A/N: I'm a little stuck on Scars. Don't worry, I am working on the next chapter, but if you're up to speed on that story you know things are rather melancholy at the moment. I needed some happy. And that's definitely all this is. This story takes place in the spring before the Hunger Games, in a world where Peeta actually has a backbone.
Rated for adult language, but it's quite minimal.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Reviews are always appreciated. Enjoy.
My First Date with Katniss Everdeen
Today isn't different from any other day, not really. It's a Tuesday, just a boring every week Tuesday. My dad and Miche woke me up at four in the morning as they were getting ready to go to the bakery, like usual. My mother woke me up three hours later, telling me to get ready for school, again, like usual. I'm sitting at the kitchen table with Rilee as we eat toast with strawberry preserves in silence. I eat toast every morning. Stale bread equals toast.
"Do you think it's going to rain today?" I ask.
Rilee shrugs his shoulders. He is not a morning person. Whenever I try to start a conversation he either grunts or tells me to shut the hell up. He better find something to do outside baking because that requires waking up before the sun rises. Although, it is a little dark out right now, making it more difficult than normal to feel awake.
"It's overcast," I say. "Maybe I should take an umbrella to school."
"An umbrella? It's like a fifteen minute walk. You're such a wuss," he grumbles.
"You never know when a girl might need an umbrella," I say under my breath. Rilee's toast stops midway to his mouth. A huge, knowing grin crosses his face.
"Oh. Going with some chivalrous shit, huh?" Nice, Rilee. Break down my thoughtful gesture into some kind of sick scheme. "So, who's the girl?"
No way am I going to give him more fodder for making fun of me. "Forget I said anything." I dust the crumbs from my hands and get up to put my plate in the sink.
"You brought it up. Come on. Tell me," he pleads.
I shake my head and start packing up my bag for school. Rilee inhales the rest of his toast, still thinking and smiling. After I have all my papers and lunch put away, I glance at the front entrance where an umbrella is leaning against the wall. It's too big to put in my bag. I'll have to carry it around all day. If I take it and it does rain, I'm a well-prepared genius, and if it doesn't rain, I'm an overly cautious dork. I glance back at my bag, still mulling it over. Rilee snickers at my internal debate.
"You have the day off today, don't you?" he says. I don't answer him because he knows he's right. I do have the day off. Dad gives us a day off from the bakery every week. I usually spend it with friends. We often watch a wrestling match or play a game of soccer. Or sometimes, I use it to spend an afternoon with a girl, which is why Rilee is smirking. "It's Vesta, isn't it?" he guesses. "She still asks about you. Must have been some kiss."
"Shut up. It's not Vesta. It's not anyone. I was just giving you a tip. When was the last time you went out?" I swing my bag over my shoulder and proudly grab the umbrella. He flashes an obscene hand gesture. Unfortunately, the second he does my mother walks in the room, sees it, and slaps him upside the head.
"Geez, Mom!" he complains as he rubs the back of head.
"Don't be vulgar," she orders. "And get to school."
Rilee is hastily getting his things together as I walk out the door. I don't feel like getting yelled at this early in the day, nor do I want Rilee to keep hounding me on the girl thing. Because he knows he's right about that, too. There is a girl. A girl I am going to talk to today.
My walk to school is uneventful. I find my friends and say hello. We complain about assignments and teachers. We stand outside on the lawn until it's time to go in because although it's overcast, it's warm, and the winter months kept us cooped up. I'm the only one with an umbrella.
The bell rings and everyone shuffles to their appropriate classrooms. I put the umbrella on the floor and slide it underneath my desk. I glance out the window from time to time, willing it get darker. The umbrella plan would make talking to this girl so much easier.
Literature is boring. We read a dramatized story of the victor of the 15th Hunger Games. He was from District 1. A career. Surprise, surprise. Killed the others with a mase. The author decided to explain this in gory detail, down to the sound the metal made when it crushed a young woman's skull in. He compared it to the sound of cracking a lobster tail, not that I even know what that sounds like from experience. Music isn't any better. We sing a song about how grand the Capitol is and how grateful we are for its presence in our lives. I mumble through the whole thing. I'm no singer, but can't put any heart into the words anyway.
