Chapter 1: Nice to Meet You
“Here, take this.”
A cookie wrapped in cellophane lands on my desk with a muted plunk. I stiffen with awareness and lift my face from my hands, instant irritation fighting for space with exhaustion in my groggy head. Not a morning person is an understatement in my case—taking a class this early wasn’t my first choice, but it was the only available slot by the time I had registered for fall courses.
“I’ve heard the professor is no joke. Zero tolerance for nap-taking.” The relentlessly cheerful voice comes again, this time closer to my ear. “I think you need this sugar rush more than me, sleeping beauty.”
Really? Who is this guy?
I sleepily rub my cheek and blink down at the unexpected gift. “I’m not taking that from you.”
“Why not?” The audible smile in my neighbor’s question is almost, but not quite, infectious as he settles into the desk next to mine, the small piece of furniture groaning as he drops down into it carelessly. “It’s a perfectly good cookie. I should know—I made it myself.”
“I don’t take candy from strangers. I learned that in kindergarten.”
“It’s not candy,” whoever-he-is insists, leaning over and tapping the dessert. “It’s a cookie, made from dark chocolate chunks.”
My mouth waters at the description, and I finally turn to face the guy next to me. And—wow. My throat goes dry.
Regarding me with amusement are blue eyes fringed with thick eyelashes that no boy should have, and his full lips tilt to the side, revealing a dimple that’s begging to be kissed. He ruffles his light blond hair, transforming the careful strands into haphazard waves.
“Do I have something in my teeth?”
He waves a hand in front of my face. “Are you always this eloquent in the morning?” he asks, chuckling. He reaches for the cookie and I slam my hand down onto it, an impulsive move borne from pure early-morning spite. “Oh, so now you want my goodies.”
I’d be blushing if it weren’t for the benefit of my deeply olive skin, which makes me angry, because it just serves to remind me how rusty I am with the opposite sex. Even the slightest flirtation fills my cheeks with color. Pitiful.
“Can you please dial it down? It’s way too early for this nonsense.” I touch one hot cheek with the tip of my finger. Burying embarrassment with a contrary attitude, I unwrap the cookie just so he can't have it. I take a bite and my eyes almost roll back in my head. “Wow. What’s in this? Crack?”
“Meth,” he deadpans with a grin, holding out his palm. “Give me a piece. I’m tired, too, you know.”
I snap off a corner—a very small corner, because this might be the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Then I ask the obvious question that follows eating food from a stranger.
“Who are you?”
He chews and swallows. “Peeta.” He pulls a water bottle out of the backpack by his feet and takes a long pull from it, making his throat muscles do something that makes my stomach clench. “Peeta Mellark. Who are you?”
“Katniss Everdeen. You have a crumb on your lip.” This I say a little smugly, because seeing this cocky, perfect male specimen with even a small flaw seems like a victory.
Peeta sticks his tongue out, brushing at the offending tidbit with the moist, pink tip of it. Time stills as I watch his tongue flick away the crumb, and it’s as if I’m in a porno for 2.5 seconds. But then he ruins the effect by laughing at me.
“I have no idea how you did this, but you have chocolate on your nose,” he says.
Self-conscious, I immediately brush at the spot, but Peeta shakes his head. “No- it’s here.” Then he licks his thumb and rubs the side of my nose with a gesture so familiar it’s as if we’ve known each other five years instead of five minutes.
I jerk away. “That’s gross.”
He shrugs and settles back into his seat as if it's a throne rather than a desk. “You’re welcome.”
“Seriously, I don’t want your cooties.”
“You should be so lucky,” he says loftily. “Anyway, what’s a little body fluid between two friends?”
I gape at him and cross my arms. “We don’t even know each other.”
“Sure we do!” He shoots an easygoing smile at a guy with dreads, slapping him a high five as he walks by to take a seat in the back of the room. “You’re Katniss. You like cookies, hate sharing, and are a highly suspicious person—but don’t worry.” His dimple deepens. “I’m gonna break you down eventually.”
My eyes narrow at his silliness, but the professor saunters in a moment later, interrupting my reply.
“Welcome, class. I’m Professor Crane. Please pass around the syllabus”—he hands a stack to the nearest student in the first row—“and take a look to your left. Say hello to your partner for the rest of the semester.”
“Hello, partner,” Peeta says, leaning back in his desk and lacing his hands behind his head.
I make my way into my apartment juggling four grocery bags and my backpack, sighing with relief when I finally unlock and kick open the door.
I had knocked first, but of course my roommate didn't answer despite her car being in my assigned parking spot, causing me to park in an alley a block away. Hers was occupied by an obnoxiously orange muscle car, which doesn't bode well for me or my mood considering I once caught the owner sniffing my underwear in the laundry basket.
When I told my roommate, she just gave me a scornful look and said, "He must have thought it was mine."
Comforting. This is what I get for answering a Craigslist ad for a roommate.
Elizabeth "Call Me Glimmer" Paladino hasn't made more than a handful of daytime appearances since I moved into the apartment. Instead, she stumbles into the house no earlier than three AM, reeking of beer, smoke, and the lingering scent of Victoria's Secret body spray. I offered her a bowl of cereal once in the spirit of roommate solidarity, but the hung-over glare Glimmer gave me coupled with a growled exclamation of "carbs!" very quickly cured me of my generosity.
I creep into the kitchen, annoyed that I have to walk on eggshells in my own living space. I start to put up the groceries, but I jump when I close the refrigerator door after the eggs and milk are tucked away. Mr. Orange Muscle Car crosses his arms and gives me a lopsided smile that's probably supposed to be charming but comes off creepy and smug instead.
"If it isn't my favorite roommate." He pushes away from the scuffed Formica counter and saunters toward me, and I scowl.
I'm extra careful not to touch him as I walk by, making sure to give him a wide berth, but he reaches out and runs a finger down my arm. Chills break out over my skin, but not the good kind. I swat him away and jump back.
"Do not touch me." I inject as much death into my voice as possible.
Inside, I'm nervous. This guy is at least twice my size and outweighs me by a hundred pounds. I find myself eyeing the knife rack on the counter, wondering how quickly I could reach it if necessary.
"Aw, you'll like it."
"What's going on?" Glimmer says, coming around the corner with raccoon eyes and bed hair. She gives us both a suspicious look that fades into a yawn. "Is Katniss bugging you, Cato?"
"Katniss was just offering me breakfast," the creep says smoothly, walking over and giving her a deep, disgustingly wet kiss. I turn away and pick up my backpack, heading toward the safety of my bedroom.
"She's so weird," I hear Glimmer complain, but Creepy Cato's response is lost in the shutting of my door. I wait until the front door slam an hour later before coming out to make some lunch, and I sit and watch television by myself until it's time for my late afternoon class.
What a life.
“Maybe Glimmer will grow on you. Stick it out,” Prim tells me, sounding distracted even through the phone. It depresses me a little, because even though I'm both happy and proud that Prim has her own life, I still miss when my little sister needed me. “This is going to be such a better deal than community college. You deserve the full university experience, Katniss.”
“But what if the experience is terrible? I don’t know about this.” I sit on a bench in the middle of campus and watch as students stream by, isolated and lonely even in this busy hub. The sad fact of the matter is that the most engaged and lively I’ve been since arriving at Panem University has been while verbally sparring with my new Biology partner. “I probably would have been better off just staying home, maybe working for the city.”
“No way,” my sister protests. “Besides, I needed you to leave so that I could have the room to myself. Makes it easier when Rory sneaks through the window.”
“Primrose!’ I scold her with a laugh. “You’re barely seventeen-years-old. You better be...um. Careful.”
I can practically hear her roll her eyes. “Yes, mom .” Her voice turns a little sly. “I hope you’re not being careful. Have fun! Be young. I know I will be when I get to go to college,” she adds wistfully.
“You’re never going to college,” I tell her. “You’re gonna stay my baby sister forever.”
“Okay, Katniss,” she says, sing-song. "And, hey..." There’s a hesitant quality to her voice that wasn’t there before. "You could always get in touch with you-know-who. Rory hasn't told him you're there, but I know he wants to talk to you."
I'm silent. "Are you serious?"
"Just think about it," Prim pleads. I know she'd love nothing more than for me to make that phone call, if only because one day we'll probably all be one big happy family if Rory has anything to say about it.
"Maybe." I look up at the sky and sigh. "Bye, baby sister.”
We exchange I-love-yous and hang up, and then I’m alone again, even in the middle of thousands of fellow students. I lean back against the bench and consider the pros and cons of Prim’s suggestion. On one hand, it’s been years. Shouldn’t I be completely over my issues with Madge and Gale by now? It’s pathetic to still be holding onto any sort of anger. But is it more ridiculous to hang on to a grudge, or crawl back to your ex-best friend and ex-boyfriend because of loneliness?
Not for the first time, I wish that I were better with people—that I had the sort of easy going personality of Prim that seems to draw people like bees to honey. That I could open up to someone without expecting the worst of them. Then I remember that at least part of my trust issues are because of the person I’m thinking about contacting, and I have to start my mental argument all over again in a vicious circle.
I stare down at my phone, tap my leg and then shoot off a quick text, my stomach churning after it sends.
The reply is almost immediate, and I read it with bated breath.
Gale: Hey. How are you?
Katniss : Good. I’m at Panem actually.
Gale: You're here? A student?
My phone rings a minute later, and I almost drop it in surprise. I hesitate and consider letting the call go to voicemail, but change my mind at the last second.
“What the hell?” Gale asks without preamble, sounding out of breath. “When did that happen?”
“Just transferred in this semester.” I stand and start walking down the sidewalk, filled with nervous energy. “It’s...been awhile,” I say lamely.
Silence. “Yeah. Too long.” Gale clears his throat. “Look, do you want to meet up? Maybe talk?”
“I don’t know.” I move to the left when a couple holding hands almost runs me off the sidewalk. “Is that going to be weird? What about Madge?”
“Madge misses you,” he says. I can hear a voice in the background, and it sounds like he covers the phone before speaking again. “She’s...she actually wants to come along.”
“I’m not going to steal you from her or something.” I wince at how sharp I sound, how bitter , even though I’m basically over what happened between us. Mostly. “That’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think?”
“Shit. I know that, Katniss." His voice drops an octave. "So does she. She wants to see you. Be friends again. We both do.”
I rub my forehead, regretting answering the phone. “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“Why’d you text me then?”
“I don’t know.”
He huffs. “Just meet me at the damn Bean King, Katniss. You know where that is?”
“Yeah, but...” Even having only lived here a short while, I’ve come to figure out where some of the more popular areas and hang-out spots are, even if I haven’t had a chance to partake of them myself. It’s a little awkward being a transfer student. "I don't think that’s a great idea."
“See you in twenty.” Then in true Gale-like fashion, he hangs up on me without saying goodbye or waiting for an answer.
I stand there, a little shell-shocked at the sudden turn of events, but when I start walking again, it’s in the direction of a main thoroughfare leading to the downtown area of this college town. A part of me must have known that I’d end up in this predicament, because otherwise why would I have texted Gale Hawthorne at all?
It’s pitiful how hard-up I must be if I’m reaching out to my ex-boyfriend, especially one who cheated on me with my best friend.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m reluctantly standing in the Bean King, a local coffee shop with an eclectic array of furniture, its brick walls lined with bookshelves boasting a paperback exchange. Almost every beanbag, bar stool, recliner and what even looks like an old bicycle seat are occupied with bodies. There’s a joyous din of voices and the delicious smell of coffee in the air. Even I can’t help but smile at the cheerful atmosphere.
“Kat,” a deep voice calls, and I turn around to scope out where my name is being called from.
Gale is facing me from one side of a small card table, and I see the back of a sleek, blonde ponytail sitting on the other side of him. I suck in a breath, exhale, and walk toward them. When I reach the table, I stand there awkwardly for a good ten seconds before sliding into a ragged folding chair.
“Hey,” Madge says, her face shining with earnest prettiness. She looks fresh, friendly and not at all like someone who would cheat with your boyfriend for six months. Her expressive eyes look at me with genuine warmth and excitement. “We’re so glad you contacted us, Katniss.”
I refrain from correcting her, though it's a struggle. “Sure,” I say instead, wishing for a cup to hold. Or any sort of prop, really. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee. Does anyone want coffee?”
Madge waves one delicate hand toward her mug on the table, but Gale nods. “I’ll go with you,” he says, looking at girlfriend as if asking permission. Sick.
“Bring me back a scone?”
“With lemon curd,” Gale confirms. He stands and joins me in my walk toward the long, scuffed counter that houses two baristas.
I hold back my feeling of...not quite jealousy. Envy . If pressed, I'd have to admit that even three years ago there were hints Gale and I weren’t right for each other, despite having grown up next door and being alike in almost every way that should count. I wasn’t as surprised as I should have been to find out he was hung up on my only girlfriend, but seeing two people so perfectly in sync with each other just makes me feel that much more lonesome. Companionless. Sure, I’ve dated around a bit since they betrayed me. I’ve even hooked up a few times, but I’ve never once looked at a guy the way Madge looks at Gale.
"So." He gestures toward the chalkboard menu that we take a few moments to study while waiting in line. "What do you want?"
"You're not paying for me."
"Try and stop me," he says, turning toward a barista whose name-tag reads 'Enobaria.' "One mocha latte and one tall black coffee."
I wrinkle my nose. "I hate mocha lattes."
He looks a little sheepish at this, not speaking again until he has his debit card back. "It's for me. Woah, that's a terrible face you're making."
"Because you sicken me," I inform him, the two-fold meaning hanging heavy in my statement. I ignore the fact he remembers my coffee preferences. "Mocha lattes? Really?"
"So my tastes run a little differently now." Gale crosses his arms, defensive. "It's been a few years. I'm sure we've both changed. I know I have. I've grown up a lot since the last time we've seen each other." He leans against the counter, his brown eyes serious. "I handled everything so wrong back then, Katniss."
"Can we just...can we not talk about this right now?"
"But isn't that why you called me?" He scratches his jaw, looking genuinely confused. "To talk things out? Be...friends again?"
I don't know what I was thinking, coming here like this. He's right, but I rile just the same, because of course making amends would be just that easy for him.
" You called me. I merely texted. There's a difference. Second of all, I wanted to talk to you, not Madge, but apparently you're a package deal now."
"You're not being fair."
"Fair?" I laugh and shake my head. "This was a terrible idea."
"Please, Katniss. We were best friends. Our families are still friends, for fuck’s sake. And I miss you." He runs a hand through his dark hair. "Doesn't that count for something?"
"You should’ve thought of that-" I lower my voice when the barista turns around with our coffees, an uncomfortable expression on her face. "Thanks," I tell her, stepping away from the counter. I head toward the door, and only a hand on my shoulder stops me.
"Hey," Gale demands behind me. I can’t believe how wounded he sounds. "You're just gonna leave like that?"
"Yeah," I say to the door, ignoring the curious eyes looking our way. "I am."
I push open the handle and walk out onto the sidewalk, and when I pass by the window, I can't help but glance back at the table. Gale is talking to his sad-faced girlfriend, his own expression solemn.
I almost feel guilty for disrupting their day for no reason other than my own selfish, lonely whims until I remember what it felt like to learn that they had been seeing each other behind my back for half a year, thus destroying all confidence in my own judgment in relationships and friendships for years to come.
My coffee lands in the trash with an unsatisfying thud.
A figure plops down next to me on the bench outside of the Bio lab.
"So," Peeta says, cautiously pushing a brownie on a napkin toward my hand. He taps the bench and leans back against the wall, pensive. "You're looking particularly, um-" He looks me up and down, from my worn-out jeans up to my plain white tee. “Volatile today."
I accept his gift with flattened lips.
"I like how you think we know each other well enough to make a statement like that." I take a bite and speak around a mouthful of pure heaven. "What's your basis for comparison?"
"Yesterday, you were merely sleepy and grumpy. Now you are the eighth dwarf—murderous."
He reaches out a hand and tears off a piece of the baked good and pops it into his perfect mouth. A girl walking down the hall trips on her heels when she passes us, her tonsils practically showing at the sight of Peeta licking chocolate remnants from his fingers. She catches herself and limps around the corner, appearing stunned.
Peeta, oblivious, wipes his hand on his dark-wash jeans and leans forward. “That was delicious, if I say so myself.”
"Why don't you ever bring enough for yourself to eat?"
" Ever ? What's your basis for comparison?" he mimics, but his smile is too warm to put any real sting in his mockery. "Well, Katniss, I wasn't planning on sharing yesterday, but you looked pathetic. You're even more pitiful today. It invoked my generosity. I'm beginning to think this is a scam, Katniss Everdeen. A scam for treats."
"Yep. You're on to me." I close my eyes and tilt my head, my head touching the wall.
There's a tentative tap on my shoulder. "Hey. You okay?" he asks.
The genuine concern in his voice makes my eyes water, and I keep them shut strictly to keep the liquid from overflowing onto my cheeks. "Yeah.” I run my tongue over my teeth, tasting the lie. “No," I admit, turning my face to quickly brush my fingers beneath my eyes. "I'm really not."
He clasps his hands in his lap. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Peeta persists, "Is there anything I can do?"
I loll my head to the left, my body still slouching against the wall. "Fudge, next time."
"All right, Katniss," he says, patting my knee. It's absurdly comforting. "That I can do." He stands and holds his hand out to me, the one he licked and wiped on his pants. "Ready to get our lab on?"
I take his hand.
I decide to give the Bean King another try. It really was a nice place, and I felt as if I disrespected it when I was rushing away from Madge and Gale. I'm still on a post-lab high, having had three hours of a surprisingly good time with Peeta, filling Bunsen beakers and trying not to burn our eyebrows off.
Once we parted ways after class, I found myself unwilling to go home and be alone in front of the television again. I walk back toward the coffee shop, and when I push my way inside, a wave of peace washes over me. I see the barista from yesterday and she waves, and a fissure of pleasure at being recognized runs through me.
"Hey," I say, approaching the counter. It's less busy than yesterday, so I don't have to wait in line.
"Hi there," she says, flicking one of her long braids away from her face. Big, dark eyes peer at me beneath pierced eyebrows. "I remember you from yesterday. Tall, black coffee, right?"
I clap lightly, impressed. "You're good."
She shrugs. "Trick of the trade. The only real skill required is having fingers to press buttons and a decent memory."
"Sounds great," I remark.
"Yeah?" She brightens, flashing perfectly straight, white teeth that contrast beautifully with her brown skin. "You mean that? Because we're hiring, and you seem like someone I wouldn't want to punch every day."
My mouth drops. "Me?"
"Yes, you." She reaches beneath the counter and slides an application my way. "Fill this out...what’s your name? I’m Enobaria.”
“Katniss,” I supply.
“Please fill this out, Katniss." She bats her eyelashes.
"All right," I consent. I do need a job, because the grant and small stipend I was awarded by the school only covers the necessities, and my savings account won't last forever. I’m cautiously hopeful that things are starting to turn around. "Got a pen?"
He actually does it. A few days after our little bonding moment outside of lab, he saunters into class and brings a zip-lock container full of perfectly uniform fudge squares, topped with walnuts.
"I don't remember asking for nuts."
"Good grief. You're a hard nut to crack, Everdeen," Peeta groans, thumping me on the nose. A girl who usually spends the entire class chatting with her boyfriend, I think her name is Clove, walks by and gives us a strange look. I put a protective hand on the container. "I toil away all night for you, and what do I get? Criticism."
"It's a tough world out there, chef."
He laughs and nudges me with his elbow. "Hey, so...can I get your number?"
"Um." The honest part of me was expecting this, but maybe just not so soon. As much as we bicker, there's a spark between us that I know I'm not imagining. And he's persistent . "Sure."
I rustle around for a pen, but he's already prepared. This boy is absurdly organized, blowing me away in regard to note-taking. He uses a different color highlighter for every new heading under a subject. He uses sticky notes in his text books. He makes me feel like a regular slouch.
"Here's mine." He hands me an index card with his phone number, email, and Instagram account. "I figure since we're best partners, we need to be able to contact each other."
"Best partners?" I ask warily.
"Yeah." Peeta shoots me a grin and yanks on a piece of hair escaping from my braid. "Like best friends, only partners. I haven't decided if you're best friend material yet," he adds.
I smile despite myself. "You're an idiot, you know that?"
"Finnick tells me that every day," he says.
Before I can ask who Finnick is, the professor comes in with a bad attitude, and we have to stop our chit-chat for the next hour.
We do pass notes, though, and I discover Peeta has mad drawing skills when he doodles little animals and sketches in between our written banter.
It's a good day.
"Then you just flip this switch, and you're on your way to making the best espresso this side of Panem. Got it?"
It's my second day on the job, but the first two were mostly just me shadowing Enobaria and a boy with fake hipster glasses named Thom, listening to them crack jokes while ringing up purchases on the register.
"Yeah." I look at the machine doubtfully, hoping no one orders an espresso today. We just opened the doors about fifteen minutes ago, and so far there's only one early bird customer in the cafe sipping quietly on his coffee and tapping away on a laptop in the far corner of the room. "I think so."
"Don't worry. You'll pick it up in no time." Enobaria bumps her hip with mine. "So." She takes a bite out of a muffin before handing it to me. I can't believe how easily she shares food and drinks—I've definitely never been one to do that with anyone, with maybe the exception of Prim, but Enobaria is so warm and likable that I don't have the heart to reject her offer. Plus, one of the perks of our job is up to ten dollars of free food a day, so it makes sense for us to consolidate our snacks. "What's the story with that guy from the other day?"
"What guy?" I play dumb until I break under her skeptical stare. "Okay, yeah. He's my ex."
"Thought so." She nods, encouraging me to continue like a curious bartender. "Bad break-up? I know all about those."
"You could say that." I fill a Styrofoam cup with water and take a sip. "He cheated on me with my best friend."
"Oh, fuck." She stares at me with sympathy. "I'm sorry, Katniss. Was it recent?"
"Nah. It was senior year of high school." I shrug and fiddle with the ties of the frilly, aqua apron that Enobaria dug out from a bin of retro ones the Bean King keeps on standby. "It's just...he was my best friend too, you know? Lifelong. And we probably should've never dated at all, but it hurt like hell when he played me like that. And Madge..." I scowl. "Yeah, it sucked."
"Have you forgiven them?"
Her question makes me pause. "I'm not as mad anymore."
"But do you want them back in your life?" She frowns, her eyes apologetic but determined. "I'm sorry if I'm overstepping any boundaries, but—well, I think if you didn't want to forgive them, you wouldn't have shown up that day."
I rub the bridge of my nose.
"You're right. It was just hard to see them together, you know?” The bitchy little part of me would feel vindicated if they had broken up. The fact they're still together just seems like a slap in the face. I search for the words to explain my mindset. “Like they were justified in hurting me."
She tilts her head, eyeing me thoughtfully.
"I don't know. Maybe we're looking at it wrong. I think the fact they're still together just means they really were in love—and if they were as close to you as I think they were given your mopey expression, I'm sure that a deep, true love is the only thing that would have caused them to do what they did."
I trace a scuff mark on the counter and consider the merit of her words.
She hits me with a balled-up tea towel. "But what do I know, right?"
"I don't know about that." I catch the towel and smile at her. "I think you're pretty smart, Enobaria Taylor."
Enobaria takes the muffin out of my hand and bites into it. "Tell that to my psychology professor."
"Hey!" I stare at her suspiciously. "Did you just sneakily psychoanalyze my life? I'll have you know I've successfully avoided therapy for over a decade." God knows, my mother tried to get me there after my father died. She would have tried anything so long as she and I didn’t have to actually talk about it.
She smiles mischievously and starts wiping down the counter even though it's already spotless. "You're welcome."
"In a few years, you'd be shelling out the big bucks just to lie on a couch and confess your thoughts to me." She pats my shoulder. "I can tell you have a very interesting mind, Katniss."
"Whatever." I roll my eyes heavenward and lean against the counter on my elbows, turning my head to the side with a lazy roll of my neck. "Hands off my troubled brain."
The little bell above the door chimes, indicating we have a customer. Enobaria makes a noise in the back of her throat, almost as if she's choking.
"Gorgeous boy alert," she says, jerking her chin somewhere behind us. "I'll let you have dibs, since I think you might need this more than me."
I give her my most sarcastic look. "You're too kind."
When I turn around to face the room, a smile breaks out across my face against my will.
"Best partner," I blurt out.
I cringe at the high, carrying pitch of my words. Even though we have lab together later, I haven't seen him in two days and a thread of excitement winds through me. He's quickly become one of the best parts of my week over the past month. We've even grabbed a bite to eat together at the on-campus cafeteria a few times, but this is the first time we've ever seen each other away from school.
Peeta turns in his chair, and his eyes go blank as he looks at me.
"Oh, hey," he says, and my smile falters until his voice strengthens. "Hey. When did you start working here?"
"Yesterday." I look at Enobaria. "Is it okay if I go over there? That's my friend."
She waves me off with a hand, the rings lining her fingers glinting under the cafe lights.
"Of course. There's no one here yet, and the owners are really chill. They actually prefer for us to be social." She turns her face away from him and smirks at me. "Hot friend," she mouths.
I feign ignorance and walk around the counter, heading toward Peeta's table. For some reason, I'm nervous approaching him outside of the safety of campus.
"Is it alright if I sit a minute?"
"Of course," he says. He flashes me a smile that sends a spark of awareness my spine.
"Cool." I lower myself into a chair, mindful that it's the one with a refurbished leg. A straw in its colorful, bejeweled holder draws my attention until Peeta taps my hand.
"Stop being weird."
"What?" I scowl, embarrassed by my awkwardness. "How am I being the weird one?"
"I can just tell. 'Cool,'" he mimics me, a slow grin breaking out on his face. "What was that?"
"Stop," I groan. "I thought you had finally quit being difficult."
"Hmm." Peeta pulls a straw from the holder and blows a stream of air at me. "I thought you had finally stopped acting like I was a stranger."
I hesitate, but then go for it. "Says the person who didn't recognize me at first."
"What?" He seems genuinely offended. "Yes, I did. Of course I did. I would recognize you anywhere." I'm not imagining the uncomfortable expression that crosses his face. "You and that messy braid," Peeta tacks on, drumming his fingers on the table. "I just didn't expect to see you out here in the wild like this." He clears his throat. "You're very secretive, Katniss Everdeen. I had no idea you'd gotten yourself a job at the coolest place in Panem." I can tell he's fighting a smile now, and I kick him under the table.
"That's me. A regular 'It' girl," I deadpan.
"Seriously, though—this is the last place I'd have imagined you'd work."
"And where, oh wise one, in your infinite wisdom, would you have placed me?"
Peeta leans back in his chair and balances on the rickety legs. A part of me is going to laugh like crazy if he falls, but the other half is actively concerned for his stupid, beautiful head.
"Hmm." He looks me over thoughtfully. "A morgue? Graveyard? Somewhere without people."
I reach across the table and slap him on the arm. "You jerk."
We're still laughing when the bell rings again, and my attention is diverted by an extraordinarily beautiful person that walks through the door. Peeta's attractive, but this man is stunning from his bronze, shaved-at-the-sides hair all the way down his impressive body to his stylish boots. He looks like he’s of some sort of Mediterranean heritage, and his eyes are the color of the sea there. I look over and see Enobaria practically drooling at the counter, and—oh, he's coming our way.
I glance at Peeta, who waves at the person and then gives me an unreadable look.
"Hey babe," the other man says. Time seems to slow, and then stop altogether when he leans down to give Peeta a casual kiss on the mouth.
Um. That's definitely not a friend kiss. That's...
"This is my boyfriend, Finnick Odair," Peeta says.
His boyfriend—God, his boyfriend—turns toward me, and the full force of that megawatt smile aimed my way is momentarily stupefying. Of course this is someone Peeta would date. They're completely on each other's level. I'm an idiot and a clueless one at that.
My instincts are once again proven to be absolute garbage.
"And this is Katniss Everdeen," Peeta is saying, and I look over at his boyfriend with an automatic smile. I hope it’s convincing.
"Call me Finn,” he says after a moment of working me over with warm but scrutinizing eyes. “All of my friends do.”
I finally find my voice. “Nice to meet you.”
“So. You're the famous Katniss," he says, leaning down and giving me a hug. I hesitate before wrapping my arms around his back, completely thrown off by his careless affection. He pulls away and tsks at me. "I should hate you, you know."
I quickly look at Peeta and then back at Finnick, practically sputtering out a strangled, "Why?"
"He"—Finnick jerks his head toward Peeta, who's watching us with a rueful smile—"made his oh so special fudge squares and refused to share even one of them. Pretty rude, if you ask me."
I feel lost.
"I'm sorry," is all I can think to say.
"Take it down a notch, Finn," Peeta grumbles, rubbing the back of his neck. "You're gonna scare her away."
"I'm just kidding, Katniss," Finnick reassures me, his voice deep and kind with a rich undertone like expensive chocolate. "I think it's precious, how worked up he's been trying to impress his new little friend. I don't think Peeta's ever had to work this hard to get someone to like him in his life."
He looks around for a chair, and I realize with dawning horror that I'm crashing his date with his boyfriend. I'm sitting in the spot meant for Finnick Odair.
"Oh." I stand up so fast I almost get dizzy. "Please, take my chair." I shake my head when they both protest. "I'm on the clock, plus I totally stole your boyfriend—your seat," I correct myself, feeling instantly sick.
I'm ridiculous. I can't believe I thought, even for a moment, that this guy harbored any sort of attraction for me.
Finnick lowers himself into the chair and looks at me with mild concern. "Okay. If you're sure," he says, adjusting the cuffs of his crisp, navy blue button-down. "It was really nice to meet you, Katniss. But I'm sure this will be the first of many meetings."
"Uh, sure." I shift on my feet, anxious to get back behind the counter. I'm thankful when a large group of students come streaming into the door, their laugh-filled chatter filling the cafe. "Order when you're ready, guys. Um, bye. See you in class," I add.
Peeta looks like he wants to say something, but I turn away before he can speak. Then I hotfoot it back to where Enobaria is waiting on a line of customers. I avoid the curious glance she shoots me out of the corner of her eye.
"Tell you later," I say quietly, and then I turn to fill an order for chai tea.
I sit on a cheap fold-out chair we keep on the small terrace of our apartment, feet propped on the balcony ledge and my laptop resting on my thighs. I stare out into the parking lot and watch as a squirrel steals a hot dog bun from the trash can, mostly because my eyes need a break from the computer screen.
I've been obsessing over Peeta's Instagram account for far too long, much to my everlasting shame and arousal. Look, someone can only scroll through so many pictures of two beautiful men embracing before succumbing to the emotion.
I'm only human.
It's not long before I'm drawn back to my laptop. I begin to scroll one tiny millimeter at a time, slowly revealing the image that made me click away and watch the squirrel-hunts-for-food-show for a solid five minutes instead.
It's a picture of Peeta, sweaty from what looks like a run or a workout session. The front door to his apartment is still partially open, like he had just slid inside. His arm is propped against the doorway, the defined muscles of his arm standing out in stark relief. But it's not just his body and handsome face that draws my attention—it's his expression while he looks at the picture-taker, a look of annoyance, indulgence and blatant love written there as he points a threatening finger toward them. It's a truly candid moment.
My eyes drop down to read the caption: not my most attractive look...thank you boyfriend w/o boundaries #respectthesweat #tryingtoruninpeace #smdh
It fully hits me just how off the mark I've been with whatever chemistry I imagined there to be between us when I realize that not only is Peeta dating Finnick, but they live together.
I've been scrolling through almost two years of pictures, and there seems to be no end to their life together. They share friends, a cat, and a huge, gothic bed. I've seen the damn thing—they were laying together on top of it, shirtless , with their heads reclining on a fat pillow as they took an aerial selfie of their ridiculously pretty faces pressed together.
And I'm not the only one who appreciates two hot boys and their domestic bliss—Peeta has over 200 thousand followers, and when I finally succumb to masochistic curiosity and click on his boyfriend's account, my mouth drops at the staggering number of people interested in his life. His follower count is at celebrity levels, and I have to do a quick cross-reference with Facebook to confirm that, yes, Finnick Odair is a full-time Grad student, not a B-list actor, secret porn star, or male model. He's just a stunningly attractive, photogenic guy who eschews wearing a shirt and knows how to work social media.
God, they both do. I switch back to Peeta's Instagram and stare at a picture of him cradling his grumpy cat like a baby. I want to curse at the unfairness of it all. No one should look that good in a backwards baseball cap and plain white tee while holding a hideous cat.
I can't believe I'm jealous of a cat.
I hover over the 'follow' button for a good twenty seconds before clicking away and slamming my laptop shut. This is like my own personal brand of torture porn, and it stops now .
When I open the sliding door, Glimmer looks up from a magazine she's flicking through on the couch. I was so intent on my stalking, I didn't even notice she was home.
"Why is your face all flushed?" she asks, eyeing me.
I walk past her and into the kitchen, placing my laptop on the table. "It's hot outside."
I ignore her and pour a cool glass of water, wishing the liquid would quench my thirst for Peeta as well.
"Hey," Peeta says, jogging to catch up to me. "I've been calling your name for the past five minutes. Damn, you walk fast for such a shortcake."
"Sorry," I mumble, adjusting the strap of my book bag without looking at him. "I must not have heard you."
"Oh." His voice brightens and he puts his hand on my arm. "Well, I have a surprise for you, best partner."
I flinch away from his touch, and when I finally look up at him, a look of unhappy surprise creases his normally cheerful expression before it quickly smooths out again. "Sorry- I, well, can we just stop here for a second?" he asks.
I reluctantly do as he asks and pause in front of the Health and Sciences building. When I turn to face Peeta, I see he's holding out a green cupcake with white sprinkles, the liner decorated with little frogs.
"Happy Friday!" he tells me.
"Thanks," I say, glancing away with difficulty. I focus on a banner in the distance announcing some Greek event. "Maybe I better not take that, though."
A silence goes on so long that I'm forced to meet his stare. Peeta's studying me, his forehead wrinkling with confusion as if I'm a riddle with a complicated answer. His mystified expression makes my chest ache.
"Finnick may not like it."
"What? No. Hey, if this is about yesterday, he was totally messing with you about the fudge squares. He doesn't even like fudge. He hates sugar. Can you believe that?" He's babbling now, and I just stare at him as he talks, both sad because I'm going to miss him, but also determined to walk away, because I can't be the pathetic girl who harbors an unrequited crush on an obviously taken boy. A boy who likes boys. I refuse to be that girl, and now I have to rip off the band-aid.
"I was kidding," I say with a weak twist of my lips. "Finnick seems...really great, Peeta. You guys are perfect for each other."
"Thanks," he says slowly, his smile fading as he searches my face. He holds his hand out again, hesitant this time. "Are you—you're really not going to take the cupcake?"
A gust of wind blows through the trees, sending a shower of curling leaves down over us. I watch as one of them drops onto the cupcake, and Peeta flicks it off frantically.
I avert my eyes. "I better not," I repeat softly.
I can't believe how devastated I am, like I've lost something that could have been beautiful. I start to second-guess my decision to step back from this friendship until I meet his eyes and my heart starts to beat wildly in its cage as I stare into them. I could so easily picture falling in love with this sweet, funny boy, and that would be a complete nightmare.
So when he looks at me with an expression so full of crestfallen disappointment, I steel myself and just shake my head. Then I turn, and start to walk away.
"So it's like that, then?" he calls from behind me, bitterness creeping into his voice. "Seriously, Katniss?"
"I'll see you in class," I say, but my quiet goodbye disappears in the wind.
I feel like crap. Complete and utter shit.
Peeta and I have barely spoken a word to each other in almost a week. Luckily, we haven't had any projects in class, but the one lab we've been to was terrible. The once charming, easygoing boy I was becoming fast friends with is now a cold, detached stranger, asking me with chilly politeness to hand him an empty flask.
I'm regretting my decision with the intensity of a thousand fiery suns, but I know that it was the right one. I think. I hope so.
"Hey, Peeta!" our classmate Clove says, tossing her long, dark hair over her shoulder. I've noticed she's taken great joy in the fact Peeta and I aren't as close anymore. She often stops by his desk and speaks to him now, all while ignoring my existence. I deliberately take my time with packing up my books, because I'm a dirty little eavesdropper. "You coming to Mitchell’s house later tonight? He's having a thing."
"Nah," he says, sounding subdued.
Peeta unfolds himself from his desk and stretches, and I try not to make it obvious I'm staring at the little slice of skin between his shirt and his jeans. By some miracle, he's maintained his seat next to mine, but I'm confident it's more out of necessity than anything else. Everyone in class is set in their ways at this point as far as seating arrangements go, and I'm only a little heartened by the fact Peeta hasn't worked himself up enough yet to ask Professor Crane about a partner trade. I startle when he looks over and coolly meets my eyes.
"Got plans," Peeta says.
"Oh?" Her tone turns coy and interested. "You and Finnick having a date night?"
Peeta makes a noncommittal noise and slings his backpack over his shoulder.
Of course, Clove knows his boyfriend by name. I think everyone at Panem knows, which makes my ignorance even worse, especially when I've spent hours chatting him up. But why didn't he tell me?
Then again...why would he? To him, his boyfriend is a fact of life. Their relationship is as natural as breathing, they've been together so long. And he gave me his Instagram practically as soon as he met me, where his life is on full display.
I'm sure Peeta assumed I knew he was taken.
I slump down in my seat with this new epiphany. Once again, it's clear that this has all been a problem of my own design. I slip even further into a spiral of self-loathing. If only I had looked at his Instagram. I could have saved myself this heartache and hours of misconstruing friendly conversation into flirty chemistry.
Clove pushes on, "Finnick can come too, you know. Just because he's a big, bad Grad student doesn't mean he can't hang with us lowly undergrads anymore."
Peeta finally smiles a little at this, his eyelashes sweeping down and over my way. "Maybe we'll come by," he says. "No promises, though."
I turn my face away, but not before catching Peeta studying my expression carefully. His face darkens when I hastily stuff the last of my papers into my backpack and stand up.
"See ya," I mumble, even though no one was speaking to me.
"Why don't you just talk it out with him? Have a heart to heart?" Eno asks under her breath, expertly swirling a canister of whipped cream into a perfect, sugary spiral on top of a frozen hot chocolate.
She flashes a smile at a cute boy waiting a few feet away and pushes it across the counter toward him. I watch as in return he slides a piece of paper with a number and the name Seok Lee hastily scrawled across it, which Eno palms and tucks into her apron with all the casual grace of an elegant thief.
She turns back toward me and crosses her arms, the silver and gold bangles on her arms sliding down her slim wrist. "I've got to be honest, Kat. Your response seems a little excessive to me."
"Does it?" I ask dryly, cutting off the rest of my reply when someone walks up to order an iced coffee.
"Is it because he likes guys?" she asks, uncaring of the man standing in front of us at the counter. "Do you feel differently toward him because of it?"
The man looks mildly alarmed when I slam the cash register drawer a little too hard. I offer a tight-lipped smile and a handful of change before addressing Eno again. "Of course not. But? I think it makes why I walked away pretty logical. The way I began to feel about him put both of us in an unfair position."
"Seems kinda unfair to just kick him to the curb."
"I didn't..." I stop, because I did. "Look, I was on the verge of a major, unrequited crush. What part of that don't you get?"
"But you were also on the verge of a really good friendship in a place where you have no friends," she points out, blunt in a way I've come to respect but also loathe. "Present company excluded, of course."
"Believe me, I know." We pause to take the orders of a pair of blonde, giggly twins in sorority shirts. Once they have their surprising choice of black coffee—I would have bet money on something frothy or sugary—I turn back toward her. "You really think I made the wrong decision?"
She opens her mouth, but I quickly add, "Don't you think I was setting myself up for failure?"
"I think we, as humans, are capable of housing many complicated emotions." She flicks a braid away from her face and regards me. "Sure, he's a babe. In a perfect world, he'd be the whole package, but now you also know he's unavailable romantically. You'll adjust to that. The question is, do you miss him?"
"Yeah," I say, looking over my shoulder at the owl clock on the wall. It glares back at me with accusing, ticking eyes, as if to tell me what a complete idiot I've been. My sinking stomach agrees with the clock.
"Do you feel better or worse now than before you cut him off?"
I flinch at her harsh wording—cut him off.
" Worse," I admit.
"Tell me," she says, touching the glinting stud in her nose. "What was the benefit of dropping him, then? You stepped back so you wouldn't feel miserable, but from what I can tell, you're straight up wallowing in a pit of sadness." She taps the counter. "So what if he has a boyfriend? Maybe you two were meant to have a great, platonic love and you're squandering the possibility because you can't stop thinking with your clit."
I stare at her. "I hate you."
"You love me." Enobaria pats my cheek, and then looks over my head. A sly smile spreads across her face. "Now go talk to your friend."
My forehead wrinkles. "What? I can't just leave, dummy. We're working."
She tilts her chin toward the door. "Well, it's convenient he's here then, isn't it?"
I swing my head around and there he is, his hands jammed in his pockets as he lingers near the door, steadfastly reading the chalkboard. He finally locks eyes with me, and when he walks forward, I squeeze the edge of the counter and force myself not to look away.
"Hey." His eyes flick around the room before finally landing on me, like I'm an afterthought. "I'd like to make an order."
Ouch. So that's how we're playing it. Straight up customer to employee. I dampen my disappointment, and remind myself that I asked for this.
He clears his throat, his gaze unwavering. "I'd like...to know if you're done being a jerk."
I recoil. I hear Eno make a noise somewhere between a bark and a laugh, but when I glance at her out of the corner of my eye, she's already walking to the farthest end of the counter, refilling a wicker basket with chocolate straws and flavored creamers.
"Well?" Peeta pushes, his palms flat on the counter as he leans forward. I can see little freckles on the bridge of his nose, so light that they're almost invisible.
"I—yes," I say faintly. "I think I am."
He blinks, his dark eyelashes fluttering with surprise. "That was way easier than I thought."
"I was a bitch." I hang my head. "I can admit it. I was wrong. Can we just start over?" I plead.
Peeta's entire body language changes, his broad frame relaxing like a toy that's been unwound.
"Thank god." He sighs and leans against the counter. "Thought I was gonna have to do something shady, like blackmail you into friendship with terrible old Facebook photos." He grimaces at his admission. "I may have resorted to stalking you on social media. A restraining order may be necessary soon."
I laugh with more happy relief than actual humor. I’m not the only stalker! "I haven't used Facebook in forever."
"I know. My stalking was so unsatisfactory- but hey." He looks over at Eno and then back to me. "Can you take a break?"
"Yeah, I can take fifteen."
After whispering to Enobaria, I follow Peeta outside. We sit on overturned milk crates that are used as bench seating outside of the cafe, and we're quiet for a moment before he peers up at the cloudy sky and huffs.
"What the hell was that, Katniss?"
I cross my arms, practically hugging myself. "It's hard to say."
"Is it because of my sexuality?" he asks, matter-of-fact. His eyes are resolute, but there's vulnerability there that hints at past pain. I’m absolutely horror-stricken that I've put that emotion there. "You can just tell me, if it is."
"God, Peeta. No! Of course not." I put my hand on his arm and he sighs at the contact, like I just slid him a plate of syrupy waffles.
"I thought you were...I don’t know." He places a hand on top of his wavy hair, an expression of concentration contorting his face, like he's shuffling through adjectives. He looks at me out of the corner of his eye. "Put off by it, maybe."
"Do you think that little of me?"
"What else was I supposed to think, Katniss?" Peeta bursts out, his hands landing on his knees. A few people walk past and look at us curiously, greeting Peeta by name. He lifts his chin at them before turning back to me and lowering his voice. "I thought we were good friends, or close to it, and then you meet my boyfriend and just drop me."
"I was really embarrassed," I admit. He jerks in surprise at my confession and waits for me to continue, his shoulders stiff. "Because I thought..." My voice trails off. I can't bring myself to tell him I thought he liked me. That I have—no, had a crush on him. Past tense. So I fudge a little.
"I was afraid Finnick misinterpreted our friendship. That he was jealous, because you were baking for me, and because I was, you know, chatting you up in Bean King that day and sitting in his chair...I just didn't want him to think I was that kind of girl."
That much is true. There. I didn't lie.
Peeta stares at me, something warring in his eyes before relief takes over.
"Really?" He shakes his head, slowly at first before finally nodding. "You're an idiot. Finnick is— well, believe me when I say he's the least jealous person you will ever meet. He was fucking thrilled that I found an outlet for my baked goods. He's so body conscious, it's ridiculous." He laughs a little then, his lips turning up in a smirk. "You're such a drama queen, Katniss Everdeen. You could have saved us a whole lot of pain if you'd just, you know, talked to me."
I clasp my hands in my lap. "I know."
He looks at me accusingly, tapping his chin. "You disrespected the cupcake."
"The worst of sins."
"Hmm. I suppose I'll have to make you another one," he says, scooting his milk crate closer to mine and throwing an arm around my shoulder. He squeezes me to him, and just like that, we're friends again.
Friends. I'm good with that.
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Chapter 3: I Play to Win
On with the show!
Trigger warning for some brief but homophobic behavior of one of the characters.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It's amazing how fast things turn around after our talk.
Peeta is back to baking me gifts, and instead of just spending time together at school, we've upgraded to off-campus hangouts only a week later. We both had a desire for Japanese food after lab, so we’re lingering over our meal and making weekend plans.
"What about bowling?" I ask him over a bite of sushi. We decided to share a 'Love Boat,' an extravagant wooden ship filled with different rolls and pieces of sashimi. "That could be fun."
"I haven't done that in a while," he muses, dipping a salmon roll into a square dish of soy sauce mixed with wasabi. "I have to warn you, though. Finnick is deadly at bowling. When we were in high school, the entire baseball team would go sometimes. Finn was our captain, and he crushed us all. " He laughs at the memory and shakes his head. "He's a merciless competitor."
I perk up at this glimpse into their past.
"So you've known each other a long time, huh?"
"Yeah. He kind of took me under his wing back when I was a scrawny kid—not like that ," Peeta adds before I can jump to any conclusions. "He was a senior when I was a freshman, but I got moved up to the varsity team early on. Guys can be brutal to new kids, especially younger ones, so he always made sure that the older guys didn't terrorize me too much on the team. After he graduated, we kept in touch. Became best friends."
He shrugs, and I can sense him withdrawing from the conversation by degrees. I take it upon myself to change the subject.
"Well, maybe if Finnick is game for it, I'll invite Eno and possibly two other friends."
"Who are these friends?" Peeta asks with mock outrage. "I thought I was your only one—hey, it's not nice to kick." He moves his leg away under the table, a safe distance away from my aim. "Should I be threatened by these mysterious people?"
"They're...friends from home. But they go to school here. Gale and Madge."
He cocks his head. "Madge Undersee?"
"You know her?"
"We've had a class or two together." His face is speculative. "Forgive me, but you guys seem like a weird combination of friends."
Now it's my turn to withdraw. "We sort of bonded together over being the quiet kids in class."
"Wow. I'm definitely feeling threatened now," he says, raising his eyebrows. "That's a piece of history you can't compete with."
I take a sip of water. "Oh, I don't know about that. Gale, my other...friend, I guess? He was my boyfriend, and he cheated on me with her."
I chew a piece of sashimi and swallow before asking, "Remember when I was upset that day in the hall?"
"Of course." Understanding dawns, and he looks mad. "Wait. They made you cry?" Peeta demands, his eyes narrowing.
"No, I mean, not on purpose. It's just the first time we'd spoken in a long time. It didn't go well."
He purses his lips. "So, forgive me for asking, but..." Peeta taps the table with a chopstick. "Why exactly are we inviting these people to our super special bowling extravaganza night?"
"Because it was a long time ago, and I'd like for it to officially be water under the bridge."
Peeta nods, but his expression remains unconvinced. "I see."
I sigh. "I just don't want to be angry anymore, and once upon a time, these two were my closest"—I hesitate to admit this to Peeta, someone who made friends with our waiter within seconds of us being seated—"and only friends," I confess. "It's been three years. It's time for me to be over it, isn't it?"
"Hey, I'm not going to dictate how you should feel." Peeta reaches across the table and takes my hand. A thrill runs up my fingers, and he pauses for a moment before continuing, "But I'll support you either way. You want to invite your betrayers to bowling?" He thrusts the chopstick into the air like an imaginary sword, my knight in shining armor. Or in his case, a grey hoodie. "I'm your wingman, Katniss."
I'm touched. "Thanks, Peeta."
"Finnick and I will have your back," he says, his blue eyes earnest.
I put a smile on my face. "Sounds like a plan."
Katniss : So...I'm sorry about the other day.
Gale : Accepted.
Katniss : Only a little sorry though. I was entitled to it.
Gale : Touche.
Katniss : How do you guys feel about bowling?
Gale : Depends.
Katniss : On?
Gale : Are you going to storm out and leave three mins after or what?
Katniss : Touche.
Gale : Kidding. Just tell me when Katniss.
Katniss : Txt details later.
Saturday night arrives, and I'm putting the finishing touches on my make-up. No matter how hard my mom and even Prim tried to help me, I never mastered the art of eyeliner. After clumsily swiping a layer of mascara on my eyelashes and applying a coat of simple gloss to my lips, I declare my face done.
I don't know who I'm trying to impress, anyway. I'm going bowling with two couples and Enobaria. And to my utter misfortune, no matter how beautiful and fantastic Eno is, I don't swing that way. Maybe some hot bowling league single dad will see me in all of my jeans-and-flannel glory and sweep me away to the high life.
"Where are you going?" Glimmer asks, interrupting my fantasy. She leans against the bathroom doorway and eyes the mascara and lip gloss tube on the counter before staring at my reflection in the mirror. "Hot date? I've literally never seen you wear make-up before."
"Bowling." I quickly plait my hair into a fishtail braid and turn towards her. "Excuse me." I brush past Glimmer and walk into the hallway with purpose, groaning under my breath when I see Creepy Cato sprawled on our couch.
"Bowling is super lame," she says, following close on my heels. "People still do that?"
Cato sits up, an interested look on his dumb face.
“Bowling? Sounds good to me."
Glimmer stares at him, her pink, pouty mouth dropping. "Huh?"
"Yeah." He starts to look really pleased, rubbing his meaty hands together. "Haven't done that in years. Saturdays are “midnight bowling” nights at Ten Pins, right? Blacklights and shit?"
" Uh, I have no idea." What the fresh hell is this? Who knew Creepy Cato would be some sort of bowling aficionado? I have to get out of here, fast, because there's no way these two are coming along. "Maybe. But hey, I've got to get going."
He stands and stretches lazily, his tree trunk arms flexing with effort.
"Think we'll roll with you. What do you think, babe?"
