A very special thanks to porchwood (known as Mejhiren around these parts) for being such a wonderful, supportive friend and looking over this first.
So they broke up?" she asks, adjusting the screen to eliminate the glare from the sunlight streaming through her bedroom window.
"Seems that way."
"Did he say why?"
"He didn't say much, but I guess it was just the standard blow off speech. 'I need space.' Stuff like that."
"Oh," Katniss says, unsure of why Peeta's roommate's relationship status is weighing so heavily on her. "How's he doing?"
"Awful. Like Taylor-Swift-on-loop awful."
"Like you don't love the new album."
"You know I have no shame. But it's also kind of killing my Leslie/Ben buzz."
She winds a strand of hair around her finger and smiles at him teasingly. "Wow, you really don't have any shame." Then there's the sound of a door slamming shut and she watches Peeta crane his neck to acknowledge someone out of frame. "Hey man." She hears a muffled response in the background and then the familiar opening notes from a guitar string. Peeta slumps dejectedly in his seat before leaning in closer to the web camera. "Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."
"You know I hate it when you make Star Trek references."
He rolls his eyes but smiles at her, and it's amazing how much she can already miss him. He was just back home a few days ago.
"I should go," he says reluctantly, tilting his head in the direction of his heartbroken suitemate. She agrees.
At least it's only seven more weeks until Christmas break.
She stops dead in her tracks when she enters her bedroom to find her mother waiting for her. There, next to her on the mattress, is the box of condoms Katniss had hastily purchased several months before. She can already feel her face heating up, her heart nearly beating right out of her chest.
"Honey, we should talk."
A thousand excuses hit her at once. They're mail samples! I'm holding them for Gale! I meant to buy water balloons and got confused! She wishes Peeta were with her. He'd be spinning some yarn about a condom drive for the homeless that would have her mother eating out of his hand.
"Oh, th-they gave those to us at freshman orientation."
"The school gave you a jumbo box of Trojan Intense?"
Oh thank god Peeta's not with her.
Katniss tries to shrug indifferently even as her back starts to sweat. "They just want us to be safe and responsible on campus."
"It's a community college!"
Katniss is stammering out a pathetic reply when her mother takes pity on her. She sighs and motions for Katniss to sit next to her, and the walk across the room feels like the green mile.
"Look, I knew this was bound to happen. You're 18 now and…well, I think Peeta's the very model of what a young man should be. But I do think you should take things slow."
"I know," she says, nodding. "We are," she promises.
Not even a little.
"I just don't want you to rush into things. I remember how it can be at your age, when everything's new and exciting. It's so easy to get carried away."
She holds up the box and Katniss's face reddens again.
"I'm proud that you're prepared, but I think I should schedule a gynecologist appointment for you for the pill. It's not a green light to start having sex, but I want you to have extra protection."
The sound of blood rushing in her ears begins to subside when she realizes that her mother doesn't actually know she's already sleeping with Peeta. She assumes it's because the box is unopened, since Peeta buys his own condoms like a gentleman. Suddenly she doesn't feel such an intense need for the floor to swallow her up whole.
"Just…take it slow," she reminds her again. "Peeta's your first boyfriend and I don't want to see either of you getting hurt."
Katniss frowns at the words first boyfriend but only nods in response.
Later, when Katniss is commiserating with Prim over their mother's new snooping habit, the gory details conveniently left out, Prim can only smile. "It's kinda nice, though, right? Having mom acting like a mom again?"
Katniss agrees, albeit begrudgingly, but there's something about her mother's approach that still bothers her. It's the words first boyfriend still niggling in her mind.
"You're just mad that I got 36 points with a triple word score," she says with satisfaction.
"I would never begrudge you a win. It happens so rarely."
Cat. She shakes her head disapprovingly even though he can't see her with the Skype window minimized. "You're off your game, Mellark."
"Hey, I had two exams today. I can't even think anymore." Her next move is mount and he sighs in frustration. "You're just teasing me now."
It's been nearly two weeks since Peeta's roommate left the dorm long enough for them to coordinate a video chat, and whileWords with Friends has always been their game, it's not doing anything to release the pent-up sexual tension.
Cats. Katniss bursts out laughing. "Okay, I'm officially taking pity on you and ending this game."
He ends their Skype call and her cell phone buzzes with a text notification seconds later. He's hovering again. This okay?
She moves to her bed, toeing off her flats before falling to the mattress and kicking her feet up behind her. She's the world's slowest texter, but it's a trait Peeta's well aware of so he'll wait patiently for each response. Yeah. You two not getting along?
He's just being an ass and I've stopped feeling sorry for him. Also, every time I start to type his name to complain about him, it autocorrects it to 'Marvelous' which is kind of ironic.
She chuckles and then starts her next message. Texting is probably the easiest way to get it out there. My mom thinks I should get on the pill and I agree so I have an appointment tomorrow.
He's usually quick with a reply, even while indulging her hatred for text speak. But there's a significant pause before her phone pings again. Wow. Yeah, that's probably a good idea. And then, before she has a chance to text back, Is she going to greet me with a shotgun the next time I see her?
A good two minutes later she finally gets out, No, it's okay. It's just to be prepared. She doesn't think we've done anything yet.
Must be because I look so innocent.
Yeah, that's probably it. No one ever suspects you.
If only they knew.
She smiles. Yeah, if only they knew.
"I thought you said early registration was a few weeks ago?" he asks.
"I was trying to give my advisor time to sober up."
They're chatting on their cells while Katniss leafs through her course catalog for the spring semester. "So…accounting?" she ponders aloud. She's taking a bunch of general classes her first semester, but she needs a concentration soon if she plans on getting an associate degree next year.
"Mm, pencil skirts and reading glasses. Sexy."
"Yeah, right," she nearly snorts. She flips from the front to the back of the catalog. "How about welding?"
"Also ridiculously sexy."
"I could weld by day and strip by night as I work my way toward my real dream: dancing."
Peeta laughs. "How have you seen Flashdance but not any of the Lord of the Rings movies? We're going to have so many Netflix dates this summer."
She can hear him move around his room while she continues to look through the college classes, and it's so easy to picture him as he throws together something for lunch, probably cradling the phone between his ear and shoulder while he stirs his food. The background sounds of the microwave beeping and a fork scraping against a plate serve as the soundtrack to her little mental Peeta movie. It's nearly pathetic how bad she has it.
"What about you?" she asks him, forcing herself to focus. "Have you picked a major yet?" She rolls over onto her back and lets the phone fall next to her ear. There are so many options and yet not nearly enough, and she's only growing more discouraged as she looks at the community college offerings and tries to plan for her future.
"Actually, I'm leaning toward pre-dental," Peeta says, and she drops the catalog as her eyebrows quirk upward.
"A dentist? You want to be a dentist? You know that involves teeth, right?" The combination of teeth and possible pain always makes Katniss's skin crawl. She just has a thing about teeth. And fingernails. And eyeballs.
"So I've heard."
"It just seems…random."
"Yeah, well, my parents have pretty much told me that they're not paying for an arts degree. I don't have any real interest in business or engineering and law school in this economy is just a terrible idea. So then there's healthcare." She can hear the shuffling as he sits down at his computer desk, probably with his lunch in hand. "Dentists have better schedules than most medical doctors, and malpractice insurance isn't as backbreaking. Plus there's still a lot of volunteering opportunities. And I did some shadowing senior year. It seems like it might be a good fit."
"So you're going to fix all the cavities everyone gets from eating at your parents' bakeries?"
"Yes. It's really all an elaborate scheme."
