District 12 was unnaturally hot for this time of year, so no one was outside. Everyone was in their nice, finally finished houses enjoying their nice, cool air-conditioning. Peeta liked to know the war had made this much of a difference; before they won the poeple would've been out in the heat, working and sweltering themselves to death. Now they could enjoy fresh air-conditioning. He sipped his lemonade and looked out the window again—she was still waiting by the mailbox.
It had taken a few months, but Katniss had started to care about what happened to everyone she knew after the war: her mother, Gale, Madge, Haymitch, Plutarch, Beetee, Annie, Johanna. She wasn't back to the point where she would want to call most of them or go to visit some, but she was still trying to heal. The only person she made any kind of effort to call, write, or try to visit was Gale. They had told her that he had moved to District 2 and taken some high-ranking military job, and since then she had become obsessed with the idea of going to see him and seeing how the war had changed him. She sent him letters, called him at least once a week, and considered just taking a train. But it all went unanswered and it just hurt her feelings more than anything.
Peeta didn't know if he had the heart to tell her, but someone had to. It was surprising she didn't know already, since all the news stations had reported it for a month. It was tragic, yes, and Peeta had been sad when he heard the news, but they'd kept it from Katniss for a reason.
After Prim's death, Katniss had been so depressed that she stopped speaking, right up until Snow's hearing and when she killed Coin. She'd been so depressed that Haymitch and Peeta had decided she was better off not knowing anything else, because honestly they weren't sure how she'd take the news. Even now, her only concern was trying to gauge how well she had healed with someone else, Peeta knew it, and had even discussed the theory with Haymitch. Even after all this time, the only reason she wanted to see Gale was so she could see if she had healed more than he had or if she was in a better place than he was. It might have been childish, but Peeta knew that if Katniss thought she was doing better than Gale then she would heal even faster.
She sat at the mailbox once again, Peeta could see the sweat on her brow from where he was sitting in the kitchen. He shook his head, dialing a familiar number. The groggy voice mumbled a hello on the other end.
"She's at it again, Haymitch."
He laughed, "Did you really think she'd just give him up so easily?"
"It's been three years since the war ended and she's had no contact with him, why try to bother with it now?" Peeta answered sharply. Gale Hawthorne wasn't a topic he was sure he'd ever be comfortable discussing.
"Because, boy. They had a connection that you really don't understand, and I don't really understand it either. We don't understand because we've never been in that type of friendship." Haymitch stopped, and PEeta could hear him taking a drink, probably from the flask he kept on him. Peeta looked at the clock—it was only 9:30 in the morning.
"Do you think we should tell her?"
Haymitch sighed, "It will break her heart, and you know that. She'll never forgive us and she might even regress back into her depression."
"I know," Peeta sighed. He said his goodbyes and hung up the phone so he could go upstairs. His feet felt as if they weighed a thousand pounds, but he slumped up the flight of stairs to the bedroom closet.
He and Haymitch had made a pact that if they ever needed to tell Katniss the truth, they wouldn't do it themselves. They had made a recording of all the newscasts explaining the event and would show it to her. That way, she would have an unbiased account of what happened.
He got the box down from the back of the closet where it had been hidden from her. The box was large and heavy, which didn't surprise Peeta considering how much stuff it had in it. He hadn't been sure when, but he knew that someday she would want to look back and reflect on it, that she would want to remember. So he'd kept all the pictures, the mockingjay helmet, the mockingjay pin, a primrose, everything.
The most important thing he had kept was the picture of them at Annie and Finnick's now, he looked at the black and white picture and ran his fingers over the faces of every person who had passed: Prim, Finnick, Boggs, Madge.. the bloody list ran on and he was crying before he got to the most important face. Peeta stuffed the picture back into the box and took it downstairs with the video.
Apparently the mail truck had already came and went with no answer from Gale.
And Katniss was clearly devastated.
Shortly after the war had ended and they had came back to 12 to piece themselves together, Katniss had started to shut herself down to everyone, mainly Peeta. He knew that she thought she was doing such a good job of hiding her feelings, but she wasn't. He had just left her alone, let her think that he didn't know how upset she was all the time.
But today was different.
He was tired of pretending that she was okay by herself, tired of ignoring Haymitch's advice, and tired of the memories of Gale comforting Katniss in ways he never could. He assumed the memories were caused by the guilt of the secret, but he knew he'd never know for sure.
