Brace Yourself

Chapter One: District Twelve

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games.

Warnings: Cursing, mentions of rape and minor character death.

Chapter One: District Twelve

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up from the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town
You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not movin' anywhere

-Beautiful Day, U2

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"No school for another week," Fauna gushes, practically skipping down the sidewalk, radiating enthusiasm. I nod in agreement. I don't particularly love school- I try my best, I get decent grades, and I'm okay with it. But Fauna relishes every chance she gets to spend more hours in the apothecary her parents own and manage. She would rather eagerly help wounded patients than sit for hours taking notes on lectures and studying out of textbooks.

"Can you believe graduation is tomorrow?" Myra, my twin sister, who is walking on my left side, asks. "We'll be starting Year Eleven within a week!"

Fauna laughs and replies, "It's crazy! Wish they'd give us a longer vacation, though."

"Yeah, but, you know..." Myra sighs sadly and doesn't proceed, but we all know what she's talking about. We don't dare speak of it now in attempt to try to forget of its existence, but it's still looming over our heads like a dark storm cloud. Yes; in two days, the reaping will occur.

But this isn't going to be your standard reaping. It's the 50th Annual Hunger Games Quarter Quell reaping, and this time it's double the tributes, which means double the fun- for the Capitol, at least. Tribute's chances at living have diminished from four percent to two. Let's just say this year should be... interesting. Agonizing.

It's obvious why we are let out only a week before classes start up again. Our first free day ends in a large graduation ceremony for District Twelve's learning community, and then the next day is the reaping. After that, five more free days until the Games officially begin... then we're shunted back in school. It's cruel, really, to be denied the privilege to watch the Games in your own home and be forced to attend school with only hourly updates to satisfy you; but I've endured it all my life and can endure it again.

If there is an again. Because what if I am chosen? I only have five slips of paper in the reaping bowl this year, but that doesn't make any difference. There's still a possibility. There's still a chance. And I don't trust my luck.

I resurface from the depths of my thoughts to realise that Fauna and Myra are conversing about one of my least favorite subjects: boyfriends. Since they currently each have one at the moment, they've taken to double dating quite often. I'm invited, but it just doesn't work out. Not that they purposely try to make me feel uncomfortable... it's just awkward without a partner myself. Which means I'm not accompanying them and I'll have nothing to do tonight.

I think that some of my dislike for any talk about romantic relationships is the fact that I'm jealous of them, to be completely honest. I mean, Myra's my twin sister, and Fauna's my best friend, but while every man turns heads to look at both of them when they walk by, it seems like I just blend into the shadows. They have light blonde hair that is noticeable and eyes that sparkle, whist my hair is the colour of dirty straw and my eyes are a grayish-blue (more often than not). They only turn fully blue when I'm angry, which is quite unfortunate.

No, I'm not interested in starting a relationship with any of the merchant boys. You see, they're all so dull. My father would forbid me to see any Seam folk, either. For now, I'm good with the way my dating life stands- which is nonexistent- but I just want to be noticed for a change.

"Do you want to come with us, Mays?" Invites Fauna. She's referring to the plans they have for the end of the day. I know she's just asking out of politeness, and she knows I dislike embarking on their double dates. It's okay, though. Myra and I have been best friends with Fauna since birth, practically- but it's not like we have to do everything together.

"Oh, no, it's okay. I have somewhere I have to be tonight." Myra gives me a strange look at this, knowing my schedule is open for the evening, but says nothing. She knows it's just an excuse.

"Ooh, where are you going? Finally found yourself a boy, Mays?" Fauna teases.

I elbow her in the side, saying, "No, and not for a while."

"We really need to hook you up with someone," Myra says, and I shake my head at her repeatedly, which has little effect. She's done this before, believing every person the age of sixteen and older should have come at least close to losing their virginity. The fact that her twin sister hasn't even bothered to ask someone out at all is unacceptable, she says. So, for the past three years, she's been trying to partner me with multiple young men. The butcher's son, the jeweler's son- hell, even the baker's son, who's loved Fauna since he met her! I can't even imagine whom she'll suggest next. "How about... George! George Undersee! He's a sweet boy."

I raise an eyebrow, snorting. "The mayor's son?" Then I burst into a fit of laughter, regaining my breath a moment later. "Myra, how many times do I have to tell you, he's got his eyes on you, not some mediocre sister of yours." I wouldn't be surprised if they marry five years from now.

"You're not mediocre! And no he does not. I'm already taken. I'm dating-" She snaps, but I cut her off, saying, "Faun, this is your stop."

I nicknamed my best friend Faun when we were about five. Our fathers had taken us and Myra to the meadow to play in the luscious grass, after gaining the permission of several Peacekeepers. A young deer- a fawn- stepped out of the woods, gracefully and majestically, and we stared at it in awe. Eventually it loped back the way it came, and I turned to Fauna, saying she was as beautiful as that fawn we saw, and began to call her "Faun," a mixture of "Fauna" and "fawn." The name stuck, and now both Myra and I call her that, as well as a couple of other close friends.

Around that same time, she started calling me "Mays." It's also a play on words. Our first year of schooling, we had a geography class that taught of the landscapes of multiple districts. We were studying District Eleven (their industry is agriculture) and, as one of the most interesting features of District Eleven is its food production, we eventually settled on the topic. One of the first words on the list was "maize." The instructor informed us that if you were starving to death (this was directed mostly to future Hunger Games participants), and if you had a large abundance of maize, you could live off of it. Not for long, but it would be very filling. You would survive. Later, Fauna turned to me and said, "I don't think I could survive without you, Mays. Get it? Mays? Maize?" Now everyone addresses me as that. Not Maysilee- Mays. I am Mays. The person they couldn't live without. The person that many people like but very rarely do they bother to look me in the eye. If I said this aloud, it would be laced with a bitter sarcasm.

Fauna looks up at the windows of her parent's apothecary and exclaims, "Already?" She gives each of us a quick hug. "Bye Mays, Myra. See you tonight!" After that, she proceeds to skip through the front door of the apothecary, her blonde hair creating a halo around her head, her arms swinging merrily at her sides. She hums one of the favourite tunes of the miners', an upbeat, repetitive melody that always irritates me. Yet, it doesn't today. Maybe I'm just not in the mood for the depressing songs I normally favour, such as the Hanging Tree.

Smiling, I turn away just after she disappears into the dark shop.

The journey to the candy shop our father owns is relatively quiet, especially for Myra. Usually she jabbers away at mindless things that are easy for me to tune out on, but at this moment the only sounds I hear are the crunch of gravel beneath our feet and the distant voices of other people who are outside on this lovely afternoon. It's peaceful, in an odd way. A type of peaceful I get only when I am by myself.

I am staring up at the stunningly blue sky, contemplating whether I begin a conversation, and don't even realise that Myra has stopped until I am several metres ahead of her. I back up quickly and realize there is a single tear gliding down her rosy cheek. "What's the matter?" I ask, concerned.

It takes a while for her to reply, and by the time she can she's full-out bawling. "I just keep thinking about," Myra chokes out, "if we're both picked for the, you know..."

