This realtor was seriously something else.
“Owning a part of Victor’s Village is a big, big opportunity!” She said. At least, that’s what Peeta thought she said. He couldn’t be sure, distracted by her bright, purple wig that made her face look like a giant lollipop. She wore an outfit seemingly constructed entirely out of glitter. The sight of her scared him a little, but Effie Trinket had the best sales record in town.
“You’re not going to find another house like this. It’s one of the few structures in the district that survived the Great Rebellion. All the houses on this street have been fully renovated. You are going to flip when you see the kitchen! Marble countertops, commercial grade appliances, a double wide refrigerator…”
The sound of Effie’s voice trailed off as she entered the house with her special realtor’s keycard and Peeta hung back to gaze at the exterior. The home had a new stone facade and a front porch made of everwood meant to resemble cedar. He cupped his hand to shield his eyes from the mid-afternoon and craned his neck up toward the second story windows, which were all new and triple paned, of course. A flash of something white moved in the window furthest to the left. The chill that ran down his spine disappeared once he noticed that the window had been left open a crack and it was a gauzy curtain that swayed in the breeze.
The inside of the home did not disappoint. There were five, large bedrooms and three bathrooms on the upper level. More room than Peeta needed on his own, but, for a moment, he allowed himself to envision a future with love and perhaps even children, filling the place with laughter and memories. He didn’t know how likely any of that was at this point, but he couldn’t abandon the hope. In the short term, there was plenty of room for an art studio, a home office, and a guest room or two for family and friends.
Downstairs was a cozy living room with a working fireplace, a library with heavy, builtin bookcases that looked original to the house, and a sunroom that opened up to a patio. He saved the kitchen for last, and his realtor had been good as her word. It was stunning. He ran his fingers over the cool, glistening stone countertops and tried out the eight gas burners on the stove. Standing in this kitchen, a sense of calm came over him, the same serenity that used to get him through sixty hour workweeks in his restaurant.
Home. He was home.
That look on Effie Trinket’s face said it all: he knew she knew she had him. She clasped her hands together over her heart. “Excellent! You are going to be so happy here, Peeta Mellark.”
Back at Trinket Properties, Peeta poured over the paperwork. He wanted the house, but he also wanted to make sure he was getting a sound investment. His father’s words bounced around in his head: “If something seems to good to be true, then it probably is.” It was that kind of thinking that had made his father one of the most successful investors in all of Panem, and ignoring it had been to Peeta’s own peril over the years.
“Do you have any questions?” Effie asked him.
Peeta frowned. “I’m looking at the comparables in the neighborhood, and this house is priced at almost fifty thousand coins less.”
Effie perked right up. She hadn’t worn the crown of Top Realtor in District 12 all these years for nothing. “This is a good thing, Peeta! You’re getting an amazing deal. It’s instant equity.”
However, Peeta couldn’t help but envision hidden cracks in the foundation walls and a rodent infestation in the attic.
“Maybe help me understand why it’s so much cheaper. It would really put my mind at ease.”
“Truthfully, the market bottomed out in this area about six months ago, and larger homes like this one simply aren’t moving. Plus, it’s a corner lot, which some people can be particular about. There’s nothing untoward about this, Peeta. I’d place my reputation on it.”
That was good enough for Peeta, or maybe he had heard what he wanted to. Either way, he scribbled his signature on his offer form and slid it across his realtor’s mahogany desk.
“Great! I will call you in a couple of days to let you know. This is a strong offer, and I’m cautiously optimistic. Don’t go buying furniture yet, but I think I’ll have good news for you really soon.”
Peeta let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Effie.” He turned around to leave when he remembered a promise he made to his brother, Rye. “Is there any way to know if this was Katniss Everdeen’s house?”
Growing up, Rye had been obsessed with Katniss Everdeen. She was, in his words “the original badass chick.” Peeta was never much for history class, but he knew he had to ask for his brother’s sake. Even now in his 30s, he knew Rye would flip if this house had any connection to his first crush.
Effie laughed. “If I could prove that Katniss Everdeen or Gale Hawthorne had lived in that house, I would have sold it a year ago. Hell, I’d settle for Haymitch Abernathy at this point. But there’s no way to know. The houses were looted during the rebellion. There’s no trace of any of the victors left.”
“Okay, that’s fine. I understand. I was just curious.”
Effie nodded. Her phone started ringing, and she reached out for the receiver. She offered Peeta these parting words: “I did some research on it, once, when I first got the listing. Personally, I think she lived in the house next door.”
Two weeks later, he’d picked up the keys from Effie’s office, and started moving in boxes.
“Son, I am getting too old for this shit,” Peeta’s father slammed a box filled with stainless steel pans down on the kitchen island. He had taken a couple of days off work to help Peeta move. He also never cursed. Peeta cocked an eyebrow at him. “It’s a line from an antique movie. All the rage five hundred years ago, apparently.”
