"Thanks, people!" Venial calls to the last of the victors, waving her long fingers playfully. They raise their hands in a farewell as the van doors slam. The white vehicles crawl out of the Village and I collapse on the porch's bench.
"What a party!"
"I'd love to stay, Roland, really, but…"
"Seriously?" I sigh. "What do you have to do now?"
"A little bird told me that Cancer's health is failing him. At the party he was sick enough. I never should have let him come… Anyways, I have some French Onion soup on the stove that needs to be taken over to him. You fill in the blank."
"You need to take him the soup before it burns," I conclude.
"Yes. Will you be fine here alone?"
"Are you kidding?" I say, raising an eyebrow. "This place is four miles in square footage, basically…. Probably not so, but it seems like it. They even have a running track in the basement, next to the hot tub and soda maker!"
"It is the lap of luxury, hm?" Venial hums, tucking a lock of brown hair behind her ear. "My basement has a clear water pool with a glass bottom, fish swimming underneath it. I just have to refill the feeder every two weeks or so. Amazing how much we now have and so little the rest of Nine has, isn't it?"
"Truly," I agree.
Ten minutes later, I'm lounging about in my heated bathtub on the balcony overlooking the rest of the Village, a television playing a Capitol soap opera and a feast of snacks within my reach. I pop in a chocolate-covered strawberry as I watch the man with the mustache kiss the plump woman dramatically.
"God, this sucks," I mutter to myself, casually glancing down into the Village. It's desolate and empty. Strangely, there's dust swirling around the pristine streets, something you never see when you walk past the place.
But on the other hand, you never see a victor emerging from his house across the street.
Maybe I want to go and meet my new neighbors.
Draining the lavender-scented water quickly, I dart into my bedroom, snacks in hand, and throw on a simple pair of jeans and a cotton blue button-up from my new and "improved" wardrobe. The stylists had thrown away each and every other one of my clothing before I won.
I jump down the three flights of stairs and race across the enormous foyer to the front door. I slip my arms through a black jacket with huge beige buttons, open the door, and I see him.
It's Olivander Wheaton, the victor who won not four years ago. He casually puffs on his cigarette, examining me from my porch swing. It's so creepy that I am speechless for a couple moments until I muster up enough courage to stutter out, "Who are you?"
His hazel eyes flicker over me, unimpressed. He blows a cloud of rancid-smelling smoke into the air. "Olivander. Nice to meet you…" His voice lowers to a growl. "Roland."
"Has anybody told you how much you creep people out?" I ask him, not caring whether his feelings were affected or not. "Showing up on my porch randomly."
"I heard your heavy footsteps." Olivander snaps the end of his cigarette off and tosses it carelessly to the ground. I wince. "Have a nice bath, victor?"
Feeling rather exposed, I cross my arms defensively over my chest. "You shouldn't be spying on people, man," I say lamely. "It's weird."
"Don't call me man," snarls Olivander, his heavy eyebrows thickening. "I prefer 'Olivander'."
"Venial called you Ollie."
"Ah, yes. That woman does have her pet names for me, doesn't she…" Ollie/Olivander chucks his empty cigarette onto my lawn and starts to pull out another from his pocket. He lights it with a match held in his teeth. When Ollie sees me gaping, he grins, blows it out with a quick exhale of his nose, and twirls his head to spit it onto my front yard.
"So what are you doing here?" I question awkwardly.
A sadistic smirk appears on his face. "Wanted to wish the newest victor a simple 'Welcome to the Victor's Village'."
"Stop what, Roland?"
"Being all… scuzzy. It's freaking me out."
Ollie's eyes flash dangerously, and he spits the new cigarette out angrily. "You think I'm freaky?" he breathes, his height overtowering mine by a good half foot. "Wait until Snow gives you that little talk. We'll see how good you hold out until then, VICTOR!"
"What talk?" I play dumb, pretending to not know what Johanna told me.
Ollie rolls his eyes, carelessly throwing the book of matches to the ground in mock horror. "I'll let Snow kindle THAT fire for you."
I don't realize my mouth is parted in awe of his nerve until Ollie sticks something between them. "Gotta run grab some liquor. Keep your mouth shut, kid."
With that, the twenty-year-old is gone.
I splutter, ridding my mouth of whatever he put there. It's an unlit cigarette, brimming with ash from sliding around in an ashtray, I suppose. Gross, though. And this is only my first full week at the Village.
o.O O.O O.o
I spent many long nights staring at a ceiling, fingers jammed into my ears, just waiting for the agony to be over.
Sometime during this period I bought a flock of hydrangeas at Village C's flower shop. I spread the seeds around the backyard, and within weeks I had a full-fledged hydrangea garden. When I was in need of a reminder why I was still alive, I'd simply walk into my backyard and do something serene. Read a book. Meditate. Water the hydrangeas with mineral-enriched water.
Out of spite, I had a stonemason carve my allies' names into a stone tablet and I hung it on a cherry blossom tree. No matter how many storms thrashed through my landscape, that stone tablet just hung there, weathering away.
