March 1, 637 After Founding (Year 0 Panem Republic). Psychiatric transcription by Gavin Aurelius, subject Mellark. Private notes.
P: Am I still a prisoner in the Capitol?
A: Do you feel like a prisoner?
P: You won't clear me to leave care. Or to try it remotely, like you're doing with Katniss.
A: [laughter] I shouldn't have cleared it with Katniss. If they'd given me a choice in the matter, I wouldn't have. And if you do go back, please tell her that I can't do her required therapy if she doesn't pick up the phone.
P: She's not picking up?
A: She's not. Is that significant to you?
P: [pause] No. I guess not. She never paid much attention to it. Maybe she ripped it out like Haymitch did. Did you try calling Haymitch?
A: Haymitch isn't a patient.
P: He's Katniss's guardian.
A: I'll consider it. But we're not here to talk about Katniss, Peeta. I shouldn't have allowed the conversation to go there. Have you thought about what we talked about? About staying here permanently, with your cousin and your grandfather?
P: They're blood, but… they're not family. I like them, but they aren't really mine. My family…
A: [long pause] Yes?
P: My family is dead. Except for Katniss and Haymitch.
A: Yes. [pause] Will you tell me about them?
P: About Katniss and Haymitch?
A: About your family, Peeta.
[The subject shifts uneasily, avoiding the topic.]
P: Not yet. Please. I can't talk about them yet. I don't really talk about them.
Snowmelt starts earlier in the Capitol than it does in District Twelve. By the middle of March, the snow is gone and flowers are starting to come up, more like the end of April at home. There's a constant sound of trickling water coming down from the mountains through the arroyos, and a smell in the air of fresh soil.
It's not just the weather that's thawing, either. The schools are open. The university was largely destroyed, but professors have been holding small classes in their homes or, for art teachers, in any studio space they can find. There is quiet, almost awed, talk about opening the hiking trails on time, and maybe starting to fix up the ski slopes for next year. A ferry has been running steadily between the Capitol and District Three, over the cold waters of the lake, but now they're talking about fixing up any boats that weren't destroyed, and starting up pleasure cruises when it's really warm. The large amusement park that once stood on the lake shore was destroyed by the bombings, but people have started to build a few simple rides there again, and children are playing on re-built swing sets and slides. Construction crews are working on the larger projects, and the sounds of machinery and workers calling back and forth to each other are the constant soundtrack of the streets.
The winter of the war is coming to an end.
I breathe in deeply as I leave the little bakery where I've been spending most of my mornings and head for the bus stop. The job isn't a full time thing, or even a paid thing. I just smelled the cinnamon rolls one morning on my way home from art class, and I was completely swallowed by my memories. I collapsed onto the curb and started to cry. This hasn't been an unusual sight in the Capitol this year. For the first few weeks after Snow and Coin died, it was hard to go a block without seeing someone weeping inconsolably on a street corner, unsure of anything in the world. I'd comforted people before it happened to me, and I continued to do it pretty regularly until the shock finally tapered off.
When I was the one on the curb, the person that came out was the baker, a wiry woman with almond-shaped eyes and glossy black hair. Her name is Annona Lee, and after she recognized me, she asked if I'd like to come in and help her knead the evening's loaves. I went with her. We've never had a long and meaningful conversation about this, or anything else, but every morning when I show up, she finds something for me to do. It feels good, and normal. She has a lot of recipes that I've never heard of, and to my surprise, it's mutual. Like any business people, we're leery of sharing secrets, but the subject of trading has come up. I won't give her any of Dad's recipes, but I trade her the cheese buns I developed for a really good steamed bun with barbecued pork.
Katniss will like them.
If I go back.
I stop walking and take a few deep breaths. The idea that I might stay here, build my own bakery, go to the university, maybe even start dating again… it keeps coming up, like a little alien speaking in my head. Except that it's not. I've had alien things in my head. This isn't one of them. It's just disorienting. I still love Katniss. I always will. But so much has happened. Maybe too much. I always felt that, if I didn't make it work, I'd jitter apart at the seams, not knowing who I was. I wasn't lying when I told her on the beach that, without her, I had nothing. I'd have had the people I already had, but I wouldn't have had any reason for my life.
I'm just not sure that's true anymore. I want to be with her, and it will hurt if I've lost her, but there could be something on the other side. I would still be me.
Is the me I am here the one who counts? I don't know. Every time I think, I could make a life here, I remember her holding me tight and begging me not to let Snow take me away from her. I remember her kiss, when we came back up from the sewers after Finnick died. All of the false things rose up in my mind then, clamoring for my attention, but she didn't let me go. And I found some deep center of myself that was me underneath them all. It was the first time in months that I'd really found something solid to hold on to, and I will always love her for knowing it was there, in spite of everything I'd done.
But all of the false things are wrapped around her, too. Can I ever really sort out what's real if we're together? Dr. Aurelius thinks it's a bad idea for me to go back to her until I have a very firm grip on my own reality as a separate person. ”And, Peeta, you have to let that separate person become who he needs to be. Even if it's without her."
I shake it off and start moving again, turning the corner to the bus stop. I could afford a car and Plutarch taught me to drive one day, but there's no point to it. The buses are running fine, and I don't mind walking the distance between stops. I even run a little bit now.
"Morning, Peeta," the bus driver says when I board.
"Hey, Portunes. Right on time."
"Have to keep up my reputation." He nods toward the back. "Your cousin's been riding around waiting for you."
I look up. Aurelian Benz waves to me awkwardly. My cousin. A quick genetic scan proved it, but I still have a hard time feeling him as family, and I think he feels the same. He suggested that I use his nickname, Aurrie, since his real name sounds too much like my doctor's, but it still feels forced, especially since there's only one other person in the world who calls him that.
It's even worse with our shared grandfather Justinian, who I can't make myself call "Gramps," no matter how hard he tries. This may be because the first time I met him, Aurrie and I were bailing him out of the lower security wing of the same prison I spent weeks in as Snow's special guest. The usual city prisons were mostly destroyed during the war. I didn't mention that little excursion to Haymitch or Ruth. They were testy enough with Justinian already, without thinking he'd somehow "triggered" my bad dreams. I never needed any trigger for them then, and they weren't any worse after the trip than they were before it. The Peacekeepers from Thirteen had picked him up for running an illegal dice game in the park. ("At least they don't know the game," Aurrie said later on, as we sat on my apartment balcony, eating pasta and looking out over the lake at sunset. "So they missed that the dice were loaded.")
I didn't know he was my grandfather before we left that day. I just went along because Aurrie was mortified to have been called away from a refugee charity center for business like that, and I wanted him to know that no one hated him. Also, because I doubted he had taxi fare, and the buses don't run all the way out to that prison. He was looking away, brick red, for half the trip, then he said, "Peeta, there's something you should probably know about Gramps."
