I OWN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Everything here and in the chapters following belong to Suzanne Collins- author of The Hunger Games trilogy.
I throw down my bow in frustration as I reach my usual spot by the lake. I was uncharacteristically loud today during my hunt and I scared away any game within a three-mile radius. It looks like I will be going home with nothing. Not that it matters anymore, of course. After winning The Hunger Games I have more money than I know what to do with. Providing my family with food is no longer a concern for me but hunting took up so much of my life before the games I'm not sure what to do with my time. I hunt to get away from my new life in District 12. I find solace in the woods, enjoying the familiar calm it brings me. I enjoy coming to the Hob with something to give Greasy Sae. I enjoy getting out of The Victor's Village.
Exhausted, I peel the quiver off my back and collapse on the soft grass underneath a large tree. I think my mind might be weighing down my steps. I rub the heel of my hands against my eyes. Nothing is the same. It's been two weeks since I've returned home from the Capitol. I wish I could rewind my life to what it was before the Games, but things are never that easy. I'm now beginning to realize that if you win The Hunger Games, you have to pay one way or another.
At least Prim loves her new life. The only thing that's made me happy these past two weeks is seeing her smiling face as she marvels at all her new things. Prim loves her new room (one that is also inhabited by that mangy cat she calls Buttercup.) The other day I went into town and bought Prim beautiful cloth for her to make a new dress. I used to dream of doing such things but now that I have the money, and it's possible, I can finally do it. Prim's eyes went wide as she studied the fabric and the color. She loved it but apparently Buttercup thought it was a scratching post and it was clawed to bits in less than an hour. I hate that cat.
Prim also loves the fact that I have more time to spend with her now that I don't have to hunt whenever she's done with school, which I don't attend anymore. Most of the time we just sit by the fire. Prim tells me about school and how Rory Hawthorne always tugs on her braids. I smile, knowing that Rory has a thing for Prim- Gale told me years ago.
My thoughts drift to Gale. I saw him once since I've returned home. I couldn't find him after I got back from the Capitol and he's been working the mines. It's a new schedule for both of us.
He came to see me a week after I returned.
I am sitting at my kitchen table sipping tea when I hear a loud knock on the door. I had a feeling Gale was going to visit me soon so I am not too surprised when I open the door and am met with his gray eyes.
"Catnip!" he exclaims and he wraps me into a bear hug, twirling me around. "I missed you."
"I missed you too, Gale," I tell him. I'm not used to such outward displays of affection on his part so I'm slightly taken aback. Although, it feels good to hug him. To see him, because I've missed him. I miss my life before the Games, when everything was simpler.
"I can't stay for long. I need to go home and help mother with Posy," he explains with resigned expression. Posy only goes to bed when Gale says goodnight to her. Gale is the father she never had, much like I'm the mother mine can't be for Prim.
"Ok. Are we hunting again on Sunday?" I ask hopefully, itching to get back into a routine I'm familiar with.
"Not this Sunday," Gale frowns. "I'm working special unit in the mines." Gale looks at his feet. Because he's no longer eligible for the Reaping, he has to find work in the mines and his schedule is very limited because of it.
I look at Gale's face. He is exhausted. His dark hair is longer than I remembered and falling into his eyes. His face is covered in coal dust. It is no question that Gale is handsome. His strong features make all the girls at school crazy. Not to mention the lean muscle he's built up over the years from hunting and running through the woods. But I don't see him that way. I never have. He will always be Gale: my hunting partner and best friend.
A friend I can't lose in a mine accident like the one that took my father.
"Be careful, then," I tell him.
"I'll see you next Sunday, though," he assures me and he smiles slightly. Like me, his smiles are harder to come by but I reciprocate anyway. I expect him to turn around but Gale bends down and places his lips on my cheek. Surprised, I freeze, every muscle in my body tense. I don't like this. I don't like this. I've dealt with romance more in the past month than I have in my whole life and I can't stand it. I don't want a family. I don't want kids. And that's what romance means to me.
Maybe it's nothing. But the way Gale is lingering makes me uneasy. I'm about to close the door out of sheer anxiety but luckily Gale pulls away and smiles before walking back to the Seam.
I hope in vain that it will be the same as before. But I am a Victor and he has to work in the mines. While he never has any time, I have more of it than I'd care for. I don't like the time. More time means more unwanted thoughts.
"Like exactly what's happening now," I think to myself bitterly.
I roll over onto my stomach and bury my nose in the long grass. My mind drifts to the conversation I had with Haymitch last night.
It's around midnight and I'm braiding Prim's hair in front of the giant fireplace in our new house. Prim isn't tired and ever since returning from the Games I've had trouble sleeping. I'm just finishing her second braid when I hear a loud knock on our front door. Prim and I look at each other, unsure of who would be up so late.
Slowly, I rise to my feet and make my way to the door.
"Open up, sweetheart. We need to talk."
It's Haymitch and he is drunk. I'm not surprised, of course, because Haymitch is drunk most of the time. What is surprising is his decision to visit me so late.
