Effie never would have wished harm on Katniss or Peeta, but some more action in the arena would have been a welcome distraction. A welcome discussion topic at the very least. Her fight with Haymitch had lasted less than 12 hours, but it had felt like an eternity. Every minute had been full of anger and fear and regret. Those kind of minutes passed slowly. Clearing the air had been such a weight off her shoulders…or so she had thought. But conversation faltered awkwardly between them now, and she almost longed for their barbed exchanges. The truth was that she had enjoyed being on good terms with him so much that she had decided not to force a discussion about the kiss. She just wanted to enjoy the harmony. But that also meant there was this silent mountain between them. A taboo subject that strained every conversation. And a falseness. Because she could pretend like the kiss hadn’t mattered, but that’s all it was – pretend.
And as much as Haymitch seemed to want to pretend that it was nothing and ignore it, his behavior dictated a different opinion. He was careful not to touch her. He avoided being alone with her when he could. And he danced around any topics that might lead to places he didn’t want to go to.
It was as if his visit to her mother’s and his apology had, instead of repaired their relationship, demolished it, erasing everything.
At first it had been pleasant. The civil side of Haymitch. Excessive politeness and consideration. He even offered to bring her beverages and hors d’oeuvres. He didn’t nettle her about her clothing, laugh at her ideas, or frown at her comments as he used to.
And then it began to feel cold.
And then she knew for certain that she would rather be insulted by Haymitch than ignored. He had begun to treat her like he treated everyone else, and that was the worst of all. Because even when he seemed to despise her, she had always felt special at the very least. He may have considered her a thorn in his side, but she had been to him, she knew, a very particular thorn.
Of course he had a job to do – they both did. A responsibility to Peeta and Katniss. So she tried to be supportive and not distracting, and left the issue untouched.
Several days passed. The remaining Careers, Katniss, and Peeta had all recovered from their tracker jacker stings, though Katniss much more quickly with the herbal help of Rue. Peeta’s wound from Cato was only growing worse, though all things considered he was doing all right by the river, with a constant supply of water and an adequate stash of food in his backpack from his time in the Alliance. He was in no condition to move, but it seemed that he would be able to hide.
Effie had been derisive of Katniss’ choice to team up with Rue. A sweet girl, certainly, but hardly a mighty ally. Haymitch, dismal and weary, had agreed that it was a bad decision. “But not for the reasons you think,” he had said. “Clearly Rue can be trusted. She has useful knowledge of the forest. And she’s survived all this time. It isn’t that.” He took a deep breath. “It’s because Katniss will become attached to her. Look at her, she already is. When Rue dies…and she will die, they all die…it’s going to wreck her. Katniss is already going through enough.”
And Effie had remembered back to Haymitch’s Games, and Maysilee Donner, and she remembered that he knew what it was like to lose an ally in the Games.
And Effie had to watch as Haymitch’s prediction came true, and Rue was slain, and a heartbroken Katniss avenged her, then sang her to sleep, and then covered her dead body in flowers. And it was almost as hard on Haymitch, because it was as if he were looking back on his younger self, and knew what sadness was in store for Katniss’ future.
“You’re crying,” he had told Effie plainly after the hovercraft came for Rue’s body and the spell tying everyone’s gaze to the screen was broken.
“So?” she had answered him. “Of course I’m crying.” Effie could still hear Katniss’ song in her head, tragic and beautiful. She could still see the little girl, so pale and still in death, enshrouded in wildflowers.
It was then that Seeder, Rue’s mentor, had come over and taken Haymitch away. Effie had dried her eyes and fixed her make up in the bathroom, and when she had returned, she saw that District 11 had sent Katniss a gift of bread.
“Snow is not going to like this,” Haymitch whispered to her, momentarily forgetting himself. He was afraid. “It’s supposed to be fun. Katniss has made it sad. And a little too dignified.”
“It’s going to be so much worse when Peeta dies,” Effie lamented. Tears threatened her eyes again.
“Yes…” Haymitch replied thoughtfully. “It will.” He chewed on his lip, pondering what she had said.
“If only I could know ahead of time,” she continued. “I wouldn’t put any make-up on. I would just stay at home and weep.” Effie hung her head. “He really does love her. He’s not pretending.” She thought of the night he spent watching her up in the tree, and the possibly-fatal wound he took in order to help her escape from Cato.
“I know.” Haymitch sighed.
“She doesn’t love him.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Haymitch was quick to respond. “She’s just got other things to think about.”
