Sunday, December 25th
The past seven hours had happened so fast - one moment everyone hated each other, and the next? The next no one even cared. Every grudge had been lifted, every hateful word was at least a tiny bit forgotten. Keith was gone, and everyone seemed to share one single mindset: They needed to find Keith.
The Sanchez family initiated a search party. Despite the children that stayed home with Rachel, everyone chose to come; filling up each car that littered the Sanchez driveway.
Lance had read the letter under the light of his iphone. They played Keith's playlist from the car's CD player as Lance read, and thankfully none of the passengers made any comments. (Surprisingly enough, even Benji held back.) The car had rumbled beneath his feet, traveling down the main highway as Sophia and Rosa conversed in the front seat over different places to look.
It was in this car that Lance made a decision.
Lance loved Keith; loved him the same way the letter had described. Lance loved that he had the capability to love. He could love Keith, and now, with his family problems calmed, he felt the time was right. He could, he would, and he was going to try. He wanted to, the idea suddenly becoming so much more than your average crush. It was a necessity.
Lance wanted to take Keith on dates. He wanted to plant kisses on his nose, he wanted to hold his hand, he wanted to cuddle in bed, he wanted to make fun of his music taste - all to sing his favorite songs as the boy would fall asleep.
It had been staring himself in the face for days, and all this time he'd been too distracted, too worried, too focused on his other problems to realize it. Lance remembered back to only a few days ago. It was the night they'd decorated the christmas tree; Benji had played his guitar, Keith and the children danced, Lance sat watching with chocolate to devour. He remembered Cleo and the conversation they'd had.
How stupid he'd been - how selfish, how naive, how blind.
They'd been driving for hours - Sophia, Rosa, and Benji all decided to pile into Sophia's sudan and travel along the main highway while others searched the backroads. They'd played Keith's mixtape several times over, each replay for Lance to listen and blush into his winter scarf.
"I'm worried," Rosa repeated for the upteenth time, her hands fumbling with a strange yellow book Lance didn't recognise. "We need a better plan than to just drive aimlessly."
"I'll try calling him again," Lance offered, pulling out his phone. They'd all called several times - even Benji had made the attempt. Their work was going nowhere.
They'd drove for only one more mile before an idea crossed Lance's mind; he'd been scrolling through his messages, only to find a Christmas text from Hunk on the group chat.
Firelord. Choke Me Daddy. President Taquito. Hunky Munky. Princess fukboi killer. Pidgeon.
Lance rang his friend six times before the small kid finally answered, their voice lethargic and unconscious on the other line.
"Hey, Pidge! It's Lance." The boy could barely control his excitement, fumbling to keep his phone next to his ear.
There was a long pause on the other line, all before Pidge's voice filled the speaker rather loudly.
"Lance, you better have a good reason for waking me up this fucking early on Christmas morning -"
Lance didn't miss a beat. "I do, and I'm serious about this. It's a life or death situation."
Despite Pidge's obvious annoyance and their rather tired responses, the kid knew when Lance meant something. They'd known Lance long enough to recognise when the boy was genuinely worried. You could almost hear a shift in Pidge's voice on the other line, changing from something pissy to something genuine.
"Wait, what's going on? Are you okay?"
"It's Keith. He ran away."
Another pause. "...you lost him?"
Lance didn't bother wasting time. "I fucked up. He left and my family are out looking for him. I have no idea where he is."
"Are you serious?
"I know you want to find him," Pidge began, their voice cautious. "But maybe he doesn't want to be found? He probably left for a reason, Lance."
Instead of automatically replying, Lance forced his bottom lip beneath his teeth, biting it so hard that something metallic tainted his tongue.
Of course he left for a reason. That reason was Lance. Lance was the one who messed it up, Lance fucked up their relationship, Lance broke Keith's heart. It wasn't a matter of wondering what Keith wanted - Lance knew. Keith was angry with him, and probably wanted to be alone. That, however, did not mean being alone was a good idea - especially on Christmas Day with no shoes or a wallet.
"He did leave for a reason; It was me. I'm trying to fix it. I just don't know how."
"Maybe apologize? How hard could it be?"
Lance almost laughed at that. "He loves me, Pidge. And I think-"
The thought of admitting it to himself was one thing, but to say it outloud? That was an entire other monster of anxiety, just feasting on Lance's nerves. It had taken Lance so long to reach this point, to become this aware, to understand this much. He couldn't back out now out of fear.
"I think I love him too."
Pidge was silent, but Lance could imagine the side of their brown eyes.
"I love him," Lance repeated, voice shaking into the phone. "Or it least, I think I will. Someday. I have the potential to."
Pidge was fully out of bed now - Lance could already hear the rustle of blankets and the clackle of laptop keys.
