XENIA MONTAGUE | CAPITOL | GM [fin] May 1, 2019 20:05:03 GMT -5
Post by shrimp on May 1, 2019 20:05:03 GMT -5
THIRTY TWO - GAMEMAKER
Her apartment is filled - friends and family cluster throughout the floor, chatting amongst plates of tender beef bourguignon and savory terrines - the meat fresh from District 10. She'd visited the Ratmas markets before the announcement, and stocking up on produce had been so easy, so enthralling.
She's always been a good host: attentive but not overbearing, with the right amount of small talk for it to feel like an actual conversation. A selection of board games is stacked to the brim in a bookcase near a sitting nook, a highlight reel of the 81st plays on the modest living room screen.
In the kitchen she stirs cream into polenta and finishes the tempura brussel sprouts with flaky sea salt. She sighs, not out of indignation, or frustration, but a nostalgia that she's never known.
Charon walks in, an arm draped around his inebriated husband. "This is your party, let us help you."
"Ah, no need - dinner will be out in a few moments anyway."
His glare, a tired one that she's seen countless times - how often had he given her that look in school? - makes her chuckle.
"Okay, fine - make sure the table's laid out?"
They toast with the fruits of the country's labor, with wine and cider and ale sourced directly from an excitable District 11 vendor. It's a celebration of life, of progress, of a promotion.
Juno, her college roommate, raises a glass with a wry smirk on her face.
"To you, Xenia - the odds will be in your favor!"
The party groans, but in jest, with an excitement that bubbles over like champagne. Looking out into the crowd Xenia can't help but smile, her left hand grazing the tuile of her skirt, rubbing the fabric - grounding her to this moment.
An open heart and a warm meal make for a happy life - that's what her mother, currently lounging on the sofa with a glass raised, always used to say.
Xenia knows better.
Trepidation never followed her home. She used to bet that she could climb to the tallest tree branch before anyone even asked, or run the most laps around the schoolyard. When she'd return home, Nurse Plum scolding her for scraping up her knees, her mother would just laugh.
"Did you have fun?"
She always did, but home was where fun went to die. The rooms were too sparse, too small, and the only thing her mother could do was tell stories as she typed away on her virtual keypad, irises flickering between the keystrokes.
"Let's go out Mom, there's a sale on gelato today."
"I'm alright - why don't you go grab some with Plum?"
She spent a lot of time curled up in her reading nook, writing adventures and thinking of new games to play - new challenges to win - and when she was old enough, watching the games with morbid curiosity.
Storylines tugged at her heart, ripped away with the glint of a blade. Her hand would clutch at her blanket, and when her favorite died she would spend hours crying over it, curled up in bed as her mother wheeled herself in and listened to her mourn.
She loathed it. She loved it.
“Mom let’s go to the 60th arena! The rising sands are so cool-”
Her mother blanches, looking out the window. Xenia does not ask again.
"Some day," she told her mom over crab cakes, grape juice and red wine, "I'm going to be a Gamemaker."
"If that's what you want," her mother had replied, the slightest of pauses in her voice.
Xenia hadn't noticed.
When she grows up she is pastel pink and lavender, dying her hair and getting temporary tattoos. Staying on trend is expensive - and she was always four steps behind - but it’s enough to call her vintage instead of tacky; cultured instead of culture. She would work late and stay out even later, rushing in and out of the apartment like a wraith.
"Slow down," her mother would say, and after enough utterances she would speed up out of sheer spite. Her planning was meticulous, her social network blooming across a field of wildflowers. Her ley point turned from a rest stop to a prison: why should she be trapped here, where the only thing she could do was stay in her room or sit with her mother, sitting in her chair? There were better things in life than watching soap operas with Nurse Plum.
“Mom, I’m going to the market - come with me.”
“Maybe next time - I don’t want to keep you.”
Life was a spectacle, and she would experience every moment of it. It wasn't her fault that her mother couldn't, that she chose instead to stay home with segmentation faults.
It wasn't her fault that her mother gave up.
“Hi honey, wanted to see how you’re doing. Call me back when you get the chance, I know you’re busy.”
She doesn't call home much in university - she could have commuted, but they had the money - and the dorm was bigger than her bedroom. Friends flocked to her like bees to a flower.
