The 100th Games

The Games: Broken Dreams

Beck -

When you grow up in Four there are three things of which you will always be sure. One, you will have an affinity for swimming or at least a basic understanding of it. Two, you will learn some combat skill, labeled as self-defense, and if you’re lucky you will be good at that too. Three, when your name is called at the reaping you better act damn proud when you walk up to that stage.

Even if you’re terrified and even if you feel like you’re going to throw up. You smile, you wave, and you let everyone slap you on the back. You raise your fist and you play the part. You act like you want to be there. Because to everyone watching, you do. You’re a Career. This is your finest moment. This is the dream.

So don’t screw it up. If you do, you’re dead. The others won’t help you and they sure as Hell won’t ally with you. So be proud. Play the damn part.

I’ve always played a part. I’ve always pretended. And I’ve gotten very good at it.

The country knows me as Annie Cresta’s son. That’s all. No father to speak of. Just a sad little boy with a crazy mother. That’s the Capitol’s understanding of me and their understanding of her.

Of course it isn’t the truth. Their understanding so rarely is.

My father is Finnick Odair. I can’t tell anyone the truth. He has a role to play just as I do. And the Capitol playboy persona has to stay intact. President Snow would do anything and everything to make sure it did just that. So publicly I have no father.

But just because my father has an image to play doesn’t mean he won’t still act like my father when he’s home. It’s something I’ve adjusted to over time.

Half the year he lives in our house in the Victor’s Village. During those times we have family dinners. My mother smiles a lot more. He gets to be a real person as opposed to the Victor he plays for an audience.

He takes me sailing. We go fishing. He teaches me how to tie knots and how to throw a trident. We stick to the Victor’s Village beach of course. To most in Four, he looks like a friend of my mother’s, one of the few she has, and an uncle to me. Very few, if any, know the truth. And they don’t question it.

For years I grow up with this routine.

It’s not all sunshine though. First couple years he’s in the Capitol for the other half of the year. I’m never told why. My mother knows and when I ask she gets this dark look to her. I stop asking.

When he comes back he’s not himself the first week. He doesn’t sleep. He spends more time watching my mother and me than he does talking. I learn to live with it. Just as I learn to live with my mother’s flashbacks and know holding her hand keeps her in reality.

I love them with their flaws but they don’t seem to want to let me see them. So I pretend not to for their sakes.

The first year I’m eligible for the Games the house is silent. Normally my father burns breakfast and my mother fixes it. They laugh, they joke, and they help each other through the day. When I look at them I know what it means to love someone.

That first year, there’s none of it. My mother’s normally bright eyes are dull and vacant. My father looks like he hasn’t slept. I try to pretend I’m excited for the audience outside our house, but inside, I know the truth of the Games. I know there’s nothing to be excited about.

I don’t get reaped that year. My mother cries that night at dinner.

When we watch the Games I feel guilty after the boy tribute dies.

I’ve inherited two things from my mother that I’m proud of, her eyes and her incredible capacity for caring about another human life.

From my father, I’ve gotten my knack for throwing tridents and an ability to talk my way both in and out of trouble.

Most people think my mother is fragile or is broken beyond repair. They call her crazy. They call her a sad story. The Capitol pities her or makes fun.

My mother is the strongest woman I know.

Every day she gets herself out of bed. She feeds me and she helps me when I need it. She walks me to school until I’m old enough to walk myself. And even then she still watches me from the house until I’m gone. She cares for me alone while my father is away. I don’t care that there are days where she has trouble. She’s stronger than all the other Victors. Without her, my father would not survive.

She’s stronger than him too.

I find out the truth about what the Capitol does to him around fourteen. It’s on accident. I overhear a conversation when he returns from a trip. He’s crying as my mother holds him.

“Sometimes I wish I never won.”

I hear my mother shush him, trying to soothe him. “But then we wouldn’t have Beck.”

