There is something so beautiful about the way the rain falls. Haunting, almost.. in the way the precipitation gathers the world into a destructive dance. Tree branches sway to the cold wind's invisible will. A tempo rises from the thunderous sound of a thousand gleaming diamonds prattling against the ground.
A churning heat gathers in the pit of Katniss' stomach as she walks. Strands of dripping black hair curl against her forehead and the bottom of her jaw, straying from the braid that hangs heavy against her shoulder. Each stride she takes splashes the puddles higher up her legs. The frigid, taloned fingers of the icy water running down her calves, causing a shiver, the ghosted touch of a lost lover, just barely running up the length of her spine.
However, beautiful or not, the storm has started out of no where, and Katniss searches the surrounding buildings for shelter. There's a promising book store across the street. She glances to see if there are too many cars around to just simply jay-walk her way through this. She starts to, jumping over the deeper puddles lining the edge of the road, but she stalls as a pick-up flies passed. A blanket of water throws itself at her with intent, the car's wheel pitching into a nearby pot-hole.
Katniss returns to the sidewalk, sputtering grit, and bristling, wetter than ever.
Mud stains her coat thanks to the unbelievably rude driver who tried to mow her down. She rubs at the spot while absently turning into the nearest building. Let it be a hair cutters or an insurance office, Katniss couldn't care less, as long as she had a roof over her head.
A pleasant warmth rushes up to wrap around her as she passes through the door. Mouth-watering smells flood her senses not two steps within. She scans the shop quickly; blue tiled floor, soft cream-colored walls, beautiful and framed paintings hanging on almost every wall, and people, too. Multiple couples whispering sweet nothings to each other over cups of hot chocolate. A son and father sharing a cheery scone, powdered sugar sprinkling the boy's nose. Mother's with infants sleeping in strollers, or little girls bouncing on top of the worn leather seats, hands clutching a strawberry milkshake. Two lone writers, plugged into laptops, sipping coffee and alternatively breaking their teeth into a cookie.
It's a nice place. A sweet, family establishment that offers all manner of warmth and comfort. Maybe it is just the right thing for a stranger, sopping wet from jeans to braid tip. But she finds herself backing away those two steps, toes sloshing inside her boots, itching to run. She whirls around in an instant and has a hand on the door-handle, when a voice calls from behind the counter, "Want an umbrella?"
Startled, Katniss freezes. A man leans across the counter, propped up against a careless arm. His face is arranged in a smile that screams welcome, his voice smooth and, surprisingly (the very thing that had made her stall in the first place) genuine.
The man nods his head toward her left. On the wall hangs an old wooden rank of hooks, something that a person would possess from a great-grandmother, with its flawless carvings and silky exterior, ancient and frail looking. Faded in color, too. Hanging from the hooks are a handful of coats, on old, patched baseball cap, and, indeed, an umbrella.
"No-no," Katniss' voice wavers momentarily, not from cold or because of him in any way, but by the fact that it has been at least three days since she'd last spoken to someone.
He has a tan face. A well-loved face. Dirty blonde waves hang above dark eyes as he meets her gaze across the small distance between the front door to the counter. She can feel the eyes of another employee traveling over her appearance, noting the ragged, overly-large coat, her twig-like form, her hard, angry eyes. She is a cat, covered in water, hissing and vulnerable in her state. Usually she is better prepared for the act of fending off others. She blames the rain.
However, this strange man does not seem to care about the mud underneath her fingernails or the unfair (he really only had been trying to be kind, by offering her the umbrella) glare she raptures onto his face. He doesn't flinch away from her scowl. In fact, he smiles wider. "No? I really don't mind if you take it. Someone left it here years ago. Forgotten thing. I've been trying to find it a home since. You looked like just the right person." His eyes roam across her face; there is no pity in his eyes.
No. Peculiarly, there is only warmth.
New home. Katniss feels a tug on her heart; her and her sister had been looking for a new home for years, when they were in foster care together. But it's too late for that. "I–" she began to snap, but the baker boy cut her off again.
"I'll pay you to take it."
"You would pay a stranger to take.. an old umbrella, that isn't even worth anything?"
"Sure it's worth something!" he insists, straightening and reaching for the tip jar leaning against the register. Katniss' eyes fall to the money that the man begins pulling out, folding the bills around his fingers, counting them with his eyes.
She's almost transfixed.
"I can't take.." she begins to say, softly, before she hardens her voice into ice. "I won't take your hand outs." With that she spins on her heels and dashes back into the rain.
She runs because it feels right. Her anger is pushing her forward. A chagrined, insulted sort of anger that always results from people giving her pity gifts. The women who wrinkle their noses at her greasy hair on days she can't wash. Men who toss her pennies as she sits at the bus stop. Other homeless people offering her drugs and other, even more repulsive things. Don't they get it? She chose this life. She chose to live in the streets with nothing. She chose it the day she lost Prim. Sweet, beautiful Prim.. taken from her by the system, the hopelessly flawed system, that did not care how much elven year old Katniss begged and cried. She lost everyone, the day the caseworkers took her from her ghost-like mother, dead father, and little sister.
