She tried to stand there as still as stone, but every breath she took seemed to shudder through her so loudly her body shook like quaking leaves in a winter wind. The dress she wore matched the others besides her; flimsy white thin cotton made to look something like "Grecian style". At least that is what Effie told her. All she knew was that it was so see through, she might as well have been bare so what was even the point. Even after standing there for almost an hour, her cheeks heated up in furious embarrassment at the thought of it. And their eyes were always upon her. She wasn't sure if she wanted them to look at her or ignore her but either option was equally horrifying. This was the only option open to her and her family and as loathe as she was to admit it, she needed them, she needed their attention. Well at least one person, only one.
They fluttered around the party, brightly gilded butterflies of unnatural colors, laughing a little bit too hard, talking a little bit too loudly. They were on the bare edges of civility and she knew they were but one or two drinks from letting it all go. Garish masks obscured their faces even if their bodies were barely covered. Although she found a masquerade party pretty absurd, she was nonetheless grateful; it would make it so much harder seeing their faces; knowing what they looked like, maybe even knowing who their potentially famous faces were. Because of course as Effie put it, there were "very important people" attending the party.
One year ago she would have laughed off anybody who told her she would be in this situation, selling her body to the highest seller. It's amazing how things can change so quickly. To think she used to pity sex surrogates, even with all their wealth and status. It hurt her heart thinking that somebody could hold their body, hold themselves, as just a mere commodity to be bought and used. But no matter what, she wouldn't pity herself or her situation because this would be their salvation. With this money they could possibly leave District 12 and all the bad memories behind.
Her head swooned and she realized she had been standing too still for so long. Gale had warned her that this might happen. He told her the length of time standing there would be excruciatingly painful, not to mention boring but that it would all be worth it. She bent her knees a couple of times like he recommended to try and get some blood pumping in her body and finally her head cleared. Thank god she was allowed to go barefoot, she didn't know how some of the other girls were able to stand wearing high heels.
Thoughts about Gale had her searching the crowd for her friend and after a few minutes of looking, she finally found him at the other end of the room, tall and cutting an intimidating figure. Since he was a companion his clothing and mask were simple and almost plain but that didn't make him any less striking. His hand laid gently on Madge Undersee Crane's bare back, his fingers making light patterns almost like he was writing secrets into her soft skin. If only she could be as lucky as him, he actually liked the woman he "worked" for. Not only was she beautiful, but she was kind and sweet. Not to mention her husband was pretty much absent all the time since he was too busy playing in the Capitol all the time so they were often left to their own devices. She had to add that Gale had a very generous paycheck he could send over to his mother Hazel, her days of washing laundry by hand long over.
Gale wove a fairy tale to her of comfort, food, medicine and paid bills that was a prospect that was too tempting to pass up. There was no guarantee she would be picked up as a companion, there might only be somebody who only wanted her for one night. The money would be enough to help, but not nearly enough to save her ailing father. But when she saw her father fighting a losing battle for air every single day, she knew she had to try. This could be his salvation. All he needed was a simple vial of medicine that was so beyond their means it might as well have been made of gold. So she stood there, and waited, and hoped that somebody would notice her.
A shiver ran across her skin, her nipples becoming hard points as the breeze directed at them seemed to strengthen. Effie said the wind added ambience and a romantic effect as the light cotton swirled around their legs. All she knew was that it was fucking cold and goosebumps were definitely not attractive. As she suppressed the urge to shake like a scared dog, a tingle traveled up the back of her neck. It was the kind of sensation where you just knew that somebody was staring at you. She peered around slowly, trying not to be too obvious and there the culprit stood, still as a statue among a twittering group of women, his icy blue eyes fixed intensely upon her. The heat rushed back to her cheeks and she barely resisted the urge to cross her arms over her chest. Instead her nails dug harder into the soft flesh of her palms and she raised her head in defiance. She may be a shaking nervous mess inside but she refused to show it in front of these people.
There was the barest nod of his head in acknowledgement before he turned around and silently lifted a finger, easily getting the attention of a fluttery Effie despite the small movement. As Effie made her way over he leaned down and whispered something into the ear of a striking blonde woman standing next to him. She nodded her head and looked at Katniss with a cold calculating glance before she nodded her head in assent. They both turned back to Effie only saying a few words before her employer came rushing towards her direction.
"Katniss my dear, it looks like you got yourself a little bite! Aren't you excited?" Effie didn't even pause a moment to see if she would answer before prattling on. "He's a very very wealthy man. I don't want to tell you too much about him yet, because if it doesn't happen, you'll be very disappointed. It's best you approach the interview as a clean slate anyway. Well, come come my dear. What are we doing just standing here. We need to get you into one of the private interview rooms in the back. It's best not to keep them waiting."
Before Katniss could even get her mind wrapped around the fact that she was actually getting the chance she was so hoping for moments before she was being rushed out of the room, down a few different winding hallways to a plain nondescript door. Effie pushed the door open without knocking and ushered her inside. It was dimly lit and she could barely make out any of the furniture inside. Effie went to a wall and flipped a switch and instead of turning on the overhead lights like she expected, instead a bright spot light flickered on at the end of the room closest to them. It was directed a small round low stage that would only take one step to get on.
