I know, I know, I know. It's been about 6 months since I last updated. Real life got a bit crazy, again. But all good things. If you'd like to see the reason I've been MIA, go on over to my tumblr page: malibustacywriting. I really really want to keep this story going, so bear with me and my sporadic updates.
Also, I've seen that I have SO MANY new followers and have gotten lots of love and urging to keep this thing going, so THANK YOU to my supporters and WELCOME to the newbies!
As a reminder, when we last saw K & P, she was getting sucked further into Haymitch's union revival, lots of sexy times were occurring on the Everdeen back porch, and Peeta decided he wanted to pop the question. It's right before Christmas. On with the story!
My routine became predictable. During the day, I dodged ugly looks from Foxface as I snuck union cards into the hands of every worker I could, and filled Haymitch's pockets with them at night. The number of cards grew slowly, and some who had shook their head at me before started coming back for their own signature, now that word had gotten around about Everdeen's daughter and the new union. Somehow, without my knowledge, my identity as a union organizer had developed overnight.
And most nights, Peeta still found his way to our house, either bringing some delicious remnants from the bakery or setting up shop in our kitchen, cooking away to his heart's content while I sat on the kitchen counters and handed him spices. The food Peeta was bringing us made Prim's cheeks plump out a bit, and my mother commented that his leftovers were becoming the hit of the hospital break room. Things felt good, almost too good. I kept waiting for the bottom to drop out, for something to break apart our domestic bliss.
Afterwards, we would sneak away to the back porch, under the dim light of the streetlamps, and make love on the couch. Or the floor. Or against the back door. Or Peeta would bury his face between my thighs for what seemed forever, making me moan against a throw pillow for fear of waking my sister. When, in a raw moment of courage, I asked Peeta if I could return the favor, the look of surprise and hope in his eyes made me grin. I felt clumsy and awkward, taking him in my hands and then, tentatively, in my mouth, but the sounds Peeta made when I did encouraged me, to the point where, just a few minutes later, he finished in my hand with a loud groan that I was sure my family, and possibly the whole neighborhood, heard.
The night before Christmas Eve, we were laying on the back porch couch in each other's arms, right after a heated moment where Peeta had propped me up on our old metal file cabinet, ravishing my mouth with his. He was later than usual that night, having worked late at the bakery, and missed dinner with us. He seemed different that night; rather than taking his time, he pulled me quickly onto the back porch, shut off the lights and pressing his body and mouth against mine. We didn't bother taking off our clothes this time, only the necessities so that we could connect with each other, sighing with relief once we did. The cold metal under me squeaked as he pushed into me again and again, and when the buildup was finally too much, I pulsed against him, biting his shoulder to squash my scream. Peeta groaned and pumped harder when I did, and finished inside of me with a final deep push.
Clean up proved easier, now that Peeta has secured a stash of condoms from Finnick, and afterwards Peeta wrapped the used one in a handkerchief and put it in his pocket to dispose of later. As always, we scrambled to put our clothes on and collapsed on the couch, Peeta spreading his arm against the back of it while I curled my knees up to tuck myself underneath.
And then he asked the top of my head, "Katniss?"
"Hmm?" I asked, not wanting to move from my warm spot.
Peeta took a deep breath in, and for a moment, I wondered why he was acting so weird. "Um…so, what do you want for Christmas?" he asked quickly.
It had been a long time since someone had asked me that question. Since the death of my father, it had been up to me to make any sort of Christmas celebration happen, and that usually involved focusing on Prim. Christmas brought out that deep sadness in my mother, reminding her of the wonderful memories we had years before with my father. She spent the majority of the holiday curled up in her bed, staring at the wall, and then climb out when I told her it was time for work. Prim would make me little trinkets at school or perhaps save some babysitting money for something small, and we always had the obligatory oranges in our stockings, and would maybe split a chocolate bar. At some point, Mrs. Hawthorne, like clockwork, would arrive and insist on us joining them for church and Christmas dinner. Even then, the table would be meager, simple, but still full of laughter and songs. Christmas didn't really mean presents to me.
So I didn't know how to answer Peeta. I wasn't used to buying anything for myself, let alone making a Christmas wish list. I had spent far too many years focused on raising Prim and keeping my mother together enough to hold down a job that my wants weren't exactly on the front of my mind.
Peeta must have felt me stiffen in his arms, and after a long awkward silence, he began to laugh. "I didn't think it was that difficult of a question."
I sat up, my familiar scowl across my face. "Well, I don't know how to answer it, that's all."
"Relax," Peeta smiled. "I can pick something out for you, but I wanted to check with you first. How about a new washer and dryer set? Sears Roebuck is hocking them pretty hard this year."
