The incessant pounding on the front door grew desperate as it startled us from our half-slumber. The noise stopped for few seconds then the hard knocking started all over again.
Although none of the doors in the community had locks, no one dared to barge into private quarters. I thanked goodness I could count on that considering what Jinnai and myself were doing for most of the night and had finished moments before. I certainly didn’t need anyone walking in on us.
As the knocking picked up tempo Jinnai let out a frustrated sigh, tossing the blanket off of him.
“I’ll get it,” he groaned as he forced himself up out of the bed. “I don’t want to start the day explaining what you’re doing here if you answer the door.”
I rolled onto my stomach, propping my head on my hands. “Well, not yet anyway,” I replied. “I’m sure word will get around soon enough once Nancy notices I never returned to her room.”
Jinnai laughed. “In that case everyone knows by now.” He grabbed his shirt, tossing it over his head, still trying to shake off his groggy demeanor.
“I can think of worse stories to go around,” I shouted as I buried myself under the blanket, sneaking a few more moments of rest.
A male voice I didn’t recognize spoke from the main room but I couldn’t clearly hear what he was saying. Instead I drifted off, feeling relaxed, content and dare I say, actually happy. It was something I hadn’t felt in such a long while and I intended to savor as much of it as I could.
And as all things good, it wasn’t meant to last.
The door closed with a firm click with Jinnai, looking quite annoyed, returning to the bedroom.
“What happened?” I asked as he went into the closet to grab a fresh set of clothing.
“You might as well get up too,” he started. “Justin’s called a security meeting. I have to go now.”
I popped up from the bed. “A security meeting this early? What happened? Did he say?”
Jinnai continued dressing. “No one knows yet. Not even the guard that came here.”
I watched how he moved to see if I could pick up any clues as to what was going on. Although Jinnai was stern faced, it was more over being interrupted in general.
I slid out of bed, heading into the living room where I had left my clothing the night before. Inspecting the pile, I frowned at the wrinkles making the suit unsuitable for public wearing. Flinging the clothes onto the sofa, I shuffled back into the bedroom.
“Do you have an extra shirt or something?” I asked as Jinnai strapped on his belt. “I didn’t bring any extra clothes.”
“Of course you can’t go running around naked,” Jinnai answered. As he was about to hand over the shirt, he paused. Stepping back he looked me over, dangling the shirt just out of my reach. “I really do prefer you like that.”
“Smartass,” I snorted as I made a playful jump for the shirt, grabbing it from him. “I’m covered in fur. How can I be naked?”
A sultry grin crossed his face. “If I didn’t have this meeting, I’d remind you what exactly that fur hides.”
A disbelieving look crossed my face as my head poked out of the collar. “Now I’ve seen a new side of you. Thinking about sex when you should be working.”
“Well, it’s what I’d rather be doing,” he answered, shrugging as he hid a crooked smile.
I laughed again this time with embarrassed shyness as I held in my agreement.
We made our way out together, coming across others on the way to the meeting room. For the first time my presence was treated no different from any one else’s. There were no unusual greetings or out of place stares. I was being ignored and I felt relieved comfort in it.
Reaching the doorway to the meeting-hall, Jinnai turning to me. “So I’ll see you later then. I don’t know how long this is going to take so you shouldn’t wait up.”
“Sure,” I answered. “I’ll just come looking for you.” With that, he startled me with a quick peck on the lips. I grinned and kissed him back, still getting used to the fact I now had a rat boyfriend. Some of the seasoned guards gave a side-glance at the display.
As I watched him disappear into the room, I caught a glimpse of Justin inside seriously looking through paperwork. Feeling intrusive, I decided it was time to go find something productive to do.
I stepped back only to come to an abrupt stop, feeling a presence behind me. My eyes met a dark tunic as I turned. Raising my head, I looked up at the towering rat, my gaze meeting narrow, yellow eyes.
He was taller than all the guards passing us in the hall and just as intimidating. He leaned over until we were face to face, growling as he took in my smell. I was frozen in place, wondering what he was doing.
His nostrils twitched as he took in another breath. With a nod he gave a toothy smile, the pale shards making me shudder. Letting out what sounded like a chuckle he raised a clawed finger to my face. I followed the finger as he pointed, resting the sharp point right at the center of my forehead.
“Brutus!” I whispered as the gesture clicked with my memory.
He pushed in his nail just enough for me to feel it following with a strange gurgly laugh.
“Brutus, the meeting is about to begin,” a familiar voice announced, breaking the weird moment. “Oh, hi Anna,” Justin added, not finding his guard with his finger in my forehead strange at all. I waved back without looking at him.
Brutus nodded at his leader. He placed his hand on my head, ending our awkward re-acquaintance with a heavy pat.
Rubbing my forehead I was at last alone. Muffled voices started the meeting behind the now closed door. I knew I couldn’t stand. My stomach gave a small, nauseous rumble, clueing that next logical step was to head on to the cafeteria.
While I was eating it was inevitable Nancy would catch up to me.
“There you are!” she squealed over the noise. Without even waiting for a response, she sat herself down opposite me. “You can’t believe how worried I was when you didn’t come back last night.”
“Worried about what?” I asked, acting as normal as possible. “This place isn’t teeming with crime or anything like that.”
Nancy waved her hand. “I know but I was still expecting you to come back. Where were you anyway?”
“Around.” I took a sip of some berry tea.
“Around?” Nancy was dubious. “That’s not a specific answer.”
I debated whether to tell her what she wanted to hear. Her mannerisms already signaled she had an idea as to my whereabouts the night before.
“How specific do you want me to get?”
Nancy looked over her shoulder, narrowing her eyes at me. With a sly smile she leaned over as close as she could.
“For starters you can tell me what you’re doing wearing a shirt with Jinnai’s scent all over it. I can smell it from across the table.”
I gave a chuckle, not doing a good job refuting her veiled accusation.
“Well, he was nice enough to let me borrow it,” I answered, hoping that would suffice. Of course, it didn’t.
“Is that where you were? In his room?”
“I slept on the sofa,” I protested. “I was tired. My clothes got wrinkled and I borrowed a shirt.” My intense blushing betrayed what little privacy I was trying to keep.
Nancy replied with a mischievous laugh. “You really are one of us now, aren’t you.”
I thought about her response. I would have given anything to become human again, returning to civilization with all its problems as well as conveniences. Ever since last night however, I didn’t think once about it. In fact I found I didn’t even care. I was a rat now. That was all that mattered. My human life was over and I didn’t miss it one bit.
A warm smile crossed my muzzle, my whole body relaxing with the realization of her words.
“Yes, I am,” I replied, my voice a whisper. “I am one of you.”