"Katniss?!" Gale says his voice nearing hysteria and it's as if my eyes have just opened. I blink at him, his eyes fearful, "Are you okay?" he asks, and as I recall where I really am I know that I must have zoned out, hidden inside of myself, like I did back during the first days in District 13. I steady my breathing, thinking clearer. An old technique rolls around in my head. I am certain that I am doing it wrong, but I can't help it. My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am eighteen years old…I was in a war. Was.
"I'm fine." I say feeling slightly embarrassed and for a moment I get the feeling that Gale wants to pull me in and hug me and I feel disconcerted by not knowing if I would resist or not. His hands are still gripping my arms and I try not to say anything at first, because it's a familiar grip, this. It's as if my skin craves touch, no matter whose. But I won't allow it to go any further than the slight indulgence and I quickly level my head and remember where I am, who I am, who Gale was to me…and who he is now.
There are other reasons too: it won't do for people to see the Captain of the Guard and "The Mockingjay" in an out-of-sight corner behind a new building, "conspiring".
"I'm fine." I say again steadily and look down at Gale's hands. Gale immediately releases me without a word and backs up slowly, staring down at the ground apologetically. When he looks back up at me, I nod and he knows my meaning. I really am okay. This is still our way, Gale and I. No matter what has happened, no matter our relationship, we understand one another, even in silence. We always have.
"I'm sorry," I say, breaking the tense silence as I remember what he was telling me before I zoned out. "I wasn't trying to…I mean…I didn't know."
Gale plays it off well, and his voice is back to normal ignoring the fact that girl before may be slowly losing her mind. "It's fine, Katniss. It's not as if I haven't known since that first day. I should've spoken to you sooner; not let it go so far." Gale says gazing into the distance, before turning back toward me, his face now serious, as is his tone. "But now, it has to stop. You have to call your friends and let them know that they can't hunt. They just can't. And just to make sure, let them know that you won't be hunting anymore either." It's clear to me in this instant, that Gale is one who's lost his mind.
"But, I have to hunt!" I say shocked. "I mean, you know that. It's all I have, now. I can't just stop!"
"Katniss?" Gale murmurs softly, his voice is a low whisper as if someone is suddenly listening "I do know that. We just don't want the townspeople knowing that." Oh. I nod, understanding. If I want to keep it for myself, then I'll have to hunt in secret. Alright then, I think. I've done it before, I can do it again.
We are quiet now. I am somewhat comfortable with the stated compromise before I remember. "But, what about the others…? I told you that the only reason I started hunting was so that the people would have better meat and sustenance. They look so sickly and malnourished and I can't stomach it any longer. I can't just forget about them."
"And I told you that there are other ways to get them that food." Gale says.
"But…I don't know any other way." I say and I feel pathetic as I always do when I am missing something that everyone else seems to think should be right in front of me.
"Well Catnip," Gale says, his voice is teasing his eyes familiarly playful, "It's not as if you have a direct line to Secretary of Communications Heavensbee, or his trusted adviser Professor Beetee, for that matter. Or even the esteemed "Dr." Everdeen who's directing the building of the new Capitol hospital." And as he finishes his honest statement, I can't help but to smile, in spite of myself.
"So they would listen then, if I told them to send healthier food?" I ask, slowly, knowingly.
"And books and medicine and anything. Yes, Katniss. They've been eagerly awaiting your call for the last month and a half." I think about the few awkward conversations I've had on the phone with my mother and say obstinately, "But…" and my voice trails off.
"But what?" Gale asks expectantly.
"…I hate using the phone." I finish and Gale gives me a disbelieving look that says the same thing that I begin to think: compared to the animals becoming extinct, the District 12 townspeople in poor health and in danger of dying, this is such a selfish, insignificant and even silly statement.
And for the first time in nearly a year, Gale and I burst into a simultaneous fit of laughter.
That I wasn't even aware that anyone was thinking of trying to hunt really is a testament to the fact that although now initiated into their lives, I am still an outsider to District 12's residents. They welcome me in, but they still keep me at arm's length and it's an odd sensation to feel slightly hurt by it.
For the first time, I begin to wonder if this slighted pain is how I've made others feel. I've heard more than once that I don't let people in. I didn't let him in, I think and Peeta's faces flashes before me. It wasn't on purpose really. I wore my mask of indifference so long that it became an unconscious part of me. Not letting anyone in was just the unfortunate side effect of not being able to trust myself to voice my thoughts and in turn not trusting others. Not wanting anyone to know what I really felt, whenever I felt it. I guess I'll have to work on that.
Last night was a necessary first step I realize, as I grip the warm soup. Seeing the family recipe seemed to thaw something inside of me and I cannot tell if it is good or bad, but I have the feeling that I may begin to feel things more deeply sooner now than before.
Later that evening, in the town hall tent, the majority of the people are surprisingly cooperative and understanding when I tell them about what Gale told me. Of course I use his official title, telling them that the "Captain of the Guards" is trying to make sure that we understand the severity of the limited resources now that everyone is going to be getting equal sustenance.
There are a few dissenters, people saying that the Capitol shouldn't still be living like kings while we sit around and scrape by on the crumbs. But the others quiet them, remarking that they were doing fine and eating "well" even before I began hunting.