I run into the room and hug him. He’s too afraid to return it. And I realize I shouldn’t have barged in.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have. I didn’t mean to overhear, but…I love you.” It’s all I manage to fumble out before I’m running for the door. I trip over my own feet halfway there. My father catches me.

“Beck, I never wanted you to hear that.” His eyes are glassy. “I’m sorry.”

My mother is quiet. She places a hand on my father’s shoulder, keeping him together. “How much do you understand what we said?” She asks.

I tell him the truth. That whatever they do it isn’t his fault. That he doesn’t like it and they should stop. They explain it all to me. I’ve never held onto both of them tighter than in that moment.

“I’m so glad I have you. Both of you,” he whispers.

When I’m fifteen, my father doesn’t go to the Capitol as much. It’s a relief to all of us. The happy days in our house go on much longer. But there are still bad days.

Days where I have to stay out of the house because my mother can’t remember where she is. Days where my father ties knot after knot until he’s capable of speaking three words. Days where I wonder if anyone understands what it truly means to grow up with the weight of your parents’ victories surrounding you.

But even with those bad times, I grow up like all the other children in Four. I play on the docks when I’m avoiding school, which is far too often. I let my hair grow out and I collect shells. I build sandcastles and swim almost every day.

I know in the outer districts there are people starving. I’m grateful district Four isn’t one of them.

I grow up hearing about Katniss Everdeen. I hear about the Mockingjay and I have questions.

“Dad, why do they call Katniss a Mockingjay?” I ask, my eyes wide.

I’ve never seen my father look as scared as he did when I asked that. “I don’t know.”

I know when to recognize a lie. “Well you’ve met her, right? Didn’t you ask?”

“No.”

“What’s she like? Is it true that she’s going to overthrow--”

“Beck!” He snaps. “Stop. No more.” He walks away and I never ask about it again.

As years go on the people of Four stop talking about her. They stop caring. The Capitol doesn’t get enough though. They show off her family. Every year they ask their questions. The entire family smiles and waves. I think they’re happy. I think Katniss never thought about rebellion at all.

I’m seventeen when I realize it’s an act.

There’s a flicker in her eyes when Caesar asks Ivy, “Do you think you’ll volunteer?”

I see Katniss’ hand tighten around her husband, Peeta’s. I recognize the signs of distress and flashbacks in her eyes. And I see anger and fire in them, too slight for anyone in the Capitol to understand.

“That poor girl,” my mother says.

I watch Ivy. She’s fifteen, eligible to be reaped, like me. With two Victor parents, she’s the Capitol’s dream contestant. She’s a princess. The daughter of the star-crossed lovers. The baby bird to the Mockingjay. A junior girl on fire. The people of the Capitol would love nothing more than to watch her compete. To watch her kill. Hell, they’d lose their minds if she won.

I’m glad the Capitol doesn’t care about me. I’ve never been more reminded of that than I am watching her force herself to act up for the cameras.

She smiles. “Now what fun is there in volunteering? Wouldn’t you rather be surprised?”

Caesar laughs and the interview goes on. Katniss looks at Ivy with an apology in her eyes. Ivy never sees it. She’s too busy smiling and pretending to be happy. I wonder what her real smile looks like.

The day I turn nineteen is the happiest day of my life. I’ve escaped the Games. I’ve escaped having to kill. I go fishing with my father for the celebratory dinner. My mother goes into town to find desert. She doesn’t enjoy sailing or swimming as much as I know she once did. It’s something the Games took from her and something I wish I could give back.

“I wish Mags was here to see this day,” my father says quietly. I nod. I miss Mags. She was kind. Even without speaking, you knew exactly what she was saying. She taught me how to make a fishing hook when I was five. And she would often take me to the beach. She would visit every day when my father was gone, keeping watch over me if my mother was having a bad day.

She loved my mother and my father like they were her own children. And she loved me like a part of her family too. I consider her as close to a grandmother as I’ll ever get.

There’s a certain weightless happiness that comes with finding out you can’t be reaped. You realize all the things you were afraid to think about are possible.

