Hey folks. As an avid Ballykay fan (really only the Peter-Assumpta years, though) I'm sure I was one of the many people who hated the series 3 ending, where Assumpta is electrocuted just as she and Peter get together. And I was sitting in school one day, bored out of my mind, when I thought of an idea. I hate to use the term 'Alternate Universe' but I suppose this is one. Assumpta lives, but only for a couple of years. Two years later, the whole electrocution thing happens, and Peter leaves town . . . with his baby son. If you've never seen Ballykissangel, you might still like this story.

I don't own Ballykissangel. I own Noel, but that's all.


by Emer

Peter pushed the curtain back slightly, watching his son walk down the driveway on his way to school. When he reached the gate, he turned and waved, as he had done every morning of his schooling life. Peter smiled and waved back, and the boy continued down the path. Peter's smile faded almost immediately, as he
reflected once again on the last few years of his life.

It was fifteen years since Assumpta's death. Fifteen years of raising his son alone. Fifteen years of crying when his son was asleep, or at school, or watching TV in the next room. It had been so hard without her. Not just raising the boy, but also simply living was a struggle. When Assumpta had died, it felt like the world had ended. Peter couldn't eat, he couldn't sleep, and he couldn't be a good father to his baby. He was a wreck.

But that had changed, with time. It had been a few weeks before he had made the decision to fix his life, and the life of his son. His son Noel. Assumpta had chosen the name, a name that - for reasons she herself never knew - she had always loved. Peter could not stay in Ballykay. He couldn't continue to live above Fitzgerald's Pub, the pub where his son was born, where Peter had lived for two blissful years with his little family. He could no longer let his wife haunt him. He had to let go. So he packed up all his belongings, gave Niamh - Assumpta's oldest friend - the keys to the pub, and left for Dublin with Noel to start a new life.

He didn't cry all the time. In fact, his tears became far less frequent as the years went on. He focused all his energy on raising Noel. The boy had Peter's endless kindness and Assumpta's magnificent good looks. Noel looked so much like Assumpta. Peter saw it more and more every day. He saw Assumpta laugh when
Noel laughed, he saw Assumpta cry when Noel cried, and he saw Assumpta angry when Noel was angry. He also shared some physical traits with Peter, of course, as his teachers and neighboring parents had pointed out, but it was not an obvious similarity. Not in comparison to the one that Noel shared with Assumpta.

Peter had never returned to Ballykay, and therefore, neither had Noel. The lad knew nothing of his birthplace, of how his mother died, or how Peter had come to Ballykay in the first place. He didn't know that Assumpta had been married before, and certainly didn't know that Peter was originally the priest at St. Joseph's, Ballykissangel's Catholic church. It was too much information for a young boy to deal with. Peter wanted to protect his son.

But Noel's not a little boy anymore, Peter had to remind himself. He's sixteen years old. He needs to know the truth about his life. He needs to know more about Assumpta than a photograph can show. He needed to know what a wonderful woman his mother was, and how much she loved her baby boy. He needed to know about her life, about the pub she ran, about the friends she had.

I'll tell him, Peter reminded. I'll wait until he gets home from school. Then I'll tell him the truth.


"I'm home, Dad!" Noel Clifford called as he closed the front door behind him, kicking off his shoes and dropping his schoolbag to the ground. As he loosened his tie, he walked into the kitchen to make a sandwich. He found his father sitting at the kitchen table, looking at a framed photograph. Noel didn't need to ask which one to know. He knew every single detail of the picture, every line and color. He had looked at it his whole life, wishing he could remember that day, or any other day before . . . she died.

He had been a baby in that picture, only a couple of weeks old. He was in his mother's arms, as she looked down into his little face. His father stood behind her, with one hand on her shoulder, the other on his baby son's bald head. They looked like the perfect little family, young, happy and beautiful. They had no idea that it would only last a few months.

Noel said nothing for a moment, standing awkwardly in the doorframe. He never knew what to do or say when his father was thinking about his mother. Should he admit that he missed her too? No, because he felt that he had no right to miss her. She had died when he was only a few months old, and he couldn't remember a single detail of her that had not been refreshed by photographs. He never knew what to do or say when his father got upset about Assumpta. What can you say to a man who has never got over losing the love of his life?

"You alright, Dad?" Noel asked pathetically. His father nodded quickly, dropping the photo on the table and wiping his face.

"Sit down, son," he said softly. "Please. We have to talk." Slowly, Noel sat opposite his father at the table. Peter was silent for a moment, before placing a hand on his son's arm.

