BURNING BRIGHT

Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games series

CHAPTER 6

"Dad?" I say no longer able to take the silence. Dad looks back down to the counter and takes his hand off of it.
He tries to compose himself before he finally speaks but I can see him struggling, "Ivy, why aren't you at home?" his voice is shaky and I can hear traces of anger in it.
"I thought you might need some help…where's Evan?" I look around noticing he's not there. He usually is.

Dad pushes away from the counter and walks to me placing his hands upon my shoulders, "Don't worry, Ivy, I'm fine. You can go home now." I look in to my father's blue eyes. I have never seen them this way. The flash of anger is soon fading but its strange seeing it there in the first place. He says he's fine but he's not.
"Are you sure?" I ask, "Who was that man? What he want?" Dad presses his lips together for a moment and lets his eyes fall to the ground, "Ah, don't worry about it, sweetheart, it was nothing."
"Didn't look like nothing." I retort with a frown. But dad smiles and caresses my cheek softly, "Ivy, its fine. Go on home now."

I sigh, defeated. "Okay." I don't want to keep pestering him any longer. He seems to have a lot on his plate already. Still, I can't help to worry. "I'll be home." I turn to the door but before I leave dad calls my name and I turn to him. He thinks about what he's going to say and lands his eyes upon me, "Ivy, please don't tell your mother." He needs to say no more. I nod and head out of the bakery.

It's strange. Mom and dad never keep anything from each other. That man, whoever he is, must be either pretty important to cause such a reaction in my father. Especially to the point where he wants me to lie to mom. I feel like this won't be the end of that subject. I'm almost at the Victor's Village when I bump in to Evan. "There you are." he says when he sees me. "I was looking for you."

"I was just at the bakery." I say. "Yeah, your dad let me off early today. It was weird. He closed the shop and everything."
"I know," I answer, "You know why?"
"Beats me. Some man came in and your dad got weird. He told me to take the rest of the day off. I came to find you but Luke said you were in the woods hunting ghosts." He chuckled.
I frowned, "Dang it, Luke. I wasn't hunting ghosts."
Evan chuckled again, "I know." He then sees my concerned expression and nudges me softly, "Come on, my mom brought more strawberries. Let's go eat 'em all."
This brings a smile to my face, "Sounds good to me."

The entire house is quiet when I arrive from Evan's house that night. We spent the entire day talking about nonsense and eating strawberries on his porch. His mom made us lemonade and triangle sandwiches. I find Luke in the family room watching tv. He's sprawled on the couch in a lazy bored manor. "Hey," I say walking in to the living room, "Aren't you supposed to be grounded?" Luke doesn't bother to sit up or tear his eyes from the screen, "Yeah, but dad said I could."
I look around but don't see him, "Where's he and mom?" I ask.
Luke shrugs, "Upstairs in their room talking." He looks at me when he says this, "With the door closed."
I frown instantly. I know mom and dad are secretive about their personal business but to the point to distract Luke with television so they could talk? That seems unlike them.

"Well, okay. I'm going to bed."
"Dad said your dinner's in the kitchen if you're hungry."
Its then I realize that I'm starving, "Well now that I think about it, I am pretty hungry after hunting ghosts all day." I say and smack Luke's head on my way to the kitchen.
"Hey!" he whines but settles back down rubbing the back of his head. I didn't even hit him that hard.

I find my dinner on the counter. It's still warm. I sit on the kitchen island and eat silently. All the while I look in the direction of the stairs where my parents are locked in their room. I'm sure dad must be telling mom about the man that visited him in the bakery. He never keeps anything from her. I guess he wanted to be the one to tell her. But I can't figure out why it must be so important that they don't want us to hear what they're talking about. The last time they locked themselves in their room was to discuss letting Luke have a pet. Of course, mom said no. Moms not really the one for pets. I don't think she ever was. We used to have a cat, Buttercup, well, it belonged to aunt Prim but he passed a few years ago. Mom was actually devastated even if she didn't want to show it. He was the last thing she had left of Prim. Well, he and the flowers that always grow outside our home.

