There's only a half day of school on the first arena day. The kick-off is at 10 am, and with the time zone difference from District 12 that means they can still attend school in the morning and make it to the town square for the mandatory viewing in the afternoon. But Gale skips class anyway in order to continue to take up the collection from Seam residents.
Before the broadcast begins, he finds Mrs. Everdeen and Prim in the square, already in their seats and trying to avoid talking to anyone. He loathes false reassurances and doesn't offer any. Instead, he says what he knows to be true. "Katniss has a real chance of making it home."
Prim makes a choking sound. "But the Cornucopia…"
"Yeah, it's risky," Gale says, taking the empty seat next to her. "But she knows that and will have planned her strategy around it."
"Gale," Mrs. Everdeen says, finally looking at him, "Do you want to sit with us up here?"
He sees how shaky Mrs. Everdeen's composure is and remembers what Katniss has hinted at about her mother's ability to cope with tragedy and quickly agrees. Whatever kind of stabilizing reassurance he can provide he will gladly give. Prim reaches over and takes his hand, and he's struck once again by how small she is and what a disaster it would have been for her to be the one in the arena. Katniss made the right decision.
The pre-show starts, when the announcers reveal the features of the arena and describe some of the challenges the contestants may face. Gale is relieved to see how wooded it is and whispers to Prim when no one can overhear that the forested terrain is a huge advantage to her sister.
Then, before he's quite ready to see it, the tributes are deposited around the Cornucopia and the timer starts. He wants to scream at the camera whenever it strays from Katniss - he doesn't want to see the other tributes, just her. He needs to gauge what she's thinking and what she's planning. Right before the buzzer goes off he sees her make eye contact with Mellark and then hesitate, as if she's reconsidering what to do, and Gale decides in that instant that Mellark is up to no good, distracting Katniss at a crucial moment. She's nearly killed twice before she succeeds in securing an orange backpack and putting some meaningful distance between herself and the Cornucopia.
Prim squeaks - he's squeezing her hand too hard - so he releases her and she leans into her mother. Gale sees that Mrs. Everdeen isn't watching - she's averted her eyes slightly to the side so the Peacekeepers won't be able to tell, but she's not actually watching the screen. She isn't reacting to any of the killings, either, so he suspects she's figured out some way to tune it all out now that Katniss is safely away from the bloodbath. The only signs that she's conscious are her very regular breathing and her arm encircling Prim so tightly Prim's sleeve is askew.
The Cornucopia is as awful as ever. Several tributes have died already or are in the process of being killed. Kids without any fighting or survival skills who fell for the lure of supplies in the Cornucopia, only to be easily eliminated by the Career tributes.
Surprisingly, Mellark is still there. He started out a little disoriented, distracted by trying to follow what Katniss was doing, and nearly missed defending himself against another tribute. But he was able to deflect a kid with a spear and then was drawn into a knife fight with another tribute. He's a much better fighter than Gale would have guessed, and actually comes out of it alive, though injured. A group of his friends sitting a few rows behind Gale and the Everdeens cheer whenever Peeta eludes an attacker.
The truly shocking development is when Peeta joins the alliance of Career tributes, admitting to them that his love confession was a strategy to disarm Katniss. Gale seethes, having suspected this very possibility. When Peeta tells the Careers he'll be able to lure Katniss out of her eventual hiding place, Gale can't stand it any longer and starts to consider how he could break out of District 12 and into the Games arena to personally kill this blond devil. It occurs to him that every single other tribute is out to kill Katniss as well; that's how the Hunger Games are played. But there's something that doesn't sit right about Mellark's betrayal; it's more personal in light of his supposed love confession. Plus, this Mellark kid is going against that 'tribute code' that tributes from the same district shouldn't go out of their way to kill one another. His active deception and the fact that he so convincingly hid his inner capacity for violence makes him seem all the more ruthless.
After the cannons signal the end of the battle at the Cornucopia, the District 12 residents are released from the mandatory viewing. Mrs. Everdeen and Prim want to get out of the crowd's view as quickly as possible, so Gale walks them home. He reassures Prim that Katniss is safe for now; that backpack she won will surely help her stay alive for a few days, as long as she can find water and stay away from the more murderous tributes.
"I can't believe Peeta would turn on her," Prim says mournfully.
"He seemed so heartfelt during the interviews," Mrs. Everdeen says.
Gale grimaces. "It's the Hunger Games. Every person for himself."
They walk the remainder of the way to the Seam in silence. Gale returns to his own home to check on his family and realizes he has enough time to check his snares. He catches a few rabbits and hopes Katniss is having similar luck with whatever hunting she can squeeze in.
