This is an AU fanfic set in present day. Katniss is a high school teacher starting her first year at District 12 High. She's just graduated from Capitol University in NYC. Being back in town means she can't avoid the ogling eyes of the town Pastry chef and bakery owner, Peeta.
I envy Prim as she waltzes into the kitchen in comfy scrubs. Sure they have hideous cats on them, but I would take them over the stupid pencil skirt and blouse that I've been forced to wear.
"I hope you know I hate you this morning," I growl staring at my uncomfortable heels. I will have to remember to toss a pair of flats into my bag without her looking.
"No you don't. Part of you realizes how amazing you look," she says hotly. "Where's the belt? Katniss! The belt makes the outfit!" She launches out of the room only to return moments later with a thin lime green and glossy belt.
"I don't need a belt. My ass holds the skirt up just fine!" I know my arguing is futile. It hadn't helped me before.
Prim had cornered me the previous weekend and ordered a dress code intervention. "You can't look like a Walking Dead survivor on your first day of school Katniss!" she had yelled while dragging me into our beaten up Camry.
I tried to put up a fight, but all drive dissipated when Prim gave me her trademark pout. "Please Katniss! I've missed you so much and this would be perfect bonding time!" I reluctantly agreed. The truth is I hadn't been able to come back to District 12 many times during my time in New York. Prim and my mother had to deal with semi-weekly skype sessions, which often had to be pushed back to accommodate Prim's busy schedule in the accelerated nursing program. My guilt drew me in, but I was in no way prepared for the onslaught of dressing rooms and mascara that followed.
"There," she says toying with the tiny silver buckle. "So your dropping me off before your first class right? We have to get going if you are going to make it to the bakery for coffee."
The bakery. The exact place I've been semi-consciously ignoring for the past few weeks. The bread alone makes my eyes well up with tears, but it is another factor that twists my stomach into knots. Peeta would be there. The boy who insisted on being incessantly nice, and who continuously stared at me throughout my time at the District, worked at his parent's bakery. For such a nice guy you would have figured he would pretend the damn incident never occurred. I hated the lingering stares he gave me. It was hard enough going through everything on my own, but having someone see me in my weakest moment was the worse. Apart from owing him for the damn bread I always felt raw in front of him. It's as if he knew me despite having barely spoken to each other.
Then there was that time at our Senior Prom. Gale had suckered me into a guilt trip and made me swear that I would go. "Seriously Katniss!" he had scolded. "Quit being so high and mighty and go to the damn thing! I would go with Madge if I weren't stuck here in Boston. Just pick a dude and go!"
So the next day at school Madge set me up with her cousin Caleb and we made plans to go on a triple date to Prom. Madge didn't have to worry about the whole 'going to prom with your cousin' thing because everyone knew she belonged to my other best friend. Unfortunately for us, Caleb got trashed before we made it to the dance and was all over me. While Madge was in the bathroom, no doubt calling Gale, Caleb decided to try to get into my pants. I tried pushing him away, but he was a beast if a boy who didn't even flinch when I shoved him. Just when he was about to run his hands down my chest, Peeta showed up. It was kind of a blur of arms after that, but Caleb ended up having to go to the hospital.
When the school Principal, Haymitch Abernathy, asked whether I wanted to press charges against Peeta, I quickly defended the boy who had taken a couple of hits for me. I added it to the laundry list of small favors the guy had done for me over the years.
"I'm not that hungry. Can't you snag something at the hospital cafeteria?" I manage to answer after a few moments.
Prim waves a hand dismissively at me and hands me my bag. "You haven't tried the coffee at Mellark's yet. It is insanely good and I can't live without it."
There isn't time to argue. I have exactly twenty minutes before my meeting with Principal Abernathy and I cannot be late. I am lucky enough that I got a job right out of college. The last thing I want to do is lose it on the first day. I drive to the cursed bakery and grumpily wait in line for our coffee. The Mellark patriarch, Phillip, is running the register. To my relief Peeta usually works in the back. "Hello Prim!" booms the old man as he yells back an order. Prim must come here often because he doesn't even ask her what she wants.
"Hi Mr. Mellark, you remember Katniss. She finally came back from New York." Prim is so cheerful her smile is contagious. I nod a quick hello to the man and take the disposable coffee cup from his hands.
"Katniss, of course you graduated with my youngest. He runs the bakery you know? Lucky for me he still let's me help out," he adds with a wink.
