For the wonderful writers of the Yahoo Fanfic Group
who have given the world such beautiful stories honoring our favorite little
Irish town and who have been more than kind in reading my work in the past.
Thank You All!
Michael's words rang in her head like the distant thunder in the sky.
"He gave me his number Assumpta, give him a call," he'd said with his tone just beyond encouraging.
She lay in bed thinking of the implications that calling Peter would have. People would think….
<<Oh to hell with what people might think, he is my friend after all, and he's hurting. >>
Still Peter might not appreciate her risking his reputation for the sake of a few condolences from her.
<<He might not have really meant for Michael to ask me to call, just for him to have the number just in case. >>
Feeling ridiculously unnerved, Assumpta picked-up the receiver on her private telephone. Then she set it back down fretfully. Within five minutes, the phone was back in her hand and her lap held the little book in which she had scrawled Peter's brother's home number.
<<Ah. Some progress at last. >>
She breathed a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that Peter would pick up first, and began to dial. She stopped, and hung up again.
<<What am I to say if he doesn't answer? After all it isn't his house, why should he answer at 2:00 AM? >>
Finally throwing all caution to the winds howling outside her window, and resolving to dial completely this time, Assumpta grabbed the phone, and did so too quickly to change her mind.
<<I'll be a wrong number if it isn't him. I know his voice better than my own, so…. >>
<<Oh Damn. They're all asleep. >>
<<Oh, God! I can't breathe! He sounds so devastated…. >>
"Hello, Is anyone there?"
"Peter", it was all the sound she could make.
"'ssumpta? Is that you?"
"Yeah. Urm. Michael Ryan gave me this number. I didn't think, suppose I should have waited `till morning, I didn't mean to wake you I just thought…. I'm sorry Peter", she was babbling and she couldn't do a blasted thing about it. Her words seemed to be foreign to her.
<<He'd laugh if I said I felt as though I were `speaking in tongues' I bet. >>
<<Oh god, her voice is so amazing, I can hear her soul through it. She's shaking. I wonder why? I can even feel her heart beating across the line. This is what I needed. She is what I needed, what I need. Oh God. >>
"You didn't wake me Assumpta. I, I couldn't sleep. Everything is just too much", he paused to gather his rapidly deteriorating emotions, and she rescued him instantly.
"I only thought that you might want to talk. I know what you're going through, and I wanted you to know I'm here if you need me", to Assumpta this sounded like a comforting friendly assurance, but her heart cried out much more him.
<<If you only knew how very much I do need you Assumpta. Why aren't you here? I wish I could see you, I wish I could touch you, just to know I'm really not alone…>>
"I wish you were here", he mused.
<<Oh! I said that aloud didn't I. Maybe she didn't hear it? >>
<<Mother of God if he sounds like that much longer I am going to go mad! >>
"I would come if you wanted me to", she had already risen off the bed and stepped to her closet intending to pull out the weekend bag she kept there for last minute trips to see suppliers. He rushed on talking though, and didn't seem to have taken notice of what she had said. Slowly she sank to the edge of her bed again listening to him. Sensing that he needed to speak.
"I thought I could do this I really did. I thought if I stayed with James, I'd be okay. That I wouldn't feel so lonely. I mean there are people I have known my whole life all around, and yet I feel as though there is no one left on earth but me. I can't breathe. I feel like I'm drowning. James and his wife, everyone I've seen has been kind. Very kind, but I still am alone. I can't really talk to them. Not really. Not like I can to you. I wish…", he was beginning to cry now in spite of himself.
<<I hope she can't hear me crying. I wish I could stop. I can't. Oh god, Assumpta I need you so much please. >>
"Did you not hear me Peter?", she asked softly through the sound of his repressed tears. "I said I would come if you want me to. I can be there in a few hours if-" He cut her off with a choked sob.
"Would you really? It, it would mean so much not have to stand there
alone tomorrow. At the graveside, I mean. James has Emily, and they'll
be there with me but it's not the same", he was so relieved and
overwhelmed he could hardly stop thanking her.
"Of course I'll come. I want to help you through this. No it's no trouble I, no I can ask Niamh. Peter I need to call the Airline to see when they've got a flight. Can you drive? Ok. I'll call from the airport to tell you what time. Yes. Bye", she rang off and sighed.
