This is an idea that's been in my head for a while and finally the words have come. As always, characters and such from the Hunger Games series do not belong to me. Enjoy.
Girls in White Dresses
Part I: The Spark
You used to be the girl that set the world on fire
And they drenched your soul in water but the flames reached higher
You'll always be the one that keeps me crazy inside
And if you got a wild heart don't you let it die
-Daughtry, Wild Heart
My father is crunching numbers again.
I can see him through the window in the swinging door between the kitchen and the shop. The bakery is closed today, as it always is after a reaping. Everything, even the mines, is closed on Reaping Day and remains closed after the names are pulled, mostly out of respect to the families mourning and partially because the rest of us want to celebrate our good fortune at their expense.
Dad sighs and puts his head in his hands. He takes a quick break and then goes back to his work, his pen scraping across the paper, trying to find something – anything – he could have missed.
Above my head I can hear Mother squeal. She is hard at work preparing Rye's favorite stew for dinner. Because we should be celebrating. Rye is safe from the reaping. His name will never be in the bowl again. He is free to get married, start working – he's free to live. The reaping no longer hangs over his head and that's two out of three that my parents have successfully raised to adulthood without sacrifice. Other families aren't nearly as lucky.
However, I know that it would have been a blessing in disguise for my family if Effie Trinket had called my name today.
Since my oldest brother survived the reaping and got married last year, my father has been slowly bowing out of the kitchen and transitioning the bulk of the business over to him, just as his father did. It started with Barley coming in during the night to aid my father in preparing the dough for the next morning. Now that Rye's out of the reaping, he'll be transitioned in too, helping Barley with the baking, ordering, and decorating, as my father begins to man the front end.
Business at the bakery doesn't fluctuate all that much. There's only one, so if people in the district want fresh bread they have to come to us. The only time when we see a real decline in business is during particularly bad winters, when what little we get from the Seam stops coming along with the revenue from those with more to spend. After working in the shop since he was younger than I am now, my father knows the business the bakery gets – he's just desperate.
My father can crunch numbers all he wants. I know that if I survive my next two reapings I will not be working in the bakery, even if no one has the courage to tell me to my face.
It's not uncommon for families heavy with sons to run into this problem. Businesses can only support so many. I just have the lucky misfortune of having brothers who have fallen in love with girls that won't be inheriting their family's businesses. Barley's girl is already thought of amongst certain crowds as the baker's wife and Rye's girlfriend will probably still work at the florist's, and they'll pool the little earnings they get from both the flower store and the bakery together. That leaves me. No wonder my parents wanted me to be a girl.
Dad seems to come to the same conclusion and tosses his pen across the storefront. It skids to a stop in the corner. I let out a breath and back away from the door's window, done watching my father suffer on my account. I'm not helping him at all, either. A good Town boy with no business to inherit would be making note of the girls that are inheriting their businesses and not already involved with someone else. There's not many. In fact, the only two that come to mind are Madge Undersee and Lily Parkinson.
I've talked to Madge before a few times. Her cousin is one of my best friends and I talk to her when she's sitting alone, excluded because she's quiet and the mayor's daughter. No one quite knows what to make of her. I know Lily better. She's the daughter of the apothecary owners, two people who happen to be very good friends of my parents. Her father, Proust, is one of my father's closest friends, along with Delly's father, and her mother grew up down the street from my mother. I've known Lily as long as I've known Delly, but never struck up the same connection. Lily was too much of a goodie-two-shoes when we were kids and while Delly and I bonded by stomping around in the mud (and then getting chastised by our parents), Lily watched from the doorway or clung to her mother's dress.
She's a very pretty girl, with straight hair so blonde it's only a few shades darker than newly fallen snow and blue eyes that are dark like puddles. She's nice too. There's really nothing wrong with her – many would say I'd be lucky to date or marry her.
But I'm not a good Town boy because I just can't put Katniss Everdeen behind me.
A few clobbering footsteps take to the stairs and the door to the upstairs apartment swings open. Barley is still dressed in his good clothes, just as I am. He gives me a small smile as he goes to the basket of bread on the far wall and pulls out a loaf of sourdough.
"Splurging tonight," he says, lifting it up slightly as he walks back toward the stairs. "Dinner's almost ready. You should probably come up before Mother has a fit."
