"In the Burning of Uncertainty"

by Glenys Packer and Jen W.


The sun had all ready been down for a couple hours when Liam and Donal pulled the chip van into its parking spot between the church and a clump of trees. Liam was ready to get home, and stood impatiently in the doorway while Donal vainly attempted to clean up some oil that had spilled on the counter top.

"Ah come on, Donal!" Liam finally cried. "Can't that wait until the morning? I'm ready to go."

"OK." Donal set the rag he'd been using down and headed for the door. "Let's lock up." Liam shut off the lights and slammed the door behind them. A couple sparks fell from the light fixture.


Assumpta sighed as she slipped into bed. It had been a long day; the constant crowds come to see the `sweating' statue certainly brought her more business, but it meant also that she was rushed off her feet without a moment's respite. It didn't help either that she was still feeling bad about what she'd said to Peter earlier. Why couldn't she just keep her big mouth shut? She closed her eyes and rolled over, willing sleep to come.

Assumpta had barely drifted into blissful unconsciousness when she was awoken by someone pounding on the door of the pub. Grumbling, she pulled her robe on over her pajamas and went to see who it was. It turned out to be Niamh, looking flustered and wearing a jacket over her nightgown.

"Assumpta, you've got to come quick!" Niamh cried, eyes widening. "St. Joseph's... oh God, just come on!" She grabbed Assumpta by the arm.

"Hang on a second!" Assumpta said. "I haven't got any shoes-"

Niamh cut her off. "It doesn't matter, just come!"

Grudgingly, Assumpta followed Niamh out the door and down the road. As they walked, Assumpta caught the whiff of smoke, something was burning, and an orangish glow filled the sky just ahead of them.

"Oh, my God..." Assumpta whispered as they rounded the bend and came in full view of the church. Gouts of flames were bursting out of holes in the roof and from broken windows. As Assumpta watched another window exploded outward in a ball of flames. The surrounding trees were also ablaze, spreading the flames to the roof of the curate's house. Assumpta panicked for a moment, scanning the crowd of people that was gathered in the road. Then she spotted Peter standing off to the side with Ambrose and Dr. Ryan. Assumpta hurried over to them.

"I've contacted the fire department," Ambrose was saying as Assumpta approached. "They'll be here as soon as they can."

"Let's hope they hurry," Dr. Ryan said. "Or else the entire town'll be burned down by the time they get here."

"What happened?" Assumpta asked, standing next to Peter, who was looking very pale.

"We don't know exactly," Ambrose said. "Could have been anything. Faulty electrics, a candle that tipped over..."

Assumpta noticed Peter was shaking slightly, and she put a hand on his arm. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Peter said quietly. "I managed to get out of my house before the fire had spread. Got some of me stuff out, even." He nodded towards his backpack which was sitting on the ground next to him.

"Assumpta," Dr. Ryan said, turning to her. "Why don't you take Fr. Clifford back to the pub? It's not doing either of you any good standing here." He looked down. "Especially seeing as you don't have anything on your feet."

Assumpta flushed slightly. "It's not my fault, Niamh didn't give me a chance to get anything on." She shrugged. "Anyway, you're probably right. Come on, Father." Peter lifted his pack then followed Assumpta back down the road towards the pub.

"Fr. Mac's going to kill me," Peter muttered a little while later. Assumpta had just brought in two steaming mugs of tea, handing one to Peter.

"Why? It's not like it's your fault," Assumpta said.

"He'll still find some way to blame me." Peter took a sip of tea. Silence lapsed over them. Assumpta shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

"Look," she said finally, "I'm sorry about what I said earlier."

"It's all right."

"No it's not!" Assumpta sat up straighter. "I had no right to say something that cuts to the heart of what you believe in."

Peter sighed, not looking at her. "Right now I'm not to sure what I believe in. Miracles, the church, me..." He turned and stared her straight in the eye. "You."

Assumpta found herself unable to respond to this. Something passed like an electrical charge between them and she felt her face go red.

Turning away quickly Assumpta said, "Well, anyway, it's getting late, I suppose you'll be wanting to go to bed. Here--" she went over and took a key off the board on the wall. "--second door on the left. Use it as long as you need and don't worry about paying me."

The next day, Assumpta and Peter went over to the church to see what was left. The fire department had managed to put out the flames before they spread to the surrounding houses and forest; but all that remained of St. Joseph's were the stone walls, blackened and charred.

"I wonder if it's safe to go in..." Peter wondered aloud, standing by the doorway. A few pieces of charcoaled wood still hung from the door frame. Assumpta shrugged, staring up at the huge gutted building.

"I wouldn't," Ambrose said, walking over. "It's probably pretty hot in there still. The lads in the fire department said it won't be cool for another few days."

"Right." Peter nodded glumly and let out a despairing sigh.

"Well look on the bright side," Ambrose said. "You won't have to worry about the sweating statue any more."

Peter glared at him.


A few hours later, Peter sat in Fitzgerald's talking with Fr. Mac.

"And you have no idea what caused the fire?" Fr. Mac asked, scowling across the table at Peter.

"It could have been anything," Peter said. "It might not have even started in the church. You know Liam and - "

"Well it doesn't matter much how the place burned down," Fr. Mac interrupted. "All that matters is that Ballyk is without a church until we can get a new one built. And who knows how long that will take."

"So what are we going to do in the mean time?" Peter asked.

"You'll either have to find a temporary place to hold services," Fr. Mac said. "Or we'll have to look for a new posting for you."

"I don't want to leave Ballyk!" Peter protested.

"I'm sorry, but what use is keeping you if you've no place to hold mass or hear confessions?" Fr. Mac seemed adamant. "That's the way it is, Father. Now I've got some appointments to keep, I'll speak with you tomorrow." He stood up and walked out of the pub.

Peter didn't move from his spot at the table. He stared gloomily down at the stained wood, trying to think of a way he could get out of leaving Ballyk. Pity a petition wouldn't help this time...

"You look like you could use a stiff drink." Peter looked up to see Assumpta standing next to him.

She handed him a pint of lager. "On the house."

"Thanks." Peter accepted the drink and sipped it thoughtfully. Assumpta took Fr. Mac's seat across from Peter.

"So what did your boss have to say?"

"Not much," Peter replied, "just that I either have to find a temporary church, or leave Ballyk. He said something to the effect of a priest is no good without a church."

"Can't you just do house calls or something?" Assumpta asked. Peter forced a feeble smile and shook his head.


Because Padraig was busy unearthing scoops for Quigley's rag, Peter was adopted for the night as the third Musketeer in Fitzgerald's. Brendan ordered another round from Assumpta for himself, Peter, and Siobhan.

Ambrose stopped in later on and sat with them, chatting for a while. He had news for Peter. "They've found a good lead on what started the fire but I can't say anything yet until it's all squared away and official. I'll only say it isn't looking like an accident. Or if it was… an awfully suspicious accident if you know what I mean."

Peter seemed confused. "No, I don't know what you mean."

"Right." Ambrose put a finger to the side of his nose. "We all don't know a thing. Good man, Father." Ambrose drained his beer and left to get home to Niamh.

"Good thing Ambrose has help," Brendan said as he set down his pint. "Those fire investigator experts came today from Wexford town and I think perhaps it's for the best. Ambrose may be in over his head."

Siobhan looked worried and noted, "I can't imagine someone setting St. Joseph's on fire deliberately."

Peter took a long gulp of his beer. More depressing news was coming at him almost hourly now. When would it finally stop getting worse and start getting better?

After the pub closed, he helped sweep up as Assumpta washed glasses and wiped down the bar. Then they headed up the steps, but Peter wasn't ready to settle in for the night. He was still restless with thoughts and emotions and he knew sleep wouldn't come. So instead, Peter followed Assumpta and leaned against the door frame of her room.

"Ambrose is still lookin' into the cause of the fire but they don't think it was an accident."

"Ah, no." Assumpta looked up at him. She wasn't sure what to say to ease the hurt in his voice.

Peter looked away and changed the subject entirely by repeating an entertaining story told by Brendan earlier in the evening.

As she listened, Assumpta settled her ledgers at her desk and moved about the room filling time with useless tasks, picking up, putting away, but none of it was important to do right now. She was just reluctant to send Peter off and go to bed. Peter finished the tale and Assumpta smiled at the punch line.

Her smile warmed Peter's heart and for an instant he forgot about all the other problems surrounding him. There were so many things that had happened in only a week's time.

"Assumpta…" Why did he always have so much inside to say to her, but around her, was never able to find the words?

Peter said her name with such gentleness that it changed the mood instantly. Assumpta was suddenly aware they were alone together in her bedroom. It was something that should have, but hadn't really occurred, until the tone in his voice changed. Both panic and longing ripped through her.

Peter wanted to touch her and so he crossed into the room to her side. He staggered a bit on the way. Assumpta knew how much drink Peter had, of course, she'd been the one serving him. But she didn't think he was this far gone. Peter's hand slid down her arm and clasped her hand.

Assumpta could smell the alcohol on his breath. This wasn't the way she had imagined. She had hoped and dreamed of things that might happen between them one day, but this wasn't quite the way she wanted it.

Disgust knotted in her stomach. "Tell me--" Suddenly Assumpta's anger cleared everything out of her heart. "--which came first, Peter? Getting drunk and then deciding to come to my bedroom, or deciding to come to my bedroom later and getting drunk first?"

Peter sighed in frustration and dropped his hand. "I'm not-" he sputtered and stopped, he only wanted to talk to her. He needed her friendship, her ear to listen. He was frustrated and hurt for weeks now, and suddenly it was all capped off by a fire in the church he loved and uncertainty in his future. But again- as always- Peter had no idea where to find the right words to explain it to her.

So maybe he wanted to hold Assumpta's hand a little, as well as talk, but he would never… would he?

"Peter, I think you should go. Now. And sleep it off."

Now she was in a mood, and because when Assumpta was in a mood she was impossible to reason with, Peter decided his only option was to leave and try talking to her in the morning instead.

"Goodnight," he said curtly and left.

Assumpta curled into a ball under the covers in the dark and tried not to think. She was stupid to give Peter too much drink and then jump to the wrong conclusions. He wouldn't come into her room for the wrong reasons, Assumpta scolded herself.

Assumpta was certain it was only her that had those wayward thoughts, not the upstanding priest. Peter only thought of her as a friend and here she was making things worse for him instead of helping. First the comments about his vocation when he could have used a little support in the sweating statue incident, and now her terrible assumptions about his intentions… Why would he want anything to do with her now?


The next morning, Peter carried his tea out to the bar where Assumpta was preparing for customers in the next hour. He spoke carefully. "Listen, last night I only wanted to talk to you. I promise."

She felt bad enough already. Peter's cautious voice only made her guilt grow by another ton. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Assumpta, I'm sorry I gave you the wrong-"

"Forget it." She began polishing the bar. "What did you want to talk about?"

Peter sat at a stool in the empty pub and began talking. Because he was preoccupied with the brief row with Assumpta, he wasn't thinking or worrying about the right words. Peter's flood gates just opened and out gushed everything, the worry that he might be forced to leave, what Fr. Mac had said about putting the collection box strategically next to the statue, all the people profiting from it, then the fire destroying the church and setting him homeless.

"Some round here would even suggest that with your views being what they are, Assumpta, you might've set it."

"The fire?" She was aghast, how could he honestly believe she was capable of that?

Peter looked up and immediately regretted saying such a stupid thing. "I don't believe that," he quickly clarified. "I just- this is what I'm talkin' about, Assumpta, I'm paranoid and suspicious of everyone, I'm- I'm…" He trailed off, took a breath then admitted, "I don't know what I am."

"Gone astray, unsure of your future, not really liking the way your life is now, lonely, insecure…" Assumpta was staring down at her hands resting on the bar. Her expression haunted Peter.

It was certainly a dead-on description of many of the things he was feeling, but Peter got the impression that she was really admitting more of herself than she was guessing about him. It wasn't like Assumpta to reveal vulnerabilities and it startled Peter. Could it be that she and him were going through exactly the same turmoil? Having the same exact feelings?

Peter watched Assumpta come back from the far away world her mind had been in. He asked, "Are we still talkin' about me here, or are we talkin' about you now?"

"Neither." Assumpta stood straight and went back to wiping down the bar, making it clear she wanted the conversation over. "I've got work to do and you have to find a place to hold mass, so off with ya."


As the ferry docked, Jenny started the car and took a quick glance back at her little boy sleeping in his car seat in the back. Her oldest child, Sarah, was staying with Jenny's parents currently. But as Danny was the main cause of this trip, she'd brought him with.

A short time later, she was shown into the Bishop's office and she set little Danny down on the floor next to her with a few of his trucks so he could play while she had her interview.

Danny's disposition was always pleasant no matter the circumstances. He never cried and always took to people, even strangers, with friendliness and trust. Jenny smiled, thinking how he was just like his dad.

"Thank you for taking the time to see me," Jenny began, talking out a tissue just in case. "I wanted to never speak of this to anyone, honestly. But now with all the scandals and the way the Church is trying to clear the air and be more open with the public… Well, I feel I must come forward."

The Bishop took off his glasses and sat back in his chair. "My dear, has someone harmed you?"

"No, not really. Well, I was young and taken with how handsome and intelligent he was. But the choice of breaking his vows was as much my fault as his. I may have been naive but I knew enough."

"Are you suggesting that the child's father is one of my priests?"

Jenny nodded. "Yes."

"This is a very serious accusation. It will set into motion a rather new and untested system we've put into place to deal with any accusation of misbehavior. It will be very difficult on him and all of us. Are you certain?"

"Absolutely." Jenny looked down at her son, thinking of how this was all for his sake. Then she looked back to the Bishop. "My son is Peter Clifford's child."

The bishop took a breath. He oversaw priests that if they were accused of such behavior, would've not been much of a surprise. But Fr. Clifford was not on that mental list.

He stated honestly, "I have to say I'm shocked. Fr. Clifford is a good priest."

Jenny showed only the smallest touch of a smile. "He's good at other things as well."


