Katniss counts the number of words on each page in her head, a simple but failing way to keep her mind off of Peeta. Her eyes sting and feel heavy from her lack of sleep. Nightmares of Peeta's mother attacking her and dying invade her subconscious nightly. It wasn't like this at the farm, not when Peeta was right across the hall. His presence even from a room away made her feel okay, kept her safe and sane.
"Katniss, dear," Effie says from her chair on the lawn, where she'd been reading her own book for the last half hour. Katniss stops counting and looks up from the porch steps. Effie's face isn't bright and cheery, but it's calculating and thoughtful. "Are you alright?"
"Fine," Katniss answers without hesitation, not removing her eyes from Effie's steady gaze.
"I have some iced tea, if you'd like."
Katniss shakes her head. She doesn't want to take a break from counting. She doesn't want Peeta to come back into her mind full force. She doesn't want to accidentally talk about him to anyone, because if her mind rests enough, she knows she'll let it slip.
Effie sighs and stands up from her chair, walking over to Katniss. "I know something is wrong, Katniss, I'm not oblivious. You've been...acting off for the last few weeks."
Katniss bites her cheek. Ever since she returned, she has become closer with Effie, visiting every other day and helping Effie with things that are too far out of the woman's skill-level; mowing the grass, painting rooms, and even sometimes enjoying each other's company, like they are now.
She doesn't say anything else to Effie, so the blonde reaches down to pat her knee before turning away, walking back to her chair. And that's when Katniss feels the words slip past her lips.
And I let it slip, Katniss says internally, almost wanting to laugh at herself for her terrible willpower.
But maybe it's because Effie isn't Gale. Katniss doesn't want to tell Gale, and she can't tell Prim either, her sister has been giving her the cold shoulder since they returned. It's been almost a month and Katniss has to at least admire her younger sister's determination. And Katniss doesn't have any other friends; Madge doesn't count, and she certainly will never tell her mother anything. She might have told her father if he was alive. And, at the moment, Effie seems to be the closest thing she has to her father right now.
Why not? We're both lonely.
"His name is Peeta."
Effie stops and she looks over her shoulder, looking as if she was shocked by Katniss actually speaking. The wind blows her blonde hair across her face and Katniss realizes that Effie is quite young. Mid-thirties. And she's actually quite pretty, too. It's odd for Katniss to think that no one would give her the time of day.
"And...Peeta is...a guy? A guy you like?" Effie slowly asks with raised eyebrows, much like a parent who's finally being let in on their kid's deepest secrets and needs to be cautious in order to not scare them away.
"You could say that..." Katniss nods slowly and before she even realizes it, her mouth is opening again and the words tumble out. She tells Effie all about Peeta. About his blond hair and blue eyes, his kindness – his personality. She tells her about the time she spent at the farm and how he saved her from his mother, leading up to the very last night when she left.
"So...I left," she finishes lamely, picking at the spine of her book. Her eyes dare a quick look at Effie, the woman still sitting in her chair with an indistinguishable look on her face.
It's okay that she opened up to Effie...right? Her father liked her, so why shouldn't Katniss? She trusts her father's judgement. There's a reason Katniss is here opening up to Effie.
Peeta unwillingly appears in her mind at the thought of fate. "Y'know, I don't believe in a lot of things...but I believe in a few," he had said to her in the barn. "Like true love. And fate, too."
Her stomach twists painfully at the memory. Peeta was so handsome and kind that day, he was so gentle with his words.
The memory only made her miss the blue-eyes farmer's son even more.
It must show on her face because Effie smiles sadly and comes over to Katniss, taking a seat next to her on the ground by the steps. She pats her hand and breathes in. "You let him go so he could be successful. That's what love is...caring about the other's happiness more than your own."
"Why is everyone saying that I love him?" Katniss asks loudly, throwing her hands on the ground in exasperation. "It's like everyone knows my own secrets before I do!"
"Sometimes things are more obvious to observers," Effie says simply.
She stands up and motions Katniss to do the same. Katniss follows her around the house to the side door, stepping into the house. Effie motions her again, leading her in past the living room, down a hallway decorated with pictures of inspiring quotes. They enter a small room with a bookshelf and a desk, and Effie grabs a box. She sets it down on the desk and tells Katniss to look inside.
Katniss opens the box, giving Effie a look as she does. She reaches in, her fingers locking around something heavy and metal. Pulling out the heavy object, it catches in the light, the gold metal reflecting the beam. Katniss' hand brushes over an engraving on the statuette and she reads it slowly.
