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The Dandelion Children

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            Johanna Mason woke with a start. She reached instinctually for the knife resting beside her mattress. With tired eyes, she scanned the room still cloaked in darkness and chilled with the early morning air. She sighed and pushed her sleep-tangled hair off her face. It was just the wind, she reasoned, but the fear coursing through her body wouldn't abate until she investigated. She readjusted her grip on the knife and untangled her legs from the sheets twisted around her by a restless night. Her limbs cracked painfully as she stood. "Fuck me." She murmured and twisted side to side. With one last crack, she began her descent down the stairs. The banging sounded once more. Startled, Johanna slipped on the last stair. She reached out to steady herself, the knife in her hand cutting a nasty gouge in the wall. She winced and rubbed at the new damage to her wall. "This better be fucking important." As in response to her complaints, the pounding on the door became more insistent.  

            "Johanna! Open the door! Johanna Mason!" An irritated voice bellowed from outside.  

            Johanna scrambled forward and flung the solid oak door open. "What? Who the fuck--" Her exasperation turned to confusion as she took in the sight before her. A familiar face with a disheveled dark braided hair stared back at her. "Katniss?"

            "Johanna." She answered annoyed.  

            Johanna raked her fingers through her hair, "And you're here why?"

             Hard grey eyes inspected Johanna up and down. "You look good." Katniss offered with an awkward shrug.

            Johanna's skimpy pajamas of underwear and a threadbare tank top made it very clear that time had been kind to Johanna. There was no trace of the slight girl in the hospital bed afraid to fall asleep. Her eyes were bright and her dark locks fell past her shoulders in an un-styled mess of waves. The knife in her hand sat easily, like a natural extension of her arm. Johanna Mason felt sure and solid. She had a hunch her new arrival could not say the same thing. Katniss appeared wan and thin. Exhaustion seemed to hang from her limbs, whether from the exertion of the journey or a sum of sleepless nights, Johanna wasn't sure.

            "Well, you look like shit." She lobbied wryly. She gestured with her knife, "And again I ask, why are you here?" Katniss pushed past her into the house.

            "Uh, yeah, by all means storm right in. Hey!" Johanna grabbed her arm roughly. "What's going on? Is everyone all right?"

            "Everyone is fine, which you would know if you answered your phone!" She snapped.

            Johanna rolled her eyes, "That fucking thing was ringing all the time. I turned it off months ago."

            "It didn't occur to you that people might be worried about you?" She extracted her arm from Johanna's grip. "Maybe some people were so worried they climbed this stupid mountain you live on to make sure you weren't dead."

            "Who would--" She took in Katniss' appearance once more. "Oh you? You’re the someone who needed to come check on me?" She laughed. Her brown eyes narrowed, "I don't buy that for a minute, brainless. We're not friends like that. So why don’t you tell me why you're really here?"

            "I'm here to check on you." Johanna crossed her arms and cocked her head. Katniss' face flushed. She wiped clumsily at her brow. "Fine. Don't believe me." She ground her heel into the wood floor and then snapped her heels together. The lines of her body shifted from casual irritation to coldness. "You're all right?" She asked her grey eyes inscrutable.

            Johanna nodded bewildered by her harsh change of tone. "I'm peachy keen."

            "Good then. Great! I'm glad I climbed all the way up here. I'll let everyone know." She turned and barreled towards the door.

            "What in the hell is going on?" Johanna asked watching Katniss retreat across the unkempt yard. She rubbed at her eyes. 'Fuck me.' She thought as curiosity and concern propelled her out the door and down the stairs.

            "Hey! Hey!" Johanna called. "Katniss! Wait up." Johanna sprinted across the yard her bare feet sinking into the dewy grass with each step. She caught up to the other girl easily enough, but no amount of cajoling would stay her movement. "Stop. Chill out. Just come back to the house."

            Katniss stalked steadily forward. Her eyes fixed in front of her. Johanna hand pulled at her arm. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come here." She shrugged the other girl off. "Just let me go." Johanna's hand remained firmly wrapped around her upper arm. "I said let go!" She yelled and pushed the other girl to the ground. 

