them from behind.” Eric pats my shoulder, and I race around a partition. The arena is a two-tiered maze, with ramps you can jump on to avoid fire, or climb up to get a better shot. “Target hit. Target hit. Target hit,” my gun registers, and my vest lights up. Footsteps race behind me. When I lift my gun to fire back, there’s nothing. I’ve been hit in the chest. I look around, searching for my team’s base or somewhere to hide, when I feel a body crash into mine, whoever it is pulling me into a small corner just as Kole and one of his teammates run by. “Holy—thank you,” I say, wiping my arm across my forehead. “No problem.” My pulse trips. I’d almost forgotten Sebastian was here. He exhales, out of breath, and a shiver of heat makes its way up my spine. It’s too loud to talk, and we’re too close for me to turn and look at him without it being weird, too intimate. So I stand still while my brain goes haywire. He’s holding my vest, and my back is pressed tight to his front. It’s less than ten seconds—the time it takes for my gun to unlock—but I swear I feel every tick of the clock. My breath sounds loud in my ears. I can feel my pulse, even above the music. I can feel Sebastian’s breath, too, hot against my ear. My fingers itch to reach back and touch the side of his face, to feel whether he’s blushing, here in the dark. I want to stay in this dark corner forever, but I feel the moment my gun powers back up in my hand. He doesn’t wait, gripping the side of my vest before pushing me out and shouting at me to follow, toward the red base. Eric rounds the corner, and we sprint across the floor and around the partition. “Go! Go!” Sebastian shouts, and we fire in unison. It takes only a few blasts before the base flashes red and a recorded voice sounds overhead. “Red base destroyed. Game over.” CHAPTER FOUR 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?” “Finish what?” 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?” “Did he?” 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: PROVO. PROVO. PROVO. 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.” “Probably 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?” CHAPTER FIVE My dad is sitting in his standard green scrubs at the breakfast bar when I get up on Saturday, curled around his bowl of oatmeal like it’s the keeper of life’s great secrets. It’s only when I move closer that I realize he’s asleep. “Dad.” He jumps, knocking the bowl across the counter before he scrabbles for it clumsily. He leans back, clutching his chest. “You scared me.” I put an arm around his shoulder, biting back a laugh. He looks so crazily disheveled. “Sorry.” His hand comes over mine, squeezing. With him sitting and me standing, I feel enormous. It’s so strange that I am as tall as he is now. Somehow I got none of my mom’s features. I am all Dad: dark hair and towering height and eyelashes. Hailey got Mom’s stature, coloring, and sass. “Did you just get home?” He nods, digging his spoon back into the bowl. “A patient came in around midnight with a punctured carotid. They called me in to surgery.” “Punctured carotid? Did he make it?” He answers with a tiny shake of his head. Oof. This explains the stooped posture. “That sucks.” “He had two kids. He was only thirty-nine.” I lean against the counter, eating cereal out of the box. Dad pretends to not care. “How did he—” “Car accident.” My stomach drops. Only last year my dad told Hailey and me about how three of his best friends from high school died in a car accident right after graduation. My dad was in the car too, and survived. He left New York to attend UCLA and then moved to Stanford for med school, where he met and married my formerly LDS mother—much to the chagrin of his own mother and extended family back home in Hungary. But because of his time away, whenever he goes back to Upstate New York, the loss of his friends feels fresh all over again. It’s one of the only things he and Mom ever fought about in front of us: Mom insisted I needed my own car. Dad thought I could get by without one. Mom won. The problem with Provo is there is absolutely nothing to do, anywhere, and it’s not walkable. But the good thing about Provo is it’s incredibly safe—no one drinks, and everyone drives like an octogenarian. He seems to notice only now that I’m dressed and ready for action. “What are you doing up so early?” “Going to work on a project with a friend.” “Autumn?” Crap. Why did I say “friend”? I should have said “person from class.” “Sebastian.” At Dad’s unsure expression, I add, “He’s the mentor in our Seminar.” “The kid who sold the book?” I laugh. “Yeah, the kid who sold the book.” “He’s LDS, isn’t he?” I look around us as if the room is full of Mormons hanging out, not drinking our coffee. “Isn’t