I wake somewhere new. I didn't open my eyes to confirm this, I just knew that I couldn't possibly be in the common room, nor was I in my room. A cool air wafted over my face, the low rattling of a fan evident nearby. Beyond that the room was noticeably hot, and strange, compared to the severely air continued halls of the first floor.
Around the vast space beyond the cot I laid on someone moved about, opening drawers, bumping them closed with a hip, writing on paper, clicking a pen. They mumbled a few things to themself and the voice was too deep to be female. Fear gripped me by the chest, hooked in as claws. Has he found me already? So soon? A chair's legs screeched eerily across the floor being toward me... heavy footsteps tumbling forward. I drew in tight panicked breaths the closer he got, waiting... waiting for him to reach me, to stop, to… the sound went straight passed me, and settled somewhere to my left.
Voices rose out of the silence. "How are you feeling today, Mr. Odair?"
A pained groan came in response. "Just absolutely perfect."
"You don't look too well." Velcro straps were ripped apart, the sound as loud as bones breaking. I flinched without meaning to, and prayed the two men didn't notice.
"Impossible," said Mr. Odair, voice amused. "I've never looked better."
"Must be those cheap polished plastic mirrors they give you." A hissing of air being pumped by a fist snakes through the man's words. "Deep breaths now, Mr. Odair." Slow wet breathing transformed quickly into coughing. Velcro, again, ripped apart, being removed. "Your blood pressure doesn't look too good."
Mr. Odair seemed to be trying to reply to that claim, but the coughing picked up and through the fit his words become barely distinguishable. But I'm certain I heard at least a fraction of what he'd said – "Misread."
"Sorry, Finnick," the doctor replied, on first name basis. A shudder ran through me. I'd learned through my years of hospitals that they only use your first name when they've got bad news. "You're stuck with me for the week. Not getting out of this one."
"No buts. I'll go talk to your caretaker about clothes. Do you want some books or a puzzle?"
"I want my photograph, the one by my bed. I need it. I won't sleep without it."
"Of course." There was the sound of the chair being replaced, of curtains being shut, and then heavy footsteps across a rather far distance. I counted the steps it took the doctor to reach the end of the room; fifty-two. A buzz reverberated through the air before the door opened, controlled by a key card, no doubt. My thoughts of slipping away while the doctor was out were dashed.
Part of me was urged to sit up and to look around, knowing at any moment the doctor could return. The other half stayed utterly still, afraid to move, to acknowledge the fact that I had awoken, and afraid of the other patient detecting me. The doctor hadn't been Warden Coin, evidently, and I didn't know anyone named Finnick Odair before, but who did I know? It was entirely conceivable that Finnick was a patient from Level Two, and that the doctor was a real doctor. Not him. Not working for him. Not a part of Coin's experimentation that she called curing me.
Failed curing, I corrected, a moment later. Whatever she'd tried on me has failed. My stomach is still in jumbles, an acidic burning resonating low inside. A vise of pressure pushed down on my sinuses, a blare of pain whenever I breathed. What had she put in me? Has Prim come by to do her checkup and documented the effects already? I hoped she had, so that they'd never try a dosage of that every again.
As I was contemplating getting up, I heard the sound of bed-springs creaking, to the left, and two feet thumping onto the floor, clumsy. Ridiculously, my heart kick-started. Him, him, him; a mantra in my head, pounding like the beat of a drum. I twisted in the plastic sheet, hands gripping my shirt, tempted to shove the fabric into my mouth to muffle the scream building in the back of my throat.
Shhh-rr; the medical curtain made for modesty was ripped aside. "Hey, what are you in for?" Tensed, I didn't answer the sound of Finnick's voice, nearer, right beside me. I screwed my eyes shut tighter, willed away the stranger. "Hey, are you deaf?"
Hands reached for me, I felt them, their heat. I jerked back, threw myself up and Finnick held up his appendages in surrender. "Whoa, chill." Green-blue eyes wandered over my face, and then dipped lower to the hands I had thrown out, nails long and sharp. They grew cautious and uncertain, but were beguilingly beautiful. Finnick was beautiful – suddenly, his discussion with the doctor was flooded with understanding; with the joke I hadn't understood.
We stared at each other, measured each other up. Then, slowly, Finnick's lips tilted upward. His voice became a seductive purr, "You must be new." Without invitation he slipped onto my cot beside me. I felt my insides twist together, like a spring, tightened, winded like a child's toy, about to burst. Out, I wanted to say, and choked on the word.
