A/N: Thank you all for sticking with me through this entire story! I can't believe this is the last chapter, but I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know with a review or message.
I want to thank sunfishdunes so much for her help as my beta on this chapter, and throughout the story. I'm so grateful you volunteered when I put out my call for betas on tumblr - I feel so lucky.
Also, I want to dedicate this chapter to baronesskika, who just got married! Here's wishing you and your new husband a very happy life together!
I've begun publishing a new Everlark story, but it is a collaborative effort, so I am not publishing it as so-amazing-here. It is called The Endless In-Between, and the author name is amazingpanemmemories. The first three chapters have already been published here on FFN. Check it out if you've liked what I've written so far. (I will continue publishing as so-amazing-here for my own works, though.)
Finally, come say hi on tumblr: soamazinghere.
I can't sleep. There's just too much running through my head right now. Honestly, after what just happened, I don't understand how Peeta's sleeping so soundly next to me. How can he possibly be so calm?
Rolling over onto my side, I reach for my phone on the nightstand and flip it on. Ugh. 2:55 a.m. I feel like I've been checking the time every hour and mentally calculating how long I can sleep if I manage to fall asleep right now. But obviously the whole "falling asleep" thing isn't happening.
I finally give up, getting out of bed carefully so that I don't disturb Peeta. I grab my phone and trudge wearily into the living room, flopping onto the sofa. What now? I'd really like to tell someone about my engagement to Peeta...but it's the middle of the night. Not exactly a great time to be calling anyone, especially since I have good news to share.
I settle for sending a quick text to my sister, knowing that she wouldn't mind. I start typing. "Hey, I have some news. Call me tomorrow. :)" The smiley face will make it obvious that it's good news, right?
But it really is late, and I really am tired, so I'm not going to wait around to see if she replies or wants to have a middle of the night phone call. After drinking a glass of water, I crawl back into bed and close my eyes. There are still a million thoughts racing through my head, though.
I'm running through everything I can recall from yoga classes I took years ago to try to quiet my mind when I faintly hear my phone buzz. My eyes snap open and I reach for it immediately.
It's Prim, of course. "It's 3 a.m.! What's so important?"
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you," I reply quickly, turning away from Peeta and hoping that the light from the phone doesn't bother him.
"You didn't, I'm working."
Sometimes I forget how weird Prim's work schedule can be. It must be a slow night at the hospital if she's found time to sneak away to check her phone.
I debate internally whether or not I should tell Prim my news over text. I don't want to wake Peeta by talking to her; his apartment is so small and it's so quiet that he'd probably be able to hear me even if I left the bedroom. But isn't it strange to share momentous news in a text message?
I might not have any other choice though, given the fact that I've already piqued her curiosity by sending a text at this hour.
"Don't kill me for telling you this over text, but I can't call you right now," I type.
It makes me strangely giddy to see the words on the screen: "Peeta and I are getting married."
Prim wastes no time in replying. "This has been a really crappy night. Please tell me you're not joking."
"I don't joke at 3 a.m. I'm serious. It's real."
Next comes a flurry of texts as Prim processes my news. It's all I can do to not laugh out loud.
Then: "I don't even know how to properly react over text!"
And finally: "I can't believe it. I'm so excited!"
I was actually really surprised at her restraint in exclamation point use.
Smiling to myself, I type as quickly as I can before she continues her onslaught of messages. "Me, too. It was unexpected, but...I'm really happy."
I feel Peeta start to stir behind me, and my eyes widen. He needs his sleep tonight even more than I do. I quickly shut off the phone screen, place it back on the nightstand, and pretend to sleep. But when the phone buzzes again a few seconds later, I can't resist peeking.
"I've gotta get back to work, but we are CELEBRATING when you get home!"
Just as I'm about to return the phone to the table, I remember one last thing. I hold my breath for a moment and listen. It sounds like Peeta's still asleep, so I decide to send another message.
"Do not tell Effie yet. You're the first one we've told."
Effie would either kill me or make me feel guilty for the rest of my life if she got this news from anyone but me. I'd never hear the end of it from her. No way am I taking that risk.
Just as I'm about to settle into bed and go to sleep (for real this time, I vow), I feel Peeta's hand rubbing my lower back. "Katniss, what are you doing?" he mumbles.
I bite my lip and roll toward him, giving him an apologetic look. "Um...talking to Prim. Sorry," I whisper.
"It's the middle of the night," he reminds me sleepily. "Get back to sleep."
I sigh and turn on my side so that my back is flush with Peeta's chest. He slips an arm around my waist and draws me close.
"I haven't been able to sleep," I admit quietly. "I had to tell someone."
Peeta lets out a deep breath and holds me tighter. "I hope you got that out of you, then," he yawns. "Everyone will find out soon enough."
