‘Evening Peter,’ Siobhan smiled, coming in.
‘Hi Siobhan,’ Peter answered, hopping down from the chair.
‘Are you coming in?’ Siobhan asked.
‘Yeah. Just finished these. Clare and Assumpta are decorating the tree.’
They entered the pub where Assumpta and Clare were trying to keep James from taking the ornaments.
Peter smiled and picked James up. ‘Are you being a menace?’
‘Menace is an understatement,’ Clare replied.
Siobhan was staring at the tree.
‘What’s the matter?’ Assumpta asked him.
‘Why are there bars around the presents?’
Clare giggled. ‘James keeps getting into them and tearing the paper off. He thinks it’s a game.’
Siobhan smiled and sat down as Clare served her a drink.
‘Right,’ Peter said to Assumpta. ‘Let’s put the star on the tree.’
Assumpta took the star from the box and got a start when Peter lifted her up to place it on the tree.
‘Next time, give me a bit of warning when you’re going to do that,’ she smiled.
Peter just grinned and kissed her soundly.
Padraig arrived, with Kevin in tow. Clare blushed.
‘Evening all,’ Padraig smiled, tipping his hat.
Assumpta raised an eyebrow. ‘What are you so happy about?’
‘I have a new job.’
‘Oh yeah. Reporting for Quigley again?’
‘Laugh all you want,’ Padraig reported.
‘Well? What are you?’
‘A chef,’ Kevin grinned as he followed Clare into the kitchen.
The whole bar collapsed about laughing.
‘It’s not that funny,’ Padraig said, slightly hurt.
‘You! A chef!’ Siobhan laughed.
Assumpta became suspicious. ‘Who are you working for?’
‘No one in particular,’ Padraig answered evasively.
‘Are you working for Quigley?’ Peter asked, handing James to Assumpta.
‘No!’ Padraig said harshly.
‘Who?’ Assumpta asked.
Padraig shifted uncomfortably. ‘Mrs Mooney,’ he mumbled.
He may have been quiet but Siobhan had heard him. ‘HER! The woman that wanted to buy Assumpta out and make a little coffee house!’
‘Well, she is going to open a little coffee house where Quigley’s restaurant used to be. She hired me as the chef.’
‘Working for the enemy hey?’ Assumpta asked.
Peter gave her a ‘leave it’ look which she returned with a ‘how you going to make me?’ look.
‘It’s Christmas,’ he whispered.
Brendan arrived and smiled sweetly at Assumpta. ‘You look wonderful this evening Assumpta.’
Assumpta raised an eyebrow. ‘What do you want?’
‘Your divine intervention is all. And a pint.’
‘Divine intervention? Such as?’
‘I need you to have a word with Clare.’
‘What’s she done now?’ Assumpta asked, as Peter handed out his pint.
‘Not what she has done but what she might not do.’
‘Such as?’ Assumpta repeated.
‘Quigley is doing another Ballykissangel festival soon. We want Con O’Neill to play fiddle but he will only do it if Clare plays beside him on her bodhran.’
‘I’ll ask her but I’m not bullying her into anything. Besides, she’s more stubborn than I am.’
‘That’s hard to believe,’ Padraig retorted.
‘This from the chef,’ Assumpta replied.
Brendan raised an eyebrow. ‘Do tell.’
‘Padraig’s become a chef for Mrs Mooney,’ Siobhan told him.
‘Bella Mooney!?’ Brendan said in disbelief.
‘You wanted a word Mr Kearney?’ Clare asked, coming from the kitchen, saving Padraig.
‘Assumpta told you?’
‘I’d love to play.’
Peter walked up behind his wife. ‘I have to go out for a couple of minutes. I’ll be back soon.’
Assumpta smiled. ‘Okay.’
Peter knocked on Niamh’s door that had a wreath strategically placed on the knocker.
Ambrose answered. ‘Hello Peter. We’re just putting a cup of tea on. Would you like one?’
‘No thanks, Ambrose. I have to get back to the pub to give Assumpta and Clare a hand. They’re trying to decorate the tree and James is being a menace.’
Ambrose laughed. ‘I remember those days. Come on in.’
‘Hi Uncle Peter,’ Kieran grinned, running up to him.
‘Hello Kieran,’ Peter smiled, picking the boy up.
‘Peter,’ Niamh smiled. ‘How are you?’
‘Fine thanks Niamh.’
‘Mummy what about the tree?’ Kieran asked.
‘Why don’t you and Daddy keep working on it. I have to talk to Uncle Peter.’
