My "date" with Paula was preying on my mind all weekend, but Monday and school rolled around with absolutely no regard for my state of mind.
The first half of the day was unremarkable. I was evidently back in Samantha's good graces for some reason, so Japanese was annoying. Maybe trouncing me at croquet Saturday was cathartic or something. She did eventually leave me alone in favor of a group activity with Jewel and Amaya, at least, and they evidently invited her to lunch because she never showed up at our usual table.
Lunch was normal, though Jill was in a bit of a weird mood, alternating between surprisingly moody silences (for her) and hyperactivity (which was pretty par for the course).
The trouble didn't kick off until P.E. The weather was just starting to take a dive into fall temperatures, so Mr. Peterson had us outside playing soccer while we still could. Rather than form two full teams and have a third of the class sit out, we had two games going, each with two teams of seven.
My team was up against Jill's, and we were losing badly. Partly because Jill was such a monster, but also because her team lucked into two of the kids in the class who regularly played soccer, including their goalie. We just couldn't get a shot past him.
In any case, things weren't looking so good for us, and I was admittedly spacing out a bit waiting for the ball to come back across the field to where I was playing offense. Unsurprisingly, it was spending a lot of time in the vicinity of our goal. As a result I didn't see what happened, but when Mr. Patterson started blowing his whistle and jogged onto the field it got my attention.
Down near our goal was a jumble of bodies. It looked like there'd been some massive collision. Out of curiosity, I ambled that way to see better.
As the pile-up sorted itself out, Jill extricated herself from the very middle and limped over to Mr. Patterson. He consulted with her for a couple seconds, looked around, and spotted me loitering nearby.
"Xavier!" he barked. "You're a midfielder, right? Help Jill over to the nurse's office to get her bandaged up, will you?"
I dithered, my desire to get out of the game warring with my honesty over the fact that I wasn't a midfielder paired with my trepidation over visiting the nurse's office with a harem member. Unfortunately, Jill limped over just as I was opening my mouth to point out I was offense. She had quite the bloody knee.
"Come on, Xavier," she said, and though I turned to Mr. Patterson he was already moving away, shouting at the rest of the players to get back in position. I guess I'd see how this went; I was curious what was going on with Jill, and this did give me an excuse to talk to her. When the nurse was inevitably mysteriously out, though, I was going to high-tail it out of there.
"Mr. Etsitty!" called Jill as we entered the office. A second or two of silence passed. "Huh, he's not here? Strange."
Color me shocked. I don't know what it is Japanese school nurses are doing all day, but at least according to most manga it certainly isn't spending any time in their offices taking care of students (outside of the series in which the school nurse is part of the romantic chart or serving as fan service eye candy, that is). Come to think of it, Mr. Etsitty was pretty big and a guy; no wonder he was nowhere to be seen. Even if this were the type of manga where the nurse could be expected to make an appearance, he matched absolutely none of the right demographics.
"Well, it's just a scrape. I don't think Mr. Etsitty will mind if I help myself to the bandages and antibacterial cream." Jill made her way to a stool near the back counter and sat down. "Would you mind getting out the first aid supplies, Xavier? I'm a bit bloody at the moment." She'd been keeping pressure on her knee with her hand to keep from bleeding all over the hallway, so I didn't doubt that was an accurate description. She hadn't really needed me, but she'd certainly looked awkward shuffling down the hall with one hand clapped to her knee.
"It's in the bin on the counter over there," said Jill, pointing with the hand she wasn't holding her bodily fluids in with.
I brought the supplies over and set them on Mr. Etsitty's chair near Jill. Any moment now, she was going to ask me to dress her knee for her if my knowledge of manga was worth anything.
I'd forgotten that this was Jill I was working with, though. She grabbed a sterile pad from the side of the first aid bin, ripped it open with her teeth, applied it to her knee with her clean hand, and started washing her other hand in the sink that was nearby without batting an eye.
"Uh, do you need me?" Maybe I could make a clean getaway before getting hit by any major tropes.
"Actually, Xavier," said Jill, shutting off the water and drying her hand on a paper towel as best she could. "Would you mind sticking around for a minute? I'd kind of like to talk to you."
Ah, there it was. Our chance to get closer in the nurse's office, albeit not through close physical contact while treating each other's injuries.
On the other hand…Jill had been acting off today. If this was about Seamus, then it was probably worth it to play along for a bit and see what she wanted.
"Well, much as I love soccer…" I said, and sat down on the nearby chair that was usually Mr. Etsitty's domain. I really hoped he didn't come back mid-conversation, because I wasn't sure how he'd feel about students co-opting his seat.
