Reading The Hunger Games

Katniss, Gale, Peeta, Haymitch and others read the Hunger Games trilogy. I'm going to do all the books and not stop halfway through the series.

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4. PART 1 "THE TRIBUTES" CHAPTER 2

So, if you were wondering I sadly don't own the Hunger Games or any other good book series....Here's the next chapter and PLEASE REVIEW....

 

Peeta's POV:

Silence. That's all I geard for a second, and then Katniss dropped the book. She was in shock, I could tell. I was happy it wasn't Katniss. I was happy that Katniss was able to live on, but now I worried. Katniss loves her sister. VERY. MUCH. And, I have a feeling it was about to get worse. Katniss was in shock. She was breathing heavily and looking past everyone. Gale was trying to comfort Prim. I guess I should try to comfort Katniss. "Katniss" I said softly. When she didn't look at me I tried again. "Katniss" I said firmer. She looked up this time. "It hasn't happened yet, we can try to change it." "Bu-but" she whispered. "I promise" I cut her off. "Ok, I trust you" she said. She came and gave me a hug. I smiled and said "Everything will work out in the end." "OK, so, who's reading now?" I asked. Gale offered to. He picked the book up and was about to start to read when.... "WAIT!" yelled Finnick "What about lunch?" he continued. "I guess we can eat while we read and then after the chapter Gale can eat." Katniss said. "Ok" FInnick said "I'm good with that" We all agreed and went to get some food. After we were settled back down in our seats, Gale started to read. 

One time, when I was in a blind in a tree, waiting motionless for game to wander by, I dozed off and fell ten feet to the ground, landing on my back.

"Were you ok?" Rue asked. "Yeah, don't worry about me. I can take care of myself, Rue" She said. She was so selfless sometimes. 

It was as if the impact had knocked every wisp of air from my lungs, and I lay there struggling to inhale, to exhale, to do anything.

"That sounds like it shocked you more than it hurt you" I said. "It did" she replied. 

That’s how I feel now, trying to remember how to breathe, unable to speak, totally stunned as the name bounces around the inside of my skull. Someone is gripping my arm, a boy from the Seam, and I think maybe I started to fall and he caught me.

Gale and I both glared. I was happy that he caught her but mad that he touched her. Does that make sense? Prim was still silent trying too get a grasp on everything that was happening. "Katniss, don't worry too much. If you do, then you won't get anything done." Cinna said softly and comfortingly. "You're right, but I can't help it. How can I make it stop?" she asked. He replied by saying "Smile and think of something else." 

There must have been some mistake. This can’t be happening. Prim was one slip of paper in thousands! Her chances of being chosen so remote that I’d not even bothered to worry about her. Hadn’t I done everything? Taken the tesserae, refused to let her do the same? One slip. One slip in thousands. The odds had been entirely in her favor. But it hadn’t mattered.

"You're going to volunteer." Prim stated, not asked. That thought made me freeze. She can't. She can't volunteer, then she'll die. No, don't think that way. If anyone has a chance to win, it would be Katniss. She loves her sister and would do anything for her. I was brought out of my thoughts when I heard Katniss answer with a yes. I sighed, I should have seen that coming. 

Somewhere far away, I can hear the crowd murmuring unhappily as they always do when a twelve-year-old gets chosen because no one thinks this is fair.

"I hate it" I whisper. No one heard me though. They were all stuck in their thoughts. I coughed to bring them out and it worked. "Can we continue?" Katniss asked softly. She was still in shock. "Katniss, everything will be ok" Gale assured her. "How do you know?" "Because we have the books, they will tell us what we need to change." "Alright, I understand, continue." She replied. 

And then I see her, the blood drained from her face, hands clenched in fists at her sides, walking with stiff, small steps up toward the stage, passing me, and I see the back of her blouse has become untucked and hangs out over her skirt. It’s this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself.

Katniss was frowning, looking on in determination. Cinna was looking at her, thinking about something, anything. He was probably thinking about what she would be wearing fro everything before the games, seeing as he would be her designer. 

“Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!” I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me. “I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”

I froze. I knew this was going to happen yet it still made me worry. I don;t want her dead. She was my Katniss. Wait, she wash't mine. Not yet at least. But I want her to be. I want her to be with me. And now it won't happen. I know I'm being selfish but I can't help it. I can't let her die. I need to go with her. To protect her. "Peeta, snap out of it" Katniss said. It looked like this affected me the most. I looked around and noticed everyone was waiting for me. I bit my lip. I nodded for Gale to continue and he did. Katniss sat down next to me, I guess for comfort. I should be comforting her, but she's comforting me. She always puts everyone in front of her. Gale's voice brought me back. 

There’s some confusion on the stage. District 12 hasn’t had a volunteer in decades and the protocol has become rusty. The rule is that once a tribute’s name has been pulled from the ball, another eligible boy, if a boy’s name has been read, or girl, if a girl’s name has been read, can step forward to take his or her place.

Like I'm planning on doing with the boy, no matter who it is. 

In some districts, in which winning the reaping is such a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives, the volunteering is complicated. But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct.

Everyone was worried. Something bad was going to happen. We could tell. "Eh, at least we know they're not" Haymitch said. "Are you kidding" Johanna said with a glare. "Don't you care about anyone?" She asked him. "He looked straight into Johanna's eyes and said "My tributes." There was silence, everyone was in shock. Rue helped bring everyone back when she got up and hugged him. She was hugging him tightly and thanking him. When she sat back down she just said continue while Thresh was comforting her. 

“Lovely!” says Effie Trinket. “But I believe there’s a small matter of introducing the reaping winner and then asking for volunteers, and if one does come forth then we, um . . .” she trails off, unsure herself.

"Everyone must be unsure" Gale said frowning. 

“What does it matter?” says the mayor. He’s looking at me with a pained expression on his face. He doesn’t know me really, but there’s a faint recognition there.

"Everyone from District 12 knows you some how." Prim said. Everyone from District 12 agreed. 

I am the girl who brings the strawberries. The girl his daughter might have spoken of on occasion. The girl who five years ago stood huddled with her mother and sister, as he presented her, the oldest child, with a medal of valor. A medal for her father, vaporized in the mines. Does he remember that? “What does it matter?” he repeats gruffly. “Let her come forward.”

"No" Prim whispered. "Please don't." "Prim, I have to. I can't let you be killed" Katniss said. My brave Katniss...wait...not mine, stop thinking that way Peeta, I thought. 

Prim is screaming hysterically behind me. She’s wrapped her skinny arms around me like a vice. “No, Katniss! No! You can’t go!”

“Prim, let go,” I say harshly, because this is upsetting me and I don’t want to cry.

"Sorry Katniss" Prim said. Katniss gave her a small smile and went to hug her. She left my side to sit next to Gale and Prim. It made me feel even more worried. "I bet you wish she was still next to you." Finnick whispered to me. I glared at him wondering how he found out. I thought I wasn't being so obvious. "Trust me, it's pretty obvious. You're just lucky that she's oblivious." He continued to whisper to me, as if he read my mind. I decided to ignore him and continue to listen to the book. 

When they televise the replay of the reapings tonight, everyone will make note of my tears, and I’ll be marked as an easy target. A weakling. I will give no one that satisfaction.

"I like you. You have a lot of determination." Haymitch commented. "Uh, thank you?" Katniss said unsurely. I snickered silently agreeing with Haymitch. 

“Let go!” I can feel someone pulling her from my back. I turn and see Gale has lifted Prim off the ground and she’s thrashing in his arms. “Up you go, Catnip,” he says, in a voice he’s fighting to keep steady,

I bet he's worried about her too. Everyone is. 

and then he carries Prim off toward my mother. I steel myself and climb the steps. “Well, bravo!” gushes Effie Trinket. “That’s the spirit of the Games!” She’s pleased to finally have a district with a little action going on in it. “What’s your name?”

"What do you think?" Finnick snorted. It was pretty obvious I thought. 

I swallow hard. “Katniss Everdeen,” I say. “I bet my buttons that was your sister.

"Nooooo, even though she volunteered for her and everything. And let's not forget they have the same last name. But you know what, they rae not sisters" Thresh said sarcastically. Everyone snickered at that. Thresh helped cheer everyone up a little bit. 

