Katniss stood at the butcher’s stall in the outdoor market. The smell of blood was overwhelming as she held out her hand waiting for the elderly man to put the coins into it. She’d had her best haul in months -- five rabbits.
Her fist closed around the money and she hurried away so as not to embarrass herself. She turned the corner at the end of the last stall and leaned over to vomit. The bitter acid burned her throat as she spat out the last remnant of her stomach’s contents.
A sense of weariness fell over her. She was pregnant. She’d come to that conclusion over the past week when the nausea started and her tiny breasts grew tender.
She was the stupidest girl in all of France. Giving herself to an American soldier in a moment of weakness. Peeta had been the first person that had been kind to her in so long; he’d fed her and listened to her talk about the horrors she’d faced for so many years. His very presence had brought her comfort.
His kiss, at first so gentle and tender, had lit a fire in her. She didn’t want to stop, she couldn’t. And now he was gone and all she had was a letter with his address.
She could write, but she’d never been good with words; besides it would be hard to explain such tender things in a second language. Anyway he might be dead. Even if he wasn’t, why should he believe her?
She had to do something soon, though, because when her Uncle Haymitch found out about the baby he’d toss her out of his house. Briefly she considered getting rid of the child. There was a woman she knew that could help, but the thought of killing something that was part of that kind and gentle boy seemed wrong. Beside the child was her family, the only blood relative she’d have left after the war other than that old drunk.
Her only option was to find a husband fast. But she knew of no blue-eyed, blonde-haired man in her village to save her reputation.
However, there were many American soldiers who spent time in the local bar. Her uncle talked about them all the time. He said they threw money around like rich men.
She went home and cleaned up, putting on her best dress and heading out. The man she found would need to be drunk if her plan was going to work.
Within three weeks, she had a ring on her finger. Cato was an attractive man with similar coloring to Peeta. He’d seemed decent enough when they’d met, but within days of their quick marriage he’d displayed a fiery temper. Already she could see she’d need to keep things calm around him to avoid setting it off.
They traveled to America separately; Cato ahead of Katniss. The United States government had a special ship to bring war brides to the states. When Katniss saw Cato again after the voyage, her belly had grown considerably. She worried that he’d suspect that he’d been tricked. Instead he was overjoyed to reunite with her.
Fortunately the child was born a couple of weeks late, as if he too wanted to do his part in deceiving her husband. When Cato held the blue-eyed boy in his arms, he acted like any doting father. He passed out cigars to his friends. Katniss breathed a sigh of relief. She had made a mistake, but it had all worked out.
New England 1948
Katniss folded the letter again and put it into the envelope, shoving it into her purse. She had the address memorized anyway. She didn’t know why she kept looking at it. Maybe it was to see Peeta’s handwriting, loopy and big.
“Mama, are we almost there yet?” the boy said. His blonde curls caught the light as it came through the bus window, making his hair appear as a halo around his head.
“It won’t be much longer Henry,” she reassured him.
They’d been riding on the bus for a several hours. As they got closer to the final destination, she grew nervous. What would she say when she saw him? Would he even remember her? What would he think when he met Henry?
Three years was a long time. She had married to save her reputation and give her child a father. But after three years with Cato, she’d come to the conclusion that she’d never love him. Some days, when he flew into one of his rages, she didn’t even like him.
Would she have loved Peeta, if she’d been given the chance? She didn’t know. But she loved his son, their son with all her heart. If he was anything like his son, she couldn’t help but love him.
With Cato off for a long day of fishing with some friends, she decided to visit the Mellark Bakery, located a couple of hundred miles away from the town where she and Cato lived.
She wanted to see Peeta again. She was curious to find out if there was anything real between them or if it was all something she’d made up in her head on days when the thought of staying with Cato made her regret her life.
Beyond that she had no plans. She pushed away all thoughts of leaving her husband. She’d done enough foolish things for a lifetime, creating a child with one man and marrying another. But she had to know. And she wanted Peeta to meet his son.
Eventually the bus came into the depot. It was early afternoon. Henry had fallen asleep. Katniss carried the sleeping child, who was very heavy, down the bus steps.
She asked the ticket seller for directions to the bakery. She had money for a cab, but it wasn’t necessary. The bakery was only a few blocks away. She could easily walk. It would do her good to stretch her legs after sitting on the bus for so long.
She wished she had Henry’s stroller with her. He was too heavy to carry very far. She gently woke him. Half asleep, his short, chubby toddler legs made the walk extra long.
She didn’t have much time. The bus was making the return trip to her town in two hours.
