"I told you I would have kids if I didn't stay here," Gale explains. "When I got that job in Two, I knew I needed to take it if I ever wanted to have a chance at a normal life. And it was a good thing I did; otherwise I would never have met Vivienne. I saw her walking into the market on my way to work not two weeks after I moved there. I was in a cab and I had the driver pull over as soon as I saw her. I paid him and ran into the market. I looked down all the isles and was about to give up my search when I heard a woman talking to a cashier. I knew immediately the voice belonged to her and when I turned and saw I was right it was as if the whole world had stopped and all that mattered was that I was I had found the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with."
"And I saw some mad man run through the store and then stop to stare at me as my items were being rung up. The cashier was talking to me but I was too distracted by this maniac," she nudges Gale, "to realize what she was saying. I don't even remember what I bought!"
"Well I don't think you care too much when I finally talked to you," Gale playfully retorts. "I asked you to lunch and you said yes, after all!"
Seeing them so comfortable and obviously in love makes me almost jealous. I love- no, loved- Gale and he is mine. But then I realize I have found the same relationship Gale has, with Peeta. As Gale describes his feelings toward Vivienne, I know that while I didn't feel any of those things right away, everything he says rings true now. I see Peeta and he's the only one I see for me. There is no question now. I look back at how I had used our love as a survival tool, but I don't have to fight to do that anymore. And yet, Peeta is the still the one I need to survive. He keeps me sane and functioning and I play a similar role for him. Our relationship is more strained apart than together. Even if at one point my feelings were questioned, I have no doubt now that I have those feelings my mother would tell me about before my father died. The ones she felt for my father. The ones Gale feels for this woman who now sits on my couch cradling their baby.
"Well how could I say no?" Vivienne giggles. "A handsome man goes out of his way to come up, talk to me, and help me out with my bags. Only a fool would turn down someone as chivalrous as that."
I felt a pinch in my heart. My mind races. I'm not a fool. Gale wasn't meant for me. Peeta is. I know that. Gale knows that. Everyone knows that. I try to keep a welcoming face but, the pinch is getting worse and it must have shown on my face because before I know it, I have three pairs of eyes staring me down, all in different ways. Peeta knows immediately why my face had shifted. He is trying to read me and communicate with just his eyes but I'm too distracted by the other eyes to pay close attention. Vivienne looks terrified. The look I gave her must have been worse than I thought. I can't blame her though. I don't think she knows what Gale and I had. Gale wouldn't tell her. At least I don't think he would. This makes me look at Gale. He looks unbelievably embarrassed. I've known him for a long time and I know the look he is giving me right now. He hasn't told Vivienne anything. She doesn't know anything about our past. I can't be angry with her. She's an innocent bystander who got entangled in my mess of a past. I quickly shake it off but it's too late. The look of disgust I must have flashed has left a lasting impression on the room.
I feel Peeta gently take my hand. I am embarrassed now I can't seem to find the words to apologize for my behavior. I really want to apologize for everything and even explain why what just happened did, but I can't form the words. I can't form any words, as a matter of fact. I am stuck searching the room for some sort of relief from the tension that is closing in around me.
Then, salvation arrived in the way I least expected.
He bursts through the door into the house and plops himself down on the couch right next to Peeta. The stench of various alcoholic beverages reeks on his clothes and his breath. He came in mid conversation with himself and immediately tried to get Peeta involved. He's hard enough to understand sober- or as sober as he is on a good day-but now's he's completely drunk so between slurred words and his incoherent brain, there is no making sense of him right now. We manage to catch a few words here and there, some of which were profanities, which made Vivienne even more skittish than she already was, and others various foods. Then suddenly, Haymitch pulls himself up and lumbers into the kitchen, carrying on in his drunken language until he comes across a plate of tarts Peeta had made the night before. Within seconds, he shoves multiple in his still speaking mouth and carries himself and the tarts out the back door and into the yard.
The silence he has left behind him is almost as bad as the tension before. However, this I can recover from.
"I am so very sorry about that," I regain my welcoming tone in hopes of restoring the friendly atmosphere we had before everything went awry. "That's-"
"Haymitch Abernathy," Vivienne finishes excitedly. She seems to have recovered. "Your mentor. I've always wanted to meet him. I just didn't think our meeting would happen quite like this."
"Yes," Peeta answers. "Sorry about him. He gets lonely sometimes, and while he doesn't like to admit it, we both know he likes our company every once in a while. He usually knocks though. I promise that isn't a normal occurrence."
Gale finally calms down enough to join in the conversation, though he's very professional when he talks to Peeta. "It's no problem at all. Vivienne's mother and father are very similar. They will show up sometime, even letting themselves in when we're not home. We don't mind though. They are a great help to us." He smiles at Vivienne, obviously sharing in some fond memory of their happy family times back in Two. I'm almost jealous but then I remember that the unspoken communication is most of what Peeta and I do. I can never find words but he can find them for both of us when we're out around town, but at home we like to talk without talking. It makes more sense for us.
I look at Peeta and smile. He knows exactly what I am thinking and he smiles back. Just as we are all holding our partner's stares, Helen stirs from her sleep and starts to cry. I forgot she was even there. Peeta seems unphazed and even smiles as Vivienne calmly smiles and reaches over to take the baby from Gale. I haven't even seen a baby since Prim was born and have no idea what to do with one. I am immediately on edge. Peeta notices my discomfort and wraps his arm around me comfortingly.
Vivienne stands and begins to rock-bounce the baby. She chuckles, "I think she's just hungry. I'm going to take her outside and feed her. Excuse me." She walks through the kitchen and out the back door where Haymitch had gone.
Gale smiles and sighs. "She's amazing isn't she?"