Don’t want her to steal all the glory, do we? Come on, everybody! Let’s give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!” trills Effie Trinket.

Haymitch snorted. 

To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps.

That got me mad. Katniss had some kind of effect on everyone. The least they could do is clap. 

Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring.

I frowned even more. Getting even more mad. 

Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.

I agreed. I should  have thought about it more, I guess. It does make more sense. 

Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me.

Gale and I frowned more than anyone at that. We glanced at each other and nodded. We would try to make her feel different about that. I looked toward everyone else. Finnick was frowning with a thoughtful look on his face. Johanna, Rue, and Thresh were like this too. Haymitch looked bored although he did look a little mad at that. Cinna, who she barely knew, looked like he was mad, mad at anyone who made her feel that way. Gale continued after everyone was settled back down. 

But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me.

My eyes widened. They only do that when they are admiring someone. Katniss deserves that for everything she has done. 

It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.

Katniss was shocked. Then it dawned on me. She thinks she doesn't deserve it. "Katniss, you deserve this more than anyone." I said firmly. She was shaking her head, thinking that she didn't. How can I make her agree, then I thought of Cinna and Haymitch. The 2 people who she doesn't know really. Of course there are Rue, Thresh, Finnick and Johanna, but she can relate to them. Haymitch and CInna, though, are adults and aren't even close to our age. "Haymitch, Cinna, you think she deserves this, don't you." I glared at them, just in case they needed an extra push, but they didn't they agreed wholeheartedly. Katniss looked convinced when they agreed. I knew it would work. She smiled at me in thanks. 

Now I am truly in danger of crying, but fortunately Haymitch chooses this time to come staggering across the stage to congratulate me. “Look at her. Look at this one!” he hollers, throwing an arm around my shoulders. He’s surprisingly strong for such a wreck. “I like her!”

Everyone started snickering. 

His breath reeks of liquor and it’s been a long time since he’s bathed. “Lots of . . . “ He can’t think of the word for a while. “Spunk!” he says triumphantly. “More than you!” he releases me and starts for the front of the stage. “More than you!” he shouts, pointing directly into a camera.

Everyone was laughing fully.

Is he addressing the audience or is he so drunk he might actually be taunting the Capitol?

"Capitol" Haymitch said sure of himself. 

I’ll never know because just as he’s opening his mouth to continue, Haymitch plummets off the stage and knocks himself unconscious.

Finnick bursts out laughing, actually, everyone bursts out laughing tat the mental picture. 

He’s disgusting, but I’m grateful.

"Really?" He asks. When sh enodded he said "Well then, you're welcome"

With every camera gleefully trained on him, I have just enough time to release the small, choked sound in my throat and compose myself. I put my hands behind my back and stare into the distance.

It hurt me to think that she was hurt. I closed my eyes wishing to comfort her, but I can't i here. 

I can see the hills I climbed this morning with Gale. For a moment, I yearn for something . . . the idea of us leaving the district . . . making our way in the woods . . . but I know I was right about not running off. Because who else would have volunteered for Prim?

Katniss gasps at the thought. "It hasn't happened yet" Gale keep up his mantra until she calmed down. 

Haymitch is whisked away on a stretcher, and Effie Trinket is trying to get the ball rolling again. “What an exciting day!”

"She means dreadful day" I mutter. I made a couple people snicker, and even Katniss smiled a little. 

she warbles as she attempts to straighten her wig, which has listed severely to the right. “But more excitement to come! It’s time to choose our boy tribute!” Clearly hoping to contain her tenuous hair situation, she plants one hand on her head as she crosses to the ball that contains the boys’ names and grabs the first slip she encounters. She zips back to the podium, and I don’t even have time to wish for Gale’s safety when she’s reading the name.

Gale looks up at me to warn me. I knew it, I'm going to be the boy tribute. It could have been either Gale or me, but I knew it was going to be me. Why else would I be here. Gale is her best friend. I'm not really a friend. All I have done for her is give her bread. 

“Peeta Mellark.” 

Katniss gasps and looks toward me. She didn't want me going in. She didn;t want me to die with her. But what she didn't know was that if she died, I would die too. I wouldn't be able to go on with life. 

