Hello everyone! Jeez, it's been a while, but I finally have Chapter 6 ready for y'all. The super long wait was due to a very stressful end of the school year mixed with a little bit (okay, a lot) of writer's block. I want to assure you that I will NOT give up on this story, and that updates will be more regular. Please let me know what you think and if you have any ideas or you want to see something happen in the story, let me know and I'll consider including it. Thanks so much!

-Mel


Katniss was pulled from sleep when her phone began to blare and vibrate on the nightstand beside her head. The sound was very irritating and unpleasant, and it usually woke her up every morning, but all she wanted to do was go back to bed. She sleepily groped for it, but her arm was entangled in the sheets, and she ended up pushing it off the edge. It clattered to the floor and when she heard a groan from across the room she knew she had woken Johanna.

"Sorry," Katniss apologized, blinking against the rays of sun that permeated their bedroom. She stretched to scoop up her phone, frantically pressing at the 'off' button, but the fall seemed to have frozen it.

"Katniss!" Jo rumbled, her voice muffled by her pillow. Katniss tapped at the phone, shook it, and tried repeatedly to unfreeze it, but nothing was working. If anything, the alarm only blared louder, and she was becoming increasingly frustrated.

"Arghh!" She heard Gale's moan from a few doors down, and was caught off guard when the door flung open and slammed against the wall. Finnick started toward her, bare of clothing except for some boxer briefs, and grabbed the phone from her hand forcefully. He clicked the top button once and the beeping ceased. She stared at the phone in disbelief, her cheeks reddening. Miffed, he tossed it onto her mattress and stomped out of the room.

"You were going to have to wake up soon, anyway!" She called after him, before her mouth stretched into a yawn. After rubbing her eyes a few times, she tossed aside her covers and began to get ready for the day. Johanna had seemingly fallen asleep again, so Katniss chucked one of her pillows at her friend's head.

"Everdeen, you're on my last nerve." Johanna threw aside the pillow and began to emerge from her cocoon of blankets. Katniss shrugged, twisting her hair into a loose braid and walking over to her bureau. Opening the top drawer, she pulled out a red bikini with the letters 'CBP' printed in white. They stood for Capitol Beach Patrol. Johanna had a matching suit, and the guys had red swim shorts. They'd had the option to wear a red speedo, something that initially Finnick approved of, but Gale and Peeta wouldn't allow it. Katniss pulled a black baseball cap over her head and grabbed her sunglasses from the side-table.

"Don't forget sunscreen," she muttered to Jo, who was admiring her form in the mirror behind the closet door.

"Don't ya think this makes my butt look good?" she mused, turning around to show Katniss, who only rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, amazing, Jo," she snapped. Johanna looked up at her, quirking an eyebrow. "What crawled up your butt and died?"

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Katniss collapsed back onto her bed in a heap of emotion. She needed to vent; hopefully she could trust Jo to keep things on the down low for a while, but it was now or never. Usually, with a problem like this, she'd go straight to Peeta. Never before had Peeta been the actual problem. Katniss felt the bed shift as her friend sat down next to her, eyeing her with concern.

"Spill, Kat."

She turned to face her friend, drawing her knees up to her chest.

"So…the night of the party…" she started, her eyes drooping to look at her toes. "I think Peeta and I…I think we…"

"Hooked up?" When Katniss's eyes fluttered up to meet Johanna's, they were laced with amusement. Jo snorted.

"Don't be so surprised! You guys were touchy-feely the whole night. And especially hammered. How many drinks did you guys fucking have?"

Katniss buried her face in her hands. "A lot, but… there's something else." She peeked at her friend through her hands.

"Good, cause what you just told me was old news. Good for you, by the way. Everybody thinks you and Peet make a cute couple."

This caught her attention.

"Wait, what? Me and Peeta?"

"Uh, yeah! Who else? Do you see the way he looks at you? Are you that oblivious?" she added when Katniss shook her head.

