“What do you think?”
“Hmm?” I reply, glancing up at him from my book. It’s an uncomfortable, sticky afternoon, and I know that the job Gale is working on is not a pleasant one. A thunderstorm had rolled through on Monday night, leaving shingles missing from our roof. He is doing the repairs today, his only day off this week. I’m grateful for the help.
But apparently, I’m not grateful enough to give my best friend my undivided attention. If we’re being honest, he is a bit of a ranter when he gets going. Sometimes I just tune him out.
“Were you listening to anything that I just said to you?” Gale should know better by now.
Waving my paperback at him I say, “You know that I’m on a reading bender here. And I’m two chapters from the end…”
“Okay, okay-I’ll let it slide this time.”
I watch as a drop of sweat drips from his forehead, another rivulet running past his brow and down his neck. He uses the hem of his worn t-shirt to wipe the remainder out of his eyes. “For real though- did you hear me?”
Oh, I must have missed something important. “No, I guess I didn’t.” I set my book down, gesturing for him to continue.
Gale bends over to pick up the roofing materials that he’d managed to scrounge up for us out of the shed in the backyard. The building was technically on our property, but was mostly full of the Hawthorne’s stuff.
“Madge called me last night on her way home.” Madge is Gale’s girlfriend, and she’s been a good friend of mine since high school.
“She heard through the grapevine that David Mellark is moving back to town and taking over the bakery.“ I do remember hearing the news that the elder Mr. Mellark-who had to be in his 70’s by now-had been diagnosed with some type of cancer.
It had caused a lot of talk around town, gossip about what would happen to the generations-old family business. Mr. Mellark had been running the bakery alone for years.
“Apparently David divorced his wife earlier this year…”
It’s about time. I find my mind wandering to a Mellark boy who I still think about in quiet moments. His memory steals in on me when I least expect it.
“And he’s coming back with the youngest one- what was his name? Peter?”
“It’s Peeta” I say.
“Yeah- that’s right, how did I forget that? The middle one was my age. Philip. Kind of a little shithead. Peeta was in your grade, wasn’t he?”
I nod at Gale, a nonchalant look on my face. Why shouldn’t it be nonchalant? I haven’t seen or heard anything about Peeta Mellark in the last 8 years- not since his family packed up and moved to the capitol.
It doesn’t make sense for my heart rate to pick up a little at the thought of seeing him again.
“What’d you think about that, Catnip?” I wrinkle my nose at Gale, but he just has a look on his face that says ‘gotcha’.
He could always read me. “I forgot till now, you two had a ‘thing’!”
“There was no ‘thing’!”
“Nuh-uh,” that bastard, “there was too a thing. I remember now!”
“There wasn’t a thing- we weren’t really anything. Kind of friends, I guess?” I stumble over my words, struggling to find the right thing to say.
It shouldn’t be that hard.
Because it is true- Peeta and I had never really been a thing. I’d known him since kindergarten, and Panem was a small town.
I remember him bringing homemade cupcakes to elementary school on his birthday every year. We didn’t often have the extra money for bakery goods from Mellark's- and nothing from a box mix compared with those cupcakes. Peeta’s father would sometimes help his son carry the cupcakes in but never his mother- no one ever saw her.
There was no reason why I should have paid close attention to Peeta, but I did. And I knew that the interest was mutual, because I often glanced up at him during class, just to see his large blue eyes flit away from me.
I never gave it much thought then, because my childhood was a simple time in my life. Our family was small and close. My father ran a landscaping business. We had a large garden in the summertime, and my father was an avid hunter and outdoorsman who took us camping on the weekends.
It was on those trips that he introduced me to archery, his first love and mine too.
I will never forget that day when I fired off an arrow into the target, hitting my first bullseye. Dad scooped me up and swung me around, his musical laugh ringing through the forest. It was a sound so beautiful that the birds fell silent in its wake.
I miss my father so much.
And I suppose that’s where my real story with Peeta Mellark began, with the loss of my father. From one chapter of my life closing, and a new one beginning- painfully blank, empty like a sheet of paper waiting to be filled.
And if I’m being honest with myself, there was a ‘thing’.