C A L E
The entire world seemed to erupt when Prim and I walked on stage. The clapping was deafening, echoing my head. For a moment I forgot my face was being broadcasted across the entirety of Panem and winced at the noise. Prim glanced at me and squeezed my hand, mouthing, “That’s an attractive face.”
Against my will, my face relaxed back into a smooth smirk. She just rolled her eyes.
Caesar welcomed us both with a hug. “Sit! Sit! We have so much to discuss!”
I grinned, settling down into the golden couch. Prim smiled politely and joined me. I couldn’t help but notice the way she hid her shaking hands in the ruffles of her dress. A part of me ached to lean over and slip one of my hands into hers. But, wait—what was stopping me? Haymitch and Effie wanted us to act united didn’t they? So why not?
Just as Caesar managed to get the crowd settled down, I linked fingers with Prim in her lap. She jumped slightly, sharply looking down. I gave a reassuring squeeze, hoping she’d understand that this was all for the cameras.
Well. At least that’s what I was telling myself.
Caesar grinned brightly at the two of us, his legs crossing neatly at the knee. This year, his hair had been dyed a vibrant blue, his lips painted and his suit coloured with the same cobalt colour. I remembered the deathly grey he’d doused himself in last year—at least the new colour was a little more flattering.
He said, “Welcome to the Capitol, tributes of District 12. How are you enjoying your stay so far?”
I’d already prepared myself to do most of the talking, but before I could even open my mouth, Prim was speaking.
“The Capitol is extremely beautiful,” she replied, quietly. “And the food is great.”
The whole crowd laughed. Her smile brightened a little, and her tense grip around my fingers loosened. My chest squeezed as I took in her form. There was nothing left of that shy, young girl from 12. She’d blossomed in the few short days we’d been here, so much that she was almost unrecognisable.
And plus, the dress she wore made her much more the teenager she posing to be.
I suddenly became aware of someone saying my name and I jerked my head away from Prim so hard that I almost sprained a muscle.
Caesar pressed a fluttering hand to his chest and gazed out into the crowd. “How sweet is that, folks? He can’t even take his eyes off of her.”
The entire room ‘awe’d in a gentle sigh. Prim’s cheeks flooded with red, a colour that I loved on her.
Cale, stop it. She’s twelve. Your both in the Hunger Games. At one point, you’ll have to either kill her, or watch her be killed.
My heart dropped to the soles of my feet with a hollow thud.
I would either have to kill her or watch her be killed.
A gentle squeeze to my hand brought me back from my dark thoughts. I swallowed past the dry lump in my throat and attempted to listen to the enthusiastic host.
“Now, I have to say,” he hummed, his voice dropping dramatically low. “You two seem very close for two tributes in the Hunger Games.” His eyes dropped to our interlocked hands, and I knew that a camera would be focused on the linked fingers. “I mean, the rest of the tributes look as though they can’t stand each other.”
We both let out a nervous chuckle. Prim shot me a desperate look with her blue, doe eyes and I sat up a little straighter.
“Probably because they can’t,” I grinned, winking cheekily. The crowd laughed, and Caesar swatted at my knee playfully. I licked my lips and continued, “No, in all seriousness, I just think its pointless hating each other for something you can’t change. And let’s face it, the person you arrive with is pretty much the only person who knows exactly how you feel right now.”
Prim watched me carefully, her eyes wide and childlike. The entire room was still as I spoke. Even the exuberant host stayed quiet.
“It’s such a waste of time,” I carried on, my voice almost inaudible. “No tribute knows how much time they have left. There can only be one victor, and everyone knows that. I’m not stupid. I’m just appreciating the time I have left with the people who matter to me.” Purposely, I let my eyes fall to Prim. Cheeks pink, she rubbed a soft thumb over my knuckles, almost coaxing me to continue. But I found I had no words left. I’d said my piece, for the entirety of Panem to do with what they will.
Caesar wiped at his damp eyes and whispered, “That was truly something, Cale. Wasn’t it folks?”
Glancing to the crowd, I was surprised to see nearly everyone dabbing at their eyes with tissues. My face itched to tense into a frown, but I knew there were too many cameras on me for that. I shot a questioning glance at Prim. Blonde hair falling in waves, she shook her head.
“Now, Primrose,” Caesar said when he could talk again. “Everyone was beyond moved when your older sister—Katniss, is it?—tried to volunteer for you. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the whole country!”
The crowd murmured in agreement. Prim’s face was stoic, hard. Unease rolled off of her in waves and I nudged her leg gently with my thigh.
“Do you miss her?” The host asked. “Do you miss your family?”
“Of course I do,” she replied, quietly. “I miss my mother and sister more than anything. I’ve never been away from them before.”
“What about District 12?”
She nodded. “I miss it, too. That’s my home, and I suppose I just miss the normalcy.”
Caesar nodded, looking as though this was the most fascinating topic he’d ever heard. His cosmetically altered irises fell to me once Prim had fallen silent.
“And you, Cale? Do you miss your home, your family?”
The room fell silent. Caesar’s brow crinkled and he leaned forward. “How not? Surely you miss the luxury of being around your family?”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t. I was a baker boy. My parents didn’t care about me. They only cared about my two older brothers who, by the way—“ I looked toward the camera and smirked. “—would’ve never ever volunteered for me because they are a bunch of mama’s boys.”
Prim clenched my hand, begging me to shut up. But my veins were burning—this stupid city was stripping me of everything I had and was. They’d taken away my life, my home, my future, was that not enough for them? I was another chess piece for them to kill off when they wanted to. I was nothing more than sick entertainment.
The bell buzzed overhead. Caesar gave us a hasty goodbye and Prim pulled me offstage as he announced the end of the show. As we were ushered into the back corridor, she rammed me up against the wall. I yelped—she was strong for someone so tiny.
“What the hell were you doing? We’re trying to make a good impression on the public, Cale!” Her eyes burned with fire as she yelled. “We need sponsors and you’re messing it up by being a grumpy asshole!”
Something in me snapped. I shoved her away and she hit the passing tributes. The girl from 3 glowered at her, pushing her away with a, “Watch it, lover girl.”
Prim tensed her jaw, and spat out an apology. Wiping at her red cheeks, she snapped, “I cannot believe you. Your ruining our chances of getting any sort of support!”
I pushed off the wall and grabbed her arm. “How the hell is that my fault?!”
“Because! You have to make them like you, Cale.”
Shaking my head, I whirled, snorting. “Why? I’m going to die anyway, Primrose, so why the hell waste time trying to get people to like me?”
As I strode down the corridor, she quietly whispered, “Because your such a nice person when you get to know you.”
My heart tightened but I didn’t pause. I left her standing in the dim hall with nothing but silence.