Fandom: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Title: 1: Thy Rod and thy Staff
Characters/pairings: Gloss, Cashmere
Genre: Family & Drama
Prompt: Psalm 23:4.
Summary: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me."
Disclaimer: Anything familiar? If so, not mine.
Notes: Decided to start a little series of one shots, each one following the life of a character from all of the districts. This is District One, obviously. Look out for the next one on my profile.
Thy Rod and thy Staff
Even though most people have their own televisions in District One, it's a tradition that the Careers meet in the town center and watch the Games on the huge screen that the Peacekeepers set up in front of the Justice Building every year. Some of the eighteen year olds – who know they'll never be eligible for the Games again – bring bottles of champagne and uncork them when the gong rings and the bloodbath begins. And we'll all watch in awe as the fizzing alcohol spouting in the air mingles with the image of blood spurting on the screen.
Once the bloodbath is over, we pass the bottles through the audience, taking sips and smiling at the tingling sensation that the bubbly stuff leaves on our tongues.
Further and further into the Games – when it becomes obvious who has the greatest chance of living – we dissect the tactics of each tribute, pointing out flaws in their form and plans. I've always rooted for the tribute that's got the best form, but Cashmere always scoffs beside me and tells me that it isn't just physique that gets you to win but a good plan.
But this year, I don't root for the boy from District Four – an eighteen year old named Gilford who's obviously got the least weaknesses in his fighting style – and I don't sip the champagne and I don't smile at all.
I just watch Cashmere on the screen and pray she doesn't do something stupid and die on me.
There are only three tributes left alive, and there's a hole where my stomach should be. The boy from District Six, Gilford, and Cashmere. Gilford and Cashmere seem to have made some silent agreement to stay teamed up until they've killed the boy from District Six, and I'm dreading the showdown between the two of them.
It's getting dark outside quickly, and everyone's eyes are glued to the screen – watching the boy from District Six set up camp in a tree – so no one can see my lips moving in prayer.
Please, God. Just… I don't know. Let Cashmere win, please. I don't care how. She's my sister…And if she is going to die… make sure she puts up a good fight? Please?
Losing isn't just death here in District One. It's eternal shame.
The scene on the big screen cuts to Cashmere and Gilford, settling down for the night right next to each other. For a moment, it seems like they're just curling up to sleep – apparently unafraid of the meager threat that the boy from District Six poses – and then they're suddenly all over each other, crashing their teeth together, knotting their fingers in each other's hair. The camera moves for a close-up, and I can see that Gilford has his eyes closed.
Cashmere's are open.
When his hand slips under her shirt, hers slips in his back pocket.
In the history of the Games, there's never been a single moment when I've wanted to look away more than right now. Sure, there have been encounters of the sexual kind in the arena before – it's kind of unavoidable when you stick a bunch of teenagers in a high tension situation – but… that's my sister that guy's groping.
I'm so wrapped up in my desire to reach through the screen and pull him away from her that almost I miss it when Cashmere pulls the knife out of his pocket and stabs him in the back with it.
As he falls towards the ground, she catches him, lays him down carefully. There's blood on their lips, and he's coughing up a storm until she drapes herself on top of him and kisses him until a cannon sounds.
When she sits back up, she smiles wide – right at the camera.
Her mouth is stained red.
"You're holding it wrong, Gloss," Cashmere declares from her place across the room, sprawled out in our father's armchair and spinning a kitchen knife in her hand.
Groaning, I drop the broom handle on the ground with a clatter and fall onto the sofa. I bring my hands up to my face and peer at Cashmere through my fingers, watching her shake out the loose curls in her hair and pat down stray wisps around her part. "It doesn't feel natural," I sigh, cringing at the way my voice cracks on the word "natural." It's started doing that since I turned twelve last week, and I can't help but envy the way Cashmere can seem so graceful in the most awkward stage of our young lives.
"It's not about what feels natural." She weighs the knife in her hand before tossing it up. It spins three times before she darts out and catches it midair by the handle. "It's about what's right. The last left handed victor was Chaff from District Eleven, and look what happened to him.
