Calhoun was always nervous the morning of a reaping. This was his second year being elgible for reaping and while Hayden made sure he never needed to take out tesserae and have his name in there more than once...Cal couldn’t help feeling nervous. On top of the usual nerves, Cal had it harder this year. Last year he could at least vaguely HEAR what was going on, he’d been able to hear that his name was NOT called and that Ada’s name was NOT called. This year he would not be able to hear and would have to rely on lip reading and the reaction of those around him and image projected on the screen. That caused a whole separate wave of anxiety for the boy.
Still, Cal was a trooper and he always did his best to be brave. He put on his best clothing, as was common, and had breakfast with Hayden. They always ate better on reaping day, everyone did. Cal knew it was because family’s never knew if it might be the “last” meal. He hoped it wouldn’t be but he knew if somehow his name was called, once he knew, he’d put on a brave face for his brother and he wouldn’t make a fuss. He was stronger than last year, as he was apprenticed to his brother now. He knew how to wield an axe. It wasn’t an automatic death sentence, even if chance of death was high in any district outside the careers. Still, Theo had come home and they had a victor last year. It wasn’t impossible. Cal still hoped he wouldn’t be picked.
When he got to the reaping he parted ways with Hayden, asking his brother to try to stay where he could see him, where he could translate for him. He was really nervous about being unable to hear and being surrounded by the very kids who’d made school miserable for him when he’d gone and who he knew tormented Ada. Still, he put a grin on his face and let them prick his finger. Then he moved to the end of the line of 13 year old boys, looking for Hayden in the crowd of people not of reaping age.
Calhoun looked up at the stage, at the escort who was there waiting and then where the mentors were. He saw Theo and when he caught his eye, he saw Theo’s smile. He offered his best brave smile back, because while he was nervous, he knew if he got picked Theo would at least be there and maybe he’d manage to come home. Still, he didn’t linger there long before he went back to looking for Hayden, trying to find his brother in the crowd, hoping he’d translate the words. He couldn’t find him though, so he was stuck staring at the escort, hoping he’d be able to read their lips.
When the escort actually began speaking, Cal found himself unable to follow. The escort spoke too fast and lost Cal completely. Still, he watched the images on the video and then watched as the escort stuck their hand into the bowl and pulled out the female name. Cal scanned the crowd of girls looking for Ada, hoping he’d be able to find her and know by her reaction that she was safe. That was his first mistake, assuming she’d be safe.
Cal didn’t find Ada in the crowd, but he saw the peacekeepers heading toward the 13 year old girls. Then, he saw then sling one of their shoulder. It took a moment, but he knew that dress and Cal’s face turned from surprise to horror and he began to scream, without realizing it. He didn’t speak anymore, but seeing his best friend, his girlfriend, slung over the peacekeeper’s shoulder, seeing her carried onto the stage horrified him and his mouth was frozen in a scream for a moment. Only a hand on his shoulder, forced him to close his mouth. One of the boys near him looked at him with a warning glance, warning him to shut up. He did so, staring at Ada on the stage in a stunned silence. He saw the puddle between her legs and he wanted to rush up there and clean it up and to promise her he’d protect her….but he knew he couldn’t. Unless he volunteered to go with her, there’d be no protecting her.
That’s when Cal began to move, attempting to rush to the stage or to Hayden, he didn’t know which. However, arms stopped him, arms shrouded in white and he was shoved back to his spot in line. The peacekeepers lips moved harshly but Cal couldn’t hear them. He was screaming again. “No! Ada! No! No! No!” The arms were back now, but this time one of them was raised toward him and he lifted his own to protect his face from a slap, a slap that didn’t come as his own fear seemed to satisfy the peacekeeper, who was walking away now.
That’s when Cal’s hands moved on their own. “I volunteer!” he signed, a knee jerk reaction, but one that came natural as he stared at Ada. One that came too late and without the vocal words to ensure they were understood by others aside from Theo and Hayden, if they were even looking. Still the signed gesture was too late. The boy whose name had been called was already joining Ada on the stage and Cal was left standing there, his hands dropping to his sides in defeat. Had Theo or his brother seen his words, the signed words, his last attempt to protect the best friend he now knew he’d be saying goodbye to forever? He didn’t know. He just knew that tears were stinging his eyes and he had to find Hayden. He needed his brother to calm him before he went to say goodbye to Ada.