Like Vines Intertwined
by Glenys Packer
Part One: Rain One
“Behave for the babysitter you two, OK?” Assumpta said, looking down at her two children as she threw her jacket on. She smiled at the babysitter. “I won’t be too late, I promise.” The babysitter nodded.
Her twelve-year-old son, Rowan, rolled his eyes and said, “We’ll be fine, Mum. Just like we always are.”
Rowan’s six-year-old half sister Kaylee grinned up at their mother. “Will you think about us when you sing, Mamma?”
Assumpta knelt down, putting her arms around her children. “Of course I will, darlings.” She kissed them both on the cheek, then stood up, said one last goodbye and headed out the door.
It was a chilly night, and Assumpta decided to take a taxi to the coffee shop that she and her band were performing at.  As she leaned back in the seat, watching the city flash by, she tried to think of the good things about her life, instead of letting her pre-performance nerves turn into the depression that constantly threatened to overwhelm her.
She had two children, a steady job, friends, a band that she enjoyed performing with...she’d never have to worry about being short of cash because her millionaire friend Addie always looked out for her. And she still had Fitzgerald’s, and the people in Ballykay, even if she knew she couldn’t live there again. So why did she feel like her life wasn’t complete?
The band was all ready there when Assumpta arrived.
“Here she is,” said Serenity, the back up singer and guitarist. “’Assumpta, we thought you were going to be late.”
Assumpta rolled her eyes, taking off her jacket. “Since when have I been late to a performance? That’s Mark’s job.” She grinned teasingly at the male guitarist and singer, who stuck his tongue out at her.
“We’ve got a pretty full house tonight,” Serenity commented as she and Assumpta set up the mics. Assumpta glanced out at the people seated around the coffee shop. She stopped, scanning the faces.
“Looking for someone?” Serenity’s voice said, close to Assumpta’s ear.
“What?” Assumpta turned. “Oh, just seeing if there are any good looking guys out there.”
“Hey,” Mark called. “What are you looking out there for, there’s one standing right here.” He flashed Assumpta a brilliant smile as she turned and raised an eyebrow.
“Ahm, no,” Assumpta said, rather coldly. “I’m trying for something new and exciting. You’re old news.” She went to test her mic.
“Oooo, rejected,” Serenity said quietly.
“Hey, I try.” Mark shrugged. “It worked once.”
“Ok,” Assumpta said into the mic. “To finish off this evening, we’ll be doing our rendition of ‘Closer to You’ originally written and performed by Brandi Carlile.” She looked back to make sure Serenity and everyone was ready. The audience quieted.
The drums and guitar started, and Assumpta began singing.
“It’s hard to let the miles pass me by,
Yellow lines that blend together in my eyes,
And when the seasons change again then I will too,
I just want to be, closer to you.”
The door of the cafe opened, and a man entered, ordering a cup of coffee at the counter, and then taking it to a small table. He turned to face the stage, and Assumpta felt her heart skip, could it be...? No, it wasn’t possible...
“I’m staring out at endless rows of green,
There are miles of hay like I’ve never seen,
Just when you think you’ve had enough and your dreams come true,
I just want to be, closer to you.
“Oh, my mind wanders through all that I’ve been hiding from,
I tried not to let you down.
Now I wonder if I’ve been doin’ something wrong,
Help me get my feet back on the ground.”
During the instrumental break, Assumpta took another look at the man. He’d been watching her intently, and when their eyes met Assumpta felt a jolt run down her spine. Never mind that, though, it was time to sing.
“Tomorrow I’ll be lying under you,
With a heart of gold and arms to fall into,
I know that there might come a day
Where my life is through,
But I just want to be, closer to you.
“Oh, my mind wanders through all that I’ve been hiding from,
I tried not to let you down.
Now I wonder if I’ve been doin’ something wrong,
Help me get my feet back on the ground.”
It was him, it had to be! Even squinting past the stage lights, even after the long years of only hearing his voice over the phone, it was unmistakably him. How could she forget that face?
“Someday we might learn to tell the truth,
We might even find the fountains of our youth,
We all needed something real we all need proof,
I just want to be closer to you,
I only want to be...
Closer to you.”
As the song ended the audience cheered heartily, Assumpta bowed and blew a few kisses to the crowd, before thanking them and going to help the other’s pack up.
“Another stellar performance Assumpta,” Serenity said, clapping Assumpta on the back. “You’re amazing.” Dave, the drummer, congratulated her as well.
Assumpta smiled. “Thanks.” She turned and looked back out at the tables, where people were now chatting, eating and drinking while listening to the smooth jazz that now played over the speakers.
“You all right?” Serenity asked, gently touching Assumpta’s shoulder.
“Yeah.” Assumpta squinted. “I just saw someone I knew, is all.”
“Go over and say hi, we’re not exactly running on a deadline here.”
“Speak for yourself,” Assumpta mumbled. “I left Rowan and Kaylee with a babysitter, I don’t want her to have to stay too late.”
Serenity rolled her eyes. “Sure, she won’t mind. Go on and say hi to your friend.”
There was nothing Assumpta could do to argue, no reason for her to. She wanted to see him, but... Before she knew it she was winding her way through the crowd. Looking up, she saw that he had spotted her, and they kept their gazes locked as she made her way over.
“Hi.” She smiled weakly, not knowing what else to do.
Peter returned her smile. “Hi, ‘Ssumpta.”
“You’re the last person I expected to see here,” Assumpta said as they sat down, leaning closer to hear each other over the sounds of the coffee shop.
“Oh...” Peter shrugged. “I was passing through...I’d talked to Niamh on the phone and she said you were performing here, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind?” Assumpta shook her head. “Why would I mind?”
Peter frowned, his voice almost grudging when he spoke. “You’re the one who keeps pushing me away.”
Assumpta looked down at the table. “None of it makes sense anymore.”
Peter reached over, touching Assumpta’s hand lightly. She jerked her hand back, staring at Peter.
“Peter,” she said, her gaze warning.
“’Ssumpta...” Peter said softly. “I can’t do this anymore...twelve years...”
“Peter...That’s just it, it’s been...twelve years.” She paused for emphasis. “We’ve both changed. How do you know we’d even get along?” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more then Peter. This time, when he reached for her hand, she didn’t pull away.
“We can try,” Peter murmured. “We can try.”
The next day was Saturday, and in the morning Kaylee was at a play date, so Rowan and Assumpta went to a park to enjoy the fall weather. There were a lot of other families there, and Rowan sat underneath a tree with his sketchbook open in his lap, watching the other people while his mother stretched out on the grass with some paperwork that needed filing.
Assumpta looked up and saw the sad, longing expression on her son’s face. “Ro, are you all right?
“Mum...” Rowan looked down, twirling a dead leaf between his fingers. “Are you ever gonna get married?”
“I don’t know...” Assumpta thought of Peter, and Kaylee’s father, and Leo, and the handfuls of men she’d dated over the past years. “I doubt it.”
“Why?” Rowan looked up at her, his eyes narrowed.
“Lots of reasons,” Assumpta said simply.
“The same reason we can’t live in Ballykay, the same reasons you’re never happy?” Rowan certainly was observant.
Assumpta sighed. “Yes.”
“Mum what are you hiding from me?” Rowan asked suddenly. “You might have gotten away with it when I was Kaylee’s age...but I can tell there’s something you’re not telling me. Like why you never mention my dad, like why when we go to Ballykay I feel like there’s something you grown-ups don’t want to talk about around me. What is it?”
“I can’t explain it now...” Assumpta said. “It’s, really, complicated, sweetie. Someday.”
Rowan let out an exasperated sigh and turned his back to his drawing.
Assumpta didn’t usually put much effort into dinner, the kids knew what they liked and it wasn’t usually anything fancy. But tonight she sent Rowan and Kaylee off too play video games while she prepared dinner, chopping, stewing, simmering...She’d rarely done this much cooking away from the pub.
“I guess we’re having company.”
Assumpta turned from the stove to see Rowan leaning on the granite topped island in the center of the kitchen.
“Yes,” Assumpta replied. “An old friend of mine that used to live in Ballykissangel. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll like him.”
“Oh, is he a candidate to be your next boyfriend?” Rowan said, showing his inheritance of his mother’s sarcasm.
Assumpta turned around, her hands on her hips. “No!” she said. “Ro, he was a priest when I knew him.”
“Even worse.”
“Rowan!” Assumpta sighed. “Look, I ran into him at the concert the other night, I hadn’t seen him since before you were born. This is important to me, so you can cut with the attitude!”
Rowan glowered at her, stomping off to his bedroom. “God, I just don’t want to see you get hurt again, Mum...” he mumbled, stomping off to his bedroom.
Assumpta turned back to the stove, feeling strange. Just then there was a knock at the door, and she wiped her hands on her apron before going to answer it.
“Hiya,” Peter said as Assumpta let him in. He looked around. “Nice place...”
The apartment was very modern, wood floors, shiny hardware...The kitchen, dining room, and living room were all one large room, the kitchen being a couple steps up from the dining room; at one end of the living room huge windows looked out on the busy street below; and a hallway to one side led to the bathroom and three bedrooms.
“Thanks,” Assumpta said, hanging Peter’s jacket on the rack near the door. “My friend Addie owns the building, so I get to rent it for pretty cheap.”
“Mmm.” Peter nodded. At that moment Kaylee appeared at her mother’s side, staring up at Peter. Peter looked down at Kaylee, she was a sturdy little girl, built a little stockier then Assumpta, and had curly black hair, but she had her mother’s eyes, and looked at Peter with that same penetrating gaze as Assumpta did.
“Oh, Peter,” Assumpta said, putting an arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “This is my daughter Kaylee, I know I’ve mentioned her. Kaylee, this is Mummy’s friend Peter.”
Peter smiled at Kaylee. “Hello Kaylee.”
“Hi.” Kaylee flashed him a brief grin then flitted back off towards the television.
“She looks like you,” Peter commented.
Assumpta beamed. “The other one’s around here somewhere, he’s probably hiding in his room. Rowan!”
Rowan came out slowly, keeping his eyes on Peter as he approached.
“Peter, this is my son, Rowan.” Assumpta said. “Rowan, I’d like you to meet my friend Peter Clifford.”
“Hey,” Rowan said, eyeing Peter. Rowan looked very much like his mother; the same slender build, the same delicate face. His eyes, however, were greener then Assumpta’s, and Rowan’s dark red hair fell straight to his shoulders, rather then curling the way his mother’s did.
“Hiya.” Peter smiled. “Your mum’s told me a lot about you.”
“I thought you two only just saw each other again.”
“We haven’t been completely out of contact,” Assumpta explained. “We’ve been talking on the phone for the past couple years.”
“Oh right.” Rowan shifted awkwardly.
“Ahm...Ro, why don’t you go set the table, OK?” Assumpta suggested. Rowan shrugged and went off towards the table. Assumpta gestured for Peter to take a seat on the couch. “It’ll just be a minute, I’m waiting for something to finish heating.”