She wishes she could approach these decisions the way Peeta does. He's always thinking three steps ahead and weighing every option, and Katniss can barely stand to think about the next week, she's so unsure of what she's doing. "You really want to be a dentist?" she asks again.
"What I really want to be is Katniss Everdeen's love slave."
She smiles and pulls the phone back to her ear. "The pay sucks."
"Ah, but the benefits are awesome."
Peeta can't come home for Thanksgiving.
Katniss had tried to prepare herself for it, had somewhat sensed it coming, but it still feels like she's deflating when she gets the confirmation. "It's more of a family time anyway," he tells her over the phone. She gets it. Will the elder Mellarks even be home? They were in Hawaii last year, sans sons. Katniss remembers how her mother had to work that evening, one of her first shifts back, and so she, Prim and Peeta all spent the day at the Hawthornes, salivating over the stability as much as the homemade food.
"It's only a long weekend, really, and it's so close to winter break," he continues nervously.
"Peeta," she intercepts. "It's fine. Really. Work on your papers."
"I just don't want you to feel like I'm forgetting about you."
"I don't," she assuages. "You have to have your priorities in order."
"You're my number one priority."
She ignores that. "It's okay. I understand."
She does understand. But it's not okay. She doesn't blame him at all and she really does agree that it's best for him to stay behind, but it sucks. The entire situation just sucks.
Later, when she's in her room trying to study for an exam, she thinks again about her possible major. She still hasn't decided. Not like Peeta. Never like Peeta.
He'll probably be an amazing dentist, she imagines. He wouldn't settle for being anything less. And who wouldn't want Peeta to be the one leaning over you, so large and warm and talking about sucking and spitting? (God, her toes curl just thinking about a related memory there!) All the young girls with mouths full of metal are going to just love him.
But how much longer is he going to be away for thetraining? Decided, she ambles over to her laptop and Googles 'dental school' and then follows the related search for 'dental schools in Pennsylvania.' UPenn's program is the first link, and she clicks on it to find out more. As she navigates the site, she reasons that the schooling can't be that long, right? There's only 32 teeth. That's, what, an extra year? Maybe 18 mon-
"Seven years?" she bellows, finding information about the Bio-Dental Consortial Program. Qualified students earn both their BS and DMD degrees in seven years.
She relaxes a little when she realizes that it includes undergrad, but not much. And if he specializes, which he so would, it would be even longer. He wouldn't be out of school until at least 2019, she thinks. 2019.
How the hell are they supposed to survive that?
Gale is thriving at Pitt. He loves his classes and the social scene and the freedom. Katniss isn't seeing much of him these days, and she surmises she'll see even less when he turns 21 the following month, though they're still in touch. But college changes things. It's changing him, in a sense. It's probably going to change Peeta, too. Katniss feels like she can't quite keep up.
So Madge Undersee is a godsend. They were friends before, but never that close. Then she went away to school, like so many in their graduating class. But she comes home every weekend, and even some weeknights, much to her parents' dismay.
"It's just not for me," she admits to Katniss. They're at the food court in the mall on a dreary early December afternoon. Katniss was thankful for the invitation out. She's free from work and class on Saturdays, but with Prim's bustling social life and Peeta's impending finals, she usually finds herself bored and alone with zero distractions.
She picks at her food while Madge relates tales of social-awkwardness and campus hierarchy. "I love my classes," she says. "But there's no privacy in the dorms, and all anyone is talking about is pledging. I'd rather commute at this point."
"If you do," Katniss says, looking up with a small smile, "we can hang out more."
"Definitely," Madge agrees, beaming.
If anything takes away the awkwardness of initiating Skype sex, it's going without it for 27 days.
Peeta's roommate had flat out refused him any privacy in their dorm; sometimes he could be seen in the background of their G-rated video chats, glaring at the computer screen from across the small room. He even stayed at Penn with Peeta during break. I think I actually hate him, Peeta would text. She had to agree; she didn't normally consider herself a violent person, but it had been weeks since they were alone and Katniss nearly wanted to kill him.
But just when the feelings are paramount, she gets a new text message.
Marvelous's grandma broke her hip.
Yes it is. But it means he's back in NY for the weekend.
She can't be bothered with typing out anything after that, so she calls him and he picks up after the first ring.
"Tonight? Around 7? I'll have the house to myself, too."
"God yes. But I feel a little guilty for being so happy about this. He kept crying about his poor gammy."
"We'll send flowers," Katniss reasons. She didn't even realize how bad it had been until the prospect of relief is right in front of her. Almost all of their interaction in the last month had been so sweet, so innocent. But she needs more.
So they don't waste any time that night after signing in to Skype. Soon Katniss is leaning back in her desk chair, completely naked, her long legs stretched out in front of her. She circles her nipple with her fingertip as she stares intently at the computer screen. Never in her life would she have imagined watching this to be such a massive turn on, but she loves it.
"I'd give anything for you to be here now, right in front of me and on your knees." He licks his lips as he strokes himself up and down, and Katniss is riveted by the sight. She arches her back a little, her hand fully cupping her breast now. She brings her other hand up from the armrest to her mouth and begins tracing it with her fingertip before slipping them into her mouth; she can see the effect it has on him.
"I wish that, too," she says, and then, knowingly, goes in for the kill. "I'd suck you dry."
He happily takes the bait, his hand moving faster now, but he still maintains control. "Mm, you better remember that when I'm home in a couple weeks."
Peeta loves blow jobs. Not much of a surprise- he's an 18-year-old guy, after all. But it's still a little shocking to her how much she loves giving them. She starts to trail her fingers down her stomach, but she stops right past her bellybutton and then moves back up. She can see Peeta's jaw clench in frustration but he's not going to beg just yet.
"I can't wait to see your mouth wrapped around me," he tells her, his hand still working steadily. "Your lips wet and your eyes locked with mine." He swallows thickly and she knows that's a sign that he's getting closer. "It's the hottest thing I've ever seen."
Her fingers dance back down her body to slowly tease them both, but again she stops short. She's not quite wet, and unlike Peeta, she needs a lot more work to get there. "Keep talking," she demands. That's what always gets her going, and he's got a way with words. She remembers that disgusting old saying about how a woman should be a lady in the parlor, a cook in the kitchen, and a harlot in the bedroom, and wonders what the male version would be for that, because that's so Peeta. Best discovery ever.
"I plan on spending all of winter break between your thighs," he promises. "I miss going down on you, Katniss. The way you taste and smell, it drives me crazy."
She throws her head back, her entire body arching as she finally touches herself. Peeta's completely focused on her now and he continues to speak to help her get there.
"I love getting you right on the edge of the bed, your feet on my shoulders…"
She can still hear him, but her eyes close as she pictures his words. He usually has one hand wrapped around her thigh, and the other resting palm down on her flat tummy to anchor her in place. When his head first dips between her legs, her body tenses in anticipation. Then he licks upward as his nose nuzzles against her, and she grabs his hair with both hands and pulls and tugs in sync with his tongue.
Peeta's nearly there but it's her turn now, so she reaches for her Lelo Siri and switches it on to her favorite mode and speed. It will only take a minute or so for her to finish from the first touch of it against her. She works it in small circles and she can feel herself slowly building to a climax. "Almost," she says, her thighs shaking in anticipation.
"Spread your legs wider, so I can see," Peeta begs, and when she does, it's what makes him come. Then she's crying out, too, a short time later and the vibrator falls to the floor as the wonderful, boneless feeling overtakes her.
