Chapter 4: the mockingjays haunt...
The mockingjays haunt any chance of sleep and for the second week running I wake up five minutes before my 09:00am class.
Pulling on the nearest set of clothes, I sling my rucksack over my shoulder; my fingers hastily turn the small gold key in the lock, before locking away my bedroom door and possessions. The artificial ones, and the real ones. The real one. A photograph Madge took of my sisters and I on their birthday last year. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, despite it being September and hurricane season. We had a party on one of the local beaches for them, it blew me away the amount of people who came, but then anyone who has ever met my sisters, immediately falls in love with them.
It will be their birthday again in a couple of weeks. Fourteen years old. I wonder if I will be able to find a way to get in contact with them; email, or even a letter, I dare not hope for a phone call. I haven't spoken to them or hand any form of contact since I left home. Everything is supposed to be so much easier in the Capitol, so much more efficient, but it isn't. I am stuck in a cage, they call a campus, and although the door out is wide open, I am too afraid to leave. Every street and person looks alien and freakishly the same and frightening; I would certainly get lost looking for the Capitol post office. During orientation, they said that we would have internet in our rooms but I can't seem to get mine to work. I overhead two of the girls who reside on the same floor as me, complaining about it too outside one of their dorms, so I know it is not a question of my incompetence. There are college computers but I can't seem to log on, and I can't bring myself to ask for anyone's help. And the expensive looking cell that my grandparents brought for me, won't connect me when I try to ring their house. A capitol accent tells me that I am dialling the wrong number, but I know I'm not.
I scowl at the girl who waits and holds the door open for me, her overt smile undeterred by my own expression. It only makes my frown harshen. She doesn't know me, so why is she going out of her way to help me? Why is every one around here so fucking smiley smiley? Nobody smiles that big at someone they don't know. I wouldn't mind so much if it seemed genuine, but these Capitol smiles seemed forced, like they have been cosmetically placed... I wouldn't be surprised.
I mumble a thank-you, taking note of her perfectly placed hair, and reminding me of my own.
Untying the elastic, I run my hand through my hair, releasing the tresses from my messy sleep ridden raid braid.
My fingers get caught in one of the knots and pulls at my scalp harshly.
"Ow", I wince as I open the door to my class.
I hear a loud snort and look up to see the eyes of my 101 Culture and Civilisation class on me.
I smile apologetically at the teacher, who just shakes her head at me in return.
Eyes low, I walk quickly to my unclaimed seat at the back, ignoring the whispers between classmates as I pass.
Every time I will my eyes to avoid his, but every time they find his.
Blue like the ocean from my grandparents in the mid day sun. They twinkle at me, every time, without fail.
Sitting near the front, he looks at me with a surprised lopsided smile on his face, his eyes looking over me appraisingly.
I scowl, like always, partly at him, partly at myself, as I rush to find my seat, so as not to disturb more of the lesson.
Silence falls over the classroom again and I quietly get out my utensils for the test waiting on my desk. Every Culture and Civilisation class starts with a twenty minute test, quizzing us on what we learnt last less.
Half way through the test, my stomach rumbles loudly in the quiet classroom, and everyone snickers.
"OK, OK, everyone settle down", the teacher muses, "If you're going to arrive to my class late, at least arrive on a full stomach".
I'm glad that my hair is down, so that my thick locks can I hide my beet red face and everyone else's teasing smiles.
This is how I stay for the remainder of the lesson.
My eyes almost water over the prominent red F in the left hand corner of my test paper.
F for failure.
Before arriving here, I had never gotten an F in my life, even when on the brink of starvation because I was shifting all the available food to my sisters, the worse I had gotten was a D. With this class falling everyday at 9:00am, this is my sixth consecutive F.
'Why are you here if you have no interest?'
My teacher's notes have become less and less encouraging.
It's four am in Pruna, I would challenge anyone's brain to sit a test at four in the mor - the delicious smell of baked goods infiltrates my airways as something is placed at the edge of my desk. Shifting my gaze, my eyes feast on what has to arguably be the most enticing food I have seen since arriving at this college. A perfectly baked croissant, like the ones they used to serve at breakfast during the games.
My mouth instantly salivates, my gaze filters higher and rests on Peeta's twinkling eyes.
