There were only so many ways a person could pretend to look busy, and Katniss was beginning to run out of ideas. With a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure the managers' office door was still closed, she finally let herself relax. In the last half hour, she'd wiped down the counter and credit card machine in front of her register three times, and rearranged her stapler and cup of pens twice. Unless Johanna or one of the other managers wanted to stop pretending to be busy in the office so they could watch her drawer, there was nothing else for Katniss to do.
Everyone at the store called it, "The Calm Before the Storm". A term they used to describe that brief period of time just after Halloween when business slowed to a crawl as potential customers waited for the store to release the details of their Black Friday deals.
They were a small electronics and office supply store, the only one in the town of District 12. After three years, Katniss had grown used to the rapid fire changes around the store during the holiday season, but the one thing she could never quite prepare for were the seasonal hires.
Every year, they were thrown into the retail mix for only a few months and then promptly disappeared a few weeks after Christmas. Today was the day that Haymitch, the head manager, would usher this year's new hires into the break room and keep them there all morning. After several hours of making them watch thirty-year-old safety videos, he would free them to the floor to finally begin their on-the-job training.
"Grab a radio from the shelf and follow me out to the floor." Haymitch's voice echoed in the short hallway that led from the break-room to the floor, loud enough for everyone in the store to hear. The managers' office door swung open finally, and Katniss rolled her eyes. Of course they come out now.
She turned to watch Haymitch. He continued to rattle off instructions to the four new seasonal hires walking out with him. Three of them trailed behind, struggling with the earpieces of their radios. The fourth, a blond with loose, wayward curls, walked closely with Haymitch, listening closely to everything that came out of the head manager's mouth. He held his radio in his hand but made no effort to clip it to his pants and affix the earpiece like the others. He seemed too focused on what Haymitch had to say to worry about the radio at that moment.
Once Haymitch had reminded them all to place the orders for their work shirts before they left for the day, he began pairing off the new hires with the veteran employees one-by-one until there was only one left.
"You!" Haymitch barked, pointing at Katniss. "You'll train blondie over here."
Haymitch just had to give her the eager one, didn't he? The eager ones always made her feel lazy, like she wasn't doing enough to warrant even the meager paycheck she brought home. She sighed and waved the blond over halfheartedly.
As the stocky blond made his way toward Katniss, she couldn't help but notice the slight limp that accompanied his steps. She forced her eyes upward and hoped he hadn't noticed her staring. She stepped to the side to allow him to slip behind the counter with her, and he extended his hand in greeting. With a firm and steady shake, he introduced himself as Peeta.
"Katniss," Peeta repeated. He stepped in closer, their hands still clasped, and lowering his voice. "Should I really put this thing in my ear, or do you think I'll get MRSA?" Finally, he let go over her hand and stepped back, flipping the wired earpiece between his fingers as he spoke. "I mean, how many people have used this thing, do you think?"
"I've lost count," Katniss said dryly. He wasn't the first to make that joke. "Don't worry, though. They'll give you a brand new one that's all yours if you get through today without walking out."
"So is this my first test then?" Peeta asked. He held the curved earpiece up at eye level. "Will he put the grimy earpiece on? Or will he let it scare him away?" When Katniss didn't answer, Peeta finally slipped the earpiece over his ear, clipped the radio to the waistband of his pants, and threw his hands up. "Well? Do I pass?"
"Sure.." Katniss answered, bemusement heavy in her tone. "Now my test is to see if I can train you well enough so you can handle the Black Friday crowds."
"I'm ready when you are."
And as it turned out, he was. They started out simple at first. Peeta's first task was to learn how to ring up a sale and Katniss walked him through this when Johanna came through her line with a bag of Combos and bottle of Coke for her break. He moved through the process so easily, Katniss had to wonder if he'd done this before.
"Johanna is the scheduling manager, so you want to stay on her good side," Katniss warned once Johanna was out of earshot.
"Noted," Peeta said with a nod. "Anything else I should know?"
"As long as I'm training you, we'll probably have the same schedule," Katniss explained. "Training is usually for two weeks, so, I'm sorry in advance for any strange hours you might end up with because of me."
"I'll just blame that on Johanna now that I know she does the schedules," Peeta smiled. "Besides, you've been a pretty good teacher so far. I don't think I'll mind spending the next two weeks with you, no matter what the hours might be."
It was definitely nicer to be around Peeta than the last guy she trained, she'd give him that much. She couldn't even remember his name now, but the two weeks she had to spend with him were two of the longest of her life. She wasn't even sure why he wanted a job in retail when all he did was complain about the job, the customers, and the hours. At least Peeta cooperated.
Maybe eagerness wasn't always a bad thing.
"We'll see if you're still saying that in two weeks," Katniss cautioned.
"Can you hand me another one of those green borders, Peeta?"
When Katniss walked into the store that morning ready to start an eight hour training shift with Peeta, it wasn't her drawer that she found in the manager's office, but Haymitch.
"No drawer for you today," Haymitch said. "You're putting up the Christmas signage. Have Peeta help you."
She didn't ask questions, especially when it came to dealing with Haymitch. His managerial approach wasn't for the faint of heart. But, if you could put up with the self-satisfied snark and icy exterior, Haymitch would go to battle for you any way he could.
Besides, she was willing to do anything that would get her away from the confines of the counter she was normally stuck behind. Now, after four days of training, Katniss and Peeta were getting to spend a rare shift out on the floor. Their job for the day was to swap out all of the old signage and replace it with the new, holiday signage and decorations.
"It's like this store got swept up in a Christmas tornado overnight or something," Peeta said, opening up a package of green and gold garland that was supposed to line the display they were working on. "I walked in this morning and Christmas music was playing on the radio and you were elbow deep in holly jolly signage."
"It's like this every year," Katniss sighed. "They hit you with it all at once so you don't have any choice but to get in the holiday spirit."
"Well, at least it's not Target," Peeta pointed out. "I bet working there is like living in Whoville for a couple of months since they start Christmas in September at that store."
"I don't know if I could handle it all starting that soon," Katniss said. "I do like the Christmas music, though."
"Are you one of those people that starts playing it the day after Halloween?" When Katniss looked at Peeta blankly, he took a step closer, a self-satisfied smirk etched on his face. "No lying. I thought our relationship was one built on trust?"
Katniss cringed. "Would you hate me if I said yes? I only do when I'm home alone, though."
"Don't tell me you dance, too." Peeta searched her eyes and a wide smile formed, and for the first time Katniss noticed the dimple in his left cheek. "Oh my God, You do!"
"No I don't!"
"I don't know." Peeta crossed his arms over his chest and studied Katniss. "Silence is usually a confirmation."