But it seemed that I would never be let go from Snow's clutches. I fell into the same black hole my mother did of depression. The hydrangeas wilted until their stalks were black and fell to the ground sadly. Whenever I glanced out the window from the kitchen I'd see the lawn, littered with cherry blossom leaves and hydrangea corpses, and I'd sigh.
At the age of twenty I was told my time serving as a slave to Snow was over. I was finally free from the president's evil fingertips.
When I heard that, I went out and bought more hydrangea seeds.
o.O O.O O.o
When I was twenty-two I fell in love with and married a Capitol citizen named Bree Salone. We met when I went to the Capitol for an interview. The wedding was beautiful, on top of a flower-coated mountain somewhere near District Two. Gavin was, of course, my best man.
Bree wasn't like the other Capitolites. She was pure, what with her shimmery NATURAL chestnut colored hair and feathery eyelashes that outlined her green eyes amazingly. When she laughed, everything was happy in the districts. She agreed with my views about the Capitol, how terrible the Games were, and admitted that it was unlucky to be born there when she despised them so.
Our life for the next few months was a bit rocky, as she had to get adjusted to the life in the Victor's Village, but eventually she knew lots of Nine citizens by name and was the ray of sunshine beaming through the Village. Venial treated her as a daughter. Ever since Cancer passed away, she had no "family" left. After my mother's death we rarely spoke.
Olivander came to be the most notorious drug addict in all of Nine. Russel had tried quitting for good, with a few successful results, but eventually all the time went back to injecting the morphling into his system. After a couple years, I turned to morphling as well- it helped me relax.
Once Bree came home from shopping to find me nearly drowning in an overflowing bathtub, me passed out from an overdose. In a fit of rage she threw away all the syringes and packets of morphling, then talked to Olivander (who I bought them from) that I wasn't allowed to have them any more. He still dealt me, just not as much. After three unsuccessful attempts, I finally broke loose from the web of drugs.
o.O O.O O.o
At the age of twenty-three, a Quarter Quell fell upon the districts like an unwelcome black cloud. It was odd, though. This year, only victors would be Reaped instead of helpless children.
Bree cried endlessly up until the Reaping.
It was obvious that Venial would go in. She strode into the square solemnly, her jaw set with a fierce determination. Her caramel hair was chopped extremely short, and it swayed wildly as she hopped up the stairs to the stage.
Bree fussed over me constantly, adjusting my brick red bow tie until I assured her it was fine. She didn't believe me but went on to smoothing my hair until we arrived at the square. My heart was pounding nervously.
Once I heard that, Olivander and I both deflated like party balloons. We were safe for now. I knew that Russel couldn't stand a chance, though. His sturdy muscles were gone, his sane mind escaped. He wandered up to the new escort, a man with a quirky mustache, and hugged him. Obviously, he'd had an overdose.
Venial's name was called, and sorrowfully she stepped up next to the mustached man, her face contorted into agony. Our eyes met for a millisecond, the last time she ever saw me.
Neither one of them came back.
o.O O.O O.o
When I was twenty-five, Bree gave birth to our first child, a boy named Kurt. Kurt wailed repeatedly at night, and my wife grew exhausted. Her face was red and tendrils of loose hair strung around her forehead. But yet she rocked him, a "Shhh" on her lips and a quiet, serene look to her face.
We were over the moon when Bree was expecting another child, four years later. Kurt had turned into a bumbling mess who was kind and cheerful to all, and we decided that we wanted another kid to love. They'd have so much fun together, we agreed, and nothing would stand in the way of us getting to it.
Nine months later we sat in the hospital, rocking our babies- yes, plural- to sleep. The 'baby' had split into three 'babies'- the first triplets Nine had seen since my Games. Bree, a smile toying with her lips, gently told me I could name each of them.
And that is how Caitlin, Loretta, and Hydrangea came to be.
At first Kurt hated the idea. The cogs must have been whirling furiously in his young brain- "Three little sisters? Seriously? And all I wanted was a puppy!" But after just two minutes, his heart gushed with affection and he started memorizing each of their nearly identical faces.
Caitlin's puffy cheeks and light eyebrows were not hard to distinguish. It was Loretta and Hydrangea that were harder, but some four hours after Kurt arrived at the hospital he pointed out that Loretta had a tiny brown birthmark on her left eyelid, so close to the eyelash you could scarcely tell.
My children grew up to become fine young adults. Kurt, at age eleven, decided that he wanted to become an announcer for the Hunger Games. He ran around the mansion, a daisy serving as his microphone, hollering, "Lookee here, folks! It appears that the lady from Four has the advantage! But no! Look! The man from Three is catching up… it will be a close race indeed!"
It nearly made me sick.
Caitlin, a boisterous and sarcastic one, came to love acting. When she was ten she landed her first role at a production in town. Nearly all of Nine came to see the victor's daughter sing her heart out as a lonely District Ten girl.
Loretta discovered a love for animals. Whenever there was a sick chipmunk or three-legged dog she'd bring it home. Eventually our house came to contain four cats and six dogs and one dying garter snake. I put my foot down at the sick chipmunk, however. I took it to the vet, paid for the vet's bills, and let it loose.
Hydrangea had always loved people, from the day of her birth to age ten. She considered things logically, much as my first love had done, and also decided that when she was older she wanted to work as a therapist to help in the process of rehabilitation. I told her that she'd be excellent at it.
o.O O.O O.o
When I was forty-four Loretta got Reaped. She was just fifteen, and I knew it was bound to happen sometime or another. Victors' children don't last long, but I guess I was holding onto some false hope that perhaps they'd skip my tight-knit family over.
Her brunette locks shone as her district partner, a small red-faced boy named Gavan, was Reaped. My heart splintered as I thought of my best friend who had just married a woman named Yolanda.
Inside the Justice Building, everybody cried.
Loretta was killed by the boy from District Three on the fourth day. He bore a surprising resemblance to Kenji. He, the girl from Five, and the District Twelve boy, Abe, were supposed to be allies. Instead, Three chopped her head off roughly with a sharp katana while she slept and repeated the action with Cameron from Five and Abe.
He was murdered by the One boy not an hour later. One eventually became victor.
o.O O.O O.o
When I turned seventy, a newer victor fussed over me much like my previous mentor, Venial, had fussed over Cancer. Her name was Sylvia, and she tended my hydrangea garden daily. Bree had passed away three years earlier of heart conditions, and I had had her name added to the very old weathered stone tablet.
"Mr. Sanders?" Sylvia's voice echoes throughout the house.
I know I'm slowly weathering away. Olivander died yesterday, the result of a fatal drug overdose. His wake would be tomorrow night, but I was certain I'm not making it. Hell, I'm done for. My life is wasted away.
"Mr. Sanders?" Sylvia sounds less certain, and I hear her light footsteps rushing down the stairs. She knew I'd be here, lying in the center of my running track which I so loved. Gavin had passed away here. We were conversing one day and then his eyes went glassy. I knew he wouldn't last long since his longtime wife, Yolanda, had passed away weeks earlier.
"ROLAND!" Sylvia screams, running over to me. I'm on the ground.
"What's wrong?" I croak out feebly.
"You're… you're…" she shrieks out, dropping to her knees. Her slim finger runs along the floor and she inspects it. "Did you hit your head? You're surrounded by this small pool of dark blood."
"I slipped," I wheeze out, beckoning for her to come closer. She obeys.
"Tell Kurt, Hy, and C-C-Ca… Ca… CAITLIN (wheeze) that I love them all," my voice is raw.
"Mr. Sanders?" Sylvia cries, but already there's a light above my head.
I see youthful figures. I make out bouncing black curls… That's Jackie, but there's a red mark on her neck exactly where she was killed. Then the timid, handsome lad named Elijah, the stab wound unhealed. Cloe comes next, her chestnut braids stained with cracking red blood. My heart is in my throat. I reach out to them, but it's not nearly finished.
The rest of them come back, the tributes. There's exotic, blond Diamond, her lips pursed. She's clutching Justice's hand, the coppertop grinning widely. Eve with her blond crimps is shaking her head at the sight, but beaming as well.
Spiky-haired Kenji and soft, tender Lilicon appear next. They're murmuring things that I can barely hear, and when Lilicon reaches her hand out I want to snatch it up. There's Lance. The red line across his throat is not to be missed, but he tugs at a yellow scarf to try and hide it. Next to him is Kristine, her ringlets reflecting the truly awesome light. And then Sparkella's doing in-air somersaults, her red eyes flashing. Jacques next to her is timidly attempting a couple, but failing. Then there's Jackie again, grinning from ear to ear. Aiden is scratching his chin nervously.
Little Willow and mysterious Jack are side by side, their hair swishing in a surreal breeze. Jack mutters something to me and Willow nods eagerly. Then there's suddenly caramel-haired David, his face not so menacing as before.
Lily is tugging at her brown locks as if trying to tell me something in code, but I don't understand. Lastly there's Saffron right next to her, dark-skinned and just gorgeous. Her chin is still jutted out angrily, but her eyes have gone soft.
Caty appears. Her green skin is now a light shade of tan, and the change is striking. Her curly auburn hair flows freely over her shoulders, and a noise erupts from the back of my throat. A silent cry. Caty shakes her head and points a pale finger to the figure to her left.
Hydrangea. Her platinum blond hair rivals that of an angel. I never forgot her, not through all these years.
"Come home," she murmurs, her blue eyes glinting happily.
And with a final tug, I pull myself out of my earthly body and rise above my Victor's Village home to my allies, where they welcome me with open arms.
A/N: Well, it's all over. I'm sad now. You guys have me all worked up…. :'( Thanks so much for being a part of this, and I can only hope that you'll enter a tribute or two in my next SYOT. The first chapter is up, and it's called "A Shot in the Dark: the 71st Hunger Games".
But if you don't, that's fine too.
One last thing before this story ends FOREVER? When you review, can you tell me which tributes were your top 5 favorites and your top 5 least favorites? Thanks. I appreciate it.
For the final time… may the odds be ever in your favor.