Fallen from Grace (Hunger Games)

68th Hunger Games

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30. Family

    She didn’t want to be alone . . . but she didn’t know how close the man was . . . would he come back . . .? Did he think she wouldn’t kill him if he tried to come back . . .? Oh god, what if he DID come back . . .?

    Emily hadn’t pulled the curtains open since her father came over uninvited, and though the dark made her blatantly aware how alone she was she felt safer in the dark. Though, she was conflicted. She found safety in the dark when she still lived with her parents . . . it was the only thing that kept her hidden from her father . . .

    It wasn’t until she grew more comfortable around Liam and his family and when they welcomed her as a friend and a part of the family that she felt safe with them in the light . . .

    Emily laid in bed, too big for her small body and too soft for comfort. It took her far too long to go to sleep, not because the bed wasn’t something she was used to, but because the nightmares of the Games constantly replayed in her dreams. It either came in short flashes or played the whole two weeks and she had no control over changing it for a different outcome. Emily would try to step off her pedestal before the gong went off, or kept herself from blowing the whistle for Liam to find her in all that rubble, or allowed the Careers to kill her in the sewer. Every point she faced death, she escaped it when she wanted to stand there.

    But the most important thought that she wanted to change was to end her life so she and Liam would die together in that room . . . The simple idea of their hearts fighting to stay alive, holding hands as their skin grew colder, and having to say goodbye to the world rather than to each other . . .

    Emily jolted awake when she heard the cannon fire that announced Liam’s death. Her eyes darted around the room, remembering where she was when the heartbreak struck her again. How could he had wanted that life for her? She constantly asked that question time and time again and she still couldn’t come up with an answer. He said she deserved another year. She deserved to live life and yet she didn’t see it that way. She killed more people than Liam had, and they praised her crime by putting a crown on her head and throwing money at her as a reward.

    God . . . if he didn’t hate her in the end . . . did he regret seeing her suffer that much wherever he was?

    She let out a sigh and pulled her covers off, changed into comfortable casual clothing, and went outside for a walk. The chilly autumn air breaking through her sweater, she wrapped her arms around herself to keep herself warm and walked out of Victor Village. After staring out her window at the luxurious mansions around her own home, it was strange seeing the obvious difference between the rich and the poor past the gates. The buildings were older and filthy with old dirt and soot from the factories. There was even rust on the metal bridge where the cargo trains come and go. If the Capitol paid any attention to keeping the Victor Village homes clean then the poorer districts housing people with weaker immune systems due to the smog then Panem would be so much more different.

    Emily kept her head down to the ground as she passed by people. No doubt they noticed her by her bright red hair. Her hands clasped around her arms, finding comfort in holding herself like she was shielding herself from the glances and stares of the Eight citizens. She would look up once in a while to see where she was going, finding herself in a more familiar part of the district and finding herself having difficulty breathing.

    The new victor walked past the old elementary school and stopped before she could walk any further to stare at the old thing past the gates. It looked so much smaller . . . she always passed by it time and time again to go to work with the boys but she never stopped to look at it to find any difference or for the sake of nostalgia. And it all looked so small. The rusty apparatus looked too little for her to play on, the blacktop was in dire need of color, and the wall she and the Aldair boys used to lean against when they were children was completely vacant.

    She pursed her lips and continued onward to her destination, completely avoiding the street toward her parents’ apartment down the other way. The closer she got, the more her hands loosened and swung to her side into her pockets. Emily slowed to a stop and stared at carvings in the brick with their names chiseled in them. Serenity, Braxton, Conner, Scottie, Liam, Emily. Mrs. Aldair insisted on adding Emily’s name too when she was eight.

    Her fingers brushed against Liam’s brick, her heart sinking every time she read his name over and over again, and let out a quiet shaky sigh before she moved away and knocked on the door. Emily knew they were home. It was their day off and it hadn’t changed in years. Her fingers kept wriggling in her pockets nervously as she heard the stairs behind the door creak under someone’s weight. Then the door swung open.

    “Emily . . .” Constantine sighed in surprise. Emily looked up at the twenty-year-old man that looked too much like Liam except for his father’s grey eyes that separated him from his deceased brother. She couldn’t bring herself to hug him, feeling as if it was too much to do. But Conner stepped forward and pulled Emily in a tight hug. Her body shook in his arms and actual tears escaped her eyes when his warmth enveloped her. She let out a quiet cry and hugged him back, burying her face into his chest while Conner pet her hair. “When did you come back?”

    “A week and a half ago . . .” she answered, her voice muffled into his chest.

    Conner gently let go of her and pulled her inside out of the cold and closed the door behind them. “Scottie. Could you make some tea? Emily’s here.”

