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thorns in a rose bush

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If there was anything that Clove was particularly good at, it was pretending that everything was absolutely, one-hundred-percent okay.

As she sits down next to her mother in an office she’s all too familiar with, she recites in her head that it's okay over and over until the tightness in her throat lets up just enough to give her half-aunt and cousin a hello. 

“Good morning,” Alma responds cooly. Her grey hair was pin-straight and her attire was almost as bleak as the grin she gives Clove. 

Madge, her half-cousin, gives Clove a small wave before smoothing out her sundress. The two look nothing like mother and daughter. Madge got most of her genes from her father. Her bright blonde hair and blue eyes were a stark contrast to Coin - who was naturally a redhead and had grey eyes. Madge didn’t look like a Snow. Never acted like one either, Clove thinks to herself. 

At once, the door to the office swings open, and a man dressed in a black suit makes his way to the desk, where he promptly begins shuffling through pieces of paper.

“Good morning,” Alma repeats. Only this time Clove notices the smallest of smiles fluttering on her lips. “It appears we meet yet again.”

Clove bites down on her tongue. The last time they were all together like this, waiting to hear about a dead man's wishes, it was for her father. 

“That we unfortunately do, Ms. Coin,’ the lawyer says. “It appears that everyone that needs to be here is here, so let’s get started. 

In Clove’s peripheral view, she sees her mother's jaw stiffen and her body goes rigid. Glad I’m not the only one, Clove thinks. Alma and Madge maintain their composure as Clove reaches for her mother's hand. The lawyer raises the papers slowly and clears his throat. 

“I, Coriolanus Snow,” the lawyer reads, “being of sound, body, and mind, declare that my worldly possessions, including monetary and physical assets, be dispersed as follows.”

Clove braces for whatever was about to come. She was certain she was to get at least something of importance from him. Not that she cared either way, but a piece of him would mean more to her than a few hundred dollars - if even that. The two of them had always been incredibly close; especially after her father died a few years ago. They were so close that they had a tradition to speak every Friday night. He would tell her about the town, bingo with his friends, and the garden. And she would tell him about the city, work, her mother and sometimes her friends. He would allow her to vent and she would listen to him talk about the olden days when his wife was still kissing his forehead goodnight.

When Clove would visit on the rare occasions she could, he always had a bouquet of white roses set for her on the kitchen table. The stems would, over time, become more mangled each visit because the older he got, the harder it was for him to use the scissors. It added to the charm. It was a reminder that he still cared. That he still wanted to try. 

“To my daughter, Alma,” the lawyer starts, shaking Clove out of her trance, “I leave the funds necessary to pay for any debts, all jewelry belonging to my late wife, Clemensia Snow, and my office building located in Panem, New York,” the lawyer looks up over the lenses of his glasses to meet Alma’s gaze for just a moment before looking down back at the paper. Clove glances at her half-aunt, noticing now how stiff she, too, has become. “To my granddaughter, Madge, I leave the funds necessary to pay off any school debt, as well as one-time inheritance of fifty-thousand dollars to be spent as she pleases.” 

Clove feels her chest tighten and, for a moment, she was almost positive she was going to pass out. There was no one else in this room to receive anything and Clove knew her grandfather had more to give if he so chose to. She gives her mother's hand a tight squeeze when the lawyer continues. 

“The remainder of my estate–” 

“Hold on,” Alma interrupts, leaning forward in her chair. “That’s it?” 

“I have more to say,” the lawyer sighs. 

“Yes, and that I am aware of. But, I mean– that’s it for us? For my daughter and I?” 

Clove can’t help but look over at Alma. Her eyes are wide and filled with a mix of confusion and fury. Madge is hopelessly picking at her dress, avoiding any direct eye contact with someone. 

“Would you please let me continue, Ms. Snow?” 

“It’s Ms. Coin,” Alma says through her teeth, “but yes, continue.” 

Clove looks back at the lawyer, who adjusts his glasses on his nose and silently exhales, “The remainder of my estate, including all properties, monetary assets, and possessions not otherwise specified, I leave to my granddaughter, Clove Snow.” 

Excuse me?” Alma hisses, rising to her feet. “This has to be some kind of mistake. Why on God’s green Earth would he leave a child with all of his belongings?” 

