Prim takes her time braiding my hair down my back, curling pieces here and tucking them until the dark strands fall down my back in cascading waves like a waterfall. Plain and simple, the way I liked it, with something more. "You look good," she compliments, smoothing the front down with the pads of her fingers then stepping back to take in my reflection in the mirror.
She looks so much like my mother. Well, what I imagined my mother would have looked liked. Before life brought her around, more or less. I imagine her the way I saw her in pictures. I imagine her in Prim. I hope she never falls under the same stresses as my mother. Or me, I guess. I hope she keeps her youth longer than the two of us had.
I look away from her and stare at my own relfection. I wasn't sure I felt beautiful anymore. I'm not sure I ever felt beautiful. But at some point in my life, I wasn't so horrible to myself. I certainly didn't think I was ugly but now I found myself consumed with those thoughts more and more. It was like they'd never leave. It was Darius, most certainly, that added to my insecurities. He voiced them and used them against me, beat me down with his words but never his fist. I couldn't tell you which hurt more than the other.
Today I still don't see myself as beautiful. Just me. Katniss Everdeen. Who I've always been. There is nothing special in the slant of my eyes or the curl of my hair or the shape of my body. I'm ordinary in every sense of the word but it doesn't upset me. I've accepted it. I've become good at just being me.
"Where do you think we're going?" I ask Prim, standing in front of the dozens of outfits she's sprawled across my bed. There are things I would never have picked out on my own. I don't know where to start. "I need to know where we're going so I know how to dress."
"You're probably going to dinner, Katniss," she whispers. "You know, first date stuff. What did you and Peeta used to do when you went out in high school? I can't imagine it'll be too much different from that."
In the past few years, I'd blocked out that part of my life completely. I was so good at it I can't even remember what Peeta and I used to do. Or Annie and I. Or Gale and I. It was all blurry, like a fuzzy dream. I couldn't decipher reality from fiction. "It's been a long time since I've been on a date, Prim."
"Oh c'mon. It's Peeta," she says, her fingers reaching for a blue top of mine to pair with a pleated skirt. I grimace. "He knows you the best out of everyone in this world. I'm sure he wouldn't take you to do anything you didn't want to do."
My first date jitters weren't needed, I knew that. Prim was right. If anybody knew me, it was Peeta. He knew what I liked. "We'll probably just go to McDonald's and then call it a night."
Prim laughs and shakes her head. It's the first time all evening I've seen her look at ease around me. I don't know when things go to be so tense around us, I just hoped they changed soon. If tonight was any indication, they would be. At least, I hoped.
"I never understood the two of you," she says. "I mean, I was pretty young when you two were dating but even then, you guys were so weird. At least with each other. I remember that one time, he came over for dinner and you guys literally spent the next hour seeing who could burp the loudest in the living room."
I smile. I remember it too. Not quite as vividly but it's there. Peeta and I, young and in love, impossibly inappropriate in everything we did. That was before our relationship had taken the fall. Back before we stopped trusting each other. Before the lies started...
"You two deserve each other," Prim mumbles, mostly to herself. "You've both been through some shit and come out of the other side. I think you need each other. To get back to normal. The two of you together is the only normal I can really think of."
I pick at the blue nail polish on my fingers. "I think maybe this is what was supposed to happen."
"You mean you think this is God's plan?" I stopped believing in a God along time ago. Just because he'd never really been there, at least not for me. The church tells you it takes time but it took him too much time. In my expense, the world came crumbling down around me and I was left in the rubble.
But just because I don't believe in God doesn't mean I don't believe in something higher. Something bigger than all of us but not necessarily a man in the sky judging us for our sins and rewarding us for our good deeds. I believe in the universe and maybe that it means something. Maybe that's the plan.
"Nothing's even for sure, Prim," I say. "He might just be calling me out to dinner to tell me to stay away from him so he and Delly can start a life together." The scenario had played out many times in my head and I was preparing for it. Slowly but surely. "I can't be too upset if he says that because the only thing I want is for him to be happy." Or at least that's what I want myself to believe.
