Harem Scarem: 005

According to my mom, things shook down like this: thanks to his job, Rachel's father has to relocate regularly. This summer he was going to be out of the country entirely with several moves during the interim, so the Doyles—Seamus' family—volunteered to host Rachel for a few weeks.

Having Rachel as a house guest was a last-minute development, however, and the Doyles had already booked an extended two-week vacation on a cruise ship for their whole family. The cruise company had originally said there was room for Rachel as a late addition, but at the last minute reneged, leaving the Doyles with the quandary of what to do with their unexpected guest. Seamus' mom and my mom are close friends, so when Mom heard about the problem, she immediately suggested that Rachel stay with us instead. After all, we had an extra bed now that Sasha was out of the house, and that way Rachel wouldn't be stuck alone in a relative's house in a strange city for two weeks.

So in the span of a few hours, while I was out destroying my faith in movie previews and then subsequently chewing the fat with Hayden, Rachel became a house guest.

I was honestly not sure how to process this development, since it didn't fit into any of my expectations for how manga should work. Cohabitation with a love interest? Sure, that's a standby (usually for shoujo relationship dramas), but 100% of the time it involves two people who live away from their families. Having a love interest move into the family home, with the family still in residence? I'd never seen that particular plot twist, because how can you have heart-pounding scenarios crop up when your parents and sibling are constantly hanging around? I mean, if my parents were divorced and Rachel's dad married my mom, it would be one thing. Falling in love with a step-sibling is a tried and true manga trope (and thank goodness that wasn't the case here, because the whole "sibling as a romantic partner" thing—even if it isn't siblings related by blood—creeps me the heck out).

In any case, my exhaustive research of the last few weeks was proving useless, because without an established cliché to work with I wasn't quite sure how best to thwart the plot.

While Mom had described why Rachel was staying with us when I asked her, I didn't actually see Rachel herself much until the next morning when she joined us for breakfast. She spent the entirety of the evening moving her stuff into Sasha's room and getting situated by my parents.

The next morning being a Saturday, though, we all ended up at the breakfast table together for our weekly Dad-sperience.

Since he works at an office a decent commute away, Dad doesn't cook much during the week. Instead he always makes a big fancy breakfast on Saturday mornings that we're all expected to eat together (barring other commitments; there were a memorable couple of years when Sasha was doing early morning swim practice six days a week, and boy was Dad grumpy every weekend for a while). Unfortunately, while he loves breakfast, he also tends to experiment without bothering to think ahead or consult—well, anything at all, really. No recipes, online videos, or cooking classes for him, thank you very much. We've all pretty much given up on suggesting he look to outside sources at this point; it always just results in half an hour of grumbling about what it means to be an engineer. Never mind the fact that he hasn't written a line of actual code in years.

So it was with minor trepidation not only over seeing Rachel but also over discovering whatever Dad might have cooked up for our unexpected guest that I trooped downstairs the next morning.

Fortunately, it smelled like pancakes, which—barring his stint a couple years back when he tried every strange grain he could get his hands on—usually turn out delicious.

I was one of the last to get to the kitchen table thanks to taking the time to shower and get dressed, so by the time I arrived everyone was already seated: Mom, Rachel, and my younger sister Vickie back near the windows, and two spots open for Dad and me closer to the kitchen.

"There you are, Xavier. I was just about to call you," said Dad as he flipped several pancakes over on the griddle in quick succession.

"Morning, Xavier," said Mom. Rachel just smiled quietly, and Vickie didn't look up from the manga she was reading.

"Morning," I said, and sat down.

"Put that away, Vickie," said Dad. "I'm serving."

She hopped down and trotted the manga out to the living room. Vickie is thirteen, and she's a little weird. Puberty hasn't hit her particularly hard yet, and she's always been petite, so people usually think she's a year or two younger than she actually is. Like me, she takes after Mom a whole lot more than Dad and is very obviously of Japanese descent. She keeps her hair pretty long—maybe down to her shoulders or a little longer—and doesn't take shit from anyone.

Dad flipped the pancakes off the griddle and onto a plate, deposited the plate in the table, and pulled a skillet out of the oven. Ah, damn. Looked like he was still full in the throes of his egg dish mania. Mom, Vickie, and I all watched him set the skillet on a trivet with deep and abiding suspicion, while Rachel just looked slightly curious.

"Alright, eat up!" Dad exclaimed, dropping into the remaining chair and snagging a pancake for himself.

Rachel followed his lead while Vickie, Mom, and I all stared critically at the skillet with its decidedly innocent looking eggs. Unfortunately for me, before I realized what was going on both Mom and Vickie grabbed a pancake, leaving me with no choice but to break into the egg dish or wait until the next batch of pancakes came off the griddle.

