Hello, all! Thank you for the follows, alerts and reviews they make me so excited about writing this fic. As always, please leave me more reviews and let me know what you would like to see/what you're mad about/what apologies Katniss needs to make (the list is steadily growing, I know)/ whatever! Enjoy (:
Madge, as usual, was proving herself to be more helpful than I deserved.
The corporate offices were empty on the weekend, sans Madge and me. I had called her in on the weekend for an emergency "save my job" project. Turned out, there was a lot of truth to Jo's threat in the gym. Madge had taken the liberty of pumping one of my father's closest friends on the board- one that owed my family at least a modicum of honesty. Plutarch Heavensbee was my dad's best business buddy.
They had shared a very similar upbringing, both coming from less than ideal home situations and succeeding in the corporate world. That was where their bond had originated; but in continued inasmuch as Plutarch was easily the most approachable member of the board, in both nature and in appearance. He was fairly short, measuring in at approximately 5'5" and weighed probably a solid 225. He had carefully coiffed gray hair and a booming laugh (one that I itched to hear on the executive floor on days when he wasn't around). Never to be swayed by his friendly demeanor, Plutarch is also the foremost authority on corporate communications. After stepping down from a top-tier government position in the White House Communications Department, he went into business for himself- advising young bucks like myself on how to guide companies into the good graces of the public.
Plutarch was a godsend.
It was him who finally spilled the information to me and my assistant that the board had indeed been tittering about removing me as Chief Executive Officer. He'd kept his ear to the ground to stay abreast on all the conversations and what it would take to dissuade them. According to Plutarch, I was going to need to offer some real convincing arguments on why I should stay in charge of this company, when clearly I wasn't the most formally well-suited for the position. I had spent my undergraduate years at Julliard, for goodness sake. And I had planned on spending the rest of my life on stage, breathing in the energy of the audience and reveling in the freedom of vocal performance.
But it was about time to snap out of the fantasy.
We sat on the floor of my office, financial reports and gossip rags articles spread about around us. It was a full memorandum of my life since taking office, and while it wasn't always pretty, it always brought attention back to the company. We'd been thinking Jo was the best advertising campaign we had going, when in actuality, it was me.
Every article that attempted to unveil the life that I had worked so hard to keep private, always mentioned Everdeen Athletics. And every time I was mentioned in a major magazine, our profits had spiked upwards dramatically. My star power had become a driving force for our profitability. When I broke up with Cato, we experienced unprecedented growth on our hiking boots (the same ones I'd been wearing when they got a shot of me kicking him out of my loft). The night I had gotten sick and passed out at the St. Jude benefit and Gale personally carried me to the ambulance, Everdeen stock rose by 5.5% in the course of 24 hours. The weekend that I had spent in the Hamptons with Gale's family last summer and inspired an US Magazine center spread, out swimwear had flown off the shelves in a matter of days.
Madge and I were going to make it known to every member in the boardroom who the most valuable member of this company was. And for the first time since starting, I felt like it really was me.
"Wow, I really think this is going to work, Madge, don't you?" Madge had pulled her hair back into a tight bun and secured it with a pencil. This was the first day I had seen her put her business education to work, in its truest form. While I was struggling to understand the rise and fall of the DOW in accordance to my social fauxpas, she breezed through the stock exchange easily, explaining it in simpler terms for me to understand.
She tore her eyes away from the after-tax profit margin and resumed her normal pleasant smile. "I believe we have a solid case to make here. You've reclaimed the image of this company." Her hand waved over all of the files strewn about around us. "I mean, there is no denying the fact that this company has experienced a different type of leadership under your watch, but it's obviously been a good thing. Even basing this solely off of cost-benefit analysis, you're an undoubtedly great choice for CEO."
I beamed at her words. Madge was sweet, but she was no liar. And if she really believed it, then I felt confident about our chances. The board meeting where the vote was rumored to take place was next Friday, the day before my interview with SELF Magazine- which, honestly, I wished I felt as confident about as the meeting with the board. Of course I'd sat through my fair share of interviews before, but this one was different. Peeta had been tasked with conducting it himself, and I couldn't lie to him about who I was- not anymore at least. He knew my past because he'd been there with me, even when I didn't know it.
"Are you hungry, Madge? I think I'm gonna call for Chinese." I stood up and brushed off my black sweats. Since no one was in the office, I wasn't at risk of being judged for not living up to my position by dressing like a "commoner" as Effie referred to anyone who didn't make a six-figure salary. My hair was pulled back into a loose braid and I was wearing one of my dad's old oversized Penn State hoodies. It was comforting, the way I could drown in it. In a way, it felt like he was still there, wrapping his arms around me.
Madge shook her head furiously and grabbed for her phone. "No, Ms. Everdeen, please let me do it." I began dialing before I gave her the chance.
"Ha, I beat you to it! And seriously, Madge, if you call me Ms. Everdeen again, I will have to fire you." Her face turned grave serious immediately. "Just kidding. But seriously, do you want anything? I'm starving, so I could probably order the entire menu and eat it by myself."
I wasn't lying. I hadn't felt this hungry in a long time. Not finishing breakfast this morning had seemed like a fine idea when Gale had offered it to me, but looking at the clock on my desk that read 1:30, I doubted myself.
I woke up around 8, to the sound of banging in my kitchen. How in the world could Gale have woken up that early after the amount he had drunk the night (and day for that matter) before? I pulled on my nearest pair of pajama pants, a fleece pair with mockingjays on them- a Christmas gift from Prim a couple years ago and grabbed my robe off of the back of my door. Just as I'd thought, Gale was standing in the kitchen, fleece towel wrapped around his waist and his brown hair dripping wet.
