Effie escorts Katniss and me into the crystal elevator in the Training Center and presses the button for the 12th floor. This is where we’ll live, train, and be evaluated until the Games begin. Each district gets their own floor; ours, fittingly, is the 12th. I guess that’s one of the few perks of being from District 12一 we get to enjoy the penthouse.
The elevator glides up, reminding me of the smooth ride of the train on the way into the city just this morning. Meanwhile, Effie is gushing over our performance in the tribute parade.
“The hand-holding, that was genius! Was that Cinna’s idea? We got lucky with that one, he’s an up-and-coming legend in Capitol fashion, I’m telling you! And Katniss! When you blew kisses to the crowd I could’ve died, they just loved you! Oh and Peeta, you looked so handsome. You two make quite the pair!”
Effie has clearly never had such a successful first night before, and she’s walking on air.
“You know, my darlings, I’ve been talking you up to everyone, and I’d bet my buttons you’ll have sponsors coming out of your ears! I’ve been very mysterious, though. Because, of course, Haymitch hasn’t bothered to tell me your strategies. But I’ve done my best with what I had to work with. How Katniss sacrificed herself for her sister. How you’ve both successfully struggled to overcome the barbarism of your district.”
I clench my fists. Us? The barbaric ones? After what I’ve seen today一 the unnecessary luxuries, the surplus of food that always goes to waste, the Games themselves一 it seems as though the Capitol is as barbaric as they come. Of course, I don’t say that out loud. This week is about sucking up, about making people like you. Because they’re the ones with the money. They’re the ones that dictate whether you live or whether you die.
“Everyone has their reservations, naturally. You being from the coal district.” Effie continues without pause. “But I said, and this was very clever of me, I said, ‘Well, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls!’” Katniss and I exchange looks, but neither of us cares to burst Effie’s bubble. The Capitol is dumb enough to buy anything, anyway, so we just commend Effie for her brilliant metaphor. Pearls, diamonds, it makes no difference.
“Unfortunately I can’t seal the sponsor deals for you,” she says regretfully. “Only Haymitch can do that.” Seeing the looks on our faces and again noticing the obvious absence of our mentor, she chimes “But don’t worry, I’ll get him to the table at gunpoint if necessary.” Whether she’s trying to make a joke or not, I can’t tell, but I’m grateful for her relentless efforts to help us.
We step directly off of the elevator and into our quarters, but I can only take a single step before stopping in my tracks to admire the place. The vaulted ceilings must be over thirty feet tall, crystal chandeliers dangling down. The back wall, like the room I had lunch in today, is completely glass and offers a beautiful view of the Capitol, which is even more impressive at night. Like a child I run and dive into the plush, bright-green living room couches, which feel like a cloud. I explore the whole place, amazed by all the elaborate decorations and fancy gadgets. I could live here for years and still not see everything this place has to offer.
“Peeta dear, I know this is a very nice place, lots to explore, but dinner is in less than an hour,” Effie tells me. “So if you want to clean up and get changed before dinner, I suggest you get going. Your room is the second door on the left.” She gestures to the hallway, and I follow her directions to my room, which in itself is twice the size of the bakery back home. I get my own bathroom again, and I’m eager to wash off the makeup and hair gel from the parade. I strip out of my coal-suit and gently lay it out on my bed. When I hop in the shower, I’m overwhelmed to see that it’s even more complicated than the one on the train. More options for soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, oils, as well as dials that control temperature, pressure, steam. There’s options for the water to come out in a steady stream, a mist, even with the pressure and direction of a fire hose, though I’m not sure why anyone would want that. I experiment with the buttons and dials before fully stepping in, afraid that the wrong selection might burn or bruise my skin. Once I’m satisfied, I step inside and just stand under the stream for a few minutes, basking in the shower’s glory. Realizing the clock to dinnertime is ticking, I hurry up and choose my shampoo, conditioner and body wash, going for a forest pine scent. Once clean and rid of the goop from the day’s makeover, I step out of the shower and onto the bathmat. Before I even have time to realize there’s no towel, hot air emits from above and below me, blow-drying me in seconds.
