Happy Holidays, everyone! I wrote these two little ficlets with Peeta and Atem as a little gift to all of my readers. I cannot express how much it means to me that people actually enjoy what I have written.
Please enjoy and I am looking forward to writing more for you all in 2013 :D
I shut the oven on the last batch of cupcakes, slipping the mitts off of my hands and setting them on the counter before I move to the cooling rack situated near the sink to begin frosting the first batch of cupcakes that have now cooled.
Katniss and Zuri are out taking a long walk while I stay here with Atem during his nap. They were going to wait for him to wake up so we could all go together, but I suggested that Katniss and Zuri go, just the two of them. Zuri needs a break from Atem. She loves him, but she's seven now. Having her three-year-old brother tagging along everywhere she goes gets exhausting, especially when she moves too quickly for him to keep up and he throws a fit until she stops and goes back to get him.
"Daddy?" Atem's sleep clogged voice fills the air, and I set the cupcake I was frosting back down on the cooling rack before walking to the stairs where I find Atem standing at the top. His eyes are squinted and still full of sleep as he looks down at me.
"Hey, sleepyhead," I smile up at him. "You're awake."
"What are you making?" he asks tiredly, rubbing his eyes and sniffing the air.
"Come down and find out," I urge him. He begins to descend the stairs, making sure both feet are firmly planted on each one before progressing to the next. Suddenly, he stops four stairs from the bottom and looks at me. "What's wrong?"
"Can I jump?" he asks, quietly.
I laugh at his question, but more at his tone. He likes to jump from the steps and into my arms when he comes downstairs, but since he fell down the steps and cut a nice gash just above his eye simply by walking down normally, anything that isn't slow, careful steps while holding the railing scares Katniss to death. She hates when he jumps down when she's around. Atem moves his eyes from side to side, gazing past my shoulder, as though he is waiting for Katniss to pop up at any moment and tell him to walk down the stairs safely.
"Sure you can," I reply, amused. What Katniss doesn't know won't hurt her. "On the count of three…"
We count to three together and he jumps from the step, curling his legs up so his feet hit his bottom, and throwing his arms out in mid-air. He lands safely in my arms and immediately begins to look around at his surroundings, clearly looking for Katniss and Zuri, but never asking.
With Atem, we often have to guess what's going through his head. He doesn't ask questions the way Zuri does, and he never tells you more than necessary.
"Mommy and Zuri are taking a walk," I tell him. I see his eyes grow sad with the realization that they went without him. "I needed you to stay here with me, so you can taste test these cupcakes."
"I smelled them," he replies matter-of-factly, smiling when he spots the frosted cupcakes on the cooling rack. The left side of his hair is pushed up, spilling wild, blonde curls in all different directions. It reminds me of my hair when I was a kid. Sometimes it took close to ten minutes to comb through it and get it to relax.
"The ones over there are ready for eating," I reveal, pointing to the frosted cupcakes. "Want one?" He nods his head wildly, flashing a toothy grin. I sit him down at the table and grab a cupcake, setting it down in front of him before I move to the oven and take out the last of the cupcakes and place them on the counter to cool.
When I turn around, Atem has grabbed the cupcake and is in the process of taking a large bite. Frosting smears the underside of his nose and top lip when he pulls it away, chewing happily and grinning.
"Slow down," I laugh, "and don't eat the wrapper." I sit down across from him and watch as he tries to finish chewing. He pulls the paper from the cupcake and throws it down on the table before he begins to speak.
"I have to eat all my food," he states, licking the frosting from his top lip. "So I can get big and strong."
"Yeah," I agree with a smile. "But you'll get bigger and stronger if you eat all of your good food, too, not just cupcakes."
"Like what?" he says, challenging me. I smile at how serious he is trying to be while covered in buttercream frosting.
"Let's see," I begin matching his serious tone. "Your carrots that you push around on your plate to make it look like you ate some, your potatoes that you put too much gravy on, the beans you pretend you're allergic too, and most definitely your broccoli that you always seem to be too full to eat."
He scowls at my list of foods and I can't hold back my laugh any longer. This seems to upset him even more, which does nothing to curb my amusement. He looks just like Katniss when he gets like this – it's the eyes, gray and squinted threateningly, and the mouth. It turns downward, the top lip jutting out over the bottom, puckered just slightly.
"And I bet if you start eating them, you'll be able to run even faster than Zuri does one day," I say encouragingly.
"Really?" Atem asks happily, his face dropping the scowl as a wide grin appears across his frosting covered mouth.
"Really," I reply honestly. "And that's what you want, isn't it? To run faster so she can't leave you behind anymore?"
Atem nods and pops the last bite of his cupcake into his mouth, chewing greedily and wiggling his fingers in the air. They're covered in frosting and cupcake crumbs, and his mouth and nose are still dirty as well.
