For the longest time, I'd been avoiding vacation. Passing up the days off to keep my mind busy. There was nothing I was more afraid of than my own thoughts. Nothing I hated more. But for the past month, it seems I've had a constant hammering in my head. Every click of the keyboard pounds in my temples.
I know I have to take a day or two off.
Perhaps a week or two.
I just need to go. Go somewhere.
My fingers drag heavily over the map of Panem that hangs over the desk in my room. I close my eyes and randomly select somewhere. I hold my finger in one spot for a long time, eyes still shut. At last, my eyes slowly flit open and land on a District number.
Four would be a perfect vacation spot, really. I've never been to the beach, after all, and people seem to like it. Surely, there will be enough to get my mind off work and yet not allow it to be idle.
Yes, that is what I need.
As quickly as I can without hurting my head, I make my way over to my phone, call up my boss, and inform him that I'm taking the next three weeks off. I've earned enough vacation days to take off three months, but I could not take all that. He asks no questions.
I then collapse onto my bed and let out a relieved sigh.
I'm asleep before I can even wonder what on earth I would do on a vacation.
The train ride is shorter than I expected. It took only a few hours; silent ones on my part. Panem drifts by me, and my eyes don't leave the window for more than a minute or two at a time. This is the first time I've left District Two since the revolution. When was that? Just over five years ago? Must have been.
However long, I plan to savor this time as much as possible. Even though I have no one to see and nowhere to be, it will be better than being cooped up in the office. Maybe I could meet someone. I nearly scoff at the idea.
That would be a miracle.
As soon as I'm off the train, I am assaulted by the strong heat and bright light of Four. I raise my hand to my face, blocking the rays from my eyes. A sea of people is before me, bubbling about. The town square isn't far off; I can see it from where I stand.
With a sort of sigh, I start forward, maneuvering through the people. They are all so tan, and my pale, olive skin seems to almost clash. Their light hair, too, only acts to point me out as a tourist. I catch a few looks, a few smiles.
They're nice here, it seems.
Before I know it, I've made my way to a not-too-fancy hotel and am paying for a three nights' stay. I figure it may be more fun to move around since Four is so huge. Perhaps I'll be back here. Though, I've never been one to be too attached to anything or anyone. At least, not in five years.
I don't bother getting settled in the hotel. I merely toss my small suitcase onto the bed, pocket my wallet, and am right back out again.
From where I am, it takes me only ten minutes to walk to the beach. My jeans and t-shirt make me more comfortable, despite making me stick out even more.
The sun is invading, the heat intrusive. On the beach, there are a number of stalls set up away from the shore. Fruit, drinks, jewelry, snacks. It's interesting and unlike anything around where I live.
I walk slowly along the row of tiny shops, looking at the people's smiling faces, politely declining their attempts to sell me things. A few people I don't know say hello, and I politely nod their way. When I'm finally to the end of the line, I stop at a small fruit stand.
"Hello, can I get you something?" the girl asks, white teeth shining in her wide grin.
I look carefully at the arrangement of fruits before her before saying, "Ah, yes… What is this… thing?" I point loosely to an oddly shaped one.
"Star fruit! See, it looks like a star." She holds it up.
"Oh, of course… what's it like?" I ask lightly.
"It's very good! I like it a lot. Almost as good as a kiwi."
"Oh, yes. Never had one?"
I shake my head.
"I'm sure you would like them," she chirps.
"Well, alright… I'll take one of each. And… what is this?" I gesture to a small, flat something rather in a package.
"That's a sort of candy. Tastes like fruit. We make it ourselves." The smile on her face never leaves.
"Well, I'll have one of those too…" I say slowly. I told myself on the train that I would try to experience whatever Four had to offer. And if fruit candies was part of that, so be it.
"Very good! That's a two dollars."
I give her the money without question, and she in turn hands me the two foreign fruits and the candy in a small bag.
"Thank you very much," the girl says, still smiling.
