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Give yourself the gift of love, it's the greatest gift of all

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Christmas time. A designated period where people were supposed to forget about all of their troubles and focus on all the good in life… What a joke. Whoever made that up was clearly so deep in denial that they must have completely lost their grip on reality because the festive season may actually be the most stressful time of all.

It was filled with rushing around for presents and constantly deliberating whether the correct choices had been made for everyone. Christmas was pretty much just about caring so much about other people that your own mental health began to decline with the sheer anxiety that the holidays brought on. But even more than that, it was family. Specifically, Sander’s family.   

Sander adored his family more than anything in the world. They were always there for him, so supportive and kind… Except that was were most of the problems festered themselves. They were just too supportive. Some people may not see that as a bad thing, but Sander is sure, it is. They insert themselves into his life constantly and don’t leave him room to make any decisions of his own, always giving him their unwanted opinions. Sander’s love life especially was where they thrived. When he was single, they did everything they could to fix him up with someone, not wanting him to be the only one that was alone. Since clearly, they didn’t understand the different between alone and lonely. Then when he finally did get into a relationship, they were trying to get him out of it. The number of times he should have gone to the hospital with whiplash was uncountable.

But Sander had found himself single again, which he couldn’t decide was a good or bad thing.

It was a relief to be rid of Britt. She was controlling and belittling and truthfully, he questioned many times why they were ever together. However, when his family found out he was a free man, they would do everything in their power to get him with someone new – which was the last thing he wanted. He knew for a fact nobody they set him up with would be right.

So, that is how he found himself spiralling into a pit of lies.

His Mum had phoned him a few days before he was due to go home for Christmas, and the panic seemed to settle over him easier than he would have liked.

“It is such a shame that you won’t be bringing Britt home.” She said, her tone not conveying any sorrow whatsoever. She had never liked the blonde girl. “But on the bright side… There are some great people in town that might take your fancy! I could talk to a few of them, maybe try and-”

“No, no, that’s alright.”

“But San, I think it will be good for you to put yourself out there again! You can’t wallow forever.”

“I… I already have!” he blurted out, wincing as he realised the hole he was digging himself into.

“You have? Well, who are they?”

“Um, that’s not important.”

She scoffed, “Of course, it’s important! I need to know about this person. How long has this been going on for?”

“It… Uh… A couple of months?”

Judging by the excited sound his mother came out with, that was clearly the wrong thing to say.

“You have to bring your partner back with you!”

Sander froze, “I what? No, Mum, I don’t think they would want to… They might have plans already.”

“Nonsense! I’m sure they would be more than happy to spend more time with you. I don’t want to hear any of your excuses, San. See the both of you in a few days, alright? Love you!”

No sooner had the words come through, the line went dead, plunging Sander into total silence as he fell deeper into a pit of despair.

A fake partner. Why the hell would he do that when there was literally nobody in his life right now, romantically? He wanted there to be, but there was no way it was ever going to happen. It wasn’t even worth thinking about because the guy of his dreams would never look at him that way.

So, Sander was left in the lurch, caught up in his web of lies with little time to untangle himself in a way that wouldn’t cause complete and utter embarrassment. He couldn’t just tell his Mum the truth, she would immediately pity him for feeling the need to make up that story in the first place. She would then inevitably find some poor soul to set him up on a date with which would no doubt be as awkward as all the others. He couldn’t think of a less enjoyable time to spend him holidays. Even just lying in his room watching Netflix seemed like a better alternative.

He flopped back on his bed, groaning into his hands as he contemplated his next move. Whether it would be better to just flee the country altogether, or if they would eventually track him down anyway.

***

“Hang on, lemme get this straight.” Younes said, a smile playing on his lips. “You told your Mum that you were dating someone… And now you have to bring them home to meet your family? Even though they don’t exist.”

Sander nodded, “Precisely.”

The two of them were out shopping. Well, Younes was, Sander had just tagged along in the hopes of getting food. He was supposed to be helping his friend find a present for his girlfriend, Yasmina, but he had the feeling that he wasn’t being very useful in the search.

“That’s hilarious, dude.”

“Yeah, ha, ha, I’m cracked up.” The blonde boy drawled. “But seriously, what do I do? I’m limited in my options here.”

“And what are those options exactly?”

