Okay, so now it's been more than a year since I updated and you guys have so patient and understanding. I'm so sorry! ;_; The last two years have honestly been some of the rockiest of my life thus far. I've been working full time, trying to immigrate to another country, dealing with family mess. But you guys have been troopers and I'm so grateful to see the lovely, supportive messages from you all.
I'll try to update sooner if at all possible. I am working on something original now, so it does take a large chunk of my writing time. But I still really love this story and I still work on it in bits and pieces where I can.
Anyway, you guys are the most patient, best people and I'll hush and let you get reading.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
The coming weeks are a period of change and adjustment for us. Peeta and I have gotten largely comfortable with the way things are and we have to adapt to changes happening in our children.
For one, Glen is growing rapidly. He finally stops doing baby pushups and progresses to crawling around. He doesn't get very far. The first time he moves more than a few inches off of his blanket, he sits back and cries. It's almost as if the momentum frightens him and he has to stop for fear of what will happen if it carries him too far. I scoop him up and lightly bounce him up and down until he calms.
We try again over the next few days to see if he'll get used to crawling without stopping short. But every time, he wobbles before he flops back and does that hesitant whimper that sounds as if he's too uneasy to let the room know he's upset.
"Peeta, what do we do? He won't move," I sigh on day three, calming Glen for the umpteenth time that day.
"I don't know," he grimaces, errantly fiddling with a cookie cutter. "Should we help him?"
"How are we supposed to help him crawl, Peeta? We can't hold his hand. Should I just keep my hand on his sides?" I protest, frustrated and unsure how to help my cautious and distrusting child. "If you keep going like this, you won't walk until you're three, chickadee," I murmur.
"Maybe he just needs motivation," he suggests lightly.
"Maybe," I concede.
"What are you so scared of?" Peeta walks over and softly takes one of his chubby pink hands between his thumb and forefinger. Glen grips it immediately as if searching out all the moral support he can get. "He's not scared around you-" Peeta continues. "Maybe we should put you in front of him. See if he feels better if he can see you."
I nod, contemplating. Iris could've cared if she had help to learn to crawl and walk. She was determined to learn everything as fast as she could whether we were there or not. Once she started something, she finished in record time.
But Glen seems to need constant support. If he's unsure, he wants to know that I approve. I am the deciding factor in parcelling out if something is alright or not. If I think it's okay, so does Glen.
We resolve to test the theory tomorrow because Glen doesn't look like he'll respond to any more crawling today. That is something I learn about Glen. He gets overwhelmed easily. If too many things have gone wrong in his little universe that day, he shuts down. Like me. If I become too frustrated, talking to me is like butting against a stone wall. Glen gives us that combination of wide eyes and distrust in the set of his mouth and we know he's not getting anything else done today.
The next day, Peeta gently places Glen on his stomach on the soft, fluffy blanket Iris used when she was that small. I'm strategically placed directly in front of him so I'm in his line of sight at all times. He pushes up on his hands and knees and wobbles.
"Hey, chickadee, look up here," I call gently at him. He looks up a little and a hesitant grin breaks out on his face. He tentatively moves forward a little.
"That's right, you're doing fine. Come on," I encourage softly. It is an odd feeling. Peeta was the one who helped Iris last time. She didn't need much assistance, but learning to walk was a challenge and he would toddle with her around the house tirelessly. Now I know that it'll have to be me who teaches Glen as he scoots towards me. About halfway, he pauses, realizing that he's been moving. His soft, chubby face starts to contort.
"Hey now, no, you got so far. You're almost there, come on-"
I keep talking to him. He seems to forget that he's upset as long as I'm talking to him.
I can't help the grin that breaks out when he finally reaches me, placing a soft hand on my boot.
"You made it," I tell him. He babbles in return, grinning.
"See?" Peeta tells me from across the room. "He just needs to know you're there so he knows he's safe."
We have to practice with Glen for weeks crawling before he'll even attempt standing upright, even if I'm holding his hands. The first time I try to see if he'll do it, he whimpers and it progresses into a thin, wailing little cry.
"Sorry, chickadee, too soon for you. We'll try again another day."
He peeps back, grateful that I've let him sit back down.
The next evening, I've gotten him to stand up without whimpering too much. But Glen refuses to move. He just lifts his legs in the odd angles Iris used to when she was that small, stamping his tiny feet back and forth on the floor. Iris is fascinated, watching with glee at Glen's little baby movements.
"Mama, why won't he walk?" she laughs, bounding over to where I've been standing with him for the last half hour.
"Glen's a little shy, remember? I think he's scared."
"But walking is easy."
"You had to learn to walk," I remind her. "You did the same things."
"Yes, Iris, everyone has to learn to walk," Peeta jumps in, giggling at how Iris is so confused that Glen has to learn to walk. "Your Mama had to, I had to."
"Is that why you're holding his hands like that, Mama?"
"Yes. I'm making sure he doesn't fall. He's still very small and his legs are still adjusting to walking."
"Oh. Can I help?" she asks eagerly. She hasn't lost her need to get involved in the goings on at our house.
I hesitate for a moment. She is still very small and I worry about her being coordinated enough to do it. But then I wonder if Glen might respond to her. He trusts her as much as he does Peeta and myself. And she's more on his level. Maybe having someone closer to his height will help him. In any case, I'll be watching in case she loses her grip on him.
"Sure. Take his hands like this," I position her in front of him and transfer his pudgy, clammy hands to hers. She grins when he clutches her small hands. He peeps at her and keeps stamping his feet.
"And just try to walk backwards really slowly and see if he'll follow you."
She moves back a pace or so and Glen doesn't move. She steps back up to him and tries again. She keeps up with this little dance for at least ten minutes. And then it happens. Something seems to click with Glen as he looks up and down, watching her feet. He picks up his left foot and puts it in front of the other.
"Mama, Daddy!" she exclaims as Glen teeters a little and then moves his right foot to catch up.
Peeta is beside himself watching the two of them. And I am as well. Iris gets Glen to totter all the way from the fireplace to the kitchen table, clutching his hands the whole time, before he tuckers out and sits down. I immediately pick him up and tell him that he did a good job to try and reinforce what he's learned.