The bakery had a big, striped awning out in front. The name Mellark’s was edged in gold over the top of the glass window. She stopped, lifting Henry up to look at the beautifully decorated cakes.
“I have cake?” Henry pleaded.
Katniss smiled. “Maybe a cookie.”
She let him look at the cakes for a few minutes while she gathered her courage to enter the shop.
Her heart was pounding as she opened the door, holding tightly to Henry’s hand. The tinkle of a tiny bell sounded and the smell of sugar and warm bread and everything good in the world enveloped her.
She looked down to see her son’s eyes open wide as he looked around at the three large display cases ahead of him. He broke free of her hand and ran forward to press his face against the glass in front of a tray of cookies.
“No, Henry,” she cried out, running up behind him. “Don’t press against the glass. It leaves spots.”
An older man, tall and stocky, with bright blue eyes came out from the back room and chuckled from behind the counter. “He’s not the first child to do that.”
Embarrassed, Katniss pulled Henry back from the counter and grabbed at his hand.
The man stepped out from behind the counter.
“My name is Henry, too,” he said, bending down to the child’s level.
Her son moved closer to her side, burying his face into her skirt.
This must be Peeta’s father, Katniss thought. The man she’d named Henry after. Cato had been angry with her about the name. He wanted his son named for himself.
It was their first fight as a married couple. But Katniss had won, even if it meant giving in on other things afterward. It had been worth it to her. If her child couldn’t use his real last name, his first name, at least, should reflect his heritage.
“Would you like a cookie?”
The boy turned his head to nod shyly.
“All right then, which one would you like?”
Henry pulled Katniss over to the glass and stared carefully at the trays of cookies. He pointed to the most elaborately decorated cookie on the tray, a round shortbread flower with yellow frosting and white piping that outlined each individual petal.
“Henry that’s too…” Katniss began, but Mr. Mellark cut her off.
“Nonsense. Henry can have whatever cookie he chooses.”
He walked behind the counter, grabbing a tissue in his hands and pulled the cookie from the tray bringing it to the boy.
“Thank you,” Henry whispered.
“That was very kind of you,” Katniss said.
The baker shook his head. “My pleasure. Besides your little one looks so much like my youngest son when he was that age.”
Katniss’ face grew warm and she wondered if the baker noticed her flushed cheeks.
“In fact, there’s someone in the back who would get such a kick out of seeing your boy.”
He turned and went into the back room.
Katniss panicked. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to just show up. She knew the man was going to bring out Peeta to see the child who resembled him. She should grab Henry and go. Her breathing grew shallow. She was thinking she might faint at any moment.
But it wasn’t Peeta. It was the baker’s wife. Peeta’s mother. She was taller than Katniss and had a round face with a deep crease between her eyes. The kind of crease that comes when a person spends too much time frowning. Her blonde hair peeked out of the red bandana she wore.
“You’re right Henry, he does remind me of Peeta,” the woman said. “I wonder if Clove will have a son.”
“Our youngest son Peeta and his wife are expecting,” Mr. Mellark explained. “Our daughter-in-law is due any day now.”
A mask immediately dropped over Kantiss’ face. She smiled politely and said something she couldn’t remember later. Then she brought a loaf of raisin and nut bread because she had to have had some reason to have gone into the shop.
She took Henry’s hand and tugged him along the street back to the bus depot. She sat there numb while she waited for the return bus. She was so foolish. What had she been expecting? A good-looking guy like Peeta. Of course, he’d be married by now. He’d probably forgotten all about her within days of leaving France.
Telling him about Henry would be out of the question. It would ruin his life. Hurt his pregnant wife. No, she’d have to keep that secret to the grave. Maybe she’d tell Henry someday. On her deathbed, perhaps. But for now it would remain her secret.
She sighed, promising herself she’d try to be a better wife to Cato. If she’d ever harbored any secret fantasy about getting together with Peeta, it was gone now. At least she had Henry. She pulled the toddler onto her lap and wrapped her finger around his curls.
New England 1951
Cato had finally graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering. Katniss was relieved. The introduction of a child so early into their marriage as well as the pressure of school and trying to support his young family had tried Cato’s patience considerably.
But a friend of a friend had told him about a house in the suburbs that was available to rent cheaply for the summer. The owners were traveling to Europe.
Katniss had been giddy about the news. They’d been living in cheap housing around the university for years while Cato had earned his degree. Tiny, dark rooms with no yard and no place for Henry to play.
But this house had a yard and even an extra bedroom. Henry wouldn’t have to sleep on a cot in their room any longer. A park was nearby. And after the summer, they’d be moving to California. It seemed like after all their struggles; good things were on the horizon.
