Haymitch and I finally get a small list of people we might be able to count on. Lepidus still has a soft spot for Twelve, and for Haymitch particularly, and his house has been doing well this year. His old hair stylist, Medusa, is also having a banner year, and would probably sign over her entire life savings to him if he asked her for it.
Haymitch says he doesn't know why this is true, but I did spend time on the prep team. I know that he told Ausonius Glass -- who always had a penchant for physically bullying the other members of the team -- that any injury done to the preps or stylists was going to be visited back onto him. Haymitch might or might not remember doing that. He certainly doesn't think it was anything special, and it's of a piece with the way he treats everyone he decides is under his protection. But for Lepidus, Atilia, and all of the District Twelve preps who were with him through his Games and the year afterward, it was an unparalleled act of valor, which they tell to newcomers in hushed and awed tones. ("And he doesn't even want a thank you for it!") The newcomers tell more newcomers. By the time I came on board, the re-telling practically had him holding a pure silver sword over Glass's head and giving a soliloquy about the dignity of honest labor. Knowing Haymitch, it was more likely a quick shove and a drunken rant about leaving his people alone, but I don't see any harm in letting people believe the stories.
I'm sure Haymitch would object if he knew how mythical it's gotten, but the tellings all include a caution not to mention it to him, lest he be embarrassed. It's a good caution, and I don't tell him about it, though my fear isn't of his embarrassment. My fear is another blow up like the one at the lake shore, about it being naïve and stupid to believe things like that. There's no reason to make the style team cry.
I'm not sure Haymitch sees himself any more clearly than they do, anyway.
At any rate, I tell him that he should call them, since they're his friends. For my part, my old friend Junius has had a good year working in a genetics lab. He developed a miniature lion that's all the rage in the designer pet crowd. His wife is a socialite with connections to everyone who's anyone, and I promise to use them. I also promise to vet them before I use them.
"I just don't want another one like the guy this morning," he says, shuddering as we watch the silent feed from the training room, where one screen shows Finnick Odair alone at the spear station. Most of the boys have shed their shirts, but he hasn't. It doesn’t help. Several girls (including Treeza) are at the nearby knot-tying station, not tying much of anything. On another screen, I can see Chicory throwing knives. He's not bad at it, but he loses concentration frequently. We can't see directly what he's glaring at, but I don't think it's a very hard guess.
"Is that the boy from Eight that he's talking to?" I ask, and flip through my guidebook. "Batten Stone."
Haymitch frowns. "Yeah, I think it is. If they stick together, I'll talk to Woof about an alliance. Or Cecelia, I guess. Woof wasn't looking very good at the parade. Did you see him?"
"No. But there was a rumor that he had an accident. It was on the news last fall. I didn't hear everything about it. I wasn't paying attention. I'm sorry. I was still mostly worrying about your accident."
His eyes flicker up to mine, then go back down. "What kind of accident did Woof have? Was it like mine?"
"No. It was something to do with the river up there in Eight. I can find out if you want."
"No, I'll take care of it. You go get those sponsors if you can."
I stay a few minutes, watching our tributes falter in training, then go off on my errands. Junius is a dead end, as his wife and her socialite friends are all abuzz about District Four. District Twelve is so far out of fashion that they treat even talking to me as a great service they've done for the less fortunate. On a whim after I leave, I go to Evasius at the Gab to get him to get my wig on the fashion pages, and he's a better lead. Apparently, the high level cosmetologists are desperate for another tribute to grab the spotlight -- one whose face isn't so beautiful that it needs no make-up. They want someone whose look they can sell. I give them Treeza, who is lovely but even prettier with a bit of mascara and some glow effect highlights. They're even fonder of Chicory, since the distinctive olive shade so common in District Twelve's mining population can be mass produced as a body spray, and any hair color can be dyed black. "I can work with that!" a young owner enthuses over a picture I show him. "If he wins, I could sell that look for a long time. They did when Haymitch won, you know. I was just his age, and I had my hair permed and darkened, and I covered up my freckles for weeks."
I nod, and decide not to share the reasoning with Haymitch. I think he would be less than thrilled by it… but it's not actually dangerous. Wanting to look like someone isn't the same as wanting to touch that person.
When I get back to the apartment, the children are up from training. I know this before the elevator doors open, because I can hear them screaming at each other, though the words aren't clear until it opens up and I see Chicory storming around and ranting.
" -- going to follow around that stuck up little -- "
"Finnick is not stuck up!" Treeza yells. "He's sensitive. He doesn't want to train with you because you're a jerk!"
"He thinks everyone ought to be falling over him, but even his own district partner doesn't want him. I talked to Dempsey. She says at home everyone always gives him what he wants, too, but she's not into that."
