Stay With Me

Chapter 3


Chapter 3

PPOV

It takes me a few minutes to fully process what I'm seeing on the screen in front of me. After all these years, all I've done there's an email in my Inbox from Katniss. I'm still not sure about Professor Trinket forcing this on us, but I can't deny the way I feel just looking at her name on my computer screen.

Her email is pretty straight forward, which is good because that's stopped me from over-analyzing it. It hasn't made responding any easier though. I'm staring at the screen, typing two words, erasing them and staring at the screen again. I decide in the end to stick to basics.

Katniss,

7 pm sounds great. I live in Suncrest, directions are attached.

I've included my cell number too, just in case.

Looking forward to it,

Peeta

I have mixed feelings sending the message. It feels good to be connected to her, if only momentarily and in the form of a few words in an email, but it's also only Thursday night and I know that's pretty much it for contact until Saturday.

It was strange, talking to her in class. I'd imagined what it would be like so many times...having a reason to casually talk to her, finding a way to spend time together, exchanging contact information. I'd come so close to attempting that very same thing countless times, both in high school and here in Morgantown, but I'd never been pushed into actually doing it like I was today.

I'm not so deluded that I didn't notice her tense at the thought of getting together on the weekend. The thought of it so repellent to her that she'd actually audibly sighed at the suggestion. It's why the forced contact thing is such a blessing and a curse. It's amazing to finally have a reason to spend time with her, but heartbreaking to see how she actually feels about it. It's creating this weird internal conflict in me that's making me want to dull my senses a little bit with a drink.

I decide to not bother trying to deny the impulse and walk to the closest store selling liquor. It's not something I do very often. I don't like the feeling of an unclear head most of the time. But right now, it's sounding like the best idea I've had in a good, long while.

I choose beer, because it seems like a less sad thing to drink alone, and head to the check-out. The woman at the register smiles kindly at me as she checks my I.D. We talk about the weather and about Thanksgiving being just around the corner. She tells me her son is coming for a visit with his wife and their baby girl. She shows me a picture and I tell her she has a beautiful family. By this time the woman is beaming and calling me by my name like we're old friends.

"Do you like chocolate?" she asks. I nod and she winks at me while tucking a large bar of it into the cloth bag now containing my beer.

"Have a wonderful weekend, Peeta!" she calls after me. I smile widely back as I repeat my thanks.

The whole interaction is one I experience a lot. I'm pretty comfortable around people and most seem comfortable around me. I'm not sure exactly how it happens, but I find myself in a lot of conversations with strangers.

After my first beer back at my apartment, I get too lazy to cook and opt for something frozen and quick for dinner. I settle in front of the television and proceed to mindlessly click through channel after channel as I continue to drink and let my mind drift to Katniss again.

I'm so hopelessly attracted to how driven she is to be herself. She never seems swayed by popularity, expectation or status. Even as a teenage girl she was somehow above it all and there's something so real about that. I'm the guy who's the happy-go-lucky, friends-with- everybody type, so I come into contact with a fair number of disingenuous people. For some it's a way to be liked, for others it's a strategy to get ahead. Whatever the reason, it's hard to hold onto yourself in the presence of so many carefully constructed personae.

But Katniss, she just really doesn't seem to give a shit about all that. She is who she is in this refreshing, intimidating way. It scares the hell out of me, but at least I'll know where I stand.

I resolve to keep being me and not change according to her reactions. What else can I do at this point? I'll watch out for her as I always have, try to make our time together as comfortable and enjoyable as I can and if she still seems upset about spending time with me, well, I'll deal with that then. She doesn't deserve any less if she doesn't like me and she might not deserve more, but I'll give it to her anyways because that's what I've always done.

After several more hours of musing, simulated television watching and a few more beers, I head out into the dark, chilly night to make sure Katniss gets home from work okay.


When the sunlight hits my eyes, I'm nowhere near ready to get up. I only have one class on Fridays and I'd decided long before falling asleep last night that there was no way I was going to it. My throbbing head reminds me that I'm an infrequent drinker who had one...or four too many.

After groaning three or four times and trying in vain to block out the light, I accept I've been beaten and drag my ass out of bed. In my drunken haze the night before, possibly while watching longingly as Katniss entered her building, I forged a preparations plan for Saturday night.

I decided that I'll bake and cook some things I'll just have casually around and that I'll clean my apartment, but in a way that still looks lived in. I force my foggy brain to assess the wisdom of said plan. Is it more crazy or cheesy than it is good? Hard to say, but really, it's all I got.