We share a look – her eyes a perfect forest green and mine hidden behind my fingers – until I roll off the sofa and land hard on my hands and knees. Standing, I scoop up the broom handle and curl my right hand around it, pretending it's a dual-spiked rod just like the one at the Training Center. After a moment of fumbling, I manage the perfect position – thumb resting on my ring finger, index extended over the length of the rod, feet spread but not too far apart. I turn to Cashmere, but she's not paying attention to me anymore.
The sound of a single pair of hands clapping comes from behind me, and I whip around, raising the rod in anticipation. But it's just our father, standing tall and imposing in the threshold between the living room and the kitchen.
I'll never admit it, but our father frightens me – just a little bit. He acts as the foreman in the factory that refines the precious gems that Districts One and Two dig out of the earth, and I sometimes think the only reason he got that job is because of his subtly threatening presence.
"Perfect form, Gloss. We'll have a victor in the family yet." He begins to turn into the kitchen and pauses. "Have either of you two seen your mother today?"
"She wasn't feeling well," Cashmere supplies. She's standing now, her knees bent forward as if our father's chair was on fire. Moments like this, I realize that our father scares her too. "I think she went to bed."
Sunlight still peaks through the windows, but neither of us dares to point that out.
"Fine then," our father exhales. Gliding around the coffee table, he waits for Cashmere to stumble away before lying back in his armchair. "Cashmere." She perks up, eyebrows skyrocketing. "Dinner." With a wave of his hand, she nods and runs into the kitchen. "Gloss," he says, quirking his lips and pulling an ankle over his knee. He seems so posed and poised that I'm momentarily distracted. "Show me that form again."
Obediently, I fumble my way back into position, searching his face for approval. He frowns, stands in one, lithe movement, and skirts around the table again. Reaching out one long, tapered hand, he knocks the broom handle from my grip.
"Again. Quicker this time. And a firmer grip."
Cashmere swipes the staff across my ankles, but I manage to jump away before she can knock my balance off-kilter. Using my own rod as a foundation, I pole-vault into a two-legged kick, aimed at the space where her stomach meets her ribcage. At the last moment, she parries out of the way, and I'm forced to roll over my shoulder and come up in a crouch. Enough time for her to train her staff on the back of my neck, the dulled stiletto blade at its end digging into my skin.
"I win again, little brother." I can hear the smirk in her voice.
When she finally pulls the blade away, I heave myself off the ground and turn. Of its own volition, my arm reaches up to palm the cold spot left on the nape of my neck. "Please," I tease. "You say that like it's a regular occurrence."
Cashmere pushes her hair over her shoulder. "I'd say three in a row is regular enough."
"Indeed," says Lace Wagner, thumbing the pronounced cleft in his chin. He was the victor of the Forty-seventh Hunger Games, and ever since, he's helped Careers prepare for their own forays into renown. Under his direction, District One has brought home three victors in the past sixteen years. "I'd say you're deserving of," Lace licks his lips and gives Cashmere a once over, "one-on-one tutelage."
Cashmere's mouth breaks into a grin and her eyes go wide. "Oh my God, really? Would you?"
Narrowing his eyes, Lace smirks. Something about it seems predatory. It gives me the willies. "Of course. We'll start tonight. After everyone leaves." And at that, he saunters off, inspecting other Careers' mock-battles and taking a moment to correct one girl's form so that she doesn't rely too heavily on her left leg.
"Did you… Did that really just happen?" asks Cashmere, obviously still star-struck. She runs a finger over the stiletto at the end of her staff. "Can you believe it? A victor wants to teach me one-on-one."
I smile hesitantly, but a cold feeling settles in my gut when I think about the way he looked at her. "That's great." The enthusiasm in my voice falls a little flat. "But are you… Are you sure it's a good idea?"
"Sure it is. You're just jealous he didn't ask you."
A shipment of rose quartz – which has been a hit in the Capitol recently – just came from District Two today, and our father is staying at the factory late tonight in order to oversee the sanding and refining of the stones. And Cashmere's gone out with a few of her friends. So the house is silent and feels empty. It's so quiet, I can hear the creaking of the walls whenever a particularly strong gust of wind hits the side of the house.
