"Your aim is sweet, shy and gentle. No arguments.”
I sighed, thumping my back against my chair. I’d been in the room for two seconds and already, I was being told to shut up. Haymitch smirked smugly at me from his own seat, eyebrows tilting in the middle. He was waiting for my lips to move—I took a deep breath and said, all in a rush, “Won’tthatjustmakemeseemweakerthanIalreadyam?”
His smile dropped and he grunted, “Huh?”
“Won’t that just make me seem weaker than I already am?”
“No way, princess. This isn’t about appearing intimidating, okay? Which, lets face it, isn’t gonna happen any time soon for you,” he added, looking me up and down. I flushed, ducking my head.
“Your aim needs to be cutesy so you’ll get sponsors. That’s all that matters right now. We can worry about appearing scary once the Games come round.”
I took a deep breath. Even the slightest reminder of the Games made me want to vomit.
A sudden thought shot into my mind and my head snapped up. “What’s Cale’s aim?”
Haymitch looked up distractedly. “What?”
“Cale...how is he approaching the Games?”
A glower passed over the mentor’s face and he grunted, “What’s it to you?”
Heat flashed through me. Trying to keep from shouting, I replied, “I’m getting paired up with him. I deserve to know.”
“Princess,” Haymitch laughed cruelly. “You don’t deserve anything.”
Ice chased the heat away, and I quickly got to my feet. Teeth grinding together, I snapped, “I’m fighting in these god damn Games, aren’t I? I’m giving up my freaking life for your sick entertainment and now you're claiming I don’t deserve anything?! Bull, Haymitch. Utter bull.”
A grin broke across his face. He clapped, the sound making me jump, and got to his feet.
“I told you,” he said, eyes bright. “I told you that you wouldn’t need to worry about being in the Games. And that’s why.”
I blushed, my confidence ebbing away. “What?”
“Don’t you see? You have all this anger tucked away inside you, underneath all that...innocence, kid. All you need to do is keep it under wraps around the other tributes, and you’ll be dandy.”
I couldn’t believe it. Seriously? He was tricking me now? Seeming delighted with himself, Haymitch began typing on a device he’d pulled from his pocket.
“The interviews start in a few hours,” he said, eyes not leaving the phone. “You and Cale will go on last, and you’ll go on together.”
I started. “Together?”
His eyes rose and his eyebrows flicked up in agreement. “Together. Trying to appear like a team, remember?”
Stunned, I nodded. This guy was slightly unnerving—whenever I was around him, my skin felt as though it wanted to crawl off my bones. With a slight shake of the head, I grabbed my heels from the floor—I’d been told to wear them to get used to them, but taken them off as soon as I’d gotten into the room—and went for the door.
My feet stopped, but I didn’t turn. “What?”
Haymitch made a sniffling noise and repeated, “Mysterious. That’s Cale’s aim.”
I paused, but didn’t acknowledge him—turning the handle, I opened the door and left.
“It’s so disappointing that there isn’t going to be a parade this year,” Callie sighed, bottom lip jutting. Her fingers combed through my hair, yanking out the tangles.
Damien, busy with my make-up, gave her a look and said, “Do you pay attention to anything, nitwit? There’s still going to be a parade, it’s just scheduled for after the interviews this year.”
He shrugged. “They didn’t say. Rumour has it that President Snow wanted the interviews over and done with so we get to know the tributes first.”
I’d only been half listening, but at the mention of the president, I blinked an eye open. He was often shown on the few screens back in 12, giving speeches in front of his huge house about how lucky we were to be part of Panem. He visited Districts 1 and 2 often, but he’d never appeared in 12. At least not in my lifetime.
I tried to refrain from watching him on TV—his glinting eyes reminded me far too much of a snake’s.
“What do you mean, parade?”
Damien and Callie stopped, eyes widening at me. I shrunk back against my chair.
Cheeks hot, I said, “Stop looking at me like that.”
Callie bit back a giggle and said, “Sorry, it’s just odd you don’t know about all of this.”
“The parade,” Damien began, “Is what it says on the tin. All twelve tributes are sent out on chariots in front of President Snow and presented to the Capitol.”
I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t remember that.”
“It’s not often shown in the further off districts,” Maria sniffed as she entered the room. In her pudgy hands, she held the bag containing my dress like it was some holy object. Forcing my forehead muscles to stay smooth, I rolled my eyes and looked back to Damien. He sat me up properly and dabbed a few smears of lipstick onto my mouth.
Concentrating hard on making sure my make-up was even, he said, “You should be glad that it’s been shoved back, hon. Tributes usually hate it.”
Maria pulled me from the chair and began stripping me out of the summer dress I’d shoved on. Some far part of my mind wanted to resist the impending nakedness but I tried not to let it bother me anymore. The people from the Capitol seemed to see public nakedness as completely normal.
Damien sighed dramatically, as if recalling some awful event. “The outfits were usually tailored to the tributes’ districts.”
My cheeks twitched with barely contained laughter. “What, so I would’ve been dressed up as a chunk of coal?”
He nodded. “Probably. Although,” he helped Maria tug the material over my freshly washed skin. “You have Cinna, he would’ve rather died than seen you go out in some awful black get-up.”
I felt proud that Cinna was my designer. From what I’d heard, the designers from 4, 7 and 3 were barbaric this year. I was almost excited for the interviews, purely to see the monstrosities the other tributes had been dressed in.
The dress felt unbelievably light on my body and as soft as butter. I caught Callie lovingly stroking the dress, her slim lilac fingers intertwining with the black material.
Cinna arrived once I had been completely dolled up. His lips curled up into a shy smile as he saw me pirouetting in front of the full-length mirror. Flushing, I turned, arms awkwardly out by my sides.
“How do I look?”
“Like a victor,” he replied, his quiet tones soothing after the prep teams high pitched giggles.
We didn’t say anything as I waited to be taken to the interviews. We didn’t have to. Out of everyone I’d met since leaving District 12, Cinna was easily my favourite. Simple, quiet and easy to be with.
A knock at the door came before I could manage to collect my thoughts. Smoothing out my skirt, I opened the door to a cheery Effie. She clasped her hands together, eyes watery as she graced the room with her presence.
“Oh, Primrose,” she gasped, eyes comically wide. I caught Cinna smirking out the corner of my eye, and I had to ball my hands into fists to stop myself making a very rude gesture.
Swallowing nervously, I said, “Is it time to go already?”
She nodded and smiled softly. “You’ll be perfectly fine, Prim.” One of her delicate hands took mine and she whispered, “You were born to impress, sweetheart.”
“Before you go, Prim,” Cinna said from behind me. I turned to look at him. Smiling, he whispered, “I’ll be in the crowd. If you get nervous, just look at me and you’ll be perfectly fine.”
I let a slow smile spread across my face and whispered, “Thank you. For everything.”
“We must get going,” Effie said. “But first—Cinna?”
I frowned. Cinna pulled a tiny circle from his pocket and pressed it to the material on my dress. Before I could get a chance to look at it, Effie grabbed my hand pulling me cheerfully from the room.
It wasn’t until I was in the interview waiting room, my thigh pressed to Cale’s, that I remembered about it. Glancing down, I flicked the little pin toward me and saw what had been etched into the steel.