Author's Note: Hey everyone! This update took forever, and I can't make any promises that the other updates will be quicker. Don't worry, we are making progress. On the bright side, we've conquered another District, and are onto D4! I appreciate you guys sticking with this story, and pretty please review! I would like to inform you that I am working on a 24 author 24 tribute collaboration called Thirteen, so I would recommend checking it out. Also, I have a new poll up on my profile so vote please! I would like to thank Jakey121 for this tribute. Enjoy!
Valeria Ivory, Age 16, District 4
"Valeria! Valeria!" I awake to the sensation of a weight on my chest and the erratic pulsing of the bed beneath me. My eyes slowly crack open, and I stifle a scream when I see a freckled face inches away from my own.
"Aghh!" I yelp, trying to push the person that I assume is my sister Amethyst off of my body. I succeed easily and find that I am correct; it is her. She is sprawled out on my bed giggling, while her twin Danielle is bouncing on the springy mattress. I glare at both of them, but my anger doesn't last long. My mouth breaks into a small smile, and I launch myself at both of them. My fingers wiggle their way onto their neck and underneath their arms, which are the most ticklish places. They laugh uncontrollably, and after about a minute I grant them mercy, allowing them to collapse. They recover hastily though, and climb off my bed, likely preparing to run if I attempt to tickle attack them again.
"Now have you learned your lesson?" I say sternly, but the playful glint in my eyes tells the twins that my authoritative tone is artificial. "Why did you wake me up?
"Mommy told us to. It's time for breakfast." Danielle replies and they both run squealing out of the room. I glance at the clock on my bedside table and groan. 8:00 already? I can't afford to sleep in this late, particularly on Reaping day. My heart sinks to my feet as the memory of the present Reaping floods back into my mind. All I want to do is dive back under the covers and indulge in the warmth of the blanket wrapped around me.
Instead, I scan my eyes around my beloved, worn down room. From the battered wooden dresser covered in little trinkets to the moth eaten, gauzy curtains, this is where I grew up. And now it may be the last time I will ever wake up here, in my own bed in my own house. I contemplate this new realization sadly for a few minutes, still sitting on my mattress with the thin quilt covering my lap.
I'm never this emotional and nervous on Reaping day, but this time it's different. In previous times, there was always the very slight possibility of me being chosen. However, the female tribute will definitely be me this time. I have decided to volunteer for the Hunger Games, and I cannot turn back on my decision.
Of course, I certainly do not want to volunteer. It's never been my dream to be in the Games like most Careers, and I don't believe they are necessary or just in the least. I may find them entertaining, but that by no means translates into my approving of them or liking all the death and blood. If I were to win, I wouldn't care about the fame, or the fortune, or even the guaranteed power that will accompany me as victor. Well, maybe the fortune, but not so I can look down on everyone with my wealth, simply just to support my family. We are not very well-off in comparison to most here in District 4, and I desperately want to change that…change everything. Change the fact that my parents work themselves to the bone catching fish, change the fact that people ridicule me for my family's current status, change the fact that Danielle and Amethyst come home every day from school and wistfully describe their friend's pretty dresses that they will never be able to have. Becoming victor will reverse all of those problems.
I drag myself out of bed and choose a simple pair of gray pants and a gray shirt. I direct myself to train every day, and the Reaping is no exception. This may be the last time I will ever step foot in the Training Center, so there is an even greater need to practice my skills. I throw my dark red hair into a careless ponytail and don't give a glance into the mirror. There will be time for obsessing over my appearance later.
I tread down the narrow hallway of our creaky, old house and emerge in the small kitchen, which also houses the dining table. My family is already seated, munching on burnt toast and scrambled eggs. My mother looks up from her meal to shoot me a look of disapproval. She despises tardiness. "Good morning," I say pleasantly. "Sorry I'm late, but I had to…I was just really tired, that's all." Mother smiles, satisfied with my apology. I am about to pull out my chair when she speaks again.
