"God in Heaven, Ara, get down here! You're going to be late for the Reaping!"

"Alright, just give me one second…" I trail off softly, chewing on the nub of my pencil. With a gentle sweep, I finish off the neckline of my new gown. There. Perfect.

"Ara, what could be more important than… Oh my gosh, that's gorgeous! You designed that?" Raya leans over my shoulder, her breath warm on the side of my face. She smells like fresh wool and berries, the scent of the dying room where she works.

I smile. "Thanks, Ray."

"No, darling, I mean it! You should work in Designs!"

And just like that, my happiness is gone. "Yeah, well, that's not going to happen, is it?" I rip off my apron and stuff it in the bag at my feet. "Come on, we have to go."

"No, really? It's not like I've been saying that for the last ten minutes…!" I roll my eyes, walking briskly out the doors of Farmine Fabrics. Ray catches up, throwing her arm around my shoulder.

"Ara, wait up! You know my legs are about half the length of yours!" she pants, practically jogging. "Aaaaarrrrraaaaa!"

"Come on, it's like a half a mile to go."

"Ugh!" I ignore her grunt of protest. "So, anyway, what I was saying before. You're a hundred times more talented than any of the others… especially Karentine!"

"Huh. Well, that doesn't matter. I don't have the rich, fat-cat daddy who can buy my way into that position." I shrug my friend's arm off of me.

"Oh, Ara, I didn't mean it like that…. You know, I just—"

"It's fine, Ray." We step into the throng outside the town square. "There, let's go."

The town bell rings eleven o'clock just as the Peacekeeper takes my blood. "Go. "

"Wow, he's not the most talkative, is he?" I elbow Ray, shutting her up. We elbow our way through the crowd to the sixteen year old section. I squeeze into the back row, pressed between Ray in front of me and the sturdy rope behind. The sun is already beating down, and I feel sweat slick the cheap cotton of my dress between my shoulder blades.

"I still can't believe you didn't bother to get dressed up," Ray hisses.

"Why bother? I do this every year."

"But still, all the guys are here! You could make a great impression."

"Yes, the strange ex-mayor's daughter is totally the catch of the year."

"Ara, don't think of yourself that way. You're gorgeous, and you know it!"

"Do you know how ridiculous that—"

"Good morning, young monsieurs and mademoiselles!" Ray and I exchange a glance. This is how Tarese begins all her speeches. "Now is the time we all have been waiting for! The Reaping for this year's Hunger Games!"

Yes, the time we've all been waiting for! Where two innocent young kids get thrown into an arena to kill each other. Or, more commonly, get slaughtered in the first two days. All the Hunger Games does is turn teenagers into murderers.

"Ladies first, of course!" Slowly, deliberately, Tarese stretches her long, ring-covered fingers into the small glass bowl of paper. Seconds later, her hand draws back out, clutching two pieces of paper. The crowd inhales.

One of the people on those slips will be spared. The other will die. One white paper bird flutters to a landing back inside the bowl, and Tarese snaps the other open and reads out the name.

"Celiara Teriand!"

Who? What did she say? My head is spinning, and the screaming from the short girl in front of me is overpowering my thoughts. What happened?

"No, no, no, Ara! They called you! No, please! Don't take her!" I feel strong hands grip my shoulders, and suddenly I'm in front of the stage. What's going on? Why is Ray shrieking?

"Subdue the friend, take her home." Why does Ray need to go home? The screaming cuts off suddenly, and the silence around me is even more disconcerting than the noise before.

Then I'm on stage, and the sea of faces looking up at me makes my stomach clench. My vision tunnels, until all I see is the woman next to me. It finally clicks.

It's me. I'm the tribute. I'm going to die.

And there's almost nothing I can do about it.