When I wake up I find myself feeling confused. It's later than normal, I can tell because there's too much light in the room. I reach out with one hand to take off the covers of my bed. I'm warm no doubt because father has already started his day in the bakery downstairs and the heat from the kitchen always rises. I'm not surprised he didn't wake us, it being the day of the reaping. Most of us in District Twelve try and have a lie in, especially in the Seam where the miners are usually swarming the place, hunched over, with soot lining every crease in their skin. I have to get up despite my unwillingness.
If I don't mother would probably beat me.
Immediately after I am up and dressed the nervousness creeps up on me as it always does. The apprehension and bitterness doesn't overwhelm me. I merely think about it. All the same, I am afraid.
But not for me. These feelings are never for me, and if they are, they are inly in part. It's for her. I have more of an advantage in the reaping than most, which in any event I find unfair. The richer you are the less times your name is placed in the bowl. If I could, I would put my name in as many times as needed. I'm not overly concerned for my two brothers and parents because my eldest brother doesn't have to worry about the reaping anymore and my second brother only has this year to go and he's out of the bowl so to speak. I have two more years until I am safe.
But no one is safe on reaping day. Nothing I can do or say will change what could happen. I dread to think the worst scenario, so when it does start to play in my head I brush it aside. There isn't any point starting the day badly.
But I don't want to die, but more importantly I don't want to be a part of the Capitol's games. If I am to be chosen today or any year of the reaping until I'm too old to be a part of it I will always find a way to show the Capitol that I am more than just a piece of their games. I don't want to kill anyone. If it came down to it, I'm sure I would. Nevertheless I refuse to become the monster they want me to be.
I'm quiet going down the stairs. My mother would be furious if I woke her and I would probably be made to work doubly hard for the next week or so for disturbing her 'well-earned rest'. Being bakers isn't the hardest life, nor is it the easiest but I would never complain about my lot. I see kids my age and lower so thin I swear you could almost see the blood pulsing through them. Their bones jut out of their skin like sharp knives and when I do see them my hatred for the Capitol swells up like a storm. This is our life though and I can't do anything to change it.
I hear my father and brothers in the kitchen talking. I wonder if she came this morning. At this thought my throat tightens and I struggle to compose myself. I won't ask but I will look for the game, the squirrel that she would trade with my father. I would have expected her to come this morning, considering that my mother would most likely be in bed.
The reaping isn't until later so I get to work alongside my brothers and father. Rolling the dough in my hands, shaping it until it's just right and then placing it within the oven is a sort of calming routine which I usually enjoy. Today, not so much. My mind keeps wandering to her and the reaping. Who will it be this time? I can't imagine the pain that I will feel if it's one my of close friends or my brother. Or her. She'll be out in the woods hunting now no doubt with her best friend or trading at the Hob, District twelve's personal black market. If she were chosen I honestly don't know what I would do.
I have to talk to her at some point.
Time slips by and I wander upstairs to shower and change. When I get back downstairs my family are ready for the reaping like me and eating lunch. I don't really taste it. The store is set up and prepared, not that anyone will come and buy much this afternoon and even if they do, it will only be those who have been too worried about the reaping to buy their bread. Sometimes, the few richer people in District Twelve will buy the cakes that we sell. The ones which I frost carefully. I like doing the frosting on the cakes, it's relaxing and while it takes all my concentration it's calming work.
"No squirrel this morning?" I say quietly, chastising myself for asking. My eldest brother gives me a sideways glance and my father's eyes flash towards the door that connects to the stairs. Mother could be listening in.
"Yes. Gale traded it early" My father replied curtly and I didn't press the matter. You would think that being the day of the reaping, we would feel a little closer and in some ways we do, but if one of us were chosen the others wouldn't step up to take his place.
I'm not really sure if my parents would care that much if one of us were chosen, well my mother wouldn't, she loves my eldest brother but after that she wanted a girl but got two more boys instead. She doesn't love me and I doubt she loves father.
We soon hear mother and she bursts in snapping orders and asking questions. Father hardly answers her but she does give him a kiss on the cheek, so fleeting I'm not sure I even saw it. I never ask if he really loves her, I know that he wanted to marry Katniss' mother but she went off with the coal miner for a very special reason. One that Katniss also inherited. Father had pointed Katniss out the first day of school explaining this to me, that when he sung even the birds stopped to listen. That first day the teacher asked who knew the Valley Song and her hand shot up instantly. I knew because I was looking at her, just staring, unable to take my eyes off of her. She was taken to the front and she sang.
