In all the chaos, everyone has forgotten what happens in exactly one day, the Reaping.
The only one in our family that's ever been reaped is Evelyn. She got really sick, but won. That's how we got our house. And how we've been able to survive. My birthday is in two days, so they made an exception for me. I'm only eleven, but this is going to be my first reaping. Mom brings it up over dinner that night, and I just stare at my plate.
Of course I'm worried, but not really as much for me. For everyone. I could win easily, the problem is size. I'm already ten times smaller than everyone else my age, and hand to hand combat is hard when all the other person has to do is pick you up and through you across the floor. I weigh 61 pounds exactly, and that only leaves limited room for muscle. Of course, I have incredible skills in knives, bow and arrow, and guns, but who wouldn't worry anyway? This is Zoe, Brynna, and Queenie's last year, and we got to stop taking the extra grain and bread when Evelyn won, so I'm only entered once, but what if one of us gets it? Zoe has tried all year to prepare me, but if it's one thing I hate, it's people pitying me. The poor little girl, always causing trouble, never going to be able to live without her family. I roll my eyes at the table. Aunt would usually say it was impolite, but she ignores me this time.
I've thought time and time again if they were to get picked that I would volunteer, but they would never let me. Just push me aside and take the stage. Plus, I know everyone would be volunteering, and there's so many of us, that I probably wouldn't be fast enough. There's only one solution to the problem, I have to get it first. I'll raise my hand before they can even call a name. But what boy would they pick? I hope they aren't too old or weak, cause we are glued together for the first week, and it doesn't matter how many targets I hit right, if he misses it sticks with both of us. I keep my thought to myself, not telling anyone, ever. They'll find out tomorrow, when I yell "I volunteer" before the escort even walks on stage.
Everyone starts talking about what they are going to wear. That's not exactly something I'm going to dwell on. Fashion was never my thing.
I count down the hours until the reaping starts.
One and a half.
I pull on a plum colored dress with ruffles on the skirt. Annabeth pulls me aside and puts a light brown belt around my waist. I protest, but it's hopeless. She has a black skirt and lime blouse, topped off with a black hair bow. Since the belt matches my combat boots, I just put them on. Mom cries a little, but she's mostly used to it. She has on her best dress, a baby blue ankle length one.
"Girls!" She yells up the steps. I grunt and follow her to the kitchen.
Everyone files down except Brynna, who's in CHB, so she's out of the Reaping. The rule is, only one kid from a family can go there to escape. Evelyn is out, cause she won, and the rest of us are at stake. Well, really only one, and that's certain. It's me.
One hour left.
I hug everyone as we walk to the car. Zoe is clinging to the three youngest, who are crying uncontrollably even though they aren't about to volunteer.
Everyone is dressed their very best, which is awkward cause nobody in this family ever does that.
There isn't a car made that could hold all of us, so we just walk. It's not that far, just about a quarter mile.
I walk straight to the front after they take my blood and confirm I made it today. Queenie whispers in my ear:
"Don't do anything stupid, and so help me if you volunteer.." I cut her off and walk away. I refuse to cry, not now, not ever from this day forward. Crying shows weakness. Plus, if I look like a five year old trying to be tough, then they'll immediately cut me out. Wait until those training scores come back.
I haven't even raised my hand yet, and I'm already thinking of strategies.
"Welcome!" A green-haired tiger with whiskers and all takes the stage. I roll my eyes, and take a deep breathe. Nerves rise in my heart, and I'm shaking all over. I look to my left and see Bex, crutches and all. She gives me a thumbs up. I pretend not to see an turn back to the stage.
The escort, Heavenly Ginger, is fishing around in her pocket for her speech. She finds it and begins to read.
"This year marks the 64th Hunger Games! That means, 64 years ago, your ancestors started a war that would last for years, and destroy thousands of lives. To make up for the Capitol citizens lost in the District warfare, one boy and one girl will be chosen one day every year, this day is called The Reaping. Today, ladies and gentlemen, is that day." She nods, and continues, "As usual, ladies first." She walks to the bowl in her spiked heels, it's now or never.
"I volunteer!" I whisper it first, to make sure I don't mess up. Then I try again, ten times louder.
"I VOLUNTEER!" Heavenly looks surprised, then she smiles sweetly. I hear hundreds of gasps behind me, and I run through the crowd to the stage before any of my sisters can get there.
Bounding up the steps, I choke back tears. My hand is taken and lead quite speedily to the microphone in the center. I see my sisters in the crowd, then my mother and aunt. Half are crying, the others are too shocked to do anything.
"I volunteer!" Zoe yells, but it's too late. I stand, frozen, watching my worst fears happen before my eyes.
"Well, let's move on. Boys!" She quickly picks a name out of the bowl and practically yells it over the gasps and voices.
"Fisher Dodd." I don't know him, but as I watch him take the stage, I find out two things. One, he is incredibly rich, and two, he's at least seventeen. His clothes are top shelf, and his dark hair is carefully done.
Great, someone older than me to push me around. His face is grave, as though he's already given up. I honestly would enjoy it if he died, more of a chance to get home. But half of me says if I die, he should win, for my family. Although judging by his biceps, he has no chance.
Heavenly finishes with a train mark "May the odds be ever in your favor!" And we are ushered in the Justice Building.