Rated M for language, drug use and sexual content. Lemons in the chapters to come. Buckle up, this story is going to get pretty explicit and a little dark. Fair warning.
Nothing is mine.
We all have our pleasures, and mine is the pain of others.
A long, black specter slunk through the meager city limits, rolling callously by the sidewalks we had walked as children. It sloughed a temperate October wind onto the old men of Gardenia Street who waited patiently for a morning shave, hats in hand, their frail bodies nodding and swaying in respect to the hometown girl encased inside the wheeled metal walls of the automobile.
I watched with grim determination as the scenery sped by the tinted windows, eyes wide open but glassy, with a pain like broken glass threatening to blaze a liquid trail down my cheek. We passed landmark after landmark, all made horrible in their loveliness now, having been touched by the hands of Twelve Acre's golden girl.
The county library passed in a blur as small, balloon-toting children waved sadly from its steps, and The Dairy Bar, with its dapper red and white awnings, winked grotesquely in remembrance of icy milkshakes and cream spilt upon waxed, glossy floors. The Crestview Country Club would host no members today, its exclusive gates shut firmly into an angry grimace towards the sleek, deathly intruder rolling past.
I peered back at all of them, unseen through the tinted glass, my hand curved like a bell onto the chilled window, knowing well that it was not me that they called for. It was Primrose Mellark.
It was always about Primrose Mellark.
We buried her late on a Tuesday afternoon, the southern sky a vivid pink, the sun shining unseasonably and eliciting a terribly beautiful contrast to the hearse-cast shadows that fell down onto the cobblestones of the quaintest of streets that made up our nook of Twelve Acre, Virginia.
It was a street that Prim and I had walked hundreds, thousands, maybe a million times, always knowing that "one day" it would lead us to our final resting place, but never imagining how soon one of us would travel it down to the damp, soiled depths of Kalmia Garden Cemetery as we skipped unknowingly across the graves of her ancestors.
"It's time," said Peeta Mellark, his words registering before the realization that the limo had stopped. "Stay close," came his cryptic aside before sliding out of the car with sinewy grace, leaving me behind.
I did what I always had and followed him numbly out of the car, tripping after him and watching as my impractical heels left indentations in wake of his long, sure strides. I caught up to him and stumbled.
Peeta's hand, inexplicably cool on a warmish day, caught my elbow and righted me against him. I leaned into his grasp, a common, familiar movement that was practically a habit since childhood.
I looked up and caught the eye of Delly Cartwright before I was pulled down into a velvet covered lawn chair, her scowl standing out starkly amongst a sea of grief-stricken faces.
It was nothing new. Peeta Mellark was eighteen and it, in terms of this town. He was what his father's father was, and his grandfather's father, and so on, amen. He was a pillar of the community in this sleepy little Washington, DC suburb, someone to look up to, envy, desire, love and hate all rolled into one. And with his hand wrapped tightly around my elbow and pulling me down into the seat next to his, scrunched tightly between him and his mother, awkward yet comfortable, I was an easy target against all of those who wished to move in the right social groups and crawl tight-fisted up all the prosperous, elusive ladders that this small but affluent Virginian town had to offer.
It made me sick that even on a day like this, social machinations were still on and running with a vengeance. Fine. I turned and sneered at Delly, and made a show of wrapping my fingers around Peeta's in a tight grip. I could play, too.
He stared down at our interlocked hands in surprise before looking deeply into my eyes. "Are you stoned?" he questioned sternly, and I blanched. "Because this is not the time for your immature antics, Katniss," he continued in low tones. "In case you have forgotten, my twin sister is being put in the ground today."
I moved to jerk my hand out of his, but his sudden grip made it an impossible feat. "Are you fucking crazy?" I hissed back, very aware of Talia Mellark sitting one inch to my right, sobbing into her Chanel handkerchief while leaning bonelessly into her husband, Senator Peter "Van" Mellark IV, who was busy staring stoically down at the tarp covered ground. Or possibly his smart phone. "And when would I have been able to pull that one off? You've had your eagle eye on me all day."
He smiled wryly and released my hand with a push that only I could detect. "Don't worry. After this…inconvenience is put behind you, I'll be more than happy to hold your hand while you get high. I know you're dying to do so."
