Her summer had started out like any other, really. Her freshman year in high school had ended; she spent her days playing with Prim and her nights going around with Gale. He took her to all these great little places all over town, sometimes a bar to see some small band. Other times it was a record store or a little café. And then there were her favorites where the two of them would just drive for hours in his car, late into the night, chasing stars and blasting music and laughter.
There was a little cottage she and him could hang out and sometimes he'd play her something on the old guitar his father left him. Sometimes they'd sit on the roof and point out stars. Then there was the little lake where on more than one occasion the two of them would swim for hours in the night, splashing each other and laughing in ways they couldn't with anyone else. It was just him and her. And that's all she ever needed.
But the summer bliss was short lived when Gale announced to her he wouldn't be going to school for his senior year of high school. Instead he was going to be away with his punk band, Catching Fire, as they toured small gigs and festivals. Gale's younger brother Rory was old enough to help take care of the Hawthorne family while Gale got a chance to live his dream. He got to runaway from the sleepy rural town, Panem, in the middle of North America.
Katniss had lost track of all the times he had told her about his plans to get away, to run and never look back. To explore the world, to share his music, his passions and ideas with the world, that was all he ever wanted. A few times he mentioned to her, he would take her with him, if she wanted to leave too. So desperately she wanted to run with him. To get away from her duties and family and the memories that haunted the tiny town. But she couldn't because she did have responsibilities. Gale was going to be 18 soon, he could do whatever he so pleased, but Katniss wasn't even 16 yet. Plus, someone had to look after Prim. Gale understood.
And so when the fated day arrived where Gale and his band pulled away in their old van and down the dusty road leading out of the town, Katniss began to wish she had run away with him. Hours bled into days and days into weeks and suddenly her summer was slipping away in shades of grey.
She took up a job at the small bakery run by the Mellarks. They were one of the richer families the neighborhood, with a clean white-picket fence house. The kind of house many girls dreamed about having. It was a nice dream to have, but it wasn't one Katniss truly wanted. When she thought about her future, she pictured a quiet faraway cottage where she could just be. Where she could paint and draw and play the piano and dance to old records Gale bought her. Where she could be Katniss without having the whole see her. Prim would visit and so would Gale the three of them would be happy and free.
But those were only dreams, and the goal for now, was just surviving high school without Gale.
Mr. Mellark was kind to her and gave her the job as a cashier. Mrs. Mellark detested her, but Mrs. Mellark detested everyone, so Katniss didn't really pay her any attention. The Mellarks had three boys, James, Mike, and Peeta. The older two were away at different colleges while Peeta was her age.
Peeta was an odd boy, Katniss decided. He was well liked at their school and he was one of the best wrestlers on the wrestling team. He was pretty decent looking as well, he wasn't anything worth comparing to Gale, who was practically a male, but it wasn't really fair to compare any guy to Gale. He was shy but Katniss could feel his eyes on her whenever he was around. It unnerved her really. He didn't say anything to her, only stared.
It wasn't until she had been working at the bakery for 2 weeks (and it had been 4 weeks since Gale's departure) that Peeta finally spoke to her. Like really spoke to her, not to pass on something for his father, or to give her a small hello, but he actually started talking. Well, rambling was more fitting of a word, Katniss thought snidely.
He began by introducing himself, as if she didn't already know, hello she worked for his family, and then started talking about how guilty he felt about not talking to her sooner, that part was unexpected, before launching into a really roundabout way about asking for her school schedule. And then her number. Katniss wrinkled her nose as the blonde boy continued to go on about school and how he had seen her around, no duh, and finally Katniss had enough.
"Kid, just shut up." She snapped, probably a little harsher than she had intended. He stopped rambling to stare at her with wide blue eyes. She resisted the urge to roll her own. "I know who you are. Now the question is, why are you talking to me?"
Peeta seemed to actually consider his answer before replying to her. "Wouldyouliketohangoutwithmeandmyfriendssometimethi sweek?" He rushed out and Katniss barely had time to comprehend his words. She scrunched up her face, trying to ignore Gales' teasing voice in her mind (You look like a rabbit when you do that Catnip).
