I'm up before the sun on the day following the party, as usual, rubbing the sleep from my eyes as I dig my hunting boots from the back of the closet which is bigger than my bedroom in my old house. I wonder if the size of the Victors' houses is necessary so that our family members are far enough apart that they don't hear us screaming in the night. Mother and Prim haven't once mentioned the noise; meaning that either they can't hear me, or they don't want to tell me that they can. Either way is fine with me. I don't want to talk about my dreams to them.
Prim has left a small brown paper package on the kitchen table with the word "Share" written across it in her neat handwriting, which she knows I would not do otherwise as I can smell the garlic and herbs coming from the cheese inside - my favourite. I stash it in my pocket and pilfer two rolls from the bread bin to add to our lunch.
The lawn in the Victors' Village is damp with dew as I take a shortcut straight across it and between two of the empty mansions on the other side. This route lets me get to the fence whilst giving the town as wide a berth as possible. The last thing I need this morning is to run into Effie as she organises the packing away of the party equipment.
I breath a sigh of relief when I reach the woods. Everything about the place soothes me: the sounds, the smells, the feel of the cool breeze across my face. I quickly collect my bow and knives from where I hid them before my tour and head off in the direction of the garden. That's what Gale calls a certain area of the forest where a lot of herbs and roots grow that we collect. He named in that after mocking me for digging up and echinacea plant from deeper in the woods and replanting it here; it's one of the herbs that my mother uses most regularly and I was sick of trekking for almost n hour to the patch of plants. Since then, if I find a plant growing in the middle of nowhere that I need, I move it to the garden. I get to work gathering the herbs that my mother has written in a list for me; despite being able to afford Capitol medicines, my mother insists that natural remedies are just as good and always insists that her cabinet is kept stocked.
I fill cloth pouches with marigold, peppermint and lemon balm, all of which are good for soothing cold and flu symptoms, something a lot of the Seam inhabitants suffer from at this time of year, and pick a few onions before I leave the area. Plant are all well and good, but this trip was about meat.
I just reach the clearing which is our regular meeting spot when I hear a scuffling noise approaching behind me. I quickly climb the nearest tree and draw my bow, aiming in the direction of the noise, which, from the volume, I'm suspecting might be a wild dog. I draw back my string ready to fire when I see what caused the ruckus.
"Gale!" I scold, and drop from my hiding place, "what the hell is wrong with you? You never make that much noise, I nearly shot you!".
He lifts his eyes to meet mine and I let out a chuckle at how bloodshot and weary they look, similar to what I imagine Haymitch's eyes will look like this morning.
"So it looks like someone enjoyed themselves last night" I tease, poking him in the stomach and finding amusement in how he curls in on himself as if I'd stabbed him. "I had no idea that you were such a boozer."
I sit on my usual rock, and Gale slumps against the tree I had climbed. His head tips back against the trunk as though his neck is incapable of supporting its weight.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," he says, closing his eyes, "although now I'm wondering why anybody in the world drinks more than once if this is what the day after feels like.".
"Did you drink because of what happened at my house? You were pretty angry when you left, which I still don't understand by the way." I say.
He groans and lifts his head upright to look me straight in the eye "Don't ask stupid questions Catnip." He tells me before slumping back against his support tree.
"Excuse me?" I splutter, flabbergasted at what I'm hearing "Stupid questions? I'm not the one who stormed out of a friend's house with no explanation. I'm not the one who got steaming drunk the night before the only hunting trip for a week. if anyone's being stupid here, I think it's you!"
I can feel the rage building up inside me irrationally. Gale and I always squabble, it's one of the reasons we're such good friends, but this feels different.
"Ask yourself why I left." he with his eyes shut, sounding on the verge of sleep, "If the situation was reversed and I was publicly engaged to a girl that the whole country had watched me fall in love with, would you have stayed?"
"I am not in love with Peeta!" I declare angrily. It feels good to say that out loud to the one person that it is safe to say it to. "If the situation was reversed I'd want you to so whatever it took to survive, which I had hoped is what you'd want for me."
He sighs and stands up heavily, drawing me into a clumsy hug. "I know that. Really, I do. It doesn't mean I have to like it though."
I scowl up at him and he smiles at the look on my face. For years he had told me that my angry face is the least threatening thing he's ever seen, and it's comforting that that hasn't changed, even after he's seen me ruthlessly murder other teenagers.
"Let's split up today." Gale suggests, "I'll only scare away anything you're stalking today, you'll catch more on your own. I can check all the snares and maybe set something in the stream." It's not unheard of for us to work separately, but it is not a common occurrence.
"Sure," I shrug like it is not a big deal, even though it is. "I need something big for dinner, your mother is cooking for both families tonight."
The Hawthornes were strongly against handouts, even though we have more than money than we can spend. Instead, my mother and I cut generous deals with Hazel - for example tonight, we would be providing all of the food, but Hazel will do all of the cooking, and Rory and Vick will do all of the washing up so that the family feels like they have earned their supper.
"You won't let me down." Gale says simply. His words hit me deep in my stomach and wrench my insides in a way I couldn't possibly have predicted. The never wavering faith that Gale has in me has been there for years, although it was never vocalised until he said his goodbyes before I was taken to the Games. He knew I could win; more that that, he knew I would win. I should really start trusting his judgement more.
As I turn to walk away he grabs my hand and says with complete sincerity "I want you to really try to imagine if our situations were reversed. Please."
"OK." I reply quietly "Go check the snares . I'll meet you back here."
