A/N: This is a piece I wrote for Prompts in Panem's "Modern Day" challenge. As I wrote, the characters started to really flesh themselves out, so I left a lot of the story open ended because I do believe that there could be more to this story. If there is enough interest in more, I'll definitely continue, so let me know your thoughts!
Katniss Everdeen was a very good friend. She prided herself on her dependable nature and loyalty, but the day her best friend Gale Hawthorne asked her to go with him while he attended a gay speed dating event in the city, she had to draw the line. There was no way she was going to spend two and half hours in a hotel bar without Gale with her. She often wondered if Gale remembered that she was single too.
It's not like she never went to the gay bars with him. They did that all the time, but those nights were full of checking out probable suitors for her friend, together. They did the same for Katniss when they went to the local watering holes. This was different. He was asking her to stand around alone while he had fun when he knows how much she hates standing alone in crowds.
"Come on! We can go to a bar with straight men as soon as it's over." Gale begged. His voice was loud and piercing while they waited in line at Starbucks. People were beginning to stare and Katniss was beginning to get fed up.
"Gale, why do you even want to do this anyway? If you want a date use alcohol and that made up story of saving that old lady from her burning home like other people would." Gale had to be different. He didn't want to meet just any man at any bar; he wanted to find his soul mate. It made Katniss want to gag.
"You know that's not my style. We'll go to the hotel first and find me a husband, and then we'll go find you one. Not everything looks for love at the disease ridden petri dish fuck holes that you love to go to."
"Why do you have to be such a Queen?" They had this argument all the time. Gale thought Katniss was crazy for thinking she'd find anyone of worth at a bar, and Katniss thought Gale was crazy for looking for a knight in shining armor. How could he really believe anyone like that actually existed?
"I'm just asking one favor! One! Come with me so that if it turns out to be bullshit I have an excuse to leave. We'll pretend you're my ride and you got sick." If he groveled any more he'd be on his knees in the middle of the store embarrassing the both of them.
"I'll give you fifty bucks to sit at the bar and drink for two hours."
They got to the hotel at 7:00. Katniss said they left too early, but Gale insisted. He barged into her apartment at 6:15, and promptly freaked out when he saw she was still in sweats. From there, he took it upon himself to rummage through her closet and throw a black and yellow sleeveless, scoop neck dress onto her bed.
"Gale, no... I hate that dress. It makes me look like a bumblebee."
"Then why do you have it?"
"I was in the middle of a crisis, ok? I'm not wearing it."
"Come on, it's hot. And wear your black heels, oh and use the black clutch purse!"
"Gale! You're acting like this is my date night or something."
"Sorry, I'm just nervous, and they close the doors at 7:30. I paid fifty dollars for this; I'm not getting locked out."
"You better not even try to make me feel guilty over having to pay for me to get in too. This was your idea."
They called and asked if Katniss still had to pay to attend even if she wasn't participating and were told she would if she wanted to get in. Otherwise, she'd have to wait outside of the bar. Katniss thought for a fleeting moment that she would be able to get out of it. Unfortunately, Gale told her he would pay for not only her drinks, but her ticket too. She was stuck.
She sat herself down at the bar after Gale left with the rest of the attendees to get started, and since Gale gave her money for her drinks, she ordered a martini instead of a beer and started to count down the hours that she had to sit there waiting for Gale to find Mr. Right. She never even notice the man approach her.
"You look a little out of place."
Katniss looked up to see blond hair and blue eyes standing before her, sporting an amused expression and holding a bottle of Sam Adams.
"Peeta Mellark," he said, extending his empty hand to her.
"Katniss Everdeen," she replied, taking his hand. "Shouldn't you be mingling with the rest?" He lets out a bellowing laugh in response to her question.
"Do you mind if I sit?" Katniss shook her head and Peeta sits down. "I'm not here for the speed dating, my brother is." Katniss turns a little in her seat at this revelation. Peeta Mellark just became a lot more interesting. "I'm his excuse to run out of here if these guys aren't up to snuff."
