The Japanese Gardens
We hadn't known each other for all that long. All I knew was we spent our Sunday mornings walking through the Japanese gardens home after spending the morning at the weekly markets in the town square.
You were a classmate but never once had we spoken in the eleven years of schooling we had shared. I caught you looking at me in the corridors or in the cafeteria at lunch time but never had we once held a conversation.
Today was the first day we spoke to each other. Prim and I always walked home together through the Japanese gardens. We loved the smell of the fresh cut grass and went ten minutes out of our way just to walk through the gardens and smell the fresh cut grass, watch the coy or visit the rock garden. Only this morning Prim had stayed behind with her friends and left me to walk home alone.
The gardens were always filled with people accessing the square for the Sunday markets, so I wouldn't be walking alone. I walked through the gardens with my hands pressed deep in my coat pockets, warming my fingers from the brisk autumn air. I watched the few families gather in the gardens with their fresh baked goods and fresh lemonade, making use of the markets and autumn sun before winter came and shut the town indoors.
You joined your brother and wife home that morning, your brother pushing the baby in the bright green stroller with his fingers entwined with his wife and you walked beside them with your hands deep in your coat pockets. I followed you quietly, trying to remember facts about your family like for one your family owned the bakery with the best cakes. The cakes Prim always dragged me to see after school. You had two older brothers, all who had wrestled in high school and were all champions. That's all the facts I could conjure up as I followed you.
I watched you bid the young family goodbye as they walked over the red bridge, the opposite way you would take home. You tickled your nephew's cheek and continued on walking, turning around to notice me and smile slightly before you turned back to light the cigarette you held poised between your lips. Lips that were so intriguing, I wondered what they'd tasted like.
It wasn't until then I noticed how blue your eyes were. How your hair fell over your eyes, in desperate need of a haircut. I was close enough behind you that I saw the freckles on your nose and how long and blond your eyelashes were when you turned to me.
"You like sneaking up on people?" You asked me, slowing down to walk beside me with a smirk on your face.
I shrugged my shoulders smiling slightly and kept my pace beside you.
"I didn't know you smoked?"
You shrugged your shoulders and smiled. "Want one?"
"I'm fine, thanks." I tell you.
You walked me home that morning and we slightly exchanged casual conversation and farewelled each other at the gate of my home. You waited by my rusted gate and watched me walk through the door before you turned and headed down the path to your home, fists pushed deep inside your jeans as you kicked a stone down the pathway.
The next afternoon you waited for me when school finished at the front gate, your backpack slung over your shoulder and we exchanged a few more words while I nervously picked at a flower.
The next morning I found you standing out the front of the bakery and you walked with me to school, sharing a warm cheese bun with me and carried my forest green backpack on your spare shoulder.
The next morning you had a takeaway cup filled with delicious hot chocolate for me. I took it from you quickly and smiled at how it warmed my insides and my cold fingers and brought a smile to my face.
Each morning you'd have a treat for me and we'd learn a bit more about each other. That Friday afternoon you walked me right to my front door and stood awkwardly with your fists pushed in your pockets, looking at the worn welcome home mat trying to say what was on the tip of your tongue.
If the past five days had taught me anything, I knew how good you were with words but right now, was possibly the first time you struggled to get the words out.
"Katniss… I was wondering… interested… gosh, I don't know how to ask you."
I stood there watching you fumble with the words and I smiled at how sweet and innocent you looked.
"Would you like to go to the markets with me on Sunday?" You finally ask.
I bite my bottom lip and smiled. "Sure." I agree seeing the smile grow on your face. "Pick me up at 8."
You nodded your head. "8 o'clock." You confirm smiling with chapped lips. "Have a nice evening, Katniss."
"You too." I tell you before disappearing into my house with a wide smile plastered on my face as I leant against the door and smiled.
Sunday morning came and I found you waiting out the front of my house, a green beanie covered your blond hair with a few blond curls peeking out at the front. Two takeaway cups sat on the round fence post with a paper bag held in your hand and a huge smile on your face. I smiled seeing you remembered my favourite colour.
"Good morning." You greet me with a smile and offer me a cup. "Breakfast."
"Thank you." I smile and feel my mouth water at the smell of breakfast.
I was grateful Prim had left earlier with her friends because I thankfully got to have this morning with you and no one else.
We talked about everything in general and you asked what I wanted to do at the markets specifically.
I was happy to walk through browsing at all the stalls until I found something I liked and we did just that. You greeted the merchants you knew and I happily browsed the stands. I rummaged through a little box of treasures filled with beads, jewellery and pins.