'Why are you here if you have no interest?'
I am here because of him.
He raises his eyebrows, his head encouraging me to eat the croissant.
He hadn't met me at the airport, and it annoys me how much it still bothers me. Since arriving at college, we frequently catch the others eyes, but this is the closest we have been to each other since the games. Where he made me and everyone else around me believe that he loved me. I don't mind if it had all been an act, like Haymitch had said, it had made me desirable during the games, it had got me sponsors and votes that I never would have been able to obtain by myself. So for that I owe him.
I want to say no to the croissant, but it just smells so amazing. Although it seems terrible to complain about food, the food they serve in the dining hall is too rich and heavy for me, most of the time I get stomach cramps after eating.
My eyes pin on the pastry in defeat, and my hand slides the plate closer to me.
"No hot chocolate?" I question, the tiniest hint of a smile forming on my lips.
But he seems to have clocked it anyway and breaks out into a full beam smile as he produces a steaming mug of hot cocoa from behind his back.
Breaking off a piece of croissant, I dunk it into the chocolate, and it tastes heavenly, so much so I have to discourage the moan that threatened to come out. Where did he get this from, I know not from the food hall, they don't have anything like this in the dining room.
"Did you make this yourself?" I ask, remembering how he used to go on about his love for baking.
"Uh no", his smile makes his eyes wrinkle. He only smiles like that when he is genuinely happy. "It's from the cafeteria".
My nose wrinkles, "I have never seen anything as good as this at the food hall", I whisper, going to take off another chunk of croissant.
"Oh God! I didn't get it from there, no one ever eats from there, that food is toxic. Please tell me thats not where you eat", his voice apprehensive.
I shake my head, but he must know it's a lie.
"… I can show you where it is, if you l - "
I shake my head, my mouth chewing on the last few crumbs. The meals at the dining room are free with my board, I am sure I will have to pay for the food at the cafeteria, and all my money is on a plastic card that I have seen no cash machine to get the money out of. I wish I had listened more during orientation, and not stood at the back of the crowd, I am sure I would know where a lot more things were.
There is still half a croissant left, but that's his half.
"Eat the rest of it …", he encourages, his eyes falling from my face to the top half of my form, "… if you want".
I suppress another smile over his thoughtfulness with another chunk of pastry, he's remembered how much I hate discussing my weight, or the lack of it. A lot of the journalists during the games would talk about it like it was something to be proud of. They would say I was too skinny, but then fawn over how well I fitted in all the dresses; one even wanted my top ten dieting secrets, so that everyone else could be too skinny like the Mockingjay. Try living in a third world country, where starving under hard manual work is an every day activity.
"I can help you if you like?"
Peeta's question interrupts my recount, I look up at him expectantly. His eyebrows indicate to the test in front of me. My mark blatant to him.
I scowl at him, hiding it with my arms from his site.
"I don't need your charity", I snap.
He chuckles, "but you'll happily eat my food".
My face heats.
"It's OK, I like feeding you", his body leans in closer to me, his lips by my ears, invading my personal space, "and you know I like it when you wear you hair down".
I keep my eyes trained on the floor until he's gone, when I hear the class room door close I sigh, quickly plaiting my hair into its usual braid.
'Today's the day. Evaluation Day. By the end of this evening twenty six will be slimmed down to twenty'
Words one of the Game's hosts blared this morning on TV whilst I was in prep with Octavia and Flavius, plays over and over again in my mind.
Evaluation Day. The sponsors narrow down the junior tributes based on how impressed they have been with each individual's athletic showman ship over the last five days. But considering there are twenty six of us to watch, it is a well known fact, and one that has been drilled into us all throughout our training sessions, that these five minute Evaluations, where you essentially get to show off to the sponsors what you can do, are just, if not more critical.
I have tried to switch off these last five day, to put all my concentration into being a versatile athlete. Training at all the different sports stations available, not only for practice, but also to show the sponsors that if they invest in me, I have the potential for being crowned the Panem Games Junior League champion. The only problem is, so has everyone else. Everyone else who is serious that is, and I would say that about three quarters of us are. And I just have this horrible knowing feeling that at the end of the day, despite all my pains, my hardest will just not be good enough.
