Wow, hi everybody. Sorry to kind of drag you along for awhile there - I do apologize, and so does Musician!Peeta, for making you wait an insane three months for an update. No bueno. Unfortunately real life got the best of me over the holidays and dragged itself into 2013. Silly Dee!
And for my guest reader Eadin, and anyone else befuddled, Gill = Gale to me. Sorry. I can't do EverThorne and didn't want any inkling of it in my story so I replaced Gale with his doppelganger, so named for my Anne of Green Gables obsession. No regrets! (PS this is SOO my first ever fanfic and I don't know what in the hell I'm doing - AT ALL.)
Anyways, thanks for being so patient with me, and I hope you are happy with where I take you from here. Thanks for reading!
Peeta wastes no time in contacting me, and I feel fire in my cheeks and neck when I get home the night of the concert and discover not one, but two texts from him since leaving The Depot.
P: Saw your name on my roll for 5960.
P: The collaboration seminar.
My fingers frantically fly across the screen of my phone, and after three attempts at being charming I am finally satisfied.
K: I was thinking our paths would cross again – it's a small university, you know :)
I don't add that by "thinking" I mean "hoping".
P: Getting smaller all the time. I think you were the one to say we artists need to stick together.
K: Sounds like me… I think I also did stupid shit that night like get drunk off mediocre tequila, but yes, sometimes I am quite philosophical…
Thus begins our week long flirtation via SMS. Thank god for technology.
I am never this good on the spot. Its only because we are texting that I can even sound remotely cool, because I can review and edit my response for ten minutes before sending it, checking for any double entendres that will make me look like a jackass. I spend an inordinate amount of time checking my phone, ensuring I have a full battery, that the text alert is on, and other such buffoonery of a girl crushing.
This is not like me. Also unlike me is having flirtsy interaction with a charming guy.
Same charming guy who mentioned seeing my name among his students…
A charming guy who is also kind of my professor…
What in the hell am I thinking? I can't like a teacher! Even if he is my professor for like, what, three weeks? I am riding the train to Whole Foods when I have this revelation, and I can feel the air whistle through my teeth as I gasp shakily, jaw taut and eyes suddenly affixed to a spot of gum under my bench. What happens next, I wonder… Do we just continue this kind of conversation and then greet each other as intellectuals Thursday morning? Yeah, that won't be weird at all…
The ding of the train door sliding open occurs at exactly the same time Jo's fake exaggerated orgasm text alert pops up, indicating a message from her.
JoHoe: So apparently there is this thing on Saturday. You are in with me – no bullshit this time, I swear. I will be good, you will be charming, Peeta will be musical, it will be magic, just wait.
I drop my phone into my canvas grocery tote (be green!) with a sigh. I need time to mull over this teacher-student business, to decide just how badly I want to crush on somebody so gifted musically and in filling out levis who happens to also be *kind of* an authority figure…
I will consider this over produce selection, I guess.
My careful variety of apples in interrupted – it can't be more than five minutes later when I hear another ding from my phone, but because this one was not Johanna and might possibly be from Peeta, I drop the honeycrisp in my hand to thrash through the tote, past my wallet and keys, and grasp my phone, clutching it in my ninja death grip and trying, unsuccessfully, to lower my suddenly elevated heart rate.
P: How do you feel about dogs?
Dammit, Peeta, stop being cute for twenty minutes so I can decide what I want, okay?
Before I realize it, I have dialed Prim – but its Tuesday afternoon and I remember quickly that she tutors at this time so I hang up. Ugh, and I don't really want to talk about this with her - It seems… inconsequential. She talks about goals and research. And I almost called her with a boy problem? Come on, Big Sis.
I take a deep breath, and from somewhere unknown within myself I find the strength to power down my cell. It hurts a little when the provider's little tune plays, telling me its off, but groceries await!
And Peeta Mellark and his mysteries can be patient for an hour or so. Or until I cave…
Nobody is more surprised than myself that it remains powered down for the rest of the night.
