Author's Note-I offer a thousand humble apologies for the wait on an update for this story. Life has calmed down a lot, and so I can assure you that Chapter 20 will not be that far behind. It's nearly half written already. Thank you for all the additional favorites and follows that the past six months brought, and the kind messages and reviews about it.
This chapter never would have gotten completed without the constant encouragement and help of iLoVeRynMar, and without the legal expertise of fenderfreak81, who endured more emails than he should have had to. Amidst his added case load and promotion, he had the patience to tolerate my questions and my re-writes, and the court scene is better because of him. Any minor legalities are a result of Panem being a fictional state. A million thanks and much love to both of you.
And this chapter is for Street. I hope life calms down for you soon too. ILY.
Thanks again for sticking with me, readers. Enjoy. ~C~
Chapter 19-Wednesday, May 13th
Katniss awakens with a knot in her stomach and Peeta hard against her thigh. She lies still and tries to push away the anxiety she's already feeling for the morning's hearing.
She's never been in a courthouse before (unless you count the mandatory field trip to the state house when they learned all about the federal government in fourth grade). And she's somehow managed to avoid being summoned for jury duty up to this point. Her knowledge of the legal system mostly comes in the form of Law & Order reruns, Investigation Discovery channel re-creations, and John Grisham novels. So she's unsure of what to expect, and she's never been a fan of the unexpected. It sends her nerves into overdrive.
Of course lying in Peeta Mellark's arms, enjoying the feel of his naked body beside hers, is not something she ever would have expected either—and yet here they are.
She finally stirs a little and extends the leg that's presently sandwiched between his, hitching it up higher on his pelvis, trapping his stiff cock under her. Peeta moans and shifts the hand that had been loosely splayed on her hip down to cup her ass, and he brings her closer to him. She drops her head to press a kiss to his right pectoral muscle.
"Good morning," she mumbles into the warmth of his skin.
"Mmm, it's a very good morning," he returns, kissing the crown of her head. "Please tell me that you have more surprises like the one you wore last night tucked away in your bags."
She blushes and recalls Peeta's reaction the previous evening, when she had sauntered out of the bathroom wearing a skimpy sheer black negligee and matching thong. She had never stripped for anyone, and she had been nervous as hell to do it for him. But she'd flicked on the iPod, filling the room with the sensual notes of jazz, and had begun to sway her hips. The reverent awe on his face as he watched her dance had quickly assuaged her worries, and the enthusiastic sex that had followed once they were both completely naked had left her without a single doubt as to how much he approved of her amateur performance.
"I might have a few more things, but I, um, don't really own a lot of lingerie," she confesses. "I've just never had anyone I wanted to wear it for, until now." The blush deepens, and a whorl of lust curls through her belly from the smug look Peeta gives her.
"I like hearing that. You and I will just have to do some shopping when we get a free moment, hmm?" He presses a kiss to her temple and cranes his neck to glance over her at the clock. He squints at it, puzzlement filling his blue eyes. "Shit…did we really wake up before the alarm?"
"I guess so." She begins to trace idle patterns on his chest, smiling when her finger moves over his nipple. It stiffens from her touch, and he shudders against her.
"When was the last time that happened?" he muses. "And how is it possible that I get less sleep when I'm with you, but I haven't felt this good waking up in…forever?"
"Me neither. I've been sleeping better than I have in years."
Peeta suddenly falls quiet. He seems to be weighing his words carefully, as if he's holding something back. Before she can ask him what's wrong, he kisses her temple again and drops his voice. "Katniss, when Plutarch calls me to testify today…I'm not going to hide anything. I won't be ashamed of us, or of what I feel for you. I'll tell the world that I love you. I. Love. You," he emphasizes.
She closes her eyes and lets the exhilarating warmth of his words spread throughout her body. She feels his lips on her eyelids, the bridge of her nose, her jaw, and she re-opens her eyes to find him inches from her mouth.
"I love you too," she echoes, her chest constricting at the happiness she feels saying those words aloud to him. She closes the scant distance between them, her lips melding to his easily. They kiss unhurriedly while Peeta massages her scalp with his fingertips. When she pulls back for a much-needed gulp of air, he tucks her back under his chin.
"So because we got a little caught up last night," he begins, "I forgot to mention that among the slew of phone calls yesterday morning I had a message from Portia. From the Caesar Show?" She listens quietly, her finger tracing the circumference of his navel as her relates the details of the call. "Is it something you'd want to do?" he asks, once he's finished explaining.
She frowns and considers whether she really wants to sit down with Caesar Flickerman again. Once was enough for her, and she's fast tiring of being in the public eye. But she can hear the restrained hopefulness in Peeta's voice. The fact that he won't flat out ask her to do it, that he's putting her feelings before his own needs, makes her want to do it.
"If you think it will help, we should do it," she says firmly, not wanting him to hear an ounce of doubt in her words.
"I think we deserve a chance to tell our full side of the story," he affirms. "We were being respectful of Glimmer in the first interview, but the gloves are off now. If Caesar is willing to give us the forum, then yes, I say we should do it. And if you really are on board, I'll call Portia today."
