Autumn has officially become winter this week, and as always flu and colds come along with the cold weather. December illness was a gold mine for our little business which was much appreciated because it was when the game was scarce.
Among our customers I can see Darius showing up, Darius is one of District 12 agents, the kind est in our district, and possibly all of Panem. His hair is bright red, a tone which contrasts with his pale skin.
"Good morning, Katniss" he tells me, avoiding the formalities that are necessary outside the Hob.
"Hello, Darius, what brings you here? Don't you have modern and fancy medicines from the Capitol?" I say teasing him.
"Yes, but you know that I'm addicted to the Everdeen's red fruit infusion and taking into account the cold that's coming, I think it is the perfect choice for warmth"
"That might be an exaggeration, fortunately snow has not appeared yet" Not that I dislike snow but it's harder to track game.
"Then our luck is about to change, and I wanted to warn you so you have enough meat in the fridge, because the coming storm will be an important one if the forecast is right and I don't want to wait for weeks for the frozen meat from the Capitol, because if they are right, we will be isolated for some days".
Although hunting isn't legal in District 12 our agents look the other way, especially Darius who is one of my best customers.
"Don't worry, Rooba's freezer is full and her house is one of the few ones that doesn't run out of electricity, along with yours and the Merchants' " I say winking. "When is it expected?"
"Today's dawn, and it may last two or three days"
Darius pays me for the infusion and leaves but I get worried, because today is Saturday, which means that Peeta will try to come tonight. "I must warn him' I think.
"Prim" I yell at my sister who is on the other end of the booth while I take off the apron. I have to deliver some squirrels to the bakery and pick up some bread and flour for these days, a storm is coming"
Prim nods and I run as fast as I can to our house to take one of the squirrels that I hunted this morning. If we're going to be isolated a few days we'd need them but bread soup will be enough.
In just over half an hour I'm in the bakery carrying a squirrel and hoping to find Peeta even though it's Saturday afternoon, because he still owes Rye some shifts from our faraway Sunday in the forest. I knock as usual at the back door and Mr. Mellark opens it, although I can see, with relief ,that Peeta is frosting a cake next to the window near where I stand. When he lifts his head and sees me, he looks puzzled but quickly, looks down again and resumes his work.
"Hello, Katniss, to what do we owe the pleasure of your visit today? It's been a long time" he says smiling and motions toward Peeta with his head to let me know that he is talking about both of them.
"A snow storm is coming" I answer without elaborating further.
"Oh! Well thanks for thinking of us, squirrel hasn't been in our diet lately," Mr. Mellark says with a warm smile that makes me feel a little guilty. "what would you like? Two loaves of white bread?"
"If possible, I prefer one of raisins and nuts".
Peeta raises his head startled because this is our code when I have to speak with him... Or when I needed to see him. Today is the first case, I say to myself. Peeta's father leaves the kitchen and heads to the main counter when the bell rings announcing a real customer has come into the bakery.
"Katniss are you in a rush? Do you mind if I take care of this before?
"No problem, Mr. Mellark"
As soon as he disappears behind the door, Peeta comes closer to me and takes my hand.
"Are you ok?"
"Yes" I say, releasing my hand from his though I miss his touch .
Peeta gets serious and steps back.
"What do you want?" He asks, no warmth in his voice, which hurts but I know it's the right thing to do or he won't listen to me.
"Darius told me that a strong snow storm is coming, it's forecasted at dawn and I wanted to warn you so you don't come. It isn't safe"
"No" Peeta says.
"I said it is not safe, it is dangerous, you could get caught and get lost or something worse"
"Damn it, Peeta, don't be stubborn"
"Will you meet me later, in the shed?we have to talk".
"No, besides you have to work.
"Then I'll go tonight"
"Ok, give me the gift now"
"I said, give me the gift now, so you don't have to come tonight" I say convinced that he will agree as it is a good arrangement and a very generous offer from my side in our current situation.
"I'll bring it over tonight... As always".
With that he turns around with his back towards me and resumes his work just when his father returns from the front shop.
"Here you go, Katniss and don't be a stranger"
"Good bye" I say rushing to go out from there and frustrated with Peeta's attitude.
When I'm halfway home I realize I've forgotten the flour due my quick exit... Today is not great so far.