Advertising was always something she was interested in; telling stories was exciting, and she jumped in with both feet (with a minor in creative writing). She'd call the classes easy, jokingly toss her bright blue hair with a giggle as her classmates stared agape at her test scores. But her roommate knew the real story, the endless nights spent at the library. Appearances can only be held up for so long.
“Hi hon, you’re coming over for Ratmas dinner, right? Plum went out and got those stuffed mushrooms you like so much - let me know, okay? Love you.”
But she stitches the facade together with metal strings, pushes the right buttons, works herself to nothing for that summa cum laude and three internships and two co-ops and a cohort of admirers.
Did she have fun?
"Of course - the people I met, the experiences they had, I've learned so much."
She gives the speech at graduation. Her mother, a face on a moving screen, smiles. Xenia smiles, but not back.
Nothing comes through.
She'd spent summers in the Gamemakers' HQ, doing PR and social media management. She'd developed strategy campaigns that were supposed to work - and they did. She brought on Charon as a freelance artist, and he flourished in his new role. She weaved together the parallels between Galaxy Rose-Clements and Patricia Valfierno, and it was a viral hit.
All of that work, all of those interviews, and nothing. There was always someone more qualified, more experienced, a better chess player than a queen who'd made so many moves just to run into stalemates.
"You have everything you need, and I can pay for that apartment a while longer," her mother quips over the phone. "It’s okay, these things take time. And you can apply to other places than the Games."
Xenia groans. “I know.”
A pause. ”Do you?”
She doesn’t respond.
She temps for a while, at startups and fashion magazines and culinary periodicals, but it's hard to make connections when you're only around for a month or two. Not that she doesn't try, but the other employees don't bother to invest. There's no one in her corner.
So she makes her own, says she's "finding herself" in the lights and the sounds. At night she writes blog posts, manages her own content, analyses the games narrative with a fine-tooth comb. Her advertising is her prowess: she is her own product.
Slowly she gains a following - friends she'd felt too embarrassed to talk to share her stories with an earnest she'd forgotten she'd cultivated. An up-and-coming journalist interviews her in an article on self-starters.
A letter arrives, eventually, with a job offer: less than what she wants, but a foot back in the doorway.
Her mother listens to her make the decision, but with a resignation that she doesn’t hide in her voice.
Charlie Garnet slides into the car looking like death - not the good kind.
To be fair, the two-time Gamemaker always looks that way, but it's not Xenia's place to say that. It's also not her job to scrape her boss off the pavement with a kick to the nervous system.
Ever the overachiever, she does anyway.
"We need to touch up your face," she says, handing Garnet a mimosa. With her free hand she types away, scheduling a session with the MUA. She doesn't bother to look up in greeting - it's not their style; she tried to be all smiles when she first started out, but the icy front gave her frostbite - so she bit back. It’s worked, for the most part.
"It's a bit early, isn't it?"
Now she looks.
"Hasn't stopped you before."
Charlie doesn't respond, but halfway through their ride takes a sip.
It's almost refreshing, the lack of pretense. But it's been six years of her life, down the toilet.
Maybe that's over-exaggerating: the functions she's been to, the people she's met, the gowns she's worn - anyone would wish to be in her shoes. But she was always meant for more than scheduling someone else's success, babysitting a woman who seems like a girl half the time.
A month later, midway into the 76th, Garnet reveals she's known this all along.
She doesn't stay stagnant for long. Her storytelling skills please the boss, and while rusty she begins to place her pieces once more, leveraging relationships with a dinner party or two, understanding that to get the work you need to be in the right position, that to be in the right position means playing along the rules, and then making a crucial break.
By the 78th she is a senior writer. By the 80th she develops the underlying narrative, selects which scenes to cut for the masses. She simplifies, killing Bette and Temple’s one-day romance with a scoff, rolling her eyes at Carter’s last-minute flirting, focusing the camera back on Angel’s mourning eyes and Annie’s smart quips and Denali’s knives, glinting in the moonlight. When the tributes are ushered back to life she nearly jumps out of her seat at the reaction, the crowd pulsing with shock. The writer’s room cheers, a swell of voices rising up.
And when Charlie Garnet steps down, they call upon her protoge, an invitation for a place at the table, a throne that she worked for with tooth and nail and everything in her body. Success has finally opened its change purse, hers - finally, hers.
Her mother was wrong. A happy life is not settling, it is taking what is yours - with bleeding fingers and a will that refuses to die.