Chapter 13 – A Good Son
The surprise that overtook Peeta was even more profound than that of a few weeks earlier when Cray had appeared at the door and dragged him out accusing him of robbery.
He hadn't thought of his mother much since he'd come to California. They'd never had a good relationship. As the youngest child in a family of three boys, she'd taken out many of her frustrations on him throughout the years. And when his leg had been crippled in the accident while his family had traveled to Oregon, she'd showed no compassion. Instead she blamed him for it, saying he was clumsy not to have gotten out of the way of the slipping wagon's wheels.
Thom was standing next to her. "A shipment of goods arrived this afternoon, along with your mother," he explained.
Near Thom's feet were two large satchels, likely containing his mother's clothing.
Peeta stood frozen, until his mother put her hand onto his chest to push him backwards.
"Well son, aren't you going to invite me in?"
Her comment jolted him out of his stupor and he stepped away, allowing his mother to enter the bakeshop. Thom followed her, setting the traveling bags down onto the floor, giving Peeta an apologetic look, and quickly exiting.
His mother surveyed the room. Her eyes narrowed when she saw Katniss sitting at the table with Lavinia.
"Who is this?" his mother began, and Peeta immediately regretted that he'd only written to his parents once in the two years he'd been in California. And that letter had been sent shortly after he'd arrived. His mother didn't know that he was married. She didn't know about Henry. She didn't know about all the messes Rye had gotten himself into.
He took a deep breath ready to answer her, but Katniss was already up facing his mother, resting Lavinia against her hip.
"Hello, I'm Katniss, Peeta's wife. It's good to meet you."
Peeta ran his fingers through his hair, exchanging a nervous glance with Katniss.
His mother cleared her throat. "I have a granddaughter?" Peeta detected a note of excitement in her voice.
"No," Peeta said quickly. He instinctively took Lavinia from Katniss' arms in a desperate attempt to protect her from his mother.
"You married a widow with a child," his mother said flatly. In just a few words she made it sound as if the only person willing to marry Peeta was someone in desperate straits.
"No," he explained. "This is Lavinia. We're taking care of her for Katniss' cousin. But you have a grandson. He was born a couple of weeks ago."
"Oh." The distain in her voice was obvious. Peeta guessed it was because it was another male Mellark. His mother had always complained that she wanted a daughter.
"He's sleeping, but you can see him." He led her into their living quarters and to Henry's cradle. His mother looked down at the infant. "Well at least he looks like he could be yours," she muttered, as if to imply that Katniss had been unfaithful to him.
"Why don't we let him sleep," Katniss suggested. She had followed Peeta and his mother into the room.
They walked out to the kitchen area. Peeta shut the door to the living quarters part way so as to not disturb Henry.
"Would you like some coffee?" Katniss asked her mother-in-law after they returned to the table.
She nodded and Katniss began to prepare it.
Peeta studied his mother across the table. Her blonde hair was turning white. She looked older and thinner since he'd left Oregon. But that had been more than two years ago.
"Why are you here?" he asked her.
He studied her face as a flash of pain and then acceptance crossed over it.
"Your father died a year ago."
Peeta's jaw dropped at the news. His father had been ill when he and Rye had traveled down to California. He'd already been confined to his bed. But for some reason, even though Peeta knew that it was likely he'd never see the man again, he'd never given thought to the fact that his father could already be dead. It had seemed to Peeta that everything about his old life in Oregon had remained frozen in place, never changing after he and Rye had left.
"Did he suffer much?"
"No," his mother said. "He died in his sleep." She cleared her throat before continuing. "Your oldest brother finally found someone willing to marry him. Unfortunately she's a dreadful shrew. I couldn't stay there any longer with them."
Peeta guessed the woman his brother had married had some backbone and had stood up to his mother because he knew his brother wouldn't. Maybe that's why he'd chosen to marry her.
Katniss carried the coffee to the table. Peeta's mother looked at the blackened brew. "Don't you have any milk?" she asked, glaring at Katniss.
Katniss bit her lip, nodded, and took the mug back to add some.
Irritated at his mother's rudeness, Peeta asked, "how did you find me?"
"Your brother Rye wrote me a lovely letter from San Francisco a few months back. He said you had married and moved to District 12 after a fire in the mining camp. He mentioned that neither of you were hunting for gold anymore; both of you were successful businessmen."
