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Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own anything related to the Hunger Games. I don't own anything related to the move Dazed and Confused. I don't own any of The Killers amazing music or lyrics. I do own my own memories of growing up in 'Small Town America', however, upon which the lovely town of Meadowglen is based. ;D
When You Were Young – Chapter One: The Night
"Oh, turn this up!" I say, already reaching to slap Gale's hand away from the radio controls and going for the volume dial. Laughing, Gale lifts both his hands as though in surrender before placing them back on the steering wheel. He knows better than to switch off The Killers if I'm riding with him.
"He doesn't look a thing like Jesus, but he talks like a gentleman, like you imagined when you were young!" I belt out over the, now significantly louder, stereo.
"Dammit, Katniss, if Ol' Cray pulls me over for another noise violation you're paying for it this time!" Gale is shouting to be heard over my caterwauling.
I ignore him and continue singing. The radio in Gale's beat up pick-up isn't even capable of especially loud volume, but Cray's just an old asshole who will look for any reason to harass Seam kids like us. He's your typical small town cop, who never did shit with his life and realizes that his best days are gone and are never coming back. Therefore, he takes any chance to direct his bitterness at those of us young enough to still have options and opportunities. Particularly those of us who grew up in the rural area a few miles outside of Meadowglen's small downtown, known as the Seam. In Cray's philosophy, if you are poor you must have gotten that way because you were lazy and immoral. Thus, he looks at everybody from the Seam with suspicion since we are definitely Meadowglen's poorest citizens. Kind of ironic since he is by far the laziest and most immoral person in town. More than a few pretty Seam girls have been brought up on some bullshit charges, just to have them mysteriously dropped after spending a few hours alone in 'private interrogation' with Cray.
But I'm not too worried about Ol' Cray right now. Tonight is one of those rare nights that seems to have a magical quality. Like there is just something in the air that lets you know that something really memorable and wonderful is going to happen. Maybe it is that I worked on my scholarship applications earlier today, so the whole world feels like an open door; maybe it is that my best friend, Gale, has a rare Friday night off from his demanding job in the mines, so we're able to actually hang out like we used to before life placed too many demands on his time; or maybe it's just that it is the perfect fall night, with just enough of a cool breeze to be comfortable and a sky so clear it seems like you can see every single star. Whatever it is, tonight I feel young and hopeful and alive.
Gale laughs at me as I scream the final lines of the song looking directly at him and gesturing wildly with my hands. "I don't know the last time I saw you in such a good mood, Catnip. What's going on? You get laid and not tell me about it?"
"As if I'd tell you even if I did," I scoff. Leave it to Gale to find some opportunity to tease me about my sex life, or, more appropriately, my lack of sex life. He frequently brings it up jokingly, but I suspect that it is his way of keeping tabs because he really does want to know. I know that he would remedy the situation if given half the chance- he's actually suggested exactly that a few times when he's had too much to drink. I always try to brush it off as a joke. I mean, he's really good looking and we get along great, but I just don't see him that way, and I know that sleeping with him would change our relationship forever. And he certainly isn't sitting around pining for me. Although I'll never take him up on that particular offer, plenty of other girls have. Plenty of other girls…
"Where are you driving? I thought this party was with your work buddies?" We are supposed to be on our way to a party but I realize we are heading toward downtown, where I know none of Gale's work friends live.
"Yeah, it is… we umm… just have to make a quick pit stop," he says, clearly hedging.
"Where?" I ask suspiciously.
He doesn't answer me and just keeps driving. "What the hell, Gale? Where are you taking me?"
My question is answered as he puts on his left blinker to turn onto a road that only leads to one place. The high school… where the varsity football game is in full swing. "No way! I do not want to go to the damn football game! Turn around!"
"Come on, Catnip, just for a minute. I just want to check on something," he says, attempting to make puppy dog eyes at me.
"No, Gale. You know I hate this shit. I spend five days a week with these people. And none of the decent ones ever show up at the football games. Please don't make me do this," I plead.
"Honestly, it'll only be for a few minutes. Just long enough for me see her jump around in that tiny skirt of hers for a few minutes. You know I hardly ever get Fridays off. This may be my last chance and I just can't miss this opportunity to replenish my spank bank," he says, waggling his eyebrows at me.
"You're disgusting," I groan, suppressing a laugh. I know, of course, who he is here to see. Madge Undersee: head cheerleader, mayor's daughter, and the one girl (besides me) who refuses to give Gale the time of day.
"Kaaatniiiiss, pleeaasse just come with me." Now he's just full blown whining as pulls the truck onto a patch of grass, making his own parking spot since the entire lot is full. Our town takes their high school football very seriously.
"You know, nobody likes a whiner. I'll just wait here, thanks," I say crossly.
