"Then lie! Make something up!" says Haymitch.
"I'm not good at lying," I say.
"Well, you better learn fast. You've got about as much charm as a dead slug," says Haymitch.
Ouch. That hurts. Even Haymitch must know he's been too harsh because his voice softens. "Here's an idea. Try acting humble."
"Humble," I echo.
"That you can't believe a little girl from District Twelve has done this well. The whole thing's been more than you ever could have dreamed of. Talk about Cinna's clothes. How nice the people are. How the city amazes you. If you won't talk about yourself, at least compliment the audience. Just keep turning it back around, all right. Gush."
The next hours are agonizing. At once, it's clear I cannot gush. We try me playing cocky, but I just don't have the arrogance. Apparently, I'm too "vulnerable" for ferocity. I'm not witty. Funny. Sexy. Or mysterious.
By the end of the session, I am no one at all. Haymitch started drinking somewhere around witty, and a nasty edge has crept into his voice. "I give up, sweetheart. Just answer the questions and try not to let the audience see how openly you despise them."
I have dinner that night in my room, ordering an outrageous number of delicacies, eating myself sick, and then taking out my anger at Haymitch, at the Hunger Games, at every living being in the Capitol by smashing dishes around my room. When the girl with the red hair comes in to turn down my bed, her eyes widen at the mess. "Just leave it!" I yell at her. "Just leave it alone!"
I hate her, too, with her knowing reproachful eyes that call me a coward, a monster, a puppet of the Capitol, both now and then. For her, justice must finally be happening. At least my death will help pay for the life of the boy in the woods.
But instead of fleeing the room, the girl closes the door behind her and goes to the bathroom. She comes back with a damp cloth and wipes my face gently then cleans the blood from a broken plate off my hands. Why is she doing this? Why am I letting her?
"I should have tried to save you," I whisper.
She shakes her head. Does this mean we were right to stand by? That she has forgiven me?
"No, it was wrong," I say.
She taps her lips with her fingers then points to my chest. I think she means that I would just have ended up an Avox, too. Probably would have. An Avox or dead.
I spend the next hour helping the redheaded girl clean the room. When all the garbage has been dropped down a disposal and the food cleaned away, she turns down my bed. I crawl in between the sheets like a five-year-old and let her tuck me in. Then she goes. I want her to stay until I fall asleep. To be there when I wake up. I want the protection of this girl, even though she never had mine.
In the morning, it's not the girl but my prep team who are hanging over me. My lessons with Effie and Haymitch are over. This day belongs to Cinna. He's my last hope. Maybe he can make me look so wonderful, no one will care what comes out of my mouth.
The team works on me until late afternoon, turning my skin to glowing satin, stenciling patterns on my arms, painting flame designs on my twenty perfect nails. Then Venia goes to work on my hair, weaving strands of red into a pattern that begins at my left ear, wraps around my head, and then falls in one braid down my right shoulder. They erase my face with a layer of pale makeup and draw my features back out. Huge dark eyes, full red lips, lashes that throw off bits of light when I blink. Finally, they cover my entire body in a powder that makes me shimmer in gold dust.
Then Cinna enters with what I assume is my dress, but I can't really see it because it's covered. "Close your eyes," he orders.
I can feel the silken inside as they slip it down over my na**d body, then the weight. It must be forty pounds. I clutch Octavia's hand as I blindly step into my shoes, glad to find they are at least two inches lower than the pair Effie had me practice in. There's some adjusting and fidgeting. Then silence.
"Can I open my eyes?" I ask.
"Yes," says Cinna. "Open them."
The creature standing before me in the full-length mirror has come from another world. Where skin shimmers and eyes flash and apparently they make their clothes from jewels. Because my dress, oh, my dress is entirely covered in reflective precious gems, red and yellow and white with bits of blue that accent the tips of the flame design. The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire.
I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun.
For a while, we all just stare at me. "Oh, Cinna," I finally whisper. "Thank you."
"Twirl for me," he says. I hold out my arms and spin in a circle. The prep team screams in admiration.
Cinna dismisses the team and has me move around in the dress and shoes, which are infinitely more manageable than Effie's. The dress hangs in such a way that I don't have to lift the skirt when I walk, leaving me with one less thing to worry about.
"So, all ready for the interview then?" asks Cinna. I can see by his expression that he's been talking to Haymitch. That he knows how dreadful I am.
"I'm awful. Haymitch called me a dead slug. No matter what we tried, I couldn't do it. I just can't be one of those people he wants me to be," I say.
Cinna thinks about this a moment. "Why don't you just be yourself?"
"Myself? That's no good, either. Haymitch says I'm sullen and hostile," I say.
"Well, you are. around Haymitch," says Cinna with a grin. "I don't find you so. The prep team adores you. You even won over the Gamemakers. And as for the citizens of the Capitol, well, they can't stop talking about you. No one can help but admire your spirit."
My spirit. This is a new thought. I'm not sure exactly what it means, but it suggests I'm a fighter. In a sort of brave way. It's not as if I'm never friendly. Okay, maybe I don't go around loving everybody I meet, maybe my smiles are hard to come by, but I do care for some people.
Cinna takes my icy hands in his warm ones. "Suppose, when you answer the questions, you think you're addressing a friend back home. Who would your best friend be?" asks Cinna.
"Gale," I say instantly. "Only it doesn't make sense, Cinna. I would never be telling Gale those things about me. He already knows them."
"What about me? Could you think of me as a friend?" asks Cinna.
Of all the people I've met since I left home, Cinna is by far my favorite. I liked him right off and he hasn't disappointed me yet. "I think so, but - "
"I'll be sitting on the main platform with the other stylists. You'll be able to look right at me. When you're asked a question, find me, and answer it as honestly as possible," says Cinna.