Disclaimer: I do not own anything in the Hunger Games universe. All characters, names, and places belong to their respective owners.
The stove is broken again. Third time this week, not that I'd expect any less at this point. The little home I had made for my family is really nothing more than a side room in a tenement building. That's what the Seam, a measly neighborhood for factory workers, seated along the ridge of Manhattan, is mainly full of. There is the occasional rickety brownstone that holds a shift manager, but for the most part it's just workers crammed together like sardines.
The Seam is usually crawling with factory workers heading out to the morning shift at this hour. Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces. But today the black cinder streets are empty. Shutters on the squat gray houses are closed. Christmas is the one of the few rare holidays we get, most spend every second with their relations.
There are no presents under the tree. No peppermint sticks or an orange, just once, like there had been when my father was alive. But Prim wouldn't be disappointed, not this year at least. She had learned not to expect much.
It had been just the two of us for the past couple of years. Well, us and the ball of fur that is lying beside her on the bed, guarding her, the world's ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he's a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I get the rare piece of meat, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.
It's well into the morning by the time Prim wakes. There was once a time when we would both leap to awake on Christmas morning, greedily anxious for the treats our father had brought us. But now a morning full of sleep is more than enough to sate us.
It has been just the two of us for a while. My father had passed before my twelfth birthday, a work accident. Our Mama didn't do much else after he passed, it got better, eventually, but pneumonia took her soon enough.
I managed to keep Prim in school, she wants to be a teacher day. Sweet, innocent Prim. She has no business in the factories, actually has a shot at more than this. The least I can do was keep her in class, even if most children were in the shops by her age.
Breakfast is dull, nothing more than the usual mash. I tried to save for a bit of sugar and cinnamon, like I usually do around this time, but Prim needed a new school smock.
We both dress quickly. Prim in her faded black dress, me in the shortened blue thing that was once my mama's. It's my best dress, the one I used to reserve for church and birthdays, but since I'd pawned my mother dress I'd started wearing it to the factory and since, there was no salvaging it from the dark fumes and dust that had accumulated.
"Katniss," Prim says, her voice wavering as she slips into her boots, "I can stick my toe through it this time."
I sigh. It will be a while before I can afford new boots, or even a patch. Wordlessly, I pull some worn newspaper from the stack on the shelf, carefully stuffing her shoes. I'd give her my own if she'd fit them.
Money has been tight these past few months. The landlord had raised the rents, the factory had been cutting down on my hours. I've pawned practically everything of value at this point.
"You don't have to feel guilty, Katniss," she places her hand on mine, so patient, so knowing, "many have it worse. I'm thankful."
When did my little sister become so grown up?
But I can't help it. I want to give her something, so I offer the only thing I can, "I know, Prim. Perhaps we could stop by Mellark's Department Store?"
"Really," she lights up, "Maybe we could go see the Christmas display! Becca's mother brought her the other day, she said they have twenty velvet dresses and bustles so wide you could barely stand in them."
She means the ones they display in the windows. Beautiful dresses on mannequins, decorated with velvet polar bears or crystal 'snow' falling from above. A gimmick to bring people inside. They're even grander on Christmas and New Year's Day. When we're in the square, Prim always drags me over to admire them, although we'd never be able to afford one. There's little enough beauty in our life, though, so I can hardly deny her this.
"Of course, Prim," I say, with a smile that doesn't quite reach my eyes.
Her eyes widen in wonder and she swings around to pull me in a hug, "Oh, Katniss! Thank you!" she says with sheer delight. And for a moment I feel a pang of guilt, what kind of sister was I if she got so excited over just being able to look at pretty things?
It takes us a while to get to Fifth Avenue. More than usual, really. In these parts of the city, where days off aren't such rare occasions, where fathers bring their kids to shop for trinkets and candies, the streets are littered with shiny faces and best dresses.
It's beautiful, I have to admit it. The Avenue is always bustling with excitement, it's almost a treat to be surrounded by such pretty things. But this isn't my part of town. I know better. But Prim always wants to stop and look at the department store windows.
Mellark's is a luxury shop along Fifth Avenue. Although, shop is certainly not the right word for it. Department Stores they call them these days, the type of place that has a whole floor just for ladies' hats. Bridget, the girl across from us in the Seam, claims that they've had them back in London for ten years.