I nod, turning away silently.
I continue to walk down the beach, not knowing what to do. As I walk, I pull the pocket knife out from on my keychain and cut into the odd, fuzzy one. Kiwi. I taste it hesitantly. It's nothing like anything we have in Two. Or had in Twelve.
I finish it slowly and toss away the outside skin. That seemed too strange to eat, and I then try the star fruit. Again, it's like nothing I've had before. The few fruits we have in Two and in Twelve were not nearly as strong as these. I then pocket the candy, deciding to save it for later. I then find myself meandering, with nothing particular to do.
So I occupy myself with people watching. A number of people are playing some sort of sport with a net, laughing and grinning. Every time I see a girl with long, dark hair or a boy with brown or bronze hair, my attention flickers to him or her. Even though I doubt it will happen, in the back of my mind I am looking for Annie and her son.
Of course I don't see them, though. Only a bunch of strangely happy faces, which are completely unknown to me.
I let out a long, heavy sigh. Part of me likes my ability to fade into the background here, not having to worry about interacting with people I don't want to see. But yet, I miss having friends. I miss talking to people.
Since moving to Two, I've had a girlfriend or two. Gone to bars with a few co-workers. Though none of them have made me truly happy. No one has in a long time. And I miss it. More specifically, I miss the woods. I miss hunting. I miss Twelve, with Mom, Rory, Vick, Posy, and… Katniss. Hell, I even miss Peeta. I miss seeing people I know. I miss the rebellion, in all honesty. Finnick. Beetee. Even that Johanna. The rebellion was the first and last time I was surrounded by a lot of people I enjoyed being around. People who really understood me in some form or another.
With nothing else to do and a disheartened feeling in the pit of my stomach, I head back into town.
For the rest of the day, I go to a few restaurants, a few bars, just getting a feel for the people and culture here. I never would have thought it could be so different. Sure, not everyone in District Two is serious, but it's a lot more solemn than here. And after awhile, I start to loosen up. The pounding in my head changes from painful to the beat of music that exhilarates me.
I finally allow a smile to play at my lips around nine as I make my way out of a particularly busy bar. Even away from the pulsing lights and loud music that played in there, the people seem excited. The night life, if nothing else, is a lot better here than in Two.
And the atmosphere stays about the same until I'm just about back to my hotel. Then one glaring difference catches my eye. The first bit of negativity I've seen since I arrived.
A woman. Dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned skin. She is tugging a small boy, about four- or five-years old, down the street. She snaps at him, telling him that he needs to hurry up. But something about the duo makes me stop. I'm not sure if it's the edge in the woman's voice or the bronze in the boys hair. But I know these two.
I'm only a few feet from them, and I can hear the conversation.
"Noah, your mother will be worried if we are not home soon!" she growls, hand tightly wrapped around his.
"But Auntie… I don't want to! I wanted to buy candy! I wanted candy, I told you!"
She glares at him. "I know you are not a brat, so please stop acting like it. We have to go home."
"But Auntie… Please… Right over there…" He throws an arm towards the beach.
"Look, they're probably all closed anyway," she says, exasperated. "I'm sure we have some sort of candy at home."
"We do not," he mutters. His face falls, and he looks about ready to concede to go with her.
As the spoke, I slowly made my way towards them. Too wrapped up in their conversation, they didn't notice me. Not until I spoke. "Here, kid," I say, holding out the candy.
He looks about ready to take it when the woman stops him.
"We really shouldn't take food from strangers, thank you, though," she replies, eyes not even going towards my face.
"Oh, but I'm not."
Her gaze suddenly jerks towards my face, and for a moment she looks carefully at me. And then she freezes.
"Oh my god," she breathes. "Oh my—"
Before I know it, she's thrown her arms around me, and I awkwardly hug her back, a small laugh escaping my lips. Quickly she jerks away, hand going through her hair.
"I'm sorry, I'm not usually like that. I mean, you know that. I just… Gale. Oh my god."
