DISCLAIMER: I do NOT own The Hunger Games.
AN: Hello! I got the idea for this story while listening to The Fighter by Gym Class Heroes. It's an A/U, Katniss/Peeta story, so I hope you like it.
And don't worry... it's complete. :)
My grip on the pole tightens as the subway car rocks back and forth, my body swaying with it. As we enter the tunnel, the dim lights switch off, and for a moment I'm disoriented. I can feel the pressure change as we plunge even deeper into the tunnel, and I squeeze my eyes shut, tugging on the end of my long braid to keep the anxiety down. My ears pop as I take a deep breath to keep my breathing steady. I've never been good in tight spaces, but I ride this subway almost every day so I learned to cope as best as I can.
After a few minutes, the lights flicker back on and I glance around. The faded yellow walls of the subway car are chipped and browning around the edges from years of neglect. I don't think anyone has tried to clean this thing since it was built, and the smell of mildew just confirms that, making my nose wrinkle in disgust. No matter how many times I ride the subway, I still cannot get used to the smell.
I've managed to scoot away from people as much as I can, but I can't block out the sight of the guy sitting next to me whose glazed-over eyes keep roaming over me. His shirt is stained in disgusting brown splotches of some foreign substance that I'm positive I'm better off not knowing. I think I've seen him here before, almost like he lives in the subway. The scowl that forms on my face in unavoidable. I don't like men like him, the kind that waste away their lives when they could be doing everything in their power to make it better. Their options may be small, but they're there.
I hate the subway, but I ride it because I don't have a choice. My mother can't afford a car. When my father died last year, she died with him. She sits on her bed all day staring at the wall while I take care of my little sister, Prim. I pay the bills, I bring home the food and I take care of our family. Prim begs her to do something, anything, but she never does. She has to be spoon fed.
Sunlight streams through the windows as we exit the tunnel, and I breathe a sigh of relief. My grip loosens on the cool metal pole. The man sitting close by scoots closer, bringing the stench of liquor and poor hygiene with him. Being careful not to fall over in the moving car, I move to the other side to avoid the man. I don't want to deal with him right now. The only thing wrong with this situation is that now I have a better view of him and the bits of food stuck in his untrimmed beard.
I consider sitting down, but decide against it. I only have a few pairs of jeans and I need to keep them as clean as possible. The Laundromat is out of the way from home and I can't afford to waste time walking back and forth. It takes up too much of my time, and any wasted time means wasted money, because for us to survive, my time is our money.
After a few minutes, the subway car screeches to a stop. The motion jerks me forward, my braid almost flying up and slapping me in the face. The man grumbles and shifts in his seat, leaning back, his head lolling to the side. I walk down the car, my pace quickening as I pass the man, and stand in front of the door, waiting for it to release me. I tap my foot impatiently, my fingers playing with the end of my braid.
Finally, the doors open, shrieking loudly as they slide. I practically jump from the car, my feet landing softly on the concrete. I take a deep breath, my lungs filling with mildew-free air. It's not much better outside, the sky full of pollution and a heavy smell of gasoline, but it's still better than the rotting subway car. I look up at the sky, the clouds are dark, a sign of approaching rain, but the air is warm and humid.
As I begin walking out of the subway terminal, I bring my worn, brown leather bag around my waist and bury my hands in it, trying to find the map I printed off at the library the other day. We can't afford internet, so whenever I need direction or information, I have to go the old library down the street. It's a nuisance, but it's necessary.
My fingers curl around the crumbled paper at the bottom of my bag and I pull it out. I smooth it out and examine the roads and street names. My finger trances the lines of the roads and I sigh. I have a few blocks before I reach the gym. Folding the paper back up, I shove it into my back pocket and walk down the gloomy back streets.
I never take the main roads, because being around so many people and honking horns annoys me. They congest the roads like crazy and I would prefer to take the back roads that are riddled with stray cats than the main roads where you're constantly bumping into some sweaty old person with bad breath.
The back of my hand wipes away the sweat building on my forehead from the humidity. Dang, Chicago. I had to pick the time when we're right in the middle of a heat wave to go job hunting. I didn't have a choice, though. It was either this or my family starves, and the gym is one of my last hopes. I was laid off last week from my job at the local grocery store. It was only minimum wage, but with the meat I was able to bring in from hunting, it was enough to pay the bills.
I have been searching for a job ever since, leaving school early to take interviews and send in job applications. I cannot afford to go another week without a paycheck. Our money is already running out, and if I can't find a job soon, we won't be able to pay for the house. I definitely prefer a house to a box on the side of the highway. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I ever got our family in that situation, especially Prim. She deserves so much more than what we already have. And if anyone finds out that our money is low, our mother basically gone; Prim could be sent to a community home. I can't risk it.
I cut a corner and head down an alley to make the trip shorter. It's dark, the tall brick buildings blocking out the minimal sunlight that had managed to break through the clouds. The air seems even heavier in here, and that claustrophobic feeling begins to fill my chest again. The smell of rotting food in the dumpsters is overwhelming, and I try to breathe through my mouth to make the smell lessen, if only a little.
