Breakfast is the most frantic it’s been in days. Effie’s joined us today since she’ll be tutoring us on etiquette.
It’s an important day because, our grand entry and the crowd’s wild enthusiasm aside, we have to give them the promise that we’re strong contenders for the crown of victory. That’s how we get sponsors and that’s the whole aim of the interviews… and maybe letting the families see their kids alive and healthy for the last time, but that doesn’t really concern me much… reminds me of the dream and my parents though…
‘Selene!’ Effie snaps me out of my daydream, ‘Aren’t you finished yet? We can’t waste time! We have a strict schedule to follow!’
I sigh as I pop the last bit of honeyed toast into my mouth before letting her lead me into her own bedroom to practice on my manners.
We sit on a couch and start off, with her asking me inane, silly questions about fashion, certain people we know mutually, districts, food blah, blah, blah.
I try my best to smile and reply in depth to all her questions, trying to add some humour to keep it interesting without hurting her sentiments- proves to be a tightrope walk. But the questions get really stupid after a point and I can’t take it much longer.
‘So how do you feel being one of the tributes for the last hunger games?’ she asks, beaming a 1000 watt smile at me.
‘Oh, you mean being thrown in to my death with Gamemakers who’re intent on killing me off for a bunch of weak little sissies in the Capitol who can’t go day without ten tons of makeup? Yeah, it’s great! Definitely a better change from being trapped and spied on in my own house by a serial poisoner! How’s your day?’
It’s a facepalm moment and I want desperately to punch my teeth in so badly that they can never form a real word again… but maybe I’m overreacting.
Effie’s paper white face tells me I’m not.
‘I’m sorry, Effie.’ I grumble in a low voice, ashamed. ‘It’s just-‘
‘The nightmares.’ She says crisply, refusing to let me finish. ‘I know. It’s okay, we all suffer them.’
‘So, it’s true then?’ she asks after a pause. ‘President Snow really poisoned people?’
‘Yeah, but I don’t think we should spread the word, Finnick Odair’s already taken care of that.’ I reply.
The lesson continues and by noon, Effie’s had me walk in long dresses with high heeled shoes. I’m let off after I trip on one and nearly crash into her cache of wig boxes.
I’m given half an hour to eat before i have to present myself to be coached by my mentors.
I walk into Peeta’s room and find the walls plastered with paintings. There are too many to take in but as I glance past many of them a chill runs down my spine. They’re all scenes from the Games- a small tribute from District 11 dying in a bed of flowers, Cato half carved off by the mutations, and there’s Finnick Odair spearing a lizard thing, and one of an aerial view of District 12- ashes and rot burning together.
‘Why do you have these here?’ I ask still glancing at the walls, ‘Doesn’t it make it harder to sleep with these…things looking down at you?’
A tired smile crosses his face. ‘It helps a bit with the nightmares.’
‘Maybe I should take up painting too, as a precaution.’
He smiles slightly. ‘IF you’re still alive, maybe I’ll teach you.’
‘Look forward to it.’
He sits on the couch and I take the chair opposite.
‘So then, you’re going to give yourself a real chance?’ he asks, almost challengingly.
‘Might as well… I guess.’
‘So that’s a no then.’ He picks up fast. ‘Unless you’re sure, it’s a no. Is it because you’re not confident? Or is it the Hanging Tree thing?’
I look up shocked. How could he know what I was dreaming of?! Did Damien blab? I’m sure there’s a determined murderous look on my face as I think of breaking his arms because Peeta explains.
‘You were whispering the last line of the song when I ran in. the song ended before the others joined us. So is that it? You don’t want to really come out and face ‘worse than death’ so you’ve decided to keep your hands clean.’
I don’t like his penetrating questions.
‘No. it’s just…’ how do I say this without sounding fragile? ‘I don’t want to kill… so it’s the other way around.’
He pierces me with an unwavering stare and I’m forced to think he’s disappointed in me.
‘I’m glad to hear that, Selene.’ He says with grim determination. ‘But you have to try and you know it. This isn’t just for you anymore.’
‘You know what can happen if I win. The Capitolites could rise against this regime. I don’t want another war. Besides, why do you want me to win for them? You brought down the Capitolites with the revolution.’
I’m not accusing him, just stating a fact.
‘I want you to win because I don’t think you’re a bad person when it comes down to it- you’re just a scared girl in a bad situation with no way out, and you’ve been holding up really well so far. Secondly Selene, the Capitolites will NEVER rise against anyone. You know that, don’t you? They’re too deep in their need for luxury. The districts won’t be allowed to cry for you to die either because even if the Capitolites are a subdued, small population, they still count to the Government. Both parties need to be kept alive so we can all go on.’
‘So what do we do?’ I ask.
‘YOU get used to the fact that you’re going to go in armed and you’re going to hunt and defend yourself and kill when required. I’ll try to do the best I can to keep you alive.’
Wait, that reminds me,
‘Where’s Katniss?’ shouldn’t she be training me since we’re both the same gender?
‘She won’t be able to help you today.’ Peeta’s voice is strained. ‘Your nightmare set her off-‘
He doesn’t finish his sentence and I don’t want to know, so it works for both of us.
‘So, the interview.’ He begins, rubbing his hands against the cool air in the room. ‘You know about most of it, I trust?’
I nod jerkily. I know that tributes are prepared to look dazzling and have to convince the audience, as in the sponsors, that they’re a good bet.
‘So what image do you want to project?’
‘Wait, he’s leaving it up to me?! Isn’t he supposed to decide that being my mentor and all that?
‘I don’t know. I mean, I could play up the president’s daughter and try to be eager for the Games to begin but that’s not being true to myself and if…IF this is the last time I appear before the people, I want to show them who I really am. I guess.’
‘Right, so then that’s decided.’
What?! That’s it?!
‘Instead of thinking up an angle and practicing it we’ll get down to strategy, stuff that’ll help you in the arena.’
The next two hours are spent in discussing what I should focus on to survive. He tells me how to shelter myself, which places are best, which to avoid. He runs me through a set of traps for humans and animals that the trainer didn’t teach us. He has small animals and birds brought in from the kitchen and we spend an hour cutting and slicing through them, removing the entrails, the feet, the blood and anything poisonous. I’d been trying my hand at butchering in the kitchens but I’m glad for this training because I learn things that I never knew before, things which could literally make the difference between life and death.
By the time I’m we’re done, I’m sweating with the strain of all I’ve learnt.
The lesson did more than it intended- it’s opened my eyes to the fact that I’m really going to have to kill, I’m going to have to fight to live, I’m going to have to mentally prepare to run, chase, hunt, get hurt…
Damien walks past me to the living room smiling and humming to himself.
And I may have to kill him, or watch him die…
It’s forced me to finally start thinking about the reality that’s fast approaching me.
And it’s time I started planning for it…