"I want to beat her when we race," he says determinedly, his mouth full, sending bits of cupcake crumbs flying from his mouth. "She always wins." I get up from the table and find his favorite green cup, heading to the refrigerator.
"I know," I laugh, pouring him a glass of milk and setting it in front of him. "But she's older, so it's easy for her to beat you." I remember never being able to beat my brothers in anything as a child because they were always bigger and faster than me. I would pick up one sack of flour and they'd pick up three.
"I don't like that," he grumbles.
"I bet you don't," I say amused. I never liked it either. "How about we get you cleaned up and you can help me start dinner?" I wipe him up with a wet rag and he hops off the chair, following me to the sink quietly.
"Let's get some potatoes," I suggest, pointing to the refrigerator.
"No," Atem says quickly, shaking his head. "I want to do it myself." He pads across the kitchen confidently and stops in front of the refrigerator, wrapping both hands around the door handle and pulling hard. He opens it successfully on his second try and looks over his shoulder at me, as though he is making sure I saw him.
"Good job!" I smile and nod. He turns back to the refrigerator, satisfied and disappears, returning a few seconds later with a large potato in each hand. He screws his face up in his effort to bring them to me without dropping them.
"Here," he says exhaling loudly when he drops the potatoes into my hand.
"Thank you," I say, taking the potatoes from him. "Look at how strong you are already," I point out, feigning shock. "These potatoes are heavy. Do you think you can get me two more?"
"Yep!" Atem replies, sure of himself.
He repeats the process two more times; wiping his hands on his pants when I tell him we have enough potatoes. He stands next to me expectantly, looking up at me.
"Did I do a good job?" he asks timidly.
"You did a great job," I assure him, giving him a smile.
"Better than Zuri?" His eyebrows rise hopefully, waiting for my answer, and I laugh at his need to have something that is all his own, something Zuri has never done — it's hard living in the shadow of an older sibling. I slip my hands under his arms and lift him up, setting him down on the counter next to the sink.
"You guys both do a great job when you help Mommy and me with dinner," I answer truthfully. "But you know what?"
"What?" Atem asks curiously, continuing his uncharacteristic questioning. It's then that I realize the cause for it. Atem and I rarely have time alone like this. Unlike Zuri, he prefers to stay at home with Katniss, coming to the bakery when she brings him to visit rather than spending the days with me there. He helps Katniss all day, something Zuri didn't do. But with me, if he helps, it's with Zuri at his side helping too.
I observe his curious smile and suddenly it becomes very apparent that, even though he was upset that Katniss and Zuri went on a walk without him at first, he is happy to have some time alone with me, without his sister taking everything over because she's older and tells him he can't do it.
"Zuri never helped me throw away the potato skins after I peeled them," I reveal, whispering like it's a secret. "Want to try it?"
"Yes," he smiles widely, nodding his head. His curls bounce around and I have to laugh at how the left side of his hair is still sticking up at odd angles from sleeping on it.
"Then when we finish that up, we can frost the rest of these cupcakes, okay?" He nods again and I begin to peel the potatoes, letting the peels fall into the sink next to Atem – he watches intently.
When the potatoes are peeled and in the pot of water on the stove, I bring the garbage pail to the sink and hold it up high enough for Atem to reach from the top of the counter.
"Now, just take the skins from the sink and throw them here," I instruct him encouragingly, pointing to the pail.
He lays on the counter on his belly, lowering his hands into the deep sink and pulling the skins out, maneuvering to the side to drop them into the waiting garbage pail – I rest my free hand on his back to keep him from slipping off the counter.
"I'm gonna tell Mommy that I helped," he says giddily, almost to himself. His smile has taken over his entire face as he focuses on his task. He is so proud of himself. Everyone says he looks just like me when he smiles. I wish I had pictures of myself as a kid to compare, but they have been gone for a long time.
"You help Mommy a lot when Zuri is at school," I remind him. When I am at the bakery and Zuri is at school, it's just Katniss and Atem during the day. She says that he follows her through the house, watching everything that she does.
There have been many afternoons where I've come home to Katniss hanging laundry on the line in the backyard while Atem sits in the basket, handing her the damp pieces one by one, both of them working silently but diligently together.
"But I never threw away potatoes," he counters seriously.
"Potato skins," I correct him with a laugh. "But now that you've done it, she'll know to ask you to help her next time."
"I like helping," he states with finality in his voice. He pushes himself up and into a sitting position after the last piece of potato has been disposed of.
"I know you do," I nod and smile. I pick him up and set him down on the floor, grabbing the cooled cupcakes on my right and moving them to the table. "Now let's finish these cupcakes before mom and Zuri get home."