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People tell me that I look beautiful today, but I can only smile shakily in reply. My hair is fastened in an elegant bun, and I wear my best dress, but I hate fancy clothes. Whenever I wear a nice dress, it usually meant one thing: that I am going to a reaping. Alice, my older sister, turned 19 this year so she doesn’t have to worry. But my brother and I do. I’m seventeen years old, and he’s fifteen.
“Elizabeth,” Alice had said to me before we left the house. “How many times is your name in?”
“And how many other names are there?”
I pause before answering. “A lot,” I’d reply. She patted me on the head, like a dog.
“You have nothing to worry about. And Nathan’s name is only there four times! What are the chances of being picked?”
Now, I step over to the stage with my brother. The sky is a bright blue, just like the eggs I had once found outside by the orchard. A slight breeze plays with my hair, tugging a few strands out of place. Thousands of Peace Keepers standby, waiting for the slightest hint of rebellion. I watch as the future mentor of our soon-to-be tributes crosses the stage, along with Diane Orange. The cameras start rolling.
“Elle…” I glance over at Nathan to see him staring up at me with his big, worn eyes. “I’m scared.” He sounds like he’s ten years old. I slip my hand into his and pray.
“Welcome!” Diane Orange bellows into the microphone. “To the 68th annual Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favor!” She teeters over to the giant bowl of names and says, “Ladies first!” She slides her hand into the sea of paper, fishes around for the “lucky” slip, and pulls one out. District 9 waits with baited breath. I can’t breath. Dianne reads out clearly to the crowd: “Vivian Willord.”
I exhale with relief and immediately feel ashamed. A family will be grieving for months! Their daughter could live or become a killer! I solemnly watch a 13-year-old girl walk up the stairs of the stage. Her dark eyes look haunted, and I have to close mine to shake the image. There is not a sound, but every now and then a small whimper can be heard from the mother of Vivian Willord. I used to see the Willords everyday when I walked to school. I swallow hard and squeeze Nathan’s hand.
“Now for the gentlemen!” Dianne says, walking over the other bowl. She goes through the whole routine again, shifting through the fates of the boys of District 9. And she pulls out a slip of paper and reads out loud: “Nathan Maple.” My mind goes blank, but I am aware of my grip on my brother becoming vise-like. I can hear the gasp of my sister over the whispers of the entire district. I watch my brother step forward and feel only numbness. He joins Vivian on the stage.
“Nathan,” I whisper, but he cannot hear me.
“We have our tributes!” Dianne cheers, and steps aside so that the mayor can read the Treaty of Treason. Then Vivian and Nathan shake hands, and I have a feeling where it feels like I’m underwater: everything’s muted, my vision blurs and my legs feel like jelly. I helplessly survey my little brother being taken inside the Justice Building and know that after a quick good-bye, I will never see Nathan again.