Sunday, March 31, 2013

Life Lessons 30: Pain

Dani had never in her life felt pain like this before. She now understood the full meaning of excrutiating. If she died from the pain, it wouldn't even surprise her. How could she possibly go on when it hurt this much? She didn't think it was possible. Nothing could provide her comfort.

Aldine was gone forever, and nothing could be done to change that. Dani had never believed things like this happened. People didn't die when they were twelve. It just didn't happen. Only the elderly die.

Dani's father had sat down to tell her two hours ago that Aldine had died last night after being in a car crash with her family. Everyone else had made it out alive with minor injuries. Cars had been a relatively new concept in District 12, and only a limited number of them could be found on the streets. This tragedy had shocked the entire district.

Dani made the mistake of glancing at her mother as Peeta told her the story as calmly as he could. Katniss looked as if every nightmare she'd had about the future had suddenly come true. Dani had it worse. This wasn't her nightmare. This was something so horrible that Dani hadn't even dreamt it possible. The young girl was entirely unprepared for the disaster and had no idea how to handle it. In her twelve years, Dani had never directly experienced death other than watching her mother while hunting, and even that had rattled Dani so much that she'd declined ever going again.

Now, all of her views on death were changing. It was a reality now, and Dani was being asked to accept the fact that she'd never see one of her best friends again except as a still corpse in a casket before it was closed and buried deep into the ground.

The idea was almost too much for the girl to take as she holed herself up in her room and cried never-ending tears. Dani hadn't known it was possible to produce this many tears this quickly. Just one of the many things she was discovering today.

She felt the matress dip beside her but couldn't be bothered to glance up at the person who had invaded her privacy. Dani deduced that it was her father when he pulled her hair back and pulled her closer to himself. She sunk into his embrace, but not even her father could make her feel better at that particular moment.

He must have held her for hours before Dani ran out of tears. It was only then that she stopped to realize that he hadn't bothered to move for that long because he was more worried about her. For the first time, Dani lifted her head from the pillow, hoping not to burst into tears at the sight of her father. She was surprised to find not only her father looking down at her but her mother as well. Katniss had settled in a chair by Dani's bedside, and Dani didn't think she had seen her this worried since Nickel's injury in the woods.

No one wanted to break the silence. Katniss and Peeta were probably worried that anything they said would set of Dani's tears again, but Dani didn't think that was possible. Her eyes stung more than she thought was possible. They'd be raw for weeks.

Dani burried her face in her father's shoulder as her mother moved towards the bed and began to hold her too. Her crying had subsided, but her emotions were just as strong as ever. The young girl had a feeling there would always be a part of her that ached at the thought of Aldine.

A/N: And that's the end of Life Lessons! I'm sorry for ending it on such a sad one, but I guess the fact that death is a part of life is always the hardest lesson to learn, isn't it? Thank you to everyone who read Life Lessons. It means a lot, and an extra special thank you to everyone who reviewed it. I read all of the reviews, and I really appreciate all of them.

I'm currently writing a second Hunger Games fanfiction that will cover themes 31-50 of the Hunger Games 100 Theme Challenge. It's entirely different though and will be about the 4th Hunger Games. I hope you all check it out as well when it's up. I'm about halfway through writing it at the moment. Hopefully it'll be up sometime this summer.

Again, thank you to all of you who read the entire story! I appreciate it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Life Lessons 29: Heal

Nickel's face scrunched up at the horrid smell. No matter how many times he entered Haymitch's house it always managed to catch him off guard. It was as if the smell of alcohol had permeated every single area of the house, even the smallest of crevices. It was a smell that Nickel hoped he was never used to.

The boy had been sent over to check on Haymitch as it had been a few days since he'd last been seen. When Nickel was younger, he'd have never been allowed into the house alone unless his parents knew Haymitch was awake. If he'd stumbled upon an asleep Haymitch and accidently awoke him things could have been bad. A few years ago though, Haymitch had finally begun to sleep without his usual knife. Something that his parents had seemed overjoyed to discover. Now that his awakenings were less violent, Nickel and Dani were often sent to do the deed. Nickel thought it had something to do with Haymitch being easier on them than he was their parents. He really did have a soft spot for them, even if he wouldn't admit it.

"Haymitch," Nickel called into the house that was as eerily quiet as usual. As he'd expected, there was no answer, and Nickel was left to wander through the house to search for its sole occupant. Without bothering to look into the TV room that had sat empty since before Nickel's birth, the boy went straight for the kitchen: the room with the alcohol and Haymitch's favorite room by default.

