They catch her eavesdropping, but neither is too upset. They get back to work.
By the time morning really comes to the arena, we've managed to scrape together enough for the tarp. Babra and Nell, who've been huddling under a large-leafed tree, are very grateful for it. They take turns actually being able to sleep. Haymitch has been scribbling in the sponsor book; I'm not sure why.
Another mutt attack wakes them at mid-morning, and a weird, hovering fire nearly leads Harris Greaves into the deep water, thinking he's after other tributes. "Why isn't anyone seeing this?" Mr. Hedge asks. "It's worse than that lion."
"No one knows Glass is dead," Haymitch says. "And they're hitting three districts that no one thinks have anything to do with each other outside an occasional alliance."
Mr. Hedge grinds his teeth.
A little bit after lunch, Mr. Hedge is called away by Peacekeepers. His escort, Barnabas Laird, takes over for him, and starts calling sponsors, loudly asking for money for matches.
Haymitch grimaces. "They'll give away their position. Blight has to know better."
"They're cold," I point out.
"Better cold and alive than warm and dead." He sighs and rubs his forehead. "This one's got a chance, Effie," he says. "She's playing smart, and she's playing to the cameras. She could do it, if I can just keep her from doing anything stupid."
He pulls out the sponsor book, and I see that he hasn't been totaling numbers and figuring costs. He's drawn the rough map of the arena that we got when the broadcast began, and he's been plotting where all of the tributes are. The official maps only track our own. Every now and then, the public broadcast will show a glimpse of more than one group, but that's when they're playing it for the potential fight. Only the Gamemakers know where everyone is.
"Look," he says, pointing to the scribbled stars that represent Babra and Nell. "They don't see it, but they're down in a bowl. And over here" -- he points to a nearby set of stars -- "The alliance from Three, Eight, and Ten. Those districts play fair enough, but it's perfectly fair to take advantage of a mistake." He leans forward with his head in his hands.
Again, I consider the wisdom of putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. This time, it seems all right, so I do it. He reaches back and covers it with his own.
I don't want to spoil it, and risk him being angry at me, but I also need to protect the alliance. "Haymitch…?" I start.
He lets go of my hand and raises an eyebrow. "Maybe what?"
"Maybe Mr. Hedge doesn't realize. Maybe… you need to stop thinking he's reading your mind."
"How could he not see that? I guarantee Chaff sees it." He looks over at the next table. "Did you notice that I have neighbors?"
"What am I, blind?" Chaff asks. "I taught you that map trick."
"See?" Haymitch says.
"I don't think Mr. Hedge has mapped out where the other alliance is."
"But they're -- "
"And it all looks alike… to people who aren't in your head, anyway. He may not have any idea how close they are."
He frowns, and I can almost see him formulating an argument. Then he waves his hand wearily and says, "Yeah, maybe. I'll talk to Blight when he gets back. We've got plenty in common, but we've never been allies before."
"Good," I say.
He goes back to his map, not even looking at me, and says, "And Effie?"
"Don't get skittish on me. It's annoying, and if you see something important and don't say it, I could miss something important."
"You won't be mad?"
"Oh, yeah, I'll be mad. But don't be afraid of that. It'll blow over."
"Before or after you swing a knife at me?"
"I'll only swing a knife at you if you startle me awake, and that won't be because I'm mad. I really don't make a habit of trying to kill my allies."
There's nothing else to say. The phone rings, and I start taking sponsor calls again. Babra and Nell catch a lizard and eat it raw for lunch. The inner district alliance catches up to Planter, and, though he tries to get them to let him join their group, trying to amuse them and make them laugh, they don't end up showing him any mercy. Chaff goes to call his family, but comes back to keep helping Seeder with Daylily.
District Six loses its remaining tribute late in the afternoon, when he wanders into Athena Burke, from Five, who turns out to be less nervous in the arena than she was on Caesar's stage. He's her first kill, and it seems to give her a boost in energy. She hunts down the girl from Nine as well, then, wild-eyed, climbs a tree and waits for prey.
About the time that they're serving us dinner, there's a skirmish between the two big alliances -- the five inner district kids, and the cobbled together alliance with Three, Eight, and Ten. Catawba takes a wound, but survives. The other alliance is cut in half, leaving only the boys from Eight and Ten.
It's only the second day, and we're down to nine tributes. At least one of our girls will make the final eight.
"They'll slow it down now," Haymitch says, leaning back. "They have to. No one will be satisfied if it keeps going this fast." He doesn’t sound as sure as usual. "They'll go for some human drama. Maybe see if the career districts will keep Ca--" He stops talking and nearly jumps to his feet. "Blight!"
