The first thing I do when I wake is grab my laptop and check my email. When I see a grand total of zero messages in my inbox, however, I roll my eyes and quickly close the lid. I really don't know what I expected; I sent the email right before going to bed—the person probably hasn't even seen it yet.
And if they have: so what?
Even if it turns out that this isn't just an elaborate prank to humiliate me, it's more than likely just some desperate guy pretending to be sweet by throwing around words like 'romance' and 'Valentine's Day' in hopes that I'll melt faster than an M&M under the summer sun and he'll get laid.
So really, I should be relieved they haven't replied. Not disappointed. In fact, I hope they never reply. And if they do, maybe I won't. Maybe I won't even read their reply at all. I already feel like a big enough idiot for sending an email in the first place. Now they have my email address, along with my home address, which kind of creeps me out a little.
"Well?" Prim sits up in bed with a huge grin and wiggles her eyebrows. "Did your secret admirer write you back?"
I shake my head. "No, thankfully. And it's not a secret admirer."
"Um, that's exactly what it is, and it's totally romantic," she counters. "Aren't you excited just a little bit?"
"No, it's creepy. He knows my address, my locker number, and now my email. That's stalker territory."
"It's a small town, everyone knows everyone. It doesn't take major detective work to find out numbers on a mailbox. Besides, there's a fine line between romantic and creepy. It's not creepy unless they're, like, asking for nudes or sending dick pics or—"
"Isn't that how all your relationships start?"
"Funny, Katniss," Prim dryly replies and tosses a pillow, which flies past me and lands on the floor. I stick my tongue out at her and she rolls her eyes as she continues, "No. As I was saying, a guy sending things like roses and Candy Grams is sweet, not creepy. Think about it – someone is spending their time and money to make you happy, to make you feel special, all the while not even looking to receive instant recognition or gratification for it. It's pretty romantic."
"Yeah, it's a pretty romantic prank, I'll give them that much. They wasted their time and money and I got a lollipop and rose out of the deal, so the joke's completely on them."
I place my laptop on the bedside table and walk over to my dresser. I avoid looking at Prim as I change out of my pajamas, but I can still feel her eyes burning a hole through me.
"What would you consider romantic, anyway?" she asks thoughtfully after a moment. "I mean, what would a guy have to say or do in order for you to fall for them?"
"I'm afraid I didn't come with an instruction manual," I deadpan. "To my knowledge, my love doesn't activate with a secret word or a flip of a switch."
She sighs and shakes her head. "No, Miss Cynical. I'm saying, in general, what is one thing you'd consider undeniably romantic and sweet?"
"I don't know…" I shrug and close my eyes to block out her expectant gaze. I know she won't let the subject drop until I throw her a bone, however, so I quickly rack my brain for something to satisfy her curiosity. I go with the first thing that pops into my mind, "Well… there's this guy at school that's secretly taking archery lessons to impress someone he's had a crush on for a long time. I guess that's kind of sweet."
When I open my eyes again, Prim is staring at me with her eyebrows raised and a huge, knowing smirk. For some reason, my cheeks begin to burn and I feel like a bug under a magnifying glass.
"What?" I snap.
"You like him," Prim says, not as a question, not as a suggestion, but as a fact.
"Ha! No, no, no," I reply with a laugh that comes out more like a cough mixed with a snort. "Not at all. You couldn't be more wrong. I mean, I like him, but I don't like like him. He's totally not my type."
Because my type is straight.
"Okay. I believe you," Prim says in a high-pitched, dismissive tone that indicates she definitely does not believe me. Well, I'm not even going to justify that with a reply. I can already tell this is one of those scenarios where any further denial only makes me look guiltier. My glare goes seemingly unnoticed as she stands up, stretches, and pulls her nightgown over her head before skipping over to her closet. "So did he tell you who he has a crush on?"
"No, because it's none of my business and it's none of your business either. It's no one's business. And I really don't feel like talking about this anymore—"
"You love archery, Katniss," she states meaningfully.
"So? Your point…?"
"What if you're his crush and he's trying to impress you? What if he's your secret admirer?" Prim asks, sending me a conspiratorial wink over her shoulder. "After all, how many other girls at our school love archery as much as you? Hell, how many girls actually enjoy it?"
