The winter air is frigid, biting at my exposed skin and bringing tears to the corners of my eyes. I should have dug the outside Christmas lights out weeks ago, right after Thanksgiving when the air was cold but not so much that my teeth chattered. As I’m struggling to get the ladder down from its hook, a thundering, sputtering sound behind me alerts me to the fact that the youngest Mellark is home.
The family keeps to themselves, and although we have been neighbors for years, the only time I’ve really spoken to any of them is when the patriarch brought over bread and sandwich meat the day after Gale died. He brought condolences as well, but I was still so numb with shock I can’t remember what was said, aside from the fact that the man seemed exceptionally kind.
Gale. I still can’t believe he is gone, that he left me by myself so suddenly. We had so much time ahead of us. Instead an aneurysm took him from me just weeks after his 38th birthday and days before our fifteenth wedding anniversary, leaving me a widow at 36.
I’m still pissed at him, even a year later.
“How’s it going, Mrs. Hawthorne?” a voice behind me asks. I turn around to find the perpetrator with the faulty exhaust system behind me, “Here let me grab that.”
The young man, who is all blonde hair and bright white teeth, grabs the end of the ladder from me and finagles it from where it was tangled. He does so in a fluid motion, putting my efforts to shame. “Thank you, I was about to make a mess of the situation.” I wish I could remember his name. All of the boys are named after types of bread, or food, or something of that nature, and for the life of me I can’t remember which one he is.
“Would you like some help? Putting up Christmas lights is a specialty of mine.” He gestures to the yard beside mine, his yard. “I swear my mom had me rearrange the roof lights at least three times, and she still complains that they aren’t quite right.”
I don’t want to mess with these lights. The only reason I’m doing it is because I skipped it last year, and Prim spent Christmas day chiding me for not having decorations up for my nieces to enjoy. “That would be fantastic. I’d pay you of course, and please forgive me but I get all three of you confused. Remind me of your name?”
“Peeta, ma’am. Instead of paying would you sign a National Honor society slip for me? I can count it as service hours.” Indeed, he was named after bread, and while it is a bit unusual, I find the name fits him.
National Honor Society, I remember those days, and I find it a bit amusing that helping a widow like myself would be considered a community service. Still though, it means I don’t have to mess with these lights, “It would be my pleasure.” He smiles brightly at my answer, cheeks ruddy with cold and eyes bright blue, contrasting with his skin.
Spring brings rain, flowers, allergies, and over grown grass. When Gale was alive we had a beautiful yard, perfectly manicured and fertilized. It was easily one of the greenest yards in the entire town. This will never be the case again. I’ve completed one pass and am already over this chore when Peeta comes striding across the yard, waving at me.
“Morning, Mrs. Hawthorne. Let me get this for you.” He reaches for the lawn mower, I let it die. Peeta is shirtless and the sight leaves my mouth dry, I immediately look anywhere but the smooth expanse of his chest. “It would be my pleasure, Mrs. Hawthorne, really.” He smiles and a single dimple appears in his left cheek, my heart races at the sight.
My face flushes and not from exertion, “You know, I am feeling a bit off. If you don’t mind Peeta I would really appreciate that. Just bring me that slip and I’ll sign it again.” My eyes are trained on his, which is harder to maintain then it should be because it is difficult not to look at his chest again.
It has been entirely too long since I’ve seen a shirtless man in person if I can’t stop staring at a teenager.
Later that evening there is a knock at the door, I open it to find Peeta standing there holding a large Tupperware container. Luckily for me, he is wearing a shirt. It’s a tight cotton Henley, and I should be able to forget the way he looked earlier when he was bare chested, but now my eyes are trained on the slim curve of his hips and how broad his shoulders are in comparison.
“Did you bring that slip by?” My mouth is having a hard time producing saliva. It should be a crime for a teenager to look this way, and I’m pretty sure the thoughts I am having about him are illegal in most states because of our age difference.
Peeta looks at me slightly confused, “I uh, well, like I said this morning I don’t have to get hours anymore since I graduate in two months. I brought you some soup. I was worried about you after you said you weren’t feeling well this morning.” That’s a bit of a relief, if he is getting ready to graduate he is most likely eighteen. I still feel incredibly guilty though, because eighteen is too young for me to be imagining what the taut skin of his abdomen feels like pressed against mine.
“Well, thank you Peeta. Please pass my thanks on to your parents for me. I really appreciate it.” I take the container from him and place it on the end table so I can pull some cash from my purse, “Here take this.”