"No kidding," Katniss laughed. "That's why I'm here too, but for my friend Gale."
She looked at the man that was sitting next to her. Piercing blue eyes, wide shoulders, blond curly hair that is just the right length – there was a curl that poked out and wrapped around the middle of his left ear that was so enticing she had to stop herself from reaching out and touching it. He was wearing dark wash jeans, and a dark blue, collared, button down shirt with the top button undone. It was nothing like the ripped jeans, backward baseball caps, and t-shirts she was used to seeing at other bars.
"Well it looks like we're both doing our Good Samaritan duties tonight," Peeta smiled. "Can I buy you another drink?" Katniss had heard this one before and her heart sank at the thought of Peeta only looking better than the rest instead of acting better, but rather than telling him to go back to whatever hole he crawled out of like she usually would, she picked up her martini glass and drained the remaining liquid in one gulp. She decided give him the benefit of the doubt, just that once.
"Yes you can." Katniss nodded, setting her empty glass back on the bar. Peeta ordered her a second martini, but nothing else for himself, explaining that he was driving that night, so he only gets one beer.
"I'm sorry," Katniss said. "I'm planning to drink my way through these next two hours."
"Would you mind if I keep you company while you do it?" Peeta flashed another smile and Katniss had to look away. She had just met this man, but his smiles were already causing her stomach to do somersaults. She was usually immune to the charms of men in bars, Gale said it was the reason she was still single, but this Peeta Mellark was about as charming as they got and all he'd done was smile at her.
"Alright…" Katniss even smiled in return. She knew her smile wasn't nearly as charming, but if she wanted to keep this one around she knew she'd better try to look personable.
That was part of her problem. She would doll herself up, go to the bars, and when a man approached her she would immediately turn cold. She would agree to them buying her drinks, she would try to ignore them, and wouldn't give them any sort of indication that she was interested. Most of the time she wasn't, but there had been a few she scared off that she may have pursued something with if she could have figured out how to do that.
If she had enough liquor, she sometimes slept with one of the guys that approached her, but that was always where it ended whether it was her doing or his. She looked at her second drink and then back over to Peeta. Gale's disapprovals were all starting to make sense.
"On second thought, I think I'll be done after this one." Peeta gave her a strange look, but didn't say anything about it. Instead, he leaned over and got in close before he started to speak. The noise that had started with the commencement of the speed dating behind them was beginning to make it hard to converse.
"So how was your day?" he asked loudly. The normal thing to do was throw a one word answer his way and follow it up with asking how his day was, but for some reason, what was normal for Katniss and what she had been doing in those first few minutes were not the same thing.
"It was pretty rough, actually. My boss is a dick and just before I was getting ready to leave for the day he threw three new accounts that had to be added into our system before the close of business. He does that shit all the time." Her brain was telling her to shut up, he didn't want to be burdened with whining, and he was just being polite.
"That doesn't sound fun at all, I'm sorry." Why was he apologizing? "What is it that you do?"
"I'm a membership and billing services rep for Medical Mutual." Peeta grimaced at her revelation. "I hate it."
"It sounds boring. What would you rather be doing?" He looked at her intently, as though he was hanging on every word she said, obviously great at pretending to be interested in what she had to say. Maybe that's why she kept talking.
"Making music," she never told people that. Not even Gale. The only thing he knew was that she liked to sing karaoke when they went out. "I love to sing. It's a silly pipe dream, but if I had a choice, that'd be it." She wanted to take that back. That wasn't for him to know. Why did she tell him something she always kept so private?
"That sounds nice," he smiled again and Katniss felt her cheeks redden at the way his eyes crinkled slightly when he did it. "It's getting really loud in here. Do you want to maybe take a walk or something?"
Why would she want to do that? She could hear the news story clearly: "Katniss Everdeen was last seen with a handsome, charming, well-dressed man at a hotel bar. Police are still searching for a body." But Katniss wasn't doing anything within reason that night.