"I'm sure many girls enjoy it. Archery is awesome," I assert, cutting my eyes away from her as I sit on the bed to put on my socks. She snorts at this, but I continue undeterred, "And I'm definitely not his crush. He's gayer than a Lisa Frank unicorn, Prim."
Not to mention, even if Peeta was straight he'd have no interest in me—he's an upper class, athletic, artistic, pretty boy who could have his pick of any girl. Girls who are dainty, darling, and dollish. Girls who are blond, bubbly, and big-breasted. Girls who are totally opposite of me. Girls like Prim.
But Peeta likes guys, so that definitely puts me on a whole different spectrum of what he'd be interested in. Not that I'd ever want him to be interested in me, or that I could ever be interested in him. We have nothing at all in common.
"Oh." She looks slightly taken aback for a moment and then shrugs. "Well, I could've been right."
"Yeah, but you're still completely wrong."
The bus ride to school goes by pretty uneventfully.
Typically, I hitch a ride with Gale. I used to drive myself, but the transmission decided to go out on my car a few months ago. Seeing as to how it was twice as old as I am, and the price of repairing it would've cost more than what I paid for the dang thing, I just sold it to an auto salvage shop. Now, I'm saving all the money I can for a big down payment on a new car and a place to live once I'm out of school. Chipping in for gas money and being the third wheel in Gale and Madge's love-mobile for a few months is a small price to pay for eventual freedom.
This morning, however, Gale sent a text stating that he wouldn't be going to school today, and neither would Madge. When I asked why, he only responded that 'he'd tell me later', so I take that to mean they're both playing hooky to hump each other all day. Fitting for a Wednesday, I guess. So now I get to spend the whole day alone.
As usual, I'm one of the first people to enter English class. I quickly walk to the very back row and take my favorite seat in the corner, next to the window. As I'm in the process of taking my binder and textbook out of my backpack, I hear someone sit down in the desk right beside mine. I can't help finding this a bit annoying and intrusive. There are at least 30 other empty desks this person could've picked.
For a moment I debate moving to another seat, and how to do it without seeming like a complete bitch, but then I hear a familiar voice greet me with a cheerful, "Good morning!"
My stomach does a somersault as I glance over and find Peeta Mellark, looking far too happy to be awake this early in the morning.
"Hey," I reply dully. I try to think of something else to say, but nothing comes to mind. Luckily, Peeta doesn't seem to notice or care about my short acknowledgment as he abruptly averts his eyes from mine and turns his focus to retrieving something from his backpack.
The silence between us suddenly feels very awkward, so I open up my textbook to a random page and pretend to read. My mind is everywhere but on the book, though. The more I try to dismiss and forget what Prim had said this morning – 'you like him' – it replays in my head, over and over again like a CD skipping. Of course I don't. Not in that way. But it almost feels like I need to explain myself, as if Peeta could guess exactly what I'm thinking if he looked hard enough.
I'm being ridiculous, of course.
I take a deep breath and try to think of something else to say, but before I can, Peeta places a cookie as big as my face down in front of me. An elegantly and expertly decorated bow and arrow made of brown, black, and silver icing resides in the center of it. My mouth drops open slightly at this and my stomach does another somersault.
Finally, I look over at Peeta with a frown and an eyebrow raised in question. "What's this for?"
He shrugs, giving me a half-smile. "For your patience with me yesterday," he explains.
I glance around the room, wondering if anyone else is watching our exchange, but luckily no one seems to be paying attention to us. I feel a little relieved at that. Not for my sake, but for Peeta's. It would suck for anyone to think we're flirting with each other or anything. Especially with this guy he wants to impress, the last thing he needs is a rumor that he has a girlfriend.
"You paid for my patience yesterday, and besides… it was fun, compared to the bratty kids I usually teach," I state, returning his smile, which seems to make his smile even bigger. The morning sunlight reflects in his eyes, making them such an intense, bright blue they almost glow. I catch myself staring, for how long, I don't know—a minute, seconds, milliseconds?—and quickly glance down at the cookie on my desk. "Thanks though. The bow and arrow's a nice touch. Did you decorate it yourself?"
"Yeah," he answers. "It's peanut butter, in case you're wondering."
"My favorite," I reply honestly. Good guess on his part. Then again, peanut butter isn't exactly an uncommon favorite. He probably just went with what sells best at the bakery.
