"Mayyyyysilee," calls a singsong whisper. Too early, I think throwing my arm up to shield my eyes from the morning light. "Mayyyysilee," I groan and roll over. "Maysilee!" This time the voice is accompanied by the thwack of a pillow. I pull back my arm and squint. A pair of large blue eyes loom inches from my nose. "Time to get up," Maybelle says laughing.
"Ten more minutes," I mutter sleepily rolling back over.
"Don't you know what day it is!?" She calls, shaking me. I try to blink back the morning fog and think clearly. I frown, "Reaping day."
"No! Well yes… but I mean that's not why it's important!" My sister must be the only person in all of Panem to treat reaping day so trivially.
"Enlighten me," I say sarcastically.
"Today is the day Caldwell Undersee is going to ask me to go steady," she squeals, flopping down on the bed dramatically.
"Caldwell?" I say, trying to remember which boy he is. "What happened to June?" I ask. Of course his name isn't really June. I'd gotten into the habit of naming Maybelle's flings by the month in which they ensued because they came and went so quickly.
She rolls her eyes, "Will you please use his name?"
I shrug, "I don't remember it." Even though Maybelle and I share the same wide blue eyes and long golden hair it's her the boys trip over themselves to date. She's full of child-like wonder and innocence – the kind that makes you want to shield her from all the evils of the world. She's vivacious and bubbly – the very opposite of me. I've always gotten the impression that people only tolerate me because they truly adore her.
"That's great news about…." I frown, "I've already forgotten his name, can't I just call him July?"
She scowls, "No! And you'll be nice – I actually like this one." I roll my eyes – I've only heard that about a million times.
"Have you told Lillian about your new boy yet?" Lillian is our very best friend. When we were younger we used to tell people that we were triplets.
"Not yet, I wanted you to be the first to know. After the reaping," she resolves.
"Speaking of," I say, "What are we going to wear?" Traditionally Maybelle and I wear matching outfits – it's silly but kind of our good luck charm. I don't know what I would do if one of us got reaped. The thought of Maybelle in the games is almost humorous. The sight of blood alone is enough to make her faint.
"I'm thinking the yellow," she muses, "Yellow is Caldwell's favourite colour," she sighs dreamily. Oh boy. I know what dress she's referring to, a cute little number that slims our waist and sets off the gold in our hair.
"Alright," I agree.
I hate this day. I hate how we all shuffle into the square like cattle. I hate the way the collar of my dress shirt chafes against my neck. I hate it all. The Capitol is mocking all of us. Four of us will be sent to die while the rest of us are forced to stay at home and celebrate… as if there were anything to be happy about. It's the Quarter Quell, which means a rule change. Twice as many tributes, twice as many kids dead. All because of a rebellion that happened more than 50 years ago.
The sun beats down on me as I walk over to Grey's house. I know the path to her house so well I barely think about it. When I see Silver playing on the small brown lawn I feel my foul mood begin to dissipate. I watch her as she throws a pebble and tries to hop around it. The kid has literally no co-ordination and ends up falling flat on the ground. "Luckily you still have three more years before entering the reaping pool. You wouldn't last two seconds in the arena," I call.
"Haymitch!" she squeals in delight. She leaps up and runs to me, giving me a tight hug.
I ruffle her dark curls, "Hey sweetheart."
"I didn't know you were coming today!"
"Just stopped by to wish good luck to your big sister."
Silver makes a face, "She's being very bossy today."
I chuckle, "Today? Try every day."
"I'm supposed to be doing laundry, but I escaped," she tells me as I push open the door to Grey's house. Grey's facing away from us when we enter, elbow deep in a sink full of dishes humming to herself. I allow myself a brief moment to appreciate her. Even though I can only see her profile she's still stunning. I take in her olive skin, round gray eyes and tumbling brown hair. She'd be truly beautiful if you could look the protruding bones that come with missing too many meals.
I turn to Silver and put my finger to my lips. She nods excitedly catching on to my plan. Slowly we creep up behind her, I put up my fingers for Silver to see. 3….2…1… "GOTCHA!"
Grey shrieks, dropping the dish was holding back into the sink and sending soapy water in every direction. Silver dissolves into a fit of giggles, her dress completely soaked. "Dammit Haymitch!" yells Grey, water dripping from her hair. She smacks me with her damp washcloth.
"Ow," I laugh, "I yield, I yield," I yell putting my hands up in mock surrender.
This at least earns me a small smile from Grey, "You're an idiot," she says, smacking me one more time so I know I'm not forgiven.
"Just part of my charm," I smirk before pulling her in for a kiss.
Silver makes a gagging noise, "Gross," she huffs.
Grey rolls her eyes, "Are you done the laundry?"
