I wasn't home free by any means, but I was still feeling flush with success as I walked with Rachel from Pre-Calculus to the bus loop in front of Alburn High. Next week I was planning to scope out the lunch room again and see if I could spot Jewel or Amaya. If I could get Samantha hanging out with them outside of class, I figured she'd be out of the harem in no time (assuming I could avoid any weird manga coincidences with her going forward, but that was always something I'd have to play by ear).
To my surprise, Jill met us there.
"Hey, Xavier! Rachel," she called as she pushed toward us through the crowd of fellow bus riders.
"Hey, Jill. You don't have cross country practice today?"
Jill grimaced. "I didn't twist my ankle that much this morning, but Coach B still doesn't want me to attend practice for a couple days to make sure it heals up right."
"Tell me about it. I'll probably go stir crazy before the weekend is out." She looked at me hopefully.
Sorry, Jill, I'm not taking that bait. If my plan is going to succeed I need to focus on Samantha right now.
"What happened this morning?" asked Rachel. "I didn't get a chance to ask how you made it to school."
As Jill related the tale of our aborted attempt to run to school and subsequent rescue by Paula, I zoned out and watched the river of high school students flow by. I perked up a bit when I thought I saw Seamus, but he was lost in the press before I could wave or shoot him a manly nod or something.
Come to think of it, I'd barely had a chance to give my normal friends the time of day since the school year started. I really should rectify that if I wanted to still have friends once I got my life back.
The bus pulled up, and the three of us clambered on without incident. I even got to sit on my own for once, thanks to Jill only making it partway through her story before boarding.
After breakfast Saturday morning my mom informed me that she and Rachel were headed over to visit Seamus' mother, Min-ji Doyle, and that I was coming along at Seamus' request.
That was news to me; Mom tends to visit the Doyles once or twice a month, but this was the first time in a while I'd gone along. Once I was old enough to stay home alone, there wasn't much impetus for me to tag along, after all. Seamus and my friendship had cooled by the middle of elementary school or so.
Since the alternative was doing pre-calculus homework without Rachel around to bail me out when I inevitably got into trouble, though, I didn't have any objections.
As soon as we arrived at the Doyles' house, Seamus hustled me away to his room while Rachel and Mom went to chat with his mother. Once we arrived, he shut the door with finality and sat on the bed while I claimed the only chair.
Seamus' room is pretty standard for a teenage boy; random toys and knick-knacks from his childhood lurking on the dresser and shelves, and posters randomly festooning the walls. Across from where I was sitting was a faded seascape filled with whales and other marine life partially overlapped by a newer poster featuring a soccer player for Seamus' favorite team. Despite the clutter on various surfaces, the floor of the room was impeccably clean; Seamus has always had a weirdly neat streak underlying his bluff, sports-loving exterior.
"Alright, Xavier, spill it," he said. "Who was that hottie you were standing with at the bus stop yesterday?"
"Uh, that would be your cousin. Rachel? You remember her?"
Seamus rolled his eyes and threw his pillow at me. "No, idiot, the other one. The sporty girl!"
I threw the pillow back. "You mean Jill?" I guess Jill was good-looking, if you were into sports bras and short shorts.
"Wait, that was Jillian? Jillian Guthrie?"
"Yep." Come to think of it, Seamus and Jill knew one another back in elementary school. Given how much Seamus enjoyed team sports, I was surprised he'd lost touch with her. Maybe because he never tried out for the school teams?
"Damn." Seamus leaned back against the wall and looked contemplative. "I haven't seen her in ages. She dating anyone that you know of?"
"No, Jill's unattached." Oh wait. Oh man oh man. What was it Dad had suggested as a method for dealing with Samantha? That I should try and hook her up with one of my male friends? This was a golden opportunity if ever I'd seen one. "You should ask her out. I think you two would really get along." You pair of meat-heads.
"Yeah? Maybe I will."
"You should go for it. Jill's great, and she's definitely not seeing anyone right now." Plus or minus a harem membership. Hmm. Now I thought of it, she might just reject Seamus outright. I wonder… "If it looks like she's waffling, though, maybe see if she'll give you an answer a little later? I don't think she's had much practice with relationships, so she might need a little space." And knowing manga logic, if she was conflicted about a potential relationship she'd probably try to sound me out. Her being in the harem meant she was likely either dealing with budding feelings for me, or given the childhood friend angle more likely had realized that she'd always liked me or similar baloney. Given her behavior, though, I didn't think she was actually in love with me. More like a manga-inspired passing infatuation.
"So what about you, Professor X? Did I hear that Emily moved away over the summer?"
"Ah, yeah. Yeah, she did."
"Damn, that sucks, man. You long-distancing that shit or what?"
"No; no, we broke up."
Seamus grimaced. "That really sucks."
I shrugged. Yeah, didn't really have much I could say to that. Ugh, now I was missing Emily fierce.
"So what are you up to these days, then? I haven't really seen you around school much."
"Same old, I guess." Evidently Seamus wasn't aware of the harem, and I felt no need to clue him in. I had a feeling that would result in endless ribbing and not much else.
We chewed the fat for a while longer, and then at Seamus' suggestion went out to play a little basketball in his driveway while our mothers finished catching up.
I admit, Seamus isn't really someone I like hanging out with usually, but it was nice. I definitely needed to invite Hayden to hang out someday soon, because no-stress, harem-less time with friends had a lot to recommend it.