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Chapter Five:

Even More Disappointment

After last year's meltdown with Haymitch and the Games that followed, I took some time to reevaluate my handling of the District 12 situation. Weighing all the pros and cons, I reached my decision. I chose apathy. As a result, I avoided the tributes on the train, though not soon enough to miss them destroy their food and my appetite. What is it with District 12's aversion to table manners, or manners of any kind for that manner?

Now that we're in the Capitol though, I can't excuse my absence any longer. Without me, everything would fall apart, and I'm too unselfish to let something like that happen. Besides, I owe it to myself to do the best job I can. It's how I'm wired, and I will be this way till the day I die.

Which is unfortunate, if the girl tribute is anything to go by. I really wish I didn't care, because then being District 12's escort wouldn't be so embarrassing. I leave the girl tribute's room, shaking my head. This year is shaping up like all the others: a disappointment. Squeezing the doorknob, I take a second to compose myself before checking on what the stylist's team has done with the boy. Not that I can't guess. It will either be a unitard and lamp with headlight or coal dust. It's drab and boring, but who can blame Antonia when she has so little to work with. Still, I hope they fire her and give me someone else to at least break up the monotony.

Pasting a smile on my face, I push through the door. The boy is not even dressed, just standing there naked on a podium.

Huh. He doesn't look half bad now that he's had a haircut, been washed and shaved, and fed a few meals. He's thin, but his frame is large. More importantly, he has a gorgeous face. Perfect for camera close-ups. And his black hair and gray eyes are stunning. If he had grown up in one of the richer districts, he'd probably be a contender.

"What did you say your name was again?" I ask.

"Lance Oakley."

It's a strong name. Sturdy. I'm already thinking of how I want to play him up to potential sponsors. Maybe, just maybe this will be the year one of the tributes lives past the first day. I can only hope.

I turn to Antonia, who is approaching him with some kind of miner's jumpsuit. "Can you make sure his face is visible and stays that way? I don't want the miner's lamp obscuring it," I say.

Antonia gives me a withering glance, but she can do that till the cows come home. Maybe if she were better at her job, I'd have more faith in her ability to identify a tribute's selling points and highlight them to their advantage.

"Anything else, Effie?" she asks, her pug nose made even more unflattering by the way she's contorting it into a sneer.

"No. That's all for now, though if I think of anything, I'll be sure to let you know."

Turning back to Lance, I say, "My job is to help you with your presentation. We'll be meeting more throughout the upcoming week to discuss things like your interview. Now I'll leave you with Antonia so she can finish getting you ready for the Opening Ceremony."

He doesn't say anything. Just nods and blushes. I'll have to work on his demeanor. He radiates tenseness for some reason, which does not go over well in the Capitol. The only thing worse is desperation.

I shut the door behind me, this time with a genuine smile on my face. It disappears the instant I turn around.

"Well, what do we have here? I was beginning to think you were avoiding me."

This meeting is inescapable. A necessary evil if I'm to help Lance. And the sooner I get it done, the sooner I can live my Haymitch-free existence.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Abernathy."

"Ooh, last names now, is it? Alright, Ms. Trinkett, how may I be of service?"

Haymitch's eyes trail down to my legs, smirking. I look down and see that my fingers are tightened around the material of my skirt. When did that happen? I quickly smooth out the wrinkles and focus on the task at hand.

"You are meeting with the sponsors after the Opening Ceremony tonight, are you not?"

Haymitch shrugs. "What do you care? Pretty boy caught your interest?"

"His name is Lance."

Haymitch laughs. "Even taken the time to remember his name. You must really like him."

"I have nothing but a professional interest in him." He may be an unprofessional nitwit, but I never break the rules, and this one's the big one. Escorts are never to get attached to their tributes. The boundary between district and capitol must always be observed.

"He's not going to win."

I know that! Does Haymitch think I'm an idiot?! No, just self-absorbed, ridiculous, callous, and inhuman. Well, then. "I have no delusions about Lance's odds of winning, but I don't see why he couldn't make it past the first day."

"What difference does it make? First day, second day, third…Either way he's dead."

I can't believe I'm admitting this, but Haymitch is right. And yet I don't care. He might be able to sit back and do nothing, but I can't. Not when there's an opportunity to do something other than giving up and dying on the first day.

