AN: Oh my God, guys, I am the worst. Three years I made y'all wait. Three. But here it is. Well, almost. There will be 20 chapters, just in case you need to mentally prepare yourself. I was so close to finishing all along, but I just couldn't get there.
Some may have already read this chapter from before I took it down, some may not, so I am publishing two at once anyway to make up :)
Anyway, if anyone is still finding this or keeping an eye on it, then thank you very much, and thank you very much for your patience.
Well, I'm excited. Hope you are too :)
Everything that doesn't make sense is suddenly proved irrelevant when I learn one simple truth.
There is, believe it or not, one thing worse than therapy. And that is group therapy.
No one has told me exactly what they think is my problem, I haven't been diagnosed. All they tell me is that it's 'something more.' I don't know what that means. Something more than they expected? Something more than afflicts the average survivor of the Hunger Games? And Doctor Jeckyll is here, too, unfortunately, I can't escape from that. But it explains a lot, actually. This is where she works throughout the year, except for when she's called to the hospital in the Training Centre for 'special cases' like me. And I spent too long in the care of those people, months and months longer than most tributes. After a while they wondered if my trauma would pass at all. So I'm sent here, to see if I qualify for some sort of neurosis. The doctor was only dying for me to be placed fully under her surveillance.
But group therapy! Ach, it's just awful. It's all I can do not to break down into tears for every minute of every session.
I attend my first meeting on the day after my arrival here. By my arrival I mean when I woke up after being taken here in the dead of night while I was sleeping. There's nothing suspicious about those circumstances at all. (And that's very heavy sarcasm, by the way.)
I hadn't talked to anyone yet; I'd hardly even left my room. But a nurse calls for me and brings me out where a group of ten, maybe a dozen individuals are setting their chairs in a semicircle. I count them before I sit down. There are thirteen including me and the doctor, who sits in front of us. I'm reluctant to join them because for one thing, I don't know anybody and I'm feeling kind of shy all of a sudden, and for another thing, I'm a little superstitious.
But I sit down anyway, between an old lady wearing plastic gloves and a hairnet and a middle-aged man with no hair on his head but plenty on his face, who puts his chair backwards and sits with his elbows resting on the back of it.
Doctor Jeckyll smiles around at everyone in that false, sinister kind of way, and then says, "Well, everyone, we have a new patient joining us today. Let's all give a warm welcome to Annie."
"Welcome, Annie," comes a chorus of bored voices. Only half the half-circle joins in, and absolutely everyone stares at me, their mouths agape.
"Now," says the doctor sternly, "that wasn't nearly as warm as it could be."
"Welcome, Annie!" they repeat. It's painful, it really is. I get a scattered round of applause, too. As if I deserve praise for finding myself in a place like this.
"Annie, why don't you stand up and tell the group why you are here."
It's not a suggestion. It's an order. I stare blankly at her for a moment.
She nods once, smiling.
Uncertainly, I stand. Um … I look around. I'm Annie Cresta. I'm recovering from a, uh … stressful experience. I glance at the doctor, and her face has not moved an inch. I realise that I'm expected to continue.
"It's okay, Annie," she pushes. "Tell the group what has happened to you."
I'm completely horrified. I don't want to tell the Group anything. I look around and a youngish-looking boy sitting across from me catches my eyes, then quickly looks down at his hands. Everyone else keeps staring at me, waiting. I can feel my face growing red and I close my eyes. So I take a deep breath, and I begin.
I was chosen to compete in the 70th Hunger Games, along with my best friend, Lance. I … I — Lance was … killed … in the Games. I survived. I almost drowned. I … I've had a fear of the water since I was nine years old. I lost my parents in a sailing accident. I shake my head, my eyes still closed. I don't know what else …
"That's good, Annie," Jeckyll interrupts. There's a small silence before she speaks again. "Does anyone have anything they'd like to share about what Annie has said?"
I open my eyes, and everyone looks around at each other uncomfortably. It's the man sitting beside me who speaks first. He doesn't look at me. "We already know who she is, Doc. We've seen her whole story up on that there television set."
