I run across the yard, the evening dew soaking through my socks. I clutch a bleeding hand to my chest.
I cannot say exactly why I chose to shatter the window of the cellar underneath the empty victor's house, but that is behind me. All I can do now is sprint and try to outdo Peeta.
For once in my life, I want to be better than Peeta.
To do that, I have to talk to Haymitch before he does. Peeta will without a doubt ask Haymitch to promise to stay in District 12, allowing Peeta to follow me into yet another arena and this time to never come back.
I crash through Haymitch's front door, then stagger towards the only illumination in the entire house. He is sitting alone at the kitchen table a half-empty bottle of white liquor in one fist, his knife in the other.
"Ah, there she is. All tuckered out. Finally did the math, did you, sweetheart?" he says. "Worked out you won't be going in alone? And now you're here to ask me… what exactly?"
The window on the far side of the room is open. The air chills me. I breathe heavily from the run, but that is not why I lower my head and eyes. Drops of blood fall from my hand, spotting the kitchen floor.
I have hit a wall. I want to turn back. I should find my mother and my sister to comfort them. They need me now, not this drunken fool. This spiteful man sitting before me has done nothing but spit disapproval and sarcasm at me since the Victory Tour and he does not need me.
"I'll admit," Haymitch starts, "it was easier for the boy. He was here before I could snap the seal on a bottle. Begging me for another chance to go in. But what can you say?" He mimics my voice: "Take his place, Haymitch, because all things being equal, I'd rather Peeta had a crack at the rest of his life than you?"
I bite my cheek, because once he has said it, I know that it is true.
Except, is that really what I want? For Peeta to live and for Haymitch to die?
Haymitch is dreadful, of course, but he's family now. I cannot ask him do this. The selfishness is back – but, no… the selfishness has never left me. There is no excuse for me to demand such a thing from him. His life is no less worthy than Peeta's.
Peeta has outdone me, again.
What do I tell Haymitch? What could I have possibly wanted by coming here?
"I came for a drink," I finally say.
Haymitch bursts out laughing and slams the bottle on the table before me.
I run a blood-free sleeve across the top of it and take a couple gulps before I come up choking. It goes down burning. It takes me a few minutes to compose myself, and even then, my eyes and nose are still streaming.
"Maybe it should be you," I say, trying to sound matter of fact. I could feel the alcohol burn through my chest and sear across the skin of my face. "You hate life, after all."
"Very true," says Haymitch. "And since last time I tried to keep you alive... seems like I'm obligated to save the boy this time."
"That's another good point," I say, taking a long drink from the bottle.
"Peeta's argument is that since I chose you, I now owe him. Anything he wants. And what he wants is the chance to go in again to protect you."
I knew that. Peeta is predictable. While I was wallowing away on the floor of that cellar, thinking of myself, he was here, thinking only of me. Shame is not a strong enough word for what I feel.
"You could live a hundred lifetimes and not deserve him, you know," Haymitch says.
"Yeah, yeah," I say, but the thought hangs over me. It has always been there. How could a person accept something they do not deserve? "No question, he's the superior one in this trio. So, what are you going to do?"
"I don't know," he says. "Go back in with you maybe, if I can. If my name's drawn at the reaping, it won't matter. He'll just volunteer to take my place."
We sit in silence, while the thought continues to nag at me. Maybe he is right, maybe I'll never deserve Peeta no matter what I try.
"It'd be bad for you in the arena, wouldn't it? Knowing all the others?" I ask.
"Oh, I think we can count on it being unbearable wherever I am." He nods at the bottle, clenched in my fist. "Can I have that back now?"
Haymitch shrugs and pulls another bottle out from under the table. He gives the top a twist and swings it back. As he does that, I realize I cannot be here just for a drink.
"I have figured out what I want. If it has to be Peeta and me in the Games, this time we try to keep him alive, okay?"
The question contains no selfishness, no sacrifice. I feel satisfaction for a mere second, until I see something flicker across Haymitch's bloodshot eyes: pain.
"Like you said, it is going to be bad no matter how you slice it. And whatever Peeta wants, it's his turn to be saved. We both owe him that." The words come out pleading and slurred. "Besides, the Capitol hates me so much, I'm as good as dead now. Peeta might still have a chance. Please Haymitch. Say you'll help me."
"All right," he says after a long pause.
Just like that I can breathe again.
"Thanks," I say.
I want to go see Peeta, I think, but my head is spinning from the liquor. I should be with my family, but the thought of facing Mom and Primrose is much worse. Besides, if all selfishness has actually been shed, I should check on him.
