The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games 1) - Page 18


"I'd leave here," Peeta blurts out. Then he looks around nervously. It was loud enough to hear above the chimes. He laughs. "I'd go home now if they let me. But you have to admit, the food's prime."

He's covered again. If that's all you'd heard it would just sound like the words of a scared tribute, not someone contemplating the unquestionable goodness of the Capitol.

"It's getting chilly. We better go in," he says. Inside the dome, it's warm and bright. His tone is conversational. "Your friend Gale. He's the one who took your sister away at the reaping?"

"Yes. Do you know him?" I ask.

"Not really. I hear the girls talk about him a lot. I thought he was your cousin or something. You favor each other," he says.

"No, we're not related," I say.

Peeta nods, unreadable. "Did he come to say good-bye to you?"

"Yes," I say, observing him carefully. "So did your father. He brought me cookies."

Peeta raises his eyebrows as if this is news. But after watching him lie so smoothly, I don't give this much weight. "Really? Well, he likes you and your sister. I think he wishes he had a daughter instead of a houseful of boys."

The idea that I might ever have been discussed, around the dinner table, at the bakery fire, just in passing in Peeta's house gives me a start. It must have been when the mother was out of the room.

"He knew your mother when they were kids," says Peeta.

Another surprise. But probably true. "Oh, yes. She grew up in town," I say. It seems impolite to say she never mentioned the baker except to compliment his bread.

We're at my door. I give back his jacket. "See you in the morning then."

"See you," he says, and walks off down the hall.

When I open my door, the redheaded girl is collecting my unitard and boots from where I left them on the floor before my shower. I want to apologize for possibly getting her in trouble earlier. But I remember I'm not supposed to speak to her unless I'm giving her an order.

"Oh, sorry," I say. "I was supposed to get those back to Cinna. I'm sorry. Can you take them to him?"

She avoids my eyes, gives a small nod, and heads out the door.

I'd set out to tell her I was sorry about dinner. But I know that my apology runs much deeper. That I'm ashamed I never tried to help her in the woods. That I let the Capitol kill the boy and mutilate her without lifting a finger.

Just like I was watching the Games.

I kick off my shoes and climb under the covers in my clothes. The shivering hasn't stopped. Perhaps the girl doesn't even remember me. But I know she does. You don't forget the face of the person who was your last hope. I pull the covers up over my head as if this will protect me from the redheaded girl who can't speak. But I can feel her eyes staring at me, piercing through walls and doors and bedding.

I wonder if she'll enjoy watching me die.

7

My slumbers are filled with disturbing dreams. The face of the redheaded girl intertwines with gory images from earlier Hunger Games, with my mother withdrawn and unreachable, with Prim emaciated and terrified. I bolt up screaming for my father to run as the mine explodes into a million deadly bits of light.

Dawn is breaking through the windows. The Capitol has a misty, haunted air. My head aches and I must have bitten into the side of my cheek in the night. My tongue probes the ragged flesh and I taste blood.

Slowly, I drag myself out of bed and into the shower. I arbitrarily punch buttons on the control board and end up hopping from foot to foot as alternating jets of icy cold and steaming hot water assault me. Then I'm deluged in lemony foam that I have to scrape off with a heavy bristled brush. Oh, well. At least my blood is flowing.

When I'm dried and moisturized with lotion, I find an outfit has been left for me at the front of the closet. Tight black pants, a long-sleeved burgundy tunic, and leather shoes. I put my hair in the single braid down my back. This is the first time since the morning of the reaping that I resemble myself. No fancy hair and clothes, no flaming capes. Just me. Looking like I could be headed for the woods. It calms me.

Haymitch didn't give us an exact time to meet for breakfast and no one has contacted me this morning, but I'm hungry so I head down to the dining room, hoping there will be food. I'm not disappointed. While the table is empty, a long board off to the side has been laid with at least twenty dishes. A young man, an Avox, stands at attention by the spread. When I ask if I can serve myself, he nods assent. I load a plate with eggs, sausages, batter cakes covered in thick orange preserves, slices of pale purple melon. As I gorge myself, I watch the sun rise over the Capitol. I have a second plate of hot grain smothered in beef stew. Finally, I fill a plate with rolls and sit at the table, breaking oil bits and dipping them into hot chocolate, the way Peeta did on the train.

My mind wanders to my mother and Prim. They must be up. My mother getting their breakfast of mush. Prim milking her goat before school. Just two mornings ago, I was home. Can that be right? Yes, just two. And now how empty the house feels, even from a distance. What did they say last night about my fiery debut at the Games? Did it give them hope, or simply add to their terror when they saw the reality of twenty-four tributes circled together, knowing only one could live?

Haymitch and Peeta come in, bid me good morning, fill their plates. It makes me irritated that Peeta is wearing exactly the same outfit I am. I need to say something to Cinna. This twins act is going to blow up in out faces once the Games begin. Surely, they must know this. Then I remember Haymitch telling me to do exactly what the stylists tell me to do. If it was anyone but Cinna, I might be tempted to ignore him. But after last night's triumph, I don't have a lot of room to criticize his choices.

I'm nervous about the training. There will be three days in which all the tributes practice together. On the last afternoon, we'll each get a chance to perform in private before the Gamemakers. The thought of meeting the other tributes face-to-face makes me queasy. I turn the roll I have just taken from the basket over and over in my hands, but my appetite is gone.

When Haymitch has finished several platters of stew, he pushes back his plate with a sigh. He takes a flask from his pocket and takes a long pull on it and leans his elbows on the table. "So, let's get down to business. Training. First off, if you like, I'll coach you separately. Decide now."

"Why would you coach us separately?" I ask.

"Say if you had a secret skill you might not want the other to know about," says Haymitch.

I exchange a look with Peeta. "I don't have any secret skills," he says. "And I already know what yours is, right? I mean, I've eaten enough of your squirrels."


Tags: Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Science Fiction
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