Katniss fumed silently as she hacked at the branches of the fir tree, roughly throwing the cuttings into a pile beside her. She was grateful for the physical nature of the work; it distracted her and allowed her some relief from the torment of her tumultuous inner thoughts.
She craved distraction. Anything that would stop her from thinking about Peeta and what had happened the last time they had seen each other. Every time her mind tried to go back over that afternoon she found some way to shut it down. She couldn't let herself think about it, because if she did she would be forced to think about Peeta in another woman's arms. That thought was more than she could take. The ferocity in his eyes as he yelled at her and those little foil packets lying spilt across the comforter Hazelle had crafted for them as a wedding gift were images that would remain with her for a long time.
She had been such a hurry to get away from his house that it had been a miracle she hadn't had an accident on the way to the DMV. All she wanted to do was drive straight to her house and find a dark space to crawl into, but she knew she couldn't indulge those types of feelings right now. She needed her car for work and to drive her kids, so she had to suck it up and go sort out her license.
Once she'd put a few miles between her and Peeta's house she'd pulled over, resting her head against the steering wheel, and waited for the adrenaline in her own blood to ebb away and for her hands to stop shaking. She fought against the tears that were never far from her eyes these days, but she refused to let them fall. When she'd sworn she would shed no more tears for Peeta Mellark she'd meant it.
And now her shiny new driving licence rested in her wallet, once again identifying her as Katniss Everdeen. The photo was not very flattering, considering how strained she looked when it was taken. In it her face looked pale, her eyes tired and dull and her lips sore from biting on them.
"Easy there, killer, what did that tree do to you to deserve being mutilated like that? You're supposed to be shaping it, not chopping it up for firewood..." came an amused voice from behind her. "Besides if its firewood you want, my axe would be more efficient."
"I can think of something I'd like to chop off with your axe," Katniss muttered, a picture of a certain part of a certain blond baker's anatomy instantly flashing in her head. She lifted her shears and vigorously loped off another branch with a firm snap.
"Wanna talk about it?" Johanna offered Katniss a bottle of water with one hand and a cigarette with the other.
"There's nothing to talk about." Katniss paused her attack on the tree for a second to look back at Johanna. She accepted the water gratefully, taking a long drink.
"Something is eating at you." Johanna tilted her head down lit her cigarette, taking a deep draw. She sank down into a sitting position against the fence. "You've been in a real shitty mood the last couple of days. Don't think it has gone unnoticed."
"Nothing's eating me," Katniss answered shortly. Not lately anyway, she added silently as she raised the shears again and began working with renewed vigour. "I just haven't been having a very good week, that's all."
"Ex troubles?" Jo quirked an eyebrow knowingly.
"Something like that," Katniss muttered. Her arms were aching from her efforts with the shears, so she let them drop to her side as she raised a tired hand to massage her temple, trying to ward of the inevitable headache she knew was building there.
She hadn't told anyone about her fight with Peeta, and it was eating (nagging? Chipping?) away at her. She couldn't tell Prim—she would go nuts if she knew, and her feisty little sister would probably attack Peeta in his bakery again if Katniss told her what had happened when she last saw him. She'd considered calling Annie, but it felt weird calling her to talk about a fight with Peeta when they were all such close friends. Maybe Annie would let something slip to him and Katniss didn't want that. But she needed to talk to someone. She was going crazy thinking about it.
"Peeta is sleeping with other women," she blurted out.
She heard Jo sigh as she exhaled a long stream of smoke. "Shit. I'm sorry, Katniss. I can relate."
Katniss paused and straightened, wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her gloved hand as she looked down at Johanna. "I didn't know you were divorced."
"I'm not," Jo smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "I managed to dodge that particular bullet. I found out the guy I was going to tie the knot with was cheating on me a few weeks before the wedding."
"Oh." Katniss looked at her new friend with concern. "That must have sucked."
"It did." Jo replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "It sucked even worse when he married her."
Katniss didn't know what to say. She opened her mouth then closed it again, searching for something comforting to say but her mind remained blank. Inwardly she cursed her lack of eloquence.
"Don't worry, Brainless," Jo chuckled, seeing her struggle. "You don't have to say anything. It was a long time ago. I'm over it," she shifted uncomfortably, looking down at the ground and fiddling with the cap on her water bottle. "But seriously, if there is something on your mind, you can talk to me. Your divorce was recent, right? "
"So, what happened? Did he cheat on you?"
Katniss frowned and abandoned any attempt to get back to work. It was clear Jo wasn't going to let her off the hook so she laid the shears down and sank down on the ground beside her. Without asking, Katniss plucked one of Jo's cigarettes from the box lying on the ground between them. Johanna handed her the lighter and waited patiently. She was obviously expecting an answer.
"No. He thinks I cheated on him." Katniss admitted, inhaling deeply on the cigarette.
"Did you?" Jo asked, clearly surprised.
"No." Katniss shook her head. "I didn't cheat. But I did do something that destroyed his trust in me."
"What was that?"
"I put myself and my own needs before us and our family. I was selfish."
"So you fucked up." Jo shrugged nonchalantly and blew a thin stream of smoke into the air. "We all do it sometimes. You couldn't work it out?"
"I wanted to. He didn't."
"Oh. Well, that's a shame."
Katniss just nodded, her gaze falling to her lap.
"So what do you do now to let off steam when he pisses you off?"
"What do you mean, let off steam?" Katniss asked.
"You know…." Johanna prompted, rolling her eyes, "…to vent your frustrations. Get it out of your system. What do you do for kicks? I could tell you've had a rough couple of days, and if your mood this week is anything to go by, you could do with letting loose a little. When was the last time you had some fun? And by fun I mean fun in the shape of a dick," she winked suggestively.
"Johanna!" Katniss coughed, the question catching her off guard as she choked on the smoke she had just inhaled. It caught in her throat, burning her. She could feel her face reddening, and she stubbed out the cigarette in the dirt beside her.
"Okay, okay. Jeez." Johanna laughed. "You're so pure. If you don't want to share, fine. But the way I see it, if he is having fun then I don't see why you shouldn't be getting some… I mean, having some too. When was the last time you did anything exciting?"
Katniss tried to remember. She and Peeta used to make an effort to have date nights regularly before Aran was born, but they rarely dressed up or went out anywhere, unless it was an anniversary or a special occasion. Sometimes they just had dinner with Finnick and Annie or with family. Afterwards, Aran had been too fussy to leave with a sitter for longer than an hour or two at a time, and even date nights at home had started to slide with Peeta's longer hours at the bakery.
