I'm almost to the bottom of the massive bin of clothes. It's second nature now to fold everything that comes through. I've only got a few more articles of clothing, a District Thirteen issued sweatshirt and a pair of work pants when a husky older women dumps a new load of clean laundry into my basket.
The first time this happened I'd been annoyed. Now I simply reach in and begin folding a warm T-shirt.
Hours slip by without me noticing. Sometimes I think of Hazelle, always washing and folding clothes for other people, for money that hardly made a difference. An entire day of washing and folding could hardly get her a roll at the bakery. Then there's her husband, here with clean clothes and food in his belly every night while his son is left with the responsibility of providing for the family.
Then there's my own father… in my mind he was always the good guy. But my mother gave up everything for him, a comfortable life in Town for a man who willingly left her one day. Left her with nothing but to starving daughters. A bitterness takes over me and I have to refold the jacked I'd been working on after manhandling it.
Was I any better though? I left her and my sister. I can say that I left her more money than we'd ever had in our lifetime but money meant nothing when the shelves in the stores were empty. I also left her Gale who would work himself to death before he let any of them starve.
My heart longs for home, for my family and the ignorance of District Thirteen. I want Prim, to wake up every morning and be able to see her safe and sound even if it mean putting up with her useless cat.
I have to shake myself back to reality and realize once more that there's no place back home for me. My sister had six more Reapings and if she could make it past those, she would be fine.
When the whistle blows I go to dinner despite my guilt. I've always lost my appetite when the false voice of Effie Trinket echoes in my head. She's either calling my sister's name or one of the Hawthorne's.
I head down to the cafeteria now used to the occasional looks I receive. Certainly I look different from the majority of native District Thirteen citizens. It's been two weeks but my skin still has some tan to it. My hair is darker than most of people here as well. It's clear that I'm a refuge. There are a few here who've managed to escape their District's hold. None of these refuges are as intimidating or as renowned as the Victors who now call this place home.
From what I know, and that's limited considering I'm only the daughter of the Duly Appointed Representative of District Twelve, the country is heading into a second rebellion.
The cruelness of the Quarter Quell was too much for many people and with only a handful of tribute's left, District Thirteen destroyed the arena and rescued them. From the rumors whispered I gather one of the surviving Careers managed to kill themselves. The others… well who knows?
The Capitol managed to kill many other Victor's while others were rescued and know wandering the same halls as me.
I'd passed Gloss, the Victor from District One, on my first week here. Many girls watched him pass by with hearts in their eyes.
In the cafeteria I'm indifferent to the long lines and the steady stream of words. My tray is loaded and I head to the usual table, taking my seat between my father and Hawthorne as I've done for almost fourteen days now.
I can't help but look past the tables and see across the room to where District Two always sits, where he sits as usual.
He recognized me. Remembered me. He hasn't spoken to me and I've never looked him in the eye since my first day here. I guess it's a wordless agreement to keep quiet.
If only it were that simple.
A tray falls across from me and I know without looking up that Haymitch Abernathy's sickly yellow skin is twisted in a scowl as usual. He block my view of District Two as he stares down at his plate without a care in the world.
While I was in the woods his last tribute was killed, leaving him his reining title of 'District Twelve's Only Living Victor.'
I can't stand being around Haymitch. He was in District Twelve during the Victory Tour. He goes to Ripper enough and I'm sure he's heard all the rumors about me.
He gave me an odd look when my father introduced us, taking my hand and looking me dead in the eye as though to say oh I know.
He hadn't said anything. He never spoke, actually. Thirteen was a dry district and it was taking its toll on him. When he absolutely had to communicate he usually just groaned and sighed.
I tear my eyes away from him, focusing on the tray of food in front of me. I've gained a lot of weight since coming to District Thirteen as well as my time in the woods on my way here. Enough that my ribs no longer show and I can stand for several hours and not feel at all tired.
I can never stop thinking of Prim though, my darling sister who was so sickly when I abandoned her. I reassure myself constantly that my mother and Gale will be enough. My mother will do her best, that's something I'm confident of.
Gale will try but at 19 he has three kids of his own to feed, along with his mother and now my mother and sister. He's one person and the mines don't pay him nearly enough. Now that I'm gone I imagine he struggles to get much hunting done. Maybe he'll teach one of his brothers? I doubt it though.
I force myself to think of anything but home. The white walls of the cafeteria and the endless grey shirts give me little else to ponder.
When I wake up the next morning I don't immediately get up. In fact, I ignore my father when he comes to wake me. He always goes to breakfast early so I can afford to lay in bed for a while and play with a loose thread on my otherwise perfect blanket. Eventually I force myself up, not bothering to fix my bed. It was usually Prim who ended up making our bed. Even when she slept in my mother's room by the time I got home from a morning hunt my bed had been fixed up the best that she could considering the ripped and torn material we slept with.
I force myself to take a shower and then return to my room and at least attempt to straighten it out. I braid my hair as usual and once it's securely tied behind my back I open the door to the living space. I lean in the doorway watching my father read from a manila folder intently before finally realizing he's being watched. His hunter's senses are definitely askew. "We missed you at breakfast this morning."