Over dinner, Kaylee seemed to instantly warm up to Peter. She was soon chatting with him comfortably about school, the new toy she wanted that everyone else in her class had... Rowan however stared down at his plate, purposefully ignoring the conversation.
Assumpta tried to steer it in a direction that Rowan would find interesting. “Ro, did you know Peter used to play on the Ballykay football team?”
This caught his attention; Rowan loved football. “Really?” he looked up.
“Yep,” Peter grinned. “Comes from growing up in Manchester, I guess. I’ve always loved football.”
A faint smile passed over Rowan’s face.
Later, as he was leaving, Peter lingered in the doorway for a moment.
“Thanks for having me over,” he said quietly to Assumpta. “I had a great time...your kids are wonderful.”
“Thanks.” Assumpta smiled. “We’ll have to get together more...Kaylee seems to like you a lot and I think Rowan does too, he just doesn’t let on much.”
“Like you,” Peter pointed out.
Assumpta laughed quietly. “Yeah, like me. How long are you here for?”
“As long as I like,” Peter replied.
“Well,” Assumpta said, “I work tomorrow, and the kids have school...but if you want to do dinner again later on, or something, just give me a call.”
“Great.” Peter smiled. “I’ll get you the number of the hotel so you can contact me as well.”
“All right.”
“And Assumpta?”
“I missed you.”
They stared at each other for a minute, as if each was expecting the other to do something. Peter finally looked down, said good night, and turned, walking off down the hall. Assumpta leaned in the doorframe, watching him, then finally turning and closing the door.
Assumpta usually went out to lunch with the rest of the band at least once a week while the kids were at school. This week as they were leaving their usual lunch café, Serenity and the drummer, Dave, were in the lead talking, and Assumpta and Mark followed. Mark pulled Assumpta aside.
“Can we talk?” he asked, moving out of the way of the sidewalk traffic.
“Sure.” Assumpta half expected him to want to discuss their latest song or something.
“You doing anything Saturday night?” Mark stuck his hands in his pockets and pretended to be nonchalant.
“What?” Assumpta stared at him incredulously.
“Saturday night,” Mark repeated. “I just wanted to maybe take you out for dinner or something.” His voice dropped a notch. “You know, like we used to.”
Assumpta sighed heavily. “Mark, we broke up for a reason, it just wasn’t working.”
“I thought it was working out fine.”
“Look,” Assumpta said. “We had fun together, but really, I realized I have to be thinking about what’s best for Rowan and Kaylee. And I really hate to burst your bubble, Mark, but you’re not exactly the most responsible person alive.”
“What, and the guys who got you pregnant are?” Mark snapped before he could stop himself. Assumpta gave him a disgusted look and turned to leave, but Mark grabbed her arm gently. “Assumpta, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that...Look, I just...If you’d give me a chance…”
Assumpta shook her head. “It wouldn’t work, Mark, I’m sorry. I think just staying friends will be better for both of us.” She turned to walk away, then said, “Besides, we have practice on Saturday.”
Part 2: Fall Comes Quickly
The next day Peter called while Assumpta was home from work and asked if they could go out for lunch. Assumpta agreed, Peter picked her up and together they went to a little sidewalk café.
For a few minutes they sat in awkward silence, but then Peter asked how the kids were getting on in school.
“They’re doing good,” Assumpta said. “Like I’ve said, Rowan’s a bit of a loner, but he enjoys his classes.”
“And what about you?” Peter asked. “Last time we talked on the phone was a year have you been doing?”
“Good,” Assumpta replied, fiddling with the napkin. “I’m getting along. The band is fun, and I’m not exactly pinched for money anymore. I suppose I’m leading a relatively good life.”
Peter frowned slightly. Assumpta was putting up that hard exterior again, but he could see something was troubling her. “But you’re not happy.”
Assumpta opened her mouth, then closed it again, shrugging.
“Do you want to go back?”
“I can’t,” Assumpta said, looking down at the table. “You know that.” Peter sighed, looking sadly across the table at her.
Friday morning rolled around, and there was pleasant weather predicted for the entire weekend. Rowan was in a slightly touchy mood, however, when he got home from school that afternoon.
“Hey, Mum, you know what I want to do?” Rowan said, walking over to where Assumpta was sorting through sheet music at the island.
“What?” Assumpta asked, not looking up.
“Go on a picnic or to the zoo or something tomorrow,” Rowan said. “Just you me and Kaylee. We haven’t done that in ages.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie, I can’t, not tomorrow,” Assumpta replied.
Rowan’s expression darkened. “Why?”
“Because, I’ve got a gig coming up.” Assumpta straightened some papers and looked up at her son. “And we’ve got practice tomorrow.”
Rowan let out a disgusted noise. “You’re always busy!”
“Ro,” Assumpta said forcefully.
“You never want to do anything with me and Kaylee anymore!” The volume of Rowan’s voice was getting louder. He’d had a rough day at school, and this seemed to be the final straw for him. “You’re always too busy!”
“Rowan, I have a lot -”
“You don’t care about us!” Rowan accused, his temper rising dramatically. “You don’t care about doing anything with me and Kaylee.”
Assumpta was beginning to lose it as well. “Rowan Brendan Fitzgerald, I will not be spoken to like that!”
“Good!” Rowan shouted. “Because I hate you and I never want to talk to you again anyway!” He turned and stomped into his bedroom.
It hit Assumpta like a punch in the gut. Rowan had been angry with her before, but never like that, never said anything so scathing. For a moment she sat there trying not to cry, but the urge became too strong and she buried her face in her arms, her body shaking with quiet sobs.
Kaylee, who had heard the argument from the living room, stood nervously on the steps of the kitchen, not quite sure how to react to her mother crying. A worried look on her little face, she turned and charged to her brothers room.
“Ro!” Kaylee screamed, pounding on the door with her tiny fists. Rowan didn’t reply, so Kaylee wrenched open the door. She spotted her brother standing by the bed, looking annoyed. “You’ve been really bad, Ro!” Kaylee said accusingly.
“Go away,” Rowan snapped. Kaylee ignored him.
“You made Mamma cry!”
“I don’t care!” Rowan cried. “She deserved it.”
“Say sorry!” Kaylee ordered.
“No!” Rowan put his hands on his hips. “Get out of my room!”
Kaylee, in a fit of six-year-old rage, rushed forward and tried to push her brother, unsuccessfully. Rowan retorted with a shove that sent his little sister stumbling back into the dresser and banging her head. She began to cry.
Assumpta came rushing in when she heard the crash. “What the hell is going on in here?!” she exclaimed, scooping Kaylee up into her arms. Rowan just scowled at her. Assumpta opened her mouth to say something, but there was a sharp knock at the front door of the apartment. Giving Rowan an “I’ll deal with you later” look, Assumpta went to answer it while trying to comfort Kaylee.
“Oh, it’s you, thank God!” Assumpta said, opening the door to see Peter standing there.
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked, noting Assumpta’s frazzled expression. He followed her into the apartment then reached out to take the now quiet but still upset Kaylee, she didn’t object, resting her head against his shoulder.
“Pffffftttt…” Assumpta ran a hand through her hair. “Rowan.”
“He pushed me,” Kaylee whimpered. “An’ I banged my head.”
“Aww,” Peter said, gently rubbing the back of Kaylee’s head.
“Could I ask you a favor?” Assumpta asked, letting out a tired sigh.
“Sure,” Peter replied, feeling that he owed Assumpta whatever she could ask of him.
“Would you be able to watch the kids for just...half an hour at the most, while I go cool off?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Peter said, shifting Kaylee’s weight against his hip.
Assumpta looked immensely relieved. “Thank you.” She leaned over and kissed Kaylee on the cheek. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”
After Assumpta left, Peter deposited Kaylee on the couch with her favorite movie playing on the television. Then Peter went to check on Rowan.
“Do you mind if I come in?” Peter asked, knocking lightly on the open door.
“Whatever,” Rowan mumbled. Peter came in and sat next to Rowan on the bed.
“Your mum’s pretty upset,” Peter said.
“Huh,” Rowan grunted.
“What did you say to her?
Rowan sighed and shrugged. “I told her she doesn’t really care about me and Kaylee. And then I told her that I hated her.”
Peter bit his lip, no wonder Assumpta was so upset. “You didn’t mean it, though, did you?”
A pause, then, “No.”
“You know,” Peter began, slipping back into his priest voice, “your mum’s done a lot for you, she loves you and Kaylee very much. It really hurts her when you say things like that.”
“She knows I didn’t mean it.”
“It still hurts.” Peter looked at him pointedly. “But I also know that you can’t go through life and not argue with your mum. So...what did she say that got you so mad?”
“She never has time for me and Kaylee anymore. She’s always working on something.”
“That must be hard on you.”
“Think about it from her point of view, though,” Peter suggested. “She’s been raising you and Kaylee all on her own, and that takes a lot of work.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Rowan mumbled reluctantly.
Peter smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “When she gets back, I think you should apologize and tell her how much you really do love her.”
Rowan nodded thoughtfully. Then he gave Peter a sideways look. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Be so easy to talk to. Mum’s never like that.”
Peter laughed. “She never was.” He shrugged. “I guess I can relate to people because I was a priest…It was my job to talk to people, to help them. It’s not something I can stop doing.”
Rowan nodded. They heard the sound of the front door open. Rowan looked at Peter, then got up and left the room.
A few days later Peter arrived at the apartment and was happy to find balance restored, Rowan and Assumpta were on speaking terms, and all was well.
That night, Peter took Assumpta out to dinner. It was nice, but pretty uneventful. Rowan and Kaylee were staying with Addie for the evening, so the apartment was quiet when Assumpta and Peter returned.
"Would you like something to drink before you go?" Assumpta asked, turning on lamps. She was wearing a satiny black dress that came to just below her knees.
"Sure." Peter followed Assumpta into the kitchen. He sat down on one of the stools at the island while Assumpta poured two glasses of wine and then joined him.
"Funny how we always end up together drinking wine, and then having an awkward situation," Assumpta mused. She'd already had a bit to drink at dinner, and this always loosened her tongue a bit.
"Cheers," Peter said, chinking his glass against Assumpta's and then taking a sip. "We're older and wiser now, aren't we?"
"Ahuh." Assumpta rolled her eyes. They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their wine, lost in thought.
"When do you have to pick the kids up?" Peter asked.
"I said sometime before midnight," Assumpta said, checking the clock that hung on the wall. "So we've got a while."
Peter nodded, but didn't say anything. Assumpta was looking at him in a thoughtful manner, her expression as unreadable as ever. Perhaps that was why Peter misread it. He put out one hand, touching Assumpta's cheek lightly. Assumpta stiffened but didn't outright resist until Peter leaned in to kiss her. Then she put both hands on his shoulders, pushing him away.
