Fiction: Food for Thought

Warning: This is pretty cheesy and fluffy and pointless. It’s a little Alternate Universe drabble about my favorite fictional couple that I submitted in an online contest where the prompt was a color a day. Mine is about the color Orange. I wrote this in about an hour one afternoon when I was supposed to be writing a page on transplant procedures. It hasn’t been edited and some of the inside references won’t make as much sense if you haven’t read “The Hunger Games,” but it doesn’t matter. Both characters are about age 25 in this story. Just one of my (many) daydreams on my laptop, if you will.

Prompt: Orange

Title: Food for Thought

The first time Katniss sees him is a Sunday afternoon. It’s move-in weekend and the grocery store is crawling with returning university students all decked out in bright orange and white. Katniss would like to bang her head against the wall for forgetting this fact because now she’s stuck maneuvering her cart through the crazy crowd of co-eds stocking up on ramen and beer.

Even though she normally prefers this store because it’s only four blocks from her house and smaller than the other supermarkets in town, Katniss would have definitely driven out to one of the suburban chains if she had remembered. Her face is etched in a scowl as she works her way around a bunch of bubbly sorority types who are gathered next to the tomatoes in the produce section. She just needs a few oranges, but it looks like it may require some gymnastics skills to get around these girls who are chattering away, clueless of the roadblock they’ve created.

When she finally has the fruits and vegetables she needs, Katniss heads on to the dairy aisle where she pauses to check her scribbled mess of a list. She’s chewing on her bottom lip, trying to decide if she just forgot to write down eggs or if she really doesn’t need any, when she hears someone clear their throat.

“Oh!” she exclaims, blushing beet red when she realizes she is now the one creating a roadblock in the aisle. “Sorry,” she murmurs, barely glancing up into the brilliant blue eyes of the boy waiting for her to pass.

“No worries,” he replies, reaching past her for a carton of milk.

It’s not until she’s all the way down to the butter section that Katniss chances a look back, curious enough for a second glance at the polite boy with the warm, deep voice and eyes that mirror the ocean on a sunny day. He’s moved on to shredded cheese, and she spends a moment absentmindedly gazing at his lean, athletic build before she resumes pushing her cart.

She’s mulling over which type of whole wheat bread she wants in the next aisle when she sees him turn the corner at the opposite end. From the corner of her eye she sees him pluck a jar of peanut butter off the shelf, and notices the way his butter yellow hair curls around the nape of his neck. She pretends to be intensely interested in the ingredients of applesauce when he passes by, but can’t help watching his perfectly round ass disappear around the corner.

He’s not in the next aisle when she gets there and she finds herself sighing, although she’s not sure if it’s in relief or disappointment. But he is in aisle seven, and he looks up from where he’s contemplating cereal choices to give her a nod as she approaches. “We seem to have the same agenda,” he says, smiling brightly. She nods, allowing only the smallest of smiles in return.

They both laugh when they round the corner to aisle ten at the same time and find themselves face to face at opposite ends. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” he whispers conspiratorially when he passes her somewhere near the middle. She laughs in spite of herself. She definitely doesn’t want to encourage this complete stranger to make small talk. Besides, he’s obviously a student, with his obnoxious safety-orange t-shirt and his university baseball cap, and she makes it a point to avoid the returning college crowd.

….

Three weeks later Katniss sees him again, running through the park near her house in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. Katniss had left her little gray cottage with the black shutters to stretch her legs and try to overcome some serious writer’s block. The best place to do so was usually just across the street at Woodland Park. It’s proximity to the campus meant she often saw college students there, playing tennis, laying sprawled with textbooks on blankets, or jogging along the tree-lined pathways. But she had never seen him there, until today.

He went jogging past at a pretty fair clip and made no secret of the double take he did to get a look at her face. Of course, she was staring right at him, so when their eyes locked he gave her a little wave and a grin and then continued on his run. She watched the tanned, rippled muscles of his bare back longer than she’d like to admit. He was long gone down the path before she returned to the article she had been reading.

….

