My brother interrupts us before I can get her panties off. He throws open the door to my room and barges right in, unsurprised by the half-naked blond stretched out on top of me, even though he recognizes her and must have concluded that I'm playing with fire. Again.
"Get up shithead," Rye says, kicking my bare leg.
I rise off the mattress, taking my sweet time because it pisses him off. The girl covering me whines in protest from having to change positions, but she compensates by straddling my waist and kissing my jaw line—for some reason, girls find my jaw irresistible—while dragging her blood-painted fingernails through my hair. She mumbles for me to get rid of Rye.
For the moment, I regard her split thighs impassively. Rye's annoying, but he's my brother. He trumps sex. He trumps most things because he's the only one in this world I'm sure I love. Will ever love.
The nauseating froth of retro disco—who the fuck chose that?—from the party downstairs bubbles through the cracks in the door. I can't remember who I invited, but it sounds like more people have shown up. I wonder vaguely if we've run out of beer and that's why Rye is intruding on my play time.
He both loves and hates when Mom goes out of town. Loves it because she's Mom, and we want her away from us as much as possible. But he hates the parties I throw, mostly because I abandon them halfway through. On the other hand, he doesn't complain about the surplus of breasts that turn out. It's an easy way to pacify him.
I detect a note of bitterness when he announces, "Your bitch is waiting downstairs."
Already? Finnick wasn't supposed to show up for another hour.
I grunt. "Tell him I need five—"
"I'm not your secretary, you shameless punk."
Rye sticks up his nose and crosses his arms, executing that righteous stance he always uses with me. "Especially not when it comes to you and that hooligan you call a friend."
It's pointless to remind him that I instigate most of our outings, not Finnick.
Rye's furry brows draw together. "I don't suppose I've got a flaming chance of talking you out of whatever it is you're about to do."
I care what he thinks. I do. I just don't listen.
Rye knows when to back off. He's not my warden. Shit, if I wanted one, I'd go back to juvie. My brother knows I need to do my own thing. He knows I'll go crazy if I don't. Especially tonight.
"It's nothing bad," I drawl.
"We define bad differently, Peeta."
He's gone and used my name. He really doesn't want me to go.
I grind my teeth. "Trust me—"
Boogers practically rocket from his nose, he laughs so hard at this.
The girl…Glimmer. Her name is Glimmer. Christ. What kind of rogue am I if I can't remember a name like that? She's squirming and mewling on my lap, getting impatient. She grazes her fingers over the dandelion tattoo on my right shoulder blade.
"In a minute," I tell her, absently smoothing her hair to calm her down.
"Trust you," Rye echoes. "The day you do something legal is the day I'll trust you."
He lost me at legal. I roll my eyes, done with the conversation, and run my mouth across Glimmer's throat.
"Whatever," Rye says. "Just get going. Finnick's lack of charm is stinking up the front yard by the second. Thanks for leaving me to deal with the party." He stomps off, so damn sensitive.
"Gotta go, precious." I disentangle Glimmer from my body and stand, reaching for my jeans and t-shirt.
Glimmer pouts, but she's pleased with the endearment. She gets up and stretches like a feline. She looks fantastic in my plaid button down and nothing else. Even more fantastic than she had an hour ago, when she kept gasping, I shouldn't be here, I shouldn't be here…Oh, Peeta…I shouldn't…What are you...Oh, God…Don't stop...
For someone who claimed to still be getting over her last boyfriend, she'd gone from virginal to feral in sixty seconds. I'm used to quick seductions, but this was a record. I'd planned to take her for victory lap until Rye had entered the picture.
She shimmies into her denim skirt, but I stop her when she begins to switch my flannel for her tank top. "Keep the shirt on," I purr, tracing the seam of her lips. "I want people to know what I've done to you. I want to think of my clothes grazing your breasts, like I'm still holding them."
Sighing she tries to nip at the intricate silver ring on my finger, but I curl the finger back at the last moment. In response, she goes for the second tattoo on the inside of my wrist, brushing the dark letters inked into my skin with the pink peak of her tongue. Instead of enjoying it, the sensation makes me feel empty. I can't say why, but the zeal after sex never lasts. I wiggle my fingers as if that will shake off the feeling and fix the problem, aware that it won't.