Her voice encompassed everything, the whole school was soundless, enraptured by her voice. Just as the birds outside were. They had gone silent, listening to her voice. I knew then I was a goner just like her mother and that had tortured me constantly over the years. I still hadn't struck up the nerve to talk to her but whenever reaping day came along I always found myself regretting that I hadn't. Because Katniss' name was put in more than it should. She had her name put it to get tesserae to feed her family and also to protect her little sister Prim.
There was a time when I had helped her. I had thrown her bread that I purposely burnt because I could see how starving she was. Sickly looking and bedraggled and because I was in love with her, I knew I had to help her. I wanted to help. So I was given a black eye by my mother for burning the bread and I raced out with them to give to the pig. Only I didn't give it to the pig, I threw them to Katniss.
I had to swallow my disappointment when father said that Gale had traded the squirrel early. Because it was Gale and not her, and two that if it had been her, then I would have missed her.
Since I'm up early I always know when she comes. Of course I make myself scarce but as long as my mother isn't there my father will take the squirrel. I just watch from a corner and I sometimes see her. The hard and ever thoughtful grey eyes in her pretty face. Or the long dark hair that she inherited from her father. Or I just see her completely. Hugged in an old jacket which I presume is her deceased fathers hunting jacket holding out game or just behind Gale.
I was always jealous of Gale because I knew that I was a goner. I was a goner even before Gale. I would never have Katniss. She was out of my reach in every way. Most boys in our year fancy her but they are either too afraid like myself to actually go up to her and talk because of her silence and almost dangerousness or they find her too unwelcoming. One thing is for sure, Katniss is like no other girl. She's tough, strong and definitely a survivor. Even if I hadn't helped her all those years ago, although I'm sure she's forgotten about it, I don't doubt that she would have found a way to stay alive. She is completely devoted to her little sister Prim. Everyone can see it and everyone knows it. I can't be sure if there is something romantic going on between Katniss and Gale, I know that Gale likes her but I can never be sure if Katniss returns his feelings.
"Let's go. Come on Peeta, move!" My mother barks harshly and I follow my brothers out to the square where the cameras are already rolling and despite it being a generally colourful cheery place in the square the faces that begin to appear are worn, frightened and serious. I'm standing away from my brothers and my parents are somewhere in the crowd, anxiously waiting for the reaping to be over. The twelve to eighteen year olds which included me are herded into roped areas which are marked by ages, the oldest at the front and the youngest at the back. My parents and elder brother will be around the perimeter including those who like to bet on who will be chosen this year. I'm looking for her and I don't find her. The crowds are too thick now and while I'm with some of my friends, we aren't joking around like we do at school.
We nod at each other tersely, grimace and look towards the stage. I spot Gale though but I don't have time to think of his and Katniss' relationship.
I stare up at the stage that is set up in front of the Justice Building; there are three chairs and two large glass balls. One for the boys and one for the girls, holding the thousands of name slips that will soon determine the fate of two unlucky children. It's bad enough that a child of any age is chosen but worse when a twelve year old is chosen.
Like Primrose Everdeen. Katniss' sister. Today will be her first reaping day I realize and I can tell how worried Katniss will be. I sound as if I know everything about Katniss. I don't know how she thinks and feels I just know who she is and how she affects me and others. She has no idea the affect she can have. Everyone wants to talk to her. Delly, my childhood friend sometimes tells me how she desperately wants to talk to Katniss but because Katniss is so amazing she can only dream of being Katniss' friend.
Two of the three chairs are occupied by Mayor Undersee, father to a girl in my year called Madge and Effie Trinket who is dressed like a clown in my opinion, with a bright pink wig. The empty seat is supposed to have Haymitch Abernathy sitting in but he's not there and the Mayor and Effie glance and talk worriedly about it. No one is surprised; it's the same nearly every year now. Haymitch was a District Twelve hunger games victor who is middle aged and consistently drunk. I don't think much of Haymitch, all I know is that he was a victor and he is drunk and I don't care to know any more about him. I don't have much respect no not respect, I don't have any concern for him. He's rich, living in the Victors Village where he can be safe and not have to worry about food and yet he wastes his life and money on drink. I guess I shouldn't blame him, in fact I can't. The hunger games ruin you; they take away all that you are and all that you want to be. While I don't have any concern for him I guess I can respect him for the fact that his life was destroyed by the Capitol. Because with every victor, despite winning you also lose.