With the college semester in full swing, Katniss switches her regular grocery day back to Monday. As a freelance writer, she can afford to use a bit of the work day to run errands if it means avoiding the Sunday afternoon crowds.

She is only a little surprised to see the good looking blond leaning over the bin of green peppers, his broad shoulders stretching the thin cotton of yet another orange ‘Panem U’ t-shirt. She is more surprised when he speaks to her again, when they both end up in front of the bananas at the same time.

“Trying to avoid all the college students, too?” he asks, offering her a small but genuine smile.

Katniss raises her eyebrows and clears her throat, “Are you?”

He chuckles lightly and shakes his head a bit, responding, “Yeah. I get enough of them in class, I guess.”

Katniss nods, but does not offer any reply. He is not put off by her silence and pursues the conversation. “What about you? Do you work at the university?”

“Me? No.” Katniss scoffs.

“Oh, well you just live near campus, then?” he prods and then immediately apologizes for being so forward. “I’m sorry, I just, uh, saw you in the park the other day, and I’ve seen you here twice…” he trails off.

“I do,” she says, noncommittally. She finds that she can hardly muster two words in his presence, although he seems nice enough, and she can barely keep her eyes on his face. In no way can she bring herself to look into those pools of deep sea blue he has for eyes for more than a few seconds at a time.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to shopping,” he says, sensing her discomfort and mistaking it for the fact that he’s holding her up. “I’m Peeta, by the way,” he says, as an afterthought, putting his hand out by way of greeting.

“Katniss,” she murmurs, ignoring his hand, which he returns to his cart momentarily.

“It’s nice to meet you, Katniss,” he says and she feels her stomach tighten from the way he rolls her name off his tongue. She’s so startled by the sensation that she abruptly turns her cart and strolls off, forgetting to return the nicety.

They see each other several more times during the shopping trip, ending up in the same aisles again, and again at adjoining self-checkout lanes. Neither says a word, but Peeta beams at her each time they catch each other’s eyes. Katniss only offers shy smiles in return.

Later, unloading her groceries at home, she thinks about Peeta and wonders why he has such an effect on her. In her mind, she replays the conversation with him in the grocery, only this time she responds agreeably and looks him right in the eye. If she runs into him again, she decides, she will try not to act like the very definition of social awkwardness. Not that she likes him or anything, but she should certainly be able to hold a decent conversation with a good-looking man without becoming so flustered.

…..

The next time she sees him isn’t in person, but rather a photograph in a copy of the university newspaper that she picks up on a bench outside the coffee shop. She really only grabs it to see if the crossword has been completed, and once she realizes someone has already filled in almost three quarters of the puzzle, she flips through the paper absentmindedly while she munches on her Panini.

She recognizes his smile immediately, framed by his chiseled jaw and mess of curls and adorned with his captivating eyes that seem to sparkle even in black and white print. The article is headlined, “Mellark named artist in residence at Panem U,” and goes on to explain how lucky the university is to have such an accomplished young artist on staff. Scanning the text Katniss is able to discern that Peeta Mellark is newly arrived from Capitol University, where he made a name for himself as both a painter and a sculptor.

Katniss folds the paper neatly and tucks it into her bag, even though normally she would just toss it into a recycling bin at this point. Later in the evening, sitting in her porch swing, laptop across her knees she types the name Peeta Mellark into Google, erasing it three times before she commits to hitting the search tab.

…..

Katniss has convinced herself she only did the online research to determine if Peeta would make a good story for the local magazine she sometimes writes for, but she knows deep down that it’s more than that. She finds herself craning her neck in the grocery store, wondering if he’ll be scanning the shelves when she rounds the corner to the next aisle. But what would she even say to him? She’s simply not good with words, especially in his presence it seems.

A month has passed when finally, literally, she runs into him. She’s coming out of the convenience store that’s part of the gas station a few blocks from her house, busy unwrapping the cellophane from an over-processed muffin, when she smacks right into the wall that is his chest. Almost comically, her arms flail and her muffin goes soaring into the air. His quick reflexes enable him to snare the muffin mid-fall and he presents it back to her with a grin. “Whoa there,” he says.

