I close my eyes and run my hands through the sand of the beach my best friend and I are currently laying on. The sound of boats hitting the docks, seagulls squawking, and men shouting fills our ears as we stare up into the sunny sky. For all we know, today might be the last day we get to do this.
"How many times is your name in?" Francesca asks me, sitting up and brushing sand out of her short hair. She has dark brown eyes and a button nose with freckles dotting her sun burnt face, a scar grazes her left cheek. A scar she earned from her job at the factory when a machine exploded.
"Twenty, how about you?" I reply, gazing out at the ocean that seems to never end. It's summer, the end of June to be exact, and the Hunger Games are beginning.
For those of you who don't know, the Hunger Games is a game designed by the head honchos of Panem who control the Capitol and all of the twelve Districts. Each summer at the end of June two children, a boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are Reaped from their Districts and taken to the Capitol to be trained for a battle to the death. They and twenty-two other Tributes are put into an arena so large it could take months to cover the entire thing; these arenas can have a terrain of anything from wet and humid jungle to a dry desert. Although the Gamemakers didn't seem to like the year with the desert since half of the tributes died from dehydration instead of each other.
Francesca looks over at me and squints against the glair of the sun, "eighteen."
"That's good," I say, smiling, "You probably won't get picked."
"You have to say that, just like I have to say it to you." She puts on a smile and says reassuringly, "Don't worry Annie, you probably won't get picked."
I don't laugh or smile, "I mean it, Hannah King's is in it forty two times. And there are only so few girls in District 4."
Francesca scowls, "If I get chosen I'm going to kill myself."
"Don't say that."
"I will, I don't want to have to kill others to stay alive, I want to die on my own will."
"I know, but you won't get picked." I repeat and then the bell sounds for the workers to return home and kids to go back to their families for the night.
Francesca and myself stand up and brush off our shorts and legs of the sticky sand. We part ways and I go to find my father, who should be coming in from being out on the water catching more fish that we never get to eat.
District 4 is the Capitol's fishing industry, we tend to be overlooked, but if I weren't for us the Capitol people wouldn't have their fish or their seaweed colored bread that is shaped like a fish.
District 4 does not have many Career Tributes. We've had a few, they don't volunteer for each other but they train. For instance, Finnick Odair, the 65th Hunger Games winner who is so attractive the sight of his smile and wink send Capitol girls into shock. Finnick Odair, the boy, well now man, who won the Games single handedly at age fourteen by trapping his opponents with fishing nets and then spearing them with a trident. Then there is Mags, now an older woman who has seen much in her time. She was winner of the 9th Hunger Games, but I'm fairly certain she was not a Career.
Since Finnick, our Tributes have been killed off easily, either fallen into traps, starved, trusted the wrong people, or were not able to handle the terrain they were put in.
The Reaping is tomorrow and a sort of panic has come over District 4, there are no happy children in the streets, no smiles on peoples faces, even the fishermen with no families are dreading tomorrow morning.
I find father chatting with his friend Samuel, they have been friends since their childhood's, which is a long time, I might add. As they see me approaching, their conversation dies and father greets me with a smile and the smell of fish.
"Hey darling, ready to go home?" He asks; a nervous smile played across his face. "Big day tomorrow."
I look at him skeptically, "Yeah, very big. Can I get a head start? You seem to be in the middle of something."
"No, no, no, we were just finishing up." Father waves goodbye to Samuel and we walk home with the sun setting behind us.
When we arrive home Charlie greets us and we all go inside to have a meal of bread that I had made earlier that day. It has a fishy taste to it, which I have come to loathe. But around here you can't be picky.
All the houses in District 4 are on the water. The houses are built on large and sturdy docks that hold each house separately. There is only one door in the house and that is the front, if there were to be a door in the back it would lead directly into the water. The houses jut out off of a long strip of dock, which goes on for about a mile, there are four of these in the District. The four larger Docks then connect to the town; the fifth dock is for the fisherman and the boats.