"Call her. Let's do it." She splays her hand down over his abs, and he gives her a wicked grin, turning her words into something more suggestive.
"I like the way you think. And we do have some time, since we woke up early and all..." He rolls atop her, kisses her deeply, and then slithers down her torso, counting her ribs with his tongue, his lips marking a serpentine trail past her navel and along her bikini line. He nudges her knees up to her chest, and a jolt of apprehension mingles with the heat gathering in her abdomen. She feels a little exposed like this. Peeta seems to sense it and gazes up at her.
"You're fucking flawless, Katniss. Every inch of you. Trust me. Please."
She nods and tucks her knees tighter, pushing her shoulders down into the mattress. He steadies his palms on the backs of her thighs, his fingers pressing firmly into the soft flesh. Her eyes roll back in her head at the first pass of Peeta's tongue through her folds. She fists the sheets in one hand and clutches his shoulder with the other as he starts to lick and suck her towards ecstasy.
Her moans reach a decibel level that she's sure will bring the hotel staff pounding on their door when he thrusts his tongue inside her and hums little vibrations against her swollen clit. But she could care less; it feels too good to care about anything but how perfectly Peeta knows her body. His strokes are relentless, and she collapses against the sheets as her orgasm crashes through her, waves of pleasure deluging her. Peeta's expert mouth explores her neck and strokes her hair, coaxing her through the aftershocks.
When she struggles to raise herself to return the favor, he places a hand on her forearm. "No, it's okay. You took care of me last night. I just wanted to help you relax a little before we get ready for the hearing." His mouth twists into a contemplative pucker. "You, ah…you were a little restless when you fell asleep last night."
"I was?" she exclaims, shame prickling on her skin. And here she thought she had been sleeping better in Peeta's arms.
"Anything you want to talk about?" he prods.
"No…I mean I'm not sure that there's much to talk about. I'm sorry if I disturbed you. It's just…well, I used to get nightmares a lot when my father first died. And I had a few recently when Cato was harassing me. They tend to pop up more when I'm stressed…" she trails off, immediately regretting letting that last part slip out.
He clasps her hand and his lips move over her knuckles. "It's my fault you're stressed. I'm sorry."
She rolls over and props herself up, leaning on his sturdy chest with one arm so she can look into his eyes. "That's not when I meant. Don't you dare apologize to me, Peeta Mellark."
"If it weren't for me—"
"If it weren't for you, I would still be working for a cranky old pervert, in his dive diner…" she pauses. "Wait, no. If it weren't for you, I'd be unemployed, sitting around on my couch, eating pint after pint of Ben & Jerry's. Oh, and let's not forget being stalked by that asshole, Cato..." She throws one leg over his waist and straddles him, lowering her upper body so that it's flush against his, savoring the warmth of his skin. "So no apologies. I'm the one who should be thanking you." She feels his cock swelling anew beneath her, and she leans down to kiss him. "And I can do that here…or in the shower. Your choice."
"Hmm." He purses his lips at her. "I guess we could practice some water conservation while we get ready."
"Such an upstanding citizen, Mr. Mellark," she teases, descending on him for another kiss.
By the time Peeta pulls into the municipal complex and finds a parking space outside the courthouse, the knot in Katniss's stomach that had been successfully unraveled by their morning's activities has been replaced by a swarm of angry hornets. She feels his hand cover hers, subduing the nervous drumming of her fingers on the center console. She manages a tremulous smile, and he reaches over and cups her cheek.
"Relax. This is all going to be over soon. Glimmer has no case." He speaks with such conviction that she almost believes him. She nods in response and undoes her seat belt. Peeta comes around to open her door for her. She waits for him to refasten the buttons on his jacket, admiring how incredibly hot he looks in his suit. He clutches her hand, and they head towards the courthouse.
About halfway through the parking lot, they approach a large white van. When they pass by it, like a wound-up jack-in-the-box, a woman springs out from the passenger side.
"Mr. Mellark! Ms. Everdeen! Effie Trinket, Panem Post Gazette! A moment of your time?"
Katniss sighs inwardly, and she feels Peeta's hand reflexively tighten its grasp on hers.
"Hello, again, Ms. Trinket," he says politely. Effie beams at them, her halo of blonde curls bouncing. "We actually don't have much time…"
"Oh, just a few questions, really. You're here this morning on account of your wife's lawsuit against Ms. Everdeen, yes?"
"Ex-wife," Peeta admonishes. "Keep walking, Katniss."
"Ms. Everdeen, you are seeking to have this case thrown out, is that correct?"
"No comment," she parrots, though she thinks that's a pretty stupid question for a reporter to ask. What else would be the purpose of a "motion to dismiss" hearing? Didn't she do her research?
"Do you think Mr. Mellark's wife's pregnancy will have any bearing on this lawsuit?"
"No comment," Peeta grunts, gripping Katniss's arm and hurrying her away from the reporter. He gives Katniss an apologetic smile and gently rubs her forearm when they reach the doors of the municipal building.
