THE CREDIT for the girl in the leaves goes to Liliah on deviantart. SO if it's, like, illegal, then it's all her fault. (not really, I love your stuff, Liliah)
(C) Spring Dandelion (me) 2010/2011. DISCLAIMER: I do not own, nor take credit, for any names, places, ideas, etc., all are belonging to their rightful owners. (The banner features Alexandra Daddario as Leevy, and I am working on another!!!)
Please comment on this!!! I NEED OPINIONS! (BTW THIS IS THE FIRST CHAPTER AND I WILL POST MORE IF RECEIVED WELL!!!)
I AWAKE CONSUMED BY A FEELING OF DREAD; ITS STICKY, ICY LIQUID POOLS AND SLOSHES AROUND IN MY unsettled stomach. Talons of hatred and bitter anger constrict around my fragile, unevenly beating heart. A gentle sigh of remorse settles in the air by my lips; my brain still struggles to erase the nightmare that I experienced minutes earlier. My brother Keath and I were running about in a field of fragrant, vibrant green. We devoured a banquet of dense bread, fatty, creamy cheese and various roots—too simple for the Capitol yet too extravagant for District 12. Grinning at jokes as we chewed longingly, we tangled our fingers in the grass to heal our laughter-aching sides. It was a joyous collection of fantasies, bubbling with happiness. Keath being there only added to the hype; his presence increased the glistening of hope remaining for the world’s lost humanity. I would savour the precious moments if he weren’t dead, rotting underneath the ground after being struck with a recurring case of the measles.
I drag my feet along the jaggedly splintered ground, curling my toes as they prickle against the unpleasant sensation. My eyes flutter as I drink in this moment of oblivious haziness, imagining foolishly that the bedroom I inhabit currently is filled with beds; one for a jolly father who brings home treats for his children; one for a bright, happy mother who cleans the house with a brown-handled broom; one for a baby boy who kicks and screams for food until he learns that it isn’t coming. After soaking in the warmth of the daydream, my senses snap open, revealing the imperfections of life. My eyebrows knit into a hard line as they scan the room. There are no adjacent beds, only an empty blanket a few metres from my own that is festering with contagion and emptier than the head of its owner. Perhaps my father returned to this makeshift bed the previous night, blundered under the covers and caught some sleep before returning to work; perhaps he was with our Head Peacekeeper, Cray, letting him buy half of the liquor-selling Ripper’s stock before ambling drunkenly to a carefully concealed location. Once he was scavenged from behind boxes of butchered venison, another time dragged from his curled-up position behind a pyramid of blood oranges (a fruit which’s taste will remain a mystery to me forever—oranges, especially blood oranges, are an absolute luxury). My father is not wealthy, nor is he poor; instead jammed in the cruel section of in-between—unable to afford luxurious banquets for the family, but able to afford bubbling bottles liquor. My father could certainly afford to live in a decent, civilized part of town; though I think he keeps our house in the Seam so as not to waste precious money… wouldn’t want to dig in his pockets for something that could be used to buy drink, would we? Who knows! Perhaps he isn’t as heartless and foolish as he seems; there are memories in the squat cabin—could it be that extinguishing them would be painful to the man that numbs the world with alcohol? Unlikely; though it’s not as if there would be anything else holding him here, for his workplace would certainly be more easily accessible if we moved. My father works very little time in the coal mines, unlike everyone else; instead selling creamily fresh milk from goats. Once, long ago in a world where drink was distant, he worked hours upon hours in the mines—the twisted joints that he is loath to use properly are the result of that, therefore rendering him unfit to work for such an extended period—the extended period being the only amount of time that would keep the family alive. But my father was always a money saver; he scoured the streets and eagerly purchased 4 fresh, perfectly groomed goats from the livestock salesman, deciding to sell their milk for the remainder of his intoxicated life. He’s too old to be recognised as his younger self, and nobody knows we’re related so closely. Not even my best friend Kylee. That would be embarrassing, I think as I tread gently, bare-footedly, through the gaping doorway and down the short hall—though it’s yet another thing in our house that can barely be considered as it’s titled.
