Annie's Games

Show Time

Annie spends the entire night kicking her blanket and rearranging pillows, trying to blame them for her inability to sleep. But, really, she’s pouring over what she heard Finnick say. Clearly, winning the Hunger Games isn’t the glamorous life of luxury the citizens of Panem are lead to believe it is. Walking out of that arena means a huge house, sure, and tons of food, but it also means something horrible that Finnick couldn’t even say out loud. Annie’s head throbs painfully. Does she want to know what the Capitol puts him through, or can she leave well enough alone? Of course, if she plays the Games well enough, she could find out herself in a couple weeks. She forces herself to take a deep breath.

Honestly, her chances of winning are slim to none. She’s unwilling to kill, and the rest of the Careers are stronger and faster than she is. For the first time, though, she considers the possibility that she doesn’t even want to win.

This is the front-most thought in her mind as she drifts off to sleep, only a few hours before Mena walks in with a breakfast tray to wake her up. She opens her heavy eyes when she hears the door open and the squeak of wheels.

“Rise and shine!” Mena calls out. Annie cringes and pulls a pillow over her head. Mena’s voice is too high for this early in the morning, especially when she barely got any sleep.

“Go away,” she calls back from under her pillow. Her voice is dry and scratchy. To her dismay, Mena laughs.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Especially not today! Get up and eat, come on! I only have four hours with you after breakfast!”

The smell of salmon and eggs wafts to her from the food cart. Annie emerges and walks to the little table in the corner where Mena has set up their meal. She grabs a plate, fills it with fish, and sits across from Mena, who doesn’t eat, but sips at her coffee regularly.

“What are we doing in these four hours?” Annie asks with her mouth full. Mena crinkles her nose.

“I’m teaching you how to move in formal clothing.”

She swallows her bite of food.

“I’ve worn formal clothing before,” she tells her. Mena laughs.

“Not like this, dear.”

Annie’s hands go numb, the way they do when she knows she’s being condescended to. She ignores this and takes another messy bite of salmon, making sure to be as rude as possible. Mena purses her lips like she might gag. Annie smirks.

When they’re done with breakfast, Mena makes Annie wash her hands and face before putting on a knee length black dress. It’s soft as a cloud and trimmed with lace around the neckline. She helps Annie put on a pair of her own monstrous shoes. They’re way too tall. Annie teeters. Her ankles suddenly feel very fragile. She’s also much too tall.

For the first half hour, Mena holds Annie’s hand while she walks around the room and tries to keep all of her weight on her toes. Then, for the second half hour, Annie walks around by herself and falls down three times. By the beginning of the third hour, she sort of has the hang of it. She can at least walk, not fast, but she can walk. Mena is beyond pleased with her progress. There’s a cramp in Annie’s left foot that she’s sure is a pulled muscle.

Mena claps her hands twice. The gold bracelets around her wrists clatter together.

“Try a twirl now,” she sings.

“Do I have to?” Annie asks.

“I’ve seen Stella’s drawings,” Mena says, smoothing down the front of her emerald green skirt. “Trust me, you should practice twirling.”

Annie begins to twirl, but she trips over her own feet and hits the ground.

“Mena, you’ve done this before. Do sponsors like it when tributes fall down a lot?” Annie asks as she carefully stands back up.

“Not usually,” Mena says, pulling Annie’s dress straight. “And try not to rip that. You know, in case you fall again. It was expensive.”

Annie looks down at the strangely soft, black thing that hangs to her knees and smoothes her hands down the skirt.

“I’ll try my best,” she says.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Mena trills. “Now twirl again.”

By the time their four hours is up, Annie can successfully walk and sort of twirl. She yanks the shoes off and almost throws them at Mena, then slides out of the dress and back into the outfit she wore to bed last night.

“If I fall onstage,” Annie asks while Mena gathers her things and starts wheeling the tray back across the room, “what do I do?”

She pauses, looks at Annie, sighs, walks over to her, and runs a hand down her cheek.

“Do what you do best,” she replies. “Make a joke. Laugh it off. You’re more charming than you give yourself credit for. I just know you’ll go out there and make District Four proud. But, more importantly, you’ll make me proud.”