Jenny could remember the first time she'd met Peter Clifford. It had been about five years ago, and Jenny, like most of the other people at St. John's church in Manchester, had liked Fr. Clifford from the moment he came. Young, fresh out of seminary school, he'd brought with him an open heart and new ideas, making a pleasant change from the old, rigid Fr. Anderson.

Jenny had been quite taken with him from the moment he introduced himself to the congregation, but she hadn't actually gotten to speak with him until a month and a half after he'd come, at a church function in the large basement of St. John's.

Jenny was wandering around, weaving in and out of the people who stood chatting and eating food. In her arms she cradled her newborn baby, Sarah.

Sarah's father was someone Jenny had fallen madly in love with at 17, and now at 18 she had his child, but nothing else to speak of. He'd run out on her, leaving for some hottie from the states.

Jenny looked down at the sleeping infant and sighed, she'd always felt strangely separate from her daughter, and was glad that her parents had managed to forgive her and help care for Sarah. Jenny wandered back to her parents, who were talking to Fr. Clifford.

"Oh, here she is," said Jenny's mother, Marissa. "Father, I'd like you to meet our daughter, Jenny and her daughter, Sarah."

"Nice to meet you," Fr. Clifford said, shaking Jenny's hand and smiling. Jenny met his eyes and smiled back. He really was quite good looking.

Over the next two years, Jenny and Peter seemed to become close friends. Jenny loved having someone with whom she could talk to about all of her problems, and would always lend her a sympathetic ear and comforting shoulder to cry on.

One evening, Jenny was home alone, her parents having gone out to a play. Sarah was upstairs asleep, and Jenny was just sitting down to have a cup of tea when the doorbell rang. Answering it, she found Peter there.

"Oh, hi, Peter," Jenny said, grinning. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for your mother, actually," Peter said. "I need to ask her if she'd be willing to sing in the choir on Sunday."

"Oh." Jenny feigned a look of sorrow. "My parents are out at a play right now, they won't be back for a couple of hours. But will you come in and have a cup of tea anyway?"

Peter, unwilling to refuse hospitality, agreed and followed Jenny in to the kitchen where she poured him a cup and they both took seats at the table.

"Looking for back up singers, are you?" Jenny asked.

"Well, Mrs. Macreaden's been in the hospital, and a few others have told me they won't be able to make it," Peter replied. "So I'm sorta recruiting some people, just for this weekend."

Jenny nodded, sipping her tea quietly and staring down at the table.

"Are you all right?" Peter asked softly.

"Yeah, I'm just tired," Jenny said.

"Well--" Peter drained the last of his tea. "I'd better be off then, it's getting late." They both got to their feet and headed towards the door. Jenny, who was looking at Peter and not paying attention to her feet, tripped on the edge of a chair and pitched forward. Peter whirled around just in time to catch Jenny, wrapping his arms tightly around her to keep her steady.

Jenny looked up and found that their faces were inches apart. Peter was staring at her with a curious expression on his face. Jenny whispered his name quietly, moving a centimeter closer to him. She shifted her hands from where they rested on his shoulders to his cheeks, then leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the mouth. Peter gave in for a minute, then suddenly pulled away, pushing Jenny from him.

"Peter…!" Jenny protested.

"Jenny..." There was warning in his tone. "No, this isn't right." He turned and walked to the door.

"Why not?" Jenny asked, not moving. "There's something between us, don't tell me you can't feel it!"

Peter stopped, leaning on the door frame. He slowly turned his head, looking at Jenny with a half angry, half-apologetic expression. "I'm a priest."


Peter got off the bus in Cilldargan and walked to Fr. Mac's house. He decided to take a suggestion of Brendan's from the night before. That was to suggest to Fr. Mac that holding mass at the school temporarily might work. It would also save Peter from having to leave Ballyk. Save him from leaving Assumpta.

Peter shook his head, no more thoughts like that and no more drink either, he ordered himself. He had given Assumpta the wrong idea last night and almost spoiled everything.

Peter did only want to talk, that part was true, but he wasn't sure how much he might've admitted to her in his state last night. It was lucky that he ended up talking this morning, after sobering up. With the way things had been going between him and Assumpta these days, one more false move and he might lose her friendship forever.

Peter got to the door and knocked. It was yanked open by Fr. Mac himself, not his housekeeper.

"Fr. Mac?" Peter asked upon seeing the expression on his face. "Are you all right? Are you ill?"

"Fuming is a more accurate description. I've just had a call from the Bishop. You'd better get inside now before I loose my patience with you out here in front of everyone…Not that creating scandal isn't a specialty of yours, apparently."

Peter was seated as Fr. Mac poured himself a large whiskey and didn't offer Peter any.

"I'm sure you're aware of the public's poor opinion of the Church covering up accusations made against priests. In an attempt to make the public happy by way of making up for the failures of the past, the Church has implemented a new system to deal with any priest who has been accused of any sort of misconduct."

Fr. Mac took a swig of whiskey and continued. "That priest is released of his responsibilities, his vows, his collar immediately. If he wishes to fight the accusation, the priest may be reinstated at such time as the accusations are cleared up."

Peter looked baffled. "But why are you telling me this?"

"Because a young woman spoke to the Bishop this morning and stated that you had an affair with her and unknowingly fathered her son."

"What?" Peter was shocked and outraged. It was impossible.

Fr. Mac took a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm himself and sat down at his desk. He picked up a small piece of paper and scanned it over before continuing. "Jenny Clark, do you know her?"

"Yes, from Manchester," Peter said, still looking baffled.

"Well, she came to the bishop this morning with a little boy, and she claims it is your son." Fr. Mac scowled at Peter.

"That's impossible! I never, NEVER did anything with her!" This was only a partial lie, after all, the whole reason Peter came to Ballyk was to put distance between him and Jenny, to stop anything else from happening.

"Calm down!" Fr. Mac snapped. "We shall discuss this with the Bishop this evening. He will be coming down here along with Miss Clark." He glared at Peter. "Until then, it seems that your problems of finding a place to hold mass are over."


 A few hours later Peter was back in Fr. Mac's office, this time along with the bishop and Jenny, who was holding her little boy on her lap.

`He really is quite cute,' Peter thought. `But obviously not mine…'

"…There's really only one thing that can be done to make sure," the Bishop was saying. "Not that we don't trust your word, my dear." He smiled kindly at Jenny. "We just need to be absolutely sure."

Peter tried to bite down his growing disgust that nothing he could say would change their minds. "But, parentage tests can take months to go through."

"Well, we'll just have to get it done as soon as possible won't we?" Fr. Mac said with a disapproving look at Peter.

On the way out Peter took Jenny aside. "What are you trying to accomplish by doing this?"

"I'm not trying to do anything," Jenny said, shifting the sleeping Danny against her hip.

"I'm not his father, you know that!" Peter hissed.

"Your girlfriend at the pub saw us that night, don't you remember?" Jenny said. "Who's to say what happened after she left?" Peter didn't like the glimmer in Jenny's eyes.

"She's not my girlfriend," Peter muttered. "Besides, I've got plenty of witnesses, including her, to prove I spent the night at the pub."

"One hour," Jenny said.


"That's all it takes, one hour, maybe less." Jenny smiled a sickly sweet smile and went off in search of a cab.


"Peter headed back up to Cilldargan, then?" Brendan asked, taking his usual seat at the bar and unfolding his paper with a flourish.

"Yep, his boss needed another word with him." Assumpta brought over a pint and set it in front of Brendan.

"Suppose it's about the fire? Or something else?" Brendan asked, eyeing Assumpta over the top of the newspaper.

"How would I know?" Assumpta snapped. Truth be told she was quite worried about Peter. He'd been in only briefly and he'd seemed nervous and preoccupied, only giving half answers to any questions that were asked of him.

The door opened and Peter entered, wearing the civvies he'd changed to earlier and looking bedraggled and angry. He slouched over and sat down at the bar.

"What did Fr. Mac do to you?" Assumpta asked. Peter glared at her and took several deep breaths.

"Do you ever feel like everything that could possibly go wrong is?" he asked.

Assumpta frowned. "What's happened now?"

"You'll probably find out soon enough," Peter said, standing up again. "I'm going up to my room, I'll see you later."

Assumpta watched him head upstairs with a worried expression on her face. She turned and looked at Brendan with raised eyebrows.

Brendan sighed and set down his paper. "Shall I go up and have a word with him?"

"No, I think he wants to be alone right now," Assumpta said, turning back to her work. Brendan went back to reading the paper.


The next day Niamh was in Hendley's picking up a loaf of bread. As she went to pay for it, Kathleen said, "Shame about Fr. Clifford."

"Sorry?" Niamh looked up at her.

"Have you not heard?" Kathleen looked very pleased to be able to pass around another juicy piece of gossip. "Fr. Macanally was in here earlier, and he told me that Fr. Clifford most likely won't be coming back."

Niamh was shocked. "Why?"

Kathleen gave her a knowing smile. She was obviously enjoying this very much. "Now, Fr. Mac didn't give me any details, but it has something to do with a woman Fr. Clifford knew from England. They had an affair of some sort, and now she turns up with a little boy who apparently is Fr. Clifford's son."

"Oh my God…" For some strange reason Niamh found herself wondering how Assumpta was going to take this news. Niamh shook her head. "I never would have expected it."

Kathleen raised her eyebrows in an expression that clearly said, `I would have.'

A short while later Niamh entered Fitzgerald's. The pub was mostly empty, but the regulars were all sitting at their usual end of the bar, with the addition of Peter who was sitting glumly next to Brendan. Assumpta was busy cleaning off the taps, and Niamh made her way over to Assumpta.

"Assumpta, I need to talk to you," Niamh said in a low voice.

Assumpta frowned. "What's the matter?"

"It's about Fr. Clifford," Niamh said ever quieter, casting a glance towards the other end of the bar. Assumpta raised her eyebrows and the two went into the kitchen.

"So what is it?" Assumpta asked, leaning against the stove and folding her arms over her chest.

"I heard from Kathleen what the matter is."

"Oh big surprise." Assumpta rolled her eyes. "Well?"

"Some young lady turned up, claiming that Fr. Clifford was the father of her son." Niamh said, "Like they had an affair or something."

Assumpta stared blankly at her. "Who?"

"Some girl he knew from England."

Assumpta immediately thought of the girl that had come looking for Peter a couple years ago. She remembered walking in on their candlelight dinner…. Disgust and jealousy seemed to writhe in Assumpta's stomach. She tried to keep her face as blank as possible, but apparently that didn't work too well for Niamh gave her a questioning look.


"What?" Assumpta's voice was snappy. Niamh shook her head. Assumpta let out an exasperated sigh and stalked back out into the bar area. Looking over at the other end of the bar, she saw Peter watching her. For a long, painful moment, she held his gaze, before turning away.

As the night went on the pub filled up and Assumpta stayed very busy serving her customers, but her mind was in another world. It tossed and turned trying to process what it simply wouldn't grasp.

Initially, Assumpta's knee-jerk reflex was to think it couldn't possibly be true. Peter was a good priest and he firmly believed in his faith and his vows. He wouldn't do anything to destroy it.

But as Assumpta poured pints that image of a rainy evening and only a candle on the table between Peter and Jenny kept flashing like lightening over and over in Assumpta's head. When Peter eventually turned up at the pub that night, hours had passed and he was very distressed- or was it guilt? Assumpta began to think logically that something intimately romantic could well have happened that night.

Ambrose came into the pub and Brian caught his eye. "Ambrose, haven't seen much of you. How's the investigation coming?"

Ambrose sat at the table across from his father-in-law and adjusted his jacket so it was straight and free of wrinkles. He'd been meaning to talk to Brian all day.

Ambrose asked, "Liam and Donal said anything to you about the fire?" Brian met his eyes and Ambrose said, "Right. I think I'd better buy a round before we have this conversation."

Brian indicated to Assumpta. She had been dim-witted all night so his hand gesture was a little more obvious than usual.

Assumpta took orders from Brian and Ambrose, filled them, and delivered them. But all while, she'd been putting two and two together- why else would a priest be transferred from Manchester to no-where-Ireland? He was being punished. Peter must have been caught doing something with Jenny back in England. Maybe it was still going on when Jenny came to visit….

Assumpta's stomach turned again, it seemed it had been doing that all night long, and now it ached to the point that she felt sick. There was, after all, evidence to prove the unbelievable. Peter had a son.

Brendan drank his pint curiously slow. He only did that when his night wasn't about fun, it was about deep contemplation.

Brendan was pretending that he was engaged in the conversations with his friends but in reality, he was worried and pondering. He'd heard the rumor like all the others had. But Brendan didn't want to say something to Peter until the young priest was ready to talk.

Which Peter clearly wasn't, he sat next to Siobhan pretending to be involved in the conversations, much the same as Brendan. Peter's shoulders were drooped forward, as if in defeat and he wasn't doing a decent acting job at all.

Padraig, always the one to forget all about holding his opinions in once he had a few, suddenly said what they were all thinking. "Father, you should know rumors are going round about you."

Peter sighed. He wondered how long it would take before the rumor mill would spin. He'd hoped for at least a few days to get his handle on the situation before having to face everyone else about this.

"Well, you might as well hear the other side." Peter looked weary. "Not that I suppose that's going to change minds or stop the rumors."

As he spoke, Brendan glanced across the room at Assumpta delivering drinks to a group of women playing cards and giggling.

Peter lowered his head and said, "An old friend has told the Bishop that she and I… she has a son and claims I'm the father." Peter was numb inside. Cold, dark, empty, and not even a hint of emotion surfaced even as he spoke the words out loud for the first time. "But I'm not."

Brendan countered, "Peter, we believe you. You wouldn't lie."

"Thanks, Brendan." Peter raised his glass to take a sip but didn't feel like having any more. So he put it back down on the bar. His shoulders slumped even more.

Assumpta carried a handful of dishes into the kitchen. She felt wounded and letdown. Assumpta always believed that perhaps Peter loved her but his vows kept him from expressing it.