In the month since then, Justinian has told me his stories, and I've told him mine (from a distance; I can't seem to talk about them up close). He doesn't remind me of Mom at all, and is heartbroken to learn about her less than kind streak. I like him, though. He's a nice old man, in his way. He reminds me a little bit of Ed, I guess: physically imposing, a little touchy, but trying to muddle through a sense of "being good" that doesn’t always come naturally to him. He's trying to straighten out, working for the government to help them spot other old cons, but Aurrie has warned me not to get my hopes up.
I pass a few of the other morning regulars and we smile at each other, but no one says anything. I finally reach Aurrie and sit down beside him. "You could just come into Annona's place," I say. "You don't have to just ride the bus until I get on."
"I don't have money for baked goods."
"You can just say you're coming to meet me. It's okay."
"I might have, um… stolen some food from her once. When I was ten."
I roll my eyes. "I'll smooth it over. What's going on? Is… is he in jail again?"
"Nah. He's still being a good boy. I was just wondering… never mind."
He closes his eyes. "Can I crash at your place? My landlord decided that there were too many of us living in that attic."
"There are lots of apartments…"
"I can't even afford the cheap ones, and I don't want to live with Gramps. He's just got one room. Tazzy said I could stay over at their place, but that's… awkward. She dumped me. I mean, she's not mad, but it's weird."
"She dumped you?"
He holds his hands up helplessly. "The accusation was along the lines of me thinking she's doing very well, for an ex-prostitute."
"Beats me. I think she's embarrassed that I know how she used to make a living. I'd think that would be one awkward thing out of the way." He sighs. "What do I know?"
I smile. "Well, you know you've got a cousin with an apartment that has an extra room. That's a start."
"Thanks. It'll just be until I find some job that pays better than sweeping the restaurant."
"You can have the place if I go back to Twelve."
"You don't need to give me stuff."
"I don't need to sell it, either, and it's already paid for." I shrug. "Come on. I don't feel like I earned what they pay me as a victor. Let me spend it, at least."
"I think you earned it a few times over."
I don't argue. It's kind of pointless. Other people have long since decided that they know what I deserve and don't deserve. They don't all agree about it, which is one of the reasons I keep a low profile. I save more than half of each month's salary, in case the government abruptly decides I need to start paying it back.
The bus glides around the corner and into my neighborhood. It's neither the candy-colored lakeside neighborhood where Effie lives nor the foothills where houses like Gale's Capitol place command stunning views across the city. It's not far from the neighborhood Haymitch calls the Grove, the place he brought me when I was injured. I visit with our old sponsors as often as I can. They're nice ladies, and they seem to appreciate a friendly face now and then. I repainted the portraits of Miss Buttery's ancestors that the soldiers destroyed, and I plan to make one of her as well.
I don't sleep much.
My apartment is the top two floors of a narrow stone building that looks out on a well-tended Capitol park. Beetee says it's the park where he and Haymitch and Chaff used to play chess with the little old men, who've come tentatively back out to feed the birds. The bus pauses at a stop light near a group of them, and one recognizes me and waves. I wave back before it moves on to my actual stop. Aurrie and I get off, passing a few words with Portunes on the way. As the bus moves on, we go up the steps, and I thumb the lock pad. The door opens. We take the small, gilt elevator upstairs.
"Where's your stuff?" I ask Aurrie as we go into the apartment. The entrance way goes up both stories to a skylight, and it's actually very pleasant.
"It's at Gramps's place. Is it okay for him to bring it over later?"
I roll my eyes. "As of ten minutes ago, you live here. You don't need to ask."
He goes to the phone and calls our grandfather, and I make lunch for all three of us. I put on a potato based soup I made to simmer and put a fresh loaf of bread in the oven. It was rising while I worked this morning. I was afraid it might have been out too long. I've gotten a few loaves wrong at this altitude. But from the look of this one, it should be fine. When I get it baking, I go back out to the entryway. Aurrie is looking around at my canvases from class, limping from one to another. (He's joked that he's still just a wannabe, even mimicking my limp, but the truth is, I've adjusted to my artificial leg better than he's adjusted to his injured one.)
"What are you going to paint next?" he asks me.
"I don't know," I say. "My professor made me scrape my last canvas. He says I'm still doing figurative art."
"Meaning he thinks I'm trying to hide portraits and illustrations in my abstracts."
"And that's bad because…?"
I shrug. "He's not a snob about it. He just thinks I already know that kind of painting, and he wants me to stretch and do something different, so I have some new tools. It's not a bad thing."
I can't think of anything else to say, so I fall back on the old standby: School. "What have you got going on in class?"
"I have to do a presentation on the detonation of nuclear devices in the upper atmosphere."
"Why did anybody think that was a good idea?"
"To keep the bombs from landing on cities," he says. "They were detonated before they hit their targets. They decided to risk likely damage to the atmosphere to avoid definite destruction on the ground. A couple of countries just kept doing it over and over. The weird part is, the bombs weren't even flying at them. They were trying to stop them from hitting other people."
"So… if someone aimed a gun at you and I knocked it away, you'd think I was weird?"
"That's pretty much why everyone does think you're weird."
"As opposed to you, of course." I grin. "You'd just pretend to be a target and try to get them to shoot you instead."
"And then I'd get Haymitch to lie and say I was really dead. Again."
I laugh a little bit, though it's still kind of a ghost-house in my head. While we were making our way across town to kill Snow, we saw the report of Aurrie's "death" on television. I recognized him, and I knew he'd done it deliberately to distract people from where I really was, and I felt terrible about it. I only found out later that he was alive. The rebellion managed to pull that lie off pretty well. It was Haymitch's doing, like most of the things that actually worked properly. He wanted to make the mobs in the Capitol realize how far overboard they had gone, and they did. By the time we were making the final push through the city, not one person came after me at all, even though I'm pretty sure I was recognized a few times. One kid about my age asked if I needed a place to hide. I didn't take him up on it, of course. I decided that, if I couldn't be a martyr as a distraction for Katniss's scheme, maybe I could find a soldier to shoot at me near the mansion.
I try now to remember how that felt, the desire to cease to be, but I can't bring it back in any more than an academic way. I'd finally found myself again, and I was deeply ashamed at everything I'd done. I was afraid that the hijacking would never go away, and I might hurt Katniss, so it would be better for me to die. But almost dying seems to have cured me entirely, not of the false memories, but of any desire to give in to them.
And maybe you can do something other than be a martyr for Katniss.
The thought comes again, in one of its many forms. Do I want to stay here? Do I want to try a life not tied to hers?
Dr. Aurelius thinks I need to, if I'm really going to find myself. He told me to start dating again. There's a girl from District Three in my art class, the daughter of a sound engineer who moved here after the war. She's very beautiful. Her name is Wenna, and we've laughed about some of the more ridiculous propaganda art that our professor has shown us. She's made it clear that she's interested in me, and she knows more about paintbrushes than she does about the Hunger Games.
It would be a relief. Just do it.
I look up. Aurrie is watching me with some concern, and I realize that I'm leaning forward, holding onto the back of a chair. I don't know how long I've been like this. "Sorry," I say.
"I didn't mean to…"
I wave it off. "Don't worry about it."
Justinian arrives a few minutes later, and we all have a pleasant enough lunch together. It's hard to think of these two people being related to Mom. It would be easier to believe it if they were related to Dad.
