Chapter 19 – Starting Over
Katniss' heart had raced when she saw Dirty District 12 in flames. She and Peeta had dismounted and walked through the smoldering camp. In a matter of minutes her throat and nose were burning from the smoke. The coughing began soon after and her lungs felt as if they were being cooked. Each breath sent a searing pain through her chest.
Finally, they arrived at their campsite. The bakeshop was gone. Only the brass bed remained, its golden color tarnished to a dull grey from the heat.
The shock, the smells, and an overwhelmingly queasy stomach caused her to double over and retch until there was nothing left to come up.
Peeta had grabbed at her side, holding her up as she continued to vomit. When she had emptied her stomach, he guided her around to the back of the cart, picked her up, and set her on top of a sack of flour.
"Wait here," he said. "I'm going to look for everyone."
Katniss lay back on the sack and closed her eyes. What was wrong with her? She fell asleep in the wagon, but when she opened her eyes she was in her mother's tent. Prim was there to greet her. Her sister's face was dirty from the smoke and there were tiny bits of dark ash stuck to her blonde hair.
"What happened?" she asked her sister.
"You got sick from the smoke. Peeta brought you here."
"Is everyone safe?" Katniss asked, fearful of hearing bad news.
"Yes, but this is the only tent we have that's still standing."
"Where is everyone?"
"Outside, trying to salvage what's left."
Katniss looked carefully at her sister. Living in a mining camp this past year had made Prim grow up quickly. She had the face of a young woman now, not a child.
"I don't think we're going to stay here," Prim admitted. "I don't know if there still is a Dirty District 12 anymore. A lot of the miners have already left for other camps."
Katniss got up and left the tent. If it weren't for Vick's rock border that outlined the area, she never would have recognized the site as her family's home for the past year. The clotheslines that had been strung from the trees had fallen down and half-burned clothing lay in the dirt. The makeshift wooden table that her cousins had played cards at every evening was a heap of charred debris.
Her mother and Hazelle were cooking dinner over the campfire, using up the remainder of the food stores that hadn't been destroyed. Posy was helping them. Uncle Samuel, Rory, and Vick were picking through what remained of the other two tents. They had made a pile, but it wasn't very big, only a few iron tools, and tin cups and plates.
Their biggest concern was finding their gold, which had been stored in cloth pouches that had burned in the fire. They were carefully sifting through the ashes mining it for a second time.
Her mother turned from her work to study Katniss. "How are you feeling, honey?"
She was surprised by her mother's term of affection. She hadn't called her `honey' since Katniss was a small child. It dawned on her that her mother seemed to be taking the calamity extremely well, especially for a woman known for running to her bed to rest whenever problems struck. Maybe she was glad for a reason to finally quit the mining camp.
"I feel alright."
"I'd like to speak with you privately though."
Her mother grabbed at her arm and pulled her back inside the tent, asking Prim to help Hazelle.
"Peeta mentioned you haven't acting like yourself, for a while," her mother said.
What? Why would he do that? For the very briefest of moments she was angry with him.
Then her shoulders sagged. She hadn't been well. Something was wrong.
"I'm tired," she said. "And sad."
Her mother nodded. "That's normal, you're grieving your friend. We all are."
"No, it's not that." She paused for a moment. It wasn't grief she was feeling. There was something physically wrong with her. "Everything smells different, stronger. Food tastes different. Coffee tastes so bitter now. I tried putting sugar in it, but it hasn't helped. I can't drink it anymore."
"Katniss have you been having…."
"Yes, I have," she stopped her mother. "But not nearly as much as usual," she added.
A tiny smile formed on her mother's lips. "Katniss, I think you may be expecting. Some women have minor bleeding the first few months. It's not uncommon. As for your sense of smell and taste being affected, that happened to me when I carried you and Prim. It's annoying, but it will go away."
Could she be having a baby? Instinctively she wrapped her hands around her midsection. There was a very slight swelling there, but she'd attributed it to all the extra bread she'd been eating lately. It was the only thing that seemed to settle her upset stomach.
A frown appeared on her face as her thoughts flew to Peeta. How would he take the news, especially now that the fire had destroyed their home and their business? The timing of this announcement was not good.
"Are you worried about what happened to Madge?" her mother questioned. "It doesn't mean it will happen to you, too. You come from very hearty stock."
Katniss shook her head. "No, it's Peeta," she explained. "So much has happened…."
"Katniss, you don't need to tell him today. You'll know when the time is right. Then, when you're both ready, you can tell the everyone else."
