The final part…thank you for sticking around. Please check out the notes in regards to the possible final story of this universe.
The characters of The Hunger Games Trilogy do not belong to me.
"He took my life into his hands and it turned it all around
In my most desperate circumstance
It's there I've finally found
That you are strong enough
That you are pure enough…
Oh, thank you for my chance to start again…"
-Stacie Orrico "Strong Enough"
"No…no…no! Please—stay away from me!"
I awaken to Peeta's anguished cries, his head lolling side to side, and his forehead glistening with sweat. The bed sheets around his legs are twisted and tangled as he fights his nightmare.
Quickly, I put my hands to his face.
"Peeta, wake up! Peeta!" He flails his arms and I just barely miss his fist swinging at me. "Peeta! It's not real! You're dreaming!"
His eyes suddenly shoot open, confusion in his irises. He looks around before focusing on me, his chest rising and falling in ragged breaths. His hands wrap tightly around my wrists as he looks up at me. I let him grip them until he calms down.
"Katniss…" Peeta croaks out before he bursts into tears. "I remember…I think I remember Owen."
My hand goes to my husband's drenched back. "What do you mean?"
"I was 7," he explains in-between heaving. "That would make Owen around 4 or 5 when I disappeared. I can get why he wouldn't remember me, but I had doubts about why I couldn't remember him."
"We were conditioned to forget," I reason. "I couldn't remember Prim and I just found out my last name. So it's not that surprising that you wouldn't remember Owen."
"My dream…before it went bad…was of me and him." Peeta looks to me, tears dragging down his face. "I was pushing Owen on a swing and I could hear his laughing…see his little red sneakers. He liked graham crackers—just like Lila does."
"Oh sweetheart, come here." I pull him close and Peeta lays his head on my chest. "Somehow I knew that these reunions would trigger things."
He presses a kiss to my collarbone. "But it seems like your family reunion was successful."
"It was…to an extent," I say as my fingers weave through his hair to massage his scalp. "Yes, I had to stop Prim from stabbing my father with a fork and my mother is already thinking of moving obscenely close by—but sure, it was successful."
My parents are kind people. I can, however, see the strain in their relationship. My father lives about an hour from our home and is an engineer. He lives in a condo on his own and from what I can gather is not in a relationship. Throughout dinner, he attempted to engage my mother in some sort of conversation and is obviously still enamored with her.
However, she was only focused on me.
My mother wanted to know everything about my life; all my favorite foods (Peeta's cheesebuns—that was about it), favorite color (green), and what I did for a living (wife and mother). She asked me about the births of Lila and Owen and if we were planning on having more children. Both Peeta and I blushed at the question.
She did not ask anything about our life prior to the one we had before this moment.
It didn't stop Peeta and me from sitting my parents down after dinner and telling them about our kidnapping. Like we had planned, neither of us mentioned anything about Cray's death—only that we had left after he passed on.
There was a strange light in my father's eyes when we mentioned our kidnapper's name, but he remained silent as we continued to tell him and my mother about our lives in that attic.
Throughout the evening Prim was quiet, even taciturn. I don't know my sister all that well, but I know her enough to know being silent wasn't her. Her eyes focused on her meal as she moved her food around her plate. Owen met my eyes just enough for me to know that Prim was just trying to keep her anger in check. Later on, he told me before that she and our father had words before they came to the house.
At this point, I have no idea whether this whole family reunion is a good or bad thing.
"But at the core of it all, there's love," Peeta replies, his hand moving along my abdomen. "From what Owen tells me, there's nothing but jealousy and pettiness in my family. Part of me even remembers a little bit of that feeling. I think even then I was taking care of Owen. He was treated differently."
"Then thank goodness, you've come back into his life," I say, my lips going to his hair. "Owen needs you. Do you remember anything else from your dreams?"
"My mother." He lets out a trembling breath. "Grace was what held us together. I could feel her hand on my face—the smell of her gardenia perfume. But, I could also feel her drifting away—like she was sick."
I hold him tighter as we fall silent; there is nothing I can say because I don't know what the next step is. We are still awaiting the DNA test results for Peeta and Owen though I know my husband is in no rush to know. He is happy with the way things are.
So am I.
"Did you feel like she loved you?" I suddenly ask.
His eyes meet mine and Peeta smiles softly. "Yes, I could feel that…in her smile, I could feel it."
"Then that's all you need." He scoots up, pressing his hard chest to mine, and an involuntary moan tumbles from in-between my parted lips. "I can't sleep now. Will you help me out with that?"
The hand that was splayed on my stomach travels down towards my pelvis and under the elastic band of my panties. Fingers caress me, gently teasing my clit until I'm twisting, practically demanding that he is inside me.
We fall back asleep just as our bedroom fills with the light of a new sunrise.
"He took me to that new place in the city," Prim regales, her blue eyes glowing. We both sit on the couch of our living room. "It's called The Hob and it was so romantic! We sat on the roof and after dinner, we just talked for hours."
