Chapter 12

For DeezNuts51, who kindly reminded me that I needed to update. This is also around the time of the one year anniversary of The Blind Date, so as a treat, here's Peeta's POV, which some of you have requested before. This one's short, but more is on the way!

Peeta's POV

With Christmas quickly approaching, the bakery was busier than ever. My father and I were working around the clock, trying to keep up with all the cookie, pastry, and bread orders, and I felt like my hands were going to break off from kneading so much dough. But I never complained; despite my ever present nervousness and jumpiness, I was happy to be back home, covered in flour and smelling the sweet mixture of sugar and sawdust on the floor – compared to the last few Christmases, spent in basic training, or in a mess hall, or, the worst one of all, in a cold trench somewhere in Western Europe. A few sore muscles were nothing.

But just when I would start to feel some happiness at being home and surviving the war, my thoughts would turn dark, and I would immediately think of the ones who didn't make it, and wonder why me, why was I worthy enough to go home and they weren't? I could still see their faces, covered in blood or missing an eye, limbs separate from their bodies, cold and pale, lying still against the snow…or on the beach…or left on the side of the road to rot or God knows what. And then the thoughts, racing through my head – I wasn't worthy, I should be there, I should still be there, shit what's happening to me, this bakery wasn't real, it wasn't real, I don't know what's real, am I still there, where the fuck am I?

And then I would suddenly feel a strong hand on my shoulder, and my eyes would come back into focus. I would realize that I had been gone for several minutes, my hands stuck in now tough room temperature dough, sometimes my lips or tongue bleeding from me biting down. One time my father found me huddled by the ovens, shaking and clutching a butcher knife, about to fend off some unseen enemy.

My father would simply pat me on the shoulder or back, give me a grim smile, and say something mundane about the weather or the number of customers we had today. And I would nod, clean myself up, and get back to work. My father was Old World and it showed; we didn't talk about feelings or troubles, just kept right on going. It was an unspoken agreement between us – he would save me from these moments and we never said a word to anyone, especially not my mother, who would surely have kicked me out of a job, having already kicked me out of the house.

At night, though, at night I never had these thoughts, for at night I would make my way to Katniss's house, and as soon as I saw her, my spirits would lift and the war and all those boys who didn't make it would disappear from my memory. I found myself becoming itchy for the end of the day when I could be with her, make her smile (even if she fought me doing so), holding her, and, of course, burying myself in her every chance I could get. I was a young man, after all, and except for a couple of random French gals, I had been without for far too long.

But Katniss was more than that to me. She was my everything, the beautiful girl from the neighborhood that I couldn't get out of my head, and when Finnick slyly set us up that night, well, I thought I had just died and gone to heaven. Holding her waist that night, swaying to the music, breathing in her sweet brown curls – and now, now I was so close with her almost every day, I was a part of her body and could feel and watch her writhe beneath me, trying to hold in her noises, and I, I, was making her make those sounds. I could feel myself growing hard just at the thought.

But unless I hurried, I wouldn't have that luxury that night, since I was it was the day before Christmas Eve and I was stuck at the bakery, trying to prepare for the mad rush of fulfilled orders to be picked up tomorrow. The sign on the front door was already turned to "close," and the front end was dark. My father and I were hard at work in the back, our faces and backs sweaty with the heat from the ovens. We worked silently alongside one another, as we always have, my father plopping heaping spoonfuls of batter onto the cookie sheets and handing me cooled ones to start decorating with goopy frosting.

I found myself gathering up the courage to talk to my father about Katniss. He liked her, I knew that much. Not that he said much to me or to her, but I could tell by the way his eyes twinkled knowingly whenever I told him I was on my way to meet her at the bus stop. He started purposefully making cheese buns in the morning after I told him that they were her favorite, which was not when we normally made them, just so she had them to take to work.

So I shouldn't have been nervous, but I was. This was a talk about important things, not whether or not we needed to order more flour or if the Bears would beat Green Bay. No, this was one of those uncomfortable talks that I dreaded.

I cleared my throat. "So, Dad, what do you think of Katniss?"

My father didn't look up but kept on scooping out cookie dough. "Katniss? Well, she's a fine girl. Nice, very nice." My father's English vocabulary was still missing quite a few adjectives, so I knew this was a compliment.

"Um, yeah, she's nice. She's great, in fact." My father tilted his head slightly to peer up at me, with a curious look. It was now or never.