I scoffed and he narrowed his eyes in agitated warning at my small outburst. "My form of medication is no more scandalous than yours, Peet." He scowled at my childhood nickname for him. "I'm sure you'll have your head under the first black dress that cries itself over to you tonight."
He eyed me thoughtfully for a moment, no longer rising to my taunts. "Just try not to embarrass my family today."
"Fuck you, Peeta."
"Gladly. Now shut your mouth, the show's about to start," he murmured flatly.
I sat back with resigned, futile irritation and watched Peeta for social cues. He took off his sunglasses, and I followed suit, cringing into the bright sunlight that burned into my eyes. He wordlessly took my sunglasses out of my hand and slipped them into a discreet pocket lining his suit jacket.
I shook my hair out and allowed the sun drenched, darkened strands to fall messily into my vision, glad I hadn't braided it that morning. It was a welcome block against both the critical stares around me and the bright, almost heatless rays beaming down from the sky. It was as if even the sun had lost its way today.
I suddenly yearned to be out in the woods, high in a tree somewhere, and very far away from this bullshit circus. I even felt blinded by the white blonde glints in Talia's hair, dyed to hide the fact that she wasn't a natural blonde like her husband and children. Everything around me just seemed bright and shiny and fake, making me shaky and off-kilter.
We both turned and faced Pastor Duncan as he started to speak about how wonderful, beautiful and holy, holy, holy Primrose Mellark had been before her tragic demise. I wanted to smirk mockingly at his words, roll my eyes and share secret, knowing smiles with Peeta, but instead, I felt my stiff upper lip trembling.
I bit my cheek, hard, and wished for a cigarette, a blunt, anything to make the sadness go away. I didn't care if it made me the trash that Peeta had often accused me of emulating. I hadn't been to a funeral since the one held for my father years ago, and I was starting to feel sick and claustrophobic. I needed an outlet, badly.
Peeta still stared straight ahead, but I felt his hand slip into mine, gentler with my fingers than he was before. I clung to him desperately.
Pastor Duncan was still singing Prim's praises, "…she was a sweet, honorable girl from the very time that she could walk. Why, I remember the day that she found and returned the oldest known relic that exists in Twelve Acre..."
My eyes widened slightly. No. Not that story. My lips twitched. No!
"…the cross had been missing from the lawn of Central Methodist for over a week when Ms. Mellark dragged it from…"
And, to my horror, I burst into laughter. The loudest, most inappropriate laughter of my life.
I felt more than I saw Peeta's incredulous stare in my direction. I tried to stop but I couldn't. It was a cacophonous duet between Peeta's mother and I, and I honestly couldn't tell who was louder between my hysterical laughter and her hysterical tears.
Was I having a mental breakdown? I stood up and took off like a shot across the lawn, somehow, miraculously, not falling into the soft mulch-like grass and soil that made up Kalmia Garden.
In the distance, I vaguely registered a police officer deep in conversation with Haymitch Abernathy, the Mellark's long-time driver and general go-to man. He was currently scowling at me over the officer's shoulder, one foot moving forward hesitantly, but I ignored him. I was too far gone to give a damn.
I ran past the line of cars , dove into the back of the limousine and collapsed into myself, digging frantically through my purse for a cigarette, but praying for even a small piece of a roach to surface inside the hopelessly small Dolce and Gabbana clutch that was now permanently on loan from Prim. I thanked the Lord above as my fingers found purchase at the grainy bottom of the bag.
My eyes zeroed in on a half-full decanter of mystery alcohol in the limousine sidebar, and I drank from it without question or compunction. Maybe I should have invited Haymitch to join me. He, more than anyone, appreciated a good bottle of spirits.
I was still giggling as I lit the half smoked blunt roach and lifted it to my lips. I was hysterical and I could not stop if someone had put a gun to my head and demanded for it to end. I just wanted to forget about the scene I had caused in front of basically the entire town.
I pulled a few more times, exhaling and not caring that I was filling the limo with the unmistakable smell of pot when a police officer was in the nearby vicinity. I was desperate for the mind-numbing THC rush.
The cop was probably on the Mellark pay roll, anyway. I suspected almost all of them were. It wasn't a comforting thought.
