Staying quietly in bed is harder after that. I want to be doing something, finding out more about District 13 or helping in the cause to bring down the Capitol. Instead I sit around stuffing myself with cheese buns and watching Peeta sketch. Haymitch stops by occasionally to bring me news from town, which is always bad. More people being punished or dropping from starvation.

Winter has begun to withdraw by the time my foot is deemed usable. My mother gives me exercises to do and lets me walk on my own a bit. I go to sleep one night, determined to go into town the next morning, but I awake to find Venia, Octavia, and Flavius grinning down at me.

“Surprise!” they squeal. “We’re here early!”

After I took that lash in the face, Haymitch got their visit pushed back several months so I could heal up. I wasn’t expecting them for another three weeks. But I try to act delighted that my bridal photo shoot is here at last. My mother hung up all the dresses, so they’re ready to go, but to be honest, I haven’t even tried one on.

After the usual histrionics about the deteriorated state of my beauty, they get right down to business. Their biggest concern is my face, although I think my mother did a pretty remarkable job healing it. There’s just a pale pink strip across my cheekbone. The whipping’s not common knowledge, so I tell them I slipped on the ice and cut it. And then I realize that’s my same excuse for hurting my foot, which is going to make walking in high heels a problem. But Flavius, Octavia, and Venia aren’t the suspicious types, so I’m safe there.

Since I only have to look hairless for a few hours instead of several weeks, I get to be shaved instead of waxed. I still have to soak in a tub of something, but it isn’t vile, and we’re on to my hair and makeup before I know it. The team, as usual, is full of news, which I usually do my best to tune out. But then Octavia makes a comment that catches my attention. It’s a passing remark, really, about how she couldn’t get shrimp for a party, but it tugs at me.

“Why couldn’t you get shrimp? Is it out of season?” I ask.

“Oh, Katniss, we haven’t been able to get any seafood for weeks!” says Octavia. “You know, because the weather’s been so bad in District Four.”

My mind starts buzzing. No seafood. For weeks. From District 4. The barely concealed rage in the crowd during the Victory Tour. And suddenly I am absolutely sure that District 4 has revolted.

I begin to question them casually about what other hardships this winter has brought them. They are not used to want, so any little disruption in supply makes an impact on them. By the time I’m ready to be dressed, their complaints about the difficulty of getting different products — from crabmeat to music chips to ribbons — has given me a sense of which districts might actually be rebelling. Seafood from District 4. Electronic gadgets from District 3. And, of course, fabrics from District 8. The thought of such widespread rebellion has me quivering with fear and excitement.

I want to ask them more, but Cinna appears to give me a hug and check my makeup. His attention goes right to the scar on my cheek. Somehow I don’t think he believes the slipping-on-the-ice story, but he doesn’t question it. He simply adjusts the powder on my face, and what little you can see of the lash mark vanishes.

Downstairs, the living room has been cleared and lit for the photo shoot. Effie’s having a fine time ordering everybody around, keeping us all on schedule. It’s probably a good thing, because there are six gowns and each one requires its own headpiece, shoes, jewelry, hair, makeup, setting, and lighting. Creamy lace and pink roses and ringlets. Ivory satin and gold tattoos and greenery. A sheath of diamonds and jeweled veil and moonlight. Heavy white silk and sleeves that fall from my wrist to the floor, and pearls. The moment one shot has been approved, we move right into preparing for the next. I feel like dough, being kneaded and reshaped again and again. My mother manages to feed me bits of food and sips of tea while they work on me, but by the time the shoot is over, I’m starving and exhausted. I’m hoping to spend some time with Cinna now, but Effie whisks everybody out the door and I have to make do with the promise of a phone call.

Evening has fallen and my foot hurts from all the crazy shoes, so I abandon any thoughts of going into town. Instead I go upstairs and wash away the layers of makeup and conditioners and dyes and then go down to dry my hair by the fire. Prim, who came home from school in time to see the last two dresses, chatters on about them with my mother. They both seem overly happy about the photo shoot. When I fall into bed, I realize it’s because they think it means I’m safe. That the Capitol has overlooked my interference with the whipping since no one is going to go to such trouble and expense for someone they plan on killing, anyway. Right.

In my nightmare, I’m dressed in the silk bridal gown, but it’s torn and muddy. The long sleeves keep getting caught on thorns and branches as I run through the woods. The pack of muttation tributes draws closer and closer until it overcomes me with hot breath and dripping fangs and I scream myself awake.

It’s too close to dawn to bother trying to get back to sleep. Besides, today I really have to get out and talk to someone. Gale will be unreachable in the mines. But I need Haymitch or Peeta or somebody to share the burden of all that has happened to me since I went to the lake. Fleeing outlaws, electrified fences, an independent District 13, shortages in the Capitol. Everything.

I eat breakfast with my mother and Prim and head out in search of a confidant. The air’s warm with hopeful hints of spring in it. Spring would be a good time for an uprising, I think. Everyone feels less vulnerable once winter passes. Peeta’s not home. I guess he’s already gone into town. I’m surprised to see Haymitch moving around his kitchen so early, though. I walk into his house without knocking. I can hear Hazelle upstairs, sweeping the floors of the now-spotless house. Haymitch isn’t flat-out drunk, but he doesn’t look too steady, either. I guess the rumors about Ripper being back in business are true. I’m thinking maybe I better let him just go to bed, when he suggests a walk to town.

Haymitch and I can speak in a kind of shorthand now. In a few minutes I’ve updated him and he’s told me about rumors of uprisings in Districts 7 and 11 as well. If my hunches are right, this would mean almost half the districts have at least attempted to rebel.

“Do you still think it won’t work here?” I ask.