Peeta winced. He wondered if his brother had been drunk when he'd written the letter. Rye had certainly been flush with his gambling wins at that point in time. It was too bad he'd decided to write home bragging about it.
"I asked about Rye when the ship docked in San Francisco, but no one knew of him there. So I decided to travel here to find you. Where is your brother living now? Where is his bakery located?"
Peeta snorted. He caught Katniss' eye. She had set the milky brown liquid in front of his mother and was biting her lower lip to keep from smiling.
He wondered if he should tell his mother that Rye made his living as a gambler. At present all he had was a fancy suit and a fake fiancé.
Before he had a chance to answer her questions about Rye, she spoke. "You seem to be doing well enough for yourself. I can live here with you and work in your shop and help with the children."
Katniss' face went slack.
Peeta was stunned. "You're staying here permanently?"
"Of course, I can't go back to Oregon." She surveyed the bakeshop. "You really need to rearrange your set-up," she continued. "The preparations table should be closer to the oven and your shelving is all wrong. It's not how we did it in our shop in Oregon."
Peeta clenched his jaw. He tightened his hold on Lavinia. There was no way in hell his mother was going to live with them. Help out in the bakery. Take care of the children. Destroy his marriage with her meddling ways.
He took a deep breath and reminded himself that he was no longer a child who had to follow the dictates of his overbearing mother.
"No." The word came out loudly and forcefully.
His mother stared at him in surprise
Katniss mouthed a silent "thank-you."
"There's no room for you here." His voice was firm.
Despite standing up to her, Peeta's heart was racing. He felt as if his head might explode. He was running a bakeshop, not a boarding house. Less than an hour earlier he'd told Katniss that her mother and sister could live with them temporarily if they chose to stay in District 12. He didn't know where Rory was sleeping at present, but it was possible the boy would return. Lavinia had already taken up permanent residence as a member of the family.
"Peeta, listen to me..." his mother began.
He interrupted her, the words tumbling from his tongue. "There is no where for you to sleep. We only have one bed. And Katniss and I are not sharing it with you."
His mother seemed oblivious as to what he was implying, that he was not allowing her to take over their lives.
"You could put a small daybed in that corner," she suggested, pointing to an area near to the bakeshop's door.
"There are two boarding houses in town. I can get you a room."
Her face dropped. "If that's what you think is best for your widowed mother, Peeta. Maybe Rye will take me in."
"He should," Peeta muttered. He stood up and walked to the door, picking up his mother's bags. "Let's go now and get you a room."
His mother took a sip of the coffee in front of her. She spit it back into the cup, and turned to Katniss. "You're supposed to put sugar in this, you know."
After his mother was resting in her room in the new boarding house, just a few doors down from his mother-in-law and Prim, Peeta went off in search of Rye. He hadn't seen his brother in a couple of weeks, ever since Rye and Delly had stopped by to see Henry. He hoped his brother was still in the area and hadn't gone traipsing off after Delly on her theatrical tour.
Peeta went to the saloon. Haymitch might know where Rye was. In his own way the barkeeper was as big a gossip as Delly.
It was already crowded when Peeta entered. He pushed past the miners and found Haymitch behind the long counter, pouring drinks.
"I never see you in here," Haymitch slurred. "Had a fight with the girl?"
Peeta shook his head. "I'm looking for my brother. Has he been in here lately?"
"Not today," Haymitch said. "He was here yesterday, though."
"Any idea of what he's up to?"
Haymitch smirked. "You don't know then?"
Peeta grew nervous. The surprise visit from his mother, the revelation of his father's death, and his mother's desire to move in with him and Katniss had left him drained. Peeta didn't know if he could stand to hear any more news about his family today.
He shook his head slowly. "No."
"District 12 is getting a gaming hall," Haymitch said. "And your brother is going to manage it."
"Gaming halls are popular in the bigger towns, like Sacramento," Haymitch explained. "They have twenty-three in that city alone. All District 12 has is a one or two games going on." He pointed to a table in the corner of the saloon where six men were playing cards.
"Your brother went to Sacramento City and convinced one of the owners to build a hall here and hire him to manage it."
Peeta was astounded. He knew Rye had felt like he hadn't accomplished much with his life. He'd confessed as much to Peeta in the jail cell when both brothers thought they might be hung. But manage a gaming hall?
"Do you know where he's staying?"
Haymitch shook his head. "Maybe Delly knows."