Sure enough, the aged man was slumpt over in his usual seat, but in an odd change to routine, the drunken man was awake. Nickel was about to ask why Haymitch hadn't answered him earlier, when the boy really took in the scene before him. Although Haymitch had appeared to be awake at first glance, Nickel began to wonder if the man had learned how to sleep with his eyes open. Either that or Haymitch was lost in his own head because no one found a bottle of alcohol that interesting, not even a drunk.

It was with great trepidation that Nickel made his way towards Haymitch's kitchen table. He was just a few steps away when Haymitch's eyes suddenly found him. Startled, Nickel jumped back quickly before regaining his composure and sitting in the seat opposite Haymitch who now seemed as focused on Nickel as he had been on the bottle just a moment ago.

Nickel sat in discomfort while Haymitch studied him for what felt like hours. Finally, the old man began to speak. "You ever wonder why I drink so much, boy?"

In all honesty, Nickel had wondered about it once or twice, but he couldn't say it was something that had occupied more than a minute or two of his thoughts at any given time. Haymitch just drank. Nickel had never thought of it as weird seeing as it was the only way he'd ever known the man. Before Nickel could answer, Haymitch continued, "Alcohol is a powerful thing. I used to tell myself I was better than the morphlings, but I don't really believe that anymore." Nickel never got a chance to ask what Haymitch meant by "morphlings." "You're the first person I've ever said this to, but I'm a weak person, boy. Sure, I've done a lot of brave things, but I'm weak. It's to be expected of course. I'm human, even if I've done some very inhumane things. We're all weak, and I didn't have someone to rely on like your parents did. I suppose I'm lucky I didn't kill myself."

Nickel was beginning to get a little freaked out. He had no idea where this was coming from or what Haymitch even meant. None of it made sense to the young boy. Maybe the alcohol had made Haymitch entirely crazy.

"I don't know why I'm telling you this," Haymitch finally began to answer one of Nickel's unspoken questions. "You're too young for this, yet I think that's why I chose to unload it on to you. Not fair really. Not even ethical. But since when have I been fair and ethical? There's a reason I'm a victor."

Haymitch's words meant next-to-nothing to the young boy, as Nickel sat in rapt attention. He tried to decipher every sentence, but his limited knowledge wasn't allowing him to figure much out. Nickel was still trying to figure out what "ethical" meant as Haymitch suddenly fell silent again.

Haymitch's thoughts seemed to be continuing down the same path that he had just been voicing outloud to Nickel. Nickel wondered if he should run for one of his parents. They'd understand what Haymitch was ranting about, and they'd probably have a better chance at making him feel better. His parents always made everything better.

Nickel had barely made it out of his seat when Haymitch stopped him with a grumble. "Where are you going, boy?" Nickel looked sheepishly at Haymitch, unsure of how to respond.

"To get my parents," he murmered quietly.

"Boy, your parents can't help me." Nickel thought he detected a bit of humor in Haymitch's eyes.

Nickel was a little shook up at the words. The young boy silently sat back down in his seat, unsure of what to do now or how to act in Haymitch's presence.

"There are some things that just can't be fixed," Haymitch muttered so softly that Nickel was sure he hadn't been meant to hear it.

The boy was becoming even more uncomfortable as the silence continued. Nickel had no idea what he should do or if he should do anything at all. Time passed, and Nickel began considering just leaving and letting Haymitch deal with everything on his own. Nickel had begun pushing back his chair when he thought better of it. Glancing up, Nickel watched Haymitch as he took another swig of alcohol. The drunk was now looking towards the window placed over the sink.

Nickel stayed and sat with Haymitch in silence for quite a while, but it wasn't until years later that he fully understood what Haymitch had meant. Some wounds were harder to heal than others, and people used different methods to heal, some of which worked better than others. Haymitch could drink all the alcohol in the world, but he'd never be healed. Haymitch would never heal. He'd suffer through the rest of his life pretending to be healed by masking his problems with alcohol, but the wounds would still be there underneath it all. After knowing Haymitch his whole life, Nickel only fully grasped just how sad Haymitch's life was many years later.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Life Lessons 28: Can You Hear Me?

Best friends could only do so much. Usually, Nickel could rely on Colby for just about everything, but sometimes Colby wasn't around, like now when Colby's parents had decided that this week would be perfect for a vacation to the Capitol. Nickel had plenty of other friends. He'd always been on the quiet side, but his friendly nature allowed him to make friends easily in spite of that. (As opposed to Dani who was outgoing, yet had only a small group of close friends because she didn't interact with other people that well. She just wasn't good at first impressions.)