"That sounds lovely," I say to her with a smile. "And, after?"
"We kissed." She looks down at her hands and when she meets my eyes once more, my sister is blushing brightly. "I wanted more but he didn't ask—and I didn't want to just throw myself at him."
I laugh before checking in on Owen, who lets out a small whine from where he rests next to me.
"Just protect yourself, because you know what happens if you don't."
"What?" Prim asks.
I pick up my son and place him in her arms. "This."
Prim sits Owen up, letting him balance his tiny feet on her lap, as she coos at him.
"Who couldn't love that face?"
My son lets out a happy, gurgling laugh and I feel my heart warm seeing them together. Prim doesn't hesitate to pull my son close, kissing his cheeks, telling him how beautiful he is, and how much she loves him.
Perhaps she wouldn't be such a bad mother if it happened unexpectedly.
There's a knock on the front door and I look to Prim before standing up.
Peeta and Owen are with Lila, who is watching them prepare her pillow fort in our study. It is starting to get too cold for her to play outside so we decided to make her a playground inside the house. Owen came up with the idea of cushioning the large room next to the backyard for our sprightly daughter.
Going to the door, I'm surprised to find my father standing on the porch awkwardly.
"Dad?" I widen the door. "What are you doing here?"
"Hello, Katniss." He looks like he hasn't slept since the weekend of our reunion. "May I come in?"
"Of course!" Dad walks in and I give him a shy smile. "You okay?"
"I need to talk to you and Peeta," he replies. "Is he here?"
"Yes." Together, we head into the living room and Prim stands up as we walk in. Her eyes narrow at our father, her hold on Owen slightly tightening. She and Dad stare at one another for a moment before I clear my throat. "Prim, can you call Peeta from the den? Maybe you can put Owen down for his nap and then give Lila a snack?"
She nods wordlessly before walking past us, not bothering to look at our Dad before she walks down the hallway.
"I don't think she's ever going to forgive me," Dad says softly, regret in his eyes.
I cross my arms. "Can you blame her?" He shakes his head. "You left her alone with a mother who was not even there half the time."
"I tried, Katniss," Dad tells me. "I know I messed up."
"Try harder." There is a rush of steps and Peeta walks into the room with a bright smile. "We'll talk about this later."
"Dad!" Peeta embraces my father. "What brings you over?"
"There's something I need to talk to you about," Dad begins. He gestures to the sofa. "You should probably sit down."
I look to Peeta in worry before we go to the couch and my husband puts a protective arm along my shoulders.
"I couldn't get your story out of my head." Dad runs a hand through his hair. "And, the name of that man…then last night, I remembered why."
I lean forward in anxiety. "What?"
"Cray was a construction worker for one of my projects," he informs me. "However, a lot of the men complained about him cheating on his timecard so my foreman eventually ended up letting him go." My father's eyes meet mine and I can see the tears trickling down his tired face. "The day we let him go, he was in my office…and I remembered. Your school photo was on my desk—he picked it up briefly before my foreman sat him down."
"So it wasn't just a random kidnapping," I conclude in a thick voice. "He picked me."
"I kept on researching and, prior to that job, Cray was a janitor at a District 1 private school," Dad recounts before he looks to Peeta. "Do you remember what school you went to before…?"
My husband shakes his head, his eyes lost. "No, I'm just barely getting my memories back."
"Trinket Academy." We look to the doorway where Owen stands, his expression stiff. "Every Mellark has gone to Trinket Academy."
"He left the same year that you disappeared," Dad tells Peeta.
"So I was chosen, too." Peeta looks to me. We can't seem to understand what it was about us that triggered that sick man to steal us from our families. We are polar opposites in personality and looks—yet, we were chosen to be disciplined and abused. "Oh God…"
Peeta's head drops into his hands and I watch him struggle with what my father is telling us.
Why were we chosen?
Cray says we weren't good enough.
Maybe we were too good. He needed to punish us for all his mistakes.
"Why didn't you remember sooner?"
I look up to see Prim stepping into the living room, her blue eyes stony as she approaches my father.
He raises his hands, palms up in surrender. "Prim—"
"No!" She points her finger at him. "How could you not recognize that man on the surveillance footage? You and Momma watch that video all the time! Then, you had the nerve to accuse our mother of not keeping an eye on both of us? The man was fucking right in front of you! He picked up Katniss' photo—that is enough to be suspicious!"
"I can't tell you anything other than I was only triggered by his name," my father says helplessly. "God, if I could take it back…I would!"
"You can't! It got too hard and you left!" Prim scoffs in disgust and waves her hand at me. "Your golden daughter is back and you get to pick up the pieces of what's left of our family. Did you ever think about how it felt to be in-between you and Momma? Do you know how she shut down? How I didn't eat for three days once?"
"No, because your mother wouldn't let me see you," he tells her. "Don't do this, Prim. I'm trying."