I picked up a gold pin and ran my finger over the bird, realising it was a mockingjay.
"How much?" I ask.
"You can have it." The merchant says to me.
"Thank you." I say smiling at the attendant and show the pin to you. "I think Prim will like this."
You take it from my hand and study it before pinning it to my coat. "I think you'll like it better." You tell me smiling as you brush my braid away to study it. "Beautiful."
I smile at you and we continue on through the square, running into your older brother, wife and son. You introduced me to them and I watched you interact with your sweet nephew who smiled at you and curiously looked at me before offering me a gummy smile and a cheery gurgle as you hand him to me to hold. I held the baby in my arms and cooed to him and he found interest in my braid and my voice.
I handed the boy back hesitantly and we went on our way leaving the young family to enjoy their Sunday.
"Why do you walk this way home?" You ask me as we walk back through the gardens with fresh lemonade.
"I like the smell of cut grass." I answer, taking a sip from my drink. "It reminds me of my father."
You smile and we slow down to take a seat on one of the stone benches away from the main pathway. I watch you pull out your tobacco and papers and I sat watching you line the paper with the tobacco. I could see how nervous you were but I knew how you were trying to impress me with how you could roll a cigarette.
But your hands were shaking and the paper broke. I watched you flush in embarrassment, laugh and reroll the smoke and bring it to your lips and light the smoke with your now steady hands.
I watched you take the first drag and perfectly blow the smoke out in a perfect ring, something that impressed me and made my cheeks flush at how turned on I became at watching yours lips.
You held the cigarette out for me, not noticing my flushed skin and I happily accepted the cigarette with a shaky hand, I thought I'd drop it. I played cool though not wanting you to think I was lame for never taking a drag before and I imitated the way you held the cigarette and brought it to my lips and took my first drag, inhaling the tobacco and feeling my throat and lungs burn. I coughed like the kid on the cold and flu ad and noticed how lightheaded I was and how my stomach angrily churned.
You just laughed and smiled and kicked the dirt and said, "We're not as cool as we thought we were."
I nodded my head with a smile and we walked on home hand in hand.
The night that we first kissed was two weeks after our stroll through the Japanese gardens. The markets were shut down for the winter and school was out for Christmas break.
I climbed out of my window so I wouldn't be missed. I descended the tree and found you waiting for me at the park like you said you would be. A backpack slung over your shoulder holding a green blanket, some hot chocolate, cheese buns and your beloved cigarettes.
We climbed onto the swings realising how big we were getting and swung in the darkness, laughing and talking. We sat stationary on the swings and I noticed the way you kicked your legs back and forth like a small child. Your blue eyes shone in the darkness, the moonlight enhanced the blue and I was even more drawn to them. It was like looking into blue crystal. I was drawn to the gems and wanted no more than to wear the crystals as a necklace as a forever keepsake. The amber of your cigarette glowed as you took drags and I noticed the way you looked up at the sky, stretching your neck and blowing the smoke out. I followed the line of your jaw to your chin and down your neck, over your Adams apple that bobbed when you inhaled and exhaled the smoke. I noticed how beautiful you looked in the moonlight and I never wanted the sun to rise again. You were beautiful in the sunlight but the moonlight made things sacred, mysterious and beautiful. You brought romance, the romance I read about in books, without even trying.
You handed me that green beanie you wore the day we went to the markets together and placed it over my hair and covering my ears and said, "Keep it, you look better in it."
We ran around like we were 6 years old and found ourselves laying in the train on the blanket, cuddling, sipping the hot chocolate and eating the cheese buns and you handed me a rolled cigarette and placed one in between your lips smiling.
On our walk to and from school you had taught me how to properly smoke a cigarette and told me the best way to feel the hit of the nicotine and get that fix. In the two short weeks I become addicted and the smell of you became intoxicating, especially when you hugged me goodbye and I could smell the nicotine, the cinnamon, the sugar and your cologne. It was a swill of smells that made me feel drunk but want to bathe in it forever. You were my drug and I was hooked on you.
I properly learnt how to smoke a cigarette without my lungs burning and you taught me how to roll them when we cut history classes when they ran after lunch and we hung out on the backfield eating our lunch, smoking and sharing our thoughts on where we'd be in ten years. You joked you'd most likely be dead from all the smoking and drinking you did and I laughed along because I didn't know any better.
We shared the lighter in the dark, me still fumbling to light mine but you easily lighting your cigarette and taking a long drag from it.
I lay pressed to your side, watching the stars and taking long drags of my cigarette long into the night just as the sun was starting to peek through the darkness of the night sky.