While Effie tackled that thought, Haymitch headed down to the control room. Mentors weren’t allowed inside, so he waited in the lobby.
Haymitch didn’t share his plan with Effie. He didn’t want to get her hopes up in case he failed. If that happened, it would have been better to never have known.
After 30 minutes of waiting he was joined by Seneca Crane. The Head Gamemaker was visibly shaken. Haymitch jumped to the conclusion that he was recently off the phone with the president. He pulled a flask of white liquor out of his jacket and let Seneca take a long drink.
“Now just hear me out…”
Haymitch spent the rest of the evening biting his finger nails and drinking. After outright laughing at his idea for a rule change allowing for two Victors, Seneca Crane had actually been receptive to its possibilities once Haymitch had made several strong points – how Panem cared about the love story, how it was better to give them something to root for, how such a result would not damage the overall image of the Hunger Games, but rather save it.
That’s all Haymitch had been able to do – make a suggestion. The rest was up to the gamemakers, and probably the president as well.
And now he felt powerless again while he waited.
It got dark. He and Effie watched as Katniss settled in for the night and fell asleep, numbed. She needed something to root for as much as anyone. He wished Katniss would look for Peeta. Depending on how bad his injury was – and there was no way for Haymitch to tell, because Peeta never uncovered it – Katniss might be able to help him. And she would help him, even if there could only be one Victor. But if she couldn’t save him, at least he wouldn’t have to die alone. It would take an emotional toil on Katniss. But Peeta shouldn’t have to die that slow death all by himself.
Or maybe Haymitch was rooting for the love story as hard as anyone.
There were only six tributes now: Cato and Clove, Peeta and Katniss, Thresh, and the girl from District 5. The interviews for the top eight had been conducted the day before, but Rue and Marvel had died before they could air. The specials were on now, just in time for the citizens in the Districts to watch after getting home from work.
Effie was having a noticeably emotional reaction to the interviews with Primrose, Mrs. Everdeen, and Mr. and Mrs. Mellark.
“Go in there if you’re going to do that,” Haymitch barked, pointing at the private viewing room.
“Our tributes never make it to the top 8,” Effie said, as if to explain. Maybe she would have cried every time. She never had to see their parents. She didn’t know the families like Haymitch did. District 12 was small. Haymitch could recognize almost everyone. He had been born in the Seam, but now he lived in town. That meant he had crossed paths with the entire population at one time or another.
“What if someone sees you? It wouldn’t be good.”
Effie nodded and rose to her feet. She knew she could stem the tears if she really tried, but she felt like crying. She didn’t understand how everyone could stay so straight-faced. She rushed through the curtains and disappeared from sight.
Haymitch asked Portia to go in there with her, and Cinna sat down next to him.
“Can you imagine if it had been her?” Cinna asked, indicating Primrose Everdeen’s face on the television screen with a toss of his shoulder.
Haymitch didn’t want to imagine that.
“Did you hear what they’ve been saying?”
Rumors of political unrest had circulated furtively that evening - rioting in District 11 after Rue’s death and Katniss’ funereal send off for her.
Haymitch nodded. “I heard.” Seeder had been the first to tell him, while they arranged for the gift of bread. “We all need to be very careful.”
“That’s why you sent Effie away.”
“She’s been like a black cloud today, always threatening rain.” And a crying Effie upset him. He could see that now. It had been gratifying for him to see the depth of her attachment to Katniss and Peeta – he couldn’t help but like how fond she was of them, being regrettably fond of them himself – but he hadn’t realized exactly what Effie’s emotional side entailed. It was taxing on him seeing her so upset so regularly.
“I underestimated Effie,” Cinna admitted. “She comes off so…But she really does care. I should have seen that.” Cinna was good at reading people, so he felt that much worse for being mistaken in Effie. He had seen right through Haymitch from the start.
“You’ll watch out for her, won’t you? When I can’t. Make sure she keeps her mouth shut. She’s starting to get some dangerous ideas. I’m a bad influence.”
Cinna nodded gravely, taking the responsibility seriously. “I will.”
Haymitch felt an iota of relief.
“Are you going to send any medicine to Peeta?” Cinna questioned quietly. “Portia was wondering. She didn’t want to ask.”
“You could have told her no. I’m sure you realize I can’t do that. Peeta was right: no one thinks he can win.”
“He got an 8.”
“That was before they knew he was in love. He nearly died saving Katniss. No one is going to waste any money on him.”
Haymitch knew he didn’t need to explain to Cinna that he wished he could send Peeta the medicine. That he wished Peeta could win too.
