|It Comes and Goes
Author: tigers24 PM
I really wish he'd stop talking. He's so much better looking when his mouth is shut.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Humor - Katniss E. & Peeta M. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 19,461 - Reviews: 158 - Favs: 121 - Follows: 356 - Updated: 02-27-13 - Published: 01-23-13 - id: 8939087
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Specials thanks to angylinni and my flawless beta, the-magnificently-angry-beaver.
"Gale, I'm taking off," I shout over to him, noting that it's already past twelve. I have to get to the other side of town by one.
"Catnip, seriously?" he asks, looking around in disbelief. "We still have to run lines through this whole wall. The contractors can't drywall until we're done. If you leave, you're setting us a day behind. They're going to be pissed."
I throw my arms up in defeat, trying not to look at the disaster that is the church corridor. Between his honeymoon and our having to wait for special lights on backorder, we're far behind. I've only gotten to install the first switch plate and run lines to it; there are four more that remain for this particular space.
It's just going to have to wait.
I wipe a layer of sweat from my forehead, careful not to get the soot that covers the tips of my fingers on my face. Not that it would matter. July weather tends to have this effect—the dust lingering through the air always sticks to your skin, and when mixed with perspiration, it leaves behind a film that makes you feel like you've bathed in dirty water. I can practically taste the earthy grain on my tongue.
Not to mention it's musty, gross, and so goddamn hot in here that even my tank top is clinging to every inch of skin it can hold on to. I lift the bottom of the thin fabric up, swiping it across my brows, eyeing the streak of dirt it leaves behind.
Gale kneels down in frustration and sighs heavily, his face full of dirt, looking just as tired as I am.
"I told you, if I don't take Buttercup to the vet today, Prim is going to kill me. I'll come in early tomorrow morning to help get us caught up."
"Can't you just take him another day later of the week?" His tone is suggestive.
"Do you want to be the one to call Prim and tell her that?" I ask.
Finally, he smiles a little bit. "Not really, no."
"I didn't think so."
"God damn you, you stupid fat-shit cat."
Attempt Number Four to swipe at Buttercup's tail ends in failure. He just curls himself farther into the corner, tucked against the wall neatly. It's 12:45, I haven't changed yet, and at the rate we're going, we'll be there sometime next week.
My phone begins to loudly buzz at the kitchen table.
"Yeah?" I answer, my tone laced with irritation.
"Have you left yet?" Prim questions from the other line.
"I'm trying. You're not exactly helping the cause right now," I explain to her.
"Katniss, you're supposed to be there in fifteen minutes!"
"Prim, you need to calm down. Buttercup just stepped on something; he isn't dying. Besides, I'm trying to get him into the carrier now. You haven't even given me the chance to take care of it."
If that damn cat can get all the way on top of the kitchen cabinets, clearly his leg is fine. I'm half-tempted to let the furry bastard just suffer; he'll outlive us all anyway.
But if I didn't then Prim would hate me, and I just can't deal with all that.
"Be gentle with him. He's old."
"Yeah, I got it," I tell her flatly.
I roll my eyes and climb back up on the counter. Dangerously, with the phone tucked between my shoulder and ear, I lean over a little farther to reach for his matted orange tail again. He stills when my hand grows near and lets out a loud hiss, flashing his yellow eyes at me.
It's cool—two can play this game.
"Hey, you're the one that promised to take care of him while I was gone," she reminds me.
Yes, this is a conversation I recall quite well—the one where Prim told me that she was moving to Chicago permanently. I always try not to sound too bitter about her being away, but truth be told, I miss her like crazy.
She usually comes home during the summer months, but this time decided this time to stay and take an advanced biology course to better prepare for the MCATS. We've spent so little time together in the last five years, and while I partially blame my mother for it, I know it's not entirely her fault. Sending Prim away to boarding school her senior year was indeed the perfect way to punish me for criticizing her parenting skills, but deep down, I know it's what my sister wanted. She wanted to move away. Her heart's always been in Chicago and I accept it, even if it kills me sometimes.
"Yes, and I am taking care of him. Now let me off the phone so I can get him to the vet."
We exchange a series of "I love yous" before hanging up.
Back to the task at hand, I spot a spatula in my utensil container. I quickly grab at it and use it to promptly swat at Buttercup.
