Disclaimer: All characters used within this story, along with several plot elements, are from The Hunger Games series, which is owned by Suzanne Collins. I'm just borrowing them for a while, and am making no monetary gain. :)
Okay, so as some of you noticed, I deleted this story from the site a while back. I was experiencing some horrible writer's block, and felt bad that it was taking me months to write new chapters. However, I haven't been able to stop thinking about this story… so I'm posting it again and continuing where I left off. I've made some changes. Not extravagant changes, but changes all the same. As always, thanks for reading!
I narrow my eyes at the multiple huge, frilly pink and red hearts that hang from the bakery ceiling. In all the years that I've been coming here, I've never seen the place quite this overdone for a holiday.
"Well, it looks like it's that time of year again. Time for lovey-dovey coupling crap while the rest of us resist the urge to vomit all over the cutesy decorations."
I stick my tongue out and pretend to gag.
"Why do you hate Valentine's Day so much?" Gale asks in amusement as he bites into a Cupid-shaped cookie covered in red sprinkles. "You never really pay any mind to other holiday decorations."
"Because Cupid taints the image of a bow and arrow," I reply matter-of-factly. "When I shoot something in the heart, it isn't cute, sweet, and fluffy. It's messy, bloody, and gory—"
"I'm just saying. It's unrealistic."
"It's not meantto be realistic," Gale explains as if I'm a clueless child. "It's symbolic. Like the Easter Bunny hiding eggs or Santa Claus riding around the world in one night, guided by reindeers."
I know that, of course, but it still annoys me. I continue to rant, feeling even more fueled by his rationalization.
"Well, at least those holidays are inclusive. Valentine's Day is only a holiday for little kids to celebrate without knowing the real meaning of it—don't even get me started on that—and for people who are with someone. To the rest of the world, it's merely Singles Awareness Day."
I shrug. "That is the initials."
"You do this every year, Kat." Gale smiles as if he feels sorry for me and shakes his head.
"So?" I viciously chomp the head off of a Cupid cookie and narrow my eyes at him. "You used to feel the same exact way, if you remember. Until you got a girlfriend and became one of… them."
He arches an eyebrow. "Them?"
I nod. "Yes. Them. A sucker for soulless corporate sales. You're now just another Valentine's victim. You've changed."
He shrugs and lets out a small laugh. "Well, sometimes you have to be a sucker to get sucked—"
I abruptly hold up hand for him to stop talking, my eyes widening. I shake my head and give a dramatic shiver. "Please spare me the gritty details. I adore you both, but not enough to live with that mental image."
He laughs again, winks, and continues to chew his cookie rather loudly.
"What's the deal with all the pink and red hearts everywhere, anyway?" I rant on, taking a pink paper heart that reads "Be Mine" from the napkin holder and cheerfully tearing it in half; it makes me feel slightly better. "If anything, there should be penises hanging from the ceiling. That's what this holiday is all about anyway… girls getting fluffy stuffed crap and guys getting laid."
"Hey, it's also about chocolates, candy hearts, and cards."
"And condom sales."
"And roses. Don't forget roses."
"Which die and turn black."
"Like your soul, Katniss. Like your soul."
"Whatever. You know I'm right. There's all this pretense of sweetness and romanticism, but we all know what it's really about: materialism and sex."
He nods in agreement and I finally feel a bit justified.
"Well, yeah. That's the payoff. We buy each other something cutesy and romantic, preferably with a heart on it somewhere, and then we fuck," he replies matter-of-factly. I raise an eyebrow at him and cringe. "Or I don't and the only pink thing I'll be seeing for a while is the palm of my hand. I'm not taking that risk."
"That's beautiful, Gale. So very romantic." I snort and clear my throat dramatically. With a dramatic flair, I mimic his voice and recite, "Roses are red, violets are blue. Here's some heart-shaped candy, Madge. Now show me your vag and let's screw."
"That's actually pretty good," he says, appearing both impressed and amused. "Mind if I use that?"
He seems totally serious, too. Only Gale would think that would be an appropriate thing to tell his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. Knowing Madge, though, she'll probably love every word of it. They're both at that stage in their relationship where neither of them can do or say anything wrong. They look at each other with stars in their eyes, and they're constantly going at it like bunny rabbits.
