A/N: Thanks to all my patient readers. I suffered some severe writer's block in regards to how to approach this chapter. It took me going back and rereading the series to gain inspiration. Real life created some issues as well. But I'm back and excited to really get this story moving over the next few chapters. I plan on alternating updates between this and my other story, For the Best, so hopeful an update will come every couple weeks.
This chapter includes a couple footnotes. Additional author notes are at the end of this chapter.
August 1931 – Katniss POV
"I think we'll make this whole situation a lot simpler by agreeing not to lie to each other," Mr. Snow, the president of the Capitol Bank of Panem says looking directly at me. "What do you think?" 1
Nodding, I answer with a steady voice, "Yes, I think that would save time."i I glance over at my mother sitting next to me, who is staring blankly ahead. She only attends these meetings because technically I am a minor. The truth is that I've been responsible for managing the farm for almost two years. We are meeting with Mr. Snow today to discuss repayment of our loans. The crop came in well beyond our expectations, but the market fell out. It costs fifty cents a bushel to raise wheat and I was only able to garner a market price of twenty-four cents. A balloon payment for the tractor and last year's seed is coming due.
"Miss Everdeen, I know this has been a hard year. It's been tough on everyone, but that is the nature of farming. As long as you keep up with your payments as scheduled you should not have a problem keeping your farming equipment."
"Can we discuss the possibility of changing our payment plan?" I inquire.
"Oh, Miss Everdeen, I wish we could, but if we make one exception, then all would expect it. The bank wouldn't be able to keep operating." His wish is an attempt to placate me prior to saying no. I'd rather he just get straight to the point.
I keep my face even, hiding my disappointment. Nodding, "I understand." And I do understand. Banks are failing across the country. Every week I read in the papers about this. First National in Dalhart, Texas, which is not too far from our small town, closed its doors just over a month ago.
Mr. Snow looks down to examine some papers, "Now Miss Everdeen, your accounts are currently in good standing and your savings account indicates you should be able to maintain payment."
I grind my teeth. I do not want to touch our savings. We'd always saved money, just in case of a tough year. A year where the crop is destroyed by hail or perhaps a prairie fire. Farming was risky. Mr. Snow was right about that. We are subject to the elements. Rain hitting at the right time of the growing season results in a bumper crop. Lack of rain can drastically reduce yields. That is why we save. The last few years, after the new barn was built, Papa also started put money away for building a new house. Then he died. Soon after the market on Wall Street crashed in New York. Most of the country has been suffering from this. When we go to the movies, the newsreels show that people are out of work. We've been fortunate here in the Oklahoma panhandle. It hasn't been that bad until recently. Panem, Oklahoma has felt the drop in wheat prices. I hope that next year will be better, but what is it's not? I do not want to touch our savings.
"Mr. Snow. Yes, we have the savings. That is also our collateral for next year's seed purchase." Our savings allows me to not put up the farm when we need to get a loan for the next year's seed. Not every farmer is that fortunate.
"Miss Everdeen, from what I can see you should still be able to make payments and should have enough remaining to ensure you are still a good risk for financing. I'm sure next year will be better. Less people will be planting so prices should go up. It's simple supply and demand. Do you understand economics, Miss Everdeen?"
"Yes, I do." I don't appreciate his condescending tone. Last year we had a basic economics course in school. Miss Trinket taught us the principles of supply and demand and how it affects price. This is important for farmers to understand. This year was a bumper crop, dumping more grain than there was need so prices fell. The suitcase farmers packed up and left with the collapse of the market. There will be many fields that lay fallow when planting occurs in the fall. I hope that means prices go up, but considering how the country is fairing financially overall, I have my doubts. People may want to buy wheat, but what if there is no money available to do so? This is more complicated than simple supply and demand. He has to know that, but he doesn't think that I do. I hope next year is a better year, but if prices don't recover…At least this year, I only need to take out a loan for seed.
Mr. Snows looks at me. He has a bit of a smarmy quality about him. His white hair is slicked back with pomade and he wears wired rimmed glasses on the edge of his bulbous nose. He peers down at me nods, "Good, then it's decided. You'll continue to make your payments as scheduled." He looks down again at the paperwork on his desk, pulling out what looks to be a contract. "Meanwhile, I took the liberty of drawing up this year's loan papers for you to sign." He hands the paperwork to Mama.
