(It's a full novel, so the love story will develop more and more as it goes on :) I intended for it to be like a real book, not just a short blurb. I will get the next few chapters up as soon as possible too. Oh and sorry about any typos, I tried to proof read but I'm a little busy, but I promise I'll update the chapters with less errors asap. Thanks for reading and enjoy! Constructive feedback is always appreciated.)
I woke up on the floor of my dad's tiny fishing boat. The sun was exceptionally hot and the waves were dipping me up and down, like a cradle rocking. My skin felt sticky with salt and my hair was matted up on top of my head. Today was the reaping for the sixty-fifth hunger games, yet I didn't feel any different.
It's not going to be me, there's must be a thousand or so kids with their names in that jar, and some of them had to have taken out a tesserae. Yes, I had taken out three tesserae since I first put in my name at age twelve, but still. Other kids had to sacrifice more. We're a rich district, but that just means that our poor are even poorer by comparison. And even if I am chosen, someone might volunteer. But some bad rumors have been circulating about the arena of the games, so maybe not. Regardless, I'm Finnick Odair. I have the best luck in my entire class. My voice had already changed while all my friends still squawked like birds. I have good muscles, and I'm tall. I'm only fourteen but I can spear a fish with a trident just like any of the adults, maybe better. My dad used to be captain of his own vessel. People liked me.
There was just no possible way I was going to be reaped.
I pulled up the anchor and headed in for shore. Annie Cresta was standing there in an undershirt and shorts I saw her swim in a lot. I found Annie to be annoying; she was always correcting me in school and laughing at me when I missed a fish. She was small and had dark hair her sister always braided back. Her face was round and her eyes were wide and she had fat lips and pale freckles. My mother said she had a face like the moon but I didn't see it. How could a face look like the moon? I squinted to see what she was doing and saw a collection of little white seashells in a grass bowl at her feet. She was watching me row back in with her hand cupped over her forehead to block out the sun.
"Hi, Finnick," she called when I got closer. I waved back at first, but then snapped my hand back down and shoved it in my pocket. Unfortunetly rowing with one hand was harder then I thought, and accidentally dropped the paddle out into the water. Immediately the water whisked it away, out of reach from the boat.
"Annie! Look what you made me do!" I hollered, furious. I dove into the water and retrieved it easily enough, but getting back into the boat was clumsy work and my shorts didn't want to stay up properly when soaked with water. Annie was laughing it up on the beach, which just made me angrier. "It's not funny Annie, I have to be back home to get ready for the reaping, I can't go around wasting my time going after a dumb paddle."
"Then don't drop it," Annie shrugged, no longer having to yell since I was close enough to shore. She gave me a self-righteous smile and plucked up her bowl of shells, "And besides, it's not like you can't swim."
Annie's older sister called her inside and she spun around, racing for the grass and plaster hut. Her sister was always being chased around by the boys in the village because she was so beautiful, even though she was already engaged to a successful fisherman from the neighboring village. Her hair was long and wavy and dark, like chocolate. And her eyes were bright blue—not green like Annie's—with long lashes framing them like wings. Maybe she was beautiful, and maybe she was raising Annie and her younger sister, but she always seemed intimidating to me.
I tied up the boat and then ran home, where my mother was waiting, standing akimbo and tapping her foot impatiently.
"What did I say not to do?"she asked in a stern voice. My spirits sank when I realized I was about to be in trouble.
"Um…you said…not to fall asleep in the boat."
"Right, and what did you do?"
"I…fell asleep on the boat," but I cut her off before she could start lecturing me, "But I put the anchor down this time and I covered myself with palm branches so I didn't burn, and—"
"Enough Finnick. Go out back and gut the fish for dinner, then I want you to take a bath and get on the clothes I left out for you. Understand?"
I nodded and moved by her, out the back door. Two large fish were strung up on the line, their multicolored scales shimmering in the sunlight. Whenever I got into trouble my mother made me gut and clean the fish, which she thought I hated. But honestly I didn't mind it; it made me feel like my dad. Of course I'd never let her know that though, because if she did, I would probably end up doing laundry instead.
Once that was all done, I went to the back room and dipped into the bathtub to clean the salt and fish off of me. I couldn't help but admire the way the light rippled on my skin with underwater. It was like a rope net made of lights.