"You okay," he asks, ushering her off to the side once they're inside.
"Yeah, fine, I guess."
He tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and cups her cheek tenderly. "It won't last forever. They'll tire of us eventually, when someone else's fifteen minutes start ticking. We'll get through it." He leans down and kisses her quickly but fiercely.
They locate the courtroom on the second floor, but Plutarch is nowhere to be seen. His paralegal, Leevy, however, is already there, beckoning them from the defendant's table. There are a number of reporters milling about, some clicking away on laptops, others scrolling their phones.
"Reporters are allowed in the courtroom?" Katniss asks.
"I guess. Plutarch warned us it was a possibility that this could be a media circus," says Peeta. "Effie Trinket's greeting outside should have been the first sign of that."
"But it's just a hearing!"
"Yeah, it's that First Amendment thing," Leevy explains. "But Judge Templesmith likes an orderly courtroom. He could very well kick them out before the proceedings start. I've seen him do it." Katniss inhales and says a silent prayer that the judge does just that.
"This is going to go in our favor, okay?" Peeta squeezes her hand. He rubs his thumb back and forth along her knuckles. Though it's not enough to completely quell her anxiety, it's comforting being touched so tenderly. "This bullshit lawsuit is going to be thrown out. And tonight we'll celebrate. We'll get dressed up and go have dinner in the city. A nice big steak…some champagne…dessert for two. Sound good so far?"
"And then…" he drops his voice. "Then, we'll go back to the suite, and I'll fuck you all…" He kisses the right corner of her mouth, "…night…" he presses his lips to the left corner, "…long." A lingering kiss full on her mouth sends a flutter migrating through her. Her lips lift up against his. When he pulls back, he grins at her. "See? I got a smile out of you."
But a movement to Peeta's right catches her eye. Her smile vanishes and she stiffens at the sight of Glimmer striding into the courtroom. Peeta must sense the change in her posture, and he turns as well. As he does, he scoots closer to her. His thumb strokes the back of her palm with increased pressure.
If Glimmer is going for more sympathy, she came dressed to play the part. Her demure gray pencil skirt and pale pink cardigan set gives off an innocent vibe—a far cry from the form-fitting, cleavage-baring dresses Katniss has grown accustomed to seeing Peeta's ex in. Her blonde hair is down, brushed to a glossy shine and held back with a narrow gray headband. Her makeup is subtle, though there is a yellowish pallor to her complexion.
Glimmer's cold blue eyes land on Katniss, and a self-satisfied smirk turns up her pink lips. She whispers to the tall, dark-haired man at her side, and he smiles at her and pats her shoulder reassuringly.
"I knew it. I knew he looked familiar," Peeta hisses.
"The guy who was with Glimmer at the gala. It was her lawyer, Seneca Crane."
"She brought her lawyer to the gala?"
Peeta sighs. "He's also Coriolanus Snow's stepson. Well, ex-stepson. Like two or three wives ago, I think. I'd been in a few social situations with him when…when Glimmer and I were together. I haven't seen him in years. Anyway, I've never liked the guy. He's a pompous douchebag. And I've always suspected that he and Clove had a thing going on."
All that Peeta just revealed speaks volumes to her, because given his penchant for finding the best in people, Seneca Crane must really be a jerk if even Peeta can't find anything nice to say about him. Katniss glances over at Seneca and Glimmer again. They've now taken their seats at the plaintiff's table, and their heads are bowed close in private conversation.
At that moment, Plutarch strides in. "Vultures!" he bellows as he sets down his briefcase, accepts several papers from Leevy, and glowers at the slew of reporters. "I tell you, that Effie Trinket woman is incorrigible."
Katniss and Peeta exchange a look. Peeta gives their lawyer a wry smile and says, "That's a nice way of putting it. She accosted us too."
Plutarch grumbles under his breath and shuffles his papers, then pulls out his yellow legal pad and gestures to the seats behind them. "Peeta, son, until you're called to testify, you'll need to sit out there. Sorry."
"No, I understand," he replies, squeezing Katniss's hand one last time before he releases it. "I'll be right here, okay?"
She manages to give him a weak smile and watches him settle into his seat. Peeta keeps his eyes fixed on hers, and he winks at her.
Plutarch chortles softly. "Damned if that boy doesn't have it bad for you, girlie." Heat blooms on her cheeks. Plutarch chuckles again and pats her arm. "No need to be embarrassed. It's damn sweet. You're just what he needs. You two are perfect for each other."
Still blushing, she folds her hands in her lap and listens attentively as Plutarch goes over some reminders about keeping her answers simple and direct.
"All rise for the honorable Judge Claudius Templesmith," the bailiff announces.
Everyone stands when the judge enters and calls the courtroom to order. He's a small man, which surprises Katniss. The judges on all those court shows and in movies are always stern, imposing figures. Judge Templesmith seems more like the friendly old grandfather who would be spending his retirement with a part-time job at the local Barnes and Noble. She watches him critically appraise the room, and his brows pinch together.
