Sunday, March 4, the 71st year of the Games
Annie walks along the beach, the breeze blowing her hair into her eyes. She doesn’t much notice or care, except when it actually strikes her eyes or catches in her lashes. The sun has set and the air is cool, too cool to still be outside without at least a sweater. The temperature dropped a good ten degrees with the setting of the sun, maybe more. It was an unseasonably warm day, but the sky now is clear, stars glittering like scattered diamonds – the night will be frigid.
She looks up toward the houses that line the little cove, at the lights shining in the windows of those that harbor life, only seven out of the twelve the Capitol built when they decreed this to be Victors’ Island. But only six of those houses leak any light and it occurs to Annie that she should have left a light lit. Finnick is out fishing with his father and won’t be home for hours yet, if they caught much of anything. She refuses to think of all the things that could go wrong at sea; he and his father are both experienced fishermen and Thomas won’t let anything happen to his son.
A flash from the lighthouse on the mainland catches Annie’s eye and she turns, watches the light fade as the lens rotates away from the island. She’d nearly gone with them today, had wanted to almost desperately. Wanted to feel the sway of the sea, the heat of the sun-baked deck beneath her feet, the scratch of the ropes and nets in her hands and the vibration of the engines through her entire body, but she still tumbles through the dark, cold water of the arena and no amount of sun and salt can chase away that bone-deep chill.
Instead of jumping the gap between pier and boat, she sat down on the wood planks, pulled her hair over her face, covered her ears with the palms of her hands. Finnick hunkered down in front of her and told her that it was alright, maybe next time or the time after, that someday she’d be ready. He offered to stay with her, but she knew how much he wanted to spend time on the water, how much he needed to spend time with his father and so she forced herself to come back to him, lowered her hands, pushed her hair from her face, if only just enough so that he could see her smile. She told him to go and not worry about her, agreed that someday she would go out fishing with him, just not today.
But deep inside, Annie fears that someday will never come.
The cork bursts from the bottle of champagne with a loud pop and a geyser of bubbling golden liquid. Trevor lunges to catch it in a champagne flute and Effie laughs in delight, clapping her hands. It’s the most wonderful day of her life and she can’t imagine how anything could possibly be better than this, surrounded by her friends and family and celebrating the letter she received only that morning from the Hunger Games Commission:
Miss Euphemia Trinket, we are pleased to offer you a position as representative of both the Hunger Games and the Capitol to District Twelve in the upcoming 71st Hunger Games. Please report to the Training Center located in the Hunger Games Complex promptly at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 13.
There is more, something about what to pack for her two-week-long intensive training program, la la la, but none of that is nearly as important as that first paragraph. Not even the first paragraph. The first sentence! She, Effie Trinket, is an official representative of the Hunger Games. True, District 12 is the least of the districts, boasting very little to work with in regard to tributes. It hasn’t had a victor in twenty years and that one has a reputation as a sloppy, nasty drunk, but you can’t start with District 1 or 2, you have to work your way up to them. And Effie is sure she’s up to the task. District 12 for a year, then a promotion to a better district next.
Trevor fills her glass before his own and then pours champagne into glasses around the table until the bottle finally plays out. Raising his glass, he looks down at Effie and says, “To my little sister, the newest and best escort and district representative Panem and the Hunger Games will ever know. Effie, my dear, may the odds be ever in your favor!”
Effie sips her sweet champagne and laughs as the bubbles break against her lips and tongue, dissolves into undignified and embarrassing giggles as it tickles her nose.
Felicia eats her dinner quietly, listening to the conversations swirling around her. Family dinners are noisy affairs, people everywhere and all talking at once, trying to get everything in that they want to say while they have the chance. She thinks it should be quieter, somehow, now that she’s old enough, at twelve, to move up from the “kiddie table,” but it isn’t. This is the first time since her birthday last summer that the entire family has all been here for a meal at the same time, so it’s also Felicia’s first time with the grown-ups. If anything, everyone at the big table is louder, but maybe not so shrill, so it’s still an improvement. It doesn’t hurt that she overheard her mother talking to Aunt Rachel about the crush cousin Charity has on a boy at school – that information could come in handy, someday.
Felicia’s sister Tovah, younger than she by ten months, bumps her chair on her way past toward her seat with the other children. “Oops. Sorry. Didn’t see you there.”