Lunch is slightly more interesting when there are people to talk to, and no one is talking about the Capitol. The conversation goes from soccer matches to bad lunch food to how nice the weather has gotten since this morning. It's not going to rain. Damn umbrella. Had I not brought it, it would have rained, undoubtedly.
I don't see her during lunch, but I usually don't. She sits on the opposite side of the lunchroom. Near the other kids from the Seam, but not with any of them. It's funny how this segregation exists even in school. The Seam kids resent the merchant kids; the merchant kids hate the Seam kids. Life goes on. I've imagined what she would do if I sat at her table one day. She'd probably move to another table.
It's not until History that I can get a good look at her. It's the only class we have together. I sit on one side of the classroom surrounded by my friends. It's easier to pass notes, throw eraser bits, and cheat off one another that way. She sits on the other side of the classroom next to the windows. She's staring out at the lawn the way she does every day, like she's planning a break out. I do more staring than listening during this class, too. Her dark hair is pulled back into a tight braid that falls all the way to her lower back. I want to pull it out and run my fingers through it. Her skin is darker than mine. I can tell it's very smooth, but I want my hands to memorize the feel of it. She has a large inflamed scratch on her right arm. I want to know how she got it. These aren't the things I noticed about her when I was young, but these are the things I notice now.
The teacher asks a question. I have no idea what it was, but he's looking at me like he expects an answer. The person behind me gives the answer and I relax, not in danger of embarrassing myself like I thought. This should wake me up and make me pay attention, but it doesn't. I start scratching away at my paper, pretending to take notes. I have better uses for my time than learning the history of coal—like how I'm going to get this girl to talk to me.
Now usually, talking to a girl is not a big deal. I talk to girls every day. I flirt with girls every day. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. Girls read into things they shouldn't. Case and point: Vesta. One kiss and she thought we should be attached at the hip. I told her right away that it wasn't going to go anywhere. I'm not the kind of guy that strings a girl along, especially a girl I'm not into. She took it better than I expected, and we're still friends. But sometimes I do get a feeling she wants more, and apparently she talks to my brother about it.
I go on dates occasionally. I've never had a girlfriend. It never goes past a second date. There's nothing wrong with the girls. They're pretty, and nice, and can carry a conversation, but I never feel compelled to spend time alone with them again. My brothers think there's something wrong with me. They tell me I'm too picky or just plain stupid. And they may be right. I am picky when it comes to girls because I've already picked the one I want.
The problem is she doesn't know it. She's unaware anyone has a crush on her. It goes even deeper that that though. Not only is she oblivious, she couldn't possibly care less. I'm not the only one who wants her. Better men than me have tried and failed. They call her rude and cold, but I don't think she's either of those things. I think she's special and beautiful and she needs a guy who can make her feel those things all the time. However, she isn't friendly and scary as hell to approach. Even she would have to admit to that. That's why when I do finally talk to her it has to go right. She's going to judge me right on the spot and if it doesn't go perfectly, I'm not going to get another shot.
Today just feels like the right day. I couldn't say why exactly. I've been psyching myself up to do this for months, years maybe. It's happening today.
The rest of the school day goes by quickly. When the final bell rings, I realize how nervous I am. I wipe my hands on my shirt and check my teeth on my way toward the exit. She's standing where I expect her to be. She waits in the front hallway every day for her sister to join her. When did I become such a stalker? I chose this time because it's the least conspicuous. All the kids are preoccupied with getting home so they won't even notice us. Half the school is already gone. I don't care if people see us talking, but I don't want an audience. This is going to be just us. And it's going to work.
However, this is as far as my plan goes. The umbrella thing clearly won't work. The sound of chirping birds coming from outside makes me even more aware of this. I can't lose this time though. If I don't do it now, I'll have to wait another week until my next day off. By then I might lose my nerve. She's still standing there, alone, while my precious opportunity is ticking away. My feet move forward. In about ten seconds I'm standing behind her. She's staring out the front doors, ready to break free just like she was during History.
I've imagined a thousand different ways this could go, stemming from indifferent brush offs to her jumping in my arms and kissing my face off. I would be satisfied with something in between those two scenarios.
