A/N: Long time no see, I know. This story is a treat, but it's not strictly speaking my story. It was given to me by a friend, ElsterBird, and I've loved reading all that she already had. Mostly, it's just me being a supreme editor and posting it here, so do send her thanks or praise for the story if you are so inclined. It's not one of my usual stories, which is refreshing to me and hopefully for any readers out there. Reviews are love, let me know if you want more. Thank you for reading.
Monday, far too late in the morning
Shit, shit, shit!
I race down the apartment building's front steps as fast as my aching knees allow me to.
When I had stormed out of my room earlier this morning I fell down almost half of those stairs. And of course, like a bush-league cliché movie would suggest, I had forgotten to close my bag so all my paints and brushes flew through the air and scattered on the steps around me. I still wonder how I'd managed to land in a big pool of yellow paint; my butt looks as if I'd been sitting on a banana – or worse. On top of all that I'm late – very late – for art school, on the day we had to take our final painting exam; one of the most important tests of the year.
We'd been working on different painting styles to prepare for this exam for the last eight weeks and, even thus, I'd felt fucking incapable to begin with. I know how to handle pens and pencils, graphic tablets and even coal, but I'm hopeless with paint. I'm pretty amazed how the paint manages to find its way onto my face more often than on my canvas. I'm not stupid or inept, don't get me wrong, but I simply have no talent for painting.
Every time I admitted this out loud Gale would sigh and repeatedly say, "You don't need talent to paint. You just need more patience and the power of observation. That's all." Yeah, sure. His comment might have had kind intent, but I have the patience and the power of a hunter, and it doesn't help me a whit.
I hate acrylic paint, and it hates me, but this test is important, so one or two weeks before the final, I'd panicked. I'd gone frantic; Gale had even given me some tutoring lessons (after begging), sometimes even at the inconvenient times late in the night because of my work shifts (hardcore begging), but I could not get the feeling for bright or dark and warm or cold colors altogether. Everything I did just turned out like shit. I couldn't even mix a proper black and that's supposed to be easy. I mean, just mingle the right proportions of blue, red, and yellow. You can even check if you're right when you mix white into it. If the color turns out grey, you're right. Mine turned out pink, every fucking time.
And today, the day on which I finally had to prove myself, to put Gale's tutoring and all my sleepless hours mixing colors to good use, I'd simply overslept. Four hours! Obviously I was paying for those sleepless hours in a way, but god, how could I have let that happen? I do a lot of dumb things, but usually I had the good sense to set an alarm and oversleeping was never a problem.
Actually, I'm somewhat the queen of calculating. My days are filled with constant precarious limits; How many lessons could I be absent from without being expelled? How many lessons could I skip without failing my subjects? If I'm ever late to school, it's because I'd planned it.
Planned! "Ha," I muttered under my breath, pushing through the entrance door. Since when does anything go as I planned? By the looks of me one might think I'm a lazy schlep or something, but that's not the case.
If I cared to move other by pity, then I'd probably mention the fact my father died less than a year ago and I am unable to visit classes as often as the others do anymore because my family depends on my wages and I need to work at night and sometimes even during the day.
I knew there were programs for such things, but I couldn't really be moved to do all the paperwork, nor would I risk losing my little sister, Primrose, to foster care. I wasn't sure what they'd do to check on my home life, but I'm fairly certain they'd notice my mother lying unfailingly in her bed with the vaguest expression in her face you'd mistake her for the living dead. Of course, she was not as amusing as a zombie out of the comedy "Shaun of the Dead" – she was less so. At least those zombie's had a passion for something (living flesh, or no) while my mother existed in a state of permanent unmoving, her only companions grief and misery.