Yet Nickel had recently discovered that none of his other friends were quite the same as Colby. He couldn't tell his other friends everything that Colby knew, and none of his friends seemed interested in playing the game Nickel and Colby had made up years ago and played constantly. Instead, Nickel had been forced to play whatever game his other friends decided to play, which was never quite as fun. Nickel had decided that he was never taking Colby's friendship for granted again. His other friends just weren't the same.

"I can't believe there's still a week until you come back," Nickel whined into the phone. The two friends had been calling each other every night. Nickel kept Colby up to date on what was happening at home (which was nothing), and Colby told Nickel all about his vacation so far (which basically consisted of an annoying older brother and little sister ruining the whole thing).

"Neither can I," sympathized Colby. "Ailen started crying earlier today because she lost her doll somewhere on the streets. My parents spent ages trying to explain that it's much harder to find lost things here in the Capitol than it is back home in District 12. She's never going to see that doll again, and she's not going to shut up about it for the rest of the trip."

"Can't your parents calm her down by offering her a brand new doll from the Capitol?"

"They tried. She claims it's not the same, since she had the other one since she was born. It makes sense, but I wish she'd mourned in silence."

Nickel silently thanked whoever was responsible for him getting an older sister instead of a younger one.

"I'm sure she'll calm down eventually," Nickel tried to sound optimistic.

Colby sighed into the phone. "I doubt it. You know Ailen. It takes her days to let go of things."

The conversation continued for over an hour. Half an hour in, their talk began deteriorating into idle pratter about the most random of things. Their words almost seemed to lose any meaning, but neither one seemed eager to hang up the phone, knowing there was nothing but boredom or annoyance waiting for them. It wasn't until Dani made a comment about only girls carrying on such long, pointless conversations that Nickel decided it was probably time to hang up.

It wasn't more than twenty seconds after he set the phone down that he began wondering what to do. How had he ocuppied his alone time before? It wasn't like he spent every waking moment with Colby when he was here. Nickel had ways to keep himself busy, but in his loneliness he could think of none of them.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Life Lessons 27: Words

"Why would I like someone as ugly as her?"

It had been hours, and the words were still ringing in Dani's ears. Never before had she heard someone say something so awful. She felt slightly guilty for feeling relieved that it hadn't been about herself, but a cripling feeling of anxiety had gripped her as she debated whether or not to tell Jasmeet what she had heard.

If their positions were switched, she would want Jasmeet to tell her. Right? She wasn't sure, and that was the problem. Dani had almost went to Aldine for help before deciding that spreading it around wouldn't help things. It wasn't as if Dani could just forget it had happened. Jas had been crushing on this guy for the better part of a year, and Dani knew it was her recent flirting that had prompted him to make the comment to his friends. Dani had the misfortune to be digging through her locker, which was only five down from the one the jerk and his friends had gathered around. They probably hadn't even noticed her presence, and if they had, she doubted they had remembered she was one of Jas' closest friends. Now she was in this horrible position.

She knew she was going to tell Jas. There was no choice really. Dani just wished there was a way to avoid it. Maybe getting Aldine's help wouldn't be so bad after all.

Dani let out a groan and buried her face in the pillow. She was reluctant to get up and do what she knew had to be done. There was no way she could let Jas crush on someone so horrible any longer. What if he tricked her? Dani had seen another boy do something similar to one of the nicest girls in her grade. Yes, Dani had to tell her soon. It was that resolve that forced her off her bed for the first time since arriving home after school.

The fact that Jasmeet lived all the way in town didn't help Dani's determination. As she was making what felt like a much longer walk than normal from the Old Victor's Village to town, she began to doubt herself yet again. Although her footsteps got slower as she ambled along, Dani finally found herself on Jas' front step. Somehow her friend was able to hear her light knock on the door, and Dani soon found herself face-to-face with Jas.

"Hey!" Jas greeted her happily, not at all aware of Dani's inner turmoil.

"Hey," Dani's greating wasn't quite as exuberant. Ugh, why did her friends always seem to have boy troubles?

Jas quickly ushered Dani to her room, and Dani was faced with no other option but to tell her friend why she had come. Usually Jas wouldn't be the least bit suspicious, as Dani often dropped by unexpectedly, but Dani knew her discomfort was clear thanks to the questioning looks Jas kept throwing in her direction.

Jas curled her legs under her on the bed and looked at Dani expectantly, silently waiting for her to speak on her own.

"I overheard something while at my locker today," Dani finally spoke in a shaky voice. "Roland was talking to his friends. About you." It became harder and harder for Dani to go on, especially once she glanced up to see Jas' worried face.

"And?" Jas whispered after Dani had been silent for quite a while.

