BRENDAN STOOD at the end of the driveway, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. The sun shone down on him, the beginnings of summer warming up quickly. He could go and wait inside the house, where the air conditioner was already working. Instead, he stood in the sun and scuffed at the pavement with the toe of his worn Converse.

His packed bags sat on a patch of grass waiting, just as he was, to get out of there. Brendan wasn’t running away—he wasn’t, this was his home, and at the end of the summer he would be back to start his senior year at Greenville High School. Nonetheless it was a big relief to leave, if only for a little while. Every moment in that house was stifling, like each breath was a struggle and panic threatened to take over.

He finally admitted his big secret to his parents. Suspicions had been raised, and when confronted he’d been unable to keep it in anymore.

He was gay.

So what if he was? What was the big problem?

Brendan knew better. It was a problem—at home, at school, and in this whole damn small town. At least, those had been his biggest fears since he’d figured it out a while back. What would his parents think? What would his friends think? The hockey team? Would they tell him he couldn’t play anymore? Would his teachers give him failing grades on purpose? What if he was bullied out of school and he didn’t graduate?

Sometimes, it felt like he could explode with everything he worried about.

He should have stuck to his plan. He should have waited until he graduated, when he could get out of Greenville and away from high school. He was going to college with his cousin Tracey. She told him all about how there was a school club for people like him, social events and parties and gay-straight alliances, and he could find his place. Sure, there were jerks in the world, but there were kind people too. He just had to find them.

He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to in Greenville. He had been most afraid of disappointing his parents.

He plopped onto the lawn beside his bags, stretching out his limbs. The blades of grass tickled the underside of his arms, and he squinted as he stared up at the pale blue sky. The front door of the house opened, the hinges squeaking, and then it snapped shut quickly.

“Hey, Brendan,” his father said. “Tracey not here yet?”

“Obviously,” Brendan answered shortly. He cringed; he wasn’t trying to be rude to his dad, but his defenses had been up all week. He couldn’t help it.

“Right,” his dad said. His dress shoes clicked against the drive as he walked down it. He needed to leave for work soon. “You sure you have everything? Call us if you’ve forgotten anything.”

“I will.”

“Did you have a chance to say good-bye to your mother?”

“Nope,” Brendan said, trying to keep the bite out of his tone. “She was already gone with the girls by the time I got up.”

It stung more than he could say. He had always feared his father would hate him, think him less of a man or whatever horrible beliefs fathers had about their gay sons, but it had been his mother who seemed to have the bigger problem with it. Avoiding him, trying to hide her crying and tears. He’d wanted to speak with her today, even if it was a simple “I love you, talk to you soon,” but she’d already escaped the house with his younger sisters, taking them to their day camp early. They were only six and eight years old, and didn’t understand what was going on. His mother wasn’t back yet. She probably wouldn’t be until he was gone.

Standing above him, his father sighed. All week he had seemed unsure what to say, but at least he never seemed angry. Brendan should take it as a positive sign, but all he wanted was for his parents to tell him they accepted it, that it was okay, and there was nothing wrong with him. Neither of them had done that yet.

“She’ll come around,” his father said softly. “She loves you. She’s surprised… and confused.”

“That makes two of us,” Brendan said, looking down the street instead of at his dad. “She’s not the only one trying to make sense of it, you know.”

“You—are you….” His father trailed off, seemingly at a loss for words. “You’re okay, right, Brendan?”

“Sure,” he said, hopping up to his feet when he saw a familiar red car come around the corner. “Look, it’s Tracey. Gotta go, Dad, don’t want to be late.”

He ignored his father’s frown as he gathered up his bags. Tracey’s car pulled into the drive, and before she could get fully out, Brendan opened the door to the backseat and shoving his stuff inside.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said softly but loud enough for her to hear. She raised her eyebrows, but she didn’t say anything about his urgency.

“Uncle Robert!” she cried out happily. When she was fully out of the car, Brendan’s dad pulled her into a quick hug. “Great to see you.”

“Take care of him,” his dad said in a serious tone.

She lightly punched Brendan on the shoulder. “Of course, I’ll keep this troublemaker out of, well, trouble.”

“Yeah right,” Brendan said. “As if you’re not going to be the one starting it.” He made to move around the car but was blocked off by his father, who pulled him into a hug so quickly Brendan didn’t realize it was happening until he was having the air squeezed out of him.

“I love you,” his dad said into his ear, and Brendan suddenly had to swallow back too many emotions. He didn’t know what to do with them all. It was like they were constricting his lungs.

He patted his dad on the back and said quietly, “Me too, Dad.” Then he pulled away and went around to the passenger side of the car. For all that he wanted his parents to be okay with him, he didn’t know how to handle such affection. Things with his parents were too messed up right now.

“Don’t forget to call if you need anything,” his dad said. “Or, call or text whenever. About anything. Let us know you’re okay.”

“Dad,” Brendan said, rolling his eyes. “I’m going to be two hours away, not on the moon.”

“Yes, true.” His dad smiled and looked too serious for what Brendan was used to. “Have a great time. Don’t work too hard.”

“That’s the point. Bye, Dad,” Brendan said, slipping into the car and closing the door firmly. He silently urged Tracey to do the same and hurry up already. He wanted to get out of there.

“Bye, Uncle Robert,” Tracey said and got into the car. As she turned it back on and backed out waving to Brendan’s dad, she said, “Boy, do we ever have a lot to talk about.”

“Give me a few minutes, will you?” Brendan said, not ready for her interrogation yet. He looked at the side mirror and watched his house get smaller and smaller, until they turned the corner and it disappeared completely.

It didn’t make him feel any better.