The bakery -- a shabby kind of wooden building with an apartment upstairs -- is very busy on reaping morning, running this way and that. The baker's wife snaps orders back to the kitchen and runs the till. She looks up at me with undisguised irritation and says, "He's in back."
I go behind the counter and into the kitchen. The baker nods to me and gives me a distracted smile, and jerks his chin toward a door that leads to the back yard, where two little boys are playing in a mud puddle. Haymitch is sitting in a ratty old chair with a baby about Madge's size in his lap. He's telling a story, and I stand behind the screen to listen.
"…so they finally came on the princess, and she was all witched up, in a cage made of… I don't know, let's say it was made of rubies. How'd that be? And she was witched up to be quiet, but Jack and all his little helpers had the tricks they'd been collecting, and one by one, they met that old witch and beat her at all her own tricks -- "
"How'd they do it, Haymitch?" the oldest of the boys calls. "Was it with the flyin' boat?"
"Don't cheat, Jonadab. You've been listening. You know what tricks they had."
"Drinkwell drunk the creek dry," Jonadab says, coming over and sitting on the steps. "And Runwell won the race."
"See, you've been listening. And they all grabbed up the princess, and they put her in the flying boat, and they took her home, and Jack won her hand forever and ever."
"Tell another one!" Jonadab says, then looks up. "Hey, there's a princess."
Haymitch looks up and smiles a little blearily. "Oh, look -- there's Princess Effie Trinket, her very own self. She's way better than me. Smells better, anyway. And she's much much prettier." He holds the baby out to Jonadab. "You take your brothers upstairs like your daddy said. It's time for me to go."
I don't think Jonadab is big enough to hold a biggish baby, but he manages all right -- if "all right" includes holding the baby facing forward, with his feet almost touching the ground… they actually skim on Jonadab's muddy bare feet, and he moves him by swinging him side to side, pretending to walk. The baby doesn't seem to mind much. "C'mon, Eddie," he says.
I hold the door open, and the three boys go in beside me. Jonadab herds them through another door, and I hear them thumping up the stairs.
"Are they all right to be alone?" I ask.
Haymitch shrugs. "Danny's got one of the Purdy girls in to keep them in line while he and Mir deal with reaping day. Traded her some bread for it. I was just entertaining them while she got their breakfast ready, anyway." He looks up at the window. "Just don't call the Purdy girl, all right?"
I shake my head. A teenage girl watching the children for a loaf of bread. In the Capitol, a child care worker would earn enough in a morning to buy groceries for a few days… and she'd be a trained adult.
I decide not to engage this.
"I brought some pills to sober you up. Mayor Undersee says it's been bad."
"Merle's got his nose in where it doesn't belong."
I fish out the pills and give him two, which he dry swallows. "What's been going on?"
"You think something has to be going on? That's sweet."
He sighs. "Your nose isn't where it belongs either."
"Fine. You need to get dressed for the reaping."
"It's just that Babra's little sister passed on. Measles. The grocers don't have any kids now. I had to buy groceries. It was… what do you say to them? Measles took one kid, and I took the other. Who am I killing this year?"
"You're not killing anyone," I tell him. "Come on. Get up. I suppose the outfit will do for the reaping if we straighten it out and get it buttoned properly -- and put on a jacket to hide the stains, I suppose -- and I brought you some new clothes on the train for the Capitol."
He pulls himself up from the old chair. He sways a little bit, and I catch his arm to steady him. He raises his hand to my face, then touches my cheek lightly and leans in to kiss me.
I make myself pull away. Given that he smells like he hasn't bathed in a week, it's not all that hard. "You'll thank me for not letting you do that when you sober up."
He grins. "You have a good spine on you when you want to."
"Well, I started to suspect I might need one."
I reach out to steady him, and lead him around the outside of the house, so we won't have to deal with the crowd in the bakery, though Haymitch stops at a window to wave to the baker and let him know we're leaving.
I take Haymitch to the press tent to get some make up on him and get his clothes straightened out (technically, that's not in their job description, but no one wants us to look bad), and spend the next hour getting everything sorted out. I go back to Haymitch -- now more sober and looking better put together -- and go over the sponsor meetings I have set up for him. He sees a few of the names and makes a great show of groaning, but I remind him that they have serious money to give away, and he can manage to be polite for a few hours. I promise that they aren't the sponsors he calls "trolls" -- sponsors that are giving money to young kids for all the wrong reasons.
Everything is in place. I check the racks of reaping cards to make sure they haven't been tampered with (they're coated with a trace material that changes color on handling, and none of them show more than the little bumps and brushes that would be expected), then have them emptied into the large glass balls that I draw from. I see the names rush by beneath the glass, and I know they're all attached to real children, real families.