It was natural she’d be singing as she hung up the laundry on the clothesline that stood in the backyard. They moved in a couple of days earlier and quickly made themselves at home.
Nearby she heard the hum of push lawnmower. She looked down at the grass in the yard where she was standing. It was getting high. Cato would need to mow it soon. She wondered idly if there was a lawn mower in the garage.
As the noise got closer, she turned her head to glance into the next yard to see a man with his back to her mowing the grass. Her heart leapt into her throat and she stopped singing.
From the back the man looked like Peeta. He was the same height and his hair was the same ashy blonde shade. The white t-shirt he wore was wet with sweat and clung to the muscles in his broad back.
Stop being silly, she chided herself. Of course it wasn’t him. Ever since she’d come to America, she’d seen many men who in some vague resembled Peeta. It had always given her heart a start, but then they’d turned their head, or spoke, or made some sort of mannerism that made it clear it was someone else. This was more of the same.
She began singing again and hung up the rest of the laundry. She headed back into the house without even glancing at the man.
Two days later she walked Henry down to the park at the end of the street. It had swings and a slide and a spinning merry-go-round that the children would sit on and an older child or mother would push around.
There were benches around the play area and several women were sitting there chatting. Katniss sat down on the only spot left, next to a woman who was smoking.
She sat as close to the edge of the bench as possible. Her uncle had been a smoker and had filled their tiny house with that dirty stench. She didn’t want her clothes to pick up the scent. She didn’t want to bring that bitter smell into the home they were renting.
Katniss kept her eyes on Henry, ignoring the woman at her side.
“You’ve moved into the house next to me,” the woman said, forcing Katniss to take her eyes off her son. The woman exhaled, a puff of white smoke coming from her mouth before she dropped her cigarette to the ground and stubbed it out with her brown loafer.
“I saw you move in the other day. I’m Clove Mellark by the way,” the woman introduced herself.
Katniss stared at her wide-eyed. Clove Mellark. Oh, no. She knew that name.
She turned from the woman quickly and scanned the playground for Henry. She relaxed immediately as she watched him go down the slide.
Katniss turned back to the woman who was staring at her, obviously waiting for Katniss to introduce herself.
“I’m Katniss Ableman,” she whispered. A sick feeling settled into her stomach.
“Is that your son on the slide?”
“He’s cute, but he needs a haircut.”
“I like the curls.” Katniss wondered at the woman’s rude comment to someone she had just meet.
Clove laughed. “You weren’t born here, were you? You have an accent.”
“I was born in France.”
“Is your husband American?”
“Yes, he was a soldier,” Katniss said, a sharp tone evident in her voice.
But Clove appeared unaware that Katniss was upset with the forwardness of her comments or maybe she didn’t care. “So you’re a war bride, then. My husband Peeta was also in the war.”
Katniss’ jaw dropped when the woman mentioned her husband’s name. She turned her head quickly to the playground in an attempt to hide her reaction. She surveyed the area, searching for Henry. He had climbed onto the merry-go-round.
“Here in America we like to keep the boys looking different from the girls,” Clove explained. “Most little boys have crew cuts, like my son Jeffrey.”
She pointed to a toddler who sat in the nearby sandbox. He was plump with hair so pale that Katniss could see his pink skull. Katniss immediately noticed a resemblance between the two boys despite the difference in their hair length.
Both were fair blondes, and had a body shape that tended toward stocky, although the woman’s son still had his baby fat. Idly Katniss wondered if his eyes were the same shade of blue as Henry’s, the same shade of blue that Peeta had.
The woman continued to talk, rambling about the park, the neighborhood, and the local schools. Katniss smiled politely but said little. She studied the woman Peeta had wed. Ever since she’d found out about his marriage, she’d pictured his wife to be a great beauty, to look like Rita Hayworth or some other American movie star.
But this woman looked nothing like a movie star. She looked rather ordinary, small and dark-haired like Kantiss. Why would Peeta marry such a plain and clearly annoying woman?
“You have nice hair,” Clove interrupted her thoughts. The woman reached up and lightly touched Katniss’ braid, which was pinned up on the back of her head.
Katniss recoiled from the contact. But the woman didn’t seem to notice.
“I used to have long hair too, but I cut it off after Jeffrey was born,” Clove said. “Fixing my hair took too much time.” She patted her own hair, which was pulled back in a short ponytail.
Katniss nodded, but she wondered if the woman was simply lazy. It wasn’t difficult to take care of one’s appearance. Why would she cut off the very thing that gave her beauty? Katniss remembered her father telling her when she was young that a woman’s hair was her crowning glory. She believed that with all her heart. Except for an occasional trim along the ends, she’d never cut her hair.