"Are you sure that you want to wear that to the Reaping?" she asks. "I mean, I'm no proponent of the Capitol or those dreadful Games, but you have your one good dress and…don't you want to look a bit nice? And my goodness, you could take care of your hair better, or at least brush it out a little."
"Don't worry, Mother," I reassure her. "I want to…um…" I must quickly conjure up a lie as to what I am doing after breakfast that I am unable to do in my fancy Reaping clothes. My family cannot know that I secretly train, for the reason that my parents insist upon the fact that they are indeed more affluent than they actually are. They like to think that they are quite well-off and do not need any form of charity from anyone, let alone their daughter. They would wholeheartedly disapprove of my plans to volunteer in order to give them more money, and would see it as my not trusting them to provide for us. "I wanted to have a run by the ocean before the Reaping, which would dirty my dress. I'll change into afterwards."
My mother nods and I take a seat, focusing on the steaming plate of food before me. As I eat, I can't help but overhear the hushed conversation my parents are having across the table. "I was watching television last night, and Galerius Flickerman was interviewing the new Head Gamemaker, Ordinata Crane," Father says. "Apparently she is a descendant of another Head, who was the Gamemaker of the Games that incited the second rebellion. She seems pretty ruthless to me, and said that she will make sure these will be the most brutal Games yet. Pray Valeria doesn't get picked." My heart sinks in guilt and fear. Guilty for choosing the last fate my parents would select for me; fearful for being a tribute in a Games where the Head is more bloodthirsty and murderous than most.
"Don't worry," Mother says. "She didn't take any tesserae, so she only has five slips out of thousands. Even if she doesn't get chosen, someone will likely volunteer. And of course she won't; she's too sensible to fall under the influence of the rest of our District." I swallow hard and remind myself that my decision is for the greater good of our family, no matter how much my parents won't agree. They don't know how much this will help them. They don't know much it will help us.
My sisters, who have been silent other throughout breakfast, divert their attention to me. "What are Mommy and Daddy talking about?" Danielle asks in a characteristically loud whisper. Apparently they have been listening in on my parents' conversation, as have I. "Are they talking about the Hunger Games?" She speaks these words with reverent horror. Ever since they were toddlers, my parents have enforced to them that the Games are wrong, like they did to me. They don't fully know what they are, but just know that they are bad.
"Yes, they are," I reply. "But you shouldn't eavesdrop; its rude and bad manners." This comment is rather hypocritical on my part, since I had just committed the same offence as them.
"Okay, Valeria," they chorus, and return to eating quietly. I hastily finish my eggs, wanting to begin training as soon as possible. I stand up and deposit my plate in the sink.
"I should get going on my run," I announce. I make my way to the front door, slipping on my shoes.
"Don't be late coming home!" Mother calls.
"Alright," I shout back, and step out into the sunshine.
The Training Center is not far from my house, so it only takes about ten minutes to walk there. The moment I walk through the heavy oak double doors, I inhale the familiar scent of lemon floor cleaner and take in the assorted weapons. The last time I'll ever practice here. A bubbly, cheerful voice interrupts my thoughts. "Hey Valeria!" My best friend Coralline waves me over to the spear area, which is the choice weapon for both of us. Her shoulder length blond hair bounces cheerily and I can't help but feel a wave of envy. I finger my straight red hair with contempt.
"Hey," I say. I stride over and lift the longest spear. I weigh it in my hand, then casually chuck it at the nearest target. I don't even pause to check where it landed. Bull's-eye, no doubt. The art of spears runs through every part of me, enabling me to accurately throw at the slightest notice. Coralline does the same, but hers lands in the ring just outside the middle. She is skilled, but not as skilled as I. She swears under her breath. "Don't worry," I say. "You're not the one volunteering today." I realize what information I had let slip and cover my mouth. I hadn't meant to tell anyone, even her. I didn't want to deal with explaining my choice, or facing the disapproval.
