The Games: Bright Lights
I’m woken by a loud repetitive knocking at the door. The sun is shining brightly through the window, glaring off the building across from the training center. I shield my eyes as I force myself out of bed.
The knocking continues. I already know who it is before I open the door.
Effie stands with her hand raised. She huffs, “I thought you were an early riser.”
“Guess I’m valuing these last nights of sleeping in relative safety.” I step aside as she walks in wheeling a cart of food.
She makes a disgruntled noise as she stops the cart beside a pair of chairs near the window.
“Now is not the time for jokes. We need to get you ready for your interview.” Effie straightens the hem of her dress before sitting.
“No offense, Effie, but I’ve been in a lot of interviews. I think I can handle it,” I say, stifling a yawn.
“Ivy. Please. Just let me do this. I don’t care if you listen. I don’t care if you follow my advice. Just let me do my job.” She looks at me with an angry concern. I don’t think the anger is directed at me. But she pulls herself back into the Capitol mask before she says anything unexpected.
She indicates the chair across from her in a stiff measured movement. I join her. I realize that while my parents and Haymitch have always considered and prepared for my Games as a possible and likely scenario, Effie hasn’t. I don’t think she even wanted to think about it until it was inescapable.
And now, when my last day is upon us, she understands these are her final moments with me.
So I’ll do all I can to keep them as pleasant as possible, if only for the next few hours. I’ll do that for everyone, because this is it for the people in my life. This is all they will have of me when I’m gone.
Once the interview ends and we come back here it’ll be time for goodbyes. Then they won’t see me again. I won’t see them again.
I guess these last moments are for me too. A final day with everyone.
“I would appreciate the advice, Effie,” I say. She smiles and starts telling me how to impress the Capitol sponsors. I slowly fill a plate with some eggs, bacon, and a bread pudding. I nod at all the appropriate moments and ask follow up questions when necessary.
Then the moment comes for her to ask me what attitude I wish to portray for the audience.
“I was just going to be myself. They want the legacy. I’ll give them the legacy. I’ll smile and wave and be charming.” I give her my best fake smile.
“It’s not a bad idea, but don’t act too proud. And don’t let them throw you with questions.” She points at me, as if driving the point home. “You need to show them what real legacies look like. And shine brighter than all the rest.”
“I’ll do my best.” I put my empty plate on the cart. Effie places her hand on mine.
“Trust me. You’re not the problem. Your brother, however, is the one that requires the most work. The stylists will be here in an hour. I’m going to go wake Bas and see if I can pull something together with him.” Effie wheels the cart out, muttering about Bas and his unbearable likeness to my mother in front of the camera.
I pull my knees to my chest and look out the window. From up here the buildings spread out like a fence designed to keep me in. I wonder if it will be freeing to be in an actual pen. To know there’s no illusion of free will or safety anymore.
I don’t think being aware of my cage is going to make running for my life and fighting for Bas’ any easier.
It just lets me know that I’m doing exactly what they want. That no matter what I do inside there’s no way to get outside. There’s no way to escape their walls. Unless I become a Victor and I won’t.
My only escape is to die accordingly.
When the prep team comes, I smile and let them do the usual routine. I sit quietly and obediently. They chat and remark on my looks like they did before. I say nothing.
I’m grateful when Cinna arrives with my dress. The prep team leaves and I change without a word.
“How are you feeling?” he asks.
I hesitate. I can’t find the words to describe how I’m feeling. Am I happy training is over? Am I glad for what I did at the assessment? Am I ready for what’s to come? Do I feel anything at all?
I wish I couldn’t feel anything.
I feel everything.
I feel my time running out. I feel my plan pulling me under just like the Capitol. I feel trapped. I feel alone. I’m terrified. I think I’m prepared. I want to think I’m ready.
“Like I don’t want to die,” I respond, my voice catching on the last word.
He nods and pulls me into a hug. I’m shaking but I don’t let myself cry. I told myself I wouldn’t and I won’t. I can’t. Once I start I won’t stop.
“Only one person is coming home,” I whisper. He pulls away and lifts my chin with his thumb.
“Not always,” he says with a warm smile. It makes me feel better. “Now let’s finish getting you ready.”
The dress reaches past my knees and flares out. It’s mostly black with red feathers placed delicately on it. The feathers spread along the sleeves down my arms. When I look at them they don’t seem out of place. They shimmer with the fabric and move as if a part of it.
