I come from a long line of farmers... I have been a farmer my entire life. My dad was a farmer, my granddad, and great granddads before him were all farmers. It's what we Mellark's are good at; putting seed in the ground and watching it grow, raising and taking care of animals, driving tractors, whatever… we were good at it. So just a year ago, when my father decided to sell his farm, I didn't know what to do with myself. I thought I was going to run his farm one day. I was disappointed, angry even, that my father sold it to someone we barely knew. But now I realize my anger also came from another situation beyond my, or anyone else's control. He had his reasons of course, having medical bills to pay for after my brother Richie got sick. He doesn't have to worry about that now. Our prosperous farm sold faster than you can say sweetcorn. All of Richie's medical bills were paid off, including the funeral costs, and then some. Mom and Dad could finally relax, although who can really relax after the pain of losing a child. They bought a small house in Smithville and settled in, while I was bored out of my mind.
I just wasn't used to doing absolutely nothing. I was born to farm and born to use my hands, not sit on my ass. So every week for the last year, I stopped at the only gas station in Smithville and checked the classifieds for potential jobs. And finally, on a Monday morning, I finally saw a phone number worth dialing...
"Local Farm- Looking for a strong worker; field work, milking cows, feeding animals. Must be willing to work long hours in any weather conditions. Experience appreciated. Good pay; food and housing included. Call 555-2681 for more information."
I read it over and over again until I memorized the phone number and standing in the parking lot of the gas station, I dialed the number that was about to change my life forever.
"Hello!" A man's voice bellowed after it rang and rang.
There was alot of noise in the background that I recognized at tractors running.
"Hey, I'm calling about the ad in the county paper… about the job opening," I say, reaching my empty hand to remove my hat to scratch my head, a nervous habit.
"Yeah, yeah, great! Hang on, let me turn the tractor off so I can hear you," the man says and then I hear it quiet in the background. "Alright, what's your name?"
"Peeta, Peeta Mellark," I answer, knowing that he would know my last name.
"Mellark, huh? Mellark Farms?"
"That's right," I say, holding my breath.
"Alright, well, come on by this afternoon," he says eventually, "Everdeen Farms, ever hear of us?"
"No, sir, I haven't."
"Alight, we're five miles west of Milledgeville, go straight out of town on County Road D and then take a left on Everdeen Road... big white house with lots of buildings around about at 3:00?
"Okay, sure will, thanks alot, sir," I confirm, letting out a breath of relief.
"Just pull in the driveway and me or Gale will be in the shed, there's plenty of room to park," he says.
I thank him one more time before hanging up and then hop into my silver Dodge pickup truck and take off down the road. I go home to tell my parents about the job and have some lunch. Mom and Dad are pretty happy for me when I tell them about the Everdeens's farm opportunity.
"Everdeen, you said?" Dad asks me as I bite into my ham sandwich.
I nod in response.
"I think one of my old friends from high school married an Everdeen, but can't be sure... haven't seen or heard of her in years," Dad goes on.
"I'm just happy you found something, sweetie," my mom tells me, "We know it's been hard since Richie..."
And that's it... she's gone and said his name. I stand up from my chair so quickly that she jumps. My father doesn't look up from his plate, but I can tell my movement bothered him too by how slowly he's now chewing.
"I'll see you later," I tell them, not really knowing when I'll be back.
I'm already starting the truck before they have time to think.
It's about 20 miles from our old farm, far enough away that we're in the same county, but most likely different school districts. Finally, I turn onto Everdeen Road and take in the area. There's a hell of a lot of land, that's for sure… which means more work and I immediately get excited about this opportunity. The fields look like they're in good shape and I wonder what kind of help this family needs. As I get closer to the house, I see a large old white farmhouse with a wraparound porch, a large shed and a large barn, which looks as though it's been updated sometime in the last five to ten years. There are a few smaller buildings around the property and I know I'm going to need a tour. This looks a lot bigger than what I'm used to. There's a small pond behind the house where ducks are being chased by a golden retriever. Chickens are clucking around the grounds and a few cats rest on the porch. I park my truck and as soon as I get out of my truck, I hear country music coming from a radio in the shed.
I stand there for a minute just to take in the surroundings.
"Hey, you Peeta?"
I turn around when I hear the voice and find a guy who looks about to me my own age. He's slightly taller than me, but he looks strong and tough. He's got dark brown hair and looks as though he's been out in the sun way too long. He's looking at me as though I'm not what he's expected.
"Yeah, I hear you're looking for help," I answer, holding out my hand to shake his.
The man nods and takes my offered hand, "sure are… looks like we finally got ourselves a farmer," he says while looking at me and then at my muddy truck. "You should've seen the last few guys that came here for the job… driving cars and wearing tennis shoes, dumbasses."
I take a look at my steel toed boots, "well, I've been farming my entire life, but my dad sold his farm recently," I explain to him, though not wanting to get into details, I quickly move on, "So I'm just looking for something else."
