The mist from the ocean bounces off the jagged rocks and tickles my face. The mist is cold and salty, it wakes me up almost instantly. I bite my lips as I strip off my clothes to reveal my faded striped swim suit that is a size too small and a hand-me-down from my older sister Kassi. I could always ask my parents for a new swimsuit but I didn't need it anymore. I wouldn't be here for much longer anyways.
I dip my toe into the water and shiver at how invigorating it is. The perfect way to chase away sleep is by jumping into the ice cold ocean. So that's exactly what I do.
The water envelopes around me and shocks my system into going numb. I tumble around in the waves for a few moments and it reminds me of when I was first being taught how to swim. My older brother, Finnick, was given the task of teaching me since both my parents had to work. Instead of showing me the strokes and how to float like how most people taught children to swim, he just tossed me into the water. Finnick would have never let me drown and the water wasn't even very deep but still that moment was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Finnick obviously knew what he was doing though because not only was I the first kid my age in the neighborhood that learned how to swim, I also one of the best swimmers.
I come up to the surface and take big heaving breaths of the fresh morning air. My body has been numbed by the cold water but I'm wide awake now. The sea is calm today and the weather is surprisingly clear. The sky is usually a cloudy overcast grey where the blue sky can barely breakthrough in the mornings. The water is also usually churning like it's in a constant battle with itself and the shore. Not today though, it's almost eerie how quiet it is.
The sun is just starting to become warm overhead and I know I only have about two hours before I need to return home. My results are coming in the mail today and I knew if I wasn't there to open it, my brother or my mom would because they wouldn't be able to help themselves. My family didn't understand what privacy was. What was yours was also theirs and what was theirs was also yours. It was annoying but sweet at the same time.
The results are also very important, another reason my family wouldn't be able to control their curiosity. The results held my future. If the results were good than it meant that I was going to be contracted to a man in another district. It meant that I was going to be ripped away from my family so I can fulfill my duty to the Capital. After all that was the only reason anyone had children anyways, if you failed to meet the quota of four, well no one really knows what happens other than you disappear. Poof, gone, like you never existed in the first place.
Years ago, during the Dark Days, a plague broke out through Panem and wiped out more than half of our country's population. To save us the Government, also known as the Capital, quarantined the Districts so that the only people who could move from place to place were the officials. Then the Capital decided to build the population back up, breed us like we were cattle so that we would become immune to the disease that struck our land.
You were raised your whole life planning for Contract Day. It was simple really, out of the four children you must have only one can stay in the home District. The other three were sent away to another District, to their contract partners home District. As if that wasn't bad enough after Contract Day you never saw your family again, you couldn't send letters or make phone calls. The only thing that ever could remind you of them was the pictures, if your family could afford to take pictures, and your memories. It's terrible really but this is what we have to do. It is our duty to the Capital, for mankind, or at least that's what they like liked to implant in our brains. It was hard to believe that the Capital still needed us to be contracted, the Dark Days were seventy three years ago and there hasn't been a case of the plague for almost half of that time. The Capital just liked to stay in control of us.
Finnick and my father, Adam, always say that the Capital's biggest fear is that their people will grow smart and will finally resist the Capital's rule. I'll most likely be long gone by the time that happens. The Capital has an iron rule over us.
The water draws back and I dive into the deep sea again. This is a good place to find seashells since it's close to the reef. My mom likes to make jewelry out of the shells or sea glass that my sister and I find. It was a good way to make extra money when things became difficult financially.
The best shells are always deeper down where the ocean current can't pull them up to the shores and cause them to break. I can hold my breath for about four minutes which gave me just enough time to dive and collect. The water grows colder the farther down you go and I suddenly regret my choice of diving this far.
From the corner of my eye I catch a shadow that causes me to freeze. Shadows in the water can be anything from a boat to a more dangerous predator. The shadow is towards the surface and I look up slowly, blowing out bubbles in relief upon the sight.