“I either tell the truth… Or I lock myself in my flat and don’t come out until my whole family has forgotten I ever existed.”

He was aware that he would likely be trapped in there for years… But it was a risk he was willing to take.

Younes rolled his eyes, “Well, I would say you should come clean, but I have a feeling you don’t particularly want to do that.”

Sander shook his head, “I can’t. I would be worse off than I was before.”

Why he had to say the first thing that popped into his head, he would never understand. He seriously had to learn to think before he spoke in those type of situations because it rarely ever ended well. Usually, it just created more problems for him, which of course was the case for him that time too. If he had just agreed with what his Mum was saying and not put up a fight to one measly date with someone, there would be no big drama that he had to sort out. Of course, he could never have a calm moment in his life though.

“Maybe you should just take someone as your date, then.” The curly haired boy suggested.

He was probably half joking, but Sander thought it was perfect. He wouldn’t have to admit his pathetic lies to his relatives, and they wouldn’t tease him for being the single one. It was a win all round. Obviously, he had no idea who he would take though, because going to search for someone like that on Grindr or Tinder was always going to come with risks.

“That actually might work…” Sander said, grinning. He fluttered his eyelashes at his friend, “Hey, Younes…”

“Not gonna happen.”

“What? Why not? Am I not attractive enough for you?”

He snickered at that. “Don’t be so dramatic, you’re more than attractive enough. But I still can’t come with you, as much fun as that would be. I already promised Yasmina I would spend Christmas with her and her family, remember? It would be rude of me to back out.”

“Ah, yeah that’s right. That’s totally fine, I get it.”

“There is somebody else you could ask though…”

Sander was a little wary of the glint in Younes’ eyes.

“Who’s that?”

The boy smirked, “Robbe.”

Younes was the only person that knew about Sander’s massive crush – and not because he had been told either, he had just worked it out for himself. The blonde boy had a massive issue when it came to supressing his heart eyes around the brunette. And while Robbe was oblivious to Sander’s affections, Younes was more observant, sussing out his clear feelings.

Robbe was Sander’s best friend and roommate. They had lived together for about three years and Sander thinks he probably fell for him that first day they met. Though many probably would have called him silly and cliché for that claim. He couldn’t help it though, that was just the way he felt.

Seeing the mess of brown hair falling over sparkling brown eyes, small body engulfed by a green sweater as he lugged boxes through the door… Sander honestly thought he had gone to heaven. Of course, he had been aware that another person would be moving into the flat with him, but Sander had never prepared himself for the possibility that he would be the man of his dreams.

He wondered for so long how he was going to live in the same place with a literal prince. How he was going to survive seeing his gorgeous face every day and not be able to do anything about the fluttering of his heart and the butterflies ever growing in his stomach – because there really was nothing he could do.

Maybe he had considered it at first, but there was just too much of a risk. They had quickly become really close and over the years had strengthened their bond more than anyone Sander had ever known. He would never put that in jeopardy. Because if Robbe didn’t return his feelings – which Sander knew for a fact he didn’t – then it might cause irreparable damage. He might have felt so awkward that he moved out and severed ties with him forever. That was something Sander would never be able to cope with.

“Nope. No, no, no, no, no. Not a chance in hell.”

“Why not?” Younes whined, “It would be so perfect!”

“No, it really wouldn’t. It would be like my own personal hell because I would only be pretending to be with Robbe – if he even agreed. I wouldn’t be getting any real feelings, would I? It would only cause hurt in the long run.”

His friend shrugged, sighing. “Ok, you don’t have to… I’m just saying, you don’t have very many options, Sander.”

“I know.” He huffed, “Trust me, I know. I just think that asking Robbe to do that is a bad idea.”

“Would it really be so bad, though? You never know, it could lead to something.”

It was common knowledge that Robbe was into guys, but Sander wouldn’t let himself believe he had a shot, even then. He had seen some of the guys that his roommate had been out with… They were models, guys that belonged on billboards, men that you would see running down the beach with their shirts off, the wind blowing their hair perfectly. He was aware that last one was pretty specific, but it was accurate most of the time, surprisingly.

The point was, Sander would never be able to compare to any of them. Robbe was so out of his league it was insane. To even think that he was in with a chance was frankly laughable.

“I don’t think it would. Robbe doesn’t see me that way.”

Younes quirked an eyebrow, “How would you know?”