Frantically, he darts down like some kind of freak ninja cat, and I end up grabbing him and locking him into the carrier. Once he's in, I contemplate changing into something more clean but there's no time for all that.
He meows like hell once we're in the car, so I turn up the music a touch louder to drown out his cries. This method proves to be useless because he then just wails more desperately. This goes on for a half hour, and despite my driving like a bat out of hell, when I pull into the veterinary clinic, it's a quarter past one.
That's when I notice Buttercup — still mewling in his carrier — has pissed all over himself.
"Seriously? What the hell..."
I rub my temples momentarily and hoist his carrier from the passenger seat, muttering profanities as I walk to the front entrance. There's not a whole hell of a lot I can do at this point, so...
A ding echoes through the empty waiting room when I open the door. Ignoring the horrendous shag carpeting and 1970's decor, I walk to the front counter and place Buttercup on the ground before it. Hidden behind an old wooden clipboard, I wait for the person sitting in front of me to offer assistance. Slowly, the clipboard is lowered, and set of blue eyes through thick, black square frames peer back at me.
Glasses or not, I'd recognize those ice-blue eyes anywhere.
My reaction comes and goes in a series of stages—stage 1: thrill, stage 2: utter fucking disbelief, stage 3: realization.
"Fuuuuuck," I barely whisper.
I suddenly become acutely aware of the hole in the back of my stained khaki Carhartts; intensely self-conscious over the layer of soot covering my chin, neck, collarbone, and really every-fucking-where; and ridiculously embarrassed at the potent piss smell emanating from fat-shit cat's carrier.
"Katniss?" he asks, perfectly stunned but polite. His smile is so obnoxiously genuine that my heart may implode.
I take note of his long, white lab coat that says "Mellark" in cursive across the chest pocket. His hair—completely unruly—looks like spun gold in the near-white light; so much so in fact, I nearly reach out just to see what it would feel like between my fingers. Plus, he's got this whole sexy nerd thing going on right now that completely differentiates from how I'm used to seeing him. It makes my stomach flip in ways that I don't understand.
I feel like I'm in that Leonardo DiCaprio movie—the one where he has like, seventeen different occupations. Except it's Peeta's floppy golden hair and not Leo's. And Peeta looks way better in scrub pants. It's disconcerting, really. It also makes me feel like he must have to spend a long time picking out his wardrobe in the morning.
I'm just standing here like an idiot and I need to say something. "Uhhhhh..." Great. I can't even make an intelligible sentence. Good job, Katniss.
Peeta's sly smile returns. He stands there in a cool and collected manner, his eyes transfixed on me. They move up and down, discerning every inch of sawdust and grime stuck to my skin. I shift from foot to foot in an attempt to casually angle myself away from him. He smiles again, and I'm pretty sure he's enjoying this—me looking like an idiot in every possible way.
"The cat pissed all over himself," I finally blurt, just needing to say something.
"Oh, okay," he responds.
"Katniss, it's perfectly fine. It's pretty common, actually."
"Really? That's weird." God, I wish I was better at this whole 'meaningless conversing' thing.
Just when I think I'm about to look like even more like a dummy, a high-pitched cry comes from down near my feet.
Peeta walks around from behind the counter and kneels down, weight resting on his toes, knees directly parallel to my ankles. "So, this is your cat?" He asks curiously while unclasping the metal bracket that holds the lid in place.
"It's my sister's cat," I explain.
The second it's off, Buttercup comes bustling out. Peeta immediately grabs the back of his neck swiftly, acting like it's no big deal that a set of claws are swatting after him. He holds him still while an angry groan comes from the cat's throat.
"He's feisty. Sound familiar?" Peeta teases, coming back up to meet me at eye level, Buttercup still in his hands. He motions over to a waist-high stainless steel table in a small room nearby and sets him down.
"He's also an asshole. Sound familiar?" I retort.
Smirking but disregarding my comment, he begins to ask questions."What's wrong with him?" Peeta sifts his long fingers through matted fur, carefully examining the cat. "Hold him for a second for me, please."
I nod. "His foot. He hasn't put any weight on it for a week."
