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sand crabs and tan lines

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To say Keith woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning is an understatement.

 

                It started with Keith being ripped from sleep by the shrill scream of the smoke detector. He whipped up from his pillow with his heart pounding in his head and swiped his phone off the bedside table before running into the living room. As soon as he flung the door open, his nose was assaulted by the smell of something burning and he stumbled, smacking his little toe against the edge of his door. He cursed and ran down the hall, dialing 911, expecting to see raging flames consuming the entire apartment, but what he saw was probably worse.

 

                In the kitchen, he spotted a plume of grey smoke curling from the stove and fanning out across the ceiling. Shiro and Matt were smacking dish towels on the stove top while Pidge dumped a cup of water over the burner. Pidge cursed when the water hissed angrily and Matt yelled at her not to cuss, causing Shiro to sigh.

 

                Keith’s thumb moved away from the call button on his screen and he coughed. The trio spun around and Keith’s pretty sure he heard Shiro’s neck crack from the intensity. All of their eyes widened and they all nervously laughed, like it was funny or something that they nearly burnt the place down.

 

                Shiro scratched behind his neck and opened his mouth to say something, but a flame erupted on the stove behind them and he jumped instead. He smacked his towel against it again, trying to smother the flame, and Keith sighed heavily.

 

                “Turn the stove off, you idiots,” Keith grumbled, trudging into the kitchen. He passed the couch and warily eyed the bags piled on the cushions. He hoped Matt and Pidge weren’t planning on spending the night. The last time they did, Matt ‘accidently’ launched Pidge into the wall after losing Mario Kart and she broke through the plaster. Shiro tried patching it up with duct tape, and miraculously, the landlord didn’t notice. Pidge ended up with a concussion and the Holt siblings’ parents were not pleased, to say the least.

 

                (It was actually really funny, but Keith worried that if he told them that then they might reattempt the stunt. Keith did not want to be evicted anytime soon.)

 

                Matt’s eyebrows raised, like he was surprised by the thought, and he turned to the stove and turned a knob. The sizzling ceased and the trio sighed in relief together. “I can’t believe we didn’t think of that earlier,” Matt said.

 

                “It’s because you can’t cook,” Keith deadpanned. Pidge and Matt may have been geniuses when it came to tech, but they were hopeless when it came to cooking. He glared at the half-melted plates on the counter topped with crispy, black crumbs. A bowl was next to it, batter splattered over the sides and onto the counter. That explained why Shiro looked like someone just jacked off into his hair.

 

                Shiro laughed. “Well,” he said sheepishly and rubbed his hands together. “We were making you pancakes, but...”

 

                “But y’all are children and can’t be left alone for a second,” Keith finished. Pidge snickered and muttered a quiet pard’ner. Keith chose to ignore that. He grabbed a roll of paper towels and chucked them at Shiro, motioning for them to start cleaning. Matt and Shiro obliged, but Pidge crossed her arms.

 

                “You could at least appreciate the gesture,” she said.

 

                Keith glared. “Oh yes, I definitely appreciate the gesture of you guys nearly burning down the apartment and making it smell like burnt plastic.”

 

                “Really?”

 

                “No.” Keith threw the disastrous plate into the trash. He ignored Pidge’s hey! and rubbed his forehead. “Why would you even make me pancakes?”

 

                Shiro stopped cleaning for a second. “Because you’re my little brother and I love you?” Keith shook his head.

 

                “You’re the best friend we’ve ever had?” Matt tried. Keith groaned.

 

                “Because we were gonna bribe you into coming to the beach with us,” Pidge admitted. That sounded more like it. “How ‘bout it?”

 

                “I’m not going,” Keith answered. He hated beaches. He liked the feeling of the sun against his back, floating over the waves, and letting the tide brush his legs, but he hated the sand, people, and  the many deadly sea creatures that lingered in the water that could and would kill him. So, no, he’d pass. He preferred the solitary confinement of his room, thanks.

 

                “Keith!” Shiro whined dramatically. “Please? It’s not the same without you!”