"Not in this case." The only reason she hadn't answered him was because she was too busy staring at his face, but she couldn't tell him that. How had she not seen that dimple before today? More importantly, why did it make her smile?
"Well just in case, I'll remember to call before I come over then," Peeta grinned. "That way won't catch you dancing to Jingle Bell Rock."
Katniss paused. Peeta was only joking, she knew that, but there was something about what he said that actually made her entertain the idea of Peeta stopping by her house. She had been trying to ignore the overwhelming desire to form some kind of friendship with Peeta, but even after just four days it was becoming increasingly more difficult. She never talked to co-workers outside of work and definitely never had interest in friendships with any of them. But with Peeta, she could actually see herself spending time with him outside of work.
Over the last few days, rather than dreading going to work like she usually did while training a new employee, she found that she was looking forward to it. There was something about Peeta's dry sense of humor that she could appreciate, and talking to him was never as awkward as it usually was for her. She gave Peeta the credit for that. It seemed that he could talk to just about anyone about anything.
The truth was, when she was with Peeta, she never quite felt like she was at work. His presence seemed to calm her to the point where even talking didn't feel like such a chore. She wondered if he could bring that same kind of calm to her outside of work.
Quickly, before she did something stupid like invite Peeta over for dinner, she cleared her throat awkwardly and tried to remember what they had been talking about before Peeta's words distracted her. Christmas Music, she reminded herself.
"You don't like Christmas music?" She grabbed one end of the strand of garland while Peeta took the other.
"No, I do." Peeta began walking sideways, slowly unraveling the garland in a long line between him and Katniss. "But I can only listen to jingling bells and snow euphemisms for so long before it all becomes the same never-ending song."
"Well, I hope you won't hold it against me if I still go home tonight and listen to Josh Groban's "Noel" album for a few hours."
"I didn't picture you as the Josh Groban type. I'm learning all kinds of things about you today," Peeta grinned. "I'm liking this."
Katniss's stomach tightened. The more she and Peeta talked, the more he seemed to be effective her this way.
"You'd be surprised what you could learn about me." The words tumbled from Katniss's mouth before she could stop them, and her tone was hardly innocent. Heat flooded her cheeks when she noticed Peeta's smile disappear and his blue eyes widen in shock. They stared at each other for a beat too long before Peeta finally spoke.
"We're out of tape," he muttered. "I'll be right back."
Katniss was mortified. It wasn't what she said, but how she said it. There was an edge of innuendo in her tone that she couldn't let herself think about it. Instead, she occupied herself by pulling down more of the old sales displays while trying desperately to stop the echo of her words and the implications behind it from replaying in her head. She let the Christmas music that played over the speakers flood her ears and drown her thoughts. Before she knew it, she was singing along.
"Why do I care if icicles form?" She sang. "I've got my love to keep me warm."
Katniss turned around quickly and saw Peeta standing behind her. His mouth was turned up just slightly at the corners, and a light chuckle escaped when he noticed her shocked expression.
"How long were you standing there?" She asked, snatching the new roll of tape from Peeta's hands.
"Not long," Peeta said. "Don't worry, I barely heard you singing. Where were we?"
"Garland," Katniss said shortly. She pointed to the pile of garland Peeta left on the floor and picked it up, refusing to look him in the eye.
During break, they sat across from each other in the break-room, digging into the lunches they'd brought for the day quietly. They hadn't spoken much since Peeta caught Katniss singing earlier that morning, and Katniss was beginning to feel bad about it. She didn't want the rest of the afternoon to continue this way, so she forced herself to make small talk.
"Are you liking the job, so far?" she asked, peeling the plastic from the top of her fruit cup.
"After four days, it's not so bad," Peeta said. "Today is definitely going faster than usual since we aren't stuck behind that counter all day, though."
"You noticed that, too?"
"I definitely noticed it," Peeta laughed. He jabbed his fork into a container of mashed potatoes and stirred them around. His eyes flitted between the container of food in front of him and Katniss's face for a moment. "So.. was that your favorite Christmas song?"
"The one you were singing. I don't think I've ever heard that one before."
"Oh, I don't know," Katniss said. She looked down at the table, but forced her gaze back up to Peeta. She had no reason to be upset with him. "My dad used to play Dean Martin's cover of that song all the time when I was a kid, so I got a little caught up. It's silly."
"I wasn't laughing at your singing, you know. I just thought it was funny how shocked you were to see me. You knew I was coming right back."
"I know," she sighed. "I think that's part of why it was so embarrassing."
"Well, you shouldn't be embarrassed," Peeta said reassuringly. His eyes stayed focused on Katniss and a shy smile rose to his lips. "You have a beautiful voice."
She never knew how to react to a compliment. She usually just brushed it off and assumed the person had said it just to be nice. But when Peeta did it, his tone was so genuine that Katniss's cheeks grew warm under his gaze and soon, she found herself returning the smile.
As the week wore on, Katniss and Peeta wound up spending less time training and more time talking. Peeta barely needed the training, but she wasn't going to tell that to Haymitch. He took initiative where others didn't, and had already caught on to the ins and outs of operating the register before the end of his second shift.
However, it was that same initiative Peeta took to handle customers without her telling him what to do that landed him on the sales floor and away from the registers. After a customer came to her register and began asking questions about an external hard drive, Peeta stepped in. He took the customer to the appropriate aisle and returned ten minutes later having talked the customer into buying much more than they originally came in for.
This didn't go unnoticed by Haymitch. After he caught wind of the sale, he pulled Peeta away from the register and threw him onto the sales floor, and with it, Katniss's task to train Peeta had ended prematurely.
Even though they'd only spent a week training together, Katniss quickly began to miss talking to Peeta throughout the day. Once Peeta was out on the sales floor, it was rare to see him without a customer following closely. They were always listening to him intently while he made his sales pitches.
How did he seem to know exactly what to say to each customer that made them want to buy everything he showed them? Was it the way his hands moved as he talked, and the deep, airy laugh he gave when he cracked a joke? Or was it the crooked smile that seemed to be etched onto his face while he spoke that charmed them into buying anything he presented to them?
The sound of Peeta's voice blared through Katniss's earpiece. She jumped and tucked her hair behind her ear nervously before forcing herself to look back up to where she last saw Peeta. It wasn't the first time that Katniss caught herself watching Peeta as he worked, but it was definitely the first time Peeta had caught her.
She found him halfway across the store, standing between computer displays staring directly at her. She had definitely been caught watching him. The mic of his earpiece was raised to his lips and that crooked smile was painted on his face again.
Scrambling for her own mic, she brought it to her lips, cleared her throat nervously, and pressed the button. "What?" she asked shakily.