Peeta Mellark! Oh, no, I think. Not him.

"Why not?" Peeta asks. "Because I don't want you to die either" she whispered, but everyone still heard her. 

Because I recognize this name, although I have never spoken directly to its owner. Peeta Mellark. No, the odds are not in my favor today. I watch him as he makes his way toward the stage. Medium height, stocky build, ashy blond hair that falls in waves over his forehead.

"You're good at describing people" Finnick says. Katniss was blushing at the description she gave me. I was happy she described me better than some others. 

The shock of the moment is registering on his face, you can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm I’ve seen so often in prey.

"Thanks" I said rolling my eyes. Katniss smiled a little knowing I was joking. "Oh, no problem" she said. 

Yet he climbs steadily onto the stage and takes his place. 

I think I was trying to be strong. But, I shouldn't. I should be myself, so people will remember me as me. 

Effie Trinket asks for volunteers, but no one steps forward.

And I'm happy. I want to go with her, to keep her alive. 

He has two older brothers, I know, I’ve seen them in the bakery, but one is probably too old now to volunteer and the other won’t. This is standard. Family devotion only goes so far for most people on reaping day. What I did was the radical thing. 

I knew the truth. They don't think they need me. But, they will find out that they do. My father is the only one who really acknowledges me. 

The mayor begins to read the long, dull Treaty of Treason as he does every year at this point — it’s required — but I’m not listening to a word.

"I never do." Katniss adds. I smile thinking that that is just like her. 

Why him? I think. Then I try to convince myself it doesn’t matter. Peeta Mellark and I are not friends. Not even neighbors. We don’t speak. Our only real interaction happened years ago. He’s probably forgotten it. But I haven’t and I know I never will. . . .

"You know that I'll never forget about it" I said. Because I love you I thought. She smiled. 

It was during the worst time. My father had been killed in the mine accident three months earlier in the bitterest January anyone could remember. The numbness of his loss had passed, and the pain would hit me out of nowhere, doubling me over, racking my body with sobs.

Cinna frowned, thinking that she didn't deserve it. I know he's right. 

Where are you? I would cry out in my mind. Where have you gone? Of course, there was never any answer.

Katniss was looking towards her feet. Gale was trying to comfort her. I frowned wishing that I could comfort her. Finnick and Johanna gave me a knowing smile. 

The district had given us a small amount of money as compensation for his death, enough to cover one month of grieving at which time my mother would be expected to get a job.

Katniss frowned. I thought she was lost in her thoughts but she wasn't. She was looking around the room for something. I don't know what, but she was. 

Only she didn’t. She didn’t do anything but sit propped up in a chair or, more often, huddled under the blankets on her bed, eyes fixed on some point in the distance. Once in a while, she’d stir, get up as if moved by some urgent purpose, only to then collapse back into stillness. No amount of pleading from Prim seemed to affect her.

Katniss was looking mad. "Forgive her, Katniss." I said. "I know, it's just that I needed help but she didn't help. You did" Katniss replied. 

I was terrified. I suppose now that my mother was locked in some dark world of sadness, but at the time, all I knew was that I had lost not only a father, but a mother as well.

I frowned. It really was't fair that she had to grow up so early. Cinna looked like he knew what I was thinking and agreed. 

At eleven years old, with Prim just seven, I took over as head of the family. There was no choice. I bought our food at the market and cooked it as best I could and tried to keep Prim and myself looking presentable.

To me, she always looked presentable. "Next time, if you need help with food, you can just ask me" I say. Prim and Katniss both nodded. "You too Gale" I sigh out, it would be rude for me to leave out Katniss' best friend. Especially since he had a bigger family. He nodded too, agreeing just like Katniss and Prim. 

Because if it had become known that my mother could no longer care for us, the district would have taken us away from her and placed us in the community home.

Katniss frowned. No one wanted to go ther. "Don't give up Katniss" Rue said firmly.Katniss continued staring at Gale for him to continue. "I agree with Rue" Gale said quietly before continuing. 

I’d grown up seeing those home kids at school. The sadness, the marks of angry hands on their faces, the hopelessness that curled their shoulders forward. I could never let that happen to Prim.