"Peter, no!" she said, standing up suddenly, her breathing agitated. "No. It's not..." She shook her head and looked away, a pained expression on her face. "I'm sorry."
Peter felt rather foolish. "It's OK...I didn't mean to - I'd better go." He stood and smiled weakly at Assumpta. "Goodnight." Without waiting for a response he turned and left.
When she didn’t hear from Peter for a few days Assumpta called him on the telephone.
“Are you OK?” she asked when he picked up.
“I’m fine,” Peter replied. “I just thought you’d want some space.”
Assumpta sighed. “Look, we were both tired...I wasn’t mad at you, or anything.”
“Good.” There was an awkward silence.
“Ahm,” Assumpta said. “My band's playing at the coffee shop tomorrow at seven, if you want to come.”
Peter smiled. “I’ll be there.”
Towards the end of the performance the next night, Assumpta was singing a duet of “Ring of Fire” with Mark. She was enjoying it, Peter was there, and she took every opportunity to shoot him a smile.
“Love is a burnin’ thing,
 And it makes a fiery ring
 Bound by wild desire --
 I fell into a ring of fire.
 I fell into a burnin’ ring of fire --
 I went down, down, down
 And the flames went higher,
 And it burns, burn, burns,
 The ring of fire, the ring of fire.”
Assumpta looked out and she spotted Peter sitting at a table fairly close to the stage. He grinned and gave her the thumbs up.
“The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet.
I fell for you like a child --
Oh, but the fire ran wild.”
Suddenly Mark leaned over and kissed Assumpta on the cheek. She stopped dead, giving him a dark glare before flouncing back stage.
Serenity watched with a worried expression, then quickly stepped up to take Assumpta’s place and finish the song.
When it finished, Serenity went looking for Assumpta. She found her perched on a crate beside the back steps, morosely smoking a cigarette. Clicking her tongue, Serenity reached out and pulled it from between Assumpta’s fingers. She dropped it on the ground and stomped it out.
“Far as I know, Assumpta, you don’t smoke,” Serenity said in response to Assumpta’s scowl. “And I don’t think you should start, you don’t want to ruin that beautiful voice.”
Assumpta sighed, resting her arms on her knees.  “You’re right, as always.”
“Damn right I am,” Serenity said, nodding. “Now, what’s the matter? You’ve never run off stage before.”
“That man.” Assumpta shook her head slowly. “He can’t take no for an answer, he can’t just accept that there’s nothing between us.”
“Oh don’t give me that.” Serenity rolled her eyes. “We all know you two were sleeping together for like, a year.”
Assumpta stared at Serenity for a long, pain filled moment, before standing up and walking back into the cafe. She marched right past Peter and out the front door and into the darkened street. Frowning, Peter got up and followed her. When he caught up with her he spun her around.
Assumpta had tears running down her face.
“What’s the matter?” Peter asked, feeling pretty sure he knew the answer.
“I don’t know who I am anymore!” Assumpta sobbed. “Who am I, Peter? Sure as hell not the woman who gave you a lift fifteen years ago!”
Peter stared at her. She appeared the same as she had the night before Peter left Ballykay; sad, lost, confused, hurt...But Peter wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Cupping Assumpta’s face gently in his hands, he said the words that could have saved them both from years of trouble and pain.
“You know who you are, ‘Ssumpta?” Peter said quietly. “You’re the woman I love more then anything in the world. And I was a fool to ever let you go.”
Assumpta gaped at Peter for a moment, then leaned against him, wrapping her arms tightly about his body. Peter let out the breath he’d been holding and rested his cheek against the top of Assumpta’s head, holding her close.
The rain that had been threatening to fall all day finally came down, surrounding them in curtains of water.
Peter drove Assumpta home. The babysitter had already put the kids to bed, and so Assumpta paid her and she left.
Peter and Assumpta sat together on the couch, neither saying anything. Peter reached out for Assumpta, and she moved so she was leaning against him, settling so naturally against his body.
“I wish none of this had ever happened,” Assumpta said suddenly. “Every night I hope that I’ll wake up to find myself back in my bed in Ballykay, with nothing changed.”
“But if none of this had happened, you wouldn’t have Rowan and Kaylee,” Peter reminded her.
“Yeah,” Assumpta agreed. “I am grateful for them. But for the pain that’s surrounded them?” She shook her head.
“You did your best,” Peter said. He sat there for a moment, just gently rubbing Assumpta’s arm with one hand. “Look, we made our mistake, and now we’ve paid for it.”
Assumpta sighed. “We’ll never stop paying for it!”
“I think we will!” Peter replied. “Why not go back? Give it a second chance? Don’t you think twelve years will have given them enough time to cool down?”
“Peter, they still look at me strange when I go there!” Assumpta said, trying to keep her voice at a level that wouldn’t wake the children. “And it’s not just because I’ve had two children out of wedlock…they remember!”
“Do your friends do that?” Peter asked. “Niamh, Brendan, Siobhan...Do they look at you funny?”
Assumpta was silent for a moment. “No.”
“I think you’re just being paranoid,” Peter told her. He hugged her tighter for a moment, then got to his feet. “Anyway, it’s late; I’ll talk to you tomorrow, OK?”
Part 4: The Passing of an Age
Assumpta slept late that morning. She was awoken around ten by the phone ringing. It was Serenity saying they were meeting at Mark’s for a short conference.
“Can I trust you two to stay here alone for a short time?” Assumpta asked her children, pulling on her jacket. “Or should I call Peter and see if he’d watch you?”
“Mum, we’ll be fine!” Rowan assured her, putting an arm around his sister’s shoulders, as if to show what a caring older brother he was.
“Ok.” Assumpta smiled at them. “I’ll be back in an hour, tops.” She turned and left the apartment.
She arrived at Mark’s apartment to find the rest of the group there. Dave was sitting on the couch, looking bleary and drinking a cup of coffee. Serenity was sitting next to him, and Mark stood by the coffee table.
Mark confronted Assumpta the minute she stepped in. “What the hell was that last night?” he demanded.
Assumpta stared at him. “I could ask you the same question!” Serenity and Dave exchanged half exasperated half worried looks.
“What is your problem?” Mark cried. “You can be so immature! Running off stage, taking it out on the group because you didn’t like something I did.”
“Don’t you dare turn this around on me!” Assumpta retorted. “Just because you can’t stand it when a woman tells you ‘no’ -”
“Oh, I’d hardly call letting me screw you telling me ‘no’, Assumpta,” Mark said coolly.
Assumpta stared, feeling something close to nausea bubbling up in her stomach. She glanced at Dave and Serenity who were staring at her and Mark disbelievingly. Assumpta could feel her face burning.
“Why the hell are you bringing this up in front of them?” she said quietly, her voice shaking.
“Oh come on,” Mark said, grinning now that he’d touched a nerve. “Stop pretending to be shocked, I can’t be the first man to say something like that to you! How many men have you had these relationships with over the years, four? Five?”
“Mark, stop it,” Serenity said quietly. Mark glared at her.
Assumpta took a deep breath, mentally counting to ten, trying to calm herself. When she spoke her voice had a dangerous, shaky edge to it.
“My my business, Mark,” she said through gritted teeth. “Just because we once dated does not give you the right to speak to me like that.  I’ve been through more hell then you could imagine.”
“Oh, poor Assumpta,” Mark said sardonically. “Looking for pity, even though it’s her own fault she’s a single mother with two children. Look, I have every right to talk to you that way. And as leader of this band, I have every right to say we have no room for stuck up bitches like you.”
Before anyone else could object, Assumpta retorted, “And I can say I don’t want to be in a band led by a self centered bastard like you!” She turned, flouncing out of the apartment, and managed to make it into the elevator before letting out a cry of rage.
Serenity was waiting for Assumpta in the lobby, panting as though she’d run all the way down the stairs.
“Assumpta!” Serenity said. “We won’t let him do that, he can’t. We’ll chuck him out before we lose you. You’re completely right, he is a self centered -”
But Assumpta shook her head. “It doesn’t matter, Serenity. I…I’m leaving...I need to go home.”
Serenity blinked. “I thought this was your home.”
“No matter how far away I go, Ballykay will always be my home,” Assumpta replied. “No matter how long I stay in another place I’ll still be homesick.”
“I’ll miss you,” Serenity said softly.
Assumpta managed a weak smile. “You’ll have to visit. And Dave. Maybe we can do a gig at the pub sometime.”
Serenity nodded and gave Assumpta a tight hug. Together they walked out to Assumpta’s car.
“I’ll keep in touch, Assumpta,” Serenity said. “I have a feeling this is the end of the band though, Mark’s just gone one step too far.”
“Ah, the ravages of unrequited love,” Assumpta said sadly. “I wish I could have given him what he wanted, but I don’t love him. Not anymore.”
“I know.” Serenity nodded.
Assumpta got into the car, rolling down the window so she could have a last word with Serenity. “I’ll come by and see you before I won’t be for a while yet.”
“Ok.” Serenity reached over, patting Assumpta’s shoulder before stepping back so her friend could pull away.
By the time Assumpta got back to the apartment she’d gone from angry to depressed. She barely even noticed Peter sitting on the couch as she went into the kitchen to get a drink.
“Mum, what’s wrong?” Rowan asked, looking up from where he as working at the dinning room table.
Peter, who had followed Assumpta, looked at Rowan, putting one finger to his lips and shaking his head. Rowan watched quietly as Peter went up to Assumpta and put an arm around her.
“Peter?” Assumpta said, her voice choked.
“Let’s go home.”
Peter put his other arm around Assumpta, pulling her into a close embrace.
(A few weeks later)
“Rowan,” Assumpta called, standing in the doorway of the apartment with Addie. “I want you to go do a last check in your room then go wait in the car downstairs with Peter and Kaylee.”
“Ok,” Rowan replied, trotting off to his room.
Assumpta turned to Addie. “Thank you so much, for everything.”
“Sure, it was no problem,” Addie replied, hugging Assumpta. “Now, you take care of yourself, OK?”
“Don’t worry,” Assumpta reassured her. “I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, you’ve got that big handsome man looking after you now, eh?” Addie said, referring to Peter.
Assumpta laughed. “Yeah, sure...”
They both turned as Rowan came out of his room. He said goodbye to Addie, then headed downstairs. Assumpta took one last look around the place that had been her home, and yet not her home, then handed Addie the keys. They hugged one last time before Assumpta went downstairs to her waiting children and Peter.
The drive to Ballykay was pretty uneventful. It took nearly four hours, and Assumpta and Peter took turns driving. They didn’t say much, not anything they wouldn’t want the kids hearing, but some meaningful glances were exchanged.
At one point while Peter was driving along an open stretch of road, Assumpta looked in the backseat and saw that both kids were fast asleep. Not saying anything, she reached over and gently ran her hand along Peter’s leg. Without taking his eyes off the road, Peter took her hand in his, raised it to his lips and softly kissed the backs of her fingers. Assumpta leaned back in her seat, still holding Peter’s hand, and now with a smile playing across her lips.