"You did more than help," Peeta laughs and leans down to kiss her forehead. "You got him walking. You did a wonderful job."
She bounces in place happily. Iris wants nothing more than to help and to do a good job. I tug her little braid and tell her thank you.
Iris diligently takes to walking Glen around the house every evening from then on. It always takes her a moment to get him moving, but eventually he'll waddle around with her. One night weeks later I look up from the table where I'm skinning a squirrel and see that Iris has let him go. He's standing shakily on his own. She catches him pretty deftly for her age when he wobbles too much and tips over. But in the next week or so, Iris doesn't have to walk with him hardly at all. He gradually weans himself off, tottering around the house, holding onto furniture. He goes slowly and always has to be holding something, but he does well enough all the same.
Glen learning to walk for short spurts results in more crying than normal. Glen's cries used to be quieter. But learning how to walk also means a lot of stumbling, tripping, and falling. If I'm not around when this happens, it doesn't take me long to figure it out. I'll hear him wailing from under the table, on the other side of the doorway, in the hallway beside the stairs. Peeta was always the one who tended to Iris if she was causing trouble in the house. Now it's me because I'm the only one who will have any hope of calming him. He'll still cry for nearly an hour after.
I resolve to try to find a solution soon. The volume of his cries grate on my still-fragile nerves. I have not recovered from our conversation with Iris about the Hunger Games. Hearing my child wail like that is unbearable.
It gets to where, after a few days, Glen stops trying to walk altogether. I know that he won't be fully walking for another six months or so. For now, he'll toddle around and have to hold onto things to stay upright for long.
But another part of me knows he's not trying because he's too cowed by the few times he's fallen and is determined not to repeat the process. I would be grateful for respite in his crying if I didn't know that he'll never learn to walk like this. So the next day, after Iris has gone off to school, I stay outside in the green with Glen and Peeta. I figure the soft grass will be easier on him.
It takes us an hour to get him to even stand up, but with my holding his hands and gently singing a playful song to him, he eventually pumps his little legs and gets upright. I gently pace in front of him, holding my hands out to steady him. Peeta watches with that glint in his eyes that tells me he's tearing up a little. When a Mockingjay twitters and Glen turns his head, distracted for a moment, I softly and quickly pry my hands away. He doesn't notice. He keeps tottering forward.
"There we go, chickadee."
He starts when he realizes, turning forward and wobbling dangerously. He looks betrayed at first when he realizes I've let go of him. But a little bit of talking and smiling to him does the trick and he gives me a hesitant grin back. He staggers a few paces before he falls.
He cries for a second or so as if conditioned to do it as soon as he falls. But it's short-lived. He wriggles his little fingers in the soft, fragrant green grass, testing it. With that he struggles his way back up.
"Come on, let's go walk to Daddy," I tell him, trying to include Peeta as much as possible. While I know Peeta would never harbor any jealousy that Glen is glued to my side, I know he's immeasurably excited that Glen is walking now. I get Glen to circle all the way back to Peeta with only one fall. Peeta scoops him up and tickles his sides. The two of them giggle in the exact same way.
It worked. I guess Glen is a bit like me that way. Something about being outside comforts him.
Spending more time in the grass and sun is easier on my psyche too. Watching Iris leave for school, the tiny braid and yellow backpack growing smaller and disappearing, has been grueling. Every time she walks out the door, I have the compulsion to pull her back in. I know I cannot do this. She has to learn about them. Shielding her will only leave her ill prepared for the world she lives in. But every time she leaves I wonder what they'll tell her today. I wonder what questions she'll come back asking tonight. There are always questions. Iris's thirst for knowledge grows exponentially as she does.
That night, after Glen is fast asleep on my lap from his tiring day, she comes bounding up to us with her small, thin grade school textbook. I'm sitting next to Peeta as he kneads dough.
"Mama! Daddy! Look, you're in my book," she flips rapidly through the pages trying to find it. I recognize it before she does. She flips a few more pages before backtracking.
"See?" she thrusts it at me. I force myself to indulge her and look, not that I need to see them. It's the photos from Peeta and my first games. It's a stock image, a headshot they used to identify us to the viewers. I remember it so clearly. It flashed in the sky of the arena when we won. They showed the other tributes' headshot photos when they died. They displayed them every time Caesar Flickerman interviewed us or mentioned us in his coverage of the games.
We're dressed in our practical gear for the arena. The Capitol thought the photos had a glamorous honesty. To me they might as well have been mugshots rather than head shots. All I can see are Peeta's panicked blue eyes and clenched jaw. My hollowed cheeks and muted anger.
"I see that, little duck," I rasp. "It's from our first Hunger Games."
I do not want her to feel that she can't discuss this with us or can't ask questions. We need her to understand that she can ask us questions if she has them so that she doesn't feel the need to turn to unreliable sources for information. Peeta pauses next to me, but I notice he's digging his knuckles into the dough.
"You look different," she cocks her head to look at from another angle. She holds up the book a little to compare us with our younger versions.
"Well we were a lot younger then," Peeta explains. "We were only sixteen."
"Yeah," she nods. "You look littler. Mama why does your face look so different?"
I blanch. I have such profound hollows in my cheeks in that photo. Even with the Capitol feeding me for a few weeks and Capitol retouching, it is unavoidable. I look slight and weak and thin.
I glance at Peeta, questioning. He usually asks me what to do with Iris and Glen, but in this instance I need Peeta's way with words to know if I should proceed. Should I tell her why I look so small and angular?
He considers for a moment, worrying at his lip before he nods and takes over for me.
"Iris, you remember we told you that we were poor growing up, right?" he asks, deciding not to dance around the issue.
She nods somberly.
"Your Mama looks different because she's very thin. We didn't always have a lot to eat when we were young, especially your Mama's family. Those hollows in her face," he gestures with a flour-dusted finger, pointing out the concave places in the planes of my cheeks, "are what happens when a person doesn't get enough to eat. Your frame gets very small and thin, to where you can see a lot more of your bones than normal."