"Noel," he began, not entirely sure how to say this. "You're growing up so fast, it's unbelievable. It's seems like only yesterday you were a little baby crawling around the place."

"Dad . . ." Noel groaned, embarrassed. As much as he loved his dad, his sentimental reminiscing was sometimes too much for a teenaged boy to take. Peter shook his head.

"That's not the point, though," he continued. "The point is that I once thought you had all the time in the world to learn the truth about where you come from, and the next thing I know, you're sixteen. I've kept this to myself for so long, when I should have shared it with you as early as possible. I'm sorry, son."

"Dad, if this is the birds and bees talk, I already know," Noel said panicky. His friends had once had a conversation about how mortifying it had been when they got the sex talk from their parents. Noel had been thankful to miss it, but was now worried that his father had realized he'd left something out.

"It's not that, Noel," Peter said, growing agitated. "I never told you much about your mother, did I? How we met, who our friends were?"

"You met in Ballykissangel," Noel said quietly, knowing his father was right. His father had lived in Ballykay for five years, his mother much longer, and Noel couldn't name a single friend that they had there. He only knew that his mum was the local publican. He didn't know what his father's job had been. He had never thought to ask.

"That's true," Peter said. "But that's not all. There's so much more to it than that. Noel, when I met your mother, we were mismatched right from the start. Your mum was an atheist publican, and I . . . was a Catholic priest."

Noel said nothing, but the instant change in his face was enough to tell Peter that he was certainly shocked. Neither of them knew whether to laugh or cry.

"So how did it happen?" Noel asked after what seemed several minutes. And so they sat together for two hours, over five cans of Coke, two bars of chocolate, and a couple of tears. Noel listened intently as his father told him of his Assumpta's initial dislike of him, or rather, of the clergy. Peter told him of their eventual friendship, about how - despite their religious opinions - they were eager to help each other, whatever the problem. However, after time, that friendship had developed into something else, something that neither of them had ever expected.

"So what happened?" Noel asked at this point, on his second Coke. He knew this was hard for his dad, but now that he had started, Noel just had to hear the rest.

"Well, nothing at first," Peter said. "We both disappeared for a while. Separately," he added sharply, seeing Noel's mouth open to say something. The last thing his son needed to believe was that his parents had had some sort of sordid affair. It had been nothing like that. "She went to Dublin for a few months, and by the time we had both come back, she had married somebody else."

"Married? Who?" Noel was aghast.

"An old college flame of hers called Leo McGarvey. It didn't last very long though. After that I told her I loved her. I told her I'd leave the priesthood for her if she'd have me. And she agreed. A married woman and a Catholic priest!" He laughed shortly, but Noel could see tears in his eyes.

"It was going to be perfect," Peter continued. "And for a little while, it was. I left the clergy, we got married, lived together in the pub, and then you came along. Did I tell ever you that you were premature?"

"Was I?"

"By seven weeks. Your mum was putting her feet up in the living room, and I was serving a few late night punters out front."

"Let me guess," Noel said. "Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig?"

"Oh, they were there," Peter said laughing, missing his friends. "Them, and Brian Quigley, Niamh, and Doc Ryan, luckily. The regulars. Then Assumpta came out, and said that she thought she was in labor. Now, your mum was fiery enough, but she wasn't the kind to cry wolf, if you know what I mean. Anyway, Doc Ryan told her to sit down and sure enough, her water had broken."

"Did you take her to the hospital?"

"No," Peter laughed. "You were born right there and then, on the floor of your mother's pub! If I hadn't been so scared, it would have been one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Your mum was screaming more profanities than I had ever heard from one person in my life! The doctor said, while she had been the most
difficult birth he could remember, you had been the easiest."

"The irony," Noel said, finding it hard to believe he was born on the floor of a rural town's local pub.

"Things were just great after that," Peter said, talking to himself more than Noel now. "I had my own little family, and even with Father McAnally glaring at me every day of my life, I'd never been happier. It was wonderful. And then, one night, we were holding a pub quiz when the lights went out. The stupid fuse box never worked properly. Padraig offered to get it, but your mum was too stubborn. She went down to do it herself and . . ." Peter stopped suddenly, swallowing the brick-like lump in his throat. He had to finish.

"The lights blinked back on, but then went out again. I ran down to the cellar, and she was just lying there, looking white as a sheet. Doc Ryan and the others did their best to help her, but it was no use. She was gone."