I step away from the table, taking the bottle with me. I tangle my bleeding hand into the bottom of my shirt. I do not say goodbye, but simply stagger my way out of the house and across the yard.
I pass the front of my place and I can see shadows across the drawn curtains of the front window. There are more than just the two I expect, and I know Gale must be there.
Another obstacle I do not want to tackle. I do not want a crying Primrose to coddle, a furious Gale pacing at my back and the shadow of the deaf and blind woman my mother used to be sitting in the den. The thought has my stomach turning.
I hurry across the yard towards Peeta's front steps.
I have trouble turning the doorknob, but when the door finally swings open, I wander through the front parlor and enter the empty kitchen. I did not think to knock or ring the bell, so I am not surprised that he did not come running but what I do not expect is that there is no sign of Peeta.
I call out to him, but there is no answer.
Where would he go? Home, to his family? This makes sense. He would go to comfort his loved ones, when I could not do the same for mine.
It is almost enough to make me turn around and check on them, but I just want this one night. One more hour. Enough time to accept that I am going back. Back to the arena. Into hell one more time and this time not to come out. President Snow will have most likely ordered me to be put to death this time around and my chances of winning are as low as they had been for Prim when she was reaped.
I am going back to die.
The thought brings the bottle back to my lips for another long draught.
I stumble upstairs. At the top, I see a door half open and a stream of light falls across the hallway. I move toward it, hoping I am wrong and that maybe Peeta is home.
I push through the door. My eyes sweep the room: the empty bed of tangled blankets, the dark bathroom to the side, the closet door left wide open. Nothing.
There is a canvass set up next to his bed. There is a giant mess of spilt paint on the floor and on top of it a scattering of pages. I step around the mess carefully, wondering what had happened.
On the canvass by the bed is an unfinished painting with the beginnings of an orange horizon and green paint in the allure of treetops.
After a moment of deliberation, I reach out to flip over one of the pages on the floor.
I stop to think that I should not be doing this only for a moment. I should not be in his room uninvited. I should not be snooping through his things. Except, my curiosity gets the better of me.
The spilt paint has stained the first sketch so badly I cannot make out what it is. I reach for a second. The second one is clear. It is a drawing of Peeta and I.
It is a moment captured from the Hunger Games. Me, lying unconscious and huddled in a sleeping bag. The background is the dark, murky outlines of our rocky haven. Next to me sits Peeta, slumped against the cave wall, his eyes closed and his face clear of any lines. Only one of his hands is touching me, laying over my forehead and petting back my hair.
I can remember it even now. The coldness of that day was enough to creep into your bones. The terrible ache in my temple from the headwound. The anticipation coiled in my gut for Peeta's recovery.
But why? The moment is not a particular gruesome one, not like the others he would draw of Clove or Cato. So why would it be on the floor?
I reach for another. This time it is of him and I walking through the trees. Him barefoot and me holding my bow, scowling. Then the next: Peeta and I, sitting at the edge of the stream.
It continues, all of them, us. Some are so soaked up in the spilt paint that they're unrecognizable, but I know that all of them must be of us.
Suddenly, I stand, pushing through the headrush it gives me and move toward his desk that is overflowing with papers and art supplies. I leaf through his folders and the unorganized stacks. Some are just landscapes, others the sunset, Rue, the mutts, a golden Cornucopia sitting in the middle of a clearing, bloody arrows or spears, dark berries...
None on the desk contain me. Those are all on the floor.
Maybe it was an accident, but it does not feel like it was.
Dread and guilt build inside my chest until all I can do is curl up around the liquor bottle I left on the floor.
I decide to wait for Peeta to return and confront him. I am no longer here to check on him. I want to ask him about what happened here. I need to know, even if it is as awful as I think it is.
I can only assume that he does not want to look at these painting anymore because of me.
Perhaps he blames me for the Quarter Quell… for ruining his life?
I do not wait long before I hear the front door slam closed.
I sit up, my head whirling and my stomach churning. I hear something drop, then hurried footsteps on the stairs. Then, there's Peeta, standing in the doorway.
He paces into the room, kneels in front of me, and before I can reply, he takes my hand into his.
"I saw the blood downstairs, on the front door. Are you okay? What happened?"
He does not wait. He pulls me to my feet and pushes me down on the edge of his bed.
"Wait," he says. "I'll get something to clean it."
I try to tuck my hand away again, but Peeta returns with an armful of supplies and props it up to be cleaned.
