Today is a big, big day.
Of course, it would also be the one day that my hair, meticulously arranged, needs extra pins. So as everyone else left the house, I stayed behind, rooting in cabinets, drawers, and other nooks and crannies in a desperate attempt to find something that will hold back my hair. Both Katniss and her daughter are practical in these matters. Braids, twists, and things that seem to stay together through sheer force of will. So my hair hangs in ringlets down my back, the sort that he would have pulled at when I wasn't looking.
I open the door of the house quietly from the back, trying to sneak past the memories, clinging to trees as I go. But I know they can't be escaped. He is in the very ground.
It's then that I realize the girl is still here.
Today I showed Katniss how to twist her curls into the elaborate knot on her head and then I tucked the flowers into dark tresses, just as I did when she was small. But now she's a woman. The most lovely woman I have ever had the pleasure to know. She doesn't hear my approach, as I dig my soft fingers into the bark of the tree. I don't think I've ever snuck up on anyone before, all clicking and tsk-ing and yesyesyes-ing. But today is somehow different.
"I'm supposed to get married today, Haymitch," she says softly, peering under the edge of her veil, a fashion in Two but something very new here. The wind catches it, and blows it backwards, off of her face, and she laughs lightly, but I can see through the glimmer of the sun that her eyes are full with tears. I know I shouldn't be watching this, I should clear my throat loudly so we can go down to the square and get everyone lined up to have a wonderful party. But he loved her. And I loved him, even though I suppose I really never had the right.
So I have to listen.
"The thing is…" she pauses, and her voice cracks just the tiniest bit. "I can't stop thinking about what you said when I was little. That being married wasn't the only way to love a person. That sometimes, you just have to let her do what she wants to do, and know that she'll just keep on coming back. That you can even live your own lives in different places and go on loving all the same. And that sometimes its all complicated, even when you do." I feel myself trembling with the realization that against all that I've believed for so many years, he was talking about me. That we were more than just two lost souls clinging to each other. More than just the last of our kind, old relics watching our world die away.
The girl stands taller, as she continues, "You said that if anyone ever tries to make me do anything I know that isn't right, even if it's only not rightright now, that I should run for it. You said I could be, that I could do, anything I wanted. And Haymitch? I just don't think I want to do this."
She rips her veil off completely and throws it to the ground, pieces of her ornately knotted hair falling down in cascades around her. I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful sight in my entire life.
"I love Jasper, the silly idiot, I really do, but I'm only twenty," she sighs. "I want to know that I love him because he's worth loving, not because we grew up together and he's safe. There's a whole world and in the past few years I've realized that I've been hidden away from it for my whole life. Always had to be safe, always had to be protected, guarded from the cameras, from the crowds. I understand. I understand why you all did it, and I appreciate it, but I'm tired of safe. I want to see things for myself. I want to be able to try, and be able to fail. If everyone fought so hard to make this world for me, then I want to live in it."
"So I'm going, Haymitch," she gasps, as though they're arguing. "I'm going and if he loves me, then he's just gonna to have to wait, because I'm not ready."
After a long moment, she begins again, and her voice is soft once more "I wish you were here. I wish you were here to tell me that it's okay, that I can do this. And I wish you were here so I could tell you that I understand why you did what you did in the Games and in the War. That it's not your fault that Momma screams at night and Dad can't remember my name sometimes. I hope you knew that only reason I'm even alive was because of you. That you were the greatest hero I've ever known."
The tears are running down my face so thickly I feel like she must be able to hear them as they splash on the ground.
"But you're not," she says accusingly. "And maybe that's the only thing I can't forgive you for. Because you're not here for me to tell you how much you meant to me, to everyone. So I just have to live the way you taught me. And I know I never called you this, and you'd have killed me if I did, but I just want to say it. Just one time."
Ignoring her wedding dress, she kneels on the ground, and kisses it gently. Her words are whispered on the wind.
"I love you, Grandpa. I love you so much."
He's gone and he's here. I don't know how to live like this, caught in this limbo of memories, but I promised him I wouldn't stop, swore I wouldn't.
I'm leaning against the tree, chest heaving as I try to keep from scattering into a thousand different fragments of joy and grief when she runs past. She stops abruptly when she sees me, as though she's been caught.
"You're running, then," I clear my throat, digging my nails into the palm of my hand.
She nods with finality, "Please don't try to stop me."
"Well, I'm certain your father at least will appreciate it if I allow you to go," I try to joke because it's the only thing holding me together. "He never was Jasper's biggest admirer."
"I think I love him, Effie," she makes to explain through laughing tears, "I do. But I have to be sure. Tell Jasper that. You heard what I said, didn't you? Tell them all what I said. Try to explain. I can't… if I stop, I'll never leave."
"I'll tell them, darling."
She hugs me tightly, and makes to go.
She looks over her shoulder at me.
"He would have been proud of you, Hope, even though he might not have made it obvious. He'd just have said–"
"–'Get out of here, firefly,'" we finish together. Her eyes are glistening like diamonds through her tears. She's still not quite certain. Still waiting for approval.
"So get out of here, firefly," I choke out a laugh, but it resembles crying a great deal more.
As she runs, I slide to the ground, shaking like a leaf.
For a large portion of my life, the spotlight was the one thing I craved. I wanted to shine. I wanted attention. And now, as I walk through the crowd of people surrounding the bakery, I have never desired anything more in my life than to sink into the ground, away from their eyes. Peeta and Katniss look at me with alarm. Gale looks a million miles away.