"I asked you twice if you wanted something from McDonald's for lunch?" Peeta said, snickering through his question. "I'm running there when my break starts in twenty minutes."
"Oh," Katniss breathed. "Nuggets and fries sound good."
"You got it."
"Thanks." She felt her cheeks pull up into a smile she never intended to give. "You can leave the food in the microwave."
"You know McDonald's fries are the nastiest thing to eat warmed up, right?" Peeta quipped. "Are you sure you want me to get them?"
"I've eaten them warmed up before. They're not that bad."
"You're lying to me right now."
"I'm not lying to you," Katniss scoffed, feigning offense. "I'll save you some."
"No thank you."
"You don't want my french fries?"
"I'll take your french fries. Just not after they've been warmed up," Peeta teased.
"Well, that's too—"
"Hey!" Johanna's barked from the doorway of the manager's office, cutting Katniss off. She began walking toward Katniss's register, pressing the talk button on her own mic as she moved forward. "Peeta, you still have twenty minutes before your break. Isn't there something you should be selling?"
"Sorry, Johanna," Peeta replied back sheepishly.
"And you," Johanna started in on, abandoning the use of the microphone. Rather than finish her sentence, Johanna stared at Katniss, a perplexed expression covering her face. "What was that?"
"What was what?" Katniss asked.
"You and Peeta, Brainless!" Johanna whispered loudly. "Everyone on the clock right now heard that little exchange."
"So?" Katniss shrugged. "We were talking about lunch."
"Right," Johanna scoffed. "Lunch."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Katniss asked defensively.
"It means that when he comes back with the food, you can take your break, too," Johanna said. "I'll cover your register."
It wasn't like Johanna to offer to cover someone's register during their break, and Katniss wasn't about to question the reason for her sudden generosity. Ever since Haymitch put Peeta on the sales floor, they had been taking their breaks separately, the normal policy for employee breaks. Katniss would be lying if she said she didn't miss taking her breaks with him.
"Thank you," Katniss said, gratefully.
"Sure," Johanna replied, flashing an impish grin in Katniss's direction before turning and walking back to the manager's office.
The morning after Thanksgiving was always a circus, even before the doors were unlocked for the customers. After Katniss fought her way through the crowd of people begging to be let in early, the smell of fresh coffee flooded her senses as she made her way to the breakroom.
"Good Morning." Peeta was seated at the table, a Styrofoam cup filled with hot coffee in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.
"Good Morning," Katniss said, shrugging out of her coat. "You look more alive than the rest of them out there."
"I'm used to being up pretty early," Peeta said. "Are they going to be like that all day?"
"They usually perk up once the rush starts," Katniss explained. "But wait for the crash around 2 pm. How was your Thanksgiving?"
"Low key and quiet. Yours?"
"The opposite of low key and quiet."
"In a good way or a bad way?" Peeta asked.
"Oh," Peeta cringed. "I'm sorry."
"It's fine," Katniss said gingerly. "Wine helped."
Peeta laughed and closed his paper, pulling a napkin with two donuts on top toward them. "Donut?"
"No thanks, I'm alright."
"Oh, come on," Peeta whined. "You're going to make me eat two donuts? I already got a weird look from Johanna when I grabbed two."
They did look good. And fresh. Way better than the old Bear Claw she usually stopped off for at the gas station. "Fine," Katniss relented. "Give me that chocolate one."
Peeta grabbed the glazed donut that was on top and slid the napkin with the remaining donut, and a section of his newspaper over to Katniss with a smile. They ate and read with little conversation, until Haymitch called for them to come out and join the rest of their co-workers.
"If you take a look around, you can see that we are only a small, four register store that needs to accommodate everyone in that line outside," Haymitch said loudly. "We are doubling up. New hires on the normal registers, veterans on the portable registers that are set up."
Peeta leaned into Katniss. "I feel like I'm at school," he whispered. "Waiting and dreading to see who the teacher is going to pair me up with."
"Peeta!" Haymitch called. "You're with Katniss."
"Still dreading this?" Katniss whispered back, elbowing Peeta.
Peeta sighed, "False alarm."
Katniss and Peeta settled in at opposite ends of the counter and waited for further instructions. They were minutes away from opening, and the customers were beginning to get restless.
"Anyone ever get into a fight during one of these things?" Peeta asked, staring out the window.
"Ask me what?" Johanna questioned, squeezing her way in between Katniss and Peeta.
"Has anyone ever gotten into a fight here on Black Friday?"
"Hell yeah," Johanna laughed. "I was in the middle of one. There was this guy, right? And he wanted two of the laptops that were on sale for two hundred bucks. Now, the damn ad said limit one per-customer, but this guy…"
"Save it for the Christmas party, Johanna," Haymitch interrupted. "We are unlocking the doors in thirty seconds."
"Well, good luck, Katniss." Peeta flashed one of his smiles and took his place in front of the main register.
"If something stumps you, I'm right behind you."
"Gross," Johanna gagged, "Get me away from this register." With a laugh, Johanna left the register and started whispering to Haymitch who began nodding knowingly, looking back at Katniss and Peeta before laughing himself.
A few seconds later, Haymitch and Johanna were unlocking the doors and customers began flooding in. For a few minutes, Katniss watched as people pushed, shoved, and grabbed items from the shelves faster than she could process. It seemed to get crazier every year, but she and Peeta worked well together and kept the customers in their line in check. They didn't have much time to talk to each other that day, but somehow, it didn't matter. It was the smoothest Black Friday she had ever worked, and she knew it had nothing to do with it being her third year working Black Friday and everything to do with Peeta.
The store's annual Christmas party was all anyone seemed to be talking about in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Every time Katniss walked into the break room, someone was in there looking over the invitation that was printed out and taped to the refrigerator. It was going to be at the local bowling alley, and Katniss couldn't think of anything she wanted to do less. Hearing the stories of what went on the next day was more than enough.
On the day of the Christmas party, Katniss walked into the break-room to see Peeta and Johanna getting ready to leave after their shifts. She gave Peeta a soft smile in greeting as she retrieved her radio and earpiece from her locker just as Peeta was putting his away.
"Will I see you at the party tonight, Peeta?" Johanna asked.
"Yeah, I'll be there. Sounds like it'll be fun. What about you Katniss?" Peeta asked. "Are you going?"
"Oh, Katniss never comes to the Christmas parties," Johanna said matter-of-factly.
Katniss flashed Johanna a dirty look. "Why don't you let me answer him?" she snapped. "No, Peeta, I'm not going. I'm closing tonight." She didn't mean to be short with Peeta, but the way Johanna butt in and answered for her really rubbed her the wrong way.