 

                Keith knocked his head against the counter in exasperation. He’d only been up, what, ten minutes? “Shiro, all you do is sleep. You’re too scared to go in the water since you got pinched by that crab. Matt, you sunburn too easily so you hide under the umbrella the entire time. Pidge is too short to go out far enough.”

 

                Pidge smirked. “I’ll tell them.”

 

                That sounded ominous. Keith blanked, so Pidge pulled out her phone and went to the camera roll. Keith knew what she meant immediately. “Fuck you,” he yelped, trying to swat at Pidge. Underneath his bed is a private place. Pidge shouldn’t snoop there. It’s her fault for being nosy, but now she had quality blackmail material. Pidge’s thumb hovered over a picture and she began to show it to Matt and Shiro, but Keith wrenched it from her hands.

 

                Keith really did not want his older brother to know he wore panties sometimes, okay?

 

                “Fine!” Keith said. “I’ll go. I hate you Pidge. A lot.” He handed Pidge her phone and scowled when the group cheered and Pidge make kissy faces at him.

 

                Keith’s day got worse when he realized that he only had one pair of swim shorts left. They were red, which was okay, but they were also 2 years old and hugged his ass like a second skin. Shiro laughed and teased him, so Keith pinned him to the ground and cracked his toes until he yelled mercy.

 

                They packed a cooler of food and Pidge casually tried to place a pack of beer in there, like she wasn’t 15 or anything. Matt screamed when he saw her and Keith almost died of laughter, but Matt started ranting about how underage drinking is bad and we’re going to a public place, guys so Pidge hit him with the umbrella pole.

 

                All packed and ready, the dysfunctional group waddled out of the apartment and to the parking lot. Keith started toward Shiro’s car, but the rest began to throw their things into Matt’s truck.

 

                “God, no,” Keith said. Matt’s truck is the worst thing Keith’s had the misfortune of riding in, and he’s been in the slingshot ride at the boardwalk. The stupid thing was probably older than Keith and the green paint was peeling off the side. A red smiley face had been spray painted onto the hood and a black cat where Matt had tried to cover up a dick Shiro had drawn that he couldn’t get off. It creaked like an old woman with arthritis falling down a flight of stairs in a 19th century Victorian house and smelled like 3 gallons of motor oil had been forced down Keith’s nostrils. The only seats were in the front and could fit three people at best, but Shiro counts as one and a half so that means Keith and Pidge would be wedged between Matt and Shiro. It was 90 degrees, and Keith did not want to be covered in sweat from three other people.

 

                “I don’t want to get sand in my new car,” Shiro complained. “And we have too much stuff to take an uber.”

 

                Keith groaned and walked over to the piece of junk. Matt got into the driver’s side and turned the truck on. It roared to life and trembled. Pidge tried to open the passenger, grunting with effort. Shiro reached over her head and swung it open with ease. Keith climbed in first, then Pidge, and then Shiro. Pidge, unfortunately, couldn’t breathe between Keith and Shiro and planted herself onto Keith’s lap.

 

                “Can’t I just ride in the back?” Pidge said, purposefully digging her heels into Keith’s shins. He couldn’t see past her mop of hair.

 

                “No,” Matt said. He flipped on the A/C and it blasted out hot air into their faces. “That’s illegal.”

 

                “This is horrible,” Keith said. Shiro chuckled next to him. Pidge leaned forward and flipped through the radio stations before she found one that picked up something besides static and blasted the volume. Matt threw the truck in reverse and revved out of the parking lot, throwing Pidge back onto Keith’s chest with a yelp.

 

                Matt cackled as he wove through traffic. Pidge glared at Keith. “If you pop one, I’ll crush your dick in the window.”

 

                “Don’t worry, I’m very gay.” Keith assured her. “That’s kind of kinky, though.”

 

                “Please,” Matt sighed. “Please do not talk about boners or kinks in front of my little sister.”

 

                “I bet I’ve seen more dick than you ever have, Matt.”

 

                “But I have one. And please, never say dick again.”

 

                “Yeah, and? Dick, dick, dick.”

