Stay With Me

Chapter 17

Chapter 17


Katniss and I fall into a natural rhythm in our apartment that makes me feel as though we've never lived apart. We do our schoolwork together either at the kitchen table or on the couch. We divvy up the cooking of meals without really having to talk about it; sometimes cooking on alternate nights, sometimes each preparing a part of whatever it is we're making. We come and go at different times most days, but manage to share the space in a way that works for both of us.

I'm busier and out a lot more now that I've taken a job at a nearby bakery. I should've told Katniss about my parents then, but didn't. I told her it'd be good for appearances for me to be working, that it'd be weird to other people if she were working and I wasn't. She looked at me a bit skeptically, like she was trying to figure out whatever it was I wasn't saying and I thought for sure that was the moment I was going to have to confess the whole mess of a situation going on with my parents. But, after a beat she just said, "Yeah, that makes sense," and let it drop.

The more difficult part of us living together, at least for me, has been restraint. I've been holding back on moving our physical relationship forward and it's been anything but easy. I think a part of me is still treating our whole relationship like a delicate house of cards that I could topple over with one rash move, but it's also that I want her to know the whole truth before we take that step. And I don't know why, but it's becoming harder and harder for me to just tell her. It's so embarrassing to have a mother who's so judgmental, so elitist. The thought of telling Katniss that I've essentially chosen her over my own's a lot. How do you tell the only girl you've ever loved that you've been disowned because she's not good enough for your mother? I would be crushed if Katniss' mother felt that way about me.

So I've been keeping it pretty PG, but it's becoming more and more of an uncomfortable challenge. I guess I'm nervous, too, about my own ability to do anything else well. My assumption is that this would be the first time for both of us and I don't want the experience to be a terrible one. I just keep thinking, what if I'm really bad at it or last like two seconds or what if it hurts her? We're both older than most people are when they first have sex, so sure, we have a little more maturity on our side, but I almost wish we'd both made some drunken mistakes in our earlier college years to take some of the pressure off. Maybe Katniss did, who knows, I've never actually asked her. For me my mistakes only went as far as some ill-fated make-out sessions and a couple of short-lived relationships that didn't go much beyond second base. My experience is limited and I keep worrying about the fact that I've been basically waiting for Katniss for all of this for most of my life and what will I do if it all goes horribly wrong?

I almost blew it on Valentine's Day. I assumed that, like most women, Katniss would expect I do something to commemorate our first Valentine's Day together. I could not have been more wrong. When she came in and saw the candlelit dinner I'd prepared and the roses for her on the table I thought she might literally throw up on the spot. "Peeta, what the hell?" were the first words out of her mouth.

"I just thought..." I started to say in my defense, but she cut me off.

"No, no way. We are not going to be those people. Ugh, seriously, let's not do this crap, okay? Not us. I can't deal with the whole cliched-ness of it."

So I encouraged her to go change into her pyjama pants as she usually does when she gets home, blew out the candles, put the table settings away, took the roses down to the lobby to be enjoyed by everyone but us and brought two plates to the couch so we could eat while watching something ridiculous on TV.

She looked around as she sat down, taking in all I'd done to de-Valentine's the place, and she said, "Sorry Peeta, thank you for going to so much trouble, if it were any other day but today..."

"It's cool, I get it," was all I said about it.

The next day, I made an equally delicious meal, but instead of roses I made a small cake and drew a pretty sweet non-rose bouquet on it with icing. I brought the candles back out and set the table as nicely as I had the day before. When she walked in she laughed and said, "You're too much, you know that?" But she came and gave me a long, drawn out bunch of kisses and was complimentary enough about everything that I knew she was trying to express her approval and make up for, let's face it, being a total bitch the day before.

Our reading week is next week and while both of us are working a little bit, it'll be the closest thing to a staycation we'll get, at least for a good long while. I'm hoping it'll finally be a time for us to spend more than just late, exhausted meals together and rushed early mornings. And, of course, with that time will also, hopefully, come closeness enough for me to finally show Katniss just how I feel.

It seems like most people are spending reading week elsewhere too, so it should be nice and quiet around the building. Well, except for that Cato guy and his wife. I ran into her the other day in the laundry room. She seemed afraid to talk to me at first, but then after a few minutes of me attempting friendly small talk she opened up a bit more and seemed to enjoy, maybe even need the interaction. She told me they were staying close to home. Cato's in training for something, I didn't quite get what, but I guess he likes to maintain a strict routine that also involves her having to do a bunch of stuff for him. I didn't like the way she talked about it, saying things like, "It's just that he's always very particular about..." and "I don't always get it right, I'm such an idiot" and "He doesn't always win, mostly because I don't support him in the way that he needs." It was upsetting to say the least. They were clearly things that had been repeated to her over and over again that she now believed wholeheartedly.