    “What?” Then the sound of running feet from upstairs ran down the hall and down the stairs when he stopped at the last step once Scottie saw Emily. “Em . . . you’re here.”

    “Hey,” Emily tried to smile and wiped her tears away with the sleeve of her closely knit jacket. “Sorry I . . . didn’t come sooner,” she apologized.

    “You REALLY have to stop apologizing to us,” he said as he walked over to her and hugged her close.

    Emily hugged back just as hesitantly as she did with Conner and let go of her to make some tea for the three of them. Conner lightly guided her to the dining table and sat down with her. “So . . .” Conner began, “What happened? They just took you away. What have you been doing the past couple of months?”

    Emily opened her mouth, then closed it to look at her fingers intertwined with one another, and answered, “Snow . . . demanded that I stay in the Capitol for some treatment . . .”

    “Why . . .?” Scottie asked from the kitchen and stared at Emily from behind the counter island. The tea kettle was on the stove at high and three mugs that didn’t match each other at all stood just next to the stove.

    “Well . . . my therapist told me that . . . during recovery when they got me out of the arena, I have been rather . . . violent when they were fixing me up . . . and I attacked people . . .”

    “You . . . you what?” Conner began.

    “I had violent outbreaks . . . had to be sedated a couple times . . . So Snow had me locked up in the Capitol to go through therapy to talk about my feelings,” she rolled her eyes, “And exercise to let out some steam.”

    “Aaaaaaaaaand . . .” Scottie started.

    “On the first day I nearly killed my trainer . . .” she pursed her lips.

    Conner pursed her lips and tapped his thumbs together as he listened to Emily. “But . . . you got better.”

    Emily didn’t answer for a couple seconds when the kettle whistled and Scottie took it off the stove to pour the water into their mugs. “Kind . . . of . . .?” she answered as her voice grew higher. “I haven’t been . . . cooperative with my therapist. I went three months without talking about myself much.”

    “Wow . . . that must have been annoying for her,” Scottie commented and walked over to them.

    “She hated me until the last day.”

    “So you said something.”

    Emily stayed quiet and blew into her tea to cool. “Just a thought that has been bothering me a while . . .”

    “Wow, three months and you opened up to someone. That was fast,” Conner commented. Emily gave him a grim look and he smirked then took a sip of his tea.

    “Especially since it’s someone that has to report to Snow about what my problem is,” she shrugged. The three of them stayed quiet and drank their beverage, Emily kept checking the corner of her eyes to dry remaining bits of her tears and placed her mug down in front of her. “I missed you guys . . .” she muttered.

    Conner put his drink down and took her hand, rubbing his thumb against the back of her hand the way his mother did to comfort all of them. “We’re relieved that you’re okay . . .”

    Her face contorted for a moment and collected her composure again to keep a straight face. “I’m sorry for what happened . . .” she choked on her words.

    The boys merely stared at her, no words could be said for their loss or to comfort either of them. “We already knew he wouldn’t come back . . .” Conner said to break the silence. Emily looked up at him, her eyes rimmed with tears. “He didn’t have to say it when we went to say goodbye to him at the Justice Building . . .”

    Scottie’s lips were pursed as he kept his blue eyes on his mug between his hands as he nodded in agreement.

    “It was no secret that he found more importance in your life more than his own . . .” Conner continued.

    “But that’s stupid . . .”

    Conner shrugged. “That’s Liam though . . . He was a lot like you, once his mind was made up there was no talking him out of it.”

    Emily lowered her eyes to her mug between her hands and tears escaped from her corners. “It’s not fair . . .” she shook her head.

    Conner moved around the table and sat beside her so he could gently embrace her. “I know . . .”

    “Why—why aren’t you mad at me?” she mumbled under her breath as her tears escaped and soaked his shoulder.

    “We can’t . . .” Scottie answered. He let out a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair. “It was either our brother or you . . .” He dropped his eyes for a moment and took in a deep breath, “We already knew he’d take a bullet for you. If he had won, I don’t think he’d allow himself a year without you before he—”

    “Point is,” Conner interrupted his little brother so he didn’t say anything that would further upset Emily, “We had hopes for you to return. Liam would have wanted us to be here for you even with him gone.”

    Emily sniffled and exhaled a sharp and shaky breath. “You don’t think . . . he—” she paused to catch her breath, her body shaking as the thought resurfaced once more. “He hated me . . .?”

    “GOD no,” Conner shook his head. “You’d have to be blind and drunk to think that. Or not know him at all.” He lightly pushed her off to look down at her. “You think he hated you?”

    “Come on . . .” she sighed. “He . . . he was too perfect. He talked more about me than himself in his interviews . . . hardly left my side in the arena . . . and said all those things before he—” Emily stopped again and shook her head, “He had to have been faking it for the cameras . . .”

