1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

It was attached to a cable and they hauled him up as well. But I’m certain he was dead. We heard the girl scream once. The boy’s name, I think. Then it was gone, the hovercraft. Vanished into thin air. And the birds began to sing again, as if nothing had happened.”

“Did they see you?” Peeta asked.

“I don’t know. We were under a shelf of rock,” I reply. But I do know. There was a moment, after the birdcall, but before the hovercraft, where the girl had seen us. She’d locked eyes with me and called out for help. But neither Gale or I had responded.

“You’re shivering,” says Peeta.

The wind and the story have blown all the warmth from my body. The girl’s scream. Had it been her last?

Peeta takes off his jacket and wraps it around my shoulders. I start to take a step back, but then I let him, deciding for a moment to accept both his jacket and his kindness. A friend would do that, right?

“They were from here?” he asks, and he secures a button at my neck.

I nod. They’d had that Capitol look about them. The boy and the girl.

“Where do you suppose they were going?” he asks.

“I don’t know that,” I say. District 12 is pretty much the end of the line. Beyond us, there’s only wilderness. If you don’t count the ruins of District 13 that still smolder from the toxic bombs. They show it on television occasionally, just to remind us. “Or why they would leave here.” Haymitch had called the Avoxes traitors. Against what? It could only be the Capitol. But they had everything here. No cause to rebel.

“I’d leave here,” Peeta blurts out. Then he looks around nervously. It was loud enough to hear above the chimes. He laughs. “I’d go home now if they let me. But you have to admit, the food’s prime.”

He’s covered again. If that’s all you’d heard it would just sound like the words of a scared tribute, not someone contemplating the unquestionable goodness of the Capitol. “It’s getting chilly. We better go in,” he says. Inside the dome, it’s warm and bright. His tone is conversational. “Your friend Gale. He’s the one who took your sister away at the reaping?”

“Yes. Do you know him?” I ask.

“Not really. I hear the girls talk about him a lot. I thought he was your cousin or something. You favor each other,” he says.

“No, we’re not related,” I say.

Peeta nods, unreadable. “Did he come to say good-bye to you?”

“Yes,” I say, observing him carefully. “So did your father. He brought me cookies.”

Peeta raises his eyebrows as if this is news. But after watching him lie so smoothly, I don’t give this much weight.

“Really? Well, he likes you and your sister. I think he wishes he had a daughter instead of a houseful of boys.”

The idea that I might ever have been discussed, around the dinner table, at the bakery fire, just in passing in Peeta’s house gives me a start. It must have been when the mother was out of the room.

“He knew your mother when they were kids,” says Peeta. Another surprise. But probably true. “Oh, yes. She grew up in town,” I say. It seems impolite to say she never mentioned the baker except to compliment his bread.

We’re at my door. I give back his jacket. “See you in the morning then.”

“See you,” he says, and walks off down the hall. When I open my door, the redheaded girl is collecting my unitard and boots from where I left them on the floor before my shower. I want to apologize for possibly getting her in trouble earlier. But I remember I’m not supposed to speak to her unless I’m giving her an order.

“Oh, sorry,” I say. “I was supposed to get those back to Cinna. I’m sorry. Can you take them to him?”

She avoids my eyes, gives a small nod, and heads out the door.

I’d set out to tell her I was sorry about dinner. But I know that my apology runs much deeper. That I’m ashamed I never tried to help her in the woods. That I let the Capitol kill the boy and mutilate her without lifting a finger. Just like I was watching the Games.

I kick off my shoes and climb under the covers in my clothes. The shivering hasn’t stopped. Perhaps the girl doesn’t even remember me. But I know she does. You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope. I pull the covers up over my head as if this will protect me from the redheaded girl who can’t speak. But I can feel her eyes staring at me, piercing through walls and doors and bedding.

I wonder if she’ll enjoy watching me die.

My slumbers are filled with disturbing dreams. The face of the redheaded girl intertwines with gory images from earlier Hunger Games, with my mother withdrawn and unreachable, with Prim emaciated and terrified. I bolt up screaming for my father to run as the mine explodes into a million deadly bits of light.

