I find myself getting through the weeks that follow. Things get easier with my mother and Prim, though I have to fight to control my outbursts and sometimes have to take long walks through the town to get away. People look at me strangely, but this isn't exactly new. I visit my friend Madge on occasion because it's nice to listen to someone else talk about their problems, even if they are all about boys. And because she doesn't ask me about the Games. Ever. Sometimes Peeta comes over to visit. Sometimes it's okay, and we do puzzles or watch films. Sometimes it isn't, and I tell him I have to go to the bathroom and escape through the window and don't come back until after dark.
But the only thing I look forward to is hunting in the woods with Gale. Sunday is our day. We pull through the rest of the week to get to this day and live. Something about the clean air and space. We both seem more relaxed out there. At peace, perhaps you could say, though I'm not sure it's the right word. Sometimes, when I look at him, I forget about all the horrors of the past few months. There are moments when our eyes lock, and the whole world falls away, and I think everything is right. But then I remember that it isn't. That I was taken from my family and forced to fight in the Games. Forced to kill, forced to be in love, and forced to live with it for the rest of my life. When I get tangled in thoughts like these, I think about being in the woods with Gale.
But it is almost time for the Victory Tour. The Tour is another cruel part in the Capitol's plan to remind us we are all at their mercy. A few months after the Games, the winner, or in this case, winners, are paraded around all of Panem to celebrate, at least that's the word the Capitol uses, their triumph. But it's really a reminder of the Capitol's power. For most, the painful reminder that they can take and kill your children at any time and there is nothing you can do about it. And for the rest, the unlucky few who survive the Games, it's a reminder that your life is now theirs.
I try to think about the Tour as little as possible. I want to talk about it to Gale, but I can see the long hours at the mines are starting to wear on him. He never complains, but I notice the dark circles under his eyes from lack of sleep. The fatigue in his muscles, the pain in his back. It's not fair to pressure him more. The woods are our place of escape. He doesn't burden me with his problems, so I try and return the favor. But as the weeks pass by, the topic is no longer avoidable.
"You know I'm not going to be able to go hunting with you next weekend, right?" I tell Gale one day. He doesn't answer and looks straight ahead, body tense and eyes burning. "The Victory Tour is about to start. I'll be gone for a while, so…" I don't finish my sentence, but we both know what it means.
It means it's time for me to start pretending again.
It is two days before the Tour, and Haymitch has called a meeting at his house. It is only few minutes away from mine now that he, Peeta, and I all live in Victor's Village, but it takes me over ten minutes to walk there. I don't want to go. I know exactly what he's going to tell me—to remember to act like I'm in love.
The only reason Peeta and I both survived the Games was by making everyone believe we were truly and deeply in love. As the last two survivors, we threatened suicide instead of sacrificing one of ourselves. However, some interpreted this as an act of defiance. An act, it turned out, that was inspiring others to defy as well. It was imperative that we pull off this charade, convince the world that we were not revolutionaries, but foolish love birds, ignorant of the big picture.
I sit through Haymitch's speech, nod, and promise I'll behave.
"You've got to do more than behave, sweetheart. You've got to sell it." He warns me.
Peeta is smiling. He probably finds my ire attractive or something.
"What?" I dare him.
"If you just wouldn't be so stubborn."
"I'm not being stubborn!" He's set me off. "Just because I don't want to be their slave doesn't mean I'm being a petulant child. They don't have the right to tell me what to do!"
"Yes, they do." Haymitch cuts me off with a cold stare. There is an anger in his eyes I've never seen before. It reminds me that he is a killer. "You volunteered for this game. You chose to go, you chose to win, and you chose to let Peeta here win with you. And you risked all of us when you pulled that little stunt. So I don't want to hear that you don't want to play anymore. Do you understand?"
I want to punch him, but he holds my stare and I relent. "Yes."
"I didn't catch that." He's mocking me.
"Yes," I repeat, loud and clear.
"Good. Because we're all counting on you." He tells me.
As angry as I am with Haymitch for ridiculing me, I am surprised by his urgency. He was scared. Somebody must have threatened him because it isn't easy to scare Haymitch Abernathy. I wonder who it was and what they said.
"I promise," I say, looking straight into his eyes, "I can do this."
"Good," he took a swig from his bottle, and looked over at Peeta who he'd ignored through most of the meeting, "And you…just…try not to piss her off."
I smiled slightly, grateful that Haymitch understands me so well. But when I looked over at Peeta, it was clear he didn't.
I suspected that Peeta was looking forward to the Tour, and these suspicions were confirmed during out conversation outside Haymitch's house.
"Come on, Katniss, it won't be so bad."
I could feel the anger stirring inside my chest. "How can you say that?" I accuse him, "They are going dress us up like dolls and parade us around. We're puppets, Peeta! Part of their sick game!"
"Yes, but…" He interrupts. I know what Peeta is thinking. But we'll be together. I give him a look, daring him to say it. Thankfully, he doesn't. But that doesn't change the fact that he believes it. Peeta doesn't care about the Capitol's game. He doesn't care about their threats or their power. As he looks at me, I am reminded that all he cares about is us being together. And I pity him because nothing is less important to me in this world. "Soon this will all be over." He means it as a comfort.
"And what then, Peeta? What then? We'll never be allowed to forget!"
"Then we have to find something good in it, Katniss. To make it worth remembering." Peeta looks at me tenderly and reaches out, but I push his arms away.
"I don't want to do that." I could see my words hurt him, but I didn't know how to show I cared. "I'm sorry, Peeta. I'm not angry with you."
"I just…I hate this all. Very much. I just wish we didn't have to..." I stop, looking for the right word, "pretend."
"Me too," Peeta says, looking at me brightly.
But I don't think he realizes we meant two entirely differently things.