Glimmer is clearly torn, because though I know for a fact that she'd probably rather eat dirt than go to some outdated bowling alley, there's also a pleased little twist of her lips—probably because he wants to do something other than mooch off our cable and rattle her headboard.
"Sure," she finally says, the word brittle. She glares at me when he isn’t looking, as if this is my fault.
"My friend is picking me up," I say as a last attempt to ditch them. I check my phone and see a text from Eno informing me she's waiting outside. "I'm not driving, so..."
Creepy Cato gives me a smug smile. "It's cool. We'll follow you."
No no no.
"Nice entourage," Peeta says, his smile pure innocence when he looks behind my shoulder at the crew I just abandoned at the shoe counter. He goes in for a hug and sneaks in a kiss to my cheek as well.
I push him away and make a big show of wiping at my face.
"Shut up," I mutter, giving him the stink eye. Then he gets an elbow to the side for good measure. "They followed us against my will."
"Interesting—so that’s the infamous roomie," he says, stepping back and revealing Finnick, who's sitting in one of the lane chairs, tightening the laces of his shoes. I look at his flashy pair and then back down at the ones I just rented from the counter.
Finnick looks up at my tone, one eyebrow raised. “Hey, yourself. You're looking awfully beautiful tonight, Katniss."
"Where'd you get those?" I railroad past his compliment and point at his feet.
"Get what?" he asks, exchanging a secret smile with Peeta.
"The shoes." I cross my arms. "Yours are nice and fitted with colors that don't make me want to puke. Mine are terrible. And they smell."
Peeta laughs and shakes his head, leaning against my side. "Oh, Katniss. I tried to tell you."
"You have your own bowling shoes?" I ask, shocked. "How is that possible?"
Finnick stands and pulls a sleek, blue ball from a black leather bag.
"I don't fuck around, Kat." His ocean eyes meet mine, playful but determined. The brightly colored lights of the bowling alley cast shades of color across his handsome face that were best left in the 1980s, and a pop song from the same era blares over the speakers, adding to the lively vibe. "I play to win."
“Whatever. Prepare to die.” When I sniff the air, the smell of cheap, fried bowling alley food fills my nostrils. “I want a corn dog. A-S-A-P.”
"Yuck. Let’s share french fries! I hate corn dogs," Enobaria says, coming up behind us. She gives Finnick an impressed face." Hey, is that your own ball? Damn, boy. You’re hardcore."
"Weird as hell," Cato says, strolling into our lane with an annoyed Glimmer trailing behind him. "Still gonna beat your ass, though."
"Noted." Finnick gives him a civil smile. "I'm Finnick." He holds his hand out, and Cato narrows his eyes, looking at Peeta and then back to Finnick. "This is my boyfriend, Peeta. We're friends of Katniss."
A long moment passes.
"Cato," he finally grunts, shaking his hand in a grip so firm that even I can tell. Finnick, to his credit, doesn't even flinch. "Yeah, I've seen you two around Panem."
Peeta frowns, glancing at me.
I'm on the verge of saying something unpleasant when Gale and Madge appear, their cheeks flushed. I briefly wonder if they were banging in the parking lot, with the way Gale's thick black hair is disheveled and Madge's normally collected appearance is anything but. I'm completed unfazed by the thought.
"Hey." Madge's eyes search mine, hesitant. Gale reaches out to hug me, and I look at her over his shoulder. "Thanks for inviting us."
I'm happy to say that my smile comes naturally. "Of course. It's good to see you."
Relief shines on her face, and I make the necessary introductions with our strange little group.
"I need names," Enobaria calls, busily tapping away at the scoring terminal’s keyboard. Her braids have been pulled back with a hair band, and her face is expectant as she looks over at us. "Nicknames, and don’t be boring."
Gale looks at me with a smug smile. "Lunchmeat."
"What?" She turns and tilts her head at him, her hand hovering over the buttons. "Did you say lunchmeat?"
"Yup." He grunts as he finishes tying his shoes and stands up. Then Gale glances at me slyly, reminding me of the little boy who watched me spray-vomit expired bologna after a failed dare on a family picnic. "Should we explain why?"
"How about no, Cabbagepatch." He narrows his eyes at me but keeps his mouth shut about the origins of our nicknames. Gale must be reluctant for everyone to know that he dragged a doll around with him until he was six years old.
"Nice," Eno says, tapping away. She pauses to tie her hair back with a scarf that had been wound around her neck. "Who's next?"
"Strawberry," I say, looking askance at Madge. When we were kids, Madge had an obsession with the fruit. Unfortunately, she also has the worst sort of allergy that causes a violent, um, evacuation from a specific end of her body. This didn't stop her from devouring two helpings of strawberry pie during a field trip to a local farm. The rest is history.
Madge laughs at our third-grade secret, and I cross my fingers over my heart, a silent promise not to tell everyone she shit her pants.
"No fair," Finnick grumbles, leaning back in his seat and throwing an arm around Peeta. "Why don't we have nicknames? We're a terrible couple."
Cato mumbles something under his breath to Glimmer, and she stiffens and gives him a dirty look. I have my suspicions of what he said, but I'm surprised at her reaction. My opinion of her is super low, so I wouldn't have been surprised if she had agreed with whatever ignorant comment he inevitably had made. I open my mouth to put him in his place, but Peeta catches my eye and just shakes his head.
"I have one for Peeta," I say instead.
"This should be good." He smiles and lifts his chin at me, scratching his jaw. "Hit me."
Finnick lets out an appreciative laugh. "I love it." He nudges his boyfriend with his elbow. "I think I'll have to steal it from her."
We finally decide on the rest of the nicknames: Glimmer is Glimmer at her own insistence. Cato chooses Rambo (yuck) and Enobaria is Dollface. Finnick picks Nemo, because, he explains, "I can swim like a fish." When I dispute his claims, telling him that I know I'm faster, he promises to let me test out my skills against him in their apartment’s community pool.
"Who are the teams?" Gale asks, sipping on a cup of beer that he bought from the little bowling alley bar. He makes a face at the quality, and I can't help but think about the Gale Hawthorne of my younger years, who would drink anything that came from a gas station.
"Boys against girls," Madge suggests, wrinkling her nose when Gale offers her his cup.
"No way." Enobaria shakes her head and crosses her legs, her gauzy skirt swaying with the movement. "Finn has his own ball. I want him on my team."
Finnick preens. "It's nice to be wanted."
"Jesus, he already has a big enough head already," Peeta groans, wiping a hand down his face. "Don't encourage him, please."
In the end, we do it the old-fashioned way: a coin toss.
I end up on a team with Peeta, Gale, and Glimmer. Could be worse, I think, eyeing Cato. He's made me nervous all night, what with all the dark glances he's been sending toward Peeta and Finnick. He doesn't even try to hide his disdain, and I've truly had enough.
I'm hoping we can get through one quick game and then they'll leave. I'm not above pretending like the rest of us are going home in order to con them into going early.
"You're up first," I tell Peeta, dropping my voice. He stands and gives me an almost anxious look when Madge and Finnick start heckling him. "You've got this, okay?"
He grabs the ball he picked out earlier, a black and silver one that reminds me of the night sky. "Yeah, and it's just a game, right?"
"Wrong, Cupcake. " I take him by the shoulders and spin him around before pushing him toward the lane. "Miss this and you’re dead to me." I smile at him with mock sweetness when he stares at me with betrayed eyes, waving my fingers at him until he turns away with determined stiffness.
Glimmer looks up from her iPhone, her eyes scornful. "Yeah, don't be a loser, Peeta."
He glares at her over his shoulder before squaring them again. Then he takes a deep breath, draws his arm back, and lets the ball sail.
"Screw you, guys," Peeta announces cheerfully, throwing up his middle finger when everyone on the other team boos loudly at his strike. "Your turn, Finn—good luck beating perfection."
Finnick stands and slaps his ass on the way up to his turn to bowl, and I freeze when I hear a blatant choking sound. Something that sounds a lot like...
"No way. Did you just gag?" Gale demands with quiet anger, leaping to his feet and staring down at Cato. The colorful lights overhead flash red, then blue, then red again over Gale's face, making him look like an imposing, avenging angel. "Seriously? What the hell is your problem?"
Cato looks at him with furrowed eyebrows, a heavy, defensive frown on his lips.
"What's yours?" He inclines his head toward where we stand in a little cluster at the end of the lane. I grab Peeta's hand, because he looks absolutely stung. "Be real. Doesn't this"—he waves a hand toward Finnick and Peeta—"bug the shit out of you? I mean, you seem like a decent dude-"
"Hell no. Stop right there." Gale holds up a hand, and Enobaria and Madge stare in disgust and shock from their seats. "Seriously, you need to go, man. I have a very real urge to kick your ass right now." He glowers at Cato.
There's a tense moment when I think Cato is actually going to swing at him, but he finally turns away.
"Fine, you pussy." Cato barks out a laugh and stands. "Fine. I'm outta here." He yanks off his bowling shoes and shoves his feet into his original pair. "C'mon, babe."
"Nah." Glimmer looks up at him, her lip curled. She swings her head around to glance at us and then back at Cato. "I'm good."
"What the fuck?" He cocks his head at her, incredulous.
"I'm a bitch, not a homophobe." She looks back down at her phone. "Bye. Lose my number."
"Cunt," he bites out, casting a furious glance behind his shoulder at us. He mumbles a few other choice adjectives, ones that make Gale's fists clench and Finnick's spine straighten, and Peeta's fingers tighten around mine. But he leaves, pushing a few people out his way in the process.
I blink, trying to process what just happened.
"I'm so sorry," I finally say, turning toward Finnick and Peeta. I wring my hands. "I can't believe this. I knew he was a dick, but this is..."
"Hey. You're not responsible for his ignorance," Peeta says, pressing into my arm with his own. He gives me a reassuring look that Finnick replicates.
Glimmer coughs delicately. "Yeah, it's my bad. That's what you get when you bring a guy home from a strip club, am I right?" She slides her phone in her purse and stands. "Who wants a drink?" she asks, looking around the group. "I could use one, so...I'll get a pitcher of something." I recognize the gesture as both an apology and a way of wiggling out of an uncomfortable situation, but no one is going to turn down free drinks.
A silence descends on our group.
"Katniss busted her face on one of the lanes back home once," Gale blurts out from the chair across from us, his arm curling around Madge's shoulder.
I glare at him and sit down in one of the seats, but everyone else laughs at the ice breaker.
"Please explain," Peeta asks, dropping down in a chair next to mine. Finnick takes one on my other side, and I briefly wonder if I should switch seats before letting it go.
I like being in the middle a little too much.
"She was trying to be cute and ran too far out into the lane. It was so slick, she slid about six feet, did a cartoon run-in-place for about five seconds, and then face planted." Gale leans forward, going in for the kill. "She broke her tooth and it turned black."
"No fucking way," Eno says, staring at my face with a fascinated expression. Her nose stud winks under the lights as she tilts her head. "Let's see this dead tooth."
"I don't have a dead tooth!"
"Prove it," Finnick teases, resting his chin on my shoulder and laughing when Peeta lunges forward.
"No!" I jerk away when he grabs my face. "Get out of my mou—" My words dissolve into a jumble when he squeezes my cheeks together and forces my mouth open. I twist, but Finnick grabs my hips and holds me in place for Peeta's perusal.
"Hmm," he says, peering into my mouth. Enobaria laughs and cheers him on in the background, and I'd give her an eat-shit look if I could move my head. "Open wide."
Peeta finally releases my cheeks when I bite at his finger. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to use your teeth?" he asks lowly, a small smile playing on his lips. His blue eyes are hypnotizing this close to mine. His hand drops to my shoulder and grasps it.
"We'll have to teach her," Finnick says from behind me, his voice lazy and mocking.
I blink at this, but then Peeta says in a louder voice, "Nah, looks perfect to me. Not even a filling."
"She got it fixed," Gale says smugly, and Madge slaps at his arm. "What? She did."
"Let it go, hon," Madge tells him, but I'm barely listening, because Peeta is still resting his hand on my shoulder and Finnick's fingers are on my hips, restraining me with the lightest of touches.
It feels extremely warm in this bowling alley. Too warm, so I pull away from them both and clear my throat. I can't believe I'm getting turned on in a kitschy, outdated bowling alley.
"Okay, which one of you losers want to drink?" Glimmer demands, two pitchers in her hands. A scrawny, starry-eyed guy in a Ten Pins Bowling shirt trails behind her, another pitcher and a stack of paper cups in his hands.
I never thought I'd be relieved to see my roommate.
"Me," I say, jumping to my feet. I can't look at Finnick or Peeta, because an irrational part of me fears they'll be able to easily pick up on the fact that I can't take a joke and allowed myself to be swept away by only a touch of their hands and a few playful words.
I pour a cup of beer, down it, and Glimmer gives me a look as close to appreciation as I've ever seen.
"Woah," Peeta says from somewhere behind us. Enobaria whoops and joins me at the counter behind our lane, reaching for a cup. "Slow down, killer."
Finnick makes a noise of approval. "Oh, so it's going to be that sort of night."
"Yes, it is." I turn around after refilling, steadily drinking it all before speaking again. "What are you guys waiting for?" I point at Gale and Madge and then crook my finger. "Drink up."
They look at each other and shrug before standing.
"When in Rome," Finnick tells Peeta, squeezing his leg. He links hands with his boyfriend and pulls him to his feet, and they join us.
Once we all have a full cup, Madge proposes a toast, ever the classy lady.
"To new and old friendships," she says, her light eyes sparkling. Gale wraps his arms around her and murmurs his agreement, and once again, I marvel at how perfectly they fit together, like two puzzle pieces that you discounted during the first tentative search through the pile, but on second glance, you're shocked you didn't notice right at once.
And in my soft, warm glow of alcohol-induced affection, the sharp edges of the knife of past betrayals are dulled. I hope when I'm sober I still feel the same way, because I'm quickly growing attached to the unexpected little slice of peace and camaraderie I have with this group.
Glimmer scoffs at Madge's toast, but there's a reluctant smile pulling at the corners of her slick lips.
"Corny," she says, clearly feigning annoyance. She studies her elaborate nails. "But cute."
"You're an asshole." Eno looks at Glimmer and swirls her cup, the liquid dangerously close to spilling from the room. "Anyone ever tell you that, princess?"
She lifts a shoulder and flips her long hair, where it spills down her back like a haughty waterfall. "All the time."
Peeta laughs under his breath and nudges me with his elbow, and Finnick kisses me on the cheek.
Then we drink.
Two hours later, and we're all plastered. I'm a sweaty mess and I can barely stand to take my bowling turn. I almost fall on my wobbly knees, but Peeta comes to my rescue and wraps his arm around my waist.
"Don't bust your other teeth," he slurs, burying his face in my shoulder. "I like your mouth."
"If you don't nail this, you're dead to me!" Gale yells, echoing my earlier words to Peeta. He points at me from where he sits on a tall chair at the counter—he and Finn have been arguing about horror movies for at least fifteen minutes, hotly debating which death is the best from different classics while Glimmer regales the rest of us with graphic but entertaining sex stories from past dates. We were gratified to learn that Cato had one of the smallest dicks she'd ever seen, but equally disgusted at his apparent cunnilingus skills. "Don't fuck it up, Everdeen."
"You got this," Peeta says, echoing my earlier words to him. His other arm snakes around me, and a warm breath of air hits the back of my neck, sending shivers down my spine. "Let me show you."
"But you're worse than me," I tell him, stumbling. "Your strike was a fluke!" I crane my head to give him an accusing look, but instead, I think I just go cross-eyed. "You can't show me shit."
"No, really. Here, you just line up your arm like this-" He slides his hand up my forearm, guiding me. Then we release the ball together...where it goes straight into the gutter.
Gale groans with disappointment, and Glimmer just shakes her head at the victorious screams of our opposing team, who even with a three man group after Cato's departure managed to beat us.
"Sorry," Peeta says, completely unbothered by our devastating loss. He throws an arm around my shoulder as we make the short walk of shame back to our group. "Why did you listen to me, again?"
I glare at him, but he just laughs.
"Y'know," I inform Finnick, who upon our approach breaks out into one of those typical victory songs that are popular during karaoke, "you are a really sore winner."
He stops singing, but Gale and Enobaria are more than happy to pick up where he left off. I watch their duet and exchange a small, drunken grin with Madge, who then holds her hand out to me. I take it and squeeze, knowing that I'm officially letting go of past hurts.
Finnick tilts his head at me, holding out his arms.
"I told you I don't fuck around, Katniss Everdeen." Then I'm pulled into his chest, and he and Peeta wrap themselves around me in a squashed hug. "I'm so glad we're friends," he says into my ear. "My boy did good picking you out."
"I did, didn't I?" Peeta asks, and then they both kiss my forehead, sloppy and earnest.
Finnick works one arm free and holds up his phone, encouraging us to press all three of our faces together.
"Smile!" Then he adds, "Because a ton of people are gonna look at this, so make it pretty."
Later, when I'm stalking Instagram, I see the picture of us. We're sweaty, and drunk, and one of my eyes is squintier than the other, but I can't remember the last time I looked so happy.
A little sexual tension never hurt anyone, right?
Chapter 4: Three Out of Four Ain't Bad
I think this chapter is a little longer! I hope you enjoy it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I’m really starting to enjoy having a group of my own.
We may not hang out every day, or even every weekend, but for the past month we regularly band together for lunches, dinners, and impromptu movie trips.
My friendship with Peeta and Finnick, however, is a horse of a different color. Besides the classes I share with him, I've discovered that Peeta enjoys my presence as much if not more than I do his—even if it's in a different way. I was completely prepared to let our friendship progress again at a normal pace, and to let him take the lead since I handled everything so badly the first time around.
But the following Sunday after bowling, my phone lit up with a text from him demanding to go to lunch.
Finnick didn't join us that afternoon, but he made dinner for us at their apartment the next day. I thought I'd feel like a third wheel, but the comfort level I share with them is both surprising and welcome and good. I'm slowly but surely ingratiating myself to their evil cat, who now only hisses at me twice in the course of one visit.
Overall, things are looking up in almost every aspect. I'm doing well in my classes, my job is actually fun, and I have friends. No love life to speak of, but as they say, three out of four? It ain't bad.
"I thought you hated Glimmer," Prim tells me one early afternoon, her surprise palpable even through speaker phone.
"Eh." My reflection stares back at me in the mirror as I try to decide if my outfit looks passable. I'm not going anywhere special—just to Finnick and Peeta's place, but I try to be a little more clothes conscious now that I spend my days with two of the most attractive guys in Panem. "She's actually pretty cool. I mean, she's still a bitch. Don't get me wrong. But I guess...she's also a friend?"
"Hmm. Aren't you glad you gave school a chance?" I can tell Prim's trying not to hit me with an I told you so.
I quickly pull my hair back into a braid and roll my eyes.
" Yeah, yeah, you're wise beyond your years." I peer down at my phone and see I have a text from Peeta: Where are you? We're bored. "Gotta go, baby sis."
"Hot date?" she teases.
"I wish. Going to hang out with the guys."
"Oh, the guys. I can't wait to meet them," Prim says, perking up. "Those two are miracle workers. You're a regular social butterfly now." She laughs a little and adds, "They're so hot. And like, Instafamous. I can't believe they followed me back!"
"Of course they did," I tell her. "You're my sister. I literally talk about you all the time. Plus, they're just normal guys that happen to take nice pictures."
"Whatever, Katniss." There's a smile in her voice. "You're so unaffected. I don't know how you do it."
Ending the call, I text Peeta back to let him know I'm on my way to their place. It's only a short drive away, but I stop and pick up coffee and pastries for us all at Bean King first.
After struggling out of the car with my purchases, I walk up the pathway to their first floor apartment. They thoughtfully left the door not only unlocked but also cracked so that I merely have to tap the door open with my foot. Music plays throughout the apartment, and I smile because they're streaming my favorite music channel despite Finnick’s complaints that my tastes are too low-key and depressing.
"Hello! I'm here, chumps."
I round the corner to the kitchen and stop in my tracks. I'm thankful for the nearby counter because otherwise I'd have made it rain coffee and danish all over their immaculate floor. It's not as if I've never been privy to this sight before. It's just that I'll never, ever get used to the warmth that shoots through my blood, or the pounding of my heart, or tingles that bubble up my spine when I see this happen, live and in Technicolor.
Because they're kissing.
Peeta is pressed against the refrigerator. His hand is up the back of Finnick’s shirt, and I know those long fingers are palming a smooth, perfectly muscled back that I've now seen more times that I can count in both real life and online photos. Peeta's eyes are closed, but his mouth is open to receive Finnick's flicking tongue, and their hips are knocking together—oh god, they're practically dry humping right in front of me, and I—
Peeta's eyes flutter open, and he spots me with piercing blue irises. He taps Finnick with his hand and pulls away with one last, slow peck on his lips.
"Our girl is here," he tells him, dropping his chin on Finnick's shoulder. He gives me a languid, happy smile. "Hey, Katniss."
Finn turns his head, one hand propped against the refrigerator. "Oh. Hi there, friend," he says lazily, his other hand holding Peeta's hip. "You brought snacks."
"I did," I say, proud my voice doesn't crack. "Looks like you guys brought the entertainment. Good grief, do you really have to rub your smoking hot sex lives in my face?" I pick up my coffee from the counter and take a sip, wincing when it burns the tip of my tongue. Now the sweet, flaky layers of the pastries will be dulled by my diversionary tactic. "Some of us need to get laid so bad."
Finnick laughs and pushes away from the refrigerator. He picks up his own coffee and takes a sip, eyeing me over the rim of it. "You're welcome to join us."
"Ha ha," I say sourly, opening up a cabinet and pulling out a plate—not paper, but the real kind. I still remember the look of judgment on their faces the first time I asked where the disposable dishes were. I start unpacking the desserts from the white Bean King box onto the plate. "But on a serious note, I'm thinking about going out with this guy from class. Maybe."
Peeta looks at me with a tilted head. His eyes flatten with suspicion, and I can see him mentally running through likely candidates.
"Who?" He walks over to hover over my shoulder, poking at all of the pastries with a displeased expression. I slap his hand away.
"Just choose one, picky boy. And wash your hands. Were you born in a barn? Anyway, his name is..." I hesitate.
"Do tell. We want to know all about this cretin who thinks he's good enough for our Katniss," Finnick says, hopping onto the counter and reclining on his elbows.
It's downright disgusting how good he looks just ... sitting and existing. He picks up a danish and takes a tiny bite, and I grab his phone from the counter to snap a few pictures before he puts back the mostly uneaten pastry. I show him his options, and after he points to one with an approving finger, I upload it to his social media account with the caption: Hey, it's a cheat day. #feast like a #Bean King.
I show him the screen, my eyebrow raised.
Finnick looks down at my handiwork and laughs, squeezing my shoulder. "You're too good at this. I'm glad I demoted Peeta and made you my photographer. I've gotten two new sponsorships since you took over."
I guess I've been living under a rock, but I never realized that being an Instagram Influencer could be so profitable until I met these two. I'm still not completely sure how it at all works or how much money Finnick makes, but I've gathered that it's enough to pay the bills and then some. Peeta's not as serious of a player, purely by choice it seems, but he makes his money that way as well. Beyond taking pictures for Finn, I haven't asked too many details, partly because Peeta seems embarrassed about it.
The other reason I don't concern myself with that part of their life? Their followers are super mean, and any time I check out their accounts lately, I see something rude about me in the comments. No, thank you.
"Thank God. You make me take a million pictures of the same damn thing until you're satisfied," Peeta says with a grumpy face, playing with the label on his to-go coffee cup. He leans against the counter and stares at us. "Anyway. Who's the guy, Katniss?"
I sigh. "Castor."
He snaps his fingers and points. "Castor? Castor Sullivan? He's such a fucking tool, Katniss. I told you that last week."
"You say that, but he's always been really nice to me."
"Because he wants in your pants. That's it."
"Good, because that's what I want, too," I shoot back, taking a vicious bite of a pastry. I lean back against Finnick's legs, who chuckles quietly behind us.
Peeta rolls his eyes at me and leans over to help himself to the cherry danish I'm holding, his lips brushing my hand as he takes a bite.
"This is terrible," he says, his mouth full. "Dry as shit. I'll make better ones for us tomorrow." He swallows and takes a sip of coffee and says, "You don't want to mess around with him, Katniss."
“Oh, yeah? And why not? He's cute and presumably has a working penis."
"Because he's a walking STD," he says simply. "Everyone knows he's why the Kappas had that chlamydia epidemic last year."
A piece of danish almost escapes my mouth. "You're lying."
"If only I was," he says with mock sadness, tapping his chin. "Then the Leeg twins wouldn't have infected genitals."
Finnick grumbles behind me. "Okay, I’ve heard enough. Baby girl..." He leans down and wraps his arms around me. "I'm sorry, but this guy isn't Finnick or Peeta approved."
Peeta pats my hand and slides over next to us, laying his head on my shoulder. "Forgive me for being the bearer of bad news?" He blinks up at me with those stupid eyelashes, and I sigh.
"Of course. You saved me from a world of possible disease."
"Well, hey." Finnick's chin rests on top of my head, and I can feel his jaw move as he speaks. "I have a really stellar idea. Why don't you practice with my man tonight?"
Peeta straightens. "Amazing idea."
"What do you mean?" I pull away and turn to face them both. They look back at me with too-innocent expressions on their too-attractive faces.
"We're signed up for a couples cooking class and, to be frank-" He looks at his boyfriend apologetically. "I don't want to go."
It's not a surprise. It's not that Finnick is a bad cook. He's actually very good. I think anyone who has been with Peeta for an extended amount of time, let alone years, would have a little of that magic passed onto them in some way, shape, or form. I've always been mostly clueless in the kitchen if it didn't involve a microwave or a mix, but now even I'm able to make spaghetti and a mean batch of cookies.
So no, his skills aren't in question. He simply doesn't like to do it. Maybe he's spoiled from Peeta's cooking, but if he can get out of that particular duty, he'll do it every time. He'd much prefer to clean the kitchen afterward.
Peeta waves a dismissive hand in the air. "Hey, you know I'm not offended. I was surprised you even agreed."
"I did it for you," Finnick tells him. They share a soft kiss before turning back to me. "So, what do you think?" He adopts a grave look and pulls both of my hands into his. "Katniss, will you go on a date with my boyfriend while I finish a series Peeta hates?"
I look back and forth between them. "You're both ridiculous," I say.
Peeta nods and gives me a charming smile. "But you love us."
I sigh. "I guess I do."
After munching on another pastry, we move to the living room and lounge on the couch, watching movies that we all mutually agree upon with a painstaking process of elimination. Finnick, deeply bitter that Peeta staunchly refuses to watch his favorite show, is highly critical of our choices despite his role in helping to pick them.
"Asshole. I can't wait until you leave," he says, shaking his head. I pat his hand in comfort, and Finnick gives me a martyred look. "I'm gonna binge."
Peeta laces his hands behind his head. "That's fine. We're gonna make a delicious meal and binge on that."
"Speaking of—" I check the time. "We probably need to get ready. Where is this place?"
"It's thirty minutes or so away, but I want to get there early," Peeta says. He stands and thumps Finnick on the cheek. "Okay, shithead...love of my life...we're getting out of your hair so you can nerd out on your show."
"Thank you," he says, his voice full of relief. He waves us away and grabs the remote, already dismissing us. "Don't rush home from your date."
"Dick." Peeta chuckles and pulls me up by the hands. He cups my cheeks and kisses my nose. "Let's go, girlfriend."
I'm annoyed by how much that term makes me smile.
"That's too much salt!" Peeta protests, almost knocking the container out of my hand. He pushes it further down our cooking station and away from my unskilled fingers. "Dammit, Katniss. The popovers were almost ruined."
"Um, that's what it says. A tablespoon. It's right there in the fine print, blind-o."
He gives me a dead-eyed stare. "Teaspoon, Katniss. Tea. Spoon. Good god, woman." He looks so disappointed in me that I start laughing. His lips twitch in response despite his stern expression.
"Okay." I hold up my hands cautiously. "Simmer down. I promise not to hurt the popovers again."
He chuckles and wipes his cheek with his forearm.
"Alright, so. I might take this a bit too seriously," he admits. "It also might be why Finnick would rather jump off a bridge than come with me to one of these things."
I shrug and take a sip of bottled water the class supplied. "It's fine. I think your psycho ways are adorable."
"Aw. Katniss." He looks at me with wide, mocking eyes. "That's the sweetest thing you've ever said to me." He gives me a one-armed hug, careful not to touch me with his ingredient-covered hand.
Someone taps me on the back and I turn around to see a sweet-faced older lady, probably not a day younger than seventy. A gentleman who I assume is her husband is busy talking to another man at the station next to them, his wrinkled face heavily creased with laugh lines. They both look as if they've lived a lifetime of happiness, and it's not hard to imagine them as someone's doting grandparents.
"Excuse me, young lady." She leans in conspiratorially and I find myself doing the same. I can feel Peeta's curious eyes on us. "I just wanted to tell you how precious y'all are together."
"Oh, um." I start to flush, the burn rising from my throat to my cheeks.
"I couldn't help but watch you tonight, and take it from an old lady who's been married fifty years"—she smiles proudly at this—"I can tell when two people belong together." She looks over and winks at an obviously eavesdropping Peeta, and I swing my head around, embarrassment on my face. She raises her voice. "You've got a real cute girl here, hon. I hope you know a good thing when you see it."
Peeta doesn't miss a beat. He just smiles and wraps an arm around me, its weight heavy and comforting around my shoulders.
"Don't I know it?" He goes in for the kill with a sweet kiss pressed to my forehead. "Don't tell anyone, but"—his voice drops an octave—"I'm gonna marry this girl someday."
The woman laughs with delight, clearly charmed.
I, however, succumb to a feeling of wistful dread at his words. Oh, I smile, and I play along with his joke. But inside my secret heart of hearts? There exists a part of me that wishes his declaration was true.
"These midterms are gonna be brutal," Peeta groans, his head lolling on the pillow in my lap. "I'm gonna lose it if I have to think about binomial nomenclature for one more second."
"Poor baby." I tap his forehead. "This is what a visual communications major gets for waiting until his last year to take a core class."
"You science types are so mean," he mumbles, burying his face into the pillow. "Ugh, I'm tired. What time is it?"
"Late." I reach behind me and search for my phone, which I suspect is lost somewhere in the couch cushions. "Finnick went to bed hours ago." I make an a-ha noise when my fingers find purchase on the slick metal of my cellphone case. "Ack. It's one in the morning."
"Woah, talk about a time warp. How did that happen?"
"Time flies when you're having fun," is my sarcastic reply. I rub my eyes. "I need to go. It's chilly out there and I'm exhausted.” Then I groan. “Ugh. I gotta warm up the car for a few minutes before I leave, too."
"Hey." Peeta sits up quickly, concern on his face. He tugs on the sleeve of my sweater like a little kid. "No way in hell I'm letting you drive home this late. Just stay here."
"Uh." I stare around the room, looking for answers. On one hand, it's an enticing offer. I can feel my eyes wanting to close mid-conversation. But there's a warning bell in my head that's telling me to stop crossing so many lines I won't be able to come back from.
"We have a huge bed. You've seen that thing. You won't even notice we're there," he coaxes, and my eyes snap to his.
"What?" I stare at him as if he's insane. "I'm not sleeping in your bed."
He shrugs and yawns. "Fine, suit yourself. But there's a perfectly comfortable couch right here at your disposal."
"I don't know. I should probably just...go. I have to work the early morning shift and I don't have any clean clothes. No toothbrush."
"Finnick has to be up for a meeting with his advisor. He'll make sure you're awake." Peeta starts ticking off my arguments on his fingers. "We have a spare toothbrush, and even if we didn't you could just use mine." I make a face at this and he gives me a sleepy, annoyed look. "Stop being so prissy and difficult. We also have a washing machine—just take that stuff off. I'll give you a shirt and some boxers to sleep in."
Then I'm being stood up and helped out of my shirt with deft fingers, and I hold onto his shoulders like a bewildered doll when he unzips my jeans and strips them off. Then Peeta steps away and rubs the back of his neck, his eyes lidded. I instantly feel guilty because he's clearly just as rundown as me, and I'm making things overly complicated for him this late at night.
He clears his throat and aggressively ruffles his blonde hair as if to wake himself up.
"Now the rest of it," Peeta says, waiting. I stare at him, wondering if I'm just delirious or if he actually expects me to get naked in his living room. He and Finnick are shamelessly blasé about showing skin, but unlike them, my body isn't carved from marble. Plus I haven't shaved in days. "Don't be filthy, Katniss. You want to wear day-old underwear tomorrow?"
I frown at him. "I need something to change into. Some of us have a sliver of modesty. And propriety."
"Both are wildly overrated." He rolls his eyes and walks toward the bedroom, coming out a moment later with a bundle of material in his hands. "But I'll turn around just for you."
I quickly change into his clothes. When I try to tell him I can wash my own, he tsks at me and heads to the laundry room, leaving me standing there in his well-worn Summerville High School Baseball shirt and black boxers. They smell like clean laundry, wintergreen mints and something so uniquely Peeta that I want to pull the shirt up around my head and breathe it in.
I am officially a creeper.
He appears again with an armload of bedding.
"I'm going to make up the most comfortable couch you've ever seen," he informs me, piling on a thick, white comforter, a thinner cotton sheet, and then another downy comforter. He stacks two pillows on top of each other. "I know you prefer two," he says absently, fussing with their position.
I touch his arm. "This is perfect, Peeta."
"Yeah?" He looks down at the couch with an uncertain expression. "I feel bad making you sleep out here. We turned the spare room into a studio..."
"Go to bed," I tell him with a laugh. He gives me a quick hug and nods, turning to look at me once more before going into the bedroom and shutting the door.
I drop down into the little nest Peeta built and sigh with pleasure. This couch is more luxurious than the secondhand bed back at my apartment, and it takes only a moment to fall asleep after a solid week of studying into the wee hours of the night.
My eyes flutter open sometime later, and a quick look at my phone informs me that it's six o'clock. It's still dark out, and I don't have to be awake for two more hours. Why in the world did I wake up? It's too—oh.
Low, male moans and the heavy, unmistakable knock of a headboard against the wall filters through to the living room.
Are they having sex?
I cover my head with a pillow, trying my best to convince myself that I don't want to hear them.
The next time I awaken, it's to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. I wipe my eyes, groan and stretch in rapid succession before checking my phone. I have a good thirty minutes to shower, change and scarf down whatever breakfast I can find. I sit up with leisurely intent and then almost jump out of my skin.
Finnick, looking fresh, alert and not at all like he was up until all hours of the night having a fuck fest with his boyfriend, is staring back at me from a wing-back chair. He's also wearing nothing but blue boxer briefs.
"What's the matter, Kat?" he asks, reclining on the seat and adopting a languid, model-esque pose. I know it's meant to be funny, but still, I find myself with the half-insane urge to find his phone and snap a photo for Instagram. If only these people could see what I'm seeing right now—they'd lose their minds. "Do you find this...distracting?"
I stare for far too long before looking away.
"Finnick! You scared the hell out of me," I say, my voice a tired rasp. "Why are you sitting there like a weirdo?"
"Wow. You are so charming in the morning. I seriously have never found a fifty-year-old smoker's voice so appealing until just now."
"Jerk," I say, laughing despite myself. I run a hand through my hair, confused when I find it loose around my shoulders. I know I went to bed with it in a braid the night before. My hair tie must have popped, which is a bummer. "Oh, no." A thought occurs to me. "I didn't put my clothes in the dryer last night!"
He shakes his head and stands, and it takes all my self control not to gape at his ridiculous body.
"Peeta put them in for you. He was...awake."
"He must be so tired," I say lamely, trying to fight the flush trying to crawl up my face. I don't know why I can't just admit what I heard—he’s anything but shy. My reluctance has far less to do with his reaction, though, than my guilty feelings toward listening to them for much too long; the brief but strong urge I had to stick my hand down Peeta's borrowed boxers before finally falling back to sleep has much to do with my reticence.
The knowing look he gives me while he pours a cup of coffee makes me question if Finnick is a mind-reader, and I have a brief, terrifying fear he can see inside my brain and tell I'm replaying the noises that came from their bedroom.
"He doesn't have anywhere to be this morning," is all he says, pushing the coffee cup across the granite countertop, a hint I should get up and retrieve it. "Unlike you and I, princess. So get off your ass, drink this down, and take a shower. I'll drop you off at work."
I make myself stand and walk over to the counter. "I can drive."
Finnick shrugs, and I try not to stare at the beautiful lines of his form as crosses his arms across his bare chest. God, no wonder he's comfortable strolling around in his kitchen in his underwear. This man's body was meant to be on display. His ass alone belongs in a museum.
"I think it'll be fun to carpool. And you're just going to come back over later, right? After your shift?"
"Um, if you and Peeta don't mind."
Finnick laughs and leans forward, his still-wet hair glinting bronze under the kitchen lights. "As if Peeta would mind. The kid worships the ground you walk on."
"But how do you feel?" I ask without thinking. I rub my cheek, embarrassed. It's way too early to be this vulnerable. "I mean...I just don't want to wear out my welcome, you know?"
He regards me for a moment, scratching the hint of stubble dusting his jaw.
"I want you. Here, I mean. Whenever you want.” He turns around and busies himself with a bowl of cereal, the disgustingly healthy kind that has no sugar and resembles a bowl of sticks. "Go take a shower, Kat. I put your clothes in our bathroom. And don't worry, Peeta sleeps like the dead. You won't wake him up."
I take a shameful ten seconds to study the back of him as he stirs his cereal with a spoon, and then I pull myself away. I carefully slip into their dim bedroom and marvel at the lack of clothes littering the floor or cups on their gleaming vanity table.
There is, however, a Peeta-shaped lump that I can just barely make out in the darkness. He mumbles in his sleep and shifts, his arm sliding out from beneath the comforter and just barely hanging over the edge of his side of the bed.
I stop and stare at his wrist, taking a few steps closer to study it before entering the bathroom and turning on their shower, lost in thought.
"Ready to go?" Finnick asks when I finally emerge.
I feel much more human now that I'm clean with fresh clothes. He's already dressed and ready to go, and I can't help but briefly mourn the disappearance of his boxer briefs.
I accept a breakfast bar from him with a nod of thanks and follow him to the car. I snack on it and chat with Finnick during the ten minute drive to the Bean King, but my mind is still back in their bedroom. It’s as if I'm in a surreal universe, like I might still be asleep.
"Have a good day," he says, sticking his head out of the window. "Wait, where's my kiss?"
I roll my eyes at him, but obediently smack my lips to the corner of his mouth.
"Better," he says, slipping on his sunglasses and putting the car in reverse. "I'll be back for you at one o'clock. Peeta will probably be with me. How does Thai for lunch sound?"
He doesn't wait for my answer, and pulls away with all the careful precision of a ninety-year-old granny. Peeta and I torment him over his cautious driving, but it's actually pretty cute. I watch as he disappears around the street corner before going inside the coffee shop.
"Damn, you look out of it."
Enobaria raises an eyebrow at me when I walk inside. She looks pretty tired herself, and I remember that she had a date the night before with a poet from one of the Bean King's open mic nights.
She continues, "Didn't you wear that yesterday? Wait, don't tell me you finally got laid." She fiddles with the espresso machine before turning back toward me.
"I wish, but no. It's just been an, uh...weird morning." I mechanically tie a bright purple apron around my waist and run a hand through my damp, wavy hair. Then I sit down hard on a stool and say the first thing that comes to mind: "I just woke up to Finnick Odair wearing nothing but boxer briefs."
Eno stares at me, the small cup hovering near her lips before she sets it down with a hard clank on the counter-top. She nudges the espresso toward me with small little pushes of her pointer finger, clearly processing.
"Girl, you need this more than me," she finally says. "If I were you, I'd never recover."
I lift the espresso cup in a silent toasting gesture.
Eno her head. "Do you know how many girls—and boys—would kill to be you?" She stops and drums her fingers on her leg. "I'd say you were a lucky bitch, but I know it must be hell." She purses her lips at my blank expression. "How's that Peeta crush going?"
I send her a withering look. "We're pretending that never happened, remember?"
"You know I'll take it to my grave," she assures me, pouring a cup of coffee for herself. The door chimes, signaling a customer. She lowers her voice. "But in case this crush-that-never-happened ever becomes too much for you, I'm here to talk. You know that."
"I know, but don't worry. That's over," I say with more confidence than I feel. It's easier said than done, having a perfectly platonic friendship with two men in a committed relationship, especially when one hangs out with you in their underwear...
...and the other ends up with your missing hair tie around his wrist in the middle of the night.
I'm in far too deep.
The end of October brings pumpkin spice lattes, chilly weather, and Halloween. Despite the general fervor among my peers and the population as a whole, it's never been my favorite holiday. I'm sure this is largely in part to our family's limited income while growing up, and the fact that my parents never had much to spare in the way of luxuries. Costumes and candy were definitely not a priority for the Everdeens.
I've dressed up approximately twice in my life—once for a Halloween-themed school play in which the costume was provided, and another when I tagged along to trick or treat with the Hawthornes at a seven-year-old Prim's insistence. Somewhere out there is a photo of me as a ghost, replete with a bed sheet and two cut-out holes for eyes.
"I can't believe you hate Halloween." Peeta throws a piece of candy corn at my head, and it bounces off to land on the carpet. He lounges in the lumpy love-seat Glimmer and I went halves on from a secondhand shop. "I'm trading you in."
I fish the piece of candy from the floor and pop it into my mouth. I can't help but laugh at his disgusted expression.
"I don't hate it. I'm just not...enamored with it."
"It's unnatural," Finnick says, propping his bare feet up next to mine on the coffee table. He scrolls through his phone and shows me a list of e-vites. "We've got to do something tomorrow night. There's a ton of parties to choose from around here. You pick."
A huff of air escapes my lips. "Why can't we just stay home and hang out?" I wheedle for a compromise. “I’ll even suffer through a horror movie or two. Can’t promise I’ll open my eyes, though.”
"Boring," Peeta says, crossing his arms. "Hey, you know what? Eno said something about a haunted house the other day. Remember that?"
Of course I remember. I was just hoping he wouldn't. The idea of willingly wandering through a building full of zombies, killers and horror villains sounds about as appealing as a root canal to me.
"I hate haunted houses," I groan, squirming when Finnick pokes me in the side. "And they cost too much."
"Don't be such a baby." Finn taps my toes with his. "Sketchy haunted houses in the middle of nowhere are awesome in every way. It’s a South Carolina tradition. I'll even pay for you. See? You're out of excuses."
Peeta stands up and squeezes between us, uncaring of personal space. He crowds me into the corner of the couch, his face leaning into mine. "Katniss Everdeen." He examines my face with narrowed eyes, searching for the lie. "I bet you've never been to a haunted house in your life."
"And I never will," I say primly, pushing his face away with the palm of my hand.
And yet, here I am, standing in line in the middle of a field while top 100 radio singles blare out of hidden speakers, and a Freddy Krueger lookalike trolls the crowds of people waiting for apple cider, churros and hot dogs.
I stare at the haunted house looming only just a few people ahead of us, and its ominous, clapboard shutters and the piercing screams coming from inside make me tremble as much as the wind slapping my cheeks.
"You look scared shitless," Gale announces, his dark hair ruffling in the frigid breeze. Madge elbows him, and he gives her a wounded look. "I know that look, all right? I saw it when we wrecked the dirt bikes we stole when we were twelve, and every time a hornet gets within a foot from her. I think she's gonna bolt."
"She's not going to bolt," Madge protests. She gives me a supportive look and clasps her mitten-covered hands in front of her. "Are you?"
"Gotta agree with Gale." Enobaria pulls her vintage pea coat tighter around her body and tsks. "I thought you'd be tougher than this, Kat."
"Shut up! I'm fine." I glare at them and hug myself, trying to drown out the sound of buzzing in the air. My frantic Internet search before we came confirmed that at the end of the tour through the house, there would be a "super exciting" chase involving chainsaws and people with hockey masks. I refused to come after that discovery, but Finn and Peeta pushed me in the car and locked the doors, laughing at me the whole time. "I'm just cold."
Familiar arms wrap around me from behind, circling my waist and hauling me back against a solid chest.
"I'll warm you up, scaredy-Kat," Peeta says from behind me. "Just don't piss your pants in there and embarrass me, okay?"
I look at Finnick, who's already watching us. "Your boyfriend is a jerk."
An eerie wail comes from the house, and I jump a foot in the air, causing everyone to burst into laughter.
"You guys suck," I grumble, letting my head rest against Peeta's shoulder.
I tilt my head back and meet his smiling, upside-down eyes. He kisses my nose, and a loud bang like someone is trying to break out of the house makes me curse and break away from him. I'm so sick of this already. I can't even enjoy the delicious smells or quaint ambiance of what feels like a block party surrounding the haunted house.
"Oh, I think it's our turn," Madge says, pointing toward the double doors.
A girl in normal clothes slides out of them and holds up her hand, motioning us forward. Our group and a few other people are beckoned inside, and when I reach the dark doorstep, I seriously consider turning and making a run for it.
"Don't even think about it," Finnick warns over his shoulder, holding out a hand behind his back. I take it gratefully.
With Peeta's solid presence behind me and Finn's hand in mine, all while surrounded by our friends, I should be totally okay.
What ensues for the next twenty minutes of my life is absolute hell. Despite knowing that these people are just playing dress-up, and zombies aren't reaching out from behind cell bars to rip me to shreds, and the half-burned thing crawling across the floor toward us on rapid hands and knees isn't going to kill me, I'm still the very definition of hysterical. Every room we go through sends me into horrified shrieks, and I never in my life thought I'd be that person.
The rest of our group -and even the two couples we don't know- can't stop laughing at me, but Finnick encourages me to press my face into his back about halfway through the tour. I smash my face into the soft, cashmere warmth of his sweater, painstakingly shuffling along and praying for it to end.
I can barely hear Peeta's chuckles behind due to the pounding death metal music and shouting antics of the actors, but his hand on my back is a comforting anchor amidst the chaos.
Finally, cool air hits my arms as we walk through the exit, and I lift my head with all the caution of a person about to be murdered. We're on the backside of the haunted house, and I can hear the straining sounds of voices and radio music from the party going on in the front of the building. I breathe a sigh of relief at the normalcy of it all, and step out into the yard, a long stretch of land with fake gravestones and spider webs hanging from trees.
"Katniss," Peeta murmurs into my ear. I peer around Finnick's shoulder and see Madge and Gale sprinting off toward a gate in the distance. Enobaria follows close on their heels. My heart drops. "You may, uh...want to run."
Then a terrible, familiar noise starts up all around us— I forgot about the chainsaws. Black-clad figures with masks sprint toward us with the buzzing saws in their hands, and I completely lose my mind.
"No! Oh my god!" I freeze, my legs deciding that now is a good time not to work. I crouch down on the ground and cover my ears like an idiot from the horror movies that I'm always rolling my eyes at. "Just leave me here to die."
"Get up, get up!" Finn urges me through mouthfuls of laughter.
His fingers pry at my clenched hands, but I just shake my head back and forth in denial. The chainsaws are all around us, and I just...shut down.
Suddenly I'm airborne and being lifted into Peeta's arms. He breaks into an easy run despite having to shoulder my weight as well, and when we clear the gates, I'm almost crying with relief.
"That's going into the history books, Everdeen," Gale calls out to me. He and Madge are standing at the condiment section of a food stand, squeezing ketchup on their hot dogs. Enobaria and Finnick are peering down at Finn's phone and laughing in a way that makes me suspicious. "I can't wait to tell Prim about this."
"You're ridiculous, drama queen," Peeta says, holding me closer as he walks to our friends. I slide down from his arms, and I'm already feeling the embarrassment set in by the time my feet hit the ground.
"Ugh, shut up." I thump my head on his arm a few times, wishing it was a wall. "I swear I blacked out for a second. I never want to do this again."
"I wish I had a picture of this moment. I definitely want to relive the night I became your hero."
"I did better than that," Finnick says with a smug smile, flashing his phone toward us. I see a video version of Peeta sprinting with me in his arms and hear my traumatized shrieks blasting from his speakers. God, was I really screaming the entire time? "I immortalized it on camera."
finnickodair I hope you guys enjoy this video as much as I did. #myboyfriendthehero #scaredyKat #happyhalloween
view all 601 comments
lolabee ugh someone gif this vid on tumblr. I need to see him running in slo mo
jfxoo That girl is trippin lmao. I'd act like I was scared 2 tho if he would hold me
karkarington yeah but can we crop that bitch out or what
trinityterrible @karkarington dude that's mean :x
karkarington just saying, I'm sick of her.
holla22323 OMG!! beautiful boy. xoxo
tudorsmcgee What's your next project? I bought the Dark Mafia series because you’re on the cover!
Thank you Picabook82 for the ship name "mellodeen," which I think is quite adorable. :)
Chapter 5: This One is Mine
Happy early Thanksgiving!
"Is Haymitch making that hamburger stuff for Thanksgiving?"
I can't believe he’s so eager to be poisoned. Prim and I have spent almost a decade covertly tossing our stepdad's “Hamburger Surprise” into the trash. Sometimes we even went so far as to feed it to our now deceased family dog. Don't worry, his demise was unrelated to the food.
"Don't bring it up. Don't even say its name," I tell Gale, flicking a balled-up straw wrapper his way. He holds his thumb and pointer fingers up in a mock-football goal post formation, but it sails past him and bounces onto the floor. "I don't want to wish it into existence. That stuff is like Beetlejuice."
"He got the recipe from Haymitch," Madge says, solemn-eyed as she sips her spiked seltzer. "I made it for him once. My taste-buds still haven’t recovered."
I wonder when that happened and try not to feel betrayed by my stepdad still being buddy-buddy with my cheating ex. Even though Gale and I are on good terms now, we weren't a year ago—not even four months ago. But I guess it's hard to cut ties with someone whom you shared a biannual fishing trip to Lake Jocassee.
"Well, you better prepare yourself. I plan on sending the inevitable leftovers back to Gale's house with Prim."
Peeta cocks his head, watching us with a wistful expression. He takes a sip from his craft beer and studies a vintage photograph on the wood-paneled wall of Local's, the bar we tend to favor when we go out. “I bet I could make that stuff edible."
"Don't brag, babe." Finnick leans back against the circular booth and plucks the crumpled straw wrapper from the floor. "We all know you could make dirt taste like gourmet food."
"I wish you were coming to my house," I tell him. "Basically the only person who can cook really well is Gale's mom, and the rest of us contribute a truly pathetic array of side dishes."
Peeta smiles, but only one side of his lips quirk up, a shadow of his usual cheerful grin. "I'll save you some of my coconut cake."
I nudge him. "Your family is so freaking lucky. I bet you go all out for Thanksgiving."
