"Did you eat this time?" Sharon B. walked into the room only to be faced with Natalie's untouched plate and an empty bed. After a split second of panic, she turned to find Natalie kneeling by the rather large air vent with her fingers stuck in the grating.
"Just help me up," Nat said as she reclaimed her fingers and made an attempt to rise.
"What were you doing?" Sharon asked as she unsuccessfully tried to lead Nat back to the bed. As if she didn't know. Nat had been restless ever since she had been able to leave her sickbed and walk around. Each day she was getting stronger, but she was still weak and somewhat confused and certainly not ready to leave. At least, not ready in Natpack opinion. Natalie, on the other hand, had other ideas.
"I need to get out of here," Nat said, "I've been in this place for so long that I don't even remember what day it is. " She pulled out of Sharon's hands and moved away from the bed. Anywhere but that damned bed, she thought, and dropped herself down on the small couch in the corner of the room. What she'd really like to do is pace, but she didn't want to expend energy that could be used later on.
"Hey everyone, I brought some new magazines." Meredith limped into the room waving several of them in one hand while surreptitously rubbing her hip with the other. Both occupants turned and paused for a moment to smile broadly at her. They didn't even bother to ask this time. She'd probably fallen. Again. "What's going on?" she said, trying to draw their attention away from her affliction. "And why didn't you eat?"
"I was just about to tell Nat that this is just not the time to be leaving." Sharon was overjoyed that Meredith had returned from her trip to the store. She would need help if she wanted to keep Nat from leaving. This was her first important duty as a newbie Natpacker and she didn't want to make a mess of the situation.
"Leaving? But we're in the middle of a war!" Meredith said as she sat down on the bed next to Sharon.
Nat sighed in exasperation before continuing her argument. "What does that have to do with it? War has never stopped me before and it's not going to stop me now."
"Just wait for a few days until the war is over and then we'll figure something out," Meredith stalled and looked to Sharon for support.
"They've gotten downright cruel this time."
Meredith nodded soberly, and Natalie began to look worried. "Cruel?"
"They stole our clothes and glasses," wailed Sharon, still disturbed by the memory of walking around in a sightless stupor.
"And our socks," Meredith added. "Our dirty socks."
"Oh, this is rediculous," Natalie said, hopping off the couch. "I want to leave. I want food."
"You haven't even touched your lunch," Sharon said, pointing at the now cold food on the plate by the bed.
"That is not food," Nat said, backing away from the lunch tray. "And I refuse to eat anything else from that kitchen. It looks like a disaster area."
Sharon and Meredith looked at each other and grudgingly admitted that she was right. The stove had been rendered useless since Maureen had taken the knobs off in the midst of a cleaning frenzy and had forgotten to replace them. But even Maureen hadn't been able to revive the poor blender. It was caked with who knows what from the strange concoctions Kelly had tried to make for Natalie.
As if she had understood the direction of their thoughts, Natalie murmured, "And I want a real milkshake. And french fries to go with it."
"You can't eat that food," Meredith countered, "It's not..."
She trailed off as Nat turned to stare at her. "Will you stop arguing with me?"
"Stop. Argue." Meredith repeated, swaying on the bed.
Although Natalie appeared unaware of Meredith's behavior, Sharon jumped into the conversation as she noted the glazed look in Meredith's eyes. "Look, we're just trying to help. We don't want anything to happen to you."
"I know you're concerned, but sometimes I wish that you would do what I say." With that, Nat turned and headed towards the door.
"I should obey?" Sharon asked slowly, also beginning to sway as Meredith regained her composure.
"That would be nice," Nat said sarcastically, never expecting that her words would have an effect.
As Natalie left the bedroom and walked through the abused kitchen, Sharon and Meredith slowly became aware that their charge was slipping through their fingers. "You can't leave," Sharon pleaded as they moved to intercept Natalie before she got to the stairs.
Natalie gently pushed them aside and said, "You can't stop me."
"What?" Meredith stopped to gape at Sharon for a few moments. Even Nat looked somewhat shocked, but quickly recovered to take advantage of the situation and mount the stairs leading up to the front door. "How could you say that?" she said to Sharon, trying to pull her up the stairs behind Natalie. Her efforts were mostly unsuccessful as she kept tripping over each step and falling to her knees.
"I must obey," Sharon said, as she bent to help Meredith over the steps. She had a funny feeling that she shouldn't be letting this happen. Shaking her head, she pushed the thought out of her mind and caught Meredith before she fell over again.
Nat turned and interrupted their whispered argument, "Did you have anything else to say?" They stopped and shook their heads, unable to do anything else. "Good," she said, and stepped outside with the two stunned Natpackers trailing behind.
They never even noticed the shadowy figure watching them head away from their erstwhile sanctuary.