Harem Scarem: 019

There are two actions a manga character can take to ensure they catch a cold: sleep with their stomach exposed or get soaked in the rain. Exposure to someone who's infected? Nah, that's not necessary at all. It's called a "cold" because you catch it when you're cold, right?

For a self-proclaimed manga expert, I sure seem to stumble into a lot of easily avoidable situations.

That's right: the morning after I arrived back home sopping wet and sans-umbrella I woke up with an absolutely vicious cold. Fever, sinuses full of nastiness, the works.

Mom took one look at me when I stumbled downstairs after waking up and sent me right back to bed. Guess I looked as bad as I felt.

I spent the rest of the morning and into early afternoon alternately dozing, popping acetaminophen, and re-watching classic movies.

"Well it just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead—is slightly alive."

Yep, that pretty much summed up my existence. To anyone who believes there was some sort of intelligence involved in the design of humans, I offer Exhibit A: sinuses. QED.

By mid-afternoon it was obvious that I was trending towards another nap, but I'd woken up from my morning's nap with that horrible, grimy feeling of having sweated a bunch in my sleep so before stumbling off to bed, I opted to take a raging hot shower. Best decision I ever made; I could practically feel the gunk in my sinuses melting down my throat.

On second thought, I guess the shower was kind of a mixed bag.

In any case, I emerged from the steam, wrapped a towel around my waist, and headed for my bedroom.

And of course Rachel had just come up the stairs when I exited the bathroom.

She turned slightly pink around the ears and looked away, which I pointedly ignored, opting instead for obtaining a death grip on my towel to ensure no ill-timed manga-triggered full-frontals and heading straight for my room. I was absolutely not in the mood for raising flags or awkward ecchi situations, thank you very much.

She evidently wasn't willing to just let me go, though. "How are you doing, Xavier?"

"I'm sick as a dog and wearing nothing but a towel; I've been better."

"Right, I'll let you get dressed. Just, um—you've got visitors downstairs."

"Visi—" Oh. Right. Sick man with a harem here. Manga protagonists always get visited by their love interest when they're home ill. I was lucky none of them had ambushed me in my room. Accidental sexy hijinks with feverish people were a manga mainstay. Odds are Jill dropped by on her way home from school or something.

Wait, though. She said "visitors," plural. How many of them could possibly be down there?

"I'll be down in a bit, then," I said. "Don't let anyone come upstairs, would you?"

Rachel smiled wryly and shrugged. "Okay."

Trekking downstairs after throwing on some clothes, I discovered Paula and Samantha bemusedly ensconced at the kitchen table while my mother gradually increased the number of snacks arranged in front of them. Rachel had disappeared off somewhere; maybe she'd retreated to her room to avoid getting fed, as well.

"Ah, Xavier," said Mom when I entered the kitchen. "Some friends are here to check up on you."

"Like I said, I'm just here to drop off his Japanese assignment and to visit Vickie," protested Samantha.

"My my, you've certainly changed your tune," said Paula. "Who was it at lunch who practically begged me to drive her to Xavier's house so she could make sure he was feeling alright, and then forced me to stop at a weird little grocery to buy supplies?"

"!!!" Samantha turned beet red. I wasn't sure if that was embarrassment or fury.

Mom broke in before blood could be spilt. "Victoria won't be home for another twenty minutes or so; she has cheer practice this afternoon." For someone who spends her time lurking under tables reading manga, my sister sure is a bloody normie outside of the house. I have no idea what appeals to her about participating in a middle school cheer team, but she's been doing so for a couple years now. To each their own, I suppose.

Samantha didn't appear to have any idea how to process that. I could practically see her train of thought derail completely. Paula looked slightly bored that Samantha's fury had been so effectively interrupted.

I sat down at the far side of the kitchen table, and Mom quietly slid a small bowl of cashews in front of me. This not being my first rodeo, I immediately ate a couple. The only way to prevent the snacks from increasing was to be obvious about eating one of them.

"So!" said Paula, pushing aside a few of the dishes in front of her so that she could rest her arms on the table. "You look like death, Xavier. I'll bet Samantha has something to help with that, though. She certainly bought enough sports drinks."

Evidently it was time for round two. Samantha renewed her glare, but dutifully pulled a plastic shopping bag from the floor at her feet and set it near me on the table. Three bottles of what looked like sport drinks poked out the top. "Don't get the wrong idea; I just think you should get well as soon as possible so you don't get your sister sick."

