How Do I Live Without You - LeAnn Rhymes
Man to Man - Gary Allan
Bring On The Rain - Jo Dee Messina
Love Me If You Can - Toby Keith
I Swear - John Michael Montgomery
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
- Maya Angelou
Chapter 13: Shades of Grey
Growing up in district twelve, you learn to hate the color grey. Everything around you is constantly covered in a heavy layer of soot, resulting in the gloomiest looking district in all of Panem. It's as though death lurks around every corner, constantly mocking you.
Inside the Justice Building is no different.
The floor, the desks, the walls, even the people are just shades of grey.
I catch Haymitch's glance towards me as we enter the building out of the corner of my eye. On the way here, I had told him about what happened between my father and I while he was away in the Capitol. He took everything that I said in stride, and I saw the calculating look that flickered through his eyes as he thought of how we should go about the coming conversation.
Haymitch may be a drunk, but he's incredibly smart. I also find it quite easy to speak with him, as he is a good listener, and doesn't seem to be very judgmental.
We reach the front desk quickly, and the plump woman sitting behind it recognizes me instantly.
"Oh, Madge!" She exclaims brightly, pushing her glasses up on her hooked nose as we get closer.
"Hello, Rita." I smile politely.
"I have to say that you get prettier and prettier every time I see you." She gushes, smiling the way that older women do, just enough to crinkle the sides of their eyes and make their laugh lines stand out a little bit more than usual. "You look just like your mama, you know that?"
I nod, really hoping that we could hurry up and get to the point, but that would be considered rude, and this woman has done nothing to grant her rudeness.
"How is she doing these days?" Rita continues. "I haven't seen her in a while."
"She's doing alright." I answer shortly. "She doesn't like to leave the house in case a headache comes on."
"Well you tell her that I'm thinking about her, will you?" Rita asks.
"I will," I smile, "my father wouldn't happen to be in, would he?"
"He just returned from lunch. If you'd like, you can go ahead and go into his office. He has no other meetings for the rest of the day." Rita explains sweetly.
"Thank you, Rita!" I exclaim as Haymitch and I start walking down the hall to his office.
"Anytime, darlin'!" Rita calls after me.
It doesn't take us very long at all to reach the door to my father's office, and by the time we get there, my pulse is roaring through my ears in nervousness. My clammy hands stick to the door as I move to open it, and it squeaks loudly as it opens.
"Knock, knock." I mumble meekly so as not to surprise him. He looks up from the papers scattered across his desk at the sound of my voice, and I venture further in. He looks shocked to see me standing there after weeks of not seeing me at all.
"We haven't got all day, Honeybunch." Haymitch says crassly, as he shoves the door the rest of the way open.
A look of confusion sweeps across the mayor's face as Haymitch appears behind me in the room. Haymitch doesn't hesitate to walk into the office and take a seat in one of the plush leather seats that sit on the opposite side of my father's desk. I quickly close the door, and join Haymitch in the seat beside him across from my father.
"Madge?" My father looks between Haymitch and myself, "what is the meaning behind this visit?"
"I'm sure you know this already," Haymitch answers for me, "but Snow isn't exactly happy with District Twelve after these last games."
My father's face remains stoic, but I catch the way that his left eyelid twitches just slightly.
"I'm listening," he answers, intrigued.
"Snow see's what Katniss and Peeta did in the games as a form of rebellion," Haymitch continues. "He doesn't believe the star-crossed lovers act."
My father looks away, as though he'd be able to think better this way. I wonder if it helps?
"So," my father begins slowly, "what does this have to do with Madge?"
I stay silent, fully trusting Haymitch to say what needs to be said.
"The Capitol thinks that Gale Hawthorne is much too rugged and handsome - not that I see it, personally - to just be Katniss' cousin." Haymitch begins.
"He's not her cousin, though, is he?" The mayor interrupts, confused.
"No," Haymitch concedes. "Which is the problem. The Capitol citizens are all for the love-birds; it's the surrounding districts that see through it. And the government officials in the Capitol seem to think that Katniss and Gale have something going on, which would mean that Katniss is, in fact, not in love with Peeta."
My father absorbs this information, still looking away.
"Katniss needs Gale to appear as though he really is Katniss' cousin, so, essentially, we've come up with the perfect cover for him." Haymitch continues.