I shuffle through to the kitchen, still half asleep, and snag from the crumbling table a dense slice of bread made from tesserae grain; I can taste the need for the Capitol to reap poor children into the Hunger Games, among the distasteful flavour. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining, as bread for breakfast is more than most children get, even those who are blessed with no siblings like me. Many children have 5 or 6 brothers and sisters, who go without food themselves to feed their siblings. Those are the kids who have more chance of being reaped into the Hunger Games. The Games are simple enough. Enter your name into the draw once when you are twelve, twice when you are thirteen and so on, until you are eighteen in your final year of eligibility. If you had, say, three members of your family, of whatever age, you could enter your name three extra times every year in exchange for more grain and oil. So if you were twelve, and took the grain and oil for yourself and 2 parents, you’d have 4 entries. I am seventeen and have 21 entries—there was a time when I got grain for my mother and brother. 2 names, a boy’s and a girl’s, are drawn from a huge glass ball in an annual ritual known as the Reaping. If you are chosen, you travel to the Capitol, a place of luxury and technology, so unlike the poverty and poorness in the 12 areas known as districts around it. After being flaunted in pretty dresses, interviewed by over-exuberant citizens and fed delicious food, you are sent into a landscape known as the arena; woods, deserts, wastelands, anything, to fight to the death with the boys and girls from the other 11 districts. District 12, my home, has had 2 winners in 73 years of Hunger Games. One is alive; Haymitch Abernathy, a drunk who’s so out of it, he’s a disadvantage to the people drawn in the Reaping, who are known as tributes. He’s disgusting and surly, which is why he, my father and Head Peacekeeper Cray are seen so oftenly together. Tesserae packages are not needed for the children who live in the wealthier parts of town; they even look different, with ashy blonde hair and bright, seething blue eyes. Tessera grain is from District 11, and a way to assure a lack of victory in my home, District 12; poor children aren’t well-fed, so they have no chance of winning the Games. District 12 is always the Capitol’s ignorance, the place they are ashamed of. If I were them, I’d be more ashamed of myself.
Flinging open the front door, rusty on its hinges, I scrape a deep breath through my lungs and sigh at the air’s fragrant freshness. Could I be dreaming—no, I hear it, a rough sound of boots scuffing on the grimy path. I spy the person approaching before they acknowledge me; oh no, I think hazily, feeling panic unfurling inside my chest, just by the place that harbours dread and recognition. It’s him, casually strolling through my neighbourhood in a way that make my heart flutter madly against my ribcage. Gale Hawthorne tramples through the overgrown weeds on the cracked path, smiling toothily at no one in particular in all his glory. His grey Seam eyes are glinting with freshly illuminated happiness, his smooth black hair swishing ever so slightly in the light breeze. The same breeze touches my cheeks, as if someone is trying to cool their scorched surfaces. Clutched triumphantly between Gale’s scarred fingers is a loaf of bread, golden brown and leaking wisps of steam. He’s looking manly in a tight grey shirt that hugs his chest and stomach, the 2 most attractive parts of his strong, muscular build. Just as my mouth begins to drop open, exposing the saliva that always churns after an unsatisfying breakfast, Gale stops dead in his tracks and begins to dig in the pockets of his khaki, knee-length shorts. His eyes flutter and scan the neighbourhood with innocent curiousity as he does so. Without warning, the grey depths that are startling in their beauty lock on me, appearing transfixed. I gasp with delight and slam the door shut, which is a stupid move for a girl who doesn’t want to be caught staring any longer… I’m always like that, evoking reactions that are always caused by misperceptions. I can almost see the confusion riddling his features as his ears prick at the unanticipated slam. Does he think that I hate him? That would be the most obvious conclusion to reach. I press my back against the doorframe, sliding slowly towards the ground. My head, spinning with giddy happiness, lands in my hands. A smile that would scare any onlooker with its wideness spreads slowly onto my face, touching my eyes with unshared laughter. “Oh,” I whisper to myself, the sound becoming lost in my palms. For some reason I feel blood staining my cheeks with a bright red flush, as if our one-way staring match had evoked an astronomical reaction. “Did he look at me?”
It’s ridiculous to be so shallow, what with my belly to be filled and a despicable father to keep at arm’s length, but I can’t help it. I stay, frozen, by the door, until pale streaks of sunlight begin to filter through the window. Recognition dawns along with the sun. I have only hours left before the Reaping, and I’ve not done a single, measly job!
I slip on a muddy white shirt that tightens under my armpits and jog to town in a fluster, enriched by the rumbling in my stomach. First of all, I stack the shelves at the baker’s, pressing blistering loaves of bread into my palms and then placing them on rusty, precariously sitting silver shelves. The loaves sit cautiously, but balance nonetheless. Peeta Mellark—the son of the baker and younger brother of the school’s wrestling champion—glances briefly around his shoulder before slipping me 2 extra coins. “No,” I protest, my smile drooping at the edges. “Peeta, I can’t take it.” The little bakery’s walls, painted a creamy, unidentifiable colour that is fading slowly to a dreary grey, presses in around us as Peeta sighs. I lift my face, studying his eyes, which are so filled with kind eagerness that my declining of his offer makes me feel rude.