Thursday morning arrives bright and brisk and light – the first day of the semester that actually requires a jacket for warmth and not just to cover my dance clothes. I feel the flush in my cheeks (for more than one reason, I'm sure) but I blame it on having to jog from the train stop to the education building for the seminar. I will be professional, is my mantra. A boy has been flirting with you through messaging and asking your opinions of symbolism in WoT, but today he is your instructor. You can do this.
I can do this. I can do this.
I fling the side door to the classroom open only to find Peeta bent over an intricate tangle of wiring attached to a very sophisticated looking sound system, nicer than anything we have over in the dance department. He remains intent on the bundle, grasping what will fit in one hand while simultaneously straightening the waist of his jeans with the other. There is a fleeting moment where I see maybe two inches of underwear, counting, of course, the bright white waistband and where its sewn to the dark green fabric of what must be boxer briefs, and Omigod, why does this man have an ass that won't quit? And why does the universe insist on taunting me with such a delectable muffin butt the very second I decide to chill the fuck out?
I take a deep breath and walk further into the room, already spotting an empty seat by my dancer friend, Benny. Do not look at Peeta. Do not look at Peeta's ass. Do not look –
It had to happen sooner or later. My head drops back on my neck and I feel the loose hairs of my braided bun tickle my upper back. I spin on my heel to face him, trying desperately not to look foolish but certainly failing miserably, and meet his eyes and his smile with a shyer one of my own.
"Hey." My hands need something to play with or the very least I need to learn to stop these nervous twitches. The second I get my fingers to stop twiddling, I feel my toe wiggle in my shoe…
"How are you?" he asks, sounding so sunny and cheerful and with that halo of blonde hair he is practically glowing.
Out with it, I decide.
"You're my teacher." I level with him, totally deadpan, kind of smiling so as not to make myself feel weirder than I already do, but with my brows raised to show my concern. To my surprise, his smile grows, to the point of revealing those dimples under the right side of his mouth, and god, I just wanna touch his fucking face.
"Don't get weird, Katniss. Its just for today. And not even all of today – just for –"he looks at the clock on the wall – "the next hour and forty minutes. And really I won't even be teaching so much as facilitating a discussion, so… really I'm just everybody's friend for right now."
"And grading? Should I be 'un-weird' about that too?"
He laughs, a short exhalative, breathy sound before continuing. "I'm not in charge of that – grades are Abby's domain. I'm not even a real professor, or associate professor, or even instructor – I'm 'staff'!" I smirk and laugh a little at this too, but only because he's being so good natured and friendly about it.
"So, what did you say? 'Facilitating a discussion'? Wanna give a girl a head's up?"
His hands once again pull the waist of his jeans up over his hips, and thank you, jesus, for letting Peeta forget his belt today. "Just a few ideas of collaborative artists over time. Umm… Radiohead, Miles Davis, and uh, probably Aimee Mann. You know, just artists who didn't care what people thought. For… inspiration, and choreography and… stuff, I guess."
I'm in a strange kind of shock. Maybe he didn't say his agenda in a very deliberate way, but I am impressed by him and his, well, his capability to be extremely profound. He picks up the bundled wires he absently dropped on the desk to his left and begins twisting them back and forth, like he's trying to wring out a dish towel. When I continue studying his movements, I'm struck by his presence as an artist – he actually commands my attention, simply by standing here, holding his wires.
This should be good…
He meets my eyes again and runs his right hand through his hair – the spell is broken and I adjust my bag from across my chest and onto one shoulder, shrugging back and forth as I do so, looking away.
"I guess its time to start. I gotta be everybody's friend right now so…"
To my simultaneous horror and fascination, I blurt out, "But if you're everybody's friend, what makes me so special?"
The flush climbs up my neck and fills my face as my eyes grow wide with surprise at my own forwardness. Is this because of the artist talk? Did he really awe me that much, that I would speak like such a fucking bimbo?
There is a shift in the energy between us. Peeta tosses the cables back onto the desk, and with a quick look around the classroom to be certain heads are buried in books or glued to cell phones, he reaches towards me, lifting one of my fallen tote straps from where it hangs loose near my elbow, and placing it gently back on my shoulder.
"The difference, Katniss, is that I want you to be my friend."