My palms are even sweatier than before, and though he looks calm now, I know that the mayor is about to be angry. And I'll be the one that he takes it out on.
"That's where Madge comes in." Haymitch drops it like a bomb.
My fathers head whips around so fast that I'm surprised that it doesn't just snap. Realization dawns on the mayor's face, his mouth left hanging open as though he's a fish left out of water.
"Absolutely not!" He finally sputters out, glancing between Haymitch and myself. His face is quickly turning purple from fury, and the loss of oxygen. "Do you think that I'm a fool?" He looks at me when he says this, "you think this is your way of getting around my wishes? Go home! Now! I will see you at the house."
My heart drops to my stomach, and a heavy sweat starts at my brow. It's so hot in here. That scratchy knot that I've become all too familiar with forms in my throat. He's going to beat me again. He can't make me, I'll run from the district before I go back to that house.
"It's not a trick, Mayor." Haymitch says calmly. How the hell is he staying calm through this? The man in front of him is threatening to beat me, and he stays calm?!
"Then why are you suggesting Madge's help for a boy I know good and well that she has feelings for?" The mayor bellows.
"Because it's easy for Madge to get into the public eye." Haymitch counters. "Madge knows how to act in front of a camera, and they are already glued to her every time capitol personnel come into the district. We need that." The mayor thinks this over for a little while, saying nothing. He looks much more relaxed by the time he speaks.
"What if I say no, Haymitch?"
Haymitch lets out a breath I hadn't been aware of him holding.
"We would have to go to another girl, one he could potentially have no chemistry with, and one that would more than likely hinder us than help us in getting in front of a camera to be seen. Madge is the only girl that can do this job for a number of reason's, Mr. Mayor. Her and Gale have chemistry, it's not strained for them to be around each other. Madge can act tremendously well in front of a camera, and has no need to be coached. She's an old pro at this by now." Haymitch explains. "I'm hoping that you don't say no, but if you do, I will respect your wishes, and we will leave."
My father glances between the two of us, and I can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he processes the given information. Finally, his eyes stay on me, and he speaks in a slow, calm manner.
"You may bring him around, Madge, but only when somebody from the Capitol is around. That's not until the victory tour in a couple of months." I nod my head respectively. "I don't want to see the two of you together until then, do you understand me?"
Again, I nod my head. "Yes, sir."
"You may leave now." I quickly stand to leave and head for the door. Haymitch follows much slower than I'd like. I'm already out the door by the time Haymitch reaches it, stopping just outside the door to wait for him. I just needed to be out of the room, out of the gaze of my father. I see Haymitch turn back to look at my father.
"And Mayor," Haymitch pauses briefly, "if you ever lay a hand on her pretty little head again, I will not hesitate to kill you." He turns away immediately, and joins me in the hallway. My father doesn't come home that night. Or any of the nights that follow.
"Teach me." I tell Gale as he flawlessly shoots an arrow into another rabbit.
"Why, Princess?" He taunts, his eyes glancing over to me from underneath his dark lashes. I scowl. "You're so cute when you get mad, y'know that?"
"So I can shoot you whenever I like." I reply menacingly.
"Well then, most certainly not." He does his best imitation of a proper capitol person's voice. It's almost scary how well he achieves it. It makes me like his slow, husky drawl that much more.
"Please, Gale?" I plead, my face already warping out of it's glare.
He looks into my eyes for a moment, and I put on my most desperate face. When I was a small child, it would get me whatever I liked. I hope for the same reaction here.
After a while, Gale bows his head, and lets out a deep sigh. He makes his way over to where I sit on a large boulder, and knees my legs apart, making room for himself between my legs. I'm almost his height this way. He takes a stray strand of hair that has fallen from my pony tail into his fingers, and gently winds it around his finger in a circular motion.
"I can't, Madge." He says, finally, and my hopeful breath leaves my chest in a wave.
"Why?" I question, not missing a beat.
"I can't put you in that kind of danger." He says quietly.
"What danger?" I retort hotly. "Where's the danger in knowing how to shoot a bow? If anything, I think it would get me out of danger, wouldn't you? You know how, Katniss knows how, I'm sure you'll teach Rory once he gets old enough. Why not me, Gale?"
