It isn’t anything about Katniss that causes me to leave her alone in bed during long nights on our victory tour. She’s amazing, perfect (not mine). I want to be there for her every time she has a nightmare because she needs me and there are so few times when she really needs me like that. I just keep worrying about her having one of her Hunger Games nightmares and me not being there to wake her up and her being trapped in that nightmare for hours.
But when I arrive back at my room on board the train, I see the little silver tray that holds a single cream-colored envelope. I pick it up, break the Capitol’s golden seal and pull out a card.
Diana Terentius requests the pleasure of your company at an after dinner party at the Seasands Resort Hotel. Dress is formal.
I sigh and place the note carefully back on the tray. This isn’t unexpected. We’re in District Four with three more districts to go and I’ve already received more than one “invitation.” It’s just another method the Capitol uses to control and humiliate the victors (victims) of the Hunger Games – it sells our bodies. When I saw all the Capitol people hanging around at dinner, I knew I would almost certainly be getting an invitation.
I try to sneak out without bothering the others. The first time I got an invitation, I didn’t know what it meant and Haymitch had to explain it to me. I know it hurt him, although he likes to pretend like nothing fazes him. I could see his face aging in front of my eyes. I didn’t want to do it, of course, but when Haymitch explained that Snow might kill someone in my family or that he might do something to hurt Katniss, I knew I had to.
Katniss hasn’t gotten any invitations – yet. Haymitch says it’s because there’s some sort of bidding war over who gets to be her “first,” but sometimes I wonder if it is because they’re afraid of losing control of her. The Capitol sees her as a loose cannon – they might not want to shake things up too much on this Victory Tour. When I think about her getting one of those insidious little envelopes – no I can’t even think of it.
Katniss’ light is already out when I leave. If given the choice, she goes to bed almost before dark and gets up at the crack of dawn. I think it’s the hunter in her. She knows I stay up later than her, so it isn’t hard to make up some sort of excuse when I have to leave. I tell her that I like to paint at night, that I can’t sleep, that I like to roam the train – anything but the truth.
Outside the train, an attendant waits to drive me to the hotel. I look out the window as we drive – District Four is a much nicer place than Twelve and there are a lot of people out tonight. They crowd the streets, some of them clearly Capitol with their strangely colored hair and skin, darting into little “beach shops” which advertise overpriced seashells and trinkets.
There are several shops and restaurants, but only one real hotel and when we arrive, I have to hold back a gasp. It is so glamorous (evil). It’s a glittery high-rise that flashes green and blue – occasionally a colorful fish appears to swim across the side of the building, though of course it’s only a projection. Near the front, a huge fountain spurts out bright blue water. Some of the districts are tourism districts where Capitol people come to throw their money around. Four is foremost among these and I think it accounts for much of their high value to the Capitol. We have nothing like this in Twelve. One of my friend’s parents run Twelve’s only tiny inn where Capitol people stay when they are forced to visit for work – they never come for pleasure.
I get out and stand in front of the hotel self-consciously while the attendant parks the car. After a minute or two, he reappears and escorts me to Diana Terentius who is a curvaceous woman in her thirties with yellow hair – not blond, not even a color that occurs in nature, but neon yellow.
There is actually a party happening in the hotel’s ballroom which surprises me since I’d thought that “after dinner party” really meant something else (sex). It isn’t quite a classy event– the men wear suits and the women wear nice dresses, but the room is too dark, the music too loud, and the people too raucous to call it a classy event. Attendants hand out alcoholic drinks liberally and there are several women hanging around who I suspect are prostitutes. It’s hard to describe exactly how I know this – their dresses are just a bit too short, maybe, or their dates paw them a bit too openly. They don’t all look like Capitol women – some of them have the reddish hair and green eyes that seem to mark District Four people.
“Do you want to dance?” Diana asks me over the din of noise. Her face is flushed and she stares at me as awkwardly as any girl from my District at her first school dance might. This part is always so strange. I don’t think I will ever get used to it. The way my partner looks me up and down and I’m struck with the awareness that in a few hours (minutes) I’ll be having sex with this strange person.
