"The White Shirt"

Chapter One

The house always seems empty in the early mornings. The stillness of the house is something that to this day I still cannot get use to. It has been almost three years since the Reaping of the 74th Hunger Games. So much has happened and yet it feels like it was just yesterday that I saw her for the first time.

I just lie there in my bed staring at the wood ceiling. No bird singing yet, but soon enough like clockwork they would be the world's alarm clock. My first thought is always my desire to know if she slept without nightmares. It has been a while since either of us has had a good night sleep. I lift my hands and can see the burn scar starting from my left hand and works around my arm, like a vine.

My muscles ache, not fully understanding that I am only going to be eighteen. I slowly let out a deep sigh and turn placing my right foot on the ground. I run my fingers through my hair trying to wake myself up. It just lays there, an unwanted reminder of our first Hunger Games, my artificial leg. I reach for it, and slowly slip it on.

Standing I walk over to the window and look outside. I wipe off the dew from the window and can see the newly planted primroses. It still feels hollow inside, thinking about all the people we have lost, friends that we will never get to speak to again. Even people that we wish we could have gotten to know better.

There is no one outside and I can see the dew on the window. I hear someone downstairs, walk over to my bed and remove the knife I had place under the pillow. The sound seems to be coming from the kitchen, I think to myself, as I take each step as quietly as I can.

Katniss always told me that I was way too noisy to ever hunt out in the forest. It is hard to walk on the balls of your feet if one of your foot isn't your own.

Walking down the stairs, I am almost to the bottom of the steps until my left foot touches a step that cricks.

"Peeta, come into the kitchen, breakfast is almost ready." She says.

I let the knife drop on the ground, which hardly makes a sound as the point digs into the wooden floor. Walking in, I see the little old woman from the Hobb, Sae O'Connor cracking an egg on the countertop. She turns around, looks me up and down and finally says.

"Be a darling and cut some of the bread with that knife you just dropped." She says. "Alcohol's below the sink, lighter is in the drawer to the left."

In disbelief I walk back pick up the knife. Walking over to the sink I open the cupboard and grab the alcohol. I did this once. Where was I? I shake my head not really put mind to it. There are still holes in my memories from the torture by the Capitol. I unscrew the bottle of alcohol and pour a little on the knife blade. Opening the left drawer I see the lighter. Placing it to the blade the fire burns off any excess alcohol from the blade.

"How did you…" I start to say.

"You are talking to a fifth generation hunter, not to mention I was a cook in a black market trading post. You learn to pick up a few things." She says.

She is an older woman, however strong. Never would have guessed her to be a hunter but wouldn't doubt it. Fifth generation, just the thought of having to live your life always by what you are able to catch, seems right, seems not wasteful.

I slice the bread that was given to her by the new government. Care packages for those refugees that are being relocated from their original District should they wish a fresh new start. The bread doesn't ring true to our District, but I look at it carefully.

I place the slices on a plate and place them on the table. Asking if I could be of help, Sae just motions that I just sit down as the food is almost ready. I sit down and just examine the bread slices, before I take a bite.

"Sae, do you know where I can get some cooking ingredients?" I ask.

"What do you need?" She says.

"Flour, eggs, sugar, salt and of course some cheese, you know the usual," I say.

"Will put in the request, typically it takes a couple of days to process and then get it here. You should get it by the beginning of next week." She says. "But if you need it quicker, I think there are some people that have flour, which is the only thing that would have to order."

Even now after all this, flour is still hard to find. My day would always have to store it and use very little to spread it out for the year. We typically would get at least one to two extra bags from spreading it out.

The thought of the bakery causes a small tremble in my hands. I quickly move it to my lap as I do not want anyone to see that I have not yet fully healed, People tend to look at your differently if they believe that you are going to go crazy on them.

I close my eyes and start to breath in and out, thinking about all the good memories of my father and the bakery.

'Think of the good, and accept the bad,' Doctor Aurelis told me once in a session.

She places the plate on the table, scramble eggs, bread and some hash browns.

"Well I am off," she says. "Do you need anything else before I leave?"

"Going next door?" I ask.

"She is a late riser," she says.

"How is she?" I ask,

"Come see for yourself, don't think she would mind the company." She says.

I nod, and tell her that I might have to take that advice. She walks out and I can see her through the window as she walks over to Katniss's house.

It has been a couple of weeks since I last saw her. I can still feel the embrace she gave me as was leaving her house. It was only a couple of seconds, but it is something that we both needed, well at least I'd like to think she did as well.

