Katniss [DEC 20 5:37 PM] Still coming tonight?
Peeta [DEC 20 5:41 PM] Life threatening injuries couldn’t keep me away :)
Peeta [DEC 20 5:42 PM] Hey, is it ok if I bring a friend though?
Katniss [DEC 20 5:48 PM] Ugh gross, people
Peeta [DEC 20 5:48 PM] I’m taking that as a yes ;)
. . .
There are three things I notice when I open my front door:
- Peeta Mellark’s ever constant blue eyes, clear and bright and focused only on me (the feeling is warm and familiar and I know at some point tonight I will be ignoring very pointed jokes from all of our friends but it’s so worth it just to see his face)
- A white bakery box held close to his chest, topped with a ridiculously big green bow that he must know I’m going to tease him mercilessly about later in the evening,
- And a small gloved hand wrapped tightly around his arm. (The gloved hand, incidentally, belongs to an unnecessarily pretty blonde who is simpering up at Peeta in a way that makes my stomach turn. But the first thing I notice is her hand, rich black leather against the soft gray of his sweater, squeezing him tightly like it belongs there.)
“Sorry we’re late,” he says brightly, and his voice is warm enough to draw my eyes up to him. His smile is all white teeth and the dimple in his one cheek that’s stupidly attractive, and it’s enough to make me grin back.
I take the box from him but don’t let them in, leaning against the doorframe and leveling him with a pointed look. “I think we’ll be okay as long as there are cheese buns in this box.”
Peeta scoffs. “You think I’m stupid enough to come here without the standard offering?” I laugh and we just stand there grinning goofily at each other until the girl beside him coughs pointedly. “Oh,” he says, shaking his head and turning pink in embarrassment. It’s unusual to see him anything other than collected and smooth. “Glimmer, this is Katniss. Katniss, my friend Glimmer from school.”
Glimmer—Glimmer??—smiles demurely, her green eyes looking me up and down appraisingly. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Katniss.” It’s impossible to miss the challenge in her voice.
“Huh,” I stand up straighter, giving her a tight smile of my own. “That must be nice, I haven’t heard anything about you.” Peeta gives me this incredulous kind of look that I ignore.
“Is there any reason you’re letting all the heat out, Brainless?” My roommate Johanna appears behind me, hip checking me harder than strictly necessary and scowling at Peeta and Glimmer. “Who the fuck is this?”
I smile inwardly at the look of shock on Glimmer’s face. “This is Peeta’s friend Glitter.”
“Glimmer,” Peeta corrects with a frown. Johanna shrugs, clearly not caring one way or another and she takes the box from me and moving back inside.
“Um, you guys should come in.” I move out of the doorway and gesture for them to follow me.
“This is cozy,” Glimmer says, a critical look on her face that makes me think she means anything but. “There are seriously three of you living here?”
I’m suddenly more aware of our rented house than I have been in ages — it’s a small three bedroom setup that we’ve been renting from Annie’s boyfriend’s great-aunt, complete with old-fashioned wood paneling in the den and floral patterned couches that we’ve mostly covered up with throw blankets. Old and decorated about forty years ago but comfortable and cheap enough to suit our needs.
“We make it work,” I tell her dryly, hanging the red peacoat she passes me on one of the hooks by the door. When I turn back around she’s dragged Peeta over to the Christmas tree, taking in the colored lights and homemade ornaments that Prim convinced me to help her make when she came over on Black Friday, paper snowflakes and cotton ball snowmen and candy canes.
“This is so cute,” she laughs. “I’ve only ever seen trees like this in like, movies. I didn’t know people really made their own ornaments.”
I level a sharp glare at Peeta and he musters an apologetic smile. “Katniss and her little sister make their own ornaments every year,” he explains softly. I can tell he’s thinking of the years he would come over too and help us — our trees looked much better back then and they haven’t really been the same since he went to a different college, a private university the next town over from my state school. Now our time with him is precious and few, homemade ornaments long forgotten.
Things don’t get much better when she follows us into the dining room. Our crew is gathered around the table, playing cards and drinking beer; I don’t miss the significant look my other roommate Madge sends me when she sees Glimmer, hand still clutching at him like a vise.