'Don't worry, Mockingjay. You've got this'
Cinna's words to me when I went in for wardrobe this morning, tapping Madge's pin that he insists I wear everyday on my sports top. I don't know why I have someone to dress me when it is just sports gear I'm wearing, but I am thankful for my time with Cinna. He comforts me in a way I haven't been for a long time, and apart from Thresh, he seems to be the only person here who not only understands me, but I understand too.
Despite Cinna's words, I still walk into the dining hall for breakfast ringing my hands with worry. Thresh is by my side, we collect our food together, we sit down together, but while I listen to Thresh eat his next to me. I can't seem to eat mine.
"Are you ill?" Thresh's voice asks me between his mouthfuls.
I shake my head at the bowl.
"Well, then, eat", Thresh orders.
I nod, bringing a spoonful of oats to my mouth. It's not like the oats we have at home. The oats are more fine and the taste is a lot more creamier and sweet. Prim likes sweet things … It also has bits of other grains and fruits. It's delicious on a normal day. But today, … I swallow the food and it comes back up with a splutter.
Thresh lets out an annoyed sigh next to me, passing me some paper to wipe my mess. "If you don't eat, you will be weak for the trials today".
I can feel Thresh's heavy gaze on me.
It is easy for him. Not only is his body strong, but his mind is too. He has no worry over siblings to make him weak.
He sighs again, taking the bowl from me to eat himself. "Maybe try eating some fruit?"
I nod, getting up.
He has a right to be angry at me. It's disrespectful to my home and all my neighbours in the Seam to refuse food. My mother used to refuse food, I used to have to force it down her when my sister's weren't looking so as not to scare them. Grabbing a selection of different fruits - the oranges are the only ones I recognise - I go back to mine and Thresh's table.
I study one of the fruits. It is round in shape and green. There is a stalk at the top.
"It looks like an oversized dom", Thresh comments, smiling.
I smile back, it does look like a dom.
I take a bite.
"It tastes like one too, only sweeter, and not so soft", I smile.
Thresh slaps my back encouragingly, "maybe this food is to rich and warm for you", he says pleased, flashing brilliant white smile, "you are a bush baby after all".
I offer him the other one I have, but he shakes his head, continuing to eat his oats.
Someone clears their throat for our attention.
Looking up, my insides groan.
It is him again. And his little girl friend that seems to never leave his side.
"Can we join you?" he asks.
"Of course", Thresh.
I shoot Thresh a look, to which he just shrugs off.
The girl sits, but the boy still stands hovering over me.
I can feel the girl's eyes on me, and after a while I can't take it anymore, and my eyes begrudgingly look up at the idiot of a boy expectantly.
He's smiling down at me, his eyebrows waggling over the small space next to me at the edge of the bench.
I scowl harshly at him. He either wants me to move, or he wants me to move up so he can sit next to me, but I am doing neither.
Thresh's musical laugh breaks the moment, "Hunter, you know I would move up, but for your own safety, I will not", he chuckles.
The boy chuckles too, moving to go and sit next to his girl. Opposite me. "I think you're right, my man".
I narrow my eyes on him as he sits.
And Hunter? What a ridiculous name. With hands as soft as his, I would put money on him not even knowing the first thing about hunting. Let alone how to pick up a bow - never mind the arrow.
I chuckle over my joke.
"What?" the boy asks.
I shake my head, but it only causes me to laugh even more.
I yelp playfully when I feel Thresh's fingers nip at my elbow, "You're funny bone is tickled", he laughs.
My eyes plead at Thresh to understand the joke that is going on in my head. But of course he can't, and I am not mean enough to say it out loud. I will just have to tell him later, I think, sinking my teeth back into the dom-like fruit so as to suppress my amusement.
"Well, what ever it is, it has gotten your appetite back", Thresh beams, "maybe you can try again with the rich stuff, Bushbaby", he chuckles and I join in.
"Do you want to try some of this?" the boy interrupts again, pushing forward his cup. It has a thick brown liquid in it, the smell is divine … like melted chocolate.
"What is it?" Thresh asks.
"Hot chocolate", the boy answers.
Thresh makes a face, then pushes it over to me. "You should try some, maybe your stomach will be able to handle it because it is a drink"
"You're unwell?" the boy asks, and I hate the concern in his voice.