I lift my hands to my chest where I remember her hands were. The warm palms near my heart, the sensation is still very present in my mind, almost like they are still there. Taking a deep breath, I continue to eat my breakfast finishing up. The worst thing I could do is push her, when she isn't ready, when she is still grieving. It was how I felt when I learned of my family's death. I didn't even want to see myself; I just wanted to hold onto to the pain, because I felt if I didn't then I would forget them.

It seems silly but, it is how my mind works. It is like the feeling of seeing yourself in the mirror. Sometimes if I go days without looking at myself in a reflection I forget about the burns that I have. I almost feel like myself. That is until I look down at my hands, or look at my left foot, or feel the trembling of my hands. It has been a while since I have had a full blown out episode. Last one I think was back in treatment with Doctor Aurelis. I definitely learned a lot about re-patching walls and building chairs.

'If you cannot control your body, then your body will control you. We will tire out your body by doing manual work, in consequence for losing control.'

After taking a shower and getting dressed, X with the clothes that were still there from before the Quell, I place the knife in the back of the waist line of my pants. I grab two shirts, an old red one, and an old white shirt from the closet, an apple from the kitchen, and my sketch book from among the packed boxes that I have yet to unpack. There is the backpack that the District Thirteen military had given every soldier. I look at it, and see the many scruffs and rips from the war. I open the flap and stuff in the red shirt, two apples, and my sketch book.

Walking outside, I look at the road that would take me to the Square and find myself not wishing to go down that way. Don't think that I am ready just yet to face where the bakery use to be. Nightmares have made that place as real as it can be, without having to touch it. I know however that one day I will have to walk down and face it, just not today.

Along the fence I still see the sign that says, 'warning electrified' and smirk at the idea. There was probably only once when that fence was fully electrified. Near the rear of my house where I found the primroses I find a hole in the fence. I take out the apple and toss it towards the fence. After it hits the ground with no sparks I take note that the fence is not on. I walk over to the hole and slip through it.

Immediately I sense that although it is the daytime, it is still the wild. I remove the knife from the waistline and walk brisk fully along the trees. After about thirty yards I take out the red shirt and rip off a piece of it. I find a branch that I can tie it to and make sure that the shirt faces towards the fence.

Basic survival skills that District Thirteen taught me are still very much an automatic response. I start to travel for about two hours or so, until I reach the top of valley.

'If you could go anywhere, where would you go?' I ask.

'Anywhere?' she says.

'Yes, anywhere.' I repeat.

'There is a little house by a lake in the forest. My father use to take me there.' She says.

I grab the sketch book and begin to sketch out the map of where I am and where the Victor's village is. I place a circle and label it.

'Not here'

Place the sketch book down and cut the apple in small pieces. I spend the next couple of hours, sketching a mockingjay flying in flight between the trees. The play of light through the wings is amazing and the trees create a sort of canopy. I pick up the sketch book and start to sketch the memory of it through the trees.

Standing up, I take a deep breath, and smile. It feels better outside of the District when no one knows who you are and you can just be yourself. People see you and seeing how the Games were televised and our story was all that people could talk about, they have a certain perception of who we are, and how we would react. It is a tough burden to have to constantly have to keep going. When no one knows who you are, they form their own opinions of you by how you act, not by what the Games, or the War or the Trial says I am.

To everyone outside of District Twelve, I am this damaged person, who cannot keep it together. Given a pardon by the council because of what they did to me, and not because of our intentions. It is hard to swallow that you are alive only because of the torture. I can still remember the many times that I wished to die, even begged Katniss to do it. She wouldn't.

I look at my right hand and see the stitches on the fingers where her teeth broke skin that couldn't heal wouldn't needle and thread. The pain of that day was nothing compared to the pain that I would feel if I had lost her.

It was the only thing I could do. It wasn't something that I had a long time to think about. It was what my reaction was. I know that if she were not here anymore, that I would never make it myself. Probably one day I will tell her how much she means to me. Does she even know?

It is getting into the afternoon when I realize that if I am going to make it back before it became dark that I would have to begin to hike back. I rip off a piece of the white shirt and tie a piece of it on the limb where I had stopped. I look around and find the red marker. I see it to the left of tree and begin to walk towards it.

Once I reach the marker I look at the location of the placement and look in that direction. Once I see the next marker, I know that I am only two more markers before I reach the fence. At thirty yards each marker, I know that I am about ninety feet.