"Hey, Johanna," I reply slowly, hand going to the back of my neck.
The boy, Noah, pokes Johanna's side. "Who is that?" he nearly whispers.
"That's Gale, Noah. That's Gale," she says, sounding flustered. "You've heard us mention him, right?"
He nods mutely. "Then can I take the candy?"
I smile lightly, handing it over at Johanna's scattered nod.
"Wow, uh… I've got to get home with this kid, why don't you walk with us?" she says.
I nod, going with them as they continue onto a less busy street.
"So, Gale. What are you doing in Four?" she questions, seeming like she has finally gotten over the shock of seeing me.
"Vacation. Work is… a lot of work. What are you doing here?"
"I've been living with Annie for the past few years. Helping her out. Lord knows she needs it with this little bugger," she replies, ruffling Noah's hair. "And I had nothing for me in Seven. So I came here."
"Interesting. You… like it here?"
"No shortage of excitement," she says with a smirk. "How long are you staying, gorgeous?"
I roll my eyes, remembering how she used to tease me with that so long ago. "Three weeks."
"Oh good. Get to have fun with you for awhile."
"I suppose so," I answer shortly.
We manage to keep up small talk until we get to an average-sized house, just off the beach. It is cottage style, with a number of tiny flowers spotting the front lawn in no particular pattern.
"Here we are," Johanna announces, letting go of Noah's hand.
He proceeds to run up the walk ahead of us. Before he is even to the door, though, it is open. A woman of dark, long hair opens the door quickly and scoops him up.
"I was wondering where you were!" she exclaims, pulling him to her chest. "My Noah. Were you keeping Aunt Johanna out late again?"
"Yes, Mommy…" he answers guiltily. "But look who we found!" He points our way with a smile.
Green eyes raise up and find their way to me. "Who… Oh! I know you! What was…?"
"Yes, Gale," I answer with a small smile. "It's… nice to see you, Annie," I say slowly as I reach the front door, Johanna close behind.
"Oh, yes, of course, do come in," she bubbles, setting little Noah down. "Hurry to bed," she says to him, tapping his shoulder.
He nods before dashing off.
"Can I get you anything, Gale?" Annie asks, eyes wide. "Coffee? Snack?"
"Oh no, I'm alright," I answer gently.
She nods with a small smile. "Well, sit down…"
The three of us sit in the living room, Annie with her feet pulled up under her on the loveseat across the room. Johanna and I are seated on the couch.
"How have you been, Gale?" Annie questions softly.
"Good. Tired lately…"
"Is work hard?"
"Not hard, just tiresome. Not many people I like around there, I'm afraid."
She smiles lightly. "Vacation here, then?"
"Where have you been staying, then?"
"Oh, a hotel… Actually, this is my first day here."
"Oh! Well, good thing we found you now then."
"Yes, it's nice," I agree. Despite myself, a slight yawn escapes my lips.
Annie purses her lips. "You're tired. Would you like to stay here for the night?"
The question catches me slightly off-guard. I have to consider it for a moment; I did already pay, but then again, what does it matter? "I suppose it couldn't hurt."
She positively beams at me. "Good. I'm glad to have you. I have to be going to bed now, though, so… Goodnight, you two."
"Goodnight," Johanna returns. I merely nod.
As soon as Annie is gone, I remark, "She seems better."
"Yes, quite a bit better… she's… Noah has helped her a lot… She used to have nightmares every night. But then one night… they just stopped…" Johanna shrugs, her eyes lingering on the window across the room. "So, tell me, Gale. Are you better?"
Her eyes meet mine. "Katniss. When's the last time you spoke to her?"
My voice is hollow as I answer, "Over five years ago. Before I… left."
Johanna looks stricken. "What?"