"I have some pills if you want?" the girl offers.
I frown, shaking my head.
"You should really try some", the boy tries again, and I scowl over his insistence. "...If you don't wanna share my mug, I can get you another one?"
That just makes me even angrier, that he thinks I was refusing his offer because I didn't want to share the same cup as him. I will eat from anyone's pot, as I have been raised. And just to prove it, I take his mug - as he calls it - in my hand and bring the sweet liquid to my lips.
And it is divine.
I actually can't help the embarrassingly loud groan that escapes my lips, before my tongue darts out for any residue left on them.
My eyes find the boy's to find that he is smiling at me, but not in a belittling way.
"Here", he breaks off some of his bread and passes it to me. "Croissant, it's good if you dunk it", he says tearing off another piece of his bread and demonstrating.
I follow, surprised at how easily the bread crumbles in my mouth. It is delicious too. I smile my appreciation, and he seems absolutely fine with that.
"Thresh?" he offers, and my frown is back on him. How does he know his name?
"So, Estara", Thresh, "what sport are you going to show in your Evaluation?"
Estara? How come everyone apart from me knows who everyone else is? He's addressing the girl that is always hanging around with the boy...
... With Hunter, I correct.
My eyes flitter on him.
His are of course, like always, trained on me.
He offers me a smile.
I give him a twitch back.
"… So are you going to shoot?"
I had zoned out.
"Your sport for your Evaluation. Are you going to do archery?"
I frown, how does he know -
" - Look, it's no secret, you're amazing at it", his eyes widen animatedly, "no you're more than that", he chuckles, and dimples appear in his cheek. He runs his hand through his hair, "you're even better, I just can't think of the right word", he's looking down at his mug now, and his cheeks have tinged slightly.
"You are a master", Thresh provides with a chuckle.
My eyes turn to Thresh, and as they do I realise that our conversation has attracted a lot more ears.
A lot more eyes on me.
Few show admiration.
Few show encouragement.
The majority show a expression I am all to familiar with ...
It's almost eleven at night by the time Thresh and I join in front of the television in the main room of our apartment. The Evaluation scores will be shown soon. We, like many of the other tributes, return around ten most evenings as they close down the gyms. Now having showered and gotten dressed for bed, these results are the only thing keeping me from sleep … they are also the only thing keeping me from going home.
My fingers run nervously through my damp hair as I listen to the two presenters garble on. The countdown on the television shows that here is only three minutes until the Evaluation results are revealed.
I'm not sure how well the sponsors reacted to my Evaluation, I scurried out before they could say anything. I was so nervous -
Did one of the presenter's just say my name...?
I look up at Thresh and by his face, I wasn't mistaken.
' - yes well her Evaluation tape from earlier today has been the talk of the city', the presenter flaps his hands like an excited baby bird anxious to fly, 'it really has. And this is why?'
Thresh and I swap confused looks, both of us simultaneously leaning in.
The video clip shows my first failed shot and the sponsors' reaction. Some snort with laughter, most turn their backs and interest away from me. I groan, they're showing this so they can laugh at me.
"Wait, wait for it, Panem'
My next two arrows go in.
'So you can see she can shoot'
Third arrow too
'Well we know this from what, I can only explain as mind blowing talent, that we have seen her perform in her training videos
'It was obviously just nerves'
'That many metres away from Seneca Crane, I would be too'
Sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth
'I can tell you now Cesar, my shoulders wouldn't be all that would be shaking'
The camera then shows a body of me. I'm shaking all over with nerves. No wonder I missed the first shot. The camera then shows the sponsors, who are completely ignoring me. The camera then zooms in on my face.
I remember my brain was working overdrive on to how to get their attention. The voice on the speaker had already concluded my name, signalling that my Evaluation was over, but I couldn't risk them not seeing my other nine shots…
A waiter had brought out some more food, as if they didn't have enough food already.
Images of my sisters' frail bodies had clouded my mind.
It was an exuberant fired pig with an apple it's mouth. Enough to feed a large family for a week at home.
Images of me lying with my twins in our cramped little cot, soothing them as they silently cried themselves to sleep because they were still hungry.
'I love it'.
Images of little Rue's hollow cheeks.
