Finals || Starling Hayes

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Thirty seven years old.  An age I once never thought I’d reach.  But if there is one lesson life has taught, it is that the future can never truly be predicted.  Life is unpredictable by nature.

Almost by instinct, my hand reached down to touch my personal evidence of life’s unexpected twists.  I moved my hand back to clutch my other arm. 

From across the crowd, Holden met my eyes.  “The Doctor’s ready,” he mouthed to me.  I gave him a grim nod.  Perhaps an encouraging smile would be in order, but my fears were too great to allow such an action. 

The Doctor spent a good hour preparing me already.  After, we had had to struggle to hide our work from the cameras and eyes on the reaping. 

Personally, I didn’t even notice the tributes called.  If I had tried, I wouldn’t have been able to recall a detail about either.  My loved ones come first. 

The moment the escort led the tributes off the stage I knew my moment had come.  We had one hour, and one hour only to get this right. 

I met my husband and nephew in the closet as planned.  A long time ago, the mere idea of this operation would make me flinch.  No more.

First, Holden injected me with a vial of morphine. Admittedly, I hadn’t even considered the idea of taking a painkiller.  I was grateful, however, he had when the doctor made the cut across my abdomen. 

Though the morphine numbed the pain, it did not rid me of it completely.  It was only the thoughts of why I had planned to endure this pain to begin with that allowed me to keep my mouth closed.

The screams I did not release remained in my mind until I held her in my arms.  Then all the pain and terror I had had seemed to melt away. 

It was all worth it in that instant.  Not just the secret Caesarean section, but the past Hunger Games as well.  I could see then why I had to win, in order to bring this precious little girl into the world. 

My moment was quickly cut short.  Sira had to come for the child, as she’d promised.  Bless her, the moment I’d told her I was carrying and of my plan, she had pretended a pregnancy of her own to lead to this very moment. 

The children of victors near always get reaped.  But the children of a victor’s sibling never do.

I knew this had to happen, and even planned for it to be so, but as my sister took my child away I still cried.  

“She’ll be safe,” Holden had murmured in consolation.  “As safe as she can be from the Capital.”

But my daughter is not as safe as she can be.  The girl of thirteen years fighting for her life in that blasted arena is proof of that.

I hope Chloe survives, and not just because she reminds me of myself.  She reminds me of every poor child that has died too young, and those who never got a chance to truly live.

And for the sake of the greater good, Chloe must live over the boy from One.

I have a few partners in this endeavor.   However, none will be able to carry out the plan should the One boy emerge from the arena.  If this is so, the plan will be delayed another year.  The plan has been delayed six years so far.

                It should not be delayed much longer.

                Chloe uses a similar strategy in her final battle to mine.  A strategy of evasion with quick blows where the opponent is not looking.

                However, when one of her blows lands a lucky fatal hit, she is strong enough to do what I could not and deal a quick finishing blow.  I could only watch as Coral bled out into the dirt.

                But my squeamishness of killing vanished when I was forced to take up a job watching kids die every year.

Chloe doesn’t bat an eye when I give her the gloves she must wear.  She swallows the lie that I wore them to my victor ceremony with ease.  It is a good thing for my purposes that my own stylist retired years ago; she would know I never wore such gloves.

I watch the ceremony from my place up on the stage.  As tradition demands, Chloe shakes hands with the president as well as a few Gamemakers.  I have to contain my smile.

I notice that Chloe has to suppress multiple tremors and sobs.  Despite these moments of weakness, for most of the final show, she manages to appear expressionless.  Luckily for her, the cameras do not catch her obvious relief when the replay ends. 

She glances at me for my opinion on her performance.  I give her a small thumb’s up, and am rewarded with her smile of relief.

Chloe’s confusion is clear when I insist on taking the gloves following the ceremony, but she obeys.  Was I so innocent when I emerged from the arena?  Perhaps it is not innocence I detect, but rather trust.  It is, after all, interest in her own well-being that prompted me to ensure she wore the gloves no longer than necessary as well as to exclude her from the plans entirely.  If things go wrong, she’ll be safer that way.

The poison in the gloves is slow acting.  I will not know whether it has worked until after I am back at District Ten, safe and sound as I’ll ever be.

After midnight on the train ride home, Chloe knocks on my door.  I know it must be her as no one else in the entire train has so light and faint a knock.

“Come in Chloe,” I say.

Chloe slips into my room and I turn on the light on my bedside table.   Chloe sits down on the bed beside me. The look in Chloe’s eyes speaks wonders before she even says another word.

“Have you been having nightmares?” I ask.  There is a gentleness in my voice I would love to be able to use with my own daughter, but I know I will be lucky if I am ever able to meet her at all.

Chloe nods.  “Will they-“ Her voice cracks, “Will they ever go away?”

I wish to say yes.  That is what Chloe wants to hear, surely.  That after a month or two the nightmares will fade away and life will return to the way it was.

But as much as I wish to say yes, I also wish not to lie to Chloe.

“No,” I say.  “They never truly go away.” I see tears well up in Chloe’s eyes as she gives me a nod. I continue, “They never go away, but you do learn how to deal with them.”

“I will?”

“You will.  There will be times when you almost give up on life entirely, until you remember what it took to keep your life and somehow manage to live another day.  There will be times when all you want to do is cry and scream.  There are other times when you want to write the memories down so you’ll never forget, and others when you’ll want nothing more to forget.  Scream.  Cry.  But also laugh and smile.  Find new reasons to live.  But never give up.  Twenty three people died so you could love.  Now you have to make your life worth it.”

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