Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games or any of the characters associated with the Hunger Games. I would be on my own private island with no way to communicate with the outside world if I did.
Author's Note: I know, I know, you guys are going to kill me for posting a story before I've updated SOAS! I'm sorry. I have not been able to focus on ANYTHING writing wise except this story line. It's been stuck in my head for months and I'm well aware I'm a moron for posting another chapter story without finishing the other one. But I promise to update SOAS before I update this story, so I'm hoping with-in the next few weeks I will have a chapter for SOAS out, as well as the next installment of this. I know, I'm a bad author! Sorry! If you have a similar plot line to this story, my apologies, I bare no injustice or malice. I will do my best to give credit or change plot points as need be, if it comes down to it. Thank you.
Title: It Used To Be So Easy
Pairings: Katniss/Peeta; Madge/Gale; Delly/Thom; Clove/Cato(With other pairings along the way)
Backstory: It's an AU fic, set in modern times; the setting is NYC and the fictional town of Panem, Pennsylvania. This chapter is a little rocky, but more of the past and Katniss' logic will unfold as the story unfolds. (There will be cursing and most likely eventual lemons)
Plot: Katniss Everdeen had been trying to break free from the chains of fate for as long as she could remember. She wanted to escape a life of working at the family drug store and living a life sentence in her small home-town. So when the opportunity to go to college in New York fell into her lap she ran with it, never to look back. Ten years later, however, she decides to face the fate she deemed unworthy and all the people she left behind. It's no surprise when she sees her high school sweetheart (and the love of her life) Peeta Mellark still in Panem working at the family bakery. But now he has a secret that she never dreamed possible. Was the mistake leaving her fate behind or is it returning home? And, she's not saying she's a dreamer, but is it possible to have the best of both worlds now, ten years later?
August 18th, 2001
"I just want to make sure you have everything." His voice is drowning in sadness. His blue eyes, normally full of mirth and candy hearts, are empty. His hands, usually warm and comforting, are cool and clammy.
I gently move and give him a soft peck, his lips are chapped, broken.
"Peeta, I'll be back for Thanksgiving. That's only three months. And we'll talk every day. I'll even write." I try to give him my brightest smile, but he looks so miserable I feel something shut off in me.
"I'm happy you're going to your dream school and you're finally getting out of this town, I just wish," he sighs. This has been our favorite conversation topic for months now, ever since I was accepted into NYU and he wasn't. "I'm just going to miss you."
A train whizzes behind us, passing the platform we've been standing on for half an hour. We lived in a small town just outside of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The train ride to New York was only about seven hours. It was far enough to get my freedom, but close enough to come home (not that I had any intention of coming home).
Peeta and I had been together since seventh grade. Not officially, of course, that came around tenth grade, but we were always together; best friends to the end. He had gotten a full ride to the University of Pittsburg and I had gotten a scholarship to NYU. My grandfather was footing the rest of necessary funds for me to attend the school.
It was the first time, since kindergarten, that Peeta and I wouldn't be with each other.
My biggest dream since my father had passed away had been getting out of Panem. The town was minuscule. It consisted of less than 2,000 people, all of whom knew each other. Secrets were not a norm in our daily lives. And as much as I would miss my sister and Peeta, I needed freedom. For too long I had felt suffocated and confined, being groomed to take over my family's store. I was chained to a fate that had been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
Not anymore though. In less than ten minutes my train would be here and I would be out of Panem, for good. I would be able to have my own destiny.
I look back to Peeta; his eyes are still watching the long gone train.
"You know, you can reapply to NYU at the end of the year." My hand moves to his chest, his heart beat rages under it.
"Kat, you know I can't, not with my mom sick." He sighs again. It's another conversation topic that has been discussed one too many times. "Just promise you won't forget me."
"Peeta, I could never forget you." I wrap my arms around him, breathing the sweet scent of vanilla and cinnamon into my lungs. "When we're done with school you'll move up to New York and you'll be a graphic artist and I'll be a journalist for the New York Times and we'll be happy."