            Johanna hit the ground with a hollow thump. She seethed in disbelief from her position on the ground. She climbed to her feet and wiped at the blood pooling from a split lip. "Fucking asshole!" She screamed. It was far too early in the morning for this shit. She glanced back at the door to her home swinging invitingly open, the siren song of a warm bed pulling at her bones. Her gaze drifted back to the long brown braid disappearing in the distance. Fuck it. Civilian life was boring. Without further consideration, she took off down the road. She ran as hard as she could and didn't stop until she slammed violently into the other girl's back. Johanna had a very simple theory about life: if words don't work, brute force probably will.

            "Johanna, what's wrong with you?" Katniss growled into the dirt. She thrashed, attempting to throw the other girl off. "Get off of me. Get off!" She jostled Johanna enough to flip onto her back.

            Johanna resettled her weight across Katniss' chest and held her arms firmly against the ground, "Not until you calm down." She peered down at the other girl.

            "I am calm." She answered in a red-faced huff.


            "Let me up, Johanna!" She spat.

            Johanna wrinkled her nose as she considered. With a sigh, she relented, "Fine." She rolled to her side. "Damn it, Everdeen. You're just bones." Johanna rubbed at her bruised shoulder. She stretched out on the ground to catch her breath and looked up at the cloudless sky. Katniss glared in response as she wiped the dirt from her chin. "Hey," Johanna picked at the fraying hem of her shirt, "You started it. Don't throw the first punch if you don't want to fight. You think you would know better by now."

            Katniss pulled a twig from her tangled hair. "I didn't come here to fight with you."

            "No? Then why are you here?" She rolled onto her stomach. "Did you miss me?" Johanna asked archly. Katniss tried to reign in her emotion, but Johanna saw the flicker of uncertainty skitter across her face. She leapt to her feet, "You did miss me!"

            Katniss sat unmoved on the cold ground. "I didn't--"

            "Don't be embarrassed. I'm quite missable."

            Katniss looked up at Johanna, her eyes laced with annoyance. Johanna smirked. She basked scantily clad in the morning sun. Her clothes and skin stained with dirt and grass. Bits of twigs and leaves nestled into her already knotted hair. She looked feral. She absently picked at the scab forming on her lip and considered Katniss with a disinterested gaze.

            Katniss open her mouth and then closed it again. She considered the ground intently, "Can I stay here?" Her voice was small and even.

            "Hell no." Johanna said with a smirk.   

            Katniss staggered to her feet. Her eyes still fixed on the ground. "Ok."

            "God, you're pathetic." Johanna punched her arm. "I was kidding. Of course you can stay. Don't be dumb."

            Katniss steadied herself. "I hate you."           

            "No you don't. You missed me." She mocked with elbow to the ribs for emphasis. Katniss gave no answer. "I'm going back to sleep. Feel free to do whatever." She added airily as she sauntered back across the lawn.

            Johanna fell into her bed and breathed in deeply. The breeze filtering in through the cracked window filled the room with the smell of wet grass and sunshine. She waited for the sound of footsteps in foyer or the slam of the front door. Either she was coming in or she wasn't. The offer had been made. Johanna stared up at the cracked plaster ceiling and waited. She counted 19 cracks before the door downstairs quietly clicked shut.

            "And people say I'm difficult." Johanna noted to the air. The clatter of footsteps echoed up the stairs. Johanna turned on her side and closed her eyes. Katniss shuffled by and Johanna heard her clack of her boots on the bathroom tile.

            "Johanna?" Katniss called.

            Johanna considered not answering. She rolled to her back. "What?"

            Katniss appeared in her doorway of her bedroom. "Why don't you have any doors?" She asked bemused. 

            "I don't need them."

            "You don't have any furniture."

            Johanna sat up. "I like my empty house."

            She picked at doorjamb, "I don't have to stay."

            "Stay or go, it doesn't matter to me either way. Just make up your freaking mind." Johanna settled back into her bed. "And take a shower. I can smell you from here."

            "You cannot."

            Johanna feigned a loud snore. She followed it up with an even louder, more obnoxious, snore. Katniss snorted and padded towards the bathroom. The sound of the shower soon followed.