"It's our jobs. We owe it to him, Haymitch! If you'd--"

"Now it's Haymitch?" He clears his throat, holding up his hands in what would be surrender were anyone else but Haymitch giving the signal. He might as well be showing me the middle finger. "I forgot I'm not supposed to interrupt. Please excuse me and my atrocious district manners. Pray continue, Ms. Trinkett."

I am this close to walking away, but visions of sponsorships and parachutes and Lance hold me back. I'm going to hate saying these words, but sometimes flattery is necessary to get what you want. "I know you are good with strategy. You'd have to be to make it out of your Games."

"You'll have to forgive me, seeing as how I'm stupid," he smiles, "and drunk. But that sounded an awful lot like a compliment."

As often as he acts like a beast, it's easy to forget that, at bottom, Haymitch is a man. And there is nothing more effective at getting a man to agree to a request than giving him the illusion of power and control. I learned that long ago in my people management class, and have seen it borne out through years of personal experience.

I raise my hand to my chest, a sign of weakness and deference. "Maybe it was. I certainly can't provide Lance the kind of help he needs. Only you can." A half-truth. How hard is it to see that you should run and hide? It's not a winner's strategy, but that's not what this situation requires. Lance just needs to live long enough to see the next sunrise. Unfortunately, I need Haymitch to seal agreements with the sponsors. Otherwise, he'd be completely irrelevant instead of just mostly.

"So, you want me to strategize with him? Give him more than my usual 'stay alive' speech?"

"I don't think that's too much to ask, seeing as how that's your job." Careful, Effie. My mask almost slipped there for a second.

"And you want me to ask the Capitol folk to sponsor a District 12 tribute when they could just as easily waste their money on a tribute with an actual chance of winning?"

"You'll have to clean up and wear a suit. And sober up for a few hours, but the Capitol has pills for that. I'm sure you can handle" swallowing "it."

"And run the risk of ruining my image?"

What image? He must be joking, so I indulge him with a smile. "It's the only way. The sponsors need to take you seriously, see that you believe in Lance's success."

"But I don't."

"Then lie." It's not like he'd have a problem with it. I can't imagine Haymitch having any moral scruples about, well, anything.

"So, even though we're both agreed he's not going to win, you want me to expend my, as you so often point out, limited intellectual resources and develop a strategy to stave off his inevitable death, in addition to giving up drinking right before I have to endure the painful process of allowing you to dress me so I can then meet with the most boring and loathsome products the Capitol has ever assembled?"

"That sounds about right."

"Alright, Ms. Trinkett. But only on two conditions."

I think I can live with that. "Go on."

"First, no matching outfits. And I only wear black, gray, or white. That's it."

He really should consider navy or some other shade of blue. It would bring out his eyes much better, but I'm not going to push it. "Of course. Your other condition?"

"Say 'please.'"

What I wouldn't give to have played in the Hunger Games and become a mentor. Then I wouldn't have to grovel before this district rabble. Unfortunately, rules are rules.

"Please," I say.

"Good girl. Just send up my suit when it's ready."

Miracle of miracles. Haymitch Abernathy managed to acquire some funds for Lance. Not as many as he should have considering how much interest I'd managed to arouse in the potential sponsors. And that's not even including how well Lance did in his interview. I would say he did surprisingly well, but it was no surprise to me. He was a friendly and cheerful student once he had his clothes on, and I expected nothing less of him. If I had been in charge, well…I won't go there. At least Haymitch managed not to drive everyone away. And now that he's done that, he's back to drinking.

Thankfully, I have some people to pass the time with. Sitting on a couch in the Games Headquarters, I'm surrounded by a few of the other districts' escorts. As a general rule, we keep away from the mentors. We only interact with them as business requires, though some escorts (District Four's Alexandria Farrow, for example) have more trouble doing this than others. I can see her now, draping herself over a guy who's at least ten years her junior. It's tacky and ridiculous. If I'd been the escort, Finnick Odair wouldn't need to worry about wearing me as a winter overcoat.