He steeples his fingers and clears his throat. "For a simple motions hearing I'm not sure there's a need for the amount of press that is currently assembled here—"
"Objection, Your Honor!" Seneca interjects.
Templesmith issues an exaggerated sigh and says sharply, "Mr. Crane, sit down. There's nothing for you to object to." He pauses and waits for Seneca to take his seat, and Katniss sits up straighter in her own chair. So much for the kindly grandpa. "As I was starting to say before I was interrupted, I'm not particularly fond of the need for so much press at this hearing. Let it be known that if any one of you becomes a distraction you will all be out. Is that understood?"
A murmur of agreement moves through the courtroom. Katniss sighs, dismayed that the judge is allowing the reporters to stay. She pivots in her seat and seeks out Peeta's eyes. He smiles at her and mouths, "I love you." Those three little words solidify her nerves, and in spite of the fact that the reporters have a clear shot of her, she gives him a heartfelt smile and mouths back, "I love you too."
"Now then," Templesmith continues, "we are here to consider the motion to dismiss made by the defendant in the matter of Beauregard v. Everdeen. Is the plaintiff ready to proceed?"
"We are, Your Honor," announces Seneca.
"Is the defense ready to proceed?"
"Yes, Your Honor," Plutarch booms.
"Very well. Since the motion to dismiss is yours, Mr. Heavensbee, do you have any opening statements you wish to make?"
Plutarch shakes his head and declares that he'll reserve his statements for closing. Judge Templesmith nods, and he poses the same question to Seneca. His response is identical to Plutarch's. "Alright then," Judge Templesmith announces, "Mr. Heavensbee, call your first witness."
Plutarch rises from his chair and buttons his suit jacket over his bulging belly. "The Defense calls Mr. Peeta Mellark."
Peeta walks past Katniss and takes the seat beside Judge Templesmith. He brushes at something on the lapel of his suit jacket, and then gets comfortable in the chair. Katniss can't help but notice how calm and confident he appears. Her heart clenches.
Plutarch begins by having Peeta state his name, and then launches a series of questions to establish his marital status. Once Glimmer has been identified as Peeta's soon-to-be-ex-wife, Plutarch clears his throat. "Mr. Mellark, how long were you married to Ms. Beauregard before you filed for divorce?"
"It would have been three years this October."
"So two-and-a-half years, then?'
"Yes, that's right."
"And in those two-and-a-half-years that you were married to Ms. Beauregard, would you describe your marriage as 'happy,' Mr. Mellark?"
Peeta looks briefly to Katniss, and she sees something not unlike regret and sadness muddling in those blue eyes. He takes a deep breath. "I thought it was happy."
"You thought it was happy. So it stopped being happy?"
"Objection!" Seneca leaps to his feet. "Leading."
"I'll rephrase," Plutarch offers hastily. "Mr. Mellark, was there a point in your marriage when you stopped being happy?"
The look on Peeta's face causes Katniss's heart to ache. "Yes," he says quietly but firmly.
As he begins to speak, Katniss glances down at her hands and examines her cuticles. She'd rather not listen too carefully as Peeta relates the details of his marriage to Glimmer.
"Objection, Your Honor," Seneca calls. "The witness's narrative is completely unnecessary."
Plutarch counters, "The witness's narrative goes to establish there was already a rift in the marriage before the defendant entered the equation."
Templesmith looks thoughtful. He nods. "Overruled. But please, Mr. Mellark, get to the point."
"Yes, Your Honor." Peeta takes a deep breath. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I had been unhappy for a long time, but I was in denial. I wanted so badly for my marriage to work, and I wanted Glimmer happy, and so I ignored my own unhappiness—"
"Sustained. Mr. Heavensbee, next question."
Plutarch switches gears. "Mr. Mellark, can you tell us the last time you recall having marital relations with the plaintiff?"
Though Katniss wrinkles her nose at the term, it sounds appropriately clinical for the kind of sex Peeta has implied he used to have with Glimmer.
"It was my birthday. March 2nd," Peeta answers, without hesitation.
Plutarch goes on to ask Peeta about filing for divorce, and he brings up the oft-delayed mediation sessions. After a few more overruled objections, he finally gets to Katniss.
"Mr. Mellark, can you please tell us how you know the defendant?"
The shift in Peeta's expression may be imperceptible to others, but Katniss feels a flood of warmth as his eyes land on hers. He keeps his smile neutral and his gaze returns to Plutarch. "I've known Katniss Everdeen since we were five. We went to school together, from kindergarten through high school."
Plutarch tents his fingers. "I see. And in the twelve years or so that you went to school with Ms. Everdeen, did you two ever date?"
"No, we did not."
"Did you want to date her?"
"Objection!" calls Seneca.
"On what grounds?" Plutarch volleys back.
Judge Templesmith bangs his gavel twice. "Mr. Crane, I'm tiring of your excessive need to object to everything that comes out of counsel's mouth. Be a little more discriminatory with your motions, please. Mr. Heavensbee, please keep your line of questioning pertinent to the present case."
"Your Honor, it's necessary that I address Ms. Beauregard's claim that Mr. Mellark had been in love with Ms. Everdeen for years."