"You're an idiot if you think he would really do that to you," Prim snaps. The anger in her voice doesn't go unnoticed. I turn around to face her but her back is to me. "He loves you, Katniss, more than you love yourself. It's really a shame what Darius did to you."
"And what do you think he did to me Prim?" I hiss, my eyebrows closing in. "I know about my own failures. I don't need anyone to remind me of them."
"I'm just saying," she seethes. Now this was the Prim I was used to seeing. Angry and jealous and petty. "I wish Darius hadn't made my sister into some sort of insecure bitch who couldn't see four inches past her into the future. I wish I still had the sister around who had dreams outside of Panem and who didn't think the world was out to-"
"I don't know what you're trying to imply, Prim, but I think it's something greater than my insecurity issues! So if you have something you want to say I would-"
"Oh, don't you dare act all high and mighty on me now, Katniss!" She yells. "I didn't mean it to be a fucking insult but of course! There is no other way for you to take it, is there? Because the whole-fucking-world is out to get you, right? Right!"
It truly baffles me how quickly things can change around Prim and I. At the flip of a coin, here we are. At each other's throats, preparing for the kill.
"You have been jealous of me ever since I got back here from New York and I don't know what you're problem is but I suggest you drop it and drop it soon. I'm not going anywhere and this has nothing to do with you, or mom, or dad, or Peeta, or me! It has everything to do with Emma who deserves a life here that I couldn't give her there! Maybe if you got your head out of your ass for a half a second, you could see that!"
"It's not about her, Katniss, and how dare you suggest that," Prim says, crossing her arms over her chest. She looks so much like me in the moment. My mirror. Angry, hostile, and untrusting. I stiffen. "I love Emma and you'd be blind to deny it! But do you think for a second that if Darius hadn't left you that you would be here?" I stay silent but that's enough of an answer for her. "Of course not! You'd be there, living out your dream of doing whatever! The only reason you're here is because of your inability to be alone!"
"How fucking dare you!" I scream at the top of my lungs. All the anger and frustration I've been feeling for her for the past few weeks boils over. Her eyes widen at my sudden outburst but she resolves her expression quickly. Tears pool at the back of my eyes. "I am fine alone! I was alone for three years of my life with Emma. But you don't understand because you don't have a child nor do you have real life experience. You don't understand Prim so don't pretend like you do!"
Something within her settles and I see it instantly. She takes a deep breath and then turns away. But she doesn't storm out the door or run to our parents like she would have done when we were children. She just stands with her back to me. "I didn't mean to yell at you."
I take a deep breath. Once again, the flip of a coin. "I know you didn't, Prim. I just wish we knew how to talk to each other without yelling. It seems like we're always on two different wavelengths and I don't know why that is."
She turns back to me, tears running down her cheeks. "You left me, you know," she whispers then. "Not just when you left for college but before that. You were so sad, Katniss, and I lost my sister and then you just left me here, all alone. Then you come back like nothing's wrong and you can imagine how hard that is."
I can imagine it. I don't know what kind of sister I was but I wasn't a good once. I'd hurt her only because I was hurting. I forget she was a girl then and all little girls want is love and attention. I didn't give her either but now I want to give it all to her. I can understand her frustration. I would have felt it too.
"There was a lot going on that you didn't understand," I say finally. "There was a lot that I didn't understand and somehow everything just got fucked up, Prim. I don't know what else to say. I'm sorry."
She considers my words before nodding her head. She places an outfit in my hands. "Go put this on, Katniss." The anger has left her and me. Before she has time to push me away or I have time to second guess myself, I throw my body into her arms. She hugs me back and we stand together like that for awhile.
"I love you," she whispers into my ear, running her fingers through my hair like my mother used to do when I was a child in need of comfort. It gives me the same feeling. I fall into her shell of protection. Somehow, she's turned into the older sibling.
I feel the overwhelming sense of love I felt for her when I was younger. Back when, in a lot of ways, we were taking care of each other. It's different than the love I feel for Emma or my parents or Peeta or Gale. It's a love all on it's own and I've only ever felt it for Prim. I may not be the best at showing it but it was for her. It was all for her. I tuck my face into her shoulder. "I love you too, little duck."
