The anthem plays, as it does every year, and as soon as it’s over a group of peacekeepers escort us into the Justice Building, leading me into one room and Katniss into another. I’m left alone for a few minutes. As I wait, I nervously run my hand back and forth across the deep velvety red fabric of the couch, which switches from light to dark as I do so. This is the time period they give us to say goodbye to our family and friends, and I nervously anticipate what they will say, what I will say. I try to run the conversation through in my head over and over, but I can never find the right words. My mouth becomes dry, my leg begins bouncing up and down.
The door opens and my family comes in. Ryean, Rotee, my mother, then my dad. My brothers sit on either side of me on the couch, sinking into it, and my parents pull up two chairs. We sit there in silence for what seems like hours, as if everyone is at a loss for words. I’m staring at my shoes, but I can feel everyone’s eyes boring into me. When I look up they’re all teary eyed, their grief spelling out all the words they cannot say. I finally decide to break the silence. “Just my luck, huh?”
My brother Rotee sighs. “Yeah, that’s bad luck bro. But maybe you could win. You’re pretty strong, you really could.”
“Thanks, but strength doesn’t stand a very good chance again knives and swords and spears, does it?” I say, sounding much more hostile than I intended.
“Well it could. Don’t give up before it’s even begun. Just learn what you can from training, and try to come home. Please,” Ryean adds, desperately. “You’re my brother- I don’t know what I would do if I lost you.” Rotee nods in agreement, as he wipes a tear from his eye.
Then my dad speaks. “Son, I love you. We love you. Just try to come back to us. Don’t go down without a fight. Show them that District Twelve has a fighting chance, too.”
I nod. My mom speaks next. “Yeah, District Twelve might finally have a winner this year. She’s a survivor, that one.”
She? She? Then I realize she’s not talking about me, she’s talking about Katniss. I don’t say anything back, what is there to say? This is probably her last chance to ever talk to me, and she says that?
Apparently she thought that would cheer me up, but all it does is remind me that in the likely scenario that I do die, Katniss still has a chance, and a good one at that. I’ve seen the squirrels she brings in, and she has the best shot: right in the eye, every time. I can imagine her sitting out the Games up in a tree someone, picking off one tribute after the next, right in the heart.
If I don’t win, I hope with all my soul that she will. But if it came down to the two of us, I know who I’d want to come home, and it’s not me.
My dad pulls out a small white box from his jacket pocket. “Here, take these. Just a little something, so you can, erm… remember home.” He sniffles, handing me the box. I open it to find the cookies I frosted this morning, and just looking at them makes my heart sink. I’m going to miss the early mornings at the bakery, frosting the cookies and the cakes and delicately placing them in the shop window for passersby to admire. It pains me too much to take them. I push the box back into my father’s hands.
“I appreciate it, Dad, but I can’t take these. They’ll make me miss you more than I already will. Go give them to Katniss. And Prim. They need it more than me.”
My dad nods, takes the box back, and returns it to his jacket pocket.
A peacekeeper comes in telling us that time’s almost up. My brothers each embrace me in a tight hug. Ryean pats my back and whispers “You can do this” in my ear. I nod, but not necessarily in agreement. Can I do this? I doubt it.
My dad is next. He holds out his hand and I take it, shaking it firmly, and before he lets go he brings me in for one last hug. My mom simply places her hand on my shoulder, gives it a squeeze, and manages the faintest of smiles. Even my mom, one of the sternest women I know, has a tear rolling down her eye.
They are escorted out the door. My dad looks back at me. “Just come home. I love you Son.” Then the door closes, and I’m left alone, drowning in my thoughts, clinging to those last words, knowing that I’ll probably never see my family again.
I sink back on the couch, close my eyes, trying to hold in tears. I wonder who will come in next to bid me goodbye.
The door opens slowly and it’s Delly Cartwright, my best friend that I’ve known for my whole life. She comes in, crying her eyes out, stumbling inside as if all the strength has left her body. I stand up and rush to give her a hug, trying to comfort her, but more than anything trying hold her up because she looks like she could collapse at any moment.
“I’m going to miss you, Peeta,” she sobs, brushing her blonde hair from her face. She tries to collect herself before she continues, “but this doesn’t have to be the final goodbye. You can win.”
I start to say, “No I can’t,” but she stops me.
“Don’t say that. You could.” We both let out a sigh. “I know how hard this is for you, Peeta, especially with Katniss,” I nod. As my confidante for life, Delly knows all about my feelings for Katniss. “But you have to stay strong,” she continues. “Tell Katniss how you feel while you still have the chance. Help her out if you can, but remember that this is your fight too. Show them what you can do.”