"Told you," Johanna sneered. "You could always come up after, though, Katniss. Everyone else who closes does."
"Oh." Peeta looked down at the floor. Even though he was trying to hide it, Katniss could clearly hear the disappointment in his voice and see it on his face. "I was hoping to bowl a few games with you. Maybe another time."
"Yeah," Katniss said. She flashed another dirty look in Johanna's direction. She was still standing in the break room watching the exchange between her and Peeta, and she wanted her to leave. She couldn't figure out why, but something about Johanna being there at that moment felt intrusive. "Maybe another time. Have fun, guys."
The night dragged and all Katniss could think about was the Christmas party. She never cared to go before. She never had a reason to go — that's why she always volunteered to work the closing shift the night of the party. Did she have a reason to go now? Was that why it was bothering her so much?
She tried to reason with herself. The party may not be so bad, especially if she stuck with Peeta for the night. A friendly game of bowling could be just what she needed. But if she went she would have to deal with her other co-workers, too. They would undoubtedly overreact to her showing up, as they did every other time Katniss did something uncharacteristic. She hated it.
But that wasn't really why she was avoiding the party this time. It was Peeta. He was both the reason why she did and did not want to go. The idea of giving in and going made Katniss feel like she was admitting to something she wasn't even sure of herself, yet. Why did she want to see him so badly?
Twenty minutes later, Katniss was home and scrambling to change out of her work clothes in time to catch the next bus into town. She decided to stop questioning every move she made and just go to the party. What did it matter if she was going because she wanted to see Peeta? They had become friends. There was nothing wrong with wanting to see a friend outside of work. This is what she kept telling herself every time she felt the light flutter in her stomach when thought about seeing Peeta.
The bowling alley was crowded when Katniss arrived, but she easily found the five lanes that were reserved for the Christmas party, and she tried to stay unnoticed while she looked for Peeta in the small sea of people. She saw a group sitting at one of the scoring tables looking over the final scores on the screen with intrigue, but none of them were Peeta. Haymitch was settled down in one of the chairs that lined the back wall. He held a napkin full of pizza grease in his hands and he kept making small tears in it anxiously. Katniss then spotted Johanna standing in front of one of the lanes and appeared to be watching someone about to bowl their frame.
Katniss craned her neck and tried to see who it was, and when Johanna finally moved a few inches to her right, just as suspected, Peeta was getting ready to take his turn. Even though his back was to her, she noticed his ash blonde curls and pin straight posture right away. She decided to wait and watch him finish bowling his turn before she went down to say hello.
Peeta walked up closer to the lane slowly. His limp was increasingly noticeable as he walked, almost as if he didn't trust his feet on the slick wood floor he was standing on. Once he appeared to get his footing and settle himself, he brought the bowling ball up near his chin, and without moving his lower half, launched the ball up the lane, leaving four pins standing. On his second turn, he knocked down another two pins. The smile on his face when he turned around made Katniss smile too, even though he still had no idea she was there.
She descended the three steps leading to the bowling area quickly, walking in large strides toward where Peeta and Johanna stood.
"Hey," Katniss spoke loudly, hoping to be heard over the talking and noise of bowling balls crashing into the pins.
Peeta noticed her first. If the smile he had on his face before was contagious, Katniss wasn't sure there was a word to describe his smile when he finally noticed her.
"What are you doing here?" Peeta asked happily.
"I figured I'd take you up on the bowling offer."
Before she could say anything else, she felt Peeta's arms around her, enveloping her in a giant hug. She expected her body to tense on contact, but instead her arms moved from her sides and wrapped around Peeta's middle, returning the hug. It was quick, but not quick enough to go unnoticed. Johanna's grin could only be described as shit eating, and a few other heads had turned in their direction to stare. But even with the staring, the light flutter she'd been feeling in her stomach all evening grew more intense.
"Do you want us to write you in on these last few frames so you can warm up?" Peeta asked.
"No, it's fine," Katniss said. "I still have to go get shoes and find a ball. You should be finished by then."
With Peeta and Johanna going back to their game, Katniss slipped away to find a ball and pair of bowling shoes to wear. As she waited at the front desk for her shoes, the bowling ball she chose set on the floor to her side, she felt someone lightly kick her foot.
"Peeta's bowling his last frame right now," Johanna said. She stood with her arms crossed, staring at Katniss. "Then we'll start another game with you."
"That sounds fine," Katniss said, refusing looking Johanna in the eye.
"So what's going on between you and Peeta?" Johanna whispered. "Are you two banging?"
"What? No!" Katniss said incredulously. "And nothing is going on."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Yes, I'm sure about that," Katniss snapped.
"So you've talked about it then?" Johanna said gleefully. "You've talked about banging? I knew it!"
"No!" Katniss growled. "We haven't talked about anything like that."
"Then how do you know nothing is going on if you haven't talked about it?" Johanna asked seriously, shaking her head. "I'm telling you, you're brainless. Open your eyes."
Katniss didn't have a retort for Johanna. After a minute of silence, Johanna huffed, seemingly satisfied with herself and left Katniss at the front desk, waiting for her bowling shoes.
Bowling with Peeta was fun, but Johanna's presence was ruining it. Every time Peeta or Katniss said a word to each other, Johanna either made a noise or gave Katniss a look. She was insufferable, and Katniss wanted her to leave.
"Hey, you three," Haymitch said, ambling toward them. "We're about to leave here and head over to The Hob for drinks. Are you coming?"
"I am!" Johanna shouted jumping to her feet. "Don't worry about the rest of my game."
Katniss and Peeta looked at each other. She didn't want to go, she knew that much. What she didn't expect was to know that Peeta didn't want to go either just by looking at him.
"I think we'll pass," Katniss said, her eyes still trained on Peeta. She saw his shoulders relax and a smile creep up on his face.
"Of course you will," Haymitch said. His voice had an edge of laughter to it.
"Have fun, you two," Johanna added, blowing them a kiss and walking off with Haymitch.
"They act like they're still in high school," Katniss groused, getting up to bowl her turn.
The second half of the game went far smoother than the first. Between turns, Katniss and Peeta worked on finishing off the pizza and soda that was provided for the party, and engaged in friendly heckling when the other was about to bowl.
After four games, Katniss was about done with bowling. Her shoulder was starting to hurt and the constant sound of bowling balls crashing into pins was becoming unnerving. She threw herself down in a chair and groaned. "I could use a beer."
"Don't they usually have alcohol at these things?" Peeta asked, draining the last of the Coke from his cup.
"Usually, but after last year's party, I think our store may be forbidden."
"Why?" Peeta leaned forward. "Did I miss something fun?"
