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I woke up in the morning to the sound of things clanking against each other. For a second I thought it was breakfast on the rare occasions my aunt would make it for me. On days like my birthday, when I did something great, got an award, something that never happened quite too often. I was sure that when I woke up I would see the sun light being filtered through my dark blue curtains and I would get up out of bed, having had a rough sleep. I’d walk out of my room, because my door was always opened, and I’d walk to the kitchen, being dragged out by the sound rather than the smell. I was sure I’d find her in a heap of confusion as she read the instructions for pancakes and had the sausage beeping in the microwave and the eggs getting lumpy in the bowl. I was sure I’d walk back out of the kitchen and into my room again, this time closing the door behind me so I could get a few minutes left of sleep and so she could get a few minutes more to get herself together.
But this time, when I opened my eyes, I was stuck in the Cornucopia and I was watching James, just as frustrated, try to open a can with one of my knives. It was a can of Arizona Iced Tea—much similar to the two that cradled my arm, something he must have done—so I was confused. Why would he need to open a can that way? I blinked a few times to get the full picture and around the little area he was setting up there was already food placed down. There was a small package of cereal with a plastic spoon on top and an orange already peeled and spread open beside it with matching food across; there was a rolled up plastic thing inside of an empty can in the middle that was supposed to be the center piece; and last but not least there was him, trying to open a simple can of Arizona Iced Tea.
I sat up slowly and looked at him with still blinking eyes. He was going to make a mess of his beautiful creation but I wasn’t sure if it was my place to stop him. I was never the type to jump in the middle and do things for people, I was more of the type to let them figure it out themselves, but this was painful. I let out a small yawn and startled he spins around. He looks at me, as if defeated, and with slumped shoulders looks back to his work.
I smile softly, “Is that all for me?”
"Go ahead, laugh."
"Laugh?" I’m confused. I get to my feet and walk to him slowly, trying to figure this one out. He must be self-conscious again. Something about his past, maybe just being a man, has stopped him from being able to appreciate the actions of romance and stopped him from realizing that romance is better failed than fulfilled. I walk next to him and with my left hand, my good hand, I bring his head into my side, since he is still kneeling down. I look over the work and see that everything looks really beautiful, really planned out. I feel a soft smile touch my lips, no one has ever done anything like this for me. "James…I love it."
He seems to relax as my fingers run through his hair, something I always imagined doing. He looks up at me, “You do?”
I nod my head and look down at him, “It’s beautiful.”
He pulls away and gets to his feet, “Well, come on. Let’s enjoy!”
I let out a soft laugh as he begins to act as if this were a restaurant or something silly like that. He walks behind me and helps me to sit down on the grass, then he finally walks to his side and sits down too. He picks up the can he was trying to open but this time I smile and extend my hand, “Here. Let me.”
He sighs and hands it over. I put the can between my legs and pop the top open with my left hand. He takes the can from me and pours the liquid into two half container things used for collecting rain water. For a second I wonder why he’s doing all this and then I remember the condoms. He says, “I wanted all of this to be done before you woke up.”
I’m blushing softly as I try to open the cereal package. He takes if from me and opens it himself while I reply, “Most of it is done. You just needed a little help.”
"I always need a little help," he mumbles as he puts down my package and opens his own.
I keep my face down, not wanting to look at him as I imagine us rolling around with each other like we had the other day but this time with no fear of going further. If we got to that point, would I be able to say no? Would I even want to? I wonder how I could jump from a raging lunatic, murderer, psycho girlfriend, horny teen, and shy girl in such short time. I start picking up the little pieces of cereal and putting them in my mouth, “No one’s ever done anything like this for me before.”
"No one?" he sounds confused and relieved and upset. I can never understand the things that come out of his mouth and the tones that he uses with them.
"No, "I say quietly. I don’t want to add ‘No one’s ever wanted to’ because I don’t want him to feel like he’s won by defeat. He’s had me around his finger from the door. I open my mouth to add something but all I can think is ‘box of condoms’ so I shove another piece of cereal inside of it.