I just shrug weakly. "She wrote me a letter once. Right after I moved to Two. I… couldn't return it. For a long time, I hated her." My voice sounds angry, even to me. I take a deep breath. "Maybe I still kind of do. But… only recently have I wanted to see her again…" I shrug again. "Whatever. She probably hates me too by now, not that I blame her. I… her sister… Peeta. Surely she doesn't care." I blink quickly, looking away. The words possess an empty hopefulness, and I hope Johanna doesn't hear it.
Johanna just stares at me with a sorrowful expression. "Gale, no. She… How…" She bites her lip, her tone taking a more angry tone. "I can't believe that happened to you two. That's… not fair."
"She's happy, though. So I'm alright with it all, I guess." Again, I know I must sound like I'm lying.
"Gale, that's not right. What about you, though? She just blew you off."
I cringe. "Yeah."
"Sorry… but really. That's… not fair."
"Two has been good, though… I make enough money. More than I need, surely. I keep in touch with my family… more or less. I can't say I've ever really thought I needed anyone. After all, that would just be more mouths to feed, right?" I ask vacantly, staring off to the side.
"That's still just…" she makes an upset, huffing noise.
"What about you? When's the last time you spoke to her?"
"Oh, last week or so. She… calls every other week or so. Maybe she'll call while you're here and you can talk to her."
I feel the blood rush from my face. "No. I don't know if that would be… a good idea… I was really planning on never…"
"Don't you dare say 'never speak to her again.' You'll talk to her if she calls."
I just give an empty smile. "Well… we'll see, I suppose." I, however, have no intention of doing that. I can't. I hesitate before asking slowly, "Anything new happen… with her?"
Johanna shrugs. "Same old, same old. They literally… do nothing it seems. Peeta runs his bakery of course, and she mostly stays home. What she does all day, I have no idea. Nothing to do at home. I think she goes in to help him sometimes. She must have some sort of side job… Huh. I don't know. But yeah. No kids or anything… Odd ones, they are. I would want kids, especially now that the Hunger Games are done." Johanna shrugs nonchalantly. "Wouldn't you?"
A flood of emotions comes back as I suddenly remember the day before Katniss was reaped. How I mentioned kids. I chew my lower lip, looking down. "Yes. I would. Katniss… never did…"
"Well…" It's silent for a moment before she says, "Perhaps we should be getting to bed."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Alright, c'mon then. I'll show you to the spare room."
I'm woken the next morning by Johanna. My eyes flicker open, my eyebrows instantly raised.
"Hurry up! Get up!" she cries, hitting me with a pillow.
"Alright, alright," I mutter, practically falling out of bed. I abruptly pull on my pants and shirt from yesterday, not appreciating Johanna's eyes on me. "What is it?"
"Annie's made breakfast! Pancakes and stuff."
"Lovely," I reply dryly as she grabs my hand and pulls me out the door. I can only assume this must be a rare occurrence since Johanna is so excited.
Indeed, in the kitchen, Annie is just serving out pancakes onto plates. Noah already has his hands on the syrup and is dousing his breakfast.
"Watch out there, kid," Johanna says. "Don't want you too hyped up on sugar."
"Yeah, yeah," he dismisses her.
I smile slightly at Noah. He's really so much like his father; his looks, his attitude. I imagine when he's older, he'll be so much like the Finnick I knew. Spontaneous and a little mad like Annie, though. As soon as he finishes his food, he jumps up. "I want to go down to the beach!" he announces.
Johanna nearly sighs, poking at what is left of her food. "Sure, kid. I guess we can."
"I'm going to go put my swimsuit on!" he cries, grinning. "I'll be back!"
"Better finish soon," she murmurs under her breath as she stands. "He'll want to leave as soon as he's back down. And… you'll probably need more clothes. You did bring something to swim in, right?"
"I… may have," I say loosely, honestly not sure what I did and didn't pack.
She rolls her eyes, tossing her plate into the sink. "We'll stop by the hotel."