“Ha ha, very funny. You’re just jealous ‘cause I finally got to escape the Brats.” Their twin cousins, just six this year, are there to visit for a week with their parents, Papa’s sister Faith and her husband Joseph. Brig and Belinda are just awful, always demanding attention (loudly), grabbing up all the toys (something Felicia should be above, now that she’s old enough to take on tesserae, but oh, how she still hates it when they do that), and whining whenever anyone tries to tell them “no” (usually Felicia). Why couldn’t Aunt Faith and Uncle Joseph just leave them at home?
Tovah leans over Felicia’s shoulder, balancing her plate of food – beans and rice and a sliver of real chicken – on top of her cup of water, whispers, “Joke’s on you, Lici. I told them they could sleep in your room tonight.” In Felicia’s room, tiny compared to the one she shared with her sisters until just a few months before, but still just hers. Tovah will be able to join the adults at the big table in a few more weeks, but at least Felicia will still have her own small bedroom.
Felicia’s eyes go wide and her mouth drops open as Tovah’s words sink in. “You didn’t!” she shouts in outrage and everyone turns to look at her. Stupid Tovah just laughs and starts to whistle as she continues on to her place at the kiddie table.
She stares at the ruins of what was once her home. Smoke no longer rises in sickening, vine-like tendrils from the cinders and ash, but the stench of burned plastic and worse, burned flesh, remains. Those will never go away. She kicks at a round piece of something and it skitters across the melted ground. Melted. No one in the district can remember a fire that burned so hot so quickly. There was never a chance for any of them to get out. It’s been a week and it still hasn’t hit her that they’re gone. They’re gone and she wasn’t even in the district, hadn’t been there in weeks, never had a chance to say goodbye, or better yet, warn them.
A bird soars high overhead, casts a shadow across the blackened wreckage. Johanna looks up, watches it catch the last of the heat that rises from the ground. It’s still warmer here than it is down toward the road. The air is warmer, the ground is warmer, but Johanna has never felt so cold, not even when they pulled her from the arena. The bird passes from her sight, lost in the trees, and she looks away. She couldn’t have warned them, anyway. She hadn’t believed the old bastard would do anything at all, let alone something like this.
Movement catches her eye. The old tire swing her brothers put up for her when she was seven sways back and forth in the breeze, its motion raising the ghost of the girl she used to be. Maybe “razing” would be a better choice of word, she thinks bitterly. She blinks and can almost see Reed, two years her elder, pushing six-year-old Elliot, the baby of the family, in the old swing, can almost hear her little brother’s shrieks of laughter as he flies higher and higher. Wanna touch the sky, Reed! Make me fly!
Suddenly angry, at herself, at Snow, at the whole fucking world, she sprints for the swing, launches herself at it, tries to tear it to the ground. But she only succeeds in falling, scraping the heels of her hands on the rocks, jagged beneath the dead leaves. The sharp tang of blood fills her nostrils and she screams out her anger. Her hatred.
Tuesday, July 17, the 74th year of the Games
They drag her by her hands down to the beach, laughing and chattering, telling her all about their day at school on the mainland. Annie lets it wash over her, a healing balm to replace the rawness left behind when she couldn’t turn the television off fast enough to avoid catching a glimpse of the Games. Cordero and Anemone both died early, Cordero at the Cornucopia and Anemone a couple of days later, when tracker jackers stung her to death, but still Finnick can’t come home. Not until the Games are over. Maybe not even then, not right away. She misses him.
“C’mon, Annie!” six-year-old Moire insists. She has Annie’s right hand in both of hers and walks backwards, doing her best to hurry Annie along. “You’ve got to see it before the tide washes it back out!”
“Yeah, Annie, c’mon!” Mia, at five, is a carbon copy of her older sister and she clings to Annie’s left hand like a limpet. A very serious limpet. “Got to see it!” Annie bites her lower lip to keep from smiling, not wanting to hurt their feelings. She’s pretty sure what they want to show her is the jellyfish that washed up on shore that morning, down at the far end of the cove, where the sandy beach turns to treacherous rock. The sea has been restless all day, throwing things up from the bottom, a fitting companion to Annie’s mood.
But instead the girls lead her in the opposite direction, toward the shared pier with its tie offs and mailboxes, and then past it, up the beach on the other side. The sand isn’t as soft there, so Annie avoids it on the warmer days, when she doesn’t have to wear shoes if she doesn’t want to. As they get closer to their goal, first Moire and then Mia try to break into a run and Annie lets them do it, moving faster to accommodate their shorter legs.
