"It's not gonna hit me in the head?"
Primrose Everdeen looked apprehensively up toward the cerulean sky, the color Katniss thought put itself in Prim's eyes when she was a baby. Her cornsilk hair, plaited in two matching (but rather frayed) braids down her back, tied in two neat blue bows fell down her back as her head tilted upward. Her button-down blouse was tucked into her pleated blue skirt, except for the little duck tail that nearly always stuck out in the back.
Katniss smiled fondly down at her sister as she held her large archery bow at her side. Her brown leather jacket was slightly too warm for the August weather, but the overzealous air-conditioning on the ride over had made her unseasonably cold. The gray cotton Beatles t-shirt stuck to her skin beneath the oppressive leather as the sun gleefully pounded on to her back.
"No, little duck. As long as you," she bent down, holding her sister by her arms in place to prevent the squirmy pre-teen from moving any more, "stay put." A tiny, high-pitched noise filled their ears, Katniss's arrow whizzed next to them, implanting itself in the weed-filled crack in the cement. Primrose clapped excitedly, jumping up and down on her ballet flats.
"Katniss Everdeen, quit horsing around and help me move these boxes, please?" Mrs. Everdeen called from the cracked front steps of their new, two-story craftsman home. The girl in question stood up straight, her plaited hair whipping behind her as she looked guiltily toward her mother. Her younger sister pouted her tiny pink lip out while she picked up Katniss's arrow and handed it back to her.
Katniss threw her bow down into the tall grass next to them and picked up one of their oversized cardboard boxes and followed her mother inside their new home. The interior was smaller than their previous home, but Katniss couldn't deny how beautiful the woodwork was that lined each doorway, even if it did make the place seem smaller than it was. Admittedly, now that it was just the three of them, they didn't need much space. She and Primrose now had separate rooms which at sixteen, Katniss was extremely grateful for. Prim was a precocious twelve-year-old and remarkably studious, but their age difference cracked at the edges as they grew older. Twelve and sixteen seemed about as far apart as three and thirty. Whilst Primrose was still content to sit on their swing-set back home, Katniss was beginning to prefer other, more adult activities.
"Get moving, Catnip!" the cheerful male voice called from behind her. Katniss shook herself from her reverie and whirled on the heel of her leather boot, coming face to face with her cousin Gale. They could have been twins, Katniss thought as she stared into his gray eyes that mirrored her own. Their hair had the same ruddy brown hue to it, in stark contrast to her mother and her sister's blonde locks. She ducked into the next room, a tiny front room with no furniture, and set the box down on the hardwood floors.
Moving to Panem had been a hard decision for the Everdeen family. After her father had died three years earlier, her mother's health had begun to fade and her school marks declined rapidly. Wanting a fresh start they moved almost across the country to the town of Panem, where her father's brother had settled his family. Her cousin Gale, her Aunt Hazelle, and Gale's three younger brothers and one younger sister. A new beginning cached with family seemed like the best way to give everyone in the Everdeen family a chance at making a new life.
So here they were, the second house in on Twelfth Street, in the faraway town of Panem. The town's layout had fascinated Katniss when she used to visit as a child during the summer. The main buildings were all situated together in the hub in the center of town, with six streets sticking out like wheel spokes. The streets closer to the center of town were lined with sprawling, columned homes inhabited by the town's elite members. As you went further out the homes became more modest until you came to what used to be Thirteenth Street, right behind where the Everdeens now made their residence. Thirteenth Street had been converted into a railway station a few years back.
"Damn." Her mother's voice startled Katniss from her thoughts. She peered into the kitchen, twisting her body around the doorframe to look inside. Her mother was elbow deep in one of their smaller boxes, noisily rummaging through the contents of their "junk drawer" from back home. The older woman's piercing blue eyes met her daughter's soft gray ones and she sat back on her heels defeatedly. "Of all the damn things to forget, a hammer."
Katniss raised one of her dark eyebrows and took one step into the tiled kitchen. "And you need a hammer right now because...?"
Mrs. Everdeen sighed exasperatedly, running her fingers through the few pieces of blonde hair that had gone rogue from her tight bun. She pushed on her knees to stand up straight and picked up one of their kitchen chairs with one hand. A leg of the chair dangled lamely from its wooden brethren, mocking Mrs. Everdeen's attempts at wrangling it with her other hand.
She placed the chair on the floor and rummaged in the pockets of her jeans. She produced a small, crumpled bundle of bills and pushed her hand out toward her daughter. "Run down to the store in town and grab us a hammer, please? I want to fix this damn chair before I use it for a fire."
