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The Hunger Games: Peeta’s POV. Chapter 21

Chapter 21

 

The sun has set on the rainy day and the storm outside is growing louder and more intense. My sheet of plastic seems like a pathetic attempt to keep the cave dry, and I’ve now had to supplement it with the broth pot to catch the continuous dripping. I’ve been on watch for several hours now, chilled to the bone inside the damp cave, and other than keeping up with deflecting water from creating pools in the cave, it’s been pretty uneventful. 

Katniss seems to be sleeping soundly and I don’t want to wake her, but my stomach begs for food and I don’t want to eat without her again. I ignore the rumblings for as long as I can, but eventually I shake Katniss awake.

“How long have I been asleep?” she asks drearily. 

“About five hours.”

I help her sit up slowly. “I’m hungry, how about you?”

As if this were permission, I grab for the pack and assess its contents: a couple pieces of the groosling, a small amount of dried fruit, and various roots that Katniss must’ve collected.

“Should we try and ration it?” I ask, though this spread is far from being a complete meal in itself.

“No, let’s finish it,” Katniss says. “The groosling’s getting old anyway, and the last thing we need is to get sick off spoiled food.” She goes ahead and divides the food equally, and in a matter of minutes it’s reduced to nothing. 

“Tomorrow’s a hunting day,” Katniss announces. She, like me, doesn’t seem satisfied with our meager meal.

“I won’t be much help with that. I’ve never hunted before.” Baking is my specialty, but so far I haven’t found an oven in the arena, and certainly there wasn’t a rolling pin set out just for me in the Cornucopia.

“I’ll kill and you cook,” Katniss suggests. “And you can always gather.”

“I wish there was some sort of bread bush out there,” I joke, but Katniss doesn’t smile.

“The bread they sent me from District Eleven was still warm,” she sighs reminiscently. She hands me a few mint leaves to chew on to curb our appetite until the next time we eat, whenever that is. Hopefully the rain clears quickly, otherwise there won’t be much opportunity to hunt.

“Where did Thresh go?” Katniss asks. “I mean, what’s on the far side of the circle?”

“A field,” I answer, remembering my short excursion to its outskirts with the Careers. “As far as you can see it’s full of grasses as high as my shoulders. I don’t know, maybe some of them are grain. There are patches of different colors, but there are no paths.”

“I bet some of them are grain. I bet Thresh knows which ones, too,” Katniss assumes, considering Thresh comes from the agriculture district. “Did you go in there?”

“No. Nobody really wanted to track Thresh down in that grass. It has a sinister feeling to it. Every time I look at that field, all I can think of are hidden things. Snakes, and rabid animals, and quicksand. There could be anything in there.”

“Maybe there’s a bread bush in that field, maybe that’s why Thresh looks better fed now than when we started the Games,” Katniss speculates jokingly.

Does he really? The thought of Thresh bigger and stronger than when we started makes me uneasy, and that certainly makes one of us. I imagine I’ve lost fifteen pounds or more since the Games started… how long ago? I’ve lost track of the days, but I imagine it’s been nearly two weeks, though it feels like an eternity. On average the Games are starting to wrap up around now, though a few were over in less than a week and the First Quarter Quell lasted almost a month. Katniss seems to have lost weight too, and she didn’t have much to lose in the first place, as is the case with most people that live in the Seam. She’s used to not having much to eat, and now that I’m feeling better, I’m having a much harder time getting used to an empty stomach.

“Either that or he’s got very generous sponsors,” I suggest. “I wonder what we’ll have to do to get Haymitch to send us some bread.” Even the lumpy drop biscuits from District 12 sound like a delicacy right now.

“Well, he probably used up a lot of resources helping me knock you out,” Katniss smirks, though I don’t find it funny at all.

“Yeah, about that,” I say, looking her right in the eyes and holding her hand sincerely. “Don’t try something like that again.”

“Or what?” she teases.

“Or… or…,” I want her to know I’m not kidding, but I’m also not one to threaten her. “Just give me a minute.”

“What’s the problem?” she grins.

“The problem is we’re both still alive,” I say finally. “Which only reinforces the idea in your mind that you did the right thing.”

“I did do the right thing.”

