Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stole behind her in the frozen foods
And I touched her on the sleeve
Same Auld Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg
The warm air was just starting to filter out of my crappy air vents as I shut my car off in front of the grocery store. One slip of my prosthetic leg on my slippery kitchen floor sent me to the ground of the apartment and my cake mix unfinished. I brought Mrs. Trinket banana bread and a lemon cake every Christmas morning since I moved into the apartment next to her six years ago, and I was not about to spoil the tradition today. Heaving myself into the frigid air, I stomped through the snow and into The Hob.
Sae, the ancient woman behind the cash register, nodded at me as I walked in. "What are you doing here on Christmas Eve, boy?"
"I could ask you the same thing," I said with a smirk. Her throaty chuckle followed me down the aisles. Blowing hot hair into my chapped hands, I jogged to the frozen foods and grabbed the first carton of eggs I saw and immediately headed back to Sae. But something didn't feel right in my hand, and when I checked I saw that they weren't the brown eggs that I usually used, a trait I picked up from watching my father in our family's bakery as a kid, so I had to double back and grab a different carton.
"Damn it, where's the pepperoni?" I heard someone mutter behind me. Turning around, I saw a slender woman bundled up in about a dozen layers, with a bit of dark brown hair braided over her shoulder peeking out from beneath a thick wool scarf. I recognized her immediately, and with the jolt that shot through me it was all I could do to not drop the eggs at my feet for the second time that day.
She was piling boxes of Hot Pockets and Stouffer's pizza in her arms, and was reaching in for another when I sidled up behind her and cleared my throat. She turned around quickly and squeaked when her sharp grey eyes met mine, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza tumbled to the ground. I sunk to my knees immediately and began grabbing the boxes. She followed suit, and a flow of awkward apologies poured from her mouth.
"It's fine, really," I said with a chuckle as I picked up one of the Meat Lovers boxes. She sheepishly took it from my hands.
"Thanks," she murmured. "So, Peeta Mellark. It's been quite a while."
"Katniss Everdeen," I replied. "About eight years, right?"
"So it would seem." She straightened up and adjusted the boxes in her arms. "What are you doing here on Christmas Eve?"
"I'm making a cake." I held up the egg carton. "And you? Stocking up for the zombie apocalypse?"
"You don't really believe in that do you?" she asked with a scowl. I shrugged.
"I take it you don't watch The Walking Dead."
"Sorry. TV isn't my thing."
"Right," I said. "I remember."
Her eyes flashed with something I didn't recognize and then she dropped her gaze. "Well. Um..."
"Here. Let me take some of those." I grabbed a few pizzas from her arms and started towards checkout. "Are you coming? Or did I just interrupt your Christmas Eve shopping?"
"Both," Katniss said softly. But she was smiling, so I didn't stop. We placed the items in front of Sae and she started scanning them with a smirk.
"Well, hello there Mrs. Odair. I must have missed you come in."
"Odair?" I balked. My eyes immediately dropped to her left hand. Underneath the black fabric of her glove I could just make out the lump of a rock on her fourth finger. My stomach plummeted.
"You and that hot rod of yours in town for the holidays?" Sae persisted. I thought I was going to be sick.
"We're visiting my sister," Katniss said, dropping her gaze. She doesn't answer my question. "We're going home tomorrow night."
"Well, it was nice to see you back home for a spell, darling. That'll be thirteen fifty."
Katniss paid and looked to me. I had forgotten about the carton of eggs clenched tightly in my right hand. I tossed Sae a five and bid her a merry Christmas, then I nodded quickly to Katniss and hightailed it to my car. I needed to get out of there before I passed out or threw up or did something I would regret.
"Peeta!" she called after me. I moved quickly through the snow and fiddled with my keys, trying to unlock my car. And then I realized that the only other car in the parking lot was Sae's.
I spun around. "Did you walk here, Katniss?"
"What?" She stopped dead in her tracks, the plastic bags hanging by her side. "Are you drunk?"
"Why would you think I'm drunk?"
"Oh, I don't know. One second you're all chummy with me and the next you're storming out of the store and now you're asking me if I walked here? What are you playing at, Mellark?"
The bell rings, signaling the first day of senior year. I slouch in my seat, already feeling the groggy effects of my five a.m. alarm. Miss Trinket is presiding over us with her usual verve when a small figure slides into the seat in front of mine.
"Made it by the skin of your teeth, Everdeen." I mumble.