She plopped down on the couch, sighing audibly. Peeta sat down in the recliner opposite her, setting the big box down in front of his feet. She looked at the box, scowling when she recognized her old Mockingjay helmet, then looked up at him, "What is this?"
"These," he gestured to the box, "are things I saved from the old days. Things that are important. And this," he said, gesturing to the video, "is something you should have seen three years ago."
She threw him a quizzical look, but motioned for him to go on. He started to get things out of the box, "It's important to remember all the good times that were in these pictures and things. It's important to know that I saved them for you so you would have something to hold on to when you were ready." He sighed again, the speech had been rehearsed in his head hundreds of times, but he still wasn't saying everything he needed to. He handed her the pictures and the items in the box, laying them out one by one and explaining them all, as if she needed an explanation.
"This is the picture of us all from Annie's wedding. This is the picture when you came home of your mom, you, and Prim.. This is you and Gale," he went on, explaining them all.
"What is this for, Peeta?" Katniss asks.
He holds up a finger and takes the video to the TV, putting it in the slot and turning it on. A plainer looking blonde woman comes on the screen with some news logo behind her, but she's not smiling. Peeta sighs, he's seen this footage hundreds of times, so he just watches Katniss and tries to gauge her reaction.
"Thank you for tuning in, Panem. This is Caribell Andersmith coming to you live from the Capitol, where I have been told that national hero Gale Hawthorne of District 12, beloved friend of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark has just hung himself in his hotel bathroom."
He can see Katniss's mouth hang open, but he just motions for her to look back to the screen where the woman explains even more.
"Sources say that Hawthorne was due for a meeting with Haymitch Abernathy, another beloved district 12 friend, at nine AM this morning. When Hawthorne didn't show, former District 12 escort Effie Trinket was sent to his room to find him, only finding the body and this suicide note," she explained, holding the note in a plastic bag. "The note explains some more personal reasons for his actions that the Hawthorne family wishes would not be revealed..." she trailed off, listing all of Gale's accomplishments, even touching on his relationship with Katniss and Peeta.
Peeta clicks off the video, because he knows that all the important information has been given. The rest of the video is of the different news stations covering it, even showing some footage of Gale and some clips from his family, but Peeta can tell Katniss isn't ready for that. She just sits on the couch, mouth hanging open, hands in her lap. "Where's the note?"
He nods and reaches back into the box again, getting out the same plastic bag the woman had on the TV. After the police had ruled it as a suicide, they released the note to Hazelle, who decided Katniss would need to see it one day. Peeta had read it a hundred times as well, trying to place himself in Gale's shoes, but he just couldn't do it. Peeta hands the note to Katniss, already knowing what it says, already knowing that each stroke of the pen is written in Gale's handsome handwriting, elegant in speech and drastic in action.
I know it will disappoint you when you find out, but I'm sorry. I thought I could live with the guilt of knowing what I did, but now that I realize I can't be forgiven... it seems impossible. I hope you understand. I love you, I miss you.
It was short, exactly to the point, and Peeta knew exactly what each word was referring to. Gale had killed himself, not only because of the weight of everything he had done during the war, but because Katniss couldn't forgive him. Katniss knew him and loved him better than anyone else on the planet... if she couldn't forgive him, how could he expect anyone else to? But it wasn't the only note that had been left that day. Peeta also got into the box, revealing an envelope that held a picture of them sharing a kiss in district 13 and a letter addressed to Katniss. Peeta had read it only once, just to make sure it was something that could wait. But every word had been burned into his memory, searing like an open flame.
My dearest Katniss,
I know you're going to be angry, and you have every right to be, but I'm sorry. Prim's death was most certainly my fault, even if you never wanted to directly blame me. But I know the way your mind works, and I know that you'll never forgive me, no matter how hard I try to win back your love and friendship. And I know that if you can't forgive me, no one else will, even me.
So don't be angry with me over this, I'm finally at peace with myself and almost with what I've done. If I regret anything, it was taking your light from you. You are special, Katniss, special enough to start a revolution and bring a country to its knees and hold it accountable. It takes such a special person to do that and I'm so proud of you for everything you've done.
But most of all, I'm proud of you for the person you were with me. So happy, carefree, kind, sweet, beautiful. I think I'm the only person who ever saw your true smile, and I will always carry that. I love you Katniss, I always did, I always will. I'm so sorry I'm too much of a coward to tell you in person, but this is the way it has to be.