I stubbed out the roach in the never-before-used limousine ashtray and took another sip of the alcohol. I leaned back against the leather interior and let out one more relieved cackle before I promptly shocked myself by bursting into tears.
I didn't bother to look over as the limousine door opened and the smell of Clive Christian No.1 drifted into my nostrils. There was only one person in this town with the bank account to afford such expensive cologne and the balls to follow me into the limo.
"You are an absolute wreck, Katniss Everdeen," Peeta muttered grimly as he slid in beside me, his tone a startling contrast to his surprisingly gentle hand against my face. And then, he held my hair as I promptly puked on his shoes.
"And you, sir, are a scholar and a gentleman," I slurred nonsensically. He stared down at the floorboard and his ruined Italian leather shoes, shaking his head in disbelief.
"I swear," he started and then stopped with a martyred sigh. "Let's just get the hell out of here. It smells goddamn rancid in this limo. Can you make it if we walk home?" I paused in silence, as while it was only a few blocks from the cemetery, at the moment it seemed like light-years away. My stomach felt like it was coated in battery acid and my head was floating away. I felt like a fucking failure.
We slid out of the limo, for once without argument. I was just ready to collapse into a bed and take a 100 year nap. I didn't look to my left for fear of making eye contact with all of those judging stares that were sure to be looking our way. Haymitch and the officer seemed to have disappeared. Thank you, Haymitch.
No sooner had we exited the limo did a large shadow block our way. I raised my eyes to meet the gaze of our unusually solemn-faced classmate, Threshton "Thresh" Tanner, who was built like a Redwood but had the insides of a fresh, gooey marshmallow. I smiled up at him half-heartedly, because it's impossible not to smile at Thresh Tanner.
"Thresh," Peeta nodded impassively and stuck out his hand, more like his politician father than an eighteen year old senior in high school. "Thanks for coming."
"Dude," the lacrosse player rumbled down at Peeta's hand with a frown, his dark eyes blinking back tears. "Always so serious. Gimme a hug, man. I miss your sister like crazy."
Peeta looked so much at a loss, I decided to take pity on him for his previous heroic actions and stumbled into the hug. I wrapped my arms around Thresh and he lifted me off the ground with the force of his embrace. I instantly felt like I was going to throw up again.
"Katniss, why do you smell like pot and puke?" Thresh asked in kindly confusion, oblivious to the scene I had just caused across the lawn.
"Never mind that," Peeta cut in as if talking to a small child, pulling me away from the huge boy. "We have to get going now, Thresh. We'll see you tonight at the reception?" he phrased it as more of a sentence than a question, effectively dismissing him, but Thresh nodded enthusiastically anyway as we turned away.
I stopped to sway on my feet, and caught myself on a nearby magnolia tree so as not to go down. Even from across the lawn, I could tell the eyes of every funeral guest were currently on Peeta and me, and even in my altered state I had no desire to give anyone the satisfaction of watching me make any more of a fool of myself than I already had.
Of course, it probably didn't help much when Peeta scooped me into his arms like a swooning bride and marched us through the centuries old archway leading onto the oak lined street that would lead us to Mellark Manor. I felt safe with his arms under my shoulders and knees.
"'Remember when me and Prim skipped school and I fell out of that that tree on Poplar Avenue?" I mumbled softly. Silence. "I broke my foot. You carried me all the way home, even though you wouldn't cut with us and went to school that day. Prim ran all the way to your class and practically pulled you out the window." He grunted in reply.
Peeta had always taken care of me.
"I'm sorry," I whispered into his neck, feeling my eyes fighting the effort of staying open. "For everything."
"But I embarrassed you."
I felt him smile. "Prim would have loved it."
"I really fucking love you, Peeta," I murmured sleepily.
The hand on my shoulder tightened. "I know."
Just to warn you again: There will be mentions of some squicky things in later chapters. Explicit sex, dubious consent, drug use, the whole gamut is up for grabs, really. This is not the canon Katniss and Peeta that you know and love from the books. However, this is very much a Katniss and Peeta love story, so if you can keep that in mind, you'll be good to go.
Review if you'd like a chapter two preview. Have a good day!