Don't get me wrong, I love my mom – make that loved, with many grudging undertones – but when she'd decided to bury herself in a coma of depression, refusing to seek out medical assistance out of cowardice, I knew that we did not only lose our dad. She'd abandoned us, much worse than he had, willingly, and I'd never forgive her for that… and now I see her shape underneath the blankets as nothing more than a nuisance. And all I feel towards her is shame. Shame towards the fact that she can't pull herself together to help her own daughters and shamed at myself at the fact that I can't accept the things how they are now. I can't even talk to her about being a coward on my own, nor motivate myself to drag her unwilling to a hospital, and face the medical tidal wave of bills and troubles waiting there…
I'm a chip off the old block, aren't I? And honestly, I hated pity too much to use it in order to move my teachers into easing up on me and so as a result I'd given up precious time in school, in order to work and sell and provide, and everything I did was to guarantee my sister a good life. Well, a better life. At the rate things are going now, after this missed final, I might as well have dropped out weeks ago to find a proper full time job as I'd begun to consider. What better life can I give if I fail out and have no back up plans or jobs waiting for me?
I can't believe I overslept! This final exam literally decides the outcome of my education. No. My entire future even! What was I thinking not setting an alarm? Why had I agreed to stay for a four a.m. shift? Crane, my boss, might be strict, but I could have begged another girl to cover!
I slam my bag down on the bus seat, angry at myself and frustrated with the sun rising steadily in the sky. As I'm staring out of the window and praying for a miracle I realize that the paint on my jeans hasn't dried fully yet, smearing the leather beneath me. I need to get out of the bus before the driver realizes. Before anyone realizes. Else I might have to pay for it – and that's not going to happen. And really, it's not like anybody would take the time to look over me. My hair's disheveled (messy braid style, my forever go-to I'm late hairstyle) and it's unwashed since yesterday morning. To think about it, I haven't even looked into the mirror this morning. I try to flatten any flyaways as I sit, and I try to puzzle out if I've still got yesterday's makeup on. I hope my pillow got it for me…
However; just my luck, today they're actually looking instead of ignoring my existence. With sharp, annoyed glances or curious unguarded stares that I try to ignore. At least I know now that my pillow is a shitty makeup remover. It's dully noted. I try to rub my eyes clean blindly, hoping it'll help.
I end up arriving to the correct classroom around four hours late, breathless.
Miss Trinket, the instructor, is frantic the moment I shut the door behind me. "Everdeen!" she trills. For fuck's sake her voice is shrill. "You're far too late! What are you thinking?"
I mutter my apology, distracted with trying to find a place to sit down (and hide my butt), but Effie has a different plan and cuts me off. "There's no way you can start the final now. You're just a distraction to the others who actually care about their future," she chided.
What? She's going to deny me the chance to take the test? Is that allowed? I know if I don't get this grade in the books I'll fail this class and by that factor I won't be able to graduate.
I'd planned on coming today! Really, I swear!
"Miss Trinket, I'm really, really sorry, but... –" I try to apologize more sincerely, but I know it's in vain. Her gaudily makeup slathered face is pinched with that familiar look she reserve especially for me. Effie hates me and I don't mean it in the 'I'm the student that skips and makes her days harder' way. Ever since I'd dumped her son, Cato, (he didn't even care to tell me he'd been her son at all, not until the next day her usual chirp was gone) Effie has made it her mission to undercut me in everything I do. Apparently gradating will be one of those things.
Cato: another dark chapter of my past. Why is it I am still paying for that?
"No buts, Everdeen! Out with you! You're disrupting your classmate's peace and concentration. Out, out." She ushers me toward the door with her hands and legs like I am nothing more than a mutt. About halfway there I forget my protests and storm off, and it takes all my will power not to shatter her own snobby, high-heeled peace with a decisively aimed middle finger.
This is it. I'll never become a director, because just now, I've failed one simple art class.
I sit down next to the coffee dispenser a little ways down the hall to the classroom. What should I do? Could I go get some paints from Madge and simply improvise? I know the paintings aren't graded in this school. This art school is merely a necessary pre-stage to get into the actual University. Our works would be judged at UZH, University of Zürich, by some committee. Thinking about it now… I could just ... smuggle my work in, without Effie's knowledge.
