I check myself in the rearview mirror, fixing my hair and placing my sunglasses on. I look at the kids in the mirror and smile at them.
“Ready, Lola Boo?” I ask her.
She nods enthusiastically.
“Let’s go then.” I say.
I clip the Ergo on, grabbing 9-month-old Scarlett out and placing her in the Ergo and then helping Eamon and Lola out of the car. I hold Lola and Eamon's hand and walk them into school and I know I turn heads. I know the other mothers are looking at me. Looking at me, Peeta Mellark the stay at home dad with the three perfect children entering the schoolyard. I’ve been turning heads since Lola’s first day of school a month ago. It’s actually the group of stay at home dad’s that turn heads. We walk in together with an entourage of kids, babies, and toddlers hanging off our bodies. And we have them all looking at us. The swanky dad's who are proud to run carpool, attend bake sales, run the canteen, go to excursions, come in for reading, braid hair, do soccer drop-offs and are happy watching ballet.
We were proud to let our wives and partners work to provide for our families. Most of our wives and partners worked exceptional careers. High careers that we were proud to see them striving to achieve. All of us stepped down when we became fathers. We worked with our wives, let them still strive and we stepped down. Despite some of our careers, we made it work.
Like Katniss, whilst on maternity leave, I did the work thing, worked my commissioned jobs in the 6 or 7 months she had off before returning home when she was ready to go back to work. It gave me my break, my chance to work and provide for my family to allow my wife the opportunity to bond with our children before she went back to work. She did this for all three kids.
We both worked our arses off since we were 18. She worked full time at City Hall. I worked for my parents in the bakery until Katniss’ manager commissioned me for an artwork piece, which then set off my art career and set our family up. I traveled the world, painting buildings, silos and anything else I was commissioned for. The work set me apart from Katniss for sometimes months at a time but we managed. She worked her butt off whilst I traveled the world painting and creating.
And I felt for all the time Katniss spent early in our relationship alone, I owed her the opportunity to be the fulltime worker and make a name for herself. Which she did, she’s become one of the youngest directors in the country. And I didn’t mind being the stay at home Dad or the househusband as she so called it. It was sexy. Or Katniss made it seem sexy.
“We’ve got their attention.” Rye comments, nudging my arm with a teenage smirk on his face.
He loved the attention from the ladies. He loved the stares, the flirting and the wandering eyes. He played it up, always showed off when he had all of his four kids with him. I knew his wife would shake her head if she saw him. But in good humor. Nothing of jealousy or hate. She was used to it and she’d just brush it off. And Rye loved Octavia. They were soul mates and destined for each other. He just liked the attention, reminding him of his school days and the ladies that used to follow him.
“Put that hard on away, we’re in a school.” Gale tells Rye jokingly.
“Hey, you get off on it.” Rye responds laughing.
“Maybe we should tell the mother’s to stop staring.” Gale says.
Rye laughs and places a hand on Gale’s shoulder. “We never stop them, this is the highlight of their day.”
Gale rolls his eyes, laughs and unclips his youngest, Cade from the jogging stroller. He’s the Dad that walks them to and from school, with backpacks hanging off the stroller and the two kids walking beside him or carrying one of them after a long day. He shows up in his gym gear and usually runs a few miles after school drop off with Cade in the stroller. Most of the mothers I notice follow him home in the car to perve as he pounds the pavement with toddler in tow.
He’s all about a holistic lifestyle. They only eat a clean diet filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and white meat like fish or chicken. There’s nothing artificial in their diets and everything is ‘raw’. The kids have the healthiest lunches premade by Gale himself who also manages to make clean treats and prepare dinners he serves at 6 pm every night. He also makes and delivers healthy lunches to Madge every day, especially if she's in court, he wants her to have a wholesome lunch.
He’s that parent we all strive to be but never find the time.
The school bell sounds and slowly the kids find their way to their lines and their teachers join them. We round up the little kids, strapping them into strollers and grabbing their hands to keep them contained during the assembly.
The frumpy principal arrives with her grey hair, icy eyes and in her shapeless signature grey suit.
The kids quieten down after her third attempt and she stands with a sour look on her face, unimpressed at the kindergartens, grade 1’s and 2’s. I just roll my eyes and listen to what she has to say.
“Parents, thank you for taking time out of your morning to stay behind and listen. I will make this quick.” She announces. Eamon motions to be picked up and I lift him up. “As you know, we put together our parent committee each year. Everyone is invited to attend and have a say in what you’ll like to see in the school, positive changes and run ideas for fundraisers throughout the years. If any of you feel like you could dedicate your time, then please feel free to show up tomorrow night at 6 pm in the admin building. We will be voting for our committee as well, all those who are paying members will be eligible to vote. Thank you and please return to your days.”
