The lunch table is obnoxiously crowded, and Peeta uses the opportunity to press even closer than usual to Katniss, his thigh flush against hers, the warmth burning through her jeans. His arm is wrapped around her, gripping her hip loosely, tracing circles through her t-shirt that will possibly make her lose her mind if they go on any longer.
Despite her previous hatred for PDA, she likes these little subtle things he's tried to slip in since they started whatever this is — the way he grips her hand tightly when they walk through the halls, the bordering on annoying smirks he gives her until she allows him to kiss her lightly outside of her locker, the little touches against the small of her back. She likes it, even though it makes her blush, no matter how many times he's slipped her shirt off by now, when his friends smirk knowingly.
Madge sits on the other side of her, and Katniss is comforted by the fact that she looks just as disconcerted and out of place among Peeta's loud friends. To their credit, they've all been really nice and welcoming, but she fucking swears, if Delly asks her braiding tips one more time she is going to flip her shit. Right now Delly is rambling on about dress cuts and styles and colors and a bunch of other shit Katniss doesn't even want to try to understand. She's too distracted by the way Peeta has slipped his fingers under the hem of her shirt, lightly scraping his nails against her hip bone. She shudders against him and looks over at him, torn between wanting to punch him in the throat and to drag him back to her house to make him do that all over. Peeta's eyes meet her and he smiles innocently as his fingers trail further underneath her shirt.
"What about you, Katniss?"
She jolts suddenly, pulling away from Peeta as if electrified. Madge snorts softly beside her.
Delly grins patiently. "What color is your prom dress?"
Oh. Shit. She shifts anxiously in her chair, wondering if there is a way to nonchalantly scan the exits for escape. Shit. "Oh, uh—"
The bell rings and Katniss stands up hastily, shoving her chair back and darting away from the table. "Gotta go," she yells over her shoulder. She doesn't look back, doesn't even wait for Peeta to walk her to class as usual.
Because here's the thing. She doesn't have a dress. Even though the prom is this weekend. Even though it's her senior prom and supposed to be some kind of big fucking deal. Because no one's even asked her.
Not even her fucking unofficial boyfriend.
. . .
She manages to avoid thinking about it during the next two periods, but by the time the bell rings for the last period8 Katniss can't wait any longer. While she should be taking notes during Mr. Abernathy's Social Issues lecture she instead scowls down at the desk, picking at her cuticles.
'What color is your dress?,' she mimics in her head viciously, picking at the dry skin around her pinky. Delly fucking Cuntwright. She closes her eyes tightly against the wave of guilt. It's not Delly's fault Peeta hasn't asked her to prom.
She doesn't know if she's more upset by the fact that Peeta hasn't asked her to prom yet, or that she actually wants him to. It's not that she needs him to lay her down on a bed of roses or stand outside her window with a boom box playing shitty eighties songs — in fact, she's pretty sure she'd never talk to him again if he did that.
But still. Peeta is a prom person, an obnoxiously golden all star who basically already has the fucking Prom King crown. A Prom King that she has let cop a feel and walk her to class and sneak in her window multiple times. And he can't even ask her to prom? She doesn't even like the idea of prom, not really. It's a waste of money and she can't dance and she'd have to wear makeup which makes her face feel all sticky and fake. But doesn't Peeta want to go to prom?
She searches wildly for hope, for something that will make this all make sense; her thoughts slip to the stolen hours in her room, learning each other. Not just making out, although that's been awesome. But talking and stuff — his favorite color is orange like the sunset and he's really, really bad at math and he runs with his shirt off every day because he caught her staring one time. He likes to decorate cakes and sleep with his windows open and he drinks unsweetened tea even though that's virtually unheard of in their part of the south unless you're over fifty or diabetic. He draws and likes for her to sing to him, which sucks for him because she never does. He has an embarrassingly dirty mouth when they're fooling around, which she kind of loves. And a million tiny other things, and promises of the things she doesn't know yet but someday will.
As warm as these thoughts make her, she still frowns. Always in her house. Always in her room. He doesn't stay for dinner, hasn't talked to her mom or spent time with Prim. Usually sneaks over at night. And sure, he walks her to class and begs her to sit with him at lunch, but he hasn't taken her to his house or asked her out on a date yet. Peeta Mellark is a fucking dater but he certainly hasn't tried to make things official.
