A/N: I do not own Hunger Games or it's characters.
It's Mama's quiet voice calling me that wakes me, I am careful not to disturb Prim as I slip out of our bed. I dress quickly and quietly, I feel ashamed that Mama had to wake me, I was too old to have to be woken.
I hadn't been able to sleep well last night, today is the first day at the new school house. Spring Creek finally had a proper school house, with a large bell and two stories, the big kids would be upstairs while the younger were downstairs. For the past few years our neighbor, Mrs. Sae had taught the farm kids in a little soddy on the back end of their homestead, she had gone through high school back east and let the kids without readers borrow her old ones, so long as they promised to take the very best care of it. I heard Papa telling Mr. Hawthorne that there was going to be a total of 30 students this year at the new school, that was over triple the number of students at the old soddy school. The town was getting bigger and all the children new to town or those that had been home-taught were going to go to the new school house, a school teacher all the way from Boston was even coming in, she'd be teaching upstairs, while Miss. Twill from Nebraska City was going to be teaching downstairs.
"Sorry, Mama," I say humbly.
"I heard you tossing and turning," Mama said as she stirred the coals under the stove.
I sat down and braided my hair back.
I could feel Mama's eyes on me.
"You're going to like this new school, Miss. Twill will have lots to teach you."
"It's so big, Mama," I say quietly, ashamed of admitting my fear. I was 12 years old, too old to be afraid.
"Everyone will be nervous the first day, some other girls probably won't know anyone, you already know Lillian Leevy and Annie Cresta." The Leevy's farm is just to the east of ours, and the Cresta's owned the mill just a half mile more to the east. Lillian Leevy and Annie Cresta had been desk partners since they started going to school, I tried not to fret as I thought about who I would sit next to, I get nervous talking to people I don't know.
"Go help with the milking, I'll be sending Prim out for the eggs."
I tie my apron around my waist as I start walking to the barn. The grass is wet and cold with the morning dew, chilling my bare feet and prompting me to start running. I slow down as I near the barn. I hear Papa singing to the cows.
I join in his song as I take a seat on the stool waiting for me.
"Good morning little bird," Papa greets me with a smile.
The steady beat of milk hitting the pails as we worked together was such a comfortable and familiar sound. This was one of my favorite times of the day. Prim came out after a bit, she was noticeably quiet as she looked around the chicken's usual roasting spots.
With our full buckets Papa and I carefully walk back to the house. We set all the pails but one in the lean-to and drape a cloth over the tops, I take the remaining pail into Mama. She buttoning Prim's dress up the back.
Prim looks pale.
"Your dress looks very nice, Prim," I tell her, Mama had done up one of my old dresses nicely and she had a new white bonnet that was starched stiff and hanging on the hook next to mine. This will be her very first year of school, she's always been so small and frail, so Mama has been teaching her from home up until now. While I was nervous about meeting new people, Prim looked downright terrified. I can't let Prim see me worried, so I put on a brave face.
"Isn't it lucky that you and I are going to be in the same room?"
She gives me a small smile, "I am happy about that. I would be even more scared if you were going to be upstairs."
"There is nothing to be scared of, Prim."
I'm having to repeat my words to myself as we walk down the road. Prim has her hat neatly tied under her small chin, after promising to take good care of them, she was allowed to wear her good hair ribbons, and were now tied in pretty pink bows at the end of both of her braids. Mama had done so well fixing up my old dress, managing to tuck and sew the old fabric just right, making it look like a new dress. My dress was the same from last year, with Mama's help I had let the hem out along the skirt, when Mama makes our dresses, she always leaves at least two inches extra to the hem, making it easy to grow with the dress, but this was the second and last time this dress could be let out. More to put Prim at ease, I start humming a little tune of Papa's. It was a simple tune, I don't think there are any words to go along with it, just a little melody that circled around and around. After a little while, Prim does seem to relax a little. It helped take my mind off the thought of the new school also.
We hear someone shout behind us, Prim and I both turn and see the Hawthorne boys, Vick and Rory trying to keep up with Gale as he starts running to us.
"Good morning, Catnip, Prim," He says as he catches up to us. I hate that nickname and he knows it, but he always teases me.
"Don't call me Catnip at school, Gale," I tell him, holding up a finger in warning.
Gale ignores my warning and holler back to his brothers, "Come on ya slow pokes, we ain't gonna wait forever!"
His brothers catch up to us and all of us walk down the street together, Gale's boasting about being upstairs, the rest of us are downstairs.
"I'm only one reader away from upstairs, I'll be up there soon."