Coralline, who had picked up another spear, promptly drops it. The loud clatter echoes through the vast building. "Wait…what?" she exclaims. "Why?" She would never volunteer; she dislikes the Hunger Games more than I do. Her parents force her to train, wanting the social status of having a child who could possibly be victor. Every year, she tells them that she desperately tried but someone beat her to the stage.
I take a deep breath. "Well, you know my family is kind of poor," I begin. "And how my parents refuse charity on that matter, so I decided that I would…you know… Give them more money. Because victor is the wealthiest position there is. And I don't want to, I hate the Games, but I feel like I'm obliged to help them out."
Coralline turns ghastly pale and her eyes widen to a point I had not thought possible. "But…you can't be sure that you will win!" she exclaims. "What if you die? Have you ever thought about that? Then your parents will be left with even less than before, and I…I'll lose my best friend. Can't you change your mind, or at least rethink it?"
I shake my head. "No, I can't. I don't want all of that training behind their backs to amount to nothing. I would be a coward to turn back now, after all I've done to prepare for it." I clear my throat. "And of course I'll come home, there's no question in my mind and there should be no question in yours." I say this with more conviction than I feel. Coralline must comprehend that this is her queue to stop discussing this topic, so we continue the rest of training in either silence or lame attempts at small talk. Before I know it, it is almost time for the Reaping.
I rush through the door of my house, having only a very limited amount of time to get ready. I poke my head into the living room, where Mother and Father sit, watching television. Mother notices my presence and gets up from the tattered sofa. "Valeria, where have you been?" she exclaims in exasperation. "You told me you wouldn't be late!"
"It's alright, I can get ready quickly," I say, deftly sidestepping her question. Before she can utter another word, I run to my room and shut the door. I only have one dress formal enough for the occasion, so I don't have to take the time agonizing over what to wear. It's the light blue of the sky with a simple shape and cut, made out of stiff cotton. I slip it on over my head and put on my white leather flats. I brush out my long hair, straightening out all the frizz and tangles. It falls to my torso, and I suppose that it could be as pretty as bouncy, golden locks. My slightly tanned skin glows, and my green eyes are bright against my complexion. I give one last look in the mirror and go back to the living room.
"Let's go," I say. My parents look surprised that I am finished already, and stand up.
"Valeria, could you go get your sisters?" Father asks. "They're in their room." I nod and pad over to their joint bedroom, just a door away from my own. I burst in, not bothering to knock. Amethyst and Danielle sit on the floor, scribbling with crayons on paper.
"Come on," I tell them. "We have to leave for the Reaping." They drop their crayons and gasp.
"Today is the Reaping?" Amethyst says. "Uh-oh."
"Uh-oh," Danielle echoes.
"Uh-oh is right," I say. "And it will be even more of an uh-oh if I'm late, so we have to leave now." They stand up obediently and file out of the room.
My family and I walk to the Reaping together, as we have every year I have been eligible. Coralline, who lives nearby, comes to join us as we near the District square. She falls in step next to me and we lock eyes. I can deduct that she is silently asking, Have you changed your mind? I give an almost imperceptible shake of my head. Her eyes change from questioning to pleading, but any amount persuasive words will not alter my decision.
Coralline looks away, obviously not content with my response. The rest of the way progresses with no further interaction between us. Nervous energy is building up inside me; the frightened part of my brain tells me to not volunteer, the courageous part screams the opposite. I don't know why I'm internally arguing with myself; there is no way I am backing down.
We arrive at the last minute, with the Reaping about to begin. Coralline and I hastily sign in with the Capitol attendants and squeeze into the 16 year old section. I exchange a smile with my other friends Marina and Angela, and divert my attention to the stage.
In a blur of colors, our escort Alea Cortex flounces into view. I want to shield my eyes, as her getup is so atrocious and foreign. This year, she sports a cerulean blue, ruffled dress that drops into a deep, disturbingly revealing V-neck. What seems to be a bright pink fishing net is draped over it in a shawl like fashion, and seashells painted in unnatural shades are scattered over the outfit. Her neon blue hair is piled up in a beehive style, adorned with strands of kelp.
