It's getting harder and harder to walk these days. For one, I can't even see my feet anymore. My stomach balloons out, looking like it might burst at any moment. The only glimpses of my feet I catch are the toes of my boots as I shuffle around. And even my boots are no longer what they were before. They pinch my swollen feet from all sides, each difficult step laced with pain. Peeta suggests now and again while watching me struggle that I simply buy a larger pair. I refuse. I won't stay this bloated forever, and I don't want him getting any ideas about me becoming perpetually pregnant now that I've relented on the first child.
The walk to the Meadow is agony, a testament to every fiber of strength I muster up. My feet hurt; my back screams in agony. Name a part of my body and it almost certainly aches. I waddle, an unattractive duck passing through town. Peeta staunchly claims I am still as beautiful as the first day he laid eyes on me, but I know for a fact now that he's biased and sparing my heightened feelings. Haymitch gaffs every time he sees me, never failing to comment that I look even bigger than the last time he laid eyes on me. And even Hazelle is guilty of off-hand comments. Just last week she mentioned that Cressida didn't get as big as I am now throughout either of her pregnancies.
I do not take their comments mutely. My hormones rage off the charts, completely unpredictable, which has made me anything but levelheaded. In fact, it has made me downright rude. The best part is, it is almost expected of me. I use the excuse to my advantage, the only perk of this pregnancy business.
"Why don't you let me carry it the rest of the way?" Peeta suggests as he reaches towards my side. His long legs work tirelessly to keep in step with my small increments of movement.
"Why don't you shut your mouth and keep on walking?" I fire back as I attempt to support my lower back on my hand and lean into it to alleviate the pent-up stress. In my other hand, I clench the book tightly. It feels much heavier and bulkier than the last time I carried it. This is the first time it's left the Victors' Village, and it feels weird bringing it outside. But it's been so long since I've looked at it, and now more than ever I feel like I want to stay connected with my past.
My mother never made it out to Twelve for a long enough stay for me to show her the book that Haymitch, Peeta, and I made over the years. I would have loved her help, but it would have been too much for her. I know that, but it doesn't stop me from wanting. Just like knowing there's nothing I can do about this pregnancy now doesn't stop me from sleepless nights plagued with nightmares of things that could go wrong ten, fifteen years down the way.
"Katniss." He doesn't give me a choice this time as he swipes the book effortlessly from my arm. The entire left side of my body hurts from supporting it, the muscles in my upper arm seized up. Then again, my entire body hurts from supporting this baby. A girl, if Peeta is to be believed. The medical clinic has shiny metallic machines that can determine the sex of the baby, but I'm determined to do it the way my mother did. I'll know when it finally decides to grace us with its entrance into the world. Still, Peeta swears up and down to anyone that will listen that it's a girl constantly pressing on my bladder. 'As sweet and beautiful as her mother,' is his favorite thing to say. I only hope she has a more affable personality than I do. We don't need another Haymitch or Katniss sulking around town for the next few decades.
I yearn to snap a retort at him. Instead, I give him a grudging, "Thank you," as the pressure releases from my arm and the muscles relax. The Meadow has never felt so far away. By the time we reach the grassy patch on the outskirts of town, I am close to collapsing. I don't have the effort to hold myself up to wait for Peeta to lay out the blanket. Instead, I plop like a sack of flower to the ground while I let him prepare the site. When he finishes setting up, I scoot over on top of the blanket without getting back on my feet.
It's warm, but one of the cooler days we've had so far this summer. Still, we won't stay for long. I have no tolerance for heat anymore. My body only likes one particular temperature nowadays, though it's never the temperature I'm subjected to. I'm just thankful it doesn't look like it's going to rain this afternoon.
I extend my hands to Peeta, palms up and fingers motioning towards me. Taking my cue, he hands the book over. I place it delicately on top of my baby bump, which, I have recently discovered, is the perfect ledge for propping books onto. I ease the thick cover open. I don't have the heart to read through the entire book, but I skim through the pages. The wind catches my hair every once in a while, tickling my face with the lose strands. The wildflowers dance atop their stems as they sway gently in the breeze. It's a beautiful place if you don't know its storied past. Even now, it's hard to begrudge it. This place is so full of memories. Just like this book.
Peeta sits by my side, arm lose around my back. His artificial knee brushes against the side of my leg as he leans in to get a better look at some of the pages he doesn't remember as well. I don't remember the last time we took it out and looked at it. Before I got pregnant, for sure.
I take this life, my life, for granted sometimes. When times are good, I can almost forget everything we went through, everything we lost. My mind has a habit of locking it away until something triggers a memory and it all comes flooding out. I'm not sure if that makes it worse when I remember or not. I just know I don't ever want to forget. Rue. Finnick. Madge. Mags. While I don't think about them every day anymore, they are with me always. I catch sight of them, here and there, in the smallest of things. And Prim. She will be with me always, the closest to my heart. Even a daughter of my own could never replace that hole in my heart, though I think secretly Peeta hopes it might help.
As if he can sense my mood, he runs his hand up my side to cup my shoulder. Drawing me into him, he kisses my temple. His skin is cool against mine, his lips warm. I hope we will always have these moments of small intimacy. Where, if I close my eyes, I can pretend we're teenagers again. Even better, I can let myself believe it.
I'm thankful he came with me today. This afternoon feels more melancholy than most, and I'm not sure I would have been able to handle it on my own. I'm not sure how many more of these types of days I am going to get to enjoy before the baby comes, but I know the time is measured. Every time the midwife checks in on me, she suggests bedrest. I'm close to losing the fight, and Peeta battles more and more each day to try to convince me to stay home. A Mockingjay caged. It's not for me.
I still think the fresh air does me good. Getting out of the house does me good. Having Peeta here, keeping me from diving too far into my thoughts, does me good. I don't need a doctor to tell me that anymore. Each day, it seems to hurt a little less. Each day, we continue to heal. I don't know what the future holds, and with a child on the way it's more uncertain than ever. I choose to believe that our future will be a happy one. Peeta deserves that.
And I think I finally do too.
Author's Note: To all the readers who have followed this story to the ending, thank you. There are no words to express how grateful I am for the reviews, the favorites, the story alerts, and the views. I started this story for my own selfish enjoyment in a post Hunger Game binge reading withdrawal. I decided to share it, thinking it was worth putting out on the world wide web if even just one other person enjoyed it. Your support has truly humbled me. I hope you have had as much fun reading this story as I had writing it. And I aim to learn from your comments and suggestions for the next go around.