Alive and Together
As a new year dawns on Panem, Belle wonders what it has in store for her and Hope.
. . . . .
The process of rolling over has become quite arduous. Her blanket is stuck between the wall and the edge of the bed, trapping her, and Hope is just inches away for the night, fast asleep and easily disturbed. Dharma's fast asleep not far away, too. Belle shifts in tiny movements to be able to look out the window, guess the time. She can't sleep, and she's just hoping that sunrise isn't too near so she can stay in bed without being given guilt by a certain hungry two-year-old.
Her eyes keep closing without her noticing, dreams suddenly more absorbing. The tiredness sets in everywhere, and she feels like she's made of lead. Today shouldn't be that hard of a day. She'll make a shopping list and give it to Dharma or whoever's going out, hang up the same decorations from years and years before, tell the younger kids a couple of stories, help make a few extra things for dinner, turn on the celebration broadcast, and relax until midnight. New Year's Eve, she thinks to herself. I'm turning sixteen this year.
She flinches back into fuller consciousness and starts running through what'll go on that shopping list in her head, where the decorations might be, what stories to tell, what they have in the kitchen….
. . .
"Watch out for the table, sweetie," she warns Hope, looking away from the carrot she's cutting up. A mistake. She bites back the swear on the tip of her tongue and rinses the small amount of blood on her hand.
In answer, Hope stares at her and then throws her arms around Belle's knees. "Mom-my?"
"Can I have milk with bweak-fast?"
"Sure." Belle musses her daughter's hair, kisses the top of her head, and goes to find the milk.
Hope starts to try to run off and nearly trips over her untied-yet-again shoelaces. "Yay-ay-yay!" She eventually does fall, but laughs, easing Belle's feeling of panic. She picks up Hope and swings her around once in celebration. Ach, she's getting too heavy for this. Belle sets her down so she can start to wander around again while her mother makes breakfast. She spots Tacey out of the corner of her eye with more books under her arm and thinks, Got an early start conning people out of their reading material today, huh?
It's just another day at the moment, but she can't shake the feeling that something is on the horizon. Hope attempts to race in circles around the table, and Belle thinks that after breakfast she'll have to brush out her daughter's hair again and try to clear some of the dust bunnies clinging to her dress.
Yup, just another day.
. . .
"Mom-my, can you tell a sto-wy?" Hope tugs on her shirt like her life depends on the fairy tale Belle comes up with.
Belle sighs. She had hoped to get Hope to become fascinated with some toy or take a nap so she can think for a second to start on that to-do list, but apparently, that's not happening so quickly. Maybe next year, she'll be more independent. "Okay." She stops brushing Hope's hair. "What story?"
"The mill-er's daugh-ter one." Hope squirmed around to lie with her head in Belle's lap, looking up at her expectantly.
"Once there was a poor miller who had one daughter," she started, having to laugh at Hope. "One day, he had to talk to the President, and said that his daughter could turn straw into gold." Hope yawned. Please fall asleep, just this once, please…. "The President wanted more gold, so he told the miller to bring his daughter to his house to turn straw into gold. The miller did, and his daughter got locked in a room with straw and a spinning wheel. He said that if she didn't turn all the straw into gold by the morning, she would die. But the miller's daughter had no idea how to turn straw into gold—"
"Yeah?" She tries not to let the impatience creep into her voice.
"How do you turn stwaw into gold?"
"I dunno, sweetie." Hope nods seriously and gives her a look that says, Continue. "Just then, a little man came into the room, and the miller's daughter told him about her problem. The little man said that he could turn the straw into gold for her, but she would have to give him her necklace. She gave it to him, and he turned all the straw into gold for the President."
"Mo-mmy, I'm gon-na make some-t'ing that turns stwaw into gold!" Hope jumps up from the bed and starts looking around the room for material to start with.
. . .
She's escaped her room and Hope's attention, made the shopping list, and now hangs up decorations in the living room. If only Hope could turn straw into gold, she thinks bitterly; I could end up rich just like the miller's daughter. Wouldn't that be nice? Belle focuses her attention instead on getting an old tack to stay in the wall to hold up a torn streamer.
"Amity, give it back!" she hears Colin whining to his sister from behind her.
"Guys, play nice," she calls over her shoulder, and almost falls off the stepladder.
That could've been bad. Oh, well, then.
. . .
Belle, Dharma and Meggy start making dinner. Shopping and decorations done, all they need to do now is cook and entertain. Cook and entertain, cook and entertain—it's become their theme song of the day. Little Trinity wanders into the kitchen. "Hiya, Trinity," says Belle, who's been dubbed the "little kid master", and so it's her job to say it first. Meggy and Dharma pitch in with greetings. Trinity grins and waves.
