The rest of the day is uneventful, by Games standards. Harris teaches the other inner-district kids how to catch frogs to eat, Babra and Nell try to figure out how they're supposed to light a fire to cook with when everything is soaking wet (Haymitch hopes they won't figure it out, as any fire will be smoky and draw attention to them), and Daylily sets up quite a competent little shelter on a mud bar. Her district partner, Planter, is still wandering around, occasionally nibbling the local plant life. It doesn't seem to make him sick. An alliance forms among the remaining tributes from Districts Three, Eight, and Ten (both kids from Eight are still in play, but the other districts have each lost one).
By dinner time, Claudius Templesmith has started calling in the experts and commentators, since not much has happened in the arena. I've managed to scrounge up enough money for some matches, if Haymitch decides to change his mind about the girls building a fire (or if Mr. Hedge manages to talk him into it; they don't agree on the danger level, but Mr. Hedge's sponsors haven't given enough for him to act on his own).
When the main coverage breaks, Haymitch sighs. "Effie, would you mind taking a meeting with a sponsor?" He hands me a file on a woman named Firmina Sanders. "She's a nice lady. You'll like her. She'll like you. Maybe we can get Babra and Nell some shelter if I get some calls in. Or at least a blanket."
"All right." I bite my lip. "Haymitch, your sponsors at Daughters of the Founding think, um -- "
He grins. "That I'm bringing a girl home to meet them?"
"Something like that."
"Well, let 'em down easy. They're decent folk. They just want me to be happy."
"It's not a bad goal," I suggest. "You might try it."
He snorts a little laugh. "Yeah. Any day now." His grin broadens into a smile, and he shakes his head. I suspect that I'm more aware than he is of the way his eyes are traveling over me. "Don't worry about things like that, Effie. Not your job. Miss Sanders, on the other hand, is your job, and she wants to meet at her house. Can you make it in half an hour?"
I look at the address. We're practically on top of it here, so I nod.
"Good," Haymitch says. "And you go home and get some rest after. I might call in the middle of the night if I need to sleep, now that I have an escort I can trust to answer."
"Okay." I start to leave, then turn. "I should probably warn you -- Miss Meadowbrook is my housemother, and she might pick up."
He clenches his teeth. "Good warning. Thanks."
"I don't think she'd mind talking to you, for what it's worth."
"I know," he says quietly. "But… you try to pick up, okay? I mean, if you're in. If you want to go out and get some air, you're allowed, you know? As long as I can reach you somehow."
"Okay. Next year, I'll have my own place. And my own line."
He nods, and I slip out of the Viewing Center. No one notices me.
It takes me five minutes to get to the Sanders home. It's an old section of town known as the Grove, where families who made their fortunes before the Dark Days built their personal playgrounds. Most of them held onto their money with iron fists, and survived the war comfortably, though they lost sons and daughters in the fighting. The ones who were left held onto the land and houses, and their families stayed on. At first, they were the social leaders of the Capitol, and their names are well-represented in government circles even now, but they didn't change with the times.
They're behind things socially, a favorite target of young comics. I remember a string of skits a few years back postulating Grove fashions, which always seemed to have collars that went up high enough to hide the face, skirts that hid the ankles, and, most weeks, different sorts of elaborate locks to go around ladies' knees, and on the zippers of gentlemen's pants (no keys necessary, since no one's looking to unlock them). I don't think anyone under the age of fifty lives here, and the younger people who moved out always complain about how staid and prudish it is. Most of the old people left are the ones who never did join the new world, who were left behind and left alone, with only each other and their ever-present fancy animals to keep them company. They watch sappy shows on television, and are sometimes shown crying over dead tributes. Anyone else caught doing those things is teased mercilessly, and threatened with "ending up a Grover."
Of course, you can only really end up a Grover if you have old money and old manners. While there are certainly a few tasteful gatherings in some of the gardens, and the wine is most likely flowing, there's none of the revelry that exists where the people are younger. The sounds of the conversations barely make it over the garden walls.
