12 years ago

I go through my game bag one more time making sure my mom had packed everything that we needed. A change of underclothes, check homemade sun block, check and a thermos full of pink lemonade, Peeta's favorite, check. He's always asking how we make it pink. I told him it was an old family secret but really we just add a small amount of cranberry juice. And last but not least a pair of hand me down inflatable water arm bands, check. I still feel like something's missing and it's for Peeta.

Now that we are out for summer break my dad and I are going to take Peeta out to the woods for the first time. We will be heading to the lake where we'll teach him how to swim. It's going to take us a couple of hours to get there but knowing Peeta he's not going to let my father carry him.

Ever since he mastered the use of his new leg he refuses to let Mr. Mellark carry him. Peeta will glare and tell his dad he's not a baby anymore whenever Mr. Mellark goes to pick him up the way he use to. I can tell Mr. Mellark is both happy and sad because of Peeta's new independence. My mom calls it 'parental separation anxiety' whatever that means.

Still, going to the lake will put a lot of pressure on his leg because of the rough terrain. That's it! He'll need the soothing ointment. I look up at my mom's medicine cabinet. Huh, now how am I going to get up there?

My dad's busy getting ready and mom went next door with Prim to follow up on Mrs. Hawthorne. She gave birth to baby Vick a couple of days ago. Haymitch called her a baby making factory. Even I, at 6 years old know that's big. While most in the district struggle to meet the minimum two child quota the Hawthorne's are on their third.

Anyway, there's no help and I need that ointment. I walk to the table and pull one of the chairs over to the cabinet. I hop onto the chair but can't reach

the knob so I climb onto the countertop. I pull on the knob but it still won't budge, humph. I plant my feet and with both hands pull as hard as I can. I realize my mistake a little too late as the cabinet door finally fly's open and I feel myself stumble backwards. I almost topple over but then small and steady hands push me forward.

"What are you doing?" Peeta asks gruffly. "You almost fell down and you could have cracked your head open." I just shrug and poke around the salves, creams and ointments looking for the one I need.

Peeta spent the night since we have to leave earlier than usual this morning and hike farther into the woods. It was our first sleepover and the most fun I've ever had. We had pillow and tickle fights until my dad threatened not to take us to the lake if we didn't go to sleep.

"Found it!" I say triumphantly. And this was the way my dad found us, me on the countertop and Peeta on the chair with his hands on my back.

"I swear you two are going to give me gray hair," my dad said. He strides over to us, shuts the cabinet door and plucks me off the counter while Peeta scurries off the chair.

"Sorry Mr. Everdeen!"

"Sorry daddy!" he looks down at us and we give him our sweetest most innocent smiles we can manage. He shakes his head and grins. Sucker! I go get my game bag pull it over my head and shove the jar of ointment into it, while Peeta puts on his backpack

"Now are you rugrats ready to go?" my dad asks. Our hands find each other.

"Ready!" we say at the same time. Peeta and I run ahead to the weak spot in the fence and hide behind the clump of bushes.

"Now, the first thing you have to do is listen out for the humming sound that it makes when the fence on," I say.

"I don't hear anything," he said.

"That's right. It's silent as a stone," I say. "So it's safe to go under." I have him flatten out on his belly and slide under it and I follow right behind him. By the time my dad reaches us we are already on the other side.

As soon as we make it to the trees, my dad retrieves his bow and arrows and we begin our long trek to the lake.

"You remember the rules?" my dad asks.

"Never leave your sight and stick to your buddy," I say smiling at Peeta.

"Don't touch or eat anything without asking first," said Peeta.

"No petting the wild animals," I say.

"Very good," my dad said.

Peeta is fascinated by the forest and along the way I point out varies edible plants and fruits. He spots something and leaps up ahead.

"What about these?" but remembering the rules he doesn't touch. My dad walks up beside him. "Not these, Peeta. They're nightlock berries. You'll be dead before they reach your stomach," my father tells him.