Sure enough, as soon as Noah is back in the kitchen, he is bubbling about getting to the beach. After changing herself, Johanna just barely manages to convince him to stop by the hotel with us. Indeed, I did manage to bring a swimsuit. I change quickly, pulling on a shirt I don't mind getting wet.
It hardly takes any time, though, and less than a half hour later, we are down at the beach.
Noah runs straight into the water, laughing. "Aunt Johanna! Come in with me!" he gushes.
"Oh, no, that's alright. You know I don't…" she trails off, "Gale can go in."
I cast her a disbelieving look. "Can't even go in with him?" I ask lightly.
"No, I… I just thought you would like to," she says shortly, seating herself in the sand a number of feet from the water.
"Right," I say, giving it no further thought. "Okay, I'm coming."
The kid is practically a fish. I can only assume that comes with living in District Four. He does not hesitate at all swimming far past a depth where his feet touch the sand. I keep close watch of him, though.
After a few minutes, he bobs over to me and then leans up to my ear. "You know why Aunt Johanna won't come in?" he whispers.
"She's afraid of the water."
"Why—" and then I stop. Water. Of course. "Oh," I draw.
"She has never told me why," he answers quietly, as if he is saying something scandalous.
"That's alright, don't ask her." I suddenly am remembering how they tortured her in the Capitol. Water and electricity. The girl must be scared to death. I begin to wonder how long it took her to work up the courage to even come this close to the shore. It must surely be hard, even for fearless, brutal Johanna.
Soon, Noah's tired himself out and is asking to go back home. Whining is more like it. The kid's tired himself out so much that I have to carry him out of the water. Back on the shore, Johanna has fallen asleep in the sand. I nudge her awake with my foot, afraid Noah might have himself fallen asleep in the minute it took me to get out of the water. If not, he's definitely really sleepy. It takes a bit, but a moment later, Johanna is forcing herself awake. She stretches before forcing herself to her feet.
"Is he asleep?" she asks dryly.
"I… I think so."
She cocks an eyebrow but doesn't ask anything else about it. "Time to go, then?"
"Yes, I would think so…"
After dinner, Johanna pulls me back outside and right back down to the beach. She doesn't speak until she's sitting down in the sand with her feet buried in the sand and me next to her.
"So, Gale," she starts. "Tell me about life."
I give a short laugh, offering a small shrug. "It's been fine."
"What's your job like? What do you do?"
"Oh, nothing too exciting. Mostly desk work, monitoring security. That's all I ever do. Sometimes I get to go out, but I usually just sit at the computer…" I shrug again. "Important but not exciting."
"Sounds fun. Are you swimming in money over there?"
"More than I need, definitely," I respond quietly. "I send some to Mom every so often. Not that she really needs it either… She's got a real job now. Rory and Vick do too…"
"Well, that's good… How often do you talk to them?"
"Not… very often."
She shifts her gaze over to me. "You should talk to them more. I… would if I had a family to speak to. It's a waste to not keep in touch."
"I… yes, I suppose I should." I hesitate, wanting to ask her about her family. I really want to know, but I don't know that she would want to talk about it. She probably would, but I can't bring the words to my lips.
We lapse into silence. Judging by Johanna's fidgeting, I can tell she doesn't like it. But having nothing to say, I wait for her to speak again.
I regret it once she does.
"So, why didn't you take your shirt off when you went into the water? With a body like yours…" She smirks slightly.
I give her a sidelong glance. "You know I have scars," I reply simply.
"You say that like I've seen you with your shirt off a million times," she replies, rolling her eyes. "No, that does sound familiar." She waves her hand nonchalantly. "What from?"
Her eyebrows shoot up. "What? Really?"
"Why would I lie about that?" I ask amusedly. "Yeah. Caught poaching."
"Ouch. I wanna see." Her fingers extend towards the back of my shirt.
"No, I really don't think you do," I say, scooting away.
I give her a disbelieving look for a long moment; she just returns it with an expecting smile. Finally, I sigh and concede. I pull off my shirt slowly, with my back away from her. She has her eyebrows raised expectantly, and I just roll my eyes at her as I turn away from her.