“I really need to get going,” Clove said, standing up. “If your son’s done playing, maybe we can walk back together.”
Katniss shook her head. “I don’t think my son is ready to leave just yet.” Henry was gripping tightly to the merry-go-round laughing loudly as an older child pushed it round.
A look of disappointment appeared on Clove’s face. “Well good-bye then. See you later.”
Katniss watched Clove pick up her son, plop him into a nearby stroller, and then head back down the street.
Katniss shivered in the warm sun. It was clear the woman was trying to be friendly, although she obviously thought herself superior. But there was no way they could ever be friends. The awkwardness of the situation would be unbearable.
No, she would need to avoid that woman and Peeta at all costs. Suddenly the house in the suburbs had lost its luster.
A week later Cato talked to Peeta at the fence, sharing a couple of beers. He came inside in good spirits telling Katniss what a fine fellow the neighbor was and that they should invite the couple over to dinner.
“He may be fine,” Katniss replied. “But his wife is something else. I met her at the park. She’s very critical.”
Cato frowned. “That’s too bad. He seems like a good guy. I wonder how he ended up with such a shrew.” He wrapped his arms around Katniss. “I guess everyone can’t be as lucky as me.”
She smiled, happy to steer Cato’s mind from the thought of extending a dinner invitation to Peeta and Clove Mellark.
It wasn’t difficult to avoid the couple. She took Henry to the park in the early morning hours before the crowd of mothers and children appeared.
Unfortunately she encountered Peeta one day in the yard. She’d called Henry in to dinner and found her son talking to Peeta at the fence. Peeta was helping him with a drawing.
Her heart thumped loudly as she approached the pair. Henry had shown a talent for drawing at only three years old. He’d picked up a pencil and stood up on the back of the sofa, drawing a bird on the living room wall of their dingy student apartment.
Katniss had found the drawing and marveled thinking back to Peeta and his sketchbook, and then worried that Cato would go into a rage when he saw what the child had done. She gave Henry some paper and told him never to drawn on the walls again, and then scrubbed the wall clean.
“Henry, it’s time for dinner.”
The boy continued to sketch, ignoring her.
Peeta looked up at her and smiled. “He’s a great artist.”
She flushed. Standing so close to Peeta, looking at his face, brought back all the emotions she’d buried more than five years earlier when she’d found out she was pregnant. Despite the time that had passed and her life with Cato, she found herself drawn to Peeta.
It was so unfair. She could never tell him about Henry without destroying both their lives. It seemed wrong that Peeta would never know that they had a son.
She had to say something, though, leave him with a hint at least. “He’s got his father’s eye.”
She tapped Henry’s shoulder. The boy stood up and thanked Peeta, before walking back into the house. Katniss turned to follow him.
“Katniss,” Peeta called. She could hear the pain in his voice. Surprise overwhelmed her because she knew in that instant that he had feelings for her. She knew without a doubt that if she indicated her own attraction to him, she could easily start a fire that couldn’t be extinguished. She needed to douse this spark before it had any chance of taking hold.
Sadly, she turned back to look at him. “No, Peeta. It’s too late.”
She followed Henry into the house and resolved again to be a better wife to Cato. She spent the remainder of the summer making good on her promise, trying to forget about the man who lived next door with his family.
By the end of that long, hot summer, she was expecting. She breathed a sigh of relief as they drove away from that home and left for California. She was starting a new chapter of her life. A clean slate. Peeta Mellark was in a person in her past. Unfortunately he wasn’t so easy to forget because she was raising his son, who grew to look more like him each day.
Katniss gave birth to a second son and this time Cato named him. Richard Cato Ableman. Richard was a very different baby than Henry. He was fussy and given to long crying fits. Henry had been such a sweet, amiable infant.
To Katniss’ eyes, it was obvious that both boys had different fathers. Fortunately their coloring was similar, although Richard’s eyes were a pale blue like the sky in winter, while Henry’s eyes were a darker, richer blue, like the ocean when sunlight hit the waves.
Cato didn’t seem to notice the physical differences between the two boys, or if he did he never mentioned it. But Katniss was aware as the boys grew older that Cato definitely favored his younger son. Richard shared the same tall, lean body as Cato and was athletic like his father.
Henry was shorter and stocky. He was a quiet, sensitive boy, unlike his younger brother who could be loud and obnoxious at times.
As the years passed, Cato’s career prospered. He excelled at his work and received promotions that led into management. But getting ahead meant greater stress and Cato took it out on Katniss and his sons by throwing regular temper tantrums.
