The tributes left the room in twos every half hour. Each time another person left, Cale’s grip on my wrist got tighter and tighter. He’d told me he wasn’t nervous, but his harsh grip and jiggling leg told me otherwise.
I’d gotten far too used to not being around the other tributes. They didn’t converse with any of the others, keeping to themselves and staying well away, I’d noticed, from the other tribute from their own district. Not one made an approach toward us, although many of them curiously stared at me. I’d already caught the girl tribute from 2 giving me a nasty glare—due to where I came from, or my age, no doubt.
Cheeks burning, I leaned a little closer to Cale. He seemed to sense my anxiousness, and thankfully said nothing. No jibe, no baby comments...just a comforting arm slung over my shoulder.
Whispers sounded behind me. I closed my eyes and tried to block them out.
“Um...Tink? What you doing?”
I blinked my eyes open to find Cale looking at me, an amused smirk tilting his lips up at the ends.
I swallowed, and whispered, “They keep speaking about me, and I hate it. I know I’m young but that’s no reason to hate me.”
Something flickered in his eyes. He glanced up, brow creasing as he took in the room. When he looked back, his smirk had softened into something that didn’t look natural on Cale, that didn’t look as though it...belonged to him.
“They aren’t whispering about you, Tink,” he whispered.
I frowned. “Yeah they are, I heard them.”
Shaking his head, he leaned close and pressed his lips to my ear to whisper, “They’re speaking about us, kiddo.”
I jerked away. My body screamed at that—his body was so warm and his breath smelled like mint.
“Sssh!” He pulled me closer to the wall and tucked me almost in his lap. Don’t blush, don’t blush, don’t blush, I begged myself. As usual, my body ignored my mind and my cheeks flamed. Cale grinned, but if he noticed, he said nothing.
Scowling, I quietly snapped, “Why the hell are they talking about us?”
“Can’t you see? They don’t care about you being young,” he replied. “All of them hate each other—especially the person they came with. They can’t understand why we’re acting so...close.”
My entire body filled with warmth. It felt odd that others could see how in tune I was with Cale, how much I liked being in his presence—wait, what? I stopped that thought in its track. Since when did I like being in Cale’s company? As hard as I tried, I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment where I had started liking him.
I knew exactly what Katniss would do if she caught me thinking like that. She’d stand with her hands on her hips, brow furrowed, and give me a long lecture on what a waste of time males were and blah, blah, blah. For the first time, I found myself glad to be away from home.
“District 12 tributes, Cale and Primrose, report to prep team three,” a voice announced.
Taking a deep breath, I got to my feet and offered Cale my hand. He took it, and I couldn’t tell who had the clammiest palm.
Together, we walked through endless corridors and eventually found the very dark backstage. I was yanked into the blackness and wires were hooked onto me left, right and centre. Patiently, I waited until the crew were satisfied before setting off to find Cale.
I tripped in the darkness, my feet buckling in my heels.
“Oh my God,” I snapped, yanking them off and slinging them off into god knows where. My feet flexed against the cool flooring and I sighed in relief. That felt so much better.
Well, it did until someone stood on my feet.
I screeched out a word my mother would probably slap me for saying. A hand clamped over my mouth. I wrestled against the attacker, wriggling and attempting to bite the hand.
“Prim!” The voice breathed in my ear. “Jesus, Prim, calm down! It’s just me!”
I relaxed, my eyes closing. Cale let go of me, huffing angrily in the darkness.
“God, kid, you need to learn better fighting skills than biting.”
Thankfully, it was too dark for him to see my blush. Ducking my head, I slipped my hand back into his and watched from the sidelines as the tributes from District 11 spoke to the host, Caesar Flickerman.
Every now and then, I snuck sideways glances at Cale. He looked amazing—he’d been dressed in a tight, fitted black suit, and his hair had been slicked back. Dark little curls flicked out behind his ears. He caught me looking and winked.
“We’ll be fine, Tink,” he whispered as the 11 tributes finished their drawl about their home town. “We’ll nail this.”