I nod and he heads back up, leaving the door open as if I'm about to follow him immediately. I should because he's right. Mother will have a fit if I'm not ready and waiting upstairs for her special dinner. But I can't seem to move. Their voices float down from upstairs and for once my family seems happy.
Then I look back at the door to the front end and remember my father's desperation. That's my fault. If it weren't for me, he could be upstairs with my brothers, celebrating Rye's freedom. Instead he's down here worrying about me. Not for the first time do I recognize how much easier life would have been for them if I was on a train heading for the Capitol right now. Sure, they would have been sad, but ultimately they don't need me. I'm more of a burden to my family than anything else.
My feet move of their own volition, completely independent of my mind's better judgment. Instead of climbing the stairs to the apartment, my feet guide me to the back door and out into the street.
I always end up in the same place on the walks that I take to get away from the bakery. There's only so far you can walk in District 12 before coming to a wall of electricity and barbed wire. Once, when we were younger, a group of us came to the fence and stared out to see if we could spot one of the dangerous creatures we read about in our books. That's what the fence does; it keeps us safe from harm. Could you imagine, our teachers say, what would happen if a wild cat or a bear came into the district?
I came to the conclusion long ago that the animals must not be so rabid and dangerous. In all the time I've spent by this fence after my walks, I've never once seen a bear trying to figure out a way in, or a wild lynx just waiting for the electricity to turn off. I think the animals are just as scared of us as we are of them. Because isn't that what everything is afraid of? The unknown? It's what my father is afraid of. That's why he's so insistent on searching for a way for me to stay at the bakery.
I've never been into the forest though so I wouldn't know one way or the other about the animals inside. All I know are the superficial details of life beyond the fence – how the woods begin about a hundred yards off, how the breeze makes the leaves sway. With the setting sun in the distance, the woods appear so tantalizing that I reach forward, but yank my arm back at the last second, right before my fingers graze the electrified wire. I take a few deep breaths and turn around.
There aren't that many beautiful places in the district. So much of it has been touched by coal dust and unintentional neglect. But beautiful is such a subjective word. Sometimes I like walking through the streets and looking for beauty in the little things. Today it is easy to find. In the windows of the homes of Town, people are smiling. Celebrating. They're happy for once.
I find myself standing outside the McCourt house for a minute, looking into their window as they sit down for their celebration dinner. Their oldest was in the reaping for the first time today. The first one is always the worst. It doesn't matter that the odds grow less and less in your favor as you age, the first is, without a doubt, the worst reaping to endure. At least, the older you grow, the easier it is to delude yourself into believing you have some sort of a chance at winning.
I stuff my hands into my pockets and try to find more good things.
My travels guide me through the streets and ultimately into the square, where not four hours ago I felt a weight guiltily lift off my shoulders at the sound of Effie Trinket calling a name that wasn't mine. I can't even remember his name and it makes a pit form in my gut. Over the next few weeks I'll learn his name only to have to watch him die some painful and undignified death on the television.
The podium is still out on the stage in front of the Justice Building and the Panem flag remains hung under the wording on the wall. Tomorrow, once everyone goes back to work, it will fly in its regular place in the center of Town where everyone can see it. Workers will move the podium back inside the Justice Building and the square will remain mostly empty, aside from the mandatory public viewing sessions, until next year.
A shuffling noise hits my ears as I approach the stage to sit down and it makes me freeze. I look around me, wondering if a Peacekeeper would possibly stop me today, but I'm the only person in the square. I climb the steps of the stage and everything seems oddly still as I sit on the edge.
After a few seconds I hear one small rattle and I stand, peeking under the podium to see what's there. My eyebrows climb my forehead as my eyes make contact with a pair of stunning gray ones that I've dreamed about for years.
It's a tight fit for her under the podium, given the shelving underneath. The noise was probably her trying to get more comfortable because she clearly isn't right now. She has her legs pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees, her head ducked to avoid hitting the lower shelf.
She stares up at me, her eyes wide. The ever-present scowl that always seems to be hiding her smile has fallen from her face.
"What are you doing in the podium?" I ask.
In all the years I've known Katniss, had classes with her, seen her at lunch, I have never once gotten up the nerve to even utter one word in her presence. There are a lot of things I regret in life but the one I regret the most is just tossing the bread to her rather than going out to actually hand it to her that day in the rain. I messed up then just as I'm messing up now. I've never talked to her before and suddenly I think it's okay to ask her a question that sounds like it's full of judgment.