Dani turned towards the window and visibly cringed as she spoke the words. "They were laughing about your feelings for him. He was saying stuff about how you looked so stupid when you tried to talk to him and how he would never date you." It was getting harder and harder for Dani to go on as Jas began to cry. Dani felt tears in her own eyes and stopped speaking. Jas had heard enough.

Instead of speaking, Dani sat down on the bed next to her best friend and wrapped an arm around her. Jas rested her head on Dani's shoulder, making Dani hopeful that she'd offered at least some semblance of comfort. Still, nothing Dani could do would be powerful enough to make the tears stop.

Dani knew Jas felt miserable now. A couple days from now she would still feel horrible whenever thoughts about Roland entered her head. Then, the hurt would fade. The thought of the words might always bring a little twinge of sadness and maybe a bit of self-doubt, but Jas would move past it. The effect of Roland's words might always leave a small mark on Jas, but she could move past it. It was just take some time.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Life Lessons 26: Starvation

What would it be like to starve? That wasn't a question most nine-year-olds pondered over, but this wasn't the first time Nickel had thought about this question. Occassionally they'd be eating dinner and his dad would make an off-hand remark about his childhood and the previous lack of food in District 12. His mother would immediately scold him for the remark, and Peeta wouldn't say anything more about it. By that time though, the words had already made their mark in Nickel's mind.

His teachers had said things about District 12 being a poor district before the rebellion, but a lack of food was something that was never discussed. If it had been, Nickel would have known. He always paid specially close attention in history class. Nickel had always secretly wondered what it would be like to go without food. He couldn't imagine not eating three full meals a day and maybe a snack or two. It was another thing he added to the ever growing list of horrible things he couldn't believe his parents had gone through.

One day Nickel decided to go a day without food. Not because he wanted to go without it, but because he wanted to see what it had been like for his parents. Nickel had always had an insatiable curiosity, and he always wanted to not only learn things but experience them if at all possible. He didn't plan to go without food forever. He wasn't going to actually starve himself. He just wanted to go one day to see if he could kind of understand his parents' situation. Needless to say, he didn't last the whole day.

The first problem Nickel encountered was his parents. He guessed their own years of limited food had led them to be much more adamant that their children recieve the correct amount of nourishment. That meant eating enough to be full, but not enough that they'd want to take that puking drink his parents had mentioned in disgust a few times. Nickel wasn't at the table for more than a few minutes that morning before his mom asked him why he wasn't eating. Her concerned look made it apparent that Nickel wasn't going to get away from the table without eating a decent breakfast.

Unable to come up with a way to avoid eating under his parents' watchful eyes, Nickel began to pick at his breakfast disinterestedly. He was swirling around some scrambled eggs and taking the occassional bite when he heard his father speak, "Nickel? What's wrong?"

Looking up for the first time in ten minutes, Nickel realized that not only his parents but also his sister were watching him. While his parents' faces both held looks of concern, Dani just look slightly interested in the events unfolding.

"I'm just not very hungry," Nickel stared down at his eggs to try and hide the lie. Peeta and Katniss seemed to see right through this, and Nickel could hear them sitting their silverware down as if preparing for a long conversation. Dani took a bite of sausage as she watched the others intently, careful not to miss anything.

"Really?" Katniss asked in a disbelieving voice. "You haven't eaten in the twelve or so hours since dinner, but you're not hungry?"


"Are you sick?" Katniss sounded as if she already knew the answer.


"Then what could be the cause of you lack of appetite?" This time she didn't yet know the answer to the question.

Nickel was quiet for a moment as he thought about what to say. His family was watching him intently, and his unfortunate inability to lie wasn't helping matters. "I just don't feel like eating," was the lie he finally chose. He just prayed the growling his stomach was doing wasn't audible to the entire room.

"Nickel," his mom started in a voice that told him he was going to be revealing the truth rather soon.

"I just don't want to eat," he quickly defended himself. It was his last ditch effort to get away with not telling the whole truth.

His father was studying him closely. "There's more to it than that. People don't just decide they don't want to eat. Not when their stomachs are growling loud enough for the whole room to hear."

So they had heard that. This wasn't working out the way Nickel had hoped. "I just wanted to see what it was like." Although it came out as a mumble, his parents seemed to have heard him. Katniss' face showed confusion, as if she didn't understand what he meant, but Peeta seemed to understand immediately.

His father leaned over and placed a hand on his shoulder before speaking. "Nickel, starvation isn't something a nine-year-old should experience, and skipping one meal won't really help you understand anyway. You'd have to skip a whole lot of meals all in a row or eat very little, and there's no way your mother and I are letting you do that. It's not healthy, and you shouldn't even think about attempting it. A lot of people went through some pretty horrible stuff so that you don't have to worry about starving, and you should finish your breakfast to show them that you're thankful for it." When Nickel chanced a look at his mother, he noticed that a look of horror had taken up residence on her face now that she knew what was happening. This was the very reason Nickel had wanted to avoid explaining himself. Without even saying a word, Nickel looked down at his plate and took a giant bite of his now cold scrambled eggs. He didn't even look up as he continued shoveling food into his mouth at a break neck speed.