“We should do it.” Thom suggests placing his youngest Frankie up on his shoulders. “We’ve got time to dedicate and lots of ideas to shake up the parent committee.”
"We've got to get through them first." Gale points out, motioning towards the group he refers to as the lycra bitches. They drive their range rovers, dropping their kids off in their active wear and then following school drop off with appointments and coffee dates. They don't go to the gym at all, just wear the activewear to give off the motion that they do.
“We’re married to wonderful and powerful women and we’re scared of the lycra bitches.” Rye whispers
The leader of the lycra bitches moves towards us. Cashmere Baker.
Cashmere popped out twins, which happened to be the same time around the same time Lola was born. Katniss and Cashmere shared a room, as there was a private room shortage. Cashmere had an elected cesarean, made out it was the hardest thing she's done in her life, had visitors arriving all day every day who made our stay uncomfortable as they constantly butted in or stuck their head through the curtain. She was given six expensive push presents. Had two whinging babies who she hardly picked up the entire time and Cashmere herself big noted the wonderful job she did with all the drugs and epidurals to deliver her son and daughter and not ruin her vagina whilst Katniss went drug-free in our home bathtub with me holding her hand and Prim delivering her niece.
Cashmere crosses her arms over her chest, pushing her fake boobs out even more and sticking her hip out.
“I hope you men don’t think you’re going to make it on the committee.” She states. “There’s never been men on the committee, just the mother’s because we know best.” She claims. “Just because your wives and life partners work high demanding jobs and you do school drop off, doesn’t entitle you to be on the committee. It’s for those of us who have a brain and the best interest of our children.”
"It's called the parent's committee, not the Mother's meeting!" Finnick claims. "We're more than welcome to attend."
She scowls, over exaggerating her filled lips. “If you show up, all of your votes will just count as one singular vote. You men don’t get a say in this school.”
“We should be allowed to, our children attend.” Gale demands.
“Doesn’t mean anything, see you tomorrow boys if you’re game enough to show.”
"You can't do this to us." Darius claims. "Whatever happened to free speech?"
She shrugs her shoulders and turns on her heel, motioning for the lyrca bitches to follow so they can go for their Monday coffee in their active wear and boast about how wonderful their husbands and children are. Despite most of their husbands having a wandering eye, a little too touchy with their assistants and co-workers and their children who drive them up the wall.
“We can’t let them walk over us.” I say. “We’re entitled to as much as a vote than they are.”
“So we attend tomorrow night, we brainstorm some ideas for future fundraising and some changes.” Gale says. “I’ll look up the laws and do some research online about parent committees and try and speak to the Principal.” He announces, taking the break off the stroller. “I’ll try and catch her now and I’ll text you all to let you know how I go.”
He rushes off through the playground to the admin building to try and catch Principal Coin. The rest of us decide we’ll head on home to do our research for the meeting tomorrow night.
“Come on Little Man, we’re going to go and quickly meet Mommy.” I tell Eamon reaching for his hand. “Say bye to everyone.”
Eamon sweetly hugs his friend’s goodbye and I take him to the car, getting him and his sister into the SUV and driving across town to the site of the future adventure playground.
Katniss takes Scarlett out of the car and I help Eamon out and he goes and hugs his mother.
“I missed you two this morning.” She tells them as she embraces them both. “Were you a good boy for Daddy?” Eamon nods with his dimpled smile and she ruffles his hair and kisses his forehead. “Mommy has something to show you.”
This had been her goal since she started working. The only good playground in town was demolished due to asbestos and a massive sinkhole and the land deemed unusable almost 18 years ago to the day. There was no other land big enough to accommodate a park and everything was already developed.
Then came this gem about 2 years ago.
The site of the old steelworks. The ruins had almost fallen down, the site deemed unsafe. The owner of the land passed away and gifted the land to his niece with a sizeable fortune included and she paid for the demolishing of the land and then gifted the land to the council with a promise it had to be used for the community.
Which is where Katniss got her hands on it and her dream has slowly come to life.
And in 6 weeks it will be open to the public. She's freaking out just a little. But it'll all work out fine and everyone will love it.
She puts a safety vest on Eamon and I slip one on as well. It’s still an active work site but she’s been granted permission to step on site and today she needs me as I'm doing a big commission piece throughout the park scheduled to start within the week weather permitting. The perks of being married to an artist, I give up my time for free. She just repays me in the privacy of the bedroom. But I'd do this for the community free of charge as a present for a good cause.
I carry Eamon on my shoulders and the site foreman lets us in.