Two days later, I find myself en route to City Park, wearing a canary yellow oversized tee with the words "homeless dogs have it ruff" printed on my chest. Why, you ask? Because Madge and Peeta's band is playing for free during the fair of Strut Your Mutt, the annual Humane Society fundraiser. I am intrigued by him in more ways than one, that's for sure… intrigued enough to get involved in a mass dog walking event, anyways.
The train drops me off about a block away from the park, and Johanna is planning to meet me at the gates. I fully intend to keep her to her word today – she promised to be good, to keep the public face-sucking with Gill to a minimum – which is good for me, because I already have knots in my stomach after Thursday. Peeta definitely makes an impression as a lecturer, much like he does during performance, I think, and I actually felt drawn to him more after the seminar. He becomes a different person, almost, somebody very confident, educated, and excited about music when he is speaking or performing to a group.
Its actually pretty fucking hot…
I just don't feel that secure in my own artistry to really dance in front of people I know, so I admire that about him, and at the same time want to wrap my fingers around those two front belt loops near his hip bones…
He reassured me, more than once, that we were once again on equal academic footing, and invited me formally to come today – even walking me out to his car for a ride to the dance building and to give me the unisex yellow tent I have on today. So here goes!
Jo flags me down, wearing the same shirt as me only on her it looks adorable – she must have made alterations or something – and she's wearing these cute little seersucker shorts with wedge sandals – not the most practical thing for a dog walk, but its Johanna and she dresses to kill every minute of the day. "You look great," I tell her. "What did you do to your shirt?"
"Same thing I'm gonna do to yours." And with that, she grabs my hand and tugs me behind the nearby park restrooms, gesturing with a flick of her wrist that I should take this tent off. The tee only slightly fuzzes my singular French braid when I take it off; surprisingly the neckline on this beast is actually quite small for how boxy the rest of it is. I'm standing behind the small brick and cinderblock building in my sports bra when Jo pulls a pair of scissors from her purse. "Whoa. Nothing slutty, okay?"
She fixes me with a look, head tilted down and eyes over her sunglasses, before saying "Bitch, you could use some slutty."
Ten minutes later the tee is transformed. My thin, boyish shape is actually evident, and Johanna did something to the neckline, widening it, I think, to make it look more feminine. Once she is happy with the top half of me, she puts all of her energy into coercing me into daisy dukes similar to ones she is wearing. Madge must have let her in to the apartment when I was at the lab or something, because Jo pulls two different options for shorts from her seemingly bottomless purse, and she and I are not the same size, made evident by her luscious hippy curves alone. I sigh, and then quickly remember that I'm grateful for Madge and Jo's assistance here and gesture towards the off white jean shorts with faint patches of fringe and distressing at the seam. Damn these girls and their insistence I shave my legs, past my usual kneecap. She covers me while I change bottoms – this is one of my talents, truly – I am only in my panties for two seconds before the fly and button are covering my junk once again.
I take an appraising look down at my chest and ass, and am moderately happy with what I see. Jo, however, pushes me to kneel facing away from her and starts undoing my braid. "You look like a polygamist," she says. "If you have to have your hair out of your face for dancing, lets at least get you bangs or something, god."
Only minutes later, I stand to look at my reflection in the mirrored fascia of the restroom – Eew, why would there be mirrors here? Perverts. She has tucked my most frizzy and unruly parts of my hair back from my forehead, allowing the gentle waves from the braid to hang long and loose down my back, past my bra line. "I admit, Jo, I do feel better."
She smiles and nods. "Now let's go save some fucking dogs and get you kissed while we do."
