Katniss stared at the deep purple polo Seneca Crane was holding out to her. She tentatively reached for it as if it could grow teeth and snap at her fingers. She hated her school colors, not at all convinced that purple and gold actually looked good on anyone. More than that, she hated that the research lab she worked at suddenly decided to enforce the archaic dress code and insist that all the student researchers needed to look like they worked for the university. Her direct supervisor, Dr. Beetee, grimaced when he handed her the official memo. She felt slightly better knowing he was as opposed to this new rule change as she was. Not that he could do anything to prevent it, but at least he could sympathize with her unpleasantness about the situation.
"Still a small, right, Katniss?" His beady eyes roamed over her petite frame. She cursed the early summer heat for forcing her into shorts instead of her normal jeans.
She crossed her arms and scowled at him. "Yes," she snapped, "Please."
He rubbed his well-manicured beard, aptly detailed with tiny flames. "I'll have to get them from the back, we're all sold out up here. Mind covering the register while I'm gone?" He squeezed her bare arm and walked past her without giving her the opportunity to refuse.
Katniss huffed. When she was a freshman, she took a temporary job as a stocker at the university bookstore over winter break. Seneca, the manager, was so impressed by her that he kept her on staff ever since, but almost always in a position that didn't require her to actually interact with customers. Her awkward social skills were only made worse when she started doing research in the biology lab during her junior year and spent too much time studying dung beetles alone in the basement.
She couldn't really complain about running the register at the moment. Summer session was set to start next week, so the bookstore wasn't as busy as it would be the day before classes, when students finally realized summer classes weren't fluff and they would actually have to work. There were two types of summer-school students; those wanting to graduate a semester early and those who hadn't successfully transitioned from high school to college and needed an opportunity to make up for those D's and F's they got during the year. The pair of girls now making their way toward the front counter now fell into the latter category.
"Can you believe it?" One of the overly tanned, bottle-blondes said to her friend, setting the stack of four novels onto the counter. "It's like she actually expects me to read all of these this semester. Hello, it's summertime!"
The other girl, an equal shade of orange, scoffed and fished her phone out of her purse. "And did you see the syllabus she emailed out? Two page reflection papers over each book? Don't these professors realize that we have other classes?"
"Seriously. And a thing called a social life." The first girl giggled. "They're so damn old they probably don't even know what that means anymore. Could you imagine running into one at a bar? They'd probably want to talk about the literary content of the drink selection."
The second girl set an 'Intro to World History' book on top of the pile. "This is so stupid. Who cares if I failed Western Civ? Hello, we live in America and I passed American History. Plus, I'm going to teach elementary school, not history."
Katniss let out an involuntary snort at this comment and felt the two girls finally acknowledge her presence with a sneer. She couldn't be sure because she kept her head down as she started scanning their purchases.
"Whatever. Oh, the Pikes are having a party tonight. You in?"
Of course they'd be going to a fraternity party. She hadn't missed the golden Gamma Phi pin on their tank top straps. The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity was notorious for having wild parties before and after every semester, with a few thrown in to celebrate things like "midterms" or "spring break" or "Friday." Katniss went to one her first semester with her randomly assigned Gamma Phi roommate and ended up kneeing a senior 'brother' in the crotch when he drunkenly tried to unbutton her pants in the middle of a conversation. Needless to say, her roommate moved out at the end of the semester and Katniss never went to another frat party.
"Have I ever turned down a Pike? Please."
The girls giggled again, making Katniss want to gag. She hadn't meant to listen in on their conversation and now she wished she hadn't. "Did you find everything you were looking for?" she asked in a flat, bored tone. The first girl stared at her for a moment and then broke out into the most artificial smile Katniss had ever seen. These bitches get better at being fake every year.
"Ok, that'll be $417.52."
The girl handed over a platinum credit card which made Katniss roll her eyes. Nothing like using Daddy's money to pay for books they'll never read. She started filling the thick plastic bags with the books. "Remember that if you want a full refund on any of these, they have to be returned within the first two weeks of the semester. Otherwise you'll have to wait until finals."
"Thanks for the reminder." As soon as the two turned from the counter, they whispered something to one another, looked over their shoulders at the counter, and began giggling loudly.
Underclassmen girls like these irritated her, especially the ones who felt like they deserved to be in college without having to work for it. Maybe that was because her parents instilled the value of an education in her from a young age. Or because she actually had to work to keep her grades up for her scholarship.
"Who needs world history?" she mimicked the girl's haughty tone. Resting her head in her hand, she let out a loud groan. "Just fucking kill me now."
"Well, that's not exactly the most positive attitude to take going into the new semester." A hearty voice answered. Other than those two girls, she hadn't seen any other customer in the place. And that voice was definitely not Seneca's almost comical, high-pitched voice. She began to panic, sure that if a customer heard her swearing and told her boss, he'd fire her. He liked her well enough to occasionally leave her in charge of the store over the summer, but she was pretty sure that was only because his other employees had lives and homes to get back to when school wasn't in session.
"Sorry," she mumbled, raising her head.
"Don't even worry about it," he answered, shaking a stray blond curl away from his sapphire blue eyes. He was attractive enough, just barely taller than her but was obviously someone who spent more time at the gym than in class. He looked far too comfortable in his low-hanging Under Armour gym shorts and over-priced Nike's. He certainly didn't look like the "graduate early go-getter," so she assumed he was just another summer school make-up if the 'Introduction to Psychology' textbook cradled in his elbow was any indication.
"I stood behind them for about fifteen minutes while they tried to figure out what psychology book they needed. Turns out neither of them were even taking psychology this semester."
She snorted. Not in the cute, Julia Roberts way, but in the obnoxious, I laughed so hard I snorted like a pig way. She closed her eyes tightly, as if it could reverse time and take back the noise. When she opened them, he was still there. Smiling. At her.