"Since when do you drink?" he says, indicating the mostly empty liquor bottle on the floor.
"Since now," I say. He pulls a particularly large piece of glass from my wound. "Ow!"
"Sorry." He does not sound apologetic at all. He continues to pick at the glass dutifully.
He rinses my hand with rubbing alcohol. The smell makes me dizzy.
There is a foul, yet bitterly sweet taste in the back of my throat. I need water. I move to rise, but as I look down at Peeta, I am distracted. Gray paint streaks the front of his shirt, just like the mess on the floor.
"What happened?" I ask, waving my newly bandaged hand toward the disorder.
"Nothing to worry about," he says. "They slipped from my hands." He gathers up the healing supplies and disappears through the bathroom door.
But I know that's not true. His hands are steady from years of cake decorating. "Where were you?"
He calls back through the doorway, "I went to my brother. He was worried. Were you waiting long?"
"No." My lips feel dry and plump at the same time. I lick them. He is lying, twice now. First about the paintings and then about visiting Haymitch.
Peeta returns wearing a new shirt and pauses halfway across the room. "Katniss, what are you doing here?"
I had intended to check on him, see how he is coping with the Quell announcement, yet he has already helped me more than I have him. But I had to come. There are things that only he would understand. Things that my family should never know.
"Haymitch told me what you said," I tell him.
Peeta frowns. "He did, did he? And I can see he shared a little more than that, too."
A feral reply comes to mind and sits on the tip of my tongue, but I swallow it back. I did not come to fight with him.
"Katniss," Peeta says, then deliberates.
I look up at him, surprised by the pain in his voice. "Do you miss it?"
I thought of the lingering touches, the meaningless kisses, the arena. Part of me is consumed with guilt and another, much smaller part, is reminiscent.
"I cannot say I miss the lies," Peeta whispers.
He does not miss the fighting, the death, or my kisses.
I attempt to stand, hating his answer, but one of my knees buckles. Peeta rushes forward, steadying me.
"I should take you home," he says.
I do not want to go home. There will be Mom and Prim, crying, or worse, catatonic. I do not want that. I try to tell him this, but my mouth has gone dry and the words too jumbled to come out.
Peeta tightens his arm around my waist and begins to pull me towards the door, but I plant my feet. I wrap my arms around his neck. My cheek rests against his collarbone. I can breathe in the inevitable and intoxicating scent of him.
He smells of nutmeg.
My weight threatens to unseat his artificial leg, so Peeta moves his hands and braces them against my lower back.
"Katniss," Peeta says, uncomfortable. "You need to go. I cannot let you stay here tonight."
I want to apologize. I have hurt him. I wish through the fog of fire in my veins and the drunkenness of his smell, to tell him that I am grateful for his love. His love provides a comfort to me, for everything, if anything at all. He should know, and he should know that I never meant it to be like this.
The berries were not only because of rebellion. He was a part of it, too.
"Katniss," Peeta whispers. "You're drunk."
Yes, I know, but he is solid, he is real.
I stand before the man who has sacrificed more than his life for me. I cannot simply turn away. I cannot blame it on the alcohol. I must confront this. I have been cruel to him. I cannot just take, take, take – there has to be some give.
"Peeta," I whisper. I look up at him. His eyes are so blue right now that I struggle to remember what I meant to ask. "Can I show you something?"
"Show me something?" Peeta repeats. "Like what? Where?"
I take his hand and pull him to the door, down the stairs, and outside. Darkness has fallen. The moon is high in the sky. The air is cold but feels like sobriety in my lungs. I do not even slur when I tell him to keep up and stay quiet.
Peeta asks no questions and for that I am grateful. There are no Peacekeepers out. No one in Town or the Seam are in the spirit to celebrate the Quarter Quell. All is deathly silent.
The meadow sprawls out in front of us, welcoming but eerie in its serenity.
The only time Peeta takes pause is when I step up to the electric gate. He gives me a sharp look of uncertainty, but I shake my head to reassure him. If it was on, I would be the first one to turn back, and if I thought that Head Peacekeeper Thread might attempt to lock me out again, then I would never have brought Peeta.
"Trust me," I say, as I slip underneath the usual place of uprooted fence.
Peeta struggles to get through.
On the other side we only make it a few meters into the forest before Peeta abruptly plants his feet.
"You like it?" I ask, as he looks around himself with wonder.
"Yes," Peeta whispers. "It is different from the arena..."
"That's the thing about not having twenty-three others out to kill you. A place starts to look a lot better and a lot less threatening."