"Now you are, after all is said and done." Prim looks to me, blinking back tears. "I'm glad you're back, Katniss, but I don't know if I can be around…him."
I look between my father, my sister, and my husband currently rocking back and forth on our couch.
The walls begin to close in.
Fortunately, the doorbell rings and I rush away. I can't deal with all of this. I barely breathe as I push past Owen and wrench open the front door.
There is a man, small and squat, with round-rimmed glasses standing on our porch.
He gives me a polite smile. "My name is Claudius Templesmith from the Flickerman Gazette. I'm looking for Peeta Mellark."
I straighten myself at his request. "I'm his wife, Katniss."
The man nods once more, his eyes shining as he looks me over.
"Would you like to comment on the DNA test confirming that your husband is the son of Sawyer Mellark Sr., CEO of Mellark Bakery?"
The air is suddenly sucked out of my lungs as I fall back.
There's a flash of light.
And, then I'm out.
"How…how did they find out before we even did?"
"God, I'm so sorry, Peeta." Owen's apology is heavy with guilt. "Maybe one of the people from the clinic? Actually, it's totally possible. Mellark is a known name and this kind of news will bring a good amount of money to this town."
Peeta grunts—he only does it when he's upset or deep in thought.
"I guess," Peeta begins after a moment. "Then this means that I'm your brother." A light sigh escapes his mouth. "Not like I'm not happy about it. I've always thought of you as family."
"I know," Owen replies. "I won't lie and say that I hoped for this, especially with the relationship I have with Sawyer and Rye." There's a ring from a phone. "Shit…it's Sawyer."
I hear Owen's hurried footsteps as he heads out of the room.
"You can open your eyes now, Katniss," my husband tells me.
Slowly, I let my gaze lift to Peeta, who sits next to my prone form on our couch. "How did you know?"
"We slept next to one another most of our lives." He gives me a gentle smile. "I think over that period of time I would've noticed your sleeping and breathing patterns." Leaning down, he presses a kiss to my mouth. "Don't worry, sweetheart. Your father and Owen chased that reporter off, though he probably got one hell of a picture of you."
"Where are the kids?" I scramble up in panic. "They didn't see me like this, did they?"
"Prim is with them," Peeta assures me. "All of them are napping in the pillow-covered den. Your Dad left and is going to speak with your mother about what happened."
I feel the tears rising. "Oh God…people know about you…they'll know about us."
"No." Peeta's blue eyes are firm. "I won't let anything happen to us." He takes my hand, gripping it tightly. "We are a family and I won't let us fall apart."
I can't help but smile seeing that fire in his eyes. We've grown up together and it still amazes me that the man sitting by my side was the same skinny little boy that I first met in that attic.
"Of course." My hand reaches to his face. "We protect each other."
He nods in agreement.
There's a light knock and we look up to see Owen at the doorway.
"My…our family is inviting you to the house for dinner this weekend," Owen tells us. "Our father wants to meet you."
"Mommy, I don't want to go in there," Lila protests. She looks up at the tall house in front of us. "It looks scary."
She's not the only one who feels that way.
Peeta and I look up at the house—the grand Victorian mansion—eerily reminding us of our childhood prison. I feel like I'm that little girl in the dirtied pink dress again.
Gathering myself, I kneel before my daughter to straighten the collar of her navy sailor-style dress. Beside me, Peeta holds a bundled Owen, his eyes still on the house.
"I know the house is not exactly like our house, but your Grandpa lives here with your Uncles and Aunts," I tell her cheerfully. "Don't you want to show them your new dress and tell them how you'll be performing in the Christmas program at school?"
"I guess." Standing up, Lila takes my hand then goes to Peeta. "Don't worry, Daddy. We're together!"
Peeta looks down at Lila, a smile rising as he looks to her. "Of course, darling." He winks at me before we continue our walk up the gravel path leading up to the large house.
The Mellark Mansion is a thirty-minute drive from our house and hidden behind a large gate. According to Owen, Peeta's father, Sawyer Sr. lives with Sawyer and his wife Delly in the main house. Rye and his girlfriend, Johanna, are relegated to the guest house towards the back of the house.
Owen is the only one who doesn't live with the family as he has to be in the city to make sure that all the chains are in running order.
Tentatively, we all step onto the porch and I meet Peeta's eyes before letting Lila ring the doorbell.
An older man in tails answers and looks us over as he widens the door. "Come in, please."
Lila skips in curiously, her blue eyes wide as she looks the man over. I look around at the wide entryway, the marble floors and round staircase. There are large, baroque paintings on the paneled walls and above us is a crystal chandelier, lit for our entrance.
Our daughter tilts her head at the man. "Are you my grandpa?"
There's a rough laugh, followed by the deep response. "No, I'm afraid not."
Sawyer Mellark Sr. does not look like a grandfather.