After lunch, Justinian goes home, and Aurrie gets to work on his presentation about nukes. It's due on Monday, and he's only got the paper part of it done. There was a good computer terminal in this apartment when I bought it and I get him settled on it to work on his visual aids, then I get started on my painting for the afternoon. I can't think of anything abstract for class, so I work on my portrait of Miss Buttery. It's sketched out by the time I lose the natural light. I have decent full-spectrum artificial lighting here (I plan to install it in my studio in Twelve… if I go back), but it seems like as good a time as any to set it aside.
The first episode of the re-created soap opera, Seagull Point, is on tonight. It opens up in the same big mansion where it was centered while Snow was in charge, and Valerian Vale's character is standing with his back to the camera, looking out over the city. A portrait of Mimi Meadowbrook's character hangs beside him. I painted it from his old pictures, and from watching two seasons during sleepless nights last month. He was a sponsor. It seemed like the least I could do. Another one of the old characters is talking in the background.
"I just don't understand how anything works anymore, Caius," he says. "All the rules are different. All the things we knew are gone. Everything's changed."
Valerian turns to the camera, eyes twinkling, and says, "Maybe not everything."
He grins broadly, and the credits come up. They look remarkably similar to the old credits, though there are now a great many shots of vans bringing in furniture as the new, presumably district-native characters move into their upscale Capitol homes. These are mixed in with the usual shots of the skyline, the lake, and characters taking their clothes off.
Aurrie comes out, and after the show, we talk about what should be on. He wants science fiction. I want sports.
"You do?" he asks. "I mean… I wouldn't think you'd want games."
"I mean real sports. The kind where there's a silver medal. And a bronze one."
"You know, the kind where people who don't win get to go home and try again next year."
We continue in this vein for a while, trying to figure out what kind of sports would work, and how to set them up when so many of the districts are smashed to rubble. Neither one of us points it out, but I think we both know that if Plutarch hasn't come up with some fairly large spectacle by summer, people will start feeling antsy without the Games.
Aurelian goes to bed a little after midnight. I try to, but I toss and turn for forty minutes and end up back in my studio. I fall asleep at some point in the small hours, but I'm up around dawn, as always. Annona will expect me at work.
March 8, 637 After Founding (Year 0 Panem Republic). Psychiatric transcription by Gavin Aurelius, subject Mellark. Private notes.
A: You haven't been sleeping.
P: Sure I have. I'd be dead if I weren't sleeping.
A: You're not sleeping enough. You're taking art history and technique classes. You're working at the bakery. You're visiting old women. You're still working with the refugees. Most of them have found places. The orphanage is really just an orphanage now. They've found all the families that are going to be found.
P: I'm just keeping busy. Have you talked to Katniss?
A: No. But if I had, I couldn't tell you about it, any more than I could tell her about your sessions. Have you called her?
P: I got through to Greasy Sae. She says Katniss is still feeling poorly. In Twelve, that could mean anything from a bad cold to… to what she was before she left. We don't really get into a lot of detail about things like that.
A: But you did try.
P: I tried. I want to see her.
A: How are the nightmares?
P: If I have them, I don't remember.
A: Is that why you're not sleeping?
P: It's pretty effective for that.
A: What were you dreaming about when you decided to stop dreaming?
P: I didn't decide. I just stopped. [pause] Okay, I was dreaming about prison. About what happened there. Not on my top ten list of happy memories. I think I'd rather remember the arena. At least I sometimes got kissed there. Not that I wanted anyone in the prison to kiss me. That would have been strange. [subject grins]
A: I've told you before, you're not here to entertain me. Stop joking.
P: But I always entertain people. Didn't you say you wanted me to be myself?
A: And that's something that's real to you?
P: What, making people happy? Yeah. I like doing that.
A: Even at the cost of your own happiness?
P: [pause] It's not a zero sum game. It's not like I make someone else smile by chopping off parts of myself and handing it to them. It makes me happier, too. I mean, what does it really cost me to be nice to people? What does it cost anyone? Wouldn't everyone be happier if we just…
A: Just what?
P: Just… moved on?
"You're still telling stories, Peeta," Pacuvius Henry says. "Using a one-to-one symbol for your characters doesn't change that."
I sigh and look at my canvas, which is a mess. The other three students in the class are working in somber tone fields, while my painting is a mishmash of reds and greens and blues and a splash of yellow that doesn't belong there at all. I've been trying very hard not to paint figures, just shapes and colors and feelings, but I keep finding forms anyway, then trying to hide them under meaningless smears. "Sorry," I say. "I'm not getting this."
Pacuvius inspects the canvas. "No. You're not. It's all right. There's nothing shameful in illustration. It's simply not the subject of this class."
"You don't like it, though."
"No. I was forced to be an illustrator when I wished to be a fine artist. My sort of art was only appreciated in the underground, and when I tried to introduce it…" He shrugs. "Well, I wasn't punished, but I was also not making a living, and I was sneered at. I don't intend to sneer at you for the opposite. But I wonder, Peeta… are you an artist who happens to tell stories, or a storyteller who is also a skilled painter?"
"I don't know." I scrape the canvas down slowly. "I wanted to learn this. I wanted to learn to understand it."
"You can understand it without it becoming your native artistic tongue." He shakes his head. "Paint as you will," he says. "I am capable of teaching an illustrator, and you are capable of adapting the lessons of one form to another. Abstraction will give you tools to express the non-photographic elements of illustration, but it's useless to pretend to be an artist other than the one you are. Paint what you need to paint, boy."
He walks away. From the next easel over, Wenna Liang gives me a sympathetic smile. Her painting is shades of brown with the slightest hint of red. I don't know what I'm supposed to feel from it, but the sense it gives me is being in a warm, comforting study.
I can't think of anything else to paint, so I take out my charcoal and sketchpad and sketch a picture of her at her easel. I tear it off and give it to her at the end of class. It's not great work, and she knows it. She smiles. "It's not exactly painting practice."
"Let me take a picture," I say. "I'll paint him a close-up of your left eye. I'll get every color."
"Don't forget to put an abstraction in my pupil," she tells me, packing up her oils in an old leather briefcase. "Some inscrutable symbol of the deep confusion I arouse in you."
"Confusion... Is that what's aroused?"
"I'm not. Not much, anyway." I tuck my sketchpad under my arm and we walk out into the darkened halls of the National Art Museum together. Pacuvius's studio space is a gallery that was between shows when the bombs started falling, and never filled up again. Our class ends after the museum's work day, and the night shift guards look at us suspiciously as we make our way to the doors.
Wenna moves closer to me. "I keep expecting them to search us every time we leave," she says.
"What's it about, anyway?"
"About a third of the collection got trashed in the war. Some pretty important stuff, too. Things they brought over from European and Asian museums in the Ingathering. A few from the coasts. Pre-catastrophe stuff."
"And they blame district people for the war and…"
"…and we're district people, so maybe we're out to wreck the rest of it." Wenna rolls her eyes. "Like I, personally, wanted to trash the terracotta warrior. I'd just as soon wring the neck of whoever dropped that bomb. It was probably a sculpture of one of my ancestors."
