A chorus of Assumpta, Peter and Clare sang James “Happy Birthday” for his second birthday. Assumpta was restraining him from putting fingers into the icing until Peter could get a photo when the bell at reception rang.
‘I’ll get it,’ Clare said, laughing.
A tall prim lady stood at reception.
‘Can I help you?’ Clare asked.
‘I’m looking for Clare Fitzgerald.’
‘You found her,’ Clare replied.
‘You work here?’
The lady looked surprised for a moment. She stuck out her hand. ‘I’m Maria Jenkins. I’m a social worker from Cilldargen.’
Clare raised her eyebrows. ‘What’s that got to do with me?’
‘I got a phonecall, from a Ballykissangel resident, saying that she was concerned with the way you were being brought up. I am here to investigate. If I am dissatisfied, I will take you were you can be adopted.’
‘Nobody is taking me anywhere,’ Clare replied, folding her arms across her chest.
Assumpta came out, trying to keep James’ chocolatey hands out of her face. ‘What’s going on Clare? James is trying to demolish the cake in there.’
Clare made the introductions and Assumpta’s face darkened. ‘I suppose you want a room?’ Assumpta asked.
Miss Jenkins nodded.
‘I’ll take her up,’ Clare said, signing her in. She paused in front of James and smiled at him . ‘Don’t forget to leave me a piece before you eat it all up!’
‘I won’t,’ James giggled.
When Miss Jenkins had been settled in she looked at Clare. ‘Do you have your own room?’
‘Would you like to show it to me?’
‘Not particuarly but you’re going to want to see it anyway I guess,’ Clare said, leading the way.
Miss Jenkins looked around the room. ‘How small is this compared to the other rooms?’
‘Same size as James’ and Assumpta and Peter’s.’
Miss Jenkins sat down on the bed and Clare scowled.
‘Do you like it here Clare?’
‘I love it here.’
‘Would you like to show me around?’
‘Well, I would, but Kevin and I are going hiking up and around Eammon’s. We’ll probably call in on him too.’
‘Who is Kevin?’
Miss Jenkins nodded. ‘Well, I might have a look around town.’
Clare and Kevin began running through people that could have rung Miss Jenkins as they walked up the mountain.
‘Mr Quigley?’ Kevin asked.
‘Okay maybe not.’
Maria Jenkins approached Brendan and Siobhan as they were about to take
Aisling to visit Kieran. She introduced herself.
Brendan and Siobhan sent each other a sideways glance when she said she was a social worker.
‘Brendan Kearney. I teach at the school.’
‘Siobhan Mehigan. I’m the vet.’
‘I’m here to ask some questions about Clare Fitzgerald.’
‘Too much of a hassle for him. Besides, does he even have a phone?’
Kevin sent her a look.
‘I know, I know.’
‘Clare is a good child and she is well looked after,’ Siobhan explained.
‘She knows that she can walk into any house in Ballykissangel and be accepted,’ Brendan added.
Miss Jenkins raised an eyebrow. ‘Fair enough. Sorry to take up your time.’
Clare and Kevin continued walking until Clare slipped. Kevin reached out to grab her but it was too late. She had fallen down a hill. About ten metres. Kevin looked around in panic and slid down after her, carefully footing himself down. ‘Help!’ he cried.
‘Padraig O’Kelly. I own the garage.’
‘I believe that Clare is dating your son.’
Padraig nodded as he continued working on the car.
‘Do you like her? Do you think she’s well looked after.’
Padraig nodded and slid under the car.
Con had been following Kevin and Clare, even though they had told him that they wanted to be alone. He heard the cries.
‘Down here!’ Kevin called.
Con looked down. Clare was bleeding. ‘God!’
‘Go get help Con! Hurry!’
Con nodded and ran off.
‘Kathleen Hendley. You must have been the lady that rang?’ Maria Jenkins asked.
Kathleen nodded. ‘I was. It is an appalling thing going on over there.’
Maria Jenkins sighed. ‘From what I can see, everything is fine. People like her and the family.’
Kathleen beckoned her to sit down.
Con finally saw Brendan and Siobhan, with Aisling. ‘Stop!’
‘What is it Con?’ Brendan asked, crossly.
‘It’s Clare,’ he said breathlessly. ‘She fell about ten metres. She’s badly hurt!’
Siobhan got him in the car and they sped towards Fitzgeralds.
‘Don’t close your eyes,’ Kevin told her.
Clare looked at him. ‘Why not?’
‘Because I don’t want you to get unconcious.’
She looked at him earnestly, her green eyes full of fear. Struggling for breath she asked. ‘Am I going to die?’
Kevin pressed a kiss to her forehead. ‘Of course you’re not.’
‘Why don’t you want me to fall unconcious?’