"You have to come with me. Since you are determined to repeatedly turn me down the least you can do is be my wingman… er, wingwoman. If I go in there by myself it'll just seem creepy."
"I've got news for you, Hawthorne. There's nothing either of us can do to make you not seem creepy," I deadpan. "You graduated last year- you should be over this shit. If you go in there now you will just be that weird dude that continues to impose himself on the high school kids so he can pretend he's not getting older. You're approaching 'McConaughey Status' here."
"Damn, that's low. I was still in high school like, four months ago. I am not that guy."
"Yet," I say.
"Yet," he affirms, and winks at me before he climbs out of the truck.
I watch him walk towards the ticket line for about ten seconds before I heave a sigh and begin climbing out of the truck myself. "You owe me, Hawthorne!"
"I'll be more than happy to make it up to you, Everdeen!" He calls back, gesturing suggestively.
"Pig," I mutter as I jog to catch up with him.
When I get to his side he wraps his arm around my shoulders and shouts into the night, "That's what I love about these high school girls, man! I get older- they stay the same age!"
Fifteen minutes later I am leaning against the front of the bleachers of my school's football stadium, home of the Meadowglen Coal Miners. Not very creative, since coal is the bread and butter of Meadowglen, but it does provide endless opportunities to form puns about how Meadowgleners 'will blow-up the competition' or our 'explosive' athletic prowess.
One of the many reasons I don't really fit in at this school is because I just don't buy into all this. I've always been a bit of a loner, even more so now that my one and only good friend has graduated. As I observe my surroundings I am assailed by a multitude of social activities in which I have always been too shy and reticent to participate in. The marching band is in the stands playing a dumbed-down version of Seven Nation Army, to which the dance team is bent over shaking their scantily clad asses at the crowd. The cheerleaders, who are currently being ogled by Gale, are calling out a cheer that consists of shouting 'boom there goes the dynamite' as they launch a few of the girls in the air. Representatives from pretty much every club the school offers are here trying to fund raise and recruit new members. Athletes from sports teams other than football are here in 'Meadowglen Athletics' T-shirts to both advertise their own sport and to support the football team. Everywhere people are laughing, flirting, cheering and just generally having a great time.
It's hard to not feel like there must be something wrong with me. It seems like everybody here is passionate about something except for me. Well, that's not true. I am passionate about something, but it's not exactly the kind of thing there is a school club for. What am I going to do, start a hunting club? I somehow think that wouldn't exactly catch on very well, especially since people already think I'm kind of a weirdo. Even though Meadowglen is rural, hunting isn't really a big thing around here. In fact, the majority the forest surrounding Meadowglen is part of a wildlife preserve owned by Appalachian State University so, for the most part, hunting isn't even legal here.
Most everybody in the Seam knows that Gale and I hunt and they couldn't care less, but we would be in big trouble if we ever got caught at it. That's the thing that is nice about the Seam though, we all support each other. Our neighbors know how hard it has been for our families ever since both of our fathers were killed in a mining accident seven years ago. They see no harm in Gale and I using what nature has to offer if it helps keep food in our bellies. It is especially hard for Gale's family, since there are four kids to feed as opposed to only two in mine.
College was never an option for Gale even if his grades had been good enough to get a scholarship (which they weren't). I'm a little more fortunate. Since my mother makes enough at her nursing job that she will be able to support her and my little sister Primrose, I'll be able to afford a state university as long as I get a decent amount in scholarships. In some ways, my shy nature has been a blessing, as my lack of social life has left me with plenty of time to maintain a 4.5 GPA. My mom definitely wants for me to have a better life than what she had, but my biggest motivation is Prim. It means so much to her to see me succeed and I'll do everything I can not to let her down.
As I watch Gale chatting up the cheerleaders I find myself actually a little annoyed with Madge. She has always been nice to me, but she looks at Gale with thinly veiled contempt. I may not want to date him, but at least I have bothered to get to know him. I understand that he is a bit of a player, but underneath that he is a really good guy. He has sacrificed so much for his family. That is just the kind of guy he is- he would do anything for the people he loves. She could do a lot worse.
Madge basically shot him down the second he sauntered up to the fence around the track that separates the cheerleaders from the spectators, so now he is chatting up a pretty brunette cheerleader who is giggling and flushed. I can tell he's laying it on thick as he leans on the fence with studied nonchalance. Poor girl didn't stand a chance. He hands the brunette his phone and she types something into it before she hands it back. I notice that Madge has watched the entire exchange and continues to stare at Gale as he pushes off the fence and struts away. Hmm, maybe she's not as indifferent as she seems?
Madge catches my eye just as Gale approaches me and realizes I saw her watching him. She quickly turns away and begins barking orders at the other girls on the squad.
"Enough eye candy to fuel your pervy fantasies? Can we get out of here, now?" I ask him as leans next to me.
