So, for some reason, I love to torture myself and my readers by writing new stuff.
“No…” Katniss scrolled down the ad on Craigslist, checking out the pictures of the apartment. The place was…small. She could live with that. However, the dimly lit bathroom and the questionable safety of the building’s laundry room were enough for her to click away from the ad. “Okay, onto the next one—”
“Katniss! Your break is over!” Johanna, her boss, called out from the front. “We need you!”
Locking her phone, she slipped it into the pocket of her jeans and stepped out of the backroom. Johanna was waiting for her at the cash register, an impatient smile on her red-stained lips.
“Johanna, there’s no one here…” The clothing boutique was empty except for the two women whose feet she could see behind their fitting room doors.
“Yeah, but I need to go!” Johanna bounced to emphasize her desperation. Katniss chuckled before waving her away. “Check on them, won’t you?”
Nodding, Katniss went to the dressing room area. “How is it going, ladies? Do you need any different sizes? Anything you want to get rid of?”
“Oh, yes!” A light voice called out as a pretty, light-haired woman peeked her head out and smiled at Katniss. “I don’t think I’m really into this.” She handed Katniss the simple black shift dress. “I’m just not into such basic colors!”
“No problem,” Katniss replied. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“My husband has a work event,” the woman explained. “It’s kind of high-brow and techie as all of San Francisco seems to be. Black seemed like the obvious choice.”
“It’s formal, right?” The voice in the room to Katniss’ right responded. “I thought black would work on you.”
“I know, Alma,” the woman in front of her said. “It’s just not me though.”
“It doesn’t look great with your coloring, to be honest,” Katniss told her. “You would do well with a jewel tone.” She walked over to one of the racks close by and pulled out the dress that she had been admiring since it was delivered to the boutique. “Would you consider this?”
Katniss held out the fuchsia dress for the woman to examine. It was floor-length with flutter sleeves and a flowing skirt. The top has a modest V-neck with a gold band underneath the ribcage.
The woman clapped excitedly. “Yes! It’s perfect! Thank you…”
“Katniss,” she told the woman. “Give that a go and I’ll check back in a few minutes.”
The dress turned out to be perfect and Katniss was thrilled as she rung the woman up. The Michael Kors dress would add a little more to her commission—she needed it.
As soon as the two women left, Johanna walked over and gives Katniss a congratulatory clap on the back.
“Want to grab us some coffee?” her boss asked. “I know you want to see your friend.” Johanna waggled her perfectly penciled brows at Katniss.
“You’re too much.” Katniss grabbed the credit card from Johanna’s hand. “But I can’t afford coffee so I’ll take you up on a freebie!”
“My favorite shop girl!”
“God Peeta, you make my job sound as pathetic as it actually is,” Katniss growled. “And, that’s coming from a guy who just stands around and makes coffee.”
“But, I do it with a smile,” her friend replied with a charming grin. “Chin up. How’s the apartment hunt going?”
“It’s not. Either I’m looking at an apartment where I’m sure someone’s been murdered or it’s in a decent neighborhood but I’m practically sleeping sitting up. Fucking techies!”
“Hey, they pay for this overpriced coffee!” Peeta argued.
“But they’ve jacked up the rent…” she whined. “I’m going to have to move back home if I don’t find a place soon.” Her parents lived in her childhood home in a neighborhood south of nowhere.
“I’m right there with you,” her friend told her. “My landlord is upping the rent in three months.” Peeta handed her usuals, a vanilla latte for her and a triple espresso for Johanna. “Hopefully, this will get you through the end of your shift—on me.”
“Thank you, my friend,” Katniss said gratefully and without a thought, she leaned over the counter to press a kiss to the man’s cheek.
Before she ends up embarrassing herself even further, Katniss rushed out of the coffee shop.
Thank God, Johanna didn’t see that.
She would never hear the end of it.
It was too good to be true.
Katniss read over the ad once more: $2800—1 bedroom, 1 bathroom in gorgeous Noe Valley. Spacious living room with fireplace, in-building washer/dryer. Must agree to one-year lease for rent-controlled price as well as meet landlord’s tenant requirements.
Below the ad was the address for the building as well as the date for the open house which happened to be today of all days—which happened to be her day off! This was more than generous for rent; it was practically median rent on Treasure Island.
The doors of the MUNI lightrail opened and she stepped down quickly to get to the sidewalk. The building was a block from her stop and Katniss hurriedly rushed in the appropriate direction. Hopefully, no one had taken the unit yet, though she could imagine that this ad would bring many desperate renters to the building.
Her gaze reached the brick building and Katniss stopped abruptly to stare up. The building was beautiful; it had ivy covering one side…there were bay windows…a stained-glass front door…
Whipping around, Katniss was surprised to see her favorite barista slowing down to meet her.