"I'm gonna find his location by tracing a phone call from your phone to his. Is that okay?"
"Yeah, I've already called him several times tonight."
"Alright, I'll figure this out."
"Thank you so much."
There was more rattling of a keyboard, and Lance realized he'd been put on speaker phone. "You're welcome. And, uh, Lance?"
Pidge was quiet for a moment. Their fingers smacking against the keys was the only source of sound tying them together.
"I'm proud of you. I'm so insanely proud of you."
Pidge hung up after that - they were never one to dwindle. Lance just smiled, promising himself that he'd give Pidge the biggest hug when he returned to Oregon.
It took around fifteen minutes, but Lance finally received Keith's location in the form of a text message from Pidge, followed by a meme of the frosted flakes mascot saying 'Go get 'em tiger'.
The location was a McDonald's restaurant - one only a few towns away. They could arrive in less than an hour. As they drove, Lance poured himself into reading the letter again. And again. And again, up until the point he couldn't anymore. His eyes were strained, his mind was tired. It was the letter - the things it said, the words written - they were too important. Lance wanted to memorize them, imprint them in his mind. Every section was important, even the last one - it had Lance smiling the most.
So. Will you go on a date with me?
A smile grew as an idea formed in Lance's head, brightening his face even in the darkly lit car.
"Hey Mom," Lance began, all as he flattened the piece of paper over his knee. "Do you possibly have a pen in your purse?"
Sunday, December 25th
They finally found Daniel's stolen minivan. It sat parked outfront a small McDonalds - just as Pidge said it would. However, the car was empty and locked, no remnants of Keith to be found.
Sophia turned around in the front seat, bags hanging beneath her tired eyes. "Alright," She bellowed, clapping her hands together. "What's the gameplan?"
It was obvious Benji had been planning this, because he was the first to speak. All wide eyes and enthusiastic cheeks, Benji spoke loudly. "Mom, you'll go in first. Keith is probably super torn up and heart broken; sending in Lance first would only fuck him up more."
"Language," Rosa chided. She sat up straight, pulling on her windbreaker and wrapping herself in a scarf.
"Sorry," Benji mumbled, before continuing. "Once Mamá enters she'll use her mom mojo. The mom moji is a very important factor - it'll soften Keith up. He'll agree to see Lance, and then we send the bad boy in. He'll reveal his feelings and they'll have a gay makeout; hence a great happily ever after. Alright? Good game plan?"
Lance rolled his eyes in agreement, gripping tightly to the folded letter like it was the only thing keeping his beating heart steady. "Yeah, yeah, good game plan. Let's just get it over with."
Once the decision was made and deemed final, Rosa opened the passenger door. It opened the car's interior to a heavy wind, the cold weather whipping at Rosa's hair like ropes. She'd let it down, too frantic to worry about pulling it into her signature bun.
"Alright," She called over the heavy weather, giving her children a small wave. "No raging parties while I'm gone. Okay?"
The kids only laughed, Benji ushering his mom forward. "Go get him, Mamá. Give him a kiss for me!"
Keith couldn't believe he'd forgotten his wallet.
He knew exactly where it was too - sitting on Lance's bedside table. A table that was in a room, a room that was in a house, a house that was four cities away.
He'd only had enough change in his pocket to buy a small fry - all in quarters and nickels no less. The small package of food was almost gone too; the very last one still lay resting in a pile of ketchup.
Keith sighed, stuffing the last fry into his mouth. What he wouldn't give for a milkshake.
His stomach growled, reminding him of every mistake he'd made. For the last couple hours Keith had done nothing but switch between modes: panic and anger. One moment he was terrified, the realization of how broke, how alone, and how out of gas he was. All he had was his phone, and he didn't dare call - or answer - anyone.
However, the next moment would come and Keith would be furious. He'd sit in his booth at the back of McDonalds and just stare, counting the number of tiles that lined the ceiling. For every tile there was he'd name off something he hated - each one letting him savor in the rage. The mental list had reached one hundred and nine so far, and he found it still going strong.
I hate Lance's freckles.
I hate Lance's stupid love of chickens.
I hate that he sleeps shirtless.
I hate Mateo's giggle.
I hate that Cleo could be the best sister ever.
I hate that Sophia rocks mom world.
I hate that Rosa rocks mom world even more.
I hate that Josie braids my hair and is super good at it.
I hate that Benji can make me laugh.
I hate that-
Suddenly, as if a wall had moved before him, Keith found something block his line of sight. He scowled, shifting in his seat to look at the intruder.
Keith never thought he'd be more happy to see someone's face.
It was tired, strained. The laugh lines on her cheeks were far more prominent with lack of sleep, additionally promoting the bags under her eyes. Her normal bun was gone, long black hair falling over her shoulders like a curtain. She held a milkshake in her hand; it was McDonald's signature Christmas candy cane blend.