“No, Leevy, take them. We’re friends, right?” Peeta urges, pinning my hand between both if his and giving it a squeeze that is too hard to reassure. “You’ve worked here for so long, it seems like I know you better than anyone.” Well, no, we’re not really good friends, but my head bobs up and down guiltily anyway. “Well… as a friend…let me say, who knows if I’ll ever see you again?” I can see by the way that he flicks his blonde bangs over his forehead to shield his eyes that it’s hard for him to mention. Mentioning the Hunger Games is not a good thing around friends that you are trying to bribe. Terror sweeps through me, gripping my throat and choking my breath. My fingers curl underneath Peeta’s palms, which he has the decency to remove.
“Who knows?” I get out shakily before pressing the coins into my pocket. They seem to burn gaping holes in the fabric. Peeta does have a kind heart, really; risking punishment and lesser meals for the goodness of a girl he has hardly spoken to—perhaps glimpsed at his lunch table occasionally and employed out of pity, but never truly befriended—just because his heart’s kindness accepts my lesser fortune. I make a note to thank him somehow for the unwanted gift as my lips twitch into a fond smile and form a feeble “thank you” that is wiped off the map completely when I press my lips against his ashen cheek to show that I mean it. Heat swirls through my body and I blink, as if uncomprehending of the situation. I turn to leave, but Peeta grabs my arm.
“Leevy, you can’t just leave like that!” His fingers curl tightly and I yelp, feeling guilty as his features contort into a horrified expression.
“Yes, I can,” I insist firmly, and smile at the tinkle of the bell as it signals my exit.
After powerwalking back to the Seam, dizzy from shock at my outgoing gesture towards Peeta, I peek into the Hawthornes’ window, not concealed by curtains but transparent, threadbare clothes. I find myself creeping, tip-toeing like a crazy murderer, into the house so as not to wake the resting kids. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. More like, “check that Gale’s not there, Leevy, otherwise you’ll become a stuttering mess and unknowingly tell the kids yes when they ask if they can go roll around in the mud outside”. Last time I babysitted the Hawthorne’s younger family members—with Gale in the room—I ended up not speaking a word and shaking visibly whenever he shifted on the couch or talked. A little, “Rory, come here”, and I was a mess. But his voice was so rich and manly, coated in a sweet, honey-like texture that I deemed irresistible, it seemed appropriate. At least if I notice him, there will be a chance that I can escape if he doesn’t hear me…
I start out of my dreamland as Hazelle Hawthorne stumbles to my side; in seconds, she’s slipping around the street’s corner to collect washing. We need not speak, Hazelle and me; we’ve been helping each other out since I was 10. She worked her fingers to rawness when Keath got sick for the first time, trying to get money. That was before she became friends with the local apothecaries. Before we realised that treatment for Keath was futile, that we needed a cure and not short-term preventation. I gave away my mother’s valuable gold necklace when she was sick after post-pregnancy. Attempting to not display my boredom, I study the house that is as familiar as my own; it’s nothing more than a small room, walls painted a dwindling white, a rich brown table in the middle of the scarred floorboards. I make my way over to the table and drum my fingers noisily against a splintered chair, willing myself to drown out the thoughts of my little brother and the past—they always seem to hit unexpectedly, without warning or reason.
“The past isn’t something to dwell on, Leevy,” my mother would blabber insistently—only half serious—from when I was little more than a toddler, not understanding until the day that she died, and I understood the words all too well. “It is to be acknowledged, occasionally spoken of, but never shamed by brutal mentality or wished differently.” Tears prickle beneath my eyelids as I realise that time had faded the memory of my mother’s voice to a flat monotone.
“Oh, Leevy,” Hazelle gasps breathlessly when she returns with loads of washing… lucky her. “I’ve got no payment. I’ll get that hopeless son of mine to bring you a squirrel, when he comes back.”
I think not. I fumble for appropriate words, my lip quavering as they slip through my fingers. “Oh, I’d rather stay here, if you would.” I flash Hazelle a tiny smile that disappears almost immediately at the sight of her thoughtful face. Letting go of the chair that I was practically choking, I relax my weight into the table in an attempt to relieve the tension in my shoulders.
