The hotel that Misa and Light were staying at looked like the kind of place that would've cost Matt a month's salary at his old job to book the smallest room for one night. The smallest room, granted, would probably have been about the size of his Plainsville apartment. It made him nervous just being near the building as he helped Mello, Naomi, and Matsuda unload Light and Misa's luggage onto the front stoop, where a bellboy had shown up instantaneously to assist the rich young couple. From what he could see of the lobby through the big glass doors, it looked like the kind of place that probably wouldn't let him in wearing his current outfit. Everyone he saw was dressed up, whether patron or worker, though to varying degrees- one peculiar man was wearing a white suit a few sizes too big that matched the frosty hue of his hair. Matt felt relieved when the bags were all out and it was time to wish Light and Misa goodbye.
"Thank you for everything," Light said graciously, offering them each a handshake.
"It was awfully kind of you to drive us so far," Misa added with a charming smile. "How can we repay you?"
"No payment necessary," L told her after he finished shaking Light's hand.
"I insist," Misa pressed, pulling a checkbook out of her purse.
"Well, I insist as well. You don't need to pay us anything; it was our pleasure."
"Well, alright," Misa said, putting her checkbook away.
Mello and Naomi both looked as though they were about to kill L.
"That is very generous of you," Light said diplomatically.
"Still, I feel bad not giving you anything in return," Misa admitted. After a moment, her face lit up. "I know! How about you come to our competition tomorrow!"
Now it was Light's turn to cover up a glare. "Misa, I don't know if we can-"
"It's the perfect idea," she insisted. "We have some open seats in our box, right?" She turned back to L. "Think of it as a friendly invitation. It'll be great to see you again!"
Even L looked bewildered as Misa pulled out a small notebook, scribbled down the location and time of the show, ripped out the page, and stuffed it into his hands, talking all the while.
"Well, we should probably get going," Light inputted when Misa took a pause to breathe. "I suppose we'll see you tomorrow, then."
The two groups bid an awkward farewell and parted ways. Matt, Mello, and L were settled in the back of the van and Naomi was about to start driving when suddenly, they heard a knock on the passenger's door. It was Matsuda, looking nervous and awkward as ever.
"The hotel I'm staying at is several blocks from here, and I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a ride?" he asked awkwardly.
"Not at all," Naomi stated with a smile. "Come on in."
Matsuda reseated himself in the passenger's seat, smiling gratefully.
"You see, I usually drive the limo to the motel from their hotel, but since it broke down, I don't exactly have a way to get there," he explained, as the van roared into motion. "I don't have money for a cab or anything, and Light and Misa would never pay for that. N-not that they're mean people or anything," he added quickly. "They're perfectly nice. They just…"
Matsuda's defense of his bosses was cut off by a shout of "Chinese, off the port bow!" and a blatant point out the passenger's window of the van by Mello, who had not felt the need to be reseated and stood between the driver's and passenger's seats.
"The port bow is left," Matt muttered, but he was overshadowed by Naomi's loud declaration that they were still several blocks from their hotel and that pizza would invariably be closer. L looked as if he wanted to scold them both for interrupting Matsuda, but Matsuda himself didn't seem to mind.
"Hey, do you want to eat with us?" Naomi offered.
"Who, me?" Matsuda looked genuinely surprised that she was talking to him, though there was really no one else she would be addressing at that moment. "Oh, no, thank you. I think I'll just stay in the room. I have some work to catch up on."
Naomi shrugged her shoulders. "Suit yourself."
A few minutes later, they drove by the hotel that they were supposed to be staying at. After pointing and loud protestation from Mello, Naomi explained that they needed to find somewhere to park. There was a parking garage a few blocks down with a fairly empty second floor, enabling them to park perpendicularly across several spaces.
"You could've dropped us off," Mello mumbled as they tumbled out of the car into the dark parking garage.
The strange party paraded out of the parking garage and down the street to the hotel. It wasn't exactly a high-class place, but it was somewhere warm and dry to sleep, which gave Matt a pang of worry as L and Matsuda checked in. He forced on a smile when he caught Mello looking at him, and held it as they parted ways with their new friend and headed out to dinner.
As soon as they set foot out of the hotel, L, Naomi, and Mello went on the alert, leaving Matt trailing awkwardly behind them. They argued for a little while on which direction to go in. Once they finally decided which way to go, they walked mostly in silence, except when one of them spotted something that was potentially a fast food or Chinese restaurant. Anyone who saw the group would guess that they were enemies with some strange requirement tying them to dinner together. Matt could tell, though, that it was their form of an odd jesting tradition.
In the end, Naomi won when they came across a small pizzeria tucked in between a darkened store and a small grocery. Faded letters spelled out the name 'Leaning Tower of Pizza' over the glass entry door, where a neon 'Open' sign blinked sporadically. A bell jingled on the door as they entered the small restaurant, and the woman cleaning off the tower looked up.