Yes. I know. The reaping. But why is she thinking about this now? "The chances are so slim, My. You and I are going to be okay. There's only ten slips between the two of us- and there are thousands in those bowls."

I try to sound calm and convincing, and I think it works, because her now bloodshot eyes blink rapidly and she smiles hesitantly. I almost feel guilty because these words I have said were mostly for the purpose of convincing myself.

"But… but…" She swipes at her eyes.

"Stop. It won't happen. Trust me. I may be only older than you by seven minutes, but let me enlighten you... your big sister knows everything," I joke. She laughs at this and hugs me tightly. Then we resume our walking, and it is much more comfortable this time, for Myra is now telling me quietly about a young boy who walked up to her in the market yesterday.

"He was Seam," she says. "About ten years old. Curly black hair and those gray eyes the lot of them have inherited. And it was so weird, because I was looking at this teardrop-shaped crystal necklace and he simply appeared from nowhere and said, 'You should buy that.' And I asked, 'why?' He gazed at the pendant and replied, 'You're going to cry a lot soon'. Then he left." She stares at me in inquiry and doesn't seem to notice I'm not interested. "When I looked to where he went, his mother was scolding him loudly, saying, 'I told you not to do that anymore, Dreamth Abernathy! I don't care how many kids like you play this fortune-teller game, but you can't just go around spouting nonsense. It'll get you in trouble one day!' What do you think about that?"

I shrug slightly, not really caring. "I'm sure the boy was just kidding. You know Father says not to trust anyone from the Seam." Myra looks doubtful at my reasoning, but nods anyway. "Yeah, you're probably right," she agrees. "It was very odd, though."

About two hundred metres later, we enter the family's sweet shop, the bell on the glass door tinkling as we open it. The sugary sweet smell of chocolate, mint, and strawberries fills the air. Mason jars filled with candies of all kinds line the walls; liquorice whips fill a large china bowl set on an expansive counter; chocolates reside in one case whilst another holds a few cookies. Our cookies aren't very popular, considering that the baker is fabulous at making them and his son does impressive icing work. During the wintertime, though, many people enter the shop to buy our gingerbread, as Father has a certain recipe in which the ingredients cost very little, so our prices are superior to the bakery's.

Our father sits on a wooden stool behind the counter. He has no customers at the moment. "Hey, girls," he says, weariness creeping into his tone after a long day of work. "How was your day?"

"It was nice," I say, smiling faintly. He smiles back as Myra bounds up the stairs. This building serves as our home, as well as the sweet shop; the shop portion being on the main floor where it is easily accessible, while our living quarters are located right above. The bedroom my twin and I share is just a few metres away from the tops of our heads. In seconds' time, we hear Myra's feet pounding on the floor as she yells, "Daddy, where's my purple wraparound dress?"

"It's at the washerwoman's!" Father calls in the general direction of her voice. I hear a loud stream of cursing and irritated groans emit from Myra's lips. "Watch your mouth, young lady!" He adds on as an afterthought, prompting her to say nothing more, but on occasion I do hear a loud sigh of annoyance. I know what Myra wants- a dress for her date tonight- and, from past experiences, I also know that she will throw a tantrum the size of Panem if I don't help her choose another. Or else, she might just storm over to the washerwoman's herself and snatch the soaking dress from the lady's hands, deciding to wear it anyway despite its current state. And that would clearly be disastrous, so I excuse myself from Father and wish him luck sweet-selling.

Walking quickly up the staircase, I turn down the narrow hallway and enter our bedroom. The walls are painted a faint yellow colour and the window is thrown wide open, letting a nice breeze in. Myra has her head out the window, taking deep breaths of fresh air, and I tap her expectantly on the back. "How about we try that creme-coloured dress with the crimson border? I know you like that one."

We have many dresses. The majourity used to be our mother's, passed down to us when she died. Our mother was born in the Capitol, actually. Her 'mother' (in the Capitol it is absolutely unacceptable to become pregnant- instead, they hire other women to give birth to their children, which I find outrageously inhuman) and father were sent here to District Twelve by the barbarous and controlling President Flame, in punishment for something I have never been told. But the young couple didn't deteriorate here. No, they thrived, and so did my mother. Her parents showered her in gifts, mostly of clothing, and we own only a minuscule percentage.

I never did meet my grandparents, though. They died a few years before I was born, on the fifth night of the thirty-second annual Hunger Games. They had another daughter, my aunt- Maysilee Brave, was her title. I was named after her. She was the one drawn from the bowl that year; she was the unlucky girl to be reaped. The Maysilee I never knew had survived the bloodbath, found shelter near a water source, set snares to catch rabbits, and was pretty handy with a knife. The odds were in her favour, for the most part. But her fatal flaw finally got to her: staying in one place. The huge brute from Ten found her and had buried a knife in her chest after raping her viciously. Well, that's what Myra told me. I've never been able to bring myself to watch those Games. I've tried and failed... maybe it's the uncanny resemblance between us when I saw her on the television that turned me away, maybe it's the fact that we bear the same first name. In short, I have never wanted to experience the death of a girl that seems so familiar, but so far away; so far away that I will never meet her.

The story goes my grandparents saw her death on the television, late in the middle of the night, and walked silently to the kitchen in mourning. They took two sharpened butcher knives from the cabinet they were stored in, and, clasping their free hands together, buried the knives in each other's chests. The lady owning the carpentry shop found them the next morning, cold and stiff on the tiled floor, but with peaceful, smiling faces.

My mother was filled with grief over her sister's and parent's deaths, Father told me. He found my mother at the fence surrounding District Twelve that afternoon, looking out into the meadow with tears streaming down her face, and it was love at first sight. A year later, they married, and two years later, Myra and I were borne into the world, beautiful and innocent and not knowing of our grandparents and aunt that our mother had loved so much.

I love wearing the dresses. They tie me to my past, in a way. They remind me of the parent I barely knew, the aunt I never met, the grandparents that died so long ago. They remind me that I should hold my head up in pride of my predecessors on the days I feel like lowering it in shame. They remind me that there are people I don't know that contributed to who I am today, and I should be grateful. So I am grateful for these beautiful garments in such a variety of colours and patterns and textures and fittings.

"But… I want to wear-" I cut Myra off with a glare. She is not going to wear the purple dress now. I head to our beautiful cherrywood wardrobe, open the doors, and search around in the dark space for the creme-coloured dress. Eventually I find the dress hung on the pole furthest away from me, remove it, and hold it up for Myra to see. She stares at it for a second, then puts her hands on her hips. "Fine! Fine! I'll wear the damn thing." Smiling widely, I toss it to her and walk out the door, glancing behind me to smirk and speak in superiority.

"See you around, my dear sister."

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Myra left with her boyfriend not too long ago, to meet up with Fauna and her lover, a very sweet and enthusiastic boy named Benjamin Cartwright. Fauna's parents gently forced her into the relationship, and although she likes him, it's in a platonic way. Everyone knows she's been in love with Hearth Everdeen for years, but since he's from the Seam, they aren't allowed to see each other much- only when Hearth, who secretly goes outside the fence, delivers much-needed herbs to the apothecary.