The clock strikes two and I stiffen as the Mayor steps up to the podium and starts reading the story of the history of Panem. The story is told every year, engraved into our memories so that it is a constant threat, a relentless warning. The Hunger Games just intensify that realisation that they have so much more power over us. Panem was a country that rose in the ashes of a place once called North America. There were disasters, droughts, fires and the seas that swallowed most of the land. And finally the war that left the world almost silent. Panem was a grand Capitol surrounded by thirteen districts. But then there were the Dark Days that brought an end to the peace and security. The thirteen districts rebelled against the Capitol and all were defeated and District Thirteen was destroyed. The Treaty of Treason set out new laws and as a constant reminder that the Dark Days must under no circumstances be repeated the Hunger Games were placed upon us.
The Hunger Games were a punishment to the rebellion. Each district must provide one boy and one girl called Tributes to participate so that in total there are twenty-four tributes. The tributes will be placed in an arena that could be made of anything, wasteland, woodland, desert, ice
In the weeks to follow the tributes become mortal enemies as they fight to the death. The last tribute alive is the winner. Watching those kids fight to the death is beyond the thought of repulsive, but what makes it all the more disgusting is that the Capitol and its citizens treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, sponsoring their favourite pawns and thinking only of themselves.
I grind my teeth at the injustice of the games. We all hate them and I understand why there was an uprising against the Capitol. We were at their mercy and we still are at their mercy because even if there was the slightest inkling thought of another rebellion we would be severely punished, perhaps even destroyed like District Thirteen.
At the moment of speaking about the Victors of which we have had only two in the last seventy-four years, Haymitch Abernathy staggers in a very drunken manner onto the stage. My friends chortle quietly as he hugs Effie Trinket whose wig becomes slightly askew as she attempts to fend him off. He's shouting inaudible things at the cameras and at us but I'm not listening anymore. Because there she is, not far from me with some other sixteen year olds. She's wearing a pretty blue dress and her long dark hair is in a single plait. She's so beautiful it makes my throat tighten. I can see her face is blank as it often is, refusing to display her emotions. She has them, because if she didn't, she wouldn't care for her little sister. I know I have to talk to her, maybe today. Each reaping year makes me realize how little time you have and how precious each moment counts.
As usual District Twelve is the laugh of Panem and even I smile as Haymitch falls off the stage.
"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour!" Effie Trinket is desperately trying to be happy and bubbly to be here but everyone knows she wants to be in a much better district where there are true victors and where she isn't hugged by drunken victors. Like district one and two. Since when have the odds been in anyone's favour? But again you can't complain if you have a roof over your head and a meal in your stomach. I'm grateful for what I have but resentful that so many suffer because they don't have enough. I suddenly tense up and in my head I'm thinking, keep her safe, keep her safe to whoever can hear. There are thousands of slips and while she may have her name put in more than the actual amount that she would normally it could be anyone. Anyone but her. Me instead of her. But of course because I am a boy, I cannot take a girls place.
Effie calls out in her high voice "It's time for the drawing. Ladies first!" And I'm breathing deeply earning a few odd looks from my friends beside me but the whole crown intakes sharp breaths. Effie reaches in deep into the ball and pulls out a slip. I glance at Katniss and nausea throttles my body. Please not Katniss keep her safe! Effie reads out a name and my breath flies out of me as I hear it in utter relief and my body relaxes but also sudden horror tightens my stomach.
It's not Katniss Everdeen.
It's Primrose Everdeen.
The disbelief is overwhelming, but for Katniss I can see its incredulity beyond anything. She started to fall and my fingers twitch as if I would go and help her and I would but another boy caught her and is holding onto her arm.
Prim. A twelve year old girl who is now walking stiffly to the stage. She is skinny and her face white like snow and her blouse slightly untucked from her skirt. This is wrong. So horribly immoral for a twelve year old to be expected to go to the Hunger Games and fight to the death. And this is Prim we're talking about. I wouldn't be surprised if Katniss had protected Prim from most of this. Or at least tried too.
