Disclaimer: The Hunger Games belongs to Suzanne Collins.
Just want to take a moment to give a huge thank you to my beta and friend: fnurfnur and also to my good friend, misshoneywell who not only pre-reads this story for me but has been the best support system around. Not only has she offered her words of wisdom, but she helped me to outline the entire thing and has listened as babble on for hours and hours. I love you both!
"Italics" means speaking in sign language.
Italics means writing.
Chapter One: In Which it All Begins
"I don't want to go to school," I frown, my lip quivering as Dad takes my hand and leads me to the school bus. Rye and Bannock are several paces ahead of us, jumping and skipping over puddles of water from the heavy rain last night.
"Why not? You were excited to start the second grade last week," Dad signs back, his eyebrows knitting in confusion, lips forming a tight line.
"That was before I went," I glower.
"Did something happen?" Dad asks, but immediately his eyes go from where they're trained on me to up the street. I follow his gaze and see Rye and Bannock chanting something, but Dad only holds his pointer finger up to them in return, motioning for them to wait.
They stop in their tracks reluctantly.
Dad bends down to my height and runs a hand through my mess of hair.
"Nobody wants to be friends with me in second grade. Can't I go back to the small classroom like last year?"
Last year, my class was only six students, and all of them were special. One girl couldn't see, and another one was just like me and couldn't hear... only she couldn't speak sign language either. The other three had a mental disability.
"Peeta, you're the one who wanted to be in the big boy classroom, remember?"
He's right. I begged Dad to ask the school if I could go to the normal classrooms and they agreed, but only if I had the help of an aid who would translate things for me and help me along.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, because being in that small class made me feel different.
But being in the big class made me feel weird.
"Have you tried making friends with any of the other kids?"
"I'm not dumb, Dad," I frown, the big yellow bus pulling up to the end of the street. "I know I'm weird. No one understands how to talk to me. And how can you play if you don't talk?"
"Peeta-" Dad begins, but I place my hands on top of his to stop him.
Rye grabs my hand in his own and leads me onto the bus with a reassuring smile, using his other arm to wave goodbye to Dad who stands frowning on the deserted street.
Bannock, Rye and I all cram into one of the seats in the middle of the bus while most of the other kids shoot for the back. Rye told me once that the cool kids sit back there, and one even offered to let him sit back there too.
"Why don't you then?" I wondered, but Rye only shrugged, as if it weren't a big deal.
"I like it better sitting with you and Bannock."
But the way his face droops and eyes go blank as he watches all his friends crowd to the back has me thinking he's telling a fib.
When the bus pulls into the loop, my aid is waiting right by the doors for me. Rye and Bannock wave goodbye as they excitedly speed off to find their friends.
I look up at the tall woman with pin straight brown hair that ends right past her ears and small wrinkles in the corner of her eyes. She wears bright red lipstick and too much purple stuff over the top of her eyes.
I can't help but think she'd be prettier without it.
She smiles down at me and reaches out to take my hand in her own.
Ms. Coin, I remember her introducing herself to me.
"Coin," she signed, fishing into her pocket and pulling out a quarter, placing it in my palms. "Like a quarter."
I concluded that I liked her, after I got a gum ball at the grocery store with her quarter that night.
Ms. Coin leads me to my classroom, three lefts and a right past the main doors and reminds me of where my seat in the room is - even though I hadn't forgotten.
Mrs. White, the teacher who taught the main group of students in class, offers me a shy smile and wave of the fingers. Ms. Coin suggests I say hello, so I bashfully wave my hand in her direction.
She asks how I'm doing this morning in broken sign language, but I'm able to make out the expression anyway and smile up at her, because she looks extremely pleased with herself.
I flash her a thumbs up, knowing anything else I do will only have to be translated by Ms. Coin. Mrs. White pats my head gently and continues to make her way around the room to greet other students for the morning.
It's hard to ignore the stares and curious looks of my classmates as the morning goes on and Ms. Coin begins to interpret what Mrs. White is saying rather...dramatically.
I feel my cheeks reddening as I see some of their lips curl up into a smile and whisper to their friends.
Mrs. White and Ms. Coin chat while the others play during break time mid-morning. After learning I like drawing, Ms. Coin bought me a coloring book and a pack of crayons. It's not exactly the same as drawing, but the gesture was a kind one so during this free time I sit coloring at my desk.
