I met Keeth two years ago, when I was twelve and he was fourteen. We met each other while we were in the woods.
I've always loved going in the woods. I can go back there for anything, whether it's an escape or for fun. It doesn't matter, I always had the woods.
It let me escape from the District, and when I did, it helped develop me. I learned how to shoot bow and arrow from my mother back there. She's the greatest archer I've ever seen. She says I inherited the trait, even though I'm nowhere near as good as her. I can shoot pretty accurately, but it's almost unnecessary. I don't hunt, and I never will. I always take my bow and a sheath when I go back there anyway. For protection.
I also learned how to paint back there. My father gave me paints when I was little. He taught me everything I know. I find myself constantly looking through a book that him and my mother made together. She wrote down all of the plants she knew and he painted them for her. I found it fascinating, and I've just about memorized every single one from having my eyes on it so often. Now that I can take up painting on my own, my father inspired me. The woods are my muse.
On that specific day when I was twelve, I went in to the woods with high anticipation. I had a small pack on my back that contained my paints. I snuck under the gate in the early morning, just after the sun rose and the light was clear. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
I'd been going to the woods for years now, and over time, I developed a favorite spot. It was a small, cleared area surrounded my Cucumber trees and Black Chokeberry bushes. And today, after looking at countless maps, calendars and books, a luxury I'm fortunate to have as daughter of Victors, I was going to paint it. At s specific time, the light would be on it just right and the flowers on them would be just beginning to bloom. It would be nearly perfect.
I knew exactly what I was out for when I crossed under the fence, but I had no idea what I would get instead.
I made my way quietly and stealthily under and gate and was swiftly running through the clearing just before the woods. The pack containing my paints bounced again. I was too excited to remember to grab my bow, but I was smart enough to grab a knife. My blonde hair was in a braid to my side. I like wearing it like that because it's how my mother used to wear hers. I had on a different jacket that day, too, but this one was a nice green and almost the same material as denim. To my luck, it blended with the trees.
But I didn't go unseen.
As I start walking with purpose through the woods, I get more comfortable, thinking I'm alone.
But I wasn't.
As I pass a seemingly harmless tree, out of nowhere, someone I don't have time to see jumps out from behind it, crunching the leaves with their footing, and grabs me around my waist with strong arms. Instantly, I scream.
"Stop screaming or you'll get us both killed," says a low but sharp voice that I instantly determine is male. I don't listen to him and I yell on, struggling in his grasp.
His arms are clamped around my waist, holding me there, my back against him to keep me from moving. I can tell he's taller than me because the back of my head is against his chest. Since I'm still screaming, one of his arms leaves my waist and a hand clamps over my mouth. I stop screaming. The other one stays around my waist.
"Stop struggling," he says in a more gentle voice. "I won't hurt you; I just want to talk to you."
For a minute, I stop, but I don't come close to trusting him. I'm illegally in the woods; I don't trust anyone. But then again, so is he. I still don't trust him.
I feel is grip on me loosen a bit. After a minute of silence, he removes his hand from my mouth. I'm breathing deeply, my heart is racing.
Finally, after seeing my stillness from before, he decides to let me go completely, thinking I'll stay put. But that's his mistake.
The second he lets go of me, I take off running in the direction I intended to go before. I go as fast as I can; I don't even dare to look back at my captor.
I hear his voice again. "WAIT!" he yells to me. "STOP!" I don't listen.
I can tell by the even crunching of leaves behind me that he's chasing me now. My stomach drops. Foot step, foot step. He's running faster than me. He'll catch me.
I try and go faster but I can't. My lungs are burning and I even have to slow a little. I hear him getting closer to me. His heaving breaths get closer and closer. Finally, I know he's only a few feet behind me.
As we run, I hear something hit the ground, the clank of metal. A second later, I feel a hand on the bend of my arm. My heart leaps and I almost scream again.
Somehow, when he reaches for me, he manages to trip. His impact towards the ground plus his grip on my arm causes me to swing around in the direction I came from. When his hand releases me and he falls all the way, I get thrown off balance and I fall face first towards the ground too.
