I keep walking until I can think with words again. I don't know how long I've been going. An hour? Maybe more? I am so angry I don't know I where I am going, but I realize I'm headed towards town. There are too many people there, so I tell me feet to choose someplace else. I follow them away as I continue to fume.
What's the plan, Katniss? I ask myself. What's your next move? Unfortunately, my anger is subsiding, and with it goes my clarity. You need to keep the people you love safe. I think of Prim, but somehow Peeta's image barges in. I don't love Peeta! But I see him crying, doubled over in pain where I left him, swearing he loved me. No, I don't love Peeta the way he wants me to, but that doesn't mean I hate him. Am I being fair to the boy? Am I being cruel? How bad was what he did really? Or did I over react, like Haymitch said? I do honestly believe that Peeta would never intentionally hurt me, and after the nights on the train, all the hours we spent kissing on camera, I suppose I can see how the boy was confused. But that doesn't make up for the fact that he was trying to take advantage of you! My angry voice screams. True, I admit, but isn't that what I've been doing to him all along? My stomach is in knots. I need to figure this all out.
Soon, I found myself near Gale's house. I need to talk to someone, and I hope it can be him. I need help clearing my head, figure out what I'm thinking. Gale always seems to know what I'm thinking better than I do anyhow.
Though I like his mother, I'm not in the mood to exchange pleasantries with Hazelle. I walk around to the back of the house where Gale's room is. I can hear Vick and Posy playing as I circle the small structure. Hazelle chides them and calls to Rory for help. I swing around to Gale's window, and peek in to see if he is there. His room is empty. I can see the bunks that his younger brothers share. They have clothes and toys scattered about, which I know annoys Gale. His bed is neatly made and positioned across from theirs and his few possessions are organized on a hand-made shelf above it. His clothes are draped over a chair in the corner and a book rests open on his night stand. As I wonder what he is reading, Gale enters the room. I am about to jump in when I realize he is only in a towel. He must have just finished a bath, trying to clean off all the coal dust after a long day's work. I think about how jealous most girls would be to see Gale Hawthorne shirtless. He is a remarkably good looking man. Tall, well built, broad shoulders. As he walks over to the chair for his clothes, I realize he is about to dress and that I need to turn away. I quickly spin around and press my back to the side of his house. I wait a few minutes hoping I gave him enough time to change. I peek in the window again. Gale is picking up his brothers' toys and muttering to himself. I see the small dog he made for Vick last Christmas. He'd carved it himself and attached it to wheels. Though he never could get all the wheels even, and the thing only rolled in circles. I remember Gale cursing as he made it. Vick, however, never seemed to mind.
I softly tap on the window. Gale spins around, confused, but smiles when he sees me. He motions me in. I push the glass pane open and hop inside. "Hey, Gale."
"Hi," he responds. I stare at the floor, suddenly aware that I am supposed to say something, and that I have no idea why I'm here or what I'm supposed to say.
"How was your day?" I offer weakly, feeling even stupider than I sound.
Gale's eye brow shoots up quizzically. "Same as every other day. Long."
I suddenly feel a twinge of guilt. Gale must be so tired. He didn't sleep the night before, and after working twelve hours in the mines!
"I'm sorry," I sputter, "You must be so tired. This is really selfish of me. I just needed to talk to someone, I wasn't even thinking. Maybe some other time?" I start walking towards the window, ready to leave when Gale reaches out and grabs my arm.
"Don't worry, Catnip, I've always got time for you." And he pulls me back in the room. "I took a nap today during my break anyway, so I got some sleep."
I'm not sure if this is true, or if he's just trying to appease me. But I smile thankfully and meet Gale's eyes. He looks back at me with those great, gray eyes of his. And it seems for a moment that everything is okay. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and before I know it, I am crying. I'm not sure why. It's just so nice to know I have someone I can trust. Gale pulls me to his chest and holds me close. And the tighter he holds, the more I cry. I don't know how long we stand there, me sobbing and Gale soothing, but he finally relaxes his hold and I look up at him, the last few tears falling from my eyes. He brushes them away, tenderly holding my face.
Gale pulls his chair and sits it across from his bed. He leads me to it, and sits down on his bed. He takes my hands comfortingly after brushing the last trace of tears from my face, and asks, "How can I help you, Catnip?"