I nod again, and I can feel more tears welling up. Delly gives me another tight hug. “You’ve been a great friend Peeta,” she chokes behind sobs.
I hug her back. “You have too,” is all I can say. Then the door opens and the peacekeeper comes in telling us time’s up. Delly squeezes me tight and whispers goodbye in my ear. Then the door closes as the last shred of familiarity I have leaves me forever.
A peacekeeper escorts me out of the room and to a car parked outside the Justice Building. Katniss is already there. I take a seat and buckle up without making eye contact. This is the first time I’ve ever ridden in a car. I flinch a bit as the engine purrs and the car starts to move.
It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the train station. I’m staring out the window the whole way, partly to avoid Katniss’ eyes and partly to take one last look at something I’ll probably never get to see again. I can’t hold it in anymore, and I start to cry- silently, of course, not wanting Katniss to see me at my weakest. I’m overcome with grief at the series of unfortunate events that have transpired over the course of only a few short hours. Now, because of one tiny slip of paper, I’m forced to leave my home, my family, everything I know, and be put in an arena and forced to kill other kids who are in the same terrible situation. Then there’s Katniss, who only makes things worse. I could never bring myself to harm her, even if it means saving my own life.
I can’t wrap my head around it. I’ve heard the phrase “too good to be true.” This is the opposite. This is too tragic, too unfair, too cruel to be happening. These are the things of nightmares, not real life. I want to come home, I want to live, I want to see my friends and family again, but even more than that, I want those things for Katniss. I want her to take the crown, to see her family, to have the means to provide for them for the rest of their lives. She deserves that more than anyone I know. But that’s the problem, because I can’t have everything I want. There is only one Victor.
We get out of the car and onto the platform, and we’re immediately surrounded by flashing cameras and people filming our departure, no doubt to be televised for all of Panem to see. Everyone wants to get a glimpse of the tributes, especially the Capitol. They look forward to the Games every year, and they love to take bets on the winner. I’m sure no one is betting on me. Even now I’m making a bad first impression, my eyes red from tears and my body absolutely wrecked with grief: an obvious sign of weakness to anyone and everyone who is watching.
I glance over at Katniss. She’s so strong, so brave. I can’t help but envy her. She just keeps a straight face, doesn’t cry, and stays strong no matter the situation.
We manage to squeeze through the crowd and make it to the train. We stand in the doorway for a little bit while picture after picture is snapped. I hate all this attention. All I want is to be alone, where I can let all my emotions spill out.
After being nearly blinded by flashing cameras, we are guided into the train car. It starts moving before we can even sit down, making me fall sloppily into my seat. The speed of these things is remarkable. They travel at 250 miles an hour- at this rate we’ll be at the Capitol by tomorrow morning. I readjust myself in my seat and finally get a good look around the car, complete with mahogany tables, granite counters, and fine glass china. It’s amazing. At least I get to enjoy this luxury while I can. Maybe it’s the Capitol’s way of buttering us up before they viscously force us to fight for our lives. Katniss and Effie walk past me, and Effie escorts Katniss to her quarters. Everyone has their own room, something I, along with most people in District 12, have never had in their whole life.
When Effie returns, she teeters over to me, trying to stabilize herself as she attempts to walk in four inch heels on a train moving hundreds of miles an hour. “You’re compartment is two cars down. Feel free to make yourself at home. Help yourself to anything. We have plenty of fine clothes, so you can change out of…” she cringes at my wrinkled clothes “that.” She smiles fakely. “Be back here in one hour for dinner.”
I let Effie know that I’ll be there, and I rise out of my chair and walk down to my room. There’s a bed, drawers full of nice clothes, even a private bathroom. I decide to clean up a bit. I step into the shower, and it’s the most complex thing I’ve ever seen. There’s about twenty buttons and a notch just for steam control, then there’s a huge array of selections for shampoos, conditioners, and soaps of all different scents and colors. I press a whole bunch of random buttons because I have no idea what to choose. Water jets out instantly, spewing cold water in all the wrong places and causing me to shriek much too loudly. I frantically spin the temperature dial and the water becomes soothingly warm. I just stand there for awhile as water pours down on me, feeling the streams of warmth rush down my body as if washing all my problems away, if only for a little while.
I dress in some navy blue sweatpants that are insanely comfortable and throw on a soft white cotton T-shirt. I know I still have about half an hour until dinner, but I head out anyway. I want to check out the rest of the train while I can.
The first compartment I come to is simple. It has a plush couch, a coffee table, and a flat screen TV. Next, I find myself in the bar car. Haymitch Abernathy is there, as one would expect, filling a shot glass with whisky. He falls into a chair, skillfully holding his drink so not a drop spills in the process, and chugs it. He doesn’t hesitate to help himself to a refill. He downs that one just as quickly.
