Part I: The Setting
As I wake, both my mind and my vision are blurred. I've slept in, I realize. It is far past dawn, the sun is already making its attempt towards the top of the sky. I stretch my arms out as far as I can, yawning. I step out of bed and blindly carry myself down the stairs.
I can hear the busy chatter of birds outside as I cut myself a hunk of bread. I heat up some milk on the stove, adding a dash of cinnamon and sugar. I've long since lost my taste for coffee, its bitter taste always leaving me wanting more. I don't like to rely on much, even if it is just a simple cup of coffee.
Although the warmed milk tastes sweet with the raisin bread, it is nothing compared to a breakfast served in the Capitol. I sit there, dreaming not of the lives lived in the Capitol, but of the savory meals they must eat.
I know now that in theory, we should be equals. Social workers from all over the country have been working diligently to create the new kind of Panem, where everyone has the same rights and opportunities. Districts would no longer be prejudiced against, but celebrated in unity. I usually wouldn't take an interest in any of this, but Plutarch has gone out of his way the past few months to keep me up to date on everything. I know that he has only been doing this to help me, but most of it is pointless to me. I try to act interested though, mostly for the sake of keeping Plutarch happy and out of my business.
I shake my head, almost as if to shake all the thoughts of the Capitol and my memories associated with it. I head up to the bathroom, and take a hot shower, the steam opening my pores and the hot water beating against my back. After several minutes of this, I finally begin scrubbing myself clean, first my hair, and then the rest of my body. Once I am done, I wrap up in a towel and change into a fresh pair of clothes.
I attempt to comb the tangles from my hair, and pin it up into a simple bun my mother taught me long ago. I know that leaving it this way will only result in a curly mess later today, but it doesn't really matter; there is no one who I worry about seeing that might judge me.
After brushing my teeth and slipping on some shoes, I head out the door. I never truly have a place to go or someone to see, but I never have anything else to do with my time. Before I leave, I reach for a small purse my mother sent me a few months ago, and slip it around my shoulder. I check to make sure there is money there, and then head for town.
This is often how I spend my days, wandering around District Twelve, visiting new shops that have been built, or just walking through the meadow. Most people find themselves busy with jobs, but because I don't have one, my days seem much slower.
A few months after I returned home, I received a letter from the Capitol explaining how I would begin receiving a Veteran's Commission. Basically, anyone who served during the war will receive a check every month. For a family, it would be no where near enough to meet needs. But, because I live alone, and because I rarely buy anything besides food, I have more than enough.
Walking through the city square, I see how everything has transformed over the last year. Shops have been repaired, broken windows replaced and shopfronts painted. It seems odd how quickly the citizens of our District repaired themselves. Those that are left, that is.
As I walk past the spot where the bakery used to sit, I can't help thinking of Peeta's family, and their sad fate. I look back to that day of the Reaping, when his father brought me those cookies, and promised to keep Prim alive. He never owed me anything. He acted only out of the compassion in his heart. I realize how similar his son is.
I decide to head for the Hob, which really isn't even the place it once was. After the war, the Capitol worked with each District, building businesses and helping people find new jobs. Immediately people started fleeing towards the new factory, which makes medicine for all of Panem. But, others, those who were longing to have their old jobs back, mostly to create some comfort in their torn lives, were given second chances.
So, the Hob was torn down, created fresh. Now, it is a farmer's market, or so the Capitol named it. Plutarch told me once, on one of his visits, that farmer's markets used to be every where in Old Times, before the Dark Days. Basically, anyone who wants to sell or trade can go there and set up a stand, legally. I often visit just to see the odds and ends everyone is selling.
I walk up, seeing that many have taken advantage of this warm spring morning. Many children are here, helping their mothers. Some people are selling food, others clothes and toys. I can hear the shouts of men debating over the price of something, and children playing. I suddenly feel sorrowful, thinking of Prim. I wish that she could be here, seeing how new and great this place is. She would love this, the warm weather, the sunshine, everything.
But, she will never know.
I cross over to the simple stand Greasy Sae has set up with her granddaughter. She is selling soup, as always. I sit down on one of the stools she has set up and buy a bowl. I see that I am not the only one interested in her stand; several people sit next to me, slurping up her stew.
"Out and about today, are we?" Greasy Sae asks, filling up my bowl.
I nod, my mouth full of soup. She just sends her toothy smile back, turning to add something more to the kettle of soup.
I sit there, slurping up my soup, watching as shoppers walk by. It is several minutes before I feel a gentle tap on my back. I turn around to see Greasy Sae's granddaughter smiling up at me, holding out a small piece of rope. I gently take the piece of rope, turning it over in my fingers.
"Thank you very much," I say gently, nodding.
"Liese! Stop bothering everyone!" Greasy Sae yells, and and Liese quickly scampers back next to her grandmother. I slide the piece of rope into my pocket, finish the last spoonful of soup, and set a tip down on the counter. I decide to head for the library next.
I had never heard of a library before one was built here just over a month ago. It's a beautiful building, marble and granite, large pillars and tall steps, but what hides on the inside is even greater. Books and books, more than you can ever imagine. And these books, they aren't just new ones written in the Capitol. There is literature from all ages, even from before the Dark Days. I have spent many days here, just browsing the wide array of knowledge.
I climb the tall stairs and feel the burst of cool air hit me from inside. It is always cold inside this building, but I kind of like it. It makes the whole place feel mysterious, like something is hiding around every corner.
I see that several children roam around, picking up picture books and examining them. I think about how lucky they are now, to be happy and full. I think back to when I was their age, and I was scraping up remains to survive. I envy their simple childhood, but I am glad that someone can enjoy it, even if it isn't me.
