It was not surprising, given Effie’s nature, that she found the silence uncomfortable. She and Haymitch had been alone before, but there was usually an easy and uncomplicated conversational subject at hand, an important and all-consuming thought to consider independently, papers in her hands to be read, and/or - most often - a barrier of intoxication between them comprised of varying degrees of consciousness.
But not this time.
He was sober, or as close to it as he ever got. And her tasks were done. There was the only the waiting now.
The wall clock ticked. Ten seconds. 30 seconds. One minute. It was the only sound. Occasionally the melting ice in his untouched tumbler of liquor resettled. She yawned as the stress of the past week caught up with her in the stillness. Seated next to each other on the loveseat in the viewing room she could hear him breathe every fifth time or so as an oxygen deficit built because he was nervous and so he inhaled more deeply.
Tick, tick, tick.
Until it was too much for her.
“I remember your Games,” she ventured cheerily, turning her head to look at him. She more than remembered – she had rewatched them after she began working with Haymitch, but she didn’t tell him that. “I was very young, of course. Only 6 or-“
“I don’t want to talk about my Games,” he interrupted, his voice quiet but his tone hard and definitive.
Her lips fell. “No, of course not. Why would you?” she responded heavily, shaking her head with sympathy and then shifting her gaze back to the television which showed only the official state seal of the Hunger Games. She stared at it introspectively.
It was the most sensible thing he had ever heard her say, and she hadn’t even bothered to be insulted by his incivility. “I never talk about it,” he added for her benefit, so she would know that it was nothing against her personally.
The tributes had left for the arena an hour earlier. Effie had expected Haymitch to be in his room drinking, like he had done in every year past, watching the start of the Games in private. There was no point in schmoozing up the sponsors if your students didn’t survive the first day. It always angered her to see him giving up on them. But maybe he was just a man who could recognize when there was no hope. A man for whom it hurt too much to believe in anything but the inevitable loss of all that mattered.
But it seemed he was a man who was still capable hope: here he was, after all.
“It’s our year, Haymitch,” she prophesized, encouraged. “One of those two is coming back to us. I just know it.”
“The only thing you know, Effie, is the time and what’s next on the schedule,” he snarled, ungrateful for her optimism.
At first he found satisfaction in seeing the always merry Effie so deflated, but then her downcast gaze and soft frown began to trouble him. If she couldn’t find her smile she must truly have been affected. The way she stared forward at the screen made him think there was more on her mind than just his unkind tone.
He sighed, and he hoped she heard in it somewhere a small apology.
Pouring the drink had given him comfort, as did knowing it was there. But it wouldn’t do for him to pass out drunk an hour into the Games. Not this year. So he left it there, staring at it occasionally. He wanted it now more than ever.
Suddenly Panem’s National Anthem began to play. Soon the screen would light up with their first view of the new arena. The cameras would pan to the cornucopia so that the audience could see what treasures laid there, before, finally, the tributes would rise up from their respective launch rooms, and then the Games would begin.
Effie reached forward suddenly, grabbed his glass, and drank the whole thing down in one gulp. She cleared her throat daintily and then leaned back against the cushions.
He smiled, surprised, before his attention was drawn back to the television