It was the way he spoke to me that got my attention. The way he would sometimes ignore the words coming out of my mouth altogether as if they had no meaning or the way he would stare at me other times like I was an alien. No matter what the look was, his response was the same, his tone. Indifferent, uncaring, closed off. An exact replica of my father. The asshole i'd grown up with. The type of person I swore I'd stay away from.
I'd let Madge set me up on the date so I guess she was really to blame here. It's the first one I'd been on since the disastrous first date with Gale during our freshman year of college. I'd sworn off boys at that point, promising to focus only on my studies and the part time job I'd acquired at the gym all those months ago. And that had been a good plan until it wasn't. Until I was bored on weekends when all my friends were busy with their significant others and I was, well, alone. And I've found within that time, it's not something I enjoy.
So when Madge and Annie had told me they had a friend - "a very hot friend", as Madge had put it - it took very little convincing on their side. I feel now that getting the blonde haired, blue eyed baker sitting before me - Peeta Mellark - to agree to this date may have taken a little more effort. From his anxious glances at the door, I can tell he's not even sure he wants to be here now.
Despite the lack of personality and all around rude behavior, he is handsome. More so than Annie said. Maybe if his eyes weren't so blue, if his arms weren't so big, if his hair didn't seem so soft, maybe i'd be able to leave. Call him a jerk amongst a long list of other things and say my goodbyes. Maintain some of my dignity. But here I was, talking mindlessly about god knows what in an attempt to keep his attention. I wasn't doing the best job.
"So what do you study, Peeta?" I ask for the second time. Again, he looks up at me through his eyelashes, considers the question for a long moment, then shrugs his shoulders. "Is this your way of telling me you don't even go to school?"
He shakes his head. "It isn't that." His voice is rough but light. An accent on his lips that I can't place but something close to English. "I just don't really know how to talk about me."
"It's a simple question," I sigh. Understanding I'm not getting an answer, I pick at my salad, not with my fork but with my fingers. I can feel his eyes on me as I do so but I don't care. It's obvious Mr. Mellark has no interest in seeing me again. He has no interest in seeing me now. My table manners are the least of my worries. "I'm studying to be a teacher. Probably third grade, maybe fourth. Not too small, not too big."
Peeta nods. Not out of interest but to be polite. "Trying to find a job where you can relate to people your size, huh?" I don't know if it's meant to be a joke. I don't even look up to check. But I laugh anyway because it's funny wether it was supposed to hurt me or not. I've heard much worse.
The waitress comes to take our plates moments later, her eyes never leaving Peeta's as she asks us - for the millionth time - if we are absolutely sure we don't need anything else. Without looking at her, I hand her my credit card. She disappears in a hurry after that.
Peeta looks at me, me at him, and for a moment, all is still. He looks angry. Or at least like he wants to argue. But after awhile he considers something and looks away, back towards the tables around us. Back to completely ignoring my existence. I take suit and dig my phone out of my pocket. Four missed calls from Madge. One from Annie. One from my mother. All curious as to how my "date" is going I'm sure.
"You didn't have to pay for the meal, Katniss," he finally says. My eyes widen comically. I wasn't even sure he'd bothered to learn my name. But the bills already been returned and I've signed what's needed and there are a few dollars in the center of the table for her tip. I shrug. "At least let me pay for your cab ride home."
"I walked," I say. "My apartments just a few blocks down the street. It's not too far." It was kind of far. I just didn't trust cars or buses or trains. Any type of transportation really. It'd been that way for awhile. "Thank you though. That's very sweet of you." It may be the only kind offer he's made to me throughout the course of the night.
We stand and walk out into the humid, summer air of Chicago. My hair blows in the wind, a thin layer of sweat already misting over my body. I groan. "It's a shame such a beautiful city has to have such shitty weather, huh?"
"I like it." I look at him for a long time. Really look at him, trying to figure out if his behavior has anything to do with being here with me or if maybe he's just a rude, bitter person. He clenches his jaw under my gaze, stuffing his hands into his pockets and, once again, staring off into the unknown. His looks are no longer enough to keep me interested and without another word, I turn on my heel and walk towards my apartment.
Maybe he calls after me, I wouldn't know. It's hard to hear over the roar of traffic but I don't look back. I keep my eyes forward and I feel a strange surge power through me and then I realize I'm crying. Tears are falling down my cheeks and my breath is coming in uneven spurts and I can feel the familiar sensation of a sob rising in my throat.
And I hate myself for being so weak. I didn't know Peeta at all. Why was I so hurt by his outright disinterest and rejection? Why did I care? I had very little hope that this date would go well. I wasn't the kind of girl guys wanted. I was small and not particularly pretty and I spoke too much. Hell, he'd pointed all of those things out - maybe not directly - at least once throughout the course of the night.
And maybe that's why I'm so upset. Because someone is bringing to attention all the insecurities I've only spoken inside my own head.
I leave the door unlocked for Madge when I arrive home. She'll be over any minute, angry I didn't answer her calls or her texts. She'll forgive me once she realizes I've spent most of my night and the early hours of my morning wallowing in my own self pity.
