A/N: I am not all that used to writing AU stories, so please bear with me as I get this one started. I will try to make it live up to the potential I have in my head, though someone to beta me and help me make sure it stays coherent would be appreciated. :)
Hunger Games and all affiliated characters are of course intellectual and actual property of Suzanne Collins. I make no money from writing anything here at all, though I do wish she'd take some of my ideas seriously. Her agent still hasn't called me back about the rewrite of the trilogy in favor of Katniss' true orientation.
Fall has come to Panem, the towering trees on the campus of the Capitol Art Institute changing to all the colors of red, orange, and gold imaginable. This has always been my favorite time of year, though I never have actually managed to give a good answer when asked why. I usually just say I love it because I do, and because it is beautiful, so what other answer do I need? The truth of the matter is a little less simple though. I love the smell of the air, the way the leaves smell as they fall and gather on the grass. The temperature of the season as it cools and encourages closeness with other people, the way it brings us all together in coffee shops and theaters and bookstores. There is a compelling feeling as the world goes to sleep a little at a time, something I have always wanted and tried to capture on film that just never seems to translate.
Being here in Panem makes the season even better. There is just something about this small college town that makes fall feel... perfect. I am not sure I will ever be able to aptly put it into words more succinctly than that. The tall trees of nearly every deciduous species that grows in this part of the country, the relaxed atmosphere on campus, the days that are more sunny than gloomy. Even the rain seems calmer here, the smell of petrichor and damp vegetation permeating the humid air after each shower.
It is that very fact however that has led to my current dilemma. I have been in classes for about three months, Halloween is just around the corner, and I still have not even begun to ponder what I am going to do for my midterm project. Unfortunately for me, I am a film major and my project is due in about seven weeks. If you don't know much of anything about film, that means that unless I have something fall in my lap soon, I am going to be scrambling to cobble together something that resembles a coherent story and hoping that it will be good enough to pass. This project is worth half of my overall grade. I am an idiot for putting it off, and yet now that I know I have less time to work than would be ideal, I cannot even come up with a single idea. My mind is empty, and let me tell you, that is unbelievably frustrating.
Last year around this time, I only had to worry about my Advanced Literature paper, a ten page project with references of where I pulled my facts. You know, standard college student fare, nothing truly distressing or worthy of worry. I found a secluded corner of the campus to sit down with my laptop and I would write for hours, sometimes actually working on my paper and most of the time working on ideas for screenplays of projects I would like to do once I graduate. This year however I am learning just how tenuous that dream of mine is, and not a single one of the ideas I had last year are adaptable to my midterm project this year. My worry is compounded by the knowledge that my roommates are all working together on a joint project that I was too proud to join, a fact that I am lamenting more and more every day.
Messalla offered to work together, but like the stubborn fool that I am, I turned him down. He's a good guy really, and an amazing roommate, but I guess I see him more as a follower than a leader. A producer instead of a director, perhaps. Our friends Castor and Pollux are on the other side of the major from us, both going for photography and filmography. Seeing the orange haired twins has always made me smile, but now it causes a mild anxiety attack because I feel in my gut that they are making progress on their short and laughing at my declining to work with them. I imagine they think I was being snooty and aloof, turning down working with peasants when I am so obviously above them in social order, and though I have known all three of them since freshman orientation last year and should know better, I cannot seem to get that idea of condescension out of my mind.
My head wrapped in self-defeating thoughts, I shuffle through the milling crowds of freshmen and the cliques of the second years and up. The commons is too busy, too social for me to be able to think properly, and I am desperately attempting to escape from it so that I can seclude myself among the trees and relax. The students here are all too happy, too loud, too carefree, and why should it be any different? They are not the ones that have a massively important project that they neglected to begin when they should have. Finally however, I spot my refuge through a gap in the throng and my heart leaps with relief.