Best Performance By An Actress
In A Leading Role
"I played a prostitute. She was so caught up...caught up becoming apart of this lifestyle with money and excitement...and it was slowly destroying her. She was sucked into a world that she wasn't entirely ready for," Effie says while Katniss continues to stare at the statuette. "They said it was the best performance of my career. I had opened many new doors for me, but I realized that I had my time in the limelight. I did something amazing – I was proud and...I left Hollywood and came here to wind down."
Katniss looks up, seeing Effie as a woman. Not the annoying, uptight one she had thought she was...but a talented, different and unique woman.
"Out of all places you come here?" Katniss asks with a disbelieving laugh, looking for time to collect her thoughts.
Effie smiles and shrugs. "It was a random choice. But it's a nice change...a different way of living out here, you know?"
Katniss nods and feels a question come to mind."Is that why people look at you as an outcast?"
Effie nods. "For the first year, no one knew who I was. But then someone figured it out and word spread around this town like wildfire. I guess they all think I've never worked for anything in my life. They think I got a free ride because I was famous. But I didn't. I worked hard for all of it. I worked very hard," Effie says the last part again, every ounce of pride in her body being relayed through those words. And Katniss believes her, too.
Katniss wonders why her father never told her. Then again, maybe he did that on purpose. It doesn't matter if Effie was famous, she's a good person – that's what matters. And Katniss' father would've wanted her to think like that. Katniss opens the box again and looks into it, pulling out other awards and pictures and small mementos of Effie's career. And to say Katniss is surprised would be an understatement.
"Effie?" Katniss asks after a long pause of silence, making the former star look at her. She takes in a deep breath, her new idea spinning in her head like a twister. "Do you think...you could help Peeta? Maybe talk to people you know?"
Effie watches Katniss for a moment, oddly quiet. After a moment, she shakes her head. "I'd much rather help someone else."
"What?" Katniss asks sharply, her anger flaring up. How could Effie say no? Peeta deserves this! "Why won't you help Peeta?"
"Katniss," Effie says calmly, her blue eyes taking on a gleam like Peeta's always did. Maybe this is the woman who should've been Peeta's mother, Katniss thinks with something close to amusement. "I want to help you. If you ever decide you want to go pursue a career dealing with fame and show the world your talent, then I'll be there to help you. No one else."
"But...how would you know if I'm talented?"
"You must have a great voice, dear. Your father was always so proud of you, always talked about your voice. He said it was the most beautiful sound. And this Peeta boy seems to think so, too."
"I don't wanna be famous..." Katniss says slowly with doubt floating in the back of her mind and her eyes trailing down to the floor. "I want Peeta to be famous...I want Peeta to be happy. I want-"
Effie sighs, almost happily, though Katniss doesn't understand why. The blue eyes of Effie take on a look of endearment. "You want Peeta, dear."
Katniss, the uncertainty in her stomach turning into something more than that, looks back up at Effie, scared to meet her knowing eyes. All those days, all those times she denied Peeta...she was lying. She's never felt so content and alive because of someone before. And it hurts her. It hurts her so bad that she can't be the one for Peeta, no matter what he or anyone else seems to think.
"I'm no good for him, Effie," Katniss murmurs quietly, admitting her thoughts aloud.
Effie reaches out, gently rubbing Katniss' arm tenderly. "You let me know if you ever want to go to Los Angeles. I'll go with you, Katniss."
"At least let me hear you sing, dear? I've just always wondered. Your father always sounded so proud and amazed, you know."
"I can't sing in front of people," Katniss mumbles quietly. Effie sighs quietly and pulls out her phone, tapping away before pushing it back in her pocket, giving Katniss a look. "Effie! I can't-"
"Just one little part of a song?"
And the look in Effie's blue eyes makes Katniss crack. She breathes out loudly, casting her eyes down to the floor before letting the words of the song she sang to Peeta the night she left.
It's just Effie – nothing to worry about, Katniss tells herself and gains confidence, her voice stronger as she continues to sing. And as she sings, she can't get rid of a certain feeling gnawing at her.
"Y'know, I just heard you were back in town. I was comin' down here to send your ass back to the farm, but then I get a call from Joel Mellark. You wanna know what he tells me? He says you did a fine job, they no longer need ya." Crane puts his hands on his hips, raising an eyebrow at her. "Then Miss Effie Trinket tells me you apologized and was helpin' paint her porch?"
