I sincerely apologize for the huge delay on this chapter. Life has been stressful, what with my exams and school. But I am officially finished for the year, so I will be catching up on all of my other stories. This is the last chapter before the Epilogue, which I will try to get to you as soon as possible. Once again, thank you for all of your kind words and your patience. I hope you enjoy this extra long chapter as a token of my gratitude.

I do not own anything.

WARNING: I have included a quote from John Green's, The Fault in Our Stars. While not only genius, it is all of his beautiful work and I am just bringing it to admiration. I have not included any spoilers of the novel, for all of those who haven't gotten a chance to read it yet. All I can tell you, from what you must have gotten from tumblr, is that is, in fact, an emotional roller coaster.

Prim lightly uncoils the rod from a large piece of my hair, being careful to not pull. What she doesn't know is that, sleeping on a pillow with your head full of these demons, sticking every which way, changes a person. Prim insisted that my hair not only be curled, but she wanted to be sure that it was going to stay, considering hairspray doesn't help me much. I got out of the shower last night, the wet tresses forming a puddle on the wooden floor. I didn't help that these were my mothers and the thought of her not being at my own graduation, let alone Prim's, still haunted me.

Although, whenever I felt run down, Prim would always assure me that mother was really here in our hearts. All the cheesy shit that I used to somewhat hate.

"Beautiful." Prim breathes, as I stare at a girl in the mirror that hardly looks like me. Deep down, I know that underneath all the makeup and gowns was the irregular teenage girl just waiting to escape this hell.

Not much I could do about it though. Graduation meant a lot to anybody and today was in fact one of the hardest days of my life. We were all splitting ways, going off to live our own lives. Twenty years from now, no one is going to look back at their high school experience. I think that's actually what scares me the most. I shouldn't be though. We all promised that we wouldn't let our post-secondary school get in the way of our friendship. I wasn't worried about the others as I was more so Peeta. Peeta and I are going to two different schools. They are about an hour apart, but the idea of going a day without him, brought a pain to my chest. There would be girls there, and I have no doubt that when they first catch sight of his eyes, they'll be a goner. Just like I was, well…just like I am.

"Here is the dress you will be wearing. It's perfect for you, Kat." She smiles down at me, holding up a simple navy blue pencil dress. It looks like something that belonged to mom too, but I'm afraid to ask. So I just nod, and grab the hanger, sauntering off into the bathroom to get changed. When I get the zipper done up, I stand back and take a look at myself in the mirror. I feel mature. Despite the elegance of the burgundy or black dress, this is the perfect look for going off into my college years.

I grab some lip chap from the bottom drawer in the vanity, and open the front door. In spite of my queasiness, I was as ready as I'll ever be.

Prim gathers some belongings, and shoves them into her purse. She was growing up too fast…

"Ready?" She gives her an encouraging smile, and I can't help but smile back. I nod and we walk out the door, locking it behind me. I could very well feel my emotions overwhelm me and my stomach growls in anticipation. What was I so afraid of? I got accepted to a school about twenty minutes from my home, Prim would be looked after, Peeta was only going to be an hour away. As far as I was concerned, I was lucky compared to the others.

The thought lingered in my mind; this was the last time I was leaving our house as a high school student. I would be graduating and in only a couple months I would be attending college. It only seems like yesterday we moved here, and now it felt so different. But I suppose that was what growing up was all about.

"Look at us guys! We made it!" Annie cries in my ear as she squishes Johanna and me into a hug. Johanna grunts in surprise, forcing herself further from Annie. Everyone was feeling sentimental now; we're all leaving for post-secondary. The possibility of us all meeting again at the same time, was scarce and I'm sure that was the cause for Annie's sudden closeness.

I glance around the cafeteria; all of my peers are all in attendance. We were still waiting in line for our graduation gowns that has been split into two lines; girls in one, boys in the other. I imagine Peeta's here, around somewhere with the guys.