everyone?” Dad shrugs, returning to his cold oatmeal. “We aren’t.” “What are we?” “We are liberated Unitarian Jewstians,” Mom says, gliding into the room in her yoga pants, her hair in a high, messy bun. She sidles up to Dad, gives him some disgusting, lingering kiss that sends my face deep into the box of cereal, and then makes a beeline for the coffeepot. She pours her mug, talking to Dad over her shoulder. “Paulie, what time did you get home?” He studies the clock again, eyes blinking and squinted. “About half an hour ago.” “Torn carotid,” I summarize for her. “Didn’t make it.” Dad looks up at me with a disapproving frown. “Tanner,” he says, voice low. “What? I was just toplining it for her so you didn’t have to go through it again.” Mom returns to him, quieter now, taking his face into her hands. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but the low murmur of her voice makes me feel better too. Hailey is a blur of black pajamas, bird’s nest dyed black hair, and scowl as she shuffles into the room. “Why are you guys so loud?” It’s funny that she’s chosen the quietest moment to enter with this complaint. “This is the sound of high-functioning humans,” I tell her. She punches me in the chest and tries to talk Mom into giving her some coffee. As expected, Mom refuses and offers her orange juice. “Coffee stunts your growth,” I tell my sister. “Is that why your penis is so—” “Tanner is headed out to work on an assignment,” Dad interrupts pointedly. “With a person named Sebastian.” “Yeah, the guy he likes,” Hailey tells him. Mom’s head whips over to me. My insides turn into an immediate tangle of panic. “I do not, Hailey.” She gives me a screamingly skeptical look. “Hokay.” Dad leans in, more awake now. “Likes as in likes?” “No.” I shake my head. “Likes as in he’s a nice person who can help me get an A. He’s just my TA.” Dad gives me a wide smile, his enthusiastic reminder that, even if I’m not attracted to the guy we’re currently discussing, He’s Okay With My Sexuality. The only thing missing in this moment is the bumper sticker. Hailey sets her glass of juice down on the counter with a heavy thud. “He’s just your TA who Autumn describes as ‘super-hot’ and you describe as a ‘splotchy boy blusher.’ ” Mom steps in. “But he’s only helping you with your book, right?” I nod. “Right.” Anyone watching this exchange might think my mother is getting worked up about the fact that he’s a boy, but no. It’s that he’s Mormon. “Okay,” she says, like we’ve just cemented a deal. “Good.” Fire ignites in my stomach at the concern in her voice, burning a hole through me. I swipe Hailey’s glass, downing her OJ, extinguishing the flames. She looks to Mom for justice, but Mom and Dad are sharing a moment of silent parent communication. “I’m curious whether it’s possible for a super-LDS kid and a super non-LDS kid to be friends,” I tell them. “So, you’re viewing this as a sort of experiment?” Dad asks warily. “Yeah. Kinda.” “Okay, but don’t toy with him,” Mom says. I groan. This is getting tedious. “You guys.” I walk across the room to grab my backpack. “It’s for school. We’re just going over my outline.” WE’RE JUST GOING OVER MY OUTLINE. WE’RE JUST GOING OVER MY OUTLINE. WE’RE JUST GOING OVER MY OUTLINE. I write it about seventeen times in my notebook while I wait for Sebastian to show up where we agreed to meet: in the writer’s alcove at the Provo City Library. When he scribbled down his e-mail address in perfect penmanship, I’m sure he expected me to ask that we meet at the Shake Shack—not Starbucks, by God—and go over my outline. But the idea of sitting in public with him where anyone from school could see felt too exposed. I hate to admit it, but what if someone saw me and thought I was converting? What if someone saw him and wondered what he was doing with the non-LDS kid? What if it was Soccer Dave, and he noticed my eyes following Sebastian in class, and the bishop asked around with some contacts in Palo Alto who told him I was queer, and he told Sebastian, and Sebastian told everyone? I’m definitely overthinking this. WE’RE JUST GOING OVER MY OUTLINE. WE’RE JUST GOING OVER MY OUTLINE. WE’RE JUST GOING OVER MY OUTLINE. Footsteps shuffle up the stairs behind where I’m sitting, and I have just enough time to stand up and knock my notebook onto the floor before Sebastian is there, looking like a Patagonia ad in a blue puffy jacket, black chinos, and Merrells. He smiles. His face is pink from the cold, but it punches me in the chest how much I like to look at him. This is so, so bad. “Hey,” he says, just slightly out of breath. “Sorry I’m a couple minutes late. My sister got this giant Barbie house for her birthday, and I had to help my dad put it together before I took off. There were, like, a million