Fauna has many boys in love with her. Benjamin, Hearth… even Bannock Mellark. It's obvious why, to everyone but her.

I dismiss this thought and ponder what to do. Finally, I decide upon going on a walk.

I've gone on plenty of walks before, the majourity within the merchant part of the district, but tonight I'm feeling slightly rebellious. I'm on my way to the meadow, an area just outside of District Twelve that we're not supposed to go to unless given permission. People do anyway, but their trips to the meadow are well hidden from the Peacekeepers. Normally the only thing that drives hunters to go past the fence and into the woods is the need for food, or else they'd face starvation, but today the sole purpose for my trip to the meadow is to have a quiet place to think. First, though, I have to venture through the Seam, which I've only had the nerves to do once or twice.

I pass a few nice merchant houses, but once I turn to walk down a street I rarely set foot on, the buildings get shabbier and shabbier. It's almost as if they're all the same building slowly deteriorating before my perceptive eyes. It's sad, really. At least most people from the Seam are in the midst of suppertime, so I won't see them and pity them. It's best I not be seen for other reasons, as well; and while some would recite a lengthy, detailed monologue on the subject, it all narrows down to the fact that I'm upper class, they're lower class, and I'm not supposed to be here.

So I stick to the shadows (not that there are many, since there is still an hour and a half or so before the sun completely disappears), and tread lightly on the cobblestone path. After a few blocks of remorsefully reminiscing the simple luxuries I have compared to them, I finally reach the fence.

HIGH VOLTAGE! Numerous metal signs warn me about touching the barbed-wire fence, attached to it at four-foot intervals. KEEP BACK! This fence was built when District Twelve was founded: more than fifty years ago, but less than seventy-five. I'm sure the moment it was constructed, no one would dare attempt to get through it. But time has taken its toll. The fence is now powered about once a week for three or four hours. I have calculated this for my pure benefit, observing that this span of time usually occurs on Sundays. It is Friday, and the fence is not buzzing with electricity, as expected.

I walk the length of the fence quickly, searching for an opening in the fence that fits my preference. Located near the bottom, wide enough to squeeze through whilst not too uncomfortable, and hidden well by a wilting bush- those are the characteristics of the perfect aperture I find. I get on my hands and knees and crawl through the gap easily. Now I'm in the meadow.

To make sure nobody sees me, I sprint (which I am remarkably good at) to the edge of the forest that surrounds the small expanse of grass. I hide behind a tree with a large trunk and press my back against the rough bark, sliding down to sitting position and closing my eyes in contentment. I stay like this for a long amount of time (I don't bother to keep track), my shoulders relaxed and my breathing deep. The meadow and the woods are peaceful, with crickets just beginning to chirp and the wind whipping through my hair...

"Well, someone's being a bit naughty tonight," whispers a male voice, just inches away from my ear. It causes me to jump in surprise and, shortly after this, scream for all it's worth.

"Shut up! You don't want them to hear you." Someone's large, warm, calloused hand covers my mouth, forcing me to breathe out of my nose. It's very hard to do this, because I am hyperventilating. I don't recognize this voice. I don't know who this man is, or what his intentions are. He may be planning on raping me, or worse, murdering me and... stop it, I scold myself. Stop frightening yourself over what's probably nothing.

I cannot speak, so I wait in fear until he does. "What are you doing here, Maysilee Donner?" Says the man. Or is it a boy? Judging on the voice, the youngest this person could be is around fifteen. But I'm scared to look to see who it is, and he's out of my line of sight anyway- hidden by the tree I have my back to.

How does he know my name, anyway? I hesitate for a moment, and then, consumed by the knowledge of what I don't know, I bite his hand. He (thankfully) lets me go, the hand retreating, but doesn't make a sound of pain as I would expect. Quickly, I take a large breath of air and jump to my feet, stumbling away from the tree and further into the woods. "Who... who are you?"

He then steps out from behind the tree, saying, "I'm sorry, did I scare you, sweetheart?" A smirk appears on his perfect lips. I take him in, one feature at a time: tousled, curly hair, olive skin, and piercing, laughing grey eyes. He's about my age. Probably the year ahead of me, or maybe in my year. I don't pay much attention to boys, especially those from the Seam, anyway. But I know I've seen him before- I know it.

I ignore his comment. If I ask him his name will I be able to decipher who he is? But he doesn't seem the type to tell me, so I spout a demand instead. "Name, please."

The smirk doesn't leave his face. "And what will you do if I don't tell you it?" He asks pleasantly.

"I'll... I'll..." I stutter, unable to think of anything, and my face flushes. What would I do? I don't know him. I couldn't use anything against this boy. And he knows this too.

"That's what I thought." He steps closer to me, and for a moment, I extract a memory from the depths of my brain. It may as well be a photograph. It seems to be recent; myself looking out the window of our sweet shop at two figures, a girl and a boy about my age standing in the sprinkling rain, holding hands. I'm sure this is the young man I saw then, but the recollection does not help with the discovery of his name.

There is a pause in which I collect myself. "What do you want? Sneaking up on me like that was not funny."

"Oh, but it was, Maysilee."

When I was little, I threw tantrums often. In response to my pointless wailing, my father would often pull me into his lap and produce a dark chocolate truffle out of nowhere, my favourite type of candy. "Here's a bit of sugar for my beautiful little girl," he would say. "Now, if I give it to you, I want you to tell me you'll control your fiery temper!" I would normally agree, grabbing the truffle from his hand, making sure to keep my futile anger in check. But this boy has no chocolate to offer me, and my anger is slowly rising.

It is this comment that gets me. Not only is he correcting me, but he is using my name- and I don't know his. What a way to rub it in my face! I give a cry of irritation, stomp my foot, and slap him. To my displeasure, it has no effect on his cocky grin.

"Feisty," he comments. "Tell me, why would a merchant girl such as yourself sneak off to the meadow?"

I huff. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

For some reason, he tilts his head back and laughs at this. A long, genuine laugh. And then he looks at me, eyes shining, and says, "I would. But maybe some other time you'll tell me. I'll see you around, Maysilee Donner." He turns around and sprints off, faster than anyone I know- faster than I am, even. It's almost as if he's vanished into thin air. I look at the space where he last was and stare in amazement and exasperation.

Finally, I begin my way back to where I came from. I'm eager to get out of the forest and back home soon, for it's starting to grow dark. I'm not afraid of the forest- actually, I've ventured in a few times to gather certain varieties of plants my father likes to use to dye and flavour candies (mint, for instance). However, I never go very far into its depths, because that's where the wild dogs and mountain lions live. I don't know the specifics on what creatures like to come out at night, though, so I'm much more safe if I get out of here as soon as possible.

Breaking into a sprint, I cross the meadow and approach the fence, listening for a moment to see if any electricity is coursing through the wire. It isn't. Quietly, I slip through the same gap I entered in, crossing the border of District Twelve yet again.