“I made the soup myself, ma’am. I hope it’s to your liking.” When he calls me ma’am my thighs clench slightly, and I feel my face flush again. He shakes his head at the cash in my hand. “No need for payment, I was just being neighborly.” Peeta smiles, and his goddamn dimple distracts me so much that I barely catch what he just said.
Like clockwork, every Saturday morning for the rest of the summer Peeta mows my lawn and does other yard tasks. I often watch him from my window. It’s not something I’m proud of, but the sight of him sweaty, skin reddening under the sun and exertion, ass flexing as he pushes the mower, does things to me I thought I was incapable of still feeling. I rationalize it and try to convince myself it’s okay because the boy is so obviously blessed in the looks department, he was created to be admired. I still feel a bit like a pervy old lady though, because the boy is so genuinely nice.
I know that he is eighteen, and just a kind boy helping his widowed neighbor, but that doesn’t stop me from caressing between my thighs with thoughts of him on my mind.
By the end of the summer, we have taken to eating lunch together after he is done with the yard. I find that I look forward to these Saturday lunch dates and have really come to enjoy Peeta’s presence. For being only eighteen, he is well read and can maintain conversation about literature and current events in a way that makes me forget he is almost twenty years my junior.
In early August, he knocks on the patio door and motions for me to join him outside. It’s still pretty early and I’m wrapped in a short robe, feet bare, and hair loose around my shoulders, but he shoots me that one dimpled grin, and I know I’d do just about anything he asked.
“Mrs. Hawthorne, I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t sleep much and well this had been bothering me all summer…” It is so incredibly early and I’m still waking up, but for some reason I fear that I have been found out, and he is getting ready to scold me for lusting after him all summer, “…well, and I probably should have asked, but I wanted it to be a surprise.” He catches my attention on the word surprise, and I look up at him. Peeta appears nervous and keeps running his hand through his hair, which is damp with perspiration that is causing it to stick to his forehead.
“I’m sorry Peeta, it’s so early, dear. What are you rambling about?” He extends his hand and I automatically place mine in his. Peeta’s hands are large, and surprisingly rough to the touch. He wraps his fingers around mine and squeezes as he leads me to the side of the house.
He pulls me all the way around to the side of the house by the gate, to stand in front of a large panel of stained glass, “Ma’am, I uh, I noticed that when the sun rises it beats directly onto your patio doors, and well I thought hanging this would help shade the interior of the house.” He shifts, and then as if he realizes it for the first time that he is holding my hand tightly, drops my hand and runs his through his hair. “I hope I’m not crossing a boundary or something, I worked on it all month after my shift at the bakery, and well I realize now I should have asked if you even would like it.”
I’m stunned into silence. The panel is beautiful, and I can’t imagine how much time and energy went into its creation. I had no clue that Peeta had a talent like this, but what he has given me is a breathtaking sun rise in colored glass. He’s right, the bright morning sun makes the kitchen and dining room unbearable most mornings. “Peeta, this is so amazing. Just gorgeous. You made this?”
“Yes, ma’am. I hope it is okay.” The flush on his cheeks is ruddy, deepening with every second. I can’t imagine why on earth he would be embarrassed. This is possibly the most considerate gift I have ever been given, and he made it.
“I love it. Thank you so much.” I want to hug him, but I’m not sure if that is appropriate. It’s one of those things if I didn’t have this physiological reaction to him, I would have done it in an instant. However, the fact that I am barely clothed, and I often get wet just thinking of him, makes me think that I shouldn’t.
Peeta steps forward, and I can smell the sweat on his skin and the laundry detergent on his clothes, “Can I go ahead and hang it, then I’ll get started on the yard.” He stands there shifting from foot to foot like he wants to say something else, but he never does.
The moment is awkward, “Sure, Peeta. Thank you so much!” I give in and wrap my arms around his middle. He has shoes on and I don’t, so my head lands smack against his chest. Peeta doesn't miss a beat, and wraps his arms around me too. He squeezes me tight, and I hold on longer than I probably should, but I can’t help myself because it feels so good.
Summer passes and autumn comes. I’m taking tea at the dining room table while reading when there is a knock at the door.
When I open the door, Peeta is standing there with a serious look on his face, “So, I’m moving today. I mean I know I told you last week, but I just figured I’d come say goodbye.”
“Would you like to come in? I’ve got some cookies I made with the nieces.” He looks so nervous. I want nothing more than to reassure him that it will be okay and that college will be the best years of his life, but I don’t have a chance because he steps forward and wraps his arms around me.