I try my damnedest, but as soon as we're in the gates and heading to the small platform stage, my eyes immediately seek his. Ugh, but the yellow tee is actually adorable on Peeta - he is the only one in the band wearing it, actually – and the sunny color adds to his general bright appearance. He lifts a hand in greeting, smiling with the chin dimples, and turns back to the laptop he and Delly are working on. For the first time, I notice his interaction with her; he is guiding her through some kind of install or reboot, and when she finishes successfully, he smiles widely to her and pats her on the back before turning to check his mandolin. He is the model teacher. You couldn't help but adore him, I think, flashing back to Thursday and his energy in discussion and involving each shy artist. Maybe he really is this genuine, sweet, ideal kind of person… Its just that nobody in my life before has ever been this authentic. Except for Prim…
A joyous shout accompanied by whistles from the crowd shakes my thoughts and draws my attention east, where what looks like a hundred dogs are headed our way, all leashed, of course. Its immediately a volume my head and heart appreciate – I absolutely love being blared by sound, and these dogs and their humans, volunteers, whatever don't disappoint. Im not even a pet person, but the excitement of the animals, some only puppies, and the people around them is actually pretty contagious and I find myself smiling right along with everybody.
I have located what I think might be my favorite dog, a small, tan, scruffy thing wearing a bright blue bandanna with dark eyes that practically sparkle, when the music begins, just Peeta and the strings of his mandolin. His melody accompanies photo after photo of dogs displayed across the linen, and Jo informs me from her pamphlet that these are all the homeless pets placed with families in the last year. What? There is this tight little twinge in my chest, which is weird and not like me at all, and I brush it off as nerves at seeing Peeta again and maybe in the small chance that something will go wrong today.
Because Katniss Everdeen doesn't feel emotions towards dogs. Nope.
Madge, wearing her now trademark boots, smiles and steps closer to the mic.
"If we were children, I would bake you a mud pie
Warm and brown beneath the sun.
Never learned to climb a tree, but I would try
Just to show you what I'd done.
Oh, what I wouldn't do
If I had you, babe, I had you.
Oh, what I wouldn't do
If I had you, babe."
The song swells now and Madge leads the crowd in quick little rhythmic claps to complement Gill's light drumming. Soon she is singing again and dog pics are flashing, and if I look in their eyes just right, I can almost see a little bit of… maybe human-ness? Bleh! I shake my head and fixate on Peeta again instead. He leans into Madge to share the vocals now.
"If I were old, my dearest, you would be older
But I would crawl upon your lap
Wrap a blanket 'round our frail little shoulders
And I'd die happily like that."
With the audience still maintaining the quick, staccato claps, Peeta and Madge start in on a whistle of the melody, and all this time, his fingers have never lost pace across the strings. He's just… going, still. Singing, whistling, strumming, smiling, just all around performance perfection, really.
What does he ever see in me?
Once the band is finished and everyone has appropriately cheered and the dogs are nice and rowdy, we are instructed to head to our assigned posts to pick up our pups for the mile and a half walk. Jo links arms with me and we head to the banner reading "Malibu Mutts" where the order of the day is sunglasses, swimsuits, surfboards, and beach umbrellas. And yes, some dogs are in costume. "Uh hah!" I let slip before catching myself and Johanna fixes me with a look. "Okay, yes, its kind of adorable, alright? God." She just rolls her eyes. I don't tell her that what's really killing me is this fat little beagle in sunglasses, coconut bra, and grass skirt. Totally just dibs-ed that one…
Johanna leashes up with some big drooley beast, and to my chagrin, I do not get the grass skirt beagle – Trust me, I'm not above fighting idiots for the hound I prefer, but this boy about ten years old with a lisp kept hugging her and calling her "sthugar" – Sugar? Dammit, my heart is pretty vulnerable and tender today…
If I'm not careful…
I'm going to say something stupid – and girly –
And just absolutely ruin any chance of credibility I have as a decent possible girlfriend – WHOA! Pump the brakes! NOT a girlfriend, nope.
Because that would imply a BOYfriend –
And Peeta is too busy, and perfect, and lovely, and charming…
"Shut up, brain!"
Okay, oh my lord, truthfully, I meant to say that in my head and now Jo (and every Malibu Mutt) is staring at me. I slip my sunglasses onto the bridge of my nose and shrug, trying unsuccessfully to be cool, and roll my neck against my raised right shoulder. I am about two seconds away from sending Madge an SOS/Smoke Signal "HELP ME" text when I hear Peeta laugh gently with the elderly volunteer woman at the booth. I sigh.
