So...it will most likely be the last time I say this, but this is Chapter One... I couldn't resist making up my own arena and even though I find writing District 2 much easier, I thought she deserved a bit more than Katniss's recollection of hammock-making in training and the chance to tell the Girl-on-Fire that she looks ridiculous in her wedding dress ;)
As ever, if you recognise it from the book then it belongs to the fabulous Suzanne Collins - this is her universe, I just like to play in it ;) (And the lyric in this chapter is from the song 'Feeling Good' - I know the version sung by Nina Simone...)
The sun always shines in District One. That is what they say in the other districts, though I imagine they are probably talking figuratively rather than literally since the Capitol has seen to it that each district knows very little about the others. People don't starve to death on the streets here like they do in District Twelve, people aren't murdered in their beds for the smallest crime or indiscretion like they sometimes are in District Two, according to the rumours anyway. I wouldn't know very much about that, but if you ask me then the atrocities that exist across Panem are as prevalent in the place I call home as they are everywhere else. The only difference is that District One is stylish and sophisticated enough to be subtle about it.
The sun has been shining since dawn today. I should know as I was up before daybreak, busy trying to convince myself that I was merely taking my time deciding what to wear and making sure that I look perfect for my moment in the spotlight. What I was really doing was thinking about how my brother is going to react when I win the race to volunteer for the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games.
It was this time last year when my life changed forever. Before the reaping for the Sixty-fifth Games, I had lived as happily as it is possible for a daughter of one of Panem's districts to live. I am of a privileged family, I wanted for nothing, and I never had to face the world alone because I had Gloss and Sapphire. For as long as I can remember, it was always us against the world. Together we faced the politics of District One, the demands of our extensive and powerful family and the threat of its rivals. Together we were successful, together we had fun. Since we were very young, our plan had always been to compete in the Hunger Games and we trained virtually every day. It was one of the few ways to gain independence that were available to us.
However much I believed she was my sister in my heart, I wasn't related to Sapphire by blood. She was the daughter of my mother's best friend and she came to live with us when I was four years old and Gloss only three. I still don't think my father wanted her but it was the only way to keep her out of the Community Home, and for what was probably the first time in the history of their marriage, my mother won the argument and Sapphire stayed. She was company for Gloss and I, who were far too much hassle for our parents to deal with, especially since Father already had my elder sister, Satin, to inherit the family fortune and therefore had little use for us until we grew old enough to be useful to him.
It is true that I had always dreamed of going to the Capitol, but as she got older, Sapphire seemed to take the Games a lot more seriously than I did. I didn't think anything of it and wasn't even sure that our plan to win three consecutive Games as we each turned eighteen was going ahead, until one day, as her reaping drew near, she became totally obsessed with her training virtually overnight. I had asked her why it suddenly meant more to her than it ever had before and she told me that winning the Games was the only way for her to gain her freedom. She told me that she felt chained to my father by the debt that had existed between the two of them since she was five years old and that as it was only a matter of time before he called in that debt, she had better find an alternative. It wasn't until nearly a year later that I truly understood what she meant.
As everyone in Panem knows, Sapphire didn't win the Sixty-fifth Games. They were won by that boy from District Four, the one I hate more than any other person in the world. Finnick Odair. The Capitol's golden boy, the most attractive and physically perfect creature to ever grace the earth with his presence if they are to be believed. I can't see it. Whenever I see his bronze hair, his sea-green eyes staring at me through the television screen, all I see is the boy who killed my sister. That is one of the reasons I will be volunteering today. For Sapphire. Because if I can get to the Capitol, if I can win the Games, then I will be a victor just like he is, and then maybe one day in the near or distant future, I will be able to make him pay for what he did. Before her death, the idea of the Hunger Games and the Capitol was all a big, glorious dream of bright lights, expensive dresses and unimaginable riches, riches that are mine and not my father's, but now it is about more than that. Now it is about revenge.
That is what I will tell my brother. I will tell him what he already knows and hope that it is enough to make him forgive me. For he has never dreamed of the Games like Sapphire and I did. He trained alongside us and is probably better at fighting than I am, but his heart was never in it. Gloss prefers peace to war, he always has, and I hope that he doesn't hate me when I reach that stage first.