"Very well. Objection overruled," Judge Templesmith barks. "Continue, Mr. Heavensbee. Answer the question, Mr. Mellark."
Peeta bobs his head once. "I absolutely had a crush on Ms. Everdeen that started when I was quite young."
Katniss hides her smile. Peeta had told her this story on the night of the gala, as they were drifting off to sleep in each other's arms after their intense lovemaking. She hadn't believed him at first when he insisted he had liked her since they were in kindergarten, but the details he relayed were so precise that he convinced her that he really had noticed her from the beginning.
"Objection!" Seneca interjects again.
"Answer the question, Mr. Mellark. If Mr. Heavensbee wants more than that, he'll need to rephrase."
"I'm sorry, Your Honor. Yes, I wanted to date her."
"But you dated other girls in high school?"
"Mr. Mellark, before you had breakfast in the diner where the defendant worked, when was the last time you had seen her?"
"The night of our high school graduation."
"And you did not see her again until that morning when you promised her half of your lottery ticket, correct?"
"That is correct."
Plutarch nods and continues to ask Peeta very carefully worded inquiries about how it felt seeing Katniss again, and he gets Peeta to affirm that Katniss was not the reason he filed for divorce. Then Plutarch diverts his questioning to the night of the gala. She knits her brows in confusion, wondering where her lawyer is going with this. She glances at Seneca Crane, who looks like he's itching to spring out of his seat again at any moment.
"Mr. Mellark, your ex-wife approached you for a dance at this gala, yes?"
"And you relented to that, did you not?
"Can you tell us what she said to you while you were dancing?"
Peeta takes a breath, and Katniss watches his eyes dart over to where Glimmer sits. For the first time, Katniss thinks Peeta's ex wavers in her smug expression. Her mouth twists and her eyes harden.
"Glimmer told me that I was a starter marriage."
"Could you explain to us what that means?" Plutarch prompts.
"Objection! Calls for Speculation!"
Plutarch gives Seneca a patronizing, saccharine smile. "I'm merely asking for the witness's lay interpretation of what the plaintiff meant when she used that expression. It's not one most would be privy to."
The judge nods. "Overruled."
Peeta smiles humorlessly, and Katniss's stomach plummets as she listens to him explaining what Glimmer meant by the term. She's shocked that Glimmer could be so patently cruel to flat out tell him that she had entered their marriage with no intention of staying in it for the long haul. How can anyone be so vicious to someone he or she supposedly loved? She glares at Glimmer, who doesn't have the decency to appear ashamed; her expression is back to one of haughty indifference. Katniss clenches her fists so tightly that when she unfurls them a moment later her palms both bear the imprints of her fingernails. She would love to get out of her seat, walk across the aisle, and slap the bitchy look right off Glimmer's face.
But even more than that she wants to give Peeta a hug, a passionate kiss, and tell him she loves him—in front of everyone.
"Thank you, Mr. Mellark. No further questions." Plutarch ambles back to his seat beside Katniss, and he winks. She smiles wanly then cuts her eyes across the aisle, waiting for Seneca Crane to stand for his cross-examination.
Seneca's dark eyes are slits and his lips are a thin line. Her stomach roils uneasily, and she looks back to Peeta. Her nerves settle a little when she sees that calm confidence still etched all over his features and evident in his posture.
Seneca's fingers toy with his odd beard, and he looks as if he's contemplating some major life-changing decision. He stands, clears his throat, and says haltingly, "Ah, no questions for the witness, Your Honor." Katniss is shocked, but she doesn't miss the reproachful glare he gives his client as he sits down. Glimmer examines a fingernail and avoids her lawyer's gaze.
Judge Templesmith seems a little surprised as well, but he nods and says, "Very well. Mr. Heavensbee, call your next witness."
"The Defense calls Ms. Katniss Everdeen to the stand."
She discreetly wipes her hands on her skirt, willing herself not to fall as she stands and crosses to take the seat just moments ago vacated by Peeta. She sucks in a breath and plasters a smile on her face and prays she looks as confident as he did, in spite of the tractor-trailer rumbling through her chest.
Plutarch gives her a warm, sympathetic smile, and he begins by reestablishing the circumstances of how she knew Peeta, how he came to promise her the partial winnings of the lottery ticket, and how she started working for him at the restaurant. She recounts the incident from high school with the biology paper and getting fired from Cray's. She finds herself getting a little more at ease with each answer. And it also helps that Seneca's head is down, furiously scrawling on his legal pad, and he's not objecting to everything left and right, as he did during Peeta's testimony.
"Ms. Everdeen, once you began spending more time with him, did you develop feelings for Mr. Mellark?"
She nods automatically. "I did."
"And were you aware of the discord in Mr. Mellark's marriage?"
"Peeta, uh, Mr. Mellark made the problems in his marriage clear to me when we met to discuss the legality of the lottery ticket."
"Ms. Everdeen, were you present when the plaintiff was served with divorce papers?"
"I was not."