I’m grateful the shoes aren’t as high as the women of the Capitols. They give me some height but not so much that it would impede my balance. The prep team curled the end of my hair but Cinna pulls it up. He applies finishing touches to my makeup, wiping some away and replacing it.
I look in the mirror and I feel elegant. There’s no hint of severity like there was at the chariots. The dress fits perfectly and for once, I feel like myself in it. I don’t feel an act threatening to bury me. I don’t feel like I’m playing a part. It feels like me. It looks like me.
And the real me is going to make her appearance in the Capitol for the first time.
When I walk out of the room, everyone’s eyes fall on me. Effie claps her hands together and Haymitch smiles. My parents smile as well before nodding to Cinna.
I turn to Bas. “What do you think?”
He gives me the once over. “You look weird.”
He strikes a pose. “But it’s fine. So do I. I’m sure everyone’ll love it all over the country.”
He indicates Effie who looks like she’s about to cry. He turns back at me as if to say, see what I mean?
I nod. He smiles, expecting me to return it. Expecting me to joke around like we used to. I can’t anymore.
Effie leads the group to the elevator. I’m one of the first with her. I avoid looking at Bas. He has to understand. I have to focus on his survival. I have to cut out all the rest. This isn’t even about me getting sponsors. My mind is past the interview. It’s so far into the arena, I can’t think of anything else anymore.
Maybe it’s always been there.
But now it seems to be the only thought driving me. The Gamemakers are going to come at me for what I said and did. They’ll do the same with Bas. If we’re together it’ll make it easier for them. Should we split up? Could I do that? Could I trust that he will make it without me?
No. I can’t.
Even if the Gamemakers do all they can to kill us. I’ll take it before I allow Bas to wander the arena alone.
I’m lost to the fog of my thoughts and only barely aware of my movements until I’m overwhelmed by lights and sounds behind a large stage. It’s almost a shock to my system having been so occupied in my mind.
I watch the crowd filter in from behind the stage. The colors and metallic outfits glare against the light. I feel like I’m spinning until there’s a familiar pressure of a hand on my shoulder. I blink and steady myself.
I look up to see my father watching me. He searches to see that I’m okay. I nod.
“You’re not worried, are you?” he asks his tone light.
“About this? No. Nothing I haven’t done before.”
He nods. “Still, the crowd can be overwhelming.”
“I’ll be fine,” I tell him.
“I’m sure you will be.” He pulls me close and kisses the top of my head, holding me in the hug.
“Dad. The Careers are probably watching,” I try. I don’t want them to see anything they could perceive as weakness.
“They’re afraid of you. I don’t care.” He breaks the hug. I turn to see only Beck watching. His hair is styled up again. He wears a sea green suit with the sleeves rolled up. I can’t help but notice that it matches his eyes. A shell necklace prominently displays itself in front of his half buttoned shirt. It stands out amongst the Capitol styling, looking slightly worn as if he’s been pulling on the string.
His mother approaches him and he turns to her, telling her something. She glances at me quickly before pulling Beck towards Finnick.
The other Careers and their mentors stick with each other, never straying from the group.
Victoria briefly makes eye contact with me but turns back to her father quickly. I look ahead as I walk to my mother. There’s no use in thinking about the Careers right now. It’s best to keep my distance.
My mother watches my father and me as we approach. She looks to my father, questioning. He nods, assuaging whatever concern was growing. Our small moment of silence is broken when Johanna arrives.
She exits the elevator with Grover and bee lines straight for us. Grover follows quickly behind her, an amusement in his eyes. My mother steps in front of me, pushing me aside gently. I wonder if she expects a fight.
“You.” Johanna points to me.
My heart races. Am I in trouble with her? What did I do to her? I was nothing but nice to Grover during training. And I haven’t seen her since the chariots.
“What do you want, Johanna?” my mother asks, her voice cold.
“Relax, Katniss. I’m not a danger to your precious baby bird. That’s for the arena and the other Tributes,” Johanna laughs before continuing, “I heard a funny little rumor and wanted to know if it was true.”
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors, you’ll have to be specific,” I answer, stepping around my mother.
“Ivy,” my mother warns.
Johanna smiles. “When you saw the Gamemakers…”
“We’re not talking about this. Not here,” my father interjects.
“So it is true,” Johanna says, almost relieved. “What I would give to have been able to see their faces.”