Peeta takes me to a bar on the other side of town, a long ways from my apartment, more towards his. It's full of college kids and then people like us. Adults with nothing better to do on a Thursday night than drink their sorrows away.
But unlike those who sit around us, Peeta and I don't sulk. We laugh and talk and play games. Ultimately enjoy every aspect of our night while others look upon us with uneasy eyes. We've been here an hour and I don't ever want to leave. I haven't even had the urge to hide away in the bathroom. At least not yet.
"Katniss, you can't even sit here and lie to me and try and tell me you didn't sneak that frog out of the lab in chemistry. If I remember correctly, I literally saw you with the frog in your pocket, taking it outside!"
I cover my face with my hands at the horrifying memory and what had resulted in my first three-day suspension. I groan. "Peeta, you couldn't possibly tell me you were okay with cutting into those living creatures and killing them for the sake of "learning"? We weren't learning anything but to be cold blooded monsters and I would not take part it in!"
"Oh, Katniss," he sighs. "Always the savior for the weak."
"I don't see anything wrong with that and I don't most people would!" I say. "I was simply doing what was right and that was that!"
"I admire that about you," he whispers. I feel the joking nature of our past conversation go. We're turning into serious territory now. "Can I be honest with you for a moment?" I nod. I liked honesty. That was something I admired. "You're sometimes selfless to the point of stupidity. At times I wish you would do something for yourself. Something you wanna do because you wanna do it. Not because someone needs you to or you feel like you owe something to everyone."
He wasn't the first person to tell me this. "I just don't understand how to detach myself from being selfless at times it's convenient for me. That's being selfish and the two don't go hand in hand. You can't be one and be the other."
"I don't know," he argues. "I feel like maybe you can. In a way, I guess. You just have to find the balance between it. Maybe neither of us have found it yet. You're too selfless, I'm too selfish."
"Peeta Mellark, the last thing on this earth you are is selfish. Don't you dare say that," I scold. I couldn't remember the last time Peeta had done something solely for his own personal gain. "You're not too much of anything. You're the perfect balance of everything and that's what makes you, you. Embrace it. It's a gift."
Peeta smiles gratefully at me and I could tell it was something he needed to hear. He wouldn't accept my words but he wouldn't fight them either. Both humble and confident. Just another thing he was good for. How on Earth did I let him go for so long?
"Who's watching Emma tonight?" He asks, finishing off his second beer and lying it to the side. It's the first time I've seen him drink in awhile but he doesn't look drunk. Regardless, it's a good thing I'm the one driving.
"My parents are," I say. I check my phone then, my screen still black, no word from them. I wasn't too worried, just annoyed I couldn't get a response from anyone. "She's having a sleepover with grandma and grandpa! Also known as, subjecting my poor parent's to Frozen."
Peeta smiles. "I've never seen that one but I've heard it's fantastic. Finnick saw it, with Annie of course, and he hasn't stopped raving about it. Literally, sings the songs at the top of his lungs around his house at all hours of the night. I don't know how Annie does it."
I laugh, remembering that Finnick has always been a big fan of Disney movies. In high school, he became obsessed with the Lion King for a short time, driving us to the next town over to watch the play for his birthday one year. "He and Emma would get along very well then. I don't know if I'll ever hear the end of it about that damn movie, let me tell you. I've had to put a ban on all things Frozen, at least at my house."
"Do you have it? At home, I mean. I'd really like to see it."
I don't know what I'd expected when Peeta came over. I'm not sure what he expected but whatever it was, I'm sure it wasn't to actually be sitting on my couch watching Frozen. But if he wants to complain, he doesn't He actually looks interested.
The shock on his face about Prince Hans is comical, the way his eyes bulge and his mouth opens. "You better close that thing before the flies come in," I joke. He turns to me and smiles. It amazes me how he still looks so young.
"Who does Prince Hans think he is?" He seethes. "That little dipshit. Now what are they going to do? Let Anna die?"