"Oh, sorry Xavier," said Dad with his mouth full. "I forgot to get something to serve the frittata with."

"I'll do it," I said with regret, and got up to fetch a serving spoon and face my fate.

While I was up, Mom turned to Rachel. "Were you able to settle in alright last night? I'm sorry about the last-minute accommodations."

"No, I was fine Mrs. Brock," said Rachel. "Honestly, it was great just having a room to myself. The Doyles don't have any extra beds, so I was either sharing a room or sleeping on the couch."

"Call me Hana," said my mom. "And I'm guessing my husband didn't introduce himself when he picked you up last night. He's Bill, and my daughter's Victoria. And you know Xavier already."

"Only when I'm in trouble," grumbled Vickie. "You can call me Vickie." She poked me in the side. "What's the verdict?"

"Uh, do you like beets?" I said. On my plate my frittata slowly bled reddish purple juice.

Vickie grimaced. "I'll stick to pancakes."

"Don't worry about eating any of the egg dish, Rachel," said my mom. "Bill can't resist experimenting and, well…"

Dad sniffed. "Beets are wonderful for you. Don't listen to these Philistines, Rachel."

"I'll try some," said Rachel with a smile. "It looks lovely."

"Don't hurt yourself," mumbled Vickie around her last bite of pancake.

In the end the score was: an entire piece for Dad, five bites for me, three for Rachel, two and a half for Mom, and Vickie forfeited. Of the pancakes, none were sparred.

As was typical after Saturday morning breakfast, Vickie disappeared into the house somewhere, likely to continue reading her manga. Dad wandered off somewhere, and Mom cleaned up.

"Xavier, can you show Rachel around the house?" asked mom as she put the maple syrup back in the fridge. "Everything last night was so last minute I didn't get a chance to do much more than settle her into Sasha's old room. Unless you need to do any more unpacking?" my mom asked Rachel.

"I'm good Mrs.—Hana. Are you sure I can't help clean up?"

"Shoo!" said Mom. "You already cleared your place, which is more than my offspring can apparently manage. Xavier, Rachel will be sharing the upstairs bathroom for now, so get a towel out for her, would you?"

"Sure," I said, and lead the way out of the kitchen.

Our house isn't particularly complicated, so the tour didn't take long. On the ground floor, the kitchen is right near the front door and wraps around the house to the mud room and the back door. Further back is the dining table followed by the living room, where we discovered Dad doing something on a laptop. The space where the dining table lives merges into the hallway, which leads to Mom and Dad's bedroom, Sasha's old bedroom, the Lab, and the stairs. Rachel gave me a bit of a funny look when I told her the Lab's name and it turned out to be a library, but I don't think she noticed the type of books populating the shelves. Not the I had much hope of that remaining a secret given that she was living with us. I'd just have to cross my fingers she didn't out me to my friends.

Upstairs are Vickie and my rooms, the bathroom we share, and several large closets that Mom uses to store everything from bedding to cleaning products.

As per request, I got a towel out of the bedding and sundries closet.

"Thanks, Xavier," said Rachel after I showed her the bathroom and hung her towel on the rack. "Mind if I take a shower? I haven't had a chance today."

Could have fooled me. She was perfectly coiffed. "Go for it. Unless you've got a burning desire to see the junk we've got in the attic, that's the full tour."

She smiled at me. "Maybe another time. Thanks again."

I shrugged and left her to it.

Maybe this wouldn't be too bad. I was still suspicious that Rachel was my intended love interest, but the entire tour of the house she'd barely said a word, and certainly hadn't acted in a stereotypical "oh noooes, I'm in a house with a boy" way like you'd expect for a manga. She was just her perfectly put-together demure self, like she'd been the bulk of the time we were at Tracy's several weeks back.

Maybe I'd been agonizing over nothing. Actually, come to think of it I hadn't really had any stereotypical manga-ish occurrences since Emily moved away. My day to day life would be incredibly boring to an outsider, so who would waste time reading about that? Ha, maybe my manga got canceled after just a chapter or two, which is why things had gone off script recently. That would be wonderful, although I couldn't think of any way I would be able to verify the possibility. No matter what I'd tried I hadn't been able to break the fourth wall since my stumble at Tracy's, so I really had nothing I could do except speculate.

Which I admittedly did for a while, although it quickly devolved into daydreaming about Emily moving back and meeting her unexpectedly at school on the first day. It was a really touching reunion, if I do say so myself.

Still somewhat distracted, I headed down the hall to answer a call of nature and maybe take a shower myself now that Rachel was undoubtedly done.

I opened the bathroom door, took one step inside, and stopped dead in my tracks. I'd thought Rachel had long since finished her shower and headed back downstairs.

I'd thought wrong.