The next morning, I remember training is supposed to begin. All twenty four tributes will finally be face to face with each other, on even ground. Well not even because the tributes from 1, 2, and 4 have been training for The Games their whole lives, but everyone will be in normal clothes, and not in shiny costumes. When I go to the dining room for breakfast, Katniss has already put away two plates full of breakfast, and is working on a third plate of rolls. I don’t blame her, I’m starved too. I also notice we are wearing the same thing. I try to think back to the previous games, and I can’t remember if everyone was wearing the same thing. Or if just the district partners wore the same thing. Or if anyone wore the same thing at all. I don’t know, I can’t remember much. They don’t show much training video things because it’s considered anti-climactic in the capitol. The tributes are forbidden to fight with each other, and that’s all the capitol people want to see.
Haymitch finishes off a few plates of stew before he finally speaks to us about our strategy in training. “So, let’s get down to business. Training. First off, if you like, I’ll coach you separately. Decide now.”
“Why would you coach us separately?” Katniss asks.
“Say if you had a secret skill you might not want the other to know about,” says Haymitch.
I exchange a look with Katniss. I don’t have any skills, let alone a secret one. “I don’t have any secret skills, and I know what yours is, right?” I say turning to Katniss. “I mean I’ve eaten enough of your squirrels.”
“You can coach us together.” Says Katniss.
“Alright, so give me some idea of what you can do.”
Well, I might as well get this conversation over with. I’m a baker’s son, I don’t have the heart to go out and hunt down people to kill, and I can’t do anything but bake. “I can’t do anything, unless you count baking bread,” I say solemnly.
“Sorry, I don’t. Katniss. I already know you’re handy with a knife,” says Haymitch.
“Not really,” admits Katniss. Admittedly, I was surprised when her knife hit the seam of the wall in the train. I knew she could hunt, but I thought she just used a bow. Maybe she hadn’t meant to hit the seam of the wall, and was just hoping it would stick. That’s a new thought. “But I can hunt. With a bow and arrow.”
“Are you any good?” asks Haymitch.
“I’m alright,” says Katniss. Okay, now I know she is downgrading herself. She has been putting food on her table for four years. I know Gale is a small help in that, but there is no way he did it by himself.
“She’s excellent,” I jump in. “My father buys her squirrels. He always comments on how the arrows never pierce the body. She hits every one in the eye. It’s the same with the rabbits she sells to the butcher. She can even bring down a deer.” Now, I have probably said too much about myself. Now she will probably conclude I have been watching her a little closer than any normal person. But is anyone normal when they’re in love, and there is no way to explain why?
“What are you doing?” She asks suspiciously. Her being suspicious would make sense too. We are both about to be thrown into The Hunger Games where only one of us will come out. If one of us comes out. She doesn’t know I love her, and it doesn’t make sense for me to be helping her at this point in The Games.
“What are you doing? If he’s going to help you, he has to know what you’re capable of. Don’t underrate yourself.” I say, trying to calm her down. Possibly to make her think I’m just trying to be allies with her in The Games or something.
She surprises me, by shooting back things that I can do, even though it’s not much. “What about you? I’ve seen you in the market. You can lift hundred-pound bags of flour. Tell him that. That’s not nothing.” But it is nothing. She must know that.
“Yes, and I’m sure the arena will be full of bags of flour for me to chuck at people.” my voice is beginning to rise, and I’m getting agitated. Why can’t she just accept that she is better than me? That she has a chance. “It’s not like being able to use a weapon. You know it isn’t.”
Her head snaps to Haymitch saying, “He can wrestle. He came in second in our school competition last year, only after his brother.” Why would she mention that? And how would she remember that?
“What use is that? How many times have you seen someone wrestle someone to death?”
“There’s always hand to hand combat. All you need is to come up with a knife, and you’ll at least stand a chance. If I get jumped I’m dead!” Her voice has started to rise as well, and I can feel myself about to say something I shouldn’t, but right now I don’t care.
“But you won’t! You’ll be living up in some tree eating raw squirrels and picking off people with arrows. You know what my mother said to me when she came to say goodbye, as if to cheer me up, she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realized, she didn’t mean me, she meant you!”