"Merry Christmas," Rosa whispered, holding the ice cream beverage out to him.
He wanted to smile; the urge to do so was painful. Rosa had that effect on him.
"How'd you know I needed a milkshake?"
A pause. "Let's call it Mother's instinct."
Just as he reached a hand up to grab the drink, something twinkled in her eye. It was a playful, dastardly, an almost diabolical side of her; a remnant of the look Josie wore everyday. Like lightning, she moved the drink from his grasp and took a long slurp from the straw.
Keith's mouth dropped in shock, only making her giggle.
"Sorry," She cried sweetly, setting the drink back into Keith's hands. "I had to make sure it wasn't poisoned."
It was then that Keith couldn't contain it.
Rosa. It was because of Rosa. She was so unlike any other person he'd ever met; no wonder Lance loved her. No wonder Lance rambled on about her when they were supposed to study, no wonder he insisted on skyping her from college at least once a week.
Keith's love for the woman was so indescribable - It didn't make any sense. He thought he understood love now that he'd written that awful, terrible letter to Lance. But no, love continued to surprise him, tugging at a brand new heartstring each time. Here was this woman whom he had no relation to - and he loved her. It was the definition of something unconditional, so vibrantly vivid in his mind that he swore he could reach out and touch it.
So he began to cry. It was this strange joke she'd just pulled - it made him sob, tears falling with no sign to stop. Keith never had a mom to play with, never a mother to check his drinks for poison. Even if she was pretending, it was so sentimental, so entirely instinctual that it made Keith's heart ache.
"Keith," She cried, suddenly setting the milkshake onto the table. She sat down next to Keith and pulled him into her arms, letting his head fall against her chest. "What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
Keith could barely speak, the sobs were coming out too fast and too strong to control them. Instead he let them fall, burying his head against Rosa's collarbone where several tear stains had accumulated. She showed no sign of even caring, instead stroking at the boy's hair lovingly.
"Shh," Rosa cooed, trailing her fingers down Keith's hairline. "It's okay. It's okay to cry."
Even though Keith had never done this before, he decided that he loved it.
A mother's hug. Keith remembered Rosa telling him that you were you never too old to cuddle with your mother. It was a unique right that all Sanchez children were deemed at birth. She claimed to still cuddle Lance, as the two would lay on the couch and just sit, both talking, giggling, telling each other stories of their day. Keith had never experienced such a thing - until now, cuddled into Rosa's arms at the back of a fast food restaurant.
How fortunate he was. Keith had been blessed with something so rare, something so inimitable that he feared any unnecessary movement might destroy it.
Keith's tears finally calmed down after a few more minutes, and as they dried away Keith finally moved from Rosa's arms. However, Rosa refused to let go of his hands, squeezing them tightly. Keith loved them, they were warm and wrinkled, marked with signs of her life's hard work.
After a moment of pleasant silence, Keith finally spoke.
"I'm so sorry, Rosa."
The look that plastered Rosa's face wasn't what Keith expected. It was affectionate; held with a foreign sense of devotion that Keith didn't recognize.
"Mi Niño," She whispered, lips trembling. "Do not be sorry. You have done nothing wrong."
Keith swallowed, lowering his head in shame. "But I did. I ruined your family dinner. I lied to you, I lied to the entire family. I abused your hospitality and," He swallowed, A curtain of dark hair trailed in front of his face, blocking his eyes and nose from view. "I'm sorry."
Rosa didn't speak, instead placing a hand at Keith's cheek. It was such an affectionate, peculiar act - Keith wondered what it meant.
"If you are sorry," She whispered, never moving her hand away. "Then I am sorry too."
Keith shifted his eyes up, and he gasped.
She was crying too - just as he had.
To see someone like Rosa cry can be described as nothing short of extraordinary. It is the same feeling Lance felt when he first saw his father cry - it is surreal. For Lance to see someone like Rosa - a strong, intelligent, independent woman - cry like this? It was beyond perplexing, an emotion that makes you question tears and the standards society holds them under.
"Why are you crying?" Keith whispered, tempted to reach for her face just as she had done for him. "Why are you sorry?"
"Because," She began, wiping at the tears with the back of her hand. "You are so important, and there hasn't been many people to tell you that. Life has dealt you a great many cards; I only wish I could've been there to help you not feel so alone."
Keith was confused, disoriented. What had brought this on? Why had Rosa chosen to say these things?
"I don't understand," Keith whispered, his voice shaky.
Rosa finally wiped away all the tears, deciding to sit up straighter. "I found my christmas present," She explained softly. "And I read the letter inside."