She smiles, kisses Annie on each cheek, and goes back to pushing the cart out. Annie presses the door button for her.

“What happens next?” she asks. Mena turns back.

“Next you’ll be in the living room with Finnick and Mags, then we’ll all have a late lunch, or early dinner depending how you look at it, with the stylists, then you get ready, then—“

“—Interview, got it,” she finishes. She follows Mena out of the room. While she walks over to the sitting area where Finnick and Mags are waiting, Mena parks the cart by the table and walks to Sebastian’s room. Annie still doesn’t understand how she can walk so easily in those shoes. She shakes her head and turns to her mentors. Her stomach sinks when her eyes meet Finnick’s. She’d almost forgotten about the conversation she overheard.

“How was your morning?” Finnick asks.

“Well, I have more respect for Mena now,” she says. “Please tell me I can sit down for this part.”

Finnick nods and she collapses onto the couch. Her arches ache. She pulls one foot into her lap and begins to rub it. Finnick pulls the two armchairs over so they’re facing the couch, then he and Mags settle into them.

“I’m going to be honest, Cresta,” he begins. “We have no idea what to do with you.”

“What do you mean?” Annie asks, switching her feet.

“Your image for your interview. You can be confident, but not intimidating. You’re smart and funny, but not cruel.” He makes a face. “Well, except to me.”

“I resent that,” she says. Her thumbs press into the bottom of her foot. “I make snide remarks. But I have never been cruel to you, Finnick.”

He throws his hands up.

“My point is, you’re naturally charismatic, but in all the wrong ways.” Before she can protest again, he adds, “For a Career.”

“Then what’s my battle plan for the interview?” She crosses her legs and folds her hands in her lap. He looks at Mags.

“Have you thought about it at all?” he asks.

“Funny. Sexy. Charming. Like you.” Mags doesn’t really say her words; she almost chews them. Finnick laughs.

“You think she can pull off sexy?”

“You think I can’t?” Annie exclaims, her voice much higher than it should be.

“Not Capitol sexy,” he says calmly.

“What does that mean?” she asks. He turns bright red and buries his mouth in his hands.

“It’s a compliment, Cresta,” he says through his fingers. “Can we get back to the big picture?”

Annie nods. “So, what’s my image going to be?”

“I don’t know.” He settles into his chair. “Let’s try a few out.”

They spend the rest of the four hours in a mock interview. Finnick and Mags randomly yell out personality traits while Finnick asks Annie questions she might be asked. She’s horrible at bloodthirsty; acting that way makes her cringe. She’s not smooth enough to be as charming as Finnick. When their time is almost up, Finnick stops.

“This isn’t working,” he says, half to himself.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, sitting up straighter. She thought she was pretty good at acting proud and bored like Holiday, at the very least.

She shakes his head. “It all feels off. Do you feel that?” he adds to Mags.

She waves her hand and half-nods, caught between wanting to be honest and wanting to be nice.

“What should I do, then?” Annie asks, beginning to panic. She has to be at least realistic in her interview. Believable. Lovable. The Capitol has to love her, so she can get sponsors. If she even wants sponsors….

“Let’s try a few questions where you act like yourself,” Finnick suggests. “Just not so snide or bitter about being here.”

“In other words, don’t act like myself at all?”

“Clever humor,” he emphasizes. “That’s what I’m looking for. Or how you were at the reaping.”

She shrugs and sits up straight, like he told her earlier, like she’s sitting in the interview chair.

“Ready when you are,” she says. He takes a deep breath.

“Alright, Miss Cresta,” he says in his best imitation of Caesar Flickerman, who will be interviewing her later. Annie smiles. “Half the Capitol and all your friends back home are rooting for you. How is that going to affect you in the arena?”

“Well, positively, I hope,” she jokes. He half-smiles while Mags actually laughs. Finnick drops his character.

“Okay, good, but more. Open with a joke, then answer seriously. How is it going to affect you? Will you fight harder to make them proud? Will you—Actually, that’s good.” He pauses and just looks at her. “Play it like that. It’ll work with how you were at the reaping. You’re nervous, but excited. You’re eager, but cautious. Your number one goal? Going home. Bringing glory to District Four.”

