Hi guys, sorry about the long wait again. I don't even have a good explanation this time. This chapter just took awhile. It is nice and long though, so hopefully that makes up for it a bit.
i like it: I wasn't offended by your previous review. It wasn't rude and you're totally entitled to tell me you thought something was repetitive. Really, no apology necessary. I think if you want a fanfiction account you should get one, especially because some authors don't allow anonymous reviews.
Mooglez: Thanks for all your reviews. I'm glad you liked Gale's frustration, because he gets cranky again in this chapter. Poor guy, Katniss can be difficult.
Ellenka: This chapter should help your heart recover, it's got nothing too heavy. And thanks for recommending this on Tumblr.
Thank you all again for reading and reviewing. I hope you enjoy this chapter. I was a little more unsure about it since it has Haymitch and a little bit of craziness in the last section of the chapter, but hopefully it's fun craziness. Also, I did proofread, but feel free to tell me if you catch any typos. This was a long one, so I think I'm more likely to have missed something.
When Katniss wakes up the next morning, Prim is still fast asleep. Katniss rolls to the other side of the bed and gingerly lifts herself to the floor. Prim stirs, but doesn't wake up, and Katniss tip toes across the room and changes into her clothes.
She can feel a slight bubbling in her stomach as she considers what she might face outside the bedroom door. Is Gale still angry? Are his siblings still upset? She takes a deep breath and steps from the bedroom into the Hawthorne's living room.
Her anxiety was for nothing though, because no one else seems to be awake. The kitchen is empty and Vick and Rory are asleep on the mattress in the living room. Gale is snoring lightly on the couch with his feet dangling off the edge.
Katniss isn't sure what she ought to do. She had expected Gale to be awake, but she supposes he and Hazelle could have been talking late into the night. She decides to let him sleep and hunt without him. It's probably the least she can do. She retrieves her game bag from a hook near the front door and heads towards the woods.
Hunting isn't the same without Gale, but she's managing well enough. She's shot a few squirrels and is about to begin checking the snare line when she senses a presence. At first she tenses, but a feeling of familiarity overtakes her just as Gale steps out of the trees.
He cocks his head to the side and offers her a small smile. Katniss releases the breath she was holding and feels her muscles relax. He can't be too angry if he's greeting her like that.
She sets her game bag down and turns to look at Gale. He's already eyeing one of his snares and raising the level of the noose so it's higher in the tree. Katniss waits for him to finish, tugging at the hem of her shirt, until he looks back at her.
"I didn't mean what I said last night," she says quietly.
"I know," Gale sighs. "I know. You just lost your temper because I lost mine."
"But it was my fault!"
Katniss feels slightly indignant because she cares, and she doesn't want him to dismiss her apology.
"It's alright, Catnip," he says. He meets her eyes and she knows he's not dismissing her apology, just letting her know he's not angry anymore. It always amazes her that Gale, who can stay so angry for so long, always forgives her quickly. She gives him a small smile, and he returns it before they walk over to the next snare.
As they approach it, he glances sideways at her and says,
"Is that why you didn't wake me up this morning? You thought I'd still be mad?"
"Yeah. That and I figured you were up late talking with your mother."
They finish checking the snare line and start walking towards the Hawthorne's house. They're a few feet away when Gale touches Katniss's elbow.
"Uh, my mom and I want to talk to you about something…and you might not-just, just keep an open mind, okay?"
"What?" Katniss narrows her eyes and stares at Gale. He runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head.
"It-no, she'll explain it better. I just-it's important. So promise me you'll actually think about it."
Katniss is still frowning, but she nods her head. If it's that important to Gale, she'll listen to it. Whatever it is.
Hazelle barely sees them enter the house before she insists that Prim and Rory take the younger kids outside to play. Then she sets apples, bread, and glasses of water on the table.
"Eat up," she tells them, gesturing towards the chairs.
Once they're all seated, Hazelle and Gale exchange a meaningful glance. Katniss starts to get irritated. She wants them to hurry up and say whatever it is they're planning to say.
Hazelle takes a sip of water and clears her throat.
"Katniss, it's going to be very hard on the younger children when you and your family leave," she says, looking Katniss square in the eyes. "And I don't think anyone at this table is looking forward to it either. Would you agree?"
Katniss nods slowly and tears herself a slice of bread.
"If you could, would you stay with us longer?"
Katniss drops the slice of bread. They want her to stay. This is what Gale was softening her up for, trying to get her to accept yet more charity. She's about to say she won't stay, wouldn't ever stay, but Gale cuts her off.
"You promised to hear us out."
His voice is low and he's staring at her intently. Katniss shoots him a glare and folds her arms.