“No!” Anger is rising in me now and my grip on her hand tightens. “Just don’t, Katniss! Don’t die for me. You won’t be doing me any favors. All right?” I could’ve been the reason Katniss was killed at the feast, but just because my leg is better doesn’t make the end justify the means. Does she just want to be the hero? Because people that live like heroes are honored and looked up to until their heroism gets them killed. Then, whether noble or not, death is still death.

Katniss is taken aback by my outburst. “Maybe I did it for myself, Peeta, did you ever think of that? Maybe you aren’t the only one who… who worries about… what it would be like if…”

“If what, Katniss?” my voice is much softer now, hanging onto her every word. Is she saying what I think she’s saying?

“That’s exactly the kind of topic Haymitch told me to steer clear of,” she says, her eyes shyly flitting away.

“Then I’ll just have to fill in the blanks myself,” I say, and I lean in to kiss her.

Her lips press back against mine. My right arm slips under her back to pull her closer, and my left hand caresses the side of her face. My body, which was chilled to the core from the freezing cave, is suddenly flooded with explosive warmth from my heart to my fingertips. My senses are acutely awakened, and I long to preserve this feeling, hold onto it before it slips away.

Katniss pulls away first and our lips part. I place a final kiss on her nose and can’t help it as a smile erupts across my face. Looking at her, I notice that that blood is soaking through the bandage I wrapped around her forehead.

“I think your wound is bleeding again. Come on, lie down, it’s bedtime anyway” I say, placing a pack below her head to rest it on. 

Miraculously, Katniss’s socks have finally dried and I put them back on. I begin to wrap them back in my jacket as a second layer, but Katniss notices my goosebumps and shivering arms and makes me put it back on. 

“I’ll take watch this time,” Katniss asserts. 

I try to protest, but she stands firm. “Fine,” I finally say. “But you stay in the sleeping bag with me. We need to keep warm.”

She obliges and I crawl in next to her. I extend my right arm and she rests her head on it, and as I drift off, my left arm instinctively curls around her body, holding her like I’m protecting her from being taken away. I’d be okay if she drifted off next to me; I don’t think anyone is going to come looking for us in this weather.

I sleep soundly but in a short time Katniss rouses me again, telling me she’s having a hard time keeping her eyes open. I help her lie down and tuck a pack under her head. “Tomorrow, when it’s dry, I’ll find us a place so high in the trees we can both sleep in peace,” she says before she falls back asleep.

But it doesn’t get any drier. While Katniss sleeps, the rain is as heavy as ever, and the thunder seems to rattle the cave. Night turns to day but the sky doesn’t get any brighter. Katniss and I continue to take turns on watch, but my stomach is so empty that I can’t focus on sleep, and Katniss is in the same boat. We spend the day sharing the sleeping bag, taking in each other’s heat. The grumbling of our stomachs creates a painful duet, and I feebly suggest that we should try to go outside and gather, but we both know it would be useless. The last thing either of us needs is pneumonia. I wonder if the other tributes are suffering through the same thing, or if the storm is even affecting the entire arena.

We suffer in silence as the day drags on. We rarely talk, neither of us having much energy to say anything other than to clarify who’s on watch. After what seems like forever, Katniss finally speaks up, and I’m grateful to hear something other than the thunder outside.

“Peeta,” her voice is barely audible in the beginning. “You said at the interview you’d had a crush on me forever. When did forever start?”

“Oh, let’s see,” I muse teasingly. After an uneventful day, the viewers must be hanging onto our every word. “I guess the first day of school. We were five. You had on a red plaid dress and your hair… it was in two braids instead of one. My father pointed you out when we were waiting to line up.” The memory floods back to me as I tell the story. 

“Your father? Why?” she asks.

“He said, ‘See that little girl? I wanted to marry her mother, but she ran off with a coal miner.”

“What? You’re making that up!” She blurts.

“No, true story,” I assure her. “And I said, ‘a coal miner? Why did she want a coal miner if she could’ve had you?’ And he said, ‘Because when he sings… even the birds stop to listen.’”

“That’s true,” she says, a smile emerging on her face as she thinks of her father. “They do. I mean, they did.” Her smile fades as quickly as it came.

I decide to continue so she doesn’t linger too much on the thought. “So that day, in music assembly, the teacher asked who knew the valley song. Your hand shot straight up in the air. She stood you up on a stool and had you sing it for us. And I swear, every bird outside the windows fell silent.” 

“Oh, please,” she says, laughing.

