Chapter 2: Last Hope
“You don't forget the face of the person who was your last hope.” - Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
“Optimism is inevitably the last hope of the defeated.” - Albert Meltzer
“Why? Why did you do that?” Mrs. Abercrombie seemed unable to stop her incessant questioning. The same question was repeated over and over, not even allowing Brianne enough time to answer.
“We wanted you to be safe if you were forced into the arena,” Mr. Abercrombie spoke over his wife's ceaseless mutterings. “You were never meant to volunteer!”
Brianne knew that her father's anger came out of his worry for her. He knew that he'd just lost his daughter for good. Brianne wanted to curl up in a ball and just die. It was destined to happen later anyway. She couldn't handle her parents' reactions. Even though she'd seen this coming, she hadn't been prepared.
“I'll have a word with the man.” Brianne knew that her father was speaking of Kodanda. “This is all his fault! He will pay for this. I'll see to it. That man had no right to suggest anything to you when we forbid him from doing this. No right!”
Brianne knew that her father's threats were useless. Kodanda was well respected for his status as victor. He had plenty of students under his control. Nothing Brianne's father could say about the man would change anything, and Brianne's death would bring nothing to Kodanda except a brief disappointment that the current victor wasn't one of his students.
So caught up in their emotions were they that neither of Brianne's parents were able to say goodbye before being whisked out of the room by peacekeepers. Brianne was left utterly alone without one ounce of comfort from either of her parents..
Troy expected the cold firmness of his parents' dispositions upon being allowed to see them. They'd resigned themselves to what he must do long ago. Troy figured his mother had held onto a small bit of hope that he wouldn't go through with it, but she was too proud to reveal this now. She offered nothing more than a stiff hug and a warning that he'd better do his best. His father wished him luck and said that he knew he would win. "There is no competition really."
Troy wasn't sure if his father really believed this, but he figured he was better off not questioning it. He would win. Troy was sure of it. He'd been well trained, and he had no intention of letting his parents or the district down. He dismissed the wishes of good luck. Luck was useless. Things like hope and luck would get him no where. But he had the skill to win. He knew it. For that reason, he allowed himself no tears while bidding farewell to his parents and the select few friends who had bothered to come. There was no need. He was determined to see them later, and sadness would do nothing but hinder him.
“Mom!” Alissah exclaimed as the woman, with tears flowing down her face, smothered her with hugs. “Calm down.”
“I can't help it, Alissah!” The woman's voice was full of emotion. “Losing your father during the rebellion was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through, and now you're going off to fight in these games. My little baby girl.”
Mrs. Vasser went to wrap her arms around Alissah again, but the girl wiggled her way out and exclaimed, “Mom!” yet again.
“Dad was loyal to the Capitol until his dying breath,” Alissah reminded her mother. “He fought hard for Panem, and I don't intend to let him down. I'm doing this proudly. I'll fight just as hard as he did.”
“Let's just hope for a better outcome then,” Mrs. Vasser sobbed as she finally got her arms around her daughter and refused to let go.
“You'll do well, son,” Mr. Sherman clapped Huntur on the shoulder. A bit of sadness shone through his eyes, but the man seemed determined not to crack in front of his son. He knew that this was his son's dream, and he would never think of stopping him. Still, he couldn't help getting a little emotional. Mr. Sherman had a lot of faith in his son's abilities, but a father had to be a little worried about whether or not his son would make it.
Mrs. Sherman wasn't faring quite so well. Silent tears were streaming down her cheeks, but she seemed determined to ignore them. Instead, she stepped forward and embraced her son tightly.
“You'll do well,” she spoke in a tight voice. “I know you will.”
“You'd better.” Mr. Sherman's words were full of emotion, as if he was losing his battle against tears.
“I will,” Huntur assured them while forcing himself to stay positive. “I promise.”
No words were exchanged as Mina said goodbye to her friends and family. Her mother and father looked upon her with tearful looks that were impossible to hide. She wasn't coming back, and they all knew it. Her two closest friends were a bit better at hiding their emotions, but Mina could tell by a certain look in their eyes that they knew she wasn't coming back either. Embraces were exchanged. Words seemed useless. There was nothing they could do but offer false comfort. Mina was doomed, and her friends and family were helpless to save her.
“You'll have to outsmart them.” Mr. Jobs spoke matter-of-factly with only a hint of emotion showing through his voice. “It's the only chance you've got.”
Kendrick's family didn't handle emotions well. It wasn't that they were ashamed or anything. No, they were just a bit awkward about affection, and comforting each other wasn't really something they did. Now Mrs. Jobs was sobbing on the other side of of the room, and Kendrick was at a complete loss as to what to do. His father seemed determined to ignore her, at least for the moment, as he hid his own emotions by talking instead of Kendrick's chances like they were discussing a random tribute from a past games in their living room. If Kendrick hadn't known that rational discussion was how his father kept his emotions in check, he may have worried that he didn't care.
