There's a knock at my door and Ezera uses her Capitol affectation to yell "Its a big, big, day. Breakfast in thirty minutes. Don't be late." I laugh out loud, after having heard Ezera speak normally the affectation almost seems self mocking. I find a pair of navy pants and a white sweater, I don't bother with shoes. I head for the dining room, but go back and grab the flask.

Once again I am the first to arrive, there is only one table set. We will all eat together this morning. I sit down, at once the waiter sets a huge platter in front of me. I ask him to stay, I fish the flask back out of my pocket. I hand it to him and ask "could you get this refilled please." The young man unscrews the top and takes a sniff. He smiles almost, nods and leaves. Ruthie wanders in still rubbing her eyes. She sits next to me, she grabs my hand and squeezes, she whisperers "I've never slept in a bed before. My bones don't hurt". ln front of Ruthie and slipped the flask back into my hand. This time it is Ruthie I stopped from eating with her hands.

Samme walks in gripping a mug, from the smell its coffee. Its the only sign she had a rough night. She is wearing a long t-shirt as a dress, her legs are bare. Her hair is down, her eyes sparkle, her lips are moist. I spend too much time staring at her lips. She notices, smirks, winks, and laughs "Maybe if you win." She takes the seat across from me. Its clear that what ever she is going to say, she will be watching my reaction. When the waiter sets her platter down she asks him something quietly. This time he smiles and nods. When he returns he has two glasses of the thick brown liquid. Ruthie laughs out loud, its a first I think. She grabs the glass and gulps more then half. "I love chocolate milk, chocolate milk and beds" laughing again. I am struck by the irony, Ruthie, a child on her way to certain death finds joy for the first time. I grab the second glass and drink. I join Ruthie in her laughter. I look up and Samme is just scowling at us. "What? isn't the point of chocolate milk to laugh?" I ask.

Maysilee looks like she hasn't slept. Her hands shake, her lip trembles, her chest heaves, her eyes are red, swollen and spill tears. For some reason I want to shake her. I am snarky when I speak "Might wanna stop snivelling. The press will eat you alive." My comment draws fresh sobs. Somehow, I always thought Maysilee was made of stronger stock. She saw how we live, no, how we survive in the seam, to say live implies hope. She sat in my home for hours, she'd even helped in the kitchen sometimes, she saw it. Where was that girl? The girl who helped my mother mend so they could quilt longer together, where had she gone? I start to pick-up my plate to go back to my room. But that voice Samme used last night is back "Heymitch sit back down, we have business today. " She took a breath and addressed Maysilee "He's rude, but he's right." Maysilee's eyes were on the food she was simply pushing around, the noises stopped but more tears were falling. Samme wasn't done yet. "And young lady eat your breakfast. I don't expect to tell you again if there is food you eat. Got it?" When Maysilee didn't answer, Samme's voice got deeper, quieter and infinitely more menacing "Got it?" She managed a weak, trembling, barely audible "yes" and filled her mouth with eggs.

Once again Ezera is lecturing poor Sage on the importance of schedule as they enter. Samme puts on her best Capitol affect, rolls her eyes, winks at Ezera and shrilly states "Miss Ezera you seem to be no more on time than the boy." Everyone even Maysilee breaks out in laughter. Sage looks relieved. When his platter arrives he reaches to start with his fingers, but he stops himself, picks up his fork and eats. I actually feel proud of him. The meal is mostly quiet, but really what is there to say when most of us will be dead before the next new moon. The waiters hang closely to the table. Samme has something on her mind but is watching the waiters carefully. She has clearly changed her mind about whatever she was going to say.

Once everyone has eaten Samme directs us back to the TV room. Hunger Game highlights are running on the screen. I find myself once again on that couch with Ruthie on my lap, Sage next to me and Maysilee hanging onto the opposite end like I might kill her here and'sound. She spends the next half hour going over the schedule for today. The importance of time. I am bored out of my mind. I just stare at her face, trying to look interested, thing is I am interested. Not in what she is saying but in her face. Then she gets very quiet "On the first fuel stop Samme will take you for a walk on the tracks. I'd like you all to get some fresh air and exercise. Be ready." Then the last sentence is very loud, shrill and in her best Capitol voice. "Don't forget we'll be in the Capitol by sunset." I am sure she is not quite telling the truth. Ezera turns and leaves. I am more confused by her then ever.