This made Keith's eyes light up, realization hitting him sharply. "You mean-"
"The letter? And the book?" She nodded. "I found them. We all looked through your things in a frenzy after you left - sorry about that." She chuckled, reaching into the hollow of her leather purse. Both hands disappeared into the never ending pit, only to return with yellow book in hand.
"I read some of the story on the car ride while looking for you." She trailed a finger over the spine lovingly, her eyes so warm. "However, the letter - the one you wrote to me - I finished that."
Keith blushed, his eyes immediately shifting away.
The letter had been a spur of the moment choice. He had intended for the letter to be read after he was long gone - not to be confronted on the matter within the confinements of a diner booth.
"The envelope said to not open until Lance and I broke up," Keith stated, pink lightening his cheeks. "I didn't think you'd read it already."
Rosa chuckled, reaching out to pat Keith's hands softly. "Well, after you two revealed yourselves as simple friends, I felt that reading it would be appropriate."
Keith blushed even deeper, wanting so badly to look away. Rosa's smile was the only thing comforting his anxieties, and he felt warmth under her gaze.
The letter was, if anything, a revelation. It wasn't like Lance's letter - not even close. While the love letter had been filled with his feelings and expression, it was Rosa's letter that described Keith's past in simple terms. It wasn't detailed, it wasn't dynamic. It was short and sweet; beginning and ending in Keith's terrible ink handwriting.
By the time you read this letter, I will have been gone. That's what persuaded me to write this - I knew I'd never see you again.
Lance and I faked the relationship. Please do not be angry with him, as it was something we both agreed on. All he wanted was to please you. I get the feeling, however, that if he were to please the entire family, he would've brought a girl home. I am not a girl, and not everyone can be pleased. This includes Lance. He brought home a boy not to rebel against you or Jaime, and also not to push his sexuality, but because this is a part of him. It was to please the requests of himself .
Another thing that persuaded me to write this letter was knowing that I could reveal my emotions without the worry of a potential confrontation. Since I will never see you again, revealing my thoughts only felt fitting.
I was a foster child - Lance informed you of this. I was also a troubled kid, as I often got too angry, too frustrated, too annoyed. I grew up without the guidance a parental figure can give - as I often pushed away my foster parents or didn't know how to communicate my need for affection. I don't want to get into specifics of my life or the trials I went through - but know this. There was only one thing that ever made me feel worthy of love - and that was this book. I hope you'll read it with that piece of knowledge at the back of your mind. It's been a comfort during times when I had no one, it's brought me a sense of love I'd never experienced before.
I know I'm only your son's friend, and I know we'll never see each other again, but I just want you to know - you're the first person to ever make me feel the same way this book did. I think that's why I decided to give you a copy. The story is important, and to me it doesn't feel much different from my own life. You helped complete that story.
Thank you. For everything.
Keith looked up from the letter, as Rosa had handed it to him to read one last was quiet between the two of them, niether awkward nor comfortable.
"There's this line in the book," Rosa began softly, a thoughtful look on her face. "Which I'm sure you must know by heart."
Keith bit his lip, nodding as she was most likely correct. "Is it the honey bee one?"
Rosa nodded, opening the book as she searched for the correct page. Once she found it she began to read aloud, her voice course yet soothing to the ear.
" Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and long pants. Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates, while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved."
She sighed, contently closing the book.
"Remember that, Keith. Every little thing wants to be loved. Even you. "
Keith nodded, fearing that he might start to cry all over again.
"Now," Rosa began, standing up. "Drink your milkshake. I'm sending my boy in. Be nice to him."
Keith suddenly paled, his throat shrinking size. "Wait - you're sending in Lance?"
"Hell yeah I am. That boy probably read that letter of yours over six times tonight. Soon or later he'll tattoo it to his left buttcheek." She laughed heartily at that, all as she softly placed the novel back into her purse. "Anyway, as my job as his mother, I will definitely be preventing that from happening. So you're gonna talk to him. My orders."
She pointed to the milkshake. "Drink."
Keith couldn't help it, he simply nodded his head, moving to take a sip. Candy cane and vanilla stuck to the roof of his mouth, immediately warming up his belly in a way he'd been yearning for just an hour earlier.
Once Rosa disappeared from the restaurant, Keith couldn't help but feel angry again. He didn't want to see Lance. He was angry at Lance, infuriated, irritated. He didn't want to see the boy, never mind talk to him.
A jingle of a door opening sounded to Keith's left, though he refused to look up. Footsteps moved from the door, shifting closer and closer. Keith clenched his hands around the milkshake, suddenly very interested in the diner table and the stains that decorated it. The figure sat in front of him, legs stretched out beneath the table. They bumped against Keith's knees, though he refused to look up.
"Sorry," the figure muttured. "Long legs."
Keith couldn't help it; he snuck a peek.