They arrived in Ballykissangel late in the afternoon. As they drove over the bridge, Peter looked like he was about to cry. They parked in front of the pub and got out. Peter hesitated before the door.
Assumpta came up beside him, carrying Kaylee against one hip and followed by Rowan. She put one hand on Peter’s arm.
“Are you ready for this?” she asked quietly. She’d told Niamh on the phone that Peter was coming back too, but Niamh supposedly hadn’t told anyone else.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Peter replied, and together the four of them went into Fitzgerald’s.
The pub was nearly empty, Padraig and Siobhan were sitting in their usual spots, and Niamh was behind the bar.
“I swear you two haven’t moved since the last time I was here!” Assumpta exclaimed. “Have you no homes to go to?”
“I’d know that sarcasm anywhere...” Padraig said, looking up from his pint. “Welcome back, Assumpta.” He and Siobhan both got up, doing a double take when they saw Peter.
“Father Clifford?” Siobhan said disbelievingly.
“It’s just Peter now, Siobhan,” Peter replied, unable to stop the smile that was spreading across his face. Finally he felt like he was back where he belonged. “But yes, it is me.”
“Niamh never said you were coming back as well!” Siobhan said, giving both Peter and Assumpta friendly hugs. Kaylee let out a happy squeal and held her arms out to “Auntie” Siobhan, who took her.
Assumpta smiled that Kaylee seemed so happy to be back. Rowan too had sat on one of the barstools and was looking considerably happier.
“We were trying to keep Peter a secret,” Assumpta explained.
Padraig nodded. “Well maybe if you hadn’t Brendan would have been able to find time out of his busy schedule to come down to the pub.”
“I did tell him,” Niamh said, frowning. “I know you wanted me not to, Assumpta, but I just thought he should know. Funny him not being here.”
Assumpta shrugged, but she couldn’t help feeling that something wasn’t right.  Before she had a chance to think on it long, however, the door opened and three children entered the pub.
The first was a tall boy with curly brown hair and bright blue eyes. He looked to be about Rowan’s age, and Peter recognized that it was Kieran, much older then the last time Peter had seen him. The second was a girl, maybe a year younger then Kieran. She had red hair and rather plain, but pleasant, features. Peter guess this must be Aisling, Brendan and Siobhan’s daughter. The third, a young girl of Kaylee’s age, had to be Niamh and Ambrose’s second child, Sinead.
The children were all introduced to Peter, but they seemed far more interested in seeing Rowan and Kaylee again. All five children soon ran off, leaving the adults in the pub.
“So you two met up in Belfast then?” Padraig asked.
“Yep.” Assumpta nodded. “Peter showed up at one of my concerts.” She shot a glance at Niamh who grinned.
Later on that evening Peter got to meet Orla, who wasn’t living in Ballykay any longer, but just back to visit her brother, who was still the curate at St. Joseph's. Even Fr. Vincent, busy with duties as the parish priest, managed to stop in to meet Peter, and greet Assumpta.
“Times certainly are a changin’,” Padraig commented. “Assumpta’s on good terms with not only one, but two priests, and she’s becoming softer around the edges each year.”
“Yeah well...” Assumpta wrinkled her nose. “Motherhood does that to you, I guess.”
Niamh snorted. “Speak for yourself.”
“Speaking of which, where are the kids?” Peter asked, it was dark outside all ready and he’d only seen the troop of kids briefly when they’d stopped in to ask Niamh something.
“They’re over at my place watching a movie,” Niamh told him. “Don’t worry.”
A little while later Aisling popped in to ask if they could all have a sleepover at her house. Assumpta and Niamh both said it was fine as long as Siobhan was OK with it.
“Sure, it’s fine by me,” Siobhan said. She smiled at Peter and Assumpta. “Give you two a chance to rest up on your first night back. Anyway, I’d better get that lot settled. G’night all.” She headed out with her daughter.
Soon everyone else filtered out of the pub, and Peter and Assumpta were alone. They sat together on the couch before a blazing fire.
“I can’t believe we’re back,” Assumpta said happily, resting her head on Peter’s shoulder.
He put an arm around her. “Don’t I know it! I feel better all ready...Like I can finally relax after years of hard work.”
“Yeah...” Assumpta frowned slightly. “I’m just worried about Brendan, though. I mean, if he knew you were here, why didn’t he come?”
“Who knows...” Peter shrugged, letting the conversation trail off. He turned his head to look at Assumpta, her face illuminated by the soft glow of the firelight.
She hadn’t changed much in the past twelve years. She still had the buttermilk skin, the dark red hair, the fairy like features. The biggest difference was the sadness that always darkened her face, the look of lonesomeness. Peter’s heart ached, feeling that it was his fault that it was there, and wishing only that he could bring the happiness back to her expression.
Assumpta caught him staring at her. “What?”
“Nothing, just...” Peter took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”
“What for?”
“The past twelve years…everything...It was all my fault.”
Assumpta clicked her tongue, putting one hand against Peter’s cheek. “Peter, it wasn’t your fault. We may not have done the right thing, but it wasn’t your fault.”
“No I didn’t mean...that...I mean us being apart.”
“I know. It wasn’t your fault.” Assumpta gently rubbed her thumb against his cheek.
“Every morning when I woke up and knew I wouldn’t see you...” Peter said. “It was like slicing open the old wounds. The pain got duller as the years went on, but I don’t think it’ll ever really go away.” He sniffed. “I wish it hadn’t ever happened.”
“I do, too,” Assumpta said. “But we can’t change the past, we can only try and make the future better.”
Peter nodded, staring longingly at Assumpta. “Can I kiss you?” he asked quietly.
Assumpta smiled, her eyes lighting up for the first time in ages. “Yeah,” she replied, leaning in to meet Peter’s lips with her own.
And then the thing that had once nearly ruined his life was suddenly the thing that made Peter remember all the joy of loving Assumpta. In the past years he’d never dared to dream that he’d even see her again, let alone make love to her. But there he was, and as the night got darker and darker, Peter lay dozing in Assumpta’s arms, feeling that he’d finally found the place he’d been searching for all those long, painful years.
Part 5: The Sins of the Father
The next day Assumpta went about her work at the pub like nothing had changed. For once she was happy to be back behind the bar, pulling pints, changing barrels. Only now did she realize how much she’d missed the steady routine of working the bar at Fitzgerald’s.
Peter helped as well; his cooking skills had improved a lot over the past years, so he took over the kitchen. The customers didn’t object, they seemed to love the food.
The children were hardly seen all day, except when they all trooped in for lunch. They were enjoying their last bit of weekend before going back to school. Though, Rowan and Kaylee were excited about getting to go to school with their friends.
At lunchtime on Monday, Padraig commented on the strangeness of Brendan not being there. Assumpta wondered if he was sick, maybe, but Michael said that as far as he knew Brendan was fine, and Padraig had just seen him Sunday evening. Assumpta decided to go talk to him.
When she arrived at his house, Brendan appeared very happy to see her. He gave her a hug and invited her in.
“So you want to tell me why you’ve been avoiding the pub?” Assumpta asked, folding her arms and arching one eyebrow.
“I’ve been busy,” Brendan replied with a shrug. Assumpta glared at him. Brendan glared right back, and then turned and leaned against the counter, letting out a heavy sigh. “All right…I just couldn’t stand to see you with him.”
Assumpta was confused. “With who?”
Brendan turned just his head and stared at her. “Who do you think?”
“You don’t...” Assumpta’s voice was strangely timid. “You don’t mean Peter do you?”
“Yes.” Brendan stared out the window.
“Brendan, why?”
“Let me tell you something, Assumpta,” Brendan said. “When your mother was in the hospital, those last couple weeks, she made me promise her something. She made me promise that I would never let any man do to you what your dad had done to her. Not to ever let any man treat you that way.”
“So you’re holding a grudge against him for something he did twelve years ago?” Assumpta said sharply. “A mistake he made because he was hurt and confused?”
“He was confused?! He was lost? So I suppose that makes it OK that he got you pregnant and then ran away, is it?”
Assumpta froze, staring at Brendan, unable to say anything.
“I figured that out a long time ago,” Brendan said walking over to the door and opening it. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to class.”
Assumpta took the hint and flounced out the door. She arrived back at Fitzgerald’s in a quiet, almost pensive manner. This seemed to alarm Padraig more then had she been in a fuming temper. Assumpta went into the kitchen just as Peter was coming out with a plate of sandwiches for some customers.
“Does she not get properly mad anymore?” Padraig asked, giving Peter a worried look.
Peter grinned and shook his head. “Don’t I wish! No.” He looked worriedly at the kitchen door. “Something’s up, I’ll go talk to her.”
He went into the kitchen to find Assumpta noisily filling a teakettle with water. As she stood at the sink Peter came up behind her and put his arms around her waist, kissing her lightly on the cheek. Assumpta turned her head and gave him a quick peck on the lips.
“Are you OK?” Peter asked.
Assumpta forced a smile. She was upset about Brendan, but she didn’t want to drag Peter into this yet, she wasn’t ready to tell him. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Good.” Peter could tell she was hiding something, but didn’t press the matter.
Rowan stood on the bridge, gazing out across the river with a thoughtful expression on his face. He didn’t notice that Niamh had come up beside him until she spoke.
“You OK?” she asked.
Rowan turned, startled. “What? Oh, I’m fine, Auntie. Just…looking…”
“For anything in particular?” Niamh asked, smiling a little.
“My dad.”
This took Niamh by surprise. “You mean your mum never told you?”
“No.” Rowan looked at her. “Do you know who he was?”
Niamh shook her head. “She didn’t tell me either. I always assumed he was someone she met in Belfast.”
“Yeah, but...” Rowan looked back out across the river. “I felt like he was part of the reason Mum didn’t want to come back here. I don’t know why, I just did.”
“Well, I don’t know who he could have been.” Niamh’s mind immediately flashed to Peter, but she told herself this was stupid, Peter had been a priest. She didn’t voice this thought to Rowan, the poor kid seemed confused enough.
“I just wish Mum wouldn’t hide so much from me,” Rowan said sadly. “Kaylee knows all about her dad and why he’s not here anymore, but Mum just goes all quiet when I ask about mine. So I just stopped. It makes me mad.”
“Have you told her?” Niamh asked. “Did you try telling her how it upsets you?”
“It wouldn’t do any good.” Rowan’s tone was bitter.
Peter decided to go up to the church, just to see his old haunts. St. Joseph's had hardly changed, and Peter felt himself sinking back into the memories as he slipped into one of the back rows of pews.
Fr. Aiden came in a little while later. Peter smiled at him. “Good afternoon, Father.”
“Oh, hello Peter.” Aiden came over. “Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all.”
“This place must have many memories for you,” Aiden said, sitting down.
“I was so grateful that I could come here, and that I was able to stay as long as I have.” Aiden gave Peter a sideways look. “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“No, go ahead.”