Katniss shouts out desperately "Prim!" and my own heart hurts for her. Katniss had done so much to protect Primrose but it wasn't enough. This is was the odds are never in your favour. I crane my neck to see Katniss as most people are turning at the sound of Katniss' voice. "Prim!" She is pushing through the crowd and I'm starting to panic. What is she doing? She can't stop her sister being part of the Hunger Games unless
no please no. She can't! No please! I want to cry out, to stop her but I can't. My voice is stuck and who am I to stop her reaching her baby sister. It wouldn't be right and she would hate me for it. I stand immobile, dread seeping into my body and my hands clench.
"I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!" She's shouting, shoving her little sister behind her, shielding her from the world that she was about to enter.
But she's done it.
No. I can't believe this. This can't be happening.
There hasn't been a volunteer tribute in years or ever but just as Effie tries to speak the Mayor overrules her asking Katniss to come up. He's sad and I don't really know why. Perhaps Katniss and Gale trade with him. Prim is screaming hysterically and suddenly I see Gale marching forward and I clench my hands. But he picks up the screaming girl, and says something to Katniss before turning and taking Prim to her mother. He passes me and I see the tears, the pain and horror in his eyes. I don't hate or dislike Gale and I feel sorry for him. I turn back to Katniss, watching her walk up those steps and I clench my hands.
All those years of waiting and being quiet and not doing anything about how I feel wasted in a few seconds. Tears begin to blur my eyes.
Watching Katniss state her name and Effie calling for applause I know I will not clap along with everyone else. To my surprise no one does, there is merely silence and then I think. Everyone respects Katniss and if not her then they respected her father. We all know her and know how she fought to survive against all odds. She has now even sacrificed herself to save her sister. Silence. We do not agree with this. We all care for Katniss in some unspoken way, I more than most because I love her to the point of pain.
Then I touch my three middle fingers of my left hand to my lips and hold it out to her and soon everyone is doing it. I stretch out my fingers as far as they can go, as if to send Katniss my love for her, as if to show her how much I care and how if she dies although I'm sure she won't, I will not be able to live. The gesture is very, very old and it's one of love. It's saying goodbye to someone you love and it's really used at funerals on occasions. This is part of my goodbye although I'm still in a daze and I can't believe how my world has suddenly twisted. How it's become very empty and pointless.
Haymitch ruins the moment by congratulating Katniss in his disgustingly drunk manner before falling off the stage. Most are watching Haymitch but I'm starting at Katniss, knowing that if it is not me that is picked for the boy tribute, I will go to her for a final goodbye and tell her how I feel before walking out. I know that there isn't anything going on between us and now there never will be. The thought hurts more that I could possibly imagine because I realise now that there was still some hope in me. I will tell her, I will. I sometimes wonder if she does think about me, I see her sometimes looking my way but I am already looking and her eyes flit away as they did all those years ago after I threw her the bread and when she picked up a flower of some sort.
Wait. What? That's me, but
No, surely my name wasn't picked out! But it was, my friends are staring opened mouthed at me and I know it's my name. I'm horrified. This cannot be happening. Not only does the Capitol take the girl I love to their terrible games but they take along me, her secret admirer and we have to kill each other. No.
I start walking towards the stage as I struggle with my emotions. I cannot let them see how frightened I am; I cannot show my weakness and give away my fear. My fear is partly for me but mostly for Katniss. None of this makes sense.
Why her? Why me? Why? The odds are not in my favour as they are not in hers. I will not kill her. I won't let anyone kill her. In school I often looked at Katniss because I loved her and I wish I could speak to her. Often she would turn suddenly and look at me and I would quickly look away.
The Mayors speech is finished and we face each other to shake hands. We have never been this close before and certainly never shaken hands. But here we are.
My hands are warmer than hers and I see things in her eyes that I realise she's worrying over. I look right in her eyes, still appalled that she will be my enemy soon and I give her hand a slight squeeze. I don't know how she'll take it, but for me I was letting her know that while she can survive on her own, while she is tough, smart and a survivor I will do everything I can to keep her safe. I will not allow her to die, even if my life is taken.
We turn back and I stare out at my family, my parents holding onto one another and my brothers still shocked by the turn of events. But my eyes slide to Katniss and my heart aches at what is to come. But somehow, either before the actual games or if I'm lucky during them, I will tell her how much I love her.