It was Lance; though that much was obvious. He looked tired, eyes heavy and drooping, with a windbreaker wrapped around his body. He looked cold, shivering despite the heater above them.
Keith couldn't help but say it.
"I hate you."
The words left Keith's lips before he even knew what he was were urgent and unplanned, doing nothing to ease the tension.
Lance sighed. "I know you do."
Keith didn't hate Lance. He may have wanted to hate Lance, he may have wished he could. Except he didn't, and that was the reality. He didn't hate Lance, and those three little words? I hate you? What Keith really meant was the complete opposite. He was defeated, completely lost in Lance's tired eyes, the dirt smudged under his jaw, the frantic pile of hair on his head. It was like bed head but worse - a product of the car ride over.
It was evident how petrified Lance was; his knuckles were turning white from their grip on the table's edge. There were a thousand things he wanted to say, needed to say, and here they were: nothing was being said.
"Why are you here?" Keith finally asked, observing Lance's face for what he could only guess was trepidation. "What do you want?"
Lance blinked, moving his hands away from the table to rest in his lap.
"I want to explain myself," Lance mumbled, his words barely audible. "But I hope…" His voice trailed off into silence, and Keith looked at Lance questioningly.
"You hope? Hope what?"
Lance squared his jaw. "I hope you'll at least listen."
Did Keith want to listen? No. He didn't want to hear excuses, no justifications, no reasons for the things Lance had done. He wanted an apology - a genuine, sincere one. So he simply stared, leaning his head against the back of his McDonald's booth.
"Fine. I'll try."
Lance rubbed at his lip, looking down at the cracks in the linoleum table.
"First of all," Lance began, obviously hesitant. "I'm sorry, and I want you to know that I'm a dick."
Keith snorted, and it was out of spite. "I don't need you to tell me what I already know."
A scowl darkened Lance's chin. " Obviously. I'm just pointing out that I acknowledge it. I'm a dick, and I'm showing to you that I agree."
"So you acknowledge that you're a dick, and this is your way of admitting it?"
"This is your apology?"
Keith closed his eyes and banged the back of his head against the booth, feeling the sharp sting of impact brush his skull. This apology was everything Keith didn't want. He wanted Lance to be on his knees, he wanted Lance crying, he wanted Lance to be really, truly, entirely regretful. Keith deserved that much.
"It's not very good," Keith commented.
"But I am sorry," Lance bellowed, moving in closer. "I just, I don't know," He paused, biting his lips. "I don't know how to show it. But I am."
Keith peered at Lance, observing his face for any signs of truth.
"Why? Why are you sorry?"
Lance wanted to say something, but nothing seemed to leave his lips. It was discouraging for both boys to have silence, to have nothing to fill the gaps.
"I should've figured," Keith muttered, wrenching himself from the booth. He was done. Keith was finished with Lance's sore excuse for an apology. "I'm leaving."
As Keith began walking away from the booth, his back to both Lance and the candy cane milkshake, a song began to play. It was quiet, the volume playing low from a cellphone. It was out of the ordinary - enough that it persuaded Keith to turn around and stare. He recognised the tune, the name just barely on the tip of his tongue. It sounded like something from the seventies - and fear immediately trickled its way in.
Was this… was he trying to apologize through song?
It wasn't until Lance stood up and threw him a large, shit-eating grin that Keith understood.
Lance began to move; iphone in hand, hips rolling, words to the song falling off his lips. It was both terrible and wonderful at the same time; terrible for the song choice, wonderful because it was tacky.
And Keith loved it.
"Spending all my nights, all my money going out on the town. Doing anything just to get you off my mind-"
Keith was cringing, especially with the way Lance was singing. It was off key, it was humiliating, and it was completely adorable. A part of Keith wanted to slap Lance for it. The other part of him was, if anything, finding it completely charming.
"But when the morning comes, I'm right back where I started again. Trying to forget you is just a waste of time-"
"Oh my god," Keith cried, finding his body move towards Lance without his mind's consent. He was under Lance's spell; the hypnotism of his legs, the twist of his torso. Keith couldn't help but move closer; even as Lance flicked his hips just right.
Lance shouted the chorus - it was mortifying.
" BABY COME BACK!"
Keith moved his hands to cover his face, peeking through the gaps of his fingers just to watch.
"Any kind of fool could see!"
Keith groaned, doing a terrible job at hiding his embarrassment. He was supposed to be angry. He was supposed to be mad - not trying to suppress giggles.
"Please stop," Keith mumbled into his hands, though there was no warning to his voice. He was just laughing now - tears were forming at the crease of his eyelids.
"Baby come back! You can blame it all on me!"
"You are the biggest meme," Keith cried, the blush of his skin so warm that it had traveled to his ears.
"I was wrong, and I just can't live without you!"