“I prefer to be in the company of others, you know, today.” Hazelle nods, but her eyes are still cautious; reproachful and distrustful, a soup concocted from years of connection. She knows me far, far too well and that’s not a good thing a lot of the time. To convince her of my false motive, I say, “my father was out drinking all night and his shift at the mines finishes soon.” That brings Hazelle firmly onto my side. She places a comforting hand on my shoulder, rough and callused from years of scrubbing; warmth spreads through my collarbone and I smile roughly, if smiling can be defined as “a microscopic upturning of the lips”.
“Well, why don’t you just take a seat and we’ll wait for Gale to come home from hunting, then.” That is just another reason why Gale is perfect, a model sculpted in heaven; he’s brave. The Seam, which is the area in which the poorer citizens of 12 live, is fenced off near the place where the woods and beyond begins to stretch.
“Too many rabid animals are roaming around the Seam; therefore, I must conclude that we will be enclosing the area with a fence.” That’s what the officials insisted long ago, but we all know better. The fence is electrified—supposedly. Those who are brave enough, or those who have salvaged weapons from earlier times, find holes underneath and shimmy through. Probably the officials turn off the electricity because they’re hungry too, and hunters can’t trade them meat if there’s no access to it. Gale is well-built, despite the circumstances; he tracks wild animals, kills them, and trades them for money and such at the Hob. The Hob is a black market, situated in a coal house. Thanks to a “generous” donation from the Capitol, we got a new coal house, which is now flaunted about on TV the few times that District 12 is actually featured. The old place fell into disrepair, and is now the hottest source for illegal trades. Nobody but the hunter children are brave enough to venture there.
“He should be home in a minute,” Hazelle says from across the table, interrupting the stony silence with her soft, determined voice. I respond with a nod, my accustomed gesture for assent, just as the door is thrown open so hard that it lands against the wall with a thwack. I raise my eyebrows cautiously.
Gale looks perfect when he saunters into the house, hair dripping beads of crystallised water. He must have been fishing, I conclude, after seconds of contemplation. The smile on his face is so large that I’m instantly uplifted. To catch Gale in a good mood is purely golden, not to mention rare. You didn’t provoke it, I remind myself with an edge of bitterness. So stop your pathetic drooling!
“Happy Hunger Games, Mother!” He chuckles and digs his hands into his pockets. I smile, but hide my lips with my hair.
“Give Leevy a squirrel, boy,” Hazelle says edgily, eyeing him scornfully. Hazelle has never approved of Gale’s silent treatment towards me, not after all I’ve done for their family. I used to babysit him when he was 11—if by babysitting, you mean endured constant insults and teasing while I watched Vick and Rory chatter amongst themselves. But boys are all like that at 10, 11 and 12—Vick is a perfect example. He taunts me playfully day and night. “Your eyes look fun-ny with your ha-aa-ir, your eyes look funny.” Not particularly humorous but a whole lot mean. But at least it’s chanted in a carefree tone.
I almost don’t notice Gale when he speaks. Almost, my conscience chides me sarcastically. “We traded today,” he says casually, airily in fact, pressing his palm against the wall. Probably he’s going to have a dust stain on his hand. I catch myself just as a huff of relief escapes my lips; I don’t fancy going home and sickening myself by gouging out the organs of a squirrel, or peeling its fluffy fur from its slippery skin. Last time Hazelle offered me a squirrel, which I instantly accepted, I had retched in the sink at the sight of things that you weren’t meant to see. I feel so sorry for the butcher sometimes.
“It’s okay. I don’t mind, really,” I say levelly, shrugging. Gale catches my eye and I start trembling like a leaf in the breeze. I’m suddenly terrified that Gale will blurt out the door-slamming incident in front of Hazelle. And I do not just feel an embarrassed terror—it’s a cold, fierce terror grips me with iron teeth; clamping around my chest, it sends a spasm of icy helplessness sweeping through my veins. I close my eyes momentarily, any try to tune my senses into things that would be otherwise concealed; the breeze rushing through the curtains that are constructed with threadbare baby clothes, the slight heat of the sun that shows the dust and ash spiralling in the air. Heat blossoms on my cheeks as a need to run out the door and never return crashes over me like an overwhelmingly strong wave. I somehow find a way to finish my feebly uninspiring sentence.