I try opening the door to my wardrobe to find something to wear, but when I do the screen next to the handle lights up, displaying a selection of clothing options. I click on an image of a set of red flannel pajamas, and seconds later the outfit ejects out on a tray, perfectly folded and warm to the touch.
I head to the dining room, and I’m delighted to find Portia and Cinna. Portia is sitting on the couch, looking into her compact and adjusting her eye makeup. I wave and say hello, and she returns the greeting. Cinna is out on the balcony overlooking the city, and I decide to join him. I could use some fresh air, and I’d like to get to know Katniss’ stylist as well as mine.
He senses me approaching. “Well done tonight, Peeta,” he says with a smile. “They won’t soon forget you.”
“Thank you,” I say, truly grateful for his help. “It’s all thanks you guys.”
“Happy to help. I requested District 12, you know. Most stylists would give anything to not get “stuck” with you, but I saw it as a great opportunity to help the underdog.”
“Katniss and I are indebted to you,” I say. “Thanks for giving us a chance.” It’s silent for a moment as Cinna and I gaze out over the Capitol night lights. “What a view,” I say, relaxing.
“I know where we can see a better one.” Says Cinna. “Here, follow me.”
I eagerly walk alongside Cinna as he leads us to a flight of stairs, which take us directly to the roof. He opens the door leading outside and the strong wind slams it shuts behind us. I walk to the edge and lean on the railing, taking in the sight. The Capitol lights flicker and the moon shines above us, illuminating the mountains, blue against the deep night sky. Below us I see the headlights of cars zooming along the streets, occasionally honking or screeching to a stop.
A thought intrudes my mind, and I think about jumping. I would never do it一 I still feel like I have work to do, protecting Katniss, before my imminent death in the Games一 but I consider the possibility.
“Hey Cinna, why do they let us up here?” Cinna doesn’t seem t understand my question at first. “I mean, they want us to be in one piece before the Games, but hypothetically,” I continue, “wouldn’t it be easy for us to just jump off the roof, kill ourselves before the other tributes get the chance to?”
Cinna chuckles. “You think they haven’t thought of that?” He removes a pen from his coat pocket, tossing it over the railing. Suddenly I hear a zap as the pen is rebounded and launched right back at Cinna, who catches it again. “Electric field,” he says. “They’ll give you a shock and throw you right back onto the roof where you started.”
“There’s no escape,” I mutter hopelessly.
“I’m afraid not,” he sighs. “Do you want to see something else?” he asks, trying to change the subject.
He leads me over to the other side of the roof, and we stop in front of a beautiful garden. Colorful daisies, roses, tulips, and other breeds I don’t recognize are perfectly planted in beautiful arrays in the flower beds. Surrounding them are a variety of potted trees, with jingling silver wind chimes dangling from their branches. They chime rhythmically, swaying with the night breeze, drowning out the sound of traffic below.
Cinna says something but I can barely hear him over the wind and the clinking of the chimes. I cock my head, as if asking him to repeat himself. He holds up his watch and taps it, signaling it’s time for dinner. We head back down the stairs and towards the dining room. Portia is now on the balcony, and we join her as we wait for the rest of the entourage to arrive.
“That fire…for the suits,” I ask, purely out of curiosity. “How did you come up with that?”
Cinna begins to explain the process of engineering the artificial flame they used, but before he can get into too much detail, Effie calls us to the table. We all take our seats and a young man, probably no older than I am, silently serves us drinks. He offers me a glass of wine and I take it, though I’m not much of a drinker. Especially not after seeing it take a toll on people like Haymitch, who, at this moment, arrives and takes his seat at the head of the table. It turns out he cleans up pretty nicely. His dark hair is combed back out of his face, he smells fresh, and he’s dressed in a nice gray suit and a blue bowtie. I imagine the cameras have been on him today as well. The Capitol likes to conduct short interviews with the mentors and past victors as fillers. In the days leading up to the Games, the television is constantly broadcasting highlights of past years, interviews with Capitol celebrities and Gamemakers, and of course, footage of this year’s tributes. I hope Haymitch was sober enough while he was talking to the press today, making us look good.