"Not since before my youngest was born, I suppose." Katniss sighed. "But that didn't really bother me. I never really enjoyed a big social life. I was happy being at home with my kids and Peeta. Besides, we weren't total stick-in-the-muds. We did have friends over. Peeta liked to cook for us, and his meals were better than most restaurants I've ever been in."
Johanna nodded. "Do you still see them?"
"See who?" Katniss asked.
"The friends. It's just, usually when a couple breaks up, the mutual friends go, too. They fade away when they don't know whose side to take. Makes it awkward."
"Did that happen to you?"
"Yeah. But we're not talking about me. What do you do for company in the evenings now, when you don't have your kids?"
"Netflix?" Katniss shrugged. She didn't want to admit how lonely and boring her evenings were. When she was on her own she usually just made something simple to eat, had a shower, and tried to sleep, though the combination of her nightmares and missing the comfort of Peeta's arms made sleeping hard. "I read, too. And I was thinking of taking up some of my old hobbies. I'm into archery. I thought I'd look for somewhere nearby that I could shoot, or maybe I could offer archery lessons to kids…"
Johanna leaned forward, narrowing her eyes as she scrutinized Katniss carefully. "You're still in love with him, aren't you?" she said slowly.
Katniss stilled. She knew there was no point trying to lie to Johanna. The woman was one of the most insightful people she had ever met, and Katniss knew she would see right through any attempt she made to bullshit her.
Katniss let her chin drop down to her chest as her shoulders sagged, "Is it that obvious?"
"Maybe not to everyone. I've never met your ex, but I can tell how much you miss him." Johanna spoke quietly, and something in her expression made Katniss believe the other woman really did understand.
"Love is weird," Jo sighed, almost as if she were speaking to herself.
A moment of quiet understanding passed between the two women.
"All right, enough moping!" Jo declared, scrambling up from the ground dusting the dirt from her pants. She pointed her finger at Katniss. "I know what you need, Brainless. You need to shake him off. I suggest a girls' night out. Dinner and drinks and then that new club that just opened, The Hob. I've heard it's a lot of fun." Jo grinned wickedly. "We should go, make a night of it. You and me. Madge as well, if she wants to come. How about this weekend?"
"Jo, are you seriously suggesting I go out cruising bars for men with you?" Katniss snorted incredulously.
"No! I'm suggesting I go cruising bars for men while you accompany me. But if something does catch your eye, well, that would just be an added bonus...?" Jo lifted her eyebrows again, suggestively this time, and winked, her wicked grin getting wider.
Katniss laughed, shaking her head. "I really don't think so, Jo, but thanks for the offer. I think I'd rather just stay in and catch up on my Netflix queue or something. It's been a long time since I went clubbing."
"Then it's time we fixed that!" Jo exclaimed. "Oh come on, Katniss, you're divorced, not dead! You're still young and, if I may point out the obvious, extremely fuckable. Don't hide yourself away and write off the possibility of being with another man."
"Jeez, Jo, give me a some time! " Katniss spluttered, a little taken aback. "I'm really not ready to think about being with other men! I don't need that kind of trouble right now..." As if she could ever forget Peeta anyway, but she left that part unsaid.
"Okay. I get that." Jo nodded, her voice becoming softer. "I'm sorry. You're not ready for that yet. But that doesn't mean you can't come out with me. I'll even chase away any guys that hit on you, if that's what you want."
She reached out and poked Katniss' on the shoulder. "But you will have to start living again sometime. Your marriage may be over, but your life isn't. And besides, I could use a wingman. C'mon, please— it'll be fun, what do you say?"
Katniss thought about it. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. She was getting really tired of tagging along with Prim and Rory's weekend plans, despite Prim's assurances that she wasn't imposing, and it was Peeta's turn to spend Saturday with the kids. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to get out of her empty house for a night and do something different.
"Oh, alright then," she conceded. "But only if you promise me that you won't try to push me into dancing with random guys," she eyed Jo fiercely as that wicked grin broke over the other brunette's face again. "I mean it, Jo!"
"Excellent!" Jo ground out her cigarette under her heel, carefully picking up the butts and pocketing them to dispose of later. "I promise it'll be fun. You won't regret it."
"I sincerely hope not."
It didn't take long before Katniss began to regret agreeing to Jo's plan. After making the classic mistake of telling her sister about it, Prim gleefully invited herself along, arriving at Katniss' at 9 am on Saturday morning with coffee and muffins (Starbucks, not Mellarks), declaring that she was taking Katniss shopping for an evening that Prim was rapidly turning into a big deal.
"I'm really excited to meet Jo!" Prim squealed excitedly as she drove them towards the nearest big town. "She sounds like fun. It's good that you are making new friends!"
"Yeah, she's a barrel of laughs," Katniss deadpanned, but Prim chose to ignore her.
"You need to update your look, Katniss. It's time for a new you! First, a new dress, and then some beauty treatments. Seriously—" the petite blonde eyed her sister up and down critically, "—when was the last time you had your eyebrows done?"
"What's wrong with my eyebrows?" Katniss looked offended.
"Nothing that a visit to Beauty Base Zero won't fix, Katniss. It's a one-stop shop!"
"That new salon in Panem? Isn't that a bit extravagant?"
"No Prim, it's too much—"
"Shut up, Katniss and let me do this for you, please?" Prim glared at her. "You practically raised me. Now let me give something back."
"Good afternoon, ladies, and welcome to Beauty Base Zero. My name is Octavia. How can I help you today?" A slightly plump but very fashionable young lady greeted Katniss and Prim as they entered the clearly high-end beauty salon.
Eyeing the other woman's heavily made up face and obviously expensive clothing, Katniss immediately began to feel uncomfortable and just a little bit scruffy in her skinny jeans and scuffed leather boots.
"Good morning, Octavia," Prim greeted brightly. "I'm Primrose Hawthorne, and I booked in for a mani-pedi and hair appointment. This is my sister, Katniss Everdeen."
"Very good," Octavia smiled politely as she referred to a tablet in front of her. "Ah, Ms Everdeen, I see you are booked in for our full remake special today?" she looked over at Katniss, cocking one perfectly groomed eyebrow expectantly.
"I am?" Katniss said in surprise, glaring at Prim.
"Yes, that's correct," Prim confirmed on Katniss' behalf, completely undeterred by the dark look her sister was aiming her way. "Relax, Katniss, you're going to be pampered. Try to enjoy it," she laughed.
As it dawned on her that she'd been set up, Katniss let out a loud huff and rolled her eyes. Prim was clever enough to know she wouldn't create a public fuss in the salon.
