Another girl? Matthew thought, perplexed. Who is this guy?
''Oh, hey,'' Paul said. The girl took the seat next to him. ''Everything okay with the Headmaster?'' he asked.
''Yes, everything is sorted now,'' she answered.
''Good.'' Paul nodded and turned around again. ''Matthew, meet my sister Catherine. Twin sister, actually.''
''Hi,'' Catherine said, a smile on her face. ''Fraternal twins, we are, so luckily we don't look that much alike.''
''Oh, please,'' Paul sighed mockingly, ''stop pretending you hate me. It's getting old.'
Catherine said something back, but Matthew had already stopped listening to the twins' bickering, instead seizing Catherine up. She might say she and Paul didn't look that much like each other, but Matthew disagreed. Facial features differed, yes, but both were very beautiful and a bit intimidating, exuding confidence. Matthew had never felt so confident as they appeared to be, not to forget it was their first day at a new school as well. He looked from Paul to Catherine. Unlike her brother's brown curls and big eyes, she had auburn hair and green eyes that could spark a fire, so much life and light was in them. What is wrong with me? Matthew thought. How can I be jealous of two teenagers I literally have met seconds ago? But then again, he had always been the shy one. He blamed Adam, who was just over a year older than him and was always the leader of the pack, with Matthew just tagging along.
Ever since the Tate boys had started school, Matthew had stood in Adam's shadow. At first, he didn't notice this, being too young and too proud of his big brother. But things started to change when they enrolled here, at Ilion High. Adam was a sophomore when Matthew became a freshman. He had hoped he could carve out his own path, but as Adam had become the most popular boy in school, that plan quickly went down the drain. Never one to stand in the spotlight, Matthew had fallen back on his old routines. He had made a good friend in Oscar, but otherwise all the attention, from the other pupils – especially girls – to the teachers and even the baseball coach, had gone to Adam. And people just expected Matthew to be the same: tall, confident, smart and athletic. Matthew thought he was none of those things, although his Mum told him otherwise.
But up until this moment he had been quite happy. It was a new school year, a fresh start, and Adam would be off to college after this year. Matthew had already decided he would apply for a different one, no matter which. And he had had a conversation with Helen this morning on the bus – sort of. She had finally noticed him and spoken to him. But all this happiness was now rapidly being converted into jealousy with a healthy dose of self-doubt. He should have made his move earlier, before Paul came on to the scene.
Matthew was pulled out of his thoughts by the shrill voice of Mrs Athena, their Science teacher. She was hated by most students, including Matthew. Her harsh ways didn't suit him at all: more than once he had dropped his flask when she suddenly stood behind him during a practicum. She thought him incapable. Matthew thought her pathetic and over-eager. Rumour had it she had a thing for Headmaster Nestor, but he was already married. Students made up the theory Mrs Athena converted all her frustrations of her personal life upon her students.
After their Science class, Matthew had a double period of Geography, a subject he actually enjoyed. Oscar did as well, always thinking about the gap-year he was intending to take after high-school and the places he would see. ''The world is more than San Francisco!'' was practically his catch-phrase.
''Matthew, what did I just say?'' The kind voice of Mr Pottinger woke Matthew up. He berated himself, drifting away twice in the first two classes at the first day of the new year.
''I'm sorry, Mr Pottinger,'' Matthew said, his face flushed with shame. He normally wasn't called out by teachers. Mr Pottinger continued his lesson, but Matthew's focus was on his classmates, especially on the girls, who were sniggering. ''What's going on?" he asked Oscar in a whisper.
''They're saying you were dreaming about Helen,'' Oscar answered, making sure Mr Pottinger would not hear him.
Matthew flushed to an ever deeper shade of red and inwardly cursed the fact he was prone to blushing. For the last two years he thought nobody had known about his crush except Adam and Oscar, but now it seemed to haunt him everywhere. For the remaining part of the lesson, Matthew kept his head down and focused on his Geography, not wanting to attract more attention to himself.
When he and Oscar exited the classroom, Matthew sighed exasperatedly. ''Why, why do those girls talk about me and Helen? Why couldn't they obsess about the clothes Mr Pottinger was wearing today?'' Every girl at Ilion High swooned over the Geography teacher, with his wavy brown hair that was almost brushing his shoulders, and impeccable taste in clothing. Out of habit, Matthew pretended to kick a stone, but Oscar kept his calm.
''Because they've been doing that for two whole years now. But you, mister, you are a fresh, new, juicy bit of gossip. So you can't blame them for changing the subject.''
