Summer had always been Connor's favourite time of year. He loved everything about it; the sweltering heat, the days spent by the beach and, most importantly, the twelve weeks off school.
The one summer that he'd always remember, however, was the summer before Freshman year. It was the summer everything changed, for better or for worse.
He and Steve had been spending as much time with each other as possible, as they were both going to different High Schools. Connor was going to a prestigious private school, whilst Steve was going to regular public school, like most people in their town.
They were almost halfway through July when it happened, the day that would start the chain of events that changed Connor's life for good.
Together, the two of them were making their way to Steve's house after a trip to the pool. They looked like regular fourteen year old boys, sweat-slicked hair sticking to their foreheads, eyes squinting against the glare of the sun. Steve was laughing at something Connor had said, his mouth wide open, eyes crinkling at the corners. Connor was smiling gently, his features much more composed than his friend's. They were a strange pair, but somehow they matched each other perfectly.
The first sign that something was wrong should have been the police car parked outside the Blade's house, but the two boys were so engrossed in their conversation that they were blind to the world. They walked past the car and up the small path that led to Steve's house.
The second sign that went unnoticed was the front door; it had been left swinging on it's hinged, creaking slowly in the summer breeze. Mr Blade never left the door open.
"There's more crime in this town than you'd think." He'd told Connor once, when he'd caught him staring curiously at the extra bolts that had been fixed to the door, "You can never be too careful."
Steve didn't even give the door a second glance before barging into the house, filling the hall with his too-loud laughter.
The third sign was the policewoman blocking the door to the kitchen.
Steve stopped dead in his tracks, frozen on the spot. He looked over his shoulder at Connor, fear showing on his face for a millisecond before he wiped any trace of emotion off his face.
"What's going on?" He demanded, turning the the officer.
"Are you Mr Blade's kid?"
"Yes and I'm hungry, so I'm going into the kitchen." Steve tried to push past, but the officer was too fast.
"Sorry, kiddo, we're conducting an investigation, it'll only take a few more minutes." She looked down at him with pity and opened her mouth to say something, but before she could even make a sound, she was interrupted by the kitchen door being flung open.
Two more police officers exited the kitchen, escorting Mr Blade, practically dragging him.
"Dad! Dad? What happened? What did you do?" Steve jumped forward, trying to slow the officers down, "Where are they taking you? Dad?" His voice cracked slightly and Connor, numb with shock, reached out to put a hand on Steve's arm. Steve let him keep it there.
"Let him go Steve." Mrs Blade said, stepping out of the kitchen, her face stoney, "He brought this upon himself."
"You knew this was going to happen?" Steve asked, whirling around to face Mrs Blade, causing Connor to recoil and snatch his hand away, "And you just let them take him?"
"What else could I do?" Mrs Blade leant wearily against the doorframe.
"You could have told me, for a start!" Steve yelled, his voice rising in pitch. He kicked a wall again, and again, and again. His hands were balled into tight fists. He was transformed by his rage into someone Connor had never seen before, and never hoped to see again.
"Steve." He said gently, trying to place a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Don't touch me." Steve screamed, shoving Connor away, causing him to topple over, hitting the ground hard.
"Steve. Bedroom. Now." Mrs Blade ordered, rushing forward to help Connor up. She reached a hand out to help him up, but he was still watching Steve, whose momentary expression of hurt had changed to one of anger as he stormed upstairs.
"Oh, I'm sorry you had to see that." Mrs Blade said as Connor allowed himself to be fussed over, "He'll come around. He's just a little upset, that's all."
"Should I go home?"
"If you don't mind. I think Steve needs a little bit of time to cool off."
Connor went home, heart heavy with the knowledge that his and Steve's perfect holiday had been tarnished. In fact, he didn't speak to Steve for a week after the incident.
However, when he headed up to his room one night, he was met with a surprise. A figure, waiting in the shadows.
"Steve? What are you doing here?" Connor asked, closing the door and quickly turning on the light.
"I'm sorry I pushed you." Steve rubbed the back of his neck, avoiding Connor's eyes."
"That's alright. You were upset." Quietly as he could, Connor clicked the lock on his door and made his way towards his bed, motioning for Steve to sit next to him.
"I- I'm really sorry, Connor." Steve didn't move.
"I've already said, it's fine." The light was dim, casting shadows on Steve's face.
"Connor, I-" He hesitated, "You know what you told me last year? About… boys?"
Connor felt a twist of fear in his gut, as though someone had stabbed him. This was what he'd always wanted, wasn't it? He should be happy, now he had a chance. Maybe now they could be together, maybe now the dreams would stop.
But he couldn't bring himself to be glad. All he could do was wonder if Steve suffered the way he did.
"I remember." He eventually managed to say.
"Well…" Steve had somehow come to sit next to him, their faces were only a few inches apart, "Maybe I'm… similar."
"Maybe I like girls and boys."