“Oh my god, who knew you could fit this many people in here?” Glimmer exclaims, examining the room like it’s the inside of a clown car. Finnick looks taken aback; it’s his great aunt’s house, the one she lived in before she had a stroke and moved into an assisted living facility, and he basically grew up here. He still comes over here some weekends every fall to rake leaves, just out of habit.
“Peeta,” Annie cheers, jumping up and wrapping Peeta in a warm hug before turning to Glimmer. “And who is this?”
I roll my eyes as Peeta makes the introductions, pointing out our different friends — Gale with his arm wrapped around Madge, finally together after years of fierce bickering; Finnick and Annie attached at the hip as always; Johanna and her girlfriend Delly, a sweet girl I went to high school with who is soft and sweet where Johanna is hard and sour.
It suddenly occurs to me that I’m now the only one not paired up. I try not to think about how different it would be if Peeta hadn’t brought his friend…the thought is painful in a way I don’t want to admit I’m considering.
“I’ll be right back,” I mutter, turning around abruptly and moving into the kitchen. The box from the bakery is on the counter and I scowl, grabbing a platter and ripping it open. I’m shoving the pasties halfheartedly onto a plate when I hear someone come up behind me.
“So did those cheese buns do something to personally offend you, or…?”
I turn around and force a smile, though I know Peeta isn’t buying it. “Just making sure we have enough food,” I say with a shrug.
He makes a disbelieving sound in the back of his throat. “Well on the bright side, you just ordered pizza,” he teases. “So on the off chance Glimmer eats more than a pepperoni we can just order more.”
I laugh begrudgingly and then turn back around to focus on my task. “So,” I try to sound as casual as possible. “What kind of a name is Glimmer anyway?”
Peeta snorts. “Well, Katniss,” he says pointedly, grinning as he steps beside me and pokes my side. I try not to squirm at his proximity. “That’s just a nickname the girls in her sorority gave her. Her real name is Amber.”
I look at him out of the corner of my eye, startled to see the scrutinizing look he’s giving me. “Who wouldn’t love a nickname like that?” His mouth twists and I try to smile, more genuine this time, as I pick up the tray and walk towards the door.
“Hey,” he says gently, reaching out and tugging me to a stop. He turns me so I face him and plucks the platter out of my hands and puts it back on the counter. We look at each other for a moment, closer than we’ve been in a long time. “You haven’t even given me a hug.”
I shrug. “I was, you know. Kind of thrown off when you got here. Sorry.”
Peeta’s smile is warm enough for the both of us. “Don’t be sorry, just come here.”
I don’t hesitate to fall into his arms as he pulls me close. His sweater is soft under my cheek, my arms tucked under his as they wrap around his broad chest.
We haven’t always hugged like this. These kinds of hugs didn’t start until after he went away for college and I realized how much I missed him. I’d tugged him close that first Thanksgiving break freshman year and pretty much haven’t wanted to let go since.
Not that he knows that, or anything.
He buries his face in the crook of my neck, and warmth radiates from the spot where his lips brush against my skin. He squeezes me tighter and it feels so good that I know I won’t be the first to let go.
“I missed you,” he whispers, and I feel the words more than I hear them.
I shiver, unsure of what to say in response — that I missed him too? That I wish I got to see him more? That I’m dying to know how, in all the texts and phone calls that have been near-constant, he never managed to mention a friend like Glimmer?
I sigh against him. “We should probably go back.” I feel him smile.
“Mm, one more minute,” he says, squeezing tighter. I laugh breathlessly as the air rushes out of my lungs.
Peeta finally pulls back, tucking a stray hair behind my ear and trailing it down to tug at the end of my braid.
“You look really pretty tonight, by the way.” He says it so sweetly that I feel my face flush with pleasure. And then he’s moving again, picking up the abandoned cheese buns and brushing past me. I follow after him a minute later, my skin still warm from his embrace and trying to control my smile.
Maybe this won’t be that bad.
. . .
The worst thing about optimism, I remind myself what feels like an eternity later as I pluck the mushrooms off my fourth piece of pizza and cast narrow eyed glances at Glimmer, is that it’s stupid. And wrong. And just…stupid.
