I was in the kitchen skinning a rabbit when I heard the front door open and close. As I washed my hands off I listened to see if he was coming, but the only sound I heard was a ragged sigh. I dried my hands on a dishtowel as I peeked into the living room.
Gale was slumped against the wall just inside the door, his head on his knees, his hands gripping his hair. It hadn't gone well.
I slid down the wall to sit next to him and put my hand on his knee. He took my hand and interlaced our fingers. After a few moments he looked up at me. His eyes were swollen and red.
"He hates me," he whispered.
I sighed. It was what we had expected, but that didn't help.
The trials wouldn't be until this summer, but news about the charges to be filed had been leaking out so Gale had decided he had to talk to Rory, tell him what had happened before he heard it from someone else.
The ridiculous thing was that Paylor had already offered Gale a pardon. She made it very clear that he didn't have to stand trial, but he was insisting. I closed my eyes and leaned against him.
He was so stubborn. He claimed that it was for the good of New Panem, that there should be no favorites, that all of the dark deeds had to be brought out into the light. Maybe. But I couldn't help thinking that he just wasn't done punishing himself.
Paylor would offer him a pardon again after the trial, if he was convicted. I just hoped we could convince him to take it then. Maybe Rory would be punishment enough.
"I saw it happen," he said.
"I could see it in his eyes when he understood, when he hardened, when realized what I'd done."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. He glared at me, then turned and walked away, into the woods. I called after him, but he kept going. He hates me."
"Give him some time. If I came around anything's possible." We sat together as the early spring day turned to evening. We were getting married in a month and a half, on May 1. Would that be enough time?
"Hey, Sweetheart! Got a minute?"
I stopped to wait for Haymitch. His new house was just down the road from our house, the house Peeta and I had started that Gale and I were finishing. My arms were loaded down with a giant box I had just picked up at the post office - curtains.
"Here, let me take that for you."
"Since when are you a gentleman?" He was up to something.
"Since I'm about to ask you for something. I need to get on your good side quick."
I handed him the box. I'd already carried it a long way.
"What do you want?" I asked him with a smile. He seemed almost sober today.
"What're you doing with Peeta's art stuff?" he asked.
I was glad I wasn't holding the box any more. I would've dropped it. "Why? Are you going to become an artist?"
He shrugged. "Don't want that stuff to get thrown out. If you don't want it, I'll take it." We had reached our house. He set the box on the porch.
"Sure. I'll bring it over later." He must've known I couldn't throw Peeta's things away. But I was glad to have someone to give them to. I'd actually had no idea what to do with them.
"You know where to find me," Haymitch said as he ambled off.
"Gale!" I called as I entered the house. "I got the curtains."
"I'm in the kitchen."
I left the box in the living room, then went into the kitchen. It was now a buttery gold, a color Peeta had chosen. Gale was up on a ladder, paintbrush in hand.
"Looks like you're almost done," I said, noticing that his right hand was very steady with the brush. His left hand was still a bit shaky. Probably always would be.
"I'm no artist, but it's okay. What do you think?"
"It's good. Do you need any help?"
"No, I just have to finish the edges up here."
"I ran into Haymitch. He wants Peeta's art supplies. I think I'll go box those up now."
"Haymitch is an artist?" Gale looked as surprised as I was.
I shrugged. "Anything is possible, I guess. Let me know when you're done and we can have lunch. Your mom sent over sandwiches."
As I went upstairs, I pondered Haymitch's request. I had put Peeta's paints, brushes, paper, canvases and easel in one of the extra bedrooms. I hadn't wanted to throw them out, but they'd certainly go to waste here. Did Haymitch have a secret talent? Or did he just want to hold on to something that had been Peeta's? I'd been worried that he would be rude - well, ruder than usual - to Gale. I didn't think he would approve of me marrying again so soon. But he hadn't been too awful. Greasy Sae did tell me that she'd thought he might drink himself to death in the months after we lost Peeta. Maybe some drawing would help him.
It was hard to pack up these things, although I noticed that some of the papers had been nibbled on by mice; Buttercup was slacking off. Better not to keep them here. I remembered how happy Peeta'd been when a new shipment of oil paints had arrived on the hovercraft. I'd bought him this sketch pad to wile away the time in the hospital. His desk had a large drawer which was full of various sketches and paintings, some finished, some incomplete.
Then, in the back of the drawer, I noticed one which was rolled up and tied with a piece of string. I reached back for it.
It had a note taped on to it: "For Gale." I checked the note again. If it had been in my sloppy scrawl I might have misread it, but Peeta's handwriting was careful, perfect.