“Why did you leave?”
Peter sighed, looking down at his clasped hands. “I often ask myself the same question. I guess...because something happened, and the priest in me knew that for the sake of everyone involved, I should just leave.”
“So you broke your vows?” Aiden wasn’t being nosy, just curious.
Peter smiled lightly. “You know, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing what had happened, I don’t think I’m ready to relive it again.”
“Oh, right.” Aiden shook his head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s OK.” Peter looked at his watch. “Anyway, I’d better be getting back, Assumpta will be wondering where I am.”
“All right.” Aiden stood up with him. “I’ll see you around, Peter.”
“Bye, Father.”
On his way out of St. Joseph's, Peter passed Kathleen.
“Father Clifford?” She sounded surprised to see him.
“It’s just Peter now,” Peter said. He was beginning to feel like a broken record. “How are you, Kathleen?”
“As well as is to be expected,” she said. “I’m surprised you’d come back here.”
Peter knew what she was referring to with that tone of voice. “Ballykay is my home, it’ll take more then gossip to keep me away forever.”
“Hmmm.” Kathleen narrowed her eyes at him. “And I suppose you came with Miss Fitzgerald?”
“Yes, not that it matters,” Peter replied.
Kathleen harrumphed and stalked into the church, leaving Peter standing there doubting that things would ever be the same.
Rowan and Kaylee seemed to fit in at the Ballykissangel national school for the most part, until one Wednesday when a group of bullies decided to bug Rowan at recess. He was leaning against the wall talking to Aisling.
“Oh look,” said the leader of the group, a boy named Kean Sullivan. “It seems that misfits attract to each other.”
“What are you talking about, Sullivan?” Aisling said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, look at you two,” Kean sneered. “Aisling, your parents don’t even live together, and Rowan, heh, don’t even get me started on the things I’ve heard about your mum.”
Rowan’s eyes narrowed. “What about my mum?”
“Rowan don’t,” Aisling said quietly. Rowan ignored her.
“Huh, Sullivan? What about my mum?”
“Oh come on.” Kean rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you haven’t heard. She’s got two kids and hasn’t ever been married. She doesn’t even stick with the same guy for more then two weeks. My dad says she’s a right little whore and shouldn’t have ever come back.”
Rowan charged forward and grabbed Kean by the front of his shirt. “Take that back!”
“No, it’s the truth,” Kean replied coolly, knowing his cronies would prevent Rowan from doing any real harm.
“You’re lying! Mum isn’t like that at all!”
Kean looked him straight in the eye. “Then you tell me why you don’t have a father.”
Rowan stepped backwards, a hurt look in his eyes. When he spoke it was in a weak, uncertain little voice. “He left…”
”Yeah, after finding out about all the other men your mum was sleeping with.” Kean was advancing on Rowan now. “Why don’t you just go back where you came from, Fitzgerald? You don’t belong here.”
Rowan turned and ran into the building to seek solace in the quiet emptiness of his classroom.
Brendan got back early from his lunch break and saw Rowan sitting at his desk, working hard to keep the tears down.
“Rowan are you all right?” Brendan asked, going over to sit next to him. Brendan cared as much about Rowan as he did Assumpta; he certainly wasn’t going to blame the boy for what his father did.
“Kean Sullivan said I don’t belong here. He was right, wasn’t he?”
“You most certainly do belong here!” Brendan said. “And don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise.”
“He was talking about Mum too…he called her a whore.” Rowan mumbled.
“Look, Rowan, there are a lot of people in this village who don’t like your mum,” Brendan explained gently. “But there are a lot who care about her too. You just have to learn to ignore the ones that don’t. There are enough people that care about your mum for you to listen to.”
“I just wish she’d tell me things,” Rowan said passionately. He’d decided to subtly press everyone for answers, perhaps someone who was close to his mother would eventually let something slip. “About my dad, about her. I know she’s hiding things from me and I wish she wouldn’t.”
Brendan sighed, not saying anything, not trusting himself to.
Niamh took Assumpta out for coffee one Friday, leaving Peter in charge of the pub. Niamh missed the time she used to spend with her friend, and was happy just to do something with Assumpta. They sat together at a sidewalk café in Cilldargan, just chatting. Finally the conversation rolled around to Rowan.
“It sounds like you haven’t told him much,” Niamh commented.
Assumpta shook her head sadly. “I haven’t. And sometimes I feel bad about it…but, God, Niamh, I’m not ready to face it myself, so how can I tell him?”
“I understand…I think,” Niamh said. “But you need to face what happened sometime. Have you told anyone what happened?”
“Brendan knows…” Assumpta said thoughtfully. “And Michael knows about some things…but other then that…Peter doesn’t even know entirely. I spent twelve years hiding…I don’t really know what to do now.”
Part 6: The Reckoning
Over the next few days, things had almost returned to normal. The pub was as popular as ever, and Peter loved working there. He could still talk to people; help them work out their problems. And there were enough people who remembered him and liked him to come to him for advice. Brendan was in the pub very rarely, only a couple times to speak with Assumpta about one of the kids. Peter asked Assumpta why Brendan seemed so distant, but she never told him.
One day while they were in Cilldargan, Peter and Assumpta stopped by the lake to walk.
“Where did this all go wrong?” Peter asked as they walked.
Assumpta sighed. “I don’t know, Peter. A long time ago.”
“Will we ever be able to fix it?”
“I don’t know…” Assumpta said again. “The best we can do is come clean with everyone.”
“That’ll only happen if we come clean with each other.” Peter said, looking at Assumpta as if expecting an answer. Assumpta stopped, turning to face him, but said nothing. Peter decided to voice what was on his mind. “You must know how I feel about you.”
Assumpta smiled slightly. “I have some idea, yeah.”
Peter moved closer, putting his hands on Assumpta’s waist. “Even when we’re apart I think about you every minute of every day. You’re the light of my world…the one reason I have to go on living. I treasure every second we’re together.”
“And so do I,” Assumpta whispered, reaching up and clasping her hands behind Peter’s neck, holding him even closer.
“We’ve faced so many troubles already,” Peter murmured. “And we’ll face many more. But…I want to do that with you at my side. I love you. Will you marry me?”
Assumpta stared at him for a moment, and then kissed him lightly. “I love you too…and of course I’ll marry you.”
On the drive back Peter asked how Rowan and Kaylee would react.
“I think they’ll be happy…” Assumpta said. “I hope they’ll be happy.”
Peter reached over and took her hand. “What if they aren’t? Rowan’s told me that he hasn’t liked all your boyfriends before.”
“Peter,” Assumpta laughed quietly. “We all ready know that they like you. So don’t worry.” She squeezed his hand reassuringly.
That evening Assumpta was looking for something in the kitchen.
“Find what you were looking for?” Peter said, sticking his head in the kitchen.
Assumpta stood up, scratching her head. “No…I should just run up to Cilldargan to get it.”
“Why not wait till tomorrow? Kathleen opens early enough.”
Assumpta scowled at him. “I’m not buying anything from Kathleen Hendley!” She flounced out of the kitchen, grabbing her jacket on the way.
“But Assumpta!” Peter cried, following her out into the bar. “It’s raining cats and dogs out there!”
“Peter...” Assumpta turned. “I’ll be fine, I won’t be gone long.” She looked at her watch. “I’ll be back by nine thirty at the latest, so don’t worry.” She walked out.
Before Peter knew it, nine thirty rolled around, and there was no sign of Assumpta. Peter sent Rowan and Kaylee off to bed, telling them that their mother would be in to say goodnight when she got home.
Peter had been talking to Padraig and Siobhan for a little while, when he happened to glance at the clock and saw that it was nearly a quarter past ten. He looked at the door with a worried expression on his face.
“You all right there, Peter?” Siobhan asked.
“Just wondering where Assumpta is,” Peter replied. “She said she’d be back nearly 45 minutes ago…”
“Sure, she’s probably fine,” Siobhan assured him. “She’s probably just taking her time because of the weather.”
“I don’t know why she had to go up to Cilldargan in the first place,” Peter grumbled, leaning on the bar. “It could have waited.”
Suddenly the phone rang. Peter went to answer it.
“It’s Michael Ryan, look Peter, I’m up at the Cilldargan Hospital, there was an accident...”
Peter felt like a bucket of icy water had been poured into his guts. All he could seem to think about was that Assumpta had once been fined for dangerous driving….
“Assumpta’s alive,” Michael assured Peter. “But they’re going to have to get her into surgery pretty quickly.”
“What happened?” Peter asked, his voice husky.
“It looks like a lorry driver lost control of his truck on the slick road…it hit Assumpta’s van and knocked it off the road.” Michael sighed. “If you want to see her before she goes in, you’ll have to hurry.”
“Right,” Peter said. “I’ll be right there.” Feeling numb, he hung up the phone.
Siobhan was staring at him strangely. “What’s wrong?”
“Assumpta was in an accident…” It suddenly hit Peter. Assumpta had been in an accident. He covered his face with his hands and was dimly aware of Padraig coming to put an arm around his shoulders while Siobhan went to get up Rowan and Kaylee.
An hour or so later a whole group of Assumpta’s friends were sitting in one of the waiting rooms of the hospital. Niamh was holding Kaylee on her lap, trying to reassure her that her mother was going to be OK. But that was hard to do when Niamh didn’t even really know herself.
The only major visible damage on Assumpta had been a long gash down one arm, but the doctors said that there was much internal damage. Peter had almost broken down completely watching them wheel Assumpta into surgery.
Now he sat, feeling completely isolated from everyone else. He stood up and went over to the doors, looking through the glass windows to the hallway beyond.
“Are you going to give her her penance now?” Brendan asked suddenly.
“What?” Peter turned, a confused expression on his face.
Brendan frowned at him. “Oh don’t give me that! You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Brendan…” Padraig said warningly, but his friend ignored him.
“Look, Brendan,” Peter said. “Whatever it is, I’m sure I really don’t want to be talking about it right now.”
“Well you know what?” Brendan retorted. “I never wanted to have to talk about it ever, with you or anyone else. But here I am.”
“Will you two stop it?!” Niamh hissed, with a concerned look at Rowan and Kaylee. “This is hardly the time or the place.”
“Oh I think this is the perfect time!” Brendan got to his feet. “The perfect time for Peter Clifford to confess his sins to us for a change!”
“What is this all about, Brendan?” Peter asked. “What sins have I committed?”
“The one you committed twelve years ago.”
Peter groaned inwardly. Assumpta had been right, of course, they’d have to face the facts one day. “Look we made a mistake, all right? Giving into our feelings was wrong, but I’ve paid for my mistakes. But I love Assumpta very much, and she loves me.”
“You don’t deserve her!” Brendan spat. “Not after abandoning her when you knew she was pregnant!”
A horrible, sticky silence seemed to fill the room. Everyone was staring at Brendan; Peter with a look of genuine confusion on his face.
