The days between television showings are slow and lonely. I wake up at the same time as I always used to, but instead I find myself just laying there staring at the ceiling of my tiny bedroom. I wonder what Katniss is doing, if she's scared, if she has anyone to talk to. And I doubt it.
Vick squirms next to me and I turn my face to look at him. He's a young reflection of myself; strong jaw, dark wisps of black hair falling into his eyes, wide shoulders. And I know that if he opens his eyes I'll see the same grey eyes that we all share. Not just the Hawthornes, but all of the Seam people. Katniss too.
I wonder again what she's doing. I know that I should be getting up now, to go hunting. But hunting is so hard without her; it always feels like something is going to jump out at me. And it isn't just me being a coward - it's the emptiness of the forest. It feels so much more alive when she's with me, like the birds are singing and the animals are scurrying just for her.
My family is the only thing holding me up. I hate it when they're hungry, when Posy wraps her tiny arms around my ankles and says, "Can I have food, Gawle?" I swore not to let them go hungry, and I won't break that promise.
So I get up and head to the forest, to be alone once again.
I squeeze myself under the fence and head over to our normal meeting place, where her bow and arrows still lay. I wish I could send them to her to use in the Games, because there's no way she can make it on her own without help. If I were with her, I'd be able to protect her. I'd be able to do more than I can here in 12, just sitting infront of the television waiting for something to get her.
"Stop," I mumble to myself. "That won't help anything." Lately prep talks have been keeping me sane.
I reach for my hunting bag and go to check my snares. The sun bares down on my shoulders through my shirt and I pull it over my head, savoring the heat of the day. The vitamin D soaks into my skin and distracts me from my own thoughts.
The rest of the day goes by in a never-ending blur. I collect my game, pick some blackberries - Katniss' favorite - and fish by the lake. All of the things I used to do with her, done by myself.
On my way home I see the lights turned on in the Everdeen's house. The sun has already gone down and I'm surprised to see light shining through the curtain; it seems as though they always have them off now. But I suppose the interviews should be starting soon, and they don't want to miss them.
I knock on their door and a moment later Primrose peeks her head out. When she sees me her eyes take in the game bag strapped over my shoulder. "Hello Gale," she says quietly, and opens the door for me to enter.
"I've brought you some rabbit and fish. And I have the remedies you asked for, Ruth," I tell her mother. She looks exhausted and my heart sinks a little lower. I figure they've gotten about as much sleep as I have.
"Thank you," she says. She tries to offer me a smile as she takes the food but it comes off as more of a grimace. Mine does the same.
I glance at the clock and do a double-take. "It's already seven-thirty?" I blurt. "I'll be missing the interviews at this rate."
Prim grabs my hand and leads me over to their couch. "No, you can stay here. You can watch them with us."
I breathe a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Prim."
We both try to get comfortable on the cushions but end up sitting in an awkward silence. My fingers have started to tingle with nerves and I feel my palms getting sweaty.
Suddenly Ruth breaks the silence. "This is her last chance," she says.
Prim and I look back to find her staring at the television with wide, haunted eyes. The screen is black because the program hasn't started yet, but you'd think there were a murder scene playing out infront of us. I shudder.
"Mother," Prim whispers.
"No, Prim. I'm not going to sit here and let you two delude yourselves. She's always been strong, but the others have been training their whole lives. She can't. She can't beat them."
I just stare at her. Katniss has always complained to me how hopeless her mother is, how much she doesn't care about anything but herself and what she's been through. My mother went through the same thing and became stronger because of it. Ruth broke.
And I can't find it in myself to feel badly for her anymore. How could she sit there and shut down Katniss like that? None of us have lost hope for her. I believe in her.
I turn back to face the wall and try to calm my angry breathing. I clench and unclench my fists. Grind my teeth.
Primrose sniffles beside me, trying not to cry.
"It's okay, Prim," I tell her, wrapping my arm over her shoulders. "Your mother's wrong."