“Yes.” (No). We dance a few times, but the room is hot and unpleasant and she doesn’t seem to like the dancing much more than I do. After only a little while, she leads me to a lounge where yet more Capitol people are hanging about in groups, drinking and laughing. Diana latches tightly onto my arm and escorts me around the room, introducing me to a parade of people whose names I immediately forget. I get the feeling that she likes this better than the dancing. It’s like she’s showing me off – she’s here with a Hunger Games victor while everyone else is stuck with a regular old hooker or -- horror of horrors --a spouse. Several women glance at her jealously, and she seems to stand straighter as the evening wears on. I wish she would finish the posing and just get on with it. I want to get back to Katniss in time to wake her from her nightmares.
After some time, I begin to notice that the center of gravity for this party seems to be in one corner of the room. I’ve noticed that parties are often like that because certain people draw others to them. Diana and I are gradually drawn to that center just like everyone else and I see that the group of people that everyone is gravitating towards consists of two women and three men.
One of the women turns, spots Diana, and immediately calls out to her. I get the feeling that this makes Diana incredibly uncomfortable, but she waves at the woman and walks over.
“Lucie,” she says. “I didn’t know you would be here.” I look at Lucie who is about the same age as Diana – they could have gone to school together – and who is beautiful with purple eyes and blue streaks in her hair. She seems familiar somehow – and then it hits me -- she’s a Gamemaker. I didn’t recognize her at first because, like Capitol people regularly do, she’s changed her hair and eye color.
“Oh, you know me,” Lucie says. “I never miss these things.” She touches the arm of the man beside her, he turns and I get my second surprise of the night – it’s Finnick Odair.
I immediately feel Diana squirm beside me and look over to see her blushing and glaring at the floor. Finnick flashes her a sleazy smile that makes me want to slap him, but I’m smart enough to know that if the selling of victors is as common as it seems, then he’s the Capitol’s top commodity. He’s constantly on television with this lover (client) or that, touted as some sort of sex symbol. He is good looking with a perfect physique and golden skin that makes me feel pasty by comparison.
“Oh, you’re here with that little boy from Twelve,” Lucie says, looking at me. “What was his name again?”
I have a difficult time believing that she doesn’t remember my name, her being a Gamemaker and all, but Diana tells her all the same.
“Right. Peeta,” she says. “I always thought he was so cute.” She ruffles my hair with one hand as if I’m a dog. “Don’t you think he’s cute, Finnick?”
Finnick Odair looks me up and down as if he’s one of them and he’s undressing me with his eyes. “Oh, adorable,” he says in his low purr. “But he looks like he’s on his way to a job interview.” He reaches forward and unbuttons my collar. His own shirt is unbuttoned to the waist and his skin is coated in some oily substance. “That’s better,” he says after he unbuttons one more button and pats me on the cheek.
“Diana, this is Finnick,” Lucie says as if he needs any introduction.
“Oh, we’ve met,” Finnick says, winking at her in a way that leaves little doubt as to his meaning. This seems to make his date (“date”) angry and mine embarrassed, but I don’t think he minds. “I’ve never met Peeta here, though. I found his Hunger Games … fascinating.”
Lucie laughs. “Yes, that whole doomed lovers angle was something, wasn’t it?”
“It was certainly original,” Finnick says. “Tell me, how is dear Katniss these days.”
“She’s fine,” I say, crossing my arms. I don’t like talking about Katniss to these people. And I don’t like how they make it sound like the whole thing between me and Katniss was an “angle,” though I suppose that from her perspective, it was. “She’s enjoying the victory tour.”
“Well, the crowds definitely love her,” Finnick says. “Did you hear them chanting her name earlier today?”
I had. It had scared me – they had been more than just enthusiastic, they had been furious. There have been rumors of unrest in the Districts lately – and we’ve seen more than a few hints of rebellion on our Victory Tour. Katniss thinks that I am good at influencing audiences, but really it’s her – I’m just clever at speaking in front of a camera but she moves people with the sheer force of her presence.
“You’d think she’d be out tonight,” Lucie says. “Her being such a popular girl and all.”