I turn around and stifle a scream. Mr. Hedge is back, and he's covered in blood. He's managed to wipe his face, so there's just a brownish red smear, but his clothes are drenched.
"Are you hurt?" Haymitch asks.
"No. Are they?" He nods at the screen, where Nell and Babra are trying to figure out how many times they've heard the cannon.
"Yeah, but --"
Mr. Hedge points at his clothes in a disgusted way. "Not mine," he says. "They dumped it on me. All the genetic screening samples. Seems someone has it in his head that I faked Gia's genetic code in the records they're checking against, and that's why they're not finding her. They drenched me and I've been smelling it for five hours now."
"Do you have a change of clothes?" I ask. "If not, I can go get you something…"
"I got clothes upstairs, but I wanted to make sure the girls were still okay. I haven't had any access."
Haymitch nods. "The other alliances are going the other direction now, too. Maybe we could think about matches, if you figure they're smart enough not to actually send up a flare."
He looks at Barnabas. "How's the money looking?"
"We should have enough as soon as --"
On screen, Babra lets loose a scream.
Something very large is rising out of the swamp, so close that it dislodges the props they've put up under their tarp. I can't tell what it is -- it's covered with vines and muck.
"Stay still!" Haymitch yells uselessly at the screen.
The girls run wildly into the swamp, tripping and falling into the mud.
It takes the inner district alliance about a minute to find them. The fight is brutal and short. Catawba, already wounded, falls to Babra, but the rest are on our girls like hyenas in a pack.
The cannons go off.
Haymitch and Mr. Hedge stare at the main screen, at the sudden darkness on their table screens. I can't seem to breathe properly. Only a few minutes ago, we were talking about sending them matches. Haymitch was saying that Babra had a chance. The truth doesn't seem real. My mind keeps trying to turn away from it, to make it like every other Games. It happens every year. Tributes just make mistakes and lose.
They all die, you know. They don't come back. You're calling them to die.
Haymitch moves first. He storms to the booths to call Babra's family, though I'm sure they're watching even before mandatory viewing, and they must already know. I look at Mr. Hedge, still covered in congealing blood, picking unconsciously at his clothes. "You can't call the family until you change your clothes," I tell him. It's crazy, but it's the only thing I can think of. "At least your shirt."
He pulls off the bloody shirt and tosses it aside. "Barnabas?" he asks.
His escort pulls off his shirt and hands it over.
"Thank you. And you should have been the one to remind me."
He goes to the booth.
Barnabas glares at me.
I don't care.
Haymitch comes back. His eyes are unfocused and glassy. I start to reach out to him, but he goes around me, hooks his fingers under the table, and flips it over, scattering equipment and papers everywhere. "That was deliberate!" he shouts.
"Haymitch, you want to sit down," Chaff says.
"Hell I do."
"You need to -- "
"I've had it, Chaff. I can't…" He goes quiet, and storms off.
Chaff looks at me. "Honey, you better go after him."
"But you know him better."
"I'm likely to let him talk me into whatever he's doing. You calm him down. I've seen you do it."
"Your credentials are impeccable. They won't bother you. Honey, you need to keep him from doing any useless damage."
I go after him.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirrors above the doors as I go outside. I do not look like a woman in a responsible position, who's been charged with keeping a very angry victor from doing something self-destructive. I am still dressed in a child's clothes, and I look like a schoolgirl who is about to start crying. I force myself not to think about any of it. I go out into the bright, late afternoon sun.
I find Haymitch in the middle of Headquarters Plaza, behind the media pens. They haven't noticed him yet. They certainly haven't noticed that, somewhere between the tables and here, he's picked up a knife. Luckily, the press corps is avidly following an interview with the District Two mentor right now, and haven't noticed Haymitch standing behind them.
I come up behind him, staying out of range of his arms. "Haymitch," I say.
His hand tightens on the knife. "Go away, Effie."
"You promised not to swing knives at me."
"Do you see it swinging at you?"
I touch his arm. "Please. Come with me. You have to get out of here. What do you think you're going to do?"
"What I'm good at. Only thing I've ever been better at than anyone else."
"You can't. You're not in the arena."
"Right. Sure I’m not." He finally turns and looks at me. "It's all the arena. I never left. I'll never leave."
"You did leave. You're not there anymore." I reach out and take his empty hand, then carefully, hold my hand out for the knife. "You're on the outside. Just give me the knife, okay? Let's not do anything crazy. There'll be kids next year who'll need you."
"You're perfectly capable of babysitting them until they die, Euphemia. You're very talented. You can make up for whatever idiot they put in as a mentor. You do it. I'm done."
"They'll need someone who really understands. Haymitch, please give me the knife."
He doesn't give it to me, but he does throw it off to one side. He lets go of my hand and walks away. There's a low fountain nearby, and he sits down on the edge, the strength seeming to bleed out of him.