I head deep into the woods, knowing that the bigger game avoids the parts nearest to the district, and today I want something bigger than a squirrel.
I think about what Gale said as I walk; how would I feel if it was him on television declaring his love for someone? I try my hardest to imagine it but I keep circling back to the fact that I'd want him to do anything possible to stay alive. Then I realise - what if it wasn't just the random faceless girl that I'd been imagining? Gale had dislike Peeta for years. I used to think it was because he was a merchant and therefore relatively wealthy in District 12, now I'm wondering if it was something more personal.
OK so let's look at this from a different angle: imagine Gale kissing someone I hate. One girl springs to mind easily - Rose Loden. Rose is the daughter of the most popular tailor and seamstress in the town: blonde, curvaceous due to the fact that she's never gone hungry a day in her life, and extremely beautiful. She also makes no secret about having a crush on Gale. At school she used to flip her hair and giggle whenever he was remotely nearby, and since she finished she often finds herself by the mines at the end of the day, right as the men are surfacing. To his credit, Gale does nothing to encourage her, and he has the same contempt towards her as he does all merchants in the District. I imagine Gale kissing her, and he's right: I don't like it. I imagine Gale telling her that he loves her and I hate it. I imagine Gale planning to marry her and it makes me so angry that I want to shoot something this instant.
At that moment I see a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. I spin around to see a pure white rabbit coming out of a burrow and I slowly draw my bow. White rabbits are not common, and their fur is worth a lot of coin to the town dressmaker: Rose's mother. She pays good money for pelts that can be used for lining winter hats and gloves, especially if they are intact. I crouch low and take careful aim, getting a strong sense of satisfaction when my arrow sinks directly in the rabbit's eye. The skin will bring enough money to replace Vic's shoes, which are barely functioning as footwear anymore. They are full of holes and the left sole has been nailed back on so many times he made a clacking sound with every other step he took. The shoes had been second hand when Hazel bought them for Gale, who passed them onto Rory before Vic inherited them.
Rabbit in bag, I carry on my search for dinner and luck out with a group of grouse drinking from a stream. I take out three fat birds before the rest fly away, enough to fill the stomachs of all eight of us, and have a bird spare to sell or trade. I bag the birds and make my way back to our meeting place, dreading the conversation that was coming.
"Here," I throw the white rabbit at Gale when I'm close enough, "Sell it to Mrs Loden and buy your brother some shoes. Don't tell your mother I caught it." I glare at him before he can protest, and to my satisfaction he grunts and nods.
"A trip to the Loden's shop - not my idea of a good time." he says sullenly. His unhappiness about potentially seeing Rose causes a little flutter of excitement in me, which I try to quash. " Did you think about what I said earlier?" He asks, looking earnestly at me with eyes only slightly less bloodshot than they were before.
"I did." I say reluctantly.
"You may have a point." I'm not giving him any more information than is strictly necessary.
"What point might that be?" He probes, knowing my stubbornness when it comes to talking about feelings.
"I would hate to see you with a girl that I know likes you, even if I knew you didn't return their feelings. End of story, let's not talk about this anymore" I swing my bag over my shoulder and march off in the direction of the fence. It's at least five seconds later that I hear Gale's clumsy footsteps following me.
Dinner with the Hawthornes was as easy and comfortable as always. Prim and Posey spent most of the evening putting pink ribbons in Buttercup's fur, making sure to feed scraps of grouse to the scruffy feline every few minutes to placate him. Hazel spent the evening offering everyone more and more food, still not being used to the fact that we no longer had to worry about where our next meal was coming from. After the cleaning was done, and the families were relaxing in the living room the conversation took a turn to a topic that had been brought up several times before.
"When can I come hunting with you?" Rory had been asking for years.
"You're too young." the standard reply from Gale.
"I'm the same age as when Katniss started" came Rory's defence.
"I didn't have a choice. " I tell him calmly, "It was the only way for my family to survive, and you're not exactly starving anymore." I poke him in the stomach, which has slowly but surely built up a thin layer of fat over the last year of being well-fed.
"You never know what might happen!" Rory was more agitated than normal, usually a simple 'no' would end the conversation "What if Katniss dies, then all of the money stops, this house gets taken away and we'll have no food because Gale has to work all the time. I need to learn!"
"Rory!" Hazel shouts, looking absolutely scandalised, "Do not talk about people dying. You are not learning to hunt, and I will hear no more on the topic from you."
"But -" Rory's arguments are cut off by a flash of light from the projector on the mantel above the fire and the sound of the anthem booming out around the room.
Government broadcasts are a regular occurrence, at least once a month we are reminded of the work the government and people of the Capitol do to give us the freedom and privileges we have ... yeah right.
Settling into my seat, ready to zone out and not listen, I am jolted back to reality by the sight of Caesar Flickerman; host of the Hunger Games. This cannot be good.
"Hello ladies and gentlemen of Panem!" He spreads his arms as though waiting for the applause of an adoring crowd, but none comes as he is in a garish studio, "This show is coming to you tonight and every night for the next week to prepare you for a mandatory viewing on the 12th at 7pm. On that day you will hear something so exciting, I am struggling not to tell you right now!" He lets out a noise that is half scream, half cackle as if to show his excitement. Whatever the announcement, it cannot be good. My guess would be something to do with the Quarter Quell that was happening at the next games - they always announced some horrible twist a while before the games to allow time for the reaping to be changed, but six months was far longer than usual. It must mean that this twist will worse than ever before.
Maybe Rory might need to learn how to hunt after all...