Fallen from Grace (Hunger Games)

68th Hunger Games

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38. Graveyard Visit

    Emily was up before the boys, in the kitchen making lunch they’d eat later on once both of them were awake. She swallowed back the lump swelling in her throat and the hot tears threatening to escape. With a heavy sigh and a dab at the corner of her eyes, she barely turned the dial of the stove and looked into the small pot of beef stew bubbling a little more aggressively. 

    It should just be about ready.

    She poked at a piece of sliced carrot in the stew to check if it was done, still a little solid, but give it another five minutes. Emily heard the stairs moved under weight, knowing that one of the boys was awake and coming down. Once the quiet creaks stopped, she was greeted with a good morning. Followed by: “Smells good.”

    “I really wanted to get it right,” she answered with a weak smile and went back to making them grilled cheese sandwiches. One batch with three different types of cheeses, another with mayo, and the last toasted a little longer than the others.

    “Well,” Conner began as he took one with mayo and bit into it, “I won’t doubt it’ll turn out exactly as he liked it,” he continued in between bites.

    Emily pursed her lips with a slot nod. It was June. Liam’s birthday and the three of them planned to visit where he was buried. 

    He would have turned twenty.

    After Scottie came downstairs, the three of them walked toward the graveyard talking about Liam as if he was still alive. Even with the smiles and laughs, it pained all of them. It pained the brothers whom grew up with him. And they suspected it hurt Emily more than it hurt them. 

    Knowing that she had to carry the guilt of his death for the rest of her life. Aware that if they never met, he’d still be alive and not have volunteered to protect her. Remembering that the man that loved her unconditionally was fine with having a knife that she had thrown in his heart.

    Her chip on her shoulder was heavier than the rest of them . . .

    It was the first time Emily had gone to visit Liam’s grave, she shouldn’t feel nervous about going to see a piece of rock with her best friend’s body underneath them. She felt more ashamed than nervous not having gone to see him sooner. Let alone, actually talk to him. The boys led the way and stopped just about eighty yards from the entrance where Emily read Liam’s name carved on white stone. She took in a deep breath as the three of them sat down around his grave and unpacked their lunch.

    “Hey, brat,” Conner greeted with a slight smile and took out a bottle of champagne. “Happy twentieth.” 

    Emily couldn’t help but chuckle at the greeting. Of course he would still call his little brother a brat. “Sorry we took forever,” she said quietly and took out a bowl of beef stew and placed it in front of his name. “Scottie overslept.”

    “Way to throw me under the bus, Em,” Scottie rolled his eyes at her.

    Constantine and Emily chuckled as she passed Conner the bottle opener and then took out all their sandwiches. Emily only made the beef stew for one. It was Liam’s favorite and was always made when they could afford meat. A loud POP broke through the unwrapping, and cold oozed from the mouth of the bottle. Conner poured the champagne into four glasses and placed one next to the beef stew bowl.

    “Emily insisted on the champagne,” the oldest Aldair shared. “Says it’s really good.”

    She pursed her lips with a small smile and took a flute for herself. It felt weird talking to white stone. It felt weird talking to Liam like he was sitting with them. It felt wrong that he was invisible to her eyes, when she felt like his brothers could see him.

    “Happy birthday, big bro,” Scottie lifted his glass to the white stone. Conner and Emily followed after with a little nod then sipped their sparkling alcohol. 

    Emily’s eyes shifted from Conner to Scottie at their reaction to the sweet champagne and couldn’t help but laugh at their raised brows and surprised expressions. “You shouldn’t be drinking alcohol anyway, Em,” Conner said in mock disapproval.

    “It’s really sweet. I have to steal a bite of your stew, Liam,” Scottie said and leaned forward to scoop a spoonful of beef and carrot from the bowl.

    She stifled her laugh with a smirk and sipped the rest of her drink. 

    Conner and Scottie recalled stories about Liam again, especially stories Emily remembered and laughed cheerfully during lunch. The brothers also talked about what they had been doing since the last time they visited Liam while Emily kept quiet and listened to them. She only knew that if she started talking to the piece of rock, she’d completely lose it. And she didn’t want them to see her cry again.

    After the boys finished their lunch, the stood up and pat the grass of their pants and looked to Emily. “We have the evening shift today. So we’ll be late again.”

    “I’ll make put dinner in the fridge for when you come back,” she shared.

    “See you, Em. Bye, Liam,” Conner nodded and turned away.

    “See you guys,” Scottie added and followed after his brother.