I scrunched up my nose in disgust. "Kidding!" Peeta exclaimed. "Don't worry, I'll get you something nice. In fact, I have the perfect thing in mind for you."
"Oh." And then I realized that I had nothing in mind for Peeta. Worse, I hadn't even thought of getting him a present.
As if he could read my mind, Peeta scooped me back up onto his lap and hooked his arms around my back. "Don't worry, I don't need anything. You are enough of a Christmas present for me."
I rolled my eyes. "You're too much sometimes, Peeta Mellark." He laughed and smoothed out the loose hairs from my braid.
"I mean it, though. Don't get me anything."
"Peeta…" I said warningly. I had to get him something now.
"Katniss…" he repeated in my same tone, mocking me.
"Well, that's too bad, since now you're getting something," I said in mock bluntness. I leaned my forehead against his chest, feeling his laugh ripple under me. He moved his hands down to my lower back, gently rubbing circles into the exposed skin under my sweater. I sighed and leaned into deeper, letting his smell and his touch sooth me like nothing else could.
That conversation was the reason I found myself a few days later at the company store with Annie, trying to find something, anything that Peeta would like.
"How about this?" Annie said, holding up a dull brown necktie.
"Annie, he works in a bakery. A necktie would just get choked up in the mixers."
"Oh yeah, right." Annie went back to browsing. Unlike myself, she seemed to actually enjoy shopping, whereas I avoided stores, even the company one, at all costs.
"So, what are you getting Finnick?" I asked, hoping to simply copy her much better gift-giving abilities.
Annie paused. "Well, um, we're just keeping it simple this year. No gifts."
"No gifts? That doesn't sound like Finnick at all. In fact, I bet he's got something super big planned for you. In fact, I bet he's going to ask you to marry him."
I caught Annie blushing out of the corner of my eye and she turned her back to me. "Annie, what is it? I'm sorry, maybe it's too soon-"
"Finnick did propose," she whispered.
"He did propose. We're getting married in two days."
I grabbed Annie by the elbow and pulled her into a corner of the shop. "What are you talking about? You can't get married in two days. What about the big wedding and white dress and everything you always talked about?"
Annie smiled. "Katniss, I'm pregnant."
I stared at her a moment, shocked, my mouth hanging open. "Don't be so surprised, Katniss, you knew Finn and I were, you know, intimate."
"Yeah, but –"
"We have to get married right away, before anyone knows. Please don't tell anyone, Katniss, my father would kill me!"
I sighed. "I won't say anything, but when exactly are you planning on telling your folks?"
Annie started whispering in hushed, excited breaths. "The plan is for us to go to the Justice of the Peace on Christmas Eve. And then we'll tell my parents that we just couldn't wait any longer, and we'll already be married, and there'll be nothing they can do about! And then a month later, we'll say that I pregnant. It's a perfect plan, Finn thought of it!"
I didn't want to burst Annie's bubble, but I was sure that almost the entire city of Chicago would know what a hurried wedding at the Justice building meant. But her eyes were filled with so much hope and happiness that I simply hugged her and congratulated her.
When Annie pulled back, she had a huge smile pasted on her face. "I love him, Katniss. I love him so much," she giggled and covered her mouth with her hand. I couldn't help but smile with my dearest friend.
"So, explain to me why no gifts?"
"Oh, Finn said that I already gave him the greatest gift he could ever receive. Isn't that the sweetest? And get this – he's getting us a house! Not right away, but he's applying for the veteran's house thing, and once all the paperwork goes through, we'll have a house! Outside the city, too. No money down, he says!"
"Oh, Annie, I'm so happy for you." I was; but I also couldn't help being a little jealous. My best friend was going to leave Capital, the Seam, and my side, perhaps forever, for a perfect little life far away from all our troubles. Whereas I was finding myself deeper and deeper into union cards and trying to save the Seam from Snow.
I shook those thoughts away from the front of my mind and turned to the matter at hand. "Well, missy, since you already got something for Finnick, why don't you help me pick out something my guy?" Annie giggled and went back to perusing the shelves.
Then, I saw it. It was a little red leather book, probably meant for autographs more than anything, but when I flipped through the blank pages, I realized the thickness of the paper made it perfect for sketching. The front was blank, but I could use some of my father's tools to emboss his name on the cover. And at 10 cents, I could easily afford it without having to put it on a tab – meaning, that my wages would be garnished until I paid for it in full. Many a Seam family will work at Capital literally until they die trying to pay back groceries purchased during the Depression.
