And so it begins again! Well, carries on... (So if you are reading this and haven't read the first part - be warned, there is a large cast of OCs involved so it might not make sense)
They say that a victor never forgets the faces of the twenty-three other tributes they went into the arena with, and I can say for certain that is true. Even nearly six months after I was lifted from the arena of the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games, the living nightmare that I alone survived, I remember it like I was there only yesterday. It haunts my dreams every night and Gloss has long since got used to waking in the early hours of the morning to the sound of my terrified screams, which somehow travels through even the thick walls of my new house.
It's got easier though, if that's the right word to use when there's hardly ever a moment where I can completely forget about the Games and what I did. I like living here in my house in the Victor's Village because it's mine, and that means I can shut the door on everyone if I choose to. Since the arena, I frequently do.
I don't go out very much either, and much to my father's disappointment and disgust, I haven't been seen at a party for at least four months. Father doesn't understand or care about what I feel. I don't think he ever will, especially because he doesn't even try to. Gloss and I often wander around the district though, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence, but always together. I don't go out alone anymore unless I have no choice and I am dreading leaving for the Victory Tour tomorrow more than I can say.
Just as he promised, Falco visits District One with a regularity I worry will become suspicious to those in the Capitol, always because of 'official business', of course. Gloss teases me and calls me 'Official Business' instead of 'Cashmere', but I know he understands really. It took two people to help me put myself back together into a person who vaguely resembles the girl who volunteered for the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games, and it still takes two people to keep me in one piece. My brother knows that.
"Cashmere? It's just the same as yesterday, Cash," urges Gloss gently. "Walk to me and then we can walk together."
I take a hesitant step towards my brother, trying to ignore my sister's quiet but mocking laughter. Whatever Gloss says, it isn't just the same as yesterday because she's here, watching my every move. I've known since the day I returned from the Capitol that Satin is desperate to go running to our Father and tell him how unstable I am. The worst thing is that the more I think about trying not to react, the more my senses all go flying into overdrive.
"We can go the other way if you want."
"No, Gloss, it's fine," I manage eventually, peering into the almost darkness of the passageway which leads around the back of the Justice Building.
I have walked this way hundreds of times in the past, both before I became a Hunger Games tribute and after I returned home as a victor. It's the quickest way to get from the main town square to the Victor's Village, but it's also a narrow, enclosed space that surrounds whoever walks down it with seemingly limitless walls that block out all of the light.
Over the past six months, I've been getting better. Gloss has noticed and so has Falco, and they would know because they've both been helping me. They saw what I was like when I first returned from the Capitol, so they both know that I win a small victory every time I walk through this passage without freezing in terror as the memories of the arena it reminds me so greatly of come crashing back down over me.
That's also just like they know that every time they walk into a room without me noticing and I merely jump slightly when I finally see them rather than diving to my feet and reaching for the nearest thing I can use as a weapon is a sign that I'm starting to get over competing in the Games. It's been a while since I did that, but even now Falco is sure to make a lot of noise before he walks into the kitchen. We joke about it now, but when I raised a knife to him, it wasn't him I was seeing but someone else entirely, a nameless and faceless enemy who haunts my nightmares as he or she stalks me around the endless corridors of the arena. The mere thought of what I could have done terrifies me as much as the arena ever did.
"Hurry up then," Gloss calls, holding out his hand to me and smiling encouragingly.
I stare into his dark eyes, never looking away from him or even daring to blink as I take another tentative step forwards. I can hear the water dripping down the walls despite how the rational part of my mind knows it exists only in my head. I can see the cold metal walls surrounding me even though logic tells me that in reality they are made of brick. The screams of the dying tributes echo around me, and I gasp for a breath that is suddenly a lot harder to take than it was when we were back in the main square.
"What is wrong with you?" snaps Satin, who I am convinced is only with us because she wants to be seen going to and from the Victor's Village as much as possible. "You were always unstable, Cashmere, but this is ridiculous."
Ironically, it's her cruel words that penetrate through my haze of disorientated panic rather than my brother's gentleness, which has always worked in the past, and I feel something that resembles my old arrogant glare settle on my face as I turn to answer her.
"Why don't you go on ahead?" I snarl disdainfully in response. "Or better still, why don't you run along home? You do know that I have no intention of inviting you into my house until you can talk to me in a civilised manner, don't you, sister dearest?"
Without even realising it, I have made it into the passageway to stand beside Gloss. I smile gratefully at him when he reaches out to take my hand, anchoring me into the present and keeping the past at bay like he always does.
