Peeta held tightly onto his papa's hand as he looked around the park for his best friend. He liked it best when he and his brothers went to the park with Papa because he didn't care if Peeta played with Katniss Everdeen. His mama would yell at him if he went near the girl, so he only played with his neighbor friends. Papa said it was best not to upset Mama too much.
Peeta saw Katniss sitting by herself near the fence line, so he bolted away from his papa toward her, a silly grin on his face. Peeta liked Katniss. A lot. He liked being around her and making her smile and hearing her sing. He didn't know why his mama didn't like her, he didn't understand why being from the Seam was a bad thing – it was just a neighborhood away from his house in District12.
"Katniss!" he shouted, his legs still with a layer of baby fat on them were moving as fast as they could. She looked up from her hands and grinned. She lost her first baby tooth a few days ago and still smiled with her lips closed so no one could make fun of her for it. Katniss was sensitive about things like that, so Peeta made sure to protect her when he could.
"Hi, Peeta," she answered. He sat next to her in the grass, trying to avoid any wet spots that may stain his pants. "Wanna see what I found?"
Katniss was always finding things. Cool rocks, new berries to try, bird feathers, things Peeta would never notice because he was too busy looking at Katniss. He nodded, but his smile dropped slightly when she pulled out a book of matches.
Her grin, however, did the opposite, spreading across her face like a cheshire. "Cool, huh? It's only missing one, so it's like we have the whole pack to play with!"
"Katniss…" Peeta said, nervously looking over his shoulder, sure an adult would notice them. "Papa says we aren't apposed to play with matches."
"You're just a fraidy cat."
Peeta didn't like it when Katniss called him a fraidy cat. He wasn't scared but he also didn't want to upset his papa and not be able to come to the park anymore. Or worse, come with his mama. Although he had just turned five a few months ago and was, according to Papa, 'a big boy now,' he was only allowed to light the matches that start the bakery ovens when his papa was there to help him. Matches aren't toys, Peeta. You should only use them when there's an adult around, okay?'
"I'm not a scaredy cat."
"Prove it." She held out the book of matches for him to take one. Hesitantly, he twisted a match free and closed the book, just like he was taught. He held the head of the match to the back of the book but couldn't do it.
"Fine," Katniss sighed, taking the book back from him. Slowly, and after a few botched attempts, the match lit. She was completely mesmerized, staring at the different colors that made up the small fire. "Oh, wow," she breathed, her grey eyes fixated on the match head. Before the flame could reach her fingers, Peeta leaned over and blew it out, letting the smoke rise up into the sky. With a devilish grin, she quickly lit another, letting it burn almost to her fingers before Peeta blew it out again. Three. Four matches burned to the bottom and blown out.
On the fifth match, before Peeta could blow it out, she threw it onto the ground and they both watched as the leaf it landed on burned to ash in seconds. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten matches she lit and threw to the ground. They giggled and stomped out the tiny fires with their feet. "I'm glad your Papa brought you today," she said with sincerity, lighting another match. "I don't like your mama."
Peeta looked over his shoulder and in a quiet voice said, "I don't like her either. I wish I had your mama."
Katniss threw the match on the ground. "Why?"
"Because your mama and papa don't fight like mine do," he answered, his eyes fixated on the fire she just started. He picked up a few blades of grass and tossed them on top of the match before stepping on the whole pile with his shoe. "If I ever get married, I'll never fight with my wife. I'll bake her cheese buns instead."
"You'll have a fat wife," Katniss pointed out. "But cheese buns are yummy. I'd marry you for cheese buns."
"Deal. No fights, just cheese buns."
Peeta lost track of how many matches she had burnt, and had stopped helping her stomp them out. She was lighting matches and dropping them too quickly and what was once a small, contained spark began to spread across the grass as the wind blew around them. When heard the other children screaming and the distant wailing of a firetruck, they knew they were in big trouble. Katniss dropped what was left of the matches and the two ran as fast as their legs would carry them to the opposite side of the park. He saw the tears welling up in her eyes, so he reached down and gave her hand a squeeze. "I'll tell them I did it," he whispered.
"No," she whispered back. "You'll get in trouble."
He shook his head. When the firemen came over to ask who was playing in that area, everyone pointed to Katniss and Peeta. The fireman knelt in front of them and asked who started the fire. Peeta took the blame, no matter how hard Katniss tried to protest. Peeta said he found the matches and was just playing with them and accidentally started the fire but he was really sorry and didn't mean for it to happen. The fireman nodded and asked to talk to Peeta's papa, who by this time was bright red from embarrassment. He took Peeta away from Katniss, all but dragging the boy back to their house. Katniss worried about her friend. She didn't know what his punishment would be but she knew it would be worse than the stern "talking-to" from her father about how dangerous fire can be. She overheard her parents whispering that night about Peeta, and from the sound of their voices, she was extra worried. They said things like "welt" and "bruise" and "that poor little boy" but she didn't know what any of that meant, only that it couldn't be good.
She didn't see Peeta for almost a week after that. The first time he came back to the park, he stayed close to his brothers, far away from the Seam girl, as his mama watched carefully. She was a mean looking woman, Katniss decided, as she had never seen Peeta's mama smile. Or do anything other than frown. Once, she caught Peeta's glance, but it was only for a second and he looked away. She was happy the next day when she saw Mr. Mellark walking toward the park because it meant she could talk to Peeta. She was not happy when Peeta came up to her with a faded, but still recent, bruise on his cheek. "Does it hurt?"
She glanced around, making sure no one was paying attention to them before leaning over and kissing the center of the mark. She had seen her mother do the same to some of her father's bruises and it always made him smile. So when Peeta's face flushed and he ducked his head as he giggled, she was glad.
"What was that for?"
She shrugged. "I don't know how to make cheese buns."