After I eat I go up to my room and lay on my bed, breathing and thinking about the day to come. Charlie might be reaped and same with me. What if I am reaped? It won't be all that bad will it? I'm smart and strong; I could handle myself couldn't I? Not against those District 1 and District 2 careers. Against them I have no chance.
After pondering these horrible thoughts of multiple ways I could end up dying in the Games I dose off into an anything but peaceful sleep.
The next morning I awake to the sound of feet hurrying around on the floor below me. I sit bolt upright and rub my tired eyes when I remember: today is Reaping day. I scramble out of bed and look out the window in my room, it's late morning and the Reaping is at twelve o'clock. I hurry down stairs and wolf down breakfast. Father and Charlie are hurrying as well.
"I was just coming to wake you," Father says as I enter the kitchen and eat some bread and cheese, "You have to hurry, I'm ready and so is Charlie."
I look at Charlie, fourteen years old, already working everyday to help provide for his family, strong, brave, and kind Charlie is the most important person in my life. But today, instead of being the stronger of my father and I, Charlie looks like just another scared fourteen year old who might be picked to fight to the death.
I finished wolfing down my breakfast and walk over to Charlie,
"Hey, it's going to be okay," I rub his shoulders and squat down so I'm at eye level with him, "You're name is only in three times, there are tons of boys in 4."
Charlie blinks a few times and looks out the window, then back at me, "I'm not worried about me, I'm worried about you. Your name is in twenty times, Annie. Twenty! What if you get chosen?"
"If I get chosen I'll do everything I can to win." I tell him, "I need to go get dressed now."
I head up to my room and take out my mother's light blue dress that has faded to almost white. It has thick straps that go over my shoulders and it ties behind my back. It comes to my knees and makes me look much taller than I am. When I step into a pair of sandals I return to my normal height. I brush my hair out and then put it up in a ponytail and straighten out my messy bangs. I brush my teeth and then head down stairs, knowing this might be the last time I'll ever be in my house.
Father tells me I look nice and then we all step out of the house and join to crowd of people walking towards the Justice Hall in the middle of town. I take Charlie's hand in mine and he smile up at me,
"Everything is going to be fine," I say once more.
We are separated from father when they take us to get our blood sample. Charlie is in front of me and I watch as people in white suits prick his finger with a fancy device. Before I know it I'm getting my finger pricked and then being ushered into a crowed of girls my age. Charlie is taken over to the boys and I make sure to keep and eye on him.
I search for Francesca and I spot her frantically pulling at her dress and looking around. I hurry up next to her and she jumps when I say hello, she looks scared and wide-eyed,
"What's the matter?" I asked her taking her hand in mine, "You aren't going to get picked."
"I'm not worried about that anymore Annie, I—I can't tell you." She glances around as if she knows she is being watched.
"Why can't you tell me? I'm your best friend."
"Annie, you don't understand, they'll kill me." She whispers.
"Who?" I ask, but before she can answer somebody taps on the microphone.
"Good morning!" Shouts a giddy gentleman dressed in a bright pink suit, golden shoes and a golden tie to match. He has his hair up in a bun on the top of his head and his face is covered in makeup.
"Happy Hunger Games!" He says, its Roman Fleur, "I hope you all are prepared because today is a very special day for everyone! Two brave tributes will be chosen to participate in the 70th Hunger Games!" He claps but he is the only one.
He frowns slightly but hid giddiness does not go away, "Now, ladies first!" He walks over to a fish bowl filled with names and digs around until he is satisfied with one and pulls it out. He opens the flap of paper, clears his throat and reads, loud and clearly,
My heart stops and I feel Francesca's hand fall from mine, I look at her horror struck, she has tears in her eyes and somewhere in the distance I'm being called up onto the stage.
A path clears as I make my way up to the stage in a fog, I briefly see Charlie crying and I want to tell him everything is going to be okay, but when I try to speak nothing comes out. I step onto the stage and Roman places an arm around my shoulders, he is smiling. Why is he smiling?
