Chapter 1: Avoiding Family
It was a little known fact about Kyle Valenti. He hated Christmas. He hadn't always been a Grinch. When he was a little boy, he counted down until Christmas. He would play with Alex Manes and talk loudly about Santa Claus and how Santa always got him what he wanted. The secret wishes he only told his father, because he thought that if Santa was really all knowing, really able to see him when he was sleeping, then he should also know that secret Christmas wish that Michael would hold dear to his heart.
When he was older, he found out the truth. His father was Santa Claus and the reason Santa always knew that secret wish was because Kyle always told him. Every year.
It wasn't until he was in his early twenties that he started to hate Christmas. He was away at school when he got the call. His father had died, the brain cancer taking him faster than anyone had thought. That was the first year he hadn't gone home for Christmas. He scheduled himself to work and then told his mother that it was unavoidable. He did it every year since then too, unable to face Christmas without his father.
The year Rosa returned was the first year this became an issue. The younger (older?) girl was absolutely relentless. She would wait for him at the hospital after work, prodding him for commitments to Christmas things. He started trying to use another exit only to find her waiting there. Like she had some kind of Kyle Valenti lojack. And the guilt trips. Oh god the guilt trips every time he tried to use one of his usual excuses.
She'd been dead for ten years.
It was the first Christmas they'd spend together as siblings, not just him crashing the Ortecho family Christmas as Liz's annoying jock boyfriend.
On Christmas Day, he had it figured out. He had an early shift. His usual excuse didn't work, because she'd already talked to Liz and Liz didn't know that he avoided Christmas with his family - his mom, now Rosa - like it was the plague. He was going to volunteer for any surgery that came along in the last hour of his shift. Let someone else get off on time. He'd hope it would be a long one. After that, he'd try to get pulled into another one and another one until it was too late and he had to call to cancel.
But Rosa and her annoying Kyle Valenti lojack struck again. He finished surgery forty-five minutes before his shift was set to end and when he went back into his office, there she was. Sitting in his chair, playing on the phone that Liz had gotten her. She'd become obsessed with Candy Crush, missing the trend by several years but not caring at all, in her signature Rosa Ortecho way.
She moved to sit in one of the chairs reserved for patients and other doctors when he came in and sat there. Watching the clock. Watching the door. When he would've usually gone down to see if there were other surgeries he could assist with, anything to stretch his shift out so he could miss Christmas, she was sitting there. Watching him with a challenge in her dark eyes. He stayed where he was, held down by the power of her gaze. When the time finally came, she stood up and motioned for him to come with her.
They went to his car and she took his keys. She refused to tell him where they were going. Finally, they ended up at the cemetery. "What are we doing here, Rosa?" he asked.
"I wanted to - I wanted to wish Jim a Merry Christmas. Then we're going to Isobel's for Christmas dinner. You can avoid your mom and this holiday all you want, but the rest of us?" Kyle raised an eyebrow. "Alex said you've avoided all things Christmas since your dad died."
Kyle had noticed that no matter how many times they talked about being related, she never called Jim their dad. When she said dad, she meant Arturo. "He made Christmas special for me," Kyle admitted, looking down at his hands.
"Do you think he'd like that you've lost your Christmas spirit? That you leave your mom to celebrate alone? Liz did that to Dad after -- after everything with me too. It doesn't make it easier for her. So today, you're going to do Christmas dinner at Isobel's and then I am personally going to drive you to your mother's and you will spend time with your mother." Rosa crossed her arms over her chest. "But first, we are going to go wish Jim a Merry Christmas."
"God are you always so annoying?" Kyle asked.
"Welcome to having a big little sister, Valenti. We're bossy and annoying at the same time. Now out. We have Christmas to celebrate and I swear to God if you try to run, I will bring down the wrath of the undead."
"Can you do that?"
"No but it sounds cool, huh?"
Rosa laughed and climbed out of the car. After a moment, Kyle followed.
Chapter 2: Fake Dating
Maria Deluca is presented with an interesting proposition.
Dedicated to my beautiful Christi
"I need you to be my date."
Maria Deluca looked up at the words, brow furrowed as she studied her best friend. Liz looked frantic. There were no other words to describe the way the other woman looked, eyes wide as she stared at Maria across the bar at the Wild Pony. Even her aura was spinning out of control. There was the standard darkness that had seemed to surround it since Max died, but underneath that - colors. Colors changing back and forth. She knew the meaning behind the colors.
There was the standard orange-yellow that had surrounded Liz her entire life - the aura of a perfectionist and a scholar. There was a muddled red - a deep seated anger that had appeared at the end of high school when Rosa died. It was that dark pink that worried her - the color of deceit. There was something else there, but the colors changed too fast for Maria to catch them. She closed her eyes, trying to feel the vibrations around her friend. Sometimes, she could feel them even better than she could see them. A taste like copper pennies settled on her tongue and her heart raced.
"Maria!" Liz's frantic voice called her back to the world around her. "Were you reading my aura again? How many times have I told you not to do that without permission?"
Maria had heard it all a million times over. The biggest flaw with having a psychic best friend was that it wasn't always easy for Maria to turn off those extra senses. Especially when someone came to her demanding that she be her fake date. "Sorry," Maria muttered immediately, sounding not at all sorry. "I'm just trying to figure out why I need to be your date. Did you switch teams without telling me? I mean if you did, awesome and I completely support you but we can probably find you a real girlfriend."
"Okay sorry. Why do you need me to be your date?"
"There's this stupid hospital Christmas gala and there's this resident that has seen me talking to Kyle and Kyle says that he's been talking about me. Nonstop. And I'm not -- Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Isn't the solution obvious? Go with Kyle. You don't need to pretend to be dating a girl when you have a built in date."
"Kyle has a date. Please Maria." Liz's dark eyes turned soft and her full bottom lip jutted out in a pout. Maria heaved a heavy sigh. Why did Liz have to have such a perfect puppy dog face? More importantly, why did it always have to work?
"Fine. When is this gala and how fancy do I have to dress?"
A brilliant smile erupted on Liz's face and suddenly, Maria felt like the whole thing was worth it. If pretending to be on a date with her best friend made her smile like that for the first time since Max? Well she'd make it happen even if she had to pay Guerin a bottle of her good whiskey to tend the bar.
Luckily, she had a staff and couldn't see it coming down to that.