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The Hunger Games: Peeta’s POV. Chapter 19

Chapter 19

 

I fall asleep immediately, warmer in my sleeping bag than I have been the past several nights. At some point in the night I can feel Katniss unzip the bag and crawl in next to me, but she tosses and turns uncomfortably. 

When I finally awake I am sweating, though my body still feels chilled. I feel a damp rag on my forehead and remove it, knowing Katniss had put it there in hopes of reducing the fever. But when I suddenly realize her absence, I bolt upright. Looking through the mouth of the cave, it looks to be just before sunrise. How long has she been gone? I unzip the sleeping bag and try to shimmy out of it, not sure what exactly I’m hoping to gain from this. My instinct says to run outside and go after her, but I soon remember that I am bedridden and every movement feels like I’ve been hit by a train. My heart rate finally slows when I see Katniss enter the cave, and I sulk back as I let out a distressed sigh. She seems confused by my struggle, maybe thinking I’d woken up from a bad dream.

“I woke up and you were gone,” I explain, still catching my breath. “I was worried about you.”

She laughs as she comes closer to me and touches my face softly with her hand, calming me down. “You were worried about me? Have you taken a look at yourself lately?”

I know she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but of course I was worried. She has a greater price on her head than anyone else right now. “I thought Cato and Clove might have found you. They like to hunt at night,” I tell her.

“Clove? Which one is that?” She asks.

“The girl from District Two. She’s still alive, right?” I ask. I’m still not sure if I missed any faces in the sky while I was out.

“Yes,” she says. “There’s just them and us and Thresh and Foxface一that’s what I nicknamed the girl from Five.” Recalling her red hair, pointy face, and sly demeanor, I have to agree with this name assignment. I can’t, for the life of me, remember her actual name from her reaping or interview. “How do you feel?” Katniss asks.

“Better than yesterday,” I say honestly. “This is an enormous improvement over the mud. Clean clothes and medicine and a sleeping bag… and you,” I smile up at her.

She smiles sweetly and affectionately touches my cheek again. I grab her hand with mine and press the back of it against my lips.

“No more kisses for you until you’ve eaten,” she says teasingly. 

“Aww man,” I say, throwing my hands down jokingly, like a child throwing a fit. But I willingly oblige as she feeds me a few spoonfuls of fresh berries that she’s smashed up for me. She again tries to give me the bird she offered yesterday, but I can’t quite bring myself to eat large amounts of solid foods yet, and I refuse it. 

“You didn’t sleep,” I observe after she’s finished feeding me. 

“I’m all right,” she says, but I can tell she’s lying.

“Sleep now. I’ll keep watch. I’ll wake you if anything happens,” I offer, but she seems hesitant. “Katniss, you can’t stay up forever.”

She sighs. “All right,” she agrees reluctantly. “But just for a few hours. Then you wake me.”

She lays down atop the sleeping bag and I lean against the wall, sitting beside her. She fidgets for a little while, but I think she’s just more nervous to let her guard down, rather than trying to get comfortable. “Go to sleep,” I say gently, brushing her hair away from her face. I keep my eyes fixed on the cave entrance, but I continue stroking her hair long after she finally drifts to sleep. 

It’s an uneventful few hours, but I continue to keep a steadfast watch on our hideout, only occasionally glancing down to see Katniss sleeping peacefully. I can’t imagine how exhausted she must be or what she’s been through since the Games started. We haven’t exactly had time to catch up. She’s been so concerned with taking care of me that I’m afraid she’ll work herself mad. I’m glad she accepted my invitation to take her turn to sleep. 

As the hours go by, I debate if I should wake her or not. She’s been asleep for a bit longer than I think she intended, but she’s clearly exhausted, and there’s been no sign of disturbance outside. I decide to let her sleep as long as she can. I can feel my fever returning as chills runs down my body and sweat builds up on my forehead, and, even though I’m thirsty, I know Katniss will make me drink later so I don’t bother to help myself. My body aches from yesterday’s events and my leg continues to pain me, constantly throbbing and feeling like a million tiny knives are piercing me over and over again. But I push aside the pain and tell myself that as long as Katniss is here, everything is going to be alright.

She awakes a couple hours later with a start. With one glance outside, she says “Peeta, you were supposed to wake me up after a couple of hours.”