Even as the words fall from my lips I know the severity of how false the promise is. How living happily ever after is so far-fetched if it's so easy for me to leave him now.
My thoughts are reflected in his eyes and I feel the truth of them sting my body.
I feel the train come to a stop behind me, the air rustling my shirt and hair. I throw myself into one last hug with Peeta.
"I'll call you when I get there."
He lets go first, taking a step back as I turn to walk into the train.
"I love you, Katniss." I think about turning back, but I can't.
I won't handle seeing him one last time. I'll lose my nerve. I tighten my grasp on the railing and hoist myself into the train car. I don't bother wiping the tears from my eyes.
June 15th, 2011
I'm staring out of the Starbucks window. It's almost three in the afternoon, but the streets are crowded with people wandering up and down, taking advantage of the shade from the giant buildings huddling next to the sidewalks.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" My eyes move from the window, to my coffee, to the direction of her voice. She makes her way over to me, her black hair flowing wildly, her green eyes apologetic, and her round belly incorrectly hidden under her white tank top. "I swear to god, Cameron is such a handful, I thought my mother was going to walk out on me."
She takes a seat across from me at the table, giving me a bright smile.
"I'm not going." Her smile turns into a twisted shift of the lips at my declaration.
"How many times are we having this conversation, Katniss? I know I told you I understood, but I need a number now. You and Finnick are starting the drive down there tomorrow morning. There is no turning back now." She clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "Cato told me you've been moping around the office the past two days."
I make a face and lean into my chair. "I can't do it. I don't know why I agreed to go in the first place."
"I would assume it was because you wanted to see everyone after ten years." Her voice is saturated in a knowing, almost condescending tone. I growl at her slightly, earning an eye roll and a wave from her hand. "It's been ten years since you've seen anyone from your hometown, I think it's time you bury the hatchet."
"It's been too long. I'm sure I've been ostracized by now." I take a slip of my coffee, looking out the window. I hear her sigh as she moves to line up to order her drink.
It's at least five minutes before she returns, a venti iced drink in hand.
"Madge obviously thinks well of you if she invited you to her wedding." She states evenly, almost as if she's speaking to her young son.
"I think you're just nervous because you'll have to see him." We make eye contact and the façade is instantly lost. I drop my head to the table and moan.
"I can't do it. I can't see him. Clove, I left him, I left him in our going nowhere town. I left him so I wouldn't end up like my mother." I feel her hand rub my arm which has been flung across the table in my miniature tantrum.
"Don't you think it's about time you saw the love of your life?" Her voice is soothing. Now I know she's using the same tone she uses as a mother.
"He is NOT the love of my life!" I'm aware I sound like her son when we go to the toy store.
"Yeah, no, of course not. Because you've seen so many men since Peeta. He's, of course, not the love of your life." Her hand moves from my arm. "Katniss, stop being a baby. You are not in high school anymore. You and Peeta are almost thirty, I'm sure you two can be mature for one night."
"I'll be there for two weeks!" I twist my head, so my cheek is laying over the cool surface. My eyes are focused over a small girl, who is looking at me like I'm crazy.
"So, what? I remember when I went to my high school reunion. You think it was easy for me? I was a bitch in high school." I pick my head up to look at her.
"Didn't you get drunk and sing Katy Perry's 'I kissed a girl and I liked it'? Cato had to carry you to the taxi." She nods her head.
"And if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have that story to tell, would I?" Clove shakes her head a little. "I showed all of them! Most likely to commit a crime, HA, more like most likely to be awesome!"
"Your Facebook page was filled with YouTube videos that were uploaded by your classmates." I slowly bring myself into a more adult position.
"The point is, Katniss," Clove clears her throat, her strict mommy voice coming into play. "Is that I didn't want to go, but I decided that I was going to face my fears and face all the people that had never given me any credit."