I stay silent and we finish the rest of the movie in peace. He smiles when the sisters embrace at the end and laughs about the little things Olaf says. He reminds me of Emma, her smile when the end comes and then the eagerness in her eyes as she chants to watch it again. I sigh. I miss her. It's the first time in a long time I've been away from her for more than four hours.
"Shit. It's really late," Peeta says, breaking me from my thoughts. My eyes go to the clock on the wall. He was right. It was almost one in the morning. "Time sure does fly when you're having fun, no?" I smile.
It occurs to me now that he has no way home. I'd picked him up earlier in the night. His apartment wasn't a far walk but in the dark, I wasn't comfortable letting him go. There was only one option and I'm not sure he would take it but I had to try. "Peeta, you could stay here."
He's quiet for a long time, his back to me as his hands still over his shoelaces. I'm sure I've scared him away, back into his hole. He and Delly had just broken up only hours ago. Was I being presumptuous asking him to stay the night? It was only for his comfort and for his safety. But was that really it?
"You can sleep on the couch," I whisper numbly. "Or I can." Still, no answer. "Or you can sleep in-"
I don't have a moment to get the next words out before his lips are on mine, massaging them apart so he can slip his tongue between my lips into my mouth. He tastes like spearmint. Just like he always has. Like home. Sweet, sweet home.
I relax within the next second, my arms twisting around his neck, his hands falling to my waist to rest there. It'd been so long since I had human contact of any sort, this was nice. Nice but also nostalgic. I'd missed this so much, it had just taken me awhile to realize just how much. I could die happy here within his warmth forever.
He pulls away from me but only to remove his shirt. I take lead and throw mine somewhere in the hall. I would feel self conscious around anyone but Peeta. After all, it was him who taught me to be beautiful and confident and sexy. He was the one to show me everything.
Were we really about to do this? It'd taken me so long to put myself back together after our relationship, I never thought I'd get to a point of intimacy with anyone the way I had with Peeta ever again. And I surely didn't think he'd ever be back to want me after what I did. But here we were. Whole again but not.
His lips connect with my jaw, firm like they've always been but soft. I let my eyes shutter close after awhile. "I don't want to have sex tonight."
I still, not sure what to make of his confession. I'm not too sure I wanted to either but hearing him voice the words aloud isn't comforting. Did he not find me attractive anymore? Was Delly on his mind? His father?
"I'm just not ready for it, Katniss," he says then, dropping his head to my shoulder, placing his lips on the bone. I'm so sensitive I shiver. "It's not you, it's me. I'm just... The medicines, you know. Everything's not really functional down there right now and I feel I should tell you that off the bat so I don't-"
"Peeta, stop," I shush, running a hand through his curls. Of course it would be that. His medicines. What was I thinking? "It's okay, really. We can sit here and talk for the rest of the night if you want, that's okay."
"No, I never said I wanted to stop kissing you. I simply said I couldn't have sex with you tonight but ask me sometime next week and my view point my change." I laugh and he indulges me in another round of wet kisses that I shy away from.
"Don't count your chickens before they hatch, buddy," I say in between breaths. "Next week, if I'm on schedule, will not be good for me or you. So you may just have to hold off on-"
"I can wait," he says. He kisses my cheek and falls into the cushion of the bed, an arm wrapping around my middle. His eyes flutter and mine do to. "I can wait the rest of my life need be, Katniss Everdeen."
I sleep peacefully. I don't move throughout the night and my nightmares are a long way away for the first time in a long time. I don't feel suffocated or lost or sad when I wake in the morning. In fact, I wake with a smile at the promise of a new day. A new day with Peeta.
But when my hands reach out to grasp him beside me, his flesh, to feel his body next to me like I used to do when we were young, there is nothing there. Nothing but cold sheets and the indentions of what used to be.
I get to my feet immediately, suddenly panicked. Had he gone to the bathroom and fallen? Had I slept through his cries? I look around for his leg but it's gone. And so are his clothes. And his shoes. And his wallet and keys. All gone.
It hits me then. He'd left.
He'd left me. Again.
You done, you done, messed up now! Ugh oh! Whats our boy Peeta up to?
What'd you think? Let me know.