A/N: Wow! What an awesome response! As requested, a second update.


My heart leapt into my throat, "Oh Papa, yes I do… But Papa, it would cost so much."

"We can manage, if it's something that you want to do and promise to do your best at. I'll be having to sell some cows to Odair here soon, calves are getting bigger and we're running out of room in the barn… Mama asked your teacher, and Miss. Trinket said that if you kept at the same pace you were last year, that you would be ready to be enrolled in next years classes."

"Oh I will Papa!" I said and threw myself into his arms, "I will do my very best in class! Oh Papa! I can't even believe it!"

I could go to high school, the thought of getting a high school diploma, me!

I felt like I was walking on clouds the whole way home.

After seeing to the animals we started the walk back.

"So that Mellark boy is leaving soon I hear," Papa says.

"Yes," I said, "Next Monday."

"He's a good lad," Was all Papa said.

We arrived back in town just as Mr. Paylor was calling everyone to attention for the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Papa and I found Mama, Prim was standing nearby with Venia.

"Oh, Mama, thank you," I said as soon as I was next to her.

"I know that you'll work hard, Katniss, and make the most out of this

experience."

"I will, I will," I said, I was unable to stop smiling.

Madge stepped up and began reciting, her voice was loud and clear and no one in the crowd made a sound as we all listened. The more she spoke the stronger her voice became until she reached the end of her portion, ending with "…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

She then took a step back as Clove stepped forward and began, "Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government." Clove had the longer section of the three girls, she spoke with passion when as she spoke the case for freedom, "…He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands..."

As she spoke I felt as if I were there, overcoming the tyranny of the British; my throat felt full of emotion and I noticed several ladies dabbing their eyes with their handkerchiefs.

When Clove's part ended there was such a silence in the crowd. Delly stepped up and said her piece.

There were several moments of silence, no one seemed to feel right talking after such an emotional reading.

Suddenly we heard Pastor Heavensbee start singing in a deep voice, "My Country tis of thee…" Everyone else chimed in.

After the song was over three loud cannon booms rang out. Everyone cheered and clapped.

The sun was starting to set as the crowd made it's way to the school yard, it had transformed, long benches were lined up along the dance floor and lanterns were lit, a barrel of water, freshly pumped from the hotel was brought out and set close to the dance floor. Mr. Paylor took a seat on a stool and set his fiddle on his shoulder, he looked over at Mr. Mason who then stepped up and took out a harmonica.

A lively tune sprang forth from both their instruments and folks hurried out on to the dance floor with excitement.

Madge came up next to me, "Oh, thank goodness that's all over," She said, referring to her reciting.

"You did very well, Madge," I told her.

"Thank you, Clove was just wonderful though, I'm glad that I was before and not after her… Where did you disappear to earlier? Gale came round looking."

"Oh," I said and tried not to let a blush creep on to my cheeks, "I was talking with Peeta." Then I remembered what Papa had told me, "Oh, Madge, you'll never guess what."

Her eyes lightened up, "Is it about Peeta?"

I give her a nudge and roll my eyes, "No."

Her face falls slightly, "What then?"

"I will get to go to high school next year, in Nebraska City."

"Oh, Katniss, that's just wonderful. You deserve to go, you're one of the smartest in school," Then she gave me a small nudge, "Peeta's coming."

I turned to where she was looking just as he stepped up next to us.

"You spoke very well," Peeta said to Madge, then he turned to me, "May I have this dance?"

We joined the crowd on the dance floor and took our place in line. Mama had taught Prim and I how to dance at home when we were younger, often times it would be Prim and I taking turns dancing the ladies part though occasionally Papa would join us, I had never danced with a boy or even been around some many dancing couples. I tried to steady my nerves, I knew the steps and part of dancing is not to over-think your movements.

Each time our hands touched I felt my heart flutter, whenever I'd look up Peeta's eyes would be on me. As he pulled me closer for a turn he said, "Sorry about earlier."

I looked at him, "For what?"

"With Gale… I tried to be nice to him."

I made an amused sound of disbelief, "You two seem just bent on disliking each other."

Peeta look guilty, "In my defense he's not exactly an easy guy to get along with."

There was a long pause before I said, "Oh."