"Is she still in town? I thought she was traveling with the theatrical group?"
"Naw," Haymitch said. "She's back with Effie. They've made up. Want a drink?"
Peeta shook his head. He'd like to drink until he couldn't feel any more, but he didn't have that luxury; he needed to find Rye. He left the saloon and walked over to Effie's house.
A new girl answered the door, someone Peeta had never met. She was tall and buxom and probably ten years older than him.
"Is Delly here?"
The woman smiled sweetly at him. "Delly isn't one of the working girls," she explained. "But I could take care of you." She licked her lips.
Peeta gulped and took a step back. "I need to speak with Delly, please," he continued. "It's important."
The woman's face changed as if a lever had been pulled. Her lascivious smile faded into a flat mask. "I'll find her," she muttered. She slammed the door.
Peeta waited on the porch a few minutes before Delly appeared.
"What did you want Peeta?" Delly trilled. She flashed the ruby ring at him.
"I'm looking for Rye," he said. "Do you have any idea where he might be?"
"He's staying at the new boarding house."
His brother must have gotten an advance from his new employer if he could afford to stay there.
The boarding house provided two meals each day, breakfast and dinner. Peeta knew about the meals because the owner of the building purchased fresh bread from him everyday.
It wouldn't be very long until his brother and his mother met up at the dining table, if not this evening, then certainly by tomorrow. Maybe he should let natural consequences run their course. Let his mother figure out exactly what was going on. He was tired of dealing with everyone's problems. He had his own family to think about, Katniss, Lavinia, and Henry.
He sighed and turned toward home.
"I'm so sorry about your father," Katniss said.
They were sitting on the bed having their end-of-the-day chat. Katniss was nursing Henry and Peeta found himself sneaking peeks at his wife's breasts that had become quite voluptuous since giving birth.
"It's not much of a surprise," Peeta admitted. "He was sick for a long time."
While Peeta would mourn his father's death, the blow was greatly softened by the fact that he hadn't seen or thought much about him since he had left Oregon.
He was glad he'd named his son for the man, though. His father had been a kind person with decent morals, something Peeta tried to emulate. But he also had a serious flaw. He'd been too weak and had allowed his bossy wife to bully him and his sons.
"I'm sorry about the way my mother acted this afternoon."
"It's not your fault. Has she always been like this?"
Peeta nodded grimly. He'd grown up with her ill-mannered behavior, but he never realized how manipulative she could be until today when she'd attempted to takeover their lives in one quick swoop.
"What are you going to do?" Katniss asked. "What can we do?"
A nervous look appeared in Katniss' eyes. Peeta understood why she was upset. Hell, he was upset, too. He'd already decided that he wasn't going to abandon his mother, even if he didn't like her. Out of respect for his father's memory, he'd make living arrangements for her, convince Rye to help out, but he was determined that she would not live with them or work in the bakeshop.
"Everything will be fine," he told Katniss. "Trust me." From somewhere deep inside, he knew he was right.
District 12 never had so many visitors. Men strolled up and down the streets talking, laughing, brawling, flirting with Effie's girls, smoking, eating, and drinking. Although California had become the 31st state on September 9, 1850, it had taken nearly seven weeks for the news to reach the goldfields in California's Sacramento Valley.
The merchants of District 12 had selected this day in late October to mark the event. Although it was the middle of the week, most men had taken the day off from their gold search to celebrate officially being Americans again.
The town had been turned into an open-air market. Every business had makeshift tables made from planks of wood sitting on saw horses, set out in front with their wares displayed. Sae was selling sandwiches and lemonade. Thom was selling tiny American flags and mining pans. Haymitch was selling liquor.
A fair-like atmosphere reigned. At one end of town, games of skill were conducted, which included running contests, weight lifting demonstrations, and sharp shooting. At the other end of the town, an outdoor poker tournament was underway.
Competition was intense as prizes, donated by the merchants, were awarded to the winner of each event. In fact, Peeta would be supplying a free loaf of bread to most of the winners every day for the next month.
A goodly number of men were also sitting on the stairs outside of Effie's house, waiting patiently for a chance to pick a girl for a quick rendezvous.
Peeta stood in front of the bakeshop with a table filled high with meat pies, cookies, and doughnuts. He and Katniss had spent several days getting ready for the celebration. They had even gone hunting together one morning, the first time in months, to get meat for the pies.