"Sure, my name's Gale, by the way," he says. "Gale Hawthorne, I've worked here my whole life. Let me show you around."
I nod and follow him, "So who're the owners?"
"John and Kate Everdeen," Gale explains, "Although... John died few years back, bad accident... Catnip came home from school to find him laying on the ground. She was the last to talk to him," he pauses with a sad look on his face, "Anyway, so now it's Kate and her two girls, but they can't do it by themselves so… here I am. My dad and brothers work here too, although Vick's not much help because he's allergic to pretty much everything... he's pretty much a genius though; you'll meet them as soon as they get back from the feed store."
I follow him around the entire farm, which takes about an hour.
"These are Prim's goats," he says at we stop and take a look inside a small pen with three goats in it. "She shows them at the fair every year."
I nod once and we move to the next building, a small stable with two horses.
"Catnip's horses…" Gale says. "She takes care of them; we don't have to do a thing."
"Catnip?" I ask, eyebrows raised.
Gale nods and smiles, which turns into a sheepish grin, "I couldn't say Katniss when I was little... And they're the daughters, by the way. They do a lot of work around here themselves. They tend to the animals and the garden out back. We just work the fields, milk cows, and the occasional handy work that Katniss can't do herself."
Something about the name Katniss just makes my heart skip a beat, but I have no idea why. I'm pretty sure I've never heard of anyone named Katniss. But the name sounds sexy to me.
"Okay… and what does Mrs. Everdeen do?"
"To be honest, not much," Gale says, shrugging his shoulders, "She's still adjusting to the changes since John died… some days, she doesn't even get out of bed, and it's kind of hard on the girls. Puts a lot of pressure on Kat, but you won't hear her complain."
I nod in understanding. I know exactly what that's like. When Richie got sick, I did the work of two people and sometimes of three if Dad had to take him to the city for chemo.
"There's the house just down the road; me and my brother Rory are the only ones living in it and there's an extra room for you if you want it," Gale explains. "The girls like to cook for us, so you'll never be hungry, I promise you that."
He points to the east and I see a small tan house about a half mile away.
I laugh and nod gratefully, "alright, so when do I start?"
"Any time!" he says and we shake on it.
As soon as he's done showing me around, a Chevy truck pulls into the driveway. There's a man driving and a younger kid sitting in the passenger's seat and two people sitting on the edge in the back; another boy, who looks like a younger version of Gale, and a girl with long blond hair. They pull up right in front of us and the kid in the back jumps off and turns to help the girl out. She laughs as he spins her around in the air. They look to be around nineteen and twenty and the two are obviously a couple. The boy in the passenger's seat looks like he's maybe fourteen or fifteen. He wears glasses and I'm pretty sure I saw him put an inhaler back into his pocket. Otherwise, he looks pretty much the same as Gale. The older man, who I assume is Gale's dad looks like an older version of all three boys... the only difference is that he's got grey hair.
"What's up, Gale?" the girl asks when she reaches us, "Who's your friend?"
"Hey, Prim," Gale replies, smiling at her, "This is Peeta, and he works here... I just hired him."
She looks me up and down and smiles at me. I can't help by smile back at her; her happiness is infectious. She seems so innocent and sweet.
"I'm Primrose Everdeen, Peeta," she says, holding out her small hand.
"Good to meet you, Primrose," I tell her, shaking her hand, "Gale showed me your goats. Are you ready for the fair yet? Just a few weeks away."
She smiles an even bigger smile and nods excitedly before Gale introduces me to his two brothers, Rory and Vick, and then to his father, Jim.
"Glad you called earlier," Jim says, "We were getting nervous with the hay season coming up so soon and all. Rory here bales while only me and Gale unload and I'm getting too old for all this shit... We sure needed an extra hand," he says gratefully, "Vick here is allergic to just about everything so he can't help us with the hay," he adds, slapping a hand on the younger boy's shoulder, but he just shrugs, "Come on in the house, my wife Hazel is here, with our daughter Posy and I'm sure Kate is around somewhere."
I follow the Hawthorne's and Primrose into the house. I notice none of the other men take their boots off so I leave mine on too, but when we step into the kitchen, I immediately feel guilty. It's completely spotless, it almost shines. My mother never would have let us in the house with our work boots on. There's a woman standing at the sink, filling a pitcher of lemonade.
"There's my boys!" she yells happily, "And Prim, sweetheart," she adds, kissing the teenage girl on the forehead before turning to me. "And you- you must be Peeta Mellark, Jim said you called about the job."
"Yes, ma'am," I say, holding my hand out, "Thanks for the opportunity."
She shakes it happily with two hands. I can't get over how friendly these people are.
"Great to have you here, Peeta," she says. "It looks like you'll fit right in."