“They were pretty shocked,” I say.
She laughs again. “Are you sure she’s yours, Katniss?”
“I have a very vivid memory of being in labor for thirty six hours. I’m sure.”
“Is that all, Johanna?” My father asks.
“For now. Good luck out there. Don’t say anything they can censor.” She walks off. Grover gives us an approving nod before following her.
I watch her slow just enough for him to catch up. They fall into step with each other almost instantly. I imagine a four-year-old Grover following Johanna around on unstable legs, learning to keep up with her without help. I imagine the years of the two of them falling into step in silence. Her trying to get him to learn to swing an ax and him never paying enough attention to pick it up properly. I imagine the years of him coming to love her like a mother and her loving him like a son.
I wonder if he ever came to her for advice as he grew. If someone back home caught his attention and he didn’t know what to do. I wonder how many times he came to her in the night because he had a bad dream. If he walked over from wherever he was supposed to live just so she could bring him right back home.
I wonder if he knows the nightmares that haunt her as well. Every Victor has damage. Even the ones who train for the arena have it. It’s only the ones closest to them that are ever able to recognize it. But it’s there in all of their eyes. They all know what it’s like to take a life. What it’s like to survive over twenty three others.
Or twenty two in the case of my parents.
“Don’t think about it,” my mother says quietly to me. She watches Grover and Johanna too.
I nod as the lights flicker.
Caesar Flickerman emerges on the stage with his wide smile and tightly pulled skin. He gives the usual gushing speech about the Games and the Tributes. He adds bits about this year being so exciting and that these are no ordinary Tributes. I barely listen.
Emery is called out first. Her dress almost diamond underneath the lights. It looks cold, severe. It’s perfect for her. She plays up the family side in her interview, but shows a fierce determination to win when speaking about the other Tributes and her preparation.
Caesar loves her. So does the audience.
When she leaves the stage she passes me.
“And that’s how you do an interview,” she says before finding her father and her aunt. They head up the elevator as Stone walks out for his moment with Caesar.
I stop paying attention to the other interviews once Stone begins speaking. I don’t care what they have to say or whether or not the audience loves them. It’s not going to make a difference to me.
I’m leaning against a wall barely paying attention to the screens when I feel a warmth beside me. A part of me already knows who it is before I face him.
“Are you going to tell me I look like a princess again?” I ask, looking at Beck.
He smiles with a genuine light to his eyes. I’m not sure he will give the same to the audience, unless he’s just that good at pretending. I don’t think anyone is. Not even me.
“No I already made that mistake. I will say you look very nice though,” he tells me.
“You look very…green,” I share.
“It matches my eyes, don’t you think?” he asks, pushing himself into my personal space for me to get a better look. I back up. He seems to realize how close he is and does the same. “Sorry.”
“No. It does.” I watch the screens again. Minnow is talking about her father’s kill with excitement.
“You didn’t even look,” Beck says slyly.
I turn to him. “Yes I did.”
“If you say so.”
I feel a heat across my face, turning my cheeks red.
“Don’t worry. I noticed your eyes too.” He laughs.
I take another step, distancing myself. “Don’t you have an interview to prepare for?”
“Ah yes. That’s right. I completely forgot about selling myself to the masses,” he says, bitterly. “Thank you for reminding me.”
The next thing I know he’s tightening his tie as Minnow is walking off the stage. His face changes and he’s the confident Beck from Four once again.
His voice drops as he says, “You know, the Careers are gonna come after you. Watch your back.”
“I’m aware, thank you. And you should worry about your own back. Not mine.”
“Good luck out there.”
“I don’t need it. And I don’t think you do either.” He winks and strides out onto the stage.
Beck’s interview starts out smoothly. He laughs and smiles to all the adoring people of the Capitol. But then Caesar asks the question he’s been asking all the other Tributes.
“Can you give us any insight on what it’s like to grow up as the son of a Victor? I’m sure everyone would love to hear it.”
Beck forces a smile, but I can see his jaw clench. His fingers twitch before he clenches his hand.
“I don’t know if anyone would want to hear about that,” he tries to deflect.
Caesar goads him. There’s an unnerving glee behind his eyes that sends a shiver up my spine.
Beck’s smile drops and there’s a sharp sincerity to his words.