Like a life-preserver after a ship wreck, she had clung to that belief for almost two years because it made the hurt of never being with Peter at least bearable. Assumpta had faith that he shared her feelings and shared her loss because of them.

But now, Assumpta realized Peter had broken those vows. Yet it wasn't with her, because she obviously wasn't the one. Abruptly, angry swept through her and as always, that helped Assumpta get control of the rest of it. In that moment, Peter broke Assumpta's heart.

Ambrose felt sick inside for an entirely different reason. He was about to talk about an on-going investigation, which was wrong. But he was tired of dealing with the condescending investigators from the big city treating him as backwards and stupid. Besides, for all Liam and Donal were, Ambrose felt terrible that they'd managed to get themselves in this kind of trouble. He felt he had no other option but to break the rules and talk to Brian about what had been going on the last several days. He felt Brian might have some good advice.

After the men tossed back their third whiskey, Ambrose was ready. "Those investigators are convinced the fire wasn't an accident. The going theory is that Liam and Donal set it."

"Liam and-" Brian couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Ambrose's voice dropped low so they wouldn't be overheard. "They found accelerant smeared on that statue everyone thought was sweating last week. And the fire apparently started in Liam and Donal's chip van so they are working under the assumption that it was made to look like the fire started as an accident but the accelerant proves is was premeditated."

Brian sat back in his chair and considered a moment. Then he leaned forward again and spoke in hushed whisper, "How much?"


"Oh, don't," Brian said and rolled his eyes, "get on your high horse now Ambrose, everyone has a price. How much do you think it will take to influence these investigators into moving the investigation in a different... direction."

"You can't let money serve as justice." Ambrose was having second thoughts. I seemed like a good idea to talk about this but he'd somehow forgotten the things Brian was capable of. Especially with insider information in his pocket, `Martha Stewart may, I introduce you to Brian Quigley,' thought Ambrose despairingly.

"In this case I don't think that is a problem, Ambrose. Look me in the eye and tell me you honestly believe Liam and Donal are clever enough to pull this sort of thing off. For God sake, you yourself just used the word "premeditated" have they ever thought through something in their life? Have they ever successfully accomplished any thing at all?"

Brian sat back again and waved to Assumpta to bring another round, he suddenly felt far too sober.

Ambrose thought about Brian's explanation and somehow it seemed logical. But he was also sure that Martha Stewart's broker believed the same thing before heading off to prison with her.

Assumpta brought round four to the lads and didn't even take notice of their whispering with their heads together. Normally, Brian and Ambrose acting that chummy would have sent Assumpta on red alert. But tonight her mind kept repeating one thing and one thing only, Peter has a child.

Assumpta knew Peter was a good man, the sort who would always take responsibility and do the right thing. He would certainly marry Jenny now and raise their child. Assumpta knew how much he loved children, so Peter wouldn't merely raise his child out of obligation, no, he would be a brilliant Dad. Assumpta crumbled as she reminded herself for the hundredth time that night, Peter has a child and it's not with me.

After the pub closed for the night Peter shut the door and began gathering up some of the cans and glass as he had every night since the fire. He felt helping out a little was the least he could do for the free room Assumpta had given him.

"Don't bother," Assumpta said sharply.

Peter stopped mid-movement and looked at her. He couldn't imagine what she was angry with him about. Except for the fact that it seemed every other day she was angry with him lately. He was getting tired of walking on eggshells around her all the time. He needed a friend and she wasn't being a very good one.

"Right," Peter said, just as sharply. "I give up, Assumpta, what have I done this time? Not gotten involved in one of your political statements or I'm personally responsible for the entirety of the Catholic Church and all its flaws-" But he broke off.

The pub went from his booming voice to silence instantly. After a few seconds, Peter's voice was hardly above the silence. "You've heard."

Assumpta didn't answer she just kept sweeping up.

"Assumpta, stop," Peter pleaded. But she didn't, the sweeping got faster and brisker. Peter came to her side and held the broom, his strength was greater and she was forced to stop.

"Let go." Assumpta's anger boiled, she didn't want to hear whatever he had to say, apologies, excuses, none of it would help.

"You can't believe it's true?" Peter seemed surprised and hurt. "You of all people…"

Now she finally met his eyes. "Yes, me of all people. Who saw you and her having a romantic dinner and what else-"

"Nothing happened." Peter was angry still but also pleading with her to believe him. If he lost Assumpta than he'd finally lost everything and hit the clichéd rock bottom.

Peter said flatly, "But they've sacked me just the same." Tears came to his eyes as the ice inside started melting and he finally started to feel. "Apparently `guilty until proven innocent' is the way they're operating these days. Not exactly the way the Bible teaches it I think but… there you have it." He sank into a barstool.

"You've been- but-" Assumpta stammered. She took a deep breath and looked the other direction. "I did see you two together, having your little romantic candlelight dinner, what am I supposed to think?" Slowly she turned her eyes back towards Peter, sitting down next to him at the bar.

"That was all that I let happen," Peter said slowly. "I came straight here after."

Assumpta looked at him, opened her mouth, closed it and pursed her lips. She rested her arm on the bar and didn't meet Peter's gaze. She felt like crying, like spilling out everything to Peter. But that would mean showing weakness, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.

"Assumpta, talk to me," Peter pleaded quietly. He reached over and touched her hand that rested on the bar. Assumpta jerked it away as though his touch burned her.

"Peter, don't!" she said, her voice shaking. Peter leaned forward ever so slightly, Assumpta felt her heart pounding. It was an innocent gesture, Assumpta knew, but it was just an innocent gesture like this that might tip her over the edge. For some reason this annoyed Assumpta greatly, she was unable to hold back her next accusation. "Is this how you got her? Sit down for a friendly chat and then slowly move in?"

Peter looked hurt and annoyed, his mouth twisted in a spiteful expression he snapped, "Hit me, I'm down."

Assumpta let out an exasperated noise, but said nothing. Peter stood. "Right, well, goodnight then." He stood and headed towards the stairs.

"Peter," Assumpta said suddenly. Peter turned, expecting another scathing comment at the very least, but Assumpta just shrugged. "Nothing, forget it." Peter stomped up the stairs. Assumpta sat for a few minutes after Peter left, lost in thought. Then she stood and got Finn from the kitchen, attaching the lead to his collar.

Outside it was a cool, clear night. The moon shone brightly in the cloudless sky, and the only sounds were the steady rushing of the creek and the far off barking of a dog. Finn padded along at Assumpta's side as they walked up the road towards the small cemetery behind the church.

While Finn snuffled around in the grass, Assumpta knelt by her mother's headstone. She reached out and touched the place where "Fitzgerald" was etched into the granite.

"I've been selfish, mum," Assumpta said softly. "It's just…every time I think about the fact that he broke his vows…It's not that he did it that bothers me, it's that it was with another woman. I shouldn't be…but, I care about him, no…" Her voice dropped to a whisper, and she didn't seem to notice that Finn had wandered off. "No, I think I love him. Sometimes I think he's the only person that cares about me…" She reached up and brushed a tear from her cheek.


Assumpta whirled around to see Brendan standing there with Finn's lead in one hand.

"I was just walking and saw this fellow sniffing along side of the road, he must have gotten away from you," Brendan said, coming closer. He frowned as he saw the tears glinting on Assumpta's cheeks. "Are you all right?"

Assumpta stood up and took Finn's leash. "I'm fine I was just…" She looked back at the headstone. "Just talking to mum."

"What about?"

"Stuff." Assumpta shrugged.

"Anything you want to discuss with someone who can actually respond?"

"Brendan!" Assumpta glared at him, but she sighed and shrugged again. "It's just that everything seems to be spinning out of control…First the church burns down, then…then this whole thing with Fr. Peter…where's it going to end? Alien invasion?"

"Let's hope not." Brendan smiled and offered his arm to Assumpta. "Come on, I'll walk you back to the pub." She smiled slightly, linking her arm through his and allowing herself to be lead back towards the pub. After walking in silence for a minute, Brendan said, "You know, if there's ever anything you need to talk about…You do realize I'll never judge you on how you feel?"

"I know," Assumpta said. "But I'm fine, really." They'd reached the pub now, and Assumpta said goodnight to Brendan before letting herself in.

The next day Brendan and Peter stood by the river, Brendan fishing and trying to comfort his friend.

"Sure the parentage tests will go through, they'll see he's not yours, and you'll be reinstated," Brendan said.

"So you really do believe me?" Peter said disbelievingly.

"Peter, I'm after tellin' you twice," Brendan replied. "If you say nothing happened between you and this girl, then I, and the rest of your friends, believe you."

"Assumpta doesn't," Peter muttered.


Meanwhile Assumpta was in Hendley's picking up some groceries. As she went to check out, Kathleen said, "I suppose you've heard everything about the trouble with Fr. Clifford."

"Why would you think that?" Assumpta asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, you and he are quite good friends, are you not?" Kathleen responded.


"I think it's a complete shame," Kathleen continued, ringing up the groceries. "I remember when that girl was down here. Sinful little temptress if ever I saw one. She'd better not show her face round here. I think she's just as much to blame as Fr. Clifford."

"Or more…" Assumpta said under her breath.

Kathleen looked at her strangely. "You agree with me then?"

Assumpta took the bag of food from Kathleen. "Much as I hate to admit it, yes." With that, she turned and flounced from the shop. She was just crossing the street when someone called her name. Whirling around, Assumpta saw Peter hurrying over. She frowned at him. "What?"

"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry if I seemed to be getting too...familiar, with you last night," Peter said, a worried expression on his face. "I've just been on edge lately and-"

"It's all right," Assumpta said, cutting him off. A long silence followed, in which Peter shifted nervously from foot to foot. Finally Assumpta said, "Well, I've got to be getting back." She turned and headed back towards the pub.

"Bye," Peter said, too quietly for Assumpta to hear. He kept on walking past the pub and turned onto the bridge. It was putting distance between them, this misunderstanding that kept popping up. This was twice now that Assumpta believed he was putting moves on her. Peter didn't think he was giving away that impression.

He stopped in the middle of the bridge and let his thoughts wander at will. Sure, Assumpta's opinion mattered to him. And yes, her support was pivotal in getting through this terrible time. Perhaps he craved her attention more than ever but that was simply about needing a friend right now. And when Assumpta was upset or angry all he wanted to do was help her, listen and comfort her if he could. Hold her until-

Peter lowered his head. He'd stopped his thoughts because he knew where they would lead. But stopping the images didn't end the tingling through his body. Peter leaned against the stone wall and looked down to the river running below, it had no idea where it was going but was anxious to get there. He sighed, knowing what it was like to be that river.

Peter spent so much time and effort fooling himself over these last months. Playing pretend to the point that he almost started to believe there was nothing else in his heart for Assumpta but friendship. Apparently, he wasn't as good at fooling Assumpta. Peter wasn't intentionally making any move on her but reaching out to Assumpta was like breathing- he didn't think about it, it was natural.

Maybe it was time to stop fooling himself, Peter decided. If he could make Assumpta understand how much she mattered, so much more than Jenny or anyone else ever would, maybe Assumpta would start to believe in him again. Fear and nerves rose up while he considered taking such a big step. First, he'd have to find the right place and time to talk to Assumpta. Then the right words to tell her.

After Assumpta left the shop, Fr. Mac came in and Kathleen gave him one of her rare smiles. "Good afternoon, Father."

"Hello, Kathleen." Fr. Mac looked over the shelves as if he'd forgotten what he'd come in for.

Kathleen couldn't hold back much longer, she needed Fr. Mac's opinion on something that had been bothering her for weeks now. "Father, I need your counsel on something."

"Yes," Fr. Mac said absently as he picked up a box of oatmeal and read the back. Michael Ryan had been insisting on dietary changes lately to help lower cholesterol. But Fr. Mac vehemently hated oatmeal and he hated being told what to do almost as much. So he put the box back on the shelf and looked toward Kathleen.

"You see, after the fire I began to wonder. Well, perhaps it was a sign." Her voice lowered slightly as if someone was listening in on them, even though they were alone in the shop. "A sign from God."

Fr. Mac raised his brows. "Could be. The Lord works in mysterious ways."

Kathleen nodded her head and continued, "I think it was directed to me. I haven't been exactly… accepting of Fr. Clifford since he came here." She put a hand to her chest, over her cross. "I wonder if God is angry with me for not respecting one of his priests. It was wrong of me."

"Ask for forgiveness and your penance is ten Hail Mary's. Now," Fr. Mac said absentmindedly, then began to change the subject, "have you any-"

"But Father, don't you see? This tart that's come and ruined Fr. Clifford, it's my fault. I was the one that saw them through the window, I was the one that started the rumors and it was only because I'd hoped you would transfer him away. It was all to serve my own interests, not God's plan." She was getting very distressed in a way Fr. Mac had never seen. "And now St. Joseph's lie in ashes…"

"Kathleen, Kathleen, calm yourself. I'm doing what I can to lend a hand and we'll have St. Joseph's rebuilt once we have the funds. You'll see, things will be back to normal soon enough." At his words, Kathleen took a deep breath and relaxed slightly. Fr. Mac left the shop a few minutes later and got into his car.

The drive back to Cilldargan seemed longer then usual, probably because his mind was overloaded. Fr. Mac was growing concerned for the community and the encounter with Kathleen was serving to confirm those concerns. The whole village seemed agitated since the fire occurred and the dismissal of their curate was not helping the situation.

If it had been up to Fr. Mac, the way it should be, he wouldn't have released Fr. Clifford. That was one of the many things that angered Fr. Mac, the hierarchy of the Church was getting in the way more than ever these days. It came at time when only Fr. Mac, not those making decisions, fully understood the situation, knew the priest involved and the community.

Fr. Mac believed only he could figure out the best solution for everyone and dismissing Fr. Clifford was not it. What Peter Clifford needed was some guidance and help. But instead, he'd been turned away from the church and possibly his faith. It was wrong. And in spite of what he'd told Kathleen earlier, Fr. Mac hadn't the faintest clue how to fix things and get life in Ballyk back to normal.