A frisbee whizzes past my eye, I dance around a group of large and muscular men as they wrestle for their oblong leather ball, a peleton of cyclists narrowly avoids a collision with my person, and then I am clear. A joie de vivre buoys my spirits and plasters a smile on my face, my long legs surging beneath me to carry me into the trees at a pace one would have to stretch the definition of walking to encompass. My eyes flick about in search of a favorite seat just as a mossy and ancient trunk that fell years ago against a rival tree comes into view. Here in the forest thicket proper, I am at peace and I can finally let go of the stresses of campus life.
My lungs expand with a cleansing breath and I sigh happily, alone and free of- what was that? I am alone out here and yet I could swear that I just heard- there it is again! I definitely heard another human being out here, someone else hiding from the press of people. I take a moment to process what I am listening to before I decide that the owner of the voice is female and likely a music major. With pitch and tone as on key and perfect as she is, there is no way that she is here at Capitol and not pursuing music, or if she is then she needs to stop whatever she is doing and go for music.
I slip off of my perch and slowly start to walk in the direction I think the singing is originating from, trying to learn everything I can about her from the sound of her voice alone. The words are from a song originally sung by The Beatles, though I do not believe that John Lennon or Paul McCartney ever sounded quite like this while singing All My Loving. Something about the quality of her smoky alto sends shivers down my spine, though I am unsure what would cause that reaction. It is not one that I am used to in any setting, let alone while being a creeper and listening to a girl I have never met sing. In my mind's eye, she takes the form of Lauren Bacall, and if she looks anywhere near as beautiful as she sounds then I must find a way to use her in my project.
After a seeming eternity, I round the base of a massive oak and there she is. I have been so focused on the sound of her voice that I did not even notice the sound of a cello being played to accompany her. Now though, when I can see her long and dexterous fingers plying the strings and teasing out soulful notes, I am transfixed. That shiver from earlier makes its presence known again and I still cannot discern what is causing it.
She must have heard me walking through the leaves though I was attempting to be stealthy, because she looks right at me. She is surprised to see me, her silvery eyes are wide and very expressive, but she continues singing into the eye contact and suddenly it feels very personal. "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you, tomorrow I'll miss you, remember I'll always be true. And then while I'm away, I'll write home everyday, and I'll send all my loving to you." There is a quality in her gaze that I find myself unable to name and it is tying my stomach in knots. I am usually pretty smooth when meeting new people, but this time I feel as though my tongue were tied in a complicated weave and numbed for good measure.
For a few moments we keep contact, then she smiles and looks down, fingers flicking the clasps of her case as she lovingly returns her cello to its home. Then she is staring at me again, that enigmatic little smile playing around her lips, and I realize that this is the first time I've noticed an expression around anyone's lips. When she speaks, her voice is a little huskier and so much richer, a little bit of a southern twang in her words though she seems to be attempting to keep it down. "Are you jus' going to stand there or are you going to speak to lil ol' me?" I grin in what I feel must be a very sheepish and somewhat pathetic manner, and suddenly I cannot keep my mouth shut.
I slip into my dorm that evening, totally unaware of what I spoke to that girl about, but as the door clicks shut behind me a single fact makes itself known: I forgot to ask her for her name. I spent several hours among the trees with her, and not only did I fail to do any work on my project, but I failed to obtain her name at any point in that conversation. I have trouble remembering what exactly we spoke of, but I know that we covered many things.
I do remember one thing though. She told me that she was the cellist of a string quartet rock band, something I was not even aware existed. I get the feeling that they are rather rare, and I may only ever see this girl and her band fill that unique niche. She told me that she favored covering The Beatles when they were not performing their own songs, but that anything can be played. She had a fervent and happy look on her face as she described the feeling of being on stage in front of a crowd, the way the roar of their fans when incited by the violinist, who she claims is a shameless exhibitionist, can make her soar. She even discussed her bandmates.
The showy violinist she called Johanna, though she only used her full name once. There was a bassist that I think she said was named Madge, and the laughter in her voice as she described the size difference between the instrument and the woman playing it was a little infectious. The last member plays the viola for them, but I have to admit that I have never actually heard of very many who do. She told me that the girl's name is Delly Cartwright, and that her boyfriend had nursed a crush on her best friend for years before Delly finally caught him by the mouth. My southern acquaintance hinted that the "best friend" in that scenario was her, which puts her with Delly and Madge who she claimed both came from slightly more affluent circumstances. In point of fact, the only one she suggested was not from the same town as the others was Johanna, who might have been from Portland but she is not sure.