Samme is standing now. I look right at her, when our eyes meet, I see a small tremor move through her whole body. She looks at each tribute resolutely before she speaks. "There are four of you and only one of me. If any of you wants your own mentor I will try to get you one. They will come from District one , two or four they are the only districts where not all Victors are mentoring. The reason they'll do it is the bragging rights they'll get if you win, as well as, a share of the betting. If one of them takes you on they will believe they can get you out. Since, there were no District one two Victors before the thirty third games, I had a District two mentor. I won. This is a decision each of you has to make. Go to your rooms and think about it. Also, think about what skills you already have. I will be by to see each of you in awhile." I lift Ruthie from my lap. As I set her on her feet, she wraps her arms around my neck and kisses, my cheek. "Thank you" and she speeds off down the car.

Maysilee rushes to leave, gets her foot caught on Sage's and practically falls in my lap. My hands make a grab to steady her. My left manages to land on her hip, but my right is filled with the soft mound that is her left breast, my vision is filled with a view of her cleavage. Her left hand lands on my shoulder, but her right is squarely in my crotch. I may look and feel like a man, but I am still one six and my body betrays me. I am fully aroused, totally embarrassed and unable to move. Maysilee manages to right herself, slaps my face, and stomps out calling me "Seam trash." I have never felt rage so white hot before.

I drop my hands quickly. Only Sage and Samme remain in the room. Samme's calm voice resonates "Sage, I can mentor more than one , but only one will come home, think well. Heymitch, could you stay a minute I have question." There is relief on Sage's face, she really has given him freedom of choice, without recrimination. He leaves the room, carrying himself very tall. Samme leans over me, her closeness is very unsettling. She runs her hand across my crotch. I push into her hand and groan involuntarily. She stands back, her gaze covers every inch of me. It does nothing to relieve my discomfort. "Your stylist would do well to keep you naked, but that will be her choice. " before I can even breath she is gone. I run my hand across my crotch, reach in my pocket pull the small flask, take a deep swig, which brings my mind back to Torn and those kisses. This is not helping, not helping at all, I take a second swig and head for my room.

I strip quickly and take the coldest shower I can deal with. What is happening to me? Yesterday I kissed a girl for the first time, now I have had very close contact with three. This shower isn't doing much good either. I turn the water warm, wash, contemplating my girl issues. I am facing death and all I can think of is girls, pathetic. I get out, I don't bother to dry. I find a pair of soft grey draw string pants, I've only seen this material once or twice, I think its called fleece. I don't put on a shirt or shoes. I find the flask and take another long swig. Samme walks in without knocking "Your stuck with me whether you like it or not. I won't find you another mentor. And I am bringing you home." She sounded angry and threatening. She hadn't even waited for my decision. Did she think I would want someone else, someone from a District aligned with the Capitol?

I swing around. I am in no mood for this. I grab her, pick her up, push her up against the wall, shove my knee between her legs, using my whole body to pin her. Between, gritted teeth I growl, "No, you listen, I am smart, strong, and well trained. I am coming home with or without your help. Your my mentor and you'd better start acting like it. " I pushed harder against her, making sure she knew the effect she had. Then I kiss her hard, deep and long. I open the door and throw her into the hall. Two can play at this game. I slam the door and punch the wall. I flop across the bed, shove my hand down the front of my pants, images flood my mind. Torn, Samme, Maysilee and Ezera. I am still laying there as the train slows. I quickly change grabbing jeans, t-shirt and a pair of running shoes. I am ready for our walk at the appointed time.

We all meet in the last car. It has a retractable roof, we could travel in the open air. It is Samme's appearance I find startling. Her hair is in two braids, one on each side of her head, hanging over her shoulders. Her face is scrubbed clean of any makeup, with the exception of her lips which have a soft pink sheen to them. Her dress is a faded blue small floral print, it hangs loose and below her knees. Her sandals are flat, white and strappy. This is not the woman I kissed in my room. The one three year old Victor is back. When the train stops Samme opens the back exit and walks down the stairs. We follow quietly, for about one hundred yards. When a Peacekeeper starts to follow, we stop. We form a lose circle and stretch as Samme directs. She starts to talk in that low commanding tone. "We're going to be delayed at the next stop. Stay in your rooms, special groomers will join you. Don't object, let them do whatever they want, follow their instructions to the letter. We're going to be the last arriving at the Capitol. This is your first shot at sponsors, make it good." We do a few more exercises then jog back to the train, right on time to leave.

Ezera and Samme are in on this together. Otherwise Ezera would have found a way to keep us on schedule. All through the games everything is done one through twelve . Except arrival, where it goes from one two through one . With each arriving train the crowds build, so does the excitement, betting and sponsorship. Districts one & two being the most popular this drives the start of the games. They wanted the bigger sponsors to see us, they wanted the crowd in frenzy, and as much excitement as possible. I wonder what is planned for us. We are excused till lunch. I find one of the staff and have the flask filled again.

