I cut Pontius’ pomp and prattle short as politely as possible, making allusions to the fact that I still have Haymitch’s parting gift congealing between my toes. Trying his best (which isn’t great) not to look disgusted, he shows me to my room at once. I duck inside and close the door behind me as he and Woof proceed down the hall.
Before I even take a look around, I lean against the door, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. Deep breath in, long breath out. I haven’t had time to process everything that’s happened today. Peace and quiet are welcome changes. I realise I’m shaking a little. I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline from the chariot ride or the emotional tumult caused by bittersweet exchanges with my idol. It’s probably both. I shiver, and this skimpy lingerie no longer seems adequate attire.
I detach the train from my costume and let it sprawl on the carpet. I wrestle the wayward tiara from my mane and drop it on the train. Making my way toward the bathroom, I undo the bra and bustier and allow them to fall to the floor as well. I unhook the garter belt from the thigh straps and slide it off my hips along with the lacy thong. Last, I peel the gloves from my arms, hook a finger of each hand through the thigh garters, tug them past my knees, and watch them drop to my ankles. I step clear of them as I step into the shower.
I play with the settings for a bit, settling on a hot, hard spray. I feel filthy. I find the makeup scrub and wash away my parade face. For the rest of my body, I choose a rich lather with the soothing scents of lemon and lavender. I have to use a brush to scrape the gloss off my legs. The hot water sends a foul-smelling vapour up my nose as the vomit washes down the drain. Yuck. There’s Pinnie’s Mystery Malt again. It’s a good thing I have a strong stomach. After I comb the false stones out of my hair (they dissolve, just like Cassius said they would), I step out onto the drying pad and next place my hand on the box that dries hair with an electrical current.
Feeling much refreshed in body, but still a little hollow inside, I quit the bathroom and head for the automated wardrobe. I program in a more conservative outfit consisting of a buttery-coloured cashmere tunic and silk palazzo pants in a paler yellow. My feet are cold, so I order a pair of thick socks and some slip on ankle boots of tawny suede.
I find a mouthpiece where you can order refreshments and call for a glass of ice water with rose and lemon. I sip it as I play with the controls on the window. I find a scene of a sprawling meadow overrun with wildflowers and sit on the window sill staring into it, trying hard to push Haymitch from my mind. What he said before he barfed on me. How he treated his tributes like the walking dead. The way he’d laughed about Marcus. The bitter, knowing look in those grey eyes when he told me they would punish me. The way he seemed to see straight into me when he studied me the way Violet does. Violet, who had just been freed from the reaping, who might soon be dead because of me. And little Maddylin, who I might have to mentor some day if we both live through this year.
Pontius’ knock couldn’t come soon enough. When I hear his voice through the door I jump up and all but dash to the door. I dazzle him with a brilliant smile, grateful though he doesn’t know it, and take his arm.
‘Did I keep you waiting, Renore? Such a sweet girl. I do apologise with all my heart,’ he says as he walks me down the hall. ‘I’ll find some way to make amends. But let’s banish it from our heads for now. There’s a sumptuous feast about to be served, and everyone is waiting to see you!’