"He's very hurt about that!"
"You didn't even talk to him! You just stood there with those other loser girls and giggled at him."
"How long has this been going on?" I ask Haymitch quietly, slipping into the dinette chair across from him.
"They came up on the elevator fifteen minutes ago, and they were already fighting. With each other." He grimaces. "On the bright side, Lepidus came through. Medusa, too, though she really doesn't have that much money."
"You don't understand!" Treeza screams, and stomps off to her room.
Chicory grumbles, then turns to us. "He probably can't even fight, you know," he says. "He didn't go to any of the stations where he'd be fighting with people. He probably just gets stupid girls like Treeza to do his fighting for him."
"I wouldn't count on that," Haymitch tells him. "He may just not be tipping his hand… like I told you not to do. Mags knows that strategy well."
Chicory gives a disdainful sniff. "Yeah, well, maybe. But I still bet he's never risked getting that tiny little nose broken. Bet he'd snivel like a merchant girl if he found out that someone had the gall to hit him."
Haymitch catches his arm as he goes by. "First of all, my ally was a merchant girl, and Maysilee would have put you down in about ten seconds, with a whole lot less sniveling than you're doing. Second, you don't know any more about this kid than Treeza does, and if you start acting on your assumptions instead of the facts in the arena, you're dead. Third, picking fights with your district partner is a stupid way to spend your training time. Now go upstairs and get cleaned up for dinner."
Chicory grinds his teeth. "He's going to get all the money. They're going to give him everything. It's not fair."
Haymitch nods. "Yeah. I know. The Games aren't fair, and I'm sorry about that. But don't pick a fight with someone who only exists in your head."
"But -- "
"I'm trying to keep you alive as long as possible, Chicory. You understand that, right?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Then act like it, and do what I tell you."
Chicory grinds his teeth, and goes up to his room without saying anything.
"Was I like that when I was seventeen?" Haymitch asks. "I don't remember. Of course, I was probably drunk, which tends to fog the memory."
"You were drinking at seventeen?"
"The year after the Games? Oh, yeah. As much as I could." He shrugs. "I don't remember being that big an idiot, though. Were you an idiot when you were seventeen?"
"Well, I did risk my job to clean up a man I never met that year."
He grins. "Yeah, I guess you did. I forgot how young you were. What about when you were twelve? Were you like Treeza?"
"Yeah?" His smile gets broader, and I can't help but return it. "What guy did you decide was too sensitive to talk to you?"
"Parmenas Palmer." I sigh dramatically. "He was the cutest thing I ever saw, and I was sure we'd sign a permanent marriage contract the second I worked up the nerve to say hello to him."
"Did you ever?"
"No." I laugh. "What about you? What girl was making you crazy back then?"
"At twelve?" He shrugs. "I was pretty much a one-girl guy before the Games. It was always me and Digger. She was my best friend until we were big enough for anything else."
"You never even daydreamed about anyone?"
"Sure. But I was a guy who sometimes had to wear his mother's old clothes to school and kept his shoes together with packing string and good luck. I was too busy being amazed that Digger would bother with me to put much energy into wondering about anyone else."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought that up."
"Don't worry about it. I can't remember the last time anyone asked about her." His eyes go far away for a minute, then he brings himself back. "Thinking of old friends, how did you do with yours…?"
I fill him in on the day's sponsorships. He tells me that Cecelia actually came to him about an alliance between Chicory and Batten, and that the girl from Seven, Eloise Tate, is also interested, so we'll get to work with Jack Anderson. He's got the papers ready. I go up to the Gamemakers to file them.
The next two days are the same, though with less luck in terms of sponsors. Treeza has fallen in with the group of young kids, much to Haymitch's distress -- the young ones are almost always killed quickly if they're not allied with older kids. Chicory's group goes through training together, and Haymitch is cautiously hopeful, as Batten seems to have good sense. The second day of training, they stop wasting their time glaring at Finnick Odair and actually work on their skills.
Although a half-hearted effort is made to give air time to other tributes, the coverage still seems to be mostly about Finnick, and the District Four chariot is used as the main graphic for the Games, zipping by under official reports, trailing text in its wake. People speculate about what kind of life he has at home, with a mother who could head straight out to sea while her son is in the Games. Some are firmly in the camp that he has a happy home ("Look how self-assured and confident he is!"), and others believe he seems terribly lonely ("They haven't even interviewed any of his friends"). A growing group of people on the street seem to be taking up Chicory's attitude, that he's most likely spoiled and unpleasant, and they're countered by increasingly shrill screams about how he's really isolated by his beauty.
"You notice that no one's asking about him," Haymitch says while we watch late night coverage. "That would spoil all the fun of guessing."