It was far too soon when a peacekeeper entered to take his parents away. Mr. Jobs' emotional wall seemed to break slightly as he embraced his son in a tight hug. Mrs. Jobs rushed over from the couch she'd been crying on to join the family embrace. It was the only time Kendrick could remember getting such physical affection from his parents. He just wished it wasn't going to be the last.
Tiara's father had always been a rather stern man, at least as long as Tiara had known him. Tiara had heard time and time again that he'd been much different before her mother died, but Tiara would never know for sure, since she hadn't been around back then. She was pretty sure that he blamed her for her mother's death, and to be completely honest, she didn't resent him for that because she blamed herself too.
Dying during childbirth wasn't an unknown occurrence in Panem. There wasn't a hospital that you could rush to in District 4 if things went wrong. It was just unfortunate that Tiara's birth had been one of those where things went wrong. She'd been told over and over again that it was just bad luck, but both her and her father knew better. Tiara knew she couldn't have done anything to save her mother as a helpless infant, but the fact still remained that, if she wasn't here, her mother would be. Maybe it was that thought that drove her to train for the games. The thought of dying didn't phase her the way it apparently did others. She might as well go out with a bang, especially if the reward for staying alive was as great as it was.
Her father had been rather uncaring when she asked him to pay for the training. Mr. King had grumbled about the expenses, but they were well enough off that they still had enough to live off of in relative comfort. Tiara got the feeling that her father actually liked the idea of her going into the games. The money and glory of her winning would help ease the pain of having a daughter who had murdered her mother, and if she died, that wasn't of much concern to him anyway.
Tiara's suspicions seemed to be confirmed as her father came to bid her farewell. A stiff, awkward hug, and a “good luck” where all that she received. She almost called out to him as he went back out the door, not bothering to wait for a peacekeeper to fetch him, but she quelled the temptation. She had even more resolve now. She would win, and then her father could surround himself with riches to forget that his daughter was a killer.
“I'm not expecting to win this, Dad,” Boston snapped at his father. He didn't want useless words of comfort. He was going to die, and it was better that he just accept that now.
“You don't know what will happen,” his mother implored with a distressed expression marring her face. “What about that one year where that little girl made it through? She didn't have many skills at the beginning, but she made it.”
“Yeah, because no one wanted to attack a twelve year old girl,” Boston rolled his eyes. “It won't be like that with me. An eighteen year old boy? Everyone will be going after me.”
Boston leaned back against the wall and buried his face in his hands. Neither of his parents said anything, but he soon felt his mother wrapping her arms around him.
“Just try,” she whispered. “That's all we ask.”
“I don't want you to go in the games!”
Cassidee's younger brother had latched onto her the minute he was through the door.
“I have to, Ezekiel. They drew my name. You know I have no choice.” Cassidee knew that any comfort she could offer her brother was useless. The twelve-year-old couldn't be reasoned with, and nothing she could say would change the fact that he was about to go through his worst nightmare. He continued to wail into Cassidee's chest, and she made no attempts to calm him with words. Instead, she wrapped her arms around him and let him cry. She knew it would be the last time she was able to hold him, and that thought made her relish the moment.
Neither of her parents said a word. For a few moments they just watched their children from afar with utter sadness showing on their faces. Then, Mr. and Mrs. Powers wordlessly stepped forward and wrapped their own arms around their children.
“You'll be with Cassidee,” Mrs. Arlington assured her son. “She'll protect you and keep you safe. I know she will.”
Mr. Arlington looked disparagingly as his wife. Not bothering to shield Jaylon from his words, he spoke, “Don't give him false hope! That girl may try to help at first, but she wants to win just as much as everyone else. Besides, what good will she do. We both know she's not going to be the victor!”
“Shut up!” Mrs. Arlington exclaimed as she pushed her husband to the side and turned her attention back to her son, who had been watching the exchange with fear in his eyes. “You'll be all right, sweetheart. Just stick to Cassidee and try your best. We love you, okay?” It was then that she dissolved into tears and gripped her son tightly. Jaylon buried his face into her neck and began crying as well. Mr. Arlington's tough exterior finally evaporated as he took his wife and son into his arms and his own tears began to escape.
Mrs. Faden gripped Chloe tight. “I love you,” she whispered into the young girl's hair. Chloe responded with the same words but was unable to speak any more as the tears bubbled over. She began struggling through a song Mrs. Faden had sang to her when she was small. The same song that had been running through her head during the reaping. The familiar lyrics caused Mrs. Faden's grip on Chloe to tighten. The small family stayed in their embrace until the peacekeepers came to take Mrs. Faden away.