"Miss Everdeen?" The shrill sound of Ms. Trinket breaks my thoughts. Her sugary sweet smile is laced with different emotions. Of course she never lost that constant brilliant attitude, but I don't blame her for being thrilled. The people in my year were unbelievably immature and irritating. I would be happy too, if it weren't for obvious reasons.

She hands me an ivory white gown and a matching cap with a tassel. I give her a small smile, showing my appreciation for what she has had to deal with.

"Thank you." I mumble, moving out of the line, allowing Annie to receive her supplies.

After the others had received their graduation gowns, they insisted on going to the bathroom. We have about a half an hour before the actual ceremony starts and I think we're all getting a little nervous. It is a distraction, I suppose. Even Jo is a little anxious, probably more than she'd like to admit.

I push my way through the graduates as I try to keep up with Annie. Almost all of the girls are doing something to their appearance, fluffing their hair, fixing their makeup and clothing. An odd sense of nostalgia came over me, bringing me back to the beginning of the year. Back when Peeta and I were only friends, Prim had been starting high school for the first time and I had reunited with an old acquaintance that turned out to ruin my life.

Nothing has been written in stone yet, but I have to attend a trial date in August. Although Josh admitted to the crime, we still had to go through all the messy law stuff, which I knew nothing about. I was to attend, and fight for what was right. I'm still overly furious with him and I don't think I will ever get over that sense of betrayal, but I don't want to fight with anyone anymore. After I graduate from high school, I will be a new person. I want to start over; I have the chance to start over.

Peeta and I had patched everything up; Cato hasn't bothered me since Peeta beat the shit out of him. Rory and Prim even started to officially date, as if they weren't before.

"Come on, Annie. I don't have much time with her… can't I steal her away for only a couple of minutes?" His smooth, velvety voice cuts through the crowd, my eyes immediately searching for him.

"You'll have her later won't you? Wait your turn lover boy." Johanna's gruff voice breaks in abruptly, which I'm sure catches Peeta off guard.

He doesn't have time to answer before I catch his gaze, his eyes a shade darker than normal. I give him a small smile and gradually walk over to the group. I grab his hand, lacing our fingers together.

"Jo, don't be like that. Go find your boy toy." Bringing up Johanna's boyfriend Thom, is sure to get a mouthful later, but I'm willing to take the chance. Her wide brown eyes narrow and she points her finger at me.

"Kat, you better watch it. I can't get expelled anymore, so I am not afraid to injure you." Her lips turn up slightly, and I can't help but laugh a little.

"Fine," I turn to kiss Peeta's cheek and I whisper that I will see him after the ceremony. Apparently, there's another party at Finnick's house, but I don't want to leave right after. I want some time alone with Peeta before things really begin to pick up again.

"Okay, but I have a surprise for you after." He smiles and loosens his hand from our grip. I hate surprises.

"Does anyone have any lip gloss?" Cashmere asks, tousling her blond hair.

"I have lip chap." She looks at me a moment, as if trying to make a decision.

"Flavor?" I look down, briefly at the tube, searching for the kind. "Watermelon." I reply. Her eyes light up and she holds out her hand for me to throw it to her.

"Thanks Kat." She applies it, and throws it back to me. "I always have to check the flavor now, just to make sure it's not that Aloe Vera stuff Madge has."

"Oh yeah! That stuff tastes like shit." Johanna says, while slapping Madge on the shoulder.

"Excuse me? Who has the softest lips in the school?" Everyone laughs, while Madge puckers her lips into the mirror.

"I wouldn't know Madge, but why don't we ask Hawthorne?" Jo replies, making even Annie and I laugh. Madge now sports a light shade of red that covers her cheeks, but a smile breaks through.

Madge and Gale were on the way to recovery as well, although I wasn't sure what was going to happen in a couple months when Madge would be attending a University, four hours away.