"Hiii," she giggles.
"Where's your sister?"
"Lindy's outside… with a boy!" More laughing.
"Oh great Panem."
I'll never be able to watch Hope be with a boy. Never, ever, Belle thinks. She better stay two years old forever.
Trinity runs out.
"And that's why anyone who runs a Home goes gray early, kids," Meggy deadpans.
Belle hums their "cook and entertain" song under her breath.
. . .
Nearly everyone's gathered around the big dining table for the early New Year's Eve dinner. "My resolution is to learn how to play the harmonica," Jenni announces when they go around the table asking.
"And what's yours, Louisa?"
"I'm going to keep my side of the room cleaner."
They keep going. Belle tries to come up with what her resolution is for when they get to her. Get Hope to be able to tie her shoes, walk without tripping, be potty-trained, be able to pronounce the letter "r"? What is it? And what's one actually for herself?
I'll stay alive. And I'll keep Hope alive. And keep us together.
She hopes that's not just a pipe dream.
. . .
The main living area is chaos. Kids run around everywhere, half of the decorations have fallen down, food is strewn all over the place, the broadcast is blaring, and there's a crowd of younger kids around Belle listening to her dramatized version of "The Valley Story".
Somehow you never do grow up, do you?
She still feels as tired as she did twelve hours ago, and there are plenty of hours to go until twelve. District Twelve, twelve o'clock…. She becomes suddenly amused by that in the middle of the saddest part of the story and has to choke back laughter.
"—Can we light the fireplace?" someone calls from across the room.
Meggy's back in the kitchen at the moment, Dharma occupied. "Sure," she tells them, and they run off to do so.
Six hours out, not too much more. I can make it that long, right? How many people are actually going to stay up till midnight, anyways?
All of the noise starts to give her a headache as she tries to block out anyone not asking her a question and get through the ending of the tale. "Can someone turn down the broadcast volume, please?" she interrupts herself.
Someone does, thank Panem.
"Where was I?"
. . .
"And we are ten minutes out, folks, for New Year's in District Four," says a Capitol announcer. Belle wonders why they even bother mentioning the districts in this. It's just another year there'll be the Games for them, another year where her name is in that many more times. The odds aren't in my favor. Maybe if I start praying now….
Everyone listening gets excited despite her thoughts. Soon there's a countdown that all under the age of thirteen and some over join in with. Then: "Happy New Year, District Four!"
She feels like banging her head against the nearest wall several times, until she blacks out and has an excuse for the night to end already.
. . .
The biggest celebration is underway as New Year's Day hits the Capitol, One, Two, and Five. It's the time where there are the most places rejoicing. Rejoicing. Right.
Once again a great deal of people are happy. Two hours.
She has to admit, the fireworks going off in the big city are fun to watch, and she oohs and aahs along with everyone else.
. . .
"Happy New Year!" everyone screams at once. Finally, Belle thinks, and reminds herself to check on Hope to make sure she's coping with the party commotion all right. A new year, a new start, the saying echoes in her mind. She's not so sure. But nothing's gone horribly wrong yet. Maybe this is my year, she thinks, watching the homemade confetti fall to the floor. A sea of rainbow colors coats the carpet.
That'll be a pain to get out in the morning.
Within minutes nearly everyone is heading upstairs to bed. She, Dharma and Meggy exchange glances, and silently agree that the clean-up operation can wait for the morning. Their own way of starting New Year's cleaning. Dharma and Belle get upstairs to the room they share, and Belle sees that Hope's still asleep, of course, sprawled across the middle of her bed. She can't stand the thought of making her move.
"Happy New Year," Dharma says dryly.
"Happy New Year," Belle echoes.
We'll all be okay.
It might be "just another year". It might be better or worse than the last, and Hope may or may not ever learn how to tie her own shoes. But right now, Belle is satisfied with where they are. There are some things she wouldn't change for the world.
We're alive, we're together, what more could I ask for?
She just hopes that the new year won't threaten any of it. She manages to find space on her bed to lie down next to Hope and listen to her breathe, as reassurance that she's living.
They both are.
. . . . .
Author's Note: So, it's probably not all that fair that Belle now has two companions to herself, and I acknowledge that. I must say that it doesn't necessarily correlate to events in A New Tune, etc. Just to her creator entering the oneshot contest and then my needing a topic for my mom's (Belle's creator's) Christmas gift-story. That's all on that. Disclaimer: I don't own the Rumplestiltskin story. Thank you for reading, and please review – feedback is appreciated.