I feel anxious during the whole night, I can barely take my eyes from the window and I'm praying that it doesn't snow. I can notice that both, my mother and my sister are aware of my discomfort but they know better than to ask me what's wrong, before going to sleep Prim asks, "Are you coming to sleep?"
"I'm not sleepy yet" I answer distractedly, but Prim doesn't push the conversation because she knows I need my space sometimes.
A little bit after midnight, it starts to snow heavily although the storm hasn't begun yet. I try to guess when Peeta might come, he usually wakes up around 4 in the morning, but since he walks over here to leave the dandelions I suppose he has to get up earlier, hopefully he will be sensible and come before it gets worse... Although if he had any common sense he wouldn't come at all.
At 2 am, there are still no news but the storm blows furiously now, the streetlights are still on. I get up from my rocking chair and start walking back and forth in our small living room, but it creates the opposite effect and I can't relax. Moved by an impulse, I step out onto the porch to breathe some cold and fresh air. It's freezing outside.
Suddenly I hear heavy footsteps coming closer, some footsteps I recognize and I see Peeta turning around the corner of my house. He doesn't realize I'm there till the last moment when he is in front of me
"Hi" he says, but his voice trembles due to the cold.
"C'mon, get inside" I say, trying to reflect a peace that I don't feel.
"I shouldn't, I have to go back to the bakery as soon as possible" he says without looking at me.
"Peeta, you're trembling and I can see from here that your pants are wet. Come in for a second, you can dry besides the fireplace and then you are free to go" I turn around and head to the threshold hoping that he follows me.
When I'm close to the entrance door I hear he is going up the stairs and I smile relieved.
"Thanks" he says when he is by my side.
I close the door quickly to keep the heat inside the house and see how he approaches the fire: he's standing up, with his back to me. His hands reach towards the fire as he tries to warm them up. stand up in front of him, back to me, and his hands extended to get more warm.
"I'll make some hot beverage"
Without waiting for an answer I get into the kitchen to boil some water. When I'm inside I can breath deeply and sigh. All the tension accumulated in the last hours vanishes as soon as I realize he is safe and here with me, and I'm not going to let him go till the Storm finishes. I'm not sure how I'll explain Peeta's presence to my mother and Prim, but I'll figure it out later, there's a lot of time before that happens.
I come back to the living room with 2 mugs full of speedwell and red poppy infusion, the mixture isn't casual, I hope he relaxes enough to get sleepy and stays here with me. I offered him the mug that he takes touching my fingers slighty. Every touch, every caress or every look from him has always had the same effect on me, it is an overwhelming feeling that makes me believe I'm at home. That's why it has always been so difficult not to feel attracted or inclined toward him; That's why it has been so hard to be apart from him and that is why I couldn't help it when this thing between us got out of hand... And of head. Finally this is why we are in this situation, both unhappy and apart, but I'm realistic, I know where I live and I know that now it's worse but I hope that he will be better in the future... About me, I'm not sure anymore.
We sit down on the couch, but on opposite ends, looking at the fire and drinking the hot tea.
"A penny for your thoughts" he says.
"I wasn't thinking" I say, beacuse I can't tell him what's on my mind.
"Do you know what I'm thinking?" He says looking at me as I deny with my head "I always wanted to know how your house was, it is nice and cozy. I like it.
"Maybe you like it because you can't see the holes on the walls or the patches on the curtains or the floorboard that moves when you step over them" I tell him because I don't want him to romantize a Seam house and I know him well enough to know how Peeta sees the world through his eyes, and the world isn't like that. The world is usually ugly and cruel.
"Maybe" he comments seriously "I have to go" he says standing up.
"No way, there's the worst storm in years out there"
"Katniss,I need to go back, I'm running late and I have to turn on the ovens in the bakery, or bread won't be baked by opening time"
"No one is going to go to the bakery today, Peeta, they won't be able to leave their houses"
"I have to return, you know my mother, if she goes down and doesn't find me I'm going to be in trouble, besides Rye and my father will worry a lot"
"You should have thought about it before coming, I warned you" I say yelling louder that I intend with a sharp edge in my voice.
But he isn't fooled by my words or tone. He comes over to where I am and hugs me while he whispers softly in my ear.