I fall back into my seat, gripping the sides tightly as a jumble of opinions and questions are put forward.
"We did, we did, we saw it!"
"It was a bad year …" sighs a man with neatly combed hair and a neatly combed moustache.
"I thought it was good!" shouts a young woman.
"No, no, no, it was awful," the man disagrees.
"I thought it was average!" mutters someone else.
"We saw it, we all did!" the first person cries.
"No, no, no. Billy didn't see it," the neat gentleman sighs.
"Who cares about Billy!" barks the man beside me.
The boy across from me looks up and opens his mouth, but doesn't say anything.
"Mr MacCruiskeen, that's not a kind thing to say to Billy."
"Sorry, lad!" yells Mr MacCruiskeen, and then begins to cackle loudly.
Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.
The boy sitting across from me gives Mr MacCruiskeen a meek little nod, and I suspect that this is Billy.
"Hey, how come we never seen you in any of them interviews?" asks a quiet girl sitting near him.
It takes me a moment to realise that she's talking to me.
Um, I don't know —
"Annie hasn't been well enough to give any interviews," says the doctor mildly, interrupting me again. I glare at her. I do not enjoy being spoken for.
"When do we get to see interviews?"
"Isn't the Victory Tour coming up?"
"Will you be doing that, too? Will you? Will you, will y—"
"So were you and Lance in love?"
I shake my head in bewilderment, and look to the doctor for some kind of gesture.
Can't you do anything about this?
"What do you mean, Annie?"
I look around. I mean, I'm not comfortable being bombarded with all these questions! Especially, I mean, in my condition …
Everyone falls suddenly silent.
"And … what would your condition be, Annie?"
I don't know. Shouldn't you be telling me?
"Why don't tell the group what you think your condition might be," she says.
I give a sigh. I'm confused, that's all I know. Dazed and confused.
"I know that feeling," slurs Mr MacCruiskeen, grinning widely through his beard and nudging me amiably with his elbow. Morphling addict, I guess.
"If you don't feel like talking about it, we won't force you. But remember what I've said about how it might help to share your feelings and thoughts."
Okay. I still don't feel like talking.
The doctor smiles tightly at me, then looks down on her clipboard. "Well, let's see. Our last meeting ended with Billy talking his family's reaction after he got out of hospital last summer. Why don't we start there?"
Billy looks up suddenly, and his eyes flit around the Group once or twice. Maybe I'm imagining it, but I sense his eyes hovering over me more than with the others. He looks about as old as Finnick but somehow it's hard to tell. He's got dirty blonde hair that grows like a mop on top and short on the sides. He straightens up his gangly body, inhaling deeply, then shakes his head jerkily and hunches over again, pulling his knees up to his chin and peering out over the top of them at the Doctor as if trying to hide from her.
"The pretty girl's got the kid all shy!" hollers MacCruiskeen.
Billy shakes his head fervently, and I find my hands reaching up to cover my ears. It doesn't really block out anything, but it's still a small comfort.
"Billy, you were talking about how you had a hard time going back home after being away for so long, and how your family seemed to walk on eggshells around you."
Billy gives a small sniff, but doesn't say anything. He drops his knees and twists his hands in his lap, opening and closing his mouth, but he still can't seem to get the words out.
I feel like it's my fault. I know how uncomfortable it can be to talk in front of people I don't know.
Should I leave?
Billy looks up and meets my eyes, but we both look at Doctor Jeckyll when she speaks. "No, Annie, you don't need to go anywhere."
I blush furiously. I hadn't realised I had spoken aloud. That keeps happening … Basking shark syndrome, indeed.
"Billy," continues the doctor, "why don't you tell us more about this."
He blinks, and swallows slightly, then tries to speak again. When a minute passes and he still hasn't come out with it, she interrupts him again.
"You said you that you were in care so long that it was difficult to integrate back into normal life."
Billy takes a deep, shuddering breath and his shoulders hunch over. Staring at his hands, he lifts his head as if he's about to speak.
"And now you're back here again after only a few months … Why do you think that is?" says the Doc.
