~ Hi, everyone! How could I have forgotten this part?! I doubt anyone is still reading this, but if you are, this Epilogue is dedicated to you. ~
Odairs' home, five weeks after arrival
"Gale, come on downstairs! Annie's making omelettes," Finnick says brightly, knocking on my door. I groan and stretch, and check the time on the clock on my nightstand. Ten in the morning? Finnick has been making sure that I go to sleep at a reasonable hour ever since I moved in here, but I keep sleeping late. If I were home, I'd have missed a third of my shift in the mines already.
But I correct myself. I am home. This is home. At least, that's what Finnick and Annie are always telling me. Welcome home, Gale, how was your day? Gale, I'll meet you back home. Just use this as your home address on your paperwork, Gale.
I slide out of bed and land softly on the thick navy carpeting — just one of many details in District 4 that I don't think I'll ever get used to. I rub my eyes and open the closet door. Annie stocked it a few weeks ago with clothes in my size — khaki pants and button-down shirts and two thick wool fisherman-knit sweaters. I dress quickly and then head to the bathroom — my bathroom? — to brush my teeth. There's a wide mirror above the vanity and a large bathtub along the back wall with a heated towel rack. Reflected back at me in the mirror is a boy I don't recognize, with short hair, a clean face and cheeks rounded from eating.
"Gale? Are you coming to breakfast?" Finnick calls again from the hallway.
"Yes! Just a minute," I tell him. I run a comb through my hair, tuck in my shirt and hurry downstairs.
I'm met with aromas that I only barely recognize — tomatoes and peppers and sausage — all delicacies in District 12. Annie and Finnick are standing at the counter: Annie arranges a third omelette on a plate and Finnick flips through a pile of mail. He pauses at a brown folder, reads the address and sets it aside.
"Good, you're up," Finnick says warmly, turning to me. "Sleep well?"
"Yeah," I say. "Really well. Thanks."
Finnick nods. "We've got a nice day today. After breakfast, I have a council meeting and Annie is going to spend the day with her sister. Gale, you've got therapy at three, and I can walk over with you if you want. And then I suggest that after dinner we all take a walk along the water."
"That sounds nice," Annie says. She passes me an omelette, fork and napkin to carry over to the table.
Finnick chatters on as we all settle in to eat, and Annie drinks him in like sunlight on a cloudy day. She really isn't as crazy as they all said in District 13: just a bit unstable, really. When she's with Finnick, you'd almost never know that she was traumatized by her past. When she is with him, her present is her everything.
Finnick tries to coax me into the conversation, but I hold back. I've told him the basics about my family, working in the mines, helping with the rebellion. We don't talk about Katniss or Peeta, and I wonder whether this is because Finnick worries about how I'll handle it, or because there isn't much cheery news for him to share on that front. My heart trips over a beat when thoughts of Katniss begin to snake through my brain, and I wonder for a brief moment how much of me still loves her the way I did when I broke into that Capitol cell to find Peeta.
"Gale, they're looking for volunteers to help build homes around the district. I was thinking of participating. Would you be interested in joining me next weekend?"
"What?" I ask, jolted out of my Katniss contemplations.
"It would be a way of getting out into the community, meeting people. The work might be a bit difficult, but you don't have to take on any more than you can handle. I'm sure the housing committee would love to have you there to help," he says.
"I'm sending over cookies," Annie adds softly, and I find myself smiling. Smiling!
"Okay," I say. "I'll go."
Finnick and Annie exchange a long, loving glance, but when Finnick catches me watching, he winks at me. He takes a hasty bite of his omelette, and he looks as though he's won a small victory.
When we're finished eating, I help Annie clear the plates over to the counter. I'm about to head up to my room to grab a sweater before walking to my therapy appointment at the hospital with Finnick when he calls me back into the kitchen.
"Gale, can you stay for just a minute?"
I stop and look back at him.
"Yes?" I ask.
"This came in the mail for you today." Finnick passes me the brown folder he'd been holding when I came downstairs. At first, I don't recognize it — but then that day with my mother comes rushing back. She gave this to me in her compartment in District 13, before I left to join Squad 451, and I never opened it. I never found out what she'd wanted me to have, from my father. Dad.
I walk over to Finnick and accept the folder. The leather is scratched and worn, but the binding has held up well.
"How did this get here?" I ask.
"It turned up with your things in the Capitol. It was mailed by a Rory Hawthorne?"
"Okay. Well, there you go," he says, eyeing the folder. He's curious, but I know that he won't ask me to tell him what it is. He'll wait until I'm ready to tell him. I appreciate that.
"Finnick, do we have to leave right now? Or can I take a couple of minutes to look through this before therapy?"
"You've got time."
"Okay. Thanks, Finnick. I'll be down in five."
I take the envelope back up to my room and sit on the edge of my bed. For a long moment, I just look at it. My dad touched this. This was his. I bring it to my face and press the soft leather against my cheek. But it doesn't feel like my father. It doesn't smell like my father. It's not my father.
"Finnick?" I ask softly when I return to the kitchen. He's sitting at the table with the newspaper spread out in front of him.
"Ready to leave?" he prompts, folding the paper. I walk over to the table and pull out a chair next to him. He raises an eyebrow. "What is it, Gale?"
"Would it be okay if I skipped therapy today? I can call the doctor to reschedule."
Finnick opens his mouth to protest — he's made therapy a rule for me, and after I tried to kill myself in the Capitol, I can't blame him. He looks at first as though he's growing exasperated with me, but then his expression softens.
"Why don't you want to go?" he asks gently, glancing at the folder in my hands. "If something's bothering you, then you ought to discuss it with your doctor."
"No," I say, smiling a little. I set the folder on the table and open it carefully so that the loose papers won't fall out. On top is a picture of a young couple, taken in a room I vaguely remember as my mother's parents' kitchen. My mother is sitting in a simple wooden chair, leaning against the table, while my father rests his hands on her shoulders and smiles at the camera. He's tall and skinny with dark hair and warm eyes. "Finnick, it's not that something is wrong... but I want to talk about this with you instead. These are my parents," I say, passing the picture toward him.
Finnick takes the photo and studies it. He glances up at me and then back at my parents.
"They're your age," he says. "Do couples usually marry so young in District 12?"
"They were eighteen. Yeah."
"You look like your father. Gale... do you remember him well?"
Finnick nods thoughtfully and looks away.
"He just wasn't home much," I continue. Finnick looks back at me in surprise. I suppose that I've never really opened up to him before.
"Why not?" he asks.
"Working in the mines to support our family. He spent half his life down there before he died. That haunts me," I confess. "I tried to be there for my siblings in the way he couldn't be. As a father figure. And I won't say that I wasn't equipped for that, because in District 12 we grow up fast. But I felt that I needed to make him proud somehow. A man I really never knew, Finnick. I mean, I knew him a bit, he taught me to hunt, he'd come home late at night, I know he loved my mother..."
"What's the rest of this?" Finnick asks, gesturing at the papers beneath the photograph.
"Love letters. He wrote them to my mother." I finger the edges of the pages. My father touched them. My mother touched them. "Finnick," I say finally, "Making my dad proud... it didn't really matter, in the end."
Finnick opens his mouth to say something, but then closes it and leans back in his chair.
"Go on," he says.
"Love... you don't get to choose it. You can't earn it. You can't break it, not if it's real."
Finnick nods. "Pretty special, isn't it," he says softly, twisting his wedding ring around his finger. "When you find it, you keep it."
I close the folder and set it on the table. Someday, I'm going to love someone that much. There'll be no earning it, no fighting for it, no questioning it. Just love, so simple it'll be all I know.