After that, we carry on an easy conversation, talking about things like celebrities, clothing and shopping. Things, I didn't have any interest in discussing, but I enjoyed it. It was the only thing we could talk about, without having to face the harsh reality of what was coming up next. Before we realized that this would be the last time we would ever be truly known as teenagers. Before we had to jump into adulthood and face the horrors of things like taxes, money, and work. We don't have any escape route; there is only one way out of this place and we really had only one chance to become successful.

"Hey, Katniss?" Madge taps her hand on my shoulder, bringing me out of my daze. The others seem to be shuffling out, "can I talk to you a minute?" She finishes, and I nod my head cautiously.

"Sure, what's up?" I swat the tassel out of my face in annoyance, while Madge plays with a piece of her straight golden hair.

"Are we okay?" Her voice seems rushed and I can't help but feel confused, why would she be asking such a ludicrous question?

"Yes, of course we're okay. Why would you ask such a thing?" Her bright blue eyes cast down and she gives me a shrug of her shoulders.

"Well, I can't be the only one thinking that we started off on the wrong foot this year. The whole Peeta debacle, and then that thing with Gale…"

"Okay, stop right there." I say, interrupting her. "I wasn't sure about my feelings, let alone you, for Peeta. I'll admit that I was jealous, but that only made me realize how deeply I cared for him. But you have some sort of connection with Gale. You can't give up just yet… Gale is a stubborn ass sometimes, but you make him a better person." She smiles softly, and turns to the gigantic wall mirror beside the sink.

"That's sweet, Katniss. But Gale and I don't have any sort of future together. I'm going to school hours away and he hasn't spoken one word to me since I showed him my acceptance letter." Her face contours into disappointment.

"Fight for it. We didn't go through this hellish year just for you to give up on him. I know you have it in you." I smile and place my hands on her shoulders, turning her to face me. Before she has a chance to say anything, I break in. "That's what friends are for." I bring her into a hug and pull away.

"We better get out there, before Jo kills us. She would hate us if we missed her speech."

"Ladies and gentleman, parents and guardians, family; I would like to start off this ceremony with our 2013 valedictorians of Moonview High School, Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason." The vice principal over-enunciates the end of Johanna's name, making her cringe slightly. But she walks confidently up to the podium anyway, lacing her arm through Finnick's. Off course, the two of them make an interesting and humorous concoction, all the more reason they were picked.

"Graduates of 2013, Ms. Mason and I would just like to say what an honor it is that you choose us to give the speech of a lifetime. Of course, how could we not…I mean, look at us?" Finnick says, posing for the audience, earning light chuckles throughout the crowd.

"I guess we should keep this speech somewhat appropriate and original. But come on, what fun is that? I mean would it be so bad to re-enact Adam Sandler?" I smile willingly and lean my head forward, trying to catch a glimpse of Peeta. Being in alphabetical order means that he is much father then I'd like him to be.

"It's been a pretty successful couple years. They could actually make real food at the cafeteria instead of that fake shit… but other than that, no complaints." Johanna says, not even concerned that Ms. Trinket is giving her the worst look possible. Oh well, she can't get in trouble now, since she technically doesn't even go here anymore. However, the easy atmosphere changes when Finnick and Johanna's expressions quickly change.

"But, this period of our lives is over. We will go on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, models and we will gradually forget about all the small problems you had, all the moments that made you cry, the moments that made you laugh. You will forget about that girl who dumped you for someone else, or that guy who broke your heart. You will forget about that teacher who made you angry or that person in your class that pissed you off. The people you cared so much about might drift away but you will create new memories. Every single one of the students, teachers and moments has taught us something valuable. "

"No, we're not talking about education…" Jo says, winking at the teachers along the wall, some seem to be laughing, others look offended.

"Jo's right, we certainly didn't learn anything about education. No, we learned how to deal with a broken heart, the loss of a family member, friends fighting. Our school is a family, and no matter what was thrown at us; most of us would be there to help the other." Finnick finishes. I hear people sniffle, and cough.

