READ THIS NOTE FIRST!
Everyone, it's been such a pleasure writing for you. I've never been so well received by a group of readers than by all of you, and I can't express how much all your constructive advice, compliments, and enthusiasm means. This project accomplished exactly what I meant to do, which is to improve my writing while talking about a story I love. If any of you want to write something similar, listen to Seabird and the Fray. They're music inspired a lot of the emotion in this novel. Also, the alternative ending will be posted as a different story on my account, in about a week. Thank you all for overcoming my horrible typos and grammatical errors and just enjoying the story. I appreciate your attention, and really can't thank you enough. It's been a truly inspirational experience.
God bless, and of course, happy reading.
"He's getting big so fast," I sigh, drawing a poorly proportioned sun in the sand. "Soon he's going to be going to school and learning to fish on the boats…"
"Is he a natural?" Fin asks with a warm tone in his voice.
"Of course he is. Though he's useless with a trident. Takes after me I guess."
Fin laughs and nuzzles his lips into my neck. "Tell me more."
"Well, Pearl loves him. Kai and Kiandra have shown him the ropes about how to avoid her temper, and so far he's mastered the art more than I have. He's such a little charmer, he can get her to make him a tart with a look. I've never seen her so melted."
"He gets Pearl to…make him a tart?"
"A few times, yep. She's better than Echo though, she just gives him whatever he wants all the time. She's been too caught up with this missionary of sorts from District Eleven to even notice. He runs the orphanage branch of the Everdeen Hospital."
"Sounds like a nice guy."
"I'm sure he is," I breathe, reveling in the salty air. "But I think I got the better end of the deal."
He kisses my ear and I nuzzle against him. "I never get tired of this."
I smile and tap his nose. "And you think I don't? This is my relaxing time. I spend all day looking after Oriole and the rest of my family. I weave nets and help the hospital make those herbal mixtures. And I've got to plan, because as soon as he's old enough, Oriole and I are going to build houses in the outerlying districts. Peeta and Katniss had a daughter, so I'd love to go and see them too. Oh, and did I mention that Johanna and Gale have been in contact? It's sort of private, don't tell anybody."
"Who am I going to—"
I hold my finger up over his lips. "Shush, I'm not finished. So I plan all this. And it's very beautiful and busy. But at the end of the day, I know I'll fall asleep and wake up with you here. I couldn't have asked for a better arrangement, really."
Finnick laughs and pushes me over. "Oh, you're just using me for my body."
I giggle and find myself on my back in the sand, looking sideways at Finnick's green eyes. "No, but really." I reach out and rest my hand against his arm. "I used to wake up with my arms stretched out for you. I don't do that anymore."
He smiles his charming grin and kisses my forehead slowly. "That's because I'm holding you here," he murmurs, kissing my head again, "And here…" he moves down to kiss the corner of my jaw. "And…here…" he moves down so that he's kissing over my heart, which is now pounding heavily in my chest. "And…"
I suddenly pull him up and press my lips hard against his, feeling our teeth grind into our skin. Our bodies swell as we suck in the sweet air, never losing contact with each other. We're the ocean; tumbling, turning, twisting and sinking. I reach out and clasp his hand, our fingers digging into the sand. The sun is beginning to set on our ocean and the air begins to cool.
"Oriole will be awake soon," I say, finally lifting myself to my feet and brushing off the sand. I hold out my hand and help Fin up, who smiles and stretches with his arms up to the sky and his mouth open with a long satisfied groan. I've seen his son do the same thing time and time again. I look down out our clasped hands and remember the moment I had the other day. A few years ago, I remember walking on the beach alone and reaching out, pretending to hold Finnick's hand. It was before the dreams I had with him and I felt so lonely. But just the other day I was tucking Oriole in to bed and he said, "The lady at the market told me my dad was a hero, just like you said. Does everybody know him?"
I smiled and kissed his forehead. "He was a very popular hero back during the war. I'll explain more when you're older. Just know he was very brave and he loves you very much."
Oriole's eyes were drooping and he didn't notice me reach beside me and lace my fingers through an invisible hand resting on his footboard. It didn't feel lonely; it really felt like Finnick was there.
I look up from our hands and meet Finnick's eyes. "It's time for me to go," I whisper to him, hearing the voice of Oriole echoing off in the distance. He sighs and pulls me into a tight embrace.
"I love how you just always smell like the ocean," he says into my neck, "I think that's one of the things I missed most. And your freckles."
He kisses the spot between my eyes. "Oriole's starting to get them too," I tell him, "And you're messy mop of hair. Thanks a lot for that, by the way."
He smiles and kisses my lightly. I smile in spite of myself. "I'll see you tomorrow night, then?"
"Are you sure you don't want to stay just a little bit longer?" he sighs, looking at me. "Stay for the sun set, at least."
I groan and nod, "Alright, you've persuaded me. But I'd like my dress back. Even dream sand gets uncomfortable when the breeze picks up."
