Baby Girl, Black
By: Michelle Rose Landau
Summary: She became their child the moment they took her into their arms. They didn't see a negro baby; they saw the answer to their prayers...
1965...In the midst of the changing political and ethnic face of America, the adoption of a black baby in the quiet, predominately white town of Mockingjay, Panem County, Illinois bursts the bubble of isolation and naivety shielding it from the rest of the nation.
Peeta and Katniss Mellark have been married for fifteen years. Though they've long stopped hoping for a child, they are happy. They've got a good circle of friends, Peeta owns his own business, they're faithful, and they have good families. They've lived a quiet, modest life together.
When the couple stumbles upon an abandoned infant, they consider it nothing short of a miracle, and they immediately take the baby in and begin to share their joy and plans with their families and friends. The joyful news is quickly dampened when suddenly, the quaint little town becomes a pressure cooker as the bounds of tolerance is tested and long held beliefs are challenged by the tide of change.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games series, nor any of its characters. They are the sole creative property of Suzanne Collins.
A/N: This is an edited version of the first chapter. The full explanation of this is in chapter three. As a warning: there will be some offensive comments, themes, and suggestions as the story gets further on, and they are purely to reflect sentiments of the time period, and they do not reflect my own personal beliefs. Even still, they will be offensive and even puzzling or comical. I will try and be as delicate as I can, and also try to do the characters justice. I am African-American, and part of the comments are actually coming from my own personal experience with prejudice, and stories told by relatives who lived during the era. If there are any reviews, I just ask that there be civil discourse please, as with anything else, thank you. Thank you again, please respect each other, and write on. Enjoy.
It wasn't that Mockingjay, Panem County, Illinois was a terrible place to live, or unfriendly. It wasn't the kind of small town that was dusty and really rural, and forgotten, or one of those towns that sat along the highway and was easily missed if one blinked. The streets were well kept, the town center was bustling, people drove nice cars, and the people who did own land were not backwoods hicks without manners or substance. Mockingjay, Illinois wasn't like that at all.
Mockingjay sat at the southwestern most part of the state of Illinois, about thirty miles from the Illinois-Missouri state border. It was about three miles off of the main highway that lead straight up to Chicago. Passers-through were common, and often welcome, because that was Mockingjay: friendly, welcoming, a great place for families. There were neighborhoods that were safe, full of children, a nice, sprawling town park, and people were generally happy, smiling, and there was very little crime, at least in the nicer part. There was a lower-income area near the edge of the city limits called Seam Valley where crime tended to happen more often.
The people of Mockingjay were good, honest, hard-working, church going people. Good, upstanding families.
There were the Snows, who poured money into the development of Mockingjay, transforming it from a bankrupt mining town into a booming merchant economy. Cyrus Snow, the patriarch of the family, bought the mine and brought more jobs, and developed the town, brought businesses in. Then his son, Coriolanus, brought the town into the modern age by investing in political and manufacturing interests, and he served as mayor of the town.
Then there were the Undersees, who formed the Citizens' Council of City Interests, an organization that oversees ordinances and receives input from the residents on how to make Mockingjay better. Reed and Betty Undersee participated in political campaigns, and were active in the community. Reed also served on the City Council. They were good people, though they had to endure the controversy of their daughter, Madge, marrying a boy from Seam Valley and moving with him to live there, as she was disowned, which broke Betty's heart. Eventually, Madge was able to move up in the world, and once grandchildren came, all was forgotten.
Then there were the Mellarks, whose bread and pastry factory brought even more jobs to Mockingjay. Ian Mellark and his wife Anika had a bakery, and business was so good, that they had to expand. Their son, George, took over the business end and eventually a factory was built, during which time he married Veena Moran, one of the most beautiful, available girls in town. She was a socialite, and she came from old Pennsylvanian money. She didn't share her husband's passion for the business, but enjoyed the status and the benefits. They had three sons: Van, Isaak, and Peeta. They too had to endure the trauma of their youngest, Peeta, marrying down. He married a girl from Seam Valley, and she came with him to live in the prominent Capitol Hills neighborhood.
There were the infamous Threads, the Hawthornes, The Everdeens, the Cartwrights, the Masons, the prominent Odairs and Coins, the Heavensbees, and Haymitch Abernathy. There were others too.