“For what?” I ask. “Nothing’s going on here. Besides, I like watching you sleep. You don’t scowl. Improves your look a lot.” She glowers at me, and I grin in return. 

She sits up, alarmed, and tests my temperature by pressing the back of her hand to my cheek. “Peeta, have you been drinking water?” 

“Of course,” I say. That is, if you count the water she gave me yesterday. I don’t want her to lash out at me again for not taking care of myself, though I’m sure I deserve it. 

She doesn’t seem to believe me. Smart girl. She makes me drink two full bottles of water and gives me a couple more fever pills to swallow. She again removes my shirt and treats my burns and stings, and by the look of them it seems like her treatment yesterday has been effective. After ensuring that’s taken care of, she moves down to inspect my leg again. She unwraps it slowly, and it doesn’t take a medical expert to see that my wound hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, it seems to have gotten much, much worse. It’s swollen and glowing red, with bright red streaks advancing, signaling that the infection is starting to spread into the rest of my leg. Blood poisoning. My father once told me that when he was a boy, one of his friends tried to escape the district on the day of the reaping by crawling over a barbed wire fence. One of the exposed wires cut a huge gash in his thigh as he jumped to the other side. The Peacekeepers found him a few hours later, injured and not able to get far enough away, but instead of killing him on the spot, as they usually do when someone ditches the reaping, they brought him home and refused treatment to him. It didn’t take long for the infection to spread, and within a week, the blood poisoning had killed him.

I can tell Katniss had hoped for improvement, or at least hoped to prevent my injury from worsening, but the look on her face doesn’t do much to hide her hopelessness. “Well, there’s more swelling, but the pus is gone,” she says, clearly trying to make me think it’s not nearly as bad as it is, but I’m not buying it.

“I know what blood poisoning is, Katniss,” I tell her. “Even if my mother isn’t a healer.”

My understanding of the situation only seems to upset her more. “You’re just going to have to outlast the others, Peeta. They’ll cure it back at the Capitol when we win.”

Do I even have that much time left? I think to myself. And how does she expect to win when I’m getting worse, not better? But if Haymitch wanted to send us medicine, wouldn’t he have done it by now? My hope is depleting, and fast.

Katniss insists that I should eat and keep my strength up, but despite my pleas against it, she goes outside to light a fire and make soup. I try to follow after her, stop her from running the risk of disclosing our location with the smoke of the fire, but she assures me that she’ll be okay and brushes me off. I obediently go lie down on top of the sleeping bag and try to rest, but for the most part I keep one eye open. My fever is growing worse and my head and body aches, making it impossible to fall asleep. Instead, I stare straight ahead, fumbling with a pebble between my fingers, trying to distract myself from the pain.

To my relief, Katniss returns a little while later, with an air of casualness that resembles returning home after a typical day at work.

“Do you want anything?” she asks.

“No, thank you,” I say, convinced that nothing can be done to alleviate the agony I’m in. At this point, I just need a distraction. Something to take my mind off of the despair. “Wait, yes,” I say, changing my mind. “Tell me a story.”

“A story?” she asks, surprised by my request. “What about?”

“Something happy,” I say. “Tell me about the happiest day you can remember.”

I wait expectantly as she stews over this prompt in her head. “Did I ever tell you about how I got Prim’s goat?” she finally asks, and I shake my head, curious. 

She pauses for a moment before beginning, considering her words carefully. She tells me how her mother had once owned an antique silver locket. It had been in her father’s family for several generations, and he’d given it to her shortly after they’d started going out. After her father died, however, her mother had hidden the locket in grief; just the thought of it could set off an endless stream of sobs. Figuring she had no use for it, and having decided its sentimental value couldn’t compare to the tangible goods that could be bought with it, Katniss recovered the locket and decided to take it to the market and see how much she could sell it for. She talks about how she’d found a buyer and all of a sudden had more money than she’d ever held in her hands before. At this point I start to doubt the validity of her story. Fine goods and jewelry aren’t of much value in District 12. Only a fool would waste their money on that, rather than spending the little they have on something practical like food. I also know that Katniss rarely goes to the market to trade and sell. The illegal black market, nicknamed the Hob, which is located on the poorer end of town, the Seam, is Katniss’ typical stomping grounds after a hunt in the woods with Gale. I know this because my dad often trades them bread for squirrels, an under-the-table exchange that probably wouldn’t make the Capitol too happy. I commend Katniss’ cleverness in avoiding any scrutiny from the Capitol officials watching us right now.

