I don't own the Hunger Games. (However, there are some lines from the Hunger Games in this chapter.)
Another year less to worry about – Prim and I have been spared. Two less faces to see in school. When we go to school, the day after the reaping, I see a group of the boy tribute's friends. I knew the boy by face, and by name. His name was Tyler, and he was a boy from the Seam, so he was my neighbor. His friends are huddled together, silent. There is a void in them now... nothing will ever be the same for them, even though they knew it was possible... funny how we prepare ourselves for these moments, but once we find ourselves in them, they become... impossible to deal with.
No matter, I try and remind myself, you're alive, and so is your family. You're all right. This is their worry. Sympathy for someone you barely knew won't get food on the table, Katniss.
Prim and I rush through school to get to our classes. I see him once – our eyes meet for the usual fraction of the second... and then life goes on. Only this time, when my eyes look away, they see a dandelion instead. I am reminded of another moment, five years ago, when we looked at one another... I looked away, and found hope.
Peeta Mellark was the beginning of my survival... and he needs to know that. Today must be the day. It's been five years; I've postponed this for too long.
But he's always with his friends. Talking to him is frightening enough, but with people around...
I'm half considering just not to do it. Why am I going to thank him for something that happened five years ago? He probably don't even remember it.
No, I say to myself firmly, I need to do this – maybe it'll be easier. Maybe I'll stop feeling like I owe him.
But again, I can't find him alone. After school, a bit desperately, I tell Prim while she waits by my locker, "Just... go. I have to stay for a bit. I'll be right home."
Prim leans her head to the side, confused. "Okay." She turns around. "I'll see you at home, then."
As I close my locker a minute or two later, I notice that he is with his friends at the opposite end of the hallway. Unsurprisingly, they're all talking and laughing. I wonder what it's like to be them. Again our eyes meet, and again we look away, but even with my head turned to the locker, my eyes face him and his friends.
How will I ever get to talk to you alone, Peeta Mellark?
I sigh and give up. I head off in the same direction Prim went, ready to catch up to her. I stop on the front steps a bit, trying to figure out how I'm going to get him alone... after all, it's got to happen eventually, right?
Then, behind me, the school door bangs open. I hear his voice calling into the hall: "I'll see you guys on Monday."
I drop my books in surprise. I bend down to pick them up. Out of the corner of my eye I see him move forward, leaning down to help me. "No, it's fine," I tell you a bit stiffly.
He straightens back up. "Um, okay." He is alone. "Katniss, right?"
I nod. "Peeta?"
We've "known" each other since kindergarten; we should already know our names. It's a given. Or it should be, anyway.
I blurt out: "Thank you."
He looks baffled. "For what?"
I can feel my cheeks heating up. "I don't know if you remember, I guess, but I felt like I should thank you for it."
"For what?" he says again.
"The bread," I reply awkwardly. "From when we were kids."
"Oh," he says, and I know he hasn't forgotten, judging from the instant realization in his eyes. "It's no problem. You looked like you were starving."
"I was. My family was," I say. Just the simple remembrance of it gets my stomach contracting. I remember the absolute pain of hunger, how I wanted more than anything to eat... how I would rather die, soaking wet, from starvation, than go home to see my little sister's chapped lips and hollow cheeks, to see her see me coming home empty-handed. With this in mind, I don't hesitate to tell him, "You saved us that night."
He turns a bit pink. "It was just bread. Burnt, too."
I shake my head, and I take one step down from the stairs. He does, too. "We had nothing for the three days before then except boiled water with some old dried mint leaves I'd found in the back of a cupboard... I was ready to bring home a bone to eat, or rotted vegetables. I was desperate. I was ready to die that night. I wanted to."
"Well, you're welcome, Katniss," he says, gently. "I'm glad I could help."
I sigh, and I begin to walk away, but I turn to him. "There's nothing I can promise, obviously, but... if there's anything I can do to repay you..."
He gives me a half smile. "Sing for me."
"Sing?" I say, confused and surprised. Sing. The word seems alien. When was the last time that I had anything to do with music? I remember a time before my father's death, and when I loved music... I loved singing. It reminds me of my father.
He nods and begins to walk beside me, even though his house is in the opposite direction. "Yeah. Sing for me."
A bit embarrassed, he gives me a bit of a shrug. "The first day I saw you, you sang for the class. You sang the Valley Song..."
"I don't even remember that," I say, startled.
He gives me a smile. "It was the first day of school. So we were five. You had on a red plaid dress and your hair... it was in two braids instead of one. My father pointed you out when we were waiting to line up."
"Your father? Why?" I ask, still baffled. I remember his father. He's a quiet man. Mother knew him, since she grew up in town.
"He said, 'See that little girl? I wanted to marry her mother, but she ran off with a coal miner,'" he says.
"What? You're making that up!" I exclaim. Mother's never really talked about the baker, except to compliment his bread.
"No, true story," he says, "and I said, 'A coal miner? Why did she want a coal miner if she could've had you? And he said, 'Because when he sings... even the birds stop to listen.'"
"That's true. They do. I mean, they did," I say. I'm stunned and surprisingly moved, thinking of the baker telling this to Peeta. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that I think it's a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me of my father.
"So, that day, in music assembly, the teacher asked who knew the valley song. Your hand shot right up in the air. She stood you up on a stool and had you sing it for us."
I frown. "But... why do you want to hear me sing?"
"Because, I swear, when you sang, every bird outside the windows fell silent," he says.
"Oh, please," I say, almost laughing.
This throws a new dynamic into what I thought was the nonexistent relationship between him and me. I'm surprised that he's remembered all this; I definitely haven't. But it sounds familiar, so I have to believe him – and what reason would there be to lie about this?
"So, you want me to sing for you?" I ask hesitantly.
"It doesn't feel like it would be enough -"
"Katniss," he interrupts with a small laugh, "there will never be a moment when you will bring me back from the dead, or something. Unless we're both in the Hunger Games – and let's hope we're not."
I laugh, surprising myself. "Okay, fine. I'll sing for you. But not now."
"Because... if I'm going to sing for you, if I'm going to sing for anyone... I guess it should be sung well, shouldn't it?" I reply slowly. "So I'll sing for you... on Sunday."
"Sunday. I'll hold you to it." He smiles, and I'm actually smiling back. "See you then, Katniss."
I'm still standing there looking after him as he turns around to go back into town. He turns around, our eyes meet – and for once, they don't turn away.
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