We all look at her. She says this in a perfectly innocent tone of voice, but I can’t help taking it as a threat. Katniss should be “out” tonight. “She’s tired,” I say at last. “She’s not much for parties.”
The others nod, all four of us knowing that the conversation is a sham. It doesn’t matter if Katniss is tired. I’m tired and I still have to spend my time (body) with Diana.
“Is she?” Lucie says. “What a shame. Well, I simply must finish making the rounds, Diana dear. But it was lovely seeing you again.”
She actually snaps her fingers at Finnick, indicating that he should follow her. He pauses, giving me one last, considered look from under lowered eyelids – I realize he’s wearing fake eyelashes – before following Lucie to another group.
Diana visibly slumps in relief. I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve just been snubbed by the popular kids. “Do you want to go to your room?” I ask her. It’s getting late and Katniss is still alone and she might want (need) me.
“Actually, I thought we’d take a walk,” Diana says.
I sigh, but follow her as she leads me out the back of the hotel. I stop not far from the doorway and stare – because there’s the sea and it’s bigger than I ever imagined, filling the whole of my vision, replacing everything else. I realize that television never shows you what the sea looks like at night. I want to go back the train, grab my paints and try to capture the color of the full moon glinting off the dark waves. I wish that Katniss could see it.
“What is it?” Diana asks, noticing that I’ve stopped.
“I’m sorry,” I say at last. “I’ve just never seen the ocean before. Well, we got a few glimpses on the way in, but I didn’t really see it.”
She clicks her tongue. “You poor thing. Of course you haven’t. Come on.” She holds out her hand and I almost don’t mind taking it, I’m so entranced by this new experience. We stop where the sand begins and she laughs because I don’t know I’m supposed to take off my shoes. I awkwardly get rid of my shoes and step onto the sand which feels surprisingly cold against my feet (foot).
We walk down to the water’s edge and let the water lap against our toes and then she loops her arm through mine, less aggressively than she had at the party, and we walk down the beach. She has a flashlight which she uses to light our way and every now and then I see a white crab scuttle into the water. The wind blows my hair in different directions, the waves are loud, and it’s just so different from anything I’ve ever imagined.
After a while, I start to wish I’d brought my cane. The sand is incredibly difficult to walk on and no matter how much I like to pretend that the loss of my leg doesn’t change anything, the prosthetic isn’t a part of me. It still feels like a heavy, cumbersome thing I have to drag around with me in order to walk. Just as I’m about to ask Diana if she wants to turn around, she leads me away from the water and I see that someone has put a big blanket and a sort of picnic on the sand. There’s champagne, glasses, strawberries, and what’s looks like sandwiches. Since we’ve both already eaten dinner I don’t understand the purpose of this, but Capitol people will eat at any time of the day or night, I’ve found.
We sit on the blanket and I pour us drinks. It’s cold and she’s sleeveless so I offer her my jacket which seems to please her. I nibble my sandwich while she wolfs hers down. Then, she makes me feed her strawberries.
“What do you think of the beach?” she asks me.
I look out at the angry waves as I suck strawberry juice from my fingers. Even though it’s dark, I can see so far. District Twelve is hemmed in by mountains so that we all feel protected (trapped). But if I lived here, I don’t know what would stop me from sailing away and never coming back.
“It’s amazing,” I say, honestly.
She smiles and kisses me. I pause for a moment before kissing back. Her lips are chapped and her breath smells like the champagne. After a minute, she lies back and pulls me on top of her and I realize that she wants to do more than kiss.
“Here?” I ask, looking around. Although the beach is close to abandoned, there are a few people out walking or sitting in the sand. None of them are near us, but it still makes me uncomfortable.
“Yes,” she says, looking up at me. Her eyes are as yellow as her hair. “It’s romantic. Please.”
“Okay,” I say. It’s not like I have much of an option. I don’t want to make her angry – I made the one in District Eight angry. I was nervous about him because I’d never done it with a man before and then he wanted to touch my leg (prosthetic) and I don’t let anyone touch my leg, not even Katniss. It scares me because I can still feel people touching it even though I shouldn’t be able to feel anything because there’s no leg; it’s not real. But I can feel it and it’s more sensitive than my real leg and sometimes it even hurts. Anyway, he must have told Snow that I freaked out because at our next stop in Seven, there were Peacekeepers waiting for me, waiting to threaten my family.