We start making small talk as the meal is served, even Haymitch contributes to the conversation. Effie seems impressed with him and for once isn’t at his throat, criticizing his manners. They both commend Cinna and Portia for their work on the costumes tonight, laughing over the ridiculous outfits some of the other tributes were forced to wear. Meanwhile we work our way through each course, and I savor every bite. The conversation shifts to the outfits Cinna and Portia have planned for our upcoming interviews. They don’t give too much away, but after their performance tonight, I’m sure they’ll deliver again.
Another young women dressed in the same white server uniform sets a three-tiered cake in the center of the tabe. It’s beautiful; I imagine making the same cake at home, mixing red, blue, and green dye to create the black frosting, carefully constructing the white fondant roses. The server takes out a lighter and sets the cakes ablaze, and it flickers for a few seconds before dying out, the cake unharmed.
“What makes it burn?” Katniss inquires. She looks up at the server, looking concerned. “Is it alcohol? That’s the last thing I wa一” she interrupts herself, recognition dawning on her. “Oh! I know you!”
The girl looks petrified, but doesn’t speak. She shakes her head, then quickly walks away from the table as all eyes drill into her.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Katniss. How could you possibly know an Avox?” Effie scoffs. “The very thought.”
Katniss looks even more confused than before. “What’s an Avox?” She asks.
“Someone who committed a crime. They cut her tongue so she can’t speak,” Haymitch answers. “She’s probably a traitor of some sort. Not likely you’d know her.” He tries to brush it off like it’s no big deal, change the subject.
Effie’s concern is still apparent. “And even if you did, you’re not one to speak to them unless it’s to give an order. Of course, you don’t really know her.” Effie’s last remark is a statement rather than a question, but I can see that Katniss still isn’t convinced. Whether she knows her or not, it’s not good for people to think she’s associated with a criminal. If there were any suspicions that she was also involved in illegal activity, the Capitol wouldn’t hesitate to make the games hell for her. When you’re in the arena, they can do anything they want to you. Release a pack of killer mutants, strike you with a bolt of lightning, you name it.
Katniss stammers. “No, I guess not, I just一”
Thinking quickly, I snap my fingers as if I’d suddenly remembered something. “Delly Cartwright,” I provide the first name that comes to mind. “That’s who it is. I kept thinking she looked familiar as well. Then I realized she’s a dead ringer for Delly.” This, of course, is a lie. The Avox that Katniss seems to have recognized has pale, sallow skin and deep red hair. Delly, with her long curly hair and curvy features, looks nothing like her.
Katniss picks up on my attempt to get her off the hook. “Of course,” she says. “That’s who I was thinking of. It must be the hair.”
“Something about the eyes, too,” I add. Katniss smiles at me gratefully.
The tension fades away quickly. “Oh, well. If that’s all it is,” Cinna sighs, then returns to address Katniss’ original question. “And yes, the cake has spirits, but all the alcohol has burned off. I ordered it specially in honor of your fiery debut.”
We clink our glasses and make a toast “To the tributes from district twelve!” The young male Avox is back, slicing and serving our cake, which is as delicious as it looks. The six of us bring our plates with us and file into the living room, making ourselves comfortable on the large plush couches. Haymitch turns on the television and flips to the channel that’s broadcasting a recap of the night’s Tribute Parade. We all watch intently as the tributes make their way down the street in their horse-drawn chariots. We make occasional comments about the earlier district’s outfits, but none are as remarkable as ours. When we watch ourselves emerge from the back doors, Haymitch whistles, Effie applauds, and I let out an audible “wow.” It’s even more incredible seeing us from an outside perspective, watching as the flames cloak us in a beautiful golden glow.