I clear my throat, trying to sound natural. She doesn't turn around. I clear my throat again a little louder. She doesn't even look over her shoulder. I lift up my hand to tap her on the arm, but I think better of it. In one of my fantasies she turns around and punches me in the stomach because I scared her. I didn't think this part through thoroughly enough. I thought about what I will say and how to smile, but I can't do either of those things because I don't even have her attention. I could leave right now and wouldn't even know I was here.
"Katniss?" I say too loudly. I'm way too wound up.
She turns around quickly, looking me up and down with her steely gray eyes. She's got that unapproachable thing going on. I try not to let it get to me.
"Hi," I say at a normal volume.
Her eyes are questioning, but not threatened. Then again, I don't think she's scared of anything. "Hello," she says.
"How are you?" I ask like I'm talking to Vesta or any of my female friends. It's not the right tone for talking with Katniss though. I talk to Vesta on a daily basis and I haven't talked to Katniss…ever.
"Fine," she responds. Her eyebrow arches. And then I realize something phenomenally idiotic. I've been watching this girl for years, learning things about her without actually being friends or even acquaintances, but that doesn't mean she's been doing the same thing with me. It would be extremely conceited of me to think that. I mean, she might not even know who I am.
"I'm Peeta Mellark," I say. I offer my hand for her to shake.
"I know who you are," she says coolly.
Right. Cause I've only known you since I was five. I am an idiot.
Her eyebrow arches a little more and she doesn't take my hand. It awkwardly drops back to my side. And already, we've stalled. It took less than thirty seconds and I can't think of a single thing to say. I thought of topics ahead of time, but they're all eluding me at the moment. My heart is beating faster against my ribs and my palms are all sweaty again. Maybe it's a good thing she didn't shake my hand.
I notice her eye the large umbrella I'm still holding on to. Then she glances out the front doors, which reveal a sunny spring afternoon, then back at me and my umbrella. If there was anything that could make me feel more like a moron it's carrying an umbrella on the nicest day of the year. "The weather is nice, isn't it? I thought it might rain, but it appears to have cleared up."
"Yes, it has," she agrees, because how could she possibly disagree?
I try to get a hold of myself. Think. What do we have in common besides a mutual appreciation for sunny weather? She doesn't play sports and she doesn't attend any school events, so I can't bring that up. She doesn't live in town so she's not privy to any gossip, nor do I think she would care. I feel like I've taken far too long to say something and she's only seconds away from turning and walking away, when I'm suddenly struck with a bit of déjà vu. I saw her walking away just last Sunday. She was leaving the bakery after making a trade with my father.
"I wanted to thank you for the squirrel you brought us last week," I say genuinely. At least I finally made up an excuse for talking to her at all, which she's probably been wondering since this half-witted conversation started. "My mom made a stew with it."
"No reason to thank me. It was a trade. Your father gave me two loaves of bread and half a dozen rolls," she says in a monotone voice. There's a discrepancy in her story. My father told my mother he only gave her one and a half loaves of bread for the squirrel. Hm.
Before I can ask her about it, she flips her braid over her shoulder and pulls out the band at the bottom. She threads her fingers through the strands partway, and I think my jaw hits the floor. Wasn't I just envisioning this a few hours ago? What a thing to fantasize about. My brothers would call me demented. My fingers twitch with the urge to touch the silky strands, but thankfully, she separates the strands and re-braids them. Her fingers move down the length of her hair with quick precision. I take an audible gulp. She has no idea what she does to me.
"I…uh…still feel like we get the better of the trade," I stumble through my words. "Having fresh game is quite a luxury. Maybe I could do something to repay the favor?" I'm on thin ice now. None of the guys who have dared to talk to her have actually gotten to the asking out part. They're usually scared away by her scowl. The one she's wearing right now.
"You don't owe me anything," she snaps.
"I know that."
"And I don't owe you anything." She narrows her eyes at me and not only is she wearing a scowl, she's angry. I didn't think what I said would offend her.
"I didn't say you did," I try to explain. I rub the back of my neck. It feels hotter than normal. My imagination did not leave me well-prepared for this. "Look, maybe this came out wrong—"
"Katniss?" a tiny voice says from behind me. I twist around and see a little blonde girl I know to be Katniss' sister. I don't know anything about her, only that she's a few years younger than us. She's very pretty, like a doll from a toy store. She and Katniss look alike, but at the same time, they don't. The little blonde one smiles at me and doesn't seem to question my presence. Katniss is beautiful, but she doesn't smile easily. She doesn't trust anything, least of all me.