"At least I'm actually awake." She leans over and pecks my lips quickly. When she pulls away I lean forward and reclaim hers, cupping her face in my hand. It's way more PDA than she is used to, and she pulls away quickly.
"Hey! What are you playing at, Mellark?"
But she is smiling as she turns back around, and I sit up straighter in my seat. Only one hundred and eighty days to go.
"Whatever. Forget you, Peeta." Katniss said, stomping away. I snap out of the flashback quickly and lurch forward. When my hand clamps around her wrist she shakes me off with more strength than I'd remembered.
"Look, Katniss, I'm sorry. I just wasn't expecting to see you and you're married and-"
"And what? It's been eight years, Peeta. What was I supposed to do, join a nunnery? I've moved on."
She was right, of course. She had always been right about everything.
"I know you have," I said, softer. "I'm making a real ass out of myself. Let's start over, okay? Will you allow that?"
Katniss softened a bit, but her scowl remained. "Fine," she huffed. "I'll allow it. But on one condition."
A slow smirk replaced the scowl. "You find me something to drink in this God forsaken town."
"I always knew you'd get out of here," I mused, passing the bottle of wine to Katniss. We picked it up at a liquor store a block away and were sitting in the parking lot, illuminated by the store's neon sign. She took a swig and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. "You always hated it."
"Still do." She placed the bottle between us on top of the console. "Every bit of it. Ever since..."
"Your dad," I finished for her. "I know. Where did you go?"
"I went to Florida. Miami, actually."
"Really?" I slammed my palm down on the dash to kick start the vents that were starting to putter out. Heat started to seep out again, and Katniss and I cupped our hands in front of the vents. "I bet you miss it."
"Compared to this glorious weather? Of course not." Katniss lightly rubbed her gloved hands over the fabric of her seat as she laughed. "I can't believe you still have this car."
"Oooh, Peeta," she moans as she rides me. I lean forward and kiss her left breast before lightly biting down on the nipple, eliciting a high-pitched gasp from her. My hands grip her thighs tighter and help her move up and down on my cock.
"Are you close, baby?" I ask, my own release not far away.
"Yes," she breathes, throwing her head back as I find her clit and begin to worry it between my fingers. "Yes, Peeta, I'm so close."
I pepper her chest and neck with kisses as I feel her tense around me. "That's it, Katniss. Let go, baby."
She comes with a groan and collapses against my chest. I don't slow down; in fact, I take a fistful of her ass in each hand and fuck her harder. She takes it all with soft whimpers into my neck, and when I come she swivels her hips in just the right way to make me see stars.
We lay there for a few moments, protected by the fogged windows and the dark of night. She has to be home soon, so eventually we get dressed and I start the car. But as I drive home from her house I can still smell her lilac body lotion, so I don't roll down the windows again until it's gone.
"Yeah, well," I said. "It has a lot of memories."
Katniss' eyes flashed to mine and she bit her lip. I know she is remembering the days we spent driving around aimlessly, the nights we spent in the very seat she is sitting in, curled around each other. She took another swig of wine.
"I've seen your paintings," she said suddenly. I look to her in surprise.
"Yup," she said. "I was in New York City last year and a friend of mine took me on a tour. We visited a few galleries and I saw a few of your pieces. There was one that I thought was just beautiful. What was it called...It was of a little girl holding flowers? She looked like she was sleeping?"
"She was dead," I snapped. Katniss flinched, and I immediately felt guilty. "I'm sorry. It's just, that was my friend's little sister. Rue. They lived in a rough area and she was shot in a drive by one afternoon playing jump rope with her friends in the front yard. What I painted was how she looked at her wake."
"Oh, Peeta," she breathed, covering my hand with hers. I couldn't ignore the familiar buzz that shot through me. "I'm so sorry."
I squeezed her hand. "Thanks, Katniss. Sorry for bringing down the mood."
She handed me the bottle and I took a drink. "Don't worry about it. Normally I'm the Debbie Downer of the bunch. It's nice to take a break once in a while."
I chuckled and took another sip. We were almost halfway through the bottle and Katniss' cheeks were looking a bit flushed.
"So, what about you. Did you meet your husband in Miami?"
"Kind of," she said, looking at her hand that was still in mine. "I spent a few months in Miami doing odd jobs and enjoying my independence, and then I moved a bit farther north and enrolled in Tampa University. I made friends with my roommate Madge and she dragged me to one of the swim team's meet to ogle this guy named Finnick from her Biology class. Madge ended up falling for another swimmer, Gale, and Finnick and I had our first date a week later."