In return, I told her about my ambitions to become a famous director and create masterpieces of filmic history spanning every genre. She seemed politely interested at first, but I think I actually hooked her when I recanted my current troubles with a mid-term project. There was a glint in her eye that I have a hard time naming, but I feel that perhaps it meant something. Maybe even something good in my future, though what I need and what I want have perhaps never been so different. I do not know what I want personally, but as far as this mysterious cellist is concerned I want to spend more time in coffee shops and bookstores and quiet wooded clearings with her, conversing for hours and learning everything about her. I need to document her music, and... Oh my, I think I just figured out what I need to do for my mid-term. I need to film this woman playing her cello and singing, perhaps even coax her story out of her, learn why music is so intrinsically enmeshed into her soul.
For three days, I have been wracking my brain in search of the perfect way to approach the cellist and politely ask, meaning beg, her to allow me to film her and maybe even capture her life in a jar and show it to the world. For three days I have been attempting to find a way to convince her to help me with my project, shoving the tiny complication of not knowing her name to the side until I have solved the necessary portion of my new obsession. The question of how to actually track her down is not big enough at the moment to merit my attention, and yet I am thinking perhaps it should be.
A knock at my door followed by the intruder opening it and waltzing in without an invitation or a "how do you do" pulls me out of my head to notice Messalla flopping his gangly self onto my bed, a saucy grin on his mocha face. "Hey girlfriend, you crack the case yet?" His stereotypically flamboyant greeting needles me enough that I cannot stop my eyes from rolling, and at the same time I grin in response to his effervescent attitude. A self-deprecating chuckle and a shake of my head is the only answer I deign to give him, and still he does not let the smile drop. If anything, it transforms into a sneaky smirk and suddenly I am worried about what is on his mind.
"Then I have just the thing for you. There is a new club opening up, and by club I mean bar not actual clubby-club like New York club or anything, and the opening night act is to die for. At least that's what I've heard, and maybe there will be some eye candy for my favorite ace to convince her to change her mind about the yummy yummy world of gymnastics, if you know what I mean." The wave of his hand is so energetic and so very gay that I laugh before I can stop myself, and he only shows more teeth. Now I know for sure that he is trying to play the rainbow that he is and exasperation takes over, a haughty and withering glare leveled at him. It does nothing to faze him, not that I am in any way surprised by that.
"Look Cressy-poo, you have been locked her in this dungeon for days now, and I know it isn't for your project. That means either you've been throwing yourself a Debby Downer pity party, or you've been trying to give yourself hairy palms that entire time." I interject here, indignation pitching my voice into a squeak, "You know that's a myth, right? And anyway, why do you care what I may or may not have been doing?"
His eyeroll is so expressive and full of sass that I find myself amazed that I do not have a hand print on my cheek from his non-physical bitch slap. "I care because we're besties, okay? You took care of me when we met, I would be totally failing as your friend if I didn't try to do the same for you. Are you coming tonight or not? And before you answer, remember that an answer of no will only be ignored and you will be dragged to the bar anyway."
My hands fly into the air and I cry, "Fine! I'll go to damn bar, just for you, are you happy?" The squealing and clapping of hands answers that one for me, and Messalla begins chattering at a mile a minute going on about what I should wear and how I should do my make up. I almost manage to tune him out when he slows down enough to declare, "Cress, you have to shave away your hair. Like, I haven't seen your tattoos in months girl, you have to show them off again!"
The tattoos he means are the vines that I had done at sixteen. Everything that would normally be covered by hair on the right side of my head is inked up with ivy, not to mention the side of my neck and my arm, but I have let my hair grow in again to cover them since I learned that my only boyfriend ever was only trying to get me into bed because he liked tattooed chicks. The debacle with him, a weedy and shifty loser by the name of Seneca Crane, convinced me that perhaps it was best to hide that side of myself. This time though, this one time for Messalla, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to show them again.