I turn to Prim and quietly tell her to go upstairs. Once I hear the door to her bedroom close I open the front door and allow Haymitch into my house.
His hair is greasy and rumpled and he smells of the white liquor I know he keeps hidden in a flask in his pocket at all times. It doesn't look like he has showered in days and his clothes are covered in a variety of stains.
"Can I help you?" I ask him indignantly. Visits from Haymitch are never pleasant but visits in the middle of the night are worse; I haven't slept in days and the exhaustion is beginning to wear on me.
"Nice to see you too, sweetheart. I would've thought I was deserving of a warmer welcome considering I helped you come home. Alive," Haymitch muses as he looks at me hard.
It's true that I wouldn't have made it home alive without his help but I'm not in the mood for pleasantries.
"Is there something I can help you with?" I repeat.
"The Capitol misses you." Haymitch states.
"Well that's too bad. To be completely honest, I don't miss them at all," I respond, unable to keep the vemon from my voice.
"You know what I mean, sweetheart. They miss the act," he hisses at me while looking around warily.
Right. They miss the star-crossed lovers of District 12. My stomach drops a little. I haven't spoken to Peeta since our brief conversation on the train while returning from the Capitol.
From THG (pgs 371-373).
Haymitch startles me when he lays a hand on my back. Even now, in the middle of nowhere, he keeps his voice down. "Great job, you two. Just keep it up in the district until the cameras are gone. We should be okay." I watch him head back to the train, avoiding Peeta's eyes.
"What's he mean?" Peeta asks me.
"It's the Capitol. They didn't like our stunt with the berries," I blurt out.
"What? What are you talking about?" he says.
"It seemed too rebellious. So Haymitch has been coaching me through the last few days. So I didn't make it worse," I say.
"Coaching you? But not me," says Peeta.
"He knew you were smart enough to get it right," I say.
"I didn't know there was anything to get right," says Peeta. "So, what you're saying is, these last few and then I guess…back in the arena…that was just some strategy you worked out."
"No. I mean, I couldn't even talk to him n the arena, could I?" I stammer.
"But you knew what he wanted you to do, didn't you?" says Peeta. I bite my lip. "Katniss?" He drops my hand and I take a step, as if to catch my balance.
"It was all for the Games," Peeta says. "How you acted."
"Not all of it," I say, tightly holding on to my flowers.
"Then how much? No, forget that. I guess the real question is what's going to be left when we get home?" he says.
"I don't know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get," I say. He waits for further explanation, but none's forthcoming.
"Well let me know when you work it out," he says, and the pain in his voice is palpable.
I know my ears are healed because, even with the rumble of the engine, I can hear every step he takes back to the train.
I wasn't lying when I said it wasn't all an act. I wasn't lying when I said I was confused. I'm even more confused now that I'm home and whenever I think about Peeta confusion is really all I feel. I am brought out of my stupor by Haymitch's voice.
"The reason you two came out alive is because of your undying love for each other. How will anyone believe you if you're never seen together?"
"I don't think Peeta wants to see me right now." I respond. I remember Peeta's hollow voice and his expressionless face after our discussion by the train. He wasn't acting during the Games. For some reason he truly loved me and I broke his heart.
I don't like to think about Peeta because when I do, I realize that I miss him, in some way. He is the only one who can relate to how I feel at the moment. The only one I'm sure doesn't sleep at night either. Peeta saved me, and I saved him. I can't shake that and I don't think he can either. While I rarely thought about Peeta before the Games, he always seems to be in my thoughts now.
"Sweetheart, the boy is head-over-heels in love with you, of course he wants to see you. Probably because you're so welcoming and cordial to your guests," Haymitch says dryly.
I glare in response but then think about what he just said. I have no idea why Peeta loves me but apparently he does. He has only shown me kindness and I have been nothing but terrible to him as of late.
"I would hate me if I were him," I murmur, looking at my hands.
"But you're not him. Boy's a goner," Haymitch says wistfully while gesturing grandly with his hands. "Now listen, if you two don't become cozier soon, the Capitol is gonna take interest in you two, and not in a good way. Just because we're back in District 12 doesn't mean the Capitol isn't watching," he says to me seriously. "Got spies everywhere," he whispers.
I suddenly feel sick. Have they been watching me go to the woods everyday? Did they see my brief exchange with Gale?
"Talk to the boy. Keep up the act. Got it?" Haymitch tells me. He points his flask at me accusingly, asking for any more interjections. I nod, a grim expression planted on my face.
Haymitch takes a swig out of his flask and stares at me a while. "You could do a lot worse, you know." And with that he stumbles down the porch steps and back to his house.
I walk up the stairs to my bedroom tired and feeling sorry for myself. I see the light in Prim's room is still on so I peak my head in to check on her, a habit I've been unable to break.
"What are you still doing up, little duck?" I ask. Buttercup is swatting at her blonde braids as Prim tickles his large belly.