“No, it happened. And right when your song ended, I knewーjust like your motherーI was a goner. Then for the next eleven years, I tried to work up the nerve to talk to you.” It feels crazy that this is the first time I’ve voiced this to her, but I never pictured it happening like this.

“Without success,” she jokes, nudging me playfully.

“Without success,” I agree. “So, in a way, my name being drawn in the reaping was a real piece of luck.” 

Katniss doesn’t seem to be sure what to make of all of this. It’s a lot to take in, and I can’t believe, after 11 years, I’ve finally told her how I felt. But if not now, then when? 

“You have a… wonderful memory,” she finally says.

“I remember everything about you,” I say easily. I notice a look strand of hair covering her face and tuck it behind her ear. “You’re the one who wasn’t paying attention.”

“I am now,” she says, her gray eyes looking directly into mine, though I can’t decide if she means the words she’s saying. 

“Well, I don’t have much competition here.” I think of Gale, how if he were here right now, he and Katniss would have no trouble playing up the role of the star-crossed lovers from District 12.

Then, Katniss says the words she knows I want to hear, the words the audience is waiting for. “You don’t have much competition anywhere,” she says, and this time she leans in.

Our lips meet for only a second before there’s a loud thunk outside the cave and we both jump. I peer past Katniss and see a glint of silver through the small cave opening, and in an instant I’ve leapt out of the sleeping bag and out into the rain.

I don’t even care that the rain is beating down on me, soaking through my clothes, because a few steps ahead of me is a silver parachute tied to a large picnic basket. I scoop it up and rush back into the cave, absolutely beaming.

Katniss rips open the basket excitedly and removes its contents. Haymitch has sent us a feast! My mouth is already watering when she pulls out rolls, goat cheese, apples, and even dishes and silverware. I’m suddenly reminded of the last meal I had in District 12 before the reaping, although that roll was stale and the apple was mushy. In that moment, I had no idea what was ahead of me. Now, weeks later, I’m in an arena, still alive by some miracle, part of the final five, and sharing this meal with Katniss.

To top it all off, Katniss removes a large ceramic dish, and I can feel its heat emanating towards me. She removed the lid and the steam rises, and from the smell alone I know that the pot contains lamb stew, Katniss’ favorite, straight from the kitchens of the Capitol.

“I guess Haymitch finally got tired of watching us starve,” I say joyfully, barely able to contain my excitement.

“I guess so,” Katniss agrees, smiling at the feast before us. She looks like she’s about to pounce on it, but I think about how our stomachs will react to our first real meal in days.

“We better take it slow on that stew. Remember that first night on the train? The rich food made me sick and I wasn’t even starving then.”

“You’re right,” Katniss concedes, looking slightly disappointed. “I could just inhale the whole thing!”

We allow ourselves each one roll, a small serving of stew on wild rice, and we decide to split an apple. Although we pace ourselves, it is not enough to satisfy our empty stomachs.

“I want more,” Kantiss says simply, staring longingly at the stew remaining in the pot.

“Me too,” I agree, and I’m about to help myself to another serving before I decide to hold back. 

This brings to mind a memory from a birthday when I was a little kid, turning maybe four or five years, and my dad baked a cake especially for me. That’s the same year he started to teach me how to decorate. As kids do when given the opportunity, I ate way too much cake, ignoring my dad’s warning that it takes the body at least half an hour to register that it’s full. I spent half the night throwing up what I had taken in.

“Tell you what. We wait an hour, if it stays down, then we’ll get another serving,” I suggest.

Katniss agrees. “It’s going to be a long hour,” she says, still staring at the spread before us.

“Maybe not that long,” I say, figuring we should shift the subject away from food. “So, what was that you were saying just before the food arrived? Something about me… no competition… best thing that ever happened to you…”

“I don’t remember saying that last part,” she says, her cheeks flushing red.

“Oh, that’s right. That’s what I was thinking.”

I settle in next to her in the sleeping bag to keep warm and wait out the hour ahead of us. And, who am I kidding, I like being next to her, my arms wrapped around her, protecting her as we’re sheltered in our tiny bubble of peace.

“So, since we were five, you never even noticed any other girls?” she asks.

Several times I tried to brush my feelings for Katniss aside, because every time I saw her with Gale, it only reinforced the idea that we would never be together. There were lots of pretty girls at our school, of course, and I dated a couple over the years. But nothing seemed to stick, because even though I tried, I could never seem to let go of my feelings for Katniss. 