Katniss left the tent to go look for her husband. She suspected he was at the charred remains of the bakeshop. Her mother told her to come back within the hour, as dinner would soon be ready.
As she walked through the camp she marveled at the destruction of the fire. Prim was right, the camp was nearly deserted. She couldn't blame the miners, though. They were mostly young men, without ties to Dirty District 12, many having lived here for just a few months. There was no reason for them to stay, not when they could simply pick up and easily move to another camp.
When she arrived at the spot where the bakeshop had stood, she found Peeta and Rye digging through the burned rubble. Peeta had made a pile of items, which included his two cook stoves, lots of baking pans, silverware, and plates.
Nearby she could see Annie and Finnick sitting on the ground next to what was left of the Rye and Peeta's tent. Finnick was hugging Annie who was crying. Other than some mining tools, it didn't look like much remained of their possessions.
Katniss walked over to the spot where Peeta and Rye were sorting. "Dinner will be ready in an hour at my family's campsite," she said.
"Think I'm done here Peetie," Rye said. "I'll give these chickens to Hazelle to cook up." He was carrying two hens that had died in their coop from the smoke of the fire. They were all that was left of the dozen that lived in the hen house that had burned.
Peeta wrapped his arms around Katniss. "Are you feeling alright?" he asked as he pressed his head to the side of her face.
"Yes. How are you?" She pulled her face back to study him.
"I've been better." Peeta looked tired and overwhelmed.
"Is there anything left," she asked, as she scanned the rubble, her eyes landing on the bed frame.
"Not much. All of our personal stuff is gone."
She thought back over her belongings that had sat in the wooden trunk. She would have worn her best dress today if she had known there was going to be a fire. At least she'd worn her father's leather hunting jacket. Then she remembered what sat on top of the box.
"It's gone, along with the arrows and your game bag."
Tears formed in her eyes, she blinked and one fell onto her cheek. Immediately she wiped it away. The bow was a terrible loss because of the memories it held. But it could be replaced. At least no one had been hurt. That was the most important part.
"Peeta are we broke?" she asked fearfully. She knew he had kept his gold earnings from the bakery in a sack he hid in the trunk that held his clothes. The trunk had burned. Had he been able to dig the gold out of the ashes that remained? Was her entire life going to be a never-ending saga of slowly getting ahead only to be pushed back again?
A goofy grin spread across Peeta's face. "The gold is safe. I just dug it up."
"You buried it." She was amazed and suddenly very relieved. "Where?"
"Under our bed. It's right here." He patted at the bulging pocket of his overcoat.
"Why did you bury it?"
"With the thefts in the camp, I didn't want to take any chances. But to answer your question, we're not broke. We're actually quite well off. We'll be fine, Katniss, we will."
Katniss kissed Peeta soundly when she heard that news. It was so nice to have a clever husband. Maybe things would be okay.
They decided to take a break and head over to the other campsite for dinner. They called to Annie and Finnick to join them.
"What are your plans?" Finnick asked as they walked to dinner.
Peeta rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. "I don't have one yet. But I don't think it's worth rebuilding here, especially with winter on the way. It looks like a lot of miners have already left the camp."
A lively discussion ensued over the meal about whether to stay in Dirty District 12 or move on.
"We could always return to Oregon, Peet," Rye suggested, rolling his eyes as he spoke.
Katniss was relieved to see Peeta shake his head. From the little he'd shared about his mother, she didn't think she wanted to meet up with that woman.
Eventually, everyone decided for themselves where they would go. No one wanted to return to Oregon. For all of them, California was home now.
Hazelle and Samuel wanted to leave the gold fields altogether, and start farming the rich California soil. Samuel's health had never fully returned after his sickness and as Hazelle admitted, she was tired of living in a tent and washing other people's clothing. They would take Vick and Posy with them. Vick could help his father and maybe even buy some land of his own when he cashed in his golden rock. Their first stop would be Sacramento City so the family could replace their clothing and other personal necessities that had been destroyed in the fire.
Rory planned to join Gale in hunting for gold in the hills. His brother had been quite enthusiastic in describing the pickings while visiting the family on his Sunday visits with Lavinia.
Rye and Finnick also wanted to continue hunting for gold. It was agreed that they would take the rocker and move to another mining camp in the area. They could work at it at least until the winter weather arrived. Annie wasn't pleased about the decision because she did not want to have her baby born in a mining camp. But the baby wasn't due for several months, and for now at least, she could easily set up her sewing business in another location.