"I'm Finnick Odair." He waggled his eyebrows in greeting and smiled wider, revealing rows of flawlessly white teeth. "But you probably already know that, I'm pretty famous. Who wouldn't recognize this physique?" A finger traced down the side of his face, caught his chin and turned it to give me a profile view.
I raised my eyebrows, inching away. Finnick laughed.
"Don't worry; you're not the first to be intimidated by me." He patted the space I'd managed to wedge between our bodies and then lay out on his side, a leg kicked up, grin leering. "I don't bite, I swear. Talk to me." Bronze hair tangled over his forehead like an untrimmed jungle of vines. Something about that made him look unstable, the ruffled state of him, something that made him look like he belonged there; on a hospital cot.
I turned my back to him, a foot touching the tile. "Tell me your name, at least," he cooed. I stepped away, reaching for the ugly flowered medical curtain still closed on my side of the bed. "Do you always play hard to get?" He sat up again, a plead edged in his voice. "Don't go."
Too late. I slipped out of the cool circle within a curtain – that held a strange and beautiful creature in my bed – and stumbled onto the other side. I was greeted by a long hall of beds, all empty besides mine and the one left to mine, Finnick's. The hall possessed no windows, the walls were solid slabs of blue-painted concrete, and the door at the end of the hall was made of reinforced metal; a hospital ward prison. Opposite to the door was a cluttered desk area, and behind that a supply closet. I considered hiding there.
Finnick popped out behind me before I did. "Horrible place isn't it? I hate staying here." A pause, as he looked about, frowning. Then he rubbed worriedly at his jaw. "My fans will miss me."
Fans? I cocked my head, and he perked up at the tiniest sign I was listening.
"My fans," he repeated, as if it were obvious. "Most of them are in hotel rooms around mine, on floor two. Which floor are you on? You're probably on one. They like to put the kiddies on the lobby floor, and that seems appropriate." A mischievous smile breaks on his face. "Wouldn't want any young girls sneaking into the of aged star's bed would we?"
He's crazy, I thought, fleetingly, without meaning to. Ironic, because everyone in the building was legally considered crazy. Mostly. I laughed out loud. A short little burst, right in his face. Instead of being offended the man laughed with me, nodding, grinning. He liked being the one who got the jokes. He thinks he's famous, a star. He thinks he's in a hotel, and that this is a normal place. A place where he's staying… what on his way to his next modeling shoot, his debut concert, or perhaps a hosting job on a gameshow?
He's crazy. He's delusional. It was endearing somehow. Like the dimples in his cheeks.
"Are you the mute I heard about, then?" Finnick said next, breaking off the laughter. I fell still, watching him with a sharp spear of suspicion blooming in my chest. He realized his mistake in a heartbeat – I didn't know how, only that his face shifted a bit and his voice deepened. "Rue told me. She's got a mouth on her. My number one fan."
Rue. That calmed me. She talked, I knew that much. She wasn't his type. I nodded, stiffly.
"Katniss, then." Finnick held out a hand, we shook. "It's nice to meet you. Tell you what, I'll smuggle you an autograph one of these days. Make you bank on eBay. Trust me." A wink–
"What are you two doing out of your beds?"
I jerked away from Finnick at the sound of the exclamation. He remained, stood calmly where he was, completely unperturbed. "You left me in a room alone with a girl and you expected her to stay where she was?" Finnick laughed, and it sounded more like a stereotypical "HAHA!" than I'd ever heard in my life.
The doctor, strutting down the hall our way, rolled his eyes. "Get to your bed, Mr. Odair." It was not unkindly said, and there was something very kindly about the man overall. He was all jowls, belly, and round, warm smile. Thick eyebrows drew over squinty little blue eyes as he examined me. "You too, Miss Everdeen. I heard you had a rough morning and it'll be best you stay the night to be observed."
I didn't object. He couldn't touch this doctor even if he wanted to. He was too good. Only that left something else to be said; if he didn't work for him, than he was in danger of him. If I feared for myself against him, then I too feared for others who didn't even understand that he was a threat. I crept back to my cot and left the curtain wide open. There was no reason to hide (though my eyes had strayed multiple times to the supply closet during Finnick's antics) and more than one reason to keep an eye on the two men in the hospital ward with me.
