I haven't posted in forever! Yay! And that's such a basic way to start an author's note it's ridiculous. Anyways, this story is a birthday story for a friend. I'm projecting my undeniable love for Cinna on her social activism tendencies. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Not Collins
Dedication: To my dear little Bellita.
How I Rise
The words hit him as hard as a knife in a fistfight. He ignored them and continued scribbling in his sketchbook as if nothing had happened. But of course something had, because suddenly the dress he sketched had gone from ivory satin to scarlet silk. Good silk. Rich silk. The kind of silk he only worked with at the fabric store, not the kind he ever got to touch or cut or shape or fold across a mannequin.
"I'm talking to you," one of the boys said.
Cinna looked up.
"I heard your parents got evicted," he said.
"We haven't been evicted," Cinna said. "We've moved."
About two days before being evicted, to be exact. And to be even more exact, his parents hadn't gotten evicted. They were still in a Capitol resort, pretending to do important socialising while surfing on the family fortune, leaving his sister and himself in a house with a nanny from District 10, playing deaf when the ply for more money was sent out monthly.
"I heard your family's not poor," another boy –his father a banker- said. "But that they don't care enough to make you rich. It's why there's a hole in my blazer."
"There's a hole in my blazer because I ripped it on a nail," Cinna said calmly.
"In your ratty apartment two streets away from the slums!" the boy said mercilessly.
Cinna turned back to his sketchbook and flipped away from the angry scarlet dress to draw out another dress, working his way up from the straight skirt to the intricate collar of beads, silver, amber and metal bits carefully and symmetrically placed together.
This was important. Not the boy, not the banker's son, not the small crowd of snickering private school elitists they were summoning. The dresses, the designs, the pattern, the beauty. That was how Cinna was going to rise in the world. This was his ticket away from an inherited dependence on his ancestry's luck and right-place-right-time abuse of the rebellion.
Which is why he only threw the first punch when the banker's son tore his sketchbook from his hands.
There was his sister Angelie. She was the first.
She had the apple green eyes that people told Cinna looked charming on him, but nobody had ever told her and so she'd had mauve contact lenses welded to her irises. Similarly, his sister had dyed her hair in red and blue and had wires drilled into her skull to create permanent and still curls within her thick mane. It was a phase, at the time.
It worried him. He'd punched studs through the curb of his ear himself. He worked in a small saloon where people told him what to draw on their skin. But those people looked at their skin and saw a canvas, looked at the world and saw a selection of paint and pastels that they could scribble with. Have fun with. Decorate with. She saw a blasphemy that had to be destroyed.
Unsatisfied by her colouring, she'd also pierced her lips and pierced her eyelids and pierced shiny line of diamonds up her throat, and then pierced her heart.
He realised with a pang that the beautiful exterior, or the imaginary lack-of, had made his sister fall in the same way that Cinna wanted to channel it to rise and it broke his heart. It broke his heart until he realised that Angelie hadn't fallen because of beauty and the making of, she'd fallen because of the elimination of alternative beauty as a viable option to high society. Things that Cinna could manipulate in the world's favour, he realised.
After that first attempt, Cinna swore with a shudder that he'd make her feel beautiful. If it wouldn't come from inside, it'd come from outside. He spent all night, the day before she was to be released from the Clinic's Special Ward and sent home, in the tattoo parlour where the owner Zusak had a sewing machine. Though Cinna's parents had hastily glided back into the picture after the incident, smoothing down their ruffled clothes and smiling warmly as if they'd been there all along, they weren't monitoring his nightly scavenges yet and he got away with the all-nighter.
She was just about to change into street clothes to walk the streets again when Cinna, wild-eyed and insomniac and starved, stumbled into the hospital and unzipped a dress bag to show her his creation.
"The cut will flatter your waistline," Cinna said. "It shows the shape of your legs. And because of the pale colour it won't make the strands in your hair look worn out. The collar of ruffles at the top will hide your new scars. The sparkle all around will make people see what's in your eyes."
She smiled and refused to go out of the house wearing anything else for days.
There was this girl, Kenna.
Kenna spent her nights prowling the streets at the arms of a man twice her size, thrice her wealth and half her virtue. Every now and then he let her go, but claimed her back an hour later with his arm extended for her rental's pay.