I blink it away. Maybe one of them will come back a victor.
I go to the stage. The mayor introduces me.
I reach into the bowl.
These are the names I call:
For the sixtieth Games, I call Hecky Sheehan and Mercy Dickson. They're both black haired children with bright gray eyes, and in Philippa's costumes, they look eerily ghost-like. It's striking, but a bad portent. They both die in the fighting at the Cornucopia, and I spend the rest of the Games running errands while Haymitch tries to help his friends among the mentors. It's the year that District Eight gets its second winner -- a scrappy, strong little fifteen-year-old girl named Cecelia. She never starts any of the fights she gets into, but she finishes them brutally. It comes down to a fight with a larger boy, and she wins by sheer virtue of agility: She's able to climb a tree that confounds him and fire down the rocks in her backpack until she's knocked him out. She finishes him off with a savage cut from his own knife, and screams at the sky. It takes three weeks in rehabilitation before she's presentable for closing events. Haymitch follows my instructions for the first week and meets with sponsors, but after that, he goes drinking with Chaff, and I mainly see him on television, acting like an idiot.
I see him again on the morning the train leaves, sitting between the bodies. We don't hug this year.
After the Games, I continue making contact with sponsors, and work several parties for Capitol Dreams. I fill in for Miss Meadowbrook as house mother for a little while, while she films a romantic comedy that will go on to be a huge hit. I work with Philippa, and when I'm photographed in a red dress from her winter collection, I end up covered by all the fashion reporters. The tabloid Games Gab interviews me about clothes.
Spring comes up on me quickly, and along with it, the next reaping.
In the Sixty-First Games, I call Donkid Magill and Windy Megenry, another pair of black-haired, skinny children. I try to teach them table manners, but they won't learn, and when they're caught on television during training stuffing their faces full of fruit with their bare hands, I get calls from sponsors saying that they've decided to switch their sponsorships to a different district. I get into a fight about this with Haymitch, since he told me to "lay off on the trivia," and the kids hear it. Donkid asks us to stop screaming because we sound like his parents, and says that the sponsors don't matter anyway, since District Twelve goes down before they can be useful.
Haymitch and I spend the rest of the training forcing ourselves not to argue, and trying to convince Donkid and Windy that they have a good chance, which isn't true, as they both insist on going for weapons at the Cornucopia. They try to help each other, and they actually make it as far as the piled up armory, but they're small and weak, and the inner district alliance cuts them down without a second thought. The eventual winner, a District One girl named Dazzle, is the one who kills Windy. It's her first kill of the Games, so her death is played over and over during the Games, and preserved for posterity in the Games reel. She's even on the cover, with Dazzle holding a knife above her. Dazzle is beautiful, and a popular victor. The cover even becomes a poster, which hangs in a lot of teenage boys' bedrooms.
I sit with Haymitch on the train with them for a little while, but he doesn't acknowledge me that year.
I have a hard time reaching a lot of Haymitch's regular sponsors over the year following the Games. The new ones I found for him aren't happy with two early losses in a row, and the older ladies, for all of their fondness, don't have money to throw away. They promise that they'll sponsor if it turns out the children need it.
I spend most of that year dating a young man named Nicanor Bales. He brings up the idea of a marriage contract in March, but I tell him no. He doesn't show up for dinner after that, and I find all of his clothes moved out the next day. He doesn’t return my calls. I dream I'm in the arena, looking for him, but when I find him, he's turned on me. He rips off my wig and pins me down and stabs me. I wake up sweaty and crying.
The stylist from District Six retires, and the new stylist, a flashy woman named Tigress, chooses District Two. I get a low number in the lottery, and we lose Philippa back to District Nine. By the time I choose, there are only three stylists left, and we end up with District Ten's stylist, Therinus May. He asks me if I have the pattern for authentic coveralls from the mines.
I write to Haymitch. The return letter is clearly written deep in his cups. I can barely read it, but from what I can decipher, he's taking it philosophically. I write back and tell him to sober up before reaping. He doesn't return that letter, and when I come in the spring, I find him passed out in Victors' Village. I ask why he didn't go stay with his friend. He tells me that he's been exiled from the bakery. "Got Danny drunk again," he mutters. "Mir kicked me out. Said I can't come back at all. And Danny agreed." He sniffs. "Says he's someone's dad now, and he can't go out like a kid anymore. My dad came home drunk pretty near every night, and I turned out okay. I'm a vig-dor.. Isn't that what you're s'posed to be? In't it the thing everyone's s'posed to want his kids to turn out like?"