“How are we Mrs. Mellark?”
“Mrs. Mellark is my mother-in-law, its Katniss remember?"
“It’s fine, we right to head to the painting sites?”
“Yep, just be careful.”
It’s amazing the work they’ve done here in the last couple of months and with the good weather over the spring and summer, it’s truly paid off for the quick turn around.
I measure up my canvases, take a few photographs of my future work and the surrounding area, do a few sketches and take a walk around just to get a feel. I had a plan for the artworks I just wanted to be sure of the site before I committed.
Katniss has taken the kids for a short walk to show off the work. Eamon has loved watching this come to life and he’s excited to finally ride his bike around the bike path and play on the big slide which Katniss doesn’t want him to go down just yet but he’s convinced his cousins to take him.
“Got everything?” Katniss asks, returning with the kids. Scarlett is getting a little fussy, ready for a feed and a sleep.
I nod and we head to the car where she tells me she’ll nurse Scarlett. We sit in my car and Eamon happily sits on my lap playing a game on my phone.
"The Lycra bitches are total bitches." I tell her.
“What happened?” She asks. She loved hearing about the crazy school gossip. Especially involving the lyrca bitches that do nothing but judge her. She’s judged Katniss since the day they shared the hospital room together. Judgment for a natural delivery and for breastfeeding. For also Katniss being the fulltime worker. Katniss couldn’t catch a break but she was slowly learning to let it go.
"The guys and I wanted to go to the parent committee meeting and Cashmere basically told me that the fathers weren't allowed anywhere near the committee and if we vote then collectively it'll count as 1."
“She can’t do that.”
“We’re still going to go. Gale is doing some research on the laws of parents committee and meet with the principal.”
"It's called the parent's committee not the mother's meeting so what's her issue? Scared you guys will do a better job?" She rolls her eyes. "Well if they won't let you in, then just start your own. The house-husband committee."
My eyes go wide and I lean over and kiss her cheek. “I knew I married you for a reason!”
“I hope it was more than my smartness?”
“It was for everything, babe.” I remind her. “You’re a genius. We’ll start our own committee for the outcasts because there’s a few other mother’s and guardians who I know won’t be included.”
“Look at us, I’m running a huge multimillion dollar project and you’re planning to outsmart the lycra bitches over a school committee.”
“Hey, I know you find me sexy taking charged over our daughter’s school.”
“You’re too right!” She winks. “You leave me breathless taking charge and all. I like a man who takes charge, especially over bitching women.” She murmurs sexily.
I blush slightly and wish we were home where we could take this further. “Just as much as I love you and running a whole department, I remind you how much I love that don’t I?”
“All the time my love.”
“You’re getting some good loving tonight.”
She bites her lip and I watch her smile, her eyes lighting up.
It’s been rough for her since returning after Scarlett’s birth, her city manager has left and they’re stuck with an interim manager who is creating more issues than need be. Then there’s her staff who are still giving her hell. Issues that should have been resolved on her returning three months ago but nothing has been done and I know this project is the only thing getting her by for now.
“See you this afternoon.” She tells Eamon as she buckles him in. She kisses him goodbye and waves goodbye to him.
She stands at my window and leans in and kisses me.
“Breathe. Call if you need me.” I remind her. “And if not talk to Annie.”
She nods, kisses me again and waves us goodbye, blowing a kiss to us.
I just hope she has enough mental strength to get through the next few weeks.
“So, the principal told us that we’re more than welcome to attend.” Gale tells me in the schoolyard. “We’re all allowed a vote if we’re a paying member which is a dollar. I talked to Madge and she said she’d come for support as will the other’s wives and partners.”
“And if all else fails we create our own committee where all are welcome.” I tell him. “Because we know Cashmere has an agenda and it’s to have a committee that will vote with her. She wants to change things her way, which won’t suit a lot of other families, especially those not as well off as her. We need to think of everyone and every situation.”
“We can do this.” Gale states. “We’ve got this.”
"If not, it'll be the first parent's committee that the police attend." I laugh.
Gale fills the dads in when they arrive and we get about writing down our ideas and pitch. I'm naturally selected as the speaker and I plan to write out a pitch for all those who attend. The rest of the dads are going to do their best to encourage the other parents to attend and voice their opinion. We had even rounded up some of our parents to come and watch the kids of the parents who had no alternate babysitting arrangements. We’d just have a movie on, some toys, games and some food.
“So we got some interest.” I tell Katniss that night. The kids are winding down for the night and are playing with a puzzle.
“That’s good. I’m coming along for the meeting too. I don’t want to miss it for the world.”
I kiss her hand. “We’ll walk out if anything happens or if they play politics.”
