A/N: Well hello strangers. I know it has been (literally) years since I've last updated and I do apologize. Life got the best of me, but I've been itching to write – and not just because of the recent release of a certain movie. I'll be doing more writing (hopefully) and getting it all out to you as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games, its characters, or places.
Chapter 10 – Second Chances
I've been working at the bakery for a good 13 years now. I never intended to; it was an accident. Punishment really. At least that's how it started. The war had just ended and we came home to 12 – me, mom, Vick, and Posey. Gale didn't even want to come home one last time before ditching us. The entire District was still in ruins. I remember people were being flooded into the homes left standing in Victor's Village until they cleaned up and rebuilt the District. For a while, we were living in worse conditions than we had before the bombs, but we did what we could with what we had.
Teachers, healers, and merchants went back to work almost immediately. The guys that used to work the mines did most of the construction, so they were gainfully employed as well. Mom, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. She was a house keeper and no one really had a house to keep. Money was scarce and we were feeling that all too familiar pain in the pits of our stomachs from lack of food. I was still too young to work construction or in the mines. I couldn't hunt and I can't skin a dog and make it into soup. We were starving. We were desperate. I had to do something. I'm not proud of what I did, but I did what I had to.
The Merchant Section was one of the first places finished. A lot of the surviving members of families that owned a business started up again. First shop to open their doors: Mellark Bakery. Despite his...condition, Peeta went right back to work. He took a lot of his frustration and worked off that crap the Capitol pumped into him by rebuilding his family's bakery right where the old one had been. I don't know how he could run a business and take care of Katniss at the same time, but he did. He made it work. Back then, I didn't understand how he could want to kill her, yet love her at the same time. It's sick if you ask me.
Anyway, back to my story. Posey had gotten sick and Mom needed to stay home and take care of her. She already had very little work, so staying home meant near to nothing as an income. Gale would send money from his fancy new job, but it wasn't enough. He should have been home taking care of us. They had Peacekeeper jobs in 12. Why couldn't he just do that and be with us? It's because he's selfish. He only thinks of himself. We were starving and he could care less. To top it off, it was Mom's birthday.
I needed to get out of the house. It was getting really depressing. I wandered around and somehow ended up in the Merchant Section. Of all the things to have caught my attention, it was the smell of freshly baked bread. It was so warm and inviting. My feet and nose brought me right to the bakery. I remember looking through the glass windows at all the different bread loaves and pastries. Peeta walked out of the back area with a rack of bread. I was supposed to hate this guy. I wasn't exactly sure why, but I knew that I was supposed to. After all, Gale did. Then again, Gale was a jackass.
I wandered into the bakery unnoticed. I looked through the glass cases at the intricate designs and braids the bread was in. Peeta was an artist. He made something a simple as bread into something amazing. Then there were the pastries. I don't know how to describe it, but they were almost too beautiful to eat. The details on the cakes were so clean and precise. The frosting and piping were flawless. He even drew pictures on the frosted cookies and cupcakes for the kids. I would have given anything to give just a stupid cupcake to my mom for her birthday. She deserved something.
That's when I decided to do something stupid. Peeta was helping a customer, so I'm pretty sure he didn't notice me come in. I kept my head down and did my best to stay unnoticed. I could hear the customer thank Peeta and head out the door. In the corner of my eye, I could see him retreating to the back. Now was my chance. I grabbed a small loaf of bread and a cupcake with purple and yellow frosting. I tucked the bread into my jacket and headed for the door. I was almost home free.
"Ahem," I heard. I froze. Shit. I turned my head to see Haymitch Abernathy slouching in a chair about a foot from the door with his head down. How did I not see him earlier? "Forget something, kid?"
If you've never been caught stealing, it's the worst feeling in the world. Your heart starts pounding; you sweat involunteerily; and worst of all, you feel like you're suffocating. Haymitch's gray eyes burn a hole right through me. It hits me that he is one of my mother's clients. In fact, it's Peeta Mellark that set up for my mom to visit Haymitch three times a week to clean his home. I may have just cost my family their livelihood. I start backing away from the old man, unsure of what else to do. I think to myself, 'Maybe if I put the stuff back, he won't say anything.' It's a long shot, but all I can think of doing. When I turn around, I hit a wall. At least I thought it was a wall. Of course it wasn't. It was Peeta. The cupcake in my hands smashed right into his apron, staining the white canvass.
