[[A/N: Same disclaimer applies from last chapter, in that you can consider this a flashback if you like. Because obviously I can't change my writing style completely.]]
Dad and I were halfway home before I even tried to catch up with him. He wasn't exactly running - he'd be much slower if he were, since he was usually sick in some way - but he was walking very quickly, like he was in a hurry. "Dad, slow down... I can't keep up!" I whined - which I didn't normally do - and stared at his back until he turned around and sighed. He coughed a few times and I ignored it, not wanting to see the blood that was probably on his hands because of it. It scared me so much, always making me worry that he'd choke or something. And none of us had any real idea what made it happen, which was even worse.
"Sorry, Haymitch... I just need to get home and rest, I have to go back to work tomorrow and I'm not feeling well" my dad answered. I looked down sadly, feeling bad for asking now when I knew what most days were like for him. As he slowed down and allowed me to catch up before we continued on our way home, I started thinking about how he'd even gotten so sick in the first place. My dad was just one of what felt like thousands of miners in District 12, all of whom left for work when it was still dark and came home hours after I did. He didn't say much about what he did, but I knew it wasn't an easy job. On the rare occasions when I could wake up early enough to see him leave, his uniform was just as dirty as it'd been the night before, and he always looked so tired. The only reason he was even home today was because Mom had found him shaking on the floor and coughing up blood two weeks ago - and then she had yelled, "Xavier, please... Stay home for a while until that stops!" And Mom almost never shouted, so I knew it was bad.
"Are you sure you can?" I asked nervously, hoping I wasn't upsetting him - like I'd seemed to upset that Renay girl I met today. I felt pretty bad about that because I hadn't meant to be rude, but I was tired, embarrassed and worried about my homework - I didn't do any of it at home yesterday because Dad had been sleeping and Mom needed help hanging out the laundry. It seemed like that was happening more often lately - Dad would get worse, and Mom needed more help at home because she was pregnant.
"Son, I need to do this... You'll be having a baby brother or sister soon, and we need the money even more" Dad told me, smiling a very small smile before adding "When I married your mother, I promised I would take care of her always. That's part of being a husband and a father, you take care of the ones you love no matter what".
The rest of the walk home was quiet, but his words echoed in my head. I'd heard him say similar things before, but I understood it better now that I was a little older. I tried to do the same, even though I wasn't old enough to work, and I was just their son - I helped Mom as much as she needed, because I loved her and she was more important than my homework anyway.
Once we got home and my dad opened the front door, Mom waddled over slowly and smiled at him, hugging him for as long as she could - which wasn't much, since her big belly was getting in the way. "I can't wait to meet him..." she said happily, making my dad laugh.
"How do you know it'll be a boy, Cara?" he asked, kissing her. She giggled and I just rolled my eyes; I thought it was kind of gross. Oh well, that's just what parents do... I told myself, shrugging and leaning against the wall. She gave him an even bigger smile and replied, "I just know... It's a boy, and he'll be every bit as smart and kind and handsome as our Haymitch!" At this sudden piece of praise from Mom, I looked up to see her looking back. She held out her arms and I dropped my bag to the floor, hugging her and resting my head against her belly. "Would you like a brother or a sister, Haymitch?" she asked. Lifting my head so I could see her face, I really had to stop and think. A sister would be nice, maybe, but I didn't think I'd be very good with one. None of my friends were girls - I hung out with a small group of other Seam boys my age - so I didn't really have much practice, because the girls didn't usually join in our games. Indeed, Renay was the only girl at school I'd spoken to in a while, and I hadn't exactly been any good at that. But I was okay with other boys, maybe because I was one and had more in common with them. So, I decided, I definitely wanted a brother - someone I could teach to play soccer with me, who I could be close to and get along well with.