I sit down beside him and put my arm across his shoulders. He doesn't dislodge it.
"How can you stand this?" he asks. "You're a decent person. You're… nice. You're actually nice. How can you stand to be part of this? How can you not be crazy from it? Why would you volunteer to be part of it?"
"It's my job," I say. "I have to work. And there are good parts. I get to help you. That's a good part."
"Oh, yeah. That's a real perk. Keep me from killing anyone. You have a weird sense of 'good,' Euphemia."
I don't know what to say, so I move my hand and rub the back of his neck. I have a vague memory of my mother doing this when I was small. It seems to calm him down a little.
After a while, he looks up at the giant Games screen that's set up over the plaza. On it, Claudius is talking about how the betting odds have changed since the sudden bloodbaths of the afternoon. Harris, always a strong runner, now has the clear lead. Daylily is considered a longshot, but if she wins, it will be a huge payoff. He mentions jovially that Babra had been one of the heavier favorites among the betting crowd, and now, people have to pay up. There was some question about the final eight, and who made it, since three people died at roughly the same time. The Gamemakers have, in fact, declared Babra to be in seventh place, so anyone who bet on her to make the top third has pulled at least a little money out of the deal.
Something is tightening in my chest. I look around, try to find anything else to look at. There's a juggler near the media tower. He has five flaming clubs. I watch. The world seems to be caught in prisms, and there are twenty clubs now, and four jugglers. Strange, doubled dancers in sequined costumes perform for the Games crowd.
I squeeze my eyes shut. When I open them, the world is in singles again.
Haymitch is still staring at the screen. He looks ill. "What's wrong with this place?" he hisses.
"I don't know."
"You tell me, Effie. You live here. You love it here. How can it be like this? You have everything you want here. Why…" He shakes his head. "It's all a cover. The libraries. The museums. It's all a cover for… that." He gestures at the screen in disgust.
"No! Those things are real, too. And the lake, and the nice old ladies in the Grove, and the art, and…" I stand up. "Come on, Haymitch. Let's get you out of here. Let me show you something."
"I don't want to."
"I know, but you need to get out of here. You need to stop gnawing at your own bones."
"I don't want to go where there are people. I don't think I'd be good with people."
"There are places without people," I tell him, though I have to really think about where they might be. A lot of the museums are deserted most of the time, but from the sound of it, he's not feeling charitable toward them. The only places that are going to be empty are the places where there's nothing happening.
I think about his old ladies. I know them, because I've helped them before -- with the monuments. No one goes to the monuments. There's a huge promenade of statues on the lake shore. Unless the Daughters of the Founding are repairing them -- and they won't be, during the Games -- then no one will be there.
I take his hand and lead him away from the Games Headquarters, slipping by the crowd as unobtrusively as we can. (One excited boy runs up and asks Haymitch for an autograph. I can tell he's angry and wants to lash out, but he manages not to, probably because he can tell that the boy means no harm by it.) I call for a taxi, and ask the driver to take us to Monument Way. He looks at me like I'm crazy, but he doesn't turn down the fare.
It's a long drive, and Haymitch doesn't talk during it. I can see him looking out the windows at the partiers in the street. I see him hating them.
Eventually, the taxi takes us out of the middle of the city, through the graceful neighborhoods of the museums and studios. The fashion district has carved out a space beyond the art museum, and I consider pointing out Lepidus's shop, then think better of it. Haymitch may know it, anyway. He watches all of this go by in a dull, disinterested way. The buildings finally stop as we pull into the parking lot at Monument way. The driver lets us out, and I pay by swiping my thumbprint. It's nice to know I have the money to do that now, and I don't need to ask Haymitch to cover anything.
The breeze at the lake shore is cool and gentle, and the gulls circle around, looking for a tasty fish or maybe a bit of someone's garbage. I lead the way into the park. The monuments are huge here -- the statues of the founders, the memorial to the lost pioneers, the dark, abstract shape that commemorates the Catastrophes. A pebbled path leads among them, lined with the president's own roses, and huge, beautiful flowers engineered to catch the eye. Their soft scent fills the air, along with the tang of saltwater from the lake. The path leads down to a flagstone patio that overlooks the water.
"See?" I say. "A little fresh air."
"Yeah. I guess." He walks a little without saying anything, then jerks his chin up at one of the statues. "Who's that?" he asks without much interest. I have the impression that this is his version of being excruciatingly polite.
"The builder," I say. "Arrian James. He was one of the founders. When their group had been wandering through the desert, and they found this place, he was the one who realized they could build it back up -- that everything was here to work with. He directed the first rebuilding projects, and got everyone a safe place to live."