He is tall, his golden hair lightened to an almost-white color. His eyes are a dark blue, crinkled at the corners, and as he descends down the stairs, I admire the elegant gait that Owen has obviously inherited. I've always joked with our son's godfather about his gracefulness, telling him that he should've been a dancer.
He walks towards us in a well-fitted suit and a smile. However, there is a lack of warmth; I don't know if it's nerves or just a natural stiffness.
Stopping, Sawyer Sr. looks to Peeta. "Peeta, you've grown into a fine-looking man."
To my surprise, he holds out his hand.
No embrace for his long-lost son who was taken right off the street. Owen was not exaggerating about the lack of warmth in their family. Even I got a hug from my parents, estranged as they were from one another.
I can tell Peeta is surprised—probably a little hurt—but he shakes his father's hand.
"Thank you." He turns to me and I walk forward with the best smile that I can muster. "This is my wife Katniss, and our daughter Lila."
Sawyer Sr. leans forward and gives me a kiss on the cheek. Even his lips are cold. "Nice to meet you, Katniss." Then, he kneels before Lila and gives her an actual smile. "You look very much like your grandmother." His eyes go to me, his stare calculating. "Except for the coloring."
I almost turn to leave, right then and there.
"Owen actually has the light coloring," Peeta supplies.
His father stands to look at our sleeping son, his finger drawing to our son's dimpled chin.
"Your brother will be very unhappy that not only does he not have the first born Mellark, but he also does not have the first male heir," Sawyer Sr. muses, almost to himself.
"Well, Sawyer needs to get that big stick out of his butt!" We turn to see a dark-haired woman with sharp brown eyes heading towards us with a blond-haired man trailing next to her. She stops in front of us, her sharp bob stopping just seconds after she does. "Finally, normal Mellarks!"
She extends her hand to Peeta, giving him a wink—much to my annoyance. "Johanna Mason."
I elbow Peeta to pull him from his shock and he starts, "Peeta Mellark." Then he puts an arm around my shoulders. "My wife, Katniss."
I hold out my hand. "Nice to me—"
Johanna embraces me, drawing the breath from my body.
"Don't worry, I promise that Rye and me are not freak shows like the rest of this house," she says into my ear with a light chuckle.
Pulling away, I give her an awkward smile. "Thanks for letting me know."
I look to Rye, who is walking towards Peeta. They look the most alike and I can see Rye giving Peeta a friendly smile. My brother-in-law seems very unassuming; quiet and complacent in his nature. However, he doesn't seem as cold as my father-in-law.
"Wow…I remember when you were a kid," Rye tells my husband. "I taught you how to spell your name."
Peeta grins. "You did?"
"Yes. You always wrote your 'E' backwards which Mom and I thought was funny." Rye smiles sadly at the thought of Grace. "But, you got it down quickly. You learned to write my name after, which was much easier."
They chuckle easily and I look to Johanna, who is watching the scene, her brown eyes warm as she looks to her boyfriend. Our eyes meet and she walks over to me. Lila is clinging to my leg as Sawyer Sr. watches his sons in quiet contemplation.
"I know I came off as a little weird," Johanna begins. "I like to speak my mind and Rye likes to listen. We met in college and he was my math tutor. I spent a majority of the time complaining about how algebra was absolutely useless in real life."
I laugh at her words. "And, then what?"
"I got a C and demanded that he take me to dinner," she continues, winking at Lila, who giggles and then meets my eyes. "Rye can be forward when he wants to be. He kissed me first." Johanna leans into me. "It's not an accident that we're staying in the guest house."
I can understand; this house has no warmth, no life.
It makes me sad to think what may have happened if Grace was still alive and Peeta was never kidnapped.
The front door opens and Owen enters quickly. He gives me and Johanna a kiss on the cheek before picking up Lila. I catch the tension in his gaze before he greets his father then walks over to Rye and Peeta.
"It looks like Sawyer is waiting to make his grand entrance," Johanna says under her breath. Her eyes suddenly go to the top of the stairs. "Oh damn…never mind."
My eyes go to the man and woman descending the steps. Sawyer is definitely the younger version of their father—tall, cool, and cocky. He's still in his business suit, impeccably dressed as if he's going to a business meeting and not a family dinner.
His wife, however, is a bit of a surprise—not what I expected for someone as grandiose as Sawyer. She is round-faced with blue-green eyes and thin blonde hair that is pulled back to reveal large diamond earrings. Her arm is entwined with her husband's and her other hand rests on the swell under her rose-colored dress.
"It looks like our Guests of Honor are here," Sawyer says with a thin smile as he gets to the landing. He goes to Peeta, looking him over before offering his hand just like his father did. "You look good, Peeta. It was a miracle to find out that you were right under our noses this whole time." He looks to Owen. "Good job on hiring."
I hear Owen mutter a curse under his breath. Next to me, Johanna laughs to herself.
"It's nice to see you again," Peeta manages to reply congenially. He holds out his hand and I walk over to take it. "This is my wife Katniss and the little girl clinging to her side is our daughter Lila." My husband nods to our still-sleeping son still in his arms. "And, this is Owen."