"Last night you said you didn't want to leave," Hazelle says gently. "And we don't want you to leave either. I don't want you to have to take care of yourself, your mother, and Prim all on you own. I'm sure you can manage it, but I don't see how it could be good for you or Prim."
Katniss looks down. It's not good for Prim. It's lonely, painful, and exhausting. But that doesn't mean she should impose on anyone else.
"If you stay here, you'll have help. And your mother might benefit from having more people around. We can all try spending some time with her, seeing if we can bring her back. It's easier for everyone if we're all together."
Katniss is about to object. She doesn't see how it's easier for the Hawthornes, but Hazelle has clearly anticipated her concerns.
"It is easier for us too. It's been great having two extra pairs of hands to help with chores and watch over Vick and Posy. And the food you and Gale bring in goes farther as one, big meal. It's good for the boys to have young women around, and it's certainly nice for me. And Posy loves having big sisters," Hazelle pauses for a moment. "Katniss, I mean this. We want you to stay until your mother gets well. Life is better for all of us when you're all here."
Katniss can't think of anything to say at first. She's torn between fear that this is still charity, and the light, hopeful feeling she gets at the prospect of staying with the Hawthornes longer.
"It's not charity," Gale says and his face gives no sign of a lie.
"But what? We both bring food in. You and Prim help out. What are we giving away?"
Katniss struggles to put a finger on it, then she sees the mattress on the living room floor and it all comes to her.
"Your space! You're giving away room in your house!"
"Maybe, but it's still a good trade," he says. "I give up a little privacy and space, which I'm not particularly used to having anyway, and in exchange I get a happier family."
She raises her eyebrows.
"I mean it, Katniss. My family is the happiest they've been in years. You know the kids love you and Prim. And my mom and I aren't so bone-tired now that you guys are here to help. Do you know how much of a difference it makes having someone else to help with cooking or play with Vick and Posy? Things are better with you guys here. They just are."
Katniss leans back in the chair and takes a deep breath. She's out of arguments, of reasons why they shouldn't stay. In fact, the only thing holding her back is a sense of disbelief, which keeps her from accepting that something this good could happen to her.
"What if you get sick of us?" she whispers.
"I get sick of him all the time," Hazelle says, jerking her head at Gale. "But we manage. I said you were like family, and I meant that."
"Promise?" Katniss looks at Gale.
She can trust Gale's promises, so she nods her head and let's out a breath.
"Okay. We'll stay."
Katniss is a little bit surprised when nothing dramatic follows her decision. Instead, things just carry on almost exactly the way they were before she suggested leaving. They rearrange the rooms a bit. Prim and her mother sleep on a mattress crammed into the room that Posy and Hazelle share. Katniss volunteers to sleep on the couch so Gale can return to his bed, and Rory and Vick can move their mattress back into the bedroom. It saves a lot of space in the living room and Katniss actually fits on the couch.
She and Gale continue to hunt, and the meat does stretch farther when it all goes towards one meal. She helps Hazelle with chores, plays with Vick and Posy, and joins Rory in teasing Gale. Prim and Rory often work on their homework together and Prim is getting to know all of Rory's friends. Posy absolutely adores Prim, who never seems to run out of patience with playing dolls.
Her mother remains the same, but Katniss can't bring herself to care. She brings her mother meals, but no longer even bothers speaking. As far as Katniss can see, there's no reason to. What she says doesn't seem to matter. Even when she said Prim was dying her mother didn't respond, so Katniss doesn't see why she'd respond to pointless pleasantries. Besides, she's finally managed to bury all the emotions she feels towards her mother and she's afraid varying her routine would bring them to the surface again.
So she's not the least bit upset when Gale knocks on the door just after she's set her mother's breakfast down.
"Oh-uhm-was I interrupting?" he says when she answers the door.
"Well, I'm heading to Abernathy's to work on the fence, but you can just meet me later if you want-
"No, I can go now."
She shuts the door to the bedroom and grabs her jacket off one of the Hawthorne's hooks. Gale steps past her to open the front door and they head out towards the Victor's Village.
As they draw closer, Katniss asks Gale what Haymitch is like. Her only encounter with him was when he gave her alcohol for the wounded miners.
"He's…I'm not sure how to describe him exactly. He's a smartass. Actually, he's kind of an asshole, but I think there's more to him. He's definitely smarter than he let's on," Gale wrinkles his nose and shrugs. "I dunno. That's about all I can tell you."
"Do you think he was trying to help us, or just wanted his fence redone?"