For a while, I take a broom handle and practice my staff work, parrying and lunging at an invisible opponent that stands behind the coffee table in the sitting room. I imagine that it's our father. That the upward kick I just sent through the air cracked his jaw. That the floor-level sweep I just delivered with the makeshift staff knocked him off his feet. Honestly, I'm not sure why I'm fantasizing about beating up our father. But it gives me a feeling of satisfaction that I can't quite describe.
After a few embarrassing acts of overbalancing and falling to the ground, the broom sparring gets boring and I drop into our father's armchair, kicking my feet onto the smooth wood of the coffee table. Straining my shoulders and fingers, I reach forward and grab the copy of History of Panem and open it to a random page.
"Following the uprisings led by organized terrorists in the districts, a council of Senate members met to discuss the future of Panem. At this meeting, the first draft of the Treaty of Peace was written, including accords such as the development of a more efficient system of law-enforcing Peacekeepers holding government-funded residence within assigned districts, a no-arms policy among the districts in which any perceived weapon must be used exclusively under the supervision of Peacekeepers or approved officials, and – most famously – the establishment of the Hunger Games…"
As soon as I read the word Games, I throw the book back on the coffee table and curl my legs under me. Because when push comes to shove, the Hunger Games is what dictates my whole life. No matter how much fun I have doing it, the six hours a day I spend training in the building on the edge of Victors' Village is in preparation, and when I reach eighteen, it's my duty to try my hardest to be chosen to compete.
If I don't manage to volunteer, I'm considered mediocre.
If I don't manage it win, I'm considered a failure.
If I don't come home in a silver casket, I'm considered a hero.
The very thought – and the outcome that I'd most prefer – has me jumping to my feet again and scooping the broom handle off the ground. I fall into the opening sparring pose – it's less awkward and clumsy than it once was, partially because our father wouldn't let me eat dinner until I perfected it, partially because I've finally gotten used to my right hand.
This time, I imagine I'm fighting a faceless tribute from District Two – eighteen years old and a much better fighter than the twelve year old boy from District Nine who'll be my first kill in the arena two years from this moment.
I shoot a little request through the creaking roof of our house and into the sky.
Let me win, make them proud, let me win.
Cashmere is late.
It's been three weeks since she started working one-on-one with Lace Wagner after everyone else has gone home, and she's always gotten home just before the sun melts into the horizon. But tonight it's already dark out and she's still not back.
"Do you think we should—?" I begin to ask. Our father interrupts me.
"I wouldn't worry," he says, not even bothering to spare me a glance. He continues reading the Capitol-approved History of Panem while my mother silently shakes beside me on the sofa.
"What do you think, Mother?" I ask.
Her eyes twist around wildly in their sockets, darting between me and Father. She weaves her spindly hands together and then apart again.
Our father looks up from his book, locking his imperious gaze on me, making me feel an inch tall. "I said," he says, his tone strained in a way that makes his voice seem like a piece of stretched out taffy. The ones that the boys in town give to Cashmere in a bid to win her affections. She's given me pieces, and I've always found them a little too sweet. "We needn't worry. If you feel the need to press this issue, Gloss, then I politely ask you to go to your room and refrain from interrupting my reading any further."
Exhaling through my nose, I make my way out of the living room, through the kitchen, and into the bedroom Cashmere and I share, plunking down on my bed.
Lying like that in the near dark, I try to distract myself by falling asleep. When that inevitably doesn't work, I pray.
Um, hey, God. It's been a while, huh? I just wanted to ask you to make sure that, uh, Cashmere's okay. And make sure she gets home safely.
Before I can make a fool out of myself any further, I hear yelling from the front of the house. It must be Cashmere, and I'm out of bed, scrambling to the front door before my thoughts can continue.
By the time I make it into the front room, I'm only able to catch the tail-end of the shouting match.
"—the hell were you thinking? He's a victor. Do you have any idea what this does to our family's reputation? To my upstanding at work? How could you have been so selfish?" Our father spits at Cashmere's feet, his hair disheveled and his carefully pressed suit rumpled. I've never seen him like this, and I'm not sure whether to be more or less scared of this alien man-of-rage that replaced our cold, hard father.