"Excellent!" Octavia interjected, diplomatically ignoring the disgruntled look on Katniss' face. She turned and raised her hand, waving to someone over her shoulder. A few moments later, they were joined by another woman, thin and angular, with aqua spiked hair and equally expensive clothing. "Ms Hawthorne, this is Venia, one of our top beauticians. If you'd like to go with her, she will take care of your beauty needs today, and then another member of our team, Flavius, will look after your hair. "
"Thank you, Octavia. I'll see you soon, Katniss," Prim smiled sweetly at her sister and blew her a kiss as she walked away, still smirking, as Katniss glared after her. She'd make her pay later.
Octavia coughed lightly to draw Katniss' attention back to her. "Ms Everdeen, if you'd like to follow me, let's get you into a robe so we can begin. You're very lucky! Cinna will be your personal stylist today. He will see you once your beauty treatments are completed."
Octavia's high heels clicked loudly on the sterile floor as Katniss followed her down a brightly lit hallway into a very comfortably appointed private room.
"What treatments did Prim book me in for exactly?" she muttered, as Octavia handed her a robe and asked her to remove her clothes.
"Oh, Ms Everdeen, you're getting the works! You're going to love it," Octavia gushed. "We call it the full body polish. Just leave everything up to us. When we're done here, Cinna will meet with you to discuss your new look and restyling your hair. Trust me, you're going to feel like a new woman!"
"Restyle my hair?" Katniss squeaked, her hand instantly flying up to clutch at the end of her braid. "I was really only expecting to get a trim today." There was no way she was allowing anything drastic be done to her hair. She was going to kill Prim for putting her on the spot like this.
"Oh wait and see," Octavia said. "By the time Cinna is through with you, you're going to be absolutely gorgeous!"
Thinking it wisest not to resist, Katniss allowed her body to be pulled and pummelled for the next two hours. After an all-over exfoliating body scrub, followed by a full body waxing, a mani-pedi, facial and having her eyebrows tweezed, Octavia finally declared she looked "almost human!" By then, Katniss' skin was tingling and sensitive, but she had to admit it felt better than it had in a long time, smooth and soft to the touch, and her eyebrows did look amazing.
"Now it's time to take you to Cinna," Octavia smiled proudly as she helped Katniss back into her robe and led her into another private room. This one was more like a sitting room, with two red couches facing off over a low table. Natural light streamed in through a large glass window, filtered by a soft gauzy curtain. One wall was dominated by a ceiling-to-floor mirror, and a privacy screen was set up in the corner. The other walls were filled with racks holding a wide selection of clothing, everything arranged neatly by color.
A few moments after Octavia left her, the door opened and slight dark-skinned man entered the room. Katniss eyed him suspiciously. After the high fashion statements of Octavia and Venia, the last thing Katniss had expected was this normal looking man, dressed simply in a black shirt and pants.
"Hello, Katniss. I'm Cinna, your stylist," he introduced himself in soft, but masculine voice.
"Hello," Katniss ventured cautiously.
"Just give me a moment, all right?" he asked as he studied her, taking in every inch of her with his as Katniss began to feel uncomfortable under his gaze, he smiled.
"You have beautiful hair." Cinna moved to take a seat on the sofa opposite Katniss. "I talked to your sister when she booked your appointment with me, and she told me a little about you. I gather that you have reached somewhat of a crossroads in your life?"
"Um, yes, you could say that." Katniss replied, but didn't elaborate further. She looked down at her newly buffed and perfectly shaped nails. For an instant, she couldn't help but think this whole thing was a big waste of time; there was no way nails like that would last, working in a garden nursery. And there was no one in her life to appreciate all this effort anyway.
"Then you came to the right place. Sometimes reinventing ourselves can help us get through these challenges." Cinna gave her a small smile, just the tiniest upturning of his lips, but his eyes were warm and genuine. The kindness Katniss detected in them made her relax instantly back into the sofa, trusting this man without fully understanding why.
"So, Katniss. Tell me how I can help you today." Cinna folded his fingers together as he focused his full attention on her.
"I guess I need you to help me look good," Katniss stuttered. "I'm going out with my sister and my friend tonight."
Cinna laughed quietly. "You already look good, Katniss. I'm here to help you make an impression." He gestured towards the wall of clothes behind him. "These are all my own designs. Please, look through them and tell me if you see anything that you like."
After a few minutes looking, Katniss selected an unassuming soft yellow dress. "I think I like this one." It was sleeveless and gathered at the ribs instead of the waist, with a hem that fell just to the knee. "Peeta would like this..." she said unthinkingly.
"Peeta?" Cinna repeated, just a hint of a question in his tone.
"Ah." Cinna nodded, his expression changing to one of understanding. He pressed his index fingers to his lips as he appraised the yellow dress in Katniss' hand. "Well, yes, this is a beautiful dress, but a little girlish, don't you think?" he asked. "I don't think girlish is quite the impression you want to make tonight. If I may suggest something... please, wait here one moment."
He disappeared into another room briefly and returned with a stunning midnight blue dress draped over one arm and a white shoebox under the other. "This is something special. I've only just finished working on it." He held up the dress for her approval, and Katniss felt her breath catch in her throat.
She stepped forward to touch the silky material. "It's beautiful," she whispered. "What kind of material is this?"
"It's silk chiffon," Cinna explained guiding her towards the privacy screen set up in the corner of the room. "Go on. Try it on."
When she emerged, a satisfied smile appeared on Cinna's face. "Twirl for me," he requested.
Slowly, Katniss turned in a full circle.
"Look at yourself," he urged, taking Katniss by the hand and leading her towards the mirror.
Katniss couldn't help but gasp out loud when she caught sight of her reflection. The dress fit like it had been custom made for her. The square neckline and cinched in waist was flattering to her slim figure, while the hem fell to mid-thigh, showing off her toned legs.
But it was the mirrored feather pattern and a shimmering appearance of the material that made the dress look like it captured the light.
Behind her she could see Cinna's satisfied smile as he watched her reaction.
"Oh Cinna, I love it." Katniss breathed, her eyes meeting his. "But, I don't know, isn't it a little... young for me?" she asked nervously as she twisted and turned in the mirror trying to get a better view.
"Not at all." Cinna came forward and took a pair of dangerously high looking pair of black heels from their box. Kneeling before her, he slid them onto her feet. "You can definitely pull this off."
Standing, he placed his hands on her shoulders and turned Katniss around to face her reflection in the mirror once again. "This dress is perfect for you. There comes a time in every woman's life when she must let go of girlish things and have the confidence to spread her wings and soar."
His winked and gave her his reassuring smile again as their eyes met in the mirror. Katniss noticed he wore just the tiniest hint of gold eyeliner.
"Thank you Cinna," she whispered.
Cinna merely inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement. "The pleasure is all mine, Katniss. Now, if you would like to get changed back into your robe, I think it's time for you to meet Flavius. He is a magician with his scissors."