I carried it downstairs. Gale was just coming down the ladder. "You won't believe what I found up there. Don't get paint on it."
Gale wiped his hands and I handed it to him. He frowned. He knew Peeta's handwriting by now. He'd seen it all over the house "What is it?"
"I don't know. I didn't open it. It's for you."
He slipped the string off and unrolled the parchment. I couldn't see it from where I was standing. I felt like, whatever it was, it wasn't for me. He should get to see it first.
"It's beautiful," he said and turned the paper around. It was a pencil sketch of Posy. She was sitting in the grass, making a dandelion crown. Her hair was already full of flowers. It was black and white, except for the dandelions which blazed with gold pastel. "It looks just like her," marveled Gale. "We could hang it here in the kitchen. Once the paint dries."
I shook my head in wonder. Somehow Peeta had managed to send me a message, blessing our wedding.
There was only one other thing I needed for our wedding to be perfect, but just thinking about it made my palms sweaty. I needed to talk to Rory.
It'd been more than a month now and Rory hadn't spoken to him, or to me, once. Hazelle told me that he was hardly speaking to anyone. His heart had turned to granite and not even Posy could get through to him. We were all worried about what he'd do.
We were getting married in less than a week. Prim wouldn't be there, but Rory should be.
I didn't tell Gale what I was going to do. I just said that I was going over to his mom's to see my mom and help with the cooking. Which was sort of true. My mom was actually staying at our house until the wedding, but she spent most of her time at Hazelle's getting ready for the wedding. I'd have to remember to do something in the kitchen when I got back.
Rory wasn't home. I asked Hazelle where she thought he might be and she just shook her head. I decided to go see if I could track him in the woods. I was just leaving when Hazelle peered out of the kitchen. "Try the creek, by the mine. He took his fishing pole." Just like Gale. He couldn't even sulk without doing something productive.
He was there, on the other side of the creek, his pole dangling in the water, his eyes unfixed. I was afraid he would leave if he saw me coming so I went upstream, out of view, to cross the creek at some shallows. I didn't want to seem to be stalking him, but I approached from behind, careful to make no noise.
I didn't want to startle him. One had to be careful around these Hawthorne boys with their lightning reflexes. I didn't want to find out whether he could throw a knife as well as Gale could the hard way. When I was about 5 feet away I called to him "Rory? Can we talk?"
He was on his feet in a second, but I almost wished his eyes had been angry. Instead, they were cold, dead. He didn't answer, but sat back down and started fiddling with his fishing rod. I sat down on a rock, facing him.
"How are you?"
He said nothing.
I was about to say something else when he snapped "How do you think I am?"
"I know." Now that I was here I didn't know where to begin. So I said something stupid. "I was hoping that you would come to the . . . ."
We sat in silence. I tried to remember what I'd been thinking when I hated Gale. Rory broke the stillness. "I'm leaving District 12."
"Where will you go?" My chest ached for him. Didn't he know that he couldn't outrun the pain?
If he left we might never find him again. Questions weren't getting me very far. It seemed so wrong for talkative Rory to be so quiet.
I bit my lip. I could just tell him how I had felt. Except I didn't do stuff like that.
I took a deep breath. He was so mad. I couldn't make it worse. But maybe I could get him to follow my path. "You know I hated Gale at first, too. I thought I could never forgive him."
"But then you gave in." His voice was cold. He turned a rock over and over in his hand. Fidgeting. Just like Gale.
"I thought you loved her," he said.
Prim's gentle smile filled my mind. What I wouldn't give to touch her cheek again. "I did. I do."
Rory threw the rock into the creek. It sank. It would stay there, unmoving under the water until . . . maybe forever.
"You know he's sorry. You saw how much it tore him up to know what he had done."
"That doesn't bring her back."
I flinched. Just what I had said. The ache was still there.
"Neither does hating him." I picked a blade of grass and started tying it into knots. I took a deep breath and silently called to Prim to help me.
"I think we'll see her again," I said.
He glared at me. "No. We won't."
"I think we'll see them all again: Prim, Peeta, Finnick, Rue, my dad, your dad, Cinna, Madge, Marik, . . ." I had to stop. There were so many. I closed my eyes against the pain.
"You can ask her to help you." I studied the knotted grass in my hands.
"That's bat-shit crazy," he said.
I had to smile. "That's what I thought. But Peeta told me to ask him for a sign and he would help me. And I did. And he has. Rory, when I forgave Gale I couldn't believe what a load lifted off of my shoulders. You are hurting yourself as much as you are hurting him."
