The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games 1) - Page 19

I never thought about Peeta eating the squirrels I shot. Somehow I always pictured the baker quietly going off and frying them up for himself. Not out of greed. But because town families usually eat expensive butcher meat. Beef and chicken and horse.

"You can coach us together," I tell Haymitch. Peeta nods.

"All right, so give me some idea of what you can do," says Haymitch.

"I can't do anything," says Peeta. "Unless you count baking bread."

"Sorry, I don't. Katniss. I already know you're handy with a knife," says Haymitch.

"Not really. But I can hunt," I say. "With a bow and arrow."

"And you're good?" asks Haymitch.

I have to think about it. I've been putting food on the table for four years. That's no small task. I'm not as good as my father was, but he'd had more practice. I've better aim than Gale, but I've had more practice. He's a genius with traps and snares. "I'm all right," I say.

"She's excellent," says Peeta. "My father buys her squirrels. He always comments on how the arrows never pierce the body. She hits every one in the eye. It's the same with the rabbits she sells the butcher. She can even bring down deer."

This assessment of my skills from Peeta takes me totally by surprise. First, that he ever noticed. Second, that he's talking me up. "What are you doing?" I ask him suspiciously.

"What are you doing? If he's going to help you, he has to know what you're capable of. Don't underrate yourself," says Peeta.

I don't know why, but this rubs me the wrong way. "What about you? I've seen you in the market. You can lift hundred-pound bags of flour," I snap at him. "Tell him that. That's not nothing."

"Yes, and I'm sure the arena will be full of bags of flour for me to chuck at people. It's not like being able to use a weapon. You know it isn't," he shoots back.

"He can wrestle," I tell Haymitch. "He came in second in our school competition last year, only after his brother."

"What use is that? How many times have you seen someone wrestle someone to death?" says Peeta in disgust.

"There's always hand-to-hand combat. All you need is to come up with a knife, and you'll at least stand a chance. If I get jumped, I'm dead!" I can hear my voice rising in anger.

"But you won't! You'll be living up in some tree eating raw squirrels and picking off people with arrows. You know what my mother said to me when she came to say good-bye, as if to cheer me up, she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realized, she didn't mean me, she meant you!" bursts out Peeta.

"Oh, she meant you," I say with a wave of dismissal.

"She said, 'She's a survivor, that one.' She is," says Peeta.

That pulls me up short. Did his mother really say that about me? Did she rate me over her son? I see the pain in Peeta's eyes and know he isn't lying.

Suddenly I'm behind the bakery and I can feel the chill of the rain running down my back, the hollowness in my belly. I sound eleven years old when I speak. "But only because someone helped me."

Peeta's eyes flicker down to the roll in my hands, and I know he remembers that day, too. But he just shrugs. "People will help you in the arena. They'll be tripping over each other to sponsor you."

"No more than you," I say.

Peeta rolls his eyes at Haymitch. "She has no idea. The effect she can have." He runs his fingernail along the wood grain in the table, refusing to look at me.

What on earth does he mean? People help me? When we were dying of starvation, no one helped me! No one except Peeta. Once I had something to barter with, things changed. I'm a tough trader. Or am I? What effect do I have? That I'm weak and needy? Is he suggesting that I got good deals because people pitied me? I try to think if this is true. Perhaps some of the merchants were a little generous in their trades, but I always attributed that to their long-standing relationship with my father. Besides, my game is first-class. No one pitied me!

I glower at the roll sure he meant to insult me.

After about a minute of this, Haymitch says, "Well, then. Well, well, well. Katniss, there's no guarantee they'll be bows and arrows in the arena, but during your private session with the Gamemakers, show them what you can do. Until then, stay clear of archery. Are you any good at trapping?"

"I know a few basic snares," I mutter.

"That may be significant in terms of food," says Haymitch. "And Peeta, she's right, never underestimate strength in the arena. Very often, physical power tilts the advantage to a player. In the Training Center, they will have weights, but don't reveal how much you can lift in front of the other tributes. The plan's the same for both of you. You go to group training. Spend the time trying to learn something you don't know. Throw a spear. Swing a mace. Learn to tie a decent knot. Save showing what you're best at until your private sessions. Are we clear?" says Haymitch. Peeta and I nod.

"One last thing. In public, I want you by each other's side every minute," says Haymitch. We both start to object, but Haymitch slams his hand on the table. "Every minute! It's not open for discussion! You agreed to do as I said! You will be together, you will appear amiable to each other. Now get out. Meet Effie at the elevator at ten for training."

I bite my lip and stalk back to my room, making sure Peeta can hear the door slam. I sit on the bed, hating Haymitch, hating Peeta, hating myself for mentioning that day long ago in the rain.

It's such a joke! Peeta and I going along pretending to be friends! Talking up each other's strengths, insisting the other take credit for their abilities. Because, in fact, at some point, we're going to have to knock it off and accept we're bitter adversaries. Which I'd be prepared to do right now if it wasn't for Haymitch's stupid instruction that we stick together in training. It's my own fault, I guess, for telling him he didn't have to coach us separately. But that didn't mean I wanted to do everything with Peeta. Who, by the way, clearly doesn't want to be partnering up with me, either.

I hear Peeta's voice in my head. She has no idea. The effect she can have. Obviously meant to demean me. Right? but a tiny part of me wonders if this was a compliment. That he meant I was appealing in some way. It's weird, how much he's noticed me. Like the attention he's paid to my hunting. And apparently, I have not been as oblivious to him as I imagined, either. The flour. The wrestling. I have kept track of the boy with the bread.

It's almost ten. I clean my teeth and smooth back my hair again. Anger temporarily blocked out my nervousness about meeting the other tributes, but now I can feel my anxiety rising again. By the time I meet Effie and Peeta at the elevator, I catch myself biting my nails. I stop at once.

Tags: Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Science Fiction
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