"I was the one that left home because I thought everyone and everything in my small town was going nowhere." I shake my head.
Clove doesn't say anything. She takes a sip of her drink and looks at me for a long time. I'd be lying if I said that it made me uncomfortable. Clove was my best friend, my closest confidant. She had taken the empty place of Madge after I had become friends with Cato in our History of Modern Language class, junior year. I was her maid of honor and Cameron's god-mother.
I was everything to Clove that I had promised to be to Madge when we were too young to know better.
Cato and Clove were a part of my New York family. The family I had created to take place of the family I left behind in Panem.
"Tell me, why did you want to leave so badly?" I look at her, my eyes narrowing slightly. This was a conversation that had been discussed before. It had been discussed many times.
"You know why, Clove. Don't psychoanalyze me." I growled once again as my shoulders slumped. Her stare begins leaving little holes in my skin. "He died when I was ten. My mother was broken, useless, and invalid. My grandfather picked up the slack where he could, but the duties of the store and Prim and life fell on me. And everyone had known him, and us, everyone knew everything. I was going to be stuck in Panem for the rest of my life. Just like my mother, and her mother, and her mother before that. Look at Prim, she has all the potential in the world, and she refuses to leave Panem and the safety bubble that surrounds it. I wanted to become something other than Katniss Everdeen, the mischievous girl on Seam Street." I saw my childhood pass before my eyes.
Gale, Thom, and me sneaking cigarettes behind the high school. Peeta and me stealing kisses when he had to close his family's bakery. Madge dragging me shopping as she looked for the perfect party dress for whatever function her father was throwing. My mother sitting in her rocking chair for days at a time, staring at nothing. Prim racing ahead of me to greet Peeta and his brother. Gale and me getting busted for breaking into the old library to drink and smoke. Madge scolding me for hot wiring Old Sal's truck, the one that broke down if you went faster than thirty miles per hour. The family's drug store, the one I was to inherit after I got my degree.
"My mother stayed in Panem for my father. She worked at the store until she had me. That was my fate. Marry Peeta, have a baby, raise it, and be happy living a quiet and peaceful life." I shrug.
"You wanted Peeta to come to New York with you." Her voice sounds far away.
"His mom got cancer our senior year. She's ok now, at least Prim tells me she's ok, but at the time he couldn't leave her or the business. His dad needed so much help and his brothers were building their own lives." I shrug again, taking a sip of my coffee. "I was supposed to visit, but I never did. I was so busy with classes and the swim team. Even when Prim came up, it was crazy."
"Why haven't you visited now?" I close my eyes.
"Because I didn't want to see how much better he was without me."
June 16th, 2011
I walk into the kitchen to see Finnick cleaning up a broken mug on the ground and Johanna sitting at our small table with Finnick's cup in front of her.
"Well good morning sunshine." Johanna gives me a toothy grin and goes to grab the coffee.
"I'm sorry, if we woke you. Your friend here broke a mug because she's too impatient." Finnick gives Johanna a look, moving into a standing position and turning towards the garbage.
"Blah, blah, blah." Johanna shrugs and takes a large gulp of coffee. "You guys are leaving in a couple of hours, right?"
I stare at her for a hard minute before looking to the microwave. It's not even eight.
"Uh, yeah, I figured by ten or ten thirty. I told my mom we'd be there before five." I clear my throat, moving to grab a mug and some coffee.
"I am so excited for this vacation." Both Johanna and I look at Finnick. His lips are in a wide smile. "Two weeks away from New York, and New York noises, and New York smells. It's just country roads, air, and people."
I shake my head and savor the black liquid as it floods my throat.
"Is this what it's like to have a thankless job as a high school teacher? You're excited to go to a small town in the middle of nowhere?" Johanna makes a face. "I'm happy that couldn't get time off."
"I'm sure it helped that you weren't invited. I'm only allowed to bring one guest to the wedding." She waves me off as Finnick chuckles.