Rory stood up, his face as hard as ever. "Don't mess with me."
I sat there and watched him as he grabbed his fishing pole and left. Even angry, he moved as silently as Gale. I sighed. Would he leave tonight? If I had some sort of tracker I could slip it into his bag. Without one . . . .
Hazelle and my mom were in the kitchen when I got back. They had their sleeves rolled up and were kneading bread. Hazelle gave me a questioning look, but I just shook my head. I went to the sink and washed my hands, thinking of the stone lost into the river. I dried off and asked "Can I help?"
My mother pointed to a bowl of risen dough. "You can do that one." As I punched the dough down I felt a tear roll down my cheek. I wiped it on my shoulder and began to work the dough over. I would have to trust Prim to find a way to save him.
We were married two days later, on May 1st. The spring sun shown bright and warm. We went to the new Justice Building, Undersee Hall, named in honor of the now-revealed revolutionary efforts of Madge and her father. After signing our marriage certificate, exchanging rings, and sharing a serious kiss, we came out to find a crowd of friends and family waiting to walk us home.
We had borrowed every table and chair we could find and set them up in the field behind our house. Thank God the weather was beautiful since we would have smothered if we had had to fit everyone in the house. We decorated the tables with alyssum and dandelions. Posy was more than happy to help gather both.
Gale, Vick and Bristel had been hunting all week. I'd gone with them some and done what I could to help my mom, Hazelle and Greasy Sae cook up enough food for the feast. Annie jumped in too once she and her boys arrived, bringing a load of clams with them. We roasted venison, rabbit, and some people ate turkey, although I still couldn't stand the taste. We had clam chowder, fried clams, Greasy Sae's stew, wild asparagus, and dandelion salad with some chopped katniss my mother had found. Cute. We made fresh bread and Hazelle made us a lovely cake, which she and Posy decorated with wildflowers. It was almost as pretty as one of Peeta's.
I couldn't believe how many people had come: pretty much all of the resettled residents of District 12, Captain Brighton and Gale's whole squad, Julina, Johanna, Rutilus. Even Veritas was there. We let him take some pictures, as long as he wasn't obnoxious. I figured we owed him at least that for his help back in District 2.
After dinner we did our toasting on a campfire Gale had set up in the yard. Then someone broke out a fiddle and the dancing began.
We danced until I was starting to get blisters, then I kicked off my shoes and danced some more.
Most of the dances we do in District 12 are lively wheels where you start with one partner, and occasionally run into your original partner again, but in the meantime dance with pretty much everyone there. It's a great way to get to see everybody at a party, and way more fun than the kind of dancing we did in the Capitol on our Victory Tour. Although, honestly, I'm glad they didn't dance that way in the Capitol. There were always people at those parties who I wouldn't have wanted to touch.
But every once in a while our fiddler would give us all a break and play a slow song, meant to be danced with just one partner. A lot of people took that chance to run grab something cold to drink, get something to eat. I was just headed off to grab some more cake when I felt Gale's hand grab me by the waist.
"Not so fast. Where do you think you're off to?"
"I'm hungry. I was going to grab some of that food we've been working on for days."
"Dance with me first?" He gave me one of those 'staring right in my eyes like he's forgotten the rest of the world is there' looks. He was fighting dirty now; he knew I could never refuse that look.
"Okay," I said, amazed to find myself blushing. I was his wife now. What did I have to blush about?
For a few moments I just enjoyed closing my eyes to get rid of everything else, and felt the strength of his shoulder, the steady thumping of his heart.
"Hey, look who's over there. Some interesting dance combinations showing up." He interrupted my bliss. There'd be time for that later.
I looked around. Mercurius and Johanna – they weren't so much dancing as making out. They'd been a surprise to me, but not to Gale. He said he saw that coming as soon as Mercurius discovered the ability to occasionally be quiet. Groves and his wife, holding their precious baby while they danced. I still needed to thank Dr. Adrian for all he'd done for them. Captain Brighton and his wife – she was giggling like a teenager. Annie and Doc – they were dancing with plenty of space between them, like they'd just met, which was probably true. Still, two very nice people, maybe they'd get along.
Gale poked me. I still hadn't seen the surprise he was talking about. He used his hand, while keeping my hand in his grip, to point over toward the still-burning campfire. Julina and Redstone – and she had her eyes closed and her head on his shoulder, looking as content as I'd been just a minute earlier.
"They look like they've hit it off," Gale murmured. He bent down to lean his forehead against mine and it was his turn to close his eyes and slip away for a moment.
All too soon our moment of bliss was interrupted again. This time by a tugging on my skirt. Posy.
