Into the Woods

Chapter Six

Peeta leaves without saying a word. My chest is heaving, and I try to take deep breaths to calm myself. I don't think it works. Hatred for Snow and the Capitol boils in my body. I think of everything that's been stolen from me, I suck on the knowledge that I'll never be free, and decide I want to do something about it. I don't know what, but I will not be his plaything. I found a way once to turn Snow's Games on him without even meaning to, just imagine what I can do if I try…

My prep team comes in to work on me, but they are too busy talking amongst themselves to notice my silence.

"Oh, Katniss," Venia coos as Cinna's newest gown is brought in. She's scrutinizing my eyebrows to see if any stray hairs have grown in since we did this two days ago in District one.

"You're going to look marvelous!" Flavius adds, "If only Cinna would let me color your hair to match the dress…"

"You know what he said!" Octavia chimes, "We want her looking natural."

"Yes, but just think how marvelous she'd look if we…" I tune them out.

I feel kind of bad, but the only way I get through the hour is by imagining how many different ways I can think to kill people with their various beauty instruments. I'm wondering how much damage the back end of a makeup brush would do if I shoved it in someone's eye socket when they tell me they've finished.

I hardly recognize myself. My skin is a natural color, but there must be bits of glitter in the powder because I shimmer when I move. My makeup is delicate. My eyes look brighter, my lips fuller, my cheeks redder. And my dress is made from a simple, soft material that hangs down to my feet. It's a beautiful soft blue that reminds me of Prim's eyes. I see nothing of myself in it.

After my team finishes complimenting their work on me, they leave the room. I can hardly stand to be alone in the room with the girl in the mirror.

So I punch her in the face.

The mirror shatters to the ground, and it's only moments before Effie comes running in.

"Katniss…Oh my!" she exclaims, looking at the cracked glass on the floor and my bloody hand. "What on Earth? Help! Quickly, we need a medic!"

Some people who are absolutely not worth noticing come in and clean my cut. When all the blood is wiped away, they put a clear cream over the wound which binds the torn skin together. It works remarkably well, and now it just looks like someone traced a jagged line on my skin in red ink.

"Everything okay in here?" Haymitch asks, poking his heard through the open door. The medics are about finished and clear out. "Would you give us a minute, Effie."

She arches her eyebrow but doesn't protest. Haymitch surveys the broken glass.

"The girl in the mirror was looking at me funny." I try and explain.

"I figured it was something like that. Is everything all right, Katniss?" He might not be feigning concern this time.

I look at him like it's the stupidest question in the world. "No, Haymitch. Everything is not okay." I stop and try not to sound so mean because Haymitch is actually trying. "Snow threatened to kill Gale."

He nods and takes a minute to process what I tell him. "Found out about your little weekend rendezvous, did he?"

I nod. "I'm not going to let him hurt anyone I care about."

"Oh, you don't have to tell me that. I know better than to cross you there." Haymitch softens with a crooked grin. He awkwardly reaches out to hug me, but only half squeezes my shoulders. Neither of us is a natural hugger. "How about we just worry about tonight, okay? And then we'll worry about everything else."

"I don't want to play his stupid games anymore!"

"Easy, sweetheart…Believe it or not, I know how hard this is. But punching mirrors is only going to get you a bloody hand and bad luck. Unless, of course, this is all part of your grand plan. In which case, I'm all ears."

I'm not in the mood to be mocked. I look at him and can tell he's being sincere.

"So no grand plan, then?" he continues.

I relent. "No. Not yet."

"That's what I thought. Gotta think of think big picture, okay? I know you hate this, but your popularity with those people out there is the only thing keeping you alive. And the only reason you're popular is because you're in love…with Peeta. Think you can remember that?"

"Yeah," I huff.

"Good, so place nice." I roll my eyes. "Play nicer than that," he reprimands me. I sit up straight and flash him a big smile.

"That's a good start, just try not to look so deranged on camera."

"Yeah, yeah," I agree. I've no idea what Haymitch is thinking, but I don't think he's placating me. For some reason, I trust him. He squeezes my shoulder reassuringly and leaves.

A few moments later, Cinna comes in.

"I'm all right," I tell him, trying to avoid another interrogation.

"You, girl? I came in to check on my dress." Cinna always could make me smile. "Make sure you didn't mess it up."

"I seem to be doing a lot of that recently." Cinna sits next to me and takes my hand. He opens a small tube of tinted cream and rubs it over my wound. It suddenly disappears.

"There," he soothes, "good as new." He is trying to be encouraging. "Now, don't you look beautiful?" The takes me over to another mirror and turns me towards it. I can see him looking at my reflection. "Don't you like the girl you see?"

I look away, not sure how to explain, not sure if I have an explanation. Am I just being stubborn or selfish? There are far worse jobs to have, and I think of Gale slaving away in the mines. Of all the other men working in the mines. And in the fields and forests and factories all across Panem. I have it so much better than they do. Perhaps I really am being selfish. Maybe I should try harder.

"No," I quickly correct myself, "I mean, yes, your dress is beautiful…I…I just…I'll be happy when I can be myself again."