Prim tenses - she can hear the anger in my voice and knows what's coming. "Gale, don't," she whispers. But I can't help it.
"Why not?" Suddenly I'm facing the other side of the room, where Katniss' mother stands staring at me. She is still emotionless but I can tell by the way she is standing that she is alert and not happy. "I thought we were being honest here. I thought we were saying what we think, no matter how much it could hurt other people. So let me tell you the truth, Prim. Because she is deluding you."
"Gale-" Prim starts.
I cut her off. "Katniss is the strongest person out there. In every way. And there's no way she won't win, because unlike some, she has a heart big enough to come home to us. She'll come home to you no matter what, Prim. She will."
I don't break eye contact with Ruth the entire time I'm talking, and finish by spinning on my heel and heading for the door in two angry strides. I can't stay here, not while she slams down every ounce of hope left we have left. So I don't look back as I leave. I know I'm probably missing the beginning of the interviews, but I can't stand the thought of going back.
When I get back to my house, my anger has died down and turned to exhaustion. How much longer can this last? I wonder. The Games haven't even started and we're already falling apart. I decide I'll have to apologize to Katniss' mother the next time I see her, if I can work up the courage.
I storm through the house, throwing my jacket onto the hook without looking to see if it made it.
"Everything okay honey?" my mother asks from the living room. I hear the buzzing of our television and hurry over. Caesar Flickerman is onstage in a ridiculous blue suit. There's glitter all over his face and he seems to be interviewing the female tribute from District 1 or 2.
"Fine," I grumble. "Got into a small argument with Ruth, is all."
My mother turns to look at me sharply. "What?" she asks.
I sigh and tell her what happened, and how I stormed out. "I'm sorry," I finish. "I just couldn't stand to look at her."
My mother rubs my shoulders sympathetically and sighs. "I understand. But you know how hard this must be for her, considering how hard it is for us. Katniss is her daughter, and she loves her. If we aren't patient, her and Primrose will have no one to lean on."
I nod my head and watch as my mother leaves to prepare our food. Vick and Rory go back to quietly playing with Posy.
The interviews go on for another hour or so before the tiny girl from Eleven floats onstage, dressed in a gossamer gown complete with wings, making her look like a delicate bird. My mother returns from the kitchen and shakes her head sadly.
"She's just a child," my mother says. "It's wrong."
I agree. And suddenly the door is open and Prim walks in, holding back tears.
I leap up onto my feet and go over to hug her. "C-can I watch with you guys?" she asks shakily.
"Of course," I say. I don't ask her what happened; I figure it has something to do with her mother's commentary. She must have been as fed up as I was.
Primrose sits herself between my mother and I on the couch. Her cries die down quickly as my mother rubs her back and whispers condolescences. She takes my hand we lock eyes for a moment. She's like her sister in that way - she doesn't need words to send a message. Thank you.
I nod and squeeze her hand.
"And now," roars Caesar Flickerman. "What we've all been waiting for... The Girl on Fire! Let's hear a big round of applause for Miss Katniss Everdeen!"
And suddenly she's onstage, looking as beautiful as ever. I'm blinded for a moment by her dress, which glimmers and shines like dancing flames of fire. It clings to her body in all the right places and I feel my cheeks heat. My eyes glide up to her face and stay locked there. Her dark grey eyes are shadowed with smoke and her lips are bright, bright red.
"Wow," gapes Rory. I smack him in the arm, but choke out a laugh. I can't blame him. She's gorgeous.
Katniss sits herself on their fancy leather couch and crosses her legs, something I've never seen her do. Before I can get my thought together, Caesar is shooting off questions. "So, Katniss, the Capital must be quite a change from District 12. What has impressed you the most since you arrived here?"
Katniss' eyes widen for a moment as she realizes that she needs to speak. She opens her mouth and blurts, "The lamb stew."
We all laugh at that. Typical Katniss.
The Capitol laughs as though it's the most hilarious thing they've ever heard and listens intently through the rest of her interview. I'm relieved at how much they love her. She must have more sponsers than anyone at this point, and she's just being herself.
