Vivica is tapping her nails, or rather talons, impatiently as we descend the stairs. She seems to hate everyone in the room except for Gale. Cinna squeezes her arm fondly and they exchange brief kisses as she tells him to go wait with Homer and Portia in the dining room. They must have arrived while we were upstairs. I remember what he told me about her, but don't get it. She seems like a witch to me. Vivica gives Haymitch another list of instruction, and I hear him nearly belch "thanks, sweetheart," in her face. She fans the air in front of her wrinkled nose and mumbles something under her breath about disgusting district people. I knew I didn't like her. Haymitch, my mom, sister, and Gale are led into the front room and its doors are drawn shut. I sit nervously next to Cinna who gives me a supportive stare.
We are positioned to the side of the room and a makeshift runway is put in the center. The models will show of ten new pieces and the cameras are positioned to capture not only them but also the stylists' reactions. They do a couple takes of Vivica reading the introduction (she is apparently the host/commentator as well as the director.) And Cinna tells me she'll be interviewing the stylists for their opinions after the fashion show. When she's satisfied with her take and is confident the cameramen know what they are supposed to do, she goes to do the interviews in the next room. Haymitch was apparently going through a practice run with them, and she'll do the real thing. Now that she's gone, Haymitch comes in to watch us. He tells me not to try and look so bored.
I hope I didn't look bored because I know I was. They start by filming us from several different angles waving and introducing ourselves. I tried to remind myself of all the hard work Cinna did for me, and thinking of that I'm able to smile. It takes over half an hour for the girls to come out in all ten pieces. I think there were three models, but they looked a lot alike, so I couldn't be certain. When they finish, the other stylists tell me what a wonderful job I've been doing and that I show real promise as a designer. I get up and curtsey, and try to look as enthusiastic as possible before walking out to let them talk about me.
My family, Haymitch and Gale are waiting for me in the kitchen.
"How'd the interviews go?" I survey their faces for clues. My mother nods and Gale shrugs. Prim seems happy to have been on camera. "Are you guys finished?"
"Just about," Haymitch says between swigs. "Vivica can probably do the rest though. You might want to stay pretty in case they want to talk to you some more, but everyone else is free to go." Gale doesn't know what he's supposed to do. I want to have a minute to talk to him. I'm not sure how much he knows about what's going on and feel I need to explain. But before I get the chance, Haymitch suggests they walk back to town together. Gale looks at me, but I don't know what to tell him, so he nods and the two men leave.
My mother makes tea and offers cookies to the camera crew who've finished. I can faintly hear the rest of the interviews going on in the dining room, and it's almost an hour before they come out. Portia and Homer tell me again what an incredible job I did and apologize for having to leave so quickly.
"Don't worry, really," I tell them with a bright smile and fake kisses. Cinna fortunately sticks around for a while longer.
"Want me to help you get that off?" I nod appreciatively and follow him upstairs. "I was talking to Vivica and we were thinking we need to get another bit with you in it. We have so much from Peeta and his family with the paintings, but not so much of you…"
I roll my eyes. "Do I have to talk about the dresses?"
Cinna smiles. He can see how much I don't like this. "That's what Vivica suggested, but I had a different idea. It took work to convince her, but I think the segment will play out nicely."
I pause, waiting for him to tell me what it is, but he doesn't. "Okay," I finally say. "What do I have to do?"
He pulls out a garment bag and places it at the foot of my bed. "Just show up wearing this tomorrow morning at the front of town. I'll be there waiting for you."
I want to ask Cinna to explain, but he says he has to go before I get to ask any more questions. He kisses me softly on the cheek and leaves. I'm left alone with my confusions and unanswered questions.
I take a shower to wash off all my makeup and head down stairs. My mother is cooking dinner. All traces of the day's activity have disappeared.
"Do you need any help?" I ask her.
"Oh, no dear, I can manage." She returns sweetly.
"I hope today wasn't too hard on you."
"Now, the first time they came to question us, that was rough." I was in the Games when this happened. Since I've never seen the footage, I often forget about it. But when there are only eight people left, film crews go out to all the districts and interview the families of the remaining tributes. "They wanted to talk about everything. I don't know if Prim and I would have gotten through any of it if it weren't for Gale…"
I come up behind her and squeeze her shoulders. It's the closest thing to a hug I can manage. She puts her hands softly on one of mine before she turns around and takes my face. She places a delicate kiss on my forehead which surprises me. "Katniss, dear, I am so proud of you." She now hugs me, and I make myself return it. My mother is so fragile, I think I might break her if I squeeze her to hard. It's been a long time since we've hugged like this. I spent so many years resenting and blaming my mother it is hard for me to open up to her again. She finally releases me and returns to her simmering pots.
"What are you making for dinner?" I try to change the subject.
"A new pasta dish someone from town told me about." My mother has been experimenting a lot with new recipes now that we have the funds to buy more and better foods.
After dinner I go upstairs, planning on sleeping early. All the fuss and fanfare from the Capitol people wears me out. They've been here for three days now, and we've only done one of the interviews. I still don't know what Cinna has planned for tomorrow morning, but in the afternoon I've got to spend quality time with Peeta. I have to control my gag reflex. Not exactly because of Peeta, but because I can't stand the farce. I had enough trouble today pretending to be happy about my dresses, I don't know how I'll get through tomorrow. I haven't spoken to him at all since this whole thing was arranged. I was in my house getting prepped while he was in his house with his team. I've no idea what he thinks about the whole thing, but I can only assume he's a mess and wonder if the resulting stress is what has pushed Haymitch over the edge. He told me he'd deal with Peeta, and he hasn't even been in the neighborhood of sober since. I wonder if I should feel bad about that.
