Prodded to Drown

Chapter 10

"I resent the fact that I'm treated like a child, when we're practically the same age."

Finnick looked at Lance across the breakfast table, swallowed slightly, and replied, "I resent that you don't respect me as a mentor."

Lance nodded. "I'm sorry.

"Me too."

I stared at the pair of them. "Seriously?" I asked. "Is that it?" They both looked at me, smiling bemusedly, and I just looked at Esmé and the two of us rolled our eyes to the ceiling.

"Boys," I agreed. We started to laugh, and I looked at Lance and he joined in. I cast a wary glance at Finnick, who was smiling a little sadly.

"When I won the Games," he said suddenly, "my friends didn't know how to act around me anymore. And when people don't want to make things uncomfortable they tend to just avoid you. So, I guess I'm a little jealous of your friendship, too."

I met his eyes and he pressed his lips together a little bracingly. Was that why he was surprised to hear that I wanted to be friends with him, and why he was so determined to keep me? I suddenly felt awful. But I still had no idea how I was supposed to feel.

It was just starting to become clear to me how ridiculous this situation was. I was going into the Hunger Games in two days, heading to my death, and I had spent a whole night wondering if Finnick Odair was good or bad. Why was this so important to me? I had a private session with the Gamemakers this afternoon and I hadn't even given a thought to what I'd do for them! And now that he and Lance seemed to be on good terms, I wasn't thinking, "Oh good, now we can get down to the business of staying alive without them having a go at each other every two minutes." I was thinking, "Did this mean we were friends again?"

Did I want to be friends with him? The honest answer was yes, there was a part of him that I liked. A lot. But the other side of him completely overruled that. But then, which part was the real him? If he didn't have a choice in the way he acted, the way he loved in the Capitol, then the only other option was that he was forced. Forced to sell himself, and forced to hide the purity of his core. If that was the case, then the part that I liked was, actually, the real Finnick Odair.

I was going to be dead in a matter of weeks, maybe days, and this is what was troubling my mind? Maybe I was crazy.

And yet, it was then that I decided that I'd have to find out. I couldn't die not knowing. And I was pretty sure Finnick was the only person who would be able to tell me. Worming it out of him, now that was a different story entirely. He had hardly looked at me all morning.

"Not that you could ever replace Annie or me," Lance chipped in, "but if one of us wins the Games, we won't have anyone to hang out with. And we'd be next-door neighbours, after all."

Finnick laughed and opened his mouth to speak when Esmé butted in.

"Not that this isn't the sweetest little sentiment," she fluttered, "but Finnick, darling, the kids have their private training sessions today and we haven't even spoken about —"

"Hey, they're not kids, Esmé," said Finnick, grinning at Lance. And Lance grinned back. And I hadn't a clue how it could possibly be so easy for two boys who apparently hated each other's guts to so suddenly and easily become friends. But it was.

Boys …

"But you're right anyway," continued Finnick. "Anything specific you wanna do, Lance?"

Lance shrugged. "Throw some spears, I guess."

"Well, you have got fifteen minutes."

"Oh," said Lance, and dropped his cutlery, looking oddly nervous. I had to remind myself that it wasn't odd at all. My priorities were so messed up. He rumpled his messy blonde hair for a moment and then said, "Well, I'm not bad at the, um … the botany."

"Botany," repeated Finnick blankly.

"Yeah. Like plants," he explained. "I can ace the edible plants test."

"Oh, right!" said Finnick, sounding surprised. "Well, okay. It's good to show you're not just a fighter, after all. They like the well-rounded tributes. I mean, I only threw spears in my private session. But I just realised that I'm not supposed to tell you that. Ach, but who cares?"

"But you got a ten," I said.

Finnick did not look at me. "Well … I was also extremely attractive looking."

Lance laughed. "Are you saying I'm not attractive?"

Finnick shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid you're in a different league entirely, my friend."

"You're such an asshole," said Lance lightly.

"Yeah, but you guys still love me."

I cleared my throat loudly. Lance laughed a little and went back to his breakfast, while Finnick shot me a little startled look, but quickly averted his eyes and drank from his teacup. I stared at him until he finally put it down and looked at me properly.

"So, what do you want to do?" he asked me, his eyes dropping from my face as he spoke. When I didn't answer, he was forced to meet my eyes again. "What have you been doing for the past two days?"

"I've been … playing on the climbing frame," I admitted ashamedly.

"I've watched you on that thing," said Lance, his mouth full of scrambled eggs and toast. He waved his fork around and swallowed, gasping a little for air. He looked at Finnick. "She can run along the top of it. It's awesome."

