It's a bit significant, the fact that both my brother and Johanna Mason, Victor of the Seventy-first Hunger Games have come back to Twelve together, especially following his twenty-six months and thirteen days spent in self-imposed exile. Or term in government office. I suspect it is all the same to him. No one seems to be commenting on it, but Johanna, who was still pretty emaciated when last I saw her, has put on approximately five pounds, all in her breasts and stomach, and all in roughly three months. Now, perhaps I am assuming a lot, as I have yet to study female anatomy in any fashion other than the purely aesthetic though, I admit, I do that quite a bit. You can't help but stop and take notice when Susie Alberts' sister walks into the bakery and leans forward against the counter, pushing her glorious breasts forward in an attempt to get Peeta to notice her. Well, I guess you can't help but notice unless you happens to be Peeta, because he is absolutely oblivious, but I digress. Even if I didn't have prior knowledge (sworn to secrecy) of the fact, I would feel fairly certain that my brother's... companion is with child. I would then conclude, since they are both here together, that the child is his. Rory knows too, but he is off in the woods, as he has been since Gale's train arrived. My mother is not an idiot. She notices that Johanna looks different. Even Posy may have noticed but, as we sit down to dinner together, no one has brought it up.
I'll be damned if I'm the first to do so. I care for my older brother, who really has been more of a father to me than anything, but the war has made his behavior difficult to predict. And Johanna, well frankly, she is absolutely terrifying. So we sit and eat, while Posy gabs on and on about something of significance to a seven year old, but no one else. My mother is quiet, but she is not a talker. She never has been. I'm uncertain as to whether this state of affairs is a result of her natural personality, or the trauma of my father's early passing. Either way, it is irrelevant, because she is always quiet now. I suppose that's why Rory is so taciturn as well. Well, that, and the fact that she is gone.
I suppose you can't blame him. There really was no one like Primrose Everdeen.
Due to the rebellion, school in Thirteen had, for the most part, been shut down for any of those old enough for military training. I'm uncertain what President Coin and her ilk expected that I, with my atrocious eyesight, sad, spindly limbs and severe lack of hand-eye coordination, would be able to add to the war effort, but I was out there every day with Rory, Lenny Cartwright, and the other Twelve survivors our age, joining the few children that Thirteen had produced in the past two decades in learning how to kill other humans in hand-to-hand combat. I often wanted to suggest that I would be more useful learning the science behind the plague that had sterilized half of them, but at that point, I hadn't read enough to fully articulate such a sentiment. I only knew that stabbing dummies with bayonets was a poor use of my skill set. Also, it was incredibly embarrassing how awful I was at it. Lenny could even do it, and he could barely walk in a straight line half of the time.
Not like his sister. Oh his sister... and her girlfriend... the smart one... with the breadstick... at that party...
Prim noticed that I wasn't happy. Well, I actually believe she noticed that Rory wasn't happy, and then when she came to our room to see him, figured out that I could use some cheering myself. She had been lucky. Katniss would have disemboweled anyone who even suggested that her sister train for battle, so in order to keep their Mockingjay happy, officials in Thirteen had to find something else for Prim to do. Luckily, she made that easy - she already knew enough to be an apprentice healer in Twelve, so she was one of the chosen few who got to go to real school with books and computers and teachers who had an education themselves. She also had access to the most marvelous of all of Thirteen's resources - the library. When she discovered that I had a passing interest in science, at least, the little I knew about it from the four and a half books we had access to in Twelve, she brought me a notebook-sized device with a screen that had something called an encyclopedia installed on it, as well as stacks of books as high as herself on chemistry, biology, physics, and anatomy. Quickly my passing interest turned into an obsession. When she wasn't at school or in the hospital or spending time with her sister or... talking with my brother, she would sit with me and teach me what she had learned. I am forever in her debt.
What happened with Rory, I was, at the time, too caught up in the mysteries of chemistry (my favorite) to notice. But it was certainly something, because when she died, he just... stopped. It was as though he was turning into something, on the verge of adulthood, but then he just froze. He hates Gale now, and though I don't share his sentiment, I can't blame him. He can't really stand being around most anyone but Katniss nowadays, and even then, they hardly speak. He's building something in the woods right now. I'd imagine its a hermitage of some kind, which is fine, as long as he manages to live there without falling into a sinkhole or being mauled to death by wild dogs. He seems to want to spend the rest of his life alone with his heartache. I don't really know how he will be able to stand living the rest of his life without a girl, but since my heart is intact, and I am fifteen with hormones that dictate I think about girls during seventy-five percent of my waking conscious state and ninety-five percent of all REM sleep, maybe I am an unreliable judge.
I wonder what Susie Alberts' sister wears when she goes to bed...
The dinner table is not a good time for such considerations, so I focus instead on my brother's pregnant Valkyrie. Though I especially like girls who are voluptuous, curvy, and maybe just a little bit plump, like our most regular bakery customer, I have yet to find any girl that I do not find at least somewhat stimulating. Johanna is really quite stunning, but she is also loud, and mean, and good at embarrassing people, all characteristics that are rather... discouraging when I focus on them. Now she is gracelessly shoveling my mother's cooking into her mouth with absolutely no regard for any sort of table manners. Gale sits next to her, picking at food he would normally savor, which I know probably hurts the person who spent most of the afternoon cooking it.