"Well, I only heard this relayed from people who were there," Katniss reminded him. "But last year the party was at a hotel, in some kind of dining hall. A few employees had too much to drink, as they do, and there was something about items going missing and a couple people ended up losing their job over whatever it was that happened."
"No wonder nobody would drink tonight," Peeta said. "There is a bar here, but nobody ventured over there. I almost did, though. A beer would have been nice."
"We could always go now," Katniss said.
"Do you want to?"
"Sure," Katniss shrugged. "I wouldn't have brought it up if I didn't."
Katniss and Peeta were shocked to see that the bar was mostly empty. They were able to snag a pair of stools in the corner near the counter-top arcade game, and after starting a tab and receiving their first beers, they played a few rounds of "Spot the Difference" while they drank. Before Katniss knew it, they were each starting their fourth beer.
"I'm out of small bills. If you want a tie breaker round, I'll have to break a twenty," Peeta laughed, taking a long pull from his bottle of beer.
"All I have are twenties, too," Katniss added. "We can't just leave it at a tie, though. We already did that when we were bowling."
"I guess we should crown a victor sometime."
"I could buy you a shot," Katniss said. "Then I'd be breaking my twenty for more than just a counter-top arcade game."
Peeta shook his head. "That gives me an advantage, then. Like you're buying me a congratulatory shot. I'll buy you one, too."
"Then you're also buying me a congratulatory shot," Katniss pointed out.
"So we're back at square one," Peeta laughed. "I could always just forfeit. My eyes are starting to hurt from staring at that screen, anyway. Then I really can buy you a congratulatory shot."
"No," Katniss said, shaking her head. "I don't want to win that way." She thought for a second and realized that she didn't really care who the winner was. "We could just buy each other a shot and call it even," she suggested.
"What does that accomplish?
"We'd both have a shot to drink," Katniss said. "And we could be co-winners. I don't mind sharing the title with you."
"Alright," Peeta smiled, "Let's do it."
Peeta waved the bartender down and asked for two "Santa Shots", the advertised special. The two green and red layered shots smelled of candy canes and were poured into a long, cone shaped shot glass.
"On the count of three?" Katniss said.
"The count of three."
"Congratulations on your Spot the Difference victory," Katniss said.
"Congratulations on yours," Peeta chuckled. "And two bowling wins each."
On Katniss's count, they lifted their shots to eye level and drank them down. Katniss could feel the burn from the liquid slide down her throat and hit her stomach. It tasted just as it smelled — like a candy cane. The warmth began to fill her cheeks, making its way through the rest of her body.
"That was good," Peeta said, inhaling sharply. "I feel like I just took a shot of Christmas cheer. Hey, are you finished with your Christmas shopping yet?"
"Just about," she replied.
"I'm not even sure why I asked that." They both laughed and Peeta grabbed for his beer, shaking his head when he noticed it was already empty. "It just felt appropriate after that shot."
"The only one left on my list is my sister," Katniss elaborated, her smile faltering. After all the smiling she just did, the frown was almost painful to her cheeks. "I'll probably just end up getting her a gift card, though. I have no idea what she even likes anymore."
"You have a sister?" Peeta asked.
"Prim," Katniss nodded. "She's eighteen now. School and her boyfriend are about all she seems to have time for anymore. I can't remember the last time we really even spent time together."
Peeta nodded in understanding. "That makes me think of my brothers," he said. "I'm the youngest of three, so when my brothers started dating I was alone in the bakery a lot."
"The bakery?" Katniss asked.
"Yeah. My parents ran a bakery a few towns over when I was a kid," Peeta explained. "My brothers and I basically grew up there. We would help out in the summers and after school as long as our grades were good. We even lived right above the bakery until I was almost seventeen."
They stared at each other without speaking. In the dim bar, she could just make out the saddened expression that had taken over Peeta's face and she followed his hand as it moved from the bar counter and down to his leg. He began to rub the spot just above his knee almost absentmindedly, and Katniss had to force herself to stop staring and speak.
"I bet a lot of kids dream about living right above a bakery," she managed to say.
"Yeah," Peeta laughed distantly. "It's not a bad gig, I guess."
"Free cupcakes whenever you want." Katniss leaned into Peeta and elbowed him playfully, hoping to put a smile back on his face.
"Oh, my mother would never allow that," Peeta said. "We got some free stuff, but only after nobody bought it for a couple of days. We couldn't touch the fresh stuff. But on the bright side, I now have a whole arsenal of baking knowledge and if I ever want cupcakes, I could make them myself."
"That's definitely good knowledge to have," Katniss smiled.
Peeta's returned but never reached his eyes. He sat silently, staring at the top of his empty beer bottle and clenching his jaw as though he had something else to say, but he never finished. Instead, he changed the subject by asking Katniss if she wanted another shot.
Katniss wasn't ready to leave the bowling alley. Little by little, the few patrons that were in the bar cleared out, but Katniss and Peeta still stayed. They talked, they laughed, and when the third Santa shot made its way up to Katniss's brain, Peeta held her hand as she told him the story of her father's death, a story she'd never shared with anyone before. Eventually, the bartender told them the place was getting ready to close, and they had no choice but to leave.
Peeta called himself a cab and they left the bar, deciding to wait out front so the employees could lock the doors and head home themselves. It had grown even colder outside since Katniss got to the bowling alley earlier, so cold that even the persistent warmth and numbness from the shots couldn't take the edge off.
"Did you drive here?" Peeta asked.
"No, I took the bus. I just want to be here with you a little longer. Once your cab gets here I'll walk to the stop," Katniss admitted. She watched Peeta's face for some kind of response to her admission. Whether it was the alcohol that loosened her up enough to say what she did or Johanna's words earlier, she wasn't sure.
Peeta's eyes softened and the crooked smile Katniss liked so much broke out on his face, illuminated heavily by the parking lot lights. The strong wind that began to blow across the parking lot forced Katniss to remove her hands from her pockets and pull her coat tighter around her. She squeezed her arms around her body in attempts to keep the wind from penetrating her clothing any more than it already had, but it wasn't working. It wasn't until a second pair of warm arms, Peeta's arms, pulled her into his chest that she began to feel some relief.
"Does this help?" He whispered.
Katniss gave herself a minute while she let her body melt into his. His body seemed to block the wind from reaching her and she took a chance, slipping her ungloved hands under the open flaps of his coat and wrapping her arms around his body to keep him close. She could feel the warmth of his skin through the fabric of his shirt and smell the light scent of his soap as she nuzzled her face into his chest. This hug was not like the hug inside the bowling alley.
"Yes," she finally answered, exhaling deeply. "It helps a lot. You should probably zip up your coat, though."