We make it to the gate that leads to the Victor's Village without me having another panic attack, and when we get to the house my brother and I call home, it is to find my mother waiting outside. She hugs Gloss and Satin, and then finally gets to me. She embraces me too, but as usual, there is something in her eyes that tells me she isn't convinced I won't lash out at her or do something to confirm everything I'm sure my sister has made up about me.
"I wanted to see you before you leave," she says. "I wanted to wish you luck."
I smile, trying to maintain the façade that everyone but Gloss and Falco always see, trying to maintain the pretence that I am still the person who left District One to compete in the Games.
"Thank you," I reply, sounding far too formal considering I'm talking to my mother, but I suppose my mother and I have never exactly had a 'normal' mother-daughter relationship so it's no great shock really. Even though I've made the effort to spend more time with her since I came back from the arena, I still feel like I hardly know her.
"I'll see you when you come back from the Capitol."
"You will," I reply, managing to resist telling her to just go ahead and put her order in for the dresses she wants because I know that's why she's really here.
Even though I say nothing, she must pick up my emotions from my voice, because she quickly picks her bags back up and looks ready to rush away. It's a strange feeling, to be feared by my own mother, and it isn't one I like.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Mother," interrupts Gloss, filling our awkward silences like he always seems to. "In the evening."
When I've gone. That's what he means but doesn't want to say. He looks at me then, swiftly unlocking the door in a way that tells me he knows I've got him worked out. As if it would ever be otherwise. He lets me go ahead of him before whispering a few words I can't hear to Mother and leaving her and Satin standing on the front step.
We walk to the kitchen and begin our usual routine of preparing something for us to eat later, before moving into the sitting room and talking about everything but the Hunger Games. I don't bring up the subject of the tour or even mention the Capitol at all, and much to my relief, he doesn't either. If we both pretend it isn't happening then I can still allow myself to cling to the futile hope I have that it won't.
I jump when I hear the soft knock at the door. I hadn't been expecting it so it frightened me. That's the way it is now. I cross the massive kitchen slowly, allowing my heart rate to settle back into a normal rhythm. I stand by the door but make no move to open it.
"Who is it?" I call out softly.
"Let me in, Butterfly. I haven't got all night."
I throw open the door so Falco can step inside before quickly slamming it shut behind him. Then I spin around and stand there staring up at him, not quite convinced he's real.
"If I'd known I'd get a reception like this then I'd have come sooner," he remarks dryly.
I throw myself into his arms in response, clinging to him so tightly I am lifted off my feet. Then we abruptly release each other at the same time, not making eye contact for several seconds, not until there is a couple of metres distance between us. When we are apart, I can almost convince myself that Capitol and District could never work, but then I see him and end up right back where I started. My only consolation is that the look in his eyes tells me better than any words that I'm not the only one struggling with my emotions.
"You're not supposed to be here until tomorrow," I say eventually. "How come you're early?"
"I'm supposed to be in a meeting with your district's mayor," he replies with a sly smile. "I suppose some people would say I'm playing truant."
"So you're supposed to be doing something useful and instead you're here frightening me to death by knocking on my door in the middle of the night?"
"It's hardly the middle of the night, Cashmere," he says with a smirk as he steps closer to me again, backing me against the door. I stop breathing but I don't protest. "And as for the rest, I'm sure it wouldn't be too difficult for me to convince anyone who asked of your usefulness, so technically I wouldn't be at fault."
"For the sake of my mental health, I will pretend I didn't hear that," announces Gloss as he strolls into the kitchen. "Hello, Falco," he continues casually, and I smile at how relaxed the two people I love most in the world have become in each other's company.
"Gloss, did you say four boxes left here?" asks Falco in reply, not letting me go despite my brother's presence as he picks up what is obviously the continuation of a previous conversation.
"Yes," Gloss replies, and now I've had time to think about it, I remember them talking about the latest shipment of newly-cut diamonds to leave the district for the Capitol the last time Falco was here.
"That's strange, because only three were registered as having arrived in the city," says Falco, and I can see from the look in his eyes and hear from the tone of his voice that the consequences aren't going to be good for the person who was doing the registering.
"You're early," states Gloss, already taking an extra plate from the shelf and setting another place for dinner.
"I escaped," he replies with a smirk. "I missed your sister."
"I've no idea why. She's a nightmare to live with."
"How could you be so cruel, brother mine?" I ask, pouting as we sit down at the kitchen table.