Miss Sanders lives in an old stone house with a low, ivy-covered wall around the front yard. Her front door is decorated with blue crystals. When she answers the door, she's carrying a long-haired white cat with a bright red bow on its head. She insists on showing me around her house, which is beautiful, and full of old and lovely things. We finally have tea underneath an imposing portrait of her great-great-grandmother, who made her fortune inventing the neurotechnology that was eventually adopted to control mutts.
"At the time, it was just a curiosity," Miss Sanders says. "They grew animals in labs, and the brains didn't develop properly, so she made the little chips to compensate. And it turned out that they could be controlled." She sighs. "It's the sort of thing that would be invented in District Three, now. Her son, my great-grandfather, swore loyalty to the Capitol, which is why we weren't exiled out there with her friends. But it's sad how very few things we invent for ourselves these days, don't you think?"
"We have the arts," I remind her. "And nearly all of the communications technology. And there in Three, they can work with each other with less interference from the business end of things. At least that's what they say in school."
"I suppose," she says, then smiles. "Now, I imagine you want to talk about money. I've been watching, of course. What does young Mr. Abernathy think the girl will need? Or is he saving aside this year, in case she makes it to the end and needs something expensive?"
I get out the supply list and show Miss Sanders the things we think she'll need. None of it is in the price range of a single sponsor -- even a sponsor as wealthy as she is -- but she does get me about a quarter of the way to a canvas sheet, which Babra and Nell can set up to protect them from the rain while they sleep. She says that she's saving some in abeyance, in case Babra makes it to the end. Apparently, she did the same for Haymitch in his year, and was able to contribute toward the ice pack and pain killers he needed to finish things off.
"I was so glad he won," she says. "I hate it when we lose the clever ones. Such a waste." Something in her eyes goes far away, and she sighs deeply. "It's a horrible waste. The war. Everything after. I still hate District Thirteen for what they did to this country. It wasn't like this before the war. I have letters from my ancestors, and journals, and papers. It wasn't like this."
I have heard this sort of talk before, and it makes me nervous. My hands start to sweat. Of course it wasn't like this, I say in my head. Things change. You have to change with them. You can't be stuck in the past like this. Of course, I don't say it out loud. She's a sponsor. Contradicting people with money isn't a good idea.
I take care of the paperwork for the donation, and tell her that I need to go get some rest, so I can be available for Haymitch later. She invites me back for a summer picnic she hosts in the neighborhood after the Games. I accept. I know Glass didn't spend much of the year working contacts (and obviously, Haymitch can't do it from Twelve), but maybe I can make sure that we're not starting from scratch at every reaping.
I go back to the Dreams compound and try to sleep, but all of the lights are on outside, and there's a party downstairs. Miss Meadowbrook offers me more pills, but I refuse them, since I promised Haymitch. She rolls her eyes, calls him "silly," and mutters something about glass houses.
I lie awake for a little while, but when Domitia and Leon come in with their friends and start the party here, I give up. I change into a blue shorts set, put on a long wig in a complimentary shade of blue, and go out to join them. We loll around the common area for a while, then Glaucia Shannon suggests heading out to Bacchus Pleasure Park. They don't single me out to invite me along, but I seem to be in the general crowd as we head out, and no one comments on it. I put on an on-call bracelet, in case Haymitch calls and Miss Meadowbrook needs to reach me immediately. I decide that a personal comm will come even before an apartment in the order of spending after the Games.
As we go through the city in Junius Nevin's car, they shout out to the various Games parties that we pass. A woman in a red bikini dances down the street beside us for a while. She has a giant "4" painted on her stomach. We get to the park around nine.
