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Tiny Scraps of Paper (The Reaping)
Jonah wakes me early, too early, before bright light can sneak in our cracked windows and rouse the day. I mumble and groan and drag my feet, but regardless, my big brother coaxes me from my warm bed and has me out in our little boat in time to see the sunrise.
“It’s beautiful,” I tell him, dangling my feet over the side of our dingy Celia Lee.
Jonah nods, not taking his eyes off the sky. Gold streaks run through a cloudless rosy sky and when I breathe in, that salty tang of sea fills my nose. Out here, my brother looks peaceful, not so frightened for the future and other things out of our control.
He speaks, finally, after a long silence, but keeps his eyes on the horizon.
“Annie, I just wanted to get away, you know?”
I know. Today is one of the few days the fishermen of our district can sleep in, and most take advantage of it, take a break from the water after countless too-long, monotonous days spent working.
But. Staying at home means time to think. Time spent thinking only leads to dread, dread, always dreading the impending events of this afternoon. No matter how hard you try, your mind will always drift. Why? Today is the day of the reaping.
So, I am happy to be outside, with my brother. Here, the wind ruffles my hair and gentle waves rock The Celia Lee like a cradle. I feel like I could float away, far from the world’s multitude of problems. I know I’ll have to face them eventually, but for now, I am free.
Too soon, we return to shore. Jonah leaps onto the deck and ties the boat off, then stretches out a hand to help me out.
“Ever the gentleman,” I say, grinning at him.
“At your service.” He sweeps an elaborate bow, mock snooty expression on his face, and I laugh.
Jonah lugs in buckets of water so I can have a bath, and before long, I’m decked out in a soft green dress, the only one I own. It used to belong to my mother.
I walk out of the little house to the top of the ridge where Jonah waits and tap him on the shoulder.
“Your turn, Jonah. You smell especially fishy today, so make sure to use lots of soap,” I tease.
He sticks his tongue out at me and pulls himself up to amble off. But as he turns, he seems to abruptly remember something significant.
“You look lovely, Annie,” he says.
“Too grown up, but that green… It matches your eyes perfectly. Just like it did for Mom,”
And his face clouds over with sadness as we both think of the mother we’ll never, ever stop missing.
I grab my brother in a hug and tell him, “Thank you.”
He nods wordlessly and kisses the top of my drippy head.
“Name,” the short, stubby Capitol assistant wants to know, but she sounds bored; I look at her blank face and want to shake her for her nonchalance.
“Annalie Cresta,” I tell her. She consults a clipboard, marks something, and then waves me on towards the gaggle of girls already accounted for.
I find my friend Leah gnawing obsessively on already-short fingernails, a pained look on her face. She does manage a smile when she spots me, though.
“You look pretty,” I tell her, because she does, in her delicate pink dress, and also because any subject at all has to be better than that of the matter at hand.
“Thanks, you too,” she says softly.
Leah and I hook our arms together and she tells me, “We’re going to be okay,”
“I know,” I say.
But I don’t know.
And I’m thinking, “It could be me. It could be Leah. What if it’s Jonah? It might be Jonah. Oh God, please no.”
Jonah has been taking tesserae for my family since the moment he turned twelve. Our mother died when he was sixteen, and so, in this, his last year, his name is in twenty-five times. That’s too many.
It’s not a lot, maybe, to those who’ve been supporting a family of six for years, but I don’t like it.
My name is in there eleven times.
The mounting anxiety of the girls around me seems to abate a bit when Finnick Odair himself bounds up the weathered steps of the stage to take his place, giving a little wave.
Their fear is replaced, briefly, with the sort of swooning ecstasy that only stems from the fleeting attention of rich, handsome, and completely inaccessible young males.
I look at Leah, who is unimpressed. She has a beau, Ted, and they plan to wed next spring; so alas, Finnick’s dazzling presence causes her no excitement.
I begin to tease her about her boyfriend, but just then, District Four’s mayor and Clementina Valenci hop onto the stage, strut up to the microphones, and welcome us.
All conversation hushes as, smiling grotesquely, they begin to spout their lies.
I turn my head so I don’t have to look at them, and instead gaze at the sea, watching intently the waves that push and pull and pound the shore relentlessly. The crash of the water, as powerful and noisy as it may be, is calming in its familiarity, so I focus on that sound and pretend I’m still rocking in The Celia Lee.
I’m brought back to reality only by Leah, clutching my arm more tightly than before as Clementina mincingly approaches the bowl filled with our names.
I suck in a breath and try not to panic, though it’s useless, really, trying to show no fear. I don’t know why I-
Clementina reaches in-
And a tiny scrap of paper.
One foot in front of the other,
I mount the steps.