They both laugh at me, but soon we all fall silent, running out of things to say to avoid discussing the Victory Tour and the fact that this time tomorrow, I will be on a train headed for District Twelve and the whole nightmare will start all over again. When we've finished eating, Gloss rises to his feet and leaves the room, kissing the top of my head as he passes me, telling me that he'll see me in the morning some time before the People from the Other World descend and take over.
"Who exactly are the 'People from the Other World'?" asks Falco with an amused look on his face that tells me he knows precisely who my brother was talking about.
"He means Capitol people," I reply flatly, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh.
"Does that include me?" he replies, pretending to be angry with me. "If it does, then I'll just go."
He rises to his feet and heads for the back door, not turning around even though I know he must have heard me following him. I reach out and grasp his arm, and only then does he face me, pulling me tightly against him. We stand there in silence for several minutes until he eventually speaks.
"I wish you didn't have to do this," he says softly.
"So do I, but I can't change the way things are. I'll get through it somehow. But don't you dare leave me."
He lifts me up and carries me to the other side of the kitchen before putting me down without letting me go. He kisses me briefly before stepping back so his eyes meet mine.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"I don't think it's really a good idea to let the cameras see this, do you?"
I open my eyes at the sound of the familiar voice that I have only heard on the telephone since I left the Capitol nearly six months earlier.
"Felix!" I cry, making Falco laugh as I leave his arms to throw myself into those of my stylist.
"Still can't sleep then?" says Felix quietly, his voice telling me he knows that isn't the only reason Falco stays with me.
I roll my eyes and let him drag me out of the room and down the stairs. We get that far and then he pulls me to a halt when we reach the bottom.
"I didn't think you'd be here this early," I say.
"That much is obvious," he replies amusedly, before continuing in a much more serious tone without giving me the chance to roll my eyes a second time. "There's a massive crowd of reporters and camera crews at the station. Your tour is big news back in the Capitol so we have our orders to make sure you're ready."
"Ready for what?" I ask. "To meet the families of the people I killed? I think it will take more than a pretty dress to make me ready for that."
He shakes his head sadly, pulling me into a hug and then letting me go a second later. "I know, but nobody has a choice here, you understand that as well as I do."
I nod before continuing with a brightness I don't really feel inside. "Where are they then? Drusilla will be devastated that I didn't keep putting the gold nail varnish on."
"They're in the sitting room," he replies laughingly. "I'm relieved they're finally going to see you again actually, because it's been 'Cashmere this' and 'Cashmere that' and 'Wouldn't that look good on Cashmere' ever since you left. I'm looking forward to having a new topic of conversation that doesn't involve you."
I'm still laughing as I push open the sitting room door, still looking back at Felix. That's why I'm nearly knocked off my feet as two brightly coloured blurs propel forwards and crash into me. It's several minutes before I manage to extricate myself enough to be able to breathe easily.
"You're as beautiful as I remember," gushes Callista, who has always been the more superficial of the pair. "You haven't changed a bit."
"I've missed you," adds Charis, hugging me again with one arm as she raises the other so she can wipe the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I've missed you too," I reply, surprised to find that I don't have to lie.
They only back away when Drusilla approaches, her usual collection of make-up and hair products clutched in her arms.
"Hurry up, Cashmere. The nation is waiting," she snaps, but the corners of her mouth curl up into the merest hint of a smile. When I sit down in front of a mirror that wasn't in my house this time yesterday, she briefly squeezes my shoulder, holding the gaze of my reflection before starting to pin my hair back off my face so she can do my make-up.
I sit there in compliant silence as my prep team work on me. I had thought that seeing them again would be the first of many events which were sure to bring memories of the Games I have spent the past six months trying to fight back come crashing down upon me once more, and I was right, seeing them again does make me remember. However it isn't the nightmares of the arena themselves that I recall but the way these three women tried to help me in the only way they could, the way they wanted me to win, the pride in their excited eyes as they took their places on the stage at my Victory Ceremony. I know then that if I have to do this then I am glad they are here with me. Despite Drusilla's obsession with gold nail varnish.
I recognise the soft knock on the door that comes a couple of hours later as belonging to my brother, who has been keeping such a low profile that I haven't seen him once since my Capitol entourage arrived. I call for him to come in, half expecting him to wait for me to go to him.
He peers hesitantly around the door so I can only see his head, looking like he is ready to flee instantly. He jerks his head back, telling me that he wants me to come and talk to him, before moving rapidly to vanish again. However, for once in his life he isn't quick enough, and Charis and Callista see him instantly, their eyes lighting up as they run across the room and practically drag him inside.
