Katniss Everdeen. I still had that name for today, at least. Tomorrow was a different story though. Tomorrow...no...I wouldn't go there. I focused on the calming breeze whirling slowly through the tall grasses and wildflowers of the meadow and closed my eyes, willing my tense body to relax, if only just for a moment. After all, it might be the last moment I would ever have to relax alone. It was warm out, but not as hot as it was earlier in the day when I had been dragging in the deer on the long trip back from the woods. I was ecstatic that I had managed to get such a prize and relieved that my sister would have plenty of food for at least the first week I was gone.
It was very unlikely I would be in a position to ensure that again, even though I had made Mr. Brooks promise me that all of the payments would go strait into Prim's hands, underaged or not, and no one else's. Maybe she was only fourteen, but I have faith that Prim can manage the money on her own, however much it ended up being. I just prayed to whatever was up there that it was enough to make the monumental sacrifice worth it.
"Are you scared?" Prim had asked after I had given her all the detailed instructions I could about how to take care of herself.
I shook her head and forced a smile for my sister's benefit. "No. I'll be fine. It you I want to make sure is taken care of."
Primrose gave an equally forced smile back to me, obviously trying hard not to cry, and almost failing several times. "What if he's mean to you?"
I shrugged. Mean I could handle. I wasn't even worried about mean. I might be signed to an abuser...it certainly wasn't unlikely. There were good reasons why these men couldn't find wives on their own, usually. But once the contract was signed I would make damned sure he understood that I had no intentions of being an easy victim. No...he might beat me...but I wouldn't go down without one hell of a fight. Hopefully, whoever it was would figure out quickly that it isn't worth it.
Now as the time to give up my freedom grew closer I felt less sure of myself. The bidding for my papers were probably going on that very moment. If only one person offered and the amount was next to nothing I still couldn't get out of it. Thankfully that scenario wasn't too likely. I was a healthy 17 year old virgin with hunting skills. Any of those factors individually would generally fetch a good sum. What I was more worried about was how old, repulsive, and awful this man could be. Would he be an old drunkard, like Haymitch, whom I saw buying liquor all the time at the Hob? Oh god...what if it was Haymitch? I fought the sudden urge to gag up my small portion of deer meat. It could be. He did like to joke with me a lot and was always calling me sweetheart...
Without realizing it, I began to make my way back home to wait for the phone call from Mr. Brooks. At least then I would know if the sum was enough to keep my sister fed and get her through school. If it wasn't...I shook her head. I just couldn't go there. When I got home mother was up. That, in and of itself, was at least something.
"Mom?" I called, careful as I knew that saying anything could mess up whatever was going on in my mother's tuned out mind.
"Here it is." She pulled something white out of the trunk. "My old wedding dress. I wore this the day I married your father..." She said sadly, carefully handing me the puffy ankle length cotton gown. It wasn't anything special by any means, but it did have a little lace on the hem and that was unusual...a luxury item.
Before I had even fully taken the dress I could tell that whatever reason my mother had for temporarily coming back to earth for a few minutes wasn't going to last long. The older woman's eyes began to grow glassy again at just the mention of my father. "Did Mr. Brooks call yet?"
My mother blinked and nodded, clearly well on her way back inside the confines of her own mind.
"Did he say how much?" I rushed out, growing impatient and annoyed at my mother for not even managing to hold it together for a couple more moments. Prim plopped slowly down the stairs.
"I think she said he had told her one fifty." She answered instead as she came into the room.
I felt sick. One fifty? That wasn't going to be enough. It might last for one to two years...but not the four I needed it for. Prim came beside me and hugged my waist with her toothpick skinny arms. I could tell there was something else that she hadn't told me yet. Primrose finally let go and frowned...a rare expression for my usually happy little sister.
"He also said that the man insisted on having you tonight instead of tomorrow. You're supposed to be at the post in an hour and a half."
