I'm not sure if I've gained any perspective from my talk with Gale, but I do feel better. It's so easy to be around him, not stressful like with Peeta.
I try and sort through my thoughts as I walk home. Perhaps I can forgive Peeta for the previous night, or more importantly, I want him to be able to forgive himself. This doesn't change the fact that I'm finished with him. But Gale was right, I have to be careful. The Capitol might be enraptured with my love story, but the rest of Panem, well, they are taken with me. I need to find a way to get back to that girl again. The one who acted out of love for her sister, compassion for Rue, not out of fear of the Capitol.
This new realization emboldens me. I tell myself I'm no longer going to be afraid, that's the Katniss everyone loves, the Katniss I can respect. I walk home happily, with more purpose in my step. I realize that deciding not to be afraid isn't exactly a plan, but it's a step in the right direction. I'll worry about the rest tomorrow.
As I approach the path to Victor's Village, I notice something strange. It takes me a moment to realize, but it suddenly clicks that the lights are on in one of the unoccupied houses. I wonder what could be going on, and trot up to find out.
Numerous people seem to be going in and out, carrying large boxes and supplies. As I get closer, I hear the familiar Capitol accent. Some of the people smile and wave at me. I tentatively wave back. I search their faces to see if I recognize any of them. In the crowd, I see Octavia, a member of my prep team.
"Ohh, Katniss! Hello!" She chips, rushing over to greet me. "Aren't you so excited to see us?"
"Umm, yeah," I stammer, unsure of what else to say, "What are you guys all here?"
She laughs but realizes my expression is genuine. "What, you mean you don't know? Katniss, we're here for your engagement party, of course!"
I drop Octavia's hands, and immediately dash over to Haymitch's house. I burst through his front door, not bothering to knock. I hear his voice in the next room.
"Haymitch!" I bellow. I grab one of his liquor bottles from his table and empty the remaining liquid on the floor.
"Katniss," I vaguely register his voice, "not one of my full bottles…" he laments the wasted booze. Body in sight, I lunge for him, flattening him to the wall. With my one hand, I pin him, applying pressure across his throat, and with the other, I smash the empty body and wield it like a weapon, jagged part about to slice his cheek.
"You did this!" I roar.
"Hey, sweetheart, calm down," he tries to placate me, but I'm not in the mood. I press the bottle harder until a thin red line appears on his face. "Whoa, easy now…"
"Katniss," someone else is behind m and touches my arm. I swing around, nearly slicing off Cinna's nose in the process.
"Hey!" he jumps back, hands up, as if surrendering.
"Are you part of this?" I accuse him. But as I turn my attention to Cinna, Haymitch wrestles my arms. He catches me off guard, and twists my wrist forcefully. I'm surprised at how strong and capable Haymitch is. He must have been quite scary in his prime, if this is him half wasted. I almost yelp, and the pain forces me to drop the bottle. It breaks on the floor. Haymitch doesn't let go. He's telling me who is in charge here. As much as I hate it, I have to submit. "Okay," I tell him. "Okay, okay!" My tone is more pleading this time. Haymitch loosens his grip and kicks the bottle away. He rubs his throat and I can see a red imprint from my arm.
"I've just about had it with you and your little stunts today..." he jabs his finger towards me, accusingly.
"Me? You're blaming me for this?"
"Well, yeah!" Haymitch spits with sarcasm.
"You expect me to believe that the day I tell you I'm through pretending with Peeta that an army from the Capitol arrives to force me to marry him! That it's just a coincidence or something!"
"Of course not, dummy," Haymitch condescends, "But that doesn't mean I told them!"
I blink, not comprehending. "If you didn't do it, then…?" My voice trails off in a question.
"Well, I wasn't the one yelling at Peeta out on the lawn this morning…"
"Afternoon," I correct him. If Haymitch is going to reproach me, he should at least have his facts straight.
He glares at me.
"And Katniss," Cinna begins, his tone is comforting, not angry or accusatory like Haymitch's. "You have to be careful about what you say," he looks suspiciously around, and for the first time, I realize the Capitol might be using these houses to spy on us.
I gulp, full of dread, and Haymitch affirms Cinna's assumption. "Why don't we go for a walk," Haymitch says, "maybe the fresh air will do us good."
We slowly exit Haymitch's house and make a loop behind it. We start to walk away from Victor's Village, and when we can no longer hear the prep team and others buzzing in the new house, Haymitch turns to me and we stop.
"I think it's time we tell her about the Big Picture," Cinna says. Haymitch gives a slight nod in agreement.
"The Big Picture?" I ask.
