Author's Note: Hey guys! Sorry everyone for the delayed update! I had to write for my other story, and I had a severe case of writer's block. But we are slowly progressing here! This is more of a humorous chapter, kind of as a comic relief from all of the serious Games stuff that's been going on. I like to jazz things up. The prep will be next chapter, then the Chariot Rides. Enjoy!
Chapter 6: An Unexpected Pit Stop
I am immediately blinded by sharp bursts of light from the cameras. I desperately try to maintain my smile and keep waving as pleasantly as possible. In reality, all I want to do is grab a knife and slowly torture each and every one of the photographers, then throw their dear devices to the ground. In the background, I perceive a Capitol newscaster reporting our entrance. "Here I am at the train station, where District 2 tributes Cato and Clove have arrived. They both made a stellar impression at the Reaping…"
Cato and me's names are being called by numerous people, directing us to look their way. "Cato! Clove! Over here! No, over here!" I am quite sure that over time, my grin turns into a grimace of sorts. That's one thing I can give to the escorts; how do they always have such a cheerful expression on their faces? I swear, even on their deathbeds, they would likely be laughing and trilling, "Happy Hunger Games!"
The voice of Aurelia penetrates my brain, and I can honestly say that this is the first time I have been glad to hear it. "Come on, we must go now! You don't want to be late for your first appointment with your stylists!" She ushers us off the platform, quickly enough that I think I am prevented from having my face eternally frozen in that scowl and going permanently sightless.
All of us are pushed into a car headed for the Training Center, where we will be prepared for the Chariot Rides. I rub my eyes until they stop watering, but they regardless carry a subtle sting. "My, my!" Aurelia exclaims breathily. "Wasn't that fun? Your first experience with the Capitol paparazzi! I've done it so many times and it still gives me a rush!" So, now I've discovered that escorts are immune to frowns and can handle millions of bright lights flashing in their faces simultaneously. Wow, they are very talented.
"Yes, of course," I say through barred teeth that Aurelia probably mistakes for a smile. "It was so fun. Blindingly fun, in fact." Cato snorts into his palm, and I notice that his eyes seem a bit red as well.
"I agree with Clove," he repeats. "Especially about the part 'blindingly fun'. It was like I couldn't see anything else but that moment. Literally." Aurelia's beam grows wider and she claps her hands together in delight.
"I am so happy you two enjoyed it!" she says. "You should know, the pair last year hated things like this. Well, I told them that they could be as sullen as they want to the crowd, but good luck getting sponsors! And surprise, surprise, they died before the Final Eight. I think you both will make it all the way, though, my instincts tell me these things." She reminds me of my mother in a way. I doubt she cares about my survival, either, just the prestige of being the escort of a victor and all of the Capitol events she will earn tickets to.
"Thanks so much," I say sarcastically. I don't have to worry about her detecting it, though; social clues aren't exactly her forte. "I'm definitely glad my incredibly smart and intuitive escort thinks I can make a go of it. That means a lot." Ah, as much as I hate Aurelia, mocking her is extremely entertaining.
"Same here," Cato says. "I have to admit I was doubting myself a bit, but you really boosted my confidence." Cato Nalir doubting himself? I nearly laugh out loud.
Aurelia places her manicured hand over her heart and sighs. "I am honored that you two value my opinion so much. That is a trademark of a good escort, of course. No wonder I landed such an esteemed District!"
I longingly think of Morla and Borellius, who are tailing us in another car. Yes, it may be fun to initiate sarcasm at Aurelia's expense, but I desperately wish that they, or more specifically Morla, were here to add the smallest bit of sanity to the conversation and give some sweet relief from her Capitol voice. Maybe Borellius isn't my ideal choice for company, but at least he speaks in regular tones. I believe that another vital organ may be at risk here, since I could go deaf from having to listen to Aurelia and my stylists all day.
Before any of us can say another word, the vehicle jerks and abruptly stops. I see that we are not anywhere near a building that remotely resembles the Training Center, so the car must have broken down. Smoke billows around us, clouding up the windows. "What in Panem is going on here?" Aurelia demands. Shocker, apparently she is capable of any other emotion besides happiness.
The driver, who has blue hair and jewels embedded into his skin, turns around to face us. "The engine busted," he says matter-of-factly, splaying his hands out in a what-can-I-do gesture. This throws Aurelia into a comical frenzy, fanning herself and flapping her hands about wildly.
"The engine busted? That means if you don't fix it, they're going to be late for their styling! Do you know how bad that is for all of us? My job as an escort is to get the tributes where they need to be on time, and this certainly isn't helping!" She gasps as a new realization dawns on her. "I could be fired, or God forbid…get moved down to another District! I order that you go out there and take a look right now!" She crosses her arms and gives a haughty sniff, which makes Cato and I chortle even harder than we already were. My eyes are tearing up, but for a good reason.
The driver shrugs. "Alright, but I don't think I can help it. Problems of this sort need a proper mechanic." He goes outside and lifts up the front part of the car, closely examining the gears.
Aurelia only now senses our amusement, and turns her glare on us. "How dare you two laugh about this? This is a very dire matter that hurts you just as well as me! If we don't hurry, your stylists may not be able to finish dressing you! You could have to go out with half-finished costumes, and imagine the impact that would have on your sponsorship!" I suppose that she does have a valid point, but her hysterical reaction to the situation is just too hilarious to take seriously.