"It's time for my present." She pulled me to her table, Gale following along. Then she made me close my eyes and hold out my hands. I opened them to see a small rabbit skin pouch. "Look in it," she prompted eagerly.
I reached in and found a small, smooth white rock. "It's one of my very best rocks." I saw her glance at Gale and something passed between them. "It's a wishing rock. It really works, too."
"I don't know if I can accept this," I said. "What will you have to wish on then?"
"Oh, I have another one," she said reaching into the pocket of her lovely yellow dress. She pulled out a smooth red translucent stone.
"Wow, that's a pretty one," said Gale, leaning over. "It looks like its magic. Where did you get it?"
Posy blushed and looked down at the floor, then she looked up at me, eyes wide, and said in a timid voice "It's a secret." I couldn't imagine what kind of a secret she could have, but it was obvious she didn't want to tell Gale where she got it.
"Gale," I intervened. "Could you get me a glass of water? Posy and I are going to have a little girl-talk." He raised his eyebrows at me, but, after a quick kiss on my head, left to give us a little privacy.
"So this is a very beautiful rock," I said, examining the smooth white stone in my hand. "Thank you very much." I figured that if she wanted to tell me where she got the red one, she would.
"It's a wishing rock," she repeated. "And it works. I've been wishing for Gale on it. He was so sad when I talked to him on the phone. And Mama told me you weren't friends anymore. So I wished that you could be friends again so he'd be happy. And it worked." She frowned as she rested her head against me. "I didn't know there'd be so much kissing." I had to laugh. I had no idea that my destiny had been controlled by a lovely young lady with a rock.
She looked at me thoughtfully. "Are you my aunt now?" I almost said yes, then I realized that was wrong.
"No, I am your sister-in-law." She seemed disappointed.
"Is that like a sister?" she asked.
"Yes, just like a sister."
Her face broke out in a beaming smile. "I always wanted a sister. There are so many boys around."
"Now you have one." I gave her a hug and a kiss on her cheek. "So, sister, is this one a wishing rock, too?" I asked turning her hand over so that we could see the red rock clutched in her palm.
"I think so." She looked at it intently. "I haven't tested it yet, but it does look like magic. Peeta gave it to me as a prize." That was a surprise. Not only that Peeta gave it to her, but more, that she hadn't wanted Gale to know. And she had known that Gale and I . . . weren't friends. How much more did she understand?
"He did? A prize for what?" My curiosity was really up now.
"One day I was at your house. Mama was getting laundry and I went in the back to play 'cuz there were a lot of pretty flowers. Peeta came and was sitting on the stairs doing something. Mama came out and we were going to leave, but he asked if I could stay and finish my dandelion crown. Mama said it was okay. So I did. When I was done, he said thank you and gave me this rock for my prize."
Oh, it was her payment for sitting for her own portrait. "Can I see it?" I asked and she gingerly handed it to me. I wondered when and where Peeta had gotten it. I had no idea. It was an odd shape that reminded me of something. With a shock I realized that it looked like a heart. Not a paper heart shape, but a real flesh and blood heart. But it wasn't creepy. It was smooth, red and beautiful. I handed it back to Posy. "Do you want to keep your pouch to put it in?"
"No, the pouch belongs with the other one. Mama made it special for it."
"So what are you going to keep this one in?" I asked.
"I don't know. My pocket for now, 'till I find something good enough for it."
"I have an idea. Come with me." I took Posy by the hand and went into the house. There, on the kitchen counter, I'd left my purse. It was a tiny, golden handbag, a relic from my former life as a victor. I had grabbed it today since it didn't seem right for a bride to carry my usual bag, which still smelled slightly of dead squirrel. I dumped out its meager contents - lipstick and a handkerchief - then turned to Posy.
"Would this work?"
Her eyes lit up.
"It's perfect." We slipped the rock into the bag, then I put the strap over Posy's head. We went back outside to look for Gale.
My heart clenched. He was standing by his family's table, embracing Rory. His eyes met mine and he gave me a glorious smile. I hurried with Posy over to their table. He broke from Rory, gave me a quick hug and said softly "Rory wants to talk to you." Then he swept Posy up. "Come on, little girl," he said. "You haven't danced with me."
Posy dissolved into giggles as Gale threw her over his shoulder.
I sat down next to Rory. "So you came," I said leaning close to him. He gave me a warm grin. It was like looking at a different person from the other day.
"Now I'm bat-shit crazy, too," he said.
"What happened?" I was eager to hear what Prim had pulled off.
He gazed off into the trees. His voice was solemn. "Does Buttercup ever bring you . . . presents?"