“He just doesn’t.”

“Well… Have you ever asked him?”

Sander looked at him incredulously, “Why on earth would I do that? How would I even bring that up naturally? No, I never have, and I never will. I already feel bad enough without him giving me an outright rejection, Younes.”

“I’m just saying that you’ll never truly know unless you ask.” He said, “Do you think I started dating Yasmina from just looking at her forlornly? No, I did something about it and asked her out on a date.”

“That was totally different! You knew that Yasmina liked you before you asked her out.”

He could see Younes shaking his head a little, a smile on his face as he mumbled something underneath his breath.

“What’s the problem?” Sander asked.

“Nothing, nothing. Just… At least consider asking Robbe to go with you, yeah? It’s either him or a blind date, and I know which one you’d prefer.”

“Fine, I’ll think about it.” he mumbled.

“Great! Now, let’s actually get a present before the shops shut, yeah?”

***

Sander was on edge when he got back to his flat, unable to settle with all the thoughts whirring around in his head. Both the situation with his family and the things that Younes had said. The stress was making him jittery and stopped him from sitting still – something that did not take his roommate long to notice.

Robbe looked at him with kind eyes as he lounged on the sofa.

“San, what’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re pacing the flat so clearly something is.”

“It really is nothing.”

The smaller boy gave him a disbelieving look, clearly not buying into his feeble attempt at brushing things off. Not that Sander was really surprised, Robbe always did have a weird way of sensing when something was wrong.

“If everything was fine, you wouldn’t have that look on your face. So, come on.” He patted the spot next to him. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Sander obeyed, because he truly was powerless whenever his friend so much as glanced in his direction. It really was a problem.

“It’s… It’s complicated.”

“Well, what’s happened? Maybe I can help?”

“Ok.” he replied, unable to stop smiling at how lovely Robbe was being, despite the continuous churning in his stomach. “Um, you know I’m going home for the holidays? Well, uh, my Mum phoned me up and was kind of pressuring me about dating and stuff… You know how she gets.”

The brunette nodded in understanding. Sander had complained to him many a time over the horrendous dates his family had tried to set him up on. The awkward situations that they had forced him into. It would likely have got to a point where he wouldn’t have been able to return home without bumping into someone he’d been sent on a date with.

“The thing is… I kind of… Panicked, when she brought it up again because I didn’t want to go on any more dates.”

“Ok, then what?”

“I may have told her I was seeing someone? And now she is expecting me to bring them home for Christmas.”

Robbe blanched a little at that, clearly not having expected that to be the problem Sander was plagued with. Though that was no surprise since it wasn’t exactly a day-to-day experience for most people.

“Alright…” he said, his voice slow as he tried to think of the right thing to say. “I see why you’re stressed now.”

“Yeah.” Sander frowned.

And he knew that he wasn’t going to ask his roommate. It didn’t matter what Younes had been saying about it, there was no way he would be able to come out with the question without causing himself a great deal of embarrassment. Robbe would undoubtedly say no, he probably had his own plans and the appeal of coming home with Sander to lie to his family was likely going to be small.

But then Robbe seemed to solve things for him.

“How about I come with you?”

Sander was completely stunned.

“What?”

“I could come with you and pretend to be your boyfriend – if you want.”

“But… But… What about your own family?”

Robbe shrugged, looking a little sad at that. “My mum is still at the institute – she’s ok! But she’s decided that she wants to keep things lowkey and she doesn’t want me around there worrying about her. And my dad, well, he’s probably celebrating with his new girlfriend. I’d rather not be around to see them.”

“Oh…”

“So, yeah, I’m free. My plans were just to stay here anyway. But if you don’t want me to come with you, that’s fine… It was just a suggestion.”

“And you’d want to do this? I mean, we would have to act all… Like a couple and stuff. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

Robbe reached out and placed his hand on Sander’s knee, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“I just want to help you, yeah? I know what I’m signing up for.”

He severely doubted that. Sure, Robbe had met his family before – but never in that type of situation. They would be totally pushy and give them next to no privacy for the whole event, wanting to know everything about them and how they got together. Robbe could prepare a portfolio of his entire family history to show them, but maybe even then they wouldn’t be satisfied.

“Are you sure? They can be invasive and-”

The younger boy nodded, a wide grin on his face that made Sander’s heart ache.