“Good, then you can start your own committee and I’m sure a few people will follow you.”
“I hope so.”
“I know so.” She smiles at me.
Scarlett crawls towards us and I lift her up onto the couch with us. She crawls to her mother and cuddles her. Katniss relishes in the cuddles she gets at night and holds the kids tightly. We usually end up with the three youngest on the couch embracing their mother whichever way they can manage and they just all hold each other until they get sleepy.
At the end of the day, this is what it’s all about. Us and our tribe of kids. The bedtime cuddles, the kisses, and embraces. The goodnights and the love you’s.
Katniss does the bedtime routine with the three younger ones and I spend some time drawing up in bed waiting for Katniss. I can hear her with the kids, wishing them a goodnight and tucking them in.
And I know she enjoys this part of the evening, it’s a nice way to end the day. Some nights she misses this when she has late meetings but she tries to make it home in time. If not, she’ll cuddle them, watch them sleep and kiss them goodnight.
She comes in almost an hour later after nursing Scarlett and putting her to sleep. Most nights she just holds her, rocking her for a few extra moments before laying her down for the night.
She cuddles into me, resting her head on my chest and just sighing after a long day.
“Something wrong?” I ask her.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep up with work.”
“Why? You’ve got the project.”
“But that’s it. Everything else is paperwork and budgets and arseholes. I don’t have joy anymore. I don’t look forward to work like I used to. Haymitch has left me. Annie is talking about leaving. Everyone else has left me. I have no more friends or people.” She cries. “I’ve had another complaint put in against me.”
“What?” I stiffen up, annoyed this crap hasn’t finished. “Who?”
“I don’t know, they won’t tell me but I’ve got a meeting with the investigator on Friday morning.”
I hated the toxicity of her workplace, especially since returning from maternity leave and Haymitch no longer there. She was an open target now and she had no one to protect her. The treatment she was receiving was harassment and despite her many complaints, nothing has been done.
I nuzzle her temple and hold her in my arms. “You should speak to Madge.” I suggest to her.
“She’s got enough on her plate.”
“She’s your friend and she’ll help you.”
She nods, swallowing the lump in her throat. “I just wish this wasn’t taking away from my project.”
“I know.” I agree. “Remember I’m ready to pick up the slack.”
She nods remembering the promises from the day we found out we were expecting Lola. She’s managed this long but I don’t know if she’ll see the end of the year.
“You ready?” Katniss whispers.
I nod at her. She’s got Scarlett on her lap. The other two are in a classroom with two dozen other kids with a few of the grandparents watching them. Prim sits beside her sister, still in her scrubs. Rory beside Prim. The two of them have been dating for a few years now and has stepped up as Asher’s stepfather. He’s also part of the househusband group and takes care of Asher when Prim is saving lives.
We’ve got a full house tonight filled with the parents of the K to 2 kids.
“So our first point of order is electing our new committee.” Coin begins. “Are there are any nominations for secretary?”
Cashmere nominates one of the lycra bitches. We put forward Annie. And she wins fairly.
Katniss and Rye share the joint role as treasurer beating one of the lyrca girls I would not trust with finances especially as she's gone into debt a few times and the repo man has arrived on her doorstep a few times.
There are calls for a vice president, Cashmere calls upon her sidekick Glimmer. We call upon Gale Hawthorne.
Gale takes Vice president.
Then there’s the vote for the president. The lycra bitches call forward Cashmere.
"Any more nominations?" Coin asks.
“I nominate, Peeta Mellark.”
I wasn’t expecting to be nominated with the plan for one of the other’s to be nominated.
We turn to see who nominated me and it’s someone not in our group. Another mother. Cecelia Grey. Cecelia’s daughter is in the same class as Lola. She’s a single mother, has to send her kids to and from school on the bus. She struggles day to day but she made the effort to get here tonight, which says a lot.
I see the unpleasant look on Cashmere’s face as she knows she’s up for competition.
“If there are no more nominations then I ask the two nominees to please step outside.”
“This total bullshit.” Cashmere states as I stand up. “There’s never been men run this committee before. There have been no men involved ever and now you all want to see a male run the association? What traits does he have that are better than mine?” The men try to not snicker and she stares them all down. “I assure you, Peeta Mellark will not run this committee better than myself and my fellow lady friends. I would like his nomination revoked.”
Coin laughs and seats herself forward. “We can’t revoke a vote. He’s a paying member, he hasn’t breached any laws and I see his nomination fit.”
Cashmere huffs. "Well, I don't want him nominated. This was a committee filled with women with the best interest of our children put forward. Not some club for these men to joke around and not be proactive."