They lead her to a large tidal pool; unfortunately for the creature trapped within it, the pool isn’t large enough. Annie crouches down beside it and Mia asks, whispering loudly, “Is it dead?”
Still looking at the thing, transparent and pink, she thinks that maybe it isn’t, not if she can still see through it. Not yet, anyway. But she doesn’t want to touch it. Bad things can happen if you touch something without knowing what it is, especially when it’s something washed up from the sea. “Girls, find me some driftwood, please.”
Moire asks, hiding behind Annie’s left shoulder. “Are you going to poke it?”
Annie smiles. “Yes, if you find me something to poke it with.” While the girls search, Annie walks around the pool, looking at the thing from different angles. She sees what looks like a digestive tract, a yellowish and lumpy rope, in the center of it. The whole thing is thick, with ragged, uneven edges and a vague point at one end, where it looks like it has several mouths. Whatever it is, it’s very odd. It reminds her of the sea cucumbers that sometimes wash up after a storm, and there have been squalls visible all day, far out on the horizon….
“I got something, Annie!” Mia’s dark head appears at the top of a rise and she strides purposefully out of the tall sea grasses that crown the little hill. She drags a gnarled and twisted piece of driftwood, washed clean of bark and silvered by the salt and sun. Annie thinks that it might make a nice addition to Mags’ collection of canes and walking sticks. If it survives poking the poor thing in the tidal pool, that is. “Is this good?” the little girl asks when she arrives, her eyes shining.
“It looks perfect, Mia.” Taking the stick, which is longer than Mia is tall by at least two feet, Annie glances at the might-be sea cucumber just as Moire runs up to them, out of breath, and drops to her knees in the sand.
“Good job, Mimi,” Moire tells her sister. She hangs back as Annie and Mia take the stick to the pool.
The poor pink thing looks darker than it did before and there’s less water in the pool. Annie touches it gently with one end of the stick and is rewarded with sluggish movement, more than her light touch could have produced. She looks at Mia. “It’s definitely alive. I think we should rescue it.”
Mia nods, not taking her eyes off the creature. Moire, interested in spite of herself, creeps forward on her hands and knees. “What do we do?”
“Well, we might hurt it if we try to pick it up with the stick. And it might hurt us if we try to pick it up with our hands.” Neither of the girls has anything with them they could use to lift it. Looking down at herself, the only thing Annie can think to use is her shirt. She still has a tank under it. She unbuttons the two buttons holding her blouse closed and lets it slide from her shoulders, then spreads it in the water of the pool, as near as she can to the creature without actually touching it.
“Use the curvy part,” Moire suggests, pointing to the thicker end of the driftwood where there’s a distinct curving twist to the wood. There’s nothing in that part of the stick that might snag on delicate tissue, so Annie nods and smiles.
“Good thinking, Moire. We can nudge it onto the cloth and then carry it out to the water.”
“And the tide can take it back home.” If only it were that easy, Annie thinks, but doesn’t say it out loud. Instead she puts their simple plan into action.
It takes a couple of nudges with the stick, but the creature oozes toward the shirt until Annie can wrap the wet ends around it. She lifts it, surprised at how little it weighs, and then runs with it toward the waves. When the girls start to follow her out, she tells them to stay on the beach. The tide is already on its way out and the sea is choppy, she doesn’t want to go out too far herself, let alone allowing either of those little girls to risk it. Annie is strong enough to swim or tread water for as long as it takes for the girls to run for help – probably – but she’s sure that they aren’t, not with the sea as she is today.
She wades out waist deep and releases the creature back into the water, then, still holding onto her shirt, backs away. She can’t see if it sinks or swims, but either way, she’s done all she can. She turns and slogs through the waves back to the girls. “All right, you two, let’s get you back to your mother.” She doesn’t know Jackson Hull, victor of the 51st Games, or his wife Branwen well, but just as she didn’t want to risk their daughters to the riptides below the surface, Annie doesn’t want to risk losing her afternoons with the girls on the beach.
“Haymitch Abernathy, what are you doing?” Effie winces at the shrillness of her own voice, and heat rises into her cheeks, but she’s sure that won’t lessen the impact of her displeasure on the infuriating man. He thinks she’s shrill anyway, and her makeup should prevent anyone from seeing her blush. Haymitch leans back in his chair and grins, waving his glass at her and sending the amber liquid within sloshing.