“I’m totally sure. This is gonna be fun!”

“Um… I don’t think so.”

“Aww c’mon,” Robbe chuckled, “We’ll be together, so how bad could it really be?”

He truly didn’t understand the effect his words had on Sander. How much a sentence like that made him completely floored. Realistically, he knew that it wasn’t meant in a romantic sense, that Robbe was just glad to be spending time with his friend on Christmas… But there was still a flicker of hope in the back of his mind that he had never really been able to extinguish, as much as he tried to.

“I guess you’re right.” He agreed, “It might be ok.”

“That’s the spirit!” Robbe got up, walking towards the kitchen. “I’m gonna make some coffee, want some?”

“Yes please. Could I have it with-”

“An extra shot of espresso?” the brunette smirked, “Yeah, I know.”

Maybe he was right… Maybe the trip wouldn’t be so bad after all.

***

On Christmas Eve the two boys arrived at Sander’s parents’ house, standing outside of the door with joined hands. It hadn’t been planned or anything, Robbe had just reached out and grabbed hold of him when he noticed how nervous he was. And Sander definitely had no intentions of letting go anytime soon.

He was just so anxious that everyone would see through the façade, that they would all realise their relationship was fake and shame him for coming up with all the lies. It would just be completely humiliating, and he didn’t think he would be able to deal with it. Shutting himself away in his room for eternity would actually seem like a pretty decent option at that point.

“It’s gonna be alright.” Robbe said, trying to give him some reassurance.

And it kind of was… At least for a little while.

His family welcomed the two of them with open arms – literally. Their hugs were almost bone crushing, forcing the air of them at the touch.

They were passed around like pinballs, tossed into the embraces of his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Pretty much any extended family member you could think of was there, the Driesen’s never did the holidays halfway, it was definitely an event that everyone attended.

Sander nodded and smiled along as his relatives said the normal stuff about him being so grown up and tall and loving the new hair colour, blah, blah, blah. Really, all he could focus on was Robbe… Who was seemingly fine with everything happening. He was standing there casually as he introduced himself to everyone, shaking their hands and asking for their names. For a moment, Sander allowed himself to believe the entire situation was real. Though he knew he couldn’t escape into his dreams for long or he would be too crushed by reality.

Everyone moved to the living room instead of all being bunched up in the hallway, with Sander and Robbe ending up squashed next to one another on the sofa, with the smaller boy practically sat in his lap. If he was bolder, maybe he would have pulled Robbe closer, but he remained still.

“So…” Sander’s Mum said, looking at the two of them with interest, “How did you two finally get together?”

They had known the question would be coming, it was inevitable. Luckily, they had spoken about it before they came, wanting to make sure they had their story straight so there were no slip ups along the way. The last thing Sander needed was his family figuring out their different tales of their relationship didn’t match up and busting him.

“This is a great story, you wanna tell it, babe?”

The endearment almost made Sander choke, his cheeks burning fiercely.

“Yeah, um, I can tell it. We’ve liked one another for ages now, but we were just too afraid of ruining the friendship since we’ve known each other for about three years now… But I guess it just got to a point where we couldn’t take it anymore and just confessed.”

Irony was a funny thing. The story was half true, but Sander would never be confident enough to actually tell Robbe about his feelings. Admitting he was in love with his best friend was frankly one of the most terrifying things and he knew that only this fake version of himself would ever be brave enough to tell the truth to the boy he adored.

“That’s it?” his cousin drawled, looking bored, “Surely you can give us more details than that.”

“Yeah!” his grandma said, “We want to know everything!”

Robbe let out a small laugh, “I can tell you more, if you want. When I first confessed to Sander that I loved him, it wasn’t this big momentous thing or anything… I mean, it was, but what we were doing in the moment was quite mundane.”

Sander’s family was hanging onto his every word, just as he was. All of them were clearly intent of finding out the ending of the story, so enthralled that nobody seemed to realise Sander wasn’t sure what Robbe was about to say either.

“Basically, we were eating cereal in the morning and Sander was shovelling into his mouth like there was no tomorrow. But when he picked up the bowl to drink the remainder of the milk, he slipped and poured it all over his face. So, I went and got some towels and was helping him clean it up…”

Oh…

That had actually happened.

