to each pair of tributes, but the camera holds on the District 12 chariot as it parades around the circle one final time and disappears into the Training Center. The doors have only just shut behind us when we’re engulfed by the prep teams, who are nearly unintelligible as they babble out praise. As I glance around, I notice a lot of the other tributes are shooting us dirty looks, which confirms what I’ve suspected, we’ve literally outshone them all. Then Cinna and Portia are there, helping us down from the chariot, carefully removing our flaming capes and headdresses. Portia extinguishes them with some kind of spray from a canister. I realize I’m still glued to Peeta and force my stiff fingers to open. We both massage our hands.
“Thanks for keeping hold of me. I was getting a little shaky there,” says Peeta.
“It didn’t show,” I tell him. “I’m sure no one noticed.”
“I’m sure they didn’t notice anything but you. You should wear flames more often,” he says. “They suit you.” And then he gives me a smile that seems so genuinely sweet with just the right touch of shyness that unexpected warmth rushes through me.
A warning bell goes off in my head. Don’t be so stupid. Peeta is planning how to kill you, I remind myself. He is luring you in to make you easy prey. The more likable he is, the more deadly he is.
But because two can play at this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on his bruise.
The Training Center has a tower designed exclusively for the tributes and their teams. This will be our home until the actual Games begin. Each district has an entire floor. You simply step onto an elevator and press the number of your district. Easy enough to remember.
I’ve ridden the elevator a couple of times in the Justice Building back in District 12. Once to receive the medal for my father’s death and then yesterday to say my final goodbyes to my friends and family. But that’s a dark and creaky thing that moves like a snail and smells of sour milk. The walls of this elevator are made of crystal so that you can watch the people on the ground floor shrink to ants as you shoot up into the air. It’s exhilarating and I’m tempted to ask Effie Trinket if we can ride it again, but somehow that seems childish. Apparently, Effie Trinket’s duties did not conclude at the station. She and Haymitch will be overseeing us right into the arena. In a way, that’s a plus because at least she can be counted on to corral us around to places on time whereas we haven’t seen Haymitch since he agreed to help us on the train. Probably passed out somewhere. Effie Trinket, on the other hand, seems to be flying high. We’re the first team she’s ever chaperoned that made a splash at the opening ceremonies. She’s complimentary about not just our costumes but how we conducted ourselves. And, to hear her tell it, Effie knows everyone who’s anyone in the Capitol and has been talking us up all day, trying to win us sponsors.
“I’ve been very mysterious, though,” she says, her eyes squint half shut. “Because, of course, Haymitch hasn’t bothered to tell me your strategies. But I’ve done my best with what I had to work with. How Katniss sacrificed herself for her sister. How you’ve both successfully struggled to overcome the barbarism of your district.”
Barbarism? That’s ironic coming from a woman helping to prepare us for slaughter. And what’s she basing our success on? Our table manners?
“Everyone has their reservations, naturally. You being from the coal district. But I said, and this was very clever of me, I said, ‘Well, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls!’“ Effie beams at us so brilliantly that we have no choice but to respond enthusiastically to her cleverness even though it’s wrong.
Coal doesn’t turn to pearls. They grow in shellfish. Possibly she meant coal turns to diamonds, but that’s untrue, too. I’ve heard they have some sort of machine in District 1 that can turn graphite into diamonds. But we don’t mine graphite in District 12. That was part of District 13’s job until they were destroyed.
I wonder if the people she’s been plugging us to all day either know or care. “Unfortunately, I can’t seal the sponsor deals for you. Only Haymitch can do that,” says Effie grimly. “But don’t worry, I’ll get him to the table at gunpoint if necessary.”
Although lacking in many departments, Effie Trinket has a certain determination I have to admire.
My quarters are larger than our entire house back home. They are plush, like the train car, but also have so many automatic gadgets that I’m sure I won’t have time to press all the buttons. The shower alone has a panel with more than a hundred options you can choose regulating water temperature, pressure, soaps, shampoos, scents, oils, and massaging sponges. When you step out on a mat, heaters come on that blow-dry your body. Instead of struggling with the knots in my wet hair, I merely place my hand on a box that sends a current through my scalp, untangling, parting, and drying my hair almost instantly. It floats down around my shoulders in a glossy curtain.
I program the closet for an outfit to my taste. The windows zoom in and out on parts of the city at my command. You need only whisper a type of food from a gigantic menu into a mouthpiece and it appears, hot and steamy, before you in less than a minute. I walk around the room eating goose liver and puffy bread until there’s a knock on the door. Effie’s calling me to dinner.