“Sending our kids a little help, Effie. What are you doing?” Some of the spirits he constantly swills spills from the tumbler onto his hand and rather than wiping it away with the handkerchief peeking from his jacket pocket, he licks it away, his bloodshot gray eyes trained on Effie. To be fair, she doesn’t know if his eyes are bloodshot from all the drink or from the lack of sleep as he spends most of his time with potential sponsors. And there are so many this year, pledging everything from money to specific and expensive gifts (although the gifts are mostly for Katniss). Effie feels a bit guilty for attending so many Hunger Games parties, but everyone knows that’s where the richest sponsors are, and as a district representative, she can go farther afield in search of sponsors than Haymitch, tied as he is to the Games complex. Effie gives herself a mental shake and an admonishment to stay on task.
“Sending them help.” She glares at him, incredulous. “By sending Katniss enough sleep syrup to put Peeta down for a week? How can that possibly help either one of them?” For the first time in four years, Effie truly believes that her district may win and that can only help her career. She wants them to win, almost desperately – she heard from a friend of a friend that there’s an opening for the Quarter Quell next year, she could move up to District 8. It’s not District 1 or 2, or even 4, but it’s still several steps up from District 12.
Haymitch laughs, the sound like metal dragging across metal, and pours more liquor into his glass. “Admit it, Effie. You’re more worried about getting a promotion out of this than you are whether or not one of those kids survives.”
Blood rises into Effie’s face again, hotter than before. She blinks hard, once, twice. “That isn’t true, Haymitch,” she protests, even though what he says is exactly what she’s thinking. “Well, maybe that’s a part of it, but there’s the rule change to consider. They might both win, if we handle this right.”
“We, sweetheart?” he scoffs. “I don’t see you schmoozing with the sponsors.”
She stares at him indignantly, her eyes wide and her hands on her hips. “Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Why, just last night I had dinner with Regina Blalock. She was quite interested in sponsoring our district after hearing Katniss sing over that little girl.”
He snorts, just as disturbing as his laughter, follows it up with a deep belch and Effie shudders. She simply must be free of District 12, if only to be free of Haymitch Abernathy. And besides, she truly likes both Katniss and Peeta, and she just knows that Katniss won’t let Peeta die. District 12 will have two winners this year, she knows it as surely as she knows her own name. Stung by Haymitch’s attitude and words, his amusement at her expense, Effie turns her back on him and digs through her bag for her phone. Ms. Blalock gave Effie her number after pledging her support to Katniss. It shouldn’t be too hard for Effie to convince her to pledge support to Peeta, as well.
Effie has worked too hard, what with all those media interviews and press releases, to make the citizens of the Capitol see Peeta and Katniss as a team. She is quite proud of the phrase “Star-Crossed Lovers of District Twelve” and she isn’t about to let it or them fade into could-have-beens now.
Felicia shivers, huddled in on herself inside the metal walls of the Cornucopia, but even so, it’s the warmest night she’s spent since she entered the arena nearly two weeks before. She stares out the doorway at the darkness and waits for the dawn, unsure what the day will bring, not sure what she wants it to bring. She never thought she’d live this long, doesn’t know if she really wants her life to extend any further than it already has. She shuts her eyes tight, but that only shuts off the faint golden glow of the cold metal that surrounds her and by contrast, the images inside her head are brighter than the sun.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you your tribute to the 74th Hunger Games, Miss Felicia Young!”
Felicia stared straight ahead in the silence, stubbornly refused to let Tiberius Thorne, District 5’s Capitol escort since before she was born, lift her hand in some kind of twisted salute to her own death sentence. Derek Smith, her fellow tribute, apparently had no such qualms, or if he did, he didn’t show it. She glanced at their images on the huge view screens that surrounded the square. Her own face looked grim and determined; Derek’s face didn’t show anything at all, his expression blank, his sallow skin pale under hair so black it shone nearly blue in the harsh sunlight. Sometimes the tributes from the same district teamed up for as long as they could. Felicia looked at Derek and knew she’d find no help there. She was on her own.