"Owen?" Sawyer's wife looks to our son, her eyes brightening. She then looks to big Owen and smiles. "Is he named after you?"
"Yeah, Delly," Owen tells her. "He's my Godson."
"This is my wife, Delly," Sawyer tells us, his eyes on his wife who blushes and steps back. "She's a bit baby crazy as we're expecting our own little one in the upcoming year."
"It's nice to meet you," Peeta says before giving her a smile. He looks over at me, his gaze warm. "Katniss knows all about being a Mommy so if you have any questions—"
"Mommy is the best Mommy!" Lila shouts, desperate to be part of the grown-up conversation.
"I'm sure she is," Delly says and gives me a friendly smile. She seems eager to have friends. I can't blame her; her husband is as stiff as a board. "Would you like to sit next to me at dinner and tell me about what you and your Mommy do?"
"If it's okay with Mommy and Daddy," Lila replies, suddenly shy. She turns to me and Peeta. "May I sit with Aunt Delly?"
I nod, smiling at Delly. "Tell her all about your big sister duties."
Sawyer coughs in discomfort. "Should we head to the dining room?"
Everyone agrees and both father and son lead the way. Delly follows as Lila tells her about our house and her new pillow playground. Rye and Johanna follow but not before Johanna gives us a silent scream.
Owen looks to us and gives us a sheepish smile. "So that is our family."
Peeta snorts before squeezing my hand. "Lord help us all."
Dinner is strained.
The food is delicious; prime rib and the biggest baked potatoes I've ever seen, but the conversation is lacking.
Before we are served, Lila is given the option to have chicken nuggets or mac and cheese to which she asks for both. It is the one light moment in-between the awkwardness.
The dining room, like the rest of the house, was opulent—all Cherrywood and fine china. I look to Peeta as he glances to where our daughter is eating off a plate that is probably worth more than our house.
"She has a healthy appetite," Sawyer Sr. remarks from the head of the table. He peers at Peeta and me, his expression unreadable. "And, your son?"
"Owen," I correct him. "…is a very healthy eater." Looking to Johanna—who hijacked my son from Delly earlier—I make sure that he is comfortably asleep. "He's not bothering you, is he?"
"No, he's a doll," Johanna responds. "Makes me want to get off birth control and have one of my own."
"Rye would not approve of that," Sawyer tells her before taking a sip of wine from his glass.
"What Rye and I do in our bedroom is none of your business," she retorts.
"What you do and how it effects this family is my business," Sawyer declares smoothly.
"Everyone…little ears," Owen calls out from his seat next to a silent Rye. His eyes go to Lila. "Don't eat too fast, hon."
"Yes, Uncle Owen," Lila replies with her mouth still full of macaroni.
"Don't worry, Peeta," Sawyer says as he watches our daughter. "She's still young enough to get all those bad habits fixed."
My hand goes to Peeta's thigh just as I see the grip on his fork tighten.
Delly has the modicum to look ashamed at her husband's words. She takes a deep breath before looking to us and giving us a strained smile.
The rest of the dinner is filled with silence and the slurps of Lila's nosy eating.
There is no dessert but when we get to the sitting room, a sundae is on the coffee table for our daughter. I look to Delly, who smiles and shrugs before sitting by the coffee table in a plush chair; I can tell that my daughter has a fan.
It looks like everyone has a designated place. Sawyer Sr. retreats to the large armchair close to the fireplace which houses a healthy blaze. Rye and Johanna go to the loveseat. This time, Rye is holding Owen and looks very focused on the baby in his arms. Johanna rests her head on his shoulder and he turns to give her a kiss on her forehead.
Owen retreats to the piano seat next to the Steinway, testing the keys lightly and lost in thought.
Peeta and I stand awkwardly aside when Sawyer approaches us. "May I have a word with both of you?"
We look to one another before Peeta nods, his fingers weaving through mine. "Of course."
Walking out of the sitting room, we head down the hallway and make a turn into an open door. It is the library and I hold in my gasp at the number of volumes in the room. Peeta and I became avid readers once we left the attic, tired of watching television in our formative years.
Sawyer goes to the desk on the far end and we follow. Sitting down at the desk chair, he pulls out a booklet and then looks to us.
"How much?" he asks abruptly.
Peeta tilts his head in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"It's not a big secret that you're now a major shareholder in the company," Sawyer explains. "However, I feel that it's not fair that you get a share of the profit as you have been the least…involved with the company. The rest of us have put in work."
He folds his hands on the desk and looks to us.
"The press is getting involved now and we've had inquiries on your kidnapping story—enough to ruin the business if you talk. The Mellark Bakery name will be tainted by this. So why don't we get this over with and I give you a substantial amount plus enough for Lila and Owen's college funds instead? Though any other offspring will be your own responsibility—"
"Wait." Peeta puts his hand up. "You think I'm here for money?"