It was Clove’s mother's turn to use her voice, “She is not a child, Alma.” 

“I was not speaking to you, Enobaria.” 

“I am sorry,” the lawyer says. He rests the papers on the desk and slowly slides them towards the edge, “That is what he wrote and that is what is going to happen. There is nothing I can–” 

“Sure as hell there isn't anything you can't do. I am his daughter.” 

Clove, who hasn't moved a single muscle, finally reaches across and grabs the will off the desk. Her eyes scan the page carefully, soaking in every single word typed out in Times New Roman, before meeting her mothers' eyes.

“Let me see that,” Alma snaps, ripping the paper from Clove’s hand. 

Madge sits up slightly to look over her mom's shoulder as she reads the will. Clove can tell by the looks on their faces, that they are both incredibly pissed off. 

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Clove starts, looking back at the lawyer, “was this the first will he wrote, or… was there another one?” 

The lawyer's lips push together in thought for a brief moment before he nods, “There was one before this, but he had the will rewritten four years ago.” 

Just as Clove suspected, her grandfather had re-written the will after her father had passed away. This means, if her father had still been alive, it would have been him getting everything. 

“Although,” the lawyer's gaze on Clove gets more serious, “only one piece of the will was changed.”

“And what was that?” Alma asks, crossing her arms. 

“Ren Snow, Snow’s Son, and Clove’s father was going to receive his office building and a couple of thousand dollars.” 

Clove’s breath caught in her throat.

“You mean to tell me,” Alma places both hands on the edge of the man's desk and he raises his eyebrows, “he was going to give this girl everything no matter what?”

The lawyer turns his attention back to Clove, smiles, then says, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Clove is grateful that she hardly had much to unpack and decides that giving most, if not all, of her furniture away to her now old roommate, Sabyn, was probably the best idea she'd come up with.

As she sets down her final box in what is now her master bedroom, a loud thump echoes through the hallway. Clove peaks around the doorframe and sees Sabyn looking sheepishly at the ground where the contents of clothes lay spread out. 

“Sorry,” Sabyn sighs, starting to clean up. 

“It’s okay,” Clove chuckles, joining her friend. “I’m going to wash it all anyway.” 

Clove and Sabyn met in college. On the first day of class, Clove had noticed she had the book Glory Days written by one of her favorite authors on top of her textbook and immediately switched her spot closer to Sabyn so she could ask about it. It was then their fate was sealed and the two became inseparable. They did just about everything together, which included moving into a shitty two-bedroom apartment in New York City after graduating, working 9-5 shifts, while making just enough to scrape by after rent. It also meant that when Clove moved out, Sabyn was there to help her carry a box up creaky stairs and later drop them on the floor of her grandfather's home. 

“What happened?” Marcus, Sabyns boyfriend, asks as he walks up behind the two of them. 

“I dropped the box.” Sabyn looks up at her boyfriend and frowns, “I tripped on the stairs.” 

“Nice going, clutz,” Marcus teases, offering her a hand to stand up.

Sabyn takes the help then turns back to Clove, “We should get something to eat. I’m starving and it’s nearly six o’clock.” 

Clove hoists the box of clothes into her arms and nods, “Sure. Let me call my mom first to let her know I settled in. You two find some… local place or something to eat at.” 

Sabyn nods then gives Clove a small smile before she and Marcus disappear back down the stairs. 

When Clove walks back into her bedroom, she takes the surroundings in again. Her grandfather had redecorated in the last few years more than anyone she knew. She was certain that every time she visited, there was something new to look at. His house has always reminded her of a puzzle. There were more things hanging on the wall like old movie scripts, poems, shelves, and random props. Furniture has been moved around and the plants, which are very much real, are greener than the grass outside. Even after three months of her grandfather's passing, Clove notices everything is clean. As if someone had been coming into dust or sweep. 

Probably Alma or Madge, Clove thinks to herself as she pulls out her phone. The screen is cracked slightly on the top and the case, which was once a clear one, is now near yellow. Her mothers number pops up in her most recent calls so she presses the green button and waits until the voicemail instructs her to leave a detailed message.