"Father," blubbers Cashmere, her eyes puffy and inflamed, tears tracing little rivers down her cheeks. I've never seen her like this either, and that definitely scares me. "You- You have to understand. He was trying to—"
A hand extends from our father's side and darts downward on Cashmere's head. The cracking noise that the slap makes echoes through the whole house, and it's done with such force and decisiveness that Cashmere falls to the ground. "Not another word," our father says. "You're just lucky that Mr. Wagner refrained from pressing charges." Reaching down, he yanks her up by her shoulder. "Off to your room, daughter." His voice drops low, but I can still hear his next words crystal clear. "Get out of my sight."
I scamper off to my room – moving as silently as I can – and Cashmere arrives only seconds after I land on my bed. She sits down on mine, sniffing softly in the darkness. In sync – we've done it since we were little – we both move to sit cross-legged – our knees hitting each other – and lean our foreheads against one another. I can't make out much of her face in the dark – even this close-up – but the tear-tracks shimmer in the light of the moon that pools through the window.
"What happened, Cash?"
"Oh, Gloss," she moans. Her arms reach around my torso, pulling us even closer together. I pat her on the back with an open palm. "You were right. About… Lace. About everything."
I'm scared of what she might say, but I ask anyway. "What did he do?"
Fingering the fabric of my shirt between her thumb and index finger, Cashmere bites her lip. When she finally speaks, a trickle of blood crawls down her chin. "He… He tried to…" She takes a shuddering breath. "He tried to… you know… to me."
"Oh, God." I'm feeling so queasy my throat is knotted. "He… didn't actually do it, though, did he? Just… tried to?"
She shakes her head, and it moves mine too. "No, he… I… I stopped him. I… hurt him."
Grasping her fingers in mine, I remove them from my shoulders and bring them down between us, so they rest in our laps. I knot them together, for good measure. So that she knows I'm here with her. So that Iknow she's here with me. "You hurt him? How?"
"Scratched him in the face," she whispers. Then, her face breaks into a wry smile. "Kneed him in the balls too."
At that, I smirk. "Good girl."
"But, Gloss," Cashmere whines, losing the smile as quickly as it came. She squeezes my hands hard. "He reported me to the Peacekeepers. Told them that I just… attacked him out of the blue."
"Well, what did you say, Cashmere?"
Her face crumples, lowering her pale brows, twisting her lips, wrinkling her nose. "It doesn't matter what I said. He's a victor."
They won't let Cashmere come to the Training Center anymore. When I get home, I always find her going through forms with the broom handle or throwing knives at a little target she drew on the wall inside our closet.
She hasn't given up yet.
"Mingle. Show them that District One still has winners," our father whispers from behind me. His hand is resting on my shoulder – weighing more than a hand should – and his head is tilted down so that his chin is hovering between Cashmere and me. "And don't," he growls. I notice that his head is more inclined towards Cashmere. "Make a fool of yourself."
The tight grip on my shoulder relaxes then disappears, and I watch our father walk straight-backed into the Justice Building ballroom, his coattails flapping behind him. After a good minute of staring after him – even long after I've lost sight of him in the crowd of Victory Tour guests – I loosen my tie and unbutton my jacket, which is a little too small for me. A cold hand wraps around mine, and I glance at Cashmere from the corner of my eye. She nods. We step into the crowd.
There's a hostile undertone in the Justice Building, captured in the sidelong stares and pinched, badly concealed scowls on the faces of the District One citizens. No one wants to celebrate the victory of that boy from District Four who killed Amethyst Mongeon in the most embarrassing way possible. But this is District One, and we're too proud to throw a half-assed party, no matter how slimy the guest of honor is.
"Do you think we'll see him?" asks Cashmere. It takes me a second to realize that she's not talking about the newly crowned victor.
"Lace?" Judging by the scowl that mars her forehead, that's exactly who she was talking about. "I doubt…Yeah. Probably."
"Ugh," Cashmere groans. She rips her hand from mine and crosses her arms, slumping down in an unoccupied seat. "I hate this. Suddenly I'm a social pariah because I 'attacked a victor.'"
"You attacked a victor?" says a smooth voice from behind me. Before I can turn, a boy shoulders by me and leans close to Cashmere, a smirk alight on his lips. "I'm a victor," he purrs. A hand reaches up to dishevel his copper colored hair. "Want to attack me?"