She told herself it was just those unrealistically blue eyes that made her act so unlike herself. The eyes and maybe that stupid grin. The eyes, that stupid grin, and the lone piece of hair that fell haphazardly across his forehead in a way that made her want to brush it back. Wait. What?
Shaking that thought from her mind, she opted to keep her own eyes on the computer screen. He slid the psychology textbook across the counter so she could scan it. "You sure you want to buy this new? We have plenty of used copies that, that are cheaper."
"Nah, I've never been a fan of used books. I don't want to try to figure out what someone else thought was important. Probably ended up spending a couple thousand dollars extra just on books, but that's the price we pay for a quality education," he joked.
She knew he was expecting her to laugh at his comments, but she couldn't. Brand new textbooks weren't a luxury she could afford, even with her 25% discount. Her student loans were high enough as they were without the added cost of no extraneous highlighting. She hadn't even bought used books from the bookstore since discovering how much cheaper it was to buy books online. Before that, she spent well over $300 and it took her the rest of the year to pay off her 'emergency only' credit card, since she could only make the minimum monthly payment. "Um, it'll be $93.67."
He scrunched his eyebrows at the number. "For one book?"
She sighed, and scanned the room for Seneca's return. She remembered hearing horror stories from other employees about customers flipping out over the price of their textbooks, like any of them had some sort of control over how much everything in the place cost. The publishers ship the books at wholesale price, Seneca bumps it up 20% for profit, and that's what they're left with. "Blame your professor for ordering such an expensive book," she muttered, making the mistake of catching his eye again.
He stared at her for a minute, those blue eyes piercing through her, before he laughed loudly. "Got a new one this semester. Obviously hasn't figured out the system yet."
"Most of them don't," she admitted. She thought back to the rants her lab partner used to go on about how professors and anyone else involved in higher education were too far removed to really understand the plight of the average student, ranging from time management to cost to the whole inequality of majors within the school. She usually drowned him out and went about the lab so at least they wouldn't fail. "Well, they don't really care. They don't have to buy the book, so the cost doesn't affect them." She heard herself drag out the last part of the sentence and cringed.
He considered this, leaning in closer to her on the counter. "Then maybe the students should band together. Form a revolution of sorts." He smiled again and stood back up, pulling his wallet out from the pocket of his shorts. As he fished for his credit card, she noticed a bright gold card sticking out from behind his ID.
"You're a University employee?" she asked.
The slight raise of his eyebrow indicated his surprise and suspicion. "How did you know?"
She pointed to his wallet. "You get a discount with that, 20% of anything in the store, including books." That discount card was the main reason most of the students tried to find on-campus jobs. They pay wasn't always very good but the discount card nearly made up for it.
He slipped the card out with his thumb and handed it to her. "Thanks for the heads up. I just got the thing today so I haven't been able to try it out yet."
She slid his card through the reader. "$65.57."
"This," he said, shaking the card slightly, "Is a golden ticket." He reached for the plastic sack she slid his book into. Their fingers brushed slightly and she felt her breath lodge in her chest.
"Two weeks," she said, her voice shaking in a completely uncharacteristic manner. At this point, she didn't think she could ever look away from him even if she wanted to. "Um, I mean if you want the refund, it has to be returned within the first two weeks of the semester."
His lips curled into a full smile. "I don't think I have to worry about returning the book, but thanks." She could have sworn that his fingers were no longer wrapped just around the bag but had slid around hers.
Seneca's reappearance broke their spell and she pulled her hand away. She clenched and unclenched her fist, trying to shake the feeling away. "Want me to add the shirts to your tab?"
"Oh, um, yeah, yes, that would be great." She took the pile of folded polos from his hand and slipped out from behind the register. "Thanks."
She opened the door and groaned at the sweltering heat that met her outside the building. May had just begun, but the Midwestern humidity was already working her over. Her t-shirt instantly stuck to her body as a thin layer of sweat formed on her skin. It wasn't normally this hot in May, but they had an unusually mild winter and the threat of a hot summer loomed. She stripped off her t-shirt and used it to wipe off her face. The tank top she wrote underneath was too tight and revealing for her liking but she was too hot to care. Besides, she thought, the lab is only across campus.
Katniss kept her eyes on the pavement in front of her feet, hoping the more scantily clad girls on campus would catch more attention than her. Cat calls and cheers of approval made her uncomfortable but when she caught a glimpse of a group of sorority girls in their bikinis setting up a Slip-N-Slide on the front yard of their house, she knew she'd be spared the awkwardness.
Intersections were the only time she looked up from the pavement on her walk, and even then it was just to check for traffic. She didn't bother waiting for walk signals if no cars were coming. Stop lights and cutting across the grass on campus. Katniss Everdeen, rebel. She was sure that if her mother cared enough to think about her, she'd be glad that was the extent of her daughter's rebellious phase.
She stepped off the curb when she felt fingers grip her exposed bicep and pull her back. She opened her mouth to yell but the sudden thud of her body hitting whoever grabbed her knocked all the air out of her chest. She just caught sight of the red flash of the car that would have hit her before clenching her eyes shut and catching her breath.
"You know, that's why they teach children to look both ways before crossing the street."
She peeked her eyes open and up into the face of that guy from the bookstore. Ah. That would explain the solid mass she ran into. Mr. Muscles.
She pushed off of him, rationalizing the fluttering in her stomach as a normal reaction to almost being hit. "I'll remember that next time." She looked down to where his fingers were still wrapped around her arm, albeit less tightly than before. "Uh, I need that."
He had been studying her face the entire time. The flecks of blue in her grey eyes. The speckling of freckles across the bridge of her nose out to under each eye. The tiny strands of hair that stuck to her neck despite the braid she wore. He hadn't noticed that he was still holding onto her until she said something. "Sorry. Force of habit."
She didn't say anything back, just turned her attention back to the light, which had just turned to the 'walk' signal. She continued on, ignoring the ghostly feel emanating from where his hand was.
"You know, this is twice now we've talked and I don't know your name."
He was behind her, following at a far enough distance to still talk but not be creepy. "Why do you want to know my name?" she asked.
