Author's Note: It's finally here. The end of this journey. I am thankful to all of those who have stuck around despite my erratic updates, and to those who have encouraged me to finish writing it. Thank you so much. Please enjoy.
He chases her around the yard, her squeals ringing in my ear and making me tense up, even after all this time. I have to remind myself that they're just playing, that she's not screaming from fear. And I tell myself, It's just Peeta. Peeta will keep her safe.
I glance up from the laundry basket to watch her stumble on chubby legs – my daughter, her dark curls bouncing around her face as she runs from her pursuer. My husband plods along behind her, his arms raised to make himself scarier, but a grin is plastered on his face and it ruins the effect. I smile at the scene and go back to my chores.
She'll be three in a few weeks. It's hard to believe that it's already been three years. She has filled my life with so much joy that I can't imagine what it would be like without her. I think back to how terrified I was, how scared of how she might not love me. It's all a bad dream now. When she looks at me her blue eyes light up, and she calls me "Mama" and kisses my cheek when I lift her into my arms. My smile grows.
I still have episodes every now and then, though the medicine my mother gave me has helped me significantly. I feel next to normal on most days. The days that aren't so good, I usually stay in bed. Peeta will watch Grace on those days, or my mother, but she will always manage to sneak into the room and crawl into bed with me and just curl herself up in my arms. She doesn't squirm, doesn't talk, just whispers "I love you, Mama," and kisses me and falls asleep. A guilty part inside of me wishes I weren't so distant on those days, wishes that I could express to my daughter how much I love and cherish her, but my illness won't let me. I make up for it on better days, swinging her around and holding her close to me. I never wanted to be closed off to my child, but my mother and Peeta encourage me that it's not my fault. Peeta says that Grace understands, that when asked where I am on bad days, she replies simply, "Mama is sick," and goes about her business. For that I am grateful. I was never an understanding child towards my mother. I am undeserving of one so gracious to me.
I look back up at my family. Grace is sitting in the grass, picking dandelions. If only she knew how important that weed was, how much it contributed to her own existence. My eyes move to Peeta, and he glances over at me, smiling a smile that has always been for my eyes only. His eyes are bright, and he looks back to our daughter and begins weaving the flowers she has picked into a crown that he places on her head. She squeals in delight.
She runs to me and climbs into my lap, throwing her arms around me and chattering about how she is princess now. I look over her head at my husband's laughing face, and I nod and tell her she is the most beautiful princess in all of Panem. All at once she decides that she wants down, and she toddles off to the adjoining yard where Haymitch has his geese fenced up and begins telling them a story. They squawk and ignore her, but she doesn't notice. Peeta comes onto the porch and leans down, brushing a kiss to my temple and wrapping his arms around me. We admire our little creation in adoring silence, holding onto each other and smiling.
"Bout time for another one, don't you think?" he asks in a low voice, and I roll my eyes. He's been on this kick for the last year.
"One's enough," I reply per usual, shrugging out of his embrace and picking a towel from the basket to fold. He just smirks at me. He knows he's going to win this one like he did the last time, in the end. I ignore him.
"For now," I add eventually, and he grins and kisses me. I shake my head and shove him back onto the lawn, and he laughs and walks over to Grace, who is now antagonizing the geese with a rendition of her favorite song. I can hear her from where I sit, and her little voice washes over my ears, echoing of the voice of her grandfather, who is never far from my thoughts these days.
That night, as we put her to bed, I sing to her the same song, and she sings it with me. The same song I sang to her when she was born, and the song I'll be singing to her till long after she's grown.
"You'll never know dear, how much I love you, so please don't take my sunshine away."