"That's impressive. Don't undervalue speed," said Finnick. "Speed is good. Agility is good. Do you think you could make a show of it for the judges?"

I shrugged. "I guess I could."

"And how's your shooting coming along?"

I made a face.

"Aye, well … do whatever you want." Finnick looked at a gold watch on his wrist. "You better get going, you're already late."

"Wait, what stations should we go to? I mean, it's the last training session," said Lance.

Finnick chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Survival skills. And why don't you stick together?"

Lance got up from his seat, and gave me a big smile. "Gladly."

I smiled a little tightly and got up too, glaring at Finnick as we walked out of the room. But he was still refusing to look at me. And even though I was torn between thinking he was a loathsome human being who wasn't worth my time or a guy with some curious secret that I desperately wanted to figure out, I still didn't approve of being ignored. No, I was not a happy little clownfish at all.

"You know," said Lance, as we waited for the elevator, "if you had been paying attention, you might have noticed that I wasn't throwing my spears as far as I could."

I looked at him. "Huh?"

He smiled a bit. "And for all the things I've told Laertes about myself, I've found out just as much about him. So he'll find it pretty hard to turn on me without screwing himself over in the process."

"I knew you weren't that stupid," I said, and he rolled his eyes. "I was being a bit ridiculous, eh?"

"Yeah, you were," he agreed as we stepped into the empty elevator. "Buuuut I was being ridiculous about Finnick, just a bit."

"Just a bit," I said quietly. He glanced sideways at me, and I tried to pretend that everything was normal. But who was wrong about Finnick these days? I wondered if Lance had noticed how he wouldn't look me in the eyes this morning. Most probably, I thought. He noticed these things, even when I didn't. But he wasn't asking me about it, which I appreciated. I didn't even know where I'd begin trying to explain my Finnick problem. So I just said, "Still a play-toy, though."

"But you were right, it's got nothing to do with us and the Games."

I stared through the clear glass walls of the elevator as we passed the ground floor and heading into the basement. Was I right before? Was it none of my business? I kind of wanted it to be my business, I guess.

"I propose we have lunch today," Lance proclaimed dramatically. "You and I. No careers."

"We can sit with Laertes and Juliet if you want," I said, meeting his blue eyes.

He looked into my face. "I want to sit with you." And then he hugged me, just as the elevator opened on the floor of the training centre. And I found myself staring over his shoulder at Laertes, who was looking right back at me. Then Juliet beside him turned around and gripped the knife in her hand tighter, her pretty face taking on a pinched look. And it was like it happened just like that. Lance hugged me. The alliance was over. Was there ever officially an alliance? I wasn't actually sure. Lance never would have agreed to anything without at least mentioning it to me. There wasn't now, so that was that.

I had never noticed how loud Lance laughed before. I thought it was just some weird thing he was doing trying to fit in with the Careers. But it turned out that it was just him. And it was kind of hilarious.

Lance and I lit fires and made shelters and he teased me over my awful artistic talents, and I teased him when he freaked out at the edible bugs station.

"We can go sit with them," I told him at lunch, while we were eating in our own little corner.

Lance quickly glanced back at me. He hadn't realised he had been staring over at the Careers. "No, I'm done with them. It's bros before hoes now." He wrinkled his brow.

I grinned. "So … I would be your bro in this situation?"

"Yeah," he said, smirking a little. "Don't ask who the hoe is."

We all had to line up in seats, waiting to go into our private sessions with the Gamemakers. Of course Laertes, being from District 1 and being a boy, was the first name to be called. He ignored Juliet as she rubbed his shoulders soothingly, and stood up.

Then he glanced at Lance, and I had to elbow Lance to bring his attention around. And they looked at each other for a moment and there was a brief pause before Lance said, "Don't grip the shaft too tight."

And Laertes paused, then gave half a grin and said, "Right back at ya, fish-boy."

Lance chuckled at this reply, and continued trying to hide his grin for at least five minutes after the other boy had walked away. When they called Juliet's name exactly fifteen minutes later, I saw Lance look a little disappointed. But then the first three districts all completed their sessions, and he was up.

"I don't know any encouraging spearing terms," I said, "but break a leg. I mean, not literally. But, you know."

He laughed a little distractedly and nodded.

I began to count the minutes after he left, and I was at three when my vision darkened as a shadow suddenly loomed over me. I had my elbows resting on my knees, my chin in my hands, and I looked up to see Laertes, of all people, standing in front of me.