"Well, there’s more to come," he says and I can’t help but to look up at him and see him blushing too. Is he blushing because he doesn’t know what else to say or is he blushing because he’s thinking of the same exact things that I am.
"I don’t need these kinds of things," I relent. I’d much rather have him stand over me, naked, with a condom strapped on if he wanted it—instead of wining and dining me.
"I like doing these kinds of things," he says softly, "I want to make you feel special."
"I already do feel special," doesn’t he know that being touched and being wanted by him makes me feel like some sort of goddess. All I want to do is be wanted, being loved is just a bonus that I’m not sure either of us know how to deal with.
That’s when it hits me. Maybe he’s not even thinking about the condoms. Maybe he’s doing all this so I don’t think about the condoms and so that I know that he’s not just going to take advantage of me and so that I know romance isn’t out the door as soon as sex comes into play. Maybe he’s just making up for hurting my wrist. Maybe he’s making up for trying to make me feel inferior. Maybe he’s making up for the mean words. Maybe he’s making up for something I might not even remember. Maybe none of this is about sex and fighting and sorry. Maybe this is about love.
"James," I’m blushing now because I don’t even know. No one’s ever wanted to make me feel…loved. There’s a bubbling in my stomach and a giddiness in my chest that makes me lightheaded and my face burn and my eyes feel unfocusable. I keep my eyes low, "You make me feel…I don’t know. I’ve never been this happy before. Never in my entire life and it’s so weird for me that sometimes I just have to stop and think about everything for a second. Sometimes I feel like I’m dreaming."
"That’s how I feel," he adds these words so quick that I have to look up at him, "I feel like you’re going to leave me."
"I feel like you’re going to leave me," I say, answering as quickly as he had.
He reaches over his makeshift breakfast table and takes my good hand, “But I’m not. I’m really not. I’m the kind of person that when I…” he blushes, he was going to say ‘love’ but he doesn’t want to too soon, “when I’m in something you have to forcefully pull me away from it. And I’m really…into you, Alexis. I really am.”
I can’t help but to blush softly. ‘Into’ our sub for ‘love’ until one of us gets enough courage to actually spit it out. I not my head and smile, “Well…I’m really into you too, James.”
"Really?" he asks even though he knows the answer.
"Really," I confirm, feeling his skin contact start to burn my flesh. I pull my hand away because the content of our conversation dawns on me. We shouldn’t be thinking like this, we shouldn’t be acting like this. We’re fighting for our lives in this place, we’re not in some Romantic-Comedy. This is the kind of talking, the kind of acting, the kind of thinking that gets people killed. And the last thing I want is for one of us to get killed.
"What are you thinking?" he asks in a happier tone than my thoughts.
"This is a bad idea."
Steaz looks at me with a weary smile. She helps me into the outfit we are supposed to wear. It’s weird material and tight and there’s a jacket over it and there are some pockets in the jacket just in case I need to shove some weapons into it or something. I’m allowed a bra, a very tight sports bra for my breast, and some underwear to make me feel comfortable. We are given boots to wear and socks under it. My hair is tied into a braid that I keep at my side just in case someone tries to grab it.
Steaz looks sad but I reach my hand up and hold onto her hand. She’s so thin and she’s so nice I think she’s really sad to see my die. But I wont. I speak to her with a smile, “Don’t worry. I’m not going to die. I’m going to win and you’re going to be my stylist forever.”
She nods her head and pats my hand, “I know. I just…I want to meet the real you and I’m afraid this killing might change it.”
"The real me will always be here," I promise and she nods again. She guides me onto the platform that will propel me into the Games above. I can almost taste the dirt that could collapse down on us but it’s going to be the dirt that I will run across. I think about how this place was built, a little dome area for all of us tributes to get ready with for the last time.
Steaz steps back and asks me, seriously, “Is…is everything you said…are you going to do it?”
"Of course not," I smile and I can see the timer in the room reach 00:10. I tap at the side of my head, "I’m too smart to be that stupid."
"What are you going to do?"
"Me and James are heading for the Cornucopia," I answer honestly, my heart beat slowing down just like the ticks on the clock.