"Let me review them," I insist as I take them from my mother. I scan them and see it is similar to the agreement we made last year to cover the price of seed. Since everything appears in order, I hand the paperwork back to Mama. She quickly signs. We conclude our meeting with Mr. Snow and exit the bank.
We walk out and the sun temporarily blinds us. As our eyes adjust, I turn to my mother. She's having a pretty good day today. She has gotten better as time has continued since Papa's death. I still feel like the parent in our relationship.
She smiles at me. "It will be alright, Katniss. It's as your father said, 'When it gets tough, next year will be better.' Don't worry so much."
One of us has to.
I looked down at the ground, "You need to go to the grocer? Why don't you go there and run any other town errands you have. Meet me back in the town square in an hour."
We part ways. I stroll slowly through town to the Hob, the feed 'n' seed. The heat is oppressive. They say it's the hottest summer in years. I believe it. Everyone human and animal seems to have slowed their gait to adjust for the heat. I walk in the main entrance of the Hob. Several men are standing around talking. I overhear them discussing the Schmidt farm. I go to school with Cato, their oldest boy. It sounds like they may be losing the farm. The Hob is a good place to pick up gossip as well as farm supplies. I walk up to the counter.
"Hello Mr. Jones." I greet the owner of the hob.
"What can I do you for today, Katniss?"
"I just left the bank, and secured our loan for this year's seed, so I'd like to place our order?"
"Sure thing. Let me get the order book." Mr. Jones hollers over his shoulder, "Leevy, can you grab the order book. I left it in the back office."
His daughter comes out and hands her father the book. She is a couple years older, Gale's age. She gives me a sunny hello. I nod back with a half-smile. "Have you seen Gale lately?" She has a bit of a crush on him.
"Yes." I don't offer up any other information. After a moment, she realizes I'm not going to say anything else and goes back to the office.
I place our annual seed order. I thank Mr. Jones. Walking out of the Hob, I head toward Mellark's bakery. We need to watch our pennies, but I want to pick up a treat for Prim. She was disappointed with being left at home today.
I enter the bakery and it's empty except for Peeta reading a book behind the counter.
He jumps off the stool he was sitting on.
With a big grin he says, "Hello Katniss!"
"Hello Peeta. What are your reading?" Giving him a genuine smile.
"Oh, uh. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I borrowed it from Miss Trinket."
"Is it any good?"
"Yes, I'm really enjoying it. It puts things in perspective. You should borrow it when I'm done. How are things with you?"
Since the bakery is empty and his mother isn't around, we can catch up. He has become a very good friend this past year. If given the choice, we partner on school projects. He's also helped me out some on the farm. I haven't seen much of him since school let out at the beginning of June. Only if I come to town. I've missed him.
Suddenly I realize the time. Mama must be waiting for me.
"Peeta, I just realized how late it's gotten and Mama's probably waiting. I did actually want to buy something. Can I get a loaf of the grain bread and two of the frosted sugar cookies?"
"Sure. The cookies are for Prim?" He carefully selects out two beautiful cookies. One decorated with a tiger lily another with a rose. Clearly his handiwork. He places them in a bag before grabbing a loaf of bread.
He inquires as he rings me up, "My father was wondering if Prim is still making goat cheese?"
"Well, the apples are about to be harvested from our tree and it would be perfect for the apple and goat cheese tarts he likes to make. He figured we could arrange a trade – cheese for bread?"
"I think that could probably work." I'll bring Prim with me when we make the trade. She needs to learn how to barter.
"Great. Just come by on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon. Pops or I should be here."
In my head, I translate this as, "My mother will be gone." No one in town likes doing business with her. After paying Peeta, we say goodbye.
I meet my mother at the square. We walk back to the truck. I help her into the passenger side of the truck before getting in.
We drive out of town, past the overflowing grain silos. This year's bonanza crop is now rotting in the sun.