I nod my head, but before I can say anything else, I hear a happy giggle coming from behind me. I turn to see a small girl, holding a blanket and sucking her thumb. She has the cutest pigtails I've ever seen and she, like the rest of the Hawthorne's, has dark hair and dark brown eyes.
"And that's little Rosy Posy," Gale says, going over to pick her up. "She's three."
I nod and smile at her and she giggles again, hiding her face in Gale's shoulder."
"She thinks you're cute," Prim says to me, chuckling, "And she won't be the only one.
I'm not sure what she means by that, but I laugh anyway, "Well, I think she's cute too."
"Let me go get Kate, she'll want to meet you too," Hazel says, leaving the room.
I take a moment to look around the kitchen. There are a few photographs on the refrigerator; many of them are of the Hawthorne's with the Everdeen family, plus John and the other daughter Katniss. I see a few more pictures of the dark-haired Everdeen sister and I immediately think that she's very beautiful. And my first thought it that her body is just as sexy as her name sounds. She looks nothing like her blond sister who is always smiling brightly in every picture. Instead, Katniss is smiling but it's always a closed mouth smile, almost like a smirk… like she's got some sort of secret to keep from the world. Gale clears his throat to interrupt my thoughts and it makes me jump slightly. I look up to see who can only be Mrs. Everdeen standing in the doorway next to Hazel. She smiles brightly, just like Primrose. And she's blond like Prim too, but she seems quiet and reserved, which is not like Primrose.
I hold my hand out to her, "Mrs. Everdeen," I say politely. She takes my hand and gives it weak shake, "I'm Peeta Mellark."
She nods, but doesn't say anything. Although, she continues to smile sweetly.
"You hungry?" Prim interrupts us, "Katniss made cheese buns this morning before she left for work."
"Of course, we're hungry!" Jim yells, taking a seat at the large kitchen table.
Everyone else finds a chair and sits too, except for Primrose, who goes over to the counter where there is a large pan. She brings it over to the table and uncovers it and my mouth begins to water immediately. Nothing has ever looked so good before. Everyone around the table immediately grabs a cheese bun and stuffs them in their mouths.
"Now really," Hazel scolds, "You'd think I raised a bunch of pigs!"
Everyone laughs, "Hazel, there's another batch," Prim tells her, and then she turns to face me, "These are always a favorite here. Katniss is the best cook in the county!"
I laugh and take another bite.
"Where Katty?" Little Posy asks.
"She's at work, baby," Gale answers her, "when is she not?"
The room is quiet for a moment and I can't help but feel that Katniss is the breadwinner of the Everdeen family.
"What does Katniss do?" I ask the room, trying to appease the tension.
"She's a nurse at the birth center in the hospital," Primrose explains to me, "She loves it and they love her because she works when they want, all day every day."
I nod, "she must be good at it then."
Gale snorts into another bite of cheese bun, "Catnip's good at everything... well, almost everything."
I glance at the picture of her on the refrigerator again and something tells me that Gale is probably right, but then I wonder if he's actually her boyfriend, which makes the fact that I was just drooling over her picture pretty awkward.
Gale stands up and hands Posy to Hazel, "Well, I'm going to show Peeta the house, and he can get his stuff moved in today if he wants to," he tells the room.
I nod, "Yeah, that sounds good, but if you have work to do, I can help with that… I can move my stuff after dark, it's no problem."
"Well, a boy who likes to work!" Jim says happily, also getting up from the table, "We got lucky this time, boys!"
They all laugh again. I'm going to like working here; they are friendly and seem to laugh all the time. Great food and good farm work. So after promising Kate and Hazel we'd be back to the house for supper, I follow Gale and Rory out of the house and back down to the shed.
"You any good with engines?" Gale asks me.
I nod, "I built my first car in high school," I explain proudly, "Old mustang, and I've worked on a few tractors."
"Great... I've tried to get this tractor started up… I've been working on it for days."
"I'll take a look," I tell him, going around to the front to the engine.
We work at it for hours, until its nearly dark out.
"Okay, try it," I tell Rory for the millionth time, who's been sitting at the wheel for the last hour.
He turns the key and the engine roars to life.
"Yes!" Gale shouts, fist pumping the air, "Finally!"
"Alright, enough of this, let's grab a beer," Rory says, after shutting the engine down again.
As we walk to the house, I can't help but admire the view of the sunset here. And that's when I hear the sound of an engine and tires on gravel. And I turn around to see an old truck pulling into the driveway, Jason Aldean singing as loud as the old radio will allow. And I watch as the driver's dark hair blows in the wind with the windows down. After parking, she opens the door and jumps out and my heart clenches in my chest and I'm frozen.
Long legs, tan skin, short cut off shorts, white tank top, rubber boots, long dark hair that falls out of a loose braid and long slender, but strong arms. She has rosy cheeks, full pink lips and the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen.
Again, Holy Shit.
This is the girl from the picture on the refrigerator.
This is Katniss Everdeen.