"James?" her face is confused.
I nod my head as the top above opens, “I’m kind of in love with him.”
Suddenly I’m being lifted up into the air and all I can see of Steaz is a soft smile that tells me she thinks I’m kind of amazing. There is a soft woosh of air and my knees shake but I’m firmly planted on the platform and my body promises not to move. The motion isn’t fluid as I go up, it’s rickety which makes it scarier but they don’t want me to die before the Games begin.
Slowly my brain shuts off and I stop thinking and I just feel the pump of my heart in my ears so hard I feel like I’m going to pass out. My eyes find James instantly and he’s already breathing hard. We’re positioned in a half moon with the Cornucopia behind us and the forest all around, everywhere, except in the large clearing we stand at the edge of.
There is a voice of the head announcer for all the Games. I don’t know his name but it’s something Spivey. In the air he calls out, “Hello! And welcome to the Hunger Games New Jersey addition! The rules of the Games are simple. Stay alive. Only two can win the Games. And have fun. The Games will begin in Five, Four, Three, Two, One.”
There is a gun shot or a cannon fire and before I know it I’ve turned around and my legs are flying threw me and ahead to the Cornucopia. I don’t even look back to see if James is following but I hear footsteps following me already too late. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth and suddenly I’m there, tumbling into one of the crates filled with weapons. Out of the crates falls my knives and I grab a fist full with my left and turn around, throwing with my right.
It’s James behind me but he must have known that I was going to throw it because he jumps in the opposite direction and the knife slices Kim’s forehead but doesn’t kill her. She screams and I see more people coming and I realize I have to throw harder like she is the wall in my room and I grab the knife and propel it forward with all my strength and watch it slam into the side of her head. She falls backward and Lee is there with his eyes open but before he can look up at me and swear revenge I throw another one and hit him between the eyes. Already I know the exact strength I need to break through the human skull but I need to do more.
Alex runs around Lee but before I have my knives ready a spear flies forward from beside me. I watch it fly through the air and I think too much, too much, it’s going to far, but Alex has stopped running to watch and it skims over his forehead, taking his scalp with it. He falls backward, screaming in pain, but I don’t focus on him, I look up at the others who are just standing at the edge of the forest in shock and appearing almost betrayed. So betrayed I start to feel a little bad.
I look to the three bodies in front of us, not close but if they had gotten closer they could have done damage to us. The ten other tributes stare at us still, waiting for us to run after them or one of them to run after us, but nothing happens. I watch Chris grab Grace and they slowly disappear into the woods. The others start to follow but the last face I see is Liz who promises we will meet again.
I don’t look at James yet but I look at Alex still screaming. I run over to him, knowing that I am exposed but I can’t take his screaming. I take one of my knives and shove it in his milky forehead and watch his brains fly out onto the ground behind him. Throw up follows after and mixes into the brains which makes me throw up again. I feel disgusting like a murderer and I think this is cruel and we shouldn’t be here. But a big tan hand is on my shoulder and I look up at him and either because of throwing up or what has just happened I’m crying. He wipes my tears and I lean into his side, wanting to feel his warmth and still thinking that he looked so good.
After a few seconds though I pull away and grab the knife, not finding the sight so disturbing. James grabs the spear and I look down at Alex, alive one second and then not the next. I find it weird more than anything else now. I find it so weird. We grab the knives from Kim and Lee and I’m happy they at least died together but I feel crappy that George, where ever he is, has lost his boyfriend.
We make it back into the Cornucopia and I see that the mouth is so wide and if we sleep we’ll have no protection. I open my mouth to talk but vomit comes out again. This isn’t the first impression I wanted to make in front of James, now that we were officially together, but he holds the braid from my face and rubs my back while it all comes out. I don’t know why I’m vomiting.
He finds me a bottle of water and I clean out my mouth and drink it til theirs none left. I wipe my face and say, “We need to protect this.”
"The Spears, "He says quickly, "How many did you order?"