Her entire body goes rigid and she can practically feel the red shade that paints it’s way across her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention!” she spits out, flustered by not only the collision but also the fact that it’s actually him and another of his obnoxiously orange Panem U t-shirts she just ran smack into.

“It’s no problem,” he says congenially. “It’s good to see you again Katniss.” She chances a glance into his eyes and finds them shining back at her, along with an easy smile. She goes to move past him, inwardly cursing herself, but he steps suddenly in her path, blocking her way. “There is one problem, though,” he says, still smiling as if they are sharing some sort of inside joke. Her eyebrows rise comically, she’s so taken aback by his comment.

“Wh-what?” she stammers.

Peeta plucks the oily muffin from her hands, eyeing unnatural shades of yellow and blue that comprise its bread and blueberry mixture. “This,” he says simply. “You can’t eat this. It’s not right.”

She huffs and finds her voice in her frustration. “What’s not right is that awful orange shirt you’re wearing.”

He laughs out loud at this, grabbing the sides of both her arms near the elbows in a way that suggests they are more familiar with one another. “Katniss,” he tssks, “That is NOT a muffin. Anyway orange is my favorite color.”

The look she gives him must be awful because he’s laughing again and he adds, “Well, not this shade of orange. More like…sunset. This particular orange is only a display of my school pride.”

She scowls at him and folds her arms, but she can’t help but let her lips quirk up a bit. “Tell you what,” Peeta continues, “If you’ll stop making fun of my shirt, I’ll bake you an actual muffin, to save you from ingesting….this” he gestures to the sagging, oily confectionary in her hand.

“Thanks, but, it’s not necessary,” she says, moving to continue past him.

“Wait!” Peeta says, turning with her. “I didn’t mean to insult your breakfast.” He gives her a rueful smile.

She pauses, allows a small smile back, quickly flitting her eyes away when she feels the blue of his searing into her like dry ice. “I wasn’t really that hungry,” she admits. “Plus, I think your ugly shirt ruined my appetite.” She cuts her eyes back to him, to see how he takes her little joke about his attire.

His laugh is one of relief. “So, Katniss,” he says, continuing to walk alongside her as she makes her way down the street toward her little house, “I know you don’t work at Panem U. What do you do?”

She gives him a sidelong glance. He seems genuinely interested, so she lets out a little sigh and tells him quietly, “I’m a writer.”

“What do you write?” he asks, not missing a beat.

“Book jackets,” she says, opening up a little now that she doesn’t have to look at him while they talk as they walk along the sidewalk. “I read the manuscript and provide the text that will hopefully make others want to read it as well.”

“It’s sounds interesting,” he replies, and his voice is so sincere she can tell he really means it. “You must also really enjoy reading.”

Suddenly they’re standing in front of her house, so she stops. “Well, this is me,” she says, looking everywhere but at Peeta.

“Nice,” he says. “Great location.” They stand in silence for a moment more before he finally clears his throat and says, “Well, thanks for letting me walk with you. It was good to see you again, Katniss.”

She nods and watches mutely as he turns to head back up the street. After a moment she calls to him, “Peeta!” and he turns toward her. “See you later!” she offers. He waves and continues on. When she finally turns to head inside her knees practically buckle and she can feel her heart fluttering inside her chest.

…..

On Sunday morning, Katniss steps out her front door to enjoy her first cup of tea on her porch swing when she practically trips over a little white box tied up with string sitting on her doormat. Curiously she lifts the box to inspect it and instantly her nose is hit with a delicious savory scent. A little post-it note stuck to the lid says simply, “Eat this, not that,” with an arrow pointing to a tiny sketch of what appears to be a blueberry muffin wrapped in cellophane. The note is not signed, but she knows exactly who left the box.

She laughs a little at the implication that she might have ventured to the convenience store for another of those awful stale manufactured muffins. She’s a little more than intrigued by the fact that his drawing of the awful muffin is spot on. Even the detail of the cellophane wrapping is unmistakable. He is really quite the artist.