I drew back in surprise. He just looked at me for a moment and then nodded. "Hey."

"Eh? I mean, hey?" (I was so confused my voice made it sound like a question.)

He slouched as he stood, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. He had already changed out of his training uniform, and was wearing pale blue jeans which were artfully torn at the knees, and a white baseball shirt with blue sleeves. He wore all these leather bracelets on one wrist and his belt buckle was showing.

And I had to say it: he looked extremely cool.

He looked casually about himself, then flicked his hair out of his eyes as he looked down at me.

"I just wanted to say … I get that you guys aren't teaming with us. And … no hard feelings. Yeah?"

His voice was really slow. It was the sort of voice you could only ever associate with a person who was really really dumb, or just seriously mellow.

I just blinked at him. "… Really?"

"Yeah," he said calmly, looking around again. "Didn't really want to be allies with you guys anyway."

For a moment, I felt my face growing red hot in anger. "Because we're not good enough for you?" I asked shrilly.

He met my eyes and a little crinkle creased across his forehead, but that was about as much reaction as he had to my accusation. He just continued on in the same light, barely-trying-to-be-conversational tone. "Nah, Lance is a good friend … All those inter-district alliances just end badly, you know? Don't wanna … get left in a sticky situation at the end." He narrowed his eyes at me. "Know what I mean?"

"I — yeah," I said. "Oh."

I did know what he meant, but that didn't mean it wasn't completely shocking to me. My mind was desperately trying to figure out if this was some sort of ruse, but I couldn't imagine how it might be. He seemed … genuine. He was saying he was leaving us alone in the arena, how could there be anything sinister behind that? And I was fully aware that it was crazy that I trusted him so easily, but I really did. He had that sort of presence about him. And for a moment, I just looked at Laertes standing there in front of me, with his cool clothes and his soft blonde hair swept into his eyes and his seriously soothing voice. And this was when I began to understand what Lance had been saying about Laertes all along. He was just cool. I actually started to feel bad that I hadn't tried to get to know him at all.

"Sorry," I said shyly.

He just waved his hand. "And anyway, I don't really trust that Juliet wouldn't … you know."

"What?" I asked, and he just looked at me with a slightly pained expression, and then I understood. He didn't trust that Juliet wouldn't just kill us in our sleeps, alliance or not.

"You don't trust your own District partner?" I asked. "I mean, you trust my District partner more than your own District partner?"

He shrugged, eyes half closed. "Everyone has secrets."

My stomach squirmed. There seemed to be nothing that couldn't remind me of Finnick.

"So … hopefully we won't be seeing each other in the arena," he said, flashing a charming smile.

I nodded and smiled back, and he made a move as if to turn away and I blurted out, "Are you gonna talk to Lance? I know he'd love to see you."

He spun slightly back towards me, eyeing me very closely. He took one hand out of his pocket to point rather lazily at the door. "… He in there now?" I nodded, and he swayed a little in thought. "Yeah, we might … have a little chat later."

For a moment he didn't say anything, but rubbed his neck slowly.

His eyes looked over me and stopped on my face. He smiled. "So … Juliet was wondering if you and Lance were, like, a thing now."

It wasn't a question, at least as far as I could tell. I just sort of shook my head, not even understanding what that meant for a moment. When it finally hit me, the first question that came out of me was: "Juliet was wondering?"

He stopped and grinned a cheesy grin, showing his brilliant white teeth. "Well, yeah." When I just raised my eyebrows at him he said, "Because I've already turned her down, and Saul scares us all a little, and Lance is a fairly attractive guy. Don't you think?"

Laertes turned down Juliet? Well, now I definitely trusted him!

I shook myself. "I don't really think about it," I replied.

"So, you're not …?" His voice trailed away meaningfully.

I shook my head more determinedly this time. "No, we're just friends. Why did you think — I mean, why did Juliet think we …?"

"We saw you two hugging in the elevator," he said, stifling a yawn as if our conversation was boring him. I had to remind myself that it was him who started it. He shook his head quickly and said, "So you're not like secretly in love with each other or something."

Again, it didn't sound like a question. I narrowed my eyes, trying to figure out what he was doing. Was this some way of getting dirt on us so as to figure out our weaknesses? But, with me and Lance, we were each other's weaknesses and we didn't need to be in love for that to be true. And that had been obvious since the moment I burst into tears at the reaping and they stopped him from trying to embrace me.

Something else entirely was going on here.

"I'm not … Lance's type," I said carefully.