"Have at it," I answer with a flip of my wrist. "Anyway, everything about the day is expected. There's no mystery, and there's nothing random or sweet about it. It really isn't romantic at all. The only thing Cupid is shooting an arrow at is your wallet and your dignity."
I sigh loudly and continue to rip the paper heart into little shreds.
"Lighten up and look at the bright side: while all of us couples are sleeping in the next morning, you singles can hit up all the half-off sales on candy. Win/win."
"Yay. Three cheers for wasting my money on diabetes and obesity," I deadpan.
"You're such a Valentine's Grinch, Katniss."
"That's A Christmas Carol."
"I wish Cupid would shoot you in the heart," Gale says, smirking, "In Grinchy tradition, it might just grow three times bigger—"
"That seems really painful. You also make it sound like my heart is a penis, and Cupid soaks his arrows in Viagra."
"Well, if you ask me, your micro-penis heart is in desperate need of a good dose of Valentine's Viagra."
"If my heart was a penis, it'd be very well-endowed, thank you very much," I retort. "And just because I think Valentine's Day is meaningless corporate nonsense— which it totally is—doesn't mean that I don't believe in love and romance. I just think it's dead, or walking around like a brain-dead zombie somewhere, or hiding out like Santa and the Easter Bunny; but instead of gifts and eggs, you get screaming, pooping babies and STDs. I mean, I don't think it's a coincidence that the initials for Valentine's Day is VD—"
"Your heart may not be a penis, Katniss, but it needs a penis," Gale teases, arching an eyebrow at me. "And badly, I might add."
I purse my lips and narrow my eyes at him. My heart doesn't need anything, especially not a fleshy male appendage. There isn't anything a man can do that I can't do for myself, and better, anyway.
"I resent that," I flippantly reply, "for all you know, my heart is a lesbian."
"That would answer a lot of questions, actually." He casually bites into a cookie, looking contemplative and serious, then shrugs as if I'd just made a confession instead of a joke.
"Ha ha ha!" I sarcastically snap and toss a broken cookie at him. "Shut up!"'
His smile abruptly turns into a frown and his eyes turn serious.
"Seriously, though. You should try going on a date or two. Maybe you'll find a guy who'll actually—"
"Put up with me?"
Gale shakes his head and continues in a surprisingly concerned and caring tone, "I was going to say 'make you happy,' but yeah, that too I guess."
I know he means well, but his kind words only agitate me further. I've tried the dating thing. It never works out for me. They're either complete idiots or total jerks; or they're genuinely nice but never call me back, and I'm stuck wondering what exactly I'd done wrong. Besides, for the most part, guys tend to think going on a date means that they have an open invitation for sex, and I'm more of an RSVP type of girl. I might talk openly about certain things, but I've never actually done them.
I'd love nothing more than to find true romance, but I'm well aware that it doesn't exist anymore. So I hate it, and holidays like Valentine's Day, which remind me of that fact in all its gaudy and hokey glory.
"I doubt it." I shrug in resignation. "Some people are just meant to be alone and die with fifty cats."
"You hate cats."
"I do, but misery loves company. Besides, I'll need someone to dispose of my body when I die. And cats like to eat their owner's body after they—"
Before I can finish my sentence, Gale has his hand over my mouth. He looks at me in disgust and shakes his head. I smirk when he lets his palm down again, feeling triumphant to have gotten a rise out of him.
"Well," he places a half-eaten cookie down on a tray, as if my cat statement made him lose his appetite, and stands up from the booth, "I think I'm done eating. Besides, it's about time to go."
"Oh, don't be such a wuss, Gale." I laugh and grab the two remaining Cupid cookies from the tray before he takes it to the trash can. "Love has made you weak. Madge has you totally whipped, and I mean that in the friendliest way possible. "
"Whipped, spanked, whatever you want to call it, I hope you experience the same kind of weakness someday."
"Well, there isn't exactly a line of guys interested," I point out, feeling slightly defensive. "In fact, there isn't even one. And I'm sure as hell not going to go chasing, either. I'm fine alone. I'm happy this way."
I defiantly jut my chin, cross my arms, and bite the head off of another Cupid cookie.
"With the amount of hatred you have for a holiday about love, you don't seem all too happy, Kat," Gale states. "There are plenty of guys who'd date you, you know. You're not ugly. It's just this sort of attitude of yours that veers them away from taking a chance. They're afraid you'll bite their head off, just like that Cupid cookie."