I sponge him down and wash his hair. He's so filthy that I can't even imagine a sexual context to it, even though he's naked, and -- as usual when he's drunk -- prone to being physically affectionate with me. He tells me more about the baker and his wife (apparently, there was a separation, and she thinks he cheated, and somewhere or other, there's a baby involved who isn't really involved, but the wife thinks she is, and… it just goes on and on, and I don't really follow it.) I manage to pour him into his clothes and get a couple of dry-out pills in him. I wish they'd invent something that would stop him from getting drunk in the first place, but this is the best I can do for now. I take the cart I borrowed and get him back into town just in time for the reaping to begin.
The kids for the Sixty-Second Games are a miner's son named Kelman Killough, and the only daughter of the family that runs a second-hand clothing shop. Her name is Dotty Hallissey, and she has curly blond hair and freckles on her nose. Those freckles and curls become something of a fad after the parade.
Dotty ignores Haymitch and dies at the Cornucopia. Kelman does as he's told, but has terrible luck finding clean water in the industrial wasteland of the year's arena. Haymitch manages to guide him to the next city block with a parachute dropped in the right direction, but he's so thirsty that he forgets to use his purifiers. He languishes with a stomach parasite for three days, and seems almost relieved when the boy from Six finds him and drowns him in the same pool that poisoned him.
It looks at the end as if Six might have a third winner, maybe even one who's not strung out on morphling. He disarms the girl from Two -- Enobaria Fells, who's been pretty brutal herself through the Games -- and jumps her, his knife raised. She rolls at the last second, getting him off balance, then jumps on his chest and uses the only weapon left to her. She rips his throat out with her teeth, and becomes a victor.
She's wildly popular, and when the Victory Tour reaches the Capitol, everyone wants tickets. I have been an escort for three years without a particularly popular tribute, so I don't rate, but I do volunteer to work it for Capitol Dreams. I don't meet Enobaria (I wasn't really trying), but I do meet Evasius Tyler. He's a photographer for Games Gab and a few of the other fashion magazines, and he ends up getting my picture on the cover of two magazines that year. He tells me that I'm getting to be well-known enough that I should be promoted to a better district. As Haymitch hasn't bothered to answer any of my letters this year, it sounds good. But no one is leaving.
I try to remember the way Haymitch kissed me at the lake shore. The way it felt to be wrapped in his arms. The way it felt when it seemed like he really needed me, that first year. Now, he doesn't even answer me.
I find him drunk again when I go back for the Sixty-Third reaping, and I consider just letting him lie there, and make a fool of himself on television when he drags himself in. In the end, I grit my teeth and get him cleaned up.
I call Berry Danes and Ronka Blaney that year. Berry is an awful flirt, and Ronka wants to try on all of my wigs. I let her try on the ones I've brought on the train, and when we get to the apartment, I bring over twenty more. We try them all on her, and I take pictures of her. She laughs and smiles. I see Haymitch watching all of this.
After they go to bed the second night, he says, "You're still the best in the Capitol at this, Effie. I haven't said it, have I?"
I shake my head.
"I should've answered your letter, too."
"It wasn't important. I was just trying to be friendly."
"Did it work out with that Evasive guy?"
"Evasius," I correct him. "And there was nothing to work out. It turned out he was just interested in taking pictures of me."
"Is he crazy?"
I roll my eyes. "If that's crazy, then most of the men in my life are crazy."
"Then I guess they must be."
"He told me I should ask for a better district."
"Are you going to?"
I look at the wigs scattered around the room, and at Haymitch, doing his awkward best to make small talk. Haymitch knows as well as I do that I'm not leaving. "Well, you know," I say. "As much as I can't wait to get out of here, there are no openings."
He smiles, and I guess he knows it's a joke. We get along all right for the rest of the Games. When a reporter asks him if he's seeing anyone, he even jokes that he's "saving himself" for me. There's laughter, but somehow it doesn’t seem cruel. I tell him it's all right, and it becomes a running joke that he has with the press.
Ronka and Berry do well at training, and even make an alliance with District Eleven, but the Cornucopia takes all four of them. My sponsor list starts to shrink again. Haymitch and Chaff and Seeder invite me to come drinking with them. Haymitch gives me a drunken kiss, and even though he won't remember it and it's sloppy and spitty and lazy, it still makes me feel more than either of the proper lovers I've had ever did. I push him away and leave early with Seeder. We end up sitting in the mentors' lounge and drinking wine. We don't talk about what happened at the other bar.