 

                Keith closed his eyes and pretended not to exist for the 15 minute ride.               

x

                They finally pulled up to the beach after Matt nearly cried when Pidge began to recite Rap God in its entirety. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as busy as it usually was. They lugged their stuff over the sand dunes and winced when the sand burned their feet and shells pricked them. They picked a pretty nice spot away from people (at Keith’s request). A family must’ve been there before because a giant dug out pit was in front of them, so naturally, Keith pushed Pidge in. Pidge threw a cheeto in Keith’s hair and he was mauled by hungry seagulls.

 

                Immediately after setting up the umbrella, Matt coated himself in two layers of 50 SPF sunscreen and scrambled to his chair underneath the shade. Shiro put on his sunglasses and plopped onto a towel. Pidge took out a book and her earbuds and started reading.

 

                “Wow,” Keith said. “You guys are fun. I’m glad I suffered to get here.”

 

                Shiro sat up and looked at him. “Why don’t you get in the water?”

 

                “I am,” Keith spit. “Alone. Because you guys suck. I hope you get an ugly tan line.” Keith kicked sand onto Shiro’s towel and stomped off to the water.

 

                He carefully waded out to his calves. The water was cold and numbed his toes. He stood there a moment, letting his body get used to the temperature, and watched as a kid walked into the waves and squatted.

 

                Nope. Not doing that today. Keith got out and walked further down the beach. In front of him, a group of teenagers were treading water beyond where the waves crested. A boy rode the waves on a boogie board. Two kids sat in the shallow water, elbow deep into the wet sand, but they didn’t look like they were pissing, so Keith went back in.

 

                He closed his eyes. The sun beat down on his face and chest while the waves lapped at his legs. He listened to the sound of the waves crash down and rumble to the shore before pulling back into the ocean, burying his feet in a layer of sand.

 

                Keith was startled by the loud “Hey!” shouted from his waist. He looked down and saw one of the kids that was sitting in the sand. He was covered in sand and stared up at Keith with wide blue eyes and a gapped-tooth smile.

 

                “Uh,” Keith mumbled smartly. Here’s the thing; Keith’s a kid magnet. He’s not sure why, but kids are drawn to him. It’s an attractive quality to most people, probably, but it’s the worst thing imaginable for Keith. Kids are annoying and love to not listen and that does not mix well with Keith’s hot temper and social awkwardness. Yet, kids are drawn to him like flies to honey. It’s like they can smell that Keith’s an introvert.

 

                The boy fisted his hands in Keith shorts. “Mister,” he said. He apparently didn’t know what an inside voice was. Even if they were outside. Whatever, he doesn’t need to scream like Keith’s an old man. Keith hoped the kids parents don’t see him and thinks he’s a pedo or some dumb shit. He’s too young to go to jail. “Can you help us?”

 

                “Uh,” Keith said again, hesitant. “...With what?”

 

                “Sand crabs!” The boy yells and waved his arms in the air. Sand flew off of him and covered Keith’s stomach with a splat. Keith paled.

 

                “Excuse me, do what?”

 

                “Help us find sand crabs!” He elaborated, like it helped any. “Me and my cousin are diggin’ them up, see.” He gestured to the smaller girl still on the sand, peering into a yellow bucket. “We’re gonna cook em’ and eat em’ for lunch!” The boy smiled, like it was totally normal and not disgusting at all.

 

                “Uh,” Keith didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to say yes, because it’s kind of creepy for a 19 year old guy to help two kids dig in the ground but if he says no then the kid would probably cry and tell his mom. Either way, it’d probably end up with Keith having an umbrella pole through his stomach. “What are sand crabs?” He says instead, because what kind of idiot purposefully digs for a crab?

 

                “I’ll show you!” He slurred, dropping to his knees before Keith could say anything. He thrust his hands into the sand and dug around. Keith looked around for a parent or something, but no one was with the pair. God had decided to punish Keith early, then.

 

                The kid ah-ha’d and popped back up, his fist closed around something. He opened it, and on his palm, sat a parasite looking shelled thing. Keith took a step back.

 

                “Here!” The kid said, grabbing Keith’s wrist and dropping the creature into his palm. It immediately scrabbled around, trying to dig into Keith’s palm and wiggling it’s antennae around. Keith yelped and wrenched his hand away, watching the sand crab fall back into the water with a plop. It swam around for a second, settled onto the sand, and burrowed.

