CHAPTER 26: EPILOGUE
I have heard the stories of my mother. People often get excited when I mention her name. To others, my mother will always be the Mockingjay.
I have heard the stories of my father. Not as tough as my mother was, but he would do anything for her. The star-crossed lovers, people used to call them.
My father died when I was only six. My mother tells me he loved us very much. When people ask, I say it was an accident. A drunken man who got violent. It sounds simple enough. It sounds real.
But the truth isn't always simple. Lies are much easier than the truth. Sometimes they're even easier to believe. I had been handing out lies my whole life.
Last week, when my mother asked if I had finished my homework, I replied yes. Lie.
In class, when my teacher asked if I read the assigned chapters last night, I told her that I read them and loved them. Lie and lie.
For ten years, I've been feeding myself and others around me the same lie over and over. My father died in an accident. A drunken man attacked him. It was a careless mistake. Lie. Lie. Lie.
Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, it's easier to keep on lying to people, to live your life comfortably in the shadow of lies, protecting yourself from the harshness of reality. But I know I cannot live like this forever. I know that there are many stories yet to be told, many tears left to be shed.
My mother is a manipulator of lies. She weaves them into a protective net around my brother and me. I liked that net. It was familiar and safe. But my mother created that net with the intent to rip it to shreds. My mother lives in the harsh reality of this world. She surrounds herself with the bitter truth.
My father's death was no accident. There was no drunken man involved in his passing.
My father died because of the Capitol.
"Rue, I think you are ready to hear about what happened to your father," mother says, sitting down next to me. I look up from the TV, trying not to be annoyed that she interrupted me.
"Sure," I say, turning off the TV. I move away from her, not sure what to make of her expression. Her grey eyes are dull and the corners of her mouth are tight, as if she's trying not to cry.
"You know how we met, right sweetie?"
"The Hunger Games," I say, remembering the horrible lessons we have in school that teach us about how life used to be before the Rebellion. Back when the Capitol was in control.
"Yes, the Games," my mother whispers, looking down at her fingers as if she was holding on to a memory. She looks up at me, her eyes glossy. "I want you to know about your father. Now that you're sixteen, I think you can handle it. But you can't say a word to your brother."
I squirm in my seat, nervous about what she's going to tell me.
"You father loved you and your brother very much," she says, looking away again. "He would never leave you on purpose, never," she says, her voice cracking a little on the word leave.
"I know that, mother," I say, trying to calm her.
"He was… affected by the Games. More so than I was."
"Because he was captured?" I ask. My mother winces at this, just like she always does when I bring up the Games.
"Yes, that was part of it." She takes a deep breath. "The Capitol did some very… horrible things to your father."
"I know mother, we've covered this in school."
"Not all of it," she says softly. "They messed with your fathers mind. And for a long time he was very different."
"Hijacked," my mother says, releasing the word in one breath, as if she was relieved to finally let it go.
I gasp, my heart skipping a beat. "He was hijacked?"
We've learned about that in school, when we briefly covered the Capitol's history. But no one had ever mentioned this to me. No one had told me that my father had been hijacked.
A tear escapes my mother's eye, running down her wrinkled face. "It was horrible. Nothing that anyone should ever experience."
"But what happened?" I ask, eager to hear more.
"Well, he was able to overcome that, but…" my mother presses her lips together, looking at her fingers again, still holding that memory.
"It came back."
"It did?" I ask in disbelief. "When?"
My mother stands up, wobbling on her frail legs. "That's all you need to know, dear."
My mouth hangs open. "You can't just leave me hanging mom!"
She laughs lightly, cupping my cheek. "You remind me of myself when I was your age."
"Mother," I say seriously, grasping her hand. "You said it yourself, I can handle the truth."
She stops smiling, a sad look in her eyes. "I know, sweetie. But I can't."
I release my arrow, holding the bow steadily as I aim at the rabbit in the bushes ahead. The arrow lands just above the rabbit's head, scaring it away. I sigh in frustration.
"I'll never be as good as my mother." When Gale offered to teach me how to hunt, I accepted eagerly, wanting to make my mother proud.
Gale laughs, his eyes creasing at the corners. "You know what? You remind me of her."