“Okay,” she says, cracking her neck. He cringes at the sound. “Ask me again.”

They work nonstop for the last half hour. By the end of it, she doesn’t even recognize her own voice. She sounds bubbly, and grateful, and optimistic. It’s a change of pace from her inner monologue, which has been figuring out how she will die for the past four days. She’s just finished answering her last question when Sebastian walks out of his room with Mena. She’s smiling widely. Sebastian looks fairly confident, though Annie can see a flicker of doubt in his eyes.

“The stylists should be here any minute,” Mena trills. She, Sebastian, and Mags walk toward the table. Annie stands up, but Finnick grabs her shoulder.

“Good job, Cresta,” he says softly. “You’re going to be just fine.”

She nods and they go to join the rest of the group at the table. Just when she sits down, the elevator dings. Stella and Irving sweep onto the floor, arms full of garment bags and small boxes, followed closely by Annie’s prep team. Stella sits right next to Annie and takes her hand.

“Darling,” she begins. “Tonight, you are going to look so good that no one will stop talking about you for days. Years, maybe.”

“Thank you,” Annie says half-heartedly.

The elevator dings again and people wheel carts into the room, unload them on the table, and leave, taking Mena’s breakfast cart with them. Her appetite overpowers her nerves, and Annie has a little of everything. They eat quickly, and the stylists have nothing at all, and then Annie and Sebastian are, again, whisked into their rooms.

The whole prep process is almost identical to the one before the opening ceremonies. Caplan, Straya, and Hugo strip Annie down and throw her into a warm, fragrant shower, then blow-dry her body and hair. They skip the waxing this time, which is a huge relief to Annie, but pluck the few stray hairs they must have missed before.

“I can’t believe how much of a success you are,” Caplan sings while she covers Annie with a silk robe.

“I can,” Straya chimes, pushing Annie down into a chair.

“Are you kidding, Caplan?” Hugo says with a laugh. His head still reminds Annie of a fireball. It’s highly distracting, to the point where she can barely focus on what they’re saying. He grabs her chin and turns her head towards Caplan. “Look at her, she’s gorgeous. Even if she wasn’t a mermaid, sponsors would be lining up to help this pretty face stay pretty.”

At this point, Annie completely stops listening to them. She’s vaguely aware of Straya’s shriek of horror at the state of her nails, and the pull of a hairbrush, and the forced movements of her face and limbs as they apply makeup to her. But she can’t stop hearing a cannon going off, or seeing her cold, lifeless body on the ground.

She can even smell her own blood, in a pool around her head, hot, thick, and metallic. It almost makes her gag.

“It’s not real,” she murmurs to herself.

“I’m sorry, dear,” asks Caplan, who’s working on her hair. “Did you say something?”

“No, sorry,” Annie says, fighting an urge to shake her head. “Just thinking out loud.”

When they finish working, Hugo takes her hand and helps position her in front of the mirror. Once again, she doesn’t recognize herself. Her hair is long, loose, and wavy. It flows down to her waist and shines like she’s never seen it shine before. Her cheeks and eyebrows are highlighted in gold, her eyes lined with blue, and her lips are pink and glossy. The most amazing part, though, is her skin. Every visible inch of her body shimmers with gold. Not the lavish, pure gold on her cheeks, but just enough to make her look like she was dipped in dust. It looks natural, like she could’ve been born with it. It’s subtle, but striking. Annie can’t help but be impressed.

“Do you like it?” Hugo asks. Straya and Caplan are standing just behind him. They all have matching, eager expressions.

“I like it,” Annie says, smiling widely.

They all smile back at her in the mirror before pulling off her robe and pushing her out into her bedroom. Stella doesn’t inspect her like she did last time. She takes one look and nods enthusiastically.

“She’s perfect,” she tells the prep team without taking her eyes off Annie. “Absolutely perfect.”

Straya, Caplan, and Hugo all noticeably relax and leave the room after Caplan pauses to kiss Annie on the cheek. The door slides shut behind them, and she turns back to Stella.