He remembered it clear as day. He remembered the embarrassment he felt as slipping and covering his face with the sticky mess. He remembered the sound of Robbe’s laughter as he giggled at the sight of him. He remembered the twinkle in his eyes when he helped wipe Sander’s face, the distinct golden-brown colour they were in the light of the kitchen.

He had looked just as stunning as ever in that moment, even with his hair in disarray and loose pyjamas hanging off him – especially then. And he was already so gone for that boy, even then… He was fighting the urge that entire time to lean in and kiss him senseless, to bury his hands in his soft hair.

But even though Sander remembered that moment, he was still surprised that Robbe did too. He assumed that his roommate would just forget about it… Clearly not. Although he knew that Robbe was embellishing on the whole ‘in love’ thing, since that never happened. It was probably just the first scenario that popped into his head.

“And when I was brushing it off his face… I couldn’t help but stare into his gorgeous eyes. I pretty much just blurted it out there and then. It was impossible to hold back after that because I knew that I loved him wholeheartedly and it was stupid to keep pushing those feelings away.”

He turned to look at Sander but there was something completely unexplainable in his expression. All the blonde boy found himself capable of doing was gaping at the perfect guy sat there. He had literally just said everything he had been dreaming of for years… It was a little hard to know how to react, especially since none of it meant anything.

Clearly Robbe could sense he was speechless, so he leant forward and pressed a soft kiss to his cheek, lingering there for a few seconds to give him an excuse for his silence. Sander did appreciate him doing that, but really it just made things entirely more difficult for him. Having the feeling of Robbe’s lips on his skin, finally having confirmation of what they feel like pressed against him, even in such an innocent and sweet way… It sent him into a complete tizz, his mind completely blown.

Everyone began to coo at that, all talking about how sweet and perfect that was and how lucky they were to have such pure love between us. Though they laughed a little at their love confessions being a result of Sander’s sloppiness and his Mum did roll her eyes at her son. Tutting about how she had taught him manners and stuff, but she moved past it quickly as the conversation continued to progress.

They started probing Robbe for information after that, treating it like some kind of Q&A session or an interrogation with a convict. They were unnecessarily aggressive with their tones, which Sander didn’t think they meant to be, but that was how it sounded regardless.

“What do you do then?” they asked him.

“I’m training to be a Biologist.”

“Does that pay well?”

Robbe chuckled slightly, “It pays enough.”

Sander shot them a glare, “Could you not?”

“We’re just getting to know your boyfriend!” His aunt said, trying to defend herself.

“I don’t think you need to know his wages though, do you?”

His Dad stepped in when it looked like his aunt was offended at his bluntness, trying to smooth over the situation that had rapidly taken a turn.

“So, Robbe… Has Sander been treating you well?”

The brunette visibly relaxed at the question, leaning back into his ‘boyfriend’ easily as he replied.

“Oh yeah, he’s been perfect. Always making sure I’m happy and safe and cared for. I couldn’t be more grateful for your son.”

“Well, that is just lovely to hear. Isn’t it Alice?” he nudged his wife gently in the side as he spoke.

She smiled as she looked at the two boys. Sander didn’t think he’d ever seen her quite like that. Whenever he had brought home other people, she would be edgy and a bordering on callous sometimes. Almost always when she gained information about the person he was dating, she would decide they weren’t good enough. There had never really been a time when she just sat back and observed, being content with the situation unfolding in front of her.

Not that she was a mean person at all! Sander loved his Mum to pieces, she was lovely. She was just very overprotective. Which was probably why she was always adamant on finding people to set him up with, because she had already gone through some sort of a vetting process.

“It really is.” She said, her voice quiet as she looked at them fondly.

The two of them acted like a couple for the rest of the day, being clingy and all loved up and giving each other small pecks on the cheeks (but going no further as kissing Robbe on the mouth probably would have literally made Sander swoon). Though even that was torture. Acting like they were in a committed relationship with one another, like they were fully in love, like he had Robbe’s heart… It was all fun and games at first, but the longer it went on, the more painful it was when Sander reminded himself that none of it was real. That when they went home, they would return to being exclusively roommates and best friends, no lines blurred around romantic and platonic whatsoever.