I brought the little book to the counter, along with some little gifts and chocolates I picked up for my mother and Prim, and handed them to the shopkeeper. The cashier raised his eyebrows when I set Peeta's gift on the counter. I sent him a look back that told dared him to make a comment, and he shrugged his shoulders in response while ringing me up. Luckily, the price wasn't too high, perhaps since it was an odd enough object for anyone from the Seam to buy.
"That'll be $3.00, please."
"$3.00! Are you out of your mind? This only adds up to 65 cents!"
"Sorry, new policy," the shopkeeper pointed to the sign behind him.
Attention all Capital employees: all prices have been raised due to union contracts.
"That is ridiculous! The union has nothing to do with the cost of handkerchiefs! Who does Snow think he is?" I clutched the bundle I had wanted to buy my mother and slammed them back down on the counter.
The shopkeeper grabbed me roughly by the wrist and pulled me closer. "Keep your damn voice down, girly. Snow has spies everywhere."
I turned around and began to notice the other shoppers, who all seemed innocent enough but could be listening, just waiting to run upstairs and report me.
"Listen, we all support what you and Haymitch are doing, but stay alert and keep your nose clean, or else you'll ruin the whole damn thing," he whispered, and then, straightening up, said in a louder voice, "Sorry, ma'am, but them's the rules. You don't like, tough, but good luck finding another store to lend you credit."
He was right; I couldn't go anywhere else. No merchant store would give a Seam girl credit, and God forbid that I even ask downtown. If I wanted to get the presents, I would have to borrow against my paycheck.
I sighed, and pulled out all but two hankies, a Hollywood magazine for Prim, and Peeta's book. It was a slim Christmas again, after all.
The cold Chicago wind hit our faces as we left the shop and I pulled my scarf further around my nose. A man reading a newspaper was waiting right outside the stop when Annie and I walked out. I wouldn't have taken much notice, other than the fact that he smirked at me from behind his paper, his yellowed teeth curled between his lips. Once we were halfway down the block, Annie's arm linked through mine, I snuck a peak back. The man wasn't looking in our direction anymore, but he had folded his newspaper and was walking in the same direction as us. Could the shopkeeper's warning be true?
I hugged Annie's arm closer to mine as she chattered on about cribs and nursery colors. After another block, I turned my head to the side again, and there he was, right behind us, eyes focused on our backs.
I started to breath heavily, wondering how I could get Annie to safety. The man could be armed, could have a knife or a gun, and where would we go? The streets were crowded; in fact, the whole neighborhood, seemed to be out and about at that moment. Children were pulling Christmas trees behind them on wooden sleds, their mothers were waddling home with arms filled with hams and gold-wrapped presents. Of course, all of them were heading in the opposite direction of the Seam, towards the Merchant end of town, where Christmas would involve roast turkey, a neverending supply of Christmas cookies and sweets, and piles of ripped wrapping paper under the tree. The first Christmas without rations was proving to be quite the economic boom for the Merchants. But in the Seam, it was business as usual – pinching pennies and waiting for the stores to almost close on Christmas Eve to start bargaining with the butcher for the random ends no one else wanted.
I walked Annie to her bungalow, decorated with a tinsel-draped tree twinkling in the window. She wrapped me in a big hug and wished me a Merry Christmas, and I glanced over her shoulder, finding the man in the suit still half a block away. As soon as she closed her front door behind her, I bolted.
My feet slipped on the ice frozen beneath the snow. I still had several blocks to get my end of the Seam and I feared the man following me all the way to my house – although, if my suspicions were correct, he knew exactly where I lived. I could hear the snow behind me crunching, and I knew he was following me at a fast pace. I didn't dare look back.
Once I passed into my block, I lucked out: a group of carolers were walking down the street and I slipped in between them, creating a wedge between myself and the stranger. Enough eyes were trained on the street to create witnesses, I thought to myself, and I'm sure the stranger thought the same. For when I dared to turn around, he had stopped by the other side of the carolers. For a moment, our eyes met and his lips curled in a sick smirk that made my stomach turn. He tipped his hat to me and turned around to go back from where he came.
I slide into the house and slammed the door behind me. Whatever Haymitch had gotten me into, I wasn't sure I wanted any part of it anymore.
After that, I didn't see the man with the newspaper. I pushed all thoughts of Haymitch and the union aside as I left work late on Christmas Eve and spent far too long primping and preening with Prim in our small bedroom. She insisted once again on my hair being down in waves, and so I found myself once again at her mercy, rag curls pinned all over my head and the same old dress I wore out the first time I met Peeta, outfitted this time with thick stockings and a worn cardigan.