I pause for a few moments, lost in the world of his gray eyes. "I…Can I…I can tell you anything, right?" I'm having so much trouble finding the right words.
"In theory," Gale says with a soft smile. I return it.
"If I tell you something, do you promise not to get mad?"
"I'm too tired to be mad, Catnip." He says, reclining on his bed.
I take a few deep breaths. I'm not sure how to begin. "Last night…" Gale looks over at me, focused and concerned. "Last night," my voice is trembling a bit. I'm not sure why. "Thank you very much for last night." He knows this isn't what I'm trying to tell him. "I was very upset because someone threatened Prim." He nods. I told him this yesterday. I take a second to think. What is it I want to Gale to know? "And there is something else. I need a guy's opinion, okay?"
"Okay…" Gale's voice is laced with confusion.
"So, guys about your age…what…what do they want from girls?" This is going to be awkward.
Gale slightly grins. "Hasn't your mother had this talk with you yet?"
"Sex? That's what you mean, right?"
"Yes," Gale chuckles.
"I thought so." I pause to think for a moment. "And how is one supposed to communicate that?"
"What do you mean?" There is a gravity to his voice now, all traces of the chuckle have vanished.
"You're supposed to ask, right? Like, both people are supposed to want it?"
"Katniss, of course. What the hell happened last night?" I can't bear to look Gale in the eyes. He's sitting upright now, body tense and awake with anger. I try to avoid his gaze. "Katniss…"
"I think Peeta tried to initiate sex with me last night." I say this quickly, in one breath.
"You think?" Gale is angry.
"I mean…He touched me."
"And you didn't want him to?" I nod. "Did you tell him this?" I nod again. "And did he stop?"
"Eventually." I'm looking at the floor.
"What the hell does that mean, Katniss?" There is a dangerous edge in Gale's voice that is almost frightening me.
"You promised you wouldn't get mad!" I yell at him.
"That was before I found out that Peeta tried to rape you!"
I don't like that word. It's not right. "No," I protest, "he just made me uncomfortable." Gale's enraged. "Please, don't make me defend Peeta." My tone must appeal to him because he calms down. "It really wasn't that bad, I just wasn't ready for it, after that man threatened Prim. He caught me off guard. I freaked out."
"This isn't okay, Katniss."
"I know. But this happens sometimes, right? People get confused?"
"Maybe," Gale huffs. He doesn't want to agree. "It's still not good."
"I know," I add lamely. "It's just complicated with Peeta. He doesn't understand." I start to tear up again, how will I ever make him understand? "I still don't think he understands. I left him crying."
"You don't have to worry about his feelings, Katniss."
I nod. I appreciate hearing that so much. As tired and bothered as I am by Peeta, I still feel horrible for how I've treated him. "So am I crazy?"
"Yeah, but how do you mean?" That slight smile is back again.
"Am I crazy for being upset with Peeta?"
"Of course not. You don't have to be sorry for not wanting to have sex with him."
I feel liberated. "I don't want to have sex with anybody! Why doesn't he understand that? With everything else that's going on…Snow, the Games, the Capitol! How can he expect me to even think about that?"
"It's what boys think about , Katniss, all the time. Peeta shouldn't have touched you if you didn't want him to –"
"I don't want to be touched!" I interject. "I'm so tired of being touched!"
"Has someone else done this to you?"
"No. I mean, yes, but not like that…" I quickly recover as I see the anger flame in his eyes. "I just mean, like my prep team and stuff for the Games. I just hate it, all. I hate – "I start choking on my words, "it's like my body isn't even mine anymore. My life isn't even mine. Peeta just wants to make the best of things, I know that, but I can't…I don't know why, but I can't…" Gale nods; I've told him all this before.
"So let me get this straight…You're more upset about Peeta desiring you than actually hurting you?"
"Yes!" I assert.
"That doesn't make any sense."
"It makes me feel weak."
"Okay, I get it, but, I don't think you can really blame the guy for wanting to sleep with you."
This upsets me, and I don't know why. I start sputtering half formed questions. "Wha – Why?"
"Why? Because you're a beautiful young woman and this is what guys think about." Gale explains.
I open my mouth to argue. I don't like this, but I also know it's futile. "Really?"