“No, I noticed just about every other girl,” I confess, “but none of them made a lasting impression but you.”

“I’m sure that would thrill your parents, you liking a girl from the Seam.”

“Hardly. But I couldn’t care less.” I think of what my mom must think, maybe even as she’s watching me right now. I picture her disapproving, menacing scowl, but it doesn’t matter. All I care about is this moment. “Anyway, if we make it back, you won’t be a girl from the Seam, you’ll be a girl from the Victor’s Village.”

I picture us as neighbors, living in giant mansions that were built 74 years ago when the Hunger Games were written into being. There are twelve in total, although Haymitch is the only occupant, and the others must be collecting cobwebs.

“But then, our only neighbor will be Haymitch!” Katniss realizes.

“Ah, that’ll be nice,” I wrap my arms tighter and hold her closer. “You and me and Haymitch. Very cozy. Picnics, birthdays, long winter nights around the fire retelling old Hunger Games tales.”

Katniss snickers at the thought. “I told you, he hates me!”

“Only sometimes,” I assure her. “When he’s sober, I’ve never heard him say one negative thing about you.”

“He’s never sober!”

“That’s right. Who am I thinking of?” I rub my chin, feigning confusion. “Oh, I know!” I snap my fingers theatrically. “It’s Cinna who likes you. But that’s mainly because you didn’t try to run when he set you on fire. On the other hand, Haymitch… well, if I were you, I’d avoid Haymitch completely. He hates you.” I smirk at her.

“I thought you said I was his favorite,” Katniss teasess.

“He hates me more. I don’t think people in general are his sort of thing.” 

I wonder how Haymitch is reacting to our conversation. Since he fell off the stage at the reaping, he’s been a sort of punching bag, always the victim of jokes. He’s probably used to it at this point, after 24 years of being in the spotlight. The Gamemakers often pull the mentors aside for interviews during the Games, especially when they get down to the final five or there’s a lull in the action. He must be getting lots of press right now, considering how Katniss and I’s love story might be the most interesting part of the Games up until now. It has to be, if he was able to rack up enough sponsors to send us this feast.

“How do you think he did it?” Katniss asks, interrupting my pondering.

“Who? Did what?” I ask.

“Haymitch. How do you think he won the Games?”

I consider her question for a moment, compiling the information that I already know. Haymitch won the 50th Hunger Games, the second Quarter Quell, where there’s some sort of special twist to celebrate the 25th anniversary. That year, there were double the tributes; Haymitch was the last one standing out of forty-eight in total. It occurs to me that I never asked him this question, and he seems reluctant to bring it up. I don’t blame him, of course. I’m sure reliving the most traumatic experience of his life isn’t on the top of his want-to-do list. Some victors, however, like to brag about their wins and constantly remind the country of their gallantry, in case they forgot. Instead, Haymitch drowns his sorrows with alcohol and tries to suppress the memories. I’d be surprised if he even remembered enough details to totally recall the full story.

Since Haymitch’s Games was before I was born, I didn’t have first-hand experience watching it, and the rest of the district doesn’t tend to talk about it, either. Sometimes they broadcast iconic moments from the old Games, but I don’t recall seeing any from his. I try to imagine Haymitch 24 years ago, at 16-years-old just like Katniss and I. This in itself is a difficult task considering how my current perception of Haymitch is that of a sullen, haggard man. I’m sure he was in much better shape then, he had to be, but I also don’t picture him as somebody able to overtake anyone he came in contact with. District 12 is hardly ever dangerous enough in terms of build and strength to stand a chance against many of the other tributes, especially the males who have trained their whole life. However, one thing that I will give Haymitch credit for is his wits. All in all he has been a good mentor and seems to know the Games well, and his perception of them is much different than any other I’ve heard. Finally I decide on the most probable answer.

“He outsmarted them,” I say.

Katniss nods in agreement, but doesn’t say much else. She seems to be lost in thought, but I don’t want to pry too much.

We only last another half an hour before we cave and decide to eat again. As Katniss begins to remove the food once more, I hear the anthem play and make my way to the cave entrance to see if the sky has anything to say tonight.

Katniss is unphased and continues to dish the stew into two bowls. “There won’t be anything to see tonight,” she says indifferently. “Nothing’s happened or we would’ve heard a canon.”

But when I peek my head out, there’s a projection in the sk. Thresh’s face is looking back at me.

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