"I'm sorry, Dad," Noel said sincerely.

"Don't be, son," Peter said, gripping his shoulder across the table. "I never would have got over that if it wasn't for you. To know that somebody still needed me was enough to keep me sane." He sighed deeply, trying to change the subject.

"How about I cook us some dinner, you get out a video, and we have a lad's night in?" His voice was too cheerful to be real, but Noel didn't argue. They ate the meal in silence, concentrating on the movie they were watching. Or at least pretending to for each other's sake. Peter's mind was still full of the old memories that he had shared with his son; while Noel was trying to envision his mother from the new information his father had given him. It wasn't enough though. He had to know more. When it ended, Noel turned to his father, admitting what he wanted to do.

"I want to go there, Dad," he said. "I want to go to Ballykissangel."


White collar, he wants her
Every time she opens her mind
Comes to him for consultation
Secret midnight visitation
He wants her, she's showing off again
The show's just for him
His promises of God's forgiveness
Gives himself unfinished business
('A Thousand Years of Evolution' by Picturehouse)

Noel instantly turned off his Walkman when he heard these lines. He usually loved this upbeat, catchy song, sung by his favorite band - Picturehouse - but now the words made him uncomfortable. Though he never knew for certain, he always believed that this song was about a priest lusting after one of his parishioners. Noel decided then and there that, even if he were wrong about the lyrics, he would never listen to this song again. It just made him think more about his father's revelation, and made his life look like the result of some sordid little affair.

He slouched in his uncomfortable bus seat, gazing out the window. He noticed a road sign - Ballykissangel 5 Miles. It wouldn't be long now. He glanced around the bus at the other passengers. As he glanced, he noticed a woman about his father's age staring at him. When she saw him looking, she turned away quickly. Noel went back to the magazine he was reading, but peered back around a few seconds later. The woman was looking at him again.

"I'm sorry," Noel began politely. "But is everything alright?" The woman picked up her bag, and moved over to the spare seat next to him, as if trying to get a closer look. She looked as if she had seen a ghost. When she finally spoke, Noel realized that, in a way, she had.

"You're the image of your mother," she breathed. "I always knew you would be, as you got older. As a baby, you were more like your daddy, but I knew you'd turn out like Assumpta eventually."

"You knew my mum?" Noel asked in disbelief. He hadn't expected to find anyone who knew her until he reached town, and he certainly never expected to be recognized as her son. The woman laughed incredulously, as if Noel's question was the most shocking thing she had ever heard.

"Assumpta Fitzgerald - I mean Clifford - was the best friend I ever had," she said to him. "Why do you think she made me your godmother?" Realization dawned on Noel, as his father's story of Ballykay was still fresh in his head.

"You're Niamh?" he asked. She nodded, and shook his hand warmly. "Nice to meet you," he said lamely.

"Jesus, I can't believe it's you!" she said, looking him up and down. Noel smiled shyly, not entirely sure of what to say next. As it turned out, he didn't need to say anything. Niamh was full of questions for her estranged godson. What was he doing in town? How long was he staying? Did he have any  accommodation organized? What was his father up to? And several more.

Noel answered each question gladly. His father was in good health, but was too busy with work to make the trip. He wasn't yet sure how long he would stay in town, but had come to find out some stuff about his parents. He didn't have any accommodation planned as of yet, but his father had given him an address for Quigley's B&B.

"Well, you make sure my father treats you well," Niamh said, referring to her businessman father, Brian Quigley. She didn't ask why Peter hadn't told him to go to Fitzgerald's. She didn't need to ask. As much as Peter had loved his time living in the pub, what father would want their son staying in the place where his
mother had died?

"What do you plan to do?" Niamh asked him.

"Well, I took the last week of the term off school," Noel explained. "I think I'll stick around for a little while, maybe get some work or something. Then again, I might just stay a few days. Really, I just want to find out some things about my mum."

"What sort of things?"

"Things that my father can't - or won't tell me," Noel said hesitantly. "She lived here for so long, much longer than my dad. There's only so much he could know about her. You know, how she grew up, what she was like when she was younger. Also . . ." Noel paused for a second, but remembering that this woman was one of his parents' closest friends, continued.

"Dad gets upset sometimes," he admitted. "He misses her so much. It hasn't been easy for him, doing all this alone. I don't like to ask too much." He looked up at Niamh and said, "I know he was a priest. And I know she was married before."

"He told you?" Niamh asked, not really surprised. It wasn't in Peter's nature to lie.