Later that evening, Niamh returned from shopping in Cilldargan for the day with bags weighing her down. Her advanced pregnancy was making simple things like a trip to the shops terribly exhausting.

"Ambrose?" she called out. "Will you help?" Then she noticed Ambrose in his office with her father.

The two seemed startled by Niamh. They drew apart and immediately stopped whatever it was they were talking about and fell into silence.

Niamh raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "What's goin' on?"

"Nothing," Ambrose answered with his voice a little higher than normal.

"Ah, I should be off anyway," Brian said, walked over to his daughter, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He turned back to Ambrose. "Thanks again, for having a word with them. Tell me if they say anything else about… the matter." He winked and left the garda house.

Niamh turned and gave Ambrose a look. He had a very innocent face on, "What?"

"You and my father are planning something. No matter what he says to the contrary, remember it's only marginally legal at best, Ambrose."

Brian crossed the street and entered Fitzgerald's. He needed to think up all the reasons why it couldn't have possibly been Liam and Donal who started the fire. But before he went forward, Brian wanted to have a talk with Liam and Donal to hear their version of events. So, they were meeting Brian in a few hours time at the pub, but there was no reason not to begin drinking before they arrived.

Brian sat down next to Peter at the bar and said, "You're looking glum," then looked up at Assumpta. "Whiskey for me and whatever Peter wants."

Peter said, "Thanks, Brian," in that half-hearted manner a child uses when his Mum has just ordered him to `say thank you to the nice man.'

Peter added without looking up at her, "A lager, Assumpta, please."

Brian set some coins on the bar. "I don't understand it. You should be celebrating, enjoying, living it up."

Peter's eyes slid over and met Brian's. "Forgive me," Peter said sarcastically. "I've lost me job, house, reputation…I fail to see where the celebration fits in."

Assumpta handed over the drinks and went back into the kitchen. By now, Brendan and Padraig had leaned in to hear where this was going. Brian took a swig before explaining further. "You're a free man now and a healthy man I'm assuming. You should be out sowing your wild oats, so to speak."

There was a long dramatic pause Brian didn't seem to notice. Padraig even had the expected jaw-drop from the shock. Instead of seeing this, Brian was busy glancing around the pub at the available women.

"There," Brian pointed at a young women with long blonde hair, "she's a knock-out, go over and ask her out for Saturday night."

"No," Peter was firm. "I am not asking-"

Padraig interrupted. "Now wait a moment." After the initial surprise had worn off and Padraig began to think it through, it made some sense, "Why not? After all, you're a free man now and it would do no harm. In fact, it might do you some good, Peter. You've done nothing but brood and sulk about the pub for weeks now feeling sorry for yourself. A night out, some laughs, might lift your spirits."

Peter was firm. "A night out is fine, but asking someone on a date is another matter. No way."

"Fine," Brian said. "If you don't like her, how about the one over there with those big…" He cleared his throat. "...brown eyes."

"Brian..." Peter used a warning tone, he was getting a little annoyed now. So was Brian, who was wondering how the man could be so picky after having been a priest for so long- unless the accusations by that Jenny were true.

Brendan could see the situation was stirring up. He searched the corners of his brain to find a solution that would suit both men and most importantly, shut them both up so they could all drink in peace.

As Brendan thought about it, Assumpta came out from the kitchen balancing several plates, and carried them over for a family gathered at a table near the fireplace. Brendan watched her set tea down. Then Assumpta leaned over and said something to the youngest child who grinned at Assumpta and offered her a chip from his plate. Brendan tried not to give anything away as he suggested casually, "How `bout Assumpta?"

"What about her?" Brian asked.

"For Peter to take out on Saturday," Brendan clarified. "Assumpta doesn't get out often enough. She could use a nice, fancy dinner and a break from here for a night."

Padraig nodded in agreement. "It's true. She's been over-worked lately."

"I-I don't think so," Peter said.

Though not very convincingly, Brendan noticed.

Peter was desperately trying to think of a reason he could use to explain why he couldn't take Assumpta out. Despite the fact that Peter actually agreed with them that Assumpta really did need a night off. He couldn't remember the last night she wasn't working. It was months, at least. But the thought of a night alone with her was making Peter nervous. Among other things, it was too perfect of a chance to have a long talk with Assumpta.

Assumpta came over to the regular's end of the bar and noticed Padraig's nearly finished pint. "Want another?" she asked.

"Yeah," Padraig answered and none to subtly elbowed Peter.

Assumpta noticed that and looked to Peter. "You want something else as well?"

"Yes, yes, he does," Brian answered for Peter, rather enthusiastically.

Peter rolled his eyes as Brendan and Padraig tried, but were failing to hold in their amusement. Peter pointed toward the kitchen door. "Assumpta, can I have a word?"

"Sure." Assumpta glared at the rest as she turned, knowing that whatever it was they'd been up to, it was something she wouldn't appreciate.

In the kitchen, Peter put his hands in his pockets and studied his shoes. He blurted it out in such a manner that all the words ran together. "Willyou goouttodinner onSaturday withme?"

"What?" Assumpta's mind slowly processed what she thought she'd heard. Then suddenly it all made sense, Peter's nervousness, the laughs out there at the bar. "They put you up to this. What did they do, dare you, bribe you?"

"No." Peter looked up now from his shoes. "They didn't. It was my idea."

Assumpta crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at him. She just waited.

"OK," Peter gave in, "it might have been Brendan's idea. But it was better then Brian's, believe me you don't want to hear what…" Peter could see by the look on her face that her temper was building up. "Never mind."

He calculated he was about 2.3 seconds away from boiling point if he didn't fix this fast. "Look, yes, they were teasing me. But that's besides the point-"

"Which is?"

The hard tone, now 1.6 seconds.

Peter crossed to her and spoke honestly. "I want to take you out. We'd both enjoy it. I need to stop brooding, as Padraig said, and you could use a night away from here. Come out with me and we'll have a nice meal together."

Suddenly the breath was sucked out of her. It wasn't a joke, he was really asking her. The mood in the room changed, from one kind of tension to another.

Assumpta said softly, "No, it's wrong, we can't-"

"Assumpta," he interrupted, "I'm not a priest any longer." It seemed she really had forgotten and it hit her all over again.

"Yeah, I know." She took a few steps back, giving herself some space to breath. "But that doesn't mean- But I still think of you as a priest." Assumpta gave him a weary half-smile. "It's hard for me to…"

She trailed off and shook her head. "Peter, this may be a very bad idea even so. You're fighting accusations of misconduct and being seen at dinner with a woman can't be good."

"It's just dinner, Assumpta. I'm not asking you to marry me."

Assumpta felt her heart stop for a second, "Right." Then restart painfully, "Just dinner," she agreed with a flat, emotionless voice.

Peter smiled at her. "It'll be fun, you'll see."


After the birth of Niamh and Ambrose's son, the main talk of the town for the next couple days was Brian Quigley's plans to level the Killnashee woods. Peter felt he had enough trouble to deal with at the moment, so he tried to stay out of the whole matter. However, Thursday night after the pub had closed, Peter stuck his head into the kitchen to find Assumpta packing some food and a thermos into a picnic basket.

"What are you doing?" Peter asked. "It's a bit cold for a picnic, don't you think?"

Assumpta glared at him. "I'm taking some food up to Brendan, Siobhan and Michael, they're staging a protest at Killnashee."

"Oh, right." Peter nodded. "Do you need a hand?" Assumpta eyed him suspiciously, but nodded.

"We can take my van up there. Here--" She handed him the thermos. "Carry this."

They were silent the ride up. Peter tried vainly to think of something cheerful to say, and was relieved when they finally reached the construction site.

"There's better business out here then I've had in the pub all night," Assumpta said, getting out of the car.

"I thought you two were against us," Siobhan said as Peter and Assumpta brought the food and drink over.

"I don't know about him, but I'm only against you on a purely material basis," Assumpta replied. "I'm with you in spirit though. So I…we…brought you some sandwiches and some drinks."

"Oh, grand," Dr. Ryan said. "We're being well looked after." He accepted a cup of tea from Peter.

"You do know that the three of you aren't going to make a difference in the long run," Assumpta said.

"Well, numbers aren't everything, Assumpta," Siobhan pointed out. "Remember the Alamo."

"Aye, it was warmer in the Alamo," Brendan muttered.

"One time at university we were protesting a car park being built…" Peter mused.

"Ah, so you were a man of action once, were ya," Assumpta teased, unscrewing the lid of a thermos.

"Will you leave the poor man alone?!"

"Thank you Siobhan!" Peter cast a furtive look at Assumpta. "Anyway, some of the students from the archeology department sewed the site with artifacts. You know, arrowheads, bones, that sort of thing. Held the work up for months…I'd just offer you that thought."

"You know, I've got a few souvenirs from medical college at home," Dr. Ryan said, "should be just the thing." He started back towards his car.

"I'll come with ya Michael." Siobhan said, following. "Get some warmer clothes on."

"Yeah, me too," Brendan added. "Hold the fort for us, you two." As they ran towards the car, Brendan nudged Siobhan, jerked his head towards Peter and Assumpta, and winked.

A few minutes later, Peter and Assumpta had retreated to her van to escape the biting cold of the night. The windows quickly steamed up from their warm breath, and Peter found himself wiping off the windshield with his sleeve to see out. An owl hooted.

"An owl," Peter said.

"I know," Assumpta replied. After a couple minutes of uncomfortable silence, she added, "Look at all that work out there."


"Money's gonna gush up through the floor, Quigley says. Fine, but what's the cost?"

"Nothing's ever simple, is it?" Peter asked.

"No." Another painful silence, Assumpta sighed. "We don't really have much to say to each other, do we?"

"Don't we?"

"No…The owls quite chatty, though." Assumpta laughed suddenly.

Peter frowned. "What?"

"Oh, I was just thinking back to when I was sixteen," Assumpta explained. "There was a priest in the parish who would sneak up on parked cars and shine a torch through the window."

"Looking for?" Peter asked naively.

"What do you think?"

"Oh, right."

Assumpta looked at Peter thoughtfully. It suddenly struck her, here she was, alone in a car in the middle of the woods with the one man she…

 "What?" Peter must have caught her staring.

Assumpta shrugged. "Just thinking."


"What would you do if Fr. Mac shone a torch through our window?"

Peter rolled his eyes. "Tell him to mind his own business."

"You surprise me," Assumpta said.

"Do I?"

"Constantly." Assumpta lowered her eyes. Peter turned towards her, wishing more then ever that she could believe him, about Jenny, about everything… wishing he could just spill his soul out to her. Assumpta shivered.

"You cold?" Peter asked. He resisted his first impulse to reach over and put his arms around her, settling for taking her hand in his.

"Yeah, no!" Assumpta protested as Peter closed his fingers around hers. "No."

"You feel cold," Peter murmured. He held her hand for a moment, staring at her pale skin, then gently lowered his head and kissed the back of Assumpta's fingers, finally holding her hand to his cheek. Assumpta shivered again, this time not from the cold.

"Peter…" His name was barely a whisper escaping her lips. She wasn't pulling away, though.

Peter looked up at her. "Assumpta, I-" He was cut off by the sound of an approaching car. Assumpta shot him one last heartfelt look, then got out of the car.

"I hope you were paying attention, Peter," Brendan teased.

Peter glanced at Assumpta. "I was."

"We're off home," Assumpta called to the protesters.

"Thanks, both of you," Dr. Ryan called.

Peter and Assumpta got back in the car. As Assumpta started the engine, Peter said her name quietly.

"What?" Assumpta turned to him.

"I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"For...for everything," Peter said. "You know I'd never try to… make a move on you or anything, right?"

Assumpta laughed and shook her head. "Peter, we're both tired. Let's go back and talk about this in the morning." She faced forward again.

"Assumpta," Peter said. He reached out and put a hand on her arm.

Assumpta turned back slowly. Suddenly they seemed far too close in the cramped interior of the van. All she would have to do was lean forward a couple inches…Before the little voice in the back of her head could tell her to stop, Assumpta had leaned in the rest of the way and kissed Peter lightly on the mouth. Peter was surprised, but kissed her back before they pulled apart. Assumpta sat back in her seat, staring straight ahead and breathing deeply.

`Oh my god…' she thought. `What the hell did I go and do that for? `

"I'm sorry," she said, turning off the van and climbing out.

"Assumpta, wait! Where are you going?!"

"You can take the van back!" Assumpta called. "I'll walk."

Peter frowned, touching his fingers to his lips. A second later he was out of the van.

"Assumpta!" he shouted at the figure retreating across the field. Assumpta stopped and turned around as Peter came running after her.

"What?" she asked exasperatedly.

"Assumpta…" Peter murmured, stepping closer. Assumpta had the urge to throw herself into his arms, to loose herself in her love for him. But then the image of Peter and Jenny at their little candlelight dinner flashed before her eyes, and she pulled away.

"I'll see you back at the pub," she said, choking down the tears she'd never let Peter see, and walked off. Peter watched her go, feeling like he couldn't ever do anything right by her.


The next day Assumpta was up in Cilldargan going shopping, when she decided to stop at a small café for lunch. She'd barely stepped through the door when she noticed a familiar looking woman sitting at one of the tables with a toddler. Before she could stop herself, Assumpta had walked over.

"I hope you're happy with yourself," Assumpta hissed. "You've certainly wreaked havoc in one man's life."

Jenny looked up at her, cool recognition in her gaze. "You saw for yourself, it's as much his fault as it is mine."

"Really?" Assumpta said sarcastically, then narrowing her eyes: "You know, I'm finding that harder and harder to believe."

Jenny stood up, which had less effect then she'd intended as she was a couple inches shorter then Assumpta. "Or is it…more that you don't want to believe it?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Assumpta asked.

"Oh..." Jenny fluttered her eyelashes at Assumpta. "I think you know exactly what it means. He was mine first. Oh he may have you now, but it's not the same, is it?"

"How dare you."

"Oh stop trying to defend his honor," Jenny said with a sneering laugh. "He's already ruined it."