Stretched on my bed I ponder. I have watched the games since I was born, I thought I understood what they were about: But, Ezera and her ever changing affectation, Samme looking like a child in public, but a red hot woman when the cameras are gone, a sullen child no larger than my sister clinging to me and laughing out loud, a boy I have known his whole life suddenly carrying himself like a man, a girl I thought I knew and loved acting like a spoiled princess, am I as changed as the rest of them already? What or who will I be on the train ride home? because I will be coming home, there is no other option.

Ezera knocks and screeches " twenty minutes till lunch, don't be late." God I hate her Capitol voice. I head for the shower, my daydreams have caused a bit of a mess. I find myself aching again and relieve myself once more in the shower. As I am drying myself, there is a sharp knock and the door opens. I have one hand on each end of the towel, drying my back. I am face to face with Ezera, her mouth forms a perfect O. I hear her breath leave her body, a slight pink flush runs over her bronze skin, her eyes scan my naked flesh. I wrap the towel quickly around my waist before I embarrass myself again. She taps her foot impatiently, her shrillest Capitol voice reprimands me "Your late, and I am waiting." She is quicker at pulling herself back together than I am. She just glares at me. I realize she expects me to dress with her standing there. She is punishing me for shaking her carefully controlled reactions. In my mind I start going through the steps to gutting a dear. That should keep my rebellious body under control. I don't rush, I dry carefully, if Ezera is going to watch, well then I will give her a good show. By the time I pull on my black t-shirt she has gone from blush to crimson. But she hasn't looked away.

Ezera is giving me her standard importance of schedule lecture as we arrive at the dining car. Sage shoots me a conspiring smirk. As if to say "ha, ha, your turn." I keep a look of bored, tedium on my face, its well rehearsed. I have spent more than my share of time in the principals office. The two empty seats left are between Samme and Maysilee. I take the one beside Samme. We eat mostly in silence, I am not used to this. Until four years ago there had been one 0 of us at the table, even a year ago there were 9. We may have been poor and often hungry, but we had each other. The antics seven boys get into can be quite entertaining if told right. And we often laughed until our sides hurt. Finally, Samme starts to talk "Sage has decided to seek a separate mentor. I will work on this as soon as we reach the Capitol. Till then we won't talk strategy as a group." I speak up, I have already made some decisions and I am not going to give Samme a chance to change my mind. "I intend to be on the train back. I won't kill a district one two tribute if I can avoid it. All of you are safe from me unless you force my hand. I, however, will not be a target, and if you try to kill me, you will breathe your last breath at my hand. Until, the final 8, I will protect any of you. I will not seek you out, but if you find me, we can be allies. I was the shadow in the Peacekeeper video." A grimace crosses each tributes face, Samme smirks in understanding, Ezera just looks confused.

Now everyone at the table, except Ezera knows I have killed. It was a very personal killing, I slit the mans throat. That it was the head Peacemaker and I got away. If they do the math they will know I was only ten at the time. Why did I say it? Do I want them scared of me? Samme's hand runs up my thigh, her fingers massage and dance in small circles. Her face is calm and the group is once again silent. We finish our meal as the train begins to slow. Her hand never leaves my thigh. We are expected to return to our rooms, standing and walking is going to be both painful and embarrassing. The train comes to a complete stop just before I reach my room.

Groomer, what the H is that? I have taken care of my personal hygiene as long as I can remember. And other than the typical merchant kid snide remarks, no one has ever told me I was ugly or stank. Ezera's Capitol voice, only with an annoyed twang to it, comes over the speaker "We will be delayed about three hours and we are still about two and a half hours from the Capitol. Tributes for your own safety please stay in your rooms." I chuckle to myself, Ezera sure is good with that voice of hers. From the sound it would be easy to believe she was annoyed by the delay, that is, if you didn't know she was responsible for it. I sprawl on my bed, pull the flask from my pocket and drink.

The train no sooner starts moving again when my door opens and a small woman enters, she is wearing a mechanics coveralls and is carrying a large toolbox. She looks like she could be from District twelve . Her voice however rings clear with the Capitols accent. "Why are you dressed?" As if I were a misbehaved child. I roll to my feet, the world wobbles slightly, perhaps I should be more careful drinking from the flask. She is removing her coveralls, I can't help but stare. At first I think shes naked, but her skin appears too shimmery. When she drops the coverall and turns around, I decide it would be better if she were naked. That shimmering is a completely transparent pale pink body suit, she seems to have a rose bush growing over her skin, flowers cover strategic areas but, that just makes it worse. I am convinced this is just another way the Capitol tortures young male tributes. Once again that horrid Capitol voice "Your still dressed." This time it is an accusation.