Kenna's nights were useful, when day came, to hide her origins and help her go where her future lay- because it was a bright one. And Kenna, bright girl, was attracted to it like a moth to the light. Money was her wings, she said. Even moths needed wings. Kenna got hers.
At first Cinna had little implications in Kenna's flight. Every now and then he kept her little sister home, and told Portia that Kenna would be back soon and that they could read a story, or maybe he could paint her face with the products he swiped from his work at the cosmetics counter. (He wasn't supposed to swipe, but he didn't need the job, he simply liked it- so his ethic wasn't as secure as it might've been.)
But then as Portia became his friend and opened up as he taught her the art of painting faces and matching laces, he noticed that Kenna's eyes were sunken in the mornings and her legs were bruised and her chest was bruised and her jaw too.
Portia told Cinna that she'd been using his tricks with colours and lights to hide the bruises, but that Kenna wouldn't let her do it anymore because it was expensive. Cinna told a particularily exhausted and ashamed Kenna to put her favourite dress on and stand still, and told Portia to go fetch a scarf that would match from a store in which he had good credit.
"Why do you do it?" Cinna asked, helping her dry her cheeks and zip up her dress.
"Because it pays for Portia's health and my tuition," Kenna said. "I know it's hard for you to understand, but this is how I'll scramble up in the world."
Cinna was skeptical but he didn't disagree with her.
When Portia came back he appraised her taste and wiped Kenna's tears and told her that he'd fix it. He wouldn't make her beautiful because she already was, but he would take away the ugly parts where ugly people had rubbed off.
He cut a scrap of the scarf and instructed Portia to line the hem of the dress with the bronze print. He took the rest and pinned it to her shoulders, cut geometrical shapes within the fabric and fashioned a crown from a bent coat hanger. When he was done the scarf looped around Kenna's frail shoulders and hiked up to the sides of her head, falling in perfectly to hide the bruises and show her eyes and show her smile.
Which was particularly bright at the moment.
"You look beautiful," Cinna told Kenna as he pinned the last flap of fabric into place.
"I feel beautiful," she said.
"That is how you'll rise," Cinna said.
There was the politician's wife.
She came to Cinna looking for something that nobody would have worn before or after her. Her solution had been to find the smallest shop on Main Street, the one that was the most squeezed between the block stores with their shiny white countertops and smoothly cornered furniture. It wasn't much, but it was all that Cinna and Portia could afford- Portia working three jobs aside from this one, and Cinna being temporarily out of his family's graces because of his boycott of university or gentlemen's club in favour of gaining experience or contact in various fashion-related shops and boutiques and parlours.
Anyways, the wife's reasoning was that if nobody went there, why would anybody look anything like her?
"It's for an inauguration ceremony," Mrs. Crane told him. "Of my husband as head Gamemaker."
Cinna sat and took notes on the event. How Seneca Crane's first Hunger Games would be debuting in three weeks. Portia sat next to him with bundles of fabric in her arms, curiosity spiked. The wife continued about the horrifying arena he'd designed and brought to life, about the underground tunnels that would snake below the earth and the cave systems that would trap the tributes in the dark and in each other's grips. She fanned her face as she told Cinna about the horrible, blind worms that would lurk around the tunnels and create new labyrinthine paths to add to the pre-designed ones, making the arena impossible to map.
He showed his notes to Portia and said, "What did you have in mind for your dress? What did you want to look like?"
"Pretty," she said playing with the pearls at her wrist. They matched the ones at her throat, dotting the buttons of her jacket and lining her hairband. "No- beautiful."
"Beautiful," Cinna said writing it down. "How? Stunning? Elysian? Angelic? Memorable? Unique? Teasing?"
"I'm just there to support him," she said plainly.
"Yes," Cinna said. "But your dress can help you do more than that. It can make you rise."
She laughed and the crystalline sound of it nearly changed his mind.
There was Regicca.
In the morning, when Cinna arrived at the bridal salon where he worked his third job as a consultant, Cinna was told that his client was a very important client that he had to cater to unconditionally and treat with the upmost respect and privacy.
When he recognised the debonairly dressed woman from the Capitol's newspapers as President Snow's youngest daughter, he understood. He also knew that he'd tell Portia all about it when he got back to their workshop after work.
He offered her Champaign and they sat down in one of the dressing rooms as she told him about the wedding, which he'd read all about, and after she suggested a dress pattern to him, he went to look.