Haymitch doesn’t remember it, or if he does, he does a good job of covering up for it.
It's a large, woodland arena that year, and the Games go on for a long time. A boy named Jack Anderson, from Seven, befriends Marcus Deetz from District Six, and they hole up together in a cave after fighting their way from the Cornucopia together. Jack, a good looking boy with a delicately shaped face, has a very large female fan base, and I suppose that's why the official broadcast is carefully edited to make it look like the two boys are only good friends.
The Gamemakers are enamored of the girl from Nine, and most of the coverage is her hunt for the boys who killed her district partner. Jack and Marcus are mainly left alone until the pack is down to six tributes, at which point, they decide to manipulate them into turning against each other by prohibiting food gifts in the arena. Slowly, the forest animals are called away, and the vegetation withers. All the boys have left is a dwindling supply of bread that someone sent Marcus before the prohibition kicked in. While the others in the arena continue their hunt for each other, interest builds as to whether or not district children will turn on their friends if they're hungry enough. Psychologists are brought in for commentary. People on the street place their bets.
After a week with no food and very little water, Marcus digs up the last of the heel of bread. It's obviously stale and is growing mold. The boys have agreed to share it, but once he starts eating, Marcus doesn't stop. Jack comes in from a search for food to find him gulping down the last crumb.
The cave is near the top of an incline, only feet from the edge of a ravine. Jack's fury and hunger outweigh any other feelings he may have. The fight takes them to the edge of the cliff, and Jack pushes Marcus over it. He stands there for a long time, his face mad with victory, then suddenly begins to scream. And scream.
He's far enough away from the others that they don't hear him. The girl from Nine is killed when the other remaining tributes find her and cut her throat, then they go into melee, not realizing that Jack is still alive. The last one, the girl from Four, is gravely wounded, and dies waiting for the trumpets to sound her victory. Instead, the last cannon goes off, and Jack wins.
It takes nearly a month for the counselors to put him together enough for final events, and during that time, Games fans are consumed with the question of whether or not they would sacrifice a friend to live. There's even a show created on the fly where best friends are brought in and made to work together to get toward a very large prize (a house in the foothills), but that only one of them can win it. They can either stick together at the second largest prize, or fight each other for the big one. Many tearfully admit how hard it is to stick to your friends in such conditions.
Jack finally emerges, still pale and shaken, and Mr. Hedge is allowed to lead him through the closing ceremonies more closely than most mentors are. He seems ready to start screaming all over again during the first airing of the Games. Beside me, Haymitch has his hands balled into fists so tight that his knuckles are white.
We don't talk about it.
We do manage to correspond throughout the year, though there's little for us to do. I still maintain our ties with his loyal sponsors, and try to work new contacts, but they're drying up, even as I frantically rush to any publicity event I can to keep my face in their minds. Haymitch teases me about this, saying that I'm clearly trying to get promoted. I go along with the joke.
President Snow's son Martius is promoted to Head Gamemaker. This causes a lot of buzz, because rumor has it that he and his father don't get along. Martius Snow goes on television and swears allegiance to the President, but there's a lot of talk about whether or not he means it. Haymitch is cautiously optimistic on the Games front, as he says, as far as he knows, that "Snow's kid" is mostly decent, and won't pull anything as crazy as the stunt they pulled with Jack.
I meet a young bookkeeper named Vespasian Cane. I originally hire him to get my finances in order, but I find him funny and sweet. He doesn't make much money of his own, though he's good at handling mine. He treats me like the princess of his own personal kingdom. I bring up the possibility of a short marriage contract, and give him as long as he wants to think about it.
He hasn't answered when the reaping comes again.
For the Sixty-Fourth Games -- my fifth Games as an escort -- I call Nasseh Rutledge and Sunny Gormley. I've gotten to know enough about District Twelve that I can tell they're both miners' kids before I even talk to them. Sunny is misnamed. She's a sullen girl who is bound to find the cloud in every silver lining. Even Haymitch is more positive about things.
Nasseh, on the other hand, is the best tribute I've seen so far. He listens intently to what Haymitch tells him, and all through training tries every skill he can. He diligently obeys my manners lessons, and understands implicitly that he has to impress the sponsors. Haymitch coaches him through Caesar's interview, where he's a huge hit, talking about his family and the stray cat that he looks after. He manages to put in a pitch for Capitol citizens to adopt pets, which makes Caesar laugh (and, according to a report, gets a hundred and sixty two animals adopted in the Capitol over the course of the Games).