I glance up when I see the shadow of a girl in front of me and Ms. Coin pushing her away gently, but the girl resists. Ms. Coin is telling her something, pointing over to a group of two or three more girls who are playing dolls but this girl only shakes her head.
She looks directly at me and her mouth begins moving. She pauses and looks to me expectantly. I eye her flustered, then turn my gaze to Ms. Coin who shrugs her shoulders in exasperation, talking to the girl some more.
The girl takes one of my crayons and a piece of paper and begins scribbling madly.
I'm Katniss, she writes on the paper that she scoots in my direction.
I turn to look at her in shock, eyes widening in confusion before looking back to the paper and the crayon she's pushing past my closed fist.
Mrs. White says you can't hear.
I can't. I respond, dejectedly.
But you can read.
It's not a question, it's a statement.
Can we be friends? she writes on the paper and I feel the table vibrating under me as she strums her fingers against it, glancing casually around the room.
How can we be friends? I question back, frowning and the odd girl in front of me shrugs.
You have to be able to talk to be friends.
Says who? she questions, her handwriting neat even with the thick crayon. And anyways, we're talking right now.
This isn't talking, this is writing.
The girl - Katniss - rolls her eyes, messing with the tip of her braid.
You understand me, right?
Then let's be friends. I don't like anyone else here.
I look up to see Katniss timidly smiling and offer her one in return.
There's a sharp prod at my shoulder and my body jumps, eyes fluttering open only to shut tightly at the bright light shining through the window. It can't be morning already, can it?
The nudge comes from Katniss who refuses to sit still and continues to jostle the mattress, pushing me further and further from sleep. Her small foot kicks my thigh roughly and I finally lift my head to face her, giving what I hope is my best fuck off face.
Katniss raises an eyebrow in my direction, a cocky smirk lacing her lips and I run a sleepy hand through my hair before face planting back into my pillow in frustration.
I've never been one for mornings.
The sudden warmth of the blankets disappears and is replaced with the chilly air of the room, pebbling my skin with goosebumps at the sudden change in climate.
"Rude." I lift my hands to sign, not bothering to look up at her. I know she's laughing, I can feel the bed shaking with the effort it takes for her to stop. I fight to find the covers, flinging my hands across the mattress like a fish out of water before finally giving up and turning to glare in Katniss's direction.
"Good morning, sunshine."
Her smile is beaming sarcastically and she places her hands around her small cheeks after she's finished signing to me.
I roll my eyes dramatically at her and yawn tiredly, my eyes closing and arms stretching behind me stiffly.
When my eyes reopen, I see Katniss staring at me; nose wrinkled and eyes trained on my lips with disgust. I stare at her in confusion.
"Morning breath." she responds.
"Go home. I need to get ready for school."
I stick my tongue out in her direction, swinging my legs over the side of the bed and grab the jeans that sit in a ball on the ground below me. Once they're over my hips and buttoned I slip the sweatshirt I wore over here last night on and smooth it out over my chest.
Katniss is still wearing my shirt, bundled up in the warmth of the covers she stole from me. I give her a terse wave goodbye and exit her room.
Prim is in the bathroom, curling her hair. Her lips are moving but she's not looking in my direction, or at anyone in particular. Her eyes are trained on the mirror ahead, and there's a small cordless radio that sits on the counter top beside her. She must be singing along to the music.
"It's a good thing you're deaf," Katniss has bluntly told me on multiple occasions when her sister is singing. Apparently, it's not all that good. Although even if I were to miraculously gain the function of hearing, I'm not sure I'd know what sounded "good" or "bad."
Prim smiles in my direction and offers me a wave with her free hand. I mimic the motion before heading down the stairs. Prim's knowledge of sign language is very basic, not that I'd expect it to be anything more.
We usually just use Katniss as an interpreter when we want to talk - that's how it is for most of my friends really - but it makes conversation between the other party and myself very impersonal. And, Katniss gets annoyed very quickly.
It's not odd for the Everdeens to wake up and find me in their home. It's been this way for as long as I can remember; Katniss spending the night at my place, me coming over late into the evening to crash here.
I live just one street over, about a five minute walk and one minute drive from Katniss. We hadn't realized how close we lived to one another until nearly the fourth grade, when I finally convinced Dad (and myself) that it was all right to go over to Katniss's house after school.
Dad was the one who pointed out to me one winter night that you could see Katniss's street through the bare trees that littered our backyard. That summer, Katniss and I explored the thin woods and found a small - but clear - path that connected our streets to one another.