Good. I’m starving.
Peeta, Cinna, and Portia are standing out on a balcony that overlooks the Capitol when we enter the dining room. I’m glad to see the stylists, particularly after I hear that Haymitch will be joining us. A meal presided over by just
Effie and Haymitch is bound to be a disaster. Besides, dinner isn’t really about food, it’s about planning out our strategies, and Cinna and Portia have already proven how valuable they are.
A silent young man dressed in a white tunic offers us all stemmed glasses of wine. I think about turning it down, but I’ve never had wine, except the homemade stuff my mother uses for coughs, and when will I get a chance to try it again? I take a sip of the tart, dry liquid and secretly think it could be improved by a few spoonfuls of honey.
Haymitch shows up just as dinner is being served. It looks as if he’s had his own stylist because he’s clean and groomed and about as sober as I’ve ever seen him. He doesn’t refuse the offer of wine, but when he starts in on his soup, I realize it’s the first time I’ve ever seen him eat. Maybe he really will pull himself together long enough to help us.
Cinna and Portia seem to have a civilizing effect on Haymitch and Effie. At least they’re addressing each other decently. And they both have nothing but praise for our stylists’ opening act. While they make small talk, I concentrate on the meal. Mushroom soup, bitter greens with tomatoes the size of peas, rare roast beef sliced as thin as paper, noodles in a green sauce, cheese that melts on your tongue served with sweet blue grapes. The servers, all young people dressed in white tunics like the one who gave us wine, move wordlessly to and from the table, keeping the platters and glasses full. About halfway through my glass of wine, my head starts feeling foggy, so I change to water instead. I don’t like the feeling and hope it wears off soon. How Haymitch can stand walking around like this full-time is a mystery. I try to focus on the talk, which has turned to our interview costumes, when a girl sets a gorgeous-looking cake on the table and deftly lights it. It blazes up and then the flames flicker around the edges awhile until it finally goes out. I have a moment of doubt. “What makes it burn? Is it alcohol?” I say, looking up at the girl. “That’s the last thing I wa—oh! I know you!”
I can’t place a name or time to the girl’s face. But I’m certain of it. The dark red hair, the striking features, the porcelain white skin. But even as I utter the words, I feel my insides contracting with anxiety and guilt at the sight of her, and while I can’t pull it up, I know some bad memory is associated with her. The expression of terror that crosses her face only adds to my confusion and unease. She shakes her head in denial quickly and hurries away from the table.
When I look back, the four adults are watching me like hawks.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Katniss. How could you possibly know an Avox?” snaps Effie. “The very thought.”
“What’s an Avox?” I ask stupidly.
“Someone who committed a crime. They cut her tongue so she can’t speak,” says Haymitch. “She’s probably a traitor of some sort. Not likely you’d know her.”
“And even if you did, you’re not to speak to one of them unless it’s to give an order,” says Effie. “Of course, you don’t really know her.”
But I do know her. And now that Haymitch has mentioned the word traitor I remember from where. The disapproval is so high I could never admit it. “No, I guess not, I just—” I stammer, and the wine is not helping.
Peeta snaps his fingers. “Delly Cartwright. That’s who it is. I kept thinking she looked familiar as well. Then I realized she’s a dead ringer for Delly.”
Delly Cartwright is a pasty-faced, lumpy girl with yellowish hair who looks about as much like our server as a beetle does a butterfly. She may also be the friendliest person on the planet—she smiles constantly at everybody in school, even me. I have never seen the girl with the red hair smile. But I jump on Peeta’s suggestion gratefully. “Of course, that’s who I was thinking of. It must be the hair,” I say.
“Something about the eyes, too,” says Peeta.
The energy at the table relaxes. “Oh, well. If that’s all it is,”
says Cinna. “And yes, the cake has spirits, but all the alcohol has burned off. I ordered it specially in honor of your fiery debut.”
We eat the cake and move into a sitting room to watch the replay of the opening ceremonies that’s being broadcast. A few of the other couples make a nice impression, but none of them can hold a candle to us. Even our own party lets out an
“Ahh!” as they show us coming out of the Remake Center.
“Whose idea was the hand holding?” asks Haymitch. “Cinna’s,” says Portia.
“Just the perfect touch of rebellion,” says Haymitch. “Very nice.”