"I know." He says this in a casual, matter-of-fact way, but of course he couldn't actually know. He's more than likely just making lighthearted conversation.
I immediately look over at him and ask, "You know? How do you know?"
Peeta's eyes widen at my question at first, but then they relax again only a second later. He licks his lips and shrugs before answering in a confident rush, "Well, you've been coming to the bakery for years. We pride ourselves on remembering what our customers like. You always get peanut butter or sugar cookies, occasionally a cupcake, but peanut butter cookies more often than not. You usually only get the sugar cookies when you're with your friends."
I stare blankly at him for a moment, not really knowing what to make of what he'd just said. I mean, I know what he said—I just don't understand how he can remember the exact things that I order. Mellark Bakery is extremely popular and they probably see hundreds of people a day, no doubt thousands in a week, and they also have a very wide-selection of baked goods. I sometimes have trouble remembering names of kids I teach multiple times a week for a whole month, and we don't even come close to scratching the surface of business the bakery receives.
"That's… really observant of you. You have a remarkable memory," I finally reply. I then find myself rambling to make up for my brief pause, "Gale's weird and hates peanut butter so we all compromise with the sugar cookies. I know we could get an assortment, but it's cheaper to get only one kind—not that your prices are too expensive. They're not. In fact, they're pretty cheap. I'm just trying to save for a car. And Gale's always cheap, no excuses for that—"
Peeta nods and looks as if he's about to reply, but luckily the bell rings and the teacher closes the door, signaling the beginning of class and saving me from making an even bigger idiot of myself.
Towards the middle of class, our English teacher starts to sound extremely reminiscent of the principal in Charlie Brown. I rub my eyes to stay awake and rest my chin on my hand to keep my head propped up. My eyes wander around the room, however, and I find my mind wandering as well.
I glance over at Peeta and see that he's sketching something in his notebook, seemingly as bored as I am. Curious as to what he's drawing, I lean slightly closer.
I expected something inane—some sort of cartoon character or a random doodle like a penis. But I was wrong. It's a rose. A perfectly shaded, extremely realistic looking rose. I knew Peeta was talented—in fact, in our elementary school days I used to ask him to draw me things. Everyone did. But I had no idea he'd gotten this good….
I become entranced with the ease in which he shades each petal – going from dark to light with such finesse and precision it doesn't seem possible that it's coming from his hands, even more so that he's doing it all from memory. It's so enthralling I feel like I'm witnessing an act of pure magic. I then find myself watching him, wondering how in the world he's doing it. He chews on his bottom lip as he stares down at the paper, and it's like he's lost in his own little world, one where beauty is so abundant it pours from his fingertips onto paper. I notice he has one thick curl that keeps falling over his left eye, which he smooths out of the way every so often only for it to bounce right back to where it was. Between that and his impossibly long eyelashes, I don't understand how he can see to draw at all.
All of a sudden, he looks over at me with a smile tugging the corners of his lips and his eyebrows raised in question. My eyes widen, and my mouth drops open to explain. But of course I can't explain. I feel like a kid being caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Except… I'm not guilty of anything, am I? Maybe for being nosy, but that's not a crime. Why is my heart beating like I just ran 5 miles? I was only watching him draw. Nothing to feel weird or guilty about. If he didn't want anyone watching him draw, well… then he shouldn't be drawing in class.
Still, I feel like I should explain why I was staring. God, how long was I staring? How long was he aware that I was staring? I wasn't staring. I was admiring a work of art.
'It's beautiful. Just admiring,' I quickly write on a corner piece of paper. I decide that sounds incredibly cheesy on its own, so I also add, 'Had to focus on something. Might fall asleep.'
Without looking over at Peeta, I tilt the paper up for him to read, which I see him do from the corner of my eye. I quickly glance over and he nods once in acknowledgement, his eyes glinting in a playful, elated manner that makes my stomach flip in a weird way, and then he turns his attention back to his notebook once again.
A few seconds later, he tilts a piece of paper in my direction and I look over to read, 'Me too.'
Then I do the lamest thing I could possibly do: I give him a thumbs up.
I focus intently on the teacher for the rest of the class. In fact, I avoid looking in Peeta's direction altogether. I don't know what my problem is. In all the years I've known him, I've never felt this way around him before.
Then it hits me...
I'm going to kill Prim.
