5 Years Later

"Samantha, is that you?"

Samantha stopped in her tracks, glancing over her shoulder. She assumed the attractive older woman who had called out to her was a teacher, given that she was visiting her old high school, but she couldn't for the life of herself place her. "Yes…?"

"Oh, I'm sorry! That's right, I would have looked much different when you were attending. I'm the drama teacher."

"Ms. Cariño?!"

"Well, not anymore technically, but yes! What are you doing back here?"

"Oh, I was visiting Mrs. Shimamoto. My college has a weirdly long winter break, and I heard that she's retiring soon so I came to say hello. How's the old improv club doing?"

"Wonderful, of course. Let's see, if memory serves you were one of Xavier Brock's friends, weren't you? And Paula? How is Paula doing these days, anyway?"

Paula was likely bored out of her mind at this point back in their shared apartment and dreaming up ways to torment Samantha when she finally headed back across the state, but Samantha didn't see any reason to share that. "She's doing well. She's been working as a hospital receptionist for the last year or so."

"And the rest of the gang? Did you keep in contact with Xavier? I was so worried when he missed most of his senior year, and I'm afraid I haven't heard from him since."

Samantha shrugged. Although she hadn't seen Xavier in a while, she was still in sporadic contact with his sister. "He's fine. I don't know exactly what happened, and he had to do some remedial work to get his high school diploma, but he got into college maybe a semester late. Do you remember Rachel? Rachel Blanchard? I think she came to improv a few times. Anyway, last I heard they're living together."

"Rachel, Rachel, I think I remember her. Kind of quiet? Blonde?"

"Yeah, that's her."

"What's she doing these days?" Ms. Cariño seemed more polite than interested.

That, at least, Samantha had a hard time forgetting. Victoria loved to bitch about Rachel. "She's studying to be a herpetologist and volunteers at the zoo a lot."

"Huh. You never know where life's going to take you, I guess. Well, it was good to talk to you, Samantha! Keep in touch now!"

Samantha waved, and headed for the exit.

Jill was out jogging. She couldn't wait to move out of her mother's house, but money was tight so until she found a job she was taking a lot of really long runs. She couldn't stay out forever, though, so with a sigh she headed back towards home.

As she ran past the street where the Brocks lived she spotted a familiar face. "Hey! Is that you, Vickie? I haven't seen you in forever!"

Victoria paused and plastered a smile on her face. One of Xavier's old friends. Joy. "Hey."

"You back from college?"

Victoria shrugged. "Winter break."

"Great, great. How is everyone? Xavier? Your mom? Rachel? Seamus?"

"Seamus? Weren't you going out?"

"Oh, that ended years ago."

"Huh. Well, Xavier and Rachel are great. Mom's…mom. Sorry, but I need to go."

"Oh, of course! Sorry to keep you! Tell everyone hello for me!"

Victoria waved and walked on.

Three blocks later, a black cat with a star-shaped yellow mark on its forehead and what looked like cotton balls on stalks emerging from behind its ears barreled out from underneath a bush and collided with Victoria's legs.

"What the—" said Victoria, stumbling.

The cat latched onto her pants with its front claws, pulling itself mostly upright. "Please help me, I beg you!" said the cat in an oddly deep voice. "The fate of the universe depends upon it!"

Victoria grinned.

E.O. Tenkey here! Thank you so much for reading Not A Manga! I hope you enjoyed the series, and if you are looking for more of my work, please do give my next serial novel a try: Mr. Familiar