“You can do it, Lici! You can win!” Tovah’s voice rang out, echoed from the buildings, from the view screens, the speakers that surrounded them. Felicia blinked back sudden tears and searched the fourteen-year-olds for her sister. There, struggling to run past a white-uniformed guard, her hair, as red as Felicia’s but curly like their mother’s, flying free of the band that had held it back only a few minutes before. “Felicia! You can win!”
The tears fell free but Felicia laughed. “Not on my own after all,” she whispered.
The sound of birdsong, faint at first, a single song protesting the presence of the night. Felicia smiles. Maybe protesting the existence of the arena itself, with its unnatural cycles and invisible walls, trapping the birds as surely as they do the boys and girls penned here to die. Another bird joins its sister and Felicia uncurls, cautiously stands, slowly, so no one who might lurk outside will see the movement. She stretches her muscles and creeps toward the opening.
Outside, she can make out the suggestion of color as the light increases. Green grass and leaves. Gray-brown dirt with streaks of tan. Palest pink in the sky over the trees. Crouching close to the ground, below the eye level of the others who remain, Felicia waits. Claudius Templesmith claimed the Gamemakers would give her something she needs to survive, to live.
She still isn’t sure she wants to live, after what she has seen, after watching the Gamemakers tug the others around like puppets on strings, knowing they tugged just as efficiently on her own invisible strings. She’s beginning to suspect that it would be no different if she won, just a puppet for the Capitol to play with. But Tovah’s voice still rings in her head. She has to try, if only to save Tovah from disappointment.
“Another entertaining and fulfilling Feast, brought to you by Seneca Crane and his merry little band of Gamemakers.” Johanna stops before she says anything against Snow, too, knowing that what she says here will get back to him eventually. She and the president have an agreement, however informal: so long as she toes the line in public, she can say what she likes in private. Given the cameras and listening devices riddling the Games complex, though, he might not consider this “private.”
Johanna stands, seeing again the bloodbath disguised as a Feast during her own Games, never mind that she was the one who caused all that blood to spill. “I’m going home,” she announces. Her apartment isn’t far, she can walk it in ten minutes. Finnick shoots her a sympathetic look and returns to his phone call.
“Good riddance.” Johanna glares at Enobaria, sitting next to Brutus on a couch to the left of the TV; the woman with the pointy teeth doesn’t bother to look Johanna’s way as she tosses her snark.
“Shut the fuck up. Why are you even here, Bari?” At least Johanna has the excuse that she was a mentor for a few hours. She smiles innocently when the much larger Enobaria turns to glare at her over her shoulder. Sure, Enobaria could probably break her in half without even working up a sweat, but only if Johanna lets her. She keeps smiling at the victor from 2, but allows the dark, razor-sharp edges to show through. Never one to back down from a challenge, Enobaria stands.
“I’m here because I want to be, Seven.” Johanna raises one eyebrow at that. Not even worth a name, am I? “What’s your excuse?”
“Well, of course you are, Two. You guys have always been Daddy’s little favorites, haven’t you?” Enobaria actually growls as she smiles widely and takes a step toward Johanna.
“Settle down, Bari,” Brutus says mildly, but Finnick goes a step further. He tosses the phone down on the coffee table and unfolds himself from his chair.
With a glance at Enobaria, he says, “I need some air.” Walking toward Johanna, Finnick grabs her arm on the way past, pulling her along with him.
“What the fuck, Odair?” He doesn’t stop, doesn’t even slow down and as soon as they’re in the hallway heading toward the elevators, she digs in, not letting him drag her any farther. He stops and turns around to face her and he is not the man she has known for the last four years.
“Not in here,” he says and turns, heading again for the elevator, punching the call button like it’s somebody’s face when he gets there and she realizes he’s angry. That’s why he doesn’t look like himself. He dropped the mask. The doors open and he steps through, then, holding the doors open with both hands, he pops his head out again. “Are you coming, Jo?”
She shrugs. “Why the hell not?”
The Abyss never sleeps. At all hours of the day or night, the club is crowded with people hiding from their lives behind the thumping bass, the grinding sound, the subtly blinding lights. And the best part is that it’s even closer to the Games complex than Johanna’s stylishly furnished, state-provided apartment. She looks over at her tall friend as he flirts with the bartender in exchange for their drinks. Unlike Finnick, all Johanna has to do to keep her apartment is act as tour guide for a bunch of Capitol assholes as they tour past arenas. The hardest part of that is not picking up an axe and using it on them.
