There is no way to tell the time without looking at the clock on my bedside table. It keeps track of the time far better than I ever could, but I refuse to look at it. Doing so would mean that I have to acknowledge what day it is and really that's the last thing I want to do, but I know I'm going to have to eventually. I'm not more eager than anyone else to be reminded that I was in the Hunger Games, but unfortunately the Capitol won't allow that. They'll never let me forget. Not this year, not next year. Never again. I'll always be reminded of the horrors I experienced in the arena. I'll also be reminded of all the romantic moments between Katniss and I that I thought were real. But they weren't. To her they were just a strategy. To me they were so much more.
Ever since I was very young, I've been in love with Katniss. Which still baffles me seeing as I didn't really know her until we were thrown into the arena together. I vowed to protect her from the beginning. The moment my name was called during the reaping, I promised I would not let her die, that I would do everything in my power to make sure she was the one that would go home. I knew it would cost me my life, but I didn't care. I would do anything to keep her alive. Even now that I know she never truly loved me, I would still try to keep her alive even if I had to die to do so, but I know I won't have to. For the rest of our lives, we don't have to worry about dying. We only have to worry about the tributes we'll be mentoring.
All of this runs through my head as I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, willing the sun not to rise, but it does and when I glance towards the window, I can see it making the snow covered ground sparkle. I wonder if whatever Portia's planning to dress me in is going to sparkle too. I doubt it. She and Cinna tend not to put us in sparkling outfits. The ones we wore for the opening ceremonies at the Hunger Games were on fire. It didn't hurt us, of course, Portia and Cinna wouldn't allow that to happen. Instead, it actually looked lovely. Particularly on Katniss, but she looks beautiful in anything. She could wear a paper bag and I'd still think she was gorgeous.
Despite the fact that I could look at the clock on my nightstand to check the time, I judge by the sun's placement in the sky it's no later than eight or nine in the morning. If I still lived at the bakery in the merchant's section of District 12, I would have been up two hours ago, preparing the place for the day's customers. I'd be putting bread in the oven, decorating cakes to put up in the window, or kneading some dough to prepare it for the oven. My arms from my hands to my elbows would be covered in flour. Using that much flour is necessary to make bread right. Otherwise it sticks to the table and you can get dough and yeast all over. If I'd ever done that my mother would have been furious. She'd have beaten me without a second thought.
In all actuality, I don't have to bake or decorate anything anymore, but I do anyway. I took some of my things from the bakery, which my mother didn't like, and brought them back to my house in Victor's Village. It's a lot bigger than where I grew up. I have a lot more room to do stuff, which is why I've dedicated a whole room to my baking. Some generous people from the Capitol installed extra ovens and the like in another room that wasn't the kitchen. They even tiled the floor. I was surprised that this happened when I told Portia that I wanted to continue doing what I had been before the Games began. I also acquired a new skill, one that I'd never really known I had, which is the ability to paint pictures and actually make them look realistic.
Every victor is supposed to have a talent that they acquire after the Games. I didn't know what to do, but when Portia suggested I try painting, since I did such a good job of camouflaging myself in the arena. She even sent me a box full of every color imaginable and then some. I was also given several canvases to start on. When I finished those as well as the paints, I found out that there was, in fact a place in District 12 where I could buy such things, which I obviously did. I bought about twenty more canvases and as many paints as I could carry. I returned the next day with a basket to fill up with even more paints. I'm not entirely sure, but I think the shop owner doesn't have many customers. He knows me by name because I was in the Games, but he also enjoys making conversation with me. He's elderly and often repeats things, but I don't mind. He's a pleasant person and I enjoy visiting him. The more I've been painting, the more I visit him. Sometimes I just go for fun and buy paints that I don't really need. I have so much money now that I don't have to worry about wasting it.