"That's a nice story," I said, forcing a smile. I noticed how hers didn't meet her eyes. "What? Is he bad to you, Katniss?"
"No," she said quickly. "No. Finnick is...Finnick is a good man. He's a bit cocky and obnoxious sometimes, but he is very smart and very thoughtful. He has a good job and keeps a roof over our heads, and he always treats me right."
"You don't sound so confident, Katniss."
She frowned. "Finnick loves me, Peeta. We've been married for four years."
"But what, Peeta?" Katniss snapped, yanking her hand from mine. "Do you want me to say that I don't love him? That I just married him because I was tired of waiting around for the right person? That I still love you?"
Katniss stared at me for a long moment before closing her eyes and rubbing her temples. "I shouldn't be here. This was a mistake."
"No, it's not, Katniss. Me running into you tonight, that was fate. We haven't seen each other in years-"
"Well, it wouldn't have had to be like this if you hadn't left me, Peeta!" Katniss yelled. I could see that she regretted her words immediately by the way her impossibly grey eyes widened and her hand flew up to cover her mouth. She apologized hurriedly, but the damage was already done. And, as usual, she was right.
"I don't understand why you can't just stand up to her, Peeta!" Katniss snaps as she flicks through the channels with the TV remote. "We leave for UPenn in two weeks and she still thinks you're going to Princeton! Isn't it about time you said something?"
A knot twists in my stomach at her words. My acceptance letters from both Princeton and UPenn sit upstairs on my desk. I remember how excited my mother was when seeing that I was accepted to her alma mater. She bought me a Princeton sweatshirt, a Princeton mug for herself. It's the only time in my life that she's been proud of me.
"Peeta? Hello? Are you listening?"
"What?" I say to Katniss. She takes her feet off of my lap and sits up straight on the couch.
"Well? Are you going to tell her or not?"
"Tell me what?"
We spin around and see my mother standing in the doorway, a grocery bag in her arms.
"Mom!" I croak. I see Katniss' jaw set in a firm line, and I know what she's about to do.
"Peeta was going to tell you that he was accepted to UPenn. And he'll be going there this fall."
My mother lets out a cold laugh. "Right. Like you haven't tainted him enough. Peeta is going to Princeton, because they deemed him worthy enough to get in. Unlike some people."
"Mom!" I hiss. I look to my girlfriend. "Katniss, please."
"Please what, Peeta? Please stop standing up for you? Because you obviously aren't going to do it yourself. Do you even want to go to UPenn?"
My mother smirks, and I know she is enjoying the show. This is exactly what she wants.
"Katniss, listen. UPenn is great. It's the school you wanted, and-"
"I thought it was the school that we wanted," she says, deflating a bit. "That was the plan, right? Go to UPenn together and get married once we graduate? Or did you just say that so I would stay with you?"
"No, Katniss, of course not-"
"Of course he did," my mother says, waving Katniss off with a light laugh. "Just like all my boys. Do you think they're all still with their high school sweethearts? No. They had their fun behind their bleachers and when it was time to put on their cap and gown moved on to the real world, to real people. Not the poor little girls from their hometown who would just get pregnant within a few months and trap their sorry asses in wedlock."
I gape at my mother, who looks like she just won the lottery. Katniss huffs and my silence and stands up.
"Well, then, Peeta. I guess I won't be holding you down any longer. Have fun at Princeton."
She stalks past me and shoves past my mother, knocking the groceries out of her arms. I leap from the couch and follow her, but my mother catches me by the arm. I shake her off, but Katniss is already out the door, slamming it behind her. I throw it open and see her climbing onto her bike, trying to stay steady and wipe the tears off her face at the same time.
"Don't!" she yells, smacking my hands away. "Don't you dare touch me, Peeta Mellark. You stay away from me. I don't want to see you again. Ever."
"Please, Katniss, I love you-"
"Shut the fuck up!" She throws her bike to the ground and smacks he across the face. "I hate you! I hate you!"
I let her hit me until she breaks, and I hold her as she sobs against me chest. When she has calmed down, I put her bike in the trunk of my car and drive her home. She doesn't speak to me for the entire ride, she just looks out the window and is silent as a few tears roll down her cheeks. I try to talk to her, to explain my actions. I tell her that I just want my mother to be proud of me, that I love her more than anything and that we can still make this work if I go to Princeton.