To avoid despairing over the state of her marriage, Katniss kept her head down and concentrated her efforts on raising her sons, hoping that they would become good men, kind husbands and not follow Cato’s example.
It wasn’t until Henry had to declare a major in his third year of college that Katniss raised her head to do battle with her husband. Henry wanted to study art, but Cato wanted his oldest son to become an engineer.
“You’ll never find work with a degree in art,” he told Henry.
“You don’t know that,” Katniss argued. “He’s won a couple of awards and that contest at school.”
“That doesn’t guarantee a job,” Cato retorted.
When Henry refused to major in engineering, Cato refused to pay his tuition. Frustrated, Henry dropped out of school and got a job working on the assembly line of an auto manufacturing plant, saving his money to pay for a degree in art. Without the protection of being a college student, however, he was drafted less than a year later.
With her son fighting in Vietnam, Katniss fell apart. All of her wartime memories returned to overwhelm her. If anything happened to Henry, she didn’t know if she could survive. During one argument with her husband during Henry’s tour of service, she came close, so close to telling Cato that Henry was not his son, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. Henry needed a father and Cato was all he had. She couldn’t do that to her son.
When Henry was discharged, Katniss breathed a sigh of relief. He was quieter that usual, but he didn’t appear mentally damaged like some of the other young men who’d returned. Henry immediately re-enrolled in college as an art major.
Katniss sat with Cato at the college graduation of both of her sons – Henry with an art degree and Richard with a degree in engineering.
With Cato’s arm around her, she was content to see her sons finally ready to make their way in the world. She was proud of them and she knew Cato was as well. She’d always struggled when she thought about the secret she’d kept from her husband and oldest son, but today it had been worth it. It had kept her family together.
Katniss was scrubbing the kitchen floor when got a call that Cato had collapsed at work and been taken by ambulance to the hospital. He had suffered a heart attack. After ten days of treatment he was sent home to rest for two months.
He insisted that Katniss bring him all his meals in bed. She reluctantly waited on him because the doctor had warned that Cato needed to avoid all stress. She didn’t want to be the cause of her husband having another heart attack.
To add to her aggravation a series of puzzling phone calls began. Every time she answered the phone, the caller would hang up. After one call in the middle of the night that frightened her because she thought it might be bad news about Henry or Richard, she talked to Cato about getting the phone number changed.
Cato blamed it on teenagers making pranks and told her it would die down eventually. He didn’t want to pay to get a new, unlisted phone number, but Katniss insisted since she was the one answering the phone. Thankfully, with the new number the calls stopped.
A couple of days before he was scheduled to return to work, Cato got out of bed to get dressed for a doctor’s appointment. Without any warning, he dropped to the floor, dead from a massive heart attack.
Katniss was finally free of the marriage she’d made to save her reputation. But the guilt she’d been carrying for so long remained. And now Cato had gone to his grave believing a lie – that Henry was his son.
While she had no financial worries, due to a generous life insurance payout, despair overwhelmed her. Both of her sons grew concerned. They called her and often stopped by to visit.
One day Henry brought along a friend named Chau. Although she and Chau came from different cultures, Katniss recognized something in the woman that reminded her of herself.
Chau was a survivor. Her family had fled Vietnam just prior to the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Her parents had opened a restaurant and Henry had met her as she waited tables.
Months later when Henry announced that he was marrying Chau, Katniss’ happiness for her son was tainted as she was haunted by memories of her own quick marriage. But she buried her feelings and focused on her son and his bride.
But two years later, when the couple announced that Chau was expecting, Katniss found it harder to pretend.
It was supposed to be a happy time for Henry and his wife, so Katniss tried to hide her emotional turmoil from them as best as she could. But when she came home to an empty house, she spent most of her time in bed, not bothering to eat or get dressed. In the excitement that followed her first grandchild’s birth, her family didn’t notice how depressed she had become.
When Katniss’ grandson was two months old, Chau stopped by unexpectedly with him after a doctor’s visit. She was shocked to find that Katniss had cut off her long hair in what appeared to be an impulsive moment.
But it hadn’t been impulsive to Kaniss, it had the climax to years of feeling bad about her deception. She had lied to her husband. Lied to her son. Kept an important piece of information from Peeta. She had cut her hair because she didn’t deserve to look nice. She was a terrible person.
It was Chau who helped her at her lowest point. Chau encouraged her to talk to the local priest who taught Katniss the truth that unless she forgave herself and the situation she had found herself in so long ago that she would never move forward.
Chau trimmed her ragged hair into a bob that looked like it was mean to be fashionable, and not the cry of a woman who was falling apart. When Katniss looked into the mirror afterwards she saw a different person. And that change in her appearance was the beginning of her climb out of her misery. Slowly, with many lost days she came back to life.