Matthew stared at him. ''Are you the new Dr Phil or are you just gay? You seem to know how girls' minds work perfectly well.''
Oscar scowled. ''This talk is nothing like you, stop it. And there is nothing wrong with being gay, actually.''
''Try telling my brother that.'' Matthew knew Adam despised gay boys, but why, Matthew didn't understand.
Oscar nudged him. ''Speaking of the devil.'' They had entered the cafeteria and Oscar pointed at the table Adam was sitting at with his friends. ''Come on, let's get some lunch and join them.''
The cafeteria was, maybe apart from the library, Mathew's favourite place of Ilion High. Almost every time he entered it he realised how lucky and privileged he was because his parents could afford to send him – and Adam – to such a high profile private prep school. You almost did not count here if you did not have and Ivy League ambition. And you certainly did not count here if you acted only the slightest way out of the ordinary.
The school was almost and entirely white one, although the demographic was slowly changing, which Matthew thought a good thing. The kids were snobby and pretentious, the worst ones lazy and always falling back on powerful family connections. This, combines with the effort to be as normal as van be, gave the school and its students the reputation of being homophobic and not supportive of the LHBTQ – community. The school uniform made it look like everybody was equal – white shirt, navy pants and ties for the boys; a navy skirt with white socks for the girls – but Matthew knew better.
He was glad he was not gay. At this school, that would make his life hellish. But despite of this, Matthew really liked Ilion High. He never was one for sports, but the tennis and baseball courts were actually state of the art; the library gave you a Hogwarts-y vibe and the cafeteria, the place he was currently standing in, was more like a lounge than a typical high school cafeteria. It was bright, with lots of wooden furniture. For the times you had a free period, there were actual sofas to lounge on and the ping pong tables were a big hit. And the food was exquisite.
Matthew felt his stomach rumble and was glad when it was his turn. He quickly loaded up his plate and, together with Oscar, made his way over to Adam's table.
''You won't believe what happened this morning,'' Adam said by way of introduction as Matthew and Oscar sat down. ''This new boy, already the teacher's favourite.''
''No way! We have a new kid as well. Two actually, twins. Boy and girl. They bicker like an old married couple,'' Matthew retorted.
''Looks like an invasion. I guess my classmate is their older brother.''
''What did he look like?'' Oscar asked.
''Brown curls, athletic,'' Adam said, scowl on his face. He hated competition. He was considered the most handsome and popular boy in school and would've killed to keep it that way.
''Yup,'' Matthew nodded, his mouth full with French fries. ''Sounds like the brother of our guy. He's named Paul, his sister is called Catherine.'' He looked at his brother with raised eyebrows.
''Henry.'' Adam answered the unspoken question. ''Henry Darlow,'' he spat. He paused for a moment.
''What?'' Matthew asked.
''Henry, Paul and Catherine,'' Adam contemplated. ''Sounds kind of snobby.'' Matthew immediately thought back to Paul's posh voice and perfect pronunciation.
''Well, Matthew isn't too fond of them, either,'' Oscar remarked.
''What? Why?'' Adam said between bites. ''As if they could challenge your popularity.'' He looked at Matthew, but his younger brother didn't answer.
Matthew let that sting slide by and rolled his eyes at his brother. Adam looked from Matthew to Oscar, hoping to get some answers from him. Oscar leaned over the table and said in a conspiring matter: ''Because Paul flirted with Helen and she smiled at him.''
''Oh, Matt,'' Adam sighed. ''Really? Man, if you want her, go for it. That girl is just as pretty as her sister'' – he puffed out his chest a little bit as he referred to her girlfriend – ''so if you do nothing, another guy will make his move and fast. Man up!''
Before Matthew could mumble something in reply, the whole atmosphere in the cafeteria changed. A tall, broad shouldered blond guy, looking intimidating by just breathing, walked over to their table and every student held their breath. Adam stood up to face him, but although he was no short guy himself, he still was a bit smaller.
''Adrian,'' Adam said. ''What do you want?'' He looked menacing.
Adrian shrugged. 'Just wanting to know if you had a nice summer.''
''Quit playing games with me here, man. I don't have time for this nonsense. And I suggest you spend your time studying, otherwise that big head of yours will forever stay hollow.''
This is why my brother is the coolest guy in school, Matthew thought proudly, Adam's previous insults towards himself already forgotten.
Adrian narrowed his eyes. ''All talk, no actions, Tate. Let's see who will win the battle for captain of the baseball team tomorrow afternoon. Good luck.'' Adrian cracked his knuckles for good measure and walked away. Adam stared after him, his eyes cold.