"Wow, even the name sounds deadly," Peeta exclaims.

"Some say they're muttations made by the Capitol during the dark days to use against hungry rebels," I tell Peeta. "They made it so that nightshade had a baby with hemlock and because they are so deadly you'll die in less than a minute," I whisper.

"Oh please Katniss, you're such a bad liar," Peeta rolls his eyes at me.

"Am not!" I glare at him and stomp my foot.

"Are too!" Peeta insisted. I'm about to retort.

"That's enough now. Katniss, what have I told you about telling tales?" my dad asks. "That my nose will grow," I say, crossing my eyes to look down at it.

"See Peeta, I must be telling the truth because my nose is still the same."

"Don't do that little bird or your eyes will stay that way," my dad chuckles. "Come on you two we need to get a move on."

About half way there my dad calls for a break. Noticing that Peeta is limping I lead him to a fallen log so we can sit in the shade of the trees. I nudge Peeta with my elbow; point to the mockingjays that are leaping on the branches. My dad notices them too and begins to whistle drawing more in. Then he begins to sing, he starts off soft and sweet.

Are you, are you

Coming to the tree

Where they strung up a man they say murdered three

Strange things did happen here

No stranger would it be

If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree

His singing quickly captures the birds' attention.

Are you, are you

Coming to the tree

Where the dead man called out for his love to flee

Strange things did happen here

No stranger would it be

If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree

I turn to look at Peeta and he's looking up into the trees were all you can hear is the rustle of leaves because all the birds in the area are silent. My dad's beautiful voice which is so full of life is high and clear. He finishes the last verse and after a respectful pause the mockingjays begin to sing. Peeta beams as we listen to them re-create the song.

As soon as we get to the lake it's already getting hot. I tug a bug-eyed Peeta all the way around the lake stopping every now and then to collect some duck eggs for breakfast. We spot my dad shooting some waterfowl.

"Can you shoot too?" Peeta asks watching my dad.

"My daddy's teaching me but I'm not very good," I say handing him a couple of eggs to carry. His head is turning every which way taking it all in.

"It's beautiful out here and it smells so good too," Peeta takes a deep breath, inhaling the smell of blossoms and damp earth. The smells out in the woods are without a doubt way better then the reek of our sooty coal district.

"I knew you'd like it." I say.

We take our time exploring the area. Peeta will have to remove his fake leg when we go swimming and he might not get another chance today. By the time we come back around and go inside the concrete cabin my dad already has turkey sausage sizzling on the hot plate.

"Get ready while I make breakfast," my dad said taking the eggs from us. We make quick work of undressing since we have our swim suits under our clothes.

"Let me take your leg off Peeta. Katniss give me the ointment," my dad started to untie the straps on the leather portion of Peeta's wooden leg. "Oh good, It's not to swollen. I was worried." He applied a liberal amount of ointment on the stump and hurried back to the food.

"I thought you didn't like pink?" Peeta asks eyeing my swim suit.

"I don't," I crinkle my nose at the hand me down one piece "but Pax loves pink and I don't get to choose," I say. At least it's a soft pink and the fabric is nice.

"Pax?" he asks. "Maximus and Pax are Effie's and Haymitch's twins," my dad explains.

"I guess Maximus likes sharks?" I say, noting the tiny sharks on Peeta's navy blue swim trunks and the big shark head on the light blue swim shirt.

We each get a plate of eggs with sausage and scarf it down, eager to get into the water. Once I'm done I grab the sunscreen and we begin to rub it all over ourselves. My dad getting any spots we've missed.

"Come on buddy, let's go teach you how to swim," he picks Peeta up and props him on his hip. "Katniss bring the arm bands," he calls out as they head out the door. I get my game bag stuff the sunscreen and ointment into it and run ahead dropping it on a towel next to the shore. I climb onto a boulder and dive into the cool water. I do a few laps around the lake then go back to the shallow end where daddy and Peeta are.

