Chapter 24: Stella
Every eye in the room looks into mine as I look up at the Game Maker's box, now I know how the tributes from District 12 felt. They seem fully focused on me despite being more than half way through the sessions. Whatever Jed showed them must have really woken them up; he'll be a hard act to follow.
I swallow my nerves as I walk to the sword station, positioning the dummies near the climbing frames and nets which cover the wall. Then I go to retrieve my wooden dagger from where I hid it under the wood in the fire station, luckily it hasn't be turned to ashes and is wait for me there. I grab a stone and sharpen it as I walk to the other side of the centre, letting the Game Makers know I was the one who made. When I reach the southern wall, I'm ready to begin the "action sequence" me and Torey created this morning. She said that my skills may be good but they'll look small compared to the serious weapon combat the Careers will demonstrate, the best way to show them all off is to put them all together into one sequence, to show them how these skills will be used in a real situation. But I can only practice one skill at a time, this will be the first time I've combined them.
I run towards the climbing station on the other side, gaining more and more speed by the second, turning left and right to dodge the stations. Within a minute I've run the 150m length of the centre and I reached my destination. I take a running jump up and grab hold of the net that's draped across one side of the wall. I stay there for a second, allowing myself to catch my breath before climbing up. In District 7 children can climb before they can write, so it only took one morning for me to get to grips with this unnatural climbing frame. Stopping 15 feet above the ground I break the rule of never looking down. Dizziness sweeps through my body as I check I'm in position. My target is right below me. Taking a deep breath I pull my dagger out of my belt and let go.
I scream as I fall through the air. But I don't have time to worry about it sounding more like a scream of fear than a battle cry as I collide with the dummy. He's broken my fall just as planned but instead of thanking him I sink my wood blade into his back.
Adrenaline has managed to mask my nerves and common sense so far, but when I get up to complete the sequence they return. Knife throwing is the skill I'm least experienced with. If I miss they will forget everything else, even my death defying fall. I select my victim, another dummy. Take aim and throw. The knife pieces his stomach. It's not a fatal throw but a very serious one, one to be pleased with.
I turn to the Game Makers, they're all staring at me, but I'm too far away to see their expressions.
"You can go now, Miss Grimeshaw." The Head Game Maker says. I make myself bow to the people who'll be trying to kill me before going.
"That was quick! How long were you in there?" Jed asks, emerging from his room having only just changed, an astonished look on his face.
"About four minutes." I shrug, not wanting to think about the terrifying stunts I pulled off without a second thought.
"Wow! They did give you permission to leave right?"
"Whatever you did must have really impressed them. Even the Careers were in there for about double that! What did you do?" He asks excitedly.
“I’ll tell you at dinner.” I say, more concerned with getting out of my sweaty clothes.
At dinner Torey and Cassia are gaging to hear how our private sessions went. Jed tells us the Game Makers got a bit bored with his shelter building. Cole just keeps his head down and eats, not looking either of us in the eye, which suited me just fine. I don’t want to hear his apologies and excuses any way.
Jed tells us the Game Makers got a bit bored with his shelter building.
“But you did show them your sword skills didn’t you?” Torey asks.
“I did after that. Hopefully that got their attention and they remember me enough to give me a decent score.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. They were still stunned when I walked in.” I assure him, smiling at the memory of their beady little eyes wide with shock.
“Yes, I think you did a good job, Jed. By doing something seemly boring like build a shelter you lowered their expectations, that increased the their surprise of your sword skills.” Torey says, sounding like an expert head doctor. She looks at Cole. “Don’t you think, Cole?” She asks almost ordering him to speak.
“Oh, umm… yeah, sounds like it went well.” He mumbles finally lifting his head, attempting a smile. The circles under his eyes are much darker than usual; it looks like Michie’s drawn them on with her thick black eye liner. I hope it’s due to guilt, I’m still furious about what he did, I can barely stay in the same room as him without screaming at him.
“How about you, Stella, how do you think yours went?” Torey asks, sensing my still fresh anger. Relived to have my thoughts taken away from him I tell them what happened.
“Sounds like it all went to plan.” Torey almost smiles. “But we’ll see just how well you both did when the scores are announced.
As we get up from the table Torey knocks over a glass. Her Avox rushes over with a cloth before the sound of the shattered glass reaches are ears.
“Oh, sorry.” She says, bending down next him. The others only see her helping him pick up the glass but I’m closer and I can see her lean her head next to his hear. I hear only snippets over her words as I try my hardest to look like I’m not listening.
“Meet me…got something…be careful.” He smiles. It a strained smile, an action he’s not used to performing, but pure joy sparks in his eyes as he nods, making his little black curls bounce on his head. That spark is in Torey’s eyes too as she straightens up. At the sight of Cassia looking at her as if she’s insane, she’s back to normal.
“Why did help…” Cassia begins, sounding as she’s just seen her kick President Snow in the butt.
“I like to clean up my own messes.” Torey says her voice razor sharp.
We all garther around the TV as the seal of Panem appears on the screen. The anticipation is almost unbearable as the training scores are revelled one by one. Fuchsia immediately sets the bar high with a eleven, I see Jed raise an eyebrow next to me and smile. I frown at him. Has he forgotten this is the same girl who kicked him so hard he leg hurt for 5 hours?!
As usual the Careers get high scores. Kayden matches Fuchsia's eleven, looking ruthless and arrogant even in his picture. The girl I sat with yesterday from District 3 gets a surprising score of 7. Torey sees my interest.
"Maybe. I could pick much worse." I say, failing to stop myself from glancing at Jed, who gives me a "what?" look.
There's a sharp intake of breath as the girl from District 6's score is revealed. We're next. Jed bites his lip. His picture appears. A nine rests beneath it.
"YES!" he jumps up with half relief and half joy. Cole springs up from his seat and hugs him , before quickly pulling away, remembering they're not on hugging terms any more. But Jed pulls him back.
"What's the point in staying angry? Especially when time is so short." Jed muffles into his shoulder. Part of me is angry at him for giving in, but I know I can't change his mind, after all he is his dad and his aunt wasn't killed because of him. Besides I have more important things to worry about, like my score.
It's like someone has pressed rewind on a tape as we sit back down. The suspense renewed. My face flashes up followed by a number I'm to nervous to read. I hear everyone gasp then cheer around me. Jed high fives my up palm.
"Hello, Earth to Stella! You beat me! You got a ten!" I stare at the screen in disbelief. There it is: 10, sitting proudly next to my picture! It's my turn to scream and jump around.
"Well done, both you! This is the first time Panem well see you as individuals and you've both shone!" Torey congratulates us, still failing to smile."All that's left now is the interviews."