I've never heard of anyone doing that before, but why not? I don't have anything to lose. I don't have the time or money to re-enroll and re-take the class, and I know the University doesn't look kindly on kids who have gone through the pre-program twice. I could… just cheat, I guess you'd call it… by smuggling the work in, so it's not technically counted as late… or missing.
Am I really even considering this? It's not a crime, is it? Who would take the time to care about one desperate student? There's no full scale investigation for this kind of stuff… and worse goes to worst on what they could do to me I'm sure it is just fail me and kick me out – but I'm already facing that reality. Again, nothing to lose…
Cheating it is, I decide.
So, being late and kicked out of the classroom aside, I still need to paint. But what?
I throw my head back in disbelief. Fuck, I don't know what they were painting. I hadn't even bothered to look! What sort of subject would Miss Trinket use for the final? Fruit? Shoes? Flowers? With her, it could have been a pair of pink dyed poodles for all I know!
Damn it, why hadn't I looked at our subject before leaving? Really now, how many mistakes am I going to make today? I claim to be an expert at calculating, but I seriously didn't even glimpse our subject for the final, which is key in pulling this cheating scheme off. Well, fuck that.
I sink down next to the coffee machine. I get the last centimes out of my purse and I realize that I don't even have enough for a watery and tasteless instant coffee. I kick it as if it'd help me.
Of course it doesn't. But I do feel a bit better now that I have an outlet for my frustration.
I could go home, maybe clean up a bit, shower… there's no point in staying here, since there's no way to take the exam now. Is there? I could try to talk to our principal, Haymitch Abernathy, about this, but he most likely won't be giving me a second chance. He's a real hardass and I suspect he just wants to get in Effie pants... again, if the rumors are to be listened to.
He wouldn't do anything that risked his chances with her.
With people like that all around me, what am I to do?
(And people wonder why I don't take the time to fill out the proper paper work.)
I sit next to the coffee dispenser for what feels like an hour, deep in thought, and unmotivated to actually go anywhere or do anything. I think about my options again, but the solution is not clear. I came to the conclusion that cheating is actually going to be impossible. Even if I snuck into the classroom now, the small amount of time Effie spends ushering me out again won't be enough to memorize everything about the subject – the lines, the colors, the light, the shadows – and I didn't bring my camera, nor did I think any of my other classmates would have taken a picture.
There goes my chance at the University.
I should probably call Cato about that job he'd been offering – apparently the pay is better.
I pull out my phone, actually contemplating calling the bastard, when a deep, raspy voice remarks from beside me, "That was pretty rough back there. You okay?"
I look up to find a student I've never seen before. It's not that unusual to see strangers every now and then; there were more than a hundred people studying art, not to mention the other four hundred students that studied psychology and science in the same building.
It's just usually they don't bother to speak to me.
Which is a good thing, but this guy was a particularly nice looking guy and I won't lie, my interest in this conversation was pretty high initially. Wavy pale blonde hair fell over his forehead, nearly covering his pretty, almost unreal looking blue eyes.
Almost unreal? They look photoshopped or something.
I shouldn't stare, it's not a nice thing to do, but I quickly scan the rest of what he has to offer; broad shoulders, slender waist, muscular arms. Not the bodybuilder- or I-go-to-the-gym-to-impress-the-girls- type, but the shape seemed more natural. As if he worked as a construction worker or something, or from a long life of sports and genuine work labor.
Then, I realize that I haven't given him an answer, so I say, "Yeah, Effie doesn't like me that much." I shrug. "I had it coming at me I guess." Even though I know it's Cato's fault.
"Still…" the stranger offers and stops himself, looking away. He puts his hands in his jean pockets and leans against the wall next to me. I'm still sitting next to the machine; I must have looked very sulky if he felt the motivation to come say something.
From the corner of my eye I watch Effie and a handful of strangler students leave the classroom. The exam seems to be finished and there's no more reason to cling to hope sitting here. I pat my pants clean and stand up. "I should get going now. There's no reason to stay here any longer."