"Hello," she greeted with a smile. "Have a seat anywhere you like, I'll get you some menus." She disappeared beneath the counter, and the strange quartet took a random table in the otherwise empty eatery. L crouched oddly in his chair, Mello sort of splayed himself out while still looking sulky, and Matt and Naomi sat like normal human beings.
The woman reappeared in a moment and dropped a laminated menu in front of each of them. "Can I start you off with something to drink?" she asked, before they really had a chance to read anything.
Apparently, Matt's compatriots didn't need time to decide.
"I'll have a Coke, please," Naomi asked politely.
"Pabst Blue Ribbon," Mello demanded.
"Would you happen to have cream soda?" L asked the waitress.
"Yes, we do," she informed him with a smile.
"I'll have one, then…and please add two packets of sugar to it."
The waitress looked utterly perplexed. "Sure," she said, after determining that this was not in fact a joke. She turned to Matt, the bewilderment on her face not disappearing entirely. "And what would you like to drink, sir?"
Matt looked at the drink prices. As much as he would have liked to order a beer, even the cheapest ones made his wallet ache, thinking of how he would lodge himself that night. Sodas even seemed to be just that bit too much. Since he would have to pay for a meal and a room, Matt figured he should cut corners where he could.
"I'll have a water," he told her meekly.
Mello looked as if he were about to say something, but a glare from L and Naomi silenced him. He settled back into his seat, folding his arms across his chest and mumbling something about "it's not my problem."
"Okay, so…a Coke, a PBR, a cream soda with two packets of sugar, and water," the waitress reiterated. "I'll be right back out with that." She swept quickly away from the table, leaving them to scan their menus.
"Do you like pineapple pizza?" Naomi asked Matt.
"You mean, like, Hawaiian pizza?"
Naomi shook her head scornfully. "Hawaiian pizza means there's ham. Ham does not belong on a pizza. No, I mean just pineapples on top."
"I've never tried that before," Matt said, considering the combination. "I guess it could be good."
"Who the hell would want fruit on a pizza?" Mello snapped.
"Oh, stop being such a bitch just because you lost," Naomi shot at him, rolling her eyes.
"That has nothing to do with this. I just don't want fruit on my pizza."
"Tomatoes are fruits," L pointed out.
"Yea, but they're more like vegetables. Besides, tomatoes belong on pizza. Pineapple does not."
"Relax, we'll only get half pineapple," Naomi said with an exasperated sigh. She muttered something insulting involving maturity levels under her breath, which luckily Mello either didn't hear or chose to ignore.
The waitress returned to give them their drinks and take their pizza order. In a surprisingly short amount of time, she returned and set the piping hot pizza in front of them. Bad moods and insults were forgotten as Matt, Mello, and Naomi downed slice after hot slice. Pineapple, as it turned out, was quite delicious on pizza.
After a little while and most of the pizza, Matt noticed that L hadn't eaten a single slice, though he had done some pretty good damage on his sweetened cream soda.
"You know, you should probably get some before it all disappears," Matt joked.
"I'm fine," L assured him. "I do not find sugarless foods to be very appetizing. I think I'll try the pineapple, though." He gingerly plucked a piece out of the cardboard box and placed it on the plate in front of him. He took one bite and made a face.
Mello laughed as L gulped down the rest of his drink. "I told you fruit on pizza was a bad idea."
"Oh, no, the pineapple is quite good. It's the sauce, the cheese, and the crust that I find inedible," L replied, plucking the pieces of pineapple off the top of pizza and eating them one by one.
Matt stared incredulously at L. He didn't know it was possible for someone to just generally hate pizza, but here he was, faced with a man who had just deemed the essence of pizza inedible. As far as Matt was concerned, pizza was the food of the gods.
"L has always eaten weirdly," Naomi told him. "He spurns even the most delicious of foods if they do not involve fruit or copious amounts of sugar."
"And it has nothing to do with…extenuating circumstances," Mello added, censoring himself as the waitress approached the table.
"I see you've done quite a number on the pizza," she said, noting the scattered remains of the pizza still in the box. "Can I get you folks anything else, or are you all set?"
"We'll just have the check, please," L informed her.
"Okay, I'll be right back with that!" The waitress dashed off once again. She returned a moment later, and Matt felt his stomach drop.
L studied the check carefully. "Not too bad," he muttered, pressing his thumb against his lips.
"Why don't we just get out of here?" Mello suggested. "You know, dine and ditch, free pizza for life…"
"We are not doing that," L snapped at him.
"It's just pizza. It's not like it costs that much," Naomi said, though Matt wasn't entirely sure to whom it was directed.
"I'll pay for it," Matt found himself saying, before he could stop himself.
The other three turned and stared at him.