It was especially harder when they found out they would be sleeping in the same room. Of course, they couldn’t act shocked about the arrangement since they were supposed to be a couple and sleeping next to each other was something that most couples did. But on the inside, Sander was a complete bundle of nerves, not knowing what on earth he was going to do to get through the night when he had the most beautiful specimen right next to him.

All he would want to do was reach out and hold his hand, to pull him close and cuddle until they fell asleep, to run a hand through his curls and listen to the soft snuffling sounds he makes. Though, none of that was possible. As soon as they were left alone in that room, they would be allowed to drop the act. There would be no need to act like they were still in love, so there would be no way to play it off casually.

They changed into their pyjamas in relative silence before getting into bed, which was a little odd for them. Normally there would have been some laughter over Sander’s choice in PJ’s. He had opted for some comfy tree-patterned ones in festive colours, that Robbe would never resist teasing whenever he saw them. Mainly because they were just so different to his whole wardrobe full of dark clothes. But there was nothing… Merely a quick glance and no jibes whatsoever. Sander couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Sliding underneath the duvet, the boys laid on their sides, so they were face to face, and there was such an odd energy that filled the air. Though Sander couldn’t quite explain what it was.

“Today wasn’t so bad, right?” Robbe said, softly.

“No… No, it wasn’t. My family weren’t too horrendous.”

“Yeah, they seemed pretty sweet. Maybe that’s just the IJzermans charm though.”

Sander smiled, “You say that jokingly, but I think it’s true. They seemed to really like you.”

“Well, I liked them too.”

“It’s a shame really.” He said, trying to hide the sadness in his voice. “I think they’ll be devastated when we ‘break up’.”

Robbe’s face fell at that, a look of realisation coming over him.

“Oh. Yeah, right. Um… Yeah, I can’t say I’ll be too thrilled either.”

Sander’s heart skipped a beat at his words, but he only let himself feel hope for a mere second before he asked for clarification. There was no use in building up his happiness again only for it to be broken down – be it intentional or not.

“What do you mean?”

The curly haired boy shook his head a little, a small frown appearing on his face.

“Never mind.” He mumbled, “It doesn’t matter.”

And Sander wanted to cry that yes it did matter. It mattered more than anything else ever had. He had spent years pining, hoping, yearning over that boy and sure, it might have just been him blowing the sentence out of proportion and allowing himself to get carried away with everything that had happened during the day… But he still couldn’t help but feel down when Robbe blew off the comment.

“Alright.” Was all he replied.

He laid there gazing at the brunette, hugging himself tight to prevent his arms from reaching out on their own accord and doing something stupid like touching his hair or tracing patterns on the soft skin of his cheek.

“I, uh, think I’m gonna get some sleep now. Since we have to be up early for the festivities and things tomorrow, y’know?”

Sander gave a curt nod, “Yeah… Yeah, same.”

“Ok, well… Night then.”

“Goodnight.”

Both boys turned onto their backs, looking directly up at the ceiling. As soon as Sander dragged his eyes away from Robbe, he regretted it, but he stayed firm and decided to focus on counting the ceiling tiles instead of thinking about how close he was laid to his crush. He looked at every crack, every speck of dirt, pretty much everything he could see in that room other than the other person in it. And that actually seemed to work for a while, at least until Robbe fell asleep. At which point, Sander saw no harm in gazing at him, since there was no danger of being caught. He could use any amount of heart eyes he wanted and Robbe would be none the wiser.

Although, when he did let himself look back in his direction, he felt a jolt go through his heart. It truly just felt like torture, like he was being repeatedly shown a future that he would never be given the luxury of, that someone else would be awarded. He knew that one day Robbe was going to fall in love with another guy. He was going to move out, get married, have a whole new life with another person and whoever that guy was, would be able to look at that gorgeous sight every night. It truly hurt knowing he would have to accept that.

Swinging his legs out of bed, Sander grabbed his phone and quietly made his way out of the room, padding through the hallway barefoot and heading downstairs. He crept into the living room and curled up on the sofa, facing away from the door in favour of looking out the window, watching cars that drove by. Probably people who were on their mad dashes to get to their loved ones, wanting to spend Christmas Day with them. Sander couldn’t blame them, there was no greater joy than that.

He scrolled through his phone until he got to the desired contact, bringing the phone up to his ear.

“Sander?” the croaky voice came.

“Hey, Younes.”

“It’s almost midnight, why are you calling? You woke me and you almost woke Yas.”