"We’ll do three rows of five and we’ll have the other five on the outside," he answers quickly, it’s such a good plan that I’m impressed.
"What if they come and take them," I ask, not to be mean but just to improve the plan, I’m already sweating.
"What else did you order?" he’s so calm but he’s breathing hard and I’m afraid he’s going to have a panic attack.
"Flat mines, we can put them around the perimeter. I also ordered fishing wire and rope. We can make a net over the mouth of the Cornucopia with empty food cans so we can hear them and we can tie the fishing wire through the spears and have it move something so we know someone’s here," I answer quickly, everything working itself out in my brain.
"How will we get out?" he asks, looking around the inside. It’s tall enough and it’s large but there are boxes everywhere.
"We wont. Here…let’s clear out some of these boxes an-"
Before I finish my sentence his lips are on mine in a kiss so deep and so hot, just like the one on the roof. I wrap my arms around his neck tightly and he lifts me up and I use one of the boxes and I kiss him back hard and frightened. I don’t think of this being a bad idea but I want to kiss him so hard because we both looked so good and we’re going to look so good again in our winning interview and we’re together right now and we don’t have to pretend that we’re not and that bitch Liz can probably see this from the woods and he is MY man and I’m HIS girl and we’re together forever and we will literally kill anyone that tries to get in the way.
He pulls apart again and I’m breathing so hard and so is he and he really might have a panic attack so I calm down. I hold his chin in my right hand as my left holds him tight against me. His eyes are on mine but I show him my mouth and I breath in through my nose and out through my mouth and slowly he starts to follow. I gently caress the side of his face until he looks calm again. He closes his eyes and rests his head on my shoulder while I bury my face in his hair. This is a bad idea and we’re vulnerable. But we’re together and that feels too good to pass up.
It must be four minutes by the time we pull apart and he helps me on the ground. I look down at the crates and we touches my braid with a smile, “This looks nice.”
I blush brightly but I try to hide it from him because we’re supposed to be serious and trying to survive, “Thanks.”
He grabs my hand and my heart starts beating crazy wild again. I wonder how he can still be so cute while we’re here and I just finished killing three people with his assistance. Maybe that’s why they were looking at us. Maybe they thought it wasn’t fair to have that many people under your belt so soon.
James lets go of my hand and starts taking all the spears out of the crate and he puts them by the edge of the mouth. I find the ropes and fishing wire and I put them there too, making sure not to get them tangled. I get all my knives and put them in a different section so we don’t confuse them, I realize these knives are easier to use because they’re sharp and not made for butter. By the time we’re done we have all the boxes to one side and all the weapons and other things to the other. Tony decided to pick things that I didn’t think about, toilet paper, water bottles, chips, backpacks, compass, lighters, silly things we didn’t need but I was grateful to have.
Me and James began working with the mines and we sprinkled them all around the perimeter and at the edge of the forest. We stuck together and I kept my knives in my pockets and he had a sword on his hip. We were silent as we moved and we didn’t bother to make conversation but did keep contact the whole time through. We took some of the crates and put them in front of the mouth like obstacles and I thought we might be doing too much but I didn’t have the heart to stop. We made the net together and begun digging in the spears to the ground, then we hung the rope just over it and worked our way back inside for the final phase. We tied the fishing wire through the spears and then tied them to seven noise makers Tony had ordered, I guess he wanted to celebrate his victory at the end.
When we were done with everything James and I were exhausted. We shared a water bottle and then fell asleep in each other’s arms for the night, not pulling away once. But before we drift to sleep I manage to whisper, “You sang so good.”
There is some silence before he whispers, “Thanks.”
The stage is black and reflects all the lights although it is dark and nothing is on yet. We wait behind the curtain like models ready for the fashion show but no one is ready. This is the first time everyone looks so human and nervous—none of us are ready for a live audience. We watch as the people fill in all the seats, this place is huge. The stage is large and there are fifteen seats that line stage left and at the center are two seats for Flickerman and who ever he interviews. There is a large screen in the background where things can be projected and little screens around so people with sucky seats can see too. The right side, the side we have to cross to reach our seats, is empty. That’s where we are to perform, well, those of us that have a talent.