"Why?" She pressed but Peeta seemed taken aback by her tart tone.
"Why? Because I want to get to know you and—"
"Why do you want to get to know me?" Katniss questioned the fair-skinned boy. He flushed and began rambling and muttering and Katniss tuned out. Why was this kid talking to her again?
She rolled her eyes when she noticed the boy was still talking. "Bye Peeta." She said finally when her eyes caught sight of the clock on the wall. Peeta blinked in surprise.
"What?" She pointed to the clock as she picked up her father's hunting jacket.
"My shifts over. I'm going home." Peeta just stared at her retreating figure, baffled. Katniss didn't understand what his problem was, or why he was even talking to her suddenly, they had been going to school together since kindergarten. Maybe she could've handled that a little a better, but honestly, Katniss wanted to go home. Home to Prim and the new letter from Gale that was surely awaiting her. She didn't have the patience or need to deal with blonde haired baker's son.
It was a week later that Peeta approached her again, this time with his friend Delly. He launched into yet another ramble about how he wanted to get to know her and she should hang out with his friends this weekend, as they were going to see a movie. Katniss had half-heartily listened, choosing to focus on the girl next to Peeta.
She was pretty in a town kid way, with long golden ringlets and emerald eyes. Light freckles splattered her pale face and over her button nose. Her eyebrows were almost unnoticeable and her lips were bright crimson. She was skinny, but the pretty skinny, not the malnourished skinny Katniss was. She watched in amusement as Peeta continued to ramble and Delly was staring at him, enraptured. Katniss almost snorted, she wasn't an expert when it came to romantic feelings but this was just too obvious. She wondered how Peeta hadn't noticed her feelings yet.
"Katniss?" Peeta's voice broke in, shaking her from her thoughts. She realized she had zoned out looking at Peeta's face, and she flushed. He looked please and Delly looked a little, a lot more than a little, pissed off.
She coughed. "What?"
"Would you like to come to the movies with my friends and I?" Katniss opened her mouth to decline but as the words came tumbling out, she realized she had given him a completely different answer than she intended. Peeta beamed while Delly looked far less than pleased.
Katniss wanted to snatch those words back, to tell him no, she would not be joining him and his rich friends, but looking at his pleased face, the words died in her throat. Instead she just lowered her eyes to the table, accepting her fate.
"You did what?" Gale's amused voice purred in her ear, his laughter barely held back. Katniss scowled and muttered a 'shut up' into the phone receiver. Gale laughed.
"Look at you! Katniss Everdeen! Being social!" Katniss glared at the wall on the other side of her room, longing to chuck the phone at Gale's smirking face. "What is the world coming too?" He teased.
"I'll hang up right now." She threatened her best friend. Gale quickly sobered up, but the amusement in his words was still present.
"Oh, Catnip, I kid, I kid… You know I'm only teasing right? You're important to me Kat, I don't want you moping around for the rest of high school because I'm not around. Enjoy yourself." He explained, the amusement slowly slipping off his words and begun to be replaced by tender affections. Katniss smiled softly into the phone.
"I know." She whispered.
"This could be good for you, Catnip. Maybe it doesn't work out with these guys, but it's a step in the right direction. I'm not saying you should change and start on your way of social conquest or anything. But letting someone else in, preferably your own age, is something worth searching and fighting for." Gale's words made sense, even if they scared the hell out of her. Opening up to someone else was something she wasn't so sure she could do. Aside from Prim, her younger sister, Gale was the only one in her life she truly trusted with her life and secrets. But Gale wasn't around anymore and Prim was starting on her own life.
"Just try to not replace me too soon, m'kay?" Gale joked and she laughed before smiling fondly into the phone.
"I could never replace you, Gale. No matter what happens in these next years, you'll always be my best friend and the one I know I can place my trust in." She answered seriously. She could almost hear his smile.
