When my name falls from the painted lips of Effie Trinket, it's all I can do not to scream. There must be some mistake. Effie needs glasses, or she's playing a trick on me, or – something to explain the horrible truth that is ringing in my ears.
But she doesn't laugh or excuse herself. Instead, she looks out at the crowd and repeats my name. "Primrose Everdeen." Cherry, another twelve-year-old, prods me in the back. I numbly take one-step forward, and then another. I need to move quickly before my legs give way. As I move through the crowd, the people of District 12 avert their eyes, studying their boots or fingers. I climb the three steps to the stage, where Effie smiles brightly. "Wonderful!" Then she asks for volunteers. As usual, nobody speaks up.
I take my place and face the audience, searching the sea of faces for my family. My mother's easy to locate by her loud sobs. She doesn't look up from her hands, which she's cradled her head in. The face I can't find belongs to my older sister, Katniss. She was out hunting this morning with Gale – illegally, of course – but when she didn't return on time, there was no time to check if the fence was live or not. The Peacekeepers will be looking for her now, when she's obviously not in attendance.
Then she's crossing over to the glass ball with the boys' names, reaching in and pulling out a paper slip. "Peeta Mellark." All I know is that he's the baker's son, not from the Seam. He's the same age as my sister, sixteen years old. I've never spoken to him.
Now Peeta's coming up the stairs, just like I did. His blue eyes lock on mine, and I can tell by the pity in them that my terror is plain on my face. I realize that there are tears on my cheeks, and I blink quickly, trying to stop. No one volunteers to take his place, either. He stands stiffly a few feet away from me, also searching the crowd.
"Well, this is lovely!" Effie is talking to the cameras. "I'm Effie Trinket, and these are the tributes from District 12: Primrose Everdeen and Peeta Mellark! May the odds be ever in your favor!"
After her ritual closing line, Peeta and I are shuffled off into the Justice Building. I've never been in here before, and it's too much to take in – the soft fabrics and fancy lights. There's even scented air.
I'm shown to a small room with a window, a thick carpet, and a red velvet couch, just like the collar of my mother's dress. She's wearing it today. Even as I form the thought, she enters the room. Her face is red and damp, but at least she's stopped crying. I can handle tears, but not from my mother.
"Oh, Prim!" she wails, and folds me in her arms. I go limp and let her lead me to the couch and pull me onto her lap. "Prim, Prim, Prim!" We just sit there for about ten minutes, silent, and then I ask where Katniss is.
"I don't know," my mother admits. "Maybe she and Gale got caught outside the fence. I promise, Prim, when I see her I'll tell her-" whatever she might have said is interrupted by the sound of someone knocking on the window. We both look over, and there's Katniss. I jump up and run over, sliding up the glass panel to let her in.
"Where were you?" I whisper. She doesn't reply, just stares at me like I've sprouted wings. The only time I've ever seen my sister scared before was after the mine accident that killed our father. Now she's getting me frightened, too.
"You…no," she chokes out. Then she seems to register that her reaction isn't helping, and takes a deep breath. She blinks a few times and her face clears. "Sorry," she mutters. Then Katniss glances at our mother and then back at me. She bends down and puts one hand on my shoulder.
"Prim, you have to be brave." I nod. "You have to win. Promise me that you'll win."
I gulp loudly, trying not to show how scared I am. Trying to be brave. "I promise." Then the door bangs open and a female Peacekeeper with brown hair and gray eyes is standing there. I don't know this one's name, but it doesn't matter. I'm not sure what they'll do to Katniss for not attending the reaping. All I know is that it will be bad.
The Peacekeeper starts to say something – probably that our time is up – and then she catches sight of my sister, as I knew she would. She crosses the room in a few swift strides until she has Katniss by the wrist and is dragging her away.
"No, wait!" Katniss yells as the door begins to close. "Prim, you-" The door slams shut just after my mother rushes out. I'm alone. I can't see my family, but I can hear the screams and sobs travel down the hall until they exit the Justice Building.
"Prim?" This voice belongs to Amicus. He's my best friend in school. He walks over to me, where I'm frozen in shock, and gives me a hug. For a moment, he seems on the verge of saying something important, but he just wishes me luck and leaves. What do you say when your friend might never come back?
Over the next forty-five minutes, only one more person visits me: Madge, the mayor's daughter. I know Katniss has delivered strawberries to her father, but I've never spoken to either of them. Madge waits until I've sat on the couch, and takes the spot next to me. She pulls a golden pin out of her pocket and holds it out to me.
"Take it, for your token. Maybe it'll give you luck." She's quiet for a moment, and then she continues. "It's a mockingjay. Do you know what those are?" I nod. Katniss told me about those. Madge hands it to me and leaves. Alone, I examine the pin for a minute. The small golden bird is beautiful…it's now the only piece of beauty that I own. I fasten it to my shirt.
Now there's nothing I can do but wait.