"I guess." Steve smiled mischievously, "Only one way to find out!"
"What do you-" Connor was cut off when Steve leant forward and kissed him on the lips. It was a slow, gentle kiss, not passionate, but blissfully pure.
By the time Steve pulled away, Connor had begun to panic. Everything seemed too perfect, it had to be a set up, a cruel practical joke that everyone had been in on his entire life.
"That was… good." And the fear rising from Connor's heart was washed away with Steve's words. Steve, who was looking as shocked as Connor felt.
"Yeah." He agreed breathlessly.
"So, what now?"
"Well we can't tell anyone." Connor said, looking behind him, fear replaced with paranoia. "My parents would kill me."
"Mine wouldn't but, if you don't want to tell anyone then I guess we don't have to." Steve said soothingly before checking his watch, "I need to be going now. My mom'll be wondering where I am."
"Wait, is your dad okay? What happened?" Connor grabbed Steve's sleeve to stop him from getting up.
"I don't know what he did, mom won't tell me, I think it was something to do with his taxes though."
"I'm not supposed to talk about it." Steve shook Connor's hand away, and stood up, "I'll come over tomorrow, okay?"
Standing up, Connor searched Steve's eyes, "You promise? You won't run away, or tell anyone?"
"I promise. Nothing bad's going to happen. We're fine."
Connor leant in for one last kiss, and then Steve was gone, out of the window and into the night.
The next morning, at breakfast, Connor mentioned that he and Steve would probably be spending the day together. Both his mother and his father had reservations about it.
"Mr Blade is a criminal, son." Doug said gravely from behind his newspaper, "We don't want you hanging around the wrong crowd."
"But I won't be seeing Mr Blade, I'll be seeing Steve!" Connor protested, pushing away his still-full plate, "And he's my best friend."
"We said no, sweetie. You'll meet new friends when you go to your new school anyway." Jane cut in.
"Well, can I at least call him to tell him." Connor pleaded.
"Go right ahead."
Without a second thought, Connor dashed to the phone, taking it up to his room to break the news.
"I just don't understand." Steve moaned over the line, "Why don't they like me?"
"It's not you, it's your family. And we can still meet, but we just can't tell anyone. It's just one more secret."
"So, shall I come over like I did yesterday?"
"No!" Connor looked towards his door, paranoid even though it was still obviously locked, "We could meet at the park?"
"It's a date."
"I guess it is."
"I'll race you there!" Steve slammed the phone down without hanging up, a bad habit Connor had always tried to break in him. He didn't mind so much anymore.
And that's how the next year went, all through their separate Freshman years. Secret meetings, sneaking out at midnight just to catch a glimpse of each other.
Steve made new friends, Connor didn't make any. Steve joined the soccer team, Connor studied in his room. Steve slept well at night, Connor still had dark circles under his eyes as big as bruises.
They could have gone on like that forever, lying under the stars in a deserted field by night, sometimes staying long enough to glimpse the sunrise before heading home. They could have made it if Jane hadn't been so observant.
Connor hadn't counted on his mother reading his diary, but he'd encrypted it, just in case. He also hadn't counted on her breaking his code, or following him when he snuck out one night, treading softly in her softest trainers that she only used when she went on long walks.
On that particular night Connor had left early, before his parents had gone to bed. It was almost summer again, they'd been meeting for almost a year and they were getting confident. Later he'd think about if he'd just waited an extra hour, maybe they wouldn't have been caught, maybe things would have turned out different.
"Steve?" He whispered, standing in the middle of their arranged meeting spot. It was his favourite spot, perfect for watch the sunset.
"Over here." Steve stepped out of the shadows, still carrying his school bag.
"Haven't you been home?"
"I'm kind of behind on homework, I was hoping you could help me?"
"Of course, what is it?"
This was how their conversations usually went, they were still best friends, in a way. Sometimes they'd spend the entire night coming up with wild escape plans, stories of how they'd run away together once they graduated, stories that they knew could never really happen.
Tonight, though, they decided to stay grounded with reality. They discussed school and, as many couples do, they spent most of their time nestling into each other, stealing the occasional kiss.
Jane had been hiding for the first half hour of this, watching in horror as her son partook in what she believed to be deadly sins. She'd always had suspicions, but she'd never truly imagined that her son, her own son could be this way.
Finally, when she could stand it no longer, she emerged from her hiding spot and loomed over the two boys. Their expressions of fear were so exaggerated that, in another situation, they could have almost been comical.
"Connor." Jane said, looking down at her son in disgust, "You're coming with me. Now." And with that, she stormed off, trusting he'd follow her.
Connor had never been this scared before, it was as though someone had flipped the world upside down, his heart was in his mouth, and his tongue had disappeared down his throat.
He looked back, hoping to catch a glimpse of Steve, who was still sat in shock, a workbook on his knee, hand open from where Connor had wrenched his away.
That was the last time he ever saw Steve Blade.