As I lay there that night, I stared up at the darkness, unable to see the ceiling and yet still imagining it was the one over Prim and I's room. I knew that Peeta Mellark, the sweet baker's son who had been kind enough to sign for me and not even insist on having my body for it, was only one room over. His bed, in fact, was right up against the other side of the same wall my headboard was positioned against. He was right there. If I listened closely enough I might be able to hear his breathing, except I couldn't. I felt awkward and intensely lonely...the kind of lonely that I only remember ever feeling before right after dad died and mom mentally checked out. It was cold in the room even though it wasn't close to winter. Shivering, I pulled the covers up over my shoulders.
He wasn't holding me captive here. Tomorrow, I told myself, I could go home to see Prim. First thing tomorrow, I could see my sister. He wasn't trying to control me or anything. I was free to come and go. I was free to sleep in whichever bedroom I chose. It just meant that I either had to get used to sleeping in here...alone in the dark and cold...or I had to start sleeping with Peeta. I was sure that, even now, I could probably get up if I chose and walk into the other room where he slept. I tried to picture myself doing that and what would happen...if I just got up and crept into bed with him. Would he want to have sex? Would he ignore me? Would he wrap me into his arms and hold me?
It was Peeta, after all. The boy who had given me the bread that day in the rain had chosen to take me as a wife. Just then, a really absurd thought hit me. Had he saved me that day to keep for himself? Had he really noticed me so much as he was alluding to over dinner? Was he asleep on the other side of the thin wall between our two wooden headboards or did he lay awake and wish for me to come to him? Would he come in here if I didn't go to him? No...I had locked the door...I was simply thinking crazy thoughts.
For the rest of my life my name would be Katniss Mellark. I would be Mrs. Mellark. I am Mrs. Mellark. The mental image of Peeta being slapped hard across the face and of a fat woman with no joy ever showing in any of her features invaded my mind at the name. I could not imagine myself as a baker's wife...fat and with Peeta. I couldn't imagine ever having enough to eat on such a regular basis as to even have the option of becoming fat. Yet Peeta said I would and that he wanted me to put on some weight. I chuckled a little a loud at the thought. He was definitely a strange one.
Yet I couldn't help feeling as though I should be be relieved.
I should be relieved, but I wasn't. I wasn't relieved because I had gone into this sure of two things:
One- it would be awful.
Two- I would refuse to care or give into it.
Peeta didn't fit that situation. He wasn't awful, but I couldn't care about him or love him...not under the circumstances. Not ever. I couldn't be in love with him. I knew what love meant. Love meant intimacy and, unless you're very rich and can afford protection, intimacy meant children. Children to take care of like Prim. How could I produce more Prims in the world when I can't even take care of the one I have already?
I felt so angry at the situation. Why couldn't I have been married to some mean old bastard that I could hate and didn't owe anything to? It would have been so much easier! Peeta needed so much more...expected so much more...deserved so much more. Hadn't he said straight out that he wanted me to love him? Why did he have to ask for the one thing I couldn't give him? Why did he have to make this whole thing so much harder? By giving me this freedom, but telling me that he didn't want to hurt me, he had sentenced me to be the one to decide what to do. In a way, I almost wished that he had just forced me already, even. At least then it would be over.
Breathe, Katniss. Breathe.
Slowly, painfully slowly, the dim light from outside the window began to illuminate the room. Not much, but as soon as there was enough to even see shadows and outlines I was up. Without bothering to make the bed, I quietly walked to the bathroom and splashed some water to my face. After brushing my teeth and braiding my hair, I left in my old dress. My other clothes were in the room with Peeta and I certainly wasn't going in there to retrieve them.
Silently, I slipped out of the house and into the familiar and comforting forest. Only when I reached a half mile outside the fence did I feel like I could really breathe again. And then I sat down on the rock where Gale and I always met up and I cried.
When I finally drug myself out of the forest and through the district boundary fence my bag was so heavy with game that I could barely carry it. By the time I was approaching Peeta's house I was practically having to drag the thing. I didn't want to wake him this early...it still couldn't be past seven thirty in the morning, so I sat on the porch and began to work through picking and sorting through the game. Four squirrels, six rabbits, two geese, and an accidental wild dog. Prim and mom would still have plenty of meat from the deer that I had shot the day before and I had not figured on being able to hunt again nearly this soon. Instead, I separated out the squirrels for Peeta's father, whom I knew liked them. Now that I was married to his son, I couldn't really ask him to pay for them anymore, but I didn't mind so much. He had always been uncharacteristically nice to me for a merchant. I also pulled out the thinner of the two geese for Peeta and I's dinner tonight. It was somewhat pathetic really, but I wanted to show him that I wasn't entirely useless as a wife. Quickly, I got to work on plucking it bare and removing its inedible innards before sneaking back inside as quietly as I could and tossing it on the kitchen counter. The house was quiet inside. He must have still been asleep. The most logical thing to do next was go to the bakery to give Mr. Mellark the squirrels, but I didn't want him to see me with the full game bag and tell Peeta. Whatever money I could make from the rest needed to be saved for Prim.
"Katniss!" Greasey Sae greeted as I approached her stall enthusiastically. "I wasn't expecting to see you here anymore, what with you landing the baker's son and all! Oh, and weren't you shocked yesterday. I don't think I'll ever forget your face when you saw that boy!" She laughed and gave me a big, warm hug. I could feel my face begin to flush with embarrassment. Had it been that obvious?
"You were there?" I asked, still surprised.
She nodded, getting back to stirring whatever soupy concoction she had today in her giant kettle. She quickly ladled me out a bowl. "On the house today." She continued to smile, obviously much happier for me than I was for myself.
