Author's Note: Well, here's the final chapter! While my first go-round at writing isn't perfect, it is mine and I am so glad that I put it all out there. I'm completely happy with the result of my first story (flawed as it may be) and thank you all so much for reading, reviewing and recommending. I'm thankful for the people I met along the way, for the amazing banners (I have no idea how to post them here but I love them) and the overall response. Of course there's e-marina, who humored me and pre-read the majority of the chapters. Thanks for your encouragement! Let me face-plant now.
"That's it! Let's get on the road!"
I laugh at the ridiculousness of Peeta's statement. We're moving less than a mile away to a home that we purchased on Morning Star Drive. It is slightly larger with three bedrooms, but more importantly, it is ours.
After two years of saving, we barely had enough for a down payment but felt like it was time to make our residence a bit more permanent. Peeta's graphic design projects have been successful enough to earn some new clients (not to mention extra income) and he's been working full-time at Henion for almost a year and a half. I've earned a new spot at Esselon, too: Thresh has moved to Boston to open another roasting works there, so I'm managing the Hadley location and the fair trade accounts. We're both busy, to say the least.
"Okay, guys. Let's get to the house and rescue Annie already." Our friend—Finnick's girlfriend—has been there for a couple of hours cleaning while we pack up the rental truck. I'm not sure if she got the short end of the stick or not.
"Catch." Peeta walks toward the U-Haul and tosses the keys to his pickup to Finnick. "And be careful with my girl. That first gear is tricky."
Finnick rolls his eyes and yells, "That's what she said!" He pulls away and we watch him drive slowly down the road. Toward Annie.
She's been living in Amherst with Finnick for about five months now and the transition has been fairly smooth. The hardest part was simply finding her a job: she and Finnick spent months checking out every lead they could find, to no avail. But they took that time to get to know each other through letters, phone calls and the occasional trip, trying to be patient and make it work long distance. Now that she's here they're figuring out the balancing act of normal, everyday life. Whenever I see Annie and Finnick together, I'm reminded that they truly are each other's perfect match.
I turn to my own perfect match and hold out my hand. "Time to hand over the keys." We walk back to the house and meet our landlord in the kitchen, thanking him for everything. He wishes us luck and we take one last walk around the place before going back outside.
"Ready to go?" Peeta senses that I'm a little emotional and gently pulls me to his side, murmuring, "Hey, it's okay."
I hide my face in my hands. "I'm just going to miss this place."
"I know, I know. We had great memories here."
"You took pictures, right?" We decided to start a collection of photographs of the homes we've lived in, from childhood to present, and have framed all but this place and our new one. Haymitch's house is even in the mix.
"Yes. And here's the crazy thing: —" Peeta swipes his fingers across my cheeks "—we live just close enough that we can take another if the photo isn't perfect. Go figure!"
He smirks and I can't help but laugh, swatting at his shoulder. "Oh, fine. Let's go before they've had the chance to unpack too much."
Two rooms have been set up in advance: Peeta wanted to move all of his art, various supplies and computer equipment ahead of everything else, so his art room is perfectly in order. I insisted that one of the bathrooms be organized before the move…the rest of the house can be unpacked in order of importance: kitchen, bedroom, living room, etcetera.
We pull up to see Annie and Finnick waiting outside with bottles of beer. "Welcome home, Mellarks!"
I squeal with excitement and run toward Peeta, hugging him and calling, "Thank you guys so much for helping out! We couldn't have done it without you…we owe you one." I hug Annie and whisper just for her, "Thank you."
Finnick drains his bottle and says, "Oh, we intend on holding you to that favor. Come on, let's get on with this."
The four of us lug furniture in first. Once the major pieces are where they should be, we start with the boxes and put them in their designated rooms. Annie and I tackle the kitchen, putting food away and re-washing all of the dishes, silverware and pans, while Peeta and Finnick reassemble the furniture upstairs. Hours later, we've put a decent dent in the unpacking and relax with pizza and iced tea.
Finnick is stretched out on the front steps. "So is this it for you guys? Is this where you'll put down roots?"