Peeta squeezes tightly, and I squeeze back, “I’ve got orientation after a bit so I really can’t, I just wanted to say thanks for everything.” He releases me and flashes that perfect dimpled smile. “See you on Saturday.”
I open my mouth to tell him that I don’t expect him to keep coming, but he sprints to his clunker before I have a chance. Through the window I glance boxes, clothing and all the necessities a college freshmen would need, and it makes my heart clench a bit. Fuck, I’m going to miss him. I wish I could say my sadness is purely neighborly, but it isn’t. Something about Peeta Mellark has really gotten to me, he has awakened something I thought long dead.
I stand in the doorway long after his car is out of sight, almost not believing that Peeta has just moved out of his parents' house and into a dorm room across town.
True to his word, he still comes to do yard work; scalping the yard, clearing gutters, and raking leaves. He always refuses payment, and I find that his visitations extend long past lunch now. We talk and joke while he tells me all about the classes he is taking and asks me about when I was in college. I work harder at not thinking about him, but the way his easy laughter and presence fill my home isn’t something that is easy to ignore.
It’s embarrassing that I’ve got a slight infatuation with a man that has only been shaving his face for a few years. I think about these things. I am completely cognizant of the fact that he is only a few years removed from puberty and I’m closer to menopause. At night as I get ready for bed, I really start to chronicle the signs of aging in my body. The streaks in my hair, the lines at my eyes, and I even run my hand down my stomach pausing to be appreciate that while I am softer than I was at 22, my abdomen is still flat. Sometimes the awareness of my body is a good thing, other times a bad thing.
As I touch certain parts of myself, my breasts, my thighs, my center, I think about how Peeta’s touch compares to mine. I remember his smooth chest and wonder what it would feel like against mine. Even at sixteen, Gale had chest hair, and since he was the only man who had ever pressed his bare skin to mine, I realize that I do not know what that smooth sensation feels like. I think of Gale often, but I find the present much more easy to deal with and ruminate on Peeta more.
I tell myself I’m not forgetting – I’m living.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, Prim and I are unloading the car after our shopping trip when Peeta crosses the yard with a tray of cookies and asks about when I’d like for him to put up the Christmas decorations. I introduce the two, and Peeta and I play catch up. I ask him about his classes, he asks me about work, and then leaves with plans to return tomorrow to put up my lights when he is done with his mother’s. My lips are still upturned, eyes creased with a smile when Prim startles me.
“Someone has a bit of crush, don’t they?” I feel the heat seep into my cheeks, I’ve been found out. “I do not, that’s not even age appropriate, he just turned nineteen.” Her eyes widen in shock as I hiss at her.
“Well, I was talking about Peeta, but I’m starting to think this little attraction is mutual.” Prim flips her blonde hair over her shoulder, and tilts her head at me. “You should feel the waters out, Katniss. I bet you haven’t even been on a date since Gale died, and that’s been two years now.”
“Stop, just stop right there.”
“No, seriously, it may be exactly what you need, and the way that boy was looking at you, Katniss I’m pretty sure he wants it to.” Now I know that Prim is being ridiculous. Peeta is a very handsome, kind young man who probably has girls falling all over themselves to be with him.
I find her assertions almost offensive, there is no way someone so young would be interested in me. Peeta and I have become close friends and that’s okay I justify to myself. He would never want this body, or me. My body is definitely not what it used to be, there are smile lines on my face now, and even my dark brown hair, what used to be my favorite physical trait, bears a few strands of silver hair. Not to mention what she is suggesting is so taboo and forbidden that I shouldn’t even be thinking of it.
I do though. I think of it often.
By the time the last light is strung, I’ve opened a bottle of wine and am enjoying it while listening to some music. Peeta joins me, sitting beside me on the couch without saying a word. I’m about to offer him a glass of wine when I remember how old he is, and since I’m two glasses in already I crack up laughing.
“Care to fill me in on the joke?” He asks, blue eyes flashing with mirth, despite not knowing the joke.
Peeta looks so goddamn appetizing, sprawled out beside me on the couch with that fucking perfect smile of his. I bite my lip, whether to stop myself from laughing, or saying something inappropriate, I’m not sure, “I almost offered you a glass and then realized I could get arrested for it.”
“I’m not driving ma’am, and if you’re offering I’d love a glass.” A slight, barely noticeable sigh escapes my mouth, it drives me crazy when he calls me ma’am. I know it shouldn’t because really it is just a reminder that I am much too old to think of him this way, but damn it’s fucking sexy. My legs are tucked up underneath me, and I feel my thighs tighten against my legs. Peeta shifts in his seat, staring at me, and I’m not sure if it is the slight buzz I have going or what, but I could almost swear the look he is giving me is predatory.
