Upon entering Café Enchante, Matthew and Oscar immediately slumped into their regular booth, at the back of the cafe. Today's waitress didn't even had to ask them what they wanted and just brought them what they always ordered.
''I don't even get the chance to order something else,'' Oscar pouted when his banana milkshake was set in front of him.
''I put extra cheese on yours,'' their waitress said to him, nodding to his sandwich. She was a young girl, in her twenties, trying to save up for college. Matthew and Oscar had developed a platonic love, along with huge respect, for her over the years.
''I love you, Wendy,'' Oscar perked up. ''I'll never complain again.''
''Right you are,'' Wendy answered. ''Otherwise I have to reconsider sponsoring that around the world trip you are planning since forever.''
''Hey, hey,'' Oscar interjected, ''with all the eating and drinking Matt and me are doing here, it's only right you lot give something back.''
Wendy shook her head, muttering something that suspiciously sounded like ''too smart for their own damn good,'' whilst walking away from them.
''Thank you, Wendy!'' Matthew yelled to her back. His good mood disappeared however when he saw two people entering the café. He immediately slumped even further into the booth, so that his head wasn't visible anymore for somebody standing in the front of the place.
''What's the matter?'' Oscar asked between bites of his greasy grilled cheese. The extra cheese was spilling and ended up on his fingers. ''You got a napkin?''
''You've got to be kidding me,'' Matthew muttered.
''What? Because I spilled some cheese. How long have you known me, man? Eating this is a challenge, but a challenge I mean to conquer before graduation. That gives me a little less than two years to practice.''
''Would you stop blabbering for just one second?'' Matthew snapped. ''Of course it's not about your stupid extra cheese.'' He gestured to the door. ''Look.''
Oscar whipped around his head so fast and back again Matthew was sure he sprained a muscle in his neck. ''Oh,'' he said comically, his sandwich forgotten. The molten cheese started dripping slowly on his pants, but neither of the boys noticed. ''But –'' Oscar began, momentarily lost for words. If the situation was as serious, Matthew would have pointed it out to him. Oscar never was lost for words. In fact, if he didn't have the last one, he was disappointed. ''I thought you were going to ask her out.''
''I was!'' Matthew said. He sat up just a little bit, and now saw Helen and Paul making their way to one of the window tables. He thought he might vomit when Paul gallantly helped Helen into her seat. ''But that was before that sleaze ball came into the picture. I was thrown off course!'' Matthew looked miserable. ''She is supposed to be mine.''
Oscar awkwardly patted his friend's arm, trying to avoid getting his greasy fingers on Matthew's sleeve. ''I know, man. But we'll think of something.''
''What do you mean?"
''You know, to lure her away from him. To make her see you are the better choice.''
''The better choice? Have you looked at me recently? And then looked at him?'' He spat out that last word, not quite ready to say Paul's name yet. Jerk. Just when he felt more comfortable and confident in his own skin, that guy had to mess it all up before it even began.
''But – but she smiled at you!'' Oscar said, ''that first morning on the bus. I was convinced she'd like you back!''
''Girls smile at everybody,'' Matthew scowled. ''It's in their nature. I hate girls.''
''No, you don't.''
''Yes, I do! And I am never going to date one. I'll just be by myself for the rest of my life.''
''Matt, come on,'' Oscar pleaded. ''This is just a minor setback. She'll see reason in no time.''
Both the boys looked to Helen and Paul again, just in time to witness how Paul sweetly swiped away some spilled milkshake from Helen's upper lip and lingered a bit longer than strictly necessary.
''Yeah, right,'' Matthew muttered. ''Look at him, he's perfect.''
''How do you know?" Oscar said sharply. ''Just because he has brown curls and dimples and a cute smile?''
''Well, my hair is straight, I have no dimples and only Mum says my smile is cute.'' Matthew's face was now contorted into a full-blown pout.
Oscar thought other tactics were necessary. ''And since when do you define people by their looks? You, Matthew Tate, who always speaks so high and mighty about how what's inside that really matters. Don't let Paul's looks let distract you from the real deal here, mate.''
''I am not all high and mighty! Look at me, I have the biggest crush on the prettiest girl in school! And I don't even know her, not really.''
''Aha.'' Oscar pointed at him. ''But you don't know Paul either. Maybe he is a jerk. Maybe he is serial killer. Maybe he hates puppies.''
''Don't be an idiot. Nobody hates puppies.''
''You're missing the point,'' Oscar said. He was becoming more gleeful by the moment. Matthew just needed to see reason, he thought, and that was where he came into play. He was good at making people see reason, at least so he thought. But Matthew saw straight through him.
''Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. We are not playing that game again.''
''It's not a game!'' Oscar exclaimed. ''It's a genuine thing to make others feel better.''
''It's a scheme to have people always agree with you,'' Matthew said. ''And I don't like it.''
''What you don't like is Helen sitting over there, making googly eyes at Paul, who is flashing her his dimples in full force. So listen, my friend, and let me get to the point.''
Reluctantly, Matthew turned towards Oscar. Usually he was right about these things, which made the process even more hateful.
''What I was trying to say was that you don't know this Paul Darlow and his little family that moved here this summer. Yes, he is good looking and seems to be charming, but that's it.''
''And impeccable taste in clothing,'' Matthew added.
Oscar cocked his head. ''If you want I could take you shopping this weekend.''
