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After the fire, Ashes remain

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Everything changed a day like today but three years ago. This exact day but three years back, I lost the two people in the world I cared most about: one to a fire that burnt my house to ashes; the other because I was a coward.

But this is why I'm here sitting in my car, outside of Mellark's bakery at 4.30 am. I'm not even sure if Peeta will want to talk to me after how I disappeared once I was discharged from the hospital, but I need to explain my reasons to him, and overall I need to tell him how I feel.

Some car’s headlights blind me and bring me back to reality. A car stops by the bakery, a fancy red car with a pretty blonde woman inside it with someone else, but I can't make out the other person. I pray to a God I don't believe in, that this someone is not Peeta. But when the person hugs him, I can make out a curly mop of blond hair and there is no mistake. To confirm my suspicion, the man gets out the car and I can see him stand in front on me. He looks just the same, handsome, strong and kind, you can tell by the way he smiles.

He enters the bakery and closes the door, but I can't get up from my seat, I need some seconds to recover my courage. In the meantime, he switches on the lights and then disappears though the kitchen's door.

I breathe deeply, just as my therapist, Dr. Aurelius taught me: “I have to do this, I need to do this,” I repeat as a mantra to myself. I picture again his smile, the one he just flashed to the blonde woman and I remind myself how these last years have been without his smile. I pull myself together and head to the door, but before I knock it, he reappears in the front store with a tray in his hands. As he could sense me, his gaze locks with mine and he stops abruptly.

I wave shyly with my hand, but I don’t get any indication of what he is thinking, because his face is like a mask and he stands looking at me like I was a ghost . Finally he reacts and leaves the tray in the counter and comes slowly to the door. I notice a slight limp in his walk, and a wave of guilt goes through my body.

He opens the door but says nothing, so I take my chance to speak to him for the first time in three years.
“Hi Peeta, can I come in?” I say politely trying to maintain a neutral tone, just as I have rehearsed the last months. Not too distant, not too emotional.

He nods with his head and motions me inside, but still no word escapes his mouth. I knew I had to lead this conversation, but I’m not good with the talking and suddenly I’m really scared to mess it up again, and my mind goes blank for a couple of seconds.

“Please, sit down,” he says saving the moment, “Would you like something to eat? I was going to have breakfast myself.”

“Sure, thanks. Do you need help?” I ask as he goes to the back but he shakes his head and I wait sitting on one of the chairs.

When he comes back with tea and some pastries I can see there are no cheese buns or cinnamon rolls in the assortment, why should they, anyway, after those long years? It’s not like I’m expecting him to remember everything about me, although I remember every detail of our relationship, but that fact doesn’t make it less hurtful and my heart clenches.

“So...” he says without elaborating anymore.

“How… how have you been doing?” I ask, my voice trembling.

“Are we going to do small talk, now?” he asks rolling his eyes and with a sharpness in his voice I’m not used to hear.

“No, it is... I mean, I missed… the bakery,” I say instead of I missed you.

“Listen, Katniss, if all you want is a coffee and something to eat there are a lot of bakeries in Panem. I can give you their addresses,” with that he gets up from the chair and starts walking away from me.

“No!” I scream scared, because everything is going wrong, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, you know I’m terrible with words.”

“I don’t know you anymore, Katniss” he says shaking his head.

“That isn’t true, Peeta. I’m still the same person. Just give me some minutes…”

“Of course,” he says dismissively “because three years haven’t been enough, right?”

“This is not fair, Peeta, I’m here to…” but before I can finish my sentence and say “apologize,” he erupts and starts yelling.
“Why do you think I care about what you are here now? You ran away when I needed you more. You left me, Katniss, at the hospital. I felt like nothing, like less than nothing. I wanted to die.”

“I’m sorry,” I yell too “I was confused and mentally disoriented. I had lost Prim!”

“Yes, I had lost Prim too and a leg… but what killed me was that I lost you,” he says approaching me. “What did you want me to do? What the hell I was supposed to do? C’mon Katniss, say it.”

I know it isn’t a good idea, I’ve been working hard to try to get over that night, but here in Panen, in front of the man that I know loved me more than his own life, I say what I promised myself I wouldn’t say.

“You had to save her, not me,” I reproach him.

“I tried to save you both, Katniss. When I got home it was already burning, I called the firemen and got inside looking for both of you. I couldn’t see because of the smoke, the ashes and the fire, I screamed your name and Prim’s but I got no response. I went upstairs and finally found both of you passed out in her bed. I tried to take Prim and you on my back, but I couldn’t, I was coughing and suffocating by then, so I had to make a decision and I got you first! You were more pale that Prim so I took you out and I came back to look for Prim, but the stairs collapsed under me, and I can’t remember anything else. Doctors told me that firemen found me but my leg was trapped and burnt and they couldn’t save it, they couldn’t even reach Prim. That house was like hell. I tried, Katniss, I tried to save her but you didn’t give me the chance to explain it to you. You just vanished from my life”.

“I know now, Peeta, but then I was mad at you, because you could have saved her and you didn’t”.

“Don’t you think I feel guilty because I couldn’t save her. I have nightmares every night! and now you are here to tell me what I already know… I don’t need your forgiveness Katniss, I don’t want you anymore, I’m trying to move on with my life.”

“Oh yes! I saw you with your girlfriend outside. I wouldn’t say you needed too much time to recover after my sister’s death,” I spit with venom.

“It is not your business, Katniss, but Cashmere is not my girlfriend… yet,” he says looking at me defiantly.

“I don’t care about your love life Peeta! I just came to say that I was sorry but it doesn’t matter anymore,” I say slamming the door when I get out, but when I feel the fresh air I come back to my senses and turn around to see him on the threshold. “I know I was wrong, and deep down I wanted to be mad at you because that was easier than accepting that it was my fault because I was the one who fell asleep that night without switching off our old heater, I was responsible for Prim’s death and now all I have left are ashes. That's all I wanted to say. Good bye.”

“Katniss…” I hear him calling my name, but I don’t look back and I run to my car to get out from here as fast as I can, tears dropping on my face.

I drive for a long time with no destination, but when I reach Panem’s goodbye sign I stop the car and begin to burst into tears. I did all the things Dr. Aurelius told me not to do: I yelled at him, I blamed him, I made it personal and I was nasty to Peeta, I blamed myself … and worst, I ran away again. But if there is something I’ve learnt in the last months is that it was an accident, it wasn’t anybody’s fault and I deserve good things in my life.

I’m not going to give up, this time I’m going to fight for Peeta, maybe he doesn’t want me anymore in a romantic way, but we can still be friends.