As I make my way back home, I think about the boy. He was absolutely frustrating, and seemed to love taunting me, but despite those qualities you can't deny he was very gifted in the looks department. My mind conjures up that vague picture again. It's from about a year ago, I think. I examine the details of the memory- the dreary gray sky; him and his girl standing there, holding hands, both with black hair and alluring gray irises; the girl looking at him with a crooked smile and he staring off into the distance with a peaceful yet guarded expression on his face. I'm sure he's still with that girl today, as she is immensely attractive. But it still doesn't stop me from admiring the picture I have of him stored in my mind. It still doesn't stop me from going to bed early and dreaming of the way his lips fell into that half-smile so easily. It still doesn't stop me from feeling something I've never felt before.

Desire.

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It's been a day since I last saw that boy from the meadow, and tonight, at graduation, I will see him again. I am convinced this is a very bad thing, because for some reason his face keeps popping up in my head, out of nowhere, and it impacts me more than it should. Such as right before I chose the dress I'm wearing: a colour of gray that Myra says looks very flattering on me. It matches the colour of his eyes, which is obviously the reasoning behind selecting it. It is comfortable, as well, made out of the softest of cottons, and I believe this is one of my new favourite dresses in Myra's and my wardrobe.

I stare at myself in the mirror, critiquing my looks. I've never been vain, but I cannot help but judge my appearance at times. My makeup is good enough; my hair is brushed. What more should the schoolteachers expect? It is not as if we're visiting the Capitol... although four of us will tomorrow, and one of them may or may not be me.

"Myra!" I call into our shared bathroom, where she has locked herself in for the past thirty minutes. "We need to begin walking to the school. Hurry up."

"Just a minute!"

I roll my eyes. Just a minute. She probably means I'll be sitting here for hours. "I'll leave without you," I warn, slipping into a pair of heeled black boots that must be Myra's, but since I grabbed them first, they're mine for the night. It's a little game Myra and I play. We are the same shoe size and same height, so we share all of our clothes. If we, for instance, both wanted to wear the same denim shorts, it would be a frenzied dash to see who touched them first. Being more talented at running, I am very good at this game.

Finally, Myra flings the door open and poses in the door frame. I have to admit, she looks gorgeous- although the dress is beginning to become a bit short, fraying around the hemline. "Come on, I'm ready," she announces, as if having been "ready" for hours. She trots down the stairs and exits out the main entrance instead of a side entrance Father frequently asks us to use. I sigh and follow her, like a lost puppy waiting for my twin sister to give me a treat.

The graduation goes as expected. One by one, each year is called up and presented with certificates verifying our participation in school. The eighteen-year-olds are the favourites of the night, though; they are requested to mount the stage one by one to give speeches of gratitude towards the schoolteachers, whom have educated them in so many significant topics. I wonder if I will make it past each reaping so I can recite my own speech, although I have no idea what I would write.

At the end of it all, we celebrate. Torches are lit and bread, donated from the bakery, is handed out. One of the hunters even brought along a bowl of strawberries and everyone has been offered one of the delectable fruits. I am having a wondrous time, laughing with Fauna about the ridiculous dress Benjamin Cartwright's mother and year eight's literature teacher, Miss Elfia, is wearing. But too soon, Faun is running off to go find Hearth Everdeen, and I am left alone.

However, I am not left alone for long. "Hello, Maysilee Donner," says a familiar voice from behind me that makes my heart stop in dread, frustration, desire, and hope.

"How long are you going to keep your name a secret from me?" I say, not bothering to turn around.

All of a sudden, he's very close; a hand on each of my shoulders, his chest pressing into my back, and his lips touching my ear. At all the points that his body comes in contact with mine, there is a prickling sensation that reminds me of static electricity. I contain a gasp of what I think is hatred, or maybe I'm just a little uncomfortable with the close proximity. You like it, something says in the back of my mind, but I push that away.

"A very long time," he breathes. "As long as you intrigue me, that is."

I remove his hands from my shoulders and turn to face him, which definitely wasn't a good idea. My eyes widen at the sight of him. It is dark, but the flickering torches that surround us illuminate his body, much like they do to the rest of the people in the square. But while the others simply appear out of the darkness, he looks inhumanly aglow; almost angelic. It's all I can do not to look away.

I take a moment to regain my bearings and say, "I... intrigue you?"

"The way I intrigue you, apparently." He raises an eyebrow, the corner of his lips twitching.

I'm at a loss for words. "I... I..." I swallow, and contort my face into what I hope is a stony expression. "I met you yesterday, and you are definitely the most frustrating person I've ever met, so no, you do not intrigue me."

His half-smile wavers. For once he seems completely serious as he talks. "Things aren't what they seem, sweetheart. You may find that it is confusing to figure out who I really am." He turns away.

"What is that supposed to mean?" I ask.

"It means some people in this world are given the talent to act."

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That night, I tell Myra about the boy. "What's it supposed to mean?" I wonder aloud, after ranting about the events of the past couple of days. "That some people in this world are given the talent to act?" Myra simply looks like she's suppressing laughter. "Oh, thanks!" I groan sarcastically, irritated beyond belief. "Don't laugh. I can't help it that the boy is so secretive and confusing!"

"Of course you can't." She tries to sound sympathetic, but it doesn't work and a teasing smile keeps tugging on the corner of her lips. "First off, Maysilee, he's in our year, even though he isn't in any of our classes. Do you know Lane?" I shake my head, but she presses on. "Lane Diblre? She's from the Seam. They're friends, I think. Maybe it's more than that, but I don't think so. I've never seen them kiss each other before." Is this possibly the girl from my memory? The one of the two adolescents holding hands in the gentle April shower? I do not know.

Myra says something, but I don't listen. It's not until she's standing with her hands on her hips, annoyed with the distant look in my eyes, that I shake myself back into reality. "What?" I ask, clueless.

"I said- you're falling for him." She rolls her eyes. "It's obvious. And based on all of the seductive talk, he likes you back. Mays, this is wonderful! You're finally going to get a boyfriend, and… and… oh." I look at her in shock, trying to take all the information in, and when her face turns white I start to panic.

"What? What's wrong?" The words tumble out of my mouth.

"He's from the Seam," she whispers.

"Your point?"

"Father… is against it," she supplies, and I finally understand.

When we were little, about four and a half, a plague swept around the district, taking the lives of hundreds. My mother was the type of woman who would care for anyone who was in need, and one day, a little boy from the Seam who had the plague wandered into our shop. Knowing he was going to die soon, she gave him a bag of candy to let his last days be somewhat bearable. About forty-eight hours later, she passed away, from the exact same disease.

They say that plague was contagious. The end of my mother's life was a very good supporting detail to that statement.

Anyway, my father never looked at those from the Seam the same way again. Sure, on his good days, he will offer little Seam girls and boys with their faces pressed up against the windows a square of chocolate in return for odd jobs, such as sweeping the path outside, or maybe washing windows. But he would never forgive me if I actually got in a relationship with a Seam boy.

"Oh," I say. There's no other way to reply to that.

