Note: I know it's been a year since some of you read the previous chapters. Garrett is an employee at the bakery. So is Eric, but i don't think he was introduced. I do not own the Hunger Games Trilogy, obviously.


Seeing the hundreds of starving children in District 12, one cannot help feeling that Panem's welfare system is anything but a joke. However, as the years pass by, the joke becomes crueler and crueler. But regardless of the futility of the system, I can't say I'm not surprised. I am shocked, actually, and absolutely lost.

EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY

How does one close a business effective immediately? Certainly not erupts from the kitchen—then again when Tom slaps them with what must be the punch line.

My employees.

I am reminded that I am not the only one that is going to be affected. But what am I supposed to tell them? My employees—they have only ever lived in town, and they have never needed for a meal, but even so, I know they need this job to keep it that way. I inhale the air that has suddenly become ten times heavier. With a sigh, I crouch and put my head between my legs. I already feel defeated. I'm not equipped to deal with anything. Like always, all I want is to get away. I need to run. Escape the horrible reminder of my failures. Well, the bakery is about as busy it is going to be for the rest of my life, so I open the kitchen door and motion for Garret or the recently arrived Eric to take the front counter before the evening crowd—if any—arrives. I don't meet Katniss' eyes, but I feel her hot gaze on my skin, or maybe the heat I feel is the perpetual embarrassment at my own futility—and that embarrassment is not helped by my decision to run away.

Garret follows me to the front, still laughing at whatever joke Tom just told. Even Katniss is smiling a little. Well, the joke's on them.

Well, all of us.

I remove my apron just when the bell at the front door announces a customer. Garret's customer greeting smile falters when he takes in the peacekeeper uniform. A Peacekeeper—an unknown one, at that—lets himself in. Judging from the letters he holds in his hands and the scowl he holds on his face, he is not here to buy a loaf of sourdough.

"Orders from Commander Thread." The peacekeeper yells in no particular direction, but he thrusts two letters into my hands—one white, one gray.

Who the hell is Commander Thread? I glance around the room and everyone looks as confused as I am, except for maybe Katniss, who is probably not surprised she does not know everyone in present District 12.

"This visit is to confirm that you received Capitol correspondence today."

I stand straight as I cower on the inside. "I did."

"We will be doing your inspection tomorrow at noon. Those who do not comply or are not present at the designated time will be corrected with or without trial. The letters I just handed you—the gray one is the Employee Notice and applies to every resident over 16. The white letter applies to all citizens." And with the abruptness of someone who has had to repeat the same message multiple times, he exits the bakery. He drags a cart filled with gray and white letters to the next house in the square. His helmet isn't one of a low ranking peacekeeper—they must have everyone working today. I notice that while my attention is on the peacekeeper, everyone else's is on me.

Well, there is no escaping it now.

"What is he on about..?" I turn to see that the letter I never retrieved from the counter has caught Garret's attention. He picks it up and skims for a second before realization show in his eyes.

"What the hell is this?" He demands.

"I don't know." I say. And I'm telling the truth, in a way. The kitchen crew has gathered at the door. Katniss is among them. Garret slams the letter on Eric's chest, and Eric hands it to Tom after reading it.

"I don't understand…what's this supposed to be?" Tom says worriedly.

"They're closing us down. They can't do that…" Eric says.

"Can they?" Tom asks.

All eyes are on me. I don't have anything to say, so I manage something stupid.

"I guess that's how it is." I should have said nothing at all.

"I guess that's how it is." Garrett repeats mockingly. "What the fuck, Peeta" I don't respond. But Garrett does not require a response. He lunges at me-only to be held back by Tom and Eric. Eric looks at me like he would try to hit me too- if violence was in his nature. "This place is a waste in your hands!" No argument there. I feel ashamed, as I wonder what my father would think. And then I realize he wouldn't be one to talk.

"'That's how it is?!' You don't have a family to feed!" He yells, his face reddening in the struggle to break free. "This is our only source of income! You don't have anyone you care about—you don't have anyone! And even if you did have anything besides the sluts you enjoy fucking so much—" He implores gesturing toward Katniss.

But I don't catch Katniss' reaction, because that is the last straw.

The impact of the tackle breaks Garrett free of Tom and Eric. The advantage is that I am a wrestler.

The disadvantage is that so is he.

But the rustiness is a disadvantage to us both. I finally have him pinned down and am ready to begin the damage, when I feel the cold. I look up to see a scowling Katniss holding an empty bucket. I've broken eye contact with Garrett and am thrown out of the heat of the moment. I expect to see annoyance in Katniss' eyes, but instead, all I see is disappointment. And Garrett may as well not exist, because her eyes are focused on me.

And I can't blame her. I'm pretty disappointed with me too. I get up off of Garret, who has also been thrown off by the cold water. He is off the ground and ripping his apron off when he murmurs the truth. He doesn't say it loudly, and it doesn't come with the malice of his previous insults, because it doesn't need that. His words this time are much heavier and they penetrate the silent room in a way only the truth can.

"You are a coward, Peeta Mellark." And now they all know.

END OF CHAPTER 7


Note: Short chapter, I know, but I needed to get this scene out of the way. After this there will still be a lot plot, but the relationship between K and P will be more isolated. See y'all then.

Thanks for reviewing, favoriting, and following! More Everlark up ahead. I promise!

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