Finnick punches the air with victory and regretfully goes over and finds our clothes on the beach and holds out my dress. As I'm about to take it, he seems to think twice and then thrusts his tunic at me instead. I give him a look but he just smiles smugly and dumps the tunic into my arms. I shake my head and pull it on. It's long enough to cover, anyway. And it smelled like him. He pulls on his sandals and linen pants then invites me to sit with him on the beach as the sun turns a sorbet orange color. His fingers play absentmindedly with the white shell bracelet that's tied us together all these years.
It's incredible. Ever since my games, my minds been an unpredictable tide. Most people have a kind of barrier, like a reef, that keeps them from seeing all the horrors that the mind has to offer. But mine was broken, shattered entirely, and for the longest time I had no control over what came in to haunt me. I lived in fear of monsters and ghosts and my own memories. But it seems, finally, this open passageway has allowed me to enjoy something like I never have before. Finnick can sail in on his little fishing boat freely, since there's no reef to stop him. And as he enters, all the horrors and monsters stay at bay and leave me alone. Oriole fills my day with light, and in the darkness, I have Finnick to come and guard me. Maybe this is my reward for all the misery my loved ones and me had to go through. I'm not sure. I'm not even sure I ever deserved such happiness as this, but I'm not going to waste it. No, not one drop.
"I can't believe how beautiful it is here," Finnick says softly as the sun begins to dip its toes into the ocean.
"That's the thing about being crazy," I say with a smile, "You have the most vivid dreams."
Thirty-five years later.
My body feels very heavy, like there's a dense weight pressing me into the bed. It's not painful…just…lethargic. I'd heard what they all said, that it was a miracle I made it this far. I'd been exposed to so much in the capitol, most people with that much damage didn't last past their thirties. Especially the war veterans, we'd just been exposed to far too much radiation and chemicals and whatever else used to infect the former capitol. My friends are doing well, but of course Lillian makes sure they keep healthy. She tried with me, but honestly I was never built to last very long, anyway.
I can feel the warmth of Oriole's strong hand holding mine. I hear him singing softly too. He's always had the sweetest sounding voice.
"Out on the sea my love
There's a gray ship of shining glass
A white dove is sitting, singing
On the crystal mass…"
And then I'm on the beach. My beach. I look down and see the green velvet dress I wore on my wedding day. My hands move to feel it and I see all signs of age have washed away, and the paleness of my illness is gone. The shells on my wrist are blazingly white in contrast to my healthy skin. My hair is thick and dark, waving effortlessly in the salty breeze. I look up and see Finnick approaching the shore in the suit that he borrowed from Peeta for our wedding. It looks so out of place in the setting. His feet are bare, as are mine, when he steps out of his fishing boat and onto the sand.
"I've come to collect you," he says. I look at him and start to feel the weight of my body and the sheer weight of all the years start to lift.
"And out on the sea my love
The ship is sailing fast
Back home to the shore
Home my love at last."
"Is that Oriole's voice singing? It's lovely," Finnick says calmly. My eyes move slowly between him and the boat. I don't think I can speak yet, or really move. I suck in a breath and am back in the bed, with the smell of the candle burning near by wafting in the air and the dampness of my son's hand. We've already said our good-byes, Oriole and I. He knows how much I love him. Now he's here merely to hail me as my life sets sail. It's beautiful. I give his hand a gentle squeeze, to say once more I love him, once more good-bye. And to thank him.
"But 'til that day
The dove it comes it sails alone
Remembering the shore and land
How the breaking waves shone."
"You look beautiful," Finnick says. I'm back at the beach, and more of the heaviness is gone. I find I can turn my head. And when I part my lips, I can speak.
"It's time, then?"
He smiles and takes my hand, kissing me on the forehead. "It is."
"It comes to sing its song
To tell us of its tale,"
"And where are we going?" I ask. But I'm not afraid. I'm never afraid with Finnick there. The weight of the world is gone, and I feel nothing but an eerie peacefulness. Resolution almost, that I've lived a good life. That I'm okay. That it's time to move on. That there's no more time, from this point forward.
"We're going to sail 'til we see the shore," Finnick answers warmly. I smile and feel the same warmth spread through every inch of me.
"The ship of glass is sailing fast
The wind is in its sail."
He helps me step into the boat and then effortlessly pushes off the beach, getting in himself with barely any splash. The boat moves with the pull and tug of the waves and it begins to leave the shore to my seashell beach behind. The further it goes, the less I feel Oriole's warmth in my hand. But the more I feel loved, I feel whole. I feel the warmth of Finnick's essence beside me as we stand to salute the shore. I see the white specks of shells shrinking and shrinking until they're but little white diamonds on the sand. Finnick's hand slips into mine.
"So go to sleep and do not fear
For it glides on silver lining."
Oriole's voice is a beautiful echo over the water. Finnick's hand squeezes mine. It gives me the courage to turn and face the horizon, where the sun magnificent, beckoning us out to find the shore. Illuminating our forms until Finnick and I and draped in gold. We are made of light. We are warm. We are together. We are magnificent.
"The dove is coming for the shore
The ship it will be shining."