“Hey mom,” she begins, “I’m just checking in. Sabyn, Marcus, and I are done moving me in for the most part. I’ll probably unpack most of my stuff tonight. I figure you’re at work right now so, whenever you’re free, give me a call. Love you.” 

She presses end and sighs deeply. Her mother, who works as a therapist, was aware of her moving for three months and yet never took the courtesy to request a day off. Clove knew her mother was a workaholic, but she was also a therapist and you would think a therapist would know when her daughter needs some type of reassurance. Motherly love, as some put it, seems to only happen for complete strangers. 

Clove glances at the stack of boxes near the walk-in closet and rips one open to grab a jean jacket, then heads back downstairs to meet with Sabyn and Marcus. The two of them are hunched over on the couch, looking at Marcus’s phone screen, when Clove enters the living room. 

“Find anywhere to eat?” she asks, crossing her arms. 

“There’s a bar and grill down the road called District Twelve if you want to go there. The food is greasy bar food, which sounds so good right now,” Sabyn says, smiling. “And the beer is cheap.” 

“Okay,” Clove nods. “Is it close enough to walk?” 

“I think Marcus and I will drive because, if it’s okay with you, we are gonna head out after dinner. He’s got work in the morning and it’s a four-hour drive back.” 

“Oh, yeah, that’s alright. I can drive separately.” 

“Alright,” Sabyn rises to her feet, “we’ll meet you there then.” 

Clove nods and Marcus gives her a peace sign before following his girlfriend out the front door.

Cell phone reception in Panem wasn’t the greatest, but Clove has been here enough times to know her way back into town well enough that she didn’t need directions from Siri. The only disadvantage of the drive over, was how clunky her car had become over the years. It was a 2005 Toyota Camry that was an ugly shade of red that she got her Sophomore year of High School. It was the only thing she could afford after babysitting for their neighbors most of her adolescent years. So, at this point, losing the car would mean losing a piece of herself. She was proud of the damn thing; even the radio didn’t work so she has to use a Bluetooth adapter and the brakes squeak as she pulls up to a stop sign blinking red. 

Panem, in comparison to New York, could be considered a small high school. Ever since Clove can remember, it’s always been a small town with small festivals and occasionally some tourists stopping by on their way to the smoky mountains. It’s not a grand place by any means. A lot of the buildings are abandoned or unkempt, but it’s also not a terrible place to live. The community is strong and everyone knows everyone. Clove can remember a time when a woman brought the most delicious bread she’s ever had to her grandfather's one morning when she was around the age of ten. Her grandfather had made french toast with it and told Clove to deliver the leftovers to the woman's house. The woman gave Clove a hug that felt safe and she smelled like vanilla. No matter who you are here, you were considered family. Clove more so than the others, maybe, because of her grandfather being the Mayor. 

Of course, when Clove started High School and joined sports, her visitations lessened and she didn't get to see her grandfather as often as she would have liked to. They still talked regularly on the phone and she would email him photos she took so he could see her homecoming dresses, prom dresses, and senior photos. When she started college, she sent him all the information regarding what dorm she was staying in so he could send care packages and checked in every Friday night. Maybe it was excessive, but Clove never cared. 

It wasn’t until her father’s death when everything that made Clove feel safe, got just as mangled as the car he was in during the accident.

Her grandfather had always told Clove, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear. ” 

But Clove didn't feel any hope the day she lost her dad. Hope seemed like a distant fairytale. Day-to-day life felt like a chore. Living felt like a chore. Her mother became a castle and no matter how hard Clove tried to break down her walls to get just a hint of security, not a single stone fell. 

Sabyn noticed Clove’s downfall first. The way Clove would throw away almost entire meals and started drinking far too much Fireball on the weekends only to puke most of it up the same night. Her homework not getting done early like it normally did and the same pair of pajamas making their appearance every time she called in sick to work. 

During winter break when Clove finally had the chance to visit her grandfather again, the two of them were standing in his rose garden in the greenhouse when he grabbed her hands and whispered, “It’s the things we love most that destroy us, Clove. Don’t let this destroy you. Your father was a wonderful, strong, kind man and you are his daughter. An equally, if not, stronger, kinder version of him and he would not want you to dwell on his loss. He would want you to make something out of it. Something magical.”