“Promise me you'll try your hardest,” Mrs. Kid pleaded with her son. “And stay with Chloe as long as possible. You both need a friend now more than ever.”
Kahner turned angrily towards his mother. “A friend!? I can't have a friend now. That privilege has been taken from me. Everyone in that arena will be my enemy, even Chloe. I don't care about past friendships. If I don't kill her first, she'll kill me.”
Mrs. Kid looked sadly at her son. “You've been forced into a terrible situation, but don't let it turn you into a monster, son. There's a difference between cold-blooded killing and surviving. Remember that.”
Kahner turned away from his mother, not even looking back at her when the peacekeeper came to take her away.
Joelle discreetly glanced up at her mother, father, and siblings as they prayed. It was traditional to keep your head bowed at such moments, but Joelle wanted to memorize her family before she was taken away forever. Prayer was typically when Joelle felt most peaceful, but today the faces of all those around her were marred by grief. How many times they had prayed just like this for an end to the games, and now one of them was going into the games themselves.
“Lord, please bless Joelle.” At the sound of her name, Joelle tuned back in to what her father was saying. “Help her stay strong in faith while in the arena, and guide her and help her achieve her purpose. We know that there is a reason behind her reaping. Help her discover what that is.”
Tears began streaking down Joelle's face as she silently agreed with her father's words.
“I have no doubt that you'll be able to get sponsors,” Mr. Kennedy lectured his son as the sat in the Justice Building. His arm was around Bryan's shoulders, and he looked sadder than Bryan had ever seen him. “Sponsors are helpful, but they aren't the only key to winning. I think your best bet would be to join an alliance. You make friends easily enough. Get people willing to help you, and only leave the alliance when you think you can make it on your own. It's your best bet.”
Bryan nodded woodenly at his father's words. He appreciated the advice, but he didn't want to be talking about this. He didn't want to be in this position in the first place. His mother was sobbing horribly at his other side, and Bryan had a line of friends outside waiting to see him. For the first time in his life, he didn't know how to handle the people around him. He didn't know what to say.
Mr. Phyrne spoke no words as he stepped forward and embraced Ahnette. It had only been the two of them since Ahnette's mother died during the rebellion, and now Mr. Phyrne was losing his daughter as well. Ahnette sobbed into her father's shoulder. No words were spoken until the peacekeeper came to take Mr. Phyrne away.
“Good bye, sweetheart,” Mr. Phyrne whispered as was pulled from the room. Ahnette sobbed even harder.
“I'll try my hardest, Mom,” Gerald murmered to his mother as he gripped her tightly. Mrs. Chayse refused to let go of her son, even to let her husband say goodbye to him. Mr. Chayse contented himself with patting his son on the back as he tried to control his cries.
Mr. Chayse had always been awkward about physical affection, but Gerald appreciated the effort his father was making. It wasn't a crushing hug, but at least his father was there and cared. This was the first time Gerald had ever seen his father cry, and that was a sight he could have lived his whole life without seeing.
“All I've been raised to do is harvest wheat!” Jocelin screamed at her shell-shocked parents. Her two younger siblings had been cowering behind their parents since they entered the room and heard Jocelin's screams. Mrs. Aurora could do nothing but stand in shock and fear at her daughter's screams. There were silent tears streaming down her face.
“Why did you have us!?” Jocelin accused her parents as she gestered to herelf and the two younger children that were staring at her in shock. “You knew this would happen!”
Jocelin collapsed on the couch with her face in her hands. “I'm only thirteen! Thirteen! This isn't supposed to be happening. It isn't.” Her screams got softer, but were no less filled with emotion. Mrs. Aurora took the opportunity to step forward and hug her daughter fiercely.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered into her daughter's ear, and for the first time since entering the room, Jocelin didn't bother to respond.
Etin had never seen his father look so shocked in his life. As far as Mr. Faal was concerned, this wasn't supposed to happen to his family. They were too good for the games. It sickened Etin. He'd watched his father observe the games with no emotion for the past three years. It wasn't his family being punished because Mr. Faal had remained loyal to the Capitol during the rebellion, which had led to his relatively wealthy lifestyle. His children wouldn't be chosen in the games. The games weren't his problem.
Now that feeling of security had been taken away from him, and Etin was watching his father's beliefs come crashing down around him. The very Capitol that Mr. Faal had trusted to keep him safe was now taking his only son. Etin wasn't stupid. He knew that his father had always favored him over his sister. Only Etin could carry on the family name. Etin figured that as soon as they watched his death from their comfortable home, his parents would begin work on having a new son to take Etin's place. After all, it wasn't him they'd be missing. It was their familial namesake that they wanted.