"Sure," Katniss replied, but she was not leaving until she told Gale. She needed at least one person who knew where she went. Peeta told her he'd be in the lobby, and she waited until the current round of speed dates finished and they were switching spots. Katniss ran in quickly, tapping Gale on the shoulder and telling him she was going out to take a walk but would be back at 10:00 so they could leave. He was instructed to call if he wanted to leave sooner than that.
She spotted Peeta in the lobby waiting for her when she exited the bar, and he smiled when he noticed her walking toward him. He took a step to the side and opened the door, motioning for her to go out first and he then followed behind, falling into step with her when they hit the pavement.
When he pulled a mint from his pocket and popped it into his mouth as he walked, Katniss pretended to ignore it but grit her teeth angrily. She though he must have been thinking he was going to get a kiss. She wanted to tell him that he'd better rethink that plan. Maybe this one was no different than the rest of them after all. He just dressed nicer.
"Do you want a mint?" he offered. Now he was trying to prep her for a kiss too. She declined and they walked in silence for several minutes. Now that they were away from the noise, she wasn't sure what to say.
"What time is it?" She asked. "My phone is buried in the bottom of my purse and I don't feel like digging it out right now." She was regretting ever agreeing to take a walk now that it appeared he was expecting something in return for the martini he bought her. She thought she could get the time and say that it was a bad idea and it would be best to turn around and go back to the hotel. She'd rather have sat and watched Gale have fun with a different guy every few minutes than walk around with someone who was expecting a reward.
"It's 8:15." Peeta replied, looking at the silver watch around his wrist. That was it? It certainly felt much later than that. Now there was no excuse to begin walking back yet. She was just going to be honest. Let him know that she should have never agreed to go out there with him in the first place, because he had the wrong idea about what they were doing. What were they doing, anyway?
She didn't say a word. They walked side by side, block by block until they reached a small park with a line of benches that overlooked the water. It was getting closer and closer to being time to tell Peeta off, and as much as she dreaded doing it, she couldn't let him think his advances actually worked on her. What would that have said about her? He presented himself as interested in what she had to say and then swept her off to a private place to have his way? She sat next to him anyway, sighing at the relief it brought her feet. She wanted to kill Gale for telling her to wear those heels.
"So you know I have a brother. What about you? Any siblings?" It was an unexpected question, and caught Katniss off guard.
"I have a younger sister, Primrose. We just call her Prim. She's in nursing school right now. She actually wants to be a doctor, but my family can't afford to send her to medical school on their own, and they don't want to make her take out loans. Her plan is to become a nurse, find a job and start a savings. My parents agreed to help her pay what she can't cover. It's the only way they'd ever be able to afford it." Once again she was saying too much. Usually, she never said anything, so why was she sitting here on a park bench next to a man she had just met, telling him all about her sister's schooling plans?
"Good for her," Peeta said enthusiastically. He sounded genuinely interested, just like he did when Katniss talked about her job. "I'm the youngest. My oldest brother went into the family business, my middle brother, the one that dragged me to that hotel, he's a hair dresser." Peeta made a face after that. "I know. Walking cliché, right? He's damn good, though. And me, I teach art." Katniss was impressed. She wouldn't have pegged him as an artist.
"What college do you teach at?" Katniss asked.
"Oh I don't work at a college. I work at an elementary school teaching kids different art techniques." He looked at her like he was waiting for her to look down on him for being less than what she expected, but she never did. It actually made her smile. "There's a new program that they hired me for. It's stressful because I have to come up with lesson plans to teach the kids these art concepts that they'd probably never learn otherwise, but at the same time I have to do fundraising in order to keep the program going and the classroom full of supplies in addition to keeping my job." She liked listening to him talk. So much so that she didn't want him to stop. "I basically have to find a way to keep getting a paycheck from the school. Without the fundraising they can't run the program or pay me. My parents hate it, they keep telling me to stop pretending to be an artist and come and work with the family like I'm supposed to." Katniss didn't like the sound of that.