Katniss emitted a short laugh, stepping carefully around their haphazard piles of boxes to retrieve the few dollars from her mother's hand. Her mouth quirked in a half-smiled while she took in her mother's frazzled appearance. Frazzled was a much preferable alternative to stoic or sad, which seemed to be the only two emotions her mother could handle after her father's death.
"We don't even have a fireplace." Katniss grumbled that last thought as she just about tangoed around the other boxes that lined the small entranceway to their home. Her hand reached down and ruffled her sister's hair as she crossed their yard toward the street, making her way down the short twelve blocks toward the center of town.
Panem was considered a middle-class town in overall terms, with the government-subsidized apartment housing on Eleventh Street directly contrasted to the McMansions that lined First and Second Street. During the few summers she had spent with her cousins, Katniss understood that after Fifth Street, it was considered the "poorer" parts of town, and those kids low on the popularity totem pole. Gale was one of the few exceptions to that rule on account of puberty hitting him early, leaving him with a stocky, athletic build, rugged face and attractive height.
Katniss didn't give much thought to the hierarchy of high school back home and she was certain she wouldn't care here, either. She had a few friends before her father died, but after that she had essentially devolved into a hermit, only very seldom peeking out to see how the world was doing. The only person to infiltrate her shell had been her younger sister Primrose, who either out of sheer desperation for love or actual camaraderie, was the reason Katniss did anything productive after her father's death.
Sweat began dotting her forehead as she finally got to the center of town. Peering down the block her eyes read the various marquees of the small shops, trying to identify one that would contain the desperately-needed hammer. The green-painted wooden sign a few doors down seemed like her best bet: Mason's General Store.
Grumbling to herself about how stupid it was to wear a leather jacket in the summer and how ridiculous it was to repair a chair midst a move, she opened the screen door to the store. She was greeted by a small bell chime above her head and the lingering smell of pine and sawdust. The store was cute; wooden shelves and display cases lining the walls, displaying an alarmingly varied myriad of items. Back home they had Starbucks and Wal-Mart, brightly-lit convenience stores that sold batteries and bananas and lottery tickets. Here in Panem, they had Mason's General Store. Quaint.
A small wire fan blew the stale, hot air from inside directly toward the door, pushing the errant strands of Katniss's hair back. She could hear the buzz of other fans set up throughout the store, and began to wonder how far back it actually went. It was misleading from the small exterior. A wailing saxophone crackled through what must be ancient speakers, an old jazz tune Katniss couldn't identify.
"You look hot." The brunette started, placing her hand over her chest as she searched the store for the source of the voice. Finally, behind a register that was packed with gum, air fresheners and other odds and ends nobody ever needs but always seems to line their purses, she saw her.
Saw her wasn't exactly right; she ogled her. A smirking, petite, raven-haired girl with red streaks lined in her tousled hair. Wide set brown eyes that were so heavily shrouded with black eyeliner Katniss thought they looked like midnight, as if she was staring into a starry sky. The girl's athletic body was partially concealed by the register, but her feminine collarbone and slightly muscled forearms were bright against the onyx, ribbed wifebeater she had hugging every inch of her breasts and abdomen. A pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses sat atop her what looked like intentionally messy hair.
"I'm sorry?" Katniss finally sputtered, knitting her sweaty eyebrows in confusion. Here this girl was, shaped like a model with her tight clothes and looking seemingly unaffected by the heat, and she was sweating like a whore in church. Great first impression.
Johanna stared at the girl in the doorway, tilting her head slightly to the left to take in the girl's appearance. What she had meant to say was the girl looked like her internal temperature was probably higher than it should be. Her forehead was glimmering with sweat due both to the heat and the fact that she was wearing an out of season brown leather jacket.
"Um, what I meant was, it's a little hot for a jacket don't you think?" Johanna mentally cursed herself for sounding so awkward. However, it wasn't every day that a gorgeous girl walked into the store that wasn't some atrocious preppy girl from school materializing in the doorway like a demon summoned from hell to taunt her.
Katniss slowly took in the darker-haired girl's words, only just realizing now that she was still standing directly in the doorway when the bell chimed behind her. Startled again she bumbled backward and allowed an old lady to mosey into the store.
"Hello Johanna," the older woman greeted in a crinkled voice, matching her crinkled face and crinkled dress. Why do old people still dress like they did when they were twenty-five? Do people just stop evolving their wardrobe after twenty-five? Does your closet stand frozen in time? Whatever the style is then, that's what you're stuck with. Unluckily for her generation, they'd be stuck with leggings tucked into Ugg boots.
A warm smile erupted on Johanna's face as she leaned forward on the counter. "Afternoon, Mags. Here for more yarn already?"