"Were you present when the plaintiff arrived at your place of employment to confront Mr. Mellark?"
"Objection, hearsay," Seneca calls.
"Overruled, Mr. Crane. Counsel merely asked the witness if she was present. Answer the question, Ms. Everdeen."
"I was," she replies. "We were not yet open for business. I had to unlock the door for her when she arrived."
"And how would you describe the plaintiff's behavior when she entered the restaurant?"
She hesitates. She's pretty sure it's not in good taste to say Glimmer acted like a crazy bitch when she burst through the door that morning. "She was furious. She yelled some things at me that I can't repeat in court. And at that point I picked up the phone and called Mr. Mellark's office so he could come to the front and speak with her." There. That's as concise and direct and safe as she can get. And since Seneca Crane offers no objection, she assumes she's answered sufficiently.
"Did you hear the plaintiff threaten Mr. Mellark?"
She meets Peeta's eyes, and he gives her a slight bob of his head. "I did," she affirms.
"Ms. Everdeen, have you and Mr. Mellark been intimate?"
"I'll rephrase," Plutarch says quickly. "Ms. Everdeen, have you and Mr. Mellark engaged in sexual intercourse?"
She avoids Peeta's gaze this time in order to keep the color off her cheeks. "We have." It's so tempting to add a little dig at Glimmer and mention just how much sex they've been having, but she stays quiet.
"Did you have sexual intercourse prior to Mr. Mellark filing for divorce?"
"We did not," she asserts.
"Thank you, Ms. Everdeen. Your witness, Mr. Crane."
Her nerves hum to life when Seneca Crane approaches and scrutinizes her carefully, as if she were a specimen under a microscope.
"Ms. Everdeen, you say you and my client's husband did not have sex until after the divorce papers were filed. But did you have any other intimate contact prior to that?"
Plutarch snorts and calls, "Objection. Ambiguous."
Seneca smiles condescendingly. "Your Honor, counsel's previous question only referenced sex, and he was told to be more specific in said inquiry. My question is not limited to sexual contact. Intimate contact can be any number of things."
Judge Templesmith looks thoughtful. "Overruled."
Katniss looks down at her hands and thinks about all the times she and Peeta flirted with crossing that line before they finally slept together the night of the gala. She certainly fantasized about him enough early on. Judge Templesmith gently interrupts her internal monologue to prompt her to answer the question.
She remembers their first kiss outside her apartment so vividly. What she doesn't remember as clearly was the timing of it. Had Peeta dropped off the papers before that night he kissed her to fool Cato into thinking they were on a date? He had, hadn't he?
"Ms. Everdeen, answer the question," the judge says, a stern warning in his eyes.
"We…yes, I mean, yes, we kissed before the night of the gala. But it was still after the papers were filed," she blurts.
"Move to have the latter part of the witness's answer stricken," Seneca appeals to the judge. "I did not ask her when said intimate contact occurred."
Judge Templesmith actually rolls his eyes. "Motion denied. Proceed, Mr. Crane."
Seneca's eyes flash. When he says he has no further questions for her, Plutarch asks for a redirect and has Katniss firmly establish the timeline of her relationship with Peeta. Seneca remains quiet while she reiterates that Peeta had already filed for divorce prior to their first kiss, and when Plutarch is satisfied, the judge dismisses Katniss from the stand.
She exhales slowly, relief inundating her to the point that she very nearly starts shaking again. As she returns to her seat, she can see Glimmer and Seneca talking heatedly. She feels Glimmer sporadically aiming poisonous glares in her direction, but Katniss keeps her eyes forward.
"Defense rests, Your Honor," Plutarch declares.
"Very well. Mr. Crane, call your first witness, please."
Seneca rakes a hand through his styled hair, mussing it considerably. He cuts his eyes to Glimmer, glances down at his legal pad, and rubs his nose. Katniss watches his fingers tap feverishly against the table, and he appears conflicted. After another furtive peek at his client, he stands and clears his throat. "Your Honor, I'd like to ask for a brief recess to confer with my client."
"Very well," the judge concedes.
"What's going on?" Katniss whispers to Plutarch. His phone is already in hand, and he's scrolling through his emails.
"Seneca's shitting his pants. We gave him nada to work with. Just like Peeta has been saying, you two did nothing wrong, and Glimmer's claim is garbage." He lifts his eyes to her and grins, then looks back down at the phone.
She presses her lips together and twists slightly in her chair to face Peeta. He leans forward in his seat, gives her a brilliant smile that turns her insides to jelly, and she reads his lips as he mouths something about not being able to wait until tonight to celebrate. She feels another burst of heat in her belly, and she quickly diverts her eyes to avoid her face turning crimson.
The gavel raps twice, and the courtroom quiets. "Mr. Crane?" the judge prompts.
Seneca sighs, and there's defeat in his voice as he declares, "I have no witnesses to call. We rest."
Whispers ripple through the courtroom, and Katniss can tell from the perplexed expression on Judge Templesmith's face that he is startled by the pronouncement. Seneca continues to look beleaguered as he takes his seat, and Plutarch nudges Katniss.
