Keith could see why Coran had had to move out. Every corner was crammed and piled with junk, towers of it teetering above and around him. The sheer amount of, how had Coran described it?, all sorts of stuff, odds, and ends, objects of interest, was dizzyingly overwhelming.
Allura squeezed into view between the largest grand piano Keith had ever seen and several crates of preserves (frighteningly green and labeled “Coran’s Space Goo”) stacked on a pile of gorgeously bound atlases. “Hullo again, Keith! Feel free to look around, but remember: be careful! Most of these items are irreplaceable.”
Coran nodded enthusiastically, “Oh, and please don’t go in the attic or basement.”
“What’s in the attic and basement?” Keith asked, admiring a couple of ancient knives displayed in a cabinet otherwise overflowing with china.
“Just our records, and the basement is where we print the catalog,” Allura waved a hand dismissively. “Well go on now, take a look around!” She smiled enthusiastically and disappeared with Coran behind a large mahogany bookcase filled with lace napkins.
Keith, now left alone, had no choice but to begin to make his way around. There was so much to look at; cabinets and cabinets of china, teapots, oddly shaped cookies cutters, vases, snowglobes, crystal, china dolls, goblets, photo albums, etc… There were cases of jewelry, samurai swords, even a deflated hot air balloon that hung over a large leather sofa, the basket filled with bibles of all colors and sizes.
Suddenly, Keith collided with something and, losing his footing, fell backward into a crate of thick placemats. The suffocating smell of mothballs hit him, but something weighing down on him prevented Keith from freeing himself. The edge of the crate bit into Keith’s shin. “Fuck--”
“Hey, are you okay?” A hand appeared, peeling off a few placemats and helping Keith up. “Wait, I know you!” Now up, Keith could see that the hand belonged to a guy roughly his age, with an arrestingly focused gaze and a blinding smile.
Keith was miles away from anyone he knew, and besides, he would have remembered meeting someone who looked like this. Keith didn’t really have a type, but. If he did…
“Uh, sorry, uh--” The confusion must’ve been prominent on Keith’s face because the boy seemed to backtrack.
“No, no, I just meant, uh, you must be Coran’s nephew!” Before Keith could confirm that, the guy was suddenly bent over, turning his rapt attention on the pants spilling from Keith’s combat boots. Or rather, the ragged hole in them that was now dripping blood down Keith’s hastily-tucked jeans and into his boots’ lips. “Fuck, that looks nasty. We need to get you cleaned up.” Then the guy was standing again, and before Keith had time to notice how he was a couple inches taller than him, he was off, weaving effortlessly through the maze of bric-a-brac. And, wow, he was tugging Keith along with him with a warm, firm hand on Keith’s elbow.
“Hey, look, I found Keith!” The boy triumphantly exclaimed, stopping a few moments layer in a room composed entirely of bookshelves, with a brand-new tricycle in the corner. Wow, this kid really knew his way around. A large boy was seated on the aforementioned tricycle, a book in his hand and two on one knee. He looked up at Keith’s entrance and smiled.
The boy who had found Keith trapped by the placemats tugged at his elbow, “Keith, I’m Lance, and this is Hunk,” he gestured at the large tricycle boy, “We live around here, and were just stopping by to see ‘Llura and Coran… ” Lance said all of this at the speed of light, and then Keith was just left blinking dazedly, with Hunk and Lance watching him expectantly. It took Keith a solid ten seconds to figure out that Lance had probably known his name from Coran and Allura, who he was obviously familiar with. By the time he blurted, “OH NICE TO MEET YOU,” like a fucking idiot, both Lance and Hunk had moved onto the prospect of finding Keith a band-aid.
“That’s a nice one,” Hunk said, nodding to Keith’s shin and searching his (Hunk’s) pockets.
“That’s what I said, buddy. Does it hurt, Keith?” Lance asked, a little furrow between his eyebrows.
“Uh… not really?” Why the fuck did that come out as a question?
“Ah, here’s one!” Hunk had pulled several large bandages out of his vest pocket.
Wow, he just had bandages on hand? How… convenient. Keith took them and put a couple on his shin. He didn’t really know what to do or care about the blood on his jeans. Luckily, to save him from any more awkward moments with Lance, Coran and Allura suddenly arrived.
“Oh, Keith, I see you’ve met Lance and Hunk! Wait, where’s Katie?” Allura peered questioningly at the three of them over a large canvas with a very well-done replica of the Mona Lisa.
“Aw, shit. The little gremlin must’ve gotten lost.” Lance stuffed his hands in his pockets and bit his lip. It was at this moment that Keith became aware of the music wafting in from the parlor. It was a classical piece, starting very simply as a sad little theme in a minor chord, but grew robust and hopeful through a series of variations.
“That music sounds familiar,” Lance said, pushing past Keith and around Allura.
“It’s Beethoven, I believe,” Coran responded, twirling his mustache.
