A/N: This is my new story. The plot is based off Jane Austen's Persuasion, one of my favorite novels. This takes place in a freer Panem, and a bit more affluent District 12. Flashbacks are in italics. More notes at the end of this chapter.
CHAPTER 1 - REJECTION
Four Years Ago
"I can't marry you."
Peeta's eyes widen in shock. He shakes his head and says nothing. Katniss reaches out her hand, holding her engagement ring to give it back to him. Peeta steps forward and clasps his own hands around her outstretched hand. "What is this? I don't understand."
Katniss looks away before closing her eyes tightly shut. She must make him understand. She cannot marry him. If she looks directly at him, she will falter. Katniss loves Peeta deeply but for a myriad of reasons, she cannot marry him. Katniss is responsible for taking care of her mother and younger sister. Her mother is brilliant as a midwife and apothecary, but outside treating people's illness she can barely function in life since Katniss' father died. Only other people's illnesses and injuries seem to pull her out of her deep periods of depression. Who would take care of her mother? She cannot marry him. She has a fourteen-year-old sister who dreams of going to medical college. How could her sister continue school if she left? She cannot marry him. Peeta is the third son in his family. While he may be talented in decorating the cakes in his family's bakery, he will not inherit because his eldest brother, Graham, will and if something should happen to Graham, then Rye will inherit. The district only needs one bakery. Peeta's future prospects as a baker are not good. She cannot marry him. Peeta shows incredible vision as an artist. His drawings and canvases seem to come to life. He deserves to have his art appreciated. If they marry, he will never leave District 12, because she cannot leave. For a myriad of reasons, she cannot marry him.
Katniss straightens her shoulders. Gently she turns her hand so the ring can drop into his hands before pulling her arm away. "I cannot marry you. I'm sorry."
Stunned Peeta replies, "But you love me?"
"My feelings don't matter." She answers.
"I love you and you love me. That is all that matters. Everything else will work itself out." Peeta rebuts.
With resolve, she looks Peeta straight in the eye before saying, "No it won't work itself out. I can't marry you. You deserve someone better. It's for the best."
Tears well up in Peeta's eyes as he whispers, "How can I deserve better? Unless your feelings have changed?"
Katniss looks him in the eye again, remaining silent.
"Okay, I see," he haltingly replies to the silence. "Please know that I love you and would have loved you and taken care you for the rest of your life. I can guess what brought about this change of heart. I won't bother you any further."
Peeta puts back on his jacket and walks out of the cabin located next to Katniss' lake. As he exits he looks back one last time saying, "I love you," before walking out and softly shutting the door.
Katniss doesn't move for a long time. When she does, she whispers, "And I will always love you."
Katniss just enters the town square when she spots him standing in front of the bakery talking to a couple of people she doesn't recognize. She hasn't seen him in four years, not since she broke both of their hearts, his through a lie of omission and hers by following others' well intended guidance as opposed to her own inclination. He left for the Capitol three days after she returned his ring and she hasn't heard directly from him since. She has heard gossip and she's followed him in the news. Peeta is a well-known artist now and she's happy for him. There is always a girl on his arm whenever he's photographed at various social events around the Capitol.
Katniss is on her way to a meeting set up for her by the mayor, Madge Hawthorne's father. A couple approached the mayor about the potential of locating an art colony in District 12. The new art colony could be a boon for her community's economy, temporarily adding construction jobs, and permanently adding potential tourism dollars as the colony would offer long-term and short-term residencies as well as attracting art lovers to the area. Mayor Undersee approached her about leasing her family's property around the lake for the art colony. This couldn't have happened to Katniss' family at a better time. Prim was just accepted into one of the top medical colleges in District 3, but before this offer, they couldn't afford to send her. She will miss having the woods and the lake to herself but if Prim can go to college, it will be worth the cost.
She walks quickly over to the justice building, not ready to face Peeta and heads toward Mayor Undersee's office. Walking up to the mayor's assistant, she informs, "Good Morning Bristel, I'm here for a meeting with the mayor."
"Yes, Miss Everdeen. Please follow me," Bristel responds.
"Bristel, please call me Katniss. We went to school together. No need to stand on ceremony with me," she admonishes with a grin.
Bristel smiles back and leads her to the conference room. "The mayor and the Odairs should be here shortly. Would you like some water, coffee, tea?"
"A glass of water would be lovely," Katniss answers.