"Just a few days ago," Noel pointed out. "He wanted to wait until I was old enough."

"Well, you certainly are that," Niamh laughed, getting off the subject for the boy's sake. "You must be sixteen now."

"I am, yeah," Noel said, the hissing sound as the old bus distracting him. Niamh grinned as she saw the boy's face as he looked out the window, trying to keep the look of childlike excitement off his face.

"Welcome back," he heard her say next to him.

"I'd love to stay and make sure you get settled in, Noel," Niamh said hurriedly. "But I have some work to do up at the pub." After she said it, she could have kicked herself for mentioning the pub, but Noel didn't seem to mind.

"I might pop up later, if that's okay," Noel asked. Niamh nodded eagerly, and surprised Noel with a quick, but warm hug. Noel smiled and waved goodbye as she headed up the road. Noel looked down the other direction to where Niamh had told him that Quigley's B&B was. He was about to make his way down the road, when a blue van pulled up next to him, and a woman poked her head out. She was a sturdy woman about ten years older than her father, which would have meant she was in her mid-fifties. There was a girl of about Noel's age in the passenger seat.

"Are you lost, son?" the woman asked. Her voice was gruff, but friendly. As she drove up the road, she had seen the boy standing alone in the street, and presumed he was a tourist.

"Um, I'm not entirely sure," Noel admitted sheepishly. "I'm looking for Mr. Quigley's B&B. Am I going the right way?" The woman didn't answer Noel, but stared at him in shock. Noel knew where this was going, and prepared for some serious blushing.

"Jesus Christ," the woman gasped. "Little Noel Clifford!?"

"Yes, miss," Noel said politely. "Although I'm not as little as I was when last here."

"Aisling," the woman said to the girl next to her. "Shift over a little bit." She turned back to Noel, and motioned for him to get in. Noel hesitated, knowing that he was not yet old enough to ignore the warning "don't get into cars with strangers." When she noticed his hesitation, the woman gave a hearty laugh.

"I'll be having words with your father if he hasn't told you about me," she said in a mock threatening tone. "I'll give you a hint. To this day, I'm a regular at Fitzgerald's, along with Brendan and Padraig?"

"Siobhan?" Noel asked, still unsure. "The vet?"

"In the flesh," Siobhan said. "Now get in, son, before it starts to rain." Noel glanced up, and saw large, dark clouds forming in the sky. Typical Irish weather. He nodded thankfully and went around to the passenger door, climbing in next to Aisling.

"Thank you," he said as Siobhan started to drive again. He stole a quick glance at Aisling, who was virtually sitting on his lap in the squashed front seat. The memory of his father's story indicated that she was Siobhan's daughter, even though they did not look much alike. Aisling was a slim, pretty girl with very light brown - almost blonde - hair and smooth, slightly tanned skin. Peter had told him briefly of the girl, born just a couple of months before Noel. She was the result of a night of drunken passion between Siobhan and Brendan - who had always been just good friends. After the initial shock, Siobhan and Brendan had worked together to raise her. And had done a good job, by the looks of things. In a strange way, she felt familiar to Noel, even though the last time he had seen her they had been babies.

"So you're staying at Brian's?" Siobhan asked him, interrupting his thoughts about her daughter.

"That's right," Noel said. "You don't know what he charges, do you?"

"Too much," Siobhan scoffed. She and Brian Quigley had never been particularly fond of each other. "If you're short of pocket at all, our door's always open."

"Thank you," Noel said, privately surprised at all this hospitality. Noel loved his father, and his unknown mother, and knew what good people they were. Nevertheless, he was amazed at how nice everyone was being just because he was their son. For all they knew, he could be an awful kid, full of psychotic overtones. You can't know too much about a person by his parents or his behavior as an infant!

"This is you," Siobhan said, pulling in outside a detached cottage with a thatched roof. Noel was surprised that he couldn't hear Irish dance music blaring from inside. The house alone was painfully superficial and stereotypical, and clearly intended for tourists. Noel got out of the van, smiling politely at Aisling. He was slightly disappointed that he hadn't had the chance to talk to her, but knew that - in a small town like this - he would see her again.

"Take care, Noel," Siobhan said. "Why don't you stop by the pub later? We'll all catch up." She paused for a moment, as if suddenly remembering that Noel's mother died in that pub. "I mean, if you don't . . ."

