I run out of the house and down the road, through the meadow into the woods and get to where we always do. Caspar is sat down on a tree stump with a piece of rope in his hands. I watch for a while as he knots and unknots the rope, before sitting on the ground in front of him.
"Hey" I whisper, not making eye contact.
"What's up?" he says, without taking his eyes off the rope. He can tell without looking at me how I'm feeling.
"Mum's in hospital, dad's not taking it very well. Oh and he's worried about me spending time with you" I say. That gets his attention.
"What's wrong with your mum?" he puts the rope down, and shifts to one side of the tree stump, patting it, signalling me to come and sit with him. I do as he suggests and sit next to him.
"I don't know, my dad didn't tell me" I sigh.
"Why was he worried about you seeing me? We just chat. That's it."
"I think he thinks there's something going on between us"
"Oh. Well I can see why, I mean, I am gorgeous" He jokes, putting on a fake seductive voice and striking a pose. I can't help but laugh; he's beautiful and he knows it. He's only lived in 12 for 8 days, he moved the day before school started, came from 4 apparently.
"Obviously." I joke back "But I mean, I should be able to see whoever I want. I should be able to go out with whoever I want." I say with authority in my voice "…Not that anyone would want to go out with me though"
"And why would that be?" he asks.
"Well because I'm not like the other girls at school. I don't have olive skin or dark hair or grey eyes. I'm not small and bony. I'm 'well fed' and have blonde, curly, uncontrollable hair and green eyes." I sigh, holding my head in my hands. I feel Caspar put one arm around my shoulders.
"Hey… You're right. You're not like the other girls. You're better. I never did like people who blended in. You stick out like a sore thumb and I love it. Your hair is curly and uncontrollably, but it's beautiful. Your eyes are amazing, they remind me of home. And who wants to hug a bag of bones?" he rants. I look into his eyes and can't stop the small smile that creeps onto my face.
I've known this boy for a week and he's already been there for everything. He's the only friend I have at school, other than Ivy, but she's more Bae's friend than mine.
"Hey, are you hungry?" I ask from the branch above him.
"Hmmm. Yeah I guess. You wanna stop off at the bakery?"
"Are you kidding? My dad will be at work by now, he'd see us. He already hates me for leaving after he told me not to. I don't want to upset him even more"
"What happened to 'I should be able to see whoever I want'" He mimics.
"Fine." I sigh, jumping off the branch and onto the ground.
"Come on" he grabs my hand and pulls me with him.
We run out of the meadow and through the streets. I watch as we pass every shop in 12, Cinna's and the bookshop and the school, before we stop just outside the bakery. He squeezes my hand as we head through the doors. No one is in; it's past lunch time though, so rush hour is over. My heart stops when dad walks through the kitchen door into the bakery itself. He stops to look at us for a minute, but carries on with whatever it is he's doing.
"So you're Caspar?" Dad asks, turning around and dusting the flour of his hands with his apron.
"Yeah, nice to meet you Mr Mellark." He smiles working his charm on one more person, holding out his hand.
"You too" Dad says, shaking it. I'm surprised at his tone. He seems to have calmed down. "so… you and forest…" He looks at our hands, I was forgetting that they were still linked together.
"Dad! It's not like that" I hiss.
"Well, I should probably get going, look after mum, you know." Caspar adds.
"Yeah, I urr…well it was nice meeting you Caspar" he nods.
"You too, sir." He says before turning to me and giving me a hug. "See you tomorrow" he sighs and leaves the bakery.
Later that evening when dad gets back from work, he comes and sits next to me on the sofa. I turn the radio down and just look at him. He still hasn't mentioned our argument earlier.
"Hmm" I say, preparing myself for a lecture.
"I'm sorry" he says, catching me off guard. "I shouldn't have shouted at you earlier and you were right; I've been a bit unfocussed today. It's just that. Well with your mum being in the hospital and…"
"I know dad. I shouldn't have gone out though"
"No no. I don't mind. Caspar seems…" he chooses his words carefully "…he seems trustworthy."
"You'll see. He just seems like a good kid."
"No dad, tell me. What do you mean?"
"You really don't see it?"