“My mother is very kind and very strong. She survived and she won. Despite everything, she raised me to be the best version of myself I can be. And I am incredibly proud of that. There is no secret to being raised by a Victor. It doesn’t make me better. She made me better. And before you ask, because I know you’re going to, I will do everything I can to come home to her.”
The audience is silent. Stunned by his sheer honesty or rather what they perceive to be honesty. I know all the things Beck didn’t say. All the nights hearing his mother scream. All the days worrying whether she was okay at home. After years, the worry goes away, but the nightmares don’t. And hearing your parents scream haunts you every time you close your eyes.
“Well,” Caesar begins, “I hope you do. Don’t you, folks?” he asks the audience.
At that, they roar with applause.
Beck shakes Caesar’s hand and gives the audience one last smile before walking off the stage. His smile drops instantly once he’s out of view. I watch his shoulders fall and his mother pull him into a tight hug. She brushes his hair aside and gives him a look of concern. Almost asking silently whether or not he’s okay.
He nods before turning towards his father.
Finnick keeps his distance, rubbing his fingers together in a nervous motion. There’s nothing he can do here, no approval or affection he can show that the Capitol won’t see. Still, he slaps Beck on the shoulder and turns away.
It must mean enough to Beck because he smiles despite himself. Annie leads him towards the elevator.
Before they board he looks in my direction. “See you tomorrow.”
I roll my eyes and join my brother by an empty wall.
“I heard they’re making us go together,” Bas says to me.
“Makes sense. They want to show us off as much as they still can.”
“Do you want to do all the talking?” he asks.
“If you want me to.”
He shrugs. “Well, I usually don’t have much to say.”
“Maybe tonight you will,” I tell him.
“If there was ever a time, it would be now,” he agrees.
We feign interest as Tribute after Tribute has their turn on stage. Effie makes small comments on whether or not she would have done something differently. I tune her and everyone else out, picturing the woods back home. I imagine the mockingjays singing and the smell of the leaves.
I can feel the ground beneath my feet. I make no sound as I follow tracks towards my prey. I never catch it. I’m pulled from my fantasy once Grover’s name is called.
Johanna nudges him and he hurries onto the stage. He can barely stand still as Caesar talks to him. It seems to unnerve Caesar a bit to my delight.
The crowd finds Grover funny and he plays it up.
“Grover, you’re thirteen--”
“Fourteen. I just had a birthday. Yesterday, actually.” The crowd gives an audible aw and claps for him.
“Well then, happy belated birthday. And what better way to celebrate?” Caesar turns to the crowd. They respond accordingly.
“I can think of a few better ways,” Bas says to me. I nod in agreement.
I glance to Johanna. Her arms are crossed as she watches the screens. She keeps her expression passive, impossible to read. I look to my parents. My father’s sympathy is evident in his furrowed brow and sullen eyes as he watches Grover. My mother, like Johanna, doesn’t show much. She takes a few steps closer to Bas and me, but her expression remains unchanged.
“Being back in Seven would be a start,” Grover answers.
The crowd falls silent. Johanna’s arms drop. Caesar laughs.
“Well I imagine you’d want to celebrate with your family,” Caesar says, his pleasant, sympathetic voice masking a greater warning.
“What’s left of it.”
Caesar plays up all the sympathy he can muster. “Ah yes, your mother, she had an unfortunate accident years ago in Seven.”
“That’s what they tell me.” Grover shrugs. I can hear the truth behind his words. He knows it wasn’t an accident. Whatever happened, it wasn’t fate or chance. It was designed.
“We were all very saddened to hear about that loss,” Caesar continues.
“I’m sure you were.” Grover’s usual warmth and movement has all but ceased now. He’s angry. I would be angry too. “But I know she’s in a better place now.”
“Yes. Well. I’m sure she would be proud of you standing up here.”
“She’d be terrified,” Grover adds, coldly.
I turn to Johanna and I see a smile.
Caesar rushes to get Grover off the stage. The crowd applauds politely but there’s no enthusiasm for the boy from Seven who just told the Capitol the truth. That there’s no honor, no victory, there’s only fear and regret. There’s only being controlled.
Truth seems to be a common theme running through the braver Tributes’ interviews. They imply or they flat out say what they feel and what they mean. Beck implied. Grover told. I wonder what I’ll do. I can’t let them be the only ones.
August barely manages to answer a single question of Caesars. Trina has no shortage of anger but she dials it back to appeal to the crowd. She slips up once when she says she enjoyed her life before she found out about these Games. There’s plenty of awkward silence for that answer.