"Whoever it was probably didn't know he was bombing ancient art."
"Or care." We get outside and discover it's raining. I take her portfolio and she gets out her red umbrella, and we both huddle under it to awkwardly run to the sheltered bus stop. When we get there, we separate, and she delicately shakes the water off of the umbrella. "That's the real problem," she says, like there was no break. "It's bad that they accidentally bombed a statue. But they didn't care. It might not have been statues, and it wouldn't have made any difference. I heard they might have even done it deliberately at City Center."
An image of Prim Everdeen comes into my head, and I feel sick. I sit down on the little metal bench and try not to look ill, but Wenna spots it. She sits beside me, looking concerned. I put up my hand before she can put hers on the back of my neck. "I'm okay," I say.
"I forgot that's where you got hurt."
"I did, too. That wasn't what I was thinking about. I lost someone there. Primrose Everdeen. Katniss's sister."
"I don't think I've ever heard you say her name."
"Katniss's. I mean, except on television." She looks across the street at the dusky sunset. There's still so much dust in the air from the wartime explosions that the view is spectacular. "I wondered if…" She shrugs. "Nothing."
I know the question she has decided not to ask -- she wonders if it was all a fake, because I haven't spent my time in art class painting Katniss or talking about her or crying over our separation -- but I decide to leave it alone. It's not her business.
We board the bus together when it arrives a minute later, but she gets off in the government district to change routes, and I take it up to the fashion district.
There's not good bus service to Effie's, so I pick up a taxi at the stand in front of Clothiers' Hall, the auditorium where the designers put on their shows. I could have picked one up in the government district, but the conversation with Wenna had gone far enough.
I check in with Effie every week after this class. It's a ritual that keeps both of us grounded. She tells me whatever she's managed to pry out of Haymitch on the phone. It's never much. Effie's convinced that he's holed up in his house and not actually talking to anyone, no matter what he says, and I'm fairly sure she's right. I tell her that I'm fine, getting stronger, and generally in good spirits. It doesn't really matter what we say to each other. The point is just seeing each other and remembering that neither one of us is really alone, and that there are two other people out there who matter to us and aren't with us. I invited Aurrie to come along, since he adores Effie, but he's still afraid that he'll run into Tazzy, since she lives in the adjoining apartment.
It's not a fancy gathering, or even a planned one, which is why I'm taken completely by surprise when I spot Gale Hawthorne sitting on the steps of Effie's building. Generally speaking, it takes a lot of planning to see Gale anywhere.
He's been doing something with a handheld device, but he turns it off when he hears the cab door open. He stands up, looking about as surprised as I must. "Hey," he says.
I nod. "Hey."
"I didn't know you were coming over."
"I didn't know you were in town."
We look at each other awkwardly. Gale has had me over at his house, and he even helped me move into my apartment, when I bought some new furniture. Of course, we had our little jaunt through the Capitol sewers together. We had a very serious talk about him doing an "I choose to be free" propo, and I think we respect each other.
But the fact is, the only thing we have in common that matters isn't exactly a comfortable topic of conversation. We never seem to know what to do with each other.
"I'm just in for two days," he says. "A quick check in with Paylor about things in Two, and a report to the Council. Jo wanted to visit Effie. They're upstairs shopping."
"Jo's with you?"
He blushes. "Well. Yes. She's, um. Well, she's… I gave her a job in Two. She's bored. Enobaria's letting her use her house. Jo's place got wrecked during the war. And I guess Enobaria decided to stay here?"
I nod and come up the stairs, leaning against the rail across from him. "Eno's been hanging around with people who want to start another district. I've seen her a few times. She didn't mention giving her house to Jo."
"I thought they hated each other," Gale says.
"Nah. Victors. They're weird." I smile, and he makes an attempt at returning it, but doesn't do very well.
We're quiet for a while, and I feel like we should go in and go up to Effie's apartment, then Gale says, "Have you heard from Twelve lately?"
I don't pretend not to know what the question really is. "Twelve hasn't been picking up her phone," I tell him. "I'm actually kind of worried about Twelve."
"When are you going back?"
"I haven't got the all-clear yet. I might not be safe."
"You might not be. I'm definitely not. So neither of us can help her."
"I'm not sure we could help her if we were right there."
Beside my head, the speaker buzzes. "Come on, Gale," Jo says. "We're done talking clothes, so you can no longer be infected by discussion of sequins. You can come up now if you think you can handle being in the same room as a pink rug, oh you manliest of all male, manly men."
"Buzz us up, Jo," I say.
"Oh, Peeta!" Effie calls in the background. "Is it already that late?" A tone sounds, and the door's magnetic lock lets up.
Gale and I go inside and take the elevator upstairs without speaking to each other.
When the doors open, Effie runs over and gives me a hug. She makes a move toward Gale, but stops when she spots that he's bracing for it the way he might brace for a blow. She loops her arm through mine and says, "I didn't know Johanna and Gale were going to be in town today. I'd have let you know ahead of time.
Jo waves from where she's sitting, near Effie's comm station. "I wouldn't have. It was much more amusing for you two to run into each other without expecting it."
"Thanks, Jo," I say. "You're always so considerate and helpful."
"Well one of us has to be, and you're such a pill."
"Johanna!" Effie scolds, rolling her eyes in an exasperated way. "Really.."
"I'm ordering in," Jo says. "Have you tried that new restaurant in the Scar?"
The Scar is the part of the Capitol's business district that was leveled in the war. The surrounding buildings have been shored up, even made almost fashionable, by businesspeople moving into town after the war. I haven't been there much, mostly because the people setting up there are people who want to seem chic, who spend their days complaining about how gauche their home districts are, and how they're so glad to be somewhere cosmopolitan, now that they have the freedom to move around.
They remind me of my mother.
I see her hand in my head, beckoning from its vat, her ring melted across her fingers.
"Haven't been," I mutter.
"It's a guy from District Ten," Jo goes on, oblivious. "Some relative of Toffy Taggart's, I think. Barbecue joint, but he ended up marrying a girl from Four during the war, so also, fish. Done barbecue style, with all the trimmings." She starts typing.
"I have no idea what she's talking about," Gale whispers, and I glance over to see that he actually looks sheepish and embarrassed. He shrugs. "I just go with it."
I laugh, pushing away the odd, random thought of my mother. "Probably a good idea. And I don't know, either. It's not like I ever had a chance to hit the Capitol restaurants. Even now, I mostly don't."
"Where do you eat?" Jo asks.
"At home. I cook. After shopping. In grocery stores. Have you ever seen one? Very exotic."
She makes a rude gesture at me.
It strikes me that a lot of the victors might not be particularly familiar with grocery stores or cooking. Most would have come from poor backgrounds, where hunting, begging, and picking up grain from the tessera office would have been the major modes of picking up food, and later, a lot was just ordered and shipped to their doorsteps. Haymitch avoided the grocery store in Twelve. My father told me once, when I asked why Haymitch hardly ever came into town even to shop, that one of the grocers' kids was a tribute who died in the arena, and the other one died of a sickness, and somehow Haymitch had worked that around to the whole family hating him and him being ashamed to walk into the store.