When I hit the ground, I feel sharp pain hit my abdomen, but I try and ignore it, despite the extreme pain it caused. Instead, I roll over onto my back and try to recover, but my captor recovers faster than me. I realize I chose a very bad day to forget my bow.
Within a second, he's over next to me. He puts an arm over my waist again to keep me on the ground. I try to sit up, but his other hand pushes my upper half back down to the ground. He leans over me and puts his arm across my chest and shoulders to ensure that I don't somehow sit up again. He's really strong.
I stop struggling for a minute. We're both breathing deeply, staring at one another. He says one word through his breaths. "Stop." I don't say anything. I just lay there, keeping still under his hold for the time being. It's the first time I actually get a good look at him.
He's a teenager, probably a little older than I am. He has light brown hair that falls over his forehead and almost to his eyes. His eyes are emerald green. He has olive skin and he's really muscular, but not to a grotesque point. He's wearing a light gray, long sleeved shirt with the sleeves slightly rolled up and cargo pants. He has an almost severe look on his face, but not to the extreme point that looks like he'll harm me. But in addition to that, he also has me trapped.
After I take in what he looks like for a brief moment, I start to struggle to all of my ability again. It's almost useless, but I try anyway. He's keeping me down pretty well.
"Stop… struggling…" he says through his attempts to contain me. I don't listen and struggle on. I make frustrated noises. He keeps trying to calm me down, but it's not working. The longer he holds me, the more anxious I become.
Then, in swift motions, he takes his arm from my waist and quickly replaces it with his knee on my hip. It's not restraining the entire length of my body like his arm was, but it's enough to continue keeping me down. He twists his arm and puts his hand in to his own pack that he has, which is sitting beside him at this point. He reaches in and pulls something out that I can't see since it's clenched in his hand.
Then, in a fast move that I barely even see, his hand swings around toward my arm. I'm doing too much struggling to see what he's doing.
Suddenly, I feel a pinch in the crook of my arm. I don't know what it was, but a minute later, I start to feel weak. All of the fight seems to leave my body. I keep trying, but I eventually feel myself go limp. I want to close my eyes and sleep. I try not to let myself.
As I fight to keep my eyes open, I feel my captor's arms release me, but I feel too frail to even get up, let alone escape. Instead, I feel one of his arms slip under my back and the other under the bend of my knees. He lifts me up and starts walking. I'm too tired to even feel the fear I should.
As I sway back and forth in his arms as he walks, I feel my eyes finally close and everything goes black.
When I wake up, I almost do so with a start, but then I stop myself just in time. Instead, I slowly open my eyes and look around me.
I'm laying down on a large, slanted rock. My head is resting on my pack that I brought along. I look up and see the tall trees around. We're still in the woods.
My captor is sitting next to me. He doesn't notice I'm awake. He looks just as he did before, maybe even a little tired from carrying me who knows how far. He's holding a severe looking knife that makes me cringe and using it to cut off layers of bark on a stick to sharpen it to a point. Maybe it's just busy work until I wake up and he does what he wants with me. Though I think if he intended to hurt me, he would have done so by now. Fear pangs in my chest anyhow.
I consider pretending to be asleep again, but decide against it. He's going to realize I'm awake eventually. I might as well get it over with now.
I blink a few times to clear my eyes completely and then I try to sit up. Without even looking at me, my captor says, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
I instantly know he's right. With even the little bit that I tried to sit up, my head swims severely. I let my head flop back down on to my pack, feeling the paint canisters in it as I do.
I groan at the pain. I speak to him for the first time. "What'd you do to me?"
He turns to me and holds up an empty syringe with a needle on the end. "Sleep syrup," he answers me. He smirks. "And a few extra things to make you stay put." He turns back to what he was doing with his knife.
The sentence disturbs me. I suppose that's what's making my head swim; it's so I can't go anywhere.
"How long have I been asleep?" I ask him.
He shrugs. "A little less than an hour." He frowns. "I didn't give you that much."
I roll my eyes and scowl at him as I lay there next to him. "You didn't have to drug me, you know."
