My urge to regurgitate my lunch has little to do with the violent deaths currently playing on the television monitor in my maths class. Well, technically speaking, I suppose it has a little to do with the Hunger Games, but not directly. Mostly, my green look has everything to do with Gale Hawthorne. Yes, Katniss Everdeen's infamous "cousin," which is really where the whole mess of it begins.
"I'm sure Katniss-" My father's voice is cut off by Haymitch, who I gather is on the other end of the line.
I eavesdrop regularly on my father through his office door. And the first morning after Katniss' Hunger Games interview is no exception. But as my father talks to Haymitch, my anxiety no longer just concerns getting caught listening at keyholes. Now that the phone call involves my best- and only- friend's life, my knees and hands begin to shake in fear. I strain to catch every breath that my father's tired voice utters.
"I'm really not sure how much I can do about that. You know how headstrong teenage boys are."
I can hear desperation color my father's tone and I understand why. His first concern, I imagine, is that our home is currently invaded by an entourage of Capitol attendees and at any moment he can be heard.
But aside from that, every year, a new batch of tributes gets sent to their deaths, and every year, Daddy's only friend and my mother's only reason to ever get out of bed returns more callous and hardened. The last thing Daddy wants to do is contribute to the further destruction of Haymitch Abernathy, but I can tell that he truly is at a loss for how to help.
However, his words confuse me. He couldn't be talking about Peeta. Haymitch controls the baker's future and couldn't be asking my father for help.
"If the Capitol doesn't believe they're cousins, I can't-"
Immediately, I understand who my father and Haymitch discuss. Since Katniss' reaping, Gale Hawthorne has been telling everyone that he is a close relative of the Everdeens to gain access to the family.
I wonder for a long moment, confused as to why in the world my father and Haymitch of all people are discussing Gale Hawthorne, the boy from the Seam.
But then it all clicks. The Capitol isn't buying that a handsome man like Gale is just Katniss' cousin, especially now that Peeta has made her look desirable. Gale has to prove they are platonic.
"I'll discuss that with him," My father snaps.
The phone slams on its receiver and I scurry from my crouched position, heart racing at the thought of getting caught. Once in the safety of my room, I imagine my father ordering the peacekeepers to collect Gale and bring him to our home for a private meeting to discuss strategy and I scoff. Gale will suffer sound lashing before ever allowing that to happen. But someone has to tell him...
So here I am. The next day, sitting in my maths class, ignoring the replays of the interviews and flashbacks to previous Games, I mentally run through my lines once more. My feet tap anxiously on the cheaply laid floor, the tedious noise rebounding off of the walls. The seconds tick by purposefully slow, until finally the bell rings.
Breezing past the student population, bursting out into the fresh air, my eyes scan the sidewalk before the school, hoping to catch him before he collects his brothers on the front lawn. I scurry along the path in his direction, my eyes trained downward.
"Can I talk to you?" I ask when I finally reach him.
Well, that wasn't what I planned. I cringe at my gaff, but stand mr ground before the future miner. Gale turns to me expectantly; his mouth is set in a grim line. As his eyes scan my body, from the top of my combed hair to my scuff-free shoes, I internally brace myself for him to make another comment about my clothes. He refrains, however, and cocks his head to one side.
I know he doesn't like me. It is no secret. But this conversation is not about Gale and Madge or the Seam and the Town. It's about bringing Katniss home alive, returning her to Prim, her mother, and us. The two friends she left behind. That's all. It's business. And surely Gale understands business, right?
"About what, Undersee?"
Gale's hostility is normal, but it is heightened since our mutual best friend has been whisked away to her possible slaughter. I look around at the increasingly thickening crowd of students flooding from the school building and lean into him.
"Katniss," I mutter, hoping upon hope that no one is looking at us.
But then I remember that this is school. No one looks at me. They look through me. And that part of my fear is quelled.
If his face is hard before, it is stone now.
"Rory! Vick! Let's go!" He shouts over the crowd, turning sharply toward them and walking away from me with sturdy strides.
I hear the crunch of his boots against the loose pebbles and my stomach sinks. Desperation fills me. Oh no you don't. Katniss needs you, I think to myself and I make a desperate move. I lunge for his arm and grab it roughly, tugging on it with little force. Shocked at my act and not from the actual pressure of my pull, I think, he turns.
"I need to talk to you, Hawthorne," I insist, dropping my hand when his gaze lingers at the spot where my flesh wraps around his.
But by this point, Rory and Vick lumber up to Gale's side.
"Hi, Madge," Rory says, a large smile spreading across his face.
Vick smiles timidly up to me, looking nervously between his brother and I as though he senses the tension. I managed to return a smile to both of them. Just because their brother happens to be the most difficult boy I've ever met doesn't mean they have to suffer from me.
In the back of mind, I note just how different all the siblings are. Not only in looks, for all three of them look typical of Seam children, but their real differences lie in disposition. Gale's face never falters, always locked in a constant mask and always choosing his words carefully. Vick speaks little; however, he betrays everything with his expression. Rory stands somewhere in the middle, talking in the faith that anything he forgets to say will be painted across his wildly expressive face.
"First name terms with my brother?" Gale asks, his eyebrow quirking upward skeptically.
I open my mouth to speak, but Rory pipes up instead.
"She helps me and Prim with reading during First Block in the morning. She's good, too," Rory reaches up to slap me approvingly on the shoulder.
I laugh, looking down at him with grateful fondness. Seeing a friendly face in the middle of Gale's ocean of condescension is comforting, and the nerves in my stomach lessen at his lauding.
"Rory, can I talk to your brother alone?" I ask, giving him a small smile.
Mumbling something under his breath about "Ooh, alone!" Rory complies without protest, grabbing his silent brother by the arm and dragging him a few feet away and out of earshot.
My nerves return. But as I watch them go, I catch sight of Prim wandering out of the school building, and it gets me thinking. If Katniss can volunteer to save the life of her sister, surely I can do this one favor to try and bring her home. Gale's attitude problem is just that: a problem, but after Katniss sat with me at lunch everyday and broke the law to ensure that my family pantry was constantly stocked with strawberries, surely I can endure Gale's little problem for a few moments more.
"They don't believe you," I spit out stupidly, throwing to the wind everything that I had planned to say.
Gale allows a look of confusion to slip over his mask of indifference.
"Who?" he asks.
I take in a big gulp of breath as I suddenly realize that my heart rate has outrun me.
"The Capitol. They don't believe that you're Katniss' cousin. There are rumors that you're just saying that to get out of the way for Peeta. It's not working."
I had planned to go about everything in an oh-so-subtle manner, dipping everything in coy savior faire. That's how my dad would have done it. The only difference is that I am doing it without Peacekeepers. Yet there I am. Just spitting out whatever comes to mind. Fear makes a complete idiot of Madge Undersee, that's for sure.
"You're joking," he says, vomiting the words out as though they make him physically ill.
I shake my head, resigning myself to my stupidity and accepting it. New plans form in my mind. Bluntness might work better with a boy like Gale anyway.
"I thought you would rather hear it from me and not from my father. I didn't want him sending Peacekeepers to come find you and drag you to his office. Haymitch called last night-"
The words just come out in a big pile. I am shocked if he understands even one syllable of it. When I finally look up from the ground, his eyes are waiting for mine.
"Go home," he throws is word at me, looking grim.
Wordlessly, he storms over to his siblings and before I can even get a word out, they begin their trek toward the Seam.
So, that is the first chapter! I have about thirteen chapters written (12 of those edited) and so I will hopefully be posting once a week! Please give me feedback and input! I hope you enjoyed it!