I decide to head for the Factual section today, full of books that explain, everything and anything. I love reading about the animals and plants here, comparing my knowledge to that of the book. I reach for a book of plants I have flipped through once before and settle into a large cushioned chair. I begin to read about herbs and their different uses when I hear the sound of shoes against the floor. I look up to find a boy, maybe even a man, tall and muscular, shaggy hair. There is a gentle limp in his step, and I suddenly realize there is something strange...
I shift uncomfortably in my seat as Peeta stands in front of me, browsing up and down the shelf. It's obvious that he is looking for something, a certain book, and I want to suggest to him to just use the catalog, but it's been so long since we last spoke, I wouldn't even know where to begin.
I think back, over that last year, trying to remember when I last spoke to Peeta. Of course, I see him almost every day, but that is usually when he is leaving or entering his house. I realize that it has been almost 8 months since we last spoke, when I caught him planting primroses in the garden. I know I should have given him more gratitude than I did, but ever since we returned from the war, things have been different between us.
I decide that sitting still would be my best option, simply pretending I didn't notice him. He will continue on, probably finding the book he is searching for, and will leave, without even realizing I was ever here. I've become good at blending in.
But part of me, deep down, wants him to stay. To realize I am here. To say something. Why is this? How have I gone so long without him to simply want him back again?
I fidget in my seat, unable to control myself. I focus indefinitely on a picture of some mint leaves found in the woods, trying to look busy. Suddenly, I hear him turn around, and I can feel his eyes on me. My scarred face is burning red, and I hear a light chuckle coming from Peeta. I look up to see him smiling and shaking his head.
"You don't have to act like I'm not here, Katniss." He says, walking over, book in hand. He sits down next to me, resting the book on the arm of the chair.
I look at him, his face, his eyes. I can make out a few light scars on his cheeks, but otherwise, he looks just as he did the first day I ever spoke to him. Those same blue eyes, his shaggy blonde hair, everything. Only now, he has obviously matured from a boy to a man. I wonder if he is decoding these same changes in me, my longer hair, my fuller face. We have both obviously aged, either from the stress of everything that has happened, or even just the fact that we have both grown older. It seems strange to be noticing all now.
"It's been a while," Peeta says, smiling. I nod, trying to duplicate a smile, but it forms as an odd twist in my lips that makes the entire situation worse. Luckily, Peeta seems to be focused on finding something within his book, which I can now see more clearly. Its colorful pages are lined with recipes, specifically deserts. I wonder what desert Peeta is looking for that he doesn't already know how to make.
"What are you looking for?" I ask, leaning closer towards the book. The conversation is stiff after months of absence.
"Oh, just a recipe. I'm looking to bake a cake." He says, and the pure sarcasm that laces the words is obvious. People still visit Peeta, asking him to make a cake for a events they are planning. I have seen the beautiful pastries he creates; he does not need any book to show him what to do.
He sees my doubtful expression, and just smiles.
"What are you looking for?" He asks, expectantly. I flip through the pages of the thick book, letting the pages blow against my face.
"Just browsing," I say, and it is true. I never really have any intentions when I come here, only interests. I usually make my way through several books before I leave, mostly Factual. I open up to a random page to find a small herb. I know I have seen it before in the woods.
"Suspicious..." Peeta whispers, and we both laugh. It seems odd, sitting here, having a conversation with this boy. The boy who knows me so well. The memories are painful to reflect on, so I take a large breath and sigh, almost as if to release the memories.
Suddenly, Peeta jerks his view towards me, biting his lip.
"You know what hurts the most?" He asks pressingly, rocking ever so slightly. I am surprised by his sudden burst of enthusiasm, the strange look in his eyes. He doesn't wait for me to respond, but instead continues on.
"This. Sitting here, acting like we are just old friends. We aren't, Katniss. We fought next to each other, saved each other!" By this time, several heads have turned. I know that letting him continue his rant will only cause more trouble, but I am afraid to stop him.
"What has it been, eight months? Eight months we have watched each other walking in and out every now and again? I just think...-" He cuts off, as if he isn't sure what to say. I realize that he has been clutching the arm of the chair for support; this rant of emotion isn't his fault. But then, he is shaking his head, sighing.
"I'm sorry. But I just think that we deserve more." He says, and then, leaving the book, walks away.
And I can't help feeling the same.
I feel almost numb. After so long, we suddenly meet in the library, of all places. The conversation was no longer than five minutes, but I feel as if it has been an hour. There is a certain feeling you get when you're around Peeta. Or maybe it's just me.
I quickly shove the book in my hand back into a spot on the shelf. I get an odd look from one of the library staff, but I don't care. I make my way towards the door, and back to my home.
Late afternoon has set in, and Town is busy with people as they get off work. Children run about, parents trying to herd them back in. Someone is pointing at me, whispering my name to a friend. This has come to be a normal occurrence, so I don't even notice when it happens. I am only thinking about Peeta.
When I reach my house, I fling open the door and and flop onto the empty couch. I think about Peeta, and all he has said. I think about Prim, how we used to sit here and she would braid my hair. And Finnick, sweet charming Finnick, and the joy he brought to me. I think about my broken mother.
I start to cry.
At first, its just a few sweeping tears, but it quickly turns into sobs. I think about how much Peeta and I went through just to be here, and now how we have barely spoken, except for today. My nose is running and I am hiccuping. I am a mess. My body is worn and tired, and when I finally calm down, I fall asleep, wrapped up on the couch, thinking of Peeta.