Like Octavia had earlier, Cinna led her back down the sterile corridor and into another area. Immediately the more familiar sight of salon chairs positioned in front of shiny mirrors and the bank of stainless steel wash basins identified this as the hair styling area.
"Cinna," Katniss paused and nervously tugged on his sleeve to gain his attention. "Before we meet Flavius, I want you to know that I really don't want anything too drastic—"
"Trust me." Cinna whispered, patting her hand reassuringly as a tall man with tight spiral curls walked towards them.
"Ah, you must be Katniss," the man greeted them with a bright smile. After Cinna made introductions Flavius showed Katniss to a chair and began to undo her hair from its tight braid, running his fingers through it as he worked. Once loose, it fell in soft ripples almost to her waist.
"Really, my dear, how long is it since you've had this cut, so many split ends…" Flavius made a disapproving tutting sound as he lifted her hair, pulling and twisting it this way and that as he examined it thoroughly.
"Um, maybe a year or a little longer?" Katniss felt her face reddening, knowing it was probably closer to two or three years. "I usually just wash it and braid it, I didn't really take much notice."
"Well, don't worry dear, I can fix this. A decent cut will get rid of these dead ends, and then maybe we could introduce some lowlights or even better, some streaks of color? Blue or purple would look fabulous against such dark hair—"
"If I may," Cinna interrupted smoothly, "I feel that raven locks such as those Katniss is blessed to possess naturally do not need artificial color enhancements, Flavius. Let's just work with what nature has already gifted her with."
"I really don't want to color my hair," Katniss piped up nervously.
"It's a shame I could really do something special with this," Flavius pouted, looking more than a little disappointed. "But as you wish. Katniss, will you agree to shortening the length and adding some layers? I would suggest taking the length up to here—" he directed her eyes to the spot where her neck and shoulders met, "and letting me to shape it so it frames your face and shows off your beautiful shoulders."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt if it was a little shorter." Katniss bit her lip nervously, twisting a piece of her hair between her fingers.
Underneath it, she wasn't really sure. Her braid was comfortable, as familiar as a security blanket. Her eyes darted towards Cinna, her expression pleading him for help.
"Remember what we talked about earlier, Katniss? About letting go of girlish things?" Cinna rested his hand on her shoulder reassuringly as his eyes held hers steadily in the mirror. They seemed to challenge her… Be brave, Katniss. Make a change. "Maybe it's time to let go of this braid, too."
Katniss exhaled a shaky breath and made her decision. "Okay." She nodded once decisively and indicated to a spot below her collarbone, just sweeping the top of her breasts. "Flavius, you can take it up to here, but no shorter. I still need to be able to tie my hair up for work or when it's hot."
The tall man's smile perked up as he picked up his scissors. "I think I can work with that. Sit back and relax Katniss. I promise this won't hurt a bit."
An hour later, Katniss had to agree that Octavia was right, she did feel like a new woman. She loved what Flavius had done with her hair. It felt great as it swished softly against her neck while she walked towards the seating area where Prim was waiting for her.
She couldn't help but smile a little shyly at how Prim's eyes widened at the sight of her. All her earlier anger at her sister had disappeared. This had been good for her. She felt renewed, her confidence restored.
"Wow." Prim stood up and came towards her sister. Her jaw looked like it was about to become unhinged. "Katniss, you look…" Prim swallowed hard and began to shake her head, walking slowly around her sister. "That full remake was so worth it. Your hair... your skin. You're positively glowing. You're going to set The Hob on fire tonight."
Katniss laughed and pulled Prim in for a quick hug. "Wait until you see the dress!" Prim hugged her back. "It's good to see a real smile on your face again," she whispered in her ear.
Katniss turned to say goodbye to Cinna, who handed her a bag containing her new dress and shoes, and a few items of makeup that he'd talked her into trying.
Impulsively, Katniss leaned forward and pecked his cheek. "Thank you again, Cinna," she said. "For everything."
"The pleasure was all mine, Katniss. You've quite inspired me. Please come see me again soon. Remember, head high. Smiles. They're going to love you!"
"I should have brought my axe," Johanna laughed as they pushed their way through the crowded club. "You're gonna be beating them off with a stick tonight! Damn girl, that stylist was good. I can see you getting stares already. Maybe I should pay him a visit. C'mon, let's see if we can find a table."
"Johanna! Wait for me!" Katniss yelled when the brunette dropped the hold she'd had on Katniss' wrist and disappeared into the crowd in front of them. The club was hot and packed full of bodies grinding up against each other to the thumping rhythm of the loud music that felt like it was pumping out of the walls. Prim had already disappeared somewhere.
"Keep up, Brainless!" she heard Johanna calling back to her.
She tried not fall on the slippery floor in her new five-inch heels as she maneuvered her way through the crush of bodies on the dance floor, doing her best to avoid rubbing up against anyone. Stupid heels, stupid Cinna, Katniss cursed under her breath. Sure, the shoes looked great on and made her legs look like they went on forever, but walking in them was a nightmare.
Prim had insisted on trying a new sushi restaurant for dinner and the food hadn't really appealed to Katniss. As a result she'd drank more then she normally would and the alcohol she'd consumed on a practically empty stomach was buzzing through her bloodstream, making her feel a little dizzy and everything look just a little bit blurry around the edges. She stumbled a little as she tried to follow in the direction Jo went, hoping it was also the way to the ladies room. She badly needed to pee and she was sorely tempted to just take off the offending shoes and go barefoot.
She craned her neck, trying a find Jo in the crowd when, from the corner of her eye, she spotted a flash of wavy blond hair. Turning as carefully as she could to avoid the very real possibility of ending up on her ass in an undignified heap, she scanned the crowd until she spotted it again. She squinted her eyes and looked extra hard to be sure. There. Standing about twenty feet away by the bar. His back was to her so she couldn't see the man's face but she'd recognize that blond hair here anywhere. Peeta.
She froze on the spot, conflicting emotions crashing over her. Indignation. Hurt. The desire to flee in the opposite direction so he wouldn't see her and she wouldn't have to deal with this. Then anger. What the hell was Peeta doing here? Who was watching the kids?
Katniss shook her head and immediately tried to suppress the flickering anger she felt at finding him here, knowing it was unreasonable of her to feel that way. Peeta had every right to a social life, and he would never leave their kids with someone he didn't trust watching them. She had no right to question his decisions on that subject. In fact, she probably had less right than any other mother.
He could have called her, though. He must know she would have jumped on the opportunity to take the kids an extra night if he wanted to go out.
As she watched, a tall blonde with hot pink nails and large breasts nearly falling out of her too tight dress sidled up beside him. And suddenly Katniss understood why he wouldn't call her. The last time they saw each other, Peeta had made it very clear that his life was not her business anymore. After the way she had screamed at him he would hardly want her to know about his socialising.