"See what?" I ask. He laughs at me as if I were the most naïve person he's ever met.
"The way he looks at you. He likes you forest."
"Oh, yeah sure he does" I say sarcastically. "How would you know"
"Well what?" I question. "Come on, tell me"
"It's the same way I used to look at your mum" he sighs. I'm baffled.
"You what?" I gasp. "No. He doesn't like me like that. Trust me dad. We're just friends, he's like my brother." Dad laughs again.
"That's what your mum said about uncle Gale."
"Uncle Gale?" I repeat. "Dad? Why did I never hear about this?"
"I don't know. But you didn't hear it from me, Ok? Besides, he liked your mum when they were kids and she never saw it. I didn't ever know how she missed it. It seemed so obvious to me, and everyone else. I guess you got that gene."
"Hey!" I protest.
"Hey! What? It's not me that's missing the obvious."
I couldn't stop thinking about it after he said it. What if dad is right? He couldn't be, right. No. We're just friends. But then he said that stuff about how I stick out from the crowd. Maybe dad's right. No. He couldn't be. Could he? I convince myself both ways for a while, arguing with myself in my head.
When I crawl out of bed the next morning, Bae is staring at me from the hallway. I must have fallen asleep with the door open.
"Bae, what are you staring at?"
"You, you're gonna be late!" he says, running down the stairs. Late for what? Oh no, school! I rush into my uniform and grab a bread roll as I run out of the door. "
"Bye dad" I shout as I pass him on his way to work.
School itself is pretty boring but I keep trying to sneak a glance at Caspar whenever I can. He doesn't make eye contact; in fact, I think he deliberately avoids me at school. On the way home, I catch sight of him.
"Caspar!" I call from behind. He knows I've seen him this time, he turns around and forces a smile.
"Oh, hey. Haven't seen you much today" He sighs.
"Ok, what's up?" I say it straight, there's no point in beating around the bush.
"What? Why would anything be up?"
"Well you've been avoiding me all day." I state. "And you don't look happy. Not like you usually do"
"It's nothing. I promise." I stop him from walking on.
"Ok fine, it's mum" he sighs. "She saw the picture of dad I found and freaked out."
"You… You found a picture of your dad?" He nods and pulls out a small photograph of a man, who looks identical to him.
"It's not the clearest picture… but it's all I've got." We stand in silence for a while, admiring the photo.
"Hey" I break the silence. "If your mum isn't very…" I trail off. "Why don't you come to mine for a while" I rephrase the question.
"Ok" He whispers and we head back to my house.
Bae must be home by now, I think to myself; we're kind of late home. When we do eventually get back to mine, I unclick the door to shouting. I run to where the noise is coming from, followed eagerly by Caspar, to find Dad Screaming up a riot. I can't make out what he's saying, but he has Bae by the neck and is pinning him against the wall.
"Bae?!" I screech trying to find an explanation for what's going on. He tries to say something, but all he can manage is stutters and gasps.
"Dad?! Dad? Can you hear me?" I try and communicate with him, but it's like he's in a trance. I run and desperately try to free my brothers neck from his grip.
"What should I do?" I hear Caspar plead.
"Urrh. Get uncle Haymitch. He's next door. Tell him it's urgent" I panic, clawing at my dad's fingers in some sort of attempt to save Bae; he's finding it harder and harder to breathe, and I can tell from the evident whiteness of his face.
"Loverboy?" I hear Haymitch, who seems surprised; in a way that comforts me, to know that I'm not the only the only one shocked by these events. But it also concerns me that my dad is shocking even Haymitch. Dad lets go of Bae immediately at the sound of his voice. I look at Bae and tell him to stand with Caspar; out of dad's reach. Dad says nothing but turns back to find that Bae has gone; his next action is to punch me, just missing my eye. I step back wincing, with my hand on my face and my jaw open; half from shock, half from pain.
"Forest, go to Cinna's. Explain everything. I'll look after your dad" Haymitch tells me. I nod and take Caspar's hand. He's got Bae over one shoulder already; knowing that he still can't quite breathe properly. Just as we leave I hear my dad shriek something that makes me feel sick.
"Good. Leave. You're both mutations just like your mother."