Glimmer asks when she'll see me again. I don't have an answer. I'd made myself clear from the beginning, and everyone knows how I operate, and every girl is fine with it. But they still ask me this afterward.
I used to be different, softer, a doormat. Not anymore. I don't like being controlled.
Now that we've finished, I close myself off. I realize our time together hasn't helped push what day it is from my mind. The memory is still there. I need to get out of here before I throw something or hurt her feelings.
On my way out of the house, I weave through people who slap me on the back and slur things I don't hear. The house smells like an open liquor cabinet. Unable to stand the music, I detour over to the source of the horrible disco orgy and change the playlist, eliciting a fervor of complaints that I devotedly ignore.
Two girls make out by the front door, and I stop to admire them. The pair of luscious figures melt into one another like candle wax. One of them, a redhead, grins saucily at me. I remember her foxy moans very well. She curls a finger in my direction, beckoning me to tear through the fault line of their private session and insert myself between their heated caresses. I wink at her, then turn away and leave.
"Don't go." Rye's voice startles me as I'm grabbing my keys. He's staring at me intently. "I have a bad feeling."
Jesus. What channels has he been watching?
"Are you turning superstitious on me?" I joke.
"I'm serious, Peeta. I'll kick your ass if I have to. I'll break your freaking leg."
I study him. "Not tonight, Rye. Come on."
The fact that I'm reduced to pleading is annoying and a waste of time. I'll go with or without his permission. Let him try and kick my ass. He won't win.
We stare at each other, swapping the same memories of our father.
Rye nods. "Then let me go with you."
I chuckle, not taking him seriously, and head out.
Finnick is leaning against his vintage Mustang, blowing smoke rings into the air. His face cracks into a grin when he sees me, and he tosses the last bit of his cigarette. "About time, baby."
He takes my chin and leans forward, but I swing my mouth away from his. "Knock it off," I say.
Finnick has no gender preference. He knows I only go for girls, but that doesn't stop him from trying. Rye can't understand why this doesn't make me uncomfortable. It just doesn't. It's that simple. I'm not going to over-analyze it.
"You smell like you fucked someone nice and slow," Finnick declares.
It was nice. But not slow.
"Bet I can guess." He drops into the passenger seat while I take the wheel. He flattens his palm over my thigh and squeezes. "That Glimmer girl. You know, Cato may have dumped her, but he's still gonna want your rebellious balls on a platter."
Smirking, I slap his hand away. I'm not worried about Cato. I never worry about what other guys think. Either I have them pinned quickly or the pounding they give me doesn't hurt. I'm too numb to feel it because I'm used to it at home.
I start the engine. My brother dives into the backseat. I turn the engine back off and twist around. "What the fuck, Rye?"
Finnick acts like Rye isn't there. "Why is your puny brother soiling the back of my stallion?"
Rye isn't puny. He's taller than me—most assholes are—but he's not as broad.
"I want to see what it is you're doing," Rye says. "I want to see what makes this more worth it than the other crap you've gotten in trouble for."
He's referring to the fights and motorcycle races out on the bridge. I wish he would get over that stuff.
"I want to understand," he says.
"Ugh," Finnick groans, lighting a second cigarette. "God, your brother's a pussy."
"Hey," I warn him. "Don't."
They fight over me on a regular basis, but no one insults either of my brothers and gets away with it. Finnick leans back, shaking his head.
Seriously, though, I've got to get Rye out of the Mustang. I go for the jugular, hoping to spook him. "Mom will beat you if she finds out."
"You little shit. Since when does she need a reason? You think I can't handle myself because I'm not the one who gets incarcerated and then gets tattoos to celebrate the end of my probation?"
Finnick checks his watch while I debate Rye's request. He might want to understand how I entertain myself, divert myself from the crap that goes on in our family, or he might want to get away from the house, too. This night doesn't affect just me.
"Buckle your seatbelt," I say.
"Wait," Rye says, realizing something. "The party. Shouldn't we tell everyone to leave first?"
I pluck Finnick's cigarette from his mouth, take a drag, and tilt my head back to blow smoke against the ceiling. I pretend to give Rye's question serious thought. "No," I clip.