"Bullshit." He does a double take on me, surprised by my language. I don't usually cuss, not in front of Prim and limited in front of my mother. I respected her enough to at least make an effort.
"You didn't miss me this morning like you haven't missed me for the last six years."
"Listen to me-"
The words leave my mouth before I can gain any control over them. "You left us for dead! Do you know what happened? How many Tessera I've taken just for one tiny meal? How much mom lost it after she thought you died? She wouldn't even talk for weeks. And Prim! Do you have any idea how much she hurt, how close she's come to dying! I don't expect you to understand though. You didn't have to listen to her crying at night, when she was starving and in pain. No, you've just been filing all your papers and going to all your meetings while I've taken care of them. You don't deserve them!" I'm aware of the hot tears falling down my face.
He stands to say something but I don't want to hear it. I run from the room, sprinting down the halls as fast as possible. I don't know where I'm going, the opposite direction of the laundry room, anyway.
I end up collapsing in a storage room, pulling my knees to my chest and sobbing into my arms. I'm in there for at least in hour, long past the time I should have reported for work. I just can't bring myself to care about folding clothes.
I begin to feel slightly embarrassed for my explosion but they were things that I needed to say. Things I'd been thinking from the moment he first reappeared in my life.
My fingers flex and I know that if I were home right now I'd be in the woods. It always calmed me to hunt. Couldn't argue with the results either, a bit more money and food.
I haven't seen the sun since I first stepped foot inside this place. I laugh, bitter and resentful. I'm glad Bise is dead. I just wish he didn't drag me down with him.
I'm reprimanded of course. When I eventually make it to work I'm immediately sent to the Disciplinary Office where I'm made to sit patiently in a small room. Only one other person is waiting as well, something about him oddly familiar. I try not to stare but instead I stare at my feet and scowl. In District Twelve I never really did get punished for anything. When I was 14 a Peacekeeper took a rabbit that I'd killed as 'confiscated goods' when it was clear he was too cheap to buy it. Other than that not even my mother punished me. Why punish the primary breadwinner?
Maybe it was a disciplinary problem on my end.
"So what are you in for?" The man asks me. I'm startled he even bothered to speak after such a long period of silence. I lean back in my chair, "skipping work. You?"
"Failing to work well with my teammates." The way he says teammates makes me believe he has no desire to work with them at all.
"I know I've seen you before. What do you do?" Usually I wouldn't care, but something about him is so familiar yet I can't put my finger on it.
"I used to be a stylist for the Capitol."
Besides Peacekeepers I'm not sure I've ever met somebody from the Capitol. I watch him shamelessly for a moment when it suddenly clicks in my mind. "You were District Twelve's stylist."
I remember him now. He set fire to the Tributes on the Seventy Fourth Hunger Games and again this year for the Quarter Quell. They'd ridden in the chariots for once not in tacky costumes or smudged in coal, but rather fierce and powerful looking. If it weren't for the whimpering and cowering the proceeded to do throughout the event.
"I'm from District Twelve." I say suddenly, as though it would actually mean something. He smiles softly and nods, "you have their features."
I try to sit in the quiet once more only now I'm more curious what such a normal looking Capitol born stylist is doing in the Disciplinary Office of District Thirteen.
"Cinna." A man pops out from a back room. The stylist, Cinna, gives me one more faint smile before going to one of the doors. I continue to wait only now alone.
Eventually I'm called to a different room by a woman. Her office is tiny and I have to squeeze into a chair in front of her desk while she sits pushed against a wall. She writes in a folder for several minutes, long enough that I begin to feel uncomfortable.
"Skipping work is a big no-no here, Miss. Everdeen."
"My apologies." I say, void of emotion or any real apology.
She finally drops her pen and watches me for a moment. "First offense after only a few weeks of residency here? I don't want to see you here too often now. Offend five times and you go before a committee that may determine that it's best you be banished from the District. Would you like that?"
"No ma'am." She seems pleased with my answer and begins to write some more.
"You'll provide community service. The walls on floor six need a good washing. You'll report there tomorrow instead of work. Clear?"
"On your way then."
I do a pretty good job of ignoring my father for the rest of the day. He tries to talk and justify his absence in my life but I just can't hear it without feeling indignant. I stay in bed until I'm sure I'm alone in the compartment the next morning. When I get my schedule it shows I'm dismissed from work and instead need to report to the Disciplinary Office.
As soon as I enter the tiny room again I'm given a work smock and sent to the sixth floor. Cinna the stylist is already there when I arrive. He tosses me a rag and then nods to the opposite wall across from him.
I dip the rag into the already murky bucket between us and begin to clean. I don't know what happens here but the walls are filthy. Like somebody covered their hands in dirt and then dragged their hands against the wall. Probably the soldiers. There the only ones permitted outside for watch duty.
It's one long hallway like all the others and with just the two of us will take us all day to clean. I'm already begging to dread the outlook of the day, especially when I take a long look at my schedule and realize I'm not permitted a lunch in the cafeteria but will have a meal brought to me and that I won't be excused until four.
"So why did you skip work?"