With some coffee and toast in me, I'm thinking more clearly. I go through my cupboards and make a shopping list. I also triple check essentials like toilet paper to make sure there are no embarrassing oversights on my part.

Taking a critical look around me, I'm starting to worry that my apartment is a little much. Katniss might seriously resent me for it. I've got a pretty sweet set-up for a student, even though most of it is just the result of my mom's guilt.

To say that my mother lacks maternal instincts is really too nice a way to put it. She really only has two ways of operating: distant and cold or angry and abusive. Her abuse came mostly in verbal form, but she wasn't above smacking us around when she was feeling especially spiteful. Her shortcomings as a parent always led to her trying extra hard to keep up our happy family image. Somehow spending money on us came more easily to her than actual mothering, which meant we got a lot of shit we didn't need instead of a real mom.

My apartment is no different. She insisted on the best of everything, got me all set up and then promptly stopped communicating with me entirely.

It's made my relationship with my dad pretty strange. We've always gotten along - he's a kind, thoughtful, compassionate man - but why he stays married to my mother I'll never understand. How he could stand by while she treated us the way she did...it's a hard thing to look past, even for me.

I think about moving some of the electronics out, or covering the furniture up a bit, but then decide it's not worth hiding. I've got nice stuff. I could have had a great mother and crappy stuff, but I got a horrible one and a bunch of expensive things instead. It's who I am, for better or for worse. I still naively believe that Katniss will see past it and understand. I kinda have to.

After a trip to the grocery store and once I feel satisfied with my cleaning job, I decide it's enough for the day and check my email and Facebook to see if anything's going on with my friends tonight. It is Friday after all.

A slow, much-too-big smile spreads across my face when I see an unread email message from Katniss in my Inbox. I check the delivery time on it and am more than a little delighted to find she sent it as soon as she got home from work last night. I may have even still been outside her apartment when she wrote it. The thought excites me and I immediately feel stupid for paralleling the reactions of a 13-year-old girl. Pull it together, Mellark.

Just as suddenly as my excitement began, it's replaced with horrible, gut-wrenching panic as I begin to think the worst. What if she saw me outside of her apartment? What if she's cancelling? What if she talked to Professor Trinket about getting a different partner?

I brace myself and click the innocent looking, subject-less line at the top of the screen. I breathe a sigh of relief and allow the goofy grin to take its place back on my face.

Hey,

Thanks, I'm pretty sure I know where that is. I put your number in my phone.

See you soon,

Katniss

She wrote back. She didn't have to. Plans were made, she had all the information she needed, but she still wrote back. And her phone. She took the time to type my name and enter my number and when she scrolls through her contacts list, she'll see it there in black typeface. I'm giddy in a ridiculous way and nearly find myself writing back, but then I realize I really have nothing to say and another email to write, "Great!" would be stupid.

I settle for calling up a few friends to head out for a celebratory night on the town, which really just means a pitcher and bad nachos at a local sports bar.

The morning arrives a lot more gently than yesterday's. I avoided drinking last night, which was the right move since I intend to bake and cook the day, and my nervousness, away.

I've decided on cheese buns, a classic of mine, and a stew that I'll just have around in case she's hungry. I'm also going to bake cookies because, well, who doesn't love cookies? I haven't worked out how I'll explain having fresh baked cookies on-hand, but I'm not worrying about it at this point.

Baking is second only to art in my world. I throw on some tunes, get some food in my stomach so I don't eat everything as I'm making it, and start flouring my counter top. I measure things out with no need for recipes or exactitude, it's second nature for me at this point.

I get into a rhythm making my dough, relying on the feel of it through my fingers to tell me what it needs. A little more flour, a touch of water, a pinch of salt. It comes together beautifully and I know before it's even finished rising that unless I screw up the baking time, it will be perfect.

I move on to the stew, an old recipe my grandma used to make my dad when he was little. To this day I'm not sure if it appeals to me more as a delicious comfort food or a thing that connects me to my dad in a way that doesn't include my mother. As soon as the cold weather hits, it's the food I crave the most and there's this inherent male part of me that just wants Katniss to love it, to be full and satisfied and cared for. I know she doesn't need it, and would probably never let me, but I want to take care of her in every possible way. It's antiquated and silly and I know this, but I look at her and I want to make everything better.

When I'm confident the stew is as delicious as it can possibly be, I throw together a batch of spicy sweet ginger cookies. Because they're my favourite and it's the truth, it won't be a lie when I tell Katniss I made them because I can't find a single decent version of them in this town.

I check the time once they're out and onto a cooling rack and realize it's already 4 p.m. Just enough time to shower, get dressed and freak out for a while longer before she finally gets here.

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