“The minivan is all packed up and ready for tomorrow,” he tells his wife. Katniss is in the kitchen making dinner and has their 3 year old daughter Holly propped on her hip. “Should you be carrying her?” he asks. Holly has become clingy with Katniss ever since they told her that she was going to be a big sister.
“I’m past the first trimester. Besides she’s not heavy,” she replies. “Why can’t we wait until you get off work tomorrow?” She asks, not for the first time this week. “That way we can go together.” He brings his hand up to his face, rubs it and releases a breath of frustration. He walks towards her slowly as if approaching a wounded animal. Because this pregnancy has caused her to display an array of emotions that on occasion have given him whiplash.
“Katniss,” he says in a calm and steady voice not wanting to trigger her inner ‘She-Hulk.’ “Rory and Prim agreed to wait an extra day so you and Holly can carpool with them. We can’t make last minute changes,” he reminds her. They will be spending the week at her late father’s lake house with family and friends. Unfortunately he has a wedding cake to finish, deliver and set up tomorrow. Then he’ll make the two hour drive up to the lake house in the evening.
“I know that,” she snaps “but I don’t have to like it.” She glares at him before turning around to pour out a bag of baby carrots into the boiling pot. He goes to take Holly from her but she wraps her skinny little arms around Katniss neck shaking her head refusing to go to him as if blaming him for her mother’s displeasure. He sighs, looks like he can’t make either of his girls happy today. She notices his crestfallen face at Holly’s rejection and her feeling instantly go from irritation to sympathy.
“It’s just a phase she’s going through,” Katniss attempts to reassure him. He tries not to let the rejection get to him though it stings a bit. Holly has always been daddy’s little girl. After awhile with some coaxing from Katniss she finally relents and goes to him.
“Up, daddy up,” Holly said. He tosses her up in the air; her giggles fill the room and warm his heart. Holly is Katniss’s mini-me right down to the adorable scowl, except for the eyes. She has his eyes. After dinner they go through their bedtime routine; a bath, a tickle fight and a bed time story. He lives for these moments. With one last kiss goodnight he’s off to their bedroom hoping Katniss is still awake. That way he can make it up to her too.
Walking into the bedroom he sees she’s fast asleep. Oh well, he thinks she needs her rest. Standing under the shower he feels the hot water working wonders on his stiff muscles. The tension he had been feeling going down the drain with the soapsuds. His thoughts go back to Katniss; feeling guilty that she might have gone to sleep upset with him. He knows she hates the idea of leaving without him and he does too. But it’s better for Holly to leave early in the morning. He tries to walk as silently as he can to his side of the bed, not wanting to disturb her.
“Have I ever told you that you sound like a herd of cattle when you walk,” she teases. He jumps at the sound of her voice.
“Geez Katniss are you trying to give me a heart attack?” With his hand over his heart he tries to compose himself. “You might have mentioned it, once or twice,” he said “A month.” Pulling back the covers he lays down and she slide over next to him as he reaches to turn out the lights.
“No, leave it on,” she purrs as she straddles him. So he does.
In the morning there’s a flurry of activity. Switching the Hawthorne’s luggage into the minivan, filling thermoses of coffee and hot chocolate, packing the freshly bake pastries for the road. All while dealing with a grumpy baby that didn’t want to get up and having to contend with Holly too. The teary goodbyes of his wife and daughter, as if they were being marched off to their deaths, nearly did him in. If it wasn’t for Prim he would have given into their demands, screw the wedding.
When he arrives at the bakery Thom, the day manager is already there going through the morning prep. With a quick ‘good morning’ he goes straight to work on the wedding cake. After a couple of hours he received a text from Katniss letting him know they had arrived safely. He keeps himself busy to prevent his mind from wondering back to his girls, only stopping now and then to relieve an employee for a break. He manages to finish the cake earlier than expected and he wished he could deliver it now but they have a set schedule and no one will be at the venue to receive it.
“Thom, I’m going to Sae’s, you want anything?” He asks “my treat.”
“A Reuben and tell Sae not to be stingy on the sauerkraut.”
As he waits on the green to across the street to Sae’s, he lets his thoughts drift back to last night and he feels his groin twitch at the memory. Aside for the rollercoaster of emotions Katniss is going through because of the pregnancy. More often then not she looks at him like a meal she wants to devour and he’s enjoying even minute of it.