I looked up at him, completely and utterly terrified. I expected him to be angry, his eyes like daggers staring down at the little thief of a brother of his greatest enemy. Again, I'm wrong. Peeta's blue eyes weren't red with rage, but as blue as ever. He looks confused and unsure of what the hell is going on. I need to take it and run. Literally. I turn on my heel and bolt out the door. The loaf of bread I had stuffed in my jacket falls out, but I don't dare stop to try to retrieve it. I run and try to find a hiding spot. Peeta won't run after me. He can't; not with his artificial leg. I'm glad for that too. A really shitty thing to say, but at least I'm being honest. I'm crouching behind a stack of crates when I look back toward the bakery. I sort of expected Peeta to be calling over a peacekeeper to tell them to hunt me down. But he doesn't.
Peeta slowly makes his way out of the bakery and scans the area, still looking confused. He spots the bread on the ground and bends down to pick it up. He sighs with a concerned look on his face and looks around one more time before heading back inside. I stand up, confused that is all Peeta was doing. I did the only thing I could think of: I went home. I went straight to my room, telling my mom I wasn't feeling well. I paced around the room for a bit, trying to figure out what was going to happen next. It wasn't that long before I heard someone knocking at the front door. It wouldn't have mattered to me if I hadn't heard the voice of our visitor.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Hawthorne," Peeta greeted.
"Peeta," my mom said in genuine surprise, "this is a nice surprise. What can I do for you?"
Oh no. He came to rat me out. He was going to out me to my mother. I ran out my door and headed to the front of the house. Maybe there was something I could do to stop him...
"Oh nothing. Rory was in the bakery earlier and he just forgot some things," Peeta said. I stopped in my tracks and stared at the blonde man at the door. He was looking at me with this look as if to tell me he was going to keep my secret. "He said it was your birthday and he wanted to get some bread, but he forgot his money. Isn't that right, Rory?"
My mom turned around and smiled at me. What was Peeta up to? "Um...yea," was all I could think of saying.
"He reminded me it was your birthday too." Peeta handed my mom a bag filled with bread and pulled another box from another bag he had with him. When he opened it, there was a cupcake identical to the one I had tried to take earlier inside of it. "This is on the house."
"Oh Rory," my mom gushed, putting her hand over her mouth. "I can't believe you did this. Thank you so much, sweetie. And you too, Peeta."
"Oh it's my pleasure," he smiled. "I should really be going though. I left Haymitch in charge of the bakery while I'm gone. Happy birthday, Mrs. Hawthorne." With a nod, he headed down the porch steps and made his way down the road.
"Hey mom, I'll be right back," I said. I rushed out the door, closing it behind me. It didn't take me long to catch up with Peeta. "Hey!" I called. He stopped and turned to face me. "What the hell are you doing?"
He chuckled. "Giving your family bread?"
"We don't need your charity."
"If you didn't, you wouldn't have tried to steal from me." I stood there with my mouth hung open. He got me there. "I know you don't like me because of your brother, but I won't let you starve. I couldn't live with myself if I did."
"So you're going to let me off the hook? Just like that?"
Peeta laughed and shook his head. "Oh hell no," he said. He reached into the bag he had with him and tossed a white cloth at me. When I unfolded it, I realized it wasn't a cloth. It was an apron. "I'll see you after school tomorrow. You're working your sentence off."
I told my mom I decided to work at the bakery to make some extra cash for the family. It was only supposed to be for a few weeks. At first, I made sure I let Peeta know how much I hated being there. I did all he asked with as much resistance as I could. Still, he was patient and kind to me. Haymitch, on the other hand, was always mumbling that Peeta was being too soft on me. He never let anything the old drunk said get to him though. He never let anything get to him. Eventually, I started to enjoy going to work. Peeta started to teach me how to decorate the cakes and shape the bread. He taught me tricks his dad taught him and his brothers when he was younger.
When I had served my time, I was kind of sad walking into Peeta's office with my apron in hand. He just looked up at me and smiled. He walked around his desk and held out an envelope. When I opened it, it was filled with cash. He said I had earned it. He told me to keep the apron as something to remember my time there and the lesson I learned. I went home that night and laid in bed, kind of sad that my forced time at the bakery was over. The next day, I grabbed my apron and headed back to the Mellark Bakery. I waited in front of the building before the sun was even up. When Peeta got there, he just smiled and told me that we had a lot of work to do.