I remember thinking as I grabbed an arrow from one of the bull eyes and then raised my bow in the direction of the sponsors' table…
'I'm literally squirming in my seat in excitement over what's going to come'
… that I had shot many pigs before … shot them clean through the eye … and this was a still one... it wasn't going anywhere.
Thresh sucks in his breath as my arrow flies, missing Seneca Crane's profile, and shooting the apple in the pigs mouth. Right in the middle.
I bowed and then hurried out.
I can see now that Seneca Crane's face looks furious.
The video clip stops.
'LOVE it!' LOVE it. Savage but regal'
"So do I Claudius, so do I, but the question is whether the sponsors loved it?'
And in perfect timing the count down on the television flashes that there is only thirty seconds left before the two presenters reveal the results of the Evaluations.
I feel Thresh lean in close to me.
My head slowly inches up to him.
I wonder whether he thinks my actions foolish.
He's grinning at me.
His hand slaps me on the back encouragingly.
"Well, like the man there said. Either they are going to love it, or they are not. Either way you made sure you stood out".
I nibble my top lip.
I really want it.
I really want to get through.
I don't want to go back empty handed to Gale and my sisters.
My mother says she is better, but I don't believe her.
I need this. I need that prize money.
His brown eyes watch me.
He would have done shot put as his sport. I watched him clear 18 metres the other day, and it didn't even seem to phase his arms.
True enough, they show a video clip of him doing the shot-put for his evaluation.
8 … out of 12 is good.
I breathe out a sigh of relief I didn't realise I was holding.
7 is also... good …
Thresh chuckles quietly to himself and my nostrils flare.
She had tripped over the last hurdle, something that should have cost her place. But, everyone knows that the Capitol and Districts 1 - 3 tributes always make it in because the sponsors favour them. So, really there are only twelve spaces for the other nine districts to win.
All the junior tributes from districts one to three get 7 or higher - the boy from one actually gets a 9, and then both the male and female tribute from two receive a 10. Thresh let out an impressed breath. I had seen some of them in training, it was difficult not to with all the noise they made about themselves, but I do remember while I was waiting to try out on the javelin, watching the boy from one throw a pretty impressive shot.
The male tribute from District Four appears on screen, and I sit up as the results from now are what decide .
My stomach sours, that's one place gone, eleven left. There is no way Thresh is not getting in, so thats ten. Ten places for sixteen contestants.
The girl from Four doesn't do well, only receiving a 2, and I am ashamed how relieved I am.
All too soon they have reached District Twelve.
Thresh's face comes up first…
He gets a 10.
He sighs relieved, but I can't share it with him knowing that I am coming next.
I need at least a 7.
My face comes on screen.
They show the clip of me shooting the pig - oh God, it's not going to be good …
And it's … it's an 11 …!
'Wooowwweee, they liked it!'
"An eleven for pure GUTS! I LOVE it!'
The presenters react before Thresh and I do.
We're both in.
'Cesar, Never, never have I seen an Evaluation so captivating. You can real feel Katniss Everdeen's hunger to win. I almost wish that we had a camera in her apartment, so we could see her reaction'
'There you have it folks, Katniss Everdeen has brought the hunger back into the Junior Championships'
I cough out my disbelief.
I'm lying awake in bed begging for sleep. Even if it is mangled with nightmares. Tumultuous sleep is better than no sleep at all.
I would have thought that my mind would have been rested knowing that I had gotten through, but it has only made it that more real. That more reachable.
No junior league tribute has got an eleven in over a decade.
I can see my sisters' faces. See their joy. Their fat stomachs as they fight to eat another morsel of cake. Their eyes glint as they pick out another toy.
But I also know I am no where near out of the woods. I could still be going home. Our scores will be evaluated again next week and we will be narrowed down to twelve, and that will be based on sports events that I may be completely incompetent in. Yes, I have a good aim, but my muscle strength is average at best, and shot put is always an event. Good for Hunter and Thresh, but bad for me. Javelin I may be good at because of my aim, but not as good as the boy from one. And what if we have to do combat, I am lousy at combat.
I turn my head into the soft pillow and let out frustrated scream. My body is buzzing with anxiety, at least half of whom I will be competing against next week, have spent countless years outside of school sports, training in preparation for this event. Sports is a compulsory part of Pruna's education system, like all the other districts in Panem, and I did partake, although with fatigued hunger, riddled with worry about how I was going to feed my sister -
There is a loud knock.