Reaching the fence after about another hour of walking slowly through the forest, I realized that this is what she would do almost every day before the Games. Although she would bring back a full bag and not just an apple like I was, she would not do it for the survival of her family. That was more of a given through her skills. This was the first time that I realized that she would go out to the forest to finally find freedom. She would understand the need to not be known, and I finally understand her need to not be bound. She truly is a bird, although now she doesn't know where to fly.

Walking towards my door I see her peering out of the window. I lift my hand to wave, and find that she has walked away from the window. Brings a level of sadness that I thought didn't exist. Who can stand someone they love being trapped?

I see a package in front of my door. It is a small box tied in twine with a note taped to the door.

'Thought you might need this. Sae told me you were looking for it. Delly'

I pick up the box and walk inside. Once at the kitchen table I pull out my knife and take off the twine. Ripping off the paper and opening the box, I smile at the sight of two small bags of flour and cheddar cheese.

"Well now is as a good a time as any to start," I say out loud.

Washing my hands in the sink, I clear out a good large area in the counter top. A metal pan from the closet is needed. I cut out a triangle at the corner and in a cut I place a little bit of flour. A little bit of water, yeast, sugar and a pinch of salt.

'Cheese buns.' I say.

'Cheese buns?' my father replies. 'Well come in and let's get started on a receipt.'

I can feel the tears coming. We must have spent hours trying to get the right consistency before it was just right.

I work the mixture into dough; my hands work it until it is finally smooth, consistent dough. We must have had gone through five bags of flour before we got it just right.

I let out a small chuckle. To him it didn't matter to waste so much, to get it just right. You could tell how much he loved me that he would do that because I finally had figured out what was her favorite.

I wipe away my tear with my forearm; lift up my eyes to the ceiling. Why does it hurt so much to lose someone? Is it selfish to always want them there? We all die sooner or later, but love causes us to be selfish, well I think. I wanted him to be here.

Grabbing a handful of lard, I spread the pan with a thin coat of it.

'If we were in the Capitol, they have something that is called olive oil.' He says.

'Olive oil?' I say. 'Oil squeezed from an olive?'

'It isn't the easiest thing to do, but it is healthier though. That is why you have to use a very thin coat of lard. It gives you that toasty outside cover.' He says.

I place small clumps of dough on the pan. Once in the pan I start to roll the dough into balls.

'Now we have to get the right size. Too big and it would be too much bread and not enough cheese. Too small and you don't get enough to enjoy. So this is the trick to get it just right. The right consistency of bread and cheese.' He says.

The secret out of all things came from the pencil. We were just about to give up, when I stabbed the ball with a pencil and shove it halfway in. Looked like a big lollipop. We looked at it, and made a ball to fit the half a pencil which is about three and a half inches.

'Proper length for bread?' he says. 'Get out your arm and from the tip of your finger to the elbow. Well my arm, yours would be too small.'

That was what he told me when I was only six.

The tears start to come down as the memories flood. It is enough to get me so weak that I have to sit down. He is gone. Everything that I couldn't have learned from him is because he is gone. He will never walk through the door and teach me new things. All I can do is to hold onto the teachings that he had given me.

I stand and grab the cheese grader and start to grade the cheese onto the balls. After doing that, I roll the ball onto the cheese and finally it is ready to be cooked.

Placing them in the oven, I sit down and start to weep on the chair in the kitchen. Thinking of the father lost, of the family that I will never have. In an empty kitchen, I just think of all that I have lost, everything that I had suffered through.

The timer sounds off and I can smell them. They smell just like it did when we finally got it right. The cheese brought down my brothers and my mother.

When it came out, my father stopped them all from grabbing them. He placed them in a box and smile.

'Here you go,' he says. 'Directly from the oven of the Mellarks.'

The cheese buns now on a plate, I look at them.

The only word that comes out of my mouth, to an empty kitchen, in an empty house, is whispered so that no one could hear but me and him.

'Thank you for everything.'

I walk towards the door and outside. Walking towards her house I can see the lights are still on, and the windows are still opened.

Coming onto the porch of her house I stand in front of her door. My hand reaches out and knocks on the door.

After about three or four minutes just standing there, I hear the door open and there stands before me. The girl from Seam.

She looks down at the plate of cheese buns, which not only cost me a couple of hours, but was the last memory I have of him.

She smiles.