There's a sudden hush, and everyone tries not to look too awkward. When before Billy looked like he was trying to speak, now he just tightens his lips and stares at the floor.
"Billy, if you don't want to talk we won't force you—" the doctor begins, but something cuts her off. It's a moment before I realise it's my own voice.
"He's trying to talk, but you're hardly giving him a chance!" I say, my voice sounding slightly muffled as I'm still covering my ears with both hands. Everyone turns and stares at me. Billy's eyes are wide, and Jeckyll is fixing me with a frown so serious my eyes drop to the floor and I instantly shut my mouth. I realise how quiet everyone was while she was attacking Billy, and wonder if this is something I should know not to get involved in.
"Annie," she says calmly, "you've had your turn to speak. Now it's Billy's turn."
I can't help it. The words are out of my mouth before I even get the chance to think about them. "But you won't let him speak! You just keep shooting questions at him before he gets a chance to answer them!"
Doctor Jeckyll inhales and exhales deeply. "It's Billy's turn to speak right now," she repeats.
A fragmented, mumbly voice makes everyone's head turn. Billy's eyes widen even further and he rubs the back of his neck a few times.
"What was that, Billy? We didn't quite hear you."
He gives a little gasp of nervous laughter, still rubbing his neck. "I … I, um, I don't … r-really — really feel like speaking …" His voice trails away so the final word is almost inaudible. He gives a small, timid smile then drops his head shamefully.
Doctor Jeckyll shoots me a glare of pure hatred. "That's all right, Billy," she says, although her tone suggests that it's far from alright. Billy glances up for a fleeting moment, and I catch his eye. I smile.
The rest of the meeting is spent with the neatly combed man speaking about his repressive wife, and Mr MacCruiskeen challenging everyone's viewpoints, and the girl whose name I can't quite make sense of repeating whatever everyone says.
I hold back afterwards, staying in my chair until the lady with the gloves tells me I have to tidy it away. I see Billy taking a little longer than necessary to stack his chair in the corner, so I go over and add mine to the pile.
He's standing a bit away, and when he turns around he sees me watching him with interest. Immediately, he acts like he didn't see me, and puts his hands in his pockets and moves around for a moment as if he can't decide which direction to take. Then, it seems like he resolves to approach me. And that he does.
He stops a few feet away from me, and gives a shy little wave. I wave back, and wait for him to say something. But he doesn't.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, um, to butt in like that," I say. "This …" I pause, trying desperately to remember the word while he waits patiently with wide eyes. "This group talkey stuff just gets to me, I think."
He rubs his neck and looks down at his shoes, which don't have laces. "N-n-n-no … I w-wanted to-to-to … to thank you."
He closes his eyes and grimaces, as if it was the hardest thing in the world to say just that. I know that exact feeling. I study him carefully for a moment. Then I smiled, and said, "So, I almost drowned and my, um, my brain lost a lot of …" I scrunched up my face in consternation.
"O-Oxygen?" he supplied timidly.
"Yes!" I exclaimed, delighted. "Well, that damaged certain parts of my brain and now I can't forget certain words. I mean, I can't remember them. What about you?"
His eyes widen and he nodded fervently. "N-nothing, I-I-I … just, I … um …" He gives his jaw a small jerk and averts his eyes, and I understand that he's not stuttering because his brain cells were ever deprived of oxygen. He's just stuttering because that's what he does. Suddenly, I'm even more angry at Doctor Jeckyll for not giving him time to speak. I feel like he doesn't want to get into it, so I just nod and smile.
He takes his hands out of his pockets and wrings them together, then gestures with one, saying, "Oh, um, congrat-" he pauses and jerks his head "-gratulations. On w-w-winning. The Games …"
Now I just stare blankly at him. And he notices, because he frowns deeply and turns away. "Sorry, sorry. Stupid thing to say. St-stupid …"
He begins to walk off down the corridor, hunching his shoulders and shoving his hands back into his pockets. I find myself running up beside him.
"No … it's fine," I say. He stops walking and looks at me curiously. I press my lips together and look down. "What were you going to say?"
