Yeah, I know the premise isn't very creative, but hopefully I go somewhere remotely interesting with the concept.
I plan to still have Peeta involved in the story, but to a much lesser degree.
The stage floor creaks beneath my feet. True District 12 quality. I wonder if it could break. Maybe if I jumped, I could fall through, die, and not have to go through what I just signed up for because I didn't want Prim to go through it either. And if I died now, they might just call her back up onstage and she'd have to go through it anyway.
I take my place beside Effie, an official tribute in the 74th Hunger Games.
She grins at me, and I scowl back. Her smile falters at my expression, and she turns back to the crowd.
"That was riveting!" she exclaims. "Let's hear it for your tribute, Katniss Everdeen!"
And no one applauds.
I look back at Prim. Gale is restraining her. Her body is racked with sobs and his hand is on her shoulders, trying hopelessly to console her.
"Now for the boys!" I faintly here Effie say, disappointment evident in the fact that no one is nearly as perky as she is. I mean, how could they be.
I hold my breath and examine the crowd of somber boys. And through all my trauma I've yet to deal with, an important thought crosses my mind as a sort of prayer:
Don't let it be Gale.
Gale. My best friend since forever . . . well, not the literal forever. But he's my only best friend now, and the only one I've ever had, unless you count Prim.
My gaze sweep across the crowd some more, examining all the people not wanting to experience what I'm feeling right now. There's a short redhead biting his nails. A tall, stocky boy clenching his fists. A blonde staring straight ahead. I recognize him. He prevented the starvation of my family at one point by thrusting bread in my general direction. Owing him so much, I'm racked with guilt when a new thought comes to me:
Let it be him. Not Gale.
Effie makes a show of swooping her hand around in the bowl of tribute names. It's like she's trying to suffocate me, because I'm not going to exhale until she reads out whatever name she picks.
She buries her hand deep into the bowl and chooses one within the far reaches that one wouldn't think to draw out of, as if removing it from the reaches of safety. She opens the slip delicately. I can hear it crinkle. The crowd has gone quiet except for Prim, still crying, but to her credit, trying to calm herself down in respect of those still awaiting their fate.
Effie puts her face up to the microphone and announces in a bell-clear voice the only name that could devastate me as much as Prim's did. And maybe it devastates me more, because Prim I can replace, and him I can't.
I don't exhale. I wait, thinking that if I continue holding my breath, that the name will change. Because as long as wait, there could be a new name chosen.
But it doesn't. My breath comes out in a rush, and I probably look like a gasping fish to the cameras.
I watch Gale. His hand slowly leaves Prim's shoulder and clenches into a fist as his face hardens.
"Come up here, boy," Effie beckons.
Gale doesn't move.
I hear a scoff of irritation from behind me. The embarrassing drunk, Haymitch, stumbles over and swipes the microphone out from under Effie's nose.
"Come up her, son!" he rushes him. "We don't have all day!"
A peacekeeper advances on Gale. He glares at it viciously, but starts walking up to the platform. Prim goes berserk as he foes.
I want to yell at him to turn around. Go back to the woods, I want to scream. As if he'd make it without getting a bullet in the back. But I'm desperate now.
But he doesn't turn around. He makes his way all the way up to the platform and stands right beside me.
"No, honey, stand on my other side," Effie orders in what in her mind probably passes as kindly.
Gale just glares at her. He doesn't move.
"Come on, boy," she demands.
He doesn't move. He doesn't blink.
He's close enough for me to whisper to him without being overheard. "Gale, be careful."
"Why?" he hisses back. "How are they going to punish me?"
I don't give him the list. In his mind, we're already living out the worst case scenario we could be put through at the hands of the Capitol. I think we are, too, but they could make it worse.
They could separate us.
Whatever I'm about to go through, I want to go through it with him. When his name was called, of course I was crushed. But there was a glimmer of positivity that popped up in the back of my mind,
At least I didn't have to go through this without him
"Don't let them get to you," I advise him.
Effie is trying the wrench the microphone from Haymitch's grasp. She gives up and just speaks near it, giving up on trying to call Gale over.
"Are there any volunteers?"
I scan the crowd for Gale's family. They are mostly too young to volunteer for his place except for Rory. He's twelve, but he knows Gale would string him up somehow if he even makes a move toward the stage. It kind of defeated the concept of not wanting him to get hurt, but it probably made a lot of sense in Gale's mind. To avoid Gale's consequences, Rory stays put. That, or he's too scared. Either way, no one speaks up, and once again, the most prominent sound is Prim's reenergized sobbing. I want to comfort her so badly.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your District Twelve tributes!" Effies brandishes her arm in our direction.
No one applauds, and I'm hit with a sense patriotism for my poor district.
"You ready for this, Catnip?" Gale asks quietly.
I don't answer, because he already knows full well I'm not. Neither of us is. I'm doubtful either of us will ever be. I am not ready to be put into a situation where I'm demanded to kill my best friend.