I take a deep breath and stop to look up at the sky as I approach the main square. It had been raining on the day of Sapphire's reaping, I remember that because it was so unusual. Now it is sunny for me and I hope that is a good omen.
The crowd in the main square is the same every year, everyone dressed in the best clothes they own, desperate to see and be seen by the richest and best-known people in the district. Sapphire used to call it 'Showtime' not 'Reaping Day', and that is exactly what it is. It is a continuous performance, a parade of people who will stop at nothing to impress their rivals and subtly continue the political wrangling that is part of everyday life in District One. Competing to win the reaping, even if you have no real intention of being the first to reach the stage is a matter of pride and honour here, and they don't even bother to segregate people according to age anymore. They all know it never prevented the mad, frantic rush that makes our reaping the highlight of the day for the people watching in the Capitol, so one year they simply decided not to bother.
So here I stand, right at the front of the crowd, closest to the stage, dressed in my finest sky-blue dress and pretending not to notice how everyone stops and stares. People have always stared at me because of my beauty, even from a young age, and I would be lying if I said that I don't like it when they do. It may sound arrogant, to think of myself as being so very beautiful, but why deny the truth? Surely false modesty is worse?
I will need all of my beauty and my knowledge of how to use it to my advantage now, because this year I will volunteer and win. For Sapphire. I will succeed where she failed. I will win for both of us.
I raise my hand to the jewel I wear around my neck, twirling the sapphire around and around without really thinking. I have worn it since they returned it with her body from the Capitol and it will be my district token when it is my turn. It is then that the sea of people parts for a second and I see Gloss, my beloved brother, scanning the crowd and obviously looking for me. I dive behind a group of people, who look startled by my sudden appearance in their group but are from a much lesser family than I, and therefore aren't about to start questioning my actions. I am unused to hiding from Gloss, but I know that it is what I must do. If I am standing by his side when Septimus calls for volunteers then he will stop me, and I can't let that happen.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the reaping for the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games!"
The clock in the square sounds half-past eight and like clockwork, our mayor recites the Treaty of Treason just like he does every year. I don't know why he bothers really. District One was never really part of the original rebellion in the first place, not like a lot of the other districts were. Here we live comfortable lives and have nice things. We are happy. Well as happy as people ever can be anyway.
The Capitol let my family run one of their jewellers, a massive warehouse where people from my district design and make jewellery for the people of the Capitol. As the head of the family, my father has ultimate control, as his father did before him and his father's father before that. The Capitol gets it's jewellery and in return they make my father rich and powerful in the place where he lives. Everyone's happy. No complaints from my family, and yet here I am, listening to the same dull and boring speech all over again.
I turn away from the stage and a young man about my age catches my eye. He winks at me with a casual arrogance shared by many of the boys I know and I narrow my eyes, looking away quickly. I don't actually know him but I know his type. He wants me for the reasons that boys like him always want me, and yet he has nothing he can give me in return. I have more status than he does, my family has greater wealth than his, his excessive arrogance is certainly not attractive when there is so little to justify it and I sincerely doubt that he is intelligent enough to hold the simplest of conversations. Harsh I might be, but the world is a cruel place and a girl like me has to be realistic. What is the point of settling for less than second best when I am going to become a Hunger Games victor? When I have my victory then I won't need anyone else, I will be able to choose someone for myself only if I want to and there is nothing that that boy, my family or even my father will be able to do about it. I will be able to marry a person whom I love, a person who loves me and not just this body and the power gained by marrying my father's daughter, or I will be able to choose not to marry at all. Most of the new tributes from the other districts will see the Games as a death sentence, I will see it as freedom.
I suddenly lift my head back up and focus on the stage when I hear the mayor welcome our Capitol escort, deliberately shaking my golden-blonde hair and smirking when the boy stares at me, completely entranced. The mayor doesn't call the familiar name of Septimus Eaglewood, who has been our tribute's chaperone for at least as long as I've been alive, but another name, one that I've never heard before. A man by the name of Falco Hazelwell.
My eyes follow the man who rises gracefully from his chair to cross to the front of the stage, and I feel only surprise that I didn't notice him before. I would guess him to be in his late twenties, tall and dark-haired with almost honey coloured skin that I somehow know is natural rather than the handiwork of one of the big city's many cosmetic surgeons. He stares down at us all with not a hint of fear or apprehension in his expression or body language. He looks arrogant but not in the way that boy had looked arrogant. This man has the confident air of one whom nobody questions, who fully believes that the self-confidence he possesses so completely is justified. I look up at him and find myself hoping that I will get the chance to find out the truth of that belief.