And Peeta was absolutely right. It wasn't long before everyone - and I do mean everyone - found out that we had gotten engaged.
Even though I thought we had agreed that the wedding weekend was about Ryan and Lydia and we weren't going to step on their toes, Peeta let our news slip to his brother. Before the wedding ceremony even started, apparently. I guess he was just too excited to keep the news to himself. I kind of understood where he was coming from given my middle of the night text exchange with Prim, but when I found out, I was absolutely mortified.
Not because I didn't want to be engaged, or because I didn't want anyone to know about it - no, the reason I was so embarrassed was because Ryan proceeded to announce our engagement publicly to everyone at the reception. To hundreds of people I barely knew.
There I was, completely oblivious, just sitting at my table with Delly and her mom (along with a few other Mellarks that I'd met in passing), listening to speeches from Peeta and Hugh and some of Lydia's bridesmaids. The speeches gave me a much-needed break from Delly's chatter and my own poor attempts at small talk with the people around me. To be honest, I'd barely listened to the speeches; I was just letting my mind wander as I looked around the room.
When Ryan stood to thank everyone for coming and started retelling his history with Lydia, I smiled and laughed at all the right times. I even winked playfully at Peeta when I caught his eye at one point. I was leaning toward Delly, straining to hear as she whispered her reaction to something that Ryan had said, so I barely even registered the words "Peeta" and "big news."
I looked up in confusion when I thought I heard him say my name, and soon afterwards I noticed Delly's mom grab her arm and ask her to be quiet. Everyone at the table was looking at me and smiling; at the same moment I distinctly heard Ryan say that he'd "see everyone again in a few months at Peeta and Katniss's wedding," and my mouth dropped open in shock. Delly squealed and threw her arms around me, but I'm not even sure if I hugged her back; I was still trying to figure out what had just happened.
So...that's how I found out that Peeta spilled the beans.
As I absorbed the congratulations of the people sitting near me, I caught Peeta's eye again. He was blushing beet-red and mouthing "sorry" with a guilty look on his face. Or maybe it was a scared look - I have a feeling he thought I was going to inflict my wrath upon him later. And I'm sure that every emotion I was feeling was written all over my face, too. It's quite possible that one of those emotions was rage.
But I wasn't really angry, just incredibly shocked and embarrassed to be diverting attention from Ryan and Lydia. I died a little each and every time someone came up and congratulated me. I apologized to Lydia as soon as I could grab her for a minute, but she just laughed it off and told me to save my stress for planning my wedding. "Now that everyone knows you're engaged, they'll never let you elope," she warned me with an amused gleam in her eye, before she was pulled away to talk to other guests.
Peeta was contrite, of course, insisting that he never intended for Ryan to tell anyone. But I couldn't hold it against him. By the end of the evening, I could almost see the benefit of telling everyone that way. Get it out of the way all at once when everyone's in one place, rather than making a hundred phone calls to spread the news to everyone who needs to know. The embarrassment was just an unfortunate side-effect, I suppose.
Once Peeta's family had been told, the only people I needed to worry about were Prim and Effie. Prim had already gotten the bare-bones version of the news, but I shouldn't have been surprised when she and Thresh practically ambushed me when I stepped into the apartment after I got home from the wedding. (Okay...Prim ambushed me, and Thresh just went along for the ride.)
Prim wanted details, of course, but she was nice enough to take me out for a celebratory dinner in exchange. It was an...interesting celebration, to say the least, especially since I wasn't given a choice about attending and the groom-to-be wasn't there. And I had my suspicions that the reason Prim passed up several perfectly good French restaurants in DC to take me to one in Virginia was simply to get me in the car for thirty minutes of uninterrupted questioning. But what could I do? She's my sister.
The car ride - and the dinner itself - felt like nothing more than an exhausting stream of questions about how Peeta asked me to marry him, where we were at the time, and what exactly he said. Prim wanted so much information that I'm surprised I even had time to eat my food. Of course, I didn't have any earth-shatteringly romantic details to provide - I think she was a little perplexed at the spontaneity of the situation and the fact that Peeta knew how I was going to respond in advance - but if I'd had to plan out my ideal proposal, I think it would've come pretty close to what I got. God knows I wouldn't want anything showy or public or attention-seeking - that's just not me.
And Prim knew that, too, so she just told me how happy she was for Peeta and me. She kept gushing about how she couldn't believe that Peeta and I were actually getting married, and how we wouldn't have even met if I hadn't volunteered to take her place when they tried to kick her off the airplane. She told Thresh, who'd been sitting mostly in silence but watching her with amusement, that she always knew Peeta and I were "meant to be." I rolled my eyes at her words, but I wondered if she could tell how grateful I really was for the way things turned out. Her residency interview ended up benefiting us both in the end.