"Same goes for you, Catnip." He responded softly. There was comfortable pause before Gale began to speak again. "Listen Kat, I've got to go, I'm almost out of quarters and if you want to tell me all about this date of yours this weekend, I'm going to need some change." She could hear him lick his lips. "Give these kids a chance, alright? I miss you and I'll play our set tonight in honor of you. Good night, Catnip."
"Good night Gale. Bring the house down, for me ok?" He chuckled,
"You know it… Night Kat."
Katniss stood awkwardly at the theater house, tapping her combat boots against the sidewalk nervously. Peeta said to meet them here, so where were they? Was it some kind of joke? She was really regretting her decision to come here. She thought to her future conversation with Gale, about being stood up and how he would undoubtedly react with venom, vowing to find those kids and beat some sense into them. Before she could walk away, Peeta's voice called out to her,
"Katniss! You came!" She turned to see the blonde boy, smiling brightly at her. Behind him were four kids, four kids Katniss tended to avoid at all costs. It wasn't that they were horrible, but they were the social rulers of her year. She cursed her less than tactful thoughts; of course Peeta was friends with the kings and queens of her school. He was popular himself. Suddenly she realized how important this movie day had become. Katniss didn't want to be popular or date a bunch of guys or stuff like that, but these kids held the power to crush her hopefully peaceful sophomore year. If she screwed up, they'd have something over her, she could become a reject rather than a wallflower. She didn't like those odds.
All of them were your typical town kids, blonde or red hair, green or blue eyes and all had very pale complexions. Delly was one of them, but she wasn't much a queen, more a princess. The other three were Jack Fields, Macy Love, and Kyle Danforth. Kyle and Jack were on their way to being the captain and co-captain of the high school's football team and Macy was the already on varsity cheer with Delly.
Macy was easily one of the prettiest girls at Katniss' school, Capitol High, with long auburn hair and sky blue eyes. She looked the age of senior, her grace and womanly body, played a massive part in her looks. Kyle and Jack were both decent looking guys, both blonde, but Jack had green eyes while Kyle had blue. Katniss tried to look nonplused as the group moved towards her.
She shrugged in response to Peeta. "Yeah." Macy gave her a cold once over before turning back her phone. The boys ignored her completely while Delly glared daggers as Peeta gushed over seeing her. Katniss resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
"Well come on, the movie will be starting in ten." Peeta announced cheerfully.
Gale didn't even try and hide his amusement at her predicament, as he laughed loudly into the phone. "Oh God! Only this would happen to you!" Katniss really wanted to throw the phone across her room, but she resisted the urge. It felt too good talking to Gale, even if he was laughing at her.
"Shut up." But Gale continued to howl with laughter for another minute or so.
"Alright, alright," he chuckled, trying to get his laughter under control. "How did it go?" Katniss bit her lip.
"I don't think I made a fool out of myself, but none of them were happy, or even interesting, in my being there. I mean, aside from Peeta." She told him. "But it was so awkward, Peeta kept talking and talking about how perfect this was while Delly silently seethed and the rest of his friends ignored his completely. I don't think a said more than 5 words." Katniss groaned. "How the hell do you do it, Gale? We're so alike, but so different, I mean, people loved you. You had girlfriends, lots of friends, and people just liked you. No one likes me, or even wants me around and I actually like it that way."
Gale sighed into the phone, "Catnip, you are likeable, why the hell do you think I stuck around, hmm? Maybe not in the stereotype way, not the bubbly outgoing girly-girl way, but in your own Katniss way. Honestly, Kat, just be yourself, as cliché as that sounds, it's the truth. You don't have to impress these kids, but you don't need to dumb yourself down either. If they don't like you, first, that's they're fault, and second, better they hate you for you than love you for who you're not."
"You stole that from Kurt Cobain." Katniss grumbled into the phone. But she was smiling anyways. He snorted,
"So? It's true."
Katniss spent the rest of the night talking to Gale, laughing and sharing stories. He told her all about the tour and the gigs they played while she kept him up to date on the town gossip and her adventures at the bakery.