" Stars still burn bright
Seasons change overnight
As we find a way the times they come and go
Look back in love"
The Offspring-Days Go By
Peeta hadn't been kidding about how big the crowd would be. We can hear the festival before we saw it the low pounding of a bass and the thrum of voices and cheers from the crowd. I don't even realize I've been bouncing my knee in anticipation until Peeta put his hand on it, steadying me. He gives me an easy, reassuring smile.
"Don't worry," he says softly, low enough that the other six chattering people in the car can't hear him. "We're going to go around to the back of the two stages they have set up. Gale, Rory, Finnick and I aren't allowed to be in the crowd, so you guys can stay out of it too."
Madge, who'd been watching our exchange closely while suspiciously eyeing Peeta's hand on my knee, pipes up with a slight whine. "No," she sighs sadly, turning to Gale. "I want to walk around and see everything."
"Oh my God," Johanna say, looking out the window as the full festival came into view. "They have an 'I Love Vagina' stand." She turns to Prim, nudging her conspiratorially with a twinkle in her eye. "We have to go check that one out."
I start to protest, but Gale whips around and gives me a look that clearly tells me he'll restrain me by whatever means necessary to keep me from interfering with Prim. It irritates me how much I'm expected to tolerate of my baby sister being corrupted by Johanna Mason. It's hard to remember that Prim's an adult now and has been for three years. I know he's right about leaving her alone to do what she wants, but I don't like it. I shoot him a glare and settle back in my seat to stare darkly out the window, thinking traitorous thoughts against Gale Hawthorne.
Peeta is right. Half a football stadium's worth of people are milling around the large park-like area we are skirting around. Dozens of vendors with stands out hawk goods at the various passersby, almost all of whom are carrying a clear plastic cup of beer, ranging from the amber of Bud Light to the dark and thick Guinness. I wrinkle my nose at the beer, which has always found a way to leave me miserably sick the next morning. But then I perk up at the sight of a few brightly colored hurricane glasses with paper umbrellas sticking out of the tops. I figure if I have to endure a large crowd, I want to do it with one of those in my hand.
The car pulls around the side of the gated-off crowd to a roadblock monitored by men dressed all in black. The men are sweating profusely behind their matching aviator sunglasses, but they don't move to wipe the sweat away. They just stand there with one hand on the walkie-talkies pinned to their shirts and the other hand on a small holster at their hip that is too small to hold a gun—probably pepper spray. I can tell by the subtle side-to-side movements of their heads they're scanning the area, keeping an eye out for anyone trying to sneak by. As we pull up, one of them comes up to talk to the driver. The driver must say or show the man something that satisfies him because he says something to the other security guard and they remove the gate blocking our way.
The driver pulls around behind the two stages set up at the far end of the park. We can see one band performing on one while the band on the other stage is in the middle of what I'm pretty sure is a sound check. The music is almost deafening this close, but then I'm surprised by how quiet it is as we pull around the backside of the stage.
The lot at the back of the stages is full of other buses like ours with little clusters of teams packed in front of each of them. It's pretty easy to tell who are the band and who are the caretakers. The band members seem to just sort of stand around and look bored while three to seven people flit around them nervously, talking nervously to both the band and each other. I can spy a couple of groups that are just sort of standing around and talking amiably, and those are the groups I suspect have already gone. A few of the groups merge and smack each other on the back and give 'bro' hugs, apparently all well-acquainted with each other.
The driver pulls up to a black bus that's apparently ours, but I don't recognize it. The top portion of the bus has expanded several feet, almost doubling the bus in size. Gale explains the hydraulics and how it's designed to give more space for maneuvering inside when an entire team of people is moving in and out. Said team is standing around the front of the bus, chatting pleasantly in a group of six while two other figures stand off to the side. One of them is a tall man with long, chin-length blonde hair who's wearing a wrinkled suit. He's waving the drink in his hand through the hair as he vigorously gestures angrily at the wildly dressed, pink-haired female standing across from him. She has one hand on her hip and is shaking the other hand in the man's face, her finger wagging at him in apparent frustration.
"Great," sighs Peeta. "We didn't get here fast enough."
"Good old Haymitch and Effie," Finnick groans, reaching his arms above him in a stretch. "Probably arguing over who gets to tackle us first."
The driver parks the car in front of the group then gets out to come open the car door for us. Rory and Prim fall out first, followed by Johanna, Madge, Gale, Finnick, Peeta and finally, me. We've barely gotten out of the car when the shouting duo descend, the female nearly digging her claws into Rory, who she reaches first.