"I know exactly what you mean," he tells me with a suspecting glint in his eyes, and I'm not sure exactly what he means.

"How do you do it, Cinna?" I say, meeting his gaze in the mirror.

"I was born beautiful." His eyes flutter dramatically. "I wake up looking this good."

"That's not what I mean." And I can tell he knows, "How do you exist in this world?"

"We all have our part to play, Katniss. Sometimes it helps to think everything is bigger than us."

The big picture. Didn't Haymitch say something similar? But why does that matter and why should I care? The Capitol and isn't my concern. Not their entertainment or Snow's precious status quo. All at the expense of the Districts. It's not right. I know it isn't right. And I think of Gale again, and all the other men working in the fields and forests and factories, and what's happening to them isn't right either. I remember, I am going to do something about this. But as ready as I am to start fighting, I think it can't be a coincidence what Haymitch and Cinna are saying. I'm confused and have doubts and want to ask Cinna to explain. But he tells me he has to go.

"Does it help if I tell you that you're the only girl who can play this part? You're so important Katniss. More than you know." He takes my hands and kisses them before he leaves.

Both the conversations leave a storm of thoughts brewing in my head. What were they trying to do? Comfort me because they thought I was upset? Say what was necessary to get me to do my job because that is part of their job? I'm confused and it makes me angry. And this is on top of all my anger about Snow. And the Capitol. And the Games. Oh, and Peeta too. I'm also angry at him.

Thoughts bounce around my mind. I'm not certain what I'll do. I'm seriously considering trying to strangle Caesar Flickerman when someone comes to lead me to the stage. Walking to the waiting room, I begin to see the holes in my plan and I can't keep Cinna and Haymitch's voices out of my head.

We all have a part to play, Katniss…Think of the big picture.

As tempting as on air strangling would be, I realize, both these men have always acted in my interest in the past. I should trust them. At least until I'm able to figure out a way to get Gale out of the mines. Just as I hear the roar of the audience and I'm led to my mark on the corner of the stage, I decide, I'll play along. Give them a good show. So far, I've been pretty good at beating the Capitol at their own games.

. . .

"Here she is, everyone's favorite lady of the hourrrrrrrr," the announcer calls, stretching out the last r in hour, "Katnisssss Everdeeeeeen!"

And the crowd goes wild.

The lights of the stage blind me momentarily, but I don't stop. I walk out on stage, smile plastered on my face, waving at my adoring fans. People are standing, shouting, calling my name. For one moment, my smile is genuine. Oh yes, I think, I have power.

"Oh, Katniss, welcome. What a great pleasure it is to have you here with us again." Caesar stands and extends his arm as I walk over.

"I'm happy to be back," I chirp, "Thank you for having me." We shake and I lean in to kiss him on the cheek.

He coos delightfully, "Hey, are you sure Peeta won't mind?" The crowd laughs.

"Don't worry," I say, "he's not the jealous kind."

"Well, I'd certainly be jealous if I had a girl as beautiful as you! Don't she look lovely tonight?" He turns to the crowd. Their riotous applause is the answer. "Are you going to do us a little twirl this evening."

"If you want me to." I beam.

A comic look of concern crosses his face. "You're not on fire this time, are you?" Cue the laughter again.

"Not that type of fire." For a split second, Caesar looks uneasy. But I smile brightly and do my little twirl. Again, the crowd goes wild.

"Absolutely stunning," he says, and we sit down. "How are you liking the Capitol, the second time around?"

"Ohh, I really like it a lot."

"Better than the first?"

"Definitely."

Caesar flashes me a look of concern. He's not sure where I'm going with this, but he knows I'm playing with fire. But I hold his gaze, challenging him, as if to say: Going to play with me, Caesar? Or are you afraid you'll get burned?

"Really?" he asks incredulously, looking to the audience as if to say can you believe her? "What didn't you like the first time you were here?"

"Oh," I disarm him, "It's not that I didn't like it, Caesar. It was just so overwhelming." I pause and let the audience grow comfortable again, think I'm not talking bad about their home. Then I add, "Also, I was pretty much brought her to be killed." And they all tense up again. The crowd becomes uncomfortably quiet. Funny how they act when reminded what the Games they love so much actually are.

Caesar looks tense, but he reclaims the moment. "Ha ha," he forces a laugh, "At least you don't have that pressure this time!"

"Yeah, this time it's so much nicer. The fans are what make everything worth it." The crowd cheers, they are mine again. "It's just great to see how much people love me," I turn to blow them a kiss. They go wild. Then I add, "And not only here, throughout Panem."

Caesar knows we're playing and tries to rein me in. "So tell us, Katniss, how have you been enjoying the tour so far?" I have to give the man credit, he is good at his job.

"Oh, it's been wonderful. Really eye opening. Seeing all the other districts, I never realized how similar we were before." I stare Caesar straight in the eyes and taunt him with my perfect smile. Let him worry that I'll say something incendiary, savor that power I have over him. "But the best part, of course, is being with Peeta."

"Awww," I hear from the crowd. I look out at them and nod.

Caesar shifts uncomfortably, but his smile never fades, "Getting to spend a bit more personal time now that you're mother's not around?"

