I Can See Your Halo
“Is there a halo over my head?”
Katniss looks up from her seat in the student common room, surprised to see Peeta Mellark grinning at her. Time tics on. She’s confused when his eyes don’t flit away like they’re supposed to.
She clears her throat and finally speaks. “Um, what?”
“Is there a halo over my head?” Those guileless blue eyes stop time, and his smile sparkles impossibly brighter with every breath he takes.
She smells beer. Katniss shakes free of the effect of his charm with the sudden realization - she was actually scanning his blonde curls for a halo!
“No! Of course not!”
Leaning in, he murmurs, “Well, I must be an angel, if I’m this close to you but keeping my hands to myself.”
He blinks once, slowly, like he’s blowing her a kiss with those ridiculously long lashes, and she thinks this is it, the moment she’s finally going to get her first kiss when out of nowhere a bubbly blonde bombshell lunges at Peeta knocking him onto the sofa as beer sloshes from her cup.
“Peeta! You handsome devil. I’ve been looking for you!” Cashmere giggles as her mostly exposed breasts jiggle in front of his face much like a photographer jingles keys in front of a baby to get his attention.
Katniss cannot bear to watch this again. Every gathering has been exactly like this – without even trying, Peeta attracts beautiful, openly affectionate women who know exactly what to say to a man with their words and their touch. They’re everywhere. Cressida, Bristel, Clove, Delly, Bonnie, Portia, Glimmer, Maysilee, Madge…the list goes on. They snuggle against him, run their hands over him. They kiss him. No, she can’t compete with any of them.
So as a chatty, grabby, drunken Cashmere tries to settle onto Peeta’s lap, Katniss quickly slips away without looking back.
From her window the sky looks pregnant with snow adding to the unease Katniss feels over her travel plans. She shoves a handful of extra tampons and her keys into a side pocket of her travel bag then scans the contents of her backpack one last time before zipping it up. Most students already took off for the long weekend break, but she has one last exam. Her alarm beeps. Leaving now allows her time for ID check-in and setting up at her assigned computer terminal.
“Ready or not,” she whispers into the quiet before picking up her bag and swinging her backpack over her shoulder. Pulling the door open she rushes out only to collide with a solid mass.
She surely would have fallen had his big hands not grabbed her. Behind her the door slams shut and the lock clicks loudly.
“Um, um, sorry! I was just putting something in your box,” he blurts out, clearly nervous at being caught.
Katniss turns her head to the Lucite box mounted at eye level on the wall next to her dorm door. Everyone has one though they are rarely used. Her roommate Cashmere decorated theirs with pink hearts and photos of herself in various states of undress and in suggestive poses. Katniss could see that the box held more Valentine’s greetings that Cashmere must have missed by leaving for home a day earlier than planned.
It hit Katniss like the stab of a knife – she had just caught Peeta Mellark leaving a Valentine!
Forcing all emotion from her face, Katniss snatches up every envelope and paper heart from the box and thrusts the mail into a side pouch.
“I’ll make sure she gets your love letter with the others!” she bites out to a Peeta who is too stunned by the encounter to move or speak before she’s flying off like a bat out of hell.
At the test center, Katniss sees Cashmere’s twin brother, Gloss.
“Here, give these to your sister,” she orders, slapping the handful of paper pain down on his workstation and turning away without another word.
Two hours later as everyone makes to leave the test center, Gloss hands her an envelope with her name on it.
“What’s this?” she demands, fearful of the excitement threatening to bubble up in her chest at the thought that he – that anyone – was offering her a valentine.
“There was one for you. I guess there really is someone for everyone,” he smirks before turning to go.
Katniss’s defenses go up immediately. Was Gloss fucking with her? Did Cashmere put him up to it? Enraged by the thought that she was being punked, she scans the room searching for the culprit behind this practical joke. But no one meets her eye.
She gathers her things and stomps out the building, tossing the envelope into a trash can just outside.
Ugh! She’s been waiting at the bus stop for over 20 minutes, so she must have just missed a bus. Damn that Gloss. Stupid idiot. Stupid Valentines Day. She hears the bus coming before she sees it. It finally rolls to a stop in front of her and the doors open.
“This is the bus to the train station,” the impatient bus driver calls out to Katniss. “Are you getting on?”
Katniss spins around and practically sprints all the way back to the trash can.
Holding the envelope between her fingers, relief washes over her. Anything might have happened to it!
Shit, she’s trapped. She knows that if she opens it, she won’t ever get over the humiliation of what’s inside. Everyone will know she fell for the trick by the look on her face that she won’t be able to hide.
Katniss stands there warring with herself as though she has a tiny angel over one shoulder and a tiny devil over the other.
“Open it, Katniss,” urges the tiny Prim angel.
“Don’t be an idiot!” shouts the tiny Gale devil, “Get rid of it, now!”
From somewhere above, snow plops onto her shoulder extinguishing the tiny Gale devil’s voice.
She checks the time. Shit! She’s going to miss the next bus to the train station if she doesn’t hurry!
Hours later, she’s on the train home having eaten, written in her journal, and read several more chapters of her paperback. But the envelope never leaves her thoughts. She can’t allow the letter to invade the sanctity of her home. She’s going to open it now, she decides, then rip it up and leave it behind. By the time she goes back to school, she would have forgotten all about it. And if asked, she’ll say she must have lost it before reading it.
It’s sealed with red wax. She can’t help but admire the effort put into this prank just for her. She should be pleased they knew not to half-ass their practical joke. Katniss Everdeen deserves the effort.
She notes the wax is stamped with a flower. But not just any flower. A dandelion. Her breath catches. That son of a bitch! How could he?! Her eyes well up with the hurt pressing on her heart. She pushes her fist to that spot on her chest that always seems to ache because of Peeta Mellark.
Rip off the band-aid, Katniss. Nothing inside this envelop can hurt worse than him using that symbol against you (not unless he’s put a loaf of raisin nut bread in this envelop, she thinks angrily). Open the envelope, get this over with, and then throw it and Peeta Mellark away forever.
Her hands shake as handles the the heavy linen paper that smells lightly of cinnamon and something else. Gasp! A perfect painting! A garden of dandelions in watercolors and outlined in fine black ink! Elegant script flows across the sheet. She admires the breathtaking beauty of the work for several long minutes.
This is no joke. It can’t be.
She checks the envelope to confirm it’s really her name on it. After a few more moments to appreciate the artistry, she’s ready to read the message, hopeful that it’ll be as lovely a gift as the artwork surrounding it. It looks like it may be a poem:
Alas, though separated by time and distance
Neither moments nor miles can steal my vision of you
For though reunion lies several days away
I still relish in your image
Gift of my memory
i.e. thinking of you