pieces to that thing.” “Don’t worry about it,” I say, starting to reach my hand out to shake his, before pulling it back in because what the hell am I doing? Sebastian notices, extending his hand before pulling it back too. “Ignore that,” I say. He laughs, confused but clearly amused. “It’s like your first day with a new arm.” Oh my God, this is terrible. We’re just two dudes meeting to study. Bros. Bros don’t get nervous. Be a bro, Tanner. “Thanks for meeting me.” He nods and bends to pick up my notebook. I grab it before he can read the lines and lines of me calming myself down about what we’re doing here, but I can’t tell whether I was successful. He passes it off, avoiding my eyes, and instead looks past me into the empty room. “We’re in here?” he asks. I nod, and he follows me deeper into the room, bending to look out the window. Snow clouds hover over the Wasatch Mountains in a thick fog, like ghosts looming over our quiet city. “You know what’s weird?” he says, without turning to me. I try to ignore the way the light coming in the window catches the side of his face. “What’s that?” “I’ve never been up here. I’ve been to the stacks, but I’ve never actually walked around the library.” On the tip of my tongue is a barb: That’s because everything you do outside of school takes place at church. But I swallow the instinct down. He’s here helping me. “How old is your sister?” I ask. Blinking back to me, he smiles again. He wears his smile so easily, so constantly. “The one with the Barbie house?” “Yeah.” “Faith is ten.” He takes a step toward me, and another, and in an unfamiliar voice my heart is screaming YES, COME HERE, but then I realize that he’s indicating we should move to the table, start working. Be a bro, Tanner. I turn, and we settle at the table I got here early to claim—though we could have any. There is no one else at the library at nine on a Saturday morning. His chair drags across the wood floor dissonantly, and he laughs, apologizing under his breath. With him so close to me, I get another drag of his smell, and it feels a little like getting high. “You have other siblings though, right?” He glances at me out of the corner of his eye, and I’m tempted to explain my question—I wasn’t making a snarky assumption about the size of LDS families; Hailey and Lizzy are in class together. “My other sister is fifteen. Lizzy,” he says. “And then I have a brother, Aaron, who is thirteen going on twenty-three.” I laugh too politely at this. Inside, I am a yarn ball of nerves, and I don’t even know why. “Lizzy goes to Provo High, right?” He nods. “Sophomore.” I’ve seen her around school, and Hailey wasn’t wrong: Lizzy is an eternal smiler, often found helping the janitorial staff during lunch break. She seems so full of joy she nearly vibrates. “She seems nice.” “She is. Faith is a cutie too. Aaron is . . . well, he likes to push limits. He’s a good kid.” I nod, Tanner Scott, awkward meathead to the end of time. Sebastian turns to look at me; I can almost sense his smile. “Do you have brothers or sisters?” he asks. See? This is how it’s done, Tanner. Make conversation. “One sister,” I tell him. “Hailey. She’s actually in Lizzy’s class, I think. Hailey is sixteen and the devil’s spawn.” I realize what I’ve said and turn to him in horror. “Oh my God. I can’t believe I said that. Or that.” Sebastian groans. “Great. Now I can’t speak to you again after today.” I feel my expression contort into scorn, and too late I realize he’s only joking. His smile is gone now too. It vanished as soon as he realized how profoundly confused I was, how easily I believed the worst about his faith. “Sorry,” he says, letting his mouth curl up on one side. He doesn’t look at all uncomfortable. If anything, he looks a tiny bit amused by this. “I was kidding.” Embarrassment simmers in my blood, and I struggle to bring back my confident smile, the one that always gets me what I want. “Go easy on me. I’m still learning to speak Mormon.” To my profound relief, Sebastian lets out a real laugh. “I’m here to translate.” With that, we lean in to look at my laptop, reading the paltry handful of letters there: A half-Jewish, half-nothing queer kid moves to an LDS-infested town. He can’t wait to leave. I feel Sebastian go still beside me, and in an instant I realize my mistake: I never changed my outline. My heart plummets. I don’t mind telling him I can’t wait to leave. I don’t even feel guilty for using the phrase “LDS-infested,” even if maybe I should. Something else overshadows all of that. I forgot to delete the word “queer.” No one—no one but family, at least—knows about me here. I try to inconspicuously gauge his reaction. His cheeks are pink, and his eyes jump back to the beginning, rereading. I open my mouth to