“I’m really sorry, I just didn’t know who else to turn to. You’re the only one I can really speak with.”

“Aren’t you with Robbe?”

He let out a slightly bitter laugh, “Yeah. Well… No. That’s the issue.”

There was a moment of silence when Younes was clearly trying to wrap his head around whatever Sander was going on about. It probably didn’t help matters that he had just been rudely woken up.

“You’re gonna have to walk me through this, San, I’m not getting it.”

“Ok, well Robbe is here, sure.” Sander said, trying to keep his voice as quiet as possible so he didn’t wake anyone. “But you said, aren’t I with him? Which I am not. That’s the issue, Younes. We aren’t together, we aren’t a couple, and we never will be, will we? This whole day has been horrible… It’s like dangling my dream right in front of me and then ripping it away!”

“Alright, I think you just need to get some sleep. You might feel better in the morning.”

“No. I won’t. I’ve been sleeping on things for three. Years. And the only thing that’s changed is my feelings have gotten stronger. And I can’t just go back up there and sleep next to him, Younes. Being so close and not being able to do anything… God, I just want to hug him and kiss his forehead and whisper things to help him fall asleep, but I can’t and it’s just-”

“Ok…” his friend said softly, trying to get him to slow down. “You’re getting yourself all worked up, and that won’t do you any good. Just take a moment, yeah? Take a breath.”

Sander listened, taking in a deep breath through his nose, shutting his eyes as he did so, and letting it out slowly through his mouth. He repeated the action a few times as he felt his racing heart slowing down.

“Feeling better?” Younes asked.

“A little… Breathing doesn’t solve my problems though.”

“Maybe not. But you know what could?”

“What?” Sander said, his voice hopeful.

Talk to him.”

He scoffed, “Seriously? It’s not like I can just go up to him and be like ‘hey Robbe! I’ve had this massive crush on you since you moved in like three years ago and I’ve been harbouring feeling ever since. I’m so completely head over heels, crazy, painfully in love with you and I don’t even know what to do with myself most of the time because you just drive me so insane with your beauty and your kindness that I feel my heart physically aching. But yeah, we can be friends, whatever’. Is that what you want me to say, Younes?”

“What did you just say?” Came a voice from behind him. Not from over the phone. Not from Younes… It was Robbe.

The speed at which Sander turned around may have been funny any other time, but it certainly wasn’t then. They just stared at each other with equally shocked expressions, Sander still holding the phone to his ear with Younes’ asking what was going on. Truthfully, he didn’t know himself, so he wasn’t sure how he would explain it all to his friend.

“Um… I’ll call you back.” he mumbled, before pocketing his phone in his pyjama bottoms, continuing to look at Robbe in concern, trying to gage his reaction.

He seemed surprised… But not utterly repulsed, so that was something.

“How much did you hear?” Sander asked, his voice unsteady. He just kept praying that he had walked in right at the end, that he hadn’t been listening to his rambles and been completely weirded out by it all.

Robbe shuffled his feet a little awkwardly as he stared at his friend, lips still parted with shock.

“I… You… You said you were in love with me. Did you know I was standing here or something? Were you joking around?”

There it was. That was his out. Sander could have agreed that he was just having a laugh, that he knew the entire time that Robbe had been standing there overhearing his conversation and just wanted to mess with him. He could have avoided the sheer embarrassment of accidentally confessing his love… But really, he didn’t want to.

He was sick of hiding it, of having to hold back every time he saw his stunning roommate walking around the flat. Every time he heard him laugh, speak, breathe. It was so hard to stop himself from doing all the things he had been craving and really, Sander didn’t think he could do it anymore. Maybe it would make things weird between them. Maybe it would cause irreparable damage, but surely it was better that Robbe was aware of his feelings? Maybe Younes was right, talking to him was the solution.

Sander bit his lip before he spoke.

“Um, no. I didn’t know you were there.”

There was a brief flicker in his eyes, and the older boy prayed that it was something positive.

“So, you meant it?” Robbe asked, hoped laced in his tone, though Sander may have been imagining that.

He hesitated, still nervous about giving outright confirmation. Once it was out there, there was nothing he could do to take it back. If things went wrong, there would be nothing he could do to stop it.

“Sander… Did you mean it?” he repeated, sounding faintly desperate.

