A/N: I never thought I'd say it, but I started to wonder what The Hunger Games series would be like if it were a romantic comedy and a satire of reality television and how celebrities are portrayed to the public. This is a modern day piece that takes place in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles when Katniss and Peeta are around 18/19 years old. All song lyrics are mine (and terrible) and I've totally been singing the songs all week while I wrote this. Also, I love reality TV and totally stalk celebrity couples on tumblr, so I mean no offense to those who are fans of the concepts. I am one of you.
Katniss Everdeen flipped open the tarnished buckles of her guitar case and lifted the instrument to her lap. She was hardly a professional, in fact she only knew a few basic chords, but it was enough to get by. When she first started performing she used a CD player as a backing track. She'd come a long way since then. Her calloused fingers tested the tension of the strings along the neck of the guitar. She plucked a few notes and twisted the keys at the head until the pitch was to her liking. Setting it back in its case, she moved to the mirror.
The bulbs lining the edge were bright and she had to squint to inspect her reflection. Her gaze lifted to her hair. The curls she once thought of as soft and beautiful were limp and frizzing. Her eyes that were painted smoldering now looked dull and sunken. Finally she looked to her lips. The shade of her lipstick looked ridiculous against her olive skin. She shut her eyes tightly for a moment and then opened them again. No improvement. Taking a step back, she combed her fingers through her lifeless curls and quickly braided her hair down her back. She looked better with it pulled back, she decided and then vowed not to look at her reflection again.
Tonight was a career making night for her. She had played this bar a few times before. She had played a lot of bars along East Carson Street, but The Seam was by far her favorite. It was cleverly named after the Pittsburgh Coal Seam and themed as such. Thursday nights you could mine your own path on a wall length ice luge with a pickaxe. They specialized in a series of flaming shots using goldschlager (nobody was dumb enough to drink a shot full of fake diamonds.) The wait staff wore cutoff denim shorts, tight white tank tops, and a helmet with a light attached to the top. All things she found to be not at all tacky.
Truthfully, the only reason she favored The Seam was because Gale Hawthorne was the bartender there. He was her best friend growing up and that relationship was one of the few she had maintained into her adult life. He was also the one who got her the gig (after learning that she and her sister, Prim were living out of her '98 Civic.)
There was a tap at the door of the storage closet that doubled as a dressing room for the entertainment. Katniss fisted a bundle of tissues to blot at the remnants of color that stained her lips. "Come in," she called, her voice muffled behind the tissues.
Gale poked his head from behind the door, the hardhat of his uniform crooked on the top of his head. His gray eyes flickered down the length of her body before he scowled. "Will you stop doing that," he said at her fussing. "You look real nice."
Katniss dropped the ball of tissues to the trashcan by her mirror and licked her lips, tasting the papery remnants that now colored them like powdered sugar. She frowned. "Is he really here?"
"We've gone through two bottles of Wild Turkey and the sun's still out," he said with a smirk. "So yeah, I'm pretty sure he's here."
It was ten minutes to show and Katniss felt her nerves well in her stomach. Haymitch Abernathy was in tonight's audience. Haymitch Abernathy was to hear her sing.
He was a legend in these parts. He was once a legend around the world. In the 1980's, Haymitch fronted a glam metal band called Quarter Quell, that played to packed stadiums across the country. They were still at the top of the charts when their tour bus busted through a guardrail along the Pacific Coast Highway and careened off a cliff into the choppy waters bellow. Haymitch Abernathy was the sole survivor. All his band mates and all their girls were dead. He became a recluse after that, returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh where he came out only at night and only when he was out of liquor. Even all these years later, there was still a push from the media for him to tell his story. Everyone wanted him to clean up his act and record a new album. A phoenix from the ashes. An easy few bucks for the record label by reaping the reward of nostalgia.
Katniss Everdeen was banking on this too. She didn't care if Haymitch Abernathy ever sang again. She just wanted his name to get her foot in the door. She wanted Haymitch Abernathy to be her manager.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Gale asked and leaned his shoulder against the door frame.