"Then why doesn't he come here anymore?" I asked, pointing around the bakery.
Dad rolled his eyes and said, "Because he won't go where I won't let him drink. Damned idiot."
I was maybe seven then, but even then, I knew that my father drank sometimes… and sometimes it was way too much. I also knew that my mother hated everyone, but Haymitch more than anyone other than Mrs. Everdeen, so she wouldn't exactly be happy to see him.
Gale's hand falls on my shoulder, but before he can express concern, I just shake my head and wave it off.
The food comes half an hour later, and it's very good. We all sit in the living room, watching television for a while. Effie has talked to Haymitch, and, while she doesn't mention it, I know she thinks he's been drinking again, which is a surprise to absolutely no one.
"What's happening in town?" Gale asks. "Does he know?"
"He says there are more people coming in all the time."
"What about Katniss?" Jo prods.
Effie shakes her head. "He hasn't said much. I think she hasn't been talking to him."
"Someone needs to go out there," Gale says.
"I wish I could," Effie says wistfully. "I really do. Haymitch asked me to go with him. But there's so much work to do!"
"Me, too," Gale mutters.
"I'm not allowed yet," I say.
"Well, that leaves me!" Jo gives a big fake smile. "I'll just go out there and use the power of positive dialogue and sympathy to put our little Humpty Dumptys back together again. I mean, who's better at being kind and sympathetic?"
"I don't know," I say. "Did they keep any of those orange monkeys from the arena?"
She flicks a finger full of coleslaw at me, and I toss a roll in her direction.
Effie despairs of us. Jo and Gale leave an hour later. I stay to help her clean up. She asks me how I'm feeling. I tell her that I'm fine.
"Are you sleeping?" she asks. "You don't look like you're getting enough sleep."
"Effie, I'm fine."
She sniffs. "Haymitch says he's fine, too. And sober."
"Okay, I'm not fine yet, but… I'm all right."
She accepts this.
I go home. Aurrie and Justinian are both up waiting for me, and I play a few hands of poker with them, which is something like playing with my brothers… not a one of us has a good hand, but we bluff the bets up into the stratosphere, since we're playing with fake money. After a while, Justinian goes home and Aurrie goes to bed. I stay up in my studio, painting portraits and listening to the rain as it washes the winter out through the gutters.
It's still raining when I fall asleep at last and dream of my brothers in the kitchen, stirring bowls of ashes.
I don't think the rain has even paused when I wake up before dawn.
March 15, 637 After Founding [Year 0 Panem Republic]. Psychiatric transcription by Gavin Aurelius, subject Mellark. Private notes.
P: What are you waiting for, anyway?
A: What do you mean?
P: I mean, if I had a broken leg, you'd be testing it to see if I could walk again. If I got flash-blinded, you'd want to know when I could see. What am I looking for here? How do I know when I'm safe?
A: Do you feel safe?
P: That's not what I mean. You know that's not what I mean. I mean, when other people are safe around me. Isn't that why you're not letting me go back?
P: [pause] Then what's the point? Why am I still here?
A: Listen to your own questions, Peeta. What's the point? Why are you here? Are you safe? Which of those questions is the most important to you?
P: I wasn't asking those questions. Not the way you make it sound.
A: How do I make it sound?
P: Like I’m… gazing at my navel and trying to figure out the meaning of life or something.
A: And you don't think you are? Or you think you shouldn't be?
[subject does not answer for several seconds]
P: I don't want to. [shrugs] I mean… what if it doesn't mean anything at all? What if you just end up…
A: Peeta? Peeta?
P: It's time to go. I have class.
[subject leaves without dismissal]
I don't know what I was thinking, agreeing to go on a hike with Enobaria Fells.
She has no patience with my limp, and it's not like we've really enjoyed each other's company in the past. But she called, and here I am, lurching my way up a path into the foothills, watching her disappear ahead of me.
She said she wanted to talk about something, but so far, all she's said is, "Did you bring water?"
I power along, ignoring the chafing where the robotic prosthetic leg rubs up against the stump of my real one. There's no way to avoid it, I guess. Everything's wired up to my nerves, and it works really well. I know how to take care of the circuitry, and the damage my jailors did to it has been well-repaired. But the fact is, a foreign object has been grafted onto my body, and where it meets the organic material, it's always going to chafe a little. I'll put medicine on it tonight, and it will be all right in the morning. At the moment, it's a low-grade annoyance.
There's a steep and uneven part of the path ahead, and I see Enobaria sitting on a rock just beyond it, staring out over the Capitol.
It's a little muddy and slippery, but I can also see the spring flowers poking through.
They're blue. Forget-me-nots are blue. For some reason, I think, I need to tell Johanna.
It must have come up in prison, that's the only reason I can think of that I'd associate them with Johanna, but I can't remember why it seems important.
I tip and sway most of the way up the path, and I end up grabbing at rocks to keep from falling over, but I do make it.
Enobaria looks over her shoulder, unconcerned. "It's a good view from up here."
I take it in. The city, spilling down the foothills toward the lake, like a forest of bright spun-sugar candy. The lake, glimmering in the sun. The punishing desert on the far shore, stretching away toward District Three.
"Yeah," I say. "It's great." I sit down beside her.
"It's not so different from District Two out here," she says. "We're just the other side of the mountains. My brother and I used to hike around all the time. He was a Peacekeeper. He died when your friends pulled you and Mason and Cresta out of the prison. He was one of the guards." She looks at me. "Not one of the ones playing games with you. He told me. He was worried that I'd end up in there, too, if I ever let my loyalist image waver."
I move away a little bit, thinking that being on a high ledge with a victor who might well blame me for her brother's death might not be the best idea. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
She waves it off. "Don't get the wrong idea. He wasn't defending the prison. He let Hawthorne in. He wasn't supposed to die, of course, but someone somewhere screwed up. It may even have been Janus himself. He was a good boy, but he'd have never made it through the arena. Prone to very preventable mistakes."
She says this in a cool, philosophical tone, and I know I'm not meant to pry, so I say, "Oh."
"I know they put Brutus in there with you. Other bodies, too. I don't know who they were. Jan said they were brought from Twelve."
I am suddenly back in my cell. Snow puts down a box, too large to be a body part like the ones he's put on my shelves -- my mother's hand, my father's jaw, my brother's foot -- but too small to be a grown person. My niece. He says she'll be back in there with me if I lie to him and…
I jab my finger into the seam of my prosthetic and bring myself back to the present.
Enobaria is looking at me with curious disgust. "Does that serve some purpose?"
She nods. No nonsense about not understanding. "I guess Brutus was there to make you feel like a murderer, right? Convince you that you weren't some big white knight because you killed him?"
I look away. "Something like that."
"Snow. Goddamned Snow." She shakes her head. "With Finnick and me, and Gloss and Cashmere and a few others, he sold us to the highest bidders, then tried to convince us we were whores. Bastard. It's the same thing. He stuck you in a kill or be killed situation, then tried to make you feel like a killer."