He must have slipped her in and out of seventeen dresses. She looked lovely and pristine and angelic and lovely in every dress, and most of the dressed looked good on her too, but she was unsatisfied.
"Let's review your list of criteria to make sure I'm looking for the right gown," Cinna said, clicking his pencil open. Except instead of writing down what she described, he drew it, all on one sketchpad.
He drew a long skirt with a dramatic train and strips of lace patched on to the gossamer skirt. He drew a corset with silky ribbons lacing the back and lace crawling up the bust and around her throat, and then down her back until it melted with the train. He drew sleeves in which laser-pierced holes matched the lace and a dramatic avalanche of pearls launching itself down the skirt.
"That," she said pointing to it. "Exactly that. Do you have it in store? In my size?"
"Actually…" Cinna said. His heart squeezed. He'd just done the worst thing he could do to any bride; offer what she couldn't have.
"You just drew this, didn't you?" Regicca said, a deep blue eye peeking at Cinna from underneath her square black bangs.
"Yes," Cinna said. "But I could show you similar models-"
"I want this one," she said, manicured fingers tapping on the design. "I want you to make it real, if it's not."
His stomach dropped.
"I want you to make my wedding dress," she said. "And then I want you to ride the fame it will get you and make a thousand more dresses for anyone, any time. I will pay handsomely for this. Understood?"
At the end of the day, the wedding dress was how he rose from the myriadic sea of to-be fashionistas.
"There was once a story about a girl named Cinderella," Mahola said, looking in the floor-to-ceiling mirror in which the changing rooms' doors were hidden- a modern and slick addition to their newest studio, given the amount of customers they received in a day. She puckered her lips and perfected her lipsticks. "Her story was a rags-to-riches one. Everyone loved it, everyone strived for it. You're the first person I know who did riches-to-rags."
Cinna didn't look up from the tilted table in which a midnight blue, strappy dress with slits along the sides was coming to life in front of him. He tried to ignore his mother but unfortunately, he couldn't tell her to get out. It was during business hours, and Portia was helping a gentleman with his suit as they spoke.
Cinna and Portia's haute couture and tailor shop was a wide, open area. There was the wall of mirrors and dressing rooms on one side, in front of which they'd positioned mushy leather couches. Cinna and Portia's workshop tables were off to one side, a collage of pictures of celebrities in their gowns (including, but not restricted to, Regicca Snow's wedding) serving as their background mural. Ingeniously unique lamps hung from the ceiling and generously lighted the shop and silent, tropical birds fluttered around cages between their two desks. The marble counter at the front of the store was overflowing with receipts, and racks of premade dresses and custom orders prepared for pick-up were lined behind it.
"I am far from rags," Cinna said, "unless you are trying to insinuate something about my profession."
"You wouldn't have to work if you were in the family," Mahola said.
"Portia is my family," Cinna said. "And hers has taught me that family is sacrifice and love and presence, unless you absolutely can't. I prefer her definition and reject yours, and do not mind being disowned."
"Cinna" worked well as a designer name, anyways. Adding a "Lautumn" after it would ruin the catchiness.
"The Lautumn family misses you," Mahola said. "I miss you. Your sister misses you. We'd love to have you back. You could still run your shop with your little friend here. But come home and-"
Cinna smacked his palm against his table and jumped to his feet.
"I am richer than you ever will be, and I have risen above the need for your approval or your sympathy," Cinna said. "I will not help you now that your money has run out. Leave my shop right now."
There was Annalielle.
Cinna met her by mistake as he delivered a last-minute evening gown commission for a ball in the Capitol's City Hall (a sky blue gown with low sleeves, a deep cut and a high-low skirt). He tripped and dropped everything that he held. As he scrambled to pick up the dresses he held and check on their state, only one person came forwards to hold it and it was a young homeless girl with sharp bones and hollow eyes, thick but pierced clothes and pale skin.
She helped him gather a few of the buttons that had fallen off another gown he was delivering.
"Is it going to be okay without, Mr Tailor?" She asked him. She had no Capitol accent; she must me a runaway or a migrant from one of the districts.
Cinna unzipped the dress bag and evaluated an apple green gown with golden thread stitched through the sleeves and bust.
"I can sew the buttons back on easily," he said. "The embroidery hasn't been damaged."