Opening my bedroom door, there is nobody there. My head moves in the direction of Thresh's room, to find him also standing in the doorway of his room confused.
There is a knock again.
It's coming from the front door of our apartment.
"Hello?" Thresh asks at the door.
I recognise Hunter's voice at the other side.
I roll my eyes and Thresh chuckles, opening the door.
"Hi", Hunter smiles, he clears his throat.
Thresh moves out the way to let him in, but I stand my ground, folding my arms. I'm surprised his little girl friend isn't with him, I wonder how he managed to escape without her realising.
His eyes find mine. Before widening in shock.
I must have something on my face.
His eyes then start to trail down my shoulders and I clear my throat loudly before they reach my chest.
His eyes snap back up to my face, and I subconsciously wipe my hand over my face, while I try to figure out what could possibly be shocking with the way I look.
"No Katniss", Hunter stops my eyes inspecting my shoulder.
My steely glare raises to his face and pins him.
"I … I just had never seen your hair down before. I, I didn't think it would be so long, you always have it tied away in your plait, it's, it's", he clears his throat. "It's nice, you should wear it down more often".
I snort, "well that would be stupid. How can I make a clear shot with my hair waving around in my eyes".
"Good point", Hunter mumbles before clearing his throat again, and turning to address Thresh, who seems very amused by our exchange. "I just came to say congratulations to you both".
"And to you too, Hunter", Thresh goes to shake his hand.
Hunter turns to me, retracting his hands in his pocket, "well I better go", he says turning to the door.
"Yeah, thanks for waking us up", I throw, before closing the door behind him, but not quick enough to not see the hurt that crosses over his face.
"Miss Katniss", Thresh chides.
I put wrap my arms protectively around me, "what?" I ask, making my way back to my room.
"He was just being nice, the least you could be is nice back".
"I don't know how to be nice, Sir Thresh"
Thresh laughs loudly, only irritating me more. He knows I hate it when he calls me Miss Katniss, I am not his superior.
"You are the nicest persons I know. You have your father's love flowing through your veins"
I stop at the mention of my father. Like I expect Thresh knew I would.
"And it is not a weakness. It makes you strong, so strong. Like today with the Evaluations. Tell me, who were you thinking about when you shot the last arrow", my back is to Thresh and I turn to face him.
Thresh smiles, "exactly, and look, because of your love, you got the highest score that a junior tribute has been awarded in a decade".
I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes, "yeah, Thresh, I love my sisters", I choke. "I have abandoned them to win, not make friends, nothing else. I'm not going to loose focus just because some rich boy, who is used to just buying everything he wants, takes a liking to me".
"You are so concerned for your sisters. You want to win for your sister. But what about you?"
He sighs, his heavy footsteps retreating to his bedroom.
He turns at his bedroom door.
"It was the highest score in over a decade", I correct, smiling and he throws his head back and laughs.
"Oh, and you do not have to worry about the boy, Hunter, Miss Katniss. I will not let him buy you", he jokes, closing his bedroom door.
I shake my head, letting out a laugh before retreating back into my room.
Like always, morning comes to quickly, and I am awoken by loud squawking like commotion coming outside my room.
All that's scheduled for the junior tributes this weekend is Sunday's interviews, so it basically means two days off. Me and Thresh have both agreed that we would be spending it, waking up late and then spending the rest of the day in the gym and on the tracks preparing -
The commotion outside hasn't died down, if anything it seems to be getting louder. Half opening my eyes, I check the time on my bed stand.
It's five am! What could be possibly -
My bedroom door flies opens with a waft of strong smelling perfume.
All the curtains in my room open at once, at the clap of someone's hand, and fresh light streams in, burning my eyes.
I choke, my eyes trying to discern what disturbing atrocity has just walked into my room at five am in the morning when I have the weekend off.
Effie Trinket's fluorescent pink hair makes it's way towards me.
"Come on, up, up, up. It's going to be a big, big, big day!"
Hi! Thanks for the reviews and all the favourites and follows for the last chapter. I hope you guys like this one, let me know your thoughts. Until next update!