After lunch, Agrippa takes my clothes off again. He stands me on the pedestal by the mirrors and circles me, taking a series of measurements with a ruled tape just like the ones we use back home. He barks numbers at Felix, who scribbles them down. Then Felix takes the notes through to Lucretia’s workshop, while Cassius slides the robe over my shoulders and we head out into the hallway. Felix catches us up at the elevator, and the four of us make our way back to the prep room. This time, they let me keep the robe on. Not that it does much to keep me warm. The slippers are banished again.
The three men sit me down in a chair near another mirror. Cassius sets to work on my hair with Felix aiding him like a nurse attending a surgeon. Agrippa kneels by my feet with a box like an artist’s supply kit. He’s perfecting and painting my toenails while Cassius works. ‘It might tickle a little,’ he warns me, ‘try not to kick me in the face.’
So I sit here for ages with Cassius and Felix tugging at my scalp and Agrippa tickling my toes. I never knew beauty could be so time-consuming. I think Violet was right - I am lucky. I never had to work this hard for beauty before and I still got a lot of attention. But the exacting standards of the Capitol, the fierce competition between tribute teams for sponsorship, and the push to make the Hunger Games the most glamorous event of the year mean that even the naturally good-looking must become walking dress-up dolls.
When Cassius finally gives me permission to move my head, I turn it gently to each side in the mirror. He’s turned my tresses into a billowing cloud of soft black curls that actually suits me. There’s gold and silver glitter in my hair that catches the light from every angle and it’s set throughout with various-sized gemstones that twinkle in the dark locks like stars in the night sky. ‘They’re trick rhinestones,’ he explains to me. ‘You can just comb them out in the shower later and they’ll dissolve in the water.’ I crane my aching neck to see what Agrippa’s doing. He glances upward without a word but flashing that metallic grin at me. He’s just putting the final touches on the final toe. I can’t see them very well, but I think he’s done them to match my hair. They look black and sparkly from here. He finishes with a flourish and blows on it gently. That tickles, too. I wriggle my toes at him and giggle.
Next, my head is pushed back again and I’m told not to move. Cassius carefully pins the hair away from my face in a way that won’t damage his hard work. Now he assists Felix the way Felix was assisting him. The turquoise man turns my face into a canvas with a pale foundation layer, and then sets to work carefully enhancing my features. Agrippa has moved into a chair next to mine and placed my left hand on his knee to do my fingernails. I can’t see his work much better. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him making tiny strokes with tiny brushes, and using tiny sticks to apply something else tiny. Trying to see makes my eyes hurt, so I just stare up at the ceiling while Felix paints my face. About halfway through, everyone switches sides so Agrippa can do my right hand.
At last, I’m allowed to move again and Cassius arranges my hair around my face. I look in the mirror. My skin looks flawless; my lips look full and red. But it’s my eyes Felix has really outdone himself on. He knows they’re my finest feature and now he’s turned them into a weapon. He’s brought them out like I or the girls at the Home have never before achieved, using subtle, curving lines of pigments specially selected to enhance the blue tones of my irises. With my face framing my eyes and my hair framing my face, I look like some otherworldly being. I’m so impressed with Cassius and Felix’s work that I struggle to express it. All I manage is, ‘Oh, Cassius, Felix… You’re wonderful!’ They seem to understand. They look smug.
Agrippa is almost done with my right hand. I lift my left to see what he’s been working on so diligently. He’s turned my nails into miniature starscapes. They’re not just black but laced with deep purples, blues, greens, and silver. He’s been setting tiny stones into the varnish to make scale-model constellations. Each nail is a masterpiece. I stare at them for so long, he’s finished before I come to. I turn to him to find him smiling at me. ‘What do you think?’ he asks.
‘Agrippa they’re amazing! But surely no one can see the details unless they get close. Why put so much work into something so small?’
He shrugs and leans back in his chair. ‘They say it’s the little things that make life worth living. I like what I do.’
The other two leave me alone with him to tell Lucretia I’m ready for my costume. I try not to stare at Felix’s mesh-covered butt crack as he leaves. Agrippa packs away his nail kit, Felix’s makeup kit, and Cassius’ hair kit and sets them aside. He takes my hand and encourages me to stand, escorting me over to a set of full-length mirrors like the ones upstairs. ‘We’re almost through torturing you, starbuck,’ he tells me, turning my shoulders to face the mirrors. ‘You’ve done very well.’
