Geometry - Part 3
A/N - Yes, it’s rough. But it’s here. Whatever. ;)
The morning following their mother’s death, Katniss is up well before dawn, climbing over her sister to get out of bed without waking her. When she sees me wide awake on my make-shift floor bed watching her- because I can’t not watch her- her nostrils flare as she glares at me. But she might be angry at a lot of things aside from, or even instead of me, like fate, and I’m used to being on the wrong end of anger from my mother anyway so I do what I usually do, cast my eyes down and make it clear I know I don’t matter.
I listen as she tends the fire and then creeps into the bedroom where their mother’s body is. When she comes out, her back is to me, so I let myself watch her again. She’s dressed now, out of her sleeping gown and in her usual trousers and tunic. She immediately slips out the front door.
I get up and fold my bedding, and then set it on a chest in the corner. I don’t know what to do with myself next. Work is already starting at the bakery, and I know I could easily use that as an excuse to disappear myself, but that doesn’t seem right: While it might relieve Katniss to find me gone when she comes back, I worry about Prim waking up alone.
So instead, I light a candle-lantern and explore the kitchen as quietly as possible by the flickering light, taking stock of how out-of-stock they are of items and food. There are some canned goods, but too few and not a good variety. And there’s no game of any sort, which surprises me since the entire District knows Katniss hunts to feed them. I wonder if they’re keeping it stored outside in a coldbox, but I’m not ready to go prowling around the back yard in the still-dark. Some of Prim’s cheese is wrapped in wax paper on the counter, and a new batch is hanging suspended over a bowl to drain away its moisture, squeezed and tied into a tight ball of burlap.
Last of all is a small bag of stale rolls. She hasn’t been to the bakery in four days, so these are the ones Katniss traded squirrels for with my father the last time I saw her. But there’s half of them left, and they’re on the edge of molding. I can’t think of why they haven’t eaten the bread, unless it’s because they were too wrapped up in the care of their mother and in grief for what was coming.
At least that’s something I can fix.
No more trading Katniss’ squirrels for rolls.
They might day-old or fresh, I don’t care, but from now on I’m bringing them every spare roll and loaf of bread I can find, keep back or steal if I have to from the bakery on the days I work, which I assume will still be seven days a week.
So now they’ll have bread and extra squirrel to eat.
It’s something I can do, because I need to.
It’s something I can do because they deserve it. No one should go hungry. Not when pigs get food that humans can eat.
And it’s something I can do to be useful.
I look back to Prim, still buried beneath the covers and little more than a thin lump even though she’s fourteen, and remember the way her eyes would light up and she’d smile whenever she’d stop outside the bakery as a little girl and stare at the sweets she couldn’t afford.
Forget just bread, the Mellark family bakery is going to start sparing more than that, even if I have to pry it from my mother’s iron fists.
I force myself to relax. Being indignant at my mother, for things I could have, and I should have done out of my own sense of what was right, wasn’t going to fix what was past.
There’s a tin with what looks and smells like mint leaves semi-dried and crushed up for tea, so I figure that’s something to occupy my time. I take some hot coals from the hearth and coal from the bucket for the cook stove so I can boil some water and make what I can of the rolls and cheese for breakfast. I hope that I’m not misappropriating a heating resource, but I didn’t see either of the girls eat the night before, and I’m hoping it will be helpful to make sure Prim has breakfast when she wakes up.
The smell of toasting bread and melting cheese has started filling the house by the time Katniss comes back twenty minutes later. I’d eventually found lard in a ceramic jar on the counter, and put my limited culinary mind to work from there. I’d coated the bottom of a cast iron skillet with a healthy dose of it, cut up the best of the rolls into halves and compressed them into the pan together, then melted off some more lard to brush onto the top. I couldn’t find salt, but there’d been dried herbs hanging by bundles in the window, so I’d crushed rosemary and sage over the bread, and then crumbled some of Prim’s cheese over the top and put the pan in to brown and bake.
Katniss stops almost the moment she’s inside and stares, looking from me, to the stove, to the cup of hot mint-water I’d been drinking out of and back again. Even though it’s starting to get light outside, it’s still mostly just candlelight and glow from the fire across the room; it makes her eyes look wide and dark and full of rage.
I shrink on the inside. Trying to be helpful might’ve looked to her like I was making myself at home. Or maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe it’s just resentment at my presence at all.
“I’ll, um… I’m going to bring back bread today from hom- from the bakery,” I say, so nervous that my voice cracks at first. “To replace this, I mean.”
She doesn’t move, and she’s still staring and silent, only she’s boring into my eyes with hers. I cough because of my nerves and then fill a second cup with the mint tea and put it on the counter near her, for her.