"You and Fauna are very alike," Myra notes, after a pause in conversation.

"How so?"

"All three of us are best friends, but you two have always been closer. You're both merchant girls, each having parents who are against them dating boys from the Seam, but are secretly in love with Seam boys anyway. Maysilee, you're going to have to find another boy. I know it's going to be hard but, seriously, think about George Undersee. Or maybe even Bannock Mellark!"

"Don't be crazy. First, I don't love that Seam boy. That's preposterous- I only just spoke to him yesterday. Secondly, both of those boys love others." I refrain from mentioning George Undersee loves Myra and Bannock Mellark loves Fauna. "Perhaps I'll just live out my life unmarried," I sigh, massaging my temples. Myra looks shocked at this, about to protest my suggestion of life-long solitude, but I speak before she can get out a word. "My, I'm going to bed. This is all too much. And we have a big day tomorrow."

"Okay, Mays. I love you." She gives me a sombre smile, which I return.

"Love you too. Good night."

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The next morning, I awaken at eight, shaking from a nightmare I had. It was the reaping. The escort drew out of the ladies' bowl first and she announced the name "Myra Donner" in that high-pitched trill of hers. I volunteered, of course, since I've always been stronger than my twin sister. But the next slip was Myra again, and she came wailing up to the stage. After that, I just upturned the bowl to see if it was pure luck. And every one of those slips said "Myra Donner." All of them. Every. Single. One.

Then, it switched to the Games. We were up against the Seam boy from the meadow. I had to watch as he tortured Myra, cutting off her fingers one by one, then her toes, then her long blonde hair and her ears and her lips and… it was all too much. No matter how many times I tried to run to her, screaming, an invisible force held me back. No matter how many times I tried to close my eyes, they stayed open, refusing to shut. And once her cannon boomed, he turned to me, eyes wild, half-smile set in place. "Now it's time for me to kill you, sweetheart," he said. But before his words were fulfilled, I was pulled out of the abyss of the dream.

When I get out of bed, the first thing I do is approach my pet bird, which Fauna bought for me for my birthday a few years back. I named the bird Flora, which relates to my best friend's name. Fauna is the scientific term for animals, and flora is plant life. Fauna probably would have fit better for my little bird, but you see, that name was already taken. I've always loved the sweet, yellow-coloured canary, who is, at the moment, sleeping.

I reach down to open a door to the cabinet Flora's cage sits on, extracting a package of bird seed and a small water bottle, as well as an apple. I refill her dishes, slice the apple into small pieces for an extra treat, put the supplies away, and stroke her feathers for a bit while she sleeps.

Female canaries don't sing as much as males, though they do sing occasionally. Every time Flora bursts into song, though, Myra pesters me to shut her up (because I'm the only one who can). My twin sister has always hated the bird. If I am reaped, it will probably be Fauna who will take care of Flora for me.

After this, I head to our kitchen to where Father has set a loaf of bread for us to eat for breakfast, freshly made at the Mellark's bakery. How kind of him! He's probably downstairs in the sweet shop, selling goods to last-minute customers. I extract a bread knife from its resting place in a drawer and merrily saw away at the loaf until I freeze and think of this as a tribute's head. This makes me lose my appetite completely, and seconds later I'm stuffing the bread back into the package it came in and pushing it to the far side of the counter.

I still can't shake the picture from my mind: a serrated knife, someone's head, the blade tearing into the person's fleshy neck. I shudder. It's doubtful I will be reaped, but if I am, I don't think I could kill in the Games. I'm not of violent nature. Maybe I'm a little headstrong, but certainly not ruthless.

I look around the kitchen and find a bag of apples, the ones we have that aren't for Flora, and bite into one, hoping it doesn't cause me to have any more future Hunger Games visions. It doesn't, so I take three for myself. I do love apples.

Then I locate our wash tub from the corner of our main bathroom and drag it to the kitchen, favouring a hot bath. To achieve this, I travel to our backyard, where a small well is kept. I fill a bucket with water, bring it back up the stairs, pour the liquid into a pot, and heat it on the stovetop of our oven. The reason we have an oven with a stovetop is simple: there are a few types of sweets you have to bake, and the stovetop was just part of the appliance that the Capitol sent us. Now we have a quick and efficient way to heat water for baths- which is very nice to have on reaping day.

It takes me about thirty minutes to fill the tub, repeating the same process six more times, and by then Myra is awake and making herself breakfast. Still, I'm first to bathe since I filled the tub, which means the luxury of clean, perfect temperature water. I scrub my hair with rosemary-scented shampoo used especially for reapings, and my body with the regular lye soap you can purchase at a stall in the market.

After I am clean, I wrap a towel around myself and inform Myra that it's her turn to bathe. I walk to our room and enter our small wardrobe, selecting a dress I've been saving for the reaping since I bought it a few months ago: a garment made of shimmery white material that is soft and silky. Thin straps of this fabric are intricately wrapped around my upper body in so many overlapping layers it's almost mesmerizing, and slowly turn into one long sheet of cloth that ends at my knees in the front and ankles in the back. Since it's all the colour of ivory, you cannot see all of the interwoven strips of fabric from a distance, but up close it looks fantastic.

I brush my hair vigorously without relent until it's dry, proceeding to braid my hair and twist it up into a bun at the base of my neck. Following this is the application of minimal makeup: a thin amount of foundation, limited mascara, and lip gloss.

Thirty minutes of time to spare. I fidget around, not even giving Myra any notice as she applies her cosmetics. Then I'm finally struck with an idea. Poetry. Why not write poetry? I always find comfort in this art, whether I am angry, melancholy, edgy, or stultified. I take out a note pad and stick of charcoal (I have heard there is a substance called graphite that District Thirteen used to produce, but there's no one to mine it anymore, so we use this instead) and submerge myself in my writing.

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"Ladies! Gentlemen! Welcome to District Twelve's Fiftieth Annual Hunger Games reaping! Isn't this just fabulous?"

I'm sure after this little speech Augusta gave, she anticipated for there to be a thunderous round of applause, loud hooting, and even vigorous shouting of her name. She should know what to expect, though- utter silence. Augusta Glamour has been District Twelve's official escort for about thirty years now, but still seems to think of us as District One and Two's equivalent.

"Her hat looks ridiculous," Fauna giggles quietly to me. I agree. It seems that this year, Augusta is trying to keep up the district spirit- for perched atop her violet mane of hair is a mass of black paper, coloured and styled to look like a lump of coal. I am starting to think Augusta is a bit mad after spending so much time escorting tributes to their immediate deaths. This hat she is wearing is evidence of her insanity.

As well as the absurdly crude hat and violet hair, Augusta has many distinctive features. Each year, she finds some way to dye her teeth different colours, so when she flashes us a smile I am met with an obnoxious bright orange. Her lips, puffed up to about five times what would be their normal size, are covered in glimmering rhinestones, as is her dress, smothered in the tiny faux gems. Augusta is despicable and it frightens me to think that there are some Capitol men and women who are even more exaggerated than she.