It takes him a while, but he gets there eventually. "It mustn't be very n-n-n-nice. Sorry about … about your f-friend." He gives me a smile and I find myself smiling sadly back. I feel like he's the first person to say that, apart from Finnick, who genuinely means it.
Billy suddenly looks around a bit frantically, then leans down towards me, motioning with a finger. I look at him cautiously but turn my head so he can whisper in my ear.
"I d-d-don't really like that show, you know."
I take a step back and look up and this guy. "Really?" I ask, and he nods fervently, putting his finger to his lips and looking around as if there could be spies behind any of the doors. "But … But you're from the Capitol, right?"
He nods again. "N-n-not everyone here thinks it's a good th-thing."
I'm totally flabbergasted. I thought everyone in the Capitol loved the Games. "Do you know a lot of people who think like that?"
He looks down, rubbing his neck. "N-n-no," he admits. "N-not really."
I laugh a little, then look down and pick at some stray threads from the bandages on my arm. Billy notices this, and holds out his own arm. "Look," he said, "we m-m-match."
He's got white linen wrapped around both of his wrists. I look up at Billy, and remember what Doctor Jeckyll had tried to make him speak about during the group therapy session. I haven't the heart to tell him my cuts were an accident, when I doubt his were at all. So instead I say, "Do you want to be my friend?"
In reply, he simply beams at me.
Billy Templeton has phobias of pretty much everything, including the television. And while I was on every screen in Panem, from the reapings to the final day in the arena, Billy was locked in what was more or less a padded room, after his most recent attempt at suicide.
He's a sweet guy, and soon I discover that he's the most perfect friend I could ask for right now, because he has no idea about what happened in my Hunger Games, and he hasn't brought up the subject since that very first conversation we had. And we don't try to finish each other's sentences.
I line up for medication like everyone else, I eat in the cafeteria and go to arts and crafts and music lessons. I manage to survive group therapy every day by sitting beside Billy. We communicate in sighs when Doc gives someone a hard time, or when someone gives her a hard time which is funnier but kind of scary. We only speak up when it's our turn, so I learn to hold my tongue and talk about nobody's problems but my own.
I start to relax, to get comfortable. It's hard to remember that there's anything outside this place, it feels like its own little world in itself. Because these people are like the rejects of the Capitol: the people that are an embarrassment, too shameful to keep around in normal society. They are from the Capitol and they have Capitol values, but there's no showy fashion, hairstyles, tattoos or make-up. We all wear the same outfits, and not many people bother with grooming. There's a girl who comes back with a new haircut after going out on a Saturday with her mother. Although her bright red hair looks nicer now that it's not yellowing and faded, the tight curls quickly grow lank after a few days of neglect. There's a girl ten years older than me who carries around a pink hairbrush wherever she goes. But other than that, most people have to be reminded just to wash their faces in the morning.
The place isn't as depressing as it first seemed to be. The dull yard outside my window is just the back, but there's massive gardens all around the building, which is huge and pretty luxurious. There's a whole room dedicated to arts and crafts, and another to music lessons. The showers have almost as many buttons as the ones in the Training Centre. The food isn't even half bad, but I've been warned to keep my distance from the meatloaf.
They call it a clinic, rather than a hospital. To many people of the people here, it's as good as a home.
We have group sessions outside in the sun when the weather's nice, which it often is even though it's pretty much winter by now. One day we're out in the gardens and Billy is telling the Group about how he ended up here in the first place. He was obsessed with a girl — her name was Candy and he was deeply in love with her — but when he asked her to marry him he found out that she was actually engaged to someone else. He was twenty-two at the time, and that was the first time he tried to kill himself. He didn't like the thought that he had been in the Clinic pretty much ever since then, but he was reluctant to brave the outside world. The last time he tried going home his family had acted like he was a disease. It was so overwhelming, and he couldn't take it. Now he's wondering if he'll ever be able to find his place in the real world.
"That was very good, Billy," says Doc. "Does anyone want to add anything to what Billy has said?" Nobody speaks. "Annie?"
I glance up from staring at the floor, sitting cross-legged in my chair with my chin in my palm.