He stared into my eyes for a full minute before a tiny smile met his lips. "And … would Juliet be his type?"

I smiled a little too, for some reason. "Even less so."

"That's interesting," he said casually, as if a moderately intriguing butterfly was flying past his face.

"Yes," I said, feeling like I was losing grasp of this conversation a little bit. Or had I ever had a handle on it?

"Well … I'll be sure to let Juliet know about that," he said finally. He flashed another smile. "I guess I'll see ya around, Annie."

"Yes," I repeated, and then he turned and walked away. I stared after him, mostly baffled and a little bit suspicious.

Suddenly a girl's voice piped up from beside me. "Wow. Hot mentor, hot friend, hot allies. Lucky you."

I looked at the girl from District 5 who was sitting on the opposite side of Columb, the boy with glasses who had tripped on his way to the stage at the reaping, and whom I had saved from eating the toxic seaweed. I think her name was Joulia.

"Yeah," I said, "the aesthetic benefits almost make up for this dismal situation." I looked back to the front, sighing, "Almost."

And then, of course, I was just thinking about Finnick. Hot mentor, indeed.

My stomach was rotting with maggots. I was despicable as he.

A short time later, my name was called and I entered back into the training hall. My mind was still on Finnick, which was completely insane and annoying. How did this happen? This was an important moment in my survival — I mean, Lance's survival — in the Games. And I was thinking about Finnick? Everything about this was just sick.

Still, I found myself at the archery station as Finnick had mentioned this morning. When I picked up the bow, I tried to pretend that I was someone else. Someone in a different situation, in a different universe, with a different reason for picking up this weapon. Maybe I was from a small village in the forest and my best friend had been kidnapped by monsters. Would I be able to kill monsters? Maybe I lived outside a big city and had to fight injustice while saving the princess from the clutches of an evil sorcerer. Maybe I was a pirate. Maybe I was a stupid little cherub whose arrows made people fall in love with each other. I scratched the last one, because that did not give me any desire to shoot straight.

I shot well. Not fantastically well or anything, but as good as I had the first day of training. My beginner's luck was somehow revived. Or maybe it was the fact that this was the last time I planned to ever hold a weapon, if I could help it.

I looked around and felt my heart sinking somewhere into the general region of my gut. Whatever attention I had been keeping when I walked in had suddenly dissipated. Most of the Gamemakers were looking away from me, and it didn't take me long to pinpoint their distraction.

One of them, a short man with a halo of wildly curly silver hair and wearing a tweed suit under a long purple robe, had fallen asleep. And he was snoring. Loudly. To my horror, I recognised him from Finnick's description as none other than the head Gamemaker, Bilbo Attercop.

I felt like snapping the bow in half. Or crying. Or both. I was the eighth tribute of the day. It wasn't even nearly halfway through. They had been here less than two hours. And he had fallen asleep?

I managed to control the outburst, and instead I went over to the climbing equipment and swung my way across the monkey bars as quickly as I could, then lifted myself up above them and did my bit on the top. When I had done this I stopped and balanced on the furthest rung and looked back at the Gamemakers. If possible, the situation over there had deteriorated. Nobody was watching me any more: it seemed that everyone was so embarrassed and scared of their boss that they had taken to starting loud conversations with each other, or turning to the refreshments table, or digging into their food and drink. I looked at each grotesque face, and not one was taking any notice of me. I might as well have been invisible.

I looked up, and for the first time I noticed the beams criss-crossing the ceiling of the training hall. There was one right above my head. Back in District 4, I had the attic room of my grandparent's house, and there were joists like that there, too, so thick that I used to take a cushion and sit up there when I needed a bit of a sanctuary. Sometimes, I would drape a sheet over them and make a tent.

Before I knew it, I was hoisting myself up onto the beam above me, sitting there and swinging my legs as I looked down on the large room from such a height. I looked over at the Gamemakers again, wondering how long it would take them to notice my absence from the room. Maybe they would presume I had left and call in the next tribute. I was worried for about a split second, but then an idea came to me.

I got up quickly and took in my route for a minute before setting off. I manoeuvred my way nimbly across the rafters, occasionally having to jump around the beams going from my feet to the ceiling at different angles like the web of a very organised spider. Very soon I was on the other side of the room, standing right over the heads of the Gamemakers, and still not one of them had noticed me.

I sat down as quietly as I could on the beam. And then, I dropped.

