The location of Fr. Clifford's retreat was just outside of Dublin. He opted to ease his way back into civilization by losing himself in the crowds of the city for an afternoon before returning to BallyK. He browsed some shops and purchased a new pair of sneakers.
Around 3:30 he was feeling famished and realized that he hadn't had any lunch yet. He turned into an inviting looking pub called "Jonesie's" and ordered himself a hearty sandwich and a pint. The woman who took his order was close to Assumpta's age he guessed.
She had reddish brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, a generous smattering of freckles, and large blue eyes. She was a bit bigger boned than Assumpta, maybe just a little taller than Niamh. Behind her was a not real flattering picture of herself hung on the wall with the caption, "Sarah Jones, publican-at-large" scrawled beneath it.
"I'll get that pint pronto, and your sandwich will join you presently." She flashed him a quick smile as she turned around to get a glass. The phone rang and as she answered it she handed off the sandwich order to the other woman. She was petite, with artificially blonded hair, she appeared be in her late thirties and had an easy going casualness about her. She called pleasantly "how ya doin?" to Peter as she set down his drink on the bar and disappeared into the kitchen. While the younger one, Sarah, continued her chat, Peter took in the details of the pub and liked what he saw. Not surprisingly the place was empty as it was too late for lunch and too early for the after-work crowd. It had a nice personality to it, it was evident the owner cared very much about this business. He mused about the differences that must exist between running a small town pub and a city one, and wondered how Assumpta would like a situation like this. There was no escaping the reality of the grip Assumpta had on his heart. Not even back to BallyK yet and Assumpta was already rearing her head as the measure of women, publicans, and sure enough, sandwich makers. He looked at the presented sandwich and smiled. It lacked the parsley.
"Assumpta Fitzgerald, you're driving me mad!" The words from behind the bar followed Sarah's hanging up the phone. Peter choked on his sandwich. Was this publican a pychic?
The women looked at him. "Are you OK, hon?" The older one asked.
He nodded, "Yeah, thanks." and took a sip of beer.
Sarah leans one hand on the wall and addresses her friend. "Well, guess what?"
"Deal's off? Again?"
"Yep. I swear, Bonnie, Assumpta has really good business smarts, but she has been so unfocused the last 6 months she's driving me nuts. You know what it is don't you?"
"She doesn't want to leave Ballykissangel. Like there's any reason not to?? That's what I don't get. All you ever heard was how sick she was of living in a small town, how much felt like she missing out. So what's keeping her from making the break? Has she found someone interesting there? I thought it was a town full of families and old maids."
"Oh. It is!" Sarah got a very unsettling grin on her face and Peter took another bite of my sandwich which was disappearing rather slowly. He hoped that chewing would mask his interest in the topic at hand. "She finally opened up to me. Man, what a mess! A few weeks ago I kept saying, 'Assumpta, explain yourself. I need to know if our winebar is a go or not!' Well she starts talking and it was like the dam bust. I guess she didn't have anyone she could take in her confidence under the circumstance."
"A married guy? Tell me she isn't ..."
"No, no. And it's not even..." Sarah searched for a way to put it, "a relationship... it's more of a friendship. But THAT's the problem, cause this friend is the priest!"
"Uh huh. AND it's getting pretty sticky. I don't mean like, inappropriate stuff, but WAY too much attachment. I told her it's no good. It's only a huge waste. Of course, everytime it comes up I can tell my comments are going in one ear and out the other."
"But this time she tells me that she knows it's no good for her to be around the priest, something must have happened or nearly happened. She sounded so sad. She said that he took off on a retreat to get closer to Jesus and farther from women, hoping that would fix the problem. I said, 'what are you going to do? you can't sit around that village pining for what you can't have. That's no way to live!' She assured that she had another option. 'Like what?' I ask her. 'Like none of your business,' she says. Then she mumbled something about desperate times call for desperate measures."
"She wouldn't off herself would she?"
Sarah knotted her brow, "NO! Assumpta's crazy, but not suicidal. I don't know what's cooking but she's hatching some scheme. She said not to bother calling her back, she was on her way out of town for a bit."
"Another one?" Sarah was directing the comment to me.
"Another what?" Peter stumbled, wondering why she would ask his opinion on this.
"Another pint?" with only the slightlest bit of sarcasm at having to state the obvious.
"Uh, yeah, please." Peter wondered, 'Do I risk a stab at joining the discussion? Nothing ventured, nothing gained; not exactly my motto, but maybe I needed to try some new approaches.' "That's some mess your friend is in, if you don't mind me commenting. It must be very hard for both of them. I mean if she cares about him and the feeling is mutual..."
The ladies looked pleased that he was game to chat this up. Bonnie nodded. "Maybe so. But this fellow ought to know better don't you think. I mean a priest is a priest!" she said with pointed authority. No arguing her logic.
"Hey are you single?"