Johanna looks furious. She's standing up, about to rush towards me, when I hold out my hand.
"I need to speak to Jasper, please," I say, drawing strength from of all of the years of decorum that I meticulously cultivated in the face of a body count that I slowly realized was my responsibility just as much as it was anyone else's. Jasper's parents, as well as Katniss and Peeta make to follow me into the bakery, but I stop, and turn around.
"Alone," I tell them sternly. The murmur of the crowd grows louder, but Jasper approaches, looking curious, but not nervous. Not nervous at all. He's handsome, this whirlwind of a young man. As we slowly enter the bakery, he doesn't say a word. I'm not sure if that's about to make this easier, or more difficult.
"Hope's not ready," I begin, when the door is closed behind me. "She felt…"
I shake my head. These words aren't mine. I need my own words.
"I apologize," I breathe. "Let me begin again."
"Jasper, from the time she was born, Hope and then her brother, have been protected more than any other children I think in the history of this nation. The extent to which people like Beetee, your father, and I worked to keep cameras and tourists out of District Twelve cannot be easily downplayed. The children of the Mockingjay and Peeta Mellark were to be left utterly alone. When Katniss' restrictions were lifted, and they could travel again, it was always under the greatest of security restrictions. Whole towns were put under watch just so their trains could pass through."
He grins knowingly, as though I'm not about to tell him that his fiancée has left him standing at the altar.
"She wouldn't have liked that at all if she knew."
I smile, just a little, because he is most definitely right. "I think she's finally realized what a protected, blissful haven her childhood was, Jasper. That there's an entire world outside District Twelve and the few places she's been allowed to visit. And she's ready to see it…"
I take a deep breath. I've never delivered a death blow, but this feels like it might be one, "…but she needs to do it alone." I breathe heavily, and there is an expectant silence.
Instead of, sullen sadness, heartbroken tears, or even mad rage, I'm greeted by laughter and the pull of centrifugal force on my heavy curls, as the young man suddenly picks me up and spins me around.
"W-w-what?" I ask, trying to keep from being sick as the world whirls around me.
Quick as he lifted me up, he abruptly drops me, and then runs out of the bakery.
I dash after him, only to see him climbing the hill to Victor's Village as fast as he can, his long legs pumping, and his tie trailing over his shoulder. Without knowing why, I follow, kicking off my heels so I can run, despite my age.
Decorum be damned.
"What the hell is going on, Trinket?" Johanna bellows.
I look over my shoulder to see that both she and Gale, as well as Katniss and Peeta, are chasing after me. Since they are quite a bit younger, they are likely to overtake me in a matter of seconds, despite Peeta's bad leg. The rest of the crowd is not far behind.
As he runs, Fletcher Mellark begins to sing a ridiculous song about runaway brides that he may just be making up as he goes. Lindy Alberts, the maid of honor, giggles at him, and he winks back at her like a rogue. Alder Hawthorne and Nick Odair seem to be racing each other, the former behaving more like a child than I have ever seen in my life, despite the fact that he is thirty years old. From out of nowhere, Juniper Hawthorne overtakes all of us. With little effort, she reaches her twin's side. They look at each other as they take long deerlike strides. Whatever they are communicating to each other, they say without words. Then she slows at the same time that he picks up speed.
When Jasper reaches the Mellark house, he grabs the side of the old trellis and pulls himself up, climbing the house as easily as ascending a ladder. He clambers up the roof, scaling the gables until he's grasping onto the sturdy brass weather vane and stretching his long body as far out as he can with no regard whatsoever for his safety. He shields his eyes to look out over the valley. Finally, he seems to find what he's looking for, and he drops his hand.
"Hope!" the groom roars, grinning like a maniac. The entire crowd falls completely silent, looking to each other, and to the parents of the bride and groom for answers which are obviously not forthcoming.
"I love you, girl!" the young man's shout echoes through the mountains. "This whole running away business? It doesn't change a thing about that! You want to see the world alone? Well, I'll give you a three months head start!" The crowd murmurs in confusion. This is most definitely the most bizarre wedding any of us have ever attended. Plutarch would have given entire right arm to film it.
"But you'd better be clever, moonbeam, if you wanna stay away from me, 'cause there isn't a thing in this world that's gonna stop me from finding you once I start to look!" His hair is blowing in the wind, and he looks madly, wildly, passionately alive, and in love. It's as though, instead of getting married, all he wanted out of this day was for his bride to run away. To run away so he could find her again.
Everyone gathers at the crest of the hill, looking down. There by the tracks is a small figure with her white dress hitched up to her knees. She's running as fast as she can to grab onto the last train car as it pulls out of the station. There's a moment when I think she almost won't make it, but then she reaches hard, her fingers connect with the railing, and she swings herself up into the car. The crowd sighs in relief, but their reaction is nothing compared to the boy on top of the house.
"You see her? You see that girl!" Jasper shouts joyously. "I'm gonna marry her someday! You hear me, Hope Mellark?" he calls at the top of his voice, the woods reverberating with his ecstatic, ludicrous joy. "I'm gonna marry you someday!"
She leans out of the car and waves her veil victoriously, and I'm almost certain I hear her call back.
"You're gonna have to catch me first, Jasper Hawthorne!"
In the depths of my heart, the memory of Haymitch laughs until I can feel it in my toes.