"He knows this business," Katniss replied. "Prim and I can't live this way forever. There's nothing left for us here." She lifted the strap of her guitar over her head and cradled the instrument in her hands.
Something resembling hurt flashed across his heavy brow. "And you think he's going to pack you up to Los Angeles and turn you into a singing sensation?" He asked.
Katniss knew that Gale was hesitant about her leaving town. They weren't together, had never even tried to be, but they were something. Companions. They looked out for one another. Understood one another better than anyone else could. If Katniss knew how to love somebody, like a woman loved a man, she was sure it would have been Gale.
She took his hand into hers and gave it a soft squeeze. This wasn't a conversation she wanted to have. It always led to angry and complicated places that she wanted to avoid.
"What are you going to sing?" He asked. His voice was tight and he could only look at their joined hands.
"Waiting for Me," she said, and her chest tightened for a moment. The song was about her father but she knew what Gale thought of when he heard the haunting lyrics.
There was another knock at the door and Katniss let out a sigh of relief. "Showtime," she said and forced a smile to better lighten the mood.
Gale only frowned, but managed a supportive nod. "Break a leg," he mumbled.
It was just past seven thirty when Katniss made her way to the makeshift stage in the corner of the tavern. The Seam had a popular enough menu to garner a dinner rush and as she scanned the crowd she noted that every table was full. She positioned her stool behind her microphone and took a seat. There was a hush across the room as diners took recognition of the show that was about to begin.
Katniss tapped the microphone to ensure it was live before she spoke. "Good evening everyone," she said timidly. She cleared her throat to speak with more confidence. "Hope you enjoy." She positioned her guitar in her lap and aligned her fingers for the opening chords of her song. There was an anxiety hanging around her that made it impossible for her to move. Her eyes moved across the crowd, searching. Where was he?
Then she saw him. Hunched over the bar with an empty glass wrapped in the crook of his elbow. His hair was shorter than it was when he was famous, though still long enough to frame his ragged face. He never turned to pay her attention and she found herself growing frustrated. She began to strum the opening notes, never letting her eyes leave his blank face.
Out in the meadow
Beneath the oak tree
I'll be waiting for you, will you be waiting for me?
The blanket of clouds
Open to a sea
I'm still waiting for you. Are you coming for me?
She could feel every pair of eyes in the room on her, every pair save those she was calling to. She felt frustration well within her and began to strum with more force. The sound filled every corner of the room and bounced off the walls as if they had been thrown.
I'll go follow the sun
Till it trails flames cross the sky
The moon may arrive
But I won't rest, I won't lie
A light breeze may pass me
So soft past my cheek
I've been waiting for you, have you finally found me?
If there was applause, Katniss hadn't heard it. All she could focus on was Haymitch Abernathy tiredly waving his hand at Gale, while he impatiently shook his empty glass in the other. He hadn't even stopped to listen, all he could think of was his drink. To his credit, Gale was pointedly ignoring the drunk and he clapped for her as enthusiastically as someone stoic like Gale could.
Katniss couldn't help but grin at her friend's loyalty. At the same time she could feel her window of opportunity closing rapidly. She had to get Haymitch to notice her. She needed to do something to get his attention. There was a rage growing within her. How dare he come to her show and not even listen? Fiercely, she began strumming the strings of her guitar again and growled the lyrics she knew would pique his interest.
Pittsburgh City, man it ain't pretty
Take me downtown then bring me back again
Hey there baby, shake me till you break me
I'll fill you up, you'll kick me down, damn is that crazy?
The crowd was clapping along, hollering and chanting the lyrics. The song had always been a crowd pleaser in this town, especially when it was a part of Quarter Quell's set list. Before she could make it to the chorus, Haymitch met her eye with an icy stare. It was so piercing, she lost her tempo and stumbled over the next few notes. He got the message, that was for certain.
Did you have a question?
Another hand for the pot
I'll take you for granted
Come on show me what you've got
With his jaw set in a straight line, Haymitch gave her a grin that she couldn't decipher as amused or annoyed, before he stormed out of the bar. Annoyed, she decided.
