Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer. -Ted Williams

November 11, 2011

"No, she cannot have my assistant. Why? I trained Madge. I like her. Listen. Do we have to settle this now? I'm with…someone. Yes. Thank you. Okay, I'll speak to you tomorrow. Bye."

Sighing, Katniss jabbed the 'end call' button on her cell phone, shoving the annoying gadget back into her purse. "I'm really, really sorry," she said to Peeta.

"Actually, I'm sorry. I ate everything cool. The only thing left is cheese buns and wine," he said, motioning towards the picnic basket resting on the grass in front of them.

"It's okay. Those buns are to die for," she replied, rummaging through the basket and pulling out a few of them to enjoy. Katniss procured a wine glass from the basket and pulled it out, grabbing the bottle of merlot she'd brought for them to share. She poured herself a glass and sat back on the grass closer to Peeta, looking out over the San Francisco bay with him in comfortable silence for a few moments.

"I really appreciate you being cool about the phone thing," Katniss said as she took a bite of a cheese bun. "I once went on a date with this guy who got so angry I was on the phone that he grabbed it out of my hand threw it in the fish tank."

Peeta frowned. "I would never do that."

I'd never hurt you, he thought, biting his tongue to keep from saying it aloud.

Katniss smiled at his words. "What are your pet peeves? What stresses you out?" she asked, taking a sip of her Merlot.


"And I'm only asking because frankly the men I meet are highly…I date poodles, basically. And I'm really relaxed, you know? Totally."

As soon as the words had left her mouth, Katniss' cellphone started to ring again.

"Son of a bitch!" she hissed, digging through her purse and pulling out the offending object. "Stop ringing!"

"I got it," Peeta said, gently prying the phone out of Katniss' hands. "Let me do it."

She reluctantly let him take her phone, eyeing him warily as he answered it.

"Hello?" he said into the receiver. "Uh, no, she isn't available right now. May I take a message? This is Peeta. I'm her houseboy/sex slave. Okay. You betcha. Bye-bye."

He handed Katniss' phone back to her with a satisfactory smile, admiring the embarrassed flush that had appeared on her cheeks.

"Call your sister," he laughed.

Katniss laughed with him, a rare smile making its way onto her face. Peeta watched her in awe, not able to believe how lucky he'd gotten when he'd met her.

"I can empathize with your hatred of cellphones, though. I got rid of mine a couple of years ago," Peeta said, refilling their wine glasses.

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Wait, wait, wait. You don't have a cell phone?" she asked Peeta incredulously.

"Nope," he answered, smiling at the shocked look on her face.

"But what if some sudden crisis your father has a heart attack or something?" she questioned.

"My father died two years ago," he said, a hint of sadness seeping into his tone.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Katniss replied.

"I just found out this morning, so it's been a rough 24 hours. You know, maybe I should get a cell phone," Peeta joked.

"You're funny, Peeta…" Katniss trailed off.

He just looked at her, a smirk forming on his lips. "…Mellark."

"Mellark. Yeah," she said, trying to nod nonchalantly, but failing miserably.

"You forgot my last name," he said, shaking his head with a smile.

"No, I just blanked," Katniss tried to defend herself.

"I know why you forgot. It's all right. I bet when you talk to your friends, you call me Peeta the schoolteacher, am I right?"

"Well...yeah," she admitted sheepishly. "What do you call me to your friends?"

Peeta looked over at her, his eyes soft. He brushed some of her loose hair back behind her shoulder, reaching up to cup her cheek in his hand.

"I call you Katniss...the vomit girl," he said, pulling his hand away with a grin. "Katniss the Puker, Pukey. My friends say, 'You going out with Pukey tonight?' I'm like, 'Yeah. Why? You wanna play video games or something?' I'm like, 'I can't, I'm going out with Pukey.'"

"That's horrible," Katniss giggled.

"Anything I've said about you would be an understatement, really," Peeta admitted shyly.

Katniss' smile grew at his words. She leaned over closer to him and grabbed his hand, lacing her fingers with his.

"My friend Annie and her husband Finnick are having a party tonight. Would you…would you like to come with me?" she asked.

It was Peeta's turn to smile like a fool.

"There's nothing I'd love more," he replied.

"Hey, Katniss!"

