The next morning, I am awake and in Daddy's office before anyone has an opportunity to crack an eyelid to the bleeding sunshine. I wear my most modest of outfits, sensible shoes and no makeup. There is no telling what kind of day to look toward. I am going to the Hob with Gale Hawthorne to pool money together to save our best friend from brutal death in the arena. That is a sentence I never thought I would ever say, and I have now thought about Katniss, nightmared about her death, enough that the images and horrors of the thought no longer shoves my stomach into torturous knots. It is a cold, clinical possibility, no longer the stuff of my nightmares, but a real thing that could be lurking just around the corner. I chew on my tongue as I look down at Daddy's desk. I could easily pull open the wooden cabinet and spin the dialed lock of the silver safe that lies within. I could reach into that box and pull out my life's savings. I could do it all easily. It is all a matter of knowing where the safe is and knowing the easy five digit combination. I know both of those things. But I sit, hands in my lap, and wait for Daddy to enter his office and begin his busy morning of entertaining visitors and leading a district.
He appears a few moments after my fingers begin itching to just dive in and take what belongs to me.
"Oh!" He exclaims, his voice colored with the surprise that comes from being snuck up on by your only daughter.
I turn my head, blonde hair twirling, and look up at him. I am not nervous, but any butterflies about the upcoming day dissipate from my body as he smiles at me, wide and sincere.
"Good morning, Madge," he says, crossing close to me and folding me into his arms, awkwardly, as I remain seated in my chair.
I close my eyes in his arms and inhale the scent of his work jacket. The stale smell of our house and the scent of this week's laundry detergent push toward my nose, filling up my mind. I wonder at his enthusiasm this morning, but a small voice in the back if my mind reminds me that my best friend is very near close to death; fathers are sensitive to that sort of thing.
"Now," he says, pulling away and u buttoning his suit jacket to sit in the chair across from me, "What has gotten you away from Gale and here in my office?"
His eyes are clear as he gazes across his desk at me. He doesn't judge or condemn with his words. Instead, he folds his hands and leans closer to me with his face aglow in the room's lamplight.
"Well, I need to dip into my savings, Daddy."
I just come straight out with it, thinking of no better way to broach the subject that blunt honesty. This isn't for me. This is for Katniss. She can't get home if she starves to death in a tree. My father's smile slips only the slightest and his eyebrows raise.
"Just how much do you need?"
There is a beat before I find the voice to answer.
"All of it."
Daddy pulls back away from me, considering me for a long moment. My fingers start to tap on the knees of my long dress impatiently. I am supposed to be with Gale now; the sun is just beginning to rise and Daddy took longer than I anticipated getting in here.
"And I suppose this is for Katniss?"
I nod earnestly.
"Yes. Gale and I are making a collection for Katniss. I'm going to wire the money to Haymitch tomorrow."
He smiles at me, his eyes twinkling.
"That will look very good for the cause."
My stomach clinches at those words. I know he means well, but this isn't for the act. This is real.
"But I can't let you have all of it. It isn't sensible."
I sigh. He is right, as usual. I swallow because I don't want part of it. I want it all.
He holds a hand up.
"I have made my decision. What if Katniss needs more later? Don't waste it all now."
A moment of quiet passes between us.
"Then may I have most-" I begin to ask, but he is already out of his chair and crouching before his desk. I hear the clicking spins of the dial lock until finally a resounding metal clack pulls through the room. The safe door slides open, loudly from lack of use, and my father pulls out a nondescript brown sack, pushing it across the desk. The sound of clinking coins, many of them rubbing together, fills the otherwise still room. I stand and hold the bag-lighter than I would have liked-in both of my hands. Daddy crosses to the door and looks at me with a long, weary, fatherly stress induced sigh. He swings the door open for me and ushers me out.
"I won't even ask if you're sure. Because I already know you are."
I smile lightly. Daddy knows me so well.
When I walk into the square, carrying my coin close to my chest to avoid suspicion, Gale has his hands shoved in his pockets, staring me down. My head dips at the frustration of his stare as I shuffle closer to him. No turning back now.
"Remember when you came to my house in the middle of the night?"
He pronounces the last few words with distinct clarity and the volume raises ever so much.
He quirks his eyebrow.
"Oh, really? Because if you remember that, I thought you would remember to be here by sunrise."
I pick up my head and shoot him a sharp look. I know he is sticking his neck out for me; I know I am late. But under no circumstances will I be spoken to that way.
"Gale," I begin, my voice quietly calm, "Drop it. I'm here now."
He sighs and looks me up and down. I can tell he is trying to swallow his emotions, his understandable frustration and anger.
"Yeah," he breathes, "Let's go."
And so we walk in silence, letting the morning grow around us. We are a pair to see, I should think. A rich girl trying to look as normal as possible while carrying a bag of money and her boyfriend trying to keep his composure through it all.
"How-" he pauses as though he is wary of proceeding, "How are you today?"
I look at him out of the corner of my eye, confusion playing across my features.
"What's this about?" I ask, getting whiplash at his sudden attitude change.
He trudges onward.
"We're dating. You said yourself that we have to be nice."
He pauses a beat.
"Even if we don't feel like it."
I look at him for a moment, sighing under my breath.
"And why don't you feel like it?"
I see him smirk.
"Why don't you feel like being on time?" He whips out.
I can not help but laugh at him, just a little.
"You're not really laughing at me today, of all days, are you?"
"Today's as good a day as any to laugh at you."
This silences both of us for a few crunching steps.
"Is there anything I should know before I go in?" I ask as the Hob finally looms in the near distance.
The old coal warehouse is teeming with excited energy this morning. Trading day. Plenty of people out and about. Gale shoots me a look from the corner of his eye as they continue growing closer, pushing out a sigh that clearly says how stupid my questions are.
"Just don't ask Sae what's in the soup today. She's been touchy about that since Katniss left."
He gives me a double take, taking in the image of the bag in my arms as though this is the first time he is seeing it.
I shrug and hand it over to him.
His wrist bends with the weight of the bag in his grip, and he is silent for a great many steps, his expression totally unreadable.
"What're you doing now? Trying to show us all up?"
I stop walking.
"I can take it and go home if you'd rather that."
I grind my jaw and wait for his response. In truth, maybe there is a part of me that wants to have the biggest contribution. But I can't tell Gale that. No, we will just play the child's game of "I'll take my toys and go home" until one of us gives in. He stops and looks back at me.
"You would really do that? To Hell with Katniss to prove a point to me?"
The real answer is no. But this is a fight I plan on winning. If he can be pigheaded and antsy because Katniss is in trouble, then so can I.
"Yeah," I spit back, without a moment's hesitation.
He leans back on his hips, his eyes narrowing at me.
"I don't give you enough credit, Undersee. Not nearly enough. C'mon."
I am so occupied by his words that every nerve in my body disappears as he shoves open the door to the Hob. Our task has just begun.
I'm so sorry about the wait! Please accept my MOST sincere apologies! It is awful and I just got overwhelmed with life stuff. But please review! Even if its to tell me how much you hate me. :)