This is, in fact, that bad.
“And then she just ripped her shirt off,” Glimmer exclaims, gesticulating wildly and laughing so hard her eyes tear up. “Like. Right in the middle of the party, just ripped it off and kept on dancing!” Although she’s only had one piece of cheese pizza she’s matching me in numbers when it comes to the Sangiovese wine Madge carefully rations and only brings out on pizza nights.
She almost literally hasn’t shut up talking about bigs and littles and keggers and ragers or whatever to anyone who will listen.
Or, okay, maybe she hasn’t said all that exactly but I stopped paying attention ten minutes in.
Gale nudges me with his elbow, arching a dark eyebrow at me. “Think that napkin is dead yet?” he asks, looking at the finely shredded heap of paper I’ve been ripping apart for the last twenty minutes.
I roll my eyes at him, grinning nonetheless. “Shut up.”
My eyes dart back over to Glimmer, who’s sitting so close to Peeta she’s practically in his lap, and find his eyes trained on me. I’ve been avoiding him since shortly after we got back from the kitchen, pretty much from the moment Glimmer pressed her thigh flush against him and started talking about how cute all his little high school friends are. He smiles at me, looking relieved that I’ve finally looked over.
I don’t hold his gaze.
Beside me, Gale smirks. “Trouble in paradise?” I glare at him darkly and he laughs. “You know they’re not together, right?”
“How do you know?” I ask curiously, looking back over quickly before catching myself. “Also I don’t care. Shut up.”
“I know because I know Peeta and I know how much you mean to each other,” he tells me seriously.
I scowl. “What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
Gale gives me a Look, the one that he patented shortly after we met in middle school and became best friends. That I see right through your bullshit look. There have never been any secrets I could keep from Gale; I should’ve known that, even though we never talked about it, he knew what I was feeling for Peeta all these years. Probably way before I even did.
I scowl at him anyway though, turning back to my napkin and ripping the shreds in half.
Madge drags me into the kitchen after the pizza has been eaten under the pretense of grabbing more wine and dessert, this weird southern chocolate pudding and whipped cream concoction with cookies crumbled on top Delly loves to make.
“You okay?” she asks as she ladles generous heaps into plastic bowls. Her pale blue eyes look over me carefully.
“Fine,” I say with a scowl. “Fine and dandy.”
Madge laughs knowingly. “People who are fine usually don’t say dandy.” She cocks her head to the side. “Are you jealous?”
I roll my eyes at her, pushing her shoulder lightly as we pick up the bowls. “You’re delusional.”
She scoffs, giving me the same Look her boyfriend just did. Dammit, why did they start dating?
“So I’ve just been imagining the death glares you’ve been sending Peeta’s friend all night?”
"Bitchy resting face," I say breezily, grateful that she knows me well enough to just kick my shin lightly and follow me back to the dining room.
“None for me, thanks,” Glimmer says brightly before I can hand her a bowl. “Waaaay too much sugar for me.” She does reach for the wine, though, and it takes a lot of self-control not to point out the sugar hypocrisy of it all.
Peeta brushes his fingers against mine as he takes his bowl from me. “More for us, then.” I smile and for a moment his eyes drop down to my mouth, his pupils dilate just enough for me to notice. I lick my lips and his gaze shoots back up, the look he gives me indecipherable.
When I sit back down Madge and Gale shoot me matching smirks and I decide to eat Glimmer’s pudding too. For the hell of it.
“I don’t know how you can eat like that, Katniss,” Glimmer says, already almost done with her glass by the time I start on her bowl. The way she drinks fast and eager makes it easy to tell that the parties she goes to are usually thrown by frats.
“Probably the same way you can drink like that,” I say just as sweetly. “I’ve built up a high tolerance.”
Across from me, Annie chokes on her pudding as she smothers a laugh.
“Katniss has a weirdly fast metabolism,” Peeta tells her. Despite his friendly tone, the look he gives me is cool. I glare frostily back, shoveling more into my mouth.
“That’s how they know each other,” Finnick jokes. “Peeta’s parents own a bakery and Katniss loves cookies.”