speak—to explain—just as he says, “So this is your overall theme, right? You’re going to write about someone who is homosexual living in Provo?” The cold thrill of relief dumps into my bloodstream. Of course he doesn’t assume I’m writing something autobiographical. I nod vigorously. “I was thinking he’d be bisexual. Yeah.” “And he’s just moved here . . .” I nod again, and then realize there’s something sticky in his tone, some awareness. If Sebastian did any Tanner Scott reconnaissance at all, he would know I moved here before tenth grade and that my father is a Jewish physician down at Utah Valley. He might even know my mother was excommunicated. When he meets my eyes, he smiles. He seems to be very carefully schooling his reaction to this. I can tell he knows. And now my fears about Soccer Dave telling the bishop and the bishop telling Sebastian seem so overly complicated. Of course it just slipped out of me unobstructed. “No one else knows,” I blurt. He shakes his head once. “It’s okay, Tanner.” “I mean no one.” I swipe a hand down my face. “I meant to delete that word. It’s one of the reasons I’m stuck. I keep making the main character bi, and I don’t know how I’d write that book in this class. I don’t know that Fujita would want me to, or my parents.” Sebastian leans in, catching my eyes. “Tanner, you should write any book you want to write.” “My family is very adamant that I don’t come out to anyone here, not unless I really trust the person.” I haven’t even told my best friend, and now I’m spilling my guts in a flash to the single person I probably shouldn’t share any of this with. His brow slowly rises. “Your family knows?” “Yeah.” “And they’re fine with it?” “My mom is . . . exuberant in her acceptance, actually.” After a pulse of silence, he turns back to the computer. “I think it’s a great idea to put this down on paper,” he says quietly. Reaching forward, he lets his index finger hover in front of the screen. “There’s a lot here in only two sentences. A lot of heart, and heartbreak.” His eyes meet mine again. They’re a crazy mix of green and brown and yellow. “I’m not sure how much help I can be on this particular subject, but I’m happy to talk it out.” I feel these words as they scrape dissonantly across me, and scrunch my nose. “You’d be as helpful if I were writing about dragons or zombies, right?” His laugh is quickly becoming my favorite sound. “Good point.” It takes about twenty minutes for my heart rate to return to normal, but in that time, Sebastian talks. It almost feels like he’s aware of my panicked mental bender, like he’s intentionally talking me down, but his words seem to fall from his mouth in an easy, mesmerizing cadence. He tells me it’s okay that it’s still only an idea, that, as far as he knows, every book starts with something like this—a sentence, an image, a bit of dialogue. What I have to decide, he says, is who the protagonist is, what the conflict is. “Focus on these two strong aspects of his personality,” he says, ticking off on his fingers. “He is anti-Mormon and . . .” His second finger hovers, unlabeled. “Queer,” I finish for him. “Right.” He swallows, curling his fingers back into his fist. “Does the kid hate all Mormons and plot his escape only to have his parents join the church and disown him once he leaves?” “No . . .” Apparently, he hasn’t read that much into my family history. “The family is going to be supportive, I think.” Sebastian leans back, thinking. “Does the kid hate the LDS Church, and he ends up leaving town only to be lured into another ‘cultish religion’?” I stare over at him, at his ability to see his faith from the eyes of a nonbeliever, to actually spin it negatively like that. “Maybe,” I say. “But I don’t know that I want to demonize the church either.” Sebastian’s eyes meet mine before he quickly glances away. “What role does his being, um, bisexual play in the book?” This is the first time he’s faltered this entire time—his blush spreads in a heat map across his face. I want to tell him: I’m curious whether you could ever like me, whether someone like you could be friends with someone like me. But he’s already here, already being selfless and genuine with someone like me. I expected him to show up and be a good TA, to answer a few questions and get me started while I gawked at him. I didn’t expect him to ask about me or to be so understanding. I didn’t expect to like him. Now the conflict seems obvious, and it causes something steady inside me to curl into a tight, anxious ball, because this is something even scarier to write about. “Think on it,” he says quietly, fidgeting with a paper clip. “There are so many ways this could go, and a lot of that depends on his journey, his discovery. He starts out resenting where he is