Home > The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)(11)

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)(11)
Suzanne Collins

"I'll get a very bad score," I say.

"Scores only matter if they're very good, no one pays much attention to the bad or mediocre ones. For all they know, you could be hiding your talents to get a low score on purpose. People use that strategy," said Portia.

"I hope that's how people interpret the four I'll probably get," says Peeta. "If that. Really, is anything less impressive than watching a person pick up a heavy ball and throw it a couple of yards. One almost landed on my foot."

I grin at him and realize that I'm starving. I cut off a piece of pork, dunk it in mashed potatoes, and start eating. It's okay. My family is safe. And if they are safe, no real harm has been done.

After dinner, we go to sitting room to watch the scores announced on television. First they show a photo of the tribute, then flash their score below it. The Career Tributes naturally get in the eight-to-ten range. Most of the other players average a five. Surprisingly, little Rue comes up with a seven. I don't know what she showed the judges, but she's so tiny it must have been impressive.

District 12 comes up last, as usual. Peeta pulls an eight so at least a couple of the Gamemakers must have been watching him. I dig my fingernails into my palms as my face comes up, expecting the worst. Then they're flashing the number eleven on the screen.

Eleven!

Effie Trinket lets out a squeal, and everybody is slapping me on the back and cheering and congratulating me. But it doesn't seem real.

"There must be a mistake. How. how could that happen?" I ask Haymitch.

"Guess they liked your temper," he says. "They've got a show to put on. They need some players with some heat."

"Katniss, the girl who was on fire," says Cinna and gives me a hug. "Oh, wait until you see your interview dress." "More flames?" I ask. "Of a sort," he says mischievously.

Peeta and I congratulate each other, another awkward moment. We've both done well, but what does that mean for the other? I escape to my room as quickly as possible and burrow down under the covers. The stress of the day, particularly the crying, has worn me out. I drift off, reprieved, relieved, and with the number eleven still flashing behind my eyelids.

At dawn, I lie in bed for a while, watching the sun come up on a beautiful morning. It's Sunday. A day off at home. I wonder if Gale is in the woods yet. Usually we devote all of Sunday to stocking up for the week. Rising early, hunting and gathering, then trading at the Hob. I think of Gale without me. Both of us can hunt alone, but we're better as a pair. Particularly if we're trying for bigger game. But also in the littler things, having a partner lightened the load, could even make the arduous task of filling my family's table enjoyable.

I had been struggling along on my own for about six months when I first ran into Gale in the woods. It was a Sunday in October, the air cool and pungent with dying things. I'd spent the morning competing with the squirrels for nuts and the slightly warmer afternoon wading in shallow ponds harvesting Katniss. The only meat I'd shot was a squirrel that had practically run over my toes in its quest for acorns, but the animals would still be afoot when the snow buried my other food sources. Having strayed farther afield than usual, I was hurrying back home, lugging my burlap sacks when I came across a dead rabbit. It was hanging by its neck in a thin wire a foot above my head. About fifteen yards away was another. I recognized the twitch-up snares because my father had used them. When the prey is caught, it's yanked into the air out of the reach of other hungry animals. I'd been trying to use snares all summer with no success, so I couldn't help dropping my sacks to examine this one. My fingers were just on the wire above one of the rabbits when a voice rang out. "That's dangerous."

I jumped back several feet as Gale materialized from behind a tree. He must have been watching me the whole time. He was only fourteen, but he cleared six feet and was as good as an adult to me. I'd seen him around the Seam and at school. And one other time. He'd lost his father in the same blast that killed mine. In January, I'd stood by while he received his medal of valor in the Justice Building, another oldest child with no father. I remembered his two little brothers clutching his mother, a woman whose swollen belly announced she was just days away from giving birth.

"What's your name?" he said, coming over and disengaging the rabbit from the snare. He had another three hanging from his belt.

"Katniss," I said, barely audible.

"Well, Catnip, stealing's punishable by death, or hadn't you heard?" he said.

"Katniss," I said louder. "And I wasn't stealing it. I just wanted to look at your snare. Mine never catch anything."

He scowled at me, not convinced. "So where'd you get the squirrel?"