"So, there is this award that our school gives out, where one student of our entire class will receive a plaque and a gracious amount of money towards their tuition. It's not just any student though, voted by our teachers, this student was chosen because of their ultimate struggles and obstacles they have faced during their time at MHS. Now may I present the winner of the Mockingbird award;" There is a pause, and the room is filled with tension. Johanna and Finnick receive an envelope and a plaque from Ms. Trinket, the sound of her heels echoing through the quiet auditorium. I swear you could hear a pin drop.

Finnick reads the plaque, showing Johanna briefly and they share a knowing glance. "Katniss Everdeen." I feel everyone's eyes on me, boring into my soul. I don't hear anything. Then I realize that they meant me. I am Katniss Everdeen.

My mind lurches forward, and I stand up. I don't want to walk up the stairs, I will fall. I am frozen in place until I hear a low whistle, and my head whips towards him. His bright blue eyes are happy, filled with emotion and his lips form into the words, 'go on.' I smile and walk up the red velvet steps, Johanna and Finnick awaiting me with a gigantic smiles on their faces. Finnick pulls me into a tight hug.

"You're welcome." He says into my ear, I don't have time to say anything because when I pull away, Johanna crashes into me.

"Aren't you glad I made you come to our ceremony? You deserve this, brainless." I feel the smile in her voice, but she pushes away, giving me a nod of her head. As if to say that she's proud of me. Finnick hands me the plaque and envelope, a cheesy smirk plastered on his face. I shake both of their hands, and I make my way down the stairs.

The rest of their speech goes by fairly quickly, Johanna's ending sentence being, "Peace, I'm outta here." I guess she couldn't help herself from quoting Adam Sandler.

The rest of the ceremony goes by quickly, Peeta, Annie and Madge all won awards for their academics. Standing up, I gave each of them a standing ovation. I was proud of them. I was proud of each one of my peers. Because we've all made it, we're here, we're finished and it's oddly exhilarating.

After the ceremony, we are called down to the cafeteria, yet again; where they have supplied a cake. This time, the cafeteria is decorated with blue spiral streamers that are held together with clusters of white balloons. I know the cake is Peeta's from one glance. The beautiful blue and white flowers align the sides, surrounding cursive script that says "Congratulations Class of 2013." No one else in town could make a better cake, and everyone knows that.

I grip Peeta's hand, and pull him closer to me. "The cake is beautiful." My voice is almost a whisper. He turns to face me, a huge smile plastered on his face.

"You're beautiful." I'm blushing, and he knows it. That's why he said it, because he is a gigantic cheese ball. But I love him for it. "So, do you want your surprise now, or later?" He whispers back, his eyes flicker with amusement.

"You know I hate surprises." I try to keep my tone as menacing as possible, but that's not possible when he looks absolutely adorable.

"Yeah, but this is the good kind." He winks back, gripping my hand tighter as he maneuvers through the graduates. People congratulate him on his academic achievement; even some guys from the football team high five him like they've been friends for years. Hell even people I've never met, praise my own accomplishment this evening. Everybody is feeling a little generous tonight, I suppose.

I try, hopelessly, to get Peeta's surprise out of him, but he doesn't budge. After pleading him, I just wait and allow him to drag me the rest of the way. I can't stop him, so why try now?

"Hey, kid." A gruff voice interrupts our reverie and my old English teacher stands by the men's washroom, adjusting his light green tie. Mr. Abernathy cleaned up good and oddly enough, I was sure that Ms. Trinket's dress was the exact same shade. Was that even intended?

"Mr. Abernathy," Peeta stalls, and loosens his light grip on my hand. I miss his warmth already. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" There he goes being Peeta. His way with words, that could charm the hat off of anyone.

"Don't smart talk me, boy. Where the hell do you think you're going, and without supervision? I hate to break this little party up, but you guys are still in this high school, even though you've graduated. You can't just sneak off," He pauses. "I was a kid once; I know what boys your age have in mind. But don't ruin her college life and tuition by getting her prego." I feel my cheeks grow hot at Mr. Abernathy's insinuation.

