Author's Note: I decided to tackle a crossover between Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" and "The Dive From Clausen's Pier" by Ann Packer. Is this really a crossover? Doubtful. The characters belong to Suzanne Collins but I don't always follow her characterization. I have (loosely) based some of the (very general, initial) events of Ms. Packer's book in this little fic. Parts ARE taking place in Madison, Wisconsin because that's where I went to college. Just covering my bases as I don't want someone raging at me about plagiarism. If you've seen the horrific made-for-tv movie, I'm sorry. And yes, I have footnotes because I love everything about Madison, the UW, Amherst and UMass.
Summary: Two people struggle to reclaim their relationship among a complicated history and tragic events while defining their lives post-graduation.
Peeta's driving his pickup and I'm riding shotgun, both of us returning from Annie's college graduation party. We've gone to enough of them now that they all seem to blend together. Our small group came to the University of Wisconsin1 together and, for the most part, we all graduated together (save for Gale who is on the seven-year plan). Annie's party is the last of them and I'd venture to say that we're all glad they're over. It'd be one thing if we were relaxing on the Terrace2 like any other Friday night, but it's another when families are involved.
My mom's completely absent, Peeta's family is dysfunctional at best, Annie's is overbearing, Gale's is perpetually disappointed in his lack of initiative and Madge's think she can do no wrong (which is a load of horseshit if you really know her). Add a few grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts and you have the ingredients for one hell of an awkward afternoon.
We're heading up East Wash3, the capitol building looking black against the fiery orange sky. I love our capitol…it sits on an isthmus between two lakes and at the top of a hill, streets streaming down its sides. State Street runs the distance between the capitol and campus, bridging a political city with an equally political university. But more than that, I think it's as beautiful as the United States' capitol building…if not more so.
"Do you want to head to the Terrace for a beer? Or maybe Nick's4?" Peeta pulls me out of my trance and I sigh, looking out the passenger window.
"Mmm. It's late. I'm not really feeling it."
"Come on. It's 8 o'clock, Katniss. It's not like we have anywhere to be tomorrow."
"Why don't you call Darius or your brother? I just want to shower and go to bed."
And I do. The iciness between the two of us has been uncomfortable at best. Peeta's tried to shrug it off and capitalize on the few times I've let my guard down, but we both know something's not right. Things haven't been good for months but we've kept up the façade, at least in front of our friends. It's exhausting.
He turns on to Webster Street and finds parking, obviously intending to stay in with me. I grab our backpack and he takes the cooler, trudging up the two flights of stairs to our tiny two-bedroom apartment5. Calling it a two-bedroom is overstating it: one bedroom literally fits a loveseat and Peeta's drafting table and the other barely holds a double bed. There's a large closet in the main room that once held a murphy bed, and a galley kitchen and tiny bathroom complete the tour. Welcome to paradise.
Peeta puts the leftover fruit salad into the fridge while I drop the sandy blankets down the laundry chute and get ready for my shower. I look into the bathroom mirror and immediately wish I had some aloe or Noxzema; I got a little more sun than I had intended to. Strong arms wrap around my waist and squeeze.
"Mind if I join you?"
"I'm all sweaty. I just want to cool off."
He squeezes me again. "Let me help you unwind."
"I'm really not in the mood."
His face is expressionless and reflected with mine, his head over my left shoulder. Peeta kisses my shoulder and his arms lose their grip as he leaves, shutting the door behind him.
I grip the sink's edge and look back at my reflection, wondering how it is we got here. I wonder how I ended up with a high school sweetheart-turned fiancée and yet so desperate to be anywhere but here. I wonder how I've become so resentful of the one person who's put everything on the line to make me happy.
When did I become such a bitch? I don't know. I don't have the heart to care.
The water is blissfully cool as I lather up, shampoo my hair and shave…even on a sunburn the feeling of prickles creeps me out. I comb some conditioner through my hair, braid it back and step out of the shower. Head-to-toe lotion will have to sub for aloe and the liquid seems to capture the breeze, soothing my pink skin. My body gets wrapped in a short robe and I head toward the bedroom.
The apartment is empty and I stand in the living room, realizing that he's gone for the night. I sigh and know that my stomach should be in knots, but instead I feel nothing as I turn off the lights and slip into bed. The street lamp shines into our room and illuminates my face.
It wasn't always like this.