“What?” he said, not daring to think about what this meant.
Brendan scowled at him. “Stop pretending to not know what I’m talking about.”
“I don’t! What sort of person do you think I am?”
“I really don’t know anymore,” Brendan replied, but now faced with Peter denying it, Brendan seemed to be losing confidence.
Niamh spoke up. “Brendan, he doesn’t know! Assumpta said the only people who knew completely were you and Michael! None of us knew…”
It was Brendan’s turn to look confused now. “I find it hard to imagine Assumpta not telling Peter…”
“If she’d wanted to protect him, she wouldn’t have,” Niamh reasoned.
“Oh God...” Brendan put one hand to his forehead. “Peter, I’m sorry…I don’t know what to say…I just…worry about Assumpta.”
“Yeah.” Peter was staring out the window to the hall again, trying hard not to think. Too much information was suddenly being thrown at him, and he was working hard to maintain composure.
“You realize what this means, though, don’t you?” Brendan asked quietly.
Peter didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to hear it, simply because he had no idea how he would react. “I wonder when Assumpta will get out, Michael said –“
“Peter. Listen to me,” Brendan interrupted.
Peter turned around slowly. “What?”
Brendan tilted his head in Rowan’s direction, giving Peter a meaningful look. Peter looked slowly at the boy, who too looked as if he was piecing things together. They stared at each other for a long moment before Peter had to turn away, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears that were forming.
Hours later, Peter sat alone in Assumpta’s room at the hospital, watching her sleep. The others had left, Niamh taking the kids home with her and promising to come back in the morning.
Assumpta had awoken briefly, but the effects of the anesthesia had left her feeling groggy and not up to talking, so Peter had just told her to go back to sleep.
Now Peter sat watching her, studying her face, relatively unharmed except for a few scratches and a bruise on her jaw. Peter couldn’t stop thinking, not about the accident, but what he’d learned.
He had a son.
There had been no chance to talk to Rowan about it yet, and the boy was still upset about his mother. Peter wanted desperately to talk to someone, to help figure out how he, himself, felt about it all. Was he mad at Assumpta? Did he blame her for hiding it from him all these years? Or was he mad at himself for being so unobservant?
Peter reached out to gently stroke Assumpta’s pale cheek. “I have a son…we have a son,” he whispered, ever so softly.
Peter must have fallen asleep, because he was awoken by the sunlight streaming into the room. Peter sat up straight, easing his stiff muscles, then stood and walked over to the window to look out.
The world had a fresh feel to it. The rain left the grass green and bright, birds were singing, and people were going about their business.
Hearing a noise behind him, Peter turned to see that Assumpta was awake. She smiled sleepily when she saw him, and Peter went to sit back in his chair next to the bed. He reached out and took Assumpta’s hand.
“How are you feeling?” he asked gently.
“Eh...” Assumpta shrugged. “Like I got run over…which actually I nearly did.”
“You woke up a bit while everyone was here last night, do you remember that at all?”
“Psssht.” Assumpta shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right.” Peter smiled weakly. Assumpta seemed to notice the pain in his eyes, because she frowned slightly.
“Peter, are you OK?” she asked. “Were you here all night?”
“I was,” Peter replied, gently stroking Assumpta’s cheek. “But that’s not what’s worrying me.”
“What then?”
Peter leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “We’ll talk about it later when you’re feeling better.”
Assumpta was allowed to return home a few days later, but Dr. Ryan ordered her to stay in bed until she was feeling stronger.
The first day she was back, Peter came up with her dinner on a tray to find her sitting up in bed looking thoughtful. As he set the tray on the nightstand, Peter asked, “Penny for your thoughts?”
“What was bothering you that one day?” Assumpta asked.
“Oh.” Peter sighed and sat down. “That.” He turned away.
“Why couldn’t you have told me?” Peter asked quietly. For Assumpta’s sake he’d blocked out the emotions of that night, discovering that Rowan was his son. And in the past few days everyone was so caught up in making sure Assumpta was ok, they avoided mentioning it to Peter.
“Told you what?” Assumpta frowned, tilting her head to one side.
Peter took a shaky breath. “About Rowan.” He felt that same sadness threatening to take over.
“Oh, Peter!” Assumpta noticed how upset he was and held out her arms. “Come here.”
Holding back tears, Peter lay carefully next to her, resting his head on her shoulder and putting his arms around her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Assumpta sighed. “Peter, I didn’t think we’d ever see each other again.”
“But we did,” Peter said, not making the effort to look up at Assumpta’s face. “And we talked on the phone, you might have mentioned that I had a son!”
“Peter...” Assumpta paused and took a deep breath. She could feel her annoyance rising, but something about the way Peter was clinging to her made it so that she knew she’d feel horribly guilty if she yelled at him. “The last time we’d seen each other, you made it clear that what you wanted was the church. I wanted you to make choices based on what you wanted, not what you felt an obligation towards.”
“Assumpta, I left because I felt an obligation to everyone!”
Assumpta let out a long sigh. “I guess I made a huge, horrible mistake of my life. I’m sorry.”
Peter sat up, looking at Assumpta. “By right I should be furious with you.”
“Peter…” Assumpta looked at him sadly, imploringly. Peter just shook his head, stood, and walked out of the room.
Niamh found Peter standing on the bridge, looking down into the water.
‘Like father like son,’ she thought as she walked over. ‘Why didn’t I notice the similarities before?’
“Are you all right?” Niamh asked.
Peter sighed. “I don’t know, Niamh. I really don’t.”
“Try not to be mad at her,” Niamh said. “She did what she thought was right.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Peter said, shaking his head. He turned his head to look at Niamh. “Can you even imagine what this is like?”
Niamh shook her head. “No, I can’t.”
“I don’t even know what to think anymore…nothing's the way I thought it was.”
Niamh turned so that she was leaning her back against the stone wall. “Have you talked to Rowan about it yet?”
“No time like the present then.” Niamh patted him on the shoulder and walked off towards the garda house. Frowning, Peter looked up to see Rowan walking over.
Not saying anything, Rowan came over and hoisted himself up onto the bridge wall next to Peter. He sat there for a moment before asking. “Can we talk?”
Peter nodded. “Yeah.”
“Is it true?” Rowan asked. “Are you really my dad?”
“Yes,” Peter said. “It is. But…I only just found out me self.”
“So I wasn’t the only one Mum was hiding stuff from.”
“Are you going to leave?” Rowan asked suddenly.
Peter stared at him. “What?”
“Are you going to leave? Now that you know you have a kid.”
“Why in God’s name would I do that?” Peter was shocked by the idea, he’d left Assumpta once, and look what had happened. He’d never for once considered doing it again.
“Well...” Rowan shrugged. “Just, when Kaylee’s dad found out Mum was pregnant, he left.”
Peter reached out, putting his hand reassuringly on Rowan’s shoulder. “I’m not going to leave, I promise.”
“Good,” Rowan said, suddenly timid. “ ‘Cus…I’d hate to lose my dad just when I found him.” Rowan hopped down from the wall, stared at Peter for a second, then threw his arms around him.
Peter looked surprised for a minute, before putting his arms around Rowan and hugging his son for the very first time.
Epilogue: Rowan’s Reckoning
Four years had passed since Assumpta, Peter, Rowan and Kaylee had returned to Ballykissangel. Some things had changed in that time, some hadn’t.
Rowan, having just narrowly escaped being cornered to do chores by his mother, was walking down one of the country roads near Ballykay. A low stone wall ran to his left, and Rowan looked ahead to see a familiar redheaded figure sitting on it just ahead. As he got closer he could hear Aisling singing something.
“A stor moi chroi, when the evening’s mist…” She looked up. “Oh, hiya Ro.”
“Hey.” Rowan sat down next to her. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” Aisling replied.
“What were you singing?”
Aisling shrugged. “Oh just something I heard mum singing the other day…I thought it was pretty.”
“It is when you sing it,” Rowan said softly.
Aisling wrinkled her nose. “Oh you!” She swatted at him. Rowan leapt to his feet and out of harm’s way.
“Can’t catch me!” he challenged.
“Bet I can!” And with shrieks of laughter they took off running down the road.
“See you can’t!” Rowan shrieked. When he got no response he stopped and turned around. “Ash?”
Aisling had stopped, and was doubled over wheezing. Rowan ran to her.
“Aisling!” he cried, a worried expression on his face. He guessed she was probably having an asthma attack. This didn’t happen very often, luckily, but that meant that she didn’t always have her inhaler with her. “Are you OK? Do you have your –“
“Yes!” Aisling wheezed, pulling her inhaler out of her pocket.
“You know, for being 16,” she said a little while later after she’d rested a bit, “you’re surprisingly immature.”
“What?” Rowan raised an eyebrow.
“You really need some better lines.” Aisling grinned at him. “And don’t ask my dad to teach ya, either. He’s horrible, apparently. Him and Padraig.”
Rowan rolled his eyes. “And the only line my dad knows is ‘I forgive you in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’”
“Rowan, you incorrigible twit!” Aisling cried. “Why do you make fun of your dad like that?”
“I don’t always,” Rowan said with a shrug. “I just end up saying stupid stuff when I’m around you.”
Aisling made a disgusted noise. “I’ll try and take that as a compliment, Rowan Brendan Fitzgerald, but I don’t know.” They were silent for a couple minutes, and then Aisling asked, “You want to go to Eileen Bradley’s party with me on Saturday?”
“Like, as a date?”
“Yeah.” Aisling turned slightly pink. She quickly added, “Or if you don’t want to we could just go as friends…”
“No no, that’s fine.” Rowan grinned. “I’ll just have to make sure Mum’s gonna be all right for help at the pub, but she should be.”
“M’kay.” Aisling smiled shyly.
Later that day Rowan went over to see Kieran. He found his friend up in his room in the garda house, blasting “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.
“Jayz, Kieran,” Rowan said, leaning in the doorway.  “How long have you liked that band?”
“Since I was a baby,” Kieran replied. “You’ve heard the story.”
“Yeah…” Rowan laughed. “Anyway, are you going to the Bradley’s party on Saturday?”
“Damn right I am!” Kieran grinned. “I was going to ask Aisling if she wanted to go.”
Rowan looked awkwardly down at his shoes. Kieran caught on.
“Oh, she all ready has someone, doesn’t she?”
“Yea.” Rowan nodded.
“And what about you?”
Rowan grinned nervously. “Me, too.”
“Damn.” Kieran shut off the cd player. “Oh well, that never stopped me. Who’s Ash going with?”
“Oh, someone…” Rowan said mysteriously.
The party was something everyone looked forward to every year. Eileen Bradley, a good friend of Aisling’s, was rich and completely spoiled by her parents. They lived in a huge mansion on the outskirts of Cilldargan, and Eileen’s parties were becoming legendary.
“Wow…” Rowan said as he and Aisling entered the packed house. Music seemed to make the walls shake, and lights flashed from the huge dinning room that had been transformed into a dance hall.