Even if it weren't horribly unprofessional, the escorts have other reasons for not associating with the mentors. I've actually found that for the most part—a lovely woman from District 8 named Cecelia being the only exception—Victors are boring. And if you can actually get them to talk to you, they're rude. I don't understand why it upsets them so much to talk about their own Games. After all, winning the Games is what allowed them the privilege of these yearly vacations to the Capitol in the first place. You'd think they'd realize that and be grateful. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

I'm not the only one who notices Alexandria's behavior, and I'm just about to contribute to the conversation when I get bumped from behind, causing me to spill my drink all over my suit jacket. There is a collective gasp from my coworkers, and I frown over the stain that has blossomed on my chest. Eyes narrowed, I look up to identify the bumbling idiot who ruined my outfit.

It's Haymitch's District 11 crony, Chaff. I've never spoken to him directly (if I have to interact with District 11, I speak with his female counterpart, Seeder), but I've seen those two passing drinks back and forth for years, no doubt racing to see who can kill their liver first. I can tell you who I want to win, and while it's not Chaff, I don't have much love for him either. Any friend of Haymitch is my enemy.

"Maybe next time watch where you're going," I say, standing to remove my soused jacket, which now reeks of alcohol.

"Sorry, Miss…"

Don't take the time to learn my name during these past four years, and expect me to gladly offer it? I don't think so. I shoo him away with my hand, but he stands there smiling, his teeth a bright white against his dark skin.

"Hey, aren't you Haymitch's girl?"

"I most certainly am not!" I hiss, outraged at the very idea. And I'm not alone. I take in the expressions of those around me—repulsed, appalled, shocked—except for Chaff, who is laughing.

"No, I think it's you. Snooty, spunky…pretty. Fits Haymitch's description to a T," he says.

Not wanting to subject the other escorts to his boorish behavior, I excuse myself and walk a few feet away with Chaff.

"Why don't you join us? Haymitch is feeling a bit lonesome," he says.

I mutter through my clenched teeth, which are firmly locked in a smile for any nosy onlookers. "As far as I'm concerned, Haymitch can drop—"

At the sound of his name, Haymitch looks over and smiles, raising his drink in toast. So, he put Chaff up to this? Then he owes me a new suit. Grabbing another flute of champagne, I march over to Haymitch, Chaff following closely on my heels.

"Look who I've brought," Chaff says, wrapping his good arm around me. I try not to shudder, but only just succeed. Thankfully, he didn't use his deformed limb. It disturbs me how he won't let the Capitol replace it.

"Ah, the old ball and chain," Haymitch says, crossing his arms behind his head and leaning back into the sofa. "Miss me?"

Ignoring Haymitch, I peel off Chaff's offending limb from my bare skin. "If you want to keep the hand you have left, keep your grubby paws off me."

"Don't listen to her. She's all bark, no bite. A kitten, really," Haymitch says.

To my amazement, Chaff actually starts purring at me. I'm so tempted to claw his eyes out, but that isn't why I came over here.

"I just bought this suit and now it's ruined. You owe me a new one, Haymitch," I say.

"Take it up with Chaff. I didn't spill his drink on you. Though if you ask me, you look better without it."

Yes, I'll take my fashion advice from a man who would still look and smell like a pigsty, if it weren't for me. The only reason is even passable right now is because I picked out his suit and practically forced him at gunpoint to practice personal hygiene. "I didn't ask you."

Haymitch turns to his friend, completely ignoring me. "Trust me. The less she wears, the better."

Chaff raises his eyebrows and winks when he sees me looking. "And how would he know?

"Oh, Ms. Trinkett and I have a very close relationship. I've seen her in the afterglow of a bout of vigorous exercise. Quite a sight to behold," he says, looking me up and down. His insinuations make me choke on my champagne. It's one thing when he's trying to make me uncomfortable with his innuendoes. That I can handle. But for him to publicly drag my name through his mud is another thing entirely. I won't stand for it. I can tell they're trying to bait me, so I have to play this differently.

Placing my hand playfully at my hip, I say, "Sorry to disappoint you, Chaff, but your friend is delusional. The only part Haymitch had in my bout of vigorous exercise, as he calls it, was as a peeping Tom. Believe me, if I ever lowered myself to 'work out' with Haymitch, he wouldn't be able to keep pace."

Clearly, I've amused Chaff because he slaps me hard on the back, sending me a few inches forward. "I like this one. How old is she?"

It seems Haymitch isn't quite as enamored of me as Chaff. He takes a swig of his beer, glaring at me. "How should I know? It's not like we exchange birthday gifts."