You rummaged through your bag when we decided it was best we'd get home before someone noticed our absence.
"Merry Christmas." You say holding out a small gift box.
I knitted my eyebrows unsure at what you could have gotten me and you nodded your head, telling me to go ahead and open it. "You'll like it."
I lifted the lid and found a lighter inside. A green one which had been inscribed with my 'now you're cool'.
I hugged you, thankful for my first gift and told you I hadn't bought you anything.
"I don't need anything, I'm lucky with what I already have." You tell me. "I have everything I could ever want standing right in front of me.'
Your blue eyes held my grey eyes and the breeze danced around us and the sun rose more.
You leant in slowly, grabbing the grey scarf I wore, pulling me closer, tilting your head to the side and bringing your lips to hover in front of mine. You said my name, I could feel you breathe. "Katniss."
I met your lips softly, your breath having tickled my lips and I noted the taste of your breath. Nicotine, cheese buns and chocolate.
I walked home in the freezing cold, pulled the beanie down further over my ears and felt my heartbeat thumping through my coat.
I didn't turn back around to say goodbye to you, too much on a high from our first kiss.
I scaled the tree, slipped through the window and fell on to my bed smiling and my heart racing. I pulled the beanie from my head, kicked my shoes off and my jacket and slipped under the covers and fell asleep to the smell of your beanie and the lighter tightly in my hand, much like an overdose.
That winter turned to spring. We had spent every moment together. We cut more classes and spent more late nights in the park and in your car you bought during break. We learnt more about each other and found that the later it was the more personal we got with sharing stories and exchanging personal things about ourselves. In the darkness I could feel our heart. We learnt a million grown-up things cutting class and spending long nights at the park and in your car.
Our parents noticed our behaviour, the school noted our truancy and we met the angry faces of our teachers when we did attend class but we didn't mind. We were even more distracted when it came to class time. I often daydreamt when we were in different classes. Other times I looked at your drawings you slipped cautiously to me, making fun of our teachers and you wrote notes on when we would cut next. We got into even more trouble in class and found ourselves seated outside the principal's office a few too many times but we'd laugh it off. Our parents tried to speak to us but we didn't listen, we only listened to one another. Their words didn't matter because they were wrong. You were certainly not dragging me down, you were keeping me whole.
You hypnotised me in your storytelling and I felt sorry for you when you told me about your family and how cruel your mother was. How she had you forfeit a scholarship to a sports high school because she repeatedly said how useless you were and you'd never become a person she'd be proud of. She said how useless you was when you broke your leg while motorbike riding one summer with your brothers and how the injury left you needing surgery to place pins and reset your leg after the bad breakage. You still felt pain in your leg now and she said you were just complaining for attention.
"I can't remember when the last time she said she loved me or complimented me."
You told me how your father was loveable but a pushover when it came to your mother. It was her way or the highway and if your father ever agreed it'd result in a long lecture about how children know nothing and how useless they can be and how stupid he is to take sides with the kids. You can recall the times you caught your father slipping back into the house early in the morning to make it seem like he had slept in the house the whole night and not at the bakery or at your uncle's house.
You stated that the minute you turned 18 you're leaving home and moving away. You confined in me the amount of times you've considered just slipping away or taking your own life because things would be much easier without you around. You thought no one needed you.
I disagreed though because the more time I spent with you the longing became more apparent, my habit grew and I knew I needed you.
"I do. I need you."
We spent the spare moments when no words were spoken just kissing, touching each other and taking drags of our cigarettes.
I opened up about my plans to teach children how to sing and spend my Sunday mornings walking through the Japanese gardens home with my kids in tow after a day well spent at the markets. Going and visiting my family, watching my father gardening with my children while we had lunch and spent the afternoon in the company of my family.
I didn't gloat about my family life and just told you about my love of the outdoors and how it comes from my father. How we'd spend Saturday mornings at the archery range and going on bushwalks and swimming in the lake when it's warm. How we camp during summer holidays while Mom and Prim head north to my aunts place. I suggested you spend summer camping with me and you happily accepted saying you haven't been camping for years. I also tell you how free I feel out in the meadow and the woods that boarders our town. I tell you that's where I sing the most because no one can hear me and I'm happiest there.
You finally ask me to sing for you, remembering the time I sang the Valley song in class when I wore my hair in two braids instead of one and how that day you were a goner, having fallen in love with me.
I take a drag from the cigarette and open my mouth and for the next hour I sing you all my favourite songs, all the songs my father taught me and ones I've learnt from my own exploration and discovery in the old record shop in town listening to the old vinyls.