“Isn’t it great?” Aisling asked, giggling madly.
“Yeah…” Rowan managed to get out before Aisling dragged him off to dance.
After dancing through several songs, they went over to get something to drink. By the punch bowl they ran into Eileen, who was wearing a very low cut halter-top and short skirt.
“Hey, Aisling!” Eileen said excitedly. “What do you think about the party?”
“Wicked!” Aisling replied, linking her arm through Rowan’s.
“Who’s your date?” Eileen asked, eyeing Rowan appreciatively.
“Rowan Fitzgerald,” Aisling replied. “His mum owns the pub down in Ballykay.”
“Niiiice,” Eileen said. “Hey, Anna wanted me to tell you to stop in and say hi to her, she’s down with the flu.” Anna was Eileen’s younger sister, who liked Aisling a lot.
“Sure no problem.” Aisling nodded, turning to Rowan. “You’ll be OK for a minute, won’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Rowan smiled, then turned to the punchbowl as Aisling and Eileen walked off.
“I really should have put two and two together, shouldn’t I?”
Rowan turned to see Kieran standing next to him. “What?”
“You and Aisling,” Kieran said. “I should have figured you would have gone together.”
“Kieran, I…”
“Look, just tell me next time, OK?” Kieran looked upset. “I don’t like it when you hide things from me.”
Rowan rolled his eyes. “I survived my whole life with Mum hiding things from me,” he said, annoyed. “I don’t think it’ll kill you if I don’t tell you who I’m going to a party with.” Several people around them caught wind of an argument and were staring.
Kieran looked around, then back at Rowan. “Don’t cause a scene,” he snapped, in perfect imitation of his father, before sulking off.
When Aisling got back she found Rowan sitting sulkily at one end of the couch. Aisling sat daintily on his lap, putting her arms around his neck.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Just, Kieran,” Rowan said, getting over the shock of having a girl on his lap. “He was mad at me for taking you to the party.”
Aisling rolled her eyes and slid sideways so she was sitting on the couch next to Rowan. “I like Kieran…just not the way I like you. He’s too much like an older brother to me.”
“And I’m not?” Rowan asked hopefully.
“Of course not.” Aisling leaned in closer. “You’re so much more.” Rowan could feel his face turning red as Aisling closed the distance between them. Tentatively she kissed Rowan, then again more confidently before pulling back, smiling.
Rowan didn’t get back home until nearly midnight. Both his parents were still up, sitting together in the lounge area and going over some paperwork.
Peter looked up, frowning slightly. “I thought you were supposed to be home by eleven.”
“Dad…” Rowan rolled his eyes. “I was having fun, I lost track of time.”
Peter opened his mouth, but Assumpta reached over, putting a hand on her husband’s arm to silence him. “Well, I’m glad you had fun, Ro,” she said. “It’s getting late, though, so why don’t you go get ready for bed and we can talk about it in the morning.”
“Yeah.” Rowan headed to the stairs. “Night, Mum, Dad.” He headed up.
Peter shook his head. “You can tell which one of us is more experienced with kids.”
“It’s all right,” Assumpta said. “You just worry, nothing wrong with that.”
“Yeah…” Peter turned and looked at her. “I can’t believe we’ve been married for four years now.”
Assumpta smiled. “Happy years though, yeah?”
“Of course.”
A few days later Rowan and Aisling were walking down the road together, hand in hand, chatting about nothing in particular.
“I think Kieran’s mad at me,” Rowan said glumly. “We haven’t talked since the party.”
“You boys!” Aisling said, rolling her eyes. “I think he’s just being bitter. He called up yesterday and wanted to hang out…”
“Did you?” Rowan asked, raising an eyebrow.
Aisling gave him an annoyed look. “Yeah. Do you have a problem with that? Because he’s still my friend, Rowan. I’m not going to completely ignore him.”
“I know,” Rowan said, looking down at his feet.
Aisling stopped walking and turned to face Rowan. She reached out, putting one hand under his chin and tilting his face to look at her. “You know I really like you, right? Like...” Her voice got quiet and she bit her lip. “I don’t even know if like covers it.”
“Well, that’s a first,” Rowan said. “Aisling Kearney at a loss for words.”
Aisling laughed quietly, not meeting Rowan’s eyes. He took a step closer to her, putting his arms around her waist. Aisling rested her hands on his shoulders and looked up at him.
“Ro…” She seemed unable to say what she wanted to.
“It’s OK…you don’t have to say it,” Rowan told her. “I love you too.” Aisling looked surprised, but happy as Rowan leaned down to kiss her.
As they were heading back to town, Aisling stopped suddenly, putting a hand to her head and wincing.
“Ash, are you OK?” Rowan asked, putting a hand on her back and looking worried.
“Yeah...” Aisling took a couple deep breaths. “Just feeling a bit off, is all.”
“Am I that bad of a kisser?” Rowan asked, a teasing grin lurking around the corners of his mouth.
Aisling swatted at him. “No! I was feeling like this long before you kissed me, Rowan Fitzgerald.”
“Good.” Rowan put an arm around her in a supportive gesture. “Let’s get you home, safe and sound.”
The next morning Assumpta came downstairs to find her son sitting at the kitchen table looking bored.
“What’s wrong with you?” Assumpta asked.
“Aisling’s sick,” Rowan replied dully.
“So do something with Kieran.”
Rowan rolled his eyes in a self-pitying way. “He’s mad at me.”
“Oh.” Assumpta sent a distasteful glance at the pile of dirty dishes. “Do I want to know why?”
“Probably not.”
“Well,” Assumpta said. “Seeing as you have nothing better to do, why don’t you get this lot cleaned up?”
“Ahhh, Mum!”
Assumpta looked at him sternly. “You’ve been ducking out of chores all week, Ro. This won’t kill you.” She turned and headed towards the door.
The next morning when Rowan called over at Aisling’s mum’s house, he got no response. He tried her dad’s, still no response. Going downstairs, he decided to go for a walk and see if Aisling would be back when he got home.
He’d barely gotten across the bridge when he heard someone calling his name. Turning, Rowan saw his mother running to catch up with him. He groaned inwardly.
“Mum!” he cried, rolling his eyes.
Assumpta’s expression was worried. “Rowan,” she said. “I just got a call from Aisling’s dad…she’s in the hospital.”
“What?!” Rowan stared.
“She had the flu yesterday and now it’s getting really bad…” Assumpta said. “You know her asthma…she’s having trouble breathing.”
Rowan stared at her. “Is she going to be OK?”
“I really don’t know…” Assumpta said, shaking her head.
“Can we go see her?” Rowan’s tone was anxious.
“I’m sorry, Ro, Brendan didn’t think that was a good idea. Aisling’s probably pretty contagious.”
“But I want to see her!” Rowan cried. “I have to see her, Mum!”
“Rowan, we don’t want to have you get sick as well,” Assumpta said.
Rowan felt tears forming in his eyes. “Mum! I really want to see her.”
“Rowan...” Assumpta walked over to her son and gently put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure if things get any worse they’ll let you. They just don’t want you to end up in the hospital.”
Rowan stared at her with a hurt expression before jerking away, turning, and running back to the pub and up into his room.
Hours later, after the sun had set, Rowan heard a knock on the door.
“Come in,” he mumbled.
It was his dad. Peter leaned on the doorframe. “Do you want to see Aisling? Brendan said you could come up for a little while.”
Rowan looked up at his dad and nodded.
The hospital seemed too clean and sterile, it made Rowan uncomfortable. He walked nervously next to his father down one long white hall, up another, until they came to the right door. Peter pushed it open, and they went in.
Brendan and Siobhan were there, sitting next to the bed. Rowan went and took a seat on the other side, while Peter gave Aisling’s parents comforting hugs.
Aisling was wearing an oxygen mask, but still her breathing was labored. Her skin was pale and clammy, and Rowan felt his heart sting to see her like this. He reached out and took her hand in his.
“Aisling?” he said tentatively. “It’s me, Rowan.”
Either the touch of his hand or the sound of his voice roused her, because Aisling’s eyes fluttered open. She smiled slightly. “Ro.”
“I made them let me come see you,” he told her. “I couldn’t stand knowing you were like this and I couldn’t come see you.”
Aisling smiled. “I’m so glad you came, Ro.” Her voice was horse, and Rowan could tell she was having trouble breathing. He looked up at the adults, they were all deep in conversation.
“Ash, I wanted to tell you I love you.”
“I know…” Aisling took a couple breaths. “I love you too, you do know that?”
“I do,” Rowan reassured her. “I really do. But, Ash, we’ll have plenty of time…”
Aisling got a worried look on her face for a second, then nodded, forcing a smile.
Rowan and his father returned to a darkened pub later that night. Assumpta met them in the hall, dressed in her bathrobe. She gave them both a hug, and Peter a kiss.
“How is she?” Assumpta asked.
Rowan shook his head. “Not so good…she can’t breathe…”
Assumpta turned to Peter. “What did the doctors have to say?” Peter shook his head, then made a gesture indicating he would tell her in the privacy of their bedroom.
Rowan was awoken a little while later by the telephone ringing. By the time he was fully awake, it had stopped. He looked at the clock; it was just past three in the morning. Outside it was still pitch black. Rowan slid out of bed and tiptoed into his parent’s room.
The light was on, and Assumpta, sitting on the far corner of the bed, was just hanging up the desk phone. She looked pale and shocked. Peter slid over next to her, putting a hand on her arm.
“Oh God…’Ssumpta…” he said quietly.
Assumpta looked up and saw Rowan. She held her arms out to him. “Rowan, sweetie, come here.”
Rowan hated that forced calm in her voice. He walked numbly over, sitting on the bed between his parents. “What’s wrong?” he couldn’t look either of them in the face.
“Rowan,” Assumpta had to take several deep breaths, but her voice still shook. “That was Brendan on the phone…”
Suddenly Rowan didn’t want to hear anything. He stood up and clasped his hands over his ears. Maybe if he didn’t hear it, it wouldn’t happen. “No, I’m not listening!” he cried.
“Rowan!” Assumpta stood up, trying to grab his arms.
“I’m not listening to you!” Rowan cried louder. “I can’t hear you!”
Kaylee appeared at the door, looking drowsily confused. “What’s going on? What’s the matter?” She went and stood next to Peter. “Daddy?”
Assumpta grabbed Rowan’s arms, pulling them away from his ears in time for him to hear his father say, “Aisling passed away…” Peter’s voice was shaking and tears were forming in his eyes. “She was too sick…”
Kaylee sat down hard on the bed, looking shocked, then she buried her face in Peter’s shoulder and began to sob.
Rowan stood there. He knew he should be crying, should be crying his heart out like Kaylee, but the tears weren’t coming. He just felt numb and empty, like everything inside him had been ripped out.
Slowly, he turned and walked into the hallway. Assumpta followed.
