We sit there for hours upon hours waiting for Katniss to return. My anxiety grows with each passing minute. Haymitch tries to distract me with a game of chess, but it’s obvious it’s not working after I lose four times in a row. However, I don’t know what else to do. It isn’t until night has set upon the world that she finally does come home. Everyone, including the Peacekeepers – whom Mrs. Everdeen has been keeping entertained all this time – look up, but I can’t see her. I only know she’s there because I hear her voice.
“Here she is,” Mrs. Everdeen says brightly, “just in time for dinner.” Everyone in the room knows that she’s extremely late for dinner, but no one comments on it. Not even the Peacekeepers who have every reason in the world to.
“Can I help you with something?” I hear her say, obviously addressing the Peacekeepers.
“Head Peacekeeper Thread sent us with a message for you,” one of them says, a woman.
“They’ve been waiting for hours,” her mother adds.
And every moment they’ve been here has been nerve wracking for the rest of us. I kept wondering what they would do if she didn’t return. In fact, a part of me was starting to hope she wouldn’t. Perhaps it would have been safer for her to stay out in the woods. More than once I’d thought she might have run off with Gale and I was half-praying for that. But then I remembered the story she told me about the boy and the girl that she saw running from the Capitol, how the boy was speared and the girl turned into an Avox, and now I’m glad that I was wrong.
“Must be an important message,” she says.
“May we ask where you’ve been Miss Everdeen?” the woman asks.
“Easier to ask where I haven’t been,” she responds, sounding exasperated. She crosses into my line of view then and as she throws her bag down before she sits, I can see that, though she’s desperately trying to hide it, she’s hurt. Her lips are pressed into a thin line that I don’t think she even notices she’s done and when she moves, she is limping. It’s slight and only someone who has spent a great deal of time with her would notice this. I turn away before she turns to look at me. For the first time all evening, I notice Prim is standing next to us. I blame the fact that I was so absorbed in mine and Haymitch’s game of chess that I didn’t notice her earlier, but now that I do, her stiffness, the anxiety in her posture, is hard to ignore.
“So where haven’t you been?” Haymitch asks, sounding bored.
“Well, I haven’t been talking to the Goat Man about getting Prim’s goat pregnant, because someone gave me completely inaccurate information as to where he lives,” she responds. Though the frustration is still evident in her voice, it’s clear to all of us that it’s only an act. In fact, the way we’re all behaving is completely an act. Our calmness, Haymitch’s bored tone. I’m already planning on how I’m going to respond to all of this when it’s my turn to speak. It’s going to be odd if I don’t. I’m supposed to be her fiancé.
“No, I didn’t,” says Prim. “I told you exactly.”
“You said he lives by the west entrance to the mine,” Katniss says.
“The east entrance,” Prim responds, trying to correct her.
“You distinctly said the west because, then I said, ‘Next to the slag heap?’ and you said, ‘Yeah’”, says Katniss.
The slag heap is next to the east entrance,” says Prim, annoyance filling her tone.
“No,” Katniss responds. “When did you say that?”
“Last night,” Haymitch adds.
“It was definitely the east,” I say. I look at Haymitch and we both laugh. I’m not entirely sure if it’s because of how ridiculously upset Katniss looks or if because we were both in our houses last night and never heard this conversation to begin with. When I notice her glaring at me, I try to calm myself as I add, “I’m sorry, but it’s what I’ve been saying. You don’t listen when people talk to you.”
“Bet people told you he didn’t live there today and you didn’t listen again,” agrees Haymitch.
“Shut up, Haymitch,” she says, meaning he’s right.
We start laughing again and Prim smiles. I wonder if she knows that we’re acting this way to defuse the tension in the room. She’s young, but she’s not stupid. However, something tells me, she doesn’t know and that’s why she’s been so emotionless until now. She thought we were all being serious and didn’t understand how we could possibly be having so much fun when there were Peacekeepers in her house, who had come for her sister.
“Fine. Somebody else can arrange to get the stupid goat knocked up,” Katniss says, laughing as well. I glance at Prim as her older sister turns her attention to the Peacekeepers. I can see her point of view. If a pair of Peacekeepers came for one of my brothers and I didn’t understand why everyone was acting as though this was no big deal, I’d be frightened too. Suddenly, I feel guilty. Why would I act this way when, clearly, Mrs. Everdeen and Prim don’t understand our way of handling things? They’re panicking enough as it is and to have us act as though this all just one big joke is probably weighing on them far more than the Peacekeeper’s visit is. We’ve all seen what can happen if you set a Peacekeeper off. You’ll be dragged to the Justice Building, sentenced, and then whipped or put in the stockades, sometimes even hanged. From the look on the face of the woman as she asks Katniss what is in her bag, I can tell that she is one of the people who would sentence her without a second thought. She wouldn’t even feel badly. She knows who and what Katniss is. In fact, she’s probably trying to find an excuse to do so. My face sobers completely and I move my eyes back to Prim once more before I push myself up and hobble into the kitchen to examine the contents of Katniss’ bag with the Peacekeepers.
“Ooh, peppermints,” I say, spying a bag of candy. I open the bag and put one of the sweets in my mouth.
“They’re mine,” she says, trying to grab the bag, but I toss it to Haymitch to stuffs a fistful in his mouth. I almost feel badly about this, but when I see him toss it to Prim, who is giggling, I allow myself to smile and join fully in the fun at last. “None of you deserves candy!” Katniss yells.