He turns again and cocks his head toward me. "You weren't cooperating."
"You didn't have to try and kidnap me," I retort back to him. My voice is harsh.
"I wasn't trying to kidnap you," he says. "I said I wasn't going to hurt you; I just wanted to talk to you. But you didn't listen." He rolls his eyes at me.
I narrow my own. "Fine," I snap. "I'm here. What do you want?"
He sighs and looks me up and down with curiosity. "Who are you?"
I look at him with disbelief. "What kind of a question is that?"
"A simple one," he replies. When I don't answer, he goes on to explain himself. "I've seen you out here before. You've never seen me, though. What is someone like you doing out here?"
I smirk. "I could ask you the same thing." I try to act tough, but it's obvious that he's in the superior position here.
He gives a tired smile and shakes his head. "You're not going to tell me anything, are you?"
"Give me one good reason why I should." Our eyes pierce in to one another's.
He raises his eyebrows at me. "Because you're not really in a position to not to be cooperating with me."
I sigh in a huffy breath. He's right. Even knowing that, I still stay silent for the time being.
"How 'bout a name?" he asks. At least he's trying to reason with me.
I contemplate whether to tell him. I decide for it. My first name won't do any damage. "Colemet."
"Well, Colemet," he says smartly. "Last name?"
"Then tell me your first name." It's not a command as much as it is a negotiation.
He's silent for a moment and looks down. I guess he's contemplating it too. Finally, he looks back up. "Keeth."
"Is that a lie?" I ask. It took him almost too long to answer.
"Nope," he replies plainly.
"Ok," I say. "I trust you." That was probably a mistake to say.
"So," he says now. "Last name."
I really don't want to tell him. If he's from District 12, which he obviously is, then he'll know who I am. I take a breath. "Mellark." I say it very quietly.
He raises his eyebrows at me. His eyes shift over me, like he's studying me to see if I'm lying. His eyes stop on mine. "I believe it," he says. "Daughter of the Victors, huh?" I slowly nod.
"So," I say, turning the subject and mimicking him. "Last name."
"I never agreed to that," he retorts.
"I think it's only fair," I shoot back.
He cocks his head to the side. "Fine," he says. He pauses. "Amberston."
Now my eyebrows raise at him. I know that name. Amberston. Baylie Amberston won the Hunger Games years back. When she got married, her husband even took her last name. And this kid must be their son. "Son of a Victor?" He nods as I did.
Silence falls between us. As it does, I can focus on my surroundings. I notice something I didn't before. It's the aching pain on my stomach again. It's external, not internal. "Why does my stomach hurt so much?" I ask, assuming that it had something to do with him wanting to keep me put here. I reach my hand up to touch the spot.
"Oh. That." he says bitterly. Just before I touch it, Keeth grabs my hand away. "Don't touch it," he instructs. I pull my hand away and put it back at my side. Instead, he carefully pushes the front of my jacket aside. He gently takes the hem of my shirt between his fingers and peels it back slightly, revealing a line of bloody gauze where I feel the pain.
I try to sit up to look, but when I do, Keeth puts his hand on my shoulder and pushes me back. "Stay down," he commands. Instead, I tilt my neck up to see.
He begins explaining. "When I was trying to reach you while you ran, my knife fell off of my belt. When I actually did reach for you, the way I fell caused you to twist around. When you fell, the knife sliced you." He sighs. "That was entirely my fault. I'm really sorry." That explains the clang of the metal and the sharp pain I felt.
I take a deep breath and bear the pain through my teeth. "It's ok," I say as convincingly as possible. "I've seen worse."
He manages a chuckle. "I'm sure," he says.
He leans over my body and looks at the wound. Carefully, he peels off the blood-soaked gauze that was there before and leaves the open cut. I look myself. The gash is pretty deep. I wince a little.
He studies the wound carefully. Carefully then, he takes his hand and gently runs his fingers over the cut, getting excess blood on them. His fingertips explore the gash, surveying the damage. His touch against it makes me shudder. He puts his other hand on my arm as a signal to me. "Relax," he tells me. I release the breath that I realize I'm holding.
