Chapter 4: Twelfth Floor
That night Clara and Cassie forcefully rounded them up to eat dinner together on the twelfth floor Penthouse at the Tribute Center, their home until they were forced into the arena to either kill or be killed.
Mackie, Clara, and Eva, the girls' designer, were drinking and talking animatedly at one end of the table. Cassie was sitting with them at the other head of the table, evaluating their first day of training, occasionally rolling her eyes at the host and designers.
"Dylan, you are the dark horse in this group! Who knew you were so skilled in hand to hand; you bruised two of the trainers today, another one swears you sprained their wrist. Keep it up."
"My friends and I wrestled a lot," he mumbled, fighting a smile. Haymitch raised an eyebrow. Maybe they could spar together, and he could learn a trick or two. One-upping the trainers was impressive.
"Tone up on weights everyday, and start with weapons tomorrow, your choice. You can't rely only on your fists," Cassie continued.
Dylan nodded. Cassie almost grinned as she gave a short nod back before turning to the next tribute.
"Maggie, you are quite the survivalist. You did very well at those stations: traps, edible plants, camouflage, creating weapons; however I'm going to say the same, you can't rely on only one thing, start training with weapons. With your agile hands, you might want to try the bow and arrow, or knives."
"What about swords?" Maggie asked, perking up.
Cassie shrugged, but eventually shook her head.
"You can try, but to become even remotely good with a sword takes a lot of upper body strength training, more than what we have time for. Try it only if you don't succeed with the knives or bow and arrows, okay? And though it's tempting, don't go for the huge blades, try something small and light, such as a Katana."
"Now Maysilee, you tackled the obstacle course with ease, and did well with the edible plants," she gave a pointed look to Haymitch, who glanced at Maysilee, who looked away, "but work with weapons now. Speed and agility doesn't account for everything."
Maysilee gave a nod and picked at her food before eating a small bite or two of the chicken on her plate.
"Haymitch…" Cassie said, and he looked up, not sure if he was terrified or anxious for the feedback.
"Work on weights. In fact, you and Dylan do weights together from now on. It will confuse the other tributes that you're working together... Actually, Maggie and Maysilee, you both practice on bows and arrows together as well."
Haymitch looked over to Dylan, who only shrugged. Maggie and Maysilee nodded at each other.
"And keep it up with the spear work, Haymitch. Keep working on how to build weapons, but practice more with knives... all of you, practice more with knives. They're a frequent weapon in the arena, and the tributes don't focus too well on them when training. It's an advantage."
Haymitch nodded and then set his fork down on his plate.
"Cassie, can I ask you something?" he asked, taking a small sip of his water. It tasked like crystals to him, it was that clear and crisp, nothing like the flaky and dirty water back home.
"Shoot," she said, holding her hands together on the table in front of her untouched plate.
"What weapon did you train with, and what did you end up actually using?" he asked.
Cassie's eyebrows furrowed and she took a while before answering.
"Well, in training… I acted less than par around the other tributes, but during individual training and the scoring, I was unstoppable with a sword. My dad was into vintage sports; he liked Fencing."
She paused, took another sip of her drink, and continued.
"In the Arena… I could only get my hands on two axes, different in size. It took me some practice, but I got used to them easily."
Haymitch wanted to ask more.
How did she win?
Did she get any sponsors?
Did she have to kill the boy from her district?
However he saw the look of dread on Cassie's face, and decided it was better to stay silent.
Cassie tossed back the rest of her green drink and set the glass down on the table with a thud.
"Well," she said as she pushed her chair back to sit up, "I'm off to sleep. Good luck in training tomorrow, remember what I told you. See you kids... later."
She then walked away and disappeared down the hall. They heard the door of her room slam closed.
"Good job, idiot!" Maysilee seethed from next to him, punching his arm hard. "Now none of us can get in our questions!" she said louder, breaking the silence.
"Like what, did she pout her lips during the interviews?"
"Ugh, no! Like did she fight or flee at the Cornucopia? Did she stay in close range, or distance herself from the other tributes? Did she-"
"Have to deal with her period?" he asked, slightly annoyed; though he regretted it the moment he said it; his father had taught him better.
But the gall that this girl had... he just had to match it.
Maysilee let out a soft yell of anger and she slapped him, hard. It actually threw his head a little.
After a moment of staring at the ground, blinking through the pulsing pain in his cheek, the room grew silent. Haymitch turned his head to stare at her with a blank face. He was surprised to see her with a shocked look on her face.
"Ow," he said slowly, slightly grinning. He couldn't help it; nobody had reacted like that to his rude humor. Or his rudeness overall.
"Excuse me! The make-up artists will throw a fit if there is even a hint of a bruise!" Clara shrieked.
Maysillee glared at Haymitch, who could only stare back in surprise.
"I think that is enough for the lot of you tonight!" Clara said in a shrill voice as she stood up. "Off to sleep, all of you!"
They all sat there for a second, still stunned, Haymitch's cheek still pulsing, and wondering if he had a red mark in the shape of her small hand marked on his cheek. It sure felt like it, and his suspicion was confirmed as he watched Maysilee's eyes move down his face, her eyebrow twitching.
"Go!" Clara shrieked and they all jumped out of their chairs and rushed to their rooms.
"Idiot," Maysilee muttered under her breath as she walked past Haymitch.
"Psycho," he whispered back, walking only a few steps behind her. She slammed the door behind her and Maggie.
Haymitch only shook his head, inexplicably smiling as he followed Dylan into his room.
His eyes shot open, having spent enough time and effort keeping them closed after an hour or so.