Sawyer sits back and stares at us. "Why else would you be here?"
I can feel the bile rising from my stomach at his callousness. I want to scream that the only reason that Peeta wasn't around was because we were in an attic being violated. No amount of money will ever compensate that.
"For family," Peeta says simply, his voice small. "I came here so my children would know where they came from."
"Now that they know they are real Mellarks, they will expect the best," the man in front of us states. "The money I'm giving you will supply that. Name an amount." Sawyer looks to me expectantly. "Either of you."
I look at my crestfallen husband and his betrayed eyes meet mine.
We don't need words to make a decision. A single nod is enough.
Peeta looks to his brother. "Nothing. We want nothing."
With that, we turn and walk out of the room together, our hands gripped tightly together. We have been through a hell of a lot together, but this is far and beyond anything that I can imagine. I feel sick just realizing how hurt Peeta must feel. He didn't get his hopes high, but he didn't expect this either.
Entering the sitting room, I head over to Rye and Johanna to take Owen from them just as Peeta lifts Lila from the floor, the spoon still in her hands.
She cries out, "Daddy, I wasn't finished!"
Owen stands up. "What the hell is going on?"
"We're leaving, that's what going on," Peeta tells him tonelessly.
Sawyer Sr. rises from his chair and, from the look in his eyes, I can already tell that he knows what has transpired. Delly looks stricken as does Rye, but both remain in their seats.
Johanna, however, goes to me. "What happened?"
"We didn't come here for that," I say before I follow my husband to the entryway.
I don't think we've ever run so quickly.
Actually, I remember that we had once—after we killed Cray.
That shadow will always follow us.
In the car, Peeta is silent—so unlike my radio-crooner husband—and it effects all of us. In the backseat, Lila suddenly goes quiet despite her previous whines and, even if I know it's illegal, I keep Owen in my arms on the passenger's side. I'm afraid that if I let him out of my grasp, the uncontrollable shaking inside me will start.
Halfway through the drive home, Peeta suddenly pulls over the side of the road.
Turning off the engine, my husband folds his arms against the steering wheel and breaks down in tears.
I swallow my own, scooting closer to him, before putting a hand to his shoulder.
"Oh, Peeta…I'm so sorry."
My sweet, optimistic husband who wanted nothing more than to have a family who was looking for him was horribly deceived. His blood relatives, with the exception of Owen, are everything that we hoped they weren't.
Peeta doesn't respond, the heaviness of his sobs overwhelming his body.
"Daddy, it's okay." Her small voice pierces through the darkness. "We should never go back to that place." Lila unbuckles herself from her car seat and crawls to the front. "I don't want to go back to any place that makes my Daddy cry." Our daughter looks to me, worry etched all over her face. "Right, Mommy?"
"No, baby. We won't ever go to that place again," I assure her. "That's not the kind of family we want."
Lila shakes her head passionately in agreement. "No…no…no—Uncle Owen is okay…well also Aunt Delly…and Aunt Johanna and Uncle Rye—but nobody else!"
Peeta chuckles wetly, his gaze going to her before meeting mine. "Thanks for the support." Lila throws her arms around his neck, burrowing herself in his shoulder. "I love you…" He stares at me. "I love you so much."
I lean forward to give him a kiss. "We love you, too."
We both look out at the view before us.
Once again, here we are putting our trust in the wrong people and getting hurt.
In the end, we can only take care of each other.
"Mrs. Mellark, would you like to comment on the recent discovery of your husband's identity?"
"Do you know where he's been all these years?"
I push through the half-dozen reporters at our driveway, grocery bag in my hand as I head up to the house. Prim opens the door to let me in and then frowns at the crowd before taking the bag from me.
"They've been here since you left," she reports. "Mom made soup for you."
I give her a tired smile. "Thanks."
Both Peeta and I have been in a state of numbness since last weekend. My husband went to work, but came home after the questions became too much for him and hasn't been back since—and at Owen's insistence, he's taken a personal leave. He and Peeta had a real heart-to-heart that ended with my husband revealing what had happened with Sawyer. Owen was, of course, infuriated at what their brother had done.
The Mellarks are their family, but they're not quite the family to be proud of.
Delly sent out an apology letter along with her cell phone number. Johanna and Rye actually came over to check on us, though I have a feeling it wasn't with Sawyer's knowledge. When he's not around Sawyer, Rye is actually a kind, intelligent conversationalist. His quiet nature complements Johanna's brash, loud one and it is obvious that they love one another.
"Owen is with little Owen in the living room," Prim tells me. "Mom…and Dad are in the kitchen." She is trying to find peace with our father, especially with everything that me and Peeta are dealing with. We have enough family discord. "Peeta is in the den."
I raise a brow. "Doing what?"
"Just staring at the ceiling, I think." Prim embraces me. "This whole thing with his family blows."
I hug her back. "I know. We have our side of the family and Owen as well as the other normal folks on his side."
