Harem Scarem: 004

What do you do when your life spirals out of your control? Well, turns out when that happens, I stay home and read manga. Lots and lots of manga. I guess that might seem a bit strange, given that I was in a manga, but honestly, I just wasn't up for anything else. I mean, sure I could try and spend time with friends, but that seemed like a good way to raise flags with Rachel; I was certain she'd show up to any gathering that included Seamus. Plus I didn't feel much like hanging out, anyway. The way Emily dumped me and cut off all communication hit me hard. Sure, I suppose four months isn't all that long for a relationship to last in the big scheme of things, but I was head over heels for her. I'd never used the big "L" word, but it was something that had been on my mind ever since we'd started hanging out so often over the summer.

And then she was gone, just like that. I still don't have any idea exactly how much control over my world I can attribute to the manga's author, assuming there is one, but who moves their family across the state with such short notice? It beggared belief that something like that could be a normal coincidence.

The worst thing about the whole fiasco was that there was utterly nothing I could do about it. Maybe if Emily had responded to me at all I could have tried to work something out with her, or at the very least talked to her about what I was going through like I'd originally planned. But I was denied that possibility, and it left me feeling powerless and depressed.

When you came right down to it, the only tool I could think of in my arsenal was knowledge. Knowing that I was a character in a manga meant that I could achieve some level of foresight if I could figure out the genre. Granted, I couldn't be sure how much power the theoretical author had over me, but at least knowing what tropes and patterns were upcoming would give me the option to try and assert some control over my own destiny.

Unfortunately, while I was felt confident I was stuck in some sort of slice-of-life story, I wasn't sure which type. I was reasonably certain Rachel was a love interest, possibly the love interest given how effectively Emily got shuffled out of the way, so there was a romance element. Based on the title, it was probably a comedy of some sort rather than a drama, though given how awful I'd been feeling thanks to Emily that might be inaccurate. Assuming I was the main character, it was probably either a shounen or seinen story (targeted at young or teenage boys, respectively). With my age and the potential romance angle, I was leaning toward seinen, although the high school setting and romance also meant there was an outside chance this was shoujo (manga targeted at young women). Seinen vs. shoujo was particularly up in the air because Rachel wasn't a typical seinen romance interest: she didn't have absurdly oversized breasts.

So with the lack of any definitive information, I started going through the Lab, reading every slice-of-life seinen or shoujo series I could find.

Three weeks after Emily's final text message, I was close to hitting the end of my rope. Turns out that when all you do is sleep, eat meals, and read manga you can plough through a lot of manga. I was frankly getting sick of slice-of-life. It varied a bit depending on the quality of the mangaka (the creator of a manga), but a broad segment of slice-of-life stories could more accurately be described as "drama manufactured from a lack of communication" stories. Which, given how things fell out with Emily, I didn't have a lot of patience with.

Fortunately for my sanity, three weeks was evidently the maximum amount of inactivity I was allowed, because just as I was pondering whether I could stomach yet another slice-of-life without succumbing to the urge to just burn the Lab down and call it good I received an invitation to hang out from Hayden. I was only too eager to accept.

When I was younger, it was normal to invite a friend over to my house to play, or else go visit them at their house. I don't know when that stopped, but sometime around late middle school or early high school I started spending time with friends almost exclusively out and about. Take Hayden, for instance: he has never darkened the door to my family home, though thanks to being one of the only people in my social circle with their driver's license he's driven me home a couple times. When did I meet him? Early in ninth grade.

No, Hayden and I don't hang out at home. Instead, we almost always end up spending time in parking lots.

That sounds really sketchy when I think about it, but it's nothing of the sort. It's just that after we've spent a reasonable amount of time in an establishment (be it a restaurant, movie theater, bowling alley, arcade, whatever), we decide to go home. So we head out to the parking lot, but we're talking as we walk. A minute or two later we're standing by the car, but we're both really into the conversation. Then two hours later one of us looks at his phone and realizes we just stood in a fricking parking lot for twice the amount of time we were in the establishment. Just standing and talking.

And we go home feeling slightly silly, wondering why we didn't just stay inside where it's warm and dry.

In any case, that's where I ended up this time, as well. We'd watched a movie that Hayden had been looking forward to seeing and ended up in the parking lot discussing exactly how and why it had been so ludicrously bad.

"…and that scooter scene at the end!" Hayden was saying, maybe an hour or so into our stint in the cinema parking lot, exhaust fumes wafting by on the breeze. "Was the composer not told what that score was accompanying at all?"