Panic spread through her as she watched her ticket sail through the door. Gale must have followed this scene as well, because before she could think, the song began to blare over the The Seam's stereo system and Gale was mouthing the word go to her.
She ducked out quickly, leaving her guitar on the stage as she darted toward the exit. Haymitch had been drinking all evening. All day even. He couldn't have gotten very far.
It was just past dusk, but the street lights lit the street with a white glow. Katniss rushed to the edge of the sidewalk to survey both ends of the road. Her neck stretched and her limbs elongated, all in hopes of getting a few more inches of vantage. A surly chuckle from behind her interrupted her search. Katniss twisted quickly and nearly slipped from the curb in the process, all of her senses were heightened from her hunt.
Haymitch stood only a few feet away, his body leaning heavily against the front window of The Seam as if his feet couldn't carry the weight themselves. He chuckled again, but his eyes were sober. "You're a real piece of work," he said.
Katniss approached him carefully. She still couldn't read this man. She couldn't tell if his words were amused or biting. Whether she should be encouraged or fearful. She attempted to swallow her pride. It didn't hold. Instead she lifted her chin and stared at him challengingly. "I don't like to be ignored," she said with an even tone. Katniss Everdeen had a temper with a short fuse. Anybody that knew her could tell you that. You didn't even have to know her all that well.
"I can tell," he said. He reached into the pocket of his jacket to retrieve a flask. Unscrewing the cap he took a long swig before wiping his mouth across his wool sleeve. "I don't like it."
For a moment she felt disheartened, but she didn't let it show. "Then why'd you come to the show? You obviously have your own refreshments."
He licked his lips, his gray eyes flickering with the same stubborn flame that Katniss' held. He seemed to consider her question and then shook his head as if he were just coming to the answer for the first time.
"I kept getting e-mails on the account I don't check. Then flyers in the mail I don't read. And then last night when I was at the liquor store, the front door was wall papered with advertisements for this little show," he paused to curl his lips into that smirk of his. "I was starting to worry for the trees."
That had been Prim's idea. She was awfully clever.
"You weren't listening," she said, and folded her arms across her chest.
"Was that a requirement?"
"It was the general idea," she nodded dumbly.
"You should be more specific next time," he grunted before taking another swig from his flask.
Her brow arched curiously. "Next time?"
"No," he said quickly. "Don't get any ideas." He lifted up a warning finger to properly deliver his point. "In fact I don't even want to know what you want. Just wanted to let you know: I got your message."
Katniss leaned against the window beside him and he made no move to leave. "I'm guessing you don't want to hear my sob story about my dead daddy and absent mother then," she said flatly. "And the little sister who wants to go to med school even though there's not enough financial aid on this planet to pay for it."
He rolled his eyes. "And I'm sure your day job is reading to blind children and helping out at the animal shelter," he added with a heavy sigh, yet his tone was still light with amusement.
"Euthanizing maybe," she said and he snorted in surprise.
"The animals or the blind people?"
"I hear drinking too much can cause blindness," she shrugged with a challenging grin. "Why don't you wait and find out."
Haymitch shook his head, his lips pressed into a tight grin and he held out the flask to her. She accepted it wordlessly and took a long swig. She was in, she decided.
"I don't sing because I love it," she finally explained. "In fact, I don't even like it that much. Not for a crowd."
"And you're sharing this inspiring story because?" He asked.
Katniss considered this for a moment. She wasn't good with words. It was easy to scheme and strategize, but when it came to implementing plans that required some form of persuasion, she always relied on Prim. Everyone loved Prim and more importantly, Prim loved everyone. Katniss was like Haymitch. All she wanted was enough money to never have to deal with people again. Misanthrope. Money. She could work with this.
"The house you live in, the one with the mile long driveway on the four acre lot," Katniss began. "How much did that cost?"
He looked at her carefully before he spoke. "A somewhat shiny penny," he said.
"And the liquor you drink," she nodded towards his flask, remembering the biting, yet smooth taste. "It may not be top shelf, but it isn't the cheap stuff either."
"One of the perks of the lifestyle," he agreed.