"Ow," she says simply. I feel her fingers touch my skin. "That looks painful."
"Yeah, it was," I respond flatly.
Johanna continues to drag her fingers along my back, curious. She's odd, really. Most people seem to cringe away at them, for they're not exactly pretty. Sometimes, I wonder if it can really even be called scars. It's more that my skin is rippled and healed in odd, twisting ways. It's something I don't even like to look at.
"Are you done yet?" I finally question.
She scoffs, sitting back. "Sure, sure." Before I can pull my shirt back on, she remarks, "You should keep your shirt off more often though."
I eye her inquiringly and then just shake my head. "Right," I say, dismissing her. With my shirt back in place, I state, "We should go down to the water." Her response is really all I want.
Immediately, she replies, "Oh, no, I don't think we should." The panic in her eyes is hard to miss.
"Why?" I question, standing. I hold my hand out to her, expecting her to come.
She does stand, albeit very hesitantly. "I don't like water."
"I know. That's why we're going to go."
Without hesitation, she jerks her hand away, taking a step back. "Then why would we go?"
"To get you over that fear."
She narrows her eyes at me. "I don't think that's any concern of yours."
"I'm perfectly fine avoiding water as much as I can, thank you. I don't mind. I don't see what it matters, either!" She folds her arms.
"I'm sorry I offered. I just thought—" the glare on her face makes me stop.
"You're not the only one with scars, Gale," she snaps. "Why can't I just have one thing I can be afraid of?"
I reply quietly, "I didn't mean that—"
"No! Of course not! No. You know what? I have to be strong about everything! Everything. Being afraid of the water is just fine with me!" she cries angrily. "I have had to stay strong about every other stupid thing! When my dad died, my stupid sister and mother were useless. They made my brother run away! They hardly ate, were going to kill themselves, but I sat there and shoved food down their throats. They didn't even thank me when the whole damn situation was over! And in the end, I still couldn't save them! Their death is on my hands!" she screams. Her hands shake at her side, her eyes are wide. "I have to deal with that. And I don't think… I've ever told anyone that. I've stayed strong long enough, Hawthorne. I'll stay away from the water all I like." By now, her voice has fallen to a hiss.
Johanna then tries to leave, but I catch her by the wrist.
"Johanna, I'm sorry," I say softly. "I didn't know you… I didn't…" I'm at a loss for words. I really hadn't known it would affect her so much. "I'm sorry."
She's still turned away from me. "Let go."
"I'm not going anywhere, just let go!" she yells.
I slowly loosen my grip.
She doesn't move to leave. She just pulls her hands up to her face, seemingly wiping her eyes. For a long time, she keeps her back to me. I can only guess she doesn't want me to see the tears that must be in her eyes.
At last, she turns back my way, hesitantly meeting my eyes. "Sorry," she says plainly.
"Why?" I whisper.
"That was too much. Shouldn't have told you all that. You don't care. I'll just—"
"Now why wouldn't I care?"
She looks startled. "You hardly even know me," she whispers. "I don't expect you to care. Don't need you to. Don't want you to." She then turns and begins to walk quickly towards the house, hand once again going to her face.
"Johanna!" I call, hurrying to catch up. "Johanna, please." I'm at her side now, though she keeps her face down. "What's…" I trail off, unsure of what to say. However, she doesn't need my prodding.
"I just can't do it anymore!" she yells, jerking to a stop and swerving around to meet my eyes. "I can't do it! I am sick and tired of being here. And you," she says strongly, pressing a finger to my chest, "need to talk to your family more because some of us don't have one!" Her voice cracks. "I'm tired of having no one, Gale. Annie isn't always all the way there, and Katniss isn't exactly my best friend either. I haven't got a family and you do," she cries, hitting me in the chest before turning away. A sob escapes her, and she covers her mouth. "Damn it, Gale. I hate you." But her voice has lost the venom from before, and I'm sure this remark isn't coming from the fact that I don't speak to my family often. Somehow, I think this has to do with the shaking of her chest and the stinging of her eyes.