Just then Peeta walks through the door balancing a tray of apple strudel muffins. He doesn't notice me right away, but I can't help but gawk at him. I can't remember if he was always this tall before I left, but he towers over me in my heels. Finally his blue eyes look up to meet mine and I'm hit by that same goofy feeling I got back in high school.
"Hey," I say stupidly, evening adding a ridiculous wave of my fingers. Peeta nearly drops the tray of pastries into their slot.
He doesn't say anything for a few seconds. It isn't until Prim lets out a soft giggle that he reacts. "Hey Katniss," he croaks. "You're back."
"Seems like it," I respond having recovered from my moment of nervousness. Sensing the awkwardness Prim pays for our stuff while Peeta and I avoid eye contact.
"It's Katniss' first day teaching at District 12 High," chirps Prim as she drops some change in the tip jar.
"Wonderful! Peeta's girlfriend works there too. What department?" Mr. Mellark gives me a warm smile, that doesn't make the pit in my stomach feel any better. I don't know why, but Peeta having a girlfriend is a little unsettling. Not that it would matter.
"Social Science. I'm teaching Western Civilizations. Who's your girlfriend?" I ask finally looking at Peeta. He looks a little embarrassed, but looks at me as he speaks.
"Delly Cartwright," he says with a shrug. "She went to school with us."
I remember Delly. She was always attached to Peeta's hip much like Gale and I. I always wondered if they were together, but I assumed they were just friends. I guess a relationship was inevitable. "Great, maybe I will have someone to talk to on the first day." I force a brilliant smile and look at my watch. "Shit Prim, I'm going to be late. Just drop me off at school. I will take the bus home."
Prim snatches the bag of pastries from the counter and we bolt out the door. I catch a muffled good bye before we make it out the door.
Miss Trinket, Principal Abernathy's assistant, lets out a sigh of relief when I burst through the door. "Today is a big, big, big, day Ms. Everdeen. You are barely on time," she hisses.
"I am on time though," I joke. "Is he ready to see me?" She has to know that I'm referring to Mr. Abernathy's usual Monday morning hangover. Ms. Trinket has worked at District 12 high since as long as I remember. There is a joke going around that she must suck the souls out of young girls to stay looking so young. Every year she shows up looking just as refreshed as the one before. My mother says Ms. Trinket just knows how to work the lighting, but I'm pretty sure it takes more than that. Either way, she knows Mr. Abernathy better than anyone else, so she must realize the man's drunken habits. I'm surprised he has never lost his job.
"He should be," she mutters under her breath as she leads me to the small corner office overlooking the quad. "Katniss Everdeen is here to see you."
The room is dark, which leads me to believe he is still nursing his hangover. The large cup of coffee confirms it. "Yeah, yeah. Sit down," he orders. I don't bother extending my hand to him, because I know he won't take it. "Are you excited for your first day Everdeen?"
"Yes sir, I can't thank you enough. I know positions are hard to come by nowadays." It is no secret that Superintendent Snow is cutting teacher's left and right. The Social Science department has suffered the most. The Board of Education doesn't deem the subjects as important as Math or Science. Lucky for me Mr. Brutus was forced into early retirement.
"They are. So I hope you appreciate the job while you have it. I'm not going to lie to you kid, you need to show us what you can do and do it fast. No one is going to take it easy on you because it's you first year. You are aware of the yearly assessments right?"
"Yes." Everyone trying to get into the teaching profession knew about them. If you didn't break at least top eight you were surely going to lose your job. "I'm a great teacher Mr. Abernathy. I can assure you that my students will learn."
The Principal only snorted. "Listen kid, no one cares if your students actually learn. Those days are long gone. It's all about standardization. All you need to worry about are the questions on the End of Course exams and the District Standards. Oh, and try to smile a bit. His majesty, the Superintendent, loves it when you smile. Just do that and don't ask questions. In fact try not to speak at all. You are about as charming as a slug." He stands up to pat me on the back and then hobbles over to a mini fridge in the corner.
I spy him pouring some Bailey's Irish cream into his mug. He winks when he catches me eyeing the suddenly light liquid. "You will learn to deal with the system kid. Now get out of here."
I make it to the door before he stops me again. "If you need anything and for some bizarre reason you can't find someone else for help, swing by." He stumbles over the words a few times, but I can tell they are sincere, even if he isn't looking at me when he says them.