"What's the family business?" She asked.
"We have a bakery."
"So wait… your parents are bakers and they named you Peeta? What's your brother's name? Ciabatta?" It was a low blow, and she wanted to take it back as soon as she'd said it, but thankfully Peeta laughed and shook his head.
"Neil. His name is Neil. And my oldest brother is Spencer. I guess my parents ran out of normal names by the time I was born and just decided to give me a name that makes people think of bread." He was smiling while he said it, but Katniss could see even then that there was more to all of that than Peeta was willing to reveal at that moment, so she didn't push the subject further.
She looked down at the ground and noticed for the first time that Peeta's shoes were awfully casual for the outfit that he was wearing.
"What's with the Chucks?" Katniss asked.
"Well, I had a different shirt on that went with them a lot better than this does." Peeta replied, grabbing the fabric of his shirt and pulling it a little. "This is my brother's shirt, and kind of uncomfortable and stiff at that."
"What happened to your other shirt?"
"He made me change it if he was going to be seen in public with me." He shrugged. "He would have made me change my shoes too if my feet weren't bigger than his."
"Why? What was wrong with your original shirt?" She was not usually that inquisitive, but with the way things were going that night, it wasn't surprising that she was asking so many questions.
"Oh, he doesn't like my Hawaiian shirts. Especially the one that I decided to wear tonight. Blue, with orange hibiscus flowers," He laughed. "I did it on purpose. My way of passive aggressively repaying him for making me go to this speed dating thing in the first place, but it backfired." With every word that came out of his mouth, Peeta Mellark, and his life, got more and more intriguing, and Katniss became more and more interested.
"At least you tried." Katniss said, leaning forward a little to adjust her dress.
"Wait…" Peeta called out, reaching his hand out toward Katniss. "Eyelash." Katniss froze as Peeta's pointer finger came in contact with her cheek bone. He brushed it gently across her face and pulled away as realization washed over his face. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that."
Usually, Katniss would have agreed. She didn't even like when a guy she was talking to would touch her shoulder while they talked let alone run their fingers across her face, but what Peeta did felt different. It was gentle and warm, and she didn't mind a bit.
"It's fine," Katniss assured him.
"Well, did you want to make a wish?" Peeta asked as he brought his hand back to focus. She hadn't done that since she was a child. Wishing that her father would come home from work with ice cream or that she and Prim would wake up Christmas morning to a puppy under the tree.
"I wish I had more time to spend with Peeta tonight." She kept the wish to herself, and blew on Peeta's fingers lightly, closing her eyes tight. She couldn't explain it, but there was something about making a wish on a stray eyelash that lit a smoldering fire in the pit of her stomach. Why was she acting like Gale?
When she opened her eyes, Peeta was reaching into his pocket and grabbing another mint, and popped it into his mouth with a shy smile. She couldn't seem to take her eyes off of him, and her breath hitched when he poked his tongue out and licked his lips.
The sound of Katniss' phone ringing from the bottom of her bag snapped her out of the staring problem she seemed to acquire. It was Gale calling, yelling at her and asking her where the hell she was at. She pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at the display, seeing the clock for the first time since Peeta told her it was 8:15. It was 10:30.
They began walking back to the hotel quickly, ruminating out loud over how so much time could have passed so quickly. Katniss wondered to herself how so much time could have passed without Peeta trying to kiss her, too. Even though the idea of it angered her at first, when he didn't try it, she found herself wishing that he had and wondered why he didn't.
She spotted Gale standing outside of the hotel, but he didn't look angry. In fact, he was smiling and in what looked like a very deep conversation with a blond that looked alarmingly like Peeta, but with shorter hair.
"Is that your brother talking to my friend, or do you have a doppelganger out there?" Katniss asked.