It's a lot easier once I relax. I release all of the tension in my muscles and take a breath. Keeth's fingers sting against me as he runs them over the cut, but it's also relieving in a way knowing that he's trying to help it.
"Does this hurt?" he asks, referring to his fingers exploring the wound. I bite my lip with my eyes closed and nod.
He pulls his hand away. Instead, he reaches in to his bag again and pulls out clean gauze. He carefully lays it over my cut and pulls the hem of my shirt back down.
"Thanks," I say with what I can manage of a smile.
"It's the least I can do," he replies. "It was all my fault."
He's still sitting right next to me and within my reach, so I push him for blaming himself. "It's fine," I say. "Really. I'll be ok." I realize I'm still laying down. "Do you think I'm ok to get up now?"
"Probably," he replies. "I'll help you." He gets to his feet and offers me his hands. I take them in my own and he helps me to my feet. My head swims a little, but not nearly as bad. My body feels pain all over it, but not too severe. I feel instant pain where my cut is. My hand instantly thinks to go there, but Keeth stops it just in time. "I told you not to touch it," he says.
I lift an eyebrow at him. "You touched it."
"But that wasn't out of impulse," he says matter-of-factly. I roll my eyes. "Can you walk alright?" he asks.
"Um… maybe," I say. I take a few steps, but I begin to shake and wobble. I almost collapse, but Keeth catches me from behind.
He lets out a chuckle. "Guess not," he says. When he steadies me again, he holds out his arms. "Here," he says. "I'll carry you until we get to the fence."
I lift my eyebrow at him again. "Are you sure?" I ask. I have no idea how far we are from the fence.
Now he lifts his eyebrows at me. His eyes shift up and down my body. "You're skinny. I think I can handle it." I don't argue when he lifts me up in to his arms like I weigh no more than a cat.
When we finally get to the fence, he puts me down. It takes me a second to stand properly and I need his help. Now realizing it, we're almost going to the same place, somewhere in Victor's Village. "You sure you'll be ok?" he asks.
I shrug. "I hope."
"I'll walk you there," he says. I don't argue again.
He walks with me all the way to Victor's Village while I lean against him for support. His house comes before mine, so he left before I got to my house. I was happy about that; I don't even want to think about what my parents would say if they saw me with him.
We stop at his driveway. He turns to me. "Well, I have a feeling we'll be seeing each other soon enough." I'm confused. I don't know what he means. But instead, he just smirks the way I've noticed him doing all day and says. "Take care, Colemet." Then he turns and walks in his house.
When I get home, I manage to keep my gash under wraps from my family, occasionally sneaking gauze. The other effects his medicine had on me ware off quick enough. I keep quiet. I don't want my family to know about Keeth yet.
For weeks and weeks after, me and Keeth cross paths in the woods. We eventually became what we considered friends. We could just talk to each other. We found out a lot about one another.
For starters, I found out Keeth was fourteen, he was two years older than me. He told me about his family, his mother was a Victor in the 79th Annual Hunger Games. She won, yet she killed only two people. She even tells Keeth how much it haunts her that she killed. I know I'd be just like that.
From what I understand, he's just like his mom, brave, smart, and strong. I'm not sure about his dad. He mentioned that his dad left when he was very young. He's an only child.
Keeth eventually becomes the only person who knows everything about me. About me, my parents, everything. I tell him what it's like, how much danger I'm in. And he listens. He doesn't let it hurt him like I worry with other people, like Airmet. I pour my heart out to him. I feel safe with him, especially outside the confines of the District.
Eventually, I tell my parents about him. I try not to give details, just that I met a friend and that we've become really good friends. When I describe him to my mom, what he's like and especially when I bring up his age,, she starts to cry. She cries because of the similarities of us and her and her best friend, Gale, who she hasn't heard from in years. Gale was even two years older than her like Keeth is to me.
It's an amazing thing. Me and Keeth.
We're the best of friends. Together, nothing could hurt us.
Or so we thought.