"Congratulations. It's over," he boasts quietly.
"Why isn't he having Glimmer testify?" she asks.
Plutarch smirks. "I don't think it's his choice. Seneca isn't stupid. Without her testimony, and with no evidence presented, he has nothing. He knows they've lost, no doubt about it."
"So you think she…?" Katniss begins, and Plutarch nods.
"It's absolutely her pulling back. For starters, we didn't give her the salacious details of the clandestine affair that she was likely counting on. And more so, I'd wager she doesn't want to answer my questions, not after that whole "starter marriage" comment. She knows sitting up there would strip away any last threads of public sympathy she's clinging to." He smirks again. "This is in the bag, darlin'. Case dismissed." He shuffles his hands back and forth, mocking like he's dusting them off.
In spite of Plutarch's confidence, she can't feel one hundred percent satisfied yet. She won't be, not until she hears the judge say it. And even then, the lawsuit being dismissed is only the first step in what Katniss fears could be a lengthy attack on her and Peeta's future. Now that she's so close to happiness with him, the dormant pessimist in her is just waiting for something to go wrong.
Seneca's closing is so brief that she misses all but the last few sentences in the midst of her daydreaming. She listens more vigilantly when Plutarch starts talking. She has to admit that even if the jovial man weren't her attorney, she'd be easily swayed by his words, slathered in that thick Southern drawl. While he speaks longer than Seneca Crane did, Plutarch doesn't belabor the facts either. His closing can't last more than two or three minutes.
The courtroom falls quiet again as Judge Templesmith folds his hands and scans the papers in front of him. He then glances up and purses his lips. Katniss is shocked when he states that he's prepared to render his ruling.
"Already?" she whispers to Plutarch.
He nods. "Hollywood likes to make it all dramatic for you people. But there's no point in dragging out a ruling on a black and white case."
Judge Templesmith begins, "I have never been in favor of the 'alienation of affection' tort. In all my years on the bench I have yet to see one successfully argued. Mr. Crane, you will not be the first. There are simply no grounds to charge Ms. Everdeen with the willful destruction of Ms. Beauregard and Mr. Mellark's marriage. The plaintiff offered no evidence to support such a claim." His eyes go directly to Glimmer. "Young lady, perhaps in the future you should think twice before you waste everyone's time with such a foundationless lawsuit. This case is dismissed, with prejudice. Mr. Heavensbee, please type up a Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and an Order for me and have it filed with the Clerk no later than one week from today." He pauses and offers a sardonic smile. "Though I suspect it will take you no time at all with how few facts there actually were."
Plutarch pushes back his chair, hauls Katniss to her feet, and pats her on the back, pumping her fist animatedly with his other hand. "I told ya! Congratulations, sweetheart!"
Before she can even thank Plutarch, she senses Peeta approaching. She turns just as he opens his arms and folds her into his arms. She nestles against his sturdy chest, and he caresses her back.
"I told you it would all be okay," he murmurs, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I told you." The intimate smile that he gives her makes her wish she could lean up and kiss him. But the telltale clicks of cameras and cell phones and the clamor of the reporters' voices remind her that they're not alone. No matter how much this ruling affirms she was no home wrecker, and in spite of Peeta's insistences that they have nothing to hide, she wants to be classy in her triumph. The last thing they need is photos of them sucking face plastered all over the newspapers and tabloids. The court of public opinion is unpredictable and fickle.
Plutarch clears his throat and grins at them. "I'll handle the vultures," he offers, thumbing towards the reporters who linger nearby. "You two go on, get out of here."
"There's nothing else that needs to be done?" Katniss asks cautiously.
"I'll take care of everything, darlin'." He looks over her head to Peeta. "You'll be in touch about that other thing, right?"
Peeta's fingers clutch her hip suggestively as he nods and replies, "It's next on my to-do list, Plutarch."
Feeling a little brazen, she leans up and whispers into his ear, "I thought I was next on your to-do list."
"Oh, you are," he whispers back, his voice thick with promise. She toys with the buttons on his shirt and then slides his tie up and down between her forefinger and thumb.
"Then I should use the restroom before we go, okay?"
Peeta nods. "Don't be too long." His eyes gleam dangerously, and current sizzles in her veins. Katniss says her goodbyes to Plutarch and Leevy, thanking him profusely, and heads to the ladies' room.
The bathroom is empty, save for one occupied stall. When she's finished, she approaches the sinks, pausing to check her appearance in the mirror. She has to smile at the pink flush to her cheeks from the implications of celebrating with Peeta.
Just as she turns on the faucet and reaches for the soap, an audible gagging sound comes from the first stall. Katniss wrinkles her nose as she lathers her hands. The gagging resumes, this time louder and longer. She shudders. Vomit is not something she has ever coped with well. She was always the squeamish one growing up. Prim was the one with the strong stomach for blood and guts (one of the many reasons Katniss is so confident that her sister will make an excellent doctor). And when she was working at Cray's any time that small children had thrown up at her tables, she had fled the scene of the crime immediately, letting the busboys handle the mess and tipping them extra for their troubles.