Iris scowls a little before she looks at me somberly.
"Mama, were your dinners small?"
She's trying to gauge how badly our family must have been doing for me to get that thin.
"If we had dinner, yes."
"Sometimes you only had lunch and breakfast?"
I pet Glen's curls as he sleeps at my front as I'm wont to do when stressed now. I hope she can't hear the way my teeth are gritting.
"Little duck," I sigh, "we were lucky to have one meal a day most of the time. Some days we didn't have anything at all."
She blinks rapidly and her little mouth falls open. I am perversely grateful that Iris is so shocked. It means she's never known a world where we didn't get three square meals a day.
"Mama, you didn't eat every day?"
"No, not always, especially when I was younger. It got a little better when I was older, before that photo."
Iris stares down at the photo for a long time without saying anything. She traces the thin curves of my cheekbones, and then the hollows that are subtle but still clearly there in Peeta's square face. She closes the book.
"I don't think I like those pictures," she sighs.
"They're not my favorites either, sweetheart," Peeta takes over. "Do you want to see some happier ones of us when we were young? I have some."
I don't deserve Peeta. I don't know how to thank him as I watch Iris's somber eyes brighten at the prospect. He goes and fetches our book, flipping to some of the happier paintings he has of us when we were young. A few errant photos are there too. There's one of Peeta's family in front of their old bakery. Iris adeptly recognizes her daddy immediately, which is quite a feat since Peeta's brothers looked nearly identical to him.
At one point, he flips to the only two photos we have of my family. The one on the right is a tiny, grainy picture not much larger than my hand. My mother stands, smiling a tight smile. I'm next to her, about fifteen in this photo. I am not smiling, of course. But I am calm, with my hand holding Prim's. She grins out of the photo, holding her goat she insisted on bringing into the picture in one arm.
"That's you, Mama!" she exclaims.
"Yeah, that's me."
"You look happier," she comments. She knows that look on my face. She's even painted it before, albeit messily. I rarely smile, but my family can see happiness and calm in my eyes and the set of my shoulders even so.
"Who is this?" she points at Prim.
"That's my sister. I've told you about her a few times."
"She looks nice. I like her goat," Iris giggles.
"She loved that goat, she wouldn't let us take the picture without it," I do crack a smile now as I remember.
"You hold her hand like you do mine, Mama," she smiles. "And she looks a lot like Grandma."
"She does, doesn't she? And that's your Grandma right there," I remind her, pointing out my mother.
"Oh yes. She was a lot younger then too, like me."
I realize then my mother must not be much older in that photo than I am now. I see the tightness in her smile and sympathize with it. It's extraordinarily difficult for me to protect my children even now when we're free of the Capitol. How difficult it must've been for her back then.
"Who's this?" she switches to the other side of the page, pointing out the only photo I have of my father.
"That's my daddy."
"I've never seen him before!" she exclaims. "He looks like you!"
I laugh a little. She's right. He has the same eyes, same straight dark hair, same sharp chin and distrust in the set of his mouth.
"More like I look like him. But you're right, little duck."
"I wish I could've met your sister and your daddy," Iris cocks her head, staring at the small photo. Peeta comes over and puts a steady hand on my shoulder. He knows talking about them is difficult for me.
"Me too," I smile thickly. I am preparing myself for more questions when Iris switches gears quickly. For once I'm grateful for how scattered her thoughts tend to be.
"Do I look more like you or Daddy?" she asks, clearly inspired by how Prim and I both favored one parent more strongly than the other.
"I think you're a pretty even mix," Peeta supplies.
"Well you've got my hair," I reach over and tug the end of her braid a little so it meets mine, comparing the color. They blend together so seamlessly I would barely be able to tell them apart if not for the wave in hers. She giggles. "But it's a little curly like your daddy's, see?"
I point over at Peeta and he shakes his head a little so Iris keeps laughing.
"And you have my nose and eyes," Peeta grins, lightly pinching her nose.
I see my cheekbones, and Peeta's chin in the planes of her face. I am unspeakably grateful to see her face, round and filled out and smiling instead of hollow. To know that my own face looks like that now too. To see that Glen, asleep at my chest, has ruddy, round cheeks instead of thin ones. To see that Peeta's eyes shine and smile now. It's gratifying to hear her laugh and see Peeta's grin, to turn a difficult conversant into something bright. I pet Glen's curls for the rest of the night to keep level and watch Peeta and Iris laugh.
The next day, I take Glen out to the woods to clear my head. Although I managed to avoid a relapse last night, I was painfully close. Managing how Iris is learning more and more about my life when I was young is a difficult change to manage. But there is something about the air and the trees, as cold as it is right now, that clears my head. It's been a while since it snowed last. Bits of slush still cover the ground, but today it's as warm as it gets for the season and fairly dry in the sunny spots. I take Glen to a tree that sits in the sunlight so any slush or ice has melted. I climb high with him and his eyes brighten as we go. Although Iris likes the trees just fine, I don't see the same spark in her eyes unless she's by her lake. But Glen's spark comes in the trees just like mine. He faces out to the thin, high branches, his back to me now that he can support his own head. I've bundled him up tightly to make sure he doesn't catch cold, the little green hat that my mother knitted fitted snugly on his head.
The birds are enjoying the rare sunny winter day as much as we are. They ruffle their feathers, preen, and titter in the high branches around us. Glen bobs his fists to their sounds.
"You like that, chickadee?"
He squeals in response. I humor him and start singing and he babbles even louder, as if singing along with me. A few errant mockingjays join in, harmonizing, playing around with the chords.
There is something comforting about the winter blanket of near-silence only broken by a song my father taught me, the birds, and Glen's happy baby sounds. The crisp air that almost burns my lungs is refreshing.
I finish my song and sigh, closing my eyes a little and resting my head against the trunk of the tree. Glen babbles on even after I've finished my song with a series of long "m" sounds. He's been testing out sounds and saying nonsense words for a while now just like Iris did when she was young. Until he finally stops and chirps at me. I almost miss it it's so quiet. But I know when I hear it that he's uttered a clear, happy "Mama."