I take that route now, walking down to the end of Katniss's street and up the side of someone's yard into the woods where I know the path lies.
It hasn't begun snowing here in Panem yet, but the thick gray clouds that forecast the sky and the bone chilling winds that have already begun this early in the morning have me thinking it'll be along soon.
I'm not surprised to see the lights on when I approach my house and turn the knob with red hands. Rye is in the kitchen, standing over the toaster with a stern look of impatience. He offers me a quick nod of the head, but nothing more. None of us are big on waking up.
I slip my shoes off, turning my attention to the door I haven't shut when the ground under me vibrates. I turn in Rye's direction and see him stomping his foot in an effort to gain my attention.
He points to the toast.
I shake my head and he shrugs, taking half of a piece into his mouth with one bite.
I won't have time to shower I realize as I walk up the stairs and see the door pressed shut, steam rising out from the bottom, but I should at least wash the sleep away from my face.
While I wait for Bannock to finish in the bathroom, I change from the jeans I wore yesterday into a fresh pair and new shirt. I'll have to remember to get that other shirt back from Katniss some other time.
Although, it looked better on her than it ever did on me.
Knock it off.
They were pointless thoughts that fluttered into my mind on and off depending on my mood, but in the end they were nothing more than that: pointless thoughts.
Because Katniss and I are a lot of things, but lovers is not one of them.
But that doesn't stop the fact that she wears my clothes better than I do from being true.
Bannock darts down the hall, clad only in a towel with rosy cheeks from the warmth of the water. He does a double take into my room, looking stunned to see me, but then offers a neutral smile.
After washing my face and brushing my teeth I decide to take Rye up on the offer of toast. He pops a piece for me while I pour orange juice into a small glass.
"Don't forget you and Katniss have the shift after school."
"Have I ever forgotten?" I question, rolling my eyes.
Dad owns a small corner store in the center of town, where families can come to buy breads and fresh pastries. That's how everything is around here because there's no actual grocery store in Panem, just a bunch of small shops you need to travel in and out of depending on what you're looking for.
The town took a vote a few years back on whether or not to build a grocery store chain, but the vote was unanimous. Not many people welcomed "change."
That's mostly because the same folks have lived here for generations. Even the "Mellark Bakery" is not something invented by Dad. It's been passed down for decades to the eldest Mellark son.
I'll be the first to change that tradition however, because neither Bannock nor Rye (just fifteen minutes apart in age) have the desire to own and run a bakery. In fact, I won't be surprised if they decide to leave town all together after they finish school this year.
I don't mind working in the bakery, in fact I welcome the couple shifts I'm assigned each week. Baking was one of the first things I learned how to do that Bannock and Rye did too, besides simple things like tying shoes and writing my name.
Dad was always really good at keeping me included growing up, but even he couldn't help things beyond his control, like going to the movie theaters.
So, the couple times Bannock and Rye would run off to see the new blockbuster, Dad would take me to the bakery and let me make anything I wanted: treat breads, desserts - nothing was off limits.
And I always figured that time was much more valuable than any movie.
When I was in ninth grade and Dad began cutting back on his shifts at the bakery, he hired Katniss to work the same hours as me. I'm not an idiot, and knew exactly why he was; that I couldn't work alone, but he played it off with the fact that she needed a job too.
Which was true, she did, and she didn't seem to mind tagging around with me not only all day at school but for several hours afterward too.
"Just a reminder," Rye signed, taking a swig of the orange juice I poured and ruffling my hair. "I'm driving separate. Practice after school."
Rye and Bannock have both been wrestlers since middle school, growing progressively stronger at the sport as years went by, leading them to where they are now as the regional champion and runner-up in our small county.
I wrestled for a few years too, back when I was younger. I was actually pretty good at it. Rye used to tease me that it was because my other senses were heightened, but Bannock said he only said those things because he was jealous his younger brother could pin him to the ground.
I stopped in the beginning of eighth grade, when we were at a competition a few towns over and the third round of the match had come to an end. I was on a winning streak, and the kid I beat was bitter. He snuck up behind me and pushed me hard as he could to the gymnasium floor before his fist started flying.
I actually felt bad for him, once Bannock and Rye got a hold of him.
Needless to say, they were put on one month probation and it spooked me into quitting - much to coach's dismay.
I knew it was a dumb sport for me to get involved in anyway, and even Dad was hesitant to letting me join, but I've never liked using my disability as a crutch or excuse.