She smiles at me. "You seemed very affected while Billy was speaking. Anything you'd like to share?"
I swallow nervously. "Oh … No, it's nothing. I think I understand how he, um, feels. That's all."
The Doc cocks her head to one side and repositions her clipboard. "Well, if Billy is finished speaking, you would be free to talk about it. Billy, are you finished speaking?"
Billy throws me a worried look, but nods a few times.
"Go ahead, Annie," Doc says encouragingly.
I take a few deep breaths and try to pretend I'm just talking to Billy. Or, even better, Finnick. Like the way I could speak to him before all this happened. In all honesty, Billy and Candy had sort of reminded me of Finnick somehow. Billy had thought that Candy was in love with him, too, but realised now that she wasn't, and never was. Suddenly I was worried that I had made up the whole affair with Finnick, and that was the scariest thing I had thought for a while.
But I couldn't admit any of this, because how could I explain my relationship with Finnick to these people? It was the one thing I had kept to myself this whole time. So I just pretended I was out talking to Billy, or Finnick, or even Lance, and told the truth about the other worries I had.
"I dunno … I guess it just got me thinking about going back into the world, going back to District Four," I say, nervously touching my lips.
"Could you remove your hand from your mouth, please, Annie?" says Doc. "We can't quite hear you."
"I can hear 'er just fine," grumbles Mr MacCruiskeen, who's sitting across the circle from me. I hear Billy give a muffled chortle masked by a cough and I smile.
Doc smiles tightly. "Please continue, Annie."
"Um, I dunno," I say, placing my hands firmly on my knees. "I just think about going home and it seems so far away. I guess I'm not really sure what I'll be going back to. I mean, Lance won't be there. And I'll have to see all the places we used to go together … It feels like it'll be an entirely different place to me without him."
"And what about your grandparents?"
"That's the weird thing," I admit. "I can't imagine seeing them again. I was so sure I never would … It feels like so much has changed, that I knew them in a different world, a different life … I don't know what it'll be like to leave here."
"Well, Annie, you know that you can spend as much time as you need," she says slowly, comfortingly. "You can stay here for as long as you want."
Yeah. I know that.
After the session, Doc announces that it's Friday. And everyone knows what that means.
"What does that mean?" I ask Billy, as everyone groans loudly.
"Private th-th-therapy," he tells me. "One on-on-on one."
"But … isn't that better?" I ask curiously.
"M-m-mostly it just m-makes it easier for Doc to bully us."
I think about this as we sit down on the garden patio, and I try to teach him how to make daisy chains for the six hundredth time. It makes me edgy because, even after a lot of physical therapy before coming to the Clinic, my hands still shake as much as his. It's impossible to thread the stems of the tiny flowers together.
"Did — did you mean what you said? About n-n-not … not leaving?"
"I dunno," I reply. "The more I settle in here the harder it is to think about going home."
"You d-d-don't wanna get stuck here, Annie," he says quietly. He meets my eyes for a moment, then averts his gaze. Suddenly he jerks his head around and picks up a bunch of daisies, whispering out of the corner of his mouth, "Shh-shh, Doc's c-coming."
"Oh, mm hm I do love the meatloaf here!" I say loudly.
"M-me too. Oh, I — um, hi D-D-Doctor Jeckyll."
"Hello, Billy. Hello, Annie."
"Aye," I reply, smiling up at her.
"We were just m-m-ma—" he stops and blinks furiously a few times. "M-m-making d-d …"
"Daisy chains," she interrupts, and Billy bows his head. "How lovely. Well, Annie, you've got a visitor."
"Me?" I ask quickly. "Me? Me — Are you sure—?"
I'm silenced when I look towards the sliding glass doors that lead into the atrium, to see Finnick standing there, a small visitor tag attached to his shirt even though it's obvious enough that he's not a patient here.
He sees me and gives a small wave. Doc beckons him over, and Billy and I have jumped to our feet by the time he reaches us.
"Finnick!" I exclaim. "This is a surprise. Oh, um, Billy, this is Finnick. Finnick — Billy."