Peeta lowers his gaze to mine. "Twenty-two," he corrects me. "You only ever had to worry about twenty-two."
I give him a tour. We take the usual snare trail that Gale and I walk, so I can point out interesting landmarks or familiar trees and bushes. I show him an owl nest near the west edge of our path. He forces me to hold my breath, so I can hear what he did: the soft hoots, of recent spring hatchlings.
Winter is certainly passing quickly, almost as quickly as my life is. Soon, before even the primroses are in full bloom, I will be in an arena awaiting my death.
Peeta leans over a small outcrop. There is a stream that runs down there. Its soft tinkling sound is better than any piano song Madge has ever played for me. The moon is large, silver, and soft, staining the world white and black and precious. It is almost a dream, the way Peeta spins around to beam at me, confessing a wish to draw it.
"Why'd you show me?" he whispers.
"There's more," I reply.
I lead Peeta to a grassy sward off the path. I tell him to sit and close his eyes.
My father's hunting bow with its freshly polished shine and well-loved dark wooden exterior is right where I left it. There is a single arrow next to it inside of the hollowed log. I return to Peeta and sit across from him. With one hand I place the bow in his lap, with the other I hide the arrow behind my back.
"Can I open my eyes?"
He carefully examines the bow. "This looks expensive."
"It was my fathers. The one he used the most. He would polish it after every hunt. He loved that bow very much."
Peeta nods to the arm I have behind me. "What else?"
"Something stupid," I say, pulling it out.
I run a thumb along the feathers, fraying them, but they immediately fall back into place. I feel a heat crawling up my throat. The next words are surprisingly difficult to get out.
"An arrow, the only one that my father has made that I have left. I hid it from Gale. I didn't want to lose it, you know?"
"I think I can understand."
"It's stupid, I know, it's just an arrow. But…"
"But?" Peeta prompts and I feel him lean in a little closer.
"But it feels like him. He made it..."
That's all I could get out. The words had become harder and harder, until I could not bear to say more, lest I die of humiliation. So, I plucked the bow from his lap and stood swiftly, tucking it and the arrow away from sight.
When I return to Peeta, there is a smile on his face.
"Stop it," I snap.
"Stop…" Laughing at me? Mocking me? "Just stop."
There is a long pause.
I felt alone with Peeta. Truly, completely alone, with no Panem peering in or President Snow breathing over my shoulder. For the first time ever.
"I wanted to show you my home. My real home," I say. I lift my head and he holds my gaze, listening. "I feel like I know so much about you, that you've given up everything to me freely and I've just bottled it all up from sight. I just want to let you in, for once. For real. That's why I had to bring you out here, because otherwise, it's not real."
Peeta says nothing. He only stares at me for so long that I look at the ground again, running my bandaged fingers through the grass blades.
"Thank you," Peeta says, softly, finally.
Peeta moves, his hand crawling on top of my fidgeting one. He pulls it gently into his lap and interweaves and unweaves our fingers there.
"There's... a closet in my house. Not the victor one, but my old house, above the bakery. It's full of old things. Just junk really: boxes of silverware my father got when my grandmother died and old pictures of my brothers and I." Peeta's voice is a whisper, and slowly, infinity slowly, he raises my hand to his face and momentarily rests his lips there. "I used to hide there. When she would get really bad..."
His eyes close. His hot breath fanning across my skin gives me shudders.
"She would never find me there. I used to think that closet was the best place ever, and I still love it, drafty and cold and lonely as it is..."
I move my hand to unfold and rest along the side of his face, and he gives a breathless laugh.
"It's stupid, really."
"No, it's not stupid."
Peeta sits up and my hand falls away from his face.
We stare at each other and I feel my stomach withering, thinking again of that day when our eyes briefly met across the school yard; the ugly, purple swollen side of his face.
"You were starving and hunting at the same age," he says. "You weren't afraid of facing wild dogs or bears. All the while I was hiding in a cupboard. Sounds cowardly to me. You're much braver."
"Not really," I admit. "You didn't run and hide after the Quarter Quell announcement, like I did earlier."
"Doesn't mean I'm not terrified."
I could taste the fear of rejection and of consequence in my mouth.
I regret taking him here, yet at the same time I do not.
I feel vulnerable. The tear that my father's death left in my heart now always in Peeta's sight, forever. He'll always know about the insignificant, but entirely important to me, bow and arrow out here. What if he told someone? Why was it so unbearable to let him know about this weak spot? Why do I want to run and forget him completely, pretend this never happened, but my heart is pounding at the same time?