It's clear I've said the wrong thing. Peeta stiffens and exchanges a furtive glance with Finnick before looking away. His broad shoulders are set in a rigid line, and his mouth tries to settle back into an uneven smile before eventually just falling flat.
"I do bake my ass off during the holidays," he finally says, his expression unreadable. He abruptly turns to address Gale. "Hey man, you wanna play pool?"
I try to catch his eye before they slide out of the booth, but Peeta steadfastly refuses to meet mine. Instead, he strides off to claim a table without looking back. I glance at Finnick with furrowed eyebrows, but he just gives me a steady, sympathetic look in return.
"Long story," he mouths, discreetly tapping his cell before picking it up. Madge, oblivious, busily taps away on her own device.
A text appears on my phone from Finnick: Make him tell you.
I reply: Tell me what?
I raise my eyes to his aqua ones, and he lifts a shoulder before deliberately setting the phone back down on the table, his expression rueful. It's clear he's not going to talk any further, and while I'm a bit annoyed by his reticence, I'm mostly just impressed by his loyalty. Still, I take a sip of my beer and stew in silence.
Finnick watches me for a moment, sighs and inclines his head.
"You guys want to play darts?" he asks by way of a peace offering.
Madge looks up from her phone and eagerly agrees, and I follow them out of the booth. My eyes flit across the room toward Peeta, and I watch as he expertly sinks a corner shot while a crowd of nearby people cheer him on. But I can't help but notice that despite his wide smile, there's something contemplative and unhappy lurking beneath it.
We're paying our tab at the end of the night when Gale brings up Thanksgiving again.
"When are you heading back home?" he asks, shoving his wallet into his back-pocket.
He takes Madge’s hand and sidesteps two tipsy coeds, and we press ourselves against the wall of the busy bar, waiting for the Peeta and Finnick to finish up at the counter.
I study the back of Peeta's head as he flirts with the bartender under Finnick's amused, watchful eye. His voice is the same, and his smile is as easy going as ever—it's all technically right, but something... something is off, and I suspect it has everything to do with his family. It occurs to me that every time in the past when the subject has come up, he's evaded the topic. He’ll deftly turn the questions back around to me, or highlight a funny story about Finnick's large family back in their hometown of Summerville, which is about three hours away from Panem.
I can rattle off the name of Finnick's grandfather's parakeet (Buster) and how his parents met twenty-five years ago in a New York City subway (his mother was late to class), but I don't know anything about Peeta's parents except that they own a bakery. And that's just wrong.
Gale continues, "Madge and I are heading out Tuesday night if you want to hitch a ride with us."
Madge claps her hands together twice. "Ooh. Yes, please!" She pulls her blonde ponytail over her shoulder and twists the ends around her finger, giving me a pleading look. "I need someone other than me to vote down his NPR choices."
"Sucks to be you," Gale tells Madge, pulling her closer to his side. "Katniss loves podcasts." He turns back to me. "So what do you say? Want to road trip with us? If Glimmer and Eno can do it, so can we."
We were all shocked when they left together last night to ride home for the holidays. But it turns out that Eno and my roommate have exactly two things in common: they’re both from Richmond, Virginia, and neither one of them likes to drive alone.
I consider Gale’s offer. My personal growth in the past couple of months is nothing short of astounding. Even Prim was surprised to hear of my friendship with Gale and Madge. I'm confident of whom to credit for this swift turnaround: a charming man who wouldn't take no for an answer, and instead spun me into the warm cocoon of his friendship and wholeheartedly brought me into his life.
"I'm not sure of my plans yet," I say, looking over at Peeta. “But thank you for asking me.”
“No. Thank you for being our friend again,” Madge says earnestly. “You’ll never know how sorry we are for everything back then, Katniss. We were so selfish, and I’ve missed you so much. This second chance means everything to me. A road trip would be just like old times.”
“Well, even if it doesn’t happen this time, we can plan to do something in the future. Maybe head down to Columbia one weekend,” I say, still watching my friend at the bar.
Peeta turns his head away from the bartender and looks straight toward me, blinking rapidly when he realizes I’m already staring at him. He gives me a hesitant smile, the cocky confidence melting away for a split second before he swings his head back around to the bartender. I wonder how much money Peeta had shaved off of his final bill. That smile works miracles.
“But I'll let you know," I add absently.
The next day, I walk out of my last class before Thanksgiving break. I walk towards my car, pause, and then double-back in the direction of the art department complex before thinking too hard about my decision. I tell myself I should give him space. It's only been a day, but Peeta's silence on the way home from the bar coupled with his lack of texts today are weighing on my mind. I can't go home for the holidays with iffy feelings between us.
I walk down the hallway that leads to the painting studio, stopping to study a few pieces of art in a glass case. Peeta's specialization is in Graphic Design—more practical, he’d once explained—but he truly shines in all aspects of visual arts. If hard pressed, I'd have said painting is his biggest talent, but I'm questioning my choice now as I stare at an anatomical ceramic heart fired in a Raku style.
A little placard with the words 'Love Under Fire by Peeta Mellark' is propped in front of it. I hope Finnick knows how lucky he is to have inspired such beautiful art.
It takes reluctant effort to pull myself away from the display case. When I reach the painting studio, I hover in the doorway. Peeta's facing away from me with headphones on, alone except for one girl washing her brushes in the sink. She looks over, does a double take, and then gives me a little wave that somehow translates as sarcastic.
"Golden boy's been in a mood," the girl says with a smirk. She dries her hands and runs them across her shaved head. "Maybe you can cheer him up."
I cock my head at her. “I’m sorry?”
The girl gestures toward me and her phone. "I recognize you from his Instagram. And around campus." She packs up her art case and shuts it with snap. "You're the girl everyone loves to hate these days."
"Oh," I say dumbly.
I’ve tried to stay away from Peeta and Finnick's social media comments. They're rough for even my non-existent ego. Finnick’s advice is to laugh it off, that people are 'just jealous of my awesomeness.’ Peeta simply tells me not to look at all, but I can't help my increasing levels of curiosity mixed with masochism. And this girl is right; their followers mostly despise me.
"I'm Johanna," the girl says, turning towards me. She has a pretty face, a generous but cruel mouth, and dark, crafty eyes. "And you're the idiot who thinks she has a chance with Peeta 'Unavailable' Mellark."
My heart beats furiously in my chest.
"Excuse me?" I glare at her and try not to have a stroke. Who does this girl think she is? She doesn't even know me! And oh god oh no. If she doesn't know me and can tell...can tell...
"Hey, it's cool. I'm not gonna say a word to the dude." Johanna holds up her hands in a be cool motion, and a paint-splattered forearm tattoo of an axe greets me. It’s fitting for her aggressive personality. "If your thing is to be the frustrated hang-around, more power to you. I just don't think I could live that life." She digs around in the pocket of her cargo pants, eventually fishing out a receipt and a pen with a chewed-up lid. She quickly scrawls something on the paper and thrusts it toward me. "When you get tired of that mess, hit me up. I know how to show a girl...a really good time."
I stare at her, speechless.
"Anyway." Johanna smiles at me with full, blood-red lips. "Tell him to lock up, would you? Our professor is anal about securing the studios at night and I'm the last one who logged in."
With that, she's gone, and I'm left alone with an oblivious Peeta.
I'm shell-shocked by what just occurred. The uncanny observations of a complete stranger threaten to undo all of my progress over the past two months. I have to push her words to the back of my mind and focus on my friend instead. I'm leaving tomorrow and have more pressing business at hand: the man in front of me.
Peeta is clearly in another world altogether. I've seen him hard at work before, and it never fails to give me a fascinated thrill to see his talent in motion. It’s a sight to behold and I’m envious of his passion. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my own major; plant science and how it relates to landscape design has always interested me, but I don't think I've ever felt half as strongly about it as Peeta does about art.
I watch as Peeta dips his brush into a sable swatch of paint. He pauses and carefully sweeps it across the canvas before coming back for a midnight color, almost blue-black in tone. The full, measured strokes of the brush are hypnotic, and it's not until I finally blink and focus my eyes that I realize that he's painting hair. Long, female hair.
I take an unconscious step forward and kick a step stool, sending it clattering across the floor. The noise is enough to distract Peeta and his hand slips, sending his brush gliding off into the white space of the canvas. My heart sinks at the error I caused.
Peeta rips off his headphones and turns around. "What the fuck," he snarls, and then stops with surprise. "Katniss?"
"Hey," I say weakly, bending and rubbing my leg. I nailed it with brutal intensity on the metal of the stool, but I'm trying to play off the pain.
Peeta drops his brush and paint palette onto a nearby table and hurries over. He bends his knee and rolls up my pant leg. "Did you hurt your leg?" He furrows his eyebrows at the bruise that's rapidly blossoming on my skin. “Dammit, Katniss.” Then he leans forward and kisses it.
I touch his head on instinct before pulling away. "I ruined it." I point to his painting with a shaking, guilty finger. "I'm so sorry."
"Nah." He looks up at me underneath his eyelashes, still crouched at my feet. "It's nothing that can't be repaired."
He's too distracting down there. Too...everything. I grab his shoulders and encourage him to stand. When he does, I lean back against the counter and regard him. I lick my lips and debate on what to say.
"Are you going to tell me why you're avoiding me?" is what I come up with.
Peeta laughs with uneasy eyes and turns away, gathering up his painting materials and returning to the sink. He starts to wash the brushes and looks down the whole time.
"We were together all night, Katniss. How exactly am I avoiding you?"
"When was the last time we've gone more than a hour or two without texting?"
He gives a noncommittal shrug.
"I got busy today. I have an assignment due pretty much as soon as Thanksgiving break is over." He presses his lips together, like he regrets bringing up the holiday. It's a perfect lead-in for my question.
"Peeta." I step toward him, and he stiffens, steadfastly washing the paint palette even though I can see it's spotlessly clean. "Are you going home for Thanksgiving?"
He hangs his head, defeated.
"Not even with Finnick?"
I scoot even closer to him, and he clutches the edge of the sink with both hands, the knuckles turning white with effort.
"Will you tell me why?"
The palette clatters to the counter with a harsh sound. I flinch.
"It's a pretty simple story." Peeta turns to me, his eyes angry. He looks cornered, and I know I'm to blame for pushing him. "Sometimes when a mommy and daddy love each other very much, they have a baby. Then they have another baby, hoping for a girl. Then another. Surprise. It's a boy again, only this one grows up to be a huge, cock-sucking disappointment."
"They don't want anything to do with me, Katniss. Even though I'm welcome at Finnick's, I'm not allowed back home. My own dad-" He stops and sucks in a breath, and for one awful minute I think he's going to cry. "That town...God, just the thought of going back to Summerville makes me feel like shit. I know it's selfish of me.I put Finnick in a terrible spot every year. He's always torn between not wanting me to be alone but also not wanting to bail on his family." He sighs, deflating. "I should have explained this to you before. I don't know why I haven't."
I touch his shoulder with tentative fingers, and when he doesn't pull away I press my forehead into chest. His hand rises to my back, and it's like all of the tension leaves his body with that one gesture.
"I understand," I say. "I'm sorry I forced you into telling me something you weren't ready for. I know we haven’t been friends for long and I’ve made mistakes already. It’s probably not easy to trust me yet.”
"Jesus, Katniss." He leans back to look me in the eye, stricken. "It's not that I don't trust you. You're basically my closest friend other than Finnick. It doesn’t feel like three months. It feels like three years. I was just embarrassed. Ashamed. My own family doesn't want me around. You guys have these great home lives to go back to, and here I am, jealous as fuck." He shakes his head and squeezes my arm. "I'm sorry I got all weird. You don't deserve that."
"Come home with me," I blurt out.
The offer was somewhat impulsive, but there's nothing I want more than for him to say yes. I can't handle the thought of Peeta alone in the apartment, baking for himself with only that demon cat for company. Plus, it will just be fun.
Peeta looks at me with a skeptical expression, but I know I'm not imagining a spark of hope as well.
"What? No. Your parents don't want some random guy there."
"Oh, please!" I wave off his words and grow more excited by the minute. "I think they fully expect me to die alone in my apartment, eaten by mice. They'll be thrilled I'm bringing home a friend. Bonus points because you're a hot guy," I tease him.
He cracks a smile at this.
"We can even tell them we're dating, if you want," he jokes, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
I ignore the traitorous leap of my heart. This isn't a rom-com or a fake-dating romance novel.
"That won't be necessary, thank you. But does that mean what I think it means?" I press my hands together in a prayer position. "Peeta Mellark, will you come home with me for the holidays?" He's silent, and I decide to sweeten the pot. "You'll have free reign over my stepdad’s Hamburger Surprise. Prove to me you can fix it, and you'll be hailed a god and a hero."
His eyes gleam at the prospect. Got him.
"Can we drive by ourselves? Just me and you?" Peeta finally asks, leaning against me. He must have been listening at the bar when Gale asked me to ride with him and Madge. "I hate NPR."
I laugh, happy relief coursing through my veins.
"Whatever you want."
"So that's where you went to high school?"
"Yep." I point to a street sign, and Peeta signals left to make the turn. "My illustrious alma mater."
"It's so small."
"Now make a right—yes, there. But yeah, it is small. Why do you think I dated Gale?" I deadpan. I gesture toward a Dairy Dream drive-thru and the quaint downtown with limited shops. With the window down and the smell of sea salt in the air, I feel truly at home. "This town has slim pickings. I had no choice."
"So weird to think about you dating him. Now that I know the guy, it just seems somewhat incestous. You even look a little bit alike. Maybe you’re cousins." He chuckles when I punch him on the shoulder. "For real though? Cute as it is, I’m so happy you got out of here and made your down the interstate to Panem." Peeta looks at me askance. "You're one of my greatest discoveries."
I smile at his compliment and watch the familiar landmarks through the window as we drive past them, feeling a little surreal with Peeta in the car. It's as if I'm merging two very separate parts of my life, and I find myself growing a bit nervous at the thought of Peeta meeting my family. Prim will be over excited and sweet—she's never known a stranger, but my mom will ask probing, invasive questions. Haymitch will be...Haymitch.
They were very surprised when I called last night and let them know I was bringing a guest. I suffered through mom’s excitement that I may not die alone and Haymitch’s heckling over my new 'boyfriend' before finally telling them Peeta is the one with a boyfriend. They didn't care one bit. Mom was a bit disappointed that grandchildren aren't in her imminent future, but other than that, they absolutely did not give a shit.
I think about how lucky I am to have such open, accepting parents and reach over to squeeze Peeta's hand.
He smiles and looks at me over the rim of his aviators before glancing back toward the street. "What's that for?"
"Because you're you and I'm glad you're here."
Peeta exhales and taps his fingers on the steering wheel. "I'm glad I'm here, too. Katniss." He shakes his head. "Thank you for talking me into it. Means a lot."
"You say that now. Turn left." I point ahead to a house down the street, a bright blue split-level that has racked up plenty of complaints from the more muted neighbors. "Wait until you meet my stepdad."
“Should I be scared?”
We pull into the driveway and Prim comes dashing off the porch, her blonde hair streaming behind her. I've got one foot out of the door before she's practically in my lap in the passenger seat. I can't even pretend to be annoyed. I missed her, too.
I know some people have casual relationships with their siblings, but after my father died, before she married Haymitch, my mom went through a rough period that didn't involve being a good parent. There was a long stretch of time where I practically raised my little sister, and our bond is stronger than just sibling love.
"You're crushing me," I gasp, but it comes out like a wheeze instead.
"Shut up and hug me."
Peeta laughs and opens his car door. "Where's my hug?"
"Oh, no worries. I'm getting one," she assures him, climbing off of me. I follow her out of the car and stretch my arms. "And I want a picture of us to put on Instagram."
"Prim!" I glare at her but Peeta just chuckles. He raises his hands toward the sky, stretching his broad shoulders in a way that makes me avert my eyes.
"You want to exploit me, huh?" He opens the trunk and starts pulling our suitcases out, his voice muffled. "That can be arranged."
Prim gives me a victorious look and skips over to him. I roll my eyes at her and go to grab my bags, but Peeta lightly slaps my hands away.
"Hug me," she demands. He complies like a good sport, and Prim looks at me over his shoulder. "Now take a picture."
"This is going to be such a fun Thanksgiving," I say with mock sweetness.
primster: @peetamellark gives the best hugs. #bigbro #ujelly
view all 51 comments
tinyteena: deets gurl! text me back >_>
danielhawt: I don't know how I feel about this.
karkarington: wait... you're at THAT GIRLS HOUSE. Peetas spending thanksgiving with HER?? ugh where is Finnick?
primster: ok stalker that "girl" is my sister and I will fight u right now
enobariat: GET HER PRIMSTER. I can't wait to meet you someday, little badass
lilam: You're so lucky! I follow his boyfriend and they are yummy.
Mom and Haymitch come home from work early in honor of our guest.
I greet them with hugs and introduce them to Peeta. My mom hits it off with him right away, and I can see Peeta practically blushing from her steady conversation and gushing compliments. I swear he almost slips up and calls her 'Mom' once, which would have been fine by her. Pretty sure she always wanted a son to balance out her two daughters.
My stepdad, however, is a different story. He waits until Mom excuses herself to take a shower after a long day at the hospital, and then he goes in for the kill. I knew he’d been far too quiet.
“Where do you think you're sleeping tonight, boy?” he asks, pulling a beer out of the refrigerator. He offers it to Peeta, who coolly accepts, thrusting his arm out with steady defiance. I want to laugh for a moment, because Peeta probably thought he was failing some sort of parent test; in fact, he actually passed it. Haymitch appreciates anyone who loves the King of Beers.
"Well." Peeta looks at me as if it's a trick question. I shrug at him from the kitchen table. "I thought with Katniss?"
"Wrong answer. There's a perfectly good couch for you."
"Old man." I look at the ceiling in search of prayer. "Please hush up. He's staying with me. It's too cold in the living room and you know it. And like I told you last night, it's not like that between us, okay? We're just friends."
Peeta sits down and studies my face from across the table, and when I meet his eyes, he gives me a faint smile. I wonder how uncomfortable he is right now and want to slap my stepdad.
"Hmm." Haymitch looks back and forth between us suspiciously. He lifts his Budweiser to his lips. "Well, I don't wanna see nothin’ and I don't wanna hear nothin’. You got me?"
I groan into my hands and rub my eyes. "Good grief."
"Now that we've got that straight," Haymitch continues as if he didn't just embarrass the hell out of me, "how are you at poker, kid?"
Peeta blinks, like he can't follow the conversation. "Not too shabby," he says slowly.
"Prove it." I sigh when my stepdad plops down into a kitchen chair and points at me. "Get the deck, sweetheart. We're gonna hand him his ass in Texas Hold 'Em."
My friend gives him an enigmatic smile. "I can't wait."
Later that night, Peeta is practically delirious with smug victory tinged with the occasional bout of self-conscious worry.
"I creamed you guys," he crows for the millionth time, pushing us on the porch swing with one foot flat on the wooden floorboard. He has one arm on the back of the swing, and his head bobs slightly to the gentle rhythm of our back-and-forth momentum. His eyebrows furrow together. "Should I have thrown the game, you think? Is Haymitch going to poison my food tomorrow?"
I laugh and pat his thigh. Peeta covers my hand with his.
"Nah, you did good. He'd have hated it if you'd played possum. I think you won his respect."
"Really," Peeta murmurs, his eyes thoughtful even in the dim shroud of night. A symphony of bullfrogs and cicadas threaten to drown out the softly spoken words. "I can't remember what it feels like to have the respect of a parent."
My heart hurts for him. I can't imagine a parent who wouldn't be proud of all his talents. The unfairness eats away at me, and I struggle to understand how such a good, kind-hearted person can come from a family of intolerance.
I lower my foot from where it was tucked beneath me and help him push us along.
"Want to talk about it?" I ask him.
"Nope." He gives me a half-smile. "Just want to sit out on this porch swing in my pajamas with my best friend."
I flush with pleasure at the designation. I haven't had a best friend in years, and I tell myself then and there that I'll do anything to protect the title, further burying any pesky, unwanted feelings.
"Wow." I clear my throat and try for levity. "I can't believe I finally got a promotion from best partners."
He chuckles and yawns.
"I think you've proven yourself worthy, Everdeen."
"Speaking of worthy-" I yawn mid-sentence, catching it from Peeta. "Prim got into a fight online today, defending my honor."
Peeta shifts his body on the swing, facing me fully and suddenly appearing wide awake.
"What the hell? Don't tell me it's those Instagram lunatics."
"One and the same. Apparently they're not happy you're spending the holiday with me rather than Finnick."
"These people." He makes a noise that's almost a growl, pulling his hand away and tugging at his hair. "It's supposed to be for fun, but they're just...way too involved." He looks at me with anxious eyes. "You think I should delete my Instagram? Maybe go private?"
"Don't do it on my account. Honestly, it's more annoying than anything. And it’s my own fault for looking. I know I complain to you guys about it, but I don't take what they say to heart." He looks unconvinced, and I continue, "If you don't like how it makes you feel, you know, the lack of privacy and pushiness of strangers...that’s a different thing. But you should think about it since it’s essentially your job right now. I know it’s a big decision."
"It wouldn't just be for you. It’s profitable and all but I don’t know if it’s worth the other stress. So yeah, you’re right. I’ll think about it." He nods and finally relaxes, looking increasingly sleepy. "Thanks, Katniss."
"Don’t mention it." I slap my hands on my knees and stand up. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for bed."
He startles, raising his head from the back of the swing.
"Oh...bed." He smiles at me, slow and sweet and a touch wicked. "With you. Yes."
I roll my eyes and stand. "Let's go, Romeo."
We tiptoe through the house and slide into my childhood bedroom. I shut the door and flip on the light, and Peeta goes to work blowing up the air mattress Haymitch begrudgingly pulled down from the attic. I cover the mattress with a blanket and thick comforter, toss down a couple of pillows, and watch while Peeta noses around my things.
He picks up a picture of Prim and me that's propped up on the ledge of my bookshelf, smiling to himself. Then he runs a finger along the spines of my books, making a face at the dust that flies in the air.
"That's what you get for fondling my things." I sit on the edge of the bed, sliding the tips of my fingers under my thighs. "Haven't you ever heard the saying 'look but don't touch?'
Peeta throws a look at me over his shoulder.
"Now, what's the fun in that?" He picks up a necklace on my jewelry stand and holds it up to the light. "This is nice. Why didn't you take it with you?"
I study it.
"Gale bought that for me in eleventh grade. Valentine's Day."
Peeta carefully puts it back, the delicate movement somehow conveying his distaste. "Burn it," he intones. “Burn it with fire.”
"Oh, whatever." I laugh at him. "We're so far past pretending that we're not all friends."
"Yeah, but the past-Gale who gave you this ugly necklace was a douche who hurt you."
"Ugly? I thought it was nice."
"My mistake." He shrugs and yawns. "Damn, I'm tired." He sits down beside me and nudges my leg with his before gingerly tapping the mattress with his bare toes. "We could just share this bed, you know. Make it easier on my poor back."
"You're gonna be way more comfortable on that air mattress." And I can't handle you that close to me. "The bed's entirely too small for us both."
"La-di-freaking-da. You're so fussy, Katniss Everdeen. I would’ve never suspected it."
"Go to sleep, clown." I push his shoulder lightly until he relocates to the mattress and stand up to flip off the bedroom light. "I expect breakfast in the morning, so don't sleep too late."
"Oh, now I know why I was invited," he says from the floor. "Snacks."
"You got me," I reply. "Night, Peeta."
There's a rustling noise, like he's getting comfortable within the blankets. "Night, Katniss."
I lay awake and listen to him breathing, determined not to fall asleep until he does.
We watch with bated breath when my mother lifts the fork to her lips. She sends me a slightly terrified look. The utensil hovers in the air, and it’s probably scared as well.
"You can do it, Mom," Peeta says. I smile when he calls her that. "I wouldn't steer you wrong."
"For real." Prim watches from a stool by the sink and gives her an encouraging nod. "I didn't believe it either, but a miracle was performed on this day."
Mom takes a tentative bite, her stiff expression quickly melting into one of shock. She swallows the food and turns to Peeta.
"Clever boy. You did it!"
He smiles and crosses his arms, looking away.
"It's just a few spices here and there. More butter. A little cream cheese." His face takes on a haunted look. "No mayonnaise or honey."
We all shiver in unison.
"What's goin' on here?" Haymitch asks, walking into the kitchen with the steaks he'd finished on the grill. None of us love turkey, so we decided years ago to forego that tradition and make our own—with beef. His eyes narrow with suspicion as he takes in our guilty expressions. "Why does this feel like that show Intervention."
"Close. Only instead of heroin, we're telling you to cease and desist with the Hamburger Surprise."
"It's already in the oven-" He stops and peers down at the dish on the stove before glaring at me. He slams the steaks down onto the table and points at the trash can, where the remnants of the original casserole reside. "What'd you do? You tampered with my dish?"
"It was me, Mr. Abernathy," Peeta said, leaning against the cabinets. "I thought since I trounced you in poker, I'd come for your recipe next." He smiles mischievously. "Better watch your wife."
My stepdad stares at him, his face ruddy. I wait for the explosion, thoroughly shocked when it doesn't come.
"Well. Give me a fork, then," he grumbles, pulling out a chair and dropping down into it. “And call me Haymitch, for fuck’s sake.”
I push the utensil toward my stepdad’s hand and watch while he takes his sweet time, sniffing and tasting it as if he's a connoisseur of fine wine rather than the worst casserole mankind has ever seen.
"You're a real smartass, kid. But you can cook," Haymitch finally concedes. Underneath his grumpy expression, I can see begrudging amusement as well. "And since it's Thanksgiving, I won't knock you out for disrespecting my food."
I throw my hands in the air. "Real nice, Haymitch."
"Thanks," Peeta says, sounding touched and a little confused. "I think."
Mom pats my stepdad on his shoulder and starts pulling out the nice china from the cabinet.
After the food is gone and we're all clutching our stomachs, we go outside and play a round of croquet, a game Peeta isn't familiar with. Haymitch’s ears practically perk up and off of his head at this revelation, and he spends the next two hours beating him in round after round of the game. Peeta, easygoing as ever, takes it in stride, and my stepdad wins back a few shreds of his dignity after losing it to a poker game and a bad recipe.
When night falls again and everyone finally goes to bed, Peeta and I decide to Facetime with Finnick, who for the past two days had been texting us funny photos from his hectic Thanksgiving.
"My people!" Finn says, his handsome face appearing on the screen. Despite it being almost midnight, I see three small, dark-haired blurs run behind him, screaming at the top of their lungs. He turns to scold the kids, and the angle of the phone tilts with the motion of his body. He reappears, looking harried. "As you can see, things are completely calm and normal here at the Odair household."
"Oh, please." Peeta scoffs, pulling his leg up on the bed. He's sitting behind me, his chin resting on my shoulder while I aim the phone toward our faces. "You love it."
"I do," his boyfriend admits. Finn's eyes dart back and forth as he takes in our faces, and his lips curve into a slow smile.
I tilt my head. "What's with the Joker grin?"
"Asshole. I miss you guys. I'm just glad to see your hot little faces."
"We miss you, too," Peeta says quietly. "How's my hometown?"
"The same." Finn looks over his shoulder, and I can see a group of middle-aged adults in fancy clothes, laughing between rapid-fire conversations in Italian and drinking wine. He lowers his voice. "Had to go to your parent's bakery today."
Peeta exhales so sharply I can feel the warm breath of air gust over my neck. "Why?"
"They're the only ones that were open this morning. My little cousins smashed our desserts—don't ask," he says, shaking his head. "Just know my parents were desperate. We had to feed fifty people and it was the only place available. Believe me, I wasn't happy about it."
Peeta's quiet for so long that I almost turn my head. Finally, he says, "Did they talk to you? I mean- did they..."
"They were cordial." Finnick shakes his head, his eyes both sad and angry. "Professional. That's it."
I watch as a mixture of emotions cross Finnick's face: frustration, because he can't be here to comfort Peeta, and guilt, mostly likely because he supported the business of Peeta's terrible family. And when he looks at me, I think I see a hint of envy as well—because I can hold Peeta, and he can't.
I lift up a finger to Finnick and then pull away from the boy leaning against back.
"Peeta," I say, handing him the phone. Then I stand up, moving out of the frame. "Tell him about the Hamburger Surprise while I get ready for bed."
He looks at me with a question in his eyes, and I nod at him reassuringly before backing away and out of the door. I head into the hall bathroom and sit on the toilet, studying my hands for at least fifteen minutes. Then I brush my teeth, wash my face and finally go back to my bedroom.
Peeta is already off the phone, laying on the air mattress in the dark. He rolls off of it when I get into bed, and after he walks out of the room, I can hear the flushing of the toilet, and water running in the sink. A few minutes later, my bedroom door opens and closes, and then I feel the heavy weight of the bed dipping beside me.
"Can I lay with you?" he asks, hesitant.
I don't have to think twice about it.
"Get in here." I push myself as far back as I can against the wall, making room for his large body. He complies, twisting around until he finds a comfortable position, lying on his side facing away from me. "Better now?"
"Yes. Much better than that air mattress."
"It's not that bad. I've slept-"
"Katniss," he says. "You didn't have to leave the room when I talked to Finnick."
"I know. But I thought you'd want some time alone together. Maybe...you know, talk about your parents more. I just didn't want to intrude."
"First off, you're never intruding. Second of all, I pretty much never want to talk about my parents."
"Yeah, but you seemed..."
"Seemed what?" His voice is so hard that I almost don't continue.
"Like you were disappointed they didn't ask about you," I say, treading carefully.
"Shhh," I whisper, placing a soothing hand on his back.
He rolls over and faces me, but his eyes aren't angry—they're tired and resigned.
"My parents—they didn't just stop talking to me. They disowned me completely. Even my brothers barely talk to me. They kicked me out of the house after my mom walked in on me getting a blowjob from the first baseman on the Varsity baseball team. I was homeless at seventeen. God only knows what I would have done if Finnick's family hadn't helped me."
"Where was Finnick?"
"His Junior year of college. We still kept in touch after he graduated high school, but we were both so busy it wasn't often at all. But I hoped—well, I knew he’d know what to do. Finnick was always discreet in school, but I knew he'd had a boyfriend before."
"So his family let you live with them?"
Peeta nods, his hand creeping toward mine where it lies between us in the scant few inches of space available. He hooks my pinky with his.
"Yes. They're amazing people. Honestly the best, like your family." He sounds so wistful that I want to hug him. Instead, I scoot closer. "That's how Finnick and I really reconnected. It helped that I was planning on attending the same college, and then we just...happened. Fell into our relationship my first few months here. I lived in a dorm for a while, but I moved into his apartment second semester."
"You two have been through a lot."
"We have." Peeta studies my face. "I'm lucky to have him in my corner." He leans in and kisses my forehead. "And now I have you, too."
My eyes flutter shut, and I feel exhaustion taking over with quiet insistence. "I'm sorry about your family, Peeta."
His voice is faint.
"Don't be. Sometimes we get to choose our family. And I choose you guys."
Peeta and I decide to head out the next morning. With finals looming on the horizon, we both have work to catch up on before classes resume on Monday. Plus, it would be nice to have some down time as well. There's truth to the whole adage about needing a vacation from your vacation.
"That was the fastest shower ever," Peeta remarks, zipping my suitcase closed. I was struggling with it before I hustled for the bathroom, so he kindly offered to take over the task. He, of course, looks picture perfect, his still-damp hair styled to casual perfection. Even his button-up shirt and jeans are somehow unwrinkled despite the fact he never unpacked them. "You sure you're clean?"
"You're the one who said we needed to be out of here by eight o'clock. I rushed for you!"
"It's gonna be hell on wheels during this holiday traffic on the interstate," he says defensively, crossing his arms. "The earlier we get there, the better."
"Mhm." I swing my head around, distracted. "Damn, I packed my brush." I look at the precariously-zipped suitcase doubtfully. "I'm gonna have to go sneak into Prim's bathroom."
Peeta walks over to one of his smaller bags and pulls out a brush, waving it at me like a knife. "I've got one."
"Awesome." I make grabby-hands at it, but he pulls it from my reach at the last second.
"Can I do it?" he asks, and damn if he doesn't manage to sound sweetly genuine with the request.
"Um. Okay. You really want to?"
"Definitely." He looks downright eager, the weirdo.
"I was going to put it in a braid, though."
"I've got you covered," he says, pushing up his sleeves. It's then that I notice what's around his wrist—my black hair band that went missing during midterms. I never gathered the courage to ask Peeta about it. I don't know why, but it felt like a deep, perplexing secret waiting in a bucket at the bottom of a well that I haven't been able to drink from yet. "I used to do it for my mom when I was little— well. Enough about her. Suffice it to say I'm an expert."
He pulls out a chair from my battered vanity table and pats it, inviting me to sit down. When I do, he makes quick work of French braiding the dark strands, and the rhythmic pulling and twisting of his deft fingers in my hair is so soothing it almost puts me to sleep. He makes little noises, like he's asking himself for approval before patting my head.
"I need a hair tie," he finally says, looking at me in the vanity mirror. "I know you have one somewhere in this room. You practically hoard these things."
"Why don't you use the one on your wrist?" I blurt out.
He looks at me steadily, his lips turning up at the corners. Then his gaze sweeps down to the top of my cluttered vanity before plucking a blue hair tie lying halfway beneath a program from a long-forgotten high school function.
His eyes meet mine again, and his dimple appears as he answers my question.
"Because," Peeta says simply, securing my braid, "this one is mine."
Chapter 6: Practically Virgins
The explicit warning is about to come into play here...happy reading.
"Um, heck no." I twirl my finger in a 'turn-around' motion. "March your tail back in there and change into what we chose for you."
"Not happening." Finnick lifts his chin, clearly digging in his heels. He crosses his arms and rocks back on his feet, a sneer curling his upper lip. "I'm not wearing that garbage."
Huge, exasperated sigh. "Look at what I'm wearing." I point to myself. "Mine is just as bad."
"Oh, I'm looking. But you have no shame or style, so it's fine for you."
I make an offended noise while Peeta laughs beside me.
"Come on, Finnick. It's one night. You can't show up to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party in red and green designer clothes."
"You're supposed to be on my side," Finnick says, glaring at his boyfriend. When Peeta gives him a bored look in return, he throws his hands up in the air. "Fine, but if someone tags me in any pictures online...there's going to be hell to pay. Y'all are playing games with my clout." He disappears back into the bedroom, pulling his Ralph Lauren sweater up and over his head on the way through the door.
"What a pain in the ass," Peeta says dryly. He gestures to his own apparel, an off-white cable-knit thing with a reindeer pulling a sleigh full of glittering presents. "If we can do it, so can he."
"But I don't have any style or shame, remember?" I ask, cutting my eyes toward him. "So it doesn't count."
"Aw, he didn't mean it, Kat." He scoots closer to me on the couch and runs a hand down my green-clad arm, replete with three elves wearing 3-D pomp-poms for hats. "Your daily jeans and t-shirt combination is so cutting edge and brave.”
"Shut up," I grumble. Our heads turn when Finnick emerges from the bedroom.
We immediately start laughing. His sweater is covered in tinsel and a candy-cane patterned ribbon, but I know what truly kills him is that the base material is red, his least favorite color to wear.
"Happy?" he asks me, walking to the couch and plopping down between us. He immediately turns to me, leaning into my face and stabbing a finger toward his head. "This shit is fucking hideous and you know it. Red looks terrible on me."
Peeta groans, the noise deep and judgmental. "You are the worst, man."
"Poor, poor wittle baby Finnickbear," I say sweetly, thumping him on the ear. Finn bites my neck in retaliation and I yelp, immediately going for his ribs with my fingers.
"Okay, children." Peeta pulls out his phone and stands in front of us. "Let me take a picture of you two in all of your holiday glory."
"I said no pictures," Finnick protests, already sounding defeated. Peeta is a force that cannot be denied.
"Yeah, well, I veto that nonsense. Stop being lame."
"Fine." Finnick throws his arm around my shoulder and pulls me toward him so that I'm practically in his lap. He entwines our hands together and says, "Okay, take it."
Then he tugs me back even further against his chest, and it's only after the flash goes off that I realize what he did.
"You shady bastard," Peeta says in disbelief, laughing despite himself. "Katniss covered up your sweater."
"You used me as your human shield!" I accuse him with mock outrage, looking at him over my shoulder. He smiles at me smugly and wraps his arms around my waist so I can't escape. "I hope we're never in combat together."
"I thank you for your sacrifice," he deadpans, digging his chin into my back until I squirm off his lap. "Now let's go to this party so I can see some people uglier than I am. My pride is taking a hit."
Peeta shakes his head and scoops his keys from the coffee table. "You're so classy."
When we reach the car, Finnick grabs my hand before I jump in the backseat. The car cranks, and I pray Peeta has the heat on blast.
"Hey, about what I said. I was being a contrary dick." Finn squeezes my fingers. "You know I love your style."
"You mean my lack of it?" I ask, and he laughs.
peetamellark : my #1 boy and girl are holly jolly as hell. #finnispissed
view all 398 comments
danlaron: Where can I find Finnick's sweater? I need it for my party!
forher3: god idk how he does it but he looks good even in that shit
karkarington: Peeta, why aren't you in the picture? SHE should have taken it
primster: let it go you asshole S2G I'm gonna haunt your ass in every pic until you go away
tinyteena: DRAG HER PRIM
karkarington: Wow, you're so mature. :)
primster: I'm seventeen I don't have to be :) Bitch
sunriseshelly: Imma crawl into that sweater with him o_O
"Damn." Enobaria lifts her red solo cup to her mouth and stares at the doorway, her plum-stained lips pursed in shock. "Please tell me you're seeing what I'm seeing."
I crane my neck to peer around a group of people blocking my view, and then I gasp.
"Woah," I say. Eno and I look at each other with wide eyes. "Who is that?"
"You've never seen him at your apartment?"
"Not a glimpse."
"Glimmer's been keeping secrets," she says a touch too gleefully. Even though we're all friends, Enobaria and Glimmer have the sort of connection that involves giving each other hell on a constant basis. It’s said that there’s a fine line between love and hate, and they walk it more closely than most. "When she mentioned she was seeing someone new, I wasn’t expecting a young Bill Nye the Science Guy."
I laugh and promptly choke on my cranberry vodka. "Shut up.” I cough wetly. "God, you're mean- oh no, they're coming this way."
"I'm not mean," Eno mutters out of the corner of her mouth. "I'd bang Bill Nye."
Glimmer approaches us hand in hand with a tall, thin guy with wire-rimmed glasses and a kind smile. He actually looks at home in his Christmas sweater, and I get the distinct impression he's wearing it without irony.
"I can't believe this fucking thing," she gripes, tugging at the bottom of her plaid, cableknit nightmare. "Whose idea was it to have this party, again?" She swings her head around and searches for Madge, narrowing her eyes. "I'm gonna get her ass."
"Elizabeth, you look beautiful," not-Bill Nye says. "Your friend was nice enough to invite us to her party. We should go thank her after you introduce me to these ladies."
Eno looks at me and mouths, "Elizabeth."
Glimmer huffs. I wait for her to snap and correct him, but she just nods up at him instead.
"Fine," she says, her expression softening. She turns to us and gestures toward her date. "Katniss, Enobaria—this is Charles Aurelius."
We smile and exchange pleasantries while Glimmer looks on with a proud look on her face, her hand resting possessively on the man's arm. We learn that he's a doctor and they met at the gym after she literally ran into him on the track.
"I'm not the most coordinated of people," he jokes with a self-deprecating smile. "I also have no rhythm and can't dance."
Glimmer gives him a coy look. "You have rhythm wear it counts, Dr. Aurelius."
Eno chokes and Charles turns red.
"We should go speak to the host," he says with difficulty. I almost don't hear him over Bing Crosby's White Christmas. "It was so nice to meet you both."
"Nice to meet you." I shake his hand and Eno does the same. "I'm sure we'll see each other again soon."
When he turns away, Glimmer holds up her hands quite a few inches apart. "His dick is huge," she whispers smugly. Then she threads her arm through his and saunters off into the crowd.
"Who was that?" Peeta asks, appearing at my elbow. He takes a sip of his beer and cocks his head. "Is that her newest man?"
"Hell's bells. That's...surprising."
"Right? At first I thought she was just hard up," Eno says, leaning against the wall. She drains her cup and places it on a nearby side table. "But apparently he's a doctor with a big cock, so I'd say he's a little less of a mysterious choice now."
"Even if he wasn't, I can't hate on her hustle." I down the rest of my vodka cranberry.
I feel a little woozy, and swiftly realize three drinks in a row are a bad idea. But there's something about going to a holiday party without a date that makes me feel extra pathetic. Factoring in that I had tagged along with Peeta and Finnick, always a perpetual third wheel, just makes the reality of my singleness even more stark.
"She gets ten times as much as action as I do,” I say with a bit of a slur. “I'd bang Bill Nye's illegitimate cousin right now."
Peeta gives me a strange look, and I realize he has no idea what I'm talking about since he wasn't here for our prior discussion.
"Because Dr. Aurelius looks like Bill Nye..." I clumsily try to explain, but he interrupts me.
"No, I know, but why are you acting desperate?" His eyebrows furrow together, his expression contemplative and troubled. "You're too good to sleep with an undeserving random."
Eno laughs. "Says the guy who's getting regular, probably hot sex from his boyfriend. You have no idea what a dry spell is, do you?"
Peeta's cheeks glow pink. "We're not talking about me. We're talking about Katniss." The Christmas lights strung around the window behind his head turns his blond hair a multitude of colors, and in my tipsy state I want to reach out and pat it. He turns to me again. "Just how long has it been?"
"Umm." I start to count on my fingers. "More months than I have fingers."
"Damn." Eno whistles under her breath while Peeta just looks at me with so much shock that I feel like a freak of nature.
"Okay, jerks. You can stop looking at me like that." I hug myself and immediately feel sober. Pity tends to do that to a person. "Plenty of people aren't having regular sex. Maybe I'm picky, okay?"
Eno shakes her head. "It doesn't make sense," she says. She tilts her chin at me. "Men give you sex eyes at the Bean King when you’re not looking. Maybe guys are just intimidated by you. You're hot, Kat, but that scowl is deadly."
"I like her scowl," Peeta protests.
"You're also not fucking her."
"Okay," I say hastily, not liking the direction of the conversation. I make eye contact with Finn from across the room, who's engaged in an intense round of beer pong with Gale and some of his Engineer friends. He gives me a thumbs up, and I laugh, feeling myself relax again. "Enough talk about fucking me."
"I'd do you," Eno says speculatively, looking me up and down. "I'd take one for the team just for you."
"Aw. You're sweet, but no thanks." I give her a dry look. "I wouldn't want to burden you."
"You sure?" she teases. Peeta watches our back-and-forth with an unreadable expression. "I haven't had good pussy in forever." Enobaria looks over my shoulder, her eyes widening with recognition. "Hey, that guy I met at open mic night is here. I gotta go see about a boy, friends." She calls over her shoulder, "Let me know if you change your mind, Kat."
And then it's just Peeta and me, leaning shoulder to shoulder against the wall.
"I've never had pussy," he says suddenly, and then finishes his beer with three solid gulps, his Adam's apple moving in his throat with the effort of swallowing. Then he looks at me askance, as if embarrassed.
"Neither have I," I joke, trying to make him feel comfortable. "We're practically virgins."
He smiles, one side of his lips curving upward. It almost looks shy.
"I like being a virgin with you, Katniss."
My heart skips.
I open my mouth, but Madge wanders up to us and immediately enfolds me into a hug. She drags us into a game of beer pong and the rest of the party is a blur of alcohol, laughter and ugly sweaters. But in the back of my mind, the traitorous imagery of Peeta's innocent words lingers on.
Peeta: Where are you?
Katniss: Out with Eno and Glimmer...save me
Peeta : Local’s?
Katniss : No, Greasy Sae’s. Half price holiday ales
Peeta : Oh.
Katniss : Hey, everything ok? You need me?
Katniss : Peeta?
Katniss : ?
I check my phone compulsively every other minute, not liking his sudden radio silence. Eno and Glimmer send me questioning looks, picking up on my change of mood. Thirty minutes pass before they call me on it.
"Let me guess," Glimmer says, her face knowing. She taps her manicured nails on the scarred, wooden table-top with a hard rap. "Peeta or Finnick?"
"Maybe." I frown at her and sip my beer, looking over my shoulder toward two men dressed as Santa Claus singing karaoke. There's nothing like a bar two weeks before Christmas—earlier I loved the cheerful holiday spirit, but now I feel the weight of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. "You don't know me."
Enobaria sighs and flicks a braid away from her face. "I hate to agree with this trick on, well, anything- but c'mon, Katniss. You've definitely got that my-men-need-me face going on."
"Face? I don't have a face. I'm fine."
"Your jittery leg and clear desire to run out the door says otherwise," she says dryly, exchanging glances with Glimmer.
"I'm not running anywhere." Good grief, is this what my friends think of me? Do I really seem that codependent on Finnick and Peeta? I think back to what that girl Johanna said in the studio lab about my obvious attraction to Peeta, and my blood runs cold.
"But I do need to make a quick call," I add, narrowing my eyes at their vindicated expressions. "Don't even look at me like that."
"Why don't we just pack it in?" Eno suggests, digging around her purse for her keys. "I'd love to stay all night, but finals week royally fucked up my circadian rhythm. I've been out of it for over a week. I need sleep, man.”
"Oh, please. You're going home to Richmond in a few days. Your lazy ass will probably do nothing but lay around until New Year’s." Glimmer rolls her eyes but starts to gather her purse as well. "But fine. You girls are lame, anyway."
" Bitch . Did you conveniently forget I'm your designated driver? Because I'll leave your ass-"
"Okay, okay." I struggle not to appear too excited about Enobaria's suggestion to leave. "If you guys are sure..."
"Ah, I don't think you're going anywhere," Glimmer observes, gesturing behind me with a slow smirk. "Your boy is here. One of them, at least."
I twist in my seat, and there he is: Peeta, winding his way through the crowded clumps of tables.
It's obvious he walked to the bar—his cheeks are wind-burned from the cold and his beanie is covered in melting flakes of snow. His apartment is only a few blocks away, but it worries me all the same, wondering why he ventured out into this brutal wintry mix without explanation. Last I heard, he and Finnick were having a quiet night inside with Netflix and wine. They invited me over, but I felt as if they needed a night alone. It's unreal how much time I spend with them, and although they are quick to reassure me, it's hard to believe the guys aren't sick of me yet.
"Hey," he says, looking around the table. He smiles, but I can tell something's off. "Mind if I join you guys?"
Eno stands and claps him on the shoulder. "We were just leaving, actually. But I'm sure Katniss wouldn't mind sticking around."
"Yeah, she was dying to get ahold of you anyway," Glimmer says, peering into a scalloped compact before shutting it with a snap. "We're the second rate friends."
"Come on, dumbass." Eno grabs her by the hand, pulling her out of the chair. "See you at work tomorrow, Kat. One more shift and then we're off for Christmas." She swings her hips rhythmically and pumps her fists in a little victory dance while Glimmer watches with annoyed eyes.
"Christ, you're weird . I swear..."
We watch as they argue all the way out the door before Peeta finally sits down.
"You know," he says, studying a sticky holiday ale menu he pulls from its holder. It’s bothersome that he hasn't made eye contact with me once since he entered the bar. "Sometimes I wonder about those two." He looks up at me quickly, but his eyes pass by my face and land somewhere to the left. "Is Glimmer still with that doctor guy? Because she and Enobaria pretend they hate each other a little too -"
He stops. Sighs. Meets my eyes.
"You know." He gestures around us. "Crashing your girl's night or whatever that was. Not replying to your texts."
"What was that about? The whole cryptic communication thing isn't your style. It scared me," I tell him honestly.
"I had a bad night."
"Did you and Finnick...did you get in a fight?"
"No, nothing like that. I mean, no." He lets the menu drop to the table and rubs his eyes. The whites of them are streaked with red—he must be exhausted. All of us are still recovering from the hectic semester, but I know whatever is on his mind goes beyond school. "I talked to my dad," he confesses.
"Oh." My eyes widen, and the beer in my hand slips down to rest on the table with a heavy thud. "How did the conversation go?"
"Not good." His voice cracks. "I need a drink for this, hold on." Peeta stands and walks to the bar, returning with a highball glass of something dark with minimal ice cubes. "All right. So— Finnick and I were hanging out, and my phone rings. At first I didn't believe what I was seeing. I almost didn't answer. But stupid me…" He laughs bitterly. "I was worried. I was worried that something happened to one of my family members." He takes a deep gulp out of the glass. "But no. It was my dad, asking me to— um, how did he put it? 'Reconsider' my lifestyle choices."
"Oh, Peeta." I reach across the table for his hand.
He clings to my fingers and continues, "Yeah. It was bad. Basically if I renounce Finnick, I can come home for Christmas. I think my grandparents have been giving him and Mom a hard time—they've called me a few times, but there's nothing much they can do. They live in California, across the country. And they're old."
"What did you tell him?"
"I mostly sat there in silence. I was shocked. And, fuck . I think he might have started crying." He drains his glass and scrubs at his face. "He said that if I just changed my mind, he could convince my mom...but otherwise, he was stuck. I hung up on him," he says, subdued. "Was that wrong?"
"No," I say, despising his family with an intensity I didn't know was possible. "Peeta, you have to do what's right for you. And that conversation? It was toxic. Especially at Christmas."
"Thanks, Katniss." He squeezes my fingers, his eyes a little glazed from his quick ingestion of whiskey. "I tried to talk to Finnick about it, but- I dunno. He tries to understand, but it's hard. His family is so accepting. So perfect."
"Does he know you came here?"
"Yeah," he says, pulling his hand away and yanking off his beanie. He runs his fingers through the damp, blonde curls underneath before pulling the wool cap back down over his hair. "Finnick wasn't upset. He knew I had to clear my head. Offered to drive me, too, but I just needed to walk for awhile. I almost didn't even come."
He sighs. "I told you. I didn't want to bother you with my problems."
"I'm going to thump you on the nose," I say so seriously that he bursts into laughter. "Seriously, what the hell? You're my best friend, dummy. It's important that you come to me for these things. Finnick may struggle to empathize, but I know he wants to be there for you, too."
"I know." He wears a remorseful expression, and his lips turn down at the corners. "I just get stuck in my head sometimes. I'm selfish like that."
"You're the least selfish person I know. Look—you know what you need?" I ask.
Peeta raises an eyebrow in response, his hands twisting the empty glass in circles.
An hour later, and we're drunk. The bar is at the last call of the night, and we're waiting outside the curb for Finnick to pick us up. I seriously don't think we could make it a block on foot before passing out.