Once scrubbed and polished, I pulled on the thin white tunic and light, gray pants my mother had laid out for me. I lost the argument about whether or not I had to wear sandals too, and had to stay still while she tried to brush my hair.
"I swear Finnick, one of these days I'm just going to cut this all off."
I shrugged and tried not to wince when she yanked the brush through. After a while she just gave up brushing it and used some product to keep it out of my face.
"There, now don't you look handsome."
I gave her a smile—mostly for her benefit—and then went to the table to eat a roll. But a sharp rap rap rap made me jump up out of my seat.
"It's time to head for the square," a deep voice of a peacekeeper called in. My mother and I looked at each other for a brief moment with wide eyes, but then I relaxed.
"C'mon, let's go," I said, nonchalantly picking up my roll to go. It was salty and tinted green with seaweed, just the way it had always been. My mother followed after me. People had already filed into the street and were slowly making their way to the square.
"Is dad going to get in trouble for not being here?" I asked urgently as we joined to crowd on the street. The lovely—if somewhat wrinkled with sun exposure—woman scanned the crowd with pursed lips.
"He's probably going to head there straight from the docks."
I nod and try to make myself small so that I can stop bumping into people. There's a small commotion up in front of us, but the crowd parts around it so that the movement doesn't stop. When I get there I see it's Annie that's causing the scene. She's crying and hollering at her sister, whose eyes keep rolling. The fiancé is there too, looking awkward and uncomfortable. Annie's hair was all done up with a string of white seashells laced through it, but her face was red and blotchy with tears.
"I don't want to go with you," Annie said affirmatively, even though her voice kept catching.
"Annie, we really don't have time for this. You're not a child anymore, it's time to go. I promise, it's not going to be you."
"That's what everyone says and yet it's got to be someone every year, Pearl."
"There's hundreds, thousands of kids to choose from…"
"I had to take out tesserae though, and it's a rich district. I have more a chance than most of them anyway."
"Stop being dramatic."
I felt embarrassed for Annie, but I couldn't blame her. I had the same fit when it was my first year to go for the reaping. Most children do.
Eventually they realized they had reached an impasse, so Pearl's fiancé scooped Annie up and carried her the rest of the way to the square. My mother and I followed behind them and I made a face at her the moment we finally made eye contact, but more tears started falling and then I just felt like a jerk.
The square was completely transformed and packed with citizens. A large white stage with huge speakers and screens sat in the middle of it, infront of the massive tan Justice Building. Peacekeepers peppered the crowd, blinding us with their bleach-white uniforms. I started to go when my mother caught my arm.
"Promise me Finnick, you won't volunteer. I know you've been getting stronger and you want to prove yourself, but don't. Not this year at least. Alright?"
I nodded and winked, then left her to be filed into my section with the rest of the boys my age. This year people stared at me, even the older kids. I felt a mixture of pride and a mixture of self-consciousness. What the heck were they looking at like that anyway? I checked my face for any food or something, but got nothing.
"I've heard that the arena's going to have an acid river this year," a boy nearby me said in a hushed whisper. A shudder went down my spine and I tried to tune everybody out.
Garcia Tribell took the stand after the mayor and his family were properly seated. The Peacekeepers around the stage had the biggest guns, and made sure to cock them as soon as she tested the microphone. I watched the whole thing with an anxiety I hadn't started feeling until that moment. She welcomed us in that funny Capitol accent, then we watched the video about the history of the hunger games. Then, without further ado, we ladies and gentlemen would finally find out who would get the honors of going to the games this year. Ladies first, of course.
"Marina Salts," she read from the tiny blue slip of paper. A tall girl with steely green eyes and a set jaw stepped shakily out of the crowd and up the stage. She looked about sixteen and was doing a remarkable job at keeping her face void of emotion.
"Any volunteers?" Garcia asked with a knowing wink to the audience. I rolled my eyes and shifted my weight to my other foot, waiting for the long process to begin. But no one spoke up. Not even the eighteen year old girls with their toned muscles and ready stances. Not one person raised their hands. Unusual, but not unheard of. Especially with the girls.