She spins her barstool and knocks deliberately into Finnick. “So what’s your deal, Odair? Why are we here?” She scowls when her own question reminds her of the almost-fight with Enobaria. She wanted to smash those pointy teeth in, damn it. Somebody ought to, and it might as well be her. Watching someone else do it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
Finnick looks around the bar as he hands Johanna a drink. With a nod to the bartender, he leans back against the bar and sips at whatever fruity thing is in his glass. Johanna rolls her eyes. Finnick just grins and takes another sip, but then his expression turns serious again.
“I know you hate Snow and the Capitol, not to mention the Games, but could you be less vocal about it?”
She gives him a sharp look over the top of her glass. The bourbon burns a path as it slides down her throat. “Since when did you stop hating them?”
He looks out over the crowd on the dance floor. “Never said I did, Jo.” He pitches his voice low, but aimed as he is straight at her, she can hear him perfectly well. She doubts anyone else could, even if they sat right next to her. He takes another slow sip of his drink.
“What’s going on, Finnick?”
“You ever think about turning all that hate into something a little more… useful?” He looks at her, then, and there’s a light in his green eyes that she hasn’t seen there before. Something stirs inside her that she thought died with her family in a man-made inferno: hope.
“What d’you have in mind?”
Wednesday, October 24, the 3rd year after the Liberation
“Martin?” Annie looks down at the top of her son’s bronze head as they walk hand-in-hand from the house to the beach.
“Why don’t you ever talk about Papa?” She stumbles, catches herself, hopes he doesn’t notice.
“Because I miss him so much.” Her voice is steady and that surprises her.
“Rhys said he died a hero.” Little Martin looks up at her with Finnick’s eyes. “What’s a hero?”
“Yeah, babe, I’d like to hear your answer to this one, too.” Annie glances over her shoulder at the bronze-haired man following behind. He smirks at her. “What’s a hero, Annie?” She waves him away and turns back to her son.
“What made Papa a hero, Mama?”
“Love, baby. Love for his family, for his friends.” She glances over her shoulder, but Finnick isn’t there. He never stays. “Because he loved us, he did things he didn’t want to do, things he felt he had to do to keep us safe.” And it killed him, but she doesn’t add that.
“Love didn’t kill me. A bunch of mutts did that.” Annie doesn’t respond and Finnick goes away again.
A few minutes later, Annie sits on the beach, watching over little Martin as he plays in the sand, calling him back when he starts to drift too far away. Annie has her arms wrapped around her bent legs and rests her cheek on her knees, so her view of her son is sideways as he plays. The day is sunny and warm, not hot, but the breeze is cool, promising a storm later and with it a drop in temperature.
The breeze lifts a tendril of her hair and it feels like fingers on her neck and shoulders, dancing along the neckline of her shirt. “He’s getting big,” Finnick says, sitting on the beach to her left. He kisses the top of her spine, a butterfly’s touch. Annie smiles.
“He looks more like you every day,” she tells him. Finnick leans back on his hands and stretches his bare legs and feet out in front of him.
“You know my sister’s standing behind you, right?”
“I know. She worries about me.”
“Annie?” Just from the way Shandra says her name, she knows she’s biting her tongue to stop herself from asking who Annie is talking to.
Rather than answering Shandra, Annie whispers, “I miss you, Finnick.”
“I know, baby. I’m sorry.”
Shandra drops down in the sand to Annie’s right and Annie calls to Martin, “Not so far, Martin.”
“But Mama…!” The little bronze-haired boy points down the beach, closer to the water.
“I said no, sweetheart.” He pouts, but goes back to looking at bugs and shells and bubbles in the sand.
“I bet you were the same way at his age,” Finnick observes, “always running after the next shiny thing.” Annie ducks her head and smiles, forgets for a moment that Shandra is there.
“No, he’s like you. Stubborn.”
“Annie?” Shandra looks over at her and Annie realizes Finnick’s sister asked her a question. To her other side, Finnick grins.
“I’m going to get you in trouble.” He sounds smug. Annie sighs.
“I’m sorry, Shandra. What did you say?”
“I’m going to take the skiff into the mainland. Do you and Martin want to come with me?”
Annie wraps her arms tighter around her legs. Finnick kisses her shoulder. “You should go, love.”
To her other side, Shandra bumps her shoulder into Annie’s. “You should come with me, Annie. You haven’t been off this island in at least two weeks.”