The Games night coverage is playing from giant screens that can be seen anywhere in the park. A few other people from the Dreams compound are going around with snacks and various kinds of stay-awakes. Haymitch didn't explicitly forbid these, but I decide to be more safe than sorry. I'm not tired anyway. Domitia takes a good number of them and passes them out, and within twenty minutes, everyone else seems kind of buzzed. I go on the Ferris wheel with Junius, and he puts his arms around me and tells me that I'm beautiful and everyone should want me like he does. I let him kiss and touch me a little bit -- he's a nice boy, mostly, and I can't think of a good reason to say no to him -- but I'm not sorry when the ride ends and he switches his attention over to Glaucia.
We roam the park together. It's early yet, and things are just getting started. For a while, we watch a fire eater outside a tent, then we ride the Free Fall, which drops us a hundred meters toward the black of the lake, and catches us at what seems like the very last minute. Leon dares me to do the firewalk, because he knows I'm a little scared of fire. I do it. The object is to find which is real fire and which is fake, and to only walk through the fake (there's a first aid station for people who make mistakes). They're all older than I am, and they sneak me into the adult area ("You're two weeks away from eighteen, anyway!"), where pretty girls and boys dance in very little clothing. There are tents off to the side where they do more than dance for you. Domitia doesn't hesitate before picking out a boy with bright purple curls. She waggles her fingers and says, "Go on, Euphemia. Dare-dare-dare!" before she disappears inside.
I don't "dare," though a few of the boys come over and wiggle in my general direction. Of the others, only Leon does go in (he picks a girl in a yellow feathered leotard). I sit at a picnic table with Glaucia and Junius and a handful of other Dreams kids who've joined us. They get wine, but I decide to be safe and not drink, either.
"Haymitch Abernathy is strict about that?" a girl named Celsa Forrester asks, and laughs.
"He doesn't drink during the Games," I point out.
"Right, sure he doesn't."
"He doesn't. I think I know better than you."
"From a whole two days."
"It's my second year with District Twelve."
Glaucia snorts. "Yeah, and I bet you see everything."
"I see enough."
"How much are you seeing, Euphemia?" Junius asks, wiggling his eyebrows playfully. "You do seem especially... devoted." He sticks out his tongue.
I think about the way Haymitch looked at me earlier, and I feel myself blush. I hope they can't tell in the reddish light of the pavilion.
"Spill it, Trinket," Celsa says. "Did you go feral on us?"
"He's not feral," I tell her.
"And I'm not… we're not…"
They all laugh, and I want to crawl under the table, even though they don't mean any harm by it. Glaucia actually gives me a hug and leaves her arm around me. "I think we're embarrassing Euphemia. Don't you worry about them, honey."
"Yeah, forget about it," a boy named Numerian says. "We all know you've got the most boring sex life this side of District Three. What about the Games? Anything exciting we're not seeing?"
"Oh, if it were exciting, they'd find a way to show it," I say.
Of course it's not at all true. I'm pretty sure they'd be riveted by Harris's story about the murder in Four. I smile and say, "Sure. Mostly what we're seeing is just them walking around in the swamp and trying to find a dry place to sit down." I point up at the screen, where Daylily is staying up in her shelter, trying to fashion a weapon from the shell of a turtle that she ate for dinner. "This is pretty much it. They edit the exciting things together for mandatory viewing."
"Oh, come on, nothing?" Junius leans in and flutters his eyelashes at me. "I'll be good. I won't tell on you."
Given that we're out in the open and there are probably cameras and microphones hidden around here, I doubt he'd have to tell anyone. But I'm not going to tell him anyway. I had to sign an agreement about that. "Really, any time Claudius Templesmith comes on like this " -- I point at the screen, which has just switched over to studio coverage -- "it's because no one is doing anything interesting."
"Well, let's see what old Cloud-head's rambling on about, anyway," Glaucia says, and turns on the sound at the table. It comes from little speakers embedded in the furniture.
"…are all settling in for the night," Claudius tells us. "Let's learn more about our environment…"
"AAAAGH!" Numerian screams, flailing. "Geography lesson! No!"
