It was almost noon by the time Peeta was able to convince his older brothers to take him with them to the river. Since school let out two weeks ago, Peeta wanted nothing more than to go and spend his afternoons in the river. Unfortunately, everyone had been working hard at the bakery with the upcoming wedding season and there had been little time to even think of going someplace that wasn't the bakery. Until today. Peeta had been wearing the brothers down with his persistent begging since his brothers came down for breakfast that morning.
"It's going to be so hot today," Peeta reasoned, "And Rye, you have to work starting at three, and the store is going to be roasting and Bannock you're gonna be stuck working too and we should really cool off before you're stuck there and you'll regret not jumping into the river and..." He chattered on like this for hours, until Bannock finally snapped at him that they would go "If you will just shut your mouth for one damn minute!"
Their mother told Bannock to be back by three, when he and Rye were to help work on a large order of cookies for an order this evening. Peeta, at the age of ten, was still too young to do much past tidying up at the end of the day and helping when his brothers were too busy with school work. This didn't stop Bannock from making Peeta promise to now help his brothers at well, at least with mixing and cutting out the cookies.
"I promise Bannock! We're going to have so much fun! It's going to feel so nice in that cool river; you'll be thanking me later!" Peeta grinned, before he ran upstairs to put on his swim trunks.
The three boys climbed into Bannocks pickup truck to drive the five miles to their favorite bend in the river, the place where the rapids weren't as fast and they could lazily float in peace. By the time they pulled into the dirt shoulder to park, Peeta was bouncing off the seat. It wasn't very often he could convince his older brothers to take him to the river or even be seen with him, but Bannock seemed like he wanted to get out of the house, and Peeta made a very good excuse.
"Come on!" Peeta called as he ran ahead in his swim trunks and sandals, his towel trailing him like a cape. "Last one in is a rotten egg!"
"Slow down Peeta," Rye hollered after him, as he ran to catch up. "The river ain't going anywhere!"
Peeta didn't hear him; he was too far ahead and quickly gaining more ground as he recklessly pushed aside branches to get to the river bank. As he crashed through the bushes, Peeta came to a sudden stop when he saw that he wasn't alone. There was a girl dressed in a plaid shirt and shorts standing at the river's edge looking intently at the water. At the age of ten, Peeta didn't pay much attention to the opposite sex, but Katniss Everdeen, recent transfer to Panem Elementary right before the start of summer, was different. She kept to herself and didn't seem to have any friends. But, for some reason, Peeta could not keep his eyes off her in class.
"What are you doing here?" Peeta asked. Katniss turned to look at him, eyes surprised but in that moment Rye shoved past him and ran into the water.
"Stop!" Katniss called out, but it was too late and Rye plunged into the river. "You need to get out now!" Her voice had taken on a frantic tone by now.
Peeta ignored what she was saying and kept questioning her. "What's wrong? What are you doing here? How did you find this place?"
Katniss wasn't paying attention to him though. She was worrying the end of her braid and was opening her mouth to shout again as Rye splashed around. Peeta heard Bannock's heavy footfalls behind him and turned towards his big brother.
"Calm down, Peet. There's no sign here saying it's our corner of the river. Be nice to the girl." Bannock chuckled. He knelt down to look at Katniss eye to eye. "Are your folks around here sweetheart?" She stopped moving around to turn and face Bannock, but she still clutched her braid like a lifeline. She looked from Peeta to Bannock, and Peeta couldn't help but notice her eyes lingering on his own just a bit longer.
"He should really get out of the water," she said, suddenly shy as she turned to look towards the water "My papa works on the river, and he said it's full of bad things." Bannock raised his eyebrows at this.
"What's your name sweetheart?" Bannock asked.
"Katniss Everdeen," her voice was now a whisper, and Peeta had to strain to hear her.
"Everdeen...Your family moved here recently right?" Bannock asked and Katniss replied with a nod.
"We moved here for Papa's job," She added, "I walked over here from our house to see where he works, and I noticed some dead fish over there," She points down the river bank, "And I was just going to tell Papa when that boy ran into the water..."
"Rye! Get out of the water!" Bannock stood up and shouted. Peeta jumped, startled by his brother's loud voice. He had been busy intently focusing on the dark haired girl and her soft voice.
"You're not mom!" Rye called back.
"I am at this moment. Get your ass out of the water. Now!"
Rye grumbled and made a big production about splashing back to shore. "What are we doing here then if not to play in the water? It's getting hot out!"