Katniss smiled at her three best friends and their spouses, grabbing Peeta's hand and leading him towards the small group.

"Hi guys," she said, suddenly shy under the curious gaze of her friends.

"Hi, I'm Peeta the schoolteacher," Peeta said, extending his hand to Finnick to shake.

"I'm Finnick, and this is my wife, Annie."

"I'm Castor, this is Johanna," he said, also shaking Peeta's proffered hand.

"Glimmer...and Marvel." Glimmer shook Peeta's hand as she introduced her husband, who nodded to Peeta in greeting.

"Welcome aboard," Castor said with a smile.

"Well, let's start the interrogation," Peeta joked.

"No, no, it's not like that," Annie smiled.

"Here," Finnick said, handing Peeta a shot glass. "It's for the urine sample."

"Shoot, I wish you would have told me," Peeta said with a shake of his head. "I just took a whiz in your bushes."

Kantiss laughed at Peeta's joke along with her friends, thankful that everyone seemed to be getting along.

"Well, the three of us will show him the house," Finnick said, motioning to himself, Castor and Marvel. "Catch up with you later, ladies."

Peeta kissed Katniss' cheek before following the three men into a different part of the house, causing her friends to smile and giggle with excitement.

"Katniss, this Peeta guy has such a good vibe," Annie gushed.

"And even better, he's nothing like the guys you usually date," Johanna added.

"Well, I'm really glad you guys feel this way...because if you didn't, I was gonna have to find three new friends," Katniss joked.

"No, no, no, I really think you've got something here," Annie replied.

"Me too," Johanna agreed.

"Yeah, but... something's not quite right," Glimmer said.

"Glimmer!" Johanna hissed.

"No, no, he's great," she said. "He's a doll. But he's not 22."

"So?" Katniss asked.

"So, where's he been? Why is he still on the market?" Glimmer questioned.

"Um…" Katniss struggled to respond to Glimmer's harsh questions.

"Maybe he hasn't found the right person yet," Annie defended Katniss.

"Well, by now he should be with the wrong person," Glimmer said. "How has he not been tranquilized and tagged?"

"Let me get this straight," Finnick said to Peeta. "You've got two season tickets behind the Giants dugout?"

"Yeah. My uncle left them to me when he passed away," Peeta explained, smiling at the incredulous looks on their faces.

"Behind the dugout?" Castor asked again, his expression pained.

"Yeah. Well, not really behind, like next to it. It's fifteen feet away. You can see right into it at a certain point. It's pretty awesome."

"Let me ask you this," Marvel said. "Do you find my wife attractive at all? 'Cause we could work something out."

Finnick, Castor and Marvel all roared with laughter, and Peeta uncertainly joined them.

"Well, do you?" Marvel asked, his serious tone throwing Peeta for a loop.

"Um, well…she's…."

The three friends laughed again, harder this time. Marvel clapped Peeta on the shoulder.

"You're all right, man. You're all right."

"Alright, alright, let's stay on topic, Castor said with a smile. "Peeta, how long have you had your tickets for?" he asked.

"About eleven years now," Peeta replied. "It just gets better and better every year."

"When they drove Willie Mays onto the field at the All-Star Game..." Finnick trailed off, his tone wistful.

"I was there," Peeta confirmed. "I was 10 feet away from him. Old men were crying. And I mean tough old guys. I even started to lose it, you know. I got a program. I could show you."

Castor and Finnick sighed defeatedly. Marvel just shook his head, words failing him for the first time in a long time.

"If Katniss ever breaks up with you, I'll kill her."

"You know what you need to do? You need to go to his apartment and go through his things," Glimmer said as she poured her friends a glass of wine. "You need to go through his closets, his sofa cushions. You need to get on his computer."

"And what exactly am I looking for?" Katniss asked, thanking her friend for the drink with a nod.

"Anything that explains why he's still single," Glimmer answered, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"My company can run a credit check on him," Annie said, nodding her head.

"You know, he could be a deadbeat dad," Johanna mused.

"You guys are insane. Thirty minutes ago we were all discussing how great Peeta is," she said, taking a sip of her drink.

"Katniss, do you remember that guy Fulvia Cardew went out with?" Glimmer asked.

"Uh, sort of. Why?" Katniss answered.