I freeze and open my eyes. He twists his tiny body a little, trying to look at me. I oblige him and lift him out of the wrap carefully so that he's facing me. He doesn't say anything at first. I hum a little tune for a moment under my breath to see if he'll say it again. He grins and peeps, "Mama."
It's not until I realize that my vision is a bit blurred that I understand that I'm crying a little, although silently. It's the first word he's said. Iris said "daddy" long before she learned "mama." I predicted that Glen might learn my name first, but I am still unprepared to hear it, still grappling with the way he gives me a wobbly infant grin when he says it.
"Hey, chickadee," I smile falteringly at him.
"Mama," he reiterates, grinning my own smile broadly back at me.
"That's my smart boy," I stroke his pink cheek. He doesn't say it again, just looks at me gladly and expectantly as if he knows he's gotten it right and doesn't need to repeat himself. I pack him back up into the wrap and descend onto the forest floor. I want to get back home as fast as possible. I know Peeta will want to hear him say it. I'm glad I decided to head home early as the sky grays a little and it starts to snow lightly. It looks like the sun will come back out and the snow won't stick much. But even so, the addition of snow would make it too cold to keep Glen out for long.
Peeta grins when I come back in early, putting down a tube of light-blue icing in the middle of topping a cupcake with the stuff.
"Hey," he walks over and picks a few snowflakes out of my hair. They mostly melt in my hair when he touches them. "You're back early."
"I thought you should hear this. Glen," I lift him up so he's facing me. He grins but doesn't say anything at first. I hum the same tune under my breath for nearly a minute and worry that he won't say it again. Peeta eyes me curiously. He can't wait to see what Glen will do. Every baby milestone makes him cry a little. But it's moments like those teary ones that make me so glad I told him yes. So glad to have Glen even when he was unexpected.
Peeta's face lights up in one of my favorite expressions of his when Glen finally peeps "Mama" for the third time today. He smiles the warmest, widest smile. The apples of his cheeks go round and pink like Glen's and his eyes shine like I knew they would. He gathers him in his arms and bounces him lightly.
"Who's that Glen?" he asks, pointing at me. Glen peeps back "Mama." They play this game for the rest of the day until Iris gets back. Sometimes Glen gets confused, sometimes he pauses for a bit as if he's forgotten the word for a moment. But he babbles back more often than not.
Peeta is so elated that he has to show Iris the minute she comes in from school. She is more impressed with this particular milestone than some of his others.
"He knows how to say Mama now!" she exclaims. Glen repeats the word. "What else can he say?"
"Probably not much else, usually babies learn one word at a time. It'll take him a while to learn anything else."
"Oh," Iris's face falls. She's disappointed that Glen's first word isn't a sign that he's more verbal in general now.
"Don't worry, he'll start learning pretty quick. You did."
"How long did it take till I learned other words?" she asks, impatient. I smile a little, both amused that she wants Glen to hurry up and start talking and glad that my daughter wants to talk in more depth with her little brother as soon as she possibly can.
"A couple of weeks or so. There's no guarantee, just whenever he picks up something new."
Iris takes it upon herself to try to teach Glen more words in the coming weeks. Mostly, she tries to teach him her own name. I tell her not to be offended if he doesn't learn immediately.
"Babies learn slowly, little duck. Slower than we do, at least. And he'll have a little trouble at first pronouncing your name, but he'll learn it."
"Why will he have trouble?"
"Your name has a lot of vowels and 's' sounds. "Mama" or "Daddy" are usually first because the sounds are easier for babies to put together."
"What did I say first?" she challenges.
"Daddy," I chuckle. It's clear she was hoping for a different answer. Iris is not terribly self-centered, but every child has a little penchant for it. She wants Glen to learn her name first. "And then Mama. Just be patient," I tell her, knowing full well there's no use saying it at all. Patience is not in Iris's lexicon.
The days begin to get marginally warmer as spring approaches. It'll be at least another month and a half before it gets truly warm. But the lengthening of the days and the way the sun gets brighter and more yellow in the sky tell us Iris's birthday isn't all that far off. Iris will be six. The thought makes my head spin a little. The years seem to go quicker the older I get.
Peeta and I think Iris can sense that her birthday is coming up. She's getting old enough that she remembers dates a little bit better. In the weeks approaching her birthday, she gets even more hyperactive and curious than normal, which is quite a feat. She's erratic normally, but her pre-birthday excitement enhances everything.
The combination makes the questions she comes home with particularly difficult. She asks more than normal, and her follow up questions are more numerous.
About three weeks before her birthday, she comes bounding in as normal. I scramble down off the roof. Peeta's already inside with Glen wrapped up at his chest. As soon as I walk in, Iris bombards me.
"Mama, we saw you in a video today!"
I choke. Surely they wouldn't show videos of the games to her class.
Peeta eyes me with shock and horror. He's thinking the same thing. I wonder what she must've seen. Me in a mad dash away from the Cornucopia. Me treed in my first games with Peeta and the careers circling me. The nest of tracker jackers. Peeta's wounded leg. The waves of blood in the Quarter Quell. My screaming as Mockingjays with Prim's voice swarm around me.
"What did you see in the video, Iris?" Peeta asks, rigid but stoic. I'm thankful for the calm he keeps in his words. I can barely speak myself.
"Mama, you were in a dress, a big white one," she gestures, spreading her arms wide to illustrate the girth.
I sigh with temporary relief. At least it's a scene from one of my Capitol interviews. Not that I particularly enjoy them either, but at least Iris's first glimpse of my former on-screen persona doesn't involve any blood.
"And there was a man talking to you with really funny hair," she wrinkles her nose and we laugh uncharacteristically. Our daughter finds Caesar Flickerman as unnerving and odd as we did. "Who was that? Why was he talking to you? Why did your dress-"
"One at a time, Iris," I remind her and she stops short. We've been trying to work with her on this lately. The onslaught of questions is constant and we're trying to teach her how to pace them so as not to overwhelm others who are not as used to her inquisitiveness as we.