The department store is flocked. It's ten floors of perfectly manicured light brick, even the name, Mellark's seems to beam across the floor in those bright, uniform gold letters. We stand out just a little, but there are enough people here today that none of the store clerks shoo us away.
This year, instead of polar bears or crystal snow, the display is a little more natural. There's a girl, a beautifully painted mannequin with a simple braid and a gorgeous dark green gown that flows at least ten feet. She's standing in what must be a fairytale wonderland. There's a beautiful 'forest' of silk scarves and paste jewels, an enchanted cottage detailed with gold. It's one of the more tasteful displays, for sure, and I can't help but wonder if he designed it.
Prim spends a great time admiring the displays, an antagonizing time, really. We have to circle the whole building-twice-before she's satisfied.
The inside of Mellark's is just as fascinating to Prim at the displays. Racks of bright pre-made dresses, rows upon rows of ribbons, she even spends time admiring the ties. There's something about the endlessness of it that's comforting, if not the slightest bit revolting. My friend from the factory, Gale, says that's it's despicable. For there to be so much splendor when so many of us are starving. But that doesn't make it any less enchanting. In Ladies' Wear there is a whole room, the size of our entire building, just for sleeve laces. And with all the drudgery in my life, I can't help but marvel just the slightest bit.
And that's when I see them.
They're displayed callously in the open. Black leather boots, exactly Prim's size. Nothing fancy, but nothing I could ever afford. They're just in my reach, tempting me. I can't help but wonder if I just reached out—slipped them in my bag. Nobody would even notice, and it wouldn't be like stealing from the local shoemaker. It would barely make a dent in the department store's profits. With the flurry of people bustling through the store? Surely, I wouldn't be caught.
So I reach out and touch them, just touch them. I wait for a moment, just to see if a clerk will spot me, scream for the seam girl to get away from her wares. But nobody does.
I glance over to my left. Prim's busily occupied on the other side of the room, admiring the plait ribbons they have for sale. She'd never even half to know. I'd tell her I found an old ring of our mother's, or that I picked up a new shift at the factory. Prim wouldn't suspect otherwise. And oh, to see the look on my sister's face! How proud would she be? To wear a brand new pair of bright patent leather shoes?
I don't even think about it when I do it. I just reach out and grab them, shoving a shoe into each of my pockets.
Nobody even gives me a second glance.
And oh, there is nothing that can quite describe the relief I feel wash over me as I go over to Prim, nobody the wiser to the stolen merchandise hiding in my skirts. It's wrong, I know it. But what was I going to do?
Ideally I would like to leave as soon as possible, the contraband is practically burning through my pockets. And I'm anxious, too, but what would I tell Prim? So I let her wander around a bit, indulge in her fantasies, let her tell me what she's going to buy, 'when she's a teacher'.
And then I hear it.
"It's her! The seam brat right there! Thief, thief!" the frantic urges of a store clerk bellow through the room, and at first, I try to make an exit, pulling on Prim's sleeve, trying to get out of there as soon as possible.
But somebody, the pudgy bald security guard, stops me, "Hey there, missy, where do you think you're going?" he snarls.
"I didn't do anything!" I cry, pulling my hands away from him.
He snarls, "Empty your pockets, girl." Everybody's staring.
"I didn't do anything wrong," I protest, trying once again to get him off me.
I can't breathe. Can't even look at Prim.
And I must wait too long, because he grabs at my pockets, a cruel smile on his face as he pulls out two new patent leather boots with Mellark's stamped on the soles, "Just like I thought." He tries to pull my hands back, and my 'fight or flight' reflexes kick in, causing me to shove him slightly.
That lands me face down on the ground, his sweaty elbows digging into my back. And I can hear
"Wait, wait! Dear god, don't hurt the girl," a voice stands out among the murmurs of the crowd, an authoritative infection evident in the voice. And suddenly, there's a hand, pulling me up and sitting me against the smooth glass of the counter.
And when I look up, I startle slightly, never able to meet his compassionate glance. Because I know that blonde hair, I know those bright blue eyes.
Author's Note: So there it is, guys! A brand new story from your's truly. This is something I've been dabbling with for a while. Hopefully the latter chapters will be longer but I didn't want to give anything away. Please let me know what you think. This is un-betaed, so if you see any mistakes, please let me know.
As always, you can follow me on tumblr at starveinsafety. You can also follow my everlark fanfiction gif blog at everlarkfanfictionclub.