Little Zero cries and talks about missing home. I don’t think he’s intentionally trying to sway anyone’s opinion of the Games or of the Capitol. He’s a scared kid crying for his parents. I can’t watch him walk back inside to find the arms of his father. The man lifts his son and half carries him to the elevator.
I’m glad the Careers aren’t still in the room. They’d be cruel and I wouldn’t be able to resist hitting them at this point.
Callie and Teddy give their interviews without incident. Callie talks about how she’s glad to have met a lot of the people here. How she never would have interacted with other districts like this. She makes us out to be people, children, friends, not sacrifices. I’m glad she’s going before us.
Teddy gives short responses, making it seem like his head is in the game. He’s overconfident. Stern. When I met him in training he was determined. We’re all determined to go home. But he wasn’t like this. Now he’s acting like a Career. The crowd is relieved at his status quo responses and his calloused attitude. Caesar asks about him being the second Victor in his family. He waves it off, like he’s so sure he’ll win he doesn’t need to answer.
His final words are, “You won’t forget about me while I’m gone, will you?”
Caesar makes a mock frown and the crowd swoons.
“We’ll be waiting for you when you get back,” Caesar answers. He raises Teddy’s hand with his and the crowd cheers. Teddy barely acknowledges them.
After he walks off the stage, he gives us a thumbs up and wink. I realize he isn’t playing a game at all. Or rather, not the one the Capitol wants him to play. He’s done this to give the Capitol false security. Whatever we do, it has to be the biggest, it has to be the loudest, and it will shock them the most. Because now they won’t expect it. Or if they did before, it’s forgotten thanks to Teddy.
Bas and I approach the entrance to the stage, waiting for our queue.
Caesar draws it out, to the crowd’s pleasure.
“And now for our final two Tributes. You know them well. You know their family. And they are appearing together for one last time. I know, I know, I don’t want to see either one of them go either, but hopefully we will get to see one of them again. Right? Right?!” He shouts.
The crowd roars in response.
Bas turns to me, holding out his arm.
“Ready?” he asks.
“Absolutely,” I answer, linking my arm with his.
“Welcome, the children of the star crossed lovers from District Twelve, Ivy and Basil Mellark!”
I’m dazed by the lights and the deafening sound of the crowd. It’s hard to focus on any one thing as I’m overwhelmed by just how vast the audience seems to be. It’s different at home, where I only have to face Caesar and a few cameras. I don’t see the people watching. I don’t hear their reactions. This is almost too much.
I tighten my grip on Bas’s arm. He steadies me as we walk the short distance to Caesar. His eyes are glued to us, like a snake waiting to strike. I want to look away but I force myself to keep my head up. I’m the daughter of the Mockingjay. I have to be strong. I have to show them. I won’t let them destroy me before I’ve begun.
“I have to say I’m very happy to see you two in person,” Caesar begins.
I give him my best smile. “And we’re happy to be here.”
“Are you finding the Capitol to your liking?” He asks.
“I can’t imagine leaving. In fact, if I could, I’d stick around,” I answer. Immediately I can see the tension rising in Caesar’s shoulders.
“Well if you win, I’m sure President Snow would allow it. We’d love to have you here!” He turns to the crowd. They cheer.
“Yes. I’m sure you would,” Bas says, voice cold. His eyes scan the crowd and I know what he’s thinking. It’s the same thing I knew when we arrived off the train. If I were to win, they would keep me and they would use me until there was nothing left.
Caesar keeps the interview going, moving as fast and lightly as possible. Even as he rifles through the dramatic questions.
“Now, I know this must be difficult for you two, going in together. I mean I can’t imagine.”
“I’m not going to lie and tell you it isn’t,” I say, managing a small crack in my voice. The emotion elicits the right response from Caesar and the crowd.
“I know, Ivy. You’re not a liar. I think we all know that after seeing you on our screens for seventeen years.”
The crowd laughs.
“But it’s not like it’s our decision,” Bas says.
Our routine seems to work. I make them fawn over us, Bas delivers the subtle blow. We’re waiting for the right question to really tear it apart. And I know which one.
“Now we’ve asked all the Tributes tonight about what it means to have a Victor as a parent. To have that legacy. And I’m sure no one understands that more than you two.”
“No. I think we’ve got them beat in regards to legacies,” I joke. Caesar laughs.