“Coffee boy…” She groaned and nodded at the building. “Don’t tell me that you’re looking at the same place!”
“It really is too good to be true,” Peeta replied good-naturedly. “It’s probably already taken.”
“The door is still open,” Katniss informed him. “…but I really need this place!”
“So do I!” His sweet cornflower-blue eyes suddenly went somber. “My roommate is moving out in two weeks. Kind of left me in a lurch.”
“Damn it.” Katniss bit her lip, her eyes again going to her hopefully soon-to-be place of residence. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt for both of us to look.”
Peeta nodded, a small smile brightening his handsome face. “Come on.” Putting an arm around her shoulders, they walked through the open door of the building. “It’s probably going to be a shithole, anyway.”
But it wasn’t.
As soon as they stepped into the foyer of the building with its marble floor and walked up to the mahogany staircase, Katniss knew that this was no ordinary building. The available apartment was on the second floor and together they ascended the stairs, reaching a white-washed hallway with a lone window at the end.
“Shit—we’re both going to like this place, aren’t we?” Peeta said, a grimace on his face.
“I guess it’s a fight to the death for it,” Katniss quipped as they walked into the open apartment.
Hardwood floors…bay windows overlooking Church Street…a gorgeous fireplace—she swept her hand over the mantle and found her fingers surprisingly dust-free. The landlord was a cleanly one; most of the places she had seen had been grimy. An open archway led into a nook where Katniss could imagine her humble IKEA table being set for Sunday breakfasts and the kitchen—neat with fairly-new appliances—had an island.
“Imagine how many loaves of bread I could bake in this oven,” Peeta murmured to himself.
“We are torturing ourselves,” she groaned.
“We’re not done yet.” Peeta took her hand and they went into the hallway adjacent to the entrance. The walls were painted white as well and they took a peek into the pristine bathroom with its clawfoot tub. “Seriously?”
“I can’t even look in the bedroom after this,” Katniss protested as her friend pulls her along.
The bedroom was immaculate; the afternoon light shone in through the wide windows and the opposite wall was a closet obviously made for someone of Carrie Bradshaw’s standards. Katniss could picture herself just lounging on her bed and catching up on her Netflix shows.
She looked to Peeta. “So, what do you think is the catch?”
He shrugged. “We might as well find out. The landlord is across the hallway.”
After a final wave to the dream apartment, they walked out just as the adjacent door opened and a disgruntled woman walked out.
The woman, impeccably dressed in her pantsuit, glared at them. “Good luck with them.”
“Ah, there’s the rub,” Katniss said to Peeta as he knocked on the door. “The landlord is a nightmare.”
“Now that’s a little harsh—” They turned to the dark-haired man before them, dressed casually in a flannel and worn jeans. “At least get to know me before hating my guts.” He widened the door for them. “Come in, come in…”
They stepped into the apartment; the sage-green walls and plush furniture immediately calmed Katniss’ senses. A record player crooned Creedence Clearwater Revival to the succulents that lined the windows.
“I’m Haymitch Abernathy,” the man said to them. “Owner of this humble abode. The wife is just grabbing more treats for potential couples.”
“Peeta Mellark.” Her friend held out his hand and Haymitch shook it firmly.
Katniss also reached out, shaking the man’s hand. “Katniss…you said couples?”
“The tenant requirement is that anyone living there must be married,” Haymitch stated. He settled down on the beige couch and reached for the glass on the apothecary coffee table. “How long have you two been hitched?”
And without thought or reason, Katniss found herself replying, “A year.”
She could practically feel Peeta’s stabbing stare.
“Hello, hello!” A familiar voice called out and they both turned to see a woman rushing over to them with a tray. The woman stopped and met her eyes. “Katniss?”
It was the Michael Kors dress…Katniss quickly pulled the memory of her holding the credit card of the woman in front of her.
“Effie…how did the dress go?” she asked congenially.
Effie beamed as she placed the tray of drinks on the coffee table, before sitting on the arm of the sofa next to Haymitch.
“It was a hit!” The woman looked between them. “I didn’t realize you were married.”
“Oh yeah…” Katniss nodded at the gob smacked man next to her. “This is my husband, Peeta…Mellark.”
She should really remember his last name.
“You two are adorable!” Effie gushed. “So young…but so were we—” She looked affectionately at her husband. “And here we are still tolerating each other.”
Haymitch smiled tenderly at his wife. “Well, you put up with me and that’s saying something.”
“Excuse me,” Peeta abruptly called out. “Out of curiosity, why just married couples?”
“We found that single renters tend to break their lease agreement within six months because they can’t afford the rent,” Effie explained. “And roommates often leave after awhile while non-married couples sometimes end up splitting up—it just becomes a mess. At least with a married couple, it’s two people who are bound by law and we can count on them being in the apartment for some time.”