‘Because I’ve never dealt with an unconcious patient before?’
‘Have you ever dealt with a patient before?’
He put a finger to her lips as she started to talk. ‘Rest.’ He put his arms around her, careful not to get too near the bleeding. ‘You’re going to be fine.’
By now, most of Ballykissangel were on their way to the site. Doc Ryan was up front in his car, with Liam and Donal bringing up the rear. As soon as he arrived, Michael jumped out of the car, and Con took him to the place. ‘Kevin!? Clare?!’ Michael called.
‘Thank God. Doctor she’s fallen unconcious and she’s still bleeding heavily,’ Kevin told him.
Michael looked down at the seriousness of the situation.
‘We have to send a person and a pulley down there to get her up,’ Michael told Peter and Assumpta.
‘We’ll go,’ Liam and Donal said.
‘Are you sure?’ Peter asked. ‘I can go.’
‘It’s okay,’ Liam said. ‘We’ll do it.’
‘I rang the ambulance’ Padraig said. ‘They’re on their way.’
Michael, Peter, Liam, Donal, Padraig and Ambrose began to set up the pulley. Donal and Liam went down.
‘Send Clare up first,’ Michael called down.
Slowly, and carefully Clare was lifted up onto the stretcher. The ambulance had arrived quickly and put her in. Peter took James from Assumpta. ‘Go with her,’ he told her.
Assumpta nodded, tears threatening to fall.
Everyone was finally up at the hospital, waiting for news. Assumpta and Kevin were pacing. Kevin had apologised to Assumpta, even though she had said it wasn’t necessary. Brian Quigley had arrived, with Kieran and was also waiting. Michael finally came out.
‘What is it?’ Assumtpa asked. Peter put his arm around her.
Michael sighed and rubbed his head. ‘She had a broken rib, which punctured the lung. That was one of the reasons she was bleeding so heavily. She lost a lot of blood. She has a broken arm and multiple cuts and bruises. She got a bad knock on the head but its not serious. The thing that is serious, is that she hasn’t woken up. I wish I had better news.’
‘Is she going to live?’ Kevin choked out.
‘The next twenty-four hours will tell.’
Assumpta sat down hurriedly. ‘Can we see her?’
Michael nodded. ‘No more than two at a time though.’
Assumpta and Kevin went in and sat next to her.
‘She doesn’t look herself. No fight in her,’ Kevin said quietly.
Assumpta nodded and wiped furiously at her eyes. ‘She wouldn’t talk to us if she knew we’d been crying.’
Kevin smiled slightly. ‘I’ll say.’
Everyone, on command, had left Peter and Padraig in the waiting room. Peter had sent James home with Niamh.
Kevin came out. ‘Dad, I want you to take me somewhere.’
Padraig nodded and Peter went into Assumpta.
‘How are you doing? he asked, his own eyes read with sadness.
She pulled herself closer to him and buried her head in his chest, sobbing quietly.
The morning came finally. With it bringing nothing. Clare was still not awake. Kevin had resumed his seating position just a few minutes before and held out a bag. ‘Clare. I wanted to get you this charm for awhile, but I had to earn the money first.’ He took her hand, that still wore the charm bracelet, in his and slipped a charm on it. ‘It’s my birthstone. I guess this means going steady huh? You always told me that we would get there eventually.’
Assumpta looked at him through tear-stained eyes and smiled.
Suddenly, Clare started to stir. Kevin’s eyes widened and he and Assumpta looked at each other.
‘Clare?’ Assumpta asked, taking her other hand.
Clare slowly opened her eyes. ‘Assumpta?’
‘You’ve been out of it for over a day,’ Kevin said, pressing the button for the doctor.
‘Do you remember anything?’
‘I remember Kevin telling me not to go unconcious. And I thought you were responsible enough not to let me,’ Clare smiled wanly.
Doctor Ryan came in. ‘Welcome back to the land of the living Clare,’ he smiled.
Peter looked up as Assumpta and Kevin came out.
‘Well?’ he asked.
Assumpta went into his arms and cried.
Kevin smiled. ‘She’s okay.’
Peter kissed the top of Assumpta’s head and held her tight. ‘Thank God.’
THREE WEEKS LATER
Clare sat at the pub, watching everyone drinking and having a good time. Kevin sat down next to her.
‘Did you notice the charm?’ he asked.
Clare nodded. ‘I guess this means we’re going steady huh?’
Kevin nodded. ‘I guess so. And by the way, no hiking ok?’
Clare smiled and kissed him soundly. ‘Okay.’
Assumpta watched them kiss and then watched James run up to them, demanding a game. She smiled as Peter kissed her. ‘Going steady,’ she said.
‘Sorry?’ Peter asked.
‘Nothing,’ she answered, watching James sign Clare’s cast for the hundredth time.