Because really, I could give a rat's ass if they ransack the place. I crank up the stereo, the spiky sound of a guitar gnarling through the car, backed up by the stomping pulse of a drum. I veer out of the driveway. My brother asks me to turn the music down, so I make it louder.
Things play out quickly. We park in a shadowed corner beneath the bridge, unload cans of spray paint and a ladder, and rush over to the wall that I'd chosen days ago. The breeze rustles my clothes. It's almost fall, and like a fool, I forgot to bring a sweater.
Rye tosses his keys onto the pavement in frustration. "Graffiti? Are you kidding me? Can you get any more cliché?"
I tune out his bullshit and stare at the wall, a face forming in my mind. Without pulling my eyes away, I reach out for a can, which Finnick shakes and hands over.
"It's art," he defends on my behalf.
This is what neither of them gets. It isn't art. It's a way to get images out of my head before they torment me. For months now, I've been doing a series of faces around the city, faces I've seen and can't forget. Some of them I've only met in my dreams, frozen there until I let them go.
I've been inching my way up to doing my father's face. Haven't gotten there yet.
It would be nice not to have to use spray paint. It bores me and yes, it's cliché. Its strength is that it's fast. Until I get more confident transporting paint that I can use with a brush, I'll have to deal.
I ignore the hate going on between Finnick and Rye. The hiss of the can hypnotizes me. I draw an oval head, a slender neck. I spiral into another dimension, one encompassed by a plump, dissatisfied mouth. A braid appears unbidden, so stiff and unyielding that it gets on my nerves.
Narrowed eyes that remind me of a hailstorm. Hard, judgmental, resilient. They pelt my chest.
The more details I render, the more confused I get, the more it dawns on me. I don't recognize this face. I've never seen her before.
And then the strangest, craziest part of all materializes. I walk backwards and scan the face with disgust. Not because she's disgusting, but because she's…
A good girl.
My brother and Finnick go quiet. I don't blame them. This shit is not art. This is a television show having to do with prairies and little houses.
"Dude," Finnick observes. "That's a chick who's never had her brains screwed out."
He's right. This girl may have known good times but not wild ones. It would be fun to loosen her up.
"She's hot, but is your dick getting soft?" Finnick goes on. "This is a whole new low of kinky, Peeta. What's with that white cap thing on her head?"
I've fucked up the wall. On this night, of all nights. With my brother here.
I register the flashing red lights and squealing siren too late. Someone must have seen us painting and called the police. Finnick and Rye panic, snatching the cans and ladder and jetting to the Mustang. Finnick has taken the wheel, so I barrel into the passenger seat. The squealing gets louder, nearly trampling over the howl of fear that Rye belts out. He's gaping at the pavement under the bridge. My eyes follow his and zoom in on the keys he left behind.
Fuck. The three of us stare, willing them to disappear, aware that none of us will reach them in time without getting caught. My thoughts surge into overdrive. Rye's fingerprints. Rye detained without question because he's a Mellark, because he's related to me. Rye confessing to protect me. Rye getting his head ripped open by our bitch of a mother—if she feels like bailing him out.
I jump out of the car.
"Peeta, no!" Rye pleads. "You can't. If you get caught again—"
I slap the dashboard. "Go."
"Fuck. Off," I growl and then haul ass. Maybe I can grab the keys and hide somewhere.
I hear the screech of the Mustang's tires, see the rear lights disappear around the corner. I swipe the keys off the ground and plow across the street, reaching the curb at the same time someone knocks me to the ground and wrestles my arms behind my back.
The cold weight of handcuffs bite into my wrist. I'm lifted off the ground and spun around. Rotating red bulbs blind me momentarily. This, all of this, is because I'd been preoccupied with an artistic failure and the face of an unknown girl. I blame that face.
"Well, well," a greasy voice says. "Peeta Mellark. The prodigal son strikes again."
Great. It figures this pig would be on duty. He thinks he's tough because of the uniform, but whenever he talks his beak flaps, and that's all I can concentrate on because it makes him look like Pac-Man.
The bastard hates me. I'm in deep shit for sure. Might as well fuck with him and hint at something he doesn't know.
"Cray." Lifting my head to the side, I level the officer with a cocky grin. "How's your wife?"