She watched as the blonde threw her head back and laughed at something Peeta said then reached out to squeeze his forearm. Immediately Katniss felt a hot flare of jealousy boil up inside her—how dare that woman touch Peeta like that! Hastily, she turned away, roughly pushing her way through the crowd, using her elbows to force her way through, this time not caring who she banged into. She couldn't stand and watch another woman touching Peeta. All her instincts screamed at her to turn around and march over there and rip that skank's hands off him, but she could imagine what his reaction to that would be. He'd probably yell at her again, or tell her to mind her own damn business.
And she definitely didn't want her first meeting with Peeta after their fight to be in a crowded club. Not when she was like this. What would Peeta think if he saw her like this, well on her way to being intoxicated and dressed far too sexy for her age? Suddenly, all the newfound confidence Cinna had helped her rediscover earlier that day drained away and she wanted to hide.
"Found you!" Jo appeared in front of her grabbing her hand and pulling her in the opposite direction. "C'mon, we've got a table, and Prim is lining up more shots—"
"Peeta's here," Katniss cut across her, her voice shaking. "I want to leave."
"What, he's here? Where?" Jo asked, her eyes widening as she looked around.
"The blond, standing over by bar with the skank hanging off him," Katniss jerked her head in the right direction. Instinctively she reached up to grab the end of her braid. But instead of finding the familiar comfort, her hand just grazed her bare shoulder. "Please Jo, don't make it obvious you're looking. I don't want him to see me."
"What, are we back in high school now?" Jo gazed over her shoulder. "Who cares if he sees you?"
"I care," Katniss snapped.
But it was too late. Johanna was blatantly staring and she made it clear she didn't care who saw her looking.
"Wow, he's cute, even in side profile…" Johanna let out a low appreciative whistle as she appraised him. "And he's got a fine ass. Damn girl, you've got better taste than I expected. I can see why you are so attached," she mused, tapping her chin with her finger as she openly ogled the man standing by the bar.
"Jo!" Katniss exclaimed, surprised and a little hurt by her friend's insensitivity.
"Sorry, no offence." Johanna snapped her eyes away from Peeta and focused back on Katniss, waving a dismissive hand in the air. "For the record, you don't have to worry about me. I don't hit on my friend's exes. Personal standard. And forget about leaving. There is no way in hell I'm letting you bail out of here now."
Grabbing Katniss by the wrist, Jo pulled her away towards the other side of the club. Once they found a quieter spot where there was no chance of them being seen from the bar, she stopped and turned around looking determinedly in Katniss' eyes.
"Look, Katniss, I know this is hard," Jo began, taking both of Katniss' hands in hers, raising them between them and squeezing them reassuringly, "but you can't run away and hide every time your path crosses with Peeta's. Because I guarantee you as long as you live here, that is going to happen. So take a few deep breaths. Get out there and let him see you in all your hotness, and pretend as if your world isn't falling apart right now, okay?"
"Okay," Katniss mumbled, knowing Jo was right. The county they lived in was a small one; it was inevitable she and Peeta were going to occasionally run into each other when it wasn't planned.
Katniss felt her lips quivering as she lifted her eyes to meet Jo's concerned gaze. "But what if he came here with her, Jo? What if he leaves with her? I don't think I could take it."
Johanna glanced over Katniss shoulder again towards the other side of the club. "Doesn't look like it from where I'm standing," she said. "I don't think he's with anyone."
Katniss threw a furtive look over her shoulder. The blonde she had seen fawning over Peeta was now gyrating on the dance floor, grinding up against some other guy.
"Even if he's not with her that doesn't mean he'll be alone by the end of the night," Katniss whispered, dropping her eyes to the floor.
"Katniss," Johanna spoke firmly enough to draw Katniss' eyes back up to hers. "If that happens, there is nothing you can do about it. You'll just have to try and find some way to deal with it."
"What did you do, Jo? How did you accept it when your ex moved on?" Katniss pleaded.
"I didn't, at first. I decided it was easier to leave town," Jo admitted. "That's how I ended up here."
"I can't think like that. I have to think of my children," Katniss shoulders sagged in defeat.
"I know." Jo smiled sadly and squeezed her hands. "Which is why you need to be braver than I was. You'll survive this, for them."
"So what do I do now?"
"Well, we came here to blow off some steam, so that's what we're going to do. We're going to drink some more. Then we're going to dance. And we're going to try our best to enjoy ourselves. And if you're not enjoying yourself, then you fake it until you make it."
Leading Katniss back to their table like a child they found Prim waiting with more drinks. "Where have you two been?" she yelled over the music, as Katniss slid onto a high stool keeping her back to the dance floor. "I want to dance!"
Katniss quickly grabbed one of the shots Prim had lined up and downed it, grimacing as the alcohol burned the back of her throat. She was relieved that she couldn't see Peeta from her seat. Hopefully that meant he couldn't see her from his place by the bar either. Reaching for another shot, she listened vaguely while Jo filled Prim in on what had happened.
"Are you okay?" Prim immediately reached a hand across the table towards Katniss, her face showing her concern. "We can leave now if you want too," she added, immediately earning her a glare from Jo.
"That's the last thing she should do," Jo growled. "She should stay here and make him pay for dumping her ass—"
"Shut up, Jo," Prim snapped fiercely. "If my sister wants to leave then we're leaving—"
"Why should Katniss leave? Let Peeta leave if he's uncomfortable—" Jo argued.
"Stop, please!" Katniss banged yet another empty shot glass down on the table and looked between her sister and her friend. "Please don't fight. Prim, I'll be fine. Just go and dance. I don't want to ruin your night."
Prim shook her head. "You're not ruining my night."
"Then go and dance. Go on, both of you. I just need a few minutes to get my wits together. A few more of these and you never know. I might even join you!" Katniss tossed down another shot and giggled at the thought of dancing in her stupid heels.
"Are you sure?" Prim looked doubtful.
"Yes, I'm sure. Go dance with Jo." Katniss forced a smile for her sister's benefit. "I'll be fine."
It only took a few more minutes of persuasion and a promise that she'd join them if she felt better to convince Prim to stay. Katniss sat, nursing her drink, and watched the dance floor, being careful not to allow her eyes to wander too far away from Prim or Jo for fear of what—or who —she might see.
"Well, well, well, look who we have here. Katnissssss." Katniss startled when she felt someone's hot breath against her ear, followed by a finger trailing down her arm. She tried to jerk away as a tall man with dark blond hair and icy blue eyes insinuated himself into the small space beside her. He was so close Katniss could smell the alcohol on his breath, and it made her nauseous.
