Author's Note- For Prompts in Panem Day 2: A day in the life of the Mellark Brothers. A huge thanks to Chelzie for her cheetah fast beta skills.
I miss them. No matter how long passes since they have been gone, I can't dispute that simple fact. My family wasn't perfect, but I loved them. I even loved my mother—though I will never be certain if she loved me even for a second. Maybe I love them more now that they are gone. It's easier to paint over the bad parts and to see only the good. I remember the golden moments in between. Sometimes, when I am alone in the bakery, I remember quiet mornings when Matthew, Luke, Dad, and I would all be hard at work preparing the days goods. I look up from the bread that I am kneading, and it's almost like they are still there working with me. Of course, those times make the realization that they are gone even harder.
It's been ten years to the day since the bombs fell over the district. I suppose that the occasion is worth noting. Though I don't understand why a decade is more important than all of the years preceding it. The new mayor has declared a day of remembrance, and there will be a dedication ceremony in the town square. Where once we had lined up for Reapings, now stands an elegantly carved monument bearing the names of those who died in the bombing. Each name is carved into the granite structure that rises up like a massive tombstone. Despite the fact that the thing has the names of my family upon it, I feel no attachment to it. I don't need it as a reminder of how long they have been gone. I remember well enough on my own.
Katniss was nowhere to be found when I woke this morning. She probably slipped out silently into the pre-dawn hours with her bow in hand to avoid the whole thing. I don't blame her, nor do I really want her here anyway. With the bakery closed for the day, I take advantage of my solitude, going about my morning at my own pace. It's odd to drink my coffee alone and at such a late hour. I don't bother to make breakfast, because my stomach feels like lead.
From my window, I can see the residents of the Victor's Village heading out of their homes to attend the dedication and have picnics. Many of them didn't live here before the rebellion. Though they all carry their own terrible memories of the war, they don't have the painful memories of this place before. To them, it is a reason to celebrate the victory and nod to fallen by enjoying their freedoms. In a way, I hate them for it. Still, I watch them make their way to town.
I can't avoid the pall that the day has thrown over my mood. Years ago, I would have ended up shivering in a corner and crying like an infant, or, at the very least, losing myself into the abyss of rage. But I have managed to control my episodes. Today, I simply pull a box from the closet and begin to rifle through the contents until I find what I am looking for.
The photograph is wrapped up carefully and lies within the back of the frame, taunting me for my cowardice. I take a deep breath and turn it over. My own face—though a much younger version—smiles out from the center flanked by my brothers. Matthew stands to my right; his tall, brawny form and handsome face reminding me very much of our father. To my left, is Luke—sly and slender, as always. The grief I feel staring at them is still like a knife in my gut. I don't want to remember that day, but I do.
I turned fifteen that morning. Mother didn't believe in celebrating our birthdays, but Dad insisted on it. It was one of the few things that he truly stood up to her on. He made a small cake for us, and we were usually given a new shirt (to be worn for Reapings and other special occasions) as a present. The real treat, though, was that we were allowed to sleep in. That year, however, things were a little different.
Matthew woke me late in the morning, still wearing his flour covered apron and a grin. "Good morning, birthday boy," he said as he pulled the covers from me.
I rolled over and yawned lazily. "Good morning," I mumbled.
"C'mon, get up. Birthday or not, Mom is pitching a fit about how many customers are waiting in line," he told me with a sigh.
At eighteen, Matthew was no longer the subject to most of our mother's venom. Things had changed when he had gotten big and brave enough to stand up to her. A little over a year after I had tossed Katniss those loaves of bread, Mom had gone after him her favorite rolling pin. He'd grabbed it in mid-swing and ripped it out of her hands. She never went after him like that again—didn't come after Luke or I either, when he was around. Still, none of us intentionally pissed her off.
I dressed quickly and made my way to the bakery. Luke was leaning on the door when I arrived. He tossed me a stale roll from the day before on my way by. "Princess Peeta awakens, and graces us with his presence," he teased, giving me a mock bow.
