July 23, 2012

"One, two, three!"

Katniss Everdeen smiled at the camera her best friend Madge Undersee was holding, trying not to grimace at the bright flash. "Looks great!" Madge chirped after she took the picture, looking appreciatively at the screen.

"Great. Now can we please get out of here? I'm freaking hungry."

Katniss smiled at the sound of her friend Johanna Mason's voice. A spitfire of a girl, Johanna always had something to say (although it was generally negative).

"Alright princess, let's get you out of here," Clove Kubrick declared sarcastically. Johanna smacked her upside the head as Annie Cresta laughed at their antics.

"Come on. I'm sick of listening to you all complain," Katniss said, trying to keep the slight exasperation out of her voice. "Hypocrite," Madge teased, poking Katniss' side. Katniss poked Madge right back, shaking her head as they caught up with the rest of their friends.

"Where is the damn cafeteria in this Village? I swear it wasn't this hard to find something to eat in San Jose."

"Is food all you think about Jo?" Annie joked.

"Hey! As an athlete, it is vitally important to keep healthy...and my body likes to keep healthy by eating!"

Katniss snorted at Johanna's comment, but she also knew that her friend was right. All five girls needed to be in absolute top physical condition as elite gymnasts.

"That's gonna be pretty hard to do if we can't find the place!" Clove said.

"Oh will you all just shut it?" Annie said. "We really won't find it if we keep arguing."

After fifteen more minutes of searching the village, Johanna came upon a narrow door marked "kitchen" in bright white letters.

"Look guys! Maybe this is a back entrance!"

"I don't know, Jo," said Clove. "I think this is where the cooks are supposed to enter."

"Well then let's go in! I'm sure they'd be more than happy to lead us to where we're supposed to go."

"Let's not be rash," Madge started.

"I'm hungry!" Johanna whined. "I don't care about the consequences-I'm going in."

"I don't think so," Clove said, pulling on Johanna's sleeve before she could open the door.

"Look, the front entrance has to be around here somewhere. Let's just look around a little more, I'm sure we'll find it."

Madge's proposition was met with an very unsatisfied glare from Johanna.

"Get real, Madge. I'm not wasting anymore of my precious time looking for a door that we're never going to find."

Before Madge could reply, their conversation was interrupted by a voice from across the street.

"You girls lost?"

All five of the girls whipped around to find the person who had called out to them. They found three incredibly tall men, all of whom were wearing identical gray jackets.

Johanna decided to take initiative, as usual. "Yeah. You wouldn't happen to know where the cafeteria is, would you?"

The man smirked. "Sure would. We're headed there too."

He crossed the deserted street, closely flanked by the other two men. When they reached the girls, he held his hand out to Johanna.

"Finnick Odair. It's my pleasure," he purred. Johanna just frowned and ripped her hand away from his.

"Your pleasure," she muttered.

"This is-"

"We know who you are!" Annie squeaked. "Finnick Odair, Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark-the USA swimming dream team!"

Everyone was silent at Annie's words. Quiet, mild mannered Annie was never one to speak up, and her friends were shocked.

"Right," Madge said, attempting to break the tense silence.

"You're the gymnastics team, right?" Peeta asked.

"Yep!" Clove answered proudly. "I'm Clove Kubrick."

Madge took Clove's words as a cue to introduce herself as well.

"Madge Undersee," she said.

"Annie Cresta," Annie spoke quietly, still slightly embarrassed about her uncharacteristic outburst.

"Johanna Mason." Johanna kept her tone slightly clipped, still just wanting to get to the cafeteria.

"Katniss Everdeen," Katniss said.

"Catnip? What a weird name!" Gale laughed.

"It's ~Katniss," she replied, scowling. Gale threw an arm around her shoulder, still laughing. "Whatever you say Catnip."

"Katniss!"

Rolling his eyes, Peeta spoke up. "It's nice to meet you all," he said, looking at each of the girls, his eyes lingering on Katniss for just a moment longer than the others.

"You too," Madge piped up.

"Well, it was just smashing to run into you guys, but if you'll excuse us, we've got to find some food now."

"Ah. Of course. Let's get these lovely ladies to the fabulous cafeteria, conveniently located in the village!"

"Or Olympic Jail Cell, take your pick," Johanna grumbled.

Finnick quickly led the girls to a large glass door that held the largest assortment of food Katniss had ever seen at one time.

"Sweet!"

Johanna was the first one of the group to take her place in line, excitedly grabbing herself a large place as she did so.

"Damn, Gale," Peeta said. "She's more excited to eat than you. That's impressive."

Gale playfully punched Peeta on the shoulder and walked over to the lunch line, standing behind Johanna.