At the end of our evening, as we were finishing our desserts, Prim gave me a stern look and told me to call Effie right away with my news. "Too many people already know about it," she reminded me, "and Aunt Effie is going to absolutely die from happiness when you tell her." I agreed that I would call first thing in the morning, before I even left for work.
But when I did call Effie the next day, her initial reaction shocked me. After she got over her surprise at me calling her so early in the morning, and after I assured her that I was fine, and Prim was fine, and yes, even Peeta was fine, and after I finally told her my news, her reaction was...complete silence.
I remember sitting in confusion for a few moments, waiting for her to speak. Finally I said, "Hello? Aunt Effie, are you there?" I listened and heard faint sniffling sounds on the other end of the line. "Effie, are you okay?" I asked worriedly.
I could hear her taking several deep breaths, and then: "My baby girl is getting married!" she wailed.
I started laughing in relief, but at some point I think I may have shed a few tears too. Everything felt so right in that moment - I was happy, and I realized that everyone who loved me, and who loved Peeta, was happy for us as well. I had never exactly foreseen having this conversation with Effie, and if I had, I certainly would never have imagined myself breaking down and sobbing tears of joy with her...but guess what?
"It just occurred to me that in all of this talk about your engagement," Prim says, settling into a chair at our dining table, "you never told me where you guys are planning to live." She leans back and cocks her head to the side, giving me an earnest look. "What did you decide?"
My little sister sure does have a way of zeroing in on the conversation topics I'm trying to avoid. I avert my gaze, looking down at my laptop as I sigh, "Um...we still haven't decided."
"You have to decide soon you know," she helpfully reminds me, grabbing a banana from the basket in the middle of the table and slowly peeling it.
I stare at her in annoyance for a moment, then return to the report I'd been working on. "Obviously," I mumble.
Prim, however, is nothing if not persistent. She takes a bite of her banana and forges ahead. "I mean, I know we're not going to live together anymore, but you can't leave me hanging about your decision. I'll need to figure out where I'm going to live," she tells me.
Now she's distracting me with guilt. Before Peeta and I got engaged, I was really thinking only of myself and conveniently forgetting about the fact that my decision would impact her, too. Not very good big sister behavior, I know. Getting engaged hasn't changed anything about my need to figure out our living situation, but it has made me a bit more...motivated. Unless I want to put off the wedding indefinitely (and I don't), I need to make up my mind.
Prim must see the conflicted look crossing my face, because she jumps back in and tries to reassure me. Resting her chin in one hand, she says, "Don't feel bad, let's just try to figure this out." She chews her banana thoughtfully while I continue typing. "Where do you want to live?"
I shrug. My typing slows, but I still don't look up from my computer screen. "I don't know. But..." I trail off, chewing my lip as I stare off into space. Finally I take a breath and look back at Prim. "I guess if I want to marry Peeta, I better get my act together, huh?"
Prim looks at me like I have two heads. "That should've happened a long time ago, but I digress," she tells me in mock seriousness. She finishes her banana and walks into the kitchen to throw away the peel. "What does Peeta want, then?" she calls to me over her shoulder.
"He wants...whatever I want," I admit, shaking my head. Groaning, I close my laptop and lean my elbows on the table, running my hands over my face. "God, I can't believe I can't even meet him halfway on that."
I feel pathetic. Peeta's given me more than enough leeway to find an acceptable solution, and all I've done is create more problems.
Prim returns to the table and sits down next to me, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "So...he'd really be happy wherever?" she prods quietly.
"Yeah," I sigh helplessly. Turning to face Prim, I tell her earnestly, "But I would be, too." Which is absolutely true, because I'd be with Peeta, wherever we were. There are certainly other practical considerations, but if we're strictly talking about happiness, then all I want is to be with Peeta.
"If that's true, Katniss," Prim says, giving me a look that says she doesn't believe me but isn't in the mood to argue, "then - seriously - just flip a coin or something. Just make up your mind!" she tells me forcefully.
"But what about - " I begin, but Prim cuts me off abruptly.
"No. Whatever it is, whatever you're about to say, just...no. I guarantee you've already thought about it, and all this incessant talking has been dragging out forever." She grabs my shoulders and turns me to face her. Giving me a wide-eyed, serious look, she continues, "You're just delaying being with Peeta, you know that, right? You could already be living together somewhere, here, or in Chicago, or - or anywhere!" she sputters.
I eye her warily. I have to admit, I've rarely seen my sister so obviously frustrated, even verging on angry. This is making me nervous.
"I feel like you're trying to get rid of me," I respond, laughing nervously.
Prim nods vigorously. "Guess what? I am!" she tells me emphatically. "You should be living with Peeta, not your sister."
"Um...you're living with your sister," I point out.
"Maybe so, but I have no plans to get married anytime soon." Prim falls silent for a moment, thinking. Finally she turns back to me with a determined gleam in her eye. "I'm giving you a deadline. You're going to see Peeta this weekend, right?" I nod hesitantly, narrowing my eyes in suspicion. "Good. I've decided that you're not coming back here without making a decision."
