Last period of the day is shop class. It's in the basement of the B building, in one of the oldest parts of the high school; the classroom is always a little cooler, the air staler, than in the academic classrooms. It's my favorite place on campus.
I didn't exactly choose shop, but I needed an elective and it was the only thing that fit into my schedule. And it turned out that I liked it. I like the deafening whir of the saws, the muscle and concentration it takes to guide blocks of wood into the saw teeth and turn want I can see in my head into something real. Even if it's just the birdhouse we've been working on the last few class periods. It's a break from the stress of regular classes.
Plus, shop class is where, last fall, I met Gale.
Gale's a senior, one year ahead of me, and he's like the big brother I never had.
Gale and I even look like brother and sister: same dark hair, same olive skin, same gray eyes. Same tall, rangy build. The first time I brought him home for dinner, my mother spent twenty minutes quizzing him on his grandparents' names. I apologized, and Gale just laughed, slung his arm around my shoulders, and ruffled my hair.
If sometimes I wonder about more, well . . . it's just because my mother keeps asking. To be honest, even if I thought there was something else there, our friendship's too important to risk. I literally can't imagine this school—or my life—without Gale. I don't know what I'm going to do without him next year.
"Hey, Catnip," he greets me as he slings his backpack onto the floor beside mine and sits down on to the empty stool to my right.
It's a minute or two after the bell, but Mr. Adams usually doesn't mind us being a little tardy, as long as we get our work done.
"Hey," I say, and look up from the lines I'm sketching out on wood to smile. I push a piece toward him. "Grabbed you some plywood."
"My hero," he says, nudging my shoulder with his, and I roll my eyes.
"Shut up and start working."
He grins. "Yes ma'am."
Class passes quickly; it always does. When the final bell rings, Gale asks if I want a ride home, but I tell him no. I'm staying after to work on the bookshelf I'm making for my little sister Prim.
Mr. Adams is good about that—letting us stay after and use the equipment in the workshop, as long as we can pay for our own wood. It took two months of overtime to save up to buy the pieces I needed, and I spent nearly two weeks on the plans. Now I just have to cut everything and put it all together, sand it and paint it and finish it, in time for Prim's birthday next month.
As Gale and I part ways at the classroom door, I catch a glimpse of wrestling team captain Peeta Mellark just over Gale's shoulder, standing in the hallway outside. When our eyes meet, he ducks his head, shifts his bag higher on his shoulder, and keeps walking.
I shake my head, go back to my table, and get back to work on Prim's bookshelf.
I stay working in the shop room for almost two hours before I pack up to go. I've timed it so that I have just enough time to get home on the city bus, grab dinner, and change before I have to get back on the bus and head to work. I lock up, double-checking the door, before heading toward the school parking lot; the bus stop for my line is at the back of the school grounds.
I hate the school bus. Even when I leave school right after it ends, I usually take the city bus. It's faster, and since I have to buy a monthly pass to get to work anyway, it doesn't cost me anything.
I'm just past the gym when I hear my name.
"Everdeen! Hey—Everdeen! Katniss!"
I pause and look back over my shoulder. Peeta Mellark is jogging toward me, waving something dark in one hand. My own hand goes automatically to the top of my bag; my sweater's falled off. Peeta must have seen it on the ground and picked it up.
I'm a little surprised he knows my first name, to be honest. We have exactly one class together, AP English, where our teacher refers to all his students only by their last names. I know his, of course, but everybody does. It's always all over the school paper, or on the announcements. People talk about him. I guess people talk about me sometimes too. Just not in the same way.
Peeta looks flushed when he reaches me; probably from the exertion of practice, still. "Hey," he says, and extends my sweater. "I think you dropped this."
"Thanks," I mutter, taking it and tying it more securely to my bag.
When I look back up, he's still standing there, hands shoved in his pockets. His hair is damp from the gym showers.
"Do you want a tip or something?" I snap.
His eyes get wide and startled, and he blinks. "Uh. No. I just—"
"Well?" I asked, when he doesn't continue.
"I just—I'm done with wrestling practice and I'm heading out, so I—I wondered if you—needed a ride, or something?"
Oh. Charity. Of course.
"I don't need anything," I say. "Especially not from you."
His face goes bright red, but not in embarrassment, I don't think. He looks angry. "You don't have to get snippy," he forces out.
My hand clenches on the strap of my backpack. "Fuck you," I say. "I didn't ask you to—"
Just then a voice rings out across the otherwise empty school grounds. "Ms. Everdeen! Mr. Mellark! Language!"
We both turn. It's the guidance counselor, Ms. Trinket, teetering down the sidewalk toward us as quickly as her 4-inch heels and dark pink pencil skirt will let her.
"That is not the way young ladies and gentleman behave at school!" she says primly. She lifts one hand to pat her blond curls.
I glance at Peeta to see how he's reacting. He looks shamefaced. I'm still scowling; I can't seem to stop.
"Sorry, Ms. Trinket," Peeta says.
"It's not school hours," I say.
"But it is school grounds," Ms. Trinket says, "and school rules still apply. Which means I am marching both of you right now to Principal Undersee's office."
Sitting across Principal Undersee's desk in his office, next to Peeta, Ms. Trinket looming over us all with a tight smile on her heavily made-up face, I resign myself to the fact I am going to miss my bus. It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't also mean I'd be skipping dinner.
"Mr. Mellark, I wouldn't have expected to see you here. And Ms. Everdeen, I believe this the first for you in a while. Fight on school grounds?"
"I didn't hit him," I protest, at the same time Peeta says, "I didn't touch her!"
"Thank you—both—for the clarification," Principal Undersee says. His tone is dry. "Ms. Trinket, I assume you were thinking a few days' after school detention?"
I sag back in my chair, and can hear Peeta's expulsion of breath from a few feet away. He sounds as frustrated as I feel—probably because he has practice after school every day. I don't want anything taking away the time I have to work on Prim's present. It's not like I have a lot of free time as it is.
"Or a day's in-school suspension?"
Even worse. That goes on our records. And mine's spotty enough as it is. If I want to go to college—not that I think I do; I just like my options open—I can't handle another mark like that.
"Or," Ms. Trinket begins, and I look at her sharply. I don't like the pleased look on her face or the calculating gleam in her eye. "Perhaps there's another way we can work this out."
I have always been kind of embarrassingly fascinated by high school AUs. I'm also (less embarrassingly) fascinated by the class issues and relationships—and, okay, everything else—in the Hunger Games. So I ended up a little fixated with thinking through how some of those class issues and relationships might play out in a high school context, in our world. Although, of course, any story set in the modern day US necessarily loses the kind of life-and-death tension the Hunger Games provide in Panem.
Rating is currently set to "T"; for the moment, language is the worst offender. But I'm anticipating some adult themes and probably some adult encounters as the story progresses that may bump the rating up later!