She looks back at her pinky and realizes it's bleeding from picking at her skin too much. Shit. She fights back an irrational urge to cry.
She's just been a huge idiot this whole time.
Shit, shit, shit.
. . .
Katniss doesn't wait for him in the parking lot, speed walking out of class and elbowing every asshole who gets in her way until she finally reaches her car. She is parked beside Peeta and she turns her head long enough to see him getting closer out of the corner of her eye, waving in her direction.
Clearly she has two options: she can face him now like a halfway mature person or she can jump in her car and gun it. And if she could just find her keys in her backpack gunning it would be the solution; as it is, she is still fishing frantically in the dumb little zippered compartment that she crams way too much shit in when he makes it to her. She can hear him breathing heavily as if he ran all the way to her. When he presses himself against her back, wrapping his arms around her in a loose hug, he feels stiflingly hot. She visibly stiffens when he kisses her neck softly.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were avoiding me," he jokes quietly, pulling away from her. She can tell by the nerves in his voice that he's a little bit serious. She reluctantly turns around, squints at him in the bright afternoon light; he is lovely and golden and suddenly feels so far away from being hers it makes her stomach queasy.
Peeta brushes the hair that has come loose from her braid off her forehead; if he minds the nervous sweat that is beaded on her hairline he doesn't mention it. He takes in her frown, swallows hard. "This is the part where you tell me I'm paranoid."
For a minute he looks so heartfelt, so genuinely sweet and anxious that she just wants to take him to her house and watch overdramatic TNT shows on Netflix, curl up next to him on the couch and makr jokes at the expense of David Boreanaz. Finally invite him to stay for dinner, blush uncomfortably as Prim asks awkward questions and her mom hints around the sex talk. Instead she looks up at him, shrugs her shoulders with a scowl.
"I didn't know I had to wait for you," she says, rolling her eyes.
Peeta looks taken aback. "Oh, uh," he pulls away from her and takes a step back, shoving his hands deep in his pockets, "I mean, you don't have to, I just thought—"
"Thought what?" she scoffs. She tries to ignore the pit of dread that is quickly growing bigger with every passing second. "That I was just gonna spend all my time waiting around on you?"
He frowns, confused. "What are you even talking about? We've been walking to class together for like two weeks, I just assumed—"
"Well assuming things has a good way of making you look like an idiot," she says bitterly. She knows from experience.
For the first time, he looks pissed. Really pissed. "You're right, Katniss. One of us definitely looks like an idiot right now." She flushes; her heart is beating so rapidly from confrontation that she thinks she might be sick.
They stand there for a minute, deadlocked. Peeta looks sick and angry and upset. "I guess just…call me when you're ready to talk about this," he says flatly. His voice is quiet and final.
And then somehow he is the one driving quickly away and she is left standing there, still searching for her keys and trying not to cry.
. . .
Her mom works late that night, so she orders pizza for her and Prim. Together they gorge on the large meat lover's and watch bad nineties teen movies that Prim is obsessed with. She keeps her phone face down on the coffee table, resolutely ignoring the lack of witty texts with annoying winky faces that Peeta usually sends her.
Somewhere in between Freddy Prinze Jr.'s weirdly intense hacky sack performance art and an impromptu prom queen rap, her phone buzzes. Her stomach drops nervously, but she makes herself wait until Paul Walker makes an ass out of himself before she looks at it.
REDBOX: Rent that movie you've been meaning to see!
And oh god, it's humiliating how disappointed she is. She saves the promo code, though. She'll probably need that when she's home alone Saturday night, not at prom with Peeta.
She wonders if she's made a giant mistake.
. . .
She sits down in the shower that night, too distracted to even use the detachable shower head, unable to get her thoughts to quiet down.
Peeta said she was being an idiot. Sort of. In a roundabout way after she implied that he was an idiot first. But still. Ugh. The fact that he was just as passive aggressive as she was really pisses her off. She reaches out for her phone on the counter, dripping water carelessly on the keypad — it's only 8:30, which is ridiculous because it feels like fucking next week. He probably got home from the bakery a little while ago; if she had to make a guess she would say he's in his room, working on stupid Calculus equations and cutting his eyes in the direction of her room every few seconds, stewing over their argument.