Bristel returns a few minutes later with a glass of water. Katniss settles down on the side of the conference table that faces the door to the room and waits. The mayor is taking more than a few minutes, leaving Katniss only to her thoughts, reflecting on the last four years. She has taken care of her family. Her mother is still living in her own world only joining everyone else when she is needed to treat someone. Katniss is so proud of Prim, who is finishing school at the top of her class. The last four years she has lived for Prim's dreams. She hasn't dated anyone. Many in town assume she would end up married to Gale Hawthorne, but their relationship was never that way. He's her best friend. He's always loved Madge Undersee, even when he supposedly hated her. Madge gave Gale a chase, but he's always been a good hunter.
She hears others approach the conference room and stands up. The mayor and the couple that Katniss spotted talking to Peeta outside the bakery enter the room.
"Good Morning, Katniss. Let me introduce you to the Odairs. This is Finnick and Annie Odair and they are very excited about leasing your lake property," he animatedly introduces the couple.
Katniss shakes their hands and tells them that she's happy to meet with them. They sit down. The Odairs are a handsome couple. Finnick has bronze hair, tan skin, and the most stunning sea-green eyes she's ever seen. His wife, Annie, has an ethereal beauty with porcelain skin, wavy chestnut-hair, and clear green eyes. They are striking to look at, making her feel a bit dowdy with her blackish-brown hair tied in an efficient braid and her ordinary seam looks, olive skin and grey eyes.
"Miss Everdeen, I think this property will be perfect for our purposes. Thank you for forwarding us pictures to review before this meeting," Finnick states and flashes Katniss a blinding smile.
Annie nods and airily adds, "It will be a haven for artists. The tranquility of the lake is perfect for providing the peace some of us need to create."
"Would you like to actually visit the property before we settle on a deal?" Katniss inquires.
"Oh, that's not necessary. We know it's perfect. Besides, one of the other artists that plans to take up permanent residence has vouched that we couldn't find a better location," Finnick informs.
Katniss' stomach drops as she anticipates what is going to be said next after she asks, "Permanent artists-in-residence?"
"Yes, the colony will have two permanent artists-in-residence. My wife, of course, and Peeta Mellark. I believe you are acquainted with him. He mentioned you grew up together," Finnick answers.
She feels the wind knocked out of her. He's home. For good. He's going to live by her lake. Katniss quickly pulls herself back to the present, hoping the others didn't notice how disconcerted that had made her feel.
She pastes a smile on her face, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "Great. Let's talk about the lease." Katniss and the Odairs spend time outlining the lease options. Katniss was agreeable to most of the terms of the lease. The only condition she had was that the small cabin and surrounding flower garden near the lake was for her personal use only. The Odairs didn't see a problem with that stipulation. They shook their hands over the deal and agreed to sign the paperwork once drawn up tomorrow. Katniss bids them goodbye and excuses herself, as she knew the Odairs had additional business with the mayor.
Leaving the justice building, Katniss crosses the square in the direction of the Hob. When she arrives at the Hob, Katniss realizes that someone is calling her name. She looks up and sees Gale and Thom talking to Greasy Sae as they enjoy their lunch. She smiles and walks over the group.
"Hello Gale, how are you today?" She asks.
"I'm great. Thom and I were just catching up with Mellark over lunch," Gale answers. She realizes there is a third person. Peeta. He looks at her before stiffly stating, "Hello, Katniss."
"Hello, Peeta. I hope you are well," She responds quietly.
Gales asks, "You're late for lunch, where have you been?"
"I've been meeting with the Odairs. I believe they are friends of Peeta. They are going to lease my lake property to build an art colony," Katniss answers before turning to Peeta, "I understand you are going to be a permanent artist-in-residence?"
Peeta nods and provides monosyllabic response, "Yes."
Katniss gives a small, sad smile before murmuring, "Well, I'm glad you've come home." She turns to Gale and Thom tells them that she needs to be going.
Walking back to the seam Katniss thinks about her short, painful conversation with Peeta. He looks good. He hasn't forgiven her. Katniss accepted that she gave up her chance with him a long time ago. It is time for her to let it go. As she walks into the house, she slowly transforms herself. She shares the exciting news that they now can afford to send Prim to college. They celebrate with a nice dinner of lamb stew with plums over rice, followed by a strawberry salad. She is successful in hiding the pain underneath her smile.
A/N: I've already written a good portion of this story. I plan to update it once or twice a week throughout February as my Valentine's gift to you!
I have another story, Unto Dust, which takes place during the dust bowl in the Great Depression. I promise to get back to that soon. I'm currently working on outlining the next chapter.
Thank you to e-marina for pre-reading and victorianoir for being an awesome beta.
If you'd like more information about my fanfiction please visit my tumblr: dispatchesfromdistrict7
The characters are the property of the amazing Suzanne Collins and do not belong to me.