November 1931 – Peeta POV
I see Katniss approaching me. She looks awfully pretty in the sage green dress she wore to school today. Her hair is in its trademark braid and wraps around her shoulder. I'm glad she hasn't followed the current fashion like Glimmer, Clove, and Lily, who have it cut just below their chin. She'd still look pretty if she did cut it, but with it long, I can imagine it flowing freely down her back unbound by from the braid.
She sits down next to me with her lunch pail. I've been waiting for her. Now we sit silently digging into our respective lunches, pulling out various items to divide between us. This year we've got into the habit of bringing half of each other lunches. I brought bread for two and a couple apples from our cold cellar. At the bottom of my lunch pail, I also have a couple cookies but that is a surprise for later. She pulls out a couple chunks of goat cheese and pickles from her family's garden. I pull out my pocketknife and slice up the apples for us. I watch her as she spreads the cheese over her bread and takes a small bite. She closes her eyes briefly as she chews. Her tongue slips out to get a stray crumb of cheese at the corner of her lip. She suddenly opens her eyes and sees me staring at her. She asks, "Do I have food on my face or something?"
I shake my head. After taking a second to recover from having been caught I add, "I was waiting for you to stop chewing, we need to talk about starting our history presentation."
Katniss apparently accepts this explanation. "Yah, we do. Ummm. Actually, I also need to ask you a favor." She pauses.
I prompt, "Go ahead."
"I have to miss school tomorrow. Lady is coming into season." Her lips close around a section of apple and she takes a bite of apple. Since I don't immediately respond. She swallows and continues, "I need to drop her with Goat Man tomorrow. He'll keep her for a week. We need to be sure that she's had a chance to be bred." I chuckle quietly as to her reference to Mr. Winters. He's a cantankerous old guy, who not only raises goats but also resembles them quite a bit.
"If we're lucky we'll get triplets next spring. Goat Man always gets first pick of the kids. It will probably be a few weeks before I bring good cheese again." Katniss finishes before placing a pickled green bean neatly between her straight white teeth and taking a bite.
"No cheese?" I protest.
"You don't want cheese or milk right after Lady visits the stud. It's nasty. Best to wait a week."
"Of course I'll take notes." I agree. "I also don't work tomorrow afternoon, so I can come by afterwards and I can catch you up and we can start the project," hurriedly stumbles out of my mouth. What is my problem today? She knows I don't work tomorrow. My work schedule is not a secret. She knows I'll drop the notes by her house. I've been doing that for two years. Shut up, Mellark.
"Thanks, Peeta. You're the best." She gives me a little smile. I pull out the two frosted cookies and hand her one. Her smile grows a bit more. Her tongue flicks out as she discretely tries to lick off the frosting first. She always does that before eating the cookie. We finish our lunch and head back into class.
After school, I hurry to the bakery.
"Where have you been?" Barks my mother, as I want into the door. The bakery is empty, which is not unusual lately. Business is down all over town.
"Don't sass me. Hurry up and make yourself useful."
I duck into the back and run up the stairs to my room. I drop my books and lunch pail before grabbing my apron and my history book before running back downstairs. I might as well get some homework done if it's going to be a slow afternoon. Ma will go back into the office once I get down there so I should be able to study in peace. I'd bring my sketchpad but Ma would give me a hard time about not doing my homework.
"Took you long enough."
She leaves the storefront to me and heads toward the back. It is really dead today. I quickly finish my history reading and then I sweep the store before wiping down all the shelves. I start reading ahead in my history book. I really should have also brought another book with me. About a half hour before close, Lily McLeod walks in.
"Hello, Peeta. How are you?"
Smiling at her I greet, "I'm great. What can I get you?"
"I'd like a loaf of the wheat bread, please."
I turn around, grab a loaf, and begin to bag it.
"So what are you up to this weekend? Any plans?" She inquires with a hopeful tone. I think she may have a bit of a crush on me. She's a pretty girl with auburn hair and a sharp nose. Katniss once told me that Lily reminds her of a fox.
"Uh. Yeah. I need to work on my history project…um with Katniss." I hand her the bread and ring her up. I have no idea if I'm going to be working on my project with Katniss this weekend, but it provides a good excuse.
