The Justice Building is old. The marble is beginning to chip away, and ivy twines itself around the facade, trying to hold it together. The Peacekeepers take me through to the very back of the building. The room is plush; there are plenty of embroided chairs to sit down in, and the carpet is thick and soft. The heavy door slams when the Peacekeepers close them, and I am left alone.
I take a seat on the very edge of an aqua chair, and find there is nothing to do but wait. Who will come and see me? My friend looked too lost in despair to come. I know my family will, but I can only imagine my eldest brother's bitterness. What have I done?
As I predicted, my family do come. But only after Silvia.
She's in a state of despair alright; her eyes are blotchy and red, and her hair is a wild matt. She sits next to me, and starts sobbing all over again. I hold her close, and rub her back. She tells me how frightening it was, how she stood up on the stage with the district watching. Then she breaks down again when she tells me how brave I was to volunteer.
"I'm sorry," she sobs into my shoulder. "It should have been me. You never had to step up on that stage. I'm sorry, so, so sorry."
I reassure her. "It wasn't your fault. You never knew you would be picked."
No one did. Because she is fifteen, she has four mandatory entries. Add eight entries for tesserae, and that's only twelve. Not as many as in the outline districts. Still, she had eight more than me. It isn't about me, though. Twelve entries are about average for children in Eight, if you work in the clothing industry. Merchants and doctors have it easy. At least, most of them do. Gladius was drawn not because of his status. This time, it was luck.
Silvia lets me fix her hair, and straighten her dress, which is a hand-me-down. Really, it is far too big, so one of the straps keeps slipping off her shoulder. Silvia is older than me, but I am taller.
Every minute we spend together, I can only think of the Games. Now that Silvia has come to say goodbye, it seems far more real. What if the next time she see me, I am a victor? That is unlikely. I may be well muscled for someone from Eight, but I am still not as strong or tall as the Careers. The tributes from One, Two and Four will be targeting the outline districts. This equates to them targeting me. Most likely, the next time Silvia sees me, I will be cold, hard and stiff, laid out on white silk, dressed in my finest clothes. Could my last breath really be in the arena? I don't want to think about it, but it is almost certain.
And what must Silvia be thinking? If I don't come back, she'll blame herself. She mustn't, as I tell her, but she believes it was her fault. The truth is it always boils down to luck. No, it boils down to who is rich and who is not. With three other children, Silvia must support her siblings. Her parents earn just enough to keep themselves afloat, and buy what tesserae cannot give their family.
I tell her to look after my family, and she obliges.
"Eunia, there is nothing I wouldn't do for you. You saved my life."
That is a bit of an overstatement. Silvia may not have had the best chance of winning, but compared to some of the outline districts, she might have had a fair shot. Just like me.
All too soon, the Peacekeepers take her away. After her final, tearful goodbye, I am alone again. There is murmuring from the room next door. I can't make any of it out.
My family come in, practically falling through the doors. My mother embraces me, and she too is sobbing.
"Oh, Eunia," she whispers, so quietly only I can hear. "What have you done?"
My brothers lean against the wall, with their arms folded. They know exactly how upset I've made our mother.
"It's alright," I say to my mother. "Next time you see me, I will be victor."
My mother pulls me tighter. "Eunia, I hope so."
She lets go of me, and I turn to my youngest brother. He had his last reaping today.
"Where you scared?" I ask. There is no rule about putting family together in the arena. He could have been chosen just as easily as Gladius.
"Not for myself," he says, shaking blonde curls out of his eyes. "Eunia, I hope you know what you've gotten yourself into."
I choke back the lump in my throat. My voice sinks to a whisper. It is almost impossible to speak without crying.
"I do," I say. "And I promise I'll come back."
He uncrosses his arms, and embraces me. His body wracks with sobs and tears spring to my eyes. "Eunia," he says, choking it out, "people die in the arena. There are Careers, traps, and all sorts of things to contend with."
I rub his back, and manage to hold myself together. What have I done?
"I'm sorry," I say. "I'm so, very sorry. I couldn't watch her die."
My brother rubs his eyes. "But I can't watch you die. I'm not going to lie to you, Eunia. There is only the slimmest of chances you'll come back."
He's right, of course. It's something I've been trying to avoid since I stepped up on the stage. I haven't seen my competition yet, but I already know how things will pan out. The outline districts will be weeded out, and, as usual, the Careers will fight it out for victor.
"I'll team up with the Careers," I whisper. "I'll fight so, so hard to get back to you."
We know we only have a couple of minutes left, and I must say goodbye to my oldest brother. With one last embrace, I let my brother go and I run to my eldest brother. Instead of holding me close, he looks at me sceptically, leaning against the wall. The way her looks at me hurts more than anything. It's like I don't even belong to him. His brown eyes reflect my fallen face.
"I'll see you when I come home," I tell him. "Just ting of all the money we'll have, all the things we'll be able to afford. The whole district will get an easy time for a year."
My eldest brother works almost as much as my mother. His job is to put the hem on ribbons, the ones that are sent to the Capitol. His last reaping was three years ago, but he's had a job since he was twelve. Like me.
"You might be able to humour yourself, but I can't. Neither can your mother. Why could you not have stayed put, just this one time?"
I expected my brother to be angry, but not like this. I've never seen him like this before.
"I'm sorry. I...I just-"
He cuts me off me off. "You just what, Eunia? You could die. What do you think our mother would do?"
I don't want to think about that. I look over to her and my brother. They're both trying to control their sobs.
"I'm sorry," I repeat. "But when you watch me, you'll see. I'll give everything; try everything to make it back to you, and the others. Just wait. I'll be home before you know it."
His expression softens. His hands drop to his sides. Once again, the caring eldest brother that I've always known is back. He reels me in for a hug, and rubs my back as I did for Silvia.
"I hope so," he says. "I hope more than anything you'll make it back."
Final goodbyes are exchanged as the Peacekeepers march in. They take my family by the arms, and escort them out. The last glimpse of them is their curly blond hair, which I did not inherit.
I am left standing in the middle of the room, fists clenched at my sides, my throat aching. Cameras will be waiting at the train station. I mustn't cry, not f I want sponsors. They wouldn't be sponsoring someone like me anyways, but I don't want to give them another reason not to.