“You look absolutely perfect,” Stella says again, mostly to herself. She shakes her head. “You’re going to really love this dress, Annie.”

She walks over to the mirror and pulls the garment bag off of it.

“I’m sure I will,” Annie replies.

Stella purses her lips but smiles coyly, like she’s about to reveal an important secret. Slowly, she pulls the zipper on the bag down, and yanks it away from the dress. Annie gasps and reaches out to run her hand down it.

The alternating dark and light blue fabric of the skirt is smooth and flowing, but shiny. Between each blue stripe is a fluffy line of gauzy white material. The top, which is separated from the skirt by a rope of pearls, is made of two triangles that look like they’ll tie together behind her neck. The back is completely open. She looks back up to Stella, who’s smiling at her.

“Do you like it?” she asks.

“Stella, this is amazing!” Annie exclaims. Her smile grows wider.

Putting it on takes a few minutes. Annie’s worried the gold will come off her skin, but it doesn’t. The skirt sits comfortably on her waist. Stella adjusts the pearl belt so it stays snug. Then she ties the top, making sure the knot is secure enough that Annie won’t have to worry about it coming undone. Annie watches her while she fixes a few of the folds in the skirt. Her eyes are full of the deep concentration that Annie sees in her father’s face when he’s cooking.

Finally, Stella straightens up and stands back.

“There,” she says. “Now, look in the mirror, and twirl.”

She does. The skirt seems to come alive with her movements. White crashes over blue, blue over white. It looks like….

“Waves,” Annie says. “It’s the ocean.”

Stella nods. She feels like she could cry.

Annie stands still and looks at the dress in the mirror while Stella rifles through the boxes she brought for the right jewelry. Smiling, she twirls her hips back and forth, watching the waves catch around her knees. Stella hangs a string of pearls around her neck, and wraps one around her wrist. She holds up another box.

“I’m sorry if you’re not used to heels,” she says.

Out of the box, Stella pulls the most expensive shoes Annie has ever seen. The actual heels are tall, almost as tall as Mena’s, and so gold she can see herself in them. The shoes themselves are covered with tiny blue jewels. They look real. When she slides them on her feet, they fit perfectly. They’re even easier to walk in. Annie attempts a twirl, and almost doesn’t fall. Stella takes her hands to steady her.

“How do I look?” Annie asks.

“You know perfectly well,” Stella says. “But, for the record, you look radiant.”

Annie smiles and lets Stella lead her into the living room. The rest of the group is already there, standing around and talking in the living room. Everyone’s dressed up. They don’t notice her for a moment, and then Stella clears her throat loudly. They all turn at once and fall silent when they see Annie. Even Mena is speechless.

All eyes are trained on her, but her eyes find Finnick’s and hold them. She can’t read his expression. She hopes he can’t read hers. After a few seconds, she smiles and breaks her gaze to look at everyone else.

“Well, don’t everyone compliment me at once,” she jokes.

“There’s nothing to say, Annie,” Mena says.

It’s the first time there hasn’t been a musical quality to her voice. Mags nods in agreement with her. Irving steps forward, pecks Annie on the cheek, then pulls Stella away to chatter excitedly about her designs. Sebastian mumbles something Annie doesn’t hear. Finnick doesn’t say a word. Mena claps her hands and, the trill back in place, announces that it’s time to leave.

They file into the elevator and descend in near silence. The stylists keep chatting, but now Mena joins them. Sebastian leans over and taps Annie’s shoulder.

“You look great,” he says. “You should know that.”

“Thank you,” she replies. “You do, too,” she adds after taking in his suit. It’s the same light blue as the stripes in her skirt, and it’s trimmed in gold. He shrugs and smiles in reply.

The second the doors open, the stylists are off to the audience. Finnick, Mags, and Mena are staying backstage with them until they’re actually up. They find a secluded corner to huddle in. Annie walks as quickly as she can and has to flex her feet inside the heels when they stop moving. Still, they’re better than Mena’s.