"I didn't give you shit on your birthday," I grumbled as I took a big bite.
Luke smirked and ruffled my hair. "All right, I'll lay off you for the day."
The morning at the bakery was unremarkable. Customers came and went with the usual pace. Mom was right about us being busy. Being the only bakery, we did a fair bit of business. Though most of the miners couldn't afford our wares on a regular basis, the merchants kept us afloat. The line waned just before noon, and we closed up shop just long enough to eat lunch.
After we finished our sandwiches, my father proudly presented me with a cake. It wasn't like the ones we sold in the shop. This one was smaller and not nearly as elegantly decorated, but it was for me. I can still remember my own name written in orange icing in my father's practiced hand. Mom sniffed indignantly about how much he indulged me, but none of us listened to her much. Matthew cut the cake, and Dad presented me with a wrapped box. I smiled at the package, but didn't rush to open it. It was, I supposed, just another shirt.
"Well," Dad prompted, "Open it, Peeta."
Luke licked at his frosting covered fingers. "Yeah, hurry and open it. You may actually like your gift this year."
I raised a brow, and began tugging at the wrapping. My heart stopped in my throat when I lifted the lid. It was an art kit, complete with acrylic paints and brushes. I blinked several times trying to make myself come out of this dream. There was no way I was actually being given an art kit, but there it was, still in front of me. I had wanted one forever. The art supplies in school were rationed out so stingily that I never got to draw or paint anything I wanted to. Having an art kit like this of my very own was something that I dreamed about, but never actually thought would happen. Mom kept reminding us that we didn't have the kind of cash it took to be frivolous.
"I...I don't know what to say," I stammered, still in shock. "Thank you!"
"Happy Birthday, son," Dad said as he kissed the top of my head.
Luke and Matthew crowded in beside me to admire my present. I didn't want to let them touch anything, but didn't say anything as Matthew pulled a brush out and examined it. "What will you paint first?" he asked.
Luke sniggered. "I know what he should paint."
I grimaced. Luke had seen me staring at Katniss on the way home from school a few months earlier and had been teasing me mercilessly about it since.
"You should ask Katniss Everdeen to pose naked for you," he whispered, just loud enough for Matthew and I to hear.
"Don't be an asshole," I snapped.
Matthew chuckled. "She's not bad looking for a Seam girl."
"What was that?" Mom demanded shrilly.
"Nothing, ma'am," we replied in unison.
"There'll be no talk about Seam girls in this household," she scolded.
"Let them be, dear," Dad said lightly. "Come, boys, I want to take a picture."
It was the last picture taken of the three of us. Oh, sure, there was plenty of time to have another one taken before they died, but so much happened. The Games derailed my life so profoundly that it was almost like I was no longer a part of the family afterward. There was too much getting in the way. We were never just "us" again. For the most part, I blame myself for that. I let a wall come up between us. Now, on this day of remembrance, I would give anything for just one more day with them.
I wrap the photo back up and put it back in the box. Maybe someday, I will be strong enough to display it on the mantle. Maybe, if we have kids, I will be able to tell them stories about their long dead uncles. I'll tell them how honorable Matthew was, and how funny Luke was. I could tell them what a wonderful man their grandfather was. Hell, maybe, I will even lie and say their grandmother was a loving woman.
Just as I finish putting away the box, I hear the back door open.
Katniss strolls in and takes off her boots in the kitchen. She doesn't say anything right away, so the burden of conversation falls on me.
"How was the forest?" I ask.
She shrugs. "I caught a few rabbits and dropped them off at Sae's. How was your day?"
"Fine," I lie.
"You didn't go to the memorial," she says softly. She already knows I didn't. Though we didn't talk about it, Katniss knows that I am almost as private as she is about these things.
I shake my head.
The silence stretches for a moment, but then a thought occurs to me. There is something that I should have asked her a long time ago.
"Katniss, would you do something for me?" I ask. Maybe remembrance isn't always such a bad thing. And maybe Luke's suggestion had some merit.