"Now, gentleman," she says quickly. "We need to discuss the reservations for tomorrow—"
"The key change for 'Michael's Redemption'," the man bursts in, cutting the woman off. "I think we should go back to the first version, might fit this crowd better—"
They press in on the boys, who have retreated against the car in an attempt to avoid the onslaught. We girls carefully skitter to the side to get away, leaving the boys to their own devices. We do manage to get away, but not before I get a whiff of expensive perfume and whiskey as they approach.
"Oh god," Gale says, shoving his way past them. "Get off."
Peeta smiles widely at the shocked and annoyed looks they give Gale, then turns to address Madge, Johanna, Prim and me where we stand near the trunk of the car. "This is Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket. Haymitch is our road band manager and Effie is our coordinator." He gives them each a cool but polite look. "I promise," he adds, "they're not usually like this."
"Oh don't try to sugar coat it," Finnick says, hopping over and taking Effie smoothly into his arms with a charming smile. "These two couldn't hate anyone else in the world more than they hate each other."
Effie huffs and sticks her nose in the air as she pushes Finnick away from her. "I don't hate anyone," she says hotly. "Hate is not an emotion that distinguished women have." She gives Haymitch a disdainful look and says, "I just find him unrefined and a terrible drunk."
She's got her hands on her hips in a way I know she intends to be intimidating, but it's hard for a woman who looks like her to appear like anything more than a fragile, hopeless butterfly. She's dressed in a puffy blue skirt that doesn't go any lower than mid-thigh, her legs covered by matching tights that twinkle with some sort of small built-in lights. She's wearing a tight, long-sleeved pink jacket that has to be sweltering on her in this heat. The shoulders are poufy and slit in several places to reveal a fluorescent orange lining underneath. Her hair is either a pink wig or has been dyed that way and is piled up in a hair-do so tall it makes my neck ache. To top it all off, she's wearing a set of orange heels to match her jacket that have to be three to four inches tall. She looks like something you'd see in an out-there fashion show and totally out of place amidst all of the glam-rock everyone else is wearing.
"We'll discuss everything after the show, Effie," Peeta says firmly, giving Effie a brief smile before turning to the rest of the crew, who've been standing by relatively patiently in comparison to the two-person ambush we've just been received by. "What do you guys need from us?" he asks them.
I recognize one person out of the group—Cinna. He's standing with one other man and three women. The first, and calmest, woman is tall with smooth chocolate skin and a mane of orange hair she's tied up into a large ball on top of her head. Cinna introduces her as Portia. They are the stylists for the band and are in charge of wardrobe and public image when on the road. The other two women are Octavia and Venia and the second man is Flavius, all of whom make up the prep team. The three of them explain they're the ones to put into action everything Portia and Cinna command. They are both pretty laid back and easygoing, but the prep team has to be on something to make them so chipper, I'm sure of it.
Octavia, clad in some sort of dress covered by sequins and brightly colored clam shells with matching go-go heels, is the youngest of them all and I'd pin her at about my age. The amount of energy she seems to be holding in makes my head ache as I watch her rock back and forth on her heels in an excited way that eerily reminds me of Prim. Venia is older, probably in her late thirties or forties, but looks no less glamorous than Octavia in an outfit of bright greens and purples that hurts my eyes to look at for too long. And while Octavia's make-up seems to be all bright colors and crazy combos, Venia gets her 'wow' factor from the scrolling gold tattoos over her face. I can't determine if they're real or drawn on because she's talking so animatedly with her companion. Flavius chatters excitedly with her, his hair an orange corkscrew on his head that bounces as he nods in response to something she says.
I look at Peeta, raising an eyebrow at him in skepticism. "Where did you guys find these people?"
Before Peeta can respond, Cinna jumps in and cuts him off with a soothing laugh directed at me. "Effie hired me at the start of the tour. I found these three at a salon school in Russellville, Arkansas. Actually," he says with a slight smirk, "they'd just been kicked out of salon school." He lowers his voice conspiratorially and says, "A little too wild for southern taste."
I can't help but smile back at Cinna, warming to him immediately. He's not dressed as extravagantly as his team. Actually, he looks at home here with all of these bands. His pants are leather and he's wearing a simple white shirt coupled with a few dark leather and cotton cords tied at his wrists. I think I spot a little gold eyeliner on his lids, but instead of looking too 'glam,' it actually brings out the gold flecks in his eyes.
I surprise myself by asking, "And so you decided they needed to be in the world of rock and roll prep?"
Cinna's laugh is booming now, and I feel a bubble of pleasure rise in me at the sound of it, heating me from chest to extremities. "Sort of," he says. "As wild as their personal style is, these guys really are geniuses." He turns and gives his team a fond look. "I wouldn't work with anyone else."