"Well aren't you just the cutest little thing!" He gushes at me, my brows furrow. Who does he think he is? "Well, now," He continues, "Time for the boys!"
He saunters back over to the bowls and chooses the one on the left. Instead of digging around he picks the first one his hand comes in contact with. He holds the paper up and opens it,
"Phineas Larsson!" He says giddily.
I search the crowd for Phineas; I've only seen him at school and I've never talked to him. He is much younger than I am and from what I can tell very quiet. I spot a gap in the crowd forming and Phineas makes his way up to the stage, water forming in his eyes.
Roman helps him onto the stage and he stands next to me. He has sun-bleached hair and tanned skin, dark brown eyes and long lashes. He can't be older than thirteen.
"Well shake hands." Urges Roman, we shake hands and then return to our stock straight position.
"Well here you have it!" Roman calls out at the crowd, "Your Tributes for the 70th Annual Hunger Games!" He starts clapping and only a few people in the crowd clap. Most people just stare.
I spot my father who is looking downcast and then I see Charlie, tears streaming down his cheeks. Roman grabs both of our arms and hurries us into the Justice Hall.
"Your family's will come to visit you just go wait in those rooms. They'll show you."
I'm taken by the arm by a Peacekeeper and led into a wooded room that looks like an office or a library. I take a seat on the couch and feel the soft fabric. It's velvet.
I stand up and make my way over to the window, the crowd is beginning to disperse and Peacekeepers and other Capitol workers are cleaning up the stage we were just taken off of.
The door opens and Charlie and father come in. Charlie wraps his arms around my waist and hugs me; father hugs me as well.
"Do whatever it takes to live," Charlie tells me after he pulls away from the hug, "Whatever it takes."
"Okay, I will."
Father hugs me again and places a hand in my hair, "I love you." He closes his eyes and I feel a tear land on my shoulder.
"I love you to." I reply, "Don't worry, I'm going to win. No matter what."
A Peacekeeper comes into the room and takes Charlie and Father's arms,
"I love you!" I shout. Charlie struggles against the pull of the Peacekeeper.
"No!" He's shouting, "I love you!" Then they are gone and the door slams behind them.
"I love you too." I whisper. The next person to come into the room is Francesca; she has tears in her eyes. She latches her arms around my neck and cries into my shoulder.
"Its okay," I say soothingly, "I'm going to come back."
"I know you will," She chokes out, "I just, I won't be here when you're back."
"What do you mean? Where are you going?"
She grabs my shoulders and pulls me close whispering into my ear the words that will forever change my life.
"The Capitol killed my parents, I'm next." Then a Peacekeeper enters the room and pulled her away.
"No!" I shout, "No! Let her go!" I hurry after her but the door slams and locks after they leave.
I sit on the couch and burry my face in my hands. I let the tears out before I'm in front of others and then I wipe away the evidence that they were ever there with my dress. About ten minutes later two Peacekeepers enter the room and I'm escorted out of the room and down the train station. Then I'm put on a train with Phineas.
The train is amazing, the walls are silver and chandeliers hang from the ceiling, I enter a room with a small seating area and about ten tables filled with food. Pastries, steaks, chicken, fish, pasta, chocolate, bread, fruit, and a large roasted pig. My mouth drops and I go around the room smelling the food and picking up small things and plucking them into my mouth.
"You can have more of it you know, it's there for both of you," Says a voice.
I jump and accidently knock over a plate of blueberries onto the floor, blueberries go everywhere and the sound of glass breaking fills the room. I look at the person who scared me and see that it is Finnick Odair; I would recognize him anywhere.
Bronzed hair, tanned skin, sea green eyes, the body of a God. He walks over to Phineas and sticks his hand out at him,
"Pleased to meet you, I'm Finnick." He flashes a smile and Phineas shakes his hand.