"Seriously! I laughed so hard there the people in front actually turned around and glared at me."

"Ha ha, I totally saw that! Though serious talk: Xavier, you laugh way loudly when you really get going."

"At least I don't put dialog into the characters mouths in the middle of the dramatic sex scene."

"Oh god, I was trying to forget that moment. Seriously, how were the previews so good and the end result so awful? I couldn't help dubbing it, because it was that or run screaming."

"I think our audience-mates would probably have preferred the screaming."

"Heathens! Philistines! No one appreciates extemporaneous humor the way they should."

"At least not on opening weekend they don't."

Hayden shrugged. "Their loss. Anyway, when this gets shunted to the budget theater in a few weeks, how about we see it again and Mystery Science Theater the whole thing? I'll bet Andrea would be up for it; what about you and Emily?"

Reality came crashing back. "Uh, well. Emily actually broke up with me. Her family suddenly moved to Spokane, maybe two, three weeks ago."

Hayden lost his ever-present smile. "What, seriously? Shit, that sucks."

"Yeah," I said, sadness tightening my throat up. "Yeah, it does."

Awkward silence commenced. Hayden shifted his weight back and forth and finally shrugged. "Well, offer stands."

"Or you could just go with Andrea. Just the two of you. Aloooone in the theater." I wiggled my eyebrows up and down at Hayden in what was clearly a suggestive manner. He gave me the stink eye. "Yeah, okay, that sounds fun. We don't have any family trips planned this summer, so let me know once it gets booted from the real theaters."

"Will do." Hayden glanced at his phone. "Crap, how long have we been standing in this parking lot?"

I grimaced. "Longer than is healthy. Unlock your damn car already and we can hit the road."

Hayden grinned, shrugged, and did just that. "You need to let your folks know you're on the way?"

"No, we're still good. I told them we'd probably be home an hour or two after the movie ended, so they'll have eaten without me."

"Party on," said Hayden.

"Excellent!" I responded.

"Damn it, I thought for sure you wouldn't catch that one!" said Hayden. "How do you even know that movie?"

I shrugged. "I think I've only seen it once, actually, but you know my Mom. She re-watches everything at one point or another, and that one…made an impression."

"Ha, yeah. Our parents have shit taste or what?" said Hayden.

"You don't know the half of it," I muttered, thinking of some of the books in the Lab. Hayden just laughed.

Twenty minutes later, Hayden dropped me off at my driveway and hied himself homewards. I trudged up the drive, half wishing I had a reason to stay out later since getting out of the house had been such a welcome distraction from my post-breakup funk.

Sadly, I had neither the excuse nor the driver's license necessary to convey myself anywhere halfway interesting.

Before I'd even divested myself of my shoes, my mom hustled into view from down the hall. "Xavier, is that you? Oh good, come help me carry these boxes."

"What are you doing, Mom?" I asked bemusedly as I followed her down the hall to my elder sister Sasha's old room. Sasha's bedroom had been lying fallow for several years, though now that she'd graduated college and rented an apartment with three room-mates my parents had been talking about boxing up her stuff and using the room for storage or something. It looked like that plan was now underway, though I wasn't sure why Mom was in such a rush over it.

Mom loaded me up with a couple of the boxes that were now sitting near Sasha's old bed, grabbed one herself, and lead the way towards the stairs. "It's a bit sudden, but we're going to have a house guest for a couple weeks. Yeah, just put those there; your dad will take them up to the attic once he gets back. Anyway, I got Sasha's closet packed up just in time."

"So who—" I started, but my mom cut me off.

"Oh, that's the garage door! Can you take the last two boxes upstairs for me, Peanut?" Without waiting for an answer, she strode down the hall towards the front door.

I shrugged and ferried the final two boxes up the stairs to the stack that was waiting near where the stairs for the attic could be folded out of the ceiling. Downstairs I could hear my dad and mom's voices, along with a third I didn't recognize. Sounded like a girl, though.

As I came down the stairs my dad passed below me through the hall dragging a large suitcase. "Go grab the rest of the luggage in the entryway, would you, Xavier? And how was the movie?" he called back over his shoulder.

"Sure, Dad. Movie was awful," I called after him, and headed for the entryway.

Just inside the front door a young woman with braided blond hair looked up from where she was bent over taking off her shoes. "Hi, Xavier," said Rachel, a slight smile wrinkling the corners of her eyes.

Well, shit. I'd been studiously avoiding Rachel, so I guess the story decided it was time that Rachel came to me.