The one song I sing sits with you better than the others and it becomes our song.
Don't ask me
What you know is true
Don't have to tell you
I love your precious heart
I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never tear us apart
You tell me your never going to have kids because you don't want to resent them like your mother does and I tell you to keep an open mind because that's your chance to right her wrongs.
We learnt a million grown up things during those months together. Our hands became more daring and our bodies more responsive to touch and the alcohol that burnt through our veins fired the desires and helped take away the nerves. You had gotten the bottle of whisky for your birthday and told to share it with the person you like the best.
We took sips from the bottle in between drags of our cigarettes and shared stories and star gazed. The nights the stars were the brightest were our favourite and we favoured our time to just watching the stars and being wrapped in each other's arms then actually doing anything else.
As we left that awkward winter and fell into the mature spring we cut our afternoon classes more and took drives in your car and learnt more about each other on the hood of your car, from the back of your car or sprawled out on a blanket sharing cheese buns.
We spent those spring nights dividing our time going to friends parties and going on walks through the Japanese gardens at night and playing on the swings and in the train and we got more daring and creative in exploring each other's bodies. This became my other addiction and from the way you reacted, I knew you were addicted to me as well.
One warm spring night, after a birthday dinner you took me out in your car and blasted our song through the cars crackly sound system. You had bought me a packet of cigarettes, a bottle of tequila and gave me a scrapbook of sketches you had done of me from these last 5 months. We spent the night laughing, smoking and drinking the bottle of tequila before we moved to the train, lying on the blanket and made love under the starry night before we fell asleep with the sunrise and woke to the sing songs of the birds.
The next weekend you tried to teach me how to drive your car in a deserted parking lot, our song on in the background and then made love to me in the backseat of the car after my failed lesson and we shared your last cigarette and spoke endless words and made plans for our future, hinting at a future together as I mentioned I'd like to spend every Sunday morning of the rest of my life walking through the Japanese gardens together with our kids in tow after a day at the markets. I sang to you as we were wrapped in each other's arms.
We could liveFor a thousand yearsBut if I hurt youI'd make wine from your tears
I watched the sincere smile you gave me and never took your eyes off of me as you spoke the three word's that made my heart thump inside my chest when I finished our song.
"I love you." You whisper. "I love you Katniss Everdeen."
I smiled at you and hovered my lips before yours, whispering so you could feel my breath as I spoke.
"I love you too." I tell you and catch my lips to you for a long, sensual kiss that ends with us both breathless and wanting more of each other and ending with another moment of making love on the sticky leather of your backseat.
We left an end of school bonfire party weeks later, unable to keep our hands off of each other after sips of tequila and drags of cigarettes, after a hasty fast paced quickie in the bathroom temporarily fulfilling our needs, we climbed into your car, the windows open letting the warm breezing blow through the car and making us feel more alive than ever and wanting our whole summer to be spent like this. We drove to lovers lane and drank some more and fooled around in the backseat of your car while other teenagers did the same and were the last to leave after everyone else and made a promise that night that we'd be together forever.
"Together?" You ask me.
"Together." I repeat and kiss you. "Together forever. I can't imagine my life with anyone else Peeta."
You nodded your head and smiled, sipping from the bottle of gin you'd snatched from the party and went down on me while I smoked a cigarette.
We raced your car back home with the music blaring, not caring how early it was as dawn broke. You looked over at me and smiled the last smile I'd ever see on your face. I sang you our song as we drove home and watched you catch long glances of me.
I told you
That we could fly
'Cause we all have wings
But some of us don't know why
I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never ever tear us apart
You lost the wheel and missed the turn in that split second and the whole world rolled on top of us and you said my name but I never woke up again.
My whole life flashed before my eyes. It brought me back to the first time we kissed, the feel of your breath, the smell of the nicotine, cheese buns and chocolate. It brought me to the first time I watched you smoke that cigarette and the second time you offered me a drag. The way you hissed my name when we got more adult and explored each other's bodies in the dark of the night. The first morning we woke up in each other's arms and we said good morning to each other.
How you had told me you loved me 6 weeks before and the moments earlier where you just promised me a lifetime filled with love, laughter and Sunday mornings spent walking through the Japanese Gardens home.
You said my name but I never woke up again.
The moments after the world rolled on top of us and I watched you change.
I wanted you to let the guilt go, live your life like you used to but now the guy I got to know is gone.
'The girl I was died years ago, now she's a ghost, let me go.'