"His name was Caesar Flickerman. He was a Capitol newsperson who covered the games when we were there."
"He had a different color of hair every time we saw him," Peeta shakes his head, remembering.
"Yeah. A lot of people in the Capitol wore some pretty odd styles," he informs her. "They would change their hair any color of the rainbow you could imagine, sometimes their skin too. We even knew a lady who had tattoos that made her look like a tiger."
Iris's eyes are perfectly round.
"Wow. That's kinda weird," she wrinkles her nose.
"We thought so too," Peeta chuckles. "But there it was perfectly normal. We were the odd ones to them."
Iris scowls, trying to process it before she gives up. I don't blame her. I'm nearly forty and I still don't understand the Capitol citizens' penchant for odd and flashy styles or how they thought we were the weird ones.
"Mama, what was that dress you were wearing? It was big and white and then we saw you spin," she illustrates for us, spinning rapidly in a circle.
"Iris, be careful or you'll get dizzy," I tell her. She doesn't heed my warning and she keeps spinning. When she stops she teeters back and forth like a top.
"I'm dizzy," she giggles.
"I told you. Now sit down before you fall," I tell her calmly, waiting for her to continue. I know she's describing the wedding dress Cinna designed for me, but as always, I wait for her to explain it to me first.
"And Mama, when you spun around like that it caught fire. And then it got feathers! Why were you in that dress?"
"Do you remember what it looked like after she spun around, Iris?" Peeta jumps in. He's always saving me explanations. I notice that he carefully avoids discussing the white dress and rather focuses on what it became. He's trying to avoid how public our relationship was in its beginnings, how President Snow tried to use it as a weapon against us. We can preserve that for a little while yet. I give him a grateful smile that he returns softly.
"Well it had feathers and little white spots," she catalogs for us, blue eyes looking up at the ceiling as she tries to remember.
"Did you see your Mama spread her arms out? The way the feathers were?"
"Oh! Mama, you looked like a bird!" she tells us as it dawns on her.
"Exactly," I nod. " The person who made that dress did that deliberately. What type of bird do we know that has white patches on its wings?" I press as the conversation turns into a lesson about my history as a revolutionary figurehead and about bird identification.
Iris toys with a cookie cutter on the table just like Peeta does. She fidgets when she thinks too.
"Oh! A mockingjay!"
"Good job, little duck."
"Remember how important that mockingjay pin was-" Peeta starts, but Iris cuts him off. She has caught on now and is three steps ahead of him.
"Yes, mockingjays were a symbol because they weren't supposed to happen. So they made you look like one, Mama? Because you helped things happen that weren't supposed to?"
"Right again," I smile at how quickly she learns.
"Someone made the dress do that?"
"Yes," I tell her. "A friend of mine made it for me. He made a lot of wonderful things for me."
"What was his name?" she asks curiously.
It takes me a moment to tell her. I haven't spoken about Cinna since the games ended. It is difficult to pull the name from my throat.
"Cinna," I choke out, remembering the shimmering gold along his lash line when he blinked.
"Does he still live here?" she asks, obviously wanting to meet him. I feel the heavy ache in my chest, like a sinking boulder when I realize I will have to tell her that he died, too. So many of the people she wants to meet have.
"No, little duck. He lived in the Capitol."
"He's from the Capitol? I though the Capitol was bad."
"It was a little more complicated than that," Peeta interjects. "There are plenty of people who are mostly good and plenty who are mostly bad. But most people are somewhere in the middle. Most of the people in the Capitol were ignorant. They weren't the people setting up things like the Hunger Games, they weren't the people starting fights. They were everyday people. But they didn't stop those bad things either. They didn't try to learn why the things they did hurt people. They didn't think they were hurting anyone, but it didn't really matter. People still got hurt. And by not learning or trying to stop things, they did a lot of damage that way."
Iris nods soberly. I can't tell if she truly understands yet. She is a child and still thinks of things in a more simple way right now. But we need to impress upon her as early as we can that the world doesn't operate in a way that's easy to understand. There is a lot of gray area.
"But then," Peeta continues. " There were also people who were trying to learn. People who were trying to use their status in the Capitol to make things better for the Districts. We had a few friends in the Capitol who helped us. The lady I talked about who looked like a tiger hid us when people were looking for us-"
"You met her?" Iris asks, incredulous and impressed.
"Yes, we met her. And quite a few other people, including your Mama's friend, Cinna."
"Does he still live there? Does he have funny colored hair?"
"No, he never did like the funny colors much," I smile sadly as I remember. "The only thing he wore was gold eyeliner. Just a little gold line right here," I trace my eyelid to show her. Iris has never seen anyone wear makeup besides myself in the few television clips she's seen. She won't even understand what eyeliner is, which I am quite comfortable with.
"And he doesn't live in the Capitol anymore. He died just before my second games," I tell her, my voice just above a murmur.
Iris's face falls. It must be exhausting for her to hear about so much death. It's exhausting for me to remember and relay it to her.
"What happened to him?"
Peeta's fists clench a little. I grit my teeth. She knows enough now to ask what happened to them. Iris understands that most of the deaths I mention weren't coincidence. That most were outright murder. It is agonizing to notice the sadness and defeat in her eyes, a little whisper of what she might look like if she were living in the old Panem.
But I have to tell her anyway. I cannot escape the uncomfortable parts of my past. I do not think she needs to know every detail, but I refuse to lie to her or deny her information.
"People were already calling me the mockingjay back then. They were already trying to rebel against the Capitol using me as an example. Cinna made that dress to make that symbol even stronger. If he made me look just like a mockingjay, more people would understand that it was time for things to change. But the Capitol didn't like that-" I pause for a moment before I tell Iris. But she is always a step ahead.
"Is that why he died?"
She already knows. I do not know whether to be relieved or terrified that she understands.
"Yeah," I nod, trying not to notice customary ache in my throat I get when I'm trying to hold in tears. "They killed him because they were angry with him for helping me and helping the Districts. He did a lot to protect me and to help us."
Iris stares at the table for a moment.
"Are you okay?" Peeta asks her. She is indeed unusually quiet.
