Once upon a time there was a girl named Katniss who lived in the woods. That’s not to say that her house was in the woods, oh no. Her home was a proper house with four walls and a mother and father and a little sister. It even had a mangy cat, but that’s a different story.
Katniss, however never really felt alive until the day her papa took her past the village fence, and into the woods.
Inside the village there were so many rules. Not that she would always abide by them if she could help it. She was expected to wear dresses, walk with grace, and speak softly.
Her papa didn’t make her do any of those things. Katniss spent every Sunday in the woods with him. She could run and sing and swim without having to worry about what other people thought about it. Her papa was happy to let her have her fun as long as she listened to the lessons he taught her. He often gave her little songs or rhymes to help her remember.
She knew how to identify what fruits were safe and which to avoid. Blueberries are good to eat, but nightlock will kill you dead on your feet.
She could tell which plants and herbs her mother needed for her teas and poultices. Wild carrot keeps babies away but poison hemlock brings the end of your days.
Her favorite, though, was pulling up the roots of the katniss plants that grew around the edge of the lake where she learned to swim. She wiggled her toes in the soft muddy lake bed and the bulbous roots gave way. The plant that was her namesake was good roasted up for dinner.
One of the most important lessons her father taught her was how to hunt with a bow. She learned to stand tall and be still. Breathing out just before releasing the string. She got so good her papa would brag to the customers they traded with that she could shoot the game right in the eye, every time.
Back in the village, they traded whatever plants and game they didn’t need with the vendors in the Hob or the merchants in town. Wild dog went to Greasy Sae. She called it beef once she added to her stew. Katniss and her papa would stop there for lunch after a long day in the woods.
Rabbits went to the cobbler when Katniss and her little sister needed new shoes. Girls feet grow so fast, you know.
Her favorite stop, however was at the village bakery. Her papa always saved the bakery for their last stop of the day. Inside the bakery smelled heavenly, like baked bread, and sugar, and just plain yumminess. It was always bright and warm from the fires of the ovens and the smiles on the faces of the men behind the counter.
The baker was a kind widow with three sons. He always made time to talk to his customers and sent his boys out to hand out samples to those who waited in line. It didn’t matter if they came from the poor side of the village or if they didn’t dress in fancy clothes. The baker made it a point to take care of every one who visited his shop.
Whenever Katniss and her papa arrived at the bakery, papa told her to wait while he and the baker stepped aside to do their trade. The baker’s oldest son would take over the register.
Katniss bounced on her heels that first day, waiting for the trade to be over. She could hardly wait to pick out a treat to share with her papa, and of course, another to take home to mama and sister Prim.
The baker’s youngest son, all golden haired and smiley like his father, greeted Katniss as she waited. She tried to act aloof at first, as if she didn’t care, like she always did whenever she was in the merchant part of town, but the moment he presented her with the free sample tray. Her mask fell away and she smiled.
“Thank you, Peeta,” she said when she selected a cheesy bun from the tray.
“Of course, Katniss. I didn’t think you knew my name,” he replied.
“Why wouldn’t I know your name? We go to school together,” Katniss said as she cupped her hand under the cheesy bun before she could take a bite. The smell was so enticing she had to close her eyes.
“These are my creation,” Peeta explained. “Papa let me come up with my own recipe. Let me know what you think.”
Katniss nodded and took a big bite out of the cheese bun. The gooey cheesiness tasted so good she hummed around the bite. “It’s so good,” she said with her mouth full before greedily taking another bite.
“Thank you,” Peeta said, while his cheeks turned pink.
“These are the best thing I ever tasted,” Katniss said with a smile between bites.
Back in the corner, the hunter and the baker watched the scene before them. “You know, that’s the first time I think I’ve seen her smile. I mean besides at home with her baby sister or out in the woods.”
“You know my boy has taken a fancy to your girl,” the baker said. “After his very first day of school, he came home with a tale of how the pretty girl with two dark braids sang in class. He said she sounded like an angel. I think he’s been a goner ever since.”
“Well, if he keeps feeding her those cheesy buns, I think the feeling might be mutual,” the hunter joked.
After that, the hunter made it a point to make the bakery the last stop on his trade route every Sunday. Papa and the baker would step aside to do their trade and Peeta would present Katniss with his latest creation. The bakery became her favorite place inside the village.
And although the baker and the hunter liked to joke that they brought their kids together, little did either man know that’s exactly what happened. When Katniss lost her papa, Peeta was there to give her hope that life could be good again. When Peeta lost his entire family, Katniss was there to show him that he was not alone.
Yes, Katniss was the girl in the woods, but she fell in love with her boy with the bread.