Claudius goes through the various features of real swamps, even shows a few around the world, and talks about the normal dangers of predators -- "I'm sure you've noticed a lot of mutts this year!" But the predators aren't the only dangers, not at all. The water can abruptly become deep. Sitting water attracts diseases (it sounds like Claudius is really hoping for a good plague). It's easy to get lost and disoriented. It's difficult to move. He shows a compilation of tributes falling in the mud.
"Hey, isn't that first one from Twelve?" Junius says. "The idiot who just fell on his face at the Cornucopia?"
"Another tribute drowned him," I say. "Trill wasn't an idiot. He was a nice boy."
"He tripped on his own feet and drowned in three inches of water." Junius looks at me oddly. "Are you okay, Euphemia?"
"Fine. Trill was nice."
He holds up his hands in surrender. "Okay. Nicest guy around."
"Another danger in swamps," Claudius goes on importantly, "is quicksand, or more accurately, 'quickmud,' a non-Newtonian fluid that appears nearly solid at first glance, but can immobilize, incapacitate, and even kill unsuspecting wanderers. And, yes…" He listens to something on his earpiece, then looks up with great solemnity. "Yes, I thought one of our tributes was getting close. Here we find District Seven tribute Sebastian Jakes, who believes he has finally found a safe campsite, but the very ground beneath him has become saturated and unstable. Will he make it out in time?"
The coverage cuts to Sebastian, who has fallen into a light sleep in a sheltered, lagoon-like area. He rolls over in his sleep, and the movement seems to break the world open.
He wakes up to find himself partially sunk in the suddenly viscous mud beneath him. He flails wildly as Claudius tells us in a voiceover that this is precisely what he shouldn't do, and that a boy from Seven should know that, having spent his life in the woods.
"He's just waking up," I say. "How could he remember anything?"
He tries to scramble forward and up, trying not to scream and bring attention to himself, which is a bit more aware than I think I'd be, but he can't find purchase. He's upright now, but the mud has already come up over his stomach, and it's rising fast. Too fast. I've never seen quicksand, but I don't think any kind of sand, or mud, would be this… aggressive. I remember Mr. Hedge saying that he'd be keeping an eye on Sebastian, because of tricks. It's…
"Look at him!" Celsa says, pointing at the screen and laughing. She mimes his struggles by waving her arms around wildly, causing the others to laugh.
I am the only one watching the screen when he goes all the way under, and the cannon goes off.
"Hey, Euphemia, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," I say. I glance at my on-call bracelet, which is silent, then cover it up with my hand and say, "Oh, Haymitch is calling. I have to go."
"Need a ride?" Junius asks.
"I'll take a taxi."
I run for the exit. I don't know why I can't seem to stay. This is all normal. I'm the one acting different. I'm the one being a stick-in-the-mud. I know that. And I know I can't stand to be here anymore. I don't want to look up at the dance pavilion and see my remaining tribute sucked into the mud with no warning.
I catch a cab and go straight to the Viewing Center, not thinking until after I get there that I'm just not dressed for it. I look like a kid in my long, loose wig and my shorts.
But I don't want to go home. I'll go back tomorrow and pack a bag for the rest of the Games.
I get inside and go upstairs. Haymitch and Mr. Hedge are both at the table. Mr. Hedge looks upset, and I guess he's just called Sebastian's family.
I go to them.
Haymitch looks up, surprised. "I didn't call you," he says.
I look at Mr. Hedge. "I saw what happened. I'm very sorry about Sebastian."
He smiles. "Thank you, Effie," he says, then looks at Haymitch. "Keep this one."
"What are you really doing here?" Haymitch asks.
"I decided I'd rather be here," I tell him. "Sorry I'm not dressed right."
He nods. "Don’t worry about it. Blight's escort went home for the night. Do you think you could get the budget together for us?"
"Okay. Did you want to get some sleep?"
"Yeah. I do. Wake me in an hour or so, okay?"