Assumpta found she had no reply to this. Turning to leave she glanced down at the toddler. "You know," she said, as much to herself as anyone, "he doesn't even look like Peter." She gave Jenny one last hostile look and left the café.


Peter was sitting at one of the tables in Fitzgerald's looking through job listings. He'd been thinking that getting something part-time might be worthwhile while he waited for the rest of his life to clear itself up. It would help keep him busy and also bring in something to cover expenses so Peter didn't eat through his small savings.

Assumpta stormed into the pub with a full head of steam. She banged the kitchen door closed behind her.

Peter looked up from his paper but no one else seemed to notice. They all kept drinking and talking as if nothing had happened. Peter hid a smile, the Fitzgerald's regulars were too used to Assumpta's temper that it didn't faze them any longer.

Peter got up and walked toward the kitchen. Padraig called out, "We'll pray for ya, Peter." When Peter returned a look of confusion, Padraig added, "That you come out of there alive."

"Dead man walking!" Brendan shouted and Padraig chuckled.

Peter rolled eyes at them and opened the kitchen door. She was sitting at the table, not moving, not crying, not throwing things, simply staring off into space. He wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one.

"Assumpta?" Peter tried carefully.

"You were telling the truth." Her voice was flat and almost sounded detached from herself. "And I didn't believe you or support you. I'm a terrible person."

Peter sat at the chair across from her.

She took a deep breath. "I saw Jenny and she was so…" Assumpta started again, trying to stay focused on what was important. "The boy doesn't even look like you."

"He's not mine."

"I should have believed you." Apology rang out in her tone. "I should've not had to see with my own eyes to be convinced- not had to see before I believed."

Peter gave her half a smile. "You've never been one to take leaps of faith."

But the joke made Assumpta appear even more guilt-ridden and pained. Peter jumped to reassure her. "It's alright. I understand how it must have looked."

He reached out and took her hand without thinking. Assumpta noticed again, how Peter so easily touched her. She decided this time not to point it out to him or make an issue of it.

"But you believe me now?" Peter asked and Assumpta nodded. "Then that's all that matters."

Brendan opened the kitchen door. "Oh, good." He saw the two holding hands before Assumpta quickly withdrew hers and stood up.

Brendan continued, "It was too quiet. We got worried about what, or who, Assumpta was chopping up to put into the stew tonight." Brendan exited, pulled the door closed behind him, and smiled.

Peter met Assumpta's eyes. "Do you think they're on me more than ever because I'm not a priest any longer? Or is that just coincidence?"

"Not coincidence," ,she voted. Then stood and filled a pot with water to boil.

Peter asked casually, "Oh, and 7 tonight alright with you?"


"Our date." He hadn't called it that before.

Assumpta swung round and looked at Peter with wide eyes. Plus, she'd completely forgotten about it being tonight. "Right, that." She tumbled over the words. "Yeah, fine, 7 sounds fine."


Assumpta was in the shower and reached for her razor. But she stopped and scolded herself, there was no reason to shave her legs. She and Peter were going out for dinner but it wasn't like that.

Then, some other side of her Brian reminded, "But he called it a date." Assumpta reached for her razor and began shaving.

Assumpta stopped and angrily put the razor down. She was a terrible person for thinking such a thing of a priest.

But Peter wasn't a priest any longer, that wicked side countered. She picked it up again and began to finish the other leg.

As Assumpta stepped out of the shower, she felt guilt roll through her. She should've never had these thoughts of Peter it the first place. Just because she thought of being naked in front of Peter did not mean he ever wanted such a thing.

Assumpta changed clothes four times, still unable to decide what to wear and that wasn't like her. Finally, she settled on a black skirt and her favorite red jumper.

As she applied makeup her mind cycled through all the unresolved questions and heaviness that still surrounded her and Peter. They still hadn't talked about the kiss. They still hadn't talked about a lot of things but here she was going out on a date. With a man she deeply loved. Who had also been a priest up until a few weeks ago and though that fact should make her life less complicated, somehow it was only more complicated then ever.

At least Peter hadn't broken his vows with that wretched woman. Assumpta felt the jealousy fading. But, there was the recognition that being jealous in the first place was certainly telling. Could Peter notice what it meant? Should she just admit to him how she felt?

Assumpta closed her eyes. What happens then when Peter's name is cleared and he is reinstated, she wondered?

Assumpta would then have to go on living with Fr. Clifford in her life as nothing more than a friend yet would know how she really felt. It would be worse than it had been these last years. Despite the logic, Assumpta still wanted to give in now, knowing this could be her only chance. In a few weeks or months Peter would be out of her reach forever.

She was faced with the timeless question, to love and lose, or to never love at all? Which was going to hurt less in the end? Assumpta had no answer. But going on a date with Peter and him touching her all the time, it was all only mucking up her ability to think straight and figure it out.

As Peter drove them in Assumpta's van, he found he was suddenly so nervous around Assumpta that he couldn't find something to say. He'd known Assumpta for years and there was never before a shortage of subjects for them to debate about. Now, Peter knew it was because if he opened his mouth, things might start to come out that he wanted to say to her, but was afraid to.

When Peter parked along the road and got out, he went around the back and pulled out a knapsack, some blankets and a large basket.

Assumpta looked around, they were in the middle of nowhere from what she could see. And Peter had yet to say two words to her… if she wasn't thrown already by this "date" she certainty was now.

"Ahm, Peter, where are we?"

"Middle of nowhere." Peter looked around. "But almost there." Assumpta shook her head, it sounded exactly right for them.

He pointed off to the east. "We've got to walk a ways in that direction."

Assumpta raised a brow. "And we need blankets?"

"Haven't you ever been on a picnic? The other night gave me the idea." Peter began walking and she fell in step beside him. "But I remembered that you were cold, so I thought I brought these along for you."

Peter stole a glance side ways. "You were worried about people seeing us out in a restaurant so I thought of a picnic, just the two of us. But if you'd rather we can-"

"No," Assumpta interrupted gently, "a picnic is grand."

They came upon some stone ruins which looked about like any other scattered all over Ireland. Assumpta knew she should be more aware of these spots for the tourists when they ask.

Though Assumpta had never bothered to take the time to learn, she was willing to bet Peter knew everything about the history and would recite it to her like a school history lecture.

"This used to be a monastery." Peter set down their things.

Assumpta gave him a look. Peter couldn't help but to laugh. "Yeah, I knew you'd do that. But give it a chance, Assumpta, you might like it."

"I've given you lots of chances," Assumpta mocked.

Peter's voice was silky. "And you still haven't decided on me yet, have you?"

A moment passed between them of raw emotion and knowledge. It startled Assumpta. She took a ragged breath and looked away from him.

Finally she spoke. "Alright, tell me about the ruins. What makes this different than the thousands of others in this country?"

Peter laid out the blanket and sat down. Assumpta sat next to him and watched as he unpacked the food and told the story of the monks that lived here, how they were advanced astrologers.

"They built the structures to follow the cycle of the moon and they did research to find out if the stars moved separately or together in a connected web."

Peter handed her a plate of fruit, cheese, and salad. Then a bowl of soup he poured from a thermos. Peter dug into his bag again and brought out a bottle of wine. "I have a confession to make." Assumpta looked at him pointedly, Peter smiled. "I sort of borrowed this from your cellar."

"Stole it, you mean," Assumpta said and then nibbled on a strawberry while trying to hold in a smile.

"It's not stealing if you drink more than half of it."

"Planning to get me langered and then take advantage?" she teased.

Peter opened the cork, shrugged and mocked deadpan, "Whatever works."

Assumpta steered the subject back. "How do you know so much about this place?"

"I come here a lot." Peter handed her a glass and poured one for himself. He clicked Assumpta's glass and then took a sip.

"It's nice," Peter said about the wine. Then he looked up at the sky. "I come here to see the stars. It is best away from the village lights."

"Just like the monks." Assumpta locked eyes with him over her wine glass as she took her first sip.

"I studied it in school, actually." Peter scooted closer to her and pointed to the sky. "There." He gestured. "See those three stars right along there? That's Orion's belt."

Peter leaned into her ear and moved his hand across her line of vision further and circled a cluster of stars. "And there, that's Pleiades."

"The seven sisters?" She was amazed her voice sounded normal given the way her heart was pounding.

"That's right. Do you know in some cultures those seven stars were considered to be the center of the universe and where all of us go when we die? They've built temples all over the world aligned with the Pleiades."

He was too close, but Assumpta didn't want to pull away. She wanted Peter to keep talking. "I didn't know that."

"They also represent lost people," Peter whispered. After a long moment: "Is it crazy that I feel I can relate to mythology lately better than I can understand my own church?"

Assumpta turned and he never moved. So his lips, which where at her ear a second ago where now invitingly close. "No, it's not crazy. It's not right what they've done to you."

Peter leaned in, closing about half the distance. Just then he remembered Assumpta running off the other night and stopped. "Please don't run away from me. No matter what, just promise me that."

Assumpta closed the distance. As they kissed, she was disoriented. There was no Jenny, no fire, no concerns over their future or the complications of now. It was just Peter and all the things she felt for him. Eventually, Assumpta needed air. She drew back, only slightly and rested forehead to forehead with him.

Those worries all began to rush back in. "Do you wish you were still a priest?"

"In this moment?" Peter asked incredulously, still trying to catch his breath. Assumpta smiled a little.

Peter said, "I suppose you mean more in general." She nodded and Peter pulled back from her, realizing now for the first time where she was going with this. "I'm not sure."

"What are we doing, exactly?" Assumpta asked softly. "In a while those parentage tests will go through, they'll prove you're not the father and you'll be a priest again. Then what?"

"I hadn't thought that far ahead."

"Obviously," she mumbled. Assumpta took a sip from her glass of wine and set it back down on the grass.

"I don't have a reason to stop myself any longer, Assumpta. I don't want to stop myself. That's what is making this a mess for me. But I suppose until I am sure, it's not fair to do this to you."

"It isn't fair," she said. Peter began to move further away, but Assumpta put a hand to his cheek.

Peter closed his eyes. Assumpta's hand on his skin, her lips still so close, it was just too hard to fight any longer. He'd fought so many things lately that he had no strength left. Peter wanted her even if it wasn't fair and it wasn't right and he didn't know what the future would hold. That's when the guilt washed in. "You're right. I'm sorry, I care for you but that's no excuse to make things difficult. I care for you too much, that is why it is wrong."

"It's not wrong," Assumpta reminded, as much for him as for herself. "You're not a priest." She was trying to keep her heart still. "For now, at least."

He seemed pained by this but didn't pull away when Assumpta kissed him again. It was only a peck but Peter melted into the sensation of her. He put a hand on the back of Assumpta's head to keep her there. The kiss deepened and sweetened, but they were interrupted when thunder and lightening streaked across the sky.

Assumpta pulled herself together. "We should get back before the weather turns."


Assumpta looked to her right and saw the flames leap up the wall. The room was filled with smoke and she couldn't breathe. She dropped to her knees and called out, "Peter!" But her voice was weak from the smoke choking her throat.

She looked to the left, the cross and statues made her realize she was in a church, St. Joseph's. The heat from the fire was making her skin hot and Assumpta began to panic.

"Peter," she called again, desperately.

"I'm here," she heard Peter say, but couldn't see him.

Then Assumpta saw a window cracked open in the sacristy. She crawled on her hands and knees toward it. As she got closer she heard Peter on the other side of the window. "Assumpta, come here though the window, you'll be safe."

She climbed through with Peter's help and he held her close as the fire burned the church to the ground.

Assumpta woke with tears streaming down her cheeks. She wiped them and sat up. It was all a dream. But the images were so vivid and her skin was so hot, Assumpta couldn't shake it.

Peter wasn't sleeping. He was lying awake thinking, and when his door creaked open he sat up.

Seeing her, Peter asked, "Assumpta? Are you all right?"

"Yes, fine." Her voice was breathless.

"They why-"

"I can't get back to sleep. I was thinking I could be in here with you awhile but… it was a silly idea." Assumpta began to turn.

Peter stopped her by saying, "Don't go, stay here." He pulled back the covers by way of invitation.

She seemed reluctant but moved toward him and slipped into bed next to Peter. "This doesn't mean I want to-"

He cut off Assumpta's concern, "I know." Then Peter noticed she was shivering. "Cold? Come here." And he put his arms around Assumpta and squeezed her close.

"I'm fine," Assumpta protested, but didn't put a lot of effort into it and didn't fight Peter off.

"Or did you have a nightmare or something?" Peter was still trying to process and merge the image of the strong women he knew with the one he now held shaking. His mind couldn't quite connect the two. "Something scare you?"

"You do," Assumpta said softly, "A little."

"Me?" Peter was stunned.

"You really have no idea, do you? What it'll do to me when you go back to being a priest… No matter what happens or doesn't happen between us now, you'll break my heart when you go back."

"I don't want to hurt you." He sounded near tears.

"I know." As much as he could hurt her, Assumpta also knew Peter would move mountains to never hurt her. It was the most complicated thing she'd ever been involved in and probably didn't make sense to anyone but the two of them.

"Being a priest is about serving people who need me and serving God. It's for the greater good. Being with you," Peter sighed heavily, "it's what I want and would make me happy… but it's also selfish isn't it? It's putting my own wants and needs before others and before God's." Peter kissed her very gently and Assumpta returned it with heat and intensity. She began to move her hands over his body.

Peter protested, "My self-control is going to go only so far." He reminded, "You wanted me to hold you and nothing more."

"I lied. Forgive me, Father, for I have-"

He cut her off with a kiss. "Not funny," Peter said and kissed her again.

Assumpta woke the next morning after only a few hours sleep. She had been awoken by a beam of sunlight falling across her face. Rolling over so her back was to the window, she found herself facing Peter.

He looked so innocent laying there, one hand tucked beneath his head, eyes shut, lips slightly parted… Assumpta was reminded of some lines of a favorite poem:

`And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
 So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
 But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
 A heart whose love is innocent!'

