Stay With Me

Chapter 15

Chapter 15


The sleeping arrangements conversation was a funny one. I thought Katniss' head was going to explode when I asked the question. It took a lot of self-control to not make a big embarrassing deal out of it for her. I do get a weird pleasure out of messing with her sometimes, she just makes it so easy. And entertaining.

In the end, it was decided that we'd alternate who'd get the bed and who'd take the couch. Which was a bullshit agreement to begin with because I already know I'll find ways to make sure she gets to sleep in the bed every night. I anticipate many a battle over it actually, Katniss doesn't exactly back down from a fight or take too well to kindness.

It's been amazing for me to see our place come together. From Katniss deciding where different pieces of my art should go to us deciding what the layout of our kitchen should be, I've loved every minute of it.

I know it's not exactly legit, know there's a lot on the line and that we've got to make it look good, but I'm holding out foolish, probably overly optimistic hope that we're building something real enough to survive the charade.

Our kisses sure don't feel like a show – there's no way someone could fake that – could they? I need to tell myself no and keep moving things forward, I don't know what else to do.

I'm strangely comforted by Haymitch's bizarrely protective thing for Katniss. She does seem to strike a nerve with him, but there's something underneath, something driving him to look out for her and I'm finding it very reassuring. Maybe it's because they're so similar, not that either one of them would ever consider or admit that.

When I called him, I didn't even really know what I wanted to say, I just thought he should know that my situation had changed. That I'll also need to apply for bursaries and scholarships and find a job and that if there was ever any doubt about my commitment to making my arrangement with Katniss work, I hope he knows now that I'm in it for every reason she is and more.

I didn't like calling him without Katniss knowing, it felt like I was doing it behind her back, but I wasn't ready to tell her the whole story. I don't want to worry her for nothing. I need her to trust me and I'm not sure she'll be able to if she's worried about me bailing to look out for myself. I also don't want to get into a situation where she calls the whole thing off to save my relationship with my parents. That would kill me. And no part of me feels like that would be worth it. I'll tell her, I will, just not yet.

She didn't tell me at first that her plans tonight were with Gale. I tried to stay casual and keep my face neutral when she told me. I think I have a pretty good poker face, so I'm hoping I succeeded.

She told me they've spent every New Year's Eve together since she was 12-years old. Then she said, without my asking, "He's a really good friend of mine, Peeta, just a friend. He's been there through a lot of the shit I've gone through. He's important to me, you know?"

What the hell am I supposed to say to that? Obviously I have to respect their friendship. I mean, he was an actual part of her life long before I ever was, but it doesn't make it any easier. The history they's intimidating. I want to speed ahead to a time when we have private jokes and annual traditions. A time when I'll know what she's thinking, will be able to tell how she's feeling and can tell her with confidence that we'll be okay because of all the struggles we've come through together already. Right now Gale gets to do all those things. He gets to say and do all those things and is a walking poster boy. And I have to be okay with that. And that sucks.

So, instead of staying at home and feeling sorry for myself, which is exactly what I want to do, I'm going to a party at a house where a few of my buddies live. I'd feel stupid if Katniss went out and came home and I'm still in the same place on the couch watching the ball drop.

I'm relieved when she comes out of the bathroom and looks like her usual self. I was afraid she'd come out either really dressed up or looking really slutty, you know, the way most other girls look on New Year's Eve. But she emerges in jeans and a sweater, her hair braided to one side. And I breathe a deep sigh of relief.

"Should I have asked you about hanging out with Gale?"

"What? Why? What do you mean?" I'm sensing some kind of trap...

"I don't know, I mean, we haven't really talked about, you know, us, like, in that way and I guess it might be a weird thing to be with another guy on New Year's Eve." Her voice is unsteady, unsure. I can tell she's nervous or hesitant to be talking about it.

"Look, Katniss, I like you. I think you know that. Our situation is complicated and it's making this," I gesture between us with my hand, "a little harder to navigate. Would I like to be spending tonight with you? Yeah, but you told me Gale's important to you, practically like family, so..." I throw in the like family part as a strategy to make him sound like less of a romantic option.

"He was so mad at me for not telling him about us, I just want to make it right, you know?"

"Yeah, I know, it's cool. We'll toast the new year when we both get home."

"You're going out?" I can't say I don't love the sound of her voice and the look on her face when she asks. Now who's trying to play it cool?