The night shift McDonalds workers chuckled from their places behind the front counter, each one watching as Lance did a one-eighty twist. He wasn't just dancing for Keith - he was dancing for them. He was embarrassing himself, he was the fool, and he knew it too. This was Lance's apology, and Keith couldn't help but accept it.
Only a truly regretful boy would dance in a McDonald's for his lover.
"Okay. Okay, okay stop-" Keith giggled, reaching for the phone with an open hand. Lance just maneuvered around him, spinning on one leg. He shook his head and smiled, instead grabbing Keith's hand.
He continued to dance, shaking his hips in place. "I'm serious when I say that I'm sorry." He spoke over the music, continuously working his body in circles. "I fucked up, and you didn't deserve it. You're worth more than that- you're worth everything."
Keith's breath shifted, his hands slowly lowering.
Lance gripped Keith's hands, holding them close to his chest. "I hope you'll forgive me. I want you to forgive me, Keith, because I don't want to lose you."
Keith didn't even take the time to contemplate his answer.
Lance was sorry, that much was obvious. The thing with Lance was this: he wasn't very good at giving apologies. That didn't mean he never felt regret, no, he felt enough regret to last a lifetime. Lance knew how to apologize too - it was more that he was scared. He was fearful, afraid of rejection, and too confused, too worried about the other's emotions. This sort of apology - the kind with song, dance, humiliation, laughter- this was his way of doing it.
Keith nodded his head.
"Yes. I forgive you."
He paused, lips quirked up. "Now stop dancing-" He turned and motioned to the restaurant workers. "We have an audience."
Lance's grin turned wicked.
"Well, in that case-"
Keith squealed, watching in horror as Lance began to kneel on the ground. Gasps from the McDonalds workers echoed in the background, one woman even happily slapping her coworker against the chest from her hysteria.
Lance looked up at Keith with round, watery eyes. "Will you," He began, suddenly reaching for something in his pocket.
Keith's heart pounded - he was begging, begging Lance to not do it. He was confused, baffled. Keith was against everything this situation lead up to-
Suddenly, staring right in front of him, was his letter. It had been folded into squares, only to be unfolded several more times. It was worn with use, the pencil marks smudging the paper. Lance had opened it, letting the letter float in his hand.
Keith let out a breath.
"Will you go on a date with me?"
It was then that Keith looked closer at the letter. At the very bottom, next to the words 'Yes' was a mark, one done in red ink over an unsteady surface.
So. Will you go on a date with me?
Keith should've guessed that Lance was a romantic - this boy was going to give him cavities. Affection; Lance wore so much of it. It was love, fondness, adoration, devotion - he wore each and every one. It was sewn between his freckles, it dripped from the tips of his eyelashes.
"Yes," Keith whispered, removing his hands slowly. "I'll go on a date with you."
Then, with a face so beyond dastardly, Lance swept his arms beneath Keith's hips and hoisted him up. Keith gave a scream, giggling even more when his legs wrapped around the base of Lance's knees. He snaked his arms to hang around Lance's neck, playfully tugging at the long ends of brunet hair Lance was too lazy to trim.
"I'm so sorry," Lance whispered, his voice suddenly heavy. "I'm so sorry. I don't think you understand how sorry I am. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry-"
"Stop saying sorry," Keith whispered, leaning his lips in. "I know you are."
"So you do forgive me? For real?"
"I didn't know if I could. At least - not until you came back."
"So you do?" Lance moved his forehead against Keith's, lips quivering. "Really? Like, really really?"
"I already said it. I forgive you."
"So I can kiss you?"
The biggest, toothiest smile decorated Keith's jaw, spreading out to display little dimples.
"I was afraid you were too chicken to even ask-"
Lance pressed his mouth against Keith's lips, squeezing him even closer to his chest. He laughed into Keith's mouth - it tickled, warming him up.
The kiss tasted of candy cane and vanilla ice cream. Tongues trailed the inside of cheeks, hands pulled at hair, fingers roamed a little too risque for the comfort of a public McDonalds. Their shaking hands traced each outline, each mark, each curve - only breaking apart for a moment. Lance moved his lips from Keith's mouth to his nose, to his eyes, to his cheeks, to his chin - it made Keith snicker uncontrollably as Lance placed a soft kiss against each one.
Lance and Keith forgot about Christmas. They forgot that it was almost six in the morning, forgot about their lack of sleep and tired eyes. They didn't dare remember about the car full of family members parked out front, or the amount of chaos they'd return to. They ignored the restaurant, the kitchen full of coworkers just watching them. They even forgot the choices they'd made, and the stupid mistakes written down on a list. Instead they cherished it, adoring the moment for what it was.
As time would tell, there would be more kisses. A peck to the ear; a kiss to the jaw. There would be smooches over Keith's belly fat - kisses that would make him squirm from the tickling. Keith would caress each of Lance's freckles - even the ones on his arms, his back, his palms. Each kiss would be appreciated, savored, loved.