Rye came into the house carrying two throw pillows he’d grabbed off the moving truck, tossing them into the air as he walked. Great help he was. “Yo, little bro, did you ever find out if my girl Katniss Everdeen lived here?”
Peeta shook his head. “Sorry, Rye, that information has been lost to history.”
“Then there’s a one in twelve chance she did, right? Just think, Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorne could have had sex all over this place.”
“Rye, don’t be gross about my new house.”
Rye threw the pillows at his brother’s head. “It’s not gross. It’s the greatest love story of all time. Not my fault you don’t appreciate romance. Come to think of it, that’s probably why Madge finally dumped your ass.”
This comment resulted in the two chasing each other around the living room, throwing any lightweight object that proved handy and culminated with a wrestling match on the floor.
“Uncle!” Peeta shouted. “Say it!”
“Never! I have a championship trophy that says I can beat you.”
“Yeah, well, that was then and this is now. Now, I’m kicking your ass. Say it, Rye.”
When he got no response, he started to twist his brother’s leg, which, in turn caused Rye to shout out. Suddenly, their father was hovering over them, arms crossed, looking less than amused.
“Boys, we’re supposed to be adults, are we not?”
Before leaving, Peeta’s father hugged him and handed over a check for a hundred coin.
“Dad, you didn’t have to.”
“None of that, son. This is a housewarming gift.” His father paused, the beginnings of tears forming in his eyes. “I’m proud of you.”
He cleared his throat. “You’re okay, though, right?”
That was his father’s subtle way of making sure Peeta wasn’t on the verge of relapse.
“I’m in a good place, Dad. Really.”
He was unpacking books and knicknacks in the library when he first spotted her through the window. She was a tiny thing, barely five foot tall, with a dark braid cascading over her left shoulder. She appeared transfixed by his front flower beds.
He went outside, both for the chance to chat up an attractive woman and to figure out what the heck she was doing in his yard.
“Hi, can I help you?”
The woman looked up at him. He noticed she was younger than he’d originally thought, probably no older than twenty-two. Her eyes, the color of mercury, were slightly clouded over. A strange sensation came over him; he wanted to climb into those silver pools and know everything contained in their depths.
“These are new,” she said, her voice barely registering above a whisper. She pointed to the flowers Peeta had planted just that morning.
“Yeah, I thought the place could stand a little color.”
“Primroses. They’re primroses.”
“I guess so. I mean, I didn’t pay attention to the tag when I bought them from the garden center. But I’ll take your word for it. Do you know a lot about plants?”
The young woman nodded. Then, without preamble, she started to climb his front porch to the door. Peeta raced around her to cut her off.
He scratched the back of his neck, at a loss of what to say to this strange creature who had been seconds from entering his home uninvited. Even at the height of his morphling addiction, Peeta hadn’t acted so erratically. Though it would certainly explain her eyes and stilted speech.
“So this is my house,” Peeta said, jerking his thumb toward the door, hoping she got the message. “I moved in a couple of weeks ago. Do you live around here?”
Maybe she was just a nosy neighbor, curious about the renovations, or looking for something to report him to the HOA about.
A moment of silence passed between them. She angled her head toward the house next door.
“Right, of course. Well, I should probably introduce myself since we’ll be living next door to each other for the foreseeable future. I’m Peeta.”
She smiled at that. “There aren’t enough people around here. I’m Katniss.”
How ironic, Peeta thought, this Katniss living in a house rumored to once belong to Katniss Everdeen. Then again, ever since the Great Rebellion, Katniss had been the most popular female name in Panem. Incidentally, Gale also remained a popular name, for girls. Gale Hawthorne, alpha male icon of the revolution, would probably roll over in his grave if he knew.
“Nice to meet you, Katniss. Do you want to come inside? It’s a mess because I’m still unpacking, but I made a fresh batch of lemonade. It’s sweltering out here.”
Peeta laughed. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had lemonade. That’s an oversight that needs immediate correction. Follow me.”
He opened the door and waved Katniss inside. There was no denying it. His new neighbor was hot. Much too young for him, but still, he didn’t hate the idea of living twenty-five yards away from her.
“So what do you do? I’m a chef. Well, I was a chef. I’m sort of on a legally mandated sabbatical, but I hope to open up my own restaurant one day.”
“I was a soldier. Not anymore. I got hurt.”
Now that he thought about it, she did have burns on the back of her hands and on her neck, although she tried to cover those with her braid. When she climbed up his porch, he had noticed she walked with a limp.
“Sorry to hear that. You look great, though. Well, not great. Healthy. You know what I mean…”
But Katniss wasn’t listening to his rambling. Her mouth was wide open, her eyes as big as saucers, her movements frozen. She never made it past the doorframe.
“No. This is wrong.”
“It’s all wrong,” she repeated to herself.
“Katniss, are you okay? I think the heat might be getting to you. Let me get you that drink.”
Peeta headed for the kitchen. He turned around and Katniss was gone, the door still wide open.