There was a large crash and a clatter as a large dish of grapes and a bunch of cutlery and chrome plates were knocked to the floor as I landed square in the middle of their long dining table, right in front of the snoring Head Gamemaker. Only he wasn't snoring anymore. My landing had woken him so suddenly he gave a strangled yell of surprise, and I heard a few gasps and screeches coming from the others.

I just looked down at Bilbo Attercop as he quickly wiped the drool from his chin with a look of both outraged bewilderment and complete mortification. And instead of making me laugh, as it should have, I just felt rather depressed. "Annie Cresta, District Four," I said glumly. "No need to get up — I was just leaving." Then I jumped down from the table and practically ran out of the room.

For a while I just rode the elevator up and down and up and down and up and half-down and back up and then two-thirds down which was, of course, our floor, so I got out.

The apartment was strangely quiet. I went and knocked on Lance's door.

"Uh, hang on—" came his voice. And after a minute, "… Yeah?"

I opened the door a crack and stuck my head through. "Hey, I — uh, what are you doing?"

He was standing in the middle of the floor with his shirt off. I narrowed my eyes, and he looked down at himself and then over at me.

"I was sweaty," he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. And maybe it was. I didn't know.

"Oh, okay," I said curiously. He rumpled his hair a bit and looked around. For a moment I forgot where I was, but then I remembered. "How was your session?"

"Oh. Awful. Bilbo Attercop was nodding off, I think."

"I'm sure he was. He was snoring in mine."

"Ach, ouch," he said, shuddering and throwing me a worried look.

"I woke him up, though," I said, allowing myself a small smile. "I'll tell you about it later, with everyone."

"Sounds good," he said, laughing.

"So …" I said. "Since we have the rest of the day off, you wanna hang out?"

Lance's eyes widened for a second, but then he just nodded fervently and said, "Yeah, I'd love to. I just … I need a shower first."

"Okay," I said. I was about to leave when I remembered something. "Oh, did Laertes find you?"

He smiled. "Yeah. We had a little chat and … everything's cool."

I narrowed my eyes and hugged the door-frame. "He's a pretty cool guy." He bobbed his head a bit, grinning knowingly at me. That was my way of saying, "I am happy you made a new friend who doesn't seem like a total manipulative sadist or anything but I don't want to say this out loud." Then I added, "You might wanna watch out for Juliet, though."

He just snorted in reply. And suddenly, I actually understood what Laertes had implied about Juliet. And it was the same thing Finnick had been saying to me last night.

"Lance, would you want to lose your virginity before dying?" I asked quickly, already beetroot red. "I mean, just theoretically."

His face froze, and he stared at me for a moment. "Um … Not really. I'd rather fall in love."

I exhaled, my pulse racing. I looked down. "Yeah, me too."

There was a pause. "Uh, actually I just remembered, Finnick was looking for you."

"Finnick?" I asked abruptly, my heart making little flutters with every beat. "… For me?"

"Yeah, uh, something about …" He shook his head unconvincingly. "Training scores. Or something."

"Oh," I said. I was trying desperately to keep my face neutral, but I was totally flipping out. What would Finnick want to talk to me about? He had hardly looked at me at breakfast, and now he wanted to chat? And about what? Would I somehow be able to slip in an authoritative demand for answers?

I was so distracted that I was already down the hall when I heard Lance laugh behind me. "I'll just see you later, then," he said, grinning, and quickly shut the door of his bedroom, which I had left wide open.

"Oh … sorry. See you," I said distractedly, but he was already gone. I stood alone in the hall for a moment before taking a flight around the apartment in search of Finnick.

I checked the kitchen, the dining room, the sitting room with the television and the comfortable couches, the balcony, and the hallway again, but Finnick was nowhere to be found. I checked some cupboards and under the couch as well, but no dice. It occurred to me that he could have been in his room, but I was still too nervous to knock. But by the time I had given up and made it back to my room, my purpose was already slipping my mind. By the time I lay down on the bed and snuggled under the covers, I was mostly just thinking about how tired I was all of a sudden. And by the time I was drifting off into slumberland, I was not thinking about anything at all.

I woke up some time later to the sound of Lance knocking on my door. And we did hang out, but I had mostly forgotten about looking for Finnick and he didn't mention it again. And I didn't ask why he had taken two hours just to have a shower. Maybe he, like me, had taken to having very long showers since we came here, just to try wash away some of the suffocating emotions of being a part in all this. And wash away the dirty feeling of the Capitol's corruption. His hair was still wet, too, because Lance was extremely fussy about his hair and refused to dry it in any way other than by air.