But the last line bothered her a bit. If Peter truly loved her and she thought he did, that love was hardly innocent. As she watched Peter sleep, Assumpta suddenly realized how this would look to those members of the community who didn't believe in Peter's innocence; he goes right from one bed to another, one woman to the next.

As if sensing her discomfort, Peter opened his eyes. He blinked sleepily at her. "'Ssumpta." Putting one arm around her waist he pulled her body closer to his, nuzzling his face against her collarbone.

"Are you awake?" Assumpta asked.

"Mhhmmm," came Peter's muffled reply.

"I'll have to go open the pub soon." Peter must have caught the slight tone of distress in her voice for he looked up with a concerned expression.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, just tired," Assumpta said. She sat up and pulled the blanket around her.

Peter frowned, propping himself up on one arm. "Are you sure?"

"This…" She lost her words and had to start again. "This is complicated." Assumpta swung her legs out from under the blankets. Suddenly she felt Peter's hand on her bare back, and shivered slightly. Turning, she asked, "What?"

Peter smiled sleepily. "You're beautiful." When Assumpta just looked at him, he added, "We'll get through this, don't worry."

Assumpta nodded and picked up her pajamas from the floor. She pulled on the top, then the bottoms and stood up. Peter watched her from the bed. At the door Assumpta stopped and said. "I'm going to go get dressed and then open the pub, OK?"

"All right," Peter replied, "oh, and Assumpta?"


"I love you." Peter was staring at her with those big, earnest, puppy dog eyes of his. Assumpta smiled and nodded, before leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.


Meanwhile across the street at the Egan's, Brian and Ambrose were deep in conversation at the kitchen table.

"Oh come on Ambrose," Brian said exasperatedly. "You don't seriously think that Liam and Donal would be capable of planning something like arson."

"I'm only saying what the clues point to," Ambrose said. "Their chip van was parked near the church, and-"

"Why would they do a thing like that?" Brian asked. "They're not the most pious men, but still. If I were looking for suspects, Assumpta Fitzgerald would be my first thought"

Ambrose gave him a disbelieving look. "I don't think Assumpta would be up to something like that. She's too busy being…well…Assumpta."


Assumpta took the chairs down off the bar with more purpose then she usually did in preparing to open the pub. She was just putting the kettle on the stove to boil when she heard the kitchen door open. Turning, she saw Peter standing there.

"Assumpta," Peter began. "Do you… regret… last night?"

Assumpta sighed heavily, leaning against the edge of the sink. "Peter, I don't know. I mean, it probably wasn't the best thing for us to do, at the moment, but… no I don't regret it." In a couple quick strides Peter had crossed the room and stood behind Assumpta. He rested his chin on her shoulder, so his mouth was less then an inch from her ear when he spoke. "Neither do I." His breath was warm and inviting against Assumpta's neck, and she felt herself shiver slightly. Peter tightened his arms around her waist. She turned and they began to kiss, pressing their bodies together, letting the feelings travel freely between them.

Niamh left her post listening in on her father and Ambrose's conversation and stormed across the road, into the pub, and through the door of the kitchen. "My Dad and Ambrose are up to something and I-"

Assumpta and Peter jumped apart. Niamh looked at Assumpta, then at Peter, then back to Assumpta.

Assumpta said, "Ah, thanks, for um, helping me to find the contact lens in my eye, Father, I appreciate-"

Niamh turned and walked out.

Peter looked at Assumpta with an amused expression. "Contact lens?"

Assumpta closed her eyes and admitted, "I panicked."

"I'd say. You called me Father."

"Did I?" Assumpta winced. "I suppose I feel guilty."

"You have no reason to." Peter pulled Assumpta back into an embrace.

"I didn't know what to say, we hadn't even talked about what's happening between us, let alone what we're going to tell other people… I have no idea what Niamh's thinking now."

"I'll go and talk to her."

Peter exited the pub and walked down the road on a bright, crisp morning. He saw Niamh in the middle of the bridge looking down into the river. It seemed all of Ballyk had the same favorite spot for deep thoughts.

Peter had offered to go after Niamh because he assumed if there was one of the two that Niamh was angry with, it was certainly Assumpta. Peter was shocked when Niamh's anger was directed at him. "Are you sleeping with her?"

Peter stammered to answer the question that was so unexpected. "I- I don't think that's any of you business, Niamh."

"Oh, you don't think, do you? I'm the only thing closest to family she has left. I care about Assumpta and I don't want to see her broken hearted. But she's been falling for you almost since the day you showed up here-"

"She told you that?"

"She didn't have to. I've got eyes, haven't I? And I know that girl better than she knows herself sometimes. Another man, even Leo, couldn't turn Assumpta's head ever since she's known you. Don't you dare hurt her, Peter Clifford! Assumpta's had enough pain in her life. If you're going back to the church eventually, fine, in the meantime don't be leading her down a path you don't intend to follow through with." Niamh turned on a heel and marched off.


Jenny got off the bus and crossed the street. She transferred Danny from one hip to the other as she worked up the courage to open the pub door. She figured on Peter getting angry initially. By now, Jenny hoped Peter had calmed down so they could have a talk. She knew Peter loved her and he loved kids, so Jenny believed that in time, he would see that all of them together as a family would make everyone happy.

Sure, Peter wasn't the father but he would make a fantastic Daddy, much better than that unemployed, lazy, idiot Bart she was always leaving but always coming back to.

The problem now was that they had two children together and though Jenny was ready to take responsibility and be a parent, Bart was not. Bart wasn't the type to adore Sarah in a frilly dress or teach Danny how to play football or help with schoolwork. Jenny thought snidely, Bart probably didn't make it past grade 5 himself.

She looked at her son, who put his head down on her shoulder. Jenny knew what she'd done was wrong but she firmly believed that it was best for Danny and for Sarah.

She knew Peter wasn't going to be satisfied being a priest forever and for that reason, this was best for Peter as well. He could finally have the things that would really make him happy, a loving wife, wonderful son and daughter who would adore Peter, and what man wouldn't want those things?

Jenny took a deep breath. Now, the only remaining piece was to explain it to Peter and hope that he could forgive and could see it all her way.

The pub was almost empty, and Jenny was grateful for that. She didn't want a huge audience. Peter was sitting at the bar, reading a newspaper. An older man was sitting next to him, drinking a pint of stout and doing the crossword. The door to the kitchen opened and Assumpta came out. When she saw Jenny, her eyes flashed with anger.

"What are you doing here?" Assumpta snapped. Peter and Brendan both looked up, Peter's face darkening.

"I came to find Peter," Jenny said, her voice at its usual sickly sweet tone. "Surely you're not going to bar me for that, Assumpta."

"I just might," Assumpta muttered under her breath.

"Jenny," Peter said exasperatedly, "I don't want to talk to you."

"What?" Jenny tilted her head, she noticed how the whole time Peter had kept his eyes on Assumpta with a look Jenny knew all too well. Jenny said angrily, "Afraid to cause a scene in front of your girlfriend?" Assumpta's nostrils flared, but she bit her tongue.

"I don't want to talk to you," Peter repeated. He stood up and headed towards the kitchen.

Jenny made no move to follow. Instead she turned on Assumpta. "This is all your fault!" she cried piteously. "You've turned him against me."

"Turned him against you?" Assumpta was feeling more and more annoyed by this naive girl. Her next words bit with sarcasm. "Look, sweetie, just because Peter wants to be with someone who he won't have to babysit-"

"Don't talk to me like I'm below you!" Jenny snapped.

"I consider any woman who hurts and plays the man she claims to love below me."

"Claim…?" Jenny glared at Assumpta. "I love Peter with all my heart! Just because I don't jump in bed with him the first chance I get doesn't mean I don't love him."

Assumpta ignored the last comment. "Let me give you a little lesson about love. Loving someone means that you'd do what's best for them, even if it means losing them."

"Oh and what's best for Peter is giving him over to a slut like you?" Jenny shouted, losing it entirely. Assumpta made a move towards her, but Brendan had leapt to his feet and quickly grabbed Assumpta by the arms.

Jenny continued, "Well you know what? You're going to loose him too! If they do find out that he's not the father he'll go right back to being a priest. An untouchable, celibate, priest! And they'll probably transfer him after they find out what you two have been up to. And if they find out he is the father, he's kind enough to know he has to do the right thing and come take care of his son!"

"Get out of my pub you lying little ----!"

"Assumpta!" Brendan interrupted. "There's a child present."

Jenny glowered at Assumpta, then turned on heel and left. Assumpta stood there, chest heaving.

"Brendan, let go of me," she said. Brendan complied, but watched her warily.

"Assumpta, don't pay any mind to what she said, she was only trying to get under your skin," he said, retreating to his seat.

Peter stuck his head through the kitchen door. "Is she gone?"

"Yeah," Assumpta sighed and returned to her spot behind the bar.

Peter came out and sat down next to Brendan. Silence resumed. Suddenly Assumpta giggled. Peter and Brendan stared at her. Then she let out a hysterical laugh and said, "Was she always that naive?"

"What did she say?" Peter asked, frowning still.

"Just something stupid about you either going back to being a priest or helping her raise your `son'." On `son' she made quotes in the air with her fingers. "Stupid, right?"

"Assumpta," Peter said. "We've gone over this."

"Yeah, well, if that little girl shows her face in here again, I'll kill her," Assumpta muttered. Then in response to the skeptical looks of the other two: "I'm not kidding," she declared and stalked off to the kitchen.

"She said the same thing about Ambrose one time," Brendan said, a twinkle in his eye.

Peter chewed his lip for a moment then got to his feet. "I'll be right back." He headed towards the door.

Once outside he spotted Jenny standing on the bridge, her son sitting on the wall with Jenny's arm around him to keep him from falling. Peter walked over.

"Jenny, you have lost, why don't you give up?" he asked, not looking at her.

When Jenny spoke she let the emotion show through. "Peter, I love you. I always have. Ever since you first came to my parish…the way you talked, how you always listened to peoples problems. You cared about me in a way no one else ever did…at least I thought you did."

Peter sighed and ran a hand over his head. "Jenny…I admit I was giving you signals that I shouldn't have. But I was just out of seminary school…it was my first real assignment. And you were…are…a lovely young woman."

"So you're saying what you felt was just…lust?" Jenny asked.

"Yes. That's about it." It was harsh, but Peter knew it was probably his last shot on getting the truth through to Jenny.

"Lust…" Jenny mused, gently taking Danny into her arms. "I should know all about it."

"Jenny," Peter said softly. "Go find some man that's your age and ready to devote his life to you."

"But Peter, I want you!" Jenny was sounding very much like a whiny little girl. "I want you to be with me, I want to be with you."

"You're not getting this, are you?" Peter hissed, feeling anger rising within him. "I love Assumpta. As soon as all this blows over we're going to be married. And by then you had better learn to move on." He turned and walked back to the pub.

Jenny looked down at her sleeping child, cradled in the crook of her arm. Brushing back a lock of his hair she muttered, "I hate Assumpta Fitzgerald." She looked up and glared in the direction of the pub. "And I swear I'll make her pay." With that, she headed up the steps into Hendley's.


Assumpta stood in the kitchen after closing the pub, absentmindedly drying the last of the dishes. Peter watched her work, knowing she was so lost in her own head that she had no idea he was even there. Peter's mind had not even registered what he was saying to Jenny until it was already out of his mouth. It was only while walking back to pub after that Peter realized he'd said he was going to marry Assumpta. It was a surprise to him now, and then again, it seemed he had known it all along.

Assumpta didn't even notice Peter standing in the doorway until he spoke. "Don't let Jenny bother you."

"What?" Assumpta turned, looking at Peter with a surprised expression.

"I said that you shouldn't let Jenny bother you," Peter said. "She's practically a little girl, she doesn't know what she's doing. She's just following a silly crush of hers."

"Yeah." Assumpta nodded and turned back to her work. "How did you two meet, anyway?"

"It was my first assignment after seminary school," Peter said. "At this church in Manchester, the one Jenny and her parents went to. That was five years ago…she was only 18 and I was 25. I started talking to her at one of the church functions. She seemed a witty, interesting, and yes, an attractive, young woman. I suppose it's my fault for giving her the wrong signals."

"What do you mean?" Assumpta asked, eyes narrowed.

Peter shrugged. "Assumpta, it was all in the past."

"And here I was thinking that she was just guessing that you liked her!" Assumpta said sharply. "Something did happen, didn't it?"

Peter walked over to her and stood, looking deep into her eyes. "Assumpta, I've told you, nothing happened. We had a couple of sticky conversations, that's all."

"Yeah, so have we, and look where we've ended up," Assumpta muttered. Peter gently put his arms around her, and Assumpta rested her head on his shoulder.

"Ah'm tryin', `Ssumpta," Peter said, his accent coming on thicker in his distress. "Ah'm trying so hard…" He closed his eyes, taking a deep, calming, breath. "Ah jus' wish this was all over."

"Yeah me too," Assumpta said softly. She brought her arms up around Peter, lightly rubbing his back.

"But you know she'll never come between us," Peter said. "Not Jenny or anyone else. I love you, and that's all that matters." His breathing was becoming ragged now, choked with tears. "Even if everyone in the village is against us, we can run away, go live in Australia or something. S'long as we're together it doesn't matter…Ah jus' couldn't…couldn't…" Assumpta squeezed him tighter, wanting to comfort him and never let this moment go.

Peter gently pressed his face to the soft skin of Assumpta's neck, taking in the sweet scent of her body. He wished desperately that he could just stay here in her arms until everything was right with the world.

"I need to sit down," Assumpta said softly. Together they went to the little sitting area before the fire. Assumpta stretched out on the couch, the one she'd moved from the kitchen just that day. Then she held out her arms to Peter, saying softly, "Lay here with me."

Hesitantly Peter lay down on the couch with Assumpta. He rested his head against her chest while she ran her fingers slowly through his hair in a soothing repetitive motion. Peter closed his eyes, listening to the pounding of Assumpta's heart and feeling the soft rise and fall of her chest as she breathed.