and feeling stifled by the town. Does he find freedom by staying, or leaving? Does he find something that changes his mind about it?” I nod at my computer screen because I know I can’t look at him right now without projecting my feelings across my face. My blood is simmering with the heat of my infatuation. It begins to snow outside, and thankfully, we move over to a couple of armchairs near the window to watch, letting the book fall away for a while. Sebastian was born here, a few miles down the road. His father is a tax attorney, called to serve as bishop nearly two years ago. His mother was in finance at Vivint before Sebastian was born. Now she’s a full-time mother and wife of the bishop, which, Sebastian explains, sort of makes her the mother of their ward. She likes it, he tells me, but it’s meant that he and Lizzy have had to step up more with Faith and Aaron. He’s played soccer and baseball since he was six. His favorite band is Bon Iver. He plays the piano and guitar. I feed him the same innocuous details: I was born in Palo Alto. My father is a cardiac surgeon. My mother is a programmer. She feels guilty that she’s not around more, but mostly I’m intensely proud of her. My favorite band is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but I’m in no way musical. We don’t rehash the question of my sexuality, but I feel its presence like a third person in the room, sitting in the dark corner, eavesdropping on our conversation. Silence ticks between us as we watch the icy gray sidewalk just below the window slowly become blanketed in white. Steam rises off the surface of a vent at the curb, and with this weird, frantic lurch of my heart, I want to know more about him. Who he’s loved, what he hates, whether it’s even possible he’s into guys. “You haven’t asked me about the book,” he says finally. He means his book. “Oh—crap—I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to be rude.” “It’s not rude.” He faces me and grins like we’re in on this same, exasperating secret. “It’s just that everyone does.” “I think it’s pretty cool.” I shove my hands in my pockets and stretch back in my chair. “I mean, obviously, it’s amazing. Imagine, your book will be here, in this library.” He seems surprised by this. “Maybe.” “I bet you’re tired of talking about it.” “A little.” He shrugs, smiling over at me. That smile tells me he likes that I haven’t asked him about it, that I’m not here for secondhand, small-town fame. “It’s added some complication, but it’s hard to complain because I realize how blessed I am.” “Sure, of course.” “I’ve always wondered what it’s like to live here when you aren’t raised in the church,” he says, changing the subject. “You were fifteen when you moved?” “Yeah.” “Was it hard?” I take a second to figure out how to answer this. Sebastian knows something about me that no one else knows, and it makes me unsure of my steps. He seems nice, but no matter how nice you are, information is power. “Provo can be suffocating.” Sebastian nods and then leans forward to get a better view out the window. “I know the church feels like it’s everywhere. It does for me, too. It seems like it seeps into every detail of my life.” “I bet.” “I can see how it might feel suffocating from the outside, but it does a lot of good, too.” He looks over at me, and with dawning horror I see this study session for what it is. I understand why he agreed to come. He’s recruiting me. He knows about me now, and it’s giving him even more reason to reach out, to save me. He’s not recruiting me to the oiled-up Gay Bliss Club of Northern Utah, but to the LDS Church. “I know it does good,” I say carefully. “My parents are . . . familiar with the church. It’s hard to live here and not see both the good and the bad of what it does.” “Yeah,” Sebastian says vaguely, not looking at me. “I can see that.” “Sebastian?” “Yeah?” “Just . . . wanted you to know, in case . . .” I stop, wincing as I blink away. “I didn’t ask you to help me so that I could join the church.” When I look back at him, his eyes are wide in alarm. “What?” I look to the side again. “I realize maybe I gave you the impression that I wanted to hang out because I questioned something about myself, or wanted to join. I don’t have any questions about who I am. I really like you, but I’m not here to convert.” Wind whistles past the window outside—it’s chilly this close to the glass—and inside, he studies me, expressionless. “I don’t think you want to join.” His face is pink. From the cold. From the cold. It’s not because of you, Tanner. “I didn’t think that’s why you . . .” He shakes his head. “Don’t worry. I won’t try to sell you on the church. Not after what you shared with me.” My voice is uncharacteristically timid: “You won’t tell anyone?” “Of