A/N: Sorry this chapter is late! Wanted to start getting a little more into Peeta and Katniss' developing relationship in this chapter! I hope you enjoy! ^^
(Also, I wanted to give a special thank-you to MaidenAlice for being my faithful reviewer! I really appreciate input from my readers!)
"Happy birthday little duck!" I say as I kiss Prim on the forehead.
She giggles, just like she does every year when I give her a birthday kiss. Now that I have a real job at Thirteen, we can afford a real banquet for her birthday, not just a small basket of fruit, cheese, meat, and bread. This year, laid out on the table before us, there is a spit-roasted boar, grilled beaver's tail, and boiled whale meat. There is also a large assortment of vegetables and spiced fruit.
Prim carefully opens her presents. She receives a pendant from Mom, one that belonged to our grandmother. My present to Prim is a diary. As a former medical student, I know how stressed and frustrated Prim must feel at times. I figured a diary would provide a good escape for her. She beams at us.
"Thank you for the gifts. They're wonderful," Prim says.
She's still grinning as we all dig into the food. The conversations at the table are upbeat. Even Mom seems to be enjoying herself, something that isn't too common after Dad died.
Halfway into the food, we are all stuffed. Prim is sitting in her chair, holding her belly. I'm forcing myself to take more tiny bites of food because I don't want to waste a single bit of the feast. I remember all too clearly the sensation of starving back when we weren't as well off.
"Still going, Katniss?" Mom asks.
"Almost done," I reply as I nibble on a beaver tail.
"You might want to save some space in that stomach of yours," Mom says.
I set the beaver tail down.
"There's more?" I ask. How could Mom have possibly prepared any more food?
She smiles and goes into the kitchen to grab something. Prim and I just look at each other, both unable to guess what will come through the kitchen door with Mom.
When Mom finally emerges from the kitchen, Prim's eyes widen and focus on the beautifully-decorated cake in Mom's hands. I, too, can't take my eyes away from the perfectly-frosted pastry.
As Mom sets the cake on the table, she lights a single pink candle on top of it and kisses Prim's head.
"Make a wish," Mom tells Prim as she turns off the lights.
Prim smiles sweetly as she closes her eyes and thinks for a minute. We all hold our breath for this special moment. This is the first time we've ever had a cake at one of our birthday celebrations.
After Prim blows out her candles, Mom pulls out a bread knife and starts cutting into the cake.
"Where did you get the cake, Mom?" I ask.
"I got it from the Mellarks' bakery. I thought it'd be an appropriate addition to our usual festivities," Mom says with a smile.
For a moment, I wish that I could push the pause button on time. Mom is smiling, Prim is speechless with joy. I feel something I haven't felt in a long time. Family togetherness. I take in the sight of gentle swirls and plump dots of frosting. I close my eyes. I savor the moment before allowing myself to indulge my taste buds.
Cheese, vegetables, squirrel meat…what am I missing? Mom told me to make a list so I wouldn't forget, but I was in a rush this morning. If I didn't get to the office on time, Coin would slay me alive for being tardy for the fifth time this week (yes, I have been late every day of this week so far). Bread! That's the last thing I was supposed to pick up for Mom.
It should only be a block away from the butchery. I thank the butcher for the fine squirrel and walk out the door to find a beautiful blue sky. I inhale the sweet scent of evergreens. After I finished my design degree and became a Thirteen employee, I haven't had much time to enjoy nature.
Another fragrant aroma catches the attention of my nose, only this one is a little different, definitely not produced by nature. Ah, I'm here at the bakery. I'm about to open the door when I notice someone working on one of the cakes in the display window. I stand there, my face only a few inches from the glass, watching the man on the stool turning the cake in one hand while piping intricate designs with his other. I'm transfixed by his concentration.
He's in the middle of piping a pink blossom when he notices the eyes that watch him. He looks up at me, and at first I raise my eyebrows in surprise. It's the man that I ran into the other night! The man who stole my bread. But…if he works here then…he really was making a delivery!
He smiles at me. I blush, partly because I'm embarrassed when I realize that I made a horrible mistake, and partly because…I don't know. He gets up from the stool and pushes open the front door.
"You forgot something last time," he says as he stands in the doorway. When I don't respond, he smiles again. "Well, did you come here to buy something, or were you just here to watch me make cakes?"
"Bread," I manage to say.
"Ah, we have some of that," he says as he takes my hand and leads me in.
I'm astonished. How he can be so kind to someone who was so blatantly rude to him is beyond me.
He plops back onto his stool as he finishes piping the last flower on his cake. "So, what kind of bread did you want? White bread, wheat bread, bread with nuts, cheesy bread? We just baked a fresh batch of garlic bread."
I wrinkle my nose. "Not garlic bread."
"Oh, I see. Gotta keep that pretty mouth of yours smelling nice for your boyfriend," he says, grinning while still keeping his eyes fixated on the cake in front of him.
"Heh, no boyfriend. Just don't like garlic much. Never have."
He gives the cake one final twirl to examine his finished product. Spot on. Then he gives me a serious, long look with those blue eyes of his. "No boyfriend, eh? What's a woman like you doing without a boyfriend?"
I try to force myself not to blush, but I feel my face getting hot. No one has ever so openly suggested that I was good-looking. Not even Gale, whom I know had a slight attraction to me for a while.