I walk over to him, "I'm Annie, Annie Cresta." We shake hands and then I ask, "Are you our mentor?"
"Of course," Finnick picks up a cup and fills it with coffee, "You want one?" He asks me.
"Sure, thanks." He hands me the first cup he filled and get another for himself. He drops two sugar cubes in his,
"Want a sugar cube?" He asks.
"Yes, just one please," he drops a sugar cube into my cup and then takes a sip of his.
"So, lets get to know each other," He says to both Phineas and I. We all sit down in the seating area and Finnick leans forward. Phineas stares at him strangely and I sip my coffee.
"So, lets start with you Phineas, how old are you?"
Phineas gulps, "thirteen."
"You're young, how old are you Annie?"
"Seventeen, how old are you?"
"Nineteen." Finnick crushes the plastic cup his coffee had been in and throws it into the trash can next to my seat. Finnick stares at both of us.
"Are you going to give us advice on how to live or just sit there?" I ask, slightly frustrated at his smug look.
"What advice is there to give, besides to stay alive?"
"Well, how did you survive? That could help, or maybe how to find food and water easily?" I huff.
Finnick chuckles, "I survived by trapping my opponents in a fishing net and spearing them. I was also a Career, are either of you Careers?"
"Never had time," I reply and finished my coffee, throwing the cup away.
Finnick turns to Phineas, "How about you?"
Phineas shakes his head.
"Well then we have a lot of work to do. Mags will be here shortly; she is the other mentor. She'll probably be with you most of the time Phineas, she's great don't worry." Finnick smile reassuringly at Phineas and then turns to me, "That means we will be spending a lot of time together."
"Great," I smile. An old woman enters the room and comes over to us.
"Hope you aren't scaring them Finnick." Mags smiles and pats Finnick's shoulder.
"I'm Mags," She shakes my hand and then Phineas'. "I suppose I'll be with Phineas," She smiles at him," We are going to be great friends." She winks at Finnick and she takes Phineas' hand and leads him off somewhere.
I watch them leave and then realize Finnick is staring at me.
"What?" I ask him.
He chuckles. What the hell is so funny?
"What's so funny?"
"You, you're avoiding my eyes," He changes his smiling eyes into seductive ones, "Do you find my eyes, hypnotizing?" He wiggles is eyebrows and, no matter how hard I try, I can't help cracking up laughing. I'm laughing so hard I accidently snort and then my face goes red. Now it's Finnick's turn to laugh.
"Not funny," I giggle, "I can't help it if I snort when I laugh."
Finnick wipes his eyes and then chuckles some more, "No, no it's cute, don't worry." We laugh some more and then Finnick returns back to the topic of the day.
"So, I have to ask you, do you have any strengths…weaknesses?"
I fidget with my bangs and reply, "I'm good at hiding, I guess. I'm also pretty smart, well that's what I've been told."
"Hmm, that's great!" He claps his hands and looks out the train window, "It's getting late, and you should go change before dinner. Roman is always getting on people about their clothes."
I giggle, "Does he know what he is wearing?"
Finnick smiles and shakes his head, "I don't know."
I stand up and walk over to the door leading to the hallway when I realize I have no idea where my bedroom is.
"Umm, hey Finnick?"
He turns around, "Yeah?"
"Where are the bedrooms?" I blush and try to hide it but I'm fairly certain Finnick can see it. He smiles, stands up, and walks over to me. I step aside to let him lead the way but he still comes incredibly close to me in order to slip into the hall. After he passes I smile and follow him down the hall.
We come to a stop after passing about twelve other rooms and Finnick opens the door to a medium sized room with a large bed in it. He stands in the doorway and when I pass him we come incredibly close again. Finnick reminds me not to be late for dinner and then leaves.
I plop myself down on the bed and spread out my arms and legs. There was still tons of room on the bed. I get out of bed and go over to the bathroom; it's small but has a large shower that I immediately try.