“Everyone is invited. It’s called democracy. Free speech too is allowed. Let’s see if Peeta has anything he’d like to say. Any changes or ideas he may have that could revamp this committee and fundraising ideas for the next twelve months.”
I feel my palms are sweaty at being put on the spot but I stand up and clear my throat.
"I don't know if I will do a better job than previous presidents but I deserve a chance to try. Yes, you may not like the idea of men being in this committee but we're devoted fathers with children who attend this school. We are an equal part of this school community as the mothers and caregivers. We're entitled to this opportunity. It's a new era, men take a step back and focus on their children and that's what we're doing. We have the interest of not just our children but our whole family and community on our minds and we want to do the best to enable our children to new things with major fundraisers. Most of us are new to this so it’ll take a bit of work ironing out the kinks. And I’m not perfect but I believe I can be the right person for this job. I show up, I engage and I listen.”
Obviously, my spur of the moment speech wins them over and I'm voted in as president. Cashmere's scream of terror can be heard all the way down to the classroom where the kids all are playing.
“I’m not being in this committee if they are in it. I’m going to form my own.” Cashmere states.
“Cashmere, we don’t want that. We want you as a member.” I tell her.
"Nope, I'm done, I'm speaking to the association and finding out my rights." She claims to gather up her bag and motioning for her lycra bitches to follow. Which they do. “This means war, Peeta Mellark!” She points to me.
“What have I done?” I ask her.
“You set this up. You turned them all on your side. I had them, I had it all worked out and now you’re ruining everything.”
“Cashmere, we didn’t do anything.” I tell her. “We just rallied everyone to attend and vote for what they wanted. To do it for their children. To think of who they want to represent them not swayed them to vote for me. I didn’t even speak to them.”
“I don’t want to hear your lies. I’m leaving and Alma, I want a meeting with you tomorrow morning. And I want to form my own committee. And say goodbye to the $5000 I was going to donate.”
It’s all too funny for Katniss and Prim who giggle in their hands.
“Shut up.” Cashmere shouts at Prim and Katniss. “You two are immature and don’t deserve to be here either.”
“Cashmere, let’s just go.” Glimmer suggests.
“Yes, this toxic air is making me angry.” She huffs. “You’ll be sorry, Mellark.”
Katniss and Prim burst out laughing as Cashmere leaves the room almost in tears shouting and cussing at us all who have ruined her dream of being that Mom who can boast about the changes she’s brought in for her children’s school.
I think she’s being immature but that’s up for debate.
“So, if all our winning nominees intend to take their position then I call them forward to accept their position and to sign their names on this declaration.”
All positions are filled which Coin seems thrilled about. Fresh faces and fresh ideas. No more grandmothers’ with children who haven’t attended the school for twenty years and mother’s who reject every idea and have it run like a reform school. Things were stale and times were changing.
"I can't wait to get you into bed tonight, Mr. President." Katniss whispers in my ear as we lean over the to sign our names.
I still, almost messing up my signature and try to not let the blood run south.
“Wait until we get home.” She adds and moves to the side with Scarlett in her arms.
With the meeting concluding, Coin promises to email us meeting times for the next school year. We gather the kids, being held up by nearly everyone which isn’t helping so much with how turned on I am.
With a fussing Scarlett, we make a quick exit home, bathing the kids quickly and getting them in their pyjamas.
“Come here, MR President.” Katniss purrs, patting the empty spot beside her on the bed. I’ve just put Eamon to bed and she finished nursing Scarlett.
I all but jump beside her, pinning her body under mine and kissing her deeply. I’ve been turned on since we signed our declaration.
“You should stop doing that in public.” I tell her between kisses and roaming my hands over her body.
"Well, you should stop being so damn hot in public." She throws back with a smirk.
“I’m sorry, I’ll try and contain it next time.” I tell her, nipping at her neck and tickling her sides.
This is what I loved. Our usual banter. Our silliness. Our ability to go from laughing to teasing and turning each other on.
20 years of loving her and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been some of the best years of my life and I’ve nearly officially known her over half my life.
“I love you so much.”
“I know.” She replies.
“I know you do but I don’t tell you enough.” I smile at her, kissing her softly.
I stand at the entrance of the park and exhale a deep breath. Katniss did this. She created this masterpiece from the ground up. Her blood, sweat, and tears went into this and she's created a masterpiece.
And we're banking on opening day with a school fundraiser. It's a warm Fall weekend and a perfect day for a harvest style fundraiser.
It’s early morning, the crowd have not yet shown up and I send all my good vibes to Katniss who is fussing around the site with Annie and a few other's following.
The kids are still at home with Katniss’ mother and will be brought by later.