 

                Keith gulped. “Hey!” The boy shouted, tugging on Keith’s shorts. God, he hoped the kid didn’t pants him. “You lost him. Now you gotta help!”

 

                A swindler, it seemed. Keith sighed and cursed his friends. Of course this would happen to Keith. His ideal day at the beach was not helping some weird strange kids pick animals out of the sand.“Okay,” he said anyway, because he’s a weak soul.

 

                The boy tugged Keith over to join the girl. He swung them both down on the ground and Keith winced as a shell dug into his ass. The girl blinked at him, tiny arms buried in the sand. The ends of her darks braid brushed the sand.

 

                “My name’s Lucio, and that’s Dani,” Lucio introduced. He leaned in to whisper in Keith’s ear, “Dani’s shy, so don’t be sad ‘cause she acts like she’s got a stick up her butt.” He pulled back and handed Keith the yellow bucket.

 

                Keith blinked. That was something he’d never expect to hear out of a kid’s mouth. He accepted the bucket and looked in, watching as at least twenty of the sand crabs frantically darted around in the bucket of water, attempting to bury themselves in a thin layer of sand. The hell? He put the bucket back down and watched Lucio and Dani dig into the sand. Dani had her bright eyes fixed on Keith, so he stuck a hand in the sand so she’d stop.

 

                “What’s your name?” She said instead, voice small but quick. “Why’s your hair long? You wearin’ makeup? I bet my uncle would like you. Ever ate a sand crab? You should eat with us. You’re helping us anyway. Hey, like my bathing suit? Pink’s not my favorite color, it’s actually black, but mama don’t listen when I tell so she got me pink even when I cried in target. But I like it anyway. Don’t you? What’s your favorite color? You married? Got kids?“

 

                Keith got paler at every question. That...wasn’t what he had in mind when Lucio said she was shy. His head got dizzy from the rapid fire of questions. “Keith,” he answered. “Um, because I haven’t cut it. No? Um. Also no, and no thanks. Yes, your bathing suit’s nice. The ruffles are nice touch. Um, my favorite color’s red. No, I’m not married, and no, I don’t have kids. Um.”

 

                Dani giggled, satisfied. Lucio whistled. “Wow, Dani must like you. That’s the most she’s ever said in one breath.” Keith didn’t know whether to be flattered or expect Chris Hansen to come out from the waves.

 

                Something touched his wrist beneath the sand and he flinched, closing his hand around it. He pulled it up and in his palm sat a fidgeting sand crab. Dani clapped and Lucio took it and dropped it into the bucket.

 

                “Well, there it is. I got one. Can I go now?” Keith got up to leave, ready to go  back and hide from the world, but the kids ignored him. They stared behind him, all smiles, squealing Tío Lance! and buzzing in their places.

 

                Keith slowly turned. A teenaged guy marched up the shore, fists clenched at his sides and thin brows lowered. He had dark skin and blue eyes like Lucio and Dani, but his eyes were far from bright and more like murderous. He dripped with salt water, brown hair slicked back and skin glittering in the sun.

 

                Well, okay.

 

                “You!” The guy said, ignoring the kids. He stomped up to Keith, flicking sand and water onto him with every stomp. He pointed a long finger into Keith’s face. “You nasty ass pedophile! Why are you talking to my niece and nephew?!  You get off on that, huh?!”

 

                Keith stammered, leaning away as far as he could. He expected this to happen. “Dude- I, I dont-“

 

                 “Don’t worry, Tío Lance!”Lucio interrupted, standing up and patting Keith’s leg. “This is Tío Keith!”

 

                “Yeah,” Dani spoke up quietly. “He’s helping us dig up sand crabs, since you won’t.”

 

                Lance looked offended. He straightened his back and glared. “You calling anyone Tío now? You guys shouldn’t talk to strangers, you know. They could kill you.”

 

                “He’s a better Tío than you,” Lucio said, crossing his arms in front of Keith. Keith felt like he was going to pass out.