Gale comes over and pokes me hard in the arm, a mischievous smile on his face as he says, "You know, Octavia swears she gives the best Brazilians. I bet she'd do one for you if you—oof!"
I cut Gale off with a swift fist to the stomach, sending him doubling over in surprise. He sputters and coughs, turning away to clutch onto the side of the car for support. I turn back to Cinna and Peeta to find them both staring at me in astonishment, eyes bouncing back and forth between a smiling me and a nearly-in-tears Gale.
"So," I say nonchalantly, crossing my arms over my chest. "When do you guys go on?"
"Uh…" Peeta says, still staring at Gale, who's just starting to be able to breathe deeply in an attempt to regain the air I've just punched out of him. Madge is at his side now, fussing over him. She gives me an exasperated look, which I respond to with a shrug. "I think we're one of the next ones," he continues. "Right, Cinna?"
Cinna's face has now changed to one of amusement once Gale is on his feet and sputtering out curse words mixed with my name. "Yes," he says slowly, "as long as Gale can still go on."
"He'll be fine," Rory says with a wave of his hand in the direction of his brother. "It's not like he has to sing or anything."
"Yeah," says Finnick, stepping away from me slowly. "So stay away from me."
I roll my eyes but give Finnick a quick smile in response. Sighing, I go over to Gale, who's been placed in a lawn chair by Madge. I crouch down next to him and put a hand on the arm of his chair, giving him a small smile and a firm stare.
"You should know better by now, Hawthorne." I say quietly, trying hard to keep the laughter out of my voice as he gives me a comedic glare.
"I forgot," Gale wheezes out, "how hard you can hit."
I grace him with a broad smile now, reassured he'll live, and slap him on the knee as I stand. "You'll remember now, I'm sure."
"Not sure I'll ever be able to forget after that," he mutters to himself. I grin but don't answer.
"You had to hit him," Madge mutters as she slings her arm around mine. "Right before they go on stage?"
I shrug. "He'll be fine. I've hit him harder."
Madge seems to be fighting a smile now as she nudges me with her shoulder. "I don't doubt it," she says.
"Gonna make it, Hawthorne?" Haymitch asks, coming over to hit Gale firmly on the shoulder.
Gale grunts at the impact but manages a, "Sure, boss."
"Good," Haymitch grumbles. The drink in his hand is only about halfway gone, but he throws back the entire contents in one swallow before he says, "Cuz you guys are on."
Gale bats off a few offers of help and hauls himself out of his chair, throwing me a hard look in the process. A team of people in khakis and black shirts with earpieces in come over and escort us up to the right-hand stage. Madge, Johanna, Prim and I are ushered off to the side of the stage where we won't get in the way. We're instructed to stand there and to not move by a woman who looks like she could throw all four of us over her shoulder and haul us off the stage if we don't follow her orders. Johanna is in the middle of telling Madge to complain to Gale about the 'poor' treatment when a smiling young woman dressed in a sleek red dress comes up with a tray of four drinks in the hurricane glasses I'd been eyeing earlier on the drive.
"Oh yum!" Prim says, reaching out to eagerly take one of the cocktails. Before any of the rest of us can take one she's slurped down a heavy amount and closes her eyes in satisfaction. "Piña Colada...dear god this is good."
Johanna snatches one for herself and Madge and I follow suit. I can see now that Prim's right, the beverage inside is white and blended and smells like coconut and pineapple. Piña Coladas are a rare treat for us, what with blended drinks being so expensive and us not having a blender at home. I take a tentative sip and the flavor races over my tongue, thick and wonderful. I close my eyes, enjoying the tang of the pineapple and the cream of the coconut. I bite my lip to keep myself from taking another sip, wanting to savor it.
I sneak a glimpse at Prim, and I can see she's already downed half of hers in excitement. But she's slowed down now and is sipping mildly from the glass when she says, "Peeta's looking at you."
I whip my head around to look onto the stage. Peeta's got his guitar slung over his shoulders now, and he's wearing an absent sort of smile as he looks over at us. He smiles broadly when he sees I've been alerted to his attention. His fingers lift off the guitar strings in a subtle wave as he gives me a wink. I fight the blush I feel rising in my cheeks and wave back. Prim's wave is more energetic as she yells, "Good luck!"
The boys don't have long to do their last sound check as the band on the other stage is finishing up their set. Luckily everything from this morning seems to have worked out perfectly because it's nothing but thumb-ups from each of them to the sound system techs. I sneak a peek around the simple stage curtain we've been forbidden to cross and take a look at the crowd. It's migrating to this stage now that the other stage's band is done and exiting. You can tell the people on the outskirts are just here because the other band is done, but in front I can make out the hard-core fans who've waited all day to get up to the front of the crowd and as close to the stage as they can get without crossing the barriers. I can even see a few of the dark purple shirts the band had put out with their first album. The gold design of their signature 'Mockingjay' shines whenever someone's shirt catches the light just right.