I mumble a quick thank you and rush to my classroom. I'm giddy with excitement, but part of me is really nervous. This is my first time teaching completely on my own. Even my student teaching program required another faculty member present if things were to go wrong. My classroom is a little cramped, but I've already made it my own. Posters of famous paintings that once decorated my dorm room are now scattered along the wall. Prim helped me arrange the desks last week so they are in perfect groups of four. Some of the teachers frowned upon this abnormal setting, but I loved the concept of small teams. Then there was my desk, which was miraculously pristine. Professor Paylor, head of the Education Department at my university insisted on a clean desk. "Shit gets out of hand fairly quickly. So keep your desk as organized as possible," she used to say. I miss the hard ass woman. She never made the job seem glamorous. She believed in the cruel reality of things and she was not afraid to tell you how it was going to be.
The bell rings just as I finish setting up my lecture slides. As the students file in I hand them the syllabus and direct them to their assigned seats. This alone causes cries of injustice from nearly every student, but after five minutes we all get situated. Thirty one students. I have thirty one angst ridden sophomores staring at me with annoyed faces. Taking a deep breath I start the first lesson.
Nearly three hours later I'm sluggishly making my way to the Teacher's lounge. My first two classes were great, but third period nearly killed me. A large football player by the name of Cato arrived late and caused problem after problem. He ignored assigned seating, and then told me to 'fuck off' when I sent him to his desk. Just when I thought the worse was over he started flirting with a small red headed girl, groping the poor girl's ass. It took three "Peace keepers"; really they're Hall Monitors, to take him to the office. The worse was when I got a call from Mr. Abernathy telling me Cato had to be sent back. He just so happens to be the Coach's son. I argued that this didn't make him exempt to the rules, but Abernathy hung up.
I awkwardly find an empty table in the back of the room, trying desperately to avoid attention. Small talk and making friends weren't my strong suit. I took out my left over chicken salad sandwich and my copy of All Quiet on the Western Front. I'm not able to read two pages before a squeal reaches my ears.
"Katniss? Katniss Everdeen?" I ready my deadliest scowl before facing a very exuberant Delly. Damn it.
"Hey Delly." I try to make my tone as friendly as possible. "Peeta told me you worked here. How's it going?"
Delly's smile breaks for a moment, but quickly resumes its plasticity. "Great! I had no idea you were back in town. So you're the new Western Civilization teacher? Congratulations!"
I give her a half smile before returning to my book. "So you saw Peeta already," she continues, oblivious to the book in my hands. "How did that happen?"
The question is odd, and not one I want to answer. "Yeah, Prim is obsessed with the coffee at the bakery. I saw him for a second." I try again to read my book, but Delly takes a seat next to me and turns her chair to face mine.
"He is a great guy, Peeta. Do you know we are together?" She begins to unpack her perfectly cut salad and a large bottle of tea. I've got to say she has lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw her. During high school she was taunted by a lot of kids for carrying a little extra around the waist, but that never stopped her from hanging out with the popular kids. Peeta was included in that group, what with being the star running back and wrestler. Gale, Madge, and I avoided them like the plague. Even our sweet friend Annie stayed away from them. It was a very exclusive group that often threw the biggest parties. They also happened to be the richest kids in school. Not that it mattered much now. The only ones who stuck around were Peeta and Delly. Finnick Odair was off in Hollywood trying his hand at acting or something of the sort. Glimmer, the queen bee, is allegedly married to some New England upper class kid with boatloads of cash. I didn't care to ask about the rest of them
I realize Delly has stopped unpacking her lunch and is waiting expectantly for my answer. "Yeah, I heard. I always saw it coming," I lie. "You make a great couple."
"Thanks! I think so too. He is the bestest!" I really wish she would stop screeching like a banshee. "So whatever happened with you and Gale?" Delly's voice is suddenly soft and sympathetic. There was this rumor that Madge stole him from me, but it couldn't have been further from the truth. Gale and I were just friends. We joked about him having a crush on me ages ago, but it never went anywhere.
"He and Madge are still together. I think it's been about five years now," Delly clung onto every word as if I was suddenly going to break down in tears. The whole thing made me want to laugh. No one was happier about my two best friends being together than myself. It made things so much easier. "I think they're get hitched soon. How about you and Peeta?" Part of me is itching to know whether wedding bells are in the future for the youngest Mellark. Maybe I've been sucked into small town gossip. "Are you thinking of tying the knot?"
