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thorns in a rose bush

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SABS🥰
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2:14am
hey sunshine!! we made it back safe and wanted to let you know. i love u so much. sososososoosososososoosossosososososo much. i hope ur sleeping well. mwah

____________________________________________

mom
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4:23am
Hi, hun. Sorry I missed your call last night. I had an early morning with a late start and was awfully tired so I went to bed a bit earlier. I’m glad to hear you’re safe and moved in for the most part. I have free time around noon today if you would like to chat then. Miss you lots and love you lots, too. xoxo Mom

__________________________________________

 

The alarm was loud and not the Samsung phone kind of loud. It was even worse than the sound of the unforgivable iPhone alarm - blaring what Clove could have sworn was something similar to Siren Head. And yet, despite the obnoxious volume and painful headache it had started in Clove’s head, she lay still under the covers, dreading to leave the warmth that had formed overnight. 

Eventually, she became well aware that the alarm was almost too loud and began worrying that her neighbors - that lived almost a block down the road - would hear it. So musters up the courage to slam her hand down on the snooze, lays back down, and groans. Why she decided the first day after moving was a perfectly fine day to run at six o’clock in the morning was beyond her, but she was already awake, cold, and now deathly terrified of an alarm clock.

The hardwood beneath her sends a million shivers up her spine, even with socks on, as she quickly jumps on the tips of her toes across the floor towards the bathroom. To her dismay, the tile in the bathroom doesn't bring her much comfort either so she eagerly brushes her teeth and puts her hair into a ponytail before returning to her room. It takes her ten minutes to find the correct box labeled GYM STUFF in Sabyn’s handwriting. October in New York means leggings, tight long sleeves to lock in the heat, a fluffy headband to cover her ears and keep her headphones in, and a light airy coat her mother bought her last year for Christmas. (It was Patagonia, too. Something Clove could afford only on sale if the sale was 90% off.) Her old, dirty Nike shoes she’s had since Freshman year of college slip on easily and she re-ties them with two bunny ears before exhaling slowly. 

When she ran in New York, it required a mess of things; phone, ID, wallet, pepper spray, a running buddy, and sometimes GPS. But in Panem, all Clove feels she needs is her phone, her ID, and a couple of dollars in case she wants a coffee on the way home. There were no construction workers - that she knew of - to cat-call her while she sweats furiously and oddly finds it enjoyable when her middle finger flashes them a warm welcome. In fact, she would be shocked to see a single soul on the streets this early in the morning, to begin with. 

So, as she steps out of her new home and into the fresh air, it brings her a sense of solitude that New York could have never given her. There’s a light dew on the lawn and fog lingers around, kissing her skin. The air was never like this in the city. It was either smog or the smell of rotting garbage that hadn’t been picked up in weeks that polluted the air. And, of course, the countless amounts of carbon monoxide coming from the taxis that never stop for Clove in times of need. Sometimes, if she left her window open overnight, pedestrians on their way to work in the morning would blow (not intentionally - though it always felt like a personal attack) cigarette smoke into her room. The smell could sometimes last for hours. 

This, Clove thinks, taking a deep breath, is what being spoiled feels like

The ground crunches under her feet as she starts at a slow jog. Her headphones aren’t playing any music yet - the birds provide plenty of that right now. It’s a peaceful sound compared to what started her morning earlier. To Clove’s surprise, her nose is already cold enough to be running along with her and she has to keep sniffling every few minutes to make sure snot doesn't drool down her lips and chin. 

Clove has always found running fun. Not that she tells people that on the first date “get to know you” conversations; because let's be honest, hardly anyone finds running fun. Running makes her feel powerful. It’s the one thing she knows she has absolute control over. She gets to decide how far she’s going to run, how fast or slow, what to wear, what song to boost her endorphins when the high runs off. There isn’t a single soul to tell her what to do. 

On top of that, it clears her head. Takes her mind off of the billions of things that are weighing her down. Which, at the moment, are quite a few. Instead of thinking about how the hell she’s going to manage living in her grandfather's home, she focuses on her breathing. She thinks about what turn she wants to take next. She thinks about New York City, Sabyn, her mom, and her dad. It’s easy to forget things when you have to focus on not passing out as you run up a hill. 

As Clove runs by her neighboring homes, she pays attention to how different each house is. Every home is the complete opposite of the one next to it. Some have more personality than others do, while others are completely dormant. She slows down when she notices a sign outside a beautiful brick home with black window panes that reads “PANEM TODAY. PANEM FOREVER. VOTE COIN.”  in big, bold red lettering. The run has made Clove’s body warm, but the ice returns slowly as she glances around, noticing that there are more signs the closer she gets to town. Some homes even have two and the second one reads like an ad for a military school, “There is no progress without compromise; no victory without sacrifice.”

