My eyes are bleary with sleep when I finally wake up wrapped in a cocoon of twisted blankets. Groaning I rub them, adjusting to the brilliant sunlight which is finding its way through the window to spill out on the floor. Reaching out a hand I turn the small bedside clock to face me and sigh when I realise its already eleven o'clock. Gone were the days of being up before the crack of dawn to hunt. I miss those days. I miss having something to get out of bed for.
I clamber from my warm nest, and hop across the floor into a pair of sheepskin slippers and a jumper. The air has a cold chill in it and I wonder whether Haymitch will have lit the fire.
My gut squirms horribly as I try desperately not to remember the activities of last night, but my reflection in the mirror betrays me, my cheeks already tinged a dark shade of pink. I gulp and run my fingers through my knotted hair, eventually settling to tie it into a loose bun, if for no other reason that I cannot be bothered to brush it.
As I make my way downstairs a comforting warmth greats me, and instead of the usual drone of the news reporter there are small cracks and pops as wood burns in the hearth. The flames entice me and I can't help but draw closer to it, its heat stirring something inside of me. I'm glad he decided to light it. It feels almost...homely. I'm reaching my hands out to it when there's a sound from behind me, a clanging of pots in the kitchen. I withdraw them and glance nervously towards the open door.
I suddenly feel very hot standing in front of the fire and a bead of perspiration forms and rolls between my shoulder blades. What if he knows? Surely he won't, he can't. But...what if?
I take small steps to the kitchen, my stomach whirling and twisting. He's here, his back to me as he stands working at something over the stove. He's whistling a small tune of some song that I don't know, and I sit down quietly at the table, drawing my knees to my chest and watching him work.
He turns with a pan of fried eggs in his hands, his mouth pursed in a half whistle and jumps half a mile when he sees me.
"Jesus Katniss!", he exclaims, righting himself and pushing the eggs onto two separate plates, "scared me half to death".
"Sorry" I mutter, picking up a fork and spearing the centre of the egg so that the perfectly formed bubble of yolk breaks and runs in yellow rivets around the plate. Haymitch hands me a piece of toast and sits down himself as I mop up the juices and savour the taste on my tongue.
I look across at him as I eat and watch as he takes a large bite of bread and then wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. I frown down at my own breakfast and then look to him again, trying secretly to study his face, his mannerisms. He's certainly not unattractive. His grey eyes are alive and bright, his mouth firm and thin, but this isn't the same man as in my dreams last night, the one that made my insides burn. This is just - Haymitch. Mentor. Friend. Nothing else. I relax and begin to breathe normally again when I realise that I'm not attracted to my mentor, that I don't have to worry about a forbidden lust that I may inadvertently be harbouring.
"I was wondering if - if you'd had a chance to read those letters yet? You know, the ones from your mother, and Gale?" he says innocently after a few minutes of me secretly studying him, as if he's engaging in polite conversation about the weather. He keeps his eyes down at his plate, carefully letting his egg soak into the bread. I narrow my own eyes dangerously at him.
"No. No I haven't" I tell him. He nods and pushes the entire slice of toast into his mouth in one go. I shake my head and return back to my own breakfast, eating in silence until Haymitch excuses himself to take a shower.
That's our routine now. He cooks and I do the washing up. When did we become like this? So domesticated? So normal? I plunge my hands in the soapy water and listen to the shower above, just making out the faint tune of a whistle again.
If truth be told, I'd almost forgotten about the letters. I'd stuffed them into a draw, out of sight, out of mind. I don't think I want to read them, just another painful reminded of what I had once had, and what I've now lost. But maybe I should. Maybe they have something important to say. Maybe I should read them.
The sink makes a gurgling choking sound as I empty out the water and dry my hands. I run my fingers through the hair, pulling out the bun and letting it fall down my back. It could really do with a cut I think to myself as I head upstairs, closing the door firmly shut behind me. I sit on the bed cross legged, staring at the chest of draws and drumming my knuckles nervously on my knee.