"Because I know you. It won't stop at just learning how, it'll turn into you sneaking out here to get food for my family, and I can't let you do that. If you were caught, you could be killed, Madge, do you understand that? I would go to bed and wake up every damn morning for the rest of my life regretting it. I risk my life every time I come out here, much less bring something back, what in the world makes you think I would put you in that kind of danger?" The words spew from Gale's mouth so quickly that I really don't even register everything that he's saying. I'm just angry.
"If anything kills you, Gale Hawthorne, it'll be your pride." I bite through my teeth.
"Breathe," Katniss whispers from behind me. "You'll miss every time if you don't breathe."
The taught string bites bitterly at the delicate skin of my right index and middle fingers, and my shoulder and bicep hurts from the strength used to pull the string back. My left arm wobbles under the weight of the bow. Maybe I wasn't built for this...
Why did nobody tell me how hard this would be? I take a deep breath, and release the string as I exhale.
"Don't come out of your stance after you shoot." Katniss instructs. "You want to be so focused on your target that you actually see the arrow pierce it."
I nod my head obediently.
"Get into position, but don't pull back the string." Katniss demands, moving to face me. I do as she says, moving the bow up and away from my body to face the target.
"Your stance is wrong." She says, but in the least condescending way possible. "Your feet need to be about shoulder length apart. They are your base. Your body needs to face away from the target at about a ninety degree angle, too, like this." She moves my body in to the position she describes. She takes a step back to admire her work.
"Much better." She approves, and hands me a narrow. I knock it, then look to her for guidance.
"Now, pull the string back, one finger above the knots on the string, and two below.:
I do as she says, instantly realizing how much more natural this feels. The weight is of the string pulling the bow into a curvature is better distributed against the three fingers, and I don't feel nearly as weak. I'm not Katniss, but at least I look like I know what I'm doing, and that's a step up from where I was a few moments ago.
"Don't release the arrow, yet. Gently bring the string back down to its resting position so that I can show you an easier way to pull it back until you get stronger." She directs. I do as she requests to the best of my ability, but the arrow still falls from the string and the tip buries into the ground.
"Sorry." I apologize quickly.
"It happens," She shrugs, nonchalantly. "Starting out, you'll have a bit of trouble pulling it back. It's okay. You'll build the muscle to pull it with practice. Start by getting into your stance, lean back a little, digging into the ground with the heels of your feet, follow your movement with your arms, and pull." She does each movement as she speaks, and effortlessly pulls the bow string back.
"Once you have the bow pulled back, you can start aiming." She continues. Her hands don't wobble, they hold the bow with a certain sureness. "The string should be against the middle of your nose, and should brush along the corner of your lip. Here, come look."
I do as she says, and take note of where the string lies against her face.
"Your turn." Katniss says, handing over the bow.
Again, I do as she has instructed. This time, I don't struggle as much with pulling the string back, and it doesn't take me nearly as long. I place the string where Katniss showed me, and remembered to breathe calmly.
"Excellent." I hear the encouragement in her voice, but keep my eyes focused on the target. "Now, aim and release."
I let the arrow fly.
Katniss continues teaching me how to shoot when she can, which is most days, and I make her promise not to tell Gale. She thinks that I plan on surprising him.
Slowly but surely, I get better.
Once I start hitting the middle of the target regularly, I go out without Katniss. My loudness scares any kind of game away, so I never fire an arrow from the bow, but I still get a sense of power from wandering through the woods with it in my hands, just knowing how to use it in case I need to know how. It gives me a sense of bravery, albeit, quite fake.
My aim is no where near as good as Gale's, and a long shot from Katniss', and I find that moving animals make a much harder target than what I'm used to. I don't know if it's my loudness that scares away the animals, or if they really do move as quickly as they do when I try to shoot them, but it becomes blaringly obvious that walking around isn't going to help me any.
I find a nice tree, make myself comfortable, and wait. it only takes a few minutes for me to start hearing the squirrels and chipmunks running around underneath the underbrush of the forest, but they never come into sight long enough for me to get a shot at them. Then I hear clucking, kind of like the chickens behind the grocer's house, but different at the same time. I sit still, trying to ruffle as few leaves as possible. Briefly, I wonder if taking my shoes off would make me any quieter when walking through the woods. They would eventually grow calluses, would they not?
