|Every Little Girl
Author: Ember A. Keelty PM
Sequel to Zero Sum. In which the Victors of the 74th Hunger Games try to get on with their lives, but are swept up in a revolution with a very different kind of figurehead.Rated: Fiction T - English - Foxface - Chapters: 3 - Words: 7,197 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 06-27-12 - Published: 04-21-12 - id: 8045341
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"If you're going to keep looking at that, you could at least share with the class."
Vince rolls his eyes at Joule from his seat across the aisle from us, but says, in a very put-upon tone, "There's just an hour left now until arrival."
"One hour until I see my mom again," I say to myself, not entirely sure how to feel about that. "One hour until I see Reed again." I'm even less sure how to feel about that. No matter what I do, I'm still my mother's daughter. She could never really be repulsed by me.
"Whossat?" asks Joule. "Your boyfriend?"
"No. Bittersweet Reed. She goes by her last name." It suits her, tall (and thin, but that's not remarkable) as she is.
"Ah," says Joule approvingly. "My kind of person."
"Actually, she probably is. I first met her when she beat up some boys for picking on me."
"I never beat up anyone."
"No, of course not," I say quickly. "I meant because you've been looking out for me." When I close my eyes, I can still sometimes see the video of him bashing in another boy's head with a hammer — but I know it isn't fair to think that way.
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No." I really don't want to talk about this with Vince around, but Joule is too tipsy - or maybe just too jaded - to care.
"Good," says Joule. "Don't get one. They're not worth it."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"No boyfriends," Joule repeats. "I'm not saying that as your friend. This is mentorly advice: no boyfriends, no husbands, and definitely no kids."
"I don't see how that's any of your business," Vince scolds him.
"It's none of yours either," Joule shoots back.
"I never said it was."
"When's it ever made any difference what you say?"
"I think you should hand over that bottle, Mr. Ecklen."
"Nah. I might trade it for your watch, though."
I press myself into the seatback cushions and try to stay out of the crossfire, hoping they have enough to argue about that they'll eventually forget they were ever arguing about me. Maybe when I'm eighteen, I can get drunk enough to say exactly what I think and have it all just sound like harmless nonsense.
The cheering starts when I'm announced and led out onto the scaffold in the town center. It stops almost as soon as the cameras are off and the Capitol people begin to pack up the stage. I appreciate the quiet, but I don't much like that everyone is still looking at me.
The moment I step off the last wooden stair and onto the ground of District 5, my mother is there to wrap me in an embrace. "Welcome home, Wren," she whispers between kisses to the top of my head. "I'm so proud of you."
Don't say that, I think. You don't have to. But what I tell her is: "You'll be safe now. We'll never have to worry about food again, and everyone will respect us."
"I know," she says. "But that isn't what I meant." I almost ask what she did mean, but realize quickly enough that she's proud for the reason she can't say out loud, especially not with the Capitol still hovering around the square. I can accept that kind of pride, even if I'm not completely sure that I deserve it.
"Ms. Ardell? If it's all right?" My mother gives me one more kiss before letting go of me and stepping back, and Reed's older brother, Lux, steps forward to take her place. "Good to have you back, Wren," he says, reaching out and ruffling my hair.
("'Fox ears,' maybe?" Cornelius said, carding it so roughly I thought he might pull it out of my scalp. "Bit of a dog face. She won't ever be pretty, not without more surgery than we have time for. We could manage cute like a puppy, so let's aim for that.")
I catch his wrist and push his hand away. He frowns at me, but doesn't say anything about it. What he does say is: "Bitty's already heading back to the house. She'd like to talk to you in private. Come with me?"
"Why did you come to tell me that instead of her?" I ask him.
"She's just not feeling well right now, that's all. It's hard on her to be out for any length of time."
I can't imagine Reed as an invalid. If she really wanted to welcome me back, I don't think anything short of a deathly illness would stop her. "In that case, it's probably best to leave her alone to recuperate. She can come see me when she feels better."
"I don't think she'll feel better until she's seen you," Lux replies bluntly.
I look to my mother. "Go ahead," she says. "He's right. She needs you." I wonder how she can sound so sure of that. Did she talk to Reed while I was gone? Did they watch the Game together?
Whatever's going on, it's starting to really worry me.
The first time I met Bittersweet Reed, I was eleven years old and a couple of boys from my class had cornered me after school. They had been picking on me for months —pulling my hair, sing-songing about how I'd never had a father — but recently one of them had heard his parents say that my mother let strange men kiss her if they gave her bread, and they both started insisting I tell them what they had to do so that they could kiss me. Reed snuck up behind them and shoved both of their heads into the wall they had me backed up against, then punched their noses in when they turned around to face her. "They were talking about your mom," she cheerfully explained later. "Lux once got beat up for talking about someone's mom, and Daddy said it served him right. I figured someone ought to serve them right."
The last time I saw her, I was looking down at her from the scaffold after my name had been called. She wouldn't look back at me.
She does look up when I enter her house and find her sitting at the table, hands folded in her lap. Without a word, she stands and starts for the door to the back room, but Lux steps forward and grabs her shoulder. "Don't be an idiot, Bitty," he tells her gently, then goes into the back himself and leaves us alone with each other.
Reed stands silently with her hands behind her back and her head turned to the side. "Hi," I say, articulately.
"I'm sorry," she answers.
"It's all right."
"It might not have been."
"But it is."
