"The lamb stew," I get out.
Caesar laughs, and vaguely I realize some of the audience has joined in.
"The one with the dried plums?" asks Caesar. I nod. "Oh, I eat it by the bucketful." He turns sideways to the audience in horror, hand on his stomach. "It doesn't show, does it?" They shout reassurances to him and applaud. This is what I mean about Caesar. He tries to help you out.
"Now, Katniss," he says confidentially, "When you came out in the opening ceremonies, my heart actually stopped. What did you think of that costume?"
Cinna raises one eyebrow at me. Be honest. "You mean after I got over my fear of being burned alive?" I ask.
Big laugh. A real one from the audience.
"Yes. Start then," says Caesar.
Cinna, my friend, I should tell him anyway. "I thought Cinna was brilliant and it was the most gorgeous costume I'd ever seen and I couldn't believe I was wearing it. I can't believe I'm wearing this, either." I lift up my skirt to spread it out. "I mean, look at it!"
As the audience oohs and ahs, I see Cinna make the tiniest circular motion with his finger. But I know what he's saying. Twirl for me.
I spin in a circle once and the reaction is immediate.
"Oh, do that again!" says Caesar, and so I lift up my arms and spin around and around letting the skirt fly out, letting the dress engulf me in flames. The audience breaks into cheers. When I stop, I clutch Caesar's arm.
"Don't stop!" he says.
"I have to, I'm dizzy!" I'm also giggling, which I think I've done maybe never in my lifetime. But the nerves and the spinning have gotten to me.
Caesar wraps a protective arm around me. "Don't worry, I've got you. Can't have you following in your mentor's footsteps."
Everyone's hooting as the cameras find Haymitch, who is by now famous for his head dive at the reaping, and he waves them away good-naturedly and points back to me.
"It's all right," Caesar reassures the crowd. "She's safe with me. So, how about that training score. E-le-ven. Give us a hint what happened in there."
I glance at the Gamemakers on the balcony and bite my lip. "Um. all I can say, is I think it was a first."
The cameras are right on the Gamemakers, who are chuckling and nodding.
"You're killing us," says Caesar as if in actual pain. "Details. Details."
I address the balcony. "I'm not supposed to talk about it, right?"
The Gamemaker who fell in the punch bowl shouts out, "She's not!"
"Thank you," I say. "Sorry. My lips are sealed."
"Let's go back then, to the moment they called your sister's name at the reaping," says Caesar. His mood is quieter now. "And you volunteered. Can you tell us about her?"
No. No, not all of you. But maybe Cinna. I don't think I'm imagining the sadness on his face. "Her name's Prim. She's just twelve. And I love her more than anything."
You could hear a pin drop in the City Circle now.
"What did she say to you? After the reaping?" Caesar asks.
Be honest. Be honest. I swallow hard. "She asked me to try really hard to win." The audience is frozen, hanging on my every word.
"And what did you say?" prompts Caesar gently.
But instead of warmth, I feel an icy rigidity take over my body. My muscles tense as they do before a kill. When I speak, my voice seems to have dropped an octave. "I swore I would."
"I bet you did," says Caesar, giving me a squeeze. The buzzer goes off. "Sorry we're out of time. Best of luck, Katniss Everdeen, tribute from District Twelve."
The applause continues long after I'm seated. I look to Cinna for reassurance. He gives me a subtle thumbs-up.
I'm still in a daze for the first part of Peeta's interview. He has the audience from the get-go, though; I can hear them laughing, shouting out. He plays up the baker's son thing, comparing the tributes to the breads from their districts. Then has a funny anecdote about the perils of the Capitol showers. "Tell me, do I still smell like roses?" he asks Caesar, and then there's a whole run where they take turns sniffing each other that brings down the house. I'm coming back into focus when Caesar asks him if he has a girlfriend back home.
Peeta hesitates, then gives an unconvincing shake of his head.
"Handsome lad like you. There must be some special girl. Come on, what's her name?" says Caesar.
Peeta sighs. "Well, there is this one girl. I've had a crush on her ever since I can remember. But I'm pretty sure she didn't know I was alive until the reaping."
Sounds of sympathy from the crowd. Unrequited love they can relate to.
"She have another fellow?" asks Caesar.
"I don't know, but a lot of boys like her," says Peeta.
"So, here's what you do. You win, you go home. She can't turn you down then, eh?" says Caesar encouragingly.
"I don't think it's going to work out. Winning. won't help in my case," says Peeta.
"Why ever not?" says Caesar, mystified.
Peeta blushes beet red and stammers out. "Because. because. she came here with me."
PART II "THE GAMES"
For a moment, the cameras hold on Peeta's downcast eyes as what he says sinks in. Then I can see my face, mouth half open in a mix of surprise and protest, magnified on every screen as I realize, Me! He means me! I press my lips together and stare at the floor, hoping this will conceal the emotions starting to boil up inside of me.
"Oh, that is a piece of bad luck," says Caesar, and there's a real edge of pain in his voice. The crowd is murmuring in agreement, a few have even given agonized cries.
"It's not good," agrees Peeta.
"Well, I don't think any of us can blame you. It'd be hard not to fall for that young lady," says Caesar. "She didn't know?"
Peeta shakes his head. "Not until now."
I allow my eyes to flicker up to the screen long enough to see that the blush on my cheeks is unmistakable.
"Wouldn't you love to pull her back out here and get a response?" Caesar asks the audience. The crowd screams assent. "Sadly, rules are rules, and Katniss Everdeen's time has been spent. Well, best of luck to you, Peeta Mellark, and I think I speak for all of Panem when I say our hearts go with yours."
The roar of the crowd is deafening. Peeta has absolutely wiped the rest of us off the map with his declaration of love for me. When the audience finally settles down, he chokes out a quiet "Thank you" and returns to his seat. We stand for the anthem. I have to raise my head out of the required respect and cannot avoid seeing that every screen is now dominated by a shot of Peeta and me, separated by a few feet that in the viewers' heads can never be breached. Poor tragic us.