On Sunday, I'm on my way towards the forests of District 12. It's a little later than my usual meeting time to hunt with Gale. Hunting with him is a constant in my life. However, today, I had to tend to our stand of medicinal herbs in the Hob while my mother and Prim were called away on a medical emergency and was late to our appointment.
It's mid-November but it is unseasonably warm. The breeze that blows is soft and the ground is covered in golden and red leaves, creating a multi-colored carpet. It is one of my favorite times of year, exceeded only by my love of springtime, just before all of the game disappears into winter hibernation. However, it was worse in the past, when my mother was like the walking dead and Prim and I were half-starved, before the bread and the dandelion. Before we owned a table in the Hob and before we sold homemade herbal remedies that my mother and Prim prepared with the herbs I found in the forest or the ones we grew in the small garden behind our house. It was also where we kept Lady, Prim's goat. It was simple, at least as simple as it could be for someone living in Panem, in District 12, and in the Seam. In other words, we were the poorest and most miserable members of the country. But somehow, we managed to survive.
When I arrive at our rock, Gale is already waiting.
"You finally managed to escape," he says as he turns towards me, a sly smile on his face. "You're just in time in time for lunch."
"You know I can't turn down a good meal."
"Well, today we have your favorite," he smiles as he takes out a bag of rolls.
"Are those actually rolls? Where did you get them?" I exclaim, since rolls are my weakness I give into only once per year, a day that I will no longer have to endure. For Gale and I, the Reaping is over but not for Prim, Rory, Vick or Posy. We still can't rest easy, for they can still be Reaped and die in The Hunger Games. "Are we celebrating a special occasion?"
"Well, maybe not for us. But for the baker and his family, it is definitely a special occasion."
"Oh, really?" I ask, trying my very best to appear nonchalant, though, to tell the truth, anything that had to do with the Mellark family was of high interest to me. I had my reasons.
"This morning, I found rabbits and squirrels in my snares. I decided to stop by the bakery and trade them for something to give you when you came. Mr. Mellark was happier than usual when he opened the door, so much so that he threw in the extra rolls and cookies with our usual trade. I didn't want to accept the trade but he told me not to be foolish. They were celebrating because his son was engaged to be married," he finished, giving me a sidelong glance.
"It was a matter of time," I told him distractedly, because I couldn't imagine the middle Mellark boy getting married. "Rye has been dating Fanny for some time."
"But that's the surprise. Rye's not the one getting married. It's the youngest one who's engaged."
"Pee-Peeta?" I ask, looking away from Gale and staring out instead into the horizon.
"Yeah. Peeta. It's strange. I always thought he had a crush on you but I guess I was wrong."
"Of course you were wrong. That makes no sense." I say, my brow furrowed as I continue to stare out onto the horizon, eating the bread that no longer tasted delicious but dry and difficult to swallow.
"Now I know," Gale said, chuckling. "I mean, you couldn't be any more different from Delly Cartwright."
True, I couldn't be more different from Delly Cartwright: she is blond, with angelic blue eyes, pure affability and happiness in person and is one of the few people in this district with a somewhat rounded figure, which means she is also in full possession of round, pink cheeks. However, even though Gale is right, I am offended.
"Is there a problem with the fact that I look nothing like Delly?" I accuse without looking him in the eye.
"What's wrong with you, Catnip? I meant that as a compliment. What I was trying to say is if Peeta likes Delly, you're obviously not his type."
"Of course. I can't be anyone's type, is that it?" I asked him, each word enraging me further as I stand up to leave.
"He's a merchant," he says dismissively, because if there is anything Gale hates more than the Capitol, it's the merchant class and their easy lives in District 12. "And anyway, I didn't say you were nobody's type. I think you already know that you are definitely my type, but you never want to talk about these things, about us…"
"This is just what was missing," I cut him off. "I don't want to start this again. I'm going home. I'll see you next Sunday."
As I walk away as quickly as possible towards the Seam, I try not to think because in reality I don't understand anything; I don't understand why I'm confused, nervous and sad, as if my eyes are burning and I can no longer catch my breath.
When I am finally back within the "legal" confines of District 12,strangely I feel better, but still not calm enough. The bad thing of having a mother, who now cares about me, and a sister who are healers is, they are not going to overlook my agitation. So I head to the meadow, but once there I realize I'm not alone. I see a blond boy with messy hair bent down grabbing the few flowers that are among the wild weeds. I should turn around, taking advantage of the fact that he has not seen me, but I remain in the same spot until he finally gets up and sees me.
"Hi Katniss" he says smiling while he fixes the small bouquet in his hands "It's been a long time"
"Are those for your fiancé?" I ask serious, skipping the education protocols and wiping the smile away from his face, I feel satisfaction and sadness at the same time
"So you already know" he affirms slowly.
"Yes, your father told Gale. To be honest, Peeta, I would have expected you to..."
"What were you expecting, Katniss?" He says with an ironic tone that hurts me. "You were the one who broke up. I asked you to marry me and you told me in another life"
"I said: maybe, in another life" I mutter for myself so I'm not surprised when a Peeta can't hear me.
"What was that?" He asks while he moves closer just a few steps from me.
"I didn't say in another life, I told you maybe in another life" I repeat looking at him defiantly.
"Is there any difference?"
"Yes there is, Peeta. The difference is that if we lived in another place or time... I'd have said yes to you".
We remain in silence, one in front of the other, my eyes fixed on the grass under my feet. Suddenly, I see his hand fearfully moving close to mine, as if he thinks that I can move it away at any time, but to be honest, right now I don't want to fight back my feelings, because his absence hurts. Slowly he takes my hand and he sighs while pulls me to bring me closer to him.
"I miss you, Katniss, without you nothing makes sense".
"You are getting married, Peeta," I respond stubborn.
"You know I'm not in love with her, it could be Delly or someone else for all that matters. I only accepted so my mother would leave me alone, because I was desperate after you broke up with me and she threatened she wouldn't leave me the bakery if I didn't marry already, and I couldn't lose everything I care about but we can figure this out. Together" he says as he raises his other hand to caress my cheek "if you want. The only thing I need is you".
But I don't finish the sentence because he starts kissing me, slowly and softly, the way he knows I love. Not that I don't like fast kisses full of passion, but these long and deep kisses, are what reaffirms his unconditional love for me. These kisses remind me about our first kiss, and last. In that moment, with that memory my body reacts and I push him away."Peeta, don't" but this time I don't have to add anything more because everything has been said.
Before I turn around I kiss him in the cheek, a long kiss to capture the moment. I start to walk away when he shouts.
"I'm not giving up like that, Katniss. We still have ten weeks before the wedding. Every week, I'm going to leave you a dandelion on your window, and if you want to see me, you just have to drop one on the bakery's door"
I face him again and laugh, despite being romantic, the gesture is not very realistic.
"It is Autumn and the winter is coming, you won't find dandelions in this season"
"Just wait and see" he says smiling.
"Don't waste your time Peeta. It is better this way"
This time when I turn around to leave I really do.