the Seventy-fifth Hunger Games, and that means it’s also a Quarter Quell. They occur every twenty-five years, marking the anniversary of the districts’ defeat with over-the-top celebrations and, for extra fun, some miserable twist for the tributes. I’ve never been alive for one, of course. But in school I remember hearing that for the second Quarter Quell, the Capitol demanded that twice the number of tributes be provided for the arena. The teachers didn’t go into much more detail, which is surprising, because that was the year District 12’s very own Haymitch Abernathy won the crown.
“Haymitch better be preparing himself for a lot of attention!” squeals Octavia.
Haymitch has never mentioned his personal experience in the arena to me. I would never ask. And if I ever saw his Games televised in reruns, I must’ve been too young to remember it. But the Capitol won’t let him forget it this year. In a way, it’s a good thing Peeta and I will both be available as mentors during the Quell, because it’s a sure bet that Haymitch will be wasted.
After they’ve exhausted the topic of the Quarter Quell, my prep team, launches into a whole lot of stuff about their incomprehensibly silly lives. Who said what about someone I’ve never heard of and what sort of shoes they just bought and a long story from Octavia about what a mistake it was to have everyone wear feathers to her birthday party.
Soon my brows are stinging, my hair’s smooth and silky, and my nails are ready to be painted. Apparently they’ve been given instruction to prepare only my hands and face, probably because everything else will be covered in the cold weather. Flavius badly wants to use his own trademark purple lipstick on me but resigns himself to a pink as they begin to color my face and nails. I can see by the palette Cinna has assigned that we’re going for girlish, not sexy.
Good. I’ll never convince anyone of anything if I’m trying to be provocative. Haymitch made that very clear when he was coaching me for my interview for the Games.
My mother comes in, somewhat shyly, and says that Cinna has asked her to show the preps how she did my hair the day of the reaping. They respond with enthusiasm and then watch, thoroughly engrossed, as she breaks down the process of the elaborate braided hairdo. In the mirror, I can see their earnest faces following her every move, their eagerness when it is their turn to try a step. In fact, all three are so readily respectful and nice to my mother that I feel bad about how I go around feeling so superior to them. Who knows who I would be or what I would talk about if I’d been raised in the Capitol? Maybe my biggest regret would be having feathered costumes at my birthday party, too.
When my hair is done, I find Cinna downstairs in the living room, and just the sight of him makes me feel more hopeful. He looks the same as always, simple clothes, short brown hair, just a hint of gold eyeliner. We embrace, and I can barely keep from spilling out the entire episode with President Snow. But no, I’ve decided to tell Haymitch first. He’ll know best who to burden with it. It’s so easy to talk to Cinna, though. Lately we’ve been speaking a lot on the telephone that came with the house. It’s sort of a joke, because almost no one else we know owns one. There’s Peeta, but obviously I don’t call him. Haymitch tore his out of the wall years ago. My friend Madge, the mayor’s daughter, has a telephone in her house, but if we want to talk, we do it in person. At first, the thing barely ever got used. Then Cinna started to call to work on my talent.
Every victor is supposed to have one. Your talent is the activity you take up since you don’t have to work either in school or your district’s industry. It can be anything, really, anything that they can interview you about. Peeta, it turns out, actually has a talent, which is painting. He’s been frosting those cakes and cookies for years in his family’s bakery. But now that he’s rich, he can afford to smear real paint on canvases. I don’t have a talent, unless you count hunting illegally, which they don’t. Or maybe singing, which I wouldn’t do for the Capitol in a million years. My mother tried to interest me in a variety of suitable alternatives from a list Effie Trinket sent her. Cooking, flower arranging, playing the flute. None of them took, although Prim had a knack for all three. Finally Cinna stepped in and offered to help me develop my passion for designing clothes, which really required development since it was nonexistent. But I said yes because it meant getting to talk to Cinna, and he promised he’d do all the work.
Now he’s arranging things around my living room: clothing, fabrics, and sketchbooks with designs he’s drawn. I pick up one of the sketchbooks and examine a dress I supposedly created. “You know, I think I show a lot of promise,” I say.
“Get dressed, you worthless thing,” he says, tossing a bundle of clothes at me.
I may have no interest in designing clothes but I do love the ones Cinna makes for me. Like these. Flowing black pants made of a thick, warm material. A comfortable white shirt. A sweater woven from green and blue and gray strands of kitten-soft wool. Laced leather boots that don’t pinch my toes.