course not,” he answers instantly. He stares down at the floor, jaw working over something unreadable to me. Finally, he digs into his pocket. “I . . . here.” Almost impulsively, he hands me a small scrap of paper. It’s warm, like it’s been cupped in his hand. I unroll it, staring down at the ten digits there. His phone number. He must have written it earlier, maybe even before he left home, tucking it into his pocket to bring to me. Does he realize this is like handing me a grenade? I could blow everything up with this, most specifically his phone. I’ve never been much of a texter, but my God—the way I feel like I want to track his moves when he’s in the classroom is like having a demon possession. Knowing I could reach out to him anytime is torture. “I don’t—” he starts, and then looks past me. “You can text me, or call. Whatever. Whenever. To hang out and talk about your outline if you need it.” My chest is painfully tight. “Yeah, totally.” I squeeze my eyes closed. It feels like he’s about to bolt, and the need to get the words out makes my insides feel pressurized. “Thanks.” He stands. “You’re welcome. Anytime.” “Sebastian?” “Yeah?” Our eyes meet, and I can’t believe what I’m about to say. “I definitely want to hang out again.” His cheeks pop with color. Does he translate this correctly in his head? And what am I even saying? He knows I’m into guys, so he has to know I’m not just talking about the book. Sebastian scans my face, flicking from my forehead, to my mouth, to my chin, to my eyes, and back down to my mouth, before he looks away entirely. “I should probably go.” I am a tangle of wires; a cacophony of voices shouts out instructions in my head. Clarify you meant only studying! Bring up the book! Apologize! Double down and tell him you have feelings! But I only nod, watching him smile stiffly, jog toward the stairs, and disappear around a bend of brilliantly polished oak. I return to my laptop, open a blank document, and spill it all onto the page. CHAPTER SIX Here’s my number Btw it’s Tanenr Um, that should be Tanner. I can’t believe I just typo’d my own name. Haha! This is how I’m typing in your contact info. From, Sebatsian (See what I did there) I grin down at my phone for the next twenty minutes, reading the text exchange again and again. The phone is stuck to my palm; I’m sure my parents are wondering what I’m doing—I can tell by their concerned looks over the dinner table. “Put your phone down, Tann,” Dad says. I slide it facedown onto the table. “Sorry.” “Who are you texting?” Mom asks. I know they’re not going to like it, but I don’t want to lie. “Sebastian.” They exchange a look across the table. “The TA?” Mom confirms. “You can read it.” I hand her the phone. “You could do that anyway, right?” Reluctantly, she takes it, looking like she expects to see much more than she will. Her face relaxes when she sees the harmless words there. “This is cute, but, Tanner . . .” She lets the rest of it fall away and looks to my dad for backup. Maybe she isn’t sure how much credibility she’ll have while she’s still wearing her rainbow PRIDE apron. Dad reaches for the phone, and his face softens when he reads it, but then a cloud crosses through his eyes. “Are you seeing each other?” Hailey snorts. “No,” I say, ignoring her. “Jesus, you guys. We’re working together on the project.” The table falls into a cloying, skeptical silence. Mom can’t help herself. “Does he know about you?” “About how I turn into a troll at sunset?” I shake my head. “I don’t think so.” “Tanner,” she says gently. “You know what I mean.” I do. Unfortunately. “Please calm down. It’s not like I have a tail.” “Honey,” Mom starts, horrified. “You’re deliberately misunderstanding—” My phone buzzes in front of Dad. He picks it up. “Sebastian again.” I hold my hand out. “Please?” He returns it to me, frowning. I won’t be in class this week. Just wanted to let you know. My chest seems to splinter, a fault line splitting straight down the middle, and it battles with the brilliant sun blooming there because Sebastian thought to text me with a heads-up. Everything okay? Yeah. I just have a trip to New York. Are we doing this? Are we casually texting now? Ooh, fancy. Haha! I’m sure I’ll look lost the entire time. When do you leave? Mom sighs loudly. “Tanner, for the love of God, please stop texting at the table.” I apologize under my breath and stand, sliding my phone faceup onto the kitchen counter before returning to my chair. Both of my parents have that surly, aggressively quiet thing going on, and a glance at my sister tells me that she’s living her best life watching me get in trouble for once. Amid the scraping of silverware on plates and the sound of ice clinking in glasses of water, a thick awareness swirls