"Thank God," I groan, waving at the black SUV that pulls up to the curb a few feet from where we're sitting. Peeta stands and holds his hand out, and I almost slip on a patch of icy cement. "The world is spinning."
"C'mon," Peeta slurs, holding my arm and leading me to car. He opens the back passenger door and ushers me forward, patting my ass when I crawl inside. He follows me a moment later, slamming the door behind him.
"Oh, so I'm playing chauffeur?" Finn asks from the driver's seat, his tone mild. He puts the car in drive and starts to carefully pull away from the curb, talking to himself. "Thanks, Finnick. I'm sorry you had to leave your nice, warm apartment and drive in the snow, Finnick."
Peeta slides down in the seat and dramatically covers his eyes as if the world exhausts him. He waves his other hand in an imperious, dismissive gesture.
"Drive on, driver."
"Brat." His voice is too fond to hold any real animosity. He throws a bottle of pain relievers into the back seat over his shoulder. "There's water in the panels on the door. Take two Tylenol while I pretend to be an Uber. Katniss, you're coming home with us, okay?" He leaves no room for argument in the question. "I'll take you to work tomorrow."
" O -kay." I pop two pills in my mouth and dry swallow them before handing the container to Peeta, who looks at me as if I just performed magic. He pulls out a bottle of water and chases his pills down like an amateur. "Sorry you're playing taxi driver. I'll come up there." I lean forward and attempt to climb across the center console to sit up front, but Peeta yanks on the belt loop of my jeans and pulls me back. " Oof ." I land back against the seat with a limp flop and look at him with betrayal.
"Sit your ass down, Kat. That's dangerous," Finnick scolds me, his eyes meeting mine in the rearview mirror. "Peeta, buckle her in."
I slouch down and sigh, allowing Peeta to lean over and begin the difficult process of getting me strapped into the seat-belt. He's so close that his warm, coke-and-whiskey breath skates over my cheek as he grunts with the effort of getting the buckle to click into its receiver.
His normally nimble fingers are clumsy and alcohol-impaired, and when I turn my head to give him advice, our lips brush together in the sweetest suggestion of a kiss.
Our lips. Together. One second. Two seconds...
Peeta blinks lazily, and the buckle clicks, and with that tiny snap comes an explosion of awareness through my tipsy brain.
I pull away and frantically check the rearview mirror, but Finnick is busy mouthing the lyrics to some overplayed alternative rock song. The moment feels too momentous to remain so unobserved, but when I look over at Peeta, he's already back in place on his side of the car, his eyes closed and his fingers tapping the heated seats to the tune of the radio.
He looks so unaffected that I wonder if I completely hallucinated what just happened.
Oh god oh god oh god.
I close my eyes and try to get lost in the music, and we pull into their apartment complex only a few minutes later.
"Do I need to take turns carrying you inside?" Finnick asks. "I'm only half-joking. You guys look so out of it."
"Nah, I got it." I rub my eyes and try to quell my guilt. We didn't do anything wrong. It was a total accident, and it's clear that the only one freaking out about this almost-nonexistent kiss is me. I wish I were a little more sober so I can use better logic to justify what just happened. "Peeta might need your help, though. He's looking like a damsel in distress."
"Screw you," he says, holding up his middle finger without opening his eyes.
Finnick laughs and turns off the engine. We follow him out of the car and walk in a single file line behind him like misbehaving kids before hovering together in a clump at the doorway while he fumbles with the key. We stumble into the deliciously warm apartment to escape the bitter cold and scatter.
I head for the sink and immediately fill a cup with water, knowing I'll need the hydration to avoid a hangover on a workday morning.
"Need. To. Lay. Down." Peeta weaves toward the couch and collapses onto it, and when Finnick sits down beside him a moment later, he scoots further up the cushions and lays his head on Finnick's lap. "Thanks for getting us, Finnick."
"You are such a mess, Peeta Mellark." He strokes his boyfriend's hair, the motion so unbearably tender that I want to look away. He lowers his voice, a bit of anguish creeping into his next words. "How am I going to leave you here during Christmas?"
"I'll stay," I say from the kitchen, sipping from my cup with trembling hands. They both look at me, Finnick with sharp aqua eyes, and Peeta with hazy, surprised ones. "I...I really don't need to go home, you know? Mom and Haymitch are going on a cruise, and Prim and I were going to celebrate with the Hawthornes. She'd be fine without me." I'm babbling now, partially from being drunk but mostly because there's something vulnerable about inserting yourself into someone's holiday plans.
Neither of them reply—they just continue to listen to me with those intense, piercing expressions, so I say, "Never mind, that's-"
"Please," Peeta says, lifting his head from Finnick's lap to stare at me dead-on with those unyielding eyes, the blue of his irises more striking than ever. "I want you to stay."
We look at each other, and Peeta blinks, his eyes dropping to my lips. It's only for a split second, but in that moment I know what happened in the car wasn't a hallucination. And when he smiles at me like that, so sweetly with just a hint of shyness, I know that he'll be too kind to call me on it. I relax and join them in the living room, dropping down into the love-seat across from them.
"I'll stay, too." It's our turn to stare at Finnick in surprise. He shrugs ruefully. "My family got me during Thanksgiving. They're just gonna have to share custody with you guys." He brightens. "Fuck, we're going to make this an amazing Christmas."
Peeta lowers his head back down to Finnick's lap, a look of peace spreading across his handsome face.
"I love you guys," he mumbles, his eyes fluttering shut.
I feel my eyes getting heavy as well, and when Finnick turns on the television a few minutes later, I fall asleep in the middle of his zombie show.
I'm laying on a bed, and he's hovering over me. Large, white bubbles crash over our heads and explode into a thousand splinters of light. Someone else joins us and slides a hand over my arm. Lips trail down my neck, my chest, and a soft voice tells me to hush, to-
"Shh." Rustling, a moan. Slick, familiar noises of- oh my god. Oh my god. "You don't wanna wake her up, do you?" the person murmurs. Finnick. A long, wet suck follows the words. "Dirty, dirty boy."
"Stop talking." Moan. Grunt. "Suck it. Yeah. Fuck, that's good."
I'm frozen on the loveseat, and my eyes want so, so badly to open. One tortuously slow, sliver at a time reveals a mostly dim room, the only light source coming from the hallway. But it's enough.
It. Is. Enough.
Peeta slouches on the couch with his eyes closed and his mouth open, a look of pure ecstasy on his face. His bare feet are flat on the floor and his pants pooled around them on the wooden floor. His muscular thighs are spread, his large hands cradling Finnick's bobbing head between them. It's a visual feast, and if my phone wasn't digging painfully into my side, I'd believe this is a dream.
"Ah, baby..." Peeta's hips start to jerk, and I know he's basically fucking Finnick's mouth with the force of his thrusts. "Yeah, take it." I know I should look away, but I can't, I can't. In fact, I wish to God that I was on the couch, watching it from the side-
Peeta looks up, into the darkness in my direction, and my heart stops beating.
His eyes are half-lidded, the tilt of them both rapturous and speculative. And then he starts talking.
"Lick me," he tells Finnick, but he's looking at me. "Yeah, choke on it," he slows his frantic thrusts to a slow, deliberate bump that Finnick must feel in the back of his throat. My own is jealous and and hollow and needy. "You like that thick cock? Mmm. I know you do."
Finnick moans in reply, his mouth too full of Peeta to do anything more.
"Make me come." His spine arches, liking something Finnick did with his mouth. "Yeah, like that. Make me come before you wake up Katniss."
I inhale, the noise soft and invisible.
His honeycombed voice purring my name is almost enough to send me into my own orgasm. I can't believe this is happening. Maybe- maybe he doesn't really see me. It's so dark, and I'm in the shadows of this love-seat. It's a struggle for even my eyes to take in all of the details of what's happening in front of me.
And oh, I wish I could see it, that slick, wet mouth gliding over a hard dick that sounds so big. My eyes roll to the back of my head, and I fantasize-
"Eyes on me," Peeta demands lowly, his voice a deep growl. My startled gaze snaps to his even though I know his command is for Finnick, the boyfriend he has on his knees. "That's right. Uh huh, uh huh. You want it? You gonna swallow my load?"
His grip on Finnick's hair turns brutal as he guides his mouth down along his cock, and when he comes in Finnick's mouth with a rough series of grunts a moment later, I shut my eyes and bury my face into the pillow, pretending to be asleep until they move into their bedroom.
I'm so affected by what I just witnessed that I'm shaking, a combination of adrenaline, alcohol and nerves sending me into something like shock . I want to slide my hand into my jeans and take the edge off of this hellish tension so much that I'm in actual pain. I'm too scared to move, and my fear pays off, because not one minute later the bedroom door creaks back open.
Soft footsteps pad my way. A blanket is tucked around my shoulders, and a soft kiss is pressed to my hair.
"Good night," Peeta whispers.
I don't reply.
I wake up before both of the boys and go through my morning ritual on autopilot. Though it's not ideal, I opt to wear yesterday's shirt and jeans. I've learned to keep a spare set here, but the trick of it is that the clothes are in their closet. I can't make myself approach their room, or even send them a text to see if they're awake. My hands shake at just the thought of seeing them.
Is our friendship ruined?
What will I say to Peeta?
Will he tell Finnick I'm a creep?
I've ruined our friendship by being a creep.
I should have just closed my damn eyes.
I shower and brush my teeth in the guest bathroom and try to make up for my day-old clothes with nice hair and a fresh face. I'm thankful I don't have a hangover to add insult to injury until I remember it's due to Finnick and the way he took care of us. Then, a whole new wave of guilt crashes over me and the cycle of self-loathing starts again.
When I finally leave the bathroom, I've worked myself up to the edge of an anxiety attack when I almost crash into Peeta.
"Were you lurking outside of the door?"
He gazes at me with unrepentant eyes. "Yes."
"Why?" I mumble. I attempt to step around him, but he blocks my way. I move to the right and he follows. "Really?" I try to give him an exasperated look, but this morning he's like the sun, too bright and painful to look at after a dark night.
"Finnick's still sleeping. I'll take you to work." Peeta's warm hands find my shoulders. "Breathe."
"I am." I use the advantage of my small size to duck out of his grasp and head toward the kitchen. He follows closely on my heels, hovering while I pull a bowl from the cabinet and fill it full of Lucky Charms. It's my favorite, and though it physically pains Finnick to buy such an unhealthy, sugary cereal, he keeps their kitchen stocked with it anyway. For me.
I hunch over my cereal at the bar and focus on the marshmallows in the bowl. The colorful charms are my favorite part. And-
"So, are we going to talk about it now or later?" Peeta asks, sitting beside me on a stool. He's so close that our legs are pressed together.
I almost choke on my cereal. "Can we talk about this...never?"
"I can't. Talk about it, I mean."
"Why?" His voice is steady and insistent. "Katniss, it's not a big deal. We're adults. Sex happens."
I drop my spoon into the bowl and stare at him. "How can you say that? It's...God, it was creepy."
Peeta looks taken aback. "Creepy? " His lips flatten and his posture drops. "That's...not flattering."
"Wait—no, not you. Me."
Something like relief flashes across his face, and he looks around the room before sighing. "No, you're not. It would be weird if you hadn't been curious. Also? You're acting as if you're the only person who was there." Peeta studies my face intently. "I saw you. I could have stopped Finnick, but I didn't."
I stand and pour a glass of orange juice, if only to have something to do with my hands. "You're acting like this is a normal thing for friends to do. To...watch."
"It's not," he says, matter-of-fact. "But we're not normal. We're better than normal. I don't mind what you saw because I have no shame, and I...trust you. I trust you with—well. Everything that I am. Basically."
"I do," he insists, standing and taking the orange juice from me. He takes a deep sip and places it on the counter. Then pulls me into his arms, and I follow willingly, because I want nothing more than for everything to be okay between us. We sway back and forth, and he squeezes me tighter.
“I don’t know if you remember this, but our lips...they touched. Last night. It was an accident,” I add hurriedly. “I know it was. I don’t want there to be weirdness between us.”
"Just promise me nothing's going to change," I say, interrupting him. “Please. That’s all I’m worried about.”
Peeta's very quiet before speaking again. "Everything changes, Katniss." He says the words into the top of my head, and I can feel his lips moving against the crown of it. “And sometimes change can be good. Right?”
“Not from my experience. Not at all.”
He sighs. “We’ll work on that.”
"We’re okay, right?" I ask anxiously, looking up at him. “We’re good?”
"Yes," Peeta finally says. "We're perfect."
:) Hope you liked it.
"I'm freezing," I say, hopping from foot to foot.
Peeta rolls his eyes. A snowflake sticks to the end of one of his long eyelashes, and I brush it away. He flinches and tugs my braid in retaliation.
"I gave you my jacket, whiner. Do you want the shirt from my back?" He grabs my hands and blows warm air into them. "Here— take the breath from my lungs, too."
“Whatever. I’m still not used to this upstate weather.” I pretend to kick Peeta in the leg. “Coastal Christmases are my jam, okay?”
“Suck it up, buttercup.” He easily evades my move and catches the back of my knee with his foot instead, and I almost crumple to the ground. He grabs my arms and I give him a dirty look in return, straightening myself with utmost dignity.
"How much longer will it take to tie the tree down?" I ask Finnick, pushing Peeta away even though he gives me his best puppy dog eyes.
Finnick grunts and expertly loops a piece of rope into a knot. "When I'm completely confident this beast isn't gonna fly off the top of my car and kill someone."
He looks at me over his shoulder. "Why don't you guys grab some hot chocolate from that food stand over there? I should only be a few more minutes."
"You sure?" I don't bother to ask if he wants hot chocolate. I know he'll just give me the same look he always does when he's offered sugar—like I've threatened to kill his mother. "Want some coffee?"
"I'm sure. No thanks to the coffee, babe."
My cheeks grow warm from his casual use of the pet name.
Babe . That's a new thing he’s been dropping into conversation the past few days. It probably wouldn’t have fazed me if not for what I had witnessed a few nights ago. Though it hadn’t been spoken of again after my heart to heart with Peeta, the memory still burns on in the back of my mind, and now there’s a niggling sense of sexual awareness of Finn that hadn’t reared its ugly head before. Is he a gorgeous man? No doubt. He’s a perfect specimen. But the admiration I’ve held for his beauty now holds something more...personal.
And that’s the last thing I need to add to the litany of issues I currently have in my life.
Finnick turns his full attention back to making another knot, dismissing us. We turn and make our way to the back of the line, and I pretend to ignore Peeta while he tugs at my sleeve.
"Forgive me for almost knocking you down?" he asks, nudging me with his elbow and playing along with my wounded act.
I tap my chin. "Maybe."
"You did try to kick me first," he points out, stopping when the curly-haired girl next in line turns and looks at us. She does a double take at the sight of Peeta.
"Oh my gosh!" She stares at him in awe and tugs on her scarf with mindless excitement. "I follow you on Instagram. You and your boyfriend are freaking beautiful."
"Thanks," he says, a dull red creeping up his neck.
Peeta looks at me for help, but I just smile, endlessly amused. It's as if his popularity has never truly sunk in. Finnick's definitely the more aware of the two; he soaks up the attention like an adoring sponge. Peeta made his account on a whim and still seems baffled any time he's approached in public.
"Seriously, I love what you two do together." Do together? I cringe at her heavy innuendo. She steps closer and her voice turns sultry. "Hey, can I get a picture with you?"
I decide to save him. "He can't."
The girl acknowledges me for the first time, her eyes narrowing. She looks me up and down. "I recognize you." It's clear she doesn't find that to be a good thing. "But I was talking to Peeta, so…"
"Actually, I'm his agent," I interrupt smoothly. I pull my student ID out of my wallet and flash it at her quickly before jamming it back into its slot. "I'm afraid all photos must be approved by me. He's under contract."
She looks at Peeta. It's clear I'm a huge liar, but he just blinks back at her, his smile too innocent to be anything but genuine.
"It's your turn to order," I tell her nicely. "Have a great day."
She turns back around with great reluctance, and Peeta looks at me with lips pressed together so tightly that I know he's desperately trying not to laugh. It's only after we've ordered and received our hot chocolate that he allows himself to chuckle.
"You're an idiot." He touches the end of my nose and takes a sip from his to-go cup. "But you're good."
"Yes," I say loftily. We wander over to a kiosk full of kitschy, handmade ornaments. "It's why I'm taking five percent of all your future earnings as a shirtless Internet model."
His eyes widen with something like embarrassment, and he looks away and scratches the stubble on his jaw. Finnick dragged us out early this morning, all fired up about getting a Christmas tree. Peeta hadn't had time to shave his face, and my hair went unwashed.
"Shut up," he grumbles, peering down at the display of ornaments. "You're never going to let me live down the whole Internet fame thing down, are you?"
"You're too kind."
"Seriously, though." I pause. "Can I just say something?”
When he nods, I continue, “The whole social media thing? It really just doesn’t seem like you at all." I pick up a carved, wooden deer with little white spots and a tiny, black nose. He takes it from me and turns it around in his hands, looking it over with a highly critical eye before shaking his head and putting it back on its pedestal. "You don't enjoy it like Finnick does. And now that I know you so well, it’s just like...it’s weird to see you like that. It’s like two different people."
Peeta chews on the corner of his lip, his face a mix of hesitance and contemplation.
"At first, it was just sort of fun. A nice ego boost, you know? But then I was working so many odd jobs after my parents cut me off"—he looks away at this—"I could barely keep up with my classes, and I needed to maintain my scholarship. Then our pictures started gaining popularity and opportunities for paid things popped up. We've even posed for some book covers," he confesses. "And a few print ads."
"Peeta!" My eyes probably look like saucers. "How did I not know that?"
"We haven't done any paid gigs in a while. I'm trying to move away from all that," he says with a bashful shrug. "It's nothing you'd really recognize, anyway—it was things like romance novels and obscure catalogs."
"Wow." I make a mental note to dig around online as much as possible. I have to see these book covers. This is what I get for not studying their comments. I'm sure this has come up before. "I had no idea."
"Yeah, it all just snowballed really fast. But it was impossible to say no to that money, as bad as it sounds. But you're right, I don't enjoy the notoriety. I mostly still do the whole social media thing because..." He glances at me out of the corner of his eye. "Well, there's no good way to say it. I thought it would help give my art attention someday." He ducks his head, his eyes trained on a little elf figurine. "I know that seems...calculated. Lame. But the creative market is so insanely tough out there, you know? You need an edge if you want any chance at success."
"I'm sorry I never told you the full story. It was just—I don't know. Embarrassing?" He shakes his head. "I guess I've been working my way up to it. I didn't want you to think less of me for being a sellout."
"Stop right there." I hold up a hand. "I totally get it. Social media is a powerful marketing tool. I would never judge you for that."
His eyes are soft as he looks at me. "Thanks, Katniss." He glances back down at the elf in his hand. "This looks like you."
I laugh. "How so?
"Look." We bend our heads together. "She has a little braid, and a tiny upturned nose. She even has the same shade of skin as you." He looks at me. "I'm gonna buy her.”
"Yep. This is our first real Christmas tree. Finnick always goes home, and I’ve just never bothered with one by myself before. So...we need at least a few special ornaments."
Earlier in the week, we had gone to one of those dollar-only markets for the majority of our decorations. Finnick balked at the cheap quality, but Peeta promised he could pull it all together. I don't know why we ever doubted him; in the past couple days since I've moved into their apartment for the holidays, Peeta has made the place look like a veritable wonderland for 100 dollars or less. He even made an entire army of origami birds and snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.
I carefully study the rest of the elves, excited when I see a variety of little elf boys to choose from.
"Hm," I say, plucking my favorites from their pedestals. "I'm getting these."
Peeta looks them over and gives me a slow smile. "That one’s hair is orange ," he says with a laugh. "Finn’s gonna be so mad."
"Yes, he is." Finnick appears beside us, an expression of disdain on his face. "You're painting that thing when we get home, Peeta. He must look like a tiny, bronze-haired god."
I thump him on the shoulder. "Finn! You're incredibly vain."
"With good reason." He pretends to flex. "The tree's done. Let's pay for these and roll out." He grabs the elves from our hands and walks around the kiosk to find the seller.
"Wait! I can pay for mine," I protest, following him through the snow.
Finnick scoffs and pulls a twenty dollar bill from his wallet. "You're sweet," he says condescendingly, looking at Peeta. "But I'm paying. Our little elf boys need their girlfriend."
The woman selling the ornaments practically has hearts in her eyes when she takes his money. She looks back and forth from him to Peeta, who throws his arm around my shoulder.
"Lucky girl," she says, good-natured envy in her voice.
"I know," I say.
finnickodair : look at our morning wood #happyholidays #realtrees #orgohome
view all 1525 comments
tommy3go: HOT LUMBERJACKS
karkarington: finally!!! They are alone. <3
primster: but who took the pic? :D
tobyjohnsons: I've waited my whole life for this picture.
marlamorgan22: @Peeta pls notice me
ttmcgee: that's a nice christmas tree! take pics of u decorating!
keishancollin: I'm sweating
Though it feels like a betrayal to both Prim and my mom, I can say with confidence that this is the best Christmas I've experienced since the death of my father.
The holidays were once something to be dreaded. Then my stepdad came into the picture and attempted to change things with his surprisingly traditional ways. He always insisted on a Christmas tree—the years prior to his marriage to my mother consisted of hollow stockings, perhaps a present or two of the basic necessities, and holiday specials that could be accessed by our rabbit-eared television.
Finnick and Peeta, however, seem to be imbued with the literal Christmas spirit.
We've done every cliché activity over the past week within human possibility. Peeta baked cookies (with assistance from Finnick and I) from recipes passed down from his grandmother. We've made homemade marshmallows in a variety of flavors, dunking them in cups of hot chocolate which we drink spiked with rum while sitting by the tree, watching Rudolph , The Grinch, and other classics from our childhood. Every night, we play Peeta's favorite game, a Christmas tree edition of 'I-Spy,' but Finnick always tries to cheat by carefully watching our eyes as we choose an ornament for the others to guess.
We've pinned stockings to their faux fireplace and dropped little trinkets into them for each other to enjoy Christmas Eve—so far, I've left the boys flavored coffee straws, quarters, a chocolate truffle I grabbed while waiting in line at the drugstore, gum (sugar free for Finnick) and five dollar gift cards to the Bean King. I'm dying to peek into my own, but they've made me swear upon pain of death not to look.
We've gone to not one, not two, but three separate light displays, one of which we drove over an hour to see because it was, according to an online article Finnick read, a "transcendent" experience. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was lifted above the material universe as we know it, but as I walked through a mile of shimmering lights and glowing pathways with my two favorite men by my side, I felt a quiet sort of joy that I haven't felt in a very long time.
But today, I am partaking in a Christmas ritual that is far less exciting to me: shopping.
"Get a move on it, babe," Finnick says, impatiently jingling his keys in one hand and pointing to his watch with the other. "Peeta's coming back from the gym any second now. I don't know about you, but I don't feel like putting on an award-winning performance to convince him of why he can't come with us."
"Okay, okay." I join him by the door, stretching after a quick nap on their couch. "I can't believe you've waited this long to buy his present." I slip my shoes on, using Finnick's broad shoulder as an anchor so I don't fall over in the process. I grab my jacket from the coat rack, but he brushes my hands away and starts to quickly slide the buttons through their loops while I stand there like an obedient child.
"I had to," Finnick says, ushering me out the door as soon as the last button is affixed. He locks it behind us and we briskly walk to the already-running car. I'm grateful for the immediate warmth of the interior, rubbing my hands together to shake off the winter chill. "They've been out of that orange mixer for weeks. The store finally called and said it's in."
"Why didn't you just order it offline?" I ask, wincing when he quickly pulls out into the busy street full of holiday traffic and then slams on the breaks. He holds his arm over my chest in a protective, unconscious gesture when I jerk forward.
Finnick grunts and starts to give the middle finger to the driver who pulled out in front of us before lowering his hand with a begrudging sigh.
"Didn't want Peeta to be home when it gets delivered." He glares at his hand and then out the window when he passes the shitty driver, choosing to shake his fist instead of flipping the bird.
"Change your mind?" I ask, amused. He has some of the worst road rage I've ever seen in a person, which is saying something compared to my experiences with Haymitch.
"People are insane during the holidays. I don't want them to pull out a gun and shoot you."
"Aw." I clutch my chest. "That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me, Finnick Odair."
Finnick shakes his head. "You're an easy date."
When we reach the shopping center, I'm pleased when Finnick doesn't drag me to multiple stores. Instead, we head straight to a kitchenware shop. A clerk is waiting at the counter with a sherbet-colored mixer boasting a price tag comparable to a car payment. I keep my calm while Finnick hands over his debit card, but inwardly I'm a puddle of low self-esteem over the paltry gifts from me that are wrapped and waiting under the tree.
It's a lowkey but obvious fact that both Finnick and Peeta have more money than I do, but this casually expensive gift just highlights what I already knew. Peeta's been pretty mum about Finnick's gift, not even telling me what it is, but I pray that neither one of them have gotten me anything that's even close to this price.
"Thanks," Finnick says, flashing a smile at the clerk. Purchase in hand, he turns away. "I feel like I'm buying my husband a wedding gift," he jokes to me, hefting the bag in the air. "This mixer is on every registry I've ever seen."
As we walk toward the front of the store, I notice a girl preparing samples of something that looks amazing. I glance over at the display and catch her eye.
"Hi! Try a piece of cheesecake?" she demands more than asks. She thrusts a little cup filled with a bite-sized piece of the dessert toward me. "It's white chocolate cherry with caramel topping."
I smile in appreciation and fish it out with the little toothpick stuck through the top. My eyes instantly close in satisfaction at the taste of cheesecake. I wander a few feet away to the trash can and toss away the cup.
"Wow," I say, returning to Finnick's side. He's turned away from me, facing the sample girl. "I think I might buy some-"
"Seriously— no, but thank you," he's saying to the girl, the smile on his lips so strained that I can tell even from this angle. "I'm really, really not interested." Some sort of alarm goes off in my head at his tone, but before I can act on it, the girl starts talking again.
"But it's delicious," she wheedles, pushing a cup into his hand. "It's almost sinful-"
" Jesus, I said no!" He squeezes the cup in his fist and cheesecake spills onto the floor in a quick spurt.
The sample girl flinches. My jaw drops, because I've never once heard Finnick yell like that, especially in public.
"Um, thanks." I flash the stunned girl a fake smile and grab Finnick's elbow, leading him away quickly before she can do something like call security.
We don't speak as we walk through the parking lot and enter the car, or even when we pull out onto the main highway. I sneak a glance at his face, but the beautiful lines of it are waxen and sharp, drawn into an unnervingly blank mask.
"Fuck!' he says suddenly, swerving off the road and into the parking lot of a strip mall. He cuts the engine, and we stare ahead at the pink, neon lights of Lou's Pretty Nails. "Katniss, I'm so sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you."
I bite the cuticle of my thumb. "What was that about, Finn?" When I look over at him, he's got his head in his hands, and his elbows are resting on the steering wheel. "I know you hate sugar, but that was extreme even for you," I tease him.
Finnick doesn't laugh.
"I snapped," he says, lifting his head and staring at me with desolate eyes. "It's just, this is the hardest time, you know? Christmas."
"I know," I say slowly, even though I don't understand. I thought he loved all of the holidays with equal fervor. From the stories he's told about his family, and the insane level of commitment they seem to have toward decorating and following traditions for even the most arbitrary of holidays, I just never thought he had Christmas jitters.
"You'd think it would be Thanksgiving," he continues, his voice turning dreamy and thoughtful. He stares past my shoulder at something in the distance, and when I turn my head, I see a bakery across the street with a cheerful, inviting display of cakes in the window. "But it's goddamn Christmas, with the never ending desserts, these cookie things that Peeta makes— they're called buckeyes. They're chocolate, filled with peanut butter...they're fucking irresistible, Katniss."
I reach for his hand, because he looks like he needs the comfort. "Okay."
"It takes so much willpower," he says, squeezing my fingers. His eyes slide to mine before moving away again, back toward the bakery. "To look like this. Have you ever been fat, Kat?"
"No." He shakes his head, answering for me. "Your body is that effortless sort of thin. I can tell—I'm an expert in bodies," he explains, something like a glimmer of the old, playful Finnick appearing in the words before it's extinguished again. "I used to be...chubby is the polite word. Pleasingly plump, my family said." My eyes widen and he smiles without humor, focusing on me fully with that sea-blue, listless gaze. "But I was fat . The kids at school made damn sure I knew."
My heart hurts for him. It all makes sense now; his obsession with sugar or the lack-thereof, the constant trips to the gym, his intense vanity and need for reassurance that yes, he's the most beautiful man I've ever seen other than Peeta.
"You know the screwed up part? Even though I was tormented every day—and I do mean every fucking day some asshole would tell me how fat I was…I would still go home and eat my weight in canned raviolis. Oreos.” He starts ticking snacks off on his fingers. “Ice cream. Doritos. Whatever was in the pantry. And I would probably still be fat if it wasn't for the school nurse," he explains. "Miss Trinket. She weighed me in front of all the other kids. Pulled me aside and showed me this chart about the healthy weight for a twelve-year-old. Sat me down, looked me in the eye, and made me explain my eating habits. It was a nightmare."
"Are you kidding me?" My chest is heaving with fury and sympathy pains. "I hope your parents had her ass fired. You were a child ."
"I never told them," he confesses.
" What ?"
Finnick looks away.
"Honestly? I owe her a Christmas card. After that, I stopped eating the horrible foods. Started running with my dad. He was so confused, but genuinely pleased to see me taking an interest in my fitness. My whole family was, once the changes started taking place. That's the part that sort of haunts me the most.”
He’s silent for so long that I squeeze his hand. “What part?” I ask.
“They never once said a word against me. Never made me feel like anything was wrong with me. But once I started dropping the weight? Fuck, they were so happy . And I know it's because I was getting healthy, but to a kid, it was just validation for all the shit the rest of the kids were saying in school. At least they had the guts to tell me." He sighs and rubs his cheek. "It was the best thing, really. I started playing baseball a year later, got involved with school. Made friends." Finnick sees my face and pulls my hand into his lap. "Katniss. Don't look like that. I'm okay now."
"I guess," I say, hesitant. I search his face, which has regained its normal color.
"If it makes you feel better, I fucked over not one, but two of the worst of my childhood bullies," he says, his eyes alight with remembrance. "Literally. There's something poetic about a person who used to torment you actually begging for your dick in their ass or pussy."
Before I can comment, he continues, "Shouldn't have gone off like that back there, though." His expression changes from wicked to chagrined. "I owe that girl an apology. She just struck a nerve that's been growing more sensitive since Thanksgiving. And normally I can avoid all of the foods back home, but Peeta's been so proud of his baking...so happy we're there to enjoy it with him..." He shakes his head. "I've just had to eat a few things, but when I did, it's like all of my old shit came back to the surface, you know? And I feel like Finn the Fatty, ready to stuff my mouth full of cupcakes in the bathroom like a coke addict."
"Peeta will understand," I assure him. "He knows about your...aversion to sugar. And I'm sure you've told him about your past." He nods. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. But Finnick? If you eat a few desserts, it'll be okay. If you want, I'll go running with you right away."
"You?" He looks at me with disbelief, a hint of a smile on his lips. "You hate running."
"But I adore you."
Finnick gives me a full smile then, and his gaze soft and lingering before ducking his head. He finally pulls his hand free from mine and cranks the car.
"You're gonna regret that offer," he warns. He toys with the perfectly coiffed strands of his hair while analyzing his face in the rear-view mirror. "I've got a craving for buckeyes, and I'm thinking that bakery across the street sells them. Prepare to run your naturally cute ass off."
"Great," I groan, throwing my head back against the seat.
I turn my head at his quiet tone. "Yeah?"
finnickodair: dunno why they're called buckeyes but they're magic #yumasfuck #katnisshatesthem
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karkarington: two delicious things in one pic :3
primster: GROSS. ^
triptomascars: Where's that bakery? I'd like to visit.
donovan44: Where's Katniss? kinda like her face...not that I don’t like seeing a hot man eating sweets
peetamellark: You two cheating on my food?? I came home to BETRAYAL.
Peeta finally forgives us when we concede that his buckeyes are better than the bakery we tried yesterday. Then we all go for a run as both a promise fulfillment to Finnick and a punishment from Peeta for "cheating on him." We spend the rest of the day lounging in front of the television, binging on holiday-themed movies and playing rock-paper-scissors to decide whose turn it is to make popcorn and refill drinks.
"Bathroom break," Finnick says, pausing Scrooged . Peeta gives him a dirty look for stopping in the middle of a scene I know he loves best, but Finnick just pats his knee in response.
"Sounds good," I say, standing. "Need to check on my sister. She's been texting me for the past hour."
"You two are weak," Peeta grumbles, stretching his arms. "Ten minutes, max. Then I'm coming for your asses."
"Really?" Finnick's voice trails off as he walks into their bedroom. "You might wanna rethink that, kid. This might be a long visit, if you know what I mean."
I chuckle all the way outside of the apartment and make a phone call to Prim, checking in with her at the Hawthornes.
"We're great," she says. I hear the absolute chaos of the Hawthorne clan in the background. "Hold on— I'm just gonna walk outside…all right, I can hear you better now. So many people in this dang house. It’s like a non-stop Latino festival here." She pauses. "Madge came with Gale. I guess I didn't realize how serious they are."
"What tipped you off?" I wave my hand through the light sprinkle of snowflakes falling from the sky. "The almost four-years-long relationship?"
"Doesn't necessarily mean anything," she says. "Look how long you and Gale..." She stops and sucks in a breath. "I'm sorry, Katniss."
I laugh. "It's fine, Prim. I'm totally over him. You know that."
"True, but still. I don't want to pour salt in the wound. Especially since you're not dating anyone."
"I don't need to date. I have the guys." I'm mostly kidding, but the silence on the other end of the line makes me defensive.
"Katniss." I can hear the hesitant disapproval in her voice. "About that. The guys are awesome , but— don't you want to date? You're so pretty and smart. Independent."
I bristle. "So?"
"So...I think you're sabotaging yourself a little."
"Am I sabotaging myself with Eno and Glimmer?"
She sighs, exasperated. "That's not the same and you know it."
"Because you don't have feelings for Eno and Glimmer."
"Well, I don't have feelings for Peeta and Finnick." I lower my voice, hating the way it shakes. "I don't, okay? They're just my best friends."
"You're saying if you had any sort of chance with one of them, you wouldn't take it?"
"It's a moot point. It's a pointless discussion," I tell her, pacing back and forth in the parking lot. I stop in front of Peeta's car and trace his and Finnick's initials into the frost-and-snow covered window. I add a lopsided heart around them for good measure. "Peeta's never been with a girl. Finnick, well, I don't know. I think it's been years for him but…" I stop.
"He's been with women?" Prim asks, sounding alert. "He told you that?"
"It was an offhand comment. Pretty sure it was years ago. High school. I think it was a revenge thing—don't ask, because I won't tell," I warn when she inhales, clearly on the verge of a question. "But Finn was definitely more experimental than Peeta before they settled down together."
"Are they open, then? Sexually?" she asks.
I slowly make my way back toward the apartment. "I don't know. I don't think so?" I sound as lost as I feel as I stare at the door. "I’m not sure I can trust my judgment," I confess lowly. "I thought...maybe...I considered the possibility Peeta might like me back when we first met. Then I met Finnick and realized I was insane."
"Maybe he did."
"Primrose. Don’t put that in my head."
"What?" she asks. "It's not so unbelievable. Sexuality is fluid, you know? Maybe they’re bisexual. It’s pretty common.You know my friend Rue? She’s bi.”
"It's not like I can ask them."
"Why not?" she asks impatiently. “Good grief.”
"Because then it will seem like...like I'm hinting at something. And what would be the point?" I shake my head, the thought actually painful. "They're together. They're happy. They're practically married. Asking them if they'd ever be interested in a woman is kinda like...like asking them to consider cheating, and I just don't feel comfortable with it, okay?" I blow out a white cloud of breath into the cool air. This is getting my hopes up, which is ridiculous. I've worked so hard to be at this point: comfortable, with only friendly feelings.
"Okay! Geez. See how worked up you're getting? Katniss, you're too involved. You need to date ."
"You're probably right." I know she's right. It's something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. Even Eno and Glimmer have been hinting heavily about a few guys I might like. Not that I necessarily trust Glimmer's judgment, but Dr. Aurelius is okay, if not a little old. "I'll think about it after New Year’s."
The apartment door opens, startling me.
"It's been fifteen minutes," Peeta says, snatching the phone from my hand. "Hello, Primster. Yes, we're taking care of your sister. No, you can't have her back next year." He laughs at something she says. "Bye, Prim. You too."
"Rude," I tell him, walking inside.
"You're rude," he retorts, following me into the living room. "Who makes a phone call in the middle of a movie?"
"Keep in mind he was mad that I was taking a shit," Finnick interjects from the couch. "You're not arguing with a rationale man."
I laugh. "Who did—"
"What the fuck was that?" Peeta asks, his eyebrows slamming together. Finnick jumps to his feet, and we run toward the window facing a side street. Two cars are crumpled on the side of the road, and a police car's sirens are already shrieking in the distance.
My hand flies to my mouth. "Oh, God."
"Looks like a bad accident. Man, and two days before Christmas?"
"Someone almost hit Katniss and me yesterday. That highway is fucking terrible," Finnick says, leaning against Peeta. "Should we call 911?"
"Think they already did." Peeta points at a car full of bystanders pulled over on the curb of the street. "Damn, no one in that black car is moving. I see people in the front seat—Katniss? You okay?"
I've backed away and hadn’t even realized it. "I just can't watch anymore.” I hold my hands up. “It's ghoulish."
"You're right," he says, instantly letting the curtains drop.
Finnick watches me with concern. "Sit down. You look like you're going to be sick."
"I'm fine," I say faintly, dropping back onto the couch. "It's just—my dad died in a car accident."
Realization dawns on their faces.
"Oh no," Peeta says, sitting beside me. Finnick walks toward the kitchen, and I know he's making me a drink. "I never knew how it happened. I'm sorry, Katniss."
"I never told you. It's not something I enjoy talking about, you know?"
Finnick settles beside Peeta and puts my drink on the coffee table, a steaming cup of black coffee. "Totally understandable. It's why we didn't pry," he says, matter-of-fact. "Kinda figured out by now you only talk about stuff when you're ready."
This is why these two are my favorite people on earth. Why it's worth sacrificing a string of meaningless dates for a sexless relationship with two wonderful men. They understand me in a way that I never knew was possible. They don't try to change me, or push me into conversations I'm not ready for. They take me as I am.
"It was a bad one. Like that one out there. We didn't even have a real funeral," I say, pulling a blanket from the floor and wrapping it around me. "There was a fire. There was nothing left of him."
"I'm so sorry," Finnick says, his face mournful.
Peeta nods and reaches under the blanket to touch my ankle, a simple gesture to let me know he's here.
"It was a long time ago." I inhale and smile unevenly. "But hey, let's watch the movie, all right?"
"You sure?" They both give me a doubtful look.
"Yes." I can't help but laugh at their dire expressions. "It was just a weird flashback moment, is all. I just want to go back to doing normal Christmas stuff. We're on the verge of Christmas Eve! We can't get all Debbie-downer now."
"Well," Finnick says, appraising me with sharp eyes. "If you say."
With one last long look at me, Peeta starts the movie again, and we settle back down for the night.
The smell of fire and sulfur and burning rubber is all around me. I run through the plumes of thick, grey smoke. Where is he? Where is my father?
"Dad?" I scream. "Dad?"
He appears through a cloud of fire, his face melting from the bone. "I'm here, baby." He smiles, and the lips disintegrate into a lipless grin. "I'm here ."
I scream, and I scream, and I SCREAM-
"Katniss! Wake up!"
I sit up, my heart beating furiously and a cold sweat running down my face. My throat is burning, and I know I've been screaming in my sleep. My blurry eyes focus on Peeta, who's practically sitting on top of me on the couch. His expression is terrified.
"I'm okay," I rasp, allowing him to pull me into his arms. "It was just a nightmare."
"About your dad?" he asks into my hair. "That was scary as hell. You wouldn't wake up."
"It hasn't happened in a while. The accident must have triggered it," I say, pressing my face into his neck. I shiver and try to soak in his strength, his warmth. I feel as if I'm still half-trapped in the nightmare. My voice cracks. "I'm sorry."
Peeta pulls back and cups my face. "You're breaking my heart, Kat. Don't apologize." He kisses me lightly on my cheeks, then the corner of my lips. Comforting, sweet pecks meant to pull me back into the light. He pauses at my mouth. "Come on," he says.
And then he stands and scoops me into his arms.
"What are you doing?"
"You're not sleeping on this couch one more night," he says, his voice grim. Maybe even a little angry, like it's toward himself.
Finnick raises his head sleepily when we walk into the bedroom. "Everything okay?" he asks, rubbing his eyes.
Peeta lays me down gently on the left side of the bed. His side. I'm too tired to fight it. Why should I? If he wants me in this bed, I'm not gonna leave. Once I'm situated, Peeta crawls in the middle, snuggling between Finnick and me.
"Yep, it's all good now that Katniss is off the couch."
"Amen," Finnick murmurs, sounding half-sleep again. He throws his arm around Peeta's waist. "G’night you guys. Love you."
“You, too," I say quietly, looking at Peeta.
He watches me until I fall asleep.
The next morning, I wake up to the grinning face of Finnick, who's much too perky and perfect-looking as he leans over Peeta to smile down at me. "Morning, sleeping beauty."
"It's too early for this," I groan, hiding my face in the crook of Peeta's arm. He squirms but doesn't wake up. Lucky bastard. "I haven't even brushed my teeth."
"Suck it up! It's Christmas Eve," Finnick says, sing-song. The sadist whips out his cell phone. "And you're finally in our bed," he adds, laying his head on Peeta's pillow and lifting the phone in the air. "Smile."
finnickodair : the devil's threesome #merrychristmaseve
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lolabee: I. Am. JEALOUS
karkarington: no fucking way D: How...this is too much. Why her?? In the BED. Ugh
primster: :) :) :) :) :)
bradtowns: get it gurl!
minorleagues3: I would pay money to be this bitch. FUCK
peetamellark: I can't believe you took this while I was sleep.
katnisseverdeen: Shut up, you look perfect. I'm a mess
lolabee: @katnisseverdeen tell me your secrets pls
I don't want to move. The down comforter and warm arm slung over my waist threatens to drag me back down into a deep sleep. There's a soft, happy jingle in the back of my mind reminding me it's a special day, but the body wrapped around me says beautiful oblivion.
"Wake up," Finnick says, leaning over Peeta for the second morning in a row. I'm on my side facing away from him, and he has to press down into Peeta's shoulder to reach me, who grumbles in his sleep. I shiver when Finnick whispers directly into my upturned ear. "Merry Christmas, Kat. I know you're awake."
"You're relentless." I lift my cheek from the pillow and crane my neck to look at him. His expression is filled with so much anticipation and joy that I can't help but smile back at him. "Merry Christmas, Finnick."
"Now we just need to drag my boyfriend out of bed ." He pokes Peeta in the cheek, who barely flinches. " Then we can eat and open gifts."
I yawn and lower my head back to the pillow. "Sounds good. Just one more minute..." I shift backward against Peeta and then freeze. I'm wide awake now.
"Yeah, I'm hard," Peeta mumbles behind me, his arm tightening around my waist. "Merry Christmas, honey. Don't make a big deal out of it."
Finnick laughs. "Aw, Katniss! You're all up on my present."
"Oh, God ." I shove a pillow into my burning face. "You're idiots. And I need to take a shower." I pull away from Peeta, who releases me and sits up with a languid stretch of his ridiculously nice arms.
"Oh, good," he says lazily. He looks over at Finnick, who can barely keep a smirk off his face as he reclines against the headboard. "We'll join you, and I'll just—ah, take care of this ." He waves his hand above his sheet-covered waist, which doesn't do much to disguise his...situation.
I throw back the covers and climb out of bed. "Ha ha, guys. Very funny."
"I was completely serious," Peeta says, his mischievous smile broken by a violent yawn. "The world is in a drought, you know. Water conservation and all that-"
"Exactly," Finnick teases, pretending like he's going to climb out of bed and follow me. "It's the responsible thing to do-"
"Hush up and make me breakfast," I interrupt them with a roll of my eyes. I pause with one hand on their bathroom door. "And take care of your boy," I tell Finnick boldly, my eyes flying to Peeta's waist. Then I shut the door behind me.
I spend my time in the shower doing something shameful, my imagination running wild, wondering if Finnick followed my command.
"Eno says Merry Christmas," I say over a mouthful of breakfast casserole, checking my texts. I can't shovel this stuff in fast enough. I consult my phone again. "Oh, Madge and Gale, too. Everyone is trickling in this morning."
"Chew," Finnick scolds me. "It's not like you can't have seconds. I’m afraid you’re going to choke, Kat."
"Aw, leave her alone." Peeta sits next to me on a bar stool with a plate of his own. He flicks a strand of my wet hair out of my eyes. "It fills my heart with joy to see someone enjoy my food."
"I enjoy it. Just in moderation." Finnick takes a bite to emphasize his point, grinding it with deliberate slowness before swallowing. He leans over the counter and gives Peeta a kiss. "It's delicious, babe."
"Thanks." They smile at each other, and I watch with a pang of longing and happiness in my heart. I'm in love with their love.
"Hey, when are we opening presents?" Finnick asks after our plates are cleared.
"Um, now?" Peeta looks like an excited little boy. He glances at me for confirmation, and I nod.
We settle down on the living room floor in front of the Christmas tree. I'm tense with nerves. My gifts are meager and not at all a reflection to my feelings for these two men. But I'm a poor college student, not a professional yet, and on my coffee house salary I did the best I can.
Peeta fawns over his mixer, absolutely enthralled.
"The things I'm gonna make with you," he murmurs to the box. He lifts his eyes to his boyfriend. "Thank you, Finnick." He pushes a box across the floor toward him. "Your turn."
Finnick opens it with care, unlike Peeta, who ripped through the wrapping paper like a hurricane. "Woah." He pulls a buttery-soft leather jacket out of a box. "This is so nice." He strokes the sleeve and looks up. "When did you buy this?"
Peeta smiles. "I have my secrets." Then he admits, "Online."
They kiss softly and look at me in anticipation.
"I should have gone first," I say, biting thumbnail. I clutch the two gift bags closer to my lap. "Just keep in mind my limited resources."
"Give it over," Finnick says, holding out his hand.
Peeta pats my ankle and plucks the gift bags from between my criss crossed legs. "Whatever it is, we'll love it. I told you to not even get us anything."
"Like that was gonna happen." I watch while he hands a bag to Finnick. "It's not much. But I thought, you know, it's things you could use..."
"Oh shit," Finnick says, having already dived into his bag. A grin splits his face. He pulls out the item I tucked on top of his main present. "A selfie stick."
"Do you like it?" I worry my bottom lip between my teeth. "I know it's sort of silly...it's not even your real present."
"It's awesome! I kept meaning to get one for myself but it just never happened." Finnick sets it aside. "We're going to use it later." He pulls the second bundle from his gift bag while we watch. I catch Peeta's eye and tilt my head toward his present, but he just shakes his head and smiles toward Finnick, indicating he wants to watch.
Finnick pulls out the next gift, a sweater I found that matched his eyes. At the time, it seemed like a sweet, maybe even whimsical gesture. Now I see it for what it is: cheap, polyester, and not at all the ocean shade of Finnick's irises. "Thank you, Katniss."
Peeta pulls his first gift out of the bag, a set of paints that he's partial to. They're a little pricey, but I got a great deal when I bought a sample of miniatures. He admires them before pulling the tissue paper away from a blue beanie. He grins at me and yanks it over his wayward blonde curls.
"I love my gifts," he tells me, a sincere smile on his face.
Meanwhile, Finn is pulling off his shirt, and my entire body goes warm. It doesn't matter how many times I've seen it—that body stuns me every time. I glance away before I feel too much like a creep, and I meet Peeta's eyes instead, who gives me a knowing smile.
I look back at Finnick and see him pull on my inexpensive sweater.
"Wait," I protest, looking back and forth at them. "You don't have to wear these things. Seriously, I know they're not the kind of brands you normally wear. I won't be offended."
"Shut up," he says. He nods at Peeta, who hands over a rectangular box on the small side. "Now open yours."
I tuck my knees to my chest and do as he asks, slowly peeling away the wrapping paper. When I reach the black jewelry case inside, I unsnap the lid and gasp.
"It's a charm bracelet," Peeta says helpfully.
And what a beautiful one it is. The woven gold of the band gleams under the Christmas tree lights. When I gingerly hold it in the air, I can easily see a few charms hanging from it; a little cupcake with sparkling gems as sprinkles, a tiny bowling pin, and a miniature skeleton key.
"This is too much." I can tell that it's real gold—the band and the charms. I don't know about the stones in the cupcake, but I have my suspicions. "It's so beautiful."
"So are you," Finnick says. He grabs my hand and straightens my arm while Peeta gently pries the bracelet out of my fingers. I watch as he fastens it around my wrist. "See? Perfect fit."
I clear my throat, a suspicious dryness there that is in direct contrast with the wetness in my eyes.
"Thank you." I pull my hand away from Finnick's and peer at the key. "I understand the cupcake and bowling pin. Not the key," I confess, feeling badly that I might be overlooking an important, symbolic gesture from our friendship. "It's really pretty, though."
"Ah." Peeta exchanges a glance with his boyfriend. He pulls something out of his pocket and pushes it into my hand.
It's a key. A real one, tied with a curling, green ribbon.
"It's to the apartment," Finnick says, smiling. "We want you to come and go as you please."
Peeta scoots closer to me, his leg pressing into mine. "Believe me, it's more like a gift to us." He nudges me with his elbow. "I'm tired of waking up from a perfectly good nap just to answer the door for you."
"You guys." I close my fist around the key. "I don't know what to say."
"Say you love us," Peeta says simply, kissing my cheek.
Easy. "I love you."
Finnick grabs his phone from the floor and attaches the selfie stick like a seasoned pro. "Now, smile for our fans.”
finnickodair : we're wearing our new presents #merrychristmas #selfiestickvirgin
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primster: omg this is sooo cute! I helped picked out the sweater :)
finnickfansbrazilia: <3 <3 <3
karkarington: Merry Christmas Finnick and Peeta
marymonopoloy : Fuck me fuck me fuck me
lolabee: Katniss, I ship yall :D
karkarington: ^^ you're such an asskisser
Thanks for sticking with me despite some of your frustrations!
"This guy must make bank," Peeta says, peering at the houses as we slowly creep through the neighborhood of the massive brick homes.
