YOUR NAME IS MINERVA BRANWYN HALE. YOU HAVE KNOWN DARKNESS SO LONG, YOU WEAR IT LIKE ARMOR. TENDRILS OF SMOKE AND RED LIPSTICK, LEATHER AND LACE. A DECK OF TAROT WRAPPED WITHIN YOUR SPINDLY GRASP. THEY SAY THEY CAN TELL YOU FEEL HOLLOW; YOU ONLY WISH IT WERE TRUE. EVERYTHING YOU DO, EVERYTHING YOU TAKE, IS AN ATTEMPTED ESCAPE. NO MATTER THE QUALITY, NO MATTER THE QUANTITY, YOU ALWAYS WAKE UP IN THE VERY SAME WORLD YOU TRIED TO SAY GOODBYE TO.
I. HUNGRY, HER HEART
Her tale, sorry to say, was not one people liked to hear. Minerva was afforded every advantage in life and she took it. Her father was a politician. He'd risen quickly through the ranks, speaking about his profound love of the arts being so deep, in fact, that he did fall in love with a singer once upon a time. Minerva's mother was a stranger, a face in a single picture she kept in a jewelry box. He told them she died and left it at that; perhaps it was easier than the complete truth.
And that truth was that her mother was an addict, fifteen years his senior and singing in a hotel bar for free room and board when he met her. Beautiful once, perhaps. The picture Minerva had was grayscale, and depicted only a tired looking woman with long and molten features. She was told she had her mother's eyes; they were closed in the picture. They'd spent only a single night together, but she'd listed his name on Minerva's birth certificate all the same.
When Minerva's mother died only seven months after her birth, her father was in the middle of the campaign that changed his life. A scandal like this, a claim that he'd fathered a child and abandoned it, well. It went against everything he'd been preaching about to the public eye: solidarity at home, he'd called it. learning how to do by doing for ourselves, then helping others when we could.
He took her in, a defenseless thing at the time, with piercing green eyes and his pointed chin, and it was exactly this action that led him to the forefront of the polls and put him behind a very nice desk in President Snow's offices.
Minerva was classically trained in piano and ballet and, thanks to the nanny who'd helped raise her, proper dinner etiquette. She was a frail thing, smaller and thinner than the other children. Her neck and limbs were long and she had an overbite. Still, wealth won out, and the pretty clothes and expensive toys were enough to garner her a healthy supply of friends. It was never enough for her, though. As she grew older, she became acutely aware of a desire within her to take things. She was a spoiled girl, believing she was entitled to everything that was hers, and anything she wanted from anyone else, be it a toy, or candy, or a pet.
By the time she was twelve, Minerva was proud to say she had three dogs, four cats, a rabbit, a parakeet, and two ponies. She'd also attained a rodent of some sort for a short while, but after a friend drew comparisons between her own teeth and those of the rat, she'd seen to it that someone got rid of it.
That hunger was what fueled her all through her teen years. It was a drive, and she used it to her advantage. It pushed her to be the best dancer in her ballet class, a feat her father still brings up when telling his friends about her to this day. Oh, but the trouble with wanting so very much, it turned out, came when she no longer got it. That very drive within her, the force that wanted, that took, it became her undoing the second something slipped out of her reach.
II. TAINTED, HER SOUL
She truly did love to dance. The beauty, the art, the applause. Never, not once, did Minerva feel more like herself than when there was a crowd of people there to see her excel. She trained with an academy revered throughout Panem as one of the best, even landed the featured spot a time or two in her years as a lower classman, as her hungry heart would have expected. She loved to dance and, to any who despised her's dismay, dance loved her back. This was one thing she was recognized for, one thing she'd earned without an added cash tip on her father's dime.
She was twenty years old, performing on a lofty stage in a luxurious building, smiling down at a crowd bathing in its grandeur when it happened. A single misstep from her partner, a millisecond's opportunity to save herself which she was not prepared to do. A thunderous CRACK that sounded especially heinous as it echoed over the classical music of the ballet. The embarrassment of her first ever fall on stage was so overwhelming that it almost numbed the pain in her left leg, despite it bending in a peculiar angle as she laid there with her hands buried in her face.
Her career as a dancer was over, seemingly as quickly as it had started. And that hungry heart, that heart that would have settled for no less than the world cheering her name, it punished her. It put her at odds with her father, forced her into such disgust with herself that she couldn't be bothered to eat. The pain was so profound, so out of her own control, that she did something that she had not ever needed to before: she begged. Tears streaming down her cheeks, chest heaving in mournful sighs, Minerva looked up at the stars and she begged for the pain to go away.