"I shot it." I pulled my bow off my shoulder. I was still using the small version my father had made me, but I'd been practicing with the full-size one when I could. I was hoping that by spring I might be able to bring down some bigger game.

Gale's eyes fastened on the bow. "Can I see that?" I handed it over. "Just remember, stealing's punishable by death."

That was the first time I ever saw him smile. It transformed him from someone menacing to someone you wished you knew. But it took several months before I returned that smile.

We talked hunting then. I told him I might be able to get him a bow if he had something to trade. Not food. I wanted knowledge. I wanted to set my own snares that caught a belt of fat rabbits in one day. He agreed something might be worked out. As the seasons went by, we grudgingly began to share our knowledge, our weapons, our secret places that were thick with wild plums or turkeys. He taught me snares and fishing. I showed him what plants to eat and eventually gave him one of our precious bows. And then one day, without either of us saying it, we became a team. Dividing the work and the spoils. Making sure that both our families had food.

Gale gave me a sense of security I'd lacked since my father's death. His companionship replaced the long solitary hours in the woods. I became a much better hunter when I didn't have to look over my shoulder constantly, when someone was watching my back. But he turned into so much more than a hunting partner. He became my confidante, someone with whom I could share thoughts I could never voice inside the fence. In exchange, he trusted me with his. Being out in the woods with Gale. sometimes I was actually happy.

I call him my friend, but in the last year it's seemed too casual a word for what Gale is to me. A pang of longing shoots through my chest. If only he was with me now! But, of course, I don't want that. I don't want him in the arena where he'd be dead in a few days. I just. I just miss him. And I hate being so alone. Does he miss me? He must.

I think of the eleven flashing under my name last night. I know exactly what he'd say to me. "Well, there's some room for improvement there." And then he'd give me a smile and I'd return it without hesitating now.

I can't help comparing what I have with Gale to what I'm pretending to have with Peeta. How I never question Gale's motives while I do nothing but doubt the latter's. It's not a fair comparison really. Gale and I were thrown together by a mutual need to survive. Peeta and I know the other's survival means our own death. How do you sidestep that?

Effie's knocking at the door, reminding me there's another "big, big, big day!" ahead. Tomorrow night will be our televised interviews. I guess the whole team will have their hands full readying us for that.

I get up and take a quick shower, being a bit more careful about the buttons I hit, and head down to the dining room. Peeta, Effie, and Haymitch are huddled around the table talking in hushed voices. That seems odd, but hunger wins out over curiosity and I load up my plate with breakfast before I join them.

The stew's made with tender chunks of lamb and dried plums today. Perfect on the bed of wild rice. I've shoveled about halfway through the mound when I realize no one's talking. I take a big gulp of orange juice and wipe my mouth. "So, what's going on? You're coaching us on interviews today, right?"

"That's right," says Haymitch.

"You don't have to wait until I'm done. I can listen and cat at the same time," I say.

"Well, there's been a change of plans. About our current approach," says Haymitch.

"What's that?" I ask. I'm not sure what our current approach is. Trying to appear mediocre in front of the other tributes is the last bit of strategy I remember.

Haymitch shrugs. "Peeta has asked to be coached separately."

9

Betrayal. That's the first thing I feel, which is ludicrous. For there to be betrayal, there would have had to been trust first. Between Peeta and me. And trust has not been part of the agreement. We're tributes. But the boy who risked a beating to give me bread, the one who steadied me in the chariot, who covered for me with the redheaded Avox girl, who insisted Haymitch know my hunting skills. was there some part of me that couldn't help trusting him?

On the other hand, I'm relieved that we can stop the pretense of being friends. Obviously, whatever thin connection we'd foolishly formed has been severed. And high time, too. The Games begin in two days, and trust will only be a weakness. Whatever triggered Peeta's decision  -  and I suspect it had to do with my outperforming him in training  -  I should be nothing but grateful for it. Maybe he's finally accepted the fact that the sooner we openly acknowledge that we are enemies, the better.

"Good," I say. "So what's the schedule?"

"You'll each have four hours with Effie for presentation and four with me for content," says Haymitch. "You start with Effie, Katniss."