Without warning, I kiss Peeta.
His lips, pressed firmly against mine, are a surprise. He is warm. A stronger scent of everything I smelt earlier, plus the dirt and the grass and the fresh spring air fill my lungs. It is a smell that makes my stomach drop through my feet. It is a smell that replaces the bitter remains of alcohol in my mouth and supersedes all thought in my mind with an overpowering hunger for more.
Peeta's tongue slips between my lips for a second, jarring me.
I push away, gasping, my face going blood-red. He looks guilty. He tries to pull away, but my fingers tighten around his hand, stalling him.
"You told Haymitch that you want him to save me again," I rush out.
"I can't let you die," Peeta replies, just as fast. "You have something to live for, I don't."
"What do you mean?" I say, my voice sharper now. "'You have nothing to live for?'"
"Your family needs you, Katniss," Peeta says. "I don't want you forgetting how different our circumstances are. If you die, and I live, there's no life for me at all back in District Twelve. You're my whole life. I would never be happy again." I start to object. He puts a finger to my lips. "It's different for you. I'm not saying it wouldn't be hard, but there are other people who'd make your life worth living."
My mind is fuzzy and Peeta holds such a strong stare. I think of my family: my mother, my sister, and my pretend cousin Gale. Except, Peeta's intention is clear. Gale really is my family, or will be one day, if I live. There is an expectation to marry him. Peeta's giving me his life and Gale at the same time. He wants me to know I shouldn't ever have doubts about it.
Everything: that's what Peeta wants me to take from him.
"No one really needs me," Peeta continues to say, and there's no self-pity in his voice. It's true. His family doesn't need him. They will mourn him, as will a handful of friends, but they will get on. Even Haymitch, with the help of a lot of white liquor, will get on.
I realize only one person will be damaged beyond repair if Peeta dies: me.
"I do," I say. "I need you."
He looks upset. He takes a deep breath as if to begin a long argument, but that's no good, no good at all, because he'll start going on about Prim and Mom and everything and I'll just get confused.
So, before he can talk, I stop his lips with a kiss.
For a minute my eyes are closed and there is nothing but this boy; Peeta. The one I need.
Rustling deep in my soul, there is a fire buried inside me that is rearing to the surface. This burning desire is so new I almost break away. Except a hunger opens up in me at the same time, keeping me in place, and this is not like the Victory Tour kisses. Only once in our first Hunger Games was there anything akin to this, but my head wound got in the way and ended it before I could understand.
This time, there is nothing but us to interrupt us. This kiss is burning me, and even after a few attempts, Peeta gives up on trying to break away.
The sensation inside me grows warmer and spreads out from my chest, down through my body, out along my arms and legs, to the tips my being. Instead of satisfying me, the kisses have the opposite effect, of making my need greater.
I thought I was something of an expert on hunger, but this is an entirely new kind.
After the need for air becomes apparent, Peeta breaks away. His face moves to pivot between my jaw and shoulder almost immediately, his kisses continuing hot and heavy against the side of my neck.
It is so sudden, so new, an embarrassing noise escapes my mouth and Peeta pulls back.
"I'm sorry," he says, flushed. "I didn't..."
"No, it's okay," I say, as breathless as him.
"Katniss," Peeta whispers. "You're drunk."
"No," I say, stubbornly. "I'm not, really." I stare at him, trying to convince him. "Really."
"Katniss," Peeta warns, "just think."
I am thinking. I am thinking about how new the taste of him is.
I guess I should expect him to be afraid. He trusted me before, during the Games, and it ended up I was only pretending to love him to save myself. Now, Peeta's trained to think that I don't mean anything I do.
"You don't trust me?" I say.
Peeta's expression turns earnest. "We shouldn't be doing this."
My lips are still warm from his kiss. The smell of him burns in my lungs. I want to taste him again, but I shove away this new hunger, swallowing it like a child chokes back bitter medicine.
"Fine," I say. It hurt, a little, for him not to trust me. "Then let's go. I don't even want to be here anymore."
Peeta follows me as I walk away, but he does not utter a single word. The moment we both are inside District 12, safe from the outside and the law, I run across the meadow.
I do not look back. I assume he will make it home. I do not really care.
I stagger up the steps to my house and the front door opens.
Gale pulls me into his arms. "I was wrong. We should have gone when you said," he whispers.
"No," I say. I'm having trouble focusing. My throat tightens, the pressure behind my eyes threatening me with tears. I'm not sure if it's because of Peeta or because over Gale's shoulder, I see my mother and Prim clutching each other in the doorway.