Matthew sighed and couldn't tell if his friend was being sarcastic or not. ''Get to the point, Oz.''
''Right. You don't know what he's really like. Whether he is intelligent, kind to his mother and grand-ma, if he has a good sense of humour. Things like that. And those things matter to girls too, it's not just dimples and hair for them. Unless they are shallow, but we know Helen is not like that, because she's been in our class for the third year now. She is a hardworking, kind and caring girl. If Paul is just a pretty head, this will be over before you know it and then you can make your move, by proving you are everything Paul isn't. You will sweep her off her feet in no time.'' Oscar was done and stuffed the rest of his grilled cheese in his mouth.
''That actually makes sense,'' Matthew said, considering Oscar's speech.
''I told you s-'' Oscar said, cheese spraying everywhere.
Matthew held up one hand. ''Don't you dare finish that sentence!'' He gulped back his milkshake. ''Let's go home.''
Because Oscar lived in the other side of town and had to take the bus home, Matthew started walking the five blocks to his house by himself and tried to gather his thoughts. The schoolyear was just two days in but already so much had happened; his teenage brain struggled to make sense of it all. The intrusion of the Darlow family, Peter's weird reaction concerning Adrian not being family – what was up with that – , the threats the latter had made towards him and Adam, the list went on and on. And don't get me started on Paul and Helen, Matthew thought angrily. He kicked away a stone, which barely missed a car parked in front of a house. A woman glowered at him. Matthew hunched his shoulders and kept on walking. The beauty of living in a large city like San Francisco was you could just disappear whenever you wanted to. And right now, Matthew didn't want to go home. Not realizing his feet were taking him in the opposite direction from home, he suddenly ended up in his favourite spot, a place nobody knew about but him and some sea gulls. The place was called Land's End for a reason and Matthew thought it fitting. Walking along the coastline trail, he finally stopped at the monument. He went to the overlook and watched the waves batter the shore for a few minutes, with his hands deep in his pockets. When the handful of foreign tourists had enough from the view of the ocean, he glanced around to see if there were no guards around and then climbed over the railing, carefully making his way down the loose and slippery stones. When he was sure he was out of sight he sat down on one and looked around for some pebbles that were good for skipping along the water. He smiled whenever he saw a seal or dolphin popping up for some fresh air. He then checked the time on his phone and saw he still had some time before dinner. Matthew finally relaxed. He had been coming to Land's End since he'd started Ilion High. In the first month of his freshman year, their class went on an excursion to this very park, to learn about the history of their hometown. Mr Appleton, their history teacher, had talked about the military history of San Francisco, showing them the Legion of Honour and the USS San Francisco Memorial. Matthew had learned little from that field trip. He was far more enchanted by the rugged coastline and the way the wind played with the waves. If the sky was clear and the wind toned down a bit so they sea wouldn't spray that much water you could see all the way to Mile Rock. Living here never gets old, Matthew thought as he remembered the trip from two years ago. He found himself coming back to this place again and again the weeks following the excursion and never told anybody how often he'd come here, how the stormy wind would calm his mind. Here he could breathe.
Irrevocably his mind went back to Helen. Matthew had lost count of the times he'd sat in this very place and thought about ways to ask her out, some more ridiculous than others. He'd read too many Shakespeare in their English class. But, growing up with a mother who was always watching romantic comedies, he knew the good guy would always get the girl in the end. That had been his lifeline, his reassurance all would work out just fine in the end, even if things didn't look that way right now. But right now stupid Paul Darlow had ruined everything. Barely in the city for 48 hours, or so Matthew liked to think, and he had already snatched the very girl he had had a crush on for two years away from him. What Matthew couldn't accomplish in two years, Paul had done in just under two days. Fuming, Matthew threw some more rocks into the sea and they splashed heavily when they broke the surface of the water. He needed a plan. A plan to snatch Helen away from her man, he thought, grinning despite his anger. But then he remembered Oscar's speech at Enchante's, the wise words once again ringing in his ears. His best friend, who had advised him at the first day of school to finally go for it and ask Helen out, now said to wait it out. That maybe Paul was not the perfect boy he seemed to be. All smiles and dimples and perfect teeth, but appearances could be deceiving. After contemplating this for a while, Matthew had to agree with Oscar. Oh, he much rather would take action right now, but it was good to get a sense of his competition first. See what kind of guy Paul was, maybe suck up to him a little bit. Or flirt with his sister, see how reacts then. Matthew startled himself. Since when did I start to think like Adam?
With a last longing look to the sea, Matthew stood up and made his way back. Some tourists saw him climbing over the edge, back onto the coastal trail, but said nothing. Matthew, however, could feel their curious eyes burning in his back. He jogged the last blocks back to his home, feeling hungry and drained. He wanted to have dinner, quickly do his homework and then maybe play some videogames with Adam if he was up for it. If he doesn't have a date with Zoe. Matthew liked his brother's girlfriend, but it complicated matters that she was Helen's older sister. What was worse, Zoe treated him like a younger brother, even though the age difference was just little over a year. She always messed up his hear and teased him. Matthew underwent this behaviour grudgingly. Because when Zoe kept herself in check, she was actually good fun to be around; always making jokes and keeping Adam on his toes. That, Matthew liked most about her. He was home now. He turned his key, kicked of his shoes and yelled, ''I'm home!''