Katniss doesn't answer me. Her tongue darts out of her mouth and licks her lips, a worry-line forming between her eyebrows as they furrow in what looks like confusion. I extend my hand out to her and she startles.
"Why don't you get out of there? It doesn't look comfortable at all," I say, feeling like I'm talking to one of the toddlers that come into the bakery when I'm working the register.
She blinks a few times and eyes my hand before shaking her head. "I'm fine here, thanks," she mutters.
The action throws me off and I have to think for a moment why anyone would want to stuff themselves under the podium. It's a very clever hiding spot, to be honest, and one my younger self would have gladly used during hide-and-seek games. And then it hits me, what Katniss is doing in the podium.
"What are you hiding from?" I ask, my eyes darting around the square. It's still empty and I see no reason why anyone would bother us.
The scowl reappears. "I'm not hiding."
It makes me chuckle. "Katniss, you're sitting under the podium. If you're not hiding from anything, come sit on the stage." I stretch my arms out. "It's a lot less restricting."
It seems to work. She pokes her head out and looks through the square. When she's satisfied that there's nothing around us, she crawls out and sits directly in front of the podium, still relatively hidden from anyone walking into the square.
"I didn't think you knew my name," she mumbles, so quietly I'm not sure I heard her right.
Oh, Katniss, I know everything about you. But that's inappropriate and something I'm not sure I'd even tell her while on my deathbed.
"I do, Katniss Everdeen," I say. "But I'm sure you don't know mine."
She picks at her fingernails. "I know who you are, Peeta Mellark."
That catches me off-guard. I was so sure that she didn't even realize I existed, and yet here she is, sitting directly across from me, knowing my name. I mean, it makes sense that she would know my name in passing – we've had class together since we were five – so I try not to get my hopes up too much.
"Oh, do you?" I didn't mean for it to come out so flirty, just as I'm sure she didn't mean to blush.
She scowls then and hugs her knees tighter. "Of course I do," she hisses, harsher that I would have expected. She opens her mouth as if to say something and then appears to think better of it. Instead, she buries her face into her knees.
For years, I've dreamed about talking to Katniss for the first time and this conversation isn't like anything I ever imagined. I don't know what to say and she looks like she doesn't want to say anything. This is more realistic than any of my dreams, but the awkward pauses and tense sentences shared between us aren't the type of real I wanted.
When I don't say anything for a few minutes, Katniss looks up – probably to see if I've left yet. Instead of leaving, I sit down across from her.
"What are you doing here anyway?" she snarls. "Don't you have a brother to celebrate with?"
My body fights between being upset that she wants me to leave – because she clearly doesn't appreciate my company – and the joy at the fact that she has noticed me enough over the years to realize I have a brother two years older than us. Considering I didn't think she knew I existed until a few seconds ago, that alone is enough to make a warm pool seep out of my chest and out toward tips of my being. But, then that familiar pool of dread that I felt earlier masks that as I worry about why she's hiding in the podium instead of celebrating with her sister, who just survived her first reaping.
And Gale. Mustn't forget him. She has a lot of celebrating that she's missing.
"I could ask you the same thing," I say. She frowns. "Didn't your boyfriend just age out?"
Her body visibly tenses and her tongue juts out of her mouth to coat her lips again. "I don't have a boyfriend," she mumbles.
That surprises me and I'm afraid that it shows on my face. Katniss is attached at the hip with Gale Hawthorne, who is incredibly handsome and extraordinarily popular in school. Even Delly had a crush on him at one point, stating that his tall, dark, and handsome looks overshadowed his brooding personality.
I can't seem to formulate a coherent response. Instead I end up nodding and probably looking like a fool with a big shit-eating grin on my face. She doesn't have a boyfriend. It makes my heart sing. Despite having waited what I thought was too long, and seen her tag alongside Gale for nearly four years, they aren't together. And if they were going to it would have happened already, right? At least now I can dream again.
"Oh, well," I say, my mouth finally connecting with my brain. "What about your sister? This was her first reaping, right?"
Katniss's face drops even more and her shoulders deflate. "Prim," she moans, hitting her forehead on her knees.