This is all her fault. She had to go and plant the seed in my head about liking Peeta, and now I feel all awkward about it. I don't like him like that, of course… but now I feel as if I have to prove I don't. Which is insane. I don't have to prove anything. He's gay and we're just friends. Friends act like this. Friends admire each other's artwork.
Wait. Are we friends… or just friendly acquaintances?
Who cares? Not me.
When the end of class finally arrives, I make a mad rush to put all my things away and make a hasty exit. As I'm leaning over to zip my backpack, however, I feel something being placed down on my desk. I glance over my shoulder in time to see Peeta's back retreating from the classroom.
And then I look down at my desk.
It's the rose drawing.
At the bottom it says: For you, with a casual little smiley face.
My breath catches in my chest, and for a moment I'm slightly dumbfounded. Well, it's certainly better than the real rose that's still stuffed at the bottom of my backpack. At least this one's worth keeping. I fold the drawing in half and carefully slip it into the front pocket of my backpack, wondering what exactly I'm going to do with it. Frame it? That might give the wrong impression. Prim would never let me live it down. But it's a crime to keep art this magnificent hidden away.
I'll figure it out later.
One thing's for sure: whoever winds up with Peeta is going to be a very lucky guy.
The next few classes are uneventful. Thank God.
During lunch, I decide to go to the library. I don't usually do this, but since Madge and Gale are gone today, I have no one to sit with and I don't want to look all sad and friendless by sitting alone. I open a few random books, but nothing catches my interest. I didn't really come in here to read, though. I just came in here to hide from people.
At least one thing's going right for me today: no secret admirer crap.
As soon as I think that, though, my eyes land on all the student computers that are currently unoccupied. I sigh and look away. No. I'm not going to check my email. I'm not going to ruin the rest of my day by reading some stupid message that may or may not exist by now. It's probably from Gale anyway. Or some other idiot. I'll check my email when I get home. Maybe. Maybe I won't check it at all. I have self-control—I have tons of it.
A few minutes later, I find myself on a computer checking my email.
Crap. They replied. The mouse hovers over the email. I debate opening it right now, or whether I should wait till I get home. Or whether I should ignore it altogether.
Finally, I decide it doesn't matter and click on it with a roll of my eyes.
My eyes narrow as I read:
I promise this is not some sort of cruel prank or joke, and that I'm being 100% genuine. I would've come forward in person with all this, but… sometimes there are certain things you can express freely in written word that may be otherwise awkward to proclaim in person. It's much easier to write things out, to tell you how I truly feel, than to become a tongue-tied bumbling fool in front of you. Rest assured, that will happen eventually, though—by Valentine's Day, in fact—that is, if you're willing to meet by then. If you choose not to, I'll leave you be without another word; no hard feelings.
Anyways, on to answer your questions:
Who is this? This is someone who has admired you from afar for years and is, quite frankly, a huge coward for not telling you sooner. I suppose it's been easier to entertain the fantasy of chance rather than tempt the reality of rejection. However, this is our senior year, and I know that if I don't tell you now, I most likely never will. I don't want to take the chance of regretting the chance I never took. I no longer wish to dance with the shadows of doubt when I'd much rather dance with you.
What do I want? I want to discover all your little quirks, all the subtle things that add up to who you are, the good and the bad. I want to count the freckles on your body and memorize every speck of color in your eyes. I want to press our palms together and thread your fingers between mine. I want to feel the silk of your hair against my chest and your breath upon my lips. I want to inhale you, savor the taste of you, I want to cloak you in the warmth of my arms and whisper into your ear all the ways in which you mesmerize me. I want to know the real Katniss Everdeen, without filter and without walls. I want to know your favorite color. I want to know your favorite animal. I want to know your favorite food, song, TV show, and movie. I want to know all the things you hate, too. I want to laugh with you and cry with you and bask in peaceful silence with you. I want to show you true romance, passion, and love. I want to make you happy.
Essentially, I want everything. I want the impossible. I want you.
Thank you to all the people who have read, favorited, followed, and reviewed so far! Reading your feedback and seeing that people are still interested in this story seriously makes my day and fills me with inspiration. You all are wonderful! I know most of you have waited a long time for a new chapter, so I hope this one didn't disappoint. :) I'd love to hear what you think of the story/chapter! Thanks again!