The rest is history. Thirteen years later and I'm still wearing that same apron. I had realized that he was teaching me more than a lesson about stealing. He taught me to give people a second chance..and how to make kickass cinnamon rolls. Which brings me to the present. I was getting ready for work when Peeta called to let me know that Katniss had a rough night and he was going to stay home to take care of her.
"No, of course I understand," I tell him over the phone. "Don't worry, I got everything under control. Send her my love. Alright, I'll talk to you later. Bye." I hang up the phone and let out a sigh.
"Everything ok?" Vick asks as he leans against the counter, sipping on his morning coffee.
"Yea, Katniss just had a bad night so Peeta's gonna stay home. I'm the boss for the day."
"Cool. Nice that he trusts you."
"Well, I've been working for him for a decade and a half."
Vick nods and scratchs his beard. "It is a long time. Kinda funny, don't you think?"
I raise a brow at my brother. "What is?"
"You working for Peeta. We hated him growing up because of Gale. I mean, he turned out to be a pretty cool guy once we listened to him and got to know him."
"Vick..." I start to say in an accusing tone. I know he's headed somewhere with this, but I'm not too sure just where that is yet.
"Everyone has a story. Reasons they do things. We don't see the logic of it all until we actually stop and listen. We have to attempt to understand every aspect, every reasoning to every action."
"Enough with the psycho mumbo jumbo, would ya?"
My little brother just smiles at me. "That's my job, remember?" He puts his cup in the sink and pats me on the shoulder. "One thing I learned from Peeta: every story deserves to be told, heard, and understood. We may not agree with the things people do, but there is always a reason behind the action that may help us better understand the situation."
"I hate you, Victor."
"Love you too, bro." He grabbed his coat and put it on as he headed to the door.
I shake my head and chuckle. This is the kind of relationship I had wished for with Gale. I wanted to grow up with my big brother and be able to make jokes. I wanted to be close to him. But I couldn't. I wasn't. All because he didn't get what he wanted. "When did you get to be so smart?" I tease Vick.
"Probably the day you decided that Peeta Mellark wasn't the horrible person Gale led us to believe. The power of second chances." He gave me a sly smile as he walked out the door. "And tell Peeta he needs to answer my calls. I would rather he not miss another session."
I take a detour on my way to the bakery. I manage to talk the girl at the front desk of the hotel to give me Gale's room number. I'm standing in front of his door now, debating if I actually want to go through with this. Vick was right. Peeta taught us a lot of things in the last fifteen years. Especially that second chances were a way to mend wounds. If Katniss hadn't given him a second chance after the hijacking, he wouldn't have the beautiful family he does today. Fifteen years of shutting out my brother was long enough.
As much as I hate to admit it, I had attempted to replace Gale with Peeta. It wasn't intentional, but it wasn't difficult. The baker was naturally caring and wanted nothing more than to help others. He was a good man that put others before him. Gale, as much as he wanted to help people, tended to push people away in order to reach his own goals and get what he wanted. Gale was a leader, but Peeta was a brother.
I knock on the door and wait for someone to answer. I'm not sure what's taking so long, so I decide to knock again. Right before my fist hits the wood, the door swings open. I'm utterly confused when I see who is on the other side.
"Well you mull that over and call me when you figure it out," Johanna says as she walks out the door. She stops when she looks up and finds me in her way. "Oh. Rory, hi." I suddenly can't speak. I'm pretty sure I'm just standing here like an idiot with my mouth open. "Right...well, um, I'll see you later." My brain starts working again and I step aside to let her by.
I can see Gale heading over to the door, surprised to see me. Suddenly, my blood starts to boil. What the hell was going on here? What was Johanna doing here? The thought of her having spent the night here is pissing me off. My fists are balling up and I tighten my jaw.
"Rory," Gale says, "I didn't know you were coming. Is everything o..."
I don't know what came over me next. Everything is happening so quickly, I barely have time to register it. I reached back with my fist and threw my body into a punch, connecting with my brother's jaw. I'm suddenly standing over him and my hand hurts like hell. My blood is still pumping.
"You're a real piece of work," I spit. "You come here trying to steal another man's woman and have another in your hotel room. Stay the fuck away from Katniss. Stay the fuck away from the family. Stay the fuck away from me. You never should have come here, Gale. Just go back to where you came from. You're not wanted or needed here."
Before he can say anything, I'm headed down the hall. I think he's calling after me, but I don't care. This was a mistake. Not everyone deserves a second chance.