Finnick talks for a minute, but Annie barely listens. She looks around backstage, at all the dresses the other female tributes are wearing. Although a lot of them look just as good as she does, they throw glares in her direction, or looks of longing at her dress. She swishes her hips a little and lets the waves crash on her legs.

When the huddle breaks, Sebastian stalks off somewhere. Mena and Mags both decide to go out to the audience early. This leaves Annie mostly alone with Finnick. The first and last place she wants to be.

“You didn’t listen to me at all, did you?” he asks.

“Sorry,” she answers.

“Just remember to be funny and grateful to be here. You’ll do fine.”

He purses his lips like he wants to say something else but doesn’t.

“All the other tributes are looking at me like they want to kill me,” she blurts.

“They do, Cresta.”

“I mean right now,” she says, exasperated. “Because of my dress.”

“It’s not the dress,” he tells her. “It’s because you’re easily the most beautiful person in the room right now, and sponsors are going to love that.”

Annie hopes the gold powder is covering up the blush that just crept onto her cheeks.

“Thank you,” she whispers. She’s not sure he heard her, but she doesn’t repeat herself. She smiles, but it quickly slides away. What is she doing? She’s about to go on stage and be interviewed. She needs to focus and at least try to prepare herself. But Finnick is flirting with her, a little bit, and Finnick is standing right in front of her. He’s supposed to be mentoring, though.

“Where’s Sebastian?” she asks suddenly. He furrows his brow.

“I’ll go find him. Give him some last minute advice.”

She laughs.

“Go do your job, Odair.”

“Since when are we both on a last name basis?”

She shrugs.

“Thought I’d try it out.”

He grabs her shoulder and gives it a light squeeze.

“Show time,” he mutters, and when he walks off to find Sebastian, he is entirely Capitol Finnick, from his sauntering walk to his charming smile.

Almost immediately, he’s replaced by Holiday, who’s wearing a slinky silver dress that would brush the floor if she weren’t wearing heels.

“Damn, mermaid girl,” she says, looking Annie up and down. “Look out, or Romana might kill you for that dress alone.”

“Comforting,” Annie replies. “Thank you for your kind words during this time of anxiety.”

“What, are you actually nervous about the interview?” Holiday asks. “The interview is the easy part. You just smile and tell the people what they want to hear. Cashmere gave me some great pointers. This is going to be simple.”

Annie blinks a few times.

“Why did you come over here?”

Holiday rolls her eyes.

“No need to be rude,” she sneers. “Do you see that group over there?”

Annie lets her eyes follow where Holiday is pointing. There’s a group of four people. Two boys, two girls, all around 17. Annie recognizes them as the boys from 5 and 6, and the girls from 8 and 10.

“Yes,” she answers. “But they’re all from different districts.”

“Exactly,” Holiday whispers. “And they all got Career level scores.”

“You’re saying we should look out for them.”


“What else do you know about them?”

At that moment, several screens turn on, so people backstage can watch the interviews. A short, frazzled-looking woman rushes forward and grabs Holiday’s arm.

“You’re up in one minute,” she tells no one in particular. “Time to get in position.”

Holiday follows the woman, but turns back to Annie.

“I’ll tell you in about three minutes,” she calls.

Annie nods and turns to the screen. Caesar Flickerman, who’s been hosting the Games for as long as she can remember, walks on stage in a deep purple suit that matches his wig and eye makeup. Annie can’t see the crowd, but, judging from what she can hear, it’s huge. Caesar tells a few jokes, gets everyone laughing and happy, and then invites Holiday onstage.

The interview is an absolute breeze for her. Annie pinpoints her image in half a second. She’s sexy and brutal, and she plays it perfectly. Something in her coldness makes Annie shiver, and she’s suddenly glad Holiday is her ally.

Then she’s offstage again, and Ivory is walking on. Holiday walks back over to Annie, and, in an undertone, points out each person in the small mismatched group. Amory, from 5, is the tall one with dark hair and huge muscles. Gavon, from 6, is shorter and blond. Lark, from 8, is statuesque, with long red hair. Andrea, from 10, has dark skin and piercing black eyes. They stand together and talk, but none of them laugh, or even smile. From the way Holiday looks at them, Annie can tell she finds this eerie, but Annie thinks it’s normal. Why should they be laughing?