Katniss' mother and sister had watched the children for them. It had given his mother-in-law and Prim a chance to spend time with them because they were leaving soon, returning to Sacramento City. Despite Peeta and Katniss' offer to provide them a temporary home, Mrs. Everdeen wanted to return to her job at the apothecary shop. She said she still had much to learn about medicine from Ying Liu. And Prim was dreaming of medical school; she had no interest in working as a seamstress.
Katniss walked up to the table in front of the bakeshop with her mother and sister. She was carrying Henry. Prim was holding Lavinia.
"Take a break Peeta and see the festivities," his wife said as she walked behind the counter. "We can mind the table."
Peeta nodded. Katniss handed Henry to her mother and Prim set Lavinia onto the ground to walk.
"I'll be right back to help you," Prim told Katniss as she followed their mother inside with Lavinia. Both children were tired and needed a nap.
"Peeta, you should have entered the weight lifting contest," Katniss said. "You would have easily won."
He smiled at his wife's compliment. He did do a lot of heavy lifting in his work as a baker.
"And you would have won the sharp shooting if you'd entered."
Katniss grinned. "Probably, but I thought I'd stay away and let Gale win. He could use the prize more than I can."
When Prim returned, Peeta left the bakeshop's table to walk around the town. The changes that occurred since he and Katniss had moved there were impressive. A sense of optimism about the future abounded. Even though it was late in the year, close to the time when the miners would typically depart the area to go west for the winter, construction was still underway.
Work had begun on the new church, the new gaming hall, and even a blacksmith shop. A few small cabins for housing were also being built. Peeta, with some help from Rye, was financing the building of one just on the outskirts of town for his mother to live. Gale was constructing one as well for himself, Jo and their expected child. Jo had agreed to marry him as soon as they moved out the tent.
Rye had been just as surprised as Peeta when he met his mother in the dining room of the boarding house. Prim, who had witnessed the reunion, had recounted the event to Peeta and Katniss. She said Rye had turned "white as a ghost."
Peeta had chuckled when he heard about it. Fortunately his brother was in a better place financially now. He presently had a regular job of sorts, currently overseeing the construction of the gaming house. Peeta wondered at the type of men Rye was consorting with, but he didn't concern himself with it.
He'd lately come to realize that he couldn't do everything for everybody all the time. It wasn't his job. Sometimes people had figure their own way out of their mess and deal with the consequences of their actions.
Rye was also engaged to Delly for real now, at least that's what he told Peeta. "She snuck up on me," he'd explained sheepishly, although Peeta wondered if Rye needed Delly because she acted as a buffer to their mother's bossiness.
Apparently Effie had made her peace with Rye and was already helping Delly plan a wedding that would occur as soon as the new church was completed. Rumor had it that Effie had made the large contribution specifically so that Delly could have a church wedding. The couple was planning to live in a second-floor living quarters that would be built over the gaming hall.
As Peeta wandered through the crowds, he recognized many friends. Gale was in the lead in the sharp shooting contest, with Rory a close second.
Jo was standing nearby cheering for Gale, her belly already quite large. Her face had filled out with the pregnancy and her eyes looked lively. For the first time since he'd know her, Peeta thought she looked happy.
He passed the general store to find Leevy and Annie in charge of the sales table.
"How's business?" he asked Leevy, whose belly had grown visibly rounder.
"Booming," Leevy answered.
"He's taking some politician from Sacramento City around. The man's a hero from the Mexican war. He's going to make a speech at two o'clock near the hanging tree."
"Where's Finnick?" he directed towards Annie.
Annie frowned. "He's playing in the card tournament. He fancies himself a good player." She rolled her eyes.
Peeta laughed. He remembered the Irishman losing the card game in the saloon last winter. He wondered if his brother had given the man any tips.
"I hope it ends soon," Annie continued. "Little Finn will be waking from his nap and Finnick said he'd watch him."
Peeta spoke with Annie for a few minutes longer and promised her he'd check up on Finnick. He left the table and headed in the direction of the card tournament.
As he got closer he saw his mother, her arm linked with Reverend Undersee's. The sight startled him. Rye had mentioned that the reverend had been paying a lot of attention to their mother, sitting next to her at the boarding house dining table for meals.
"Maybe he'll wed her and take her off our hands," Rye had joked.