"So, I'm, ah, I'm thinking of giving her the ring," I spit out quickly, not daring to look directly at my father. I could, however, see him straighten up and start wiping his hands on the towel at his waist.

"What ring?" he asked.

"You know, the one…from before."

"The one you gave that Irish girl?"

"Yeah."

My father sighed and came over by my decorating station. "Peeta, I do not know about this. This…this could be not good."

This was not the answer I thought I would get, so I responded angrily. "Well, that's too bad, because I'm doing it." I started tossing finished cookies into a bowl and my father stopped my hands with his thick, wrinkled ones.

"Son, stop. Listen. You love too quickly. That other girl was everything to you before the war."

I understood the point my father was trying to make, the same that my mother and brothers have said for years, albeit in a much more belittling manner – that I wore my heart on my sleeve. "Yeah, well, I obviously wasn't everything to her," I snapped.

Lavinia, the beautiful red head that I feel in love with right after high school. She was the former homecoming queen at my high school, and crowned the South Side Irish Parade Queen three years in a row. While I always had one eye on the girl with the braid who wandered the neighborhood, I knew she was out of my reach – hell, she didn't know I existed and I was too chickenshit to talk to her – and so I quickly succumbed to the flirtations of Lavinia. She was outgoing and charming, and everyone adored her, including, miraculously, my mother.

Right before I was to ship out, I came home for leave and asked her to marry me. I took all of the money I had earned from the Army so far and spent it on a square diamond ring, which, according to the gentleman at C.D. Peacock, was all the rage.

When I asked her, kneeling in my uniform on the patterned rug of her family's living room, Lavinia quietly said yes and gave me a quick peck on the lips before stopping to admire the ring and run into the kitchen to show it off to her mother. I beamed with pride and went off to war still a virgin, but with the knowledge that the prettiest girl in Chicago was marrying me.

But then….right before D-Day, I got a letter from Lavinia, dated months earlier, that she had fallen in love with someone else, and was having some Brutus guy's baby. It was short and blunt, and didn't seem like the girl I had left at home. They were already married, she said, and enclosed was my ring. The rumors from back home was that it was a shotgun wedding: Lavinia was knocked up, and that the guy was some lazy bum who refused to fight in the war. But it didn't matter. I went into battle not caring whether I lived or died, my heart broken. And when it looked like I was unfortunately going to survive after all, I started dreaming again of the girl with the braid, the girl whose plaid skirt drove me crazy in high school, and I dreamed of slipping the ring on her finger instead.

And now…and now that I had her, I wanted to keep her forever.

Yet, how I could I begin to explain all of this to my father? He who never spoke up when my mother slapped us around, who avoided all conflicts, who seemed to believe marriage was a business arrangement, and when asked of the Old Country, would appear misty-eyed and solemn, never speaking a word. No, I doubt he would understand.

My father sighed and stepped back to his own station. "I don't tell you what to do. But you need to think. Does this Katniss know your…issue?" For the first time, my father was acknowledging the aftereffects that the war had left me with. I didn't know what to call it either.

"She knows," I confessed.

"Is she to take care of you?"

I slammed the icing bag down. "Damn it! Take care of me?" I yelled. "Why would she have to take care of me? I'm fine, Dad. I want to take care of her."

My father put his hands up and spoke to me in Bohemian. "Peeta. I know you are a grown man, but be realistic. She is young and marriage is not easy. Don't go into it without thinking it through. You made that mistake before."

It was the most my father had said to me since returning home, and, spoken in his native tongue, I knew he meant it. But I also knew that he was wrong. I wanted to prove to him how wrong he was. My fists softened and I nodded my head.

"OK, Dad, I'll think about it." He nodded in return and we both went back to working in silence.

I patted my front pocket, where the ring had been every day for the past two weeks, waiting for the right moment and the right amount of courage, and thought, perhaps tonight.

My grandfather confessed to me once that he was engaged to a pretty Irish girl (who really was a St. Patrick's Day Pageant winner) right before he left for the war, and she sent a Dear John letter to him while he was away. He ended up giving the same ring to my grandmother (who he met on a blind date right after the war), and they inscribed their names in it. It sounds crass today to use the same ring, but it was 1946 and they didn't have any money. And it's a beautiful ring – I used both the engagement and wedding ring for my own wedding and wear it (obviously) every day. Just thought I'd share some of my inspiration.

The next chapter is halfway done! Happy New Year!