In the sitting room, I turn on all my charms to full power. While Agrippa pours us some wine, I pour sweet, sticky sugar all over Pontius and the other members of Team D8. I only manage not to make myself sick by imagining how sick it would make Rafe. Oh, how I wish he were here right now to witness this. But he doesn’t return with Woof until the television screen has flicked on and the national anthem is playing. He shoots me the dirtiest look he’s shot me so far (a feat I didn’t think was even possible). Woof prods him and his gaze drops to his feet as he mutters a terse apology to the group. The members of our prep teams arrange themselves between me and Rafe to keep us separated while we watch the recap.
When it’s over, there are many toasts, hugs, handshakes, kisses, and congratulations all around. Throughout which, Rafe looks like he might implode at any moment. Then Pontius shoos everyone into the hallway.
‘Off you go! Our tributes need their beauty rest. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow!’ he says as he herds the style teams towards the elevators.
I walk with my team to the doors to see them off. Lucretia takes my hands in hers and I have to bend down for her to kiss me on each cheek. She stands back to look at me and says, ‘We had a great success tonight, darling. Train hard, keep calm, and leave the rest to me and the boys. We’ll be working every day this week to make sure you are even more irresistible in your interview! Good night.’
She slips into one of the lifts with Otho and Rafe’s preppers, and disappears. Cassius, Felix, and Agrippa then hug and kiss me each in turn. They wish me luck one more time and take the other lift down, leaving me with Woof and Pontius. Rafe had already bailed and gone off down the hall.
‘Well,’ says Pontius, ‘it certainly has been an eventful day, all told, has it not?’ He takes my arm and pats my hand, guiding me towards my room. ‘I don’t blame you, dear. No, not at all! I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve decided it could hardly be said you were at fault. Why, after all the excitement that’s been happening? And after you only just stepped off the train this morning? I think we’re all a little highly strung this evening, to be honest.’ We stop outside my door and he continues, ‘It was frightfully ungallant of Mister Underhill to say those things about you. And the language! Oh dear heavens! I tell you, I was fit to leap upon the table myself!’
I know now I can do no wrong in Pontius’ eyes. I’ve wrapped him round my pinkie finger like a length of yarn. If he can swallow his Capitol etiquette and make excuses for my explosive behaviour, then I must have hemmed his devotion. I get the feeling that if it had been Rafe who used the dinner table as a staging platform for an attack on me, Pontius would never have forgiven him. He’ll do everything in his power to secure sponsors for me.
I must admit, it is sweet of him, too: trying to make me feel less embarrassed about it. Pontius is a living stereotype of his people and a bit of twit, but I guess I kind of like him. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, actually.
I can’t think of any relevant response to his brown-nosing, so I just smile and say, ‘Yes, I am thoroughly exhausted! At least I should sleep well tonight.’ That last part is a lie, of course.
‘And I!’ he agrees. ‘Good night, dear girl!’
‘Good night. Good night, Woof.’
Woof and I share a squeeze and I claim sanctuary in my bedroom, shutting out the events of the day as I shut the door.