“Just like her father. And him, all Katniss. At least in interviews.”
The crowd really loves that joke.
“And speaking of legacies,” I start, “do you want to hear a funny story about my mother?”
Caesar perks up at that, his eyes almost burning with excitement. “I would love to.”
“Do you want to tell it?” I ask, turning to Bas. He eyes me, confused, but he plays along.
“No, Ivy, you’re better at it. Go ahead.” He smiles to the crowd.
They fall all over him.
“This is exciting, what story is it?” Caesar and the crowd are growing restless with anticipation. It’s everything I need it to be working perfectly in tandem with my goals.
“Well it comes from a long time ago, before I was born. You know how everyone used to call my mother the Mockingjay?” I ask. “Or maybe they never really called her it, they more implied. What with the pin and all.”
I can already see the worry in Caesar’s eyes. I never give him the chance to speak.
“You see a Mockingjay is actually an interesting creature. It comes from the Dark Days, where the intelligent Capitol used Jabberjays to spy on rebels. But you see those pesky rebels figured it out and gave bad information. Now what was the Capitol to do but get rid of them?”
“They had no other choice,” Bas chimes in.
Caesar goes to speak, I cut him off. “They would die out in the wild. But you see, the thing is, they didn’t. They bred with mockingbirds and that produced the Mockingjay, a wonderful songbird which we have in Twelve,” I say.
“Really great to listen to,” Bas responds.
“So Mockingjay’s are funny creatures because they were completely unexpected. They’re strong and they exist because of an ability to survive. And the inability of people to predict change.”
“Or resistance,” Bas finishes.
“Resistant birds, who knew?” Caesar asks with a nonchalant shrug, but his eyes betray him. He’s staring us down with a fury brewing.
“It’s a nice story,” I say with a small smile.
“It’s certainly interesting,” Caesar responds. The tension is still visible in his raised shoulders and creased brow. I’m surprised he can still form any kind of wrinkle in his face. I’m sure he’ll have that fixed by next year’s Games.
“One of my favorites. That and the nightlock one,” Bas says, calmly.
“Yes. Where your parents refused to kill each other, because they were so in love. That’s quite the story,” Caesar tries.
“I don’t think it’ll be repeated,” Bas responds.
“Much to our dismay,” Caesar says with a false sympathy.
I look out to the crowd. There are looks of sadness mixed with looks of confusion. I’m not sure my words meant anything to them. They will in the Districts, I hope. I couldn’t get the words out the way they should be said. I can’t outright tell them to fight back. But I can remind them. I focus on Cinna. He gives me a slight nod.
“Shall I twirl?” I ask, turning to Bas.
Caesar’s excitement perks up, a relief washing over him. “Now this is what I’m sure we’ve all been waiting for.”
“I’ll help you,” Bas says. He raises my arm and I do so. The feathers light up and melt, turning to gold. The fire spreads from myself to Bas, doing the same to the feathers on his suit.
When I stop, when our outfits are done burning, I hear gasps and cheers. Caesar is stunned silent.
I look down from myself to Bas and realize what we look like. We are the Mockingjay pin. The perfectly placed feathers melting away to reveal the gold band and wings along our outfits. Our hands are interlocked and raised, forming the bird with its beak upwards, screaming for the Districts to rise up. Whatever words I failed to deliver, this message will not fall on deaf ears.
When it’s over and we’re backstage, there are no words. We’re rushed to the elevator and arrive back on the twelfth floor. Bas and I split off to change out of our outfits. As I take time to hang the dress on a chair I can feel the goodbyes already, like a weight pushing me into the ground. I pick up the Mockingjay pin and turn it in my fingers, the gold gleaming off the lights above me.
It’s almost funny how small it is when it carries so much meaning. I don’t know if I’ve done right by it. If I’ve earned it. I need to give it back.
I’m in a haze as I make my way out to the living area, the Mockingjay heavy in my hands. Bas is already there, his eyes wet with unshed tears. I look around the room. My parents haven’t changed. Effie has tears in her eyes and Haymitch stands next to her, watching the ground.
Once again I’m reminded of my funeral. Of the pine box I’ll be sent home in and of the concrete stone with my name on it. Reminding everyone in Twelve that I once existed. That I was real. That I’m just a name in a long history of other names killing and dying because of the decisions made a hundred years ago.