It’s more complicated than that but he’s not wrong — for a while, the cookies were a big draw. Especially the ones he would frost so carefully and give away so freely, saving the best to share with me at lunch time.
“They were practically attached at the hip in high school,” Annie agrees with a smile.
Johanna scoffs. “What do you mean, ‘high school’? I can’t get that asshole outta here when he’s home on breaks. They still seemed pretty attached this summer to me.”
“Funny how things can change,” she says, and everyone stops smiling because the insinuation isn’t funny at all.
Delly starts talking with Glimmer more quietly, sweet enough to try to spare her from the tension building up among the rest of us. Once her attention is diverted Annie and Finnick lean close to me across the table.
“Are you alright?” Annie asks, eyes wide and concerned.
“Peachy keen,” I lie. I wish I had more pudding.
“Oh god,” Glimmer interrupts with a pout. “We’re out of wine.” She twirls her glass with two fingers and frowns, leaning her head on Peeta’s shoulder. “There’s like, literally no reason to be here anymore.”
“Guess you’d better go then,” Johanna says with a sneer, glaring at the blonde. She’s been making snide comments all evening, shooting daggers with her eyes at Peeta's date, which isn’t exactly unusual, but everyone seems surprised at the bold statement. I don’t think I’m imagining the way Finnick snickers.
“Jo,” Delly says softly, wrapping her hand around her girlfriend’s arm and squeezing.
She shrugs. “What? She got her wine, she gave her lap dance. Party can pretty much only go downhill from here, right?”
Peeta’s smiles tightly, a sure sign of anger. “Johanna.”
“Look, whatever,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “We pay money to live here. And it’s not fucking Shangri-La or anything but it’s home and it’s ours and these are our friends. She’s a guest here, and she’s been handing out these shady ass backhanded compliments all night. So if she only came for wine and to piss Brainless off then congratulations, mission accomplished. Time to go.”
Peeta’s eyes dart to me and I feel myself turn bright red in embarrassment.
“Fuck you,” Glimmer snaps, slamming her glass down on the table so hard that we wince.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Annie curl into Finnick, resting her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes tight. She gets this way sometimes when people argue — she has a lot of anxiety and it’s too much for her, a stressor overload that sends her into a quiet panic.
“I think Johanna’s right,” I say firmly. Glimmer’s eyes narrow into slits and I can’t even look at Peeta, too humiliated. “We’re out of food anyway, so the party’s pretty much over. You should all just…go.”
Glimmer swears loudly under her breath, saying all kinds of things that I don’t catch as she stands up and storms back into the den. Peeta stands up too but doesn’t move, just looks at me helplessly like there’s no one else in the room.
I shake my head and drop his stare. “You should take her home.”
I feel Gale’s hand on my back and I know he’s probably giving Peeta one of his Looks this time — the if you hurt my friend and I will hurt you one. After a moment, I hear him leave.
Madge offers to clean up and I don’t fight her on it, disappearing into my room and slipping under the covers, sick from too much pudding and something I don’t want to even think about.
. . .
Peeta [DEC 20 10:29 PM] Is Annie ok?
Peeta [DEC 20 11:17 PM] What did Johanna mean??
Peeta [DEC 20 11:18 PM] Why were you pissed?
Peeta [DEC 21 12:01 AM] So you’re ignoring me now??
. . .
The house is quiet and I am alone on the bottom floor, Johanna and Madge having disappeared upstairs hours ago. I’m stretched out on my stomach and watching The Office — the Beach Games episode, where Pam finally tells Jim that she canceled her wedding for him but it’s too late. My eyes are kind of prickly with not-tears and dammit, I really wish I had more pudding.
My phone lights up again and I expect another angry text but this time it’s an incoming call. I groan into the pillow and click pause before Pam runs over the coals. My stomach sinks as I answer it.
“Oh.” He sounds surprised that I even picked up; I can picture him with his phone tucked between his shoulder and his ear and it makes my stomach hurt. “Hey. We uh. Need to talk.”
I swallow hard and roll onto my back. “Probably,” I agree.
“But not on the phone. It’s more of an in person kind of conversation.”