I'm nearly shocked out of my pants by the sudden string of notes that come wailing from the speakers on stage. My head snaps around to look out at the stage to see Peeta bent backwards a little as his fingers fly over the strings, a small smile on his face. The crowd roars in excitement, taking Peeta's guitar as the signal that the band is ready for the show. Finnick does a quick greeting to the crowd, announcing their name, making a few catchy remarks. And then Gale's bass picks up as Rory sets a beat and they start to play.
It's only been twenty-four hours since I've heard them play. But I've forgotten how good they look up there. Finnick is the ideal front man, all sex and allure. I can never decide if his voice is gritty and rough or smooth and charming. Both are styles that suit his voice and the music, enough so you can almost ignore the words he's singing and just enjoy the music (the tones?) that comes from his mouth. Gale fits the bass perfectly; his always moody temperament suited to something as mellow and deep as the music that comes from those strings. Peeta also fits his instrument perfectly. In the short time I've known Peeta, I've gotten the sense that he's the true charmer of the group, not Finnick. Peeta can win over anyone by saying anything, much like his guitar can pull in an audience. And fun-loving Rory on the drums is perfect, keeping everyone chugging along/
Johanna whoops and hollers in excitement, swaying her hips back and forth to the music. She throws her head back with eyes closed, one hand toward the sky as she lets the music wash over her. I envy her in that moment, as I often have in days before, her ability to forget the world and just take each moment as it comes. Prim is her usual excitable self, rocking back and forth on her feet in her. She gives an occasional shout too, sometimes an encouraging word or just a scream of happiness. Even Madge, who's usually so reserved like me, gets into the music. Her hips move back and forth like Johanna, and I can see her eyes are shining in the stage lights. Yet despite the light hitting her eyes, I can tell that her eyes are dark with desire as she takes in Gale, who's playing the role of moody bass player perfectly.
I let my eyes stray to Peeta more than necessary, enjoying the happiness on his face as I watch him play off the crowd with his energy. He steps up to the front of the stage and I can see the front section of girls nearly knock down the guardrail in an attempt to get closer to him. A few security guards go to encourage the girls backwards, and one of the guards even turns around to give Peeta a dirty look for making his job harder. Peeta just gives the guy an easy smile and shrugs, then goes back to the center of the stage with Finnick. As he turns, he faces us and gives us a distracted smile until his face finds mine. His smile falls a little as he looks at me, tilting his head to the side in apparent confusion. His scrutiny makes my skin itch and I give him back a defiant stare. His eyes sharpen as he raises an eyebrow at me, but he doesn't have long to linger on me because Finnick is pushing his back up against Peeta's as Peeta progresses into a short solo that makes the crowd howl in fervor.
I'm able to ignore the testosterone on the stage for the most part, which is a feat considering the dry spell that's been hovering over me like a depressing black rain cloud for longer than I'm comfortable admitting. I think I'm going to make it through the show without getting caught in the sex-charged atmosphere up until Peeta opens his mouth wide to shout something to Gale and the stage lights catch on his tongue ring.
Dear god. I'd forgotten about the tongue ring. How had I forgotten about the tongue ring? I force myself to look away from his face and focus on his hands. But I'm immediately caught up in the tattoos that encircle his wrists, wondering what they are, scolding myself internally for not inspecting them more closely before. And as I move down from his wrists my eyes fall on his fingers. I admire the way they move skillfully across the strings on the neck of the guitar while his pick flies deftly strings on the body. I find my defiant mind wandering to other skills that involve hands. God, what must he be able to do with his hands? Anyone who can play like that has fine-motor skill control over their fingers. Anyone who can do that can surely do well doing...
This is the last time I go to a rock concert during a dry spell. A girl can get into too much trouble when hot men with piercings and tattoos go parading in front of them like this.
"I thought you said you wanted the guitar player!" Johanna's mouth is at my ear, her breath heavy on my neck as she shouts over the music. The heat of it adds to the building throb between my leg, and the involuntary dry spell side-affect has me seriously reconsidering my 'no sex' rule on this trip. If anything Johanna Mason gets me hot and bothered then something needs to change.
"What are you talking about?" I ask, shouting myself to be heard.
"I saw you watching Finnick with that look in your eyes," she says accusingly as her eyes flash in challenge. "I thought you wanted the guitar player."