The girl looked at the dress, enthralled by it.
"It's beautiful," she said. Maybe it was the lack of the Capitol accent, which he himself had dropped around Portia, or maybe it was the glitter and shine and true wonder in her previously dead eyes. But Cinna suddenly imagined the girl in the dress and realised that her auburn curls and light splash of freckles would look better in the dress than any client of his ever good.
"You can have it," he said. "The client who ordered this is never going to wear it anyways, I know her style. She only bought it to keep her friend from doing so."
He dug in his pocket.
"I got this from another client, as an amendment for making a rush order. It's a ticket to a ceremony and ball at City Hall tonight. There will be food there. You can bring the dress back to my shop after you're done with it and I'll buy it back from you."
She looked at him, mouth open. She was so shocked that Cinna had to drape the dress over her arm and slip the ticket in her pocket for her.
Cinna had risen.
Now was his chance to make others rise to his level.
There was Katniss.
Cinna was appalled when he and Portia were requested as a pair of stylists for the Hunger Games. Portia's family was a migrant clan from District 11. From there, they were receiving rebel propaganda and intel on Peacekeeper brutality and heartbreaking letters written from a woman who'd lost her two children in the 73rd Hunger Games.
"How do you say no to that?" Portia asked. It was a legitimate question, she wanted an answer that would put away the horror and return them to the safe, well-built and hard-earned world of their little shop, and apple martinis in the evening and pastries for breakfast.
Cinna didn't know.
"I'm sure there's a way," Cinna said. "But…"
But he didn't want to hear it. He wanted a way closer to the Games. His feverish curiosity on it, the curiosity of someone seeing things in a new light for the first time, needed it.
"It would be a good way to assist the rebellion," Portia whispered.
Cinna nodded, but he still took more convincing than she did.
He accepted, but asked for 12.
She wrinkled her nose and asked why.
Cinna said it was because they needed it the most.
Katniss didn't need much from anyone when Cinna met her. She was a scrapper, one who'd done much more of it than Cinna or Kenna or anyone he'd ever met.
But Cinna gave her fire, and it gave her life to the eyes of the men about to watch her die.
He tried. He tried to do what he always did but his optimism was shaded by the knowledge that the dying are only supposed to go under.
Still, she rose.
Cinna stitched another pearl in the seam.
"You're making yourself sick," Portia said as she padded around the flat barefoot in her satin kimono. "We had a deal. We don't bring our work home…"
Cinna ignored her and kept stitching. As if she didn't have Peeta's suits hanging in her closet amongst evening gowns and cocktail dresses and daredevil heels, hidden from his eyes but truffled with pins.
She put her hand on his back.
"Cinna," she said.
"I'm furious," he said looking at the ocean of rolling white gauze and dégradé tulle stretching off the table and before him.
"I know," she said squeezing his shoulder.
"They're making her wear her dress to destroy her," Cinna said.
"I know," Portia said.
"That's not what I do." Cinna said. "I build people up, I make them realise they're beautiful, I give them power and strength. I make them feel confident and hopeful in the world. I let them be themselves among the rules and trends, I make them comfortable, I make them the best that they can be- the best that they are. I pour myself into my work but this isn't me."
"I know and she knows," Portia said, her grip on him tightening. "She'll know it'll all be Snow's doing."
He smacked the table, furrowing the delicate balance of the dress' petticoat.
"I'll give you a second," Portia said before rushing off to her room- likely to cry over Peeta's suit as he had over Katniss' wedding dress shortly before she came in.
Cinna's fingers curled around the pearl-covered seam. The dress was light right now- he'd made it so, to make sure Katniss didn't feel as trapped in the gown as she was. But it meant that there was plenty of wiggle room. Maybe even for an extra layer of fabric. Maybe even for…
"Portia," he called.
She slipped back into the room, blinking hurriedly.
"Yes Cinna?" She asked quietly.
"Do you remember how I worked on Regicca Snow's wedding dress like a lunatic?" Cinna asked.
"Yes," Portia said sitting on the table and stretching her toes. "But I never stopped you and you never regretted it. You always said it. A wedding dress is how you rose."
"Does that make it okay if a wedding dress is how I go down?" Cinna asked. As he ran his fingers along the seam, he could already picture where the feathers would be.
Next he pictured where the bullets would go.