 

                Lance squawked. “He’s not even related to you guys! He’s taking advantage of you!”

 

                “He helped us an’ he’s a nice person! And he’s pretty!” Dani said. “He’s got a cute butt too, and you said you like-“

 

                Lance yelped and covered Dani’s mouth, ignoring when she licked his hand. He snarled, “I’ll throw you out for the sharks to eat if you don’t shut up.”

 

                Keith guessed where Lucio got his colorful vocabulary from.

 

                Lance spun around to face Keith again. “And you! I’ll show you who’s the better uncle here, mullet head.” He dropped to the ground, long legs folded up. “I can catch enough sand crabs to feed entirety of New York City in my sleep.”

 

                That had Keith whipped, because he’s never one to back down from a challenge. He sat down too, much to Dani and Lucio’s delight, and stuck his hands in the sand. “I can catch enough to feed China while on my death bed.” He fired back, and regretted it instantly. Why the fuck would he say that to a stranger? To the dude who just accused him of preying on his niece and nephew?

 

                “Bring it on, cabrón.

 

                “I took 4 years of Spanish in high school. Don’t insult me in Spanish, please.”

x

                Keith ended up winning by 10 sand crabs by the time Lucio and Dani had gotten bored of Lance and Keith talking, so Lance ‘accidently’ knocked the bucket over. He expected Dani or Lucio to cry, but they just laughed and begged to go out and jump the waves. Lance laughed too and stood up, following them out into the water. Keith wondered if he should leave now, but Dani grabbed his hand and he followed them out.

 

                Keith held Dani’s tiny hand in his own while Lance held Lucio and the kids joined together in the middle, letting Keith and Lance hoist them over the waves. Keith was vaguely aware that it looked insanely domestic, but he tried not to think about it too much. He was glad Pidge and Shiro were farther down the beach.

 

                “So, Keith,” Lance said. Keith turned to look at him and was unnerved by the smile on his face. “What’d you bribe them with?”

 

                “Bribe them?”

 

                “Yeah. I’ve never seen Dani even whisper in front of a stranger.” Lance said, stumbling as a wave smacked into them. The kids squealed in delight. “So, what was it? Candy? Toys? A dog?”

 

                Keith snorted. “No. I’m a kid magnet. Unfortunately.”

 

                “You calling them unfortunate?”

 

                Keith backpedaled. “No. I’m just...shy. A loner. Kids aren’t my thing, but they like me for whatever reason.”

 

                Lance laughed. “I should’ve known. You have this whole Hot Topic employee vibe.”

 

                Keith frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

                “Emo hair, gauges, and don’t think I don’t see that tramp stamp back there-“ Lance paused, eyeing as a wave crashed down and tumbled towards them. The kid on the boogie board wiped out and Keith watched as the wave towered over them. He looked at Lance, who turned to him with a frantic expression in his eyes.

 

                “Run,” he whispered.

 

                Keith scooped up Dani and scrambled for the shore, Lance doing the same with Lucio. The tide pulled back at him and he hiked his legs higher, wincing as Dani screamed in his ear. The wave roared behind them, crawling closer and closer. Lance cursed in front of him and grabbed his free wrist, tugging him forward. Together they ran to the shore, breathing a sigh of relief as the wave only hit them with a  slight push, causing them to stumble a little. Dani and Lucio laughed, arms up and shouting “again! Again!” while Lance and Keith slid to the ground, panting.

 

                Keith watched as boogie board kid rolled onto shore, wincing as the board flung out from the water and hit him on the head. Poor guy. “That was great,” Lance started laughing after finding his breath and Keith couldn’t help but to laugh too.

 

                “Can we eat now?” Lucio asked, shaking the water out of his like a dog.

 

                “Sure,” Lance replied. He stood up and brushed the sand off of his blue swim trunks, picked up the bucket, and followed the excited pair up the sand.

 

                Keith sat on the on the sand, watching them leave, but Lance turned around and smiled. “Coming?” He asked, before blushing and scratching his neck. “I mean, you don’t have to, you said you were shy and all, but you don’t really  seem like predator, and they really like you, so...” Lance coughed, peering at Keith from beneath his lashes.