Something fluttered deep in her chest. Clearing her throat, Katniss continued.

"I never thought- I never knew-"

"You've been avoiding the truth, Kat. From what he tells me, I think he's been hooked on you ever since you guys met."

Katniss threw her a sharp look.

"He talks about me?"

Jo nodded vigorously.

"The kid thinks you hung the moon. I seriously can't believe you haven't been able to see that. We just assumed you knew…we didn't want you to lead him on, but we figured at the party you guys finally, you know, realized what you meant to each other…"

"Who's we?"

"You know…. everyone."

Katniss was quiet, contemplating her words. She really couldn't believe she'd been that absentminded about Peeta. She always figured he reciprocated her feelings about just being friends. The kiss last night suddenly made a little more sense.

"That's not all, Jo."

The petite girl's eyes widened, a smirk playing at her lips.

"You guys did it!" It wasn't a question, and she began to snicker. "'Bout time, I think." Katniss grabbed her wrist.

"That's the thing…. I have no idea. We…uh…we woke up naked in the lifeguard stand," At this, Johanna scrunched her nose, "and we both remember nothing. Jo…I've been drunk before. Never before have I woken up knowing absolutely nothing about what happened to me the night before."

Jo clicked her teeth together, her playfulness replaced by a look of great concern. Her eyebrows knitted together and she pursed her lips.

"So you're saying…"

"I'm saying I think someone slipped drugs into our drinks when we weren't looking."

Johanna nodded slowly. "And…you want me to try to figure out who did it?"

Katniss swallowed. "You would be a great help. Finnick already knows, he caught us that morning…" Her face flushed a brilliant red as Johanna guffawed, slapping her knee.

"But…I don't want anyone else to know right now. Don't tell Gale, especially…it was probably someone from Cato's group, and if he finds out he'll beat the crap out of him…"

"Yeah, what was with them anyway? I saw the look Gale gave Cato…remind me to never piss him off," Johanna added pointedly. Taking Katniss's hand in her own, she gave it a squeeze.

"I'll do my best, and I won't tell anyone. Listen…thanks for telling me this, Kat. I bet you're so frustrated, not knowing what happened and all. But if it makes you feel any better, I don't think Peeta would ever do anything to hurt you, no matter how loaded you were."

"Thanks, Jo," Katniss half-smiled at her friend's reassuring words.

"But if I may add, I really think you should give Peeta a chance. You could do a lot worse."

"That's what Finnick said," Katniss blushed. "He kissed me last night."

"Who, Finnick!?" she burst out.

"Shh! No, not Finnick! Ew! Well, not ew, he's pretty fine if you ask me, but I meant Peeta, duh durr…"

Jo clutched her chest with relief. "Well, you're on your way then," she said with a wink. The two girls got to their feet, grabbing the last few things they needed for the beach.

"Oh," Jo grabbed Katniss's elbow as they were about to exit the room, "You shouldn't let this ruin your summer, okay? Shit like this happens, but this summer is too important. Just…let go and have fun. And don't avoid Peeta," she finished.

Johanna knew her so well. It was like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Telling Jo hadn't been as bad as she thought it would be. Like Finnick, she had been very understanding. She was overcome with gratitude for her friends, and she found herself blinking back a few tears as she followed Jo down the steps.

Damn period. I'm an emotional wreck.

When they walked into the kitchen Finnick was leaning against the island, shirtless and ever so tan. He was grinning from ear to ear, and his bright red shorts made his teeth look impossibly white.

"My lovelies!" He gasped, pulling both her and Johanna in for a tight bear hug. Katniss chuckled inwardly when she felt Finnick flex his abdominal muscles before releasing them. Gale was perched on the counter, sipping a glass of orange juice, and Peeta stood nearby, wrapping something in a napkin. The tight grey shirt he wore strained against his muscles when he bent to grab something from a lower cabinet. She couldn't help but notice the way his swim shorts perfectly fitted his bottom; she could just make out the outline of his…

"Katniss." Jo, who gave her a knowing grin, interrupted her stare.

