Chapter 1: The Reaping
Life in District 4 wasn't that bad. The homes were sturdy and dry. The ocean- a mile away- was warm, and sparkled in the sun, always a beautiful turquoise color. That was where the good things ended though. The work hours were long, and hard, under the glare of the sun. It wasn't that we didn't have any food, it wasn't that the food was always spoiled, it was just that no one seemed to actually get enough of it. In spit of that, we all managed somehow.
Then there were the Reapings.
The Reapings terrified everyone, from every district, even if they were too young, or too old to have their named pulled from one of those awful bowls.
At this point, the Hunger Games hadn't been in place for very long, this would be the seventeenth year of it. One year had been enough to scare everyone out of their wits.
She had been born one month before the first ever Hunger Games. It terrified me to think that she would have the odds, every year for seven years, to be enter, and die, in a contest so violent.
Then again, her end was always violent.
Lucinda had grown up three houses down from mine. As far as anyone knew, my father was dead, my mother was a shut in, who made the best nets in the district. All of the other women hated her for it.
Six thirty in the morning, the day of the reaping, I sat alone on the beach looking out on the ocean. My eyes were as gray as the clouds just barely beginning to roll in over the ocean.
I heard her trademark blue flip-flops slap the sand as she came up behind me. She sat down next to me, and leaned her head on my shoulder. This was how we had started everyday for the last month since her seventeenth birthday. She had found me here that day, and once again, fell instantly in love with me. And I just let her.
Luce laughed, reaching for the full white peony in my hand. She pressed the the soft petals to her nose, and inhaled deeply. I brought her this flower everyday, and she said the same thing everyday: "I don't know where you find these, but I want to know." I smiled.
"Maybe someday I'll show you." Then we were quite for a long time. She very gently caressed the petals of the flower, the way I wished she would do to me right now.
"Are you scared?" she whispered.
"No." I said looking at the waves lapping up onto the shore. Was I? Sometimes it was hard to tell, I didn't need to be scared for myself. She did. "I'm scared for you."
She dropped her hands to the sand.
"What if the odds just aren't in our favor this year? You know how my family is struggling, my name is in there so many times this year because of tesserae."
"How many times?" I asked, truly terrified of the answer.
"Forty-nine." she whispered.
"Lucinda," I said, shocked. I turned toward her, and gazed tenderly into her wonderful hazel eyes. She wasn't kidding. I hooked my finger underneath her chin, making her look up at me,
warmth and electricity beginning to spread through my body. She felt it to. Slowly, she closed her eyes, and steadied her breath.
I kissed the top of her head, right where she had parted it into her forever messy french braids. Lucinda leaned in closer, and I held her there, rocking her back and forth.
"I know," I whispered softly, rubbing her back. "You'll be alright, I promise."
She nodded, "I believe you."
Almost an hour later, I stood staring at my self in the mirror, at me house. The faucet had a steady stream of water pouring into the brown basin underneath. I ran my wet fingers through my pale gold hair one last time. I had swapped out my jeans, and flannel shirt, for a gray shot sleeved button up, and the black jeans I wore to all district events.
There was a knock at the door. It was time.
Lucinda was waiting outside, her head hanging. Her mother had pulled her braids tighter, so not a hair was out of place. Her pale blue dress reached down to her knees, and she still hadn't given up her flip-flops.
"You look beautiful." I offered, taking her hand. She looked up, tears in her eyes.
"Cedar's old enough now. I had forgotten."
Cedar, he younger brother. So he was old enough to be entered in the Reaping. The tears started dripping down her face. I wrapped my arm around her waist, and drew her close. I watched as people behind her moved solemnly toward the Justice Building.
When I looked back down at Lucinda, I leaned in and pressed my lips against hers.
I kissed her gently, stroking her perfect braid. She kissed back timidly, innocently. Then she was the one to pull away from out first kiss of this lifetime.
"We have to go." she whispered. I could see the small smile in her eyes, that meant she was happy.