"Yeah. It's just sad. He didn't have to do that. He wasn't from the Districts."
"Yeah, I know. But we needed people like him from the Capitol to try to understand and help. He knew what he was doing. And he was alright with it, if that's what it was going to take for things to change."
"Yeah. I guess it's a little happy too. He did something really good," she reasons.
"You're right," Peeta smiles. "And that's okay to feel both ways about it. It's sad he's not with us, but very happy to remember him and the good things he did. You don't have to feel just one thing at once."
I can tell it's a lot for Iris to take in and so can Peeta. He offers to go paint with her and she nods. She brightens less quickly than last time, but soon she's giggling with him again. Later that night, we pull out the book again. Now that she's old enough to understand a little, we have it out a lot more. I'm glad for its presence and remember the book's purpose. It's here to help us celebrate. To remember. We teach Iris how to understand and teach ourselves how to cope anew. To offset the grief by remembering their lives and what made them so wonderful.
We show her a photo of Cinna and the pages and pages of sketches we have of his. Sketches of my many dresses and outfits. Iris loves them. It's a very different style than Peeta's and she enjoys the simpler, abstract style and sharp splashes of color. Iris giggles at a lone painting Peeta made of my prep team, and again at a page of photos we have of Effie. Photos of our Capitol friends are much more plentiful since they had better access to cameras. We have a photo for every shade of hair she had while we knew her. Iris likes the orange best. But she always flips back to Cinna's drawings, particularly the one of the mockingjay dress with fire licking the hem.
Iris has school on her birthday this year. She pouts all morning about it and tries her best to be as uncooperative as she can.
"Why do I have to? It's my birthday!"
"You still have to go to school on your birthday," I reiterate for the seventh time in an hour with no inflection. I want to make it clear to her that I'm not budging. I'm a bit disappointed that she won't have her birthday off this year too, but she has to learn that things won't always go her way.
"It might be fun to be with your friends on your birthday," Peeta reasons, offering a positive view as always. "And remember we told you we would take you outside to the lake this weekend? It'll be warmer Saturday anyway."
She scowls in a way that looks like me.
"Think about it," Peeta wheedles. "Hazel and Holly know today's your birthday, right?"
"I think so," she nods. We both know she's been telling them so for the last two weeks. It'll be impossible for them to forget.
"So they'll make sure it's a fun day even if you are at school."
"I guess," she sighs dramatically.
I do hope as I watch Iris from the roof that she has a good day. As much as I refuse to indulge her so that she learns, I do feel a bit bad for her. This is her first birthday that she doesn't get to spend with us and I feel similarly disappointed.
But my worries disappear as I see her collide with Hazel and Holly. Hazel is in her early teens now and goes to the school for the older children. But it starts a half hour later so she can still come early to make sure Holly gets to school safely. Even now almost two years after their escapade into the woods, Hazel refuses to let them out of her sight. I identify with the feeling.
Holly runs at Iris, thrusting a brightly-wrapped parcel at her. I can't tell what it is from this angle, but I watch Iris tear it open and immediately stuff something into her mouth. It must be sweets. I wince. She'll be insufferable all day with that much sugar in the morning. I feel for her teacher.
"They gave her a present already," I update Peeta from the porch as he bounces Glen on his knee.
"Oh thank goodness, I didn't know what we were going to do if they didn't remember."
"The bad news is that it's some kind of sugar."
"Oh," Peeta grimaces. "I wish there were some way to apologize to her teacher in advance."
"What do you think the odds are if we baked something as an apology that it would survive the walk to school and get to her teacher intact?" I ask as I watch Iris run down the hill even more erratically than normal.
"Not in our favor," Peeta jokes and I smirk and remember the trill in Effie's voice.
I barely make any sound when my feet hit the porch. Poor Peeta and Glen both jump. Peeta sighs and I put a hand on his shoulder to calm him.
"Sorry. You always do that. You're still not used to it," I smile affectionately.
"It's hard to be when you're so quiet," he defends but he disarms it with a smile.
Glen has not gotten over his temporary fright. He starts that soft whimpering and Peeta cuddles him.
"Hey there, don't cry it's just your Mama. "
I let Peeta comfort him. I'm in Glen's line of vision so he'll calm down eventually. And even if he likes being close to me, Peeta still has an uncanny knack with children.
"It's okay, chickadee, Daddy's got you," he strokes Glen's blond head that looks just like his own.
"Daddy," Glen squeaks, a bit faltering, but still clear, as if replying to him.
Peeta stops dead for a moment until Glen starts crying harder. He's jarred back into movement and resumes the soft bouncing that calms babies so well. I sit back and enjoy watching their little moment together.
"Hey, I'm sorry," he smiles and sniffles. His nose is as red as Glen's in no time. "It scared me too. But it's alright it's over. Nothing bad happened. "
He dries Glen's round, wet baby tears and neglects his own that trickle down his cheeks. Glen's tears slow as Peeta keeps talking to him until all that's left is a faint pout and the occasional whine from him.
"There we go, it's okay," Peeta reassures him.
"Very good, chickadee," he laughs and I smirk at the way he likes the nicknames I give them. Especially in light of how much he hated "tadpole" when I first came up with it. "Do you know who that is?"
He points at me to see if Glen will be able to differentiate. Glen pauses for a moment and his light eyebrows tilt down the way mine do. I marvel that his eyelashes are as blonde as Peeta's and just as long. They have matching tears clinging to them.
"Mama?" he offers quietly, as if he's afraid to be wrong.
"Good. And me?" Peeta points to himself.
Glen is silent for what must be a full minute before he peeps back.
We play this game all afternoon until an hour before Iris is supposed to come home. Then Peeta stops in the middle of carefully painting one of those icing flowers of his.
"What?" I question
"Iris is gonna be upset he learned my name on her birthday."
"Do you think we could just not tell her?"
Glen bobs his fists on the blanket where he sits on the floor and squeals "Daddy!"
"Doubtful. I tried to explain to her that Iris is hard for him to pronounce-"
"But she's six and doesn't understand," he sighs.