She clearly wants me on top of her which I find more awkward than the other way, but I manage. I’m kissing her, running my hands under her dress. I had sex with girls in District 12 after I won the Hunger Games. At the time I felt guilty, like I was betraying Katniss even though she probably (definitely) won’t ever love me, but now I am grateful beyond words that my first time wasn’t with someone like Diana. That it wasn’t with someone who bought me.
I’m pulling up her dress, my lips on her neck, saying her name, when she pulls back. “Call me Katniss,” she says.
I look at her and laugh in sheer disbelief. “What?”
“Call me Katniss.” I hadn’t expected this, but she’s probably just some romantic idiot who wants to fantasize about being Katniss Everdeen. She doesn’t look anything like Katniss and that’s what makes it possible (bearable).
“Katniss,” I say in her ear. She shivers all over and draws me to her and all I hear for several minutes is the waves and my own voice saying Katniss’ name over and over again, a hundred times.
Afterwards she pushes me away and we are both quiet for a long while. Eventually, I hear her crying softly. “Are you okay?” I ask, afraid that I’ve done something to upset her. I don’t want her telling Snow that I failed to please her.
“I’m fine,” she says, wiping her eyes. She’s looking up at the sky, full of stars. “I watched your Hunger Games obsessively, you know.”
“Uh-huh.” I don’t think very highly of Hunger Games fans.
She laughs to herself, the noise high-pitched. “I used to wonder what it would be like to be Katniss. To be special like that, you know. To have someone look at me the way you looked at her.”
“Uh-huh.” But I know what she means. Katniss stands out, shines like the sun. There’s something beautiful in her – something brave and fierce and generous. Sometimes, I wish I were more like Katniss.
She nuzzles my neck. “Thank you.”
We walk back up the beach in silence, her holding my hand. I walk her to her room and she stands in the doorway kissing (groping) me for about ten minutes. “Come in,” she says at one point, pulling on my hand.
“I can’t,” I say. “I’ve got to get back to Katniss.” It’s risky, mentioning my girlfriend (“girlfriend”) to her, but after her request earlier, I think she’ll understand.
I’m right. “Of course,” she says, kissing me on the cheek. She slips something into my back pocket and I pull it out – a wad of money.
“I don’t want this,” I say, trying to hand it back to her. Katniss would (will) take it – and then give it to some poor Seam kids, probably. Maybe that would be the best thing to do, but I can’t stand how it makes me feel, taking their money and gifts.
“Why not?” she asks. “You made me happy.” She’s not a monster—that’s the worst thing of all – she’s not a monster and she can still do what she did to me.
“It makes me feel bad,” I say, gently pressing the money into her hands.
She looks down and then nods. “Thank you, Peeta,” she says and then she slips into her room and closes the door.
I’m walking back through the hotel’s now near-empty lobby, when I hear someone whistle to get my attention. I turn to see Finnick Odair lounging on an overstuffed sofa, his feet propped up on an expensive-looking glass table, nursing a glass of some sort of alcohol and grinning at me.
“What do you want?” I ask, taking a few steps in his direction. I don’t want to talk to him – he just reminds me of how the Capitol uses (hurts) the victors. In ten years, I could be like him.
“You’re not going back to Katniss looking like that, are you?”
I look down at my now wrinkled suit. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“You look like you just fucked another woman.”
I laugh (cry). “She won’t notice, trust me. Katniss isn’t very observant about things like that.”
He raises one eyebrow at me.
“And even if she does notice, she probably won’t care,” I say. “She’s just pretending to be in love with me, you know.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he says and then takes a long drink.
I roll my eyes and turn to walk away, but he whistles at me again. “What?” I snap. I may have to be polite little Peeta to Capitol people, but I don’t need to play nice with Odair.
“I caught a glimpse of your schedule for next year,” he says.
“My schedule?” I think I know what he means. “You mean my – ah -- appointments? They’ve already been made?”