The whole thing was made worse by Cato storming into the laundry room demanding to know what was taking her so long. I introduced myself to try and diffuse the situation, but I may have only increased his agitation. His wife, Cato called her Glimmer, but I didn't catch her real name, looked uncomfortable. More than uncomfortable actually, she looked scared. And the way he looked at was with such disdain, such disgust even. The entire scene left me feeling just awful, and helpless. I followed them to see which apartment was theirs and decided I would walk by it often and listen for any signs of trouble. I told Katniss and she agreed to do the same.

Gale's sticking around next week too. Katniss thinks we should have him over and I think it would be way too weird. It's cool that they're friends and all, I think I'm okay with it at this point, but I don't think he and I need to become bffs or anything. What would he and I even talk about?

When Katniss gets home, it's a little later than usual. She bursts through the door covered in snow looking frazzled.

"Holy shit, it's storming like crazy out there!" she breathes as she starts to tear off her various layers of winter clothing. When she's down to a t-shirt and jeans she comes to look over my shoulder at the painting I've been working on. It's a sinister looking view of the hallway that leads away from the laundry room downstairs. "Huh, that's a weird one," she says, incapable of bullshit. I chuckle and put down my brush, anxious to spend time with her now that she's home.

"I didn't feel like cooking," I say, following her into the kitchen. She seems agitated, opening then slamming drawers and cupboards, sometimes the same ones two or three times.

"I don't feel like cooking room picnic?"


Since I often bring home bits and pieces from the bakery and Katniss does the same from the deli, we occasionally create a big ol' plate of meat, cheese, bread and whatever other goodies we've scored and eat it sitting on the floor, usually watching a movie or listening to music.

We opt for a comedy that we've seen more than fifteen times; she looks like she could use the levity. Besides, we both hate reality TV and while I don't mind watching sports, Katniss isn't really interested. She's also not big on most other genres. She told me once that she's experienced enough sadness and drama in her life and doesn't need to watch stories about someone else's. I couldn't really argue with that. I watch the sad stuff when she's not home.

Once we've finished eating, I move closer to her and pull her legs across my lap. "So," I begin, "what do you want to do next week?"

"Sleep," is all she says at first and I think that might be it, but then she goes on, "and eat, and get up into the woods if the weather's alright."

"Those don't sound like very fun things," I say.

"Speak for yourself. What's your big plan?" And by the edge to her voice I can tell she's not over whatever it was that was pissing her off when she got home.

"Ideally, my big plan includes you." As I say this I lean over and pull her in for a kiss. I'm not sure she's really in the mood, but it's worth a shot. My lips meet hers softly and I'm surprised at the intensity she responds with. Not to say that our kissing isn't normally passionate, but today there's a force behind it I haven't felt yet. I respond in kind, hands moving to her face to pull her in more tightly. She begins to move more urgently, and with one quick, graceful movement she straddles me, kissing me hard and fast. Her hair tickles my face and neck as it envelops me. I grasp at her thighs, wishing there was some way to feel her even closer to me. The fantasy version of this moment doesn't even begin to compare to the feeling of Katniss wanting me this way, wanting me so fully and completely. Here. Now.

It begins to overwhelm me. Is this really the way this should happen? Am I wrong to let it happen this way? There was definitely something wrong when she got home and now... My overly sensitive side gets the better of me and I find myself placing a hand on each of her shoulders and gently pulling back.

"Am I missing something?" I ask gently.

"Are you serious right now?"

"It just kinda feels like there might be something else going on here, you know, other than just you and me."

Her face takes on a look I've rarely seen. It's one of embarrassment, quickly becoming clouded by anger. She pushes off of me with force enough to leave a mark. She stomps off towards the bedroom and I decide to give her a few minutes before following.

I knock before entering slowly, "Hey, can we talk?"

"Peeta, no, just leave me alone, okay?"

"Katniss, come on. Talk to me."

She sighs, but rolls onto her side to face me. "I had a chat with President Snow today."

"What? Where? What did he say to you?" I feel irrationally protective already. Something about that creepy old man...

"I had to pick up those bursary applications at Haymitch's office. I was on my way out and we met in the hallway. He said he remembered me from the opening reception. He asked how we were coming along with choosing a wedding date. Then he said it'd be a shame if I didn't get any of the bursaries I needed to finish the year. I think he has it out for me."

"Just because the guy's super creepy, and a total dick, doesn't mean he has it out for you."

"Ugh, I just feel like this whole thing was such a bad idea. What was I thinking dragging you into this? I wish things didn't have to be this way, I wish we could just..."

"I know, me too. Is this what that was all about in there? Look, Katniss, we might have to be a certain way outside for them, but in here, in here it's just us and we can be whatever way we want to be. And that's not to say that I didn't love what was going on out there, because believe me, I loved what was going on out there, but I want that to be in our own time and just for us."

Relief floods her features and she wraps her arms around my neck extra tightly. "Thank you, Peeta," she whispers.

"While we're talking, we should probably-"

"Whatever it is, can it just wait? I've had more than enough emotional roller coaster-y seriousness for today. How 'bout neither of us takes the couch tonight and we watch stupid movies on your laptop until we pass out?"

I smile all big and goofy at the thought of her spending the rest of the night in my arms. "You've got yourself a deal."

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