"I wasn't sure until I showed up at his house. That's when I saw his fence was never painted and had pieces that had been broken for ages. He obviously doesn't give a shit about it and hasn't for years. So I don't think it's a coincidence that he decided to start caring about the fence right when I needed money."
"He gave me alcohol for the miners too. Don't know why he did that either."
"Guilt," Gale says. "He feels bad living with so much when the rest of us have so little. Although, he clearly doesn't feel guilty enough to use the money he spends on alcohol to buy food for kids or something. Ripper says the amount of money he spends on booze each week could feed a family for just as long."
Katniss grimaces, trying to imagine how any one could possibly waste so much money on something with no nutritional value.
"I don't get alcohol," she tells Gale. "Expensive, not good for you, and it doesn't taste good."
"You've had it?"
"Just a few sips my mother had left over from a patient. It was gross."
"Oh, well if you only had a few sips you wouldn't get the appeal. Getting drunk is fun. Not worth the expense, but fun."
"You've done it?"
"Just twice. Once when Thom's brother invited us to hang out with him and some other miners. And once when I was with Tia Hemlock, who stole it from her dad. "
"So it is fun?"
"Yeah, it makes the little stuff that worries you go away. And things seem funnier and you're just…not afraid of anything. Then you wake up with a helluva headache the next day."
"Hm," Katniss considers this. "I guess it might be nice not to worry about things for a little while."
"Exactly, which is why I don't mind drinking if someone else buys."
They both laugh and turn the corner into the Victor's Village. When they reach Haymitch's house, Katniss scans the fence briefly. There's still plenty of work left to do.
They step onto the front porch and Gale raps on the door. Haymitch takes so long to answer that Katniss is starting wonder if he's even home when he finally pulls open the door and squints into the sunlight.
"We're here to do the fence," Gale says. "Katniss will work with me today too, if that's okay?"
"Why the hell wouldn't it be?"
Katniss watches Gale fight to keep his expression neutral. Then she feels Haymitch's eyes on her.
"So you're better now?"
"Yes, thank you for-
"Well good. The kid was gonna lose it if you didn't recover."
Gale scowls and Katniss can feel his shoulders his tense. She can see why Haymitch doesn't seem to have any friends. She doesn't appreciate being interrupted when she's trying to thank someone. She's bad enough of at it anyway.
"What I was going to say, was-
Haymitch opens his mouth and Katniss just raises her voice.
"Was thank you for buying the medicine."
"Yeah, your welcome," Haymitch grunts, looking uncomfortable. This gives Katniss some sort of satisfaction, so she says,
"It was a nice thing to do-
"It wasn't to be nice. It was to get my fence fixed," Haymitch snaps. "That's what you're here to do, isn't it? So get to it."
He shuts the door in their faces and Gale starts laughing.
"You two really hit it off."
Gale smirks at her again and starts heading from the porch towards the fence. As Katniss approaches the fence she can see exactly how far Gale has gotten in fixing it. He's about halfway through the front yard, and each rail and fence section he's worked on is standing straight. A few sections of the fence have also been replaced with new wood. This part of the fence stands in stark contrast to the areas that haven't gotten Gale's attention. There, parts of the wood are rotting, rails are loose from the fence posts, and some sections even appear to be missing.
Gale sets down his hunting bag and tells Katniss to get out the tools while he goes to retrieve wood from Haymitch's back porch. Katniss does as she's told and inspects the saw, hammers, and shovels Gale brought. He returns eventually with two-by-fours and nails, and they set to work.
They cooperate as seamlessly on the fence as they do hunting, though Katniss looks to Gale for guidance more than she does when they're in the woods. He explains how to brace fence rails with smaller pieces of wood and how to repair broken pieces by nailing wood between them. Katniss works a bit ahead of him, making the repairs she feels comfortable with and leaving trickier pieces for him. Every now and again he asks her to hold something steady or make sure pieces are perfectly lined up.
They've nearly finished the front yard when Katniss sees a blonde boy with a large bag making his way towards the house. When he reaches the edge of the property, Katniss recognizes Peeta Mellark, the baker's youngest son who gave her bread all those years ago. She hasn't spoken to him since, though she's caught him staring at her a few times at school.
He stops at the edge of Haymitch's yard and gives them a wave before walking towards the front porch. He doesn't wait for them to wave back, and it's a probably a good thing, because she's too unsure to wave and Gale just frowns briefly before going back to the wood he's hammering.
Katniss pauses in her work to watch Haymitch answer the door, take the bag from Peeta, and give him money in exchange. When Peeta turns around to start heading back, she makes sure to be busy reinforcing a fence plank. By the time she looks up again, Peeta is gone and Haymitch is striding towards them, bag in hand.
"Goes a lot faster with two," he says.