Meanwhile, as I look over her appearance, Augusta is droning on and on about this and that. I know explaining the Second Quarter Quell rule change takes a while, but most of us here have heard it a hundred times and counting. Each day at school, whispers of the Second Quarter Quell echoed off the stone walls, and fearful adolescents would gossip of whom might be chosen. I've had enough of it. Why can't we just get on with the reaping?

Finally, after an eternity, Augusta finishes. Now, it is time for the reaping. The reaping of four tributes this year- not two. And I may be one of them. I clutch Fauna and Myra's hands forcefully, but they don't seem to mind, since they are doing the same. The circulation is beginning to become lost in my fingers.

"Now," Augusta babbles. "Ladies are first, as always! Remember, I am going to pick one name from the girl's bowl, and then alternate until all four tributes are chosen. May the odds be ever in your favour!" She giggles like a young schoolgirl at this catchphrase- one that the Capitol thought up, naturally. It is made fun of throughout our district, simply because of the obnoxiously high accent that Capitolites say it in.

Augusta's surgically altered hand flutters over the slips of paper, and then dives in, snatching one. She lifts the slip into the air triumphantly.

It takes her a minute to open it. Not me, I pray. Not me, or Fauna, or Myra . Please, please, please. I cross my fingers behind my back and whomever is watching over me grants my wish, because instead, it's an eighteen-year-old named Rosalina Dark from the Seam. Her parents are both coal miners, and from the local gossip, which I don't care for much, I have learnt that she prostitutes herself to Peacekeepers so she can pool up enough money to have the Capitol doctor in town fix up her father's lungs. I've seen the man before- he always walks around with a cloth so that when he coughs, blood doesn't spray everywhere. I feel so bad for him now. He'll die if he doesn't get enough money, and when Rosalina is in the arena, she might die as well. She'll probably die. The odds are slim this year.

The moment Augusta calls her name she bursts into tears, and her friends swarm her. Eventually, though, the Peacekeepers herd her up onto the stage and she attempts to look tougher than she is. It doesn't work. I doubt she's ever touched a weapon in her life, and I'm sure she's regretting it now.

Next, even more dreadful for Rosalina, is her little brother, Tyler Dark. He's thirteen but looks much younger than that. Rosalina, who was trying to look fierce, emits a small, choked sound, and then collapses onto the floor, wailing, her waist-length hair splayed around her. Tyler walks on stage and sits next to Rosalina, whispering quietly into her ear, probably trying to comfort her. I see he has no tears. He's strong. Tyler has accepted his fate.

I barely notice Augusta is reaching into the girl's bowl yet again, but once I do, I panic. I need to pray that it's no one I love. Please don't be Fauna or Myra or-

"Maysilee Donner!"

Too late.

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Standing on stage, looking at a sea of faces, I feel as if I'm on the top of the world, able to control all of the people around me. I know this is not possible, but it's entertaining to imagine. I scan the crowd and see my sister and my best friend. They are in hysterics, sobbing loudly. They clung to me when my name was called, and wouldn't let go. I had to pry their hands off of me, merciless, before walking to the stage with my head held high.

I don't dare cry. In fact, I doubt I could cry if I wanted to, for I feel as if I'm made of stone right now. I am simply going through so much shock that the words I am a tribute can barely process in my mind.

"Haymitch Abernathy!"

The name means nothing to me, and for moments, I stare blankly at the crowd. But then he steps out, and he looks more stunning than ever, and he walks up to the stage, expressionless but with a dangerous glint in his eyes, and he stands next to me. He is the Seam boy I met in the meadow. He is Haymitch Abernathy.

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One-two-three-four. One-two-three-four. We are marching from the stage in a steady pattern, following Augusta silently, our feet falling to the ground in sync. Even Haymitch goes along with the one-two-three-four motions. I look at him, walking at my left, a permanent scowl marring his handsome features. I would prefer the cocky smile to this side of him; this dangerous boy I haven't gotten the chance to meet yet. Even if I recognize the curly hair and the olive skin and...

I frown. I am thinking of Haymitch again.

I'm finally understanding what has just happened. Yes, Haymitch was recently reaped. And he stood next to me on stage. And when my shoulder brushed his arm, accidentally, I swear he flinched. And when we shook hands, his hands were very cold. Too cold.

And I was reaped. And there's no hope for us now. I don't even know if an us would be possible, anyway. I don't even know if his intrigue with me even has anything to do with love. It is doubtful. I don't know if he has a girl. I don't know if that girl Myra mentioned, Lane Diblre, is his girl or not. I don't even know if I like him in that way, no matter what Myra says. I don't know if the prickly feeling I have when I touch him is anger or pleasure. I don't know anything. I just don't know anymore.

Now we're walking to the Justice Building in a steady march that I like at the moment because there's no change. Just the one-two-three-four march. I could do this forever and no harm would come to me because I could follow the one-two-three-four march without being interrupted, without being thrown off course. There would be no Fauna, no Myra, no Father, no Rosalina, no Tyler, no Augusta, and no Haymitch… definitely no Haymitch. It would simply be one-two-three-four-one-two-three-four-ONE…TWO…THREE…FOUR...

Suddenly, everything goes black.

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"Wake up." I stir, and my cheek stings slightly. "Wake up, sweetheart." I stir again, but I don't want to open my eyes. I'm tired. Why can't I just fall back asleep? "Wake up!" The voice sounds annoyed. It is the voice of that boy from the meadow. What was his name again? Oh, yes. It's Haymitch. Haymitch Abernathy.

Slowly, I crack an eyelid open, and see his face looming above mine. His curly hair is falling in his eyes and I'm tempted to reach up and brush the locks away, but I restrain myself. My eyes open wider and then I'm sitting up, coming face to face with him."What happened?" I ask.

"You blacked out," he says candidly, teasingly, sarcastically.

I roll my eyes. "Obviously. So why didn't Augusta take me to the medic?" Tributes have fainted before, on stage rather than on their way to the Justice Building, but they were still in an unconscious state no less. They normally are carried away to District Twelve's official doctor, the one from the Capitol that no one can afford. Now that we're in the Capitol's hands, Peacekeepers would never allow tributes to go to the apothecary instead. So I'm surprised when Haymitch says the Peacekeepers forbade my journey to the medic, saying I'd wake up soon enough.

I nod, anyway. "I see." My eyes skirt the small room we're in. Two plush couches reside in the space; one that we are sitting on. Their backs are to the walls, and a small desk sits between them with nothing on it (of course- wouldn't want anyone throwing innocent, pricey lamps at the walls in anger, would they?). There's a window in the corner, and looking out it, I see we're several stories high. I wonder if anyone has tried to jump out of the window before, in an act of suicide, like that one kid did off of the Training Centre roof about forty years ago. "We're in the Justice Building," I state plainly.

"Well, aren't you smart?" Haymitch smirks, leaning back into the velvet cushions of the couch. I sit up fully and swing my legs off the couch, crossing my ankles.

"We're in the same visitation room because...?"

"There are only two. The brother and sister wanted to be together, so I guess you're stuck with me."