“Oh, yes,” he said, looking at his glass and swishing the amber liquid. “You have to book months in advance to spend the night with a Hunger Games victor – well, unless you’re really important.”
I take a few more steps towards him, because despite part of brain screaming that I don’t want to know, I can’t help thinking that it would be helpful. “What are you doing here, anyway?” It seems so strange to see him sitting here alone in the hotel lobby when on television he’s always surrounded by people.
He shrugs. “Waiting on my midnight. He’s in the bar getting drunk – hopefully so drunk that he passes out.”
“Your midnight?” Then I realize what he means. “You have two in one night?”
He laughs, but it isn’t a very nice sound. “Three, actually, counting the one this afternoon.” My expression must look horrified, because he adds; “Don’t worry, that type of scheduling isn’t usual, even for me. They usually book by the night or the week or the month. Victory Tours are a bit strange – they’re all in town for the weekend and they all want a victor.”
“So what did my schedule look like?” I know I’m taking the bait, but I believe that he really saw it.
“Come sit by Finnick and he’ll tell you,” he says, patting the sofa beside him.
He’s talking about himself in the third person. He does that on television. I walk over and sit beside him, reluctantly. “So?”
He looks away, studies the crystal vase on the nearby table. “It wasn’t too awful. Around sixty days and you’ll get way fewer next year when they have a shiny new victor to play with. Another few years and they’ll only be using you a couple times a year – unless you act like an idiot like me and set yourself up as some sort of sex symbol.”
His voice slurs toward the end. I think he’s getting a little drunk himself. Sixty days sounds pretty awful to me. “Sixty more Dianas,” I say.
“Oh, she’s not that bad,” Finnick says. “You’re lucky. People think you’re sweet and romantic. You’ve got a bunch of middle-aged housewives whose husbands don’t pay enough attention to them on your schedule. Some victors get the type of person who wants to beat the shit out of them, you know.”
I look up (down). I don’t want to think about me (Katniss) having to be with someone like that. “Is that the type of person you get?” I ask.
“Finnick gets all types, baby.” He leans on my shoulder, seemingly overcome by the alcohol. “I hear all the good rumors in Capitol. I know everyone,” he whispers.
“And what rumors have you heard?” I ask. I know he’s trying to tell me something, but I can’t imagine what that might be.
“That Snow is selling tickets. To your wedding night. With Katniss.”
I pull away from him. “No.” I feel sick. Just when I think I can handle anything the Capitol can dish out, just when I think I can play along and be nice, complaint Peeta, they throw something like this at me. “I can’t.”
“You have to,” he says, leaning against my shoulder once again. “What else can you do?”
What else can I do? It’s times like these when I start to think that maybe we (she) should be encouraging rebellion in the Districts after all. It was horrible enough to think about Katniss being sold (raped), but now they want me to participate. Then again, maybe it would be better for her with me than with some Capitol pervert, if only slightly. One thing is for sure though – she’ll never be able to think of me the same – I’ll lose her even as a friend. “Do we have other appointments together?” I ask.
“Yes,” Finnick says against my ear. “Some victors get sold in pairs a lot. You’ve seen Cashmere and Gloss, haven’t you?”
I look down at his bronze head currently burrowing its way into my shoulder. “Aren’t they brother and sister?”
He gives that not so nice laugh again. “Yes.” His arm has somehow wrapped itself around my waist. I try to disentangle myself without pushing him off me – I don’t want to hurt his feelings – but he leans against me, heavily.
I sigh. “Haymitch hasn’t said anything about any of this to me,” I say more to myself than to Finnick. Haymitch probably didn’t want to hurt me. I can’t tell Katniss yet even though I know she needs time to prepare herself. I can’t stand the idea of telling her that soon she’ll be stripped of her beauty and her dignity. I’m afraid that the Capitol, which could never crush her through its Games, will crush her by making her into an object (whore).
“Oh, Haymitch,” Finnick says, with a laugh. “Everything’s on a need-to-know basis with Haymitch.”
And to think that the three of us promised not to keep secrets from one another anymore.
“Did Diana cry afterwards?” Finnick asks.
“What?” Diana is already out of my mind. “Yes. Why? Does she always?”
“I thought maybe it was just me.”