"Thanks for fillin' me in on my own life," Katniss says, though her voice lacks the snark it usually does when she speaks with Crane. He looks taken aback by her change of attitude, too.
He nods once, stepping back and nodding again, as if it were a reassuring nod. "Stay out of trouble, ya hear?"
Katniss nods again and turns away before he can, and she lets the screen door close with a light smack. She quickly disappears into her room and closes the door, giving Prim a sign that she doesn't want to talk to anyone. Not like she's talking to me anyways, Katniss reminds herself as her eyes finally land on the bag she's been avoiding for the past two days.
Slowly, she unzips the duffle bag and pulls out the first item her hand comes in contact with. It's her green hoodie. The same one she wore on her barn adventure with Peeta. It's smells of hay and dust from the barn attic, her mind flashes back to Peeta's soft voice reading To Kill a Mockingbird. To his lips on hers. To the warmth, turning into a blazing fire, that set through her body when his hands were on her. She remembers his muscles beneath her fingertips and how gentle he was. She remembers everything. And it causes a blush to spread across her cheeks, making her ache for his touch again.
Angrily, Katniss whips her hoodie across the room, letting it hit the wall and fall to the floor in a small heap. How stupid is she for letting Peeta go? The more she thinks about it, the more she realizes that maybe her decision to leave was too rash. Should she have embraced Peeta and the feelings that came, or was she right to push him away for the fear of the unknown? It's only been two days and she's already losing her mind thinking about Peeta. Surely she can't cope any longer without trying to do something.
Katniss swings open her bedroom door, seeking the person who can make the most sense at a time like this. With her mind set, she strides through the house with determination and pushes through the back door, her eyes searching – and finding – the blonde braid tending a cluster of flowers she planted. Primroses. As the summer starts to fade, Katniss knows Prim will be spending as much time as she can with her flowers before the cooler season sets in.
"Prim," Katniss says, settling on the grass next to her younger sister. The younger girl doesn't look at her, only acknowledges her presence with a nod. She has been that way since they came back from the farm. Katniss sighs. "Prim...I need your...your advice."
Prim's delicate, small hands still over the watering can and she immediately abandons her task and looks to Katniss with furrowed yet apprehensive eyebrows. Katniss never goes to her – anybody – for advice, the sudden change must be worrying.
"My advice? You must be really desperate if you're coming to me for advice."
Katniss shakes her head, dropping her gaze to the grass that she's running her fingers through. "No, you're just one of the smartest ducks I know."
"Katniss," Prim whines, but Katniss still does not meet her eyes, only allowing a half-grin to curl up her lips. A sigh escapes her sister's lips, a sigh of knowing. "It's about Peeta, right? I know you really like him, Katniss. It's obvious."
Katniss' head finally snaps up. How does everyone know? I'm certainly better at keeping my feelings hidden than this! She's about to question her sister, but the young girl beats her to it.
"Because you've never come to me for advice before," Prim answers with a slight smirk. Her lips return to her natural smile as she takes in Katniss' flustered look. "So...I'm gonna need to hear the whole story before I can help you."
"Of course you do," Katniss grumbles and shakes her head. "No askin' questions until I'm done, okay? It'll make it easier." Prim nods and leans back on her palms as Katniss slowly recites the same thing she did to Effie hours ago.
Prim listens intently, holding back her frowns as much she can, which Katniss is thankful for. She knows how infuriating her story must be to Prim. And it's even infuriating to Katniss herself. She leaves the part about Peeta's mother out, Prim doesn't need to know. But she does mention Effie and her father, even Effie's fame, knowing Prim won't tell another soul.
"Miss Trinket? Dad was friends with her?" Prim asks curiously. Katniss nods and Prim nods slowly. "Didn't see that comin'."
"Me either," Katniss says back, allowing their conversation to die down a little. But Prim has different thoughts, speaking up again in a matter of seconds.
"I'm not sure if you realize this...but I think your feelings for Peeta are stronger than what you're sayin'," Prim says simply. She watches Katniss intently, making the older Everdeen look down from her scrutiny.
"You're the third person that seems to think so," Katniss mumbles, her stomach fluttering uneasily. Could it be true? For Gale, Effie, and Prim to say similar things, it must be close. Right? But she'd decide that on her own...if she will ever allow herself.
"Yeah, well, sometimes we're all a bit smarter than you, Katniss," Prim says with her lip pulling up in an innocent grin. "I think me and you should go to Los Angeles. Imagine all the beaches and sand and pretty views!"