Cashmere scowls and bites her lip.
I act before I think. Gripping the boy's shoulder hard – inexplicitly reminding me of our father, just for a moment – I yank him around and get my first good look at his face. Of course, it's the sleaze ball victor acting as guest of honor tonight. When I inspect his too-perfect features, I'm reminded of the way blood stained them when he was ripping a trident through the other tributes. But that doesn't stop me from growling at him in a way that would make our father proud. Or angry, considering who I'm growling at.
"I'd like to attack you," I say.
He reaches up to twist my arm, but I pull him towards me then push him away, taking a little satisfaction at the way he staggers to catch his balance. I wonder who would win if I was the District One tribute in the Sixty-fifth Hunger Games. Would he still be victor?
"Boyfriend?" he asks, having lost the cocky undertone he had just a second ago.
"Huh." Glancing back and forth between us, he nods, smiling easily. "I can see that. She's a lot prettier, though. No offense."
Instinctually, protectively, I step towards Cashmere, despite knowing that she can handle herself just fine. "Yeah. You sure like District One girls, don't you?"
He shrugs. "What can I say? District One is known for its pretty things."
It's then that I realize that he's the first person I've ever spoken to that's not from District One.
Is that all we're known for? Pretty things?
"Gloss? Gloss, are you awake?"
Moaning, I turn away from the hushed voice, burying my face in my pillow. The light seeping into the bedroom Cashmere and I share is pale and grey, and I can tell it's early morning by the subdued calls of the mockingjays and chickadees that sometimes fly over the electric fence at the edge of the district. Sometimes, I'll throw rocks at them as target practice. Even though my size makes me more inclined towards melee, I have pretty good aim, and the feathers of a mockingjay can go for a pretty penny.
"Gloss," the voice hisses. "Are you—?"
"No," I grumble. "Leave me alone." But I'm awake now, and I learned years ago that I can never fall back asleep once I wake. So – rubbing my eyes and smoothing back my hair – I sit up and turn towards the source of the obnoxious voice. "What, Cashmere?"
"I…" Cashmere is one of those incorrigible people who wake up every morning looking perfect, but this morning, her eyes are so bloodshot that the whites look red. "Today's reaping day."
"So?" Reaping day is only important if you're eighteen. Cashmere's only seventeen and I'm still sixteen. Any younger than eighteen, and it's just a day to sleep in and show some District One patriotism at the ceremony.
Cashmere bites the corner of her lip, worrying it with her teeth. She won't look at me, and a little bit of panic builds in my chest. "I've been thinking," she says, each word laden with a seriousness I wasn't sure she was even capable of.
"About what?" I ask, trying really hard not to get worried. "Don't tell me you've turned into an Outlier." It's a term used to describe people who believe the Games are wrong and barbaric – because that's what the outlying districts say about them. Sometimes, I feel that way – that over sixty years of Hunger Games is more than enough to make up for seven months of uprisings – but I know that our father doesn't.
"No. Of course not."
Cashmere's pretty quiet for the rest of the day, and I wrack my brains trying to figure out why. I try to think of all the eighteen year olds she knows who might volunteer, but I can only come up with two.
"Is this about the butcher's son?" I ask as we walk to the square. "I know you like him." She's had a crush on him for a while now, mostly because he's the first boy she's ever found who isn't interested in her. I also know that he's queer, ever since he kissed me behind the Training Center then got upset when I punched him out. But I've never actually had the heart to tell Cashmere about that.
"Oh my God," she exclaims, suddenly much less somber and resigned. Stopping in the middle of the path, she grabs my arm, digging her nails into my skin. "You don't think he's going to volunteer, do you?"
"Well… I guess he might."
She curses, which freaks me out even more. Cursing goes against the unspoken social code in District One, and if our father were here, she'd be in serious trouble. In fact, some people walking by us hear and shake their heads, as if they were expecting this kind of behavior from her. I hear somebody mumble something rude about her, but I can't tell who it was.
"Hey," I call out to their backs. "Leave her alone." My voice shakes a little bit, and now I kind of want to curse too.
"Forget about them," says Cashmere. We've reached the square and we're about to split up, but before she goes, she pulls me into a tight hug and whispers in my ear, "They won't matter soon."