"Welcome, District 4! And may the odds be ever in your favor!" she exclaims, boasting that foolish Capitol accent. I cross my heart; it could make even the most serious subject sound humorous. But there is no way I will smile now; I am growing increasingly fidgety as it draws closer to the actual drawing of the names. "Aren't you excited? Today is the day that two very lucky children will get the glory of representing our District!" The crowd roars and cheers, and Alea grins, obviously pleased at getting this stellar reaction. "I know you all just can't wait to begin," she continues. "But first we have our mayor reading the Treaty of Treason!"
Mayor Naylor appears and starts to recite the Treaty of Treason. Ever since my first Reaping, I have completely tuned out during this. I assume most people do. We have to hear it every year, and it becomes more than tedious. I don't pay attention until Alea's voice penetrates my thoughts. "Alright, here we go!" She says. "Ladies first, as always!" It's almost time, it's almost time, it's almost time… She trots over to the glass Reaping ball that houses the girl's names. She draws one out with flourish and unfurls it. "Marlene Huriah! Marlene come on up to the stage!"
A frail, young girl appears, shaking and pale. At this sight, I sense that my choice to volunteer is even more meaningful. I take a deep breath and step forward. It seems like the sea of people part for me to pass them, acknowledging my motive. I wait until everyone has taken notice of me before I state my intentions. "My name is Valeria Ivory, and I volunteer to be the female tribute of District 4." I say this in a calm, confident voice, a lot calmer than I feel. Oh my goodness, I actually did it. I actually did it…
I vaguely hear shrieks and cries off anguish from my family. These noises, these sounds, they nearly cause me to break. They nearly cause me to say, "Actually, on second thought, I think I'll just let Marlene take my place and you can all pretend you never saw me." I firmly remind myself that this is for their own good, and that it will all work out perfectly. I steel my emotions and mount the stage.
"Why, look at that, a volunteer!" Alea says in a giddy voice. She clamps my hand in hers and gives it a good shake. I can't help but see the astonishing contrast between my tanned hand and her strikingly pale, surgically altered one. "Things are really picking up now! Boys, you have patiently waited, so now it's your turn!" I am still jittery from my moment in the spotlight, but I am quite interested to see who will be either my ally or my opponent.
Alea draws a name from the ball and reads it. "Caspian Moore!" she announces. "Congratulations, Caspian!" A boy that looks to be around my age emerges, with wavy ebony hair and huge blue eyes that carry a kind of innocence. He sturdily built but not muscular, and is very tanned. Startling enough, he doesn't wear the same fearful expression that most tributes that are reaped wear. Instead, he has this rather captivating smile on his face, his pearly white teeth glinting in the sun. I have to admit he's gorgeous, and will surely gain sponsors easily.
When Caspian is standing next to me on the stage, Alea closes the event. "We have two fine teenagers that will likely do well in the Games! Give a hand for this year's tributes and we'll see you next year!" Everyone applauds and Caspian outstretches his hand to me. What? Is he implying that we should…? Oh. We're supposed to shake hands. I grip his and quickly force it up and down, then take it away in repulsion. His hand was disgustingly damp and sweaty. I wipe it away on my dress and wonder if he really is so keen on being in the Games after all. Sweaty hands are a trait of nervousness and unease.
Caspian and I are ushered into the Justice Building, where we are to say our goodbyes. I ceased to figure out what I will say to my family, and am now agonizing over this. When I arrive in my room, though, I have to gasp in awe. Luxury is something I have rarely known, and there is no other way to describe this place but luxurious. Every item in this room has no doubt been hand-manufactured, down to the ornately carved table and patterned velvet curtains. I sit down on the plush sofa, covered in a material I can't even think to name.
As I wait for my visitors to come, I waver between choices regarding my goodbye to my parents. I'm stuck between telling them my motives or letting them remain a mystery. Before I am able to settle on one option, the doors open and my family comes in. Mother and Father's eyes are not angry, just sad and tired. The twins are looking around as if confused, not fully comprehending what's going on. We all just look at each other, until Mother breaks the silence. "Why, Valeria? Why?" she says softly, her voice so full of pain. Tears fill her eyes and once one is released, sliding slowly down her cheek, a dam is broken. They fall endlessly, and I even see Father wipe something off of his face. No, it's just my imagination. Father never cries.