"Friendly conversation. It's only natural for two people to crave interaction with one another."
She rolled her eyes, even though he couldn't see her. "And what if I don't crave interaction with you?" She felt foolish, seemingly having this conversation with herself since he wasn't next to her. Not that she wanted him next to her. She wanted to get to the lab and get to work.
"Ah, but you do. Otherwise you wouldn't still be talking to me." She could hear the cocky smile on his face.
"I was always taught that it was rude to ignore someone when they're talking to you. Even if you're not interested." She smiled, sure she had won. When he didn't respond, she turned her head slightly to the side to see if he was still there. He was. Just walking. "See? Now you're being rude."
"I believe you just provided evidence for my hypothesis. The conversation had ended, as there was no logical progression to be made. Yet here you are, initiating a new one."
She opened her mouth but no words came out. She was shocked that somehow he had bested her. She may not have been the most clever girl or have the most silver of tongues, but she was usually successful at putting people in their place. In fact, she was so caught off guard that she stopped moving all together.
"Three conversations and still no name. Now who's being rude?" he said, coming up behind her.
"Katniss. My name is Katniss," she answered, stubbornly refusing to turn around.
"Katniss." She blamed the heat for the light-headedness that followed hearing her name pour from his lips. "I wouldn't expect purple to be your color."
She rolled her eyes. "I need something to wear to the Pike party." As soon as she said the words, she grimaced. She was fairly certain that he was somehow involved with the Greek system and they were a strange, twisted family when it came to outsiders speaking down about any of them.
His laugh seemed to emanate from deep inside him. Maybe he was one of those rare Greeks who could make fun of his chapter's antics. Or maybe he wasn't really a Pike. That seemed hard to believe, given his physical appearance. Pikes were known for partying but they were also the most attractive fraternity on campus. As much as Katniss didn't want to be affected by some guy who had to buy his friends, she couldn't deny that he was something somewhat spectacular to look at.
Suddenly his voice was much closer and she could feel his warm breath on her ear. "Just don't forget to sew your letters onto everything you own. That way they know where to send you when the party's over."
She shivered, despite the heat. They walked the rest of the way to the lab in silence but she felt his gaze on her the entire time. "Right, well, this is me," she offered lamely when they reached the intersection across the street from the lab.
"Be sure to watch for cars, Katniss." He reached for her shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze. "See you around."
"Seriously, Madge! It's almost 10, all the tables are going to be gone by the time we get there!" Katniss bounced her knee impatiently as her roommate finished getting ready. "If you insist on dragging me to this bar tonight, I'd prefer to be in a dimly lit corner and not at the edge of the dance floor."
"Hold your tits, Everdeen!" Madge yelled back through the bathroom door. "Some of us put some work into our appearance. We can't all be as naturally adorable as you."
Katniss snorted in reply. Truthfully, Madge was probably one of the few girls who didn't need to put much work into her appearance. She was naturally beautiful; silky blonde hair, flawless skin without makeup, curvy enough for her small frame, and sparkling blue eyes. Katniss never understood why Madge put so much effort into looking better, but she had been doing it since the girls met freshman year.
"Look OK?" She opened the bathroom door and gave a quick spin.
"Who are you looking to bring home tonight?" Katniss joked as Madge dug her knee-high six-inch black boots out of the closet. Katniss never did embrace the skinny jean phase quite as enthusiastically as Madge did, who seemed to have at least 10 pairs in her wardrobe. Madge was the girl those designers must have had in mind when they designed them because they made her toned legs look thin and somehow made her ass look better than normal jeans. They were both thankful that early summer nights weren't nearly as stifling as hot summer days.
"If you think I'm carrying your drunk ass home tonight because your feet hurt, you've got another thing coming," she warned as Madge zipped up her boots.
"That was one time," she whined. "And I had no idea tequila shots and I didn't get along." She fluffed her hair and rolled her eyes. "Now, if my hair poofs up in this humidity and takes over my face, I may need some assistance."
Katniss laughed as she pulled herself out of the shabby recliner. Compared to Madge, she was sure she looked like a bum in her ripped jeans, red boat shoes, and a fitted T-shirt with a muffin lifting weights and the words 'stud muffin' across her non-existent chest. Her hair was braided and her face was clear of makeup save for a bit of concealer Madge insisted she use to cover the bags under her eyes, a lovely side effect of working almost 70 hours a week between her two jobs. She was looking forward to summer classes next week to get a break from work, even if the extra money was nice.
Katniss was never too concerned about her appearance, and tonight was no different. Tonight was about helping Madge get over her ex-boyfriend, who she caught cheating with his ex. She held herself together well enough during the week, but she proclaimed weekends to be 'self-destruct' time. Which is why, much to the surprise of her roommate, Katniss agreed to go out the weekend before classes started. The lucky tavern of choice was Madge's go-to; a rundown country bar with loud music and cheap drinks. It suited Katniss because it was big enough to meet new people but small enough to just relax.
The weekend crowds were hit or miss, especially in the summer. Sometimes the rowdy twenty-something's took over, drowning out the entertainment of choice. Other times, it was the forty and up crowd, who serve as their own source of entertainment, two-stepping around the floor. Katniss tended to prefer the older crowd. The women were nicer and the old men loved to teach the young 'whippersnappers' how to properly dance. "None of that humping nonsense," one told Katniss as he held her hand and led her onto the floor.
Tonight they weren't so lucky. The younger crowd was more obnoxious and on this particular evening, that meant a night full of out-of-tune karaoke. The bright side was $5 pitchers of beer and $1 shots of whatever low-alcohol content, overly fruity concoction the bartenders made, and named, that night.
"Oh, look, Madge, tonight's specialty is 'salty sailor's sperm.' Mmm, sounds tasty," Katniss joked as they read the drink specials outside the door. Sadly, that was tame compared to some of the other names they had come up with.