"I'll be alright"
"You can't be sure about that" I say leaning on him and resting my head on his shoulder.
"I'm here and you didn't think I could make it, right?" He says and without waiting for my response he begins to stroke my hair.
A long and comfortable silence falls over the room and we can only hear the whistling of the wind outside and the crackling of the wood being devoured by the fire. I'm not sure how long we stay in that exact position, me hugging him, and him stroking my hair, until I hear a voice that 's not Peeta's nor mine.
"Prim!" I exclaim jumping away from him. I see my sister in the threshold of the small aisle that leads to my mother's room and ours. "Go to the room now, I'll be be there in a moment"
My sister turns around and with no more words, she goes inside again.
"I'll be back soon, stay here" I tell Peeta and run to my bedroom .
When I step into our room, Prim is sitting on the bed, waiting for me.
"Prim..." I begin to say sitting down besides her and taking her hands while I think about what I'm going to tell her, because I don't know how to explain Peeta's presence at home that late, and not only that, I also have to explain to her why we were hugging.
"You don't need to say anything, Katniss. I already knew" she says serious.
"What do you know exactly?" I ask confused.
"About you and him, that you're together"
"We are not" and I'm not lying to her.
"I could sense that too" she says without changing her facial gesture. "Listen to me," she resumes her speech before I can interrupt her, "Last reaping, you told mom and me that you wanted to buy some cookies to celebrate that we weren't chosen and before I could say anything nothing you ran towards the bakery. Mom and I started to return home when I thought that I'd like to choose my own cookie and the icing, so I left mom and went after you to the bakery too. When I arrived at their backyard I saw Peeta sneaking out and heading to the alley that was on my left. I hid behind a tree so he couldn't see me. Carefully, I approached the rear window of the bakery but I didn’t see you, then an idea popped into my head. up to my mind, Maybe since you were there as a regular customer, and not to trade squirrels you could be out on the front of the store. I decided to follow Peeta’s path and then I saw both of you. Your back was against the wall and he was leaning into you and you were kissing. I turned around and left. From that moment I observed your behaviour, Katniss. Till a couple of months ago, you’ve smiled more than usual, your eyes shone and I could say you were truly happy but lately it’s just the opposite, you are sullen, distracted and worst of all you’re sad. As I said before, I don’t want you to explain anything to me, I know you’ll do it when you are ready”
She moves closer to me and hugs me before laying down on the bed again. I tug the blankets around her.
“Since when are you so mature, little duck?” I ask touching her forehead.
“You had to grow up younger, and you are the best sister I could have. I just want you to be happy and from what I saw, Peeta made you happy. I know you’ll make the right decision. I trust you, Katniss. Good night”.
"Good night, Prim"
I get out of the room and close the door to have some privacy, but before stepping into the livingroom I wipe away the tears my sister’s confession has brought to my eyes, because I want to believe on her words and to think that I’m doing the right thing. Because I’m doing the right thing or am I? When I enter the room I find it empty.
“Peeta?” I call out scared when I don’t see him, but Peeta’s gone.
I grab my jacket that is hanging behind the door and I put it over my pajama, buttoning it up before going outside into the storm. I begin to scream his name as I walk with some difficulties because of the snow, but as soon as I step outside my house, lights turn out and everything around me is black and in silence. The storm seems to be stronger now, and the wind knocks me down. I can't stand as the wind knocks me down everytime I try.
“Katniss, come back!” I hear Prim yelling scared at me from our porch.
“Go inside” I say to her.
But my sister goes down to the street and tries to run towards me, but the wind is too strong and she ends up in the ground.
“I could lose both of them tonight” I think to myself “I’m going to lose Prim and Peeta tonight”.
Anxious I try to decide what to do, but to be honest there is no real choice. Prim is my little sister, and my only objective in life has been to protect her and keep her safe and I can save her now, not Peeta, because I don’t know where Peeta is or which way he took. So I go to Prim and help her return to our house. We sit down in front of fire and then I see an envelope with my name on it. I recognize the handwriting. It’s Peeta’s.
I forgot all this mess had started with that gift. I grab the envelope like it is the present itself and inside I find an orangish handmade paper with a dandelion mixed inside it.
There's only one question written on it, the same question he asked me in the bakery this afternoon: “Will you meet with me?”