Katniss' mother and Prim decided to travel with Hazelle and Samuel to Sacramento City, and possibly settle there. Prim was eager to better herself, to finish up her schooling and maybe even become a teacher. Katniss' mother hoped to re-start her mid-wife business in a place where the population included some women of child-bearing years.
Katniss looked at Peeta, wondering where they would end up. It was strange to think she'd be separating from her mother and sister, but she was married. She was having Peeta's child. They were a family now.
"There's nothing here," Peeta told her. "We'll go into town tomorrow. Maybe we can work with Sae again until we can figure something out."
"Where will we live? We don't have a tent."
"Thom might have one for sale."
Katniss wondered if she told him about her pregnancy would he make different plans; maybe follow her family to Sacramento City? But she knew he had a good reputation as a baker in the area. He had customers from town and from some of the other mining camps. Maybe he could open a new bakeshop in town. Why should he start all over in a brand new place?
She wished she could talk with him privately about everything. But there was no privacy for anyone now. In fact, all of the women ended up sharing the tent that evening while the men slept under the stars.
Katniss' mother gave all the quilts she had left to the men to stay warm, while the women huddled together. Katniss wrapped her arm around Prim, thinking it might be the last time she'd ever sleep with her, at least for a good while.
She lay awake for a long time that night, thinking on the unexpected happenings that had occurred to her over the past year, most of them occurring suddenly without any warning – her father's death, her marriage, her friend's death, the fire, and now a baby and a move away from the mining camp.
She wasn't the same person that had traveled to California a year earlier. That girl had been so naïve about life, thinking that if she built up high walls around her feelings that she'd avoid all of life's heartaches. She wondered how she could have ever been that foolish. Troubles were part of life. And they were easier to bear when you let people in to share them with you.
The atmosphere the next morning was somber. There wasn't much to pack up and there was hardly anything left to eat. It was decided that everyone would stop at Sae's restaurant in town for a meal prior to heading their separate ways.
Before they left however, Hazelle heated water for washing and the women took turns bathing in privacy in the tent. The men went down to the river, stripping down and washing in the cold water. All of them smelled like smoke and sweat and they wanted to be washed clean of the fire.
There were three long tables that made up Sae's diner and their group filled up two of the tables. At the other table sat Haymitch, Cray and Effie, who turned to look as everyone came in and sat down. Sae didn't appear very surprised to see them. She threw hand-written menus in front of everyone, but stopped when she reached Peeta.
"The camp is destroyed?" she asked him.
"Most of it." He described the rubble of the outdoor kitchen, which they had shared.
"What are you planning to do?"
"Are you hiring?" He had a serious look on his face and Katniss knew he was hoping she'd say 'yes.'
Sae pursed her lips. "I could use your help baking, and maybe the girl's for hunting."
"Katniss will need to get another bow," Peeta said. "It was lost in the fire. Even the barrels on our guns melted."
"Do you have a tent?"
Peeta shook his head. "It burned down, as well. But I might be able to pick one up from Thom."
"None left," interrupted Haymitch, who had been listening in to the conversation. "Sold out yesterday afternoon. It will take Thom at least three weeks to get more in stock. Boarding house is full too, if you're thinking of that."
"But you can stay with me until Thom gets some new tents," Haymitch said. "You can pay me in bread. The girl can sing."
Katniss kicked Peeta's foot under the table. "No," she mouthed as he turned to look at her.
"I have a better offer," Effie spoke up. "I have a spare room in my establishment and am in desperate need of a cook. My niece Delly, who was supposed to be doing the job, but has failed miserably. If you can teach her to bake and cook, you can stay rent-free for the winter. I suppose you'd have time to help out Sae, as well."
Peeta looked at Katniss, raising his eyebrows as if to say `what do you think of this?'
Before Katniss could answer though, her aunt burst out. "You're not seriously considering living in a brothel?"
"The rooms are quite nice there, you know," Finnick retorted.
Aunt Hazelle turned to Finnick and glared. He glared back at her.
Meanwhile, Katniss nodded her head at Peeta.
"We accept," Peeta told Effie.
Katniss smiled at Peeta, then nervously looked down the table to glance at her mother and Prim. She hoped they understood that she'd rather spend the winter in a house, instead of in a tent, especially in her condition. From the look in her mother's eyes she guessed her mother did.
After the meal, there were tearful goodbyes by everyone, and promises to keep in touch and visit regularly.
Eventually everyone left, heading off in different directions to their future.
Peeta led his horse and cart to the back of Effie's house, unhitched the horse and placed her in a stall next to the cows.
