some things get lost in the shuffle

27/09/2022

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When Lions Are Addicted to Phones in Colorado, they don’t need anyone else to communicate.
They’re on a team of four, and it works just fine for all of them. Sure, some things get lost in the shuffle, but nobody gets hurt. They have each other. Nobody needs them, really, except when they’re not around. It makes sense. And that’s good too; because otherwise they’d all be gone by the time their parents got home.
There are days off where you could say you were on vacation – that your parents sent you away to have fun. But the truth is more complicated, and if they hadn’t been so busy with work then none of them would ever come here. Their father has taken a year off from work after years of pushing his luck at university and taking the risk of having a son who wasn’t going anywhere. There is nothing he can do about how bad it’s gotten; his son has left and he has no idea where, or when, or even if he wants to go back. There are days where he’ll think of going back home and he knows, somewhere deep down, that he will never get there – that the last thing his son wants is him there.
On another day, when their parents are both working late hours and not looking forward to coming home to an empty house, sometimes they will sit out in front of the TV watching the latest show until one or both of them pass out. Sometimes they will just talk, mostly about things neither of them know anything about, like what happened on Friday night. Sometimes, the conversation ends up turning to school, or what they want for dinner; and sometimes it doesn’t.
But today, on a rare evening in late December, when they are still awake, Lance asks Keith what he does for Christmas. They’ve already discussed this earlier, but it’s important to talk about it again, and they’ve decided that, as much as possible, they will celebrate together. That’s always what they do on Christmas Eve, whether it is something simple like baking cookies or going caroling. So they will spend Christmas Day together. This is why Lance is sitting outside, bundled up against the cold. They won’t have to see any other family tomorrow morning or the next morning, either.
Keith’s answer takes less than ten seconds, which isn’t really surprising at all. “I haven’t thought about it,” he says. He doesn’t sound sad, exactly, but there’s a bit of distance in his voice, which Lance thinks is probably because he feels bad for suggesting that. The way he says it though suggests that maybe he wants to elaborate – but he doesn’t, and Lance decides not to press him on it. Not yet, anyway.
Instead, he turns back to Lance. They watch the snow fall outside for a few minutes, and it occurs to Lance that he hasn’t seen his cousin in weeks, since she came home from her summer job. His parents said she was spending a couple of months in college now, but that’s pretty far apart, and Lance misses her so much.
It seems wrong somehow to think that they should miss each other at the same time, but he can’t help himself. It’s easier to blame Keith than his own mother – he’s a lot older than Lance and his cousins, and while Lance loves them all just the same, it isn’t easy to understand his relationship with his brother and sister. He can appreciate the fact that he spends more time with them, however, so that makes it alright. Lance is okay with that. In fact, it’s sort of nice to know that Keith cares more about being a big brother to him, instead of just being a big brother to everyone else.
He’s thinking all of these things – and about the way that Keith looks in a jacket and jeans with his hair mussed from sleeping – when he hears footsteps behind him. For a second, he thinks he’s dreaming. When Keith stops, Lance turns to look at him, wondering whether he imagined hearing someone approaching them. But then he sees a woman standing next to them. She’s shorter than he is, but stocky, and Lance wonders if she might be his mother. She wears jeans and boots with black leather trimming that shows off her arms – she must work out, he notes with envy – and her hair is piled into a loose knot. The sight of her makes him smile – she looks kind.
“Lance, darling?” she says, reaching over and ruffling his hair. “Is that who I think it is?”
Lance’s face immediately burns with embarrassment. He knows he must have looked stupid when she spoke, because Keith is looking at him with a confused expression. ‘Mom’, Lance mouths across the street, hoping Keith will catch on. Keith only gives him an unimpressed look, apparently still thinking that Lance was making a joke, but Lance has seen enough movies to know when someone is joking, and right now he is definitely being teased.
“Hi, Mom!” he chirps, trying not to let on how mortified he feels. “This is my boyfriend, Keith. We live in California.”
He expects her to be disappointed, or confused. Instead, she laughs heartily and shakes Keith’s hand. “Pleased to meet you! And what brings you two out on such a lovely afternoon, hm? Don’t tell me your mom made you come! Oh, Lance…” Her eyes narrow, and there are tears shining in the corners of hers. “You didn’t drag Keith kicking and screaming, did you? My poor baby boy…” She reaches toward him, touching his face gently, but not too long after pulling back, as if afraid that she’ll frighten him.
That’s not what happens at all – instead, Lance bursts out laughing. Keith smiles too, although he seems to be hiding it behind his hand as he watches his mother fuss over Lance and give him a gentle hug.
“Oh, honey…” his mother breathes in his ear. He winces slightly. If his dad is around, Lance knows he’s dead. “How could you ever think you wouldn’t make our little angel happy…?”

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