Dad! I scream in my head as I roam the raining streets of District 12. The real voices calling to me on the surface seem thousands of miles away. Dad, where are you? Death has never seemed like such a great idea until this moment. My growling stomach reminds me of the obvious: you will die. So will your sister. And your mother. And there is nothing you can do. Shadows and shiluottes and bodies brush past me, all fading into the scenery of the bustling streets. Slowly, they all go away. At least, I don't notice them anymore. How long have I been out here? Time ceases to exist at this point. Only in the cruelest way: tick, tock, tick, tock. Your family is dying by the second. I know I should head home. My clothes hang heavily, soaked, over my tiny frame, covering the spots where bone protrudes. Even the universe is miserable, I notice, as the shaking trees and rain color the world in a shade of gray. Except, the universe is strong. Nature will survive the storm. Me, I am not so sure.

All a sudden, the song Dad always sang to me pulses violently in my ears: Are you, are you, coming to the tree? Wear a rope of neckalace, side by side with me. The words used to have innocent, empty meaning. Now, they are threats, running through my brain and giving me a headache. No matter what I do, they will not go away. As my own death approaches me, they sing louder.

"Food," I growl lightly, the soft words catching in my throat. Slushing through the rain, I bite my lip as I pass the Mellarks' bakery. Sometimes, you can find tiny bits of food in the trash. The smell of bread fills my nose as I look in the black can. Empty. Slouching, I just stare, tears filling my eyes. I cannot bear to look away. This was my last hope. Now, my beautiful sister will die. Not Prim! I think, not sure who to. My heart hammers in my chest. Anyone but her. If anyone deserves to live, it's her. No one answers. It really makes me realize how alone I am here.

Are you, are you,

coming to the tree...

"YOU!" I hear, and I quickly look up. Mrs. Mellark glares at me, her eyes black, her voice shrill. "GET AWAY, YOU SEAM RAT. DON'T MAKE ME CALL THE PEACE KEEPERS." With that, she points at me with one last warning and slams the door behind her.

Deflated, I find a spot under a nearby tree and put my head between my knees. Mrs. Mellark is infamous for her hate of Seam kids. It's funny how she has such a nice husband and kids, but her own evil ways sort of give the family a bad name. I shake her out of my mind.

I know Mrs. Mellark will be pissed if she finds me here, but I cannot will myself to move. What am I supposed to do? Go home and watch my family die? I am not that strong. In fact, I'm doubting at this point that I'm even strong at all. I'm all skin, bones and pale flesh. Even my mental strength is in question, as I sit up and look into empty space, picturing my Dad. My blue lips move to whisper to him. "Dad, I'm scared," I say, still trying to picture him there. Taking a deep breath, I angle myself so my twitching side is supported by the rough bark. I tangle my fingers on my lap and everything hurts. Swirling gray clouds continue to look like veils in the sky. "Please help me. Please."

And that's when I see Peeta Mellark.

He walks quietly out of the bakery, his head hung low. His mother comes back out, making me suck in a breath. But she isn't looking at me. Her son is the object of her anger, as she stands before him, shaking. Three loaves of bread are cradled in his muscular arms as she shouts in his face. Her words are hard to make out as pounding rain continues to fall outside. "Burnt bread... idiot boy..." All a sudden, she yanks him inside. And I hear her motion her hand. I hear him shriek.

This is the first time I have ever felt the need to protect the boy with the bread.

Blood boils in my ears as I see him come outside, alone this time. Red marks cover his face. She hit him, now I know for sure. He tosses a black loaf to the pigs. Then, in a quick motion, he checks his window, almost to make sure his mother isn't looking. Then, all a sudden, everything changes.

It was like a star was falling through space, crashing onto the earth and lighting the world with beauty. Every cliche became true as he throws two loaves in my direction, no eye contact, and leaves as quickly as he came. It overwhelms me: his selflessness, his bravery, his kindness. Everything about him weighs heavily in my heart as I put the loaves up my shirt and head home.

I have never been so sure of anything. I am in love with the boy with the bread.