Chaff winks at me, as if he's now my new best friend in the entire world. "Maybe you should."

"What a wonderful idea. Haymitch, why don't you start by buying me a new suit?" I say.

He returns my sugary sweet smile with one of his own. "I have something better." He turns around and whistles. "Hey, Finnick, get over here. We have a birthday girl, and she needs a present."

Alright, that wasn't expected, but I can deal with this. I think.

Finnick Odair detaches himself from his escort and the bevy of Capitol women flanking him. He saunters—there really is no other word to describe it—over. Even though he isn't in the Games, it seems like he's still consulting the stylists. Or perhaps he just likes wearing skintight and revealing clothes. In seconds, he's sidled up beside me, and try as I might, I can find no detectable flaw. Everything about him is gorgeous. His deep sea green eyes are an escort's dream, and at the moment they're trained on me.

"Happy Birthday," he licks his lips, then bends down to kiss my hand, "Effie."

I am going to kill Haymitch Abernathy, and he must see that because he says, "If you're nice, I'll get him to strip for you."

I yank my hand back from Finnick's soft grasp, and wait for his outraged reaction. He doesn't even bat an eye.

"Did you know Effie was supposed to be your escort?" Haymitch says, by way of introduction.

"What a travesty. Guess we'll have to make up for all that lost time," Finnick says, as he looks me over and grins. It's so dazzling, I almost miss the pouting of the District Four escort. Almost. I smirk over at Alexandria and link my arm with Finnick's elbow.

"And you haven't even seen her without her wig," Haymitch adds.

Finnick pulls at one of the cotton candy blue curls, twirling it around his finger. "My birthday is coming up soon too. Maybe Effie and I will both have our wishes come true…"

Chaff laughs. "You've got your work cut out for you, pretty boy. Effie has high and exacting standards. Said even Haymitch couldn't satisfy her."

"No surprise there," Finnick says, and I find myself laughing, which seems to make everyone but Haymitch laugh even harder. "Somehow, I think I'll manage. Right, Effie?"

"I have the utmost confidence in your abilities," I find myself saying, caught up in the frivolity of the moment. When I realize what I've said, I feel a blush course over my entire body. Lifting my champagne glass to my lips, I discretely sniff the liquid, wondering if it's been tampered with. I can't tell.

Haymitch shakes his head. "Well, don't get too attached. Effie's married to her work, and as soon as she's gotten what she's wanted, I wager she'll send you packing," he says.

"Ignore him, Effie. He's just a cynical, old man," Finnick says.

"Don't forget impotent," Chaff adds, wiping tears from his eyes.

"When she kicks you out of her bed, don't come crying to me," Haymitch grouses, though I can tell he's enjoying himself too. I've never seen like this before. It's a nice change.

"Don't take it personally, Finnick. He's just a jealous drunk. But I still think you're beautiful. In fact, my birthday's in a few weeks, why don't you give me a dance instead?" Chaff says through his guffaws.

"Do I have your permission, Effie?" Finnick leans down and whispers in my ear, "You can say, 'yes.'" It tickles, and I start giggling.

"That won't be necessary," I say. "I don't like sharing."

Haymitch spits out his drink, and rather than find it disgusting, I start laughing again.

"Who replaced my stick-in-the-mud escort with this wild and crazy woman?" he says.

"What? I can have fun too," I say, taking a small sip from my champagne.

Finnick joins Haymitch on the couch, leaving the middle cushion open. He pats it, looking at my expectantly. My feet are aching from my four inch heels, so I drop down between them. Finnick refills my glass, and I continue sipping it as I sink further into the plush couch. I can't remember the last time I've felt this relaxed.

Things have been pretty slow for a while. There's probably an hour or two before the sun rises, and the career pack already settled in for the night. Lance is safe for the time being, and probably will be till morning.

Haymitch turns to me, his glass raised. "Congratulations on your tribute making it to Day Two."

I clink my empty glass against his. "Not my tribute; our tribute," I mumble sleepily, as I close my eyes and lean my head back on the couch.

I don't know how long I've been asleep, but a flurry of sound wakes me up. I open my eyes to hear Chaff immediately say, "You might want to look away."

"What?" I ask, my brain still fuzzy. I blink, trying to clear out the sleepiness from my eyes, but all I've done is make it easier for me to see Lance Oakley get stabbed in the stomach by a Career from District One. Repeatedly. I never watch the killings, as it's not my thing, but it's too late to turn away. I see every second of it.

