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“You volunteered for the fashion show? The one you make fun of every year?” Primrose Everdeen looked up from her homework at her older sister. “It seems like you’re always volunteering for things now.”

“I just couldn’t say no,” Katniss said, poking about in the cupboard. “I owe Peeta quite a bit, and I feel like this will make us even. It’s all for college, anyway.”

Primrose nodded. College weighed heavily on both them. When their father had died in a coal mine accident, their mother had been left with a too-small settlement to take care of Katniss and Primrose, even if she had not been stricken with depression. Now, most of the time everything was okay, between the work Katniss did and their mom’s salary as a nurse’s aide, but “okay” wasn’t going to pay for anything other than D12’s junior college.

“I’m just having a hard time picturing you in a fluffy ballgown,” Prim said after a moment. The fashion show dresses were almost always the same – pale, fluffy, lacy, insipid – the kind of thing that made Katniss look…horrible. Frumpy. Like a Seam reject wearing something from the secondhand store.

Which, Prim added to herself after a minute, was a large part of their fashion. Their mother was an indifferent mender at best, and they had to work with what they had.

Katniss brightened a little at the question. “Cinna and Portia are going to be helping out.”

Primrose liked Cinna.

Cinna makes everyone look good, even Seam rejects who can only afford something from the secondhand store. It was a wonder what he had done with the suit they had found for Katniss to wear to debate after Effie Trinket laid into her about the hand-me-down suit. Cinna hadn’t just dragged Katniss through three different stores, looking at suits until Katniss was ready to strangle him. He had made her try the suit on, and then done a few things with needle and thread that made the suit look like it had been designed just for Katniss.

She can be pretty sure that whatever Cinna does for the fashion show, it won’t involve ruffles and insipid pale fabrics.

***

For the guys, the fashion show is pretty much the same every year. Maybe they have different colored ties or vests, or someone has an unusual shirt collar, but tuxedos are tuxedos.

The dresses are what everyone comes to see. The parents who have donated ridiculous amounts of money so that the “right” kids can walk down some silly runway – an amount of money that the Seam families could never spare – get to come to an evening event where they mill around with drinks and fancy little snacks, mingling with all the important people.

Katniss hasn’t really thought through what doing the fashion show will mean, though, until Effie asks if her mother has received her invitation for the fashion show. She has been trying to get Cinna to spill the details about her dress, but he won’t budge.

“Katniss!” Effie’s voice has that tone that lets Katniss know the coach is, once again, irritated because she is failing to pay appropriate attention to what Effie thinks is vitally important.

“Yes?”

“I was asking if your mother received her invitation to the fashion show.” Effie, wearing one of her trademark fussy suits, is not unkind, for all of the demands she makes on the debate team – or on Katniss personally. She just doesn’t really understand what life is like for the Seam kids. She doesn’t get that so many of the “little fees” that keep cropping up are not so little for some of them, that they mean a real sacrifice. She doesn’t understand that their parents work two jobs or the hours that no one else wants to work.

Effie doesn’t understand that the competitions aren’t just games.

“She, uh, hasn’t said anything.” It’s never occurred to Katniss that this favor for Peeta Mellark is going to involve her family. “I don’t think…”

“Well, if she has any questions, have her call me.” Effie moves on to practice, correcting and suggesting and drilling, but all Katniss can think about is the idea that her mother is now expected to appear at this fashion show.

The invitation is sitting on the table when she gets home, and Cinna is there as well, chatting with her mother over a cup of tea.

“You think you can repair it?” Mrs. Everdeen is asking.

“I’m very sure,” Cinna says in his calm, soothing way. “Just try not to gain too much weight between now and then.”

Katniss was shocked to hear her mother laugh. “That won’t be a problem.”

When Cinna is gone, her mother doesn’t say any more about the invitation. It’s marked on her calendar though, and Primrose is excited beyond words.

***

The dressing room reminds Katniss of their debate practice room, but instead of fussing with note cards and practicing their lines, all the girls are putting the final touches on their appearance. Portia and her band of stylists had worked their magic, and Katniss almost doesn’t recognize the girl in the mirror. The girl in the mirror looks sleek and completely put together, but not fussy. She actually likes the elegant updo with a curl falling on each side of her neck – simple, and something she could maybe imitate in her own room.

Portia did Katniss’s makeup herself, and it had not involved plucking her eyebrows. There had been a great deal of powders and pencils and brushes, and Katniss had half expected to look like Effie. Instead, when Portia finally let her look in the mirror, she looked like herself but…pretty. She had never seen her eyes look so dark. Portia had nodded approvingly, but not said the dreaded words “it opens up your face.”

Best of all was the dress. It was not pale, or fluffy, or insipid. It was a dark red column that fell from the off the shoulder neckline into a slim skirt, made of some fabric that shimmered as she walked.

Effie gushed over Katniss as the girls lined up to make their entrance, until Katniss was ready to walk down the small stage just to get away from her. When she stepped up to the head of the stage, Peeta was there waiting for her. Someone – Cinna, she was sure – must have made sure his vest and bowtie were a match for her dress, and he took her hand in his to tie on the wrist corsage made of white roses.

He didn’t let go of her hand as they began to walk out on the stage, and Katniss was grateful for the physical link – even if she would never admit it. It kept her from turning tail and retreating, kept her moving forward with him, turning and smiling as Effie had made them practice.

Halfway down, she almost stopped. Her mother was sitting there with Prim, wearing a soft blue dress that Katniss remembered from the days when her father had been alive – a dress that she hadn’t worn in years. This must have been what Cinna had repaired, she thought. Prim had a dress in dark blue, and both of them were smiling at her.

Those smiles got her to the end of the stage, got her through the party that seemed entirely pointless.

Those smiles, and Peeta’s hand around hers.

They would be even at the end of it, she told herself. That was the whole point.

Katniss doesn’t want to think about why she finds that a little depressing – and why she is actually a little pleased when he reminds her about the prom planning committee meeting the next week.

College, she tells herself. Think about college.

It's the reason she's let herself be put on display like this.

Not his hand on hers, or how handsome he looks in the tuxedo, or how his fingers brushed against her wrist when he was tying her corsage on...

College. Not Peeta. Not at all.