My stomach drops, and I want to say something. But before I get the words out, she disentangles herself from my arms and disappears into the throng of girls between twelve and eighteen.
She volunteers, of course, before the escort can even finish reading the little white slip.
It's always a confusing situation when the Capitol comes to District One to interview the family and friends of the tributes that made it to the top eight. At that point, everyone is in an ambiguous state. They've already volunteered – which is an honor – but they haven't won yet. It's tricky.
I bite my tongue.
Two weeks after returning home from her victory, Cashmere waits outside my house until I leave to go into town. Rain punches the ground in sheets, leaving the pathway muddy and soaked. I hardly recognize my older sister until I'm two feet from her. Her hair is drenched, the blonde turned brown and the curls turned straight by the rain. She's thinner too, and sickly pale.
"Gloss," she murmurs. Her voice is hoarse. "Come live with me."
The desperation on her face breaks my heart, but my stomach still flutters and my lips still twitch. "Cashmere, I would—"
"Please," she moans, toppling into my arms. Her shoulders shake and high pitched gasps rip from her mouth. "Please, come live with me."
Drawing her away from me, I meet her eyes, which are already red and puffy. No matter how beautiful she is, Cashmere's never been a pretty crier.
That's something I know about her that no one else in Panem ever will.
"Of course I'll live with you," I say gently. I wrap my arms around her and rub little circles in her back. "Of course."
Living with Cashmere is harder than I thought it would be.
There are no screams, but I can hear the stairs and floorboards squeak in the middle of the night, and I know that she's been having bad dreams. But whenever I tear myself away from my bed and follow her footsteps into the kitchen, she offers me a tall glass of cold water – just like the glass that's invariably clutched in her hands – and silently begs me to ignore the red rimming her eyes.
Because we've always been taught that crying is weakness. And to acknowledge her tears is to acknowledge her weakness.
It only gets worse when she starts making trips to the Capitol, trips she refuses to explain to me but always comes home from in a state of disrepair.
The first time, she was gone for almost a week. And when she got back, she curled up in the shower and hugged her legs, rocking slightly and burying her face in her knees. She yelled something at me when I tried to get close to her, so high pitched and loud that I couldn't even understand what she said. So I had to coax her out with my words alone, which was so hard and took so long that I wanted to give up.
I'm no good with words. There are so many things I want to say sometimes that they all get jumbled up before they can make it past my lips. So I just don't say anything unless I have to. So I just keep bit my tongue.
After that first time, she just stays in her bed for days on end without leaving. Without eating or showering or even sleeping. She cries, though; I can hear her sobbing in the middle of the night.
Then, one day, she just… snaps.
I'm standing in front of the fridge in the kitchen – contemplating whether or not it's a good time to make a run into town and buy more meat from the butcher – when I hear a crash and a yell from upstairs.
I take the stairs two at a time, leaving the fridge door open behind me.
Her bedroom is in a state of complete disarray, clothes covering the ground like a fresh sheet of snow, pillows leaking feathers, mattress hanging crookedly off the side of her bed. The dresser is flipped over, and shards of mirror glass litter the floor surrounding it.
And in the middle of it all is Cashmere, sitting in the mess and throwing pieces of the reflective glass at her closet door.
"What the hell?" I exclaim. I tiptoe around the broken mirror and drop into a squat next to my big sister – who suddenly seems so little. "God, Cashmere, what's the matter with you?"
I don't mean to sound harsh, but things have come to a head, and I don't know how long I can take her erratic behavior before I go off the deep end myself.
"Oh, Gloss," she laughs. Her voice doesn't even sound like a voice, it's so hollow and sad and dead. "Haven't you heard? There is no God in Panem."
"I'm going to volunteer," I tell Cashmere, stabbing a cube of meat on my plate and bringing it up to my mouth. This morning, I walked to town and bought a few prime cuts of beef from the butcher's son, who asked me about Cashmere. I told him she was doing just fine, thanks for asking, even though it's pretty obvious to anyone who's encountered her lately that she's not.
Blood pools in the skin under Cashmere's fingernails – turning the tips white – and her hand shakes, muscles straining to crush her metal fork into dust. She places it on her plate and smoothes down the wrinkles in her shirt. But her nostrils are still flared. "No."
