The Capitol Lake is smooth and the sky is clear. Late afternoon sunlight bounces off the water in bright starbursts, turning the ten-year-old girl dancing on rocks into a glittering silhouette, along with the gulls that sweep the air around her. Her name is Indigo.
Down at the shoreline, Johanna Mason is trying to teach her thirteen-year-old son, Caleb Hawthorne, how to skip stones. Gale is sitting on a rocky outcropping, watching them fondly while he tries to finish a million things so that people will leave him alone long enough to enjoy the day. This is probably a lost cause. In all likelihood, Johanna and Caleb will ambush him at some point and force him away from it, but the moment hasn't come yet. He'll be grateful when it does. I sometimes think he brings work to these things just to give his family something to scheme about.
Beside me, Effie stretches out her legs and wiggles her bare toes. Indigo spent an hour last night carefully painting each toenail a different color, and Effie's indulged her by showing them off to everyone.
It took a long time before I got the guts to go through with actually becoming someone's father. Johanna jokes that it was because I literally got new guts -- two years before Indigo was born, they grew me a new liver and shoved it into me. She's partly right about that. Getting my life back after turning yellow and hemorrhaging into my gut certainly put things into perspective. The bigger point was Effie coming to me, saying that she didn't have any more time to "dither around" if we were ever going to have a family. I still almost said no. The idea of me being a father has never stopped seeming ridiculous to me, like one of the empty-headed comedies Plutarch keeps putting on television about adorable moppets and their hapless parents.
The idea that not only am I someone's father, but that Effie and I carefully planned this and went through about a million embarrassing treatments because neither of us was young anymore... that's left the realm of mere ridiculousness and gone into full-fledged lunacy. The whole time we were visiting doctors, I kept expecting someone to show up speaking softly and offering me a nice long stay in a padded room. I probably would have accepted the invitation. It would have been a lot less scary than what I actually did, which was to get cleaned up and sobered up for good. (At least so far. Every day, I expect this little experiment to fail, but it's been almost twelve years, and my wife and daughter trust me to make it through the day, so somehow or other, I do it.)
Amazingly, Indigo is a perfectly normal kid. She likes horses and dinosaurs. Some days, like today, she wants to be a ballerina. She's very talented, and it's not just my opinion. Valerian Vale has been trying to get her into a show about young girls at a dance school, and some days, she seems to really want to try it. Other days, she is an archaeologist, and still others find her wanting to be a coal miner, of all things. She wears her hair in two long, curly pigtails, and likes to have glittery strings mixed in with them. She looks more like me than like Effie -- with the exception of her wide, pale blue eyes -- but she has somehow managed to avoid my personality. She thinks it's funny when I'm Grumpy Dad, though, so I play it up for her, and she laughs.
Effie still dresses in her fine clothes when she has business and she certainly enjoys them, but she just as often now wears easy, comfortable things. The wigs she once wore went out of style, but she is still uncomfortable with people seeing much of her hair. She wears elaborate hats on working days. At the moment, she's covering her head with a fisherman's cap that Finny Odair gave her years ago. A small fringe of strawberry blond curls gently brushes the back of her neck.
We argue a lot and drive each other (and probably Indigo) crazy, but there are moments when I look up at her across the table and realize that not only am I happy at the moment, but that I have been for days at a time, sometimes even a week. She is there when I wake up in the middle of the night from my frequent horrors. I am there when she panics at what she sees as the chaotic world around her. Sitting here beside her on a quiet summer day, I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.
Maybe it's because I love her. Maybe it's because she comforts me. Maybe the great secret in life is that, in the end, there's no real difference between the two.
Caleb and Johanna run out of patience with Gale and rush in on him, taking his computer and his personal comm device. Caleb wrestles him into the water, where they immediately get into a splashing fight. Indigo runs over to join them. Johanna doesn't go in, though she settles herself comfortably on Gale's rock to watch them and taunt them. She will probably never go into the water. That scar has faded, but it will never really go away. There is no such thing as perfect, as Danny Mellark once told me.
I brought Danny back to life a few years ago.
I didn't mean to. But Gia -- Carolyn -- talked me into trying my hand at writing the kind of brainless mystery that I've always read, and my heroine (an absurdly plucky girl from District Twelve who's moved to the Capitol to work for a forensic investigation team) needed a support system. I wrote her an older brother from home who was always there for her, no matter what nonsensical trouble she got herself into. I didn't make him a baker, or even a merchant, but Peeta spotted Danny on his first glance, and when he pointed it out, I saw him, too. At first, I tried to "fix" it, but I couldn't. Instead, I brought him into the main action, and now when I sit down to write, it's like having an old friend at my side.
Effie nudges my shoulder and we get up to go sit with Johanna. It's a pleasant walk, and there is a cool breeze coming over the water. Later tonight, we'll likely go home and watch something inane on television. Indigo is particularly fond of a show about a District Ten girl and her trusty horse. She will try to insist that she's old enough to stay up another hour, and I'll tell her she's not. I'll call Katniss and Peeta and hear stories about their kids, and Delly's family, and my other friends in Twelve. I'll ask about the latest building projects, and tease them about the statue that the other residents of Twelve have insisted on putting up in the square: two teenagers standing back to back, their hands raised to the sky and filled with berries.
Sometimes Beetee calls me, sometimes Annie does. Finny won't. He's taken Annie's boat, the Trident, and gone sailing with about a dozen of his friends. One of these friends is a beautiful girl with shiny black hair, and Annie doesn't think they're going to keep the "friends" act up much longer. Plutarch has likely been calling me all day, and I'll ignore his messages. He's determined to make a movie about my Quell, and I am determined to pretend not to know anything about it.
Some things don't change.
Plutarch still has no idea how he sounds to other people. Effie still has an infuriating tendency to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time, and I still tend to say nothing at all even when I know I should. Gale still has a great capacity for taking offense where none is meant. Johanna still has a cruel streak, though it's buried deeply beneath her better qualities now. Ruth and Katniss still barely talk to each other. Peeta still tends to spin elaborate lies for the fun of it. We all muddle through anyway.
It's a prosaic life, occasionally a boring one. There are even moments when it's actively ridiculous, like when I'm the designated bag-holder on Effie and Indigo's shopping trips. There are still times when I wake up certain that it's all a dream and they're all about to be taken from me, and I want a drink so badly that all I can do is lie in bed sweating and staring at the ceiling until morning comes, and I have to go off alone somewhere to make sure I don't spend the day barking at them.
But for good or ill, it's my life, and these crazy, ridiculous, and broken people are my family.
We reach Johanna and I sit down beside her. She leans comfortably on my shoulder as she instructs Caleb to show Gale no mercy. Caleb complies, dunking him with great gusto. Gale comes up laughing and spitting water in a fountain at his son.
No -- there's no such thing as perfect.
But there's such a thing as enough.