I check my phone for the address Glimmer texted me. "He's a doctor—hey, it's this one, slow down." I tap Finnick on the shoulder and he obliges, making a confused face in the rearview mirror.
"Yeah, but what kind? Medical? Psychological?"
"I think he's a surgeon," I say.
"There aren't many cars here, considering this is a New Year’s party." Finn parks the car along the curb. "Sure this is the right place?"
We exit the car and trek across the snow-covered yard. The house and its lawn resemble something inside of a snow globe, and I feel like an impostor as we approach the imposing door.
Finnick and Peeta, however, look at home. They both grew up much more comfortably than I did, and I’m sure they’re not agonizing over fitting in with this swanky place.
The door flies open and the instant relief I feel at the sight of the familiar face quickly turns to suspicion when I take in Glimmer’s understated makeup. The neutral colors are elegant and natural, and she’s wearing a dress that looks more suited for a charity event than a New Year’s party.
“Already answering the door?” Finnick asks with a teasing smirk. “You must be trying to put a ring on it, Glimmer.”
She shrugs and doesn’t deny it. “I could do worse than a doctor.”
I hop from one foot to the other, chilly. “You gonna let us in?” I ask. Peeta runs his hands down my arms from behind me. “I’m freezing my ass off.”
Her eyes narrow and then rake over me. “I thought I told you to dress up. I’m tempted to turn you right back around.”
“I did!” I glare back at her and turn to Finnick and Peeta, smoothing down my skirt. “I look okay, right?”
“You look great,” Peeta says, frowning at Glimmer. “Very festive.”
“Cute as always,” Finnick reassures me.
I wrinkle my nose. Cute .
Glimmer rolls her eyes. “Well, I won’t lie to you.” She steps aside and lets us inside, and I try not to openly marvel at the impressive architecture. The vaulted ceilings, double staircase, and marble everything— this house is intimidating. “You do look cute , but you needed to dress to impress.”
We follow her down a long hallway, and I’m confused. I expected to see groups of people laughing, maybe snacking on some pigs in a blanket. I don’t know where we’re going until we enter a doorway that leads to a large dining room. There’s a long table with over a dozen people already seated, and there are three empty spots.
I turn to Glimmer with furrowed eyebrows.
“What’s this?” I ask under my breath.
“Uncultured swine,” she whispers back. “You’re sitting there.” She points to an empty spot between a sandy-haired man and a woman who is in deep conversation with a couple to her right. “You guys are across the table.”
“A dinner party,” Finn says, surprised. “Haven’t been to one of these in a while.”
Peeta looks at me with mild concern, but follows Finn to their seats.
“Sit,” Glimmer hisses at me, prancing away like a show pony to take her seat beside the host.
“Hello there! So glad you could make it,” Dr. Aurelius greets us from the head of the table once we’re seated. “Please, give the staff your drink requests.”
The staff! What the heck is all this?
A woman in a white jacket discreetly approaches me and I stutter out a request for water, blushing when she quietly points out that there’s already a glass at my place setting.
“Try this wine,” the man to my left says, turning to me with a kind smile. He swirls his glass. “I promise you won’t regret it.”
“All right,” I say, even though I’m not a wine person. “Thank you.” I nod at at the woman, who inclines her head before walking to the other side of the table to take Finn and Peeta's requests.
“So, how do you know Elizabeth?”
“Charles’ girlfriend?” He cocks his head, his face puzzled.
My expression clears. “Oh! Yes- Elizabeth . I’m sorry, we call her something else.”
I’d be calling her a few choice names by the end of the night. I feel blindsided, and I’m wondering why Eno, Gale, and Madge aren’t invited. Why we’re at some ritzy dinner party instead of swilling cheap beer at Local’s, or stringing up lights in the boys’ apartment windows and ringing in the New Year with comfort.
“Of course.” The man looks amused, and I can’t help but notice how attractive he is in a very classic way. His perfectly coiffed hair, tan skin, and straight teeth that speak of years of expensive orthodontia all come together to scream of a higher pedigree, and just looking at him makes me feel like a cheap knock off. “I was worried for a moment.”
“Why?” I take a sip of wine that mysteriously appeared at my elbow, quelling my aggressive tone. “Afraid I’m a psycho party crasher?”
“Something like that,” he says with a laugh. He runs a hand through his hair, revealing an outrageously expensive watch around his wrist. “More like wondering why Elizabeth would try to set me up with a person who doesn’t even know her name.”
I almost choke on my wine. My eyes fly to Peeta and Finnick, who are both staring across the table at me with a strange expression on their faces. I must be making a fool out of myself.
“Excuse me?” I ask, turning back to look at the man.
“Ah,” he says, his voice holding a hint of wryness. “I take it you didn’t know?”
I cringe. “Sir, I don’t even know your name.”
“Sir? Ouch. I’m Simon,” he says, holding out his hand. I hesitate for a moment before taking it. “Simon Gloss.”
“Nice to meet you,” I finally say, knowing I sound a little grudging. “Katniss Everdeen.”
“I know.” His lips turn up in a surprisingly crooked smile, endearing in its imperfection.
I shift in my high-back chair with discomfort. “Um, Simon?” I lower my voice. “I’m not interested in being set up. Or dating at all. And I’m sure now that you’ve seen me, you feel the same. No hard feelings, okay?”
I’m taken aback.
He raises his eyebrows. “Why would I feel differently now that I’ve seen you?”
“Uh.” I look down at my black skirt I got on sale two years ago, and a silver, scooped-neck sweater that was probably the most expensive thing I owned despite being passed down secondhand from my mother’s old things. My eyelashes, coated in drugstore brand mascara, flutter as I contemplate Simon’s question.
“You’re beautiful,” he adds with quiet simplicity, further dumbfounding me. “And quite refreshing.”
I’m saved from a reply when the first course is brought out, a lobster bisque served in a bowl that’s shaped like a clam shell.
“A little gauche,” sniffs the woman to my right. She taps the dish with her fingernail. “But sweet.” She sighs. “It’s New Years, so I suppose one can overlook the obvious choice.”
I turn to Simon with wide eyes, who laughs into his fist, covering it as a cough.
“Where am I?” I mutter, picking up a spoon.
I look across the table, and Peeta taps a different spoon. I quickly drop the one I chose and pick up the correct one. Shit, I didn’t even think about the utensils! This is something people do in movies, not real life.
I dish some of the bisque into my mouth to cover my mortification and then make a face. I gamely try a bite more before carefully setting my spoon to rest across my bowl, where it is promptly whisked away by brisk hands.
I blink, not expecting the quick removal.
“Not to your liking?” Simon asks, taking a sip of wine.
“I don’t love seafood,” I say, ashamed for some reason.
I just want to go home. Everything about this night is making me feel bad about myself. I don’t fit in here. Even Peeta and Finnick seem to be enjoying themselves, chatting with an older couple to their right. They would be able to find friends in any setting. I’m the one who needs my hand held through every event.
“The next course is a salad,” he tells me, his voice discreet. “Then filet mignon with haricots verts and fingerling potatoes.”
“That sounds good,” I say, relieved. “I don’t know what haricots verts are, but I know steak and potatoes.”
“You look like a steak and potatoes kind of girl.” I’m not sure if I should be offended or not, and he must see the conflict on my face. “I meant that in the most admiring of ways,” he says with a smile.
“So what do you do?” I ask when the salad is brought out and I’ve taken a few bites.
“I’m a doctor,” he says after swallowing. There’s a bit of dressing on the corner of his mouth, and I hold back a smile. I’m an asshole for not telling him, but I like how it makes this man look more human. More relatable. “A neurosurgeon. I work with Charlie at All Saint Regional. “
I nod as if it’s an everyday occurrence for me to eat watercress salad with neurosurgeons.
“What about you?”
“I’m a student,” I say. I glance away when I feel eyes on my face and see Peeta, who is frowning my way. I frown back, and he purses his lips before turning to Finnick. I look back at Simon, who is studying me with a thoughtful expression. “I want to work in Urban Forestry.”
“Interesting. I’m afraid I’m not well-versed in this subject.”
“No many people are, honestly. At least from my experience.”
“Tell me more?” he asks with a questioning lilt at the end.
I give him a dubious look. “Really?”
He laughs. “Of course.” He sits back to allow a silent server to take away his salad plate. “I never say anything I don’t mean.”
I’m amazed when he listens to me with a look of genuine interest on his face, and I talk my way through the rest of the salad course and a palette cleanser. When the entree is placed in front of us, I turn to give him an accusing look.
“ Haricots verts ? These are just green beans,” I say, tapping my plate lightly.
He shrugs, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Same thing.”
“I feel like I’ve been sold a lie.” I take a bite and shake my head. Definitely a boring, old green bean. “A lie with a fancy name.”
He spears one with his fork. “You caught me. I’m truly pretentious.”
I can’t help but laugh my way through the main course.
“So,” Peeta says from across the table, startling me. There’s at least three feet separating us, and his voice is loud enough to draw attention our way. He focuses on Simon, a smile that is decidedly unfriendly on his face. “What was your name? I didn’t catch it.”
“Simon,” he says, sounding amused and perfectly at ease. “And you?”
“Peeta. This is my boyfriend, Finnick.”
“Nice to meet you,” Finn says, looking at him and then back at me. “Thanks for entertaining our girl for us. These seating arrangements lack much to be desired.”
“I don’t know about that,” Simon says, looking at me with upturned lips. “I’ve finding them to be quite pleasant.”
Peeta’s nostrils flare, and then Dr. Aurelius is tapping his glass with his fork.
“If we’re all finished with the meal, I thought we’d all take this little gathering to the front of the house. There’s a dessert lounge catered by La Patisserie, and an open bar so that we can ring in the New Year together with a little festive cheer.”
Glimmer beams over at him, and I can’t help but laugh into my hand.
I follow suit when everyone stands, and I wait for Peeta and Finnick to come around the table. I don’t want to mingle without them.
I feel a hand on my arm, and I turn.
I look up and meet Simon’s eyes. He’s so tall that I have to tilt my head back to meet his gaze.
“Join me outside for a bit?”
“Um.” I look over to try and catch my friends’ attention, and I feel a twinge of abandonment when I’m met with the back of their heads as they walk down the hall with Glimmer and Dr. Aurelius. “Sure. I could use some air.”
He plucks our glasses and an almost full bottle of wine from a cart near the door and inclines his head. “Follow me.”
I trail after him as he walks down a hallway that leads to French doors. When he opens them, I’m amazed at the beautiful view of a fairy tale garden that rolls out down a steep hill, separated by a stone terrace with a wrought iron balcony.
I accept a glass of wine that he pours from the open bottle, and when I shoot it down my throat, I realize that I’m actually quite tipsy. I had at least three glasses during the course of dinner, and I’m a lightweight.
We stand in comfortable silence, and I trail a finger through a strip of perfect, powdery snow that lines the balcony.
“You’re an enigma, Katniss Everdeen.”
“I am?” I turn and see that Simon is watching me with interested eyes. “No. I’m just a college girl.”
“I don’t know about that,” he says, his blue eyes thoughtful. “You seem to have those two young men wrapped around your finger.”
“What?” I ask with a laugh, stepping back and stumbling a bit. “They’re my friends. And if you haven’t noticed, quite taken. With each other .”
He leans a hip against the balcony. “You can’t be that naive,” he says, fascinated.
I furrow my eyebrows at him. “That sounds like an insult.”
“It isn’t.” He refills my wine glass. “I think you’re charming.”
I turn away, embarrassed.
“Would you like to go to dinner sometime, Katniss?”
“Me?” I ask dumbly.
“Yes, you. You’re my date, after all. Even if you didn’t know it,” he says, teasing. “I’d like to do it properly. You know, since you know my name now and all.”
I consider it. For a second, I truly do. But I wasn’t lying when I told him that I wasn’t interested in dating. Not just because I was hopelessly wrapped up in two unattainable men, but because there’s still a piece of my heart that I want to shelter from the pain of romance. And something tells me that while Peeta and Finnick are safe crushes with no chance of reciprocation, Simon Gloss could be a real threat if I let him be.
Peeta’s voice cuts through the air, and I turn at his tense tone.
“What are you doing out here?” he asks. Finnick appears behind him, and he stares at Simon with the most threatening look I’ve ever seen on his normally easy-going face. “We were worried about you.”
“I came outside with Simon,” I say with a shrug, draining my wine glass. I’m feeling careless and a little drunk, and for a second I let my spiteful, wistful feelings come to the surface. “ He wanted to hang out with me.”
“ We want to hang out with you,” Peeta says, looking at me as if I’ve lost my mind. “Check your damn phone.”
“I’ll let you talk to your friends,” Simon murmurs, looking back and forth between me and the boys. He’s over a decade older than us, and I can’t help but wonder how immature we must appear to him at the moment. But then he takes my hand and kisses the back of it, like an old-fashioned gentleman caller. “Find me inside?”
I nod, feeling guilty as I watch him disappear through the French doors.
“What the hell was that about?” Finnick asks, picking up the wine bottle and sniffing it. He points the neck of it toward me. “He could have drugged you. You don’t know that guy. Why in the hell would you disappear with him like that?”
“Please,” I scoff, stomping my foot against the stone beneath my low heel. I’m feeling tipsy and contrary. Contripsy. “He’s a doctor .”
“And that makes him exempt from deviant behavior?” Peeta growls, stepping toward me. He tugs on my braid harder than can be considered playful, and I scowl at him in return. “You’re acting crazy.”
I cross my arms. “So it’s crazy to want a little affection and attention?”
Peeta and Finnick exchange looks, their eyes narrowing before turning back toward me.
“And we don’t give you that?” Finn asks, moving behind me and boxing me in between himself and Peeta. He wraps his arms around my waist from behind and lowers his chin to my shoulder. “Have we been neglecting you, Kat?”
I shiver at the low words, cursing myself for reading more into his statement than is there.
“Yes,” I say. It sounds pitiful even to my own ears. Peeta leans toward me and presses his forehead against mine. I deflate. “I’m lame. I’m jealous because you guys were having fun while I was alone with my fake date.”
“I knew it,” Peeta fumes, his head dropping to my other shoulder. I can feel their twin breaths blowing warm gusts of air onto my neck, causing my skin to rise into little goosebumps, the heat a stark contrast to the chilly air. “Glimmer totally set you up. I thought something was up when Gale told me he and Madge weren’t invited.”
“Elizabeth texted the rest of the gang and invited them over,” Finn says. “According to Eno, about fifteen minutes ago.”
“Oh.” I cock my head and feel Peeta’s hair under my cheek. I lean back against the solid weight of Finnick. “They’re coming to the rest of the party, then?”
“Apparently.” Peeta pulls back and checks his phone, and I immediately mourn the loss when Finnick follows a second later. “Oh, wait. Gale and Madge aren’t coming. Neither is Eno. ‘Fuck Glimmer’ is the exact quote.” He laughs. “They just invited us to come to some party at the docks.”
Finnick scrolls through his phone and shows me a video that Enobaria posted of an impressive firework display. “Looks cool, huh?” He knows fireworks are my kryptonite.
“Sounds good,” I agree. “This isn’t my scene.”
“Nah, really?” Peeta says with a sardonic smile, softening the words by kissing my cheek. “Let’s blow with this popsicle stand.”
We sneak around the side of the house and text Glimmer our goodbyes.
Katniss: We’re gonna dip out, ok? Happy New Year, Glim
Glimmer: BITCH. You just gonna pass this hot, rich guy up?
Katniss: He’s not my type. BTW, I’m gonna kill you for setting me up.
Glimmer: W/e. U needed the help… have fun with your BOYFRIENDS
I ignore her last text and shove my phone into my purse, sighing with relief when we enter Finnick’s car, the heated seats a real pleasure.
We arrive at the docks a half hour later. Madge and Enobaria are leaning against a railing overlooking the harbor while Gale buys a beer from a busy vendor.
“Hot dogs!” I say to Peeta, jumping up and down. I point to the stand a little ways down the strip. “Look, they have that relish we like.” It’s like the four course meal I ate an hour ago never happened.
“You’re so easy to please,” Peeta says with a chuckle, in a much better mood now that we’ve left Dr. Aurelius’s house. “I’ll go grab you one.”
Finnick pats my head as we watch Peeta walk away.
“Isn’t this so much better than the other party?”
“It really is,” I agree.
Two hours later, we’re all feeling good. There’s five minutes until midnight and the dawn of a New Year, and as I look around my little circle of friends, I can’t help but think about how lucky I am that these people came into my life. This time last year, I was virtually friendless, my heart closed to new relationships.
“Thank you,” I slur, turning to Peeta while the other are distracting each other with tipsy, excited chatter. He looks down at me with a quizzical smile, his eyes only a little glazed after a handful of beers. “For being my friend. For forcing me to stop being a grumpy, antisocial bitch. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I squeeze his hand and turn to Finn, who had stopped talking to the rest of our friends and was watching me and his boyfriend with intense eyes. “Both of you. I...really love you guys.”
“Ten !” someone shouts in the distance. Fireworks pop and sizzle overheard, the sky sparkling with little colorful diamonds.
“It’s the countdown!” Gale says somewhere in the background, drunk and loud. “The final countdown!” he sings, off-tune. Madge giggles, and Enobaria dances with a girl I’ve never seen before, loud music being pumped through speakers set-up on a distant soundstage.
“I love you, too,” Peeta murmurs. He grabs Finnick’s hand.
“Love you, Katniss,” Finnick says, looking down at me and then back at Peeta.
I might be alone forever. I might not be destined for a great romance, but I have my friends. As I look them and then back at the harbor, I think—I could be content with this feeling for the rest of my life.
“Happy New Year!” Enobaria screams, kissing her mystery girl.
Madge and Gale fall into each other, their bodies melding together into one long shadow. I’m ashamed to say that I spend an extra long moment watching when Peeta and Finnick’s lips connect, their hands sliding up each other’s backs as they ring in the holiday in each other’s arms.
All around me, it seems like people are pairing together, setting the tone for a year of connections, intimacy and relationships. I hug myself and lean against the railing, staring up at the stars.
I jolt when warm hands cup my cheeks and a pair of soft but firm lips land on mine. My eyes meet Peeta’s blue ones, staring at him as he kisses me, our eyelashes so close that they tangle together. Our breath mingles together, and then he slips his tongue between my lips, and teasing the tip of mine briefly before pulling back.
I’ve barely caught my breath before Finnick takes Peeta’s place, his hand cupping the back of my neck and yanking me forward. His kiss is more aggressive, a spice to it that sucks the air from my lungs. There’s no sweet, tentative questing of his tongue—instead, he demands mine, fluttering his tongue into my mouth and making my toes curl.
I pull back and stare at my boys in shock. My fingers fly up to my lips.
“C’mere,” Peeta says, wrapping his arms around me. Finnick joins him.
“What…” I trail off, my face pressed into Peeta’s chest and my hand on Finn's shoulder.
“You needed a New Year's kiss,” Peeta says into the top of my head. “Affection and attention.”
“Happy New Years, Katniss,” they say.
And then we kiss again.
peetamellark: ringing in the new year with my friends
view all 200 comments
primster: happy new year cool kids!! one day i WILL party with u
katnisseverdeen: Please stay a baby, sis.
4peetaandfinnick: SO JEALOUS. wish i could be there with yall
theoneandonlyglimmer: ummm rude to leave me behind >_>
karkarington: good to see you and finnick side by side
“Why are you so jittery?” Eno asks, eyeing me from over a rack of sweaters.
“What?” I finger the material of a light blue pullover and mentally calculate whether or not it’s within my budget.
This has been a tight couple of months. I haven’t been getting as many hours at the Bean King as I would like, and I broke the bank buying the few meager Christmas presents that I could afford for my friends.
Finnick keeps trying to convince me to follow in his footsteps and start working the social media angle. He’s more than willing to teach me the ropes, and the fact of the matter is that I’ve already gained a hefty little following on my neglected accounts strictly due to my association with him and Peeta. According to him, if I just put a little more effort into it, I could have sponsors approaching me. But as tempting as it sounds, particularly whenever I check my bank account, I can't bring myself to pull the trigger on that lifestyle.
“Are you listening to me?” she asks.
I look over at her again, absent minded. “Did you know Finnick gets paid $5000 dollars just to post a photo of himself wearing a sweater?”
Enobaria gives me an exasperated stare.
“No, but I’m not surprised. That boy has a body that won’t quit and a face that could start a war.”
And lips that feel like pillows .
I turn bright red, thinking about the kiss I shared with him this past weekend. Though I’ve always noticed Finnick’s beauty and general appeal, I’m even more hyper attuned to him in a way that I couldn’t previously define. The feelings I already had for Peeta combined with this carnal awareness for Finnick have absolutely destroyed me for the past week.
Those innocent kisses were a gateway straight to sexual frustration, more so than ever before. I crashed with the boys after the party at the docks, and I’d never been closer to getting myself off with them in the bed right beside me. I’m also somewhat certain that they were having sex right next to me at some point in the night. I just remember being somewhere in the deep grip of sleep, and whispered moans and the slight rocking of the bed caressing me while dreaming.
And for all I know, it could have been a dream. They are a starring feature in mine often enough.
“Katniss,” Enobaria says, drawing my attention back to her again. She’s giving me a troubled look, like she can read my mind. Christ, I hope not. It would be just about the worst time in the world for her to develop telepathy. “I want you to go out with a friend of mine.”
I give her a sharp look and pick up the blue pullover. “I’m gonna get this.” I start to walk toward the register at the front of the store.
“Hey.” Eno’s hand lands on my arm with gentle insistence. I stop and sigh, my face turned partially away from her. “I’m not trying to embarrass you, or put you on the spot. I’m not Glimmer.”
I had, of course, told her all about the impromptu set-up Glimmer had put me through, looking for a sympathetic ear. She had been both amused and outraged on my behalf, though not as outraged as I’d have liked. She had more questions about what Simon had looked like than my inner turmoil.
If I’m honest with myself, some of my turmoil comes from not pursuing his request for dinner. I blew off a perfectly attractive man for...what? Two hopeless crushes? What the hell is wrong with me?
I exhale and look up at the ceiling.
“I know that,” I finally say, dropping my chin to look her in the eye. Behind her shoulder, I recognize two girls who frequent the Bean King. They give us quick, curious smiles from a jewelry display. “Let’s check this stuff out. We have spies on our drama.”
“All right…” She looks at me with suspicion, as if I’m trying to trick her. “But we’re not done with this conversation,” Eno warns.
True to her word, she brings up her friend again as soon as the car is cranked.
“So, his name is Darius.” She turns to me and rubs her hands together, both of us grimacing as we wait for her heat to kick in and start defrosting the icy windshield. “He’s a bartender at The District.”
“That club you’re always trying to get me to go to?” I frown and check my phone, smiling a little when I see that Peeta texted me a photo of him and Finnick taking down the Christmas decorations.
Peeta : I told him it was bad luck to leave this shit up after New Years
Peeta : It took him six days
Katniss : Now you’re cursed forever :)
“Yes,” Enobaria is saying, backing out of the parking spot. “He’s a super nice guy. Very cute. Smart, but not intimidating or pretentious .” She gives me a sly look. “Not like your Dr. Gloss.”
“Okay, he’s not my doctor,” I say, flicking my fingers at her. “Secondly, he wasn’t that bad. He was actually...pretty sweet.”
“Then why didn’t you go out with him?” Enobaria asks, exasperated. She flips on her blinker, signaling a left hand turn. “I really don’t understand you.”
“I’m scared, okay?” My head drops back against the passenger seat. “I haven’t dated in so long.”
“Well, yeah, I know about your spell. You told us during that Christmas party...” She trails off. “But surely there have been a few guys that you’ve gotten at least a little serious with?”
“No,” I interrupt, rubbing my face. “I mean, I’ve only hooked up a couple of times in the past few years. Two one night stands.” My face burns. “I haven’t dated since Gale .”
“Oh, Katniss.” Enobaria’s voice is full of sympathy. “And now you’re hung up on Peeta.” She clears her throat, almost apologetically. “And Finnick.”
I don’t even disagree. I can’t deny that I have feelings for both of them now. The friendship that had developed between Finnick and I had once been out of pure necessity—our mutual love for Peeta had turned into a special bond all of our own, and of course my ridiculous , absolutely stupid ass had gone and fallen for him, too.
Truly, I hate myself.
“You’re self-sabotaging,” she says, her eyes briefly cutting from the road to me. “I have to intervene. Consider this the official intervention, Kat.”
“Look. I would have let it go if I hadn’t seen those kisses.”
I swallow. I hadn’t spoken of them out loud, not even to Finnick and Peeta. None of us had mentioned it after the fact—I was too nervous, but I know that the guys probably consider it such a non-event that it hasn’t crossed their minds since.
I, however, have scarcely thought of anything else.
“They didn’t mean anything,” I lie. Not to them . “They just knew I was feeling down and a little left out.”
“So they comforted you with their tongues?” she asks, her voice a shade too even to be called sarcastic. “Katniss, this is...I love Finnick and Peeta. You know I do. And I think they’re such good friends to you. But it’s also unfair, the position you’re in.”
“You’re the one who encouraged me to let Peeta back into my life.”
Enobaria gives me a patient look. “And I don’t regret that. But you need to start getting a life of your own. Outside of them. Girl, you need to date. And you know it.”
“You need to fuck,” she adds, pitiless.
I beat my head against the seat of the car.
“You’re right,” I say, staring out the window. Of course she is. “Set it up.”
I apologize for not responding to all of your reviews last time. Believe me, I appreciated every one of them!
I hope your holiday season is wonderful!
Chapter 9: Buffets and Lattes
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it's been a good one for you all so far.
“You’re what?” Peeta asks, staring at me as I carefully apply a layer of eyeshadow. “Repeat that?”
“I’m going out.” I look at my reflection in the mirror, steadfastly refusing to glance over at my friend.
He showed up at the apartment about fifteen minutes ago, the timing too suspicious to be a coincidence—I’m confident that Glimmer must have told him. She’s the biggest gossip in our group.
“And you’re just now telling me this why?” Peeta sounds so incredulous that I wince, instantly screwing up my already precarious makeup application.
I feel a little guilty that I hadn’t told him and Finnick about my date tonight, but there was something awkward about it, like when you have a job interview lined up but don’t want to tell anyone in case it goes horribly awry. My pride really can’t take any more hits.
“It wasn’t really a big deal.” I snap the lid of Glimmer’s expensive makeup palette and turn to him. “It’s just a very casual meet-up.”
“Oh.” Peeta peers at me with intense blue eyes, his eyebrow rising into a skeptical arch. “Because you look really casual right now.” He drops his stare to take in my black dress, heels and loose hair. “C’mon, Katniss.”
“I just needed to get out, okay?” I brush past him, abandoning the rest of the beauty tools. If Darius judges me on my eyelash length, then he’s not someone I want in my life. Or bed.
“If you needed to get out, you could have come to me and Finnick.” He follows me to my bedroom, leaning against the doorway.
“Peeta, I need sex.” I stop in the middle of the room and turn around, my shoulders stiff with frustration. “I need...release.”
He gives me a look filled with so much shock that I almost laugh. Except, it’s not funny.
“You could come to us for that, too,” he finally says, recovering. He gives me a smile that I’d find charming at literally any other time than now, but I’m feeling so pathetic and lame that it just makes me angry.
“Please stop saying that,” I bite out before I can stop myself. His eyes widen at my angry tone. “This isn’t a joke. It’s my life, and I’m lonely. I need someone.” He opens his mouth again, but I beat him to the punch. I can’t allow him to toy with my emotions again, even if he doesn’t mean to. “A real relationship with a man who can give me what I need.”
He blinks and looks away, schooling his features before facing me again.
“I understand,” he says, his eyes unreadable. He rubs his cheek. “I just...it’s hard.” He shrugs, the gesture helpless. “I’m spoiled, I guess. Don’t like sharing your time with others.” He tries to smile. “Selfish, I know.”
I can’t help it; I bend—just a little, because Eno is in my head, her words ringing in my ears. I have to find a life outside of them. Satisfaction not attached to theirs.
"But you get it," I ask him, stepping toward him. "Right? That it’s not fair to talk me out of it?"
He nods. His eyes search around the room, and it occurs to me that he's never been inside. "I get it."
I study him and chew my lip. There's no reason why I should have to explain my desire for companionship to him, but there's an undeniable part of me that wants to break down and ask for his approval.
"You can come in, you know," I say instead, gesturing around the room. I pick up my charm bracelet from my dresser and attach it to my wrist while Peeta watches. I pause when he visibly tenses. Wearing it on a date does seem wrong, somehow. So I take it off, picking up a pair of earrings instead.
He relaxes into a shrug, lacing his hands in front of him.
"Nah,” he says. “Better not."
I cock my head. "Why not?’
"Finnick would kill me for entering the inner sanctum without him," Peeta says, mockingly solemn.
I laugh and flick a hair tie at him. Peeta catches it in mid-air, chuckling when I make an impressed face.
"Former baseball player, remember?" He shoots the band back my way and it hits me mid-thigh. I let it fall to the floor.
I turn away from him and give myself a once-over in the dresser mirror. "You didn't want to keep that one, too?" I ask, looking at him through the mirror's reflection. My eyes seek out the black hair tie snug around his wrist.
"No," he says, snapping the black band. "This one is special."
"Two can be special." I clear my throat, color creeping into my cheeks. Why did I say that? "Having a spare, you know? In case you lose that one."
His eyes fly to mine.
"I won't lose it," he says slowly, pulling away from the wall and straightening. "But you're right. Two can be good." He rubs his jaw and look at me. "Very good."
My phone buzzes, and I busy myself with reading the incoming text.
"Darius is in the parking lot," I tell him, my voice cracking. I grab my purse from the bed and shrug it on before turning back toward Peeta. "Wish me luck?"
"Depends. Are you trying to get lucky tonight?" He stands in my way when I try to walk past him and into the hall, his arm perched on the wall next to me. "Is that wise on the first date?"
I give him an exasperated look. "You're being ridiculously overprotective right now."
"There's no such thing," he replies loftily, touching one of my loose curls. "I'm just looking out for my girl."
I roll my eyes. "Okay, Dad."
He frowns at me, his blue eyes narrowing with concern. "I'm serious. He could be a creep."
"I guess that's what I'm about to find out, aren't I?" I wedge myself under his arm. "Besides, don't you trust Eno?"
"I love Eno," he says, falling into step beside me. "But did you see that guy she brought to Karaoke Night? I think she picked him up on the side of the interstate."
I laugh as we walk into the kitchen. I pour a glass of water and take a quick sip, my mouth inexplicably dry. I'm developing a case of nerves that didn't exist before Peeta started filling me with doubt.
"He was nice," I argue. "Just because he had an eye patch—"
"Um, Katniss?" Both Peeta and I turn around at the sound of Glimmer's voice.
I look over her shoulder and see Darius standing in the living room. We were so deep in conversation that we didn't even notice them as we walked by. I give Peeta a quick look, holding back a wince. The cretin doesn't even have the decency to look embarrassed.
"Your date is here," Glimmer adds unnecessarily.
I turn to address the person in question, a tall man in his mid twenties with rust-colored hair and a pleasant expression. He's attractive enough without being intimidating, and there's an intelligent light in his eyes that says he'll be a good conversationalist.
"Hi," I say, my voice overly enthusiastic. Both of my friends give me an amused look. "Sorry, I didn't realize Glimmer let you in." He blinks and I correct myself. "Not that it's a bad thing. You're welcome to come inside anytime." I literally bite my tongue. "I'll stop talking."
"Probably a good idea," Glimmer says, shaking her head at me. She mouths Dr. Gloss is cuter and I quickly turn away.
"It's no problem," Darius says, his voice warm. His eyes dip down to where Peeta's hand rests on my arm before rising to meet my own. "You ready?"
"Yep, let me grab my coat."
"Where are you guys going?" Peeta asks, sitting on a stool at the bar-top counter that separates the kitchen from the living room. He gives Darius a grin that can only be described as feral.
"A dinner and a movie," Darius replies gamely, his hands behind his back. I pull on my wool coat and give Peeta a dirty look. "Thought we'd go see the new clown movie that just came out."
Peeta nods, his expression thoughtful.
"Interesting choice." He gives me a deliberate stare, and though I try to be annoyed with him, my heart drops at the idea of seeing a scary movie tonight. I won't sleep for a week. "Don't you think, Kat?"
"Okay," I say loudly, opening the front door. "See you guys later!"
Linking fingers with Darius, I pull him out of the apartment and start walking down the stairs to the parking lot. It’s only when I’m halfway down that I let his hand go, flushing.
“It’s okay,” he says from behind me, his voice teasing as we clear the stairs. “You didn’t have to let go.”
“Sorry if that was weird.” I slow down my stride when I realize I’m out-walking him. There’s an uncomfortable moment where we try to get our walking in sync, but by the time that we do, we’ve reached the car.
“No worries.” Darius smiles and unlocks his door. He doesn’t open mine, which is fine—I am more than capable of opening my own. There is, however, a brief struggle while I attempt to climb into his truck. It’s got a supersized cab, and I’m short. He waits patiently for me to get settled in, and then it happens— an awkward silence filters into the truck.
“So,” he says once we’re on the road. “Your friend didn’t want you to go out with me, huh?”
Oh, wow. I definitely didn’t expect to zoom right into the elephant in the room.
“Peeta’s just protective,” I explain. I run my thumb across the vinyl siding of the car door. “He’s not jealous in a romantic way.”
Darius snorts, the sound decidedly unattractive. It takes me aback.
“I highly doubt it.” He makes a right on a red light and pulls into the parking lot of one of the nicer buffet restaurants in town. I cringe, thinking about sneeze guards and grubby hands of children that contaminate the food. “He looked like he wanted to rip me a new one.”
“Seriously,” he pushes, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. “What’s his deal? Did you guys date before or something? Is there drama I need to worry about?”
“No, it’s not like that.” I struggle to keep the annoyance out of my voice. “He has a boyfriend.”
His expression clears.
“Oh,” he murmurs, putting the car in park. “Okay. That’s cool then, as long as he’s batting for the other team.”
This instantly rubs me the wrong way.
“I’m so glad I have your approval now,” I say, sarcasm slipping out against my will. I open the car door and hop out, stumbling a little during the descent.
I decide then and there that I hate his truck.
Darius follows me into the restaurant in silence, and once we’re seated he makes an effort to catch my eyes.
“Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot.” He takes a breath and plays with a napkin. “I’m Darius Jones. I’m twenty-five. I’m a bartender, but I take welding classes at the tech school downtown. I really hope I didn’t offend you earlier.”
“I get that,” I say. “But Peeta and his boyfriend are my best friends. I spend a lot of time with them. That’s not going to change.”
He holds up his hands. “I understand. I’ll try not to be threatened.”
“Okay,” I say, wary. “Because we just met and it’s a weird way to start.”
“I totally agree,” he says. “How about we get some food and start over completely?”
I nod and follow him to the buffet line, carefully vetting each choice. I pick the items that seem to be the most unpopular, barely touched dishes. I obsess over whether or not some rogue kid has stuck their hands inside of the mashed potatoes, nauseated at the thought. Darius, however, is happily cramming as much meat and casserole onto his plate as possible.
When we sit back down, he digs right in. He chews with his mouth open, and I have to look away because it’s grossing me out so much.
“So,” he says, chewed fried chicken visible in his back molars, “did you really want to see a movie?”
“Um.” I push a piece of sweet potato with my fork, chasing it around the plate with the tines. Upon closer inspection, I realize that the fork has spots on it. Resigned to be hungry, I place the utensil onto my plate. “Not really.”
“I could tell,” he says knowingly. “Why don’t we just go back to my place?”
I narrow my eyes. “To do what?”
Darius smiles. “We can get to know each other better. Talk, you know?” Then he winks.
No way in hell I’m going back to a winking man’s house. I can’t believe how quickly the night deteriorated. He seemed so normal, so promising.
“Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing that movie,” I lie.
His smile fades, and he wipes his mouth with a primness that doesn’t match the gusto with which he ate.
“You sure?” His expression is embarrassingly suggestive.
I’m ready to scream three hours later. The movie was a nightmare. It was a mix of almost every horror movie trope that I hate, from living dolls to evil clowns. I even caught myself grabbing Darius’ arm a few times before hastily pulling away. Once, he tried to hold my hand when we both went in for popcorn, and I jerked away from his buttery grasp so hard that I actually recoiled in the seat. The incredulous look on his face almost made me ashamed.
When the lights finally rise in the darkened theater, I have to hold back applause. I think even Darius is relieved to be on the path of parting ways from me.
“Ready?” he asks, a tight smile on his face.
The drive back to my apartment is quiet. The date was a total failure. I check my phone and see a dozen or so missed texts.
Enobaria: So?? Do you love him?
Finnick: I’m waiting for a review, babe.
Peeta: are you pissing your pants yet?
Peeta: can’t believe you actually went to that movie >_>
Gale: Yo. You went out with Darius jones?
Gale: LOL I can’t see it...let me know how it went
Gale: I bartended with him for a semester. im laughing thinking about you on a date w/him
I make a face, wishing I had talked to Gale first. I discreetly start to write everyone back, but I don’t want to be too rude. I send a group text to Finnick and Peeta instead:
The reply is almost immediate:
Finnick: Come over and let’s do a post mortem.
Peeta: come over
I tap my fingernails on my leg and debate. Then I make a decision, even if it’s a bit of a tacky one.
“Hey,” I say.
Darius glances over at me briefly, his eyebrow raised.
“Can you make a right up here?”
He looks confused. “Sure. Do you need to make a stop?”
“Ah, yeah. Actually, my friends live just around the corner. It’s a closer drive for you. I figured it would be more convenient than taking me back home.”
“Oh.” The world is filled with enough skepticism to fuel a freight train. “Fine.”
“I’m a little creeped out from the movie,” I say, which is the truth. I point at the next turn he should make. “I just want some company for a while.”
“You could come back with me,” Darius tries, and shuts his mouth when I stare at the side of his face. He laughs, the sound brittle. “Yeah, I didn’t think so. What a waste of a Friday night.”
“Such a charmer,” I say, thankful when he pulls into Finnick and Peeta’s apartment complex a moment later. “Well, thanks for a lovely night. Truly memorable.”
“Right,” he says.
I leap out of his truck for the last time and don’t look back, the weight in my heart growing lighter with every step toward the apartment. I’ve almost made it to the door when the light turns on outside their window and the door flies open, revealing Peeta in grey sweatpants and a white tee. He looks twenty times better than Darius did in his khakis and button up. My heart races, the muscle recognizing him and thumping out a traitorous beat.
“I don’t want to say I told you so,” Peeta starts, his eyes softening when he studies my face. He steps aside so I can walk into the hallway. “So I won’t.”
“You’re too kind,” I reply, too tired to give the words a full treatment of sarcasm. He helps me out of my heavy coat and ushers me into the kitchen, where Finnick is waiting with a steaming mug of something that he presses into my cold hands.
I bring it to my lips gratefully, taking a hesitant sip. I’m terrible when it comes to burning my lips and tongue. I’ve never quite mastered the art of drinking coffee, despite being a years-long veteran of the stuff and a barista. Warmth immediately fills my body, the taste of the beverage comforting and strong.
“It’s your favorite brew mixed with Bailey’s,” Finnick says, pulling out a bar stool. I promptly collapse onto it and the boys follow suit onto their own stools. “So.” He gives me an encouraging look, brings his hands together. “Tell all.”
I nod and take a breath before going into detail about my night.
“In conclusion,” I finish, chewing viciously. “It sucked. I can’t believe how stressful the dating game is.”
“I tried to tell you.” Peeta pushes a honeybun across the counter at me, and I dive into it like a woman starved. “But you-”
“Babe,” Finnick says, shaking his head. “Read the room.”
Peeta makes a chastised face. “I’m sorry it went badly, though. Seriously,” he insists. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“You weren’t exactly supportive. But you weren’t wrong,” I admit, holding up my hand when he starts to interrupt. “Maybe I should have listened to you and just stayed home. It’s a jungle out there.”
Finnick glances over at Peeta, and they seem to have a silent, brief conversation before he looks back at me.
“If you want to do this right, why don’t we help you?” Finnick suggests lightly, chewing on the corner of his full lip. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you can be trusted to choose a man, Kat.”
I give him a dirty look. “Rude.”
“I’m just saying, we have experience with this subject.”
“Speak for yourself,” Peeta says, yawning and running a hand through his tousled, blonde curls. It’s late—almost one in the morning, and I feel guilty for keeping them awake to complain about my date. “You’re the only guy I’ve ever dated.”
Finnick smiles and stands, leaning over the counter to peck him on the lips. “And you chose so well.”
I look away, my eyes watering with exhaustion. I’m tired, is all.
“So,” Finnick says, turning back toward me. He regards me with serious ocean eyes. “What do you say? Do you want us to set you up?”
Peeta drums his fingers on the counter top. “Obviously, you can say no.”
“Of course.” Finnick frowns at Peeta, who looks annoyed before glaring down at the counter. “But I want you to be happy, Katniss. We both do. If this is what you want, of course we’ll help.”
I look back and forth between them.
“Yeah,” I say finally. “I trust you.”
Finnick stares at me intensely for a second before nodding briskly. “All right.” He slaps his hands against his thighs. “We’ll get on it.”
There’s a sense of finality to his words that makes them seem heavier than they should be, but it’s too late to analyze it.
I stand and consult my phone. “Damn, I need to call a ride. It’s super late, and I’m not making one of you guys take me home.”
“Aren’t you worried about clowns?” Peeta asks sweetly, hovering over my shoulder.
“Jerk.” I glare up at him. “Why would you say that?”
“Because you were silly enough to watch that movie!” he says with a laugh. Finnick bumps him as he walks toward their room, shaking his head at Peeta’s antics. “You know you’re gonna get home and huddle in your bed, terrified for hours and texting us until you fall asleep. So why don’t you just stay?”
I waver. I started out this day determined to try to separate my life from theirs. Do I really want to end it in their bed?
“Come on, Kat,” Finnick yells from the bedroom. “It’s too late to argue.”
Then Peeta puts the final nail in the coffin.
“I have to get up early and finish a painting.” He gives me puppy-dog eyes. “I’m so tired, Katniss.”
I sigh. “Okay.” Then I take Peeta’s hand and follow them into the bedroom.
katnisseverdeen: see these nails, bitten to the quick? Just say no to scary movies, kids
view all 130 comments
primster: I can’t believe you went to go see that!! who is this imposter in my sister’s body
fpfans433: did you go with peeta and finnick? Love your IG btw!
finnickodair: Aw, my poor baby.
shinynailvitamins: We’d like to talk to you about a collab, Katniss!
enobaria: girl we gotta get your nails did lol
“So let me get this straight,” Gale says, sitting back in his chair. He stopped by the Bean King about an hour ago, but the rush hour had been so busy that I was only able to take my break about five minutes ago. I’m back to regular shifts now that the holidays are over and everyone is back on campus, and it’s been a little brutal. “Finnick and Peeta are setting you up on dates?”
“Yes. That’s the basic gist.”
“What’s that mean?”
He takes a bite from his muffin and looks contemplative. “Just surprises me, is all.”
“Why?” I wave at a girl I recognize from one of my classes.
“They’re pretty jealous of your time,” he says carefully. “And protective. I’m just surprised they’re just shuffling you off on another guy.”
“I’m not being shuffled . I’m a grown woman, Gale.”
“Shit, I know that,” he says with a laugh, holding up his hands. Then he smiles slyly. “I’m the one who made you into one, after all.”
“God.” I give him a disgusted look. “That’s so gross. Don’t remind me.”
“Thanks a lot, you dick.” He can barely talk for laughing. “We were both virgins, okay? You were no better than me.”
I can’t help but chuckle with him. “It’s weird to think about, huh?” I play with the bright pink fringe of my apron. “Us being together. Seems like a lifetime ago.”
“I know,” he agrees, his voice so quiet it’s almost drowned out by the chatter of the coffee shop. “But I did love you, Katniss. I want you to know that. You were my closest friend, and the love I had for you...it wasn’t what I have for Madge, but it was just as strong in its own way.”
“Okay,” I shift, uncomfortable with the sudden turn in conversation. I’ve never been very good with stuff like this.
“I still do. Love you, I mean,” he presses, a hint of red glowing through his dark skin. “I know we’ve talked about it, and I think...well, you’ve forgiven me, haven’t you? I think.”
“I know you’d rather jump off a bridge than talk about feelings, but I care about you so much, Katniss,” he says, holding eye contact. “I will always regret the way I hurt you. And that I took the coward’s way out when I realized that what we had wasn’t a romantic love.”
“I wasn’t much better,” I say, finally admitting to what I’ve known for years. “I was pulling away that last year because I felt the same way you did. I just didn’t want to believe it. We seemed so perfect, you know?”
“We made sense on paper. Similar cultural backgrounds, our families are friends—logically, we were a perfect match,” Gale said. He opens his mouth like he wants to say something. Stops. Then starts again. “But love isn’t logical, Katniss. If it was, the poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks wouldn’t have ended up with a wealthy princess like Madge Undersee.”
“You could have,” I say stubbornly.
He shakes his head. “I’m just saying— sometimes you have to open your heart to other possibilities. Sometimes...it’s right there, under your very nose.”
“Not all of us get that fairy tale ending, Gale.”
He sighs and takes a sip of his coffee, seeming almost disappointed. “You deserve one, though.” He looks at me over the rim of his cup. “So you really want to do this blind dating thing, huh?”
“I want to find someone. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
“Understood,” Gale says. “But just know, if any of them hurts you, I’m gonna kill them.”
I laugh. “Aye, aye, captain.”
“I’m proud of you.” Prim bats her big, blue eyes at me, the video connection on our phones lagging for a moment before the apartment’s lackluster Wi-Fi kicks back in. “You’re really putting yourself out there.”
“I’m already second guessing myself.” I prop my phone against a pillow and back away, showing her my outfit. “Why did I decide to start dating at the tail end of my college experience? I don’t have time for this.”
“Oh, please,” Prim scoffs. “You transferred into Panem your junior year with practically more credits than you needed. You’re on the Dean’s list. You’re fine, Kat. Make a little room for romance, please.”
I wave my hand at her. “ All right . I’m trying, okay?” I gesture down my body. “Do I look okay?”
She gives me a critical eye before her expression clears.
“Yes,” she announces, clapping her small hands. “You look great. You just need something. Jewelry, maybe?” She snaps her fingers. “What about that charm bracelet the guys got you? It’s so pretty in the pictures you sent.”
I look over at the dresser and bite my lip.
“I don’t know. I just think it’s weird to wear on a date.”
Prim narrows her eyes. “Katniss,” she says, crossing her arms.
“Fine,” I relent, disappearing from her view and grabbing the bracelet from its place on my jewelry stand. I hesitate before attaching it and then walk back toward my phone. “Happy now?”
“Only if you are,” she says seriously. “Now go find my future brother-in-law.”
After we disconnect the call, I get a text from David letting me know he arrived and is on his way to the apartment. I shoot a reply back and pray that this date goes better than the last.
This date is courtesy of Peeta. David Marvel is in a few of his studio classes, and Peeta assured me that he’s a normal, single guy.
“He just got out of a relationship a few months ago,” Peeta had said off-handedly, eating a handful of popcorn. “But he’s over her.”
“You’re sure?” I asked.
“Pretty positive.” His reassuring nod had set me at ease, and I never questioned it again.
When I open the apartment door, I’m pleased to see that he’s cute with a friendly, crooked smile and slightly mournful brown eyes. He’s not much taller than me, but he seems to have a nice body under his flannel shirt. There’s a rugged air about him, like a creative lumberjack.
“Katniss?” he asks, pulling a bouquet of flowers from behind his back. He scratches the dark grain of a beard that covers his lower jaw.
“Yes! Wow, thank you,” I say, taking them from his hand. “Let me just put these in water real fast.”
“Sure,” he says, following me inside. I grab a mason jar that Glimmer sometimes uses as a cup and turn it into an impromptu vase. “I hope you like daisies.”
“Sure, they’re beautiful.”
“Yeah?” he brightens. “Good. My ex hated daisies.”
“Oh.” My smile wavers a bit at this. Kind of weird to be bringing up the ex this early on, but I’ll let it go. It was sweet of him to give me flowers at all. It dawns on me that I’ve never received them before. “Well, she didn’t know what she was missing out on.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” David shakes his head, jamming his hands into his pockets. “She never appreciated me, you know. And then she left me for this guy in a band. He plays the harmonica! That’s not even a real instrument.”
“Actually, I think it’s pretty difficult to master.”
He looks crestfallen at this, and I add hastily, “Are you ready to go?”
“Sure,” he says, and I don’t think I’m mistaking the sullen tone in his voice. We walk out the door and I lock it behind me. “The art show starts at eight, but it’s more of a drop-in than a structured event.”
“Oh, okay. Am I dressy enough for an art show?”
“You look great, but don’t worry. There’s not really a dress code. It’s sort of a mixed bag at these things. There’ll be people in t-shirts and someone in a cocktail dress, probably.”
“Good to know. I’ve never been to an art show.”
“Really?” He seems surprised. “Thought you’d have gone to one of Peeta’s by now. You seem so tight with him and Finnick.”
We reach his car, a brand new Tesla. I’m a bit taken aback by such a pricey ride, but then at closer inspection, David’s flannel shirt is carefully designed to look worn, and his jeans are an expensive cut. The scuffed boots he’s wearing are a brand I recognize from Finnick’s closet. This guy is probably less diminutive lumberjack and more hipster trust fund baby. I feel woefully misled.
“We weren’t friends until last year. I’m pretty new to Panem University,” I explain once we’re inside his car. “I haven’t had a chance to go to one yet, but I’m definitely coming to you guys’ Senior Show.”
“Oh,” he says, cocking his head and cranking the ignition. We pull out of the parking lot and head toward downtown Panem. “Well, he had a spotlight show at the end of the semester. You must have been busy.”
I try hard not to appear as shocked as I’m feeling. Peeta had an art show and didn’t tell me? Did Finnick know? I’m torn between feeling bad for not supporting him and mortally offended that I wasn’t invited.
“Yes,” I lie. I’m starting out on such a good foot here. If we do start dating, get married, and have children, I’ll have to tell our grandkids that the first thing I did to their grandpa was lie through my teeth. “I had to work.”
“Too bad.” He gives me a brief, thoughtful look before pulling his gaze back toward the street. “I was sort of surprised I didn’t see you there, honestly.”
“Why?” I ask, baffled by his statement. “You and I didn’t know each other.”
“But I’ve seen you,” David says, giving me an equally confused look. “You inspire good work.” I’m pondering this when he changes the subject, “You work at the Bean King, right?”
