When we rounded the corner toward the wine, he stopped pushing the cart. An older couple stood in front of us and Ryan gasped.

The couple looked up to see him and a wave of shock washed over their faces. “Ryan,” the older lady said, giving him a wry smile. She glanced at our cart filled with booze but tried her best to not show her concern. “How are you doing, darling?”

She was beautiful. Shoulder-length blond hair, the sweetest brown eyes. Her small frame was covered up with her peacoat.

Ryan’s eyes watered over. “It’s good to see you, Mr. and Mrs. Levels.”

The older guy smiled the same way his wife had. “Avery mentioned you last week. I was going to call to check up on you—”

Ryan cut in, leaning against the cart. “I’m fine. I’m okay.”

The man nodded his head and frowned. “It was good seeing you. If you ever need anything, just give us a call, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks. It was great seeing you both.”

Mrs. Levels walked over to Ryan and pulled him into a hug, whispering something into his ear. By the time she pulled away from him, they both had tears falling from their face.

“You too, Mrs. Levels.” Ryan smiled.

The couple turned away, never questioning the alcohol. Never questioning anything, really.

“Who were they?”

“Avery’s parents,” he sighed as he started pushing the cart. His finger brushed under his nose as he sniffled.

We picked up the alcohol and headed back to the car and straight to Jake’s.

Although neither of us was really in a partying mood.

Chapter 26

Getting better every day.

I say with lies against my taste.

~ Romeo’s Quest

“He told me a few months ago that he wanted to come out. That he didn’t care what anyone thought. He said that he loved me and didn’t care who knew.” Ryan snickered and tossed back another shot of vodka as we both sat against a wall.

The bottle resting in his other hand was almost halfway empty, and I had every plan to take it away from him any second now. There was a random couple tonguing about three feet away from us, and the music was blaring throughout the house. This was the last place Ryan and I needed to be.

Avery came around the corner, and when he turned to face Ryan, I saw the broken pieces that formed both of the lost souls. Avery’s bottom lip shook before he turned and walked away. Ryan turned toward me, his eyes watering over, his legs trembling.

“I told him I wasn’t ready for that, to come out. But he wanted to tell his parents anyway. The results were a lot of tears, hugs, and understanding. I f**king hate understanding, hugging, tearful families. Bring on the dysfunctional freaks.” He smiled, but I saw behind it and listened to the pain in his next words.

“He got kicked out of Bible study because a few people in the church found out. His parents found a new church. Then I broke up with him. Because it scared me—loving him—and I didn’t want to lose my mom. I love him so much that every breath I take reminds me of him. So sometimes I hold my breath. I try to make it stop. I try to make myself not be this way.” His sobs grew heavier. His sorrow only deepened. “I want this shit to stop.”

“Ryan…” I cried, feeling completely helpless. Taking the alcohol and shot glass away from him, I handed it to a random person walking by. They took it without question.

Ryan sat up a bit and turned his head toward me. His fingers ran through my hair and his blue eyes keep crying. He moved in closer to me, pressing his lips against mine, wrapping his arms around me. I didn’t pull back. Our lips were covered with our salty tears.

“Make it go away, Ashlyn. Fix me,” he whispered, kissing me again and again.

“I can’t fix you, Ryan.” I said. “You’re not broken.”

Ryan cried for a while longer, shaking uncontrollably. I cried, too, because crying alone always felt so depressingly sad.

“We’re going home,” I whispered into my tired friend’s ear.

Ryan chuckled. “What home?! I live in a car!”

I frowned and kissed his forward. He nodded against me and drunkenly stood up. “You stay here. I’m going to get our coats.”

I moved toward Jake’s bedroom and opened the door to find more people making out. Surprise, surprise. I started digging through all the coats piled up on the bed, and when I turned to leave with our coats, I bumped right into Jake. His eyes were bloodshot, his hair was a mess, and I was certain that there were more wet spots on his shirt than dry spots from his spilled beer. But somehow, he still looked friendly as ever.

“Hey! I haven’t seen you all night! I thought you skipped out on yet another awesome Jake Kenn party.” He gave me a sweet smile and nudged me in the arm.

I tried my best to look happy. “Yeah. It’s been great! But I gotta get Ryan home…” What home? “Thanks for having us.”

“There’s nothing I can do to get you to like me, huh?” Jake blurted out. Terrible timing. He must have seen the look of shock in my eyes. “Sorry. I’m drunk and stoned off of my ass, so I’m a bit forward.”

“Jake, you’re a great friend—” I started, but he laughed.


My shoulders rose and fell. “But I kind of loaned my heart out to someone. And he hasn’t really returned it yet.”

He sighed heavily and tossed his hands up in the air. “You can’t help a guy for trying.”

I giggled and kissed him on the cheek. “Goodnight, Jake.”

“He’s not going to give it back, you know. Your heart.” His eyes fell to the floor. “Because when a guy gets a heart like yours, he keeps that shit forever.”