The Sweet Life

Euphemia Trinket is five years old, and she wants to be famous.

Famous, just like her Aunt Gemma. Euphemia doesn't know why Aunt Gemma is famous, just that she is, and it has something to do with the big parade with the horses that they watch every summer.

Euphemia's favorite days are the ones when Aunt Gemma takes her to the big park in the middle of the city. Those days are few and far between, but always worth the wait. They look at the animals in the little zoo, and laugh at the street jugglers and acrobats, and Gemma even buys her a small cup of strawberry ice cream from the vendor by the giant swingset.

Cornelia and Kyros never let her eat ice cream. It might make her fat.

But what's most exciting about her days with her aunt are the people: they love Gemma. They stare at her, whisper, smile. They ask for her autograph. They coo over Euphemia, and say they're shocked, they didn't know she had a daughter. "Oh, no," Gemma tells them with an airy laugh. "This is just my niece."

Saying goodbye is the worst. Euphemia tries not to cry – it's ugly, Cornelia says – but the tears slide down her face and clog her nose anyway, and she can't help the choking sobs that rise from her little throat. Gemma hugs her gently in the foyer of their townhouse while Cornelia rolls her eyes in the background.

"Don't cry, darling," Gemma says, "I'll be back soon." But it's what she says every time, and Euphemia knows it won't really be soon; it'll be months from now, years, and all that's in between is the waiting.

"You look disgusting," Cornelia sighs that night as she scrubs her daughter's face with a scented towel. "You'd better learn to keep that crying under control or no boy will want you, Euphemia."

"It's true," Kyros chuckles from the other room, where he's stretched out in front of the television.

Euphemia doesn't say a thing. She closes her eyes, and feels grateful when Cornelia splashes her face with water, the warm droplets hiding her tears.

Effie Trinket is seventeen, and she's in love.

His name is Dorian, and he's gorgeous. His eyes are sparkling green, his hair dyed to match. He's tall and he runs track after school, so his legs are lean and well-muscled, his arms wiry but strong. He invites her to the New Year's ball on a cold day in December, and they're inseparable from that moment on.

She doesn't know how she got so lucky. Neither do the other girls in her grade at school, and they don't even try to hide their simmering envy when Effie and Dorian pass them in the hallways, their fingers entwined between them. It's a good kind of attention, Effie decides.

If they weren't jealous, they wouldn't be paying her any attention at all.

They have sex for the first time in her bed just a few weeks after the ball, wrapped up in her soft purple sheets, while Cornelia and Kyros are away on a trip to one of the Games arenas. Effie had wanted to go, too, but they told her she was too young, she wouldn't appreciate it.

She's sad – until she realizes she'll have an empty house for two weeks. And as Dorian moves above her, his muscles flexing in the dim light that filters through her bedroom skylight, she doesn't regret it. She'd much rather be doing this.

He comes inside her with a soft grunt, and a few seconds later she gasps in ecstasy, mimicking the sounds she's heard from the women in the movies that air on television late at night. She's never actually had an orgasm, but as her friend Sabina told her, that's not really the point.

It's not the first time Effie's had sex, but it's the first time she's had it with someone she loves, and she tells him that. He smiles, running his thumb over her collarbone.

"I love you too, Effs," he says, and it's the most beautiful thing she's ever heard.

Effie and Dorian watch the Games together every night that summer. She squeals and squeezes his hand when something good happens, and hides her face in his shoulder when it gets too violent. Death is just a part of life for people in the districts, she knows that, but the blood still makes her a little squeamish.

This year, she's rooting for District 8, the district that her Aunt Gemma escorts. It's been years since 8 had a winner, and even though Gemma would never admit it, Effie knows that her aunt is worried. Her contract is up after this round, and the Gamemakers aren't known to reward a losing streak.

Gemma doesn't take Effie to the park anymore, but they go shopping every few months, and Gemma buys Effie anything she wants: shoes, furs, handbags, wigs. There are fewer double-takes from passers by, fewer smiles, and no one has asked Gemma for an autograph in at least a year. When someone asks if Effie is her daughter, Gemma bristles.

"Of course not," she snaps. "I'm not old enough to be her mother. This is just my niece."

The days get shorter and the air grows cooler, and Dorian tells Effie that they're done, that they've come to the end.

"I thought you loved me," she whispers, voice trembling. Her heart flutters with panic because the tears are pricking at her eyes, hot and sharp, and if he sees her like that he'll never want her again. Never love her again. Never.

"I did, Effs," he says gently, squeezing her shoulder. "But nothing lasts forever."

Effie Trinket is twenty-six years old, and she's getting everything she ever wanted.

She's an escort.

Not for a good district, of course – that will come later. But 12 is a start, a foot on the very bottom rung of the ladder, and she's ready to climb.

Once, when Effie was young, she'd asked her mother why the children in the districts were so different – why they didn't grow up and become fun things like fashion designers and makeup artists and movie makers, but rather boring things like farmers and lumberjacks and coal miners.

"Because it makes them happy," Cornelia had told her. "They get to provide, Euphemia. We give them so much, and this is how they can give back."

It's all Effie can think about the first time she steps onto the stage of the Justice Building in District 12 and sees the hard, pinched faces of the people before her. They don't look happy; then again, they are from the districts, an outer district at that, and they have a very different culture out here. If they expressed their happiness in a different way than Effie, well, she'd just have to get used to that.