"Mr. Abernathy-"

"Please," he says, his hand silencing me. "Call me Haymitch. You are not my students anymore and besides, Mr. Abernathy was my father's name. "

"But that's hardly professional." Peeta sputters, his eyes as wide as saucers.

"Do I look like a 'professional to you, boy?" He points at himself, and I realize that he may not be entirely sober at the moment. "Don't answer that. Besides the point, just please use protection-"

"Haymitch?" A high pitched voice sounds from around the corner. Her bright green dress almost acts like a pylon, something you could definitely see a mile away. That's weird… why would Ms. Trinket want to talk to Mr. Abernathy?

"Oh there you are, Haymitch. I thought you left without me again." I give Peeta a knowing smile, and watch Mr. Abernathy sputter uncomfortably just like Peeta and I had, only a few moments ago.

I guess that she never saw us before, because her expression at the moment is priceless.

"Oh, Peeta, Katniss. How are you two? I didn't mean to interrupt anything, I was-"

"Just leaving." Mr. Abernathy finishes. He gives us another once over, and points to Peeta. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, okay loverboy?" Peeta nods and the two leave down the hallway, slowing growing closer with each step.

Peeta and I are in so much shock, that we just stand there; speechless.

"What the hell just happened?" I finally ask.

Peeta doesn't respond right away, but his eyes flicker between the doors and the end of the hallway.

"I ship them."

"Yeah, that night he got in shit. Finn had to pay for all of the alcohol they consumed, and we had to clean the entire house. I didn't even drink anything, but Finn had begged me to be their chaperone. " He pauses, and his expression changes completely. "That's when he first told Annie he loved her."

"When he was drunk?" I ask, Peeta nods his head with a small smile gracing his lips.

"Of course, Annie was our friend long before she was Finn's girlfriend, so she thought we were pranking her. He had to prove himself, but he eventually got it right. Now, I can't even imagine the two of them not together."

We fall into a comfortable silence. I finally get a good look at Peeta's surprise; which shouldn't have been much of a surprise anyway. A large canopy of green leaves shields us from the fading sunlight and the sound of crickets fills the air. Although, this place had a familiar feel to it.

"You remember don't you?" Peeta asks, almost as if he was reading my mind. "I came here right after I knocked the shit out of Josh." It still came as a shock to me that Josh became the person I hadn't expected. Who knew that a person, who could mean so much to you one minute, could ruin the rest of your life the next? I nod my head softly, placing my head on Peeta's chest as I lay down. I usually don't mind the ground, but it was different when sharp sticks and pine-cones scraped your bare legs.

"I remember that." I whisper into his chest, relishing in his smell. "Hard to believe he was the boy I used to play cars with." Peeta's eyebrows rise in amusement.

"Cars?" I balance myself on my elbows, so I can get a better look at him. His perfect smile playing across his lips.

"What? I was a hard-core tomboy… I thought we established this by now." I swat his arm playfully, chuckling to myself when he feigns to be hurt.

I settle back into my position from before. Legs across the cool, slightly damp dirt, head on his chest and my hand lightly coiled around his.

"Well… that sucks." I hear him say, after a fit of silence. I tip my head back, attempting to look at his face.

"What sucks?" He takes a moment to think of his answer, as if trying to make sure he says the right words. Odd, being Peeta… he never says the wrong words.

"That I didn't have someone as beautiful with you, to play with cars when I was younger." He pauses, "Although I don't think I'd be paying attention to the cars." He lightly kisses the top of my head. It's more than difficult to except his compliments. I find saying 'thank you' isn't enough to pay back my appreciation.

"It wasn't that fun, trust me… I was such a terrible loser. After a while, I'm pretty sure Josh lost intentionally most of the time… just to avoid my temper." I laughed at the memory, flooding back to me. He used to be so different.

