Chapter One

I walked into class cursing myself for being late, today of all days. I stood at the door of the auditorium, teetering on the tips of my toes as the professor took his place at the front of the crowd. Doctor Haymitch was a small man with a rounded belly, most likely alcohol induced, and wire rimmed glasses that set on the edge of his nose. He surveyed the group and I could feel it when he saw me out of the corner of his eye.

"Are you joining us today, Ms. Everdeen?" he questioned, his tone more annoyed than amused, "or just loitering in the hallway for the hour?"

"No, no, I'm coming in," I reply, a bold heat flushing my cheeks. How was it possible for a college professor of an undergrad psychology class containing nearly three hundred students to know me by name?

So I shuffle in, sure that every eye in the room was fixed upon me, and take a seat in the very back row.

"Today, you will get your assignments for the last project of the semester," Dr. Haymitch informed us, "which you all would have known, had you bothered to read the syllabus." He was speaking to the lot of us, but his beady little eyes remain fixed on me.

If I had to put up with a little humiliation in order to get the information for my last project before finishing this class, then I would welcome it. This class, the study of human sexuality and behaviors was awarded to me due to my late registration and the fact that it was the only available course left to fill my psychology requirement.

"This is going to be a partner project," Dr. Haymitch bellowed as papers began to be passed through the rows, one finally making its way to me. "And before you ask; the answer is no. You may not select your own partner. I will email you by the end of the day with the name and email address of the person you are to contact.

Fantastic. I stifle a groan and read over the list of requirements on the paper I was given as my classmates began to chatter around me. I don't know one person in this class. Sure, after almost three months there are several familiar faces, but no one I'm comfortable talking with, more or less trusting with half my grade.

"The assignment is to observe dating practices and patterns of sexual behavior among people of different income levels," I hear as I continue looking down at the paper in my lap.

"Meaning what, exactly?" A football player I recognize asks, raising his hand from the front row.

"Meaning, you and your partner will select specific locations you think typical for romantic settings of both people of a higher and lower income bracket, and compare them."
"Is it absolutely necessary to work with a partner?" persists a blonde wearing an Omega Phi sweatshirt.

"Yes. That particular requirement is not up for discussion. I have made this a partner project because dating and sexual relationships are usually done in pairs."

"Or threesomes!" A male voice booms from somewhere in the middle of the auditorium and the entire class bursts into a fit of laughter.

"That's quite enough," Dr. Haymitch says, taking control of the group, "are there any further questions before I release you for the day?"

One more hand raises and a petite redhead stands, "So can I assume all pairings will be male and female?"

"No, that assumption does not fairly represent all pairings present in today's society, and our class isn't evenly split, anyhow. Now, if that's all?"

Everyone else has the good sense to stay quiet.

"Then you may go for today. Look for my email by six pm tonight, and you must contact your partner before Wednesday's class!"

I swing my bag over my shoulder, and start to slide into the flux of people coming my way, when I face I recognize comes into view. Peeta Mellark. Peeta and I had both attended the same high school in my hometown of Lewiston, but we weren't exactly friends. Barely even acquaintances, but in a town that small there was no way he wouldn't recognize me, if he saw me. Has he always been in this class? I think to myself.

I turn my head so a long curtain of mahogany hair falls between us and hopefully obstructs his view of my face. After traveling nearly five hundred miles away from home to go to school, I thought I had surely given myself enough space from the small minds I was running away from. I didn't want to be known here. I didn't want to be remembered as the girl whose father killed her mother in a lover's spat gone wrong. I was completely content to mix into the collage of faces, no one ever knowing my name.

Outside, I take a deep breath and walk quickly toward the line of dormitories on the east side of campus. On Mondays and Wednesdays I had a two hour gap between my first two classes. I knew my cousin, Gale, would most like still be sleeping, but I didn't have the energy to walk all the way back to my room. The freshman dorms were in the worst possible location.

Gale was my cousin on my mother's side, but more like a brother, and a big reason why I had applied to Southern State University. When my mother died, and my father went to jail, my younger sister, Prim, and I went to live with my aunt and uncle, Gale's parents. Gale is a year older than I am, and was one of the most popular guys in our high school. He kept my head above water when news spread of my family's scandal and faces started to turn every time I entered a room. Last year, his first year away at school, was the longest year of my life.

No one harassed me really, I think they were too afraid I would tell Gale and he would come back into town to take care of them, instead no one paid me much attention at all. I was a pariah. I got up each morning, helped my aunt get Prim ready for school; she's twelve and handling our parent's situation much better than I am, then I went to school, went to work, and went back home again. I wasn't invited to any homecomings or proms, not even the parties on Friday nights after the football games in the fall or the basketball games in the spring.

The girl at the front desk of District Towers buzzed me into the building since my key card wouldn't work at any other dorm but mine, and I took the elevator to Gale's room on the sixth floor. I knocked three times, loudly, and the door creaked open.