But as soon as the lust cloud lifts, she always feels a little embarrassed by her position. She reaches over for a blanket off her bed to cover herself and then settles back in the chair. Peeta's still resting face first on his desk as he slowly recovers, and she laughs as she pulls the blanket up under her chin. "Are you okay?"
He makes some sort of strangled sound before slowly lifting his head. "That thing can get you off in nanoseconds. It's crazy."
She glances down at the vibrator, which has been getting quite a workout in Peeta's absence. That is when it's not hidden under lock and key, because if her mom ever finds that, she's moving to Istanbul. "Are you jealous?"
"Yes," he says with a wide smile. "I've got competition now."
If he were home, she could rest her head against his bare chest and let his breathing lull her to sleep. Pfft, he doesn't have any competition, ever.
"Guess you'll just have to work harder when you're here," she shrugs.
His eyes narrow as he smirks. "Oh, I plan on it."
Katniss promises herself that she won't be one of those girls that becomes all about her boyfriend and loses her own identity in the process. She loves Peeta; it's a fact she couldn't deny now even if she wanted to. But she has to live her own life while he's away and so she refuses to pine, especially when it feels like Peeta's studying 24/7.
So she hangs out with Madge every weekend, and Gale when they get the rare chance. She takes Prim out to brunch each Sunday and stays late at the office most nights to make some extra cash. She studies for her own finals like a maniac and works to settle into a routine. But she still tries really hard to be a good girlfriend because Peeta's an impeccable boyfriend, even when he's 300 miles away.
He'll be home in about a week, but first he has to get through his first college finals. She knows how hard he's been working and how exhausted he is, and she's struck with the urge to do something for him that's more than teasing texts or filthy promises for his return. She's helpless, being so far away, but she knows that he's not planning on leaving his room during reading days, so she tracks down the number of a Philly pizza place he mentioned loving and calls to arrange a delivery to his dorm.
She gives her credit card info to the impatient man taking the order. "Can you tell him it's from Katniss?"
"Katniss," she repeats, annoyed.
"Yeah, okay. Anything else?"
She bites her lip. "Um, is there any way you could maybe arrange the pepperoni in the shape of a heart?"
"No." And then he disconnects.
Later, Peeta calls to thank her for the surprise. "You're the best girlfriend ever," he tells her. She shrugs it off but really thinks, I am the best girlfriend ever. And they're gonna do great. Distance, shmistance. She's got this.
She ends up majoring in Biology, and that's how she meets Johanna Mason.
Their names are picked to be each other's lab partner, and the girl gives Katniss a tight, almost cruel smile when she slides into the seat next to her. "Gorgeous scarf," she says, and Katniss reaches up to touch the dark green fringe hanging around her neck. It was one of Peeta's Christmas gifts to her, in her favorite color and incredibly soft. "Thanks."
Johanna is surprisingly chatty while they work on their first lab assignment. As Katniss sketches the different meiotic phases in her notebook, returning her eye to the microscope for better detail, Johanna prattles on about her bartending job and her bastard ex-boyfriend who led her to Pittsburgh only to dump her weeks later.
She waits impatiently for Katniss to tell her about herself, but she's too busy concentrating on telophase to bother. "So where do you work?" she finally asks outright.
"Um, the Capitol Corporation, downtown." Katniss's eyes are back on the microscope.
"You like it?"
Finally Katniss smiles. "No. I mean, the money's not too bad, but I don't want to work there forever."
Johanna taps her pencil against her textbook. "So what do you want to do?"
"Not sure yet," Katniss shrugs. "You?"
"Eventually move back to Maine. I want to be a forest ranger there."
Forest ranger? Now there's an occupation Katniss never considered. "What?" Johanna asks defensively.
"Nothing," Katniss says, returning to her work. "That's just not a career you really hear a lot about anymore."
"Well who the hell do you think ranges the forests, brainless?"
Katniss tries not to roll her eyes, and the two don't talk again until they're dismissed.
A couple lab sessions later, before class has started, Johanna grabs Katniss's phone off of her stack of books and curiously peers at the background photo of her and Peeta. "Who's this?" she asks.
"My boyfriend," she says, taking the phone back.
"Not bad," Johanna says. "I prefer them a little more tall, dark and dangerous myself."
"I'm sure you do."
"Does he go here, too?"
Katniss shakes her head and starts flipping through her notebook, hoping Johanna will get the point and leave her alone. No such luck. When she looks up to find her staring at her, waiting for something, she sighs and offers more info. "He's at the University of Pennsylvania."
"Isn't that in, like, Philadelphia?"
Katniss stares at the picture of the two of them together over break. They still miss each other like crazy, but it's getting easier with time. It helps for Katniss to have something of her own to work toward and focus on, too. It makes the time apart go by faster. "Yeah, it is."
Johanna snorts. "Good luck with that."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Katniss snaps back. It's safe to say that Johanna hit a sore spot.
Johanna's carefully crafted mask of indifference slips only for a second at Katniss's anger, but she recovers quickly. "Long distance? At your age? The odds aren't exactly in your favor."
"You don't know anything about us," she says evenly, making it clear that her relationship is not up for discussion. To her surprise, Johanna backs off.
Later, Johanna asks, "So are you coming over to watch a movie tonight or what?" Like she had mentioned it earlier. Like they were even friends. But Katniss has the distinct feeling that Johanna doesn't have anyone else to watch movies with, ever, so she agrees, now just hoping that it's not some film with elves or ewoks.
"American Psycho," Jo announces later when they're in her tiny apartment. Katniss had heard of it but never saw it before. "Is it scary?" she asks. Not that she'd mind, though she prefers the older horror movies.
"Are you kidding," Jo says. "This is one of the greatest comedies ever made. Also, Christian Bale has the nicest ass you'll ever see. You're welcome in advance."
At the shower scene, she elbows Katniss in the side. "Right?"
"Not bad," Katniss agrees. She can't hide a little pride in her voice when she adds, "But I've seen better."
"I kind of want to meet your boyfriend, Everdeen."
Katniss laughs. "No chance."
Between work, school, and her small group of friends, time starts to pass by much more quickly than it had the previous semester. Katniss thinks it might also have something to do with the weather. The only thing she doesn't hate about winter is Peeta's pea coat, which he looks damn good in. The cold and snow and holidays can all bite it, though.
But spring's her favorite time of year, and spring break is officially her favorite break of them all. It's only early March, so it's still freezing outside most days, but that was incentive for Peeta's parents to vacation somewhere tropical. Peeta declined to join them, and that means that he has the entire house to himself for the whole week he's home, which is extra nice as Katniss's own break isn't until the end of the month.
They're in his bed, spooning contentedly. The warm, post-orgasmic blissful feeling is slowly overtaking her, and though her eyes are heavy with sleep, Peeta's fingers tracing circles along her bare stomach keeps her tethered to consciousness. But it tickles when his hand ghosts over her ribs, and she foolishly alerts him to the fact when she squeals.
"A sweet spot, huh?" he asks gruffly, then repeats the move. Her entire body tenses, and she pushes her back against his chest, kicking her feet out to try and move away from him. But he pins her easily, moving on top of her body and holding her hands over her head as he hovers above her. "As if you could outrun me. As if you could fight me off."
"Oh my god," she sputters, laughing. "Now I have to breakup with you." She's remembers the time a few years ago when he put her Bath & Body Works shimmering lotion all over his hand and said, "This is the skin of a killer, Bella," and she laughed so hard she nearly peed her pants. He and Gale would never let her live down the fact that she actually saw the first movie in the theater. "I hate you," she tells him now, again trying to push him off of her, but it's of no use.