This history was reinforced into the school children, who were then trained by their parents to ingrain it in their hearts so that they could carry on the legacy.
In the midst, history took place, and Mockingjay seemed immune. Of course the Kennedy assassination struck all of them dumb; the assassination of the country's leader was something they never thought they'd seen in their lifetimes. There was a shadow of sadness, even in people who didn't agree with President Kennedy's politics, or his being a Catholic. Civil Rights never quite reached the borders of Mockingjay. Sure, there were reports on family television sets, updates from the South, from Washington DC. Nobody really talked about the plight of the blacks, but everyone seemed to agree that at the very least, the treatment of them was uncalled for, uncivilized, even.
No, Mockingjay was embracing a different kind of history, one that was a certain way, and definitions were clear and agreeable.
Everyone fit nicely into their little pods.
Father Titus Augustine served the parishioners of the Cathedral of St. Luke the Evangelist. The congregation was fairly large, many of them devout, but they were looked down upon because many were suspicious of the Church, and of Father Titus because of the progressive ideas he taught to his congregation. He made his congregation think about those difficult and uncomfortable questions because he was a man of God, of science, and of questioning.
The Reverend Seneca Crane preached to the congregation of 12th District Baptist Church about praying for those less fortunate, and giving to those in need, he preached about justice, and for the negroes who needed guidance from the Lord. He always talked about good Christian charity and values, but his first priority was making sure that he offended no one and that things were kept simple and civil.
"We are blessed to be here," he said to his congregation often. "To be in such a great place."
Almost everyone converged in the respective churches every Sunday and then gathered together as a town in the meadow for the weekly brunch after services concluded.
Katniss fingered her necklace with a cross made of smooth obsidian-colored pearls inset in a border of tiny diamonds dangling from it. Peeta stumbled upon it when they went on a family vacation with his parents, his brothers, and their wives and children to the coast. He had it turned into a necklace, and surprised her with it on Valentine's Day fifteen years ago when they were in high school. She liked the way it felt between her fingers, and it made her feel as though she was touching his love for her. It was the single sweetest gift because he knew how devout she was, and how much her faith meant to her. She watched as everyone mingled at the brunch, located outside in the church picnic grounds. She was sitting next to Madge Hawthorne, who was sitting next to Lorna Cartwright, and the two women were in deep conversation about something Katniss hadn't cared to pay attention to. It was likely gossip, or talk of a love match.
She watched the children play on the playground, and she watched as her mother-in-law, Veena, made a show of spoiling her grandsons, even though Katniss knew, along with people who knew the Mellarks well enough, that otherwise, she couldn't be too bothered. The boys only went to their grandparents' house because of their grandfather, who was more engaged. Veena delighted in her grandchildren, but they were boys, and she was tired of boys, after having raised three boys.
Katniss smiled slightly as she watched the Mellark boys and the Hawthorne girls play together. The two oldest happened to be born within months of each other. Cicely Hawthorne, the oldest girl out of four, was thirteen, and Oliver Mellark, the oldest grandson, was also thirteen. They both were inseparable, which stuck in Veena's craw, but she had no say about it, as they were not her natural born children. Katniss was thankful to God for that. She knew well of Veena's meddling ways.
Then the realization that they were thirteen hit her.
Time was a stealthy thing.
Peeta came back to the table with two plates, and he placed hers in front of her.
"Thank you," she said appreciatively.
He leaned in and kissed her.
It was hard for Peeta to believe that he and Katniss had been living in the same house, in the same neighborhood, attending the same church, in the same town for fifteen years. Not that they really wanted to live anywhere else, but until a few weeks ago, when they celebrated their fifteenth anniversary, he never realized how permanent it all seemed now.
Their split-level, four bedroom home on Spear Street, has seen fifteen springs, summers, autumns, and winters. It's been decorated and redecorated at least four times, it's hosted friends and neighbors that began as childhood friends, it's been the provider of some of the best stew and chili at the annual Fourth of July block party, and it's been a refuge as their marriage blossomed and evolved and weathered and strained. Their home has been a gathering place for their friends' children and they've watched them grow. Fifteen years of dinners, brunches, church functions, and Katniss' book clubs and ladies' lunches, and a wedding. Fifteen years of walking in and out of the front door, of being greeted by his wife and (her) cat, Butterscotch, of sitting with her at the kitchen table for meals, of lovemaking and intimate conversations.