She never told Chau the reason for her secret torment, and her daughter-in-law didn’t pry. Instead she recommended that on those days when Katniss found it impossible to take pleasure in anything, she should make a list in her head of every act of goodness she’d seen someone do.
“It’s like a game,” Chau said. “Repetitive and tedious. But it works.”
Katniss wondered at the woman’s advice and the reason she was so confident that it worked. Clearly Chau had her own secrets. But Katniss didn’t inquire; instead she practiced the game until she got good at it.
Months later when she had found ways to keep herself busy just going through the motions, she was amazed when she finally had an idea that had meaning again.
She wrote a letter to Peeta. So much time had passed. She had no claims on him. She didn’t want to hurt his family or his marriage. But it was time he knew about Henry. Knew he had a grandson.
She wasn’t much of a writer, and it was difficult news to write him, but it was something she should have done long ago.
She addressed the letter to Peeta’s home in New England. She didn’t know if he still lived there, she didn’t know if he still lived at all, but that was the only address she had. A huge burden lifted from her when she dropped the letter into the mailbox.
She knew she needed to tell Henry as well, but when Peeta’s letter was returned to her as undeliverable less than a week later, she didn’t feel rushed to tell her son. She knew that she would tell him, though. She just had to find the right moment.
As Henry’s fourth wedding anniversary approached, he and Chau told Katniss they wanted to take her with them on a trip to Paris.
“Why?” she questioned, amazed that they would want her along.
“Chau won’t go without the baby. We need you to baby-sit,” Henry admitted sheepishly.
Katniss wondered if was true or if her daughter-in-law had thought Katniss would enjoy a visit to her homeland and convinced Henry to bring her along. Regardless of the reason, she agreed to go with them.
When Henry purchased the tickets, he was unable to get all their seats together. “You two should sit together,” Katniss said, when she learned that one seat was located in another part of the plane. “I’ll sit with the baby so you both can get a break.”
Henry shook his head. “You sit with Chau,” he insisted. “I’ll be fine. Besides I don’t want any strange men picking you up Mom.”
“I think it would be nice if your Mom met someone on the flight,” Chau said.
Katniss laughed, as her son’s cheeks grew pink. She wasn’t that old. It would be nice to know love. For a brief moment Peeta’s twenty-year-old face flashed through her mind before she quickly dismissed it.
“You know the true reason he wants to sit by himself,” Chau suggested. “He doesn’t want to sit next to his crying son for 12 hours.”
Katniss could hardly blame him. While she looked forward to the trip, she knew her grandson would require the attention of both women to keep him quiet for such a long flight.
Fortunately the boy slept for most of it. Katniss slept as much as she was able, as well. Once the plane landed, they remained in their seats until it was nearly empty. Henry came back to their seat and unloaded the overhead bins.
As they left the plane and entered the terminal, the child began to scream. Katniss rubbed her hands over his back in an attempt to sooth him, but the crying only grew louder.
“Give him to me,” Chau said.
Katniss sighed and turned the child over to his mother. “I’ll take the bag,” she said, attempting to pick up the rectangular case.
Why did she pack so much? She’d left France with far less clothing than she was returning with.
Suddenly a middle-aged man walking ahead of them turned and walked back toward their group.
“I can help you with that,” he said.
For a moment, Katniss panicked. Was this man going to steal her luggage? She looked up at him searching his face. His blue eyes were bloodshot and his pale blonde hair was tousled, the ends curling around his ears. Immediately she had the strangest sensation. She knew this man. But who?
Then it hit her. Peeta. Oh. My. God. It was him.
She froze in place, feeling as if all the air had been sucked from her lungs.
She heard Henry talking to Chau, saying something about the baby. Then her son burst out, “No, Peeta you don’t have to do that.”
Katniss heart thumped loudly. But how did Henry know him?
“It’s not a problem,” Peeta said, taking the suitcase from her hands.
“Mom, this is Peeta. He sat next to me on the plane. Peeta, this is my mom Katniss and my wife Chau.”
They were seatmates! Katniss was stunned. How could that even happen? Did they talk? Did they compare their lives? Had these two men figured out their relationship?
She heard her daughter-in-law say “hi,” but Katniss couldn’t speak.
She glanced quickly at her son before turning to look at Peeta again.
Time seemed to stand still. Katniss was rooted in place. She thought she had healed from her past. But suddenly it was all in front of her again. There was no hiding now.
She took a deep breath preparing for the worst. “We should go on,” she said.