"See something you like?" Finnick teased, tugging on the end of her braid.

She couldn't see his face, but by the way his shoulders were shaking she guessed Peeta was trying not to laugh.

"Oh…um…nothing," Katniss shook her head. "Morning guys."

"Morning!" They all piped happily, finishing the remnants of a quick breakfast.

"Ready for the waves?" Gale asked Peeta, who nodded excitedly. "I can't wait to feel the water. "

"Come on, guys," Jo tugged on Gale and Finn's elbows, directing them towards the patio.

"We'll meet you down there!"

Katniss threw Jo a dirty look as they stepped through the glass door. Despite her previous warning not to avoid Peeta, Katniss still felt a little uncomfortable being alone with him.

"Here," Peeta spoke quietly, his voice still a little hoarse from the morning. He handed her something wrapped with a napkin.

"It's blueberry," he blinked, his eyes wide and hopeful.

The muffin felt warm and unbelievably soft in her hands. Its scent wafted throughout the room, and she had to refrain from sticking the whole thing in her mouth then and there.

"Thanks, Peeta," she murmured in his direction, but she couldn't bring herself to meet his eyes. After what happened the previous night, Katniss was still confused and very unsure about where their relationship was going. If anything, she feared they would never return to that state of being able to tell each other anything. Right now, it felt like they were two fifteen year olds awkwardly avoiding each other after their first kiss.

"You're welcome, Kitty," he nodded, breaking her thoughts, before turning back to the oven to take out the next batch. The smile on his lips was undeniable as Katniss opened the door and whisked across the back patio.

Morning was already in full swing. The sun had already warmed up the beach so that the sand was hot beneath her toes. Taking her sandals in her hands, she hopped swiftly across the sand to join Gale, Finnick, and Jo, who were standing in the shadow cast by the lifeguard stand. When she discarded her red tank top to reveal her matching bikini top, Finnick whistled.

"I don't think I've ever seen lifeguards who are hotter than we are. Like, we're top of the line sexy. I'm not even kidding," He added when Johanna threw him an incredulous look. Katniss shrugged. She didn't know about herself, but the people around her definitely met that description. Gale was tall, dark, and handsome. Something about his mysterious demeanor made girls swoon. Johanna was small, but she had all the right curves in all the right places. Finnick was god-like, he had an air-brushed look about him that made him rival any Hollister model.

"Maybe we can reenact Baywatch," said a voice dripping sarcasm from behind her. Katniss almost choked on the piece of muffin she was eating when she turned to watch Peeta attempting to run in slow motion. She couldn't help but admire the toned form of his body, tight abs, broad shoulders, and big biceps. If anything, Peeta was the fittest, surpassing both Finnick and Gale. The thought alone brought heat to Katniss's cheeks.

"That's actually a perfect imitation, Peet," Jo chuckled, and he broke into a dimpled grin. He swiped at a runaway curl on his forehead and slapped Finnick on the shoulder.

"We're going to own this beach," he said playfully, and for the first time since their kiss the night before, Katniss met his gaze.

"Right, Kat?" His impossibly blue eyes locked onto hers, and she couldn't suppress the chill that ran along her spine at the eye contact. He was having an effect on her that she wasn't used to, and she couldn't decide if she liked it or not. It wasn't until Finn cleared his throat that she remembered he was speaking to her.

"Oh, um, yeah. Right, Peet."

A moment of uncomfortable silence followed while Peeta grinned and Katniss fiddled with the end of her braid.

"So," Gale finally clapped, "I think that might be Cinna walking toward us." Katniss followed his pointed finger to a figure slowly approaching them.

"Ah, my team! So good to finally meet you all," the man exclaimed as he came within earshot. One by one, they extended their hands in a greeting.

