A/N: Well, here it is. The absolute end of Everything Grows. It's kind of a bittersweet moment. I am sad to see it go, but I am so incredibly proud of myself for seeing this through to the end. I once again want to thank everyone who has supported me from beginning to end, everyone that has reviewed and added the story to alerts, and everyone that has sent messages and discussed things with me on Tumblr.
If you haven't already started my current WIP, Speed Date, make sure you head to my profile and give it a read. It's where my focus is going to be for the new few weeks.
Thank you all once again.
Three years and I still feel like I can't get home fast enough to see my family every day. My strides are large as I try to cover as much ground as I can between the bakery and The Victor's Village. The air still has the feel of summer despite the fact that the first day of fall is just about a week away, and by the time I spot the quaint home with the garden, there is a thin sheen of sweat covering my brow.
Hakan won't let me come into the bakery before 8am anymore, not since Zuri was born. He tells me that I should spend time with my family in the morning, instead of slipping out before they are even awake, and he refuses my attempts to reason with him by telling him it is my bakery and I need to be there.
Even though I agreed with him, it was still my bakery. I could never expect my employees to come into work while I stayed home. I never felt that I would be able to enjoy the luxury of lying in bed with my wife every morning, not rushing to get showered and changed before having to run out the door to make it to town in time to open the bakery. I never thought I'd have the pleasure of hearing the soft sounds of tiny toddler feet plodding along the hallway, and the gentle knock she makes before bounding into the room and jumping in bed between us.
Zuri has changed everything, but in ways that I never thought possible. That first week after she was born, Katniss barely stopped holding her, and rarely moved her eyes from her tiny face. She would sit in the corner of the living room in the rocker I temporarily moved from Zuri's room, holding her in her arms, eyes downcast, staring.
"I can't believe it's been a week already," I say, glancing over to Katniss in the rocker. She's lost to the rest of the world, but Haymitch is with me, shaking his head and smiling wryly at the vision of Katniss fawning quietly over our brand new daughter.
"Before you know it she'll be taking over the bakery when you get too old to run it," Haymitch comments. "And I'll be dead."
I ignore his commentary and look back to Katniss. She's lightly ghosting her fingers across Zuri's forehead, humming almost inaudibly as she rocks back and forth. Her head turns to the window next to her as the curtains blow out with a breeze that comes through, and she looks up at me questioningly.
"Do you think the breeze is too cold for her?" She asks. I have to smile. She has been making comments like this all week, though I've been no better. She had her own laugh at me two days ago when I asked her if the wet wipe was too cold to use on Zuri.
"I think she's alright. It is almost July and not exactly cold outside," I assure her.
"Maybe I should get a blanket just in case?" I shrug at her question, leaving the decision up to her. When Zuri sneezes, I get up from the couch without a word or a look and find her blanket draped over a chair at the kitchen table, bringing it back for Katniss. Even though mom said that sneezes aren't anything to worry about, she is in town right now and not here to remind Katniss of this fact. Right now, it just seems easier to get the blanket.
When I return with the blanket, and drape it over Zuri, Katniss looks up at me. I'm surprised to see tears in her eyes. I'm just about to ask her what's wrong when she speaks up.
"Look at what we made, Peeta."
I don't know what to say. It's unlike Katniss to say something like this, and I know that it's the events of the last week, and the hormone changes mom and the books warned us about. I nod at her and smile warmly, placing my hand over the lazy braid that hangs down her back. Our eyes are immediately trained on Haymitch when we hear him scoff.
"What corny romance novel did you steal that one from, Sweetheart?"
Katniss is up and out of the rocker, and has the baby placed in my arms before I can even register what's happened. I only realize it just as she bolts out of the room.
"You shouldn't have said that, Haymitch," I groan, shaking my head. I'm just about to take Katniss' spot in the rocker when she reappears in the archway – my boot is out of her hand within seconds and I only hear Haymitch's pained howl and the sound of the boot hitting the floor.