While things changed, there were some things that remained constant: Katniss' love for him, her unwavering devotion, and her beauty. The aging was subtle, but there, but it added to her beauty. He saw the years in his own face, but otherwise, they looked a little of the same as they did when they first married, only taller and with different styles of clothes. The other constant was that he loved her deeply, unendingly. There was never a moment where he regretted or questioned it. It was gratifying to know that putting their marriage first allowed them to come this far while they were still yet young. The very thought of enjoying many more years with his wife gave him new purpose and made him want her that much more.
He was forever happy with Katniss, that wasn't going to change, but one of the side effects of fifteen years of marriage was the fact that they'd fallen into a routine. Everything seemed to be scheduled, which was fine, he supposed, but he couldn't help but be slightly bothered by it. He wanted a little spontaneity, but he knew that Katniss was much more comfortable with having a routine. She always has been. His wife didn't do spontaneous...often.
He looked at his nephews as they played, and he looked over at his wife, and he saw contentment in her eyes.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulder as she picked over her food.
She hadn't had an appetite lately, and he was a little worried.
"Are you alright?" He asked quietly.
"Oh, yes," She grinned. "I'm fine. I think I'll save my plate for later."
"Hey! Carrie, Fay, and Cicely! What'd I say about teasing Barbie?" Madge yelled. "Knock it off! Quit it! Ugh, excuse me."
Madge got up and stalked over to the playground.
Katniss only laughed.
Reverend Crane came over to Peeta.
"Peeta, can I pull you aside?"
"Yeah," Peeta agreed, then he looked at his wife. "I'll be back in a minute, babe."
Lorna scooted closer to Katniss.
"Your husband's a good man," Lorna complimented, and Katniss smiled.
"He is, thank you," she said.
"I can't believe that it's been fifteen years," Lorna sighed. "I remember when all of you were just schoolmates, and then just barely starting your lives."
"I know, it's kind of strange," Katniss marveled.
"It's too bad that you and Peeta never had children of your own," Lorna said. "You would have had beautiful children."
"I suppose so, Mrs. Cartwright," Katniss said solemnly.
Lorna immediately reached her hand out. "Oh, sweetheart, I didn't mean...I'm sorry. I just...well, don't you think it's time to reconsider? You're both still young, and it's even better now because you're successful and taken care of. I'm sure the Lord will bless you."
Katniss nodded. "We pray towards that blessing everyday."
Ten years ago, conversations like the one she'd just had with Lorna Cartwright would have infuriated her, but she somehow found the patience. Peeta also struggled with being able to survive questions about when they'd fill their home with children. After a while, people stopped making it a central question every time they gathered together.
People ask every now and then, and they handle it with much more grace than they used to.
Peeta came back over to his wife.
"What did Reverend Crane want?" Katniss asked.
"He was just giving me a resume for a relative of his," Peeta explained. "His brother's in a bad way, so..."
"Oh," Katniss said, nodding her understanding. "You think there's a place for him at the factory?"
"Maybe," Peeta shrugged. "But I have to run it by dad, too."
After brunch, they headed home.
They spent the afternoon taking care of various chores around the house: Katniss vacuuming and sweeping, all while getting dinner going, and Peeta taking care of the yard, dusting, and cleaning the windows.
After they were finished, they changed into some casual clothes, Peeta in a pair of tan slacks and a crisp yellow shirt, and Katniss in pedal pushers and a lavender sleeveless blouse.
Every other Sunday evening, Peeta and Katniss went to Hob's, a diner in town, to get milkshakes, and then they would go to Paylor Park for a walk together.
It gave them time to slow down and talk, and for Peeta to be romantic with her.
"You always order the same thing," Katniss chuckled as a waitress, by the name of Lavinia, served their shakes. "They've added ten more flavors, and you still order plain vanilla."
Peeta shrugged with a charming smile. "Well, at least I'm consistent, right?"
She rolled her eyes and sipped at her mint chocolate shake.
"How are things going at the factory?" Katniss asked.
