“Umm...can you put on your seat belt?”
I glance over at Officer Peeta Mellark and scowl at him in annoyance.
It’s hard to keep a straight face though when I see the smug little smirk flit across his lips as I reach for my seat belt. He has such a baby face—a completely innocent, good-natured, dog-licking-your-face kind of appearance–that it’s almost impossible to truly be upset with him. Or really take him all that serious for that matter.
I can’t imagine him getting pissed off, or telling someone to freeze and put their hands up. He’s like the complete opposite of what you’d expect a cop to look like. He’s not hard and cold and rough around the edges. He’s warm and open and smiles freely. That fair skin and those blond curls and those impossibly blue eyes all add to his less-than-threatening look.
Of course, I would never say any of this to him because I’m pissed. So incredibly infuriated that I have to spend a whole week of my summer being dragged around in a cop car like some kind of notorious criminal.
It’s not like I murdered anyone. I was trespassing.
There’s a hole in the fence that surrounds the abandoned projects on the bad side of town. I usually flatten my belly and slide under it, despite the warning signs, because I like the solitude of the homes. I wasn’t there letting some guy between my legs, or getting stoned like most kids who go there.
I just like being alone. I like being away from my home that feels too big and too empty these days. A dead sister. A catatonic mother. An absentee father. Why would I want to spend any more time there than I had to?
I was able to avoid any real kind of punishment or mark on my permanent record since I’m still a minor—although I turn eighteen next week. I was able to get off with nothing more than a week of riding around with Officer Mellark to “learn the error of my ways,” or some shit like that, thanks to my father pulling some strings. He’s the mayor’s personal lawyer, and the mayor knows Chief Abernathy of the Panem Police Department, and that’s how I ended up here.
“So I’m going to drive by the usual hot spots for drug deals and loitering, just to keep an eye on things. That’s what the night shift usually is. A lot of driving around,” Officer Mellark explains with a smile.
I cross my arms in front of my chest and stare out the window.
I hear him chuckle in response, and it just pisses me off more.
“We’re stuck together for a whole week Katniss,” Officer Mellark reminds me, “so you can’t ignore me the whole time.”
“Who says I can’t?”
He grins in response, clearly pleased with himself for getting a response from me.
“I say so. You need me to sign off that you were cooperative and learned the error of your ways...or some shit.”
I almost smile. Almost.
“Don’t you think you’re a little young to be mentoring me?” I protest. “You’re probably fresh out of the Academy. What is this, your first week on the job Officer Mellark?”
“Six months,” he says, turning into a liquor store parking lot. “I just turned 21. And call me Peeta.”
Holy shit. He is young. Like barely older than me.
“Stay in the car,” he tells me, opening his door and getting out before I can say another word.
He approaches the liquor store, where a haggard looking man is leaning against the window, muttering to himself and walking around in circles. I can’t make out their conversation from here, but based on the way he’s standing, thumbs hooked into the belt of his pants, studying the man carefully, I can tell this is not the first time they’ve crossed paths.
I watch Peeta—Office Mellark—carefully, appreciating the way he fills out his uniform. I think I might take back what I said about him not being a menacing presence, because the way he’s talking to this crazy guy is intimidating. He looks serious and intense; he looks like he could snap the guy’s neck with minimal effort. His biceps bulging under the short sleeves of his uniform are hard to tear my eyes away from.
Suddenly the crazy guy lunges at Peeta, and my heart stops, I think I cry out, but I’m not sure. I reach for the door handle, but before I can even really consider getting out of the car, Peeta has the guy pressed up against the store window and is putting him in cuffs. My heart is beating wildly as Peeta walks the guy back to the car and pushes him into the backseat.
I try and keep my eyes forward, reminding myself that there is a metal cage separating me from the crazy guy. It’s not helpful though when I can sense the guy lean forward in his seat, his face pressed up against the bars. His hot breath is on my neck, and I try not to flinch or move away and show any signs of weakness.
Peeta slides into the driver’s seat. “Sorry about that,” he says as he starts the car. “We’ll go drop him off at the station right now.”
“What’s the hurry?” Crazy Guy asks with a snarl. “I want to spend more time with this hot piece of ass.”
“Sit the fuck back and shut up, Cray,” Peeta snaps at him as we pull out of the parking lot.
“Oh! What’s a matter, Mellark?” Cray laughs. “You’ve already been there?”
I can see Peeta’s hands tighten on the steering wheel as his jaw tenses.
“I bet you have. She looks like she’d have a hot, tight cunt.”
The car comes to a screeching halt as Peeta slams on the breaks. Luckily my seat belt is still on, so I only get jolted forward, but that doesn’t stop Peeta from flinging an arm out to try and stop me. His arm only brushes against my collarbone, but I still feel my face flame at his touch. Cray, however, slams face first into cage separating the front and back seats and groans in pain.
“I told you to shut the fuck up,” Peeta growls as he moves the car forward again.
The rest of the way back to the station is dead silent as Cray moans in agony in the back seat, but luckily it’s not too long of a ride.