I'm hoping that Glen will hold off on talking too much at first so that Iris has a few hours at home until she figures it out. But Glen has held off on talking for a while, and now that he's figured out it's safe to do so, he's not stopping.
"Daddy," he tells her as soon as she comes in.
She wilts immediately.
"What's wrong, Iris?" Peeta asks innocently, hoping if he plays it off like it's nothing she'll follow suit. But Iris is stubborn like I am and she doesn't take the bait.
"Daddy, he learned your name first!"
"Hey, little duck, remember I told you that might happen," I reiterate.
"But it's my birthday," she whines and crosses her arms like I do.
"He doesn't know that, sweetheart, he's too young to know what birthdays even are," Peeta gently reminds her, trying to mollify her. "He hasn't even had his first birthday yet."
Iris just pouts and scowls towards Glen.
"Iris-" I warn. Although I do feel a bit bad for her, she can't take out her temper tantrum on Glen.
She sighs and puts her bookbag on the table with a harder thud than usual.
"Iris that's enough-" I start, but I'm cut off. Glen is whining again now. Loud noises startle him badly and even one can throw him into a fit. Iris looks over sheepishly.
"Iris, I know you're upset and I can understand why," Peeta tells her sternly but quietly as Glen starts to cry. "This is supposed to be your day and it hasn't gone the way you'd like it to. But remember that your actions have an effect on people that you don't always expect. Especially when you're angry and not considering your actions as carefully."
Peeta is very good at teaching her lessons. Where I sometimes settle for laying down the rules as the rules and stopping my explanation there, Peeta takes great care to explain to her why they're there.
It doesn't hurt that Glen looks particularly sad when he cries. His little eyes get impossibly wide and red and his bottom lip sticks out. It can be difficult to watch. He stares at her, as if surprised at her actions, and his cries pick up in volume.
Iris can't take it for very long. Even if she's upset with him, she hates to see him cry. She scampers over and picks him up off the blanket where he was gnawing on a teething ring.
She can barely do it by herself. He takes up the entire span of her arms. But she picks him up and cuddles him all the same.
"I'm sorry," she whispers to him and he sniffles and rests his chubby cheek on her shoulder. A heavy ache I get when I see her do that settles in my chest. It's so familiar I want to run out the door to escape it and gather them both up in my arms and never let them go at the same time.
Iris's real birthday celebration proves more successful. We take her outside to the lake as promised. I give her a little target this year to practice with, a small round thing with buck hide stretched over it. Peeta helped me paint the little rings on it. She's got a new set of tiny arrows, more paintbrushes, and a new sketchbook. She goes through all of these quite rapidly. The arrows get lost in the underbrush where she can't find them, the paintbrushes get worn so badly that the bristles fan out awkwardly, and the sketchbooks get filled up every few months.
She swims in the lake and I notice that her little strokes are stronger and more coordinated than last year. She's starting to speak in sentences that are longer and more complex. She understands more, questions more. She even shoots better this year. She manages to embed an arrow in the very edge of the target. It'll take a lot of time yet for her to get the shot to hit the middle. But I can tell she'll probably be a deadly shot by the time she's twelve. Maybe even better than me. I smile at the thought.
We try to take Glen in the water. Try is the operative word. He absolutely loathes it. The minnows that dart around his feet result in shrieks louder than I thought he was capable of. He wants to be dried off and is quite disgruntled that even a warm, soft towel won't take care of all the dampness immediately.
"No lake for you on your birthday, chickadee," I shake my head. Peeta pets his curls sympathetically. Iris merely looks at him as if he might be alien.
"Why does he hate it so much?" she asks, incredulous. But then, Iris is truly like a little duck. Wriggly and always itching to get in the water. The idea of an aversion to water is the most foreign thing in the world to her.
"There's a lot going on in there and he can't see into the water, I think. That scares him. Remember Glen likes to be clean. And dry apparently."
Iris merely titters and runs back to the water herself, leaving us to take care of Glen.
I marvel in the following weeks that Glen's own birthday is not all that far off. Iris was born in very early spring, nearly the tail end of winter. But Glen wasn't far after, right in the middle of the summer. I am grateful when Iris's school is out for summer because I know it will mean a few months without new questions about the Hunger Games. There have been relatively few this year, but I know that's because her teachers have to cushion things more for her young age group. There will be more difficult ones next year.
I put the thought out of my mind and settle for thinking about Glen's birthday the same way I did Iris's first one. I think of what he likes. Trees. Birds. Music of any kind. Flowers. I think as I observe him in the coming weeks that he likes the color blue. At least, he peeps particularly loudly whenever Peeta uses blue on his cakes and in his paintings. He seems to like savory flavors more than sweet ones, which is new. Iris is a sugar fiend and eats anything sweet she can get her hands on, especially blueberries. But Glen prefers small, soft bits of the cheese buns I love. Even the sweet things he likes tend to have a savory overtone. He loved the sweet, orange potatoes we gave him in the beginning of winter. Anything Peeta makes with apples and cinnamon.
A week before, Peeta starts gathering what he needs for a starchy, apple based cobbler. Like with Iris, Glen wants things that are out of season for his birthday. We settle for apples we preserved in the fall.
I start making him something I think he'll like. Peeta watches me carve at the table like I did for Iris's first birthday. This time the gift is made out of wood instead of bone, but Peeta watches me with as much fascination. And now Iris is here to watch too. She wants to learn how to do it, ever eager to get involved. She's a bit disappointed that I don't let her try herself, but I settle now for showing her the technique I use for carving. When she's older and her hands are strong enough to hold the knife without hurting herself, I'll let her try.
Peeta gets curious when my carving is larger and more square, less intricate than the ivory duck I carved years ago. He looks almost anxious when I start snapping a set of broad metal hair pins apart at the bend. But he grins when I have the whole thing together and he realizes what it is.
Glen's birthday is bright, just like last year, with a warm, radiating sun. Although this year I am happier since I haven't woken up in labor in the dark hours of the morning. I am able to wake up after the sun has risen and carry a still-sleeping year-old Glen downstairs.