However, like with everything wonderful, there is a catch. No matter how hard I've tried not to, the only thing I've been able to paint are what happened in the Games. At first, I didn't understand why, but then as I began to paint the things that I saw in my nightmares night after night, I knew that's what I'd been drawing my inspiration from all along. I tried painting other things. I tried painting Katniss hunting in the woods, but what came out was her lying in a pool of blood after she came back from the feast with the medicine that saved my life. I'd asked her not to go because I was afraid she wouldn't return and when I saw her lying there, I was scared half to death. Simply seeing that moment come to live on the canvas was almost enough to make me tremble and pray that she was still alive. Of course, I knew she was, I was just afraid that someday I was going to wake up in that cave and find she had died.
I have managed to paint a few beautiful things: Katniss in the dress she wore during her interview, Katniss in the outfit we wore for the opening ceremonies, Katniss in another interview dress. The catch there is that they are still all related to the Games and as hard as I try I cannot draw or paint anything else.
Tired of thinking about the Games and how my life has been so severely altered by them, I push myself up, rub the sleep from my eyes and get dressed in the clothes I only wear when I bake. After that I head to the second kitchen and spend the next two hours baking a loaf of bread for Haymitch that I will give to him when I go over to his house to remind him that he can't spend this day drunk. Frankly, I'd like to spend a day drunk too. I've never been drink before, but if it helps Haymitch to stop thinking about the Games as well as keep him sane and sober enough to be as smart as he is, maybe it would help me keep my nightmares at bay too. However, I really doubt this. Whenever I wake him up, he's holding a knife and it takes him a moment to realize that he's out of the arena and there isn't really anything that can her him now. Except himself.
When I finish kneading the dough, getting it into the shape I want it before I stick it in the already heated oven. Normally, I'm good about watching the time, so I know when to take the bread out of the oven, but recently there's been so much on my mind that I find it had to focus on anything else. Everything else feels so meaningless now. All that I can think about is the Games. What happened before, during, and after, and how everything was changed forever because of them. To prevent the bread from being burned, I set a timer and the moment I sit down in the chair I've placed in front of the table where I work on decorating cakes, cookies, and other such pastries and sweets, I'm looking out the window, lost in my thoughts.
I can see that there are small flakes of snow falling from the sky, carpeting the ground in a fresh later of shining white. I wonder that if there were a lake or even a pond somewhere within the confines of District 12, we'd be allowed to go ice-skating. I only know about this sport because my teacher told me about it one year in school. I don't think we were supposed to know about it because the next day when I asked another question about the subject, my teacher acted as though she didn't know what I was talking about. I don't know what reasons the authorities could possibly have for not wanting us to know about ancient winter sports, but my assumption was that it would have encouraged people to try to find a frozen body of water. Even though the Peacekeepers in District 12 aren't very particular about enforcing the laws, there are some they can't ignore and the possibility of half the district going to look or a lake in the woods is something I know they won't allow.
The thought of ice-skating is still on my mind when a figure catches my eye. For a moment, I can't tell who it is, but when she reaches the door of Haymitch's house and lets herself in, I know it must be Katniss. Obviously, she had the same idea I did: to go over to Haymitch's house and rouse him before the camera crews arrive to film the beginning of our victory tour. Even though the bread is done, I take my time taking it out of the oven and wrapping it in a piece of cloth. I want to postpone going over to his house for as long as I can. I know I won't be able to go over before Katniss leaves. The bread won't be warm anymore by then, but I'm going to take my time.
Ever since I found out that every romantic moment between Katniss and I was as fake to her as it was real to me, I have spoken with her as little as possible. I avoid being around her as much as I possibly can, but that's going to be hard to do during the victory tour where we will again have to assume the romance we played out in the arena. In all actuality, I would like to be able to speak with her again, but I don't know if I could handle that currently, knowing what I do. I still love her. Of this I have no doubt, but knowing that she does not and never has loved me, crushes me every time I see her or hear her voice. I keep wondering how she feels about our separation. Maybe she's glad we're no longer speaking. I doubt she feels the same way I do.
