It's getting closer and closer to noon the longer I stand outside, foolishly thinking that if I stay here, I won't have to face the cameras or my prep team. I know that's impossible. I'm going to have to go back to my house soon whether I want to or not. I have to take a shower before I allow Quinlan, Ambrose, and Lamia to see me. After that it's only going to get worse. I'm going to have to great Katniss and I'm going to have to show the world how much I love her, even when I know she doesn't and never will love me as much as I have loved her. I know it's selfish of me to want to stay cold towards her even on this tour when I can't do that at all, but I feel as though I have a right to be that way after all that has happened.
Letting out a breath, I stick my hands in my pockets and hurry across the small expanse of land between my house and Haymitch's. I open the door and slam it shut, leaning against the wood before I sink down and put my head in my hands. This is slightly more difficult than it would have been only a few months before since I now have a fake leg. I lost part of my calf in the arena, but that was because Katniss was trying to save my life. I'd like to think that she has a small amount of love for me because of that, but, again, that's a foolish thought.
Still wanting to postpone getting in the shower, even though I only have about an hour before my prep team arrives, I head upstairs to my second kitchen and decorate some cookies. My hands are covered in frosting my the time I'm finished and I smile sardonically as I realize I've been doing a lot of procrastinating today. It's unlike me. Then again much of what I've been doing lately is unlike me.
My shower is short. I only take enough time to wash the frosting off my arms, scrub my hair with some shampoo, and give my body a thorough wash before I shut off the water and towel myself off. I know it's pointless to get dressed now. In only a few moments, my prep team will be here and they'll be telling me to take off my clothes again so they can prepare me for the next few weeks.
As I stand in the bathroom, I observe myself in the mirror, trying to find any differences between the Peeta that went into the arena and the Peeta that came out. When I was first taken out of the arena, it was easy to spot these differences. My face was gaunt and hollow. I looked ill. I was too thin. For weeks after the Games finished, I looked as though I were on the edge of death, but as time went on, the color returned to my cheeks, I regained the weight I had lost, and I began to look like my old self again, even though I didn't feel as though I could ever be the same boy that went into the arena.
Every time this thought crosses my mind, I remember how I promised myself that I would not allow the Capitol's twisted Games to change me, but they did. I didn't turn into a monster as I'd feared. I didn't become a person that would enjoy watching children kill one another. In fact, in the arena, I killed no one, at least no on purpose. I did inadvertently kill a girl that Katniss and I called Foxface, but I kept my promise to myself and I didn't kill anyone, knowing that they were going to die by my hand. Still, I was changed. I know now it was inevitable. No one can go through the arena without being changed. The arena is a nightmare come to life and no one can't not be changed by something as horrifying as that.
I don't hear my front door burst open, so I don't know my prep team has arrived, until they shove their way into my room and great me with a series of hugs and kisses on the cheek. I find it unusual that they would have grown so attached to me as to feel as though they had to greet me so warmly after we haven't seen one another in months, but I suppose that the only reason they're so glad to have me around is because I've made them famous in the Capitol, if only slightly. Fame in the Capitol is hard to attain and seeing as I won the 74th Hunger Games along with Katniss, I've given them that. It only occurs to me now that the other prep teams might have gotten just as attached to their tributes, even though they were only with them for a few hours whereas, I've been with Quinlan, Ambrose, and Lamia for far longer than that.
They instantly go to work, making me look far more attractive than I actually am. I don't protest, I just let them do as Portia has instructed them to. I trust her far more than I trust them. In fact, I like her more than them too. She's not as ridiculous as they are. She has aqua hair and a bit of unusual eyeliner as well as lipstick, but she doesn't look as strange as these three do. Ambrose still has his cottoncandy hair and bubblegum lips. His eyelashes still match his lips and he's just as hairless now as he was back in the Capitol before the Games. The only thing that has changed is his skin is no longer green, but a sky blue. He looks like some sort of sea creature this way. Lamia is unchanged as is Quinlan. Apparently Ambrose is the only one who felt the need to look differently now than he did the last time I saw him.
As they work on me, they talk about the Victory Tour and how the Capitol is all in a tizzy – they actually do use that word – that Katniss and I are going to be returning there at the end of the tour. Once that topic has been worn down to the bone, they move on to this year's Games. This is the seventy-fifth year of the Hunger Games and as such they're being celebrated by a Quarter Quell, a glorified version of the Games. They're said to be twice as horrible as the other Games. I don't know how, but from what I've heard this is true. During the last Quell, the year that Haymitch won, twice as many tributes had to be sent into the arena. Instead of having a one in twenty-four chance of winning, you only had a one in forty-seven chance. I'm glad that isn't what's going to be happening this year. Apparently each Quell has a different kind of horror. I'm going to have to mentor the boy tribute that's placed in the arena this year and I know that whatever is going to happen could be twice as bad as what Haymitch had to endure. Speaking of which, he's probably going to get a lot of attention this year because of that. Good thing Katniss and I will be mentoring. He's going to be dead drunk every day no matter what we tell him to do.