Nonetheless, Katniss goes on, and I hang onto her every word. Now that she had more money than she knew what to do with, she and Gale went to the square to purchase something special for her little sister Prim’s tenth birthday. She tells me that as she was shopping for material to make her sister a new dress, a herd of goats owned by a guy she calls Goat Man caught her eye. One of them, a small one with white and black spots, was lying in a cart, clearly sustaining some sort of injury that’d been inflicted by a dog or other wild animal. The goat had a growing infection and couldn’t even stand on its own to be milked. However, Katniss figured that her sister Prim, who is an animal-lover and spends a lot of time with her mother the healer, may be able to nurse it back to health. 

She and Gale went in to take a closer look at the goat, but Goat Man informed them that she was headed to the butcher, and that, because she was sick, her milk was losing its value and she wasn’t worth keeping around. Later on, the butcher, a woman named Rooba that I actually knew quite well back in District 12, shows up and revokes her offer, claiming that only so much could be salvaged for meat since the goat’s shoulder was mauled and infected. In reality, as Katniss tells me, she thinks that Rooba let her have it. Katniss and Goat Man bartered back and forth for a prize; she argued that if the goat died, the man would have gotten more than his money’s worth, but he argued that if somehow the goat lived, Katniss would be practically winning the lottery. Goats are great animals to have around. Their milk can be sold for a good price, they make nice companions, and, when they’ve reached their old age, they can be sold for meat. A crowd even gathered around the scene to watch the trade, each one of them taking their own side. Eventually, Katniss and Goat Man finally met somewhere in the middle and agreed on a reasonable price.

Katniss tells me that Prim was overjoyed, to say the least, when they brought the goat home, which Katniss had adorned in a bright pink bow to make the gift extra-special. Prim, unable to contain her excitement, went right to work on fixing up the new little goat. She decided to name it Lady. She and her mother whipped up some herbal concoctions to treat the infection, and together they brewed medicine and helped Lady slowly drink it down.

“They sound like you,” I interject. I am the goat, and I can only hope that the outcome of my treatment is as successful as Lady’s.

“On, no, Peeta,” she says humbly. “They work magic. That thing couldn’t have died if it tried.” There’s an award pause as Katniss senses she’s said something wrong.

“Don’t worry. I’m not trying,” I joke. “Finish the story.”

“Well, that’s it,” she says. “Only I remember that night, Prim insisted on sleeping with Lady on a blanket next to the fire. And just before they drifted off, the goat licked her cheek, like it was giving her a good night kiss or something. It was already mad about her.” 

Wow, this goat really does remind me of me, I amuse myself in my head. “Was it still wearing the pink ribbon?” I ask.

“I think so, why?” she asks.

“Just trying to get the picture,” I say as I nestle contentedly against her. “I can see why that day made you happy.” Her story definitely did not disappoint. I loved having a conversation about home, rather than having every interaction between us be about how I should be drinking more water or trying to gloss over how bad my injury is. I realize there is so much about Katniss that I don’t know, and I hope that I have an opportunity to hear more.

“Well, I knew that goat would be a little gold mine,” she says nostalgically.

“Yes, of course I was referring to that, not the lasting joy you gave the sister you love so much you took her place in the reaping,” I joke sarcastically.

“The goat has paid for itself. Several times over,” she says, as if trying to prove herself. 

“Well, it wouldn’t dare do anything else after you saved its life,” I say. “I intend to do the same thing.”

“Really?” she says, testing me. “What did you cost me again?”

“A lot of trouble. Don’t worry. You’ll get it all back,” I assure her, hoping that this is a promise I can keep. 

“You’re not making sense,” she says, probably thinking that my fever has made me woozy. In my head, however, I’m making total sense. “You’re a little cooler though” she reports after taking my temperature. 

Suddenly I hear the sound of the trumpet. Katniss jumps to her feet and breaks towards the cave opening, determined to hear the incoming announcement. I don’t bother moving from my spot. Still, I can hear the booming sound of Claudius Templesmith’s voice.