"Uhh…well I…" I stammer as I try to answer his question. Wait, it was a rhetorical question. I'm not supposed to answer it. "Cheese!" I blurt out.
"I want cheese bread."
"Oh…" he walks across the room to fulfill my request. "What's your name, anyway?"
"Nice to meet you Katniss. Peeta," he says as he hands me my bread.
"Pita…like the bread?"
He grins at me. "I guess that's what my mom was thinking when she named me. I'm worth as much as pita bread to her."
I laugh as I pull out my wallet to pay him. As I hand him the coins, I notice the pinkish welt on his right cheek.
When he sees me staring at it, he puts his hand over it and says, "Oh this is nothing. My brothers and I get burned all the time working here. I'm just clumsy, I guess."
He gives me a reassuring smile, but I'm not convinced. I know a mark from someone being beaten when I see one. I used to know lots of kids from the Seam who were bullied at school. When they got hit, the marks on their bodies looked exactly like the spot on Peeta's face.
The bell jingles as the front door opens. We both turn to see that nasty woman who sold me the bread last time I was here. She doesn't seem too pleased to see me either.
"Mom," Peeta addresses the woman.
"Did you finish the two cakes yet?" she scowls at him.
"Almost. I just finished one of them…"
"Only one?! What have you been doing while I was gone?" she snaps at him. Then she looks at me and narrows her eyes. "Quit dilly dallying, and finish that cake!"
Peeta's jaw tightens, and he hands me my change. Without a word, he goes into the kitchen in the back of the store to grab a fresh, unfrosted cake, and walks back to his stool. He starts frosting it just like he frosted the first cake, but this time with light blue frosting.
I start walking out the door when Peeta's mom grabs my sleeve.
"Well if it isn't Miss Forgetful. Because of you, my son had to come back and grab your bread for delivery, making him late," she hisses at me.
"Mom, it's not her fault," Peeta jumps to my defense.
"Oh, of course it's not. It's yours! Letting a girl take bread from you. We'd be broke if I let you do all of our deliveries."
"I do handle all the deliveries…" he mutters under his breath.
She narrows her eyes at him. "You ungrateful child…"
She turns her head and snaps at me, "What are you still doing here?"
I take my cue and book it out of the bakery. It's not until I'm well on my way home that I realize Peeta's going to have another "burn" on his face the next time I see him.
"Are you ok?"
"Hm?" I straighten up when I realize I've been caught daydreaming on the job.
"I said—are you ok?" Octavia repeats with a concerned look on her face.
"Y-yeah, I'm fine," I say as I pretend to shuffle through some paperwork.
"Mhm, sure," Octavia says as she crosses her arms.
I look at the clock and notice it's time to leave. I stuff my sketches into my purse and start walking toward the elevator. Octavia catches up to me.
"Spill," Octavia says in the elevator.
I'm hesitant at first, because honestly, I don't even know how to articulate what I'm feeling.
"I just can't stop thinking about something…or…someone…" I admit finally.
Octavia's face lights up and she gasps. "Oh my. Katniss! You've got yourself a man?"
"He's not my man! Just…a man…guy…"
Octavia chuckles at my uneasiness. "Is he tall? Handsome?"
I start telling her about the encounter I had with Peeta at the bakery and our previous encounter in which I mistook him for a thief. I told her about his sense of humor, his kind nature, and his smile…oh, his smile.
We're busy chattering away when I feel the buckle on my purse strap come loose.
Octavia and I whirl around to see a man wearing a black ski mask running off with my purse. I start chasing him, with Octavia trailing far behind me. As quick as I am, I can't run nearly as fast while wearing heels.
"Stop!" I scream as I reach for my cell phone in my purse. Oh right, nevermind.
I stop to catch my breath as the thief gets smaller and smaller as the distance between us increases. I'm not as fit as I used to be since I stopped hunting.
Suddenly, the thief is on the floor. A man picks the thief up by the front of his shirt and grabs my purse from him. He puts the man back down carefully, and the thief runs for his life, even though the man who salvaged my purse did not hurt him in any way. The man with my purse turns to face me, and I immediately recognize him. Even from a distance, those eyes unmistakably belong to…
"Peeta!" I yell.
I wait for him to make his way toward me. Unlike our previous two encounters, he's not wearing his usual baker's outfit. I hadn't noticed how broad-shouldered he was when he was in his loose, white baker's uniform.
"Are you ok?" he asks as he hands me my purse.
I grab it by the strap because I forget that it's broken. My wallet, my sketches, and an ocean of pens comes spilling out of my purse. We both bend down to collect the contents.
He chuckles, "You collect pens or something?"
I blush. I didn't realize I had so many in my purse. I lose them all the time.
When all my possessions are back where they belong, Peeta takes a good look at my purse strap.
"I have a friend who can fix this for you for free," he offers.
"Oh, don't worry about it. My mom's pretty good at stitching things up."
My brow furrows when I see the newest wound on his face. In addition to the two welts on his face that are starting to fade, there's a fresh cut across his jaw. I instinctively trace the red line on his jaw with my finger, like I do to Prim when she gets a cut. He winces slightly and catches my hand.
"She's good at stitching these up, too," I say softly.
To Be Continued…