Chapter 17 – Grocery Shopping (Part 1)
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"Remmy, we're going grocery shopping!" I yelled at her door.

A day had passed since the cupcake incident. Ange was more bummed out than angry to have her handiwork eaten by a single person. There was still the batch intended for Cresta, but the succubus insisted I not eat those in case it gave me stomach aches.

We had reached the point where ignoring Remmy could only get worse. She clearly had issues acclimating to communal living arrangements. I was confident she wasn't all bad. If she truly didn't care, she would have left the bathroom downstairs in a mess that time.

First, I needed to get her out of the room.

"We're out of whole milk. So if you want your beloved white beverage, then you gotta come with!" An audible sigh responded to my bargaining chip.

"Beloved white beverage?" Ange raised a brow.

"Okay. In retrospect, that might not have been the best thing to say— I was trying to make it sound as appealing as possible!" I put a hand to my face in embarrassment.

The door cracked open just enough for us to meet eye to eye. I could just make out the duplicates behind her in various states of hikikomori-dom.

"If we're out then just buy more. Don't bother me…" Remmy groaned.

She tried to shut the door, but her mistake was in opening it to begin with. I wedged a foot in the opening to keep her from closing it completely and was met with a glare.

"We're all going shopping together. You can even browse for things you personally want. What do you say?" I asked, meeting the glare head on with a smile.

She clicked her tongue. "What happened to just buying things online?"

"Nope. Not today. And since I'm the only one who can make that happen, either you come along or you might not get what you want." I crossed my arms to let her know I wouldn't budge in either direction. Remmy sighed. As a slime, she didn't need to breathe to begin with, so it was clearly done in indignation.

"Fine," she said.

A breakthrough at last.

Remmy opened the door and left her duplicates inside to play games and watch television.

"Oh, no. All of you will be coming with," I demanded.

All four Remmys rolled their eyes and one by one merged to a single slime girl.

Going grocery shopping wasn't exactly the best bonding moment. As roommates, I only needed to get all of us moving in the same direction. If left unchecked, chaos would reign and at worst I'd lose my job or tenants. Forcing Remmy to come with might have been a heavy-handed tactic, but the choice was hers at the end of the day.

As she stepped out, showing off her slimy and naked human form at me, the twitch in my pants reminded me of Ange's public encounter in her usual outfit.

I cleared my throat. "Clothes, please!"

Both of them went to change. Cresta was the only one in a respectable outfit, but she had gotten used to them early on. While waiting for our ride to pick us up, I couldn't help but scrutinize my tenants' choice in clothing.

Remmy wore a gray hoodie and baggy sweatpants. Her wardrobe was designed entirely for lazy and comfy living. Hardly an appearance worth praising, but at least it wouldn't draw attention.

On the other hand, Ange…

"Where on earth did you get a 'SUGOI DEKAI' shirt from?" I asked, scratching my head and wondering where I'd seen this before. The fabric along the chest area had been so distorted due to her bust size that the letters really popped out at you. And that wasn't an exaggeration.

"From earth. Obviously," she answered as a matter of factly.

We arrived at Vandice Supermarket, a massive grocery store that has taken their tech to the next level with automatic checkouts and self-service terminals, fresh produce and meat were sourced both locally and far, as well as provided greater selection of foreign foods than a single dedicated aisle. The only time I'd see an employee was when they came out from the back to restock shelves or help a customer in need.

Most of my online grocery deliveries came directly from this supermarket. In fact, it was how they kept up with not laying people off due to increasingly better automation, transitioning from an in-store employee based to delivery service oriented. The convenience was great, but sometimes returning to the old brick and mortar browsing of goods in person made for good therapy.

"Alright, ladies— uh?" As soon as I turned around to address my tenants, they were gone. "Why do I keep losing my tenants?!"

Hopefully they knew not to eat things on the spot, otherwise that would rack up quite the bill.

I grabbed a shopping cart in which a metal device attached to the wheel beeped and turned green. No sense in actively searching for them in a place this big. It would take all day. I'd just need to focus on buying groceries and hope to run into them. 

What I wanted to do was to make some hotpot for tonight and have Remmy join us. No better way to bond than sit around the table and eat together. But she had assumed the role of a bratty and spoiled teenager pretty well, so there was a good chance she'd decline and stay in her room. In that case, I had to make a good enough meal in which she couldn't resist.

The asian foods section made up a whole fifth of the store. I found most of what I needed to get from there alone. They even had a white soy sauce brand native to a remote region in Kanto. Never imagined I would have found this here.

A bin-sized robot cleaning the floors rolled passed me. It was like street cleaning vehicles but miniaturized for the store. Maybe it was just me, but the machine appeared to be fleeing in haste with its gears spinning and whirring in overtime.

As I stepped forward, I realized why.

Cresta bodied into me with the force of a train. If she hadn't abandoned her chase and went full speed instead, my back would have snapped in two.

"You were chasing that cleaning robot, weren't you?" I glared, sprawled on the ground with her on top of me.

"Nooo…" she cast a glance off to the side.