"Ugh, go away Cato," she groaned, turning away from him in disgust. Cato Burns made her skin crawl. Twice divorced, he was known locally as a womaniser and a serial cheater. He and Peeta used to be friends back in High School, though Katniss could never understand how Peeta could have hung out with a creep like him.
"Oh now, don't be like that," Cato grinned wolfishly at her. "I'm glad I ran into you tonight, Katniss. A fine woman like you should never drink alone, and when I saw you sitting over here all by yourself, looking like you needed some company, I thought I'd come join you."
"I don't need your kind of company. I'm here with friends." Katniss slurred, pushing her hand hard against Cato's chest to try and put some more space between them.
"Let's dance," Cato grabbed her hand in his sweaty grip and began to tug Katniss from her seat. Unashamed, he let his eyes wander to the neckline of her dress, lingering on the small bit of cleavage her dress showed. "Damn, you're looking hot, Katniss…"
Katniss felt her skin crawl as his eyes roamed over her.
"I don't want to dance!" she hissed from between clenched teeth and tried to tug her hand out of his but he was holding on too tight, squeezing her fingers as she tried to pull away.
"Oh, come on, just one dance, you know you want to…" Cato laughed. As she struggled to free herself, his tongue caught between his teeth as his eyes burned into her. He moved his other hand to grip her waist. Bending his head down close, he whispered into her ear. "I heard about your split from Mellark. You know, he and I always did share similar taste in women," he laughed again. "Clove left him for me. She always said I was the bigger man, if you know what I mean. I could make you forget all about him."
"Get your hands off me, you pig! " Katniss yelled and shoved him forward violently, slapping his hands away with her free one. A sudden wave of dizziness washed over her, and she felt the room begin to tilt and sway. She teetered as she struggled to keep her balance, and she would have landed on her ass only for a strong pair of arms that suddenly surrounded her from behind.
"I think the lady said she didn't want to dance," she heard a familiar deep voice rumble.
"What's it to you, Mellark?" Cato glared angrily over her shoulder, but he finally released her hand. "I hear she's single now!"
"That doesn't mean she wants to dance with the likes of you."
"Why not? She's available! She's been sitting here alone knocking back shots for the last twenty minutes!"
"And you thought you'd take advantage of that? Fuck off."
Katniss blinked slowly in surprise as she twisted and squinted at the blurry face above her. "Peeta?" she whispered hopefully, struggling to make her eyes bring his features into focus.
Reaching an unsteady hand upwards, she traced her fingers through the wavy blond hair of the man who was holding her steady. Up close, his hair was the same shade, but it was felt shorter and crisper to the touch than she expected. His eyes were wrong too, still blue but not the piercing blue of Peeta's and the look in them as they watched her was much warmer than anything she'd seen in Peeta's eyes a long, long time. It wasn't him.
"Rye," Katniss breathed and patted his cheek. "Is it you? I thought you were..."
"Hi, Katniss," Rye smiled kindly, catching her again as Katniss slumped forward, passing out in his arms.
"So, I take it you're the idiot who divorced my friend?" Jo bit out snarkily, eying the man who cradled Katniss gently in his arms.
"Nope, I'm the idiot's older brother," Rye answered her, eying Jo back in equal measure. "Who're you?"
But before Jo could answer, Prim burst through the glass doors behind them.
"What the hell happened?" she yelled, running towards them. "I only went to the bathroom for five minutes…"
"Calm down Prim," Rye said, shifting Katniss in his arms. "Cato Burns was coming onto her and I saw she was having trouble getting rid of him and I came over to help her out. Then she stumbled and I caught her, and she passed out."
"I knew those last two shots were not a good idea. She's going to feel it in the morning," Johanna muttered.
"Let's just take her home, shall we?" Prim snapped. "I'll call Rory to come pick us up…"
"I can drive you," Rye offered. "My car's outside. I've only had one beer."
They drove the few miles to the house on Victor's Lane in silence, Katniss fast asleep on the back seat with her head resting in Prim's lap, Prim stroking her hair the whole time.
"I'll go make some coffee," Jo offered when they reached the small house. Rye carried Katniss straight to her room, with Prim following behind.
"Stay with me, Peeta," Katniss muttered, reaching her hand out to clutch at Rye as he laid her down as gently as he could on her bed.
"It's Rye, Katniss," he answered sadly, prying Katniss' fingers away from his shoulders gently. "Peeta's not here. You need to get some sleep now."
"Peeta's not here," she repeated numbly, and she turned on her side and curled herself into a tight ball.
"You go back downstairs," Prim said to Rye. "I want to undress her and make sure she's okay. I'll follow you in a few minutes."
"Sure," he nodded, closing the door quietly behind him as he left.
When she was done, Prim left a glass of water within easy reach on the bedside table along with a plastic bin from the bathroom. "When are you going to stop hurting yourself, Katniss?" she whispered, as she smoothed a blanket over her sister but Katniss was already fast asleep.
"How'd she end up in that state, Prim?" Rye asked as he sat eagerly sipping the mug of hot coffee Jo had made.
Jo waggled a bottle of Jameson at him. "Care to make it irish?" she offered as she threw herself down on the sofa beside him.
"No, I gotta drive home," Rye declined, putting his hand over the lip of his cup.
Jo shrugged nonchalantly as she splashed a liberal helping of the golden liquid into her own coffee. "More for me, then."
"She just drank too much, Rye, with a little encouragement from our new friend, Jo, here," Prim threw Johanna the evil eye. "Haven't you had enough for one night?"
"Oh lighten up, little miss Prim and proper!" Jo growled. "Besides, it was you who was lining up shots all night. So what's the big deal, Katniss had a few too many. That girl is wound so tight she was about to implode. Especially this last week—"
"Jo—" Prim tried to interrupt.
"—due to that brother of yours," Jo snapped, ignoring her and pointing her finger at Rye.
"Why, did something happen?" Rye asked slowly, glancing quickly between Jo and Prim. "He's been acting like somebody killed his best friend all week too, worse than usual."
"She didn't say anything to me," Prim said grumpily. "But if something did happen, it's between Katniss and Peeta, and it doesn't feel right us discussing my sister's business," she glared at Jo.
Jo snorted and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, that's part of the problem. It seems like no one in either of your fucking families discuss anything. Did either of you knuckleheads think to tell your siblings what a huge fuck up they were making?" she stared pointedly at Prim and Rye.
Both of them turned shocked expressions back at her.
"Excuse me?" Prim bit out, her voice an octave higher than previously.
"What, like this is coming as a shock to you?" Jo eyed Prim, as she poured more whiskey into her mug. "Prim, I might not have known your sister very long, but I do recognize when someone is trying to deal with some bitter regrets. Besides, have you seen Katniss's iPod playlist lately? Kelly fucking Clarkson. I mean, if I have to listen to her humming Stronger one more time I'm think I'm going to decapitate someone."