And then he handed her a white rose and kissed her forehead. 

When Clove found out about her grandfather's passing, she refused to let it destroy her, but it didn’t stop her castle walls from crumbling. 

Seeing Marcus and Sabyn waiting in the parking lot as she pulls in, snaps her back to reality, and when the car is finally in park, she exhales slowly. Marcus immediately taps on her window and gives her a goofy grin, to which she returns as she gets out. 

“You are a slow driver,” says Marcus, smirking.

“I got distracted. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here, ya’ know?” Clove sighs. 

“Enough chit-chat,” Sabyn claps her hands together to capture their attention, “let's go inside. I am starving.” 

The three of them walk inside and are met with a dimly lit bar flooded with sports posters that are plastered against the beautiful dark wood. 

“That,” Sabyn whispers to Clove as they head to an open booth, “is mahogany.” 

Clove gives her a stupid look, chuckling softly as she scoots into the booth across from the couple. She recognizes this bar as being somewhere her grandfather may have taken her, but doesn’t recognize the man behind the bar with shaggy blond hair and scruffy facial features. He looks tired, but he’s smiling and chatting with a head of red hair. The girl hands him some cash then gives him a fist bump before walking out of Clove’s line of sight. Echoes of chatter flood the area for a moment then fade until the only sound she hears is Sabyn mumbling the entire menu to herself and a TV playing a recap of an old Yankees game. 

“What are you getting to drink?” Marcus asks, leaning back against the seat. 

“Probably just water,” Clove responds, glancing at Sabyn who purses her lips in thought. 

“I might get a beer. Celebrate all of our hard work.” 

“You mean to tell me dropping boxes on the ground is hard work ?” Marcus asks, smirking. 

“Yes.” Sabyn grits, giving him a fiery look. 

Clove laughs. “You two are ridiculous.” 

It takes a bit for everyone to figure out what they wanted and for the bartender to make his way over to the booth. His clothes, especially his shirt, are almost too big for him. His grey pants are practically taped to him by a belt, holding on for dear life. Yet, he gives them the warmest smile and stretches out his hands, “Welcome to District Twelve.” 

Sabyn smiles, “Why, thank you, kind sir.” 

“It’s my pleasure. What can I get you all started with?” 

“I will personally have an iced tea,” Sabyn answers, which gains a few confused looks from both Clove and Marcus. “What? I forgot my wallet in the car.” 

Clove’s lips form an ‘O’ then she turns to look at the bartender and smiles. 

“Now you,” he starts, “I feel like I know you.” 

“Yeah?” Clove tilts her head, raising an eyebrow. 

“I know those freckles. You used to come in now and then with your grandfather to get chicken nuggets. You were awfully small. I’d give you a little bowl of green olives to take home with you,” the man smiles. “Clove Rivers, right?” 

Flashbacks of her grandfather lifting her onto his shoulders as they walked inside so she couldn't run off to the gambling machines and the salty taste of olives dance around her mind as she gives the man a nod. Her voice is sincere when she finally responds, “I’m sorry, but I don't remember your name.” 

“I’m Haymitch. Haymitch Abernathy. Your grandfather and I used to share a couple of beers on Friday nights when the bar was slow and everyone went off to the High School football games. He was a great man, Coryo. One hell of a kind,” Haymitch rubs his beard and gives Clove a sympathetic look. “I’m really sorry to hear about his passing. He made this place better just by living in it.” 

“Thank you,” Clove gently smiles. “He was… magic, that’s for sure.” 

Haymitch nods then waves his hand, “Enough sadness. I don’t wanna ruin the mood–” 

“You’re not,” Clove interrupts, shaking her head. “Not at all. I’m glad you had such great memories with him. I wish I could have been around more to see them.” 

“Yeah, well… we could all live a hundred lifetimes and never deserve what he did for all of us.” 

Clove presses her lips together and glances at her friends who are eyeing her carefully. They’re probably expecting a breakdown or tears to flow, but Clove has had enough practice in her life to hold back that urge. 

Haymitch shakes his head, “The real question though, Miss Rivers, is what would you like to drink?” 

“Water is fine.” Clove gives him a soft smile then turns to Marcus who lifts his eyebrow in question. She nods as if to say, I’m fine. 