I strip down and step into the shower. I go to pull a handle but I realize there isn't a handle anywhere; instead there is a panel of silver buttons. I press a button, which I figure should be water. Instead of water coming out of the shower head like I had planned it would, a bolt of it comes out of the side of the wall and hits me in the side.
"OW!" I shout and press another button, trying to turn it off while also trying to dodge the deadly stream of water. I press another button and a fan of water comes out of the wall and hits me in the face. This one doesn't hurt but I can't see anything. I dodge the bolt of water and the fan that hit in the face and press another button. The stream and the fan stops and I sigh in relief.
I stare at the panel carefully and examine each button. Every single one is silver and round.
"Damn, all I want is a shower!" I huff to myself. I decide to take a chance and press the first button my finger comes in contact with. Nothing happens so I press it again. Suddenly, lightning fast streams of water come out of every single side of the shower and seem to target me no matter where I go. I scream and try to dodge the water.
I can't see anything because if I open my eyes I bound to get blinded by more water. I press buttons on the panel but nothing helps, the water just gets colder and in some places extremely hot. I scream in anger and do my best to dodge the water.
I hear footsteps out in my room and then there is a knock on the door,
"Annie?" Oh great, it's Finnick, "Are you okay? I'm coming in."
"No! Are you crazy!" I let out a grunt of pain as a stream of water hits my cheek, "I'm naked and in the shower!" I can almost hear Finnick smiling, "I'm fine, I've got this under control! Shit!" I scream in pain as another stream of water hit my throat. I cough and then recover.
"I won't look!" Finnick shouts and then enters the bathroom that is now filled with smoke. I crack an eye open and see that he does truly have his eyes closed. He feels around and grabs a towel from the rack. Then comes over to the shower, opens the door, and grabs my hand. Pulling me out of the shower and away from the deadly streams of water. I quickly grab the towel and wrap it around myself.
"Can I open my eyes?" He asks and I giggle and say yes. He cracks his eyes open and then blinks a few times and opens them completely.
"What did you do?" He asks me, "You were screaming like you were dying. The Peacekeepers almost came in here to check on you but I told them I better do it."
I tuck a strand of wet hair behind my ear, "I was trying to take a shower but I couldn't figure how to work the damn thing."
Finnick starts laughing, "You have no idea how many times Tributes have said that same exact thing to me." He looks at the shower, which is still spurting out streams of burning hot water and ice cold water. He kicks off his shoes and steps into the shower, dodging the streams like he had done this everyday of his life, and then presses a button and all the streams die down. My mouth has fallen open.
"Come here," He says and I walk into the shower. He points to the third button and says, "This is the water for the head, okay? And these buttons," He points to the first button and the one below it, "Are to adjust the temperature." Then his hand glides over the buttons until he is in the fourth from last row, "The buttons from here down are soaps and scents, okay?" He smiles at me.
"Okay, thanks Finnick." I step out of the shower and realize that he is soaking wet. His shirt sticking to his muscle clad torso. I can see the outline of his abs and pecks and when he turns around to shut the shower door I can see his shoulder muscles. I bite my lip and tilt my head to get a better look at him. The things I've heard about him from the Capitol are true, he is simply a gorgeous man.
He turns around and I quickly pull my towel tighter and act like I haven't just been checking him out. He smiles and exits the bathroom with his shoes in hand.
"Be careful with the shower," He chuckles as he heads to the doorway, he stops for a moment, "See you at dinner."
I'm so stupid, I think. You can't be friendly with him. You're probably going to die by next week anyway. This is so not time to be making friends.
I rummage around in the closet and find a plain black t-shirt and a pair of shorts and put that on. I brush out my wet hair and straighten my bangs, and then I step into a pair of slippers and head back towards the room filled with food for dinner.
Phineas, Mags, Finnick, and Roman are already seated and I sit in the only open seat, which happens to be next to Finnick. He has changed his soaking wet t-shirt and is not in a black one that matches mine. I smile at everyone and take a seat.