    Emily let out a quiet sigh and looked toward the white stone again. She pursed her lips in a thin line then started to pack up the empty plates, empty flute glasses that the Aldairs left with her, and stole a sip of the beef stew close to Liam’s tombstone. Just the taste of it reminded of the times his mother made the stew and they would keep stealing a couple of bites from each others’ bowls when they were younger. Like, Liam would spot a bigger piece of beef in her bowl and scoop it out of her bowl while Emily took a piece of potato from his. 

    Anything and everything reminded her of Liam.

    Emily pulled out a small individual bottle of champagne from the basket and  popped the bottle open, then she waited a few seconds for the fizz to settle before she poured herself another full glass. Liam's untouched glass still sat beside his slab of stone, bubbles floating up to the top and shining in the summer sun. She turned toward the stone with her legs to her chest and the flute glass in her hand and stared at Liam's name. 

    But that didn't last too long and looked down at the bubbles in her glass. "Sorry I haven't come to visit you . . .," was the first thing she said with a weak smile, still not able to look up. It was stupid, she even felt uncomfortable crying in front of a dead man.

    She pursed her lips and wiped an escaped tear from the corner of her eyes, but before she knew it, it came down like a waterfall . . .

    "I've been . . . I've been really busy . . ." Emily continued and looked up, the tears coming down harder and harder. "I've been . . . visiting the Capitol a lot . . . because Snow thinks I’ll lose it and kill people if I'm being pushed too hard . . . my dad has been coming over to my house lately to convince me to have him move in . . . but we both know he wants to leech off of me . . ." Emily went on and looked down again at the last bit. "Had a terrible time mentoring for the Games," she shook her head. "Met some interesting people . . . and one asshole . . . You would have hated him . . ." 

    She lightly chuckled at the curse. She could just hear him making fun of her for letting her tongue slip. He always did that and even that made her smile a little before it fell.

    Emily took a sip of her drink and looked down at the bubbling golden drink. "Do you know what the Capitolites call champagne?" she asked. And she weakly smiled, "They call it 'stars' . . . because it's sweet and the bubbles feel like they twinkle in your mouth . . . a little bottle of magic," she shrugged.

    She drained the rest of her drink and placed it just beside her. It was still weird. Talking to nothing and trying to believe he was there, but reality was too heavy on her shoulders to make-believe something that wouldn't come true. But she wished . . . God . . . she wished his death was a bad dream. She WISHED he was still alive . . .

    The Eight victor swallowed the lump swelling in her throat then ran her fingers through her hair, let out a sigh, and sniffled. “I haven’t been looking up at the stars lately . . . can’t seem to bring myself to look up at them and stare at them in awe like I used to . . .” she cried with a light smile, trying to laugh it off, but it only hurt. “I can’t seem to do a simple task without thinking about you . . .” she shook her head. “I think about . . . drinking water, and I think of times that you made me spit it out laughing over some dumb joke you thought of. I can’t pick on Scottie without thinking of you rubbing your knuckles into his skull when he said something inappropriate. I can’t—”

    Emily started to choke on her words and the tears, she swore, fell faster down her face than seconds ago. It just hurt . . . everything hurt. Thinking about Liam hurt—LIVING hurt. Breathing wasn’t suppose to be hurtful . . .

    “I’m always thinking about you, Liam . . .” she cried. “It hurts to remember you . . .” Emily tried to wipe her tears away, but more tears replaced them and she ended up soaking her hands. “It hurts . . . that I can’t see you anymore . . . I really miss you . . .” Emily sobbed and gave up on wiping her tears away. “I miss my best friend. It just—it just—KILLS ME . . . everyday . . . I feel like I’m dying . . .”

    No. That wasn’t true. She died the day Liam died. Emily’s body remained and was nothing but a shell of agony. Her whole existence had been a tragedy since the beginning.

    “I don’t like this place anymore . . .”

    Eight seemed colorful to her before. And, all of a sudden, all the colors had been washed away.

    “I don’t like . . . a world without you . . .” she pursed her lips as she curled into a ball again. “Your brothers miss you . . . and I need you. More than ever . . .” Emily shook her head as her eyes scanned the stone slab. “This is a sick joke, Liam. The worst joke ever . . .” she sighed. “You can . . . you can come out of hiding now . . . it’s not funny . . .” 

    Please come out.

    “I’ll close my eyes and count to ten,” she said as she closed her eyes. “And when I open them. You’ll be sitting right in front of me . . . One.”

    He’s dead.

    “Two.”

    He’s never coming back.

    “Three.”

    Your fault.

    “Four.”

    There’s no future without him.

    “Five . . .”

    Your future is dead.

    “Six . . .”

    Time to face the facts.

    Emily stopped counting, her body trembled as she sat there. The only promising future she had was being a mentor. And that was it. Be a mentor until death. Nothing else remained for her . . .

    “Seven . . .”

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