"I'm so glad this is all over." I say, climbing down from the train.
"Almost over," Haymitch corrects me, "Don't forget we have the welcome home dinner tonight, at the Mayor's house." I exhale sharply and roll my eyes. "Do we need to have another talk?"
"No," I promise Haymitch. "I'll be good." He eyes me, not quite believing. "I'll be better than good."
"Okay," he relents. "I just don't want any funny business."
I am about to get worked up when Peeta playfully bumps into me, snatching my bad. "Hey!" I call after him.
He turns around beaming. "Now, what type of guy would I be if I let my girl do all the heavy lifting?"
I run after him. "Peeta, wait," I call, "Peeta, you don't have to do that!" He jogs up to my front porch and sets my bag down. He grabs me and swings me around playfully when I reached him.
"We don't have to do this now. No one is watching."
"I know," he beams, "but I want to."
Sometimes, it is so easy to like Peeta. It makes me feel all the worse for not loving him.
I let him kiss me before saying goodbye, and try not to think about it as I go to my room and get ready.
Cinna told me exactly what to wear and how to do my makeup. I drape the dress on the back of my bathroom door and shower. I dry off, and do my hair before going to the mirror to attempt my makeup. Though Cinna had me practice for hours the last time we were together, I still doubt my abilities. It also doesn't help that I could hardly care less about these types of things. But after almost half an hour at the mirror, I successfully apply my mascara, a light coat of eye shadow, and an even layer of foundation. I couldn't quite seem to get the blush right, so I decide to forgo that. Next, I slip into my gown. The dress is dark blue and made from a glossy, slinky material. It feels so soft in my hands, like liquid. It falls down to my feet and there is a long slit that runs up my leg. The outside fabric is dark, smooth and shiny. I think Cinna called it satin. But the inside is made of something special. It sparkles like the night sky. When I walk, you can see the tiny jewels reflecting light. I almost wonder if thousands of tiny diamonds are sewn on the inside. I can't help but wonder how much it cost. Probably enough to feed a couple Seam families for a year. It fits tight around my waist and is a little too low cut for my comfort with a deep V neck. I put on big, stud diamond earrings and a thick, square diamond bracelet that echoes the shimmering jewels from inside my dress. I hardly recognize myself in the mirror. I wouldn't say that I am beautiful, but the dress certainly is. Finally I am ready for the last, and my least favorite, part: the high heels. Though I'd become quite adept at walking in them over the past month thanks to all of Effie's guidance, I still hate wearing the things.
I check the clock and it is almost time to go. I slowly descend the stairs, more for stability rather than effect. But as I go down, I could hear Prim cooing.
"Oh, please…" I start to dismiss her.
"Can I wear that dress when you're finished?"
"I don't think it will fit you, little duck." I pinch her face.
"Yes it will! I'm almost as tall as you now." As I look at her, I realize she's right. How often I forget that she's grown. "It's so beautiful! Don't you think, Peeta?" I hadn't realized he was there.
He stands up. "You do look beautiful." I am suddenly thankful I hadn't worn the rouge because I am blushing so much without it. As I get to the bottom of the stairs, Peeta looks at me, speechless. He extends his arm, and finally gets out, "Are you ready?" I nod. My mother has a strange look on her face as she bids us goodbye and watches us walk out the door. I can hear Prim excitement as we walk towards the mayor's house.
"Really, Katniss, you look amazing." Peeta says.
"All thanks to Cinna," I tell him. "He designed everything."
"I don't think he can take all the credit," Peeta tells me, and I find myself blushing again.
The Mayor's house is full by the time we arrive, teeming with important guests and journalists. As we walk through the doors, we are attacked by camera flashes and questions. My grip tightens on Peeta's arm, and he looks at me as if to say, everything will be all right. I nod thankfully. Peeta is charming as usual, shaking people's hands and making them laugh. Luckily, all I have to do is smile and eat. That, I can handle.
As the night wears on, an important reporter from the Capitol pulls us aside. I turn to Peeta who also had an uneasy look on his face, but his smile never wavers.
"Of course! We'd be happy to answer any questions our fans at the Capitol have for us!" Peeta tells the reporter as he leads us to a couch.
"As I'm certain you know, my name is Tiran Inkwell, and I work for the Press Department at the Capitol." Peeta and I exchange tense glances, and nod as he continues. "Did you know that last year's games were some of the highest rated ever" He has a sing-song voice and smile that make me sick. I don't like where this is going. I swallow audibly, and Peeta squeezes my hand reassuringly.
His first few questions seem innocent enough. Peeta deftly responds, seeming to give Mr. Inkwell what he wants, but after a few moments, his eyes turn to me. "Can I get a response from Miss Everdeen?" I sit up, trying to compose myself. "You are a very inspiring figure." He says it like it was an accusation, and I know it is. "Everyone in the Capitol was greatly moved by your actions. Volunteering for your sister, saving Peeta, trying to protect Rue." His eyes sparkled as he says her name. "Tell me, how does it make you feel to know that her death has been rated as one of the top ten Hunger Game deaths of all time?"