Annie watches Martin chase after a curious plover, hopping frantically away from the little boy. “Let the poor thing be, Martin.” Finnick shoulder bumps her.
“Fine. I’ll go. We’ll go.” Annie looks down at her bare feet, toes dug into the sand. “I should probably wear shoes…”
Shandra grins, so like her little brother that Annie feels her heart break all over again. “You’re a hero of the war, you know. I doubt any of the shop keepers will turn you away, even with bare feet.” Annie can’t suppress a shudder, but Shandra doesn’t notice. She pushes up from the sand. “I’ll get the skiff ready. You get the boy ready. We’ll make a day of it.”
“Is Rhys coming with us?” Martin adores his cousin, just turned sixteen a week ago.
Walking backwards, Shandra grins again. “Sort of. He has a girlfriend, so he’ll no doubt disappear as soon as we tie off.” Then she turns and runs toward the pier.
“Are you coming with us?” Annie asks as she rolls to her feet and heads toward Martin. Finnick doesn’t move.
“Annie?” She stops and turns back toward him. “You know I’m not really here, right?”
“I know.” Annie closes her eyes. “But this helps me get through my days.”
“Mama! Look!” Annie turns to Martin, starts toward him, and when she looks back, Finnick is gone.
“Please come home, Effie. We all miss you terribly.”
Effie tightens her grip on the telephone receiver and leans her forehead against the cool, dry paint of the wall, a neutral beige, nothing so exciting as eggshell. “Trevor, dear, I am home. District Thirteen is my home now.” She wishes she could make him understand, but she doesn’t understand her need to be here herself, so how could she possibly explain it to him?
She looks down at the schedule on her arm and then glances at the clock on her small dresser. She still has a few minutes before she has to go to the dining hall for the midday meal.
“But why, Effie? District Thirteen of all places! It’s so… dull. You belong with us here.”
She lightly bangs her head on the wall. “Because I make a difference here, Trev. And I don’t belong in the Capitol anymore.” I don’t belong anywhere, she thinks, feeling a little sorry for herself.
Life is so different here. When she first arrived, swept up with the group of rebels rescued from the Capitol, she thought she was going to die. No one would talk to her, she didn’t know what was happening or what might become of her. Where was all the color and joy of her home and whoever heard of a daily schedule tattooed to one’s arm?
Katniss complained once about how regimented everything is, before she left for the last time to return to District 12, but Effie thinks of it now as structured, rather than regimented. The people of 13 know the value of a schedule. They still don’t trust Effie here, and she’s sure they never will, but they respect her and usually that’s enough.
She enjoys her work in the hospital, far more than she ever did her work for the Hunger Games. That surprised her, when she first realized it, but now it just seems right. The people working in the hospital were the kindest to her, they helped her recover from what was diagnosed as shock and traumatic stress. When one of the attendants there told her of an opening, Effie jumped at it. She sold herself for the job just as fervently as she had for the Hunger Games, but for a far better reason. It’s a way for her to atone for some of the things she’s done, or allowed to happen out of ignorance.
Her family just brushes things like that off, thinks that it’s okay because everyone did it, but Effie knows first-hand some of what the people in the districts suffered over the years. The starvation, the fear, not knowing who to trust. She only experienced it for a short time, thank goodness, but it puts things in perspective, especially when she thinks of those she knows personally who suffered for most of their lives.
Trevor prattles on about how different things are in the Capitol, how she wouldn’t even recognize it, but all Effie hears is Peeta Mellark, her dear Peeta, begging them to please not take Katniss away from him with whatever it was they did to his brain, and that girl’s screams, the one from District 7 who never admitted defeat no matter what they did to her. Maybe worst of all was that poor girl from District 4 who won the Games the year before Effie became an escort, just rocking back and forth, staring into space, so traumatized she couldn’t function at all. Effie had spent two weeks locked in a cell alongside them, treated by the government of Panem as though she, of all people, were a rebel, simply because of her association with District 12.
It shouldn’t make a difference whether awful things happen to a nameless, faceless stranger or to someone you know, who you can see and hear and touch, but it does. Effie isn’t proud of that, but she is trying to make up for it.
“I’m sorry, Trevor,” she interrupts, “but it’s time for me to go to work. Love you, kiss, kiss.” Suddenly tired, Effie replaces the receiver in its cradle, grateful that she’s allowed the luxury of having a phone at all, and heads out the door to the hospital.