“What, because we’re right?” I say. I wrap my arms around her from behind. When she gives a small yelp of pain, I almost pull back, until I remember the Peacekeepers are still there. Katniss does a good job of sounding indignant instead of in pain. “Okay, Prim said west. I distinctly heard west. And we’re all idiots. How’s that?” I add.
“Better,” she says as I kiss her. She glances back towards the Peacekeepers whose presence has been ignored almost entirely up till now. “You have a message for me?”
“From Head Peacekeeper Thread,” the women reiterates. “He wanted you to know that the fence surrounding District Twelve will now have electricity twenty-four hours a day.”
“Didn’t it already?” she asks, trying to sound oblivious.
“He thought you might be interested in passing this information on to your cousin,” the woman responds.
“Thank you. I’ll tell him,” Katniss says. “I’m sure we’ll all sleep a little more soundly now that security has addressed that lapse.” I hold back a wince. This is exactly the kind of comment that could get us in trouble, but I know why she says it. The satisfaction is too hard to ignore in this situation.
Once the door closes behind them, Katniss slumps and my concern for her grows. I wasn’t wrong when thinking that she is injured. My expression filling with worry, I ask, gripping her shoulders in an attempt to keep her from falling, “What is it?”
“Oh, I banged up my left foot,” she says as though this is nothing. “The heel. And my tailbone’s hand a bad day too.” I help her over to one of the rocking chairs. She gingerly lowers herself onto the cushion beneath her. I press my lips into a thin line in an attempt to keep my worry at bay. She doesn’t like people fussing over her and considering how much I love her, this is hard for me to do.
Her mother takes off her boots, asking, “What happened?”
“I slipped and fell,” she says. All of us look at her, not buying it. “On some ice.” For a minute, I wonder why she’s lying to us, but then I realize I should have known all along: there is a very good chance this house is bugged. How the Peacekeepers managed to get in here and do that without us noticing is beyond me. A short while ago, we were talking about running away, not worried about who might hear us, but now we’re all concerned anything we say is being recorded on small devices hidden throughout the house.
“There might be a break,” Katniss’ mother says, her fingers pressing against her daughter’s skin, trying to find out how hurt she is. She checks her other foot and deems it fine. She decides her tailbone is badly bruised. Even though I have a pretty good idea of what caused her injuries, I still can’t help but wonder how she managed to break her foot and bruise her tailbone. Then it occurs to me: she had to jump over the fence. I don’t know how, but it obviously involved falling.
While Mrs. Everdeen and Prim help Katniss, I move into the kitchen and sit at the table, slouching in the chair, my elbows resting on the arms, my prosthetic leg stretched out in front of me. I don’t want to think about what would have happened had she fallen wrong. The fence surrounding District 12 is twenty-feet high at the very least. Falling from that height could be fatal. In retrospect, she’s lucky to have only broken her foot and bruised her tailbone.
I don’t sit at the table for much longer. Mrs. Everdeen gives Katniss some sleeping syrup. Watching her eyes immediately droop as she falls off into oblivion, reminds me when she tricked me into having some in the arena. She did it to save my life, but if she had died, I would never have forgiven myself. Though, I would have died shortly after she did. I was already knocking on death’s door at that point. Still, I offer to take her upstairs. She tries to walk with me at first, but she’s so weak from the medicine that I just end up carrying her. I tuck her in to bed and am about to leave when she catches my hand.
“Don’t go yet,” she says. “Not until I fall asleep.”
To be honest, I’m reluctant to stay with her. My heart hurts enough from the fact that she has chosen Gale over me and I don’t want to give it any more reasons to be in pain. However, I am powerless against this girl and I sit down on the side of the bed, clasping her hand in both of mine. “Almost thought you’d changed your mind today,” I tell her softly. “When you were late for dinner.” I don’t have to elaborate. I know she knows what I mean.
“No, I’d have told you,” she responds, tugging my hand up to lean against. She’s fading faster now and I can tell there’s something else she wants to tell me, but all she manages to get out is one last sentence, “Stay with me.”
I don’t hesitate before I respond, “Always.”
The next several days are very stressful. Particularly for Katniss and myself. Every time there’s a knock at the door when I’m over, she jumps. I hide my fear. It’s something I’ve gotten very good at doing and she doesn’t need to be worried any more than she already is. Instead, we distract ourselves by working on what she calls ‘the family book’. It’s a book full of pictures of plants and their medical uses along with other plants that are edible or ones to look out for. Katniss gives me the information on what the plants look like and then I draw them in the book. She prints the appropriate information around the picture. It takes our full concentration and that’s why we do it. That way we don’t have to wonder what’s going on in the world around us.
One day in the middle of our work, I stop what I am doing and look up, startled by a thought. I blink and look into Katniss’ eyes as I say, “You know, I think this is the first time we’ve ever done anything normal together.”
She whispers, “Yeah,” in agreement. “Nice for a change.” I nod. We go back to work.
Every day I carry her downstairs and she turns on the TV, which sets our teeth on edge. Well, everyone’s but mine. At first, I was just as unnerved as everyone else was, but as time went on and I watched her as she stared at the television, I began to realize she wasn’t watching the reports from the Capitol just for fun, she’s looking for something. I don’t know what it is, but the look in her eyes when one particular broadcast about District 13 comes up is what first gets me thinking this and the day that a similar one pops up again, I know I’m the only one that sees her eyes widen a fraction.
Whatever she’s been looking for she found it.