‘Ok,’ Kieran smiled and tugging Ambrose behind, went back into the living room.
‘What can I do for you?’
‘I need to ask a favour,’ Peter said, sitting down.
Niamh looked questioningly at him.
‘James is almost a year old now. And Assumpta hasn’t been out of the pub for quite awhile. I was wondering if you’d be able to babysit tonight?’
Niamh nodded. ‘I’d love to. Besides, you both need to get out of the pub.’
Peter smiled. ‘Thanks Niamh. I really apprieciate it.’
‘No problem. Bring James over when you’re ready okay?’
Peter nodded. ‘Thanks again.’
When Peter got back to the pub, Padraig and Brendan were having a heated argument about Padraig working for Bella Mooney.
‘How long have they been at it?’ he asked his wife.
‘Ever since you left,’ Assumpta replied.
‘I have a surprise for you.’
‘How would you like to go out for dinner tonight?’
‘I’d love to Peter, but what about James and.....’
He put a finger to her lips. ‘Niamh and Ambrose are going to baby-sit the rascal and I’m sure that Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig can help Clare.’
‘Siobhan anyway,’ Assumpta smiled.
‘So is it a date?’
Assumpta kissed him. ‘It’s a date.’
‘Bella Mooney,’ Brendan said, shaking his head that night. ‘He’s working for Bella Mooney.’
Siobhan nodded. ‘Amazing isn’t it? He starts by working for Quigley, then works for Mooney.’
Kevin smiled as he came in. ‘Hi Clare. Are they still venting about dad?’
Clare smiled back, drying glasses. ‘It’s like they’ll never stop.’
‘Need a hand?’ Kevin asked.
‘That’d be great. Assumpta and Peter are going out and I’m never going to get anywhere with this lot.’
‘Right. We’ll just take James over to Niamh’s and then we’ll be off okay?’ Assumpta asked Clare.
‘Have a nice time,’ Clare said, with an evil grin.
‘Don’t you start,’ Assumpta glared.
‘He’ll be no trouble,’ Niamh smiled, taking James from Assumpta.
‘I hope not,’ Assumpta replied. ‘Hear that little fellow? You have to behave yourself.’ She kissed him on the forehead.
‘I really apprieciate this Niamh,’ Peter said.
‘It’s not a problem. Kieran and James will have a lot of fun together and we won’t let them kill each other. Now go and have a good time.’
‘So have they finished yet?’ Clare asked Siobhan, watching Brendan and Padraig sitting together.
‘Nope,’ Siobhan replied
‘Well, I’m off,’ Siobhan told her. ‘Leave you to it.’
‘Gee, thanks. Have a nice night.’
Siobhan smiled. ‘They’ll be right. They’ll eventually get so sick of it that they’ll go home.’
‘I hope so,’ Clare replied. ‘I don’t want to have to throw them out.’
‘You’ll be fine. Haven’t you got a nice strong man around the place.’
Clare sent her a glare.
‘Alright I’m off.’
James was crying. Still.
‘I know, I know. I’m going.’
‘Do you think they know that their son is this much trouble?’
‘I doubt it,’ Niamh replied, patting James on the back.
A knock came at the door.
‘Finally! They’re back,’ Ambrose smiled.
‘Don’t say a word about it,’ Niamh warned him.
Ambrose groaned and answered the door.
‘Hi,’ Peter smiled.
‘Hi,’ Niamh replied.
‘Was he any trouble?’ Assumpta asked, accepting James into her arms and hugging him.
‘None at all,’ Niamh replied quickly.
‘Aren’t you a good boy?’ Assumpta smiled at her son, kissing his forehead.
Kieran raced into his parents room. ‘Wake up! Wake up!’
Ambrose rolled over and looked at him. ‘Why? It’s two in the morning.’
‘Santa’s coming tomorrow! We’ve got heaps to do!’
Niamh groaned and looked up at her son. ‘Kieren wait until a decent hour in the morning. Understood?’
Kieran nodded and left the room.
Assumpta rolled over and pulled the covers over her head when James woke up. Peter took his arms from around her.
‘I’ll be back,’ he kissed her.
‘Don’t be too long,’ she smiled wickedly.
Peter looked back at her, shocked and then smiled as she started laughing and pulled the covers back over her head. He walked into the nursery, where Clare was cradling James who was sucking his thumb.
‘I thought that I better look after him. Who knows what you and Assumpta were up to last night,’ Clare grinned, rocking James.
Peter groaned. ‘Thank you Clare. How did you and Kevin go last night?’
Clare scowled. ‘Thank you Peter.’
