Steam poured out of the bathroom, fogging up the apartment windows. Wonton liked to take incredibly warm showers.
Stepping out of the bathtub, he grabbed a towel from underneath the sink. His hair, which he had pulled loose before stepping into the shower, stuck to his neck and cheeks in thin ringlets. He wrapped it in the towel and began to gently ring out the moisture before towelling the rest of his body off.
God, he loved taking showers. Yes, being assigned to watch Grace at home was a bit demeaning, especially since it meant being in rat form ninety percent of the time, but at least he had access to a real shower. The ones who watched her when she was out of the house were stuck taking sink baths in restaurant bathrooms.
No one was allowed to leave their station. Even when Grace was away from the area, a soldier had to stay watchful. Someone or something could slip in and lie in wait for Grace to come back, or at least that’s what the soldiers were told.
“We must stay vigilant,” Wanton mumbled to himself and he wrapped his towel around his waist, repeating what he had been told many times before.
Once, when he had repeated this sentiment, his tone had been serious, almost reverent. Now, a year later, he sounded jaded. After a year of sitting in a cage, waiting patiently for something dangerous or even remotely interesting to happen, Wonton was feeling a little restless.
In his opinion, Alice was just being paranoid.
His manhood covered, Wonton walked out into the living room, ready to start his daily chores. Before he could reach the kitchen sink, he froze, sensing a set of eyes on him. He spun around and looked out the window into the alley.
A man stood there, looking up and directly at Wonton in his towel. The man was young with tousled blonde hair and a slight beer belly. He smiled at Wonton sheepishly and waved. Wonton sighed and pulled up his towel, flipping up his middle finger at the man below.
After a few minutes, there was a slight knock on the apartment door. Wonton opened it to see the man standing there, a canvas messenger bag slung over his shoulder.
“What are you doing here, Derick?” Wonton demanded, stepping out of the way as Derick came into the apartment. “Aren’t you supposed to be on the bus?”
“Well, yes,” Derick said with a slight shrug before sitting down on the couch. He looked up into Wonton’s stern face and rolled his eyes. “Oh, come off it! She’ll be fine! You know she will be fine!”
“It’s not up to us to decide if she’ll be fine,” Wonton said, narrowing his eyes at his companion. He tried to maintain his disapproving look, but after a few moments his sighed and leaned back against the wall. “Alice is going to be mad.”
“She’s paranoid,” Derick said. “You know that. And I know that you’re also a little sick of this babysitting duty. What did Grace name you? Wonton?”
Wonton scowled at Derick.
“Is Derick really any better?” Wonton asked.
“At least I got to pick my own name,” Derick snapped back.
A moment of silence in the apartment. Water dripped from the kitchen faucet, sending ripples across the greasy water below. The steam from Wonton’s shower had long since vanished, but left behind tiny beads of water on the living room window looking out into the alley.
“Why are you here?” Wonton asked, turning and walking into the kitchen. “If Alice finds out–”
“Well, when Alice sees Grace she’s already going to be mad,” Derick cut in. “So what’s the harm in abandoning post for a little bit?”
Wonton nodded, wiping down dishes and slipping them into the drying rack next to the sink. He had yet to replace the towel with some actual clothing, but he didn’t mind. It was just Derick after all.
“What’s the point of all this protection?” Derick continued, his voice raising a bit. He was going into rant mode, Wonton thought to himself. “We bust our asses keeping this woman safe and away from the Blue Rings and yet Alice keeps letting her go to that bar and get torn to shit.”
“It’s literally the only way Grace knows how to make money,” Wonton said. “Go drink and bet on the fighting rings.”
“Real peach, this Grace of ours.”
“She’ll get her degree soon and then hopefully get the fuck away from the filth at the Raven’s Nest,” Wonton said, not looking up from his work. “And hell, Alice must see something in her, right?”
Derick sighed, kicking his feet out and leaning back.
“I guess so…”
Grace made her way slowly down the street, her body still sore despite the extra aspirin she took. In the distance she could see the college arts building looming over the shorter apartments that surrounded it.
Pausing outside a convenience store, Grace looked at her watch. Despite a rough morning, she was way ahead of schedule. She had thirty minutes until class, just enough time to stop off and grab some much needed caffeine.
Grace slipped into the convenience store, the bell above her announcing her presence to the people already in the dimly lit store. The attendant behind the counter looked up from his magazine, saw Grace, registered her as a non-issue, and went back to reading.
Weaving her way through the aisles, Grace finally made it to the line of coffee urns. She pulled a styrofoam cup from the stack and began pumping black coffee into it.
“Grace?” a woman’s asked.
Grace continued to pump coffee from the almost empty urn and looked up at the petite woman standing behind her.
“Oh, hey Alice.”