“Yep.” I nod and watch as a line of drunken coeds stumble down the sidewalk down a street nicknamed ‘Bar Crawl Alley’. My mind is still on Peeta, wondering why he left me out. “I started last semester.”
“It’s a cool place. I’ve been a few times, but not since my break-up.” His expression darkens. “My ex loved it. Always got a tall iced latte with extra whip and cinnamon dust.”
“Good choice,” I say, completely at a loss.
“I fucking hate lattes,” he says grimly, his hands tightening around the steering wheel.
I have no idea how to respond to this statement, wincing at the barely suppressed rage in the words. A litany of possibilities flash through my mind: Me too. Please don’t kill me. I’ll never make another latte again.
I’m questioning where his ex’s body is buried when we pull up to a small, unassuming building that’s crowded by a row of taller businesses. It has a deceptively scuffed wooden storefront, but the beautiful windows stained with art deco scenes betray what’s really inside.
“I’ll let you out here and then park around the corner,” David offers, calm again.
I quickly agree, climbing out of the Tesla and standing on the curb, watching as the taillights disappear around the corner of the block. I toy with my charm bracelet and idly wish that it had a life alert button as well.
My phone vibrates, and I pull it out of my small purse.
Peeta: how’s it going, tiger?
Katniss: Um. you’re SURE he’s over his girlfriend?
Peeta: they’ve been broken up for long enough
Katniss: Yeah I don’t think he’s gotten the memo. this guy is intense
Peeta: he’s always seemed nice? and oh yeah, he’s rich. And not from IG money
Katniss: Money? C’mon. I don’t care about that.
Peeta: he’s the type who can give you what you need...basic straight guy with a do-gooder car and a hipster beard that will look good on a Christmas card :)
I frown at this and tap out a response.
Katniss: Okkk. So he’s not going to kill me then?
Peeta: Now I’m insulted. He may be intense, but you’re not at risk. I’d never do that to you.
Katniss: Well for OTHER reasons you’re on my shit list
Peeta: haha why?
Katniss: You didn’t tell me you had a show a couple months ago
I look up at the sound of my phone, but it’s not David standing in front of me.
It’s Dr. Simon Gloss.
“Oh. Hey,” I say, my eyes widening in recognition. “Nice to see you.”
He gives a funny little half bow. “Likewise.” His eyes drop down, and I wonder what he’s thinking as he takes in my corduroy skirt and peplum top that came from Target. I find myself cursing David, because either he lied to me about the dress code, or Dr. Gloss is one of the cocktail-variety people. “I never expected to run into you here.”
“Well, it’s not my thing,” I say, “but my date is an artist and he brought me here since I’m a virgin.” His eyes widen and I correct myself. “An art show virgin.”
“Ah,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him truly flustered. I like it. “Where is your date?”
“Parking.” I smile. “Where’s yours?”
Simon startles, as if he forgot. He half-turns, his cuff links sparkling under the lamplight. “Here she comes now.”
I watch as a stunning blonde in a glittering black dress stalks up to him from a town car parallel parked in a prime spot on the curb marked Reserved .
“I’m freezing,” she complains, her voice pitched like a baby-doll. She tosses her long, blonde curls, and they shimmer like a Pantene commercial. “C’mon. I want some pink champagne. You promised me pink champagne.”
Simon gives me a wry look. “I guess we’re going inside.”
I nod, hearing David call my name from behind us.
“Looks like your date is here, as well,” he says lightly, looking behind my shoulder before back at me. His eyes linger on mine a second longer than normal. “We’ll see you in there.”
Simon takes the woman’s arm, and she gives me a suspicious once-over before leaning into him.
“Who’s that girl?” she asks, her voice fading as she walks through the door Simon holds open for her. Her heels clacking against tile is louder than her voice, but I can still hear both filtering through the rapidly closing door. “And why does her date look like a lumberjack…”
“How do you know Dr. Gloss?” David asks, his eyebrows furrowing when he stops beside me.
“How do you?” I return, surprised.
“He works with my dad at the hospital.” Ah. Hence, the Tesla and fancy shoes. “He’s pretty big into this scene, too. I see him at the occasional gallery opening. Dr. Gloss is a real patron of the arts.”
“Interesting,” I say with a murmur. He gives me a strange look, and I realize I haven’t answered his question. “Oh. We met through a mutual friend a few weeks ago.”
“Gotcha.” David holds the door open for me. “After you,” he says with a flourish.
“Peeta would love this,” I say, feeling very adult as we walk inside the building.
I can’t help but be impressed by the soft twinkle lights and long canvases installed on the walls with bold splashes of color—immediate fantasies of Peeta having a show in a place like this one day runs through my mind. I turn my head toward the sounds of classical music and see a live mini-orchestra on a small stage at the back of the room. Waiters zip by with hor d'oeuvres, pleasant expressions with just an undercurrent of harassment underneath the mask. I recognize it well from my days at the Bean King.
And of course, there are clumps of gorgeously dressed people sipping wine and tilting their glamorous heads at artwork. Very few are dressed like us.
I look at them and then back at David with an accusing look.
“Hey,” he says, correctly reading my expression. He points over to a table in the corner. “They’re dressed down.”
“They’re, like, twelve years old,” I say, incredulous. “Someone couldn’t find a babysitter.”
David shrugs. “Well, Annie and I never cared what we wore to these things. It was fun to rebel a little.”
“Annie is your ex?”
“Yeah,” he says, wistful. He accepts a canapé from a waiter and takes a bit, staring off into the distance. Then his gaze grows sharper. “That’s her, standing right over there.”
I turn my head and see a red-headed girl laughing with a tall, dark-haired man that’s about three leagues above David just by sight alone. She’s wearing a slinky green dress—an expensive one. Definitely not casual, like David. Looks like Annie’s leveled up.
“She’s with that douchebag,” he hisses, swallowing. His hands are clenched by his side. “I’m going over there.”
“Wait, what?” I ask, disturbed. I’m more concerned about him causing a scene than him being hung up on his ex-girlfriend. “Is that smart?”
“I’ll be back,” he says absently, walking away from me and toward the red-head, a purpose in his step that I hasn’t been apparent until now. I stare after him, helpless as I witness a train wreck in progress.
“What a soap opera,” a voice murmurs in my ear.
I startle and look up, meeting the eyes of Dr. Gloss. His eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles down at me, and the crisp lines of his tailor suit are more apparent inside the tastefully lighted venue.
He nods toward my date, and we both turn to watch as he approaches the unfortunate Annie. She turns to look at him, and her face falls in a way that would be comical if I didn’t feel so sorry for her.
“I couldn’t help but overhear a bit of that,” he continues, swirling the wine in his glass with a slight twist of his wrist.
“Eavesdropping, you mean?”
“Shamelessly.” He takes a sip of wine and inclines his head. “You deserve better.”
“You think? You don’t even know him,” I say, then cringe when David’s voice rises, clearly audible even over the hum of voices in the gallery. “All right. Fair point.” I sigh and look around the room, a bit regretful that I didn’t get to enjoy the night a little more. I wanted to report more back to Peeta and Finnick. “Well, it was good to see you, Dr. Gloss.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Simon, please. And why are you leaving?”
“Because my date is about to be escorted out of the building?” A man dressed in black, obviously a security team member, approaches David from the left. “Yep, it’s about to happen.”
Simon laughs. “How about if you were my date?”
I narrow my eyes. “You already have a date, smooth talker. Don’t be a weirdo. It’ll ruin my nice opinion of you.”
“Hm. Well, I hate to ruin your nice opinion but…” He lifts a shoulder, the gesture somehow elegant on him. “I hired her.”
“Say what?” My mouth drops. “As in...a prostitute?”
“An escort,” he corrects me, smiling over the rim of his glass. “Shocked?”
“Completely,” I admit, my eyes wide. I look Simon up and down, blatant in my perusal of him. Out of the corner of my eye, I see David and the security officer in what looks like a passionate conversation. “Why would you need to hire an escort?”
“I’m a busy man, and tonight I needed a woman who didn’t expect strings attached.”
“Oh,” I say as if I understand. “Still, I’d think you’d just be able to grab some lady off the street and she’d come running for the night.”
“I’m flattered,” he says, cupping my elbow and expertly leading me away to a corner of the room that houses a series of stone busts that are tall enough to act as a wall of statues. I follow willingly, dazed from his admission. I’ve only ever heard of high priced escorts in movies and books. Now I’ve met one!
He laughs at me, and I realized I’ve spoken the last part of my thoughts out loud.
“You can more than meet her,” he teases, stepping closer. I can smell his expensive aftershave, something that smells like a hint of spicy oranges and crisp, mountain air. “We can go back to my place, and…”
“Oh my god,” I say, laughing despite myself. The lights from above dance in the sandy brown waves of his hair. “I’m like fifteen years younger than you and you’re inviting me into a threesome with you and a prostitute.”
He cocks his head. “Is that a problem?” he asks with genuine curiosity. “My age?”
I get the distinct impression that it would be a complete novelty if it were an issue—money and looks usually trump an age gap for most. While I don’t care about the years between us, the lifestyle is actually problematic for the simple fact that we come from such different worlds, and I can’t imagine how anything might work between us. But he seems surprisingly down to earth, charming, and has a bit of a wicked sense of humor that appeals to me.
And, best and most shocking of all, he seems attracted to me . I’m not just some girl he was stuck with at a dinner party on New Year’s.
“Um.” I think about it for a moment later before coming to a conclusion. “No. I guess not. I’m sort of into you.” I cover my face in my hands and shake my head. “What did you put in my wine?” I say accusingly, peeking through my fingers. I lean back against the wall and cross one leg over the other.
“I don’t need to rely on such crass methods,” he says loftily.
“You did lure me into a dark, secretive corner.”
“Ah, but that was for your benefit.” He continues when I make a confused face. “I believe your date was about to drag you into his conversation. I didn’t want you to leave with him.” He smiles. “ That was for my benefit.”
We make eye contact, and he leans forward. Pauses, to give me time to change my mind or protest. I don’t, despite a million reasons that I should—he’s not my date, he came with an escort, and I’ve known him all of a few hours, combined.
But he kisses me, and I like it.
“Holy shit!” Glimmer hoots, laughing and slapping her hands together. “You dirty little whore, I can’t believe it. Last night was a wild one for you.”
“Glimmer!” Madge says, scolding her. She throws a pillow from the couch and tosses it at the still-chortling blonde. “You’re so rude. She’s not a whore . They only kissed.”
“And even if they had done more than kiss, she wouldn’t be a whore,” Eno says, glaring at them both. “Stop with the slut shaming. We’re progressive feminists in the twenty-first century, dammit.”
“Hey, I’m proud of her,” Glimmer protests, standing and stretching. She kicks off her low-heeled boots and walks toward the kitchenette in Enobaria’s apartment. “I’m gonna get a real drink. This is too juicy not to have a buzz on.”
I roll my eyes. “It’s really not that big of a deal. After we kissed, his date-”
“His escort!” Glimmer calls out helpfully from the kitchen, banging around in the cabinets in search of alcohol.
“Stop rifling around in my shit, woman,” Eno says, rising to her feet. “You’re gonna knock something down.”
“I can’t help it if you’re super unorganized,” Glimmer shoots back. Then they both go quiet.
Madge shakes her head at our friends’ antics and turns back toward me, her eyes kind as she nods at me encouragingly. “Then what happened?”
“Then his escort ,” I turn my head and call out the word over my shoulder, “came and tracked us down. Then I dipped out.”
“Do you think you’ll see him again?”
I shrug. “I don’t have his number or anything. Plus, I told you what he said. He hired someone to be his date because he didn’t want to worry about committing to someone.”
“Yeah, but he asked you to go to dinner,” Glimmer points out, returning from the kitchen. She’s holding two glasses of wine and hands one to me. Eno follows a moment later and offers the same to Madge, her cheeks a darker shade than normal.
I look at Glimmer. “Your lipstick is smeared,” I say sweetly.
She cuts her eyes at me, and Eno stares up at the ceiling. Madge just looks confused.
I don’t press the issue, and instead ask, “How did you know he asked me to dinner?”
“Because he wanted your number,” she says smugly, though her eyes are still projecting murder. She sits on the couch and crosses her legs, angling them toward me. “I wouldn’t give it to him, though.”
“Why not?” Eno asks, collapsing on a chair. “You little cockblocker.”
“Because Katniss didn’t want me to.” Glimmer arches an eyebrow. “Girl code. I’m not gonna sell my bitch out. Even if she’s being a dumbass,” she adds.
I’m oddly touched.
“Thanks, Glim.” I silently promise her with my eyes that I won’t mention her and Eno’s kitchen activities.
She visibly relaxes. “Have you changed your mind?” Glimmer tosses back her glass of wine. “Because I’ll be more than happy to pass it on if you want. I mean, you want to get laid. He obviously wants to do the laying. What’s the problem? It doesn’t have to be some major event. You’re not looking for a husband or whatever.”
“She’s right,” Madge chimes in, surprisingly enough. She’s always been on the more conservative side. “If you go into it with your eyes wide open, you’ll be fine. And who knows? Maybe it’ll turn into something more.”
“You know I’m down with whatever,” Enobaria says when we all look at her for an opinion. She plays with one of the many tiny braids that hang from her otherwise loose curls. “What do your boys think?”
“I haven't really talked to them since last night. And I mean, they’re the ones who set me up with David,” I hedge, pursing my lips. “So I don't think they'll care too much, right?”
Glimmer smirks. “Crafty bastards.”
I furrow my eyebrows at her. “What does that mean?”
“It means they totally set you up to fail,” she says, looking at Enobaria and Madge for back up. They both glance away, guilty expressions on their faces as they study the framed, vintage movie posters on the wall. “Oh, c’mon. You know you agree with me.”
“Et tu, brute?” I deadpan at their loaded silence.
“You have to admit it’s suspicious,” Eno finally says, tapping her pierced lip. “Peeta hooked you up with some guy who is clearly still unstable over his ex-girlfriend. The art department is a pretty small world. Cooped up in studios for hours and all that. I can’t imagine that he didn’t know that already.”
Madge looks at me sympathetically. “Seems about right.”
“But why would they do that?” I ask, growing frustrated.
“Because they’re jealous, idiot.” Glimmer reaches over and thumps me in the temple, her manicured fingernail heavy against my skin. “Stop acting dumb. You know it’s true.”
They all stare at me, waiting for my reply.
“They’ve said as much,” I admit, glaring when they all start to laugh and clap. “It’s just a friend thing! They don’t want to share me. I’m like some loyal pet. They’re dating . They are together . And are you forgetting something?” I frown when they just look at me blankly. “They prefer guys.”
“Oh, at least one of them is into my girls,” Glimmer says bluntly. “I’ve caught Finnick checking out my tits more than once.”
“What?” A hot rush of anger, envy and possessiveness runs up my spine.
“Calm down, crazy.” She waves her hand at me, an amused smile on her lips. “It’s not personal. I have fantastic breasts. Anyone would look.” She cocks her head. “Except Peeta.”
“Yeah,” I say, rubbing my face. This conversation is both exhausting and mortifying. “He’s never been with a girl before. Don’t you think he’d have gotten with one by now if he was so interested? It’s not from lack of opportunities, guys.”
“I think he’d get with you ,” Madge says, shocking us all. “What? We’re all thinking it.”
“He looks at you like...like Gale looks at me sometimes,” she says quietly. “And more than likely it’s something he’d never actually act on. I do believe he loves Finnick, because he looks at him the same way. But he’s definitely into guys and girls, even if it’s just you . Specifically you.”
My pulse starts to pick up at her revelation. Goddamn this hope that blooms in my heart, causing it to flutter in a furious crescendo. I push it back down, because hope? It’s dangerous.
“Take me, for example,” Eno says, cracking her neck. “I like men and women. They’re interchangeable. I see a hot guy I’m into, I fuck him. I see a hot girl-” Her eyes flick to the side, and I can feel Glimmer stiffen beside me. “I fuck her. If she’s into it.” She lifts a shoulder. “Most people don’t fit into one box, Kat. And even though Peeta’s never been with a girl before, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to. Or that he never will.”
“Where is this coming from? I thought you wanted me to move on.”
“What I want is for you to be happy.”
My leg bounces up and down, an anxious reaction to her words. It’s all an echo to what Prim told me all those weeks ago, and I’d be lying if I hadn’t wondered the same thing. But the fact remains that it doesn’t change a thing.
“I would never cheat with Peeta,” I say flatly, hugging myself. “I’d never do that to Finnick. This is...this conversation is ridiculous.”
“Who says you’d have to cheat? I know I told you to start dating, but maybe there’s another option. Maybe you can have your cake and eat it too,” Eno says, leaning forward. “Finnick loves you, too.”
I jolt at the word love .
“He doesn’t love me. Not like that.”
“I think he does. ” Madge chimes in. She gives me an earnest look, her pert little nose wrinkling. “Katniss, you have no idea how it looks to the outside world, do you?”
“Damn bitch, don’t you even read a few of their social media comments?” Glimmer asks impatiently. She pulls out her phone and taps a few times, then reads aloud. “ Fucking hell, I wish I was in a Peeta and Finnick sandwich too.” Her eyes meet mine before she looks back down, laughing. “ I want to rip this girl’s hair out. O-M-G she’s so lucky. They have to be banging. Finnick looks like he wants to lick the soul out of her body .”
“They always want you to be on their team on trivia night,” Madge says tentatively. “And you know how psycho Finnick is about winning, and you’re terrible at random facts.”
“Peeta freaked out when you went on that date with Darius,” Enobaria points out. The traitor, I’m never telling her anything ever again.
Madge bites her glossy lip. “You sleep in their bed.”
“Please stop,” I say through gritted teeth. I place my wine glass onto the coffee table with a harsh clink. “This isn’t helping me, okay? This is—it’s making everything so much fucking worse.”
“Katniss-” Madge starts.
I stand and pace.
“This isn’t a movie, okay? I’m not going to get some happy ending with both of them. The most I can hope for is that they will stay in my lives forever. That we can be best friends, forever. What if I were to hook up with them? And it was just some awkward, one time experience? It could be a novelty for them, something to get out of their system. And I’d be left devastated, okay? Because I love them. I really, really love them, and I’m not doing anything to jeopardize that.”
I breathe heavily after my ridiculous speech and face the window, away from them. The room is silent, and then I feel a hand on my back, patting me with their cautious fingers.
“Okay,” Madge says, her voice gentle and apologetic. I turn to look at her, embarrassed at my outburst. I feel vulnerable, all of my deepest secrets for the past six months coming to the surface. It’s strangely cathartic, too. “I’m sorry for pushing, Katniss. It’s okay.”
Glimmer clears her throat. “Yeah,” she says. “I’m just outside looking in, you know? I don’t know shit.”
Enobaria nods, but doesn’t say anything.
“Do you want me to pass on your number?” Glimmer asks. She holds up her phone like a peace offering. “To Dr. Gloss?”
“Yes,” I say, making a decision. “I do.”
Chapter 10: Lightning and Lightning Bugs
The title (and a line of dialogue in this chapter) is a nod to one of my favorite quotes.
Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I head over to Peeta and Finnick’s place after parting ways with the girls. I haven’t seen them in almost two days, and as insane as it sounds, withdrawal pains are setting in. I notice Peeta’s car is gone and let myself into the apartment. When I peek into their bedroom, Finn is napping, one hand tucked under his chin and a leg halfway off the bed, almost like a little boy.
I kick off my shoes and climb next to him, settling my head on the pillow so I can stare at his face.
“Hey, babe,” Finnick mumbles, throwing an arm around my side and pulling me closer. “Missed you.”
“It’s barely been forty-eight hours.” I laugh, my throat tight for some reason. It’s just so nice not to feel alone in my feelings. To miss and be missed in equal measure.
“Yeah, but you left us behind for your date,” he says without opening his eyes, a teasing pout in his voice. “We had to sit at home while you were having fun, wondering how you were. All we got were a few measly texts and then silence.” He squeezes my side, and I laugh and squirm away from his fingers before flopping over so that we’re spooning instead.
“Want to hear about it?” I ask once he stops tickling me. “A post-mortem?”
“Better wait for our other half. Warning—he’s been grumpy as hell.”
“Where is Peeta?” I ask, snuggling against him.
“Picking up some last minute supplies at the art store. He’s freaking out about classes starting back.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me. It’s the worst.”
He laughs against my hair. “What do you have to worry about, little miss perfect? You have this school thing down pat.”
“I study my ass off, that’s how. I had to so I could afford to transfer here.”
“Why did you?” Finn asks curiously, sounding more awake. I feel his fingers in my hair, just the slightest brush of them. When I met his mother one weekend back in the fall, she told me how Finnick used to put knots in her hair when he was just a baby, obsessed with twirling hair in his sleep. “It’s a fairly unusual thing to do, transferring in so late. Not that I’m complaining,” he adds. “Best thing to ever happen to me and Peeta.”
I soak in the brief pleasure I feel at his words and answer his question.
“It’s a more prestigious university. The program is better for Urban Forestry, and there’s a few classes on the curriculum that weren’t offered at my other school.” I sigh, feeling the warmth of his body start to work it’s magic. My eyes are fluttering closed against my will. “I need every last weapon in my arsenal in order to get a job. I have to be able to support myself, you know? I grew up...not wealthy. So it’s my worst fear. Not being able to support myself? Having to depend on my mom or stepdad? That’s a nightmare. They can’t even afford that. I just want to be independent.”
“You’re strong,” he says, his arm tightening around me. “And you’re so smart. You’re definitely going to get a job.”
“Let’s hope,” I say tiredly. “Or hey. Maybe I’ll just be homeless.”
“You’ll never be homeless,” Finnick says quietly as I drop off into sleep. “You’ll always have a place with me, Kat.With us. Always.”
A weight settles down next to me in the bed a while later, and my eyes flutter open when a finger pokes my cheek.
“Hey there,” Peeta says, inches from my face. He has a day’s worth of growth on his cut-glass jaw, unusual for a guy who shaves almost religiously. His blue eyes have a hint of exhaustion and anxiety, mixed with relief at seeing me in their bed. The feeling is mutual. “Long time no see, stranger.”
“Hey,” I croak back, rubbing my eyes. “A bit dramatic, aren’t you?”
He huffs out a laugh and lays his head down beside mine, sharing the pillow. “How was your date?” he asks, running a finger down the bridge of my nose.
I shiver and Peeta pulls the comforter up around my shoulders.
“Finnick made me wait for you. It’s only fair I tell you at the same time.”
“I’m special, though.”
He smiles, a dimple popping out of his cheek. “C’mon,” he says, a little arrogantly. “We both know I’m your favorite.”
“I heard that,” Finn murmurs from behind me. “You’re a shitty boyfriend, you know? Trying to undercut me so I miss out on story time.”
“You had your chance,” Peeta points out, reaching over me to squeeze Finnick’s shoulder. He leans up and kisses him, and their heads are so close I could probably join in. I bury my face into the pillow instead.
“Do you lovebirds wanna hear my horror story or not?” I grumble.
“Oh, no.” Finnick rolls me onto my back and stares down at me in concern. “It wasn’t that bad, was it? I’ve met David a few times. Seemed like a nice enough guy.”
“Maybe he was,” I say, looking at Peeta. He blinks back at me with an unreadable expression. “Before his girlfriend broke up with him and he turned into a crazy person.”
“What a shame,” Peeta says blandly, propping his head up on one hand.
“I knew it.” I sit up and cross my arms, glaring at him. “You sabotaged me.”
I gape at him, stunned that he’s not even trying to deny his actions. “That’s all you have to say?”
He shrugs and stretches languidly, looking maddeningly unperturbed. “He’s single, has money. Comes from a good family. Straight as the day is long,” he says with something like a hint of mockery in his voice.
I frown deeply and Finn sighs, looking back and forth between us.
“Peeta,” he says, a hint of warning in his voice.
“Well, that’s what she wanted, right?” he asks, addressing Finnick but talking to me. “So that’s what I delivered.”
I resist the urge to whack him with one of their heavy pillows.
“You’re being deliberately obtuse. You set me up with some borderline unstable guy with a girlfriend complex!”
“It’s a jungle out there, baby,” Peeta says, standing from the bed. He points at me. “If you want to date, that’s the kind of stuff that’s out there. You have to prepare yourself.”
“You’re supposed to help me bypass all that crap. I trusted you to find me a decent guy, and you giftwrapped someone who almost had me escorted out by security.”
“Oh, no,” Finn says, reaching for me. I’m not really angry at him, so I follow willingly, collapsing back against his bare chest. “That sounds rough, Kat.”
Peeta watches me from across the room, remorse creeping across his stupid, handsome face. “I didn’t know he was like that,” he says, rubbing his hand across his forehead. “Honestly, I thought he was mostly over girlfriend. I heard she’s engaged to a new guy, so I figured it was all a done deal.”
“Well, he isn’t over it. I knew right away that something was up.” I sigh, feeling the anger drain from my body. “Whatever. I’m probably meant to be alone.”
“Wait,” Peeta says, walking back to the bed and climbing onto it. He sits across from us, his legs criss-crossed as he regards me. “That’s not true. You deserve the best. The very best.”
“Then why didn’t you set me up with the best?” I ask, my head lolling against Finnick’s shoulder as I look at Peeta. “Just to...prove a point? Because it feels shitty, Peeta.”
He hesitates, and then takes my hands. He looks past me at Finnick, and I see a silent conversation in his eyes before he glances back at me.
“I told you before I’m jealous as hell,” he admits, his cheeks turning pink. His elbows rest of his knees, and my hands are still loose in his fingers. “It’s wrong. Unhealthy. I’m codependent as hell, Katniss.”
“We both are,” Finnick rumbles behind me, his hands rubbing my arms up and down. “It’s not just him. Neither one of us wanted you to go out.”
“But do you see how messed up that is?”
Peeta’s eyes tilt down sadly. “I can’t help it. I think about you meeting someone and then spending all of your weekends at his house. Whoever he is.” His face takes on a resentful cast, and he looks over my shoulder in the distance. “Then you’ll binge watch Netflix shows with him, because that’s his right as your boyfriend. Maybe he’ll make better lasagna than me. Maybe he’ll take hotter Instagram pictures than Finnick.”
“Impossible,” Finnick says from behind me, and I can’t help but laugh despite being enraptured by Peeta’s words. “No one on that site is more attractive than yours truly.”
Peeta chuckles, too. Then he exhales.
“One day,” he says, letting go of my hands. “You’re gonna get serious about some guy and leave us behind.”
I pull away from Finnick and sit against the headboard, looking back and forth between them helplessly.
“I don’t understand what you want,” I say, holding my hands out in supplication. “It’s not fair. You two...you’re in this perfect relationship. You have each other. You’ve found your one. I’m just...a tagalong. And you may get sick of me someday. Someday soon.”
“That’s not true,” Finnick says. something low and fierce in his voice. “Katniss-”
“It is. I’m a third wheel.” They open their mouths to protest, and I shake my head. “I’m going out on another date,” I tell them, seeing this conversation heading down a hopeless path. “If he’ll have me.”
Peeta visibly reels.
“That was fast,” he says, his eyebrows furrowed. His fists the comforter in one, white-knuckled hand. “Who?”
“Remember how I said I was almost kicked out by security?” They both nod. “Simon...Dr. Gloss? From New Years?” Recognition dawns on Peeta’s face first, then Finnick. “He was there. He kinda saved me.”
“How convenient,” Finnick says, his smile lacking humor.
“He seems like a good guy. A good man,” I correct myself, feeling defensive. “And I think we both want the same thing.”
“What’s that?” Peeta asks, his eyes narrowing.
“Sex,” I say directly. I start to climb over him, ready to leave the bed. “I told you that.”
“And I told you that we’d be more than happy to help you out,” Peeta growls, flipping me over to my shock and surprise. He straddles me, his hands pinning my wrists to the bed. “You’re so stubborn. You’d rather go play doctor with this old man than let your two best friends take care of you?”
I stare up at him, breathless and stunned.
“I told you that’s not funny,” I whisper. I could easily get away—Peeta’s grip on my wrists is light enough to barely be restrictive, but I couldn’t move even if the world was under attack from terrorists, zombies, and hostile alien life forms.
“It’s not a joke,” Peeta says, dropping his forehead to mine. I feel Finnick’s weight dip into the bed as he crawls over to us. He settles down next to me and props his head up on his hands as he watches us. “Is it, Finnick?”
I expect to hear a sly tone or some sort of on-brand Odair humor in his response, but instead he gives a simple, serious, “Nope.”
“You’ve never even been with a girl before,” I say. I intend to be forceful and confident, righteous in my disbelief, but instead I sound...breathy. Airless . Goddammit, maybe even seductive. My nipples are tight beneath my sweater, and the pressure of Peeta’s groin so close to mine is making me dizzy. Then, when I think I can’t be any more tense, Finnick starts to play with my hair.
They aren’t playing fair. This is warfare.
“No, “ he agrees, rubbing his nose against the tip of my own. My breath catches in my throat, and I imagine I can feel every faint freckle imprinting onto my clear, darker skin. “I haven’t. Never wanted to.”
“But there’s a first time for everything.” he says softly, kissing my cheek. My senses are surrounded by him. It’s overwhelming, and tempting. So, so fucking tempting. But then he speaks again. “I- we would do anything for you. If it would make you happy.”
If it would make you happy.
Not Peeta. Not Finnick. This is for me— my happiness. They would do anything for me, including and not limited to breaking me off a pity fuck.
The revelation is as good as a bucket of ice cold water being unceremoniously dumped over my head. I sit up so fast I almost bash Peeta in the face with mine, and they both look at me in growing alarm when I back away on my hands and knees, crab-walking across the mattress until I’m a safe distance away.
“What’s wrong?” Peeta asks, sitting back on his heels. His fair face is flushed, and he runs a hand through his haphazard, blonde hair.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, almost hysterical. “God, we were practically dry humping. In front of Finnick!”
“Not a problem,” Finn says, giving me reassuring look. He takes Peeta’s hand and holds out his other one to me. “I fully sign off on this.”
I shake my head, incredulous. “Look, you guys get the best friend award, okay? I get it. You are truly the most giving, selfless men I’ve ever met. But I’m not about to screw up our friendship just because I’m horny and pathetic.”
Finn drops his hand and covers his face with it. Peeta groans and grabs his hair, looking at me with frustration so intense that it’s tinged with something like contempt. “My god, Katniss. Jesus. You don’t listen.”
“ You don’t,” I counter, standing from the bed. A sense of calm purpose fills my body, taking the place of shock and adrenaline. It’s clear what I have to do. I look at Finnick and Peeta, who are staring at me from the bed like I’m an animal to be studied. “I’m getting Dr. Gloss’s number. We’re going to use each other for a good time. Then I’ll come back here as a normal human being who isn’t trying to hump her best friends. Okay?”
Peeta closes his eyes. Opens them. Then rolls off the bed and walks into the bathroom, shaking off Finn’s hand and slamming the door behind him.
Finnick stares after his boyfriend, anguish and longing on his face when he looks back at me.
I did this. I’m already ruining shit between them and causing drama.
“Finnick?” I ask, my voice cracking. I lace my hands behind my hand and stare up at the ceiling for a long moment. “Please tell this is okay. That everything’s fine and we didn’t just fuck up.”
He hesitates and then nods. “It’ll all work out, Katniss.” Finnick stands from the bed as well, clearly about to follow Peeta. He pauses and looks at me again, contemplation in his blue-green eyes.
“We just want you...to be happy,” he finishes, and then disappears behind the bathroom door.
I leave their apartment shortly after our strange confrontation. That’s probably not even the right word for what happened between us, but I’m still reeling from it all. I think back to all the jokes they’ve made in the past that I hadn’t taken seriously, and I agonize over whether I made the right decision. Whether I should have just taken them up on their generous offer.
I sit in my car and stare at their apartment, wondering what they’re doing inside. Are they discussing me? Are they having sex? I want to be in their world. I want to sit at their table and drink coffee while Peeta sketches and Finnick studies his marketing textbooks. I want to take silly selfies and post them on Instagram.
And I can have all of those things, but my greatest fear is that it would all fall apart if we sleep together. I don’t want our dynamic to change just because they love me enough to try to fill a void in my life that I’m too lame to handle myself.
“How would that even work?” I mumble to myself, thumping my head on the steering wheel.
Would I sleep with Peeta? Would Finnick watch? Would they both want to have sex with me? I’m at a loss, and it’s frustrating to even consider because it seems so far out of the realm of reality that I can’t even entertain the notion. So many girls would kill to be in my position, and I rejected them.
The girls said Finnick and Peeta love me. I believe that. But the difference between romantic love and a deep, abiding platonic one is like lightning and a lightning bug; I appreciate both, but one has the power to destroy me, and I’d be a fool to mistake the two and ruin the greatest thing in my life.
My phone buzzes, and I hastily pull it from my purse. Part of me is hoping that it’s one of the guys telling me to come back inside, but it’s not. It’s just some meme that Eno sent, but then I see a few other missed texts below hers.
unknown: Hi Katniss. It’s Simon. Glimmer passed me your number.
unknown: Hope that was okay…
I add his name as a contact and then hesitate before replying.
Katniss: I asked her to.
Dr. Simon Gloss: That’s very encouraging.
Dr. Simon Gloss: I had a good time last night with you.
Katniss : Same here.
Dr. Simon Gloss: What do you think about dinner tonight? My place at 8?
I look away from my phone and out the windshield. I know what that means. I’m not totally naive. What the good doctor and I share is some form of attraction and basic chemistry, and he wants to explore that. But what do I want?
I’m tired of being alone.
I haven’t been connected to someone intimately in over a year.
He’s attracted to me without pity.
When I get back to my apartment, I walk inside in a daze, waving half-heartedly at a curious Glimmer before stalking to my room and collapsing on the bed. I stare at the ceiling and immediately start to stress about my date tonight.
No, let’s call a spade a spade—my booty call, not a date. Anyone who casually offers a threesome with his escort after only meeting for the second time isn’t looking for a commitment. I’m going to have sex with an older, sophisticated man. And I need advice.
I wander back into the living room and hover near the couch like a needy child looking for a snack before Glimmer looks up at me from her laptop in annoyance. Glancing over her shoulder briefly, I can see she’s reading an e-book.
It looks like...Little Women.
Huh. Who knew Glimmer was into the classics?
“Why are you creeping like that?” she asks, suspicion in her blue eyes. She slaps her laptop closed, her contoured cheeks turning pink even underneath her impeccable makeup.
“So, are you Team Amy or Jo? Because if you choose wrong, you’re dead to me.”
“Bitch,” she scowls, flicking her blonde hair. “I would drown Amy March at birth if I could.” She places her laptop on the floor and settles back against the couch. “Didn’t anyone teach you not to read over people’s shoulders?”
I shrug and plop down next to her, sliding off my shoes and propping my bare feet next to hers on the coffee table.
“You need a pedicure,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “Your toes look ragged as fuck.”
“Thanks,” I say dryly. Then I swallow because I forgot that someone else is going to be seeing my feet tonight, too. Panic ensues. “Uh, you wouldn’t want to go get one with me, would you?”
Glimmer laughs but stops when I don’t do the same. Her arched eyebrows almost meet her hairline as she studies my face.
“Wait. Are you serious?”
“I have a date tonight.”
Her expression clears. “Oh, shit! You’re actually going out with Dr. Gloss.”
I bite my lip and nod. “Yeah, I am. What do you think about it?”
“I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t want the truth.”
“I say...good for you,” she says thoughtfully. “I think a little bump and grind is just what you need. You’re too tense. You need a serious orgasm after all these sexually frustrated months.”
I don’t even disagree.
“When was the last time you got waxed?” Glimmer adds, giving me a critical once-over. She sees my eyes drop to my legs and she shakes her head impatiently. “Not your legs, idiot. Your pussy.”
I blanch and tug on my braid. “Um. Never?”
“Fuck!” she exclaims, frantically typing on her phone. “I’m gonna call my lady and see if she can squeeze you in. My treat. What time is your date?”
“Eight o’clock, but...Glimmer! Stop, don’t call her!” I say urgently, crossing my legs at the thought of someone slathering burning hot wax there.
“Too late,” she sings smugly, holding her finger up at me. Her pink lips curl into an evil fairy godmother smile. “Trust me, Kat. I’m gonna hook you up right for tonight. My esthetician is a pro.”
A few hours later, I’ve been manicured, waxed, and plucked to the point of no return. I’m more hairless than I’ve been since before puberty hit when I was twelve.
“I hate you,” I groan, shuffling back into our apartment like an old woman.
“You love me,” she says breezily, tossing her purchases onto the kitchen table. She’d helped me choose a new outfit for tonight—something stylish yet inexpensive. Even better and more importantly, I also bought a matching bra and panty set from the mall. Glimmer almost had a heart attack when she’d rifled through my underwear drawer, deeming everything I owned as unacceptable. “You’d have been fucking lost without my royal presence.”
I walk up behind her and put my hand on her shoulder, and she stiffens in surprise, her hand freezing inside one of her bags she’d been pawing through.
“You’re right,” I say sincerely, hugging her from behind. “Thank you, Glim. I really appreciate it.”
“Ew. Get away!”
“No. Just soak up my love and affection.” I squeeze tighter and she grunts, the sound somehow delicate from her. “You should be a personal shopper or something. You have a real talent at this.”
“Shut up,” she demands, halfheartedly trying to shrug me off. When a piece of her silky hair flies into my mouth, I cough it out and finally pull away. “Stop being so sappy.”
“Aw. You like it,” I say just to mess with her. My smile widens when her cheeks glow red. “You’re such a marshmallow underneath that asshole facade, Glim.”
“No,” she growls, thrusting her finger in my face. “Take it back right now.”
“That’s probably what Eno sees in you, huh?” I say carefully, walking to the sink and pouring a cup of water. She’s silent, and when I turn back around to look at her, the glare she’s sending me could kill nations.
Her expression is glacial, her blue eyes frosted over completely. “Whatever you think you know, you’re wrong.”
“I don’t care,” I say, taking a sip of water and peering at her over the rim. “Why are you getting so mad? It’s clear something is between you guys. It’s not like I’m judging you.”
“I don’t care about your judgment or anyone else's,” she grits out, picking up her bags from the table and sliding them onto her wrist with jerky movements. “It’s just not gonna happen, okay? Enobaria and I are not a thing. It was just one time...maybe twice...or so.”
“I knew it.” I slap my hand against my leg. “I think it’s really sweet.”
“Keep it to yourself, or so help me God!”
My eyebrows slam together. “I would never tell. That’s your business.”
Glimmer relaxes by a margin and then hesitates. “Do you think…”
I nod encouragingly, taking a step toward her. “What?”
“She’s just hard to read, is all.” Glimmer frowns, the heel of her shoe dragging along the kitchen tile as she stares at our blue walls with contemplative eyes. “Sometimes we’re having fun. And she’s one of my best friends now, you know? We’ll be bitching at each other and suddenly...we’re making out.” She huffs. “Then before I know it, she’s hooking up with some guy...ugh, she’s a bigger slut than me.”
“I’m not judging. Charles and I aren’t super committed, but I really should end it with him anyway. So. I’m just as bad.” She sighs. “It’s just that somehow I fell for someone who’s worse.” She looks at me, a glint of sadness in her eyes. “Karma is a real bitch, Katniss.”
I’m at a loss of what to say. I suspected they were fooling around together, but Glimmer sounds like she’s in love. Eno hadn’t mentioned a word about anything between them, and I can’t decide if that’s a good or bad sign for my roommate. Part of me is insulted, because I’ve confided in Eno and shared all of my romantic struggles while she’s obviously kept part of her life from me. But the other part knows that she’ll tell me when and if she’s ready.
“Good luck tonight, okay?” Glimmer backs away, turning toward the hall. “I’m gonna go lay down.”
I watch her walk away in silence, wishing I had the words to help her, but I can’t even help myself.
peetamellark : you could say I’m a little inspired #art #livingcanvas #bodyart
view all 430 comments
lolabee: ooooo I would buy your art any day. you should make this into a print!
karkarington: Nice to see you’re so inspired by your boyfriend :) as you should be
tyreekfleek: bro that is some sick detail. It’s kinda darker than your usual work too which i love, no criticism
lawbt99: did you paint Finnick...everywhere….i’m having a hot flash
holla22323: goddamn, paint me like one of your french boys Peeta
anonymousbro: so is no one gonna talk about about peeta’s beard in the second pic or
I’m sitting outside of Simon’s house and staring at the picture of Finnick that Peeta posted. I shouldn’t feel this way. This white-hot jolt of sick envy has no business clawing its way up my throat. What did I expect? That they were sitting at home, pining over me while I’m on a date?
Of course not.
All had been forgiven when I left their apartment earlier. If there had been a tense moment when Peeta and Finnick joined me again in the kitchen while I gathered my purse, it had quickly melted away when they hugged me goodbye.
They had even wished me luck on my date via a quick text. They’re being supportive, which is exactly what I wanted. Right?
So why am I wishing that they’d show up and drag me away from this driveway?
“You’re an idiot, Katniss,” I mutter, pulling my keys from the ignition and stepping out of the car.
I take the steps down a path that will lead me away from potential heartbreak.
Thank you for all of yall's support so far. Your comments, kudos, and tumblr messages are much appreciated and are a bright spot in my week. Just wanted to make sure you all know that I'm grateful for your continued patience with this story and its slow burn.
I smooth down the skirt of my dress and head toward the front door of a brick house that seems far too large for just one person. Before I can knock, the door swings open and reveals an extremely casual Dr. Simon Gloss. He’s wearing sweatpants and a crisp white tee shirt, and his feet are bare. Warmth and the smell of something delicious simmering on the stove wafts toward my face, inviting me inside.
“Come on,” he urges, and I follow him, feeling a bit shy. I put my purse on a side table and look around, taking in my surroundings.
The house is nice but not overly pretentious like Dr. Aurelius. There’s a rustic feel, with wooden floors and furniture in muted shades of brown leather and forest green. There are bells and whistles that proclaim it be the house of a successful doctor, such as the giant television mounted on the wall, but I like that it’s not an intimidating space.
I’m already nervous enough.
“I think I’m a bit overdressed,” I say, trying for a joke to thaw the ice that is coating my tongue and stopping me from feeling comfortable. My eyelashes feel heavy under the thick layers of mascara that Glimmer had applied for me. “I’m like Goldilocks.” I continue at his blank look, “Last night I looked like a hobo compared to you guys, and now I’m trying way too hard.”
Simon smiles and reaches for me. I’m confused until I realize he’s helping me out of my coat.
We do an awkward little dance of him trying to take it while I pull it over my arms. He drapes it over a coat rack that looks like it was made two-hundred years ago and probably cost more than my car, though that’s not exactly a hard feat considering I drive a piece of junk.
“You look beautiful,” Simon praises, his eyes dipping to the small slice of cleavage that my dress reveals. I resist the urge to squirm. It’s what I’m here for, after all—the lust. We’re just dressing it up with the nicety of dinner first. “No complaints from me.”
We make eye contact, and... yes . I finally feel that tendril of attraction again that’s existed between us since New Years.
“Are you hungry?” he asks, stepping closer. He touches my hair and rubs a piece between his fingers, and I shiver, clutching my purse in one hand.
“No,” I say truthfully. I think if I eat, I might throw it all up. “Not at all.”
“What do you want to do?” he asks softly, but there’s a knowing look in his eye. I like that he’s leaving the ball in my court, but why pretend?
I swallow, finding it hard to say the words. I’m not a sophisticated seductress, and part of the appeal of being with him is that he’s an older, experienced man. I need for him to take the lead here. Thank Christ, he sees my struggle and takes pity on me.
“Why don’t I take you on a tour of the house?” Simon suggests, his hand leaving my hair and trailing to my shoulder with a squeeze. “Maybe my bedroom.”
“Sounds good,” I say, wincing when it comes out like a croak.
“Let me turn off the stove,” he says, disappearing toward the kitchen. I take a brief moment to regroup, a million thoughts running through my head. Whether I shaved thoroughly enough, if I need to pop another mint, if it’s weird for me to grab the two condoms I tucked into my purse. If Peeta and Finnick miss me... no. Stop.
“All right,” Simon says, returning to the living room. “How-”
“Do you have condoms?” I blurt out.
His eyes go wide, and then narrow with laughter. Little laugh lines spiderweb from the corners.
“Yes, Katniss,” he says, his voice amused. And maybe a touch condescending? I’m too scattered to sort it all out. “I have condoms.” His look grows hot, and his handsome, mature face grows serious. “Many of them.”
“Okay,” I say weakly, rubbing my reddening cheeks. “Wow, I just came out and said it. How trashy.”
He pulls me toward him and tilts my head back.
“I like it. You’re a girl who knows what she wants,” he murmurs, and then kisses me.
It’s nice. His lips are firm but not too rough, and his tongue slips into my mouth expertly. I feel a pleasant tingle in my stomach, and his hands in my hair feels good when he tugs a little at the roots. His breath is fresh, and his cologne is expensive and pleasing to my senses.
But there’s no fireworks. There’s no real spark.
He pulls back with a pant and takes a deep breath.
“Upstairs?” he asks.
I hesitate and then nod, allowing him to lead me by the hand up the staircase before I can overthink anything. I’m my own worst enemy and I cannot let myself sabotage this night. I’m going to get fucked if it’s the last thing I do.
His bedroom is spacious, with a huge king sized bed taking up the majority of the area. There’s a stone fireplace already lit in the corner, which speaks to the fact that he already knew I was a sure thing. It shouldn’t bother me, but there’s a niggle of annoyance in the back of my mind that I only indulge for a moment, because Simon’s mouth is on mine again. Then his fingers are working at the straps of my dress, and before I know it, we’re both naked. I soon discover that the navy comforter and silk sheets of the bed are as comfortable as they look as they slide against my skin.
We’re exchanging heated kisses and practically humping when he whispers his request.
“Can I go down on you?” he asks into the shell of my ear, his hand trailing over my stomach.
“Um.” I can barely think with his fingers playing with my nipples. I haven’t had anyone do this to me in a long time. It’s so intimate...more intimate than just plain sex. “I dunno.”
“I can make you feel so good, honey.” He kisses my jaw a little wetly, then the juncture of my neck and shoulder. “I want you to come before I fuck you.”
“Well. Okay,” I say as his lips travel lower. “But... oh .”
His head disappears beneath the sheets that were partially draped over our bodies, and my eyes widen when I feel his tongue delve into my lower lips. It’s...not bad. I lay back and stare at the ceiling, my eyes adjusting to the dimness. His hands are digging into my hips as he becomes more enthusiastic, the bite of his fingers counteracting the pleasure of his tongue on my clit.
I wait to feel some sort of earth-shattering orgasm—that mythical crescendo of waves crashing, or even the familiar build-up that comes when I get myself off with my own fingers, but instead there’s just an increasing level of awkwardness as time passes and his efforts are redoubled. I have everything but Simon on my mind—school on Monday, a shitty customer during my last shift at the Bean King, and...god, not them...Peeta and Finnick, and the way they looked in bed. How their heavily lidded eyes stared at me while Peeta hovered over me, demanding that I let them make me feel good.
And then I finally start to feel it—an orgasm is working itself to the surface, and it’s wrong. It’s all fucking wrong, because this man who is virtually a stranger has his tongue in my pussy and the only way I can come is if I think of my two best friends.
“Stop,” I say, scooting back and twisting off of the bed.
Simon’s flushed, confused face appears from beneath the covers, and he stares at me in surprise as I struggle to slip on my clothes.
“Wait! What’s wrong?” he asks, sitting up on his knees, stark naked. I’m regretful for a moment, because his body is more than impressive. But it’s just not going to work. I was a fool to even try.
“Nothing- just. God, I’m sorry,” I tell him, feeling frazzled. The room, once warm, cozy and inviting, is now sweltering. My messy hair is sticking to my damp cheeks in unpleasant clumps, and I think my dress is on backwards. I slip on my shoes and back away, praying he doesn’t follow me. “I have to go. Really, I’m sorry. So sorry. You’re great, I just...I have to go.”
And then I turn around and take the stairs two at a time, absolutely mortified and hating myself. I grab my purse from the side table and flee out of the front door. Once the freezing air hits my arms, I realize I left my coat behind. I don’t even care. It’s a small price to pay to the one-night stand gods.
I slide into the car and crank it up, eager for a little warmth.
The car sputters, and dies.
“Oh Christ,” I whisper. Tears pop into my eyes. Not now. Please, die tomorrow. Just...not today.
But it’s no use. The gods aren’t listening. I make a few more attempts, but my car won’t start. I stare through the icy windshield and shiver violently. Then I make a phone call.
“I need help,” I say.
Headlights appear through my blurry windows less than fifteen minutes later. A car pulls up next to mine in the driveway and then my door is being pulled open. I blink up at the familiar, beloved face staring back at me, relief flooding my entire body.
“I have to say,” Peeta says. “This is not how I predicted your date would end.” He grabs my hand and winces, squeezing my freezing fingers.” Goddamn, your hands are cold. And where is your coat?” He pulls me out of the car and wraps his arms around me, and Finnick brushes past us to reach down and pull the lever that pops my hood.
“I bet your battery is dead,” Finnick says, busying himself with the jumper cables in his hands. He briskly connects our two cars while Peeta and I watch in silence. He’s like a mechanic porn film come to life.
“I didn’t know that you knew anything about cars,” I say dumbly.
He waltzes to my car and cranks, smiling in satisfaction when the engine turns over successfully.
“I have layers,” he says, sliding from the driver’s seat and standing in front of us, bouncing lightly on the balls of his booted feet. “What can I say?”
“I love you and all your layers.” Still leaning against Peeta, I hold my arms out. “Marry me.”
“Done and done.” Finnick hugs me back with such force that even his boyfriend lets out an oof from behind me.
“Not that this isn’t a beautiful moment,” Peeta says into my hair. “But what the hell is going on? Why isn’t that guy out here helping you? You were so cryptic on the phone...” he trails off.
“Do we need to kill someone?” Finnick asks bluntly. He cracks his knuckles, too serious to be comical. “Did he hurt you?”
“Of course not.” I sigh and pull away from them both. I give Finnick a grateful look when he shrugs off his thick, winter coat and drapes it around my shoulders. “No, not at all.” I hug myself and look up at the clear night sky. “I just couldn’t do it. I was actually quite a freak about it. I’m not surprised he didn’t run after me. He’s probably locking the doors.”
They exchange a long look and then glance back at me. “So you didn’t…” Finnick raises an eyebrow.
“No.” I flush. “Not that.”
“Are you five?” Peeta asks, leaning against Finnick’s SUV. His expression is a mix of dread and eagerness. “What is that, exactly? Use your words, honey.”
I scowl at him. “Fine. We didn’t have sex. But he...um. Simon went down on me.” I rub my cheek. “It wasn’t terrible. I just wasn't into it.”