This conversation just keeps taking turn after turn for the worst.
"Here," I say, trying to salvage something of this first meeting. My mother always insisted that first impressions were important and so far I'm not doing myself any favors. "I'll walk you home."
I'm expecting her to glare at me, scowl, and tell me to leave her alone after I tell her I'll walk her home, but Katniss is so lost in her own head that she just nods and stands up with me. I feel kind of bad watching her berate herself over not being with her sister, but it's so odd to me that it's also fascinating. I would never have that reaction – clearly, I walked out on my brother's celebration dinner and have yet to return – and my brothers wouldn't either. We're not extraordinarily close though, so it makes sense. Anyone who has lived in District 12 for any amount of time knows that Katniss and Prim are the closest set of siblings here. Any fool can see that.
And that's why Katniss Everdeen is walking beside me right now, her fists clenched in tight balls and her eyes on her feet while her expression might have any passerby believe that the world has just ended. I'm not even sure she realizes I'm with her.
"I'm sure everything is fine," I say, trying to make her feel better. "She's probably celebrating with her friends. First reaping done and over with."
When I was younger, Barley asked me if I enjoyed the sound of my own voice. That was the first time I realized that my mouth has a tendency to blabber on if I'm nervous or excited. Right now I'm caught between both emotions and I just can't get the right words out no matter how many times I open my mouth. Talking is normally one of my strengths. Today I want to kick myself after everything I say.
Katniss spins around to look at me as I finish. We're nearing the Town-Seam line and, to be honest, once we cross it I don't have a clue where we're going. I've only been over the line a handful of times, most of them on our annual class trips to the mines.
"You don't need to walk me home," Katniss insists. She stops just as the houses of Town dissolve into the shacks of the Seam. "I'm fine."
My heart starts beating erratically and my head is spinning in attempts of figuring out any reason to extend our walk. I know that the minute Katniss and I separate, that's it. I've lost my chance to make this first impression stick.
"You were hiding in Effie Trinket's podium," I remind her. "I wouldn't exactly call that fine."
She crosses her arms over her chest and scowls at me. "I wasn't hiding. And I can take care of myself."
"I know," I tell her, bringing my thumb and forefinger to the bridge of my nose.
This is not how any of my fantasies have ever gone. Usually, when I ask Katniss if she wants me to walk her home, she smiles excitedly and we chitchat the whole way to the Seam – sometimes by the end of it she has fallen so head-over-heels in love with me that she kisses me goodbye. Of course, that was my fantasy of Katniss and I'm realizing that dream-Katniss and real-Katniss are quite different people.
"I'm just trying to be nice," I end up saying, sounding more exasperated than I wish I did. "That's all. I'm not trying to insult you, I just...you looked upset, I thought you could use some company."
Katniss bites her lip and kicks the gravel with her foot. Much like me, she's still in her reaping clothes – a blue dress that I've never seen her in before. It fits her better than her usual clothes and she looks beautiful, but I don't dare say anything for fear of her ripping my head off.
"Fine," she mumbles, starting to walk again. I watch her go, the dress swishing against her knees. After a few strides, she turns her head over her shoulder. "Are you gonna walk me home or not?"
It only takes me a few steps to catch up to her and we walk side-by-side in the empty Seam streets. I stuff my hands in my pockets and as we walk I steal glances at her. I've always been so intimidated, but standing this close to her, closer than I've ever been, makes me wonder why. She's not that big. I'm not tall and the top of her head barely reaches my chin.
Like in Town, people in the Seam are spending the night together with family and friends, but many of them aren't surrounding a dinner table. Little kids, too small for the reaping, play in the streets. Older kids are sitting on porches or just inside, as you can see through the windows, sitting around tables playing cards. One house, not too far into the Seam, has its lights out and the drapes pulled, blocking out the world. I'm not sure which tribute's family it is, but my teeth grate together as we pass. Katniss doesn't look up and I wonder if she knew them or not.
A group of kids, no older than four or five, look up as we pass. All of them pause, their eyes draw to us. I turn and give them a smile and wave. One boy looks surprised, another's eyes widen in wonder, and one of the girls waves back, stuffing her thumb into her mouth. When I turn back to Katniss, she's staring at me, her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed.
"What?" I ask.