"Now remember keep your lungs full of air, hold your breath and relax. Your body will naturally float up to the top. The key is not to panic." I hear my dad explain to Peeta.

I go back to my diving boulder so that I can dive a couple more times. I try my best not to distract Peeta from his swimming lesson knowing it's important for him to get the basics down and become comfortable in the water.

After about an hour I see my dad carry Peeta to the towel. Now the real fun can really begin. I hurry and plop down next to Peeta and my dad hands me the sunscreen.

"So how do you like it?" I ask rubbing more sunscreen on. I pass it to him so he can do the same.

"Its fun but I can't wait to be able to swim like you. How long did it take you to learn?" Peeta asks.

"I don't know," I say. I can't remember learning how to swim, hadn't even thought about it.

"I've been bring Katniss out with me since she was a baby. She took to swimming like a duck takes to water," my father said. He starts to inflate the arm bands. I dig into my game bag for the pink lemonade.

"Are you thirsty? I brought your favorite" I say unscrewing the top of the thermos.

"Yes please!"

"Didn't drink enough of the lake water Peeta?" my dad teases ruffling Peeta's wet hair.

"Are you going to tell me how you make it pink?" Peeta asks once more.

"I told you, it's a family secret. I can only tell you after we get married," I say.

"But Katniss, I'm 'abnormal' I will never get married," Peeta reminds me.

"Oh, I forgot." I turn to my dad and by the expression on his face he knows what's coming. "Daddy, why can't 'abnormals' get married?" He eyes dart between Peeta and me. Looking a bit lost about how to explain to two 6 year olds why they can never marry each other.

"First of all there's nothing wrong with you Peeta, you need to know that. Sadly our government believes that 'abnormals' will only create other 'abnormals.' My understanding is that they have no real proof but don't want to take any chances."

"But that's not fair for Peeta, daddy." I say taking Peeta's hand and giving it a squeeze to show him I'm on his side.

"Maybe they're right," Peeta said, tugging at a loose thread on the towel.

"No Peeta, it's just the capitols way of asserting their control over us. The marriage reaping does the same thing by not allowing us to choose who and when we want to marry. It's good for us that the peacekeepers have become lacks on the pairing." By that he means that we can pay them off to pair us with the person we want to marry but only if they both agree.

"Is that how you were paired with mommy?" I ask.

"No little bird, we got lucky. We were part of the first reaping and the head peacekeeper ran thinks according to the capitol rules. It wasn't until Cray took over that the rules eased up," my dad continued. More likely Cray was letting people know he could be bribed. "Now we came here to have fun, right? Here Peeta make sure you keeps these on while you're in the water," my dad stated as he slid the water bands up his arms. Picking him up and walking to the shallow end of the lake. "You two be good, stay in the shallow end and no horse playing Katniss. I'm going to set up some snares but I'll stay within earshot and won't be long," he said and walks away.

We spend some time paddling around and I show him the plants that are in the area; like the water lilies and katniss flowers. When we get tired of that we float on our backs staring up at the blue sky and look for the hidden shapes in the few fluffy white clouds above.

"It looks like a pig," said Peeta. I narrow my eyes and tilt my head but I can't picture it.

"I don't see it. The legs are too long. It looks more like a dog to me," I say.

"What's your dad doing?" Peeta asks. I lift my head and locate my dad in the deep end.

"He's net fishing," I say. I keep forgetting Peeta is new to all the things we do in the woods. He pushes himself forwards.

"Katniss, I need to pee. I've been holding it for a while and I really need to go," he says shyly.

"Just pee in the water," I say.

"No! I can't pee here," he exclaims.

"Sure you can, I do it all the time. Here look, daddy!" I call out. "Peeta needs to pee."

"Its ok buddy, just pee in the water," my dad calls back. I see the look of horror on Peeta's face at the mere thought of peeing in the water. I bite my lip to keep from laughing.

"My mom said pee is mostly water anyway and it's sterile too," I say hoping that'll help but he still doesn't look convinced. "Where do you think the fish, frogs and ducks pee?" I ask.