I nod, and take our donation books and the ones from District Seven. Sebastian's and Trill's sponsors all signed to have money moved to the other tribute in case of death. Even with Miss Sanders's donation, we don't have enough for a real tent, like the inner districts have, but we're getting close to that canvas tarp. I can't really get to anyone else until morning. They're up and they may call, but if I call them in the middle of their parties for anything other than an emergency, I'll probably risk their sponsorship for next year. I get the alliance papers in order with the new financial information, and send it upstairs to the Gamemakers, so they'll know our resources. By the time I'm finished, it's been an hour, and I go back into the mentor's lounge, where I find Haymitch sprawled out on one of the curtained beds. I wake him up. He insists that I take a sleeping shift. I crawl into the bed he's vacated, and drowse off within minutes.
I dream about Sebastian, and wake myself up twice trying to escape quickmud, but I finally manage to stay asleep. I dream about my last day of school, about going in and seeing my picture broadcast on every wall, bleeding and crying, while Junius laughs at how stupid I look. This time, Haymitch and Mr. Hedge keep me safe, and get me out of school, and I feel like they're going to make sure it never happens again.
Mr. Hedge wakes me up around four, and tells me that there's breakfast in the dining lounge. He takes a turn sleeping.
I'm not hungry. I go back out onto the floor, meaning to go right back to my table, but I see that my seat is full.
Caesar Flickerman is sitting in it, having what looks like a very serious talk with Haymitch.
I look down at myself. I am not dressed to see the head of the Games production team, my boss. Not when I look even younger than I am, not when I obviously spent part of the evening at the parties.
I try to sneak around behind them, but it brings me very close, close enough to hear what they're saying.
"She's a kid," Haymitch says. "She's good at what she does, but why would you throw her in here with this craziness?"
"Because she's good at what she does. Because you needed someone you could trust, and I needed someone I could trust to take care of you." Mr. Flickerman smiles. "I figured it would be a nice change from Glass."
"She's not ready to deal with this. She's on that happy gas they give out at Capitol Dreams. She's innocent. She's not prepared."
"She's older than you were."
"That's not a recommendation." Haymitch rearranges some papers on the table. "A kid of seventeen doesn't need to be hanging around in a room full of killers. I didn't need it when I was seventeen, that's for sure, but I didn't have a choice."
"She does. And she appears to have made it."
Haymitch sighs. "What's your game, Caesar? I know you're playing one, but you're a lot more subtle about it than they are." He points upstairs, toward the Gamemakers' headquarters.
"Why would I be playing games with you? What do you think the object is?"
Mr. Flickerman considers all of this carefully. "If I do have a goal, it's just to keep you sane."
"You're not crazy. You should be, but you're not." He shrugs. "I figured you could use someone you'd actually care about, who'll still be here next year."
"You're trying to make me love the Capitol, aren't you? Like with the library. And the museum. And the parks. You think I'll take one look at some sweet, pretty girl and figure the Capitol must be great after all."
"I wouldn't mind seeing you admit that there are things here worth loving. But I wanted to find you an escort you could trust because I think you deserve to be surrounded by good people who have your best interests at heart. Nothing more nefarious than that. And Miss Trinket is a good person who proved to me that she'd act in your best interests, so I hired her." He looks up, directly at me, and smiles. "Though she needs to improve her eavesdropping skills, or wear a somewhat duller wig."
I put my hand over my face. "I'm sorry. I was… I was going to go home and get more suitable clothes and I just heard… I should have said something."
"Yeah, you should have," Haymitch says. "But don't worry about it. And let me know if you figure out Caesar's game."
"I think he told you his game," I say.
"Aw, you don't actually believe Caesar, do you? He's the best storyteller in the Capitol."
"That's because I tell the truth," Mr. Flickerman says, and stands up. "Now, I'd best get back to the studio. I'm producing a piece on literary swamps. It'll be fascinating." He tips an invisible hat to me.
I take my seat. Before Haymitch and I can talk about what I overheard -- if he even means to -- the phone rings for the first time of the second day. I pick it up and get back to work.