"So, we should probably do something interesting to pass the time," I muse, in my best attempt at flirtation. Not that I have any practice.

"What do you suggest we do, sweetheart?" He grins mischievously back, eyes alight.

"Oh, I don't know. Suppose we debate on whether or not the seamstress should buy new awning covers?" I ask sarcastically. Haymitch laughs, but before he can reply, the door bursts open and two people are shoved carelessly into the room. One is a woman with curly jet-black hair and silent tears streaming down her face and the other is a little boy, about ten, his expression hard, firm, and stony. This is Haymitch's family, of course.

I make sure to give them space. I feel like an intruder as the woman and the child sit next to Haymitch and clasp his hands tightly, but I can't help but hear the few words that are uttered. There is not much said, just meaningless, heartbroken gibberish, until the younger boy simply declares, "You will come back."

"You don't know that, Dreamth," Haymitch says. Dreamth. I know that name. How do I know that name? Something Myra told me… just a couple days ago. I should have listened to her more closely.

But despite Haymitch's protest, Dreamth Abernathy seems very sure of himself. "You will come back," he says, his voice powerful. After this, he leaves, telling his mother that he'll be right outside the doors. Haymitch's mother stays, and unexpectedly, she stands up and walks over to me, holding her arms out in a hug. I find this odd, but accept anyway. It's clear her intentions are different, though, a few moments later.

"Keep my son safe for me, will you?" She whispers in my ear. "He isn't as strong as his façade suggests." I stare at Haymitch over his mother's shoulder, and I see he is a little shocked by this exchange between two people he knows are unfamiliar with each other. I pull away, nodding to her almost unintelligibly to tell her I accept what she has said. She smiles gratefully, but the effect is ruined what with her red, bloodshot eyes.

"Goodbye, Haymitch. Dreamth and I will see you soon," his mother says intensely, her gaze as hard as coal, and her tears seemingly vanish momentarily. Then, she turns and marches out the door, without a glance back.

She is replaced with my father and sister, who are an entirely different story. Father is calm, but crying. Myra is absolutely hysterical. "You can't go!" She cries. "You can't!" I try to soothe her as much as I can, but my hugs are no use, sending her into more frantic wailing, interrupted by the occasional hiccup.

My father gives me a golden pin. He says it is a family heirloom from my mother's side of the family. I don't remember much about my mother, just her soft voice and the honey-like colour of her hair- some of the only recollections I have about the traumatic age of four. I am thankful for this meager connection to her memory, though.

I examine the pin. In the middle of is a mockingjay: a type of bird that is almost like a slap in the face to the Capitol. When the Hunger Games began, they created a muttation called a jabberjay, which would alert them of any rebellious speaking behind the Capitol's back. The districts discovered this and fed the Capitol lies, resulting in the jabberjays' release into the wild, where they were expected to die off. Instead, they mated with female mockingbirds, and the mockingjay was borne.

I love the pin. It feels like, by wearing it, I will rebel against the Capitol in my own, small way. "Thank you," I say, and I mean it. This is the best gift I have ever been given. In the past I have received dresses from my mother, candy from my father, cosmetics from Myra, and Flora, my canary, from Fauna. But this tops all, and it may very well be the last gift I will ever receive.

"Win for me, Mays," Myra says to me just before the three minutes are up, hands on my shoulders and looking straight into my eyes. Hers are puffy and bloodshot. Mine are not. I do not know why I haven't cried yet. I don't feel like crying, and I don't feel like responding to this request from my twin, but I have to anyway.

"I'm not sure I can, My," I reply miserably, ruefully.

"No, Mays, listen. No matter what you do, you have to win for me!" She shakes me hard, like I am a rag doll that is unable to be broken.

The Peacekeepers are pulling my father out of the room, and are reaching for Myra. But her claw-like fingernails have dug themselves into my wrists. How the Peacekeepers will pry her off me, I don't know. "I love you, Daddy," I tell Father. I haven't called him that in years. I can tell it touches him, because a single tear streaks down his cheek. Then he disappears down the hallway.

"Listen, Myra," I say urgently. "If I don't win, I don't win. You're going to have to accept that. I love you, I do, but if I die, you have to be able pull yourself together."

At these words she lets go of my wrists, shaking her head violently, and screams at my face. "NO! YOU'RE GOING TO WIN IF I TELL YOU TO!"

"Myra!" I exclaim. How is she even capable of this fit of rage, when I am the one who is going into a fight to the death? She kicks and screams at the Peacekeepers that are pulling her back. But there's one of her, and five of them. They restrain her quickly enough. "WHY DO YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP, MAYSILEE?" Her voice cracks. "I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HATE-"

A Peacekeeper slams the door. There is silence.

I turn to Haymitch. The look on his face is pitying. I despise it. "Don't you dare," I say harshly. "Don't you dare say you're sorry that my sister… my sister… did that." Next thing I know he has my wrapped in an embrace, and I'm telling him, "There's forty-eight of us, and only one's coming back. I'm not coming back. I'm not. Why can't she believe me?"

"People only believe what they want to believe, sweetheart." His voice is bitter, in a melancholy way. "You can't change it."

Fauna is the next visitor. I fling myself into her arms and I hug her as hard as I can. "What happened with Myra?" She asks tentatively.

"She couldn't accept the fact that I might not come back," I say. "Just know that even if I don't, I love you and you'll always be my best friend." She nods and cries, telling me she loves me too. We spend a minute just standing there, arms wrapped around each other, and I take in the familiar scent of her hair. It is lavender. It's always lavender. She loves the smell, the colour, the way is calms the nerves and treats insomnia… lavender, lavender, lavender.

"If I die," I tell her in one last request, "I want you to have Flora." This makes more tears spring to her eyes, pouring down her cheeks in a wave of emotion.

"No, no, I can't do that. She's yours."

"Listen to me. Myra hates my canary, and won't take care of her, during these next weeks that follow and after my death, if that occurs. You love things that sing. Flora, mockingjays, Hearth…" She blushes, and I smile slightly. "Promise you'll take her home with you, Fauna. Promise."

"Okay," she sighs. "I guess I can take care of her for your Games, and if you don't come back... even though you will... but if you don't, I'll take care of her as long as I can. Flora and Fauna- we were made for each other, right?"

"Right." That's the last thing I say to her. Then she's gone too.

The last visitor is one I've seen only once, through the window of our sweet shop. A girl with glossy dark hair that is cut short and fierce gray eyes. She and Haymitch could be cousins, as they have the same arch in their eyebrows and the same full lips- but they're not cousins, because the first thing they do is smash those pretty lips together in a kiss.

I almost fall off the couch.

I should have expected this, I think sadly, as I stare at them in what probably comes off as vulgar fascination, but inside is hot, utter fury (for reasons I just cannot fathom). I silently denied Lane would visit, and that she and Haymitch were an item. I was sorely misguided. "Who is that?" I overhear her say in disgust. "Why is she staring? Hasn't she ever seen two people make out before?"

