My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am eighteen. I was in the hunger games. It is on my eighteenth birthday that I become an adult according to the law of Panem. It is on this day that I realize just how much I have changed since the day that I volunteered as tribute in the place of my sister Prim. I have fought each and every day since then. Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of love. Sometimes out of anger, or grief, or even ignorance. With each day of fighting, the world has changed before me. It has now become a world that I hardly recognize. Many of my loved ones have been laid to rest.
So much grief and loss has made it impossible for me to feel as though I am alive in my own body. Rather, I watch from above as a ghost resembling my old self places one foot in front of the other each day. This is not the beginning of my story, nor is it the end of my story. For I am so far from here, that this must be an entirely different story.
It is at this time of the day, when I wake from my nightmares, that I feel the grief so intensely. I have not yet had the time to put up the necessary barriers in my mind and heart that allow me to place function yet. Some days I stare at my arm and wish I could rely on the schedule that District 13 had laid out for me each day. I was never very good at following it then. But I wish I had it now. Now that idleness equates to vulnerability, and vulnerability with sorrow.
I can see the sun streaming in the window, and even hear the birds singing outside. Peeta will have been up for a couple of hours. Anyone who has ever worked in a bakery knows that the baker wakes to begin work before the dawn.
I stare at my hands for a moment and I feel that horrible sensation begin to tear and my chest and my guts. No. Not today I say. Today I will have a day off from the anguish. Today I will give my heart a rest. I feel relief when the pain subsides and is replaced with tension. Tension I can handle.
I get out of bed and go straight to the shower. I begin to sing every song that I can think of. I even try to dance in the shower. Anything to barricade myself from the feelings that I know will overwhelm me.
I dress and bolt from the house. The sooner I get to Peeta's, the better I know that I will feel.
I glance towards the house that belongs to Haymitch. His geese are sitting quietly on the front lawn as though they were a dog waiting for their master to bring them out for a walk. This will not happen for a few days, I think to myself. The train has rolled in a new shipment of liquor only Monday. He will have drink for a few more days.
Peeta's yard smells of fresh bread. The sensation of hunger is stimulated and I begin to salivate.
His lawn is beautifully kept, I think. There are blossoms along the fence and beautifully carved wooden statues of woodland animals along the walk. Rocks and bushes are arranged in such a way that only an artist such as Peeta would have the flair to accomplish.
Or someone like Cinna.
And there it is. Today's second pang of grief sweeps through me from toes to stomach. My appetite is gone. I brace myself against that feeling, remembering my promise to myself. Not today. Today I will rest. The grief cannot have me today.
I knock on Peeta's door, not waiting for him to open it, and step into his home. I can see that two of his ovens are on at present. To the right of the ovens is a rack of fresh bread cooling. I also see a giant mixing bowl filled with what looks like strawberry preserves.
Yesterday he and I walked beyond the fence with two bowls to pick the berries. I put on a brave face and we spent three hours picking berries. The old Peeta would have tried to make jokes. He would have tried to lighten the mood. But yesterday, we did little talking. It was as if we both knew the trip into the woods was a meaningful one, and a difficult one. It was better to talk little. The risk of disturbing the tentative peace in both of our hearts was too great.
It was something Peeta and I thought we had mastered during the games, during the victory tour, when we were fighting for our lives and those of our family. But loss, it is cumulative. It is no longer as simple as victory and defeat. Those are the thoughts of children. Right or wrong. Justice or Injustice. Suffering or dignity. We no longer think of life in this way. Time has changed both of us.
It is at this moment that Peeta comes down the stairs with a towel wrapped around his waist. His hair is still wet from his shower. He is preoccupied with his ovens and he rushes to them to ensure that whatever he is baking is not burning. He does not see me standing in the entryway.
Perhaps it my promise to myself that gives me the strength do it. Perhaps it is the beauty of his body, or the handsomeness of his face. We cannot yet talk the way we used to. But something inside me still needs intimacy from the man that I know understands me. I pull off my hunting jacket quietly. I remove my button down shirt and slide off my jeans. I am left wearing simple undergarments.
I step into the kitchen with the quiet steps of a hunter. Peeta is now preoccupied with the preserves using his baby finger to taste the strawberry mixture in the bowl of jam. When he turns around and sees me standing in front of him I see what I hoped to see.
I see shock on his face. Then I see the warmth in his eyes.
Then the warmth melts into something else. The warmth becomes lust.
We have not touched in the past weeks. It was as though we had reached a place where we might begin to fight our grief. For these weeks we have needed solitude. We have not held each other in the night. We both needed to learn to hold ourselves.
He takes two giant steps towards me and closes the gap between us. This time there is no tenderness, or sadness. Our gift to each other on this day will be our strength – a resolve to fight for our lives. We kiss each other firmly and passionately. Our hands are certain, our movements deliberate.
His skin is warm and his mouth is hot. His hands are on my shoulders, and then they are on my waist. We breathe deeply. He lifts me by my hips to the counter and kisses my neck and breasts while he removes what remains of my clothes.
It is on this day that we prove to each other that we can move on. We prove that we can be strong for ourselves and for one another. There are no questions to each other about if we are ready for this thing that we have never done before. There is no hesitation. There are no thank yous and neither of us owes the other anything. We are for the first time on equal footing. He desires me and I desire him.
He moves within me fully. He is not inhibited. I can tell that he is not afraid to hurt me.
I respond with him by moving in kind. With certainty. With respect for the one before me and inside of me who is no longer a boy, but a man.
For the first time in two years, there really are no games. Today I am just a beautiful woman and Peeta is just a gorgeous god of a man making love to a woman in the kitchen while the bread in the oven is left to burn.