"Pretty well," he said. "Dad and I have a meeting with some investors in Chicago to help move the expansion along. We'll be in the city for a few days."
"Right," Katniss said. "Do you want me to take your suits to the dry cleaner? I have a few dresses that I'm taking, so it's no problem taking yours."
"That'd be great, thanks," he smiled.
Sitting in the diner, looking at each other adoringly, and having whispered conversations while listening to slow dancing songs made them feel like the besotted teenagers they were when they began to date. Hob's was their first official date, and they didn't say much of anything, really, both of them were too nervous, but Peeta took the initiative-he always did have charisma-and began the conversation to break through the awkwardness. It made them grin as they thought about how tender and innocent they were.
Katniss took her husband in as he went over to the juke box to find another song. He was slender, but had broad, strong shoulders. He had to be fitted for most of his clothes, all of the Mellark boys did because they were bulky and tall. The result was that his clothes fit a little on the snug side, not that she minded, though. He used to wear his hair in loose waves, something which drove his mother crazy, but as he got older, and began to get into the business more, he began to comb it back. He was handsome, sure of himself, but not overly confident, and he was a good husband. He wasn't chauvinistic or demanding like some other husbands. He was helpful, and supportive. He had patience, which was the balance to her quick temper and impulsivity.
Her love for him grew deeper and deeper, and she still marveled at the fact that she felt the way she did about him, that she was his wife, that she was Mrs. Mellark, and respected because of that, especially when marriage was the last thing she wanted when she was younger.
It wasn't that she had any spectacular plans; she didn't want to go to college, she was planning on becoming an apprentice to Sae Newton, a seamstress in town, and continuing to help her mother and sister. Marriage and babies were the last thing she was concerned about. There were other, more popular girls who were getting engaged left and right before they even finished out their senior year of high school. There were several girls who decided to finish out their studies independently, as they needed more time to plan for their weddings and shop for their new homes.
Katniss had rolled her eyes at that.
But then Peeta spoke up.
He came back and sat down.
They laughed and danced together before Peeta paid for their shakes and they headed out to the park.
Paylor Park was large and it had several trails, sitting and picnic areas, and a small pond.
They walked together hand in hand slowly.
"What are you planning on doing while I'm away?" Peeta asks.
Katniss sighed. "Well, Cecilia's baby shower is on Wednesday afternoon, so I've got to go right after I drop you and your father at the train station. Then I need to get to some things around the house done. On Thursday, I'm helping Annie at St. Luke's with the Church auction, and that's about it I think."
Peeta chuckled. "And here I was worried about how you were going to keep busy without me..."
She lightly elbowed him. "Ha ha. You're funny, Mr. Mellark, real funny."
Peeta knew full well that Katniss knew how to make the most of her time. Ever since they were in high school, she was possibly the busiest little bee he'd ever encountered. It took him weeks to get her to commit to a definite time and place for a date because she had so much to do. She was, even to this day, the most resourceful, frugal, and handy woman on the planet.
He leaned in and kissed her.
They walked along a trail, and it was dim, and they were both startled when suddenly, someone came from the left from where the trail split off, and nearly knocked into them.
Peeta immediately shielded his wife, thinking that the stranger might be a mugger, but the person just took off down the trail.
Katniss' heart was pounding, and Peeta took her into his arms.
"It's okay, babe," he whispered, his own heart thrumming.
"Did you hear that?" Katniss asked suddenly.
Katniss thought that she was crazy when she heard a tiny, tiny whimper, and immediately, instincts that she'd acquired from watching others' children kicked in.
But it couldn't be.
In the next instant, there was wailing. The wailing of an infant.
Mockingjay was ideal.
There were lines drawn that laid between things other than Illinois and Missouri. Everyone understood this, somewhat, and it was tentative at best, but it was there nonetheless. So, it was ideal, modern, safe, and it considered 1965 to be another spectacular year of living in Mockingjay, where everything was expected to remain where it was, and as it was.
So the moment Katniss took an abandoned negro newborn baby hidden in the bushes in Paylor Park into her arms and cradled and comforted the infant with her husband, Peeta, gently caressing the baby's tiny cheek with wonderment, those lines blurred and shed the smiling face of Mockingjay.
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