"Did you forget that I took second-place at state junior year?" he asks as she tries to wiggle out from underneath him. She can't stop giggling as they continue to wrestle playfully, and they only stop when, smiling, he says, "I'm thinking about transferring to CMU."
"What?" she pushes him away and sits up, her back against his headboard. Dropping bombs like that out of nowhere is a signature Katniss move and she doesn't like it when the tables are turned. "Why?"
Ugh, she knows why. And that's exactly why she can't let him do it.
"It's a great school, too," he says, shrugging.
He was so excited when he decided on Penn, she remembers. Now is he even enjoying it? When she said that she wanted to try the whole long-distance thing last summer, did it effectively ruin college for him? She thought she was making him happy and giving him exactly what he wanted, but now she realizes that it was probably just another moment of pure selfishness on her part.
"No," she tells him firmly. "You can't. And I want you to have fun at Penn, Peeta. I don't want to ruin it for you."
He looks at her like she's crazy. "How could you ruin anything? You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"College is supposed to be the greatest time of your life," she reasons. She's definitely heard that somewhere.
"God I hope not," he says, laughing. He leans in to nuzzle his nose against her cheek. "That'll come later. I want something to look forward to." With you. The words go unspoken, but they still hang heavy in the air.
She wants that, too, really. So much. But she can't let him transfer because of her. If he ended up resenting her over it, she wouldn't know what to do with herself. "We're going to be okay, Peeta," she promises him. "We love each other, and that'll get us through college and dental school." She knows it sounds like she's trying to convince herself as well as him. She is.
"At least I'll be home for dental school," he says, pulling her to him.
"You're not staying at Penn for it?" she asks, confused. She'd just assumed the obvious. It's always in the back of her head, worrying her.
"No way. That's one of the most expensive programs in the country. I want to go to Pitt." He rolls over and she snuggles into him. Relief wants to seep in and settle down to stay, but she has to be cautious first. "You're not just saying that because of me, right?" She sits up to look at him, the bed sheet falling away from her body and exposing her breasts. She doesn't even notice that anymore; it's strange how comfortable she feels with him. That in itself is nearly unsettling.
"No," he promises, reaching out to run his fingers through the ends of her hair. "But I mean, of course you're a factor. And I don't see how that's a bad thing."
All she wants is to believe him. She wants to block out the voices of anyone who says they're too young or too naïve or too something to talk like this or think like this or feel like this.
"I don't think it's a bad thing, either," she admits, and she settles in against him, her ear against his heart, which she's sure is beating just for her. He loves with everything he has, with everything he is. It should scare her, really. But it's not the intensity of love that worries her. It's the world's cold cynicism toward it; the idea that one day his feelings will change as they all inevitably do, that falling too hard and too fast at their age has somehow already sealed their fate.
Well, she won't have that. She won't allow it.
She closes her eyes and claims what's hers.
"So what are you doing this weekend?"
Katniss doesn't look up as she sprays their workbench down with bleach to disinfect it. "Not much. Having coffee with my friend Gale tomorrow, but I don't have any other plans." As she's throwing out the paper towels, she catches Johanna worrying her bottom lip.
She sighs internally. "Johanna, would you like to join us for coffee?" She tries really hard to not sound too put out by the thought, and she thinks she almost succeeds.
"Eh, why not. I don't have anything better to do."
The next day, they enter the Starbucks together, and Gale stands from the table to greet them.
"This is Gale?" Johanna gapes. "I was picturing some young, skinny chick with frizzy hair, not…this."
"Catnip," he tells her, even though his eyes are still on Johanna. "You've made a new friend!"
She can tell by the way they're looking at each other that they'll probably be leaving together, and she isn't wrong. On Monday, Johanna rushes into the class room and corners Katniss. "Tell me everything about Gale."
"Um, he's an engineering student at Pitt. He's the oldest of four. He really likes Sour Patch Kids…" she stops when she sees Johanna narrowing her eyes, annoyed. "What?"
"How is he in bed?"
"I figured you found that out already."
Johanna screeches indignantly and drops into her seat. "I just met him! I blew him, is all." She ignores Katniss's widened eyes and continues. "He offered to return the favor but I was on my period. So you've gotta give me the details."
She tries desperately to block out that mental image. "I've never slept with Gale."
Johanna looks at her like she's crazy. "Why not?"
"Because we're just friends. And I'm with Peeta."
"Yeah, but before Peeta. You're going to tell me you never took that mustang for a test drive?" Katniss shakes her head.
"Wait a minute," Jo says, squinting knowingly. "You've only ever been with your boyfriend!" Katniss's face flushes and that confirms her suspicions. "Seriously, kid, what if you end up marrying him? One dick, your entire life. How are you going to live?"
Katniss sits down and starts rummaging through her bag, steadfastly ignoring her. "When you go to a buffet," Jo continues, undeterred, "you don't just eat one thing, right?"
Of course not, but Katniss thinks it's a ridiculous analogy. For most, sex is a lot more complicated than food. "Not everybody sleeps around, you know."
Johanna immediately looks defensive, like she's bracing for judgment or ridicule. "You think I'm a slut, don't you?"
"No," Katniss answers, simply and honestly. "I think you're a bitch."
Johanna grins, but Katniss's mind is elsewhere. She's never been one to want for more, especially when things are already good, which they are with Peeta. But what about Peeta? Is he starting to wonder about other girls? UPenn girls? He certainly has more in common with them than with her, and she's sure he's wanted by more than a few. It's Peeta, after all.
"Hey," Jo says, surprisingly gentle. "Don't worry about it, okay? If it's a good dick, and I get the distinct impression from you that it is, you'll be fine."
Katniss studies the lab handout in front of her, even as her thoughts try to wriggle away from it. Jo's right, about that last thing, she convinces herself. And she should know better than to worry about Peeta or his feelings, right?
Katniss is kicking ass in her classes, and she's pretty sure she can pull straight A's for the semester as long as her finals go well.
Peeta's term ends a full week before hers, and even though he's home and she really wants to see him, she forces herself to focus on school. As she leaves the classroom after her last exam, Jo's shoulder playfully bumping hers as they make their way to the parking lot, she's elated. Her hard work has definitely paid off, and she's so damn proud of herself. That's a rare feeling.
Like with everything, she wants to tell Peeta first and immediately. But she thinks she's going to wait until grades are officially posted. Maybe she'll print them out and hand him the paper, and then she can savor his slow smile when he sees that 4.0 for himself.
Gale's done with classes, too, and they all agree to meet at Valliant's Diner to catch up. Katniss also invites Madge, and she can't wait to have her best friends together again.
Katniss takes it all in as they talk a mile a minute about their campuses and classes. Every time she's about to add to the conversation, though, something stops her. Their classes, Dynamic Systems or Organic Chemistry or 19th Century World Literature, aren't anything like hers. Her experience is not anything like theirs. So she draws lines on the tabletop with the condensation from her Coke glass, and laughs when they laugh even though she doesn't feel like laughing at all.
"What's wrong?" Peeta asks when they're driving home later. "You're being really quiet tonight."
She throws a smile his way and shrugs. "Just tired from finals, I guess."
"So how'd they go? You haven't told me anything yet."
Peeta's always been able to tell when something is bothering Katniss, and he's got a perfect record with his response, always knowing when to cheer her up or give her space. "They were fine," she answers simply.
He doesn't say anything else about it, and there goes his record.