When I told Mom what I'd decided, her eyes seemed to get a little bigger - as if she liked my answer. She just smirked at Dad, waddling back into the kitchen. My father sighed and patted my shoulder gently before walking down our small hallway to the room he shared with Mom, and I realised that I should probably try and do my homework now. Not that I really enjoyed it, but I didn't want tomorrow to be embarrassing like today was. I didn't know what Renay had been thinking when we talked, but I felt like I'd be really upset if she thought I was stupid or lazy. For some reason I wanted her to like me, to see that I was just as smart as she must be. Which felt weird, because normally I didn't pay much attention to the kids from the merchant side of town - some really were snobs, which put me off talking to the rest of them. And sometimes it was just hard when things seemed so much better for them, so it was easier to ignore them.
Once I got to my room, sat down at my small table and got out everything I needed, I kept thinking... Renay didn't seem like a snob; I really hoped she wasn't. She'd just wanted to help, and now she probably didn't want to talk to me. Groaning quietly, I tried to think of something I could do to show her I was sorry... Maybe Dad could help me? Almost knocking my chair over, I got to my feet and ran through the doorway and down the hall, until I heard snoring. Dad's asleep... I thought, and shrugged. If he was sleeping so well that he was snoring, I wouldn't dare wake him up - he only did it when he was totally fast asleep. Plus Mom would have to wake him up for dinner later anyway - I'd just ask him then. With that in my mind, I went back to my room after checking on Mom, and closed the door quietly so I could do my homework in peace.
Unlike yesterday, I didn't have as much homework to do - I ended up finishing it all in two hours. It was just after five o'clock now, and I could smell dinner cooking already. The thought of eating right now made my tummy rumble like crazy, so without packing up my stuff, I ran straight into the kitchen and went headfirst into one of the cupboard doors. Wriggling backwards slowly, I looked down sadly when I saw a crack. Loads of things in our house were cracked or slightly broken, and I knew it made my Dad sad even if he didn't say why. I tried to cover it with my hand as I stood up, but Mom caught me and I said sorry straight away, knowing it upset her too - she was better at hiding it than Dad, but I could still see when she was really upset. "It's okay, Haymitch, these things happen..." she said, yawning slightly. I shook my head but said no more, not wanting to argue. She rested her hand on top of her belly and I stared at it as I followed her out into the living room, sitting next to her on our old couch. Slowly, I reached out and touched it.
"I'm not hurting it, am I?" I asked. Mom shook her head.
"Um... Hi, baby. You don't know me yet, but I'm your big brother. My name is Haymitch. Mommy thinks you're a boy and I hope you are too... I really want a brother. But even if you're a girl, I'll still take care of you..." I said slowly, feeling a bit stupid after I said all that. I didn't really know what I was doing... I just felt like I needed to talk to it - after all, this baby was going to be my brother or sister soon. For a while Mom and I stayed quiet, just looking at our hands - until I felt this weird jumpy feeling under my hand, like there was a bouncy ball in Mom's belly that was trying to break out. "What's happening? Is the baby okay?" I cried, looking up at Mom with scared eyes. She just smiled and patted my head.
"That's the baby kicking, I think he's excited to meet you too!" she said happily, still looking down. "I think he likes hearing us talk, I don't know about your Dad though..." she added - and I knew what she meant straight away. Dad hadn't really talked a lot in the last two weeks; he'd been too busy either coughing, wheezing or sleeping, so maybe he hadn't tried talking to it yet. A small tear fell from her left eye and I moved closer, trying to wipe it away.
"Don't cry, Mommy. Maybe he doesn't know what to say yet?" I thought aloud, even though I wasn't too sure if that was even right. If I had been able to talk to the baby, then Dad probably should have by now. Mom looked at me and wiped her eyes, shaking her head a little... She knows I'm lying, I realised. Slowly, I stood up and reached for her hands to try and help her up - her belly was so big now that it was getting harder for her to stand up on her own and walk around the house. "Thankyou, Haymitch... O-oh..." she gasped after she stood up, let go of my hands and then held her belly like she was trying to give it a hug. I was confused - did the baby kick her really hard? Was the baby trying to get out? What was happening? I tried to reach for her hands again but she nudged me away, and closed her eyes tightly.