“Did I design my outfit?” I ask.
“No, you aspire to design your outfit and be like me, your fashion hero,” says Cinna. He hands me a small stack of cards. “You’ll read these off camera while they’re filming the clothes. Try to sound like you care.”
Just then, Effie Trinket arrives in a pumpkin orange wig to remind everyone, “We’re on a schedule!” She kisses me on both cheeks while waving in the camera crew, then orders me into position. Effie’s the only reason we got anywhere on time in the Capitol, so I try to accommodate her. I start bobbing around like a puppet, holding up outfits and saying meaningless things like “Don’t you love it?” The sound team records me reading from my cards in a chirpy voice so they can insert it later, then I’m tossed out of the room so they can film my/Cinna’s designs in peace.
Prim got out early from school for the event. Now she stands in the kitchen, being interviewed by another crew. She looks lovely in a sky blue frock that brings out her eyes, her blond hair pulled back in a matching ribbon. She’s leaning a bit forward on the toes of her shiny white boots like she’s about to take flight, like—
Bam! It’s like someone actually hits me in the chest. No one has, of course, but the pain is so real I take a step back. I squeeze my eyes shut and I don’t see Prim—I see Rue, the twelve-year-old girl from District 11 who was my ally in the arena. She could fly, birdlike, from tree to tree, catching on to the slenderest branches. Rue, who I didn’t save. Who I let die. I picture her lying on the ground with the spear still wedged in her stomach… .
Who else will I fail to save from the Capitol’s vengeance? Who else will be dead if I don’t satisfy President Snow?
I realize Cinna’s trying to put a coat on me, so I raise my arms. I feel fur, inside and out, encasing me. It’s from no animal I’ve ever seen. “Ermine,” he tells me as I stroke the white sleeve. Leather gloves. A bright red scarf. Something furry covers my ears. “You’re bringing earmuffs back in style.”
I hate earmuffs, I think. They make it hard to hear, and since I was blasted deaf in one ear in the arena, I dislike them even more. After I won, the Capitol repaired my ear, but I still find myself testing it.
My mother hurries up with something cupped in her hand. “For good luck,” she says.
It’s the pin Madge gave me before I left for the Games. A mockingjay flying in a circle of gold. I tried to give it to Rue but she wouldn’t take it. She said the pin was the reason she’d decided to trust me. Cinna fixes it on the knot in the scarf.
Effie Trinket’s nearby, clapping her hands. “Attention, everyone! We’re about to do the first outdoor shot, where the victors greet each other at the beginning of their marvelous trip. All right, Katniss, big smile, you’re very excited, right?” I don’t exaggerate when I say she shoves me out the door.
For a moment I can’t quite see right because of the snow, which is now coming down in earnest. Then I make out Peeta coming through his front door. In my head I hear President Snow’s directive, “Convince me.” And I know I must.
My face breaks into a huge smile and I start walking in Peeta’s direction. Then, as if I can’t stand it another second, I start running. He catches me and spins me around and then he slips — he still isn’t entirely in command of his artificial leg—and we fall into the snow, me on top of him, and that’s where we have our first kiss in months. It’s full of fur and snowflakes and lipstick, but underneath all that, I can feel the steadiness that Peeta brings to everything. And I know I’m not alone. As badly as I have hurt him, he won’t expose me in front of the cameras. Won’t condemn me with a halfhearted kiss. He’s still looking out for me. Just as he did in the arena. Somehow the thought makes me want to cry. Instead I pull him to his feet, tuck my glove through the crook of his arm, and merrily pull him on our way.
The rest of the day is a blur of getting to the station, bidding everyone good-bye, the train pulling out, the old team — Peeta and me, Effie and Haymitch, Cinna and Portia, Peeta’s stylist—dining on an indescribably delicious meal I don’t remember. And then I’m swathed in pajamas and a voluminous robe, sitting in my plush compartment, waiting for the others to go to sleep. I know Haymitch will be up for hours. He doesn’t like to sleep when it’s dark out.
When the train seems quiet, I put on my slippers and pad down to his door. I have to knock several times before he answers, scowling, as if he’s certain I’ve brought bad news.
“What do you want?” he says, nearly knocking me out with a cloud of wine fumes.
“I have to talk to you,” I whisper.
“Now?” he says. I nod. “This better be good.” He waits, but I feel certain every word we utter on a Capitol train is being recorded. “Well?” he barks.