Delly gets really quiet and starts to stab into her salad. A sore spot for sure. "I don't know. Peeta likes to take things slow. I mean it took years for us to date." I take her apprehension as an opportunity to flip open my book again and this time Delly doesn't interrupt.
My last class of the day is the easiest, mostly because Posey Hawthorne sits right at the front. Posey has grown just short to Gale, which is impressive considering he is six feet and change. All of the boys fawn over her, but she only seems to notice the white board and her notebook.
Not surprisingly she is brilliant. Her hand is the first one up each time and her worksheets are finished within minutes. The other members of her team smile with glee as she tells them her answers and adds to their skimpy responses. She waits after class with me as I pack up my things. "How'd you do?" she is sorting the classroom set of books by number while I shut down my computer.
"I managed not to kill anyone. How was your first day?" Posey starts to trace the binding of one of the books with her index finger. I get the feeling she doesn't want to answer me honestly.
"Great. I like all of my classes," she pulls on her backpack and reaches into my desk drawer where a supply of water bottles and candy bars are stocked for safe keeping. I slap her hand away, but let her take the bottle anyway. "I've got practice. Bye Ms. Everdeen," she says in the most high pitched voice she can muster.
I chuck a candy bar at her, causing her to laugh all the way down the hall. It's only three and Prim doesn't get off of work until three thirty so I take out my book and nestle into the comfy desk chair my mother bought for me when I graduated. A few pages in I feel my eyes start to droop. I must fall asleep because seconds later I heard my name being called as soft as honey.
I let out a loud gasp when I see Peeta standing in front of me. He's out of the white Mellark uniform and in jeans and a snug v-neck. "I didn't mean to scare you," he laughs as I gather my breath.
"Yeah, well you did," I snap back. "What are you doing here?" I know I sound like a bitch, but I'm fairly certain I was drooling. It also is no help that Peeta had been in and out of my thoughts all day.
Peeta ruffles his blonde hair nervously. "I just wanted to apologize for this morning. I was kind of out of it when you came by. I hadn't had my coffee yet."
I know he is lying because he's been a baker since we were kids. He must wake up at five in the morning to get the bread ready for the next day. I don't point out the discrepancy. "It's fine. We hardly talked before. I didn't expect us to be bustling buds."
His eyebrows scrunch up in frustration, but he nods in agreement. I see a pink box on the desk behind him. I'm sure it wasn't there after class, so I can only assume he brought it with him. When he sees me looking he slaps his head. "Oh yeah, I brought these by. Sort of as a congrats on the new job," he pushes the box towards me and unties the ribbon before I can deny the gift. "They're Prim's favorite so if you don't want them give them to her."
Inside are two dozen sugar cookies. Half of them are decorated with perfectly crafted roses, while the others have bow and arrows. It surprises me to see the latter, but I guess there wasn't a lot to remember me by apart from my state Archery medal that still hangs in the trophy case today. "Thanks Peeta." I marvel at the complex designs for a few seconds before plopping one in my mouth. They taste even better than they look. "Christ! Delly is a lucky girl," I blurt out between chews. My eyes nearly pop out of my head. Peeta blushes and I suddenly hate the damn cookies. I swallow the last morsel quickly. "I mean these are really great. I talked to her today you know? You guys make a great couple."
Peeta looks a little upset at my response. "Thanks. I should go I'm here to pick her up, but she is stuck in her lab meetings."
I awkwardly stand to dust the cookie crumbs off of my skirt. I never mastered the art of eating without destroying my outfit. It suddenly mattered. "Thanks for the cookies. I owe you." I always owe him.
He catches the weight of my words and for a moment I think he is going to bring up the damn bread. Thankfully he doesn't. He does something much more irritating. "Listen Katniss, I know we weren't close in high school. I mean we never talked-"
"Never ever," I amend.
He laughs and continues, "Let's change that. We should hang out. I know Gale and Madge are back, Delly likes you. We should all get together."
Great! Everyone is couple up and I'm the lone loser. I guess I could find a date to balance out the pairs. If not Prim could join. Maybe even Caleb can clean up for the night. "I'd like that," I sigh. My phone starts to buzz in my pocket. It's Prim. "Shit, I've got to go." I jot down my cell number on a sticky note and crush it into Peeta's hand. "Thanks for the cookies!" I call as I run down the call.
I skate past Abernathy on the way out, barely missing the disgruntled man by a few inches. "No running in the halls Everdeen!"