"Is that what you wanted to tell me?"
"No. You're not dumb enough not to know that. It's not very subtle."
"Brutus didn't really have anyone, so I decided to get his body and send it home, if Snow hadn't burned him."
My stomach does a kind of looping drop inside me. "And you found it."
"I found it. And the others. Some… parts. And a man and a woman and a baby."
I can't speak.
She looks at me. "They're your people, aren't they?"
I make a few odd motions with my mouth, but I don't think anything comes out. Enobaria waits without any readable expression.
"I'll take that as a yes," she finally says. "There's a mortuary there in the prison. That's where they were, if you want to do something with them."
"I…" I manage. "Thank you, Eno." The words sound thin and listless.
"Yeah, the gratitude is overwhelming. I can imagine just how happy it must make you." She glares out across the city, then pulls out a pack of cigarettes and lights one. She holds it out to me, but I shake my head. I don't like the smell. She shrugs and takes a drag, letting the smoke spill out of her mouth, making a thin curtain between herself and the view. "I shouldn't do this up here. But it hasn't been dry lately. Everything's wet up here. I don't see a fire danger, and I'll put the damned thing out for good before we go. Stomping them is half the fun of smoking."
I don't know what I’m supposed to say to that, so I give her a noncommittal sound, something like, "Uhn."
She smokes quietly for a few minutes, then sighs, letting out a cloud of the stuff. "I'm sticking here until Paylor gives the go ahead to start the new district. We have everything lined up, you know. Ready to go. It's just a question of fighting it out with people who don't think we can afford to split off part of the population right now. I'd be sympathetic, if it were in my nature, but it's not. I want to get out of here. The islands sound just about right to me. Lots and lots of water between me and the rest of goddamned Panem."
She nods. "It's the farmers from Eleven that got it going. They want to grow sugar cane. I don't know why, but I like the idea of sweating things out and hacking away the cane. It feels… real. Maybe you can buy some of it for baking. You… it is baking you do, right? Or was that someone else?"
"It was me," I say. I feel like I should contribute something more to the conversation, so I add, "I'm still doing it. Working in a bakery, I mean."
She nods. "I always thought the most damnable thing they did to all of us was not letting us work. It was supposed to be some great treat. I don't know about you, but half the time, I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to get up in the morning for."
"Habit?" I suggest.
"There's a compelling reason to live." Enobaria falls silent again for a while, and I don't speak into it. I doubt she brought me up here just to tell me where to find the bodies. She could have done that with a phone call. Finally, she stubs out her cigarette and grinds it into the wet mud. She stands up. "Are you going back to Twelve?"
The question surprises me. I don't know why. It just comes out of nowhere. "I'm not cleared."
"Not cleared to leave the Capitol or not cleared to go to Twelve?"
"What's the difference?"
She smiles wearily. "About twelve districts. Thirteen, if you we get the go ahead for Fourteen. You could go build a bakery in Four or… I don't know."
"Why do you care about that?"
"You're one of us. I saw Johanna when she came. Some last trading stuff about my house in Two. Well, her house in Two. She said you were running around the Capitol like a drunken woodchuck --"
"It's what she says when she means running around in circles. Pointless running around." She shrugs. "I don't know. You seem normal to me, but I don't know you."
"Jo… wanted you to… what, babysit me?"
She thinks about this. "I think she's mostly worried about the girl. Not that she says so. What she says is that Katniss is probably moping around while you're gadflying here, and you don't seem to know what to do with yourself."
"Thanks," I mutter. "You're full of great nuggets. Jo thinks I'm being delinquent, my family's dead, Haymitch is drinking again, Effie's lonely --"
"Hey, don't lay those last two on me. I didn't bring those up. Are you actually laying Haymitch Abernathy drinking on yourself?"
"No," I say.
"And you better not start." She turn around, looking me full in the face for the first time. I can see some unevenness where her pointed teeth press against her lips. "I don't care all that much," she says. "But it doesn't look like anyone is talking sense to you. Running around and doing everything there is to do is fine for a little while, but you've got to decide what you want in the end. Are you going to be a Capitol boy? Or are you going to get out of here? Are you going to be what you were, or are you going to become something else? Because you're running out of time. The Capitol will hold onto you for as long as it can… preferably until it turns you into one of its own. But you have other places to go. You can come down to the islands with us crazy people if you want to."
"Thanks, but --"
She cuts me off with a wave of her hand. "You can, but I wasn't serious. I don't think you want to, and I know I want to learn some language other than Hunger Games victor. My point is, whatever you're going to do, get around to doing it, because all of us tend to forget that time keeps going on. Hell, even old Mags probably still felt like she was a fourteen year old kid scrambling to live through every day. Stop scrambling." She nods. "And that's it. That's all I'm saying, because you aren't my business. You aren't Jo's business, either. Do you want to hike any further?"
"I want to go up to the top. Can you get down on your own?"
I nod. "Is it safe for you to hike alone?"
At this, she just laughs, which is fair. Stupid question between victors.
She heads up the mountain, and I head down. I take a bus from the parking lot back to my neighborhood, and go back to my apartment. Aurrie is trying to make dinner when I get back, but I don't think he's likely to find work as a restauranteur. He's managed to master simple bread, and I praise him for it, but the meat is tough, the potatoes are burned, and he's forgotten anything resembling a vegetable. I pull out some carrots and peel them to eat raw with the meal.
"How was your meeting?" he asks.
"Meeting sounds really formal."
I laugh at this. "No. Family reunion, on the victor side."
"Oh." He stabs at a blackened piece of potato. "What did she want?"
I think about the bodies in the city morgue, then of the prison cell, and the way Snow put them up like grotesque knick-knacks. I open my mouth to tell my cousin, but I can't do it. I can't make the words come out. "She wanted to invite me to District Fourteen," I say lightly, but when I look up, Aurrie is staring at me, his eyes wary. "What?"
He starts to say, "Nothing" -- I can see his mouth forming the words -- but instead, he steels himself and says, "You stared into space for close to five minutes before you answered. Did you know that?"
"I…" I look at the clock. "No. I…"
He looks down. "Sorry, Peeta. I just wasn't sure if you knew."
"I didn't. And don't apologize. I wonder how often I do that."
"I see you do it a lot," he says. "Where do you go?"
I shake my head. "I don't want to -- look, can we not talk about it? It's weird."
"Okay," Aurrie says with some level of relief. "Sure. But you know… maybe you could… I don't know. Never mind." He smiles nervously. "How's the painting? Did you ever get that… abstract thing?"
"Nah. How'd the nuke paper go?"
"I got an A." His smile turns real. "My teacher says I should write like that more. He even thinks I could go to college." He rolls his eyes at what he obviously thinks is an absurdity.
We talk for a little while about school and painting, and how things are at the bakery. He has a temporary second job mopping floors at a bar now, and he goes to it just as the sun sets.