The two of them shake hands, and it's the weirdest sight I have ever seen. One of them is a teenager who was forced to grow up too fast, and the other is a man who never managed to grow up at all.
"How's it going?" asks Finnick.
Billy is literally rendered speechless.
"Oh, dear, they've planted white roses instead of red," complains Doc. "Billy, why don't you help me find the gardener?"
Billy shoots me a worried look, but the two of them leave. Finnick and I are left standing together, smiling at each other and completely incapable of thinking of anything to say. Despite the way I acted the last time I saw Finnick, I'm so unbelievably glad to see him again.
"Um … You wanna take a walk?" he asks.
I nod, and we head out along a path with hedge sculptures on either side.
"I'm sorry I couldn't visit any sooner, I—"
"It's okay, Finnick," I say quickly, feeling a little ill. "I get it. You're a busy man."
He looks at me, furrowing his brow. "I really am sorry, I mean they were already suspicious at how much concern I've been showing when you came out of the arena and—"
"Finnick," I say firmly. "It's fine. Really." I force a smile at him, and after a second he smiles back. I frown. "I'm really sorry about … about acting weird with you before."
He shakes his head slowly. "I'm sorry for not knowing how to deal with it."
I press my lips together and give a small shrug.
"It seems nice here," he says cautiously. "How do you find it?"
"Um … It's not quite as bad as I thought it would be," I reply.
He nods. "Well, I see you've made some friends," he says, nodding to where Billy is ambling around to the yard, turning to shoot us wary glances as he goes.
"Friend, singular. Just the one."
Finnick stops at a fountain and gently run his fingertips through the water. He turns slightly to grin at me. "Seems like you always have some boyfriend that I have to compete with."
I stare at him for a moment, and he blinks and then smacks himself in the head.
I laugh a little. "I see humour is still your only mechanism for dealing with all this. But I'm guessing you're talking about Lance, in which case I see you're still a total eejit." He laughs and grins his dorky grin at me, and butterflies seem to squirm like worms in my belly. I know I should be feeling disgusted, but I can't. He's too lovely and I'd missed the secret smile so much. "And Billy's almost thirty. I have to draw the line somewhere with the age difference, Finnick." He grins again, and turns his head shyly back to the fountain. I suddenly realise that I have no problem speaking my thoughts, just not to doctors. So I say, "Anyway, if you're involved I don't think it's much of a competition …"
I don't know what I'm expecting, but he just smiles slightly, then frowns. Turning to look at me, he takes a deep breath before starting to speak in a low voice. "Look, I just wanted to let you know that … I mean, the thing that happened to me after my Games, it won't happen to you." He raises his eyebrows at me, but I just blink back at him in astonishment. He swallows slightly nervously and continues. "For one, if you're unwell they wouldn't … well, you know. For another thing, I won't let it happen. That's a promise."
My heart is beating loudly in my chest, and I bring my hands up to my ears for a moment to think. Of all the things I've been worried about, I have to admit this was the last thing to cross my mind. I had totally forgotten about Finnick's … problem. And all of a sudden the outside world is looking a whole lot scarier. My hands drop limply by my sides as my head stops spinning a bit.
Finnick meets my eyes, and tucks a piece of hair gently behind my ear. I blush, and blink up at him. His eyes are churning green and blue like the sea, his skin tanned and brown from the sun. Suddenly, I miss my home, too.
But being crazy was saving me from the same fate as Finnick's — and acting sane would be the only way they'd let me leave.
I place my hands on the edge of the stone fountain, and after a moment I feel his hand on top of mine. Suddenly a rush of memories come back to me, and not in the panicked, flooding sort of way that I've become accustomed to recently. There are no horrifying flashbacks, just a flutter of the heart remembering the touches we shared on the comfy sofa the night before the Hunger Games, a fresh blush at the loving, caring words that were said. It no longer feels despicable or abhorrent or sinful. My lungs have recovered for the most part so my insides don't feel so rotten.
Finnick is a good person, after all. He wouldn't want to steal my innocence all for himself. At the very least, we can share it.
If there is even any left.
Finnick looks down at me now and smiles, and I smile back uncertainly.