Peeta answers, "I think so. Amherst is home, you know? Jobs, friends, new house. What else do we really need?"
Here we are. The last three years have brought us nothing but transition. Some friendships changed and family dynamics were altered completely. To this day we have not spoken to Peeta's mother, nor has she tried to reach out to us. Mr. Mellark keeps in touch, occasionally calling or sending new recipes to his son.
The vibration of my phone startles me and I pull it out of my pocket, reading the text.
Rye: So are you homeowners or what?
I take a photo of our front door and send it to him. Yup! Feels pretty great.
Rye: Did you set up my room yet?
Not quite. Priorities, man. But here's a thought: maybe you should come help.
Rye: Nah. Homeowners are supposed to want to do work themselves. Something about pride or building character.
Rye: Besides, I'd be a guest. Guests shouldn't be asked to work.
Rye: Ha! Tell my brother to call me later. Good luck!
I hand Peeta my phone and he glances and the screen, laughing.
Rye and Peeta are closer than ever. He's visited Amherst a few times and is constantly texting both of us. Rye also met someone back in Madison; he and Jane have lived together for a couple of months and I have a feeling they'll be engaged soon. Peeta doesn't have to tell me that the renewed connection with his brother and father has greatly lessened the blow delivered by Mrs. Mellark. He lost his mother, but replaced her with an even stronger bond with the men of his family. There's absolutely nothing she can do about it, either.
Gale emails pretty regularly but we haven't seen him since our wedding. We do, however, hope to see him during a planned trip to Madison over Christmas. Someday we'd like to make it out to Oregon, too.
"Hey," Annie taps my foot to get my attention. "When's Prim coming out?"
"Maybe October? She's taking genetics this summer and can't get a break until the fall." I lean back on my elbows and bend my knees, squinting in Annie's direction. "I think she wants to wait until we get a little more settled."
Prim and Rory are no longer dating, but both survived the breakup and are still studying at the University of Minnesota. Prim changed her course of study to follow in Mom's footsteps: she hopes to be admitted to the physician assistant program one day. My relationship with our mother is unchanged.
Johanna left Esselon shortly after Peeta and I got married, letting everyone know that it was time she check out some new scenery. I only hear from her once every few months, but she seems to be enjoying Maine.
The Henion crew is still intact with Rue at the helm. Cinna and Portia's son is seemingly happy every minute of every day. They still hope to open a boutique, but that'll have to wait for quieter times: Portia is expecting their second child in six months.
He grabs another slice of pizza and returns to my side, offering me a bite. "Yeah?"
"Remind me to go to Haymitch's tomorrow and return that box of his stuff that we borrowed. He's been crabbing about it every time I go over there; I might as well return it while we're unpacking and making trips to Goodwill."
"You'd think that he kept a list of what he loaned to us. Do lists run in your family or something?"
I laugh and lean into him. "Shut up. You love my lists."
Haymitch. The years have not been kind to the man: guilt grips him at every turn and what's waiting is a drink to numb the pain. Peeta and I still have dinners with him once a week and find excuses to visit him often, making sure that the garbage isn't getting out of control. I hope he understands just how many times he saved us over the course of the years and that that knowledge lessens his sadness even a little bit.
In three years, we lost ourselves, found each other and redefined our lives on our terms. It wasn't a game, but I still feel like we've won.
Later that night, when we've both showered and are lying exhausted on our bed with boxes still littering many empty corners, I curl into Peeta and sigh contentedly.
Peeta tiredly declares, "We're never moving again."
I turn my head and kiss his chest, smiling. "Never?"
"Never." He runs his fingers over my hair. "Unless we hire a moving company. Then I'll reconsider."
"I vote for never. For now."
Peeta and I lie there quietly, just listening to the new sounds of our new home. It is still. The late summer breeze is blissfully cool, rustling the maple leaves outside of our window.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
We had made our decision and the timing is perfect, so I reach for Peeta's hand and twine our fingers together. My heart beats loudly. "Peeta?"
Author's Note: The end! I'm on tumblr (sunfishdunes) if you want to chat.