Thinking about Peeta dying only made Haymitch angry. He told Cinna he was getting some air, and he proceeded to drink heavily out on the roof.
Effie joined him after a while. He didn’t know how long it had been. The moon was full, illuminating Effie’s face. But he hadn’t been tracking its progress.
“It’s cold; you should go inside,” he told her. That only reminded him of other times when he had thought about her being cold. In her apartment. Or the night they kissed, when she wanted another blanket. This was why it was better if he didn’t talk to her at all. Why he was trying to get her to leave him alone.
“I may not have liquor to keep me warm but I’ll be all right,” she replied stubbornly.
That snatched a smile out of him.
“It’s a very pretty night,” she offered lamely.
Haymitch snorted. “That’s some pathetic small talk there.”
“Well, it is lovely. There’s the moon. And the skyline. You don’t care for the skyline?”
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t impress me. Even after all these years.”
“It’s customary for this conversation about the beauty of the night to now become a metaphor for my beauty. That’s the way these rooftop discussions tend to go.”
“You and your quaint Capitol customs.” Haymitch shook his head at her affectionately. “I already told you that you were pretty once. If I didn’t mean it I wouldn’t have said it. Right now I’d tell Seneca Crane he outshines the sun. But I don’t use my false flattery on you. So you can know that when I told you that you were pretty, it was the truth.”
“Then I should treasure the one compliment you begrudged me,” Effie returned with an edge of anger.
“If you were listening carefully that was another one.”
She hadn’t intended to come out here and start anything. She just wanted to check on him. He had been perturbed for the past several hours – much more so than usual. But she should have known that any conversation between them that wasn’t about food or directly related to the Games would inevitably come around to what was left unspoken between them.
“I thought you might come to check on me,” Effie complained.
“Check on you? It’s not as if you were going to die from crying,” Haymitch pointed out.
“Well, no, but-”
“And I sent Portia to be with you, didn’t I?”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I may be losing this argument, but I think we both know what the problem is.” She tapped the railing agitatedly.
“I take it there’s something on your mind?” he surmised dryly.
“The only thing on my mind is that there should be something on your mind but you’re acting like there isn’t!” she shrieked.
He took a few steps towards her. He should have changed the subject but he couldn’t resist riling her up: “I’ve got you a little hot and bothered, haven’t I?”
Effie hit him in the chest. “I’m quite in control of myself, thank you.”
“Is that right? Picturing our kids…”
“I told you! You weren’t the father! And don’t you know what hypothetical means? You went to school, didn’t you?”
“Who was it, then?”
Effie tried to think of men she knew from District 12. The only one she could think of right away was Mr. Mellark from the interviews she had just watched. “Peeta’s father.”
“Yes.” She cleared her throat. “It’s time you knew: I’m in love with the baker.”
“Well, OK then. That explains that. But what about you telling your mother all about me?”
“I was merely griping about an obnoxious coworker.”
“And what about you kissing said obnoxious coworker?”
“You kissed me!” she cried.
He laughed. “I felt your hand reaching for my-”
Effie stuck out her hand to hit him again, but he caught her fist. “You’re a silly girl,” he said to her. “You don’t want me. Not really. You think you would be happy with me, Effie? Drunk, mean, old me? Save your exciting romance for someone who isn’t going to break your heart or get you killed.”
She ripped her hand out of his grasp. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a child. I may be from the Capitol but I am still a grown woman.” She straightened her back. “Do you really think that if I were arranging some exciting romance for myself that I would pick you? I’ve had plenty of time to pick someone. I’ve been waiting for something else.”
Haymitch didn’t take her insult to heart. “Don’t get angry, Effie. I’m trying to protect you.”
“You’re patronizing me.”
“I’m older than you. And I’ve seen more of life. A lot more.”
“Ah yes, wise old Haymitch. Well until you’ve seen the inside of my heart I think you can shut up,” she shot back. And because it was impolite to leave without words of farewell, she added: “I will see you tomorrow!” And in a huff, she left.
But she smiled as she commuted back to her apartment. She really did like fighting with him better than polite, meaningless interactions. And for the first time since he had shaken up her life with his visit to her apartment, she felt completely like herself again. It was still all there – the political questioning, the doubt, the building sense of injustice – but she had repossessed a part of herself that had spent the past week caught in a whirlwind of humiliation and longing.
After all, Haymitch had avoided saying the one thing that would have shut her down easily and completely – that he had no interest in her, that he didn’t want her, that he had no feelings for her. And why not say that? Unless it wasn’t true.