“Not yet. Those other districts, they’re much larger. Even if half the people cower in their homes, the rebels stand a chance. Here in Twelve, it’s got to be all of us or nothing,” he says.

I hadn’t thought of that. How we lack strength of numbers. “But maybe at some point?” I insist.

“Maybe. But we’re small, we’re weak, and we don’t develop nuclear weapons,” says Haymitch with a touch of sarcasm. He didn’t get too excited over my District 13 story.

“What do you think they’ll do, Haymitch? To the districts that are rebelling?” I ask.

“Well, you’ve heard what they did in Eight. You’ve seen what they did here, and that was without provocation,” says Haymitch. “If things really do get out of hand, I think they’d have no problem killing off another district, same as they did Thirteen. Make an example of it, you know?”

“So you think Thirteen was really destroyed? I mean, Bonnie and Twill were right about the footage of the mocking-jay,” I say.

“Okay, but what does that prove? Nothing, really. There are plenty of reasons they could be using old footage. Probably it looks more impressive. And it’s a lot simpler, isn’t it? To just press a few buttons in the editing room than to fly all the way out there and film it?” he says. “The idea that Thirteen has somehow rebounded and the Capitol is ignoring it? That sounds like the kind of rumor desperate people cling to.”

“I know. I was just hoping,” I say.

“Exactly. Because you’re desperate,” says Haymitch.

I don’t argue because, of course, he’s right.

Prim comes home from school bubbling over with excitement. The teachers announced there was mandatory programming tonight. “I think it’s going to be your photo shoot!”

“It can’t be, Prim. They only did the pictures yesterday,” I tell her.

“Well, that’s what somebody heard,” she says.

I’m hoping she’s wrong. I haven’t had time to prepare Gale for any of this. Since the whipping, I only see him when he comes to the house for my mother to check how he’s healing. He’s often scheduled seven days a week in the mine. In the few minutes of privacy we’ve had, with me walking him back to town, I gather that the rumblings of an uprising in 12 have been subdued by Thread’s crackdown. He knows I’m not going to run. But he must also know that if we don’t revolt in 12, I’m destined to be Peeta’s bride. Seeing me lounging around in gorgeous gowns on his television … what can he do with that?

When we gather around the television at seven-thirty, I discover that Prim is right. Sure enough, there’s Caesar Flickerman, speaking before a standing-room-only crowd in front of the Training Center, talking to an appreciative crowd about my upcoming nuptials. He introduces Cinna, who became an overnight star with his costumes for me in the Games, and after a minute of good-natured chitchat, we’re directed to turn our attention to a giant screen.

I see now how they could photograph me yesterday and present the special tonight. Initially, Cinna designed two dozen wedding gowns. Since then, there’s been the process of narrowing down the designs, creating the dresses, and choosing the accessories. Apparently, in the Capitol, there were opportunities to vote for your favorites at each stage. This is all culminating with shots of me in the final six dresses, which I’m sure took no time at all to insert in the show. Each shot is met with a huge reaction from the crowd. People screaming and cheering for their favorites, booing the ones they don’t like. Having voted, and probably bet on the winner, people are very invested in my wedding gown. It’s bizarre to watch when I think how I never even bothered to try one on before the cameras arrived. Caesar announces that interested parties must cast their final vote by noon on the following day.

“Let’s get Katniss Everdeen to her wedding in style!” he hollers to the crowd. I’m about to shut off the television, but then Caesar is telling us to stay tuned for the other big event of the evening. “That’s right, this year will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games, and that means it’s time for our third Quarter Quell!”

“What will they do?” asks Prim. “It isn’t for months yet.

We turn to our mother, whose expression is solemn and distant, as if she’s remembering something. “It must be the reading of the card.”

The anthem plays, and my throat tightens with revulsion as President Snow takes the stage. He’s followed by a young boy dressed in a white suit, holding a simple wooden box. The anthem ends, and President Snow begins to speak, to remind us all of the Dark Days from which the Hunger Games were born. When the laws for the Games were laid out, they dictated that every twenty-five years the anniversary would be marked by a Quarter Quell. It would call for a glorified version of the Games to make fresh the memory of those killed by the districts’ rebellion.

These words could not be more pointed, since I suspect several districts are rebelling right now.

President Snow goes on to tell us what happened in the previous Quarter Quells. “On the twenty-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that their children were dying because of their choice to initiate violence, every district was made to hold an election and vote on the tributes who would represent it.”

I wonder how that would have felt. Picking the kids who had to go. It is worse, I think, to be turned over by your own neighbors than have your name drawn from the reaping ball.

“On the fiftieth anniversary,” the president continues, “as a reminder that two rebels died for each Capitol citizen, every district was required to send twice as many tributes.”

I imagine facing a field of forty-seven instead of twenty-three. Worse odds, less hope, and ultimately more dead kids. That was the year Haymitch won… .

“I had a friend who went that year,” says my mother quietly. “Maysilee Donner. Her parents owned the sweetshop. They gave me her songbird after. A canary.”

Prim and I exchange a look. It’s the first we’ve ever heard of Maysilee Donner. Maybe because my mother knew we would want to know how she died.

“And now we honor our third Quarter Quell,” says the president. The little boy in white steps forward, holding out the box as he opens the lid. We can see the tidy, upright rows of yellowed envelopes. Whoever devised the Quarter Quell system had prepared for centuries of Hunger Games. The president removes an envelope clearly marked with a 75. He runs his finger under the flap and pulls out a small square of paper. Without hesitation, he reads, “On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors.”

My mother gives a faint shriek and Prim buries her face in her hands, but I feel more like the people I see in the crowd on television. Slightly baffled. What does it mean? Existing pool of victors?

Then I get it, what it means. At least, for me. District 12 only has three existing victors to choose from. Two male. One female …

I am going back into the arena.


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