"I mean, it's the least I can do…you did drive me all that way." Matt wanted himself to stop, but he couldn't, not now that he had offered. He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and reached a hand out towards L for the receipt. "What's the damage?"
"You don't have to do this," Naomi insisted, as L surrendered the check.
"But I want to," Matt insisted. He was lying completely, since he already had no idea how he was going to afford his spontaneous move to the city, but he would feel horrible if he backed out by that point. "You've all been so awesome to me. I feel like I've gotta do something for you."
The price wasn't so bad, but it cleaned out the cash in his wallet. He skimped a little on the tip, but he figured he wouldn't be thinking about the guilt when he was frantically job-searching the next day.
"So…what now?" Naomi asked as the four stood up.
"Mind if I go for a smoke?" L asked the group, though his gaze fell on Matt in particular.
"Not at all," Matt replied. "I could really go for one too…I mean, my brand of smoke." He saw Mello's look of disgust out of the corner of his eye and chose to ignore it.
"Let's go find a good spot," Naomi said, leading the group out of the restaurant and onto the street.
A "good spot" turned out to be a small children's park in the shadier part of the city, out of sight of the main roads and lit only by the faint glow of far-off streetlamps. Matt felt like he was going to trip at any moment, but apparently the other three were accustomed to such sketchy settings, and they led him around the shadowy shapes of see-saws and swing sets to a large dome-shaped jungle gym. L climbed a few rungs and somehow managed to balance in a squatting position. He drew two plastic bags out of his pockets, one containing a green substance and the other several slips of paper, and busied himself with the delicate process of rolling a joint. Matt pulled a pack of cigarettes and his lighter out of his own pocket. He extracted one of the slender sticks and placed it between his lips.
"Hey, mind if I have one?" Naomi asked.
Matt held out the pack to her. Once she had chosen one, he slid the box into his pocket and lit Naomi's cigarette before lighting his own and taking a puff. It took him a moment in the darkness to realize that one of their number was missing. Matt could see his silhouette from where he sat on a nearby swing.
"What's his problem with smoking?" he asked, leaning against the jungle gym.
"It's a family thing," Naomi told him. "It's…complicated." She took a drag on her cigarette. "I probably shouldn't tell you anymore," she said, after exchanging a glance with L. "Hell, I probably shouldn't have told you anything at all, but having to put up with him all the time, I know how frustrating it can be to deal with his moodiness, especially when you have no clue what it's about."
Matt nodded slightly. He had almost forgotten that he hadn't known them long enough to ask personal questions like that. He had only known them for the better part of a day, if that. It seemed like he had known them for much longer, though. It felt like he was living in a different life, so far from GameStop and his tiny apartment lined with wires and littered with ramen containers.
He was in a different life, in a way. Matt was living a new life, one where he made rash decisions, became attached to strangers, and didn't think about the future until it smacked him in the face. He felt it smacking him as he looked up at the sky and saw a star or two appearing. It was getting later by the second, and he still had nowhere to stay. He could probably find a room in a hotel, but what about the next day? He would have to go find a new apartment then, which would certainly be more expensive than it had been in Plainsville. Then he'd have to find a job, and who would hire a guy who walked out on his long-standing GameStop job?
Matt looked over at L and Naomi. L was staring outward at nothing in particular, his joint clamped elegantly between two fingers. Naomi had her eyes closed as she lay back against the jungle gym, taking an occasional drag from her cigarette. Neither of them seemed to have any pressing need to leave this spot anytime soon. In fact, they had only mentioned what they were doing here in Ash City once in the hours he'd met them. They had said something about a performance, but they didn't even seem worried about practicing. Matt had to wonder if they really worried about anything at all.
Matt wished he could be that carefree. Taking such a dangerous leap wouldn't feel so burdensome and frightening if he could get himself to stop worrying about it.
Matt took one more drag of his cigarette before tossing it on the ground and stamping it out. He wanted to turn his thoughts into some sort of conversation, or get his mind off of all of it, but he thought it would be best to leave L and Naomi in peace. Instead, he wandered over to the swing set where Mello still brooded.
"Hey," Matt greeted.
Matt tried to coax his thoughts into a coherent sentence. Instead he managed to open and close his mouth several times. He was glad that he was barely visible.
"You never said where you were staying," Mello pointed out before Matt managed to get out any words.
"I don't know where I'm staying," Matt admitted quietly.
"Stay with us," Mello urged. "We've got room."
"I- I couldn't impose on you like that. I mean, you already-"
"I wasn't suggesting," Mello informed him. He stood up as Naomi and L came over, and the three began to walk off together. "Come on already," Mello called over his shoulder, and Matt hurried to catch up.
Matt was going to have to come up with something spectacular to repay his debt to these three. At this point, he was thinking he'd have to commit armed robbery to obtain the proper compensation.