“I’m sorry I didn’t do more,” I try. My father shakes his head. Haymitch finally looks at me with a faint smile.
“It was a good show,” he manages. “I’m sure they won’t forget it for a long time.”
“Any last advice?” Bas asks, his voice wavering.
My father pulls us into a crushing hug. Telling us both, “Don’t let them change you.”
I close my eyes and try to breathe in the smell of baking bread and home. I can’t smell it. It’s clouded by a faint scent of roses and the city stench of the Capitol. There’s nothing of home I can take with me anymore. Nothing but my memories.
I can hear Effie choke back a sob when we pull apart. I look to my mother and I can see her fighting the fear and heartbreak at our loss.
I hold out my hand. “I shouldn’t take this with me.”
She closes my hand with hers. “I want you to.” She turns to Bas then, glancing to my father. He nods before handing Bas a string with two gold bands attached. Their wedding rings.
“No,” Bas says.
“We wanted you to have something from home. This is all we have,” my father says.
Bas shakes his head. “What if I lose them?”
I want to laugh. The question is almost childish coming from him. My father just smiles. Bas pulls the makeshift necklace over his head. It falls and settles around his neck, the two wedding bands bright against his shirt.
A silence falls then and my mother’s fear only grows with it. I can see the empty space where her wedding band used to be. She touches it absentmindedly, mimicking twisting it as she’s done before when she’s stressed.
She swallows before telling us, “Keep fighting. Whatever you do, don’t give up.”
I nod. Bas falls into her arms like he did when he was younger. She pulls him closer and she shuts her eyes. She looks at me after Bas backs away. My throat tightens and I oblige, feeling her warmth surround me in the hug. I try to breathe in the woodsy scent she carries with her at home, but like my father’s, it’s gone.
I can’t take anymore. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to say goodbye.
“I’m scared,” I whisper to her.
“Me too,” she says, pulling me closer, tightening her hold on me.
“This isn’t fair,” Effie says quietly. “They can’t do this.”
Haymitch places his hand on her shoulder. “They already did.”
“It shouldn’t be the both of you,” her voice falls.
I know time is almost up, but I can’t break away from the hug. No matter what I tell myself, I can’t move. I can barely breathe. I wish this wasn’t real.
But I know all too well that it is. And I know that this really is goodbye. I won’t see them again. I won’t have a hug again. I won’t be this close to my family again.
I remember the years of going into the woods. My mother teaching me how to use a bow. Showing me all the plants I could and couldn’t eat. I used to look at it as training for the Games. As necessary survival skills for when I would be reaped.
Now I know that it wasn’t just because I would be here eventually. Yes, my mother was afraid that I wouldn’t survive. She needed me to know how to. But it wasn’t just for me to win. It was so I could come home. Because she couldn’t lose me. And I know now that I don’t want to lose her.
I remember her telling me how she gets through the bad days. How she thinks of me, my brother, and my father. How this is truly goodbye and that she knows I’m not coming home.
So when I whisper, “I love you,” and hug her tighter, it’s more for myself than for her. It’s the only goodbye that makes sense to me. The only one that doesn’t require any more words than the ones I’ve said. It’s enough.
I can feel her breath stop for a second before she takes a deep, shuddering breath. I don’t expect a response and I never hear one as the elevator opens, interrupting the proceedings.
I pull away, keeping one hand on my mother.
We watch as about a dozen Peacekeepers file into the room, Cinna escorted with them. He has a large cut on his forehead that bleeds, but there’s no fear in his eyes. There’s only expectation, like he’s prepared for what’s about to happen.
“Cinna?” my mother asks.
“I’m still betting on you, girl on fire,” he says before a Peacekeeper pulls his gun. The sound of it rings in my ears as Cinna’s blood stains the carpet and his body falls in a thump.
“Cinna! No!” my mother screams, charging towards the Peacekeepers. They form a wall, stopping her and grabbing her.
“Mom!” I try for her.
My ears ring as everything happens at once. The Peacekeepers grab my father and Haymitch while Effie is shouting questions that no one will answer. They are all pulled towards the elevator while Bas and I try to follow.
My mother puts up the most fight, trying to get to me and my brother. I reach for her and she does the same. Our hands find each other for a brief moment before we’re ripped apart and she’s pulled into the elevator, the doors closing behind her.
