Author's Note: It has been far too long since my creative juices started flowing again. And this time it's in the form of an Everlark fic. Sorry, Dair fans - I promise, I'll update those two stories very soon. Of course, I am extremely nervous to enter into such a talent fandom, but I figured I'd do it with something I know a little too well: Texas. I'm from the Dallas area, so I figured I'd have some fun with it. It's extremely southern cliche for this first chapter - which I know is annoying at times - but I promise it'll lighten up in the following chapters. I adore where this story is going. Dawson, Texas is a real town about 2 hours south of Dallas. I've never actually been there, but I did my Google research to figure out the population. Everything else I'm claiming creative license. If you're from Dawson and don't hate me for pimping out your small town for my southern story; call me. We'll have dinner!
I can't start this story off without saying an amazing, awesome thank you to my beta, IvoryKeys09. She is so flawless! Thank you so much!
Summary: Modern AU. There are three types of people in Dawson, Texas: those who are trying to flee, those who embrace their small town fate, and the Mellarks. Mellark Ranch; largest cattle ranch South of Dallas, employer of ranch hand, Katniss Everdeen, and home of Ohio State Buckeye running back, Peeta Mellark. And Peeta Mellark is coming back home today.
Lone Star State of Mine
Chapter One: Small Town USA
"A lot of people called it prison when I was going up, but these are my roots and it's what I love."
As of the 2000 census we had just over 850 people living in our city limits, but that's the funny thing about Texas – city limits are just the beginning. Texans don't thrive in cities: in fact, after awhile we run from it like our tails are on fire. We don't do well with high rises and mini-malls. Call us hicks though and you'll be staring down the barrel of a Benelli 12 Gauge Nova. We aren't hillbillies - those are the ones hanging around the mountains of Tennessee or Kentucky. Although I doubt they prefer that title either. We don't take too kindly to people knocking on our doors to do a head count. So who knows if the census is telling the full truth.
The first famous person to come out of Dawson, Texas was Baptist evangelist Lester Roloff, and he died about seven years before I was born. And famous probably isn't what most would use to describe the man. I mean, the only reason I know of him is due to the wooden sign we have made outside his childhood home: real fine piece of carpentry that is. And those who've shot BBs into it throughout the years have only given it more Dawson character.
Dawson is your typical, run-of-the-mill, Texan small town. We don't ask for much, but we work for every bit of it. We take pride in two things: America and football. If you don't support either you'll probably be run out of here faster than a stray cat. We're about two hours south of Dallas and about a world of difference. We have two gas stations, three bars, one convenient store, one middle school that also blends into the high school, and one diner all within the city limits. And all of which shutdown at six o'clock on Fridays from the end of August to the beginning of November. Why? Because it is unconstitutional to miss a single football game be it an away or home game.
It's a cliché, but it's our cliché and we take a lot of pride in protecting it.
There are also three types of people in Dawson: those who spend their entire childhood waiting to escape the clichés of Texas small towns, those who embrace their fate and take to spending the rest of their days here, and the Mellarks. Sounds a bit melodramatic doesn't it? Putting an entire family into its own category, but facts are facts and this is just one of them.
The Mellarks didn't start this town – no one really knows who started this place. Whoever it was didn't see fit to stick around and take the credit. Anyway, the Mellarks may not have started this tiny piece of paradise, but they're the reason it's still making it today. Their cattle ranch has made quite the dent in Dawson history. See, the Mellarks own about three hundred acres of black gold just past the Dawson city limits. That's right, we're talking oil – and lots of it. Texas' fastest means to riches. Don't go getting ahead of yourself though, this isn't Southfork and no one is sleeping with someone else's significant other for turf purposes. And even if they were the Mellarks have a good way of shutting the rest of us off to their dirty laundry – they don't air it.
In fact, it's quite a peaceful affair. There is oil throughout the property, but Mr. Mellark has made it perfectly clear that he doesn't want all of his property going to oil tycoons and they've respected his wishes. It's been a cattle ranch since he grandfather started it generations before and he wants it to stay that way. Of course all good things come to an end, but no one sees the Mellark good thing ending anytime soon. Oil brings in a profit which is good for the family, but the cattle brings employment and that's good for the community.
Everyone in Dawson knows someone who's worked or is working on the Mellark ranch. Be it mending fences, building new barns, herding and branding cattle, delivering the product, or milking the ladies in the barn. There is always something Mr. Mellark needs done and he's a generous soul. I've never seen it, but rumor has it that if someone approaches him because they're hard up he'll give them temporary employment on the spot with always a promise for more. He'd probably just hand them the money, but we're Texans. We don't take what we haven't earned and he's not about to go and insult someone's honor.
That's who Daddy should have worked for, a man who understood that the importance of a product wasn't as important as a human life. But Mama always thought the real money was being a farm hand. The hours were long and the timing was a bit unpredictable, but the pay was decent. My father worked about twenty minutes outside of Dawson at a 100 acre farm for Mr. Snow. The rumor mill about Mr. Snow was nowhere near as kind as it was to Mr. Mellark, but Daddy never said a harsh word about the man. And I never had one ill thought of him either until the weeks after Daddy died from an accident on his farm. The man showed no remorse and offered zero help for now our one-income family. Mr. Snow washed his hands clean of us and moved onto the next sorry soul.