The older woman smiled and reached on her tippy-toes to pinch Johanna's nose. As Katniss watched the exchange she saw the red blush flare on Johanna's cheeks as those deep brown eyes darted briefly to her and then back to the woman, and she couldn't help the thought of how adorable it looked. An unfamiliar fluttering began to spasm in her stomach and she placed her hand over it, trying to calm it like you would a screaming baby.
"Yes, dear. Is your mother here? I'd like to say hello to her as well."
Johanna nodded and motioned toward the vast back of the store with her arm. "She's back there somewhere, tinkering with the air-conditioning. Hence the unbearable heat!" Johanna yelled, trying to attract her mother's attention. "You know how she is. Just holler for her and she'll pop out of a crevice like a little magical troll."
Mags smiled, every little wrinkle on her face creasing as she did so. "Thank you, Johanna." A loud wail of a singer interrupted their conversation but the elderly woman didn't seem bothered. "You're listening to my Bessie Smith recommendation!" the woman exclaimed, clapping her hands together.
"I love it," Johanna responded effusively, her brown eyes lighting up with a childlike wonder. Katniss couldn't help but stare into them like a solar eclipse. Katniss was always attracted to people when they talked about their passions; clearly whatever music was playing struck deep within Johanna. It made her even more attractive to Katniss, which was rapidly becoming a problem because all she wanted was a hammer. "It's fucking visceral."
"Language, Johanna," Mags admonished with a sly smile on her face. "I'll be sure to bring you that scarf I've been working on next time I visit." She patted Johanna's hand before she waddled down the wooden corridors toward the back of the store.
Johanna widened her eyes as she looked over to the other girl who was staring at her almost enough to make Johanna, a natural exhibitionist, slightly nervous. "You like The Beatles, huh?"
Katniss's eyes clouded with confusion until the black-haired girl gave a brief nod toward her shirt. "Oh." Katniss pulled the material away from her skin and looked down at the weathered graphic tee. "My dad was a big fan. He had all their records."
Johanna's lips pursed. "They're everyone's dad's favorite artist," she remarked with a snarky but friendly grin. "Favorite album?"
"Uh-um,"Katniss stuttered, totally unprepared for the girl's questioning. She was here for a hammer. However, something about the magnetism in Johanna's eyes made Katniss want to answer her. "I guess the white album?"
Johanna made a scoffing noise that began in her throat and came out her nose and she disappeared behind the counter. Katniss lifted herself on her toes to try and see what the other girl was doing. The music above their heads stopped abruptly. After a few moments of silence an electric guitar broke through and the room was filled with the sound of the Beatles.
Katniss opened her mouth to ask what Johanna was doing but Johanna placed a finger on her lips to indicate quiet. They stood across from each other in silence as the tune played loudly above their heads. Johanna seemed completely lost like the song had wrapped her in a cocoon, except for her lips that expertly recited the lyrics. It was a love song, a pretty one. Unfortunately Katniss didn't recognize it and couldn't concentrate because she was staring at Johanna's mouth.
Once the music faded, Katniss heard the clicking noise of an unseen LP player turning off. "White album, shmite album," Johanna said finally with a firm shake of her head. "Revolver is where it's at. If Here, There, and Everywhere doesn't drop the panties, nothing will."
Again the girl disappeared behind the counter and reappeared with the large white album in her hand. She shook it toward Katniss. "Take it home. If your dad likes the Beatles then I'm sure you have a record player. Listen to Revolver and prepare to have your world changed." The way Johanna's low husk of a voice drew out the last two words shot an unfamiliar bolt through Katniss, like an unexpected dip on a rollercoaster, or a really satisfying sneeze. "You can give it back to me another time," Johanna explained, assuring a worry Katniss hadn't even vocalized. "So, you're new in town. What are you here for?"
Katniss stared at her weathered shoes and awkwardly shoved her hands into her jeans pockets. They barely fit so her palms stuck out weirdly. She looped her thumbs into the belt loops to try and make it look like it was intentional. "Oh, um, well my dad died a few years ago so my mom thought we should move here. My cousin Gale lives down the block from us; we just moved to Twelfth Street." As Katniss's gray eyes traveled up from her shoes to the register, to the confused but sympathetic brown eyes of the other girl, she realized she had babbled.
"I meant what brings you in here, to my store," she drawled in a low tone, reigniting the fluttering in Katniss's stomach. "But um, I'm sorry about your father. That's rough." All the brunette did was nod as an answer, embarrassed at her divulgence and the pity the other girl had in her eyes. Actually, not as much pity as Katniss usually got and abhorred. More just empathy.
