The CapitolMature

            I awake to Pontius’ polite knock, followed by his chirpy voice reverberating down the hall. ‘Up, up, everyone! We’ve got an eventful day ahead of us!’

            I don’t need to do much prepping. I don’t toss much in my sleep, so my hairdo is still largely intact. I touch it up in the mirror before I dress. The makeup I put on last night is still perfect, too. Unlike the cheap stuff we get in the districts, Capitol-grade cosmetics don’t smudge and can only be removed with a special scrub. I slip on the same shoes as yesterday, but decide to don a different dress. It’s the same shade of blue, but a different style, with sexy slits up the sides and gold thread work around the edges. One last check in the mirror and I head out to the dining car.

            No courses this time. The table is laid out with dishes piled high with breads, pastries, fruit, and all manner of other things. Woof and Rafe are already at the table. Rafe puts his death stare on me as I take the seat across from him, which holds no surprise for me at this point. I ignore him. I bid good morning to Woof and pour myself a steaming drink from a teapot.

            ‘Good morning, Renore,’ he responds. ‘Not still too full from last night, I hope?’ He smiles, gesturing toward the breakfast banquet before us. Rafe has his plate piled high and is shovelling food down his neck at great speed. I guess he’s making up for missing supper.

            I laugh and sip my tea. ‘I think I can manage a bite or two.’ That said, I set down my cup and transfer some fruit onto my plate, and a couple of pastries with yellow flowers made of icing. I pick one of the sugary petals off and let it melt on my tongue. Woof looks at me with a mixed expression of captivation and appraisal. I realise that now I’m making every move with sexual overtones without even thinking about it. Good. What was it Violet said? That way of acting loose and putting out that makes men stupid. Except Rafe, apparently. He looks like he’s about to re-enact my episode on the train platform, only this time I’m Marcus.

            I smile at him. He hates it. ‘Woof,’ I say with poisonous innocence, my eyes on my future opponent. ‘Now that Rafe and I are both here, why don’t we decide how we’re going to be mentored?’

            ‘Ah,’ says Woof, caught off guard, ‘yes, I suppose we may as well.’ He tells Rafe what he told me last night. 

           Rafe scowls at me a moment then shrugs. ‘Doesn’t make a difference to me. I already know how you’re going to play it,’ he says, a nasty smirk pulling at his mouth. ‘And I’m immune.’

            ‘Doesn’t make a difference to me, either,’ I say, ‘Even if you make it to the end, I won’t have much to worry about. Your arms are skinnier than mine.’

            ‘We don’t all eat so well as you. Some of us prefer self-respect to dirty hand-outs.’

            ‘Some of us prefer survival over pride. Which of these philosophies do you think is going to win the Games?’

            Woof is becoming increasingly fidgety during this back-and-forth. He coughs to interject. ‘Ahem, well, alright, that’s settled anyway. We’ll have our sessions as a group. Fine, fine. In that case, why don’t we start right now? We’ll be arriving at the Capitol soon and the cameras are going to be on you from the minute the train pulls up. I’m not going to ask you hold hands or anything, but it would be best if you at least appeared civil to one another.’ Here he looks pointedly at Rafe, whose face turns sour. Well, more sour. Woof turns back to me when he goes on, ‘As you’ve noticed, the people there appreciate etiquette, attention, and compliments. Be as sweet as you possibly can to everyone you meet and they’ll remember it when it comes time for sponsoring. Make yourself popular from the start.’

            I nod. That will be a cinch for me. I doubt that Rafe is even entertaining the notion of being civil to anyone, least of all me. As if on cue, Pontius enters the dining car and begins to regale us with vivid tales of what we’re soon to see for ourselves. He goes over some guidelines on schedule and protocol with us. When breakfast is over, Rafe sulks off to his compartment again while the rest of us adjourn to the lounge car. Woof dozes off on the sofa and I spend some agonizing yet educational eons with Pontius.

            Everything goes dark as the train enters a long tunnel. I try to count the seconds it takes for us to reach the other side, but I’m distracted by Woof waking himself up with a loud snore. He blinks around, confused, and says as he straightens up, ‘Ah. Oh. We’re nearly there.’

            The tunnel goes on and on. I think the blank, black windows must have unnerved Rafe, because he uncharacteristically decides to rejoin us in the lounge. Ever vigilant of his hatred, he casts me a look as black as the windows. He seats himself across the car in silence. At last, the train reduces speed and we break out into the open soon after. The sudden daylight hurts my eyes. I just squint and bear it, hopping over to a window to watch the Capitol rush up to meet us. I have to admit it’s impressive, even beautiful in its own way. Still, having grown up in 8, no architecture holds as much beauty in my eyes as nature, no matter how elaborate. There’s an ancient proverb; absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or something like that. It probably wasn’t written about plants, but I think it fits.

            As the train cruises into the city, I see crowds gathered near the tracks, waving and cheering. I turn my charm up to full volume. I smile, wave back, blow kisses, flirt. I lean forward in the window to give them the best view of my humble cleavage. I don’t turn around, but I swear I can feel Rafe’s eyes boring into my back. The people are cut from view when the train pulls into the station. I turn from the window. Pontius has already fluttered off to make sure everything’s organised properly. Woof and Rafe get to their feet.

            ‘Well, here we are,’ Woof says, ‘the Capitol of Panem. You’ll be meeting your respective prep teams when you get off the train. They’ll take you with them to make you over and to meet your stylists. Then they’ll get you into your costumes for the chariots. It’ll take most of the day. You won’t see me today, but I’ll come to wish you luck before the parade. It’s going to be tedious and, more than likely, painful at times, but,’ and here he turns to Rafe, ‘just go with it. Don’t complain. Listen to what they tell you and do what they ask. They know what they’re doing. Remember, they’re there to try to help you. You’re at the mercy of your stylist, so try to make the best of it.’

            I nod. Rafe doesn’t look like he’s in the compliant mood. He says nothing.

The End

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