Before she can think too much she lets her fingers tap out the words — We need to talk. She sits under the spray a while longer, closing her eyes as the water washes over her face, waiting for her phone to buzz. It doesn't.
. . .
When she gets back in her room, the window is open; moonlight streams in with the humid spring air, and her room smells like freshly cut grass from the neighbor's yard. She crosses over and looks out, clutching her towel to her chest. His window is open, but no light streams out. "Is he seriously sleeping right now?"
And even though she is alone and it was rhetorical, there is an answer. "Nope."
Katniss turns around so quickly that her towel fans out and when her eyes finally land on him, leaning against her closet door, he is flushed, eyes averted. "Uh, do you think you could put on some clothes?"
"Fucking shit, Peeta," she hisses. Her heart is pounding in her chest, echoing loudly in her ears. "You scared the shit out of me." She stalks back over to her bedroom door and shuts it furiously. Her eyes find him again and he is actually looking at her this time. "What are you even doing here?"
Peeta licks his lips nervously, still eyeing her towel. She tries to stay focused. "You said we needed to talk."
"Yeah, like on the phone," she says, rolling her eyes. "Or in a place we agreed on, like normal people. I didn't expect this Buffy and Angel shit."
And for an instant she thinks Peeta might forget that they're arguing because he grins the way he does when she has clearly spent too much time on Netflix instead of doing her homework. His smiles drops just as suddenly, though, and he sighs. "Can you just put some clothes on, Katniss? I can't—" He shuffles his feet around and shoves his hands in his pockets. "It's hard to concentrate when you're like that."
She kind of wants to say something sassy but now that her heartbeat has slowed and the initial surprise has worn off, she is just really, really glad to see him. Because for a few hours there she was pretty certain he was never going to sneak in her window again. Which would suck. A lot.
"Turn around, then," she says quietly. When her towel hits the floor she hears him bang his head against the wall and mutter to himself; she tries not to smile as she slips into her underwear and sleeping shorts. She throws a t-shirt on and sits cross legged in front of her bed, clutching a pillow to her stomach.
"Okay, you're good."
He bangs his head once more, and then turns to face her. They stare at each other for a long minute before he finally crosses the room and sits on the floor in front of her. He rests his elbows on his knees and leans forward, looking at her with a frown.
She irrationally wants him to just start talking, to already know what's wrong and have just the right words to fix it. Instead he stares at her steadily, waiting. Be logical, Katniss.
"I'm just really pissed at you," she blurts. Okay, so. Not the approach she was intending, but it gets the point across. His brow knits in irritation.
"Obviously," Peeta retorts. "What — what did I even do? Everything seemed fine at lunch. Unless, I mean, I know you're not crazy about PDA but my friends didn't even notice—"
She shakes her head, blushing. "It wasn't that."
He scowls; she doesn't remember ever seeing him so frustrated. "Well then I just have no idea." He rubs his eyes tiredly. "It all seemed good until it wasn't. I thought you liked sitting with me. Us. My friends were even talking to you today—"
"About prom," she interrupts. Gives him the most pointed look she can muster. He stares at her, dumbfounded, and she tries again. "Delly was talking to me about prom." She gestures wildly at nothing, and he shakes his head. And she just can't take it anymore.
She explodes. "Are you fucking kidding me? You don't — how you are so good with people but you don't get this, Peeta? Delly — Delly wanted to talk about prom. But I can't talk about prom. I can't tell her what I'm wearing or how I'm doing my hair or where we're going to eat because we're not going."
He blinks rapidly, like she smashed a vase over his head, and he swallows hard. "Katniss—"
She is horrified by the tears in her eyes. "I thought you liked me," she says, quieter now but just as angry. "God, I'm so stupid, but I really thought that we weren't just fooling around or whatever, but obviously—"
"Wait." He lurches forward on his knees and grips her shoulders tightly. The look on his face is so intense that she actually shuts up. "You're mad because I didn't ask you to prom?"