I grab my book bag and keys before following Bannock and Rye out the door, back into the blistering cold. The tree that sits square in our front yard has maybe ten leaves clinging to its branches, the rest scattered about on the damp lawn.
I watch as a particularly strong wind passes by and knocks two or three more down and tuck my hands into my pockets, shivering. Winter has never been my favorite season physically, but its beauty in scenery has always been something I've found particularly fascinating to draw or paint.
When I turn on my car, the warmth that emits from the vents fogs my windows and tints my cheeks dark pink. I sit back in my seat and wait for the defroster to set in, feeling the vibration of the car all around my body.
Bannock and Rye went the morning of their sixteenth birthday to get their learner's permits and that very afternoon begged our pale white father to take them out on the road.
"Times like these I'm certain your mother would have been better at this," he told me later that afternoon when I asked how it went. His lips were turned up into a smile as he signed, but when he took in my sullen expression, his softened.
"But, I think they did just fine." he finished lamely.
When I turned sixteen, it took me a week to gain the courage to ask Dad if he'd take me to get my learner's permit. I had done the research thoroughly, and it was actually proven that people without the ability to hear are better drivers, since they aren't distracted by music or telephone calls.
Katniss ended up convincing me to ask.
"I can't cart you around our entire lives," she teased before pushing me into the room where Dad sat watching the evening news. She flashed me a thumbs up when I turned back to her nervously bunching my shirt in my hands.
Dad waited patiently as I began signing crazily, shifting on my feet and sweating with worry before agreeing to take me to get my permit. His one requirement was that we hire a teacher who specialized in this particular field, which I was actually relieved to hear.
And might I add, it took Bannock two times to pass his road test and Rye four times.
I passed on my first.
When the windows are clear and my steering wheel doesn't feel like an icicle, I back out of the driveway slowly and make my way down the end of my street, turning almost instantly onto Katniss's.
For a while, when we both finally got cars - crappy cars, but cars none the less - we were driving to school separately. It took only about two weeks to realize this was an extreme waste of gas and we began car-pooling; switching drivers every other day.
I pull into her driveway and beep the horn once, turning to look up at the door like always, which swings open almost on cue. Katniss pops her head out, motioning to me that she'll be another second and disappears back inside.
Just to piss her off, I beep it a couple more times.
Prim and Katniss submerge a few minutes later. Prim is giggling and Katniss flashes me her middle finger.
We pass a lot of farmland on the way to school in our small town, some with actual barnyard animals like cows and sheep eating the small tuffs of grass left and some filled with wheat and other crops.
Prim scuttles off almost immediately after I park, only coming back to grab a couple dollars from Katniss for lunch before rushing off to meet with her friends or whatever she does in the mornings.
Katniss's cheeks grow puffy before she blows a thick wave of air out dejectedly.
"Is it three o'clock yet?"
I smirk, shaking my head as we casually head toward the side doors of the school, which will lead us down the long hallway we meet up with the rest of our friends each morning.
"Don't get too excited," I mention to her, holding the door for her when we make it to the warmth of the building. "We work right after."
"I wouldn't really consider that work, but that's just my opinion."
She's right. We hardly ever actually work and even when we do, it's always fun. Rolling and kneading dough, decorating cakes and cutting out cookies passes rather quickly with good company.
Sometimes it feels weird to think we're being paid to hang out.
I notice Johanna making her way toward us in the distance when Katniss's eyes brighten with recognition and she gives a quick wave into the sea of students.
Johanna seems miserable. Her short black hair is tucked behind her head in what I think is an attempt at a bun and she wears a thick pair of aviators over her eyes. She has a thermos in her hands and blows on the top of it when she approaches, mouth moving a mile a minute in Katniss's direction.
Katniss met Johanna Mason when we were in sixth or maybe seventh grade... I don't really remember. After deeming her "friend material" she introduced me and that was the first time it was ever not just Katniss and I.
After Johanna came Madge Undersee who knew Finnick Odair, who introduced us to Gale Hawthorne when he moved here in the ninth grade. After that, things sort of fell into the place they are now.
None of them know sign language, just basic lines they've picked up from Katniss here and there, but not nearly enough to try to even begin communicating. Still, they've always tried their hardest to include me by texting me or telling Katniss to tell me something: like a joke or a compliment, typically.
I always smile at their kind efforts, but it's not the same.