A noise of protest escapes from my mouth at her words. "Come on - "
She stands abruptly and interrupts me mid-sentence. "Clock's ticking, Katniss. You'd better start thinking," she warns as she strides out of the room.
Prim's little deadline trick has been bugging me all week.
Part of me wanted to tell her to mind her own business and that I'd make up my mind when I was ready, but that feels like an excuse to continue delaying. Because if I come back after this weekend with a decision, that would mean that I was doing it because she said to, right? So if I really want to show her who's boss, I won't do anything. Continue with the status quo.
But I don't think I'd get any satisfaction out of that. After all, continuing the status quo means that I'm still not living with Peeta. So I'd only be punishing myself. And Peeta.
It really bothers me to think about what she said, that I could already be living with Peeta by now. Call me dense, call me short-sighted, but I honestly never thought of it that way before. That my obstinacy is really the only thing standing in the way of me being with Peeta. Now.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat, bumping elbows with the woman sitting next to me. "Sorry," I mutter as I turn away from her to gaze out the window.
It's a really beautiful day today - sunny, clear, hardly a cloud in the sky - and we're getting close to Chicago now. I can see Lake Michigan looming up ahead in the distance, and soon enough I know that I'll see the city's familiar skyline appearing on the shore. I never cared about it one way or another in the past, but I've grown fond of it over the past year. It means that I'll be seeing Peeta soon.
The thought of seeing Peeta brings a smile to my face, and I instinctively try to hide it from my seatmates. I'm not sure why - after all, what's so crazy about seeing a person smile? - but it feels too private to share. Not that I should be worrying anyway. I sneak a glance off to the side and see that my seatmates - a young couple - are still chattering happily to each other, as they have been for this entire flight.
I rest my head against the window. I've been spending so much time worrying and stressing and trying to figure out how to make things just absolutely perfect, but what have I accomplished? Nothing, as far as I can tell. Well, I have succeeded in keeping Peeta and me living in separate cities, but that wasn't exactly my goal. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite of what I set out to do.
Checking the time on my watch, I see that we have about forty minutes before we're scheduled to arrive. I don't really feel like doing anything right now, so I settle back into my seat and close my eyes. The conversation of my seatmates drifts into my consciousness, and I can't help but eavesdrop. It's pretty boring, though.
"What are we going to do about dinner tonight? I don't think we have any food in the house," I hear the woman say.
"We could go out," the man suggests. "Maybe the Italian place down the street?"
"But we've been eating out all week," the woman whines. "I just want to stay in our own house and relax. Plus the cat's going to need some attention."
"Takeout then. The Chinese place you like?"
As boring as the conversation is, it makes me kind of sad to hear it. Okay, maybe sad isn't the right word; I think I might be jealous. They're having a totally normal, everyday conversation. They're just talking about what they're going to do when they get home.
And it's exactly the sort of conversation that I've never gotten to have with Peeta. There's not really room in our relationship for anything you would call "normal" or "everyday." And we don't have a home, at least not one we share.
I've never even been on a plane with Peeta, because in the entire time I've known him, we've never been going to the same place.
I realize how badly I want to be able to have my own totally boring and normal moments with Peeta. I want that with him, and I know he wants it with me, too. I've been the one stupidly keeping us apart. We could be there already. Peeta's home could be my home.
What exactly have I been doing for these past few months?
I'm in control here. I can make this decision at any time.
So, I do. I know all the pros and cons; I've been over them a million times in my head. Nothing has changed and nothing is going to change unless I do something. There's no perfect solution, and no way to achieve perfection. There's just me, and Peeta, and one obvious answer.
Now it's time for me to tell him.
"So, um," Peeta says in an amused tone, "do you want me to tell you how many times I've been asked about our wedding date?"
I burst out laughing and link my hand with his as we walk. At one time, that may have surprised me, but that was before I had ever met a single Mellark. We haven't been engaged for that long; are people really that interested in attending another wedding? Yes, apparently they are.
"Why don't you freak them out and tell them it was last week?" I suggest jokingly.
"I'd really rather not be responsible for any heart attacks," Peeta responds quickly. "But you're more than welcome to say that if anyone asks you. I'd love to see what happens."
I smile and move closer to Peeta's side. He drops my hand in favor of wrapping his arm comfortably around my shoulders. It feels so good to be back here with him - I don't think I'll ever want to leave.
We walk in silence for a few minutes before Peeta looks down at me and bites his lip, like he wants to say something. "What is it?" I ask.
"Well," he sighs. "We're not going to be able to get away without having any answers for too long. About wedding stuff, I mean. Once people heard we were engaged, they kind of...expected the wheels to be set in motion, you know?"