"That's Neil." Peeta confirmed. He waved at him as they approached, and Gale's face looked confused as Katniss moved next to him.
"Who's that?" Gale questioned.
"Your little friend's brother… his name is Peeta." Katniss answered. She introduced the two and got to meet Neil. Up close he looked less like Peeta. His eyes were smaller, and even though his hair was shorter than Peeta's she could tell it wasn't curly. Peeta put another mint into his mouth and shuffled his weight a little after he introduced them.
"He's eating his mints!" Neil exclaimed with a smile. "He only does that when he's nervous. You must make him nervous." He looked at Katniss and started to laugh after Peeta told him to shut up.
"Neil and I are going to stop at Bounce for a drink, Katniss. Did you want me to drop you off at home first or did you want to come with us?" A gay speed dating event followed by a gay club? Any other day this would have be fine, but not that night. Not after spending the last couple of hours with Peeta. She didn't want to have to say goodbye to him at all let alone leave him to go stand around alone again.
"I'm just going to go home; you guys don't need a third wheel." Katniss said. While Gale and Neil were trying to figure out the best route to get Katniss home and get to the club, Peeta spoke up.
"I can take her home." She wanted to smile and tell him yes right away. It would have given her an extra fifteen minutes with him. Fifteen extra minutes to learn more about him. But she wouldn't show him how happy she was, not yet. She stood by and let Gale handle it like he always did.
"Are you sure?" Gale asked, eyeing Peeta. "Can I trust your brother?" He said to Neil.
"He may be awkward and he may not get many women, but he is trustworthy." Neil attested.
It was settled. Gale and Neil were going to the club in Gale's car, and Peeta was taking Katniss home in his car. Before Katniss got into Gale's car, be grabbed her arm and pulled her aside.
"Let's marry them." He whispered. "Then we can be related." She laughed and punched his arm, sending him off to his car with a promise that she would call him in the morning to tell him everything that led to her walk with Peeta.
She observed Peeta's profile as he drove. Focused eyes, with eyelashes so long it would make any woman angry that they belonged to a man, a nose that wasn't perfect, but turned up just slightly at the end, and plump lips that stuck out just a little in their relaxed state. Lips that Katniss suddenly wanted to put her own to.
Maybe Gale had the right idea all along. She was never out looking for husband material like him, but maybe it was time to start. Maybe her days of flings and two month long relationships with non-committal men were coming to an end. She had never met a man she wanted to spend so much time with so quickly before. She kept forgetting that they just met.
When Peeta turned to her suddenly while they were at a red light, she jumped, so lost in her thoughts that she didn't realize she was staring at him so intently and letting so much silence build between them.
"Can we be honest with each other?" he asked. The question scared Katniss, but she nodded. She needed to know what he was about to tell her. She figured it must be the part where he was going to tell her that he was married and never meant to lead her on the way he did. "I don't really want to bring you home yet. Get coffee with me?"
Katniss stared at him again, fighting the smile that wanted to spring to her lips at the realization that their minds were on the same page.
"I'd like that." Katniss answered.
"It's just that… you look so pretty tonight. It'd be a waste if I just took you home." Nobody had ever called her pretty before that night. Not even Gale. Sexy or hot, sure, she had gotten those before when out at bars, or when she asked Gale how her outfit looked and he thought that was what she wanted to hear, but never pretty.
They each got a cup of coffee and agreed to share a piece of apple pie. Peeta commented that she needed to try the apple pie at his family's bakery - it's much better than the stuff they were currently eating. They talked about everything from music to their favorite toppings on pizza, and when the waitress came around with the check and made it clear that she was closing up, Katniss' stomach dropped. It was the best evening she'd had in years and she didn't want it to end.
She reached into her purse to grab a few bills to throw onto the table, but Peeta stopped her.
"Put your money away, I've got it." She opened her mouth to argue, but he cut her off. "I've got it." He gave her another one of his smiles, and threw the money onto the table. "Thanks for keeping me company tonight."