She shrugs out of his grasp. "It's not just that. It's everything. It's the fact that you only sneak over at night and never ask me to come over and haven't talked to my mom or Prim or even tried to take me on a real date or—"
"Oh my god, Katniss." He laughs as if everything is suddenly better, clearly underestimating how upset she is. "This is crazy!"
She stands up suddenly, crosses to the other side of the room to get as far away from his as possible. "Are you fucking kidding me? You're laughing at me? Do you really think that's a good decision right now?"
He turns around, moving to sit on the bed. "I'm not laughing at you," he says gently. "I just—" He shakes his head, "I can't believe I've been trying so hard not to freak you out over how much I like you that you're freaking out that I don't like you enough."
She glares. "What are you talking about, Peeta?"
"Katniss, I've been crazy about you since the moment I met you. Since before I met you, actually, since the moment you got out of your dad's truck your first day here." She would scoff, but the look on his face is so earnest it seems impossible. "Your hair was in two braids instead of one and—"
She rolls her eyes finally. "Cut the shit, Peeta."
"I'm serious," he insists. "I told my dad when we were five that I was going to marry you. And I just, I spent like thirteen years trying to figure out how to make you feel the same way. So a couple of weeks ago when everything, you know, happened, I just went for it. And you barely even wanted to talk to me at all when that happened, much less hear how in love with you I am. So I just — I don't know, I left it up to you. You never mentioned telling your family that we were together or anything, so I figured you weren't ready. So I didn't mention it either."
Katniss is torn between feeling irrationally angry at his logical explanation, freaking out at that word, and just kissing him until he shuts up.
Instead she walks back across the room, flopping beside him on the bed. Not so close that she's touching him, but close enough to smell his shampoo. "What about prom?"
Peeta laughs disbelievingly; he shifts on the bed and turns towards her. Grabs her hand and squeezes it tightly. "I just thought you weren't the kind of girl who wanted to go to prom."
She frowns. "I'm not, really."
"But you're pissed that I didn't ask?" She shrugs unapologetically, and he smiles. "I wasn't trying to be an asshole, I just…I don't know, I thought we'd rent a Redbox and just hang out."
Luckily, she has a code for that. "Oh."
"So…wanna go to prom?"
Katniss tries to scowl. "Shut up." She doesn't want to admit how relieved and freaked out and happy and confused she is, so she settles for her signature frown.
"No, seriously." Peeta scoots closer on the bed, his leg flush against hers. "You can cut up a bunch of pink dresses and mash them into one and I'll pick you up on my dad's lawn mower." He looks so hopeful that she can't help but laugh. But only a little. He leans further, his face inches from hers. "You can even give me your underwear as a souvenir."
"You're mixing your references," she mutters, fighting a smile. His lips ghost over hers.
Then he is kissing her softly, pulling her closer. And somehow, even though they've been doing this for weeks, it seems different; her hands hang awkwardly at her sides, unsure what to do. She pulls away, squeezes her eyes closed nervously.
"Do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow?" When her eyes squint open, his smile is brilliant.
"I guess this kind of makes you my girlfriend," he says teasingly. His hands slip under the hem of her t-shirt, sliding up her back.
"There goes the fun part," she jokes back, shivering at his touch. She's fairly certain she's beaming, which would be embarrassing if she wasn't so fucking happy.
They don't talk much after that.
. . .
Hours later, he crawls back out of her window, lips swollen and hair sticking in all directions. If she were in a movie, this is the part where she would squeal loudly and spin around. Instead, she tugs her shirt back on and watches him sneak back into his room. He blows her a kiss from his window and she rolls her eyes and waves back, ignoring the way her heart beats faster.
Even though it's late and she has class soon, when she gets back in bed she can't do anything but think of Peeta. Her boyfriend. Her fucking boyfriend. That she is going to prom with. Funny how things change in a day.
She thinks about hearing Peeta say the word 'love.' Maybe she'll just deal with that after graduation.
. . .
. . .
You can find two additional Neighborly drabbles on my tumblr, under the "Drabbles" tag. There is always a chance someone can convince me to continue, but until then I'd consider this complete. Thanks for reading! Come find me on tumblr: swishywillow.