I pass an old, scraggily cat gnawing on what appears to be a banana peel. It hisses at me, its orange fur sticking straight up, as I step too close to his food. I'm half tempted to hiss right back at it, but I bite my tongue and continue walking. The last thing I need is to get attacked but some stray cat with rabies. That would be just fantastic.
Once I reach the end of the alley I can make out the gym across the street. It looks like it's in an old department store, the grey bricks chipped and falling apart. Its large, three stories and I'm sure that if it could be haunted, it would. There's an old rusted sign hanging by the wide double doors that reads, 'Downtown Chicago Gym.' I roll my eyes at the name. There is never anything original here.
After checking for any approaching cars, I jog across the street, my bag flopping against my side with each step. As I approach the door, I can barely see through the dirt-covered glass, and a scowl finds its way to my face. I grab the handle, and after a strong jerk, the door flies open and cool air rushes against my warm face. At least they have a working air conditioning.
It looks smaller inside than it does from the outside, but it's still large. The smell of sweat was obvious the moment the door swung open. To the left is a row of treadmills, a few occupied, running along the wall with some other equipment toward the middle of the room. On the right side is a boxing ring. Standing in the middle is a boy with blond curls throwing punches at a man with padded guards covering his body. The boy is quick, easily deflecting any punch directed at him.
My eyes tear away from the activity in the ring when I hear shuffling at the counter next to me. I look over to see a young woman with flowing brown hair picking up a scatter of papers that she must have dropped. I walk over to her and bend down to help her pick them up. She looks up, a shocked expression on her face before it quickly turns to a warm smile. She mumbles a soft "thank you". I nod.
We stand up once the papers are gathered and I hand the pile in my hands over to her. She takes them and walks around to stand behind the wooden counter. Pushing aside pencils and clipboards, she makes a spot for the paper and plops them down with a loud thud. She looks up at me and smiles, her green eyes almost hidden behind her bangs.
"Can I help you?" She asks politely.
I nod my head and pull out my prepared application. I hand it to her and say, "I'm looking for a job. I was hoping you were hiring."
Her eyes scan the paper and she nods slowly. "I'm not sure if we're hiring right now, but let me call the manager and ask. One moment." She says as she sticks out a finger, motioning for me to wait. She grabs the phone, dials a number, and waits while it rings.
After a few rings, a muffled voice on the other end answers.
"Are we hiring?" The girl asks. There's a long pause as she listens to the manager. She nods occasionally, her eyes flickering from me to the pens on the counter.
My eyes wonder as I wait. They fall back onto the boxing ring to find the blond headed boy sitting on a foldout chair in the far corner. Another man stands above him, water bottle in hand as he tosses a white towel at the boy. He chuckles as he catches the towel and says something to man, but they're too far away for me to catch it.
"Okay, I will." The girl says eventually, turning my attention back to her as she hangs up the phone.
She walks around the counter and makes a motion for me to follow her. I do so, and she leads me around the corner to a closed door that reads "Manager". She pulls it open and tells me to go inside.
I take a step inside, my eyes landing on the man in front of me, feet propped up on the his desk as he leans back in his chair. I hear the door close behind me, but I don't turn around to look because I know it was the girl leaving. The man motions me forward, pointing to the old wooden chair in front of his desk. I take a few steps forward, carefully sitting in the chair so it won't break. The man holds up a piece of paper, his face hidden behind it. I assume it's my application.
This man reminds me of the one of the train—untrimmed beard, stains all over his white tee shirt and the heavy scent of alcohol; no doubt a constant drinker. He sets the paper down on his desk and removes his feet from the desk. He leans forward, resting his elbows down, his grey eyes piercing mine.
"So you want a job?" He asks coolly.
I have to bite my tongue to keep my comeback down, because why else would I be sitting here with my application right in front of him? I realize that this has basically become a job interview, so it would probably be best if I didn't get on his bad side. I give him a curt nod and his eyes narrow before he takes my application into his hands again.
"What's your name?" He asks. I feel like just pointing to the top of the paper, because I know it's there, but I decide not to.
"You got laid off from your last job?" He ask, his eyes never leaving the paper.
"Yes." I say simply, my fingers twisting nervously in my lap. His eyes flicker to mine and he nods, one hand coming up to scratch his beard.
"We probably won't be able to pay you as much as your last job. You'll most likely be cleaning equipment and the locker rooms." He says.
"Okay." I say, trying not to sound too excited just to get my hopes up. I really don't care what the job is as long as I get paid. He eyes me skeptically, his eyes uncertain.
"Why are you here? Most girls your age prefer to work in cafés rather than in sweaty gyms."
"That's none of your business." I say, trying to keep as much irritation as I can out of my voice.
"It is my business if it turns out the minute you end up scrubbing the toilets, you bolt." He says as he leans closer on the desk, his finger pointing at me, his voice harsh as his eyes narrow.
"I don't care if I have to scrub the toilets with my bare hands. As long as I get paid, you don't have to worry. And I will keep my personal reasons my own." I tell him harshly, my eyes mirroring his.