"You never think about yourself" Johanna said. I snorted and said "You're just realizing?" Johanna glared at me for along time until asking for Gale to continue. 

Sweet, tiny Prim who cried when I cried before she even knew the reason, who brushed and plaited my mother’s hair before we left for school, who still polished my father’s shaving mirror each night because he’d hated the layer of coal dust that settled on everything in the Seam.

Prim blushed. "Don;t be embarrassed, Prim" I said. "It's the thought that counts." Pim smiled glad that someone understood, besides Katniss and Gale. 

The community home would crush her like a bug. So I kept our predicament a secret.

I frowned, with everyone else. "You shouldn't have." Thresh mumbled. "I know" she sighed. 

But the money ran out and we were slowly starving to death. There’s no other way to put it. I kept telling myself if I could only hold out until May, just May 8th, I would turn twelve and be able to sign up for the tesserae and get that precious grain and oil to feed us.

I was getting worried. She thought about that before she was 12. 

Only there were still several weeks to go. We could well be dead by then. 

It pained me to think about that. I could have lost Katniss. I didn't know then, but I could have. And I would;t know why until after. "Katniss. Ask. For. Help" Gale said. 

Starvation’s not an uncommon fate in District 12. Who hasn’t seen the victims? Older people who can’t work. Children from a family with too many to feed. Those injured in the mines.

"This is horrible. Is there any why I can help?" Cinna said. He was being sincere about that too. I was surprised. I thought no one cared from the Capitol. "I don't know" Katniss muttered. 

Straggling through the streets. And one day, you come upon them sitting motionless against a wall or lying in the Meadow, you hear the wails from a house, and the Peacekeepers are called in to retrieve the body. Starvation is never the cause of death officially. It’s always the flu, or exposure, or pneumonia. But that fools no one.

"That's true" Rue mumbled.

On the afternoon of my encounter with Peeta Mellark, the rain was falling in relentless icy sheets. I had been in town, trying to trade some threadbare old baby clothes of Prim’s in the public market, but there were no takers.

"That sucks" Finnick said softly. Way to state the obvious I thought. 

Although I had been to the Hob on several occasions with my father, I was too frightened to venture into that rough, gritty place alone.

Katniss blushed, and I tried to make her feel better. "Don't feel bad, a lot of people are. I'm still scared to sometimes. I've been there only twice." Gale glared at me. He's jealous. He wished he was the one to comfort Katniss. I knew he liked Katniss too, it's just that I won't give up trying to win her. And he won't either. 

The rain had soaked through my father’s hunting jacket, leaving me chilled to the bone.

Cinna frowned, probably thinking that she needed a better jacket. "You need a better jacket" he said. I was right! Yay!

For three days, we’d had nothing but boiled water with some old dried mint leaves I’d found in the back of a cupboard. By the time the market closed, I was shaking so hard I dropped my bundle of baby clothes in a mud puddle. I didn’t pick it up for fear I would keel over and be unable to regain my feet.

"That's so sad" Rue said softly. 

Besides, no one wanted those clothes. 

I wish someone would just buy them to help her.

I couldn’t go home. Because at home was my mother with her dead eyes and my little sister, with her hollow cheeks and cracked lips. I couldn’t walk into that room with the smoky fire from the damp branches I had scavenged at the edge of the woods after the coal had run out, my hands empty of any hope.

And she didn't. And I was happy about that. I was able to help her before she gave up. 

I found myself stumbling along a muddy lane behind the shops that serve the wealthiest townspeople. The merchants live above their businesses, so I was essentially in their backyards. I remember the outlines of garden beds not yet planted for the spring, a goat or two in a pen, one sodden dog tied to a post, hunched defeated in the muck.

All forms of stealing are forbidden in District 12. Punishable by death.

"You were willing to risk your life for your family?" Finnick asked. Katniss nodded not liking that this was in the book. 

But it crossed my mind that there might be something in the trash bins, and those were fair game. Perhaps a bone at the butcher’s or rotted vegetables at the grocer’s, something no one but my family was desperate enough to eat. Unfortunately, the bins had just been emptied. 