For his part, Finnick does seem to be unwelcome with the inner district kids, which is very stupid -- an ally with that much money coming in would easily keep them going for a long time. He spends some time teaching the giggling younger girls about knots that aren't in the book at the knot-tying station, but doesn't make any moves toward an alliance with them. Chicory makes a snide comment at dinner about wasting a training day playing string games with little girls. He approaches Chicory's group on the third day of training, just before evaluations, but they turn him away.
"Are you crazy?" Haymitch asks when Chicory gets back to the apartment. "I really want to know. That kid would guarantee you camera time and sponsor gifts."
"He can't do anything but tie knots and look pretty," Chicory says. "They'll probably kill him at the Cornucopia."
"Yeah, well, he's in with the Careers now -- the papers are filed, no matter what Dempsey wants -- so they'll get all of it."
"The sponsors aren't going to care about them after he's dead. Which he will be. He probably just played Cat's Cradle with the judges."
If he did, he must have played it well. He's awarded a nine. It's not the highest score in the pack -- that goes to Swather, who gets an eleven, and there are two tens as well -- but it's higher than our tributes. Chicory gets an eight, and Treeza gets a three.
Chicory makes a crude suggestion about what he really did to impress the Gamemakers. Haymitch sends him to his room to cool off. Treeza takes the opportunity to eat the desserts that he leaves behind. She seems untroubled by her low score.
The next day is interview prep day, which means I spend a lot of time teaching Treeza to walk in high heels. It's becoming a yearly ritual, since none of the girls from Twelve seem to ever wear them, and I'm developing a pretty good script for it. At least Treeza doesn't need to be talked into them, despite her discomfort at the parade. She sees right away how much better her dress works with them. (The dress needs all the help it can get. Therinus has continued his "conceptual" theme and made it out of an actual coal sack. I promise Treeza that I'll bring her nice jewelry from home to spruce it up for tomorrow, and I'll think of something wonderful for the prep team to do with her hair.) With Chicory, it's all about sitting still and looking interested for more than an hour while the other tributes are speaking. The boy from Twelve gets the distinction of speaking last -- an advantage in terms of memory of the interview itself, but a distinct disadvantage for the time before, when the camera has many opportunities to catch him fidgeting.
I don't know what Haymitch has coached them on for their interviews, though he had Chicory for a very long time, and they both looked grumpy when they were through. We have a decent enough dinner, and we watch television for a little while. The Games coverage is trying to correct the earlier excess and stir up interest in the interviews with other tributes, so they get a little boost from that.
I spend the night finding interesting ways to style the wig I have in Treeza's haircut, and finally settle on free, breezy curls, dotted with sparkling gem clips. I try to think of something to do with jewelry that Therinus will let me get away with. At some point in school, I remember hearing about coal and some kind of jewel. I decide that will be the theme. I'll make the coal sack sparkle, like the coal inside is being turned into jewels. I'll use some decorative wig pins for it. Therinus won't like it, exactly, but I think I can spin it as being an excited elaboration on his "vision." Treeza will enjoy anything that sparkles. Haymitch will tolerate it as well as he can. Maybe Therinus will be so upset that he'll quit. I have my eye on District Three's stylist if he does.
At the interviews, I sit between Haymitch and Mags Donovan from Four. Mags keeps getting Capitol Dreams runners coming in with messages about sponsors, right up to the moment that interruptions are banned in the audience. On Haymitch's other side, Jack Anderson is watching all of it with a wary eye. Last year, his first as a mentor, he was a wreck and Blight handled everything. This year, he's considerably calmer. He tells Haymitch that he has a live-in assistant at home, who's been keeping him grounded.
"How'd you swing that?" Haymitch asks. "They were pretty strict about non-relatives when I was asking."
"Well, you know," Jack says, looking down. "Play nice with them, you're allowed the occasional perk. Linden's really just an old friend. The Gamemakers said he could stay as long as he… had an identifiable function."
"That simple, huh?"
"Probably not for you," Jack says. " You'd already annoyed them. I'd done exactly what they wanted me to."
Cecelia, sitting on Jack's far side, puts an arm over his shoulder and musses his hair fondly.
The audience lights go out, and the stage lights up, showing the tributes sitting in their semi-circle. I try to hold back a hiss -- at some point after I left, it looks like Therinus had all my baubles removed from the dress. Treeza looks heartbroken.
Caesar does his usual patter, then starts introducing them. I think I've come around to Haymitch's opinion of the interviews. The District One and Two kids' bragging about their surefire strategies goes out of my head as soon as it goes in. Three is marginally better. Dempsey from Four goes right back to strategy.