"Oh." She sounds a little disappointed. "Um. Yes, Glimmer and I started after school today. We are doing the French Revolution. Unfortunately I'll probably be doing most of the work." She scrunches her nose a bit. It looks cute. She asks, "What are you doing?"
I don't doubt that Glimmer is a lazy student. Luckily, I don't have that problem. "The Napoleonic Wars."
"That should be interesting. I can't wait to see what you do. I'll see you around, Peeta." She flounces back out the store.
It doesn't take a minute for Ma to pop her head out of the back.
"Who was just here?"
"You should take her out on Saturday." Ma is constantly pushing Lily at me. Her dad owns the hardware store. However, she isn't whom I'm interested in.
I duck my head and avoid her eyes, as I mumble, "I've got to work on a school project with Katniss on Saturday." I really hope Katniss is free to do that.
Pops, who must have overheard, comes in from the kitchen. "Leave the boy alone. He can manage his own love life. Peeta, you're done for today. Ben and I have already done the prep work for tomorrow."
Dismissed, I duck out the back and head toward the stairs. I can hear my mother fuss.
"He spends too much time with that Katniss girl. He should be going out with a girl like Lily."
"Esther, leave the boy alone. The last thing a boy wants is to be set up by his mother. That will guarantee he won't be interested."
It's not long until I'm called to dinner. There is a tension in the air, so my parents must be arguing again. As is polite we all relate the happenings of the day. I talk about school. Ben tries to tell a funny story about a bakery mishap but is jumped on by Ma for wasting ingredients. Soon enough Ben and I are clearing the table. Ben sneaks out the back door, while I do the dishes.
Yep, the folks are arguing again. Soon their voices get so loud, I'm sure the neighbors can hear. My father, who rarely raises his voice, has been doing it more so lately in order to be heard. According to Ma, everything is Pop's fault. Things are bad. The fall of wheat prices means we took a significant loss and it's put the farm and the bakery at risk. People around town don't have money to spend on cookies, cakes, and fresh bread. Most of what sells lately is marked down day old. My pops, so slow to anger, is angry with my mother and at himself over the mortgage they took out on the bakery last year. I shake my head at Ma and her ambitions. I keep coming back to what Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."2 That is my mother. She has never been happy with how we live, always comparing us to her cousins back east or the Hawthornes. Ma is always talking down about the Hawthornes, because they are part Indian, but she covets their wealth. She doesn't see how blessed we've been. Rather, she blames Pa. He's obviously responsible for her living in, "Godforsaken Panem, Oklahoma," not to mention the poor performance of the bakery, and the failure of the farm. You'd think that pops was responsible for the collapse wheat prices if you listened to my mother. I finish drying the last dish and head up the stairs before I can hear her start going on about how all her sons are worthless good for nothings. My mother is an unhappy woman. I try not to let that affect me. Ben tends to be out of the house as much as possible. Unfortunately, Pops bears the brunt of it.
I pull out my sketchpad and sketch for a couple hours. Sketching helps me relax, blocking out the rest of the world. I have to be present in the moment to make sure I get the curve of a jaw just right, or capture the gleam I remember in a set of eyes. I have to get up early to prepare the bakery for opening before I leave for school since I don't work tomorrow afternoon. After putting the last touches on a drawing, I get into bed. Ben still hasn't returned yet. I close my eyes, images of Katniss pop into my head. I remember her in pretty sage-colored dress she wore today. Her pink tongue flicking out to catch a crumb off her lips. I imagine unbraiding her hair and running my hands through her silky dark locks. Since Ben is still gone, I relieve the ache that I seem to constantly suffer from lately, before going to sleep.
1 Direct quote from Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (page 19, Hardcover edition)
2 From Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Peeta referred to the Hawthornes as Indian as opposed to Native or Native American, because during this time period this would have been the term he would have used.
If you would like additional information about this chapter, you can visit my tumblr: dispatchesfromdistrict7. I usually post more information regarding the story and the history surrounding it within 24 hours of posting.
Thank you victorianoir for being an awesome beta.
The characters are the property of the amazing Suzanne Collins and do not belong to me.