Kieran Lionel Emberstatt district twelve district ten fifteen nineteen
mace emberstatt -- father; victor of the 59th games. aranica petros -- mother; victor of the 55th games. julian bryze -- ex-step father; victor of the 60th games. saffron lowe -- father's girlfriend; victor of the 65th games. arbor halt -- basically his uncle; victor of the 54th games. cedar halt -- basically his cousin. julet/mason/coralee -- little siblings.
I remember being raised on the pedestal built for families like mine. I remember flashing lights, ever since I was a baby. I remember riding on trains with Mom and Uncle Arbor, and those poor doomed souls. Always new faces that went away just as soon as they came. I remember people I didn't know looking at me like I was some kind of alien creature, even though they were the ones with stretched skin and plastic faces. I remembered them all saying "Aw, he's so adorable!" sometimes, or "Do you mind if I take a picture with him?" to my parents.
I remember being cleaner than everyone else in District Twelve. My father's blue eyes on my head, blinking up at them as they all returned home to their families with coal dust kicked under their fingernails and backs hunched from day after day of standing in the dark. I remember hiding my face in Mom's shirt when they smiled at me with dirty teeth, no matter how many times she told me it was impolite.
I remember how excited I would get when Hunger Games season rolled around, and I remember Mom telling me not to peep a word of it to anyone. Not everyone was still safe, she reminded me. Not everyone was going on vacation to see their father.
And every year, there he would be. He would smile at Uncle Arbor and pretend not to notice the hurt in Mom's face when Julian would walk in and put his hand around him. Maybe he really didn't notice. Maybe they hadn't ever been around each other long enough for him to know what Mom felt, even when she was doing a good job of hiding it.
Things got better with time. Mom seemed more content with the idea of Dad working things out with Julian and not her. She seemed to accept that his new family was based around others and not us, well, never her, and only sometimes me.
But I remember her mood changes when I would bring him up. I remember how serious the conversations always were when I said I wanted to see him. I remember using it as fuel when we fought, telling her I wanted to live with Dad instead of her when she would scold me. I remember feeling bad about it after, when she would go to her room and not come out until the next morning, but I never could stop myself from saying it again and again.
I think she understood why I wanted him. It was hard for Dad to make mistakes when he wasn't there with us. In my eyes, he was perfect. In my eyes, even among families on pedestals, Dad was on an even higher one.
One day, I said it again when she was told about my fight with a little boy on the playground. I was supposed to be an example, and a good one. People were supposed to look at us and think we were perfect. ("Why are we always supposed to smile, Mom? Is something wrong with us?)
And I couldn't stop myself from saying it:
"If I lived with Dad, he'd understand!"
And I think I might have broken my own mother's spirit, because after a lot of meetings and questions and letters, my things were packed and I was doing something normal people from normal families did not get to do: riding a train from one district to another. Permanently.
By that point, Julian was gone, and so was my sister. Both of them, off to District Two, which meant my other family was about as in-tact as my old one. But there, I had more to distract me from it. I had a brother named Mason who, sickly as he was, I enjoyed making laugh. And Coralee, who wasn't even old enough to speak when I got there. I had my Aunt Reggie to help me with my homework, and Aunt Valarie to sneak me pieces of candy from my Dad's secret jar on top of the refrigerator. I had Saffron, who was always trying to keep Dad up-to-date with what was cool those days. I had her sister, Paige, to talk to when Mason was sick. I had a lot of family there.
But I remember missing Mom. Daily calls, in the morning before school and at night before I went to bed was all I got. I remember dreaming of holding her hand while she told me jokes and sang to me. I missed my mother. Back in District Twelve, so many people didn't have their mothers and they could never get them back. In District Ten, most of my family was left at the same orphanage. Most of my family was built on love, not blood. And it was my choice to leave.
I remember telling myself it was too late: I couldn't ever go back. Cedar would make new friends and Uncle Arbor would keep Mom company until she found someone to spend her life with. I would see them all every year in the Capitol, and people would take pictures of us and ask me who I wanted to win the Hunger Games that year and I would say the same thing I was always told to say: "My favorites are the ones from Ten and Twelve!" and Mom would share her bed with me when I refused to sleep in my own, and then when the games were over I would go home to District Ten, and she would go back to District Twelve.
Part of me always wondered if I made a mistake. I loved my new family, but besides Dad, I didn't look like anyone else around. With age, my bright blue eyes had dulled to a darker shade. My dark hair grew too quickly and Aunt Reggie began cutting it every two weeks in our kitchen. My skin stayed pale in covered areas, and pink in the exposed ones. I never got dark. I just burned like Mom.
The other kids were olive-skinned and had calloused hands and spoke with Dad's accent, and I knew I stuck out.
But maybe that was a good thing. I remember being all too used to attention. I think I grew fond of it through the years. When people got used to me, when they began treating me like a normal, boring child, I would tell them stories about how I met Chloe Angor before she was reaped, or how I played tag with Eden Turner and Cedar Halt every time I went to the Capitol so the wonder would return to their eyes.
One thing I wish I remembered is that the place was never what mattered.
It was who I was with.
District Ten, District Twelve, the Capitol, none of it made a difference.
My mom made the difference. My dad made the difference. Uncle Arbor, Saffron, everyone I had ever met. They were what really mattered.
I did not belong to a place.
I belonged to my family, up on our pedestal, set apart from the rest of the world.
I dream of the flashing lights, my name called down echoed hallways.