DISCLAIMER: All of the characters, plots, quotations from the novel, and everything else Hunger Games-related belongs to Suzanne Collins. I own none of it, and I am in no way associated with the Hunger Games franchise. No copyright infringement intended.
I crawled out of bed and slipped on my hunting boots, just like any other morning. When I walked downstairs, I saw my mother and Prim eating some bread covered in goat cheese for breakfast. I always knew Prim's goat, Lady, would be worth the effort it took to get her. I faintly smiled as I remembered Gale and I talking the man into letting us have her and then seeing Prim's face light up when we brought her home. Gale was my hunting partner and my best friend. Since the day our fathers had both died in a mining explosion, we had been keeping our families and each other alive.
"Hey, Katniss!" My sister smiled when she saw me, her eyes bright. Her eyes held an innocence that had been long gone from mine. I would have given anything to never see her beautiful smile fade away.
"Good morning, Prim." I kissed the top of her head and picked up a piece of bread.
"Going hunting?" I turned and looked at my mother as I was walking out the door. I rarely asked for permission to do anything since my mother had all but disappeared when my father died. I was the reason we had food in the first place.
"Yes, I'll be back in time to get ready," I called back to her.
I waved goodbye to my mother and Prim as I walked to the woods to meet Gale at our usual spot, just like any other morning. Except this wasn't like any other morning. It was the day of the Reaping.
The Reaping was the day in which two tributes from each district were chosen to compete in the annual Hunger Games. The Capitol used the Hunger Games to remind the remaining twelve districts that they held the power and to prevent another rebellion. Even though District 13 had been reduced to a pile of smoking ruins, the Capitol wasn't satisfied. Instead, they forced us to sit and watch as the children of Panem killed each other until only one person remained standing: the Victor.
After Gale and I had finished hunting and traded our usual haul at the Hob, I was back in my room preparing for the Reaping. Prim had just turned twelve, so this would be her first one. I told myself there was no reason to be worried about her; she only had one slip of paper with her name on it. My name was in the bowl more times than I cared to think about. In addition to a slip for each year I had been elgible, there were many more because I had taken out tessera. Prim had offered to do the same, but I wouldn't let her. I slipped on the blue dress my mother had placed on the bed for me and waited patiently as she braided my hair. When she was finished, I took Prim's hand and walked to the square.
When we arrived, I turned to Prim. Her forehead was scrunched up, causing little wrinkles to form on her otherwise smooth face.
"Don't worry, little duck. You'll be fine," I tried to reassure her.
I kissed Prim's forehead and left her with the twelve-year-olds. As I took my place, I looked over and saw Gale. He was talking to his friends. To anyone else, he would seem to be indifferent to the day's events, but I knew better. He was two years older than me and had a lot more slips with his name written on them. When he returned my gaze, I saw the fear in his eyes even as he gave me a reassuring smile. I didn't have long to think about it because Effie Trinket, the escort for District 12, was picking up the microphone to begin.
Effie introduced the mayor, who briefly explained the history of Panem. He spoke about the Dark Days of the rebellion and how the Capitol had saved us. The story was becoming very tiresome after sixteen years. Haymitch, the only living Victor from our district, stumbled onto the stage somewhere in the middle of the mayor's speech. I don't think I had ever seen him sober, and it looked like today was no exception. After the mayor finished, Effie announced that it was time to announce this year's tributes. I glanced back at Prim, who was nervously adjusting her dress. She had to be safe from the Games. My eyes were redirected to the stage as Effie cheerily said, "Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!" Everyone waited silently as she pulled the first slip out of the girls' ball. Please don't say Primrose Everdeen.
My lungs relaxed as I let out the breath I had been holding. I watched Laurel take her place on the stage. She was fifteen years old and from the Seam. I didn't know her, but I could tell by her dark hair and gray eyes. She looked scared as she waited for the male tribute's name to be called. Effie reached into the bowl and called out the name.
I immediately looked at Gale, relieved that he would not be going to the arena. It was only when I looked at the boy who was now making his way to the stage that I felt something else. Sadness. Peeta Mellark was in my grade at school, so of course I would feel sad that he had been reaped. I knew it was more than that though. He had saved my life by throwing me two loaves of burnt bread from the bakery his family owned when I was eleven years old and starving. He had run back inside, but not before I could see the bruises beginning to form under his eye where his mother had hit him. The next day at school I had tried to think of a way to thank him, but I looked down at the ground when our eyes met on the playground. It was then that I saw the first dandelion of spring and knew that I would survive. I told myself that the memory of him and the bread was the only reason that my heart had sank when I saw him standing on the stage, even though I knew it wasn't the truth. Not even close. It didn't matter now anyway. He was going to go to the Hunger Games and most likely die.
After the shock wore off and I realized that my name had not been called, I looked at Katniss. I expected to see her smiling back at me, but instead she was staring at Peeta Mellark with another emotion clouding her eyes. She looked almost sad. I didn't even know she knew him. I thought back to all the times we had traded with the baker, but there was never a time when she or Peeta had even acknowledged the other's presence. Oh well, maybe they were friends when they were children.
Before I could analyze the look on her face anymore, she had turned away and was walking toward Prim. I watched as she hugged her sister and took her hand. I made my way to them through the crowd and held her tightly, thankful that I wasn't hugging her goodbye. "I guess the odds were in our favor today." I said, humorlessly.
She gave me a small smile and nodded her head. Something was definitely wrong, but it was obvious that she didn't want to talk about it.
Prim and I sat in our dimly lit living room that night and ate a rare treat of cookies that our mother must have purchased from the bakery as we celebrated our luck. Prim wore a genuine smile as she ate her cookie. The recap of all of the Reapings was being aired. As I watched the baker's son walk up to the stage, I could feel my stomach sinking again. I stared down at the cookie in my hand that was made by his family, maybe even him. The delicate yellow swirls that formed a beautiful flower brought his terrified expression to my mind. Gale was wrong. The odds didn't seem to be in my favor today.