It takes a little while to get back into the rhythm of things, but when they do, it's just like old times. Katniss works full-time in the summer, and Peeta's days are split between the bakery and shadowing his former orthodontist, but they spend almost all of their free time together. Katniss reasons that that's perfectly acceptable considering their situation, and she refuses to feel guilty about it.
"Have you seen Madge lately?" her mom asks her one night when Katniss is just about to leave to go to Peeta's. "Or that girl from your class?"
Katniss re-braids her hair and ties the band around the end. Of course she's still in touch with them, but she doesn't feel like she owes her mother any explanations. "I'll see them more during the school year."
"It's not a good idea to leave your friends behind for a boy, Katniss."
There's nothing about that sentence that doesn't piss her off, so she glares at her mother on her way out the door. "It's also not a good idea to leave your children behind for a man, Caroline."
They bowl (badly). They have movie nights (Katniss admits that The Lord of the Rings films are actually pretty good). They catch up on all the British TV series they love (Peeta totally cries over Rory and Amy).
But they spend a disproportionate amount of time in bed. It's easy to do now that Peeta's staying in the converted apartment above the newer downtown bakery. She knew that he did that for them, since he always preferred to work at the original before. But they need privacy when they're together, need to make up for all that lost time when they were physically separated, and that wasn't an option when they both lived with their parents.
Peeta's folks aren't really an issue; Katniss suspects that his mother wanted an empty nest from the moment her chicks hatched, and the quiet Mr. Mellark, though kind, always follows suit.
But Katniss's mother is also trying to make up for lost time with her daughter. Her actions aren't nearly as welcomed, though. It's actually infuriating. After everything she put her and Prim through, Katniss can't stand to be condescended to, even if the woman is her mother.
Prim's spending a lot of her time with Rue, and with a budding social life, she just doesn't need Katniss the way she used to. Maybe she doesn't need their mother, either, and that's why the woman's now so focused on her eldest daughter.
"You're going to Peeta's?" she asks her one afternoon as Katniss is eating a snack pack in the kitchen. Katniss nods.
"Are you at least coming home tonight?"
Now she frowns. Katniss only spends the night with Peeta when her mom's at work and Prim's with a friend, and it's not as if she's this ne'er-do-well teenager that her mother can't control. Besides, she was good enough to take over head-of-household when her mother decided to checkout, and she still pays more than her fair share of all their bills.
"No," she replies coolly, sliding past her mother on the way out of the room. It's a definite challenge and she's surprised when she doesn't get a reaction out of it.
They're celebrating their one year anniversary.
He's in his kitchen, chopping up vegetables for the dinner he's making for her, and she insists on helping. It is their anniversary, after all. They joke and tease while cooking, and there's something about it that feels even more intimate than sex. It's like the two toothbrushes in one holder, or shared contact solution, or her tampons stored under his bathroom sink. They're such a…couple.
She leads him over to the couch after they eat, and snuggles against his chest, content. Both of their legs are stretched out in front of them, their feet resting on the coffee table. Peeta absently plays with the end of her braid, and she can tell there's something on his mind.
"Nothing," he says. "Already thinking about this fall, I guess." He sighs. "I think it's going to be even harder this time around."
"The classes or being apart?"
"Well, both," he says with a small laugh. "But I was talking about being apart."
At this point, nearly one year before, she would have rushed to reassure him that they'd be just fine. But it's not as easy to do that now. It's actually a lot of work and a lot of heartache, and it's nothing she's looking forward, especially in moments like these.
"Thank you, for being so great about it. You've been amazing, really."
She rubs her cheek against his ribs. "You're welcome," she whispers. "But I mean, you're doing it too."
"Yeah, but it feels like it's my fault. I'm the one who left."
He's quiet for a few minutes, then says, "Are you sure you still want to do this?"
She stills against him, immediately thinking that he's giving her an out because he wants one for himself. So she says as much, but under the pretense of a joke so he doesn't know that she's actually worried about it and sick at the thought.
"I want to be with you more than anything in the world." He says it so sweetly she has to believe him. "I don't feel like it's fair to you, though. And next year I'm going to be studying for the DAT, and shadowing a dentist there. I don't even know if I'll be able to come home for breaks." She winces but doesn't say anything. "I want you to be happy." He takes her hand that's draped across his stomach and enfolds it in his. "But if you decide that you want to do this again, I promise I'll spend the rest of my life making sure you think it was worth it."
She lifts her chin to look up at him and smiles. He doesn't talk about the far-off future too often, probably because he's scared of scaring her, but it doesn't have that effect on her now. She likes it, actually. "We can do this," she vows. There. It's suddenly easy again.
A few weeks later, after a long hike on a nearby park trail, they settle down on the soft grass of the meadow and admire the stars. The sun had set only an hour before, but now the dark blue heavens are bright with millions of twinkling lights, and it's rare to get such a beautiful, clear night sky in the city.
"That's the Athena constellation," he says, pointing upwards. She doesn't know exactly what he's trying to show her. It's just a mess of stars in the vast blue, as far as she can see.
"No idea," he laughs. "Maybe? I don't even know if Athena has a constellation."
"And here I thought you knew everything. I'm disappointed, Mellark."
"I fear the day you realize I'm not perfect," he chuckles, a nervous truth to it. But she's always thought the same thing about him, and only one of them really has to worry.
"It's beautiful though, right?" he says, admiring the sky, and she can't disagree, admiring him. "I wish I had time to paint it."
"I'm sorry you're not majoring in art," she admits. "Or even taking over the bakeries." She always thought of him as a baker or a painter and it's hard to imagine him as anything else. "You should be able to do what makes you happy. What you're passionate about."
"It's a romantic thought, just not realistic. But I guess that's what hobbies are for."
She doesn't push anymore. She knows how important it is to him to make something of himself on his own so his mother can't control him with the purse strings anymore.
There's the sound of children laughing in the distance, and they both turn to see a young family making their way to a minivan. Katniss remembers coming to the park with her own parents and Prim, a very long time ago. It's a nice memory.
She catches Peeta studying her. "Hey, you think you might want kids someday?" he asks. She's noticed that he's more comfortable talking about stuff like this lately.
There was a time not too long ago when she didn't think she'd ever get married or have children or anything like that. She'd always imagined herself as a future cat lady, minus the cats. But that was before she was with Peeta. Now, who knows what could happen.
"Maybe," she offers with a small smile.
"Yeah? How many?" He's trying to suppress his enthusiasm at her answer and failing miserably.
"I don't know, one or two."
"Just one or two?"
She snorts. "Yeah, one or two. I don't want to qualify for a reality show on TLC, thanks."
He lies back in the grass, his hands behind his head. "One or two is good." She settles in next to him.
"But we're still probably going to end up on TLC," he adds. "You know, with your hoarding and all."
"Did you ever…think about me, like that, before we were together?"
It's somehow already the night before Peeta has to leave for Philadelphia. She's staying over to see him off in the morning, and he's been exploring her for the last hour, as if he hasn't seen her naked a thousand times before.
"No, never," he answers solemnly before breaking into a sheepish grin. Then he lowers his mouth to her collarbone and kisses her there. "Your body is ridiculous."
She slaps at his shoulder and laughs as his lips tickle her skin. "No, answer me. Seriously."
"You know I did. I've told you before." He sinks to his stomach and goes to duck his head between her legs, asking, "Need a reminder?"
Of course she wouldn't mind another one, but she's already had plenty and now she needs to concentrate. So she tells him to wait as she grabs his delicious bicep and uses it to urge him upward. "What made you so crazy for that anyway?"
"Uh, guy talk? You probably don't want the details there."