"Lucinda! Daniel! Come on!" It was her mother, walking next to her father. Cedar was falling behind, his pale body shaking, his black haired head hanging.
"We're coming!" Luce called. She grasped my and, and started tugging me toward the rest of the crowd.
At the check-in, Cedar got in line first, Lucinda right behind him gripping his shoulders. I was right behind her.
"I'll find you later. Okay?" she whispered to Cedar, before pushing him forward. Before she went up for her turn, she turned to face me. She grabbed both of my hands, and looked deeply into my eyes.
"You'll find me later right?" I nodded. "And then we'll meet at the beach, and go swimming?"
"I promise." I said giving her hands one last squeeze.
I watched her check-in, and then walk away to stand with her group of girls. My turn.
They recognized me, then let me go. It wasn't much longer, that we waited before a Capitol woman with a forest green wig, and an odd dress to match, came up to welcome us. I looked over at Lucinda. She was looking at me too. Her lower lip trembled with nerves, and she twisted the hem of her skirt.
"First the girls." the woman said. Already? I thought. How long had I zoned out.
Her long slender fingers hovered above the snow colored papers for a moment, before plunging into the bowl. She held up the piece of paper with the first tribute.
My heart started pounding, and I stared at the paper so hard, willing it not to be Lucinda. Slowly, very slowly, she unfolded the paper. By now all I could hear was how loud my heart was beating, so I almost didn't hear it when she said: "Lucinda Elkson."
It was all I could do to not to fall to my knees, and cry out to her. I whipped my head around to look at her. Her eyes were wide with fear, and she was shaking so badly. There would be no one to volunteer for her, I couldn't, Cedar couldn't. There were no other girls that were willing to go in for her. This could not be happening.
Two Peacekeepers, took hold of her, and marched her up to the Justice Building. The woman in green helped her up, and patted her shoulder almost as if in congratulations. She looked so small and innocent up there with her braids, and short blue dress. I wanted more then anything to run to her, and fly her away from this. I had to push my shoulders back, and force my wings back into my skin.
"No volunteers? Well, now for the boys."
Again she took her time selecting a paper. When she pulled out the paper, on stage Luce closed her eyes, and began mouthing something that looked like: Please no.
The woman opened the paper, and read the name out loud.
I froze. My whole world stopped, and I felt as if I had stripped of everything I had, every chance, and hope that I had ever needed, and ever relied on. Gone, all of it.
Luce's eyes popped open, and the pain was so terribly obvious on her face. She started searching the boys side of the crowd. For me, or for someone to take my place? But I was like her. There would be no volunteers.
The same two Peacekeepers grabbed me, and pulled me to the front. As we walked, pools of Announcers grew in the shadow of the crowd, and lead the way to the stage. They climbed up the stairs, and swirled around Lucinda, who was now sobbing.
I kept my eyes down, as the woman introduced to the crowd District 4's two tributes of the seventeenth annual Hunger Games. I finally looked up, when Luce and I were told to shake. I turned to her, and tried to look as calm as possible, to sooth her for a while at least.
Her cheeks were still streaked with tears that kept coming. Her hand was soft in mine, and it trembled as we shook. I gave it a squeeze, and then we were shooed into the Justice Building.
It was a grand building, with polished wood floors, and high elegant ceilings. There was row after row of mysterious hallways. Lucinda was shoved into the first door on the left, and me on the right.
Alone in the room, I gripped the windowsill, trying to keep myself up. This life could not end like this. It reminded me of of another life so long ago. I only had the absolute faintest memory of it. It was one life, when I was supposed to chop her head off. I know I didn't do that.
I watched as the rest of the district hurried back to their homes, relived to have been spared another Reaping. Wondering what was going to happen to the tributes this year.
I didn't care about that.
As more Announcers swirled around me, only one thought came to my mind.
I am being put into a game, where I am expected to grab a weapon, and use that to kill the only girl I could ever love. How against my nature!