Something I discovered very early on was that Cale didn’t stay silent for long.
The first night we ate together in the twelfth floor was a quiet one. Effie sat at the head of the table, her fork delicately stabbing at her food. Haymitch had passed on dinner, claiming to be not hungry, although I saw him snatch a bread roll and a tall bottle of vodka on his way to his room.
Cale sat opposite Effie, right at the bottom of the long table. His head didn’t shift from the bow it was in but that didn’t stop him wolfing down the meal. Admittedly, I had a little more grace, but my cutlery couldn’t reach my mouth quick enough. Only the thought of my mother’s face stopped me from licking the plate.
As Effie checked her reflection in the back of a spoon, I stole a glance at the boy. He sported a hard jaw and square head, much like his older brothers, though he lacked the golden hair. Unlike Peeta and David, he’d taken more of his mother’s side and developed thick, waved locks. I noted how different he was to his entire family; his parents were both large creatures, well-fed from owning 12’s only bakery, yet Cale seemed to be made out of lean limbs and sinew. His golden brothers were stocky and muscled but he was in that awkward stage where he looked like an overgrown puppy. The curls really added to the effect.
I wondered what he thought about me. Probably that my nose was too big, that my cheeks were too plump and my thighs were too thick. Although...I glanced down doubtfully at my thick skirts. It was highly likely he had ever seen my thighs. Thank God.
Effie sipped from her flute and said, “The both of you will be appearing in front of the Districts tomorrow.”
My head snapped up. “What?”
“Each tribute is expected to talk to Caesar Flickerman a day after the Reaping,” she continued, popping a leaf of lettuce into her mouth. “You know that, Primrose.”
“It’s Prim,” I corrected, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. I’d never demanded to be called Prim before. But now, I no longer felt like Primrose. Here, in the huge Capitol, millions of miles away from my family, I needed to be someone different. Prim was much more fitting.
Cale finally lifted his dark eyes and frowned at Effie. “I thought it was a few days after the tributes had been picked. Allowing them to settle in and all that.”
“Ah, yes, well, the citizens of Panem tend to become restless in the period between the Reaping and the show,” Effie sighed, neatly flicking a strand of hair over her shoulder. “The Gamemakers decided to move the talk show closer. It leaves less time for the imagination to run wild.”
Although uncommon in the poverty that was District 12, I knew that most of the other Districts went wild when the Games were on. In the Capitol, especially, betting pools began on the country’s favourite and often left many empty-handed. Not that they cared, of course. They would earn enough money throughout the year to bet on the next Games, on another child destined for death.
Cale’s brow furrowed, casting a dark shadow over his expression. I slid down in my seat, chin tucking into my chest. The food curdled in my stomach, and I regretted shoving so much down my throat. My body wasn’t used to such riches.
“The pre-Games stuff is so much fun,” Effie trilled. “You’ll love it all, I swear.”
With a bang, Cale jumped to his feet. I jerked, fingernails digging into my thigh. He scowled at Effie and grabbed a knife from the table. She squeaked, napkin pulled up to the hollow of her throat.
“This is all just entertainment to you, isn’t it?” He spat, the blade glinting under artificial light. “None of you believe that we’re equal to you. Anyone not from the Capitol, or 1 or 2, is a complete and utter animal to you.”
Panic shone bright in Effie’s eyes. Shaking, she whispered, “Cale. Put the knife down and let’s talk about this. I know...I know this doesn’t seem fair to you—“
It happened before I could even register the movement. Cale’s arm whipped back and he lobbed the knife straight at Effie’s head. She screamed, ducking just in time. My mouth fell open in a soundless scream, but I couldn’t do anything other than suck in dry air. From where it was lodged in an extremely ugly plastic statue, the knife wobbled from side to side, the blade shining.
All three of us stared at one another. Effie’s eyes overflowed with tears and with a wide mouthed sob, she threw herself from her chair and ran out of the room. I looked sharply at Cale, who glared at the door she’d left out of before softening, slumping back into his chair. He hung his head in his hands and mumbled, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Skin prickling, I whispered, “N-No, I don’t think you should’ve.”
I could hardly believe what had happened. Cale had never seemed violent to me, or particularly talented with weapons. But the knife twitching in the green statue was proving me wrong.
With a loud scrape, he shoved his chair back and stormed from the room. I jumped as the door slammed.
In the matter of seconds, everything had gone so wrong. The uncut cake sat proudly in the centre of the table, cherries glistening wetly. Guilt flooded me. The districts worked sickeningly hard to scrape together a pitiful meal, and here was all of this food going to waste. My hand itched to take a slice of cake, or a wedge of beef, but I remembered there was no one I could give it to.
It wasn’t until the Avox’s arrived that I realised no one was going to come fetch me. I shifted uncomfortably—the tongue-less servants freaked me out. Stomach rolling, I returned to my room and stripped off my heavy clothing. My skin was slick with sweat. I looked longingly toward the bathroom. It was already late, but surely a quick shower couldn’t hurt.
The water relaxed my muscles. I tilted my head back, closing my eyes against the steam. Buttons lined the wall, and I fumbled blindly for one. A push released strong smelling foam. I frowned down at my foamy arms, trying to detect the smell. Strawberry? Blueberry? It was fruity, but it didn’t smell like anything I’d ever tasted before.
I’d managed to stuff any thoughts of home out of my mind during the day, but it was harder at night. Memories plucked at my mind’s eye, ones of Katniss gently plaiting my hair each time it was newly washed to make it wavy. The room slowly darkening around me, I picked up an odd, curved yet oblong object. It was black and smooth. I plugged the end of it into the wall and tentatively flicked the switch. Hot air shot out of the end of it, and I squeaked, dropping it to the ground.
On the floor, it continued to spew out warmth. Curiously, I tapped my toe against it. It seemed harmless, but I had no idea why something like that was in my room. I picked it back up and studied it, my damp hair dripping down my neck.
There was a tap. I jumped, turning.
A white-haired Avox stood in the doorway. Despite her hair, she had a youthful, pretty face and she laughed at my fright. She neared me and took the black air-breathing object. With a close-lipped smile, she pointed the narrow end toward me and I felt my hair start to whip around my face.
What on earth was she doing?
But after she’d forced me into a seat, I found myself enjoying the sensation. It became obvious that the device’s intent was to dry my hair. The Avox combed her thin fingers through my hair, silently pulling out the knots. Pleasure rippled down my back.
When my hair lay smooth and dry against my back, the Avox turned off the ‘hairdryer.’ She’d kindly wrote the name down for me. I smiled tiredly at her. She seemed only a little older than me, her skin unblemished, her brown eyes wide and doe-like.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
Her bright eyes met mine, and softened. I guessed she didn’t receive a lot of appreciation.
With a nod, she took my damp towels and left. A part of me wanted to cry and beg her not to leave. I knew that once everyone left, my mind wouldn’t shut up. I climbed stiffly into bed, my limbs aching. Sleep tugged at my eyelids, forcing them to shut.
A song popped into my head as I was on the brink of sleep. It was usually sung in 12 at a funeral, or during a remembrance service. No one knew its proper name—everyone simply knew it as ‘The Hanging Tree.’ A grim tune, but both Katniss and my mother used to soothe me to sleep by singing it.
Are you? Are you? Coming to the tree?
In my mind, it was Katniss singing it, a phantom version of her hand ghosting over my hair.
They strung up the man, they say who murdered three.
I sunk lower and lower into a dreamless sleep, snuggling into the covers.
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be,
If we met,
In the hanging tree.