Katniss seemed content to drop the issue now that Nickel was eating. He could see her turn back to her food out of the corner of his eye. Dani had also lost interest in what was happening, but Nickel could clearly feel that his father's eyes were still on him as he ate his meal. This caused the young boy to continue staring at his food even when most of it was gone from his plate and his stomach had finally been satiated.

Dani excused herself soon after finishing and left to go into town with her friends. Nickel had hoped for a similar escape, but he lost hope when Peeta spoke. "Nickel, I think we should talk more about this."

For the first time since he began eating, Nickel cautiously looked up at his father. It wasn't that he was scared they'd be mad. Rather, he was scared of their disappointment or sadness. Nickel didn't even know how to explain himself to them. He'd just been curious, but something told him his parents wouldn't understand that. They just seemed slightly horrified. You'd almost think Nickel had tried to starve himself to the point of death. All he'd wanted to know was how if felt to not eat one meal.

"Nickel," his father began. "You don't want to know what it's like to go without food. One meal wouldn't matter much, but you'd have to go without for much longer than that to really understand. And you shouldn't have to understand."

"This is way too much for a nine-year-old," his mother finally spoke. Nickel wasn't sure if her words were about his attempt at not eating or his father's speech. She wasn't looking at either of them. Instead, her eyes were firmly on the table in front of her, and the deep frown she wore made Nickel feel even worse. He almost wished he had more food in front of him. Maybe he could fit a little more into his stomach.

"Katniss," Nickel's father moved around the table to be closer to his mother. "It's fine. Nickel's fine. He was just curious, like always."

"He shouldn't be curious about this," she whispered. Nickel shrunk back in his seat. He felt trapped and wanted nothing more than to escape. Katniss looked close to tears, and Nickel felt his own stinging his eyes.

"Mom," Nickel whispered before slowly getting out of his seat and approaching her. "I'm sorry," he mumbled quietly into her shoulder. Katniss gripped him tightly, and both mother and son stayed wrapped in each other's arms for several minutes.

"It's okay," Katniss whispered in his hair. "Just never try something like that again."

"I won't. Promise." And it was the truth. Nickel was determined not to do something that had proved to cause his parents so much pain.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Life Lessons 25: Broken Pieces

Dani stared out the window at the murky clouds hiding the sky. It was a dreary spring day, and there had been nothing but clouds and rain all day. A rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance, although Dani hadn't noticed a flash of lightning, not surprising considering how much her mind had been drifting. Dani couldn't spot one living thing that wasn't rooted to the ground. That was one thing Dani found fascinating about nature: how every single animal seemed to know exactly when they should seek shelter from a coming storm. If only humans would pay that much attention to what was happening around them. Those weather people, who were wrong as often as right, wouldn't be needed.

Of course, there was a lack of humans outside as well. A small group of kids could usually be counted on to be running around at any given point in the day, but today they had apparently taken their playing indoors. This included Dani's brother, who had brought his best friend Colby over several hours ago. They were currently doing something in Nickel's room while being suspiciously quiet. Her parents had made themselves comfortable in the house today. Dani knew that her father was in the next room. He'd decided that cookies were just what they needed to cheer them up on this gloomy day. Katniss had followed him into the kitchen. Dani could usually expect to find her mother close to her father's side if she wasn't in the woods.

Dani hadn't even realized that it was odd for her parents to be almost attached at the hip so much until Jas pointed it out to her. They'd only been seven at the time, and Jas had asked innocently why her parents never seemed to leave each other. After asking what her friend meant, Jas had told Dani that her own parents were often going places without the other, and Jas saw them together maybe a couple of hours a day. After hearing this, Dani had closely watched all of the other adult couples she knew, and she had discovered that her parents' seeming inability to function after long periods apart wasn't exactly normal. Of course, she'd learned more about the truth behind this, but she'd found it incredibly fascinating as a young child. She'd been convinced it was proof that her parents loved each other more than any other couple on the planet. Dani still believed this, even if it was naive of her. There was no way any other couple could beat her parents.

This thought made her move towards the kitchen. Dani was careful to quietly poke her head around the corner. Hopefully she would be able to observe her parents without them realizing she was there. She liked to catch them having little moments together sometimes. It made her daydream about having that same relationship with someone of her own some day, although she wasn't sure she could ever love someone as much as her parents loved each other.