I try to call Katniss, not really expecting anything, and don't get anything. I don't bother trying to call Haymitch. Delly is out there too now, but she doesn't have a telephone. I go back to my room and try to paint, but I can't think of anything I want to put on the canvas. I see Mom's hand in its little vat. Dad's jaw. Ed's foot. I see Jona and Sarey and the baby, and I hear Snow telling me not to lie to him, or Betany would be there with me permanently.
You thought she was Katniss's baby. The one you made up. Your baby, dead in formaldehyde.
I shudder. Maybe I did think that. I don't remember everything that went through my head, and I don't want to.
But I do.
I stay in my studio until it's dark, then stumble through the dark apartment to my bedroom. I lie awake for a long time, and I barely notice when I do sleep, but once, during the night, I look across the room and I see Betany in her coffin. Jona, burned and dead, but still moving around, is holding Dad's jawbone. Sarey is somehow or another Mom. They don't speak to me. They're huddled together, speaking to each other. I can hear them, but I can't understand them. Downstairs, the door opens and Aurrie comes in, knocking over the coat tree and making a racket. I blink myself awake, and they're gone.
The next morning, I call Annona at the bakery and tell her that I don't feel well. She says she can function without me. I promise that I'll try to be in tomorrow.
I pick up the telephone and call Dr. Aurelius.
March 20, 637 After Founding (Year 0 Panem Republic). Psychiatric transcription by Gavin Aurelius, subject Mellark. Private notes.
[subject enters, agitated, five minutes before the start of the emergency session he called for]
P: They were in there with me.
A: Who do you mean?
P: My family. They were there with me. Not in spirit. Not in some metaphor way. Snow brought whatever pieces of them he could find. Mom's hand. She was… pointing at me. I had to guess whether it was Ed's foot or Dad's. It was Ed's. Ed's foot. Dad's jaw. Betany died of smoke inhalation. Sarey, too. Jona lived the longest, even though he had burns. He was trying to shelter them, but he must have watched them die. But his lungs were biggest. He breathed longer. And he hurt. The burns. I know what he felt like.
A: Peeta, go back to the beginning.
P: No. It wasn't the beginning. It was when I defied him. He brought them in. The pieces of them. My niece was almost whole. He said if I lied to him, he'd leave her in there all the time, like he did with Mom's hand. And when I told Thirteen about the bombers, he went through with it. My parents. My brothers and Sarey. My niece. All of them. And he kept showing Katniss and the bombing and they were right there. He was trying to say that it was her fault. That she killed them.
A: And are you still angry at her?
P: Yes! No. I don't know. We had to have the war, didn't we? My father believed in it. Snow didn't even have a file on him, you know. But Beetee says he was there all along. He helped with messages. Snow never found out.
A: Your father was with the rebellion.
P: Even I never found out until Beetee told me. I should have known. Why didn't Haymitch tell me?
A: You'd have to ask him. [Pause] Peeta, are you still angry at Katniss?
P: [thinks for a long time] No.
A: You don't sound sure.
P: No, I am sure. I just forgot what sure feels like. I am sure. That wasn't Katniss. That was Snow. Katniss did what she had to. We all did. Because of what Snow did. It wasn't her fault at all.
When I get back from Aurelius's office, I make one more call.
It rings several times.
Then my grandfather picks up.
I'm shaking when he arrives. It's the worst shaking I've had since Katniss was leading us through the tunnels. I don't know what I look like, but it must be bad, because Justinian guides me to the car like I'm the old man and he's the seventeen-year-old. He secures me in the passenger side, then comes around to drive. I notice with no great surprise that he has to hotwire it, but I don't mention it.
"What is it?" he asks as soon as he gets the heat going. He's got it cranked up high, but I don't feel it. I'm freezing.
"I just need help with something. I…"
"Peeta, be straight with me."
"Just… we need to go to the morgue. Will you come with me? I need… my family."
The bodies are there to be claimed, but my hands are shaking so badly that Justinian has to guide me through it. He looks at Mom's hand for a long time, all of his usual good humor gone, and he's the one who demands all of the paperwork, everything about what was done and how the bodies came to be here. I have to sign the forms. Our genetic match is solid, but he has no legal connection to my family.
He sits beside me while the forms pile up on the table, and tells off several bureaucrats who look impatient while I try to make the pen hit the line I'm supposed to sign on.
After, he takes me to his little one-room apartment (dropping off the car at a nearby garage with a thank you note and some money for fuel) and gives me hot chocolate that I think is laced with something calming, because the shaking finally comes to a stop.
"I read the reports," he says. "The bastards."
"Thanks for… you know. Coming along."
"I'm glad you thought to call me."
"She was… and my brothers…"
He nods, following my train of thought well enough. Mom was his daughter, even if he didn't know her. My brothers were his grandchildren as much as I am. Betany was his great-granddaughter. There are duties, and I guess they fell on both of us.
I stay for a little while, then he calls Effie. She comes in a taxi and bundles me into it. I ask if I can just go back to my place. She tells me that she'll only do that if she can stay with me until she's sure I'm all right. I tell her that would be fine. She stays for two days before we talk, taking the first personal days I've heard of her taking since she started working for President Paylor.
I finally cry like a normal human being who lost his family, and she holds onto me and rocks me, and comforts me in the way I wish I could believe my mother would have. There's nothing I especially remember about those two days, or about the final, cleansing tears. It's not a blur. It's just healing time, when nothing much happens. Times like that are always a little strange.
When the tears end, I go into the bathroom and splash water on my face, then I offer to make dinner for Effie and Aurrie (Justinian is off on another errand). It's a quiet meal, but it's good, and we enjoy one another's company. Aurrie asks after Tazzy, who is doing well. Effie hints that they should get back together, but Aurrie seems to have come around to Tazzy's point of view -- they were friends as kids, and he hopes they will be friends again, but they know too much for anything else. Effie rolls her eyes at this.
She asks if I'll try to call Haymitch, and I do. I get him, too. He's very obviously drunk. Effie grinds her teeth and doesn't ask to take the phone.
The next day, I go to my regular appointment with Aurelius. We talk honestly about my family, about the cell, about District Twelve. At the end of it, he tells me that, if I want to, I can go back.
"You're not obliged," he says. "You can stay here. You can go anywhere you like."
"Have you been talking to Enobaria?"
"I want you to do me a favor. Now that you're free to go, stay. For a week. Then come back next week and tell me what you decide."
I'm willing to go along with it. Having the option of going back does change things. I talk to Annona at the bakery about it. I talk to Aurrie and Justinian. I spend time with Effie. I take Wenna out for coffee before class.
We walk together into the studio, and take our places at the easels. Pacuvius gives a brief talk on the Clarity movement in early Capitol abstract art. It had a vast influence on classical Capitol architecture. The traditional painting method was using a plastic based paint on a dissolvable canvas, so that when it dried and set, you'd end up with something that looked like a stained glass window, except without the mosaic quality. He urges us to think in terms of that movement as we worked in our color fields, though without the right equipment, it is only a source of inspiration.
I pick up a paintbrush and dip it into the clearest green I can find. I'm not sure why. My thought at the beginning is to try and find a way to paint my feelings about what I've learned, my sense of my family's deaths.