"Titus what's-his-name? We all thought he was great too." She said.

"Well, what happened?" Katniss asked.

"Oh, my God. She went to his apartment and-"

"Shh. My story. Stand by."

Glimmer cut off Annie's excited speech with her harsh words, punctuated with a cold stare. Annie just rolled her eyes as Glimmer continued.

"She's at his place. He's in the shower. She wants to make the bed, so she goes to the closet. Guess what she finds."

"Oh, I don't know. What'd she find?" Katniss asked, trying to suppress an eye roll.

"She found two large plastic bags containing all the hair and nail clippings from his entire life."

"Eww!" Katniss exclaimed, wrinkling her nose.

"That's a true story," Johanna said.

"I'm telling you, there is a reason this Peeta guy is still single," Glimmer told Katniss. "It's up to you to get to the bottom of it."

"Thanks again for having us!" Peeta said as he led a slightly tipsy Katniss out of Finnick and Annie's home.

"Anytime," Finnick replied, wrapping an arm around his wife's waist.

"We'll see you soon!" Annie said with a wave.

Peeta took Katniss' hand as he led her out to his car. "That went well," he said cheerfully. "Your friends are great."

Katniss squeezed his hand. "Yeah. They liked you."

"I liked them too," he told her honestly.

Peeta was relieved at how his evening had gone. He really liked Katniss, and having her friends approve of him made him feel great.

He opened the passenger door of his car for Katniss, snickering as she slipped slightly while clambering into the old SUV.

"You okay?" he asked, trying not to laugh.

Katniss stuck her tongue out at him. "Not all of us are as perfect as you, Mellark."

He just smiled and shut her door, quickly circling around to the other side of his car. He buckled his seatbelt and pulled out of Annie and Finnick's driveway, doing his best to navigate around the crowded city of San Francisco.

Katniss fell asleep soon after they left the party. Peeta was glad that he'd been around to take her home-she was obviously tired, and he didn't like the idea of her going home alone at this time of night.

When they finally arrived at Katniss' apartment, she seemed embarrassed to have fallen asleep on the ride home.

"I'm terrible," she said as a blush formed on her cheeks. "I didn't mean to fall asleep, so I'm-"

Peeta cut off her rambling with a spontaneous kiss. Katniss let out a surprised sigh before reciprocating happily. The kiss was soft and slow, an indication of Peeta's feelings for her. He wanted nothing more than to have his way with her in the back seat of his car right now, pleasuring her until she saw stars, but he also wanted to give her more than that. He wanted a real relationship with her, and he was willing to do things on her terms, not based on his primal desires and urges.

When they finally broke apart, Katniss looked down at her lap, her cheeks once again flushed and her smile bright. Peeta tilted her chin up to meet his gaze, holding it in place as he smiled at her.

"You're incredible," he said, his words intensifying the blush that adorned her cheeks. "Come on, I'll walk you up."

Once they reached her apartment, Peeta awkwardly cleared his throat. "Thank you for inviting me tonight, Katniss. I had a great time."

She smiled. "So did I."

"Maybe we can do it again sometime?" he asked, hoping she didn't notice how his voice seemed to have jumped an octave higher than it normally was.

It was Katniss' turn to surprise him as she stood on her tiptoes and pulled his mouth down to meet hers. Peeta almost instantaneously got over his shock and wrapped an arm around her waist, his other hand gently grasping the back of her head and the silky curls of her hair. He gasped slightly when her tongue ran along his lower lip, but he opened his mouth nonetheless.

How did Katniss get so damn good at kissing? Peeta wondered as they continued to make out. She must have had a lot of practice, because this is fucking amazing.

The thought of Katniss kissing anyone other than him made Peeta's stomach roil with jealousy. He shoved the unpleasant thoughts away, focusing on making Katniss satisfied. His efforts must have paid off, because Katniss let out an appreciative moan as he deepened their kiss.

The couple breathlessly pulled apart then, both of them grinning like fools.

"There's nothing I'd love more," Katniss said, giving Peeta one last peck on the lips before dashing into her apartment.

Thank you all so much for your incredible response to the last chapter! Your feedback has been great, and I can't thank you enough.

I apologize for the wait for this chapter. I hope to have the next installment out before Monday, since I have to go back to school then.

Happy New Year to you all!