But this is perfect and Katniss has nailed it. And with the stress of work, the impending investigation and her pursuing her case further, it’s nice for her to have this to keep her distracted for the now.
The househusbands are due to arrive soon to set up marques for the bake sale with Mellark's bakery donating cakes to us to sell. There'll be face painting, children entertainers, games, a huge scavenger hunt that is Prim will set up when she arrives. A professional skateboarder I met during my travels is coming to show the kids some tricks and how to skate. The local police will be teaching bike safety to the kids and have brought some of their biggest and coolest toys, as have the ambulance and firefighters. There'll be additional market stalls, a mini fun run around the outskirts of the site, live entertainment, and food stalls to keep the families entertained. And tonight an outdoor screening of a movie.
We approached City Hall to hopefully double up on opening day as a fundraising type day and they approved, allowing us to do anything and even donating some money towards paying for some entertainment. They also agreed for the yet to be completed walkway, for families to have the opportunity to have their names in the pavers. It was the biggest seller and we sold all the pavers within the week.
City Hall has agreed to give our family the pick of where our paver will go. We’ve decided right in the heart of the pathway because this was Katniss’ baby. This came from her heart. Her mother and father will have a paver beside ours. Prim, Rory and Asher another. Even my family bought pavers, which will go near each other. Our friends as well will be situated surrounding us.
It’ll be something to walk this pathway and see our names right in the middle. To know that Katniss’ dream came true. Even for our family to say, she did this. For our grandchildren to know their grandmother made this possible.
We’ve made a lot of money already and it hasn’t even begun.
Katniss finds me over near the café and I hand her a hot chocolate and a cheese bun. We sit with each other, I hold her hand and we enjoy each other's company.
We enjoy this moment because we never thought it’d come true.
“You did this.” I keep reminding her.
“I did this.” She eventually says smiling.
We capture a photo together, a selfie to remember this morning and the kids arrive shortly after with our parents coming to lend a hand. Her mother takes a photograph of us to remember this day as well.
“What do you think, kids?” Katniss asks them, kneeling beside both Lola and Eamon.
“It’s amazing!” Lola exclaims.
“Good.” Eamon smiles. He’s just ready to ride his bike on the bike path that has been set up with stop and give way signs.
“Do you want to get a sneak peak before everyone gets here?” I ask them.
And they nod, eager to go.
“Come on, let’s show the kids what amazing work you did.” I say taking Katniss’ hand and the stroller in my other.
We start with the water play area which I know will be popular in the summer. The musical makers is next with musical instruments. Sandpits and the baby playground. Then the big climbing equipment with spider webs and then a huge jungle gym up to a big twisty slippery dip and a climbing frame for the bigger kids. There’s also a smaller slide that comes out the other side for those not daring enough to reach the top. There’s a huge flying fox near the climbing equipment. A huge basket swing as well that can fit quite a few kids at once.
Over the back near the mini rotunda which has been specially wired up for events is the skate park with the huge mural I painted that wraps the whole back of the park wall. There’s plenty of picnic tables, BBQ’s, a public toilet block I’ve got plans to paint in the spring as well as a café close by.
This has been made for families of all ages. Designed with the old steelworks in mind and the jungle gym slightly replicated to look like the old pump house. Some of the old bricks from the site has created garden beds and gardens.
Katniss has blown me away and the kids are excited.
“Mommy, can we go on the equipment now? Before the other’s do?” Lola asks.
She nods with a big smile. “Go on.”
“Come on Eamon." Lola reaches for his hand and they make a move towards the jungle gym.
“I’m not climbing up there to save them.” Katniss tells me.
“That’s what the older cousins are for.” I tell her laughing.
They just play on the lower level, Eamon is a little more daring and climbs up to the next level and Lola follows him right to the top.
Katniss holds her breath and watches.
“Ready, let’s go down the slide Eamon.” Lola suggests.
We watch as she sits behind him and I quickly snap them coming down the slide together. The smiles on their faces convince Katniss she truly did this.
The park is scheduled to officially open at 9:30 and we watch families arrive with picnic blankets and baskets and set up a place. There's rope that has cordoned off the park with it opened after a small opening ceremony and cutting of the ribbon.
Katniss’ old manager would also be saying a few words as he headlined this project alongside Katniss until he left 10 months ago when Katniss went on maternity leave.
We have crowd control keeping the kids from ducking under the rope. The parents keep a hold of them and many of the children entertainers keep them distracted with balloons, face painting, and magic tricks.
The school committee has set up their stand, Prim is finishing up the scavenger hunt which will begin as soon as the rope is cut. The fun run is scheduled for when the hunt ends.