How does it make me feel? It makes me feel sick. This man is clearly trying to get a reaction out of me, but I fight hard to compose myself. "I'm just glad that people remember her," I say, smiling weakly. "She was such an amazing little girl." He will not provoke me, I think to myself. I can do this. Just like I did with Caesar.
His eyes shine. He is happy I am playing along. "She reminded you of your sister, no doubt?"
My heart starts to race and anger fills up my chest. It is one matter to talk about Rue, but another entirely to talk about Prim. I barely manage to nod my response through barred teeth.
"Is your sister as handy as you with a bow and arrow?"
I shake my head. "That's too bad." It's too bad I don't have my bow on me now, I think. Because I'd like to send an arrow through this man's eye. I clearly wasn't doing a good job hiding my feelings, because he seems delighted to make me squirm.
"Well, Miss Everdeen, I certainly hope that someone like you is around to protect your sister should she ever have her name called again." My eyes shoot open and nostrils flare. Peeta's jaw even drops for a second. "I know what you're thinking. What are the odds, right? But after what happened this year, the odds don't seem to be in her favor." He savors his last words, his tone dancing on the threat.
All the color drains from my face and it takes everything I have not to attack the man right there in the Mayor's front room.
He revels in our reactions. "Let's get a photo of the happy couple!" He chimes, trying to torture us. He motions us to lean together. I don't know if I even manage to smile between my gritted teeth.
Peeta is barely able to get me into one of the upstairs rooms before I explode. "That was Snow!" I steam, "He sent that man here to get at me!" I look around the room for something I can throw but find nothing. This is my punishment for my interview with Caesar. I say a few little snide quips, to show I'm not stupid, and Snow sends someone to threaten Prim. There is no telling what I might do.
"Just calm down." Peeta says closing the door so no one would hear.
"Don't tell me to calm down!"
"Ok, let's just take a moment and take a deep breath."
"Don't tell me to calm down, Peeta!" I roar. "He threatened Prim! That man threatened Prim!"
"Katniss...We're in the Mayor's house!"
I realize Peeta is right, and that I also didn't care, so I dismiss him. "What! You don't think they can fix a reaping? They can do anything they want! First Gale, and now Prim! I can't volunteer for her again, Peeta! I can't protect her!" There is panic in my voice and I can feel the rage swirling in my chest. I think my heart is going to burst. I don't know what I'm going to do.
"Katniss, hey Katniss" Peeta takes my face and forces me to look at him. "It's not like anything's happened yet. We don't know anything." He grabs my arms and at first I swat him away. I know he is trying to comfort me, but he is only pissing me off. I didn't want to calm down. I want to kill something. "Okay?" He reaches for my hand again.
"No," I say stubbornly, but I let him take my hand this time. He smiles at me sweetly. "It's not okay, Peeta. Nothing is okay!" He leads me over to the bed and starts massaging my shoulders gently.
"I know, but we'll think of something. We always do."
"I hate this. The only thing that made it worth it was the knowledge that my family was going to be safe." I begin to cry as I make the realization. I knew that I was going to be at the mercy of the Capitol for the rest of my life, and I thought it was all worth it as long as they couldn't hurt my mother or Prim. "That man just took the one comfort I had left away from me!"
"What about me?" Peeta says. "Don't I comfort you?"
"No. I mean, well, yes," I say stopping to think. "But Peeta…"
"Just relax, Katniss. Let me try and make you feel better…like I did on the train."
I take a deep breath and try to relax. Maybe Peeta does have a point. We have been able to figure things out pretty well so far, and really, what are the chances Prim would get called? And even if she does, maybe I could volunteer for her again? I shudder as I think of going back to the Games, but I'd do it again, for Prim. And Haymitch is clearly up to something. I recall his "big picture" spiel. Maybe there won't even be a Games next year? Is that too much to hope for?
"See, aren't you feeling better now?"
I nod and reach up to touch Peeta's hands to thank him. But he then leans in and kisses me on my neck.
"Peeta," I say, trying to get his attention. I realize his hand had moved far down my back. I tense up again, uncomfortable.
"It's okay, Katniss." He kisses me again. "Relax."
"Peeta," I repeat, this time my voice is more strained. I don't want him to do this right now.
"Hmmm?" He sighs between kisses, hardly paying attention as his hands moved beneath my dress.
I shift uncomfortably. "Peeta, please." He doesn't seem to understand and continues. I realize I've confused him. "No." I say more forcefully. But he isn't listening. I try to get up, but his hands are around my waist and keep me seated.
"Try to enjoy this." He tells me, placing kisses by my ears and neck again. "Everything will be all right." He brushes my dress off one of my shoulders and lets his hand slide up my front.
I always knew Peeta wanted more from me. On the nights when I pretended to be asleep on the train. I could feel his eyes and occasionally his hands wander. I felt bad I couldn't give him what he wanted, and sometimes I wondered if maybe I should. But I wasn't ready to give it to him then, and I am certainly less so now.
"Stop," I say as assertively as I can. I get up, Peeta again reaches for my hand to stop me, but I pull away. "I don't want this Peeta."
"Katniss…" He looks at me tenderly. I know he doesn't mean me any harm. But I didn't want this.
"No Peeta. Not now. Not ever."