“Katie loved Beethoven,” Lance mentioned, now halfway down the hall, and Keith wondered why he’d used the past tense if she was still very much here and being looked for. “She must’ve found your CD player.”
“Lance, we don’t have a CD player, remember? She must be at one of the baby grands. She’s very talented!” Allura called after him, smiling and shaking her head.
Hunk put his book down from where he’d returned to it. “That’s impossible; Katie hasn’t played since the car accident.”
Hunk took off after Lance, and Keith, having nothing better to do, followed.
After a few turns, they appeared to be in the parlor, where Lance was sitting next to a small girl seated at the piano, her eyes focused on the sheet music. Keith watched her fingers racing along the keyboard, awestruck.
The girl, who must’ve been Katie, finished with a final, solemn note, and turned to Allura. “Where did you get this?” She demanded.
The sound of Katie’s voice seemed to shock Lance and Hunk. Hunk, recovering first, jumped up and completely enveloped her in a bear hug. “You’re back! Katie’s back!”
“Let go!” She squeaked, “I can’t breathe!” Hunk loosened his grip, and then Lance leaped forward, grinning in a way that made Keith flush.
“Our very own musical genius has returned to us!” Lance exclaimed, and then made a sound of pain and let go of Katie very quickly. “The gremlin bit me!”
Hunk laughed, “Our pidgeon has certainly returned!”
Katie didn’t seem to pay them any heed, “Where did you get this?” She demanded of Allura more forcefully.
“Katie!” Lance swooned dramatically, “You little fucker, talk to me! You haven’t said anything for six whole months! What gives?”
Katie seemed to deflate again. After a long pause, she murmured, “I didn’t have anything to say.”
Katie, Keith soon learned in a hurried whisper from Lance, was a child prodigy, a musical genius. Her gift had become apparent to everyone when she, at age three, had begun to pick out complicated tunes by ear. Once she’d started formal lessons, she’d progressed rapidly, and by age eight she’d won the International Chopin contest. Her parents had homeschooled her for several years when her life became a series of recitals, interviews, lessons, and recordings, but when she grew tired of it and wanted to attend school with the rest of the kids her age. She still spent all her free time on piano, but her years of homeschooling had put her ahead of the rest of the kids her age, which was how she had met Hunk and Lance despite the three year age gap between them.
Lance paused after this, looking down. “A couple months ago, though,” he continued, even more quietly than before, “her dad and brother got into a freak car accident and… didn’t make it. It really traumatized her, and she stopped playing, and even speaking.”
“That… really sucks,” Keith replied eloquently, not really sure how to respond, especially with Lance’s lips brushing his ear.
Lance’s mouth quirked up, “It really did.”
“C’mon, guys, we’re going up to the terrace!” Hunk had disappeared a little earlier with Katie, leaving Keith and Lance alone in the parlor. He had no returned, though, appearing in the doorway with his headband slipping down his forehead.
“Oh, right, let’s go! Quick, we don’t wanna miss it.” Lance grabbed Keith’s hand and pulled him towards the door.
“Miss what?” Keith asked as he was dragged along. Not that he minded, though.
“It’s the golden hour, duh.”
Lance pulled him up several staircases, Allura and Coran in their wake and Katie up with Hunk ahead. Finally reaching the terrace on the top level, Keith’s breath caught in his throat.
Monsoon season, Allura had mentioned before, and with the desert spread beneath his feet and tar-black clouds gathering overhead, a trail of ink at their wake a sign of the coming night, Keith remembered. The air was thicker, and the sun hung like a heavy ripe peach on the horizon, bleeding out into the sky. Rain was coming, but there was something else, something else that silenced all of them. Moments passed, and the silence was gently broken.
“It’s the golden hour,” Coran informed in a hushed voice, “The short period of time between the day and night, right before sunset. Look, everything takes on a golden quality. The cracked dirt, the saguaros, garbage cans, buildings, even the most wretched individuals seem to glow.”
Keith looked out and saw that he was right. Coran’s hair had caught fire, and Allura seemed enormously lovable, breathtakingly beautiful. Hunk’s skin turned into molten gold, and even Katie, who was still thin and sad, seemed infused with the power of the sun. And Lance…
Keith had to look away.
Then the sky turned purple, orange, red, and yellow, and the sun dipped behind the trees, returning the desert to its former state. A violent rain began to shriek against the clay-tile roof, and they returned back inside.
“We need to get home,” Lance smiled gently, pulling Katie affectionately closer. Hunk nodded in agreement.
“It was nice to meet you, Keith,” Katie spoke up. Lance’s grin intensified.
“Hell yeah, it was. You should hang with us tomorrow, dude. We have something to show you.”
“Okay,” Keith found himself saying, and watched them run out to the pickup with Allura, giggling as they were drenched. Keith waited at the window until the pickup was entirely out of view.