"The water isn't safe. This girl here was just telling us that her Daddy works with the water company." It took him a moment to process, but as soon as he realized what Bannock was saying Rye got a horrified look on his face and grabbed at Peetas towel.
"I was swimming in that! I may have swallowed some! Am I going to get sick or something? Will my hair fall out?!" Rye turned frantically to Katniss who had shied away from his exuberance.
"I...I don't know..." Katniss trailed off as she looked from brother to brother. Peeta considered going over to Katniss to try and console her about his idiot brother, but Rye was in the way.
"Rye, shut up. You're scaring her." Bannock said as his younger brother furiously rubbed the towel all over his body. Turning once again to Katniss he asked, "Do you live nearby? We can give you a ride home, as a thank you for saving my stupid brother." She hesitated, and then nodded. Bannock smiled, "Alright boys, follow me." With Bannock leading the way, the small group made their way through the forest and back to the car. Peeta brought up the rear. He couldn't help but watch Katniss as she nimbly picked her way through the forest.
"What grade are you in?" Peeta asked as they reached the truck, pretending that he didn't know who Katniss was and that he hadn't stared at her often while in class. She turned to look at him as if he was a moron.
"Fifth." Katniss quietly replied, she quickly averted her gaze and stared at the trees instead. Peeta paid no mind and happily bounced up and down. At least he had gotten her to talk to him.
"Me too! We can be friends then!" Katniss shook her head at this.
"I don't know...If the river doesn't get better, Papa will lose his job, and we'll have to move..."She trailed off.
"Oh." Peeta replied. They silently climbed into the backseat of the truck, and Katniss told Bannock how to get to her house, which wasn't far. With the windows rolled down they began the short drive to Katniss' house. Peeta nervously shifted in his seat. He didn't really have any idea how to talk with girls, especially one as interesting as Katniss.
"Um... If you want, I could come over and help you clean the river, so your dad doesn't lose his job and then you can stay and then we can be friends?" Peeta said this all quickly, feeling his face become hotter, and not just from the weather. Katniss cast a sidelong glance at him.
"Why do you want to be my friend?" She asked.
"I...um...I think..." Peeta had a hard time getting his thoughts straight. "You...you're cute?" Horrified, he clamped his hands over his mouth. Katniss' grey eyes widened and her cheeks turned pink. "I mean...I..."
"Would you really help me save the river?" Katniss looked at him.
"Yes!" Peeta exclaimed vehemently.
She seemed to consider him for a moment. "Okay."
"Okay?" Peeta was confused.
"If you want to help, I'll be your friend," Katniss quietly said as she returned to looking out the window, face still pink. Peeta's face broke into a grin that didn't fade for the rest of the ride. In a few minutes the car arrived in front of a small yellow house. Bannock put the car into park.
"Here you are Katniss," Bannock said from the front seat. He turned and gave her a small smile. "Thank you for helping us out today." She nodded and climbed out of the car. Hurriedly, Peeta got out of the car and headed after her.
"Peet! Get back here," Rye called out, "We've got to go home!" Peeta held up one finger and ran to catch up to Katniss on her porch. She seemed surprised to see him.
"Hey," Peeta said impulsively, "Since we're friends, do you want to...umm...come over sometime? You could tell me all about the river and we can figure out some way to fix it? I could make some cookies for you too?"
Katniss looked away, her cheeks reddening. "I like the cheese buns your bakery makes," she said, "And...I always hoped you're there when Papa takes us in for a treat."
"You...do?" Peeta couldn't believe what he was hearing. He didn't expect the girl he had eyes for was also watching him. Katniss' face turned even redder. Quick as lightning she took a step towards Peeta and kissed his cheek.
"I'll stop by the bakery sometime," Katniss said in a rush, and she quickly ran into the house.
"I...I work in the afternoon!" Peeta called out after her, feeling at his cheek where her soft lips landed. He lingered a moment before walking back to the car, his feet never seeming to touch the ground.
"It's about time," Rye commented as Peeta climbed in, "We were going to leave without you." Bannock looked in the rearview mirror at Peeta. His face was flushed, hand still on his cheek, and Peeta had a look in his eye as if Christmas came early. Bannock caught his brothers' eye and grinned when Peeta's mouth turned up into a large smile.
"I don't think he would have minded in the slightest."
A/N: Thank you very much for reading my first published story. Reviews and constructive criticism are more than welcome. Many thanks to Xiaojuhua for the editing help!