Without taking my eyes of the stains in front of me I answer carefully. "I got into a fight with my father."
He must turn around because his words are much softer and clearer. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I guess." I answer truthfully.
He turns back to the wall and begins to wipe his side of the wall again. "Why don't you get along with your teammates?" I ask, finding the work less boring with somebody to talk to. There's something about him that just automatically makes me like him. Even if he's from the Capitol. He's here and that must count for something.
"My job is to style the president now. It's kind of silly considering everybody wears the same thing. Anyway, her other stylists know how to sew and that's about it. I fired them pretty quickly but as it turns out the only ones allowed to change jobs is the Career Office. This is my punishment for disrupting order."
Seems a little overdramatic to me but I have to remind myself that this is an entirely different District that has its own rules and regulations. Even if he's right and they are silly.
Some time goes by before he speaks again. "You're Everdeen's daughter, aren't you?"
"I heard you left District Twelve and walked here by foot. Why?"
I haven't really told anybody but my father. Even him I didn't go into detail with. I don't really know Cinna but I have a feeling he won't go running off and telling people everything I say. Besides… It might be nice to finally get it off my chest.
Without skipping a beat he simply says, "oh." No judgment
"You don't sound surprised."
"Murder is an everyday occurrence in the Capitol."
I smile despite myself. For the rest of the morning we talk. Mostly him but I throw something in once in a while. Cinna joined an underground rebellion when he was fourteen the day after his mom didn't come home. They told him she'd been in an accident, that she'd fallen down a set of stairs at a park. This, he says, is what they tell all new orphans.
The rebellion didn't really do anything though. He lived with his aunt and eventually went to styling school, doing small jobs for TV stars before finally hitting it big as a Hunger Games stylist. "I wanted District Twelve."
"I had some ideas for it."
He asks me little things. What did I do in Twelve, my hobbies, my friends. I tell him too. I tell him everything because, really, what could he do to me from here?
At lunch a woman brings us sandwiches and juice boxes. I wipe my hands on my pants before unceremoniously chowing down. Afterwards it's back to the walls that we finally begin to make progress on.
By the end of the day my fingers are raw and wrinkled but at least I have a friend here.
I end up taking a nap until dinner. I'm only woken by a soft knock on the door and my father standing on the other side. Together we walk to the cafeteria, I know he keeps looking over to me but I refuse to speak.
Dinner is a silent affair for the most part. Sometimes they talk about work and business. When Haymitch excuses himself (and by this I mean grumble something unintelligible and then wobble away) I catch sight of the table usually reserved for District Two, currently vacant of anybody.
Hawthorne catches where my gaze has landed, "District Two is probably still quarreling amongst themselves. There an argumentative bunch."
"What are they arguing about?"
Both my father and Hawthorne look surprised at my sudden interest in another district.
"You see," says Hawthorne slowly, "a lot of soldiers and Peacekeepers come from District Two. Maybe some from the Capitol but it's a last resort there. Like a way to get out of debt or avoid some other punishment. Now remember that as a Career District, Victors are highly treasured in Two, with a great amount of influence over the citizens. If Two's Victors were to unite and say they supported the rebellion, then a majority of the Capitol's power would be gone… unfortunately the issue is still in the air."
"Nobody can agree on anything. That's all rumor of course. They're probably in a meeting right now discussing this with the President herself."
"Oh." I drop out of the conversation as I begin to realize it's really none of my business. I'm just the laundry girl. I stab at my green beans a little more violently then I should. Looking at Hawthorn I can't help but miss Gale. He would love to talk about rebelling openly. Hell, he'd probably be in charge by now.
I smile silently to myself but otherwise push the homesickness away. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.
When we get back to our compartment I try to make it straight to my room but with no such luck. "We need to talk about this morning."
I let go of the door knob and turn, back pressed to the door frame and wiping my face clean of emotions. I wish I could say the same of my voice. "I've said everything I needed to say."
Before he can get another word in I slam the door shut and go to bed.
I'm not sure how long I was asleep before the alarms began to scream.
I run out my bedroom door to meet my father who's just putting his shoes on. I do the same and follow his lead as he goes out the door.
"What's going on?" I ask him, admittedly scared by the flashing red lights. He can't hear me though. The sirens drown my voice out before it can get to him.
A mass flood of people spill into the stairway. Once they seem to get their bearings everybody, including children, appear calm and not at all frightened. Every time we turn a corner I can catch a glimpse of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who are ahead of me.
Occasionally I glance to my side to be sure I haven't yet lost my father. He too wears the same expression as the people in front of me, a calmness that betrays any other emotion he must feel at this time.
As we descend further the sirens loud calls lessen, until we finally arrive at the massive doors of an underground bunker.
I can hardly stare at them in awe, as the people behind me occasionally bump into my back.
We're required to have are arms scanned before we can enter, then after that we have to find our bunk areas.
I follow closely to my father who leads us to a number that matches up with our compartment number.
While he's gone I take a look around. I find a paper with instructions and try to read it but can't manage to focus on the words long enough for the words to make sense.