After I wash my plate I head upstairs. I look down the hall in the direction of my parent's room. I can't help but eavesdrop so I quietly tip toe to their room and press my ear against the closed door. Its silent for a moment but then I hear dad's muffled voice in a soft low whisper. Mom's follows in a harsher tone. Whatever is going on Mom isn't very happy about it. I can't make out what they're saying so I press myself closer to the door. I can barely hear a name being spoken: Gale.

Gale? I'm not familiar with the name for it has never been spoken in my home before. But I'm pretty sure it must be the man from the bakery. Its then the door opens and I almost trip inside. "Ivy?" Dad's surprised to see me.
I stand up straight and pretend like I wasn't eavesdropping on them, "Dad!" But I sound more surprised then he is. I quickly compose myself looking for a quick excuse, "I- I came to say goodnight." I look in to the room where my mom is standing next to her side of the bed. Her arms are crossed and she's having a tough time keeping her straight expression. "Is everything okay?" I ask softly looking from mom to him.

Dad sighs and gives me a faint smile, "Everything's fine. Go on and rest."
I nod, "Night dad…night mom."
Mom looks up at me and musters a reassuring smile, "Goodnight, little bird."

And without another word I leave. Dad closes the door hiding away all their secrets. I head to my room where I grab some clean pajamas and take a long hot shower. I've been up since the crack of dawn and have to be up bright and early to go hunting with mom. That's right, for the first time in a long time we'll be in the woods together.

However, that night I get no rest what so ever. Almost instantly after I close my eyes I am awaken by my mother's night terrors. Her screams of fear and pain break the silence of the night. I sit up startled and confused in my bed. I hear her scream my name, followed by my brother's, my father's and my aunt Prim's. My dad's voice comes soon after waking her from her horrid prison. It's just a dream, another horrible dream, I tell myself. She's fine. She'll be okay. She'll get through this. She's done it a thousand times. I try to reassure myself that my mom will be fine. But I feel helpless. I still feel like that little girl standing in the corner of the room completely horrified by what was happening to the person I loved most in the world. To the person who was supposed to save me. I felt helpless because I did not know how to save her. I still don't.

I can feel the tears swelling in my eyes threatening to break free. I hate hearing her suffer so much. I remember when I was little I did not understand why these things happened to her. Why she woke up screaming in the middle of the night. Why her nightmares would just not go away. They tried to explain to me as I got older why these things happened, why they couldn't control them, why I shouldn't be afraid. But I was very afraid. Looking in to my mother's horror struck eyes filled me with such an intense fear that I myself wanted to wake from the nightmare she was in. Dad picked me up from the corner where I was hiding and placed me in my mother's arms. She would cradle me against her and hold me tight. I could feel her calm down little by little as if my mere presence could calm the rage building inside. And she'd kiss my head and my cheeks over and over.

"Ivy is safe. Real or not real?" Dad asked in the darkness. My mom looked down at my little face, brushed my cheek and answered, "Real."

But I'm not a little girl anymore. I can't cradle myself in her arms and hope to save her. I feel helpless. Useless. I can't do anything.

"Ivy?" A voice breaks me free of my self pity as I turn to my door to find him standing there. "Luke." I say surprised to see him. His blond hair is messy from sleep but the expression on his face explains it all. Its been years since Luke wandered in to my room after my mom's screams woke him. We were both scared, too scared to do anything. He must have been eight or nine when he declared himself brave enough to fight this on his own. But neither of us could stand it for long. "What's wrong?"

His hand is on the doorknob and he looks away, "I can't sleep…"
I sigh, "Climb in." I scoot over making a spot for him in my bed. Luke closes the door behind him and climbs in to bed next to me. His cheeks are red with embarrassment as if his friends would find out. "Thanks." he whispers.
"No problem." We lay in the dark hearing mom's screams come to a halt and turn in to soft cries and whispers. We can hear dad's voice barely audible as he tries to calm her. "I hate it when she cries…" Luke speaks breaking the silence between us. He faces the door, his back to me. "I don't like to hear her suffer."
I softly ruffle his messy blond hair, "I don't either."
"Will they ever stop?"
"I don't know," I say, "Maybe not."
I feel his body tense, "I wish they would…"
"Luke," I begin to speak but know my words may not help him.