"And now for the boys," the funny woman went on. It appeared as if her outfit were modeled after an angel fish, with a twist of a black fan in her hair. The Capitol folk never made any sense to me. It's hot here, why on earth would you dress in so many layers to stand on a hot stage under hot lights just to—
My stomach dropped. What did she say again? Where was I?
I didn't move; it felt like the ground had opened up beneath me. But it didn't take long for the crowd to part and peacekeepers to take my arms.
Wake up Finnick.
I yanked them away and walked up the stairs myself. It was the longest climb of my life, and when it was over I felt like I was standing on a cliff rather than a stage. Garcia shook my hand and then turned back to the audience. "Any volunteers from you young men out there?"
An older boy stepped out and raised his hand, ready to speak when a middle aged woman from the adults stepped out and slapped him on the back of the head. The boy lowered his hand and closed his mouth.
"Nevermind," he whispered, stepping back into the crowd with the scraps of his dignity. Garcia chuckled and made some joke about mothers always spoiling the fun.
"Well then, here you have it, the District Four contestants for the sixty-fifth hunger games! Give them a round of applause, folks."
The crowd slowly struck up an awkward applause, but all I wanted to do was cry. I found my mother in the fray, and beside her was my father. He seemed taller and broader than everyone else around him. It was hard to tell but I think my mother was crying and my father was giving me a reassuring nod. Only then did I take in my face on the screen. I looked weak and scared witless, unlike Marina. She shook my hand and mouthed something to me.
I straightened up and then flashed the camera's my best smile, which made the crowd clap harder. Always nice to see a kid embrace his fate instead of wallow in it, I guess. I was being edged off the stage before I could find anymore of my friends or family in the mix, but I kept waving until we were inside the Justice Building.
The lobby had a massive cylinder fish tank in the middle of it that casted a wavy blue light on all the walls. It contained hundreds of brightly colored types of coral and even brighter, flashier fish. I didn't recognize most of them, so I figured they had to be genetically altered. Leave it to the Capitol to make their fish look just like their citizens.
Or was it the other way around?
I was put into a sea-foam colored room with plush furniture and paintings of ships. The peacekeepers locked the front door, then allowed my mother and father through the second one to my left. Tears streaked down my mother's cheeks and my father's jaw was tightly clenched. I fell into their open arms and let them have their moment. If I was going to get anywhere in this game, I would have to learn to be strong. And I was.
"You could win," my father said seriously, meeting at my eye level.
"So try," he said, "We'll be watching."
My mother was in a state, fixing my shirt and brushing my hair with her fingers.
"Mom, it's okay, I'll be back. It's not like we're from Twelve or something, I actually have a shot. I know how to survive, and how to fight. I can win."
She nodded weakly and then tucked me back into her arms until the peacekeepers opened the door again.
"Be strong, Finnick," my father said, kissing the top of my head before guiding my mother from the room. I didn't expect anyone else to visit. My friends would be too nervous to come into the building by themselves, and my aunts and uncles never really associated with me much. That's why I was surprised when the door opened again, and even more so when in popped a perfectly composed Annie.
I stared at her for a second, mostly in shock. Her hair was down now and any sign of her crying fit from before was gone.
"What, Annie? Come to tell me how to win or something?" I ask after the silence got too uncomfortable.
She walked up to me and then pulled the string of white shells out of her pocket. I watched and didn't even move when she wound it around my wrist and tied it with a double knot.
"Maybe it could be your token from your district?" she asked, hopefully. I shrugged and lowered my wrist, watching her intently.
"Sure, why not. Thanks."
She smiled lightly and stared out the window, her green eyes flashing in the light.
She looked back at me and shook her head, but then held up a finger as if she remembered something, "Remember not to eat anything if you don't know exactly what it is. We've died three years in a row now because of that."
"And find water."
"And…um…get sponsors. You can never underestimate the—"
"Jeez Annie, why don't you just go yourself if you know everything." Okay I didn't mean to snap like that. But I just said good-bye to my parents for what could be forever, and she was lecturing me? She's twelve. And a girl. Please.
"No, I get it," Annie said, though clearly put out, "good luck then."
And with that she was gone, and so was the rest of District Four. Before I knew it, I was boarded onto the train and everything I knew and called home was sent spiraling behind me at a speed of two-hundred miles an hour. Everything except for a girl named Marina and a white seashell bracelet on my left wrist.