I sit on one of the bunks anxiously. I tap my fingers against the metal frame and bounce on my heels but nothing makes me feel better or slow my heartbeat from its erratic race.
I look around but all the faces blur into blank masks. I can see people lining up in the general direction that my father ran off to. I bite my lip, half tempted to find him.
Could I make it? It's not that far but there's plenty of traffic to confuse me.
There's a loud slam, the doors being sealed for our stay down here. A chill sets over me, both from fear and the coolness that slides off the cavern walls.
The last hiccup of people are passing me and finding their own bunks.
When I catch sight of my father returning he's carrying to packs. When he opens the m he reveals a thin mattress, bedding, two sets of gray clothing, a toothbrush, a comb, and a flashlight.
We set up our bunk before sitting and awaiting what to do next.
Haymitch Abernathy stumbles past us and without bothering to retrieve a pack simply collapses onto the bunk he's assigned to which rests right beside are own. Hawthorne and the one other man from District Twelve nod to us, setting up their bed and whispering quietly to each other.
"You okay?" My father asks.
"Do you know what's going on?"
He shakes his head. "It's not a drill, that much is obvious."
He looks to Hawthorne and then back to me. "I'm going to see if they know anything. Will you be alright by yourself?"
"Yes." I answer despite my uncertainty.
He goes to the others and the three of them huddle together to discuss something that must be important.
I'm startled by a thick voice, "Oh you drunk!"
I glance up, seeing a rather tall man with the end of one arm missing. I see him poking Haymitch who must have already passed out. The two of them together seems familiar and it's only when the man is stumbling away that I realize it's Chaff, a victor from District Eleven and a drinking buddy of Haymitch's. He sets up a bunk just a few away from us. Like Haymitch he hasn't bothered with retrieving his pack.
There's something about this setup that puzzles me.
A woman takes the bunk above Chaff, actually taking the time to set it up properly.
I press my lips together. Haymitch just past Hawthorne and beside my father and us… then Chaff and the woman who I know recognize as Seeder, another victor… From District Eleven.
They've organized the foreigner's by District and that means…
My eyes fall to the end of our aisle and sure enough my eyes land on the sharp features native to District Two. I recognize Brutus, a rather violent victor who stood towering above everybody else.
Other than that I can't spot anybody else. Especially when the lights dim. My attention snaps to the sudden crack and voice that that echoes through the cavern. "Thank you for such a speedy and well organized evacuation. We have reports of the Capitol firing and launching an attack. We are uncertain at this time if they are meant for us, but do not want to take any risks. More updates when they become available."
The voice is gone and it's only then that I realize how quiet it had been. Suddenly though, the room is back to its soft mummer.
I'm about to take my shoes off but stop when Haymitch waves me over. I'd thought he'd passed out.
"Everdeen, go get me a mat why don't you?" He slurs out. He can't be drunk but he still struggles to speak. I'm not sure why that is, but I do need some sort of task to busy myself with. Even if it's something as simple as getting the drunk a pack.
"Sure." I mumble, probably too low for him to pick up on.
I make my way to the station unnoticed by my father and the others. I wait in line, patient as the others appear to be. I get to the front where a man attempts to hassle me pointing out that I've already received my pack.
Eventually though, as the line behind me grows, he caves. "If Abernathy comes here and I can't give him his material, it'll be you who pays. Got that?"
I roll my eyes, taking the bag from his hands and turning to get it back to Haymitch.
Being underground must have messed with my usual hunter's senses because I could have sworn there was nobody directly behind me.
But I do end up crashing into this person who so mysteriously showed up behind me.
I'm about to mutter my apology and be on my way when he suddenly laughs.
"Fancy meeting you here Stone Face."
I'm not sure how he does it but one moment I'm in the bunker with an entire District around me and then next I'm in a room alone with him.
Around us are crates labeled with their contents and tanks that prohibit fire anywhere near them. 'Emergency Backup Supply Only' is painted in red on one wall.
I ball my fists up, finally meeting the eyes of the boy who killed mercilessly and then turned around and shook my world up.
"Why did you bring me here?" I hiss, dropping Haymitch's bag beside me and crossing my arms over my chest.
He doesn't say anything right away. I fight the urge to squirm when he looks me over, seeming to inspect every element of my person before smirking and leaning back against a pile of crates.
"How did Miss. Everdeen make it all the way here from her slum?"
"None of your business you damn brute."
He pushes off of the crates and takes a step towards me. I don't dare step back and force myself to stay firmly in place. "Stop now. You're hurting my feelings."
I scowl without meaning to as he takes another step forward. And another, and another, and one more. I can feel his breath on me and still manage not to skip backwards.
I narrow my eyes, forcing myself to lean forward when I hiss, once more, "brute." He smirks and leans forward and this time I do pull back, as his lips come closer to mine. "Everdeen." The word rolls from his tongue like poison.
"Screw you." I snap, immediately regretting my wording.
There it hangs between us, everything exposed and forced to be comprehended. It's strange that I actually like it. A secret that should be shameful thrown out in such simple context. I smile despite the heat beyond my control rushing to my face. The lights flicker as I'm sure they must do outside the room we're in.