However, for the sake of avoiding a tedious lecture, I quickly morph my features into the best remorseful appearance I can muster. "I'm sorry," I apologize. As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I begin to snicker again at what is going to come out of my mouth next. "I know I'm speaking for the both of us when I say that it was so wrong of me, and I should never laugh at the expense of my smart, intuitive escort." I hardly make it through this sentence without bursting into maniacal laughter again. I can tell that Cato is holding back his chuckles as well. "You are completely right about everything, and it did not warrant ridicule from me. Let me repeat, I am deeply, deeply sorry." I am laughing now, really laughing, and Aurelia's eyes narrow even more.
"Fine, then," she says, positioning herself towards the window and sniffs haughtily. Right at that moment, the driver clambers back into the car.
"Bad news," he says. "The vehicle must be towed away to be fixed. I'm afraid you have to find a different ride." Aurelia looks like she might faint, and begins to hyperventilate.
"This…is…an…outrage!" she practically screams. "This has never happened before! The tributes are supposed to have quality cars that take them places efficiently and speedily. What are we going to do? You just expect us to hail down some random car and take that to the Training Center? How undignified!"
The driver shakes his head. "Of course not, Miss Trinket. I've notified one of my partners in the business, and he is sending another car down to retrieve you. Unfortunately, the headquarters are on the other side of the Capitol, so it may take a while. Say…about half of an hour? The Training Center is only about three more miles from here, so another option is going by foot. It may be quicker." I actually would prefer walking, as I have been holed up in the train for the past day and need some exercise. And to contradict Aurelia, of course, since I'm certain that she won't agree; that could result in her breaking the heel of her ridiculously high shoe.
She seethes and takes small breaths through her teeth. "Wait or walk?" Aurelia shrieks. She makes it sound as if those are the two worst possible choices that she could ever be presented with. "I am someone of high status! And what do I get in return for my hard work? Accommodations like this?"
The driver throws up his hands in defeat, obviously irritated with Aurelia's constant complaints. I wonder why he is being so patient with her; if I were in his position she would be half dead. "Miss, I'm sorry, but that's all I can do." Something beeps, and he slaps a button on the control panel. "It looks like the towing truck is here." He says this is a rather relieved voice, happy to get us out of his sight. "You don't have to make your decision now. If you want to wait for the car, stand right there until a green car in the same style as this one parks at the sidewalk." He points to a little shelter that is open on both sides. "And if you want to walk, here is a map that will help you navigate." He hands me a piece of paper with numerous meaningless squiggles on the front, and gets out to open the doors for us.
We step down and into the open, right next to a shiny glass building that bends in alarming ways. "Good luck," he says, and climbs into the tow truck, which begins to drag the car away.
Aurelia looks like she is going to throw a temper tantrum right here on the sidewalk. In a sudden change of hearts, she takes a deep breath and plasters on a blatantly fake smile. "Well, what's done is done," she says, adapting back to her usual cheerful voice. I can still detect a slight wobble, though. "So, what do you two think we should do?"
"How about we take a vote?" Cato suggests with a smirk. I know what he's thinking; I'm thinking the same thing.
"Alright," Aurelia says. "I vote for waiting for the car. It can't take that long, can it? And its worst to have to walk when everyone can see us; that's what the street bums do!"
"I say we should walk," Cato says without further explanation.
"Me, too," I agree with a smile. Aurelia blanches.
"Never mind…let's go back on the vote," she says cheerily. "I'm your escort, and I'm in charge of you. What I decide is what we do." She straightens her coat and heads in the way of the shelter. Cato and I shake our heads.
"We already settled on a vote, and the vote has been resolved." I remind her. "Now let's go. We don't want to be late, do we?" Cato grabs the map out of my hand and begins to walk. I follow him, keeping up with his long strides.
Behind us, I hear cries of protest from Aurelia. "Wait! No….Hold up, I'm coming!" The sound of someone breaking into a run fills my ears. Snap! I look back just in time to see her heel break in two. She collapses to the ground and moans.
"What will I do?" she asks sadly, holding up her broken shoe. This walk just got more enjoyable. I go over to her sprawled figure, take the shoe from her hand, and hurl it into the street. Aurelia gasps in horror.
"Give me the other one," I say menacingly.
"Huh?" she says, confused.
"I said, 'Give me the other one," I repeat. "Don't make me pull it off your foot." She slowly takes it off and grants it to me. I throw that one in the opposite direction. "You're going to have to go barefoot," I tell her. By her reaction, she seems like she's never heard those two words. "It means without shoes," I explain. I saunter back to where Cato is standing and watch her drag herself back to a standing position. We begin to walk again, but I abruptly stop and turn back around to face Aurelia. "Oh, I forgot to mention, watch out for the bugs."
"Bugs?" she says in disgust.
I nod. "Yes, I read in school that all over Panem, there are these miniscule bugs infesting the ground. You can't see them, but they're there. If you step on one barefoot, they burrow into your skin and plant their eggs in your body. So be careful." Aurelia converts to her tiptoes and starts waddling, squealing with every step. I resume walking normally beside Cato.
He looks at me and smiles. "Not bad," he says approvingly. "Not bad at all."