"So I'm going to get right into this," Cinna warned, and Katniss felt her heart drop slightly.

"This summer, no matter who comes to this beach, each and every day you will have their lives in your hands. The second someone so much as touches the water, they're your responsibility. Being a lifeguard is a lot more than swimming out to rescue someone, though. You're putting your own lives at risk. You're going to realize that sitting out in the hot sun waiting for someone to save may be the biggest challenge for you. It will be frustrating, and it will be demanding. I expect that each day you'll include at least an hour of physical training on your own time. Also, just because you're near the ocean doesn't mean you won't need to drink water. Drink lots of water. You don't know how many lifeguards I've had to fire just because they became too dehydrated to stay alert. Remember: While you're here, the beach is your property. It will be up to you to make sure it stays clean and safe. Lastly, and most importantly, I hope you can all swim," he finished with a smirk.

Katniss shot Finnick a warning glare when he began to shake his head.

"So if you'll all follow me to the water, I'm going to begin by demonstrating how exactly a rescue tube works…"

Katniss was caught off guard when Peeta grasped her elbow and pulled her around to meet his gaze. He glanced around, making sure the others were out of earshot when he bent close to her face.

"I hate this."

Well, she wasn't quite expecting that to come out of his mouth.

"You hate what, Peeta?" She sighed, irritated. Sometimes he was just too hard to read.

"This. Us. Not talking. I hate it so fucking much, it actually hurts," he grabbed his chest.

When she saw the sincerity in his eyes, she relaxed her stance. She was just so overwhelmed by the entire incident that she hadn't realized she'd been pushing her best friend away. It's just something that comes naturally, she told herself miserably. Katniss hung her head.

"I know. I miss you," she breathed, and it almost came out as a whimper. She took a step closer, even venturing to weave her fingers through his.

Peeta raised an eyebrow. "You do? It honestly didn't seem like it. I kiss you and this morning you couldn't even meet my eyes. How's that supposed to make me feel?"

She wanted to retaliate, to bring up the CPR stunt, but she knew he was right. She had left him hanging, unsure and confused.

"You're right. I'm sorry. I just…I honestly don't know what to feel, Peeta. One minute we're best friends and the next we're having sex in the lifeguard stand. Then you kiss me. What am I supposed to think?" Her eyes searched his for an honest answer.

He paused for a moment, licking his lips. Katniss watched him carefully.

"Well… I think…I think I don't want to be your friend anymore."

Katniss let go of his fingers and crossed her arms. She backed up a step, her eyes taking on a guarded expression.

"What's that supposed to mean?" She wanted it to sound like she was offended, but her question only reflected sadness and utter disappointment. She felt like Peeta was finally giving up on them, like maybe her personality was just too much to handle.

The corners of his mouth twitched as he summed up the courage to tell her what he truly felt. He reached over to untangle her arms, once again taking her hands in his.

"I don't want to be your friend anymore, because that's not enough for me."

"What's not enough for you, Peeta? I'm doing the best I can, I've never read 'Friends for Dummies', so I don't know what you're-"

"Katniss, shut up."

"-expecting from me! Honestly? So far this summer has been off to a real suckish start, and-"

"Katniss, please shut up."

"-you're the reason why! I've been so hung up over this whole thing, and I can't even concentrate on-"

She was cut off when his lips crashed into hers, her rant instantly replaced by a moan that slipped out before she could even process what was happening. His lips were warm and soft, melding perfectly with hers. She reached up to wrap her arms around his neck, and when she tugged at the hairs at his nape he responded with a groan. His hands slowly made their way down her sides to rest at her hips, sending a shiver up her spine. Time seemed to slow as he pulled her even closer, seeking entrance to her mouth with the tip of his tongue. She was about to oblige when she felt him stiffen against her, and then slowly retreat. When she opened her eyes she saw that his were no longer closed, but were locked on something behind them. With his hands still on her hips, she swiveled around to meet four pairs of astonished eyes.