"I did, didn't I?" I whisper, though it sounds much louder in the otherwise silence of the supply room. The words escape me before I can even comprehend them, "you must think I'm a whore." It's not Cato I'm thinking of but Bise who resonates in my mind for a moment
"I don't think that." The lights go off completely. I can hear some people yelling outside the door.
"You left me all those coins." I insist, a bit relieved that the lights are off. Maybe it should scare me, as it did months ago, that I'm alone with a monster. We're a little past that at this point, though. I can no longer see him, only feel the heat that emits from his body. I drop my head, staring in the direction my feet should be.
"You looked like you could use them."
I bark a laugh. "You don't come off to me as someone who's selfless."
"I'm really not."
"So why would you do that?" I grow frustrated, trying to understand something that should be simple.
"Isn't it obvious?" When I don't immediately respond he says in a voice I might actually consider soft, "you were my tour guide."
Before I can think of any retort I'm suddenly thrown forward, the entire ground shaking.
I'm aware a few crates falling around us, but it's the last thing I think of when I fall onto him.
My head smacks into his shoulder pretty hard because for the next few seconds I struggle to gain my bearings.
Just when I'm about to pull myself up another bomb must hit us. The ground doesn't shake nearly as much as I thought it would but I pause to see if another will hit between now and the time it will take me to stand up.
The lights dim in and out and I get a good look at Cato. More specifically I get a good look of him watching me. Butterflies spring up in my stomach as I push him away so that I can stand up and take a step back.
The voice that spoke earlier returns. "Two missiles from the Capitol just hit the surface of District Thirteen. Neither were nuclear. Please remain calm, we don't anticipate any more at this time."
Cato stands up and for a minute we simply wait for more. But there's no more bombs and slowly I pick up Haymitch's bag. I'm about to leave but before I can make myself go out the door I have to ask. "Did you tell anybody?" I know it must sounds silly but I want to know if I'm the punch line of some sick joke.
"No. Did you?" He asks curiously.
I snort. "Back home they probably figured it out. Not so much here…" I let the words linger before slipping out the door.
It takes me a while to get back to where I was. There are hoards of people who opt to stay grounded until the lights return. The safety lights that outline the floor walls are my only guide and eventually I can hear the concerned voice of my father calling my name.
"Where did you go?" He asks, pulling me into a hug and then grabbing my shoulder as though to reinforce his concern. I swing the pack beside me and nod to Haymitch. "Mr. Abernathy needed his supplies." I answer as boldly as I can.
I pull away from him and move to Haymitch, opening his bag and tossing its contents to him. The lights slowly return and it's then that I see how badly his hands are shaking. Enough that he struggles to pull the sheets over the thin mattress. I gently knock him away, something he glares at me for. I ignore him as I make his bed, straightening the mat and then putting the sheets and blankets on properly.
I think he'll leave me alone but I catch him staring past me and when I look I realize my father is now distracted by talking to a man who appears to be an official.
I don't think much of it until I realize that this was something Haymitch was waiting for.
"Where the fuck did District Two take you?" He hisses. My blood turns to ice as I turn quickly to my left and right, to be sure nobody heard.
"Nowhere." I snap back.
"Oh come on now kid! Everybody back home knows."
"They do not!" My voice raises involuntarily.
He takes in a deep breath to calm himself. "Well they can figure it out pretty easily. Now tell me the truth, is he giving you a hard time?"
Is that concern? I wave it off sure it's just my mind playing tricks on me.
"No." I've finished tucking the blanket over the sheets and now stand to look at him directly.
"So he just tells you to jump and you jump? Don't tell me your some lovesick girl."
"Why do you care?" I finally huff. I try to find a reason for him giving me such a hard time. Things like blackmail and hounding come to mind but honestly nothing seems very plausible with the former drunk.
"Look, your father's a good man. Two? Not so much. District Two is even talking of disbanding from the rebellion in favor of the Capitol. Do you know what it would do to 'dear old dad' if he knew what his little princess did with that Capitol lap dog?"
I take a deep breath to clear my mind, "he won't find out. It's none of his business just like it's not yours."
I can't sleep that night. Maybe it's the crying infants, the whimpering kids, the occasional snores or even the mad laughing.
The doors are opened the next morning. The voice I know realize is the President of Thirteen congratulates us once again, "warning shots ladies and gentlemen. Some damage has been done to the higher levels of the District, return to your compartments and if there's damage you must fill out a K-89 form for immediate reassignment."
More instructions and more forms to be filed. Luckily our compartment received no damage so after a quick shower my father gives me a quick goodbye and runs off to a spontaneous meeting.
When I get my schedule printed it tells me to go to work as I normally do.
As soon as I walk into the laundry room I understand why I was sent here while many others were given the day off. There are twice as many baskets filled to the brim with clothes. Now that I think of it I guess it makes sense that people would change out of the clothes they'd slept in as soon as they got home.
I grumble a few choice words before taking my usual station and begin folding.
I hate it here.
I'm finally dismissed for the day when a few more people report to the laundry room. They've been folding and washing for years and could probably do twice my work in half the time. The cafeteria is nearly empty when I go to lunch. Most people were probably sleeping or enjoying a free day. A rarity in Thirteen.