"I'll keep trying though," Peeta quickly said, obviously afraid that he had said something to upset me, "I know he's been your friend for a long time… but I'm not going to let him bully me."

"I don't think he means to bully anyone," I said coming to the defense of my friend.

Peeta gave me a smile, "Whatever you say."

We danced silently for a while longer, as the end was nearing Peeta gave me a cheeky grin, "Well, am I a good enough dancer to deserve another dance with you?"

I managed not to blush as I said, "You are a very nice dancer… I'm rather surprised actually with three brothers, I had Prim to practice with but I can't picture you practice your dancing with your brothers."

"Of course we practiced together… Tried to get Ed to wear a dress once," He joked.

I burst into laughter at the thought of his brother wearing a dress.

"Charlie and I felt it would help us practice."

"You being the youngest I'm surprised you weren't the one to be forced in a dress."

Peeta gave a short laugh and then looked at me cheekily, "Oh, I'm far too clever to let that happen."

"And so modest too."

"Yes, it is amazing that I can be so modest about my cleverness and charm."

I was about to scold him for being too vain, even though he was joking, but Peeta surprised me by encircling my waist a little more with his hand and then I gasped as he spun me around in a half circle right as the music stopped.

He quickly pulled his hand away from my waist as the other couples separated.

"Mind if I have the next," Papa's voice came from behind me.

Peeta looked up, "Oh-Of course, sir."

I stifled a laugh at how quickly Peeta's cheeky confidence disappears when Papa is near.

Several minutes later Madge and I sat on the schools steps, watching the dancers from afar, the lantern light created a dome over the dance floor that was full of the busy activity of the dancers.

"I'll bet they'll be lighting off the fireworks soon," Madge said propping her elbows on her knees.

I looked up at the star filled sky and tried to imagine it filled with bursts of bright light.

"Look at Mr. Abernathy," Madge giggled beside me. I followed her gaze and saw that he was dancing what Papa would call a jig, or that's what I think he wanted to do. Madge and I continued to watch, but surprisingly it seemed the longer he "jigged" the better he got. People around him stopped dancing to watch and cheer him on.

Madge pulled me up and we hurried over to have a better view.

A few of the ladies were watching with obviously disapproval, but everyone else was clapping him on. Finally he stopped hunched forward and gasping for breath, standing tall he gave an odd wave of his hand in the air, "That's the spent one then," He said nonsensically and staggered off.

"It's a wonder he could function so well," Gale said from next to me, I hadn't heard him come up or noticed him if he had already been standing there.

"I've never seen him not stumbling," Madge laughed from the other side.

"It is unchristian to mock someone such as Mr. Abernathy, they ought to be pitied," Mrs. Cartwright said from in front of us, turning around to give Madge a stern stare, "I expected better from you, Madge Undersee."

Standing next to Mrs. Cartwright was Mrs. Mellark, she turned to face us, her eyes flicked to Gale and then lingered on me for a moment longer before saying to Mrs. Cartwright, "I hardly expect more, with the company she keeps." With one more glance at me she turned to face forward.

My face felt as if it were pounding with shame and rage, Gale was staring daggers at the back of Mrs. Mellark and Madge started giving my arm a little tug, I followed eager to put distance between me and Mrs. Mellark.

I could hear Gale muttering behind and knew he was following us. Once we were away from the crowd around the dance floor we stopped.

"She sure is a nice lady, isn't she Katniss," Gale said harshly to me, "Just the kind of person you want in your family."

My anger that had been directed at Mrs. Mellark switched to Gale, I knew what he was implying. If we had been alone when he said this he would've gotten a kicked shin or a punch in the gut, however, since we were in town with several people standing near I had to settle for giving him the hardest stare I could muster, he flinched slightly and I could almost see the regret in his eyes for taking his anger with Mrs. Mellark out on me. I spun around and marched away, I knew that he would come to apologize but I didn't want to hear it, as soon as I was around the corner of the school house I took off in a run. Getting to the willow tree I looked behind me and could barely make out a tall figure close to the school, carefully, staying out of sight I move towards the line of trees, picking up the hem of my skirt slightly so it wouldn't rustle the grass.