Gale looks up, wipes his brow, and nods.
"Here," Haymitch fishes into the bag and pulls out two packages. "Lunch."
"You don't have to do that," Gale says. "We can just break and come back after we eat."
"This is easier. Consider it part of your pay."
"This job is worth more than the medicine, kid. Some food here and there makes us even. Assuming you still agree to paint the thing."
"I said I would, didn't I?"
"Don't get your skirt in a twist, no one was accusing you of going back on your word."
Gale aims his scowl at the sandwiches in Haymitch's hands.
"Do you have a problem with turkey?"
Katniss exchanges a glance with Gale before they both shake their heads and take the sandwiches. Haymitch guffaws.
"You two are like twins separated at birth."
Katniss feels herself bristling and she can tell Gale is too. She and Gale are like family, but they're not actually family. If Gale were really her brother his unconditional affection for her wouldn't mean quite so much. It would be required, not something she'd earned.
"Touchy today aren't we?" Haymitch smirks at Gale.
"No, you're just more irritating than usual," Gale snaps. The moment it's out of his mouth Katniss sees Gale tense. She's never heard him talk to a customer like that, though Haymitch is probably one of the more obnoxious people they've dealt with. Katniss wonders if they've overstepped some line, but Haymitch just laughs again.
"If that bothers you then you have a mighty thin skin."
"He does not," Katniss snaps. She's not sure what exactly Haymitch meant, but Gale's as tough as anyone she knows.
"Cute," Haymitch smirks at her.
Katniss turns red, but the word "cute" seems to have riled Gale up because he's grinding his teeth.
"Well, I won't impose on your quality time together anymore."
Haymitch gives them a mocking salute and turns back towards the house.
"He's an idiot," Katniss mutters when Haymitch is out of earshot. Gale nods his agreement, grabs a hammer, and bangs viciously on a piece of two by four. Though Katniss has no problem enjoying her turkey sandwich, she's never had a sandwich from the bakery before, Gale doesn't touch his until he's had the chance to vent his frustration on a few more nails.
When the sun starts to set, Gale moves supplies back to Haymitch's porch and Katniss packs up his tools. They leave Haymitch's house without saying goodbye and arrive at the Hawthorne's just in time for dinner.
Thom knocks on the door not long after everyone has finished supper. He waves a hello to Katniss, who is doing dishes, and then spends a good fifteen minutes assuring Hazelle that he is indeed surviving the community home.
"You hanging out with Maura tonight?" he finally asks Gale.
"No, it's her dad's birthday so she's staying at home."
"Well, some of the guys are rustling up a poker game."
"Sounds good. I'll get my coat and we'll go."
"Gale," Hazelle raises her eyebrows and looks over at Katniss. "Shouldn't you invite Katniss? She shouldn't have to sit at home now that she's feeling better."
Gale and Thom both look distinctly uncomfortable at the idea and Katniss opens her mouth to begin making her excuses. She's not going to follow Gale around where she's not wanted.
"Is there a problem?" Hazelle props a hand on her hip. "Is there something about this poker game that isn't fit for Katniss? Because if that's the case, then maybe you shouldn't be going either."
Thom and Gale both shake their heads vigorously.
"Well then, Katniss why don't you go get changed and go with them?"
"I-uhm…I don't usually go out."
It wasn't a lie. Katniss doesn't think she's ever gone out on a Saturday night.
"All the more reason you should, dear," Hazelle says. "Go on."
She shoos Katniss towards the bedroom and Katniss vaguely wonders what on earth she's supposed to be doing anyway. Normally she would have just grabbed her hunting jacket off the hook and followed Gale out the door, but Hazelle seems to think she should change.
Katniss opens the dresser drawer and sorts through her clothes. She's not sure what she ought to change into. A dress would be too fancy, but clearly her hunting clothes weren't right. Katniss purses her lips and tries to think about what other girls wear. Eventually she pulls out a tighter pair of pants and a blouse she hasn't worn in ages. It was her mother's and Katniss has always thought the fabric was too flimsy for the woods. Besides, the lower neckline struck her as impractical, though it would hardly matter tonight.
When she's dressed, she appraises her self in the mirror and decides she looks a little bit nicer than usual. She ought to do something with her hair, but she has no idea what. So she settles for re-braiding it and letting a few pieces fall around her face. She isn't sure what exactly Hazelle expected, but this will have to do.
When she steps back into the kitchen, Hazelle smiles approvingly at her.
"You look ready," she says.
Gale glances back at her and Katniss sees his eyes travel up her body. She thinks they linger for just a moment on her hips and the neckline of her shirt. But his glance is so quick, she figures she must have imagined it.
