We don our outfits and clamber for a space in front of one the few mirrors in the dorms to inspect ourselves. I cut a fine figure, if I do say so myself. Violet frowns down at my ritzy silk slippers then raises her head, sporting a knowing smirk.
‘Ahh, I see we’ve been visiting Daddy again.’
I hate it when she calls him that, for more reasons than she realises. She takes my annoyance for embarrassment and adds, ‘Hey, it’s okay Rini. We’ve all done things for money, here. Just the other week I swear I saw Maddy outside the market offering acupuncture.’
I don’t laugh.
We turn to the mirror for a last look and our eyes linger there. For a moment we’re silent, until Violet quietly speaks again. ‘This is it, Renore.’
I know immediately what she means. ‘The last year,’ I say in a similar hushed tone. We move away from the mirror so some other girls can preen in it.
Violet and I are eighteen years old. This is our last eligible year in the reaping. If neither of us is called today, that’s it: we’re free. We’ll have made it. I feel the same today as I did the year of my first reaping. I’m determined not to show it this time. Ever since I was thirteen, the year of the 50th Hunger Games, I’ve been preparing for the moment my name would be called. Training like a Career tribute to the best of my abilities and resources. Which don’t amount to much, really. It’s mostly just been mental preparation. The appearance of confidence is almost as good as the real thing. So I remain stoic.
As we head for the stairs, Maddy asks, ‘How many entries do you have?’ She’s three years younger than us and only came to the Home two years ago. She’s only applied for tesserae three times. Violet and I both landed in the Home before reaping age, so we’ve applied for tesserae every eligible year. And since we’re the same age, that means we have the same number of entries.
‘Fourteen,’ I answer for both of us. ‘Could be worse. This is the one instance where orphans have an advantage.’ Only kids with families can apply for extra rations.
After we check in, we have to separate. Violet and I give Maddy a hug and head for our age group cordon. The oldest kids stand right in front of the stage. Around us, a lot of kids we pass are clutching their stomachs. I know that feeling. Others have red eyes, some fighting back tears, some crying openly. I know that feeling, too. But for some reason, ever since my parents were killed, I no longer cry when I’m sad, scared, or even hurt. Now I only cry when I’m happy. I take a place right in the front row and Violet doesn’t seem too thrilled about it, but she stays by my side. We don’t talk much. The air here in the town centre is thick with fear and grief. It’s catching, and the tension makes our throats close up.
The familiar glass balls are on the stage, filled up with those little slips of paper. The one set to stage right has the girls’ names in it. Fourteen with ‘Renore Lowe’ written on them. It’s hard to believe a tiny slip of paper like that can hold so much power over someone’s life. Behind the glass balls, there are three chairs, already occupied. In the first chair is our district official, Mayor Card, a man just approaching elderly who I know quite well. In the second is our district’s current tribute escort from the Capitol, Pontius Fairweather. In the third, Woof, our only remaining victor. We’d had another when I was young, but he hanged himself shortly after his victory tour. When he died, the gifts from the Capitol stopped, even though it hadn’t been a year. That kind of thing doesn’t go over very well here in District 8. Ever since all that trouble, the Peacekeeper presence here is double what it was before.
But there are ways of looking at it where it’s not such a bad thing. You just have to know how to turn things to your advantage. We can be pretty resourceful in our district.