He sighed and threw off the covers as he stumbled to the bathroom to splash warm water on his face. He ignored the mirror as he left and crept out the bedroom, hoping there were still some treats left on the table out in the penthouse.
He stopped short at the end of the hall when he saw Maysilee curled up on the sofa, looking at a projected scene on wall. It showed a scene of a forest: a clearing with tall grass and the setting sun shining through. It was many of the scenic options each room had, controlled by the main remote.
He remembered stumbling upon it in his and Dylan's room, setting it to the Capitol scene accidentally. He had enjoyed watching a wreck of a fashion show before he found the right button to change it. He liked the desert scene himself.
He must have made noise because Maysillee turned around, and half frowned.
"Hi," she said with a little sigh.
"Hey," he said, taking a few steps forward, the floor cold on his bare feet. He looked at the sofa, and back at her. She nodded, and he sat down next to her, keeping an arm's length away.
She turned to look back at the forest scene.
"It reminds me of home. There aren't any trees in the Capitol, it took me only a minute to notice. I didn't know I would miss them so much," she muttered.
He blinked and then turned to look at the scene as well. The tall grass in the clearing was waving in the breeze, and there were even some wildflowers. The field was small and was basking in rays of the setting sun, the light peeking out from the large trees.
"I didn't just notice till now. I can't believe they don't have trees. Probably have only this for reference," he said, tilting his head at the moving picture.
They sat for a minute in silence before she spoke.
"Sorry about earlier."
He looked over and met her gaze, which really seemed apologetic. Her brow was slightly furrowed, as though she might be apologizing reluctantly.
"Nah, its okay. You're still a psycho, but its okay," he said.
She laughed and shook her head.
"It'll do me well in the arena."
Haymitch only nodded in agreement, putting them in silence again.
He broke it this time.
"Why did you act so weird when I nicknamed you May?" he asked. He couldn't help it. It was still bugging him, the way she seemed hurt and yet surprised by it.
She looked away.
"My… younger sister used to call me that."
"But I thought it was just you and Miriam…" he said, slowly.
She snapped her had to glare at him.
"You will never say that name again as long as I live, do you understand?"
He wasn't surprised by her sudden change in mood, and he dreaded that he had said the name in the first place.
Miriam was Maysilee's twin. Even during school, he noticed they had a connection, something more than just looking identical. He couldn't imagine having that broken so abruptly, and by the Games no less.
"Maysilee, I didn't mean..." he faltered, and reached forward, but she shook her head and leaned back. He retracted his hand.
"My younger sister Claire died when we were seven years old," she said.
He stayed silent for a while, clueless on what to say.
"You've probably heard this enough times – from me, and from others, but I'm so sorry…" he said shakily. He wanted to look into her eyes to let her know he meant it, but she kept looking down at her hands.
"It's... I mean, thank you. I mean it still happened when we were young, right? Not when I was older. I probably wouldn't have been able to handle it... But now..." she looked up, and he kept her gaze.
"Now she's just…" her eyes became a little teary, "And then there's Mir-Miriam…" she faltered and she looked away again, and Haymitch had an unfamiliar urge to hug her. "Nevermind..." she said, and ran a hand through her loose hair.
"The first time my brother saw me cry was a few days ago, after my name was drawn," he blurted out.
At that, Maysilee blinked.
"I... he'd never seen me like that. I think I made it worse," he continued.
She tilted her head.
"How did you two hunt? You usually had some animal you dragged or carried home during the spring and summer seasons…" she asked, turning her whole body towards him, curling her knees under her body, resting her hands in her lap.
He raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in subject.
"It's just that… I've never seen you carrying around a weapon or anything…" she continued, fading off, expecting him to answer.
"I did it with my hands," he started, giving her what she wanted; the focus off of her and her family. He willingly accepted it.
"We each had knives we hid. Sometimes I would set a small trap with vines, but at times when the Peacekeepers multiplied, I didn't want to get caught with a knife, so I would jump on them and snap their neck as quickly as possible."
"Then you're set for the Games, aren't you?" she said, looking challenging.
"Probably not. Human necks are stronger," he said, keeping her gaze, challenging back.
"And how do you know this?" she asked, the corner of her mouth tilting up.
He reached forward and wrapped his hands lightly around her neck. She jumped slightly but didn't pull back. He moved his thumb over her windpipe, his fingers along her neck and spine. His other hand was along her jaw.
"I've tried before," he bluffed, "and it seems that I can't turn the head quickly or strongly enough to snap the spine," he continued with a soft voice, tightening his hands just slightly, moving forward a little.
Her pulse under his finger quickened.
"Well, then you might be in trouble…" she whispered.
"Oh," he said, smiling a little as they shared air and continued to stare at each other, "I definitely am."
There was a beat of silence before someone else cleared their throat.
Haymitch turned his head, only removing one of his hands as he looked to see who it was.
Dylan stood there, looking at them quizzically.
"Hey…" he said with a croak, his hair a mess, his voice still groggy from sleep; but obviously noticing what he had interrupted.
"Well," Haymitch said, he looked back at Maysilee who weakly smiled at him as she took his hand and pulled it away from her neck.
"I'm going to try to sleep. Again. Goodnight," he said to her. She nodded, keeping his gaze for only a few seconds before turning back to the projected forest scene.
He pulled his hand from hers and stood up. He walked past Dylan, mumbling goodnight.
He stayed awake in his bed as he waited for Dylan to come back. He pretended to be asleep when he heard his name questioningly.
Dylan sighed, but still spoke as though he knew Haymitch was still awake.
"Whatever you're doing, you should stop. You'll regret it in the Arena."