Katniss’s hands smell like earth, like she’s been digging in the ground. Her wrists are sweaty and I feel them slipping against my cheeks as she holds her hands over my eyes as we walk.
“Where are we—ow!” I step into a pothole and my knee locks up. “Where are we going?”
“Stop asking that,” Katniss says in my ear, although I can hear the smile in her voice. I want to turn around and feel it on her lips too, but I’m under strict orders. There are titters coming from around me, hastily covered up laughs. Is the whole district in on it, or are they just reacting to the crazy Mockingjay leading her husband around like a mule?
A few steps later and Katniss comes to a halt. I’m not ready for it and I stumble forward a little, but her arm around my chest pulls me back.
“Happy birthday,” she says quietly, releasing me.
I open my eyes. We’ve walked across the district to a small brick and slate building with painted shutters and a wide, curtained window. The door is shut and there’s no light coming from inside.
“Ah, what I’ve always wanted,” I say. “My very own cottage.” I turn back to look at her, dressed in her father’s hunting jacket and a pair of old, scuffed boots. A silver chain disappears down the front of her shirt, but I know what it conceals. Her mother and sister and Gale, encased in silver and kept close to her heart. Even if two of them are not dead, it makes no difference. In her eyes, she’s lost them—or at least, lost what they used to mean to her.
“Are you kicking me out?” I ask innocently.
Katniss rolls her eyes, digging a key out of her pocket and stepping around me to unlock the door. She holds it open. “Go inside, smartass.”
I don’t know what I’m expecting when I do, but it isn’t what I find. A long counter and glass-fronted shelves. Rows of ovens. A marble-topped work surface. My mouth falls open.
She smiles, shrugging. “You said you wanted to bake again, and there’s no bakery in town, so I figured—.”
Three shaky steps across the room and I’m pulling her into my arms, nearly delirious with joy. I think I may pick her up and spin her around the room. By the end of it she’s laughing too and hugging me back, and it’s completely ridiculous, the two of us standing here in an empty shop, nearly crying over a pastry case.
“Thank you,” I say, when we finally spin to a halt. “I don’t know what to say.”
Katniss laughs. “Say you’ll make me a cake.”
“So she finally showed it you, did she?”
Haymitch is leaning around the jam, looking like he’d just rolled out of bed and stumbled across town. There’s a half-empty bottle swinging from his fingertips, and I can smell his breath from here. But not even the danger of Haymitch passing out in the street can ruin this moment for me. I’m already planning what I’m going to bake first, where I’m going to put the bread, what sort of fillings I could make for the éclairs.
What Katniss’ cake will look like.
She seems to know what I’m thinking, because she says, “As long as it doesn’t have a mockingjay on it, I’m fine with anything.”
I laugh and kiss her, ignoring Haymitch’s grumbling that this isn’t what he got out of bed to see. Katniss tightens her arms around my waist, burying her face in my chest. “I’m glad you like it,” she says, voice muffled.
“It must have taken so much work,” I say, staring around at the gleaming countertops. “And so much money.”
Katniss pulls back. “It’s mostly salvaged parts, from the old District. And I think fresh bread will make it worth it.” She cocks her head to the side. It’s a motion she makes often now, when she’s thinking. It most likely has to do with the time she spent with a ruptured eardrum in the first Games. I don’t mention that it reminds me of a bird when she does it. “Haymitch organized most of it. I basically just had the idea.”
“It’s an amazing idea. Thanks, Kats.”
She scrunches up her nose at the nickname, but she doesn’t stop smiling.
To have gone through all that she has and still have her sanity, let alone the ability to smile…she is the strongest person I know. And I love her for it.