Every cell in my body wants me to dig into the stew and cram it, handful by handful into my mouth. But Peeta’s voice stops me. “We better take it slow on that stew. Remember the first night on the train? The rich food made me sick and I wasn’t even starving then.”
“You’re right. And I could just inhale the whole thing!” I say regretfully. But I don’t. We are quite sensible. We each have a roll, half an apple, and an egg-size serving of stew and rice. I make myself eat the stew in tiny spoonfuls – they even sent us silverware and plates – savoring each bite. When we finish, I stare longingly at the dish. “I want more.”
“Me, too. Tell you what. We wait an hour, if it stays down, then we get another serving,” Peeta says.
“Agreed,” I say. “It’s going to be a long hour.”
“Maybe not that long,” says Peeta. “What was that you were saying just before the food arrived? Something about me… no competition… best thing that ever happened to you…”
“I don’t remember that last part,” I say, hoping it’s too dim in here for the cameras to pick up my blush.
“Oh, that’s right. That’s what I was thinking,” he says. “Scoot over, I’m freezing.”
I make room for him in the sleeping bag. We lean back against the cave wall, my head on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around me. I can feel Haymitch nudging me to keep up the act. “So, since we were five, you never even noticed any other girls?” I ask him.
“No, I noticed just about every girl, but none of them made a lasting impression but you,” he says.
“I’m sure that would thrill your parents, you liking a girl from the Seam,” I say.
“Hardly. But I couldn’t care less. Anyway, if we make it back, you won’t
be a girl from the Seam, you’ll be a girl from the Victor’s Village,” he says.
That’s right. If we win, we’ll each get a house in the part of town reserved for Hunger Games’ victors. Long ago, when the Games began, the Capitol had built a dozen fine houses in each district. Of course, in ours only one is occupied. Most of the others have never been lived in at all.
A disturbing thought hits me. “But then, our only neighbor will be Haymitch!”
“Ah, that’ll be nice,” says Peeta, tightening his arms around me. “You and me and Haymitch. Very cozy. Picnics, birthdays, long winter nights around the fire retelling old Hunger Games’ tales.”
“I told you, he hates me!” I say, but I can’t help laughing at the image of Haymitch becoming my new pal.
“Only sometimes. When he’s sober, I’ve never heard him say one negative thing about you,” says Peeta.
“He’s never sober!” I protest.
“That’s right. Who am I thinking of? Oh, I know. It’s Cinna who likes you. But that’s mainly because you didn’t try to run when he set you on fire,” says Peeta. “On the other hand, Haymitch… well, if I were you, I’d avoid Haymitch completely. He hates you.”
“I thought you said I was his favorite,” I say.
“He hates me more,” says Peeta. “I don’t think people in general are his sort of thing.”
I know the audience will enjoy our having fun at Haymitch’s expense. He has been around so long, he’s practically an old friend to some of them. And after his head-dive off the stage at the reaping, everybody knows him. By this time, they’ll have dragged him out of the control room for interviews about us. No telling what sort of lies he’s made up.