To him, she was the personification of soft butter yellow. At least she was, until time changed her for the worse. It had changed him too, from a boy who found joy watching dewdrops to a gifted spearman.
They used to be best friends, him and her. Two little dreamers in a harsh world of survival and combat, running away for hours at a time to be together. They had their secret spot in a grove of apple trees, a long way off from the luxury goods factories that were the backbones of their district. She was six, him on the cusp of seven, both of them on the doorstep of being trained and brainwashed and changed into cold hearted killers. But neither of them paid any heed to that looming fact, because nothing could change the way the feel towards each other. They thought their friendship was invincible.
But time proved otherwise.
She used to love pastel colours and picking sunflowers. In fact, he can't ever remember seeing her without a bright yellow flower tucked behind her ear. She told him once that they were her favourite because of how happy they made her feel. Always smiling at the sun, waiting impatiently for another beautiful day to come along, she had described those flowers, her own eyes as dazzling as the sun.
They had a shared love for music, for little tunes that can be picked up and learnt in a few short moments. He was the better singer of the two, and a better whistler too, but he never said so to her face. She believed that she was the best, typical Glimmer, and he didn't want to burst her bubble. To do so would be to make her unhappy, and he loved her tinkling laughter too much to risk losing it. So he sang the harmony to her butter mellow melody. The music bound them together like fine gossamer webs, and they thought nothing could ever come between them.
Those were the golden moments.
She knew she was special, in more ways than one. Some called her self-belief 'vanity', but to her it was merely what was expected of a girl born from the union of Victors. She was confident, sure, maybe a little too much for her own good, but she had all the reasons in the world to be. She was built that way, block after loving block of propaganda, brainwashing her into believing that she was invincible.
They called her their golden girl, a fitting name for a dazzlingly beautiful murderess-to-be. With her flowing blonde hair that glows like rare metal and a confident gait of a born winner, she was what they pinned their hopes and dreams on. And they told her as much.
If sweets were for the sweet, then gold was for the golden.
And she was the golden girl.
At thirteen she gave up the sunflowers for bow and arrows, and swapped her flowing hair for a tight military braid. She was one of the best they had, a girl who won many competitions and who had the cold efficiency of a warrior. Her room, once cloaked in mellow pastels, became a shrine for her medals. She woke up every day to the glinting greeting up her golden prizes, all reminding her of who she was and who she was meant to be.
The golden girl.
They had stopped seeing each other, save the occasional glimpse at training or during the many combat tournaments. They were both too caught up with their own lives to have time for each other, and the summers they spent together became just a fond memory. Sometimes, when he walked home from training, his spear resting lightly on his shoulder like an unwanted reminder, he'd think of her. But only briefly. They had no time for that kind of silly sentiment anymore.
And although neither of them realised it, the field of sunflowers had wilted and died. There were plans for a new construction over where they used to sit as children. Rumours had it that the factory would be making ornate weapons for the Capitol, the kind with fancy hilts and blades that would be displayed like a centrepiece on some millionaire's wall.
The golden sunflowers have ceased to smile at the sun.
She had forgotten about him until the moment they graced the stage together, both volunteering for a chance to bring back gold for their home town. He had grown much taller, his once-twiggy arms now coiled with muscles. His hand was warm as she shook it, the customary handshake that sealed the Hunger Games deal. Allies, until I can no longer afford to let you survive.
When she plucked up enough guts to look him in the eye, memories of strange things filled her mind. She didn't know whether they were real or just a dream conjured up by her imagination, but the sunshine and sunflowers and laughter were so beautiful that she prayed for them to be real. It stirred up something in her heart, those memories, but as quickly as they came they were replaced. In their place stood the drilling thoughts of perfection and achievement, a sermon that she had been given for the past decade of her life.
The only thing that is real is gold, golden girl.
The little girl from Eleven had more effect on him than he would've ever dared to admit. Standing poised on her toes beside an effortlessly beautiful Glimmer, she reminded him acutely of what they have become. There was that spark of hope and innocence in her, the girl with the chocolate skin, which had been extinguished completely in Glimmer. There was the way she tucked a flower in her hair as she breezed through the camouflage station, a little half-smile on her lips, that reminded him so much of what the blonde girl used to be.
He hated this golden girl standing in the place of his childhood best friend.
The little 'eight' haunted her for days, whispering and taunting her about not being good enough. It was one of the highest scores, but she couldn't bring herself to see it like that. She was confident of being better. Hell, she was sure she was going to get perfect marks. But all she got was 'eight', only one measly point higher than that wisp of a child from District Eleven. All she got was imperfection.
It felt like eating golden snowflakes, the glinting edge of her pride scarring her insides like paper cuts. She had been spoon-fed beliefs of 'you are the best in Panem' and 'you are our golden girl' ever since she could remember, and for the very first time she began to doubt. Was she really capable of this? Was she to be the one bringing her district honour and pride?
She was doubting, this girl who had been brought up to be perfection itself.
She was doubting, this girl whose nightmares were about collapsing under her 'golden girl' image.
She doubted her abilities, and it churned her stomach to think of being anything less than faultless.
Because she knew that she could not afford to be anything but. In her world, there was no room for imperfections.
He thought it would be like the old days where they sat side by side, more than content with each other's presence. But he realised (although it was rather painful to admit it to himself) that this girl sitting before him was a stranger. They had both grown so much, grown up and apart and away from each other. She was no longer the golden-haired angel of six, her long blonde hair flowing like a river as her green eyes smiled at him. This woman before him was a seductress and a vixen, not by her own design but by Panem's. Her wide green eyes were still framed by glittering eye shadow, a corner of her mouth upturned in an arrogant smirk.
She opened her rosebud mouth and spoke of dark things, of schemes and evil ways to make it out of the Game. He couldn't say that he was innocent of the same crime, for he had spent sleepless nights figuring out the best ways to betray and backstab someone else. But somehow he had still expected her to remain pure and innocent, to remain the same Glimmer he had fallen in love with a whole decade ago.
His eyes followed her hands as she fiddled with the hem of her skirt, a shimmering creation of metallic beauty for the most beautiful girl to walk into the arena. She was telling him about her ideas on how they can make it to the final four, of how they can pretend to ally with Districts Two and Four and then eliminate the others in their sleep. Her green eyes shone as she told him about her plans to seduce Cato and finish off District Two, of how she thought they should try to finish off 'the cunning little thing from Eleven' as early as possible. He thought of another time when her eyes glowed like that, of another time when they sat in a field of flowers and shared secrets. Where had those moments in between gone, and what had time done to her? She had become a killing machine, cold and heartless like the gold everyone likened her to.
He didn't recognise this golden girl in her golden dress, acting like her heart had been replaced by a lump of metal. Since when had gold become the term to describe something so utterly inhuman? He thought that the honour of the title of golden was meant for someone with compassion as well as potential, for someone honest and deserving.
Looking at the glimmering statue before him, he realised that all that glittered was not gold.