"Let's go then," he says, motioning towards the door. Thom looks meaningfully at Gale, who just shakes his head and opens the door.
They remain silent as they walk down the dirt roads of the Seam. Katniss can see Gale and Thom exchange glances periodically, and finally she decides to confront the tension her presence seems to have brought.
"Look, since you guys clearly don't want me here, maybe I can just go hang out-
"It's not that we don't want you," Gale says. "It's just that the poker game is kind of…a guy's thing."
"So, I'll be the only girl?"
"No exactly," Thom looks back at Gale. "But the other girls that come are usually, uhm…they're…"
"Sluts," Gale supplies.
"What's so slutty about playing poker?" Katniss asks. She's never played, but she had thought it was just a card game.
"It's not the game," Gale says. "It's the wagers. None of us have money to gamble, but you have to do something to keep it interesting. So whenever someone runs out of chips, they have to do something."
"Well, I ran naked through the merchant district a year ago," Gale rubs the back of his neck. "I've kissed plenty of girls I wouldn't have otherwise, I've broken into song in the middle of class, uhm…let's see…"
"You asked the banker's wife to the slag heap and she actually said yes."
Katniss gasps and Thom starts laughing.
"What did you do?"
"Well, I just sort of stared at her for a minute. Then she told me when to pick her up and I, uh, never showed."
Thom is practically howling with laughter.
"I still think that counts as you backing out," he says.
"She was fucking married," Gale grumbles. "It's not like any of us actually thought I'd take her to the slag heap."
Katniss is finding the whole idea plenty amusing until an unpleasant thought occurs to her.
"So what kinds of things do the girls do?"
Thom and Gale both wince.
"Uhm, well," Thom chews his lip. "It's mostly guys coming up with the wagers so you can imagine…"
Katniss doesn't have much imagination when it comes to these things, so Gale spells it out for her.
"They take off clothes, fool around with guys, that kind of thing."
"Oh no," Katniss stops walking. "Gale-Gale-that-I can't…"
"I know," he says. "I'm trying to think of something."
Katniss considers going back, but then she realizes that puts Gale in a tight spot. Hazelle will want to know why she left and Katniss can't think of anything she could say that would make sense and still keep Gale out of trouble.
"You're just not going to play," Gale says eventually. "We'll tell the guys you don't know how to play, which is true, so you're just going to be on my team and watch for the night."
"They won't mind?"
"I don't give a fuck what they mind."
"I'm sure it'll be fine anyway," Thom adds. "It's not like we promised to bring girls or something."
They fall silent and Katniss ponders the situation waiting for her. She'll just have to leave the game if anyone objects to Gale's plan. If not, she supposes it won't be so bad. It might be funny to see what happens to the losers.
They arrive at the edge of the Seam, not far from the electric fence. Thom opens the door to an abandoned house and Katniss and Gale follow him inside. There are three guys and two girls talking loudly, laughing, and counting out stacks of poker chips. There's no furniture, so they've elected to sit on the wood floor of what was once a living room. They shout hellos at Gale and Thom, and Katniss sees many of their eyes widen as she steps out from behind Gale.
"This is Katniss," he says. "She's never played before, so she'll just kinda watch and be my partner."
The guys in the group exchange a few glances and shrugs.
"Whatever," one of them says.
Gale and Thom move to sit down and Katniss settles herself between them.
The girl sitting across from her looks very familiar. Katniss thinks she may be a year ahead of her in school. When she sees Katniss staring, she smiles and says,
"I'm Ansley. This is Jasie, Brandt, Ty, and Kee."
They all offer waves when she says their names and Katniss smiles tentatively back.
"Poker's not too hard," Ansley says, flicking her dark hair behind her shoulder. "I'm sure you'll get the hang of it real fast."
"I don't know about that," Brandt says. "It's easy to play, but hard to win."
"He's right," Gale says. "So listen up while I explain the rules."
As everyone finishes dividing chips, Gale explains the different poker hands, when betting occurs, and the concept of bluffing.
"You can't make faces when you see my cards," he tells her. "Otherwise you'll give me away. So stay neutral."
Katniss can do this easily enough and she feels a slight tug of excitement as Brandt starts dealing the first hand. Gale's initial hand, however, is nothing to get excited about. He ends up with only a pair of tens and pulls out early to avoid losing too many chips. Ansley wins the hand with a straight.
As the game goes on, Katniss decides Gale is far better suited to poker than she is. While Katniss would have played in a straightforward manner, betting when she had good cards and folding when she didn't, Gale's far less predictable. Sometimes he'll bluff and other times he'll downplay good cards to lure his opponents in to betting more.
