The morning of the reaping, Lydia Deetz wore black. It was the first reaping without her mother, without her reassurance to make it through the day, without her songs from her people, the Covey. A reminder, as always, that although Lydia lived in town, she carried the legacy of her mother, and her mother’s mother.
She sat in front of her mirror, brushing her short dark hair, humming a song her mother used to sing to her when she was sick. Something about meadows. Reaching into her small jewelry box, she pulled out the only item of value: a silver pendant that belonged to Emily Deetz. It was engraved with a rose, a reminder of what her grandmother had been through, though Lydia had never gotten the full story. Still, having a little piece of her mother made her feel safer somehow. There was little chance of safety on Reaping Day, but given that she was the mayor’s daughter, she was safer than most. Unlike many of the desperate citizens of District 12, she didn’t need to take out tesserae.
“Lydia! I picked out the perfect dress for you! Lydia?” There was a knock at her bedroom door, the sound of her stepmother’s voice grating on Lydia’s ears. She still hadn’t forgiven her father for remarrying eight months after Emily’s death. That didn’t stop either him or Delia, her step mother, from trying to smooth things over. As if she could be bought or won so easily.
Lydia opened the door, staring at Delia. The red-haired woman held a yellow frilly dress out, and Lydia wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I’m already dressed,” she said.
Delia frowned. “Lydia we’ve talked about this public sad sadness stuff. It’s not becoming to a mayor’s daughter, especially not on Reaping Day.”
“Maybe the Mayor should come and tell me himself.” Lydia made a motion to close the door, but Delia put her shoe in between the frame and the door.
“You know he can’t do that, Lydia. He has to track down Mr. Shoggoth before the ceremony begins.”
Lydia smirked. “Did the Victor go rogue again?”
Lawrence “Beetlejuice” Shoggoth was the only living Victor the District had, having won his Games ten years previous at fifteen. He was, to put it politely, a drunk. Lydia had seen him at the Hob, tossing money at anyone selling white liquor, taking a pretty girl or two for a dance around the dilapidated warehouse turned black market. And well— her cheeks flushed at the memory of the disheveled victor in a moment that the constantly inebriated man likely didn’t recall.
“Your father is doing his best,” Delia said. “All things considered.” She put the yellow dress into Lydia’s hands. “Get dressed, please and be ready to leave in half an hour. You don’t want to let your father down.”
Lydia glowered at the yellow confection. “It would be a shame if we all let each other down,” she responded, her tone dripping with sarcasm.
Delia pretended not to hear her, a skill that she had put to use often since moving in to the mayor’s small house on the edge of District 12’s shambles of a main square.
Lydia didn’t feel bad about slamming her bedroom door, Delia moving her foot out of harms way quickly. Tossing the yellow dress onto her bed she crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at her reflection in the mirror. At sixteen she was small for her age. Even though she had more access to food than most of the kids growing up in the District, she still didn’t have quite enough to grow properly, which showed in her short stature and thin frame. The kids in the Seam were much worse off, so she didn’t dare complain. Her mother had come from the Seam, like her grandmother before. A classic tale of the pauper falling for the prince, though this time said prince managed to whisk away the beggar girl from near starvation. Lydia didn’t think her father was much of a prize to be won, but in the early years her mother seemed happy enough. Before she started singing of being caged. Before she got sick.
Tears pricked at her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. She wiped at her eyes. She wouldn’t cry, not now. Squaring her shoulders, she opened one of the drawers on her vanity, digging out a small pot of rouge that had belonged to her mother. Make-up wasn’t easy to access, even as a mayor’s daughter, and she used a small amount on her cheeks and lips, giving her pale skin a bit of color. That was the only concession she’d give to beauty today, not that hideous yellow dress. Leaving the offensive garment on her bed, she opened the sash to her window, climbing with ease. Her bedroom was on the first floor and it wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that she’d leave the house this way. A small jump to the ground below, her hands on the dirt to stabilize her fall. This time, she felt a sharp sensation of pain down her left shin; sure enough, there was a tear in her black tights, the skin broken. Dusting her palms off on her skirt, she bit her lower lip, waiting for the moment of pain to pass. The one lesson she had taken to heart from her father was to never show pain in public.
In the square anyone under the age of eighteen was being herded to a roped off area near the Hall of Justice. Lydia checked in with the Peacekeepers as she was supposed to; the stone faced officials took her name, age, and pinprick of her blood to track her. Ushered into the area with her classmates, Lydia took stock of the teens in her age group. She didn’t have many friends, keeping to herself as the strange and unusual girl she was. Claire Brewster, the candy makers’ daughter, gave Lydia a deep glare. Her blonde hair was styled in hideous ringlet curls, and she wore an expensive pink dress. Lydia wrinkles her nose in disgust— there was no love lost between the two girls.
“Aren’t you supposed to wear the tacky clothes of your garbage people?” Claire hissed in Lydia’s direction.
She never hesitated to try to remind Lydia that the Covey were outsiders, not District people, though those of the Covey had intermarried with the people of the Seam, like Lydia’s mother, and her grandmother, though no one seemed to know who her grandfather was.
Lydia formed a fist, and took a breath. She couldn’t start a fight here of all places.
“Such a pity your father couldn’t buy you class, Claire, the way he tries to buy everyone and everything else,” she snapped.