"When did I say that?" I shoot back, keeping my eye trained on the stage and refusing to look at her. I know Johanna is trying to egg me on, and it's already taking everything I have not to jump the next thing with a penis that walks by without her playing the devil on my shoulder.
"Last night," Johanna says, raising an eyebrow at me. "When I said I wanted him."
"You picked Finnick first," I say evasively, throwing a shoulder into her to push her away.
"I can have them both," she manages to shout as I shove her away. Her smile is mischievous and I know she's expecting a hot reaction from me.
And so, because I know that's what she wants, I should know not to do it. But I can't help the possessiveness that rises in me as I mouth, "No!" to her with a look that leaves little room for negotiation. Johanna backs off, but not before giving me a knowing smile as she turns back to watch the boys on stage.
The band plays eleven songs tonight with a ten-minute break for Finnick during which Peeta talks to keep the crowd entertained while their singer rehydrates. The crowd bellows in protest when Finnick announces that song number ten will be their last one. After song ten ends, the boys let the crowd talk them into the eleventh one before they finally jog off stage. They're all smiles and waves as they exit the stage but as soon as they cross the curtain line, I can tell they're beat. The light goes out of all of their eyes a little as the bounce in their steps dulls to a trudge. Peeta and Gale eagerly hand off their instruments; Finnick's already free of the microphone he'd left on stage and Rory had thrown his sticks to the crowd.
Madge's arms immediately go around Gale's neck and even though I can tell he's beat and sweaty, he still wraps his arms around her and grins at all of us.
"What'd you ladies think?" Gale asks. "A little different than a club, huh?"
"Totally," Prim chirps up in excitement. "I love it."
"Are we staying or do we need to go?" Madge asks. I can tell she's wanting to be accommodating, but I can see her eyes keep darting out and to the crowd, which is shifting over to the other stage's show.
"If everyone wants to stay, just let us go back to the bus and clean up," Gale says with a laugh. "Go get a few drinks and we'll be out there. Keep an eye on your phone; we'll call to meet up with you."
The boys walk with us to the lot behind the stages where the van is parked. Gale and Madge kiss quickly as we all give hurried goodbyes. The boys' goodbye is hurried from a need to shower, ours from Johanna's claws in our arms dragging us toward the waiting golf cart that will take us into the festival. I throw one last glance back at the boys, hoping to catch Peeta's eye to share my exasperation over Johanna with him, but their backs are already turned as they climb into the bus. So I sigh at myself and turn back to pay closer attention to where Johanna is steering us. Peeta Mellark is not worth getting dragged toward a faceplant into a pole.
Johanna wastes no time in getting us to the "I Love Vagina" booth. There she finds a tank top bearing the words "I have the pussy so I make the rules" and a wrist band with the words "I 3 Penis" on it. Even Madge has picked up a set up underwear with Coca-Cola style writing on the butt that say "Enjoy Cock." Prim curiously picks over a few things but, to my relief, doesn't purchase anything. As for me, I stand clear back as far as possible without being separated from the others. No way am I getting wrapped up into this. I've been waiting for Johanna to drag me into the mess of it all but luckily she's been so involved in the excitement of vagina-themed apparel that she's momentarily forgotten how much fun she has bringing up what a prude she thinks I am.
After that I take my turn in dragging the girls to a stand, only this one they whole-heartedly agree on going to with me. We managed to find a liquor stand after a few moments of looking but, to my disappointment, no colored hurricane glasses are in sight. So the other girls settle for three warm glasses of keg beer and I pick out a bagged margarita with one of those straws attached in plastic. It's half-way melted and nowhere near the five dollars I pay for it, but it's been heavy on alcohol— which was what I'd been needing to get me going.
The other girls are giggling like crazy at all the different risqué booths offering everything from motorcycle insurance to low-cost piercings. Johanna even jokes about wanting to go get her eyebrow done like Peeta and Gale, to which Prim responds with fierce declarations about sanitation and life-threatening illnesses brought on by substandard piercings. I manage to tune it all out for a while, but the more time I spend in this crowd the more anxious I get. So when I spot a cheesy theme-park like game involving a gun and a few squirrels I veer from the pack to check it out.
So here I stand now with some fake plastic gun in my grip, having just handed over four dollars to the snaggle-toothed game master, breathing in deeply as I take in the game in front of me. The gun apparently dispenses pressurized water that will knock over the various little plastic woodland creatures that pop in and out of the trees and bushes on the wall across from me. The more I can knock down the better the prize I can get. I know it's a far cry from the woods I hunt in with my more realistic weapon, but it gives me more peace than I could have hoped for during all the chaos of the crowd around me. I lift the plastic gun up to eye level and take aim, letting out a breath as I drown out all the noise around me. I lock my eyes on the unfortunate little plastic fox that's just peaked out from behind a tree, a rare find in a real hunt.
I'm just pulling the trigger when a pair of hands sneaks their way around my waist and a gravelly male voice says, "Too high."
I jump, and the first of my five allotted shots goes wildly to the right but still manages to hit a squirrel that's 'running' from one tree to another.
I wheel around to find myself in Gale's arms, his wide grin burning me like hot steel.
"Damn you, Gale Hawthorne," I shout, shoving him away from me with one hand while still clutching the plastic gun in the other.
"Hey," he says, holding his hands up defensively, "at least you hit something. You weren't going to get anything with that shot."
I huff and turn away from him, taking aim at the same fox again. "I would have. So you cost me 30 points."
I'm pulling back the trigger a second time when a voice says, "I thought she did bows and arrows."
The water misses the fox my a good four inches, and this time I'm not lucky enough to hit something else by accident.
"She is," Gale says in a tone that tells me he's grinning ear to ear now, encouraged by my failure.
I refuse to turn around and acknowledge either of them. Now that I know there's an audience I'm not about to give Gale any more ammo with which to embarrass me. I finally pick off the fox I'd been aiming at, another squirrel and, surprisingly, the elusive bear. When all is said and done I earn a medium-level prize. It takes me a minute to pick one out, but once I see it, I know it's what I need to get. The game master gives me a surprised look but takes it down and hands me the cheap, stuffed orange cat which I promptly hand to Prim.
Her beaming smile makes the teasing from Gale worth it.
Finnick slaps me on the shoulder, looking vaguely impressed. "Good shooting," he says. "You that good in real life?"
"Better," Peeta says, surprising me. "Unbeatable with a bow and arrow. She practically taught that part of gym class in high school."
I'm stunned by this sudden insight into Peeta's history with me. Had he been in my gym class? I can't remember much of anyone who was in my gym class, except that none of my friends had been in it—except Johanna.
"Oh yeah," Johanna says, sounding bored. "I think I remember that." Then she says, "Why are you guys dressed like that?"
Finnick and Gale are both wearing jackets with the hoods pulled up over their heads, obscuring their faces. Peeta has on a teal slouched beanie with a pair of black sunglasses on and Rory's got on a baseball cap with the bill pulled down low over his face. They give each other weird sort of sheepish glances before they look at us.
"We, uh..." Rory says. "We got sort of ambushed when we first came out."
"That's why we're so late," Peeta interjects hurriedly. I think he's looking at me based on the tilt of his head, but his glasses completely obscure his face. "We had to go back and get incognito before we could come out again."
"And I don't think the 'incognito' thing is really working all that well," Finnick says, glancing back behind him. A small cluster of girls has gathered and a few of them are staring and pointing. One is even so brave as to gesture excitedly in our direction and I think I hear a few arguments about who's going to go ask for a picture.
"Let's get out of here," Gale says, his eyes widening. "We're freaking Marshall out anyway with this."
I look around for a few seconds until I see the hulking figure of Marshall lurking a few feet away from us. I'm impressed that he's managed to blend in so well in the crowd, what with him cutting such a large and intimidating figure. But I supposed that's an important part of being a bodyguard, being able to blend in like that even when you could probably lift five of these punks wandering around over your shoulder and haul them to the gates without issue.
"I'm surprised they let you out here at all," Prim says thoughtfully. "Do they usually let bands go out into crowds like this?"
"Not big name bands that get mauled by teeny-boppers like the Jonas Brothers or something," Rory says with a shrug. "But guys like us that are just starting to get noticed...we get a little more freedom as long as we stay under the radar."
"I'd like to go see some of the other bands," Madge says excitedly. "Can we go see?"
"Sure," Gale says with an indulgent smile. He turns to Marshall, who's still standing by and watching us and the surroundings closely. Gale gives his head a little twitch toward the stages, silently letting the security guard know where we're heading. Marshall frowns for a moment, eyeing the large crowd in front of the stages with a sour look, but finally gives Gale a reluctant nod.
We follow the guys, and I'm expecting us to have to go through the crowd, but instead they lead us around the outside. Toward the front of the stage is a gated area blocked off for other bands to watch the performances. Gale pulls down his hood to greet the man standing at the entrance. He nods the boys in but stops us girls.
"Bands only," he says firmly, giving us a scathing look. "No groupies."
"Hey!" Peeta says, stepping up and taking me by the arm and leading me past the gate guard. "They're with us. Our girlfriends," he says as the man gives him a skeptical look. He looks like he's going to be combative with Peeta, but goes ahead and lets us through.
"Sorry about that," Peeta says, releasing my arm. "I wasn't sure how much trouble he was going to give us."
"Oh," I say, caught off-guard by it all. "Uh...that's ok."
"You should probably hold her hand though," Madge says suggestively, "Or we might get kicked out for lying."
Peeta laughs awkwardly but does reach over and take my hand. He looks at my eyes as if he's trying to read me closely. "Is this ok?" he asks softly.
I'm well aware of the heat radiating from Peeta's hand through my body as I say, "Sure." I glance quickly at Prim, who's looking at me quizzically as her eyes dart back and forth between me and Peeta. "But just for show," I add quickly.
I think Peeta looks a little hurt by this for a second, but then he's all reassuring smiles. "Of course," he says sweetly. "Understood."
A flamboyant group comes on stage, their garb similar to what I'd seen the prep trio wearing. The outfits are all severe and alien in shape and cuts, their hair and skin colored all different colors of the rainbow as they smile and beam at the crowd. But saying they look like the prep trio is a little too soft. The prep trio are like a pack of over-groomed pups. These guys look like a quad of sleek, elegant, lurid cats. The dark-haired girl who's holding the bass guitar looks like she'd kill anyone who got too close. The girl stepping up to the microphone looks like your typical blonde high school queen, but she looks like she'd actually stab you in the back if you crossed her. The boy on guitar and the one on drums are handsome but remind me of snakes.
"Oh no," Gale mutters. "Let's go to the other stage."
"Why?" Johanna demands. "What's wrong?"
"That's Operate Alive'," Finnick mutters. "Our sworn enemy."
"Sworn enemy?" Johanna asks with a cackle. "A little high school?"
"No," Rory says in a surprisingly serious voice. "Glimmer, Cato, Marvel and Clove are four of the most vile creatures in the world."
"They're also from Panem," Peeta explains. "And they've made it their personal mission to kick us out of the music business."
"'Too many fish from the same pond never works,'" Gale says in a voice I know means he's quoting one of them. "'And we intend to be the ones to survive the move to a big pond.'"
Finnick snorts. "Shows how that's working out for them. We're neck in neck."
"They're right, though," Peeta says quietly. "One of us is going to get knocked out of the ring sooner or later."
"Well," Gale says gruffly. "I don't intend for it to be us. Come on," he says, pulling Madge back to the gated area's entrance. "I'm not staying around for this."
Peeta gives me what I think is a regretful look and drops my hand, but not before I think I feel the brush of his thumb over the back of my hand. I feel the loss of the warmth immediately in my bones and almost reach to take it back. But I can feel Prim's eyes on me, watching us closely. So I plunge my hands into my pockets to hold in the temptation.
"If we're lucky," Rory says bitterly while looking pointedly at Gale, "we can get out of this place before we get swamped by any crazy fan girls."
"Shit!" Gale exclaims, pulling his hood back up. He's forgotten to pull it back up to disguise himself. "Maybe no one saw."
"Those fan girls followed us," Prim says quietly, nodding her head toward a group of girls I recognize from over by the shooting game earlier.
"Maybe they'll leave us alone," Rory says hopefully as we leave the gated area, "and understand that we're tired and with you guys and they won't bother."
"Yup," says Johanna sourly. "I don't think that's happening tonight."
One of the girls has broken off from the group and is approaching us, eyes bright with excitement. I can see she's clutching a smart phone in her hand and I know what she's about to ask.
"You're Misery's Fortune, right?" she asks. She's annoyingly pretty for someone who looks like she just turned eighteen. She's all curves, which she isn't hesitating to show off in a too-short cami and hot-shorts, and her long bleached hair is straight as a pin. She doesn't give the boys a chance to respond, just thrusts her camera into Prim's hands as she says, "Can I get a picture with you guys? You don't mind taking it, do you?" She directs this last bit at Prim, who's staring at the girl with a look of confusion. Prim looks like she wants to tell the girl 'no,' but she dutifully takes the phone from her.
I can see Johanna step up to say what I'm sure will be something along the lines of 'no, you dumb bitch' and 'get the fuck out of here' when Peeta speaks up and says, "Sure."
I turn and can't help but give him a glare as the blonde claps her hands in glee. It's hard to tell under the heavy eyeliner and mascara, but I think her eyes light up with delight. "Omigawd, for real? I told my friends you'd say yes, you guys are just too cool not to. But they were chickens."
So the girl moves to stand between Finnick and Peeta with Gale and Rory on either end. Neither Finnick or Peeta make a move to get in close but the girl immediately throws her arms around their waists and pulls them into an embrace on either side of her. Her smile looks too white next to her too-tan skin as she beams at Prim, who's snapping a quick picture. But as Prim goes to put the phone down and hand it back to the girl, she says, "Wait! Get one more." So Prim lifts the phone to take one more picture and, to my horror, the girl leans over and gives Peeta a kiss on the cheek. And she's looking right at me as she does it.