Prim heads in the direction of the kitchen while I head in the opposite direction towards the den.
Entering, I see Peeta laid out on the abundance of couch pillows on the floor.
When he hears me, my husband gives me a weary smile. "Hey gorgeous. Want to join me?"
I smile before dropping my bag and crawling towards him over the floor of pillows. When I am next to him, I gently lay back and turn to him. I can see the dark circles under his eyes and my hand reaches to his hair. His eyes close at my caress and Peeta lets out a content sigh.
"It's just us again," I whisper. "Alone in a room."
"I thought that when we left that attic, things would get simpler," he tells me. "I don't think we were prepared for any of this."
"Peeta, no one can prepare for life," I say. "We just have to let it happen and work with what we've got." I move closer, my arm weaving around his waist. "I think we're fortunate because we have each other. Imagine having to do this alone." Kissing him gently, I lay my head on his chest. "I know I'd be lost."
"No, you'd find your way," Peeta assures me. "It's me. I would be thoroughly screwed without you."
"Well, you're stuck with me," I tell him and he chuckles.
"Gladly." He pulls me close, his lips humming against my neck. "I don't think God could've made any two people more in love than we are."
"He had a hell of a way of bringing us together," I retort before laying back. "I'm exhausted."
"You getting sick on me?" Peeta asks with a grin. "Maybe I should just take you to bed."
"I don't think we'd get much sleep—"
We turn to find Lila rushing over to us in tears. She jumps into my arms, clinging to me with her face buried against my stomach.
"Honey, what's wrong?" I ask.
Beside me, Peeta is removing her shoes and taking her backpack off of her.
"The kids at school keep asking me if Daddy was really kiddy-napped." She looks up at me, tears in her round blue eyes. "They wouldn't stop bothering me on the bus and Miss Bus Driver had to stop the bus so the kids would quit asking!" She breaks into another sob. "They told me that I'm a kiddy-napped baby! What does that mean?"
I look to Peeta, his own eyes hardening at her story. When he meets my eyes, his gaze softens and his hand reaches to rub our daughter's back.
"Kidnapped is when you are taken from your family," Peeta tells her.
Slowly, Lila sits up and looks to him as she pushes onto my lap. "Who took you?"
"A bad man took us," I reveal carefully. "I was too young to understand that he wasn't a good man when he took me and so was your Daddy."
"How did you get away from the bad man?" she asks curiously.
"He…got old and died." Pulling her close, I give her a kiss on the top of her head. "This is why Daddy and I are always cautious of you whenever we go out. Sometimes, there are bad people who do bad things and we want to protect you from them. However, we know that you'll have to learn how to see the difference between good and bad. That will happen in time."
"But for now, sweetheart—we're here to take care of you," Peeta says tenderly. "We'll protect you from the monsters."
"I know." She crawls over to him to hug him. "Because I have the bravest Mommy and Daddy."
I smile through my tears.
I so want us to be the parents she thinks we are!
That night, I can't sleep.
I sit up, my gaze going to Peeta who is passed out. We put Lila to bed early before succumbing to our own exhaustion. However, a dream of Peeta and me in our attic broke me out of a peaceful slumber.
Getting out of bed, I walk out of the bedroom, doing a quick check of Lila and Owen before I look down the hall towards the lone door at the end of the hall.
I rarely go up there after 'the incident'.
I don't go upstairs where the two lonely beds sit separated by a single lamp table. I could never answer Peeta as to why they were there or how I even got them. That bit of memory is blank.
It was what caused Peeta and my first fight.
After that, I wrote it all down and I left it up here.
In that single lamp table is a single drawer with a single notebook.
Our story—those nine years—are held in this leather-bound case, full of our broken words and stolen innocence.
Without even thinking, I take it with me before running down the stairs and closing the door behind me.
One day, I won't feel Cray's ghost behind me.
"Katniss, what are you doing here?"
Sawyer Sr. stands at the front door only minutes after I asked the staff member who answered the door to get him.
"I need to ask you something," I reply as he opens the door further for me. "Also, I need you to not mention any of this to Sawyer—he's a bit of a sore spot for me and for Peeta."
He nods after a moment. "Of course."
Sawyer Sr. leads me to the sitting room and he goes to the chair by the fireplace, gesturing at the seat across from him. In the lateness of the night, I see how much older he is, how tired he looks, and finally how sad he actually seems.
He gives me a wry smile. "What can I do for you, Katniss?"
I hold out the notebook to him. "I want you to read this."
Taking it, Sawyer Sr. flips through the pages of my garbled writing and Peeta's drawings, his gaze stopping on the two-page sketch of our attic. His eyes trace over the beautiful rendering that my husband created before looking up at me.
"This is where you were?" he says slowly.
I nod, swallowing the lump in my throat.
"Nine years for me, ten for Peeta. He spent a year without me and when I got there, he did everything he could to protect me." I give my father-in-law a smile. "You should be proud of your son. He survived that horrible time and he can still wake up with hope in his eyes."