“Longevity and loyalty are important to us,” Haymitch added, seriousness in his steel-eyed stare. “The people in this building are like our family. So, we’re very protective about who we let in.”
“That is definitely important,” Katniss replied. She looked to a stone-faced Peeta before beginning her appeal for the dream apartment. “We would love to be considered. Obviously, you know that I work at Johanna’s and Peeta works in the coffee house next door. We’ve been at our jobs for more than a year. We can get paystubs as proof of income—”
“I have a feeling about you two,” Effie said. She looked to her husband who nodded in agreement. “Pending the deposit and if you two agree, we would love for you to make your home here.”
“Are you insane?” As soon as they stepped out of the building, Peeta turned to her. “Why would you say we’re married?”
“I don’t know!” Katniss exclaimed. “It just happened.” She peered at him. “You’re not married already, are you?”
“No!” He burst out. “But still—you didn’t need to lie.”
“Tell me where you’re going find a place and price like that,” Katniss pointed out. “Might as well move to Treasure Island.”
They walked away from their future home. “So, what are we supposed to do now?”
“We pretend,” she told him bluntly. “And after a year when we’ve saved a little bit more money, we move out or just say we’re splitting up.”
“And, you think this is going to work?”
“It does or we’re homeless,” Katniss replied.
They walked in silence towards the lightrail island. When they reach her stop, Peeta turned to her.
“Fine. We do this,” he agreed. “One year.”
Katniss let out the sigh of relief. “Deal.” She took his hand. “You now have yourself a wife.”
Peeta chuckled quietly. “Just one thing.”
“What’s your last name?”
One week later…
“I seriously cannot believe you’re doing this,” Johanna muttered as they walk up the stairs leading up to San Francisco City Hall. “I know that you’ve had a thing for Peeta—but pretending to be married to get an apartment? That’s just wrong.”
“It’s not like that. All of us aren’t like you,” Katniss replied as she held her bag open for security before walking through the metal detector. “We didn’t get a house from a divorce.”
“I earned that house!” Johanna followed suit through the metal detector. “Do you know how many blowies I gave him before he decided that it was my fault that he couldn’t get it up? I can stick the hard end of a banana in the back of my throat and feel nothing.” The security guard chuckled as he handed Johanna her purse back. “Tell me that’s not devotion.”
“That is a little more than I needed to know about my boss.” Katniss reached into her purse and pulled out the fragile hairpiece. It had been lying in her drawer since she moved to California. “Can you help me?”
“Give it.” Johanna takes the hairpiece, clipping it on each side of Katniss’ raven waves. She arranged the lace so that it subtly brushed her cheekbones. “This is gorgeous.”
“It was my grandmother’s,” she said quietly. “Her and Gramps married during the war. It’s the one thing she left me after she died…I hate to think that it’s being used for something not real.”
Johanna placed her hands on Katniss’ shoulders, her eyes affectionately concerned.
“So, for now, pretend that this is real. Most marriages turn out to be shams, anyway—and you get a smoking-hot husband out of it.”
Katniss snorted. “Thanks for the pep talk.”
A wolf-whistle cut across the air, echoing throughout the main floor, and she turned to find Peeta in a grey suit approaching her. A tall, dark-skinned man followed behind him dressed in a navy suit.
“Mrs. Mellark…” Peeta slowed in front of her, looking over her fitted lace dress before meeting her veil-eyed gaze. “You clean up nice.”
“That’s what happens when you work in the best clothing boutique in San Francisco,” Katniss replied, her hands reaching to adjust his red tie. “You clean up nice, too.”
“That’s so cute,” the man behind Peeta said with an amused smile. “Y’all are already taking care of each other.”
“This is Cinna, my soon-to-be ex-roommate,” Peeta informed Katniss. “He’s ditching me for New York, but I don’t blame him since his cushy executive job is paying for his flat.”
“Nice to meet you,” Katniss said and shook the man’s hand. “I guess it worked out in my favor that you were leaving.”
“No problem, sweetheart,” Cinna replied. “Peeta showed me the apartment. What a sweet deal for San Francisco! I wouldn’t mind pretending to be married to this guy for such a place.”
Johanna coughed and Katniss pulled her forward. “This is Johanna, my boss and pretend MOH.”
“Nice to meet you both,” Johanna said. “And, thanks for the coffees, Peeta.”
“No problem,” Peeta replied. He looked around at the crowded floor. “Should we get on with this?”
Katniss nodded. “Right.”
Together, they walked to the wide staircase that led to the mayoral offices. It was a popular spot for ceremonies and pictures. There were already several couples taking their post-ceremony photos.
Cinna reached into his pocket, taking out a small digital camera. “Let’s get you two together.”
Awkwardly, Peeta took her hand as Katniss pressed herself against him.
“Is this alright?” she asked Cinna.