    “God . . . you can be so stupid sometimes . . .” Scottie shook his head. “Emily, Liam practically kissed the ground you walked on. He praised the air you breathe. On some level, I was convinced he thought that everything you touched turned to gold.”

    Emily lightly laughed and wiped the tears from her cheeks and eyes.

    “You may not have known his feelings for you for that long, but we KNOW his feelings for you in the end were true. Everything he did in the arena was for you. And it was all disgustingly genuine,” Conner added. “I think he was pleased to have you kill him rather than someone or something do the job . . .” Conner pulled his arm away and pat Emily’s short curls. “He lived a good life because of you . . .”

    It was ironic, wasn’t it? He lived a good life because of her. Liam started living . . . BECAUSE of her. And she took that away from him . . .

    “I know he would have wanted to say that to you in the arena . . .”

    Emily nodded and drank the rest of her tea. “Your family is the best thing that happened to me . . .” she muttered.

    Conner lightly smiled, pulled her head to his, and kissed the top of her head. “We’re glad you were there for him.”

    She sniffled and exhaled a breath and rubbed her eye with the heel of her palm when she asked, “Do you guys want to move in with me . . .?” When she looked up to them, they looked to each other and hesitated for an answer. “It has . . . been rather lonely back in my house. It’s too big and I’ve gotten used to the noise here,” she smirked. That and they were technically her family by District Eight law. “You don’t . . . have to,” she shrugged.

    “Are you sure?”

    “You guys have done too much for me for ten years. The least I can do is offer large bedrooms and unlimited food and money.”

*****

    Emily managed to rent a truck to move all the things they needed from their small home into her house as well as order two more beds for the two, once, useless rooms to transform into the boys’ bedrooms. They left their clothes for last. Emily helped them put boxes of their clothes into the truck, promising them that Winnow would make them new clothes since she loved making clothes more than she loved breathing.

    Scottie went outside to put his large box of things in the truck while Conner was in his shared room packing up the remaining bits of his things when Emily stopped in front of her shared room. She had been avoiding going inside to distract herself helping the boys, but it was the last time they would be returning to the house until something were to happen to her . . .

    Emily stared at the doorknob and lifted a trembling hand. She slowly took it, grasping it in her sweat hand and turned it inch by inch. The door pushed open and a part of her hoped to see Liam sleeping in his bed with the covers bunched up on one side barely covering his body and his hair messier than normal, but once it swung wide open . . . it was empty . . .

    The beds were unmade, just as they had left them. Liam’s socks laid on the floor and a pile of their clothes was in one corner of the room. Emily couldn’t help but see that them sharing a room together was like they had been married all along and shared the same messy habit. Dust had piled up on their desks, decorations and junk from each other and friends on top of their clothes drawers. Everything was just as they had left it four months ago.

    She heard feet approaching their old bedroom and stopped at the door. Conner put the box down on the floor and took small steps inside the room, but barely made it past the doorframe. “We couldn’t . . . bring ourselves to come in here . . .”

    Emily merely nodded.

    “We thought of leaving it like this.” Emily nodded again and wrapped her arms around herself, blinking rapidly to keep herself from crying. She had done enough of that the past two weeks and even she was getting tired of it. “Are you . . . going to pack up some of his things too . . .?”

    “I don’t know . . .” she shook her head. “Maybe . . .?” It would be a hurtful reminder, but it was better to bring them to put them to some good use rather than ignore he ever existed. Maybe she could . . . wear some of his old shirts to sleep in. “Can’t just . . . leave his junk here for the moths to eat through . . .” she shrugged and picked up a couple of Liam’s dirty shirts from the laundry corner and put them in a trash bag.

    Conner didn’t argue and merely nodded. “I’ll bring a box for this room . . .”

    Emily gave him a weak smile before he disappeared around the corner. Emily turned away from the dirty pile and went to Liam’s old clothes drawer, pulled it open, and pulled one of his casual shirts from the top pile. She held the shirt between her hands and sat onto his bed as she stared down at the dark grey shirt to her chest. She saw her thumbs tremble just holding the stupid thing.

    God, she had no control over her emotions . . .

    It felt as soft as the cloth around her wrist . . .

    She pulled it closer to her face and took in a deep breath of the shirt, smelling his scent that she missed so deeply. Even the way he smelled broke her heart into little pieces. The more she prodded into things that he once did and touched, it only further reminded her he was real and gone. He wasn’t a perfect figment of her imagination . . .

    He was real and he loved her . . .

    Conner came back into the room with an empty box, finding Emily on her deceased husband’s bed with his shirt pressed to her forehead as she let out quiet sobs. He walked on over to her and sat beside her, wrapped his arms around her and placed his head on top of her head as she cried.

    “I know . . .” he muttered to her, “I miss him too . . .”

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