My mouth opens and no response forms, instead we just face off, staring at one another until Peeta leans over and takes the glass from my hands then sips on it. “You really shouldn’t do that, you know?”
“Why are you so concerned with if I have a little bit of wine?” There is a husky quality to his voice, and if it weren’t Peeta sitting beside me I would swear there was an undercurrent of sexual tension between us.
“Because you aren’t old enough.” The words slide from my mouth with a flirty tone unlike anything I’ve used with Peeta before.
Peeta raises the glass to his lips again, draining it before leaning over to hand it back to me, “You really are too concerned with age, Katniss. You know that?” Our fingers brush as he passes the glass back to me and where our skin connects it feels like I’m on fire, it spreads slowly from my hand all the way to my core. I’m wet and aching for him, for this barely man.
“Well,” I stand from my place on the couch, “I need to get going to bed, when you're my age you’ll understand.” In this situation, we may both be technically adults, but I know better and it is my job to put a stop to it.
He stands and looks at me, something present in his eyes, but I’m not sure what, “Sleep well, Katniss.” Now that Peeta has approval to refer to me by name instead of my surname, I’ve noticed he uses it frequently. “And think about what I said, okay?”
I’m not sure what he is talking about, because even though we only exchanged few sentences I feel like thousands of words were spoken. Then Peeta does something that shocks me, he places one of his broad hands on my shoulder and presses a kiss to my temple.
The night on the couch sticks with me, but I wish it hadn’t. All I can think about are where his fingers grazed mine, and the feeling of a warm mouth as it pressed to my skin. I don’t see much of him though, he has exams and his real life, and then during the Holiday break the Mellarks go on a ski trip. It’s for the best though. Hopefully, the less I see of him the easier it will be to push him from my thoughts.
The day after New Year’s, Peeta shows up to take the lights down. I knew he was coming but have been working on getting them down before he arrived. I need to get control of this little fascination that I have with him, it is anything but appropriate, and I think that it will fade if I’m no longer around him.
“Katniss, I said that I would do this for you. Here come on down and let me finish.” Somewhere along the way I asked him to drop the Mrs. Hawthorne bit, now I wish I wouldn’t have.
I look down at him, he’s bundled up in gloves and his blonde wavy hair peeks out from underneath a knit hat, “Don’t you have better things to do then help an old lady? I’m not letting you do this stuff free of charge anymore Peeta.” I reach for a strand of lights and start pulling them from the clips attached to the roof.
“I’m not taking your money, Katniss.”
I’m irrationally angry at him. It’s more about the situation and the fact that I can’t have what I want, him, but I take it out on him like he’s the problem. “You should, then you can take your girlfriend out for a nice dinner or something.” I might have just crossed a line, or possibly not. I’m just enough older than him that mentioning his girlfriend could be construed as me passing along motherly advice, but not so much that the line is slightly blurred and I could come off creepy.
Peeta wraps a hand around my ankle and tugs, “See another reason you shouldn’t pay me, I don’t have a girlfriend to spend it on. Learned that lesson the hard way in high school.” I look down at him to see that he is smiling broadly at me, that fucking dimple is present, and if he weren’t twenty years younger than me I would think he was flirting again. There is no wine to blur my judgment today though, there is no chance he is flirting with me.
He tugs at my ankle again causing me to lose balance and fall backwards. I’m only eight feet up at this point and land easily in Peeta’s arms, “You caught me.” The words tumble from my mouth, I’m suddenly aware of his close proximity as he holds me tightly to him, our faces separated by inches.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you fall.” He squeezes me to him and then lowers my feet to the ground even though his head buries into my neck, “I’m so, so sorry.” He apologizes again, Peeta’s arms are still around me. I should push him off, I don’t. I wrap my arms around him too, taking in his warmth and smelling the notes of his body wash.
When it dawns on me that I am openly embracing him in my front yard, I push off his chest. He opens his mouth and apologizes again, I interrupt him, “It’s really fine Peeta, I’m sorry for hugging you that way.” The words drop from my mouth, heavy between us, he knows as well as I do that he initiated the hug.
He steps back into my immediate space, “You feel it too, don’t you?” I look away, but don’t back away from him like I should. Peeta is voicing the words I’ve been wondering since Prim brought it up in November. The words that make me touch between my thighs and call his name late at night.
I drop my head and stare at my shoes, unable to hold his intense gaze, “I don’t know what you’re talking about Peeta.”