Rye bit back a laugh, scratching his head and nodding. "Yeah, I kinda know what you mean. Peeta has the radio at the bakery tuned to this sappy country music station. Break up songs, like, all the time. It's driving me fucking nuts."
"I know, right?" Jo nodded emphatically, waving her mug at Rye. He chuckled in agreement, his face amused.
"What were we supposed to do, Jo?" Prim argued. "They're adults. I told her the divorce was a mistake, but Peeta was so fucking determined it was what he wanted she wouldn't fight back. She was afraid if she did he would stop her from seeing the kids... sorry, Rye," Prim added her apology as an afterthought, glancing over at Rye. "I don't mean to bad-mouth your brother. I love Peeta, I do, but it's the truth."
"It's okay." Rye's earlier laughing expression transforming into a frown. He sat quietly for a moment, his eyebrows furrowed together as he rubbed his jaw with his palm, obviously thinking deeply.
"Did she really think that, Prim? That Peeta wouldn't let her see the kids?" he asked.
Prim nodded. "After she realized she had lost him, she was terrified she would lose them too if she let him see what kind of shape she was really in. She would have agreed to anything he wanted just to see the kids."
Rye looked stunned. "Peeta thinks she was unhappy because she didn't want to be with him anymore. He thought it was kinder for him to let her go, set her free to be with whomever she wanted."
"What? That's ridiculous! That fool..." Prim snorted out loud. "Wait a minute..." She sat up when she saw the look on Rye's face. "You didn't believe she'd actually fallen out of love with him, did you?" she asked incredulously.
"Peeta believes it," Rye shrugged his shoulders. "He's convinced she has feelings for your brother-in-law. I admit I thought he was crazy too, at first. Then I thought that maybe there was something to it after all… the way she ran off to Seam like that. And then when she came back and Gale showed up at the bakery—"
"Oh my God!" Prim exclaimed. She jumped up and starting pacing up and down the living room. "Those two idiots! Rye, she's as much in love with Peeta as she ever was. You can take my word for that. She ran off because... because…" she stuttered to a stop.
"Because?" Rye urged her to continue.
Prim gave a loud frustrated sigh as she plopped back down on the sofa. "There are some confidences I can't break, Rye. But let's just say, everyday life just got too much for Katniss. There are some issues from our childhood too, issues that were never really dealt with properly that I now think she needs to confront. But trust me, it had nothing to do with Gale. She loves Peeta."
"If that's true, then they have both really fucked up," Rye muttered, pulling his fingers through his curls in a gesture that seemed common to all the Mellarks. "But that doesn't explain why didn't she call him Prim? Or return his calls? There is no fucking excuse for that."
"She closed down." Prim swallowed hard. "Rye, you need to understand, when Katniss closes down, she shuts people out, it's just like—" she paused again.
"Like?" Rye prompted.
"Like our mother did after Dad died. When she couldn't cope with us. Fuck, she didn't return any of my calls either! I've been trying to get her to see that she needs to talk to someone about this stuff."
"Someone like who? a doctor?"
But Prim's expression had changed, she now gazed at Rye with a confused look. "Yeah... but wait a second, did you just say Gale showed up at the bakery?"
"Yeah, he showed up one afternoon wanting to talk to Peeta—"
"The thing is how can you convince them they need to talk before they both become so embittered that they hate each other forever? Or is it already too late?" Johanna interrupted impatiently.
"I will try talking to Peeta again." Rye responded, glancing over at Jo then back to Prim.
"Do you think it'll do any good?" Prim asked. "I mean they're divorced. It's pretty hard to come back from that."
"I don't know. Probably not." Rye exhaled, rubbing his thighs with his palms. "Peeta can be a stubborn asshole when his pride is hurt and this hurt far more than his pride. It tore him apart. We, uh, he..." Rye swallowed thickly "...I think he kinda has some unresolved mother issues of his own that Katniss leaving like that brought to the surface."
Prim nodded knowingly. "Maybe. I'll try to talk to her again too. I think the best we can hope for is that they can be friends. Because whatever the hell happened this week—"
"Katniss found out he is fucking other women." Johanna butted in, lifting her mug to her lips and taking a loud sip.
"What!?" both Prim and Rye shouted, simultaneously.
"Oh. Is that something else you didn't know? Jeez. Don't your siblings tell you anything?" Johanna rolled her eyes.
"I don't believe it," Rye burst out. "Katniss must have gotten the wrong idea. There's no way..."
"Well apparently she found out, and he didn't deny it, and they had a huge fight about it."
"That asshole..." Prim muttered darkly. "I am going to kill him."
"Hold on Prim. Let me talk to him before you go off on another rampage, okay?" Rye barked out. "Keep in mind, if it's true, they are divorced. It's not like he's cheating on her."
"I know that, but, it's so soon..." Prim said angrily.
"It's still not cheating, Prim. If it's a fact, you can't attack him for this." Rye said firmly.
He sighed and got up from the table, grabbing his keys. "I'm going to head home. I've some thinking to do. Let me know tomorrow that she is okay, yeah?"
"I will. Goodnight, Rye. And thanks for your help tonight," Prim stood up and kissed him on the cheek, walking him towards the door.
"It's no problem." Rye pulled Prim in to a one-armed hug. "Tell your sister to take care and she can call me or my dad anytime. We do still care, you know. It was nice meeting you, Jo," he waved.
"Nice meeting you too, handsome," Jo smirked, giving him a small wave. "Maybe next time we'll meet in happier circumstances!"
The early morning light filtering in through the open curtains woke Katniss slowly. Reluctantly, she forced her eyes to open, wincing as a sharp throbbing in her skull forced her to instantly close them again. She was vaguely aware of another head resting on the pillow beside her, snoring gently. A head with short, dark hair.
"Oh noooo," she groaned, turning over on her side and pulling a pillow over her head in an attempt to block out the light. Maybe if she could sleep for a few more hours she could avoid the worst of the hangover. And whoever was asleep beside her would leave.
She drifted somewhere between sleep and consciousness for a while until the need to pee made itself known and forced her to open her eyes again. The sun was higher in the sky and the space beside her was now empty and the sheets cool to the touch. Glancing over at the clock beside her bed she saw it was nearly 11am.
Sitting up slowly Katniss felt the room began to spin. Did she imagine that other body in her bed this morning? She tried to think back on the night before but it was mostly a blur. What the fuck did I do last night? she began to panic. It felt like she was still drunk. Her stomach churned and her mouth felt as dry as a desert. Her head turned sharply as she heard footsteps on the stairs then her bedroom door creaked open, making her clutch at her head as the vicious throbbing in her temples started again.
