Chapter 17: Cole
I swirl the wine around in my glass, watching the liquid lap at the sides like bloody waves. The chatter swims around me like fish in a school, it's impossible to pick out individual conversations. I look up to see that most of the people have left their seats and have gathered in small clumps around the vast room. Most of them are Capital citizens but among them are 23 past victors, who like me have had a young person's life thrown into their hands. The people they meet at this Sponsor Banquet could make all the difference in the Games.
There a three Sponsor Banquets during the Games: the first is tonight after the first day of training, the second is the first day of the Games and the third is when the final eight is reached. This is the time when District Escorts and Mentors mingle with Capital citizens and businesses; their aim is to gain their support as a sponsor. I hate them because it reminds me of just how responsible I am for my District's tributes.
Cassia and Torey are in the corner with a couple of Capital people. Cassia spots me and beckons me over.
"Are, here he is now. Cole this is Flavious Cane and Augustus Reem, former Game makers. We were just talking about how you’re the first ever mentor to be mentoring their own child!" Cassia introduces me to them.
"Our yes, you must be so proud of the boy. He could be following in his father’s footsteps!" Exclaims Augustus as he shakes my hand.
"And you can share his glory if he does." grins Flavious, showing his silver teeth. Anger boils within me as I listen to these people joke and get excited about what my son is about to go through. But I clear my throat and say.
"Well, I can't take all the credit. Torey's as much his mentor as I am, so we'll have to split the glory three ways." Putting on the smile that accompanies this statement is almost painful, but they laugh all the same.
"Of course! We mustn't forget the incredible Miss Lawrence! I'm sure she's a fantastic mentor, nothing ruffles your feathers does it, my dear?" Flavious says, raising an eyebrow quizzically. Her face remains a mask.
"Nothing that you know of." This answer seems capture his attention.
"Oh, is there something you’re not telling me?"
Now I realise why they love her so much: they think she's mysterious. When you're surrounded by people who are as shallow as people like them, someone who's as hard to read as Torey must be completely captivating. They all want to find the human under the armour. And when she does allow you to catch a glimpse of her, she makes feel like you're the only one who's seen it. I don't know if this is an act or not but if it is it's ingenious. She has them eating out of her palm right now as she talks about Jed and Stella, they will sponsor at least one of them for sure.
"Hello, Cole." A voice almost whispers in my ear. I turn around to find a beautiful woman who barely looks older than the day she won the Games. Her blonde hair falls in ringlets around her shoulders and halter neck gown sparkles. By her side stands a man who looks like the male vision of her.
"Ah, hello, Cashmere. I see you and your brother are mentoring this year." I answer nodding to him.
"That must be good for you, Gloss. Who better to show you the ropes than your very own sister?” Cassia adds, trying to bring them into the conversation.
"Yeah, it's an honour to be chosen to a mentor considering I only won a couple of years ago myself and sharing that honour with Cashmere has made it even better," he answers with a smile. But Cashmere isn't interested in this small talk.
"I hope you don't mind if I borrow Cole for a few minutes, do you?” she asks.
"Of course not, you go can ahead, Cole. Me and Cassia will see if we can make an arrangement with these gentleman" Torey says.
We gather in another corner, out of ear shot of everyone else. Almost instantly their relaxed politeness washes away.
"Today one of your tributes showed my tribute up! I believe her name is Stella." Gloss growls.
"Excuse me?!" I splutter, shocked by this sudden confrontation.
"What, didn't she tell you about the treadmill thing? She challenged Chase to a race. The machine went to fast and he fell off. She made a huge scene, everyone saw what happened! The Game Makers were laughing at him!" He seemed to be getting angrier with every word.
"I realise your upset that Chase was humiliated like that, but I don't see what this has got to do with me…"
"You're her mentor. You tell her what to do in training. You..." He's struggling to stop himself from shouting now. Cashmere puts a hand on his shoulder.
"There, there, it’s OK, Gloss. I'll handle this. Why don't you be a darling a get us drink?" She talks him as if he's puppy. He does as he's told, leaving us alone.
"What he's trying to say is we think this was your plan." She says it sweetly but I can see she's as enraged as her brother.
"My plan?! I told her to stay away from the Careers and running! What happened was purely between her and Chase. Why would I want to sabotage his chances?!" I say, appalled by what she is suggesting.
"As one of the most successful Districts we expect some resentment and jealousy. But we have to work just as hard as the others, in fact more so because we have a reputation to up hold." She's says her voice getting higher by the minute.
"This isn't about reputation or winning streaks, Cashmere. It's about keeping our tributes alive."
"What do you think I'm right now?! I'm protecting our tributes by making sure nobody gets the better of them. You think that because I haven't been in this game as long as you I don't know how it works, but I know how these people think, how fickle they can be. One little slip could be the end of you." She answers through gritted teeth.
I open my mouth to apologise on Stella's behalf but my tongue develops a mind of its own:
"You're just ticked off that not everyone's afraid of them." At this her controlled demure shatters. She screams like a five year old having a temper tantrum.
"YOU DON'T KNOW WHO YOU'RE DEALING WITH!!! TWO CAN PLAY DIRTY!!!I CAN MAKE LIFE VERY HARD FOR YOU AND YOUR LITTLE TRIBUTES!!!" There is silence as every head in the room turns to face us, hungry for drama. Gloss appears at her side once again, holding two glasses full of drink. She grabs one without looking and gulps it down. Gloss looks horrified.
"No, Cashmere! That one was meant for..." but it's too late. The colour in her face drains as she clamps a hand over her mouth and rushes to the toilets! The laughter follows her across the room. Something tells me this isn't the last I'll see of her or her brother.