"Then you'd have no way to keep your hands warm," Peeta muttered. "And you wouldn't be as close."
She wasn't sure if they were standing there for two minutes or twenty minutes, but when the cab pulled up, Katniss was already dreading the moment she'd finally have to let Peeta go.
"Do you work Christmas Eve, too?" Peeta asked, pulling away to look at Katniss.
"Yeah, until close." She kept her arms wrapped around Peeta, and he rubbed her arms to keep them warm. "I'm off tomorrow, though, so I probably won't see you until then."
Silence fell between them, and Katniss noticed Peeta's eyes on her lips. She was surprised to notice that her eyes were trained on his, too. She licked her lips and waited, but before either of them could lean in closer, the beep from the cab caused both of them to jump and let go of each other.
"Take it," Peeta said
"Take the cab," Peeta repeated. "I'll go catch the bus."
"Peeta, no," Katniss argued. "We can share it, at least. You don't have to go wait for the bus."
"Which way are you going?" Peeta asked.
"Ah, see," Peeta nodded. "I need to go north. Take the cab."
It was useless arguing with him, and the cab driver was getting more and more agitated with each passing second. Katniss finally nodded in defeat and pulled open the door of the cab, giving Peeta a wave before slipping in and closing the door.
The whole way home, Katniss could still feel Peeta's warm arms penetrating her skin. As the driver navigated the twists and turns of roads that led to her house, she wished she would have leaned in and let Peeta know it was ok to kiss her. If she could just go back there and find him at the bus stop, tell him to get in the cab even if it meant spending the extra money to drive from one side of town to the other, she would. Maybe then they could pick up where they left off. She could still be comfortable and warm in his arms. But he was probably already on the bus headed toward home and Katniss knew she had missed her chance.
Christmas Eve brought the usual crowd of last minute shoppers rushing in to buy whatever was left on the shelves. Katniss's line had not been clear once since she began her shift, and she had to practically beg Johanna to cover her register so she could take her break before Haymitch had a meltdown.
Because of the craziness, Katniss had hardly seen Peeta or really even had time to talk to him beyond a quick "hello" since the Christmas party. She snuck a glance at him whenever she could and always found him talking animatedly with a customer while leading them from product to product. She really wanted to talk to him. Johanna's words continually played back to her — "Then how do you know nothing is going on if you haven't talked about it?"
He'd probably laugh at her, because in truth, nothing was going on. At least not in the way Johanna was talking about. But Katniss couldn't continue to ignore that when she was with Peeta, she felt something. It was easy to tell him things she never dreamed of telling another living soul, and anyone that could make her laugh as easily as Peeta did must be something special.
Johanna had known it all along. She couldn't stop wondering who else knew. Haymitch? Is that what he and Johanna were always laughing about whenever they walked away from her? Was is that obvious to everyone else?
Just as quickly as the store filled up with customers, they all seemed to disappear at once, too. With less than an hour left on her shift, Haymitch told her she could close out her drawer and head home. She looked for Peeta before going to count her drawer, but she didn't see him anywhere. He couldn't have left already. She would have heard Haymitch tell him to go home over the radios. She hoped he wouldn't leave before she finished with her drawer. She at least wanted to wish him a Merry Christmas.
Luckily, she found him sitting in the breakroom, jabbing a plastic fork into what looked like a turkey TV dinner.
"Hey," Katniss said softly. "You're taking your break right now?"
"Yeah." Peeta poked at the turkey in the plastic tray again. "Then when it's over, Haymitch said I can just go home. I have eggnog and a La-Z-Boy waiting for me there."
"Aren't you spoiling your dinner?" Katniss smiled.
Peeta looked down at the plastic tray in front of him and shrugged. "This is it," he said. "I might have to put it back in the microwave, though. It's still cold."
Katniss's face fell. He wasn't joking. Quickly, she took a seat across from him and looked him in the eye. "Peeta," she said, her voice low. "Why are you having dinner here?"
"I was hungry," Peeta shrugged.
"What about your family?" Katniss pressed. "Do you guys not get together on Christmas Eve or something?"
Peeta's eyes grew sad, "We don't get together at all for the holidays," he said.
"Oh," Katniss breathed.
Peeta held her gaze as he set his fork down and took a deep breath, exhaling shakily.
"I.. I didn't know." She struggled to think of something to change the subject. "What are.. When—"
"They're gone, Katniss," Peeta blurted out.
Katniss began to wish she had never pressed the issue. This was not what she was expecting to hear from him tonight.
"I'm sorry," she uttered, but before she could stop herself, the next question slipped from her mouth. "How?"
Peeta shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "It happened.. about six years ago, now," he began. "I was at a friend's house and I stayed later than my curfew. I did that a lot, but my mom used to always call screaming at me if I was even two minutes late. She didn't call that night. I stayed out an hour past my curfew without even realizing it, and as I ran home, thinking that I'd be able to slip in unnoticed, that's when I saw the smoke."
"Oh no," Katniss said, not realizing it was out loud until Peeta nodded.
"I ran as fast as I could and when I finally got there I saw the only home I'd ever known up in flames," Peeta explained. "I tried to get in to save them, but I was way too late. The entire place was engulfed. I ran around to the back entrance and tried to kick the door in, but as soon as the door flew open, the flames caught on my pant leg and no amount of rolling on the ground could prevent the burns I ended up with."
Peeta turned in his chair and extended his leg, waiting until Katniss looked down to lift the fabric of his pants. The shiny metal of a prosthetic leg gleamed under the lights in the breakroom. Katniss looked at Peeta, not sure of what to say. Luckily, she didn't have to say anything.
"I was in the hospital for weeks," Peeta continued. "First to try and treat the burns, but then the infection set it. They couldn't save my leg, and I couldn't save my family. I lived with an aunt I'd never met before for a year until I turned eighteen and then I left. I inherited a nice payout and a bakery that was nothing but ashes, but the money doesn't mean much when you have nobody to share it with."
"I'm sorry," Katniss sighed. "I had no idea. I'm sorry that I had to make you think of that on Christmas Eve."
"It's ok," Peeta assured her. "Believe me, I was already thinking about it." The sad laugh that followed felt like a punch in the gut. "I've been wanting to tell you. You let me learn some of your song. Now you know some of mine."
Katniss took Peeta's hand in hers, rubbing her thumb over his warm skin. Everything she wanted to talk about earlier didn't seem appropriate to even mention anymore, but she had to do something. She was not going to let Peeta eat a TV dinner in a poorly lit break room on Christmas Eve.