‘Right, seeing you have everything under control, I might go back to bed.’
‘Ok. James and I will be right.’
Ambrose padded into the lounge room where he heard rustling. ‘Kieran what are you doing?’
Kieran looked up from his spot beneath the Christmas tree, his face as innocent as an angel's. ‘Morning Dad. I’m making sure that everything is still here and accounted for.’
Ambrose looked at him intently. ‘So it was purely for our own good?’
Ambrose sighed. ‘Kieran the thing about Christmas day, is that you open your presents on that day. Not Christmas Eve.’
Padraig came into the pub looking depressed. ‘A pint please Peter.’
Peter glanced at his watch and then at Padraig. ‘Padraig it’s ten o’clock in the morning!’
‘Is there a rule as when drinking can start?’
Peter shrugged his shoulders and started pulling the pint when Assumpta and Clare came back in from the shopping.
‘What’s your problem?’ Assumpta asked Padraig, juggling James and a shopping bag.
Peter took the shopping bag from her. ‘Who knows? He just came in and wanted a pint.’
‘I’ve been fired.’
‘From what?’ Assumpta asked.
‘From my job. Mrs Mooney says there’s not enough business. Everyone drinks at the pub.’
‘Well, duh,’ Clare replied.
Peter shot her a look.
‘I’ll uh, just go and put the shopping away,’ she told them.
Kevin came in. ‘I was wondering if Clare was....’
‘Out the back,’ the pub chorused.
Kevin flushed slightly and went into the kitchen.
‘Padraig it’s no big deal. You have the garage,’ Assumpta told him, as James tried to get at the taps.
‘I know. I just wanted to do something different.’
Peter smiled. ‘Well, from personal experience, the different thing isn’t always better.’
Assumpta jabbed him in the ribs.
‘I didn’t mean you!’ he said, kissing her soundly. ‘I meant Jennie.’
Assumpta darkened at that name. ‘Good.’
Siobhan came in, Brendan following her.
‘Is Clare all ready for this afternoon?’ Brendan asked.
‘She is,’ Assumpta told him, handing James to Siobhan.
‘So’s Quigley,’ Siobhan replied.
‘What do you mean?’ Peter asked.
‘He wants to hold another beauty contest.’
‘Is it rigged?’ Assumpta asked.
‘No. But he does have someone he knows in it.’
‘What?’ Brendan, Peter, Padraig and Assumpta chorused.
‘It’s a baby contest. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it.’
Brian entered the pub.
‘Speak of the devil,’ Padraig said.
‘Assumpta, Peter, a word,’ Brian said.
‘What?’ Assumpta asked.
‘How would James here, like to be in a contest?’
‘Why?’ Peter asked.
‘He’s a smart young fella. Very handsome and dashing.’
‘He is not going to be in your baby contest,’ Assumpta said.
‘Because we said so,’ Peter answered.
‘Neither is Aisling,’ Brendan told him.
Brian sighed. ‘Your loss.’
Assumpta rolled her eyes.
‘And now,’ Brendan announced. ‘To play a traditional Irish jig, please welcome our fiddle Con O’Neill and our bodhran, Clare Fitzgerald.’
Applause went up.
Clare came up to the microphone. ‘Con and I are going to play Toss The Feathers.’
She nodded to Con who stood up front and took her seat with her bodhran as they started playing. People began dancing and Assumpta, Kevin and Brendan gave them a thumbs up. As he was playing, Con looked at Clare who smiled at him. Assumpta watched Clare and smiled. When they had finished, Brian came on the stage and introduced the baby contest. People groaned and started walking away. Brian sighed.
‘You were good,’ Clare said, jabbing Con on the shoulder.
‘Thanks,’ he replied. ‘And thanks for playing with me.’
‘Anytime,’ she smiled.
Kevin ran up with Fionn and kissed Clare.
‘Kevin!’ Clare cried. ‘In public!?’
‘I don’t care,’ he answered. ‘You were great.’
Assumpta, Peter, Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig came up too.
‘Good job,’ Assumpta smiled at Clare.
‘Excellent in fact,’ Brendan said. ‘People are asking me if you are going to play next year!’
Clare looked around. ‘Next year,’ she said quietly.
Kevin noticed something was up so he pulled Con off with him. Padraig, Siobhan and Brendan followed. Peter looked from Clare to Assumpta.
‘I’ll just go and change this fella,’ he smiled, taking James from Assumpta.
Assumpta put her arm around her. ‘What’s up?’
Clare smiled wanly. ‘That was the last thing I heard my mother say.