You stood at my graveside on the hot summer's day. A packet of cigarettes in your pocket and my mockingjay pin pinned to your shirt. You stood beside my family, lost for words like that afternoon you asked me out. Our school mates stood behind you crying. Other attendees stared at you in disbelief, unable to understand why you were allowed to my funeral since you killed me. My family didn't blame you. My father placed a firm hand on your shoulder when they lowered the casket to the ground and you threw the packet of cigarettes onto you coffin. "Light up baby." You whispered and along with everyone else kissed your lips to your three fingers and held it to the air with everyone else and said goodbye with tears streaming down your face.
Your life fell apart, the love of your life died at the fault of your own negligence. You though were let off with a good behaviour bond, you were too nice of a guy to mean to do what you did, and the guilt was enough to warrant you a lifetime sentence. The judge looked passed the alcohol in your system and blamed the poor condition of the road and the poor lighting and my lack of wearing a seatbelt. The judge looked deep into your blue eyes and apologised with his own grey eyes, ones that resembled mine and expressed his condolences after you told the courtroom our story, you moved the courtroom with your words and painted your emotions onto the words you spoke. It was a tragedy to have to deal with this at such a young age.
It takes you years to get over me. You spend moments painting and sketching and then crying when you realised what you exactly painted. Your painting is your therapy and after a while you begin to paint sunsets and the dandelions in the spring instead of the green, black and red nightmares. The backfield where we lay in the dandelions as we cut class. You begin to paint the Japanese garden and the market on a Sunday morning with a girl with the long braid down her back. You paint the pin and the gardener mowing the lawns on the Sunday morning. You paint my father gardening and Lady licking Prim's face. You paint me in at the archery range and the camping trips and everything else I told you about. You paint the children we spoke about one afternoon in the Japanese gardens even the afternoon spent watching the sunset under the big willow tree and me expressing my love for the name Willow.
You open a gallery on what would be my 21st birthday and leading up to the 4th anniversary of my passing. The walls are filled with all of the paintings of me. The gallery you call Willow is filled with everything you loved about me with a nice little garden out the back of the gallery, a pond filled with coy, beautiful plants, bamboo, a rock garden and grass to be freshly cut every Sunday. The first wall of the gallery holds the lines, two world's colliding and they could never tear us apart.
You dedicate a room out the back to teach children how to make art. You were living my dream of teaching children about your passions.
A week after the opening your life changes for the better and you receive national coverage of your works. Effie, a talent scout hears about the gallery from one of her friends in town and is there the next day to arrange a meeting with the man who has created the most moving pieces of artwork she has ever seen in her life and with that, you become a star. Your story told and your gallery picks up business and your selling your paintings and sketches as soon as you finish them and making more money than you intended.
You meet your future wife one Sunday morning as she wanders inside the gallery and finds herself drawn to one of your paintings and she breaks down in your arms after you tell her about me. Every detail you care to share with her.
You cut the grass that Saturday morning, wiping the sweat from your brow and tend to the garden you planted in memory of me before sitting under the willow tree in your backyard and smelling the cut grass.
You entered your living room and saw my face staring back at you, my grey eyes locking with yours. The painting titled 'love face', inspired from the first time we walked through the Japanese gardens home. The small smile on my face, the mockingjay pin on my coat and my signature braid.
You didn't want a big reminder of me but your wife insisted because that's the first time she fell in love with you, when you explained the mystery girl in the portrait and how much of an impact she had on your life. I made you who you are today. I taught you about righting the wrongs in life and making life great.
You decided you wouldn't wallow in pity and told my story to everyone who visited the gallery. Everyone was hypnotised, even your wife much like me, on every story you told and the buyers felt more connected to the girl who would hang in on the walls of their homes.
I'm living your life and you're living mine.
Sunday morning the lawns were all mowed. You walked through the Japanese gardens home. The sweet girl on your hip, too young to walk and the two boisterous boys who much resembled you following behind. You looked so funny with your kids in tow. You vowed you didn't want to be like this, resent the children you brought into the world but not once had you resented them. You loved them unconditionally like I would have and told them stories, painted with them and baked with them and most importantly strolled through the Japanese gardens home like I had dreamed of. You spent Sundays with your family and shared lunches under the willow tree and lazed under the shade. Sometimes my family visited and shared your Sundays and stories of me to the children.
You still walked through the gardens alone some mornings and sat on the bench where I took my first drag and would sketch or smell the cut grass and remember me singing to you or telling you the names of our would be children.
You seemed so underdressed sitting there, something was missing, the one thing you'd always have with you on our Sunday morning and I realised what it was.
You gave up smoking years ago.