"So … no competition at all, eh?" he whispers, and I laugh and look down shyly at my feet.
He suddenly wraps his arms around me and I sigh slightly and press my face against his chest. It's as if I'm falling for him all over again, but I feel my heart growing heavy with a quaking reality. He's still the Finnick I discovered my feelings for those nights in the training centre, but I'm not the same person he shared the comfy couch with so many months ago.
When pulling away, he very briefly brushes his lips to my cheek. Then he tells me he has to leave, and he's gone just like that. And I'm left standing in the middle of the hedgerows all alone and more confused than ever.
I make my way around the back the the yard, and find Billy sitting on the ground with his back to the wall, watching some of the others playing with the ball. His eyes are always trained on one girl, Fliss, the one with the pink hairbrush. He told me before that the first time he met her he tried to tell her that she had pretty hair, but she walked away from him before he could get the words out.
Since I've made friends with Billy, I've noticed her paying a lot more attention to him. Like right now, she's looking across the yard at him and completely misses her catch. I don't think Billy actually intended to use me to make her jealous — after all, it was me who suggested we be friends in the first place — but it just so happens that I'm delighted to help bring two people together. This is like Lance and Juliet all over again, except I think Fliss might be a little less of a psychotic murderous sadist.
"Annie and Finnick, sitting in a tree," says Billy quietly, grinning slyly as I approach him and sit down next to him.
I blush a little, but don't respond because Fliss suddenly appears in front of us.
Her brush is tucked under one arm, the ball under the other, and she still manages to twirl her hair around her finger as she says, "Wanna join the ball game?"
Billy looks from Fliss to me and back, and then says, "N-n-n-no … thank you. We're having a con-c-conversation."
She narrows her eyes, but shrugs and walks away.
"Is Finnick gonna t-t-take you away from the Clinic?" Billy asks me.
I hug my knees. "I really have no idea."
Just as I'm beginning to believe that I belong here, that it's safer for me to hide away in my own little world and never venture out into the life of a victor, something happens later that day that convinces me otherwise. Mr MacCruiskeen has an epileptic fit, and it's like nothing I've ever seen before. It has been so long since I've had any sort of episode, and even so this is entirely different to anything I have ever experienced. Foaming at the mouth, he is dragged away by two care assistants and sealed in another room. Then there's chaos: everyone is screaming, banging on doors, demanding more medication or to be taken off medication, demanding cigarettes and better care and all these things that don't have anything to do with anything, and I run back outside to the yard and sit down on the ground with my hands clamped over my ears.
That's when I realise that no matter what might be wrong with me, I don't belong in a place like this. These people have problems that aren't always clear, and aren't easily identified, whereas I know that all my problems stem from one significant source. The Capitol. More importantly, the Hunger Games. I was always grand, eccentric perhaps, but nothing like them. I can go back to that. I mean, I'm already half there. I'm not seeing things so much any more. I get nightmares, but I wouldn't be a victor if I didn't have a few scars here and there.
All I know is that I can't stay here any longer. No matter how safe it is, I can't pretend this fantasy land can shield me from the reality of the world. I need to face my problems and overcome them, not give in to them.
The yard fills up again, and Billy comes straggling behind the others, looking pretty shaken up. For all the trouble Mr MacCruiskeen causes, everyone still kind of loves him.
"Bill, I need to get out of here," I tell him straight out.
He nods and twists his fingers. "You d-d-d-don't want to find yourself st-stuck here after seven … seven years," he says.
"You could leave as well, you know."
He just shakes his head. "You n-need to do real good in therapy to-to-today."
I sigh and rub my eyes wearily. "How?"
He purses his lips and we sit in thoughtful silence for a moment. "Think like a n-n-normal teenager," he says suddenly. "With n-normal teenage pr-problems."
I look at him, and find a smile creeping slowly across my face.
Right on cue, Doc appears and tells me it's my turn for a one-on-one session with her.
"Do me a favour," I tell Billy, "and go play ball with Fliss. The two of you have been eye-flirting all week."
I leave him staring dumbstruck at my back as I walk off.