We helped each other up, and she was immediately drawn to the items in my half-filled cart. Her eyes scanned each product, and her tail flicked back and forth, excited about what we were going to have for dinner.

"Is it just me, or is there a severe lack of meat in here?" she asked, slightly disappointed at what's inside the cart.

"Well, you're just in time. I'm about to head to the store's butchery to pick up some."

Cresta tagged along because meat was her favorite ingredient in everything. They had to be juicy and worth tearing her fangs into, which was why hamburgers happened to become her favorite thing to eat in this world. When we got to the fresh and frozen meat section, her mouth began to water with the intensity of a raging river.

"Have I died and gone to heaven? Can I start eating now?" she asked, shaking my shoulders.

"No! Control yourself until we get home!" I yelled.

The carnivorous predator plastered her face against and fogged up the glass partition. If it wasn't for that barrier, even though she could shatter through it like wet tissues, the whole place would be cleaned out in no time. 

While the butchers sliced up briskets and lamb, one of the men amused by Cresta's hunger struck up a conversation with us.

"So it's true. This city's got their own resident netherfolks, eh?" the man asked in an unnaturally hoarse voice. He looked to be in his golden years, with wrinkles at the corner of his eyes that marked a lifetime of happiness, but rough hands that showed he worked hard for it.

"Three, in fact. They're a handful," I replied.

"Why don't you take a little on the house? Couldn't hurt to feed her some, and the people upstairs don't care one bit." He handed me a few thick slices on some wrapping paper.

"Is it really okay?" Cresta asked, astonished and just barely holding back from attacking me for the meat in my hands.

"If the guy says it is, then I guess so. Can you really eat raw meat?" I stared at the cuts glistening with fat and blood. The marbling on it was top quality for sure.

Cresta stuck out her index claw, wrapped all three slices like spaghetti on a fork, then then sunk it down her mouth. She squealed with delight, bouncing on her feet and ears twitching.

"Mmmmh! Seconds please!' she exclaimed, extending her hand out to the butchers.

I pinched her bloated cheeks and pulled. "Where are your manners, huh? Not even a thank you to the nice man?"

"Uwaah! Thank… you… My cheeks are stinging, they're stinging!" she cried.

The charitable meat man belched a laugh.

"I guess they aren't too different, are they? I got a little kitty back home, and she's as greedy as she can be cute. Fill their tummy up with food and they come cuddling after," he said.

"You're a caretaker, too?" Cresta asked, completely misunderstanding what was said.

He looked me in the eyes and appeared to catch on, then laughed even harder until his throat began to irritate him to the point of noticeable pain.

It only now came to my attention the wound on his neck, an old scar the size of a ping pong ball and a vertical line that once appeared to have been from stitches. Cresta was focused on it with an empathetic gaze.

"Does that still hurt?" Cresta asked flatly, pointing to her neck where the man's scar was.

I elbowed her arm. "Hey, it's rude to just ask someone you don't know about—"

"It's alright," he waved his hand, then leaned forward and reared his head back to give us a better look. "Damn right it still hurts. Everyday since… fourteen years ago? Bullet passed right through, and I was medically discharged for it."

A wound like that should have made him a goner, and she knew that well. This was the first time since coming here she met a military personnel that wasn't part of the otherworld task force. These two were veterans of their own wars and shared a lot in common than just scars.

Cresta looked like she wanted to inquire and say more. She turned to me for permission, but the retired military man was the one who gave the okay with a big grin.

"How did it happen?" she asked, genuinely interested.

"Ambush. IED managed to flip our M-ATV onto its side, then we were hit by gunfire from the hills. I lost five brothers and sisters that day. Thought I was going with them, but awoke two weeks later. You a survivor, too, aren't you?" The man pointed directly at Cresta.

Her eyes went wide. "How did you know?"

"It's all that guilt. I know about the war in Weyera. Wasn't there, but it sounded ugly." He frowned.

"A lot of people died because they tried to save me. I lost my commander who was also my best friend. I miss her a lot…" she mumbled.

The first part I knew, but the second was new to me. She never told me that she was close to her commanding officer. This must be the effect of talking to someone who shared the same experiences. Cresta was feeling more open, like she could talk about this sort of thing without being judged.

In a way, it hurt that I couldn't be that way for her. But this was good nonetheless. 

"They miss you, too, kid. What's your name? Say it like you're telling it to your commander," he said.

Cresta brightened up, straightened her back, and put a fist to her chest. "Cresta Waurassel, imperial assassin of the Granieda Empire!"

"Master sergeant Joseph McInnes of the United States Marine Corps." The man named Joseph stood straight and saluted.

Both of them cracked a smile at each other, then returned to a more casual and relaxed stance.

The man handed me the paper bag filled to the brim with meat, but it was heavier than I had asked for. He winked, as did the other two butchers behind him.

"Thank you," I said as sincerely as I could.

As we left the butchery and back into the domino aisles of the store, Cresta grabbed ahold of my shirt once we were out of sight. Her hands trembled and lips quivered as she breathed. A mixture of relief and remorse kept her feet anchored where she stood.

"You were brave to talk it out like that. I'm proud of you." I turned around to stroke her head, and she buried her face into my chest.