I grab my tray and drag it down the line where it's loaded with all sorts of food. After that I sit where District Twelve usually sits only this time I'm alone. I begin to eat rather quickly. My father and the others will arrive in about twenty minutes. I'm still not ready to speak with any of them just yet. I still feel frustrated with my father and can't help but wonder if that will ever go away.
A tray drops in front of me where Haymitch usually sits. It's not Haymitch though.
"What do you want?" I ask Cato, annoyed that he's here again. Couldn't he just leave me alone?
Ignoring me he instead takes a bite of his dessert first, as though pudding couldn't wait until after an actual meal. "You looked lonely."
"I'm not." I glance past him to where he usually sits. Empty of course. I'm about to ask him what he's doing here so early but it's just as I open my mouth that I notice how different he looks. Even more so than the day before in the supply room. Tired and agitated. There are little dark bags beneath his eyes and his hair has that just-out-of-bed quality. I close my mouth and think better of arguing with him now. I don't particularly want his company but once I'm done with my meal that'll be it.
I eat my meal silently, him doing the same. I'm just getting to my dessert when he suddenly breaks the silence that had actually been quite pleasant.
"Do you want to go outside?"
I drop by spoon and I know my mouth must be hanging open when I look at him.
"What?" I splutter out.
"I'm sick of being underground." Is all he offers up.
"Are you serious?" this time I set my spoon down. He only raises an eyebrow as though to say he's completely serious.
I purse my lips, "Wouldn't we get in trouble?"
He shakes his head. "Don't worry about that part. So? Want to?"
I miss fresh air, and wind and the smell of the woods. I nod my head before I can even think to say yes. It's the first time he smirks since he got here. He nods to the door where people begin to enter the cafeteria for the lunch rush. "Let's go." I say, standing quickly. I don't want to see my father now. I especially don't want to see him with Cato sitting with me. Haymitch either.
"You gonna eat that?" He asks, still sitting and nodding to the pudding cup on my tray.
"No time." I begin to panic when the room slowly fills.
He reaches over and takes the dessert and then stands with his own tray as we make our way to the kitchen area. I throw my tray to the pile to be cleaned, as does he save for his spoon.
We head out one of the back exits that takes us to halls I've never been to before. He doesn't speak, just takes the lid halfway off the pudding and eating it as we walk wordlessly down the hallways.
We go up the stairs that must also lead to the cavern only this time we head up. When he finishes the pudding he throws it in the trash along with a perfectly reusable spoon.
We get to the last stairwell and then down a hall. They look like compartments under the charred remains. This must be where the missiles did the most damage, I realize.
He pushes a door open and sure enough there's the remains of an old compartment, the only difference between it and my own is the small window that's been covered with a few boards. Once I'm inside the burnt compartment he closes the door and then goes to the window, prying off the boards and then pulling himself through. The window was probably much smaller before the bombs but is now big enough for somebody his size to squeeze through. I sigh, jumping up and grabbing onto the edge. I curl my toes up and try to gain support from the wall and after a lot of squirming manage to pull myself up.
He's waiting for me, looking around as I do when I stand up finally. There are a few guards far enough away with their backs turned that I don't worry over them stopping us. There are a few patches of burnt ground but they must have already gotten rid of the missiles and fixed any immediate damage.
Cato begins to walk with me following him closely. We end up in the woods opposite of where I remember coming from when I first arrived in Thirteen.
We slow down once we enter the woods. I suck in a deep breath and let my eyes wander over the foliage.
"You said you'd been in the woods that day." He says offhandedly while he watches me.
"I hunt illegally." I shrug it off as no big deal. It doesn't really matter anymore. If the Capitol somehow managed to get me they'd probably care more about District Thirteen then they would poaching.
He accepts this answer without much emotion. He takes a seat at the base of a tree, head tilted back as he stares up at the sky. I join him in this way a moment later at the tree opposite of him. It looks like it will rain later. Birds fly far overhead, some singing and others gliding through the air with such grace and freedom. I try and imagine an entire District below me now but have a hard time fathoming it.
He closes his eyes and stretches his legs out over the dirt. I watch a squirrel eye him curiously from its perch above the tree. It must stare at him for a minute before snapping out of its gaze and scurrying up the tree into the leaves and away from my view.
That's when the first trickle of water hits me. Light little pellets that hit every so often. I take another deep breath, always having been fond of the smell of rain in the woods. In the seam it kicks up the scent of death and sickness.
I smile, wishing I could freeze time to this moment regardless of the company. Speaking of the company…
He's watching me, still looking exhausted but not so much stressed. "I'm sorry."
I blink, realizing he's spoken. It takes another moment for the words to hit me. When they do I'm confused over what he could be apologizing for. "What for?"
"Getting you drunk. Having sex with you."
"I consented." I put it simply. It's the truth though. I would have at least tried to fight him like I did with Bise if I hadn't known what I was getting into.
"You were drunk. You didn't know what the hell you were doing."
"Do we really have to talk about this?" I look up to the sky as grey clouds roll in closer.