"Have dinner with me," Katniss blurted out. "Well, with my family, I mean. You'll have to endure my mother's incessant crying at the dinner table, and my sister's gag worthy PDA with her boyfriend, but even that sounds better than a half-frozen TV dinner in this break room."
"My chair is just starting to get the perfect butt dents, though," Peeta joked, but his laugh was still empty. "You don't have to invite me because you feel bad, Katniss. I'll be fine, I promise. I've done this before."
"Well if you think I'd only invite you because I feel bad then you've got me all wrong," Katniss said, suddenly feeling irritated. "If you haven't noticed, I like spending time with you. I'd like you to come have dinner at my house tonight because I want to spend more time with you, and because of that I don't like the idea of you spending the holidays alone."
Peeta stared at Katniss as though he was taken aback by Katniss's declaration. Katniss couldn't blame him, she was taken aback, herself.
"Since you put it that way," Peeta said, his face breaking out into the first genuine smile Katniss had seen since they started talking. "Dinner at your house sounds good."
"Are you sure your family is alright with a tag along?" Peeta asked wearily. "I don't want to put anyone in an uncomfortable position by showing up without warning."
They took Katniss's car back to her house, deciding to keep Peeta's in the parking lot of the store until she could bring him back to pick it up. As they drove, Peeta's usual calm and talkative demeanor had been replaced with tenseness and quiet that finally produced the question and concern he'd just spoken after Katniss pulled into the driveway. He'd better not be having second thoughts.
"Well, I appreciate your concern," Katniss said, turning off the car. "But it's not like that around here."
"Are you sure there is enough food for another person?" Peeta asked. Now he was just trying to find an excuse.
"Trust me," Katniss said, reaching out to touch Peeta's arm. She wanted to tell him more, but she couldn't quite find the words to explain that the idea of him being with her at dinner was the only reason she was so eager to get in the house in the first place.
If Peeta wasn't with her, she probably wouldn't have even gone straight home after work. She would have driven around for a little while looking for a store that was still open and go in. She'd pretend to shop, but eventually end up leaving empty handed when she couldn't avoid going home any longer.
The sound of Peeta getting out of the car pulled her from her thoughts. She exited the car quickly and walked with Peeta to the front door, pushing it open without having to use her key and walked in first.
"I'm back!" Katniss called out, pulling off her coat and boots. "You can hang up your coat over there by the others, Peeta."
"Katniss, she's already cried three times since she took the ham out of the oven." Katniss's sister Prim breezed into the living room, irritation lacing her words. She stopped abruptly at the sight of Peeta in the house. "Um, hi?"
"Hello," Peeta waved.
"Prim, this is Peeta. Peeta, my sister, Prim," Katniss said, turning to Prim. "Peeta and I work together."
"Hey, Peeta," Prim said casually, waving back. "Do you know how to get someone to stop crying, because my mom—"
"Prim, that's enough," Katniss interrupted. "Is she in the kitchen?"
At Prim's nod, Katniss led Peeta in the direction of the kitchen where Mrs. Everdeen stood, wiping her nose with a tissue. Introductions were quick, and just as expected, nobody took issue with Peeta being there. They carried on as they normally would. Mrs. Everdeen stirred pots on the stove while Prim halfheartedly chopped lettuce for a salad and Katniss began setting the table. She noticed that Peeta could only stand around quietly off to the side. He was so uncomfortable that Katniss couldn't help but feel bad for dragging him into this. But it had to be better than the loneliness he hinted at, right?
"Do you want to go in the living room, Peeta?" Katniss asked.
"Sure," Peeta nodded. "But first, where's the bathroom?"
"Up the hall," Katniss pointed. "First door on the left."
The questions started as soon as Peeta closed the bathroom door.
"Are you spending Christmas with his family?" Katniss's mother asked. "Because if you're going to be gone and Prim is going to be with the Hawthornes, I'm just not going to cook anything at all." Her voice was growing more and more frantic with each word.
"No, mom, I'm not," Katniss replied shortly. She hadn't even thought about tomorrow. What was Peeta going to do on Christmas Day? Did he even want to do anything?
"Do you like working with him?" Prim said. "How long have you known him?"
"Yes," Katniss said, gritting her teeth. "He was hired at the end of October."
"Are you two.." Mrs. Everdeen hesitated. "You know.. together?"
"No, we're not." This time, Katniss's tone wasn't short or frustrated. It was dubious. She wasn't sure what they were. Friends? More than friends but pretending to be less? It didn't seem appropriate to bring up after what Peeta told her earlier, but they'd have to talk about it eventually. There was no way they could avoid it.
To Katniss's relief, the sound of Peeta exiting the bathroom stopped the questioning immediately. She left her mother and sister and brought Peeta into the living room. The only sound was Christmas music was playing softly from the stereo. The longer they sat on the couch together listening to the music, the more awkward things grew.
Peeta chuckled. "Is this as awkward as you expected it to be, Katniss?"
"I wasn't really thinking about how things would go once we got here," Katniss admitted. "My invitation may have been a bit hasty."
"I don't regret it," Katniss added. "I am sorry, though. I really didn't consider how uncomfortable this would be for you. You know almost nothing about my family."
"So tell me about them," Peeta said, turning toward her.
"There isn't much to tell," Katniss shrugged. "My dad died eleven years ago, and my mother has been a mess ever since. Then there's my sister, who used to be my best friend, but hasn't been for a long time now. I guess that's what growing up does to people. She knows just what to say to get under my skin, and she uses that skill to her advantage. Half the time I'd rather be at work than be here." Katniss paused. "I guess that's about it."
"I feel like I know them already," Peeta smiled.
"You don't have to stay here," Katniss said. "I can take you back to the store to get your car if you would rather just go home."
"Don't worry about it," Peeta said. "I want to stay with you."
Katniss and Peeta sat on one side of the dinner table, while Prim and her boyfriend Rory sat on the other. Katniss's mother sat at the head of the table, carefully looking over the food on the table, checking and rechecking to see if she forgot to set anything out.
"Everything is there, mom," Prim said exasperatedly. "Can we eat now?"
"I think we should take a moment to express our thanks before we eat," Mrs. Everdeen said.
"We just did that on Thanksgiving!" Prim argued.
"We should do it every day!" Mrs. Everdeen shot back. "Now join hands."
Without another word, Prim threw her hand lazily onto the table for Katniss to take. Katniss took her hand and shot her a look of warning before turning her attention to Peeta. She slipped her hand into his easily and closed her eyes.
"Nobody has to say anything this time," Mrs. Everdeen said. "Just take a silent moment to reflect on anything you want."