"Good morning Sunshine!" a cheerful voice greeted her. "I thought I heard sounds of life in here." Jo bounced across the room carrying a tray and showing no signs of the excesses of the night before. Katniss hated her for that.
"Ugh, fuck off Jo," she snarled.
"Oh now don't be like that." Jo chuckled. "I come bearing gifts. Coffee, toast, painkillers and more water. You really tied one on last night, drunkie." She plopped down on the bed beside Katniss and offered the water and tablets first.
Scowling, Katniss reluctantly accepted the glass of water and the painkillers, gulping both back quickly, but it only made the need to pee more urgent.
"How did we get back here last night, Jo?" she asked, her voice raspy. Her throat was sore.
"You don't remember?"
Katniss scrunched up her face as she tried to concentrate, "I remember Cato Burns coming on to me, ugh, and I remember yelling at him and slapping his hands away, and then it gets a little fuzzy... was Rye Mellark there?"
"Yep. He came to your rescue. Drove us all back here afterwards, and then carried you up here and helped put you to bed."
"So Peeta wasn't there?"
"Nope." Jo said, popping the 'p' and taking a bite of toast as she settled back against the headboard, crossing her legs at the ankle. "It was Rye all along."
Exhaling shakily, Katniss couldn't help but feel a huge sense of relief. So it wasn't her Peeta who was hanging out at The Hob and letting skanky looking blondes hang off him. And he didn't see her drunk off her face and making a fool of herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of her dress from the night before, draped neatly over a nearby chair.
"Oh my God, Rye didn't undress me, did he?" Katniss' head shot up, a horrified look on her sweaty face.
Jo burst out laughing. "No, that was your sister. She undressed you and fussed about making sure you were in the recovery position and I told her I'd crash here and keep an eye on you to make sure you didn't choke on your own vomit or something equally tragic. Her husband came and picked her up once she was sure you were going to be okay."
Suddenly a massive wave of relief passed over Katniss as she realized who had been sleeping beside her this morning. It was Jo, keeping an eye on her. She really was a good friend.
"Well thank God for that," she covered up her obvious show of relief by making it about Rye. She didn't want Jo to know how panicked she'd been earlier when she thought she might have done something really stupid. Like getting drunk and hooking up with some stranger she couldn't remember. "It's already going to be hard enough to look Rye in the face next time I see him."
"Um, well, you did try to pull him into bed, and you begged him to stay with you."
"Oh nooo, I didn't!" Katniss cried, pulling the comforter up to hide her face. Cringing even harder, she felt herself blushing all the way up to her roots.
"Yeah, you did— but it's okay. You thought he was Peeta." Jo hesitated. "You called out Peeta's name a few times in your sleep too. I think you were having some nightmares. I tried to wake you, but you were completely out of it."
"That's normal for me." Katniss replied. That explained why her throat was so sore today.
"Rye's going to tell Peeta about this, isn't he?" she said in an embarrassed voice.
"I dunno." Jo replied, her teasing tone completely disappeared now as she became more serious. "Prim and Rye talked about a few things. I didn't really understand all of it, but what I did get was that Rye is really worried about Peeta, and Prim is really worried about you. You should know you have people who love you and care about you, Katniss. Peeta's family included."
"Peeta doesn't care about me or what I do anymore," Katniss said sadly.
"That's not true, according to his brother. Who, by the way, is very hot. Is he single? Now that I know he's not your ex, I wouldn't mind climbing all over that tree."
"Oh God," Katniss suddenly shot out of bed and into the adjoining bathroom, her stomach rolling as it rejected the few bites of toast she'd forced down. Bending over the toilet, she began to heave.
"Please don't, Jo." She held up her hand keep Jo away, as she followed her into the bathroom.
"Don't what? Don't fuck your ex's brother? Or don't help?" she smirked as she grabbed Katniss' hair, helping to hold it back.
"Fuck him if you want. I just don't need to hear the details. And I can manage here. I'm embarrassed enough already," Katniss lifted her head and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, resting her head against the cool porcelain side of the sink.
"Fair enough," Jo grinned, jumping up and stretching. "Mind if I use your shower?"
"Be my guest," Katniss shook her head, moaning softly as even that slight movement made it begin to pound once more, even harder then before.
Without any hesitation, Jo peeled off her clothes, leaving them piled on the floor as she walked naked into the shower stall and began fiddling with the settings.
"Are we here yet? Is this OK?" Jo asked at the shocked look on Katniss' face from where she sat on the floor.
"I guess we're there," Katniss mumbled. She really shouldn't be shocked. It was Jo, after all. The feisty brunette had proven she was a good friend, and was fast becoming someone Katniss felt she could trust.
"Thank you for staying and looking after me last night, Jo," she added.
"It's no problem!" Jo yelled from behind the glass door. "Maybe you can return the favor for me someday!"
Katniss pushed herself up from the floor and made her way slowly back into her bedroom, swearing there would never be a next time for her. She was never drinking again.
As she crawled back into bed, she spied her phone resting on the bedside table. Picking it up she noticed there were three new message notifications, one each from Prim and Rye asking how she was feeling and one from Peeta, confirming days and times for the kids pick-ups for the following week. This was the extent of their communication lately, and the first contact she'd had from him since their fight.
She quickly fired of a reply to Prim, letting her know she was okay and would call her later, and another to Rye thanking him for his kindness the night before and begging him not to say anything to Peeta. If it wasn't too late already.
Finally, she answered Peeta's text with a brief, impersonal acknowledgement of the details he'd provided.
Crawling back under her comforter hoping for another couple of hours sleep, she hugged a spare pillow close to her body resolving to get herself together and stop acting like an idiot and learn how to control her emotions before she had to be face to face Peeta again.
End of Part 1
A/N: Okay, you can throw stuff now. I'm really sorry that Peeta himself didn't appear in this chapter, but I felt it came to a natural end here and to include his part would have made the chapter too long, so I decided to divide it into two parts.
I'm also really sorry for how long I made you wait for this update, my words and brain refused to cooperate for a long time, but I am already working on Part 2 and you'll be glad to know that Peeta and the toastbabies feature heavily.
As always, thank you to beta-extraordinare, Court81981 for her impressive skills and friendship, and to KnottedEnergy for pre-reading.
If I may throw in some fic recs, check out KnottedEnergy's "Unfailing Love" (which I pre-read )– and if you like tear-jerkers then Naqia's "Wild Onions" and "Moonlight Sonata" series (on AO3) are not to be missed.
Finally, if you would like to see the inspiration for Katniss' midnight blue dress, there is a link in my profile. (Which I must actually complete, someday.)