Agrippa reaches around from behind me to untie the sash holding my robe closed and once more slips the garment off of me, letting his hands slide over my shoulders. It makes me shiver. He takes the robe away and returns with a couple of containers. He sets them both on the ground, opening one, and kneels in front of me. For the first time today I feel a little self-conscious – his face is level with my crotch. The container he opened holds some sort of gloss. He scoops out a handful and begins smearing it over my right leg. When he’s done, my leg is so shiny it looks like I’m wearing a glass stocking. He moves on to the other leg. Both legs glossed, Agrippa puts the lid back on that container and picks up the other one. He stands up now, pulling a powder puff from the new container. He dabs it over my neck, shoulders and breasts, leaving a fine glitter on my skin. He’s just putting it away when the rest of the team returns.
Cassius is carrying my accessories, while Felix helps Lucretia transport my costume. I can only catch glimpses of it as they all buzz around me, giving me orders. ‘Put your arm out, dear.’ ‘Just stick your leg in here, please.’ ‘Now lift that foot. Careful! Don’t fall.’ ‘Give me your hand.’ ‘Bend forward a little. A little more. That’s it!’ ‘That feel too tight, starbuck?’ ‘Almost there. Wiggle a little, that should do it.’
I still can’t see my reflection properly when I’m suited up, because Cassius is standing on a stool in front of me, affixing some sort of tiara to my mane. When he’s satisfied with it, he steps down, moves the stool, and backs up with the others for a better view. He clasps his hands. ‘A triumph, Lucretia!’
Felix lays his head in one hand in admiration. ‘Truly striking.’
Agrippa displays his sparkling smile. ‘That’s your sponsorship guaranteed,’ he says.
I look at my reflection. At first glance, it looks like there’s been some kind of mix-up, that I’m wearing the outfit meant for District 12’s girl (if ever those poor tributes had a decent chariot costume). I could be a particularly attractive lump of coal. The outfit is largely black and deep grey, studded all over with metal buckles, beads, sequins, and jewels that twinkle and flash. It’s not really a dress, rather it’s a provocative lingerie set; under bust bustier with peplum, sheer soft cup halter-style plunge brassiere, lace thong underwear and garter belt. The garter straps aren’t holding up stockings, just attached to two frilly, gem-studded thigh garters. The rest of my legs are covered only in the gloss Agrippa smeared on them. I’m wearing two elbow-length, skin-thin, fingerless gloves made of lace. But the real feature of the ensemble is the train. There’s a long, wide train attached to the back of my hips that flows out to the sides and slithers along the floor. It goes with my hair in the way it makes me look bigger, more imposing.
‘Move around a little,’ Lu instructs, ‘take a few steps, twirl for us.’
I do as she says. The train is made up of dozens of layers of little swatches of material. They’re in many shapes and sizes, cut and positioned in such a way that, when I move, the air catches under them and they billow and swirl like a rolling thunder cloud. The effect is mesmerising. I’m not sure what this getup has got to do with District 8’s textile specialty until I realise Lucretia has constructed it from almost every material imaginable. I can recognise every one of them by sight and touch. There’s linen here, cotton there, hemp down there. That’s silk, that’s satin, that’s cashmere. Velvet, plush, felt, a million different kinds of lace, polyvinyl, pine viscose, polyester mesh. Lambswool, angora, faux fur, faux feathers, faux leather. Tweed, twill, seersucker, organdie, crepe, chiffon… The list goes on. I also realise that, like Agrippa’s artwork on my nails, it’s not just black but laced with patterns of iridescent indigo, violet, and green that shimmer into view then disappear, like petroleum.
The tiara nestled on my head features a large silver disk set with pale opals. It’s the moon. I’m the night sky. The connection dawns on me – the sexy suit I’m wearing is nightwear. I’m still not sure I get the whole theme behind it, but it’s stunning, so I can’t complain.
‘Well, then. It’s almost time,’ says Lucretia. ‘Let’s get you down to the chariots.’ Cassius and Felix take up gentlemanly positions to either side of the stylist. Agrippa gives me his arm.
The shoes are open toed slippers with low heels. Lu said she didn’t want me losing balance and falling from the chariot. That has happened before. More than once. The last time it happened, I remember watching as a small child. The poor girl got her leg trampled by the horses behind her and instead of delaying the games or reaping a new tribute, they sent her into the arena with broken bones. She didn’t last a day. How could she? People in District 8 whispered about it for years. A lot of other tributes end up in costumes that make it pretty much impossible to walk. But with my legs free and my shoes a sensible height, I can stride with confidence.
We exit the prep room and head for the chariots.