For a moment, time is suspended and I stand with all the other 16 year olds in a kind of endless bubble, begging my brain to register and process all my thoughts so that I have time to compose my face before I have to walk onto the stage. I will not look weak. I will not look scared. I am the most violent and well-trained girl in District Two. I was made for this.
And then the bubble ends, and I have just enough time to tighten my facial muscles and relax my mouth so that I don’t look completely pathetic. I refuse to meet Cato’s eyes. I saw him falter in that split second when he knew what was happening and I didn’t, but I’m sure he’s composed himself. He’s trained his whole life for this. He’s not going to let me stand in his way. He needs to look completely ruthless for the sponsors, who are no doubt falling over themselves to sponsor him as we speak. Who wouldn’t? Just wait until they’ve seen him throw a spear, or wield a sword. Wait til they see him dressed in a suit, with his broad shoulders and blue eyes. The Capitol will just die over him.
But what about me? Who will sponsor a small dark-haired girl who wasn’t even a volunteer? Maybe once they’ve seen me throw knives. I can hit one of the tiny geckos that sometimes inhabit our garden from ten feet away, easy. I’m most definitely not out of the running. And if the sponsors don’t see that now, just wait until I get into the arena. I’ll make sure the other tributes see it, for sure.
And then the Capitol woman in her ridiculous outfit and her voice that makes me want to pick up the glass reaping bowl and smash it over her head instructs us to shake hands. I turn to face him, and his blonde hair stuck up no matter how many times he combs it and his bright blue eyes feel like a punch in the stomach. I reach out my hand and he takes it, gripping it tightly. I don’t know what he means by this. Does he mean that it’s on, that our years of friendship, that everything we’ve shared is nothing now, that it’s me against him? Is it supposed to be a reassuring squeeze? I’m not sure. I still trust him, though.
We shake hands for way longer than is normal. And although I hate myself for it, though I spend my whole life trying not to be that kind of girl, I cannot help but think back to the one time we held hands, even tighter than this, for hours on end. I hate this weakness. I wish I was stronger. There was a girl a few years back, Johanna, who won the games by pretending to be weak and vulnerable, but then turned out to be a ruthless killer. Hypothetically, I could do that too. I’m small, pretty skinny, I don’t look particularly threatening. If I just kept quiet during my interview, I could do it. But the thought of looking weak, even for a moment, even as part of a deception that could save my life, makes me feel physically sick. I guess that option’s out.
And noone will believe I’m weak, will they, if I’m with Cato? That is, if I still will be with Cato. There’s an unwritten law in District Two that our tributes are allies, at least to begin with. And though I hate myself for it, that thought comforts me instantly.
Isabelle Fuhrman opens up on Clove (x)