Do I or don't I read them? Will they make everything better, or will they make everything just so much worse? Oh God I don't know. I just don't know. I lean forward hesitantly, debating with myself in my head, before a side wins and I push myself off the bed and open the draw, rummaging around through socks and knickers until my finger tips brush against the crumpled paper.
I withdraw my arms and stare at the two envelopes in my hands, a small piece of the people I used to love. It feels like I'm performing open heart surgery, and both their hearts are in my hands. My eyes flit from one to the other. Gale. Mother. Gale. Mother. Do I dare open even one of them? I close my eyes and let one of them drop to the floor, the one that I won't, that I can't open yet, and make my way back to the bed. I drag my finger slowly under the envelope, releasing the flap holding it down. My breathing hitches as I take out the creamy white present inside, unfolding it with shaky hands.
Dear Katniss, I begin to read, my fingertips ghosting above my own name.
I know this letter will serve as no recompense for what I have done. I have let you both down...again. I couldn't save either of you, and for that I am truly sorry.
I do not expect you to forgive me, I am not sure I even deserve it, but I mean it when I say that I truly wish for you to find happiness. The concept seems almost alien now, the idea that things might someday be normal, that a laugh might come as easily as breathing itself, that a smile will be as simple as walking. I fear there is little hope for me now, but for you I still hold out, my dearest, precious Katniss.
It may be asking you too much, but if you should every feel like you want someone to talk to, to confide in, then I will be here. I may not be a very good mother, but I am still yours nonetheless, and I will always be here for you. I enclose my number in the hope that someday you may feel we can talk.
All my love. Mother
There's a number scrawled at the bottom of the page and I stare at it for a long while. At first I consider ripping apart the creamy paper in rage, and my fingers clutch angrily along its folds, but I release my grasp when I realise that I just can't do it. I can't feel angry any more, I can't go on hating, because if I do, it will destroy me.
I sigh and fall back against the sheets, the letter resting softly on my chest. The thing is, is that no matter how much I try, I cannot hate her, especially now. Losing my father was terrible, like ripping away a chunk of soul. And I understand now, after losing Prim, and Peeta, and Gale, the overwhelming feeling of not being able to go on. I understand why she couldn't look after us, look after herself. I guess what hurts really though, is that she's gone for a second time, that she left me when I needed her most.
I run my fingers across my eyes and close them, lying still for just a moment. When I open them the patch of sunlight on my floor has faded, and the sky outside the window is turning pink and green and blue. Dusk. Shit. I must have fallen asleep. There's a blanket that's been laid over me, the one that before was folded and set across the back of the chair. It's red and worn but lovely all the same: Prim's.
Haymitch must have put it over me. Which means he probably saw the letter, maybe even read it. I'm right. It's been moved to the bedside table next to me. I wonder if he saw it's contents. Maybe he's even spoken to my mother. I contemplate asking but then I don't think I even really want to know.
I push the blanket aside and after a second thought take the letter and fold it, placing it in a pocket and heading downstairs. The fire is down to its last embers glowing beneath dark coals and charred wood. The room is pleasantly warm and smells of pine, a change from the usual reek of stale liquor. Haymitch is no where to be seen.
I peek my head around the kitchen door and on finding still no sign of him I look out into the fading light of the back garden. I frown when I realise he's not here but then spot a note on the kitchen table. "Gone to visit Sal". I snort. Gone to visit Sal indeed. More like Sal has demanded he come round to her or face the consequences. I'm glad she isn't on my case yet.
Wandering back to the lounge I pull the armchair in front of the fire and sit with my legs drawn up beneath me, the pleasant heat whispering across the bare skin of my forearms. Shifting slightly the edge of the letter digs into one of my thighs and I pull it out, read it through once more, and then again. I trace the edge of the numbers written at the bottom of the page with the nail of my thumb.
I don't know what overcomes me, but I reach for the phone.
It's in my hand and suddenly I'm punching in the numbers, and then it's ringing a simple melody, connecting me to the districts. It's as if I've been punched in the stomach, like someone's thrown a bucket of water over my head. What are you doing!? I internally shout at myself. I pull the receiver away from my ear, intent on slamming it back into it's cradle, when the melody stops and there's a click as the line connects.