Her very first tributes stun her into silence: They're like wild animals, shoveling food into their mouths with no regard for decorum – with their bare hands, in fact. You'd think they'd never had a proper meal in their life.

She tries to make small talk, asking them what they think of the fine velvet cushions that they're seated on, or the one-of-a-kind chandelier dangling from the center of the train car, but they only stare at her in silence. Haymitch Abernathy, their mentor, is no help, already passed out in his compartment from drink.

Eventually she gives up, and she occupies herself with her salad, eating the tiny pomegranate seeds and slices of tangerine one at a time. The boy – fifteen years old, dark hair, dark eyes – makes a choked sort of noise, and vomits onto his plate. The girl – sixteen, dark hair, blue eyes – starts to cry.

Effie wonders if she's made a mistake.

It gets easier. She learns to expect the things you don't see on television – the vomiting, the crying, the awkward silences – and to smooth over them as though they never happened. It's her job, after all.

During Effie's third year, Aunt Gemma loses her house. A lateral move, Gemma calls it, and it might have fooled Effie when she was five years old and clutching her aunt's hand at the zoo, but she knows better now. A move from the city center to the old, crumbling outskirts of town isn't a lateral move in any sense of the word – especially not for a former district escort. It's where old people live. It's where people go when they're no longer useful. No longer wanted.

The night before the move, Effie studies her aunt over dinner at a restaurant near the central train station. She's not the same woman who laughed with Effie in the park and bought her ice cream all those years ago. She doesn't even look the same: her skin is shinier, stretched tight over her cheekbones, and chin implants have given her face a boxy look that was all the rage four or five years back.

No one asks if they're mother and daughter. The family resemblance is gone.

As they're waiting for dessert, Effie reaches across the table and lays her hand across her aunt's. Gemma's skin is dry and papery, and cooler than Effie expected. "You don't have to do this," she whispers, glancing around the restaurant for eavesdroppers. "You know that with my salary, I could –"

Gemma snatches her hand away. "I don't know what you're talking about, Euphemia," she says coldly. "I need a – a change of pace. This is perfect for me."

Dessert arrives, airy chocolate mousse dotted with raspberries and a delicate curl of orange rind. Effie doesn't bring it up again.

All her life, Effie had wanted one thing: to be like Gemma. Now the thought frightens her.

And so Effie tries harder. She schedules her tributes down to the minute, hustling them from the train to their rooms to the training center and back again. She teaches the girls to walk in heels and the boys to smile on command. She's a machine. She's the best, brightest escort the Gamemakers could ask for.

But they'll never know it, because she's saddled with District 12. They just don't care about winning in that faraway, dreary district, she's come to realize.

It's unfair.

But then: the 74th games.

The star-crossed lovers.

This is Effie's chance.

She grabs it, and never looks back.

Effie Trinket is thirty-three years old, but she feels like she's one hundred.

She doesn't know who's responsible, but strings are pulled and webs are weaved, and by the time the war is over, Effie Trinket was on the rebels' side all along.

It's true enough, she supposes. After the escape from the Quell, after she'd been captured, there hadn't been any sides: only four walls and a cement floor.

But the rebels aren't the ones who tortured her.

She'd told her captors the truth – that she knew nothing, absolutely nothing – but it hadn't mattered. And so Effie had learned things she'd never wanted to know, while a war raged on somewhere around her, unseen and unheard: The feel of hot blood dripping down your skin. The smell of burnt hair. The knowledge that you were powerless, that your life meant nothing, was nothing but an item on somebody's agenda.

She tries not to think about it. She tries to forget.

It's almost frightening, how easy it is to slip back into her old role. The only difference is that her victor looks a lot less pretty, and now Effie's escorting the executioner, not the victim.

The city settles down somewhat once Katniss Everdeen is shipped back to District 12. Effie submits a reconnection request for her parents, but three weeks pass and she accepts that they're either victims of the war or just don't want to see her again.

It's okay; she's not sure she wants to see them, either.

When she doesn't hear from Gemma, though – that hurts.

She stumbles across some old friends when she's grocery shopping one day – that's something she does now, buy her own food – and they invite her out for drinks. The conversation starts out casual enough, but as the alcohol muddles their minds they start to ask her questions.

Are Katniss and Peeta really that sweet all the time?

What was it like to be onstage when President Coin was murdered?

Where did Effie go during all those months after the Quell?

She drops her cocktail glass when they mention the Quell, and it shatters on the floor. A waitress rushes forward to clean up the glass, and Effie wonders if she's an Avox; you can't tell who's who anymore, now that they've been officially dismissed from their former duties.

"You know I can't tell you that," she says lightly, after a long silence. "Official rebel business. I'm sworn to secrecy."

Her friends titter and nod, but when they part ways that evening, no one speaks about meeting up again.

As a close ally of the Mockingjay, Effie is entitled to a monthly stipend, and it's generous enough to keep her in a tiny apartment near the shopping district. She spends her days sleeping and watching the television, her nights haunted by dead children, the ones she'd taught to perform, the ones she'd led to the slaughter.

It's not my fault, she tells them in her dreams. You can't blame me for this.

And why should they?

She already blames herself.

I was inspired to try out some Effie character exploration...I'd love to know what you think!