I nod in understanding. "Yeah, I get it. Maybe we should set a date or something," I muse. "Just so they know we aren't planning on an indefinite engagement."
A look of surprise crosses Peeta's face before he's able to hide it. "I, uh, didn't think you'd be ready for that yet," he stammers, "given that we haven't even figured out where we're going to live."
I shake my head, almost imperceptibly. Peeta's been so good to me throughout all of this - he's never once pressured me in the slightest to hurry up and make a decision already. He's been so considerate. Too considerate, really. He should've tried to knock some sense into me a long time ago. I would've deserved it.
But he brought it up just now. I think he'd probably rather discuss it, but he's reverting to his old habits of not pushing me too much to do something I'd rather not do. Still, this is as good a time as any to tell him that I've finally made up my mind...and apologize for what I've put him through.
I nudge him gently as we walk. "I've been thinking about that," I tell him.
"Really?" he says absently. I'm sure he thinks I'm leading us right down the path to the same conversation we've had so many times already. He's got to be tired of it by now.
"You said you'd be willing to move to DC?" I ask.
He answers without a moment's hesitation. "Yes, absolutely."
"Then...I think that's what we should do. If you're really okay with it," I say, pulling us to a stop and giving him an earnest look.
His initial reaction seems to be disbelief, but when he sees that I'm obviously serious, he lets a small smile work it's way onto his face. "I'd go tomorrow if that's what you wanted, Katniss."
I return his smile and take both of his hands in mine. "It doesn't have to be tomorrow, but...soon, okay?" I tell him. "I mean, I'm glad we're getting married - I really am - but what I really want is this," I say, struggling to find the right words. "Us, together...all the time. I just - I get so insanely jealous of the tiniest normal couple things I see from others. I want that for us so badly."
Peeta gives me a look that I can only describe as elated, and he swiftly brings his hands up to my face and draws my mouth to his. I reach up and place my hands on his arms as I lean into the kiss to deepen it. I can't believe that I could make him this happy. And I really can't believe that I kept him waiting for so long. I'm lucky he stuck around through everything.
Suddenly, Peeta breaks away from our kiss, panting. "It won't take me too long to wrap things up here," he explains breathlessly. "Dad will probably need to find someone to help out at the bakery, and I need to get rid of my apartment, but there's really nothing too difficult for me to take care of." The words tumble out of him in a rush. "I'm ready to go, Katniss. And I am so ready to be done with this distance thing," he says excitedly as he pulls me tightly to his chest.
"Me, too," I mumble into his shirt. I feel my eyes start to fill with tears - of relief, I think. Pulling my head back, I look up at him through the unshed tears and say, "Forget what I said before. You can move tomorrow if you want," I tell him, letting out a strange sound that's half laugh and half sob. "But seriously, whenever you've taken care of everything here, you can come to DC, anytime. I'm so sorry it took me so long to make this decision."
Peeta cups my chin in his hand and presses a kiss to my cheek. "Hey, you don't need to apologize for anything, Katniss. We couldn't move forward until you were ready," he reassures me.
I let out a deep breath and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. "Yes, but...it's not possible to be as ready as I was trying to make us. I was just being stupid," I say, shaking my head in frustration at myself.
"Don't say that," Peeta warns me emphatically. "I knew where you were coming from, even if I didn't feel the same way. You had to work through whatever doubts you'd been having."
"That's easy for you to say now," I sniffle, tugging on his hand and starting to walk again. "You were probably ready to strangle me," I tease nervously. I'm not sure I really want to know.
"No comment," he says, squeezing my hand.
I bump into him playfully with my shoulder as we walk. "Anyway, I'm just trying to say that I think I get it now. Our situation won't be perfect, but I think that finally being together in the same city...that'll be pretty close, you know? And that's so much more important than everything else," I try to explain.
Somehow he understands what I'm trying to say, though. "It is," he nods. "But don't blame yourself for everything. This whole situation - I mean, our entire relationship from the very beginning - has been...difficult to figure out. And clearly neither of us had a clue what we were doing," he chuckles, looking down at me and raising his eyebrows.
I laugh softly. "That's an understatement," I acknowledge. But my joking tone disappears as I look up at him and tell him solemnly, "And I want to let you know, we don't have to stay in DC forever. I want you to have the bakery someday," I assure him. "We'll make it happen."
Peeta smiles at me and kisses my temple. "I'm not worried about that right now," he states. I start to protest, but he cuts me off before I'm able to speak. "I just want to make sure we're together now," he says emphatically. "We'll deal with that other stuff later."
"Someday soon," I say determinedly.
As we walk, I'm filled with a strange feeling, like my entire world has changed. Like everything is finally falling correctly into place in a way that I never imagined it would. This is an even more powerful emotion than what I felt when Peeta and I got engaged. It's hard to put it in words, but the closest I can come is to say that I feel...complete. And maybe unburdened.