When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw the same girl that had been dragged out that night, which now seemed ages ago. So much had happened since then – I met Peeta, went from almost head of my department to underpaid waitress, started helping Haymitch, lost my virginity, lost my best friend to motherhood…
I started to panic. Who was I, anymore? I could feel a loss, a loss of myself, of who I was, or who I thought I was, a loss of simplicity and staying out of trouble, of minding my own business and going along with the status quo. I pressed my hands against my belly and tried to focus my eyes. I felt queasy. This wasn't me, I thought. I didn't have boyfriends or fool around; I didn't cause trouble at work, let alone encourage some Mafioso to follow me home; I certainly didn't wear my hair like a pin-up girl. I had been so caught up with work and Peeta and just getting through the day that I never stopped to fully examine the events of the last few weeks. And it terrified me.
Prim must have seen the panicked look on my face as she stood behind me, pulling out the rags. She leaned up on her toes and rested her head on my shoulder. "Don't worry so much, Kat. It's Christmas. And you look beautiful."
I peered into her pale blue eyes in the mirror and took a deep breath. Prim. She was my constant. No matter what happened, no matter who came or went out of our lives, she was there. I kissed her forehead and whispered, "I love you, Little Duck."
Prim smiled. "I love you, too. And don't you dare call me that in front of Rory."
"I make no promises. Quack quack." Prim slapped my arm playfully and we smiled widely in the mirror.
I heard my mother calling us from the other room, and the moment was over.
Later that night, or rather, the next morning, I found myself sitting down to the most delicious Christmas breakfast, courtesy of Peeta, of course, at 2:00 am. Prim, my mother, and I had plan to attend midnight Mass, which Peeta just "happened" to attend as well (as we had planned), and afterwards, he came back with us to make "a little something" for us to eat. Of course, a little something turned out to be a smorgasbord of scrambled eggs, bacon, thick waffles, and cinnamon rolls. I brewed coffee to help us all stay awake, and soon myself nervous with caffeine and stuffed to the brim with Peeta's creations.
My mother was due at the hospital by 6 am Christmas Day, so our plans were to eat Christmas breakfast late at night, stay up the late, and then spend the rest of Christmas resting, maybe visit the Hawthornes, as always. Prim demanded presents as soon as breakfast was finished, and my mother smiled, her eyes softening to Christmases past, when my father was still alive and would put on a floppy Santa hat to hand out our meager presents. Even when we were poor as dirt, my father made Christmas seem magical and special.
There weren't many presents under the tree, as expected, but when Peeta sheepishly dragged his own bag of presents from behind the sofa, I scowled at him. "You didn't have to bring us anything," I told him.
He touched the top of my nose. "Stop, I wanted to. Besides, it's Christmas." And I knew I couldn't win the argument if I wanted to.
My mother started, quietly handing out small boxes to both Prim and me; inside were gold mirror compacts, with our initials engraved on the lids. She quietly told us that we were young ladies now, and needed a compact all our own. Prim squealed and I whispered thank you; I knew the gifts were not cheap, and my mother must have saved all year for them. My eyes met hers, and for a moment, I was reminded that she was my mother, the same woman who dried my tears and wiped my skinned knees, who taught me how to make the thick ox tail stew that my father loved, who taught me my first prayers and that I needed to stop climbing trees and cross my legs like a lady. She would never be like our father, who smothered us in bear hugs with his loud, booming voice; but she loved us, I knew, in her own quiet way. I whispered a thank you and gently laid the compact on the sofa next to me.
Prim handed all three of us small wrapped packages of homemade cheese she had made in her Home Ec class. I teased her and told her that Sister Jonette Marie must love that an Everdeen girl finally knows how to do something worthwhile in the kitchen.
I was next. I handed out the slim packages I had wrapped in butcher paper. Prim loved her magazine, with Lana Turner sprawled out across the cover and the promises of the latest Hollywood gossip – always a topic of interest for Prim. And my mother thanked me for the hankies, saying that she always needed more, despite the fact that I knew she had an entire nightstand filled with hankies and sweet-smelling sachets.
I shyly met Peeta's eyes as I handed him his present. He grinned at me and quickly ripped off the paper. His face was unreadable as he held the leather book in his hands. I had been unsuccessful in my father's old work bench to create much of anything, so I borrowed the soldering gun from Darius's garage to etch Peeta's initials into the cover. I also had added a button and black ribbon to the side so that he could keep it closed. He carefully unwrapped the ribbon and I saw him read the first page, where I written a little note: To Peeta, May you paint only the happiest of memories from now on. Love, Katniss. Christmas 1945.