"I'll see you there," Noel promised, keen to see both the pub, and Aisling again. As Siobhan's van moved away, Noel turned and went into the cottage. As soon as he entered, he actually did hear the Irish music blaring. Noel was a bit of a musician himself, and as such he knew the good stuff when he heard it. However, he couldn't help but wince at the up-tempo disco version of 'Danny Boy' pounding into his brain.

"Top o' the morning to you!" he heard a voice bellow. Noel looked up to see a man in his sixties wearing a business suit and a farmer's cap, with a green Irish scarf around his neck. "Failte go hEireann!" Noel smirked to himself as the man welcomed him to Ireland in Irish. This must be the famous wheeler-dealer Brian Quigley, and this must have been part of his tourist show.

"Go raibh maith agat, a dhuine uasal," Noel said, thanking 'sir' in his native language. Quigley sighed, frustrated that he had humiliated himself in front of a native. He tore off the scarf and hat, tossing them on a nearby table.

"Right then," the man said gruffly. "I suppose there's no need for the formalities." He took a closer look at Noel, and the boy got ready to go into his whole yes-I-am-the-son-of-the-former-priest-and-dead-publican bit, but didn't need to.

"How old are you?" Quigley asked suspiciously. "Because I have rules here, you know. If you're under eighteen, I need consent from a parent or guardian . . ." He paused as Noel reached into his jacket pocket, taking out an envelope. He handed it to Brian, who quickly tore it open.

"I'm an expert on forgeries, you know?" he lied, trying to scare the boy. The last thing he wanted was some juvenile delinquent on his hands. But as he read through the letter, he knew that there was no reason to suspect the boy.

Dear Mr. Brian Quigley,

If you are reading this, then it means that my son has arrived safely at your undoubtedly excellent accommodation. I assure you that he has my full consent to be there, and will not cause you or your numerous businesses any trouble. And I know for a fact that you will treat him well.

Humblest regards, old friend,

Peter Clifford

Brian felt his jaw drop, but promptly hid it from Noel. He nodded formally and folded the letter again, handing it back to the boy, who - when Brian had a good look - was obviously Assumpta's child. The letter was typical Peter, as Brian remembered. Formal and solemn, yet Quigley was certain that Peter was laughing when he wrote it, just thinking of how the reader would react. Very funny, Clifford!

"The prodigal son returns, eh?" Brian muttered. He grabbed a folder of some sort off the table, and handed it to Noel. "Sign here. Your room is the last on the left upstairs, en suite included. No doubt you'll be joined by some real tourists in the next few days. We'll be swamped." Noel smiled, uninterested, as he had noticed that his name was the only one in the ledger.

"Welcome back to Ballykay," Brian said dryly, walking out abruptly. If Peter hadn't given Noel such an accurate description of the man, Noel would have been shocked. He picked up his bag again, and headed upstairs for a much-needed shower and change of clothes.


"I'm glad everything's going well, son," Peter said down the receiver. He tried to keep his tone light, for Noel's sake, but the truth was, he was lonely. It was the first time since Assumpta's death that he and Noel had been apart for more than a day. Noel had rung to tell his father that he had arrived safely in Ballykay. Peter would never admit to his teenaged son that he had in fact been waiting by the phone, biting his nails, dying for that call. His life had been miserable without Assumpta, but he had survived the agony because of Noel. Without Noel, there would be no point to his life at all.

"I'll phone again tomorrow, Dad," Noel promised. He knew his dad would worry if he didn't. Noel didn't like to worry his father, but he had been on the phone with him for over an hour now, telling him every little detail of his arrival in town. He knew his dad didn't want the conversation to end, but it had to eventually. Peter and Noel would always be close, but Noel was growing up, and now was a good a time as any for them to be apart. Noel was sixteen and had never been away from his father. It was too long.

"Look, I really have to go, Dad," Noel insisted gently. "I'm meeting some people."

"I'll let you go then," Peter said, wondering if he would ever really be able to let him go. "I love you, Noel."

"Love you too, Dad," Noel said, hanging up. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, the post-travel laziness was gone and Noel was ready to face the locals. He was a bit nervous, terrified actually. He was about to go back to the pub where he was born and his mother had died. He still couldn't get over the fact that he had been born on the floor of a pub!