"Haymitch, I think you should go outside for a while... Please" she groaned. Her face was bright red, and she shook while she talked. I was so scared that I let go of her straight away and ran outside, going down our tiny set of stairs and falling face-first on the grass. After a few seconds, I lifted my head up and spat out some dirt, shaking my head as I started to cry. Mom wasn't mad at the baby, I knew that - things like this had happened before - but I was. This baby was hurting Mom and it scared me - she was already scared about Dad, and I hated seeing her like this. I just wished the baby could be born already so Mom would be happier.
It took me forever to sit up properly; but when I did, I hugged my knees and leaned forward, resting my chin on top while I cried. From outside, I could hear her crying and talking to the baby, telling it to calm down and that he was okay. Sometimes I found it really hard not to be mad at the baby but I was now, so much so that I lay down on the grass and punched the ground with my right fist. "Just stop it, just get out already! You're hurting her!" I squealed, sobbing harder and crying into the grass. The tears kept falling for quite a while, but eventually I got tired and they started to slow down - which was a relief. I hated crying when all I wanted to do was help her. A loud yawn came out of my mouth before I could even try to stop it, and I wriggled from side to side, trying to make myself more comfortable. Bending at the elbow, my arm seemed to move of its own accord, like it knew I needed somewhere to rest my head. Yawning again, I rested my head on my 'pillow' and sighed, closing my eyes while trying not to hear all the noise Mom was making.
Why am I lying on the grass? I wondered. Confused as ever, I sat up slowly, yawned and tried to remember how I'd ended up asleep on the lawn. It was getting darker outside now, reminding me that I didn't know what time it was either. I hope I haven't missed dinner, Mom would be so upset... I thought, jumping to my feet once I was sure I wouldn't fall over from moving too fast. It took me a few seconds to find my bearings; but once I had, I walked up our little staircase and into the living room. I could hear the sounds of metal and plastic clinging and clanking against wood, and sighed in relief – Mom was setting the kitchen table, meaning I didn't have to see her straight away. As awful as I felt, I knew it was better this way – I didn't want her to see that I'd been crying. For the sake of my family, I had to stay strong. Nobody had caught me crying yet, and I was determined that nobody ever would.
"Haymitch? Can you please check if your father's awake yet?" Mom called out from the kitchen. Even though I didn't think there was much chance of him being awake – and hoped he wasn't, which was a strange, yet common thought in our house – I quickly ran into the kitchen to let her know that I would, then darted back into the living room and through the hallway until I reached Mom and Dad's doorway. As I rested my hand on the hallway wall for support, I poked my head through the open space and peered slowly around the pitch-black room. Not wanting to risk disturbing my dad by making any noise while he might still be sleeping, I waited until I could hear a faint rustling noise that had to be my dad moving beneath his sheets.
"Who's that?" my dad asked quietly. Instantly, I tensed up and waited for him to start coughing like normal, but he didn't; and I wiped away sweat from my forehead that I hadn't even known was there.
"Dad, Mom said dinner's ready" I replied just as quietly, thinking that was for the best. As soon as I noticed he was trying to sit up, I rushed to help him. Without arguing that he didn't want or need to be helped, he cooperated with me as I stood in front of him and slid my arms underneath his, pulling him forward until he was sitting up properly. He then nudged me and I stepped backwards as he slowly swung his legs out from under the covers, kicking them away from his body.
"Thanks, son… Do you know what she's made tonight?" he asked; and I said that I didn't. Dad just shrugged and smiled, as if it didn't really matter anyway – and maybe it didn't, because we already knew that any meal was better than none. Besides, I enjoyed everything Mom made, so not knowing wasn't a problem for me.
Once Dad and I had entered the kitchen – without him needing any help, which was a relief – we both took our seats quickly so Mom didn't have to wait to serve out her plates and then eat her own dinner. It was kind of an unspoken agreement between the two of us that we weren't allowed to make her wait too long for anything, because she did so much for us no matter how sore or stressed out he was. My Dad always tried so hard to keep to that when he wasn't so run down that he was forced to stay in bed, which made both her and I smile. The idea of going out with a girl and kissing her still seemed a bit gross to me, but I decided then that if I had a girlfriend one day, I would look out for her just like Dad had always done for Mom.