Then a bird comes into view. It's huge and brown with long tail feathers, and a ugly head. But it moves slow, stopping to look around at it's surroundings every couple of steps. It's start's walking again, and I ready my bow. It's harder to pull back the bow, and harder to aim with all of the adrenaline pumping through my body. I take a deep breath just as the bird stops, and release.
I'm all but vibrating with excitement, waiting for Gale to come up out of the mines. When I shot the bird, he flipped and flopped, but eventually never stopped moving. I got him as far as I could, but he was heavy, and I don't have too much muscle. I had wanted to surprise Gale and his family at their house, but there was no way I would be able to carry it that far, and I didn't have a bag or anything to carry it in.
It felt like forever for Gale to come up, but eventually, I was able to distinguish him from all of the other soot covered men coming out of the elevator. As soon as I saw him, I ran towards him, and the smile that lit up on his face could have put out the sun if it were out and shining.
"What are you doing here?" He asked, as he lifted me up off my feet in a hug.
"I have a surprise." I beamed, barely able to contain my excitement.
"What kind of surprise?" He asked, good naturedly, wagging his eyebrows.
"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you." I giggled.
"Okay, well show me to your surprise." He smiled. I grabbed his hand, and started dragging him to his house.
When we got to the house, I had him pause outside, and I ran in to get his game bag. When I came out of the house with the burlap sack thrown over my shoulder, the look on his face turned from one of amusement to that of confusion.
"Madge?" He questioned.
"Trust me." I smiled, taking his hand in mine again, and starting for the hole in the fence.
We didn't talk on the way there, and I could tell that Gale was thoroughly confused, and lost inside his own mind. It dampened my mood, but not enough to get rid of the permanent smile etched across my face.
We went through the fence, and just into the tree line. I'd hidden the large bird on a branch, just high enough so that wild dogs and other predators couldn't get to it. I dropped Gale's hand and ran over to the bird, my smile even bigger than before.
"Look what I got!" I exclaimed, fully expecting Gale to be as proud of me as I was.
He didn't say anything.
I turned around to look at him, only to be surprised with the horror on his face.
"Gale?" I questioned, the smile disappearing from my lips to be replaced with a frown and furrowing my brow in confusion.
"Where the hell did this come from, Madge?" Gale sounded angry, but hadn't moved from the spot where he'd seen the bird.
"I shot it, Gale." His fists clenched, and his face started to turn red. I couldn't tell whether he was breathing or not. "Are you not proud of me?" I asked in a small voice.
"What the hell are you thinking, Madge?" He bellowed, completely taking me off guard. "How did you shoot it? You went behind my back?"
"I can do what I want!" I screamed back, frustrated. But he had a point. I did go behind his back. Then, in a smaller voice, I said: "I thought you would be proud of me?"
"Do you have any idea what you've done?" His voice was still raised, and his arms and hand gestures got more sporadic. "What if somebody had followed you? You could be killed for this, Madge, do you care about that?"
"I wanted to help you, Gale."
"I don't need your help!" He yelled, not caring that he hurt my feelings. "I do this because I have to! It's dangerous, and life threatening, and I need you to fucking understand that! I don't need to be down in those mine's wondering what the hell you're out here doing to get yourself killed!"
He took in my tearful expression, stomped past me, and grabbed the bird out of the tree.
"Go home." He demanded. I didn't have anything to say, so I let him go.
I stayed out there in the woods for a little while, just thinking about everything that had happened. I could understand why Gale was mad. He felt betrayed, he probably felt like he couldn't trust me anymore, and I was extremely worried about that. I almost felt like I had just ruined our relationship, and I had a horrible sinking feeling in my gut that I'd never experienced before.
It was getting dark, though. I needed to start heading home. My eyes were red and puffy from crying, my throat hurt and I couldn't breathe out of my nose. I was a mess. A disgusting, miserable mess.
I put my hood over my head, and headed home.
Only, I never got there.
So, I'm sorry for the wait... I've actually had most of this written and typed for almost two months.. I just had to edit and post it, and I'm sorry for that. I'm sure by now though, you aren't expecting a weekly update though, and I'm making no promises on ever being that way. I write when I've got free time, and I feel creative, or I'm motivated.
REVIEWS DO HELP, HOWEVER.
Let me know what y'all think (: