Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games

Chapter 5

All I see is red light, which causes a lump of cotton to build in my throat. What are these Capitol people doing to me?

I watch hesitantly as Vic, a man with gelled blue hair and a matching mustache, holds a laser a few inches from my face. I squeeze my eyes shut and cringe as I feel the cool metal glide up against my skin.

"What are you doing?" I ask weakly.

"Stops hair growth," mutters Vic plainly.

"So I won't have facial hair now?" I ask, hoping our proceeding conversation will take my mind off the laser.

"Yep," answers Vic in a blasé tone.

And I thought I was quiet. It seems I've met my match, and to think it's a Capitol person.

Since I arrived at the Remake Center, Vic hasn't even said a full sentence, which I find strange, considering that most Capitol people don't know when to stop talking.

"How long does it take?" I ask.

"It goes by faster if you don't speak."

Well that was rude; all I asked was a simple question. I'm starting to get the feeling that this guy isn't too happy to have me as a tribute. I wonder why; what did I do to him?

I try to look around but I can't move, so instead I just stare at my torturer. I watch as the man continues to glide the laser up and down my face, making sure not to miss any part that grows hair.

"Finished," he exclaims.

Vic walks over and puts the laser into its compartment, his shoes squeaking along the way. As I hear him ruffling through a drawer, I think. What terrible torture will I endure next?

When he finally comes back, he holds pair of small silver tweezers. "Now we need to fix your eyebrows," he instructs. I jerk as he plucks away at my bushy eyebrows. "Stop moving," He barks. I'm sorry, but I've never done this before. I mean, the whole getting hair ripped from my face is a new concept to me.

After a few more plucks, Vic finally stops. Finally, it's over, I think as I let sigh of relief. I can't imagine how the Capitol people go through that on a daily bases. As he puts down the tweezers, Vic warns me that my face may be sore for a few days. Great, pain and soreness before the arena.

The door swings open and two more Capitol people come into the room. "Sorry we're late!" chirps one, a man with shaggy purple hair. Starring at his violet mane, I think. Looks like I'm not the only one in need of a trimming.

The other two members of my prep team waste no time getting busy on my transformation. The man with the purple hair, whose name is Thelus, gets to work on polishing my skin; I'm stripped in the process.

Thelus sprays me down with cool water, and then begins drenching me in some type of foam. Before I know it he has a brush in hand and is scrubbing. As he scrubs, grime flees from my body, along with what feels like half my skin.

A woman with cascading red hair and bold make-up starts applying a thin layer of blush to my face. I can't say how awkward I feel as the woman, whose name I've learned is Pharrah, applies more make-up. I think she senses my discomfort, because she reassures me that she won't make me look feminine.

"I almost forgot!" exclaims Pharrah. "Congratulations!"

"You must feel so honored!" adds Thelus.

"I bet he feels just peachy," snickers Vic.

I'm beginning to grow tired of this man. Why must he always be so rude? I think about saying a smart remark, but Blight's advice pursues me not to. I have to praise them, not insult them.

"Yeah, I feel pretty honored," I lie. "But I'm also I little nervous."

"Why?" blurts Thelus.

Why? Well, let's see I'm going into an arena where I could be killed. And then there's the thought that I have to get all dressed up for this parade, and I can't forget about the interview. I'm dreading that day the most; I'm not much of a talker.

"The Parade," I answer.

"You'll be fine!" sings Pharrah. "Besides, you're going to look amazing once we're finished with you!"

I smile at her optimistic attitude. That's one of the positive things about the Capitol people: they always seem so happy. Thinking about their perky behavior, I know it'll be hard to hate them…well, except Vic, who I do hate.

I twiddle my thumbs as my prep team continues to polish my appearance. They pluck stray hairs, file my dingy finger nails, and even rub this silky, smooth lotion on my face.

"This lotion will dissolve those undesirable bags under your eyes," states Vic in a monotone voice.

"They're not undesirable!" squeals Pharrah. "They just show he's not the best at sleeping!"

A toothy grin emerges across my face when I hear her remark. I'm guessing it was a joke – an incentive to lighten the mood – and it worked.

Though it was a joke, it was true. Sleeping isn't something I'm the best at. At home my mind just seems to get clouded with problems or tasks and I end up tossing and turning all through the night. It's a dreadful routine, but I've learned to deal with it.

"Let's start on his hair." yaps Thelus.

"I think you mean mop," snips Vic.

"Vic, what's got you in such a bad mood?" asks Pharrah. "Is it because you got downgraded to a higher district?"

"No!" snaps Vic. "I put in a request for transfer. Everyone knows I was tired of working on those bimbos from 4."

"That's not what I heard," mutters Thelus as he cups his hand over his mouth. I'm assuming he wasn't supposed to say that.

"And exactly what did you hear?" threatens Vic.

"Just the usual rumors," waves Thelus, panic filling his eyes. By the looks of it, I would say he's afraid of Vic. But why?

"Well those are just rumors," huffs Vic, "Plain and simple."

By the way Vic's eyes shift, I can tell he's lying. They aren't just rumors, which means he didn't put in a request.

He was downgraded.

But why? What did he do to get moved all the way from District 4 – a Career District – to District 7?

A Career District is a district that trains their tributes before the games. It's illegal to do so, but Districts 1, 2 and 4 do it anyway. The training takes place in special academy, and when they turn eighteen they volunteer. By then, they're ruthless, trained murderers.

Vic and Thelus waste no time snipping away at my hair. Though it actually took them a while to start, because they had to wash the clumps of dried grease from my hair. Thelus worked quietly, humming a tune, but Vic insisted on saying rude remarks like, "The things you districts put in your hair are so revolting." I ignored his comments and kept quiet.

Sitting there, I listen to their gossip, which consists of him or her buying a new wig, jewels, or having a new surgery done. Everything my prep team speaks about is materialistic, and it bewilders me how superficial the Capitol actually is - how they depict everything upon the items they had rather than the people that surrounded them.

"Perfect!" sings Thelus. "Just perfect!"

"My oh my!" purrs Pharrah. "Don't you look handsome."

"I knew he had potential!" exclaims Thelus.

"That's enough praising you two," commands Vic. "We need to go get Linnea."

"Who's Linnea?" I ask.

"Your stylist," answers Pharrah. "The one who's going to dress you exquisitely for tonight."

After a few minutes of hugs and kisses from my prep team – except Vic, who just gave me a menacing glare - they departed from the room.

Alone, my curiosity was starting to get the best of me. I hadn't seen my transformation yet, and I was itching to. After all, Pharrah did say I look handsome. The thought makes me blush.

I remember the time at school when I was talking to Aster… I mean Amber, and she gave me a flirty smile. At the sight of this flirtatious move, redness instantly surged in my cheeks. I was so embarrassed, but Amber wasn't. She just giggled and skipped away as if it was nothing. After that encounter I was determined to be more confident around girls.

I wait, and wait, and wait for someone to enter. But no one does.

I look down at my shaking hands, in a few minutes I will get to meet my stylist, the person who will be one of my largest assets in these Games. And hopefully, I'll get one who will be extraordinary.

Stylists vary. You have the ones who believe the best costume is the one you arrived on this earth in - your birthday suit. Then there are those who like to alter your skin color. I remember one year a stylist from District 4 decided to dye his tributes blue to symbolize the ocean.

I shiver as a cool breeze travels through the room. Why is it so Cold in here? I tug the flimsy robe around my naked body, but it doesn't help. I'm still freezing.

Slam! The door hits the wall, and I nearly fall off the table. What's going on? What was that?

I watch as a woman dipped in pink prances into the room. I'm not exaggerating when I say she's dipped in pink. Everything the woman has on is a horrendous shade of pink, from her ringlet curls to her tight fitting dress.

Wait.

I've seen this woman before. She was the girl from District 8's stylist last year. She was the one who was praised heavily during the interviews. The girl's costume was a mystical of colors and it was amongst the crowd favorites.

"Congratulations!" carols the woman. "My name is Linnea, and I'll be your stylist." She flashes me a smile, revealing her pearly white teeth. I chuckle when I notice the streak of lipstick on her front tooth.

"Thanks." I say. "May I ask you a question?"

"Yes," sings Linnea. "Ask away!"

I look down at the white tile floor. I can't take this woman seriously until she gets that gunk off of her teeth. "Were you the one who designed the District 8 female's costume last year?" My question lingers in the air, and suddenly I feel foolish. What if I have the wrong woman? That wouldn't be good.

Linnea looks at me with eyebrows raised, "Why yes I did! And she got a few sponsors because of that wonderful costume. Though sadly those sponsors couldn't save her when she got stabbed by that sword. " Linnea wipes dramatically at her eye.

"So are you going to help me get sponsors too?" I ask, hoping to change subjects.

Linnea looks at me confused then bursts into laughter, "You're funny!" She lets out an obnoxious snort. "Of course I'll get you sponsors!"

I look up from the floor as soon as the words leave her mouth. A rush of relief washes over me. I smile and she smiles back, then Linnea says, "Now follow me so we can get better acquainted."

I walk into a small room. It's rather bare besides the small table and couch. As we get closer, I see a tray of food has already been placed on the table. On the tray is a roasted duck with red potatoes, which are covered in some thick, zesty sauce. I've never had duck before. It's really pricy in 7, so my father likes to avoid it, and I don't blame him.

"Are you going to sit down?" asks Linnea, her eyes giving me a worrisome look.

I swallow hard. I'm still standing. Well, that's awkward. As I approach the plush couch, I think. Stop drooling and focus.

"Yes," I answer. "I was just enjoying the scenery first." Anyone could tell this is a lie. Or maybe not anyone, because Linnea seems to believe me. I kind of feel bad for lying to her so early, but then again, she's buttering me up for slaughter.

"Well, you can gogle over those things later," laughs Linnea. "We have matters to discuss. So hurry up and eat your lunch."

I scarf down the duck and potatoes, wishing I had taken more time to enjoy their savory flavor, but Linnea told me to eat fast and that's something I'm used to doing. Back home, during our lunch break, we would have fifteen minutes to scarf down our lunches, so shoveling food in is something I'm a pro at.

"So Oakley," starts Linnea. "Do you have any suggestions as to how you'd like your costume? I know some tributes aren't fond of the nude aspect, while others like to embrace it."

Where did that come from? I think. One minute she's asking for suggestions, the next she's talking about nudity. The sound of the word makes my gut cringe. I want to avoid going nude at all costs.

"Are you alright?" asks Linnea. "You look a little red. Hopefully all that nude talk didn't fluster you." She ends her sentence with another obnoxious laugh. The one I'm beginning to hate, and I've only heard it twice.

"No, you didn't fluster me," I answer plainly. Of course this woman flustered me, but she doesn't need to know that.

"Well… good!" cherps Linnea. "Let's get started then!"

When I've finished lunch, Linnea takes me into the other room. This room contains all sorts of gadgets. Most look like they're used for measuring body parts.

Linnea leads me over to a silver chair, where she then straps a leather belt with notches around my waist. The leather is rough against my bare skin. Linnea removed my thin gown, because she said it could set off the measurements. I highly doubt that. The gown is extremely thin, too thin if you ask me.

So now I sit here naked, as a woman I barely know adjusts this belt contraption around my waist.

"There!" exclaims Linnea. "Now we just need to tighten it."

Tighten? I think. What does that me- I twitch as I feel Linnea jerk the strap tighter, a growl escaping my lips as the pain in my stomach increases. What is she doing? Is this some sort of pre-game torture?

"Sorry about that!" squeaks Linnea. "But I have to make sure the measurements are exact."

"It's cool," I say reassuringly, "Just don't kill me."

"I won't," chuckles Linnea. "Besides, what fun would it be if you died this early?"

What did she just say?

I bite my tongue to block any sarcasm from escaping my lips. Blight told me specifically not to offend them. But Fun? Does she really think dying is fun? Or watching kids die is fun? Because it's not. It's cruel.

Linnea catches onto my discomfort and puts up the belt. From then on the room is quiet. Linnea measures my arms, chest, head, and feet, and when she's finally done with all that, I wait, something I seem to be doing a lot of as of late.

"Oakley!" screams Linnea. "I know exactly what I want you to look like for tonight, and it's going to be breathtaking!"

Looking at Linnea's bright, green eyes and powdered face, my mind goes blank. I should respond, show her that I'm happy, but I don't. I just sit there awkwardly, staring at her. I really need to work on my people skills.

Linnea waves off the silence and hastily grabs her clip board. "I'll be right back with your costume Oakley!" Then she scurries out of the room like a flash of pink lightning.

I wait in the room for what seems like an eternity. I sit, staring at the steel clock on the wall in front of me. How long does it take for someone to make a costume? I mean, I already know it's going to deal with lumber. More than likely it will be a tree.

Every year, District 7's costumes are the same: Tree, bush, tree, bush. It's so repetitive that I imagine the Capitol people are dying for some originality. For something that's not brown and covered with leaves.

When Linnea finally comes back, her face is plastered with a distorted grin, "I love it!" she cries. The noise is so piercing that I have to cover my ears. This woman needs a muzzle.

I watch as she holds up my costume, waving it in the air excitedly, "Well let's get you dressed." I cringe as she strips me down to my bare minimal. I'm learning that modesty isn't a trait in the Capitol.

Linnea slips the green, thick bush-like object around my waist. I call it a bush because it reminds me of the ferns back home, the ones that are green, prickly, and most times filled with insects. Thankfully, this bush is only green.

I attempt to steady myself as Linnea wraps vines around my arms, torso, and legs. The vines are thin and remind me of the white noodles I had on the train. They're definitely not like the vines back home, the ones which are covered in thorns.

Linnea finishes my dazzling costume with dabs of brown makeup here and there on my chest and ribcage. She says she's trying to give me a glow, and that she wants me to look at one with nature. I'm unsure of what that means, most of what she says is gibberish anyways, so I doubt it means anything important.

"This costume wouldn't have worked if I didn't have a tribute with such a nice physical appearance," coos Linnea. "I mean, you may not be bulging with muscles, but you seem toned. And the sponsors will love that…especially the ladies." She gives me a wink that sends a flush of red to my cheeks. I need to stop doing that.

I look down at my bare feet. I assume I won't be wearing any shoes tonight. It doesn't bother me though; in District 7 we sometimes travel barefooted, though that mostly depends on the season and the weather.

I adjust my costume, or bush, so it covers my hip bone. I can't say I'm impressed with Linnea's originality. I mean, all my costume consists of is a green shrub and a few vines. Nothing fancy, nothing breathtaking. I was expecting something more from her. Looks like I had my expectations set a little too high.

"Before we go get Blight I need to add a few finishing touches," explains Linnea as she places a few leaves in my messy hair. I found it quite ironic that Vic combed it so neatly, only for Linnea to destroy it. Guess the joke is on him.

Linnea opens the door and we exit the room. I follow her down a long, white hallway until we see Blight, who's pacing back and forth in front of a door.

"Doesn't he look great!" yodels Linnea, her voice raising a few octets.

Blight's eyes find mine and he grins. I know what he's thinking, it's obvious. Trees again.

"You look very nice Oakley," compliments Blight, "Oh, and well done Linnea."

Linnea doesn't seem pleased by his reaction, which makes me chuckle. Was she really expecting him to drool over her "dazzling" costume?

"Well let's get him to the chariot?" instructs Blight as he turns and exits through the door.

Inside, the room is filled with chariots and my competition. Today will be the first time all the tributes see each other. Today will be the day for first impressions.

I follow Linnea and Blight down the lane, passing chariots, one after the other. As I pass, I try to glance at each districts costumes. Most are boring like District 12's coal miner and District 11's farmer.

As District 11 fades, I gulp down a lump of saliva. District 10. The district of Boarus, the beefy red head that towers over six feet. As if his stature isn't enough to cause his competition to tremble with fear, just add a disturbing costume.

District 10's costumes consists of meat. Raw steaks, sausages, and bacon all hanging on their muscular bodies. I'm speechless at the strange site, yet at the same time, I envy them. Their costume will stand out tonight in the opening ceremonies, while mine, like most, will be forgotten.

Passing by District 9 and 8's chariots I start to feel anxious. It's almost time for the parade and I don't know if I'm ready. Tonight is crucial, because what we do tonight could affect us the whole games. What we do tonight could mean life or death once we're in the arena.

As District 8's chariot fades, our chariot approaches, and in it is Riley. She's dressed the same as I, except a smaller bush is weaved around her chest. Examining the rest of her costume, I notice that heavy, brown make up has been applied over her ribcage. I'm guessing this is an attempt to hide how malnourished she is.

As I go to get into the chariot, I feel a hand grab my arm. Turning I see Blight, his brown eyes glaring into mine. "Remember what I told you on the train Oakley. Work the crowd."

And with those words he leaves, Johanna and Riley's Stylist following. Linnea on the other hand doesn't leave, instead she waves and blows kisses. She continues this charade until finally someone has to escort her to an exit. I sigh with embarrassment as my stylist is taken away.

Why did I have to get her?

I feel a sudden jolt and I know it's time. I hold myself steady as our chariot begins to move. Our chariot is controlled by two steeds, steeds that move the chariot without guidance. I like to think they have the routine memorized or they've been genetically altered by the Capitol to perform this task.

My mind attempts to scatter as we approach the gates, but I can't let it. I have to act composed. Instead of panicking, I play Blight's advice over and over again in my head. Work the crowd. Work the crowd. "I have to work the crowd."

"What was that?"

I turn to look at Riley, her face wearing a mask of confusion. Why is she looking at me like that? What did I do?

"Huh?" I ask.

"I'm guessing you were talking to yourself," she chuckles, and for a second she doesn't seem dangerous or creepy, just a girl who's laughing with a friend. "So what did you say?"

"Oh that, it was nothing," I laugh. "I was just trying to give myself a pep talk so I don't make a complete fool of myself."

"So I'm guessing you're nervous too," remarks Riley, her hollow eyes gazing into mine.

Looking into her eyes I think.How could someone who's alive have eyes like that?

"Yeah," I mutter, "Extremely."

"Me too," she sighs. "I wish this never would have happened to me."

"Don't we all," I say, a grin slipping upon my lips.

I wish this would have never happened to me too. I wish I was back home eating by the fire place with my parents, or cutting wood for Mrs. Willows, or even helping Levon and Axel repair a roof in the rain. Anywhere would be better than here.

But here is where I am, and it's where I will remain until the Games begin.

"Oakley?"

"Yeah," I answer softly.

"Are you scared to die?"

The sound of her words makes my heart drop. I wasn't expecting that.

I let out a loud cough, "Umm…I guess I am, but honestly Riley, I don't plan on dying any time soon."

"I know I am," she says, her head hanging low.

Looking at her, I feel pity. How could she say that? Does she not want to live? Does she not want to return home to see her family?

"You don't think you can win?" I ask.

"I don't want to win," she admits.

"Why not?"

"Winning won't make my life any easier Oakley."

Hearing her words, I can't help but think. Sure it will. Winning will grant you immunity from the torture of the Capitol.

"Winning the Hunger Games will only make me a murderer - a murderer who won't be able to sleep at night."

I look into Riley's eyes, puzzled by her response. "What do you mean?" I ask, trying to understand her way of thinking.

"You really think you won't dream about them, the people you kill in the arena," answers Riley. "You honestly think you can kill someone and it won't be on your conscience?" Her eyes glower into mine as if she's trying to read my soul. I stare back, and that's when I notice the water forming in her eyes.

How could someone so strong and mysterious act so broken at a time like this?

Wait.

Johanna acted broken. She wanted people to pity her. She said she couldn't win, even wept during her interview about how hopeless she was.

Then it hits me, Riley is just another Johanna. She's just another liar, just another girl working whatever angle she can to win.

"Nice acting Riley," I hiss, anger surging through my bones. Did this girl take me as a fool? Did she really think I would fall for the whole "weak" act?

"What are you taking about?" baffles Riley. "I'm not acting you fool! I'm being honest."

"Sure," I answer, turning myself forward to face the gates.

I'm done talking to Riley.

And more importantly, I'm done feeling pity for a liar.


A/N: Well...I'm back, sorry it's been so long since I've updated, but college has been hectic and I haven't had much time to write. BUT I have a two week break before next semester, so I'm hoping to update again quite soon :D.

I would like to say thank you to luvakatsuki3, who is my beta (she really does an amazing job - fixes all my tedious errors.) Also, thank you so much for all the lovely reviews, and I hope you guys keep them coming! :)

And like always: Read, review, but most importantly enjoy. :)