I turn around to grab my bag, as the guy beside me snorts loudly. "What?" I ask, my voice edged with annoyance. Does he think my failure is amusing? He holds up his hands defensively, feigning innocence, and it might have helped, if he wasn't grinning like a mischievous child.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to gape there but… you didn't notice a wet paint sign, did you?"
I frowned. "Ha-Ha, babyeyes. You know, the school for clown's just round the corner."
I hide the yellow stains on my butt with my hands. Yes, I'm ashamed. I mean, hey, I just met someone who looks like a freaking photoshopped Adonis or something, and the only reason why someone like him would be checking out my ass would be because I got stupid, of all things bright, paint on it like some…luminous advertisement that says "look at what I've got!"
Or what I haven't.
"Sorry, really," he utters after a moment, and scratches his neck, sheepish. His amused smile has vanished in a matter of milliseconds. "I didn't want to appear rude." Or perverted?
"Well, you did," I shoot back. "It's not my day at all, so why don't you just leave me alone? I don't think it's funny to make stupid jokes. I hate it, actually." Oh, please. I would have probably laughed my ass… head (!) off, if my future hadn't gone south today.
It's his turn to frown.
"You're right, sorry. It was… immature?" Is this a question? He clears his throat. "Don't take it to heart. It's only one of many exams, I'm sure it's not that grave if you don't submit it."
I lean against the coffee dispenser, press my eyes shut and hit my head on it lightly. "If you knew."
"It's that serious?" he asks.
Oh, how would this baby-eyed Adonis know?
"I'm torn between begging Haymitch on my knees or simply dropping out."
"I'm not. You apparently don't know my jokes." I open my eyes and push myself away from the machine. I should go now, get rid of him as fast as possible and crouch into some dark, nasty hole. And perhaps beg Crane for more shifts, since I'll be able to work more from now on.
This guy however doesn't look like he wants to end our conversation anytime soon.
"No. I don't know you at all, so how would I recognize them?"
I tip my chin with my pointer finger as if I was thinking hard. Really, I contemplate him again, wondering if it's even worth allowing the conversation to continue. Okay, give him the deathblow. No guy wants to see a girl's geek side. We'll let him end the conversation himself.
"Well, that's quite easy, babyeyes. If I was kidding I'd say: "A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, 'Why the long face?'" I deadpan the entire thing. He doesn't laugh, as I thought.
Instead, he asks in surprise, "Have you just recited Hot Shots Part Deux? I've never met a girl who would quote such a movie. Any movie anyway. It's one of my favorites."
Okay, I didn't expect that. I really didn't. I brush a lose strand of hair behind my ear. "Holy shit, I thought I'd scare you off like this," I admit. "For my defense, I have a better sense of humor than this, just to say…"
He laughs. "That I can see."
That's it, I'll just have to make the terminal stop myself. I'm sure our conversation's pretty much over now; what else is there to talk about? We covered my failure. I bend again to get my bag and I'm on my way to tell him goodbye, but he somehow manages to rekindle our conversation.
"So, what are you going to do now?" he asks and he seems sincerely interested in my fate.
I shrug. "Trying to find out how to cheat? Buy some apples and pears to draw them? I don't know. Have you taken the test?" I ask because I need more information, but as soon as those words have left my mouth I realize how stupid this question is. Of course he'd been in the room. How would he know about Effie and the scene of ushering me out if he wasn't? I slap my forehead. "I'm stupid. Of course you'd know. Mind to tell me what the subject was? I'm thinking about taking the test alone and sneaking my work to UZH by myself on Saturday…"
For a moment he just stares at me.
Suddenly flush – wow, I just admitted to cheating to a stranger – I turn a little to hide my flushed face. It's an awkward way to be, turning my face, not to mention getting so flustered in front of a stranger, but I'd rather show him my pants than my face right now. He's seen them already, so…
He clears his throat suddenly and smiles boldly.
"Oh… Yeah, I kinda was in there…" he began and laughs again. Is it still about my pants?!