Two Peacekeepers grab Bas and pull him towards his room. He kicks and punches as hard as he can, but they overpower him. Before I even have a chance to react I feel hands on my shoulders and I’m being dragged in the opposite direction. I don’t want to be in this moment. I don’t want to feel afraid or to be controlled. I don’t want to hear gunshots and see blood. Not anymore. I go limp and let the Peacekeepers pull me as the world fades.
I’m in the woods again. I can smell the trees. I can hear the animals. I forget what being afraid feels like. I forget where I’m supposed to be. I walk without sound as the sun shines on me. I feel warm for the first time in weeks. I feel safe.
Then I hear Bas calling me, like an echo dragging me back to where I belong. I feel the pin in my hand, the metal cutting into my palm as I grip it tight. And all at once I feel my feet dragging along the carpet while the Peacekeepers pull me towards the door of my room.
I struggle against them, doing everything I can to get away. I break free, running towards the living area. Before I make it the Peacekeepers have hold of me again. They half carry me, half pull me while I shout, “Find me! Tomorrow, find me!”
I hope Bas hears it.
Then I’m thrown into my room with the door slammed shut behind me, knowing this is it.
I can’t think. I can’t breathe. Cinna. He’s gone. They shot him. Just like the people in Twelve. Just like that kid.
I slide against the door, rocking gently, trying to calm myself down. I open my palm, finding the Mockingjay pin.
I remember the hug. The warmth and the comfort. I try to hold onto that as the tears start. I told myself no more crying, but I can’t hold it back tonight.
I fall apart.
Cinna’s body fills my thoughts. Ivy’s wide eyed stare following me to the elevator. It’s all I can see as we’re thrown into our rooms on the trading floor. Effie is nowhere to be seen. I’m not sure if they’ve taken her somewhere to be held or let her go.
I don’t know if I can even afford to think about her. Haymitch immediately goes for the liquor, falling onto the small couch.
“Why would they do that?” Peeta asks, shaken.
“Do you really need to ask?” Haymitch returns, taking a large swig out of the bottle. “To send a message.”
“What about Effie?”
“She’ll be left alone,” Haymitch answers, though his voice wavers, like he’s unsure. He takes another swig to steady himself. “We just have to play by the rules.”
My hands shake as I imagine Bas and Ivy’s faces. Their horror. Their fear. I can see their bodies lying in the arena. A hovercraft pulling them out. They can see me for what I am now. Someone who gets everyone killed. The only one who ever survives.
“It’s my fault,” I say. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it. How many times I’ve repeated these three words over the years. Hell, in the amount of time we’ve been here I’m sure I’ve said it enough. It doesn’t make it any less true.
I’m shaking worse than before. Peeta wraps his arms around me and I fall into him, struggling to breathe. He tries to soothe me, telling me, “Its okay.”
“No, it’s not,” I say.
I couldn’t say it back. Ivy said goodbye and I couldn’t say it back. I hear her whispered I love you echo in my head. I’ve never said it. I can’t say it. Once I do, once the wall comes down, I won’t be able to do my job. I won’t be able to save her or Bas.
It’s better that I don’t say it.
Tomorrow they’ll fight, but it feels like we’ve always been fighting. That it’s just an endless cycle of trying to survive, trying to stay alive. How long before the clock runs out for them? How long before I lose my children?
Will it be tomorrow?
Will the Gamemakers do everything to make sure they never get past the bloodbath? Will they kill? Can they kill?
I brought this on them. My fear brought this. And that fear will never go away.
It’s my fault.
Gale is my fault.
The Tributes I’ve failed are my fault
Cinna is my fault.
What happened in Twelve is my fault.
Ivy and Basil dying will be my fault. And them never knowing that I do love them will be my fault too.
I am no Mockingjay. I’m not something that strikes fear into the Capitol. I’m broken and I’m afraid. And President Snow knows it.
Peeta and I fall onto the bed, finding each other’s arms and holding each other close. He tries to comfort me but neither one of us is finding comfort tonight. Neither one of us can sleep. We both know what the sunrise brings.
“I should have eaten the berries,” I say, to the silence.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Peeta answers.
“Why?” my voice shakes. “It would have been better.”
“Not for me.”
I can’t argue with him. I think about the alternative. If he had died and I was left to face these years alone. I’m glad we both took that handful of berries.
I only wish I can hold onto that thought as the Games begin. That, and the image of a gold Mockingjay burning for the Capitol to see.