Today is different. When I so often find myself heavily ridden with lethargy and an overall sense of apathy, a pleasant mood is rare. Every day is so steadfastly dreary and I am seldom able to pull myself from my bed. On those particularly dark days, I find that pillows, when held snuggly to my face, help silence the lost cries of the ones who did not survive. But, today is different.
When I wake, it is early. The few beams of orange-tinged sunlight stream gracefully through my window. In an attempt to mute the light, I wrap what of my hair I can manage and shield my eyes. Under the sheath, I scold myself for not closing the curtains last night. I suppose I was too preoccupied with other matters.
Wrapping the blanket around me, I huddle over to the window. With one hand, I start to close the curtain until a sudden movement in the distance catches my eye.
I can see him.
When the train brought him back a few months ago, I began to watch him from my window. No, not watch him; rather… check up on him. It became almost like a nighttime ritual. Eat, bathe, window, sleep, repeat. More constant than the moon, I would always find him working away in his kitchen. Preparing bread for the few survivors and refugees that are in 12.
I leave the curtain ajar and walk across the room, entering the bathroom. As I look in the mirror, I can see the telltale signs of war and battle, but I also see signs of improvement. My once singed hair has taken on a different look since I asked Greasy Sae to rid me of the burnt bits. It’s certainly healthier. My skin, once dark with bruises has lightened significantly. I sigh as I regard the scars. Their haphazard stitches will never truly fade from my flesh.
Pushing my hair into a temporary ponytail, I wash my face and brush my teeth. I take a comb and run it through my hair, wincing as it finds knots and tangles. Habit takes over, and before I know it, my hair is in a braid. It’s shorter now than ever, but I cherish the familiarity of it.
When I finally enter the kitchen, I find the stove bare. I’m calling out her name before I remember that Greasy Sae told me she wouldn’t be here this week, her granddaughter had fallen ill. It’s incredible how easily I forget things now. I’m walking towards the living room when I see the flowers he planted right outside my door. I freeze. I begin to consider visiting him and my legs are taking me out the door before I have time to decide. It’s almost as if decisions concerning him are beyond my control, and that terrifies me. I’m in the grassy median of Victors’ Village when my mind commandeers control. I turn on my heel and begin walking back towards my house.
Halted, I search instinctually for a place to hide, but when a spot fails to materialize, I hide within myself.
“Katniss,” he says panting, “I thought that was you.”
“Who else would it be?” I say quietly to myself.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing,” I insist.
He looks somewhat hurt when I finally meet his eyes. So blue and so much clearer than when I saw him in 13. He’s gotten better.
He sighs and runs a hand through his hair, leaving flour from this morning’s bread on his head. It’s a funny sight, but I say nothing.
“Listen, why don’t you come on over for a while?”
My hesitation is evident on my face because he speaks again, “I just made some bread, your favorite, actually.”
“No, I probably shouldn’t.”
“I know about Greasy Sae, you’re hungry.”
I put my hand to my stomach and we both hear it grumble. He smiles, “Please?”
I shift my gaze to the ground and begin walking towards his house. He realizes my action and it sounds like he’s at a near gallop trying to catch up to me. We enter the kitchen and he ushers me to a chair.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Peeta says as he pulls a tray of cheese buns from the oven, “because we need to talk.”
He looks to me for a response, but I’m too busy salivating over the warm bread before me. “Easy there, they have to cool.”
I grab one, regardless.
“You always were the risktaker,” he says laughing to himself.
I hold the bread in my hands, relishing its warmth.
Peeta shifts uncomfortably on his feet as he looks at me, then he busies himself once again. He takes a large bowl and nonchalantly dumps a load of flour into it. As he turns to the sink to fill a cup with water he begins, “I was worried about you, you know. Still am.”
“When I was in 13, it was difficult without you there. But I understand why you left; I mean who wants to hang around a ticking bomb, right? You never know when they might go off,” he says the last part with a shrug then looks at me, “or who they might hurt.”
“So, anyway, after you left, they continued to help me, to make me better. Therapy and what few drugs they could manage to spare seemed to do something. It wasn’t until we started using Prim’s idea more that I improved.”
I can feel his gaze as he looks at me for any kind of reaction. He knows my sister’s death is still an open wound. One that I know will never completely scar over. Even still, I mask my face and stare at his hands as they knead the newly formed dough.
Desperate, I change the subject. “How do you do it?” I ask.
“Well, it was kind of difficult at first. They show me a good memory—unaltered—and then they give me an injection of morphl—“
“Make the bread.”
“I mean, how do you make the bread?”
I’ve clearly thrown him off. I know he’s been anticipating giving me this speech for months now, but it’s still too soon to talk about it. Too painful. He acknowledges my discomfort and cooperates, playing along. It reminds me of the time I hurt my ankle in the woods and we acted as a loving family for the dubious Peacekeepers, and how quickly he caught on. He really has gotten better.
“Um,” he’s unsure of how to continue, “Usually, once you mix the ingredients, you knead the dough—that’s what I’m doing now.”
“Usually?” I ask.
“Well, uh,” he leans in, “some bread doesn’t need to be kneaded.”
“Very funny,” I say dryly.
Silence falls between us. It’s when I see him place a towel over the loaves that I break it, “What do you do now?”
“Wait and let the dough rise.”
“I hate waiting,” I say, thoughtfully.
I am reminded of time spent in the woods waiting for prey, especially in the winter, when all the animals are burrowed away. Those cold, wintry days were fruitless and my family often went hungry. I also think about a younger me sitting patiently outside the mines everyday with little Prim in tow as we wait for our father. I remember the day he never showed up. I mention this to Peeta and he thinks for a moment or two.
“Waiting for bread isn’t like waiting for prey or waiting for people. Bread is certain.”
I’m confused, “What do you mean?”
“I know that if I mix yeast, warm water, and flour, bread will be made. That is certain. It may not be good, but I know the dough will rise. You could wait in that forest all day and never see a single squirrel, but in time the bread will rise. You waited for your father until he wasn’t there, but the bread still rose. And I,” he hesitates as he struggles to continue his sentence, “waited for you every day to notice me before the Games. Funny…”
“What is?” I ask.
“I’m still waiting.”