I was seventeen, almost out of high school, when I approached Mr. Mellark for a job on the ranch. He immediately offered me a position inside helping Mrs. Mellark managing the estate affairs. It was dull work and completely outside of my comfort zone, but we needed the money and I wasn't about to bite the hand that fed me. I helped with the budget, ordering, and other necessary office tasks, but I craved to be outside. Finally, after being part-time business help for nearly a year, I approached Mr. Mellark about a recently opened ranch hand position. It was the most genuine laugh I'd heard escape a person when he shook his head and commented that I'd lasted longer indoors than he thought I would.
He gave me the job over a year ago and today is my first day moving into the on-site duplex. I'm twenty and as much as I hate to leave my little sister, Prim, it's about time I move out on my own. Or…at least she's finally convinced me. I'm only about fifteen minutes away from my old house and I know I'll be visiting almost nightly. Prim needs me and my mother needs the constant reminder to be a mother. It's not an ideal situation and I'd rather have my watchful eye on Prim always, but she's growing up and I know she won't need me forever. But it's not about her needing me any longer. It's about me needing her. She's been my purpose for nearly seven years now. And I'm just not sure what purpose I'll have without her.
But that's my problem, not hers.
The familiar entrance to Mellark Ranch welcomes me in, like it always does, and I turn down the long dirt road driveway that splits off in different directions. I wave at several of the other ranch hands out mending nearby fences and pull up into the gravel driveway of the workers' complex. Complex is truly a poor word for the several small houses on the property. They are nice places, small, but by Dawson's standards they're plush. They come furnished with the minimal necessities and the décor mimics that of what Mrs. Mellark has down with the main house, just less luxurious.
I throw my truck in park, releasing the clutch, and jumping out of the cab. I stretch to reach into the bed and pull out the one large duffle bag I've brought with me. I could use the excuse that the house already comes furnished to shrug off my lack of luggage, but in reality it's because I've never owned much. Even the bed I slept on was belonged by Prim and myself. Everything I own fits into one bag. It's a reality I've accepted long ago.
Before walking into the small house, I notice that Mr. Mellark has already had someone change the mailbox outside the door to read "Everdeen." It's a small gesture to some, but to me it's everything. When I walk inside I take a quick inventory of the place: living room and kitchen space right as I walk in, and a small hallway to my left that I soon learn leads to the one bedroom and bathroom. It's small, but it's enough. And it's mine.
The zipper of my duffle bag echoes through my quiet bedroom as I begin to pull out my belongings. Most of the bag consists of clothes; old work jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, and undergarments fill my dresser drawers. The closet is left mostly empty save for the only nice dress I own, which Annie insisted I get, and couple dressier tops. I toss my only four pairs of shoes on the floor of the closet and set to work on arranging the pictures I've brought with me atop my vanity.
The first picture is of Prim and myself. It was taken at my high school graduation; I was still wearing my cap and gown and Prim wore her finest floral printed dress for the occasion. She had her arms around my waist with that beautiful grin she could produce on command. She could light up a room with that beautiful smile. This picture was just proof that she got my mother's delicate futures and I was left with my father's strong build, but we complimented each other.
The second picture I pulled out always stabs me in the heart; it is of my entire family. This picture is one of the last times I remember my mother truly smiling. She had Prim sitting on her lap behind the picnic table and I was slung over my father's shoulder like a sack of potatoes, but I had managed to turn my head enough to get into the picture. I can practically hear my laugh when I look at this picture. It is always such a bittersweet memory. It was at a family reunion nearly a year before my father died – the last one my mother, Prim, and myself ever attended. The Everdeens tried to make an effort to remain in contact after he died, but my mother all but caved in on herself, and communication became nearly impossible.
I slide that picture toward the back and grab for my last framed picture; one of me and my best friend. We are covered in mud and grinning from ear to ear. His arm is slung over my shoulders and I have my arm loosely around his waist. This picture was taken right here at Mellark Ranch last season. We'd just started branding the cattle that morning when a true Texan downpour hit. We didn't have any time to search for cover and being in the middle of the ranch didn't help much either. So we took that as a sign to simply enjoy life…something we rarely did. And it had been such a relaxing moment. Mr. Mellark reached into the cab of his truck for his camera as soon as the rain had ended and commented on how we'd always want to remember this moment.
He was right. I still smile when I look at the picture.
"Catnip, you here?"
Speak of the devil.
"Back here," I call out, setting the picture down and tossing my now-empty duffle into my closet.
"Hey," Gale gives his signature crooked grin as he rounds the corner into my new bedroom, "What do you think of your new place?"
"It's all mine," I smile back, looking around at the full size bed with plush looking down comforter and matching vanity/dresser set. "And now I can save a ton on gas."
"Yeah, because that seven miles to and from here was a real deal breaker," He rolls his eyes and I shove him back out the door, walking with him back to the main living area.
"Come on, lets go see if they need our help finishing the south side fence." I grab my work gloves that I'd tossed on my café style table and shove them into my back pocket, "And then I'm buying at Red's."
"Not so fast, Catnip." Gale rebutted, opening my front door and gesturing for me to go first. "Mr. Mellark wants us all up at the main house for dinner tonight, Boy Wonder is coming home from college."
"That is tonight, isn't it?" I roll my eyes and walk to the passenger side of Gale's old pickup truck.
The second famous person to come out of Dawson, Texas is Peeta Mellark; current starting running back for Ohio State and pride and joy of Mellark Ranch. And he's coming home.