The bread that was burning my fingers when I pulled I out of the oven is beginning to cool and I know I can't procrastinate my trip to Haymitch's any longer. I let out a sigh that is mix of exasperation and sadness. I'm mostly frustrated with myself for being so foolish as to believe that someone as wonderful as Katniss could ever love someone as damaged as me. As for the sadness, that's directed at this entire situation. At this point, I don't think it's something I can avoid feeling because it's an emotion that's truly undeniable.
Holding the bread against my chest in an attempt to try to keep it warm on the short trek to Haymitch's house, I hurry out into the cold, closing the door behind me and dashing to his door. Like Katniss, I let myself into the house and grit my teeth as the horrid odor that permeates this house finds its way into my nostrils. As I head towards the kitchen, I hear voices. The one that sticks out, the only words I hear are the ones that come out of Katniss's lips.
"…you should have asked Peeta."
"Asked me what?" I say, stepping into the kitchen and setting the loaf of bread on the table that's covered in water. I keep my eyes away from Katniss and firmly locked on Haymitch. I know I'll have to look at her eventually, I'm not that rude, but I'm rude enough that I want to avoid that moment for as long as I possibly can.
Once the bread is on the table, I hold out my hand for Haymitch's knife. I'm surprised he still has it, but then I realize that Katniss must have forgotten to take it away from him, since that's what he sleeps with. As he passes the blade over, he responds with, "Asked you to wake me up without giving pneumonia."
When he takes off his shirt, revealing an undershirt that is just as disgusting as the outer one, I avert my eyes. It's not because I want to give him privacy. He hardly needs that, but because I saw him without a shirt once and it's not a thing I'd like to see again. Still, as I dip the knife in his liquor to clean it before wiping it on my shirt, drying the blade, I can't stop myself from smiling before I begin to slice the bread. Even though I've been damaged by Katniss, I allow Haymitch to make me smile. Nothing else has the ability to do that anymore and, despite everything, I don't want those muscles to stop working from not being used, so I smile whenever he says something even slightly complimentary or funny.
It's only after I give Haymitch the first piece that I remember Katniss is also in the room. I take a deep breath and close my eyes to steady myself before I look up at her, sitting on the window sill. Even though I try not to let it be when I ask her the first question I have in weeks, I can't stop the tone of pleading from filling my voice: "Would you like a piece?"
"No, I ate the hob," she says. "But thank you."
The formality in her voice shakes me and saddens me, reminding me that she can't care about what as happened as much as I do. Why else would she sound so formal where I sound so desperate? There really is no explanation except this one. I like to think there is one, but I know there's not. The way we've been treating each other for the past several months proves this beyond a doubt, which is why my voice is so stiff when I reply with, "You're welcome."
As per usual, Haymitch uses his gift of sarcasm to say, "Brr. You two have a lot of warming up to do before showtime."
He throws his shirt into the mess that is his house without further explanation, but we don't really need one because we know he's right. The audience is going to wonder what happened if we look like we've fallen out of love with one another. Still, I don't look at Katniss as she says, "Take a bath, Haymitch," before jumping out of the window and heading back towards her home.
"You know, you really shouldn't be so upset with her for what she did," Haymitch says.
I jump, but I don't respond because I know he's right, even though he doesn't want me to be. Besides, I'm still staring at the window Katniss disappeared out of. I don't know why I'm so fixated on this spot. I don't want her to come back. That'll only make the pain in my chest that much more severe and I'm not sure I can endure much more of that. I know I'm going to have to learn to pretty soon because if I don't then the victory tour will be confusing to all of Panem. They're expecting us to be just happy together now as we were then and I'm just praying I can pull this off. If I don't, I don't know what's going to happen. I know I shouldn't be too concerned, but it's hard for me not to be when I see the black car parked in front of Katniss's house.