“And for you, young man?” 

Marcus directs his attention to Haymitch, “Dr. Pepper, please.” 

“Got it. I will be back shortly.” 

“Thank you, Haymitch,”  Clove says, looking up at him. 

Haymitch pats her shoulder. “Of course, Sweetheart.”

The drinks come quickly because there are only a few other people in the bar. Sabyn orders a majority of the food granted she was the one who was complaining about being the most hungry, and they all share it between them. Nachos, onion rings, cheese curds, and a large pizza with banana peppers. By the time Clove finishes her fourth slice of pizza, her stomach feels as if it could explode at any given moment. 

“That,” Sabyn starts, wiping off her hands on a napkin, “was absolutely incredible.” 

“Literally,” Clove nods. 

“I think that was easily the best pizza I’ve ever had in my entire life. The crust was just… devine,” Sabyn says as she rubs her belly.

Marcus chuckles, “Gourmet terms for a bar pizza? Brave.” 

“It’s what it deserves,” Sabyn smiles at Marcus and Clove looks away when she plants a kiss on his lips. 

Haymitch walks back up and hands Clove a piece of paper, “Dinner and drinks are on me.” 

What ?” Clove looks up at him wide-eyed. “No, no… we’re paying for this. We ordered–” 

Haymitch raises a hand at her, “Please.”

“I can’t do that, Haymitch. I can’t–” 

“I wasn't giving you a choice, Clove.” 

Clove swallows and looks at the paper he’s holding, slowly grabbing it out of his grasp. There's a note written on the back, written in cursive. 

1995, The Rauls Farm.

Clove flips the page over and studies it carefully. It’s a black and white photo with some damage on the top left corner. She spots her grandfather and Haymitch, then a shorter man with a balding head next to him. The three of them are standing next to a fence that's been weathered down over the years and a bunch of random flowers under their feet cover, but don't hide, the massive boots they have on. 

“Who’s that?” Clove asks, pointing to the unfamiliar face. 

“That’s Claudius Rauls. He owns the farm in town. The Rauls farm. He was close friends with your grandfather.” 

Clove has heard the last name before. She’s also been to the farm many times with her grandfather. He would take her there around Christmas and they’d buy a tree so they could take it home and decorate it the next night. It was always the tallest one they had in stock since her grandfather’s home has massive ceilings. She’s probably met the man before, but as Clove has already learned, a lot of the faces here she doesn’t recognize - Haymitch included. 

“So many faces I don’t recognize. I feel bad,” Clove chuckles and glances at her friends again. 

“You were young, kid. I don't expect you to remember everything.” 

Clove raises the photo backup to Haymitch but he shakes his head, “Keep it. It’s yours. I’ve got plenty more.” 

Clove nods, “Thank you. Really. This is all incredibly kind of you.” 

“Consider yourself family, Miss Rivers. You’re welcome anytime.” 

Without thinking, Clove stands and finds herself embracing in a hug with Haymitch. He smells like a campfire and the flannel candles you’d find at Bath and Bodyworks. When she pulls back his eyes are glossed over and she fears she might start crying, so she directs her attention to her friends, “I think we ought to get out of this man's hair.” 

Marcus and Sabyn both retreat out of the booth and give Haymitch a warm hug as well, thanking him for the drinks and food. Clove watches the scene with a smile on her face before leading everyone back out to the parking lot, where the fresh air welcomes and calms her nerves. 

“Wow,” Sabyn says looking at Clove, “You’re almost like a celebrity.” 

“I am not a celebrity.” 

“You are,” Marcus smirks. 

Clove sighs, “You guys wanna head back to the house?” 

“Actually, I think we’re going to take off from here. It’s almost nine and we won’t be home till almost one, so.” Sabyn presses her lips together as she studies Clove’s face. 

“That’s fine,” Clove pulls her into a hug. “I am going to miss the absolute shit out of you, Sabyn.” 

“I know, baby.” Sabyn squeezes her. 

“Drive safe ok? And don’t forget to water the plants,” Clove pulls back and puts her hands on Sabyn’s shoulders.

“I won’t. I promise.” 

“Good.” 

“Is it my turn for a hug?” Marcus asks, wrapping his arms around both girls. 