It's just my fourteen year old sister Persi. She grins at me and the two of us make the dive for the shells. Both Persi and I are perfect mixes of our parents. We have long slender bodies like our mother, Tanya, a native of District Five, and her dark brown eyes. We also got her soft features and full lips. From our father Alan, a District Four native, we both received his curly unruly red hair and golden skin.
We bob up to the surface at the same time and Persi splashes me. I lift a brow at her but don't retaliate, Persi is known for winning all the splash fights she initiates. "Good morning Persi." I say before smiling warmly at her.
Persi grins at me, her smile stretching from ear to ear, "Good morning Norah. Your results are in, but I got the mail before mama could so your letter is hiding, tucked away under our bed."
"Thank you." I say and she rolls her eyes at how formal I am. She hates how I act sometimes because she doesn't understand why. Persi's still a child at heart and probably hates Contract Day as much as our father. My mother assured me that Persi would grow out of her stubborn ways and become the dutiful wife she has been attending school to be but I wasn't as sure. Persi's attitude made me nervous that she would slip up and disappear. The thought causes my throat to close and I shake my head to rid it from my mind. I couldn't imagine my sweet sister being taken for treason.
Persi swims away from me and I can tell that she's heading for the Reef. We both enjoyed our time down there since it is so colorful and full of life. I loved to watch the fish swim and live out their short simple little lives.
"What I would do to become a fish, to live a life where I didn't have to worry about anything really." I say out loud just as Persi resurfaces.
She points as a pelican who is just swooping down to the water and scooping up the fish that have swam too close to the surface, "Fish have worries too." Persi says and I shake my head at her a little.
I would rather be eaten by a pelican that forced to marry someone I didn't love, but Persi doesn't understand that. Well she doesn't understand that yet, she will in four years though when it's her time to be contracted to a man in another District. Finnick was my parent choice child to stay in the District, they picked him because he's the only son and someone needed to take over my father's fishing boat after he passed. Sure the job could have been taken by one of our husbands but my father would never trust his boat to someone who wasn't his own blood.
"Norah!" Persi calls and I look at her quickly. She must have been calling me for a long time because she has a faint wrinkle in her brow that alerts me to her annoyance. I wasn't paying attention, I was too busy staring at the distant fishing boats off in the distant. They look like ants, "Norah!"
I look at her again and smile sheepishly. I've been known to daydream about unnecessary things, it drives my family insane since I don't hear anything that they're saying to me. My teachers believed I did it because I wasn't really all there, my believed it was because I read too many books and lived in a fantasy, and my father believed I daydreamed because the Capital brainwashing screwed me up more than the other kids.
My father's theory made me laugh when I thought about it but also scares me some. What if I was really messed up and wouldn't be contracted? I would be sent to the Capital and be turned into an Avox. The thought makes my hands go clammy and my feet to tingle.
"As I was saying," Persi says and I tilt my head at her forgetting that she had been talking in the first place, "let's head back to shore. Mama's probably tearing the whole house apart looking for your results and I hid some sweets behind the couch that I'd rather she not fine."
Persi isn't allowed to have a lot of sugar, it makes her crazier than she already is. "Alright, let's go."
The towels are warm from baking in between the hot sun and even hotter sand. The sand scalds our feet as we hurry to the paved trails that will lead us to the Town Square and then home.
"Are you scared of Contract Day?" Persi asks suddenly as we walk up the path slowly. People are milling all around us, it's a busy Sunday since it's the last Sunday of August which means the fish market is open. All the fishermen sell their unwanted catches to the citizens of District Four since the Capital deemed them unworthy.
"No, I'm not scared of Contract Day. It is my duty as a citizen to Panem and I am a loyal citizen." I say and Persi makes a face at me.
"But what are your feelings? I don't want to hear what the Capital has drilled into your head. I want to hear how you, Norah Ann Odair, feels about the whole thing." Persi says before poking me and I sigh tucking a loose hair behind my ear.
