"If what, Katniss?" he says softly.
I wish I could pull the shutters closed, blocking out this moment from the prying eyes of Panem. Even if it means losing food. Whatever I'm feeling, it's no one's business but mine.
"That's exactly the kind of topic Haymitch told me to steer clear of," I say evasively, although Haymitch never said anything of the kind. In fact, he's probably cursing me out right now for dropping the ball during such an emotionally charged moment. But Peeta somehow catches it.
"Then I'll just have to fill in the blanks myself," he says, and moves in to me.
This is the first kiss that we're both fully aware of. Neither of us hobbled by sickness or pain or simply unconscious. Our lips neither burning with fever or icy cold. This is the first kiss where I actually feel stirring inside my chest. Warm and curious. This is the first kiss that makes me want another.
But I don't get it. Well, I do get a second kiss, but it's just a light one on the tip of my nose because Peeta's been distracted. "I think your wound is bleeding again. Come on, lie down, it's bedtime anyway," he says.
My socks are dry enough to wear now. I make Peeta put his jacket back on. The damp cold seems to cut right down to my bones, so he must be half frozen. I insist on taking the first watch, too, although neither of us think it's likely anyone will come in this weather. But he won't agree unless I'm in the bag, too, and I'm shivering so hard that it's pointless to object. In stark contrast to two nights ago, when I felt Peeta was a million miles away, I'm struck by his immediacy now. As we settle in, he pulls my head down to use his arm as a pillow, the other rests protectively over me even when he goes to sleep. No one has held me like this in such a long time. Since my father died and I stopped trusting my mother, no one else's arms have made me feel this safe.
With the aid of the glasses, I lie watching the drips of water splatter on the cave floor. Rhythmic and lulling. Several times, I drift off briefly and then snap awake, guilty and angry with myself. After three or four hours, I can't help it, I have to rouse Peeta because I can't keep my eyes open. He doesn't seem to mind.
"Tomorrow, when it's dry, I'll find us a place so high in the trees we can both sleep in peace," I promise as I drift off.
But tomorrow is no better in terms of weather. The deluge continues as if the Gamemakers are intent on washing us all away. The thunder's so powerful it seems to shake the ground. Peeta's considering heading out anyway to scavenge for food, but I tell him in this storm it would be pointless. He won't be able to see three feet in front of his face and he'll only end up getting soaked to the skin for his troubles. He knows I'm right, but the gnawing in our stomachs is becoming painful.
The day drags on turning into evening and there's no break in the weather. Haymitch is our only hope, but nothing is forthcoming, either from lack of money - everything will cost an exorbitant amount - or because he's dissatisfied with our performance. Probably the latter. I'd be the first to admit we're not exactly riveting today. Starving, weak from injuries, trying not to reopen wounds. We're sitting huddled together wrapped in the sleeping bag, yes, but mostly to keep warm. The most exciting thing either of us does is nap.
I'm not really sure how to ramp up the romance. The kiss last night was nice, but working up to another will take some forethought. There are girls in the Seam, some of the merchant girls, too, who navigate these waters so easily. But I've never had much time or use for it. Anyway, just a kiss isn't enough anymore clearly because if it was we'd have gotten food last night. My instincts tell me Haymitch isn't just looking for physical affection, he wants something more personal. The sort of stuff he was trying to get me to tell about myself when we were practicing for the interview. I'm rotten at it, but Peeta's not. Maybe the best approach is to get him talking.
"Peeta," I say lightly. "You said at the interview you'd had a crush on me forever. When did forever start?"
"Oh, let's see. I guess the first day of school. We were five. You had on a red plaid dress and your hair. it was in two braids instead of one. My father pointed you out when we were waiting to line up," Peeta says.
"Your father? Why?" I ask.
"He said, 'See that little girl? I wanted to marry her mother, but she ran off with a coal miner,'" Peeta says.
"What? You're making that up!" I exclaim.
"No, true story," Peeta says. "And I said, 'A coal miner? Why did she want a coal miner if she could've had you?' And he said, 'Because when he sings. even the birds stop to listen.'"
"That's true. They do. I mean, they did," I say. I'm stunned and surprisingly moved, thinking of the baker telling this to Peeta. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that I think it's a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.
"So that day, in music assembly, the teacher asked who knew the valley song. Your hand shot right up in the air. She stood you up on a stool and had you sing it for us. And I swear, every bird outside the windows fell silent," Peeta says.
"Oh, please," I say, laughing.
"No, it happened. And right when your song ended, I knew - just like your mother - I was a goner," Peeta says. "Then for the next eleven years, I tried to work up the nerve to talk to you."
"Without success," I add.
"Without success. So, in a way, my name being drawn in the reaping was a real piece of luck," says Peeta.
For a moment, I'm almost foolishly happy and then confusion sweeps over me. Because we're supposed to be making up this stuff, playing at being in love not actually being in love. But Peeta's story has a ring of truth to it. That part about my father and the birds. And I did sing the first day of school, although I don't remember the song. And that red plaid dress. there was one, a hand-me-down to Prim that got washed to rags after my father's death.
It would explain another thing, too. Why Peeta took a beating to give me the bread on that awful hollow day. So, if those details are true. could it all be true?
"You have a. remarkable memory," I say haltingly.
"I remember everything about you," says Peeta, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear. "You're the one who wasn't paying attention."
"I am now," I say.
"Well, I don't have much competition here," he says.
I want to draw away, to close those shutters again, but I know I can't. It's as if I can hear Haymitch whispering in my ear, "Say it! Say it!"