Katniss lifted her chin thoughtfully and let the corner of her lips lift into a knowing smirk. "The royalties must be nice," she said. "To stretch so far. I'm sure the bottomless pit will never show its bottom."
"Have you been talking with my accountant?" He asked, but it was obvious that he had already caught on to what she meant to imply.
"You haven't worked a day since that accident," she said, getting to the point. She paused to test the water before proceeding. "The money's going to run out. There's no way you can live this way forever. One day you're going to have to swallow your pride and answer their calls."
He nodded in recognition and said, "And you're offering to be my voice?"
"I'll make the money," she said. "You just have to open the doors and hold them for me."
"Are you sure you can handle it?" He asked. His mood shifted quickly. He seemed fully sober now and there was a haunting chill in his eye. He was talking about them. The friends he had lost, the life he lived now.
Katniss felt her breath catch at his intensity. Her footing seemed to shift and she overcompensated by standing stiffly, her eyes unmoving. "I'm not afraid," she said tightly.
"Fine," he said, pushing off from the wall and onto his feet. "Then pack up. We're leaving for LA in the morning."
"What?" She demanded.
"I have an audition for you," he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Do you have a standing appointment or something?" She questioned. "I can't just leave tomorrow!"
"Literally twenty seconds ago, didn't you declare that you could handle the spotlight?" He said pointedly. "Be careful sweetheart, that whole tough act you're trying to put on is already cracking."
She cleared her throat and took a breath to calm herself. "Why tomorrow?"
"There's a game show. A singing competition," he struggled to remember the name and waved a hand in hopes of conjuring it in his memory. "The Mockingjay. The executive producer is always trying to get me involved with it. You're going to be a contestant."
"That show had open auditions weeks ago," she said unimpressed. "How are you doing me a favor? I'm sure it's already been cast."
Haymitch let out a deep chuckle. "You think those auditions are real? That all of the final contestants just happened to be heavily featured throughout the entire 'open audition' process," he asked with mocking air quotes.
Katniss hadn't thought much at all about The was more of a pop star popularity contest. She couldn't even name a single winner, that's how successful their careers were. She couldn't help but think that he was testing her again. Seeing how far he could push her before she proved how unworthy she truly was. "All right," she said. "I trust you."
She watched Haymitch steadily as he made a phone call to arrange their travel. Her mind was racing. What would she do with Prim? It was the middle of spring. Prim still had school and there was no one else to take care of her. She couldn't just pluck her from class to follow her on a reality show. Would she even be allowed to bring her along?
The show would only be a few weeks, she reminded herself. She wouldn't be gone forever. The Hawthornes would look after Prim and she would compensate them for their troubles, she decided. Not that Prim could ever be a trouble, in fact she'd be a welcomed tenant. Especially for Hazelle, who was always looking for an extra set of hands to look after Vic and Posy.
"First flight of the morning," Haymitch said, distracting her from her thoughts. "Don't get too excited. You're flying coach."
Katniss shook his hand graciously and he left for his waiting cab. It was getting late and she'd have to go home to pack. She slipped back into The Seam and described her encounter to Gale. He seemed skeptical, naturally, but only nodded somberly when she informed him that she had accepted Haymitch's offer.
He hugged her tightly before she left and whispered parting words in her ear. "Don't lose yourself. You hear me?"
She carried her guitar home with new purpose. The opportunity she'd been waiting for was at the tips of her fingers, finally within her grasp. It felt surreal, but at the same time hollow. This had never been her dream. Those types of things were silly. Katniss was a realist. She had been ever since she had to grow up too young. Dreams were for fools. She only did what was practical. What it took to survive.
The only exception to this was her sister, Prim. She would do anything to make her sister happy and would deny her nothing. Prim was a dreamer. She dreamed bigger than the moon and would shine brighter than the sun. The only way Katniss would be able to provide for Prim's dreams of becoming a doctor though, would be to win the lottery. Prim was bright, but she wasn't the smartest in her class. She'd be eligible for some scholarships, that was for sure, but a free ride was all they could afford at this point.