"Hi, little duck. Are you ready to go home?"
I shoot my eyes back to Katniss because I can't believe the melodic tone of her voice. I've never heard her speak so kindly, not since we were little. And I'm not so scared of her anymore because now I know that little girl still exists. She just saves it for the people she cares about. The people that deserve it. I could be one of those people.
"Who's your friend?" the blonde one asks.
"Hi. I'm Peeta." I hold my hand out like before and she takes it. I notice that, unlike her sister, she doesn't have a scratch or a bruise on her, which is unusual for a twelve year old.
"I'm Primrose Everdeen, but everyone calls me Prim," she says with a giggle. I've never heard Katniss giggle. Suddenly, I'm desperate to know what it sounds like.
"It's nice to meet you, Prim."
"It's time to go," Katniss says softly, but authoritatively. She takes her sister's arm and starts walking toward the open doors.
My opportunity is slipping away again. It's been too short. And she's probably still mad at me for whatever I did to offend her. I can't leave it like that. "Can I walk with you?" I ask without thinking. It's what I would say to any other girl if I wanted to spend the afternoon with her, although I'm beginning to realize the flirting techniques I use on other girls won't be effective with Katniss.
Both girls turn around. Prim's eyes are bright and she's got the sweetest little grin on her face. Her sister just looks confused and irritated. She does nothing to hide it.
"We're going home," she declares.
"I know. I thought—"
"It's more than a mile out of your way," she interrupts.
"I…um…," I stammer. I've never had a girl fight me on walking her home before. I don't have an argument prepared for this.
"You can walk with us till we get to the edge of town. It'll be nice to have some company," Prim says politely. Katniss flashes her a look, but it doesn't faze the girl. And a few seconds later we're walking together. I'm on one side and Katniss is on other with her little sister in between. I will have to send Prim some cookies or offer to do her homework or something because Primrose Everdeen is the world's best wingman.
It's silent and a little tense. Katniss is obviously not pleased with this situation. Perhaps because I irritated her earlier or maybe because she doesn't understand what I'm doing. I don't think she's ever had a boy walk her home. Then I remember Hawthorne. Right. I'm sure he's walked her home before. They come into the bakery together to make trades. The girls at my lunch table love to whisper about him. Not that they've ever spoken to him or would even consider dating him. They're all merchant girls who would rather die than marry someone from the Seam. They're also convinced they would die if they married someone from the Seam, so their logic isn't very sound. Once in a while they ask about whether or not he and Katniss are together. I'll admit I've listened in on that gossip. The conclusion is that they're not a couple, though several of the girls think it's a secret romance. But why keep it a secret? As far as I know, they're not together, which means she's single, which means there is nothing wrong with trying to get to know her better.
"Your family owns the bakery, right?" Prim asks, as if the stiff silence isn't happening.
"Yeah." I smile at her. She blushes. I wonder what it would take to make Katniss blush.
"I love looking at the cakes in the window. Your dad is talented."
"Actually, I do those," I reluctantly admit. You never know if that will impress people or not.
"Really? They're so pretty!" Prim sounds. At least she's impressed. "I love the ones with the flowers."
"What does a primrose look like?" I ask. Getting in good with Katniss' sister has got to be a decent strategy. Katniss obviously adores her. Plus, Prim seems like the kind of girl who is real easy to be nice to anyway, like she's got a big heart.
"They're small with four or five heart-shaped petals." She makes a circle with her fingers to indicate the size of the flowers. "They come in different colors. The yellow ones are my favorite."
"Maybe I'll put some on the next cake I decorate."
Her eyes light up. Her smile grows even bigger.
"We couldn't buy something like that," Katniss says coldly. She looks just as angry as before, if not more so. How many times can I offend a girl in the course of ten minutes? I know she can't afford extravagances like that. But to her, I must sound as arrogant and ignorant as the merchant girls.
"Most people can't," I say. She glances at me and her eyes soften just a little. I hope she knows I understand our differences. I want her to know I don't care.