His eyes look go to the pages. "And, when I'm finished with this?"
I stand up. "You know where to find us."
"He was always a talented artist," Sawyer Sr. says as he looks through the pages. "Every day I would bring him to the bakery and we spend hours just making sugar cookies. He always wanted to use every color, but his favorite color was—"
"Orange," I finish for him. "Like the sunset. It still is." I tighten the belt of my coat. "Thank you for seeing me, Sawyer."
He looks up at me, his gaze down. "Won't you call me Dad?"
"I will when Peeta does."
I know I haven't solved all of our problems, but I've made progress in the right direction.
Peeta and I don't have perfect families, but they're ours and ours alone. It's more than we asked for when we both laid across from one another in that tiny attic home of ours.
My stomach rumbles and I take a breath before continuing my drive. I'm almost home and I know that Peeta is probably awake, getting up to check on Owen, and reading that note that I've left him on his pillow.
The sun is beginning to rise and I feel the stirring inside me—that hopeful feeling of a new day and a new realization.
We're going to be okay.
Two Weeks Later…
"Owen, this was a little ambitious, don't you think?" Peeta looks at the school program with a furrowed brow. "She's barely in grade school!"
"Bro, I was a music major. You have to realize that, one—I know what I'm doing and, two—you don't," Owen responds from where he sits in-between Peeta and Prim. "Lila is more than capable."
"Now you're both making me nervous!" I tell them, glancing up on the stage where one of the classes sings 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'. I grin at Peeta. "Thank goodness that she has your confidence. You'd never see me up there!"
"I wouldn't say that, sweetie," my mother says. She sits next to me, holding Owen who is now a lot more aware and sitting up with a toothless smile on his face. "You performed a solo during your Kindergarten class."
"Yes. It was 'Feliz Navidad'," my father adds from his seat next to my mom. "Everyone thought that we had picked it to show off that our daughter knew a different language—but you chose the song yourself!"
"I've never seen this tape," Prim calls out from her seat.
"I'll bring it this Sunday to Peeta and Katniss' and we can watch it after dinner," he tells her with a bright smile.
They aren't where they should be, but my father and Prim are slowly getting to a better place.
There's a tap on my shoulder and I find Sawyer Sr. standing behind me, a careful smile on his lips.
"Is this row taken?"
Peeta turns and looks to him in shock. "What are you doing here?"
"Katniss sent us an invitation," he tells his flabbergasted son. Sawyer Sr. reaches into his jacket and gives me back my notebook. "You're a very good writer. When the time is right, you should think about publishing this memoir."
Then Sawyer Sr. looks to Peeta, affection in his eyes.
"You were a good boy who grew into a good man," he says to his son. "I'm proud of you."
Peeta's eyes shine with tears and he swallows slowly.
"Thanks…Dad." My husband turns to me. "Was this all your doing?"
"We take care of each other," I tell him plainly.
There's a whistle and I see Johanna waving at us with Rye following along with a shy smile as they scoot into the row. Delly and Sawyer are after them though I can see reluctance in the eldest Mellark son's gait.
We can't win them all.
The curtain closes and I look to my husband in excitement. "Lila's next!"
Peeta gives me a kiss before looking around at our family.
"Okay everyone, be quiet! Our girl is coming up!"
My father prepares his camcorder while Prim pulls out a digital camera. I hear Johanna ask Rye where his phone is so she can record and even Delly rummages through her purse to grab her own phone.
I turn to Sawyer Sr. and give him a smile. "Do you want my Dad to make you a copy of Lila's solo?"
He smirks at me and for the first time, I see Peeta in his expression.
"No." Sawyer Sr. points to the back where a camera crew stands. He signals and they immediately get to work. One of them even rushes to the front with a boom mic. "I'll have my own copy."
"You don't do small gestures, do you Dad?" I respond and he chuckles.
"No—wait until you get your Christmas present," he tells me.
I turn just as Peeta takes my hand, raising it to his lips. "Thank you."
"For giving me a family," he replies just as the auditorium lights begin to dim.
Taking his hand, I place it on my still-flat abdomen before meeting his eyes.
"Would you mind some more?"
I don't need words.
Peeta's shining eyes answer for him.
"Oh Holy Night…"
Lila's clear, soulful voice rings through the room, captivating everyone.
Together, we watch our daughter finish her song.
It's a little open-ended. I know.
But, if you're interested, I'd like to finish the "Good Enough" series with one last story. It will take place roughly 11-12 years after this one and will be from a sixteen-year-old Lila's POV.
It will answer some questions such as—what happens to the Mellarks and Everdeens? Do Prim and Owen really get together? Does Katniss publish their story? How do they end up dealing with the media? What happens when Lila really learns the whole story about her mother and father?
Let me know if you're interested.
Thank you if you've read this story. I enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoyed reading!
With Love, JLaLa