"Thanks." I managed as I plumped down on the stool and began to eat. I hadn't realized it before I had the mystery soup in front of me, but I was actually quite hungry. It didn't take me long to finish the bowl.
I reached into my bag and took out the dead dog I had shot on accident. It was at least fifty pounds. Sae took it quietly and, without comment, put it back behind her wooden counter to butcher later, handing me the appropriate amount of coins. I pushed about half of them back to her though and she thanked me silently with her eyes. Usually, I could never afford to do this, but I knew her family was hurting just like mine had been and I knew we at least had enough for the time being. It felt nice to actually be in the position to help someone else out for once. We didn't talk anymore though. I didn't know what to say to explain what was happening. I still felt very confused on that subject myself. After I bid goodbye to Greasy Sae and traded the rabbits and leftover goose, I headed to the bakery to give Mr. Mellark the squirrels I had killed.
I knew that Peeta worked there now. I also knew that bakers kept early hours, so I have no idea why I was surprised to see Peeta standing there at the counter when I walked in. His face lit up instantly upon seeing me come in and a gnawing sense of guilt overtook me even though I didn't know what it was for.
"Good morning, Mrs. Mellark!" He greeted happily, with a sweet smile that he couldn't seem to contain. I couldn't help but wonder what made him so happy to see me after the way I had treated him last night.
"Morning" I nodded to him as I walked up with my bag from the back door. He met me halfway and immediately took the bag from my shoulders, giving me a quick hug. The action surprised me and it took a moment to will my body to relax and then remember to hug him back.
"I um...I just came to see if your dad wanted some squirrels..." I stuttered, feeling awkward that I had snuck off so early to hunt.
Peeta beamed at me. "Dad!" He called, keeping his arm at my waist and still standing by close to my side.
Mr. Mellark came out a moment later, rubbing flour from his hands to his white apron as he moved. As soon as the kind, older man spotted me an instant smile almost identical to Peeta's overtook his face.
"Ah, it's my new daughter-in-law!" He continued to smile as he reached forward to give me a hug, albeit one of a clearly different type than Peeta just had. "How has my son been treating you?"
I felt my cheeks begin to blush harder. Did he know what happened, or didn't happen, between us last night? Was he actually okay that his son had paid for me? Did he approve of this? "Very nicely sir." Was all I ended up managing. Reaching back down to my near empty game bag, I retrieved the four squirrels I saved for the man...my new father-in-law. Silently, I sat them on the counter. He looked from the squirrels to me to Peeta and then laughed and patted me on the back.
"I think it is customary for me to give you a wedding gift, not the other way around." He managed through a chuckle.
I smiled back at him. "Just trying to make myself useful." I replied, feeling better about the situation. If Mr. Mellark had any problems with me marrying his son, he sure wasn't letting on about them now. Feeling a little emboldened and devilish I added, "besides, Peeta said he expected squirrels."
The remark obviously caught Peeta off guard, but he still smiled and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, taking a little bit more liberty in his new rights to touch me than I was completely comfortable with yet. It took me a few moments, but before long I found myself able to relax under his touch despite the bizarreness of the whole situation. Peeta and his father were both good, kind, gentle men and I knew that he only had good intentions for me after everything he let me get away with last night.
"Do you want me to fry these up for a nice family dinner tonight or do you two want a little more time with each other alone?" Peeta's father questioned, looking more at me for the answer than to Peeta. I felt yet another blush overcome my cheeks at what he was probably meaning by saying "alone".
"Thanks dad," Peeta broke in to answer before I could come up with anything to say "but I'm still feeling a little bit selfish with Katniss's time right now. Is Saturday night still good to have you and her family over?"
"Of course, son" I watched as he slapped Peeta on the back a couple of times in a friendly sort of way before going to the counter and taking out a fresh raisin-nut loaf and packaging it up. "Katniss, will you take this to your mother, please? Tell her I said thank you again for allowing you to become part of our family. I am so happy to have you as a daughter and want you to know that, from now on, I consider Primrose an adopted child of mine as well. Whenever she's ready for a job I expect to see her here. The bakery is as much you and Primrose's now as it is me and Peeta's. After all, one day it will all go to you two anyway." He handed me the bundled up bread and I was at a loss.
He was going to allow Primrose to join in their family's business. She would be guaranteed a merchant job. For a moment I just stood there...literally speechless at the incredible kindness the two men standing with me had shown for no particular reason at all, despite all social laws and reason.
"Umm...Thank...thank you, sir." I finally managed to sputter out. All of my worries over Prim's future, in one single simple gesture...gone. Peeta stood there, also looking a bit surprised at his father, but beaming. Were these people always this happy, I wondered? Didn't all that smiling start to hurt their faces after a while?
I stayed there for a little while longer as the two men joked with each other and offered me various pastries that I continually declined. I was still full from Sae's soup and I felt bad for already taking so much from them. They were so unexplainably, unreasonably good. Then a thought hit me that I hadn't considered yet. Maybe I could love Peeta...one day...one day in the way he had said he wanted me to. He obviously cared for me...why I wasn't sure and certainly didn't understand. Yet, for some reason, he and his father had decided to remove my biggest and heaviest burden...the life of my sister. If they were actually willing to allow her a stake in their family business then Peeta had to have truly wanted me as a wife. People paid to marry girls from the lower class sometimes...but they never treated the union the same as people did love marriages. Usually, women in my position were there for two reasons, work and sex. We were used as a combination maid, cook, laborer, and sexual convenience. Peeta had already told me that he didn't expect me to work, liked cooking at home himself, and didn't expect me to sleep with him unless I wanted to. What was I here for then? Why did he go through all this trouble for me to do nothing back for him other than provide a little illegal game meat? What on earth could possibly be their motivations for allowing Prim into the thriving business?