"Did you bring it, Doc?" Finnick asked as he settled in his own tangle of blankets. He sounded and looked like an eager child on Christmas morning. "Can I have it?"
"As promised," said the doctor. A small framed photo passed between them. I leaned over to glimpse what it was of, but Finnick tucked it under his pillow without pause. Rushed, he immediately lay down and clutched the pillow to a cheek, eyes closed, content.
The doctor closed the curtain around him, and came to me next, a stethoscope in hand. "Do you mind if I check your ticker?" I shrugged. "Wonderful. You've got color your cheeks again. I'm glad to see you feeling better. Do you have any pain?" The question is a venture, as though testing if a cliff-side is solid, if it will give underneath him. It stands too strong to crumble. "You can point to the places that hurt," he provided a moment later, staring down at me from his stool.
I drag two fingers down the sides of my nose then tap under my ears.
"Ah, very well," he said. "Would you like something for that?" Pills, does he mean? I shook my head. "Hold still then, dear." He placed the freezing metal circle against my chest, waited, nodded, and then moved it to my back. I shivered even with the room so warm. "Perfect," he said, removing the earpieces. He took one of my wrists in hand, looked at the shining gold-rimmed watch on his wrist and counted. "Well everything sounds good to me. You just get some rest and I'll see how you're doing in the morning."
In the morning? Wasn't it just morning? On the wall over the door a clock read nearer nine at night than nine in the morning when I'd been in the group therapy session listening to Aly's wretched tale. My gut fell through my feet. All that time unconscious and susceptible to him. My skin crawled at the idea of him being around me, touching me, breathing on me, without me knowing. To hide the rush of blood leaving my face I hugged my torso and sank into the plastic sheet, rolling away from the direction the doctor's desk.
Minutes passed slowly. After a while Finnick started murmuring in his sleep, unintelligible things. I caught scarcely a word, only superfan, encore and Annie which had been repeated more than once. For a moment I allowed myself to wonder at this man. Had he ever been famous before? Was there some small sibling he had once that looked up to him just that bit too much and one too many knocks on the head drove the fantasy wild? Is there somewhere deep, deep down inside this man that knows the truth? An anguished small voice in his heart that whispers to him that he is not celebrated, but a rather plain, wild-looking man locked up in a mental asylum?
Thought I was told to rest, and sleep was tugging at me like an insistent child, I resisted. I rolled back without really knowing to watch the doctor as he went about his business. He rarely looked his patient's way. He went on for quite a long time scribbling in one of his notebooks humming a tune. More than once I caught his eyes straying to a framed photo perched on his desk. At one point he stared plainly at it for a whole minute, and then his eyes danced my way and froze at the sight of me. He smiled, turned on his chair and clicked around for a moment with a pile of disks. He placed a certain one in the laptop beside him, and a soft melody poured out of speakers hidden from above.
The music was a rising, tittering thing. Frail to begin with, I mistook a sense of peace from what he played and closed my eyes, and all too abruptly the notes crashed clumsily together and surged forward in a way that made me think of toddler thrashing at the surface of a deep lake and the ocean waves rising to drown entire cities. I liked it.
I must have fallen asleep, because next thing I knew I was jolted awake at the loud exclamation of "Father!" I scrambled to orient myself, and Finnick, behind the curtain, gasped into consciousness.
Flustered himself, the doctor got to his feet. "What is it, Magpie? I have patients sleeping in here. Don't you think you should be a bit more respectful?"
A girl pops around the frame of what I thought was a supply closet; yellow-haired, with a heart-shaped face, and eyes like two sapphire moons. She seemed almost doll-like. "I'm sorry," she said to her father, and then her gaze skated around the room, barely noting anything. "I'm sorry for waking you." 'Magpie' slipped into the hall toward the desk, a dress of white fluttering around her knees. "I can't find the spare batteries," she murmured softly, an attempt to be courteous. "It's –" Her soft voice cut off suddenly, and a spark of red blazed angrily in her cheeks. "Are you playing my tape?"
The doctor, her father, flushed too. He tapped a key on his computer. "Just for a moment."
"Dad!" she groaned. "With patients here?" The initial spark of her blush had been chagrin, but it transformed to real embarrassment when she saw me watching their interaction. "You promised."
"It completely slipped my mind. They were asleep and you know how your music calms." I blinked at the lie; he had known I was wide awake at the time he'd put the disk into the laptop.