Well now she definitely does. He laughs at her pout but relents. "Okay, you remember that girl Gale dated his senior year? The one with the pink streaks in her hair?"
"Vaguely." Gale kind of got around.
"Well, he told me that it was different going down on her versus his first girlfriend. Said that every girl has her own…taste. Anyway, it made me always wonder what you tasted like." He shrugs, smiling sweetly. "Now I know." His lips move over her face, kissing her cheekbone, the tip of her nose, her other cheek. Then he leans in to whisper in her ear, "And it's incredible."
She wraps her arms around him and sighs, content, as she holds him. But then a worrisome thought strikes her. "Do you ever wonder about other girls now?"
He pulls back to look at her. "Why would I? I've got everything I've ever wanted right here."
She breaks away first. "So what else did you think about?" He drops to nuzzle his nose against her pulse point, and doesn't answer.
She wanted to do something special before he left, and then this inspiration suddenly struck. But he has to play along for it to work out. Yet he stays quiet and just continues to pepper kisses all over her neck and chest.
"Because if you tell me, maybe we could…you know, act it out." He's told her before that he had a crush on her for years, that his feelings only deepened when they became actual friends. Surely there was a particularly errant sexual fantasy in there somewhere during all that time, right?
He finally pulls himself away from her long enough to consider the proposition. "It's not like there were a lot of specific scenarios or anything. It was usually just thinking about what you were wearing that day, imagining taking it off of you, imagining you suddenly wanting me to take it off of you. It never took much to get me there."
"Really?" That's it?
"Honestly, by the time I was old enough to imagine some good stuff, we were already friends. Then I felt guilty for thinking about you like that. You were so…pure." He slides his hand over her arm and entwines his fingers with hers. "I wasn't friends with you for any nefarious reasons, you know. I just wanted to be around you as much as possible." He gives her hand a firm squeeze. "Still do."
"So then you didn't think of me like that at all?" she presses. She can't help but wonder who he thought about then; she knows teenage boys are no angels, not even Peeta.
"No, I pretty much thought about you all the time. I just felt bad about it after." He leans in to whisper in her ear, "One time you told me that you slept in my old shirt that I gave you at Sandcastle, and that got me off for months."
"Yeah?" she challenges breathlessly, hooking her leg over his hip. She can work with this.
"Yeah. Imagining you in your bed, wearing that and nothing else. Thinking about you touching yourself too. Hoping that you were thinking about me when you did it."
Ah, she hadn't thought about him. God help her, she's the very definition of a late bloomer, and by the time she was occasionally touching herself, she was imaging the couple from some softcore late-night movie on USA. Not herself, and never with anyone she actually knew.
He doesn't have to know that now, though. Finally she has a spark to ignite her plan and she's going for it.
"I did," she says, punctuating it with a soft moan. She brings her hand between their bodies and slides it over her underwear, cupping herself for him. He sits back to watch, and as her fingers slip inside and start a slow tease, he licks his lips in anticipation. She's pretty sure of what kind of things he'd like to hear her say. "I used to picture your fingers rubbing against me like this. I imagined you kissing down my body and sliding between my legs. I wondered what your hair would feel like against the inside of my thigh."
He's practically panting as his hand reaches down to cover hers and take over. "You're so wet," he says. "You always get so wet for me."
"How does it feel?" she asks. "How does it feel being with me now, after you've wanted me for so long?"
"It's…god, it's better than I ever imagined." He's pulling off her underwear now, but Katniss isn't ready to give up this control just yet. She runs her hands over his chest, draws her fingers through the smattering of golden chest hair that he didn't have those years ago at the waterpark, back on that day when the wind was picking up as the sun was setting, and he literally gave her the shirt off his back when he saw her shiver.
"How does it feel to know you're the only one to ever be inside of me?"
Peeta can barely speak, and his hips press her further into the mattress. "Amazing," he finally manages. He leans in to capture her lips but she pulls back, locking her eyes with his. "How does it feel to know you'll always be the only one?"
He answers her with a kiss, his tongue sliding against hers as they share a single breath. Her mouth opens wider, inviting him in further. She's offering up everything and he greedily wants it all.
She can feel him reach over for the nightstand, absently trying to find a condom without breaking away from her. But she puts her hand out to still his, and when he pulls back to meet her eyes, she gives an almost imperceptible nod. "Are you sure?" he asks.
"I don't want anything between us tonight."
He's too far gone to fight her on it, wants it too much himself.
They pull off his boxer briefs together, and he kisses her again as he settles between her legs. When he slides into her for the very first time without a barrier, practically his whole body shakes. It doesn't really feel any different to her, but she knows he can feel all of her now, and the slick heat surrounding him must be nearly too much for him to bear. He stops moving to brace himself, but she raises her hips to urge him forward. "Do whatever feels good," she whispers. That's something he says to her a lot, especially when she's on top of him, and his hands are on her hips but she's controlling the movement and angle and speed.
He wants to last but it must be overwhelming him. His thrusts are fast and hard, and the pure intensity of his enjoyment is nearly enough to get her there, but not quite.
She kisses him as he comes, and it's the hottest thing she's ever experienced.
The next morning, she helps him pack the rest of his clothes, but most of everything he's taking with him is already in the bed of his truck, ready to go.
"At least I'll be in a single this year," he says over breakfast. "That should help, right?"
She's trying so hard to keep it together. "What if you end up missing Marvelous?" she asks. "It's the end of an era."
He tries to laugh, but the effort is pitiful. "Nope, it's over. We are never ever getting back together."
They drive to her house so he can drop her off before beginning the nearly six hour trek back to Philly. "Be careful," she tells him at her door, and he promises her he will. He gently kisses her forehead, then ducks to kiss her lips. But their real goodbye was the night before.
"I love you so much," he says with unshed tears shining in his eyes. "We'll get through this, I promise."
"I know. I love you, too."
She rushes inside before he pulls out of the driveway because she can't stand to actually watch him leave. But she leans against the door until she can no longer hear his engine, and then she sprints to her room, ignoring the concerned looks from both her mother and Prim.
Here's everything Katniss knows about Delly Cartwright:
-She was randomly picked to be Peeta's partner for some huge semester-long project in one of his Biology classes.
-They meet at the library at least three times a week to work on said project.
-Peeta has canceled four of their last five Skype dates to work with her instead.
-Delly "likes" almost every movie and book imaginable.
-She has 1,472 friends.
-She recently guessed My Favorite Things on SongPop.
Katniss's hair is still wet from her shower, and she hasn't even bothered to comb it out yet as she sits at her computer and compulsively scrolls through Delly's timeline. The girl has her entire Facebook set to public, for god's sake. What kind of person does that?
Her wall is littered with messages and tagged photos. Katniss shamefully studies each one. She's…kind of pretty? Maybe? Her first instinct is that she's a bit plain and even a little chubby, but Katniss isn't really the best judge of female looks and never wanted to be one. Then she nearly bites through her lip when she sees that, according to some online quiz, Delly's celebrity lookalike is Scarlett Johansson.
She ignores the water from her hair seeping through her t-shirt and making the cotton stick to her back. She keeps scrolling.
God, her breasts are massive. Like giant melons straining against every shirt in her wardrobe. Katniss barely fills out a B cup.
She hates herself for what she's doing and what she's thinking, but it's like she can't help it. Peeta's never gone so long without at least making some effort to spend time with Katniss. It's easy to trace this all back to Delly. So every time she comes across something that the girl has in common with Peeta, a book or band they both like, she clenches her teeth. But then she takes bizarre comfort in the differences, like 'Oh, Peeta hates that album.' She's nearly thrilled when she sees that Delly recently shared one of those Repost If You're Against Cancer photos. He really can't stand those. So they're definitely not naked in his single right now, and there's no way he's motorboating those ginormous breasts that very second.