Etin clenched his fists as fury filled him. His only comfort being his older sister's soft hand on his shoulder. The only one who was hopeful for Etin's return was the girl sitting beside him, and she was the only thing that made the boy want to push to win.
“People aren't that different from animals really.” Emilia wrung her hands as she paced back and forth. Her father was watching closely from several feet away.
“I suppose that's one way of looking at it,” Mr. Arnout spoke softly.
“What other way am I supposed to look at it!?” Emilia suddenly cried as she whirled around to face her father. “I have no choice but to kill now! How else am I supposed to look at it!?”
Mr. Arnout looked shocked at the outburst, but once Emilia had collapsed on the floor in tears, he kneeled down to wrap her in his arms.
“Just think about it that way, sweetheart,” he whispered into her hair. “Just think about it that way.”
Ezra could tell that his parents had no hope of him returning. They'd always been slightly ashamed of him. It was one of those things that Ezra had always known on some level, but it had taken him until he was eleven to fully realize it.
Ezra Barton who tried to nurse a bird back to health when none of the other kids cared. That was what he was known for in District 10. A boy too sensitive for his own good. He'd grown up caring far too much for the animals they had to raise for slaughter. Even at fourteen, he was unable to watch the slaughterings because he couldn't stomach it. How was he supposed to kill people when he couldn't kill a simple animal?
Mrs. Barton wrapped an arm around her son's shoulders as he cried. Mr. Barton stood above them, looking as if he wanted to protect his son from what he must face but not knowing how. Mr. Barton has always struggled as to how to handle Ezra. He'd never seen a male child so shaken by suffering, and now that very same child was going to have to become a murderer or be murdered.
“You can't pull any more stunts like you did earlier during the reaping,” Mr. Timotheus preached to his daughter, who sat wimpering in her mother's arms.
“I won't, Dad,” Tifanee cried. “I was just scared. It won't happen again.”
Mr. Timotheus' stern facade vanished as he looked down at his tearful young daughter. He took a seat on her other side and rubbed her back to offer her any ounce of hope that he could spare. Her face remained buried in her mother's neck, not once looking up. It was as if she was trying to escape the cruel world that had thrust her into this position, even though she knew that it was useless.
Ms. Iver wasted no time in throwing her arms around Demetrius as soon as she was allowed in the room. Tears shone in her eyes, but she was successfully stifling them for the moment.
“Do what you must,” she muttered into her son's hair. At the age of fourteen, he was just beginning to surpass her in height. Demetrius' growth had been a bit dismaying to her as she watched him gradually become a teenager. Now she was forced to think about the fact that he would never grow any taller. “But don't lose yourself. That's all I ask.”
Demetrius tried to reply, but all that came out were sobs. He forgot all attempts at speaking as he broke down in his mother's arms for the last time.
After a while it became increasingly obvious to Fayth that no one was going to come see her off. It was to be expected. She'd never had any family, let alone friends. Having every one of your family members die in the rebellion and having to grow up in an orphanage didn't exactly help you make friends. On top of that, Fayth had been living with panic attacks for as long as she could remember. No one wanted to associate with someone who regularly panicked over seemingly nothing.
Fayth didn't blame them really. If she was one of those other kids, she wouldn't have befriended herself either. She heard the whispers. Kids at school, and even in the orphanage, were always joking about, “that Ammadon girl.”
Maybe being sent into the games was a good thing. She would have lived her life alone anyway. This way there would be no more panic attacks. No more getting made fun of by others. No more suffering. If she could just get through the next few days, it could all be over. Fayth thought she might like that, and for the first time since she woke up that morning, she didn't feel like panicking. She just felt calm. Hopeful almost.
“It's what you've always wanted,” Coale grit out at his father. “One less mouth to feed. Less tesserae to take.”
“Don't talk like that!” Mr. Marcellus yelled at his oldest son. It was silent for a moment before the man continued in a choked voice. “I know that you're angry, and you have every right to be. But I didn't ask for this. I never wanted you to have to go into these games.”
“You did though,” Coale stared at the ground. “You asked for it when you had me and the others.”
“There were no games when we had you four,” Mr. Marcellus was pleading with his son, not wanting their last conversation to be a fight.
“As if living in District 12 before the rebellion would have been much better,” Coale snorted. “Why aren't they here now? Don't want to send their big brother off to die?”
“I thought it would be better if they didn't see you like this. I don't want this to be their last memory of you.”
Coale finally looked coldly up at his father. “Just make sure this doesn't happen to any of them. They'll have watched both Mom and me die now. If you let anything else happen to them-”
Coale was silenced by his father firmly gripping his shoulder. They were silent for a moment before Mr. Marcellus pulled Coale to his chest. Neither one shed any tears, but Coale could just barely make out the, “I love you, son,” that his father muttered before being pulled from the room.