"Cashmere, is this your brother?" asks Callista as she circles around a slightly startled-looking Gloss. "You didn't tell me he was so good looking."
"He isn't," I reply flatly. "He's my brother."
Gloss rolls his eyes at me, giving me every impression that he's about to bolt towards the door and make a bid for freedom. I take pity on him and cross the room to stand directly opposite him, separating him from my suddenly predatory prep team. Charis laughs good-naturedly. Callista pouts and looks disappointed.
"Falco's here," he says.
"He just got here," Gloss continues pointedly.
"That's good," I reply, catching on immediately. "He can come in if he wants, but I think we've got to go now so I might as well go to him."
He takes my hand and pulls me from the room, dragging me into the dining room and pushing the door firmly closed, ignoring the outraged gasps of the Capitol people we barge past.
"I always seem to be saying goodbye to you," he says. "You've only been back for a few months and they're here to take you away again."
"I'll be back before you know it," I tell him, trying to stay optimistic for his sake. "There's no arena this time, Gloss."
"Cash, you're still having nightmares," he replies flatly. "You go to bed with the light on and the curtains open and you still wake up screaming. Don't lie to me and tell me you're OK with going on this tour because I won't believe you."
"I've never lied to you," I say eventually. "But saying I don't want to go isn't going to make them all go back to the Capitol without me, is it?"
He shakes his head in reluctant acceptance of what we both know is the truth. "I wish I could come with you. I don't like to think of you having to cope with it all on your own."
"I'm not on my own. Falco's with me. I'm flattered you'd do that for me though," I continue, trying to make a joke of a situation that isn't at all funny. "The Capitol wouldn't be able to get enough of you. You'd hate every second of it."
"I'd do it for you though, Cashy," he replies teasingly, pulling me backwards onto the sofa so I sit curled up against him just like I did after the reaping before I left District One on the tribute train.
"I know," I say, not knowing what else to say. I'm still selfish enough that I would take him with me if I could. He hugs me tightly and we sit there for several minutes before I finally break the silence. "Are you coming to the station with me?"
I feel rather than see him shake his head. "I think it's best if I stay here. I'd rather not be on the front cover of any more newspapers," he says, referring to how a picture of our reunion at the train station on the day I returned home after the Games had appeared in every newspaper in Panem.
There is a knock at the door and Gloss and I look at each other. I know before I hear Falco's words that the time has come for me to leave. It really does feel like reaping day all over again.
"It's only a couple of weeks. I'll be back before you know it. I'm relying on you to guard the house so Father and Satin don't try to take over."
He laughs at that, hugging me tightly once more after we both rise to our feet. "I love you."
"I love you," I reply, pulling away from him and darting towards the door before I either change my mind or ruin Drusilla and Felix's hard work by crying.
A couple of hours later, I am back on the tribute train, sitting in the dining room on the same chair I found when I was on my way to the Capitol. This time around, the train is speeding in the opposite direction. We are heading towards District Twelve, which is the traditional place where the Victory Tour begins, the district that has only ever caused that tradition to be broken twice before.
The tour always ends in the victor's own district, and nowhere has fewer victors than District Twelve. The small part of me that can think about something other than how unbearable the tour is going to be for all concerned is curious to see if the coal district is truly as bad as people say. Tales are told of children starving to death on the streets and people being blown up in the mines, and even though I find myself wishing they are just tales and nothing more, I know deep down that they will prove to be an accurate picture of reality. Falco has told me enough about the other districts to make me believe that District One is paradise in comparison to many of the rest.
It will take less than a day to get to District Twelve. We will be there by the morning, and I can't help wondering if they are preparing for our arrival right now. I have no idea what to expect but my mind has already painted a picture of a grieving family, a family who mourn the loss of a boy I killed instinctively without even thinking. He charged at me as the gong sounded to start the Games and I lashed out. He died almost instantly, most likely leaving behind a family who will now have to go through the torment of watching his killer being paraded around the country like some kind of heroine.
It is true that I am dreading District Twelve, just like I am dreading all of the other districts, but that doesn't mean I can stop myself from thinking that I am days away from the worst. There are some districts I can't even bear to think of. District Seven will be the first of those, for surely I will see Davena's family, the family she loved with such fierce devotion that even the Capitol stopped to listen when she spoke of them.
Then there will be District Four. That same Capitol is waiting for me to come face to face with the boy who killed Sapphire. It's my own fault for talking of her in my Victor's Interview. I didn't think of it at the time, but the reporters did. They have been waiting to see me introduced to Finnick Odair ever since.