Well, of course I have. I have a sixteen-year-old twin who has had, in total, fourteen boyfriends. What do you expect? But it makes me angry, anyway. I dig my fingernails into my palms, like Myra did to my wrists. It stings, but it's a good way to relieve the pain I feel from… anything. Everything. Something.

I wish he had told me that Lane was his girl- not that there was any reason for him to, but it's a bittersweet thought anyway. Here I am, attracted (possibly) to this one boy whom I didn't know the name of just forty-five minutes ago, and he's already taken. I knew it already, though- I can't deny myself that. There has always been that little picture in the back of my head. Always Lane and Haymitch, holding hands in the middle of the cobblestone street. I chose to ignore that; I let myself think that was all in the past. And I shall suffer the consequences of my simple-minded assumption that he liked me at least slightly in return. Not that I like him that way. Of course not.

Once Lane leaves the room, I know I can't take any rage out on Haymitch. I have brought this all upon myself- and that's whom I will inflict my anger upon. So as the blood beads on the crescent-shaped cuts on my hands and I focus my accusing eyes on his, I say nothing and do nothing. His features are riddled with guilt, but it is probably false. He begins to speak, once, but I cut him off with a sharp hiss.

My self-inflicted broken heart is thankful that we wait in silence.

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I'm sitting in a vehicle. Augusta is chattering away about the car's fantastic qualities: its crimson exterior, sumptuous seats, and, oh, isn't this retractable television screen located where everyone can see it just fabulous? I disagree. There's nothing special about the car. It's just another thing, taking us to the next step in life.

Rosalina is still crying in the backseat. She has her tear-stained face pressed against Tyler's shoulder. It can't be comfortable, because Tyler looks ready to shove off her head at any moment.

The driver is an Avox. He cannot speak.

Haymitch and I have to sit side by side. It's agonizing. Every time I look at him, Lane's face flashes across my mind. Over and over again I repeat to myself in a mantra: I knew it and I denied it! I knew it and I denied it!

When Augusta popped her head in, saying, "The cab's ready! It's time to go, go, go!" she nearly had a heart attack at the sight of my bloodied hands. She rushed me over to a bathroom inside the Justice Building, muttering to herself "Why do they do this when there's plenty of time in the arena to hurt themselves?" while retrieving bandages from a cabinet. She insisted on fixing me up herself instead of getting the doctor, which was sweet, although I do admit she did a poor job. I had to remove the bandages, throw them away, and reapply others when she was gone.

Now Haymitch and I sit as far apart as we can, backs rigid, staring straight ahead. But then, as there is a long-awaited break in Augusta's extensive monologue, I glance at him, and he's looking right back.

There's still tension between Haymitch and I, but all of the sudden, he reaches out his hand. And, like a magnet, my hand is drawn to his. We are holding hands, and I am more confused than I ever have been. What about Lane Diblre? What is he thinking right now? It's nice to have a hand to hold, though. One so warm. I wonder how his skin can be so comfortingly scorching, without hinting that he is fevered.

But suddenly, as his burning-temperatured skin touches mine, I realise I've never felt so cold in my life.

Wordlessly, we follow Augusta from the cab to the train. It is not a quick transition, for there are many Capitolite reporters surrounding us, compelling me to feel moderately claustrophobic. Rosalina hides her face in Tyler's shirt, but he doesn't seem to notice her anymore, because he's throwing a couple camera-clad Capitol women sweet, winning smiles. They stare at him doe-eyed and snap a few photographs. Don't you know the boy's only thirteen?

Haymitch ignores the cameras, and, for once, I follow his lead. They'll see I have not cried today, though. They will put me down on their lists as someone to watch out for- or at least, for now. And that is a good thing.

I hesitate to board the train once I see all the grandeur. I'm almost tempted to run back into the crowd of Capitol reporters that cluster the entrance, breaking into a sprint and getting the hell out of here, running away from District Twelve and the Hunger Games and the Capitol and everything else. If I were the main role in an adventure novel, that is precisely what I would do. But I am not a character in a book. I am a real person, and chances are some Peacekeeper would force me onto the train before I could even get across the fence, so I do the only thing I can do. I step onto the plush carpet.

The whole place is so… bright. Opulent. Dazzling. So much that I feel that this is all an illusion. I've never seen this many colours before in one place, or this much food, or this much extravagance. The walls are pigmented with a subtle amethyst, barely clashing with the pleasant ochre hue of the lavish chairs. Refreshments of every kind clutter an expansive buffet table, a pile of fragile lace doilies resting at one end. Embellishments seem to be very reoccurring here: a pale green spiraling design is stenciled onto a wall, and it appears again close by, carved into an adjacent side table. There also are many plants, potted in beautiful hand-crafted bowls (made in District One, Augusta says), sprouting multicoloured flowers. A peony here, a hydrangea there, and an immense rose bush in a corner, stripped of all its thorns.

It seems like the amazement of it all has sucked all of the tears out of Rosalina and she's finally smiling, although tentatively. She bends over and touches a violet hesitantly, as if the petals will bite her if she is too harsh. Tyler is dancing around, grabbing pastries off sterling silver racks and stuffing them into his mouth, grunting noises of approval at the flavour. He knocks over an ornate vase, causing a flurry of movement as two women (Avoxes, I assume) hastily sweep up the shards, while Augusta scolds the thirteen-year-old for being so careless. And, in the midst of all of this, Haymitch looks bored to the point of death.

"Isn't it absolutely fabulous?" Augusta beams at us, with the exception of Tyler, whom she glares at (I assume because she is holding a grudge over the expensive, fabulous, and broken vase).

"About as fabulous as you," Haymitch mutters.

I snort, but Augusta doesn't seem to have been taught the definition of sarcasm. "Thank you!" She reaches up to pat him on the head, which causes me to laugh quietly to myself. Haymitch is tall- taller than many people, our escort included. My height is colossal compared to some of the girls in our year and still he clears me by an inch or two. His impressive size may gain him benefits in the Games.

As for my benefits? They're probably dwindling pretty low.

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Tyler and Rosalina are staring out a circular window. Haymitch just left, the destination being his currently acquired room. Augusta is in the "bar car," probably indulging herself with a form of impotent alcohol: wine, maybe, or champagne. I stayed in this main compartment for the purpose of eating refreshments, mainly, but now the brother and sister are whispering to each other and I have to see what their wide, gray eyes are drawn to.

"What are you looking at?" I ask, noting the tears welling up in the corners of Rosalina's eyes yet again.

"Better look quickly," she says, pitifully, but with a twinge of bitterness in her tone. "This may be your last chance of seeing Twelve. It's obviously mine."

We just entered the train a few minutes ago, but never did it come to mind that the train was already on its long journey to the Capitol! Although I hate to be here, traveling to my probable death, I have to admire the flawless technology of the vehicle I stand inside. To move so smoothly, and at speeds of about three hundred and twenty kilometres per hour, is truly miraculous!

Rosalina and Tyler move silently to the sides of the window, so I have an unmarred view. And yes, there it is, almost a speck in the distance. District Twelve.

The place I call home.

The place I called home.

~finis de capitulum unus~

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