Silver shots her a guilty look, "Uhh… almost."
"Finish it," Grey says sternly. "And quit hogging my boyfriend," she adds in a mock-scold. Silver gives me a sheepish look before leaving to finish off the laundry I'm sure she never started.
"Happy Reaping Day," I tell Grey.
"And may the odds be ever in your favour," she quips back jokingly. I lower my voice just in case Silver is still within earshot.
"How many times is your name in this year?" Grey lost her mother when she was only five. With her father in the mines as often as possible it's pretty much just her and Silver. I know how hard she's fought to keep them alive even when it meant sacrificing herself.
She gives me a tight smile, "Don't worry about it!" I know she means to sound reassuring but it comes out strangled.
I smooth her hair and kiss her forehead, "I'm not worrying - you're going to be fine." After a beat I add, "And have you seen the things you can do with a washcloth! You're a real hazard. I bet you'd win for sure!" Grey laughs and swats at my chest. She wraps her arms around my waist and for a moment I forget all about the reaping.
Once we've bathed our mother sits with us and brushes our hair until it shines like spun gold. We own a small sweets shop, and my mother's hands are used to working gently and quickly. When she's done my hair I go feed Indigo, my songbird. My father gave him to me last year for my 14th birthday. He's beautiful really, with long sapphire blue feathers. The crown of his head is pure white, and his eyes a startling shade of purple. Even though Maybelle loathes him I admire him for his beauty and song. Every week I sit with him and teach him a new song. Sometimes Lillian will come over with a new song and we'll teach it to him together. Today he chirps an upbeat wedding song I taught him last week. I laugh and join my voice with his, singing the lyrics out loud. Just as he finishes his tune there's a knock on the door.
"I'll get it," Maybelle says, bounding towards the door. I suppose she thinks it's her new mystery boyfriend. But no, it's just Lillian carrying a small package.
"Happy Reaping Day!" She calls cheerfully. Her reaping dress is a soft blue that makes her eyes gleam. I've always thought she was the prettiest girl in all of District Twelve – maybe even all of Panem. "I brought presents." She unfurls the small brown paper bag.
"What is it," asks Maybelle wrinkling her nose.
Lillian pulls out tiny packages of tealeaves. "They're supposed to have healing properties," she picks up one of the purple packages. "This one is good for stress," she tells us. "This one for insomnia," she gestures to an orange one
. "Thank you Lillian, how thoughtful," my mother coos. My mother adores Lillian, which is not surprising – every one loves her. The daughter of an apothecary merchant, she is gentle and caring.
"We got you something too," I declare. Maybell pulls out a small box of assorted sweets. "We made them ourselves," she says proudly. Tiny spheres of flavoured sugar gleam in the light. Each one is a different colour – teal, magenta, burgundy. From the look on Lillian's face our hard work paid off.
"Thank you," she breathes.
I grin, "No, thank you for being such a great friend," I say hugging her. Even though my mouth is pressed against her ear I lower my voice. My sister has many great qualities but keeping a secret is not one of them. "How is Heath?" Lillian has been seeing Heath, a boy from the Seam, for some time now. Of course she's kept this secret from nearly everyone. She is a merchants daughter and him a simple coal miner.
"Oh Maysilee he's wonderful," she sighs blissfully. "I think… I think he might ask me to marry him," she says softly.
"That's wonderful," I exclaim without thinking. Then I realize what this means – Lillian will move to the Seam and leave us. "Oh," I say dejectedly. "What about Mitchell Mellark?" Mitchell is the baker's boy and he's been desperately in love with Lillian since the first grade.
Lillian bites her lip, "I'm sure he'll understand."
I take her hand, "I wish you the greatest happiness," I say. Then in the back of my head I make a quick prayer that Lillian will not be reaped this year.
When I get home from my mother is waiting for me. "Oh Haymitch, you've already gotten yourself dirty," she fusses, trying to smooth out the wrinkles.
I swat her hand away, "Mom, it's going to be fine," I say trying to placate her. Every year it's the same routine. She fusses, she tears up, she scolds me and the cycle repeats. I can't even imagine what she's going to be like when my younger brother Sage is old enough to join the reaping pool.
"I don't want you looking like trash if you… if they…" she peters out.
"They wont," I say firmly. "There's thousands of names in that pool, the odds are in my favour," I joke.
"I for one think Haymitch would be fine even if he did get reaped," pipes up Sage. I didn't even notice him sitting at the table he was so quiet. He's got a large book in front of him illustrated with plants and leaves. The sweet merchant girl from the apothecary must have lent it to him. This is the third book he's read this week alone - he's already devoured nearly all the books in District Twelve. I always joke that he is a 70 year old man trapped in the body of an 11 year old. "Haymitch is smart and quick," Sage says resolutely.