She never answers.
Katniss gets out of my car and turns slowly to face me.
That is all she says. She walks into her house and shuts the door behind her, no looking back. I drive home and I ignore my mother. That night I cry myself to sleep, but I still think that in the morning I'll pick her up and we'll go to breakfast like usual.
I don't hear from her for days. I call, I text, I email. I show up at her house at all hours of the day. She doesn't come out. I leave for Princeton at the end of August and I still haven't seen her since she told me she hated me. I don't forget the cold, dead look in her eyes as she got out of my car and walked out of my life for good.
"No, Katniss, you're right," I told her. "You're absolutely right."
She sat back in her seat and began to gnaw on her lip. I spied the lump of her wedding ring underneath her glove again and was reminded of who she had become.
"I'll take you home," I said. "Where are you staying?"
"Peeta, you don't have to-"
"You're not walking home in the snow, Katniss. Just tell me where you're staying."
She flinched at my sharp tone but told me anyway. "Abernathy's motel."
Shit. That's about twelve blocks from Sae's.
"And you walked all the way over here? Isn't your husband worried about you?"
Katniss shrugged. "Maybe. He's probably immersed in some sporting event on TV. We had no food and were starving so I went out to get the essentials."
I looked into the backseat, where her bags were stashed. "Six boxes of Hot Pockets and defrostable pizzas are the essentials?"
"Defrostable isn't a word," Katniss said.
I nudged her shoulder. "Know-it-all," I joked.
She nudged me back. "Are you okay to drive?" she asked.
"Please," I said. "We didn't even finish the bottle. It takes a lot more than that to get me even a little wasted." I looked at her from the corner of my eye as I put the car in drive. "You, on the other hand, are looking a bit flushed."
She rolled her eyes and turned to look out the window as we drove. As we pulled out of the parking lot her hand found its way back into mine.
We didn't speak as I drove her to the motel. It reminded me of when I drove her home eight years ago, and it turned my stomach the entire way. Finally, I pulled into the parking lot and shut off the car. The snow was falling a bit heavier now, but I knew that wasn't the reason she didn't get out of the car.
"I didn't go to Princeton," I blurted out. Katniss turned to me in surprise. "Well, not totally. I dropped out after one semester."
"What? But Peeta, you wanted it so badly."
"Well, I decided that what I wanted was to make art and not become a stuck up old prick like my mother. So I dropped out. Got a job at a restaurant in Chicago that was just enough to pay my rent and the cost of some paint."
"What did your mother say?" she asked.
"She threw a fit. My dad sided with her, of course. My brothers, too. I haven't seen any of them in years."
"No." I stopped her. "Don't say anything. I just wanted you to know."
Katniss nodded. She was always good at being quiet. "Okay."
She still didn't move. I took a moment to look at her, really look at her. Her hair was the same rich, dark brown that it had been in high school. I could see the worry lines in her forehead that hadn't been nearly as prominent eight years ago, and she was a bit thinner.
"Your eyes," I told her. "They're the same. The same little grey orbs that broke every resolve I ever had."
Katniss grinned sadly and tucked a stray curl behind my ear. "Careful. I think I see some grays in you, too, Mellark."
Her hand stayed where it was, cupping the side of my face. I slowly reached up and slid the glove off her hand and took her bare flesh in mine. Katniss watched with wide eyes as I brought her knuckles to my hand and kissed each one.
"Thank you for tonight, Katniss," I said, releasing her hand. "It was...amazing to see you again."
"You, too, Peeta. You, too."
And then we were kissing. I don't know who leaned in first, just that suddenly her lips were on mine and I thought my heart was going to beat straight out of my chest. I pulled her as close to me as I could, and her hands were everywhere. They wound themselves into my hair as she nipped at my lower lip, traced their way down my back as I traced her lips with my tongue. They dug into my arms when our tongues met, and I clutched her face so tightly I was scared I would crush her.
When we broke apart, both breathing heavily, she looked up at me, and in her eyes I saw too many things. Sadness. Regret. Relief. Hope. I kissed her once more, softly, and wiped a lone tear from her cheek. We both knew our time was over.
"Goodnight Peeta," Katniss said, pulling away. She gathered her things, opened the door and got out of my car. I watched her make her way past rows of little numbered doors until she reached one marked 'Twelve'. She dug around her pockets for the key, and just as she put it in the lock she looked back to me.