I get out of the shower when I can't stand to think about it anymore. I dry off with my towel and go to investigate Cinna's package. I wasn't too curious about it, because I assumed it was just another dress, and I'd had my fill of dresses for the day, but I was desperate for any clue about tomorrow's activities. I unzip the case and am surprised when I don't see another dress. Instead, Cinna has prepared something reminiscent of my Hunger Games outfit. It's a sleek jumpsuit, some type of plastic-like material, undoubtedly weather proof. There are black pants and a windbreaker made from the material. My heart sinks in horror as I look at it. What on Earth do they have prepared for tomorrow?
I try to believe Cinna would never be part of anything so cruel as to remind me of the Games, but this thought isn't enough to comfort me as I try to sleep. I'm so nervous I can't stop sweating, and I'd give anything to even have Peeta come and comfort me. I try to think of any reason I'd need the clothing Cinna prepared for me. I know it must be something outside. Maybe they would just have me show off some of my archery skills? Or maybe they'd follow me in the forest? Technically, that is illegal, but I'm sure the Capitol people could work around the rules if they really wanted to. Neither of those scenarios would be too bad, and that is where my true talents lie anyway, but I can't shake the doubt. The Capitol is far too calculating and cruel. I know Snow would never pass up the opportunity to mess with me.
I spend the whole night writhing. I dream I'm back in the Games, running around in one of Cinna's evening dresses. I'm full of dread and urgency. I know Snow has my family and that I must save them. I first come across Cinna. He's sitting on a rock sewing. I ask him desperately to help me, but he says he's busy, something important for the Capitol, but says he has enough time to teach me how to use one of my high heels as a weapon. I'm annoyed, but desperate. I take of my shoes and he shows me how to wield it like a knife. I feel ridiculous, but it's actually an effective tool. We stand together and practice swinging for a few minutes, but Cinna tells me I've got it and that he has to get back to work.
The next person I meet is Haymitch. He's huddled around an empty bottle mumbling. I can't quite make out what he's saying. "I've lost something in there!" he cries, trying to crawl inside. I try and pull Haymitch away, but it's no use. I beg him to stop, but he doesn't respond. "You'll find all the answers, Katniss…"
"Where, Haymitch, where?" I ask desperately.
"At the bottom of a bottle!" And I run away, leaving Haymitch in his tears staring into his bottle.
I continue running through the woods and crash right into Peeta. "Katniss!" he says brightly, "I'm so happy I've found you!" I'm confused because I'm not sure if we're friends or enemies. I vaguely feel like I'm supposed to kill him, but he seems so glad to see me, I can't do it. "Come on, I've found a place where we can be safe." I follow him through the woods as he tells me about all his plans. "It's a great place, Katniss, we can be happy together for a long time, I'm sure. There's plenty of food and water nearby, and we won't want for anything." I'm very confused by what he's telling me, but don't ask any questions. We finally reach a small clearing. "There it is," he beams, "our new home!" And I see a cave just beyond the trees.
"You want to live there?" I ask incredulously.
"Of course! Isn't it perfect?"
"No." This hurts Peeta's feelings. The sun fades from his face and he looks angry.
"Why don't you just come inside and check it out." His tone is now tense. I don't like it.
"No, Peeta, I'm trying to find my family! I can't stay with you."
"Just see if you like it, okay, Katniss?" He grabs for me.
"No, Peeta!" I pull away. He reaches for me again, and I start to run.
"Katniss! Come back!" He yells after me! "You can't escape me! I'll always come after you!" He breaks off into a maniacal laugh that terrifies me. "You can never leave me!" I don't look back and don't stop until I can no longer hear him.
My feet are starting to hurt now, so I take off my shoes and walk. I see a lake in the distance and walk towards it. As I approach the shore, I hear someone laughing. I see Vivica resting in the sand. Gale is next to her, wearing a chain. He's fanning her with a palm leaf and feeding her grapes. I realize that he's her slave. "Gale!" I cry, running up to him.
"You can't have him, Everdeen," she tells me. "He's mine."
"She's right, Katniss, it's the law." Gale says, showing me the brand mark on his thigh.
"No, Gale! I won't let her do this to you!"
"This life isn't actually so bad." He got down on his knees behind her and starting rubbing her back. It makes my blood burn. "It's better than working in the mines."
I start to cry, "please Gale, come with me!" I slowly walk towards him, arm outstretched.
"What? You're the only one who gets to enjoy the perks from the Capitol?" I feel horrible as he tells me this. "I told you we could have run away together. But you didn't want to…I'm not just going to sit by and watch you have all the fun…" He takes Vivica's face in his hands and kisses her passionately. I cannot bear to watch. I start sprinting in the opposite direction.
As I run, I can hear Prim scream.
"Prim! Prim! I'm coming!" I cry out, trying to run towards her voice. It slowly gets louder and louder. I see a small house in the middle of a clearing. I run up to it. I hear her yell. I know she's inside. I throw open the door.
"Katniss, my dear, I've been waiting for you." Snow has a thin smile stretched across his face. His long fingers are folded in front of his mouth. He's sitting upright at a chair next to a small table.
"I heard Prim cry." I accuse him.
"I'm sure you did." He says knowingly.
As I approach, I realize there is something placed on top of the side table. It's a chess board. When I get close, I see that it's not placed with real chess pieces, but miniaturized versions of the people I love. I see Cinna sewing on one of the squares, Haymitch crying on another, Peeta painting a picture of me, Gale and Vivica rolling around. My mother's on the board too. And Prim. "It's your move," Snow says. I look at the board in dread, realizing I have to sacrifice one of them in order to win.
Then I wake up in a heavy sweat. It isn't even close to morning.