“I’ll be fine.” Peeta’s cruel statement pops into my head without warning, and I repeat it with slight variation in a much more brittle tone. “Who knows whether or not you’ll ever need to pay me again, but don’t bother.” Gale’s hand drops from the wall and hangs limply by his side. Hazelle’s lip quivers and she bites down on it, hard, until she draws blood. I shake my hair and hide my ashamedly sunken features behind a curtain of slick darkness. My hand reaches to my eyes and grazes across the tear that has formed in my eyelid. Wordlessly, Hazelle gains her footing and wraps a frail arm around my shoulders. It feels weak; as if it could shatter at any second, but the fact that she can scrub endless amounts of clothes with the bony structure is slightly reassuring. When I pull away from her half-embrace and mutter, “I’d better go,” in a defeated tone, I’m assaulted with a string of protests. From Hazelle and not Gale, of course; he merely crosses his heavily defined arms over his chest and gazes out the window, his shapely eyebrows knitting together as he becomes immersed in his own thoughts. I myself am quite distracted by this thinking state that he has pulled himself into. I assure Hazelle that I didn’t mean it, that it was just a bad joke that I shouldn’t have said, as my eyes continually slip past her and onto her aggressively attractive son.
“But you’re sure you’re okay?” Hazelle presses, forcing my attention to the weathered lines of her motherly face, the limp black hair that is tied into a sloppy ponytail, as she touches my cheek with a gentleness that I have lacked for more than a year. The gesture of kindness makes me feel guilty for ever thinking she knew too much about me. Hazelle realises that the smallest things require comfort, otherwise they will be dwelled on forever. “Just make sure you get your Reaping Dress off of the clothesline. Okay? It’s a pretty one. And Leevy… don’t push yourself. Just make sure you’re… okay.”
Okay… when was the last time I was okay? I think, and feel my face sink considerably. I nod vigorously at Hazelle, push past her, and stumble away. But the problem is this; I’m not okay. I’m half-starved but not to the point where death is as prominent as my ribs, just to the point of extreme annoyance; my father has expected me to drop dead for over a year; and the one I want to marry me hardly notices me, despite my constant presence within his life. I can’t even begin to imagine how I’ll avert his attention.
My only destination becomes the door that seems to be laced with strips of light that I assume are the tears clouding my vision. Gale, Gale, Gale, my brain whispers repetitively, and I feel like screaming by the time I pass him. Just as I reach the door, I feel fingers lock around my arm. I spin around hastily and, as soon as I discover who’s long, lean fingers are wrapped around my elbow, am shocked by an electric current that begins to pump frantically through my veins. The sensation sizzles and tingles, but never subsides as the quarter-embrace continues. I can feel my eyes widening in shock, knowing that physical contact from Gale is rare. Even his family are scarcely rewarded with things as useless as hugs. They don’t put food on the table; I’d imagine he’d explain.
“Sorry. You know I never mean to hurt you,” Gale says gently, loosening the grip that I’m sure will leave angry red marks on my skin.
“No,” I murmur. Raising my voice, I cry in aguish, “I don’t! Because it doesn’t really seem that way to me! All I do for you, Gale, and I get nothing!” I gasp and shake my arm free from his electrified grasp, feeling Hazelle’s eyes on my back, burning a gaping hole through the grit-coated white cotton as I barrel through the doorway. I venture left once I am outside the door, onto a scrubby patch of deadeningly pale grass.
“She slammed the door on me today! She saw me coming, and I swear, she knocked the thing off of its hinges because of me!” Gale yells loudly, and I can almost imagine him waving his big hands in the air to prove his point.
“Well, maybe she is afraid of you—the way you treat the poor girl, it’s as if you’re trying to intimidate her—and after all she’s done!” Hazelle cries back. Probably she is throwing her hands in the air to prove her extreme exasperation.
“I don’t—you know that’s just how I am around girls, Mother! She intimidates me, if anything. Several times I have tried to talk to her, and she just starts spluttering—”
“Around girls? I don’t recall you ever snapping at Katniss that way! And I think that you should have a good, long, hard think about why she would be spluttering, Gale. She’s a girl and you are an extremely attractive… young… man…” Hazelle trails off as she spies me gaping at her through the window, her mouth opening and shutting robotically without forming words. I begin to blink furiously. I only just manage me to pluck the dress that has set been out for me from the threadbare string hung hastily between 2 small trees before the tears start flowing.
Gale, Gale, Gale. The ominous wind whispers in my ear. I take off in a sprint, glassy tears splattering the path, clutching the bundle of red to my chest, listening to my brain chant the name that has the power to damage me over and over and over. I shove the material under my armpit and clamp my hands over my ears—but still it continues. Gale, Gale, Gale. Leevy and Gale. Gale and Leevy.
I know, I think as I sob brokenly. You don’t have to remind me of my bad taste.
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