"You have bad luck" Johanna commented. Gale, Prim. Katniss and I all glared. "And you are inconsiderate" Katniss retorted. Everyone snickered except for Johanna, she glared. 

When I passed the baker’s, the smell of fresh bread was so overwhelming I felt dizzy. The ovens were in the back, and a golden glow spilled out the open kitchen door. I stood mesmerized by the heat and the luscious scent until the rain interfered, running its icy fingers down my back, forcing me back to life. I lifted the lid to the baker’s trash bin and found it spotlessly, heartlessly bare.

I closed my eyes. I remebered how heartbroken she looked. I reconized her once I saw her and knew that I had to help her in anyway I could. 

Suddenly a voice was screaming at me and I looked up to see the baker’s wife, telling me to move on and did I want her to call the Peacekeepers and how sick she was of having those brats from the Seam pawing through her trash.

I hate my mother. She could at least try to help and not be so heartless. 

The words were ugly and I had no defense. As I carefully replaced the lid and backed away, I noticed him, a boy with blond hair peering out from behind his mother’s back. I’d seen him at school. He was in my year, but I didn’t know his name.

Gale beamed at that. I glared jealous that she knew his name before mine, I think. 

He stuck with the town kids, so how would I? His mother went back into the bakery, grumbling, but he must have been watching me as I made my way behind the pen that held their pig and leaned against the far side of an old apple tree.

"He probably was watching you" Gale hissed. I rolled my eyes and smiled at both of them. If they only knew how right he was. 

The realization that I’d have nothing to take home had finally sunk in. My knees buckled and I slid down the tree trunk to its roots. It was too much. I was too sick and weak and tired, oh, so tired. Let them call the Peacekeepers and take us to the community home, I thought. Or better yet, let me die right here in the rain. 

I gasped. As did everyone else in the room. They never knew that she thought it about it.  

There was a clatter in the bakery and I heard the woman screaming again and the sound of a blow, and I vaguely wondered what was going on. Feet sloshed toward me through the mud and I thought, It’s her. She’s coming to drive me away with a stick.

"She probably would if she saw you" I said with a frown. I was not proud of my mother. She was horrible. 

But it wasn’t her. It was the boy. In his arms, he carried two large loaves of bread that must have fallen into the fire because the crusts were scorched black.

I did that on purpose. 

His mother was yelling, “Feed it to the pig, you stupid creature! Why not? No one decent will buy burned bread!”

Everyone frowned. Probably thinking that I don't deserve it, but I don't want pity. Katniss gasped thinking about what she saw. SHe looked toward me and mouthed your eye to which I nodded. She gasped louder. "I'm so sorry" she kept repeating, whispering. "For what?" trying to figure out what she meant. "It's not your fault. I chose to help you."

He began to tear off chunks from the burned parts and toss them into the trough, and the front bakery bell rung and the mother disappeared to help a customer. The boy never even glanced my way, but I was watching him. Because of the bread, because of the red weal that stood out on his cheekbone. What had she hit him with? 

Everyone gasped. "That's not right" Cinna finally was able to say. "It doesn't matter" I mumbled. "I can get through it." "But no one should have to" Thresh said agreeing with Cinna. In fact everyone was agreeing with Cinna. "Peeta, let us help you, like you helped Katniss and I" Prim said softly in a pleading voice. I let it go and nodded. It made no sense to go into this now. 

My parents never hit us. I couldn’t even imagine it. The boy took one look back to the bakery as if checking that the coast was clear, then, his attention back on the pig, he threw a loaf of bread in my direction.

Katniss was grinning. She was happy at something I did. "Thanks Peeta" Prim said happily. I nodded towards her trying to leave my thoughts. 

The second quickly followed, and he sloshed back to the bakery, closing the kitchen door tightly behind him.

"If I let my mother see, she would have beaten me." I whispered brokenly. Everyone was frowning, feeling bad for me. 

I stared at the loaves in disbelief. They were fine, perfect really, except for the burned areas. Did he mean for me to have them?

"Yes" I mumbled. 

He must have. Because there they were at my feet. Before anyone could witness what had happened I shoved the loaves up under my shirt, wrapped the hunting jacket tightly about me, and walked swiftly away. The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life.

"It was important"Katniss mumbled when people looked toward her. 

