"Haymitch Abernathy," Effie Trinket says into the microphone.
The first time my name was reaped, I nearly peed my pants. This time, however, I couldn't be more thrilled. This is the year of the 75th annual Hunger Games, otherwise known as the 3rd Quarter Quell, and the lovely government of Panem has decided to send previous victors back into the arena. As the winner of the last Quarter Quell, I want to protect my title. I suddenly remember that there's plenty of booze in the Capitol. Good thing. District Twelve ran out, and let me tell you, withdrawal is not for me.
Peeta opens his mouth to volunteer. I shake my head and motion for him to be quiet. I don't care how nice that boy is trying to be. I need this. Only then do I realize something… Peeta will now be our District 12 mentor.
I chuckle to myself at the thought as I stumble onstage to meet Katniss and Effie.
"Well, we meet again, sweetheart," I tell Katniss. She just rolls her eyes, since we've been next-door neighbors for months. And of course, she already had enough of me during the last Games. Not that she has anything to thank me for. I only kept her from dying!
Effie smiles at the crowd in that fake way of hers that makes me want to puke. "Won't this be an exciting Quarter Quell, ladies and gentlemen?"
Instead of the usual silence, I can hear a select handful of people booing. Bad idea. The Peacekeepers arrest them on the spot and drag them away. Before Katniss and I can head over to the Justice Building, more Peacekeepers grab a hold of us and push us forward.
"NO!" she screams. "I haven't said goodbye yet!" I see her mother, sister, and Gale Hawthorne, running desperately to catch up with her. Gale is wincing because he was recently whipped in the square (He's been hunting illegally, and on Capitol soil. Not smart). But the Peacekeepers don't let her stop.
I keep a straight face. As if I have anyone to say goodbye to.
Peeta and Effie follow us to the train station, where we are abruptly thrown into a car. I spot a bottle of scotch immediately and practically fling myself at it. Once a shot or two goes down my throat, I can relax. Then I notice my companions, all of them with their eyes on me in disgust.
"If we're going to work together in the arena, please be sober," Katniss grumbles.
"Yeah," Peeta agrees. Of course he would say that. He's the genius who kept the booze away from me, back when District Twelve still had it.
I tilt my head at them and cock up an eyebrow. "Hey. Like it or not, this is how I live, kids. Just go with it."
Peeta and Katniss exchange frustrated glances, but if they have anything to say, they don't say it. I have to hand it to them; sometimes they can be quite intelligent. Effie just lounges in her luxurious chair, trying to keep her smile intact. She clears her throat.
"Don't mean to interrupt, but the video of your fellow tributes is coming on!"
We turn our faces to the big screen in our compartment, and sure enough, the replay of the reapings begins. My stomach twists a little. I already know that I will recognize every single one of the tributes, because they were all mentors at one point or another.
The most heartbreaking reaping is in District Four. Young Finnick Odair steps up as the male tribute. He'd won the Games when he was just fourteen. The girl who is reaped: Annie Cresta. From what I remember, she's his girlfriend. I'm already preparing myself not to cry when one of them dies. This is just too unfair. Luckily, another former victor volunteers: eighty-year-old Mags. Don't get me wrong. It's still hard to know that she'll be put in the arena with us. It's just… I'd rather not see Odair kill someone he loves. Or watch her die.
Peeta turns his chair to Katniss and me when the video is over. "Isn't this a strange turn of events," he says with a grimace. "Don't know how good I'll be at this, but-"
Katniss places a hand on his shoulder. "Shut up with your negativity, Peeta. You'll be fine."
"Like you care." Peeta abruptly shrugs her hand away from him. It doesn't make sense to me, when the boy used to worship her. Clearly, something happened that I don't know about. He breathes deeply, and then he says, "Both of you have been in the Games, like me. You've seen your fair share of violence and gore. It's not something we can ever put out of our minds. The Victory Tour only reinforced that fact. Seeing the families of the fallen tributes… including the one I killed… I can't even tell you how guilty I felt. But I felt proud to have proven myself, to know that I really was more than a piece in their Games. I guess I'll just start off by repeating the wonderful advice Haymitch gave us last year: Stay alive."
What Katniss and Peeta don't know is: I don't intend to follow my own advice.