“Um,” that really doesn’t work for me, considering I’ve vowed never to see him again. “I’m kind of busy tomorrow—“
“Luckily I’m here now.”
“What?” I sit up so fast I get light headed, walking to the window and peering out. His silver Prius shines in the glow of the Christmas lights Delly sweet talked Johanna into letting her hang on the trim for us. The inside light comes on in his car and I can see him wave at me tentatively.
“Jesus, Peeta,” I sigh. “Do you have a boom box in there too?”
Even far away I can see him smile. “Are you asking me to declare my love for you?”
“That’s not funny,” I snap. He’s quiet for a long moment.
“I know it’s not funny,” he agrees softly. “Can you just — let me in? Or come out here? Or something?”
Ugh. “Don’t act like you don’t know where the spare key is.” I frown at him through the window. “Just…be quiet.”
I hang up before he even gets out of the car, sitting cross legged on my bed and waiting. My blood pounds in my ears, palms slickening with sweat as I hear him fumbling loudly on the porch. The front door opens and a moment later the knob of my door turns and Peeta’s head peeks in. His blond curls are tucked under his beanie and I flop back on my bed to stare at the ceiling, overwhelmed by how much I want.
Wordlessly he pads across the room and lies down beside me. It’s a familiar position, one we’ve found ourselves in at different parties and sleepovers and movie nights through the years. It’s never been like this, though, dark and intimate and alone. The silence between us is thick.
“So…” His hand brushes mine before he rolls over on his side to face me, propping his head up on his palm.
I don’t take the bait, keeping my eyes trained upward. I can feel the weight of his stare though, blue eyes glancing over my face. He reaches a hand out to play with my hair, fingers combing through the loose black strands that fan out behind me.
“I’ve always loved your hair down,” he says absently, curling it around his index finger and giving a gentle tug. “Partly because, I don’t know. It always makes you seem more vulnerable, like you’re finally letting your guard down and I’m getting to see something special, something not everyone else gets to see.”
I finally turn my head to look at him, my breath catching at the look on his face. Intense and so, so determined.
Peeta frowns. “You know why.”
“You know, before tonight I would’ve agreed with that,” I say scornfully. “I thought I understood what was going on here. But now—”
“And what exactly did you think was going on?”
I feel myself flush and look away. “You know.”
“Clearly not,” he snaps. He groans, pulling of his beanie to run his fingers through his hair in frustration. “God, Katniss, you don’t even — you have no idea. The effect you have on me. Every text, every phone call, every hug, every time you used to come by the bakery or when you sat by me at school, or even now when you just look at me.”
I know my eyes are wide when I look at him this time. Because I want him to say it. I need him to say it, say anything.
“You walk into a room and it feels like the air goes out of it,” he says earnestly, voice softer now.
I finally roll over, much closer to him now, and his hand lands on my waist. “That sounds unpleasant.” But I know what he means.
His thumb traces a slow circle on the bare skin of my hip, the corner of his mouth turning up as I shiver. When he speaks his voice is low and gravelly. “It’s the best feeling I know.”
I laugh nervously. “That’s quite a line, Peeta Mellark.”
“What can I say,” he grins. “I’ve been saving all my best lines for you.”
I try to look thoughtful but mostly I’m just trying not to melt. “And, uh. How long have you been saving these lines?”
“Too long.” He hums under his breath, his fingernail scratching me just enough to make me jolt. “Possibly since the moment I met you.”
“We met in kindergarten,” I remind him dryly.
He scoots closer until the tops of his thighs are pressed against mine. “Sounds about right.” His hand skims up my side, lingers long enough to trace the line of my clavicle, until he is cupping my face. “I’m kind of hoping you let me kiss you now.”
His lips are skimming mine when I pull back uncertainly. “What about Glitter?” My voice is almost unrecognizable to my own ears and I feel like screaming at myself for interrupting something that has taken so long to build.
Peeta makes a face, a cross between sheepish and annoyed. “Glimmer was a bad idea,” he admits with a shrug. He tilts my chin up until there is nowhere to look but him; his eyes are bright and sincere. “I don’t know, she’s been hinting all semester and she’s usually not like she was tonight, I think she was just intimidated since I almost literally never shut up about you.”