"Katniss," Cinna starts calmly, "Do you remember what Haymitch told you after the Game? About why the Capitol was so upset about your and Peeta's victory? About why it was so essential that you pull of this charade as a lovesick school girl?"
"Of course I remember!" How could I forget? It only changed my whole life.
"Can you tell me why?" Cinna continues. He reminds me of one of my grade school teachers. I don't like it.
"Because I embarrassed them. Because I made them change the rules of their stupid Game."
"Yes, Katniss, and why do they think that is a problem?"
I hadn't really thought of that before. Haymitch smiles as he sees the confusion on my face. I want to lunge at him again.
"They don't like it when people break the rules," Haymitch cuts in. "Gives other people the idea that maybe they can break the rules too. You're not the only one out there who hates the Capitol. Not the first one who's had the bright idea of taking them down."
My eyes light up and now I see. I see why they killed the people in District 11, why Snow is so desperate to convince the world that I am just a love sick school girl…because if I'm not, well, I'm the girl who defied the Capitol. And lived.
"People have been making plans for a long time. Do you remember when I told you that you were the only girl who could play this part?" Cinna looks at me fondly, "well, you are, and we've been waiting for you for a very long time."
"Me? Why me?"
"Because you're the one who can inspire the people. Unite them. It's not hard to convince the people to hate the Capitol, but it is hard to convince them it's worthwhile to do something about it."
"So what, you want me to be the mascot of your revolution?" I say, with a certain amount of bile.
"I wouldn't put it quite like that," Cinna responds.
"You said you wanted to do something about it, sweetheart…How did you put it this morning? Going to take a stand, and that's why you couldn't forgive Peeta, because he didn't want to change anything…."
I may have said something like that. "So you're telling me there are lots of people…plotting to take down the Capitol."
"There are a lot of people who want to see things change," Cinna offers.
"How so?" I probe.
"For starters," Haymitch beings, "getting rid of Snow."
My eyes light up and a smile breaks across my face.
"All right then. You can count me in."
"So what's the plan?"
"The plan?" Haymitch asks me with a pointed look.
"Yeah, the plan, how are we doing this?"
"Wait just one second, little missy, you're a part of it, not in charge."
"I'm not asking to be in charge, I just want to know what we're doing." I return, piqued.
"It's complicated." I can tell Haymitch doesn't want to discuss this.
"Katniss – " Cinna starts, but I don't let him finish.
"You can't expect me to be a part of something when I don't even understand – "
"The plan is to take down Snow, and that's all you need to know. For now, just keep playing your part."
"What?" I can't believe what Haymitch just said.
"You heard me."
"How is doing exactly what Snow wants me to do helping to fight against him?" I'm furious.
"Because for the moment, it keeps you safe." Haymitch says, grabbing my arm and pulling me aside.
I push him away. "I won't do that!" I yell.
"Katniss, things are very delicate." Cinna tries to calmly explain.
"Yeah, I get that," I spew, "but how is me lying to everyone going to help?"
"What do you have in mind then?" Haymitch almost taunts me.
"I break up with Peeta! It will show the rebels…" I'm surprised to see Cinna shaking his head.
"No, Katniss, it isn't going to show the rebels anything, just that you're a fickle, silly, little girl. Unless you plan on getting up on stage and telling everyone that not only do you not love Peeta, but that your entire relationship was a farce. That you've been lying…"
"To everyone all along." Haymitch finishes, almost gleefully. "And then, no one will ever trust you again."
"What people love about you is your commitment, your integrity, you strength," Cinna puts his hands on my shoulders to comfort me. "And I believe you've still got strength left in you." I look in his eyes and know he says what he means. "I know it's hard to see, Katniss. I know it doesn't really make sense to keep playing Snow's game, but that will keep you popular and safe in the meantime."
"In the meantime?" I question. "Meantime until what?"
"Until we figure out what to do with you." Haymitch answers brightly. I look at him quizzically.
"Katniss, you've had a rough past few days…a rough past few weeks," Cinna says, "with the tour, with the party. Why don't you take some time, keep your head down, and think. I'll try to keep these vultures off you as much as possible, but you can keep this up a little longer, can't you?" Cinna's eyes shine with hope.
I don't want to do it, but I know I can. I nod in agreement. So much for the bold, fearless new Katniss I was dreaming of just an hour ago.
"Don't fret too much, okay? This engagement just might be the distraction we need."
As I ponder this distraction, Peeta jumps in my brain again. "What about Peeta?" The words come out of my mouth before I think them.
"I'll talk to Peeta, okay?" Despite my anger, I know I can trust Haymitch when he says this.