"That wouldn't bother me... you can't be any worse than my brothers. Both ganging up on me, wrestling me to the ground… it was terrible." A light laugh comes from his mouth. "You'd distract me too much though…"

Night quickly grows, and giant crystal stars blanket the sky. I don't know how long we've been here, in this position. My head in on his chest, his hand tracing circles into my hand. The soothing feeling overcomes me and my eyelids flutter shut, as though I'm about to fall asleep. I just want to stay in this moment for ever.

But I can't. Peeta is leaving… and I'm staying here, at home. Which I'm okay with, I'm just happy that I can afford it and I don't have to move somewhere without Prim. I can't abandon Prim… especially after the year we've just been through.

Peeta is completely still, but I hear him mutter things I can't comprehend. Bits and pieces are audible, like he's talking to me. My name comes upon his lips, it sounds so effortless and perfect.

"Katniss," He strokes the soft tendril out of my face, the cold air quickly exposing my check. I feel… oddly vulnerable.

But his next words… are louder than they should and I know for a fact that I was not meant to hear them… just yet.

"I want to marry you." I don't give myself time to register before I'm startled conscious, my checks growing red as I sit up, not even bothering the fact that my legs will be scraped all to hell. He knows I've heard, and he is realizing his misconception.

"Shit. Kat…" He runs a hand through his hair. "How much did you hear?"

"Marry?" To shocked say actual sentences, I stutter at the thought. It's not a terrible thing… marrying Peeta. I would actually like it a lot more than I'd like to admit. But not now… not when we just finished high school.

"I know, by your reaction, that you are over-thinking this." He sighs, taking my hands into his.

"But, I don't regret anything. I love you, and I have for a very long time. I will never stop."

"Peeta… I can't be ready for marriage. I would be a terrible wife. I would only ruin your life." I let out the breath I was holding, unshed tears filling my eyes.

"No, I think you have it mixed up… my life would be in ruins, without you."

I find myself touched, but I can't seem to stop searching reasons to not want to marry him. Not because I don't want to, but because I can't find it in myself to open up to marriage. I have already turned into my mother once; I couldn't afford to do it again.

"We haven't finished high school yet, Peeta." He smirks and tightens his grip on my hands, bringing me closer.

"Kat, I understand that we are too young, and at the moment, vulnerable. I'm not saying that we're going to get married now, I just... want to marry you, one day. We both have school, and I'm going to be about an hour apart, did I mention it's going to kill me? Being away from you that long?" He pulls me into his arms, "but I'm going to come back every weekend, and for the holidays."

"What if you forget about me?" I ask, my voice fading with the thought.

He laughs, but quickly stops, realizing my seriousness. "Kat… do you honestly think that I would forget about you?" Growing uneasy, I don't answer. Peeta stiffens, and takes a moment to retaliate.

"I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you" He stops and I look up to see him smiling viciously. I have no other option but to kiss him, right then and there. I pull away, his blue eyes alert, and he knows he di d something right.

"I only did that because you just quoted John Green… But I suppose it was a smart tactic. Unfair advantage, might I add… but on a side note; you actually read it?"

He nods, "Of course I did. It was kinda sad, eh?"

"Sad? It wasn't just sad! It was an emotional roller coaster that just kept spinning and spinning. John Green tends to do that to you, I suppose. Augustus reminds me of you though, you both are extremely charming. Like him, you always say the right things." He smiles, and I can feel my cheeks heat up.

"Really? I'm charming?" I nod, trying not to look into those penetrating blue eyes.

"Well then, Katniss Everdeen… I am confident that I will marry you someday."

Thank you for everything! BurntBreadAndShinyPearls, thank you for helping me with the things I didn't completely understand throughout this fanfic and for recommending TFiOS. John Green is utterly amazing and so is the novel.

I am sorry, but I know nothing about law or anything... and I couldn't find any information on it. So if I'm incorrect, please don't hesitate to tell me.

I want to announce that the wonderful, Olive Monster has offered to be my beta for my Cato and Katniss fanfiction, Once Upon a December. Thank you for that!

Epilogue will be coming your way shortly. But until next time, have a splendid day.