<< I hope I can stand this. Being so near to him, knowing he's in pain is going to he hard - hard not to touch him, not to hold him, hard not to kiss his grief into the morning light. Oh god what have I gotten myself into? >>
The flight was short in reality, but for the people on either end it seemed years long. Assumpta spent the time bracing herself for seeing Peter. She needed to be able to be near him without grabbing him, clutching him to her and covering him with kisses, cradling him in her arms until the tears subsided, and he could stand on his own again. That kind of thing just would not due, not in public, not with him wearing that damned collar, and his family all around. He would probably try to hold up, probably. She had to be the strong one this time - no matter what it did to her heart, and mental state. As the plane touched down, and as she made her way down the ramp into the airport, her resolve was fairly strong. By the time she reached the terminal where passengers could meet those waiting for them, she was firmly convinced that she could do this. She would be here for Peter, she would.
He had sounded significantly better when she had called to inform him of her arrival time so he could pick her up. She had thought of a taxi to the nearest inn, or hotel. Then she realized that not letting him pick her up at the airport would eliminate the only chance they would have to speak privately, not getting that chance would only make the rest of the trip harder. At least at the airport, where no one knew he was a priest, she could put her arms around him for a moment if he'd let her. Maybe he wouldn't need her that much.
<<It might just be a listening ear he needs. I've got to be ready for that. I can't allow my feelings to show. If I failed him now, I'd never forgive myself. >>
He looked up just in time to see her coming before she saw him. He reveled in the image of her - Joan of Arc came to his mind and he smiled wistfully at his very own personal savior, as she moved pensively through the crowd. She looked up and spotted him then and catching the melancholy smile on his lips she returned it and her steps quickened reflexively. He stood up to wait for her to cross the waiting room, but before he realized it he found himself walking towards her
<<Just like me isn't it? My whole life now seems inexorably drawn toward Assumpta, whether I want it or not. I don't seem to have a choice where my feet are concerned, never mind about my heart. >>
The pair of them practically collided as they reached each other, and before either could think clearly about any repercussions Peter through his arms around Assumpta, clutching her like the drowning man he'd described over the phone. She immediately hugged him back with all the pent up emotion in her embrace that she could bear. She breathed in his presence with a shuddering near gasp, and he pulled back abruptly.
"Are you all right `ssumpta?"
"Of course. I'm fine Peter, it's you I'm here for", she assured him smiling at his instant concern for her, and shocked that he had caught the tremble in her breath.
"I just thought I felt you shaking just now, maybe you don't like flying?" he asked diplomatically avoiding speaking of any possibility of fear directly.
"I'm just a bit knackered, but I should be that at this hour."
He her hugged again and this time rested his head on her shoulder for a few moments. They just stood there savoring the feeling. Finally she lifted her head from it's newly discovered home in the curve of his neck, and smiled.
"We really should get you home. Your brother doesn't know you've left does he? He may worry if he wakes up and you're not around", she said in an effort to think practically again.
"Well I thought he might, so I left a note in case your flight was late or we stopped off for coffee, or anything," he answered haltingly.
Quite honestly Assumpta herself did not want to check into a strange hotel right away and it was clear that Peter was not ready to loose the intimacy of this moment entirely either. They decided to go to a little 24-hour coffee shop just a short drive from the airport. Peter knew of it, but had never been inside before.
They drove up, and parked the car in near silence. The adrenaline of the surprise reunion and the emotions of the day had begun to disperse, and the two had relaxed into the ride. They took a table toward the back, which had comfortable armchairs instead of the usual kitchen style chairs at the other tables. As they sipped their drinks Assumpta decided she needed to break this silence in spite of the small comfort it afforded. Peter had been visibly retreating for several minutes, and now he looked very sad and alone again, but showed no sign of reaching out to her.
"I don't know if you wanted to talk Peter, I mean while it's just us but I…" she was cut off by the opening of the floodgates across the table.
"Oh Assumpta, I just can't believe how much this has changed me - everything about me, my life, my relationships all of it. I never thought that something I've helped so many people get through could practically stop me from getting out of bed in the morning. I don't know. Sometimes I don't think I will ever be the same again", he lowered his eyes, and then his head.
"I know what you mean. You probably won't be the same again, but you will be all right. You can be happy, and enjoy living. It doesn't mean you've forgotten. Your mother would want to know you are coping, and continuing, and growing, and honoring her memory as you live your life", Assumpta spoke carefully but with confidence and tenderness.
As he listened to her, Peter began to realize just what would really change for him. A few tears fell down his face uninvited, but he made no attempt to hide them from Assumpta. She truly understood, and he knew without doubt that she still could respect, even admire him notwithstanding his weaknesses. He also realized at that moment that his relationship with Assumpta would never be the same. She had come all this way to support him and he wanted nothing more than to tell her just how much that meant to him. She meant more to him now than she ever had before, and he couldn't tell her. He could never let her into his life as fully as she already was in his heart. Feeling even more depressed and miserable than before, his tears flowed more steadily, and his shoulders slumped and occasionally shook. Assumpta looked at her best friend in silence for a moment deciding whether she should touch him. When his weeping became more open she couldn't sit still any longer. She moved from her chair to the side of his, and slid her arm around him gently.