Madge clutched at Katniss' arm and dramatically fanned herself with her hand. "You know me, my darling. If it's not from a salty sailor, it's just not worth my time. Well, except..." She trailed off as they approached the bouncer at the door. Katniss rolled her eyes and fished a $10 bill out of her pocket.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't my favorite lab partner. How are you tonight, Catnip?"
"Fuck you, Gale. You know I hate that nickname."
"That's why I use it," he answered with a smile. "Hey, Madge."
Once again, Katniss rolled her eyes. "Here," she handed the bill to Gale, "I'm getting us both." Gale stamped both of their hands and turned his attention to the gaggle of girls in short shorts and halters behind them.
Katniss scouted the bar once inside and pulled Madge to the only open table. "Is this OK?" she yelled over the current singer.
Madge pouted. "It's so far from the dance floor."
"Madge, that was part of the deal. I told you I'd come out if I could slink in the shadows," Katniss huffed.
Madge's reluctant sigh gave Katniss hope that she'd won the battle until they sighted Leevy, one of Madge's business class friends. Leevy, who annoyed Katniss for reasons she could never explain other than she just didn't generally like people. And of course, Leevy was sitting at a table near the dance floor. That happened to have two empty seats. Yep, Katniss lost the battle.
"Oh my God, Madge!"
Katniss watched on as the girls hugged. Madge pulled out an open seat and gestured triumphantly to Katniss. "Your seat, dear lady," she said with a wink. "These are Leevy's friends but she said we could sit with them."
Katniss forced a smile. How nice of Leevy's friends, she thought. Luckily, Madge, Leevy, and Leevy's friends all really wanted to dance, so Katniss sat at the table alone with the pitcher they just bought. She poured herself a glass and kept a close eye on the group of girls.
"We meet again."
Even in the dimly lit bar, she could make out his mop of curly hair and crooked smile full of perfect teeth. And those eyes. "Technically, we didn't meet the first time," she corrected him, "Since you know my name, but I don't know yours."
"True." His smile widened and he sat in a chair across the table from her. "Four conversations later, I'm Peeta. Can I buy you a drink? Or, get you a straw?" he laughed, pushing the nearly full pitcher toward her.
"You want some? I'm afraid it may have been abandoned."
He tapped the small glass tumbler of ice and an amber liquid in front of him. "Learned the hard way that mixing alcohol leads to bad decisions. It's probably safer this way."
Katniss turned her chair so she could talk to Peeta and still keep an eye on Madge. It wasn't that she didn't trust Leevy and her friends, it was that she didn't know them. And she knew Madge. And, OK, she didn't really trust them. With good reason, she soon discovered, as a group of guys quickly surrounded them. It was the one cornering Madge, running his hand down her arm, leaning in close to her ear to tell her something that made her blush. She narrowed her eyes and clenched her jaw as she quickly recalled all the reasons she fucking hated Cato.
"Is there a reason you can't keep your eyes off of Big, Blond, and Beastly over there?"
She whipped her head around and saw Peeta tipping his now empty glass toward where she had just been staring. Cato was still hanging all over Madge, leaning in, pushing her hair behind her ear, tracing her jaw line with his finger. She wanted to be mad at Madge for giggling and leaning into him in return, but she couldn't be. It wasn't Madge's fault that Cato was an ass who just decided to be done dating Katniss without telling her. He was charming. And good looking. And Madge was already buzzed. They'd have to have a chat in the morning.
"Big, Blond, and Beastly is my recent ex. And the girl he's flirting with is my best friend slash roommate." She didn't want to watch them, especially when Cato glanced her direction and winked. "Cocky bastard just wants her because he knows it would piss me off."
She turned back in disgust and downed what beer was left in her plastic cup. "I'm glad you don't want any. Looks like I'm not in the mood to share anymore."
She scrunched her face and concentrated on pouring her next cup. "That wasn't exactly the response I was expecting, but...um, I dunno, about two weeks. At least, I think it was two weeks. It was a very confusing breakup."
He raised both eyebrows. "Two weeks and he's already making a move on your best friend? You must have really pissed him off."
She shrugged. "I may or may not have paid the bartenders to tell girls he's got a tiny dick." He nearly choked on the ice cube he had been chewing on. She smiled and blushed slightly. "Not my finest moment, that's for sure."
They spent the night talking about anything they could think of. He learned she was a biology major and she found out he studied psychology, a thought that made her visibly gag.
"What's wrong with psychology?" he asked with an easy laugh. As she continued to down cups of beer, she was more willing to talk to him with a scowl, even when she was completely dismissing his field.
"What isn't wrong with psychology? I mean, it's not even a real science, for crying out loud. You watch people and make assumptions that don't really have a basis in fact because people have too many variants. There's no way to determine what I'm going to do in any given scenario so why bother wasting your time? Also, why do you all see sex in everything?"
"Have you even taken a psych class, Dr. Phil?" he asked.
Scoffing, she polished off the pitcher of Bud Light. "No. But I have to this semester. It's one of my last Gen Ed requirements. Nothing like being the senior in 'Intro to Psych.'"
He opened his mouth, a retort on the tip of his tongue when a new singer came up on stage for karaoke. "I hate this song," she confessed.
"What? Who hates 'If I Had A Million Dollars?' I mean, really? Haven't you always wanted a monkey?" He raised the pitch of his voice on the last syllable, replicating the signature squeak-like sound from that verse.
She laughed. "No, no monkeys. I'd probably be OK hunting a monkey, though."
She laughed harder when he jaw dropped. "Hunt a monkey? That's just cruel. What'd the monkey ever do to you?"
"In some parts of Asia, they're seen as a nuisance. I'd be doing a favor, actually."
"You're serious? About hunting, I mean?" he asked, genuinely surprised by her hobby of choice.
She nodded. "My father taught me how to hunt when I was a kid. Had to protect the homestead from wolves and mountain lions somehow."
"Well look at you, a regular old Grizzly Adams." He held his glass up in mock approval.