Peeta’s face remains unchanged. There’s only a slight wrinkle in his forehead that indicates he’s even processed what I’ve said at all. Finnick inhales and taps his thigh, but neither of them reply.
“Well?” I say. “Say something.”
“I guess I’m just wondering where you want to go from here,” Peeta finally says. “I thought for sure that you were going to follow through with the good doctor.” He lifts his eyes to meet mine, and I’m momentarily thrown by the heat there. “Shall I continue the hunt for someone who might be good enough for you? I don’t have much hope, though. Seems like a fruitless search.” He turns away and walks around to the other side of the SUV. “I don’t think they exist.”
I narrow my eyes and search for sarcasm in his voice, but there is none. Only resignation.
“I’m going to drive your car,” Finnick says, putting his hand on my shoulder. His handsome face is lined with sympathy. “Why don’t you go with Peeta?”
I throw an apprehensive look over my shoulder. Peeta’s sitting behind the steering wheel, his shoulders set in a stiff slope.
“All right,” I say. “But we’re going to my place, okay?”
Finnick frowns. “Don’t pull away, Kat.”
“I’m not. I promise—I just need to be in my own place tonight. I just want a little alone time to ponder on this series of disasters,” I say with a rueful smile.
He finally agrees, and we separate to our respective cars.
Peeta spares me only a brief glance when I climb in next to him. He just jerks his chin toward the seat belt.
I comply with wordless obedience. I hate this awkward silence between us. I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong.
“Don’t be mad at me,” I say.
“I’m not mad,” he replies automatically.
“That seems like a lie.” I tug on my hair in agitation.
“What do you want me to say, Katniss? Seriously, tell me and I’ll say it.” He stabs at the radio with his finger, and light music filters into the air. I want to turn it off but I sense it will just cause more friction, so I let it go. “You know how I felt about you going out tonight. Am I pleased he got to touch you? No. Am I happy you didn’t have sex with him? Yes.” He pauses and sighs. “Do I know how fucked up that is? Yes, of course.”
“Peeta.” I stare at him. “We are so screwed up.”
“Yes. I think anyone I love is bound to be fucked up in some way.”
There’s that word. Love.
“Do you love me?” I ask bravely.
His eyebrows furrow together as he stares out of the windshield. “You know I do.”
Fuck it. I’m tired of feeling this way. Confused. Wary. Lonely. “How do you love me?”
“You’re my best friend.”
“So...that’s it?” I rub the spot where my heart lies beneath, the muscle beating frantically. I’m stone cold sober but there’s a recklessness coursing through my veins that is only achieved through a night of heavy drinking. “There’s no other type feelings?”
“I don’t...I don’t think we should talk about this without Finnick,” he says quietly, his expression turning miserable. “I swear, I’m not playing games with you. I just don’t even know what’s right anymore. I don’t know how things should be handled. I just fuck it all up when I try.”
“Never mind,” I say. Because of course we shouldn’t discuss this without Finnick. I’m basically demanding that he tells me that he’s at least a little in love and lust with me.
“No. Not never mind.” I can feel his eyes on the side of my face before he directs his attention back to the road. “Just...not right now.”
I bite my tongue until it bleeds. “Why didn’t you invite me to your art show?”
He blinks at the sudden change of subject. “What?”
“You had an art show last semester. You didn’t invite me. I want to know why.”
“Fucking Marvel. I’m gonna kick that guy’s ass for about a 100 different reasons, all of them having to do with you.”
“I just don’t understand,” I say, feeling myself get mad. I push back against the seat of the car and resist the urge to slam my foot against the floorboard. “Don’t you trust me? I’ve watched you work before. Paint. Draw. Even sculpt. I feel...it hurt me.”
“Oh god, Katniss. No. I just—there’s things I wasn’t ready for you to see,” he admits. “You weren’t ready. I don’t think you’re ready now.”
I narrow my eyes. “That makes no sense.”
“Fine. You want to see?” He inclines his head. “I can’t show you now because the building is locked up for the night. But I’ll show you.”
We’re quiet again, but it’s less tense now. Just contemplative. Thoughtful. Maybe even a little sad. I feel like we’re on the precipice of something. Like we’re on the edge, staring down into the unknown, and I don’t know whether to jump or not.
“I’m glad you didn’t sleep with him. I know that makes me an asshole. But...I’m just really glad.” He shakes his head. “He didn’t deserve you. I meant what I said...no one is good enough for you.”
“Well.” I close my eyes and let the warmth of the car settle over me. “I think I’m done with dating for awhile. It’s exhausting.”
“Stick with us.” He pats his hand on my knee and then lets it rest there. I don’t even care. I don’t overthink it or analyze. I just enjoy the weight of his fingers on my bare skin. “We’ll take care of you.”
“Okay,” I say.
It takes a few moments to realize my name is being called before I finally slow down and turn toward the sound. I’ve been more than a little lost in my own head lately, coasting through the end of this semester and doing the bare minimum for maximum grades. There’s very little I could do to screw up my practically perfect GPA at this point, but I’m still ashamed when I see my advisor stick his head out of his office and peer down the hallway at me.
I’ve been dodging him for weeks, knowing damn well I should have secured an internship somewhere in Panem—at the very least, nearby Greenville. I just hadn’t had the time, or more honestly, the energy to give to the thought of volunteering my time without pay, even though it would ultimately make my chances of finding a job post-college greater.
I turn and walk toward my advisor's office and duck inside. Professor Anderson is already behind his desk, and his bald head gleams like his white smile.
“Have a seat, Katniss.”
I comply and cross my legs, resisting the urge to shake my foot. I feel as if I’ve been called into the principal’s office.
“How’s the semester going for you?” he asks, shuffling a few papers in his hands.
“Really well.” I rotate my shoulders and smile back at him. My lips feel stiff. “Almost perfect in every class.” I’m not bragging. I just want to make it clear as soon as possible that I don’t need this pep talk.
“I’ve been impressed by how well you’ve fit in here at Panem,” Professor Anderson says, tapping his pen on the desk. “It’s not common to have students transfer here this late. And with the course loads you’ve chosen to take on, it’s even rarer to actually do well in your major-specific classes.” He peers at her record. “And it looks as if you’re on track to graduate in December of this year rather than next May.”
“I took all of my core classes back home at a tech school,” I say, shifting. “In the summers, I took some of Panem’s online courses- well, the ones pertaining to my major.” When I could afford them. It took every last dollar and cent that I’d earned at the diner. “You know, so I could graduate on time here.”
He sits back in his chair and nods at me approvingly. “Very admirable.”
I smooth my hair back and resist the urge to slide down my seat. I’ve never been good at handling compliments. “Thank you, sir.”
“Speaking of graduation,” he says, “did you ever secure an internship?”
“Um. Not yet.”
“I could help set something up for you,” he says, typing on his computer. The glare from the screen reflects in his glasses, and he squints at whatever he’s reading. “Ah, here we go. There’s a development project in downtown Greenville. The city planning department is willing to take on an unpaid intern.” My heart leaps and then drops at the word unpaid. He points at the screen. “You might even be able to give input on the location of the trees they’re planting in the new park.”
It sounds absolutely perfect. And also impossible.
“The thing is-” I start and then pause. I feel my face burn as I gather my thoughts. “Between all of my classes and my part-time job, I just don’t know how I could manage both, Professor Anderson. Especially a commute to Greenville during the week.”
He clasps his hands together and gives me a sympathetic look. “I understand, Ms. Everdeen. But practical experience is a very big part of any successful graduate. While we don’t require an internship to graduate, it’s heavily suggested.”
“I understand,” I reply quietly.
He studies my face for a moment, and I can’t help but wonder what he sees. Another disappointing graduate, with a hopeless path in front of her? I don’t want to be a disappointment. The thought of not using my degree or being able to find a job in Urban Forestry is upsetting beyond measure, but I can only manage so many things at a time.
“Okay,” he finally says. “Well, if you change your mind, I’ll try to hold the spot for you for a few more days.”
“Thank you,” I say. “But I don’t think I’ll change my mind.”
I’ve never been depressed before, but I think it must be pretty close to how I’m feeling right now. I have a shift at the Bean King in thirty minutes, so I decide to just waste time by wandering around campus, literally kicking rocks as I feel sorry for myself and wrestling with whether I should quit my job and live off of the land in order to take this unpaid internship.
My phone beeps and I pull it from my pocket with a sigh. I’m not particularly in the mood to chat right now, but when I see the name on the screen, I feel a little thread of happiness that overrides the dull ache in my head. He always has that effect on me.
Peeta: still on campus?
Katniss: Yes. What’s up?
Peeta: come to the art dept?
Katniss: Okay. Gotta go to work in a bit though.
Peeta: as if I don’t know your schedule. see u in a min
He’s standing outside of the fine arts complex, rocking back on his heels in the breezeway with a look I can’t quite decipher. When his lips twist into a smile that is just this side of shaky, I realize with surprise that it’s apprehension.
Peeta holds out his hand and I take it, lacing my fingers through his. It feels as natural as breathing.
“I want to show you something,” he says, gently tugging me toward the direction of the door that leads to the building they use for art showcases. Then he peers at my face. “What’s wrong?”
“What?” I touch my cheek self-consciously. “Nothing.”
“Liar,” he says mildly, bumping my shoulder with his. The automatic doors open, and a welcoming blast of warm air hits my chilled face when we walk inside.
I exhale. “I had a rough meeting with my advisor. He wants me to do an internship. I don’t have time. Or the money.”
Peeta stops us in the middle of the room and turns to me. “If it’s something you need to do, I can help,” he says. “Financially.”
“Peeta! No way.” I shake my head back and forth violently. “I could never ask you to do that. I’ll be fine. It’s not something I have to do. It’s just…” I stop. “It’ll be fine,” I repeat. “Really. Plenty of people don’t do internships.”
He gives me a long look before nodding. “You’re right,” he says. “I have friends who never did one for their majors. I only did one last year because the opportunity fell in my lap. I didn’t learn anything more than I already knew, though.” He holds up his hands and wiggles his fingers, the mischievous look on his face bringing a little levity to the moment. “These hands work magic by themselves.”
I laugh. “You arrogant ass.” Then my eyes widen. “Wait! Your art showcase...your paintings are still here, aren’t they?”
His smile slowly fades, the mock-bravado from seconds before slips away. In its place is a vulnerability Peeta rarely shows in regard to his artwork. “Yeah. I thought…well, you said you wanted to see. Just don’t feel, well...turn around.”
I cock my head in confusion until his large hands settle on my shoulders and turn me to face an enormous wall in the industrial-like space of the room.
There are three life-size canvases on the wall. One is Peeta. One is Finnick.
And one is me.
We each look otherworldly, the colors he used somehow glowing from the canvas, and despite the fact that the features are devastatingly accurate, the girl in the portrait is too beautiful to me. We’re each surrounded by what looks like an entire galaxy of stars. I can’t imagine the length of time it took to complete these paintings.
“Do you see?” he asks from behind me, resting his cheek on my shoulder.
“You made me beautiful,” is all I can say.
Peeta shakes his head. “I only paint the truth.” He wraps his arms around me. “Everything I care about is on that wall, Katniss. Understand?”
Hope and warmth infuses my entire being, because the thing is, I think I’m starting to.
“Breathe,” I say, looking at Gale over the rim of my glass. “Why do you look like you’re about to choke?”
We’re standing against the bar and waiting for his whiskey, neat with no ice, watching our friends as they hover over a pool table, cheering Peeta on as he kills Enobaria in a game of nine ball. It’s Saturday night, and we’re all doing a bit of unwinding to kick off the start of Spring Break.
“I’m nervous,” he mutters, tugging at the collar of his shirt. He’s surprisingly dressed up for a night out at a local tavern, wearing slacks instead of jeans and a nice button-up with a coat instead of a hoodie.
“Why?” The mystified look I give him is returned with a glare. “I’m so confused.”
“I’m about to do the most terrifying thing of my life,” Gale says, shoving his hand into his pocket. When he pulls it back out and sprawls his fingers, he reveals a small, black case sitting on his big palm.
My eyes go wide.
Gale nods, his smile grim. He looks like he’s about to go to the executioner rather than propose to his girlfriend.
“An engagement ring, yes.”
“Gale…” I swallow and wipe at my sweaty forehead. Even though it’s still chilly out, even for March, the bar has the heat cranked up so high that I want to strip out of my clothes. “This is huge.”
“I know.” The bartender slides Gale’s whiskey across the bar and my friend kicks it back, wiping his mouth with a rough hand before his eyes narrow with sharp intensity. “But it’s time. And I think...she’ll say yes.” He actually looks at me for confirmation, and I lift my chin toward him with a disbelieving laugh.
“Course she will, crazy. But, did you think maybe you should—I don’t know. Maybe go somewhere more romantic?” I ask hesitantly, looking around the crowded, rowdy bar.
“I have to do it now,” Gale says. “I’ve been carrying this damn ring around in my pocket for months. And it feels right, you know?” He runs a hand through his dark hair and nods to himself. “All of us are here. It’s our place . I just...I need to do it,” he finishes, like he’s asking permission.
“The only thing is that her parents aren’t my biggest fans.” He glances toward Madge, his normally stern face softening with affection. “I couldn’t...I didn’t really ask them for permission. Was kinda afraid they’d say no, to be honest.”
“I highly doubt Madge cares about some outdated crap like that.” I nudge him with my elbow. “She wants you. She loves you . She’s gonna say yes, my friend.”
“I’m sure of it.”
Gale ducks his head, and then turns serious again.
“Hey,” he says, putting his hand on my shoulder. “Katniss?”
“I’m really glad you’re here. That you’re a part of our lives again.” He peers into my face. “An important part. Means a lot that you’re supporting me right now.”
I lift a shoulder and roll my eyes, swallowing the lump in my throat with a sip of beer.
“Save that sentimental bullshit for your future wife, eh?”
He chuckles. “Yeah...guess I should go bite the bullet, huh?”
“Let’s go. I’ve never seen one of these things play out in real life.” We wind our way through tables and clusters of people. “Kinda hoping she says no. Then I can put it on YouTube.”
“Asshole,” he says with a smile, flicking me with his thumb and index finger.
I walk over to Finnick and hand him my beer. “Want it?”
He tears his eyes away from Peeta and raises an eyebrow. “You know it.” His eyes travel over to Gale, who is dropping down to one knee behind an oblivious Madge. “Oh, fuck. He’s going for it?”
“Yep,” I confirm, leaning back against him. “He’s making his move.”
“Go, Gale,” he cheers softly under his breath, his arm snaking around my waist.
“What are you doing?” Glimmer asks, turning away from the pool table. “That floor is filthy. You’re- oh ,” she finishes with a grunt, glaring at a wide-eyed Enobaria who pops her in the stomach. Peeta grips his pool stick and covers his smiling mouth with a hand before glancing over at Finnick and I.
“Can you believe this?” he mouths, pulling out his phone. He holds it up and starts to record Gale.
I shake my head and grin.
Madge turns and stares down at Gale, and her face crumples in slow motion. The entire bar seems to have picked up on something momentous happening in our little corner, and it’s almost completely silent when Gale begins to speak.
“Madge,” he starts, his normally strong voice shaking with nerves. “I’ve loved you from almost the moment I laid eyes on you.” I wince a little at that, because damn, he was dating me at the time. I’ve forgiven the fact he cheated on me, but it still stings a bit to be reminded that he loved her while we were together. But bygones are bygones, and this isn’t about me. “I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“Gale,” she says breathlessly, her eyes filling with tears. She waves her hands in front of her face, her delicate fingers fluttering like a hummingbird. “Oh my god.”
“Madge, will you marry me?”
“Yes!” she screams, dropping down to her knees and throwing her arms around him. The room erupts into applause and cries of approval from the crowd. “Yes! I love you so much!”
Gale kisses her, both of them kneeling on the wooden floor of the bar, completely lost in their own world. It’s...beautiful. I feel a pang in my heart, not because I begrudge them their happiness, but because I want so desperately to have what they have. To get that elusive happy ending with the person you love the most.
Unfortunately, I’m in love with two people who are in love with each other.
“That’s so sweet,” Enobaria whispers, covering her cheeks with her hands.
“I wish they’d get off the floor.” Glimmer sniffs, discreetly wiping under her eyes. “It’s disgusting.”
Peeta walks over to us and puts an arm around Finnick’s shoulder, who’s still wrapped around me. “Did you know he was planning this?” he asks, bemused as he stares at our friends.
“No idea,” I reply. I touch my face and feel wetness there. I didn’t even know I had started crying. “Not until five minutes ago.”
“Sneaky bastard,” he says softly. He takes out his phone and snaps a photo of me and Finnick. I glare at him with wet eyes. “Katniss Everdeen, you’re a softie after all.”
“If you put that on Instagram, I’ll kill you.”
“Would I do that to you?” he asks innocently.
“Well, you better not do it to your boyfriend,” Finnick says from behind me, sounding as if he has a cold. I crane my neck to look at him, and see his aqua eyes rimmed with red. “What?” he asks, defensive. “It caught me by surprise is all.”
“Sure,” I say teasingly, laying my head against his shoulder. “Me too.”
peetamellark : our friends got engaged today, as you can see from the video I posted before this. SOMEONE(S) got a little emotional #crybabies #theyregonnakillme
view all 120 comments
arabellasnow: Finnick baby! I’ll hold you
karkarington: Finnick, you’re beautiful even sad. unlike some UGLY criers...
primster: will u ever give it a rest omg ^^ CONGRATS Gale AND Madge
lindiemoo: When will you guys walk down the aisle? :D
cruz889: FOLLOW ME please
I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. It’s one in the morning and I’ve been twisting and turning ever since I got home from the bar. All I can think about is how happy Gale and Madge looked. I’m thrilled for them, but it’s really hitting home that I’m completely alone. Despite Eno and Glimmer’s coaxing, I still hadn’t ventured back out into the dating field after the string of terrible dates that I endured.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t the only perpetually single person the group. Now that I know about Eno and Glimmer’s covert affair, it’s even more obvious that they’ve been carrying on under our noses for months. And even though I can’t begin to understand it, they also date other people as well. I don’t question them, because that’s their business, but I know that sooner or later it’s all going to come to a head. Even still, they’re seeing twice the action than I am.
Gale and Madge are getting married.
Finnick and Peeta might as well be married, they’re so committed.
And then there’s me. Despite spending almost every day together after Peeta asked me to be patient, we still haven’t talked about our feelings since that night he and Finnick rescued me from my date with Dr. Gloss, whom I haven’t spoken to once since I ran out of his room like my ass was on fire.
It’s not like I can blame the man. He wasn’t in the wrong at all—that was all me.
So I’m in a cocoon of loneliness of my own making, and now I’m sitting here in my dark bedroom, tormented by the thought that I’m going to be alone the rest of my life.
I pick up my phone and type out a group text to Peeta and Finnick.
Katniss : Are you awake
I wait for a reply and don’t get one. I tape out my fingers on the comforter and sigh loudly. I know it’s a bad idea and beyond rude, but I find myself climbing out of bed and throwing on a coat, not even bothering to change out of my pajama pants and sweatshirt.
Katniss : Can I come by? Hope that’s okay
I’m in my car before I can overthink things, driving over to the guys’ apartment. They gave me a key, didn’t they? They told me I was welcome anytime. This isn’t an abuse of my privileges. I’m in need, dammit. I need comforting. Even if they’re asleep, they won’t mind if I climb into bed with them and soak up the familiar warmth of their bodies.
So as I slip the key into their doorknob and slide into the hall, I’ve successfully convinced myself that I’m completely in the right. My phone vibrates as I shut the door behind me.
Finnick : Of course. Come on over.
I laugh and text him back.
Katniss : I’m in your living room *cue horror music*
Two seconds later, the bedroom door opens to reveal a shirtless Peeta, completely awake. His drawstring sleep pants hang dangerously low on his hips as if he had only just hastily slipped them on. His blonde hair is mussed and standing on end, like fingers had been running through the strands. His lips are red and bruised looking, and it dawns on me what I’ve interrupted when I see what dark marks like hickeys on his bare chest.
“Come to bed,” he says, cocking his head. He props his elbow against the doorway and stares at me, his eyes glittering with something. Challenge. Excitement. Worry. It’s a strange mix of emotions staring back at me.
“Okay,” I say slowly, walking toward him. I drop my purse onto the kitchen counter when I pass by it and squeeze my cold hands into fists. I duck under his arm and enter the dark room. It smells of expensive candles and sex. It’s a heady scent that makes me light headed.
“Hey, babe,” Finnick says from the bed, a sheet covering his lower half. The candle lights cast flickering shadows across his bronze skin. He pats the bed and I climb onto it, leaving space for Peeta between us. “Everything okay?”
I’m so ridiculously easy to read. I make an attempt to smile, and Peeta just shakes his head as he crawls next to us on the mattress.
“That smile is pathetic,” he tells me, leaning forward and analyzing my expression. “Tell us what’s up. I know you didn’t just come over this late with no reason.”
I immediately apologize, feeling terrible about crashing their night. “I’m sorry-”
Peeta lightly thumps my nose and I flinch. Then he rubs the tip of it with his thumb and cocks his head at me in exasperation. “Don’t apologize. You can come any time. We’ve told you that a million times.”
“We just know you,” Finnick says, leaning around Peeta to study me. He scratches his bare chest, and my eyes drop down to the perfectly toned expanse of skin. “Something’s going on in that pretty head of yours.”
I smile at that.
“Fine,” I admit, turning on my side and laying my head down on Peeta’s pillow. “Tonight just...it got to me, I guess.”
“Gale and Madge?” Finnick asks softly. Peeta tenses next to me. “Were you...you weren’t jealous, were you?”
“No. Definitely not.” I trail my fingers over Peeta’s arm, lightly skimming the blonde hair there. He relaxes beneath my touch. “Not of them . Just what they have together. It just made me feel—lost. Aimless. I feel like I did at the beginning of the year, and it reminded me that I’m no better off than I was months ago. I’m just stagnant. Everyone is moving forward with their lives and I’m just existing.”
“You’re going to graduate at the end of the year and get a job you deserve,” Peeta says, kissing the top of my head. “That’s a big deal.”
“Hopefully,” I say, knowing I sound maudlin but I’m helpless to stop it. “But that’s not set in stone. It’s not a sure thing.”
“I’m an artist,” Peeta tells me, exasperated. “And I’ll probably be a starving one. I’d say you have a better chance of taking the Urban Forestry world by storm than I will the art world.”
“You’re both full of shit,” Finnick says cheerfully, rubbing Peeta’s stomach. His hand is dangerously low on his abdomen. “We’re all going to be wildly successful, and none of us will ever be alone.” He fingers make lazy loops on Peeta’s skin. “You know how I know that?”
“Because I have faith. And because I know that at the end of the day, we have each other.” He narrows his eyes at my expression. “We’re a package deal, us three.”
Peeta nods down at me, his eyelashes fluttering when Finnick’s fingers dip ever so slightly beneath his pants.
My eyes flick down to track the movement of his hand.
“I’m a third wheel from hell,” I say, feeling short of breath. I hold up my palm when they start to protest. “I’m serious. It’s getting ridiculous. Look at you guys.” I gesture toward them, trying to encompass their varying stage of undress with the wave of my hand. “I clearly interrupted something. I’m terrible for your sex lives,” I say, trying for a bit of levity. The mood is rapidly changing, a sudden shift in the air that is confusing me and turning my cheeks pink with warmth. The candle seem brighter, the shadows longer. The scent in the air is sharper. “Just because I’m not getting any doesn’t give me the right to cockblock you.”
“Does it look like you’re interrupting anything?” Finnick asks softly, his hand gliding beneath the material of Peeta’s pants. I swallow when I realize he’s jacking him off with long, sure strokes. Peeta lets out a long, relieved sigh, shifting down until he’s lying next to me. He lolls his head and looks into my eyes, his eyelashes fluttering while Finnick works him over with expert fingers. “You’re a welcome guest in our bed. No- you’re a part of us.”
“Finnick,” I say, choking on his name but staring at Peeta.
I can’t look away from his flushed skin or his dilated eyes.
Finnick smiles at me and then hovers over Peeta, cupping his cheek and pulling his face toward him. He drops a kiss to his lips, and my eyes fly down to where his hand is still working beneath Peeta’s pants. But then the pants are being drawn down Peeta’s hips, his powerful thighs, and then I can’t breathe when his erect cock is in full view.
This is the sight that I had been deprived of when I had spied on them all those months ago. I never did get a good view of his cock while Finnick had blown him, and now I’m being treated with untold delights.
I become aware that Peeta and Finnick are watching me stare at Peeta’s dick and I tear my gaze away, mortified and turned off beyond belief. I bury my face in the pillow for a moment before Peeta pulls me up to a sitting position against the headboard.
“It’s okay,” he says, his eyes intense. He’s sitting up as well, leaning back against Finnick. The sheets have fallen away from Finnick, but I can’t see anything. Yet. “I don’t care if you see me. I want you to see.”
“What is this?” I ask weakly, breathless as I watch Finnick trail kisses down Peeta’s throat. “What’s...I should...I should go-”
“Don’t you dare,” Finnick breathes, getting on his knees. He pushes Peeta gently between the shoulder blades, and I watch in fascination as he slowly lowers himself to rest on his elbows. Finnick scoots back a bit and cups Peeta’s hips, lifting his sculpted ass in the air
Oh. My. God.
Peeta’s face is inches away from mine, and his eyes are hot as he rakes them over my face.
“Finnick is gonna fuck me,” he says roughly. My eyes fly to Finnick’s impressive cock, nestled in a thatch of well-trimmed, dark hair. I don’t know where to look. I feel like I’ve been awarded a shopping spree with a limited timeline. I just want to take it all in. It feels like I’m in a dream. Is this really happening? “That okay with you?”
“Um,” I say, my eyes watering. I’m so overwhelmed. That’s the only word to describe the rush of emotions that filled my veins, and the way my skin pebbles with goosebumps as they both stare at me with dark, carnal hunger written on their faces. “Yes- yes.”
Finnick reaches behind him and grabs a bottle from the top drawer of their side table, squirting a healthy dose of lube onto his cock before giving it a few rough pulls. Then he looks at me and quirks his lips as he pulls apart Peeta’s ass cheeks and squeezes the bottle between them.
“Hurry up,” Peeta groans, his eyes still on mine. “Fuck me, Finnick. Please.”
“You’re so impatient,” Finnick tsks, leaning forward and thumping the flushed crown of his impressive length against Peeta’s hole. He pauses teasingly, his eyes flicking toward me before he trains them back down to where he enters his boyfriend. From the way Peeta’s face goes slack with pleasure, I wish I could see it better, the way the head of Finnick’s cock pops in and slides home.
“Oh, shit,” I whisper, my hand gliding over my thigh absentmindedly. The low, raw grunts tearing their way from Peeta’s throat coupled with Finnick’s sharp, rhythmic gasps is sending painful bolts of lightning between my legs. “I...this is…”
“Touch yourself,” Finnick demands, one hand his hands sliding up Peeta’s back and clutching at his shoulder, his thrusts becoming more demanding. Meaner, somehow.
The force of his penetration sends Peeta sliding forward with a gasp, and he looks up at me, a desperate, rapturous look on his face. Then he presses his face into my chest, and I can feel his hot breath through the thin material of my shirt.
“I can’t,” I say, biting my lip when Peeta aggressively nuzzles the space between my breasts, his pants becoming more frantic. “I shouldn’t. God-”
“Do it,” Peeta says, his voice muffled. “Please... Katniss , please oh please oh- ”
I touch Peeta’s soft, damp curls and look up at Finnick helplessly, my thighs sprawled open, almost begging for my hand to slip between them. He stares back at me over Peeta’s head, his expression intense, almost manic, as he furiously fucks Peeta in front of me. He grips his boyfriend’s ass and makes a twisting motion with his hips, causing Peeta to shout into my chest.
“Bet you’re soaked,” Finnick says, his expression dark and tempting. His normally perfect hair is wild and his skin is glistening with a layer of sweat. He’s a beautiful mess, and I can’t look away. “Bet your- ah, your pussy is dripping right now? Kat?”
“Yes,” I whisper, my traitorous hand sliding into my pajama pants. I shove them down to my knees...
And then I touch myself, furiously bringing myself off with one hand while the other clutches Peeta’s hair with sharp, painful tugs that he seems to enjoy as he lifts his head from my chest and watches my hand move underneath my panties.
My eyes are wide and dry because I can’t blink, I can’t fucking look away while my two gorgeous men fuck each other, and I fuck myself, and then I’m gasping out my orgasm. Legs shaking, muscle clenching, earth-shattering.
“Oh, oh shit.” Finnick grunts, his hips losing rhythm as he stares at me, his mouth open wide. “I’m... oh shit oh shit, Kat...I’m losing it-”
“Come in my ass,” Peeta groans, reaching between his legs and jacking himself with a shaking hand. “I’m gonna...fuck, I’m coming -”
I lay there in satiated, dreamlike shock as Peeta spurts on the bed as Finnick releases inside of him. Wetness hits my exposed thighs, and my eyes widen when I release it’s Peeta’s cum. My pants are still down around my bent knees, and I hastily pull them up around my hips again. Reality is setting in, fast and furious, when I realize what I’ve done.
I climb off the bed without looking behind me, feeling mechanic.
“Wait. Where are you going?” I hear Peeta say behind me, his voice hoarse and alarmed. I hear shuffling, like they’re moving off the bed, but I’m walking fast and out of the bedroom before they have time to unwind from the sheets. I have to get away.
What have I done?
“Katniss!” Finnick shouts, but I’m already through the front door.
Then I’m gone.
...don't kill me. 🖤
Let me know what you think? Lol
Also I apologize that I didn't get to respond to everyone's reviews last time. Just know that I deeply appreciated every last one of them.
Chapter 12: Stop Playing Games
I'm thanking you ahead of time for all of your patience with me and the angst of this story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
My eyes flick toward my vibrating phone before focusing on the dark road again. It’s taking all of my mental energy, what’s left of it anyway, to make sure that I don’t wreck the car while having something close to a panic attack for the past three hours.
I had meant to turn into my apartment, but instead I just...kept driving. An intense spiral of fear, shame, and remorse catapulted me into this impromptu road trip. I need the safety and comfort of my childhood home. I need space. I need a time machine, because I can’t believe that I just masturbated in front of my best friends while basically using their intimate acts as my own personal sex toy.
“But they asked me to stay,” I say aloud, banging on the steering wheel. The words taste unbelievable on my lips. “They asked me to do that.”
But it doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that I was coaxed or encouraged into participating. I knew better. I knew that hearts were involved and that it wasn’t-and couldn’t- ever be some one-off event for me. I crossed a line, and now that my body knows what it’s like to be involved with the fantasy of its dreams, there’s no going back to the way it was before.
And I don’t know how I’m going to look them in the eye again without showing them either my mortification or longing, both of which I would rather die than put on display.
So, instead of spending the next week of spring break loafing around with them, going to the bar, or to Eno’s beach house for a few days, I’m going back to my little hometown, hiding out and licking my wounds, praying for clarity and peace of mind. Like a true coward.
I finally pull into the driveway at an absolutely indecent hour. I try not to slam the car door because I know how nosey the neighbors can be. Mrs. McMann, a former cop, is especially diligent about monitoring everyone’s comings and goings, a fact that my stepfather used to complain about bitterly at the kitchen table after she wrote a formal complaint to the Homeowner’s Association about him wearing boxers while walking to the mailbox.
I stumble onto the porch with tired, gritty eyes and blindly reach down into a ceramic ladybug pot that holds a spare key. I pat around with my fingers and grimace when something skitters across my hand, and I pull back so swiftly that I accidentally send it toppling over, where it crashes down against the wooden slats of the porch.
“Son of a bitch!” I whisper, crouching down and picking up the largest pieces of the broken pot. I’m just exhausted enough that I consider leaving the mess until morning, but I don’t want anyone to cut their feet if they walk outside without shoes.
The front door flies open with a startling sound, shocking me so badly that I fall backward onto my ass.
“Who’s there?” Haymitch demands gruffly, peering out into the dark. He’s illuminated by the hall light, and his longish-hair and still-strong frame would intimidate someone who didn’t know him. He hefts a baseball bat in his hand and points it. “Get off my porch or I’ll fuck you up.”
“Jesus! Chill, old man. It’s just me. You need to fix the porch light.”
“Goddammit Katniss, what’re you doing skulking around at this hour?” He walks over the threshold of the door and looks down at me with narrowed eyes. “I almost brained you with this killer.”
I take the hand he offers me, grunting as I find my way to my feet.
“Killer? We bought that thing for fifty cents at a yard sale when I was in eighth grade,” I scoff, brushing off my pajama pants with what little dignity that I have left. I carefully place the broken pieces of the pot into what remains of the ladybug and turn back to face my stepdad. “Maybe you need to invest in a gun.”
“Psh. You’d have a hole in your head if I had one, kid,” he grumbles, dropping the bat and crossing his arms. “Why’re you here?” he repeats, nodding his head toward the porch swing. I follow him and sigh in relief when my body collapses against the familiar wood. “Not that I’m not glad to see ya,” he adds a little stiffly. I’m too tired to call him on his uncharacteristic show of sentimentality.
“It’s my spring break.” I give a too-casual shrug, my head falling back to rest against the curve of the swing. The gentle sway of it would normally send me into a lull, possibly even sleep, but I’m so keyed up and filled with a constant, stressful buzz of anxiety, like the current of an electric fence, that I know that I won’t sleep a wink for the rest of what’s left of tonight. “Decided to spend it with you guys.”
“Uh huh.” I can barely make out his grizzled face, but I can hear the skepticism in his voice. “Why aren’t you with those hoodlum friends of yours? Running wild in the streets and painting the town red?”
“Hoodlums?” As miserable as I am, there’s still a tiny thrum of amusement that runs through me. “What do you know about it, Haymitch?”
He waves a hand. “I have the internet. A smartphone with Instagram. And apps.”
I ponder on this for a moment when he continues, “So what the hell, sweetheart? You didn’t drive for hours in the middle of the night to hang out with me and your mom.”
“Maybe I’m here for Prim.”
“Maybe you’re full of shit,” he counters, propping his foot against the porch railing and stopping the swing’s movement. “What’s going on with you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” My chest feels tight as memories from earlier begin to crowd my thoughts. My phone sits heavily in my pocket, as if the weight of my unanswered texts and voicemails is a physical force I can feel through my jacket. “Okay?”
“Not okay. I’m up now, and I haven’t even had my coffee. You better spill or else.”
“I’m allowed to have separate plans from my friends,” I insist, wrapping my arms around myself. “Quit making a big deal out of this.”
“Who’re you trying to convince?”
My eyes fill with tears, and I dash them away with my hand, not wanting Haymitch to see. “Just stop,” I say lowly, hating that my voice has the tell-tale thickness of a crier.
He stands and walks into the house, leaving me sitting in a puddle of my own self-loathing. I told him to stop, but I didn’t mean for him to leave. I’ve been alone all night with my thoughts and-
The front door opens again, and my stepdad comes back to the swing with something in his grasp.
“Here,” he says, pushing a bottle into my lap. I catch it with surprised hands before it lands on the porch. “Drink and talk. No crying.”
“Not just any alcohol,” he says, sounding offended. “This is premium scotch, aged to perfection. Very expensive shit.”
I unscrew the cap and take a swig, making a face as the potent burn of it hits the back of my tongue.
“You overpaid,” I rasp, handing him back the bottle.
I sigh and close my eyes.
“My life is a mess,” I finally say. “The semester is winding down and I don’t have an internship. I haven’t really made any connection yet for jobs, and I’m graduating at the end of the year. I’m scared of failing. I’m worried about my...friends separating from me. I’ve never really had good ones like this, you know? I don’t want to lose them after they graduate.”
“Then why are you running away from them?”
I falter and gesture for the bottle again. “I’m not.” I take another sip and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand.
He grunts. “Told you I have Instagram, didn’t I? I see you and those two boys. I’d eat my hat if your three hour detour home didn’t have something to do with them. Y’all are better than your mom’s soap operas.”
I feel a dull flush run up my neck and spread across my face. “It’s not like that,” I lie.
“Then tell me how it is.”
So I do. I start from the beginning, way back to the beginning of fall semester all those months ago. I leave out some of the more salacious details—there’s a limit to what I’ll share with my stepdad, even if we are close. But it’s a relief to get it all off my chest to a non-judgmental third party.
“I love them,” I finish, and then take another hard swallow of scotch. I thrust the bottle back toward my stepdad and cover my burning cheeks with my palms. “I’m in love with them. And it’s hell .”
I wait for a reply, some sort of safe advice or recrimination, but only the lazy creak of the swing greets me. Haymitch shifts beside me, coughs wetly and hands me the bottle again.
“So what’s the problem?” he finally asks.
“Are you serious?” I give his shadowed profile an incredulous stare. “Where do I start?”
He waves his hand. “All I’m hearing is you whining about two boys that love you, and you love them back.”
“I love two guys that love...other guys. Each other. “
He pops my knee with a sharp slap that’s a shade too hard to be playful. “That’s sounding a little narrow-minded. I’m supposed to be the old one.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I say. “I don’t care if they’re gay, bisexual, or anything else. I care that they’re in a committed, loving relationship and I’m getting in the middle of that. There’s no good ending here. Everyone is acting like there’s some easy answer, but there isn’t. I’m living with the reality. I’m not riding off in the sunset with two boyfriends.”
“Seems like you were already there,” he replies, his voice mild. I blink, startled. “What’ve you been doing all these months? Playing house. Going on dates—whatever passes for dates these days. Netflix and chill...or whatever it's called.”
“Ew." I wrinkle my nose and take a sip.
“I’m old but not dead,” he grumbles, yanking the bottle back from me. “But anyway, stop playing stupid. You’ve been as good as dating these two boys for a while now. I’ve never met the one fella, but Peeta damn sure adores you. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And if the pictures and videos you three take are any indication, I’d say Finnick does, too.”
“Let me ask you this. Are you worried about what people are gonna say about you?”
“No,” I say. “You know I’ve never cared about that sort of thing.”
“Now the question is this,” he interrupts me. “What are you gonna do about it?”
I slump back, the liquor finally getting to me. I feel a warm thrum through my body and a delicious sort of blankness taking over my brain. I don’t want to think anymore. I want to hide away in my childhood bedroom and pull the blankets over my head. This conversation with my stepdad helped, but I still feel lost.
“I don’t know.” I rub my eyes. “Thanks for the talk.”
“Glad to help,” he says dismissively, patting my leg before standing. He wobbles a bit on his legs before pointing down at me. “But it ain’t me you should be talking to, honey. You can only run from your problems for so long. Hide out here if you want, but when the time’s up, go back and work things out with your...friends.” An uncomfortable look crosses his face, as if he’s finally realizing that he’s been discussing my possible sex life for the past hour. “You don’t want to miss out on a good thing because you were scared.”
I nod and turn my head away, my cheek pressing into the cool, wooden slats of the swing.
“And Kat?” I hear him say from the doorway. “For what it’s worth, if those two boys were here, I’d tell ‘em they need to stop pussy footin’ around. They gotta tell you what they want, clear as a bell. Should have from the start. I know you’re hard-headed and need to hear that.”
I laugh softly despite my inner angst. “Goodnight.”
The next morning, I wake up to Prim sitting on my bed. I yawn, my jaws snapping with the force of it before yelping. The little brat pinched me.
“Ow!” I rub my arm and glare at my little sister before sitting up against the headboard. “What was that for?”
“Why are you here?” Prim demands. She flicks her perfect ponytail and looks annoyingly chipper. She shoves a cup of coffee into my hands. “Drink and explain.”
“It’s too early for this,” I mutter, taking a sip of the hot drink and promptly burning the tip of my tongue. I think about how Peeta likes to drink his with a straw, and my lips turn down. Thinking about him or Finn just makes my heart hurt.
“Early? It’s four o’clock in the afternoon, Katniss.”
“Oh,” I say dumbly. “I had a late night.”
“You think?” She gives me a disapproving look over her own coffee cup. “Peeta and Finnick have called me so many times. They were worried to death that something had happened to you.”
“I was going to call them today.” My excuse sounds lame even to my own ears.
I sigh and put my cup on the bedside table. “I did something I shouldn’t have.”
Her eyes widen and she leans forward. “What?”
“I took Gale and Madge’s engagement a little harder than I thought I would,” I explain. Prim’s eyes fill with sympathetic understanding. “I went over to Peeta and Finn’s because I didn’t want to be alone, and...well. I interrupted them while they were…”
“Having sex,” Prim interrupts dreamily. I give her a look and she flushes. “What?” she adds defensively. “A girl can fantasize, can’t she? Don’t act like you haven’t, too. Those men are fine.”
“I did a little more than fantasize,” I mumble, playing with a loose thread on the comforter.
“Oh my god.” Prim’s voice is so shrill, she’s almost shrieking. She rises to her feet and covers her mouth. “Did you have a threesome?”
“No!” I yank my hair, mortified to have this conversation with my little sister. “Well, not really. Kinda. I watched while they...you know.”
“Holy shit,” she whispers, her cheeks burning with two bright, pink splotches. “You lucky bitch.”
“I’m so proud of you,” she says, collapsing onto the edge of the bed again. “I can’t believe you did it. You went for it! Was it amazing? Was it the hottest thing you’ve ever seen? God, I bet they wanted you to join in—Katniss, I told you they were so into you! You guys-” She stops suddenly, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Wait! Why the heck are you here?” Understanding dawns on her face. “You left! You left them in the middle of the night!”
“I didn’t have a choice,” I say miserably, my head in my hands.
“That’s why they’ve been blowing up my phone.” She huffs and thumps my exposed foot with her manicured fingernail. “You are...ugh, I am so mad at you, sister.”
“I’m already confused and upset enough right now,” I tell her. “I came home to think and get away from the stress of it all, not to be given a hard time by you and Haymitch.”
Her eyes rake me over, no doubt taking my haggard face, tired eyes and sad lips. She sighs and grabs my phone from the nightstand and hands it to me. “Call them back at least.”
“You’re so stubborn.” Her lips tilt down.
“Can you just...be my sister?” I ask, clutching the phone in my hands. “I just need to relax this week. I’m going to go back to school soon enough. But I don’t want to talk about the boys right now. Do you think we can do that?”
“All right,” she finally agrees, resigned. Prim inclines her head toward my hands. “But text them.” She stands and walks toward my door before pausing to look back at me. “They care about you so much. If you had heard their voices…” She shakes her head at the look on my face. “Fine, I’ll stop.”
Then she leaves me alone with my heart in my throat.
True to her word, Prim doesn’t bring up Finnick or Peeta again for the rest of Spring Break. We watch movies, visit a petting zoo because Prim’s obsessed with llamas, and go to the diner down the street to gorge on ice cream sundaes.
Yesterday, we went hiking on a trail that was a favorite of our father’s, even if she doesn’t remember going through the winding passes with him like I do. Sometimes it makes me so sad to think about Prim not remembering him very well, and it’s important that I take her on these trips to the places that I connect with our father so strongly.
Standing on the summit of the trail was the first time that I’d felt at peace for days. There had been a terrible, crawling worm of distress chewing its way through the bowels of my stomach ever since I texted the guys back that first morning I arrived home.
Katniss I’m sorry I worried you. I went home for spring break. I’ll be back Saturday
Finnick: Okay, Katniss. Be safe
And that was it. That’s all I’d heard from them for the past five days. I knew it was hypocritical and ridiculous, but I felt something like disappointment that they hadn’t pursued me. What did I expect? For them to hop in the car and follow me home, demanding for me to come back? I’d got what I’d wanted—radio silence. It’s no one’s fault but my own that they’d given it to me.
I’d spoken to the rest of the group a few times, mostly to apologize for breaking various plans I had made with everyone, but the subject of Peeta and Finnick was conspicuously absent.
I was unsettled and disjointed. Tomorrow, I’d be going back to Panem, and I was no closer to any sort of conclusions about my relationship with the boys than I had been when I’d run away last weekend.
“This is cute,” Prim says from beside me on the couch, looking at something on her tablet.
She tilts the screen of the device toward me.
peetamellark: my bf is putting me to shame with his disgusting body #dontlookatme #struggleabs
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lolabee: I HAVE SEEN JESUS
lalalunaaa: WHAT BEACH are you guys at?? I wanna meet you :3
karkarington: Holy fuck, this is being made in poster form.
buddyhollys: how do u look like that omg
lindiemoo: you’re beautiful! Your body is gorgeous don’t you ever feel ashamed.
cruz889: FOLLOW ME please
I swallow hard, allowing my eyes to soak in every detail of their glistening, sun-soaked bodies. Their smiling, happy faces.
“They look good,” I say shortly, sitting back and scrolling through my phone as if it doesn’t bother me at all that they’re having a wonderful time without me.
“Welcome home, you weak bitch,” Glimmer says, pushing a beer across our kitchen counter.
I’m already regretting not escaping to my bedroom when she came home from work. “You’re so sweet.”
“Don’t insult me like that.” She flicks a strand of platinum hair away from her face and leans against the formica surface, her blue eyes searching. “So, how was your week of solitude?
“Because our spring break was the shit,” she says. “We seriously had a blast.”
“Good,” I say, not rising to the bait. I take a sip of beer. “You guys deserve to have a nice time.”
Glimmer makes a noise of disgust in the back of her throat. “You’re no fun at all,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I’m trying to wind you up about running away from your men and you’re not even giving me the satisfaction.”
I crack. “So you guys know what happened?”
“No. But of course we all knew something happened. Finnick and Peeta acted like someone kicked their cat for days, you left without warning—yeah, we’re not idiots.”
“So what happened?” she demands, hopping onto one of our bar stools and pointing at me with a manicured nail. “You’ve gotta give me something.”
“We messed around. It was a mistake. I left because we all needed space,” I say mechanically, pushing my beer away.
She stares at me for a moment. “You mean you needed space. Because I’m here to tell you—those guys were practically drowning in the space you gave them.”
“It was a mistake,” I repeat, looking down at the counter. “We crossed a line. I just want things to go back to normal. Can’t you understand that?”
“Are you going to call them and tell them that? Have you even seen them yet? You’ve been home all day.”
“I’ll call them later.”
Glimmer taps her nail in a steady, frantic pattern.
“You’re the dumbest person alive,” she finally says, standing up and walking out of the kitchen. Her bedroom door slams a moment later.
I stare at my phone and shift with discomfort on my mattress. The clock turns over to midnight.
I haven’t called the guys. They haven’t called me.
My last thought before I bury my head into my pillow is how I’m going to face Peeta tomorrow.
My face is burning with the force of Peeta’s glare. I’m surprised there aren’t twin holes in my cheeks from his laser eyes. I try to focus on our professor’s voice but it’s nearly impossible. I’m regretting coordinating our schedules to include one last shared class before he graduates.
Relief courses through me when we’re dismissed for the day. I gather up my bag and shoot a smile at a few people who speak to me as they pass by, but my lips form to a frown when Cinna, a guy who shares another class with me, stops to chat about an upcoming assignment. I grit my teeth and force myself to reply in a normal manner even though I’m screaming inside. I hadn’t planned on this obstacle during my daydreams of escaping without a Peeta confrontation.
But there he is, his arms crossed and his back rigid while he waits for me to finish the small talk with our classmate. I can read his body language even from my peripheral vision. It reads: what the fuck is wrong with you?
Cinna finally bids me goodbye, but it’s too late.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Peeta asks evenly, his hand on my elbow. He’s not aggressive—the gesture isn’t even firm, but I’m rooted to the floor of the lecture hall as if he’s slapped a pair of handcuffs around my wrists. Just a light touch from him is absolutely searing, which is all the more reason for me to get the hell away.
“I have a shift at the Bean King.”
“We need to talk, Everdeen.”
“Not here,” I say, my voice low and harsh.
“Then where?” he asks with a mocking smile, pulling his hand away. I miss the contact immediately. “Because you ran away from me- from us - for a week. We’re talking this out.”
I try to step around him but he moves in front of me, and then we’re in a shuffling dance with each other that would have been funny in any other situation.
“Peeta,” I snap, throwing my hands in the air. “Stop playing games and let me go.”
“I can’t,” Peeta says, his hands finding my shoulders. “Katniss…” He looks me fully in the eye, and it’s only then that the exhaustion on his face becomes clear. “I can’t do this again. This pulling away thing, where we have to chase you down every time you get scared.”
“I’m sorry I’m such a burden-” I start stiffly, but he covers my mouth. Not hard, but just enough to stun me into silence.
“No. That’s not it. And you know that. You really don’t get to play the wounded victim right now.” His forehead is creased, and his mouth is pressed into a thin, pressed line. “I understand that there’s been...a lot of miscommunication. And I will shoulder that blame. But it’s time to cut the bullshit.”
“What do you want to hear?” I close my eyes and relish in the blank canvas, that brief moment of escape. Then I open them again and stare at the tormented reality of my best friend. “That I freaked out? That I couldn’t handle what we did?”
“Yes,” Peeta says, squeezing me. “If that’s how you felt. If that’s the truth. We can work through that. It’s normal! You think we didn’t freak out?”
“Did you?” I ask, yanking on my braid. I stare at the blackboard for guidance. “I mean, that sort of stuff is probably nothing new to you guys. It’s not-”
Peeta drops his hands away from my shoulders and steps backward, his face closing like a window slammed in front of my very eyes.
“What? Are you serious?” He shakes his head in disbelief. “You think we’re in the habit of bringing random girls into our bed?”
I instantly regret my hasty words. “Well, no-”
“Tell me,” he interrupts me. “When exactly would we have time to sneak in this mysterious person? That five minute period a day when we’re not with you? Damn, I knew I was a good lover, but I never fully realized my prowess until now.”
“Stop,” I say. I feel completely helpless and the conversation is spiraling out of control. I’ve offended him, and that’s the very last thing I want.
Peeta stares at me in response and waits.
“That’s not what I meant. I just…you guys are more experienced. Maybe you’ve had a threesome with another guy. I don’t know!” I laugh but it’s a desperate, humorless sound. “This is so out of my wheelhouse. I don’t know how to handle any of this. I’m...I’m ashamed, okay?”
Peeta’s nostrils flare, and he flinches so violently that it’s like he’s been slapped.
“Oh,” he says. His voice is dangerously soft. “You...you can be so hurtful sometimes, Katniss. And the worst part is that I don’t even think you know it.”
I cover my face with my hands and then drag them down my skin with a violent, jerking slide of my fingers. “I’m not trying to hurt you!” I cry, backing away. “See? I’m bad for you. I never know what to say or do.”