'Magpie' scuffed a foot on the tile, and seemed to know it was a lie. "Well, it doesn't matter now. Do you know where the batteries are? I need extras for my flashlight. Delly's coming to take me camping in a week, I want to be packed."
"Of course. I must have left them in the drawer beside the stove." Together the two disappear through the door. Had I imagined it? Magpie, for just the barest moment, paused, lingered, turned her head and found my stare. She smiled a flashy, full-faced, and red lips kind of smile. Then like the bird she was titled as, she flitted from sight as if flushed from a bush by hunters, a whisk of white smoke.
"Madge is cute, isn't she?" I jumped at the sound of Finnick's voice. He slipped from his bed to mine, for the second time, though his hair was exceedingly more tussled that time, from sleep, and his eyes bleary. I didn't bother shrinking away or fleeing. Clearly he'd never learned to build, let alone recognize, boundaries. "Doctor Undersee really knows how to cook them."
"Personally, she's not my type." Stretching out, he threw his arms behind his head and stared up at the ceiling, making himself at home. When I didn't reply or ask why, he bumped his hip playfully against mine, I flinched. He smiled, just barely. "She's too normal."
He said the word as if it were a bad thing.
In no time Doctor Undersee reentered the room, and as if expecting it, spotted Finnick instantly. "Get back in your own bed, Mr. Odair. I won't tell you a third time!"
"You know, jealousy doesn't look good on you, Doc." Nonetheless the bed was mine own again.
Eventually I fell asleep again, not to be interrupted. I was fully rested by the time I heard the buzz of the door being opened and footsteps parading about the room. Someone neared me, and I pushed myself up on an elbow, rubbing my eyes, blinking. Cinna materialized in sight.
"Good morning, Katniss." He placed a plate of toast beside my cot, butter slathered and cinnamon pinched. The smell sent pangs of hunger through me and I scarfed the food down without invitation. "I see Undersee's been starving you. Probably wanted to make you beg for something and make you use that voice of yours," Cinna said.
Undersee gave a short gruff laugh and indignant huff from across the room. "Very funny."
Neither made something of the joke, sharing their smiles while the bread turned to ash in my mouth. Very funny, the doctor said. But it was a valid method to some doctors in my history. I'd been starved before, dehydrated, put in a pen with an invitation out if only I asked for them to free me. Their goal had been to make my want so vast that protective instinct in my mind would override the scar tissue of trauma that interferes with my speaking or any other mental jams and force the words from my mouth.
"How are you feeling?" Cinna asked. I looked away from his eyes, hoping he would not detect the memories running through my head; of ribs sticking painfully out, of a spine so exposed it hurt to lay on my back, of gripping the roots of my hair in supreme effort and struggling to form words, licking dry and cracked lips, grunting, trying to shape the tightening of my throat into syllables I didn't know that sat languishing on the tip of my parched tongue. There were only so many things I knew before I was five, and so many things they expected to draw out of a ten year old who had not talked in half a decade.
But then again, I'm not using the correct terms. I think 'them' and 'they', but I know it's been him the entire time. They worked for him, were controlled by him. It wouldn't be fair to blame anyone else.
To Cinna's question I managed a slim smile. I gestured to the door. I was ready to go back. Even though the hospital ward was warm and Doctor Undersee kind… and Finnick not completely terrible company, I would feel better when I knew I was near my closet again.
"This way then, Katniss." Cinna stood and did a mock bow, before helping me to my feet. It was the first time he said my first name to me and I liked the way he shaped it in the staff's unusual accents. I didn't flinch away from his cool, gentle touch. "I'll be your new caretaker on this fine new week. I hope you don't object."
Not in the least. The fact that I willingly went away with him was sign enough. As we waited for Doctor Undersee to slip his key card through the door, I turned for one last look at Finnick. He sat on his cot, legs crisscrossed, and he was hunched over his legs, and over the framed photograph that he cradled in his hands. On my tiptoes I could just make out the image in fractured hazes. I got the impression of blue and green, of height, of sunlight, and a stretch of gold, until it came down to one focus point: a sandy beach, looking down on the ocean from a lighthouse, endless sky.
Finnick began to rock, murmuring, and he pressed his hands into the frame fervently, as if praying, or as if hoping for the picture to shape and wing, and to become real.
Not normal. The words echoed in my mind; not normal, not normal, not normal.
No. We're not, I thought. And I don't mind that.