"Yep, but for now, you're with the babies."
"We're not babies," Vick scoffs, and kicks a clomp of dirt.
Of the three Hawthorne boys, Vick is the youngest at 8 years old, then there is Rory who is 11 and Gale is the oldest at 15. The Hawthornes have one little girl, Posy, who is still a baby. I've known the Hawthornes all my life, Papa and Mr. Hawthorne grew up together in Ohio. When they were both 21 they took the "bet with the government" as Papa calls it, and headed out here to build a homestead. Mama doesn't like talk over gambling or betting, but Papa said that that was what it was, a bet. Formally it was called the Homestead Act; the government would give 160 acres of land to any man if they could live on the land for 5 years. The challenge of breaking the land and facing droughts, severe storms and insect invasions proved too much for some. Even after they had "won the bet" some still gave up, there had been a man by the name of Swanson that lived between our farm and the Hawthornes, he had gone back east. When the grasshoppers came for the second year in a row, people had started getting creative in their methods of getting rid of them. Mr. Swanson had caught a large net full of them he poured a bit of grease on the net and then set the whole thing on fire, he succeeded in killing the grasshoppers, but he also succeeded in burning his house down. He had turned up a bit earth by the net to serve as a fire line, but the flames had caught a breeze and spread. It spread over half his property and if the stream hadn't been right by his property it would have spread to the Hawthornes. Papa said after the flames were put out Mr. Swanson had just stood there and laughed for a while, before shouting, "Well there's nothing left for them durn things to eat now!" He packed up whatever he could salvage and left the next day, "Givin' up! The Lord don't want us out here! Give it back to them savages!" He shouted at our house as he rode off, I remember I was hiding behind Mama, clutching to her skirt, thinking that Mr. Swanson had gone mad. Swanson's property laid along the south property line of our farm and the west side of the Hawthornes' farm, Papa and Mr. Hawthorne were able to purchase the land between them, then they each took a half. For a few years it was just the Hawthornes, the Leevys and the Saes close by, and there was a town 5 miles east.
Then the promise of the railroad came and two years before the railroad was even built we had a town just a mile away. We got Mellark General Store and a church with Pastor Heavensbee and his wife, then came the lumberyard and the Cresta family came and built a mill. Mr. Paylor came and took charge of the newly erected railroad station, Mr. Abernathy floundered into town one day and hired men to build him a hotel and saloon for the railroad workers. Though the pay was good, but Mama refused to let Papa help build it. The railroad was finally complete late spring this year, once it came, more shops and buildings popped up and with them more people. Spring Creek now had close to 60 people living inside of the town, and now that the rains were good and the grasshoppers were a thing of the past, all the old homesteads that had been given up on took new ownership. The town flourished over the course of two years, the most recent addition was the new school house… That we're approaching now. I spy Lillian Leevy up ahead and think about quickening my pace to meet her, but I don't want to leave Prim behind.
"See ya, Catnip," Gale calls to me, before running away to meet up with some of his friends.
I take Prim's hand in mine and lead her over to where Lillian Leevy and Annie Cresta were gathered. Before the bell rang, we had time to look around at all the students; the girls were huddled in small groups, while the boys were running around together, the younger ones trying to play in the older boys' game. There were quite a few new girls that were obviously from town, they were wearing pretty dresses with white stockings and shiny black shoes. Most of the farm girls had bare feet and a hand-me-down dress. I was lucky that my Mama was clever with sewing, she can makeup an old dress and turn it new, gathering and tucking fabric that had a stain or tear so that it doesn't show. Annie Cresta's dress wasn't properly fit to her frame and the hem was a little lopsided, her Mama had gotten sick and died three years ago and she had to do all the sewing for her and her Papa. They hired a girl to come in and help Annie with the bigger chores, but most of the household chores were Annie's responsibility.
The new school bell rings for the first time, announcing the beginning of the school day.
Annie Cresta and Lillian Leevy sit together and I take the desk in front of them. A girl with curly blonde hair and a spotless blue dress with a full length skirt, walked past and saw the empty seat next to me then back at me.
"Country girl," She said in a loud snide way, I sat up taller and held my gaze steady on her, she scoffed and took the seat in front of me. She was closely followed by Clove Paylor, who took the seat right next to the blonde girl.
"May I take this seat?" A shy voice asked next to me.