When we get to the station, Peeta drags Cray out of the car and tells me he’ll come find me in the lobby when he’s done. I make myself a cup of coffee and try to shake off the repulsive feeling that just being around Cray gave me. I try to push his words out of my head, try to forget the way his hot breath made me shiver in fear.
Peeta reappears fifteen minutes later and explains he got a friend who owes him a favor to fill out all the boring paperwork, so we can head back out. He makes his own cup of coffee, and then we’re back on the road.
“So I’m guessing that’s not your first run-in with Crazy Guy?” I ask after a few moments of silence.
“Yeah no,” Peeta shakes his head, “that guy is the worst. The first time I arrested him...” he trails off, and I turn to look at him in confusion.
There’s a pained look in his eyes, and it makes my heart stutter and my stomach twist. He seems so upset that I almost reach out an arm to comfort him, but then he continues. “I was just in the right place in the right time. It was the oldest story in the book: a dark alley at night. I heard the girl screaming, and I got there in the nick of time. He hadn’t done anything yet, but there was enough damage inflicted.”
It’s suddenly very hard to breathe. I feel sick. Just thinking that I was near that animal makes me feel dirty.
“It was my first week on the job,” Peeta adds. “Rough way to start your career.”
I swallow hard and turn to look out the window. I don’t know what to say to that, so I don’t say anything at all.
We drive along in silence for a while longer, and I realize this night has not gone at all like I had expected. I was ready to sit and stew and be pissed off the entire time. I was going to sulk in silence and make it perfectly clear how I feel about this punishment.
But Officer Mellark is nothing at all like I expected, and this night has been anything but ordinary.
“Katniss, can I ask you something?” Peeta asks after a while.
I turn to look at him carefully, studying him until he glances over at me.
I don’t answer him, but he takes my silence as a sign to keep talking.
“Why do you go to those abandoned projects? You know what kind of area that is, what kind of people go there, what goes on there. It’s probably the worst place you can go in town. Especially by yourself and especially at night.”
I shrug and look out the window again. A lump forms in my throat as I realize what he’s thinking, that he’s thinking I am basically a tragedy waiting to happen. Part of me knows he’s right, but another selfish part of me knows I have my reasons. Reasons that revolve around my sister who is gone, my mother who is incapacitated because of it, and my father who uses work to avoid dealing with his grief.
And I’m not ready to share any of those reasons with Officer Peeta Mellark.
I hear him sigh at my lack of response, and part of me feels bad, but the larger part of me is too stubborn to care.
Before I know it, we’re heading down a familiar dirt road that leads to the Seam—where the abandoned projects are. I turn to look at him and he only glances back at me for a brief moment.
“They want us patrolling this area more regularly,” he explains. “There are groups of kids here every time I show up, and they’re never up to any good.”
“You sound like a grumpy old man,” I mutter.
I think I see the corner of his mouth twitch as we pull up to the fence surrounding the projects.
“Can I get out this time?” I ask.
I can see him hesitate for a moment, clearly not wanting to risk anything, but eventually he relents. “Yeah, I guess this is as good a place as any to get you some first-hand experience.”
We get out of the car and walk towards the fence. I spot the hole where I usually slide under to get inside. I debate for a moment whether to tell him about it so someone can repair it, but I haven’t decided yet if I’m really ready to give this place up. It’s too tempting to just disappear from the rest of the world, too easy to forget about everything else here.
We hear some voices coming from down the way, and Peeta looks up and motions for me to follow him. My heart starts beating frantically as we walk towards the source of the sound. I see Peeta put a hand on his gun, and I try and take deep, calming breaths. I tell myself that it’s not going to be a crazy serial killer when we turn the corner. I know the usual crowd that hangs around here—the kids I went to school with who dropped out and now spend their time getting fucked up—but that doesn’t make me any less scared
It’s hard to stay rational in the middle of the night though when you’re walking around an abandoned area.
I practically jump out of my skin, reaching for the back of Peeta’s shirt and cowering behind him with no shame. He reaches his arm back and grabs my hand as he turns toward the sound. The feel of his hand on my skin makes my heart flip for an entirely different reason.
“Well what do we have here?” a familiar voice jeers.
Peeta pulls out his flashlight and points it across the way, illuminating the sight of four figures in the dark.
My stomach drops when I see who they are.
Cato, Glimmer, Marvel, and Clove—the clique of troubled kids that I went to high school with–are standing near the fence, watching us in amusement. Cato takes a long drag of his cigarette and steps forward, throwing it on the ground and stomping it out with his foot.
“Holy shit, is that Katniss Everdeen?” He laughs loudly, throwing his head back. “I had no idea you were training to be a cop. That’s kinda hot.”
I can feel Peeta’s body tense as he lets go of me and steps forward.
“You guys have a good reason for being out here so late?”
“No, but we’re on this side of the fence,” Marvel pipes up, “so you can’t really do shit to us.”
“Watch your mouth,” Peeta growls.
“You’re kind of young to be a cop,” Glimmer eyes Peeta, looking him up and down with appreciation. I feel my stomach twist with the sudden desire to pull her bleached blonde hair out.