“I guess not. Are you kissing my neck?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, but I can feel his lips curve into a smile against my skin.
“I think you’re drunk,” I say, trying to push him away from me. But I’ve been taking care of Haymitch long enough to know when someone is really drunk and when he’s pretending to be drunk and Finnick is pretending (maybe).
“Diana knows lots of important people,” Finnick says, in my ear. “You’d be surprised. Her husband has some big job in Justice.”
“So?” I really don’t see what this has to do with anything. “Get your tongue out of my ear.”
He draws back and looks down at my shirt. “You shouldn’t wear your shirt unbuttoned,” he says, buttoning it, “it makes you look like a whore.”
I want to push him away, but instead I pull him back to his place on my shoulder. I guess I am a whore, but Katniss isn’t (yet) and that’s all that matters. He is kissing my neck again. I would think that with three appointments this evening the last thing he would want to do in the in-between time is kiss a fourth person – but no, that isn’t right after all. Because I know that whenever I’m finished with one of them, all I want is to be close to someone (anyone) for real. It’s all I can do when I slip into bed beside Katniss, not to hold her, to kiss her, to taste her skin on my lips. I’ve imagined it so many times, but I know the contact would be unwelcome, so I hold back.
“This look doesn’t suit you anyway,” Finnick says, fingering my collar. “What happened to that cute little apron costume you were wearing on television a few weeks ago?”
“That wasn’t a costume. I’m a baker.” He’s one to talk, with the skimpy sea-themed costumes he wears all the time.
“You’re such a cute little baker,” he says and goes back to working on my neck. But I’m not a baker. I can’t be a baker anymore, just a victor (victim), nothing else.
I feel something small and spidery fall down the front of my shirt and I fish it out. “This yours?” I ask, holding up one of his fake eyelashes.
He laughs. “Yeah. Put it on me, would you?” he closes his eyes.
“I don’t know how to apply fake eyelashes!”
“Really?” He blinks at me. “There’s no need to look at me like that, you know. We can’t all have naturally beautiful, long eyelashes like you.”
He actually gets me to blush. Of course the self-deprecation is nonsense because he’s one of the best looking people in Panem and he clearly knows it, but Katniss had said something about my eyelashes a little while ago and she hardly ever notices things like that, so maybe there’s some truth in it.
Finnick pulls the other eyelash off his face and throws it to the floor. I think he looks better without them. “Katniss, Katniss,” he says as if he can read my mind. “Stop thinking about her.”
I look into his startling green eyes which currently appear strangely glazed. “I can’t,” I say. “I don’t want her to do this.”
He looks around at the empty lobby and taps his fingers against the arm of our plush sofa. “I don’t blame you,” he says, at last.
“But there’s nothing you can do.” He looks me over, carefully. “Is she a virgin?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I say, not without a hint of bitterness. I suspect that she has something going with Gale Hawthorne, but I prefer not to ask her about it. Probably none of my business anyway.
He runs his fingers through my hair, strokes my cheek with his thumb. “If she is, then you might want to remedy that.” I scowl at him and he grins. Then he leans in and I push him away.
“What are you doing?”
“I was going to kiss you,” he says.
“Don’t.” I start to get up – I need to get away from Finnick Odair’s demands (lips).
“No, stop,” he says, pulling me back to my seat. “You know, if she’s really that indifferent, then you should forget about her,” he whispers in my ear. “No need for all this – ah – loyalty, especially when you can’t exactly be loyal, Peeta.”
The really awful thing is that I can’t even be angry with him because he’s right. Instead, I just shrug, rather pathetically. “I can’t help it. I love her.”
He settles for leaning on my shoulder again. “I heard another rumor,” he says, his eyes strangely flinty. “I heard that Korvin
Fairhelm was pushing to get Katniss on this victory tour and took you as a consolation prize. He’s very influential, you know.”
Korvin Fairhelm – the one who tried to touch my leg in District Eight. I threw up after he touched (fucked) me. If he ever touched her, if he ever touched her, I think it would drive me crazy.
“Why didn’t he get Katniss?” I ask.