"Was this a date?" Katniss asked abruptly. Part of her question was a joke, but another part of it was serious. What was were they doing? Was it Peeta being polite again by taking her out for coffee after having to spend her evening helping a friend who ended up just leaving with someone else in the end? She wasn't mad about that, but maybe Peeta thought she was and thought taking her out for coffee would make her feel better.
"I don't know," Peeta answered. "You deserve more than coffee and pie on a date, but we can consider it an unofficial first date. I mean… if you wanted to go on a real date with me at all." He popped another mint into his mouth, indicating his nerves, and the endearing way that he crumpled the wrapper between his thumb and forefinger gave Katniss the courage to respond with exactly what she was thinking.
"You're the only person I've met in the last two years that I've wanted to go out on a real date with." Peeta smiled even wider as he dropped the mint wrapper into his empty mug.
"Then have brunch with me tomorrow." He said. "Afterward, we can go to the art museum." Katniss couldn't help it; she was the one smiling widely after that. Everything Peeta did was different than the other guys she had spent time with after all. Brunch and the art museum instead of dinner and drinks. Or drinks and more drinks.
"A real first date?" Katniss asked.
"Yes… a real first date." Peeta replied. It took Katniss less than a second to tell him yes.
Peeta drove Katniss to her apartment and insisted on walking her to her door. He wouldn't agree to just sitting in his car and watching to make sure she got in the lobby door alright, he wanted to make sure she got into the apartment alright too.
They stopped at the door to say their goodbyes, but Katniss didn't want to say goodbye yet. She also didn't want to send the wrong message by inviting him in either, so she gave him her phone number instead, and asked him to text to let her know he got home safely.
"I'll come and pick you up for brunch at 10:30." Peeta said. "Will that work for you?" She agreed to 10:30, but neither of them seemed to know what to do after that.
Finally, Peeta opened his arms and Katniss moved closer, letting him wrap them around her tightly. Without thinking, she moved her hands to his back and rested her head on his shoulder. It was the most intimate hug she'd ever had with anyone, let alone someone she had just met a few hours prior, but for some reason, it just felt right. It felt like it was where she is supposed to be. Peeta was the first to let go, and they stared at each other, not sure of how to end it. How can you end something you had no interest in stopping?
"I'm out of mints." Peeta said with a nervous laugh, running his hand through his hair. "I really want to kiss you, but I don't want you to think I'm one of those guys." He finally admitted.
"I don't think that about you." Katniss assured him. She moved up on her tip toes just slightly so she could reach his mouth and gave him a peck on the lips. She knew right away that was not nearly enough to keep her going until she was with him again in the morning.
It was clear that Peeta had the same thought when he leaned back in and placed a second kiss on her lips. It was slow and sensual, and like nothing she'd ever experienced. His bottom lip rested between hers and not once did he try to take it further than that. His hand cupped her cheek; when he pulled away, he left it there only briefly. He ran his thumb over her cheek bone, and Katniss was surprised at how it feels even gentler than when he wiped her eyelash away. Finally, he trailed his hand down to her shoulder, over her arm, and settled at her hand, lacing their fingers together before speaking.
"I'll see you in the morning, Katniss." His voice was wistful and Katniss knew that if she spoke at that moment, she would have sounded the same way.
She reached up quickly and ran her fingers through his hair, spending extra time on the left side where that small curl still wrapped around his ear. He gave her a crooked smile after she takes her hand away.
"I'm sorry, I've been wanting to do that all night." She admitted.
They kept their hands clasped together even as he began to walk away, letting go only after he moved so far away that they couldn't reach each other anymore. He gave one last wave before turning around and walking away – Katniss watched him as he went.
"Hey Peeta?" she called out. He turned around quickly, unable to hide the large smile that had spread from ear to ear. "Wear one of your Hawaiian shirts tomorrow." He chuckled, but agreed before turning back around and walking away at last.
Maybe speed dating wasn't so bad after all.