I think I'm going to be sick.

Finally, Lance is on the ground, but the career is still stabbing him, even though the cannon has already gone off. I can see the blood, spattering all over his beautiful, vacant face. "Why won't he stop? Can't he see he's already dead?"

I wait for an answer, but there isn't one.

Eventually someone says, "Well, the odds weren't in his favor."

I turn to the side where the voice came from. Finnick is asleep, so that leaves Chaff. "That's not funny!" I say.

He just shrugs. "Sure it is." Standing up, he says, "Well, my tributes already died yesterday. No use staying around here. I think I'll head back to the center now." Then he raises his glass and downs what's in it. "Happy Hunger Games."

I turn my head, trying to ignore him as he walks away, but everywhere I look the screens are filled with replays and expert analysis of Lance's death. I stare at my lap, the only place the images won't assault me. Something shifts under my hand, and I notice that my fingers are digging into Haymitch's knee. He's staring down at it, looking confused. I quickly remove my hand.

A few second later, Haymitch is tipping back another drink. "He made it to the second day, like you wanted," he says.

It's hard to see how that's an accomplishment when my mind won't stop flashing images of a knife being driven into Lance's gut.

"You think that makes me feel better," I say.

"It will have to do, since that's all I have to offer. Unless you want another drink."

"I don't see how you can joke at a time like this," I say.

"Better to laugh than cry, I always say," he replies, offering me a drink.

I push it away, and it sloshes onto his pants. Good, now we're even.

"Look, your highness, your little pet failed and having a hissy fit isn't going to make it better. His training scores were mediocre, and no matter how you try to spin it, his interview was a disaster. And even though you managed to get some people to invest in this doomed project, it never changed the fact that he was always going to fail. There was never anything you could have done about it to change the end result."

"I wouldn't expect you to understand. You didn't work nowhere near as hard as I did, and you take no pride in your job whatsoever."

"Get over yourself. You didn't even start working half this hard until you met Lance."

I open my mouth to speak, but nothing will come out. Haymitch is right. And I realize that I've broken the cardinal rule. I've become emotionally attached to my tribute. Lost objectivity. Put the good of the tribute before that of the Capitol. It's supposed to be about entertainment. By personalizing it, I've turned it into something else.

"I've always been one hundred percent committed to the success of my tributes," the words sound false, even to my ears.

Haymitch snorts. "Please. The only time I've seen you this upset is when you've ruined one of your new outfits. Do you even know the girl tribute's name?"

If it weren't for the sleep and alcohol traveling through my system, I'd remember.

Haymitch sneers at me. "Didn't think so, so don't turn this into an argument about who's more committed to their job. After all, aren't you the one who's always complaining about how lousy District 12 is, and how you can't wait to leave it? Poor Effie Trinkett, squandering her talent on the undeserving, pathetic weaklings of District 12. No wonder you've been doing a half-assed job since day one. And don't delude yourself by bringing up your efforts this year. The only reason you deigned to lift one of your perfectly manicured fingers to actually help is because you liked the boy. Otherwise, you would have left him rot, just like the girl. So how about you do everyone a favor, and get off your stupid high horse."

My eyes are burning, and Haymitch is looking a bit blurry around the edges. I don't want him to know that his words actually meant something to me, so I glare back at him, unblinking. He won't back down either, and as our eyes lock I notice a churning of emotions that almost perfectly reflects what I'm feeling in that moment. Rage, disappointment, disgust, blame, hurt, guilt, self-loathing.

I don't like it.

"Haymitch, lay off," a voice sternly says from behind me, pulling me back into reality. I start, realizing that Finnick hasn't been sleeping, but listening to this entire conversation.

Finnick's looking at me now with his unfathomable green eyes. There's no sensuousness or humor, just plain curiosity, and it's making me squirm. I force myself to give him a smile. It's only a poor facsimile of my usual radiant grin, but at the moment it's all I can manage.

I stand to my feet, needing to escape both their scrutiny. "I have to go. I missed my daily run and…" My mind draws a blank.

"It was nice to finally meet you, Effie," Finnick says.

I nod. "You too. Goodbye."

I walk away, trying not to stumble.

A/N: Thanks for reading. Please review.