You think about the future a lot more. You think about working on fishing boats and spending long afternoons sleeping under the sun. You think about all the sunsets you will get to see. You think about owning a boat of your own.

You dream.

You can stop acting happy. You can smile wider than before. You don’t have to play the part on reaping day.

Then the Quarter Quell rolls around and shoots it all to Hell. You find all those dreams turning to nightmares of blood and death. You hear your mother screaming and crying while your father tries his hardest to keep it all together for her.

You find yourself retching in the bathroom until there’s nothing left.

The weeks until reaping day you pretend its okay. You try to find that old bravado you grew up with. You do your very best to be the boy from district Four who everyone should root for. You try to be the Career all over again.

You try to play the role. But it’s harder now that you know the feeling of living without an act.

My father blames himself. He calls himself selfish. Something I don’t or can’t agree with. This is Snow’s punishment for two people who dared to dream outside of his control. Who took a chance even when the odds were against them. This is all Snow and his vendetta. Against us, against Katniss, and anyone else who even showed a hint of defiance.

“I should have stayed away,” my father says defeated.

“There is nothing you could have done differently. This is not your fault at all.” My mother squeezes his shoulder. He kisses her.

“Thank you.”

She nods before returning back to weaving a knot to keep a shell in place. She’s making a necklace, almost the same one my father wears. I know it’s for me.

This is my token. To remind myself of my family while I’m in the arena.

“There’s no use in blaming anyone but Snow,” I say.

My mother makes a noise of agreement.

“Don’t say anything like that in your interview,” my father says.

I smile. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Good. We have a few weeks to get you ready. Starting tomorrow we’re throwing tridents and practicing your Career attitude.” My father stands, pacing.

My mother stops making the necklace.

She’s frozen, caught in a flashback. She shuts her eyes. I watch her pull her hands over her ears and breathe. I’ve seen her do this many times. It’s all just to calm herself down, to keep her in the moment. She’s fine after a minute.

“You have to win, Beck. You have to come home.” My father runs a hand through his hair. It sticks up at various angles. There’s a fear in his eyes that he rarely lets me see.

“Didn’t you say you wish you hadn’t won?” I ask. He flinches. “What if that…what if it happens to me? Wouldn’t it be better if I--”

“We can’t lose you. And if…I will make sure it doesn’t happen.” There’s a promise and a threat in his words that gives me hope. I nod.

“Then I’ll win.”

For the weeks up to reaping day I throw tridents. I’ve always been good at it, but the refresher course makes me better.

Almost better than my father, though he wouldn’t admit it.

There’s constant speculation coming from the Capitol about One and Two. I’m so caught up in training for my own survival I don’t listen to them.

Until I hear them mention my name. I’m overlooked. They make their usual jokes about my mother and my imminent death.

I can’t wait to erase those smiles when I win.

Then I hear the mention of Ivy and Basil Mellark. Her picture flashes up. She’s seventeen now. She’s grown into her features much to the Capitol’s pleasure. I fear for her Victory more than my own.

They’ll take every piece of her they can.

Would it be better if I win? Can I stomach killing her if it means saving her from that fate? Does she even know what could happen?

I don’t want anyone to suffer that.

I try to force my caring nature away. I can’t be like that in the Games. I can’t help everyone I meet. I have to be ruthless. I have to be like my father’s image even if no one else sees it.

I have to be Beck Cresta, Career. I can’t be Beck Cresta, the scared boy from Four, worrying about everyone else winning over himself.

Worrying about one person winning and the fate that comes with it.

When reaping day arrives I expect my father as a mentor. I don’t expect my mother. I should have though. She wouldn’t stay at home and miss what could be her last week with me. I may have a better skill set than most but that doesn’t guarantee victory.

Action guarantees that. Action and allies, but I’m not sure if I can stomach the other Careers.

I spent years imagining what it would be like to hear my name called. Imagining how I would act and what I would do. But hearing it on reaping day is so much different than my imagined nightmares.

