I get up before the sun, too riled up to get any decent sleep. It's not anxiety or dread, just a bundle of nerves that tip me onto an edge. It's a good edge; the kind that keeps me going through anything.
Clove is up as well, the regimen of home sticking to us. We watch as the staff enters our floor and they scurry about. They're not noticeable, even with all the coloring and the odd fetishes. They're well-trained, staying out of our way and keeping our place spotless and full.
We head to meet our stylists, Clove and I being led in separate directions.
The instant I walk into where my team will prep me up, I feel as though I'm walking into a condensed space for experimentation. The feeling is gone quick but it remains in my mind, residue I can't wipe off. When they come to start cleaning me, it's pretty calm, almost routine. It's not normal, of course, but I take this as a good sign.
I'm meant to be here.
They accommodate too. One of them got too close with a syringe. I've waited through their cleansing and harsh scrubbing. The needle doesn't bother me but their intentions do.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh," it says. I can't tell if it's a man or woman. It's androgynous to the extreme. "We're using this to remove wrinkles and any other unsightly marks,"
I only stare for a while. It only watches me stupidly and draws closer. I hold up my hand, "Back off,"
"If he doesn't want the Botox injection, don't give it to him. It'll be his problem if no one thinks he's attractive,"
A woman comes up from behind; dressed in a ridiculously short skirt; face a bright blue, with her hair tied back until I think it'll rip off her skull. Her blouse is ruffled and this intensely bright orange.
I hate orange.
"You're my stylist,"
"And you're my… client. Yes, I'll be your stylist. I usually get the most prodigious groups,"
She says this with an air of superiority and looks at me expectedly, as though she should be familiar.
She is, in looks.
On the television, we usually referred to her as the uptight broad.
She clears her throat and breathes in, "Never mind formalities then. Let's go and get you ready for the opening ceremonies. Now… obviously you're arrogant, crude, and downright ignorant as well but you're very handsome so that should help you."
"The people here enjoy prideful people,"
She smiles an amused sneer, "I cannot argue with that. You'll be a favorite no problem. The problem right now is thinking of your outfit…"
"What do you have in mind?"
"So far, to play with a costume that will not only show off your physique but your attitude. I'm quite sure I have an idea now!"
I nod. She doesn't consult me on the details.
Good. She has her job. And I have mine.
Clove comes back into our complex with a scowl. She snorts as she plops on the couch across me.
"What happened to you? You look like crap." she asks.
"Nothing much to tell. Just went through the motions. You?"
"Ugh, I feel like I got rubbed with sandpaper,"
I laugh, "Well, you are a girl. I think they do more with you than with us,"
"Screw you, man," but she says this with a grin as she splays herself on the couch, twirling a knife in her hand.
The night falls soon and we head out to meet our stylists. They show us the garments we have to wear. They're shiny in the light overhead, a metallic gold that really reflects the surroundings.
"Exquisite aren't they?"
Clove nods, looking very pleased as she's hurried off to dress.
I nod too, a little less enthusiastic outside but I do have to admit—the woman knows what she's doing.
Once my helmet is donned, we're walked out to the chariot that will be pulled by our horses. Clove looks regal beside me and I know I look rather intimidating. This is good. We'll be getting attention and the more the better to win. Being the second ones out, it's not long until we're out, the people cheering, their roar deafening. Clove and I stand, side by side, but looking at either direction or the front, not even glancing at one another. We need to make it clear, to others and to ourselves, that when the time comes, if it should, we stand alone.
It's the way it'll always have to be.
Winning must be priority.
Our horses continue to trot until we're next to the chariot from District 1. All of us continue to look at the stands. Everyone is so loud. My heart quickens and I look around the area, not unnerved by the shattering amount of people that will, in two weeks, watch us fight to the death. They're excited and I'm ready to show them.
They seem to grow quiet for a moment. It's not too noticeable but it's there—the silent echo after an avalanche. Then it swells into a louder noise, breaking sound itself. I notice brightness in the screen, dancing reds. I turn and watch as fire comes closer, blazing behind two towers of black.
It's her! The girl from 12…
She waves to the people of the Capitol, catching a flower that fell to her. I notice that she and the boy are holding hands.
I stare at their hands for a minute.
It throws me a little off, though I'm not sure why.
Their chariot finally pulls up next to us, and the fire trail that licks at their bodies heats up my skin. Her fire flickers wildly on my armor. This brilliant orange, a burning sunset on my frame.
I watch President Snow come into view but I don't seem to hear him. Not really. It's my day. It's my moment. I'm finally here and I can't concentrate.
The fire is too distracting.
It's outshined us all.
She captivated them.
And, somehow, me.
She glances in my direction and I hold her stare before she looks away.
She's bested me.
I don't like it.
But I welcome the challenge.