Katniss thinks his approach would be far less successful if she were actually playing. She can easily tell that many of his facial expressions are forced, and it doesn't take her long to notice his true tells. Gale's eyes get slightly wider when he thinks he has good cards, he squints almost imperceptibly when he's unsure how to play a hand, and his breathing gets shallower when he bluffs, just like it does when he's nervous about a sound in the woods.
It all seems perfectly obvious to Katniss, but no one else seems to catch it. Ty even remarks that Katniss is just like Gale, because neither of them so much as blink when they see the cards. She nearly bites her tongue to keep from correcting him, but he doesn't notice that either.
Kee is the first to go out and it's decided that he has to ask out a girl named Arya Jennings. The penalty doesn't seem too harsh to Katniss, but it quickly becomes clear that Kee is beside himself about it. He starts protesting immediately, saying he can't do it because it would "ruin everything."
"Everything?" Thom snorts. "You've barely spoken to her."
"But he's spoken so much about her," Gale quips.
Kee sends a rude gesture Gale's way.
"Oh come on," Gale says. "We're doing you a favor here. She can't say yes if you never ask her."
"I'm working on it. I have a plan, but this is not part of it."
"A plan, really? I didn't know blushing and stuttering whenever she walked by counted as a plan," Brandt says.
Every one is laughing now, even Katniss. Despite Kee's protests, the rest of the group doesn't budge and eventually the game recommences.
Jascie goes out next and Katniss is almost nervous for her as her penalty is determined. Just like Gale and Thom predicted, all the suggestions seem to be somewhat sexual. Brandt suggests she spend the rest of the evening naked and Jascie blanches. Katniss doesn't have a whole lot of sympathy for her, what did she think she was getting herself into? But Gale must, because he objects to the idea.
"Too stiff a penalty," he says. "I was the first one out when I had to go naked through the merchant's quarter. She wasn't first out so it shouldn't be that bad."
"It's not," Brandt snorts. "It's not in front of half the town, it's just us."
"Yeah, well that's probably more people than saw me. It was the middle of the night when I ran through there, no one was awake."
"Fine, top off. And quit being a fucking prude, Hawthorne."
Gale rolls his eyes and looks like he's on the verge of saying something else, but Jascie stands up, pulls off her shirt, and tosses it at Brandt's head.
"You're cute to worry about me, Gale," she says. "But I've got no problem showing these off."
She cups her breasts and Katniss averts her eyes. Had the girl lost her mind? But the rest of the room is laughing, except for Gale and Thom, who both shoot apprehensive glances in Katniss's direction. She doesn't meet their eyes because the whole thing makes her feel so absurdly awkward.
'Why on earth does Gale do this?' she asks herself, but then she hits upon the obvious answer. 'He probably likes seeing girls half naked when you're not around.'
In fact, not probably, definitely. It's not like he keeps Maura dressed at the slag heap. He'd probably be having a great time staring at Jascie's chest if Katniss wasn't sitting right next to him, blushing and trying not to literally squirm with discomfort.
"Okay?" Gale whispers, halting her train of thought.
"Fine," she snaps.
He looks like he wants to say something, but Ansley is already dealing. She ends up losing next and it's decided that she has to make out with the winner of the next hand, who turns out to be Ty. She climbs onto his lap and brings his mouth to hers without any sign of the embarrassment Katniss is feeling just from watching. And the kiss goes on, and on, and on and Katniss can't believe how long she has to stare at the ground to keep from watching. Brandt's catcalling and whistling and everyone else is laughing. Even Gale just shakes his head, chuckles, and starts shuffling the cards.
When Ansley finally pulls away, she springs off Ty's lap, gives him a wink, and then sits back down like she didn't just suck his face for the last few minutes. Katniss thinks this is why she doesn't have more friends. All the girls her age are clearly insane, or perhaps she's just hopelessly prude. Katniss decides it's probably some combination of the two.
Ty is out next and it's decided that he has to ask Tia Hemlock out three times in one day, using a terrible pick-up line each time. One of the other players has to be present for each attempt to ensure Ty does indeed deliver each line with a straight face.
Now it's down to Gale, Thom and Brandt, and Katniss can actually feel her stomach tensing as each card is dealt. Poker's new to her, but Katniss does have a competitive streak and she's rooting for Gale.
Unfortunately, luck isn't on is his side. For every good hand he had earlier in the game, he seems to be getting three terrible hands now. Though he's not dumb enough to keep betting with his bad cards, the blinds and antes are slowly diminishing his pile of chips.
Finally, his luck seems to return and he's able to get a flush. Katniss feels slightly giddy when he goes all in to make up for the series of bad hands he had previously. It's just him and Thom still betting, and finally they both reveal their cards.