It’s solemn. It’s almost too quiet through the microphone. It feels like doldrums calling for me across the sea. My heart pounds as I hear my mother break down. I go to her. I don’t care what I look like on camera. I don’t care about an act right now. I just need to get to her.

I hear no applause. No fake hollers of joy. No one wants to watch these Games here. No one, not even District Four, is happy with these events.

They all know how much of a sham this is.

We arrive in the Capitol by the end of the day. I barely speak to Minnow. Her father, River, and my parents agree to mentor us separately. Though their collective advice is, “Stick together in the arena and make friends with One and Two.”

They repeat this mantra into the next day.

Minnow and I aren’t exactly friends back home. We don’t hate each other, we just aren’t friendly. She’s one of those Victor children that views it as a point of pride. I love my family. I’m proud of my family. I’m not going around Four acting like I’m better than everyone else because of my gene pool.

Minnow likes to tell people how her father won. She probably would have volunteered at eighteen if she hadn’t been called by then. She wants to be here. She wants to win.

I don’t agree with her, but I’m still going to be kind to her. I don’t care how proud she is. I won’t kill her. I’ll even defend her if I have to. She’s from home. That’s all that matters when we’re in the arena. She’s trustworthy until we get down to the final six.

That’s our unspoken agreement. Final six, we go our separate ways. It’s what happens every year with the Career group. We both know we will be in that group.

I’ve never been turned over to a stylist before and I would like to actively avoid it in the future. They chat, they cut, they apply product after product. It smells bitter and gross. I miss the salt smell of home. The sand and the sun.

I can’t be sentimental anymore. I push the thoughts away.

When they’re finished I run a hand through my shortened hair. At least it’ll be easier to see in the arena.

I walk out in my outfit. My father bites back a laugh.

“Please, don’t.” I sigh. Of all the things they turned me into it’s a stupid pirate. Why couldn’t they just wrap me in a net and call it a day?

Although I guess I’m grateful I’m not showing as much skin as some of the other tributes have in the past. There was a brief moment when Sela, my stylist, was considering changing her design. She thought fewer layers but then just opted to undo more of the shirt.

“At least it’s not a mermaid,” my mother adds.

“I feel like I should have a peg leg.” I pull at the pants. “These are really tight.”

“Deal with it. Come on.” My father pulls me with him to the elevator. He’s all business here. I admire him for being able to keep it together. But it frightens me how easily he slips into the role. Although I guess he’s been playing it for years.

At the staging area I eat sugarcubes while we wait for everyone else to arrive. I find the sweetness strangely calming as my heart pounds in time with the crowd in the stands.

“When you go out there, try to wave and draw their attention. Smile.”

I nod though I barely hear my father’s advice. I can see the worry threatening to reveal itself to everyone around. He tries to hide it beneath the mentor façade.

We’re interrupted when Johanna arrives.

“Finnick,” she greets. He returns with a smile.

“This your…tribute?” She asks. She looks me up and down before turning to my father. She raises an eyebrow. “He looked less like you when his hair was longer.”

“Johanna,” my father warns.

“Well it’s true. What do they care anyway?” She indicates the outside world. “I have to say, kid, the haircut definitely an improvement.” She winks and I’m rendered speechless.

“Where’s Grover?” My father asks.

As if on cue, he appears. “Right here.” He takes my father’s hand and shakes it. “I know we’re not supposed to be friendly but it’s nice to meet you.”

He holds out his hand to me. I’m afraid to take it, but my father gives me a look and I do.

“And Beck. You know if you pretend that you don’t care they’ll want your approval more,” Grover tells me with a smirk. He watches every movement in the staging area. His attention being pulled in all directions.

They’ve dressed him in greens and browns. He looks like a tree. It’s worse than my outfit. He shrugs as if he knows.

Damn. I like this kid. I don’t want to kill him.

“Who says I want their approval?” I ask. Grover smiles, focusing on me.