"Oh. Right. I remember the name from school." He points at another one. "That's Laelia Grant, right? The first president?"
"We call her Mother Laelia. I played her once in the Founding Pageant."
"She wanted to take in the wanderers. Feed them. She was a bow-hunter."
Since the statue is equipped with a bow and arrow and shows one of the birds she shot, I suppose this could be a guess rather than knowledge, but he seems to be searching for something other than anger to express, so I just say, "Yes. She was very famous for that."
I expect him to say something cynical about whether or not it's true, or what happened after, but instead he says, "My girl wanted to be a bow-hunter. She was just learning when they killed her."
"I'm sorry, Haymitch."
"Her name was Indigo. Indigo Hardy. Everyone called her Digger. I loved her. I sometimes can't remember what she looked like. In my head, she looks like all of them." He says this without much emotion and starts to walk toward the water again.
He doesn't stop until he gets to the far end of the patio, to the decorative little wall that hangs over a drop off to the beach. He looks over it. "Guess I made it to the end again," he says, and bends to pick up a stone. He throws it out into the emptiness, then sits down miserably. He's far away from anywhere he can do any harm, but he doesn't look much better than he did at the plaza. I feel like I should take him somewhere more fun, somewhere that will take his head away from everything that happened, but I don't think he'd come along with me if I tried.
I'm not sure I'd come along with me.
I can't think of anything to do here, and Haymitch is unhelpful, just staring avidly across the water. There's a little automatic kiosk selling cameras for the view, and I buy one. I snap a picture of him there.
He looks up. "What's that about?"
"I don't know. I just… well, I guess I was just looking for something to do."
"Let me see."
Reluctantly -- I have a strange feeling that he means to pitch it into the lake -- I hand him the camera.
He looks at the picture on the little projector, then snorts and hands it back. "I look like the world's most pretentious poet. Do I really look like that?"
"Mostly." I frown. "Don't you see a lot of pictures of yourself?"
"Most of them aren't taken by friendly people. And the ones that are… they're careful to make me look exactly like they want me to."
"What about from when you were a kid?"
He looks up, surprised. "Effie, we didn't have money to keep food on the table, or fix the roof so it wouldn't rain inside, or let in the vermin. Almost no one in Twelve has anything like a camera, not even the merchant kids. Except maybe the shoemakers. They're pretty rich. The mines pay them for boots for everyone."
I look down, thinking of how shamed I felt that I had to wear second-hand clothes, or couldn't afford to have my hair done properly. Somehow, it doesn't seem like all that much. "Sorry," I say.
"What for? It's a different place. Different rules." He sighs. "Look, I know you're trying. And it does clear the head, being out here. But you don't need to entertain me."
"Can I take another picture?"
He forces a grin and says, "No." He pulls the camera back, almost playfully. "I'm taking one. How does this thing work?"
"I'm dressed in play clothes!"
"I can figure it out. We took pictures of Gilla before the interviews. Yeah… the button…"
A gust of wind comes up, and the hair on my long blue wig flies out. I grab at it and laugh at how silly I must look. Haymitch chooses this moment to snap the picture.
He hands me the camera. I look at the picture. If he looks like a pretentious poet, I look like a little girl.
But I haven't seen a picture like this for a while. The last time someone took my picture without me posing carefully for it, I was bloody and crying. Here, I don't quite look happy, laughter notwithstanding. I can't place the look on my face, but I look something like I look in my head.
I put the camera in my pocket. Maybe I'll print it out later.
Haymitch is looking out over the water again. Another gust ripples his clothes and tosses his loose black curls. "What's out there?" he asks.
"District Three is on the far side, I think," I say. I stand beside him, squinting out, wondering what he's seeing.
"Not just the lake, Effie. Out there. Is there anything other than this?"
He looks down at me. His eyes are unfocused and red, and something inside of them seems very young. We are standing close enough that the breeze carries his body heat to me before it dissipates.
I kiss him.
It isn't a grand plan. It just seems like the right thing to do.
He draws away, eyes wide, then puts his hands on my face and pulls me back to him, kissing me again, breathing my air like he's been drowning. I slide my arms around his waist and pull him close. I can feel that he wants me, and for once -- for the first time since that day in school -- it's all right with me. His hands come down to my hips, then slide up under my shirt. They're big, good, strong hands, and I’m not afraid that they're going to clamp down and hold me here if I try to get away, and I don't want to get away. I want the kiss to go on forever.
Suddenly, he stops and pulls away from me, putting his hands on the tops of my arms to hold me back. His face is red, and he's breathing hard. I am, too. I can hear our breath, his in counterpoint to mine, above the lake wind.
We stand there for a long while, staring at each other.
Then he starts to laugh.