Another Victory for District Four had found the unlikely foursome back in District Four the first prolonged stretch of time in over a year. In truth Finley had flourished under the warm breezes and pale blue sky that made a winter in Four - as much as she hated to admit it. Seven was beautiful in the winter; a solid blanket of snow insulated her home, making it warm, if not stifling, for the nine months of gray skies and early dusk. After spending almost a year in near constant sunshine she had to concede to what Caiman had described - that a long winter in Seven weighed down a person's soul in a way that one couldn't shake in the brief summer.
Finley laughed gently to herself as she lightly dropped down the sandy trail from the rise, crowned with the Victor's Village, musing over long passed ghosts. Clover had once griped about seasonal depression, though she herself and all her youth had steadfastly refused to believe her mentor. How could anyone think Seven was less than perfect? Now she knew - though they had been lucky. After the 50th they had secreted away in Seven with such conviction that their time in Four had been largely quiet. Finley still had yet to come face to face with Tempest Boatwright, and from the sparse comments Caiman had to make of her, she did not want to.
Somehow the world had graced them with peace for a season, though today, the eve of the Reaping, felt silently taut with potential.
Feeling anxious the young woman had slipped away in the brief respite of Astoria having fallen asleep, Leven away with Caiman on some errand, leaving a quick note on the kitchen counter and slipping out the back, the french doors pinned wide open to let in the sea breeze.
Somehow still the sight of the ocean filled her with excitement, and still not yet thirty Finley could jog through the sand, churning beneath her feet, tossing her light cardigan aside to meet the tide. She was still determinedly pale, a floppy wide brimmed hat protecting her face and neck, her skin underneath the water looking a sickly green and white as she plunged further still, diving headfirst into a gentle swell.
All at once the world went silent, the cool water the only sensation, her eyes tight against the salt. Her hat drifted away as she pushed herself down, dragging long fingers through the sand, catching bits of shell and rock. She always imagined that she could hear some distant, gentle string quartet under the waves, as if a nearby forest of seaweed liked to strum and pluck itself on the current. Finley might have sighed, instantly calmed, as she fluttered herself into the womb of the earth.
Freshly baptized a short while later Finley dropped into the sand, her toes just barely in the farthest reaches of the surf, able to get a neat square frame on the day and what tomorrow might bring. Sure she was only feeling so strange because her 30th birthday was lingering around the distant edge of the Games, Astoria had just turned three, and the only time she had truly been home in almost a year was to bury Scout. Add that to Galene's absence and Leven's confusion and temper in the time since, along with the strange period of time in which she and Caiman had had to truly adjust to each other for more than ten days, and it had been a less than restful phase of life.
Snorting, Finley dug her heels into the sand as she sat up, frowning in protest at the realization. She stripped off her wet t-shirt and shorts, flinging them away and folding her arms behind her head as she settled into the sand, determined to take ten minutes for herself before being launched unceremoniously back into the mess of the Capitol and Games. Nobody could make her do anything she didn't want to until tomorrow, nobody could tell her to not be naked on the private cove of beach attached to the Victor's Village, nobody could tell her that she couldn't have a pint of ale when she got back home. Until then, she would revel in this small act of defiance, smiling in the sun.
It was finally over for Skipper Teague. She had achieved the impossible: setting the record for most wins in a decade—higher than any other mentor. It was quite an achievement—first her best friend came home to rule beside her, and then there was Caiman. Caiman Boatwright was the largest jewel in her crown, set on all sides the wins of Tide, Harbor, Scurvy Marty, and now Misty. President Snow had commissioned such a ring from District One; it was the hue of the sea at noon, bright and sparkling—to match her eyes.
It was suggested, when he gave it to her, that she not consider her retirement as exile, as punishment, but merely thanks for further glorifying District Four. The entire district was to sit out the 52nd Hunger Games; it’s coffers bursting with revenue that would sustain the district for decades, should no win happen in the next twenty years.
The events of the year whirled around and around in her mind. Harbor and Tide’s vessel was found, at last—pieces of the wreckage were dragged to shore by Capitol Patrol boats. It was a disgrace—two worthy seamen, born and raised, were lost forever to Davy Jones’ locker. Skipper commissioned an artist from District Eight to build a sculpture out of the wood, once it had dried, in remembrance.
There was now a life-sized sculpture of Skipper now in front of the justice building, in the style of the Grecian masters. With long, wet hair romantically curling down over her shoulders, a crown of starfish, a shell bikini top obscuring immortally upright breasts, toned abdominals she had not seen in years, and a sarong that showed the shadow of her legs. One hand curled around a mighty trident, the other held a lobster nestled in the crook her arm. Her full lips were closed, and blank eyes stared out to the view of the sea beyond the building. The inscription had her name, her date of birth, and a place for the day she returned to the sea.
That day was not today. Instead, Skipper was slowly walking up the private beach, her feet digging into the white sand, wearing a terrycloth robe. While her statue was immortal, Skipper was approaching her 43rd birthday. Her sea cycle had ceased to collect it’s monthly blood payment, her skin was now starting to leather, her face, which once boasted an enigmatic smile, also showcased crow’s-feet, laugh-lines. Her arms, which were freckled, were starting to get sunspot after sunspot.
Her tan was taking longer and longer to fade, and pretty soon, she would join the sea hags with leather, orange skin, platinum hair, missing teeth and raspy laughs. They congregated around bonfires, wearing necklaces of shells made by their grandchildren, bottles of rum in one hand, cracking open clams and oysters the proper way—with one’s teeth.
Startled from the thoughts of her very imminent future, Skipper saw Finley, sunning herself in the nude. Her eyesight, for all the water that circled around in her cerulean irises, was starting to worsen, so she could not tell if the younger woman had spotted her. The two women were not friends, but something had happened after that day on the observation deck—a quiet understanding. Skipper knew that Finley, not Galene, was the proper co-captain for her champion. Walking closer, she moved to stand, looking out at the horizon, much like her statue was, less than a mile away.
Wordlessly, she pulled out a hand-rolled cigar from the plants grown in Scurvy Marty’s home in Victory Village, and a book of matches. Sitting down in the sand beside Finley, Skipper squinted as she struck the match off the other girl’s kneecap, cupping her hand around the flame, inhaling once, then twice before exhaling purple smoke.