Danielle tugs on Mother's shirt. "Why are you crying?" she asks. Mother just shakes her head and the tears come down harder.
Through her tears, she still manages to speak. "Y-you haven't a-answered m-me yet, Valeria!" she sobs. "Y-you g-go and run off t-to v-volunteer, and I d-don't even know w-why! T-the least w-we all d-deserve is an explanation!" I direct my gaze toward the heavily carpeted floor. My eyes trace the intricate designs rapidly, as if that will make the inquisitions disappear.
"You heard your mother," Father says. "Answer her!" He must realize how uncomfortable I am, and adds a "Please" after a couple seconds. I finally look up, and do what no one expects me to do. Hug her. I fold my arms around Mother and bury my face in hair.
"I'm so sorry I had to do this," I mutter, and I truly am sorry. This goodbye is as heart-wrenching for me as it is for them. I pull away and look each of my family members in the eye, even Amethyst and Danielle. "I don't think I can tell you why I did what I did right now, but when I win, which I will, I'll explain myself. Now just…isn't the time or the place for it."
Mother sniffs and tries to dab away her tears with her handkerchief. "I guess we'll just have to trust you," she says. "And trust that you'll come home."
Father nods. "You're a determined girl; that's how we raised you. I know you can do it." He smiles a little. "But we'll be waiting for that explanation of yours, honey. Don't forget."
I smile back. "I won't," I say. We all suddenly remember the twin's presence. They both look frustrated, since no one bothered to answer their question. I kneel down so I'm face to face with them. "I'm going to be gone for a little bit, in the Hunger Games," I tell them. Their mouths drop open with surprise.
"You were reaped?" Danielle asks. I don't want them to know I volunteered until she's older, so I agree.
"Yes, I was." I say. "But it's not a bad thing, I promise." Right when I say these words, the Peacekeepers barge in to take them away.
"Goodbye, Valeria," Mother says, with Father following. They plant kisses on my temple and walk out, my sisters in tow.
"Goodbye!" I call after them, but they are already gone. I can predict who my next visitor will be, and sure enough, Coralline walks through the door next.
Instead of coming in entirely, she lingers in the doorway. She gives a lopsided half grin. "So you did it, huh?" she says. "You actually went through with it." She shakes her head in disbelief. "You know, I didn't really believe you would, to be honest, but I've learned from this experience to never doubt your best friend." I laugh at this comment, I laugh a lot more than this comment warranted, but we both needed something to distract us from the serious matter at hand.
Coralline abruptly strides to the chair I am sitting in and plants her hands on my shoulders. This stops my giggles immediately. "Listen," she says. "You will make it back. I know you doubt yourself, although you act like you don't. Best friends can sense these things. What was that you said to me earlier? About how you didn't doubt yourself, so I shouldn't either? Now it's the other way around, and it's your turn to believe me." Her certain words give me strength somehow.
"I know," I say. "I do believe you, and I will not doubt myself." She lightly punches me in the shoulder.
"That's my girl," she says. She squeezes me tightly, so I almost can't breathe, but I'm grateful for the sense of security she lends me.
"And if I don't win," I murmur into her hair, "you have my permission to kill me." This sick joke that I make, for lack of things to say, causes us to double over with laughter. Not the fake, dry laugh I had earlier, but a genuine one. We chuckle so hard that we don't notice the Peacekeeper who comes in to signal the end of her time. I only perceive his attendance when I see Coralline moving away from me and no longer hear her laughter.
"Bye, Valeria," she says as she is pulled out of the room. "Your-" Her words are cut off by the slamming of the door, and I am alone. I don't anticipate any more visitors, which makes me partially relieved. All I can do is repeat one thought: I won't doubt myself.