I can't believe that everyone around us is going on about their lives completely oblivious to this fact. This is huge to me - I think I'm about to burst.
I pull Peeta to a stop right in the middle of the sidewalk, for a moment not caring that we're obstructing the paths of the people walking near us. I look him directly in the eyes. "I love you. You know that?" I ask forcefully.
He holds my gaze steadily. "I do. And I love you, too," he reminds me.
I let out a long, deep breath as I nod resolutely. I think we're finally ready to move forward.
I'm in a sea of boxes right now, trying to figure out where I packed my clothes hangers. I found all my clothes, but right now I have no way to put them into the closet. When I started packing up the Eastern Market apartment just a few days ago, I initially tried to be very organized, carefully labeling the boxes "kitchen" or "books" or "bathroom." But around two o'clock in the morning, my organizational system devolved into such helpful labels as "stuff" and "things" and "junk." And my hangers, of course, are in one of those boxes.
I can hear cabinets banging in the kitchen, so I walk in that direction to ask Peeta if he's seen what I'm looking for. The walk from the bedroom to the kitchen in our new, lovely, but tiny apartment takes all of five seconds.
We hadn't necessarily planned to get a new place when we moved in together. After I got home from my latest trip to see Peeta in Chicago - which turned out to be my last before he moved here - I'd imagined that we'd just keep the old apartment and Prim would move out. It seemed like the practical thing to do after all; why should both Prim and I move? It's easier to stay put.
But as Peeta and I started talking logistics and working out the details of his move, I started to wonder if we shouldn't start fresh. Turn over a new leaf in an entirely new apartment that's ours, where Peeta isn't just my new roommate appearing to take Prim's place.
Maybe this doesn't seem to be a very Katniss-like sentiment, so I'll have to be honest and admit that it was Prim's idea. She thought it would be very meaningful for Peeta and me to start our new lives together in a new space. Start with a clean slate, she told me.
I scoffed initially, but agreed to go apartment hunting just to placate her. Peeta didn't care one way or another where we lived, so the decision was mine to make. I didn't imagine that we'd find anything that was available anyway; the move happened fairly quickly. Peeta just arrived this morning, almost one month exactly from when we agreed he'd move here.
And I definitely didn't fall in love with this apartment - all 650 square feet of it - at first sight. There's nothing wrong with it, of course. It has everything we need: kitchen, bathroom, living/dining room, even a washer and dryer. The building's new, it's not a walk-up, and we have a doorman. I can afford it on my income alone. All pluses. But taking the place would mean that I had to pack up my stuff and move. Again. So I was reluctant.
But once the idea was planted in my head, I started to notice things. Like how my Eastern Market apartment was a six block walk from the metro, and the other one was only two blocks. How our window-unit air conditioners could never really get the place cool during the summer months. How our downstairs neighbor thought we liked to hear him blast Fox News at six o'clock in the morning.
But even more so, the Eastern Market place was mine and Prim's. It was hard for me to imagine ever seeing it as mine and Peeta's. And even though I had lots of happy times with Peeta there, it also held the memories of some of our saddest moments. I began to see what Prim meant when she said we needed a fresh start.
One day during my lunch break at work, I went over to look at the building again. I decided on a whim to go inside and see if the apartment was still available. It was, and, well...here we are.
"Peeta, have you seen any clothes hangers?" I ask him, kicking some empty boxes out of my path as I make my way into the kitchen.
He points at a "junk" box sitting on the floor by the front door. "I saw some in there, underneath your towels," he tells me before he continues putting away his pots and pans. Or I should say, our pots and pans.
I rummage through the box and grab all the hangers I can hold. Standing up, I suddenly get a view of the entire apartment, with every bit of floor space covered in boxes. Over the course of the day, we've created walkways to help us get through the rooms. I sigh and lean against the front door behind me. "We have too much stuff," I inform Peeta.
"Huh?" he calls, his head hidden behind a cabinet door.
"I think we need to get rid of, like, two-thirds of our possessions," I joke, making my way back to the bedroom.
"I've never lived in a place this small before," Peeta remarks.
"Okay, not counting that."
"And you have to share it with me!" I say in mock horror as I start hanging clothes in the walk-in closet.
"We're not going to last long, are we?" Peeta teases, coming to stand in the bedroom doorway.
"Thank god I haven't bought a wedding dress," I retort sarcastically.
Peeta just laughs and shakes his head as he turns to leave the room. Soon I hear the now-familiar sound of tape being ripped off yet another box. "How are we going to have this place unpacked in a week?" I mutter under my breath.
Have I mentioned that I sometimes make really idiotic decisions? Well, I promised Prim that she and Thresh could come over later this week and Peeta would cook dinner for them. How quickly I've forgotten that it usually takes me a month (or longer...) to unpack all my boxes after a move. But Prim is dying to check out our new place and catch up with Peeta.