Katniss only makes it three streets before she doubles over with her loss. She bites back the sobs that work their way up her heated, thickened throat. She doesn't want to cry. So she straightens and forces air into her lungs. She looks about herself, to see she's in front of an out-of-business shop. An overhang is above her, mercifully, and she sinks to the sidewalk, leaning into the boarded up glass windows.
She can't be sure who it is when a figure hurries toward her. All she can think is to pull her legs to her chest, since they are going so fast and it's wet outside and she doesn't want to trip them at their pace.
However, her worry is useless. The figure stops two steps away from her.
It's not the man from the bakery, but a boy. He's got the same kind blue eyes, though. Katniss scowls at him. She hisses when he smiles and takes a step closer. His hands reach into the chest of his coat, reaching for something tucked there. Katniss starts to open her mouth, but the boy merely beats her to it, "Do you know that saying?"
"What saying?" she snaps. "I don't think there's a saying that supports people who stalk others.."
"I'm not stalking you," he says, easily, shrugging. He looks a bit like a wet dog with blonde hair hanging between his eyes, dripping water down his straight nose. "And no, I don't think there's a saying for that either. The saying I was talking about is the one with the fish. You know? 'Give a man a fish and he's not hungry for a day, teach a man to fish and he's not hungry for life.' Something like that." The boy pulls a slip of paper from his jacket and holds it out to her. Katniss eyes the hand distrustfully. "The number–"
"I don't want your number," Katniss sniffs. She's too stubborn to admit she has no phone.
"The number," the boy repeats, smiling, "is the address to my church."
Now Katniss wants to laugh, because she's just realized what this boy was doing. Recruiting her to his faith. What a naïve, sweet kid, she thought, almost mockingly scornful. And an idiot, too, for believing in stuff that was only fantasy.
She manages not to laugh or smirk. "I don't think I'll need that," is all she says.
"I think you do," he says, and she stiffens when he takes a seat on the sidewalk ten inches away from her. He leans against the glass wall, too, and pulls his knees up only to rest his extended arms against them. He peers at her from his side and she glares at the ground in front of her. "My father thought you did."
"I told him to give you my money," the boy interrupts and Katniss' chest seems to tighten.
"What?" she asks stupidly.
"I told him to give you my money, from the tip jar. I don't know where the umbrella idea came from," the boy gives a soft chuckle, short-lived, and shakes his head. "He must have known you wouldn't take the money."
Katniss clenches her jaw and her eyes are burning disks holding his gaze. "I don't need–"
"Money," the boy cuts in for the hundredth time and Katniss has an urge to clap a hand over his mouth. His tone is understanding, and calm, as he bobs his head a few times, slowly, ponderously. "No, you don't need money, or a fish, or a loaf of bread. You don't need pity, either. Or my stupid.." he trails off, his eyes straying from hers. Then he smiles and returns his gaze. His hand pushes the slip of paper toward her. "You need faith. Hope. Something to believe in. I see that now."
"What did you ever see?" she found the words slipping out, harsh, and to her embarrassment, frightened. Who was this boy who seemed to know her? Who told his father to pay her? Who has followed her here? Who thinks he knows what she needs? There wasn't anger or insult in her at this. She isn't offended by his concern as she is by the people who pass her in the alleys or the caseworker who long left her alone come her fifteenth birthday..
The boy shrugs.
She stares at him until he looks away.
He offers her his other hand, empty, fingers opened in appeal. "My name's Peeta," he says when she makes no move to grab it, and he's just about to drop it, too, when her hand shoots out to grasp it.
Katniss shakes his hand slowly, before her fingers slip from his. "My name's Katniss."
She eyes him with more fear this time.
"I'm not stalking you, I promise," he says. "An old man, who comes to my family's bakery pointed you out to me a few weeks ago. And I just.. kept noticing, afterward."
Katniss knows the old man's name before he says it. "Haymitch."
"You know him?"
"He's my foster dad."
"So you do have a family," Peeta says, interested, relieved.
The words of honest origin had slipped out without her permission and now she feels vulnerable for giving away so much information. "So?" she snaps. "Why does that matter?"
He doesn't know.
"You know.." Peeta starts, thinking. She looks to see his eyes are glued on the street in front of them, watching the rainfall. She wonders if he sees the elaborate dance of nature as she had, then shakes herself. She doesn't care what he thinks, or if he thought the same as her. But then she begins to wonder what she should care about, why she should stay sitting here, or if she should run, or what she should say to this boy who seems comfortable sitting in his wet clothes next to her. Katniss can't deny she doesn't feel uncomfortable or awkward. In fact, she almost feels at ease.. but why?
It's a ridiculous thought, that she banishes.
"I know?" she prompts, when Peeta does not continue. I don't care what he– she tells herself, before she represses that thought too. What else would she be doing? Sitting alone anguishing herself over her memories from years ago? Listening to the rain fall? What was the difference from listening to the raindrops against concrete, than this boy's words? They weren't on any different level of importance, both were pointless time wasters.
"You know," Peeta repeats, smiling at her, "if you want, I could teach you how to make bread."
"Because that's the saying, I have to teach you. Else, the effort is pointless."
It was clean logic.
So clean, that Katniss decided to that she couldn't refuse.