This year I am not a mentor.
No, this year, I am once again a tribute.
Who do they even think I was connected to?
I don't have time to think about it as I'm greeted by my parents.
My mother gives me a hug, but for some reason, it doesn't give me comfort.
Neither does the embrace of my strong father.
It's true that I love my parents… I do! But, for now, there's just one person I want to see.
"I…I love you…" I tell my devastated parents, as heartfelt a goodbye as I can make it.
"Oh, Briar-Rose, we love you too!" My mom says, voice shaky with tears.
"If the blonde baker boy can make it back twice, then so can you," my dad says, firmly but still gently, "If you believe it."
It's a very hollow piece of advice.
I swallow the catch in my throat, trying to make myself smile, "I'll believe it."
My dad's smile back is genuine; he must have believed it.
"Thatta girl." His eyes twinkle with an emotion I can't read… They're dark with grief and sparkling with hope all at once.
They both hug me again, and I suddenly don't want them to leave.
The feeling is even worse when they're dragged away from me.
Then, I hear faint crying in the distance. It's five seconds before she runs in.
I hug my wailing sister as tight to me as I can, combing her long hair down her back.
"Listen. Waverly…. Listen to me talk."
Her cries stop suddenly and fade to tiny, high-pitched whimpers, like a beagle would make if they begged for food.
"Listen. If I don't make it back-"
"You will make it back," she whispers, voice sensitively quivering.
"But, if I don't-"
She looks up at me, her perfectly purple eyes shining with fresh tears.
"I want you to know that, no matter what, I'll always love you. And I'll always be with you, Ok? No matter what, I'll protect you."
She looks at me, crying. She lets out a tiny sniffle, "I love you, Briar."
I hug her one last time, and feel a warm fuzzy peaceful feeling that she'll be Ok.
She's 17 years old and one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
The love of her life will sweep her off her feet in no time… Even though I haven't found mine yet, I just know that she'll have lots of nice guys to choose from. Maybe, just maybe, if I do get out of this twice, he'll be in the crowd waiting for me.
Once again, the Peacekeepers drag her away from me. And, that's it.
Flash and I are pushed out the door, to the train station.
I look out the window, already missing my little sister and parents, and all of the friends I've left behind.
The pain suddenly becomes ten times heavier. I bury my face in my arms on the windowsill to hide the tears.
I hear the mentors come in and all I can hear after the footsteps is Flash.
"Mom!" he exclaims, surprised. He leaves my side to hug his mother Incense.
I don't know who my mentor is going to be, but I frankly don't really want to know.
I allow one loud sob before I make myself suck it up and force my body into a sitting position.
My mentor, a recent Victor, is named Flora. She was the Victor of the 78th Games, and she's really truly a sweet girl.
"I know it's hard. But, we're going to make it, Ok?"
I swallow and nod, "I can. I can. I really can."
Her face gives the smallest hint of a smile. I dry my tears on my shirt sleeve and blink a couple times.
"Now, you're going to have to pick a tribute to represent," she says, holding up a packet of papers. "Here's a list."
"I don't need a list," I say. "I already know who I want to represent."
"And who's that?"
"Jasper," I choke out, "72nd Games."
The first tribute I ever mentored. I was really confident in his returning home, but those dreams were soon crushed by… I squeeze my eyes shut. I don't want to go there.
Flora smiles, "You can do this! I believe in you, Briar."
I hug my mentor, "Thank you." And I promise myself that I will try my best.
I haven't seen my Mom all day.
Come to think of it, I've barely even talked to her since Star died.
I know what you're thinking, YOU ASSHOLE! HOW CAN YOU IGNORE YOUR POOR MOTHER?!
Well, she's ignored me, too. She took Star's side most all the time and I guess it just pissed me off.
Also, it's not like I've had all the time in the world on my hands. I've been too busy with Cashmere, and the death of her brother.
And, lucky for me, I don't have to face her yet. She doesn't show up after the reapings, and it could be for an assortment of reasons.
Now, though, I have to deal with my weeping girlfriend. This whole process has scarred her so much, I wouldn't be able to recognize the Cashmere from 15 years ago.
I storke her curly locks gently, "It's Ok. It's Ok. You know why?"
She looks up, blinking tears out of her eyes, "Why?"
I nod sternly, "I'm coming back."
"But, what about… You don't know that," she retorts miserably.
"I'm coming back. I know I am. Alive and strong."
"Flash, there are 23 other people-"
"I don't care. I don't care what I have to do, I'm not letting the Capitol's Games be the death of me. No matter what, I'm coming back."
I swallow hard. This just sends me back to last year, when I was the one doubting my overconfident brother.
He didn't come back.
Cashmere seems to read my thoughts, and takes me into a kiss to take my mind off of it.
And it works, too. For a second I'm taken away, transported to a perfect world in which there are no Hunger Games and our brothers are still alive.
I sigh as she breaks away, zoning back into the dark reality of this room and what it signifies.
"I love you, Flash," Cashmere says, as the men in white take her by the arms.
I'm shocked by the words. She's never said them to me before. She's said lots of things to me.
I'm so glad I have you, Flash.
You're awesome, Flash.
You're the greatest!
Oh Flash, I have no idea where I would be without you.
But never, I love you. Not until now, anyways.
Shocked, I stutter as I repeat the phrase to her, "I-I love you too!"
And, without even a little word of protest, Cashmere is taken away.
I sit next to Briar-Rose on the train and hold my head between my hands. The phrase itself is just three little words. But it's something so much bigger when somebody actually says them to you.
"Flash." A hand taps my back.
I look up, and there's the woman herself.
"Mom!" I hug her and can feel her shaky breaths. I don't blame her, frankly.
When I look into her eyes, I can see that they're dark.
And I can already tell that this is going to be a nightmare.