Gloria comes bounding down the stairs wearing her favorite dress, a green cotton one with small pink flowers on its thin white collar. Her socks are mismatched in a way I'd notice but probably nobody else would. Over them she's slipped on her low boots. I lean down to tie the laces when she reaches the bottom of the stairs, grateful she hasn't tripped. I've told her we'll go get ice-cream after our "errand," so she's very excited.
"Daddy braided my hair!" Gloria squeals as she shakes her head back and forth proudly. Her two braids alternately smack her lightly in the face as Peeta laughs.
"I'm not sure I did as good a job as your Mama, Gloria," he tells her.
As the three of us walk out of the house I consider how I once believed this day would never come. I know Peeta feared it wouldn't. Today Gloria will officially be recognized as our daughter and a resident of District 12. We're all surprisingly quiet during our walk to town, even Gloria. She can't understand the meaning of all this, but she must sense something important is happening.
The sun warms my shoulders as we near the Justice Building. As I enter I'm grateful that this new building doesn't bear any of the terrible memories of saying goodbye that the old Justice Building would have borne for Peeta and me. Gloria stamps her little feet extra loud on the polished stone floors and listens as the sound of her steps echoes off the four walls and high ceilings of the buildings atrium. During the building's construction Peeta and I came here to get our marriage license. At the time only a small room was finished enough for use. Like most of District 12 the building barely existed then, yet visiting it was essential to starting our married life together. Now, we visit to finalize a new phase of life.
We stop at the records office where the clerk grins at us. Everyone knows who we are even if we don't know them by name. Gloria jumps up and down and asks Peeta how many ice-cream flavors she'll have to choose from while I talk to the clerk. I don't have to say much.
"Mellark, right?" She asks as she shifts a folder across her small desk toward me. "The papers arrived yesterday."
I glance at the crisp white papers and then read them thoroughly. They finalize the transfer of custody of "Gloria Robertson" from the Central Orphans' Home to "Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen Mellark, her biological parents." They make no mention of Helena, and I knew they wouldn't. Peeta and I plan to make sure that Gloria never forgets Helena, though. These papers don't erase Gloria's past. They officially establish her future.
"Is everything correct?" the clerk asks.
"Yes, but we need a name change form also."
"No problem," she answers.
She puts the form in front of me, and I carefully write out our desire to change Gloria's name to "Gloria Helena Mellark." Yes, it's a Capitol sounding name except for the last name, but Gloria is a District 12 girl in the making. That's what matters. Peeta's teaching her to write her name as part of her "art lessons." I'm just thankful he's breaking her of writing on the walls with her crayons, a habit she picked up a month or so ago.
I sign my name confidently and then pass the pen to Peeta. The clerk signs her name as our witness. Then she looks at Gloria.
"Did you know that you can sign these papers too?" she asks Gloria. "The law says you can."
Panem's new government has been very careful to recognize the value of those that the old government devalued, including the very young and the very old. That recognition includes small gestures like including children, at least symbolically, in all legal matters pertaining to them. The new ways of doing things aren't perfect, but they show a certain respect for people as human beings that the old Panem never showed. The respect trickled down to even Peeta and me, recognizing us as victors and war veterans. "Victor" had come to mean in the Capitol what it always had meant in the districts. A victor was merely a victim who had been forced to victimize others but survived to escape the arena only to endure further victimization.
The clerk circles around her desk and kneels down, "Gloria, these papers say that you will live with your Mother and Father, Katniss and Peeta until you are grown up. If you like that idea then you can draw on the paper just like your Mother and Father did."
It strikes me as odd for a four year old child who can't quite write her name to be asked to do this, but that is the way of change. The pendulum often swings from one extreme to another. I don't really disagree with my daughter's new "right" to state her opinion, but I wonder if she'll even understand what the clerk is saying.
"I want Mama and Daddy," she says.
That's enough for the clerk. She puts the paper on the chair beside Gloria and gives Gloria a pencil.
Gloria scribbles a "G", and then she starts to draw something. Maybe a person? Peeta laughs. I shake my head.
When her chubby hand stops moving the pencil around the clerk says, "Finished?"
After going to get the promised ice cream Gloria wants to visit Haymitch, so we stop by there. Peeta and I sit on the back porch swing, me sprawled over his lap, while Gloria chats with Haymitch about how she got to draw a picture at the justice building and ice cream flavors.
"My favorite is butter pecan," Haymitch tells our little girl. "What's yours?"
"Bubblegum is pretty, but mint tastes the best," she says.
"Mint?" Haymitch says. "Somehow it doesn't surprise me that an Everdeen's child would choose mint."
She stares at him, unaware of the meaning of his joke.
Haymitch clears his throat and tries again. "So, your Daddy said you drew a picture on the Justice Building?" He teases.
"No, Hay-May. On paper," Gloria says with a cackle.
Satisfied with her amusement, Haymitch pats her on the head.
And suddenly I know this would have happened anyway. That what I needed to become a parent was not to decide to be one or feel ready to be one, but to simply accept that I was a parent already and let my daughter into my heart. Peeta did that the day we first saw Gloria, but it took me a little longer. Now that I know how, I'll never stop letting myself love Gloria. My daughter is proof that wonderful gifts can come from the most unexpected places and in the most extraordinary ways. Sometimes all you have to do is accept them
"I think I want another one," I blurt out to Peeta
Peeta looks down at me. He'd probably been dozing off, and I immediately feel awkward for disturbing him with something I know will be an important discussion. I'm so bad with words and worse at knowing when to talk.
"What did you say?" he asks sleepily.
He won't let it go. It's either lie to him by telling him something other than what I was thinking or tell the truth. I've learned to tell Peeta the truth.
"I want another child," I admit, then pause before adding. "I think." I look away, not wanting to see his reaction.
Peeta grasps my hand.
"You never stop surprising me, Katniss."
"Does that mean you are happy that I feel that way?" I ask tentatively, stealing a glance at his eyes once more. "I mean, we both had siblings. I want that for Gloria, and I'm not afraid of being a mother anymore. We could love another one and take care of him."
Peeta rubs his thumb against the side of my hand slowly.
He lowers his voice to a whisper, "you know I want another one. We should talk about it some more, but yes. Hearing you say that makes me very happy."
I feel his other hand on my cheek, then behind my head tilting it back as he leans down.
"I love you," he says once our eyes meet. He kisses me gently for just a moment before we hear a small voice say, "Ewwww, yuck!"
Pulling away from Peeta I turn to find Gloria watching us from the yard, Haymitch at her side carrying food for the geese.
"I know, I know," Haymitch tells her sympathetically. "They are disgustingly happy sometimes."
[AN: Thank you so much for reading. I do apologize for the lengthy delay in publishing this epilogue. I had trouble being satisfied with it, and I think I also had trouble letting this story go. Special thanks to my friend Loueze for her continued advice, support, editing, and role as "plot adviser." Please review if you can to let me know what you think of the closure to the story!]