"Then you go. Go find Peeta." Prim sits up and puts her hands on Katniss' shoulders. "Take a chance...prove that you do care."
Katniss is almost pulled in, almost ready to pack her things and find Peeta, but then she realizes how ridiculous the whole thing is. I'm a seventeen year old girl from a small town, Katniss reminds herself bitterly. What am I thinking? That I can go to some big city, leaving Prim and Mother behind, and become famous and get Peeta back? I'm a fool.
"This was dumb," Katniss says hastily, standing up and brushing off the ripped up pieces of grass from her legs, feeling an overwhelming sense of embarrassment wash over her. "I'm not...I can't."
Without another word, Katniss retreats back into the house, ignoring Prim as she calls after her. Katniss slips her shoes on and takes off, going to the only place that will allow her the tiniest bit of silence...hopefully.
The woods are quiet, other than the occasional breeze that rustles the leaves of the trees. Her woods, the woods that she shared with her father and Gale, seem so much more lonely without the two men. And her woods certainly don't compete with the beautiful forest out at the Mellarks' farm. Nothing seems to compete with anything and everything that is connected to Peeta.
Katniss realizes how pathetic she must be. Moping around over a boy...but she always manages to argue that Peeta wasn't just 'some boy.' He was the boy. He was the boy who made her stomach flutter and her heart beat speed up and her thoughts whirl together until she couldn't form anything coherent. Peeta Mellark was the boy.
"Daddy," Katniss whispers weakly into the breeze. "I miss you. You'd be good at this...at helpin' me. You always were. So where are you now? When I need you so bad?"
And Katniss knows she'll never get a reply, but it makes her more upset and mad. Irrationally so.
"Dad! Dad, where the hell are you?" She shouts loudly, standing up at kicking at the broken twigs and weeds by the rock she was sitting on. "You think you can just leave without another goodbye? You think that's okay? Well it's not!" Her chest heaves as she slumps back down on the rock. And that's when she realizes, with disgust and pain, that she did that to Peeta.
Katniss numbly stares up at the stars, alone. She barely blinks and her eyes become sore and dry from the lack of. Her bare feet graze the cold porch and the porch swing gently glides back and forth, the old wood creaking occasionally.
"Katniss," a voice comes from the darkness of the front lawn. Effie comes in to view under the porch light and Katniss cocks her head. It was nearing midnight, what would Effie be doing at her house?
"Effie?" Katniss asks, noticing the look of something close to apprehension on the woman's face. "What's-"
"I need to tell you something."
Peeta's new cellphone buzzed and lit up with another message from Alma Coin's assistant, Delly Cartwright. He stares at the device with disgust. He barely had it for over two weeks and the thing is already on his nerves. Katniss might've agreed with him. If she was here, he thought bitterly with a wave of hurt hitting him.
With a quick glance, it was yet another message reminding him of his screen testing tomorrow. Peeta didn't believe the luck he has been getting. Alma Coin was an established agent and founder of D-Thirteen Studios, and she said she saw potential in Peeta. With his looks and charm, and acting ability, she promised he would be big quickly. And the determined, yet slightly menacing, glint in her eye made him believe her.
And tomorrow is the day he could secure his first job. All he's needed to do is provide a good screen test with his potential co-star, who happens to be Hollywood's Sweetheart, Annie Cresta. If things go well, they'll be set to film a drama film together. And this could be the project that will make his name known, especially starring opposite one of the most well-liked actresses.
It all happened so fast. Peeta was working at a coffee shop, Sae's, and he checked his e-mail on the off chance that an agency emailed him back, and to his surprise, one did. And that's how it started.
Peeta sighs and remembers his other plans after the screen test tomorrow. He'll be going to his first modelling job, too. "To raise awareness on you" Alma Coin told him. He's nervous, he'll admit. He's never done anything like this before and all it was so scary. Even more so without someone by his side.
But the days until now passed Peeta in a blur. He barely slept, only a few hours each night, and every other minute throughout the days were spent thinking about Katniss. He remembers what he wrote in the letter...but he wish he didn't sound so...Hell, he doesn't know. He just wishes that he had another shot. But Katniss is probably already forgetting about him.
But he won't forget about her. Because he loves her and it'll haunt him for the rest of his days and nights if he never gets her in his arms again.
Shorter than I expected...but the next one is a long one. Almost over 5,000 words right now and should be up by next week.
Review and let me know what you think!