She smiled but shook her head. "Something like that, I suppose. Except I don't think the beard would work so well on me."
He lifted her chin with his fingers and pretended to examine her face before smirking. "True. You don't really have the chin for facial hair."
A heat spread through her body, stemming from the touch of this man she hardly knew. Must be the booze.
"Kaaaaatniss!" Madge yelled, grabbing her arm from behind. "We're gonna go sing!" She nodded to the empty stage.
"Have fun," Katniss laughed, waving her off. When she was sober and in public, Madge had a quiet charm about her, which was what initially attracted Katniss. But private Madge, the Madge who came out once you got to know her, was a flamboyant character who happily flirted with whoever she could, man or woman. Alcohol brought 'private Madge' out in public. And, apparently, that meant singing 'Wannabe' with a group of equally drunk girls.
"You want another?" Katniss saw him indicate to her empty pitcher.
She craned her neck to check bar time on the digital clock on the wall. 12:05. They had another two hours to kill, knowing Madge would want to stay until they were kicked out.
"Uh, sure." She shifted in her seat to get her money when he waved her effort off.
After he left, she turned her attention back to the stage, where the girls were now dancing along and really not caring about what words were actually on the screen. When they finished, Madge bounded over and plopped down in Katniss' lap. "Having fun? I see you've been flirting with Mr. Hottie-with-the-Body all night," she giggled slightly.
Katniss flushed. "I was not flirting with him. We're just talking. And 'Hottie-with-the-Body?' Really, Madge?"
Madge scoffed. "Puh-lease, Katniss Everdeen. You liiiike him."
"Come off it, Madge. I do not." Sometimes Katniss really hated drunk Madge.
Madge shrugged. "Can't let a piece like that get away too easily. Who knows who might pick him up."
"Right," Katniss mumbled, knowing that Madge may very well be the 'who knows' who picked him up. It wouldn't be the first time it happened. It wasn't like she tried to be more charming than Katniss, it just didn't take much. And it wasn't her fault she was blessed with good genes and killer curves. Men gravitated toward Madge in a way they never did toward Katniss. It wasn't personal and Katniss trusted that if she ever, miraculously, was interested in someone, Madge would respect that.
When Peeta came back, Madge snatched an empty cup from the table. "Well thank you, Handsome. How'd you know I'd drink whatever Katniss drank?" she winked as he poured. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Madge."
"Peeta," he shook her outstretched hand. "You're the best friend slash roommate."
Madge slid off of Katniss' lap into the empty seat between them. Katniss tried not to let her deepening scowl show too much as Madge and Peeta fell into an easy conversation. She didn't like Peeta like that, but she was genuinely enjoying the conversation. Once drunk Madge started talking, it could be difficult to get a word in.
She could tell she wasn't going to be missed, so she excused herself out on account of 'needing air,' the not-so-secret code for a cigarette. She was relieved to see Gale leaning against the wall. Katniss bumped her shoulder into him. "They let you off guard duty?"
"Ah, Catnip!" he exclaimed, hugging her side. "I didn't think I'd see you again, what with Blondie fetching your drinks all night."
Katniss accepted the cigarette once dangling from his lips. "Turns out 'Blondie' likes his own kind. Newly single Madge is drunk. And in major self-destruct mode," she smirked, knowing Gale would understand exactly what that meant.
Of all people, Gale would be the one to commiserate with her. He hooked up with Madge once during their junior year, right before she started dating the reason for her current destruction, and wasn't subtle about wanting more with her. She strung him along for a few weeks after but then she met Marvel. She had, on many occasions, drunkenly confessed to Gale that she made a mistake and should have given him another chance. But Gale was respectful and never reminded her of her words once she sobered up.
Katniss knew they weren't just drunken thoughts because she vividly remembered an incident when another woman spent the entire night talking to Gale and Madge responded by yelling at him for being unprofessional. She later divulged to Katniss that he kissed her that night, but she slapped him and ran out. The two were on shaky ground ever since.
"I have to get back to the bar. Those beers aren't going to pour themselves," he said, tossing the butt out the window onto the sidewalk. "You want another before I head back in?"
She shook her head and tossed hers out, too. "No, I'm good. Just needed a break."
He slung his arm around her shoulders and grinned. "If you want, I can think of a way to make at least one of them jealous enough to ditch the other."
She scrunched her face at his suggestion. "Gale Hawthorne, I know some girls are into the scruffy bartender thing, but I can assure you I'm not one of them. Not even pretending. Besides, I don't want to make anyone jealous, I just..."
"Whatever you say, Catnip. You want a drink?" He slipped back behind the bar and gave one of the other bartenders, a redhead named Darius, a slap on the back.
"Oh well look who it is, Katniss Everdeen," Darius announced, reaching across the bar to pull on her braid. "Finally going to take me up on my offer?"
She groaned. "Darius, your 'offer' was as Gale's wingman when he first met Madge and needed you to keep me company. Mistake number one was telling me that."
Gale doubled over in laughter as Darius' face matched his hair. "Let me make it up to you. Fancy a shot?"
"Sorry, but it's going to take more than a shot of 'Salty Sailor' to make up for being the grenade," she answered with a wink, pushing away from the bar.
"I'm not giving up on you, Everdeen!" he called after her.
"In your dreams, Darius!"
"Don't tease the man!"
She laughed as Gale attempted to defend his wingman's honor. The two had some weird bromance which meant when she hung out with one, she got the other as well. Darius was a nice enough guy; she didn't dislike him for proclaiming his wingman status that night, but she knew it embarrassed him whenever she brought it up.
"Katniss!" Madge cheered upon her return. "You're back!" She stumbled out of her seat in an effort to hug her roommate. "We missed you."
I'm sure you did, she thought to herself, but smiled nonetheless. She gave a sigh of relief when Leevy pulled Madge away for 'one more song.'
"Your friend slash roommate is quite a chatterbox. Cute girl," Peeta quipped, a piece of ice between his front two teeth. "She asked me out."
