Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune-without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
One more year.
That was what Sparrow Jacturna was thinking as she woke up way too early that Reaping Day. She was seventeen years old, and if she could get through this ceremony, she'd only have one more year to be chosen. If she could just avoid having her name drawn two more times, she would be safe for the rest of her life.
Today was the last time her older brother would ever be in the drawing. Evander was a year older, and his name was in there seven times. Hers was in there six. And today was the first time their younger brother Arden risked being chosen. The Jacturnas were fortunate; they worked hard enough to supply their family of two parents and four children so that none of them had to apply for tessera. There were plenty more children who stood a much higher chance of being sent to the slaughter.
She couldn't stay in bed anymore, even though it was just barely dawn when she awoke. Her hands fidgeted nervously and she kept sighing as she went into the bathroom, quiet as a mouse across the wooden floorboards. Her brothers and parents were still sound asleep, and none of them knew what could await them that afternoon. Maybe they'd be safe once more; maybe one of them would be in the arena in a matter of days. No one could ever be sure.
She shivered as the cold water rushed over her bare skin and her thick honey-colored hair. Thinking about Reaping Day was really of no use; it was going to come whether she liked it or not. The idea of Arden or Evander's names being drawn made her stomach churn and she swallowed, leaning her hands against the shower wall and just standing there for a moment, soaking herself. It could be worse. They could live in one of the districts much, much worse off then Five. At least District Five stood a chance, both at home and in the arena.
"Sparrow! Let Arden in!" Irene knocked at the door, which startled her daughter into turning off the shower. She stepped out and wrapped a towel around her wet body, embarrassed. How long had she been in there? Maybe an hour, maybe more…her thoughts had run away with her. Trying to picture who would be chosen, trying to imagine what the Capitol was really like with those lavish furnishings and outrageous clothes, trying to see what the arena would be this year…
"About time," Arden muttered as he glanced at his only sister. He was sour, understandably so. No twelve-year-old wanted to face the day where they stood a chance of being sentenced to death – nor did any other eligible child, for that matter. He shuffled into the bathroom and slammed the door shut, almost hitting Sparrow on her way out.
"Looking good," Evander winked at Sparrow. He was in a much better mood; or at least he was better at hiding whatever he really was feeling. "That your outfit for today?" he motioned to the old white towel wrapped around her frame.
"Morning, Sparrow," came a soft, sweet voice from Evander's room. There, in all her beauty, was Aurelia, Sparrow's best friend ever since she could remember. She wandered over to her husband of six months, rubbing his upper arm affectionately. "How'd you sleep?"
"Oh, I slept alright, after you two quieted down," the blonde smiled, teasing them. She laughed at the blush that spread across Aurelia's face. "I'm off to get dressed…Mom should have breakfast done soon. I'd eat now, Arden's going to be in the shower for a while."
Evander bit his lip, but he put on a smile and kissed Aurelia's cheek. "Come on, mommy," he whispered, rubbing her belly. He looked up to say something more to his sister, but she had already disappeared into her bedroom.
The dress she had this year, the same as last year, was a breezy, seafoam-green colored one. It had a bow that tied around the back and it was ruched under the breast. She dried her hair and put on the dress, staring at herself in the mirror for a few moments. What if this was the last time? What if she was chosen, and no one volunteered to take her place? It was the kind of thinking that gave children all over Panem nightmares. The Hunger Games were very real, very deadly, and very nondiscriminatory. It was sport, it was good fun, it was the event of the year for some people. For the rest, it was akin to going to one's own funeral. She couldn't imagine what it must be like for parents to watch their own child go up on stage – but something similar might happen if Arden was chosen.
She brushed through her wavy golden hair, satisfied with how she looked. It was good enough. Looks wouldn't keep anyone from being sent to the Games, though. Maybe they'd get lucky; maybe people would volunteer this year. But that was wishful thinking.
"Sparrow? Breakfast's getting cold," came Aurelia's quiet voice from outside the door. Sparrow blinked out of her daydream and opened her door, smiling, but looking exhausted and anxious at the same time.
"You got enough for both of you?" she asked, glancing at her sister-in-law's very pregnant tummy. Aurelia was due in a matter of weeks, and there was always the chance she could give birth a little early. Hopefully nothing of the sort would happen at the Reaping, though that would be one for the books.
The dark-haired girl smiled warmly and rubbed her belly. "Yes, I think he's satisfied…I'm going to go get dressed. Ev is still in the kitchen…" She patted her shoulder lovingly and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek.
Sparrow nodded and went off to the kitchen, surprised that Evander had already dressed in his usual dark brown slacks and suspenders, which were over a crisp white button-down shirt. "No shower?"
"Don't care that much, sis," he laughed, drinking a cup of coffee and watching her sit across from him, scooping some eggs onto her plate. "It's sick, getting dressed up just for some stupid ceremony…I'm just going to get dirty and sweaty from being out there forever anyway, aren't I?"
She shrugged and ate a forkful of eggs, seeing their youngest sibling slip quietly into his chair. "Hey, Flynn," she said softly to the six-year-old boy, who swung his feet over the edge of his chair. He glanced at his two oldest siblings, his green eyes wide and so innocent, so sweet. "What's up, big guy?"
Flynn took a moment before speaking, pouting his full lips. "Why do you have to go?" he whispered, swallowing, his eyes glossy with tears.
Sparrow frowned and got out of her chair, kneeling next to her baby brother and holding his tiny hands in hers. "Because that's the rule, sweetheart," she said quietly. She bit her lip; seeing how upset he was broke her heart. Once upon a time she had been that little girl, asking why everyone had to enter for the chance to die. But those days had long since passed. "I know it's not very nice, but…but that's how it is here. That's how it's been for more than seventy years. Who knows, maybe things will change in the future, but for now…we just have to accept it. I wish I could do something about it, big guy, I do…Maybe someday, they'll need a hero who can change it, who can get rid of the Games…and that'll be you," she whispered, giving him a little smile and ruffling his brown hair. "Flynn Jacturna, the man from District Five who saved countless boys and girls from the cruel and evil Hunger Games!" she announced in a cheesy tone. She smiled bigger and stroked his cheek.
Evander bit his lip as he watched the two, knowing that what Sparrow was saying would probably never come true – at least, nowhere in the foreseeable future.
"But…but why do you have to go?" Flynn whimpered, sniffling and wiping his nose on the back of his hand.
Sparrow looked down at herself for a moment, trying to think of what to say without scaring him. He needed hope, not the fear that he might never see one of his siblings again. "Don't worry about that," she finally said, looking back into his eyes, which were the same color as hers. "Hope is on our side. Don't you ever, ever give up hope, no matter what happens to Ev or Arden or me, or even to you…Promise? Promise me, Flynn…"
He nodded and then wrapped his arms around her neck, and she picked him up, holding him up by his bottom. She let him nuzzle his face in her neck and rubbed his back gently, giving Evander a small smile.
They could only hope that this would be the last time Flynn would have to ask something like that.
Author's note: My idea here was to give you a look at the Jacturnas' family life and how they all complement each other. I realize it's unusual to have such a young married couple, but it happens in the present day, so why not a hundred or so years from now? I also know that they seem much more well-off than, say, the Everdeens. But that's because District Five is one of the less impoverished districts. I did my research, but please let me know if something seems inconsistent. Thank you so much for reading, please review if you feel obliged!