The show begins with Flickerman—who is a rather young and sharp dressed gentelamn—addressing the crowd and making them smile and laugh. He’s such a natural act and everyone can see him on all screens and no one minds. First up is Kim Lee and she walks out to Gamma Ray by Beck, which is an odd choice but who can blame her. Her dress is short and shows her long legs that are toned to perfection. The dress is black and classy, laced with gold to accent every feature, and has quarter sleeves with no dip into the cleavage. Her hair is in a nice up bun and she looks stunning.
"Wow,"Flickerman says,"Aren’t you lovely?"
Kim smiles, batting her eyelashes as she looks down, being all coquette.
"You look so stunning. Who was your stylist?" he asks, looking around the crowd with his hand together.
"Jamara, she’s sitting over there," Kim motions to her with the slightest of ease and her face fills the screen.
"Jamara? There you are. What a wonderful job but we can’t thank her so much, you must have been very easy to work with."
"You’re too kind."
"Oh no, not kind enough. Kim, I have to ask, how is all this attention making you feel?"
"I don’t mind it so much. I’m used to being the center of attention."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, I’m the only child of my parents."
"What’s that like?"
They laugh at her honest answer but recover quickly, “Of course. Now, Kim, we understand that you volunteered. Can you tell us about that decision?”
"My friend Lee and I are both black belts and thought it might be fun to join a competition to teach criminals a lesson."
"So you joined for the justice aspect."
"You can say that."
"And what about Lee? Is there anything between the both of you?"
"We’re best friends. That’s really all there is to it."
"And for him?"
"I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask him yourself."
He chuckles and nods, “And ask we will. How do you feel about your competition?”
She seductively raises her brow and looks back at us all waiting for her, “What competition?”
Flickerman lets out a hoot and the crowd goes “Ooooooooh.” It takes only a second for them to recover and Flickerman says, “Coming out of the gate hot, are we? I like it. Everyone keep an eye on her. She’s a black belt with an attitude!” The crowd claps “Now, what is your talent today?”
"I’m going to sing."
"Beautiful. What song will you be singing for us?"
"The House of the Rising Sun."
"Ooooo that’s a favorite of mine. Go on."
She gets up from the stage and with the light on her everyone can see her heals look like something out of Lady Gaga’s closet. They’re gold like the lace and they make her look like she’s gliding. She gets to the mic and sings like Zooey Deschanel. I think I have to kill her because perfection like that shouldn’t exist.
Next is Tony Ferollio and he gets a big applause as he comes out to Motto by Young Money. He does a back flip over the stage and lands it and looks so cool when he gets up because he pretends it doesn’t bother her. For some reason Tony Buffer is called with him and this time he does two back flips and everyone loves their little rivalry. Tony B and Tony F share the seat, both falling off at one point or another but that makes everyone love them. They’re funny and they talk about how they met here and how they’re best friends and how they have to win because friendships like that only come once in a lifetime and they’re not missing out. They’re talent is acrobats and juggling and they don’t drop a single thing. I decide then if anyone is going to kill me it will probably be those two.
Next comes out Dianna Nucci and she wears a tight blue dress with one sleeve and lots of shimmer and comes out to Lights by Ellie Goulding. She looks like a godess or a closet lesbian but everything about her screams “too pretty to die” but she’s here. I think that if she weren’t such a bitch I’d have a lesbian experience with her. Maybe. But she doesn’t have a real personality. It seems too actorish, as if she’s been pretending to be too many people that she doesn’t know herself. Her talent is also acting and she does a scene from Hamlet in which Ophelia hands out her flowers. She’s really good.
Liz Ferrer comes out in a dress that’s long and pink and flows downward and makes her also look like she’s floating and comes out to Sexy And I Know It by LMFAO. Her hair has been straightened and is up and she looks like a princess but when she talks she sounds like the devil. Each of her pointed expressions says that she’s going to kill me and she’s going to go out of her way to do it. Her talent is singing and she does a Paris Hilton song. “Stars Are Blind or something but I can’t pay attention because James is next.