“Have you seen her yet?” He asks in a hushed voice.

“Who?”

“Katniss. I mean her kids are in it so you have to be expecting, you know…”

“What?” I ask but I already know what he’s going to say.

“Something different.”

“Come on, Grover. Let’s get your spastic ass back to the chariot.” Johanna interrupts, a concern in her voice. She leads him away, a hand on his shoulder.

I’m guiltily grateful that One and Two didn’t see us talking. My father returns to his advice and I return to ignoring it. I don’t care about this presentation. I care about my score. I care about my abilities. I care about winning. Sponsors won’t see past my name, regardless of what I’m wearing or what I do tonight. They’ll care once I show them I’m going to win.

I hear the elevator open and my attention is drawn to the girl walking out. Her pictures don’t do her justice. I may hate what my stylist and prep team did to me but I can’t imagine she hates hers. They’re worthy of the tribute they’ve been given.

They’ve turned her into something fierce and terrifying. Her hair is darker than I thought it would be in person. Her makeup gives her an air of danger. The dark black dress sticks to her in an outfit that looks down on everyone else’s.

I once called her a princess. I’ve never felt that to be a more accurate statement than now. If there was ever a family who could be considered royalty amongst the Capitol and districts, it’s the Mellarks. They threatened the system. They can take down the system. And we look at them like they are some kind of untouchable celebrity.

Although, Ivy and Basil are in the Games, they can’t be that untouchable. However, she looks like she’s ready to dismantle this whole staging area in that outfit, so maybe they still are.

“I’ll be right back.”

“What are you doing?” My father asks.

I keep walking. “Checking out the competition.” I realize the multiple meanings as I say it. I would cringe but it’s accurate. I’m a nineteen year old idiot. Out of all the tributes here she’s probably the one who is going to kill me. At least, she’s the one with the biggest chance.

I try to come up with what I want to say. I build up my act. Play the part. Be the Career. She’s smart enough not to fall for it.

“You look very princess-like,” I begin, smiling. She turns and I’m hit with her dark blue eyes. They almost threaten to silence me. I smell salty air and I feel sunshine. I hear the ocean waves and I’m back in Four all at once.

I try to lean against the chariot but I’m distracted by her and I slip. I keep my eyes on hers until she looks away. I’m grateful and disappointed at the same time.

“What is that supposed to mean?” She asks.

I find my words. “That someone’s making a point. And you look...nice.” I shrug. Why did I say nice? She’s much more than nice. “I’m Beck.”

“I know, I saw the reaping.” She narrows her eyes and I look into the blues again. I can’t kill those blues. I have to outlive them. I can’t kill them. This was stupid. I shouldn’t have come over here. I should have ignored her.

“Well I saw yours, Ivy, but I was being polite.” I return. I’m much better at this act than I thought I was. Or maybe she’s just better at it and it’s forcing me to try to be too.

“What are you supposed to be?” She asks, scanning me over.

“Pirate. They thought it would be a nice theme since my mother was a mermaid during her Games and all. And this year is all about history, isn’t it?” I laugh but I don’t feel that it’s much of a joke. I’m bitter. They’re taking it out on us. They let us live. They let us have freedom, only to wait for the right time to kill us. All to make others suffer. It’s sick.

The crowd is growing outside. I can hear the noise increasing in volume from them. I look at the entrance and I feel a chill. They all want to own us. They don’t understand what any of this is for. They think this is entertainment.

“I thought they were always about history. The rebellion. Or do they not give you an education in Four outside of preparing you for the Games?” She smirks and the chill disappears. Her hands look deft enough to hold a bow. I don’t doubt her family has kept her ready in case. I’m sure most mentors here have given some advantage to their tributes and children.

I cock my head to the side and stare at her. “Oh come now, we both know I’m not the only one prepared.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She shrugs. I don’t buy it. She’s easy to read when you look for the signs. And I’ve recognized them since that day I watched her answer the question about volunteering.

