Reaping day is a holiday for most people, but since Uncle Salif got the contract for repairs at the hovercraft factory, it’s a workday for Rokia. In fact, the workday starts when the second shift gets off the night before, and they can get in and start disassembling whatever piece of machinery is getting replaced so it’ll be ready when they come back again. The Capitol doesn’t like to see factories standing empty so anytime there’s a complex job they do it on one of the few days the place would be closed anyway.
Rokia doesn’t mind working overnight; she wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway as nervous as she is. Six kids never win the Hunger Games, not since Rokia was born. Last year the boy had been from her school, 17 and scrawny, eyes wide and scared when they called his name. Rokia watched him walk to the stage and remembered sneaking cigarettes out back with him and Sara and some of the other older kids. She’d watched his interview in the back of the shop with Sara and Matt, watched him escape the bloodbath only to get killed by the Careers the next night. Sara cried. Rokia scowled at the TV, then pulled down her mask and went back to welding a damaged hovercraft hull. They didn’t talk about it after that.
Aunt Magda’s home, all the passenger train crews called back for Reaping day, so Rokia drops her sisters off before heading in to work. Sara stops by as she’s getting ready to head out. Sara’s 18 this year, it’s her last reaping and Matt’s, and while Matt says he’s going to stay in the shop Sara’s angling for a spot on a train crew. She wants out of Six any way she can get there, and if it means starting on smoky cargo trains, well, that’s still better than sticking around this dump. Rokia doesn’t need to hear it anymore, she knows the whole spiel off by heart, but as they walk through the dingy streets toward the factory she says the whole thing again.
“I don’t know who you’re trying to convince,” Rokia finally tells her. “Makes sense to me.”
“Sure it does, Rokia, that’s because you’re smart. My mom wants me to stick around, she says a job at the shop’s better than a train crew job anyway.”
“Yeah, that’s probably because your brother went off to work at the smelter in Warren and she doesn’t want to be in the house alone with your dad.”
Sara snorts. “Yeah, probably. I wouldn’t want to.”
“You’re really gonna go sign up right away?” Rokia gets it, really she does, but without Sara the shop will be a little less fun.
“Sure. Day after tomorrow. You know, assuming…” Sara trails off.
“Right.” Rokia smirks a little. “Well, you’re not allowed to get Reaped, who’ll do the finicky soldering jobs?”
Sara grins back. “And you’re not allowed to get Reaped because you have to get up in the rafters and set up the hoists.”
“Well, just so long as that’s settled.”
“Yup. Settled. Someone probably sent a memo. We’re needed. For Very Important Busisness.”
Sal’s brought coffee and donuts, Reaping Eve tradition since they started doing this three years ago. They eat while he gives them their jobs. Rokia’ll be in the scaffolding, Sara’ll work the wiring. They don’t see much of each other as they disassemble the old machinery, but Sara splits her cigarettes with Rokia on breaks just like always and tells her she must be part monkey-mutt. As the night crawls toward morning they do not mention the fact that it might be the last chance they get to see each other.
At nine in the morning Sal calls it quits so everyone can either get cleaned up for the Reaping ceremonies or catch a few hours’ sleep.
“And kids?” he says, grinning, “We’ll manage without you this afternoon.” He looks at Matt, whose face is somewhere between guilty and relieved, and laughs. “I was 18 once, too, you know.”
Sara and Rokia walk home together, quiet, and when they get to Rokia’s turnoff, Sara knocks their shoulders together and smiles a lopsided, nervous smile.
“See you in the square.”
Rokia nods. “See you.”
Inside she strips off her work clothes and pulls on a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Supposedly everyone dresses up for Reaping Day, but Rokia’s got nothing fancy in her closets and there’s no way she’s spending hard earned money on something she wears once a year. She looks around halfheartedly for Mom, but she’s nowhere to be found. Typical.
When Rokia walks up to take her place, she sees Sara and Matt standing across from each other in the 18s, with matching scowls and arms crossed. Rokia almost laughs. They hate being told they look alike, but just now Rokia could believe they’re siblings instead of just having picked up each others habits’ from too many hours in the shop together.
Rokia holds her breath when the escort steps up to call the girl, watches her hand reach into the bowl while saying “not me, not Sara” over and over in her head.