Peeta walked slightly ahead of them carrying Katniss’ suitcase. He steered them to the nearest line and set the suitcase down. They stopped behind him and pushed their suitcases ahead with their hands as the line slowly inched forward.
No one spoke until they had finished going through Customs. Katniss stared at the back of Peeta as he showed his passport to the official, wondering if he even recognized her. He hadn’t seen her in over thirty years.
“Do you need a ride to the city?” Henry asked when they cleared that area. “I’m renting a car. I could drop you off.”
Katniss eyed her son suspiciously.
Peeta shook his head. He looked nervous. “I was going to take a cab to my daughter’s apartment.”
So his family had increased in size. She wondered where his wife was. Was she already here staying with his daughter?
“Let me get you as far as town,” Henry suggested. “They’ll charge you a fortune if you take a cab from the airport.”
Katniss mentally cursed her son’s frugality. He’d picked up that habit from Cato.
“All right,” Peeta said, glancing at Katniss curiously as if to gauge her reaction.
They slowly carried their luggage to the rental car area that was lined with benches. While Henry went forward to stand in line, Katniss, Chau, and Peeta sat down on one of the benches, setting their luggage in front of them.
“Could you hold him?” Chau asked, handing the baby over to Katniss. “I need to use the restroom.” Her daughter-in-law stood up and hurried off.
Katniss heart began pounding loudly again. She was alone with the man she’d thought about for so many years. She had so many things to tell him. She didn’t know where to start. If this was a dream, she was sure this was the part where it turned into a nightmare.
She tightened her arms around her grandson. He had cried himself out and was finally sleeping.
“He’s a lot fussier than his father was,” Katniss babbled, inwardly cursing her lame conversation. But she was at a loss for words. She wanted to tell Peeta about Henry, no she needed to, but she had to find out more about his life first.
“So you have a daughter?”
“Yes,” Peeta said. He looked surprised at her question. “She and her husband live here. They just had a baby and I came here to meet my granddaughter.”
His wife was probably in Paris already. She’d probably come early for the birth of the baby.
“Your wife...” she began.
Immediately Katniss remembered the young woman who spoke with her on the park bench, blowing smoke from her lips and stomping her cigarette butt into the ground. Dead.
Life was short. Providence had clearly bought them together again for a reason -- to tell him about Henry. She fingered her grandson’s hair nervously. Writing Peeta a letter about their son had been easy. Telling him in person was completely different.
Taking a deep breath and looking directly at him, she whispered, “do you remember me Peeta?”
She saw the nervousness in his eyes as he answered. “I never forgot.”
The emotion in his voice startled her. After all these years did he still care? As she looked at him, his appearance seemed changed. To anyone else he probably resembled a jet-lagged middle-aged man. But in his features she saw the sweet and gentle boy she’d given herself to so long ago.
Yet a flash of anger bubbled up within her. The voice of the girl she’d once been came out of her mouth. “I went back to that damn tree every day for a month, but you never came back.”
His face registered surprise, but it passed quickly as he tried to explain himself. “I couldn’t. When I got back to the camp that night I had orders to redeploy to Burma. I left the very next day. I wrote a note, though. Didn’t Finnick get it to you?”
Was that the man’s name? She’d wondered at the time that Peeta could be friends with such a pig. “Oh, your friend with the red hair. He gave me your note, then he tried to sweet talk me out of my clothes.”
Peeta’s face grew flushed with anger. His hands balled into fists.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “But you got the letter, right? You never wrote back. I assumed you got over me.”
His letter. He had written to say that he cared for her. That he wanted to find someway that they could be together. But it was only a piece of paper with pretty words. What good had it been when she’d had a baby growing inside of her?
She would never get over Peeta. When he had planted the seed that had grown into Henry, Peeta had marked her for life.
She glanced around the rental car terminal, busy with people making arrangements for the next leg of their journey. She never would have imagined telling him about Henry in such a place. She wanted him to understand her actions though.
Katniss played with the buttons on her grandson’s sweater, willing herself to speak. “Peeta, I had no choice. I was pregnant.”
She couldn’t meet his face as she spoke. She was scared of his reaction. Would he yell at her? Being married to Cato for so long had conditioned her to fear telling anyone unpleasant information.
Chau returned and tapped her on the shoulder. “Give him to me,” she said. “Use the restroom while you have the chance.”
Glad for the excuse to escape, Katniss fled. After using the facilities, she stared at herself in the mirror over the sink as she washed her hands. She looked so old. She felt so humiliated.
Katniss returned from the restroom, glancing at Peeta quickly. He didn’t look at her, he was gazing at Henry. She sat beside Chau, glad to be away from Peeta, still worried about his reaction. Would he confront her in front of her family? She would die of shame if he did.