"Well, this attitude of mine is called my personality, so if they don't like it, they can veer their way to hell for all I care."
Gale gives an exasperated sigh that indicates he's starting to get annoyed with me.
Good. He's starting to annoy me, too.
"All I'm saying is that it wouldn't hurt for you to be slightly more approachable—"
"I am approachable! It's not my fault if they don't have the balls to do or say anything," I counter, feeling agitated. "They're all the same, anyway. They just want someone easy, and even easier to toss aside when they're done having fun. I don't like playing games."
"Yeah, but that's the thing. You might lose, but you also might win. Regardless, you have to play the game in order to win the prize."
"So you have one serious girlfriend, and now you're a love expert?" I scoff, rolling my eyes.
"Sometimes all it takes is one." He shrugs, and the frown is suddenly replaced with a small smile as he thinks of Madge. "Sometimes you just get lucky and the odds are in your favor. Actually, luck has nothing to do with it. If it wasn't for you, we would have never even talked to each other. So maybe the fates will pay you back for that. Give it a chance."
"I'm pretty sure that the odds are not in my favor. Anyway, I'm good with sitting on the sidelines and cheering others on."
"Really? Because right now it seems like you're doing an awful lot of booing."
"It's not booing," I indignantly reply as we approach the cash register. "You know I love you and Madge together, and I'm really happy for you both. I just hate the tackiness of this stupid holiday."
Before Gale can retort or say anything in reply, I turn to pay for the cookies.
"Hey, Peet. What's the damage today?" I ask brightly, reaching into my pocket for some money.
Peeta and I have shared a lot of classes together over the years, but he's never really said much to me aside from passive small talk. In fact, he usually avoids my eyes when I speak to him or look in his direction. I don't blame him, though. I guess my personality can be somewhat abrasive, especially in comparison with his reserved one.
I can't help but think that with his blond wavy hair and cheeks that are always tinted a shade of red, he could totally pass for an older Cupid. All he needs is a pair of wings and a bow. I doubt he knows any more about love than I do, though. In all the years I've known him, I've never seen him with any sort of girlfriend. Maybe it's due to his shyness or maybe his family is the religious type that doesn't allow dating.
Or maybe he's gay.
Actually, that would make perfect sense.
"$8.50," he answers quietly, his voice shaky. He clears his throat and manages to look me in the eye for a split second as he asks, "Everything all right?" His eyes quickly avert down to the cash register, and then to the money being exchanged. I notice that he won't look at my face again.
"Not really," I joke, and give a small laugh. "The new decorations make me nauseous. No offense."
"Ignore Miss Anti-Cupid here—"Gale starts, sending me a dirty look as if I'm being rude. I wasn't trying to be. Peeta asked, and I was being completely honest.
"Sorry," Peeta replies timidly, looking a little embarrassed. "It was all my dad's idea. I know it's a bit much. It drives up sales, though."
"See?" I suddenly snap my fingers and point at Gale, grinning widely at him in triumph. "I told you! It's all about money. Romance is dead. Valentine's Day is pointless." I turn back to Peeta and hold out a hand for him to shake. "Thanks for proving my point, Peeta."
He bites his bottom lip, shrugs, and looks taken aback, but reluctantly places his palm against mine. I tightly grasp his hand and give it a quick, vigorous shake. I can feel his hand start to tremble within mine, so I quickly release my grip and drop my hand onto the counter.
"Um… I wouldn't say that—" he counters in a tone that's barely audible. Still, it takes me by surprise. He's usually so agreeable; I thought I'd at least have an ally in him. I shake my head and sigh as if I've been betrayed.
"Well, I would. Money shouldn't buy love," I reply as I make my way towards the door.
Gale groans and makes a quick exit, but I turn back around. Peeta's face is redder than the paper hearts hanging from the ceiling, and his eyes are narrowed as if he's in deep thought. He doesn't seem mad or anything, but other than that, I can't really decipher his expression. He raises his eyebrows questioningly when he notices I've turned around. I simply wave, and tell him, "Happy sales, Peeta."
It's the first day of February and it's as if the whole world has turned into the Barbie version of Noah's Ark. Everything is pink and in twos. Couples are invading everywhere, and it seems like hearts have replaced brains. Time for swapping spit, holding hands, and spreading germs. Love is in the air and so is Mono.