"No. We get along better than before, but he doesn't like me quite that much. He used to bring Peeta some lovely ones, though." Cats are so disgusting.
"That night, after I talked to you, I was missing Prim so much that I gave in and tried to talk to her. I told her how much I missed her and asked her to send me a sign if I would ever see her again. In the morning, I woke up and saw Buttercup sleeping on my bed. I hated that cat because he reminded me so much of Prim, of how much she loved him even though he was horrible. So I pushed him off of the bed. The next morning, same thing. Which was weird because he'd never done that before. But I still didn't get it.
"Then this morning I was lying in bed. I couldn't sleep. I was going to leave, today, while everyone else was off at the wedding. Then I heard something, someone coming into my room. I looked but didn't see anyone. I sat up and saw Buttercup standing there just inside the door. He had a tail dangling out of his mouth. He just sauntered in and then he spit this dead mouse on the floor, looked at me like he'd just left a pile of gold coins there, turned, and left. At first, all I could think was how mad mom'd be after all her cleaning this week to find mouse guts on the floor. I grabbed a dirty shirt, picked up the mouse and sneaked out of the room. I went out back and I was going to chuck it into the grass behind the house."
He stopped. He took a sip of water and ran his fingers through his hair. "Do you ever think to yourself 'I have to tell Prim about this' – and then it feels like you've lost her again when you remember you can't tell her?" I nodded. All day I had been thinking about how much Prim would have loved the wedding, the party, the cake, the dancing.
"So, I thought to myself how Prim wouldn't think it was disgusting. She would think it was sweet for Buttercup to bring me a gift. She would say 'See, that just proves that he loves you.' She was such a sucker for that cat. And then it hit me. I sat down on the stoop, still holding that gross mouse. As far as I know Buttercup had never even been in our new house. But he came right in, right to my room. Why would he do that?
"I left the mouse, still in my shirt, next to the stoop. I went in, got dressed and left mom a note telling her that I had gone for a walk and not to wait for me. Then I picked up the mouse and went for a long, aimless walk. I ended up back over by the creek. I threw the mouse in. I guess I didn't want Buttercup to know I hadn't kept his gift. I figured the water would cover its scent. Then I realized that I knew what it meant, what it had to mean. It was Prim sending me a sign. Nothing else made sense. Not that that made any sense either.
"So then I thought 'Fine, she sent me a sign. I still don't have to forgive him.' But somehow I didn't want to leave the District any more. I felt like if I stayed here she might send me another sign. I felt like I would be closer to Prim if I stayed. I was really tired. I haven't been sleeping much and I guess I fell asleep leaning up against this tree.
"I dreamed about Prim. She was just playing that flashlight game with her dumb cat. I wanted her to talk to me, to tell me what to do, but it was nothing like that. At least it wasn't . . . anything horrible, not a nightmare. When I woke up I thought about what she would want me to do. All along I've known that she would want me to forgive him. She was just nice like that. So finally, I decided 'okay.' I'd do it - for her. So, here I am.
I reached over and gave Rory a hug. He seemed a bit uncomfortable, but he let me do it. "Thanks so much for coming. So, do you think Buttercup will stop bringing you mice now or bring you even more?"
"I have no idea. I guess I'm okay with it either way." I had tears in my eyes. Thinking of Prim always did that to me. Then he looked at me and said "So, do you want to dance or what?"
We joined into the dance that was in full swing. I looked around for Gale, but didn't see him or Posy in the throng.
As the dance ended, I looked over and saw him leaning against the doorway of the house, our house. He caught my eye and mouthed something to me across the yard. I couldn't make it out and for a moment I flashed back to the worst day of my life. Gale had tried to tell me something, across the pit gaping where the Capitol street had been and, like today, I hadn't been able to tell what he was saying. I felt the cold claw of confused terror slide down my back.
I shook my head and snapped myself out of it. The warm sun shone down on me and I let it chase away the chill of my memory. All of that was over now. I wasn't going to let the horrors of the past mar this beautiful day.
Gale gave me a puzzled frown. I just said to him across the crowd "What?"
"Let's go." This time I could read him as though he were standing next to me. I smiled and nodded, as I began to slip through the crowd of our friends and family toward Gale and the new life we were going to build.
Thanks so much to all of you for completing this journey with me. Thanks to IrishLuck19 for helping me with tenses, commas, dialogue tags and for your always insightful comments.
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What's next – for me I'm working on a non-fanfic YA paranormal novel. And a Gale/Madge that has lodged itself in my head is begging to be put on paper (metaphorically).
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