The train starts to brake and for a second I think President Snow is watching me and doesn’t approve of my confiding in Haymitch and has decided to go ahead and kill me now. But we’re just stopping for fuel.
“The train’s so stuffy,” I say.
It’s a harmless phrase, but I see Haymitch’s eyes narrow in understanding. “I know what you need.” He pushes past me and lurches down the hall to a door. When he wrestles it open, a blast of snow hits us. He trips out onto the ground.
A Capitol attendant rushes to help, but Haymitch waves her away good-naturedly as he staggers off. “Just want some fresh air. Only be a minute.”
“Sorry. He’s drunk,” I say apologetically. “I’ll get him.” I hop down and stumble along the track behind him, soaking my slippers with snow, as he leads me beyond the end of the train so we will not be overheard. Then he turns on me.
I tell him everything. About the president’s visit, about Gale, about how we’re all going to die if I fail.
His face sobers, grows older in the glow of the red tail-lights. “Then you can’t fail.”
“If you could just help me get through this trip—” I begin.
“No, Katniss, it’s not just this trip,” he says. “What do you mean?” I say.
“Even if you pull it off, they’ll be back in another few months to take us all to the Games. You and Peeta, you’ll be mentors now, every year from here on out. And every year they’ll revisit the romance and broadcast the details of your private life, and you’ll never, ever be able to do anything but live happily ever after with that boy.”
The full impact of what he’s saying hits me. I will never have a life with Gale, even if I want to. I will never be allowed to live alone. I will have to be forever in love with Peeta. The Capitol will insist on it. I’ll have a few years maybe, because I’m still only sixteen, to stay with my mother and Prim. And then … and then …
“Do you understand what I mean?” he presses me.
I nod. He means there’s only one future, if I want to keep those I love alive and stay alive myself. I’ll have to marry Peeta.
We slog back to the train in silence. In the hallway outside my door, Haymitch gives my shoulder a pat and says, “You could do a lot worse, you know.” He heads off to his compartment, taking the smell of wine with him.
In my room, I remove my sodden slippers, my wet robe and pajamas. There are more in the drawers but I just crawl between the covers of my bed in my underclothes. I stare into the darkness, thinking about my conversation with Haymitch. Everything he said was true about the Capitol’s expectations, my future with Peeta, even his last comment. Of course, I could do a lot worse than Peeta. That isn’t really the point, though, is it? One of the few freedoms we have in District 12 is the right to marry who we want or not marry at all. And now even that has been taken away from me. I wonder if President Snow will insist we have children. If we do, they’ll have to face the reaping each year. And wouldn’t it be something to see the child of not one but two victors chosen for the arena? Victors’ children have been in the ring before. It always causes a lot of excitement and generates talk about how the odds are not in that family’s favor. But it happens too frequently to just be about odds. Gale’s convinced the Capitol does it on purpose, rigs the drawings to add extra drama. Given all the trouble I’ve caused, I’ve probably guaranteed any child of mine a spot in the Games.
I think of Haymitch, unmarried, no family, blotting out the world with drink. He could have had his choice of any woman in the district. And he chose solitude. Not solitude— that sounds too peaceful. More like solitary confinement. Was it because, having been in the arena, he knew it was better than risking the alternative? I had a taste of that alternative when they called Prim’s name on reaping day and I watched her walk to the stage to her death. But as her sister I could take her place, an option forbidden to our mother.
My mind searches frantically for a way out. I can’t let President Snow condemn me to this. Even if it means taking my own life. Before that, though, I’d try to run away. What would they do if I simply vanished? Disappeared into the woods and never came out? Could I even manage to take everyone I love with me, start a new life deep in the wild? Highly unlikely but not impossible.
I shake my head to clear it. This is not the time to be making wild escape plans. I must focus on the Victory Tour. Too many people’s fates depend on my giving a good show.
Dawn comes before sleep does, and there’s Effie rapping on my door. I pull on whatever clothes are at the top of the drawer and drag myself down to the dining car. I don’t see what difference it makes when I get up, since this is a travel day, but then it turns out that yesterday’s makeover was just to get me to the train station. Today I’ll get the works from my prep team.
“Why? It’s too cold for anything to show,” I grumble.
“Not in District Eleven,” says Effie.