Still chewing fatty strains of meat, I say, "There's nothing you can say that's going to stop me. I'm almost eighteen this year. I'm a Career. I'm going to volunteer, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
Because you made it pretty clear to me last night when you were sobbing into my shirt that this… whatever is going on with you… is somehow my fault.
"Just think about it, Cashmere," I say instead. "Legacies are a big thing, but just imagine what it would be like if there was a brother and sister duo of victors. That's never happened before."
She scowls, and I briefly wonder whether I should have just said what I really meant in lieu of some cocky, shallow, and completely untrue remark about legacies.
I keep chewing on my cut of beef, waiting for her to say something – anything – but she stays silent and stoic. I've never been surrounded by this much quiet before, not since that night in the sitting room almost three years ago reading the History of Panem.
It's only when I'm taking our empty plates to the sink to wash that she speaks.
"Did you like the beef?"
"Huh?" I'm not sure how to react. Is she just ignoring everything I said earlier? "Um, yeah. It was good. I asked for the best cut the butcher has to offer. Oh, and, uh, the butcher's son says… hi."
Cashmere smiles a little at the mention of the butcher's son, shakes her head – as if dismissing the childish notion of ever liking him. "I'm glad you liked it," she says, sweeter than she's ever been to me. "Because that was the last meal you're having for the next three days."
I drop the plate. It lands with a dull clang in the sink. "What?"
"That's the outlying districts' only advantage," she murmurs, eyes far off. I can tell she's remembering something from one of her many times in the Capitol – probably the first. "They know how to be hungry."
I want to ask her what happens when she visits the Capitol that makes victors fall to their knees and cry and rave. But I don't.
"He's gorgeous," gushes my stylist, a woman named Calpurnia who is apparently known for both her vapid nature and her impeccable ability to design stunning outfits. She turns to Cashmere – who's technically not supposed to be here – and beams. "Like a male you."
Cashmere, however, looks unhappy with the comparison. She's been a completely different person since the train ride to the Capitol. "He's… adequate at best. Look at his skin; acne like that is indecent." – Before the reaping and on the train ride, she forced me to wash my face with cooking grease – "His nose is too thin, his eyes are too far apart, his lips are too full, his neck is too thick, and…" Her eyes dart to the place where my legs meet my torso, and I'm more aware than ever that I'm standing naked in front of my sister and some strange woman. "He's small."
Which is completely untrue.
I dig my nails into my palms but stop myself from uttering some kind of retort, partly because I can't think of anything to say in response to the blatant criticism directed towards my manhood. And because there has to be some reason Cashmere said all those things, even if I don't know what that reason is.
"Now." Stepping towards me, she musses up my hair. "His hairstyle is done. Whatever gunk you were planning to put on his face to hide that deplorable skin, forget about it." Her tone, her manner, her word choice – everything about her reminded me of our father's distant, patronizing demeanor. "It's a lost cause, not even worth your time."
"But Cashmere—" Calpurnia begins. She fiddles with the intricate weave of beads in her hair when Cashmere cuts her off, looking like a small child scolded for speaking out of turn.
"If he comes out on his chariot and I see that you did anything to fix his face, I'll ruin you." And I get the feeling that she could and would.
Calpurnia just nods.
"Good," Cashmere declares, and that one word sounds so much like Father that I wonder if she's purposefully channeling him. "And use the costume I had you make during my last visit."
Calpurnia looks afraid to speak, and I almost feel bad for her. "But… The measurements you gave me are significantly larger than… his measurements. I…" The woman sighs and gathers her shaking hands together into one big mess of fingers. "Alright. The costume with the measurements you gave me."
Needless to say, I'm the frumpiest tribute District One has ever seen.
The night before my first foray into the arena, Cashmere sneaks into my room and sits down on my bed. We pull ourselves together the same way we always have, cross-legged, knees knocking, foreheads pressed against each other.
"I won't be able to see you before you go into the arena tomorrow," Cashmere whispers. "But I want you to know that I'll be with you. The whole time."
"Oh, Cashmere," I murmur back. "Haven't you heard? We'll never be apart."