We take him to the meadow instead of the lake. Taking him in the trees will be difficult for Peeta, and we're carrying a lot to trek too far into the woods. So we settle for sitting by the tree line. I can take him up there a little bit later when Peeta inevitably falls asleep after he eats lunch.
Glen settles comfortably in my lap and devours the cheese buns that Peeta made. He eats them with such gusto I have to remove them from his line of sight or he won't have any room left for his dessert. Peeta made cobbler like he did for Iris's birthday, electing to bring it out with us. Glen is still young, so he tires easily. He'll be asleep before the sun goes down and we don't want him to miss his makeshift cake. It'll be messy, but it's really the easiest thing for him to eat. Glen does not get as much of it on his clothes and the little that does get there is cleaned immediately so he doesn't protest.
Peeta avoids edible paint with Glen. He's too averse to messy things to want to play with them. Peeta instead makes some sort of brightly colored clay. He tells me it's edible too, just in case. It molds like cookie dough, but it isn't grainy with sugar. Peeta deftly molds it into a flower that looks impossibly real. Glen is immersed, but seems frustrated that he can't get it to do the same thing. Peeta sits with him and guides his hands as Iris plays with a section of her own. She seems to prefer paint, but Iris loves anything with color, so if paint is unavailable, the bright clay will do.
Eventually Glen relaxes and enjoys playing with it, gleeful that it never seems to stick to his hands. He'll mold it and look at it from three or four different angles before he does it again, as if trying to find the truth of the thing. He concentrates, taking his baby clay very seriously. Peeta, Iris, and I all watch, amused at how focused he is.
When Glen tosses the clay down on the grass, bored, I decide it's time to give him my gift. Peeta and Iris look on with matching curiosity in their blue eyes as I place a very small, wooden box in Glen's hands. The thing is about the size of a deck of cards. A myriad of hair pins, some thin, some flattened to wider widths, line the top, secured there by a wooden bridge.
The pins have rounded edges that will be soft on his small and uncoordinated fingers. But the broad metal will make enough of a sound. I take it in my hands and pluck one of the pins I've fashioned into a metal tine so that it chimes metallically. The instrument has a soothing, wistful quality like a lullabye.
"What is that, Mama?" Iris asks.
"A thumb piano. See?"
I pluck a few more of the tines and they all sound off in different tones. Glen's little gray eyes go wide. He stares at it for a few moments. He's distrustful of new things, so I keep playing with it.
"See, chickadee? It's okay. It makes music. Here, you try."
I take his small index finger and strum one of the tines with it. He giggles, but it's still hesitant.
"Mama!" he tells me. He clumsily does it again and then his finger freezes, as if he likes it but he's afraid to trust it.
"Can I help him play with it?" Iris asks, butting her head in between Glen and the thumb piano.
"Sure, little duck," I laugh. I know part of her wants to play with it herself under the guise of helping Glen. But he'll take another hour to decide if he likes it anyway, so I might as well let her help.
She indeed plays with it for an hour with him in her lap before he reaches out for it. But after he's realized it won't hurt him, he can't put it down. He plucks the tines endlessly. They don't make any particularly appealing chords yet. But as he gets older, he'll learn. He giggles as Iris starts to sing a little over it and he stops playing it, preferring to listen to her instead.
She gets up and does a little dance with him, making sure to hold his hands so he doesn't fall. But eventually he lets go of her hands himself and mimics her, trying to keep up. He can barely stand there by himself with his small, uncoordinated legs. But he looks at Iris the way he looks at me. As if anything she does must be good and safe and fun just because she's his sister and he trusts her.
He toddles after her in the meadow. He stumbles once or twice, but the soft grass and bright wildflowers comfort him. I rest with my head on Peeta's shoulder and he plays with my braid, dozing like I knew he would. Glen peeps something at Iris and she jumps up and down gleefully.
"Mama! Did you hear it?" she squeals at me from yards away.
"Hear what?" I ask, opening one eye lazily, barely projecting enough that she can hear. Peeta and I are still elated that it's Glen's birthday and still overjoyed to spend time with them both. But we are also parents of two young children. We nap or shut our eyes whenever we get a brief moment in the happy chaos they create.
She takes Glen's hands and they waddle over as fast as his short, stubby legs can manage. When she reaches me, Iris jumps up and down behind him, still holding his hands.
"Glen, say it. Come on," she tells him.
He stares up at her and stamps his legs.
"Come on, you just did it," she jumps frantically to where I'm afraid she'll let go of his hands.
"Irishh," he slurs, turning the r sound into more of a w to accommodate his infant speech.
She cackles like mad.
"He said my name!"
Peeta and I are sitting up now, as excited as she is. Peeta fusses over them both for a while, telling Iris how excited he is to hear Glen say it and telling Glen what a good job he's doing.
I tug Iris's braid and stroke Glen's ruddy cheek and can't find words to say anything at all. I just sit and take them both in. Iris whose nose and eyes look more like Peeta's every day and the braid that is frighteningly like mine. She's getting fairly tall for her age and I realize for the first time that she's probably inherited Peeta's height.
I turn to Glen, remembering him a year ago, minutes old, refusing to cry and cutting his eyes at everything. I marvel at how I can see myself much more clearly in his face. Reserved gray eyes, reluctant smile, pointed chin. But with Peeta's giggle and blonde hair and feathery eyelashes.
I just smile and blink the instant of moisture away from my eyes.
Iris takes Glen back out to play in the meadow and I settle back against Peeta again to watch them.
"They'll be playing that game for days," I sigh. I'll be hearing Iris's excited prodding as she gets Glen to squeak her name endlessly for at least a week. I watch as Iris dances and Glen keeps up as best he can.
"They will," Peeta giggles. He won't find it nearly as tiring as I will. I can see that in the sunny smile he can't keep off his face. "But they could do worse."
"Yeah," I nod, unspeakably grateful that this truly is the worst I can expect from any game of theirs. Laughter and teasing and warmth. "They could. "
Hope you all enjoyed! Hopefully the update will be under a year this time. D: As always, please do stop by and leave a review with your thoughts. Until next time! ~Belmione