"I think it'll be fun. I'll get to see where my little Katniss grew up." He pinches my cheek as he walks past me towards the living room. I slap his back, earning another chuckle.
"You ready to see everyone? I mean, Prim's the only one that you've had any real contact with." Johanna pulls her leg up on the chair with her, giving me a curious eye.
"I talk to my mom at least once a week, Jo. And I'm sure it'll be nice to see everyone. I haven't seen them since the summer after graduation. Madge and Gale are getting married, that's a big thing." Considering they hated each other when we were in high school. Obviously I had missed a whole lot.
"Can't blame you. When I left Seattle I never looked back either. It was all blue skies and sunshine the way I thought about it."
"You went to visit your cousin in April. You stayed for three weeks." I take a sip of my coffee. "What never looking back are you referring too?"
"It's not like I enjoyed myself."
"Uh huh." I roll my eyes. I was tired of the pep-talks.
"Was it because you thought you wouldn't be able to leave him again?" I don't answer Johanna, I simply stare at her, my eyes widening against my better judgment. She nods her head very slowly. "Prim said that's why she thought you didn't want to visit, because if you saw him you wouldn't be able to leave a second time."
"Prim has no right to think that. I didn't visit because there was never any time." My voice is guarded, even to my own ears.
"And yet you're going for two weeks." A buried hatred, which I had for Johanna when we first met, trudges towards the surface.
"It's different. We've all moved on with our lives." He was probably married. Probably had taken over the business years ago. Not that it mattered. He was a high school sweetheart. Nothing more.
Though the twist in my heart suggested differently. The twist in my heart, that seemed to appear when I was on a date or trying to love someone else, told a different story than the words leaving my lips.
"Of course, it's totally different. You're older and stronger. You're just going to celebrate with old friends and make amends for old time's sake." The desire to slap her swam through my veins. "I was just asking. I truly hope you and Finnick have a lovely time." Her lips moved to a Cheshire-esque smile.
"Bite me, Mason." I snap, moving back towards my bedroom.
"Don't act like you don't love me!"
I glance over to Finnick who is glued to the window. We were ten minutes outside of Panem. My hands were tight around the steering wheel, with the desire to turn the car around pumping through every nook of my body.
"I don't know why you're so scared." Finnick states, his eyes leaving the window to throw me a 'calm your ass' look.
"I left with the intention of coming home. Everyone expected me to come home. I completely stopped communicating with all my friends." I shake my head. "I just, I don't think they'll forgive me."
"If you're being invited to a wedding, I feel there is forgiveness." I spare him a look.
Please. Madge was my best friend from birth. She's marrying my best friend from high school. Both Madge and Gale were popular, well liked, well known, and had a history with Panem. Small towns don't take that kind of shit lightly. Everyone was invited and everyone was to attend.
We pass the welcome sign into town and I feel my stomach drop as we head directly on to Main Street.
"Dude! It looks like we've gone back in time!" I eye Finnick who is wide eyed and smiling. At least someone is getting some form of enjoyment from this. I turn from him as he stares out with his palms to the glass at the various shops that line the street. "Are we in the fifties?"
I glance over to Sal's Ice Cream Parlor and Diner. It hasn't changed since she opened it forty years ago.
"They live modest lives." And, yes, as far as looks went, we were back in the peaceful pleasant times of the fifties.
I made sure to pull all my hair up and wear a pair of Clove's giant sunglasses. I wanted to be stealth, hidden.
I drive slowly down Main Street, take a left at Warren Road, and then a right at the Dunkin' Doughnuts to The Cartwright's Bed & Breakfast, which was where Finnick and I were staying for the two weeks.
Putting the car in park I looked over to Finnick, eyes wide and bright at the picture perfect little mini-mansion. It doesn't even shock me when he flies out and starts snapping away on his cell phone camera.