Her parents were by the counter on the opposite side of the kitchen from the door Dani was peaking around. All they were doing was standing side by side as they worked on making some type of baked good. They were standing as close to each other as they could be without touching. Even with the lack of contact, Dani could tell how much the other's presence relaxed them from the look on their faces. Peeta had a small smile that Dani was used to seeing on his face whenever he was around anyone in the family. Her mom, as usual, had a straight face, but Dani had become very good at reading the expressions on her mom's face that others often believed to be all the same. Dani was one of the few people who would be able to tell you that her mother's face was as relaxed as it could possibly be at the moment. It was an expression that most people never got to see on Katniss.

It became more and more obvious to her the older that she got that her parents weren't exactly "fine" the way most people were. They were fine in the only way people who had been through what they had could be fine, but it most definitely wasn't the fine that Dani herself felt. There was constantly a part of her parents that most wasn't fine and never would be. Yet her parents seemed to be at their best and happiest when they were together. Dani was sure her and her brother had a similar effect on them, but Dani loved watching her parents together. They couldn't make each other whole again. That was impossible. But together they were able to tape the pieces back together as good as was possible. Dani noticed Peeta stealing a quick kiss before sticking a pan into the oven. Yes, Dani couldn't think of any couple more perfect than her parents.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Life Lessons 24: Mirror

Putting on makeup was harder than it looks. That was the one thing Dandelion Mellark had discovered that day. She'd been embarassed enough when she'd quietly asked her mother if she could have the makeup in the first place. Walking around looking like a clown would make it even worse.

Dani reached dejectedly for the washcloth and scrubbed her face for the third time in an effort to remove the makeup that just didn't look right on her face. She turned from the mirror, no longer wanting to look at her own reflection, and pulled herself up onto the counter. It wasn't as if she could ask her mother for advice. Dani didn't think Katniss had put on one bit of makeup since she was seventeen years old, and even then she hadn't been putting it on herself.

Dani's heart went into her throat as a knock at the bathroom door startled her. "Dani, are you in here?" Rowan Hawthorne. Dani had forgotten that they were getting here today. Here was the answer to her problems. Rowan, who was two years older, had always seemed like Dani's older sister.

Dani flew off the counter and wrenched the door open. "Rowan!"

Her younger friend's enthusiasm caused Rowan to take a step away from the doorway. "Happy to see you too, Dani," she chuckled. "What have you been doing for so long in the bathroom? I was waiting for you downstairs."

Dani's face brightened in embarassment. Instead of answering, she motioned towards the bathroom counter, which was still littered with various beauty products. That was when Rowan noticed the makeup on Dani's face that Dani hadn't been quite successful in removing in her anger. A small smile found its way onto Rowan's face. All she said was, "You want help?"

Dani smiled back gratefully. "Yes, please."

Rowan wasn't an overtly kind person, but she often found herself helping Dani more often than she would others. Sure, she was nice, but she didn't do many favors. For that reason, she couldn't help but make a few jibes as she went over the basics of makeup with the younger girl. "You look great by the way," she motioned at Dani's own attempt at the makeup. "You'd make a very believable clown."

Dani stuck her tongue out. "Even I know it's not that horrible," she sighed.

"Close though," Rowan muttered just loud enough for Dani, who swatted her playfully, to hear.

"You have the right idea," Rowan explained as she closed the door behind her. "You just need some practice, so you don't end up looking like a crazy Capitol person."

Dani's confidence swelled. She'd been sure that she was screwing something up. No way did she want to look like a Capitol citizen. Her mother would fly off the handle. Dani knew that Capitol fashions had become much simpler in recent years thanks to the influence of the districts, but the people there were still known for slightly outlandish tastes. If she was to go to school looking like one, she'd be teased endlessly.

Rowan had Dani remove the makeup she'd applied before pulling out the foundation that Dani wasn't even sure exactly matched her skin tone. Rowan looked from the foundation to Dani as if she was considering this very thing herself, but her nod seemed to imply that she was satisfied with the shade. "We might be able to find a better shade for you, but this works okay for now," Rowan explained. "Next time you should try to find one that brings out the slight olive tint to your skin." Dani nodded although she wasn't so sure about the "olive tint." Sure her skin wasn't as light as her dad's or other people she knew, but Dani had always been slightly jealous of the olive skin her mother, Rowan, and most of her classmates had.