I raised my hand once, and she smiled. As she made her way inside, the snow turned into rain, and I didn't mind the slush as I drove home, because this time she looked back.
And when I got inside my apartment, I finished baking for Effie and cleaned up the kitchen. It was well past midnight by now, but I sat up and drank the rest of the wine straight from the bottle because I could still taste her lips on the rim.
The next morning I brought Effie her treats and only escaped from her apartment an hour later with the excuse that I had other people to visit. I got in my car despite the lie, and when I sat down I noticed the singular black glove sitting on the console. Smiling to myself, I put the car in gear.
I drove to the motel, and I asked the manager if the couple in room twelve had check out yet. He grunted at me and shrugged, but after a bit of coaxing I managed to get him to tell me that they hadn't checked out yet, but had left in some fancy car about half an hour before my arrival.
So I left the glove with him, and scribbled a note down on some of the motel's stationary. The surly manager assured me that he would leave it for them, and shooed me away to go get himself a drink.
I hopped back into my car with a sad smile on my face. I thought of her glove, and the note, and all the things still unsaid. But I was thankful for the opportunity I had to see her one last time. To give her the proper goodbye that I didn't all those years ago.
I flipped on the radio, and the first song that came on was one of my father's favorites. I hummed the tune as I drove away.
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving, in our eloquence
Another 'Auld Lang Syne'
Two Years Later
"Congratulations, Peeta," my father said, clapping me on the back. A photographer snapped a picture, and the flash hurt my eyes.
"Thanks, Dad. I'm glad you could be here."
It took a while for my dad to work up the courage to leave my mother, and even longer for him to work up the courage to contact me. He said something about being scared of how I'd react to him not being there for all those years, but in reality I couldn't care less. I was just happy I had some family back.
"Mr. Mellark! Let's get a picture with you and your father with the painting!"
We moved to stand in front of my latest work, one that earned me a spot at the Museum of Modern Art. I could hardly believe the news when I heard. This painting had been my best work yet, but I still didn't think it was of such caliber to be displayed in such a prestigious setting.
The painting was of two things: A half empty bottle of wine and a worn black glove sitting on the center console of a car. Snow was falling onto the windshield, and in the each corner of the painting you could see a hands, a man's and a woman's, both angled towards each other's but not touching. I called it Reunion.
"Alright, put your arms around each other. Look happy!" the photographer directed. "Move slightly to the left...You're blocking the painting!...Okay, perfect. Hold still...and...Great! Perfect. Thank you, Mr. Mellark."
"My pleasure," I said. The photographer's eyes shifted to something over my shoulder and he smiled widely.
"Is this your wife? You two must take a picture together."
"My wife? No, I don't-"
I turned around and stopped short, my breath catching in my chest. Katniss stood sheepishly off to the side, her hands tucked behind her back, a small smile on her face. I looked back to the photographer.
"Just a second," I told him. I jogged over to Katniss.
"What are you doing here?"
"Congratulations," she murmured. From her behind her back she revealed a bottle of wine. The same one we drank together two years ago. I took it from her and looked up, hopeful.
"Your husband?" I asked.
"He was cheating on me for six months before he came clean," she deadpanned. "His high school girlfriend, Annie. We got divorced quickly and that was that. But it got me thinking."
"Oh?" I said. "About what."
Katniss stepped closer to me. "I started thinking that if Finnick found happiness with his high school sweetheart, maybe I can, too."
"Interesting theory." I inched closer. We were barely a breath apart. "I think you should test it out."
"You do?" she breathed. I nodded, my lips just brushing hers. "Good. Because all of my bags are in the car and I have nowhere to stay tonight."
We laughed as our lips met, and I lifted her off the ground and spun her around. I could hear the click of the cameras but I didn't care. Katniss threw her head back and laughed as we spun, and when I placed her back on the ground her cheeks were flushed and her grey eyes were bright and full of life.
"I love you," I told her.
"I love you," she repeated.
When I kissed her again, all I could think about was how melodic those words sounded, and how soft her lips were against mine. And when she writhed and moaned beneath me that night, I knew that one thing was certain.
This, right now, is real. I am with her. She loves me.
And she is so beautiful.
It feels so great to be posting again! Thanks to my awesome beta wollaston for getting this back to me so quick even though I dumped it on her last minute. I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a very happy New Year!
I'm on tumblr and AO3 as 'ohalaskayoung'.