Well, shit. Katniss quickly pulled out of Peeta's grasp, but nobody else moved. Their friends stared back at them; Finnick and Johanna looked smug, while Gale wore an expression of downright confusion. Cinna just looked annoyed.

She opened her mouth to defend her actions, but Johanna crossed her arms and spoke before she even had the chance.

"Well, fina-fucking-ly. Glad to see you two are on the same page now. But can we please get back to training before you end up in the lifeguard stand-" her words were muffled when Finnick's hand clapped over her lips, cutting her sentence short.

"Good for you guys, really," he laughed nervously, which was very uncharacteristic for Finnick.

Gale, however, still looked dumbfounded.

"Come on, big brother," Johanna tugged on his elbow, "let's give them some time to catch up. I'm sure they'll explain later."

Cinna approached them next.

"I can see you two may need to work a few things out…we'll be practicing some swimming strokes. When you're ready, feel free to join us."

Katniss could have sworn she saw him roll his eyes. Swallowing nervously, she turned back to Peeta, who was grinning at her like he'd just won the lottery.

Her stomach did a nervous flip when he reached out to envelop her in a hug. Ever so slowly, she wound her arms up and around his neck, pulling his head down so that they could look into each other's eyes. She breathed in deeply and was comforted by his familiar scent of cinnamon and bodywash.

It was a while before she felt brave enough to speak, though. She actually couldn't believe that this was happening. So many times had she and Peeta embraced, and yet this one held an entirely different meaning. Normally, in situations that left her utterly confused, she would back out before things got too serious and go find comfort in one of her friends, most likely Peeta. This was different. Something in her gut told her to stay. After all, Peeta was comforting her.

I want this, her thoughts echoed, and she knew what she had to do.

"We should try." Her words were soft on her lips as she looked up at him shyly.

"What do you mean?" Her murmured against her forehead, smiling.

"You know…. this. Being together." The fear of rejection was caught in her throat, but she forced herself to look him in the eyes.

"I know," he said playfully. "I just wanted to hear you say it."

Katniss pulled at a piece of hair on his neck, but she couldn't hide the smile that ghosted over her lips. The idea of being with Peeta romantically was so overwhelmingly unfamiliar… but she wanted him all the same. She desired him.

"Let's just…take things slow," she suggested, chewing on her bottom lip.

His gaze became serious.

"Of course, Katniss... we don't have to do anything you don't want to do. This is…this is unreal for me. I, uh, kind of…always had a thing for you." His stammering made her feel a little less nervous.

"So I've heard," she chuckled. "I just feel so bad that I never realized it. And now that I do, it's like…wow. I seriously want this, Peeta. I…I want you." In fact, she was certain of it. His warm, emotional gaze made her heart flutter. Slowly, he leaned in closer so that he could whisper in her ear.

"You don't know the effect you have," he breathed, and began to kiss her gently. Katniss's eyes fluttered shut when his mouth touched hers. Unlike their last kiss, this one was slow and sweet. She felt herself leaning into the kiss, reaching up to cup his cheek. When she finally pulled away, she was grinning widely. Her cheeks were flushed with delight. This was her Peeta. Her best friend, only now he was more than that.

When her heart rate began to decelerate, she brushed a stray curl out off of Peeta's forehead and then grabbed his hand.

"Peeta, we're going to get fired. We have plenty of time for…well, whatever else we want to do." He quirked an eyebrow at this, and her face flushed.

"Let's just go back to the others, okay?" Peeta chuckled and bent down one last time to give her a quick peck on the lips.

"This is going to be the best summer ever," he said, threading his fingers through hers as they made their way down the beach.

"Oh, and it wasn't going to be before this happened?" Katniss chided.

Peeta's cheeks burned and he bit back a smile.

"I didn't say that. But now it will be even better."

"I hope you're damn right, Mellark."