It was just his luck that she had moved back to Panem the same day Leevy decided to break up with him, at a red light of all places. Within three months they were dating. Three months after that they were engaged and then married before the year had marked her return. Some called it a whirlwind romance. He likes to think that, it would have happened anyway.
“Well hello my boy, got tired of those cold sandwiches you sell on that fancy bread of yours?” Sae asks. He knows she’s teasing, seeing as she’s one of his clients, which he supplies those fancy breads and desserts to.
“You have no competition Sae,” he said.
“Damn straight,” calls out Chaff from the open kitchen. “Your poor excuse for sandwiches, don’t hold a candle to mine.”
“I’ll take a Philly cheese steak and a Reuben for Thom. He said…”
“I know,” she rolls her eyes. “Extra sauerkraut, tell him to order just a sauerkraut sandwich next time.” They make small talk while he waits, Chaff interjecting from time to time. He receive another text, this time from Prim; a few pictures of Holly and Katniss swimming in the lake, all smiles. His chest tightens a little; Katniss smiles don’t reach her eyes. They have an eerie far away quality to them. He wants to call but feels that it’ll only make it worse.
With Thom and Eddy’s help they load up the delivery van with not only the wedding cake but with an assortment of treats for the dessert table; cupcakes, cookies, cake pops, and French macarons. Mr. Snow spared not expenses for his granddaughters Cashmere’s wedding, not when she was marrying Mrs. Coin’s grandson Brutus.
“Mr. Mellark, thank goodness you’re on schedule,” exclaim the wedding planner, Effie Trinket. “The dessert table is right this way.” She is very efficient and has the dessert trays label for them, making their job much easier. So while he sets up the cake, Thom and Eddy fill the trays with the corresponding desserts. After they are done they step back to make sure everything looks perfect and Eddy begins to take pictures to post on their website and the various social media outlets.
He spots Haymitch by the open bar and walks over to him. Even though he had known Haymitch for years he was surprised to find out that the super from the apartment where he use to live was Katniss’s uncle.
“Hey, what are doing here?” he asks.
“I’m here for the refreshments,” Haymitch says waving his glass. “But I was also helping Effie setup the tables, chairs and whatnot.”
“Haymitch! You’re supposed to stay in the back,” Effie barks at him from across the hall.
“Keep your corset on women!” he hollers back. “I’ll be gone before the wedding party arrives.”
“So, you going to the lake house?” he asks Haymitch.
“Yeah, we’ll be heading out tomorrow. I have to go meet that new brother-in-law of mine, now don’t I,” Haymitch replies.
It had come as a bit of a shock when they all found out Mrs. Everdeen well Mrs. Boggs now, had remarried without letting anyone know, not even her daughters. Katniss wouldn’t talk to her mother for months afterwards. He wasn’t sure if she felt that her mom was betraying her father’s memory or just the fact that she didn’t tell them she had met someone, it could be a bit of both. He ended up finding himself in the awkward position of playing referee between them. John Boggs is an EMT and they had met at the hospital where she works as an ER nurse. Maybe that’s why Katniss looks a little lost in those pictures or so he tells himself.
“What about you?” Haymitch asks.
“I’m leaving after we’re done here,” he said.
“Be careful, there are a lot of drunkards out on a Saturday night,” Haymitch said. He eyes Haymitch’s drink.
“Uber,” Haymitch said “unless you want to give me a ride home. I’m done here.” Effie’s house is on the way to the bakery so he won’t be going out of his way.
“That’s fine, I think Eddy’s finishing up too,” he tells him.
Finally, after dropping Haymitch off and meeting with his night manager Seeder, he is ready to go. He makes himself a couple of sandwiches for the road and a strong black coffee. He texted Katniss that he was on his way but instead of texting him back the ring tone he has set for her ‘I hope you dance’ goes off.
“Hello,” he answers.
“Peeta, I’m glad I caught you before you left. Look, I was thinking, maybe you should wait until tomorrow to drive up here?” she says. Well this is new. She had been complaining all week that they should go together but nothing about him waiting a day.
“It’s everything alright, Katniss?” he asks. All day he was sure she had been upset he wasn’t there with her.