There isn't much for them to talk about after the topic of the Quarter Quell has been exhausted as well. After that I'm put in a white button up shirt, a pair of black pants, and sent downstairs. There I find Portia and my face breaks into a smile. Even though the Games ended months ago, I haven't lost contact with her. This is due to the fact that all victors of the Games are supposed to have a skill or talent that they take up after the Games. We discussed about what mine could be for a long time, but it didn't take too long for us to settle on painting and when I found that I enjoyed doing that as much as baking and decorating cakes, I immediately began working on it as much as I would need to before the camera crews arrived before the Victory Tour. The only problem was the fact that all of my paintings were of the Games. There are a few that couldn't be distinguished that way and those are the ones that are now dispersed about the living room for when the reports arrive.
"Hello Peeta," Portia says as I start towards her. She's smiling just as widely as I am, which is saying something, considering how often she shows emotion, meaning almost never.
"Hello Portia," I say in response.
My hands are behind my back as I roam the living room, examining the pieces she's chosen to show the reporters. They're not my best works, but they don't give any hint that I'm haunted by what happened to me in the Games. There's one of the stream where I buried myself in mud, there's the one of Katniss in her fiery interview dress, another depicts her hunting through the forest we were in during the Games. Of course, this could be any forest and no doubt the entire country knows she hunts illegally anyway, but they're not going to say anything against her now that she's a victor. Frankly now she can do whatever she wants and so can I.
"I think you chose the right ones to show," I tell her as I examine one I painted of the flowers I gave Katniss before she told me she hadn't ever truly loved me. I'll never understand why I decided to paint this, but I suppose it's easier for me to draw it and relive it this way than think about it too much.
"I couldn't use any of the other ones," she responds, coming up behind me to stare at the picture as well. She knows where the inspiration for this painting came from, but she doesn't say anything. She knows it will only break my heart all over again.
We don't have time to say much else because only moments later, the camera crew is fighting it's way into my house. I stagger back a little, surprised by their intrusion. Portia grabs my arm to keep me from falling into one of my paintings and knocking it over. After I've regained my composure, I spend the next thirty minutes, reading from notecards about my paintings, while they film them; showing off the paintings, trying to describe where I got the inspiration for each one without giving it away completely. The last thing I want is for Panem to know that all of these paintings are a result of the Games. The Games aren't supposed to affect anyone this deeply, even though they always do. To the Capitol, we should be honored to be victors and be happy for the rest of our lives that we were lucky enough to compete in their horrid Games. No one ever is, I'm sure, but I give them what they want. What else can I do?
Unfortunately, my family showed up for the affair and my mother, father, and brothers are being interviewed, while I stand off to the side, arms crossed, waiting for the cue from Portia that I am allowed to leave the house and begin my Tour, starting with the act that I am still in love with Katniss, which I am, it's just that now I know she isn't in love with me.
It's odd to watch my mother smile this much and for this long. As a rule, my mother doesn't smile. She's not even nice or pleasant half the time, so seeing her in this setting is odd. In fact, it's odd to see everyone in my family smiling. Typically, we don't smile. My father is smiling, my older brothers are smiling. I don't have to ask myself what's going on to understand the reason behind their smiles. They're all fake, just as mine are, and they're all for the cameras.
All too soon, the crew is leaving, heading outside to film my reunion with Katniss. I want to, but I don't protest when Portia helps me into a white tweed jacket. She gives me a pair of warm blue gloves. I step into a pair of matching boots before I step outside my door. It's snowing and within seconds my hair is coated in a fine layer of the stuff. I glance to my left and see Katniss on her front porch. For a second we stare at one another, then she starts towards me, walking at first, before breaking into a run. When she leaps into my arms, I catch her and try to spin her, but my artificial leg won't allow me too and before I know it we're lying in the snow, kissing one another desperately. It hurts my heart, but I have to do it and I don't stop until she pulls away and helps me to my feet. She tucks her hand into the crook of my arm and I place my hand over hers before leading her in the direction of the train station.
I hardly do anything the rest of the day. We get on the train, say goodbye to everyone we'll be leaving behind in District 12 for the next few weeks, then head to the dining room to have a lavish dinner before being sent off to bed.
The minute I enter my compartment, I take off my clothes and fold them on the dresser. I pull out a pair of pajama pants, but nothing else. I don't feel like wearing a shirt today and why should I have to? It's not as though anyone is going to see me. I'm far too content and at peace in my compartment to do so. Even if someone knocked on the door right now, telling me that the world was ending, I'm not sure I'd answer it. I'd rather not deal with another disaster when so many have only barely been avoided recently.