“Peeta, Katniss we have trouble.” Annie tells us.
She leads us to the car park where the lyrca bitches have set themselves up with a pathetic table trying to convince those to not step foot in the park as we stole her idea of a fundraiser. She also wants people to sign her petition to convince them that we’re not reasonable enough to run a parents committee.
“Cashmere, what is this?”
“Our committee. I told you we’d run our own.”
“Of 6 people?”
“Yes and we’re managing just fine.” She tells us, throwing the petition in front of a family as they walk in.
“Cashmere, this is ridiculous.” I tell her. “You’re welcome in the committee along with everyone else. Just come and see how we run. You’re more than welcome to help.”
“No, we don’t associate with traitors.”
“So I suppose we won’t see your families here today?” I ask her.
She doesn’t answer and I know all too well they’ll sneak in somehow.
“Cashmere, for the interest of your own safety, can you please move off the road?”
“No, we’re fine here.”
“Well if you change your mind, you know where we are.” I tell her.
We’re called over for the formality part. There is a huge turn out already, with the media also in attendance. I check my watch, fix the collar of my shirt the committee is wearing and follow Katniss.
She's talking to Haymitch and his wife Effie. She's got Scarlett in her arms, rocking her side to side. Scarlett's teething and not doing so well today.
“You did this, Katniss.”
“With your help.” She reminds him.
“My guidance really paid off, didn’t it?”
“Yes.” She nods. “I’ll always be thankful for what you did for us.”
He smiles proudly, hugging her slightly and tickling Scarlett’s cheek. He looks so much better than he did 12 months ago. It was a good idea him stepping down.
The City Manager steps up to the microphone and thanks everyone for being here. He calls upon Mayor Undersee to speak a few words and I see him get a little choked up.
“I never thought we’d see something like this in the town.” He admits. “I thought the kids would miss out and there'd be nowhere to engage their minds, for them to meet friends and spend their summers. I thought all was lost and that my grandchildren wouldn't have something to use." He smiles. "But with the vision of one person, the donation of this land and a working party, we are here and from what I can see, what an amazing job that has been done. I'm honored to be here, opening this new adventure park that will hopefully be here for years to come. For generations to come. For my grandchildren to bring their children to.” He cheers. “So, I would like you to all go crazy for this woman here, Katniss Mellark who created this for you all!”
Katniss goes red from the attention and smiles shyly at brushes the attention off as she bounces Scarlett.
“So during the day, if you see Katniss, make sure you thank her, tell her what you love best. Just praise this woman a lot because most of this she did while she was pregnant with miss Scarlett here and on maternity leave. So I think she deserves a lot of applause." He smiles. "And to the working party who helped Katniss whilst she was on leave. They carried the vision and made sure targets were reached and the work was going steady and with their exceptional work, the park was opened two months earlier than planned." No wonder he's been mayor for so long, the town loves him, think he is a gracious man. "And we can't forget the woman who also helped this project start. The niece of Grayson Peters, Missy Peters who donated this land to City Hall for the purpose of a park. Without her, this project would not have gotten off the ground.” He says. “I’d love to invite Katniss to share a few words and I assure you, they’ll only be a few words.” He laughs.
I laugh so does Katniss and she steps up to say a few words.
“Wow, I didn’t expect this many of you to show up. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your overwhelming support when we pitched this to the public. I’ve had this dream since I was 18 to create a space for everyone to use. To be proud to use. Something for my future children and family to use. It wasn’t until 6 years ago when I found out I was pregnant with my first that I wanted something done and a few years later, we were given Missy’s wonderful donation of the land and then 13 months ago this man, Haymitch Abernathy approached me when I was 4 months out from going on maternity leave to say it was time for one last ride together. He knew of my dream and he facilitated the work right until we turned the first sod which you probably remember was 10 months ago and my last day of work. And in 10 months, we've created this. So I hope you all enjoy this new community space just as much as I will enjoy seeing my kids enjoy it. And I've given the tick of approval from the two older ones so hopefully, the rest of your kids will approve." She smiles. "Thanks for showing up today and thanks Panem Elementary school as well who have provided all these fun things to coincide with the opening. Have a wonderful day and I hope you enjoy the Blast Furnace Adventure Park!"
Councilors, City Hall workers, the mayor and myself all stand for photo opportunities, posing with the ceremonial scissors. The kids are brought to us as well and Haymitch also gets his photograph taken.
“So, as a whole bringing this full circle, we’d like Katniss and her three adorable children to cut the ribbon and officially open this site.” Mayor Undersee announces.