However the second that Falco Hazelwell begins to speak, all thoughts of him temporarily leave my mind. My eyes scan the stage, moving from one side to the other, first to the mayor and then back to Falco, before moving on to the two people who stand beside him. Topaz Howard and Lace Mortimer, two of District One's many past victors and this year's mentors. There is nothing unusual about them, their stories are the same as so many of our tributes; a man born to a family who were never quite rich enough to reach the top echelons of society no matter how hard they tried, the whole district had known that he entered the Games so he could win enough money to clear his father's debts, and a young woman from as noble a family as I, who I would say had been trying to win her independence by becoming a tribute but in reality I suspect was driven to it by relatives who took one look at her and realised that they would have to pay someone to marry her rather than the other way around. I don't mean to be cruel but if very few people in District One lack beauty then she is certainly one of the unfortunate few.
I suspect that neither of them will be much use to me, but I don't need them, I can rely on myself. I take a deep breath as Falco takes the only futile step towards the first reaping ball that is necessary to begin the race to the stage and I make my final decision. I have to do this. It is what Sapphire would have wanted, for me to carry on with our plan, and I will not let her down. Besides, I'm not going to lose so this is nothing.
I pull myself under the railing that separates us from the stage a fraction ahead of everyone else, laughing to myself because the first thing I think is that it is just as well I got myself some flat shoes so I can run properly. It is strange the way the brain focuses on one minor detail as a way of blocking out everything else that it can't quite process.
"Cashmere! Stop! You don't have to do this! Cashmere!"
I hear my brother calling to me just as I put one foot on the stage, forcing my way forwards, fighting to keep ahead of my rivals. I hear him shout my name once again when Falco Hazelwell's dark eyes lock with mine as he grasps my wrist and lifts my arm up in victory, my brother's tone now mournful rather than frantic. But it is only when I vaguely recognise the victorious male tribute as the boy who had winked at me earlier that I turn to look into the crowd, somehow finding myself staring at Gloss as soon as I do.
The pain on his face is worse even than when the Capitol returned Sapphire, almost as if he is grieving for me before I have even gone. As I stand by the side of my new mentor, who glares at me like she is a tribute herself and I am her enemy, I don't know which urge is stronger, the one telling me to go to my brother and comfort him, or the one telling me to be angry with him because he doesn't believe I will return. His eyes don't leave mine and it is such an effort to keep myself from crying that I almost forget to breathe. They play the anthem but I don't hear it, and as the Peacekeepers step onto the stage to escort us away, I find myself looking behind me so that I don't lose sight of Gloss, who follows me as closely as he can, ignoring the irritated people he barges out of the way as he does. The last word I hear as I walk through the familiar entranceway to the Town Hall is my own name, which he calls one last time, his voice full of grief as he finally loses sight of me.
"Is your boyfriend worried he might have some competition now you're going all the way to the Capitol with me?" asks my new district partner, his arrogant voice interrupting my thoughts.
"He's my brother not my boyfriend, stupid," I retort flatly, "but if I had a boyfriend then I don't think he'd have much to worry about from you."
I turn my back on him sharply and follow a Peacekeeper down a wide wood-panelled corridor that is lined with many matching doors, only visible due to their shining gold handles. I smile to myself when I hear the Peacekeeper who had remained with the boy asking him if he has any idea who I am, before proceeding to tell him that he has more chance of sprouting wings and flying to the Capitol than he does of getting close to the likes of me. Maybe the Peacekeepers aren't as idiotic as I have always assumed.
Unfortunately, I am very rapidly forced to return to my original opinion when my escort shows me into an expensively furnished office and instead of leaving, follows me into the room and closes the door behind him. He closes the distance between us, suddenly standing so close to me that I can read the number of his regiment from the small gold badge that is pinned to his jacket collar. I glare defiantly at him, determined to stand my ground until he thinks better of his clearly poorly thought out intentions but in the end I am forced to take a step backwards. I am so repulsed by this man, who is not only vile, repellent and probably three times my age but is also so much lower in class than I that we shouldn't really be breathing the same air.