"Yes." I look over and recognize her as Dr. Undersee's daughter, Madge. They had come to town a few months ago. Dr. Undersee and his family actually came to visit us shortly after they moved here, Mama had been helping out folks around the area, and he wanted to meet "this Mrs. Everdeen, that I keep hearing about", Mama does so well with hiding her emotions, but I could tell she was flattered by the compliment. She's been called to deliver 5 babies and has had to clean and stitch up more than a few farming injuries. Her Father is a doctor in Iowa and before she married Papa, she used to help out in his small clinic, she has no official training only a few medical books her Father had given her and the experience not to flinch or get wheezy when presented with blood and injuries. Which made her the next best thing to a doctor to a lot of folks.
I saw that Prim was sitting near the front next to another little girl they were quietly chatting, probably exchanging names.
Miss. Twill came in and rapped the desk with her ruler to call attention. She had everyone begin by saying their name and what reader they were in. The little girl next to Prim was named Rue Thresh, I recognized the name, they have a farm about 5 miles east of us, Rue's older sister Willa was a few years older than me, she stopped going to school when she was around 10, some of her family had gotten real sick, and she was needed at home. Mama had been called out, when Mrs. Thresh and three of their children had rashes and high fevers. Mama said that it was the scarlet fever. Mama had some burdock root that she brought them to try to purify their blood, Mrs. Thresh and their three year old Samson got better, but William Thresh, their third son, had passed away. Willa had never come back to school, the older sons still came occasionally, but were often absent.
The girl in front of me spoke to the teacher with a sugary voice, "Delly Cartwright, reader 4."
I feel myself smirk, but quickly correct my features, it's wrong to feel boastful, but I can't help but hold my head up proudly as I say, "Katniss Everdeen, reader 5". Reader 5 was the last level taught on this level, once I start reader 6 I'd be upstairs, while she stayed downstairs. Madge Undersee and Clove Paylor were the only other students in reader 5.
I breathe a sigh of relief when I notice that Prim seems caught up to the other girls her age, Mama had done well with her home schooling.
When recess came both classes went outside, the boys assemble and start playing crack the whip.
Gale calls over to me, "Come and join, Catn-" He starts to call me Catnip but stops short at the glare I send him.
"Aw, girls can't play," An older boy scoffs.
"She can play," Gale says loudly, standing up for me.
It seems that everyone is staring at me and I feel my face heat up, I quickly say, "I don't want to play."
I would have really preferred to play the boys game but I didn't want to draw even more attention to myself and none of the other girls were playing, so I joined a group of girls that were playing hopscotch.
Mid-way through recess Delly threw a fit when someone pointed out that she had stepped on a line.
"I absolutely did not!" She had fumed. The hopscotch court had been drawn in the dirt and Madge pointed out that she had smudged the line when she stepped on it.
"What do I care about this silly game," She then said, sticking her nose in the air, "I wouldn't want to appear tomboyish."
Delly promptly left the game and sat on the school steps for the remainder of recess.
On the way home I complained to Gale about Delly.
"She thinks she so much better," I scoffed, "Called me a 'country girl'."
"You are a country girl," Prim said from behind us.
I huff, "It was the way she said it. Like it was something terrible."
"I wish we didn't have to go in town… I don't wanna be in school with those townies, they all think they're better than us," Gale said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"Not all of them," Prim piped up again from behind us, "Rue and I were talking to Venia Paylor, she seemed nice."
"Well, I miss the days before the railroad came… and all the townies that came with it," Gale said, "Those Mellark boys are always acting so high and mighty."
I looked over at him surprised, "They always seemed nice whenever we'd go into their store… It's Mrs. Mellark that's a-" I stop myself short, not wanting to say anything unkind or rude about a grown-up.
"The youngest Peeta is always so nice," Prim said, "He always smiles and says hello whenever he sees us."
Gale looked sour and his brow furrowed as he kicked at a clump of dirt.
"What's the matter?" I asked teasingly, "Jealous? Did Ed out shine you in their lessons?" Ed Mellark, I believe, was the same age as Gale and might even be in the same reader as him.
Gale scoffed, "Like lessons really matter."
"Well I think that they're nice," Prim said, matter-of-factly.
"You should both stay away from the townies," Gale said firmly, "I saw you talkin' to the doctor's daughter, Catnip… You ought to stick with the Leevy girl."
I turned back to look at Prim and I rolled my eyes and made a face, causing her to giggle and Vick and Rory to laugh. Gale didn't say anything more, except for a muttered "Bye," when we parted ways.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed the beginning. I've been working on this story for months (after stumbling upon my old 'Little House' books, which I honestly can't even count how many time I read them when I was little).
Next chapter should be up soon and then I'll try to update regularly.