He leans back in his seat, his eyes back on my application. I seriously hope I didn't just blow any chances I had at getting this job out the window. I can't hiss at him every time he gets on my nerves. This is too important. I remove the scowl from my face, managing to keep my lips in a straight line, hoping it will discard my previous actions.
"Well, you seem qualified enough. Why were you laid off?" He asks.
"It's a bad economy." I say, keeping my voice even.
He grunts in agreement, mumbling something under his breath. His feet return to his desk as he sets my application down, folding his hands on his lap. He stares at me for a moment, his grey eyes studying mine. I keep a straight face, unwilling to let my scowl show him how much he's irritating me.
"Okay. I'll hire you. But you better keep your word and not bolt on me the moment I make you do something you don't like." He tells me sternly.
I nod my head, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth, but I won't let it show yet. "I won't." I assure him.
He grunts. "We'll see. You got spunk, sweetheart but you better watch that temper of yours."
"Fine." I tell him.
"You start on Monday. I'll have Annie train you. My name is Haymitch Abernathy, and if we're lucky, we won't see each other that often." He says with a smirk. I'm not sure if it was a joke or not, but I can't help but agree with him. I would be perfectly happy if I had the pleasure of ignoring him the whole time I'm here.
I stand up, the chair creaking below me, and give him a nod. He eyes me again. "Not much of a talker are you?" He asks.
"Not if I can help it." I reply, my eyes locked on his.
He gives a cold laugh, running a hand through his dark, messy hair, but doesn't say anything more. I take that as an opportunity to leave, so I turn my back on him and exit his office, closing the door behind me.
I walk around the corner, and the front desk comes into view. The same girl is still there, looking flustered as she searches around her desk. My eyes shift to the boy standing in front of the counter, the same one who was in the boxing ring. He signs something on a clip board as he chuckles at the girl. She gives him a sheepish smile and takes the paper he hands her.
I try to sneak around them, hoping they won't notice me. It doesn't work. The girl's voice pulls me to a stop and I turn around to face her, my hand clenching at my side in irritation. "How did it go?" She asks, the boy turning around to see who she's talking to, and I notice how bright his eyes are; an incredible shade of blue.
"Good. I'm hired." I say, my eyes flickering between her and the door.
"That's great. So I guess we'll be seeing each other soon. I'm Annie, by the way." She says with a smile. So she's the one who's going to train me. "And this is Peeta." She says, motioning to the boy. He gives me a small smile and I nod at him. "He doesn't work here, but he comes by almost every day. He almost lives here." She says.
"Oh." I answer, unsure of what to say. I really just need to get home. I still have to make sure Prim finished her homework and then make dinner. "Well, I have to go." I say as I start walking towards the door.
"Okay, see ya later!" Annie calls.
I give a wave over my shoulder and yank the door open. Warm, muggy air hits my face and I groan. It's started to sprinkle, the rain drops making small, dark spots on the cement once they hit. I readjust the strap of my bag and, after looking both ways, I dart across the street.
Once I make it to the alley, I finally let my smile show where no one can see it, hidden by the walls of the towering buildings. Relief floods over me and I let out a deep breath. We are in no way free from financial problems, far from it, but now I don't have to worry about Prim or myself starving. And for right now, that's the best I could hope for, even if I do have to clean the toilets with my bare hands.
I walk through the alley, the clouds sitting lower in the sky, the air heavy. I have to remind myself not to get too settled because you never know when the opportunities presented to you can be ripped away without a second thought or warning. Just like my old job, just like my father, and in result, my mother. I can't afford to feel relief when things are still so hard and could get worse.
I try to pick up my pace. I'm sweating from the heat and the rain isn't helping. My lips form a grimace as I wipe away the sweat from my brow. I can feel my clothes beginning to stick to my skin, making me even more uncomfortable. Once I make it to the subway station, I wait. I still have around twenty minutes until it stops here next. I find a bench and sit down, hoping the rain doesn't pick up.
I hate this place. I miss North Carolina. I miss the miles and miles of fresh forest and hunting ground. I miss the life I had there, when my father was still alive and my mother was happy and actually spoke to us; when Prim had a normal life with her parents and plenty of food in her belly; when she didn't have to grow up so fast. When her eyes still twinkled with innocence instead of clouded with the horrors she's been through like they do now.
We've only lived here for a little over a year. My father got a job transfer, but during his first week of work, there was an accident and we never saw him again. We never got to hear his laugh or see his smile again. There are still days when something will remind me of him and it's so unexpected, I nearly crumple to the floor in pain. My chest aching as tears stream down my face. I miss him. I miss him so much. You just can't depend on anything, because it's always taken away no matter how hard you try to hold onto it.
I look up from my lap when I hear the train approaching, the wheels screeching on the rails as they turn. I hadn't realized it was raining completely, my braid dripping wet, until now. I sigh in frustration, gathering my bag on my shoulder and jog to the entrance of the subway car. The doors shriek again as they open, hurting my ears. I step inside, and the smell of mildew hits my nose once again.
I hope you liked it, and let me know what you think!