"Yes, Katniss, really. You wouldn't believe what I hear the guys talking about in the mines sometimes. Or what I've caught Rory doing recently."
"Rory! He's only 13!" I almost ask what, but I stop myself. I'd rather not know.
"Yeah, that's about when it starts."
"And how do I make it stop? How do I make Peeta stop wanting me?"
"Katniss, it's not that easy. You can't change the way he feels."
I hate this; I don't want to accept it. I thought that if I could make Peeta see, give him time, he'd eventually let me go. I wanted him to be the one to walk away because it kills me to hurt him so. "Urggg!" I let out a frustrated cry and plop down on the bed next to Gale. I'm silent for a few moments, trying to sort out my thoughts. "I told him it had to be over between him and me just now. Publically and privately."
Gale takes a few moments to think about this, "Publically? How is that going to affect you?"
"I don't know, and I don't care. I just know I can't keep doing this anymore…I'm going to go insane."
"Katniss, I know you're upset about Peeta, and if It'll make you feel better, I'll happily go beat him up," a slight smile tugs at my lips when he says this, "and tell him never to touch you like that again, but, I think it's really dangerous to provoke the Capitol like that…I mean, isn't this whole love story the only thing keeping you alive?"
"Yeah," I reluctantly admit. "But am I really keeping you guys safe? Am I really helping Prim? She could still be reaped, you could still die in the mines…how am I helping anyone by doing this!"
"You help a lot of people, Katniss, just by…just by existing. I know you feel like the Capitol's toy and that you hate jumping through hoops, but, the Capitol is only a fraction of your audience. You showed the world that the Capitol isn't all powerful, that the rules can be changed. Don't you know how amazing that is?"
I avert my eyes because I don't want to think about this. "Then what am I supposed to do, Gale? What am I supposed to do? Because I don't know how much longer I can keep this up…" I'm getting teary eyed again.
"I understand." I look at him, confused, because I sure as hell don't. "Katniss," he explains, "You've always had a purpose in life. There's always been something you've needed to do. Hunt food, feed your family. Save your sister, win the Games. Everything you've ever done…" He stopped for a moment, looking for the right words, "was essential. And now…"
His words hit me hard. He is right. There was never a choice in what I did before. I did it because it had to be done. Everything was important. But now, "I'm a puppet. The Capitol's toy, painted and fed lines…" Gale knows how much I hate it. And I look at him, hoping he could see how much his words mean to me. How much he means to me.
"You just need to find your purpose again. Stop being the Katniss everyone wants you to be, and start being the Katniss you want to be."
My eyes widened with uncertainty. I'd never had time to think about what I wanted to do. Before, there was something that needed to be done. There was no choice, and this new freedom was terrifying. Gale must have notice because he smiles and softly adds, "Well, you don't have to do it right now." I chuckle. "Don't worry, Katniss," he soothes, "no matter what you choose, I'll always have your back."
"Even if I choose to be a Capitol stooge and stay with Peeta?" I wasn't really sure why I threw Peeta's name in there. I guess I wanted to see how Gale reacted. I must have caught him off guard.
He tenses for a moment, then adds, "Of course. I'll respect you a little less, but…."
We both laugh. We sat in silence for a few moments before I notice Gale looking at me strangely.
"What?" I ask him.
"Nothing," he says softly, "I just haven't seen that smile in a long time."
"No one has," I confess.
Gale leans in to hug me. I could stay in his arms for ages, but he finally breaks away. "Well, Catnip, I hate to send you away, but it's about bed time."
"What? It's hardly dusk. There's no way the children go to bed this early."
"They don't," Gale says, "But I do. I have to be in the mines before dawn tomorrow."
I nod and squeeze Gale's hand as I go to leave. I wish I know the right words to tell Gale how much respect I had for him. What a great friend he is, what great son and brother. What a great man. I pull myself up in the window sill and turn to say good bye. Gale is already lying in his bed. The same one he'd had since childhood, I think, noticing how his feet draped off the end. And it seems such a pity to me that a man who works so hard can't at least come home to a good bed. His eyes are closed, and I assume he is already asleep. I know exactly how tired he is, though I can't imagine facing a whole lifetime of it. "I hope you know how important you are to me, Gale," I say, as I hop out the window. I don't have the courage to look back to see if he heard or reacted.