"What?" I bark at him when I face him again, regretting the turn. "Seriously, I'm sorry that I've got no clean pants on, but I don't think your choice of garment is much better, really!"
Looking him up and down I know I'm right. He's wearing jeans, okay, but what's with his shirt? Or the lack of his shirt? What's that? A fucking bath robe? Where are his socks? His shoes?
He looks down at himself and tugs on the collar of his bath robe. "This?" he asks, astonished. "Umm… I didn't laugh because of your clothes, by the way. I admit it's funny, but only for the first time."
"So why?" I throw my hands up slightly. Babyeyes is starting to annoy me.
"Sorry, I guess I need to explain… I thought it was funny…I mean… you haven't seen me?"
I send him a glare.
"Why should I have seen you?" I say and roll my eyes. Oh god, what a jerk. He's full of himself! I should have known; nobody with this kind of appearance would be nice and genuine…
Somehow my anger makes him insecure. He's trembling. Oh, no. He's trembling because he needs to control his laughter. Asshole… "You are something…" he starts to say, before the laughter breaks through. "Okay, so let me tell you the theme of your exam, sweetheart."
Sweetheart? I almost throw back at him. I feel an urge to slap him for it, though it's a show of how really unstable I tend to be, and to make a show like that in the halls of soon-to-be-not-my-school seemed a bit extreme. But the urge was there. Besides, he's going to give me some valuable data. One ill-timed nickname is worth that ,surely. "What is it?" I ask, jaw clenched.
His grin grows wider. "It's nude painting."
"Nude what!" No. No. Not possible, right? No?
He slowly unties his belt and opens the bathrobe. Underneath he's not wearing anything beside his jeans, and when my glance meets his glorious body, I realize that he will get rid of them as soon as he steps into the art room again. I know his words before he says them: "I'm the model."
Fuck. My. Life. Good thing I didn't slap him, then, huh? "Okay...that's... awkward" I laugh, the sound off. There's no point in hiding my flushed cheeks, is there? I just give up trying on that.
I've never met anyone who's something like a nude model. In some sense I always thought it was a little like they are selling their bodies; it's certainly not what I believe to be a... proud kind of work. I wouldn't even see it as work. Work is hard. Being nude.. well... I guess it's not. But then who am I to complain? I don't think it's less humiliating working for Crane in his scruffy, stinky bar, where most of the guys think if they're paying for drinks they also get asses to grab for free.
I can see where his idea to get into the business comes from. I mean, his torso is broad and muscular, so are his arms and surely his legs, too. His face is more than handsome and his unruly blonde hair and his eyes make me squirm. Oh, and not to forget, there's almost no chest hair to find on him, what I really like on men. The only hair I can spot is his oh-so-alluring happy trail that finds its way from his navel down to... well, let's just say painting him wouldn't hurt you.
I flush again. If I hadn't come too late I would have seen him. I mean all of him.
Part of me enjoys the thought and another, larger part doesn't.
I'm not prude. I've seen naked men before and that's not the problem. I just find it gross... if not uncalled for to imagine how he looks like when I don't even know him. I mean, the men I've seen till this day were known to me. And they got undressed in… the process. Not before, or while I'm sitting there, observing, trying to replicate, with him fully aware. It just feels wrong having someone strip in front of you (I'd feel so ashamed and overdressed then!), just so you can study.
It's a lame excuse for checking him out.
At least he laughs too and scratches the soft stubble on his jaw. Oh, stubble.
Can he get even more handsome?
"You're right, it's kind of awkward, I guess. I usually don't talk to students at all. Not before, during, or after. I like to think that I leave the arts room as a different person," he says.
I nod understandingly.
"If I were you, it would freak me out if I couldn't forget all those people... checking me out, I guess. Don't they hit on you all the time? We have almost no men in class and you're stripping in front of a horde hungry coyotes or something." Unless, of course, it's the men he's after...
"I don't worry about that," he says, amused, as he holds up his left hand and shows me the simple silver band on his ring finger. "I'm under protection, you see."
