I don't think I was ever meant to be in the place I am today. It's always seemed too big for me, like when I was a child and I'd try on my mother's clothes, just for fun. The shoes were too big and I kept slipping out of them. The dresses were too long and I'd trip over the hem. She had earrings, but there were no holes in my ears at the time, and I couldn't wear them. Back then when I looked in the mirror, I saw a princess. Today I realize just how childish I was. How foolish I must look to the rest of the Capitol, the awkward girl from the edge of town, thrown suddenly into the spotlight.
When I was nine years old, I found a beetle on the side of the street. I was absolutely mesmerized by the way it moved, how its iridescent green wings flickered and caused sunlight to dance along the pavement beneath it. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful thing in the world. It was Show and Tell Day at school, so naturally, I brought the beetle with me. I found a nice little jar and decided to name it Elizabeth. Well, not an it anymore. Elizabeth was quite obviously a she.
The other kids brought the usual: little treasures from their parent's homes, a cool toy they'd bought recently, a signed photograph of some former tribute.
Miss Adams screamed when I brought the beetle out.
I suppose nowadays I can't say I blame her. Living creatures that haven't been genetically engineered are rare in the Capitol, and bringing one into our perfect, pristine homes was unheard of. I remember her rattling off a bunch of nonsense about how it might've brought some disease from one of the Districts. My mother wasn't overly pleased when she received a letter from the school that evening, (something about bringing vermin indoors) but thankfully she didn't tell my father. I think he was too busy with paperwork at the time.
I don't think I was ever lonely growing up. I was the only child in one of the largest mansions of the Capitol, complete with an Avox I called Mami to take care of me. But I was never lonely. I liked the space, the rooms in the corners of the house where things were quiet and the noise from the street wouldn't bother me. Ironic I guess that I'm now in the middle of it all.
When I was eleven, I asked for Mami in front of my mother. I remember her shouting and telling me that they don't have names, they're criminals, they shouldn't be in our house. I never figured out why she didn't fire Mami on the spot. Now, looking back on it, I realize she was mostly upset that I was calling an Avox a name I should be calling her. I'm not sure why I didn't understand it at the time. Of course, Mami couldn't speak, but after the ordeal she wrote on one of our tablets and said I shouldn't speak about her in front of my parents anymore.
My family's relationship with the Hunger Games is an interesting one. We aren't the die-hard fans who can be seen at the front row during the parade, cheering their favorite tribute's name and throwing roses on to the street. But we do know a lot more about the kids than most Capitolites. My father owns a fairly large company in the Capitol, one that sells souvenirs and merchandise with the themes of past arenas. Owning and distributing such an important brand meant he had to show up at every event surrounding the Games, often followed by his happy, stable family. A cheerful daughter and a gorgeous wife, both who were meant to adore him. I didn't mind playing the part. I felt fake at times, but I did always like to play pretend. I never fell in love with the tributes the way the other Capitolites do every year. At least, not when I watched them on a screen. I would always have a favorite, someone who I hoped would win, but I would never cry when they were gone. Not when I was younger.
Things are different now.
To be perfectly honest, the only reason I was able to get anywhere near the tributes was because of my father and his business. He had always wanted me to participate in the Games, and what better way to promote his company than to have his sole daughter assisting the tributes, year after year? I don't think I realized what I'd gotten myself in to.
My original role was a member of Seven's prep team, a somewhat boring job considering our stylist insisted on dressing them as trees time and time again, no matter how old it got. I'd had no schooling when it came to fashion, but I had always been good with a paper and pencil, and I was able to catch on quickly. Anything outrageous and daring was bound to be a hit. Don't get me wrong, I received plenty of bad-mouthing when I first got there. I was only there because of my family, I didn't have the proper talent, I wasn't good enough. But I kept my head down and did my work.
My team always pretended to adore each and every tribute that arrived. Sometimes it was true. Other times, I'd turn and hear them whispering about how rude the girl was or that the boy wouldn't stop crying. I suppose they were right. But at the same time, I don't think they gave the kids enough credit. They were brave souls, and I was always upset when they didn't come back. Every year I wanted nothing more than to design outifts for a Victor. But we never got one. Tributes came and went, time passed, and I thought I'd reached the steady state in my life.
Then Cricket fired her stylist.
They were desperate. There was no time to search for applicants, they couldn't bump up another stylist because that meant replacing them as well. My father pulled some strings and all the sudden there was a man at my door asking if I would please, please take the spot.
Of course I had to. I knew it was my father's doing, and I knew his company would explode with scandal if word got out that his daughter had refused the position of a stylist for District Two.
Thrown into the spotlight just before a Quell, I barely had enough time to find my feet. But I did. My partner and I pulled ourselves together. We certainly didn't make as big a splash as Two usually does in the parade and the interviews, but we managed not to flop either. I designed and created outfits for all three girls, I taught them how to hold themselves and how to handle a pair of heels.
And then I watched them die, one after the other.
It killed me inside every time, and I cried right along with the rest of the Capitol. I almost gave up after that. Almost.
But watching Cassie, seeing her go so far, knowing that one of them could get so close to coming back to me...it showed me that there's some bit of hope in my trade. Something to hold on to. Maybe if I work hard enough, if I make a good impression, maybe I can help them.