Clove licks the snot that has dribbled down her nose off her lips and exhales, watching her breath collide with the fog. Maybe that’s why Haymitch didn’t ask about Alma - she has used her married name, Coin, instead of Snow. But almost everyone knows the Snow family, so wouldn’t they also know that Alma took over her own father’s position as Mayor? Things like that don’t just get swept under the rug. Unless, of course, people don’t want anything to do with her in the first place. But then she wouldn't have become Mayor, Clove ponders.

Thinking about her aunt has made her realize that Alma hasn’t once tried contacting her since the months leading up to her moving. Not a single text or call. Even Madge is radio silent. Has the will reading pushed them that further away? Of course, their anger is valid, but it wasn’t just their grandfather or father that passed away, it was her grandfather too.

Clove shakes the thoughts away and presses her lips into a tight line. Her headphones slip out and back into the small zipped pocket her leggings have before she carries on with her run. This time, she pays attention to the houses that don’t have the signs out front. 

Panem, being as small as it is, is easy to memorize. Although Clove grew up riding a bike up and down the streets years ago, nothing about the town has really changed. Of course, there are a few businesses that have gone and some older deteriorating houses Clove used to think were totally haunted, have been torn down to become small parking lots for newer, family-owned businesses. A couple of businesses are decorated for Halloween, too. Paper cut-out ghosts are glued to the large bay windows of boutiques, pumpkins neatly placed to display the various sizes, and some went as far as adding blow-up cauldrons and ghouls outside. 

In between some of the businesses, there are townhomes owned by the same people who have most likely lived here their entire lives. Flower beds decorate the side of the road, all of them so perfectly manicured they look like they belong on the cover of a Home & Garden magazine. Light posts above her have flags with Panem written down the side in cursive with fall leaves boarding them. The town all together feels welcoming and cozy. Something New York City almost always lacks until you visit the tourist areas that are only kept up nicely to impress bystanders and TV. 

Home. It felt like home in Panem. 

Clove keeps running through the town's main hub. She was right to assume hardly a single soul would be out this early in the morning. The traffic lights are still blinking yellow to tell traffic to slow down and most stores are locked up and dark. However, Clove’s nose tickles slightly at the smell of something baking. Fresh bread with a hint of cinnamon. It smells incredible and soon enough, Clove’s shoes are taking her in the direction from which the smell is coming. 

The building is a large square with wooden white windows that span floor to ceiling across the front. A giant matching white door with an M carved into the wood separates the windows right down the middle and a handwritten OPEN sign dangles just below it. The rest of the building is an old, dark red brick. Clove feels her back pocket to make sure she’s remembered her card then opens the door - which is much heavier than she expected - and walks inside as a bell jingles above. 

Warmth immediately welcomes her. The room is ablaze with a calm glow and there’s the faintest sound of piano music playing in the background. The inside isn’t as updated as she expected it to be. It resembles architecture similar to her grandfather's house and the wooden floor creaks loudly below her. She peaks her head around a corner and watches a girl with bright orange hair laugh at something the woman behind the counter said. It takes them a moment to realize Clove is standing there. She gives them a sheepish smile and a wave. 

“Hello,” the woman, whose hair is in a neat braid, says. “Welcome in.” 

“Thanks,” Clove glances away from them. “It smells incredible outside. I had to find where it was coming from.”

The girl with orange hair claps her hands together, “Doesn't it just make you want to stuff your face with a thousand cinnamon rolls?!” 

Clove nods. “Honestly? Yeah.” That was the truth. Her stomach had been grumbling all morning and it was her fault for not eating before a run. 

“You have to try their croissants,” the orange-haired girl coo’s. “You will never, ever, go back to the grocery store to buy them again.” 

“You sell this place better than I can,” the braided woman says. “Maybe you should ask Mr. Boss Man if you can come work here instead.” 

“Please,” the orange-haired girl laughs, “he would fall apart if I left his ass.” 

“He’s twenty-eight.” the braid says matter-of-factly. 

“He’s fifteen at best.” 

Braid snorts.

Clove felt like she was listening to a conversation on a TV screen. She had no idea who any of the characters were, but something kept her listening and watching anyways. 

“Oh!” orange hair yells, looking back at Clove. “Gosh, I should have introduced myself. I’m Finch Brown.” 