She takes a breath, chiding herself for being so ridiculous. She knows Peeta would never cheat on her. It's just everyone around her unknowingly filling her head with ideas, is all. Gale going on about all the hot girls on campus, and Madge's stories about everyone having sex in the dorms, and Johanna's not-so-subtle reminders that all men are pigs. Of course all that's going to get to her eventually. She's only human.
She loves Peeta and Peeta loves her, she's sure of that. And Delly Cartwright seems like a perfectly nice girl, and a good lab partner for Peeta. So what if she has basketball breasts?
She closes out the window with Delly's Facebook to look at Peeta's. He doesn't have any new recent activity; the poor guy doesn't have time for anything like that anyway, since he's working so hard he can't even call her. She'll really have to try to be more understanding of his hectic schedule.
She smiles at the In a Relationship with Katniss Everdeen under his profile pic and then hits the home button to check out her newsfeed before getting ready for the day.
Peeta Mellark was tagged in Delly Cartwright's album UPenn Fall '13.
It's the very first thing that loads. She clicks on his grinning face.
Lunch with Peeta-bread at McClelland! –with Peeta Mellark.
Updated less than a minute ago.
She very calmly clicks the back arrow.
So she'll kill him. She'll drive to Philadelphia, kill him, and then be back in time for The Walking Dead marathon.
Lunch. With another woman.
Ugh, after she kills him, she'll probably have to kill Delly. She's even tempted to take out the four people that have already 'liked' the photo. 'You have to understand,' she'll tell the cops. 'He had lunch! With another woman!' and they'll uncuff her.
Lunch! With another woman!
"Would you rather it was breakfast?" Gale asks her.
It's been about an hour since she saw that photo and she can't let it go. Meals with Gale are usually quiet affairs as he scarfs down all the food in sight, and if he talks, it's only to ask, "Are you going to finish that?" To which the answer was always a resounding yes. But today she can't stop going on about Peeta-bread and Delly and lunch.
"Or even dinner?" he continues. "Come on, lunch is mid-day. There are no implications with lunch. Lunch is innocent."
"There's nothing innocent about any meal with an attractive member of the opposite sex when you're in a long-distance relationship." There's some sound reason for him to chew on.
"We're having lunch together right now!"
Barely, she thinks. Katniss scraped her coleslaw off of her sandwich and ate a single fry, but her appetite's dead. Besides, Gale doesn't count, and she tells him as much.
"So take a picture of me. Update your Facebook with it." He spreads his arms out and leans back against the bench, posing. "Should I smile?" He does. He kind of reminds her of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast when he grins like that.
"No," she insists, shaking her head. "I never update. He'll know what I'm doing."
"Uh, yeah, Catnip. Maybe it's time you started pairing a little passive with your aggressive."
She instinctively knows that using Gale against Peeta is a bad idea. They're good friends but have always been weirdly competitive.
"Never mind." She tries again to eat, but she's somehow not hungry.
"Just don't let things get weird!" He points his finger in warning as bits of slaw, fries, meat and bread spray the table from his open mouth. He swallows. "Remember what I said when you guys came to me to tell me you were together now?"
"Yeah," she says, sullenly. "You said, 'Don't let things get weird.'"
"Exactly. Hey, are you going to finish that?"
That night when he calls, she lets it go to voicemail. When her phone buzzes with a text notification a few minutes later, she doesn't get out of bed to look at it. It buzzes again. Then again. She rolls over and forces herself to sleep.
She checks them first thing the next morning, though.
Hey, can you talk? Call me if you can.
I'll be up for a few more hours trying to finish this paper.
I really miss you.
But she had all night to marinate in her anger. Hell, she wants to be mad at this point. Just who does he think he is, anyway?
She hits the 'send call' button and waits for him to pick up. Oh he is going to rue the day he messed with her. Rue it!
"Hey." She wants to sound as pissed as she is but it comes out all normal.
"Hey you. I missed you yesterday."
"Things have been insane lately."
'So how was it?' she wants to ask accusingly. 'How was lunch?' But all she manages is another, "Yeah."
"Are you okay? You sound kind of mad."
"Yeah, no. You're definitely mad."
"Are you sleeping with her?" she asks suddenly, unable to hold back anymore.
"Your cantaloupe smuggling project partner. Are you sleeping with her?"
"Are you seriously asking me that?" Wow, he sounds pissed. They've had arguments before but she's never heard him so upset with her. It trips her up and for a second she has a moment of absolute clarity: she is being ridiculous! What is she even doing?
But it's out and she can't stop now. She falls back on defensiveness. "What else am I supposed to think?"
"That I would never do something like that? You're supposed to trust me!"
"We haven't Skyped in over a week. You've barely called. You're always hanging out with her. Do you blame me?"
"Jesus, I am not always hanging out with her. We're working on the genomics presentation." She's about to speak but he rushes on without giving her the chance. "And every second I have to myself, I want to spend with you. I tried calling you last night-"
"Oh I'm sorry, was I not sitting by the phone waiting for you to deem me worthy of your time?"
"I-I can't believe you right now."
"I might be stuck at home and just in community college but I still have my own life too, you know." Wow, where is this coming from?
He's quiet now, and she can only hear his soft breath over the line. "Is that really what you think?"
She doesn't want to cry so she shifts back into angry gear as quickly as possible. "I think that you're being an insensitive ass lately." She's trying to hold on to all of the feelings that were overwhelming her in the past week but they're slipping through her fingers like sand.
"Okay, then I'm going to go. Give me a call when you want to act like an adult again."
That helps. She hates when he gets all self-righteous. "Well don't expect that to happen any time soon!" she yells. Wait, what? But it's already too late, so she hits 'end call' and falls onto her bed.
To say the regret is immediate would be an understatement. She tries to imagine that if the situation were reversed, how would she feel? The answer is obvious, and she's actually surprised that Peeta handled it as well as he had. That just makes her feel worse too.
She doesn't know what it is that's fundamentally wrong with her that makes it so hard to trust people. It's one of her fatal flaws, right along with stubbornness. And her crippling insecurity. And the inability to apologize for her mistakes.
Maybe she can still do something about that last one, though. Maybe Peeta will even realize how huge it is for her to do so, and that'll take away some of the sting of what she did.
It's been a good hour since their call, and she stares at her phone with hesitation. In the end, she doesn't have the nerve to actually talk to him again, so she takes the first step with a text message:
I'm really sorry.
Twenty minutes pass and she hasn't heard back from him, so she sends another:
I know you would never do that to me. I was just jealous and I miss you so much. I don't even know what I was thinking. Can we please fix this?
She wiggles her cramped thumb. That took forever. But Peeta still hasn't responded to either one.
She doesn't want to keep compulsively checking her phone, so after a while she joins Prim in the living room. Her little sister is sprawled out on the couch, absently shoving potato chips into her mouth as she stares at the television. "Titanic is on. Back-to-back! Guess I'm not leaving the house today."
"Me either," Katniss says, sitting next to her. Several hours later, as Rose is prying Jack's frozen fingers off the door while vowing to never let go, their doorbell rings. "I'll get it," Prim says, wiping at her tears.
A few seconds later, she hears Prim's shrill shriek of delight, then, "Katniss! It's for you!"
Confused, she lumbers off the sofa and slowly makes her way to the door, which Prim has shut again before hightailing it to her bedroom. It's a crisp autumn afternoon so she zips her hoodie before opening it.