"See?" I say, "Sage has to be the smartest kid in Panem and if he says I'm going to be okay it must be so," I declare. This warrants a tight smile from our mother. "Honestly you worry too much," I say, giving her a peck on the cheek. I join Sage, at the table. "I saw your girlfriend today," I tease. The tips of Sage's ears turn fiery red, but he flips through his book as if he hadn't heard me. "Silveeeeer," I say in a high falsetto.
"She is not my girlfriend, you imbecile!" Sage growls in irritation, slamming his book shut.
I smirk, "Then why are you so embarrassed?" Sage sputters but I know exactly why he's embarrassed. The girls in school are practically in love with him but he's too busy with his books to notice. I bet girls have never even crossed his mind.
"I don't have to answer to you," he huffs, storming out.
My mother shakes her head. "Why do you have to work him up like that?"
I shrug, "It's funny."
She sighs and puts a hand on my cheek, "You're looking so much like your father these days." From what I remember of my father this is probably true. We share the same dark curly hair and gray Seam eyes. He died from bronchitis seven years ago. I was nine and Sage was only four. I look away when my mother's eyes tear up. It always makes me feel uncomfortable when she does this. Like I'm bringing up bad memories just by existing.
She brushes away her tears quickly, "Well then, I suppose we should be off – don't want to miss the reaping," she says somewhat jokingly.
I squeeze her hand for reassurance, "It will be fine."
I feel like I've been standing for eternity listening to the mayor drone on about the history of Panem. He recounts the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts and finally the Treaty of Treason that resulted in the Hunger Games. Maybelle's palm feels slippery in mine. Knowing her that probably less to do with nerves and more to do with the torturous sun beating down on us. Lillian holds my other hand. When I look over at her she gives me a tiny smile of encouragement. Finally the mayor is done with his horrendously dull speech and Eustacia Cashew steps up to the podium. Against the gloomy landscape of our town square she is practically luminescent. Her skin is a pale orange intoned with silver swirls. She sports bright red lipstick and garish yellow eyeshadow. I wonder if she knows how ridiculous she looks. Almost as if in response Eustacia fluffs her absurd mane of neon orange hair. It's time for the reaping. Lilian gives my hand a light squeeze. I wonder if she can hear how fast my heart is beating.
"Ladies first!" Eustacia dips her long talons into the bowl of names. "Poppy Hayes," she reads. A willowy girl steps out from the crowd. She can't be older than thirteen. She's shaking so hard it's a wonder she's managing to walk. "And now for our second female tribute," Eustacia crones. I'd almost forgotten, there would be two of us this year. "Maysilee Donner!"
When I was younger, after it rained me and my father would go out to edge of the fence. There, near the border was a small dried up creek. Sometimes after a big storm the creek would flood with so much water you could wade in it. On days like that my father would take me out for a swim. Maybelle always excused herself for fear of getting dirty but I loved it. When the water was high enough I would fully immerse myself in water. Underwater nothing could reach me – no sounds but the gentle whoosh of water in my ears.
That is how I feel when I hear my name called – like I'm underwater. The world slows down and all I hear is a dull whoosh. I'm finally called back by the keening wail of Maybelle. "Nooo!" She weeps clinging to my arm. Lillian is hugging me tightly, tears streaming down her face. I shake myself out of my daze and slip out of their grasp. I force myself to assume a brave face. Like this is nothing, like I haven't just been selected to die.
"Brava! Brava!" Eustacia is prattling on about what an honor it is to be selected. I'm concentrating very hard on my breathing. In, out, in, out. I instruct myself not to faint. I instruct myself not to cry. I instruct myself to ignore my wailing sister.
"Time to choose our boy tributes!" Eustacia calls. She plucks a name out of the reaping ball and unfurls it. "Fir Redpath." I watch as a muscular boy shakes off four younger distressed younger siblings and makes his way to the stage. When he reaches us I gulp. Both Poppy and I are dwarves compared to his huge frame. He might actually stand a chance, I think. "Well done, well done," chirps Eustacia. I decide in that moment I despise her and her ridiculous orange costume. "And now for our last tribute… Haymitch Abernathy!" The crowd parts and after a beat a dark haired boy comes sauntering towards the stage. He's wearing a ghost of a smirk, like this really is all just a game. Just as I'm thinking he might do well with the Career tributes I see him lock eyes with a brown-haired girl in the reaping pool. Her face his deathly pale and her lips repeatedly form the word no. His smirk slips for a second when he glimpses her and I suddenly understand.
The mayor begins reading the Treaty of Treason and I try to look brave. Just when I think I can't do it anymore the anthem of Panem plays and we are whisked into the Justice Building.