"Morning, Hawthorne." I commented quietly as I approached the island in the middle of my kitchen. I slid onto one of the stools and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. "You're up pretty early."
He turned around and offered me only the slightest hint of a smile. "I could say the same for you, Everdeen. You don't have to work today." It more effort than I would have liked to admit to keep my eyes from raking over his body. I mean, he was dripping wet and standing in my kitchen. He turned back to whatever he was making on the stove. "I went ahead and used the shower- I hope that's cool with you. I was kind of a mess after yesterday."
"Of course, it's not like you haven't used it a thousand times before anyway. You still have some clothes in the other room, in case you felt like putting any on. You know, so you wouldn't be nude in my kitchen." Gale laughed and scratched the back of his neck, his sign of being slightly uncomfortable.
"Oh yeah? Thanks, I didn't know if you had them still after, you know, everything." We had always had a strange relationship. While technically he used to work for me, we had always been more than that, so he had clothes stashed at my place for the just in case times.
We were best friends, forged together by similarity and circumstance. Our personalities, though different, had a lot of parallels. We were both passionately dedicated to our families, no matter what that entailed for our personal lives. Neither one of us knew how to let things go, so we held onto grudges for far longer than we should. Both of us almost always chose doing what was right for the good of the whole over what was right for us individually- for better or for worse.
I just nodded as he padded across the living room, his footsteps barely audible on the wooden floors. He returned wearing a pair of dark jeans and a Capitol Security crew neck t-shirt. He silently turned off the stove and slid the French toast he'd been preparing onto a plate. I just watched as he comfortably pulled the toppings out of the fridge, dousing the serving in strawberries and whipped cream before sliding it over to me. He knew me well. "Catnip listen, I know we have a lot to talk about, but let me go first okay?" I just nodded and took a bite out of the food. It was delicious, just like I remembered.
Gale had always been a decent cook, but rarely did it, opting for a greasy meal at Sae's. "You're my best friend. I don't want that to change because of some unresolved, uh feelings that I may be harboring." I placed my fork back on my plate and looked at him, momentarily at a loss for words.
That escalated quickly.
"I know what I did last night, Katniss. I have my guys downstairs in security pass everything suspect along to me, and some guy -that looked exactly like me- accosting you in an elevator, flagged their attention." He looked away shyly. "I warned you I was a cheap drunk."
Deep down, I was hoping he would forget the whole incident. Because deep down, I was just as much to blame as he was. "Why didn't you say anything, Gale?"
"Because it's not that easy with you- nothing ever is. I had to protect you and then I was there for you when your dad passed, taking over the company, you falling in love with Jason Cato- who I wanted to warn you was a total scumbag, by the way- I had him followed for weeks. And then there was all the media attention about the two of us being together and you seemed so put off by the idea. I just… there was never a good time to bring it up."
He was right. I wouldn't have told me either. I had always reacted so negatively to the stories of us, not because I deplored the idea of dating Gale, but because it just wasn't true. And if he ever wanted to be with anyone else, I didn't want our friendship to get in the way of that. "You can't love me, Gale." His eyes flashed ten different emotions before I continued. "I mean, not in the 'let's jump each other in the elevator' way. We are best friends, and I don't want to mess that up. Not to mention, we're a mess. Just look at us. We fight every day."
He laughed lightly at that. His eyes reflected disappointment, though. "True. I wish it was that easy, though. I don't want to love you, Katniss. It's not something I wished for. But I do want to be friends again. I'm tired of this petty back and forth between us. We're usually much less cliché."
"I agree." I nodded vigorously and took another bite of Gale's peace offering. "Now does this mean you'll be on my security detail again?" I asked with a stuffed mouth.
"No, I think it would be best for Thresh to stick with you for now. You know, given everything that's happening." He meant with his own business, of course, not mine. Gale was getting ready to take over for his father pretty soon and would be out of the field for good anyway. "So we're friends again?"
I smiled and threw my arms around his neck. "Friends."
As I hung up the phone for the Chinese delivery, my cell rang, breaking the silence that had settled over the room. Madge was back to highlighting an earnings report and wasn't paying any attention, but I picked it up and answered, shuffling out of the office anyway. Who knew how this conversation was going to go?
"Yes, hey Katniss, it's me, Peeta."
"I figured from the caller ID." I deadpanned. As happy as I was to hear his voice again, I couldn't help but be a little miffed about the whole thing. I had called him numerous times and this was the soonest he could respond to me?
His light laughter filled the other line. "Yeah, I guess that's fair. Listen, I just called to apologize to you. I want to speak to you in person, if you'll let me. Things haven't gotten off on the best foot between us, and that wasn't at all what I intended. So could I come to you, perhaps? Take you out to dinner –totally platonically- tonight, maybe? If not, that's fine too." I cut him off, before he had the chance to continue his rant.
Platonically. He had said platonically. I had indeed screwed up any chance with this guy. When would I learn that running away after an insanely romantic moment with a man wasn't the best way to build up a relationship? "Sure, Peeta. I'd like that."
We said our quick goodbyes and I hung up the phone, before I slipped and said something that I would regret. Even though I'd all but ruined whatever relationship I had with Peeta and my chance at a decent article in SELF, I still felt vaguely positive- at least he was willing to speak to me outside of the office now. Today I had made peace with my best friend of ten years. Even though we definitely had a long road back to normalcy, at least we had started somewhere. And with Madge's help, I was also taking charge of my career and claiming this company as mine for the first time ever. Things were looking up.
I just hoped they could stay that way.