It wasn't a lie anymore.
These kisses were real.
Sunday, December 25th
Keith felt content.
It was a simple, immovable feeling; a sort of delight that fills you from the tips of your toes to the ends of your hair. He lay on the couch with Lance's arms wrapped around his torso, his back cuddled against Lance's chest. It was warm, so sweet that teeth could rot, and all Keith could think was how happy he was.
The house was quiet - the first time in days. Most family members had chosen to take afternoon naps, Jaime and Rosa included. The only ones awake were the children and their cousins, all preoccupied as they played somewhere upstairs.
The living room was in disarray - present wrappings and leftover breakfast littered the floor from that morning. The family had attended Christmas day mass after the presents (against both Lance and Benji's protests) and had all arrived home exhausted, worn out, and ready for bed.
"I don't want to attend Mass ever again," Lance whined into Keith's hair, his eyes fluttered closed and arm dangled lazily over Keith's torso.
They were tired - the both of them - and each debated taking naps of their own. Keith's Sunday tie dangled from his fingers, trailing across the floor. It was one of Benji's old ties, a red and green striped one that he'd felt ridiculous wearing in public.
"Then don't," Keith countered, turning around in Lance's arms so that their noses bumped against each other. "Just rebel."
Lance reveled in Keith's smile. It was the flush of his cheeks, the wrinkle of his nose, the snicker under his breath - those things were what motivated him to do more than just cuddle on a couch. Lance wanted more than just a simple kiss, he wanted to place not one, not two, but thousands of kisses against Keith's lips.
"Maybe I will," Lance hummed, opening his eyes and rubbing his nose even farther in. "Or maybe I'll just kiss you."
Keith trailed a finger over Lance's bottom lip, their bodies pressed so entirely close that it made Keith ache. "Is that a threat?" Keith whispered - all mischievous eyes and a crooked smile.
Lance needed no more prodding; it was obvious what Keith wanted. Lance was kissing Keith in an instant, their lips pressed together warm and wet. It began cautious - a languid, agonizingly slow movement of the lips. Keith wanted more, needed more, and in a single moment he was shifting from their idle kissing to something heated, something ardent. Keith loved it; the feel of Lance's chest under his palms, the quiet groan Lance gave when Keith bit his lip. Their position shifted drastically, Keith suddenly crawling to straddle Lance's hips. Lance only rolled his pelvis up, making Keith gasp.
"You-" Keith sighed into Lance's mouth, his hand suddenly tugging at the buttons of Lance's shirt. "Are-" He continued to unbutton them, each one just another barrier. "Really-" He reached the last one, all before shrugging the dress shirt from Lance's shoulders. "-Hot."
Lance immediately pulled away, Keith's words hung in the air. Keith whined in protest, reaching out blindly for Lance's lips, only to find none.
Keith opened his eyes, already annoyed, only to see Lance's impish grin.
"What was that?" Lance questioned, all innocent and pure. "I didn't quite catch that."
All amount of sexual desire Keith might've held suddenly dispersed. He scowled, suddenly sitting up straight over Lance's torso.
"Are you kidding me?" Keith grumbled, his hands splayed across Lance's bare chest. "You seriously just-"
"Yup. Tell me again, I don't think I heard you."
Lance wore a taunting, cheeky smile. "Tell me again."
Keith scowled, wanting more than anything to go back to what they were doing. Whatever happened to the sex driven man he'd been straddling mere moments ago?
Keith blew a hair out of his face. "Fine. If I say it again will you be satisfied?"
Lance chuckled. " Maybe."
Keith groaned loudly, his protests probably audible in the other room. There was no way they could go back now, and Keith simply rolled from Lance's chest and onto the floor.
"Wait-" Lance suddenly perked up, now alone on the couch. He looked lonely, eyes wide and lip puckered out. "You're not gonna follow through? You aren't gonna say it?"
Keith shook his head, feeling rather malicious at foiling Lance's master plan. "Nope. I only said it once - never again."
"But why!" Lance whined, sitting up flopping his hands down like a child. "You're so mean."
Keith just snickered, then pulling out his phone and scrolling through social media, his interest in other places.
"Can't we just, I don't know, go back to what we were-"
"Nope." Keith looked up from his phone and smirked, shaking his head. "You ruined it. All your fault."
Keith should have felt guilty for leaving his makeout partner hanging like that, but Keith couldn't help but feel that Lance deserved it. The boy was a tease, and sometimes that got the better of him.
A few minutes passed, and it was during these few minutes that Lance spent his time pouting. Keith refused to move nor satisfy Lance, instead scrolling through twitter with a smirk on his chin. As the time ticked on, Keith wondered just how long Lance could survive without saying anything. The boy would need contact eventually.