I'm fuming. I have half a mind to go over there and claw the girl's eyes out. What the hell? I mean, she just met the guys three seconds ago and she thinks she gets to put her hands on them like that, can kiss Peeta? I mean for fuck's sake, I'm still terrified to brush up against him let alone put my lips anywhere on him. Not that I want to, I mean, what with the 'no boys on this trip' thing. But still, what the hell? Judging by the look she's giving me now, I know she saw me holding his hand just a few minutes ago, which only pisses me off worse.
"Okay!" Johanna says, stomping up and seizing the girl's upper arm. She drags the girl away from the Finnick and Peeta, whose cheeks have gone a flaming shade of red. "Time for you to go now."
"Get your fucking hands off me," the girl spits, shoving Johanna off her. "What are you, their security?"
And then suddenly the real security, Marshall, is at our sides, stepping between us and the girl, who Johanna has just thrust away from the group. Marshall doesn't acknowledge the girl, instead facing us as he says, "Time to go."
He ushers us quickly through the crowd, parting the sea of people with his bulk. No one says anything as we follow Marshall obediently but I can hear the group of girls behind us hissing in a mix of excited discussion of the girl's pictures with the band and furious statements I'm sure refer to Johanna. I can feel the anger simmering in an uncomfortable lump in my stomach, mixing with other emotions I'm not usually subject to. I plan to just wait it out and let it melt away with another glass or two of the champagne I know will be waiting in the car for us. But I can tell by the way Johanna's stomping next to me that she's not going to let it go.
And she doesn't. As soon as Marshall shuts the compact limo's door behind us Johanna wheels around, glaring at the boys. "What the hell guys!" she yells in a tone far too loud for such a compact space. "Do you let just any floozie just walk up to you and take a picture and put her lips all over you?"
"I don't think it was all over me," Peeta grumbles as he slides his sunglasses off his face. The rest of the boys are also peeling away their hoodies and baseball caps, looking shamefaced under Johanna's scrutiny.
"That's sure as hell what it looked like," Johanna retorts hotly. "I mean, I don't see other rock stars letting girls get all up on them."
"Depends on the rock star," Gale says abruptly, a small smile on his face.
"Don't you dare say another word, Gale Hawthorne," Madge says fiercely as she crosses her arms. "You'd do best to sit there and look as innocent as possible."
Gale gives her a sideways glance of alarm but does sit back in his chair and lean his head back, a scowl seemingly etched permanently on his face.
"What's it matter to you anyway, Madge?" Finnick asks coolly. "It's not like it was Gale or anything. It was Peeta. All the girls like Peeta." Finnick gives Peeta a teasing look as he says, "Must be something about that baby face."
"Yeah, well," Johanna says ardently, "I don't think Katniss was a big fan of seeing some girl kissing on him."
I'm going to kill Johanna Mason.
"I don't care if some girl kisses him," I say with a slightly hysterical laugh. "Why would I care? Kiss away!"
I can't look at him. I can't look at any of them, not Johanna's knowing smirk or Gale's curious stare. And I certainly can't meet the gaze raising the hairs on the back of my neck, the gaze I know belongs to Peeta. What must he be thinking? Thanks to Johanna, I look like some silly fan girl who wants to get in his pants. Which, if I'm being honest, I had been last night.
My statement is followed by one of the most awkward and uncomfortable silences of my life. I feel like I can hear everyone scrambling around in their heads trying to come up with something to say to cover up or move on from the suddenly awkward atmosphere Johanna and I have just dredged up.
"So," says Prim in her most chipper voice. "Since we can't take you guys out in public, what are we doing tonight?"
And I've never loved my sister more than right now, because everyone immediately launches into discussion and debate and my embarrassment is temporarily forgotten.
Hey guys! As I'd hoped, this update was able to come a little early :)
Again, thanks to Court for betaing. Somehow she always seems to know what I'm trying to say, even if I can't find the right word to say it with.
Follow me on tumblr, simplyabbeycat!
Just a funny fact too, I've actually seen one of those I 3 Vagina booths at a concert! Interested? You can see the merch and stuff at ilovevagina . com I couldn't make this shit up if I wanted to :)
I'm hoping for another update on Monday and then back to our normal Friday schedule until further notice, but hopefully I can seek those early updates in more often when life slows down a little bit. As much as I'd like to work on my FF all day...well, I do have to have a day job...real life sucks.
Thanks for all the love-I'm in awe of how much you guys have liked this!
See you guys Monday!