District 11. Our first stop. I’d rather start in any other district, since this was Rue’s home. But that’s not how the Victory Tour works. Usually it kicks off in 12 and then goes in descending district order to 1, followed by the Capitol. The victor’s district is skipped and saved for very last. Since 12 puts on the least fabulous celebration — usually just a dinner for the tributes and a victory rally in the square, where nobody looks like they’re having any fun — it’s probably best to get us out of the way as soon as possible. This year, for the first time since Haymitch won, the final stop on the tour will be 12, and the Capitol will spring for the festivities.
I try to enjoy the food like Hazelle said. The kitchen staff clearly wants to please me. They’ve prepared my favorite, lamb stew with dried plums, among other delicacies. Orange juice and a pot of steaming hot chocolate wait at my place at the table. So I eat a lot, and the meal is beyond reproach, but I can’t say I’m enjoying it. I’m also annoyed that no one but Effie and I has shown up.
“Where’s everybody else?” I ask.
“Oh, who knows where Haymitch is,” says Effie. I didn’t really expect Haymitch, because he’s probably just getting to bed. “Cinna was up late working on organizing your garment car. He must have over a hundred outfits for you. Your evening clothes are exquisite. And Peeta’s team is probably still asleep.”
“Doesn’t he need prepping?” I ask.
“Not the way you do,” Effie replies.
What does this mean? It means I get to spend the morning having the hair ripped off my body while Peeta sleeps in. I hadn’t thought about it much, but in the arena at least some of the boys got to keep their body hair whereas none of the girls did. I can remember Peeta’s now, as I bathed him by the stream. Very blond in the sunlight, once the mud and blood had been washed away. Only his face remained completely smooth. Not one of the boys grew a beard, and many were old enough to. I wonder what they did to them.
If I feel ragged, my prep team seems in worse condition, knocking back coffee and sharing brightly colored little pills. As far as I can tell, they never get up before noon unless there’s some sort of national emergency, like my leg hair. I was so happy when it grew back in, too. As if it were a sign that things might be returning to normal. I run my fingers along the soft, curly down on my legs and give myself over to the team. None of them are up to their usual chatter, so I can hear every strand being yanked from its follicle. I have to soak in a tub full of a thick, unpleasant-smelling solution, while my face and hair are plastered with creams. Two more baths follow in other, less offensive, concoctions. I’m plucked and scoured and massaged and anointed until I’m raw.
Flavius tilts up my chin and sighs. “It’s a shame Cinna said no alterations on you.”
“Yes, we could really make you something special,” says Octavia.
“When she’s older,” says Venia almost grimly. “Then he’ll have to let us.”
Do what? Blow my lips up like President Snow’s? Tattoo my breasts? Dye my skin magenta and implant gems in it? Cut decorative patterns in my face? Give me curved talons? Or cat’s whiskers? I saw all these things and more on the people in the Capitol. Do they really have no idea how freakish they look to the rest of us?
The thought of being left to my prep team’s fashion whims only adds to the miseries competing for my attention— my abused body, my lack of sleep, my mandatory marriage, and the terror of being unable to satisfy President Snow’s demands. By the time I reach lunch, where Effie, Cinna, Portia, Haymitch, and Peeta have started without me, I’m too weighed down to talk. They’re raving about the food and how well they sleep on trains. Everyone’s all full of excitement about the tour. Well, everyone but Haymitch. He’s nursing a hangover and picking at a muffin. I’m not really hungry, either, maybe because I loaded up on too much rich stuff this morning or maybe because I’m so unhappy. I play around with a bowl of broth, eating only a spoonful or two. I can’t even look at Peeta—my designated future husband—although I know none of this is his fault.
People notice, try to bring me into the conversation, but I just brush them off. At some point, the train stops. Our server reports it will not just be for a fuel stop — some part has malfunctioned and must be replaced. It will require at least an hour. This sends Effie into a state. She pulls out her schedule and begins to work out how the delay will impact every event for the rest of our lives. Finally I just can’t stand to listen to her anymore.
“No one cares, Effie!” I snap. Everyone at the table stares at me, even Haymitch, who you’d think would be on my side in this matter since Effie drives him nuts. I’m immediately put on the defensive. “Well, no one does!” I say, and get up and leave the dining car.