"Are you seeing anyone? Not for me, I have a fella. But if Sarah could get Assumpta to visit Dublin more often and she'd meet some nice lads maybe the priest wouldn't look so good."
"Ah diversion!...." Peter nodded knowingly. "Yes I am single," and smiled at the notion of meeting Assumpta as a blind date. This afternoon was becoming more insane by the moment.
"Now, wait, a minute, Bonnie," Sarah's face had tease written all over it. "You said nice lads, we don't know anything about this fellow, he might a serial killer... or .. or even a priest! In plain clothes! You know like a plain clothes detective." She looked at the blood red face seated at the bar, and thought, 'my how bashful we are.' Still the thought of a guy like this being a priest struck both the women as amusing.
Bonnie grabbed her friend's arm and said, "Do ya spose there's a collar hiding in there?" pointing suspiciously to the sack.
Peter's composure returned and he played along. "Nah. I tossed it last night. But my rosary's in there, if that counts.."
"You're funny, we might try to fix you up with Assumpta yet. We could tell her she can have a good Catholic but without the collar if she comes to Dublin. "
Totally deadpan, he ventured, "So a good Catholic, that's important, huh?"
Sarah gasped in laughter. "NO!! She HATES the church! That's what's so freaking funny about this!" Sarah could hardly breathe while she spoke. "Oh, I'm sorry. Seriously a church goer she isn't. Dating a church goer, can't see it. You'd like her though. Most guys do, she very pretty."
"So, this good looking young woman lives in a small town and has a pretty...'significant' friendship with the priest, even though she has no fondness for church or clergy. She's confused, he's confused. What do you think should happen here," Peter asked them.
"Besides, getting Assumpta the heck out of there?" Bonnie responded.
"Well, yeah, seeing as she doesn't want to leave BallyK..."
:"Oh you know the town? " Sarah asked a little warily.
"Ah, yeah, I've heard folks from that area refer to it as BallyK.
"Um. Well that's just it, she can't stay. If she stays she'll be miserable, he'll be miserable, and then what if they do get together, like physically, what a nightmare! In a small town like that-- I'd rather die! I guess if he really, and I mean, dead seriously, was in love with her then he'd have to choose between her and his vocation. The way I see it, if he chose the vocation fine, but go do it somewhere else and let Assumpta have her life back. If he chose her then grand, get on with life out of the priesthood and everyone will be happy. I just want to know if I have a partner for the wine bar or not!" She shook her head for emphasis and smiled broadly.
"Sounds simple." He stared off into space.
"It is. If they love each other, I don't see how they could do anything else. And you know what? That's what's killing Assumpta. It is. She knows how she feels but she powerless while he's still in the church. I told her to talk to him."
"You did? I mean, that would be the best thing."
"Well I thought so. But she said she wasn't about to force his hand. Said he needed to figure this out for himself. But she said by the time he does it would be just her luck to have already moved on. She sounded poised to do something. Don't know what..."
"And you don't know where she was headed?"
Sarah gave the man at the bar an odd look. "What do you think I am? A snoop? Actually she said something, and I'm not sure what, that made me think she was headed to her old boyfriend's. Maybe it's just a gut feeling He's rung her a few times, and was down there a couple months ago to see her. "
Peter glanced at his watch. "Hey, I need to catch a bus. Will a fiver cover my bill?"
"Actually no." Sarah pointed to the chalk menu. How can she charge that much for a stale sandwich?
"That's all I got on me."
"Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to hock your rosary. But I will take plastic, AND include a surcharge."
Peter pulled out his card, reluctantly. He hated credit cards. He looked at his watch again and saw he very likely would miss the bus anyway. If Assumpta was going to London she'd leave from Dublin. When? Tonight?
"Say, do you let rooms? I'm thinking it might be wiser for me to stay in the city tonight. And since you already have my card in hand...."
"You seem like a nice guy, in fairness I should tell you I don't have the best rates on this street. You might like Billy Wright's place across the street, he caters more to the business traveler. Very reasonable. I cater to tourists. Besides," she added, "I'm full." She took his card and ran it through the machine. They waited. And they waited. Finally Sarah said, "Well it seems the bank line is down. I'll take the cash, just this time."
"Thanks. I'll get to an ATM and square up with you in a bit."
"Hey, good luck with the wine bar. I'm sure you'll make a go of it, with or without your friend."
"Yeah but it would be more fun with her. She's great to work with. I was looking forward to it." Peter folded his wallet and returned it to his pocket. From his belt loop dangled his keys and a small white glow-in-the-dark cross swung as his hand brushed against it. Sarah's eye swept Peter and his personal effects, no other clues, no monograms, nothing distinctive. Somehow the ordinariness of his person seemed a bit excessive, but this was nonsense. "Just out of curiousity what do you do for a living? I assume we can rule out priest?"
"Assume what you like. I can assure you there's no collar in my russick." He grinned at her.
"Mysterious type, huh? You know I think Assumpta might go for you..."
"Next time I'm in give me her number." He called as he walked away.