Prodded to Drown

Chapter 2

Lance Coquille, he went to sea;Silver buckles on his knee.He'll come back to marry me!How many days 'til he comes back?

One — two — three — ffff-

Finnick Odair is bright and fair,Combing down his ginger hair!Tie him up and bring him there —Finnick Odair IN HIS UNDERWEAR!

Lance was fishing for anemones in the tide pools, holding his sides with laughter as I sang.

"Why did you change it to Finnick Odair? Why can't Lance be bright and fair?" he asked, pretending to be offended. It used to confuse me so much when he did that, but after a while I understood. If he was actually offended then he'd purse his lips and go all quiet. I can't always understand it when people say one thing and really mean the opposite. Nobody teaches you stuff like that. But I had spent enough time with Lance to become accustomed to his mannerisms by now.

I chuckled. "It just seemed to work, you know? I mean, what good rhymes does Lance have? Other than Lance's chance to prance and dance … in his underpants. Finnick Odair in his underwear. Ach, I dunno, it just fits better!"

"Why were you thinking about Finnick Odair?" he asked slyly.

"I was thinking about the reaping."

He smiled sadly at me and nodded.

"Are you jealous?" I asked.

Some people don't like getting asked if they're feeling negative emotions, so others stop asking. But that generally causes much worse complications later on, so I don't see why I can't just be straightforward.

Lance was my friend because he knew by now that the only reason I asked was because I honestly couldn't decipher it for myself. He was my friend for other reasons, too, but that's just one of them.

"No," he said, splashing me with a bit of water. "Why would I be jealous of the Capitol's play-toy? And am I helping you do your job here, or doing it all by myself?"

I swung my ankles in and out of the crisp, clear water as I sat on a rock watching him. "I can't get my new dress wet."

Lance looked down at his new trousers which were rolled up to his knees, where all the tiny inconspicuous splashes that wouldn't have been noticeable individually had come together to soak the ends, tainting the tan flax a darker brown. He wrung his hands dry and sighed. "Well, if I end up on that stage today looking like a drowned rat, I'm blaming you."

We had to look our best on Reaping Day because there would be cameras everywhere, and everyone wants to look pretty on camera. Pretty as a picture, that's what they say. And film is just moving pictures, right? Usually I like playing dress up, but today I knew I wasn't supposed to be happy about wearing my bestest clothes. Because if I had to spend enough time on screen for anyone to notice my outfit, then I would have much bigger problems on my hands than keeping my good dress dry.

I went home and Grammy Moon sat me in front of the mirror to do my hair. My hair is naturally wavy; that comes with living by the sea. The water droplets on the gusty breezes and the salt in the air make it sticky and unruly, and I never usually bothered to tame it. Today, Grammy brushed the brown locks with sun-tints of blonde and gold, and braided the front into a fish-bone plait with her shaky fingers. There's a thin, sea-green ribbon weaved through the braid. Grammy Moon has an eye for beautiful things, which is why she ties back the bangs like that. It shows my pretty face.

I looked at myself and realised that I must be pretty. Grammy Moon doesn't lie.

I was singing again by the time we got to the town square. You could see the shore from here, falling away endlessly to the right.

Annie Cresta went to sea;Silver buckles on her knee …

"… Finnick Odair in his UNDERWEAR!" I finished, before I even realised I was yelling the last word at the top of my voice. I stopped and looked around.

The person taking names gave me an odd look, and a couple of nearby people twisted around as if expecting the handsome victor to stroll by in a pair of boxers.

I glanced over at Lance at the next table. He didn't frown and say, "Annie," in a stern tone, or avert his eyes and blush in embarrassment. Instead, he grinned and said, "Try not get people's hopes up, eh?"

Lance never just humoured me. That's another reason we were friends.

I stood in the pool of girls, all seventeen years of age. I kept my head down, repeating the protocol to myself over and over under my breath.

If you hear 'Annie Cresta' — that's your cue. Gather your legs and walk to the stage.

Annie Cresta.

Only if you hear 'Annie Cresta', though. Only those words.

Annie. Cresta. Stage.

There was a ribbon around my waist, green and shiny, and little sparkly shells sewn into the front of my dress. I was already distractedly picking at the glittery bits that littered the low, heart-shaped neckline, imagining a glistening glitter beach of rainbow colours. I wondered if Grammy would let me take the beads off the dress to make a new bracelet when Reaping Day was over.

The reaping! I had forgotten already! I blinked furiously for a moment and turned my attention to the stage. But it was okay, Mayor Randall was still just giving a speech that I automatically tuned out. All I was waiting for was the 'Annie Cresta' that may or may not be said.

Finnick Odair (thankfully NOT in his underwear) sauntered onto the stage then, dressed in white linen trousers and a pale green shirt, his copper-coloured hair shining red in the sunlight. There was a little exchange of banter between himself and Esmé Salinger, the escort for District 4. She was a young woman who looked the absolute height of elegance and aristocracy: from her purpley-black hair cut at smooth angles and curves around the snowy white skin of her face; to the lacy blouse and long, tight grey skirt that could be glimpsed beneath the thin midnight blue coat that reached the ends of her clunky shoes, which appeared to have tiny live fish swimming around in the clear plastic heels.

But however mature and composed Esmé appeared to be, whenever she opened her mouth she started to sound like the teachers I had in kindergarten.