Haymitch speaks up, “I’m gonna go take a nap.” His voice is slurred and unsteady, and with that, he staggers out the door, letting out a huge burp before the door slams behind him.
Dinner starts in about ten minutes, so I might as well get there early.
The dining car is chock full of food everywhere you turn. People here have more than enough to eat, and yet District Twelve is starving. I sit down in a seat next to a carefully set place on the table. I rest my head on my palms and wait for Katniss and Effie, staring off into nothingness and trying to clear my mind.
“Where’s Haymitch?” Effie asks as she walks through the door, followed by Katniss.
“Last time I saw him, he said he was going to take a nap,” I answer.
“Well, it has been an exhausting day,” she says in her airy, high pitched Capitol accent, seemingly pleased to have it be just the three of us. They both take their seats. Katniss sits across from me, Effie at the end of the table.
Two people dressed in red uniforms deliver the first course of the meal in huge silver platters. They keep their heads down and never say a word. The first course is soup, creamy and delicious with a rosemary and carrot flavor. Next, a leafy green salad followed by the main course: a platter full of tender, mouthwatering lamb chops with a side of buttery mashed potatoes. I dig in, realizing I haven’t eaten since my meal of expired goods this morning- seems like pig slop compared to this. My first bite of the lamb chop is already the best thing I have ever tasted in my entire life.
“Save room! There’s still more to come!” Effie reminds us.
I disregard Effie’s comment and continue to indulge myself in the delicious foods of the Capitol. The main course is now finished and carted off.
Effie speaks again. “At least you two have decent manners. The pair last year ate like a couple of savages. It completely upset my digestion.”
Frankly I don’t care about Effie’s digestion problems. Those kids probably never had enough to eat; of course they didn’t worry about table manners when there’s a bounty of delicious food in front of them. Katniss seems to be thinking the same thing, and I can’t help but grin when I see her sneer at Effie and proceed to eat her meal as if all her table manners were forgotten.
Next comes a course of cheese and fruit. Then for dessert, my favorite, we have chocolate cake. By the end of the meal my stomach is about to burst. I’ve never had such rich food and so much of it. Katniss looks to feel the same way, but we both manage to keep it down. It wouldn’t hurt either of us to put on some weight before the games. Food won’t be delivered to us in a silver platter inside the arena. We’ll be lucky if we manage even one meal a day.
After dessert we all go into the compartment with the couch and the TV to watch the recap of the reapings from each of the twelve districts. First is District 1, with a tall boy and a small but devilish girl with a crazed look in her eye. During the District 2 reaping a huge, muscular boy eagerly volunteers. All the other districts don’t make a huge impression. There’s a boy on crutches who hobbles up to the stage in district 10. Then in district 11 there’s a sweet-looking, small, frightened twelve year old girl. She has dark skin and innocent brown eyes. I feel so bad for her, and while I know that the situation sucks for all of us, getting picked on your very first reaping and being plucked from your family at such a young age is just gut-wrenchingly horrible. The escort for the district announces her name is Rue. Then the boy tribute from the district is selected, and he’s as big as an ox, yet has this gentle giant look to him. Then we watch our own reaping. Katniss bravely steps up to save her sister. I see Gale coming up and carrying Prim away. Then I see Haymitch staggering up and falling right off the stage, making the commentators chuckle. When I watch as my name is drawn, it’s like reliving a nightmare. I quietly walk up and take my place on stage, and Katniss and I shake hands. Then they cut to the seal of Panem, play the anthem, and the screen fades to black.
“Did my wig really look like that?” Effie questions, aghast. I don’t say anything but hide a smirk. Then she adds, “Your mentor has a lot to learn about presentation. A lot about televised behavior.”
I just laugh. “He was drunk,” I say. “He’s drunk every year.”
“Every day,” Katniss chimes in to correct me. We both smile, and I feel almost relaxed for the first time since this morning, happy to be sharing such a lighthearted exchange.
Effie doesn’t seem to find it funny at all. “Yes, how odd you two find it amusing. You know your mentor is your lifeline to the world in these games. The one who advises you, lines up your sponsors, and dictates the presentation of any gifts. Haymitch can well be the difference between your life and your death!”
Then, right on queue, Haymitch walks into the room unsteadily. He slurs the words, “I miss supper?” Then he barfs all over the floor and collapses into the foul smelling pile of puke.
“So laugh away!” Effie yells. Then she leaves the room, tip toeing around the pool of vomit and slams the door.Add to favorites