Her body relaxes just long enough to gently pry Zuri from my arms before she storms off and up the stairs. I don't speak until I hear the bedroom door slam. Blood is pouring from Haymitch's nose and I can only hope that mom will be back from town soon to tell us if it's broken.
"Get in the kitchen," I tell him angrily.
He stands over the sink as I run a kitchen rag under warm water. The only thing I can do is look at him with disdain when he begins to laugh.
"It's good to see that Sweetheart still can't take a joke," he winces after a moment - the pressure the laugh caused must've hurt his nose.
"It's more than that, Haymitch," I retort. "Would you walk into the woods and taunt a mother bear with her cubs?"
"Of course not," Haymitch replies like it's the stupidest question I've ever asked him.
"Well it's the same thing there." I slap the rag into his hand and leave the kitchen, turning back to tell him one last thing. "Wait for Mrs. Everdeen to get back so she can check out your face, and don't get blood on my floor."
I hear her tiny voice chirp when she hears the front door open, and I remember when she first started talking. For a while, she seemed to have her own language. We understood her, but were never sure where she came up with some of the things she'd say.
She would toddle between me and Katniss as we walked around the bank of the lake, pointing at the ground saying, "Fro rock-rock." It took us almost five minutes to realize that she wanted to throw a rock into the lake. When we would cut up a water fowl and place a few small pieces on the tray of her high chair, she'd screech about her "chick-chick", referring to any bird or meat she saw as a chicken, including Haymitch's geese.
But nothing will ever compare to the first time she called me "daddy". Granted, back then it was easier for her to say "Dada", but the sentiment was still the same. Katniss feigned irritation that Zuri didn't say "mommy" first, but the smile on her face was just as large as mine that day, and it didn't take Zuri long to figure out how to address Katniss as well.
From that point, until Zuri moved from her crib to a regular bed, our mornings began with a startlingly loud chorus of the words "mommy" and "daddy" courtesy of Zuri Mellark.
"Daddy!" She breaks into a heavy footed dance, her feet clomping across the hard hood. She can't walk or move around any quieter than I can. I sweep my hands under her arms and hoist her up, settling her down on my side.
"Hey, Bunny," I greet her. She wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes.
"Did you bring me a surprise?" she asks, smiling. I hear the sound of Katniss' laugh from the kitchen as she peels potatoes in the sink.
"He can't bring you a surprise every single day, Zuri," Katniss reminds her. "Other people like cookies, too." She wipes her hand on a towel and she walks over to us. "Did you have a good day?" she asks me as I lean down and place a chaste kiss on her lips.
"It was painless," I nod. "And what about you two?" I ask, tickling Zuri. She screeches and squirms in my arms, but my grip on her is too tight for her to go very far.
The three of us walk back to the kitchen where Katniss resumes peeling potatoes and humming to herself.
"I helped mommy pick out the potatoes," Zuri states proudly.
"No way!" I gasp. "I think you're lying."
"Nooo," Zuri replies, shaking her head. "I did help. Didn't I, mommy?"
"You did help, Bunny," Katniss confirms, looking back at the two of us.
She used to be afraid of the garden. When we would bring her outside to do work, whenever we'd take her near it she would tighten her grip on whoever was holding her while hiding her face in our necks. She wouldn't let us put her down unless it was far away from the garden. Eventually, Haymitch started coming over and entertaining her on the porch while we worked in the garden because it was too difficult to try and make sure that both Zuri and the garden were being tended to.
Now, she helps us. Picking one weed at a time, walking to and from the trash with just one thing in her hand. She does the same when we harvest. One thing at a time, never more, and falling at least a half dozen times before we are through.
"Then I am sure dinner will be extra delicious tonight," I say. She smiles brightly in my direction.
I think I stopped breathing the first time I saw that smile. It was toothless at the time, but that didn't stop my breath from hitching in my throat at the sight of it. I looked down at her in her bassinet and wished her good morning, as I've done every single day since she was born. That particular morning, however, she had her very own greeting for me – the biggest, widest grin I have ever seen in my life. It seemed to make her eyes even brighter.
"I took a nap too," Zuri continues. "With mommy!"
