it's been a long time since i made a doll, please excuse any dodgy parts of this one. it's probably the only doll i'll be able to make because there are so few pictures of lauren...
"There," Emma says, straightening my father's tie for the last time.
She turns him towards the mirror, expecting him to admire his own reflection. Instead, he wraps his fingers around the neck of the liquor bottle next to him, bringing it to his lips. Emma's face falls, but I shake my head.
Emma pries the bottle from his fingers, setting it carefully back down on his dresser. "Dad, you have to go now." She gently pushes him towards the door, and he lets out a burp that shakes the foundation of his luxuriously wasteful living quarters.
Theseus Morebank, Hunger Games victor.
He seems to be more intoxicated than usual, I think, as I slip my white dress over my shoulders, tying it at the back. Given, today is Reaping Day. Eighteen years ago, he was like me. Standing in the same square. Knowing that his name would most likely not be drawn from that ball. Hoping that the odds were in his favour. But they weren't.
Was he trying to erase the memory? Was he trying to come to terms with the fact that one of his daughters could, plausibly, be standing on the stage reserved for the Tributes? Or was he mourning what his life had become - that no matter how many times the title was attached to him, he was never the victor. The Capitol always wins.
We leave for the square. Viewing the Reaping is mandatory, and the citizens of District 7 don't dare be caught outside of the town's innards. As much as they pity the families of the Tributes, there's a morbid curiosity here, too. But hope has started to spring up amongst them. The ceremony is slighter less crushingly depressing as it was last year. Because this year, we possess the newest victor. A beacon of victory in the face of almost absolute death.
Emma and I are separated from my father, and I watch as he's led onto the stage. Six empty seats are placed behind a microphone and two hollow glass balls, which hold the names of the district's children. Theseus is led to one of the seats, and falls into it willingly.
I dig my hand into the pocket of my dress, pulling out a hard candy and popping into my mouth. The sour powder that coats the outside of the candy makes me pucker my lips, but I know that inside, sweetness is waiting for me. The candies are my favourite, and are always available in Dad's pantry.
"Who would have thought, your father is actually early to something?"
Eska Berg appears next to me, flashing a devious smile. My lips turn up at the sight of my best friend, her long hair falling in an intricate braid down her back. Like me, she's uncomfortable in the dainty dress she's forced to wear.
"Thank Emma for getting him ready," I reply, casting my eyes around for my sister. I can't see her. But I don't worry.
"Nervous?" Eska asks. She means for her comment to come off as nonchalant small talk, but I can hear the dread in her voice. She definitely is nervous. I nod, hoping to reassure her.
Eska's twin brother, Atticus, stands next to her. He scoffs. "Hazel isn't nervous. The odds are in her favour, right?"
I raise my eyebrows. "Are they?"
Atticus nods, keeping a cool demeanour. "I mean, your father was a Tribute. And a victor. And now, Allegra..."
Almost immediately, I see her appear on the stage. Unlike my father, she is sober, but there's stone behind her eyes. She leaves a seat between her and my father, crossing one leg over the other.
Allegra Morebank. Victor of the previous year's Games. My cousin. This is what Atticus means when he says the odds are in my favour. Three family members participating in the Games is almost impossible. We're not the biggest district, but there are enough children - enough families here for me to breathe a little easier.
"My name is in there, just like yours," I say.
"Not as many times," Atticus fires back. "Your father is a victor. You've never had to sign up for tesserae. The odds are in your favour, whether you care to admit it or not."
Eska is quiet, and I know she agrees with her brother. Friendship only goes so far in the district. When Beck Vestavian puts his hand in the globe, Eska is going to be praying it's my name and not hers that he reads out.
The tension is eased slightly when two other men walk onto the stage. Havis Baglock - he won nine years before my father did. He sits on one side of my father, looking out into the crowd. Havis managed to stay relatively grounded after winning. Or, at least, that was the image he projected.
The other victor sits between Theseus and Allegra. I recognise him as Jak Vankel. He won the games six years ago - another Tribute who capitalised on his brute strength. His eyes were as stony as Allegra's, and she turned her head to look at him. There'd been rumours about a relationship forming between our two youngest victors - something that sent a quiet chattering through the crowd. No doubt they were commenting on it.
As Beck ascends the stage, followed by the mayor, the crowd of children is separated into males and females by the Peacekeepers. Eska says goodbye to Atticus, squeezing his hand, hoping she'll see him for dinner tonight. I scan the crowd for Emma, and see her white hair ribbon bobbing up in front of me. She's in amongst her friends, probably gossiping about Allegra and Jak.