The dress I'm wearing catches on the untamed waist high grasses as I drudge through the field alone. It won't take much longer, I think with dread, as I slap at a mosquito intent on making a meal out of the bare flesh on my right arm. Finally, I just stop and give in to what I had been longing to do for the last hour. Reaching down to the hem of my dress I pull up the top layer and rip out the layers of itchy, ridiculous crinoline below, tossing the under garment behind me into the grass and moving forward without it. If I am going to be forced to marry a complete stranger that I didn't have any say about, he may as well at least understand my opinion about one thing from the beginning. I'm not in any rush to get to union ceremony and I'm positive that my lack of enthusiasm for the whole thing will be immediately apparent to groom when I do get there. I'll walk up to the union post alone, as is custom, with the heavy veils currently tucked into the sash of my dress over my face and wait for the groom. I reach the edge of the grass field and can see the union post not too far up ahead in the middle of the town square.
My mother, little sister, and the majority of the rest of the townspeople where all there, watching me approach. I could even see my mother trying to work out why my dress looks less puffy now than when she put it all on me an hour or so ago. She will not be happy when she works out that I left it in the field. Honestly though, why does anyone wear such ridiculous things? I stop and quickly place the veil on my head, pinning it to the top of my loose, naturally curly hair and flipping it over to hide my face properly. What the point of it is, I don't know. Unlike the bride, the groom knows exactly how he is coming to marry and the injustice of it made me mad every time I thought of it.
Who would my groom be? A farmer? A miner? I knew better than to hope for anything higher in class. My mother was probably pretty hard pressed in her decision. It's a small village with only about twelve hundred of us here, and that combined with the fact that I'm seam would have surely limited the amount of offers mama received for me. I wonder how much impact that fact had on mama's ability to choose. I'll probably end up with some old drunkard that likes the idea that I can be expected to kill and cook his dinner. The thought was all too realistic. I am only seventeen, but that does not give any guarantee what-so-ever about the age of my groom. He could be a forty year old man for all I know and I would have to sleep with him. The thought makes me feel sick. I realize after I recover from it that my feet have stopped moving and I am at the post where I will have to sign my life away in only another minute. I glance over at my mama who is smiling and she nods reassuringly at me. Is she trying to tell me that the groom is good or is she just smiling because I'm up here wearing the same pretty dress that she did when she was married my father?
Breathe. Breathe. It will be okay. Mama would not give me away to any bad man…would she? Please be kind, please be young, please be someone I know and like. I hear the sound of running hooves in the distance and the question of his means and transportation has been answered. Please be kind, please be kind.
I see a large tan quarter horse come in from the distance and a young man with the same color hair as the horse swing himself off. Surely, it isn't that boy who used to go to school only a grade ahead of myself? What was his name? I think desperately…Chris? Abbott? No…Pete? No…no…Peeta! Peeta! Yes, that was his name! Peeta Mellark. But he never even talked to me... I haven't seen him other than just walking around town since he graduated. I take another look just to make sure. Peeta walks from the horse over to the post with me and I am sure that is who it is. He looks just the same as the last time I saw him in the street buying produce and cloth. The medium tall, stocky boy with sandy blonde hair and baby blue eyes...the same boy who had thrown me the bread...
He is solemn as he approaches me and lifts the veil away from my face. At the moment, I am extremely confused. Why would a well-established, young, good looking merchant guy like Peeta choose me as his bride? I wasn't any beauty at barely five foot three and ninety five pounds. Men liked sturdy women that could help them work…not undersized seam girls. Was this some sort of joke? Surely not, I have to admit to myself as he hands the pen over to me after signing his name on the certificate. I scrawl out my name on the paper without really looking at it and then look back up at him in skepticism. No wonder why my mother looked so ecstatic. This is surely a much better match, at least in her mind, than she was hoping for. I, on the other hand, am not at all happy. What huge fault does this boy carry to allow for me to be his best option?
I am aware, once again that he is staring at me, scrutinizing my face, when his expression turns from one of complete solemnity to show what I think is a hint of disappointment. Nevertheless, I feel him take hold of my hand and raise it up above both our heads to show all of the gathered villagers the sign of union. Despite never having a single conversation with this man since fifth grade I am now officially his wife. Without ever uttering a single word to me, he leads me away by that same hand that had just been raised seconds before and lifts me up onto his horse. For a second I expect him to mount to horse himself but instead he just takes her by the halter and clips on a lead rope, guiding both the horse and myself away from the crowds and back out into the grassy fields, though in a different direction than the one I came from. I sit atop the horse that he leads along for a clear fifteen minutes without him ever saying a word.