I roll my eyes. "Like I haven't heard that before."
"How is she?" he asks me as we start making our way through the woods.
"Same as ever," I say. "She told me about my father yesterday," I add nonchalantly.
Gale tries to hide his surprise, but I see his back stiffen slightly. "Oh did she?"
I nod, loading another arrow. "She didn't tell me the whole story, but it was pretty easy to figure out the rest."
Once again, another lie. It was impossible for me to figure out the rest. Where did my father go? Did they ever find him again? Did he really die?
Questions flutter around my mind like a swarm of insects that never want to leave you alone. My mother was still keeping me in her net. She was protecting me. But now I found it unfair. I wanted to know about my father. I wanted to live with the truth, to finally break through the net.
"Your father was a great man," Gale says, acting like the ever-supporting friend he always has been.
"Did you know him well?"
Gale sighs. "Your mother and I were always good friends, ever since we were young. Your father and I had somewhat of a rocky start to our… friendship," he says, sounding unsure about the last part.
"It's OK, you don't have to hide the truth from me," I say, tired of everyone trying to 'protect my feelings'. "If you hated him, you hated him."
"I didn't hate him," Gale says. "I envied him."
"Because he was with my mother," I say, laughing. "Yes, I know the whole story, no need to tell me again."
My mother and Gale had told us all the funny stories from when they were growing up. I always cringed when they brought up the part about their 'difficult relationship'. They had loved each other, that much I knew for sure. But now they were just really good friends.
Gale smiles at me. "Well, we better get going soon; we don't want to miss dinner. Dahlia will throw a fit if I'm late again."
Gale, his wife Dahlia, and their two kids always came over every Friday night for dinner. It was somewhat of a tradition by now.
Gale and Dahlia met when I was nine, and they had their first child when I was eleven. We were all somehow one big family, the seven of us.
"Are you ok?" Gale asks me, nudging my shoulder.
"Huh?" I ask, snapping out of my daze. "Oh, yeah. I was just thinking."
He looks at me worriedly.
"I'm fine." I say.
"Are you sure?"
I roll my eyes, gripping my bow tighter. "I'll tell you what, we can go to dinner after I shoot my first rabbit."
Then a mockingbird's song echoes through the forest and I close my eyes, taking in the sound that always reminds me of my mother. My ears hungrily swallow the notes, savoring each and every one. I sing out a small tune, the same one that my mother used in the Games. She used it to communicate with Rue, the young tribute from District 11 and my namesake.
After a moment of silence, the woods come alive with music, the notes harmonizing and blending and forming the most perfect song I've ever heard.
Gale shakes his head in disbelief, staring at me with an odd expression on his face.
"What?" I ask him, feeling my face to make sure there is nothing on it.
"Nothing," he says, smiling at me. "You just remind me of your mother so much."
"Well, I would resemble her even more if I actually caught something," I tease, waving around the bow in my hands.
He chuckles, gesturing for me to go ahead. "Lead the way."
I confidently raise my bow and start walking forward, moving deeper and deeper into the trees. It's just me and the forest and the music and I'm happy. I know that one day I will uncover the truth about my father; I will know the real reasons that stripped him from my life. But for now, I am stuck in my mother's protective net, shielded from the truth.
I know that she will unravel the net thread by thread. She is the Mockingjay after all, and she does not live the life of a coward. She lives with the truth. And so will I... one day. But for now I am safe. I am protected, guarded, loved, and safe. I live my life with a little bit of the truth. Just enough for me to understand. And, deep in my heart, I know that is enough.
A/N - I finally finished it! First off I want to thank you all for being so supportive and encouraging me to continue with this story. This is my first ever story and I couldn't be prouder of it... I've worked so, so, so hard on creating the perfect ending, and I hope that you guys enjoyed the story as much as I did. I'm actually really sad to be done with this story, but maybe there's another story coming...no promises (wink wink). This story was so much fun to write and I couldn't have done this all without you...so THANK YOU SO MUCH! I love you all and don't forget to comment and tell me how you found the story! ;)
Well I guess that's good bye (and I hate to sound redundant but...) for now...