"It's not too late," he says.
We run. They die.
End of discussion.
"Yeah it is."
My knees give way and he's holding me up. A sob escapes my throat. I let him drag me inside to be surrounded by their sorrow.
When I wake up the next morning, I barely get to the toilet before the white liquor makes its reappearance.
It burns just as much coming up as it did going down and tastes twice as bad. I'm trembling and sweaty when I finish vomiting, but at least most of the stuff is out of my system. Enough made it into my bloodstream, though, to result in a pounding headache, parched mouth, and boiling stomach. I turn on the shower and stand under the warm water for a minute before I realize I'm still in my underclothes.
I throw the wet undergarments into the sink and pour shampoo on my head.
My hands sting, and that's when I notice the stitches, small and even, across one palm and up the side of the other hand. Vaguely, I remember breaking that glass window last night. Then I think of Peeta and the mediocre bandages that were there before.
All of last night comes rushing in.
It makes me feel restless, unsettled. I remember the kisses, the bow, arrow... that awful closet.
As I towel myself down, I think of that look on his face, when he stared earnestly back at me. When he would not admit that he did not trust me, but I knew. I could tell, and it hurt.
I pull on my robe and head back to bed, ignoring my dripping hair. I climb under the blankets; sure that this is what it must feel like to be poisoned.
The footsteps on the stairs renew my panic from last night. I'm not ready to see my mother and Prim.
I have to pull myself together. I have to be strong. I struggle into an upright position, push my wet hair off my throbbing temples, and brace myself for this meeting.
They appear in the doorway, holding tea and toast, their faces filled with concern. I open my mouth, planning to start off with some kind of joke, and burst into tears.
My mother sits on the side of the bed and Prim crawls right up next to me. They hold me, making quiet soothing sounds, until I am mostly cried out. Then Prim gets a towel and dries my hair, combing out the knots, while my mother coaxes tea and toast into me. They dress me in warm pajamas and layer more blankets on me and I drift off again.
I can tell by the light it's late afternoon when I come around again.
There's a glass of water on my bedside table and I gulp it down thirstily. My stomach and head still feel rocky, but much better than they did earlier.
I rise, dress, and braid back my hair. Before I go down, I pause at the top of the stairs, feeling slightly embarrassed about the way I have handled the news of the Quarter Quell: my erratic flight, drinking with Haymitch, weeping, going into the woods with Peeta. Given the circumstances, I guess I deserve one day of indulgence, but I am glad the cameras weren't here for it.
Downstairs, my mother and Prim embrace me again, but they're not overly emotional.
I know they are holding back.
Looking at Prim's face, it's hard to believe she is the same little duckling I left nine months ago. The combination of that ordeal and all that has followed – the cruelty in the district, the parade of sick and wounded that she often treats by herself if Mother's hands are too full, the new me – these things have aged her years.
Wasn't that what I was trying to prevent? Hadn't I taken her place in the reaping to spare her a dead childhood and an inevitable strain on her hands?
Except, I must admit, that she has grown, too. We're practically the same height now, but that wasn't what made her seem so much older. It is something in her eyes. They're composed, knowledgeable, no longer naïve.
I have to be strong now, more than ever. Stronger than her.
I smile at Prim, weakly, and she returns it with a beam.
"How's school?" This is the only subject I can think of that does not involve the Hunger Games.
"The same. We're learning about the four main types of coal. Lignite, subbituminous, bituminous, and anthracite." Prim still rocks on the tips of her toes, especially when she's trying to remember things, and I think of Rue the same way someone takes a fist in the face. "The coal value is determined by the amount of the carbon it contains... I think."
"That's right," our mother interjects. "Exactly right."
And now I'm thinking of father, and I know Mother is, too, because she stares at the pot of stew in front of her like it's as deep as an ocean.
I know I can't slip away, not now. There's still a reason to fight. I remember Gale's words: if the people have the courage, then there will still be something we can do. There are still things I can do. I don't know what they are yet, but since I started this, I could contribute, surely. I have to remember, even when the fear threatens to swallow me up, that I still must fight.
Whatever I end up being, or doing, or the happenings of these Games, I still have to fight. I have to be strong for the others. It's not too late for Prim, or Rory, or Vick and little Posy. They still have something of themselves. They are better than me, and the remembrance of our lost fathers suddenly rears into my face, knowing they have lost, too, but Prim is ignorant to it, eating her bowl of stew.
I don't know how to help, but for now, I have to be an example.