"Ok but turn around I don't want you to see me," he said. I want to point out that I won't see anything since he'll be peeing underwater but I keep my mouth shut and turn around knowing he doesn't like the idea of peeing in the water.

"Katniss," he whines. "I can't do it. Can you please help me out of the water?" he asks. He must be desperate if he's asking for help from me. I spot a small cluster of rocks close by us that will provide some privacy. We tread over to them and with his arm over my shoulder and his hand on a small boulder he's able to hop out. After I leave him balancing between two sturdy rocks, I move back into the water to wait for him to call me back. After what feels like forever a hand grips my shoulder and it makes me jump.

"Peeta, you were supposed to call me after you were done," I say scowling up at him. He could have fallen and injured himself on his way back and then where would we be. His mom will refuse to let us bring him back out here. But I don't say it. I know how important it is for him to do things for himself.

"Its fine, I was able to lean on the rocks to work my way back," he said.

We paddle back to the shallows and I show him how to dig up katniss roots until my dad calls us for lunch. We eat a lunch of grilled fish, sliced katniss tubers and the rest of the pink lemonade.

"This is so good," Peeta said. "I've never had fish before."

"Really?" my dad asks. "I'll make sure to send some home with you today. They'll make for a good fish stew."

"Don't they sell fish at the butchers?" I ask. I thought that all merchants can afford to buy the butcher meat in town.

"The butcher meat is too expensive for my family. Pretty much everything we eat is stale. Oh and the squirrels that my father trades for, so the fish is going to be a real treat," Peeta says.

Shame courses through me. What kind of best friend am I, that I never knew that? So many things I've learning about my friend Peeta today. Though, we wouldn't have any fresh meat either if my dad didn't go hunting every Sunday. Still I'm going to have to remember to ask my mom if we can invite Peeta over for dinner more often.

After we lather more sunscreen, Peeta and I spend a couple of hours swimming and digging up more katniss roots. We made a game of it to see who can get the biggest one. While my dad runs the snare line and does some more fishing. He calls us when it's time to go and he sends me to change in the cabin while he helps Peeta with his leg. By the time I'm done changing and put my stuff back in my game bag they're ready to go.

I notice something odd, instead of having his sheath of arrows on his back. My dad has it strapped around his waist. That can't be comfortable. I'm about to say something but he beats me to it.

"Let's go little bird we want to make it back in time for dinner." He crouches down so that I can get on his shoulders. He hasn't carried me like this since I was four years old but who am I to complain. After about an hour we reach the spot where my dad had sung for the mockingjay earlier today. He crouches down again so that I could hop off.

"Ok Peeta it's your turn," he said.

"Oh no, I'm fine Mr. Everdeen. I don't mind walking," Peeta starts.

"Go on Peeta. You know you want to," I say pushing him towards my dad's back. "Trust me, it'll be fun." With Peeta settled on my dad's shoulders we continue on.

"Daddy can you sing a song?" I ask.

"Sure little bird."

Daylight or dark, in rain or shine

It don't much matter down in the mine

Where the tunnel's deep, Lord the air gets thin

That's the way of life for the minin' man

His lungs are weak, his back is gone

His sixty years are plainly shown

Lived half his life down in the ground

A cold steel hammer rings a mournful sound

And just like that all the birds go silent. It's rare for my dad to sing a mining song. He never likes talking about his time down in the mines.

Oh daddy dear, I'll tell you true

There's nothing else for me to do

But to make my livin' underneath this land

And live and die a coal minin' man

Whenever I think about how it might be down there all I can picture is total darkness. I reach up and take his hand. He looks down at me and gives it a squeeze.

I'll make my livin' underneath this land

And die like you a coal minin' man

By the time we make it back to the bakery the sun is setting. My dad takes out three fish from his bag and hands Peeta one. Peeta barges through the door and right into his dad.

