Tommy gladly dove into his end-of-the-day chores, just to put some distance between him and Natalie. She didn't look horrified or stunned or even amused by Sammy's matchmaking tendencies, and that made it hard for him to come up with a response. Was he supposed to reassure her, tease her out of her misgivings? How could he smooth over the awkwardness when he couldn't tell what she felt about the idea of her and him… together? What made it really awkward was that he felt comfortable with Natalie. He didn't feel like she stood behind a wall of wheelchairs and braces and white canes, trying to see him through the equipment and other barriers. Sometimes, some of the things she had said, her quick responses, it was like they had known each other for years and their brains were almost in synch.
Which was impossible, he knew. Still, that was the only way to explain or even try to understand how he felt when she was around. In less than a day.
He braced himself to learn she had gone to her temporary apartment, when he finished overseeing the release of everybody over the age of three and returned to the office. Tommy wasn't sure he liked the momentarily breathless sense of relief that washed over him when he saw Natalie sitting on the spare desk, talking and laughing with Claire, while Sammy sat on the bench along the glass wall at the front of the office and worked on homework. They looked comfortable together -- Natalie looked like she belonged there.
"Hey." Paul stepped up behind Tommy. "Coming or going?" he asked, resting his hands on the handlebars on the back of his chair.
A handful of quips clogged on Tommy's tongue. He just shrugged and moved the rest of the way into the office, unblocking the doorway.
"Everybody ready to go home?" Paul said, stepping around him to lean on the counter and look over it at Claire.
"Please!" Claire stood up.
Tommy caught the way she hesitated a moment, bracing herself with one hand on her desk. He didn't like the slightest hint that she forced her smile. What was wrong with his sister? And why wasn't she doing anything about how she looked so pale sometimes, and couldn't eat other times?