She shakes her head and looks back at her feet.
We turn a corner and then another all in silence. I'm chewing the inside of my cheek, trying to come up with something to say that isn't completely stupid. But I can't think of anything, so I just go with whatever comes to mind.
"The weather's been nice," I mention. I can hear my brothers' laughter in my head. The weather. Nice job, Peeta!
"Yep," Katniss says, popping the p at the end.
We walk a few house lengths in more silence. She's not helping me in the slightest making conversation.
"So," I start, drawing it out and hoping she'll jump in. She doesn't. Instead she looks up at me expectantly. "Is your sister excited to start upper school in a few weeks?"
Katniss watches me as we walk, not answering my question. We take another turn before she stops and puts her hands on her hips. "What are you doing?" she demands.
"I'm trying to talk to you," I say. "And not very well, apparently."
She scowls, eyeing me as if she doesn't believe a word coming out of my mouth. I sigh and take my hands out of my pockets to run through my hair. Why does she need to make this so difficult? We continue walking and I manage to keep my mouth shut. Suddenly she stops outside of a dark house.
"Okay, I made it home safe," she says, moving to climb the stairs. The annoyance is thick in her voice but I don't really know what I did wrong. "You can go now."
"Is there anyone home?"
She turns to face me and shakes her head. "Probably still at the Hawthornes."
"Do you want me to take you there?"
Katniss's eyes widen and she stiffens. "No!" she all but shouts. She winces at herself and then wraps her arms around herself. "No. It's fine."
As she hurries up the steps to the door, I call after her, as if everything that has come out of my mouth hasn't already dug me in the world's most gigantic hole with her. She does stop in the doorway and turn back to me.
"I just, I hope whatever's bothering you...I hope you feel better about it tomorrow," I say.
I fully expect her to either deny everything and tell me that hiding is what she does for fun or slam the door in my face. But she surprises me again and doesn't do either. Katniss shrugs and looks me in the eye.
"Thanks, Peeta," she says, not sounding sarcastic or exasperated, but sincere. "Thank you...for everything."
And then she walks inside the dark house and shuts the door, completely missing the smile that stretches across my lips.
I walk back through the Seam, trying my hardest not to get lost, but my head isn't exactly on the directions. I have a skip in my step as I navigate through the foreign streets. I talked to Katniss Everdeen today. I really did and it doesn't matter that it didn't go at all like I ever imagined because today was better. Today was real.
I'm practically floating by the time I make it to the familiar streets of Town.
However, the floating feeling dissipates once the bakery comes into view and I can see that every light on the bottom floor is off, signaling that my family is upstairs in the apartment. My mother is going to slaughter me. I'm not entirely sure how much time has passed, but Barley said dinner was almost ready when I left.
I take a deep breath in, filling my lungs with thick air, before trudging through the grass toward the door. I climb the stairs as slowly as possible, attempting to save my ears for a few extra seconds, but the action is hopeless. My mother's ears have always been her most useful features that aid her both in gossip and discipline. She opens the door just as my fingers brush the cool metal of the knob.
And she is not happy.
Her eyes narrow and her nose scrunches, resembling the pigs we keep in the yard. Her blue eyes, more murky and dark than the clear ones the three of us inherited from Dad, emblazon with a hatred she reserves for talking about Seam trash that comes groveling at her feet or the stupidity that happens to be her sons.
"Where have you been?" she exclaims, her fingers digging into her hips in her anger. I try to sidestep her and enter the apartment, but she doesn't move. "Answer me!"
"I went for a walk," I tell her.
I learned to lie to my mother when I was six and I no longer have a problem doing so, but I like to tell the truth whenever possible. And I was taking a walk. It may have been in the Seam with Katniss Everdeen, but it was a walk nonetheless.
As she readies her argument, breathing heavily through her nostrils as her mouth forms the thinnest of lines on her face, I am able to brush by her into the apartment. My father sits at the head of the table, my brothers on either side of him. Barley's wife keeps her eyes focused on her lap as she reaches for his hand. She still hasn't quite gotten used to Mother's outbursts and I kind of feel bad about doing this in front of her.
I slide into the empty chair next to Rye. He eyes me with curiosity, but I don't meet his gaze. Instead, I pick up the cup in front of me and bring the tea to my lips. The bowl of stew is sitting in the middle of the table and everyone's bowls are empty but used.