"Straight flush," Thom says, just as Gale sees it and starts swearing.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Gale shakes his head and pushes his chips towards Thom.
"So Katniss and Gale are out," Brandt says. "What are we going to do with them?"
Them? She wasn't playing. She looks over at Gale, eyes wide, but he's already speaking.
"Katniss wasn't playing, so just me," he says, but Ansley's speaking louder.
"They should kiss!" she declares.
Katniss's jaw drops. Kiss. Kiss Gale. That's-she-they don't do that. She can't kiss Gale, just the thought is making her stomach swoop and her breath quicken. It's not that she would mind, well maybe she would, but maybe not. He is handsome.
Her head is spinning and her face is heating up. She hasn't kept track of anything else that's been said, but Gale's raised voice brings her back to reality.
"That wasn't the deal! She was on my team. She wasn't playing. She doesn't do anything!"
"She was on your team, so when you lose, she loses," Brandt says. "It's no fun if people can just beg off when they lose."
"No one's begging off because they lost, she never played to begin with!"
"Besides, he can't do it anyway," Thom adds. "He's dating Maura."
"Well then Katniss can kiss you, you won the hand," Ansley suggests. "We'll find something else for Gale."
"No, Katniss isn't doing a damn thing!" Gale has stood up now and his whole body is tensed. Katniss nearly groans when Brandt stands up too, and Thom follows suit. This is quickly getting out of hand.
"You never said she wasn't going to do anything, just that she'd play on your team-
"I said she wasn't fucking playing, so you can't go whoring her out!"
"Whoring? It's a kiss, Hawthorne! What are you, her fucking dad?"
Katniss bristles. Gale certainly isn't her dad. Her dad is dead and she doesn't appreciate Brandt mentioning it.
Gale's mouth is slightly open and he seems to be taking a moment to decide how he wants to respond. Judging by the look on his face, Katniss thinks he may very well decide to respond by taking a swing at Brandt.
"It's okay," she says, touching his arm.
"It's not okay, we had agreed-
"It's just a kiss," Katniss says. And it is. She'll give Thom a quick kiss, as short as the ones she gives Prim on the top of her head, and be done with it. She doesn't find the idea particularly appealing, but she doesn't find it unappealing either. It's better than Gale starting a fight, that's for sure.
Gale clenches his jaw and starts to shake his head. Now she's just irritated with him. This is ridicules. And embarrassing. And stupid. She's not going to be responsible for ruining the poker game, or causing a fight between Gale and these guys. At least not if all she has to do is give Thom a quick kiss. If she had to kiss him like Ansley kissed Ty that would be one thing, but she can handle this. She doesn't need Gale creating a scene.
So Katniss turns and plants herself in front of Thom. He just looks at her with his mouth slightly agape and darts a glance toward Gale. Katniss isn't entirely sure how to go about doing this and she crosses her arms as Thom continues to stare at her.
"Well?" she taps her foot. Couldn't he at least lean towards her? She can't help but think kissing Gale would have been easier. She would have been able to read his body and just know what to do.
Thom looks over at Gale again and Katniss makes a point of not following his gaze. She doesn't need to look at Gale to know he's livid. He's standing just to her other side and practically radiating heat.
"We're supposed to kiss aren't we?" she asks him. "So do it already."
Thom's eyes go wide and everyone starts laughing, well everyone except Gale.
"O-okay," Thom says.
He leans towards her, places his hand at her waist, and slowly bends. Katniss's eyes close, though she doesn't think she consciously decided to shut them. Then she feels a slight pressure against her lips, which lasts for just a moment, before it's over and Thom drops his hand from her waist.
Katniss blinks, trying to decide if she felt anything. So that was it? That was kissing. It didn't really feel like much of anything, certainly not worth all that fuss. Maybe she did it wrong. Blushing, she turns away from Thom because she couldn't even begin to look at him right now. She drops quickly back to her seat.
"See, nobody died Hawthorne," Brandt smirks. Gale opens his mouth to reply, but Kee cuts him off.
"Let's just figure out what Gale's gonna do."
That proves difficult, as his relationship with Maura makes the usual wagers impossible. Eventually, Ty suggests that he ask his teacher, Mr. McGrath, to accompany him and Maura to the slag heap.
"I'm sure Maura won't get mad about that one," Ansley says. "It's obviously some kind of joke and you can tell her afterwards. She'd be crazy to get mad."
Katniss almost says that Maura is crazy, but she bites her tongue. It's probably not a good time to push Gale's buttons. He doesn't really answer Ansley, just shrugs and goes back to glaring at the wall.