Johanna doesn't like to be seen as weak. This I know about her. Therefore, I'm cautious as I ask, "What happened to your family, Johanna?"
"I told you already," she mutters, shaking her head as she starts to walk towards the house again.
I linger back, watching her walk away. Pressing her won't do any good now. Once she's far ahead of me, I start back towards the house. And once I'm there, Johanna is nowhere to be found; I can only assume she's gone to her room and probably locked the door. The house is surprisingly void of any noise. Noah's quiet, and Annie isn't to be seen. It's very likely they are already asleep.
I ghost down the hallway and slip into my room, leaving the door cracked open. I throw open the window, pushing the curtains to the side. The sky is fading from orange, favoring its darker night shades. I inhale deeply, falling back onto my bed.
Johanna's words echo in my mind. It really is selfish of me, in a way, to not speak to my family. I can't help but feel a little guilty. Moreover, however, I just want to know about Johanna. I know she's not as cold as she puts on; I probably seem just as distant as her, and I know I'm not void of emotion. Yet I don't know what to do with her.
Rolling onto my side, my gaze fixes on the open window. My eyes fall shut, though I have no intention of sleeping anytime soon. The knot in my stomach wouldn't allow for that.
After moments too long and too quiet, there is suddenly a noise to break it. A gentle knock at my open door. I turn quickly, eyes immediately meeting the only pair of brown eyes in the house. Slightly stunned, I quickly sit up.
"Sorry," she says quietly.
"W-what? No, I'm sorry. I… Yeah, just sorry."
Johanna scoffs, "Shut up, Hawthorne. I said some stupid stuff, that was all really stupid. I overreacted." She sits down on the edge of the bed.
"No," I say carefully, "I don't think you did."
She narrows her eyes. "What?"
"I think… you said exactly what you wanted to say," I reply.
"What are you saying?" she questions dryly, small smile playing at her lips.
I roll my eyes slightly. "Nothing," I breathe, stretching my arms above my head before falling back onto the bed. "I think you just have a lot of pent up emotions you don't ever talk about."
She jerks towards me, and I tense, expecting a slap. But she just collapses onto the bed next to me and lets out a short laugh. "You're right. I don't like talking. There's no one to talk to, not about me at least." She falls silent. I, expecting her to continue, don't speak either. Finally, she sighs and her gaze flickers over to me. "I don't expect you to want to listen, but I don't really care. I'm talking." The look in her eyes tells me she knows that I want to listen so I don't say anything once again. However, she herself stays silent for a long time. Finally, "Gale?"
"I don't know what to even say."
I offer a small smile. "Well, how about your family? What happened with them?"
She knots her fingers together. "My dad died… long before the Games. I already said… that. Then I… I didn't even get a month with them after I came back from the Games. Snow's goons came and found me as soon as possible and wanted… to sell me." Her voice dropped quiet, but she spat the words. "Wanted me to come to the Capitol. But I wouldn't go." Johanna stares down at her hands, looking everywhere but at me. "I didn't… believe him when he said he'd kill my family. I should have." Her voice broke, and she takes a deep breath. "I should have gone to the Capitol." She covers her mouth with her hand, closing her eyes. Even with it clamped over her mouth, I can see her fingers shaking violently. "They killed them in our house. In the house. I was lying in my room and I heard her scream. Both of them. Oh, I hated my mom and sister but those screams…" She finally looks over at me, meeting my gaze. "At first, I thought it wasn't a big deal. I was happy to hear the screams. But I can still hear them." Then Johanna suddenly freezes and sits up. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I should really… go…"
I grab her by the wrist, lurching up. The quaver in her body is evident, and she jerks her hand away. "Don't. No…" I say slowly.