Caesar asks her what she thinks of her costume and her face lights up enthusiastically."I thought Cinna was brilliant and it was the most gorgeous costume I'd ever seen and I couldn't believe I was wearing it. I can't believe I'm wearing this, either." Katinss stares down at her glimmering dress. "I mean, look at it!" she exclaims.
And we do. Katniss stands up and twirls, and her dress flows out around her like a brightly lit fire. The crowd goes crazy.
But then he asks about Primrose, and everyone goes quiet. I pull Prim closer to me on the couch and swallow hard. I can feel her shaking. "Let's go back to the moment they called your sister's name at the Reaping. And you volunteered, " Caesar says. "Can you tell us about her?"
I close my eyes for a moment. They shouldn't have sunk this far. Katniss pretends to stay calm but I can see the pain in her eyes. "Her name's Prim. She's just twelve. And I love her more than anything."
Prim whimpers next to me and starts crying. "Shh," I whisper. "It's okay." She leans into my side, eyes glued to the screen.
"What did she say to you? After the Reaping?" Caesar asks.
"She asked me to try really hard to win," Katniss says quietly.
"And what did you say?"
"I swore I would."
Bingo. Sponsers must be pouring in.
The buzzer goes off and Katniss flutters off the stage, gone from our view. My mother tries to console Prim as I stare at the screen, barely listening to Mellark's interview. But when I do zone back in, my attention snaps into focus.
Caesar asks him if he has a girlfriend back home. Peeta shakes his head, but it's obvious that he is lying.
Caesar bumps his shoulder teasingly and says, "Handsome lad like you. There must be some special girl. Come on, what's her name?"
Peeta sighs. "Well, there is this one girl. I've had a crush on her ever since I can remember. But I'm pretty sure she didn't know I was alive until the reaping."
The crowd Awws and Boos understandingly. Unrequited love they can relate to.
"She have another fellow?" Caesar asks.
"I don't know, but I lot of boys like her," Peeta says.
Caesar tells him, "So here's what you do. You win, you go home. She can't turn you down then, eh?"
Peeta shakes his head and looks down at his hands. They're shaking. "I don't think it's going to work out. Winning... Won't help in my case."
And suddenly I know.
Peeta's face is beet red. I can see him swallow hard and look out at the audience uneasily. Who else could he be talking about? I think back to the Opening Ceremonies, and see Katniss and Peeta rolling through the City Square, waving and holding hands. They were standing so much closer than the other tributes.
And I remember thinking that they must have known eachother from before somehow.
My eyes widen to the point of blurring and I spring forward in my seat.
Prim gasps next to me. "Oh no," she whispers.
Caesar is oblivious. "Why ever not?" he asks stupidly.
I see red in my vision. "Don't say it," I growl under my breath.
But he does. He says it. The words appear over and over in my head, written in red hot anger.
"Because... Because she came here with me."
The silence in the room is endless. Even little Posy has looked up from her toys. She looks to the screen, then to us, then back to the TV. "Mama, what is it?" she asks. No one answers.
I can feel the eyes of everyone in the room on me. The air closes in and I can't take it anymore. I jump up from the couch and run to the door, my body shaking with anger and hurt.
I slam the door on my way out and start running, not looking back. It's dark out and I can barely see where I'm going, but I know the general direction of the woods and don't stop until I reach the fence. Breathing hard, I scurry under and walk until I reach our rock.
I lie down on my back and stare up at the moon.
How could I have been so stupid as to think we'd end up together? I'd be lying to myself if I said that she was going to come home to me. She only ever wanted me as a friend, she'd made that very clear. And I'd done everything in my right mind to change that, except tell her how I felt.
I should have told her. If I told her, maybe my hope wouldn't be completely shattered.
Because I saw the way she looked after he said it. Right before I ran out, I saw seen the camera zoom in on her face. And I saw her blushing.
And when I think back on it, I have never, in our four years together, ever made her blush like that.