"Try and make him understand, okay?" My tone is almost pleading. Haymitch nods, his face is sincere.
He looks over at Cinna. "We can probably arrange to talk about the engagement stuff last." Cinna nods. "Peeta's paintings have been selling at the Capitol, so they want to talk to him about his talent, and you about yours."
"My talent?" I look shocked. "What's my talent?"
"Fashion." Haymitch says with snark.
"Why don't you go home and get some rest?" Cinna says it nicely, but I know it's not really a suggestion. I nod and start walking towards my house after telling both men goodnight.
"And try to stay out of trouble!" Haymitch calls after me. I ignore him and keep walking.
The next few days pass in a blur. I spend most my time with my prep team, which I normally wouldn't enjoy, but because this keeps me isolated and away from all the reporters, I welcome them. It turns out I'm quite thankful for the gashes on my legs because they have to spend nearly an entire day healing them with creams and small laser tools.
"If only we had all our equipment from the Capitol…"
I mindlessly listen as they flutter around me, trimming my hair, shaping my nails, smoothing my body. I tune out most of their dribble, but I can't help but hear a lot of complaints. Apparently, the Capitol has run into several shortages over the past few weeks, seafood, paper products, electronics, fabrics… Octavia says it's because of bad weather. But bad weather wouldn't cover so many diverse districts simultaneously. And even if it did, how would that affect electronics and fabrics…aren't they made in factories?
I ponder this for the rest of our session and don't pay attention to much else until I hear a knock on the door.
"Can I come in?" I'm relieved to hear it's Cinna.
"Ready to try on some dresses?" He lifts up several bags I know contain his wonderful creations. "Come on Katniss, you could at least pretend to be excited."
"I don't see any cameras," I scoff, "got anything in black?"
"Ha ha." Cinna meets my stare. He comes over to inspect my body. He turns my hands over, searching out the faint scars.
"Are you mad at me?" I ask Cinna, uncomfortable in the silence. He is not as warm as he usually is. I've never cared if I piss off Haymitch, in fact, I quite enjoy it. But with Cinna, I'm actually worried I've done something wrong.
"Why would you ask that?"
"You seem…" I look for the right words, "distant, upset."
Cinna looks at me sweetly, and pushes the hair out of my face. "Things are complicated. It's a lot of pressure when you're responsible for so many people. I just want to make sure I do things right." There is such a serious shadow across his face. I want to press him for more details, but something about his demeanor tells me not to.
"So, Cinna, what's with all these shortages?" I try to change the subject.
"You picked up on that, huh?" he says with a faint smile.
"Well, Venia was quite upset she couldn't have everything she wanted at her birthday party. Something about seafood shortages and limited electronics." I search Cinna's face for answers. "They said it was because of bad weather?"
"But you don't believe that, do you?" I shake my head. "Smart girl. Now, let's see what…what should you wear?" Cinna goes over and unzips his case. He pulls out numerous dresses, from light frilly frocks to more elegant evening gowns. I've got three events to dress for. First, today, is the home interview. They do a couple segment pieces on how we're living our life, interview our families, show our new houses, ask about our talents. A gallery in the Capitol wants to sell some of Peeta's paintings, so they'll spend a good chunk of today filming him and talking about that. I'll also have to talk about my talent, which is really Cinna's as he does my dresses, but since I know nothing about it, Cinna luckily arranged for a few models to come and show them off, while he, Portia, and another visiting stylist named Homer critique them. This will minimize the time I have to spend in front of the cameras. Cinna is a genius. I thank him after he tells me this plan. "Here, why don't you try this dress?" It's a simple but elegant dress that is both beautiful and professional. It's form fitting and hugs my body stopping just above my knees. It's a lovely burgundy color and has a lace shell that comes up to my neck while the solid material below only just covers my bust. I put it on and Cinna zips me up. It's fits perfectly.
"Wow," I say at myself in the mirror.
"Don't you look magnificent?" I can only nod in response to his question. "Let's try it with these shoes."
They are small heels and I can manage them quite well. "Thank you, Cinna. Now, did I design this or you?"
"Sorry, I'm taking credit for this one." He says smiling at me in the mirror.
I open my mouth to say something when the doorbell rings. "I'll get that," I say hoping down the stairs.
"Prim, the door!" I hear my mother call from another room.
"Don't worry mom, I got it!" I scream back as I open the front door. I'm shocked to see my friend Gale, and he looks equally surprised to see me. "Gale, what are you doing here?"
"Um…Sorry…" the words were catching in his throat. "Wow. You look amazing, but that's not why I'm here. Umm…" I've never seen Gale Hawthorne flustered before, and if I didn't know better, I'd say he might be blushing. "Haymitch told me to come. For an interview."