He glanced at his bedside locker, which held nothing but a lamp and a photo of his infant self and his parents that he had swiped from a photo album before leaving Dublin. He picked up the photo and examined it again. God, he wished he had known his mum. He knew only what his dad had told him - she was kind, but quite feisty, very anti-religion, and yet had somehow fallen in love with the Catholic priest. She also loved her son. Peter had stressed this fact repeatedly, hoping that the message was getting through to the boy. Noel knew his mum had loved him, but that only made him miss her more. If she had been a neglectful, cruel parent, his affection for someone he had never known might have lessened. But the fact was that Noel couldn't remember the feeling of a mother's love, and it left a void in his life.

"Wish me luck," he muttered to his photographed parents, leaving his room. He crept downstairs, hoping not to get caught by Mr. Quigley. No such luck, unfortunately.

"Clifford!" Brian bellowed from the living room. "If you come back drunk, I'm locking you out!"

"I won't, Mr. Quigley," Noel said obediently, secretly giving the bossy man the finger. It was late evening, but the approaching summer meant that the sun was only beginning to set. He made his way up the road to Fitzgerald's - his mother's pub, still bearing her maiden name fifteen years after her death. Taking a deep, nervous breath, he prepared to go in. When he reached the door, however, he froze.

"That handle jammed again?" a voice called behind him. He turned to see the girl from the van, Siobhan's daughter Aisling walking towards him.

"Um . . . no," Noel stammered, fully aware that he was blushing. He was glad it was getting dark, and that she couldn't see. "It's just . . ."

"Scary," Aisling finished for him. "And you haven't even seen them drunk yet!" Noel appreciated her joke, but it didn't do much to help his confidence.

"Look," the girl said gently, standing next to him at the door. "My parents told me about your mam, about this place. I know you're nervous, but if you don't like it, you never have to come back. It's that simple."

"Is it?" Noel scoffed, then turning to her apologetically. He didn't mean to sound rude. Thankfully, Aisling seemed unfazed.

"Give it an hour," she advised. "One hour of meeting and greeting all your former neighbors. If it doesn't agree with you, there's plenty more attractions in Ballykay." She paused sheepishly. "I just can't think of any of them right now."

"Thanks," Noel said appreciatively, smiling genuinely, if shyly.

"I don't agree with letting my mother do all my introductions, and although we have technically known each other our whole lives - I'm Aisling Kearney." She put her hand out for him to shake, and he did so gladly.

"Noel Clifford," he said smiling, happy that he was making friends already. With new bravery, he walked into the pub with her. They were greeted by a hum of voices, a bit of music, and all the usual sights and sounds of a rural Irish public house. Behind the bar, Noel saw Niamh serving a pint of stout to a man in his fifties. She waved cheerily to him and motioned for him to come over to the bar. He did so, sitting down next to the man with the stout, and Niamh asked what he would like to drink.

"A coke, please," he said politely. The man next to him turned and slapped a heavy hand down on his shoulder.

"This must be the man of the hour," he said cheerfully. "Long time no see, Master Clifford! I see you've met my daughter." Noel clicked that this was Brendan, Aisling's father and a dear friend of Peter's.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Kearney," Noel said.

"No need for formalities, Noel," Brendan said. "Call me Brendan." Brendan was kind enough to pay for Noel's coke, and introduced him to the other locals cluttering up the bar: Padraig, the mechanic, Liam and Donal, the somewhat dim but likeable handymen, and Sean Dillon, Niamh's husband. Sean and Niamh had married after Niamh's first husband Ambrose - the father of her son Kieran - had died. Noel shook hands with all of them, and respectfully declined their countless offers to buy him another drink. There were only so many bottles of Coke his system could handle.

"So how long are you planning on staying, Noel?" Sean asked, refilling Noel's empty glass.

"I'm really not sure, to be honest," Noel admitted. He noticed that the whole pub got considerably quieter every time he spoke, as if they were hanging on his every word. He wasn't used to all this attention, and it embarrassed him.

"Well, if you're planning on being around for awhile, I'm sure we have a couple of odd jobs around here for you," Sean offered. "Just something to keep you busy and in pocket."

"That's right," Niamh said, eager to encourage Noel to stick around. "There are a few repairs and things that need doing. Fixing some shelves and things like that. Can you use a hammer and saw?"

"Yeah, sort of," Noel said. "I do woodwork in school . . ."

"Then you're more qualified than our local carpenters," Sean muttered, motioning to Liam and Donal. "So have we a deal?"

"Yeah, thanks," Noel agreed, smiling at Sean and Niamh. He looked around the pub, at all the people who knew and cared about his parents, and felt a strange sense of belonging and familiarity, almost like he had never been away.

The only two people missing were his mother and father.