"What the hell, Katniss? Don't you know what time it is?" Gale rubbed his eyes and climbed back onto the futon where he had been sleeping.

"Yes. Almost ten in the morning. You really weren't up yet?"

"No, you know I don't have class until eleven. That means I don't need to be up until ten fifty."

I dumped my bag on the ground and took a seat next to him on the rickety sofa bed. "You'll never guess who I saw today."

Gale reached around me and picked up an old SSU baseball cap off the cluttered end table and placed it on his head, covering his dark disheveled hair. "Um, Kim Kardashian?"

"Eww, no," I wrinkled my nose, "Think less trashy and more blonde. And a guy."

"I really don't have a clue, and my mind isn't fully functional yet..since I was woken up from a dead sleep, can you just tell me?"

"Fine," I say smugly, "Peeta Mellark. Apparently he's in my psychology class."

"Peeta from Ridgecrest High?"

"Yep. The snobby one," I add, standing up and taking a coke out of the small mini fridge.
"He wasn't that bad," Gale said standing and stretching his arms over his head, "But his older brother was an ass. I didn't know Peeta went to school here."

"Well, he does."

"Did you talk to him?"

"No."

"Alright then. I'm going to go take a shower, since I'm up so early. Are you staying in here for a while?"

"If that's okay."

"Sure. Why don't you clean up a little for me," Gale said with a wink, swinging a towel over his shoulder.

"Jerk," I shot at him, but my lips spread into a wide grin.

"You know you love me," he called on his way out the door.

After Gale left for the communal bathroom, I actually did straighten his room up some. He's such a slob. By the time he came back from the shower, I had all his clothes sorted and stacked into neat piles and all his dirty dishes washed and drying on the rack he has sitting by his small sink.

"Woah, you actually did it!" Gale said, clearly impressed with my domestic skills.

"Yep, but I'm going to go now, I was just waiting for you to get back."

"Ok, thanks for doing this. I was actually kidding about the cleaning."

"No, you weren't."

"Are you working tonight?" he asked as I made my way over to the door, shoving the straps of my backpack onto my shoulders.

"Always."

"Awesome. I'll come by for dinner."

I smacked his scruffy jaw in a teasing fashion. "You can't keep coming by the Hob expecting me to feed you for free, you know. I'm going to get in trouble."

"No, you won't. Just tell that cute little manager of yours that it's for me. She won't mind," Gale informed me with a gleam in his eye, "She thinks I'm hot."

"Who, Madge?"

"I guess that's her name. She's in my econ class."

"And what makes you think she's interested in you?" I ask, incredulously.

"First of all, this," he said raising his bicep and kissing it jokingly, "and the fact that every time our idiot professor makes me talk in class she watches me and rubs her pen against her lips."

"Ugh," I goffed, "conceited much?"

"Not really. Facts are facts, baby."

"Whatever. Just because she touches her mouth with her pen, you automatically assume she wants you?"

"I didn't say she wanted me, I said she thought I was hot. Anyway, that's one of those girl tricks, to get me to notice her mouth."

"Girl tricks?" I press, crossing my arms in front of my chest.

Gale grasps both my shoulders firmly, shaking me just a little, "Katniss, you should really know these things. You are the girl, not me."

"But you have such pretty hair," I say I reaching up to muss the dark mess that's still slightly damp from the shower. "See you tonight."

"See ya."

I finish my last two classes of the day and then head back to my room to change and get ready for work. Luckily, Johanna, my roommate, is still out so I place my ipod in its little docking station and select my favorite playlist. I'm still a little stressed about my big psychology project and the fact that I haven't gotten an email with the name of my partner is frustrating me. He said before six, I remind myself as I pull the elastic band from around my hair and shake the loose tendrils around my face. I strip off my jeans and shirt and replace them with the tight back shorts and cropped tee of my waitress uniform. The Hob is a local bar and grill a few blocks away from campus. I got the job there a couple months ago, and even though I hate the sexist persona that I'm forced to employ while serving wings and burgers to rowdy co-eds, the tips are good and I need the money.

After mom died, and dad went to jail, I was awarded half the money from a fairly sizable insurance policy I was surprised to find out mom had, the other half going to Prim, but I wanted to make sure I kept enough to pay for all four years of room and board at school as well as enough to buy books, food and everything else I need on a daily bases. My aunt and uncle, Gale's parents had offered to help, but I refused, they were already given the job of raising Prim and providing for her at least until I graduat and she can move in with me.

I put on a thick layer of crimson lipstick and swipe my lashes with mascara before lying back on my bed and closing my eyes. Ten minutes. That's all I need, I tell myself as my breath slows. My body immediately relaxes as I sink in to the cool sheets. A million thoughts run through my mind, but I sit up straight, my eyes popping open when a familiar face flashes before my eyes. Peeta Mellark, with his wavy blonde hair and brilliant blue eyes. Why in the hell am I thinking about him?