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An Evergreen Forest

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Johanna and I leave the island right as the sun is setting. It’s almost as beautiful as the sunrise we witnessed on the way there. The dark purple starts to wash over the sky as we reach the house and the dogs run out to greet us. I pet Bear’s fluffy head and try to calm down Blue as he jumps all over me. Once we get inside I check on Buttercup and find him sleeping in the living room, sprawled out over the large fluffy rug. He nearly blends into it.

Johanna kisses me lightly and tells me she’s going upstairs to take a shower. I decide to make myself some tea – she has a large collection of loose dried tea, as well as tea in little bags like they had in the Capitol. I walk out on the porch overlooking the lake. It’s still twilight and the last streaks of pink are fading over the mountains. In the back of my mind, I think about Prim.

I haven’t given myself much time to mourn her properly. I sat numb in front of a fire for a few months. But I haven’t truly thought of her. One of the only concrete things that has happened since she died was when Peeta planted the flowers for her outside of my house.

She was the one I’d do anything for. Sometimes I wondered if she was the only one I cared about. My mother and I were always distant, Peeta and Gale were both confusing and difficult. But Prim and I, we were each other’s. We took care of each other. I can still remember volunteering for her, the way it felt to step up. It was pure instinct. I didn’t think or reason or judge. It was automatic for Prim.  

Looking out to the giant lake, the mountains, the tall skinny pines, I suddenly miss District Twelve. Truly, I miss Prim in District Twelve. I have distanced myself from it, gone as far as I could, but still District Twelve lingers with me. Perhaps it’s because of how open I’ve been all of a sudden – sharing the heart of myself with another person in a way I never have before. I’ve opened up, and now all of these feelings kept behind stone walls are tumbling out.

The hot tears burn my eyes and I try to blink them away. This is a soft, slow sort of crying. The heart-slashed sobs I used to have for Prim have faded out. I have her and many others to mourn for, and all I have now is the residual sadness I know I’ll have to carry for the rest of my life.

I hear the door slide closed and Johanna walks out onto the porch. I try to give her a half-smile, just to let her know it isn’t her fault, but she must know. She sits down on the bench next to me and silently reaches for my hand. I hold onto her and we both watch the twilight sink fast into darkness. In the sky there’s only a wide crescent, but it feels as bright as a full moon.

Johanna stands up and kisses my forehead, then picks up my tea cup and disappears inside. A few minutes later she emerges with two cups and hands one to me. She’s made me a tea with a slight spice to it and a splash of milk. I’ve noticed that she’s opened the glass door behind me and I can feel the warmth from the fireplace on my back. I smile and feel my cheeks blush slightly.

“Prim really would have liked you,” I say quietly, almost more to myself than Johanna.

“I think she did. I met her once,” she replies, smiling.

I thought my mother and I had a monopoly on memories of Prim and I’m overwhelmed to hear a new one. I catch a sob welling in my throat. I think it might be happy tears, if those are something that can still exist for me. “Really? Tell me about it.”

Johanna sets down her tea on the deck and turns to face me, holding both my hands in my lap. “It was after the Block test, when I had my meltdown and all. I wasn’t exactly nice company for anyone in the hospital. I was still a rage monster, you know? I was so mad about losing it and not getting to go to the Capitol after all that work. And I was still pissed that they used water on me. It felt like being tortured again.”

I kiss Johanna’s hands lightly and she leans forward to kiss my lips. She continues.

“I know I’d been in the hospital for a while, but I don’t remember how long. They had me on a lot of sedatives. One day I wake up and see her, Prim. I recognized her from your picture and the Reaping and seeing you with her a few times in Thirteen. She brought me a tray of food and sat it down in front of me. Everyone was running away from me then, you know? I was all damaged and angry and scary. But she didn’t look scared of me like the other nurses.

She sat down next to me and asked me how I was feeling. I started rattling off medical bullshit but then I saw she didn’t have a chart. She wasn’t checking on me as a nurse. I remember I stopped in the middle of a sentence and asked her if she was just there to talk to me. She told me she was – she’d heard some of the other nurses talking about me and wanted to come see me. She knew you and I were friends. She called us friends, I don’t think we’d called each other friends yet. I asked her if you were gone and told me you were. You hadn’t been reported dead yet at that point so she was still pretty hopeful.

I swear, that girl had the most calming presence. Like I’d just been growling and snapping for days but something about her, I just didn’t feel as angry. We talked for a little while about the hospital – she told me about learning healing things and wanting to be a doctor. She asked if there was anything she could do to make me feel more comfortable. I mentioned the pine needle bundle you’d made me, and she said she’d try and make me another one.

I asked her who else was at the Capitol, and she mentioned Gale was there. I rolled my eyes and she laughed. She told me she wasn’t a big fan of it all either. I said I thought you deserved better than those boys. And then… she got this look, this little grin. I’m not sure, but I think she knew.”

“Knew?” I ask, barely whispering. I’m still mesmerized. Just to know something more about Prim, to catch the few last fleeting glimpses of her, it’s like she’s here again if only for a second.

“Knew how I felt about you. She didn’t say anything, but I think she’d figured it out. The way she asked me about you. She asked if I was going to see you when you got back, and I told her I was. I wanted to tell you that before, but I didn’t know how to bring it up. Part of the reason I wanted to see you was because I told her I would. I um, I wanted to keep that little promise.”

I lunge forward on the bench and pull Johanna into my arms as I start to cry. We wrap around each other tightly and I kiss her shoulder, her neck, nuzzle into her and breathe deeply. I never expected this connection, never thought I’d be hearing more stories about my sister.

“God, Johanna,” I half-laugh through my tears. “Next time you need to tell me a few earth-shattering things, let’s space them out a bit more.”

She laughs as well and kisses me. We end up making our way back inside to sit by the fire. I turn Johanna’s story over a few times in my head. I think of Prim’s smile. It’s just like her, finding the people who need her the most. Taking the time to help those who others shied away from. Just like the growling fluffy cat asleep on the rug in front of me.