The man is clearly relying on only a single brain cell which is tiring very quickly, because I can tell by the expression on his face that he takes my reaction to be one of fear. He takes another step forward, leering at me in a way that makes me long for the sword that is currently in it's holder in my bedroom at home.
"I'll make sure you get some extra time to say goodbye to your family if you make it worth my while."
I glare at him with a look of disgust and disdain that I have practiced since well before the time I was old enough to need to use it. "I'd rather leave the district without seeing anybody. In fact, I'd rather die. When I return victorious from the Capitol, I will see to it that you lose your job so quickly that you won't have time to find another one. Who knows, I might even be feeling so vindictive that I will make you explain to your family exactly why you can't afford to feed them anymore."
He snarls at me, looking like he wants to hit me, but at the last minute he thinks better of it. He might be stupid but he isn't quite brainless enough to forget that as a volunteer for the Games, I am either trained or insane and therefore not worth the risk. He walks away quickly and is nearly at the door before something occurs to me.
"Wait," I call, and he stops, turning back to look at me. "Please don't let my brother in," I continue, deliberately trying to sound as pathetic and pleading as I can despite how much it pains me to do so. "I don't want to see him."
There. That is that potential problem sorted. I have heard tales of Peacekeepers sometimes not allowing some visitors to see tributes, denying them a final farewell out of sheer vindictiveness, and I am determined that will not happen to me. I can tell from the grin on his face that the Peacekeeper truly believes my lie, believes that I don't want to see Gloss, and I can also tell that he will do everything in his power to make sure my brother is let in, simply because he thinks he is gaining revenge on me for denying him.
Honestly, some people are so dense. They look at me and see nothing but my beauty, which makes them think that I must be stupid, however I can happily say I am anything but that, which is why I know that if I am careful then I will be able to rely on that misapprehension in the arena. Let them believe they are smarter than me. Let them believe they are in control. I will make them pay for their idiocy later.
Once the door slams shut, I flop down onto the nearest chair before abruptly jumping to my feet again a second later as I take in my surroundings for the first time. This office looks exactly like my father's, right down to the heavy mahogany furniture and deep red wallpaper, something I'm sure is quite deliberate. This is the grandest building in District One, the place where all of the most powerful people make all of the most important decisions, well, at least the ones which the Capitol are willing to debate about rather than dictate anyway. Using my father's logic, it is only right that the place from which he rules his empire should so closely resemble the centre of our district's power.
I shiver as I remember the few occasions that I have been inside that place. I can recall them in very fine detail and can say for certain that I was only ordered into my father's august presence when I had done something I shouldn't, or, as was more often the case as I grew older, when he wanted me to do something for his benefit. He is one of the most powerful and influential non-Capitolian people in the district and he maintains that position not only by virtue of being head of our family but also through continuously demonstrating a ruthlessness that could easily compare with that of President Snow himself. I have seen the look in the eyes of many who have entered that office, employee, family member and rival alike, and that look is usually one full of fear. Is it any wonder that I can't relax in a place like this?
The first people to be shown into the room are my parents, closely followed by Satin, who looks down her nose at me like I am some kind of servant. Her elaborately embroidered Capitol-made dress is as beautiful as her clothes always are, but that doesn't quite make up for the fact that she insists on ordering them two sizes too small. After quickly deciding that the dress would look a whole lot better on me, I ignore her totally and focus on my father, knowing of old that to ignore him for even a second is to do something very dangerous indeed.
Until I look closely, Father looks as emotionless as ever, but when I really focus on his face I can see the small signs of barely suppressed anger there. I knew he would be angry. Whatever happens in the Capitol, I have escaped from the tyranny of his rule and he knows it as well as I do. Mother, on the other hand, looks beside herself with excitement, fussing with her newly styled hair and almost bursting with anticipation as she considers how many people from the Capitol she is going to get to talk to now.
"What do you think your stylist will design for you?" she gushes. "Cashmere, you're going to be famous. Everyone will know us."
"Everyone already knows us, Mother," I reply tiredly with a deep sigh. "We are hardly the most inconspicuous family in the district."
When she doesn't respond, seemingly lost in a daydream of Capitol fashion and luxury, I sigh again and decide to humour her like I always do. She doesn't seem to register the actual Hunger Games at all. All she sees is a series of ceremonies and makeovers and television appearances. I expected this response though. She was exactly the same with Sapphire last year.