Finally, she manages to meet my eyes. With a deep breath, she brings her right hand out in front of her and unfolds it, palm up, to reveal a small brass ring. "This is why I didn't say good bye. It belonged to my mother. I begged Daddy to let me give it to you, and then we had to dig it out, and I ran as fast as I could, but..." She smiles a bit crookedly. "It seems kind of stupid giving it to you now, when you could have something made with real gold, or with jewels in it."
"It's beautiful," I tell her. "Jewels are only good for the novelty, and it's worn out on me. Something like this, I could love forever — if you still want me to have it." She extends her arm a bit further and nods her head. I take off the round wooden pendant I've been wearing around my neck and press it into her hand as I take the ring.
"Who gave you this?" Reed asks me.
"No one did. I made it myself a few years ago."
"Made it yourself," she repeats hollowly. "You made your own token."
"Not exactly." I try to think of a way to explain that won't just make her feel worse. There isn't one. "Well, more or less."
"Is it a bird?" she asks of the figure scratched crudely into the wood.
"A bird shaped like a 'W'. 'Wren' two ways. I thought that was awfully clever at the time, but it might have helped if I were any good at carving."
Her face falls, and I can tell before she speaks that I've said too much and she's figured it out. "It was for me. You had it ready years ago — just in case. And there I was, rushing around at the last minute..."
"Reed. Neither of us thought it would turn out like this."
"I wonder why not," she says bitterly.
"I think it's better this way." I slip the ring onto my finger and hold my hand up for her to see. "I'd rather have a gift from you that's just a gift and not a token. If I'd worn this into the arena, I might not have wanted to keep wearing it once I was out."
"So..." She manages to crack a smile again. "You're giving the pendant to me because you don't want it anymore."
"Because I don't need it anymore," I say, flashing the ring again. "I wore it because it made me think of you."
Without warning, Reed lunges forward and tackles me in a hug. I hug her back, and for a moment, everything really is all right.
Then she pulls away, and I catch my first glimpse of her left hand. It's wrapped thick with bandages, and all of the fingers but her thumb are splinted.
"What happened to you?" I blurt out.
"Oh," she says, her smile going crooked again. "What do you think, knowing me?"
"Please tell me you didn't get that in a fight." She doesn't answer, just keeps smiling strangely. "Who in District 5 could have done that to you, and why in the world did you think it was a good idea to attack them?"
"Because she was awful to you."
"She? You got beaten by a girl?"
"What's so weird about that? I'm a girl. Can't I beat people?"
"Just how big was she?"
"Uh," says Reed, her smile contorting even further, "about my size." I stare at her incredulously. "Oh come on, Wren, that's not fair. You know I'm terrible at lying."
"Why don't tell me what really happened?"
"All right. It wasn't anything heroic. I dropped a hatch on it."
"You know, at the plant. One of those big metal doors that goes up and down. I've been off work since then." She looks down at the bandages and continues more quietly, "Actually, your mother came by and took care of me for a while, since we couldn't afford to miss two incomes. She's... a very kind woman."
"She is," I agree. There's a long silence between us, and then: "I should probably be getting back to her." I don't know what else I can possibly say to Reed, and I want to get away from her before I say something horribly wrong.
"That's a good idea," Reed says. She hugs me again, but this time it almost seems like she's forcing herself to do it. "Hey, you get to go to the Victors' Village, right? I bet that will be nice." I don't think that the bitterness in her voice is jealousy. But if it isn't, I don't know what it is.
"It—" It would be nicer if I could really go home, I want to say, but I can't speak that freely, not even to her. "It will be."
The new house has a porch, and the porch has a swing. My mother and I sit on it together and watch the sunset. At this distance from all the choking pollution the power plants put out, the ruby-red glow of the haze is quite lovely. When I catch myself thinking that, I think of the Capitol with its glittering lights and costumes — all so beautiful, all so beautifully far away from the ugliness that makes it possible.
"Maybe Reed is right to hate me," I say.
"You can't really think she hates you," says my mother.
"I don't know what to think. I know that something's wrong. I know she's disappointed in herself, and maybe that's all it is, but there was something cold there that seemed to go deeper." The way my mother's speaking, it seems she has her own suspicions. "Why did she need you to take care of her?" The Reed I know would insist she could do basic things for herself with one hand, and she would be right.
"Her father and brother didn't want her left alone in that state. They paid me a little — not as much as they make, but just about as much as I do for day work — so I wasn't put out by it."
"'In that state,'" I repeat. "That almost sounds like how one would refer to a broken hand."
"Did she tell you how it got broken?"
The breeze that's been rocking the swing goes still. "She said she dropped a hatch on it."
"She did — five times, before she was dragged away screaming."
I shouldn't be shocked. I knew how much I'd changed in the time I'd been away, so why should I have had any reason to hope that everything back home would stay how it was? This shouldn't be what drives it in, and it definitely shouldn't be something that makes me hurt for myself and what I've lost.
I wonder about Prim, whether she'll blame herself, whether there was someone else who loved Katniss and will blame her. I wonder who was waiting for Clove, whether they really believed she would return, what it must have been like to realize she wouldn't. I wonder about what Rue went home to, whether she's happy for now, whether her siblings are young enough to just enjoy their cake and not feel complicated about it. I wonder who Will was close to, whether I should say something to them, what I could possibly say.
I don't have to wonder what was going through my best friend's head that made her want to mutilate herself. I already know, and I really wish I didn't, because it's all my fault.