Rowan had applied a layer of makeup to Dani's face that was far thinner than she had thought possible. All the while, Rowan was explaining that the less makeup Dani could get away with, the better. She wanted to look as natural as possible. Makeup was supposed to enhance your natural beauty, not hide it. Rowan's many philosophical makeup comments continued throughout the entire process. Dani had never thought about many of these things, and she soaked up the new information. She'd have to remember to put on a lot less makeup next time. The eyeliner would take some practice. How Rowan could hold her arm so steady and see clearly with the pencil to her eye Dani didn't understand.

"There," Rowan began clearing the makeup off the counter, seemingly satisfied with her job. "Look in the mirror."

Dani turned and almost blushed at the reflection in the mirror. If Dani didn't no better, she would almost be surprised that she had makeup on. Rowan had made it perfectly complement her features. "Thanks, Rowan!" Dani exclaimed in excitement.

"You're welcome," Rowan chuckled. "Come on. Let's go into town, and you can show off my awesome makeup skills to everyone." Before Dani knew it, her arm was hooked in Rowan's, and they were out the door and heading toward town.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Life Lessons 23: Magic

Dani had long ago decided that there was something magic about spring. It all started with her love for dandelions. She'd always enjoyed watching them pop out of the ground when the weather became warm, and she'd proudly proclaim that these little yellow flowers were her namesake. As she got older, Dani discovered the other magical things that happened during the season, from the other flowers coming up from the ground or the birds beginning to sing again. Yes, Dani had decided that spring was the most magical time of year.

This was the first spring where Dani found herself proficient enough at needlepoint to attempt to recreate the beauty she saw around her. She'd done so in the past with paintings and drawings, but she liked this way much better. Needlepoint couldn't quite relay the depth that a painting could, but Dani was proud of her current work just the same. Dani's needlepoint wasn't based on any particular scene as everything happened too quickly during the spring for her to capture it with the long process of needlepoint, yet she constantly found herself outdoors for inspiration and just pure admiration of the beauty.

Aldine didn't seem to quite understand it all, but she had admitted that it was "nice out" and was currently sitting underneath the shade of a tree in the backyard of the Mellark household. Dani was a lot more focused on her needlepoint than her friend, so Aldine had pulled out the notebook that was constantly on her person and began scribbling down the poetry she was notorious for. For every bit that Dani wanted to express herself with pictures, Aldine had the same desire to express herself through words.

The two girls were so absorbed in their own outlets that neither of them noticed Peeta exiting the house on the opposite side of the yard. "You two look hard at work." The two girls were startled to hear Peeta's words. Dani silently breathed a sigh of relief that she was working with a dull needle because otherwise she'd have been bleeding after her slight jump.

"Way to make yourself known, Dad," Dani grumbled in a tone that showed she wasn't really upset.

Peeta chuckled to himself. "Sorry about that. I didn't realize your minds were wandering that much. I guess I'm just used to your mom hearing me from a mile away." Dani smiled. She'd heard her mom remark about her father's unusually loud footsteps many times before.

"You do walk like an elephant," Dani joked.

"I'll take that as a complement since elephants can actually walk very quietly." Dani decided not to question how her dad knew such a random fact about an animal that she didn't think he'd ever actually seen before.

Dani then noticed her mom coming from the direction of the woods, and she realized why her dad had come outside and disturbed their peace and quiet. When she reached them, Katniss settled in next to Peeta where he had made himself comfortable on the porch steps. She set her bow and arrows gently down on the steps and leaned into Peeta. Dani smiled at her parents' contentment and turned to look back at Aldine, who'd been extremely quiet. Aldine's nose was still buried in her notebook, and Dani let out a small chuckle at the sight. Aldine could sink deep into writing and forget the world sometimes. Dani happily turned back to her needlepoint as she sat in comfortable silence with her friend and parents.

It was just a small moment in her life, nothing more than a sunny spring day, but Dani made sure to file it away in her memories carefully. The way her friend sat contently next to her; the way her parents looked so content sitting next to each other; the way the birds chirped in the sky; the way the squirrels scurrying across the grass; the way the wind blew the newly bloomed flowers and trees; and the way her needle felt as it recreated the nature around her. It all added up to one magical moment that Dani wanted to keep forever.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Life Lessons 22: Fairy Tale

Dani was tired of listening to her friends gush about boys.  She'd never admit that outloud though.  Her quiet and slightly stand-offish nature meant Dani's group of friends was a small one.  She loved her friends, and she didn't think alienating them over something they took so seriously was a good idea.

It wasn't that Dani never wanted to talk about boys.  It was just that the latest boy drama was driving her a little insane.  (Aldine liked Kamadev who had seemed to like her back until he asked Irawa out yesterday.)  Dani had decided that, while boys were nice, she had less stressful ways to fill her time.