He follows Haymitch's instructions to the letter when he gets into the arena. While Sunny grimly charges the Cornucopia against orders, and dies doing it, Nasseh skirts the edge of the circle, picking up a small backpack and running for cover. It's a fantasy-based arena this year, with deep, shady woods and cool mountain trails. Nasseh finds cover in a feature that's clearly supposed to be an abandoned mine, and makes a point of joking to the hidden cameras that it was just made for him.
He has no weapons, but he asked Haymitch what to do if that situation came up, and does as he was told. He doesn't try anything fancy. He just finds a well-shaped rock, rips a sturdy hem from his shirt, and lashes it to a heavy tree limb to make a hammer. It turns out to be very effective when he runs into the boys from Districts Six and Seven, though he takes their knives after the fight.
Haymitch is fiercely devoted to him, and, for the first time since I've known him, seems to think he really has a chance. When Nasseh has trouble finding food, Haymitch sends him a very cheap basket, of all things, which I wouldn't think would have any use… but Nasseh reads it as Haymitch meant him to, and realizes that the berries he'd been avoiding are edible. He picks quite a lot of them. The next parachute contains five purifier pills. Haymitch is very specific about this, and it means taking one of them out of the usual packet of six. Nasseh frowns at it for a minute, but then seems to get it. He goes in the direction the parachute landed in, and finds the female tribute from Five, a decent girl who also has a large following. The two of them make an alliance, and get even more camera time.
The sponsors start pouring in. Nasseh's face is on a lot of tee shirts in the street. He makes the final eight easily, along with his ally.
Then Haymitch sends him the shield.
It was supposed to be for sending signals -- the kids had been talking about coordinating an attack, and needed a way to "speak" across the ravine where the inner district pack is camped out. Haymitch went searching for something that would give a good flashing reflection, but could be hidden quickly. The shield, which was matte-painted on one side, seemed perfect.
But Nasseh gets cocky. He decides that it means he should rush in on the camp, weapons flashing, with the shield to keep him safe.
He dies in seventh place. His ally makes it to fourth. The winner is a boy from One, named Diamond.
I barely notice this.
After calling Nasseh's parents, I see Haymitch moving listlessly through the Viewing Center. He goes to the bar. I go to him and ask if he's all right. He tells me to go and leave him alone. Field questions from the press, if they have any. Anything. Just let him be. His eyes are red but cold, and his hands move extremely slowly.
"Effie, please. Let me be."
I try to go home and talk to Vespasian about everything, but all I can see is the blank look on Haymitch's face. Vespasian tries to cheer me up and distract me, but nothing seems to work.
"I'm sorry," I finally say. "I have to go back."
"It's not your responsibility."
"He's my friend."
"He's your boss."
"I have to go," I say again.
I grab a taxi back to headquarters and rush to the bar. He's long gone. The bartender says that he went back up to the apartment.
I run across the plaza to the Training Center and take the elevator upstairs.
"Haymitch!" I yell. "Haymitch, are you all right?"
He doesn't answer.
I almost pass by him. He's collapsed behind the couch, and all I see is one dirty bare foot. He's unconscious, and his breathing is slow and labored. He has an open bottle of gin, mostly spilled around his hand, and pills are scattered around him.
I've seen this kind of thing before, mostly at parties where people lose track of what they've taken to feel good. I'm guessing Haymitch was trying to not feel anything.
I grab his wrist and feel a thin, thready pulse. He's breathing on his own, but I don't think he will be for long. I call the Games medics. They'll be discreet. I gather up the pills for them.
They arrive five minutes later and take him to the victors' hospital to pump his stomach (some victors come back poisoned from fruits in the arena), and they put him up in one of the recovery rooms. He stays unconscious for two days. I stay beside him.
When I get back home, Vespasian has moved out.
I move on.
I'm scared for a while that I'll hear news out of Twelve, news that Haymitch has had another accident with his drinking, but after a few months pass without incident, I get a letter from him. He is doing better. The families of some of his tributes are looking after him. They reminded me that even I'm better than no one, he writes. They don't say it quite like that, but it's what they mean. I guess it would be selfish to have any more accidents. I don't want to throw everything onto you. Thank you for getting me help. I think I should have said that earlier.
I'm still not sure. The words are measured, and I can't help hearing them in my head as a rehearsed speech.
But he is still there when I arrive in the spring for the Sixty-Fifth reaping. We don't talk about what happened.
The Sixty-Fifth Games are a lot of things. They're the year that Haymitch makes friends with a Gamemaker. The year that I call Treeza Murphy and Chicory King. The year that the stylists get more autonomy. The year of the island arena.
But really, there's only one thing that matters: They are the year of Finnick Odair.