It's a mile and a half. With dogs. Just focus on the dogs…
He finds Jo and I, holding the leashes of three dogs, one of whom is barely a puppy or either totally excited and probably going to pee everywhere on everything. He looks right at me and I'm lost – it's a good thing I have the safety of my dark tinted sunglasses because I didn't hear a word he just said. I shake my head and tilt slightly closer to him.
"I said, thanks for agreeing to this, Katniss. I admit I'm a little surprised you care about animals," Peeta says. He smiles and gestures to the leashes in his hands, and I tentatively reach forward.
"I don't think I can do the little one," and a small laugh escapes his lips – he is smiling broadly, bigger than before, so now that smattering of dimples is showing. In my hesitation and distraction, I don't notice the small yapping puppy jump past me towards Johanna's massive brute. Peeta reaches to assert his grip on the handle of the leash at about the same time I realize what's happening, and I stretch my arm out to keep the dogs separated – not that anything could go wrong – the drooling dog is almost asleep from boredom and, I'm certain, just existing as a huge beast.
Because, really, I bet its exhausting.
The furry little thing escapes from Peeta's grasp, and I grab the leash in time to keep the dog in place. I just can't even believe something could be that small and have so much energy, and when I bend my knees to rub its scruffy little head between the ears, with my other hand I gain purchase on the handle.
Only there's another hand already holding it.
I twist back around to Peeta, and for a split second, my index and middle fingers are messily entwined in a combination of his hand and the fraying fabric handle of the leash. There is such a… a warmth coming from his hand that I'm tempted to slide my hand all the way in, to be palm to palm. I glance up at his face through the shelter of my glasses – the deep blue of his eyes (I think the color is cerulean…) sparkles as they catch the sun, and he is smiling again. No, laughing. There's this little chip missing from the corner of one of his front teeth that I didn't see before now, and because I'm so close, I can almost smell his musk, probably from the music and the sun blaring down. He casually tosses his head to the side to right the blonde locks that got mussed in the puppy fray, and its over – I'm a goner. He squats with his weight on his heels, managing the other two dogs like its no big deal, and leaning close to me, er, to the littlest dog.
He's leaning to keep a grip on the leash, the leash that I had, but now hand back over to him fully.
"See, I told you the little dog wasn't good for me," I tell him, straightening and brushing my now sweaty palms across the front of my shorts.
Be cool, be cool, be cool…
Peeta's smile is directed back at me this time when he hands me the shortest leash of all three. "That's why you get Bubba, this handsome boy."
At the sound of his name, the wrinkled chubby white bulldog glances up, which must prove exerting for him because he immediately opens his mouth to roll his tongue out and starts panting. Should be an interesting mile and a half…
We walk, and Jo must read the anxiety on my face because she actually takes the lead in conversation, asking Peeta questions about his music. I'm grateful for the chance to wind down from my electric skin to skin moment with him… but once I feel calm, I immediately begin to miss his proximity…
And the heat from his fingers…
'Why the fuck not?' I ask myself.
He has both leashes of his two dogs in his right hand with me walking on his left. I take a deep, deep breath, switch Bubba to my left, and much more confidently than I feel, slip my hand into his. For real this time, not an accident.
He is still explaining something to Jo but looks right at me as he does so, and gives a little answering squeeze to my fingers. I am instantly relaxed. Not only relaxed, but… happy. And excited, and fluttery.
It is this moment that Gill catches up to us – apparently he has been jogging lightly to do so – and he and Johanna step out of the dog parade to, well, either suck face or talk. Hopefully talk. Way too many kids around right now…
"Hey," Peeta says to me, swinging our tangled hands to bump the side of my leg.
I loop Bubba's strap around my wrist and shove my sunglasses up onto my head. I realize I want him to see me, to see me wanting him, in all of his adorable, fuckable perfection. I offer him a small, sideways smile and say 'hey' back.
He loosens his hold of my hand, but only for a moment to grasp it a different way. He's still smiling when he raises our joined hands, and with a flick of his wrist spins me around once while never missing a step. I laugh. "Kind of cheesy, but not bad for a musician," I say.
And we walk our three dogs to the end of the trail.