His mood doesn't improve for the rest of the game, although Katniss thinks she is the only person who cares. Everyone else is talking, laughing, and debating whether Thom, Ty or Brandt will come out victorious.
When Brandt finally wins, Gale gets up and says Hazelle wants him and Katniss back early. Katniss knows Hazelle made no such request, but she doesn't particularly want to stay anyway. To her surprise, Thom also leaves with them.
The walk back home is decidedly tense. Katniss isn't sure where to look. She's still too embarrassed to look at Thom, and Gale is making a point of not looking at either of them. So she settles for staring straight ahead and walking quickly. The sooner they get home and this night is over, the better.
When they arrive at the Hawthornes, Gale gives a wave in Thom's general direction and is halfway up the walkway before Katniss can even formulate a goodbye. So she gives Thom a quick wave and is about to go back inside, when he touches her arm.
She stops. Ahead of her, she sees Gale's body stiffen as he stops outside the front door.
"I'm sorry about tonight," Thom says. "I never meant to put you in an awkward spot. I didn't think they'd be so difficult about you not playing. Actually, I didn't even think you'd come, so…uhm, I'm just sorry."
Katniss forces herself to look up at Thom. If he can talk to her than she ought to be able to muster up the courage to look at him.
"It's not your fault," she says. "It just worked out badly. And, uhm, sorry about kissing you or whatever."
She looks down again, but then Thom laughs. It's not an unkind laugh, more of a light, disarming chuckle.
"That was no big deal," he says. "You just did what you had to do to keep Gale from losing it."
"I wasn't going to lose it," Gale snaps from the porch.
"You absolutely were," Katniss rolls her eyes and turns to Thom. "Is he always this grumpy when he loses?"
Thom laughs loudly this time and Gale gives an exasperated snort.
"Actually," he shoots Gale a look. "He's not usually."
Gale scowls, but Thom just shrugs.
He waves and heads down the road towards the community home. Katniss walks over to Gale, waiting for him to open the front door. He sighs and looks down at her,
"I'm sorry about all that too."
"It's okay. You didn't want me to come in the first place-
"Don't you see why?"
"Of course. I just meant that it's not your fault since you didn't even want it to happen in the first place."
"I know, I just…" he frowns for a moment. "Was that your first kiss?"
Katniss is caught off guard with the question. She hadn't thought of it before, but she supposes it was. She nods and Gale sighs.
"Why? What's that got to do with anything?"
"I always thought girls wanted their first kiss to be romantic or something."
"You should know I'm not like that."
"I should," Gale concedes. "I just…I wasn't sure if maybe you'd feel differently once you were actually kissed."
Katniss rolls her eyes.
"It wasn't even a real kiss anyway. It was just to shut every body up and keep you from being an idiot. I'm not going to get all stupid over it."
Gale looks exasperated for a moment, but then he just shakes his head and smiles.
He opens the door and they both step inside. Hazelle is the only one awake and when she asks them how the night was, Katniss thinks she's smirking.
"You're home earlier than usual," she adds.
Gale mumbles something about it being fine and Katniss has to suppress a laugh.
"Oh wonderful," Hazelle says. "Maybe you'll all play again next week."
Gale looks like he's choked on something and Katniss does laugh out loud this time.
"Is something wrong, dear?" Hazelle asks. When Gale shakes his head, Hazelle continues.
"Your father used to play poker too when he was your age. He never did want me to play. He was quite upset when I showed up uninvited one night, although I did realize why eventually."
Gale gulps and Katniss wonders if they're about to get into trouble.
"He didn't play after I came, said the game lost some of its appeal. But that was a long time ago, I'm sure you all play differently now days," Hazelle smiles. "I'm off to bed."
She heads into her bedroom and when the door shuts behind her, Gale shakes his head.
"And here I was thinking she just wanted to make sure you weren't feeling left out on a Saturday night. I really need to stop underestimating her."
"I wonder if she'll tell us what happened when she played that game with your father?" Katniss grins as Gale pales.
"They-that-I'm going to bed."
Feeling quite clever, Katniss watches Gale stomp off to his room and turns to maker her bed on the couch. As she tosses blankets on it, she considers her first kiss. It wasn't bad. It wasn't good either though, and she wonders if she was supposed to feel something different. Would she have felt something different if she had kissed someone else? What if she had kissed Gale?
For just a moment, she pictures Gale's hand on her waist, his eyes dancing as he leans in to her, and the feel of his lips brushing hers. Her stomach twists and she doesn't breathe for a moment. Then she shakes herself, irritated at her mind for wandering somewhere so absurd, and buries her face in the couch to sleep.