"No." He sighs and gives in.
When there is lightning and the rain begins to pour down on us we finally head back to the window. I jump down first and wait for him. Together we set the boards to at least look stable before going back the way we came.
Outside the cafeteria we pause. "I guess I'll see you around?" He asks, glancing from me to inside the massive dining hall.
I nod but before I turn to leave look down at my feet sheepishly. "Thank you… I was getting sick of it down here."
He smiles and before I can think of anything else to say he turns and leaves.
Weeks slip past me. My life becomes never ending clock work that I can predict with ease. I do not speak to my father. I realize I've received a miracle by having him back in my life but when I was eleven and crying after Prim had finally fallen asleep, wishing and lamenting the world to bring him back, I should have been more clear.
At breakfast I don't notice it. At lunch I realize there's something going on. The people around me are much more quiet compared to the rest of the room. My father keeps looking at me. Hawthorne keeps looking into the distance curiously. The other man from Twelve (I still haven't quite gotten his name) smiles like a fool.
I finish my lunch and figure I'll leave early. Clothes don't fold themselves.
Just as I'm about to go dump my tray my father say my name softly. Not like he usually does but as though he wants me to understand something terribly important. I pause simply because his ton is different today but I do not voice my curiosity. Instead I wait for him to say what it is that is so different about today.
"I've had you excused from work for the rest of the day."
I sit down once more and wait for him to continue. It's Haymitch though.
"Gettin' new recruits today, kid."
"Excuse me?" New recruits? Like soldiers?
That's when it hits me. "Like you." I hiss at my father. His eyes are downcast when he nods his head.
"So let me guess! There was a terribly tragic mining accident today?" My voice raises and the people behind us turn and watch for a moment.
"Yes." My father answers.
The others watch us for a moment before slowly getting there trays and going to dump them. I don't move and neither does my father as we continue a silent staring battle.
"It would be nice if you'd join us in welcoming them."
"Welcoming people who left their families to die?" The words must be like a punch in the gut to him and even I'm surprised at how cruel my voice is. It's true enough though.
"The second rebellion is about to begin. Anybody who's willing to help is a great asset. Now let's go." He stands with his tray and after a moment I follow him even though I want to be as far as possible.
One long hallway after another, the long white walls slowly growing in the width before finally opening into a large hovercraft station. There are people everywhere working on hovercrafts and other machinery.
I cross my arms and wait with the others, not sure where to look for the new arrivals.
The roof suddenly opens and I take that as my answer as a hovercraft slowly lands in the center of my room. The roof closes. Shame, it's a beautiful day for a tragedy. The engines hum before dying as the back door opens. We take a step forward, me in the back and not caring to see who's on board. I guess I know people who work in the mines but nobody I particularly care to see again.
It's when I catch Hawthorne's curious face that it all begins to make sense. He thinks Gale will be on that hovercraft? Ha! He wouldn't abandon our home like that.
People begin to descend the ramp. I know a few from the halls back in school but nobody really stands out. One girl who's name I think is Terra.
They all look very uncertain as they take a look around the room. I cross my arms and watch them. All pretty young. Maybe they aren't abandoning any children after all…
Then he steps off the ramp. My eyes widen and I can feel the blood rushing from my face and my heart picking up erratically. No no no no no no. Not you too Gale.
I feel my world falling apart as everything I held to be true is spit in my face as his eyes wander around the dock. He couldn't. He wouldn't leave our families like this. They needed him, wouldn't last a month without him even with the good weather right now. Soon they will be freezing and starving together. I feel lightheaded looking at my hunting partner stand there so casually and without a care in the world.
The boy beside him taps his shoulder and points. I realize he's pointing at me as Gale's eyes meet mine.
I realize a lot of people are staring at me now. Usually I'd feel embarrassed by that but today I run. I pivot on one foot and take off into a sprint. It's only when the wind hits my face that I feel the tears flying past me. Nothing will stop me though.
I know he's following me. He probably hasn't even seen his father yet. "Katniss! Katniss, wait!"
I'm back in the halls we came from. Despite the months in the mines that took its toll on his lungs he's still fast. Or desperate. Either way I hear him getting closer.
I run for a while before he catches me. He grabs my elbow and pulls me back to look at him. He grabs my shoulders before I can get away again, like he knows I will. "Katniss look at me, what's wrong?"
"What's wrong!" He doesn't realize he's killed our mothers and our siblings? "You left them too! I thought you were better than that. I thought you were different but you're not!"
"What are you talking about?" As an afterthought he throws in, "how did you get here?"
I'm sobbing harder now, the tears falling freely as I let out a pathetic whimper. I take a deep breath to steady myself. "Your mother, Vick, Rory and Posy. My mother and Prim. They won't make it without you."
Understanding finally reaches him but he still doesn't seem to understand why I'm so upset. "They'll be fine, Catnip."
"They'll find a way."
"That's not good enough and you know it."'
I hear footsteps and turn to see my father and Hawthorne just catching up. I see the slow bewilderment dawn over Gale's face as he finally sees his father. "But…"
His hands loosen their grip on my shoulders and I shrug him off, turning and running down the twists and turns of the hallways, confident I'll be alone this time.