So he's not on market then. What a pity. At least I know it's not the men.
"Don't you ever worry about your girlfriend? Wife? She must be one hell of a girl. I mean I'd absolutely hate it if my man would be willing to strip down before strangers ... well... it feels like he would be cheating to me. No offense."
He just shrugs. "None taken, don't worry about it. I hear that a lot. And, well, I can't really help it. It's the way the job works. And I guess your man wouldn't be happy with it, either."
It's my turn to shrug.
"Got no one. Just makes everything too complicated. Relationship and stuff, I mean."
I must sound like a ice queen, but at least I'm honest. I don't have time for a boyfriend; I need to care for my family and work for a living. (And I used to have to worry about going to school, but guess not.) There's no way I could go out to meet interesting people to get to know them better.
I surely am allowed to look, though. And I do.
I wished I could look down his body again, but he's wearing his bathrobe properly again. Damn.
His mouth forms a little, understanding "o" as he raises his eyebrows. I raise mine, too.
"Don't you think it would be appropriate to tell me your name before showing me this," I point to his chest, "and asking me about my nonexistent boyfriend?"
"Whoa, right!" He jumps in surprise and his hand shoots out immediately. "I'm really sorry. I'm trying to convince you that I'm not rude, but everything seems to be working against me today. I'm Peeta."
"What's your last name?" I ask, intrigued. I've never met him before, but Luzern is such a small place, so I might have heard of his family before.
"Just Peeta. I won't give anyone my family name. It's just... too intimate. I like to keep a low profile."
I gawk at him in shock. Intimate! Says he!
It takes me some time to realize that he's waiting for my reply.
"I ummm… I'm Katniss." I start before adding: "I'd give you my full name, but I think it wouldn't be fair now, would it?"
"You've got a point there, Katniss. Pleased to meet you." he answers.
"Pleasure's on my side, I guess."
We shake hands. After a few seconds I remember that he'd be the one who could save my career.
He could be my nude model.
I wonder if this is a good idea. I shouldn't get close to these kind of people. I can already hear my classmates talking about us behind our backs. But do I really mind? I don't like anyone that are my classmates anyway. The only people I care about are in different classes, so who cares? If my acquaintance with Peter can rescue my future, I'd gladly risk being the topic of their accusations.
Plus, he already knows about my plan to cheat. I should give it a try, right?
"So, ummm... can I ask you something?"
He raises his eyebrow and shifts his weight. Even in his stance you could infer that he's used to being a model. I know it from how he stands, comfortably and yet confident. His girl must be a really lucky one. "Of course," he answers to my question. "What's up?"
"Well..." I mumble and cross my arms in front of my chest, letting my bag glide back to the floor again. I suddenly feel ashamed to say what I intend to. It feels so completely wrong. "Yeah, umm... w-would you mind... being my model? I need to paint you... if I don't… I will definitely fail, so..." I don't even dare to look at him. It feels like I asked him to have sex with me, which is ridiculous. He's just getting naked for god's sake, but still. I feel my cheeks are glowing.
Peter frowns slightly and takes a small step back. I notice his reservation right away. But really, shouldn't he have been expecting this? "When?" he asks. I know from his tone it's not a 'no'.
"Immediately, I mean... this week?" I reply shyly but very hopefully. It's on short notice, but he's my only hope obviously. I do have a dead line before the smuggling option closes up.
"I don't know..." he says hesitantly and rubs his stubbled chin. "I'm pretty busy this week."
"But… but I really need to do this. You are my only chance!" I plead. Oh god, I'm already at pleading. I'm sure he already regrets having talked to me at all. I mean, hello? Desperate here.
He bites his lip and thinks, shaking his head occasionally.
"Listen, Katniss. I think you're pretty funny and that you surely are a good person. It wouldn't be hard to be your friend actually, so please don't take it the wrong way, but I can't help you right now... if I could, I'd agree immediately. But there is no time, and the inconvenience, and... yeah."