Singing was the only thing that Katniss was good at (that and perhaps her camping skills, something that wasn't exactly going to pay the bills.) When she sang, people stopped to listen. She learned that on the streets during her days of busking. She always drew the largest crowds. It was a gamble to rely on something as unpredictable as show business, but the reward would be worth it.
Katniss pulled into a spot in front of her apartment building and turned off the engine. The third window up, second from the left, glowed with light meaning that Prim was home. Their building wasn't in the best part of town and Katniss hated having to leave her sister alone at night.
Prim was in the kitchen, putting away clean dishes. Her blonde hair was piled on top of her hair in a messy bun. She looked so grown up for a moment that Katniss had to remind herself that she was nearly fifteen now. She wasn't just her kid sister anymore.
"Did he come?" She asked hopefully, her blue eyes shinning with excitement.
"He did," she replied. "All it took was two songs," she said, omitting a few rather important details.
"I knew he would love you!" She clapped her hands excitedly. "Are you going to begin recording right away? I bet he has a huge studio in his house."
Katniss frowned. Moving across the small living space, she shrugged off her jacket and let it drop onto the couch. It was met with a hiss. She pushed aside the leather jacket and the bundle of blankets until she was met with a pair of round yellow eyes focused on her with a challenging glare.
"Please don't be mad!" Prim pleaded.
A matted orange cat with his nose pushed upwards between his eyes swatted at Katniss with claws fully extended. Katniss darted away and lifted her hand at the feline, ready to strike back.
Buttercup. Never in her life had she anticipated that her sworn enemy would come in the form of a nine pound lump of fur.
"You know we can't have pets here Prim," she said pointedly.
"He's been looking for us Katniss. He's been sleeping under your car every night waiting for us to come home!"
The flea bag had adopted them outside of a Wendy's dumpster during their stint of being homeless. It was the first full meal that Katniss was able to purchase for her and her sister in weeks and Prim just had to share it with that thing because it looked so hungry.Prim didn't realize how hungry she looked too. Needless to say, the cat was smart and knew how to cash a free ticket. They hadn't been able to shake the thing since.
"I'll look after him, I swear. You won't even notice he's here!" Prim clasped her hands beneath her chin and her round blue eyes were glazed with threatening tears. In an instant she looked like a child again.
Katniss tried to keep her expression hard, but her face immediately fell. "Fine," she groaned. "But you're going to have to check with Hazelle to see if having that vermin in her house is all right."
"The Hawthornes?" She asked. "Why are we staying there? Are we in trouble again?"
"No, we're doing fine," or as fine as the minimal requirement. Katniss moved to the kitchen and traced her fingers along the awful puke green colored Formica counter top. "I just have to go away for a little while. To Los Angeles. It was a part of my agreement with Haymitch, to get him to represent me. I'm going to be on The Mockingjay."
"The Mockingjay?" Prim squealed. "Katniss that's amazing. Everybody watches The Mockinjay! You'll be signed for sure. You'll win for sure, I just know it!"
"I'll do my best," she replied, not having the heart to say otherwise, especially when Prim seemed so excited about the prospect. "I'm not sure how long I'll be gone. It may be only a week." She approached her sister and held her shoulders at arms length. "Be sure to lend a hand at the Hawthornes," she instructed. "Even if Hazelle insists you don't have to."
"I don't see why I have to stay there," she said with a huff. "I'm almost fifteen! I don't need a babysitter."
"It's not you I worry about," Katniss lied. "It's the morons that live in this building."
Prim rolled her eyes, but didn't argue. "I'm so excited for you," she said instead and threw her arms around Katniss to hug her tightly.
Katniss squeezed her sister tightly. "When I get back, we'll have enough money to send you to the best medical school in the country," she said. "I promise."
Prim pulled away with a frown. "And you'll be doing what you love too," she said and took both of Katniss' hands in hers. It was supposed to be a statement, but there was no denying the questioning lilt to her tone. "Right?"
It didn't matter what Katniss wanted. She lived a simple life. All she wanted was for her sister to be well fed and happy. She didn't need any happiness for herself. Didn't hold metrics for her own benefit. To want something was a dangerous waste of time. But she wouldn't lay that burden of guilt on her sister.
"Of course," she said in reply.