I make myself blush. "Yeah, it's wonderful."

"The best part of this whole thing?"

"Yeah," I concede, "Well, Peeta and the food!" I say with a hearty laugh. The crowd follows.

"You like our food, hunh?"

"Caesar, I just like food. We have so little of it back in 12. I ate more for breakfast than some families back home see in a week." I try to play it off as a joke and laugh.

Caesar chuckles again, nervously. Don't like being reminded to that either, I think, but my smile never fades. "Well, I know how much you two hate being apart, so why don't we bring Peeta out here." The crowd screams, and I look as excited as possible. Caesar gets up and looks to the opposite corner of the stage where Peeta is waiting. "Peeta Mellark, come on out here!" Peeta jogs towards Caesar, stopping to wave and bow at the audience. I get up and throw myself at him, planting a big kiss on his lips. To his credit, his performance isn't shaken by our recent fights. He holds me in his strong arms, leaning me back a bit and kisses me deeply. For just a moment, I forget that he whole world is watching.

No one came to drag me from by bed that night, so I can only assume our performance was a success. Peeta of course was dazzling, Caesar didn't even bother to address me once he was there. Afraid I'd say something else scandalous, I'm sure. But I was proud of my performance, my little jabs at the Capitol. Hopefully there were at least a few people out there who took notice, and for the rest, well, Peeta and I kissed and cuddled enough to satisfy all of them.

As I sat down for breakfast, I realized my wish had come true. A few people definitely did take notice, and Haymitch was the first among them.

"What the hell were you thinking?" he yells at me. I tuck my legs up under my chin as I sit at the table.

"Katniss," Effie reproaches me, but I just scowl at her.

"How stupid are you?" Haymitch is really angry. "Do you not remember our little chat? Right before the show? Because I remember telling you what to say, how to act…"

"You told me to be in love with Peeta! I did that!"

"Yeah, sweetheart, you sure did. And you also had to throw out comments about the uniting Districts and their starving masses."

"I said no such thing." I insist.

"Don't play stupid with me. You knew exactly what you were doing!"

"If people want to assume things about what I said…"

"Oh, a certain someone's going to assume."

"I don't see how that's my problem." I talk over him.

"No, It's MINE!" He screams, "you stupid, selfish girl!"

"What? Afraid they're going to cut off your liquor supply or something?" I almost dare Haymitch to hit me. "You told me to think of the big picture, Haymitch. I was thinking of all my audience. Not just the people in the Capitol, but all of Panem!"

"You know, Katniss, nobody likes a smartass!"

"Okay," Effie trys to play referee, "Why don't we all just calm down and take a deep breath – "

"Oh, shut up Effie," Haymitch cuts her off. He nearly runs into Peeta as he walks up to the table. "You!" he screams. Peeta jumps back, confused. "Just eat your breakfast and go to the train."

"All right," Peeta looks around, trying to figure out what's going on.

"You have a fallout with Haymitch too?" Peeta asks when he finds me on the train. We left the Capitol only over an hour ago. Haymitch is already passed out in the dining car.

"We're having creative differences." Peeta searches me and nods.

"Is that what you're calling in? Well, I just wanted to apologize."

"Apologize for what?"

"How I talked to you the other night. I wasn't being very considerate. I know you're under a lot of pressure. I wasn't being fair to you either."

Oh Peeta, I think. You're not going to make this easy on me, are you?

"And, I just wanted you to know that I'm sorry I upset you."

"It's okay, Peeta –

"No, it isn't. I had no right to speak to you that way. I'm sorry."

I nudge his shoulder playfully. "Don't worry, I'm tough."

"Yeah, but we're supposed to be in this together." I shift a little uncomfortably when he says this. "We're a team, Katniss. Anything you need, you just tell me. I don't mind waiting."

Waiting? I think, Waiting for what? Does he think that if he plays it nice, I'll eventually come around. I try to think how I can explain to him...I just don't have room in my brain to think about love right now. And how he's great, but how I can't help but think of the Capitol and Snow and the Games every time I look at him, and maybe that makes me horrible, but that's just who I am. I must have a troubled look on my face because I suddenly hear Peeta ask, "Is everything okay?"

Peeta is in his comfort mode again. I know I should push him away, but he can be such a nice guy. I want to tell him about Haymitch and Cinna and my plan. Ask him if he thinks I'm being selfish or stupid or good and brave. But I know I shouldn't open up to him. It's best if we get used to the distance. The last time we were on a train from the Capitol together, I had to break his heart and tell him my emotions were not real. And I know for certain that all the time and space in the world won't make me feel for Peeta what he feels for me. Not right now. Not when I've got Snow breathing down my back and the whole of Panem stirring at my every word. Not when there is so much else, so much more important…And how can I tell that to him when the most important thing in the world to him is me? It's so unfair, I think, looking in his gentle blue eyes. But as I look into those eyes, it's not my reflection I see staring back. I know the Katniss he sees isn't really me. And I'm afraid one day he'll realize that.

I laugh. "No, but that's just life, isn't it?" He looks at me a little uneasily, but I give him a confident smile, and we fall into easy conversation as we steam towards District 12.

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