"Oh yeah. The dance team is definitely helping in that department, too. Damn."
"Yeah, so you said. But I did get that brunette's number and she told me about a party after the game. I wonder if Madge will be there?" he says, peeling his gaze off the dance teams' asses and back to Madge's as she bends to arrange her pom-poms.
"I thought we were going to a party with people from your work. Or was that just a ruse to get me out of the house?"
"No, there is a party, and we are going right now. But later we'll go to this party," he says indicating his phone where the brunette entered her phone number.
"Whatever, as long as it means we can get out of here," I say as I push off the wall.
"Wait! Just a few more minutes! It's halftime, the dance team will be right here in front of us during halftime."
"Ech, don't expect me to stand here with you. I'm going to go talk to Delly," I say as I begin walking away from him. I head over toward the west end of the field near the concession stands where tables are set up to promote various clubs. I walk to one decorated with a handmade poster board sign that says 'Like to Argue? Join the Debate Team!' where Delly Cartwright, one of the few people in school that I actually talk to, stands attempting to attract the attention of people passing by.
"Katniss! How are you? I'm surprised to see you here!" Delly calls with a bright smile as I approach.
"Hey, Delly. Yeah, Gale kinda dragged me here. How are you?"
"I'm great! I actually got someone to sign up for debate, so I'm really great!"
"That is great. Really great…" I say awkwardly. It has always struck me as particularly funny that Delly is the captain of the debate team, since she is pretty much the most agreeable person I have ever known. It's really hard to imagine her ever debating with anybody over anything. I could probably tell her that 'Delly' is not actually her name, and she would try to find some way to agree with me just to be nice.
As she begins to respond to me her voice is drowned out as the entire crowd, both in the bleachers and standing around us at the concessions, erupts into a deafening roar. The game announcer is screaming over the sound system "TOUCHDOWN, MEADOWGLEN! NUMBER 74, PEETA MELLARK, GAINED 46 YARDS ON THAT PLAY FOR A COAL MINERS TOUCHDOWN!"
Delly is jumping up and down and clapping as she screams, "Go Peeta!" Several people have bombarded the table where we are standing in an attempt to get to the fence, beyond which the only thing separating Delly's table from the end zone is the track. The band has struck up the school's fight song and the entire crowd around is singing along, screaming the words in my ear. I'm forced to turn towards the field as I am jostled by the raucous crowd.
I don't know how I know it, but I am certain that as soon as I glance toward the field I will see his blue eyes on me. Somehow I can just feel that Peeta Mellark, the darling of Meadowglen High School- star running back, senior class president, state championship wrestler- will have his clear blue eyes resting squarely on me. As I look toward him I see that the entire team has now gathered, slapping Peeta's pads and jumping on his back. Despite this- and despite my being swallowed up in the middle of a disorderly mob- I'm not wrong. He has pulled his helmet off and is looking directly at me. As I meet his clear blue gaze, my stomach drops to my feet. I don't understand how he does this. Why do I always find him staring at me, and why does it always make me feel so… so… anxious?
His messy blond curls are soaked with sweat, sticking up every which way and plastered to his forehead. He's wearing a lopsided grin that reveals his even white teeth as he distractedly accepts the congratulations from his teammates. It's clear that he really isn't paying any attention to them however, because his attention is focused right on me. I want to look away, normally when I catch him staring at me I am the first to look away, but tonight I can't seem to. He just looks delicious and I just feel- I don't know- scared and excited and annoyed and giddy and tingly all over. Finally, after what feels like forever, Peeta breaks the trance I'm under when his teammates begin pushing him back towards the sideline.
I am left totally bewildered as the crowd around me begins to dissipate and head back toward the concession stands as halftime begins. What the hell just happened? I can't explain my reaction. It's not the first time I have caught Peeta Mellark staring at me, and every time leaves me feeling… funny… but I have never felt quite this shaken before. I usually just assume that I imagined it- that he was looking at someone standing behind me- but somehow I know deep down that that is not the case.
I have felt all night like something big was going to happen and now it has. I feel pretty certain that after whatever the hell that was, I'm not going to be able to ignore this weird connection that seems to exist between me and Peeta Mellark. And that scares the shit out of me.
Suddenly I am overwhelmed with the need to get out of here. Now. I pull my phone out and text Gale to tell him that I will meet him at the truck. A distracted wave is the only goodbye Delly gets from me before I am making a beeline toward the exit.
I know, I know, we want more Peeta. Don't worry, he's coming. This story will be full of more delicious sweaty Everlark goodness! I also plan to write from his POV so that we can get inside his delightful mind.
Thanks again for reading! Don't forget to leave a review. I would like to think that I have good Review Karma since I always leave reviews when I read you-all's lovely work.
Also, I apologize for typos. I am terrible with proof reading (too impatient).