Prim, by the way, was actually shocked when I came home from my last trip to Chicago and told her that Peeta was moving to DC. That's how little faith she had in me. Even after she yelled at me and tried to give me a deadline, she still didn't think I was going to go through with it and make a decision. And even then, I don't know if she completely believed I was telling her the truth. It probably took about a week, and me asking her repeatedly why she hadn't started looking for new apartments yet, before it really sunk in.
And then she got super-excited.
She's been gushing non-stop about how great Peeta is, how thrilled she'll be to have her brother-in-law living nearby, and how she's going to tell him everything about me. She's started planning all these little day trips to introduce Peeta to every tourist site within two hundred miles of DC. The mountains, the beach, various Civil War battlefields...I hope he's ready. I haven't told him about any of this yet; I figure that's up to Prim.
Oh, and she did finally get around to finding herself an apartment. All in all, it's worked out really well for her. She moved across town and is much closer to the hospital...closer to Thresh too, but she insists that didn't factor in her decision in the slightest. Sure, Prim.
The hours that Peeta and I spent unpacking today have made me really tired, so I decide to make up the bed just so I can collapse onto it. Thank god I found the sheets tucked in a box that held a bunch of my DVDs.
"I'm so tired, Peeta," I moan. "Can we just stop?" Why didn't I spend the extra money and have the movers unpack for us?
I lie on my stomach, eyes closed and head resting on my folded arms for a few seconds before I feel the mattress sink next to me. Peeta's hand rests on my lower back. "Need a break?" he asks softly.
"Yes," I mumble into my arms. I roll onto my side to face him and bury my head in his chest, breathing deeply.
He wraps his arm around me loosely and plays with the end of my braid. "We could just take the rest of the day off, you know," he muses.
"That sounds fantastic," I say into his chest. We lie there silently for a few minutes, resting quietly in each other's arms. Peeta breaks the silence first.
"You know, this is maybe the first time that we've been together and I haven't felt pressure to do anything in particular," he says slowly.
I pull my head back and look up at him. "Huh," I say thoughtfully. "I guess that's true...wow."
"'Wow' is right." He softly kisses the top of my head. "I still can't get over the fact that neither of us have a plane to catch anytime soon. We have all sorts of time to do nothing."
"'Nothing' sounds amazing right now." I take a few deep breaths, just taking everything in. Our new lives together, being able to go to sleep and wake up next to each other every day...all of it. A wave of gratitude washes over me. "Thanks for coming here, Peeta."
"Don't thank me. I got the better part of the deal - I get to be with you," he tells me. I shake my head in disbelief. He is completely wrong about who's benefiting the most, but I'm too tired to argue right now.
A few weeks ago, when I told Effie that Peeta was going to move to DC, she reacted with, well...confusion, I think. Despite everything I told her about not knowing where we were going to live, she'd been operating under the assumption that I would leave for Chicago. After Peeta and I got engaged, she was even more convinced of it.
I thought she'd be ecstatic that I wasn't going to leave, that our little family would remain intact, but she honestly seemed a bit worried. I had no idea why she wasn't happier for us, but eventually she explained - as diplomatically as she could - that she thought I was asking too much of Peeta. That I needed to do more for my fiancée to show him how much I loved him. Otherwise he might move on and find someone more willing to put him first.
Effie's words initially made me so angry that I couldn't even respond. It was insulting to Peeta to insinuate that his love for me was dependent on getting something in return, and it was insulting to me to say that I owed it to him to put my life on hold in favor of his. Effie and I still don't see eye-to-eye on this - I know she still secretly worries about our future - but I finally realized that her perspective was colored by her own life experiences. She puts all the blame for her own marriage falling apart squarely on her own shoulders. It's never even entered her mind that maybe she just married a complete jerk.
Call me crazy, but I have a feeling that Peeta's not going to disappoint me.
Still, Effie's right about one thing at least - Peeta has done a lot of the giving in our relationship, and I can't take that for granted.
As I lie here in his arms - in our apartment, and our bed - I'm reminded again of how grateful I am for him and for everything he's been willing to do for me. And if I owe him anything, it's to show him every day how much I appreciate it.
I wake up to the sound of my phone's alarm blaring, and I reach blindly for the nightstand to grab it and turn it off. My hand searches but doesn't find anything. I roll onto my back and groan. I was so tired last night when I went to bed - Peeta and I had spent a long day unpacking - that I'm pretty sure I forgot my phone in the kitchen.
It's alright. Today's a work day, anyway. It's not as if I could just turn it off and go back to bed, as much as I might want to.
As I struggle to sit up, I'm surprised to see Peeta still asleep beside me. It's seven o'clock; he's usually up before now. He's so accustomed to keeping baker's hours that he's awake around sunrise practically every day. I guess yesterday really was exhausting. He might as well keep sleeping, because there's a lot more to do today.