I stand there for a few seconds, holding Buttercup in place before I hear the smack of latex gloves across skin. Peeta pulls the corners taut over his wrists and begins lifting Buttercup's legs one by one into the air, making especially sure to examine the pads of his feet thoroughly. One in particular makes him hiss loudly. He pulls a small penlight from his pocket and shines it on the area.
"Well, it looks like his paw is pretty swollen. Does he go outdoors?"
"Um, sometimes," I admit. He isn't supposed to, but he sneaks out when I open the back door to take the trash out.
"It's common for cats who spend time outdoors to get insect bites or step on something sharp like wire fencing or glass. It looks like he's been bitten by a wasp."
"That's it?" I ask in a deadpan voice.
He chuckles a bit. "Well, essentially, yes. I'll clean it up and bandage it for you, but honestly it's not a big deal."
All this for nothing, I think to myself as I watch Peeta intently. The penlight is back in his pocket, but now he's holding the fur tight on the back of Buttercups neck while looking over his teeth.
"How often do you feed this cat? He's really, really overweight."
I shrug. "I dunno. I just make sure his food bowl is always full."
"Be careful with that. You don't want him getting diabetes at this age. Has he been vomiting frequently or had any kind of weight loss recently?"
I shake my head.
"Just keep an eye on it. Try regulating his food. I recommend a small cup in the morning before you leave for work, then one at night." Noting his serious tone, I nod this time.
Carefully, he begins to clean the wound on the pad of the cat's foot. "So... uh... you work here?" I question weakly.
With a smile but still concentrating, he replies: "You could say that."
"So what, you're like a vet tech or something?"
"No. I'm a grad student, about to start my last year of Veterinary School at OSU. I just intern here for the summer."
My lips purse and then form a perfect "O." That isn't what I was expecting. None of this is, really. I'm still trying to process all of it.
"Any other occupations that I should know about? You're not like, a lawyer on Mondays, are you?"
He shakes his head and continues concentrating, but a wry smile remains. I take note of the single blond curl that falls across his forehead, lingering just so.
"Shit. Hold him here for a second again, please," he requests. I take over for him while he leaves the room. Momentarily, I hear rustling from a close distance. Upon return, Peeta has in one hand several packets of information and in the other a few forms to fill out. Along with a pen, he sets everything on the chair across the room for me.
"Sorry, I forgot to have you fill this stuff out earlier. Usually we have a clerk, but she has today off."
I shrug, honestly thankful for a mindless task. It gives me something to concentrate on other than him. And right now, he has me really confused.
The next few minutes are spent quietly. I sit across the room with the clipboard in my lap while he works diligently on bandaging up the cat, who has now given up on crying. Every so often I look over at him working quickly and perfectly content, as though this is what he was made to do. My breath hitches when he catches me eyeing him from a distance, smiling softly as our gazes connect. Immediately I look down, acting as though it was merely a coincidence.
"All set," Peeta calls out to me, his voice confident, like he's on to me.
I don't know how he manages to get Buttercup in the carrier without a fight, but I certainly don't complain. When we reenter the lobby, I'm half-expecting it to still be empty, but surprisingly there's a scraggly middle-aged man standing next to a large scale, weighing a huge Doberman.
"Hey, Haymitch. I didn't know you were back from lunch," Peeta calls out. The man turns and waves him off, as if he's totally insignificant. "I told you I'd be right back, boy," he says gruffly, like we should've known all along.
Ignoring his tone, Peeta chuckles and he walks behind the counter, shuffling papers around. I idly hand him the clipboard and my credit card.
"Nah, don't worry about that. I'll take care of Buttercup today."
I give him a glare. "Peeta, I got it."
"Your money is no good here," he says.
A familiar twist in my stomach returns when we both reach for the credit card at the same time, each attempting slide it in the opposite direction. Our fingers touch momentarily—skin on skin, heat against heat. As our fingers linger, I can feel his gaze moving slowly, beginning at the corners of my lips and landing on my collarbone. The grainy, sweaty flesh there itches, and I flush at the thought of him staring at me like this. It makes my ears turn pink and my body tense, but my heart starts drumming erratically.
I fucking hate that he does this to me.
Get it together, Everdeen.
I pull my hand back first and he wins. "Spend it on getting Buttercup some diet food instead," he commands.