“Attention, tributes,” he begins again. “It is my pleasure to invite each of you to a feast tomorrow morning,” he pauses for a moment, like he’s allowing for a reaction. “Now hold on. Some of you may already be declining my invitation. But this is no ordinary feast. Each of you needs something desperately.”

At these words, Katniss looks back at me, clearly thinking the same thing. My medicine. I shake my head. It’s a trap, and they’re trying to lure us in. 

“Each of you will find that something in a backpack, marked with your district number, at the Cornucopia at dawn. Think hard about refusing to show up. For some of you, this will be your last chance,” he concludes, and the arena falls silent again. His message seemed very pointed, and I find it hard to believe that any other tribute needs anything as desperately as I do.

Katniss starts to move but I grip her shoulder to stop her. “No,” I say. “You’re not risking your life for me.”

“Who said I was?” she argues.

“So, you’re not going?” I ask.

“Of course, I’m not going. Give me some credit. Do you think I’m running straight into some free-for-all against Cato and Clove and Thresh? Don’t be stupid,” she says, laying me back down and tucking me back into the sleeping bag. “I’ll let them fight it out, we’ll see who’s in the sky tomorrow night, and work out a plan from there.”

I don’t believe her for a second. “You’re such a bad liar, Katniss. I don’t know how you’ve survived this long. ‘I knew that goat would be a little gold mine. You’re a  little cooler though. Of course, I’m not going,’” I imitate. “Never gamble at cards. You’ll lose your last coin.”

Katniss looks like she’s been caught red-handed. “All right, I am going,” she confesses. “And you can’t stop me.”

“I can follow you. At least partway. I may not be able to make it to the Cornucopia, but if I’m yelling your name, I bet someone can find me. And then I’ll be dead for sure.”

“You won’t get a hundred yards from here on that leg,” she argues. 

“Then I’ll drag myself,” I say, not giving in. “You go and I’m going, too.”

She’s absolutely appalled by my resistance. “What am I supposed to do? Sit here and watch you die?”

“I won’t die, I promise,” I say, now with even more determination.“If you promise not to go.”

She seems beat. “Then you have to do what I say. Drink your water, wake me when I tell you, and eat every bite of the soup no matter how disgusting it is!” she calls me out, anger rising up in her.

I nod innocently. “Agreed. Is it ready?” I ask. Actually, soup doesn’t sound too bad right now. 

“Wait here,” she says, and exits the cave. I think to follow her partway out, just to make sure she’s not trying to escape, but my lack of trust in her will probably only anger her more. 

She returns with a pot of steaming soup, and I eat all that she gives me. “Wow, Katniss, this is incredible,” I say. “You know, my dad doesn’t just bake, he’s actually a pretty decent cook too. He makes stew with those squirrels he buys from you. I don’t know how he does it. A little of this, a little of that, and boom, icky dead squirrel turns to yummy soup. Gives the Capitol’s plumb and lamb stew a run for its money!” 

She grins and shakes her head like I’m talking like a crazy person. Maybe I am. My fever is rising and it seems like I’ve lost any filter I’ve had on my speech as I continue to talk about back home, and my words start to slur together. Her amusement turns to concern.

She lays my head down and tells me she’s going to step out for a minute to wash up. I try and protest, but again I stop myself, knowing that if I don’t trust her, how can we be allies?

I’m overcome with exhaustion and tell myself to close my eyes for a moment and slip in a bit of sleep, but I’m shivering so much that I can’t manage. The cave is a bit cold, but I know that it’s my worsening fever and blood poisoning progressing up through my body that make me feel as sickly as I am.

Katniss, to my relief, returns a short time later. “I’ve brought you a treat,” she says pleasantly. “I found a new patch of berries a little farther downstream.” She carries a small bowl filled with a dark berry-colored mush. 

After eating my fill of her soup, my appetite has only gone up. I open my mouth willingly, ready for a sweet conclusion to my first full meal in days. 

As soon as the mush enters my mouth, my face contorts at the unexpected sweetness, far exceeding that of any berries I’ve tasted before. 

“They’re very sweet,” I tell her.

“Yes, they’re sugar berries,” she responds nonchalantly. “My mother makes jam from them. Haven’t you ever had them before?” She feeds me another spoonful.

“No,” I tell her. I do recognize the taste, but it’s not like any jam I’ve ever tasted. “But they do taste familiar. Sugar berries?” We make plenty of spreads at the bakery, from blackberry jam to orange marmalade, but I’ve never heard of sugar berries.