The next day an old friend, a girl who'd once compared Minerva's teeth to a rat's, stopped by for a visit. The girl was, easily, the one Minerva's father had always been least impressed with. She had not been in any of Minerva's paid-for activities, she wore a lot of second-hand clothing, her last name was so unheard of it may as well have been invisible, and an abundance of other reasons he used to indirectly say: she was too poor. Still, Minerva liked her regardless. They'd met in primary school near the cafeteria, called each other Minnie and Monkey. Why, exactly, people were never sure, for the other girl's name was Helena. In truth, it was because the other girl had large ears that had reminded a young, judgmental Minerva of a monkey. Minerva, with her rodent teeth, and Helena, with her monkey ears.
The two hadn't talked in years; Minerva had practically burst into tears before the tea was even done. After explaining, however, it seemed Helena had an idea. She'd always been the risk-taker of the bunch, Minerva remembered, but she did not know what upset her more: that her friend had, as it turned out, become an addict like her father had always guessed? Or that Minerva was soon to become one, just as her mother had before her. A washed up girl whose talent was stolen from her, a girl who was so desperate to escape the pain of her impending mundanity that she swallowed pills and drowned herself in red wine and soap opera re-runs?
Life from there on out was rather blurry when she tried to look back and remember like she was trying to peer through water the entire time. She remembered the idea of her journey, the fact that she'd written a fairly successful series of books about a serial killer wreaking havoc in a dance academy. She remembered that her relationship with her father grew more distant than ever before, the fact that she was still using at any given opportunity. She knew the first time she went to rehab, it was only to appease her father, who'd been threatening to remove her from his last will and testament. Three months, twelve steps, and the first thing she did when she got out was find a doctor who could help with the nonexistent pain in her leg.
The second time, she wasn't sure. A moment of clarity within the storm. A split second where she could see herself getting better, stronger, happier. She'd only lasted two weeks that time around, though, and since it was voluntary they couldn't do anything to stop her. Her soul was so, so very broken at this point that she didn't care to remember anything.
III. GILDED, HER THRONE
It was Minerva's third, and final, stint in rehab that truly set her on the path she is on now. This rehab was more of a spa, if she was being honest. The type celebrities went to when they were caught smoking marijuana and wanted back into the good graces of their more no-nonsense fans. It was there that she met a woman named Cecily, though Minerva later learned that was not her true name. Her eyes were large and her cheeks sunken in, her curly hair a massive rat's nest atop her head. She was short and petite in the ways Minerva had once been, severe looking. Gaunt. A reedy, fast-paced voice that had a way of carrying through the corridors and courtyards, something to get used to, Minerva had thought.
It was Cecily who'd first truly introduced Minerva to spirituality, which sounded far too sunny and easy to accommodate the person Minerva had become at first. But talks of energies led her to one thing, then another, and her hungry heart finally had something new to sink its teeth into.
She stopped by Cecily's room to thank her on her last day inside, but she'd found the room empty. Thinking it'd be nice of her to wait a while just to say goodbye, Minerva took a seat on the edge of the other girl's bed. She couldn't help noticing that there was a bedside table or that it's drawer was not all the way closed, and it was purely out of boredom that she opened it the rest of the way to see what was inside. Two things. One item, hauntingly beautiful in a way that would only suit a woman like Cecily: a ring, with a sizable black stone inlaid among silver vines. Ah, but the initials on the ring were not her own. I.V. Written in cursive, plain as day. Probably a way of protecting her identity; there'd been an actress in her swimming program who insisted she was a school teacher.
The other item was a deck of ornate tarot cards. They were wide and flat, worn soft to the touch as she reached down to stroke the card on top with a single spindly finger. The hungry heart in her chest reminded her that what she wanted was hers; she took it and left from the room. No note, no goodbye to her friend. Nothing.
She never saw Cecily again after that, though she supposed it was a good thing. She had stolen from the woman, after all, and their friendship had been one of circumstance at best. Not enough to tell each other their true names, it would've seemed.
After years of rejecting him, Minerva finally agreed to take the job her father had lined up for her. Perhaps her greatest fear, at one point, was working an office job. 9-5. Mundanity. Had it not been the exact reason she'd began looking for an escape in the first place? But after falling for half a lifetime, she wanted to land with her feet on the ground. Stepping stones. This job was not her end game, sure, but rising through the ranks was possible. She'd not ever envisioned herself in the world of business, but that was what the cards suggested was best.
She'd taken a liking to tarot, actually. It was a way to direct her, a way to place blame on the universe when things didn't go her way, an escape that freed her in the same ways the pills always had but without any of the unattractive side effects.
Seven years of working, seven years of placing her fate into a pile of stolen paper, and she got a call that changed everything. A call that gave her mediocre life one last shot at being extraordinary. The power that she'd always expected to come easily to her was hard won, but when she got it she fell in love. Gilded, her throne would be.