“Salia Dimas” The name rings out and Rokia’s breath explodes out of her lungs. The sighs of relief cover the gasp of a girl from out of the 14s, her soft grey dress too big for her thin frame—bought to grow into, Rokia thinks, with the small part of her mind that isn’t dizzy with relief.
The girl walks carefully up onto the stage, and they call the boy, and it’s not Matt and it’s not anyone else she knows, he’s 16 and looks angry and Rokia feels sorry for them both, really she does, but mostly she wants to laugh because they’re safe for another year and Sara will never, ever be reaped.
They find each other afterwards, Sara and Matt and a few others from the 18s are laughing about some stupid joke but really they’re laughing because they’re safe, all of them, and Sara throws her arm around Rokia’s shoulder and says, “Come on, we’re going to celebrate!”
Matt laughs, but nobody complains, and Rokia’s never felt young around them, but she does right now. She’s 15 years old and she has three more chances to get called, but it won’t happen for a year and the girls are with Magda and Uncle Sal said they could go so for right now she is gloriously free.
The bars around the central square are packed, spilling people out onto the sidewalk, so they walk down towards home till they get to their usual spot, the place they go because Ed doesn’t ever ask them for ID, but this time he does, and all the 18-year-olds pull out their cards and laugh, and he looks sideways at Rokia and grins, pulling her beer along with the rest of them.
The Reapings are on the television because it’s mandatory viewing, but the sound’s off and they’re all busy throwing darts and playing pool, and the Peacekeepers know better than to come into a bar in this part of Six on any day, much less today. There’s a couple guys in a corner with the sound on, tallying odds and speculating about sure things and dark horses, and that sort of thing makes Rokia’s stomach turn but it’s not too hard to ignore them.
Eventually Sara finishes a game of darts, downs her beer, and pulls Rokia away from her card game.
“C’mon,” she says, “let’s go.”
They walk out together to the nearest El station. Sara buys the tickets and they sit next to each other, shoulders pressed close even though there’s hardly anyone else on the train. They’re quiet, and Rokia leans into Sara’s side until Sara reaches an arm around her shoulders. It feels safe, like they’re the only two people in the world right now. When Sara reaches up and runs her fingers through Rokia’s short curls Rokia hums, contented. They ride the train all the way to the end, past the Peacekeeper barracks and the train depot and the hangars and the landing pad, and when the train shudders to a stop they get out, separating reluctantly, fingers twisted together.
“Where to now?” Rokia asks.
Sara shrugs, looks around. Then her lips twitch up into the smirk that Rokia knows is bound to lead to trouble, and she follows Sara’s eyes up to the skylight in the station roof.
“So, monkey-girl, you think we can get up there?”
Rokia laughs. The station is empty, and the rafters look close enough they could maybe do it.
“Well,” she says, matching Sara’s smirk, “I know I could.” She drops Sara’s hand and scrambles up on the benches.
Rokia manages to pull herself over the rafters and wedge open the skylight, and Sara follows, less gracefully, muttering some more about monkey mutts, and Rokia laughs and tells her she shouldn’t have had that last beer if she was planning on climbing. The sun is setting by the time they’re both settled on the roof, blazing orange through the haze over the city. They watch the sun drop over the plains as they lie there next to each other, passing a cigarette back and forth and telling snippets of stories they both know by heart.
When Sara rolls towards her, chin on her hand, Rokia turns too. Sara’s face has gone soft and uncertain and when she bites her lip, Rokia’s eyes drift towards the movement. Sara cups her free hand to Rokia’s jaw and raises her eyebrows. Rokia’s breath catches.
“Can I—I really want to kiss you.“ Sara looks down for a minute, like she’s embarrassed, then back at Rokia, and instead of answering Rokia presses forward. Sara’s mouth meets hers and it’s strange and wonderful, all at once. Rokia pulls away to look at Sara, who looks back at her, serious, eyes dark. Sara brushes Rokia’s cheekbone with her thumb, smiles, and Rokia pushes forward again, uncertain what she’s doing but certain she likes it, and Sara chuckles low in her throat and kisses back, slowly, carefully. When they pull apart again Sara lies back, pulls Rokia towards her, and laughs that warm, low chuckle again, and Rokia lies with her head on Sara’s chest and grins up at the sky.
They don’t say anything else for a long time. Rokia is starting to fall asleep when Sara sighs.
“C’mon, we gotta get home.”
Rokia stretches and blinks herself awake. They scramble back down to the floor and as they wait for the train, she pulls Sara in for one last kiss.