Ivory is backstage again, and as Romana gets in position, she looks over to Annie.

“Oh, damn, mermaid girl,” she calls across the space. “This just isn’t fair.”

Her dress looks more like armor, but still manages to be flattering and a little revealing. Annie doesn’t get a chance to reply before she’s onstage.

“Told you,” Holiday says, shrugging.

“Why did you tell me all that stuff?” Annie blurts. “About that group.”

“We’re allies,” she replies. “If even one of us doesn’t know this stuff going into the arena, we’ll all be screwed.”

Annie nods. Ivory walks up to the two of them.

“Hey, mermaid girl, looking good,” he says, looking Annie up and down.

Holiday rolls her eyes.

“What do you want, Ivory?” she asks.

“We’re leaving,” he says, pointing behind him. Their mentors, Cashmere and Gloss, brother and sister victors of back to back Games, are waiting by the elevators with their escort and stylists.

“Before the rest of the interviews?” Annie asks.

“Why would we stay to watch everyone else say the exact same thing we just said?” Holiday replies. “See you tomorrow.”

Ivory looks her up and down one more time, and then they join the rest of their group on the elevators. Annie walks closer to the entrance to the stage. At this point, Titus is being interviewed. She can hear the crowd laughing. She looks at the screen, but doesn’t listen. Hera walks up to her and smiles, but doesn’t say anything. Appreciation surges through Annie. Titus comes offstage and immediately joins Romana and their group in an elevator. She reaches over and squeezes Hera’s hand.

“Good luck,” she tells her.

“You, too,” Hera replies.

Hera is intelligent and cold in her interview. Leeri, who’s miniscule compared to everyone else, is shy and clever. They both join Beetee Latier and the rest of their team on an elevator when they’re done. Sebastian walks up and grabs Annie’s hand.

“Where were you?” she cries as the woman drags her into position.

“Focusing,” he replies. “Good luck out there.”

“You, too,” she calls just as the woman pushes her onstage.

By some miracle, she doesn’t trip on her shoes. She walks, as fast as she can, into the light, and towards Caesar, who’s beckoning to her with a wide smile on his face. A tidal wave of applause from the audience hits her and threatens to engulf her completely. She can feel her hands beginning to shake. Just before she drowns in it, she swallows down a deep breath and forces herself to smile and wave.

She just has to keep floating.

After what feels like a week, she reaches her chair and sits down. The crowd slowly dies down, and she and Caesar turn to each other. He looks weird in person. His face is stretched too tight.

“So, Annie!” he begins. “Big things from you so far. Volunteering. Your performance in the opening ceremonies. A very impressive score. How are you feeling right about now?”

She freezes. The lights are too hot. The entire stadium is packed with people, and all of them are staring at her. She casts her eyes along the front row, reserved for mentors and stylists, until she finds Finnick. He nods at her. She turns back to Caesar.

“I’m feeling pretty damn good, Caesar, I’m not going to lie,” she says with a smile. He laughs, so the audience laughs. Holiday’s right. This is easy.

“Of course you are, Annie, of course you are,” he says. “Now, of course, you haven’t been entirely up the creek on this one. After all, your mentor is Finnick Odair. I’m sure he helped you a lot.”

Annie scoffs.

“I think I’ve been helping him more,” she jokes. “He acts tough, but he could barely wield his trident without me.”

Caesar loses it again. Annie looks at Finnick, who smirks and gives her the tiniest of nods.

“You two are about the same age, isn’t that right?”

“That’s right,” she says, crossing one leg over the other.

“Did you know each other before you volunteered?”

“Oh, of course,” she says as nonchalantly as she can. “Finnick and I are old friends.”

Caesar smiles.

“How did you meet?” he asks.

Annie freezes again. She can’t tell the truth. The truth involves her crying because she hurt him. Sponsors wouldn’t like that very much. She takes a deep breath and says the first story that comes to mind.

“It was about a year ago, maybe a year and a half,” she begins. “He was cliff-diving, and slipped. I had to save him.”