As I walked through the trees I started to calm down, I tried not to think about Mrs. Mellark but my mind kept spinning back to that. I took a seat against a large tree facing the lights from the dance floor, the music had paused after Mr. Abernathy's jig but had now resumed. The look of disdain Mrs. Mellark had given me, she never was very nice when I came into the shop with Mama or Papa, but apart from Delly Cartwright, no one had ever looked at me with such obvious dislike. I leaned back against the tree and took a deep sigh, Mrs. Mellark probably said all sorts of mean things about farmers at home. I didn't understand how Peeta could be so nice when his Mother seemed so cruel, the rest of the Mellark family seemed to be well liked. Was Mrs. Mellark the reason why Charlie, the eldest brother never returned to Spring Creek? Was Peeta going to come back?

Mentally I scolded myself, there was no need for me to worry about what might happen, whatever is supposed to happen, will happen; worrying about it won't change anything.

I slowly stood up and brushed the skirt off, I couldn't stay hidden here brooding over my thoughts, I just hoped that Gale would leave me alone. The fireworks should be starting soon so that should keep his attention and I'll just be careful to avoid him.

I walked back along the path I traveled earlier coming out near the willow tree.

"Katniss?"

I looked over towards the voice, it was Peeta. He was by the willow tree, seemed to be waiting. Had he seen me run off? I felt embarrassed that I had let myself get so upset.

"Hi," I said as he stepped closer.

He took a deep breath before saying, "I'm sorry about my Ma… I saw her say something to you."

I looked at the ground, "She wasn't really talking to me… It's not a big deal," I finished quickly. I didn't want him to feel bad for something his Mother did.

"I saw you run off… I figured she said something about… me and…you…" His voice kind of trailed off and he seemed to feel nervous.

"It was nothing like that," I told him, "It was Gale… he was being…" My voice trailed off and there was a long pause.

"Gale was being Gale," Peeta said with a knowing look, "I know he's been your friend a long time, but he can be kind of a-"

"He just doesn't understand," I cut him off not wanting to hear what he was going to call him and feeling the need to stand up for Gale (even though I did still sort of wish to give him a swift kick to the shin),

"Understand what?"

"Why I'm, friends, with you," I say, looking down and stumbling over the word "friends" a little. I can feel Peeta looking at me. I give a little chuckle then look up at the willow tree in front of us, "It seems like he dislikes folks from town as much as your Ma dislikes farmers."

Peeta doesn't seem amused by my comment, "I'm so sorry about whatever Ma did… she's just, not a very… happy women."

"Peeta," I said and I briefly touched his arm, "It's OK."

He kept his gaze downward for a moment before slowly taking both my hands in his, he leaned down and gave my hands a kiss, standing straight but keeping his gaze on our hands, "I-I want you to know that… I would never be mean or cruel to you… That's not how I am. I'm not like my Ma." He kept his voice steady but I could feel the emotion that was behind his words.

"I know you're not, Peeta… You're one of the nicest people I know."

His eyes flicked up and met mine. He was still holding both my hands in his. He was standing so close. My mind processed that he wanted to kiss me right before he moved an inch closer. He opened his mouth to speak, probably to ask if he could kiss me.

I quickly looked away and took a step back, drawing my hands away and not looking at him I asked the question that had kept plaguing me, "What are you going to do after high school?"

"Wh-what?" He asked, confused at my abrupt change in topic, then he continued, "Well, I mean I'll get a job and-"

"Where?" I asked, he looked completely dumbfounded, I needed to clarify, "Are you going to come back here… or stay in Dubuque, like your brother."

Comprehension dawned on his face, he reached for my hand again and I let him take it.

"Katniss," He says and I meet his gaze, "Wherever I go... I hope that you'll be with me."

The thought of me living anywhere else was frightening, but there was such tenderness in his expression, I felt my heart skip a beat and I realized that wherever he was I would want to be there.

Peeta moved closer to me, "Can I kiss you?" He asked quietly.

I'm surprised that my breath can function enough to say, "Yes."

He seemed to move so slowly as he leaned in and gently pressed his lips to mine.


A/N: Awww. : )

This was one of my favorite chapters to write thus far and I hope you enjoyed it!