"I will bring you a dress back from the Capitol," I tell her, almost as though I am the mother and she is my child rather than the other way around.
"Can you get me a purple one? The colour that they dressed Finnick Odair in last year."
For a second I am speechless, shocked that she could so casually bring up the subject of the boy who killed her foster-daughter, and that is all the time Satin needs to confirm my low opinion of her in one simple sentence.
"That's a good idea, Mother," she says before turning to me, speaking slowly and precisely like I am the simple one not her. "Cashmere, I'm sure you will get to meet him when you get to the Capitol. He will be mentoring this year because it is the first anniversary of his victory. You have to tell me if he is as gorgeous in real-life as he is on the television."
When I have eventually reined in my anger enough to speak, first I turn not to Satin but to Mother. "How can you speak that name?" I ask her but she doesn't answer me. She doesn't even seem to understand where my rage has come from. "And you," I snap, glaring at Satin, channelling all of my anger into that one look. "Why can't you see beyond your shallow, selfish little world for just one second? Not everything is about you, Satin. And besides, Finnick Odair is a Hunger Games victor. Even if I overlook your obvious thing for cradle-snatching for just a second, there is no way in Panem that he would even look at someone like you. Especially when you can't see that wearing dresses that are too small for you only draws attention to the fact that you are…how shall I put it, slightly out of condition," I finish acidly, pointedly looking down at my own figure, perfectly toned from many hours of training that Satin never had the willpower to complete even when she was of reaping age.
"Silence!" roars my father at the top of his voice, and Satin bites back the retort she had been going to voice and I instantly fall still and quiet. It is true that we despise each other, we always have, but we are children of District One, and if there is one thing that all children of District One know, it is that when a man like my father demands silence then silence is the only safe option.
When Father walks towards me, my first instinct is to step back, but then I change my mind and raise my head to look him in the eye, refusing to yield a millimetre.
"You disobeyed me, girl," he whispers, his voice low and dangerous. I look slightly to my left to see Satin's smirk as she senses blood. Not this time, I say to myself. Not this time.
"Actually, Father, I don't ever recall you telling me that I mustn't volunteer."
"I've got your marriage contract on my desk. You know how much it is worth to this family. I would have thought it would be perfectly obvious that swanning off to the Capitol is the exact opposite of what I wanted you to do. You'd better win now, or I will be ruined."
"That's a slight exaggeration, don't you think?" I retort, my eyes not leaving his for a second. I hear Satin gasp at my defiance. "And you do realise that you will be losing that money anyway, don't you? I will win the Hunger Games, I promise you that, but when I do, I will be my own person with independent means, and I can tell you this for nothing, there is no way in Panem that I am marrying that imbecile."
He is almost beside himself with rage before I have even finished speaking, and the slap that I receive as a reply instead of words is no great surprise. He hits me hard enough for my head to snap to the side, my hair flying wildly around to cover the stinging mark left on my cheek by his hand, but when I turn back to face him I find that I am unable and unwilling to suppress the smile that appears involuntarily on my lips.
"You will win and you will return, then you will do as I tell you," he snaps furiously, so unused to being defied that he doesn't quite know what to say. "Do whatever it takes to win."
Just like he does, I think to myself. It is said that all people love their parents on some level and maybe that is true, but when I think of my father I know that that doesn't mean I don't hate him too. His status is everything to him, and he has always loved wealth and power much more than he loves his family, even Mother and Satin. He will do anything to make money, to gain power, absolutely anything. I shudder and finally turn away from him as I remember the day about a year ago, just before the reaping, when one of his rivals to whom Father owed money to offered him a deal. A deal to cancel the debt in exchange for only one thing: Me. My own father didn't hesitate to agree and it is ironic that the only thing that prevented the arrangement from being honoured was my uncle pointing out to my father that there are more beneficial and lucrative deals to be made is he waits until I am nineteen and free of the Hunger Games before arranging my marriage.
I wonder if people in the Capitol are curious to know why so many of the daughters of District One's rich and privileged families like myself are so willing to volunteer for the Games? I might be doing this for Sapphire, and to win a life of luxury for myself, but I am doing it to escape as well. I am not the eldest child, I am not the one who will inherit the family fortune, but I am still subject to the whims of the head of that family and the Hunger Games is one of the few ways of escaping that is open to me.