Katniss caught the eye of Madge, who smiled and did some ridiculous shimmy. She knew what to do, having been in a similar position with Gale when he first showed interest. "Yeah, she's a great girl. She, uh, loves Chinese food and really bad horror movies - the ones that are actually funny and not scary at all."
"I told her no."
She eyed him, suspiciously. "Why?"
"Because I don't want to go out with her."
He answered as though it was so simple. As though it were obvious he didn't want to date Madge. And for some reason she couldn't understand, she saw red. "Why the hell not? Madge is a great catch and, frankly, you must be a total idiot if you think you can do any better than her. What is so wrong with her that you wouldn't want to date her?"
"Calm down, firecracker. There's nothing wrong with your friend, though I'd be more afraid of you if I wanted to date her. You're worse than an overprotective father." He was laughing but she didn't see what was so damn funny. "Look, I just got out of something not too long ago so I'm not really looking to start anything new."
She set her lips in a thin line. "It's just a date, Peeta."
"From a girl who just got screwed over. To a guy who goes big or goes home."
His breath wisped across her cheek and she could make out the faint whiff of whiskey on him. Involuntarily, her eyes closed and she inhaled. Was she relieved that he wasn't into Madge? She was surprised, because she couldn't remember the last guy who said so. Well, Darius used the 'who wants a girl everyone else wants' line, which Katniss interpreted as more of an insult than a compliment.
"Besides," he added, "she's not really my type."
She cocked an eyebrow. "No? And what is your type?"
"I like girls who hate psychology." The shocked look must have immediately registered on her face because he laughed heartily and covered her hand in his. "I'm kidding, Katniss."
The rest of the girls came back to the table, all drunk, most trying to flirt with Peeta, much to the chagrin of Katniss and the guys trying to flirt with them. They all started talking about the after party they were all going to in one of the guys' garage. Leevy looked expectantly at Madge who was back on Katniss' lap, head resting on her shoulder, twiddling with the edge of her braid.
"Madge?" Katniss poked her in the side. "Leevy wants to know if you want to go to an after party."
"When?" She mumbled into Katniss' shoulder.
"Tonight, honey. Right now."
Madge let out a garbled groan and Katniss bit her bottom lip to prevent herself from laughing too hard. "I think she's out tonight. Sorry."
Leevy pouted dramatically but they all said their goodbyes and headed out, wanting to get to the liquor store before it closed. Most of the bar crowd was making their way to the exit, obviously with the same intent as Leevy's group.
"Katniss?" Madge whined in a quiet voice, "I'm hungry."
"Want me to make you some toast when we get home?"
Madge shook her head in a pitiful way that Katniss would later make fun of her for. When the girl hit her limit, she hit it hard. "Want oatmeal."
"You ate the last of the oatmeal this morning, remember?"
She finally lifted her head off of Katniss' shoulder. "I did?" Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair had about doubled in size from the humidity.
"Let me take you guys to breakfast," Peeta offered. The girls' responses could not have been more opposite. Madge smiled brightly and accepted his offer at the same time that Katniss scowled and refused it. They then got into a silent stare until he spoke up again. "I'm just saying, you both need to sober up before you go home and Perkins is just down the street."
"I'm gonna throw up." Madge scrambled off of Katniss' lap and stumbled toward the bathroom. Katniss didn't miss that Gale swiftly made his way toward the bathroom shortly after, with a concerned look on his face.
"Thanks for the offer, but I should really get her home as soon as possible." It didn't take Madge long to return, sheepishly chewing on a piece of cinnamon gum, with her hair pulled back from her face. She was a champ at the 'puke and rally' routine, as she was now walking much less wobbly than before. Katniss was just glad that she wouldn't have to carry the girl into their apartment now.
"Sorry," she offered, her face flushed with embarrassment. "Gale said he could take me home if you wanted to stay." She tried to be sneaky about her glances at Peeta as she said this, but her intent was clear.
"No, I'm ready to head out." Katniss smiled at Peeta. "Are you going to be OK to drive?"
Something flashed across his face but it was too quick for her to catch. "I'll be fine. Will you let me know when you get home? It's the responsible adult in me."
She saw Gale from the corner of her eye motioning for them. "Yeah, of course. I, uh, I don't have your number, though."
He smirked. Damnit. She begrudgingly handed him her phone, upset that he bested her once again.
"See you around, Katniss," he called to her retreating figure. She looked over her shoulder at him. She stopped in her tracks, seemingly spellbound by the blond-haired, blue-eyed man who sought her out tonight, who turned down her beautiful roommate, and spent the entire night talking to her. Smiling at her. Making her skin flush and her stomach flip. Perhaps she misjudged him at the bookstore; maybe he wasn't just another Greek letter-toting douchebag. Then again, maybe the beer was blurring her judgment. It wouldn't be the first time she had been misled by a charming smile after a pitcher of beer. It was how she met Cato, after all.
"Coming, Catnip?" Gale called, his arm wrapped around Madge's waist.
"Yeah," she answered, thoroughly confused.
2:30am. Katniss. /Sorry for the late text. We got home. All safe and sound./
2:34am. Peeta. /Good. Was getting worried about you. Had fun tonight./
"Is the princess finally asleep?" Katniss asked, accepting a bottle of Heineken he brought in from his truck and tucking her phone in her pocket.
He laughed and popped the cap off his own. "I think so. Either that or my kissing skills are in terrible need of assistance."
"I don't need the details, Hawthorne."
He waggled his eyebrows at her. "What's wrong, Catnip? Don't want to hear about the scandalous affairs of your roommate and former lab partner?"
"Not particularly." She tilted her bottle in his direction. "But the lipstick smeared all over your lips and the hickey forming on your neck tell me all I need to know." She laughed as he furiously began rubbing his face to wipe the remnants off.
"Fuck you, Katniss. Don't be jealous because I'm finally getting some and you aren't.
"You keep telling yourself that, Gale, but $50 says she winds up cuddling with me rather than you tonight." She smirked. "And what makes you think I'm not getting any?"