“Yes, it’s just,” she starts “I missed you but you’ve been working late all week getting everything ready for that wedding. Then I kept you up last night instead of letting you sleep.”
“Hey now, I enjoy making love to my wife so none of that, ok,” he said.
“I know but Peeta you’re exhausted, that’s why I wanted to stay with you so that I could drive or at the every least keep you company and awake,” she concludes.
“It’ll be fine. If I get sleepy I’ll pull over and nap if I have to but I don’t think it’ll come to that. I love you, give Holly a kiss for me,” he tells her.
“I love you, too,” he can hear the tremor in her voice and knows nothing he could possibly said would bring her any comfort; she will worry until he gets there.
“See you soon,” he tells her and hangs up. She’s right though he is tired but he’s sure he’ll be able to make the drive.
He drives Rory’s truck out of the bakery parking lot and into traffic. He switches on the radio and its play some funk music that Rory or Prim like. He goes though the stations and finds one that is playing the oldies.
He’s been driving for about 45 minutes when he see the headlights of an oncoming car swerve, he manages to cut the wheel to the right but the car is still coming at an alarming speed, he catches a glimpse of the driver with a bottle turned up as he crossed the center line and careens right into him. As the car flips onto its side a searing pain shots up his leg; the noise of the metal against the blacktop is deafening. The seatbelt tugs at him, the airbag deploys and glass shatters. He drifts in and out of consciousness; at one point hearing voices at another smelling the gasoline and smoke. He thinks he hears ‘I hope you dance’ go off a few times before he descend back into darkness.
The next time he comes too he hears the sirens in the distance. He tries to move but realizes he’s pinned against the steering wheel and if the pain is any indication he’s pretty sure his left leg is broken and that’s not the worst part. When he looks up he sees the flames coming from the hood of the car. Oh god, he doesn’t want to go like this. There is still so many things he has left to do and he doesn’t want Katniss to do them all alone. There are so many things he doesn’t want to miss; the birth of my baby, Holly’s first day of school, teaching them how to ride a bike and all of life’s little and big milestones.
The last clear thought he has as the sirens and the flames draw closer is ‘I hope they get to me in time.’ Then his life flashes right before his eyes.
He’s four years old on his daddy’s shoulders chasing after his brothers. He’s five years old watching Katniss in a red plaid dress on a stool singing the valley song. On his eighth birthday he’s mom is in the kitchen making his favorite; Mac and cheese. He sees a home run. He’s sneaking his first kiss with Glimmer behind the school. He watches Katniss and Darius walking hand in hand down the hall to her homeroom and with a blush she gives him a peck on the lips. He’s coming in second place next to his brother in the wrestling competition. He’s watching Katniss give Gale a playful shove. He’s in the hospital with a busted knee losing his full ride wrestling scholarship to Virginia Tech. He sees Katniss silver eyes with flecks of blue twinkling at him in an elevator. Down on one knee looking up at a smiling teary eyed Katniss. He sees her beautiful face under her veil as she walks down the aisle towards him. He’s in the hospital again counting ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. Watching from the doorway as Katniss sings Holly a lullaby.
There’s a jolt that brings him back to himself and the pain that courses through his body is almost unbearable. It takes him a few minutes to realize he’s on a stretcher and strangers are hovering above him. He gets jostled about while being move towards the ambulance. He is able to make out one voice he recognizes. Then Darius moves into his line of sight.
“Yes, Katniss he’s being taken to Panem Memorial Hospital. Well, his eyes are open and looking right at me,” Darius tell his wife. “No, he can’t talk. I’ll be sure to tell him, bye.”
“Officer Leeg?” his eyes follow Darius as he moves away. “We need to move now.”
“Yes, of course. Peeta, Katniss said she’s leaving now and she’ll see you soon,” Darius said. With those final words he lets the darkness take him over once more.
He’s not sure how long he’s been out but when he comes too; he’s in a hospital room and he feels something on his chest. He slowly opens his eyes and sees Katniss silver eyes looking back at him.
“What are you doing?” he asks he voice sounding hoarse from lack of use.
“Listening to your heart,” she said. “They told me it stopped.”
“Well, it seems to be working fine now,” he teases. He’s rewarded with a soft smile.
“It sure is,” she takes a deep shuddering breath. “You almost left me.”
“No, I’m staying right here,” he promises.
“Always?” she asks.