Speaking of girls, I remembered what I had wanted to ask my Dad about. After I'd eaten my whole serving of vegetables and a few bites of my wild turkey, I turned around far enough in my chair so I could see Dad, and sighed as I said "Dad?", and hoped he wouldn't be too mad at me, as I felt guilty enough.
Dad let go of his fork, and rested it on his plate as he looked back at me and said "Yes, Haymitch?" Straight away I gulped, but opened my mouth, not wanting to waste any more time.
"At lunch, I was finishing my homework in the classroom and this girl called Renay walked in who I don't really know. She offered to help me… I said no but I think I said it in a mean way because she looked sad after I snapped at her" I said, probably sounding just as guilty as I felt – which was the truth. Upsetting people wasn't something I thought was a nice or fair thing to do, and as I thought about it more, I realised just how careless I had been.
Dad smiled at me while Mom patted my shoulder, and I couldn't help but smile at her. He asked "Ah, yes… Is this about the girl I saw you talking to before?", sounding the best he'd sounded all week. Mom tilted her head to the side as she listened, and I knew she was curious, without any doubt, about who Renay was and what I had said and done to upset her.
"Why did you snap at her, son?" my Dad asked. Oh no, don't make me say this… I thought to myself, and winced out loud, hoping he wouldn't be angry and fearing that he would be.
"I was embarrassed, Dad… She already did her homework and I wasn't finished. I didn't want her to think I was dumb!" I whined, pushing my plate away and folding my arms on top of the table. Out of nowhere, Mom pulled me into a big hug; I wrapped my arms around her in return, at least as much as I could do without leaning on her too much.
"We understand, sweetheart. And you're not dumb… I'm sure she doesn't think that. You're a wonderful, kind, smart young man", Mom said, ruffling my hair. I chuckled quietly, already feeling a little better – but I still wanted to know what I could do to let Renay know I was sorry for being so rude to her.
"Thanks, Mom… What can I do to show her I'm sorry?" I asked, hoping that either she or Dad would be able to help me think of the perfect idea. Suddenly Mom's smile widened and I sat up straighter, eager to hear whatever she had to say.
"Haymitch, I think that it might be a nice idea to offer to help her with something, since she offered to help you" Mom said. She looked over at Dad for a few seconds and he nodded, smiling at her. Knowing my dad couldn't be too mad if he was smiling, my spirits lifted at once and I quickly started to think of ideas that might work.
"Maybe I could walk her home from school, or... Or I could help her carry her books?" I wondered aloud quietly, hoping those were good ideas. I'd seen some of the older kids from our school do these things before and they sounded like perfect ideas to me. Of course, it didn't mean that Renay would like or want these things - I had to guess, because I didn't know her very well yet - but I thought that she might, because if she liked to help people herself, maybe she would like it if somebody wanted to help her too. After waiting for a moment, I repeated these thoughts to my parents, and they smiled matching smiles at me.
"I'm proud of you, son" Dad said, as the first to speak after me. Relieved, I let out a short little sigh and nodded happily. While I mostly just wanted to make it up to Renay, it was also nice to know that he approved of how I wanted to do so. Mom smiled, patted my head gently and ruffled my hair, which made me smile - especially once I realised that it was a real smile, not the fake one she sometimes showed me when she was feeling bad and didn't want Dad or I to know.
Today turned out okay after all... I thought to myself. My parents seemed happier now than they were when I'd first left school and come home. Dad sounded much better now than he did when he picked me up from school. The baby growing inside Mom's belly wasn't hurting her anymore. I hadn't made it up to Renay for hurting her feelings yet but I knew how I could try and do that now. As I finished the rest of my meal and went to start the washing up, I realised that today had been a lot like a saying that Mom liked to use very often - Take things one step at a time, because sometimes it's all you can do. And that was exactly what I would do once I got another chance, if that was what it took.
[[A/N: Once again, I am terribly sorry for taking forever to update this. Unfortunately I have to point out that I cannot make any promises with whatever happens next in terms of me getting any writing done, but I have some new ideas in mind and thus intend to give this my best shot! Please review and tell me what you think. I hope you enjoyed gaining a further insight into Haymitch's home life and personality, as imagined by me! xoxo]]