"Who are you?"
Matthew's eyes flew open, recognizing his Build-A-Bear polar bear, Kumajirou. He must have pressed the bear's paw in his sleep, activating the recording of his brother's voice.
Back when they were ten, his parents had taken him and his brother, Alfred, to the workshop for their conjoined birthday party. He recalled how Al had thrust the recording device into the bear after leaving a secret message for Matthew.
"Mattie, listen to it when we get home. It's a surprise!"
He groaned at the thought of it. "Yeah," he mumbled to himself, "real funny, Al." His feet, clad in plain socks, touched the floor as he rose to get ready for the school day.
Matthew was always being mistaken for his brother, even though they weren't related. Otherwise, he was completely ignored or unrecognized, thus prompting the constant, "Who are you?"
As he pulled on his red sweatshirt with a white maple leaf graphic, he tried to understand how it had come to this. Sure, the two were toddlers from different backgrounds that formed a bond in the orphanage and somehow managed to get adopted by two gay men. Or at least that was what Dad said. He'd never doubted it, but they shared the same face, the only difference being Matthew's violet blue eyes.
Dad had explained to him once, "Well, you know how some people look like their pets?" Matthew had nodded. "The same thing goes for people with their friends and family. We rub off on each other." He'd just have to accept that as the answer as to why people often confused him for Alfred.
As for never being noticed, he pretty much had that down pat. He never tried to get anyone's attention or steal the limelight, so he figured people just let him be. Besides, Matthew didn't like the feeling of being paid attention to anyway; in fact, in the rare chance that it happened, it made him feel downright uncomfortable.
After slipping on his baggy jeans, he tiredly groused, "Come on, Kumajirou," as he picked up his beloved "pet" and reluctantly made his way downstairs.
"6:15; It's about time you got down here," Alfred pretended to scold him. "Started thinking I'd have to make breakfast."
"Yeah, you'd burn the whole house down," Matthew countered, "and we'd still have to pay the mortgage."
"Oh, Mattie!" his brother cried out while dramatically grasping at the fabric over his heart. "Your words wound me!"
He chuckled and shook his head. "Al, you're such an idiot."
Putting the theatrics aside, Alfred just replied, "Your mom's an idiot."
"She must be if she left me at the same orphanage as you," Matthew joked as he pulled an apron over his head and tied the straps around his waist.
The jokes were in good fun, but they wouldn't dare talk about the adoption situation in spite. It was an unspoken rule between them, for both of them knew how sensitive the topic was, especially for Mattie. Alfred had learned this the hard way when they were younger, and the rule had been born.
"What do you want for breakfast?" Matthew asked his brother.
"Mmm, hamburgers," he answered.
"Pfft, hamburgers aren't for breakfast."
"Then whip us up some of your delicious pancakes."
"On it," he conceded as he started getting out the mix and ingredients. "Anyway, where's Papa? He's usually the one that makes breakfast for us."
"Dunno," was Alfred's response. "Had to head off early to the restaurant."
"The man goes off to his job as a five-star chef and leaves his children starving at home. Irony much?"
The two filled the kitchen with their boisterous laughter. Matthew was having trouble stirring the batter with how hard he was chortling. "I-I," Alfred stuttered, trying to catch his breath, "I can't believe I actually knew that word!" This sent them spiraling into another fit of hysterics.
Once calmed down, Matthew poured the pancake batter onto the griddle. "Once these come off, we're going to have to wolf them down. We've got twenty minutes until we have to leave."
"Then you should've gotten down here earlier," Al teased him.
Matthew just rolled his eyes. "Well, maybe someone should have woken me up."
"That's Dad's job."
"Oh great, he's missing too?"
"Yeah- oh God."
"What?" Mattie asked in his naïve manner.
"They're both M.I.A.," Alfred announced, a devilish grin plastered on his face. "You know what that means."
Matthew eyes widened in realization and he blushed fiercely. "You're such a perv," he concluded as he flipped the pancakes.
"But you caught my drift, so you're a perv too."
"Hey, do you want pancakes or not?" Matthew argued as he slapped the platter down in front of him, placing his own set of pancakes on the opposite side of the table.
"Don't forget the maple syrup, Mattie."
He fake-gasped at the thought of it. "Me? Forget the most important part of the course?"
"Yeah, yeah, just bring it over, you Mountie."
"Whatever, Captain America."
Once Al had put on just enough syrup without getting the flapjacks soggy, he passed the bottle to Matthew. He was about to start eating them when he looked over and saw his brother practically empty the bottle all over his pancakes, and that was a big bottle.
Matthew noticed his brother staring and stopped pouring the syrup. "What?" he asked innocently.
"Sorry, who are you again?" Alfred joked, almost acknowledging that he was treading on thin ice with this last statement. He stuffed some of the fluffy goodness known as pancakes into his mouth. "Speaking of that," he continued talking as he pointed at the stuffed polar bear, "you're going to be 17 in July, Mattie. You've got to stop carrying around Kumajirou everywhere you go."
"I do not carry him everywhere." He wasn't even surprised anymore that he could understand Al through that food-filled mouth.
"He's always with you unless you're at school or any other public place. Or is this your way of saying you can't stand to leave my side?"
Matthew playfully punched his brother in the arm. "Careful, Al, your big head might not fit out the door." He daintily pierced several of the pancake squares he had cut with his fork and placed them on his tongue. "And I don't think you have any right to be talking about Kumajirou. Don't forget that you turn 17 only three days after me, and that you still sneak into my room whenever you have a nightmare."
"Hey," Al protested, "nightmares are scary, okay?" His expression turned somber as he crammed more of the flapjacks into his mouth. "Besides, you're the only one that would comfort me and then promise not to tell anyone. I know for sure Dad and Papa wouldn't."
"Yeah," Mattie agreed, "and they'd never let you sleep in my bed if they knew."
"Bloody wankers," Al happily declared, trying to imitate Dad's British accent. It came out Scottish.
Matthew snickered at his brother's failed attempt, almost choking on his pancakes. The two devoured the rest and brought their plates to the sink. Alfred watched in disgust as his brother licked off the remaining maple syrup before putting them in the wash.
"Hamburger freak. Come on, it's time to go."
The two grabbed their backpacks, strategically placed on the floor, and headed out into the chilly March air, Al's leather jacket and Mattie's golden waves billowing in the wind.