"I told you I'm not tired." She would be convincing if it weren't for the giant yawn that escapes her mouth.
I sigh and tug on her braid.
"Well, you look tired. Time for bed." I help her into bed and bring the blanket up to her chin. She snuggles into her pillow and looks up at me.
"I heard what Haymitch said to you." It's a quiet statement but a meaningful one.
I sigh again. Prim is sneakier than I give her credit for and I would prefer her not to get caught up in my messy business of lies and manipulation.
"I think you like Peeta more than you realize, Katniss." And with that, she rolls over and closes her eyes. I frown at the back of her head for a moment before I get up and try to get some sleep.
I spend the rest of the day lost in thought by the lake. Around dusk I crawl under the fence and make my way back to the Victor's Village. I focus on the puffs of coal dust that my boots create as I walk through the Seam and into Town, unwilling to meet anyone's eyes.
I pass the bakery and my mind drifts to Peeta again. I sigh. Haymitch is right; I have to talk to him soon. We can't just pretend the other doesn't exist anymore, it will make the Capitol suspicious and to say Snow isn't happy with us to begin with is an understatement. I can't help but think about how unfair the entire situation is. I have to pretend to be in love with Peeta and he has watch me act out his greatest desire only to be let down in the end. Because that's all I can do: let him down.
By the time I reach the Victor's Village it is almost dark and I know Prim will be worried. As I walk up the steps to my house I chance a glance across the street.
The windows in his house are dark except for one. I can see his silhouette against the dim light from a second-story window.
Before I can process what I am doing, I am already across the street and walking up the wooden steps of his porch. I slowly climb the last steps and take a deep breathe before I knock on Peeta's front door. I don't know what I'm going to say to him. We developed a strange bond during our time in the Games, an intense trust, and I know I've betrayed it these last two weeks.
He opens the door, his blue eyes bright against the dark backdrop of his empty house. His hair is messy and there are large bags under his eyes, ones that probably match my own. He doesn't smile at me.
"Katniss," it's more a statement than a question.
"Hey," I respond lamely.
Peeta looks past my shoulder to see if anyone is behind me. Maybe he thinks Haymitch dragged me here, which is kind of true.
"What are you doing here?" he asks softly. The question isn't meant to sound harsh but his words have a stinging effect.
"I…" I clutch my empty game bag as if it holds the answer he wants. I wish it did.
"Prim wanted me to check on you," I tell him. This is a lie. Haymitch wanted me to check on Peeta. Hell, I wanted to check on Peeta. Prim would be angry with me if she knew I used this excuse.
I could tell this is not the answer Peeta wanted. His face drops for a split second, betraying his emotions. Quickly he gathers himself and crosses his arms over his chest as he leans against the door. Anyone else would be convinced of his ambivalence but I know better.
"That's nice of Prim, but she doesn't have to worry." The look on his face is cold and his jaw is set into a severe line. The expression doesn't reach his eyes, though, which are tired and sad.
"If that's all you came here for, it's getting late and I have things that need to be taken care of before nightfall," he says, pausing only for a second.
It's the most callous Peeta has ever been to me and I hate it. I hate that this is what it's become, knowing I've done it.
"Wait!" I shout, before he can close the door in my face.
Peeta turns around and looks at me. As much as I don't like being puppets of the Capital and Snow, it's in everyone's best interest if Peeta and I are a convincing couple. For that to happen we need to be on speaking terms.
"I'm sorry," I almost whisper, and I realize that I truly mean it. I'm sorry for deceiving him. I'm sorry for pretending he didn't exist. I'm sorry for not talking to him sooner.
Unmoved, he stares at me.
"I'm sorry for ignoring you. I…needed time." He isn't impressed. "To think", I offer.
"To think about what?"
"About us. About The Hunger Games. About what it all meant." There hasn't been a day where thoughts of the Hunger Games don't invade my mind. I think about Rue and her beautiful little face encased in flowers. I think about Foxface and the nightlock berries that stained her lips. I think about Cato's screams as he is torn apart by the mutts. All of these memories fill my dreams and I jolt awake at night, terrified, thinking I am still in the arena.
I think of Peeta, too. I think about Peeta more than I'd like to admit.
"And what did you decide?" he asks me.
"I decided that I miss you." I whisper softly. "As a friend," I quickly add. I can't let him get the wrong idea again. If we do this now, we are going to be honest with one another.
"I miss you too," he whispers. He doesn't clarify the "friend" part. It's always been more for him and the look in his eyes only confirms it.
I don't know what else to say. It's strange enough I admitted this to Peeta and I want to go home. I stand my ground though. It's his move now.
"Does this mean we should be friends?" He asks slowly, prodding.
"I think so." I think of Haymitch. He'll be happy I accomplished this small feat.
"Me too, Katniss." With that he gives me a small smile, a peace offering, and he closes the door.
I stand there for a few moments, unsure of what just happened. I collect myself and walk across the street back to my house.