"Oh. The family interviews, right. We'll come on in, cousin," I add since I know there television crew is around somewhere.
"Gale!" Prim gushes, running over to him. He picks her up and spins her around. I can't help but smile when I see the two of them together. Prim is a little shaky when he puts her down. "Oh, Katniss, you look amazing! Doesn't she look amazing, Gale?" She looks up at him for an answer.
"Always." He says simply. I think I might be the one blushing now.
"That's not true!" Prim protests. "Sometimes she looks awful…like in the morning or when she has to clean, but when the Capitol people are here, they always make her look incredible…." Prim continues to babble on when Haymitch comes in.
"We're focusing on their talents today…"
"Why aren't we doing the engagement piece first?" a reporter asks.
I avoid Gale's eyes. I don't know if anyone's told him about the engagement yet. I haven't. And after our last conversation, I can't face that right now. If Gale has any reaction, he hides it well.
"We're saving the best for last, jeez…" Haymitch's voice trails off as he leads the crew to another room.
I never noticed it before, but he uses a different voice when he talks with them. He tells some to set up in the dining room, this is where we'll model my clothing. The front room is where they can do the interviews. Two men begin moving furniture and talking about camera angles. Haymitch is followed by the director. She's a young girl with bright white hair, dark skin, and strikingly blue eyes. It's a strange combination. "We need to get everyone into hair and makeup immediately," she begins, looking around the room at my family. "It's probably going to take a while to get these people camera ready…." Her intonation is insulting, but I'm used to that from the Capitol. I hope my sister doesn't pick up on it though. The lady stops as soon as she sees Gale. "And who are you?" she asks with a delighted grin on her face. She looks Gale up and down and he is clearly uncomfortable.
"I'm…um…I'm Gale." He never liked getting much attention.
"He's my cousin," I say, moving protectively towards him.
Her gaze moves over to me and I confront her stare. "Your cousin, you say? I wouldn't have guessed it, unless, wait, is that how you guys do things here?" I understand exactly what she's implying, and I don't like it one bit. I try to hide my anger, I'm not even sure why she's upset me. I tell myself it's because she's being so condescending. "Well, whoever you are, gorgeous, we'll start with you. Let's get you upstairs and fitted into some decent clothing…" She leads Gale by the hand up the stairs and I feel my eyes burning as I watch them walk away. I do not like this woman.
Someone else calls for my sister and mom. I follow them upstairs and into my room where Cinna was working with me. He's there waiting with a dress he's picked out for each of them. As we walk by, I see Gale shirtless through the partially open door across the way.
"You must work out a lot," she says, squeezing his arm.
"No. I just work a lot." Gale says flatly. I'm happy to see he's unimpressed by her.
"Do I get to keep it?" My attention shifts back to Prim who is fawning over the little dress Cinna chose for her. It's a deep turquoise color that highlights her eyes nicely. My mother has a simple purple gown that suites her very well. They both step into the bathroom to change.
"Don't worry about Vivica," Cinna sees me starting across to the room Gale's in.
"Excuse me?" he catches me off guard.
"Vivica…" his eyes dart in her direction.
"Oh, I'm not worried," I tell him, but I'm not sure he believes me.
After a few minutes, Haymitch softly knocks on the door. "All right, well, I think we've got just about everything set up downstairs." There is a particular amount of loathing in his voice. I can tell how much he hates doing this stuff and can see by the way he's wobbling that he's already drank too much. He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and moved it back and forth in front of his eyes trying to focus. "All right," he rubbed his chin, "first, we'll take Katniss and Cinna and the crew in the dining room to talk about the dresses. Meanwhile," he spins around to see who's in the room. "Where is that kid? Cousin!" He bellows, "Handsome cousin, get in here!"
"His name is Gale," I tell Haymitch pointedly.
"I don't care," he mimics my intonation.
Gale peeks his head in the door. "Yes?" Gale's voice is almost always calm and even and I was probably the only one who could sense his anger.
"Yeah, get in here. Okay, while Katniss is busy talking about dresses," he says this with a particular amount of venom. Haymitch is having a very bad day for some reason. This usually happens when he runs out of alcohol, but I can tell from his breath that this isn't true today. "The family and I will be in the next room giving interviews. And the other crew is next door with Peeta. And the Paintings." He looks around at us to see if we all understood. Perhaps he thinks his instructions are more difficult than they are. None of us are confused. It takes Haymitch a few minutes to realize this, but once he does, he blinks a few times and nods. "All right, let's go down stairs."