The train suddenly seems stifling and I’m definitely queasy now. I find the exit door, force it open — triggering some sort of alarm, which I ignore — and jump to the ground, expecting to land in snow. But the air’s warm and balmy against my skin. The trees still wear green leaves. How far south have we come in a day? I walk along the track, squinting against the bright sunlight, already regretting my words to Effie. She’s hardly to blame for my current predicament. I should go back and apologize. My outburst was the height of bad manners, and manners matter deeply to her. But my feet continue on along the track, past the end of the train, leaving it behind. An hour’s delay. I can walk at least twenty minutes in one direction and make it back with plenty of time to spare. Instead, after a couple hundred yards, I sink to the ground and sit there, looking into the distance. If I had a bow and arrows, would I just keep going?
After a while I hear footsteps behind me. It’ll be Haymitch, coming to chew me out. It’s not like I don’t deserve it, but I still don’t want to hear it. “I’m not in the mood for a lecture,” I warn the clump of weeds by my shoes.
“I’ll try to keep it brief.” Peeta takes a seat beside me. “I thought you were Haymitch,” I say.
“No, he’s still working on that muffin.” I watch as Peeta positions his artificial leg. “Bad day, huh?” “It’s nothing,” I say.
He takes a deep breath. “Look, Katniss, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about the way I acted on the train. I mean, the last train. The one that brought us home. I knew you had something with Gale. I was jealous of him before I even officially met you. And it wasn’t fair to hold you to anything that happened in the Games. I’m sorry.”
His apology takes me by surprise. It’s true that Peeta froze me out after I confessed that my love for him during the Games was something of an act. But I don’t hold that against him. In the arena, I’d played that romance angle for all it was worth. There had been times when I didn’t honestly know how I felt about him. I still don’t, really.
“I’m sorry, too,” I say. I’m not sure for what exactly. Maybe because there’s a real chance I’m about to destroy him.
“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about. You were just keeping us alive. But I don’t want us to go on like this, ignoring each other in real life and falling into the snow every time there’s a camera around. So I thought if I stopped being so, you know, wounded, we could take a shot at just being friends,” he says.
All my friends are probably going to end up dead, but refusing Peeta wouldn’t keep him safe. “Okay,” I say. His offer does make me feel better. Less duplicitous somehow. It would be nice if he’d come to me with this earlier, before I knew that President Snow had other plans and just being friends was not an option for us anymore. But either way, I’m glad we’re speaking again.
“So what’s wrong?” he asks.
I can’t tell him. I pick at the clump of weeds.
“Let’s start with something more basic. Isn’t it strange that I know you’d risk your life to save mine … but I don’t know what your favorite color is?” he says.
A smile creeps onto my lips. “Green. What’s yours?”
“Orange,” he says.
“Orange? Like Effie’s hair?” I say.
“A bit more muted,” he says. “More like … sunset.”
Sunset. I can see it immediately, the rim of the descending sun, the sky streaked with soft shades of orange. Beautiful. I remember the tiger lily cookie and, now that Peeta is talking to me again, it’s all I can do not to recount the whole story about President Snow. But I know Haymitch wouldn’t want me to. I’d better stick to small talk.
“You know, everyone’s always raving about your paintings. I feel bad I haven’t seen them,” I say.
“Well, I’ve got a whole train car full.” He rises and offers me his hand. “Come on.”
It’s good to feel his fingers entwined with mine again, not for show but in actual friendship. We walk back to the train hand in hand. At the door, I remember. “I’ve got to apologize to Effie first.”
“Don’t be afraid to lay it on thick,” Peeta tells me.
So when we go back to the dining car, where the others are still at lunch, I give Effie an apology that I think is overkill but in her mind probably just manages to compensate for my breach of etiquette. To her credit, Effie accepts graciously. She says it’s clear I’m under a lot of pressure. And her comments about the necessity of someone attending to the schedule only last about five minutes. Really, I’ve gotten off easily.
When Effie finishes, Peeta leads me down a few cars to see his paintings. I don’t know what I expected. Larger versions of the flower cookies maybe. But this is something entirely different. Peeta has painted the Games.
Some you wouldn’t get right away, if you hadn’t been with him in the arena yourself. Water dripping through the cracks in our cave. The dry pond bed. A pair of hands, his own, digging for roots. Others any viewer would recognize. The golden horn called the Cornucopia. Clove arranging the knives inside her jacket. One of the mutts, unmistakably the blond, green-eyed one meant to be Glimmer, snarling as it makes its way toward us. And me. I am everywhere. High up in a tree. Beating a shirt against the stones