"It would have been warm if you were here when dinner started," Mother hisses, sitting back down. She seems to have taken a few breaths to calm herself in front of our guest. I'm sure if Barley's wife wasn't here, she would have laid it to me and she still probably will later, when the two of them go home.
"That's fine. I don't mind it cold."
Mother snatches the bowl from in front of me and ladles some of the stew in it before slamming it back on the table, some of the stew sloshing over the edge. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my father sigh and put his head in his hand. I suppose he thought that maybe today we'd be better behaved around each other.
She starts the conversation exactly where she probably left off before meeting me at the door.
"Well, I'm thrilled to hear that, Rye," she says, not giving any context to what they were talking about before my arrival. Probably to bait me. I take it.
"What?" I ask, turning not to my mother but Rye.
He shrugs and taps his spoon against the bowl. "Carnie and I are gonna go down to the Justice Building in a few weeks." He smirks and ruffles my hair. "You finally get your own room."
The Justice Building remains closed during the entirety of the Hunger Games except for explicit Games business, whatever that's supposed to mean. It's not as if we ever have tributes worth giving what little we have to sponsor them for a bite of bread. Usually they don't make it far enough for the bread anyway. That's in no offense to the tributes, I feel sick thinking about the two of them on the train right now, but we haven't had a victor since the last Quarter Quell and even Haymitch Abernathy didn't have a mentor, our first and only other victor having died years before his win. The odds just aren't in our favor and everyone knows it.
But, whatever "explicit Games business" they have to do in the Justice Building means that anything else requiring the Justice Building is pushed back until the Games are over. Occasionally, if both our tributes die in the bloodbath, they'll open up some offices if the district is in dire enough straights. With the Justice Building all but formally closed, anything requiring their stamp of approval has to wait. That means all marriages, birth certificates, death certificates and burial licenses, and formal orders from the shops to the Capitol are held off. It's why we order extra supplies in June at a very heavy cost – if we don't, we'll run out by the time the Games end in late July or early August.
There will be a massive line outside the day after the final cannon goes off.
"Congratulations," I say, bringing my spoon to my mouth. It's not as cold as Mother made it seem like it would be.
It's quiet as I eat, which I would be thankful for except that I can feel my mother's gaze on me just waiting for the opportune moment to strike. The rest of my family is sharing the last of the fresh loaf of bread, a luxury we've had only as many times as I can count on one hand. When I finish, Dad starts to pick up, but Mother stops him.
"Why don't you four go watch the recaps," she says, her voice so overly saccharine that it can't be genuine. "Peeta will help me clear up. Won't you, dear?"
I swallow the last of my tea and smile. "I'd be happy to, Mother," I reply in the same tone.
Dad and Barley exchange glances, but Barley is quick to get his wife out of the room. Rye winces and looks like he wants to say something, but Dad quickly grabs his arm and the two follow Barley. We bring the dishes to the sink and she washes while I dry. It's actually nice. A quiet moment between us is something rare.
We used to do this when I was younger. She'd sit me up on the counter and pass me cups that couldn't break so I could dry them while she washed the evening dishes. She didn't always hate the three of us. She liked us all, maybe even loved us, until we started to form our own opinions on things and stopped being her little dolls.
She hands me the first bowl. "How was your walk? Considering you were late to dinner and I know Barley told you it was almost ready."
"It was fine."
"Where did you go?" She passes it to me.
I dry it and put it in the cupboard. "Just walked the streets, hung out at the stage."
We wash and dry the next bowl in silence.
"Madge looked pretty today," she says, handing me another bowl. "Did you stop and say hello?"
"Good," she passes me the fourth bowl. "I'm glad that you've taken to being her friend. It's sad that she doesn't have any suitable acquaintances. Pretty girl like her."
It caused quite the stir in my mother's friend group when word hit that Madge Undersee and Katniss Everdeen were sitting together at the lunch table at school. They blamed her mother, of course, for not giving Madge any guidance and not possibly themselves for not having their own daughters invite Madge to sit with them or come to their slumber parties.
"And I hope you said hello to Lily," she adds while passing me another bowl. There's one left before we move onto the utensils and I'm glad there's only one knife, the one we used for the bread.
"I did, Mother."