"Do you eat cake for breakfast?" Prim asks. I laugh.
"Why would you think that?"
"I always imagined the family who owns the bakery eating cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
"If we ate the cake, we'd have nothing to sell, would we?"
"So you must have cookies for breakfast?"
"Only if they've gone stale," I chuckle. "Really stale, like you could break a tooth." Prim laughs. I look over at Katniss again. She's looking at me too and I fight the urge to look away, especially since she's not looking at me with the same animosity as before. Her eyes are questioning me again. Is she surprised I eat nothing but stale bread? Think about the logic here. We can't eat our own merchandise.
The conversation lulls as we walk through the town square, which is busy with the afterschool rush. This walk has not gone as planned. It hasn't gone terribly, but it hasn't gone remarkably well either. Although, I've had a great conversation with Prim. Too bad it's her sister that I really want to talk to.
"What did you think of the history lecture today?" I ask her. I hate the small talk nature of the question, but it's the only thing we have in common.
"It was fine. Same as yesterday."
"And the day before that, and the day before that. I think I could recite the book." Well, maybe I could if I wasn't staring at you for half the class.
"Hm," she hums.
I think I'm seeing things when the corners of her mouth turn up. Is that a smile? Or a twitch on the way to a smile? Progress is progress. If she were any other girl, I'd have taken her bag for her by now. I'd be holding her hand. I'd tell her how pretty her smile is. She'd be chattering away about history class and I'd barely be able to get a word in. I doubt Katniss will take a compliment well. It's apparent she's not much of a talker. Or maybe, she's just not interested in such trivial, boring things. I'm not interested in talking about history class either to tell the truth. I want to know about her.
"Where did you learn to hunt?" I ask bravely. She visibly stiffens and keeps her eyes on her feet. This is asking about something personal and something illegal to be frank. I know that she hunts in the woods and she knows I know, but to talk about it openly is still dangerous. "I'm not going to rat you out or anything. I'm just curious." I wait for her to look at me so that she can see I'm being honest. Her eyes are darting back and forth as she thinks my question over. She doesn't look up. She doesn't speak.
"Our dad taught her," Prim answers in a small voice.
"Prim!" Katniss whispers. And then Prim stares at the ground, too.
Damn it. I definitely crossed a line. Her father died in the mines a few years back. I remember watching her receive a medal of honor with the rest of the families who lost someone. I remember her a few months after when she was starving to death. I'm trying to get her to like me and I bring up the worst thing that has ever happened in her life. Nice one, Mellark.
"What you can do is amazing. I couldn't last a day out there," I laugh, but it sounds forced. I need to fix this and fast. I could go back to talking about history class, but I'd already struck out once there.
I'm struggling for the best way to handle this when I notice Prim slowing down her pace and eventually stopping. She's staring into the window of the florist. "Katniss, can I look at the flowers?" she asks without tearing her eyes away.
"Prim, we need to get home," Katniss says.
"Please? Just for a few minutes?" she begs. She gives her sister big puppy dog eyes that I know I couldn't resist.
Katniss sighs, but concedes. "Fine." Prim's eyes light up again as she rushes into the flower shop.
Katniss and I are left alone on the sidewalk. Prim is so good at being a wingman it's hard to believe she's not doing it on purpose. Katniss sighs again, drops her bag, and leans against the building. "She loves pretty things," she says as she shakes her head.
It isn't until now I notice Katniss has a scratch along the side of her face, but it's not as recent as the one on her arm. She also has a bruise on her left wrist. Where does she get these marks? Not from playing games or having fun. She gets it from the woods, from hunting. My heart swells up seeing her hurt like this, even though they're not serious wounds. I've got the leftover marks of more severe burns on my arms just from pulling things in and out of the ovens over the years. Still, I don't like it. She shouldn't have to hunt and struggle to feed her family. She's so young. She should have someone taking care of her. I could take care of her.
I lean up against the building next to her. She looks uncomfortable. And not the kind of discomfort I usually see from a girl. Generally, a girl's discomfort says something like, "I'm nervous but excited about being with you." Katniss' discomfort says, "I don't know why you're talking to me and I want you to go away."