Finnick strokes my arm with one finger and I can feel my hair stand on end. “Well. Your mentor and others were very persuasive in arguing that the Capitol would get more out of Katniss if they delayed this whole pesky sex slavery business.”
And they threw me to the sharks. That’s what he’s saying – that Haymitch threw me to the sharks again and saved Katniss. It still hurts, somehow, even though it’s what I would want. Haymitch and I have an unspoken agreement to always protect Katniss and to always, always put her before me. I shrug at Finnick and he laughs that awful laugh once again. “You shouldn’t be such a pushover,” he says.
I half smile at him. “You’re still not getting it. I can’t help it. I love her – haven’t you ever been in love with somebody?”
This last is said with a teasing edge, but Finnick’s reaction is to frown and bury his face in my chest. “Yes,” he says, his voice full of emotion. I hadn’t expected that – my image of Finnick is still of the heartbreaker who appears on television. They’re constantly harping on about how he never keeps one lover for long, about how he loves sex and partying and will probably never settle down. But I should know better by now – the Capitol tells more lies than truths about the victors and Finnick’s lovers aren’t even real lovers. Why couldn’t he have been (still be) in love with someone?
I don’t like making him feel bad, so I take his chin in my hand, force him to look at me. “You can kiss me now, if you want,” I say, casually. I don’t worry so much about betraying Katniss by kissing someone else anymore – I’ve only had a few appointments, but it’s amazing how much I already disassociate touching, kissing, and sex from love. I can understand why Finnick is so touchy-feely.
“Okay,” he says and then presses his lips against mine before I have a chance to change my mind. And surprisingly, he tastes like Katniss – I realize he’s wearing the same ridiculous flavor of lipgloss that they sometimes put on her for Capitol events. I think it’s supposed to taste like raspberries.
I pull away for breath after a minute. “Satisfied?” I asked.
His pink tongue darts out to lick his lips. “No.”
I don’t know what to say, but at that moment a cold feeling that I associate with being in the Games creeps up my spine – we are being watched. Finnick seems to sense it at the same moment – we both look over to see a middle-aged Capitol man standing about three feet away, watching us. As we look at him, he holds up his glass as if in a toast. “Don’t let me stop you,” he says, smirking in a way I don’t exactly like.
Finnick scowls at him. “Don’t get any ideas, Haversham,” he mumbles. “This isn’t a package deal.” He stands up, shakily, and I realize that this man is his date (patron, client, customer). “I was just saying goodbye to Peeta here.”
“How sweet,” Haversham slurs. He’s drunk but not too drunk for sex. He puts his arm around Finnick’s waist. “But I want you all to myself tonight,” he says to Finnick in a staged whisper.
Finnick makes a flicking motion with his tongue and wraps his strong (beautiful) hands around Haversham’s shoulders. “I was so lonely here without you,” he says. “I had to turn to Peeta for comfort.” The sharp tone he took earlier is gone and his mask is firmly back in place. My heart breaks a little, but it isn’t for Finnick and it isn’t for myself – it’s for Katniss. It’s really her (not myself) that I worry will end up like him. Because it’s there, somewhere deep inside of Finnick – something brave, fierce, and generous. He’s special and that specialness shines out of him despite being covered by about ten years of Capitol sleaze – that’s why every eye is on him when he enters a room, when he speaks. It’s not just his looks. He’s like Katniss.
“Poor dear,” Haversham says, playing the game. “Give Peeta one last kiss goodbye and off we go.”
This last part is said with a glance at me and just a hint of command. Finnick leans over, kisses me lightly on the lips, and I feel his hand slip something into my back pocket, just the way Diana had tried to give me money earlier.
“Give Finnick a call sometime, baby,” he says. I relax, realizing that he must have just slipped me a scrap of paper with his phone number on it. Then, he laughs and fiddles with my shirt collar. “You should fix this,” he says. “Even Katniss might notice lipstick on the collar.”
Then he laughs and drunkenly throws his arms the Capitol man’s waist and they stumble off into the adjacent hallway that contains the elevators. I am left standing alone, fiddling with my shirt collar.