 

                Keith smiled and stood up. “I don’t mind.”

 

                Lance beamed and guided Keith up the sand. They passed a group of women laying on the backs, soaking up the sun, who greeted Lance. Two men and a woman were under an umbrella, one man sipping on a drink, the other asleep, and the woman adjusting the volume on the speaker. Lance dumped the bucket among a large pile of toys and stood under the umbrella. “Mama,” he said, and the woman in front of him looked up. She eyed Keith. “This is Keith, a friend.”

 

                The woman smiled at Keith, green eyes crinkling at the corners. She turned to Lance and said, “Él es lindo.”

 

                Lance turned cherry red and hissed, “Mama, he can understand you,” but Keith just laughed and thanked her.     

 

                “I uh, hope you don’t mind me-“ He began, nervously picking at his nails.

 

                “No, not at all!” She said. “My grandbabies like you, and Lance likes you, so I like you. Call me Rosia. Tell me if you need anything, okay?”

 

                “Right,” Lance said, pulling Keith away from Rosia before he had the chance to answer her. Lance's cheeks were flaming in embarrassment. “Sorry, my mom’s a little weird. Too friendly.”

 

                Keith shook his head. “It’s nice.” Lance pulled him over to a cooler, where Lucio and Dani were already digging through and pulling out drinks and food. Lance handed Keith a water and grabbed one for himself, a bag of cherries, and chips. Keith thanked him and they settled onto a blanket next to the kids, who were inhaling sandwiches and throwing peanuts at the seagulls.

 

                “Are you here alone?” Lance said, then cringed at how it sound. “You know what I mean.”

 

                Keith grinned and spit out a cherry pit. “I’m here with my brother and two of my friends. They’re boring though, so.”

 

                Lance snorted and popped a cherry into his mouth. “That’s nice.” Keith rolled his eyes and plucked a pit into Lance’s hair.

 

                They sat on the towel, trading stories and laughing, Lance telling Keith about his dreams of becoming an astronaut, Keith telling Lance about his plans to enlist in the Marines, and bonding over their favorite music. Even after the cherries and chips were long gone, they still sat there and teased each other. Lance introduced Keith to the rest of his family, and the kids made Keith play games with them and Lance.

 

                “Uh,” Keith said, pausing while helping Dani, Lucio, and Lance build a sand castle. “Does anyone know what time it is?”

 

                “1:18,” Andrea, Lance’s sister, said from her towel.

 

                Keith cursed and stood, dusting off his shorts. “I’m sorry, but my friends are probably going to leave soon, and...”

 

                “It’s okay,” Lance smiled, ignoring the whines of Lucio and Dani. “But, um, do you want my number? We can talk, maybe, because I liked today and you’re funny and the kids like you and all and so it’d be cool if we, I don’t, went out sometime-“

 

                Keith laughed and cut off Lance’s rambling. “Okay, that’d be great.”

 

                “Great,” Lance squeaked, and dug through a beach bag until he found a marker and scribbled his name onto Keith’s arm. Keith waved bye after pulling his leg away from Dani, blushed when Lance waved back, and walked back to his spot smiling the entire way.

 

                They were already packed up and Pidge was there to greet him with her arms crossed.

 

                “So, lover boy, when’s the wedding?”

 

                “Shut up,” He snipped, grabbing his towel and throwing it over his head. He grabbed his phone and followed the group back to Matt’s truck, ignoring their smiles.

 

                “I’m just saying, you guys looked really domestic out there. Was he those kids’ dad? At least your curse actually let you meet a hot guy this time.”

 

                “Shut up.” Keith hit Pidge on her shoulder.

 

                “Oh my god,” She said, grabbing his arm before he could pull it away. “Is that his number?”

 

                “I said shut the fuck up.”

 

                “Ha, it totally is! You’re putting it in your phone!”

 

                “Go die, Pidge.”

 

                Keith saved Lance’s name into his phone and sent him a text, letting him know who it was, and thought that maybe he was coming off strong since he was texting him so soon, but Lance replied with a winking face. Keith pretended it was sunburn that made his face red.

 

                Keith liked the beach a little bit more.