An excerpt from “Broken Promises, an Unofficial History of the Hunger Games” by Peeta Mellark:
Felicia Young, dubbed “Foxface” by Katniss Everdeen before we learned Felicia’s name, was eight days shy of her fifteenth birthday when she was reaped for the 74th Hunger Games. She was chosen as the female tribute for District 5 and she “celebrated” her birthday in the arena, surrounded by twenty-two children she never knew and one, her district partner, who she knew of from school but met the day she was reaped.
Felicia was smart, perhaps smarter than all of us. To this day, I don’t know if it was an accident that she ate the nightlock that ended her life and which ultimately brought the 74th Games to a close. As smart as she was, it doesn’t seem likely.
Johanna doesn’t plan it. One day, she just decides she has had enough. Enough taking crap from her foreman (the man doesn’t know how to properly join two pieces of wood to save his life). Enough living from paycheck to paycheck (like the rest of the remaining victors, she refuses to capitalize on her “war hero” status). Enough of sleeping alone at night (although that’s not the case every night). Enough of being alone, period.
One fine, sunny autumn day, the leaves glowing red and gold and orange, she walks off the job and just keeps going. She doesn’t even stop by her tiny apartment to grab a change of clothes. She just keeps going until she hits the train station. When the clerk asks her “Where to?” she responds, “District Four.” And then blinks, thinks, What the hell? Really? District Four? All that stinking water? At least Twelve has trees. But she rolls with it anyway.
It takes two days for the train to travel all the way from the heart of District 7 to the far southern reaches of District 4 and what used to be Victors’ Island. Johanna heard, a couple of years ago now, that the island became home to the Odair clan after their own homes were targeted by the Capitol in the war. Not that the train actually goes quite that far.
Johanna disembarks in the main city and hires a boat to take her out to the island; she stays down below where she can pretend she’s on dry land – in a violent fucking wind storm – and white-knuckles it the entire way. They drop her off at the dock and even though she’s obviously a stranger, none of the crew even looks at her sideways for her lack of luggage. Johanna grins at that thought. Not everyone carries their baggage where you can see it, boys.
Breathing deeply of the salt air, the setting sun at her back and looking at the long, striped shadow she casts across the weathered wood planks, Johanna thinks that maybe she should have called. Catching a glimpse of the shimmering water, the light catching on the moving surface, she shivers and forces her feet to carry her forward. She wants to close her eyes, to cut off the sight, but she’s pretty sure if she does, she’ll angle off right into the drink, and no one wants that.
About the time she reaches the end of the dock and the steps down to the sand, she hears a door bang closed up the beach. A woman with shoulder-length brown hair, lit deep red and orange by the sun, walks from the main house down the sand toward her, a small child in one arm, his legs around her waist. The kid’s hair blazes like the sun itself and Johanna’s breath catches in her chest. At the sight of Finnick’s son, she stops abruptly and drops, sits hard on the top step, unable to move forward.
When Annie reaches the pier, she smiles up at her. “Johanna?” A shadow crosses Annie’s face and her smile slips a little. “Are you really here?” Johanna has the feeling the question isn’t rhetorical.
“I should have called.”
“Mama, who is she?” The boy, bronze-haired and green-eyed, clings to Annie’s neck.
“He looks just like him.” Johanna misses her friend so hard she almost chokes on it. She angrily dashes the tears from her eyes.
“I know.” Annie looks at the boy. “Martin, this is Johanna Mason. She was your father’s best friend.”
Martin Odair frowns. “You knew my papa?”
“Yeah, kiddo, I knew him.” And still she sits at the top of the stairs.
“Why are you still up there? Aren’t you coming home with us?”
“Am I?” Johanna asks Annie, half afraid of the answer. She’s lost so many of her friends and not all of them to the Capitol or the war.
“Of course you are, Jo. You’re our friend.” Annie looks to her other side, away from the boy for half a second and then back to Johanna before she continues. “You’ll always have a home with us. That’s what family’s for.”
Johanna raises one eyebrow as she stands. “Family?”
“Family,” Annie says firmly. “We’re victors, Johanna. We’ve been through things that no one else can understand. No one can take that from us.”
Johanna grins as a weight seems to drop from her shoulders into the water below. She takes the steps down two at a time. “Hell, we can’t even give it away.”