"Because when she wasn't giving me hickeys, your roommate blabbered on about how you should screw Blondie before you forget how to. Or, as she called him-"
"Mr. Hottie-with-a-Body," Katniss supplied. "Yes, she enlightened me earlier about it. Clever girl."
"So are you going to?"
"Going to what?" She downed the rest of her beer, and acknowledging that she would regret every drop of alcohol she had consumed that night, grabbed another bottle off the island in the kitchen.
"Jesus, Gale! Warn a girl before you go fucking insane." She wiped the slight dribble of beer that fell from her lips with the back of her hand.
"So you don't want to? You should. Maybe it would get tiny-dick out of your head."
"I'm so glad you have nicknames for the men in my life, Gale. Really, it's sweet." She smirked, taking a drink. "I never really thanked you for that. Childish as it may have been, I appreciate it."
He waved her off. "Don't mention it. None of us liked Cato even before you started dating him. We just needed a better excuse to say shit other than him just being an ass." He glanced over to Madge's door. "How's she been doing? Speaking of asses."
Katniss shook her head. "She's dealing, and not in the most healthy way. But it's definitely not the worst coping mechanism she's ever used. She'll be fine."
"How long should I wait?"
"This time?" she sighed, wondering just how honest he wanted her to be. "Just don't push her unless you want to get destroyed. Her rebounds don't last too long, and as much as I like you, you know Madge would get me in the divorce. Don't worry your pretty little head about it, Hawthorne, I'm taking care of her."
He silently finished his beer and Katniss was glad for it. She believed that he cared for the girl as much as he could, but Gale often showed the emotional depth of a teaspoon. And he had no idea what she was going through, as much as he tried. It was Katniss who had been taking care of Madge and she was the only one who could help.
"Cut the sappy shit. One more beer?"
'One more beer' turned into polishing off the six pack of Heineken and the half bottle of vodka in the freezer. Gale fell asleep in the recliner and was snoring loudly by the time Katniss stumbled into the bathroom. Drunk or not, her body had a nighttime routine she never broke. Routine was a comfort to her; it kept her sane and 'sane Katniss' was a happy Katniss. Her contacts stuck to her eye and she hissed as she dropped them in their case.
3:27am. Katniss. /We should hang out again sometime./
3:31am. Peeta. /Now that I have your number./
She smirked around her toothbrush, toothpaste foaming from her mouth. She closed one eye, trying to make the second cell phone screen in her vision disappear.
3:37am. Katniss. /You must think you're pretty damn smart don't you, Mr. Tricky?/
3:42am. Peeta. /They don't just hand out PhD's to everyone who asks./
3:43am. Katniss. /Meh./
She stripped off her jeans and crawled into bed, pulling her blankets over her head in anticipation of the Sunday morning church service that would inevitably float through her open window and wake her up at 8:30. Like clockwork.
4:05am. Katniss. /Are you still awake?/
4:08am. Peeta. /Insomniac. Always awake./
4:10am. Katniss. /Creepy. Go to sleep./
Sure enough, at 8:30am, Katniss woke up with a pounding headache, cotton mouth, and a face full of blonde hair.
'Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from Heaven above...'
She groaned. "Why can't your awesome God sleep in on Sundays like normal people?"
Madge snorted. "My window faces the other direction." She yawned and rolled over, blue eyes peeking through the mess of hair. "So worth having to walk further to get to the bathroom."
"I hate you." Katniss pulled her pillow over her head and squeezed it around her ears. "Is Gale still here?" she mumbled.
"Why would Gale be here?" Suddenly Madge's face is next to Katniss', buried under the pillow.
"He brought us home last night."
"Oh. No. No! Katniss!" Madge hissed, eyes now wide open. "Did we do anything?"
"What do you remember doing?"
Madge blushed. "It's fuzzy," she admitted, "I remember him saying really sweet things about me and that I deserved better and that he promised he would never make me cry. Then we kissed. When I woke up, I heard your phone buzz so I came in here and fell asleep again." She closed her eyes as the singing outside started up again, this time with the addition of an electric guitar. "What time did all of this happen?"
Katniss chuckled. "Shit, I don't know. He put you to bed as soon as we got home, then we drank some more. He passed out on the recliner around...um...3ish, maybe?" Her phone started buzzing, causing her to sit up far too quickly for her aching head. She swatted the covers and eventually felt the vibration on her foot.
"I left my glasses in the bathroom. Will you read it?" Katniss handed her phone to Madge to read. She could have read it, but she would need to squint and didn't want to make her headache any worse than it already was.
8:42am. Gale. /Fuck this noise, Everdeen. What are they so excited about? God will love them all day, not just this early./
"He's still here. And he's not nearly as excited about Jesus as the First Evangelical Free Church people outside." Madge started giggling, scrolling down to read his entire message when she gasped and dropped the phone in front of her. "Oh, my."
Katniss scowled. "What?" She reached for her phone and held it inches from her nose. The screen was still fuzzy so she rubbed her eyes to clear them.
4:12am. Peeta. /It'd be easier to sleep if you were with me./
4:14am. Katniss. /You think we'd be sleeping?/
4:16am. Peeta. /Whatever could you be implying?/
4:17am. Katniss. /You're the psych guy. Use that perverted sex-infused imagination all of you have. Imagine it with me./
4:21am. Peeta. /You're killing me. Go to sleep, you tease./
4:22am. Katniss. /Sweet, sordid dreams, Peeta. ;-) /
"Katniss Everdeen!" Madge shrieked. "You were sexting someone. Not just some someone, but the hot guy from the bar who was completely into you!"
Katniss horrifically stared at her phone as the screen faded to black. "What?!" she sputtered. "I wasn't, I was not sexting anyone," she answered, in as controlled a voice as she could muster. She wasn't exactly positive what 'sexting' was, but the way the girls in her classes talked, it involved pictures you wouldn't want your mother to see. And she was 100% certain she was not so drunk that she'd have forgotten taking naked pictures of herself. She quickly checked her phone gallery, just to make sure, and let out a sigh of relief when the first picture that came up was one of her and Madge at a bonfire the night after their last final.