"I'm terrified. I'm scared that I'll be contracted to someone who doesn't love me or won't appreciate me. Is that what you want to hear?" I ask in a low voice and Persi nods her head satisfied.
Persi goes to ask me another question but I shake my head at her, "This is not the time nor place to have this conversation Persi." I say in warning before nodding to the Peacekeepers who are stationed close-by.
I make eye contact with one of them and I smile in his direction before pulling Persi closer to me and walking just a few steps quicker. Persi makes a face at me and I lick my lips nervously.
"I don't understand how you and mama can tolerate the Capital scum." Persi says and I grip her arm hard, the same way our mother does whenever any of us children did anything wrong.
"That's enough Persi." I snap before pushing her ahead of me and shaking my head. I cast another glance towards the Peacekeepers but find that neither of them is interested in us.
Persi picks up on this language from our father and Finnick. Both of them hate the Capital and have a strong influence on Persi. She believes that it's okay to speak that way outside of the house, not understanding the real danger it can cause to not only her but to us as well. I'm almost sure that my father and Finnick are part of the Rebel group that ransacks the Capital trains and boats that bring the goods to the Capital.
I take a few quick steps to catch up with Persi and say, "It's dangerous to speak like that. It will bring nothing but trouble to you and to our family."
"I know that." Persi says icily and I sigh.
"Then why do you do it?" I ask and Persi shoots me a look. My god, if looks could kill a person.
"Because I can." She answers, "If dad and Finnick talk that way-"
I cut her off, "Dad and Finnick should be talking like that either. I'm going to be telling mama what you said." I say and she throws her skinny arms in the air.
"Of course you are! You tell mama everything!" Persi says and I roll my eyes, sure I was kind of a tattletale bit only when it came to dangerous things. I only told when Finnick was going to do something stupid like jumping off the roof because he wanted to fly or when Persi spoke out like this.
My little sister will always want to speak out of term but I hope that when she gets older she'll learn to bite her tongue. She may be able to get away with her words at home with us but what happens when she's contracted. Her husband may expect the perfect dutiful wife, not someone who is as sharp tongued and quick-witted as Persi. I've seen what happen to those women who have been contracted to men who don't like their attitude. They're beat, some even murdered. I'm terrified of that happening to Persi, especially since she'll be in a District where Finnick and I can't protect her.
I wrap my arm around my sister and play with one of her loose curls, she's tense at my touch at first but soon returns the embrace by wrapping her arm around my waist and burying her face into the side of me. She takes a deep breath and looks up at me, from her wide brown eyes I could tell that she is sorry and from mine she could tell that I wasn't going to tell mama.
"You do need to work on the attitude though Persi." I say and she nods her head at me.
"I know, but it's just hard because some people are just so stupid." She answers and I laugh at her as we round the corner to our street.
Our street has about thirty different homes all of them different colors that range from a sunset orange to a sky blue. On the outside their as different as the fish you can find at the Reef but on the inside they're all exactly the same, a standard one story with three bedrooms and one bathroom, there's also a large room that is a combination of the dining room and living room with the kitchen off to the side. This is the home for the working class in District Four, you're not given much but it's still enough to live.
Our mother is waiting for us at the table with a grin on her face when she sees me. In one hand she has my envelope, unopened thankfully, and in the other hand she has a bag full of sweets. Persi makes a noise, upset that out mother found her stash of candy.
"My sweet girl," my mother says with a smile before putting the bag of candy on the table, "I am so proud of you." She says before pulling me into a bone crushing hug that only mothers can give.
"You don't even know what the results say." I reply back and she pulls back from the ug to cup my face.
"That's right mom," Finnick says as he comes through the backdoor with his wife, Annie, trailing behind him. She holding my six month old nephew Finn and his eyes light up when he sees Persi. The kid loved my sister, "who knows Norah really could be just as stupid as the teachers have been telling us." He says this in a teasing tone but Annie still slaps his arm for me.