After a while, Keith couldn't help but take a peek at Lance from the corner of his eyelid. The boy was - miraculously - not pouting, and instead had chosen to stare at Keith strangely. It was such an un-Lance-like face, an expression he didn't wear often. Keith could only name a few times ever seeing such a face - that morning in the McDonalds being one of those times. It was a simple look; his lips quirked into a crooked line, eyes half lidded and heavy, cheeks flushed with red. It made Keith feel warm inside, like Lance was trying to memorize every curve of Keith's face.
"What are you looking at?" Keith questioned, curiosity getting the better of him
"Nothing," Lance confessed shortly, the face suddenly disintegrating. He looked away, standing up and reaching into his pile of presents.
Keith didn't say anything, all for fear that he might break the silence. Lance continued to rummage through his gifts, even tossing some of the unneeded presents onto the couch behind him.
Lance finally found what he was looking for, popping up with Keith's mixtape in hand. It was the same as Keith remembered it, even if the CD's sharpie ink had been smudged from use. Lance held it up triumphantly, bringing it with him as he walked towards the radio.
"Are you freaking kidding me," Keith observed, watching as Lance popped the mixtape into the radio's CD port. "You better not make me dance."
"I sure will," Lance countered as he skipped through several song in search of something specific.
"To my very own mixtape, even! Do you know how cringy that is?"
"I do , " Lance stated, his finger hovering over the play button. "Which is why I'm proclaiming a new law: Always dance with Lance to mixtapes."
Keith folded his arms over his chest, keeping his feet grounded to the floor. "The songs on that playlist are terrible. I should know - I compiled them."
Lance hit play and ignored Keith's protests. The radio gave off a low buzz as it warmed up, allowing Lance enough time to slip across the room and into Keith's arms.
"It'll be fine," Lance assured, grabbing onto Keith's hands. "This song is one of my favorites."
"Is this torture for not calling you hot a second time?"
Lance tapped a finger to his chin as if contemplating the notion, before nodding his head in agreement. "Possibly."
Keith rolled his eyes, instead letting Lance take control. Lance was always that way when they danced - he knew exactly what was needed and he knew exactly when to do it. Their hands situated after a few failed attempts, and Keith let himself fall against Lance's chest. The boy was still shirtless, but Keith didn't mind. He secretly enjoyed it, letting his fingers trail over the bare skin.
The song began, its tune automatically familiar to Keith. He remembered picking it out for the mixtape - it had been a very specific choice. Stand by Me the song said, it's words more than just lyrics to a page. They were genuine, a set of lines that Keith hoped would mean something sentimental for Lance, just as they had for Keith.
Apparently, they had. Lance had become tender, moving their bodies in a circular motion about the living room. There was barely any space between them, Keith's head resting against his dance partner's shoulder.
"When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see."
Keith thought back to just a few nights ago - the first night they danced. They'd been in the Sanchez family kitchen, socked feet carrying them over tiled floors. Neither of the boys had recognised the significance a moment like that held; it was their first dance. Neither had known just how many dances would come. There would be slow and fast ones, intimate ones and intense ones - dances made in the dark of night, dances in the light of day. No matter what type of song, each dance was going to be theirs.
"No I won't be afraid, Oh, I won't be afraid, Just as long as you stand, stand by me."
Lance began to hum the chorus, the noise an echo of Ben E. King's words. Keith could feel it in his chest, the vibration thumping against his rib cage. They moved steady, neither one in a hurry to get anywhere. It was just Lance and him, both enveloped in each other's arms and fingers.
"So darling, darling stand by me, oh stand by me, oh stand, stand by me, Stand by me."
This was what made it all worth it. The dance, the movement about the room, the words the song proclaimed - every painful moment was worth this. Everything Keith had learned in Arizona was a blessing - he didn't regret a thing.
Keith feared that if he blinked, everything would disappear. There would be no Mateo to play with, no Josie to braid his hair. Cleo would be gone, and Keith would never see the girl catch her dreams - big ones for such a small, strong girl. Rachel and Daniel would be gone, their little Isabella no longer able to tug at Keith's ponytail or blow bubbles.
Rosa would have never hugged Keith in that McDonald's. He would've never learned about family or the importance it carries; never been able to ask Rosa for a hug and actually receive one.
And Lance. There would be no Lance to fight with, no Lance to kiss, no Lance to tickle and squeeze and fumble over.
Keith didn't want to blink. He wanted it all to stay in his life - forever. Keith didn't want to go back to University; it was there that he had nothing. No Rosa to hold him, no family to call his own.
It was then, as Keith spun in Lance's arms, that he made the decision.
He was never going to let the Sanchez family go.
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
No, I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.