around the table, and the resulting self-consciousness makes my stomach tighten. My parents know I’ve had crushes on guys before, but it’s never been a reality like this. Now there’s a guy, with a name and a phone. We’ve all been so cool about it, but I realize, sitting here at this silent dinner table, that there are layers to their acceptance. Maybe it’s easy for them to be so cool about it when they’ve all but told me I’m not allowed to date any guys in Provo. Am I allowed to have crushes on guys only once I’ve graduated and who my parents select from an acceptable pool of intelligent, progressive, non-LDS males? Dad clears his throat, a sign that he’s searching for words, and we look at him, hoping he’ll pull this plane up in time. I expect him to say something about the elephant in the room, but instead he lands squarely in the safe zone: “Tell us about your classes.” Hailey launches into a retelling of the injustice of being a sophomore, how she’s a midget with a top-row locker, how disgusting the girls’ locker room smells, and how globally annoying guys are. Our parents listen with patient smiles before focusing in on the things they actually care about: Mom makes sure she’s being a good friend. Dad mostly cares that she’s busting her ass in academics. I check out halfway through her braggy answer about chemistry. Having my phone ten feet away means that 90 percent of my brain is focused on wondering whether Sebastian has replied and whether I can see him before he goes. I feel jittery. To be fair, meals are a peculiar affair anyway. Dad comes from an enormous family of women whose primary satisfaction in life is the care of their husbands and children. Although the same was true in Mom’s LDS household, in Dad’s family it centered on food. The women don’t just prepare meals; they cook. When Bubbe visits, she fills our freezer with months’ worth of brisket and kugel and makes quiet, mostly well-intended observations about how her grandchildren largely survive on sandwiches. Over time she has outgrown her disappointment that Dad didn’t marry a Jewish woman, but she still struggles with Mom’s work hours and our resulting reliance on takeout and packaged food. And despite her antireligion worldview, Mom was raised in a culture where women are traditionally in the homemaker role too. To her, not packing our lunches every day or joining the PTA is a feminist rallying cry. Even Aunt Emily struggles sometimes with guilt over not focusing a bit more on the making and keeping of her home. So Mom’s compromise was to let Bubbe teach her how to prepare certain dishes, and she tries to make a huge batch of them every Sunday for us to have throughout the week. It’s a questionable endeavor, but we kids are, if nothing else, sporting about it. Dad is another story: He’s picky about food. Even if he considers himself as liberal as they come, he still has some traditional holdouts. A wife who cooks is one of them. Mom watches Dad eat, gauging from how fast he shovels it in how good it is. That is to say, the faster he eats, the less he likes it. Tonight Dad barely seems to chew before he’s swallowed. Mom’s normally smiling mouth is turning down at the corners. Focusing on this dynamic is helping distract me, but only barely. I look over at my phone. Having left it screen-side up, I can tell a call or text has just come through: The screen is lit. I shovel matzo ball soup in, scalding my mouth, until my bowl is clean, and excuse myself, standing before either of them can protest. “Tanner,” Dad chides quietly. “Homework.” I rinse my dish, slotting it into the dishwasher. He watches me go, giving me a knowing glare for throwing the only excuse at him that he won’t debate. “It’s your night for dishes,” Hailey calls after me. “Nope. You owe me because I did bathroom duty last weekend.” Her eyes communicate the mental bird flip. “Love you too, hellcat.” Running up the stairs, I dive into my texts. My heart spasms, tight and wild. He’s sent me five. Five. I leave Wednesday afternoon. I have meetings with my editor and the publisher on Thursday. I haven’t met the publisher yet. I’ll admit I’m nervous. It just occurred to me that you’re probably eating dinner with your family. Sorry, Tanner. With frantic fingers, I reply. No, sry, my parents made me put my phone away. I’m so happy for u. I type my next thought and then—with my breath held high and tight in my lungs—I quickly hit send: I hope u have an amazing trip but I’m going to miss seeing u in class. I wait a minute for a reply. Five. Ten. He’s not stupid. He knows I’m bi. He has to know I’m into him. I distract myself by scrolling through Autumn’s Snapchat: Her slippered feet. A sink full of dishes. A close-up of her grumpy face with the words “current moo