“I hope it’s okay,” I mumble. “I didn’t want her to wake up and be hungry on top of everything else.” I start to apologize, “I didn’t mean to just-”
“It’s… okay…” There’s a long pause, and then, something unexpected. A “Thank you.”
My head snaps up and I search her eyes. They look the same. I feel sure they’re angry, but I can’t reconcile them to the quietness of her voice or the sentiment. We stare at each other for a long time. I don’t know what I want as I search her eyes. I’m still in shock.
Prim moans and mutters in her sleep behind us. Katniss’s attention belongs to her and she’s immediately at the bed and shaking Prim gently from whatever nightmare she’s trapped in. I watch Prim as the fog of nightmare evaporates when she wakes to Katniss sitting on the edge of the bed comforting her with a smile that…
…A smile that absolutely takes my breath away.
She manages somehow to be genuine in it, even though her eyes are watering.
These Everdeen women, so strong, so used to surviving with grief. I feel hollow in my chest for them. I want to fix it, even though I don’t have the power to.
Prim scoots half into Katniss’ arms and Katniss rocks her and murmurs reassurances to her, half-singing them:
It’s okay, little duck. It’s okay, little duck. You’re awake, Prim.
Prim’s fourteen, but something about
the way she easily accepts the comfort makes her look young.
Though it doesn’t make Katniss look old, by any means. It makes her look…
I snap my head to stare at my mug. Thoughts like that are thoughts I can’t afford.
Katniss’ voice continues to sooth behind me, though, the voice a melody. Katniss-of-few-words. Katniss-of-scowls. Katniss-of-survival. None of those are here, a dozen steps behind me. The voice is a voice of…
My mind wanders back to when I was five. The first time I saw Katniss, heard her sing at assembly… My mind stays there, drifting.
“Peeta’s made us breakfast, little duck,” I hear, still in that gentle, loving voice, and it pulls me from the memory of when I first fell in love with the dark-haired little girl, back when I was just an awkward little five-year old boy who thought treasures like Katniss Everdeen could be had just for being in awe of them. “Come on, let’s get up and eat. Doesn’t it smell good,” she whispers.
I look back over my shoulder. Katniss senses my attention and looks up at me. I’d think that maybe they’re meaningless words, but I’ve never in my life heard Katniss say anything meaningless, and her expression doesn’t seem put on. It gives me some reassurance.
I nod, busy myself pouring another mug of mint-water for Prim and then moving all three cups to the table, and I’m just opening the oven by the time Katniss has gotten Prim up and sitting at the table.
A rush of heat comes out when I open the little oven door, and the smell of the food makes my stomach growl.
And if possible, I feel a little growl of satisfaction- and relief- in my chest when I set it down onto a trivet in the center of their table because the Everdeen women are literally wide-eyed with amazement and sniffing the steam. Prim tries to pull the smell of it to her through the air with a waving hand. I haven’t eaten either, and the sight of the bread-and-cheese bake looks even better than what I’d guessed it would. The bread has turned perfectly golden brown from the effect of the lard, and the cheese itself is bubbling and perfectly caramelized. The sprigs of the herbs I used almost make it look like a fancy meal.
We all hesitate, awkward. I give a mild swear as I realize I hadn’t pulled out anything for us to eat with, and Prim’s chair scrapes on the floor.
“Sit, Peeta. I’ll do it,” she insists with enough intensity and desire to help that I do.
Katniss and I avoid looking at one another as Prim flits around us, laying out the plates. For some reason, maybe trying to grasp normalcy after the day and night before, Prim makes a big deal of it and Katniss and I wordlessly agree to go with it for her sake.
“We need to say grace,” Prim says as soon as she sits.
I look back and forth between them. We don’t say grace in my house and I’m not sure what the protocol is. I remember my father saying it sometimes, when I was very young, but my mother doesn’t like it and at some point it stopped.
“You do it,” Prim says to Katniss.
Katniss’ eyes catch mine, and she looks uncomfortable. Prim gives a frustrated whimper, on the verge of tears. Yes, this breakfast is her attempt at fighting off the dark.
So Prim starts on her own.
“Thank you for this drink, and the food we are about to eat. Thank you for brining Peeta in our time of need-” Katniss and my eyes catch even though our heads are bowed, and I think I read panic there. I can’t feel hurt by it, because I feel panic myself. “And thank you for…” Prim starts to break down, but she pushes through, “Thank you for our parents, even though they are gone.”
She says amen and Katniss quietly echoes it to show solidarity.
The question of how to dish up is answered without my having to ask; Prim says I cooked it, I serve it.
I wipe my hands on my trousers, my palms sweaty, but then obey.