I can't imagine what Effie will have to teach me that could take four hours, but she's got me working down to the last minute. We go to my rooms and she puts me in a full-length gown and high-heeled shoes, not the ones I'll he wearing for the actual interview, and instructs me on walking. The shoes are the worst part. I've never worn high heels and can't get used to essentially wobbling around on the balls of my feet. But Effie runs around in them full-time, and I'm determined that if she can do it, so can I. The dress poses another problem. It keeps tangling around my shoes so, of course, I hitch it up, and then Effie swoops down on me like a hawk, smacking my hands and yelling, "Not above the ankle!" When I finally conquer walking, there's still sitting, posture  -  apparently I have a tendency to duck my head  -  eye contact, hand gestures, and smiling. Smiling is mostly about smiling more. Effie makes me say a hundred banal phrases starting with a smile, while smiling, or ending with a smile. By lunch, the muscles in my cheeks are twitching from overuse.

"Well, that's the best I can do," Effie says with a sigh. "Just remember, Katniss, you want the audience to like you."

"And you don't think they will?" I ask.

"Not if you glare at them the entire time. Why don't you save that for the arena? Instead, think of yourself among friends," says Effie.

"They're betting on how long I'll live!" I burst out. "They're not my friends!"

"Well, try and pretend!" snaps Effie. Then she composes herself and beams at me. "See, like this. I'm smiling at you even though you're aggravating me."

"Yes, it feels very convincing," I say. "I'm going to eat." 1 kick off my heels and stomp down to the dining room, hiking my skirt up to my thighs.

Peeta and Haymitch seem in pretty good moods, so I'm thinking the content session should be an improvement over the morning. I couldn't be more wrong. After lunch, Haymitch takes me into the sitting room, directs me to the couch, and then just frowns at me for a while.

"What?" I finally ask.

"I'm trying to figure out what to do with you," he says. "How we're going to present you. Are you going to be charming? Aloof? Fierce? So far, you're shining like a star. You volunteered to save your sister. Cinna made you look unforgettable. You've got the top training score. People are intrigued, but no one knows who you are. The impression you make tomorrow will decide exactly what I can get you in terms of sponsors," says Haymitch.

Having watched the tribute interviews all my life, I know there's truth to what he's saying. If you appeal to the crowd, either by being humorous or brutal or eccentric, you gain favor.

"What's Peeta's approach? Or am I not allowed to ask?" I say.

"Likable. He has a sort of self-deprecating humor naturally," says Haymitch. "Whereas when you open your mouth, you come across more as sullen and hostile."

"I do not!" I say.

"Please. I don't know where you pulled that cheery, wavy girl on the chariot from, but I haven't seen her before or since," says Haymitch.

"And you've given me so many reasons to be cheery," I counter.

"But you don't have to please me. I'm not going to sponsor you. So pretend I'm the audience," says Haymitch. "Delight me."

"Fine!" I snarl. Haymitch takes the role of the interviewer and I try to answer his questions in a winning fashion. But I can't. I'm too angry with Haymitch for what he said and that I even have to answer the questions. All I can think is how unjust the whole thing is, the Hunger Games. Why am I hopping around like some trained dog trying to please people I hate? The longer the interview goes on, the more my fury seems to rise to the surface, until I'm literally spitting out answers at him.

"All right, enough," he says. "We've got to find another angle. Not only are you hostile, I don't know anything about you. I've asked you fifty questions and still have no sense of your life, your family, what you care about. They want to know about you, Katniss."

"But I don't want them to! They're already taking my future! They can't have the things that mattered to me in the past!" I say.

"Then lie! Make something up!" says Haymitch.

"I'm not good at lying," I say.

"Well, you better learn fast. You've got about as much charm as a dead slug," says Haymitch.

Ouch. That hurts. Even Haymitch must know he's been too harsh because his voice softens. "Here's an idea. Try acting humble."

"Humble," I echo.

"That you can't believe a little girl from District Twelve has done this well. The whole thing's been more than you ever could have dreamed of. Talk about Cinna's clothes. How nice the people are. How the city amazes you. If you won't talk about yourself, at least compliment the audience. Just keep turning it back around, all right. Gush."

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