Peeta and I nod in agreement. "She seems like a very nice woman," Peeta replies for both of us.
"And she's a great mother, too," Gale adds. "We weren't sure we wanted kids but after we really thought about it we decided we wanted a little someone else in our family. And then Helen was born. I didn't think my life could get any better and that little girl out there turned my world into a beautiful paradise. Every second I spend with her is the best second of my life. When I hold her, it's like I'm holding my salvation in my two hands. She is the gravity that holds me to the ground. She is my perfect little angel." He pauses for a second and I think I see a small tear run from his eye. "You never know just how much love you are capable of until you have a baby."
Peeta and I only partially understand. Ramses is our baby and while we didn't physically have him, an adoptive parent can have the same kind of love for their adopted children as do biological parents to their biological children. But, Ramses is a bird. While he's a highly intelligent bird and we do consider him our baby, he's not our child. The way Gale talks almost makes me want to have children. But with my emotional wreckage and Peeta's flashbacks, there would be no way we could ever raise a child. That is a human being whose life depends solely on the competence of the parents. And we are not in any sort of condition to raise kids. It's a shame, really. Peeta would make such a great father if it weren't for the flashbacks. I know he would never forgive himself if something were to happen to his baby because of one.
I come out of my trance to realize that Peeta is talking cheerfully. It takes me a second to realize he's talking to Gale. And they are laughing and having a cordial conversation. Then I realize Peeta has Ramses and he and Gale are talking to him. They talk and Ramses chirps back and Gale gets a kick out of that. Gale seems like a different person with Peeta suddenly. And it's all because of Ramses. That little guy changes people. I can't help but laugh at them. This makes them all turn and look at me and Ramses flies over and lands on top of my head which Gale and Peeta find hilarious. I think Ramses is putting on a show for them. I whistle for him to come down and he hops down to my hand I'm holding out for him. We all sit there laughing at the little ham and he chirps and trills along with us. We are all so hysterical that we don't even notice that Vivienne is standing in the doorway with a look of confusion and amusement while trying to figure out what's going on. Between laughs I get Gale's attention and point to his wife. He jumps up and goes to her, still laughing, and takes Helen from her.
"Watch this, babe," he instructs, and brings them both over to the couch. He whistles to Ramses and he promptly flies off my hand and towards Gale. He hesitates when he gets near the baby and instead flies to Peeta and starts talking to Gale. Vivienne smiles and gives a small laugh.
"Would you like to hold him?" Peeta asks. "He loves the attention."
"Oh no," Vivienne says, sweetly. "I'm fine. Thank you."
"Oh, go on, Viv," Gale coaxes. "You know you want to. He's really friendly."
"Well," she hesitates, but then smiles and holds out her finger as a perch.
"Just whistle something for him," Peeta says. "He'll come right over."
Vivienne smiles meekly and purses her lips. She makes the tiniest whistle I have ever heard but Ramses doesn't judge and trills back to her and hops over to her hand. She jumps a little but soon realizes he poses no threat. Soon they are talking and laughing and we all join in, having a great time. Then Helen starts making her own whistle-type baby noises. Ramses is immediately interested. His head turns and he looks right at her. He chirps back and she makes her noises. Pretty soon they are conversing in bird-baby language and they are both having a ball with it. Gale sits
Helen up so they can see each other. This only encourages the trilling and cooing. They keep it up for a while but soon Ramses hears something that needs investigating outside and bids us farewell and goes out to scope out the situation. We laugh about the whole event and soon we are talking like old friends.
Between laughs Vivienne speaks up to Peeta and I. "Since I held your baby, would either of you like to hold mine?"
I am caught so off guard and am instantly made anxious by this question but, as usual, Peeta is prepared with words versus my panicked expression.
"We'd love to."
Those were not the words I was prepared for. Everyone senses my uneasiness and I see Gale is a little unwilling to hand over his pride and joy to a man who is known to have flashbacks and suddenly act out beyond his, or anyone's control. But even still, he hands her over to Peeta's open arms and moves his one hand to support her head. Peeta holds her close and moves over to me to put Helen in between us. I have a sense of Déjà vu from when we were in this same position when we first found Ramses. But this baby between us isn't a tiny bird who got kicked out of its nest. This is a human baby who belongs to a man I once loved and his wife who is the apple of his eye. Yet I look at her and see this beautiful little person who looks just like her mother except for one thing: she has her father's eyes. She looks up at us and coos and we coo back. Then her eyes meet mine. And in that moment I see Gale, everything we ever had, all the memories come flooding back to me. Our early days, our good days, our bad days, the Games. Some things I haven't thought of in years are crowding my brain and I fear I might break. I cast the thoughts out of my head and focus on the present. Peeta looks over and smiles at me and reads my eyes. He kisses my cheek and stands to give Helen back to Gale.
"She so beautiful," he compliments. Gale reaches out to take her. He cradles her in her hands. Peeta looks to Vivienne. "He looks just like-"
He freezes. He is still technically holding Helen as Gale just barely has his hands under her. Vivienne doesn't know what's going on.
Gale and I do.
Gale quickly grabs Helen and starts to usher a very confused Vivienne into the kitchen as I try to get Peeta up the stairs. I quickly realize that's not going to happen so I half guide, half force him into his chair. He is shuddering and starting to sweat. I try to keep him focused on me as his grips the armrests. When his pupils start to dilate wildly I know he can't actually see me. There's not much I can do now except let it run its course until the end. Then I can kiss him awake. But until then I just rub his hands and arms trying to relax him.
"What's going on?" asks a very nervous Vivienne as Gale ushers her out of the house.
Gale and I both respond at the same time.