Katniss didn't know what to reflect on in the silence, so she didn't reflect on anything, and when the sniffling sounds of her mother's crying broke through the stillness, it was all she could focus on. Why did she make herself suffer every year by leaving her father's space empty at the table? Why would she want to remind herself that he wasn't here to enjoy the holidays with them anymore?
She couldn't even begin to imagine what Peeta was reflecting on, but almost as if he knew she was thinking of him, the pad of his thumb began to softly rub indecipherable patterns on her hand.
"Can we eat now?" Prim asked, breaking the silence.
The rest of dinner proceeded without incident. They ate, they made small talk, Katniss's mother cried three times, and then they cleaned up quickly. It was hardly the picture perfect family Christmas Eve.
"Alright, we're heading out," Prim said. "Can Rory stay tonight?"
"Okay, okay," Prim said. "Just thought I'd ask. I'll be back later."
Prim didn't have to ask at all, because no matter what answer their mother gave her, she would end up sneaking Rory up to her room anyway.
"Be careful," Mrs. Everdeen sighed. "Katniss, what are you and Peeta up to tonight?"
Katniss didn't have an answer. There were no plans, and she knew her mother only asked that as a way to get them all out of feeling like they had to sit there together all night, so Katniss blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"I was thinking about taking Peeta to see the light display at the park," Katniss lied. It wasn't a bad idea, she just hadn't thought about it until that moment. "What do you think, Peeta? Want to go?"
Peeta looked around the room. First at Mrs. Everdeen who was preoccupied with her fingernails. Then his eyes landed on Katniss and he nodded. "Sure," he smiled. "We should do that."
The light displays at the park were always nice. Even though Katniss hadn't gone to walk around and look at them in years, she saw them often when driving home from work. It was nice to finally stop and look at them again.
"Dinner was nice," Peeta said. "Quicker than I thought it would be."
"Yeah," Katniss cringed. "I may have misled you a bit. We typically just eat dinner and go our separate ways. It hasn't really been the same since dad died. My mother can only keep it together long enough to eat and then she usually goes up to her room. That's why she asked us our plans for the night. She didn't want to feel obligated to entertain us all night. This way she can tell us to leave without actually saying it."
"So you would've been alone tonight too, then."
"I hadn't thought about it like that," Katniss said. "I guess I would have."
"Then it's a good thing I was there," Peeta said. His hand found Katniss's easily and laced their fingers together as they walked. "Just because people are there doesn't mean you're not alone."
Katniss understood. "I lost my mother years ago," she said "But Prim only started to slip away these last few years. Faster and faster since she met Rory. She was so young when dad died, I don't think she understood what was going on with mom until recently. Delayed resentment, or something."
They continued to walk and look at the lights, speaking only to comment on the displays until near the end, when Peeta stopped walking.
"I have a confession to make," he said, letting go of Katniss's hand shoving both of his into the deep pockets of his coat.
Oh, no, Katniss thought. Confessions never ended well. What could he possibly have to tell her?
"I've been here to see these lights at least a half dozen times since they were lit earlier in the month," Peeta confessed.
Katniss couldn't stop the relieved laughter that sprang up from her chest. "That's all?" She asked. "You didn't have to agree to come here if you've already seen these lights, Peeta."
"No, no, I wanted to," Peeta stammered. "I've kind of been wanting to come here with you. There's something I've been thinking about showing you."
Peeta led Katniss to a white, brick arch that opened up to the rest of the park where, before Christmas, a trolley would take visitors to see even more lights that were on display in the back. Peeta stopped under the arch and pointed up. Katniss followed his finger only to see a mistletoe right underneath them.
"I've been wondering if anyone else noticed that was there," Peeta began nervously. "I haven't seen anyone kiss under it yet."
"I should have just kissed you the other night before you left the bowling alley," Peeta blurted out quickly. "I just wasn't entirely sure if that's something you wanted. Did you know that you're really hard to read" he laughed. "I've been trying for weeks now and all it's done is confuse me to the point where I actually thought finding a mistletoe was the best way to do this." This time, Katniss was the one that started laughing. "I might have watched one too many Hallmark movies this holiday season. I couldn't help it though, they're on all the time."
Katniss couldn't get passed the fact that Peeta said he'd been thinking the same things she was, possibly for even longer. No wonder Johanna kept questioning her.
"You've been trying to read me for weeks?" she asked.
"Yeah," Peeta nodded. "Since I heard you singing that Christmas song at work. No, that's a lie. It was before that, but when I heard you singing, that's when I knew."
"That I was a goner."
Katniss grew silent. She never knew what to say in these situations, but Peeta was honest with her, so she may as well do the same.
"I have a confession to make, too," she said.
"I wish you had kissed me the other night," she said, stepping closer to Peeta.
"Well," Peeta smiled. "Maybe we should kiss now, then. It's a little cliche, but weare under a mistletoe. I'm not entirely sure, but I do believe it's a Christmas law."
"And we wouldn't want to break a Christmas law on Christmas Eve," Katniss added.
Without another comment, Peeta leaned in and pressed his lips to Katniss's. They took their time, letting their lips linger, savoring the moment for a short time before deepening their kisses. Each flick of Peeta's tongue against Katniss's brought forth a moan that was stifled by his mouth. When her lip slid between Peeta's and he sucked on it gently, she allowed her hands to travel down his chest, lower and lower until she hit the buckle of his belt. That's when she knew she wanted more, and when Peeta pulled away she knew needed it soon.
They stared at each other, relief and need apparent on both of their faces.
"So, what is this?" Katniss finally managed to ask. "What are we doing?" It's the question she had been wanting to ask for days but never could. As soon as the question was asked, she was scared to learn the answer.
"You mean we're not engaged?" Peeta asked, feigning shock. His face quickly broke into a smile as his gloved hands came up to cup Katniss's face. "Let's just see where this goes, ok?
"Yeah," Katniss nodded.
"But I won't be seeing you as much soon," Peeta added. "You know I was only hired for the holidays. They'll probably cut me loose in another week or two."
"What are you going to do then?"
Peeta shrugged. "Travel the world in a hot air balloon?"
"I'm serious, Peeta," Katniss said. She didn't like thinking about Peeta not working with her anymore. "I can talk to Haymitch. I can see if he'll keep you. Your sales skills are.."
"It's ok, Katniss," Peeta said. His hands moved to her shoulders and he began to rub up and down her arms. "I'll figure something out." He brought his forehead down to rest against hers. "I don't want to talk about it anymore, right now. Not when I have you here like this."
This time, Katniss leaned in and pressed a kissed to Peeta's lips, deepening it quickly and pulling him closer by the collar of his coat. She broke away from Peeta's lips and kissed a line across his jaw until she reached his ear.
"Let's get out of here," she whispered.
End of part 1