I'm currently sitting in English class while the teacher drones on about the romantic aspects of Romeo and Juliet. I personally find it sort of hilarious and ironic that when people think of ultimate love and sacrifice, this story automatically comes to mind. It's literally about two kids, yes – kids, because Juliet is only thirteen years old, who meet each other exactly one time, and think, 'Holy hell, what a hottie! I gotta get me a piece of that!' Because let's face it, they didn't really know each other.
Love at first sight? Yeah, right. More like lust at first sight.
In fact, Romeo was pissed and heartbroken that very morning because some girl named Rosaline rejected him. Later that evening he goes to stalk Rosaline at a party and presumably be an ass to her, but instead he sees Juliet for the first time ever, and the Rosaline chick gets immediately forgotten. He makes a speedy, miraculous rebound and evidently "falls in love" upon speaking to thirteen-year-old Juliet and making out with her only once.
Which only goes to prove that even in the 1500's, teen boys still confused their penis with their heart, and teen girls still thought with their heart instead of their brain. Anyways, afterwards, in all his stalking, perv-like glory, Romeo spies on her from some bushes while she's pining on a balcony. And, after some poetic, angsty teen melodrama on said balcony, they decide to marry the very next morning.
Basically, they pull the teen rebellion card with their parents on a grand scale. Instead of doing the modern-age thing such as sneaking out of a window at night or making out in the backseat of a school bus, they decide to secretly marry each other so they can legally and morally get it on. Yes, less than twenty-four hours after initially meeting, they marry and screw. And then they wind up killing themselves in horrible ways afterwards because they simply can't live without each other. This all takes place within the span of about three days.
Yes–young, naïve, weak Juliet–a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet… until it dies. Then what do you do? Apparently, you just kill yourself with a freaking dagger.
Tragic romance? I find it to be a comedic cautionary tale, myself: Don't have sex, kids! You will bring shame to your family name. And you will die! Also, your cousin and your best friend might also indirectly die as a result of it.
There's a sudden knock on the classroom door and all eyes greedily focus on the Candy Gram Guy. This happens every year, starting two weeks before Valentine's Day. After all, the school also has to find a way to capitalize on the holiday, and so they sell these silly heart-shaped pieces of construction paper—sometimes bearing anonymous messages—with lollipops attached.
As a breakdown of the recipients, you have the obvious boyfriends and girlfriends that send each other cutesy messages, the best friends who send inside jokes to make each other feel better about being single, and then the obviously single people who send the Candy Grams to themselves because they don't want to seem like a loser… or they just really want a lollipop.
The Candy Gram Guy starts to call out names. I sigh and roll my eyes as people around me start to act surprised when they receive one. I find myself really wanting to get back to the romantic tale of underage sex and suicide.
I glance up with wide eyes, unsure if I'd heard correctly.
The guy looks slightly impatient. "Katniss Everdeen?"
Who the hell would send me a Candy Gram?
The room goes quiet. Everyone stares at me as I stand up and go to the front of the room. My fellow classmates seem to be as surprised as I am. I'm not exactly known as someone who'd ever receive anything Valentine's Day related. I hear a few whispers and a silent giggle or two. I give them all dirty looks and grudgingly retrieve the obvious practical joke before quickly sitting back down again.
I bet it was Gale.
In fact, I know it was Gale. Who else would send me something like this?
I'm going to kill him.
I'm about to tear the card up into little pieces, but I decide to flip it over first and read the message on the back. I figured it'd be some sort of "gotcha!" message.
I narrow my eyes in confusion, however, as I read:
Today is the first that I take a chance,
With an open heart and a longing glance,
For the next two weeks, I'll make a stance,
For you, I will revive romance.
I shake my head and roll my eyes. How the hell did Gale come up with this? He doesn't have a poetic bone in his body! He liked and asked to use my poem about Madge's vagina, for crying out loud! Did they work on this together? Do they think it'll be a fun little thing to bond them as a couple – to prank Katniss with cheesy Valentine's messages? I can just imagine them cackling conspiratorially as they wrote this.
I think I'll keep this card after all. Just for giggles.
As class continues, I glance around the room and see a few people looking at me with confusion and curiosity. Peeta catches my eye and smiles as if to congratulate me. I keep my face passive and suck on my lollipop. He simply shrugs and turns back around to focus on the class discussion.