Finnick, Peeta and the rest of the girls followed after him, Finnick in the front and Peeta bringing up the rear.

"Need a plate, Katniss?"

Peeta's voice made Katniss jump. He laughed at her reaction as he held out one of the plates for her.

"Sorry I scared you," he said.

Katniss smiled. "It's okay, Mellark."

"Mellark?" Peeta asked.

"That is your name, correct?"

"Yes."

"Okay then, Mellark."

"What made you think we were strictly on a last-name basis?"

"What made you think we were strictly on a first-name basis?"

"We're friends."

"Are we really? I don't even know you," Katniss pointed out.

"I'm hurt," Peeta said, pretending to look concerned and placing a hand over his heart.

Katniss just rolled her eyes. "I know who you are. I just meant I don't really really know you."

"Of course you know me. Five golds in Beijing haven't made me a stranger to the press you know."

"Oh, I know. You three," she said, pointing to Finnick, Gale and Peeta, "are all the media seems to talk about anymore."

"Do I detect a hint of jealousy in your tone, Katniss?"

Katniss glared at him. "Absolutely not," she said, turning around quickly, her back a little straighter and her head a little higher than it had been moments ago.

Who do these guys think they are? Katniss thought. They should be thankful they made the team, not like they just deserve to be here.

Good one, Mellark, Peeta thought. That's the way to get a girl to like you. Look like an asshole.

He sighed. Peeta knew that the last thing that he needed was to get distracted by a girl right now, but he couldn't help it. Katniss Everdeen was absolutely stunning.

Being a professional athlete meant Peeta had been fortunate enough to be exposed to some of the most beautiful women in the world due to his social status. However, not one of them was as pretty as Katniss was, with her long dark braid, high cheekbones, plump lips, and gorgeous gray eyes-

"Peeta!"

Now it was his turn to jump.

"What?"

"Are you alright? I've asked you the same question three times now and all you've done is stare at me."

He flushed in embarrassment at Katniss' words.

"I'm fine," he muttered. Katniss just smirked, turning around again to pick out her meal.

Peeta quickly chose his lunch and followed behind Katniss to the large table Finnick was leading their group to. He saw that two of their other friends, Thresh and Cato, were already there.

"Girls, I'd like you to meet our friends Thresh Granger and Cato Stone."

Both of them nodded to the girls as a greeting, silently welcoming them to the table.

Everyone quickly sat down the boys all lined up on one side of the table and the girls on the other. They all began to make pleasant small talk, especially Katniss and Gale.

Peeta frowned slightly at the laughing pair to his right. Gale was his friend, but he also had a reputation of being a player, and Peeta didn't want to see him hurt her.

"So! What're you girls here for?" Cato asked loudly.

"Gymnastics," Katniss answered shortly.

"Fascinating," Cato replied, smirking as he focused his gaze on Katniss. "What's your event, gorgeous?"

Katniss narrowed her eyes at Cato before answering. "Floor. Although I don't see why you're so interested."

Peeta had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Katniss had some spunk.

"Relax, sweets. Just giving you a bad time," Cato laughed. Katniss's glare softened, but she made a point to avoid speaking to him for the remainder of their lunch break.

Everyone finished eating fairly quickly, and Peeta realized that if he was going to ever really see Katniss again, he needed to talk to her now.

Come on, he thought. Do it now, before you lose the nerve.

Clearing his throat, Peeta tapped Katniss on the shoulder.

"Uh, Katniss? Can I talk to you?" He winced slightly as his voice cracked.

She turned around to face Peeta, her eyes curious.

"Okay."

He sighed and said, "Look, I'm sorry about what went down between us earlier. I didn't mean to act like such a jerk. Maybe we could start over?"

Peeta watched Katniss apprehensively after he spoke, dying to know what she was thinking. He wanted to get to know her so badly, and he didn't know if she would be willing to let him.

"Okay," she repeated. Peeta let out a soft sigh of relief. He smiled and held out his hand. "I'm Peeta Mellark. Nice to meet you."

Katniss couldn't stop the small grin that appeared on her face. "Katniss Everdeen. Nice to meet you, too."

"Would you be interested in...meeting up sometime?"

"I'm swamped with practice for the next couple of days..." Katniss said.

"How about you find me during the Opening Ceremonies?" Peeta suggested hopefully.

"I thought swimmers couldn't make it?" she asked.

"I don't have a race until Sunday," he explained. "Besides, I love the experience. There's nothing like it."

Katniss smiled. "I'll see you Friday, Peeta," she said, getting up and finding her friends on the other side of the cafeteria.

I can't wait for Friday.