I let my head sink in defeat. That's it.
At least I've tried. At least I can tell Prim that I've given my best. But it bothers me to fail so close to my goal, so close! But I know that without him, I'm screwed. I'll definitely fail out, so why not drop out now? Get a head start on finding a job. So there's only one thing to do now: go to Haymitch and resign immediately. I won't have to spend my money on next semester's tuition fee I was working so hard for and I can spend it on Prim. And speaking of jobs, I can take on Cato's offer to work for SOCCO. It's a well-known chain for bars and pubs and Cato is one of the higher ups now, after working six years for them. He promised me good money for the job, better than I earn with Crane, but it didn't sit right with me before, because of our pat relationship.
What do I have to lose now?
I sigh. I need to call him. This thought makes me feel sick. I don't want to depend on him again.
Don't think of him now. It only makes everything worse.
"Alright, I get it. Sorry to have bothered you."
I lean down to get my bag. I just want to vanish before I do something stupid like cry.
"Hey... hey! Wait!" Peter calls out when I pass him without another word. I don't want or need to talk to him anymore, it's just embarrassing. Normally, I'd go off. I stop immediately though.
"What?" I ask when I turn myself back to him.
"What made you miss your test in the first place?" he asks and I'm surprised.
Why does he want to know?
"I told Effie already. I overslept. You heard."
I try to walk away again, but he keeps on talking.
"Yeah... but why did you? If it's so important. Why have you missed the opportunity?"
Oh. He might think that I'm a lazy girl with no interest for my future. Of course he wouldn't help me if he thinks I have problems with motivating myself, and probably would waste that time he was talking about. Somehow it angers me, though. It's none of his business (okay, it actually kinda is now); I don't want him to act like he knew me. However, desperate here, still.
I answer him curtly. "Work." Then I scoff. I don't know why I would bother with telling him. He's a stranger whom I've just met; I shouldn't even have told him my name. I regret that.
Plus, what's a model know about work?
He just nods, looking concerned. "Are you going home now?"
"No. I need to see our principal, Mr. Abernathy."
"You gonna ask him for help?"
I roll my eyes. Ask Haymitch for help? I'm not that stupid. "No, I'm dropping out," I say, my voice almost failing. It feels so humiliating to take those words into my mouth. "Whatever."
Peter's eyebrows furrow as he runs a hand through his hair. "You can't do that."
Oh, yes, I can!
I throw him a dirty glance and shoulder my bag again. But I wait for him to say something. I mean, he can't advise me against something without giving me another option, can he?
He sighs and leans against the wall beside me; crossing his arms and his ankles.
"Okay... how much would you pay me? If I made time for you, I mean."
My eyes widen in surprise. He wants to help me? If he did, I still could graduate! I'd cry out in joy, if I thought it was that easy. Instead, my face falls even more when realization hits me.
"Pay...? I need to pay you?" I ask timidly.
"It's hard work. And I'm obviously not stripping for free."
Fuck my life.
I retreat some steps.
"I can't pay you... I-I don't have any money..."
Peter gives me a bewildered look. "I thought you're working?" he asks disbelievingly. Oh great. He probably thinks I'm a junkie who spends all the money on drugs. I can't blame him. I'm not really... fancy. And my stained clothes would suggest that I am some fucked up girl, wasting all her money for dope or whatever. Or he thinks I'd lied before. About the work, I mean.
I glance back to my feet. Giving him money is clearly out of option. It's already hard enough to provide my family with two meals every day. I'd rather see Prim fed then to see myself pass.
"I am working," I mutter awkwardly. "It's just hardly enough to…" feed my family. I bite on my lip to prevent me from talking. I shake my head; he doesn't need to know and he won't guess.