The day we arrive in the fishing district will be only the beginning, for Three and Two follow Four, and that means seeing the relatives of the little girl who haunts my dreams more than any other tribute who was in the arena, even Corvinus. Elsah was thirteen, she was innocent, and every time I go to sleep I hear her screams as she begged me for her life.
I can't bear to think of District Two, of the birthplace of my closest ally, the man who saved my life. The people there are sure to hate me, just like they all will. That's the thing about the Victory Tour; it's nothing more than an extension of the Games, another opportunity for the Capitol to remind the districts exactly who is in control. They will hate me, but they can't show it. I will hate the ceremonies, but I won't be allowed to show it. The whole thing is an endless performance, and the Capitol will never let the show stop.
I am still sitting in exactly the same position hours later. A couple of Avoxes came into the cabin to set the table for dinner, but once I nodded to indicate they could continue, they ignored me totally, did their job and swiftly left. I have seen nobody else since, and as I twist and turn the sapphire pendant that was my district token backwards and forwards, I can't decide if I welcome the solitude or not. When I'm sitting here alone, I almost think that I could do with a distraction from my increasingly morbid and depressed thoughts, but the idea of getting up and finding someone to talk to fills me with horror and makes me snuggle even deeper into my chair.
I only look up when I hear the cabin door slide open, and my ridiculous heart skips a beat when I see Falco, just like it always does. He slowly walks over and stops before my chair to look down at me. I can't help smiling at the thought that we have been in this position before.
"Cashmere de Montfort," he says, and I can tell he is struggling to suppress a smile because he is recalling exactly the same memory.
I sit up slightly. "Can I help you?" I retort, pleased with myself when I manage to keep my voice calm and slightly arrogant, just like it was when we first met on my journey to the Capitol.
Instead of continuing to question me about my motives for volunteering for the Games, this time he leans down and drags me to my feet before sitting down on my chair and pulling me back onto his lap, kissing me in a way he probably shouldn't considering where we are. When he eventually lets me go, I stare up at him, suddenly lost for words.
"And what would you have done if I'd done that the first time we were here?" he asks, laughing at my reaction. "Because I wanted to, even then."
"It's just as well you didn't, you know," I tease. "Career Tributes are dangerous creatures. I could have hurt you, and I'd have regretted it terribly later."
"I think I could have dealt with you, Miss de Montfort, just like I can now," he replies, pulling me tightly against him in a way that miraculously always seems to make my nightmares and memories fade enough so they are bearable.
"I admire the courage behind your misplaced confidence, Mr Hazelwell," I retort instantly before abruptly remembering exactly where I'm going and falling silent once more. "This is where you say something that makes me feel better," I continue eventually when the quiet becomes too much.
He smiles and pulls me even tighter against him but he doesn't speak. Just as I think I have finally said something he can think of no reply to, he laughs, the sound making me cling to him even harder simply because there is no humour in it.
"I saw you before the Games," he says. "Did you know that?"
I shake my head. "How could you have?"
"When I agreed to take over from Septimus, I went to District One to see exactly what I was letting myself in for. I'd only ever seen District Two before and I obviously didn't expect any of the other districts to be quite like there."
I want to ask him what he means by that. I want to ask him about the place Corvinus and Dahlia came from, the place that I will be visiting myself in ten days time, but he puts a finger to my lips to silence my questions.
"When I arrived, they drove me to the Justice Building because the Head Peacekeeper was going to introduce me to the mayor. As I got out of the car, I looked across the square and I saw a young woman in a dark-blue coat leaving one of the shops. She called out to someone and followed him down a side street. She was gone in seconds but I didn't forget her, and I recognised her instantly when she was the first onto the stage on reaping day."
"You didn't tell me."
"It didn't seem important, but it does now," he says, his voice so serious that I pull away slightly so I can look up into his eyes. "I wish I could have left you in District One, Cashmere. If I could have spared you this then I would have. You do know that, don't you?"
"Of course I do," I reply just as seriously, "but not even you can stop sixty-six years of tradition, Falco. I'll be fine. The tour will be over before we know it. All I have to do is smile for the cameras and not let them see I'm crying inside. Exactly like always," I finish with a quick smile.
"I hope you're right," he says, pulling me back against him again.
I get the impression he does it so I can't see the sadness in his eyes, but I say nothing and let him. Talking about it won't make it go away, but sitting here in his arms can chase the nightmare from my mind for a short time, and at the moment that is good enough for me.