Delly came out of the house to greet them. "My aunt says you're going to teach me to cook," she said cheerily. "Did she also tell you you'd have to milk the cows? Twice a day."
Peeta shook his head.
"Well, you better get started." She handed him a bucket and then walked away.
"Something tells me she's going to be an interesting student." Katniss laughed, as Peeta pulled up the milking stool and got to work.
"I never thought I'd see the inside of one of these rooms."
Katniss snorted. She sat down on the upholstered chair and surveyed the small room with its brass bed and wardrobe. Over the bed was a painting of a mocking bird in flight. Across from the bed, next to the door was a larger painting featuring a meadow filled with yellow flowers. It was a pretty painting, one she would not tire of quickly.
"Is the room, alright?" Peeta asked her.
She nodded. "I like it." It was nicer than any bedroom she'd ever had. It was on the lower level of the house near to the kitchen, and far away from the rooms where the women did business upstairs.
"I know this is a strange place for us to live, but it won't be home for long."
"Did you see Aunt Hazelle's face when she heard where we'd be living?"
Peeta laughed. "That was certainly something. But I imagine my mother would react much the same." He paused, and then added, "I'm glad your mother was more understanding."
"That's because..." Katniss began, when she was interrupted by a knock on the door.
Peeta opened it. It was Delly. She was holding a tray with toasted bread, a small slab of butter, and a knife.
"Here I brought you something to eat," she chirped.
Peeta glanced at the bread, which was burned black along the edges. He picked up a piece. "I can see why your aunt hired me Delly. This bread is burnt."
"Landsakes, I never said I was a baker," Delly huffed. She shoved the tray into Peeta's hands and shut the door loudly.
Peeta carried the tray over to the bed and set it down. Katniss got out of the chair and joined him on the bed. He picked up a piece of the bread, breaking off the burned part, then buttered the rest. He held it up to Katniss offering her the first bite, before eating the rest. She picked up a second piece, buttered it, and then offered a bite to him.
When they were done eating, Peeta set the tray on the top of the wardrobe and climbed back onto the bed. He wrapped his arm around Katniss' shoulder as they leaned up against the brass headboard. They were quiet for a long time, both thinking over the day's events.
"Will you miss your family?" he finally asked.
"Yes," she choked back a sob, and he tightened his arm around her. She sat there for a minute before regaining her composure.
"But you're my family now, Peeta." Her voice was firm. She hesitated for a moment, before adding. "You and the baby."
Peeta's eyes grew big. "Katniss are you sure?"
She smiled nervously. "My mother suspects it. I think she's right. It certainly explains why I've been feeling so unusual lately."
He put his hand on her cheek and pulled her face toward him. She leaned in to kiss her husband. It was a tender kiss filled with hope for a yet unknown future. After a while, they broke apart.
They quickly prepared for sleep, locking the door before undressing, opening the window, pulling back the coverlet, and blowing out the candles that were atop the wardrobe.
Much later, as she lay curled into Peeta's chest with his arms tight around her, she wondered if it was possible that home could be a person and not a place. Maybe that's why her mother was able to travel in a wagon across the plains to Oregon, and then pick up again to go to California.
Maybe that's why she could face a future so unsettled and be content that things would work out no matter how bad their losses.
If home were a person, than for her that person was surely Peeta. Because if he was there, she was home.
"Are you awake," he whispered, his warm breath caressing the side of her face, his hand reaching down to rest on her belly, to rub gentle circles over it.
"Yes," she murmured. "You should be sleeping, though. You have to get up early to milk those cows."
"Will you sing me to sleep?"
"You know, to practice…for the baby. Please."
She smiled to herself. "Alright, just this once." Softly she sang out,
And when my fever'd lips were parched
On Afric's burning sand,
She whisper'd hopes of happiness,
And tales of distant land.
My life had been a wilderness,
Unblest by fortune's gale,
Had fate not link'd my lot to hers,
The Rose of Allandale,
The Rose of Allandale, the Rose of Allandale,
Had fate not link'd my lot to hers,
The Rose of Allandale.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for all the follows, favorites, and reviews for this story. I'm glad so many people have enjoyed reading it. Argonauts And Allies does not have an epilogue because I may yet revisit these characters in a sequel story to be written in the future.
However, my next writing endeavor is in a different vein altogether. It is set in Panem, in a world without the Hunger Games. I am currently writing it, and hope to have it finished and ready to post in later June. If you are interested in reading it or anything else I may write in the future, be sure to click on the follow author button at the bottom of this page.