"I will win, Father, I already promised you that, but that is the only thing that I can promise you."
He looks like he is about to say something else but as far as I am concerned the discussion is over, so I turn away from him, humming under my breath, singing a very old song that is still known today, making sure that I raise my voice slightly when I get to the line that I really want him to hear. "Oh freedom is mine, and I know how I feel…"
I know that he hears me, because despite not thinking it possible before this moment, I see the skin of his face turn a deeper shade of purple as his fury threatens to overcome him entirely.
"Goodbye, daughter," he says stiffly, looking at me once more before turning and leaving the room without a backward glance, rendered speechless by my rebellion. Satin follows him without saying a word.
Mother goes to follow them but then stops as retraces her steps towards me, looking nervously at the door as she does. She runs her hand through my hair before stepping away. "You were always beautiful, Cashmere. You must use your beauty now. It will help you."
I nod as she walks away. That must be the single most rational statement I can remember her saying to me ever, and though I knew it already, I can't help smiling slightly.
"I will. And I won't forget your dress."
She turns and gives me her familiar beaming smile for the final time and then she is gone. I barely know her really. How could I know her when I have seen so little of her during my childhood? Yet now she has gone I realise that I do care for her. Not in the way I care for Gloss or how I used to care for Sapphire, but I feel something for her, something far stronger than I imagined. When I return home from the Capitol I will bring her that dress and a few more besides. I might even take her to the Capitol with me, get to know her properly, the real her not the person perpetually living in my father's shadow who she became.
Less than a minute later all thoughts of my parents leave my mind as the door opens again to reveal my brother, standing there looking far more dishevelled than his usual immaculate perfection, anger and confusion etched into every aspect of his expression. He doesn't speak, almost as though he doesn't trust himself to, and despite his anger he crosses the room and pulls me into his arms as he sits down on one of the chairs, remaining silent as he clings to me in a way he hasn't done since we were young children.
Eventually he pushes me away from him, bringing his hand up to my face, tracing what I'm sure is the bright pink mark that Father's slap left on my cheek.
"Father and I had a bit of a disagreement," I say, answering his silent question.
"Oh," is the only reply I get as he pulls me against him once more.
"I'm not Sapphire, Gloss. I will win and I will return."
"That's what Sapphire said. Surely your memory isn't that bad?"
"I mean it. I can fight and you know that the Capitol will love me. I will rival Him for sponsors," I continue, refusing to say the name of the boy who murdered my sister.
He laughs despite his sadness. "You really believe that, don't you, Cash?"
"Are you saying you don't?" I reply, hurt that he doubts me. "What's wrong with me?"
He laughs again. "Apart from the fact that I don't think even the Capitol will be big enough to hold your ego, there is nothing wrong with you."
I hit him but I laugh as well. "You're just jealous," I tease. "Not everyone can be as good as me, I can't help it."
He pushes me to arm's length so he can look into my eyes, his expression suddenly serious. "You will come back, won't you?"
"I promise," I reply just as seriously before I revert to teasing him instead so I don't do something embarrassing like starting to cry. It would never do for the Capitol's first real glimpse of me to involve my eyes being red and puffy. "I have to come back because you'd never survive without me."
We both jump in response to the sharp knock at the door, which is closely followed by a harsh voice that informs us we only have one minute left. We both stand to face each other and Gloss takes my hands in his.
"Let them underestimate you," he says hurriedly. "Let them think you are a stupid, vain girl who plays at sword-fighting so she thinks she can win the Hunger Games as a way of seeing all the pretty things in the Capitol. Act like a younger version of Mother," he finishes and we both laugh.
"I will," I reply, squeezing his hands tightly as a thought suddenly occurs to me. "Gloss, promise me you won't hate me, no matter what you see on the screen."
"I could never hate you, Cashmere. You're my sister. I love you."
The door swings open and the Peacekeeper gestures for him to leave, staring at us and clearly not intending to give us another second. Gloss lets me go and backs towards the door, his eyes never leaving me as if he is trying to fix my image in his mind just as I am with him.
"I love you, Gloss," I call, just as the door clicks shut.
If you've got this far then don't forget to tell me what you think...