"Hello?" a woman's voice sounds. I freeze.
"Hello?" it calls again. I remain silent but bring the receiver back up to my ear, craving the voice again. Soft, gentle but firm. It's all I can do to keep breathing steadily.
"Hello?" the detached voice says again, this time more softly, like approaching a scared animal. There's an intake of breath on the other end and then: "Katniss? Katniss is that you?". I suddenly feel trapped. How did she know it was me? Do I have to speak now? I don't want to speak...I don't have the words.
"Katniss, if that's you, please - please say something".
The words are on the tip of my tongue, threatening to spill from my lips. About how abandoned I feel. About how lonely I am. How angry I am. How hurt I am. But nothing comes and my throat locks shut. I quickly reach down and press the end call button. The line goes silent and then there's nothing but a monotone note. I throw the receiver down and feel a great swell of emotion starting in my stomach, squeezing it's way up my neck and into my throat. And then it bursts and I let out a shuddering cry, tears spilling from my cheeks.
It was her voice. Her voice.
I don't know how long I cry for. It feels like only seconds, but then it feels like years and years. That's how Haymitch finds me. Curled up in a ball in front of the fire, tears streaking down my face, eyes red and hair knotted. And then he's there. His arms pick me up and he sits down, placing me on his lap. I burrow my face into his shoulder and rest my curled up fists onto his chest. He doesn't say anything. He just sits, and let's me cry, his arms wrapped tightly around me, gently rocking me back and forth.
At some point the tears stop flowing and the air is broken only by the small sounds of the fire and my pitiful sobs. I trace my finger along Haymitch's collar bone, hidden beneath his shirt. Yesterday the touch of his hand sent shivers through me, and now as his whole body surrounds me I can't help but press myself closer to him. The need for human contact runs so great through me at the moment, that I'm not even sure that I need it because it's Haymitch. I just - need it.
I shift on his lap when my legs begin to cramp up and a soft noise escapes from his throat. "Sorry" I whisper, resting my forehead onto his chest again. He shakes his head, comforting me that he's okay. "Did you read it?" I whisper again, waiting for his response, listening to his heartbeat, "it's okay, I don't mind if you did".
"I - yes, I saw it. I'm sorry Katniss" he speaks slowly, as if weighing up every word carefully. "She still loves you, you know that right?". So they had been speaking then? Or maybe that's just what Haymitch thinks every mother should feel for their child, an unconditional, unwavering love. Well if it's the latter of those, then he's definitely wrong.
I don't have the energy to argue with him so I simply nod and try to press myself further into him but his hands grasp me and pull me away so that I'm looking at him. His eyes are full of worry but also conviction. "I'm not lying Katniss, she just - couldn't deal with it anymore. Losing Prim was the last straw I think". He lowers his eyes and at first I think I'm angry with him for trying to defend her, but then I realise that this I don't think he's talking about my mother any longer, not really. This is something more - personal.
His gaze catches my own again and he looks at me strangely, a mixture of sorrow and compassion. "You're not alone" he says softly and bends down to plant a dry kiss on my cheek. My eyes widen and I feel my cheeks flush so I lower my head and look down.
"Thank you" I mumble into his chest. I remain this way, resting in the crook of his arm before Haymitch coughs and I become aware for the first time of the awkward position in which I sit on his lap. 'Sorry" I murmur embarrassed, pushing myself off of him, instinctively missing the warmth that his arms provided. He nods in acceptance of my gratitude and as I walk away I can feel his eyes following me
"Night sweetheart", he says as I reach the stairs, and reaches down for a bottle of alcohol, his gaze no longer focused on me. Usually I would frown and chide him, but it's like I can suddenly see him for what he truly is - sad and alone, just like me. He needs me just as much as I need him. He picks up the remote to the TV and I watch as colourful shadows flicker across his face as he takes a long drag from the bottle. The scene is almost painful to watch and I turn away, not baring to witness it any longer.