Johanna groans lightly, turning back towards me. "That's all there is to tell," she replies weakly. "I should… go back to bed." She stands before I can stop her and makes it to the door before she stops, one hand on the doorknob, one on the frame.
Before she can stop it, an uncharacteristic sob breaks from her throat. Johanna's hands go to her eyes, her shoulders sinking.
As soon as her name leaves my lips, I'm up and standing next to her. I don't' know what I intended to do, but she turns and throws her arms around me. For a moment, I'm stunned, but then I carefully return the gesture. She refuses to let me see her face, electing to bury it against my chest.
"I-I need to stop," she gasps, though she makes no move to turn away.
"No…" I reply gently.
"I just… I hated them so much! Th-they tried to leave me, just like… just like everyone. But I can still hear them." She curses, taking a deep breath. "I guess it's karma. You're not supposed to hate your family." She manages to laugh dryly, wiping her eyes hastily. Johanna only moves back a step or so. A small smile touches her lips. "You're a good guy, Gale."
The comment takes me back. "Why?"
"Tell me to leave," she whispers. "Tell me I'm weak or… or overreacting or stupid."
"I can't do that," I say lightly, leaning against the wall.
"I know, and I don't understand because I feel like I am." Johanna laces her fingers through her hair, dropping her face. "I can't… talk, can't… I'm going crazy," she hisses.
For a long time, I am quiet, thinking about her words. An idea forms in the back of my mind. A mad, far-fetched idea. Slowly, I say, "Maybe you need… to go somewhere else. Get out of here."
"Where would I go?" she breathes. "And Annie…"
"Johanna. You could come with me. And Annie is just fine here, have you seen her?" My voice sounds desperate, even to me. Only now do I realize how starved for any sort of friendship I've been. I want Johanna to come with me. I want someone to talk to.
She raises her eyes carefully to meet mine. "You want me to come with you?" For a sickening moment, I think she's going to laugh me off and turn me down. Then she just chuckles under her breath and says, "You're daring, Gale." She looks down, her hand on the doorknob. "I like that. I'll get back to you." As she slips out the door, she offers me a knowing smirk before disappearing down the dark hallway.
She hasn't gotten back to me. I leave tomorrow morning, ten hours away, and Johanna hasn't mentioned leaving again. Every so often, she would catch my eye and give me an ambiguous look to which I never quite knew how to respond.
I toss a shirt into my suitcase with a sigh, assuming she's just decided to stay but doesn't want to flat out tell me. That's okay, I think, I understand. Honestly, though, I'm a bit upset with her. Johanna, I'd thought, needed to be around people she could talk to. She must know best though. After all, who am I to tell her?
Despite myself, I fall onto the bed and press my fingers to my eyes. I stifle a yawn as I roll over and bury my head in the pillow. Does she plan to stay here forever? I can't see her doing such a thing.
I just wish she'd at least let me know.
Part of me doesn't know why I care so much; the larger part of me knows it's for selfish reasons. I want someone to talk to. I want to be able to hang out with someone. And Johanna's the only person I'm really comfortable around of late.
I turn back over and let out a long breath. I'm just about ready to get up, turn off the light, and finally go to bed when a loud knock at the door startles me. Eyes flying to the door, I scramble up. Johanna, however, goes ahead and lets herself in.
"Bet you thought I forgot, huh?" she asks with a smirk.
"Something like that."
"Well, I didn't," she replies simply, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "I'm coming with you, Hawthorne." She pauses, pursing her lips. "I asked Annie, and she said she was okay. Talked to Noah, he said it sounded like a good idea."
"That's good," I say slowly.
"Yeah, I guess it is," Johanna says, giving a small laugh. She runs her fingers through her hair, letting out a short sigh. "Something different, finally. Four is nice for awhile but…" She shakes her head.
"Well… You'll like Two, I think."
Her eyes meet mine for a long moment, and then she gives a small nod. With a minute grin at her lips, she asks, "So, Gale. What time do we leave?"