"Okay, boss," I respond sarcastically.
"Hmmm... Does that mean I get to tell you what to do?" he teases.
I roll my eyes dramatically, making sure he can see it. "I really don't like you right now." Immediately after the words come out, I realize the fault in my phrasing.
"Just right now?" His eyes are bright and hopeful, like maybe—just maybe—I'll say something he wants to hear.
I shake my head and try to recover. "Nope. Just because I said 'right now' does not mean that it doesn't also pertain to previous times."
He isn't buying it.
"You can't take it back now. There's something you're not telling me, Katniss." Peeta's extremely perceptive, maybe even to a fault. I wipe the sweat from my palms against my outer thigh, thankful for the opportunity to do something with my hands. Why am I such a mess around him? It's getting increasingly harder to do this.
I'm not going to give him the satisfaction of honesty. That would require me to admit things, like how only his ass could make scrub bottoms look that fantastic. And let's face it—his ego is big enough for the both of us.
When I don't respond right away, Peeta's eyes flicker as he softly asks, "Why do I feel like you're lying to me?"
I scoff. "Like how you didn't tell me that you're some kind of doctor?"
"Veterinarian," he corrects.
"Well, either way, I hope you don't expect me to call you Doctor," I joke, trying to change the subject, all the while hoping that it doesn't seem like I'm flirting. Is this flirting? How does that even work? I'm not entirely convinced I know what the concept is. I do know that hating someone and wanting to have sex with them at the same time is entirely too complicated for me, though.
"You're changing the subject. What aren't you telling me?"
"You're reaching, Mellark." I point to the stitching above his chest pocket.
Slowly, he shifts out of his chair and places his palms flat on the counter just before leaning forward. I scan the room when I feel his face inching near mine, finding nothing but empty space. My heart drums against my ribcage. It's faint, but I can feel his breath on my cheek and the heat of his lips ghosting my skin as he begins to whisper against my ear. The shock of it causes me to bite my bottom lip.
"You and I both know that I'm not reaching. Secrets don't make friends, Katniss," he whispers lightly.
I inhale deeply, thinking about how it's not fair for his hair to smell this good. It sends a white-hot heat running through my body, making me shudder at the closeness. But I never move an inch, even when his nose grazes my cheek.
"Peeta," I voice back steadily, finally regaining some sense of composure. I can't see his face, but I can feel him smirk into the corner of my jaw. Needing some kind of distance, I swallow thickly and take a step back.
"That was your first mistake. We aren't friends," I say coolly, looking him directly in the eyes.
"Good," he responds lowly, his face still impossibly close. "Because the last thing I want to be is your friend."
I stand still as ever, swallowing the golf ball-sized lump in my throat. Even though we're agreeing on this friendship matter, somehow I'm getting the impression that it means two entirely different things.
"Have a good day, Katniss." I watch as his hand reaches forward to hand me the aftercare instructions sheet, a sly smile spread across his lips.
God, I hate him.
I'm in the middle of bending conduit two weeks later when I get the first text message. I'm pushing my weight down on the metal bender when the sharp buzz in my back pocket shocks me—so much, in fact, that it forces me past my ninety-degree angle.
I'm not someone who enjoys talking on the phone. My cell's main purpose in my life is to communicate with my sister, and that's pretty much it. There is no Twitter, no Netflix, and no Facebook. It's big and bulky with an obnoxiously thick case that won't allow it to be ruined by paint or drops from high places. Because I hate carrying it around, half the time I forget I even have the damn thing. And technologically speaking, it's not the latest or greatest; that would be pointless. The only thing I ever press is the big green dial button.
Everyone who knows me knows this.
So you can imagine why I'm pretty stunned by the whole scenario. I'm also mildly irritated because it just made me fuck up my conduit pipe.
I pull out my phone and press the home button that lights up the screen.
How's your puss?
What the fuck?
I don't have time for nonsense, so I disregard the message and slide my phone back into my pocket, returning to my work.
A few minutes later, I feel a vibration against my ass again.
I also need to know your favorite food.
That way, I know where to go when I take you out to dinner.
There's only one person I know who's this confident.
Oh, and make sure you wear your boots. You know how much I like those.
I'm in so much trouble.