(District 5, Power)
Her name echoes faintly off the walls around the square, and in that moment, Jack's heart stops.
The other boys in the reaping pen shift uneasily, casting sidelong glances his way, but Jack doesn't notice their muttering. This is all his nightmares come true, and all he can hear is the rushing in his ears. His vision has gone tunnel, as if he's been given an electric shock, narrowing until all he can see is Emma's frightened face.
The Peacekeepers are leading her up to the stage, past the ranks of older children. His baby sister walks as bravely as she can, with her little shoulders squared, but she has gone so pale that every freckle stands out on her soft cheeks like a tiny dark bruise.
She's only thirteen. Why the hell wasn't Jack born a girl, so he could jump up and save her, the way he always has?
The back of his neck itches, and he turns to look over his shoulder. His mother stands wrapped in her old blue shawl, alone in a little gap in the crowd, surrounded by whispering men and women who have drawn away from her slightly, as if her family's terrible luck might be contagious. She is almost imperceptibly shaking her head at him, eyes wide and full of tears. No. Jack. No, please. This is his last reaping, and he is all she'll have left.
Jack forces a smile onto his face, the old slightly wicked grin. Then he closes his eyes, and turns away from her for the last time. I'll send her back to you, Ma, he thinks. Safe and sound. I promise.
The escort from the Capitol is fishing in the boys' lottery box. He unfolds the paper and starts to read it aloud.
A murmur runs through the crowd. Thousands of eyes stare at Jack's tousled dark hair, his determined smile, his arm held high. Unmissable. Unmistakable.
Trapped behind the ropes that section off the audience, their mother bursts into tears.