After dropping some of the rabbits off with his mother and the Everdeens, Gale wanders into town. He doesn't have anything to trade at the Hob, but he doesn't want to sit in the house. It isn't until he sees the lights in the mayor's house that he remembers he was supposed to give Madge the money from the Seam residents for the sponsorship collection. Well, screw that. No way is Gale parting with any of the Seam's treasured coins until he's guaranteed it will only help Katniss, not Mellark.
As Gale is standing outside the mayor's dwelling, glaring at the shadows, the door opens and Madge slips out onto the porch. She walks down the stairs toward him; she must have been looking out the windows at the town square and spotted him.
Gale scowls at her. "I got money. But I'm not turning any over until I'm sure it won't go toward Mellark."
Madge looks at him and nods slightly in agreement. "I guess we could split it, or designate it as only being for one of them - it's possible - when I collected from people in town I said it was for both of them."
"He's going to help them hunt her - nobody here other than maybe his family would want to contribute to that." Gale feels like he's choking on the words, they're so awful.
"Maybe he's trying to lead the Careers astray," she suggests.
Gale snorts. "Don't be naive. It's a fight to the death. He needs every advantage he can get against her."
Madge frowns. "It doesn't seem like Peeta…" She trails off, lost in her thoughts for a few moments. Finally she looks up at Gale. "Let's see what happens tomorrow. The way things are going, Peeta has all the supplies he needs and Katniss looks like she'll be all right as long as she can find water. I don't think there's as much of a need for sponsor gifts yet."
The front door to Madge's house opens, leaking a beam of yellow light onto Madge and Gale in the street. "Madge," the mayor calls, "your friend is on the broadcast again."
Madge gestures for Gale to come inside with her. As much as his inclination is to march off in a hostile rage because she doesn't hate Mellark as much as Gale knows the kid deserves, he needs to see what's happening to Katniss in the arena. He and Madge both take the stairs two at a time and skid into the living room. Gale nods to the mayor in greeting before perching on a chair on the side of the room, away from Madge and her father.
There's an image of Katniss setting up some snares, which is so familiar it makes Gale ache, and then she's figuring out how to secure herself into a sleeping bag in a tree. The screen cuts away to an animated map, which the announcer uses to show how far Katniss is from the Cornucopia, and where she is in proximity to the other tributes. The screen then flips to the Careers, whose loot includes night vision goggles and flashlights, in addition to ample quantities of food and medical supplies. The Careers are setting out on a nighttime hunting trip and the announcers are assuring viewers that they can continue to find 24-7 coverage of the 74th Annual Hunger Games right here on this very channel. Then there's a break for commercials before the nightly death toll recap.
Before Gale realizes what's happened, Madge and the mayor have invited him to stay through the recap and Madge is getting glasses of water from the kitchen, leaving him with Mayor Undersee. Gale is not talkative under the best of circumstances, and certainly not now.
Luckily the mayor leaves him alone, letting Gale watch the commercials while he flips through a newspaper. Gale can't stand the commercials, though, and instead inspects the Undersees' home, which he's only ever seen before from glances through the back door when he and Katniss sell whatever delicacies they've come across in the woods. He can't imagine having this much space for only three people.
Madge returns after a few minutes with a tray holding a water pitcher, glasses, and some thin crackers. She reports that Lulu has gone home, and Gale realizes that Vick's best friend's mother is the Undersees' maid.
"Help yourself, son," the mayor says, setting down his paper and absently reaching for a cracker as the program resumes.
Gale is suspicious and eyes the tray warily. Why is the mayor sharing food? Madge puts a cracker into Gale's hands before he can protest.
He starts to feel sick during the recap - it's disturbing to see footage of the dead tributes - and doesn't take any more crackers. He appreciates not having to make conversation with Madge or the Mayor, who watch the screen solemnly. Gale wonders where Mrs. Undersee is, and remembers seeing her wincing during the mandatory viewing earlier that day. Maybe she can't handle the gore and awfulness of the Games and went to bed already. He doesn't blame her.
When the recap ends, the mayor turns the volume down on the television. Gale stands to leave and is in the process of thanking Madge and the mayor for letting him watch with them, when the mayor leans over and gives Gale what is clearly intended to be reassuring pat on the shoulder. "She's a tough one," he says. "I haven't been this hopeful about our district's chances in a long time."
Gale nods, unsure how to respond to this somewhat awkward exchange. He isn't sure how to be on the receiving end of reassurances and feels a strange tightness in his throat. But he swallows it as he remembers the mayor is complicit with the Capitol in the reaping ceremony, and suddenly he can't stand to be in the house any longer. He mumbles a good bye and heads down the stairs before he says or does anything he might regret.