The sound of microphone feedback drowned out whatever stupid response Claire gave and Lydia dragged her attention to the stage, where her father sat in a stiff backed wooden chair next to Beetlejuice, who was already blitzed. Charles Deetz looked pained, and despite the anger that had existed between father and daughter recently Lydia knew that he hated Reaping Day. The bowls with the slips of paper were waiting to be plucked and Lydia felt nauseous just looking at them. She tuned out the reading of the Treaty of Treason, well aware that she wouldn’t be able to focus until she felt the sweet-awful relief of knowing she wasn’t picked to kill and be killed.
“As always, we’ll go with ladies first,” Charles said, digging in the glass bowl. Gripping a slip of paper, Lydia felt her palms sweat, her breath hitched. It was only when she saw her father’s face go stark white, his normally unflappable business demeanor stumble a little, that she felt her whole body go ice cold.
“Lydia Deetz,” he said into the microphone, and her whole world shattered.
There was a hushed gasp through the crowd, and Lydia felt her pulse thrumming rapidly. Her knees weak, she smoothed down the front of her dress. The crowd parted for her, and she took her slow steps to the stage, digging her nails into the palms of her hands to keep her conscious.
Summoning a courage she didn’t think she had, she clambered onto the makeshift stage. The Hunger Games, grotesque as they were, required a certain showmanship. Looking out to the rest of the District she gave the audience a small curtesy. She couldn’t look her father in the eye, afraid she would lose all her composure.
Charles Deetz cleared his throat. “And now, for the boys.”
Did she imagine it, or was his voice thick with tears? And was Beetlejuice, the inebriated Victor, leering at her?
“Vincent Prince,” Charles read the name from a slip of paper and Lydia had to suppress a groan. Vince, as he was known, was in her year in school, the final year before students were assigned to work in the mines. Even so, Lydia wasn’t sure she had ever seen him crack a smile. A dark cloud hung over his brow in every moment.
The seventeen year old stumbled up to the stage, his stick like limbs almost too long, dark bangs hanging in his shadowed eyes. Lydia extended her hand to him, as was custom, and the boy took it, his grip limp and his cheeks flushed.
While Lydia looked her district partner in the eye, she couldn’t help but think that he wasn’t much competition, and hated herself for the thought. As she was herded into the Justice Building by grim-faced Peacekeepers she couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the last time she would see District 12.
“You have three minutes.”
A Peacekeeper ushered Charles and Delia Deetz into the ornate room where Lydia was kept under guard. Already, Delia was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief, near hysterical. In other circumstances, Lydia would have rolled her eyes at her over dramatic stepmother, but given everything she allowed herself to be swept up in a hug by the redhead.
Delia smelled like vanilla extract, the closest one could get perfume in District 12 and Lydia buried her face in Delia’s shoulder. Her throat felt swollen, tears pricked and hot at the corners of her eyes. She refused to let them spill over, and the strain of holding back made her temples throb.
After twenty seconds, Delia released her, and Lydia took the moment to face her father. Charles cleared his throat.
“Lydia….” The way he said her name betrayed his emotion, and he took a breath, composing himself again. “There’s something you need to know, about your mother’s people.”
Lydia knitted her brows together. “What do the Covey have to do with this?” She only had bits of pieces of knowledge from her mother. The bright colors, the songs, the dialect she used to sing Lydia to sleep with.
“Your grandmother was a Victor.”
Lydia blinked, stunned. “She was?”
Charles nodded. “Her name was Lucy Gray Baird. There’s almost no record of her Games, but she won.”
Lydia struggled to take in the information, her mind processing the words but not their full meaning. “What happened to her?”
“Your mother never knew. She never met her mother; she was abandoned at birth. Her mother died in childbirth I suppose.” Charles placed his hands on Lydia’s shoulders. “I’m telling you now because you’re a fighter. It’s in your blood.”
Lydia bit her lip. “I don’t know if I can do it, Daddy. Kill someone, I mean.”
“If it will bring you home, you can,” he replied. He placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
It was the most affection she had seen from him in a long time and she choked back a sob, wrapping her arms around him. He didn’t bother to stem the flow of tears on his end, his shoulders shaking with sobs.
“It’s time,” the Peacekeeper said, and Lydia felt her heart drop down to her shoes.
“I love you, sweetheart,” her father said. Delia broke in, “We love you.”
“I….” Everything she wanted to say froze on her lips. There was not enough time; there never would be.
She never got to verbalize any thought as the Peacekeeper pushed her family out of the room, the door slamming with a frightening bang. That was enough to break her down a little, the tears beginning to flow finally. Nose stuffed and cheeks red and gasping for breath after several minutes of sobbing in a room with a lone Peacekeeper guard. She felt so small, vulnerable, and alone. She knew she wouldn’t be coming home in anything other than a plain wooden coffin. There were tributes twice the size of her who would hunt her for sport. As despair threatened to choke her completely a second Peacekeeper arrived to take her to the train station in one of their armored vans, like the prisoner she was. There were no cameras at the station which was fine by her, no one needed to see her with tear tracks down her face, the edge of her dress wet from trying to wipe away as much evidence as possible.
Vince hadn’t said anything to her for the whole ride, which she was fine with. She knew she could get in trouble with fighting with fellow tributes before the Games, and she didn’t trust herself not to deck him if he so much looked at her. She wanted nothing more than to rest her aching head somewhere soft and cry herself to sleep away from any prying eyes. When she boarded the train that would take her to the Capitol, though, she knew that wasn’t an option.
Their mentor, Beetlejuice, sat in the main car, his feet on a dark wood table, scuffing the polished surface. He took a deep pull from a hip flask, a cigarette dangling between two fingers. His eyes lit up when he took in the sight of Lydia, who crossed her arms over her chest.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Lydia Deetz,” his words slurring a little. “Miss me, babes?”