Although said in jest, the suggestion had initially annoyed Peeta. After all he and Rye had just learned of their father's death. Would his mother remarry so quickly? But then he remembered that his father had been dead for a year now and his mother had been weighted down with caring for a sick husband for the last few years.
Both his mother and Reverend Undersee were alone, and likely lonely. And the reverend had been looking for a wife for some time.
"Hello my boy," Reverend Undersee called out to him.
Peeta stopped to shake the man's hand.
"How is my granddaughter?"
Although the clergyman initially promised to help take care of Lavinia, he had paid scant attention to her ever since he'd returned to District 12. Peeta suspected that the comment was an attempt to portray himself in a kind-hearted fashion to Peeta's mother.
"She's well," Peeta answered. "As is Henry."
His mother smiled. "My grandson is such a sweet boy," she told the reverend, batting her eyes.
Peeta nearly burst out laughing, not only at his mother's feeble attempt at flirting, but at her compliment toward Henry. It was rare for her to speak so kindly of anyone. Maybe the reverend was softening her up.
Peeta spoke with the couple for a few minutes and then walked over to the gaming tables. Rye was busy keeping tally of the winner of each round. Delly was with him, her eyes sharp as she scanned the tables, likely looking for evidence of cheating, something she had firsthand knowledge about.
Finnick appeared to be enjoying himself, holding his cards in one hand, a cigar resting between his teeth. Hopefully he'd do better than he had last time he'd played.
Peeta watched for a while before returning to the bakeshop.
"Back so soon?" Katniss asked. "Did you see everything?"
"Yes. There's a lot going on." He pulled his watch from his pocket. It was close to 2 p.m.
"Come with me Katniss. The speech is about to begin."
Prim agreed to mind the bakeshop table. Peeta reached for Katniss' hand and pulled her away toward the crowd that was moving to gather near the hanging tree.
A small wooden platform, made from a packing crate had been set up under the tree. Thom climbed up to welcome the crowd and to introduce the speaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, who had fought in the Battle of Mexico City and had been there when that city fell to American forces.
A hush fell over the crowd as Thom stepped down from the crate and Heavensbee stepped up.
"My fellow Americans," he began. But he had to stop immediately as the cheers went up.
Peeta let go of Katniss' hand and put his arm around her waist to pull her close to his side, as the men around them pushed forward to hear the speaker.
When the crowd had quieted again, Heavensbee continued speaking. "California is now the 31st state in our glorious union. We're in that sweet period where everyone agrees that the recent horrors of our war with Mexico should never be repeated. We Americans have triumphed. The name California is now known throughout the world as being synonymous with gold. We are truly the golden state."
He paused dramatically, as cheers erupted.
"At present our future appears bright. But we're fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction," Heavensbee continued.
As Peeta stood listening to the speaker he glanced up at the hanging tree thinking about the people who had died on its branches given harsh justice for crimes whether false or true.
One hundred years from now will people remember the hardships of the men and women who came to California in search of gold? In search of a brighter future and a better life?
The thought made him shiver involuntarily, like someone was walking on his grave. Katniss turned to him curiously. He smiled reassuringly and kissed her temple, pulling her even nearer, reminding himself that today was not a somber occasion.
Despite the trials of the past year, he had made a safe home in District 12 for Katniss, Lavinia, and now Henry. His father, who he'd thought of so often in recent days, would be proud. The refrain of an old song came to Peeta's mind.
Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true,
Here is the place where I love you.
The boy who had been crippled on the Oregon Trail, who had thought that his prospects had been limited by that singular event, had flourished. He had found gold in California.
The speech ended, and Peeta held Katniss' hand as they walked back to the bakeshop together.
Author's Note: California became a state as a result of the Compromise of 1850, a package of five bills passed in the United States in September 1850. The Compromise was designed to defuse the fight between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War. The passage of the Compromise held off the start of the U.S. Civil War for eleven years.
Thanks to everyone who has read, reviewed, and/or favorited this story. There is not an epilogue. At this time I have no plans to write more in this universe, however, I'd like to keep the possibility open because I really like these characters in this setting.
My next writing endeavor is already underway. It's a mystery story that occurs in the universe of The Match Game and begins two months after that story has ended. As many of you may already know, I like to write my stories completely before posting, so it will be at least 8 to 10 weeks before you can read the first chapter. If you'd like to be notified when it is posted, click the "follow author" button below or the "follow story" button on The Match Game.