"Thanks Annie." I say with a smile as she sits down on our faded light blue couch. She smiles back and turns her attention to Finn. Annie wasn't all there from an accident she had as a child, she's a native of District One, and was only contracted because she's brilliant when she's not having one of her moments. Annie just likes to keep to herself which is why we probably got along so well. I couldn't imagine anyone else being contracted to my brother. You could tell that when the two of them looked at each other they really are in love and didn't just tolerate each other for the Capital's sake. What they felt for one another was rare but I still hoped to find it.
My father walks in from the back door just as we all sit around the table and I smile looking at him. He lifts a brow me and winks before taking his spot at the head of the table. He smells like fish and saltwater, typical for a fisherman. "Well Norah," my father says after my mother hands me my letter, "open it."
I pull the seam of the envelope open slowly. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat and I feel my hands become clammy again but this time there's no ocean water to hide it. I pull the results out and read over the charts and large words that I would never understand fully in a million years, but I get the gist of what the results say and I put them back into the envelope before looking back towards my family.
"Well?" Finnick says and I try to keep my face stoic even though all I want to do us laugh at my brother who is bouncing up and down in his chair. He's acting like a two year old waiting for a piece of cake.
"I passed." I say and my family sighs in relief causing me to laugh at them. Persi grins at me and I my eyes trace over her sunburnt skin, freckled nose and wild hair. She's so excited for me like how I was with my sister Kassi before she left. I feel the sudden urge to tell Persi that Contract Day isn't what you expect at all but I don't. I would let her have her innocence for as long as she could.
I wonder if Kassi felt this way about me. I was twelve when she left and its sometimes hard for me to picture her face in my mind. I was very close to Kassi, we had the same relationship that Persi and I have so I know how Persi's going to feel when it's time for me to leave.
My father breaks my train of thought when he puts a strong hand on my shoulder, "I'm very proud of you." He says and I smile at him, "We'll have a feast tonight!" He says and my siblings cheer.
"No, we don't need to do that." I say and Finnick rolls his eyes before popping a sugar cube into his mouth. Our mother swats his hand and he laughs, Persi takes this moment to try to take the bag of sweets off the table but my mother catches her too.
"Don't think that you're going to get away with that little lady." My mother says and Persi tries to smile as innocently as possible but we can all see through it.
As my mother reprimands both Persi and Finnick for eating too much sweets and I can't help but snicker at my twenty-something year old brother being scolded by our mother.
My father was able to buy four moderately sized lobsters at the fish market today and I clap my hands together because lobster is one of my favorite meals. It was rare to have it even though we lived in the fishing district, lobster is still very expensive.
We all sit around the table passing the plates of food and all of us trying to talk over the other. We are all very close, especially us children. My mother wanted all of us to be friends and not strangers that lived together. Family is the most important thing to all of us.
Finnick stands up and I look up to my older brother with a brow raised. "I would like to make a toast." He says and I immediately slide down in my chair feeling my cheeks flare up in embarrassment.
"My baby sister, who I guess isn't much of a baby anymore, will be leaving our home in a week's time. The thought terrifies all of us because I know every single one of us will miss Norah more than I think she'll ever know. I just want to say how proud I am of Norah for handling everything so graciously and I know that whoever she is contracted to will love our little Norah as much as we do." Finnick says and the table smiles and nods their heads in agreement.
Finnick then looks at me and touches my shoulder lightly, "I hope you know that wherever you end up, you'll always be a part of our family."
Persi stands up and thrusts her drink in the air. "To Norah!" The table laughs and clinks glasses together.
I smile but I feel the tears stinging my eyes. I don't know how I'm going to work up enough strength to ever leave these people that I love so much.
I like this beginning much better than the other. I'll hopefully have the next chapter posted in a few days.
On a note that has nothing to do with anything with my story I just wanted everyone to know that I got into college! Yay!
Let me know what you guys think!