Next year. I had been bugging her about going to Ireland. Dad was going
on a trip that year so we couldn’t but I kept bugging them anyway. Mum
and Dad had to go out but I said I
would stay in. My friends and I were going to the new sports store. Mum and Dad said goodbye to me but I kept bugging them. The last thing Mum said as they drove away was ‘Next year Clare. Next year.’ Two hours later I got the phone call that they
were dead. Some drunk had hit them head on.’ She laughed slightly. ‘I never did get to go to that sports store. I was too busy with funeral arrangements.’
‘Do you miss them?’
Clare looked at her.
‘It’s just you never seemed to cry or anything.’
Clare sighed. ‘I never used to cry. When I feel over and hurt myself
real bad I wouldn’t cry. I cried at the funeral and a bit after. Then I
ended up in Ballykissangel. With three new cousins, an Irish boyfriend,
and a football team. I should stop feeling
sorry for myself. I’ll turn into Padraig.’
Assumpta smiled slightly. ‘What was your last Christmas like?’
‘I didn’t even spend it with them. Mum and Dad had a business trip so I stayed with a friend.’
Assumpta hugged her. ‘I want you to promise me something.’
‘When you and Kevin are married and have ten children,’ she began, making Clare laugh, ‘you have to promise to come and visit me and Peter and James.’
‘And whatever other child comes along,’ Clare grinned.
Assumpta smiled and hugged her again. She put her hand out. ‘Promise?’
Clare took it. ‘Promise.’
Kieran ran into the loungeroom and widened his eyes at the presents there. He ran into his parents room and jumped on the bed. ‘Wake up! Santa’s been! It’s Christmas!’
Niamh and Ambrose, having just gotten to bed a little while ago, sleepily got up and went into the loungeroom so Kieran could open his presents.
‘Merry Christmas,’ Peter said, kissing his wife awake.
She snuggled up to him. ‘What time is it?’
‘It is now eight o’clock. And James has been awake since six according to Clare.’
Assumpta smiled. ‘Why does that not surprise me?’
‘Come one,’ Peter said, sitting her up. ‘Santa’s been.’
Assumpta raised her eyebrow. ‘I know. We were Santa.’
After Kieran had unwrapped all his presents and exhausted his parents, he became engrossed in a video.
‘We still going to Fitzgerald’s for dinner?’ Ambrose asked.
Niamh nodded. ‘Everyone else is there and it’s a way for us all to be with family.’
Ambrose smiled. ‘And Mammy and your father can be kept out of the way of each other.’
The Christmas party at Fitzgerald’s was going. The turkeys had just
been put out and people were serving themselves. Padraig seemed a lot happier
and Kevin clearly had something on his mind. Kieran was racing around after
Aisling and Brendan, Siobhan,
Niamh and Ambrose watched them with delight. Brian and Imelda had been out of each others way and Liam and Donal were generally being nuisances. Kathleen and Fr Mac sat to one side, deep in conversation. Every so often Fr Mac would glance over
to Assumpta, Peter and James and smile. Peter and Assumpta were occasionally kissing and cuddling James and each other. Assumpta had found a little Santa’s hat that was jauntily placed on James’ head. James was enthralled with a brightly
coloured ball that Santa had brought him. Watching this, Fr Mac decided that Peter had made the right decision.
Kevin and Clare eventually sneaked out the back to exchange their presents.
Kevin handed her a box that revealed a charm bracelet. ‘It was my mums.
She gave it to me when I was in London. I wanted you to have it. I already
started it see. There’s a
football and your birthstone.’
Clare smiled and kissed him. ‘It’s gorgeous. But are you sure you want to give something so precious to me?’
Kevin grinned. ‘I’m sure.’
Clare handed him a box that contained a pair of brand new football boots. ‘Yours were getting a bit scruffy,’ she told him.
Siobhan came out. ‘Assumpta said to tell you two to stop making out and come back out. Con’s ready to start playing and Assumpta says that you’re going to play too Clare.’
Clare grinned. ‘Making out? Us? What a thought!’
‘I’m glad we can spend Christmas together in the way we want. I mean, that Christmas with Timmy and you was great, but being able to be open about how we feel is a lot better.’
Peter put James on his lap and looked at Assumpta. ‘Like I said once before, that’s a bit hompespun for you.’
Assumpta grinned. ‘Yeah, well, it needed to be said.’
Peter smiled and kissed her.
As the sun started to sink over Ballykissangel, the pub is full of music and laughter. Clare is smiling happily as she plays her bodhran. She has found her home and her family.