I rather liked her.

"Happy Hunger Games!" she trilled, beaming around at us. "Are all the kiddies ready? Yes, good, very well done, my darlings! As you may remember, my name is Esmé, and I come a fabulous place called the Capitol! And I'm here to pick two lovely dearies to join me on a very special trip. Now let me introduce a man who you all know and love, who was picked for this trip himself just five years ago." Her whole body seemed to be fluttering with excitement, as she cried, "Finnick Odair!"

There was a smattering of applause as Finnick, hands in pockets, jauntily joined Esmé at the microphone.

"Now, Esmé, today is hardly about me," he said, winking at the cameras as if he meant the exact opposite.

And, just as expected, Esmé giggled furiously and said, "Oh, Finnick, always so modest! How could we possibly have a romp in District Four without giving you special mention?"

This continued for a few dull minutes, repetitive of every reaping since Finnick Odair had won the Games. He smiled, pouted, and winked at the cameras as Esmé squeaked shrilly with laughter at his slightest word, taking every opportunity to touch his arm or pull his cheeks like he was still the gorgeously cute fourteen year old boy he was when he won the Games. Now he was the gorgeously handsome nineteen year old man, and Esmé's blush showed up through all the powder and make-up whenever he was anywhere in the vicinity. Finnick teased her relentlessly, but playfully, and their behaviour onstage made everyone besides the two of them feel rather indecent.

The Capitol playboy, they called him. Or the Capitol's play-toy, as Lance and I did.

She was at the first bowl, pawing through a jumble of pieces of paper with girls' names scrawled on them in careful letters, her long nails looking strangely like they were bending as they swept over the glass. I squinted my eyes and stood on my toes, examining her fingers from a distance. I only realised when she retracted her hand with a flourish that the fingers clutching the paper had feathers protruding from them, making her nails look like the long, curving claws of some exotic bird.

Hear Annie Cresta — you walk. If you don't hear that then don't move a muscle until you're sure other people are leaving and it's definitely over.

Annie Cresta!

Aye, that's it, just those words.

Annie Cresta!

Annie Cresta went to sea;Silver buckles on her knee…Who'll come back to marry me?

It was only when I found myself already standing on the stage, with my breaths coming in gasps, that I realised they must have called my name. My body had followed the protocol while my mind was temporarily absent. I decided to stay absent for a little while longer because the glaring truth was simply too big to deal with right away.

Up close, Esmé's powdered face looked about three inches thick.

"Is there anything you'd like to say, pet?" she asked with a simper, offering the microphone in the direction of my lips.

I looked out at the crowd, which was far too thick to see individual faces. Not Grammy or GaGa Moon. Not Lance. Not the neighbour kid who used to flick beetles into my hair. My head started to swim and I knew that the realisation was overriding the peaceful oblivion. That lovely innocence before the truth sunk in was floating away.

I was going into the Hunger Games.

"Finnick Odair in his underwear," was what came out of my mouth.

There was a brief silence and then a few chuckles and groans could be heard from the crowd. Esmé held her hand daintily over her lips, which was pretty pointless because I could still hear her snickering.

I glanced at her. Was there a real person in there under all that Capitol couture? I wouldn't have thought so, but for the fact that I could hear a human voice behind it all.

"Wow, I … I just said that out loud, didn't I?" I said with a nervous laugh.

And from behind me a silky voice drawled, "She asked for something you'd like to say, not something you'd like to see, Annie."

I spun around and glared at Finnick, the owner of those mocking words, lounging lazily in his chair beside the mayor and old Mags. He was grinning and then he raised his eyebrows at me.

I turned back around to face the crowd, frowning deeply. Finnick was teasing me and it was not in the way Lance and I teased each other. It was the way Finnick teased Esmé, a perverse grown-up sort of teasing that made me feel pretty gross. I most certainly did not want to see Finnick Odair in his underwear. I saw enough of him at these things once a year! Too much, even.

Finnick, Finnick, went to sea,He'll come back to marry me!He's my love forever more,How many days 'til he comes back?

One — two — three —

Lance Coquille, he went to sea …

"Lancelot Coquille?"

There was a quiet din from the crowd but all I could hear was my own blood rushing in my ears. I twisted around to ogle at Esmé, who in turn shot me a startled glance. I opened and closed my mouth like a fish out of water in indignation, spluttering on my words, refusing to believe it —

"It's Lancelet," I choked out.

Esmé pursed her lips and looked around the crowd with an awkward little laugh. "Excuse me, dearie?"

"It's Lance-let," I repeated, my voice wavering now. I could see the crowd of children splitting as the male tribute was making his way towards the stage, but I refused to look out at him. "-let, not -lot. L-E-T." I didn't even want to get started on his surname, which she had pronounced Koo-kweel.

I noticed that Esmé's eyes had lashes that appeared to be made of more long, thin feathers instead of short hairs. I carelessly looked away from them to see Lance making his way onto the stage. His tanned face was pale and tight with barely controlled anguish and his eyes very wide. He crossed the stage, pushing past Esmé to embrace me, but the Peacekeepers grabbed his arms and pulled him back. The bottoms of his trousers were still all creased and damp from earlier.

Our gazes locked for a second. And then it finally hit me, and I burst into tears.

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