"I'm sorry," I say gently to her.
"For what?" she replies, sounding detached. I see though it.
"For bringing up your dad."
"You didn't know."
"I didn't think," I explain. If I thought it through I would have realized where her knowledge of the woods came from. It certainly didn't come from her mother. She was from town, just like me. I wonder if Katniss knows my father and her mother almost got married. I don't think that's something I need to talk about right now. I can save it for another time; if there is another time. One thing I know she is unaware of is how long I've been keeping tabs on her. I'm not sure how to tell her without shocking her. But I have to say something because I don't think I've said anything thus far that would make her want to talk to me again. "Did you know my dad knew your dad?"
"No." She keeps her eyes trained to the ground.
"He told me once that your dad had the best singing voice around. When he sang the birds would stop to listen."
She looks up at me, her eyebrows contracted. I hope that I didn't once again cross a line. She doesn't look upset like before, but her eyes are a little glassy. I can't help staring. "That's true," she breathes.
My brain gets caught up in staring and it takes my mouth a few seconds to form words. "So…I know where you get it from."
Now she just looks confused. It's god damn adorable. "What?"
This is dangerous territory for me. I'm admitting to something I haven't admitted to anyone. I…fell for her the first time I saw her. And part of me wants her to know that only because I've been keeping it secret for so long. The other part, the rational part, knows this will send her running for the hills. However, I'm going to be honest with her. Katniss strikes me as the kind of the person who doesn't play games. "Do you remember in school when you sang a song in front of everyone? I swear the birds stopped singing then," I say vaguely, although I remember the event in much more detail.
There's a crease between her eyebrows and the corners of her mouth lift up again. "That was so long ago."
"Yeah, it was."
She doesn't say anything more, but it's not as bad as the earlier silence. There's some static between us, but it's not as tense. Can she feel it too? Were I with any other girl, this is the part when I would kiss her. There has never been a girl I wanted to kiss more. My head knows that's not going to happen right now, but this is the first time I've ever thought it might.
The bell hanging on the door of the florist shop rings as Prim exits. She's glowing and clutching a tiny bouquet of yellow flowers. Katniss sighs when she sees it. "Did you con him out of flowers again, little duck?"
"I wanted Peeta to know what a primrose looks like in case he needs inspiration for his next cake."
I push myself off the side of the building and hold my hand out to her. "Okay, let me have a good look." She hands me the little bouquet. I stare at her flowers for a few seconds, arching my eyebrows and making a big display of studying them. She bites her bottom lip and bounces on the balls of her feet. I glance over at Katniss. I'm shocked when I see the smile on her face. A real smile. The air goes out of my lungs. She's so happy to see her sister happy. I take the bouquet and tuck it behind Prim's ear. The yellow looks lovely in her blonde hair. "I think it looks much better on you than it would on any cake." She laughs, unable to contain her excitement.
No one talks for the remainder of the walk. I use my umbrella like a cane as we walk. Prim occasionally touches the flowers in her hair. I wish I had another to give to Katniss, but I have a feeling it brings her more joy to see me give her sister flowers than it would for me to give her flowers. The sidewalk turns to dirt as we reach the edge of town. I've walked far out of my way in getting back to my own house, but I don't care. This is the best way I could have spent my afternoon.
"Thank you for walking with us, Peeta Mellark," Prim says with a confident nod.
"You're welcome, Primrose Everdeen." I know Katniss won't thank me. She didn't want me coming in the first place. "I'll see you tomorrow, Katniss. In History class."
"Sure. Bye, Peeta." And there's no confusion or anger or irritation in her voice. It's just her. That's all I've ever wanted.
The pair continues on their hike back home. I stand there for a little while longer, probably too long, but I can't bear to turn back. What's going to happen tomorrow? Will anything be different? Or will she just pretend this afternoon never happened and we'll just go back to having nothing to do with each other?
Then something happens that gives me more hope than anything else that happened today. She looks back at me. She doesn't smile or anything, she just looks over her shoulder. Maybe it doesn't mean anything. Maybe she's thinking I'm strange. Maybe she's realizing how much of a stalker I really am. Or maybe she just wanted one last look and she'll spend rest the night thinking of me.
Tomorrow is going to be a good day.