His fingers find my chin and tilt my face towards him. I’m forced to make eye contact with him, “You know what I’m talking about. This connection running between us like an electric current, this sexual tension you try so hard to deny. You think there is too much of an age difference, you don’t realize how incredibly sexy you are.”
My breathing has sped up, Peeta’s words are profound, and the effect they have on my body does not go unnoticed. “Forgive me if I am speaking out of turn, but I can’t get enough of you. I lay awake jerking off and coming up with excuses to come see you. I wonder what your skin tastes like, what your hair looks like falling free against your naked shoulders, and what it would be like to hear you moan my name.”
“Peeta,” I rasp out, trying to steady my breath, “I’m much too old for you.” My words are more of a reminder to myself than him who needs to be the level headed one in this situation, but I find it hard to have a clear mind when there is warmth pooling in my stomach, and need slipping from between my thighs. “There are plenty of young ladies that are better suited for you.”
“Believe me, I’ve tried them out, and none of them compare to you. I’ve wanted you since the moment I saw you struggling with that ladder, do you know how uncomfortable it is to push a lawn mower with a raging hard on?” Peeta bites his bottom lip and his head leans closer to mine. “If I’m really making you uncomfortable I’ll stop, but you have to say those words, you have to ask me to stop.” He’s so self assured, so confident and it’s making it incredibly difficult for me to deny the truth.
“I don’t want to ask you to stop.” I give in, truly give in and curl my fingers through his gloved ones tugging him towards the house.
As the front door closes behind us, Peeta’s hot mouth is pressed up against mine, devouring my lips in a deep kiss. I’m stunned and don’t respond immediately. I know we were just talking about this outside, and now that it is happening I’m rendered completely incapable of any response. He slides his hands up my back and works my hair loose from the braid that is knotted down my back. I finally give in and kiss him back. Melding my lips to his and tracing them roughly with my tongue.
His cock presses into me through our jeans, and I rock my hips into his. His mouth falls open as he grunts in response, and I run my hand up the seam of his jeans to hear the sound again. “I want you so fucking bad, Katniss. I want to pound into you against this door and feel you come around my cock.”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.” I exclaim, unable to find words to acquiesce to his urging as I begin fumbling with his jeans.
Peeta looks me straight in the eye, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Me neither, Peeta, but I want it. I want it.” The words come out throaty and full of want, and I watch as Peeta works his jeans down his hips, his thick cock springing free from his jeans with a slight bob. He may only be nineteen, but Peeta is a full grown man in front of me. The skin of his cock is flushed a deep pink, he is beautiful, and I want to wrap my lips around him and taste him.
He slips the jeans from his legs and throws me over his shoulder, laying me on the couch and stripping the jeans from my body. Peeta kisses me again and settles himself between my legs, the tip of his cock pushing against my center, teasing me, begging my body for entrance. I arch my hips up towards him, wanting to be filled when he stops suddenly and backs away, standing up from the couch. “Fuck,” he screams, “I don’t have a condom.”
“It doesn’t matter, I am physically incapable of getting pregnant.” I thought he knew this, I thought everyone knew that Gale and I tried for years before learning that it would never happen. But why should he, I mean he was just a kid himself when the rumor mill was churning. He assures me that he has been tested recently, and I admit that aside from Gale, he is the only man who has treaded these waters.
Then, he is on top of me, his cock there pressing against where I need him most. With a thrust of his hips and a rock of mine, we are joined. His first thrust is forceful, pulling the breath from my lungs with the sharp realization of how long it really has been since the last time that I had done this. The subsequent ones are gentle, probing me as I stretch to accommodate him. “Katniss, you feel so good, even better than I had dreamed.” He whispers into my skin as we work together towards completion.
Peeta finds it first, but takes me with him shortly after when he crawls between my legs and licks, and sucks, and guides me to my own explosion of sensations and blackness. He holds me afterwards, pulling a blanket from a chair and wrapping our exposed lower halves with it as he cradles my body with his. We are sated and complete, there is no awkwardness. He stands and I assume he is moving to leave, but instead he pulls me up and kisses me again.
“I was hoping to get you completely naked so I can worship you like you deserve, Katniss.” He nibbles my ear lobe, speaking in low, promising tones.
“Round two?” Peeta’s insinuation surprises me, it hasn’t even been an hour since the last time he was inside me.
“Yes, round two,” His lips brush against my collarbone, sending a shiver down my spine as my flesh pebbles underneath his breath, “I told you there were advantages to keeping a younger man around, Mrs. Hawthorne.”