“Damn Everdeen, you are looking good,” Cato says, stepping a little closer. “You cold? It sure looks it.”
I frown in confusion, and then cross my arms in front of my chest, a blush creeping up on my cheeks when I realize what he’s implying. I knew I should have brought a sweater tonight.
“You guys need to get out of here,” Peeta says, stepping between me and Cato. “You might not be trespassing, but I’m sure you don’t want me checking your pockets right now for contraband.”
“Ugh fine, fuck it,” Clove pipes up. “Let’s just get out of here. I’m over it anyways.”
Cato, however, seems to have no interest in what his friends want to do at the moment. He steps closer, and I can feel Peeta tense next to me. I’m suddenly deeply uncomfortable, remembering the brash, loud guy in high school who was always in trouble and who always got what he wanted–including girls.
“Come back to my place,” he grins, “I want to feel those long legs wrapped around my waist tonight.”
“Back up,” Peeta snaps, but Cato just completely ignores him.
“I bet you’re a virgin too,” Cato laughs. “I can take care of that part for you. It’ll only hurt for a second, and then my cock—”
I don’t get to hear about his cock though, because Peeta grabs him by the chest and slams him up against the fence. Cato is looking at Peeta like he forgot he was even there in the first place, and Peeta’s face is red in anger, a vein in his temple clearly throbbing.
“What part of ‘back up’ don’t you understand?” Peeta yells. “Get the fuck out of here before I drag all of your stoned asses down to County.”
When Peeta releases him, Cato glares at him with a look of pure hate and then smooths down the front of his shirt. He mutters something under his breath as he rejoins Glimmer, Marvel and Clove before the group of them walks in the opposite direction, and they disappear into the night.
I finally let my eyes wander back in Peeta’s direction. He’s looking at me with such intensity that I don’t quite know what to make of it.
“I...shit...are you okay?” he asks, his eyes full of genuine concern.
I nod dumbly, still a little shaken up from the whole encounter.
“God, this was not the best start to our week,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry you had to...experience those assholes tonight. You shouldn’t have to go through that.”
I take a deep breath and shake off the lingering feeling of unease that Cato’s presence and words left me with. I was always lucky enough not to have to deal with Cato directly in school, but he has always given me the creeps. I remember the way he harassed girls who he set his eyes on, and I was just lucky enough to not have made an impression on him, but I guess that’s over.
“It’s not your fault,” I assure him.
“Come on, let’s head back. I’ll drop you off at home.”
When he reaches for my hand and pulls me back towards the cop car, I feel my heart do a funny little somersault in my chest and my skin warms from where his hand touches mine. I follow him without complaint and try to focus on why he has this kind of effect on me, but I’m too intoxicated by his presence to think clearly. All I know is that when we get back to the car and he lets go, I’m filled with disappointment.
We drive in silence back to my house just as dawn emerges in the sky. He pulls up to the home that I hate being in and turns the car off.
“I’m sorry, again, about what happened,” he says quietly.
“It’s okay,” I reply. “It’s not your fault.
He takes a deep shuttering breath, like he’s preparing himself for something. “You’re a beautiful girl, Katniss. You’re beautiful, and you also probably weigh about 100 pounds soaking wet. The thought of you being in the wrong place at the wrong time–like those abandoned projects in the Seam–and running into a piece of shit like Cray or Cato is terrifying. Please don’t go back there alone again.”
I’m so shocked by his words–the fact he called me beautiful, not like he was complimenting me, just like he was stating a fact—and how he genuinely seems so afraid for my safety that I don’t know what to say. I swallow past the lump in my throat and can only barely mange to nod in response, whispering a quiet ‘okay.’
He gives me a crooked smile, like he’s relieved now that I’ve agreed not to go back there, like he can rest easy now. “Thank you,” he says. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
I get out of the car and walk up to my front door in a daze. When I get inside, I see his car pulling away, and I turn quickly to head upstairs to my room. I strip down to my bra and underwear and get under the covers, still in a daze from everything that happened tonight.
I should be able to fall asleep immediately considering how long I’ve been up, but my brain is working in overdrive at the moment and I can’t stop my thoughts from going in all different directions.
Cray and Cato’s faces blend and merge together when I close my eyes, taunting me with the leers and lascivious suggestions. I push them away and focus on Peeta, those blue eyes and broad shoulders and perfectly toned biceps. I think about the way he looked at me, the way I responded when he touched me, and I slowly start to feel myself relax. As my mind starts to power down and the tension melts away from my body, my fingers slip down between my legs.
I picture Officer Peeta Mellark kissing me, running his hands through my hair, rubbing my clit. I moan quietly and increase my ministrations, throwing my head to the side and undulating my hips in response.
In my fantasies, he is gentle and sweet, and he asks me if I’m sure before pushing inside me, breaking me for the first time.
He is big and he stretches me, but it feels so good.
My back arches as I come with a strangled shout.
Sleep claims me, and tonight there are no nightmares.