The students who have to fight to push past us glare at us annoyingly. Stopping in the middle of the hallway was probably not the smartest idea, so I grab both girls' forearms and pull them off to the side where some lockers are.
Johanna acknowledges me for the first time that morning by holding her hand up for a high five. When I return the gesture she nods smoothly and pats my arm affectionately. She mumbles a few more words to Katniss before they say goodbye and she bolts past us with purpose.
Katniss rolls her eyes when she meets my expectant ones and shrugs her shoulders.
"Girl drama. Nothing interesting, trust me."
I smile at that and she winks, motioning for me to continue with her down the hall.
Katniss and I have all our main classes together as well as lunch. A few years back, towards the end of eight grade, the school agreed to not making me walk around with the help of an aid all the time if Katniss was in class with me. She could communicate with me better than any of them could anyway.
But for my electives, an aide still accompanies me, because Katniss refused to sign up for art class and I refused archery.
"Bell rang, we should head off to class," Katniss signs after nudging my arm roughly.
Even after all these years, people still stare when Katniss and I begin signing to one another. It was worse when we were younger, and kids were genuinely curious as to why Katniss wasted the time and effort it too to be friends with me. They didn't realize I wondered the same things every day.
When our teacher began to pick up on the fact that Katniss and I had grown a liking to one another, she started to worry that perhaps it wasn't the healthiest friendship. I still remember Katniss telling me all about it in our notebook later that day.
Ms. Coin talked to me about Katniss as well.
"What do you like about her?" she'd ask, but I'd only ever shrug, twiddling my hands within one another.
"She likes me."
"But do you like her?"
"Is it odd that you have to write everything down to talk with this girl?"
"Would you rather make friends who can talk to you how we talk? Or how you and your daddy talk?"
I shake my head.
"Because that doesn't seem fair."
"What do you mean?" Ms. Coin asked me, her expression perplexed and growing impatient.
"Well, she likes me even though I can't hear. So I like her, even though she can."
I snicker at the memory, trying to imagine the thoughts Ms. Coin had had at my simple explanation and the conversations her and Ms. White had afterward.
Katniss and I have never cared what was considered "normal" or "right." We liked one another, and to us that's all it took to make things work. It's everyone else who seemed to always have the issue.
On the short drive home, we get stuck behind a tractor going possibly ten miles an hour. I let out an annoyed breath as I'm practically in park trailing behind the slow vehicle that refuses to make it easy for me or the small line of vehicles forming behind me.
I watch Katniss's hand slip over to my radio on a few separate occasions, scoping through channels before settling on a station and leaning further into her seat, tapping her fingers along her thighs - either to the beat or in annoyance, I'm not sure which.
A couple minutes later, when we're not even twenty feet further, a small milky white hand creeps between my seat and Katniss's in attempt to hit a button, but Katniss smacks it, sending it flying into the back.
I catch Prim pouting through the rearview mirror and wonder what Katniss listens to that annoys her badly.
It's a little after five o'clock in the afternoon when Katniss and I lean against the counter top with a sigh of relief at the rush finally dying down in the bakery. All that's really left to do is pack up the extra things of dough, wrap today's leftovers and clean a little bit.
Katniss steals a freshly baked cookie off the rack and shoves the other half past my lips in an attempt to feel less guilty about it.
"What are you doing tonight?" I question and Katniss makes an exasperated expression.
"Prim needs me to help her with her math homework. I asked her to ask Mom for help when she got home from work, but apparently she doesn't remember how to do it. Then I guess I should do at least a little of my own."
I snort with a nod in agreement, moving to lock up the doors and flip the sign from open to close.
"Unless you want to help her, Mr. Math Genius," Katniss smirks, resting her hands on her hips when she finishes.
"I'd love to, but you see, I already have plans tonight," I shrug and Katniss's lips open just wide enough for me to recognize that she's laughing. It's my favorite of her expressions.
"Right, what plans do you have?"
"It involves introducing my butt to the couch."
"They met a long time ago, Peeta."
I smile, rolling my eyes teasingly.
"Catching up as old friends then," I retort as we turn out the lights and walk down the small set of steps leading up to the bakery's front door.
"You'll come over later though?" Katniss asks, her entire body stiffening with the piercing wind passing by.
Thank you for checking out my new story!
If you read Eggshells... I am still updating and I will be posting the new chapter soon. I've just been trying to get far ahead with this story so I don't have to worry about writing it in-between updates, so now that I have more than half this story completed I will be updating Eggshells soon. Thank you for your patience.
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