“Why are you trying to make it hard to love you?” he asks evenly. The words ring loudly in the empty classroom. My heart snaps, and not even the look of remorse that crosses his face helps ease the sting of his words. “Why are you making this so difficult? We don’t have to have all the answers right now. We just...we need to just be together. All three of us.”
He said it.
My face must express all of my shock, because he continues, “I’d rather have this conversation with Finnick here, but I can’t wait anymore. Kat, you feel it too. I know you do.”
“Peeta, you’re talking crazy. This isn’t something that happens in real life,” I stammer out, my hand clutching at a desk beside me for support.
“This is real life. It’s our life!” Peeta quickly lowers his voice and looks at me beseechingly. “I’m sick of pretending that I don’t want you. We both are. Why can’t we just try? Just see where it goes?” He tries to smile. “It could be fun.”
Because I’m scared. Because it’s not enough to just try. If I have you both only to lose you, I’ll never recover.
“Maybe it’s for the best if we…if we take a break,” I say instead, backing away toward the door. My heart breaks with every step away from him. “The year’s almost over. You’re graduating. We’d be going our separate ways, and- it’s for the best if we take a breather.”
“Katniss,” he says, his voice breaking. He reaches out a hand to me.
“I can’t,” I say, and then I turn away.
So, yikes. But! I PROMISE the next chapter will be...rewarding.
Chapter 13: No More Running
We're getting down to the end now, my friends. Also...warning for very explicit content (I AM NERVOUS).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
My shift at the Bean King is torturous. There isn’t a single thing that’s rubbing me the right way. Every smiling, cheerful face. The indie music pumping through the speakers. The stupid lattes everyone in a pair of ankle boots wants to order. The way Enobaria is staring at me with a mix of concern and resignation, as if she already knows that I’ve broken my own heart.
“Hey,” she finally says after I’ve burned myself for the third time. “Go home, honey.”
“I can’t deal with this,” I mutter. Tears that have nothing to do with my coffee-scorched skin spring forward. “I just can’t, Eno.”
I rush to the back of the shop and collapse onto an upturned crate, covering my mouth and squeezing my eyes shut. Soft, tentative footsteps echo in the storage area and the smell of lemongrass essential oil fills my nose.
“Do you want to talk about it?” my friend asks softly, dropping down beside me. “I should probably tell you...I know what happened the night of the engagement,” Eno confesses. She rests her head on my shoulder. “I’ve felt so guilty that you didn’t know that I know. Like I’ve had a weird reverse secret.”
She’s the only one who didn’t text or call me repeatedly to ask about my sudden disappearance during Spring Break. Out of everyone, she knew the most about my situation with Finnick and Peeta, so I found it strange at first. But now I know it’s because Peeta had already given her the heads up.
“It’s okay,” I finally say. “I’m glad Peeta had someone to talk to about everything.”
“But it wasn’t Peeta,” Enobaria replies, lifting her head. She hesitates and lowers her voice. “It was Finnick.”
I turn and look at her with surprised eyes.
She continues, “It was when we went to my parent’s beach house. Everyone else had gone to bed. Finnick and I played cards for a bit. He was drinking pretty heavily, more than I’ve ever really seen, you know? He’s usually the one that stays the most in control out of all of us. But he was different...and then he started talking.”
“Oh,” I said.
“He’s really torn up, Katniss. I’m not saying it to make you feel worse than you already do, but...wow. That man cares about you so much. I’d be jealous if you weren’t so hard to hate,” she jokes, pressing her finger into my thigh so hard that I could feel it through my jeans.
I burst into tears and give Enobaria a practically indecipherable rundown of my conversation with Peeta.
“I really messed up,” I choke out, ending my story. “I hurt him so bad. And I’ve hurt Finnick. I’m just so damn worried. I don’t know what to do. There’s no way it can work out between the three of us, is there? In all seriousness, it’s just...it’s crazy.”
“Katniss,” she says faintly. Her head is back against my shoulder. “I understand where you’re coming from. The confusion...the fear. And whatever you decide, I’m on your side. But if Glimmer wanted to go public with our relationship instead of just being fuck buddies, I’d stand on my head. I wouldn’t care what anyone thought or said about us. Nothing would get in my way.”
I inhale. This is the first time Eno’s mentioned their relationship to me. I think about what Glimmer said, how she didn’t care about anyone’s judgment, and I realize that I’m not the only one who has a communication problem.
“I’m aware that you know about us,” she says, a hint of a wry smile in her somber voice. “And it’s okay. Anyway. This isn’t about me. I just...you have to live your life. You can’t let the worry of tomorrow ruin your today. And today, one of the men you’re in love with put his heart on the line.” She stands abruptly, and I blink up at her.
“Now,” she says, wiping her hands on her hot pink apron. “I’ll finish your shift.”
“Thank you, Eno.” I grab her hand and squeeze her fingers. My heart still hurts but I feel a degree lighter. “One of the best things that happened to me this year was finding you, you know that?”
“Back at you, girlfriend.” She pulls away and tucks a braid behind her ear. “Now go home and do some thinking, you hear me?”
Loud and clear.
She turns back toward me with a questioning look on her face. I stand and walk her way.
“I think you and Glimmer should have a conversation of your own. Maybe clarify things,” I suggest innocently. “Because, just maybe? A little bitchy birdie might’ve sang a similar song about you.”
She looks at me, stunned.
“Just something to consider,” I say, touching her arm before walking past to do some thinking of my own.
Lying in bed with the weight of the world on your shoulders and maudlin music in the background is only glamorous in movies. The reality is a sinking feeling that you’ve completely screwed up your life and the sensation of crushing loneliness surrounding you on all sides.
I wandered around town after leaving the Bean King yesterday, an aimless endeavor as I tried to gather my thoughts. I’d called Prim for back-up, and she all but hung up on me when I told her about my conversation with Peeta.
“Men can be so dumb. It could be fun,” Prim had intoned in a Peeta-like voice before laughing incredulously. “But I think the dude was grasping at straws to keep you in their life. Just talk to them about it,” she’d added, her voice full of sisterly exasperation. “Fix this before I disown you.” I’d been annoyed with her until a text arrived a few minutes later: I love you big sister.
Glimmer had taken one look at my face and rolled her eyes when I walked through the apartment door. “Fucked it up again, have you?” she said, dismissing me after a moment.
So now I’m still in my room a day later, shirking all responsibility and wishing I could hibernate for the rest of the semester. I should be working on a paper or looking for a local internship, but I can’t bring myself to consider the future right now. It’s too depressing, especially if I think about one that doesn’t include Peeta and Finnick.
My phone lights up next to my hand, and I idly lift it to read the screen.
Glimmer: Come to the living room, please. I need a second opinion on an outfit
Me : Since when do you give a shit about my fashion advice?
Glimmer: Shut up and get out here
I toss my phone onto the bedside table with a clatter before sitting up and throwing my legs over the side of the bed. I’m never getting a roommate again, especially a high maintenance one. I mentally file this away as a reason to work on getting a better job soon so that I can live on my own.
“Okay!” I call out, stomping down the hallway. “Let me see this outfit that was important enough to interrupt my wallowing-”
I stop and gape.
“Ciao, bitch,” Glimmer says, slinging her purse over her shoulder. She’s already opening the front door and giving me an insincere wave before I can fully process what’s happening. “I won’t be back until morning, and oh yeah, I took your wallet. And your car keys. See ya.”
The door slams behind her. Then there’s a cough from the living room, an area I was studiously ignoring until now.
“She could have been a little more subtle,” Finnick says dryly, running a hand through his hair. He’s sitting on the loveseat, his ankles crossed casually as if there’s nothing unusual about the day.
“Oh, Katniss doesn’t do subtle.” Peeta stands up from the couch, facing away from me. “She needs to be hit over the damn head with the obvious before a point is fully made.”
“Chill out,” Finnick tells his boyfriend, leisurely standing as well. “Let’s not play the blame game, especially since we haven’t been the picture of transparency. And we have plenty of time to work out our issues in a civil manner.”
“I don’t want to be civil,” he practically growls back. He points my way without looking at me. “I want to fuck the shit out of you both.” My heart stops, and finally, he looks at me. His blue eyes are sharp and wicked. “Kiss and make-up later.”
“What the hell is going on?” I burst out.
I become painfully aware of my ratty shirt, faded pajama pants, and verging-on greasy hair. Meanwhile, they look like they stepped off the pages of a book cover, which could be entirely plausible when I think about their Instafamous side hustles. I’m completely unsettled and ill-prepared for what’s to come next.
“We’re here,” Finnick says, “for you.”
I look at him, dumbfounded.
“Enough’s enough, Katniss,” Peeta says tightly. I realize they’re both slowly making their way around the couch to where I’m standing, and I take a step back. “We’re settling this. You’re going to listen to what we have to say. Please.”
They inch toward me, and I calculate whether I can make it to my room and lock the door without them reaching me first. I know it’s incredibly childish, but I whirl around, ready to take off.
I only make it a few steps before I find my world literally flipped upside.
“Gotcha,” Finnick says into my ear, adjusting me over his shoulder. I’m stunned as I’m carried down the hall like a sack of potatoes.
I screech at him to put me down, but he just pats my legs in response.
“Oh my god,” I ground out, glaring at Peeta’s shoes as he follows behind us. Beneath my outrage, a little thrill shoots through me, because my body is happy to be in Finnick’s arms regardless of the circumstances. “I’m gonna murder both of you.”
“That’s fine,” he says in a maddeningly cheerful voice. He opens my bedroom door so Finnick can walk through with his heavy burden. Then I find myself gently dumped onto the bed a moment later, and I glare up at them like a churlish, rumpled cat.
“How dare you -”
“No. How dare you,” Peeta says with sudden calm, motioning to Finnick to shut the door. Their faces are full of contemplation as they look down at me.
“I look terrible. My room is a mess,” I babble, crossing my arms as I scoot backwards. I hit the headboard and lightly panic. “Just...whatever you’re doing...I’m not ready for this talk—”
“You look terrible?” Finnick interrupts me with a laugh. His eyes take me in, the aqua of his irises flashing as he looks me over with hungry, hot sweeps of his gaze. I allow myself to do the same, just for a moment, because god I haven’t seen him for a week and I missed him so much —
“Look,” Peeta says. The word is both bitter and amused at once. “She can’t take her eyes off you, Finnick. The little hypocrite.”
“The sentiment is returned,” he murmurs back, cautiously sitting down beside me on the mattress. My eyes flick toward Peeta, who still stubbornly refuses to do anything but pace back and forth in front of the bed, but then I’m enraptured by Finnick’s stare all over again. “Oh, babe. You look beautiful. You always do. We tell you all the time.”
“No,” I say weakly. “You can’t say that kind of stuff to me anymore.”
“Because it kills me,” I reply with bald honesty. And then I decide to just drop the bomb. To just...get it over with.“And I love you so much it hurts.” I look back and forth between them, my lips trembling with fear and anticipation. “Both of you.”
Peeta stops his frantic pacing and stares at me, his blue eyes intense on mine before turning toward Finnick. They share a look and start to laugh, causing a cold chill of shame and anger to run down my spine.
“I can’t believe you’re laughing at me,” I say so quietly that it’s barely more than a whisper. “I love you and it’s miserable being alone in this. Go fuck yourselves.”
Peeta stops laughing and stalks over, brushing past Finnick to straddle me on the bed and grasps my shoulders. I’m so taken aback by the sudden show of dominance that all I can do is stare as he presses his forehead to mine.
“You little lunatic,” he says softly. “We love you, too. I love you.”
“You have to know that,” Finnick adds, sitting beside us on the bed and taking my hand.
I close my eyes. “It’s not the same kind of love.”
“What are you talking about?” Peeta asks, his lips brushing against my jaw. I shiver. “You’re absolutely dangerous when left on your own, Kat. What sort of nonsense have you been telling yourself?”
“You love me more like a sister than—”
“Lord,” Finnick interrupts me with a drawl. “I would hope not considering it’s illegal...hmm, or at least highly immoral to feel this way about a sister.”
“You’re being cruel,” I say desperately, closing my eyes. I’m being pulled a million different directions. Hope and terror and absolute sexual need all war together as I look back and forth between them. “You’re playing a game, or- or...”
“This isn’t a game,” Peeta grits out, pushing me back against my pillow. He hovers over me and glares into my eyes. “It’s never been a game. If it was, we’re absolutely inept at it. We love you. We want to sleep with you. In you. We want to be with you. Forever. Call us bisexual if that makes it easier for you—if you need that distinction. Call us whatever you want, but I don’t care about a label, Kat. I only care about you two.”
“We’re just two men who love each other,” Finnick says simply, his hand untwining from mine and traveling up my arm. His fingers trail up my skin and leave warm tattoos in their path. “And you.”
“I’ve been attracted to you since the first day I met you.” The boy—no, man straddling me brackets my head with his hands, forcing me to stay focused on his face. It’s hard to concentrate with his blue-eyed gaze blazing into my face with the force of the sun and Finnick’s fingers making distracting loops onto my arm. My eyes focus somewhere past him and latch onto a patch of green paint on my ceiling, feeling absolutely surreal in this moment. “No, don’t flutter those pretty eyelashes at me, Kat. Look. Listen. Believe me.”
I nod, dazed as I meet his stare again.
“It wasn’t instalove or anything like that. It was just…an immediate awareness. An awareness of how insanely cool you are. How much I wanted to be around you. And this tight feeling in my chest, and yeah, my dick every time I saw you with that braid and those plush lips. I’ve seen my share of beautiful girls, Kat. I’ve admired them and appreciated them. I’ve even kissed a few.”
I feel a thread of jealousy burn through my body at this confession that must show in my eyes, because Peeta smiles at me with pleased ferocity, like he’s enjoying the emotion he sees there. “But this? I’ve never in my life been this sexually and emotionally attracted to a woman.”
“He’s been trying to be with you since fall,” Finnick adds helpfully, leaning over Peeta’s shoulder to peer into my face. He nuzzles his boyfriend’s neck and then playfully bites his chin. “We both have.”
“But…” I’m stunned by these revelations, lifting my head and then letting it fall back to the pillow beneath. “Me? I’m just…I’m nothing special.”
Peeta narrows his eyes at me. “Stop that.”
“Silly girl. You’re special to us,” Finnick says. “You’d have to be to capture our attention.” He smiles at Peeta’s profile before looking back down at me. “We’re quite picky, you know.” He reaches down to wrap a strand of my dark hair around his finger. “I wouldn’t share his love with anyone but you, Kat. Ever.” There’s a serious look in his eyes as he yanks on the strands, not quite hard enough to hurt. “Now. Are you gonna break our hearts again?”
My eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“When you left us last week,” Finnick says, his voice soft as he looks askance at Peeta, who hasn’t once looked away from my face with that intense, almost furious expression. The wounded betrayal I made him feel has turned this laughing, charming boy into someone else right now.
“You murdered us, Katniss,” Peeta says, his mouth barely moving. “For a week…you left us wondering. Waiting. Hurting. For days. Then you said you wanted a break. My god.”
“I’m sorry,” I choke out. I start to sit up, and Peeta moves to accommodate me, sitting back on his heels. Then I throw my arms around his neck. “But you have to understand, this has been...confusing. And scary. And then you said that thing about having fun. I’m not made for that.”
He freezes for a moment before his arms slowly come around me, his embrace filling me with a warm glow of happiness.
“That was idiotic,” Finnick says, side eyeing Peeta. He pets my hair soothingly, apologetically. “Believe me, I let him know.”
Peeta pulls back from our hug to look at me. “It was the dumbest thing I could have ever said.” His lips tighten with regret. “I freaked out when I felt you slipping through our fingers again. I would have said anything to keep you, but that clearly wasn’t the right thing. But Katniss. You had to know we want so much more than that from you.”
“I guess...part of me did,” I finally admit outloud, testing the words. I move from my knees to a cross-legged position, and Peeta mirrors me on the bed. “But then there’s the part that thought...that thinks this is all too good to be true.”
“Oh, it’s true,” Peeta says, finally looking away from me to meet Finn’s eyes. “I know that we’ve been...less than clear about it sometimes, but we didn’t want to lose you. Scare you off. And I’m so sorry for that that we handled it so wrongly.”
“I realize that sometimes we played our hand a little too close to the vest,” Finnick allows softly. “Then...we’d play it too strongly. The balance was difficult because...I think we let our insecurities get the best of us. Neither one of us are good with rejection or abandonment.”
Peeta nods. “And there were times when it really felt like you didn’t want us.” He swallows and looks back at me. “Especially this past week.”
“I’m sorry,” I say with difficulty, trying not to cry. I grab his hands and clutch them desperately. “But I have been scared. And a little cowardly. I just didn’t know how this could work. I didn’t dare believe that you two…” I look at Finnick, who’s moved to kneel beside Peeta on the bed. “That I would be lucky enough for something like this to happen to me. I never thought I’d fall in love with one person, let alone two. And to have you love me back-” I stop and struggle with the right thing to say, every word in my mind too meager to serve this moment. “It just seems unbelievable.”
“It’s real,” Finnick says, taking one of my hands from Peeta and encasing it in his own.
There’s a moment of quiet reflection. And then Peeta breaks it.
“You know. We look like we’re having an incredibly romantic séance,” he says, looking at the three of us holding hands in a circle.
We fall apart. For the first time in recent memory, I’m wiping away tears of laughter, and I’ve suddenly never felt more secure in my life.
“Do you forgive me for disappearing last week? And for being awful yesterday?” I ask after we’ve gotten ourselves together, looking at Peeta for the second half of the question. He studies my face and touches my lips, his expression growing serious again.
“To be left in the dark...it was rough. But you needed time,” Finn says, inching closer on the bed and rubbing my knee. “I know our first sexual experience together was a sensory overload and we fucked up. Should’ve had a conversation beforehand about how much we wanted you. How much we love you. ”
I’ll never get used to hearing that for as long as I live.
Peeta nods, his blonde curls falling over one eye. “You don’t even have to ask. No forgiveness necessary,” he says, sliding a tip of his finger across my mouth. His voice is quiet. Almost a little dangerous if it wasn’t for the absolute love I heard beneath the warning in his tone. “Just..please never do it again, Kat.” Then I hear the crack in the words, like he’s been holding himself back. “We can’t take it. Just promise we’ll all do better about talking shit out when things get hard. No more running.”
I flick my tongue against his finger and suck, staring at him in apology.
His face darkens and he stares at my mouth before pulling his hand away. “Because we’ll follow you, Katniss.” He pushes me back down against the mattress again with a growl, taking me off-guard. “There’s nowhere you can hide from us.”
“No more running,” I swear breathlessly. I wince with pleasure when Finnick lies down next to me and kisses my neck, leisurely little flurries peppering my skin. “Peeta-“
Whatever I was going to say next is swallowed by his mouth on mine. I’m overwhelmed by the sensation of lips against my skin—they trail down sensitive collarbone, they’re gently plying my mouth open to accept a thrusting, teasing tongue against my own, and they even find the vulnerable crease of my elbow with wet, open mouthed kisses pressed to the skin there.
“Sit up,” Peeta tells me, and I obey. We’re once again facing each other while kneeling on the mattress. Finnick moves off the bed, hastily removing his clothes. I want to enjoy the view but I’m too distracted to fully appreciate it. “Lift your arms.”
The shirt is tugged over my head, and a moment later a completely nude Finnick assists him in unsnapping my bra with nimble fingers. And just that quickly, I’m topless in front of them. The urge to cross my arms over my chest overtakes me, but when I start to lift my arms, Peeta’s strained voice stops me.
“Don’t,” he says. His eyes are glued to what I consider to be an inconsequential set of breasts. Then Peeta exhales, his eyes full of wonder. “Your tits, Kat. They make me believe in God.” The bed dips when Finnick climbs behind me, his bent legs cradling my body as he tilts me back so that we’re laying back-to-front against my headboard. Finnick’s hand snakes around my bare stomach, his hand cupping my rib cage, his splayed fingers only centimeters from my left breast.
And then he cups it.
“Have a taste, Peeta,” he rumbles behind me, his thumb idly circling one stiffening nipple. I feel something hard pressed against my back and I shiver with anticipation.
Peeta sways on his knees slightly, a charmed cobra coming to life and ready to strike. He leans forward, bending his head. His hot breath hits my areola, and I’m feverish with the need to feel his mouth on me.
But then he pulls back and curls his fingers into my cotton pajama pants, tugging hard.
“Not yet,” he says, practically panting. He pauses to watch Finnick’s thumb as it continues it’s maddening path around my nipple, and I squirm backwards, desperate for a connection. “I want Katniss naked first.”
“An excellent plan,” says Finnick, rubbing my side with his free hand.
I tilt my hips and down goes my pants, Peeta practically ripping them down my legs with his haste. My panties follow a moment later, and then I’m bared to the boys completely.
“You next,” I say, reaching out a hand.
Peeta inches forward on his knees, allowing me to fumble at his zipper like a benevolent lord. My shaking fingers do a poor job. It’s almost impossible to focus on dexterity when Finnick is naked and touching me with teasing hands. Peeta takes pity on me, pulling his shirt off with that incredibly sexy and effortless way that men have, grasping the neck of the shirt and sliding it off his beautiful body with one yank. Then his jeans are off and—oh. No underwear. My boy is commando, and hard, and already starting to weep at the tip.
He gives himself an experimental, rough tug, and it’s only then that I notice that his hands are trembling as well.
“C’mere,” I say, hoarse and almost unrecognizable.
He crawls forward and presses his forehead to my chest, his silky, tousled blonde head so close that I can rest my chin on his head. A hot palm drags up my side to join Finnick’s, and then Peeta rises to his knees, a cobra once again.
I find myself sandwiched between two of the most gorgeous men I’ve ever had the privilege of laying my eyes on.
“I have to touch you,” Peeta says. His eyes are hurricane blue. His cheeks: bright apples. Shoulders—broad and tense. He’s the very picture of undone. “Have to.”
“Don’t just touch me,” I beg. “Lick me. Suck on me.” His breath comes out in heavy cascades at my shameless words. “Have you ever sucked on a pair of tits, Peeta?” I lower my voice, not even knowing myself in this moment. I am a powerful empress when he silently shakes his head. “ Then let me be your first.”
“Christ,” Finnick says from behind me, grabbing my hair and pulling my head back against his shoulder with one hand. His other is still wrapped around my breast, holding it toward Peeta like a pagan offering. “Look at me, Kat.” If I crane my neck, I can make out the side of his face. He tilts down to claim my mouth before pulling back and looking at his boyfriend—our boyfriend . “How can you resist such a pretty request, baby?” I can hear the wicked smile in his voice as he taunts him, “If you don’t do it, I’ll do it for you.”
“No,” he bites out, and leans his head down. His mouth trails down the valley of my breasts, and I’m breathless as I wait for his mouth to make contact with the needy buds that are straining for his lips.
Peeta presses kisses to the tops of my chest, dropping one to each of them before tending to my right breast. And then his lips find my nipple, his wet mouth suctioning to the painfully sensitive tip.
“Oh shit,” I gasp, the aching core of me throbbing as he gives a few long, moist sucks to the bud. It’s like my nipple is directly attached to my clit. I can’t believe how good it feels, and my hand reaches up to clutch him to my chest.
Finnick plays with my other breast, his fingers still teasing me.
“Please,” I say, thumping my head against his shoulder. “Finnick, touch me.”
“Where should I touch you?” he asks, his lips against my hair.
“Play with me. My…maybe my clit,” I say, my face burning. Then the scrape of teeth against my nipple makes my squeak. “Ah, Peeta. Oh, that feels so good.”
Finnick’s fingers slide away from my breast and down my ribs, and then both of his hands lower to grip beneath my thighs. He wrenches my legs open, spreading them obscenely to lay over his own thighs.
“Peeta,” he calls, almost sing-song, but Peeta just growls in return, having already moved to my other breast and lavishing exquisite attention to what he finds there. “Baby, your mouth is needed elsewhere.”
“Oh yes, oh yes,” I babble. I’m so turned on I can barely breathe. Peeta pulls away from my tits, leaving the slick remains of his saliva there like a brand. “Peeta, please, lick me.”
He blinks down at me, his pupils so blown that barely any of the blue remains. “I’ve never eaten pussy before,” he says, his voice like gravel. “But I want to, Kat. I want yours so bad.”
He cups my face and gives me a deep, wet kiss before turning to Finnick and doing the same to him. His stiff cock presses into my lower stomach as they kiss over my head, and I wish I had a mirror over my bed so I could see it all.
I don’t want to miss anything.
“Easy there, boy,” Finnick murmurs. Peeta pulls away and watches as Finnick settles further back against the headboard, taking me with him. “This is your show, Peeta.” He squeezes my thighs with his fingers. “Lick our girl out.”
Peeta stares down between my legs and rubs his lower abdomen.
“I don’t know where to start,” he says honestly, his face flushed. “I want to just dive in but I- I want it to be good for you, Kat.”
“Nothing you do will be wrong.” I touch his knee. “Just have fun. It’s only us here.”
He nods and lowers himself, his shoulders hunched as he presses his face closely to the most intimate part of me.
“I’m gonna kiss you here, Kat.” He traces the delicate folds with one questing finger before rubbing his cheek against my thigh. He lays his head there for a moment, just looking at me like the greatest treasure lies between my legs.
“Spread her apart,” Finnick tells him, his voice rasping and uneven. “Separate her lips like this.” He releases one of my legs that lay over his own and demonstrates, forming his fingers into a ‘V’ shape. “Look at all the beautiful pink, baby.”
“Fuck,” he whispers, looking up at me beneath his sooty eyelashes.
I stare back down at him between the valley of my breasts, my mouth parting when he takes over for Finnick, his own tentative hand holding me open. My clit is pulsing and desperate, sensing that there’s a willing tongue only inches away. I’m close to begging for him to lick me when Peeta suddenly puts his lips there, pecking my clit softly.
“You’re so pretty here,” he says, nuzzling me. His nose brushes my shaved mound and his lips grind into the soft flesh below. “I never…Katniss, you’re beautiful everywhere.” He kisses my clit again and my hips arch at the teasing press of his mouth. “Everywhere,” he mumbles into my skin.
“That’s the sweetest kiss,” Finnick says from behind me with a sigh.
He plays with my breast with the fingers that aren’t clutching my thigh. Peeta’s taken over for him there with his free hand, and it’s a team effort as they splay me open wide.
“Peeta-“ I choke out, almost bucking off the mattress completely when he delivers one long, slow lick to my center. Then another.
“Was that good?” he asks with deliberate mock-innocence, peering into my eyes before darting to meet Finnick’s stare.
“Do it again,” Finnick drawls, kissing my shoulder. “This time, don’t stop. Keep licking her cunt until she screams.”
He listens, his pink tongue curling and flicking at me first with hesitant strokes, then with a more confident pressure with every moan from my mouth. When I squirm as he licks my clit with direct contact, he correctly reads my body language and stops, instead licking around it with firm, circulating swipes until my abs quiver with effort.
I was going mad with his tongue between my thighs and Finnick in my ear, telling me what a good girl I am and how much he wants to put his cock in my mouth and pussy and how much he loves me and—
“Oh god, oh god,” I groan, my hands twisting into Peeta’s curly hair.
“I wanna cover you in cum,” Finnick says in a conversational tone. Peeta starts to go down on me in earnest then, and it’s obvious he’s just as affected by Finnick’s nasty words as I am. Finnick’s cock is rubbing into the crack of my ass and he’s dry humping me from behind with slow, modulated thrusts of his hips. His lips press into the shell of my ear as he continues talk dirty to me, “I wanna fuck your tits and—“
Peeta lifts his head, his mouth wet with me. His chin glistens and his eyes are absolutely frantic with need.
“I’m sorry,” he grounds out, leaning up on his elbows. “Katniss, I can’t- I want to finish but I’m gonna cum. You two- you’re too much. I want- I need…”
“Get inside of me,” I gasp, pulling him by the shoulders. “Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me.”
He swings his head around, his eyes focusing on his jeans on the bedroom floor.
“I need a condom,” he says in despair, looking all the world like it’s a mile away. It would almost be comical if I wasn’t so desperate for his cock, too.
“I’m on the pill.” I grab his face with my hands and stare hard into his eyes. “I’m safe. I trust you. But only if you’re comfortable… both of you.” I direct my words to Finnick as well, because this is a partnership of three.
He looks at me, stunned. Then he kisses me.
“I trust you.” He looks beyond me at Finnick, who lays his chin on my shoulder and nods. “I can't believe it,” he exhales, his eyelashes fluttering. “This is happening.”
“It’s happening,” Finnick says, his voice both strained and amused.
“Let us take care of you,” I say, aware that he’s been more than patient while giving me and Peeta our moment. “I can suck you while-“
“No,” he says gently. I can tell he’s looking past me at Peeta. “There’s time for that later. I want this to be about you two right now.”
He pulls me back so that we’re laying back against the pillows, his arms wrapping around me and finding a home beneath my breasts. Peeta tracks our movements, his hand hovering on his balls like he’s afraid he can’t control the cum that I know is boiling inside. It’s cruel to make him wait and I spread my legs invitingly.
“I can get off just like this,” Finnick says from behind me. “It’ll be enough to watch while Peeta finally fucks a pussy. Your first time, isn’t that right, baby?”
“Oh god,” I say, his words having a powerful effect on me.
“My only one,” Peeta says, surging forward to kiss Finnick. His cock thumps against my folds and bumps my clit, searching for true north. Then he kisses me, his hand reaching down between us. He fumbles and Finnick’s capable hand joins him between my thighs, guiding the tip of Peeta’s hard, beautiful cock into the heart of me.
“Oh,” he says, his eyes dropping into a heavy lidded stare, his lips parted as if in surprise. “Katniss .” My name in his mouth is an exhalation, a shaky prayer.
“More,” I whisper, rocking my hips. He slides another inch and groans, his forehead dropping to mine. His lips brush my cheek as he pushes upward until he’s fully seated inside of me. “You fill me up so good, Peeta.”
“I have…to move,” he grinds out, his arms stiff. “You feel amazing. Perfect . So...ugh, forgive me for this. But tight. So goddamn tight, Kat.” He grimaces, and I can’t help but laugh.
“What?” he asks, and even Finnick shakes behind me, trying to hold in his chuckles.
“You can say tight,” I tell him, kissing him on the lips tenderly.
“It’s a compliment,” Finnick agrees, the subtle thrust of hips sending his cock sliding between my cheeks, adding a delicious friction there.
“It sounds cheesy. I want-” Peeta grumbles, but stops when I buck my hips, his expression contorting as if he’s in pain. “Oh, fuck. Fuck, Katniss!”
“Stop talking and move, chatty boy,” I whisper in his ear, my arms wrapping around him. “Fuck my tight pussy, Peeta.”
He lets out a sound somewhere between a whine and a gasp, drawing back and watching the space where we’re connected. He’s trying so hard for it to be good for me but I know I won’t come like this.
“I wish I could take a picture,” Finnick says, sounding awed. “You’re both too beautiful to be real.”
Peeta’s rhythm is already becoming choppy, signs of his impending orgasm obvious from his irregular thrusts and harsh, guttural breaths.
“I’m sorry, Kat,” he groans, his hand finding my cheek. He kisses me hard, his tongue licking at mine in desperation. “I’m, agh- I’m gonna come...”
“Let go,” I say into his mouth, my fingernails scratching at his back. “Come inside me.”
He pumps once, twice, and then holds himself still above me, grunting something unintelligible as he shoots liquid warmth into my channel.
He collapses on top of me, the weight of him heavy and comforting. It’s completely silent except for the heavy breaths coming from Peeta and I.
“I’m gonna have a heart attack,” he says into my neck after a few minutes.
“You can’t die yet,” Finnick says, sliding out from behind me. He kneels next to us and slaps Peeta’s ass, who jerks his head up and glares. “Not after you just lost your cherry.”
“I wasn’t a virgin.”
“You were a pussy-virgin,” Finnick jokes with a smirk. “I tried to tell him what he was missing out on all these years.”
“As if you’re that much more experienced than me. Anyway, you can’t miss what you’ve never had,” Peeta replies, kissing my cheek, my nose, and then finally my lips. The pecks are sweet and tender, and his flushed face is practically glowing in the aftermath of his orgasm. “But now I can never go without it again. You ruined me, Katniss. Your pussy is like a vice.” He’s still inside of me and gives an experimental thrust with his half-hard erection. “I want to make a home in it and never leave.”
“Too bad, baby. It’s time to vacate the premises,” Finnick says, his voice dropping an octave. I turn my head and my lips part when I realize his cock is now only inches from my mouth. I’ve seen his dick before but now I have a front row show to his blessed endowments. Where Peeta is thick, Finnick is long and a little more narrow but beautifully formed. It’s veiny and flushed a dark pink, the head purple with need.
I can’t help myself. I turn my head and swipe out my tongue to lick the tip.
He narrows his eyes at me and his lips press into a line. I see a challenge in his expression.
“You wanna taste it that much?” Finnick asks. He looks like a golden god, his ripped body like something from a magazine. He runs a hand up his chest and plays with one of his own nipples, the site so erotic that I feel my clit throb. “Open up those pretty lips then.”
I widen my mouth and he feeds me his cock one inch at a time. The weight of it slides across my wet tongue, the saliva in my mouth coating his warm skin.
“Hold her head,” he tells Peeta, gritting his teeth.
Peeta wraps his hand around my hair and presses my turned head into the pillow. Then he kisses my temple and leans over me.
“Your mouth was made for sucking cock,” he says, nuzzling my cheek. I can still feel him inside of my pussy, and I’m overwhelmed by the feeling of being spit-roasted through my mouth and cunt. My eyes widen when I realize he’s growing hard again.
And then he starts to move. Slow, at first. Then a gradual build-up of friction as he grinds into me, barely pulling out as he moves back and forth. Gone is the frantic novice and in his place is the confident Peeta whom I’ve always known.
“Yeah,” Finnick grunts, rocking his hips as he watches us. I breathe through my nose when his dick bumps the back of my throat. My eyes water and I feel tears stream down my cheeks but I welcome him into my mouth, rolling my tongue and somehow getting off on the fact that he’s fucking my face. “Fuck her, Peeta. Make her come this time, baby.”
Peeta bends his head and sucks one my nipples into his mouth, his back bowing as he starts to fucking me faster in in a controlled but brutal pace.
Then his fingers find my clit and I’m fucking lost.
I scream around Finnick’s cock, the orgasm catching me completely off-guard. The calloused pads of Peeta’s fingers combined with Finnick’s grunts work together to send me over the edge. The waves of pleasure feel so good it almost hurts, and I don’t know if I’m crying from the hard cock choking me or the aftershocks of an orgasm that Peeta is riding out with his last few thrusts.
“How the hell...god, I’m gonna come again,” he pants, pulling his head away from my chest. He watches as Finnick fucks my mouth, and I swear he slows down to match the rhythm of the other man’s cock. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. ”
Peeta throws his head back and comes for the second time, and I’m dazed when they both pull out of me at the same time. Peeta collapses next to me, his chest heaving with effort, while Finnick props himself up against the wall with one hand and frantically jerks his length with the other.
“Swallow. Both of you,” he demands, his voice almost a growl.
Even though I think we’re both half-dead, we eagerly sit up and open our mouths. A second later thick ropes of cum splash against first my tongue and then Peeta’s. Finnick groans above us, squeezes his cock until every last drop is down our throats.
Then bends down and gives me a nasty kiss, his tongue sharing my saliva and the essence of himself. He draws back and drags Peeta by the shoulders, pulling him close and presses his lips to his. When he finally pulls back, he looks as shell-shocked as I feel. I fall back against the pillows again and close my eyes, the bed dipping me when Peeta’s solid weight thumps back down next to me as well. He cuddles into my side and sighs.
“Speechless,” Finnick murmurs, still kneeling beside us. I want to open my eyes and tell him to lay down, but I’m too completely destroyed in the best of ways. “That was…”
“Words don’t describe,” Peeta says, sounding exhausted but satisfied. He protests when Finnick and I reluctantly get up to quickly take turns in the bathroom, but welcomes me back with a possessive arm around my waist. Then he wiggles his fingers. “Get down here with us, Finn. You’re making me nervous.”
“Same,” I mumble, feeling as if I could fall asleep at any moment.
“One second. I just want to freeze this moment.”
“And live in it forever,” Peeta adds sleepily.
“You’re both so sappy,” I tease, opening my eyes and meeting the adoring stare of Finnick Odair.
“Only for you, Katniss. God. You were worth the wait,” he says, finally dropping down beside me. His arm joins Peeta’s around my waist, and Finnick interlocks their fingers. “I never thought we’d find someone good enough for Peeta, and then…somehow, we found you. Perfect for both of us.”
“It was kismet.” Peeta’s mouth is so close to my neck that I can feel his breath exhaling on my skin when he speaks. “Because, honestly? I was open to experimenting, once upon a time. Looked around a little just to see.”
My eyes fully pop open then. “You did?”
“A couple years ago,” he admits. “I got curious. Finnick was okay with it.” I feel Finn nod his assent behind me. “So I thought, why not? I’d see what I was missing, apart from kissing a few girls in high school. Wanted to see what the fuss was all about.”
There’s a tendril of jealousy at the thought of this hypothetical girl taking my place, but the wisp disappears with his next words.
“But no one ever once caught my attention, so I stopped looking. It wasn’t a big deal. Would’ve been fine never touching a girl. Finnick was always enough. Then...there you were. Messy braid, grey eyes, grumpy face. I was a goner.”
Finnick nuzzles the back of my neck. “You changed our entire life. And I would never go back to just the two of us. Couldn’t if I tried.”
For a moment, I can’t speak. I’m too busy contemplating an alternate universe, one where Peeta and Finnick had approved of some random girl who satisfied just enough of Peeta’s curiosity to close that chapter of his life. For fate or whatever high power to have sat us in different seats in that class so long ago, never allowing us to create that strong bond that led from friendship to this.
But then I think, it would have happened anyway.
Because like Peeta said, it was kismet. Meant to be.
“I can’t imagine a life without both of you in it,” I finally say, a galaxy of emotions swirling around the sun of my heart.
“You’ll never have to,” Peeta says, settling in closer behind me. “Go to sleep, sweetheart.”
“We’ll be here when you wake up,” Finnick says. “Always.”
My last thought before I drift off is, I don’t deserve this. But I’ll take it.
I’ll take them. And it may take some work, but all the best things do.
Because it’s the three of us now.
katnisseverdeen: when one boyfriend isn’t enough
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primster: I ALWAYS WANTED A BROTHER AND NOW I HAVE TWO
karkarington: god no why edklfjsldjfsdf
enobariat: This is a thing of beauty.
holla22323: omg i’m so jealous why can’t it be me...omg kissing!!!!!!!
haymitch: i didn't need to see this
I hope you liked this, and it made up for the wait and some of the angst (and you don't want to kill me as much).
Let me know what you think. Also, there's only one chapter left. Thank you for all of your support- I love you guys.
Chapter 14: It's Everything
Well, this is it. We've come to the epilogue. And I'm very emotional about it, which I didn't expect.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
ONE YEAR LATER
Though I’m not a fan of weddings, I have to say—this one isn’t half bad.
I suppose it’s different when two of your closest friends are tying the knot. I’m so entrenched in their history it’s as if I had a hand in personally ushering them to the altar.
And though the past is well under the bridge by now, watching Gale and Madge exchange vows officially sweeps away any lingering shards of it, and all that remains is peace. The ceremony is both cathartic and beautiful, and I find myself discreetly wiping under my eyes.
“Crybaby,” Peeta whispers, his lips brushing my ear.
I’ve never been one to fall prey to cheap tears at conventional festivities, but it’s hard not to get emotional when six-foot-three, stern-faced Gale Hawthorne sobs like a child when his tiny bride glides down the aisle in a custom Vera Wang gown.
The dress and this entire event was paid for courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Undersee, who despite Gale’s initial fears, not only approved of the match but gave their new son-in-law a job at Undersee Corporation when he graduated from Panem University last May. It was a perfect fit for Gale, fresh out of school with an engineering degree and looking to conquer the world.
Mr. Undersee’s generosity didn’t stop there.
Located in downtown Charleston, the architecture and surrounding landscape of Undersee Corporation is gorgeous—almost a work of art in itself. Flowered pathways wind from one building to the next, and large oak trees offer shade for employees who wish to eat their lunch at the picnic tables in the sprawling central courtyard. Hedges pruned into topiary shapes decorate the outside of the glass and chrome building, and the best part of it all? The designs are ever-transforming. Potted plants both inside and outside of the building are seasonally changed. Mr. Undersee is a big fan of variety, and upgrading and maintaining the design strategy is a full-time job—a dream job for someone with a degree in urban forestry.
Though I’ve only had the position for six months, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I never thought I’d be one of those people who are lucky enough to look forward to going to work every day. Who wake up in the morning with a smile on their face, anticipating what the world has in store for them.
Of course, my job isn’t the only thing that puts a smile on my face in the morning.
I glance to my left and smile at Finnick, who’s holding my hand tightly in his own and staring at Madge and Gale with a glazed look. Out of the three of us, he’s probably the sappiest. I squeeze his fingers and he crushes mine back without looking at me.
When I sneak a look at Peeta, I discover he’s already studying me. I recognize the hungry spark in his eye and the wicked twist of his mouth. The way he plucks at the hair tie around his wrist, a secret code. When his tongue flicks out to swipe at his bottom lip, I shiver.
“After,” I tell him, my voice low.
He nods and turns back to face the ceremony, and we sit in comfortable silence as Madge Undersee becomes Madge Hawthorne.
Two hours later, we still haven’t found a chance to break away. The reception is simply a party for the ages. The top-shelf liquor flows like water and the sushi bar boasts exotic fish that I normally wouldn’t be able to afford on a week’s salary. The music is a mix of older, nostalgic songs and current pop anthems, and the only thing they have in common is their irresistibility when it comes to being champagne-drunk and ready to dance.
I finally leave the dance floor after waving away Gale, who claimed a dance with me when “our song” came on, something embarrassing from middle school involving the running man and a host of other corny moves. I’m sure I’ll regret it when the wedding video comes out later, but for now, I’m grinning like a lunatic and limping over to the table where my people await.
“Very nice,” Finnick drawls, patting his lap. I drop down into it and sprawl against him. “I hope you know that you’re probably going to be a viral meme now.”
“Nah,” I say, swiping a sip from his glass of water. I brush away a piece of damp hair escaping from my elaborate up-do and shrug. “I’ll leave the online fame to you guys.”
Finnick bites my neck. “You say that until I release our sex tape,” he rumbles.
“Get a room, you guys!” Enobaria calls out, pointing at us from the dance floor. Glimmer whirls around from where she’s pressed against her girlfriend and glares at us.
“Y’all are animals,” she sniffs. Her sly smile is a direct contrast to her snippy tone.
“Like you can talk,” I retort, but there’s no heat behind my words. It took almost a year, but Eno and Glimmer are finally exclusive. The boys and I have a bet on whether they’ll move in together within the next few months.
My money is on yes.
But maybe that’s just the romantic in me. When you’re happy and in love, you can’t help but wish for the same for the world around you—colors are brighter, food is tastier, and every song on the radio is about you.
That’s not to say there aren’t bad days. Moving in with Finnick and Peeta was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but it was definitely an adjustment. I’ve had screaming matches over leaving toilet paper rolls empty. I thought Peeta was going to choke me when I left the window open and a leaf flew onto a still-drying canvas he needed for one of his art shows. Finnick threw Peeta’s wet, moldering running shoes into the trash when they sat in the hallway for a week without being washed. The cat still hides from me.
Peeta’s family didn’t magically accept him when he started dating a girl. If anything, they’ve retreated even further. And although the online response has been fairly positive toward our relationship reveal, the world is still a cruel place to those who don’t follow societal norms.
But overall, it’s a blessing. And together, we can handle anything.
We’ve all found jobs in Charleston—me at the Undersee Corporation, Finnick with a small but promising company where he’s the head of marketing. Peeta works at the museum as a junior curator, happy to have found a place within the art world when the field is such a competitive place. He’s also sold a handful of paintings at a local prestigious gallery for a surprisingly tidy sum. Well, surprising to him.
Finnick and I knew he would be nothing less than a star.
Both of them still have a large social media following. They’ve even recently been on the cover of a popular young adult book series. It’s still just a side hobby for them, but the extra income is welcome, especially in an expensive city like Charleston. I know they’ll tire of it eventually, and when they do, it’ll be okay—because somehow, we’ve all become functioning adults with fulfilling jobs and healthy relationships.
Oh. And a strong, vigorous sex life.
“What are you thinking about so hard over there?” Peeta asks, raising an eyebrow. When he leans over and taps my lips, I open them obediently. He feeds me a piece of sashimi with an expert flick of his chopsticks and I chew with pleasure.
I almost choke when Finnick’s hand slides up my thigh and disappears under my dress.
“From the state of her panties, I’d say she wants to fuck,” Finnick informs him.
Peeta leans back in his chair and carefully places his chopsticks, an onyx wedding favor with Gale and Madge Hawthorne spelled out in gold lettering on the side, back onto the plate.
“I think we can accommodate your wish,” he says, discreetly but deliberately rubbing the growing bulge in his dress slacks. A thrill of desire runs up my spine. “Shall we, ah, find a room, as Eno so helpfully suggested?”
“Yes, please,” I manage to say, standing from Finnick’s lap so suddenly that I almost knock over a champagne glass while reaching for my purse.
“Easy, baby,” Finnick murmurs. He places his hand on my lower back and guides me out of the grand reception hall. I look over my shoulder and meet Madge’s amused eyes across the marble floor. She salutes me with a little wave of her hand, the sparkling diamond on her finger winking as if it knows my carnal secret.
We hurry out of the open doorway and Peeta catches up to us a moment later. He threads his fingers through mine as we stumble down a plushly-carpeted hallway, laughing like children as we try door handles along the way. Finally one gives in and we fall into what appears to be a small conference room.
“Lock the door,” Peeta growls to Finnick, grabbing his face and giving him a deep, wet kiss. It’s a sight that will never grow old. “You,” he says between kisses, pointing my way without turning his head, “get on that table and take off those fucking panties.”
I quickly obey, panting as I hop onto the conference table, the glass cold against my thighs. I shimmy out of my underwear and shove them into my purse. I’ve only just snapped the clutch back together when Peeta appears in front of me, his hand sliding between my legs. He confident, nimble fingers glide through the wetness there and a gleam of satisfaction enters his eyes.
“You’re ready to get it, huh, Kat?” he asks, tugging down the straps of my dress with deliberate ease. He pulls down the cups of my strapless bra and frees my tits, baring them to his covetous gaze. He bends his head and takes a taut nipple into his mouth, and I moan when Finnick joins him, latching onto my other breast. I press both of their heads closer to me and thank whatever higher power above that thought well enough to grant me the love of not one but two talented, beautiful men.
Peeta draws back, his eyes glittering with desire. Then he kisses me deeply before turning to our boyfriend.
“You take her pussy,” he tells Finnick, running a hand down the other man’s shoulder. He meets my panting stare and smiles with a twist of his lips before unbuckling his belt. It hits the hardwood floor with a harsh clank. He pulls his rapidly growing erection free of his boxers and uses some of my wetness to slicken it. “And I’m gonna take your ass.”
“Hell yes,” Finnick says, releasing my nipple with one last, soft suck. “Definitely my turn to be inside her.” He turns his head and looks at Peeta, who’s quickly rifling through my purse for the small bottle of lube we decided to bring because, I mean, wedding sex . “And I always want you inside me, baby.”
This. Is. My. Very. Favorite. Thing.
“Oh shit,” I sigh, my hands shaking as I push Finnick away and start to work the button from his slacks. I make several attempts before finally slipping it from its slot, and together we push his pants and boxers down, revealing his thick cock and toned backside. Anyone else would look ridiculous with their pants around their ankles and a raging erection below a rumpled white dress shirt and tie, but on Finnick, it could be the cover of a high fashion magazine.
“Get in me,” I demand, leaning back on my elbows. I spread my legs wide and beckon Finnick forward, opening and closing my thighs teasingly.
He pounces, falling on top of me like a ravening beast. He shoves my dress up my hips and pushes into me with one smooth thrust, a move borne from practiced ease. But there’s nothing studied about the way he grinds into me, setting a furious, ruthless pace that has me biting his shoulder to hold back my screams.
When Peeta grips Finnick’s hips a moment later and drives his cock into him, I feel it in the way that Finnick lunges even further inside of me. And then we’re a pulsing, rocking entity, my hands wrapping around Finnick and reaching all the way for Peeta, my fingers clutching at his ass as he pounds into the man between us.
“You feel so good,” Finnick says thickly, “both of you feel so goddamn good.”
Peeta stares at me as he fucks Finnick, and I completely lose it. My orgasm hits me hard and fast, and my elbows collapse beneath me as Finnick and Peeta pump above me. Finn’s face is contorted into a mask of pleasure laced with a delicious sort of pain, the rhythm of his length inside of me now dictated by Peeta’s body behind him.
“I’m gonna come,” Peeta grits out, his face damp with perspiration. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck -”
Finnick presses his forehead to mine, still using my body with brutal, rough strokes. “Me too…god, Kat. Squeeze me like that again.”
I comply and he shoots his release inside of me a moment later. He collapses on top of me, and Peeta follows in a few short thrusts, shouting into Finnick’s back.
“Well,” I say, my voice muffled beneath Finnick’s shoulder. “That was fun. But I gotta breathe now, honey.”
“I’m sorry,” Finnick says, laughing as he and Peeta lift away from me. He touches my face tenderly and kisses my lips. “You’re a mess,” he whispers into my mouth.
“You’re not any better,” Peeta says, peering at the back of Finnick. “We need to clean up and get out of here. There’s probably a limit to Mr. Undersee’s kindness. I don’t want to be caught ejaculating all over his daughter’s wedding venue.”
“Classy,” Finnick replies. He takes it upon himself to reach into my purse and pull out a few Kleenexes. We help each other tidy up as best as possible and quickly fix our clothes.
“How do we look?” I ask after adjusting my dress.
“Freshly fucked,” Peeta says cheerfully. He pulls me by the shoulders and kisses me. “But gorgeous.”
“We always are.” Finnick adjusts the cuffs of his sleeves and gives us a breathtaking smile. “Ready to make our grand entrance?” He and Peeta offer me their arms, and I accept.
I’m prepared for anything with these two at my side. And as we walk back into the hallway and pass a woman who throws me an envious look, I just smile, because I know what I have.
Thank you for your response to this story. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first made the leap to post this, but you guys didn't let me down. I love you all.
Along with updating current WIPs and posting a few new ones, I do have plans to revisit this universe, so let me know if you'd be interested in that. Probably the best bet is to follow me on tumblr for any future fic update news.
Thanks for sticking with me even when it got hard.