In The Pub

by Margaret Pattison

A scene straight out of Episode 2.4 "The Facts of Life", with an alternate ending. This one's for you, Thea!

Peter and Assumpta were in Fitzgerald's, fortifying themselves with strong coffee following their sleepless night caring for the newborn baby who had been left on Peter's doorstep. It had been a nerve-wracking night for both of them, taking turns holding the hungry baby and trying to pacify him with weak sugar water.

The long wee hours and the constant demands of their young charge had hindered them from any sort of personal conversation, which ended up suiting Peter fine. He had had mixed feelings when Assumpta had volunteered to stay the night to help with the baby. On the one hand, he was truly glad for her presence, figuring that a woman, even a childless one, would know more about babies than a priest. In addition, he was secretly looking forward to spending a few hours alone with Assumpta. The second reason was one which he tried desperately to hide from himself, though, which was the root of his misgivings.

But now the little foundling was in the capable hands of the nurses at St. Anne's Mercy Hospital, and Peter found himself once again alone with Assumpta. He looked across the bar at her, a beautiful young woman with a lot of responsibility and worries. He had been in town long enough to see that she needed help but wouldn't accept it from anyone. His heart went out to her, in more ways than one. Once again, he shrugged off the uncomfortable implications of that thought. He picked up his coffee and took a long sip.

Assumpta watched Peter pick up his mug, then flicked her eyes down to the cup in front of her. She enjoyed watching his hands, those long nimble fingers, and she found herself fascinated by the idea of what they would feel like, how they would move on her face, through her hair... That was forbidden territory, though, and she didn't fancy wasting her time thinking about it much.

She forcedly turned her attention to another matter, asking, "What was that Michael was saying about you giving a talk at the youth club?"

"What?" Peter seemed to be caught off guard, as if his mind had been somewhere else altogether. He quickly recovered, though, and
enthusiastically took up the topic. "Oh, yeah, well, I was just telling him that I wished there were something we could do to prevent something like last night happening again."

"Don't tell me the Catholic church is going to be handing out condoms with the communion wafers," Assumpta blurted out thoughtlessly, then held her breath. Sometimes her quick tongue surprised even her.

Peter bristled slightly at the insult, but responded politely, "These kids seem to take everything so lightly. It's like no one has spoken to them about the meaning of commitment."

Assumpta goggled at him. "So you're gonna lecture a bunch of teenagers about sex?" That was rich.

The look on her face was so endearing that Peter forgot his hurt feelings. He put down his coffee cup on the bar in front of him and replied in a mock indignant tone, "It was you who gave me the idea in the first place."

Assumpta answered him in kind, "Oh that's right blame me."

Now they were back on familiar territory, jibing and jesting, and Peter returned with, "Certain people think family planning is getting the kids to Mass on time remember?"

Assumpta stifled a yawn. "Sorry. I'm not used to staying up all night with a priest."

Peter chuckled. This was what he enjoyed the most about their interactions: the ease and friendly jostling. More and more, though, their encounters were becoming enshrouded with a cloak of tension and unspoken thoughts.

Assumpta thought briefly about what she had just said. What would it be like to stay up all night with Peter, the man? To be kept awake by him? That was dead-end thinking again. Quite aside from Peter's own impulses, Big Brother in the form of Father Mac was keeping an eye on Peter's every move, she was sure. She gave a short, ironic laugh. "I'll rephrase that next time."

Peter began to feel slightly uncomfortable. The innuendo had already been there, without her making a point of it. He tried to steer away from the forbidden territory. "Well I've got to find a way of keeping these teenagers awake during me talk."

"Well I doubt that'll be a problem," Assumpta said. "I mean it's not exactly gonna be like your average Sunday morning sermon is it."

"So how do kids find out about the facts of life over here?" Peter asked.

"Trial and error probably. But I learned most of my lessons in the back of the Ritzy Cinema. Had my first kiss in there." She looked down at her cup and traced a line around the rim with her index finger.

"Oh yeah?" Peter asked lightly, trying not to think about it, keeping his eyes fixed on her face. They had almost had their first kiss a few weeks earlier. Ryan's Mother. His heart thumped harder in his chest at the memory. He made a fist, as if to crush the feeling.

Assumpta smiled slightly at her own memory, still looking at her cup, and paused before continuing, "Kevin O'Reilly. I had a terrible crush on him. All the girls did. He was a tough guy, you know, but he had the most gorgeous thick black curls. I think we were all just jealous of him, wanted to get our fingers into his hair."

Peter's eyes automatically leapt to the black tendrils around Assumpta's face. He knew the feeling.

Assumpta glanced over at Peter and gave an apologetic half-smile. "Turned out to be a jerk."

Realizing he was staring at her, Peter licked his lips and lifted the coffee cup to his mouth. He swallowed and asked, "What ever happened to him?"

Assumpta gave a short, almost bitter laugh. "Got married and had a bunch of kids. Glad it wasn't me." She finished off her coffee, as if to indicate that that was the end of the topic for her.

But Peter didn't let it go. He had noticed that Assumpta always shied away whenever the conversation got close to her most closely held feelings. Maybe there was something which she was avoiding confronting within herself. He pushed a little. "Why not? Don't you want to get married? Have a family?"

Assumpta looked hard at Peter. He had to have asked the question in Catholic priest mode, under the assumption that anyone who didn't want to get married and have twelve kids was in some way deficient. But the way he had said it, it had almost sounded like...well, not a proposal, exactly, but with more than a little personal interest. Peter returned her gaze, unflinchingly this time. She knew she wasn't going to get away with a one-liner. She thought about it: Is that what she wanted? Finally, she said softly, "Yeah, but it'd have to be with the right person." She had meant it to be the simple truth, but soon as the words left her mouth, she realized what it sounded like. Well, why not. She left it at that.

Her words struck Peter in the gut. He didn't know what to say. The most obvious response would have been, 'Do you have someone in mind?' but he didn't want to, couldn't, put her in the position of having to answer that. The silence stretched into seconds.

Assumpta saw that Peter wasn't going to take up the strain. She narrowed her eyes slightly and said coolly, "But that's just dreaming, I reckon." Then the coolness was gone, replaced by her old humour. "Good ones are all taken anyway," she said with mock regret.

Peter smiled wryly at her, thankful for the out. "God works in mysterious ways," he said cryptically before finishing off his own coffee.