Not able to resist the delectable scent rising from the box any longer, she plucks the string apart and opens the lid to reveal six plump buns. Taking the entire box with her to the porch swing, Katniss sits down before taking her first experimental bite. She’s expecting it to taste good—after all, it’s a homemade baked good—but she’s completely unprepared for the explosion of melted cheese combined with a blend of fresh garden herbs that hits her tongue. It’s absolutely heaven, and before she has finished her cup of tea Katniss is licking the grease off her fingers from her third cheese bun.

She will have to find him and thank him for these, and also find out where he bought them so she can get more.

Katniss finds his office on campus easily. She tries not to think about the fact that she’s wearing an actual dress, a dark green one that just happens to bring out the best of her naturally olive skin and gray eyes. She tries to tell herself she isn’t wearing it to impress him. In her hands she carries a small bamboo plant, it’s pot wrapped in a bright orange ribbon. Bamboo plants are supposed to bring good luck, she’s heard, so she’s offering this one to Peeta as a thank you for the cheese buns, and also for good luck in his new position here at Panem U.

But Peeta’s out of his office, the secretary informs her, pursing her lips when Kaniss asks what time he might return. “I’m not sure,” she says. “You can leave that for him if you like.” Reluctantly, Katniss scrawls a quick message on the sheet of notebook paper the secretary hands her, then changes her mind and crunches it up and throws it in her bag. She fishes out one of her business cards instead and places it under the bamboo plant, which sits on the secretary’s desk now. “I’ll just leave my card so he’ll know who it’s from,” Katniss says, by way of explanation.

She doesn’t add that she’s hoping Peeta will take note of her cell number listed on the card.

….

Later that evening, before she even has a chance to wonder if Peeta has seen the bamboo plant and her business card, Katniss sees him instead at the grocery store again. He’s standing in front of the selection of pasta, contemplating his choices when she turns into the aisle and his eyes light up when he sees her.

“Now that is my favorite color,” he says, letting his eyes rove all over the soft sherbet-colored t-shirt Katniss is wearing with her favorite jeans. Instinctively she blushes. “It looks great on you,” he adds.

Several moments pass before Katniss realizes they’re both just standing there smiling at one another. Peeta is the first to speak. “I was going to call you later,” he says. “To thank you for the bamboo plant.”

“It was to thank you,” she replies. “For the cheese buns. They were amazing. So…thank you,” she finishes.

“I’m glad you liked them,” he says. “I’d be happy to make you some more anytime.”

Her eyes, which have been trained on her feet, fly up to meet his at this. “You made those?” she asks incredulously.

Peeta chuckles, rubs his hand nervously at the back of his neck. “Uh, yeah. Baking is, um, sort of a hobby of mine. And being in a new place, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. I’m glad to have someone to share with.” He cringes as he realizes what he just implied: that there would be more sharing.

But Katniss doesn’t mind. “I’d love to,” she blurts out. “Share more. Try some more. Baked goods, I mean.” She’s so ridiculously bad at this—at flirting—that she lets out a disbelieving laugh at her jumbled words, one that is cut short when her eyes find Peeta’s staring down at her with a look of adoration and possibly lust.

“So,” Peeta clears his throat. “No plans to bake tonight, but I was trying to decide what to make for dinner.” He gestures to the rows of pasta nearby and then down into his cart. “So far I have several types of cheese, eggs and some spinach,” he says. “And you have tomatoes, basil and ground beef.” He pauses to give her one of his crooked grins. “I’m thinking lasagna. What do you say?”

“You mean together?” she croaks, disbelieving that he is actually suggesting they cook dinner together.

Peeta levels her with a look that makes her stomach drop all the way to the tile floors of aisle four. “Together,” he affirms.

“Lasagna sounds…perfect,” Katniss replies. In fact, despite her flushed face and her stomach that feels like she’s mid-dive in a hang glider, she’s feeling more and more emboldened. There’s just something about Peeta, with his kind words and bright smiles and his seemly endless talents with his obviously capable hands.

“Your place or mine?” she adds and watches as his face breaks out into a smile as bright as the sun at midday.

 

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