“Of course, I meant it.”

“Really?”

The older boy huffed a little, “Yes. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been tearing myself apart, turning myself inside out, internally screaming at how much I adore you? How much it hurts whenever I see your face or hear your voice because I know the things I want will never happen? So… Yeah, I meant it, Robbe. Every word.”

He shuffled a little closer, making Sander’s heart leap in his chest.

“And… What exactly is it that you want?” Robbe questioned, eyes wide as he gazed up at him.

He almost laughed at that because, considering he just confessed his undying love, it was unlikely that he just wanted to put it out there and leave it at that.

“I want literally everything I can get.” He replied, sincerely. “Anything you’re willing to give me I will take, and I will treasure it forever. So, what, uh, what do you think about that?”

Robbe walked forwards, closing the distance between them. He raised his arms slowly, with an air of hesitance, placing them gently on Sander’s chest. The action made his completely breathless, trying desperately to fill his lungs with air and failing as the brunette looked at him with burning intent.

He audibly took in a deep breath, “San, is it alright if I… Can I… Can I kiss you?”

As if he would ever say no to that question.

“Yes.” he nodded, “Yes, of course, you can.”

And then Robbe’s lips were on his, and it was more perfect than he ever could have imagined. In all of his dreams, every time he had thought of kissing him, Sander had never fully understood how all encompassing, how completely mind-blowing it would feel.

In an instant, Sander was clinging onto him with a tight grip, trying to ground himself and make sure that everything he was experiencing was actually real.

One of his hands splayed across his back, encouraging Robbe to stumble right into his chest, while the other went right to the place that he had been fantasising about since he first saw him. He tangled his fingers into his curls, feeling how soft they were against his skin, slightly scratching his scalp with his blunt fingernails – something that the brunette clearly liked by the way he smiled against Sander’s mouth.

When they pulled away, Robbe peered up at him with a pink blush on his cheeks, looking prettier than ever. He seriously could not have looked better than he did in that moment, his curls messed up from Sander’s fingers running through it and plaid pyjama bottoms just slightly too big for him, trailing onto the floor. He just looked so cosy and soft and happy, a small smile playing on his lips.

“Um… In case it didn’t come across…” Robbe said, laughing slightly under his breath, “I’m pretty in love with you too.”

“You are?”

It wasn’t that Sander didn’t believe him. He was just still in a little disbelief that everything he had wanted was actually happening. That the things he had been yearning for, for three years, were going to become a part of his reality.

The slight laugh became a full giggle, “Yes, Sander. I am.”

“And… That thing you said to my parents, about that time I spilt the milk… Was that true?”

“It was.” Robbe nodded, “I was totally gone for you and all those things I told them that I said… Well, it was all the things I was thinking. I genuinely almost blurted it out in the moment.”

“You should have done.”

“You think?”

“Yeah, I mean, I was thinking the exact same thing.”

The brunette shook his head, “We could have saved so much time…”

“Maybe, but I think this moment was worth the wait. You were worth it.”

To Sander’s surprise, Robbe burst out laughing again. He was taken aback at that, not understanding what was so funny.

“Sorry, sorry.” The brown eyed boy said, grinning. “I was just thinking that… We had our first kiss while you were wearing your Christmas tree pyjamas.”

I knew it!” Sander cried, pointing at him accusatorily. “You never could resist saying something about them.”

Robbe placed his arms back on his shoulders, still smiling widely.

“And now every time I think about this moment, I’ll have something to say. So, that will be almost constantly, just so we’re clear.”

And though Sander didn’t say anything in return, the hug he gave him was enough. Good, it said, because he never wanted them to forget that incredible moment the two of them had shared. The kiss in the dim light of the light of the living room may as well have been in a winter wonderland. It was perfection itself, there was literally nothing either of them would have changed.

“Robbe?” he mumbled, as they continued to embrace.

“Hmm?”

“This isn’t fake anymore, right?”

He leant back, cupping Sander’s face softly.

“It was never really fake for me.”

“I love you.” The blonde boy confessed quietly, because he had never said the words directly up until then and he wanted to see how it felt. No surprises, it was amazing. There was nothing like it.

Robbe’s eyes lit up at that.

“I love you too.”

And from that moment onwards, they had the things they had both been wishing for. They had love, they had commitment… They had each other, always and forever.