“Clove,” Clove says cooly, waving again. “Clove–” 

“Snow! Oh my God! I cannot believe I didn’t even recognize you.” Finch shakes her head as if what she’s forgotten could have detrimental consequences. “I can’t believe I forgot.” 

“It’s okay.” Clove smiles, “Seriously. Only three people know I’m here and that’s my mom, my old roommate, and her boyfriend.” 

“Well, we know you’re here so that makes five.” Finch bites down on her bottom lip and smiles. 

“This is true,” Clove chuckles and turns back to the braid. “This is a beautiful building, by the way.”

“Thank you.” the braid smiles, “My husband and I bought the building from his family and made some adjustments in hopes it wouldn’t collapse on us. I’m Katniss, by the way. Katniss Mellark. My husband is the baker and I am the one who sells the baking.” 

So that’s what the M stands for, Clove thought. Then something clicks. Katniss gives her a look that suggests she could have read the thoughts on her face. 

“Is everything okay?” Katniss asks, glancing at Finch. 

“Oh, yes.” Clove nods, “Yeah. I just… Mellark. I think I used to get baked goods from a Mellark. She would bring them to my grandfather's doorstep.” 

“That would have probably been Mrs. Mellark. She was always giving people goodies.” Katniss’s lips curved upwards, but Clove can tell the subject may be touchy so all she did was nod and smile at her. 

“When did you move into town?” Finch asks, breaking the tension Clove hadn’t realized was starting to fill the room. 

“Yesterday, actually.”

“Wow.” Finch raises her eyebrows. “And you’re out running this early?” 

“I used to run all the time this early in the city. I wanted to keep the tradition. Plus,” Clove glances at Katniss, “I was hoping to run into some early risers. Or… at least explore the village a bit. It’s been a while since I’ve been here.” 

At that, the tension rose back up, swallowing the room, and Clove can feel the way both women’s expressions changed into grief. 

“We’re terribly sorry to hear about your grandfather, Clove,” Katniss says, sounding sincere. 

“Thank you,” was all Clove can muster out, wishing that Finch could use her tension-breaking skills now. 

“He was quite the guy,” Katniss continues. “He would come here all the time for a scone and then go next door for coffee.” 

These people, Clove thunk, have newer, recent memories of him than even I do. 

“Scones were always his favorite,” Clove says and gives Katniss the best smile she can without looking pained. 

“Well,” Finch finally says, clapping her hands together, “I should get to the farm before Mr. Rauls wonders why I’m taking so long and then gets fussy with the fact that he needs to warm up his cinnamon roll in the microwave again.” 

Katniss chuckles, “Tell him I say hi. And my husband.” 

“I will do that,” Finch smiles back then turns to Clove. “You, my new apprentice, should come to visit the farm! I would love to show you around.” 

“The Farm? Like, the Rauls Farm, right?” 

Finch nods, “Indeed! It’s about a ten-minute walk from here.” 

Clove nods as well, “Sure. I can’t today though. Maybe tomorrow?” 

“Whenever you’d like is fine by me. Just ask for Finch and tell Glimmer who you are. She’s our check-in woman and is really good at knowing who means business and who just wants to sell us more shit quality seeds.” 

Clove blinks. Then nods. 

“That being said,” Finch gave them both a bow, “I’m off to do my duties as manager.”

“Have fun,” Katniss waves. “Thanks for stopping in as always.” 

“Of course, my love.” Finch sets three dollars on the counter, turning to look at Clove, “Get yourself a scone.” 

Clove doesn't have time to protest because Finch waltzes out the door. She watches Finch wave dramatically at them through the window until she disappears. When Clove’s attention is back on Katniss, there’s already a white bag, with Mellark written on it, resting on top of the counter. 

Clove steps up and glances at the bag, “What’s this?” 

Katniss looks into Clove’s eyes. “Chocolate,” she says. “Your grandfather's favorite.” 

____________________________________________

The scone was delicious. 

Clove ate every piece of it after finding a small bench to sit on, just a bit outside of the main square. Now she was sitting in silence, watching leaves fall from old branches while clouds formed a blanket across the sky. In her mind, Finch and Katniss weren’t friends, but they were something and Clove is desperate for something. Something to go on walks with. Something to show her around. Something to get coffee with.

Something. Someone.

She thought back to what Finch had mentioned about the Rauls Farm. In theory, she can go visit today, but she also wants to get as much of her stuff unpacked before she makes any settlement plans. Settlement plans that include getting a job. A job that Clove selfishly thought wasn’t necessary because she had just inherited her grandfather's money, but knew she needed it anyway because money didn’t grow on trees. Besides, Clove didn't feel like sitting at home wallowing away on a couch watching reruns of The Bachelorette till her brain rotted. She wants a routine that involves more than a morning run to a bakery.  

