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
The splitting maul comes down, pulling apart the log that's propped on a tree stump right down the center. I let the pieces fall where they may and grab another log, repeating the process. Beads of sweat run down the sides of my face, and I use my shirt to wipe them away, re-positioning my hands on the splitting maul when I'm done.
It's a typical early May in District Twelve – warm during the day, chilly at night. The logs I split today should last until summer takes over and the need for a nightly fire dissipates until fall. I hear the back door swing open so hard that it crashes against the side of the house and Atem comes running out, jumping from the porch to the ground with ease and continuing his sprint toward me after he lands. The force of his landing does nothing to break his stride.
"Can I help, Dad?!" Atem yells as he runs toward me.
"Shoes, Atem!" Katniss calls after him exasperatedly, pushing the back door open and peering out to me.
I give her a nod, letting her know I will send him back in the house for shoes. She nods in return and turns back into the house, satisfied.
Atem comes to a screeching halt in front of the tree stump and looks at me expectantly.
"Can I help, Dad? Can I?" he asks again, excitedly.
"Yes," I reply. His face lights up and he begins to move to my side. "But not until you go back in the house and put some shoes on. You don't want a splinter or a broken toe if you drop a log."
He sighs heavily and turns around, marching impatiently back into the house – I wait for him to come back out before resuming my task.
"What can I do, Dad?" he asks hopefully. "Can I split the log?"
I weigh the splitting maul in my hands and look at Atem's small, seven-year-old frame. I know right away that he won't be able to lift it over his head, let alone use enough force to split a log, but I won't try to deter him. The idea is in his head now and he won't let go of it until he tries. I've seen his determination before – it's best not to ignore it.
"Grab another log from the pile," I instruct him, "and then you can split it." He gives me a terse nod and pulls another log from the pile I stacked close to the stump. I step aside holding the splitting maul out to him and he grabs it from me, trying to hide the strained look that has taken over his face. "Put your hands a little higher and hold tight," I tell him gently, miming with my hands how he should place his own on the handle.
He has seen me split logs plenty of times, but this is the first time he has ever asked to do it himself. I can't help but wonder how long he has wanted to try it and only now decided to speak up about it. I stay a safe distance behind him and observe as he lets go of the handle to wipe his hands on his pants and then repositions them the way that I told him to.
He exhales loudly, and I see his shoulders move as he attempts to lift the splitting maul high enough to bring down on top of the log, but his arms go slack and the maul is back in its original position. I stay quiet, listening to his frustrated sighs while he attempts to lift it again. He gets it higher this time, but still struggles to lift it high enough and instead brings it down and lets it go. The maul hits the ground with a thud and Atem throws his hands over his head and grumbles loudly, stomping across the yard angrily as he heads back toward the house.
"Atem!" I call to him and he stops in his tracks. "Where are you going?"
"Back inside!" He yells, turning around. He his eyebrows are knitted together and his jaw set. "I can't lift that stupid thing!"
"That doesn't mean you have to go back inside, you can still help," I reason with him, walking toward him.
"No I can't," he says sadly, shaking his head. "Why aren't I strong like you, Dad?"
"You're strong," I assure him, squeezing his shoulder.
"But you're really strong," he replies wistfully.
"You're seven," I point out. "And I'm… old." Atem's eyes grow wide at my statement and he shakes his head.
"You're not old," he says, shocked. "Uncle Haymitch is old." I shouldn't laugh, but the bellowing guffaws escape my mouth anyway. I regain my composure and narrow my eyes at him.
"That's not nice," I tell him, trying to keep my voice serious.
"Why not?" Atem asks, confused. "He says it too. You can't scare an old man like that, kid." He says, dropping his voice low to mimic Haymitch's tone.
"When did he say that to you?" I ask between laughs.
"When I wanted to hide from him and climbed up in the tree in the front yard then jumped down when he was next to it," he replies, pleased with himself. I should tell him that wasn't a nice thing to do to Haymitch, but I can't. The image of my son scaring Haymitch is too amusing to reprimand him for it.
"You have to be pretty strong to climb a tree by yourself," I remind him encouragingly. "And it may not need muscles, but it takes a lot of strength to fool Uncle Haymitch." Atem smiles at me and I continue. "And I bet you're strong enough to help me bring these logs in the house. You can start stacking them on the porch for us to bring in when I'm done splitting the others." He seems to accept this suggestion and begins to walk, leaning over and picking up halves from where they landed when he reaches the stump.
We work in silence until all of the logs have been split and moved to the porch. There is too much to bring all of it in the house, and Atem seems to have noticed this too, as he has the split logs stacked against the house uniformly.
"Impressive," I say with a smile. "Grab a few to bring in for the kitchen fireplace, and I'll grab some for the living room."
Atem watches me as I grab five log halves and pile them up against my chest. I pull open the back door and wait for him while he piles three halves, then a fourth, and finally, a fifth. He's struggling to keep them in his grasp, but I say nothing. I hold the door open for him and motion with my head for him to go in first.
He stumbles through the doorway and I follow behind him, glad that I told him to take his logs to the kitchen. It's a shorter journey. He veers off in the direction of his designated fireplace and I continue to the living room, hearing the logs crash down on the cement ledge as though Atem dropped them down when he reached his destination.
When I reach the living room, I crouch down and begin to arrange the logs next to the fireplace, leaning forward to push them flush with the stone wall. Suddenly I'm pushed to my left, which cause all of my body weight to be placed on my prosthetic. I buckle, falling down as Atem's giggling form pins me to the floor – I didn't even hear him run in here.
"Got you, Dad!" Atem laughs while I roll onto my back and force a smile, resolute in not letting him see the painful wince that plagued my features just a moment before. He doesn't quite understand yet the hindrances of the prosthetic, and I have no plans to make him feel bad for trying to have a little bit of fun with me.
"You got me," I surrender, putting my hands up. Atem sits on my stomach and smiles down at me while he drums on my chest.
"Atem?" Katniss says gently, stepping into the living room. He turns around and looks at her and I lift my head from the floor and peer around his body and smile at her. "You still have homework to finish."
He groans in protest and rolls his eyes, but doesn't move from his spot on my stomach.
"You didn't finish your homework?" I ask, aghast. When he shakes his head, I move my arms up quickly and lift him off my stomach, tickling him. He screams with laughter as he squirms around, trying to get away.
"Stop, stop!" he yells between laughs. "I'll do it now, I promise!"
"Good," I say, satisfied. I push myself up from the floor and ruffle his hair. "Can I help you with it?"