I then tell them all about how I am going to speak to the people in the Capitol tonight, and make sure that they start sending us more hearty food instead of the sweets. This invites a low moan throughout the tent, but I remind them that I will also be getting flour, sugar and other baking goods. I tell them that our cooking sessions have inspired and reminded me that we can cook and bake a lot of our own goods here. As I speak I think, of course, of Peeta.
With my announcement everyone cheers. And by the end of the evening everyone seems in good spirits and they laugh and joke and talk like before. My stew was a big hit and I tasted at least 4 others that caused my mouth to water after every spoon. Our lunch melted away, became more of a supper at around 6. It's fine, because there are so many different recipes that the food spilled over into the evening.
At the end of it all, Markeal stands up holding up his glass "To Katniss!" He yells.
Before they can cheer for me, however, I stand up, waving my arms frantically saying, "No! No!" They all begin looking at me like I'm crazy, but I don't want them toasting to me. I don't want them trying to keep me as their Mockingjay and shape me into some living legend that I am not. But, I won't say this out loud of course. Instead, I hold my own glass high, trying to shrug off my panic as excitement and say. "To…to…" glancing around at the expectant faces, my mind betraying me, blank. What will they drink to…what will District 12 want to…and as it enters my mind, I shout "To the health of District 12!"
"To the health of District 12!" They all cheer and every one of them drinks down the last of the fine wine that they will receive.
At home, after the awkward introduction of my first call to Plutarch, I am left trying to cram it all in. Monia wanted rabbit, and Hitori wanted Cake flour. Geggia wants deer and her children like steak. Markeal and Meggie wanted venison, the dried kind that keeps. I try my best to mention all the different kinds of meats without mentioning anyone by name. Without sounding like I am reading from a wish list. But it's difficult reading the scribbled and harried handwriting of the various District 12 townspeople.
Plutarch is surprisingly complacent.
"We have plenty!" He yells in his upbeat voice and I imagine the round man with his newly dyed and muted blonde hair. He's one of those Capitol people who it was always difficult to hate. Though I must admit I tried. Now, I can imagine him as a favorite teacher in our old school, with his enthusiastic nature and colorful characterization. "They always have food here! And what most don't know is that some of it is modified. A lot of it actually. Cloned sheep and cows and pigs. But we're trying to weed that out. Dr. Everdeen says it's not very healthy, you know!" at the mention of my mother, I smile.
It's been so long since I've spoken with my Mother, but from what I can tell, from the small amount of the Effie interview I saw on television when she spoke about her plans to open a hospital in the Capitol, free to all the war wounded, she looks well. Seems in her element.
"Anyway, Yes! Captain Hawthorne informed me that you would be calling so I was expecting this. The requested increase in meats and decrease in treats," Plutarch pauses as if waiting for me to catch his rhyme and laugh. I do laugh lightly and then satisfied he continues, "It will begin immediately!" he finishes and I hear him begin shouting out various orders to I don't know who.
By the time Plutarch is done, he tells me that we will have a large store of meat by late morning. "Be in your square by 9 am if you want to watch what I will do!" he yells and doesn't even say goodbye before I hear the odd clicking of the phone.
I rest fairly peacefully this night, the ghosts staying in the real world left behind by my counting game. I lay in Prim's arms as she rocks me gently through the darkness.
In the morning, I can't get to the square fast enough and my quick jog becomes a sprint until I am standing in the center, the same place where I first drug my large barrow of meat. I look at the clock on the small makeshift tower and it reads 8:58. I am not too late.
I think about Markeal and Meggie and I want them to come out of their house so that they can watch the package come down too. Glancing around however, I realize that I am not really sure where anyone lives. I look around at the tent homes and remember that Gale called them my "friends". But are they really? I guess I can say they are acquaintances, but my knowledge ends outside of the kind of foods that they like to eat.
"…I don't know what your favorite color is?" Peeta had said, acknowledging that if we were going to take a shot at being friends we should at least know the basic things. He was right. In this very moment, I realize that I don't know anyone on this earth's favorite color, except for Peeta Mellark's. Orange. Sunset orange, I think as I look around at the dimming light. But…
…the shadow surrounding me makes no sense as the sunset isn't for another 12 hours.
Suddenly, the sound of the loud bell that signifies the coming of Capitol packages disrupts my thinking and I look overhead and see that there is a giant box…almost the size of the small square fountain I am standing beside, swiftly dropping toward me, threatening to crush me.
I stand, staring up at the bottom of the box as an intense and familiar panic overcomes me and suddenly…
…I am back in the war.
We are in District 8, bombs dropping all around. One of them has destroyed the hospital to my left and I feel helpless. Though I am still looking up, can still see the brown bottom of a box, hear the sound of people screaming, I am frozen, my legs unmoving as the box descends, sure to crush me.
I feel myself being knocked down forcefully, the move jarring me back into the present, fully. For a moment I feel astonished that the box, no doubt nearly a ton, hasn't killed me on impact.
Then I feel the humanness of breathing against my skin. The feeling of someone hovering over me protectively, their scraped arm against the stoned ground, which is painful against my turned face. My breathing comes out ragged and slow when I see the hand that is so like my own bearing down against the cobble.
A hand scarred by fire.