Her phone buzzes. 

Four missed calls from Sabyn and seven texts from her as well. Clove took a deep breath and hit the green phone button flashing at her.

“You’re finally answering!” Sabyn yells. Clove pulls the phone away from her ear a moment, flinching. Sabyn’s voice was almost loud enough to send the birds around her flying. “I have some incredible news. I just found out this morning.” 

Clove rests the phone between her ear and shoulder as she wipes off her hands on a napkin that was in the white bag. “What happened?” 

Sabyn squeals, “Sejanus got fired.” 

What?” Clove’s mouth was agape. There was a slight thump in her chest upon hearing his name. “How the hell did that–” 

“He went off on someone. He must have had a bad day or something, I guess. They didn’t get that into it when I asked, but Clove… do you have any idea what this means?” 

Karma, Clove thought. It’s karma for breaking up with me after my grandfather died because my moods were too much to handle

“No,” she finally answers. “I mean, sort of.” 

“They’re going to hire for his position. And guess who is the most qualified?!” 

Clove smiles. She already knows the answer. “You.” 

Sabyn squeals again, “Yes! Me!” 

Right after graduation, Sabyn was hired as a journalist for a small newspaper company. While they took similar English courses throughout college, they have two different goals. Sabyn wants to become a writer for the New York Times and Clove wants to be an English teacher. Unlike Clove, Sabyn has had an easier time finding success in her career. And no, it was not because Clove is terrified of failing. 

Not at all. 

“I’m so happy for you,” Clove responds, rising to her feet. She gets to the trash can near her and throws away the bag then begins walking back home. “Seriously. They would be completely idiotic to not hire you for the position – which, what’s the position again?” 

“Managing editor.” 

“Right,” Clove says. She wasn’t going to admit that the title confuses her slightly. “You deserve this. And it makes it even better that–” 

“Hold on,” Sabyn quickly interrupts. Then the speaker cracks and all Clove can hear is muffled voices speaking to each other. A few moments later, she hears a toilet flush. Then Sabyn finally says, “Sorry about that.” 

“Are you in the bathroom?” 

“Yes,” Sabyn says sheepishly. “I needed a hidden space to call you. I literally just found out about Sejanus.” 

Clove chuckles, ignoring the same feeling in her chest that happens again at the mention of his name, and glances at a car that passes by her. 

“I have to get back to work, but…I love you and miss you so much. The apartment feels so empty.” 

“Marcus hasn’t moved in yet?” Clove asks. 

“Not yet. Next weekend he is. He had to finalize a few things with his landlord… yadda, yadda.” 

“Oh,” Clove nods even though Sabyn can’t see her. “I’ll let you go then.” 

“Alright, sweets,” Sabyn pauses a moment. “Text me later, okay?” 

“Okay,” Clove promises. “Bye, babe.” 

“Bye.” 

The line goes quiet.

____________________________________________

 

There were three boxes. 

Save. Donate. Sell. 

To no one’s surprise - not even Cloves - the box labeled save was the most full. Separation isn’t something Clove is good at when it comes to physical objects. 

She’s gotten very good at the people part, though. 

Objects, unlike people, can’t hurt you. They just exist to make things look better - or worse in some cases. In Clove’s case, they make everything appear too cluttered. If Clove is going to live in this house, she’s going to ensure it doesn't make her want to close doors and flip lights on in fear of seeing a sculpture staring at her funny. 

The first room she had started in was the living room. Then the kitchen, guest bedroom, all three bathrooms, the office, and now she’s standing in her room. There isn’t nearly as much stuff in here compared to the other rooms aside from the boxes from moving - which were empty now that she’s put it all in its respectable areas. There are a couple of weird wooden dragon figures on shelves above the dresser, a stack of books in almost every corner of the room even though the bookshelf was near bare, and one too many print-outs of the script from the movie Wizard of Oz framed across the wall. There isn’t a single coherent theme in the room.

That pretty much sums him up , Clove thought, looking around her grandfather's things. He just existed to create and provide in the most mysterious, yet magical way.

Clove checks her phone which reads four-fifteen. The moment she stepped through the door after her run, she went to work and hours later, she still wasn't done. Still in her running outfit, minus the jacket, granted it’s warmer in the house than it is outside, Clove looks over the little progress she’s made. 

“This is going to take forever,” Clove says to the dragon on the shelf. She picks it up and sets it carefully in the donate box. “And you’re going in there.” 