"This is adorable." His voice is higher than normal and I'm regretting my choice of not allowing Johanna to come with me instead.
I walk past Finnick and through the white iron fence, moving with grace to the front door. I can only imagine seeing Delly Cartwright at the desk, her overly bright smile shining over the small foyer.
I take a deep breath, push the glasses away from my face, and open the door, pausing as I see Mrs. Cartwright standing behind a polished marble desk, which takes up the majority of the entrance. The dark marble blends well with the deep mahogany floors and rich colored walls.
The short woman raises her head to the sounds of the door opening. She stares at me for a few seconds before her mouth opens into a wide smile.
"Oh, my heavens, tell me it's true!" She moves from around the desk, taking my face into her hands. All personal space is lost. "Little Katniss Everdeen is standing in my foyer! And look at you baby girl, prettiest sunflower in the whole damn city!" Just as I open my mouth, she blinks and a river of tears begin to pour from her eyes. "Your mama told me you were doing well in that big ole city, but I never imagined the day I'd see you here again!"
"Hi, Auntie Darla." I mumble out, forcing a smile on my face, which is being squished.
"Jonny said that you had made arrangements to stay with us, but," a sob escapes her mouth. This was how Mrs. Cartwright was. Emotional. She was my mother's best friend since they were in diapers, so she had always felt like she was a second mother to me.
I shift gently from her hands. "It's wonderful to see you, Auntie Darla. You're looking wonderful, as is the hotel. You made it a little modern."
She takes a deep breath, her lips quivering with the last of her tears. She looks around. "We renovated a few years ago, after Delly got married. We figured the newlyweds would want to take over something a lil more their generation." She chuckles.
"I'm sorry," I lean closer to her. "Delly got married?"
"Last year, dear, to Thom! She's expecting baby number one in four months!" Darla clasps her hands together. "We're so excited! And with Madge getting hitched next weekend, there will be babies everywhere!"
I stare at her, my heart beat erratic. Delly had gotten married to Thom? Prim never mentioned it. My mother never mentioned it. And she was pregnant? What the hell?
"This place is gorgeous! Johanna is totally jealous!" Finnick walks up to us, his hand moving to my shoulder. I try to steady myself, but I can tell he feels my tension.
"Auntie Darla, this is Finnick Odair, he's my friend from New York. He helped with the driving and stuff." I mentally wince as I hear the tremble in my voice.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Darla." Finnick states, using his other hand to shake hands. "This is a lovely establishment you got here."
"Such a darling!" Darla smiles, giving him a bright smile. "You two must be exhausted! Let me get you checked in. Are you going to see your mama, Katniss?"
I nod my head, following her to the desk. "I told Finnick we'd take a walk over to the house, that way he'd see the town and stuff."
"That sounds lovely." Darla gives us a bright smile from behind the counter. She begins typing things in the computer when she suddenly stops and looks up at me. "I'm so happy you're home, Katniss."
I swear tears are going to run down her cheek again. Finnick squeezes my hand, which I have tucked into his. I nod my head and ease myself into a smile.
It's strange how the map of Panem suddenly appears inside my head as Finnick and I walk towards my old house. The town was vast in certain ways, but there was never really any reason to have to drive, not if you had time to spare. Finnick is snapping pictures and looking at everything like a kid in a candy store. Having grown up in the city all his life, small towns were a bit of a tourist attraction to him.
We hadn't run into anyone of importance. I had kept my incognito glasses on and it seemed to do the job of keeping my identity under wraps. But dusk was approaching and I was looking more comical than stealth.
"So, how much longer until we get to your house?" Finnick looked over to a group of girls and gave them a grin. I rolled my eyes at the chorus of giggles.
"We just have to get through this street and then it's the neighborhood to the right. We lived smack down in the middle. If you go left and west, it's a thirty minute walk to the next neighborhood. You have to drive into town from there. It's off Victor Avenue." Finnick nods.