Katniss holds the scissors and Lola and Eamon help her with the cutting of the ribbon which receives a huge applause and we watch as a swarm of kids makes their way towards the playground. And I hold Katniss and we watch, as this place becomes the publics once again. We watch as her dream comes to life.
“You did it.” I tell her.
And we embrace our little family and know the tears, sweat, and pain was all worth it. Those late nights and early mornings accounted for this moment.
She goes off to compete in the scavenger hunt with the kids and I return to my post.
And the day is a huge success. There are smiles, laughter, and pure happiness. I watch parents, grandparents and children thank Katniss during the day. She’s taken aback and close to tears by the time the hundredth kid has thanked her.
“She’s done a wonderful job.” Gale comments as we do a coffee run. “She pulled it off.”
“I’m glad she did.” I admit. “I was scared she wouldn’t return to work to finish it off.”
“She’s tough and she needs a lot to knock her down.”
“I think she’s slowly being knocked down. This has built her up a few pegs but it’s the only thing she had to look forward to and now she’s got nothing.”
He nods. “She should maybe take some time off then, just to recharge her batteries. I’m sure she has quite a bit of leave?”
“A month might do her well. See where her heart lies when she returns.”
I nod, maybe we could go off on a family holiday for a week before the weather turns bad and it’s Christmas time.
She finds me that afternoon, most of the activities have wound down for the day and I’m supervising Rye and Annie count the money. I've got a sleeping baby asleep across my chest and am rocking my niece Lily to sleep in her stroller. Haymitch and Effie are hovering around, chatting with Prim, Johanna, and Madge.
“Hey, where are the kids?" Katniss asks.
“Mom and Dad have them.”
I smile and she pulls up a chair beside me. She’s exhausted and I offer her my water.
“How’s the money looking?” She asks.
“We’ve sold out of everything. And our donations bucket filled up a couple of times. Some of the events made a lot of money. We did a good job.” I tell her.
“I’m glad it was a good day.”
I couldn’t wait until our meeting on Tuesday night.
I turn to look at Katniss and see her wiping her cheeks. She’s crying.
“I did this.” She cries.
“I created all this happiness for all these kids and these families.” She cries. “I did this.” I nod. “I did something good but I feel like a failure.”
This gets everyone’s attention under the marque and they all swarm her, giving her words of encouragement and support.
“Katniss you did not fail anyone today.” Haymitch tells her. He was always someone who could through to her. He pulls out his phone and shows her pictures he’s taken. “See these faces, they don’t look like faces of those who think you failed. You created this. All of this.” He reminds her.
He then flicks to another photograph of all the group's kids. The arms around each other, the smiles and happiness beaming from their eyes. Our three are front and center, Lola holding her sister protectively with a happy smile.
"You've had this dream since I first met you. I know it's a little overwhelming but please don't dampen the day. I've dealt with too many of your hormones over the years." He laughs, hoping to make her smile at least. "You did this and you should be proud. It might not be right now but hopefully in a month, a year, ten years you will sit back and realize that you did this."
“With your help.”
"Sweetheart, I just got the approval, I didn't plan any of it. I let you create something to prove not only to the councilors but also to yourself that you can do great things in this job. You can create a happier community with your ideas. You can fund a multimillion-dollar project without any hiccups or kinks. You can do this." He reminds her. "You'll realize you did this and know you didn't fail you succeeded."
She nods, smiling through the tears and he embraces her. “You did well, Sweetheart.”
We wrap things up when the afternoon has almost disappeared and we all go out to celebrate a successful day with all the kids and team. There’s plenty of us and the kids are too tired to even make a sound and eat their dinner and the worker's comment that they hardly know they're there.
And after a celebratory ice cream, we head on home with three tired kids who we just tuck into bed in their street clothes.
And Katniss and I share a bath together, also exhausted physically and mentally from the day.
Katniss can hardly keep her eyes open and rests her head on my shoulder.
“I’m so proud of you.” I remind her for the thousandth time, kissing the curve of her shoulder towards her neck. “And whatever you decide to do now, I’m here to support you.” I remind her.
“I know.” She mumbles.
“Just don’t rush into any decisions.”
“Good.” I tell her. “We love you, Katniss.”
After our bath, we find Lola and Eamon creeping into our room. We lay them beside us, cuddle their tiny bodies to ours and just relish in the feeling that we had a great day.
And I feel that now Katniss has completed this, she's leading more towards stepping back and being the full-time Mom. Which I was half expecting anyway after this project was completed. And I've gotten my almost six years, I don't mind giving Katniss the next 6 years or even longer.
I reach out over Lola finding her hand in the darkness of our room and smile at her. Reminding her that I'm here and that whatever happens, we've got this under control.
“We’re going to be fine.” I whisper to her.