“Well, you can’t get them in the market much, they only grow wild,” she says as she feeds me another spoonful. We only use fruit from the market, but then why is this unique taste so familiar? The memory associated with it is slowly coming back to me, but I just can’t put my finger on it…

“They’re sweet as syrup,” I think out loud. She scrapes out the pot and feeds me the last spoonful, which I let sit on my tongue a little longer, trying to concentrate. “Syrup.” I repeat, and then it dawns on me. The familiar taste isn’t that of berries at all. 

My mind flashes to my first memory of this sweet taste. I think I was eight years old. I’d just started working with my father at the bakery. Right after I got home from school, I’d drop my bag off in my room, wash up, and go straight downstairs to help him take stock and clean up. On this particular day, while my father ran to the market to make a last-minute purchase, I was in charge of putting away ingredients. I stood upon a three-legged stool to put a large jar of sugar on a tall shelf. I had to stand on my tip-toes to reach, and just as the jar was teetering on the edge of the shelf, I lost my balance. All at once, the stool tipped over and I and the jar came crashing to the ground. I banged my head on the wood floor, and a shower of glass and sugar crystals exploded around me. Before I could register what had happened, I heard my mother screaming. 

“What’s going on down there?” she snarled, her voice echoing from upstairs. Angry footsteps followed as she rushed down the stairs. 

She stood before me, face red with anger, fists clenched. I didn’t make eye contact with her as I pushed myself up from the ground and dusted myself off. I’d barely been standing for three seconds when she rushed towards me and shoved me back to the ground.

“Clean it up!” she screamed, storming out of the room. I waited for the slam of the door before I burst into tears. 

I sat there in the mess I’d made, blood seeping out of my palms and tears flowing freely from my eyes. When my father finally arrived home, I still hadn’t moved.

Unlike my mother, he approached me with care and concern. He scooped me up from the mess and sat me down on the counter. He wiped the tears from my eyes, picked the shards of glass from my hands, rinsed me off, and wrapped me up in bandages. 

“I’m so sorryー” I began, but again started to cry.

“Shhhh,” he cooed, ruffling my hair and touching my face gently. “It’s not a big deal. I’ll clean it up. You should go off to bed.”

“I don’t want to go upstairs,” I said. “She’s mad at me.”

He nodded his head understandingly, putting the pieces together. “You can sleep down here. I’ll make you a little nest on the couch.”

He lined his favorite chair with a blanket and pillow and laid me down gently. He gave me a kiss on the forehead, pulled the blanket over my shoulders, and then went to retrieve a broom and dustpan.

But I couldn’t fall asleep. The tears came back and I sniffled and heaved my shoulders as I sobbed my heart out. Every time I closed my eyes I just saw her, with her eyebrows furrowed and steam coming out of her ears. When my father returned an hour later to check on me, he saw I was still awake.

“Can’t sleep, buddy?” he asked.

I couldn’t speak, so I shook my head in response.

“I’ll tell you what, I have a secret recipe for little boys who can’t sleep. It’ll make all the pain go away,” he promised. “Come to the kitchen and I’ll show you.”

I watched him as he heated water in the kettle on the stove and brewed me a cup of mint tea. He then removed a small purple bottle from the medicine cabinet and added a splash of the thick liquid to the cup, giving it a stir. 

With a gentle smile, he handed me the mug. I took a sip, and there is was: that sweet, syrupy, irresistible taste. My tastebuds craved more of it, and I downed the cup quickly. In an instant my body became heavy, my eyelids drooped, and I was mentally drained to the point where I’d forgotten all about the day’s events. My dad scooped me up into his arms the moment he saw me start to wobble. The next thing I remember was the following morning, waking up in my bed, with no recollection of how I got there.

Katniss is drugging me. She’s knocking me out so I can’t stop her from going to the feast. My eyes widen and Katniss notices my sudden realization. I try and spit what’s left of the mixture out, but I’m too late. Katniss has already pressed her hand against my mouth and plugged my nose; unable to breathe, I’m forced to swallow. I pound on my stomach to try and force it back up, but I quickly lose the strength in my arms, and my vision begins to fade. I feel weak, powerless, and so, so sleepy, and then everything goes black. 

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