Caesar reaches Finnick. He makes a great show of scratching his head. "I think I might have seen you a few times during the lead-up events. Finnick Odair, right?"
"Guilty," Finnick says.
"Well, you certainly made an impression at the parade. Were you surprised?"
"Aw, no. Happens to me all the time. Makes it very hard to do my job. The fish are scared of all the cameras flashing, and they get really tired of the reporters asking them about me."
"So you help your family with the fishing business?"
"Well, you know, when I can spare time away from the mirror. It's so hard to pull myself away some mornings." He grins at the audience, and most of the ones he didn't already own now belong to him. It's not that his joke is all that funny. It's that he's told a joke at all, and is acknowledging the craziness around him. It's okay, he seems to tell them. We all know it's silly, and it'll be our little joke, right?
Beside me, I can see that Mags has her fingers crossed so tightly that her knuckles are white. I realize that this whole business is a strategy -- to make light of it all in order to defuse the tension.
It works. The audience laughs. Finnick waves to them jauntily, and they clap.
"So, is there a special girl at home?"
"Come on, Caesar. I just turned fourteen last month. My dad's not going to let girls in the house for another two years. And Mom says she plans to sit out on the porch with a trident in her lap when they do start coming around."
Caesar throws a few more softballs about what Finnick would like to do if he wins, and I notice that, as the interview goes on, each answer comes off as just slightly younger than the one before it. (He wants to buy a dog of his own if he wins, and when he gets a lot older, maybe a car.) I glance over at Mags. She's watching him very intently, and when he finishes, she nods grimly, looking pleased. On my other side, Haymitch's expression is unreadable. Jack sighs and shakes his head. He leans over to Haymitch, and I hear him whisper, "They're going to eat him alive." Beyond him, I can't see Cecelia clearly.
Caesar is always careful about the amount of time each tribute gets, and during the actual show, they're equals. Eloise from Seven makes people smile with a story about a bird she once tried to catch while she was out at a logging camp. Hiram Lender from Nine makes a bombastic little speech about the impressive skills he's been hiding so far. Swather counts on his size to be intimidating, but spends his time talking about a poem he once read (this makes Haymitch grin; I guess he's read the same poem, which is about "a dream deferred"). Treeza is actually rather charming in her interview, playing up her own youth, and even managing a flustered flirt in Finnick's direction. Caesar reaches Chicory last. Beside me, Haymitch mutters, "Stick to the script."
I don't know what the script is, but Chicory steers well clear of his opinion of any other tributes, instead talking about the backbreaking work his father and brothers do, and how he feels like they make him strong. On the whole, he comes off well.
Not that anyone would know it from the recaps. Everyone gets a little quote, but the analysis is squarely on Finnick. Everyone seems to have a story about what he is "really" trying to convey with the quips about his youth. Capitol boys roll their eyes at the idea that a boy who's reached fourteen isn't seeing anyone (it does seem a little farfetched, but I know things are different in the Districts). Girls have created a girl at home out of thin air, who is pining for him. Adults deem his parents' overprotectiveness unhealthy, and District mores are dutifully tut-tutted. I can imagine Miss Meadowbrook watching back at Capitol Dreams, rolling her eyes at how very seriously District boys take these things.
Haymitch and I try to distract the kids from the constant barrage of coverage, which isn't easy, as Treeza has her own theories about Finnick's life at home and feels the need to share them with us. Chicory just glares throughout the broadcast, no matter what stories from home Haymitch tells to get his attention away.
We send them to bed and say goodbye, since the stylists will be here to collect them in the morning, and we won't see them before they go.
"They did as well as they could, didn't they?" I ask Haymitch.
He nods. "Yeah. But tomorrow's when it starts, and Treeza's little group is pressuring her to go for the damned Cornucopia. I shouldn't have let them be her allies."
Treeza wouldn’t have much of a chance either way, and we both know it, but neither of us says it. If Chicory can get over his fixation on "the pretty boy," he might do better. "I'm glad she hasn't really processed it all," I say. "I'm actually glad she's had a little fun indulging a crush."
"I just hope he's not the one who kills her."
I stay up with Haymitch, watching television and trying not to remember that the children will most likely die in a few hours. I doze off, and when I wake up, I'm in my room, wrapped in a light blanket. I haven't slept here often -- he usually likes me to go home -- and I don't really recognize it for a few seconds.
The children are already gone, taken away from the roof to fly off to the arena. Haymitch and I have breakfast together, not talking, then I go off to the escort meeting to cover any etiquette issues this year, and he goes straight to the Viewing Center. I join him there just before ten. The screens are blank, except for the main broadcast screen, where Claudius Templesmith is nearly salivating over the Games to come.
I sit and wait for the countdown to begin.