“No. You look like you’re having an edema,” Johanna said bluntly as Cinna chuckled in agreement. “Come on, make me believe that you’ve seen each other naked!”
Several couples stopped to stare at them.
“Alright!” Katniss wove her arms around Peeta’s neck as he pulled her close, his strong arms encircling her waist. Through the lace of her dress, she could feel his heart pounding and she met his sweet blues. “You okay, Mr. Mellark?”
Peeta grinned and the breath suddenly left her body. He really was a good-looking man.
She could never get someone like him in real life.
He leaned forward, their lips a breath apart. “I’m perfect…Mrs. Mellark.”
“We got it!” Cinna called out.
Johanna looked over Cinna’s shoulder at the picture on the camera’s screen, nodding in approval.
“Not bad…not bad at all.”
Together, she and Peeta sighed in relief.
They could do this…this was after all for the perfect apartment.
“We’re not done yet,” Cinna told them. “We still have a year’s worth of your marriage to document.” He smirked, looking at the photos—some good, some awkward. “These are going to look good. You better name your first fake baby after me.”
Effie had been there to meet them at their front door a week later. Haymitch couldn’t take the time off to join them as Effie informed the couple that he was stuck in meetings for the startup he was managing.
“I have no idea about those sorts of things,” she said as she held out their key. “Why don’t you give it a try? If there’s an issue, we can just hop down the block to the hardware store on the corner.”
Peeta took the key, inserting it into the bolt and turning it easily. “Looks like we’re good to go.” He opened the door and turned to Katniss. “Before we go in—”
He quickly scooped her up and she wrapped her arms around his neck, mostly out of fear of faceplanting on their new floors.
“What are you doing?”
“This is our home now,” Peeta said, giving her a winning smile. Behind them, Effie cooed. “I have to carry you over the threshold.” He leaned closer to her ear. “We’re supposed to be in love, aren’t we? Just go with it.”
Katniss nods before placing a light kiss on his lips. He started at the motion and something inside her bellowed in triumph at the thought of making him come undone.
“Well then, carry me over, Mr. Mellark. We have a lot of unpacking to do.”
Together, Peeta entered their place before placing Katniss gently back on her feet.
He winked. “I’ll start bringing in the boxes.”
Nodding, she went to open some of the bags that they were able to store in the apartment before their official move. Effie and Haymitch were generous for allowing them to do this.
“Is that your wedding photo?”
Katniss turned to see Effie behind her, her gaze on the black-and-white photo that she had just placed on the mantle.
“Yes. It was a small wedding,” she explained. “My family is all the way in Connecticut and Peeta’s family is in D.C. so they weren’t able to make it. The whole idea of getting married was very spur-of-the-moment.”
“Really?” Effie was an obvious romantic, though Katniss found it an endearing. “Oh, to be young and so spontaneous. So, how did the proposal happen?”
Shit. They never really came up with a story.
“Katniss was staying over at my place.” Peeta placed a box on the floor in front of them. “We were having breakfast and discussing what we should do that day. She suggested that we get to the mountain of laundry in my room—and I suggested that we get married.”
A snort escaped Katniss’ lips before she could stop it.
Effie’s bright eyes went wide and she looked to Katniss. “And, what did you say?”
“I kind of just said…sure,” she answered.
“It was more of a—” Peeta gave them a half-hearted shrug that looked believably like something she would do. “—followed by a less-than-enthusiastic ‘Sure.’” He put an arm around Katniss’ shoulders. “As if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to marry me.”
“You do love me.” Her head went to his shoulder. “Surly traits and all.”
In response, Peeta placed a kiss on her temple. “I wouldn’t have you any other way.”
“You two are just too good to be real!” Effie exclaimed. “I’ll leave you to finish unpacking. Also, tomorrow we’ll be having a little get-together in the backyard so you can meet the neighbors. I think you’re going to fit in here perfectly.”
She smiled at them dreamily.
I’m just going to leave you to…christen your new place. Let me know if you need anything.”
With that, Effie closed the apartment door behind her.
“Did she give us permission to bone all over the apartment?”
Peeta smirked. “I’m game if you are.”
Katniss reached into an open box, throwing a cushion in his direction.
He chuckled, catching the cushion easily.
“I’ll take that as a no.” Going to her, Peeta pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Welcome home, Mrs. Mellark.”
End of Part One…
This was inspired by a meme about dating in the Bay Area. Also, I’ve been watching Tales of the City on Netflix.
The current average rate for an one-bedroom apartment rental in San Francisco is $3,609, while rent in the neighborhood of Noe Valley runs at about $3,206. The lowest rental rate is in Treasure Island, which is the halfway point across the Bay Bridge, and is $2,616.
Just some food for thought on how ridiculous it is to live in the Bay Area…but damn do I love living here.
Next: Meeting the neighbors
Till then, JLaLa