"Mommy took a nap too?" I ask.
"She was very tired, daddy," Zuri answers seriously. "We took a big, long walk!"
"Where did you go?" I ask with a smile.
"To the little store," Zuri says. "Where my candy is." She gets up from her chair and runs into the living room, returning a second later with a wrapped sucker in one hand and a puzzle box in the other. "I got two!" She giggles, waving the sucker in the air. "But I ate one."
"And what did I say about that one?" Katniss asks, coming to sit at the table while the potatoes cook in the pot.
"I eat it tomorrow," Zuri replies. Katniss nods and smiles at her. I pick Zuri up and set her on my lap.
"Let's see your puzzle," I say, looking at the box. "It's a bunny!"
"Like me!" Zuri chirps. "We put it together already."
"You did it without me?" I pretend to be upset and stick my bottom lip out in a pout. Zuri's little hand pats my cheek.
"It's okay, daddy," she consoles. "Mommy helped me after she was done going potty. She went a LONG time!" I try to stifle the laugh, but it's no use. Zuri begins to giggle with me and all Katniss can do is shake her head at us.
"That's not nice, Zuri," I say through laughter.
"It was important," Zuri nods.
"What was important?"
"Mommy's potty." I want to laugh again at her use of words, but Katniss is standing up from the table and plucking Zuri from my lap.
"Let's go change your outfit - you have dirt on your shirt." Katniss whisks Zuri upstairs, returning a little while later. Zuri is in a one piece pajama outfit, still clutching her sucker.
"You should have come to the bakery to visit when you went to the store," I say.
"We were going to, but it looked busy, so I didn't want to interrupt," Katniss explains.
"We were hurrying," Zuri adds. "Mommy had to potty." She runs from the room then, and I can just see her plop herself down in the living room in front of her toys. Katniss shakes her head and rubs the bridge of her nose.
"She's really stuck on that potty thing," I laugh.
"It's always something new, every single day," Katniss says, sitting down at the table. "Dinner is almost done."
"I'll finish it up," I offer, getting up. "You look exhausted."
"I am," she confirms.
"Zuri took a lot out of you today, huh?" She gives me a weak smile and nods gently.
"Slow down, Zuri," Katniss says. Zuri is shoveling mashed potatoes into her mouth at an alarmingly fast rate. "And eat your beans, too."
"Okay, mommy," Zuri replies through a mouth full of potatoes.
We eat in silence for a while, Katniss eats slowly, pushing her food around on her plate more than she actually is eating it, and Zuri has created a disaster on her plate.
"How about you come to the bakery with me tomorrow, Zuri?" I ask. "Mommy is very tired; we should give her a break." Zuri nods and smiles happily.
"Mommy needs rest," she says. "You know why?"
"No," I smirk, curious as to what she'll come up with. "Why?"
"Because there's a baby in her tummy."
Katniss' fork hits her plate loudly, and I feel frozen in my seat.
"Zuri!" Katniss says, exasperated. She sighs loudly and pushes her hair behind her ear nervously.
"But how does a baby get in your tummy, mommy?" Zuri asks.
"Katniss?" I ask, looking at her intently. "Is that true?" She looks to Zuri - who is gleaming at both of us – then back to me before she nods.
"I was going to tell you while we had dessert," Katniss explains. "But I guess a certain little Bunny couldn't keep it a secret any longer."
I practically jump from my seat. It makes Zuri jump, but she ends up hopping off her chair too and following me around to the other side of the table where I pull Katniss from her seat and hug her.
"I'm sorry she ruined the surprise," Katniss murmurs.
"Are you kidding?" I ask. "I don't care how you tell me." I reach down and pick Zuri up, and she grabs onto Katniss' neck, squeezing her tightly. "Our baby broke the news that we're going to have another baby? It's perfect." I kiss Zuri on the top of her head and scoot her over so I can find Katniss' lips, running my hand down her cheek softly when I pull away.
"But," Zuri interrupts, sounding frustrated.
"What's wrong, Bunny?" Katniss asks.
"How did a baby get in your tummy, mommy?"