"If not sexting, then flirting. Hard. Almost had me fooled, Everdeen."
"I was drunk. Let's not start talking about the things certain people do when they've been drinking," Katniss answered with a knowing smirk. Madge threw a pillow at her and Katniss launched herself at her friend, pillows in both hands.
"Okay! Okay! Uncle!" Madge squealed. "I'm hungry. Want to get breakfast?"
They found Gale sprawled on the rickety recliner where he fell asleep, his feet tangled in the thin blanket Katniss left for him. "Morning starshine," Katniss greeted him. "Breakfast?"
He yawned and stretched his limbs beyond the chair. The bottom hem of his t-shirt rose up, exposing a strip of dark hair down his stomach. She didn't dare look over at Madge, who was most likely blushing. "I'm game. Where at?"
"Your choice, Hawthorne, since you'll be buying."
"How do you figure that, Catnip?"
Katniss wrapped her arms around Madge's middle. "I believe you owe me $50. Breakfast is just the start."
After breakfast, Gale dropped them off at the bar to get Katniss' car. The girls spent the rest of the day lounging around their apartment, neither able or willing to do too much on the day before summer classes started. Madge had a Business Leadership Seminar that would last all summer, as opposed to just 6 weeks, like Katniss' psychology course. Katniss cracked her book open, determined to have some idea of what she was getting herself into, but the words just swirled around the page every time she tried. She threw the book into the corner of the living room and got lost in the mindless reality show Madge wanted to watch.
She purposely left her phone in her room. Madge had hers and anyone who really needed her could get a hold of her that way. She was embarrassed by her behavior the night before. At the time, she blamed the beer. But in the harsh, hungover light of day, she realized it was Gale's implication that she should use Peeta to get over Cato and all the talk of Madge's relationship status. Normally those jabs and comments didn't affect her, and she didn't know what possessed her to be so brazen to a guy she just met. It wasn't at all her, at least not anymore. She used to be less rigid and more carefree with people, but that was a long time ago.
She considered apologizing but talked herself out of it. He was most likely not sober last night and potentially embarrassed about it, too. He had flirted with her at the bar but it seemed like normal, everyday flirting. Nothing directed at her personally. Apologizing meant bringing it up. It'd be easier to forget it happened. He'd figure out she wasn't like that sooner or later, and stop texting her all together.
Which was just as well. If she never saw Peeta again, she'd be just fine.
12:02pm. Peeta. /Katniss? We need to talk./
2:34pm. Peeta. /Seriously, I need to talk to you. Text me or call me./
4:15pm. /Missed call./
7:50pm. /Missed call./
10:25pm. Peeta. /I'm sorry if I crossed a line with you last night. I'd understand if you're upset. But we really need to talk about your class tomorrow./
She read over his texts a few times. She let Madge read them before asking her advice, which, of course, was to call and find out what he wanted. "Why do I even bother asking you anything?" she half-jokingly responded. "I'm going to shower. Maybe that'll clear my head."
She crawled into bed after a quick exchange with Gale who told her the same thing Madge had, more determined NOT to answer just because she knew she should. Which was stupid.
11:15pm. Katniss. /Sorry, got caught up in other stuff. Have to get some sleep so I don't fall asleep in class but let's talk after./
The line at the local coffee shop was out of control, but that's what she got for going before a 9am class on the first day. As she waited for the horde of girls in front of her to order their iced mocha latte, no whip, extra shot, sugar free hazelnut syrup monstrosities, she impatiently tapped her foot and checked her watch every few minutes. When it was finally her turn, she quickly rambled her usual order – a large cinnamon chai tea. The redhead behind the counter sighed in relief and asked if she wanted a muffin or a cookie on the house, just for having a 'normal order.'
Katniss slinked her way through Baker Hall, the natural and social science building, which was just as crowded as during a normal semester. She took the stairs two at a time; the holdup at the coffee shop made her five minutes behind her planned schedule. She always arrived at class early to get all of her things properly situated on her desk without feeling rushed. Rushed meant out of control and more often than not, out of control led to a panic attack. She was hoping to continue avoiding panic attacks in class.
Luckily, the 3rd floor was nowhere near as full as first floor and she pushed into Baker 353, sliding into the seat closest to the door in the back row. Other students began clamoring in, some more awake than others, but she ignored them as she pulled out her textbook and a brand new spiral notebook. She began carefully writing the name of the class, room, and time, on the inside front cover.
She heard the door fly open and could feel the floor vibrate under the heavy footsteps of whoever was trying to sneak in. She gloated to herself. If you're going to be late, at least be quiet about it.
"Sorry for the delay, guys. Somehow I managed to get lost between 23rd Street and the faculty parking lot."
"Here is the syllabus, if you wouldn't mind passing them around, we can get started and probably get out of here early. Enjoy this warm weather, huh?"
No. No no no no no.
"Contrary to what your online schedule says, my name is not 'Staff.'"
The room chuckled but Katniss continued shaking her head in disbelief. This cannot be happening to me.
The professor cleared his throat. "Uh, my name is Dr. Mellark. And while some professors insist upon formality, I still haven't gotten used to it yet. So feel free to call me 'Peeta' or 'Mellark' or whatever makes you comfortable."
She broke her eyes away from the blank notebook page in front of her as the stack of syllabi came to her. Sure enough. Peeta. Mr. Hottie-with-the-Body, Mr. Muscles, was standing in front of the room.
This little nugget was born over coffee with Chelzie during winter break. She's been fabulous throughout this entire process, ps.
I don't own THG or any characters you first part of summary is from Grey's Anatomy, so I don't own that either
No offense to sorority/fraternity people, especially the Gamma Phi Beta's and the PIKES.
You can find me on tumblr (check my profile)