He felt her arm around his shoulder, and then her hand brushed a tear from his cheek. He turned to her intending to thank her, but she leaned down before he could and whispered.
"You're welcome. Anytime, Peter. I know it's hard to lose your mother. I lost…"
"That's only part of it Assumpta. I'm thinking about you right now, not my mum", he answered.
"Because you mean so much to me, so much more than you know. Even more than I realized until you said you'd come here to help me. I can't go on hiding my feelings any more. If anything were to happen to you, and I had never said…", she stopped him fearing he'd break down. If he did it would undo her entirely.
"Peter nothing's going to happen to me. I am fine, I'm right here. You
needn't say anything you might regret later. I'm not going anywhere", she
was trying to give him an easy out of this conversation, but he
"I know what you're trying to do Assumpta, and I appreciate it, really. Still I want you to understand how much I care", he paused trying to decide whether to say the words he desperately wanted to say, but which scared him more than anything ever had.
"I love you too Peter", she answered him before he could even finish his confession.
<<Mother of God! Did I just tell Peter Clifford I love him?
Father Clifford the priest? Oh hell! He looks as though I've slapped him
and now he'll probably stay away from the Pub, away from me, maybe even
leave Ballykay. Oh, God why can't I be sensible around that man? >>
<<Oh God! Did I hear it? Was I imagining things, or did she just say she loves me? By the look of her she didn't intend to say it that way, or maybe not now, but she did say it. She loves me! >>
"Did you mean that?" he felt very small, and sounded it too.
"Yes I did. I do love you, but I know you are not free I know you are a priest, and you're a good priest. I didn't mean to say anything, I came her to help you, and now I've done this. I'm so sorry. Perhaps I can get a flight out of here, and you can forget all about all this. I'm not even legally divorced from Leo yet. He's gone, it's over but that's not the point. Oh, I can't believe I've done this. I've failed you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry", now it was Assumpta's turn to cry. She shattered before Peter's eyes, and to his horror seemed to really loathe herself for somehow injuring him. He did the only thing he could think of. He kissed her. It was short, very sweet, and tender, but with no shortage of deep meaningful emotion.
Assumpta suddenly became aware of Peter's lips on hers, and she started. Almost instantly she relaxed and kissed him back. The feeling was immensely freeing, and so overwhelming, and then it was gone. He had stopped the kiss and now he sat looking at her, smiling. A real smile, genuine and from his tortured, aching soul this time. For the first time in weeks he could feel joy again. He had nearly lost track of what joy was like. He still anguished over his mother, but now there seemed to be real hope for life after her death.
Somehow, this all felt like a final gift from his mother. She had always encouraged him to follow his heart in life, and he had told her of his growing attachment to Assumpta and she had been kindly supportive. Now Peter felt her blessing over the events of this night in a nearly tangible way. His mother's life had been lost, but appeared exchanged for a new prospective life for him with Assumpta. Who broke Peter's happy musings with her usual wit and charm, and he loved her for it.
"You're after having me come here for nothing you know?" She sounded utterly serious; only her eyes showed him that she had something slightly flippant on her tongue.
"What do you mean?" He asked with interest.
"If we leave here right now, we just might make it to the ceremony in time, and that gives us no time to change clothes", she answered standing and stretching her now unresponsive muscles. He looked himself up and down looking like he had just rolled out of bed after about a month of convalescence. He shook his head and sighed.
"We'll have to change, and be a bit late. They're not likely start without me", he paid the tab, grabbed Assumpta's hand and ran with her back to the car.
The ceremony went off without a hitch. James, and his wife were kind and welcoming toward Assumpta, as were Peter's other brothers and relatives. Peter handled the event fairly well, with some tears, but he knew that Assumpta was right beside him though he could not reach for her hand. Assumpta cried for Peter as she listened to the words of the priest who had known the departed woman all her life, married her to Peter's father, and christened all three boys. She cried for herself for the loss of a chance at knowing the person who had given her Peter Clifford, at the thought that she may not ever really be able to share his life, and finally she cried for all the time lost forever to them through fear, doubt, guilt and obligation. These things that could still make the walls between them taller even now.
After a short goodbye to Peter, Assumpta boarded her flight home tired, and sad, but with growing hope that she might finally find the happiness she'd been searching for, for so very long. Aware that it would be the supreme struggle of her life to gain that contentment, the kiss Peter had given her had ignited a flame in her heart that would not ever be extinguished.