This had always been a huge difference between her and her friends.  When they were little Aldine and Jasmeet had always wanted to play princess while Dani would have rather played an adventure-type game.  She remembered spending the night with Jas years ago and having Jas' mom tell them a story about princesses.  Dani's father, on the other hand, had always told her bedtime stories that involved girls going on grand adventures where it didn't matter if her clothes got dirty.  Sometimes he threw a boy in as the girl's best friend or trusty sidekick, but if there was any romance, her dad would just say they got married years later – she thought he was trying to give her a hint.

"Look at them," disgust was clearly recognizeable on Aldine's face and in her voice.  She was glaring at Kamadev and Irawa from across the cafeteria.  Dani imagined they must be acting disgustingly cute, but she couldn't be bothered to look.  For her part, Jas seemed to be getting a little tired of Aldine's ranting as well, and all she offered was a quick, uninterested glance in the couple's direction before turning back to her food.  Aldine didn't seem to notice her friends' lack of interest in her continuing drama as she gave the evil eye to the couple who, now that Dani had bothered looking, where hunched closely together and giggling in a sickly cute fashion.

"So..." Dani searched around for a topic she hoped would distract Aldine.  She failed to attract anyone's attention though, and she couldn't think of anything to say regardless.

"Any plans for the weekend?" Jas asked, saving Dani.

"Not really," Dani replied.  "Just the usual."

"Me too." Jas nodded.  Then, her eyes lit up.  "We should have a slumber party!"

"Great idea!"  Dani thought that was the perfect way to get their friend's mind off of things.  Dani and Jas turned to Aldine expectantly, but she had now turned dejectedly to her food.  "Aldine," Dani snapped her fingers in front of Aldine's face.

Aldine blinked and looked at them blankly.  "A party sounds fine."  Well, at least she had been paying some attention.

"Great," Jas' voice sounded full of fake enthusiasm.  "How about at my house?  Can you guys get there around seven?"

Dani and Aldine both made slight sounds of agreement.  None of them were particularly thrilled about their plans. Aldine was, no doubt, upset that her moping would be disrupted, and Dani imagined Jas was feeling the same as her:  they weren't going to have any fun trying to cheer Aldine up all night.  Still, it was their duty as best friends to at least attempt to make her forget things, and that was what they would do.

Later that night, things were going just as they had expected.  Nothing Dani or Jas did seemed to have any effect on Aldine's greyish mood.  When Jas decided to pull out the worn, bubble-gum pink book that Dani hadn't seen in years, Dani's stomach sank.  That book had been a center or their playing for years.  It was the princess book that Jas had gotten for her sixth birthday, and the three friends had poured over it for years.  It was the inspiration behind all of their princess games in their younger years.

"Look what I found," Jas announced, more to get Aldine's attention than Dani's.  "It's been years since this thing saw the light of day."  She flipped through the pages that were practically free of the binding.  "Remember how we used to love pretending to be princesses?"  Jas let out a sudden gasp as she pulled out three sheets of paper that weren't meant to be a part of the book.  Dani knew what they were instantly.  "Our dream princes," Jas breathed.

Years and years ago, the three friends had written down what their "prince" would be like.  They'd come up with everything from his looks, personality, and name.  Dani even remembered coming up with pets, parents, and siblings for them.  Jas shot a glance at Aldine to see if the reminder of their dream guys would cause her to shed more tears for the guy that was most definitey not her prince.  Instead, a smile was finally making its way across Aldine's face.

"Let me see," she reached for the worn papers and smiled even wider as she read the messy scrawls they'd left on them.  Their young hand writing was almost illegible from where Dani was sitting, but Aldine could apparently make some sense of it.  "Remember how you wanted yours to own a pony, Dani?"

Dani blused.  Her younger self had been a bit too...well, girly for her current self's tastes.  "Yeah," she rolled her eyes at her past self.  "Is there something there about yours being willing to wait on you hand and foot?"  When they were younger, Aldine had always stressed that her prince would happily do anything she asked for.

"Yes," Aldine smirked.  "There is."  Jas and Dani were relieved but a bit confused that this was what it had took to return Aldine to her normal self.  Apparently the cure for boys who were jerks was perfect dream boys.

They poured over the papers for another half an hour and laughed at what their younger selves had found important in boys.  Time and experience had shown them that none of their "princes" really exsisted, but Dani felt as if Aldine and Jas were getting hope that there was at least someone decent for them out there.  Maybe Dani was feeling that too.  In fact, Dani was rethinking her whole outlook on fairy tales.  They didn't exsist, but she'd forgotten how fun they were sometimes.  The three friends found themselves reading the familiar but forgotten stories well into the night, lost in their perfect dream world.