"Yeah, some of my friends are throwing a party at their place, should be a good time," I say casually.

"I forget, I guess, that you have this whole other social network...making friends is pretty easy for you, huh?"

"I got used to talking to people from working at the bakery. I like it, everyone's got a story, you know?"

"It's probably what makes you such a great artist, " she states and I blush a little.

"Thanks," I answer.

"So I'll see you next year?" She asks smiling as she heads towards the door to put her coat on.

"See you next year," I say.

Once she's bundled up I pull her towards me for the deepest, most feelings-packed kiss I can muster. If she's going to be spending the night with Gale, I at least want to leave her with something to keep me on her mind. I'm aware the move is likely totally transparent, but maleness takes over and I don't care how obvious it is.

When I finally pull back, she looks a little stunned. I kiss her once more, softly, and then peck the end of her nose gently for good measure. She smiles with a look on her face that says she's onto me, but she doesn't call me out for it. She gives one of my hands a good squeeze then turns to leave saying, "I'll see you soon, Peeta."

An hour later I'm sitting in a room full of laughing, loud-talking drunk people. I tried to have a drink and get into the spirit of things, but it had little appeal, so instead I'm on the fringe of a small group that's gathered in the kitchen, trying to look like I'm into the conversation and holding a now warm beer in my hand. The crowd's a good one, populated with a lot of people I've known since my first year here in Morgantown, but none of them are Katniss and I'm painfully aware of her absence.

I'm considering getting some fresh air when one of the guys calls out, "Hey Mellark, did I hear you shacked up with that hot girl from back home? What's her name? Katie? Katherine?"


"Right, it true?"

It hadn't occurred to me that I'd have to put on the whole engagement song and dance tonight, but I guess that's kind of the deal from now on.

"Yeah, we're uh, we're engaged. We just moved into the new family residence...gotta save some money for that wedding, ya' know?" I say as naturally as possible.

"Congrats man, I didn't even know you guys were seeing each other."

"When you know, you know, right?" I say, because people seem to always consider this an acceptable answer when it comes to relationships.

This inspires a round of shots and clinking glasses and fist pumps that overwhelm even me, a guy who's pretty comfortable with crowds and people. I end up having people I've never seen before hug me and offer me drink after drink as they spout off marital advice and cautionary tales of weddings gone bad. Girls find the whole thing impossibly romantic and the guys want to know when my bachelor party's going to be. I will no doubt have prompted fights between girlfriends disappointed with boyfriends and spontaneous make-out sessions between strangers riding off the romantic wave of my announcement. My low key night has somehow turned into a me-centric rager.

"So where's your woman then, Mellark?" Someone shouts over the crowd.

"Family thing," I call back. And just like that I'm thinking about Katniss with Gale again, only this time I'm a few shots in so my thoughts have become disproportionately intense. I'm suddenly angry with Katniss for ditching me on New Year's Eve and I'm pissed at Gale for his very existence.

I spend a bit more time stewing among the congratulatory crowd before trudging home through the snow. Around me the streets of Morgantown are far livelier than usual. Tipsy party-goers are waiting for cabs, making their way to their next destination and avoiding at all costs the defeat of going home too early.

I, however, want nothing more than to be back in my bed in my own space where I should have been all night long.

When I walk into the apartment, the lights are off and everything is quiet. I assume Katniss isn't home yet, which only increases my pouty mood, so I head to the bedroom and strip down to my boxers and t-shirt. I somehow feel entitled to the comfort of the bed and figure I'll move to the couch when Katniss gets home.

I realize when I close my eyes that those shots are creating a bit of a spin effect, one that's uncomfortable and the opposite of what I was hoping for. How do people do this every weekend? It's not a feeling I could ever get used to.

I get a bit restless and am aware that my breathing is heavier than usual as I try to get a handle on my body so I can fall asleep. I'm worried I might have to get up and spend some quality time on the bathroom floor when a warm hand begins to rub gentle circles on my back.

It's unexpected, but not unwelcome and I begin to feel better almost instantly. As I relax and drift towards sleep, the anger leaves my thoughts and the spinning slows. I'm reassured by a familiar voice in my ear. "You're okay, just go to sleep..."

The last thing I remember before completely losing consciousness is a soft whisper saying, "Happy New Year, Peeta."

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