I pull my t-shirt over my head. I tuck my thumbs into my waistband and start to turn around. "Stop right there." Its clearly a command even with the shrill Capitol accent. "I am responsible for your body till these games are over, you might as well get over being naked in front of me right now." I take a deep breath, steady myself, yank my pants over my hips, drop them to the floor and step forward. "Good" she says as she steps up to me. "My name is Thorn. I am your primary groomer, my sisters Rose and Blossom will complete our team. Angle is your stylist she will give me direction, handle dressing you and the finish work. But, tonight its just me." Her hands run over every inch of my body as she speaks. She works efficiently without causing any of the embarrassing reactions I have been subject to in the last twenty four hours. "Well lets get you showered" she walks into the bathroom. I watch as she hits almost a dozen buttons on the control panel. The walls around the stall retract into the ceiling. After she walks away, I step into to a spray of purplish foam, its warm and kind of tingly. I close my eyes to enjoy the sensation trying to forget Thorn is still in my room. I don't hear her come back into the bathroom, I only know she is behind me when her hands start to massage my shoulders. It is an amazing sensation. She massages the purple foam into my entire body before she turns on a rinse cycle. Before the shower turns off I have been massaged, scrubbed, swabbed, and pummeled. Thorn directs me to a small platform in my dressing room, she has me place my hands on the bars on the side racks. She spreads my feet to shoulder width. There is a mirror directly in front of me, I have never felt so vulnerable in my life.

Thorn touches the mirror in front of me and District twelve 's square appears in a view panel. The image is of Maysilee as she realizes she has been reaped. I can't hold my composure, I slam my right fist into my left palm. Thorn's head snaps around, "get your hands back on those bars and don't move again." I take a deep breath, remember Samme's instructions, and grab the bars. The next image is me on my knees vomiting, then my fist smashing into Jaxon's jaw, then Cedaris, Jaxon and me in the hands of the Peacekeepers. Slowly the screen zooms in, finally the image is just me, my arms held behind my back, my chest straining forward, my jaw clenched, every thing about me screaming. I can't take it, I leap forward and slam my fist over and over into the image. When I wear myself out Thorn simply points at the platform. I step back into position and grab the bars. She walks over to the wall and flicks a switch, my hands grip the bars tighter, I try to pull away but I can't. The message is clear obey, or be made to obey.

She doesn't speak to me again while she works. I am just as glad for the silence. She has darkened the mirrors so I can't actually tell what she is doing, as she works on my body. She has however left that image on the screen staring back at me. At first I feel completely impotent, but the longer I stand here the more the rage over takes the helplessness. When she finishes Thorn stands, walks around me, checking me from every angle, she is satisfied. She retrieves black fleece pants and a pair of sandals. She pushes a button on the platform and I can move my feet again. I step into the pants, glad I am no longer naked. The sandals are comfortable. She walks around and stops just to the right of me. "I want you to take one long last look at that young man on the screen. That is who I need you to be every minute until you are back in my care tomorrow." Thorn moved out of my view and was perfectly silent. I think through her words over and over as I stare at myself. That is who I am.

Thorn turns off the image. Turns, looks at me and asks if I am ready to see myself. I simply nod. She turns the mirrors back on. The man staring back at me looks beaten. The actual bruise on my cheek has been deepened, my other cheek appears raw and seeping, I have several bruises on my ribs, one is clearly boot shaped, my back is similarly marked, there also appear to be lash marks trailing into my pants. I am astounded by the image we are presenting. If i didn't know, I would believe the injuries. Thorn starts talking again "Head up, eyes defiant, walk as if you don't notice your injuries, obey immediately but do not say a word to anyone, and I mean anyone, till I see you. Got it?" When I don't answer she reaches up and pulls on my ear till I yelp "got it" she walks over flips the switch. Then she tells me to walk around and stretch while I can. I am stiff from being held while she worked on me so it feels good, but what did she mean by while I can?

Thorn packs up her tool kit and pulls on her coveralls. She walks over rubs my shoulders. She whispers, "make it count my young rebel." The train starts to slow. She grabs a bag from her kit and motions me to the center of the room. She has me stand with my hands behind my back and feet spread. She shackles me without warning. She does it so quickly and efficiently I can't even react. She slips out of my room without another word. I stand there alone, helpless, wondering what next?