“Oh she meant you.”
“She said, ‘She’s a survivor, that one.’ She is,” I exclaim. I look down in embarrassment. Did I really just tell her that? How could I say that? I’m usually so good with words, but I just spit something out like it was nothing. Pain courses through me as I remember my mother. I never had a good relationship with her, but she seemed so confident I wasn’t coming home. I’m sure she isn’t even rooting for me, because she knows it will only be more painful when my death finally comes.
“But only because someone helped me.” I look down at the role in her hands, remembering that day. We were both just children, but I should have gone out and talked to her. I should have said something. But Katniss remembers. That’s all I could hope for. Maybe she will remember me as the boy that saved her life. That’s all I have to hope for now.
I lower my voice, and continue, trying to keep the conversation more lighthearted than it was. “People will help you in the arena. They’ll be tripping over each other to sponsor you.”
“No more than you.”
I can see the look Haymitch is giving me. He must be absolutely sure of my love for Katniss now, after everything I have said and done. I roll my eyes and say, “She has no idea. The effect she can have.”
After about a minute of silence Haymitch says, “Well then. Well, well, well. Katniss there will be no guarantee there’ll be bows and arrows in the arena, but during you private session with the gamemakers, show them what you can do. Until then, stay clear of archery. Are you any good at trapping?”
“I know a few basic snares,” she mutters.
“That may be significant in terms of food,” Haymitch turns to me. “And Peeta, she’s right, never underestimate strength in the arena. Very often, physical power tilts the advantage to a player. In the Training Center, they will have weights, but don’t reveal how much you can lift in front of the other tributes. The plan’s the same for both of you. You go to group training. Spend the time trying to learn something you don’t know. Throw a spear. Swing a mace. Learn to tie a decent knot. Save showing what you’re best at until your private sessions. Are we clear?” Katniss and I nod. “One last thing. In public, I want you by each other’s side every minute.” I nod, but I can tell Katniss doesn’t like the plan, and Haymitch slams his hand on the table. “Every minute! It’s not open for discussion! You agreed to do as I said! You will be together, you will appear amiable to each other. Now get out. Meet Effie at the elevator at ten for training.” I sit at the table for a few more moments, waiting until Katniss stalks out of the room. I hear the door slam shut, and I know it was for me. She is mad at me, maybe Haymitch a little, but mostly me. I nod goodbye to Haymitch, and when I’m half way down the hall I hear him yell, “You would have had your hands full, boy!”
“I already do,” I mutter to myself.
At ten, Katniss and I meet Effie at the elevator, and zip down to training. None of the other tributes are dressed alike. When we join the already gathered circle of tributes, Atala, the women I’m guessing oversees training steps up to give us advice and rules. She tells us all the stations, and that we will be able to roam freely between each one. We are not allowed to fight with other tributes during training, but there are assistants if we need someone to help. I look around at all the other tributes, and see that despite my upbringing in twelve, I’m probably one of the more fit tributes. Of course, that’s not counting the career tributes from 1, 2, and 4. It makes sense though. I grew up in a bakery, I have never starved, and even though some of the tributes are bigger built, I’m in better shape. I have had to work my entire life lifting and carrying and moving around. Maybe Katniss was right. I could stand a chance. That is, if she wasn’t here. I wouldn’t let myself win if she was to die in the arena.
Atala releases us, and the careers immediately move to the sharpest and scariest of weapons. I stick beside Katniss, not only because of Haymitch, but even if he hadn’t have told us to stay together I would have stayed by Katniss. “Where would you like to start,” I say, nudging her, making her jump. I pretend not to notice.
“Suppose we tie some knots.”
“Right you are,” I say, knowing we need to do something to blend in. Whether I’m new at this or not, I know I would stand out if I tried using a weapon. I’m strong, and Haymitch told us to blend in. to be forgettable to the careers, not to the gamemakers. We move to the knot tying station, and get to work. Katniss is a natural, but that makes sense. She has probably been setting snares since she learned how to hunt. The trainer shows her a few more complex knots while I attempt to master the most basic ones. Finally, we move on to something I enjoy. Camouflage. I find that decorating cakes was not as useless as I thought. I can match my skin to almost any background with a few different colors from mud and berries, and other natural things. I can feel the trainer eyeing me, so I admit how I learned to do all of this. “I do the cakes.”
