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Lost and Found

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Summer, 1995

 

A loud clap of thunder reverberated through the small sailing vessel, startling Peeta awake. Eyes widened with alarm, he grabbed for the flashlight stowed in the tiny compartment next to his bed, clumsily dropping the light before he could turn it on. He heard it rolling from side to side, banging against walls and cramped furniture as the boat tipped dramatically on top of what Peeta knew must be massive waves.

 

Shouts sounded outside of his cabin and suddenly the door burst open. His father rushed inside, yanking him from the warmth of his bed. “Peeta!” Mr. Mellark’s voice was urgent. “Peeta, I need you to listen closely.” Peeta, mute with fear, nodded shakily at his father’s insistence.

 

“I need you to put this on,” his father implored, wrapping a bright orange life vest around him, tightening the belt as quickly as he could. Peeta winced as he gave it a sharp, secure tug. “We’re going up to the deck, and we’re going to climb into the dinghy. Whatever you do, do not let go of my hand, understand?” Peeta nodded again, eyes as big is moons, lips clenched tight. “This is not a drill, son.” Peeta’s little hand was gripped so tight in his father’s massive one that he couldn’t have let go if he’d wanted to.

 

Reaching the deck, Peeta could barely look around for all the wind and pellets of rain beating against his face. Shielding his eyes, he saw his mother ahead of them, watching, gripping the railing of the boat for balance. Peeta’s little brother clutched tightly to her chest. The look on her face was sheer terror, and she hollered something to them that Peeta couldn’t hear over the roar of the storm.

 

It was pitch black until a burst of lightning illuminated the sky and sea. And that’s when Peeta saw it. A wave the size of a small building was bearing down on their boat, just behind his mother and brother, and she had no idea.

 

“Mooooooooom!” Peeta shouted at the tip top of his lungs. She motioned at him to come closer, but his father yanked him back inside as the rush of angry water spilled over the edge. The boat toppled like to the side, almost rolling completely over before righting itself again. Peeta’s hand slipped away from his father’s, and as soon as he was able he broke through from the cabin onto the deck, eyes searching the spot where he’d last seen his mother and brother.

 

Nothing. It was empty. Before he could rush to the edge and look for them in the thrashing waters, Peeta felt large hands grab his shoulders. “No, Peeta!” The voice of his father was loud and insistent, cracking with the reality of what Peeta couldn’t understand. Their family of four had just become a family of two.

 

Peeta felt himself being picked up, and he kicked out in confusion and anger. Where was his mother? Why wouldn’t his father let him go to her?

 

In a matter of minutes, Peeta crumpled at the bottom of the dinghy, rain continuing to pelt his pale skin. “Take these!” his father yelled. Peeta looked up with bewildered blue eyes as their family’s leather-bound picture book, along with a black box Peeta knew carried a few meaningful possessions of his parents, was tossed alongside him. Peeta began to cry as his father lowered the dinghy to the surface of the raging water, his sobs drowned out by the wailing of the wind.

 

The small life boat bobbed up and down in the water, and Peeta looked above him as his father climbed over the railing, preparing to jump into the small space. Light blitzed the sky and thunder shook the heavens, causing Peeta’s father’s foot to slip on the boat as he tried to push off. Peeta watched helplessly as his father fell into the water, flashes of lightning illuminating his form all the way down, just feet from where he was. He crawled to the edge of the dingy, frantically scanning the water’s surface for a bobbing head or an arm. A hand. Anything. He considered jumping in after them, but he remembered his father’s words as he'd tossed his seven year old boy into the dinghy. “Whatever you do, son, don’t leave that boat!”

 

Minutes went by and still Peeta held out hope. He stared across the sea, willing to see a familiar face. Finding none after what seemed an eternity, his heart sank like a rock. He screamed and beat on the floor of the boat in anger. He felt as though he was sobbing but he couldn’t tell through the rushing of rain over his face.

 

The storm continued a while longer and Peeta finally hunkered in a corner, in shock and all alone. Eventually, the skies cleared and Peeta, exhausted from the ordeal, feel asleep. The boat jolted him awake when he felt the bottom rub against something, sending him skidding across the bottom. He sat up quick, but not before a wave pushed on the side, toppling so that Peeta fell into the water.

 

He sputtered and splashed, almost sinking before his feet hit bottom. He pushed off the sea floor, sending his body flying out of the water. His feet touched bottom again but this time his head stayed above the surface. He could touch. He whirled around, waist deep in clear, blue water, and spread before him was a white sand beach, a jungle of trees beyond it. Peeta dragged himself out of the surf and collapsed on the sand, falling back to sleep until the sounds of monkeys woke him.