His deep chuckles filled the air and he bent over, grabbing his gut with laughter. “My mom went through my phone and found all of my text messages. From the Tonys! Holy shit! She cursed me, prayed for me, and then kicked me out. I’m eighteen, g*y, and living out of my little sister’s car!” He smiled brightly and turned to Hailey, who was bawling her eyes out. “Thanks again for the keys, Hailey.”

My laughter came to a halt, and his continued on and on. “Oh my gosh, Ryan, that’s not funny…”

He had tears pouring from his eyes and he was shaking his head back and forth, louder laughter following. “I know! I know! But if I stop laughing, I’ll realize just exactly how f**ked up everything is. And I’ll realize how much I have this ever-loving need to stop breathing. There have been so many times in the past hour where I just wished to stop. So please…”

His laughter continued, but this time I could hear the fear in every chuckle, the pain in each sparkle of light. A sad smile fell from my lips and I laughed. I laughed with him as he spun me around in a circle. I waved Hailey over, and her hands were soaked with tears, but she took our hands and spun with us. Laughing, giggling, chuckling. My ribs started hurting after a while, but I wouldn’t stop, because if I stopped, I had this feeling that Ryan would instantly fall to the ground and his lungs would just give up.

And I was in desperate need of him to breathe.

Just breathe.

“We are not going to the party,” I ordered as I sat in the driver’s seat of Hailey’s car. Ryan was determined to go drown his problems away, but I had a strong feeling that was the worst thing he could do.

“Oh yes we are,” Ryan argued.

“No, we are not.”

“My mom just kicked me out of her house—I am going to a party tonight.”

Hailey came to the car with a few of Ryan’s things in a suitcase. She tossed it into the back seat and then slid into the car. “I only grabbed a few outfits. Because this is going to blow over.” She paused and looked at Ryan and me. “This is all going to blow over, right?”

Ryan looked at me and then toward the house. “You should go back inside, Hailey,” he sighed.

“What? No way! Mom is acting crazy!” she cried, tossing her hands up in annoyance. “I’m not leaving you.”

Ryan turned around to face his sister and he wrapped his hands around her head. “I’m not leaving you either.” He reached forward and kissed her forehead. “Now go inside because you’re too good for Theo. And too good to ditch Mom tonight.”

“But I hate her,” she frowned.

“Oh, don’t hate her because of her and my issues,” Ryan laughed. “Go tell her you’re a Buddhist, and then you can hate her for her reaction to that.”

Hailey laughed lightly and Ryan wiped away the tears falling from his younger sister’s eyes. “When I turn eighteen, I’m running away with you and Ashlyn.”

“We’ll move to California. You can become a yoga instructor. Ashlyn will be a bestselling author, and I’ll be a prostitute on Hollywood Boulevard.”

He made his sister laugh again, and I saw a small grin form on his face. Hailey sat up straight. “Go big or go home, right?”

Ryan nudged his sister in the shoulder. “Go home, Hails.”

She sighed and nodded. Her door opened and she smiled back to her brother. “I love—”

“You,” Ryan finished.

“Promise you’ll look after him, Ashlyn?”

I promised.

Henry walked out of the house after Hailey went inside. He looked my way, waving me over. “I’ll be right back, Ry.”

I climbed out of the car and moved over to Henry, crossing my arms. “What the hell happened?” I whispered, turning my back to Ryan.

Henry’s eyes were heavy as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Rebecca… She…” He lowered his head. “How’s Ryan doing?”

“As well as possible, I guess.”

Henry reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. “I have three hundred on me. Give it to Ryan for the weekend. I’ll look into finding an apartment for him.”

I took the cash from Henry and nodded. “She’s not going to change her mind, is she?”

“She blames him for their father’s death.” His fingers traced through his peppered beard. “This had nothing to do with Ryan being g*y. It has everything to do with Rebecca never working through her own demons. She would’ve found a reason to kick him out regardless.”

I knew what it felt like to be kicked out when you needed someone the most. I thought back to my mom and the choice she’d made to ship me off to Henry’s. Then I paused, realizing how lucky I was to have somewhere to go. Ryan had no one, nowhere to turn.

“Stay close to him, all right? And check back in with me?” Henry asked.

“Yeah, okay.” I turned to move back toward the car and paused. “Thanks, Henry. For helping him.”

He gave a halfway smile and headed back inside.

I moved back to the car, climbed in, and put it in drive. “Where to, buddy?”

Ryan smiled and slumped down in his seat, pinning his shoes on the dashboard. His fingers were holding his fake ID. “To the liquor store!”

We walked down the aisles of the liquor store, packing our shopping cart with whatever Ryan wanted. “We don’t really need to worry about the fake IDs,” Ryan said. “I gave the cashier his first blowjob last year.”

I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. So I did neither.