Henry walked back to them holding car keys and some paperwork.
Chau stood up. “Are we all set?” she asked.
Henry nodded. “We can take an elevator down to the parking garage below.”
No one spoke as they made their way to the car. Katniss could sense the tension between herself and Peeta. When they got into the car, she quickly offered to hold her sleeping grandson. She didn’t want to sit alone with Peeta in the back of the tiny car.
“The rental car representative said you could catch a cab at Place de la Concorde,” Henry said to Peeta as they drove out of the garage. “I’m sorry, I’d drive you to your final destination, but I have no idea how to get there.”
“That’s fine,” he said. “I appreciate you getting me this far."
Katniss pondered at how far Henry had really taken Peeta. Thirty-six years was quite a distance.
She stared out the side window, nervously biting her lower lip. She was overwhelmed with emotion, lost in dreams and fantasies that she’d buried long ago. She startled when she felt Peeta’s thumb rubbing over the back of her hand that was resting on their grandson’s shoulder.
She turned to look at him, noting the gentle look in his eyes. He wasn’t angry. Without thinking she raised her hand off of the boy and slipped it into Peeta’s broad one.
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed. “I had no idea.”
She sighed. It wasn’t a dream or a fantasy. This was real. He was sitting next to her.
Her son and daughter-in-law were bickering over directions in the front seat. She tuned out their voices, not caring to listen.
Peeta pulled his hand away to reach into his coat pocket to pull out a notepad and a pen. He wrote something down and tore the paper out of the book giving it to her.
She glanced down and saw two addresses and phone numbers, one in Paris, the other in California. She folded the paper in half, and put it into side pocket of her purse that sat on the floor of the car. She reached for his book and he gave it and the pen to her.
She wrote her personal information down. There was so much she wanted to say. She had labored for days to write the letter she’d sent him that had been returned undeliverable.
Quickly she tried to summarize her thoughts, but all she could think was that now that she had found him she never wanted to lose him ever again. She just couldn’t bear the thought of being without him.
She closed the book and handed it back to him.
The ride was soon over. Peeta squeezed her hand and rubbed their grandson’s head. “I’ll be in touch,” he mouthed before leaving the car.
“He seems nice,” Chau said as Henry pulled Peeta’s bags from the trunk. Katniss nodded as she watched Peeta walk to the crosswalk. Maybe despite the mess she’d made so many years ago, she would have a happily ever after ending.
When Henry got back into the car, he turned to Katniss before starting the engine. “So you got his phone number Mom?” he teased. “Are you thinking about dating?”
“Oh Henry,” she said. “I’m thinking of a lot more than that.”
After World War II war brides arrived in the United States from over fifty countries where American men were stationed. It’s estimated that more than 250,000 war brides arrived from Europe and more than 100,000 from Asia. The first arrivals came in late 1945. Many traveled with children. The U.S. government transported them on former troop and hospital ships. The public generally welcomed them; but there was resentment by some people who believed that the foreigners had “stolen our boys.” The War Brides Act of 1945 authorized entry of the spouses of American servicemen without any restrictions. Immigration of other Europeans and Asians was restricted by quota.
In the mid-1970s, doctors believed that heart attacks were the last gasp of a dying heart, and that they couldn’t be reversed once in progress. Patients were told to rest in bed and avoid stress and exercise because it was thought that the heart needed time to heal. In the middle of the decade, Dr. Marcus DeWood of Spokane, Washington, began to use angiography to look at blockages in the arteries of heart attack victims. It wasn’t until 1980, that Dr. DeWood published data that showed in virtually every heart attack, there was a clot blocking an artery. Clinical trials on clot-busting drugs followed as well as the creation of a wide variety of medications that revolutionized the treatment of heart attacks and led to the saving of many lives. Nowadays heart attack patients are encouraged to get out of bed and moving as soon as possible to prevent blood clots from forming in the legs. These blood clots could cause a potentially deadly pulmonary embolism or stroke.
Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam was taken over by the People’s Army of Vietnam on April 30, 1975. An evacuation of almost all the American civilians and military personnel in Saigon, along with thousands of South Vietnamese civilians associated with the southern regime preceded the takeover of the city. Called Operation Frequent Wind, it was the largest helicopter evacuation in history. The South Vietnamese civilians who fled were first brought to Guam as refugees and then to United States through Operation New Life, a military program that ran from April to September of 1975.
This first group of Vietnamese refugees is different from the Vietnamese boat people, a term that is often used to refer to people who fled Vietnam in the late 1970s and early 1980s after the fall of Saigon.