But I wasn't completely innocent: I knew there was something going on with him that was just slightly out of my sphere of knowledge. I wondered how I had missed something going on with Lance, but then I recalled my whole Finnick situation, and it actually seemed pretty plausible.

When we went out to dinner, we were surprised (and sort of unsure whether or not to be pleased) to find Sheaney and Holden joining us for the meal. But it turned out to be moderately enjoyable, with more stories from Esmé and Holden (or the gruesome twosome as I had begun to call them), and Lance and me sharing a few tales of our own. But this time, I wasn't really paying attention to Holden or Esmé, or even Lance. My mind was a little preoccupied.

Finnick didn't say a word for the entire meal. I stared at him a lot, not because I found him visually attractive or because I was waiting for the secret smile to emerge, but because I was trying to get him to look at me. I didn't know if he was mad at me, even, because I had a feeling he was more hurt and upset than actually angry. That was just my guess. And I wanted him to know … Ach, okay, I didn't know exactly what I wanted him to know, but I wanted to send some sort of message, even just to tell him that I wanted to talk. Because that was something I wanted very badly. I needed to know if I was wrong about him. I needed to know if that tiny fraction of goodness was worth holding onto. I needed to know exactly how big that fraction of him was.

Above all, I needed to know if he had a choice.

Occasionally I managed to catch his eyes, but he would just wrinkle his brow and swallow nervously and hastily look away again. It was a little infuriating, to be honest.

When we moved from the dining room to the living room, for some strange and disoriented reason Lance sat down in one of the single armchairs. Sheaney took the other, and Esmé and Holden took the two-seater. And that, of course, left me and Finnick.

He stiffly sat down on the opposite end of the comfy couch without looking at me. And I was suddenly very acutely aware of the fact that this was exactly the same positions we had been in the night before last. I considered asking him to tickle my feet again but thought better of it. It wasn't really the time. I just curled my legs up underneath me and tried not to be too aware of his presence.

When the scores began popping up on the screen, I suddenly had a very good distraction. I hadn't been nervous until now. I hadn't even thought about the actual scores.

Lance looked good in the picture that flashed up. His hair was all messy, but tidily so. The number flashed up next: nine.

Esmé and Holden burst out into shrill screams, Sheaney said, "Whoa," and Finnick reached over to pat Lance on the back. Lance himself looked more like he had been slapped silly in the face with a wet fish, he was so surprised.

But now my face was on the screen. My eyes were too round, making me look perpetually bewildered. I was so busy wondering if I always looked like that that I almost missed my score until the yells brought be back to reality.

Eight.

"Eight?" I repeated. "That can't be right."

In the moment that followed, Finnick and I both seemed to forget whatever tension there was between us. Because he was ogling at me now, saying, "What the hell did you do in there? Were you just lying about your archery?"

"She wasn't — she's nothing special with the bow," said Lance truthfully.

"Eight is, like, a Career's score!" Holden was yelling. "I mean it's low for a Career, but for you it's just fantastic, Annie!"

"Yes, thank you Holden," grumbled Finnick, still staring at me. "Seriously, that's not half bad. It's not bad at all, actually. What did you do?"

I was still trying to get over it. An eight! Lance had done so well, but that was expected. But I was the one who had no useful talents whatsoever. So how had this happened?

"It's purely for guts," I said finally. Then I told them that I had dropped down into the middle of the Gamemaker's meal and scared Bilbo Attercop half to death.

Lance gave a low whistle and began to laugh. Finnick was already there, pressing his hands over his mouth to control himself. Holden looked like he was about to faint.

"That's just another reason why we're so desperately in need of a new Head Gamemaker!" said Esmé importantly. Everyone sort of vaguely agreed even though it was clear that we didn't really care.

"Well, I'm proud of both of you," said Finnick.

"You guys are so AWESOME!" yelled Holden.

That night, we were not excused like little children but were allowed to stay up with the adults and talk over the generic things — the other tributes' scores, our plans for tomorrow, and the coming interviews …

The interviews? I had completely forgotten! And according to the plan, Finnick was coaching each of us separately in order to save time. That meant I had a whole afternoon of Finnick …

He'd have to talk to me then, right?

But, no, I couldn't ask him about it. The training for the interview was too important, he'd never agree to give me answers at that time. And I just couldn't stand that much time in his presence when he still refused to look at me.

So that's why, when Lance and I excused ourselves for bed, I gave Finnick a very meaningful look when he briefly glanced up and met my eyes.

It was a look that said I hoped I would be seeing him on the couches that night.

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