I frown as I stare at the back of his head. I suddenly feel sort of bad for him. It must be tough being gay in a gossipy small town, especially on Valentine's Day. I'm pretty sure that he is, anyway. It really just makes sense. I mean, he's athletic, handsome, sensitive, artistic, he bakes, and he's never had a girlfriend before. Maybe I'll send him a Candy Gram tomorrow, just because.
I quickly push the Candy Gram message to the back of my mind and go on with my day. Gale will definitely hear an earful about this later.
At lunchtime, however, I'm met with another seemingly cheesy Valentine's Day practical joke. Someone has taped a freaking rose to my locker!
Before anyone else can see the bright red monstrosity, I rip it off and shove it inside my backpack.
I forcefully open my locker to put my books away, feeling annoyed and perturbed to be the butt-end of such a childish and stupid prank. I quickly look around, expecting to see Gale peek from around the corner or saunter up with a laugh. He doesn't, though. It doesn't make any sense to me. The Gale I know would definitely want to see my reaction, especially if he spent any money on it. Otherwise, what's the point? Then again, perhaps making me paranoid until the oh-so-hilarious "reveal" might just be a part of the prank.
When I enter the cafeteria, I spot Gale and Madge sitting at a table. I quickly march over and sit down across from them with haste, raising my eyebrows accusingly.
"What's up your ass today, Kat?" Gale asks with a snort. Madge looks concerned, but also a little amused. I narrow my eyes at both of them and purse my lips.
"Oh, I think you know!"
They glance at each other in confusion and then back to me.
"No, not really," Gale replies slowly. "Well, besides the usual…."
Madge elbows him and shakes her head.
"Katniss, what's wrong?" she asks softly.
I open my backpack, retrieve the Candy Gram and the rose, and scoot it across the table towards Gale. "This!" I answer. "This is what's wrong! Nice joke, Gale. Ha ha. Very funny. Absolutely side-splittingly hilarious. You can stop now, okay?"
He frowns and seems taken aback, then picks up the card. Before reading it, he assures me, "I definitely didn't send you this. I didn't even send Madge one—"
"Boyfriend of the year, right here," she deadpans. "Anyway, Gale didn't buy you a rose, Katniss. I know this because he's never even bought me a rose. He's way too cheap."
"Exactly!" Gale cheerfully agrees. He places an arm around Madge's shoulder and kisses her cheek. "I'm rich in other ways, though."
She rolls her eyes and shrugs off his arm, but can't seem to help the small smile that curves her lips. "Yeah, yeah. You're rich, all right."
I shake my head and sigh loudly. I'm still not sure I believe them. "Well, if you didn't send it, then who did?"
Gale looks down at the Candy Gram and begins to read it. His eyes slowly light up in amusement as he does, and then he starts to laugh.
"Oh my God! You actually thought I'd write this crap?" He snorts loudly and quickly hands the note to Madge, who starts to read it as soon as it touches her hand. "I would never. Not even as a joke!"
"Awww! This is so sweet!" She smiles widely and looks up at me, ignoring Gale's laughter from beside her. She arches an eyebrow and finally turns to him. "It wouldn't hurt you to do things like this for me, you know."
Gale snorts and shakes his head. "Yeah right. No self-respecting man would write that!"
"That's why I thought you did it," I retort, smirking.
Gale is just about to undoubtedly insult me back when Madge giddily intervenes, "I think you might just have a secret admirer, Katniss. How romantic!"
Gale and I both start to laugh at this. I stop abruptly and give him an icy glare.
"What do you find funny about that, Gale?"
He shrugs, looking completely amused. "Everything."
I want to argue, but he's right. Instead, I sigh and hastily grab the rose and the note before stuffing them disdainfully back into my backpack.
"So if it's not you, someone else is definitely having a laugh."
I glance suspiciously around me. It could be anyone. I decide to send warning glares in every direction, just in case the person is watching me.
"Looks that way, Catnip," Gale agrees with a shrug.
Madge shakes her head in disagreement. "Well, I think it's nice and sweet. Someone obviously really likes you—"
"No," I interrupt, feeling annoyed and a little embarrassed. "Gale's right. Who would like me? Seriously. This is definitely a stupid prank, and they better not let me find out who they are."
But I am going to do my best to find out exactly who's behind this.
And when I do, it will be war.