Peter turned and put one hand on the couch on either side of Assumpta's head, propping himself up so he could look down at her. He smiled slightly. "We'll get through this. Don't worry."

Assumpta returned the smile, "Yeah. I mean, what's the worst that can happen?"

"My reputation could get completely destroyed, and yours along with it," Peter said, not entirely seriously.

"In that case," Assumpta said, barely controlling a giggle, "we'll have to buy a wooden caravan and some horses, then change our names and go live as gypsies in Transylvania or something."

"And we can have twelve children and live off the land, and by selling hand made flutes and drums," Peter added.

"Twelve?" Assumpta stared at him. "Dream on. Makes me hurt just thinking about it."

Peter smiled. He brushed a curl of Assumpta's hair off of her face, then bent down and softly kissed her on the lips. "I love you, so much."

Assumpta put both hands on either side of Peter's face, pulling him down and kissing him again, and again. Peter strayed from her mouth, trailing kisses along her jawline then down her neck. He ran his hands down her sides, taking the silky material of her skirt and pushing it up to her hips.


Brendan was walking down the main street of Ballyk, trying to tire himself out enough to sleep. He saw a car pull up infront of Fitzgerald's and Fr. Mac get out.

"Good Evening, Father," Brendan called.

"Ah, good evening Mr. Kearny," Fr. Mac said, nodding. "Out for a late night stroll?"

"Yeah." Brendan shrugged. "What are you doing down here this late?"

"Well, I have to give Fr. Clifford…erm…Peter…some news."

"The parentage test results came back?" Brendan guessed.

"Yes." Fr. Mac nodded.

"Well, he's at the pub, or at least he was the last time I checked," Brendan said. "I'll go with you, I have to ask Assumpta something anyways." This was a lie. Brendan really just wanted to make sure that the results were negative. He turned and was surprised to find the door to the pub unlocked. Together they went in.

Peter was behind the bar covering the taps. His clothes were a bit winkled and in disarray but he wore a huge grin on his face.

Fr. Mac's eyebrow rose with suspicion, thinking something was clearly off.

When Peter looked up at Brendan and Fr. Mac, he put a finger to his lips to indicate silence. Now it was Brendan who became suspicious, until Peter pointed over to the sofa where Assumpta lay fast asleep under a blanket.

Peter was suddenly grateful that earlier he and Assumpta were in far too much of a hurry and so no more clothes than absolutely necessary were removed. Therefore, now, there was no obvious evidence of the activities that resulted in sending Assumpta into a contented, peaceful sleep.

Peter was just about to shut off the lights, lock the door, and carry Assumpta upstairs when the two men entered. "Would either of you like a drink?" Peter asked in a hushed voice while leading them into the kitchen.

Brendan was about to say yes when Fr. Mac cut in. "I'm here for business not pleasure, the paternity test came back. It was negative."

"That's good news." Brendan sighed relief and sat down at the kitchen table.

Peter didn't say anything straight away. This puzzled Fr. Mac. "I thought you would be happy, Father Clifford."

"Father- oh, right." Peter's eyes wandered over to the door, beyond it Assumpta slept unaware such monumental events were happening in her own kitchen.

Brendan interrupted Peter's thought. "You alright, Peter?" He pulled out a chair. "Sit down, you're lookin' a little pale."

Peter sat and took a breath. He had joked with Assumpta earlier about running off and hiding but now the real worry behind that joke was bubbling to the surface. What if he ended up hurting Assumpta more than being good for her? What if this ruined their lives in the end? Was being together really worth all those sacrifices she's spoken of earlier? Or was she simply saying those things to calm his fears?

Brendan was growing ever more concerned. His friend had been silent for a long few minutes and seemed lost in a world beyond the kitchen. "Peter?"

"Yeah, Brendan, I-" Peter looked at Fr. Mac. "I'm not going back. Even with the test negative- I- I can't be a priest again." He spoke carefully and deliberately, feeling the weight of the monumental decision on his shoulders as he spoke. For a brief second Peter wished Assumpta where here with him, as support.

Fr. Mac scowled. "You can't be serious. After all of this?"

"Over these last months something has changed, everything has changed. I've had a moment of truth."

Fr. Mac sighed. "I won't beg you to stay."

"You want me to stay?" Peter couldn't hide his shock.

Fr. Mac gave Peter a look. "I don't suppose you care to share your `moment of truth' with us." He said it as if didn't believe in aliens but was humoring an alien-abductee to share his experience.

"I-I'm in love." Peter looked down, not sure why this was difficult to say. "I want to do right by her and that means leaving the church so I can be with her. But it was more than only one thing. As I went through all the trials of these last months, where was my church? Not supporting me." Peter's voice grew stronger now. "Where were you, Father? Tossing me aside like I was rubbish, not believing me."

"I believed you but the Bishop requires-"

Peter stood suddenly, cutting off Fr. Mac's angry response. Assumpta had opened the door. Her eyes were blurry with sleep and the blanket was pulled about her, but obviously the voices had woken her and she came to investigate.

Brendan and Fr. Mac sat at her kitchen table. Peter rose as she entered the room with a look on his face that Assumpta couldn't figure what it could mean. "What's goin' on?" Assumpta asked.

As she came closer, Peter instinctively reached out and put his hand on Assumpta's arm.

Fr. Mac saw what was underlying in the simple gesture. "Her? She's the one you're in love with?" Fr. Mac asked with a touch of disgust in his voice. "I thought it was that other one, the young one with the child."

Assumpta's eyes went wide. They'd been talking about her, obviously, and Jenny as well. Assumpta turned to look at Peter.

Peter started to respond to Fr. Mac but Brendan stepped in now, to diffuse the situation. "Ah, Fr. Mac, I think it's time to go on home now. It's getting late and the rest of this can be resolved in the morning, I'm sure." Brendan changed the subject by asking Fr. Mac about an elderly man from the community who had been in hospital for more than a week. As they talked, they left the pub.

Peter locked the door behind them, turned, and leaned against it.

Assumpta left the blanket in the kitchen and was now leaning against the door frame of the kitchen with her arms folded at her chest. They both looked at each other across the empty room waiting for the other to begin.

Assumpta wasn't sure what to expect, but Fr. Mac in her pub in the middle of the night talking to Peter couldn't be a good thing. As for Peter, he was sure Assumpta was angry with him but he hadn't a clue how to convince her there was nothing to be angry about. Well, other than anytime Fr. Mac was in her pub.

Peter started. "He came to inform me the paternity test came back negative."

She didn't move, didn't change expression. "Congratulations."

"I told him I'm not going back."

Asumpta's eyes closed. Relief flooded her. She was embarrassed that she ever doubted, but to hear those words removed any remaining fear inside her. They really were going to be together. Assumpta would never have to go back to playing a game of pretend. Peter would never be at arm's length ever again. She rushed to him and threw her arms around his waist.

Peter held her with feelings inside soaring, knowing this was where Assumpta belonged, where he belonged.

"You told him?" Assumpta felt the need to double check that this wasn't some dream of hers.

"Yes. I told him I was in love." A snort of a laugh came from Assumpta. Even with her head buried in his chest, Peter sensed there was a smile on her face.

She looked up. "And that was Fr. Mac's response- when I came in- he was giving his opinion on which of the women he thought you should pick."

Peter gave a bit of a shrug. "Fr. Mac doesn't have very good taste."

"That's a very small part of what's wrong with him-"

Peter cut of Assumpta's sarcasm with a kiss. When he came up for air he added, "I, for one, love the way you taste…so why don't we go upstairs and finish what was started before."

Assumpta gave him a silly grin. "We did finish."

Peter shut off the pub lights. "Only round one." He guided her toward the stairs. "You feel asleep before round two started."

"Ah, well," Assumpta teased dryly, "I didn't know there was a round two planned."

"Commence round two," Peter announced with a flourish as he suddenly swooped Assumpta up into his arms and carried her up the stairs. Assumpta's laugh echoed off the walls of the empty pub.


"And it nearly came to blows when Assumpta almost called her-"

"Alright, Brendan," Peter ordered, "enough." It halted the story and the other two listening swung their heads around to Peter, who was behind the bar pulling a pint.

Padraig protested, "Ah, come on."

Siobhan agreed. "I hope Assumpta did get a few punches in." Peter looked at Siobhan, half-surprise, half-disapproval on his face.

Siobhan didn't back down. "And where where you, so?"

"Hiding," Brendan answered on Peter's behalf.

Padraig was sworn to secrecy by Brendan that very morning, but he slipped and asked Peter, "Going to always let Assumpta be the man of the house then?" Brendan kicked Padraig. "Ouch, what're you kickin' me for, Brendan?"

Siobhan tried to hide a laugh and Peter rolled his eyes. Clearly when one musketeer knew, all three knew within- Peter looked at his watch- 8 hours time, minimum.

Siobhan asked Peter, "Speakin' of, where is Assumpta?"

"Still sleeping," Peter answered and delivered Brendan his pint.

Padraig asked, "Wonder what kept her up all night that she'd need a lie-in this morning?" While he moved away from Brendan to avoid another shin kick.

"This is all well and good," Peter warned them, "but as soon as she comes down, you better keep in mind that while I'm the one who hides, Assumpta doesn't."

"No." Brendan agreed, "she's the one who bars." He gave Padraig a meaningful look.

Siobhan changed the subject. "What are you going to do, Peter, for a living I mean- now that…" She trailed off.

"You can say it, Siobhan, now that I'm no longer a priest, for good?" Siobhan nodded. "I don't know. I haven't really thought it all through just yet."

"He's been busy," Padraig joked. "More important things on a man's mind at a time like this, Siobhan." All three looked at Padraig. "What?" he asked innocently.

Brendan took a sip, then: "Since we're on the subject, Peter, mind telling me just how long it is that Assumpta's been you're girlfriend and you've not told us."

"She's not my-" But Peter stopped mid-way through the reflex of what he'd been forced to respond with for years. He tipped his head sideways, considering. "I suppose she is now, isn't she."

"That's the way these things usually work," Padraig put in. "Or is it you prefer the `significant other' that's so popular with the hip these days?"

"How long have you been keeping the secret?" Brendan pushed.

"It's not a secret!" Peter countered. Then with crinkled brow asked, "Why do you need the details?"

Siobhan said, "It's just that after all these years of us havin' to confess to you, the switch is nice."

Peter made a face. "Don't you lot ever bog off?"

"Oh dear god!" Brendan cried. "She's rubbing off on you all ready!" They all laughed.

"Anyway," Peter said forcefully, "one of you keep an eye on the till, I'm going to get her ladyship up."

"Good luck," Brendan said. "The last time Niamh tried to do that Assumpta nearly bit her head off."

Peter rolled his eyes and went upstairs, slipping quietly into Assumpta's room.

Assumpta lay on her back beneath the flowered duvet. Her head was turned to one side, her hand resting on the pillow next to it. A lock of her hair had fallen over her mouth and fluttered with each breath.

" `Ssumpta…" Peter said quietly, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Time to wake up, love." He reached out and touched her cheek ever so slightly. Assumpta's eyes fluttered open.

"Mmmm," she said happily. "I like waking up like this."

"Not if it's nearly twelve, you probably don't," Peter said.

Assumpta sat bolt upright, looking wildly at the clock. "What?!"

"Don't worry, I opened the pub for you," Peter reassured her, leaning over and kissing her lightly.

"Oh." Assumpta looked relieved. "Well that's good, at least. Why'd you let me sleep in like that?"

"Because you were tired," Peter replied. "I can't blame you though, you were quite energetic last night."


The minute Peter went upstairs, Siobhan and Padraig turned back to Brendan.

Padraig asked eagerly, "What happened next?"

"Do you want the dramatic version, or the real version?" Brendan inquired.

Siobhan rolled her eyes. "The real one."

"Well," Brendan continued, "Assumpta kicked the girl out then stated if she ever showed her face in here again, Assumpta'd kill her."

"Wouldn't put it past her," Padraig muttered, shaking her head.

"It is good to know that Peter wasn't having an affair after all," Siobhan said.

"He might not have been then, but I don't know about now…" Brendan said, glancing upwards. "How long does it take to wake someone up?!"

"May be Assumpta killed him and is busy hiding the body," Padraig suggested. They all looked up at the sound of people coming down the stairs and giggling. Padraig made a gagging noise and Brendan kicked him, again.

"Ah, look, she lives," Brendan said as Peter and Assumpta came into view around the partition. Assumpta stuck her tongue out at him and mumbled something about a cup of coffee.


Meanwhile, across the street, Niamh was in Hendley's getting a gallon of milk.

"Good morning, Niamh. How are you?" Kathleen asked as Niamh brought it over to the checkout.

"Fine, Kieran's keeping me up a bit, but it's no big deal. And you?" Niamh said.

"Oh, I'm doing grand." Kathleen rang up the milk. "You know, I think this whole fiasco with Fr. Clifford might finally be drawing to a close."

"Oh yeah?"

"Fr. Macanally was in here earlier and he sort of let slip that the paternity test came back negative," Kathleen said.

"That's good," Niamh said, sounding relieved. "You know, I didn't like that girl one bit."

"Neither did I," Kathleen agreed, "seemed like a right little tart if you ask me. I certainly hope she doesn't show her face round here. But really, she wouldn't be the one I'd worry about Fr. Clifford having an affair with."

Niamh frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," Kathleen said, leaning in, "that I've heard that while he was on, suspension, for lack of a better word, Fr. Clifford was up to some less then respectable things with Assumpta Fitzgerald."

Niamh didn't say anything.

"Well," Kathleen continued, "though Fr. Macanally didn't say, I imagine Fr. Clifford will be going back to being a priest. And then all we need is a new church, isn't that right?"

"Yeah," Niamh said quietly, taking her jug of milk. "Anyway, I've got to get back to Kieran and Ambrose. I'll see you later, Kathleen."

"Good bye, Niamh."


"Assumpta, take a break and have some lunch," Peter said, sticking his head out of the kitchen.

