Prim goes every single day to the bakery to ask about the patient who seems to be recovering his health and strength as hours / days go by, although he's still too weak to leave his bed. I know that my decision is going to shock Prim, Rye and Peeta. I know they will think I'm a horrible person...but they can't understand the logic behind it. I know it's the right decision and I'm going to close this door now, before things get any worse.
Saturday while I'm in our Hob stand making some eucalyptus' balms, one of our top products, I can see a blond head in the distance mingled in the crowd. At first I don't pay too much attention because although it is not usual to find Merchants in the Hob, it isn't weird either. However when I look up again, I can tell that the blond haired man is the owner of a pair of blue eyes that I'd recognize anywhere.
There is no way to hide now, if I try to run it would be obvious for both, my mom and Prim that I'm running away from him, it's true that my sister knows the story at this point and I shouldn't be concerned about my mom, but I'm sure Peeta will follow me and then the whole Hob would be aware that something's going on. I look at him, challenging him, I hope he can understand that he is not welcome, but he returns my glance with determination and walks till he is in front of me but doesn't say a word. He's challenging me too.
"You shouldn't be here" I say harshly and without an ounce of what I'm really feeling about seeing him again because in just one week he is thinner and extremely pale. He has purple circles under his eyes, not so blue today, and hollow cheeks. His shoulders sag down as if he couldn't stand by himself.
I need to make an effort and gather all my self-control to not run into him and hug him because he seems like he could pass out at any moment.
"I'm sorry" he apologizes, thinking that I'm referring to his sickness and not to my refusal to be with him "I needed to give you something but I knew I couldn't get to your home, it's too far away, so I thought this would be easier for once" he says, his voice weak and tired.
"Peeta, you need to go now, and this" I say pointing to the gift he has brought "has to end now too. This, you and I, finished months ago but you don't want to acknowledge it"
He is bewildered by my comment and I notice how difficult it is for him to breathe, but he manages to say something more.
"I'm so tired, Katniss..."
My heart breaks when I see him so weak and sad, so I turn my back to him before I can do something stupid, like cry. I stay like that, pretending to organize some herbs, until I think enough time has gone by. When I turn around again I can see that he's no longer there. But the package is still on the counter. I debate whether to take it or not, finally I grab it and put it in my bag. It's not a big deal, I'll return it tomorrow.
I spend the rest of the day like an automaton, trying not to think of him but maybe just because of that, thinking about him all the time. While my mother and Prim are cooking dinner, I sneak into my room and little by little I rip the paper and I find out that it's a dandelion ointment, one of our dandelion ointments specifically. But this is not one of the new ones that we sell and I know that because the container is different, I also know what message he's sending me with this present.
Theoretically it was a Monday like any other, but soon it wasn't anymore when Peeta didn't show up in art class. At lunchtime, I was with Madge, the mayor's daughter, as always. I could say she was my only friend besides Gale although we belonged to two different worlds, but both were shy and quiet and unfortunately we both shared an absent mother. I couldn't help to look at the table where Peeta normally sits with his group of friends but he was nowhere. In one of the moments I was looking at that direction again I must have kept on looking for longer than I intended and Madge said, "Peeta is not at school today. Bran, his oldest brother, came to our house last Friday to look for some morphlin. It seems that his mom was tougher than usual this time"
I looked down because I noticed that I was red with anger and helplessness. It was a well-known secret that Mrs. Mellark hit her boys, particularly the youngest, however no one stood up for them, Peacekeepers thought that it was more important to keep us hungry than to help a vulnerable boy.
The next day, at lunch time again, I could see that Peeta was with his friends. He looked horrible, his cheek and cheekbone were swollen and tinted with a color between green and bluish, besides he limped when he walked. At one moment our gaze crossed and I waved at him to say hello, but he just avoided my glance instead of smiling or waving back as he usually did. But I wasn't offended because I understood his shame although It wasn't his fault. I felt bad though. Peeta had helped me when I needed it most and I couldn't pay him back...
Or maybe I could...
On Tuesday I arrived early to school, Prim was going to go with the Hawthorne's. That day we had a class together "Panem History". When I located his desk, in the second row near the window, I left the dandelion balsam along with an instruction note of what it was and how it needed to be applied on the bruise. I couldn't help but notice the coincidence. Not only could Dandelion seeds be used in salads, which had helped me, but they were good for bruises and they reduced swelling, which was going to help him.
When Peeta arrived to our classroom, he opened his desk to drop his school things and I saw how he carefully took the bottle and the note, but in that moment our teacher came and the lesson began. In a couple of times he turned around and looked in my direction, but I pretended as I didn't see him although I was watching all his movements out of the corner of my eye.
As soon as the lesson was over I ran out of there.
We were even now, We didn't need any more words between us, or that is what I thought not what he was thinking. And I think that by this point in our story we can agree that Peeta has his own opinion of what has to be done, at least when I'm involved.
Friday after my last lesson I headed out to wait Prim, in our usual spot at the exit of her primary school as the youngest finished half an hour later than us. There was a small forest besides the doors and I liked to sit there to wait for her when it was warm. Eyes closed, feeling the soft touch of the sun on my skin I was thinking in some chores that I had pending for that weekend when a shade blocked the sun, but before I could open my eyes I heard his voice.
"Thanks for the ointment. It was wonderful."
"Oh!" I said in surprise, " it was nothing, really."
"My face begs to differ, the coloring is much more natural" he said jokingly. His cheekbone still looked yellow. I smiled.
"I'm so clumsy, I bumped against the oven door..."
He sounded so sincere. If I hadn't heard the truth from Madge, I would have believed him.
"I don't think you're clumsy, Peeta," I said seriously. "Your paintings, your cakes, your frosted cookies... I think that you're the opposite of clumsy."
He looked at me with such intensity that I realized that he knew that I knew That I knew what his mother did to him, and I understood in that moment that I wanted to reaffirm him, that I wanted him to know how brave and incredible he was, someone who wasn't afraid of a beating to save a girl that didn't matter even to her own mother.
"I don't think it's that much..." He said apologizing politely and with a humble tone.
"I think you are talented and brilliant...and no one should make you feel otherwise. Oh there is Prim!" I said motioning to my sister "I have to go now. Have a nice weekend"
I turned around when he called my name again.
"Have a nice weekend"
I spent the weekend trying to forget the butterflies in my stomach that were caused by him saying my name, however next Friday when he walked with to pick up Prim, I didn't want to forget anymore.
But now, I should forget and so should he. Sunday morning very early I head to the bakery, knowing that Rye will be there. I leave a box with all the presents inside and a handwritten note that says: "For Peeta ".
I hope that this will stop him, but till next Sunday I won't have an answer.