Once off the train, Walter and I were taken to the remake center, where prep teams poshed us up for the Capitol. It was a rather strange, rather annoying treatment- body waxing, eyebrow trimming and plucking, and a full wash-down. The preps were told to leave our hair alone, style-wise, but they brushed mine and washed it, making it fluffy and shiny and all so Capitol-ish. When they were done, I was sent into a cold metal room with metallic walls and a metallic floor, my bare feet freezing on contact. I sat on the cot (which was also metal) and waited for my stylist.
Several minutes later, a young man walked in. I was pleased to see that he wasn’t dressed in extreme Capitol fashions, but instead had on no makeup and a very simple outfit.
He walked forward, his tan, golden skin bright in the poorly-lit room. His blue eyes sparkled and his hair was almost the same color as mine.
“I’m Xander,” he said. “I’ll be your stylist for your time here.”
His voice was kind, but I snapped back with, “Which won’t be very long at all, will it?”
His perfect eyebrows creased. “Don’t say that. Listen, if I’m being honest here, the minute I walked in here and saw you, I thought, ‘there she is. There’s our victor.'”
“Everyone’s been saying that,” I said. “They’re all telling me that I’ll be the victor.”
“And do you believe them?”
I shrugged. “I’d certainly like to.”
“Well, you have to. You have a sister and a boyfriend to get back to.”
“How do you-“
“-reaping. And when you’re a victor, everyone knows everything about you. And don’t you remember Jason talking about you during his interviews here?”
I grinned. “Well, I guess there’s that.”
Xander studied me, as if judging what colors would look best on me. “You know, I was a victor.”
I was taken aback. “You were?”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “The… seventeenth Games, I believe. The Capitol wanted to spice me up, but I told them I wanted to become a stylist.”
“Ohhhh,” I said. “I remember you now! From District Eight!”
He nodded again. “Yes. And I’d rather not recall my Games.”
I scooched forward on the cot. “But you could help me!”
He put a finger to his lips and I followed his eyes to a shiny metal ball in the corner of the room, just above the door.
“I’m not allowed to involve myself in mentoring business,” he said softly. He raised his voice when he said, “but I’m here to help you earn sponsors and look your best.”
“The tribute parade comes first, right?” I asked, catching his drift of “let’s stay off the Games topic.”
“Yes. Stand up, please.”
I stood, and he circled me. It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable; it felt weirdly natural, because it was his job to make outfits for me. He placed his hands on my shoulders and studied my face.
“I think,” he said, “that red will look wonderful on you.”
“But wouldn’t it clash with my eyes?” I asked.
“No, it’ll make your eyes stand out.”
“So I’ll wear a lot of red here?”
“That’s the plan.”
Later, after he had crafted a stunning red dress for me, and Walter’s stylist made him a dark suit with a red tie, we loaded onto the chariots for the parade.
“Now, remember, Fay,” Xander said, “when you come in view of President Terraman, click this.”
He handed me a tiny remote. “I remember,” I said.
“You pulling a Katniss Everdeen?” Jason asked, his arms crossed over the edge of the chariot.
I tweaked his nose. “You’ll just have to find out.”
“I want to catch on fire,” Walter said sadly.
“You realize how wrong that sounds, right, kid?” Jason said.
“Oh. Yeah, um, but, well- you know what I mean.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. I might get this moment, but I’m sure you’ll be the star of the interviews.”
He smiled. “Really?”
“We’ve got two minutes until you pull out,” Xander reported. “Jason and I have to go to the stands.”
I kissed Jason and gave Xander a hug. “See you guys soon.”
Walter turned to me. “Are you excited?”
“Hardly,” I said truthfully. “We’re getting sent in here for entertainment. Their entertainment. Kids are dying, and those people are out there betting on us; they root for us and then cry when we die and then move on. The only thing that matters to them is seeing their Games and making sure there’s a good victor.”
Walter’s face fell. “Oh. I didn’t think about it like that.”
I patted his shoulder. “It’s fine. You’re young, and I should learn to control my impulses to say things like that.”
“Yeah,” he said, dropping his voice, “especially things against the Capitol, ’cause you know they have ears everywhere.”
“Now you’ve got the idea,” I said, grinning.
A cannon went off and the horses began trotting forward, pulling our chariots into the open area. I couldn’t see the crowd, but based off the cheers that erupted when One pulled out, followed by Two, I’d say it’s a pretty dang large crowd.
As we cleared the archway, coming into view of everyone, including the cameras that projected our images onto the screens back home, I ran a thumb over the small remote.
“You’re not gonna get hurt, are you?” Walter whispered nervously to me.
“Nope,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
I stared directly at the cameras as we rolled down the track, and I pictured what Sage was seeing back in Twelve:
Her sister but not her sister. I look like me, but I don’t. My hair’s in two braids, pulled up. The rest criss-crossed my head and wrapped around the braids. A red flower was tucked behind my ear, matching my dress. Now, the dress itself was the real killer of the evening- it had a tight bodice with flowing lace draped over my chest and upper arms, leaving my shoulders open. The skirt flared out in multiple layers of fabric and tulle. It was layered, with the front coming to my knees but the back long, touching the chariot’s floor. It was the most brilliant red I’d ever seen, and I adored it.
As One, Two, Three, and Four pulled into their spots, I knew Terraman could see our chariot. And if he couldn’t, he certainly would after this.
I found Xander and Jason in the crowd, then pushed the button confidently.
I fixed Terraman with a stare as my dress went up in flames.
It started in the back, the flames burning away the train of the dress. It snaked its way up, coming round to the front, shorter section of the skirt. It moved up my body, the flames consuming the rest of the dress. Xander was right; I couldn’t feel a thing. By the time the flames were gone, our chariot was pulling into its spot in front of the presidential podium. I looked down at my dress.
It was now coal-black. The skirt was wide and layered, and rested at my knees. The lace was gone, and the top half of my dress was now strapless and sparkly. It was amazing.
The crowd screamed the whole time. When the flames died and the smoke cleared, they gasped in shock. Even President Terraman smirked, taking in my outfit.
Our chariot pulled to a complete stop and Walter leaned towards me. “That was awesome,” he whispered.
“Thanks,” I whispered, not taking my eyes off Terraman. I didn’t realize I was glaring until Walter told me to relax.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Terraman said, standing at the podium. “Tributes. We welcome you all to the twenty-fourth annual Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.”
His piercing ice-blue eyes found me again, and his eyebrows lowered on the last line of his annual speech.
At first glance, Terraman doesn’t look like a dictatorial leader who slaughtered the government to take control. His black hair is neat and close-cropped. His blue eyes are the color of ice. He can’t be over age thirty, one would think. And that’s his secret: he somehow stays young, or at least keeps his appearance young. Based on his face alone, one would believe him to be kind and generous, but he’s the complete opposite.
The chariots pulled away again, taking the tributes out of view. Jason, Xander, Sugar, and Peppermint, Walter’s stylist, were waiting for us.
“Oh, Fay!” Sugar exclaimed. “That was amazing!”
“Thanks,” I said as Jason helped me down off the chariot.
“She’s right,” he said. “It was stunning.” He draped an arm across my shoulders.
“Thanks,” I said, smiling and leaning into him.
“Well,” Xander said, “what’d you think?”
“It was beautiful,” I told him. “Could I get a dress in that color for the interview?”
He laughed. “We’ll see, Fay, we’ll see.”