“Who’s idea was the hand holding?” Haymitch asks.
“Cinna’s,” says Portia.
Haymitch grins. “Just the perfect touch of rebellion. Very nice.”
I can see what he means. Unlike the other male and female tributes who stood starkly side by side, we entered the parade as a team, united, hand in hand. President Snow, during his speech, had said that the games were about uniting us. That’s all talk, of course. Everyone with a brain can see that the Games turn people against each other, even two people from the same district. I know I won’t ever turn on Katniss. But as soon as the gong sounds and the Games begin, will we still be side by side, as partners? I can only hope.
Once the recap has finished and our plates are clean, it’s about time for bed. “Tomorrow morning is the first training session,” Haymitch tells Katniss and me. “Meet me for breakfast and I’ll tell you exactly how I want you to play it.” Katniss and I nod obediently, happy to see our mentor taking initiative. “Now go get some sleep while the grown ups talk.”
I roll my eyes at his demeaning comment, but I’m relieved to finally get some rest. It’s been another very, very long day. Katniss and I walk together down the hall towards our rooms. It’s awkwardly quiet for a bit, but I’m tempted to inquire about the hiccup that occurred earlier involving the Avox. I decide to casually bring it up, see if she has anything she wants to tell me.
“So,” I say, “Delly Cartwright. Imagine finding her lookalike here.”
She can tell that I’m trying to instigate more than just small talk. I could see that she was happy to play along with my little act at dinner, which must mean she really was trying to hide something. But what was it? She considers my comment for awhile, not saying anything. She’s hesitant, probably weighing her options. Does she think I’m trustworthy? Is there any possibility of her opening up to me?
“Have you been on the roof yet?” I break the silence. “Cinna showed me. You can practically see the whole city. The winds a bit loud, though.” I linger on that last sentence, wondering if she’s picking up on what I’m saying.
Her eyes dart around for a moment, as if searching for someone who might be eavesdropping our conversation. “Can we just go up?”
“Sure, come on,” I say, and I lead the way. We reach the roof a minute later, and I hold the door and shut it behind her. She looks out over the city in awe as we make our way over to the railing.
“I asked Cinna why they let us up here. Weren’t they worried that some of the tributes might decide to jump right over the side?” I say.
“What’d he say?” she asks, curiously. Maybe she’s thinking that’s not a bad idea.
“You can’t.” I demonstrate by slowly reaching my hand out into the open air until I feel the shock, and I retreat. “Some kind of electric field throws you back on the roof.”
“Always worried about our safety,” Katniss mocks. “Do you think they’re watching us now?”
I consider her question. “Maybe,” I suppose. Now that we’re such high profiles, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Capitol is monitoring our every waking moment. “Come see the garden.”
I lead her back to where Cinna took me earlier, knowing that even if the Capitol is watching us, they won’t be able to hear us over the wind and the clinking of the chimes. I look at her, expecting that if she does want to tell me something, now is the time.
She picks a flower, running it through her hands, as she begins to speak, softly. “We were hunting in the woods one day. Hidden, waiting for game.”
“You and your father?” I ask, not sure if this event took place before or after his death.
“No, my friend Gale. Suddenly all the birds stopped singing at once. Except one. As if it were giving a warning call.” She paused, then continued after a deep breath. “And then I saw her. I’m sure it was the same girl. A boy was with her. Their clothes were tattered. They had dark circles under their eyes from no sleep. They were running as if their lives depended on it.”
I was hanging onto her words, anxious to hear what came next. “The hovercraft appeared out of nowhere. I mean, one moment the sky was empty and the next it was there. It didn’t make a sound, but they saw it. A net dropped down on the girl and carried her up, fast, so fast like the elevator. They shot some sort of spear through the boy. It was attached to a cable and they hauled him up as well. But I’m certain he was dead. We heard the girl scream once. The boy’s name, I think. Then it was gone, the hovercraft. Vanished into thin air. And the birds began to sing again, as if nothing had happened.”