“Yeah I’m sure.”

The elevator opens. Her stylist and brother walk out and head towards us. My time is up. I walk away, adding, “You know you should give the horse a sugar cube, maybe eat one yourself. Good for the nerves.” I don’t know why she would be nervous. I’m not even sure why I offer my advice. Maybe because it makes her roll her eyes and I realize there’s no way I can intimidate her. Not that I would want to. I like that she’s not afraid of me.

When I get back to the chariot my father grabs me by the shoulder.

“What the Hell are you doing?” He asks.

I shrug. I’m not sure what to say. Thankfully I don’t have to come up with anything because a voice tells us to get ready.

When I board the chariot with Minnow, we make small talk, mostly about what happened with our prep teams. Once the crowd sees up we smile and wave to them. We play our parts.

Once I get back to the room I pull my mother and father aside.

“I want her as an ally. Ivy. Her and her brother.” I know she’s going to try to keep him alive. If there’s a recurring trait in her family it’s self-sacrifice. He’s her weakness to be exploited by cold Careers. Something I am not. I want to go home. I want to win, but I won’t do it the way the Capitol wants.

I’ll join with Ivy and Bas. We’ll split at top three. Whoever wins, wins. That’s my plan. I won’t lay down my life. I won’t allow cruelty to become the Victor. I’ll marry the strategies of my father and mother. Survival, ruthlessness for others, and care for my allies.

“What?” His eyes are wide. “What about--”

“I don’t want One and Two. She’ll keep me alive.”

“You don’t know that.”

“No. But that’s who I want. Can you talk to her mentors?” I ask.

My mother sighs. “Beck. Why do you want her as an ally?”

“Do you really think One and Two will be able to take her? She’s my best chance.”

“Can you guarantee that she’s capable? No. Besides, Katniss isn’t trusting. She’ll shoot it down. Pardon the pun.” My father smirks. My mother gives him a look, the smirk fades. He adds, “Stick with One and Two.”

I stand strong. I shouldn’t be asking for her as an ally on day one, especially without seeing her shoot. She could be horrible for all I know. But I trust her. I trust the blue eyes. I trust the fearlessness that she displays.

“No. I want Twelve.”

“Fine. I’ll see…we’ll see what we can do. Until then, just, please, pretend to be friendly with One and Two. It’s much better than having them as an enemy.” The worried look is back on my father’s face. I nod.

“Okay.”

Training doesn’t disappoint me even after I’m told she doesn’t want to be my ally. I find moments to converse with her, hoping she’ll trust me enough to change her mind. I try to show my skill set. It impresses the others but she couldn’t care less.

Hearing everyone talk about their families and their legacies makes my stomach turn. I have to stop myself from punching Stone when he mentions my mother. I remember my father’s advice and I keep up appearances.

I hope Ivy will change her mind. I would love to throw my trident into any one of the other Careers. Except for Minnow. I should bring up the possible alliance to her, but I’m afraid she will go to the others with it. She’s the weakest out of the six of us. She may want to do something to prove her worth.

I have to get Ivy to agree to the alliance. I have to get her to trust me. I try a different approach. Sincerity.

I notice her struggling with a knot as my own necklace dangles in front of my training shirt. I tuck it back in before I walk to her station. I don’t want anyone to see it. It’s something for me, not the audience.

I try to give her advice. For the first time I see genuine concern and fear. I recognize the look. I saw it in my own eyes in the mirror after the chariots. That fear of killing. That fear of knowing the people you are going to be killing.

Do I tell her its okay? Do I say if we’re allies I’ll do all the killing? No, I can’t carry that weight alone.

She walks away before I can say anything.

I throw tridents for the rest of the day trying to come up with a way to get her on my team. There’s no amount of acting or bravado that will convince her. She sees through it. I could punch Stone. That would make a statement. But that also buries my chances of avoiding the Careers through training.

But it would be worth it to see the look on his face.