The anthem begins to play, and a hush falls over most of the crowd. A short film is shown, depicting the history of Panem and the Hunger Games. I watch my father's face, and for the first time, I really notice the despise in his eyes as the story is played back before him. And, for one fleeting moment, I pity my father. He never had a chance.
The moment is stolen by Beck, who announces that the Hunger Games are about to begin. For as long as I could remember, District 7’s escort had been an inexplicably bubbly elderly lady with a yellow beehive of hair, her shrill voice calling us to our deaths each year. Last year, without explanation, Beck Vestavian appeared on the stage. He didn’t seem like someone from the Capitol – much too refined, too quiet. Too sensible. He seemed almost normal.
But it didn’t win him any favours, because as unadorned as he is, he still stands on this stage to send two of us to the Games. As he utters the famous words, I look across the crowd. Atticus catches my eye. "May the odds be ever in your favour," he mouths, his words in time with Beck's.
I pull out another candy, pushing it between my lips and sucking off the sour coating. Beck's hand descends into the girl's globe, and I feel my heart start to beat wildly. I look across at Eska. Her skin has turned a translucent white.
Beck squints, reading the name. "Hazel Morebank."
Every single whisper in the square falls silent. I am suddenly aware of the sound of my blood beating in my ears, so loud that I'm sure everyone else can hear it. Every head turns towards me. I can hardly see the stage, but I can make out Allegra, behind Beck. She's risen to her feet, and I can feel her stare on me.
I crunch down on the candy, knowing the sound will reverberate around me. A path clears, and I feel myself being pulled towards the stage by some force beyond me. As I ascend the stairs, my father's eyes lock on mine.
"NO!" he roars, leaping from his seat. A Peacekeeper places his hands on my father's shoulders, forcing him back down. Beck seems tired - of what, I don't know - as he summons me towards him, and throws me in front of the microphone. My teeth crunch on the candy again, and the sound is echoed in the microphone. I see Emma, looking up at me, her huge eyes filled with tears.
And then I see my mother. She's leaning against a tree, a bottle of unmistakable liquor in her hand. She is unresponsive. I don't think that she even knows that her daughter is about to be sent to her death.
I can't articulate any though, because I don’t know what I feel. Beck pulls me from the microphone, muttering something about being a girl of few words. I turn to look at the victors, and my father tries to stand once more, but again he is put in place by the Peacekeeper. I have no choice but to stand behind Beck, looking helplessly into the crowd as he draws out the boy's name.
The absurdity of the events overwhelms me, and I let out a laugh as Atticus walks towards the stage. Every set of eyes focuses on me, and I slap my hand over my mouth. Atticus looks at me, and I expect a withering glare. But the corners of his mouth seem to curl up.
He sees the morbidly humorous side of this, too.
The Mayor makes a speech, and immediately after the last word is spoken, Atticus and I are pulled into the Justice Building by the Peacekeepers. I don't have time to wrap my head around the events before we are pushed into different rooms, the doors slamming closed.
It's a few minutes before my father opens the door, but I can see the wild fear in his eyes. It's the first time I have ever seen my father looking concerned for me. But then - is it real? I realise that it must be. It has taken my selection as a Tribute for him to finally realise he cares. Now that he understands that his daughter will be sent into the very arena that destroyed him.
He goes to speak, but finds no words. Instead, he looks around the room, perhaps trying to gather strength.
"Listen to me," I say, squaring up my father's eye. He attempts to recoil from my gaze, but something pulls his stare back to mine. "You have to take care of Emma. Bring her to live with you, she can't stay with Mom."
He waves my suggestion away, flicking his hand into the air. "Don't be stupid, she can stay with your mother -"
He stops as I grab his hand, pressing his bones between my fingers. A look of shock registers momentarily on his face as he tried to pull away, but my grip is unwavering. "When did you get so strong, Hazel?" he asks. The look on his face is almost parental.
"When I - " my voice catches in my throat. It only serves to anger me more. I crush his hand even tighter, and he winces visibly. "When I had to raise my sister for you." I release his hand, and he immediately cradles it in his free one, rubbing his palm.
"Take her," I order. There's no room in my tone for disagreement. I don't care if my mother drowns herself in the woods, but Emma - she, at least, deserves a fighting chance. The pantries of the Victor's Village are never bare, she won't go hungry and she'll have a warm place to sleep.
I can't say the same for myself.
Surprisingly, my father lifts his crushed hand up to my face, stroking my cheek with his finger. The sign of affection is so rare that I expect myself to recoil, but instead I close my eyes, savouring the comfort of a caring parent.
"I love you," he tells me, before a Peacekeeper collects him from the room.
Funny how it took my imminent death for him to admit it.