We are interrupted some hours later when the door slides open and Felix appears. I smile until I realise he is closely followed by Topaz and Lace, who I have barely seen since the end of the Games despite how we all live in the District One Victor's Village. When I see my former mentors, my smile fades immediately. I stare evenly across at Lace, deliberately not moving, determined not to give her the satisfaction of seeing me jump from Falco's arms like I've been caught doing something I shouldn't. I know we shouldn't flaunt what I suppose can be called our relationship, but she can't prove anything. Besides, who would believe her if she told anyone?
"We'll be there by the morning," Felix tells me as I take my place at the table. I nod in reply but don't speak, so he soon continues. "Do you know what you have to say? Have you remembered it?"
"Yes, I have," I snap back, pretending to be annoyed that he thinks he can treat me like a child. As ever, I can tell by his raised eyebrows that he can see straight through me. "Although I think Gloss knows my lines better than I do," I continue, the harshness gone from my voice.
He laughs. "Falco can recite them too," he replies. "I've heard him."
"As long as he remembers his own lines and isn't too…distracted," interrupts Lace.
"I might be distracted by your obnoxiousness, Lace, but I think that's all that will be a problem," says Falco smoothly in response. Sensibly, my former mentor doesn't speak after that.
Our dinner continues in silence. Topaz tries to talk about the tour, but for once even he picks up on the atmosphere in the room and remains quiet after only one attempt to make conversation. After the Avoxes have brought us three courses I decide that I can't take anymore of this. Even solitude and the company of my nightmares has got to be preferable to this.
"I'm tired now," I say as I rise to my feet. "I'm going to bed."
I walk out of the room before anyone can say anything, not thinking that anyone would want to stop me but not wanting to give them an opportunity.
Less than an hour later I was sitting up in bed screaming, trying desperately to escape the arena that still exists in my mind if not in reality. Once I had calmed down enough to think rationally, for the first time ever, when Falco came to me I tried to send him away. Lace already knows her entirely more sordid version of the truth about us and so him sleeping in my room will only make matters worse however innocent the reason behind it is. Even if by some miracle my former mentor and I were able to have a civilised conversation, I could tell her the truth and she would never believe it.
The fact that Felix finds me curled up in my almost-lover's arms for the second time in as many days when he arrives in the morning to get me ready for our arrival in District Twelve shows exactly how unsuccessful my efforts were. From what I remember of last night, I managed to speak about a sentence in protest against Falco's presence, which was swiftly dismissed and ignored, and then I gave up, allowing myself to take the easier and altogether more favourable option of not having to be alone.
Once again, Felix takes my hand and pulls me to my feet, attempting to smooth the many creases from my nightdress before quickly giving up and leading me from the room without saying a word. He's like Gloss in his apparent acceptance of Falco and I, and I am as grateful as ever for his calm and non-judgemental presence.
After a couple of hours that felt like seconds, I find myself standing in front of the exit door as the tribute train pulls into the District Twelve station. I can see my reflection in the tinted glass that allows neither people waiting on the platform to see in nor people in the train to see out, and I am no longer surprised that the serene-looking and immaculately dressed woman staring back at me in no way reflects the turmoil I am feeling inside.
I look down at the suit that Felix has dressed me in and brush an imaginary speck of dirt from my skirt. It's black, coal black for the coal district, I think suddenly, but the lining of the jacket and the underskirt that shows because it's a few inches longer than the actual skirt are a fine silver silk. There are tiny little stones that sparkle on the jacket's collar. Felix slaps my hand away and actually growls at me when I pick at them in my nervousness. I suppose he would do. These outfits are the difference between success and failure for him, and because of that, I resort to twisting my hands awkwardly in front of me, resisting the temptation to return my attention to my collar.
I look first to my one side and then to the other as Falco takes my left hand and Felix my right, squeezing tightly but not quite tightly enough to stop me shaking. I can see Lace's scowl but I ignore her as she doesn't matter. All I can think is that in a couple of minutes I will be facing the families of two of the tributes who left this place six months ago and will never return home.
The train comes to a halt and I can already hear the clamouring of the people on the other side. The security lock on the door clicks and Falco and Felix release me a second before it is flung open. I am blinded by camera flashes instantly. And so it begins.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed 'Beauty' and said that I should write this - if you hadn't then I wouldn't have got this far :) Let me know what you think or even just that you're reading. Please...
Thanks to be-nice-to-nerds for being my second opinion on virtually every chapter (don't go anywhere because I'll need you more than ever in a few chapters time ;))