When I return to the train, I find Katniss screaming and thrashing in her bed. I quickly shake her awake and she clings to me for a few minutes, tears streaming down her face. This one was particularly bad. After a few minutes of comforting her, I blunder out of my crumpled clothes and get into bed with her. The fact that she isn’t really my girlfriend doesn’t stop me from sleeping in my boxer shorts or her from sleeping in thin cotton nightgowns – but she always seems completely oblivious to how little clothing we are wearing as we hold each other close at night to chase away the nightmares.
“No more nightmares tonight,” I mutter to her, hating that I wasn’t here to wake her up. “You’re not allowed.”
“Okay,” she says, sounding strangely meek, very different from how she is during her waking hours.
We both fall asleep and I don’t have nightmares about the Games or even the ones about Capitol freaks tormenting Katniss. I just hold her close and breathe the familiar scent of her hair (not mine).
When I wake up, it is morning and she is coming out of the bathroom, already dressed, her head wrapped in a towel. I roll out of bed and stumble to the bathroom and she sits on the bed and watches me wash my face, all the while drying her hair with the towel. She truly is unobservant (innocent) and unaware (pure). She doesn’t notice that I smell like Diana’s perfume or that my breath smells like champagne. When she picks up my clothes off the floor and folds them, she doesn’t see the sand on the knees of my trousers or the lipstick on my collar. She doesn’t pick the bright yellow hairs from my shirt or the bronze ones from my jacket. She doesn’t even seem to see the red hickeys that Finnick left all over my neck, now as visible as the nose on my face.
There’s one thing that even Katniss can’t ignore, though, and it’s the cocktail napkin with Finnick’s phone number on it that falls out of my trouser pocket. She holds it up and I watch her read it, her eyebrows furrowing together in confusion. “Give Finnick a call sometime, baby?” she says out loud, holding up the napkin and looking like she’s not sure whether she wants to laugh or be angry.
I shrug. “I met Finnick Odair,” I say, taking the napkin from her hand.
“Really?” she asks, her eyebrows flying up in surprise. “When?”
“At the dinner,” I lie, smoothly. “Didn’t you see him there?” The napkin is folded over and when I open it, I see a crude rendering of a mockingjay drawn on the inside. Why a mockingjay? I doubt that Finnick doodled it out of boredom.
“No,” she says and an awkward silence forms between us for several moments, before she asks; “So what was he like?”
I think about Finnick and his raspberry kisses and everything he said (didn’t say). “He’s kind of a creep,” I tell her. “But it’s not really his fault.”
She raises her eyebrows again.
“I mean, years around these Capitol people would be enough to mess up anyone.” It’s the closest I can come to telling her the truth about what happened last night.
“I guess so,” she says and then she scowls as she looks over my shoulder at the drawing. “Mockingjays are all the rage this year.”
“They are,” I agree. Diana had one tattooed on her left breast, right above the nipple. I’m still trying to puzzle things out when she opens a nearby chest and takes out a long sort of lighter that the attendants sometimes use to light incense burners.
“What are you doing?”
“I was going to get rid of that for you,” she says, holding out her hand for the napkin. “Why? Did you want to keep it?” There’s just a hint of challenge in her voice. And why does she need to burn it? Couldn’t she just throw it away?
I would like to keep it, but I don’t want to rouse her suspicions so I hand it over. She holds it between two fingers and away from her body as if disgusted by the thought of Finnick touching it. I wonder if she would feel that way about me if she knew where I was last night. I watch as she sets the napkin on fire, and it slowly starts to burn. A surprising amount of smoke fills the room and she has to open the window, causing me to shiver from the cold and the wind.
I watch as she tosses the remains of the flaming paper out the window and then wipes her ashy fingers on her leg. “We’ll be in District Three soon,” she says, her lovely face outlined against the window.
“Yes,” I say. I know I’ll probably have an appointment in District Three as well – it isn’t really a tourism district, but Capitol people like to see the Victory Tour in the last four districts because they are nearby.
I want to tell her I love her, but that would only make her uncomfortable. I settle for putting my arms around her – hugging is allowed. “It’s almost over, Katniss,” I say. (It’s just beginning).
I feel her arms tighten around my waist. “I know. Thank you,” she says.