James wears the most handsome suit I have ever seen and comes out to Jesus Walks by Kanye West. The jacket is kind of light blue and you can just barley make out the light flowery pattern on it. The color makes the brownness in his skin and eyes and hair pop out and my heart beats crazy in reaction to the classy look he has going on. Who ever his stylist is needs to be there for us when we win. Somehow, with him looking so good, I know we’ll win.
"James! You look so dashing!" Flickerman yells, giving James a pat on the back, "I didn’t think you could do it but look at you! Who’s your stylist?"
"Senna-lee," he answers, blushing because he does think he looks good.
"Well she needs a pat on the back! How was she able to take away your signature basketball shorts?" he asks, leaning in with intrigue.
James shrugs, trying to hide his shy smile, “She promised me the girls would love it.”
Flickerman looks back to the girls seated behind him, “And what do you ladies think?”
They nod their heads and clap their hands. Liz even screams, “That’s my man!”
And I feel hatred boil inside me. HER man? No that’s MY man. It takes everything to not kill her as I watch.
"Your man?" Of course he noticed. Flickerman looks to James, "Is their anything going on between you?"
"No!" James shouts and I feel so good but I remember he has to pretend to be her ally, "Not physically, I-I mean, we’re just friends."
"Ooh, quick cover up. Is there another special lady out there for you?" he asks, he’s probing and I’m afraid James may crack under it.
"It’s just, she does have a boyfriend, she told me," somehow James is brilliant.
"A boyfriend?" Flickerman signs and shakes his head, "How sad to hear. James, I understand you also volunteered. Can you explain your decision?"
"Yeah…well…the thing is I got a football scholarship but…it wasn’t much. And to go to college my mom would have to take out a second mortgage and get a loan and I just thought…it wasn’t worth everyone to go to so much trouble for something my heart wasn’t it. My younger brother though, he’s a genius, he’s so poetic and reads all the time and has great grades but even with scholarships he wouldn’t be able to go to a really good school. And I just thought with the money I get from entering and from actually winning, it will be enough to make his dreams come true."
There is some silence and I feel my heart breaking. Oh, James. I look at his face and like everyone else I want him to win. But unlike them I can MAKE him win. I can help him do it. I can help him give his brother a better life.
"James, you are so admirable," Flickerman begins to clap for him and the crowd follows. They aren’t being sarcastic, he is a really admirable man. "Now, James, what is your talent?"
"Singing?" Flickerman seems to be mirroring my thoughts. I had no idea he could sing. "What song?"
"Scar Tissue by RHCP."
James stands and walks to the microphone and the song begins to play. My knees melt by the touch of his voice in my ears and I have to hold on to the walls next to me. He can’t get any better. It would be too much if he did.
Denise Christians comes out to Alabama Song by the doors and looks so cool, so rockin. She has on a leather jacket and a white sequence short dress with big black heels I could never try to sit in. She’s charming in a cocky way and her talent is singing too but she sings I Love Rockin Roll so it’s not really like singing but it makes me like her, the kind of performance she gives.
Alexandra Gram is next and she’s a cunt if I ever saw her coming out to Call Me Maybe. Her dress is long in the back and short in the front and is so cute it looks like Forever 21 designed it. She looks like those girls that try to be hipster and succeed the first time around. I want to slap her with a rock but I have to wait for the Games which don’t seem so bad anymore. Her attitude is sweet and confident and her talent acting too. She acts out a scene from Moulin Rouge but somehow I can’t place this one.
The rest seems like some kind of blur. Alex Sherrit comes out and Flickerman picked up on the homosexuality about him but he denied the implied question. Grace Kim comes out in a tight cat suit like outfit with long boots and another leather jacket that looks so new and different on her. She does a dance routine that must give all the boys chubbies and I don’t mind if James has one because I would have one too. John Smith swallows swords and Chris Wojik does a rubicks cube in two seconds and Lee Harvy sings Feeling Good by Michael Buble and Scott Adkins tells jokes and then..it’s my turn.