Clove chuckles, “Don’t worry, Marcus, I will miss you almost as much as I will miss your girlfriend.” 

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Marcus kisses Clove’s cheek then steps back from the hug. 

Both girls embrace a few moments longer before parting ways. Clove gives them a small wave before they get into their car and she watches the car drive off until it’s completely out of sight then looks down at the photo Haymitch gave her. 

“Guess it’s just you and me now,” she says to the men smiling at her in the photo.

“You good?” A voice asks and Clove’s eyes jump up to meet a man, much taller than her, looking at her with curiosity. 

“Oh, yeah,” Clove nods quickly, “Yeah, I’m just–”

“Standing in the middle of a parking lot?” 

Clove presses her lips together.

The man chuckles, “Sorry.” 

“No, it’s alright. That’s exactly what I was doing.” 

The man glances at the bar entrance then looks back at Clove, “I’m Gale.” 

Clove gives him a tiny wave, “Clove.” 

Gale smiles, shoving his hands into his dark brown cargo pants pockets, “Well, try not to get hit by a car, Clove.” 

She gives him a nod, “I will certainly do that– I mean try not to do that.” Gale smiles more then starts walking towards the bar door again and Clove reluctantly calls out, “Nice to meet you!” 

He looks over his shoulder and waves, “You too, Clove.” 

Once the door to the bar closes, Clove smacks herself with the photo and stomps to her car, cursing at herself quietly.

— — — — 

Without Marcus and Sabyn arguing about where the boxes go, the home feels desolate. A hundred eyes from paintings staring at her wondering, now what are you going to do, Clove? The floorboards that creek make her jump every time, even though she’s grown up knowing which floorboard it comes from. The lights cast shadows of the weird figures hanging on the walls, which follow her to each room as she closes doors and turns on lights. 

When she finally gets dressed in the softest pair of pajamas she owns, she wraps herself up in bed and stares at the ceiling of the home, replaying the day in her mind. 

She woke up this morning at six am in a two-bedroom apartment that hardly had a working A/C and is now ending her night in a house that costs more than her college tuition may have been. In a home that doesn't feel like hers, but is . A home filled with things that aren’t hers, covered in photos of people she doesn't know. 

Clove rolls to her side and looks at the photo of her father and her on the nightstand. Her father is smiling in the photo; a grin across his entire face. Clove is on his back, arms stretched out like a plane with the same expression. She was eleven when the photo was taken. 

The longer she stares, the more she notices the fence behind them. The same weathered down fencing in the photo Haymitch had given her. Similar flowers covering, but not hiding their shoes. The only difference is the tree next to them with a trunk the width of a toilet paper roll. 

The Rauls Farm ,” she hears Haymitch echo in her mind. 

Clove looks back at the ceiling and takes a deep breath. 

You’re like a celebrity .” 

Clove closes her eyes.

Why on God’s green Earth would he leave a child with all of his belongings.

Clove opens her eyes as something clicks in her brain. 

“Why didn’t he mention Alma?” Clove asks the photos around her. She grabs her phone and checks the time. Sabyn and Marcus are not even close to being home yet so she shoots Sabyn a text. 

— — — — 

SABS 🥰
imessage

9:32pm
No one ever mentioned Alma. My aunt. Not Haymitch or the cute guy I ran into outside of the bar. 

9:36pm
u met a cute guy!?!?!?!??!!?!?

9:38pm
You are missing the point, Sabs.

9:43pm
right your aunt. what about her??

9:45
Haymitch didnt mention her. And she’s literally the new mayor of this place.

9:50pm
idk what to tell u. maybe he doesnt like her?? she is a wicked bitch after all

9:51pm
But she’s lived here almost her entire life, Sabs. Her and Madge have.

9:56pm
look babe ily but i think youre just overthinking this. you’ve spent all day moving and you’re probably just tired. get some sleep and enjoy your new home. Ok?

— — — — 

Clove took a deep breath and locked her phone. Maybe Sabyn was right, but Clove didn’t stop thinking about it until she was long asleep, and instead of dreaming about what if’s, she dreamt about the boy in the parking lot.



Chapter Text

SABS🥰
imessage

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
imessage

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.