It's weird to have Peeta be the silent one. He's only said a few words since coming into the house hours ago and I have no idea how or if I should get him talking.
By the look of his face, I'm guessing things didn't go very well at home. It looks like his mother fell back into old habits pretty quickly after hearing the news. I've never even exchanged a single word with the woman and I'd like to hunt her down like I would a wild animal, only I wouldn't worry about cruelty or a clean kill. Slow and tortuous sound about right for a piece of work like her.
I'm busy making up a bed for Peeta on our couch while he holds a fresh bit of ice to his cheek. I didn't know what to tell Prim or my mother, especially when he showed no interest in coming out of my room for dinner. It's only now, that everyone else has gone off to separate parts of the house, that he's come out of hiding.
I don't blame him. Sharing his woeful tale of domestic violence with his soon-to-be in-laws can't rank high on Peeta's list of ways to get to know the family. Besides, Prim and my mom were pretty cool about it. When a non-violent guy like Peeta shows up with half his face swollen, you know it's serious and probably not the time to make a big, embarrassing deal about it.
"You must be hungry, can I get you something?" He shakes his head no, but there's no way he's not in need of food after all this time. I leave him for a few minutes to make him some toast with peanut butter. It's not much, but at least it'll be something in his stomach.
"Thanks," he says. "Katniss, I... I'm sorry for just showing up like this."
"I'm glad you came...it's good you're here. Do you, uh, do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really, not tonight." He reaches for the toast and slowly begins to eat it. I feel relief that he doesn't want to talk, quickly followed by guilt for how selfish a thing that is.
We sit in silence for a few more minutes, which has become remarkably comfortable at this point. He finishes his toast and asks what time we should aim to leave tomorrow. I suggest after lunch and he agrees.
He catches me in a yawn and says, "You should get some sleep. I'm okay."
"Okay," I answer. "Goodnight, Peeta."
"Sleep well," he says.
It takes me a while to fall asleep and when I do it's that unsatisfying, restless sleep that has you up every fifteen minutes. I've just woken up for what feels like the hundredth time and can hear the sound of footsteps coming towards my room. They stop once they get closer and there's a long pause before my door begins to slowly open.
When my eyes adjust to the darkness, I can see Peeta's silhouette in the doorway, only he doesn't say anything and doesn't move. There's a light on in the hallway so I can see that there's an expression on his face I've never seen before and can't place.
He's waiting for my permission to come in without actually asking and I somehow give it to him with the look on my face because he begins to take slow steps towards me. We still haven't said anything by the time he reaches my bed.
He crouches down and brushes a few strands of hair off my face then keeps his hand where it it is on the side of my head while he places a firm kiss on my temple. When he pulls back I move as far over to the left side of my small bed as possible giving him enough space and an invitation to get in beside me.
As he manoeuvres himself under the blankets and sheets, I turn over onto my other side and gently push my body back against him. I can feel the rhythmic movement of his breathing as he holds me tightly and runs his fingers over the bare skin of my arm, lulling me into the deepest sleep I've ever had.
My eyes fly open and I'm reaching wildly around me without the consciousness to even know what I'm looking for yet.
"Good morning," Peeta says from the chair at the little desk a few feet from the bed. He's fully dressed and appears to be writing something.
"What time is it? Is it late?" I struggle to put the pieces of last night and the current situation together, but the fog of sleep won't seem to lift.
"No, it's still early, you should keep sleeping."
"What are you doing up then?" I demand, not ask, letting my morning crankiness get the better of me.
"Bakery time," he answers simply and shrugs. I move to roll over and keep sleeping, but know I won't be able to now that I'm up. With both the cover of darkness and the intensity of the night before passed, I'm feeling strange about Peeta being in my bedroom while I'm still in bed. It seems like I'm out of my element more than in it these days, it's getting exhausting.
"So no then?" he asks after a minute or two.
"To the sleeping more...looks like you're pretty awake now."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"About yesterday..." he starts.
"Peeta, it's okay, we don't have to talk about it."
"Things just got intense at home...my mom, she...they'll come around, it'll just take some time."
He looks like he's physically in pain talking about it, even kind of defeated as he struggles for words and I'm not sure if it's because he's upset about the situation at home or uncomfortable having to talk about it. Either way, it's not a look or a tone of voice I want to get used to.