This is a battle mom has been fighting for years but she manages. Its those moments of vulnerability where she dreams of us being torn from her side that break her. She's never wanted to tell me what the dreams are about but I've heard her tell dad a few times. Eavesdropping from behind the door, I heard her tell him how she dreamt that the horrid mutts from the arena came in to mine and Luke's beds and attacked us while we slept. There was blood everywhere. Another time she had a dream where my five-year-old self was running through the arena of the games crying for her. I was hurt and starved. There were careers chasing me. All she could do was watch behind a television screen and watch as they killed me. She cried to dad that it was unfair because I was just a baby, not even old enough to be reaped. But there I was.

Dreams of Jabberjays screaming with our voices drowning in pure agony, dreams of hovercrafts picking us up from the ground and taking us away, dreams of monsters tearing us to pieces. And of course, the worst of all, President Snow with his snake eyes tightening his grip on our necks as blood dripped upon our skin. Everything was too unbearable to hear. But they're nothing but dreams. It's not real.

"Mom's very strong," I end up saying, "She'll get through this." Luke only nods.

Before we know it the house is once again silent. "Ivy." Luke speaks breaking the silence. "Yeah?" He pauses for a moment, "Does mom dream about the bombs?" His question takes me off guard and I sit up on my elbow, "The bombs?"
He turns around and sets his eyes on me, "Yeah. The ones that killed aunt Prim." That's right. She did cry her name this time.

My eyes wander to the door, where down the hall my mom is silently crying in my father's arms. Had she been dreaming of the bombs? The ones that stole her sister's life. The ones that destroyed her district. The ones that killed so many people. I had never thought about it. I look back to Luke, "I don't know, Luke. Why do you ask?"
He shrugs, "I don't know." and looks away.
I grab his attention, "Do you dream about the bombs?"
Luke looks down for a moment. "Sometimes." He answers.

I instantly feel horrible when he says this. Luke, he's still so little. He has no reason to dream of these things. But he does and it's clear that they haunt them. And now I understand why that boy's comment about the bombs angered him so much. "You wanna tell me about them?" I ask. Luke is silent for a moment. I know he's embarrassed to talk about things like this. He's a brave kid and doesn't like to show any weakness. But he has nothing to be ashamed of.
After a moment he finally speaks, "I dreamt that the bombs took mom too. That day in the Capitol when aunt Prim died." his voice is low. I can feel myself tense up. Oh, Luke. "I also dream that they drop bombs on District 12 again when we're walking home from school. But its mostly about mom and the bombs..."

I do what mom does to comfort him and brush his hair out of his face, "Luke. Real or not real?"
Luke covers his face with his hands and groans, "Not you too!"
I laugh lightly, "Come on, real or not real?" He relaxes and lets his hands fall from his face. "Mom took down the Capitol and now Paylor is president. Real or not real?"
"Real." He answers.
"There has been no wars or bombs since then. Real or not real?"
"Real." He says.
"We're safe and sound with mom and dad. Real or not real?"
"Real."
I smile, "See? There's nothing to be scared of, Luke. Evil President Snow is dead, the districts are at peace and there is no war. Bombs aren't going to drop any time soon."

"How do you know?" Luke props himself up. His eyes are filled with concern. I sigh, "I just do, ok? Mom and dad will never let anything bad ever happen to us. We're safe. Besides," I smile, "Mom's the Mockingjay, she can pretty much do it all."
This seems to calm Luke down and he smiles, "Yeah, huh."
"Yeah." I say, "Now go to sleep before dad comes and scolds us for being up this late." "Kay." he says and lays back down. "Ivy?"
"Yeah?"
"Thanks." I smile at my little brother. True, he can be a pest but I'd do anything for him. If the Games were still around I'd volunteer just to keep him safe in the arena. Hell, I'd even fight the Capitol or anyone else if it ever came down to it…

"No problem."

After Luke falls fast asleep I begin to drift in to my own nightmares of bombs and mutts. And of course, the Games.