I take a deep breath, blinking the sleep out of my eyes, before running to the kitchen to silence the alarm. I yawn as I pad slowly back to the bedroom, pulling my robe out of the closet and heading to the bathroom for a shower. I smile as I look at Peeta, who still seems to be sleeping soundly. Good.
I stand in the shower for a long time - too long, really, since I have to get to work soon - letting the hot water cascade over me. I don't want to go to work; honestly, I don't even want to move. It was a stupid idea to plan to go to work the day after moving into our new apartment. I'd like another day off to just sleep...but I'm not going to get it.
Sighing, I turn off the water and step out of the tub. As I slip my robe over my shoulders, I can hear sounds coming from the kitchen. And there are smells, too - delicious smells. Like someone is making me a breakfast that isn't just cold cereal.
I hurry into the kitchen. Peeta looks up from his cooking and smiles. "Good morning," he greets me.
I walk to his side and kiss him on the cheek. I lean my head on his shoulder and he somehow manages to continue cooking while slipping one arm my waist. "Wow," I tell him, "you're spoiling me! I can't remember the last time I had an actual cooked breakfast before work. It might be never."
"It's the least I can do," Peeta assures me as he flips a slice of French toast with one hand.
"Are you showing off?" I tease him as I slip away from his grasp. Heaven forbid if he were to drop a piece of French toast on the floor because I'm distracting him.
"Maybe," he shrugs, carefully placing the finished slice on a plate with several others. I lean against the counter and watch him dip another piece of bread into the egg mixture and place it in the pan.
"You made the bread, too, right?" I ask jokingly.
I see him fighting back a smile, but he doesn't look up from his cooking. "It'd be a waste to use my fresh bread in French toast," he replies quickly.
Laughing softly, I walk slowly to our small dining table and sit down. "I wish I didn't have to go to work today," I yawn.
As Peeta continues making us breakfast, it hits me again that this is how things are going to be from now on. I share this apartment with Peeta. His kitchen is my kitchen. He could make me breakfast any morning (and I hope he does). I don't have anywhere to go, except work. Our time together doesn't have to be counted in minutes or hours. I don't quite know what to make of this.
I'm smiling at nothing in particular, just lost in my thoughts, when Peeta brings breakfast to me and sits down. The look on my face must've been kind of odd, because he gives me a curious look and asks, "What are you smiling about?"
I break out of my trance and turn my head toward him. "Nothing," I say, taking a couple of slices of French toast and slathering them in maple syrup.
Peeta raises his eyebrows but doesn't question me further. I admire how content he looks as he starts eating. Part of me still worries about him - I mean, he left his job and his entire family to move hundreds of miles away to be with me - but I try to remind myself that this is exactly what we both want and what we chose. We've chosen to be together, and that's why he's happy. And why I'm happy, too.
Peeta reminds me of that whenever I forget.
"What are your plans today?" I ask him.
He shrugs and puts down his fork, leaning back in his chair thoughtfully. "Unpack some more, probably." He stares at the wall a moment before looking back at me. "Maybe watch TV? Pick out bridesmaid dresses for the wedding?"
I can't help but laugh, and he reaches across the table and places his hand over mine. "Everything's going to be fine, Katniss," he reassures me, gazing earnestly into my eyes. "This is day one. We don't have everything figured out yet - but that's okay."
I bite my lip and smile at him. "You're right," I respond as I return to my food. We chat idly for several minutes about nothing in particular as we finish eating. Eventually, I stand up and make my way to the bedroom.
As I get dressed and gather the things I need for my day at work, I hear Peeta cleaning up in the kitchen. I wonder if this all feels as strange to him as it does to me. I'm still not used to the fact that we're really, truly together now. He's not about to get on an airplane and fly back to Chicago. I'm not about to step out the front door and leave for a month. Will I ever get used to this?
I walk into the kitchen and get ready to leave. Peeta's loading our breakfast plates into the dishwasher; I put my hand gently on his back and he turns to face me. I wrap my arms around his waist and lay my head on his shoulder, closing my eyes and just breathing for a few moments. He returns my embrace and rubs my back comfortingly.
Maybe I don't want to get used to this. I certainly don't want to ever take it for granted.
But for now, I really have to get to work. I raise my head reluctantly and place a lingering kiss on his lips. I can feel him smile against my mouth.
Pulling back slightly, I whisper, "I love you." I make my way to the front door and open it. "I'll see you after work."
Peeta's always had a way with words. He doesn't even have to try; it's like he always instinctively knows the right thing to say. So I shouldn't be surprised when he gives me his beautiful smile and says exactly what I need to get me through my day.
And the weeks and months and years ahead of us.
"I'll be here."