"We brought dinner," he said holding up the fish for his dad to see. Eight year old Rye who was working on the prep for tomorrow hops off the stool to inspect the fish. He eyes it warily and wrinkles his nose.

"Hope is taste better than it smells," Rye said. "Bannock come and check out what little Peet got us."

"I'm with a customer," Bannock called back from the storefront.

"I'm not little," Peeta glares at his brother "I'm a big boy."

"Whatever you say runt," Rye says. "Ouch! What the hell?" He had to have felt the two identical kicks to his shins I know he was actually expecting it from Peeta, it was his go to defense against Rye but he didn't notice that I had sneaked up beside him.

"Take that back," I retort.

"Bannock a little help here," Rye calls to his brother. "These two are ganging up on me again."

"Still, with a customer. Besides you should know by now you mess with one, you mess with both," Bannock chuckles.

"Rye, stop teasing your brother, Peeta what did I say about kicking?" Mr. Mellark reprimands. He's by the sink with my dad learning how to gut, debone and skin the fish. "Rye get the day old bread so we can trade for the fish."

"No Graham, this is Peeta's share of today's catch," my dad tells him.

"But I didn't do anything," Peeta said.

"Sure you did. You and Katniss were making so much noise while digging up the katniss roots you scared the fish to the deep end of the lake, making them much easier to catch," he winks at Peeta. Who beamed with pride at knowing that he helped. My dad makes quick work of the fish, greens and katniss tubers for the stew.

"James, are you sure you don't want to take some bread?" Mr. Mellark asks my dad.

"No it's fine," my dad repeats. Mr. Mellark insisted we at least take a cheese bun for me, a sugar cookie for Prim and a bran muffin for mom but dad made sure they were for the day old pastries.

"Katniss it's time to say goodbye," my dad finally said.

"When am I going to see Peeta again?" I ask. I can feel the tears well up in my eyes. After seeing him every day at school for the last 9 months the idea of not seeing him tomorrow is kind of frightening. Delly lives right across from him, so they will see each other every day, what if he forgets about me? At that last thought I choke back a sob. Peeta's arms pull me in for a hug.

"It's ok, It's ok, don't be sad," Peeta said but it looks like the same thing just dawned on him because his lips begin to tremble and his eyes become watery. "We'll see each other tomorrow, right dad?" I can hear the plea in his voice.

Ten year old Bannock must have finished with his customer. I could tell he was fighting back a smile as he watches me and Peeta. However the look in his eyes wasn't mocking it was tender. He had always treated me like a big brother.

"Oh the tragedy of it all," pipes up Rye. "Ouch!" he cried out after Bannock smacked him upside the head. "Damn it Ban. What was that for?"

"What's wrong with you?" Bannock glares at his brother. "Help me clean up front." Rye grumbles about being everybody's punching bag as he stomps to the storefront. "If you want I can drop off Peeta at the Everdeen's during my morning break or pick up Katniss," Bannock offers before following after Rye.

"Madge is coming over tomorrow for a play date remember?" my dad said.

"Can Peeta come too?" I ask Mr. Mellark hopefully. "I'm not sure if Madge's parents would like her to play with Peeta," Mr. Mellark said. Of course he would be hesitant to let people from town around Peeta. Most town folks shunned the Mellark's when Peeta was born 'abnormal.' What he doesn't know is that her dad had told her that she needed to stand up against bullying. So one day when Madge's lunch mates where making fun of Peeta she told them off and she came to sit with us.

"Mr. and Mrs. Undersee would be ok with it," my dad reassures him.

"Dad," Peeta said frowning a bit "Madge is my friend too." Mr. Mellark turned to my dad.

"If you're sure it won't be a problem," Mr. Mellark said "I'll have Bannock drop him off around ten?"

"Ten sounds good. Lily will probably drop him and Madge off after lunch," my dad said. "Now that, that is settle time to go little bird." We said our goodbyes and head to the Seam.

"Thank you daddy," I say.

"For what little bird?" he asks.

"For everything."