"We'll figure it out," I say, trying to sound reassuring. The thing is though that I didn't handle things so well with my own mother when everything went to shit. I have no idea where to begin to help Peeta through dealing with his psycho of a mom. It doesn't seem to me like theirs is a relationship worth saving.
I wait a few minutes to see if he has anything else he wants to share. When he remains silent I ask, "What are you writing?"
"I was just sketching a bit actually...it's a good distraction," he mumbles. "So how 'bout I fix the Everdeen girls some breakfast? If you have some flour, I'll even throw in some patented Mellark baked goods.
"You know I can't say no to that," I answer, suddenly feeling like he's looking for an out from our conversation and being totally okay with that.
He grins and heads out towards the kitchen. I drag myself out of bed and locate a sweater to put on over my pyjamas and some wool socks for my chilly feet. Curiosity gets the better of me before I leave the room and I find myself heading towards the desk.
When I flip to the last page Peeta was working on in the notebook he left behind, I see the image of a sleeping girl, her loose braid spilling wavy tendrils onto the pillow beneath her head. Her lips are pouty and slightly parted, her features soft and vulnerable. I'm slow to recognize myself in the sleeping girl's gentle face and find it even harder to believe that this is how Peeta sees me. He sees me as...beautiful.
Carrying boxes into the apartment I'll be sharing with Peeta is a strange experience. It's blurring the lines again between what's real and what's for show. Peeta keeps asking me where he should put stuff for when we set-up later, which I know is the polite thing to do, but it has the feel of playing house, of pretending. With him. And I hate it. I don't want to pretend with Peeta, it doesn't feel right.
I suppose though if you compare today to yesterday, it's not so far over on the weird scale. Breakfast with my family was a little more forced than our dinner. Prim and my mom were trying so hard to be normal that they ended up overcompensating and were very obviously being over-the-top nice. You could tell with Prim right away since she seems to love having snappy exchanges with Peeta and was instead quiet and the picture of perfect guest-manners.
Then there was the drive back with Peeta. There was a lot more stuff in the van coming back to Morgantown than when we went home, but he got weirded out when I asked about it, so then we spent the rest of the drive either silent or making odd small talk when it seemed like we'd been quiet for too long. I didn't like the feeling of him being unreachable. Then I didn't like having to admit to myself that that's probably how most people feel about me. And then I liked the feeling that that might make me a lot like my mother even less.
"Hey, I picked up a couple of sandwiches for us down the street. Not much of a dinner, but..."
"It's plenty, thanks," I say grabbing one of the packages from him. We're sitting on two of Peeta's kitchen chairs in the middle of our growing box maze. I'm thankful for the break, the day has felt like it's been going on forever.
"I was wondering if you'd like to go out for New Year's Eve together, maybe dinner or something?"
It's a surprising invitation and feels like a loaded one. Images of girls with high expectations who end up publicly fighting with their boyfriends and hysterically crying their eyes out long before midnight flash before my eyes. Besides, I've spent most of my New Year's Eves with Gale mocking the whole thing and can't imagine doing anything else. And even though Gale and I don't seem to be talking at the moment, a part of me is still holding out hope that we won't break tradition.
"I uh, I think I might have plans already."
His face falls and I feel the sting of being the one responsible for it. "Oh, okay, sure. We should probably show up at the event they're having here on New Year's Day though. I think President Snow might even be here. It's like a ribbon cutting or something with a reception or maybe it's an open house."
"Yeah, sure, I hadn't heard about it..."
"Haymitch told me about it, said it would be a good idea."
I'm floored. Since when is Peeta talking to Haymitch? "You were talking to Haymitch over Christmas break?"
"Well, yeah, I had a few questions and he gave me his cell number, so..."
"His cell number?"
"Yeah, it was no big deal."
I don't know why the idea of Peeta and Haymitch talking without me is so upsetting, but it is. I'm irritated, suspicious, and feeling foolish about being left out of something I didn't know anything about.
"Really, Katniss, it was nothing," he repeats as nonchalantly as possible. He puts down the napkin he was using to get the last of the sandwich bits off his fingers before he reaches out and takes my hand. I resist the urge to pull away from him, still confused about the source of my sudden pissiness. I examine his face, looking for clues to support my skepticism, but find nothing but his warm, easy smile.
"So," he says, still grinning, "this is our new place."
"I guess the first decision we have to make is, how are we going to set this place up for sleeping?"