Dawn is breaking through the windows. The Capitol has a misty, haunted air. My head aches and I must have bitten into the side of my cheek in the night. My tongue probes the ragged flesh and I taste blood.

Slowly, I drag myself out of bed and into the shower. I arbitrarily punch buttons on the control board and end up hopping from foot to foot as alternating jets of icy cold and steaming hot water assault me. Then I’m deluged in lemony foam that I have to scrape off with a heavy bristled brush. Oh, well. At least my blood is flowing.

When I’m dried and moisturized with lotion, I find an outfit has been left for me at the front of the closet. Tight black pants, a long-sleeved burgundy tunic, and leather shoes. I put my hair in the single braid down my back. This is the first time since the morning of the reaping that I resemble myself. No fancy hair and clothes, no flaming capes. Just me. Looking like I could be headed for the woods. It calms me.

Haymitch didn’t give us an exact time to meet for break-last and no one has contacted me this morning, but I’m hungry so I head down to the dining room, hoping there will be food. I’m not disappointed. While the table is empty, a long board off to the side has been laid with at least twenty dishes. A young man, an Avox, stands at attention by the spread. When I ask if I can serve myself, he nods assent. I load a plate with eggs, sausages, batter cakes covered in thick orange preserves, slices of pale purple melon. As I gorge myself, I watch the sun rise over the Capitol. I have a second plate of hot grain smothered in beef stew. Finally, I fill a plate with rolls and sit at the table, breaking oil bits and dipping them into hot chocolate, the way Peeta did on the train.

My mind wanders to my mother and Prim. They must be up. My mother getting their breakfast of mush. Prim milking her goat before school. Just two mornings ago, I was home. Can that be right? Yes, just two. And now how empty the house feels, even from a distance. What did they say last night about my fiery debut at the Games? Did it give them hope, or simply add to their terror when they saw the reality of twenty-four tributes circled together, knowing only one could live?

Haymitch and Peeta come in, bid me good morning, fill their plates. It makes me irritated that Peeta is wearing exactly the same outfit I am. I need to say something to Cinna. This twins act is going to blow up in out faces once the Games begin. Surely, they must know this. Then I remember Haymitch telling me to do exactly what the stylists tell me to do. If it was anyone but Cinna, I might be tempted to ignore him. But after last night’s triumph, I don’t have a lot of room to criticize his choices.

I’m nervous about the training. There will be three days in which all the tributes practice together. On the last afternoon, we’ll each get a chance to perform in private before the Gamemakers. The thought of meeting the other tributes face-toface makes me queasy. I turn the roll I have just taken from the basket over and over in my hands, but my appetite is gone. When Haymitch has finished several platters of stew, he pushes back his plate with a sigh. He takes a flask from his pocket and takes a long pull on it and leans his elbows on the table. “So, let’s get down to business. Training. First off, if you like, I’ll coach you separately. Decide now.”

“Why would you coach us separately?” I ask.

“Say if you had a secret skill you might not want the other to know about,” says Haymitch.

I exchange a look with Peeta. “I don’t have any secret skills,” he says. “And I already know what yours is, right? I mean, I’ve eaten enough of your squirrels.”

I never thought about Peeta eating the squirrels I shot. Somehow I always pictured the baker quietly going off and frying them up for himself. Not out of greed. But because town families usually eat expensive butcher meat. Beef and chicken and horse.

“You can coach us together,” I tell Haymitch. Peeta nods. “All right, so give me some idea of what you can do,” says Haymitch.

“I can’t do anything,” says Peeta. “Unless you count baking bread.”

“Sorry, I don’t. Katniss. I already know you’re handy with a knife,” says Haymitch.

“Not really. But I can hunt,” I say. “With a bow and arrow.”

“And you’re good?” asks Haymitch.

I have to think about it. I’ve been putting food on the table for four years. That’s no small task. I’m not as good as my father was, but he’d had more practice. I’ve better aim than Gale, but I’ve had more practice. He’s a genius with traps and snares. “I’m all right,” I say.

“She’s excellent,” says Peeta. “My father buys her squirrels. He always comments on how the arrows never pierce the body. She hits every one in the eye. It’s the same with the rabbits she sells the butcher. She can even bring down deer.”