Maybe I just have to wait until the arena. Maybe one act could change her mind. Maybe if I help her, she’ll help me. That’s what allies are supposed to do. Screw having a plan going in. I can manage in the arena.

I watch her after I hit my targets. When she finally looks at me I say, “Pretty good, huh?”

I expect an unamused remark. She delivers. “I’ve seen better.”

I throw again. Hitting the center of the target with a satisfied smack. I shake out my arm after I retrieve the trident. I’m getting bored of this. I should look into survival skills tomorrow before assessment. I’m sure she knows how to survive. But if I don’t keep up with her after the bloodbath I’ll be lost unless it’s a water environment.

Maybe I’ll get lucky.

I really shouldn’t rely on luck. It hasn’t done me any favors.

I notice Grover in the corner and give him a nod. He returns the greeting. Maybe he can join us too. My parents have been upfront since the Games began, telling me who the others parents are and what happened to them.

I learned yesterday that Grover’s mother killed herself. She was like my father and she couldn’t keep it together. Grover has been virtually raised by Johanna and doesn’t have a father. Unlike me, it’s not a lie. I can only guess that it’s probably some client who either has no idea or doesn’t care.

If I had a little brother, I’d want him to be Grover.

I can’t think like that.

I have to keep it together. I have to play the Game. I hate this Game. I hate this place. I hate this city. I hate these people. I want to go home. I want my life. I want my freedom. I don’t want anyone to die.

I turn to meet Ivy’s eyes. I hate the blue too. I hate that I think of the ocean when I see them. I hate that I remember lying on the beach as the sun set and waves crashed. I hate that I think of home.

But I’m calmer when I look at them.

I see pain that she’s trying to mask. A question that she can’t voice. Her eyebrows are strained and I take a step forward. She straightens like she’s waiting for me. I drop the trident with a clatter.

I hear a laugh and recover, playing it off for the Careers. This is no place for me to find a girl pretty. This is no time for me to want to make her smile.

I’ve never thought myself lucky. I once had a girlfriend who got reaped. She didn’t come home. I waited to find someone after I was safe. Of course that didn’t last very long because here I am. And now, I have that feeling again. The pit in my stomach. The dry throat. The fluttering heartbeat. I hate my luck.

I wonder what it would be like to kiss her. I force the thought away.

You’re an idiot, Beck. Just throw the stupid tridents and pretend you’re a killer. Play the part. Be the part. That’s all you can do. Win. Survive and win. Because you can’t die. You have to go home. You have to stay with your family. You can find another girl you think is pretty. You can find a boat to live on. You can hide out on the sea and live in peace.

You can have a future. You have to go home.

Play the stupid part.

Win.

I’m pulled from my thoughts when I hear laughter and Emery mouthing off. Ivy marches past me, Hell in her eyes. I wonder if I should stop this like I did the other day. No good comes from getting the attention of these people.

But today, I want to watch her take them on. Today I need to know if I’m right. Besides, I’m going to enjoy seeing their laughter disappear. I can’t be the one to do it, but maybe she can.

She raises the bow in a perfect stance and hits every target. The room falls silent and I would be terrified if I wasn’t so impressed.

She has to be my ally.

I can’t survive with the others.

She walks past me. I can’t resist telling her, “Nice shooting, Twelve. But I don’t think that was very smart.”

“Focus on your tridents, Four. And less on me.”

She heads back to her brother. There’s a noticeable look of disappointment on his face. I wonder how her mother will feel about these events.

Victoria speaks for the first time, “If she doesn’t want to join the group. We kill her first.”

Cain nods in agreement.

Emery is the only one to disagree. “You want her to join us?”

“You saw how good she is. Do you really want to risk it?” Stone asks. “Speak to Cashmere or Gloss. Hell, speak to my father. They’ll all agree.”

The last thing I want is for her to join these people. The last thing she is going to do is join them. They’ll hunt her down in the arena now. Maybe she will agree to be my ally.

It’s the only way she’ll survive.