"Peter, I-" Assumpta shook her head. "The lunch rush'll be starting in a minute, I'll just have a sandwich or something."

Peter stepped out and took her hand. "But I made some soup for you," he said, giving her a puppy dog look.

Assumpta made a face. "Oh, all right! Just for you, and just because you know I can't resist that look." She walked over and kissed him lightly, then cupped his face in her hands. "I love you, so much."

"I love you just as much," Peter replied, putting his hands on either side of Assumpta's waist. He was leaning in to kiss her when someone cleared their throat.

"Ah… sorry to interrupt," Ambrose said awkwardly from the door, "but Peter, I need a word with you."

Assumpta made an exasperated face then muttered that she'd be in the kitchen. Peter gestured for Ambrose to take a seat at one of the tables.

"So?" Peter asked, sitting down next to Ambrose.

"It's about the fire investigation," Ambrose said. "Well, the unofficial side of it anyway."

"I hadn't realized there was an unofficial side of it," Peter said, frowning slightly.

"Well…"Ambrose shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not supposed to be talking to people other then the investigators about it, exactly, but I thought you should be kept informed as well as Brian."


"At first the evidence was pointing to Liam and Donal starting the fire. Their van was parked next to the church and all…" Ambrose said. "But now the investigators aren't so sure. There was some old wiring in the sacristy that could have started it and what with all the candles in a church…"

"It's possible that I left one burning," Peter finished.

"Exactly." Ambrose nodded. "So I'm afraid the results are fairly inconclusive. They're still poking around in there, but they don't think they'll really find anything."

"That's good, I guess…" Peter said. "I didn't really think that Liam and Donal would want to do something like that…they're not malicious."

"Right, well, I just wanted to update you. I don't really think they'll find out who or how it started, though."

"Does it matter?" Peter asked.


Niamh was over at her father's picking up Kieran one night, and Brian noticed how preoccupied his daughter seemed.

"Niamh, sit down a moment," Brian said, gesturing towards the couch. Niamh eyed Kieran, who was sleeping peacefully in his carrier. She sat down.


"Is this fella giving you that much trouble, or is something else going on?" Brian asked, looking down at her.

"It's nothing," Niamh muttered.

Brian sighed, sitting down as well. "I've got enough on my mind to worry about without having you moping around. Now, at least tell me what's wrong so I don't stay up at night worrying."

"It's Assumpta," Niamh said. "She and Father….er…Peter. I know he's not a priest anymore, but I still don't feel right about them. And maybe I just don't want to see Assumpta get hurt."

"Niamh, you're not her mother," Brian reminded her, and then sympathized. "Must be a family trait to not like change much, wanting all to remain the same always, including our mouthy one to forever be behind the bar… But I suppose that's gettin' priorities mixed up. If either of them's going to get hurt out of this, it's Peter. I almost pity the man."

"Dad!" Niamh glared at him. "Assumpta does have feelings you know." She suddenly looked thoughtful, biting her lip and frowning slightly. Then she changed the subject entirely. "They've solved the case, you know, they're ruling the fire an accident according to Ambrose."

"I know," Brian said, far too confidently.

"Like you've heard already."

Brian gave his daughter a smile to cover. "No one needed to worry from the beginning. Haven't I always taught you that everything ends up alright in the end?"

Niamh chose to ignore it all. "Anyway, I've got to go. I'll see you tomorrow, Dad."

"Bye, Niamh."


After getting Kieran to bed, Niamh crossed the street to the pub. Peter was working behind the bar, talking to Brendan and Padraig, and didn't even see Niamh come in. Niamh slipped into the kitchen where Assumpta was flipping through cookbooks at the table. She looked up as Niamh closed the door softly behind her.

"Hi?" Assumpta's expression was blank.

"Can we talk?" Niamh asked, sitting down next to Assumpta at the table.

"Sure, what's the matter?"

"I'm sorry."

"What for?" Assumpta asked.

"Just…for…things." Niamh shrugged. "After I walked in on you and Peter, I sort of yelled at him."

Assumpta went pink. "Well, don't you think you should be talking to Peter then?"

"Yeah, I know." Niamh looked at her seriously. "But I just wanted to make sure that you knew I'm not mad at you."

"Yes, I know, Niamh," Assumpta assured her.

Niamh smiled faintly and looked at her watch. "God, it's getting late. I'll talk to Peter tomorrow, all right?"

"Yeah." Assumpta nodded. "Good night, Niamh."



Assumpta was grumpy and not just because Jenny decided to show tonight and sit at a corner table, her son sleeping in a carrier and her sipping a diet soda.

Though Jenny wore a hard face, it also seemed rather sad to Assumpta. Jenny sat in the corner, ignored by all in the pub and a tiny, tiny part of Assumpta's heart squeezed in sympathy for a mother with two young children trying to make it in the world all alone. Assumpta squashed that feeling like a bug, still didn't justify all the pain she'd caused Peter and everyone else in Ballyk who cared for Peter.

No, the grumpiness had surrounded Assumpta for two days now, even before Jenny showed up. It really had no right. Assumpta finally had all the reasons in the world to be happy. Peter and she were together, finally free from restraints or doubts. The whole mess with the fire was finally over, and the pub was doing relatively well. Siobhan was nearing the end of her pregnancy successfully and Assumpta was relieved and thankful for that. She and Niamh were back on speaking terms and Niamh had even apologized to Peter for her words with him. Peter claimed they were understandable and that Niamh was already forgiven. So all was right, and Assumpta should've been feeling over the moon.

Instead, she'd been feeling grumpy and moody and was having trouble sleeping. When she'd woken yesterday feeling hot, she wondered if she'd been running a fever in the night and Assumpta went to see Dr. Ryan. He seemed puzzled by the combination of symptoms and suggested to Assumpta it was just stress.

"But what do I have to be stressed over?" Assumpta nearly whined it.

"Perhaps it's delayed. You've been dealing with quite a lot over these last months. Maybe now it's all finally hitting you. I can give you something to help you sleep, but I really don't see there is anything wrong with you, Assumpta."

Peter was behind the bar talking with Brendan and Ambrose about something, likely Eamon shooting Brian's partner in the outdoor pursuits last night Assumpta guessed, as she leaned against the table in reception. She scanned the room. Half of her felt like crying and the other half, honestly, felt like shouting at them all to go home. What was wrong with her?

A strange man entered the pub and looked at Assumpta. "I'm, ah, lookin' for…" But he trailed off as his eyes surveyed the pub and then locked into the spot where Jenny was sitting.

Assumpta asked, "Can I help with something?"

"Ah, no." The man turned to Assumpta and smiled. He excused himself and walked to about the middle of the pub and stopped.

"Jenny." The stranger announced loud enough to get the attention of the entire pub. All conversations stopped and everyone turned.

Jenny looked up from her soda and her eyes flashed. "Bart!" She breathed out, not knowing what more to say.

"Why?" Bart asked, tears forming at the corner of his eyes. "Why would you take them away from me? They are mine too, Jenny. I love Sarah and Danny. You must know that."

Peter and Brendan's eyes meet, silently agreeing with one another. "Why hadn't we thought to find the real father before?"

Jenny stood, embarrassed that Bart was making a scene, embarrassed that her life- catastrophes and all- was now on display.

"Please," she pleaded.

Bart glanced over and spotted Peter, but spoke to Jenny. "Him again?" Then Bart suddenly stormed behind the bar and grabbed the collar of Peter's shirt.

"No! Don't!" came the simultaneous shout of Jenny and Assumpta, as both rushed forward.

Ambrose stood and in his best official voice declared, "I think you'd better take your hands off him and step back."

Bart could see he was out numbered. He let go of Peter but glared. "I swear to you, I'll kill you for stealing my wife and my kids."

"Wife?" Peter asked, perplexed.

Jenny looked hard at Bart. "It's not Peter's fault, it's yours. You have no job, no plans, no future. You're out drinking half the time and don't even notice if I'm there or not."

"But I did, I missed you, baby!" He was pleading with Jenny now.

"There are two children who need a father to provide for them. If you can't than I'll find someone who can."

"No." Bart looked to Peter and then back to Jenny. "Not him. Not anyone, Jenny. I can, I can do it. I promise."

Jenny tilted her head, as if unsure, but now really listening.

"I love you, Jenny. I love Sarah and Danny and I'll do whatever it takes, whatever you want to fix this. Come home to me, please."

There was a long awkward moment. Finally Jenny smiled slightly and Bart put his arms around her. Some in the pub clapped their hands. Assumpta locked eyes with Peter across the bar, and he returned a grin.

Later that evening, Michael stopped in and had a drink with Brendan and Padraig. He caught Assumpta on her way into the kitchen and followed her.

"Can I have a word, Assumpta?"


Michael closed the door and looked at her with a blank expression. Assumpta had seen that very look on the doctor's face before. He was very skilled at keeping neutral when he had to tell someone dramatic news.

"Oh, fantastic," Assumpta said dryly. "I'm dying aren't I?"

"No," Michael said. "You're perfectly healthy."

Peter was starting to clear tables since the crowd was thinning in the late hour. He said goodnight to Michael as the doctor left the pub then Peter glanced over at Assumpta. She appeared perfectly normal. Even smirking at Brendan's joke he was sharing at the moment as she dried glasses behind the bar.


As they rode the bus out to the lake the following afternoon, Assumpta was filled with panic. She was certain this was all about to go very badly. Therefore, she had decided this morning it was best to have this talk with Peter away from the all-seeing-eyes of Ballyk.

She'd asked Peter to come with her under the guise of a romantic afternoon together. Maybe even a picnic reminiscent of their first date together. Peter, of course, jumped at the opportunity to be alone with Assumpta and arranged for Niamh to mind the bar in their absence.

Assumpta walked along at his side, clutching at her jacket over her arms. She seemed distant to Peter and he was growing worried. But the fact that Assumpta wanted to talk it out, whatever it was, instead of running away was a good sign in Peter's opinion. It was just one of many ways in which their partnership was getting stronger each and every day. Peter couldn't believe he'd ever be happier than he was in this very moment.

As they walked, Assumpta said casually, "What did you think of the display last night?"

Peter's heart fell a little. For all her progress, Assumpta was still letting the Jenny issue get between them.

"Bart and Jenny?" he asked, not for clarity but to give himself some time to think through his response. "They have a lot to work out but it seems they are in love. Maybe in time they'll mature enough to appreciate each other and what they have more than they do at the moment."

Assumpta appeared almost startled. "Their children, do you mean?"


Assumpta stopped walking and turned to face him. She scratched at the back of her head, frustration in her movements as she searched for the right words. "Did you- I mean, when Jenny first said you were the father of her son… did you even for a second… were you pleased?"

Peter's face scrunched in confusion. "Assumpta, we've been through this, nothing happened-"

"I know, I know," she cut off Peter as her frustration was obviously growing. "Did you think that it might have been nice, obviously if something had happened between you both?"

Now Peter's tone was getting an edge of irritation. "I don't love her, I never did. I love you. You have to believe me." He spread his arms like a man offering himself for sacrifice and said simply. "I love you."

Peter could see the dread and panic in her eyes but couldn't understand how Assumpta refused to take that leap of faith.

"I'm pregnant."

There was a long, stunned silence between them. Neither moved, neither changed expression, until Assumpta saw the fear creep across Peter's face.

"You should sit down. Does it hurt?" he asked, alarmed.

"No," Assumpta said flatly.

Peter was looking around, no chairs in sight in the middle of a valley. His panic went up another notch. "You shouldn't have come out here. Oh, God, we walked all that way," Peter said, as he turned back and saw how far Assumpta would have to walk to get back to the road.

Assumpta wasn't quite sure what this response meant. But it certainly wasn't anywhere near the 53 different scenarios she'd run through in her head. Then ranked in terms of probability of happening.

Peter turned back to her. "You should sit down somewhere and you should put your jacket back on, Assumpta, you'll catch a chill."

"Peter, I'm fine. I'm only pregnant."

That seemed to stop his fretting, hearing it aloud a second time. Peter suddenly let go of his breath and wrapped his arms around her, closing his eyes, reveling in the wonderful words.

With her face buried in his chest, feeling warm and loved with Peter's arms around her, Assumpta finally felt strong enough to ask what she was afraid to hear the answer to. "Are you happy about it?"

"Of course." Peter put a hand to Assumpta's cheek as she looked up. "You were worried I wouldn't be?" Realization broke through and Peter smiled. "A moment ago I was thinkin' I couldn't be happier but I was wrong. I'm happy, Assumpta, ever so happy. You should have more faith in me and that's one of the many things we're going to work on."

"Oh we are, are we?"

Peter guided her over to a rock. "And I'm not after asking you three times, Assumpta."

"I can stand, it won't hurt the baby," she countered, even as she sat on the rock.

"How do you know?"

Assumpta grumbled, "If you're going to be like this for the next 8 months, I'll go mad."

Peter lowered to his knees in front of her. They were nearly face-to-face. He reached into his sock and pulled out a ring. "I've been walking around for weeks with this."

"In your sock?" she asked incredulously. But really, Assumpta was only covering for the fact that her breath was being sucked out of her, as she understood what was about to happen.

Peter shrugged. "I was afraid it would fall out of me pocket or you'd find it." His eyes softened. "I wasn't sure when the right moment would come. But here it is."

Assumpta told herself not to cry as he slid the ring on her finger. "It's lovely."

"I love you, Assumpta, I want to marry you and be with you forever, only you. I know I would always be happy with you at my side. I will always be faithful to you, proud of you, and support you. I want to have children with you and raise a family together. I know you'll be an incredible Mum. I will love every minute of it, cherish it, and be proud at the end of my days that I've been a part of something really special with you. Assumpta, would you like that?"

She couldn't speak so she nodded. Peter kissed her deep and full and Assumpta forgot for a while that she was even on earth still.

Later, on the way back to Ballyk, they sat shoulder to shoulder on the bus. Assumpta couldn't help the happy smile that spread across her face. "Who would have believed it possible? The priest and the publican."

Peter clasped her hand and answered, "Anyone with a little faith."