This assessment of my skills from Peeta takes me totally by surprise. First, that he ever noticed. Second, that he’s talking me up. “What are you doing?” I ask him suspiciously.

“What are you doing? If he’s going to help you, he has to know what you’re capable of. Don’t underrate yourself,” says Peeta.

I don’t know why, but this rubs me the wrong way. “What about you? I’ve seen you in the market. You can lift hundredpound bags of flour,” I snap at him. “Tell him that. That’s not nothing.”

“Yes, and I’m sure the arena will be full of bags of flour for me to chuck at people. It’s not like being able to use a weapon. You know it isn’t,” he shoots back.

“He can wrestle,” I tell Haymitch. “He came in second in our school competition last year, only after his brother.”

“What use is that? How many times have you seen someone wrestle someone to death?” says Peeta in disgust.

“There’s always hand-to-hand combat. All you need is to come up with a knife, and you’ll at least stand a chance. If I get jumped, I’m dead!” I can hear my voice rising in anger.

“But you won’t! You’ll be living up in some tree eating raw squirrels and picking off people with arrows. You know what my mother said to me when she came to say good-bye, as if to cheer me up, she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realized, she didn’t mean me, she meant you!” bursts out Peeta.

“Oh, she meant you,” I say with a wave of dismissal.

“She said, ‘She’s a survivor, that one.’ She is,” says Peeta. That pulls me up short. Did his mother really say that about me? Did she rate me over her son? I see the pain in Peeta’s eyes and know he isn’t lying.

Suddenly I’m behind the bakery and I can feel the chill of the rain running down my back, the hollowness in my belly. I sound eleven years old when I speak. “But only because someone helped me.”

Peeta’s eyes flicker down to the roll in my hands, and I know he remembers that day, too. But he just shrugs. “People will help you in the arena. They’ll be tripping over each other to sponsor you.”

“No more than you,” I say.

Peeta rolls his eyes at Haymitch. “She has no idea. The effect she can have.” He runs his fingernail along the wood grain in the table, refusing to look at me.

What on earth does he mean? People help me? When we were dying of starvation, no one helped me! No one except Peeta. Once I had something to barter with, things changed. I’m a tough trader. Or am I? What effect do I have? That I’m weak and needy? Is he suggesting that I got good deals because people pitied me? I try to think if this is true. Perhaps some of the merchants were a little generous in their trades, but I always attributed that to their long-standing relationship with my father. Besides, my game is first-class. No one pitied me!

I glower at the roll sure he meant to insult me. After about a minute of this, Haymitch says, “Well, then. Well, well, well. Katniss, there’s no guarantee they’ll be bows and arrows in the arena, but during your private session with the Gamemakers, show them what you can do. Until then, stay clear of archery. Are you any good at trapping?”

“I know a few basic snares,” I mutter.

“That may be significant in terms of food,” says Haymitch.

“And Peeta, she’s right, never underestimate strength in the arena. Very often, physical power tilts the advantage to a player. In the Training Center, they will have weights, but don’t reveal how much you can lift in front of the other tributes. The plan’s the same for both of you. You go to group training. Spend the time trying to learn something you don’t know. Throw a spear. Swing a mace. Learn to tie a decent knot. Save showing what you’re best at until your private sessions. Are we clear?” says Haymitch. Peeta and I nod.

“One last thing. In public, I want you by each other’s side every minute,” says Haymitch. We both start to object, but Haymitch slams his hand on the table. “Every minute! It’s not open for discussion! You agreed to do as I said! You will be together, you will appear amiable to each other. Now get out. Meet Effie at the elevator at ten for training.”

I bite my lip and stalk back to my room, making sure Peeta can hear the door slam. I sit on the bed, hating Haymitch, hating Peeta, hating myself for mentioning that day long ago in the rain.

It’s such a joke! Peeta and I going along pretending to be friends! Talking up each other’s strengths, insisting the other take credit for their abilities. Because, in fact, at some point, we’re going to have to knock it off and accept we’re bitter adversaries. Which I’d be prepared to do right now if it wasn’t for Haymitch’s stupid instruction that we stick together in training. It’s my own fault, I guess, for telling him he didn’t have to coach us separately. But that didn’t mean I wanted to do everything

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34