“Did they see you?” I ask after a long pause, still unable to fully comprehend everything she’s told me.
“I don’t know. We were under a shelf of rock,” she says, and she begins to shake. From the cold wind or from the trauma of the memory, I’m not sure.
“You’re shivering,” I say. I remove my jacket and wrap it around Katniss’ shoulders. She flinches at first, but then relaxes, allowing me to secure the jacket around her with a button at her neck.
“They were from here?” I ask. It was hard to tell from her story where exactly the fugitives escaped from. I only assume, since the Capitol was looking for them, that that’s where they’d come from.
Katniss nods, confirming my suspicion.
“Where do you suppose they were going?” I ask, confused. It’s a long way from the Capitol to District 12. We’re one of the most outlying districts, so wherever the they were trying to go, it was simply as far away as they could possibly get.
“I don’t know that,” she says. “Or why they would leave here.”
“I’d leave here,” I respond almost immediately. After I’ve said it I realize how loud it was, falling in line with a break of the wind and a pause of the chimes. For a moment I’m nervous that they might have heard me, but I laugh it off and try to cover it up. “I’d go home now if they let me. But you have to admit, the food’s prime.” To an outsider just listening in, it might seem, at this point, like a normal conversation. But regardless, I think it’s time we go inside, get some rest like Haymitch said. “It’s getting chilly. We better go in.”
Once we’re back inside and out of the wind, I walk her back to her room. “Your friend Gale,” I say. “He’s the one who took your sister away at the reaping?”
“Yes,” she answers. “Do you know him?”
“Not really. I hear the girls talk about him a lot. I thought he was your cousin or something. You favor each other,” I say. With the amount of time they spend together and their physical similaritiesーdark hair, grey eyes, olive skinー a lot of people who don’t know them personally just assume they’re family. Or maybe that was just a rumor made up by the girls who were jealous of Katniss, and who wanted the tall, strong, handsome boy for themselves.
“No, we’re not related,” she says.
I wonder about their friendship. If that’s all it is, or if it’s something more than that. “Did he come to say goodbye to you?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says, looking up at me, studying me. “So did your father. He brought me cookies.”
“Really?” I pretend to be surprised, although I was the one that insisted he deliver them. “Well, he likes you and your sister. I think he wishes he had a daughter instead of a houseful of boys.” This is true; my dad has mentioned Katniss and her family on multiple occasions. He often asks about her, and I even think he must’ve had suspicions about my little crush.
“He knew your mother when they were kids,” I add. They were friends in the stories he told, surprisingly close in high school. By the sound of it, their friendship started to fade when she met Katniss’ father. When he died, my dad prepared their family a breadbasket, a simple token to say I’m sorry for you loss. But when he tried to deliver it to her, she just wasn’t there. Physically she was, but her heart was somewhere off in the distance, shattered into a million pieces. He left the basket, but she didn’t say a word. I don’t think they’ve spoken since. I spare Katniss the details, I’m sure she has enough on her mind already.
“Oh, yes. She grew up in town,” is all she says. When we’re back at her door, she returns my jacket. “See you in the morning then.”
“See you,” I say, and she disappears into her room. I walk back to mine, just a few doors down. Already in my pajamas, I collapse into my bed. The chill from the wind outside is still crawling through my skin, and I curl up in my warm sheets, pulling them close. I lay awake for awhile, thinking about today, my first day in the Capitol. I’m still in disbelief. At this very moment, wealthy capitol citizens are probably rewatching the opening ceremonies, picking me apart and deciding if I’m someone they’d put money on, or if I’m just someone they’d leave for dead. Then my thoughts drift to Katniss, to Gale, to the Avox girl that they couldn’t save. Had they known what was in store for the runaway girl and boy, would they have done something different? Maybe not. After all, isn’t everyone just trying to save their own skin?Add to favorites