Thankfully, it did not take forever. Clove is done in only a half-hour and now the only thing she wants more than anything is a meal. Of course, she picks the easiest, safest option and goes to Haymitch’s bar. 

The parking lot is much more full tonight than it had been last night and Clove almost regrets coming at all. She chose not to take a shower or change before she left and now people, who she hasn't yet met, were going to see her disgruntled appearance and either think poorly of her or not at all. 

She finds a parking spot a bit further away from the entrance and pulls her jacket tightly around herself as she hurries inside. It’s much cooler outside without the sun and the wind has picked up. Stepping into the bar, she is once again met with warmth and the strongest odor of something being deep-fried. It’s comforting, to say the least, but it also makes her mouth salivate. 

Before she even gets the chance to park herself at the bar, a familiar voice behind her says, “I see you haven’t gotten hit by a car.” 

Gale. 

Clove smiles over her shoulder at him, “No, no I did not. You sound almost… grateful?” 

Gale gives her the faintest of smirks, “You could say that. Just happy to see you in one piece.” 

“One piece and very hungry.” 

“Let me buy you a drink,” he says, sitting himself down on the stool next to hers. He flashes her a grin then gives a slight salute to the bartender, a female with tattoos all across her arms. “Johanna. Two whiskey sours, please.” 

“Hawthorne,” Johanna drawls out, “she doesn’t look like a whiskey sour.” 

Gale turns his attention to Clove. She chuckles and places her palms flat on the wooden counter. “I’ll have a Brandy Manhattan, please. With green olives instead of mushrooms.” 

Johanna flashes Gale a wink then points to Clove. “You got it.” 

Next to Clove, Gale sighs and Clove nudges him gently. “Thank you.” Clove smiles then says, “For the drinks.” 

“Of course.” Gale nudges her back. 

“So do you live around here?” Clove asks, praying for a conversation that isn't awkward. 

 Gale nods. “Yeah, the walk takes fifteen minutes.” 

“Oh,” Clove says, “did you walk here?” 

“Absolutely not.” Gale chuckles. “It is way too cold to walk outside anywhere .” 

Clove nods in agreement then looks at Johanna as she sets down both their drinks. Her hair is black with red streaks, bangs just above her eyebrows, and cut to her shoulders. She looks no older than Clove; twenty-five. The confidence she radiates is slightly intimidating but has a warm smile when Clove sips her drink and perks up. “Thank you, this is incredible.” 

“Of course, babe.” 

Clove’s cheeks flush. Johanna, Clove thinks, is very attractive.

“What about you?” Gale asks, getting the thought of Johanna out of her head. “Do you live in the area?” 

“Oh, yeah.” Clove nods. “I live just up the road, too. And much like you, chose to drive because it's far too cold to walk anywhere.” 

Gale smiles at her then sips his drink. Clove watches his adams apple bob around as he swallows. His jawline becomes more seen as the skin tightens. There’s scruff on his neck like he hasn’t bothered shaving in the last few days and he’s tan. His brown, floppy hair curls in all the right places. His grey eyes remind her of the kind of clouds you smile at on a hot summer day as they provide you shade. Not to mention, he’s dressed like a businessman on vacation: a loose white, long-sleeved shirt that’s unbuttoned just enough to show off his chest, and khaki pants that get slimmer the closer they get to his feet. His shoes, which are brogues, are even polished so much they sparkle a hint when he adjusts himself on the stool. 

He would fit right in with a New York crowd. 

“I don’t recognize you,” Gale finally says, setting down his drink. “Are you new to the area?” 

“I moved here yesterday.” 

“Wow.” Gale’s eyebrows raise. 

“That’s what they all say.” 

His eyebrows lower and he smiles at her again. She glances at his lips. He notices because the smile turns into a smirk. 

“How far away from the bar are you again?” Gale asks, pulling out his wallet. 

Clove swallows. “Fifteen minutes.” 

He sets a fifty on the bar, finishes his drink, and looks at her, his eyes twinkling. “I’ll follow you.” 

And he does. 

She watches his headlights the entire time up until she’s stumbling into her house, gasping at how warm his lips are on her neck. He follows her up the many stairs to her room, keeping his hands on her the whole time. He follows her to the bed where he wastes no time discarding all her clothes - which she’s slightly embarrassed by. But he doesn't seem to care as he drinks in her appearance, looking at her like a meal. And she forgets to care when he wastes no time taking off his New York look and hovers above her. His eyes that were so warm and inviting earlier have turned hungry and meet her pleading, desperate gaze as their bodies collide.