She sticks out her chest and tries to look as confident as possible when the audience gasps. Finnick’s eyes go wide.

That story is true. It’s not how they met, but it happened. She went out swimming one day, and when she came up for air, she saw a person falling from the cliff. Normally, she wouldn’t have thought twice about it. People dove from there all the time. Still do. But the figure she saw wasn’t diving; it was falling. She swam to the bottom of the cliff and found Finnick, half-conscious. Despite the panic she felt, she helped him back to the beach, where he coughed up a whole lot of salt water. He declined her offer to help him get to the hospital, and stumbled off, alone, back toward the Victors’ Village. The next time they saw each other, he acted like nothing happened.

Caesar presses his hand over hers.

“Are you saying we all owe you for Finnick Odair’s life?” he asks.

“Definitely,” she assures. “I’m still waiting for my medal on that one.”

This, of course, makes Caesar laugh hysterically. He and the audience carry on for a moment, then he turns back to her.

“Annie, there’s been one question on my mind ever since you volunteered.” She leans forward. “What is the exact reason you did it?”

“I was telling the truth, Caesar,” she tells him, this time pressing her hand over his. His skin feels as strange as it looks. “I want to win. I want to bring glory to District Four and to my family.”

“And I’m sure the prospect of a week with Finnick Odair was pretty good incentive, too,” Caesar says with a wink to the audience. They all laugh and catcall. Annie sees Finnick’s face magnified on the jumbo screens around the stadium. He shrugs and waves with mock shyness. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he’s enjoying this attention.

But she does know better, and she’s suddenly angry. The Capitol citizens all cheer and shower Finnick with unwanted love, but he’s miserable. He doesn’t want any of it, and they don’t even care. As long as they get their toys, they don’t care about the consequences.

She forces a smile on her face as the crowd dies down. Caesar turns back to her.

“Well, who could turn down an offer like that?” she says, venom dripping like honey from each syllable. Caesar laughs again.

“Well, Annie, we all wish you the best of luck. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even be seeing you soon. Am I right, folks?”

The crowd cheers again. Annie purses her lips and locks eyes with Finnick. He must know what she’s thinking, because he shakes his head, almost imperceptibly.

She ignores him.

“Oh, but Caesar,” she half-jokes, forcing her smile back on. “If I had it my way, you wouldn’t see me again, because I’d be on my way home first thing tomorrow.”

She widens her smile and Caesar loses it again.

“Oh, now, Annie, you know the rules,” he jokes back. “Being from District Four, you probably know how dangerous it can be when the tides change.”

He laughs at his own horrible joke, pulling the crowd with him. Annie looks at Finnick, who shakes his head again, then directly into the camera, and finally back at Caesar. She shrugs.

“Not for a mermaid,” she trills in her best imitation of Mena. She smiles at the crowd, who all cheer for her again. Caesar smiles wide.

“Annie, I’d love to chat with you more, but our time is almost up,” he says. “But I do have one last request. Can we get a look at this gorgeous dress?”

“Do you want me to twirl?” she asks, faking her excitement.

The crowd erupts with enthusiastic cheering. She nods, stands, and twirls three times. The whole audience gasps and cheers. Annie looks down to watch the waves crash over her legs. When she stops, Caesar stands up, clapping.

“Absolutely stunning,” he says. “Sadly we’re out of time.” Then, to the crowd, he adds, “But don’t you all just love her! What a firecracker!”

The crowd cheers again. Annie waves to them, kisses Caesar on each cheek, and walks off smiling. Once she’s safely backstage again, she collapses against a wall. Sebastian looks at her. He’s clearly worried, or maybe scared. He’s whisked onstage before he can say anything to her, though. No one else looks at her. Maybe they don’t realize the gravity of what she just said. Or maybe they do, and they’re not looking at her because they’re afraid that might associate them with her.

She looks up and sees Finnick rushing toward her with a wild look in his eyes. He’s going to be mad. The interview is supposed to get as many sponsors as possible to think she’s good enough to win.

Considering what she just said, though, there’s no way she’s leaving that arena alive.

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