"—Right. Thanks, I guess." I looked inside the bag, and found—was that Japanese? Wait, where did she pick this stuff up? It was like the stereotypical "get well soon" package from manga. Sport drinks, an orange, and what looked like those weird little cooling pads that Japanese people like to slap on the heads of people with fevers. "Where on earth did you find this stuff?"

"I certainly didn't spend any time searching for the one Asian grocery store in Alburn because I was concerned for you or anything," said Samantha.

"Seriously, is your character entirely ripped off of a manga?" Shit, I said that out loud.

Samantha gaped at me, and Paula pounced. "What's manga?"

I backpedaled. "Nevermind, stupid idea anyway."

"No, seriously, what's a manga?" insisted Paula. "Don't leave me hanging here, Xavier." She leaned forward, accentuating her bust against the top of the table. Your foul tricks don't work on the feverish, she-demon.

Thankfully, Samantha's tsundere reached critical mass before I had to try and figure out how to divert Paula. "You jerk! See if anyone does anything nice for you, ever again! I'll just take that back—"

Just then Vickie walked in the door.

"—and give it to Vickie instead!" Samantha snatched up her plastic bag and fled towards my sister. "Vickie, you won't believe what your brother said to me!"

"Samantha?" said Vickie. "I didn't know you were coming over today."

"Well, it's not like I wanted to check on Xavier or anything," I heard Samantha say, as she dragged my sister out of the kitchen. "It was just a good excuse to visit you. By the way, do you like sports drinks?"

I laid my head down on the table. If only my headaches were all treatable with acetaminophen; sadly I hear tsundere is incurable with any known remedy, save maybe a bat to the head.

I felt a cool hand against my forehead and opened my eyes. Paula had scooted around to the seat adjacent to me and was leaning over me. For once, she didn't have any of her typical teasing or flirtatious expressions on. She actually looked…concerned? I wasn't aware that was part of her emotional vocabulary.

"You're burning up," she muttered. "Mrs. Brock? Will you be able to take Samantha home, or should I go collect her? Xavier should really be asleep."

Mom re-entered the kitchen from wherever she'd been lurking. I'd lost track of her at some point. "We'll take Samantha home if you'd like to head out now. It looks like she wants to spend some time with Vickie, but that's no reason to keep you."

"Alright, up you come," said Paula, forcibly pulling me up from my sitting position. "Where's your room?"

That set off at least a dozen internal klaxons. As I hesitated and tried to wrest my arm away from Paula, the doorbell rang and Mom went to answer it.

"Oh, Jillian," I heard my mother say. "I haven't seen you in ages."

"Is Xavier doing alright? I stopped by on my way home because I heard he was home sick today."

Paula finally let me pull away and muttered something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like, "Damn hindrance." She patted me on the arm. "Looks like you'll have to tough out at least one more concerned girlfriend. I'll let Ms. Cariño and the rest of the improv club know why you're not there tonight, and see you at school." Before Mom had led Jill into the kitchen, Paula exited through the mud room.

Leaving me adrift in the middle of the kitchen as Jill came around the corner. "Oh, Xavier! How are you doing?"

I just couldn't do it. I don't know why manga protagonists are always so grateful to be visited. "I feel like crap and just want to sleep." And evidently sickness means I have no filter between my brain and my mouth! Fun discoveries all around.

Jill looked guilty. "Oh, I'm so sorry. Look, you go nap then, and I'll see you at school. Really, I'm sorry."

I took her at her word and fled upstairs, leaving my mother to keep Jill company.

Thankfully, my fever partially broke during my afternoon nap, and my temperature dropped down around 100 by the time dinner rolled around.

Unfortunately, that meant that by ten at night I was still wide awake. I'd slept so much during the day that I was having trouble conking out, and I'd already used up my available distractions: the homework delivered by Samantha was complete, and somehow I just didn't feel like reading any manga.

I wandered downstairs to get a warm cup of tea and see if that relaxed me, and as I passed the living room my mother called out to me. "That you, Peanut?"

"Yeah, Mom, I'm getting myself some tea."

Mom followed me into the kitchen "Brew me a cup, too?"

"Sure, Mom. I'm having peppermint; you good with that?"

"Peppermint's fine." She silently leaned against the counter as I filled the teapot and busied myself preparing a pair of mugs. "You have a moment to talk?"

"Of course, Mom. What's up?"

She remained quiet for a moment, biting her lip. Funny, Mom was usually unflappable. I wondered what she was worried about.

"This might sound a little strange, Xavier, but—are we in a manga?"

Well, I sure as hell wasn't expecting that.