He was quiet, so quiet that I thought I had done something wrong. Perhaps he didn't want a book to paint in, perhaps he was done with painting and all the haunting memories that it brought. I was about to tell him that I would take it back when he lifted up his eyes and whispered, "Thank you," and then cleared his throat. "Thank you, Katniss. No one has ever given me anything for my painting. No one…ever seemed to care." He leaned over from his side of the couch and kissed the corner of my mouth ever so softly.
His eyes were building tears in the corners as he pulled back and I quickly tried to lighten the mood, suddenly very aware of the two sets of blue Everdeen eyes staring in our direction. "Well, you seem to like it so much, so I thought you could do some more. No big deal. Now where's my present!"
Peeta chuckled and reached into his bag. "First, for you Mrs. Everdeen, and one for you, Prim."
"Oh, Peeta, you didn't have to get us anything," my mother protested, but Peeta held up his hands. As they ripped off the crisp black and white flowered paper, I gasped. He had gotten them each a bottle of perfume, each with the tell-tale Chanel label on the bottle. It was a too expensive and a ridiculous purchase considering our lifestyles in my mind, but nonetheless appreciated by the more feminine Everdeen ladies.
Prim immediately dabbed the cap on her wrists and took a huge sniff. "Oh, Peeta, this is just to die for!"
My mother was less thrilled. "Peeta, really, this is too much for a young man to spend-"
"Nonsense," he cut them off. "You all have been so kind and generous towards me, I wanted to return the favor."
Prim practically ran across the room and flung her arms around Peeta's neck. "I can't believe I actually own Chanel perfume! Oh my gosh, I can't wait to tell the girls about this!"
I scowled at Prim's display, and Peeta simply winked at me over her shoulder.
"And now for Katniss's! I can't wait to see what you got her!" Prim exclaimed as she pulled away.
"Prim…" I warned her, but Peeta was always placing a gift in my lap. It was heavy, about the size of the book that I gave him, and for a moment I wondered if we had bought each other the same gift, or something out of an O. Henry story.
He had wrapped it cleanly in white and green paper, and I hated to disturb its neatness. I slid my finger under the tape on the side, and I heard Prim mutter under her breath to hurry up. I slid whatever was inside out of the wrapping and held it in my hands.
It was the photograph from the night we met, placed in a crisp silver frame. There was Annie and Finn, his hands resting on her shoulders, both of them flushed from dancing and a few too many drinks. Next to them stood Peeta and I, me in the same navy blue polka dot dress that I currently wore, Peeta standing behind me in that one size too small dark suit. Unlike Finn and Annie, who actually looked like they were together, Peeta and I were not touching and both looked slightly awkward. I was smiling politely at the camera, my eyes focused on the camera, while Peeta, unbeknownst to me at the time, was smiling down in my direction, a soft grin on his face. I was oblivious and he was admiring.
And there was that girl again that I saw earlier in the mirror – closed-off, untrusting, uncomfortable in her own skin. I was pretty sure she was still inside me, somewhere, but as I looked at the photo, and felt the eyes of the three people whom I loved the most gazing at me, I felt…different. Secure, maybe, or perhaps ready to trust again. To truly let them all in, even if it meant I would get hurt as well.
Peeta had scooted over on her couch to sit closer to me and was looking at the photo over my shoulder. "I'm sorry I didn't give this to you sooner, but I asked the photographer to make it in one size larger, and then he took his time, and then I couldn't find the time to buy a frame and-"
"I love it," I told him bluntly. I slid my hand over the frame and touched the Peeta in the picture. "I love it," I whispered again.
"I'm glad." Peeta cleared his throat and wiped his hands on his dress slacks. "Katniss, I, um, there's something else." I was still looking at the photo but I felt him lean over on one side to start pulling something out of his pocket.
I started to look up at him, wondering what else he could possibly give to me, when we heard a loud knock at the door. "I'll get it!" Prim said jumping up. Suddenly I had a frightening thought – what if it was the man who followed me home a few days ago? I knew it, my secretive work with Haymitch had come to destroy my family. Snow – or worse, some hitman – was going to be at the door, ready to take me out on Christmas Day. I had to protect them.
Peeta leaned back and removed his hand from his pocket and I stood up, leaving the frame in my spot. "Who on earth would be here at this hour?" I heard my mother ask. "And on Christmas Eve?"
I had to get there first. As I ran to the door I heard Prim gasp and I pushed Prim out of the way to fling the door wide open. And then I heard myself gasp. It wasn't Snow. Or a hitman. Or anyone else I expected.
It was Gale.
I hope you enjoyed a little Christmas in July! This was pretty fluffy, but I have to warn you, things are going to get a bit more angsty and sad. But remember that this is Everlark end game, and to trust me. Do you trust me? You should trust me.