A new city meant a new house and a new school. I thought I'd miss the old place, but when Mom announced that we were moving, I silently packed up the things that held any meaning and plotted my (eventual) escape. I didn't need a final picture or a last walk-through. I knew every room had a memory, some of which I wanted to forget.
Our house had a story that begged to be burned.
My sister Prim was at the other end of the spectrum. She desperately wanted to stay and pleaded, screamed, wailed, sulked and eventually was dragged to the car, her flip cam capturing every last box getting loaded into the van. I might not have understood her attachment to that piece of Everdeen history, but I squeezed her hand as she slipped it in mine, knowing that her world was imploding. I mean, the kid was ten. Her life was her friends and whatever the hell Brownie troop she was in. Brownies and those amazing cookies. Samoas are the best.
That flip cam was permanently attached to Prim's face as we pulled away from the old driveway, getting ready to discover (or in some cases, scrutinize) a new home. If the Everdeens do anything thoroughly, it is distancing ourselves from the problem at hand. After Dad died, Mom decided to put a time zone between us and that memory, effectively killing the process of mourning. Ha ha.
The sky was an expansive pool of blue that we drove under for days. By hour two on day one, Prim's video diary had gone from whiny to giddy and I wanted to chuck the camera out the window.
Even before Dad's death, I was the introspective kid. I think a lot, but I don't say much and it's kind of amazing the stuff you notice when your mouth isn't busy polluting the silence. You see the simplest, most profound acts of kindness in one blink and then you're faced with my generation's stupidity on a stick. Let's face it: social media has made bragging an acceptable pastime. Me, me, me. Life is going on and we're 'waiting for it', pants hanging past our asses, our faces aglow from the computer screen we watch just in case we miss something big like the latest celebrity meltdown.
My—shall we say—saltiness, hasn't earned me many admirers. I never really cared because I always preferred a smaller, tight-knit pack. For me, safety in numbers maxes out at six, including my sister.
Prim, on the other hand, thinks out loud. Nothing is spared in her conversations and it doesn't matter who is within earshot. The kid never shuts up, which makes her a magnet for people. She's mutually adored by virtually everyone she meets and it's a miracle she wasn't abducted as a child. She'd take ice cream from strangers, help someone look for a puppy and accept a ride home from a masked man all in the course of an afternoon if we weren't more careful. She is life itself.
You'd think that oil and water don't mix, but somehow we work, Prim and I. I'd walk over hot coals for her. She tolerates my "horrible" taste in music.
That leaves Mom. A trauma nurse, physically she's beautiful, all blonde hair and blue eyes like Prim. Inside she's vacant. It's bizarre having a mom who is checked out emotionally, but who is able to function in a fast-paced life-or-death job. She can assist with level five trauma in the ER, but often forgot that her daughters needed basic dental care or a packed lunch. Some would call it scatterbrained. I called it abandonment. I hope that whatever the hell it is isn't genetic.
So we downsized to a family of three. I used to wonder how I got saddled with the boring brown hair and steely grey eyes, but seeing Dad with those same features somehow made me feel just a little bit better. Aside from the similar look, I used to think that we had a different understanding of the world. Quiet and aware like me, he would whisper, "Don't tell the world what we know."
Then he went away, taking the life in Mom's eyes with him and I was left wondering where I fit into this equation. I want to know precisely what he said he knew, because I'm not entirely sure I understand anymore.
I pull the one photo I have of my dad out of the nightstand drawer and gaze at it under the night sky.
"Dad, I don't follow."
Chapter One Key
1. University of Wisconsin. Also known as the UW. Sometimes referred to as UW-Madison. The Badgers. Flagship university of the state of Wisconsin. Over 40,000 students. My alma mater and I could wax poetic about it all freaking day long.
2. Terrace: the Terrace at the Memorial Union at the UW. Huge outdoor space with chairs, boat rentals, piers, live music, beer, food, etc etc. Sits on Lake Mendota. Also known for its orange, green and yellow metal chairs. Google it!
3. East Wash: East Washington Street. This main street runs straight through Madison and up to the capitol building. West Wash runs down the other side.
4. Nick's. Tiny restaurant on upper State Street. Great food and drink, very low-key.
5. Two-bedroom apartment on Webster. I based this apartment off of the one I rented my junior year and it was exactly as I described. Sadly, a fire destroyed the building, but they are rebuilding. I loved living on the capitol square!