And then there's Peeta. Real-life Peeta, standing right in front of her. Wearing that charcoal grey pea coat to boot. Damn, it's like it was made for him.
"Hi," she returns, still trying to grasp the fact that he's actually here.
"I got your messages when I was at a rest stop." He stops to run his fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry, too. I'm so sorry."
"You really don't have anything to be sorry about. That was…all me."
"No, it wasn't. I should have made more of an effort to spend at least some time with you. I mean, it feels like you still don't get it, and that's got to be my fault."
"How much you mean to me. Katniss, you're my main motivation." He reaches out to curl his fingers around hers. "But you're also my biggest distraction, so I have to force myself to focus. It's not because I want to. Honestly, I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you."
She gives his hand a tight squeeze. "I get it."
He smiles and shakes his head. "Being apart really plays on all kinds of insecurities, huh?"
"Yeah," she agrees sadly.
"I just wanted you to know that you mean the world to me. You never have to worry about anyone else. You're all I could ever want."
She realizes then that he must have left to come there almost as soon as they hung up. He drove over 300 miles in a giant gas guzzler on a cold Sunday morning just to get to her. God, she gets it.
So she does what she's wanted to do since the second she saw him on her doorstep- she grabs the oversized coat lapels and pulls him to her, kissing him soundly. "You don't ever have to do this again, Peeta. I'm sorry you drove all the way here."
"I'm not," he admits, caressing her cheek. "Hey, if you're not busy, wanna get an early dinner with me before I head back?"
"I guess I could pencil you in."
"I know Titanic is on and all…"
She kisses him again, both their mouths still smiling before they meet.
"This sucks. We're never together for it."
She's still tearing into the chocolate. There's probably some smudged on her face, but it's so good it's hard to care.
"Peeta, it's a Hallmark holiday, anyway." She holds up the giant heart-shaped box from her lap. "Not that I don't appreciate the presents."
"I still want to be with you for it. We always miss all the important days. Valentine's Day, my birthday, your birthday…Arbor Day."
"But we'll be together for our anniversary," she reminds him. "Besides, we'll celebrate them later. And just wait for your belated Arbor Day sex. I'll rock your world."
He laughs. "You always do."
"I should get going. I have to meet my advisor in a few hours and I still have to get some stuff together."
"Any last minute career suggestions?"
He puts his hand up to his chin in deep thought. "Dental hygienist? We could get up together, go to work together, go home together…"
"And that sounds appealing to you?"
"Worked out great for Jam."
Ah, her boyfriend's such a girl. She loves it.
"I'll pretend to consider it. But I really should go."
He blows a kiss at the screen and she pretends to catch it before they both sign off.
"Temple?" Haymitch Abernathy asks as he scratches at the stubble on his cheek.
He sighs exaggeratedly as he studies her high school and college transcript. "Deadline's in a couple weeks."
"I'll have the application ready this weekend."
She doesn't remember what led her to it exactly, but when she was toying around with the idea of going for her Bachelor's at a 4-year, she checked out some colleges in Philadelphia (just to look she told herself).
"You sure you don't want to consider a college we actually have an articulation agreement with, sweetheart?"
When it's $50 a pop to apply? No way. She just shakes her head and ignores his well-intentioned advice.
The only other person she tells is Prim. "Would you be okay?" she asks her. "You know I won't go if you still need me here." But she already knows Prim doesn't. It's kind of nice, being wanted versus needed.
"Of course I'll be okay!" she says with her bright, beautiful smile. "It's about time you put yourself first. I'm so happy for you, Katniss! Really."
So for the first time, she really allows herself to imagine it. And somehow, the more she thinks about it, the less it becomes about the physical proximity to Peeta. She could really do it. She could be a college girl. She could be someone who goes off to college. She starts thinking about what kind of classes she'll take at Temple, wonders what her dorm and roommate will be like, pictures lecture halls and the campus quad. There can be regular date nights with her boyfriend. Even studying with her boyfriend, because they both have those important college classes they have to work so hard on.
She never thought she wouldn't get in.
The emaciated envelope is her first sign, and her fingers shake as she opens it alone in her room.
We regret to inform you…
It's her own fault for getting her hopes up. She really should have known better.
It's lousy luck that the day she gets her rejection letter is the day Peeta takes the DAT. He calls her that evening, relieved and so excited to tell her that he got a 24. If she weren't such a perpetual screw up, she could share amazing news with him, too. But all she can do now is congratulate him, say how she knew he would do great. Tell him that she's so proud of him.
He'll be home in six weeks, but he has to be back in Philly in July for a summer session and dental volunteering. She's suddenly nervous about what she'll do when she sees him again. Really, what does she have to offer him?
She doesn't even attend her graduation. Prim wants to go, but their mother has to work, Peeta's not due home for another week, Gale and Madge are finishing up finals, and Jo's bartending that night. It seems pointless to even leave her house.
Peeta calls her and says that he hates that he can't be there, but she shrugs it off. What's it even matter? She won't be doing anything important with that slip of paper.
Later, as another reminder, he texts, I'm proud of you! She stares at her phone, at those words, and then tosses it in the vicinity of her nightstand before crawling into bed.
It's a blessing and a curse that everyone around her is so amazing.
Prim is beautiful and brilliant and kind, and she masters everything she attempts. Gale is one of the smartest people she's ever met, a real science whiz who used to take things apart just to see how they worked, and then put them back together in better than original condition. Madge is an wonderful pianist and thriving as a Psych major. Even Jo, with all her admitted faults, has a clear vision of what she wants out of life and a fierce determination to make sure it happens. And while Caroline Everdeen won't be winning any Mother of the Year awards, she's still an amazing nurse.
Then there's Peeta. Peeta's always been an exceptional student, a champion athlete, a pillar of their community. He can paint the most gorgeous pictures and make killer cupcakes. He's sweet and funny and cute as hell. And his only real flaw is that he's head-over-heels for his loser girlfriend.
Katniss doesn't have any hidden talents or special skills. She's not particularly pretty. Her grades have always been average, just like her everything else. She's hopeless.
Peeta knows there's something wrong right off the bat, because it's not as easy for her to hide her feelings when they're face-to-face. Besides, she's tired of hiding it. She's tired, period. She just wants to get it over with.
So she's asks him to take her to the meadow in the park where they spent a lot of their previous summer because she doesn't really know where to take him to break his heart.
He parks in the lot overlooking their spot and turns in his seat to face her. "What's wrong, Katniss?"
She's played this over and over again in her head, envisioned about a million different ways it could go, but now they're here and it's real and nothing sounds right.
He'll be so much better off, she reminds herself. And he'll love someone else the same way some day.
She tries to silence the part of her that says that's not true just as she tries to ignore the part of her that's terrified it is.
"I…I think we should breakup."
He's so confused, but she can't explain it.
"It's not you, it's me." God, is she really falling back on that cliché? She can't even be good at this.
He's still not understanding, still begging her to talk to him, so she shouts the one thing she knows will put them both out of their misery immediately.
"I just don't want to be with you anymore!" That's not at all true, but what she wants more than anything is to not feel this way anymore, and maybe this is where that starts.
"Then I'll take you home." They're both about to cry and that's no good either.
It's spring and normally her favorite time of the year, even more so when it meant a summer with Peeta. But she doesn't have any of that now. No Peeta, no plan of her own, not even any hope that any of it will get better. So when he drops her off, not a word said between them, she does what she's been doing a lot lately and heads straight to bed.