"Oh." Katniss's cheeks flushed a beet red, almost matching the root with which she shared her moniker. Begrudgingly her eyes met the inquiring gaze of the intimidating girl behind the counter. Johanna, the elderly woman had said. Her name sounded lovely but also slightly masculine, much like the woman it was attached to. "I-I need a hammer. Do you have a hammer here?"
Johanna couldn't resist the broadening smile that was threatening to take over her entire face. This girl was absolutely adorable. Not to mention absurdly attractive. Also a lot more alliterations Johanna wasn't in the right state of mind to piece together. "Ah, well, it is a general store, so generally we'd have tools." Her own lips stretched into a smile at her own small joke, faltering slightly when Katniss didn't look amused. "Aisle three, next to the nails and other hammer-related items. Knock yourself out." Katniss nodded her head and began toward Johanna's directed area. "But not literally."
Not literally? Johanna mentally swore up and down for making such a lame joke. Who the hell was she? The sixteen-year-old continued to berate herself whilst Katniss sorted through their wares. Mumbling to herself about sounding brainless she put on another record. The light soul of the 1960's record immersed the store in sound and put Johanna at ease. She heard the creaking of the old floorboards as Katniss returned to the front and placed the tool timidly on the counter in front of her.
I never had a love to call my own. I was about to give up and then you came along.
Johanna looked from the hammer to the girl, then to the hammer and back to the girl. "Hey so feel free to say no to this but um, how about you take the hammer for free, and in return, you let me show you around sometime?" The brunette blushed again, painting her beautiful tanned skin a delightful pink. "I have a bike," Johanna blurted out, a flash of confusion crossing her face at her own words, as if they fell from her mouth without her permission. "I mean, I have a bike that we can use to ride around town. Two bikes."
Katniss was relieved to hear Johanna's nervousness, it helped alleviate the burning sensation of complete idiocy that she was feeling in every inch of her body. She pressed her lips together and the corners of her mouth upturned into a very small, almost imperceptible smile. "That sounds great."
"Really?" Johanna asked without missing a beat, appearing genuinely surprised at Katniss's agreement to hang out with her. She allowed a moment to compose herself and cleared her throat to try and clear the room of the awkwardness that had settled between them like dust. "I mean cool, great. Badass." They stared at each other for a few moments, neither either able to make a normal conversation happen between them. It was like starting a broken lawnmower every time they tried.
Johanna arrested her lower lip between her teeth, scribbling down her phone number on the small pad they kept near the register with more focus than was necessary for such a menial task. She gripped the pad and ripped the paper off, handing it over to the other girl. "Um so when you want to hang out just call me. That's my cell number."
"Thanks." Johanna felt a warmth fill her belly and move its way up her throat to her cheeks, coloring them and revealing an emotion she'd much rather keep to herself. Confidence boosted by Johanna's cute blush, Katniss smiled wider as she retrieved the hammer and the record and started toward the door.
"Wait what's your name?"
Katniss rested the hammer on her shoulder like a soldier with a rifle as she paused. "Katniss Everdeen." Johanna let the name wash over her body like a warm ocean wave. Katniss Everdeen. It sounded so beautifully unique like something out of a story book. The taller girl pointed at Johanna with her hammer. "And you're Johanna?"
Johanna's face contorted into some odd mixture of disgust and embarrassment. "Call me Jo. Nobody calls me Johanna except old Mags over there and my mom when she's pissed at me."
"Okay Jo," Katniss replied, trying out the nickname. She liked it. "I guess I'll see you soon." A fond smile lingered on her lips for far longer than necessary as Katniss gave her a small wave and exited the store. Johanna rested her elbows on the counter, placing her chin in both of her hands, her eyes gazing out the door at Katniss's body disappearing down the street.
What you got, I'm just crazy about it. If you're looking for a love that you'll never get tired of... make me yours.
Katniss began her trek back toward her new home, her mood buoyed significantly by her interaction with Johanna. Back home she was nothing special. Nobody went out of their way to be nice to her or give her free hammers or let her borrow albums. Maybe Johanna was a popular girl; she looked athletic so maybe she was a jock, her mother clearly owned a business in town so people probably knew her name, and she exuded a sangfroid that popular kids carried ubiquitously like backpacks and cigarettes.
Besides, she was into cool music Katniss had never heard of, so she must at least marginally cool. Cooler than Katniss Everdeen the new kid with the dead dad and the hot cousin would ever be. For now she could ignore the strange tingling that perked through her body as she imprinted the image of Johanna in her mind. That seemed like a Future Katniss problem, the tingling.
Music credits: The Beatles "Here There and Everywhere" from the album Revolver. And Bettye Swann's "Make Me Yours" from the album of the same name.