Rowan didn’t reply. He was about halfway when suddenly it hit him; Aisling was gone. She was gone and never coming back. Tears suddenly began pouring down Rowan’s face. He ran the rest of the way into his room, slamming and locking the door behind him.
Collapsing on his bed, Rowan was finally able to cry.
It was raining. Drizzling. Misting down upon the mass of black.
“Those born of woman hath but a short time to live. Like a flower we blossom and then wither; like a shadow we flee and never stay. In the midst of life we are in death; to whom can we turn for help?”
The open hole in the ground looked to Rowan like a hungry mouth ready to swallow the coffin that bore Aisling’s body. He looked around, unable to focus on this depressing sight any longer.
Fr. Aiden stood at the head of the hole, reading from his Bible, his vestments hanging limp in the drizzle. Fr. Vincent was there as well, looking sad and somber. Brendan looked broken; the usually strong and gentile man seeming withered. Siobhan had one hand to her mouth, her eyes filled with such sadness that Rowan couldn’t focus on them too long.
Kieran stood across the grave from Rowan, for a second their eyes met, but then Kieran looked down.
“We therefore commit her body to the earth; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.”
As the people began to throw dirt onto the coffin, and then toss flowers on, Assumpta began to sing, a sad, mournful tune. Rowan recognized it as the one he heard Aisling singing so long ago.
"A Stor Mo Chroi, when you're far far away
From the home you will soon be leaving,
It's manys a time by night and by day
When your heart will be sorely grieving.”
People were crying as they sprinkled dirt onto the coffin. Rowan felt like over the past few days he’d done nothing but cry; not taking comfort from anyone. Now he felt like all his tears were dried up.
“For the stranger's land may be bright and fair,
Rich in its treasures golden.
But you'll pine, I know, for days long, long ago
And the one that is never olden.”
The last of the dirt was poured over the coffin and it was gone. Aisling was gone, Rowan would never see her again.
“A Stor Mo Chroi, in a stranger's land
There is plenty of wealth and wailing.
Where gems adorn the great and the grand
There are faces with hunger paling.
When the road it is tiresome, and hard to tread
And the lights of their cities blind you.
Oh turn, A Stor, to Erin's shore
And the one that you leave behind you.
A Stor Mo Chroi, when the evening mist
Over mountain and sea is falling,
Oh turn, A Stor, and then you list
And maybe you'll hear me calling.”
Rowan waited till everyone else had placed flowers, or small tokens on the grave. Then to the mournful sound of the last verse of his mother’s song, Rowan laid on the grave, the three white lilies he’d been holding.
“For the sound of a voice you will sorely miss
Somebody's speedy returning.
Aroon, aroon, won't you come back soon
To the one that will always love you…”
Weeks after the funeral Rowan was still feeling like he’d lost all purpose in life. One day he was standing on the bridge, elbows resting on the wall, chin in his hands. He suddenly heard footsteps and turned to see Kieran walking over.
“Hey,” Kieran said. It was the first time they’d spoken since the party.
The party. Rowan had to force it out of his head so he wouldn’t start crying again.
“Hi,” Rowan said weakly.
“You ever going to get over this?”
Rowan stared at him. “What?”
“The world goes on…” Kieran said, staring out across the river. “Just because someone you care about dies doesn’t mean the world stops turning.”
“It did for me!” Rowan snapped, turning on Kieran. “The second she stopped breathing my world stopped turning! I loved her, Kieran; I loved her with all my heart! Do you understand that?”
Kieran looked at him with something close to loathing in his gaze. “And you think,” he said, “that just because you were the one who got to hold her, you were the one who got to kiss her,” his voice was gaining volume. “That you were the only one who loved her?! No, Rowan, you’re the one who doesn’t understand!” He turned and ran off, leaving Rowan standing there, looking even more hurt and confused.
Meanwhile in the pub another argument was brewing.
“Some days I don’t think Rowan’s ever going to get over this,” Assumpta said sadly.
“’Ssumpta, he just lost his girlfriend. It’s going to take more then a couple weeks to get over this,” Peter said.
“I know.” Assumpta sighed. “It’s just…I wish I could do something to help him.”
“Have you tried talking to him?”
Assumpta folded her arms. “I have…he doesn’t listen.”
Peter looked up and caught Assumpta staring at him pleadingly. “What do you want me to do?”
You could talk to him, Peter,” Assumpta suggested. “You’re his father, you mean so much to him.”
“What do you want me to say?” Peter snapped. He’d barely been holding reign on his emotions for the past couple weeks, and now it felt like he was loosing control of them. “Say Jesus wanted her for a sunbeam? I can’t do that, Assumpta! There are some things he needs to do on his own. We’ve done what we can, now he needs to come to terms with the grief.”
“I’m sorry,” Assumpta said, her voice icing over dangerously. “I just don’t like to see my child hurting so much.”
“Oh, so he’s your child now.”
Assumpta rolled her eyes. “You know what I meant. And you’re not exactly sticking your neck out for him now.”
This seemed to touch a nerve. “Do you think I don’t care about him, Assumpta?” Peter asked, his voice low. He was looking Assumpta straight in the eye. “Do you really think that? Because I do care about him a hell of a lot more then you give me credit for!”
Peter turned and stomped into the kitchen. Assumpta followed him.
“Peter,” she said, her voice so full of sadness that Peter stopped, his shoulders slumping. “Peter, sweetheart, don’t do this. Don’t be angry with me.”
“ ‘Ssumpta…” Peter said listlessly. The pain in her voice was hurting him. He turned, and saw that his wife was near to tears “Oh God, I’m sorry.” He walked over, putting his arms around her, holding her body close to his.
“I’m so glad,” Assumpta murmured, her head resting on Peter’s chest. “That I have you. I don’t know what I’d do otherwise.”
“Me neither.”
Three months had now passed since Aisling’s funeral. What Kieran said turned out to be right; the world did keep turning. Every day Rowan found it easier to get up and keep going. He started attending church regularly with his father, finding solace in the quiet sanctity of St. Joseph’s.
But one day he approached his mother with perhaps the last thing she wanted to ever hear from him.
“Mum, can I talk to you?” Rowan said, coming into the bar one afternoon. It was completely empty, and Rowan was glad because this provided a perfect opportunity to have a heart to heart with his mother.
“Sure.” Assumpta was drying pint glasses, but she stopped, walking around to sit at the bar with her son. “What’s up?”
“I don’t know how to put this…” Rowan began unsteadily.
“Put what?”
“I’ve made a decision, about what I want to do with my life,” Rowan said. “I’ve done a lot of thinking about it.”
“Well, that’s great, sweetie,” Assumpta said encouragingly.
Rowan couldn’t look her in the face. “You’re not going to like it.”
Assumpta laughed. “Rowan whatever you want to –“
“I want to go to seminary school,” Rowan said in a rush. “I want to become a priest.”
No, Assumpta hadn’t seen this one coming.
“Rowan…I…” Assumpta blew out a puff of air. “That’s a huge commitment…you’d be making so many sacrifices…”
“Mum, I know,” Rowan said. “But this is what I really want to do. I feel so much more complete when I’m in church, so much more part of something.”
Assumpta sighed, rubbing her hand over her face. “Rowan…you’d be taking away your chance to ever love again…”
“Mum, I loved Aisling, and now she’s…she’s dead. I’m not going to love again.”
“Darling I know it feels like that now…”
“Mum.” Rowan stared defiantly at his mother. “I know you don’t approve of this, but I’m going to do it weather you want me to or not.”
“I’m not going to stop you,” Assumpta said. “I was just trying…I’m not going to stop you.”
“Thank you.” And suddenly Rowan looked very grown up, like he’d seen his share of the world, and now was ready to settle. “And you’re not angry with me, Mum?”
“No,” Assumpta said, smiling slightly. “Never.”
That evening Assumpta brought Rowan’s choice up while she and Peter got ready for bed.
“Assumpta,” Peter said from the bathroom that adjoined their bedroom. “You don’t approve, no matter what you tell anyone.”
“I know.” Assumpta stood up as Peter came back in the room. “But what more does your God want from me? He’s taken first you, then Aisling, now Rowan. What more does he want?”
“Assumpta,” Peter said, “God isn’t taking anything from you…these things just happen. If this is something Rowan really wants, we can’t take it away from him.”
“Peter…” Assumpta sighed. “He’s making a rash decision. I think I know what’s going on, he’s upset because he just lost someone he really loved, not he feels like he’s never going to love anyone again, which probably isn’t true. Who’s to say he’ll feel this way in a few weeks? A few months?”
Peter went to Assumpta, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Who’s to say he won’t? Look, ‘Ssumpta, we’re not sending him off to seminary school tomorrow, he will have time to think about this some more and make sure it’s what he really wants.”
Assumpta made a disgruntled noise. Peter sighed good-naturedly and put his arms around her.
“You know a lot of women are happy if their son wants to become a priest,” Peter said.
“Peter,” Assumpta said, looking up at him. “You’ve been married to me for four years, known me for nearly twenty, you should know by now that I’m not like most women.”
Peter leaned down, kissing Assumpta on the neck. “Aren’t I glad for it…”
Assumpta giggled, pulling Peter down onto the bed with her.
(Six Years Later)
On evening Kaylee got home from a friend’s house to find her mother sitting on one of the benches outside the pub, gazing thoughtfully out into the distance.
“Hey, Mum,” Kaylee said, sitting down next to her.
“Hi, sweetie. Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah.” Kaylee frowned. “What are you doing?”
Assumpta smiled, leaning forward and resting her chin in her hands. “I was just thinking. About everything that’s happened.”
“You mean…like Rowan?”
“Rowan and…” Assumpta shrugged. “Your father, Peter I mean, and everything else. You know, I remember when I got back here from college, I thought it would be a temporary thing, like pretty soon I’d be up and doing everything I’d dreamed of. But here I am, back again.”
“Ballykay’s your home, Mum. It’s tangled around you like a vine,” Kaylee pointed out. “It’ll always pull you back. And I think it’s gonna pull Rowan back eventually, too.”
“Which is funny, because since he’s taken his father’s name, that means we’ll have another Fr. Clifford here one day,” Assumpta mused.
“Is Dad happy for him?”
“I think so, yes.”
Kaylee looked at her mother seriously. “And are you happy for him?”
“I learned to accept it a long time ago, Kaylee.”
“But are you happy for him?” Kaylee pressed.
Assumpta contemplated this for a moment. “Yes,” she said finally. “Because he found something to do with his life that he wants to do, and that he’s good at. So yes, I am happy for him.”
Kaylee nodded appreciatively, leaning against her mother. Assumpta smiled too, making a mental note to relay what she just said to Kaylee, to Rowan, so that he would know just how proud of him she was.
And as the sun set into the Wicklow mountains, Peter came out of the pub and sat with his wife and daughter. And Assumpta knew in her heart that she appreciated what she had now, and that she shouldn’t complain about the things that didn’t go exactly the way she wanted, because so long ago she’d had so much less.