For dinner we have everything from steak to chicken and Lamb stew to spaghetti. I take a steak and place it on my plate, then dish out a side of mash potatoes and dig in. The food is amazing! It's so much better than fish.
After everyone finishes eating we all sit around and talk about game plans.
"When you first get into the arena you have to remember not to step off of the plate before the gong sounds. One year a girl dropped something and she was blown up." Warns Mags.
"There will be the cornucopia with supplies in it," Begins Finnick, "Don't go for it, it's always a bloodbath. Just get as far away from the cornucopia as possible. Supplies normally are spread out around the cornucopia and if you see something as you're running away grab it. But only then, understand?" He tells us. Phineas and I both nod.
"I'm surprised both of you are taking everything so well," Says Mags, patting Phineas on the back, "Most kids cry the entire time." That's what I want to do. I want to cry my eyes out. But I can't seem week. I have to be strong for Charlie.
"I can't imagine why, it's such an honor." Roman adds, pompously. "You to should feel extremely honored." Something in side me snaps.
"Honored about what?" I ask him, "Honored that we might die?"
"No, no, no, you don't understand—" He begins but I cut him off.
"No I don't think you understand, Roman," I say his name mockingly, "I might die in that arena, I'm probably going to have to kill somebody in that arena, Phineas is only thirteen and he is probably going to have to kill somebody. Do you know what that does to a person? Taking another kids life? No you don't, do you? I think we should put all of you pompous hosts into the arena one year and see what happens. You would probably get killed off so quick you wouldn't even have time to scream."
Everyone's mouths are hanging open; Roman looks shocked and can't speak. I throw my napkin on my plate and stand up,
"I'm not hungry anymore." I exit the room and begin running when I'm out of their sight.
I run into my room, slam the door behind me, and jump onto the bed. All the emotions come rushing back to me; I might never see my family again, my best friend told me she was going to be murdered, I'm going to have to murder somebody. I'm probably going to get murdered. And for what exactly? Some sick game! I just want to curl up in a ball and die peacefully, on my own will.
There is a knock at the door and I choke out an angry leave me alone. I know its Finnick, he is my mentor and he is supposed to help me when I'm like this.
"Annie, just let me talk to you." He pleads. He knocks lightly again and when I don't answer he comes in.
"I said leave me alone," I grumble into the pillow. Finnick sits down next to me and places a hand on my shoulder; I tense up but decide that takes to much effort, especially when his hand is so soft and warm.
"Look, Annie," He begins, "I know this is tough and I know Roman is horrible but you're going to make it."
I sit up and wipe my eyes before laughing coldly, "Finnick, look at me! I'm scrawny, weak, and I look like a scared baby for crying out loud!" I begin crying again as fear now takes over my body. "Finnick, I'm scared. I just want to go home."
Finnick is surprisingly good at comforting people, he takes both my hands, "Annie, you're going to live, you're going to live for your brother. I'll do everything I can to help you prepare for the Games. Okay?" When I just continue crying Finnick hugs me and I cry into his shoulder.
"You're not weak Annie, you're anything but weak."
"How would you know? You don't know me."
"But I know your father."
"You—you know my dad?"
He nods, "I use to work at the docks with him. I saw you around a few times, helping out." He smiles and I relax in his arms. "Your dad and my dad were close, before my dad died. Your dad help my mom get through it all, you were a lot younger I don't know if you remember."
"No I remember," I was seven years old when died. Finnick was nine. "We came over to your house everyday." I continue, "You were so quiet. Then when my mom died your mom helped us out, she brought us food and stayed with me when my dad was out. She said you were working all the time."
"She told me you never cried in front of your brother, that you stayed strong for him. If I know one thing Annie, it's that that takes a lot of strength."
I pull myself out of the hug and wipe my eyes, Finnick looks sad and I give him a hug and thank him for his help. He gets off the bed and heads to the door,
"Goodnight, Annie." Finnick says and disappears into the hallway.
That night I dreamed about my mom.