She turns to me and gives me an exasperated look to match the tone of my latest response.
"For goodness sake, Peeta, don't make it sound like it put you in the stocks to do it," she says, grabbing the last bowl and barely washing it before thrusting it into my hands. "Lily is a very sweet girl, very patient, very pretty, and a little birdy told me that she has a crush on you."
So that's what my mother wanted me here for. Not to scold me for being late, but to set me up on a date.
I put the bowl into the cupboard and wait until she has passed me the cleaned knife before replying. "Well, I'm flattered." It comes out more sarcastic than I wanted it to and I bite my tongue. She turns to me again with her nostrils flaring and I blurt out, "Really!"
"Peeta, I'm looking out for your best interests," she says. "That's more than your father can say."
"Leave Dad out of it."
She snorts and continues to wash the spoons. "You're both living in the clouds," she sneers, dunking the spoons in the pool of water again just to steal more of my time. "It's high time you stop fantasizing about Seam trash and face reality."
"Katniss isn't trash!"
My mother hates Katniss Everdeen and sometimes I wonder if Katniss wasn't an Everdeen and just a random girl from the Seam if she would hold as strong of a hate. I'm sure she wouldn't be happy about me having feelings for someone of lesser class than us, but I'm not sure there is anyone in this district that my mother hates more than Katniss and Primrose Everdeen, except maybe their mother. And, of course, that stems from my mother's feelings of being the second choice of my father, although she's never said it in so many words.
She tosses the spoons into the water and turns to face me, putting her wet hands on her hips and soaking through the fabric. If this conversation doesn't go the way she wants, I'll get blamed for that later.
"Do you want to work in the mines?" I blink once but don't answer because she knows my response. "Honestly, Peeta, do you want to work in the mines so you can continue to lust after some girl who has yet to acknowledge your existence?"
But she has.
She grinds her teeth together and waits for my response but it never comes.
"Lily is a great match for you," she says, her voice leaving no room for debate. "You two have known each other forever and she's a good girl. She is your ticket to your life and I am basically handing her to you on a silver platter!"
My mother lets out a breath and turns back to the sink, grabbing the spoons and thrusting them in my direction. "Your father won't ever say anything to you, so I will," she hisses. "I'm not having any son of mine groveling at someone's feet to get a job so he doesn't have to work in the mines like a filthy Seam rat. I won't have it. There's no room for you at the bakery so you need to find something else to do."
Of course my mother would be the first to say something – it's her reputation on the line if I don't get my act together.
"Maybe I'll end up reaped," I mumble.
There are two options for someone who is reaped for the Hunger Games – you live and benefit from the luxuries of the Capitol or, much more commonly, you die. If you do by some sort of miracle win the Games, the prizes are unimaginable. Life living in the Victor's Village with little to no responsibilities, more money than I'd see in a hundred lifetimes here, and your name barred from reentry into the reaping bowl. Despite this, no one wishes to be reaped onto their worst enemy and sure as hell not onto themselves, at least in our district.
My mother growls. "Well, then you won't have to worry about anything, but as long as you're breathing you're a merchant. Remember that."
She spins around and marches loudly into the other room, leaving me to finish in the kitchen and think about what she said.
Lily Parkinson gets her name, much like many in District 12, from nature. Lilies often represent innocence, purity, and sweetness, but also represent death (as they are often the flower displayed at funerals). Lily can also be short for several names, one of which being Lilith, who in Jewish folklore is Adam's first wife, made from the same earth and not from his rib like Eve. I stole Lily's family from my first HG fic, What's a Soulmate. Her surname, Parkinson, comes from Parkinson's Disease, an allusion to her family's ownership of the apothecary.
Carnie, Rye's girlfriend, is the daughter of the florist. Her name derives from carnation, a flower with a long history and undiminished popularity that is immediately recognizable by its appearance, characteristics Mrs. Mellark would want in a daughter-in-law. Carnation is also a brand of milk produced by Nestle that can be used for baking.
This will be a split narrative between Peeta and Katniss. As a warning, Part I is more about their separate situations and their coming together than it is about direct interactions. This is the most we'll see of them actually communicating until Part II, but I think you'll still enjoy the progression they make in finding the other. Or, at least I hope so.
Thank you for taking the time to read. I hope you enjoyed it.
Up next: Katniss