Instead, I make a quick series of deep green swirls across the middle of the canvas. Then a blotch of dark gray. A series of sparkling yellow…
"I see you're still in figures," Pacuvius says.
"It's a cave."
Pacuvius looks at me for a while, then seems to remember something. "Go on," he says. "Paint."
It isn't a good painting. It's the kind of slapdash thing you can do in a three hour class. It's not strictly figurative -- or, more precisely, it's not illustration. I see the figures clearly enough. They emerge in silver and faded blue around the edges of the canvas. My mother's hands at the top, curled into claws. My father's mouth in the lower corner, smiling wryly. The rest of his face is faded and generalized. Ed's feet, running, though he wasn't a runner. Jona and his family up the right side, in quick strokes.
But the center isn't about them. The center is a boy in the cave, his hair a quick series of yellow strokes. He is lying supine on the ground in the center of the circle. The cave doesn't exactly have a floor. The sketched, ghostly figures on the side are bent around the scene, but they don't have its reality, not anymore.
I stop painting and step back. It's bad on a technical level, and the symbolic level is worse: From a distance, I see that I've drawn myself at the center of a single gray eye.
Wenna looks over and sees it. She gives me a sad sort of smile.
I go home.
I spend the next several days sketching Katniss. I haven't drawn her since the end of the war, but my fingers remember how each line of her face is drawn. They used to make this drawing over and over. But she is the one thing I haven't tried. I've thought of her in a vague way. I've talked about her a little bit. But this has been on hold. Now, it starts flooding back to me. The arenas. The nightmares. The kiss when we came up from the sewers, when she begged me to stay with her. I feel like I've climbed over a prison wall, and found her at last, in the place where she has always been: At the end of my road.
Behind the bakery.
The smells come back now. Baking bread, cinnamon rolls, a hard winter rain. I feel my mother beside me, hear her sharp voice. There are customers outside, and I know they can hear her screaming at me. They always can. No one ever does anything about it. It's District Twelve, and we stay out of one another's business and then Ed comes in and tells her that there is someone rooting around in the trash bins and she's screaming again, and I look out at the customers and their blank, disinterested faces. I am invisible. She's invisible.
I am not surprised when I look out the window and see that the girl in the rain is Katniss Everdeen. I've known it, I think, since Mom started screaming. There is something inevitable about it.
I tell myself briefly that it's an accident when I first let the loaves of harvest bread teeter, but I realize that no one sees it. I hear Mom screeching, then muttering as she comes in, talking about greedy Seam brats and "Danny's little bitch" (her name for Mrs. Everdeen in most cases). I don't think there's anyone else who can hear her when she says, "World's better off without that one," and that's when I flip the bread board. There is nothing accidental about it, though I manufacture a look that I hope says, "Oops, clumsy." I know she'll hit me for it, and she does.
But Mom knows what I did. And she knows why I did it. That's why she orders me to feed it to the pigs. She knows Katniss is there, and she knows Katniss will see good food going to the pigs -- thrown by me -- while she sits in the rain and starves.
I go as far as feeding the first bit. Mom would watch, I'm sure, but it's busy inside. She has to mind the shop. She'll only be checking out the window. As long as I don't look like I'm doing anything, I can do what I meant to do. I keep my movements even, and I carefully toss the bread without turning my head. I hear the little splash.
A minute later, Katniss runs past, but she turns around and looks at me. She sees me. She knows. She sees me again in school. I catch her staring at the bruise on my face.
I draw her in the rain. I draw her at school. I draw her bending over a dandelion, then looking at me over the top of it.
By the time I return to Dr. Aurelius's office, I know what I'm doing. He expected as much.
I pack. I make arrangements to finish my art classes remotely. I sell Aurrie the apartment for a handful of change that he has in his pocket, and we both sign the paperwork, though he seems embarrassed about it. I threaten to pay his college tuition in full if he doesn't accept the apartment. I don't promise not to try doing that anyway. I have more money than I can possibly spend in District Twelve.
Effie makes care packages for Haymitch and Katniss, and takes me shopping for proper winter clothes in Twelve (it's possible that my old clothes are there, but given Snow's ransacking of Victor's Village, it's not a sure thing). I introduce Wenna to Aurrie, hoping they'll hit it off, but they're just polite and cordial with each other. I make some last minute recipe trades with Annona and thank her for letting me help out.
It all moves very quickly, and even as I board the train, it doesn't seem real. None of the re-settlers is familiar to me, though they all know who I am. There are a few people from other districts moving out to Twelve as well, for the adventure of re-building from scratch. I spend part of the trip playing poker with a girl from Eleven, and part of it helping an orphaned Seam boy remember what the square looked like.
When we get in, I let everyone else depart ahead of me.
They're going to a new bunch of shanties that's standing where I think the square used to be. It looks like the rebel camp in the Capitol, except that people are armed with hammers and saws instead of guns.
My business isn't in the settlers' camp.
The fence is gone, so I can go in anywhere. I follow the tracks along the old path of it, in the direction of Victors' Village. On the far side of the tracks, where I never went, I see the woods, as lush and green as ever. It's early spring, and the flowers are coming up. There's a patch of groundcover in a hollow where it looks almost like the plants have been deliberately set into a pattern, like a bird spreading its wings, but that's probably my imagination.
I am almost to the place where the tracks curve away toward District Thirteen -- I wonder if they've rebuilt the route yet -- when I spot the patch of delicate yellow flowers. They run wild here, and always have.
I stop short. I haven't given much thought to Prim. I should, but we didn't know each other well. She was good, kind, smart. She helped me in District Thirteen, even after what I did to Katniss. I should have seen her better. I should have remembered her before now.
I get down on the ground, and carefully dig around the roots, bringing the plants up gently.
No one will be forgotten.
I carry them on to Victors' Village, now easily visible with so much of the town and forest burned around it. I go through the gate, along the green. A few settlers are out as I make my way to Katniss's house. It's still and silent, and my first guess is that no one is home.
I start to plant the primroses.
April 2, 637 After Founding (Year 0 Panem Republic). Psychiatric transcription by Gavin Aurelius, subject Mellark. Interview by telephone. Private notes.
A: Your trip was safe?
P: It was just a train ride. I found some primroses by the tracks. I brought them to Katniss.
A: How is she?
P: Hard to explain. But I think she's going to come back. I think she was waiting for me. And before you start, I know I can't be a crutch. But I like helping her. When I realized that she was waiting for me, I realized… so was I.
A: You were waiting for her?
P: No. I was waiting for me. And there I was.
A: You're not sorry to have left the Capitol?
P: No. I can get what I need from the Capitol. We're free to move around now. It's not like I can't go back if I want to do a gallery show or visit Effie or my cousin. Or Haymitch, when I can get him to come to his senses and go back.
A: You're working on Haymitch?
P: Haymitch is waiting for himself, too, I think. Oh, I told Katniss that she needs to call you for her sessions. I'll make sure she does it, but give her a few days. She just woke up.
A: Woke up?
P: She'll explain.
A: [pause] So, are you settled in?
P: Settled in may take a while. But I'm back.