I wake to the gentle rocking of the sea. Fresh sea air floods my nostrils with the scent of freedom, the sound of waves breaking and gulls squawking plays in my ears. For a moment I am confused as to why I was sleeping on my boat, then it all hits me. This is the day of the reaping. I always have trouble sleeping the night before the reaping, for obvious reasons, and sleeping here always seems to ease my nightmares. 65 years ago the twelve districts left of Panem made a deal with their government, the Capitol. In exchange for their lives, they would offer up one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district to fight to the death in an arena. I had heard the story every year at the reaping. I sat up and blinked my eyes at the rising sun as they adjusted to the light. Slowly I stood up and ambled across the teak decking of the boat towards the helm. I stood up onto the edge and executed a flawless dive into the water. The water enveloped me into its cool embrace, refreshing me. I continued to dive deeper before pushing off with my feet from the shallow ocean floor. I breached the water surface and took a replenishing breath. I wipe the water from my face before climbing up the side of my boat and back onto the deck. I take a towel from the basket and wrap it around me. I pull on my sandals and walk onto the peer, my shorts still sopping wet. I walk down the peer and turn towards the direction of my house. The place seems empty. These docks are normally crammed full with fishermen setting off early for the days haul. But not today. Today the entire district will sit and hold their breath, praying that themselves or their children will be spared from the horror of the Hunger Games. Afterwards, they will breathe a sigh of relief knowing they are safe for another year, with the exception of two families who will draw their blinds and try to figure out how they will survive the next few weeks.
I'm glad there is one around. My looks attract a lot of attention from the girls, my dark skin, chiselled features and blue eyes have created a name for me. I would be lying if I said I never used them to my advantage, the odd favour here, a low price there. But none of the girls seem to interest me, they only see the looks which don't match my personality. Still raw from the death of my sister and mother who both died in a hurricane when I was 10, and from my father who insists on training me for the games on the chance that my name may come up. I break into a jog, I can't delay getting home. I need to get ready and father will be worried to find that I am not there. He gets extremely anxious around the time of the reaping. I'm all he has left.
I return home and let myself into the small kitchen. Father already stands there. He watches the water dripping down from my shorts onto the floor. Any other day I think he would scold me. But not today. I brush past him without a word and go into my room. I used to share a bed with my sister but not anymore. Father has laid out one of his old suits on my bed. With a gasp I realise its the one he got married in. I towel myself off and dress quickly, taking in the new stitching that Father has had added, he must have spent a lot of money of modifying it. Simple black trousers and jacket, white shirt and a dark blue tie. When I come back down stairs, Father is talking to my best and really only friend, Annie Cresta. Annie is wearing a sea green dress flatters her body perfectly.
"Looking sharp," she mocks, looking up from the table where she and Father are waiting.
"You two better get going," father observes.
"Yeah, don't want to miss our chance to enter a gladiatorial death match," I joke. Father frowns at this but he knows that it's only way to get through this. The only alternative is to be terrified. But Annie rewards me with a laugh and stands up. She walks over to me and, while fixing my ties, says in a voice mocking the capital accent.
"Happy Hunger Games,"
"And may the odds be ever in your favour," I finish for her, in the same voice. She turns to walk out the door, I follow her, but Father stops me.
"What happens if you get chosen?" He asks me, starting our annual reaping routine.
"I do anything it takes to get home, I will come home because nothing is more important," father nods his approval.
"Don't be late. I love you son." Even for the reaping day this catches me off guard. Father had never told me that he loved me, not even when mother and my sister Deirdre were alive.
"I love you too Father," I reply, because despite the fact that he is harsh on me sometimes, I do.
I walk out with Annie, joking with her as we walk towards the town square. Today it has been transformed. Roped off sections for the different genders and age groups. Capitol banners hanging from the outside of the town hall, a microphone stands alone just outside where our Capitol escort, Wendy Pearl, will speak to us. Annie and I part to sign in. Annie makes her way to the 13 year old girls section. While I walk to the 14 year old boys section. Wendy makes her way on to the stage, wearing an outfit so pink it hurts my eyes.
"Welcome! Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favour," she chirps in her ridiculous Capital accent. She begins to explain once again how the Hunger Games came about. While Capital propaganda spews from her mouth, I turn and catch Annie's eye, giving her a wink.
"Ok, now the time has finally come to pick our tributes to represent District 4 in the 65th Hunger Games! Lady's first," Wendy sings out. She trots over to the female reaping bowl and plucks out a piece of paper, she unfolds it at reads out, "Olivia Glade!" A girl in 16 section bursts out in tears. But before she can make her way to the stage, another girl steps forward and volunteers. A career. It's been a couple of years since we had one, maybe District 4 will have a winner this year. The girl who steps onto the stage has a mean look in her eye, she is tall with jet black tied up in a bun. She proudly tells the crowd her name, which is Sofia Gordon. She's from the rich part of town, I saw her once teasing a younger kid, holding his satchel just out of his reach.
"And now time for the male tribute."