When I’m back in my room, I feel restless. A part of me wants this to all be over with. Another part doesn’t ever want to reach the bloodbath. I know it’s inevitable. I’m going into that arena whether I want to or not. I have the interview to get sponsors. I have my assessment score to help build their desire for me.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t expect it to be like this.

I hear a knock on my door.

“Come in.”

My mother enters. She indicates the end of the bed. I nod and she sits.

“Are you okay?” She asks.

I shake my head. “I saw her shoot today. She’s good. They’re going to try to kill her.”

“Everyone is going to try to kill each other.”

“But they’ll be cruel.” My hand clenches. I imagine Cain stabbing Ivy. I imagine him breaking Basil’s neck. I shudder.

“I know you don’t want to kill…” She pauses for a moment, blinking back memories of her time in the arena. “…to kill anyone. I know you’re scared.”

“Yeah I am. And just because I don’t want to, doesn’t mean I don’t realize that I have to.” I am prepared for it. I just have to go through with it. And I know I will when the gun goes off and I’m trying to win.

“When your father was my mentor, he told me I had to win. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to be that person who walked out on all these dead children. But I had to win.”

“For him?”

“Because I needed to come home.”

“Do you regret it?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “I might be haunted by it. I might not be okay from it. But I got you. I can never regret that.”

I smile as she opens her arms to me. I pull her into the hug.

“I don’t want to die.”

“You have to win.”

I nod. “I’ll try.”

“You better. You’re too much like your father, don’t let her distract you.”

“Are you saying dad is distracted by Ivy Mellark?” I joke. She laughs.

“No, I’m saying the two of you get hung up on one pretty girl and let your whole world unravel.” She ruffles my hair. It’s a good day for her. She hasn’t smiled recently, but it’s nice to see it now.

“Last I checked that pretty girl he got hung up on was you. So I think it worked out for him.”

She nudges my shoulder. “Beck. I’m sorry that you’re here.”

“It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s, except for maybe Snow’s.” My voice darkens and she gives me a warning look. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to go shouting about rebellion.”

We’re quiet for a moment.

“Although someone should.”

She nods. “Maybe they will.”

I know better than to believe false hope. I know that, after years of hearing the whispers or seeing the faces of people who want it to be true, false hope is damaging. It kills. It makes people believe and then it destroys them.

Still, I add, “I hope so.”

My tone lightens. I see the flickers of flashbacks threatening my mother. I need to keep her in a good mood. “Do you think I would have had a chance with her if we weren’t here?” I ask.

She shuts her eyes and smiles despite herself. She looks at me with sincerity. “I’m your mother and I love you. But you wouldn’t have noticed her if not for all this.”

“So what you’re saying is this is a good thing? Or that I only want her because I can’t have her?”

“No. I don’t think it’s as petty as that. I don’t know if you would have tried without this. Maybe you would have. I can’t say. I think that things happen and sometimes they make sense and other times they don’t. And maybe they happen when they’re supposed to.” She shrugs.

For the second time I tell her, “I hope so.”

She kisses me on the forehead and leaves. I fall asleep running over possibilities. Alternate futures where there are no Games or where I’ve won. I imagine if I could pretend to kill someone and then they could sneak out of the arena. But then I realize that won’t work.

When you grow up in Four they tell you all about the Games. They train you. They make you believe you can win. I try not to let pride cloud my judgment. I know I need to win. I know I need to come home. But I can honestly say I’m scared that I won’t. Even more so, I’m scared that I will.

I know what happens after. I know about nightmares and being sold. I know that it’s a possibility for me as much as my father wants to deny it. Even more so I know it’s a definite for Ivy. What’s better, winning or dying?

There is no clear answer anymore.

More than anything I just want this place to crumble. I want a wave to crash through and wipe the slate clean. I want to swim away and watch every arena crash down. I want the Games to be erased. I want the Capitol to go with them.

I want to be free.

I want my family to be safe.

I want to live.

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