By the time I reached home, the loaves had cooled somewhat, but the insides were still warm. When I dropped them on the table, Prim’s hands reached to tear off a chunk, but I made her sit, forced my mother to join us at the table, and poured warm tea. I scraped off the black stuff and sliced the bread. We ate an entire loaf, slice by slice. It was good hearty bread, filled with raisins and nuts.

I smiled glad that I had helped. 

I put my clothes to dry at the fire, crawled into bed, and fell into a dreamless sleep. It didn’t occur to me until the next morning that the boy might have burned the bread on purpose.

Thresh looked toward me and asked "Did you?" I nodded and everyone was smiling 

Might have dropped the loaves into the flames, knowing it meant being punished, and then delivered them to me. But I dismissed this. It must have been an accident.

"Why would you think that" I asked. Only to have her reply "I didn't know you very well. Why would you help me?" I didn't reply and Gale continued to read. 

Why would he have done it? He didn’t even know me. Still, just throwing me the bread was an enormous kindness that would have surely resulted in a beating if discovered. I couldn’t explain his actions.

"And you do't have to." Haymitch said. 

We ate slices of bread for breakfast and headed to school. It was as if spring had come overnight. Warm sweet air. Fluffy clouds. At school, I passed the boy in the hall, his cheek had swelled up and his eye had blackened.

"That's horrible" Johanna said sincerely. I waved it off trying to get everyone to let it go. 

He was with his friends and didn’t acknowledge me in any way. But as I collected Prim and started for home that afternoon, I found him staring at me from across the school yard.

I blushed. I thought she hadn't caught me. 

Our eyes met for only a second, then he turned his head away. I dropped my gaze, embarrassed, and that’s when I saw it. The first dandelion of the year. A bell went off in my head. I thought of the hours spent in the woods with my father and I knew how we were going to survive.

"Good thinking, Catnip." Gale said playfully. I glared jealous that he had such a good relationship with her. 

To this day, I can never shake the connection between this boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed.

I smiled happy that she knew that .

And more than once, I have turned in the school hallway and caught his eyes trained on me, only to quickly flit away.

I blushed. Finnick and Johanna were snickering at me. Gale was glaring and Katniss was looking at me curiously. 

I feel like I owe him something, and I hate owing people.

I frowned. "You don't owe me anything." "Yes I do" she fought back. "You helped me survive, you saved my life. I owe you something. At least a gift." I rolled my eyes shaking my head, knowing that she would not give up. 

Maybe if I had thanked him at some point, I’d be feeling less conflicted now.

"Well you have now, so are you still conflicted?" Finnick asked. "Yes" she said. I sighed. I wished she was so stubborn. She didn't owe me anything. 

I thought about it a couple of times, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself. And now it never will. Because we’re going to be thrown into an arena to fight to the death.

"You could always tell him on the way there" Rue said confused. "Yeah, you're right" Katniss agreed slowly. 

Exactly how am I supposed to work in a thank-you in there? Somehow it just won’t seem sincere if I’m trying to slit his throat. "Well, at least you know that" I said, trying to sound cheerful... and failing miserably. "Sorry" Katniss apologized. "You haven;t done it yet, you don;t have to apologize." I said back to her. 

The mayor finishes the dreary Treaty of Treason and motions for Peeta and me to shake hands. His are as solid and warm as those loaves of bread.

Katniss blushed. I beamed thinking that I like how she described my hands. 

Peeta looks me right in the eye and gives my hand what I think is meant to be a reassuring squeeze. Maybe it’s just a nervous spasm.

"It's not a nervous spasm" I said incredulity. Everyone was snickering at this detail. I glared at them all, but Gale the hardest who was by far the loudest of them laughing. 

We turn back to face the crowd as the anthem of Panem plays.

I rolled my eyes. I hate this whole ceremony. 

Oh, well, I think. There will be twenty-four of us. Odds are someone else will kill him before I do.

"So considerate." I said sarcastically. "But thanks" I continued when I saw that Katniss was going to say sorry. 

Of course, the odds have not been very dependable of late.

Silence. And then... "I want lunch" Gale exclaimed loudly. Everyone snickered. 

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