I end up just outside of my compartment, my fingers gripping the door knob but ultimately not turning it. I turn, no longer running but walking briskly. I wipe my sleeve across my face.
Where can I go? The answer is obvious but I'm not sure I can get away with it. I go to the cafeteria but he's not there. I'm ready to just attempt going outside. If I get caught I'll take my sentence. Wall washing would be a wonderful distraction.
I'm about to go up the stairs when I glance down the hall and spot Cato talking in a circle with a few other men. Luckily he's facing my direction. I tilt my head towards the stairs and nod. I climb up and wait for him to finish talking. I can hear a faint mummer from down the hall that eventually lessens.
A few seconds later he's at the bottom of the stairs looking at me, face wiped of emotion. "You look like hell." I recall the last time I'd spoken to him how exhausted he'd looked. It doesn't matter now though.
"Take me outside again?"
He leans against the stair railing as he watches me for a moment. I realize I must look like a mess with red puffy eyes. "Well?"
"Sure." He shrugs.
He joins me up the stairs and leads the way as we go further up. It's the same route we took the last time only now the charred compartments are under construction, most looking repaired already. A few men working on the compartments spot us. One is about to say something but then realizes who Cato is and pauses. We go into the same room as before. I pause when I realize I'm alone. Cato stands at the door glaring at the men. The message is clear. Don't tell anybody what you've seen here.
I'm glad I brought him with me despite what those men must be thinking we're doing in a room alone together.
He shuts the door and comes to help me pull the boards down. He climbs out first and then waits for me outside. I can already feel the fresh air and the sun bearing down on me.
We walk to the outskirts of the woods together. I fall behind a tree and can't help but feel the tears well up again. I force them away and scold myself for such weak behavior.
He eventually comes to sit beside me at the same tree, head back and letting the sun warm his neck.
I look down at nothing in particular until I spot the prominence in my stomach. I'm hunched over but it's definitely a fat roll. I can't help it but begin to cry again. A few sobs escaping me. I'm not sure why I'm so emotional. Maybe because I'm no longer occupied with keeping people alive.
I have a fat roll and my sister will starve this winter.
"Hey… it's okay."
Is he actually trying to comfort me? I want to laugh but I just end up sobbing some more. I pull my knees to my body and let it all out.
A hand rests on my shoulders and I snap up, swirling around to its oblivious owner. "What's wrong?"
I don't know what it is about him that makes me want to cry harder and stop all at the same time but before I can stop myself I'm saying everything. Word vomit, is what my English teacher once called these sort of things. I'm saying everything, how much I resent my father and how I hate the fact that I'm eating but my family is suffering and that Gale abandoned all of them just like our fathers did and nobody seems to care because it's all for the greater good.
He listens without stopping me or complaining once. Finally, when I get it all out I have one more pathetic whimper before feeling an enormous times before.
Now that I finally slide my legs out from my chest and admire such beautiful weather can I feel embarrassed. We must sit there for a half an hour in silence, our shoulders pressed together along the trees edge. I should ask Gale how Prim and my mother are doing.
"I'm ready to go back now."
We slowly make our way back to the window, doing the same as we did last time. Just before we leave the room he blocks the door and looks down at me.
"I'm sure your sister's fine."
What does he know, he's a Career. I humor him anyway, "how's that?"
He shrugs. "Maybe this little rebellion will succeed before she dies."
I abruptly remember what Hawthorne said about District Two some time ago. "Are you guys going to tell your District to support the rebellion?"
I instantly regret asking. His face drops in a scowl and a little vein on his forehead pops up. He looks just as stressed as he did the last time he brought me outside. "Sorry." I quickly throw in. He nods and huffs as we stand in silence for a little while.
I nearly flinch when his hand suddenly reaches out and pushes a strand of hair still stuck to my cheek back. He holds it there for a minute before dropping it back to his side. "Let's go."
I'm a little surprised at such a gesture but can't bring myself to do anything about it. It just seemed to considerate. Not something we are. It's strange that we can be so comfortable around each other, though. Maybe I didn't follow the gossip too closely at school but I have seen the writings in the bathroom or overheard girls cry about what assholes guys were once you've slept with them. Nevertheless, Cato isn't the boy from District Twelve who broke up with me as soon as he got what he wanted. He's the guy who killed everybody in the Hunger Games and has no regards for rules and apparently likes dessert puddings. I'm not the girl who loved him before giving him something so intimate, or cried about it afterwards or even felt shameful. I'm the girl who killed first and questioned later. Maybe this is okay. It works. It's not normal but it could be. A blush stains my face. If he, as a guy, has needs and I needed something to take my frustration out on… I shake my head.
I stumble out of the room, ignoring the constructions crew's stare as I follow Cato down the hall as we walk in silence back to the cafeteria.
We leave the stairs once we're at the cafeteria floor and begin going through the halls, his arm occasionally brushing mine by mistake.
We turn a corner and I want to shove him away instantly.
"What is he doing here?" Gale growls once he realizes who I'm with. My father and Hawthorne are confused. Haymitch laughs.