Again, I take a step away from him and give him a fake smile that doesn't quite reach my eyes. I don't want him to think that I'm poor. Poor as a church mouse, actually. I'm too stubborn and proud to tell him. He's not even a friend. He's a stranger with my future in his hands. "It's okay, don't worry," I tell him, to smooth over the ruckus of the conversation. "I got it. I've… umm… wanted to start working full time anyway. I got some offers here and there, SOCCO and stuff…"
He takes a deep breath. If I didn't know it better I'd say that his face starts to look slightly pale. Does he feel bad for me? Does he think he'd be destroying my future if he didn't help me? Please god, let it be this case. Let him feel bad about this; I promise I'll be a good girl from now on and stop swearing immediately. I mean, pity is... not the best (as aforementioned), but I could live.
"No. Don't," he says and bites his cheek. Then: "I can make some time for you. Tomorrow and the next two days after. In the worst case I could help you out on Friday, too. Two hours a day."
Fuck me, awesome! "You'd really do this for me?" I jump and almost hug him, a stranger, for a second there. Whoa, Katniss. "I will make it up for you. Anyhow, I swear! Thank you so much!"
Peter just shrugs and gives me a small smile. He's happy for me, but also concerned and somehow… aggrieved? He must hate the thought of me stealing his precious time.
Whatever, I've got my model, hell yessss!
"I'll ask you to do me a favor one day and we're even. I'll tell you what I have in mind then..?"
"Okay," I agree eagerly.
He saves me and I'm sure I could be of any help for him in the future. Whatever he needs.
I give him a wide smile – he looks surprised to see it – and I start to cram in my bag for a pen. "Would you give me your number?" I ask. Oh crap, am I too forward? I should add something. Anything. "I mean, for if I overslept again..." I laugh nervously as he gives me a soft chuckle.
"Yeah, let's hope that's not the case? You'll have a hard time painting without me."
"Right, I'm just kidding. I won't leave you hanging."
"Seriously, please don't." He gets out his phone and starts creating a new contact. I look at him expectantly; pen and notebook ready in my hands. "Wait," he says. "Just give me yours and I'll ring you. Ummm... Katniss, right? How do you spell that? Starting with C? One S?"
I shake my head in amusement while I dictate to him my number.
"K," I correct him, "K and double S."
"That's a weird name," he remarks.
"Oh Peeta, I'm sure being named after some kind of bread is a lot weirder." I laugh, amused.
He looks at me in surprise.
"Oh wow, you got it right in the first shot? Everyone thinks I'm called Peter."
I stare at him, dumbfounded, and my mouth stands wide open. Here I was, referring to him as Peter the entire time. "You're not?" I ask him, aware of a trap. "Your name really is 'Peeta'?"
"That's a weird name," I mock him. He chuckles softly and gives me an amused nod. Then his eyes are caught by his mobile phone again and he starts typing. A few seconds later my phone buzzes. Luckily my phone's in silent mode because my old Nokia's ringtone is awful.
"There. Miss Trinket's told me the rooms here are occupied this week so I'll text you later and tell you where to meet up. I know a studio where we can work in. I need you to be ready from nine to eleven in the morning. Would that be acceptable for you?"
"Yes," I jump to agree. I can't believe he'd even thought about a studio. I can't possibly bring him home, can I? Never ever. Definitely not an option. Meeting up in the mornings are, however, fine for me. I'll need to skip a few lessons, but it's just textile design with Miss Portia. I've hardly ever missed any of her lessons since she's definitely my favorite, so I'm sure it will be okay.
"Just text me the location," I tell Peeta. "I'll confirm immediately."
"Perfect. Just be on time and try not to stay up for too long, okay?" He winks (winks!?) and puts his phone back into his pants pocket.
"I won't do that twice, I promise." I'm too grateful to miss this opportunity.
"Fine. Meet me tomorrow? I really need to go now." He glances at the clock behind me and frowns slightly, probably calculating how many minutes he'd need to get to his next destination, wherever it is. Stripping for another bunch of people maybe? Meeting up with that girlfriend?
"Alright. Yes. Tomorrow it is, then. Thank you so much."
"Bye, Peeta." I try his name on my tongue. I definitely like it better than Peter.
"Yeah, see you, Katniss." He waves.
No. See you.