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My body felt burdensome as I shuffled back to Nancy’s room, papers rustling in my hands. Practicing with Norman and Alex, although fun was quite tiring. My throat felt sore from all the singing and laughing. A nice hot tea from the cafeteria would hit the spot but a hot shower would be much better. I would have to thank Arthur personally for including that miracle in his designs for the place.

As I got to the door I could hear voices from inside of the room. Maybe someone just came over to visit Nancy, I figured as I turned the knob.

Justin rose cordially from the sofa as I came in. Nancy remained seated in her chair, waving her greeting instead.

“Hey there,” I said, closing the door behind me. “So what’s going on?”

Justin lowered himself back onto the cushion. “Oh, we were just talking,” he replied. “I hear you’ve been nurturing a new talent you’ll be sharing with us tomorrow night.”

I tossed the papers on the end table. “I knew word gets around quick but damn, there goes the element of surprise.”

“We’re all excited about it,” Nancy added. “We don’t have that many performing artists among us so the more the merrier.”

“Glad I’m filling a niche,” I replied, stretching my back. “I didn’t know I could sing either until I started doing it. It’s fun.”

Justin picked up some of my papers, casually flipping through them. “So are these the songs?” he asked. “Did you write them yourself?”

“They’re some, ” I answered. “We haven’t decided which ones to use yet. I don’t think we’ll have a problem. And no, I didn’t write them. They’re just songs I remember the words to.”

“That’s great…”

A weird quiet passed through the room, making me at once suspicious. This wasn’t a natural lull in conversation but the silent debate that occurs when someone wants to say something they shouldn’t.

“I hear that you’ve been spending time with Jinnai.” He started slow, gauging my reaction. His tone immediately put me on the defensive.

“Like I said, word gets around, huh?” I struggled to act as normal as possible, unfortunately not doing very well with it. “What about it? He said he was off duty. I didn’t get him into trouble did I?”

Justin laughed at my concern. “No, you’re not in trouble,” he said, reassuring me. “I saw you two in the hallway after the security meeting. Jinnai was telling the truth.”

The rat’s attempt at playing a good-cop routine was irritating me. “Okay,” I answered, making my way to the bedroom. “So if that’s all…”

“We’re concerned you’re spending too much time with him,” Nancy blurted to Justin’s chagrin. He slipped her a nasty glance she ignored. “First the beach then the library…”

My annoyance was too much to hide. “Are you spying on me? I didn’t do anything wrong if that’s what you’re wondering. And neither did he.”

Justin stood up, waving his hands in front of him. “No, No! Of course we’re not spying. Nancy didn’t mean it like that. Other rats have just decided to tell me where you were today.”

“Oh did they?” I asked, raising an eyebrow, my voice dripping with restrained ire. “Did they tell you that I was in the music room with Norman and Alex? Or that we went to visit Beatrice to cheer her up and play some of the songs for her?”

Justin and Nancy looked at each other sheepishly.

“How about when I went to visit Eddie again? Did they tell you that?”

“It’s not what you think,” he tried explaining.

“But I bet they told you every single moment I was with Jinnai down to the minute.”

Justin cleared his throat. “We’re just making sure nothing happens.”

“What happens?” I snapped, my voice raising. “I have yet to have anyone tell me what exactly the problem is with Jinnai.” I took a step closer. Justin’s eyes narrowed at my bravado. “Maybe you can fill me in. What is it you’re protecting me from?”

“We just don’t want him to hurt you,” Nancy blurted again. Justin abruptly raised a finger motioning her to stay silent. I rolled my eyes.

“All we’re trying to say is that Jinnai has a reputation we want to make sure you know about.”

I couldn’t believe the nerve, considering he was one of the rats perpetuating this ‘reputation’ that as far as I was concerned was undeserved. I bit my tongue wanting so much to tell Justin and all his little rat friends to go screw themselves.

“Justin, Nancy, I really appreciate all that you are doing for me.” A sigh came out like a low hiss. “I can’t even begin to think how I can repay your generosity. I understand you are concerned for my well being especially where Jinnai is concerned, giving his upbringing…”

“So you understand what we’re doing.” Justin interrupted.

“I didn’t say that,” I replied. “Honestly, can either of you stand there and tell me when was the last time you’ve ever heard of Jinnai being violent? Even the slightest bit rude to anyone to justify this paranoia?”

“We’re not paranoid,” Nancy answered.

“You’re not answering me either.”

The silence spoke volumes.

I waved my hosts off. “Instead of being worried about what Jinnai might do because of the actions of his father, maybe you should concern yourselves with how you’re treating him is affecting him now.”

“What are you talking about?” Justin asked.

I snorted at the comment. “You don’t talk to him, you don’t try to get to know him, heck, you even give him a patrol that guarantees he comes in contact with the least amount of people possible.” I leaned closer. “And because of what? Because his father did bad things? I got news for you. His father is dead. Stop punishing Jinnai because you can’t punish Jenner!”

Justin flinched back, flabbergasted by my words. His face tightened, furrows wrinkling his forehead. The conversation didn’t go where he wanted so he didn’t want to argue any further. It was best since I didn’t want to continue arguing either.

I lowered my head. “I’m sorry Justin,” I mumbled. “But I don’t think what you, Nancy and the others are doing is fair. It’s bad enough humans treat each other like that. I’m just disappointed that despite everything the rats have accomplished, they still feel the need to create scapegoats.”

The air in the room became thick with tension. I wrung my hands, searching for any justification to get myself out of there. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m really tired and I have a full day ahead tomorrow.”

I rushed myself into the bedroom. I hugged the door, panting, listening to the rustling and muffled words on the other side.

There was some hushed talking between Justin and Nancy followed by the sound of the front door opening then closing. I could hear Nancy let out a loud sigh as she paced around the room a bit. I took off my clothes, grabbing a towel hanging on the wall. I needed that shower even more.

The creaking door was the only sound as I stepped back into the living room. I kept my focus on the floor in every attempt to avoid eye contact. I glanced up enough to see Nancy leaning against her desk, deep in thought. She looked back at me more embarrassed than angry.

“I’ve never seen anyone talk to Justin like that before,” she said.

“Just because you’re a good leader doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes,” I answered, not really wanting to get into a discussion. “He isn’t perfect, just like Jinnai isn’t violent or cruel or whatever you’ve confused him with. People should be judged by their own merits. Everyone deserves at least that.”

Nancy folded her arms across her chest. I could only hope she was thinking long and hard about her own misperceptions. As I turned to enter the bathroom, she asked me one last question.

“Do you like him?”

I stopped, looking over my shoulder. “What?” I sputtered.

“Do you like him? You know, a lot. If you do then I won’t talk bad about him out of respect.”

I shook my head, not believing where this train of thought had turned. “I don’t think you should be talking bad about him anyway,” I answered. “I like him sure, but not like him… you know… I only met him a couple of days go. I’m not in love with him if that’s what you’re asking.” I shrugged, clutching the towel closer. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”

I couldn’t have turned away fast enough. Jumping into the bathroom, I closed the door as quick as I did the bedroom door. My heart was pounding as the soothing hot water soaked my fur.

Like Jinnai? Of course I did. He’s a nice guy. How couldn’t I like him? But love him? A little premature for Nancy to go asking someone such a personal question like that isn’t she? Love Jinnai, of course not. We’re just friends.

Then why does it feel like I’m lying?


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