"Coming!" I yell running towards the door. I open it to find a rosy cheeked, grinning Peeta holding up a bag of what I can only assume are cheese buns. He's winded, like he just came up the stairs to the third floor as fast as he could manage with his cane.
"Excited?" I ask with a chuckle.
"Hell yes, it's moving day!"
"You're only moving one floor."
"Yeah, but I've lived one whole floor away from you for way too long."
We've both been living in the building his dad bought when he moved to Morgantown six months ago. He opened a bakery on the main floor and rented me the third floor apartment at a ridiculously low rate. Peeta's been living with him on the second floor.
When Peeta's dad let us know that he was finalizing the divorce and moving here, we were left with a lot of decisions. With such affordable living, we could actually pay our tuition without the ruse. We decided to come clean about our engagement, take a few steps back, and do things right this time, on our terms.
It was weird at first. Going from living together as an engaged couple back to dating from separate apartments took some adjusting, but still somehow felt right. I was overwhelmed by my feelings, by what happened, by the weight of the lies we had told. I needed perspective and time and I didn't know how to do that while having to keep up appearances. I love Peeta, I know that much, but it's a scary and foreign thing to me and I needed to be able to love him in my own way and in my own time.
Peeta being Peeta was okay with that. I think because it gave him more of an opportunity to be the mushy, cutesy boyfriend he'd always wanted to be. That part's also taken some adjustment. I do my best not to let his obvious affection overwhelm me. My feelings still feel so hard to express, but I try. For him. So we've been dating, with the occasional sleepover.
The sleepovers are a fairly new development. Peeta wanted to wait until his leg was healed enough for it to not be an awkward obstacle for us. It still kind of was a bit of an obstacle the first time, but everything was a little awkward in the way I think first times probably always are, so, it was somehow okay.
We were nervous and giggly and desperate to be ever closer. Peeta was gentle and sweet, but had this…hungry look in his eyes. Our hands were everywhere at first, urgent and greedy, but then things got slow and synchronized and time stopped for a while. We held each other afterwards in the way people do, but it still felt like we were somehow different from the rest. Like that moment had only been felt in the way it had by us and no two people could ever feel more for each other. It's a young and naïve thought, I know, but it's nice to feel young and naïve after the shit we've been through.
"I was thinking maybe Tuesday we could stay in and properly celebrate. I don't have class past the morning, so I could cook something fun," Peeta says, moving past me to clear some space for his boxes in the living room.
"Today's only Saturday."
"Yeah, but if you'll be in the woods most of the day tomorrow and I'm teaching that art class on Monday, it won't work 'til then."
These are the times when I know I'm beyond lucky. Peeta would be perfectly happy spending all of our time together, but knows I'd freak right out if that were the case. Space is a necessity in my world and he's always careful to give it to me.
"Tuesday sounds great then," I smile. "So, just how much changing of things are you going to be doing around here while I'm out tomorrow?"
"Just some art in some places, maybe some pictures and a few plants. You haven't exactly made the place homey, Kat."
I can't help but laugh a little at myself as I look around. It's totally true. The space is very functional, but not exactly cozy or stylish, or personalized in any way for that matter.
"Well, you're the artist, have at 'er," I answer, essentially absolving myself of any responsibility for the esthetics of the place.
He grins and pulls me down to the couch with him. "But that's tomorrow's work. Today's…" he says nuzzling behind my ear, "today I have much more important things to do."
"Oh yeah? And what things would those be?"
"I have to make sure you're fed. I have to spend some time convincing you to marry me. I have to get you out of these clothes…"
"Fed, yes. Clothes, up for negotiation. Married? I told you you'd have to wait at least a couple more years for that one."
"Can't blame a guy for trying."
We smile at each other, brilliantly, comfortably, and kiss each other deeply. He's started throwing around words like 'marriage' and 'forever' lately. I think he does it to keep me thinking about the future and to get me used to the idea of what's to come. It pissed me off at first. I was, naturally, resentful of the pressure and the assumption in it. But as like always seems to happen with Peeta, he's kept it up and I've adjusted and now, against my better judgment as a non-girlie girl, I do kind of love hearing it. I don't know how he knows which things to push and which to let go, but somehow he does and it's almost always the right call. Whether I ever want to admit it or not.
I pull back slightly, reluctantly, and say, "What I can blame a guy for, though, is not actually getting all your shit moved in today. It is moving day after all." It's my way of saying I'm excited about him being totally moved in too, even if I don't say it with the same straightforward, heart-melting language he would.
He smiles at me with a look that says he knows exactly what I'm implying and groans. "Just sit here with me for like 5 minutes, just 5, I swear."
A half an hour later Peeta finally pulls away from our quiet snuggling to begin the multiple one-floor treks to get his stuff. I help with a few loads since he shouldn't be doing too much non-cane walking. It's looking promising that besides a slight limp he'll recover enough to not need his cane at all sometime soon. Until that day comes though he's been trying to do everything possible to heal properly.
As he brings in his last few paintings, I decide to pop down to see his dad before he closes up shop for the day. He smiles so widely when he sees me that I have to smile too. These Mellarks are so damn smiley.
"There's my favourite girl," he says brightly.
I gasp and say, "And here I thought that was my mother."
He chuckles in response then says, "Well, my favourite Morgantown girl, how's that?"
"Okay, but that'll only work until the fall, then we'll both be Morgantown girls." My Mom told us that she's decided to move here when Prim starts school. She didn't say specifically that she'll be moving in with Peeta's dad, but, we all know what's going on even if the two of them are still trying to hide it like handsy teenagers.
"I suppose you're right," he says, still with a goofy smile plastered on his face. "Peeta about done getting his stuff up there?"
"Yeah, he's just finishing now. How does a guy even have that much stuff?"
"That I can't help you with." He's silent for a moment then says, "If things keep going so well around here though I may buy myself a little house in September… then you guys'll have more room on the second floor. Even if your sister moves in when she starts school she won't need all that space for just herself."
And there it is, that take-care-of-everyone Mellark charm.
"That'd be great," I say, having come to realize that having people who care for you and want to support you is actually a pretty amazing thing. Not quite the Achilles heel I grew up thinking it was. "Anyway, I just wanted to say hi before you close up."
"You two have a good night. Take something for the morning before you go up if you want."
I do want. Living above a bakery could never lose its charms as far as I'm concerned. I grab a couple almond croissants and two cupcakes for later.
After a couple of sandwiches for dinner, Peeta and I snuggle up on the couch to watch something stupid on TV. I love these quiet, relaxed times. They make me feel like everything that happened that day with Cato is far, far away, almost a fiction. Of course the nights without Peeta when the nightmares come have always crept back to remind me. But not anymore, there will be no more Peeta-less nights.
He must be musing about the same thing because when I look up at him he's already looking back at me.
"I love you," he says simply, spontaneously and I know how much he means it.
I hold his gaze and repeat the words I've now said enough to know they couldn't be more true.
"I love you," I say, "Always."
A/N – A great big thank you to each and every one of you who has read, encouraged and enjoyed this story. It's the first one I've actually finished and I'm feeling quite proud. It's been a lot of fun…please share it with others if you think so too :)