"Well, don't dawdle, they'll be here any moment," Effie said as she lightly pushed her towards the the platform. As soon as she stepped up the bright light directed at her made it almost impossible to see anything outside of that circle.
"Now don't forget that the stage does spin, so they might use that feature to get a 360 view of you. So if does start moving please don't fall. That's almost a guarantee that they won't make a purchase. It's quite unfortunate actually. So just stay on the stage, keep your balance and a placid look on your face. Don't smile too brightly or you'll looked crazed. Answer all questions honestly and politely. Do you have any questions?" Effie rushed out her words so efficiently it was evident she had said this spiel many times before.
"Actually, do you know if this client only wants one night or does he want someone more permanent?" Katniss' heart seemed to beat painfully out of her chest as she waited for Effie's answer. Even though it came quickly, that brief moment seemed to stretch on forever.
"They're looking for a permanent position. They'll do a trial tonight and if it works out, you'll be accompanying them to their estate the following day. Your affairs are all in order correct?" she asked.
"Ye...yes," she stuttered out nervously. She didn't know whether she was relieved or scared out of her mind. If they liked her, it was so permanent, there would be no turning back. Now she was starting to wonder if maybe a one night deal would have been a better proposition. She would have some money to bring back home and she would still be with her family. She took a deep cleansing breath and tried to calm her shaken nerves. Looking like a mess in front of her first potential client wouldn't be any help. She closed her eyes and pictured the meadow near her house filled with daisies swaying in a gentle warm breeze and could feel the shaking in her limbs lessen. While her eyes were closed she heard the click of a door on the opposite side of the room from where she came in. She slowly opened her eyes and tried her best to put on a placid expression just like Effie told her.
Effie walked over to the two shadowy figures on the other side of the room but it didn't matter if she couldn't see their faces, she knew exactly who she was dealing with. The couple sat down in large over stuffed chairs but besides a few hushed whispers to Effie, didn't say anything. She forgot to ask Effie if the client would be just one of them or the both. God she hoped it was just one. She tried her best not to show the panic and hoped to god she didn't look like the scared deer that she felt she resembled. Just like Effie had warned the stage started to spin but luckily it was a smooth start so it was very easy to stay still and keep her balance. After a few spins it came to a stop and once again she faced the shadowy strangers in front of her.
"So Katniss Everdeen, our beautiful Effie here tells us you're from District 12, is that correct?" She was surprised that it was the woman speaking first. Her voice was rich and silky but it lacked any real warmth. It was so clinical it made her want to shiver again but this time there was no breeze to blame it on.
"Yes, I'm from District 12, the area known as the Seam," she answered, somehow able to keep the nerves from appearing in her voice.
"And you are 20 years of age. It says here you are a virgin. You're pretty old to be a virgin. I thought you lot got married and pregnant by the age of 18," she asked, brittle laughter coloring her voice.
"That's not true, we don't get married so young," Katniss answered, heat coloring her words at her dismissive tone. "Bedsides I never plan to marry or have children," she followed as she tried to calm her temper.
"Well, that's a good idea considering the line of work you're in," she said. And although she couldn't see the expression on her face, she knew that she was smirking at her express so her head lifted a little higher in defiance.
"And you're free of any obligations in your home district? I would hate for you to be distracted while you're away from home."
"I am free and ready for work for as long as you need me," she answered as she was trained to do by Effie.
"Good. Effie tells me that you have been trained to handle any needs. She always has the best stock. But you can understand that you need to be tested out first. Of course you'll be compensated even if it doesn't work out. My husband here likes you very much, I would hate for you to disappoint him."
Katniss doesn't know how to answer that so she just stays silent and holds her breath, waiting for what is to come next.
"Well, You're pretty enough I guess, but since I'm not the one partaking, I think it's best that I leave you two for it. I have a little bit more shopping to do," the mysterious woman slid out of her seat gracefully before turning to her husband and leaving a lingering kiss on his lips. "Happy birthday my dear. Tell me what you think when you're done."
She didn't wait for his answer but instead went over to the waiting Effie and left through the door that they came in. The silence descended over them heavy and pregnant with anticipation. Her heart once again came to life and pounded heavily against her rib cage as she waited for him to make the first move. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do next. Go over to him? Wait? Make conversation? Effie had trained her well. Everything from holding a political conversation to how to hold a cock in just the right way so that a man couldn't come even if he even wanted to. But her mind went blank as she waited for him to make the first move.
Eventually after the moments stretched on, he got up from his seat and slowly made his way toward her. He stopped a few feet away from her, still silent as he took in her form. The light was achingly bright and she struggled to make out the expression on his face, searching for what this night would bring, but it was useless. The shadows were just too deep.
He turned away from her and went toward the wall and to her blessed relief he switched the overhead light off. She blinked a few times and rubbed her eyes in an attempt to adjust to the sudden darkness. In the meantime his hand played over the lighting console until the rest of the lights in the room had brightened to a manageable level, enough to bring illumination without being so brilliantly bright. When he turned around she was finally able to take him fully in and his beauty took her breath away. He was so much more striking up close than he was in at a distance. Golden hair with long golden lashes to match, blue eyes brighter than a summer day, and a stocky body with tight muscles emphasized by his tight shirt.
"Well Katniss, I guess it's that time to get to know each other," he said wryly, a smirk played on his lips and she couldn't help the gulp that constricted her throat in reaction to what was to come.