"Thanks," said Jill shortly, and was quiet for a bit while she focused on getting a bandage affixed to her knee. Finally she looked up, then with a nervous shift examined the room. "So, uh, Seamus asked me out after your party Sunday." Suddenly her focus was wholly on me.
Oh ho, perhaps this was a manga trope after all; the classic, "try and force a love confession by indicating a rival" gambit. Unfortunately for her, I'd instigated this particular situation.
"That right?" I said, keeping my expression neutral as best I could. "What did you tell him?"
"Uh." Jill quickly lost her interest in me, clutching her legs just below her knees. "Um, he said he didn't need to hear back right away, and I kind of wanted to, I don't know, talk to you first?"
"Mm," I hummed, trying to buy myself some time. I wasn't sure how best to respond, frankly. If only I could break the fourth wall on command, I'd love to see how this whole situation looked to an outsider. I had a feeling talking up Seamus wasn't going to really get me anywhere, but it was a place to start. "Well, Seamus is a great guy, and you've got a bunch of shared interests." Like sports, sports, and sports.
"I guess," she muttered. Yeah, I didn't figure that was what she was looking for.
Okay, maybe if I turned it around. "Look, Jill, why are you telling me this?"
That finally got her to look back up, surprised. "Well, I guess—" She petered out, then took a deep breath and let it out. "I mean, we've been hanging out a lot, and I just wanted to know—" She shrugged.
Crap, well now I had a dilemma. But I guess really I didn't. I could ignore that she'd basically outright stated she liked me, sure; maybe blithely tell her I wished her the best like the classic dense harem protagonist who's too self-absorbed to notice that they're harming the people around them.
Yeah, that would work fine. She'd no doubt pick up on the hint fast and immediately drop this conversation like it never happened. After all, I was sure reading between the lines was a survival skill in her family.
But although that had basically been my plan from the get-go, I just couldn't do it. You know what? Screw it. My whole attempt to hook Jill up with Seamus was just trying to get what I wanted while still playing by the rules, and she didn't deserve that from me. So forget the harem nonsense logic that dictates everyone has to try to manipulate their way to happiness. Maybe this would wreck my relationship with Jill, but the least I could do for her was to give it to her straight.
"Jill, thanks. I'm flattered you feel that way about me, but, uh, I'm not interested in dating anyone right now. And I'm sorry but I've—honestly, I just haven't ever really thought of you romantically, like that." Shit, she looked like I'd just run over her dog. Damn it, that's right! This was tomboy Jill I was talking to, so of course having her crush tell her he didn't see her as a girl was going to be horrible! Why didn't I think this through properly ahead of time? "I mean—look, that came out awful. I honestly don't think of anyone like that right now, you know? I told you Emily just broke up with me over the summer, right? I'm just—not in a good place for romance."
"Oh. Well…thanks for telling me."
Dammit, Jill, don't show me your brave face! Arg, this sucked! People suck! Manga sucks! Everything about this whole stupid situation is a huge, stinking ball of suck, and I don't care what my dad says!
"Nothing is coming out right! Look, Jill, this has nothing to do with you personally. I just don't want you to pass up an opportunity because you're waiting for me, because that ship is not going to sail. If you're interested in Seamus, maybe it's worth seeing him a bit to see if it works out. But you certainly don't have to if you don't want to! I mean it's up to you. Ugh! Whatever you do, I will be happy to, uh, watch you patch yourself up, I guess. I really was pretty useless here, huh?"
Jill looked like she wasn't quite sure how to respond, but after a moment she laughed. "Sorry, Xavier, I'm not laughing at you. Well, I mean you just look so frantic…seriously, it's not a big deal. I really appreciate you being willing to talk to me like this." She stood and replaced the first aid supplies where they belonged. "C'mon, let's head to P.E. If you're done watching me patch myself up, we should get back to the trouncing your team was deservedly receiving."
"Come on, Xavier, anyone with teamwork that bad completely deserves to lose."
Thank goodness, she was back to being Jill. Maybe pointing Seamus at her was a complete waste of time, but hopefully our awkward little conversation at least edged her toward exiting the harem. I was pretty sure she wasn't the type to go nursing an unrequited love just for the sake of it.
"Hey, you think Seamus could beat me at soccer?" Jill asked me out of the blue.
Or maybe the Seamus thing might work in my favor after all. "I make no promises. But he's definitely better than me."
"Hmm," said Jill, and that was it until we got back to P.E. and discovered her team had been quite handily trouncing mine even without her help.
We never did see Mr. Etsitty. I might need to check in sometime to make sure he's doing alright. I'd hate to be responsible for him getting fired or something just because he didn't fit the Japanese stereotype of a school nurse.