"Is that where Madge and all them live?"
"It's where Madge use to live. Gale lived a few streets from me. Darla said Delly and Thom got an apartment over by Hobbs Station, that's on the other side of town. Panem is basically the three main neighborhoods, with Town being in the middle of everything." I shrug. "Seam Street was more lower middle class, whereas Victor Ave had the upper middleclass. Not that it's a huge difference or anything. It's a little communistic in Panem."
Finnick looks at me as if I have grown a third head. Suddenly, though, he shifts, his nose high in the air. "It smells good."
I pause, smelling the air, breathing in the sweet scent of vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar.
I turn to my left sharply, staring at the fork in the street. At the corner of this particular fork sat a pudgy beige building. It had shiny windows, painted with cupcakes, bread, frosting, and cherries. Above it was a big colorful sign that read 'Mellark Bakery'.
My eyes scan the surrounding area. I had unconsciously walked off of McNabb Road onto Dories Boulevard. I was so use to walking to the bakery from McNabb after school, I didn't even realize my mistake.
It's funny how the years don't make a difference to stubborn and ancient habit.
The scent of my bread (the only bread I would eat when I was younger) fills my lungs like fresh air. I move to cross the street, only to freeze.
"It's the bakery."
Finnick looks at me and then to the pudgy building. "Yes, I got that."
"No." I push my glasses back into my hair. "It's his bakery."
His green eyes sweep across the building. "I guess we're getting some cookies to bring to your mother."
"I'm not going in there!" I practically shout, drawing attention to myself. Finnick, and a few bystanders, give me fleeting looks.
"Fine, I'll go in and get cookies so we don't look like savage animals." Before I can stop him, he's already taken two wide strides towards the fork.
My mouth hangs open as he enters the building with ease. I'm suddenly jealous on how nothing is affecting Finnick. Not the streets, not the town, and most certainly not the building.
I move slowly, not even concentrating on the fact that a car could come barreling down the road. The curb seems to be the line and I refuse to cross it.
I can see various people sitting at the tiny tables dotted at the front of the bakery. They're smiling and talking over cups of coffee, fresh tea, and sharing plates of cookies, breads, and pastries. They, too, are untouched by the memories of times gone by.
My foot steps up, bringing my body with it. A man, no older than I am, is behind the counter. He's leaning on his elbows, flirting with a girl holding a box of treats. His hair is neatly combed back and his shirt sleeves are rolled all the way to his bicep, giving his arms definition. I'm not close enough to see his facial features, but I can picture the blue skies that are his eyes and the golden lashes that always seemed to glitter in the summer. When the sun came out, but didn't stretch too high.
I take another step, curiosity has taken me hostage, and I need to see him better.
I freeze and turn on my heel like an untrained dancer. My heart twists into a knot, pounding against my ribs. I can hear the erratic rhythm in my ears.
Standing, not three feet from me, is a broad shoulder man. His blue eyes are even more blue than I remember. The scrawny appearance of a boy is gone; in its place is the strong arms, a strong chest, and the intimidating posture of a man. Blonde hair, once unruly with curls and youthful charm, is now brushed back. His jaw is accented and clean shaved, giving him the appearance of youth. He's wearing a white button down shirt, the sleeves rolled only to his elbows, a unconscious homage to the school uniform we all once wore.
I feel the air leave my lungs and I almost gasp for oxygen. A strong urge to run begins flowing through my veins, my arms, my legs.
I had wanted to see him over the weekend. Possibly next week. Not today. Not when I hadn't fully accepted that I'm in Panem. The goal was to avoid the bakery at all costs.
My lips part, the desire to talk lingers in the air above me. I resist the urge to move closer to him. His body a stranger to me now.
I shake my head and open my mouth once again, "is it really you?"
Wow. Ten years of planning what I would say to him if I ever saw him again, and I asked Peeta fuckin' Mellark if it was really him or not.
There should be laws.