Rebellion? I have to think about that one a moment. But when I remember the other couples, standing stiffly apart, never touching or acknowledging each other, as if their fellow tribute did not exist, as if the Games had already begun, I know what Haymitch means. Presenting ourselves not as adversaries but as friends has distinguished us as much as the fiery costumes.
“Tomorrow morning is the first training session. Meet me for breakfast and I’ll tell you exactly how I want you to play it,” says Haymitch to Peeta and I. “Now go get some sleep while the grown-ups talk.”
Peeta and I walk together down the corridor to our rooms. When we get to my door, he leans against the frame, not blocking my entrance exactly but insisting I pay attention to him. “So, Delly Cartwright. Imagine finding her lookalike here.”
He’s asking for an explanation, and I’m tempted to give him one. We both know he covered for me. So here I am in his debt again. If I tell him the truth about the girl, somehow that might even things up. How can it hurt really? Even if he repeated the story, it couldn’t do me much harm. It was just something I witnessed. And he lied as much as I did about Delly Cartwright.
I realize I do want to talk to someone about the girl. Someone who might be able to help me figure out her story. Gale would be my first choice, but it’s unlikely I’ll ever see Gale again. I try to think if telling Peeta could give him any possible advantage over me, but I don’t see how. Maybe sharing a confidence will actually make him believe I see him as a friend.
Besides, the idea of the girl with her maimed tongue frightens me. She has reminded me why I’m here. Not to model flashy costumes and eat delicacies. But to die a bloody death while the crowds urge on my killer.
To tell or not to tell? My brain still feels slow from the wine. I stare down the empty corridor as if the decision lies there. Peeta picks up on my hesitation. “Have you been on the roof yet?” I shake my head. “Cinna showed me. You can practically see the whole city. The wind’s a bit loud, though.”
I translate this into “No one will overhear us talking” in my head. You do have the sense that we might be under surveillance here. “Can we just go up?”
“Sure, come on,” says Peeta. I follow him to a flight of stairs that lead to the roof. There’s a small dome-shaped room with a door to the outside. As we step into the cool, windy evening air, I catch my breath at the view. The Capitol twinkles like a vast field of fireflies. Electricity in District 12 comes and goes, usually we only have it a few hours a day. Often the evenings are spent in candlelight. The only time you can count on it is when they’re airing the Games or some important government message on television that it’s mandatory to watch. But here there would be no shortage. Ever.
Peeta and I walk to a railing at the edge of the roof. I look straight down the side of the building to the street, which is buzzing with people. You can hear their cars, an occasional shout, and a strange metallic tinkling. In District 12, we’d all be thinking about bed right now.
“I asked Cinna why they let us up here. Weren’t they worried that some of the tributes might decide to jump right over the side?” says Peeta.
“What’d he say?” I ask.
“You can’t,” says Peeta. He holds out his hand into seemingly empty space. There’s a sharp zap and he jerks it back.
“Some kind of electric field throws you back on the roof.”
“Always worried about our safety,” I say. Even though Cinna has shown Peeta the roof, I wonder if we’re supposed to be up here now, so late and alone. I’ve never seen tributes on the Training Center roof before. But that doesn’t mean we’re not being taped. “Do you think they’re watching us now?”
“Maybe,” he admits. “Come see the garden.”
On the other side of the dome, they’ve built a garden with flower beds and potted trees. From the branches hang hundreds of wind chimes, which account for the tinkling I heard. Here in the garden, on this windy night, it’s enough to drown out two people who are trying not to be heard. Peeta looks at me expectantly.
I pretend to examine a blossom. “We were hunting in the woods one day. Hidden, waiting for game,” I whisper.
“You and your father?” he whispers back.
“No, my friend Gale. Suddenly all the birds stopped singing at once. Except one. As if it were giving a warning call. And then we saw her. I’m sure it was the same girl. A boy was with her. Their clothes were tattered. They had dark circles under their eyes from no sleep. They were running as if their lives depended on it,” I say.
For a moment I’m silent, as I remember how the sight of this strange pair, clearly not from District 12, fleeing through the woods immobilized us. Later, we wondered if we could have helped them escape. Perhaps we might have. Concealed them. If we’d moved quickly. Gale and I were taken by surprise, yes, but we’re both hunters. We know how animals look at bay. We knew the pair was in trouble as soon as we saw them. But we only watched.
“The hovercraft appeared out of nowhere,” I continue to Peeta. “I mean, one moment the sky was empty and the next it was there. It didn’t make a sound, but they saw it. A net dropped down on the girl and carried her up, fast, so fast like the elevator. They shot some sort of spear through the boy.