“You shut up plenty about her,” I complain, wishing he was still playing with my hair.
He hangs his head. “There wasn’t anything to tell you. I just brought her tonight to — you know.”
I roll my eyes and scowl but it’s mostly playful, bumping our knees together. “Make me jealous?”
“I mean,” he wrinkles his nose. “Kind of. But also, I don’t know, I thought if you didn’t like me now was as good a time as any to see what else is out there. Turns out it sucks, so. I’ve got my fingers crossed about you.” He winks and I snort.
“Am I supposed to be flattered by that?” The way my hands reach for him probably makes the line less convincing, letting him guide me onto my back and hover over me.
This is new in every way for me — the few dates I have been on have fallen flat, never moving past boring kisses that left me feeling cold. I’ve never been this close to anyone, especially not him. It should be weird. But even in the dim light his eyes flash, the blue of his irises deep and familiar, his smile close enough to press against my own, and it is a million things all at once but none of them are weird. And I think maybe, that’s all I need to know.
He presses a light kiss to the corner of mouth, his body moving so that his hips are cradled between my legs. He keeps on that way, lips feathering across my forehead, a light peck to my nose, brushing past my lips to press warm and sweet against my throat. It’s the heat of him, his body lined up against mine, that finally does me in.
I arch into him, voice strangled as I let out something embarrassingly close to a moan. “Peeta.” The way he looks at me is seared into my memory, a white hot flash that I hope never disappears.
When he finally kisses me, really kisses me, it feels so perfectly him that I almost ruin it by smiling. He kisses me like he loves me, and somewhere in the back of my mind I file the thought away to worry about some other time. My hands slip under the hem of his shirt, fingers digging into the flesh of his lower back, and he lets out a grunt that I feel all the way to my toes. Time slips by too quickly and I wish I could freeze it.
If it were anybody else it would feel too fast, but when my skin is bare against his it seems just like the way it should be. He pulls away though, eyes pouring over me like an artist. I remember the last time he showed me his sketch book, pages filled from classes spent practicing eyelashes resting against cheeks and the soft lines of a woman’s hips, lips curving into too many expressions to catalogue. I hope someday he draws this too.
“You look like you’re thinking a lot,” he notes, the smile he gives me one I haven’t seen before. It feels like it belongs only to me.
I pull him closer again, moving against him in a way that makes him gasp. “Just thinking about kindergarten,” I tease.
He chokes on his laughter. “Such a freak.”
“You love it.” It’s said offhandedly but then I freeze, and the look he gives me is so knowing.
“I totally do.” He dips his head down and kisses me again. “But we’ve got all the time in the world for that.”
. . .
I wake up late in the morning with a bashful smile, fully expecting to find Peeta pressed against me. Instead the bed is empty and the house smells sweet.
By the time I make my way into the dining room Madge and Johanna are at the table, and they clap enthusiastically when I enter.
“Not a word,” I warn, slipping by them into the kitchen and ignoring their catcalls. Peeta’s at the counter, wearing his rumpled shirt from last night and frosting a tray of cupcakes. He jumps when I wrap my arms around him but then melts against me.
“Good morning.” I don’t even have to see his face to know the broad, satisfied smile he wears and I groan in embarrassment, burying my face in his back. He whistles off key as he continues his work. “So FYI,” he says with a jerk of his head, “those two know about us.”
“Yeah, the clapping clued me in,” I groan again.
“You’re okay with that?” he asks casually. “Them knowing?” His voice is neutral but I can feel the way he’s straightened up against me and I know it’s a test.
I shrug against him. “Keeps us from renting a billboard or something.”
He turns around in my arms, beaming. “Have I told you how beautiful you are lately?” he asks, kissing me soundly.
Behind us someone knocks on the wall. “I’m coming into the kitchen,” Madge says loudly, appearing in the doorway with her hands over her eyes and a wide grin on her face. “Is it safe?”
I give a halfhearted sigh. “You know they’re never going to let us live this down, right?”
He kisses me again, more like this kisses from last night, and I’m glad Madge is still being annoying and covering her eyes because I want this to be mine alone.
Peeta grins. “I can live with that.”
It sounds like a promise.