“The cakes,” asks Katniss? “What cakes?”
“At home. The iced ones, for the bakery.” I know she knows what I’m talking about. How could she not? I have seen her through our bakery window, looking at my work. There is no way she could know it’s my work, but I had started to develop a sense of pride over them when I caught her looking at them the first few times. She always had Prim with her though. Any time I would see her in the square alone, she would never come and look at the cakes.
“It’s lovely. If only you could frost someone to death.”
“Don’t be so superior. You can never tell what you’ll find in the arena. Say it’s actually a gigantic cake,” I was going to say something else, but Katniss jumps in.
“Say we move on.” she is obviously a little peeved that I did something better than her. It’s odd really, and kind of annoying because she sees herself as small and hopeless, but when someone does something better than her she becomes defensive. I still love her though, and will until I draw my last breath in the next few weeks.
The next three days go on while we pass from station to station as tension builds between us quickly. We do our best to appear as a team, but I’m much more for this plan than she is. I watch the other tributes as well. The girl from 2 can hit a target dead center with any kind of knife you give her. The girl from 1 is not as impressive, but there is no doubt she is absolutely stunning. And being gorgeous can get you just as many sponsors as actually being good at something.
On the second day I keep seeing a small girl following us. The first few times, I think it’s just coincidence that she is at the same station as us, but then it becomes much to frequent for coincidence. “I think we have a shadow,” I say, and Katniss throws the spear she had in her hand. It hits its target but she isn’t standing very far away. “I think her name’s Rue,” I whisper softly.
“What can we do about it?” she asks, seeming mad. I know she isn’t mad at me, but I could never say what she is really mad about. She’s mad that such a young girl is here, going into the arena, and the capitol is making her. Katniss volunteered for her younger sister, but there isn’t a thing she can do about other twelve year olds getting sent in.
“Nothing to do. Just making conversation.”
On the second night, after Haymitch has grilled us with instructions and things to do, I can tell Katniss has had just about enough. “Someone ought to get Haymitch a drink.”
She laughs, but then immediately stops. “Don’t. Don’t let’s pretend when there’s no one around.”
I had only meant it as a harmless comment. I thought we were getting somewhere. I thought we were becoming friends, but obviously not. “All right, Katniss,” is all I say. After that, I don’t make effort to talk to her anytime we aren’t in front of people. I don’t think I could stand feeling rejected again. On the last day of training we are all called into private sessions. District twelve tributes go last, and I’m the male tribute so I go before Katniss. All of the other districts begin to file out until it’s just Katniss and me left. When I’m finally called, I’m shocked to hear Katniss.
“Remember what Haymitch said about being sure to throw the weights.”
“Thanks. I will. You… shoot straight.” I say, and walk into my private session. Shoot straight? Well that made me sound like an idiot. Now that’s all I can think about as I’m walking into the training center, but as I walk in I see that it wouldn’t matter what I am thinking about. They aren’t paying attention to me. But I don’t have anything else to do but continue with the plan. I head over to the weights and throw a few around. I’m sure to get the largest I can manage and toss it as hard as I can. To change it up, I put a dummy in the middle of the room and throw a weight at it, hitting it right on its head knocking it clean to the floor. When I look back up, I see that the gamemakers still are not paying attention. After fifteen minutes, I’m dismissed back to my floor.
I leave, knowing they won’t pay any more attention to Katniss than they pay to me. They’re going to give her a low score based on nothing but the things she couldn’t do, and not her amazing bow and arrow talent because they will be too wasted to pay attention. There might not even be a bow in the arena because no one here has really proven they can handle it with accuracy. That’s the only thing that will ensure Katniss’ life. So when I’m dismissed, I leave with a very sad feeling in my chest. More than sad, but a feeling of hopelessness.