A half hour later, I hear the jingle of her keys and the smacking of her heels across the wood in my apartment. Mr. Jenkins, the downstairs neighbor, would complain to the front desk in the morning like he always did but, for now, I don't have the energy to care, let alone ask her to take them off.
"Hello," she calls out loudly, knocking once on my door before barging in. Upon seeing me, the smile on her face disappears and is replaced with - what else - pity. I roll my eyes and turn my back towards her. I can't look at it. Not again. "Oh, Katniss."
"Don't start this shit, Madge," I curse, turning to her. I can only imagine what I look like, sitting here in a pile of my own tears, surrounded by an assortment of tissues and a box of expensive chocolates. "Don't start that shit with me today, okay? I'm not in the fucking mood to deal with that fucking look on your face."
"Okay," she whispers cautiously. "You need to wash your mouth out with soap before the good lord hears the demons you've been holding inside you all these years now, don't you?"
I make a gagging sound and turn away from her again. "You knew Madge, didn't you?"
I don't have to explain. Her guilty face says it all. Her lips turn down and now she's pouting. "I thought that maybe he would've found a way to be, I don't know, nice tonight. It's kind of hard to be mean to you. I thought you'd do him some good."
"He's an ass, Madge! There is nothing you can do for people like him. Nothing," I snap. I reclaim my current position, chocolate after chocolate filling me until I feel I'm about to burst.
Somewhere in the midst of things, Madge joins me in bed kicking off her fancy dress and high heels, contorting into my side in nothing but her bra and panties. I've always wished for the confidence she has about her body. I've always strived for it. I just haven't found it yet.
"Boys just really fucking suck," she says after awhile. I turn to her.
"You don't mean that," I mumble, mostly bitter. "You and Gale have been together since the beginning of time. You don't even know what it's like to date at this age."
I couldn't remember a time when Madge was single. She and Gale had gotten together years ago, shortly after our own date and hadn't separated since. They were each others first everything and I was their loyal sidekick, bound to friendship with both until the end of time or so it seemed.
"You're twenty-one, Katniss," she says. "You act like you need to have your life in order now. You've got some time to figure it all out."
"But do I, really?" I whine. "My mother was engaged to my father by this point in her life, you and Gale are gonna marry, all of my friends are together with someone, at least. I feel like everyone is starting to branch out and find someone to hang on to in this big fucking ocean called life and here I am. Still drowning."
"You and Peeta both, I suppose. Because no one is marrying him any time soon." It's her attempt at a joke but it's not funny. The last thing I want is to be grouped with Peeta Mellark.
"Always the bridesmaid never the bride, isn't that right?" I sigh. "That's where I'm heading, Madge."
Silence fills the room.
"So would this be the wrong time to tell you that Gale proposed tonight?"
In full Madge fashion, I have no choice but to photograph her wedding announcements. A day after she's been engaged and here I am, in a pile of trees. snapping pictures of her and Gale who, both, look less than happy at the moment.
"You know, we don't have to do this now," I say for the tenth time, trying to reposition Gale so he looks a little less awkward. Not much helps. "I mean, you two have been engaged for one day. No one needs to know."
"Everyone needs to know, Katniss, that's the point," Madge snaps, obviously flustered. She takes a deep breath, smoothing down her hair with the pads of her fingers as she fights to calm herself. "Since Gale forget to hire the secret photographer for the engagement, we are simply having to reenact it."
"For whose enjoyment?" Gale nearly screams. He pulls at his hair. I have a feeling this marriage may be over before it's even started.
"For Facebook, Gale!" Madge screams back with even more pizazz. My eyes widen and I turn my back. "For Facebook! For my parents! For our friends! For our fucking children one day! I want them to love our love just as much as we do!"
And then she breaks down in to tears, falling to her knees in her two hundred dollar dress, covering her eyes with the palms of her hands. Gale looks to me and I look to him and we are both oblivious on how to help her now. But we both knew her better than anyone else. When she gets like this, you have no choice but to wait it out.
I turn around awkwardly, letting the two have a moment of their own while I mindlessly fiddle with my camera, snapping a few pictures there, another one there. "This has made for a very interesting day," I mumble to myself, capturing a walking stick in it's mission to climb a rusted old park bench.
We decide to call it a day then. I think we have a good shot. Madge as ruined her makeup. Gale has been driven past the point of insanity. When we leave, there are no goodbye's. Just casual parting grunts and Madge's hiccups.
I'm halfway to my own apartment when I see him, leaving the coffee shop on the corner. "Shit," I say, falling behind the wall to avoid being seen.
I sigh. It seemed the universe wanted Peeta Mellark and I to interact.
I can't stop looking his way as he walks. He wears tight blue jeans, a navy t-shirt complete with old, ratty converse that have seen their last days. His hair is messy and unwashed but yet so irresistible. I long to run my fingers through it, feel it as the waves wash through my fingers.
But I remind myself it's not on the outside that counts. And what's on the inside of Peeta Mellark's heart is not something I care for. His cold demeanor, his condescending words, his icy stare… No. I could do without it.
I turn the way I'd just come from without another thought, blending in to the masses. I return home without incident.
I've read a few stories and I kind of like the idea of asshole Peeta! I thought he'd be fun to write and expand on. Please let me knew what you think, good or bad. I live for criticism. Thanks!