She washes the suds from her hands, and as she's pulling a paper towel from the dispenser, the flush of a toilet precedes the stall door banging open. Glimmer steps out. Her eyes land on Katniss, and for a fleeting second, there's panic in them before they narrow to arctic slits. Katniss waits for her to launch into some kind of vitriolic verbal attack, but Peeta's ex-wife just glares at her hatefully.
Katniss finishes drying her hands, avoiding Glimmer's stare; her stomach coils itself into a painful knot as her brain pieces together the scenario: Glimmer was in that stall. She was the one gagging and likely throwing up. She can feel the malicious gaze piercing her like the tip of a knife as Glimmer takes a spot at the sink beside her. Katniss dares to peek at Glimmer's flat stomach. There's not the tiniest swell beneath the tight fabric of her skirt, but Katniss has to admit she really doesn't know much about pregnancy and when one would even start showing.
"What are you looking at?" Glimmer snaps.
"One of the waitresses at the diner used to get horrible morning sickness," she says quietly, tossing the damp paper towel in the waste bin. "I remember she swore by ginger tablets."
Glimmer turns off the faucet and her mouth twists cruelly. "I don't need your advice."
Katniss ignores her nastiness. She's not going to let this bitter woman get the best of her this time. "Drinking ginger ale might have the same effect. You could try that if you can't find the tablets." She turns on her heel, not bothering to stay to listen to Glimmer's reply. As she reaches for the bathroom door, she thinks she might be a little nauseous herself. Peeta may be convinced that his ex-wife is faking it, but she has the terrible feeling that Glimmer is indeed pregnant.
She takes a deep breath and walks back into the hallway, trying to subdue the uneasiness clawing at her stomach. Peeta's eyes find her like a beacon, and the adoring smile he aims at her instantly melts away the tension knotting her stomach muscles. She strides towards him and lets him wind his arm around her waist.
"You okay?" he asks gently, tipping her chin up. "You look like you've seen a ghost." His eyes flit away and he glimpses over her shoulder in time to see Glimmer stalk out of the bathroom. She scowls at them.
It's then Katniss notices that Seneca Crane is still loitering about. He walks over to Glimmer, places a hand on the small of her back, and whispers to her. She throws one last dark look over her shoulder at Katniss, then one at Peeta, before Seneca steers her away.
Peeta glares at his ex's retreating form. "Did she say something to you again?"
"Katniss." His voice is a warning. She shivers when he runs his palms up and down her arms. "Tell me. Please. You have no reason to protect her."
She presses her lips together so firmly a faint pulse of pain radiates through them as she prepares to divulge what transpired in the restroom. "She didn't say anything to me, Peeta. It's…I…I heard her throwing up."
"Oh," he says flatly. The anguish that seeps into his beautiful eyes tugs at her heart. "You're sure it was her?"
"We were the only two in there," she replies.
He's quiet for several moments. His lips round and go slack repeatedly, as if each time he formulates a thought it dissipates before he can utter it. Or perhaps he doesn't want to give a voice to it.
And then abruptly his face breaks into that smile she loves so much. He kisses her softly. "C'mon. Let's get out of here. She's not going to taint this for us." He links their fingers together and leads her down the stairs and out of the building.
Thankfully the media seems to have dispersed and they have a clear path to his car. As he reaches for her door handle, he traps her body against the warm metal and glass and a tremor skitters through her. "I can see your pretty little mind racing a mile a minute," he chides. "But I want you to do me a favor: Stop thinking about Glimmer. Stop thinking altogether." He kisses her forehead. "I have the perfect way for you to clear your head. I took it upon myself to make you an appointment at the spa in the hotel—"
She hasn't even parted her lips to offer a protest; his finger against them quiets her. He shakes his head. "Don't argue with me. You are going to go relax and be pampered for a little while. Get your muscles nice and loose for me." His fingers linger on the lower swell of her lip as she reddens, and he chuckles. "I'm going to head to Thirteen-12 for a bit, get a few things taken care of, and I'll be back to the room by five or so. Then we'll go to dinner. Does that sound like a plan?"
It sounds perfect, truly, but she hadn't thought to bring any particularly fancy dresses with her from her apartment. When she informs him that they'll need to swing by there again, Peeta nods in agreement.
As they settle in their seats and Peeta starts his car, he suddenly reaches across the console and cradles her cheek, sending a bolt of electricity ratcheting down her spine. How is it the smallest touches from this man set her ablaze so easily?
He leans closer and hovers inches from her lips. "When I get to the restaurant I'm calling my realtor. My bid on that house is going in today, and with any luck, it won't be much longer that you and I will be shuttling back and forth between apartments and hotel rooms. Today is just the first hurdle cleared. I'm so ready to start my life with you, Katniss."
She closes her eyes as the softest pressure of his mouth on hers makes her sigh with pleasure. He draws back almost immediately, his eyes seeking a response. She doesn't give a damn who might be watching through the windshield when she tugs him back to her, crushing their lips together, letting her mouth speak her agreement without ever saying a word.