"This is quite delicious, Ma," I say to reassure her that her efforts have not gone unrecognized. I know I sound like a damn fool, but the voice that speaks in my head does not have the drawling accent that I grew up with. I am not about to compromise my vocabulary just so I can sound normal. I'm also not going to stop calling my mother what I have called her for fourteen years in an attempt to sound intelligent.
I wonder what girls think when they hear me talk.
Gale nods, swallowing with difficulty. He takes a deep breath, and I find myself thinking "This is it," despite the fact that it is probably the most cliché phrase in the history of putting words together.
"Ma..." he starts. Our mother looks at him dispassionately, but her grey eyes are starting to flicker with something I've only ever seen in one other person, and that's Gale himself. I remember seeing it the day I tried to trade Posy to the Goat Man in exchange for a goat that I planned to train to carry me like a horse, or the time that Rory followed Katniss under the fence into the woods.
The look that says, "You are in so much trouble, boy."
I look over and see that Johanna's eyes are sparkling with excitement. Apparently she loves trouble.
"Ma, I have something to tell you," Gale begins again. He is stalling. I only ever remember seeing him like this when she caught him sneaking back from the slag heap when he was sixteen and I was ten.
"'Bout time," she says quietly, continuing to eat slowly, but poised like a cat, ready to pounce.
Gale is visibly sweating. He no longer looks shell-shocked, like he has from the minute he came in the door. No, he just looks petrified. I pity him. He is not any good at this, which is not surprising, as I don't think he has any practice in revealing such matters. Maybe he needs a bit of help.
"Johanna's pregnant with his child," I volunteer calmly.
Now he's looking at me with the flicker in his eyes. Only it's not a flicker. It's a raging flame. If he still lived here, I'd be dead.
But he doesn't. Conveniently.
"A BABY!" Posy cries out. "Really? You mean, I get to be an AUNT?"
"Thanks, Vick," Gale hisses under his breath. Johanna looks at me appreciatively, choking back a laugh.
"No trouble," I smirk, and then look back at Ma. She slowly sits down her cutlery and lays her hands on the table.
"When's the toasting?" she asks serenely.
Gale clears his throat. What follows is a pause that can only be, ironically enough, labeled as "pregnant," itself.
"There isn't going to be one," he mutters.
Ma pushes her chair away from the table and stands up slowly, gracefully. With even steps, she rounds the head of the table to Gale's seat, and then, like a snake, she grabs his collar and pulls him out of the chair.
"I had one rule, Gale Hawthorne," she snarls ominously, before yanking him out of room and pushing him through the front door, leaving it swinging open.
There is a scraping sound as three chairs are pushed away from the table all at once, and then Posy, Johanna, and I are all rushing after them.
"I told you when you were foolin' around with all them town girls that life was short and I didn't care what you did, long as you were careful and, if you weren't, that you did the right thing and married the girl," Ma is yelling in his face, still holding on to his collar. Across the way, Peeta, Katniss, and our only other neighbor are sitting around a fire. Almost as if they had planned for this eventuality. I bet the old drunk did, actually. I am regularly impressed with the cleverness of Haymitch Abernathy.
"Oh don't Ma!" Posy shouts, "It's a baby." She runs into the garden, making wide loops and shouting the same thing to herself over and over. Her excitement is admirable, I suppose.
Gale says nothing, and our mother continues, "And now you've gone and knocked up a good, sweet girl whose already been through hell, and you don't have the decency to man up and do the right thing!" I find myself wondering if perhaps she is confusing Johanna with someone else. "Who the hell do you think you are?" she continues. "I didn't raise up my son to be like this!" The volume of her voice is probably reaching all the way down to the town center. I know she's furious now, but I'm pretty certain at some point in the future, she will probably be happy about this child. I am, and I'm only an awkward juvenile. Her maternal instinct will eventually win out, no question.
I'd imagine that it's these very same instincts that have her shouting so intensely that little flecks of spit are flying the face of her oldest progeny. "If your father were here... Gale I just can't believe, after watchin' us struggle all these years you'd even think about leavin' a girl stranded like that."
"Ma, it's not like that..." Gale tries. He's almost whimpering, my stern, merciless older brother. The Minister or Defense for the entire nation. The man most men emulate.
Johanna and I look at each other. For the first time, I feel a strong sense of camaraderie with the mother of my future niece or nephew. She begins to snicker, and I start to giggle. Yes, giggle. There really is no other appropriate way of describing the sound I am making. It escalates, until we are laughing almost as loudly as Ma is yelling.
Johanna is really pretty when she laughs.
"It's rather stupid of him, not marrying you," I finally say, blushing just a little bit, glad she can't see in the low light.
"Kid," she grins, "I'm the one who won't marry him."
Hope springs eternal.