Niamh and Ambrose were sitting along the side of the pub sharing their excitement over her pregnancy. Assumpta had a bit of a break and was watching them as she sat next to Peter who was watching her.
Motioning towards the Egan's, he asked her, "Is that what you're looking for?"
"No, no… Whatever I'm looking for, I'm not likely to find it here, am I?"
"You can find it anywhere."
She turned to look at him and smiled. "Do you believe everything you hear?"
There was unmistakable love in his eyes. "Why not? I'm a man of faith, aren't I?" He offered his bottle as a toast and she accepted.
Father Mac was sitting with Kathleen and saw this exchange between his curate and the publican. He knew full well what was developing between them and wondered how long Peter would hold out. If he were a betting man…As the party was breaking up, Peter helped her with the cleanup again. After her helpers had left, Peter asked her, "Are you really leaving?"
She sighed. "I don't know. This place can get to you at times."
"True. But so can any place."
"I hope that you talk to me before you decide. Please? Can I ask that much?"
She nodded. "Sure. What are friends for?"
[Statue incident occurs as scripted up `til the point where Peter has gone to the pub for a coffee after reading the riot act on idolatry in Church.]
Siobhan greeted Peter. "That was a fighting speech, Father. `Woe unto ye.' I haven't heard that since the Redemption."
Peter shook his head. "Well, really, sweating statues…"
Assumpta was pouring a coffee for him and said, "Ah, simple people, simple faith."
"Simple isn't the same as stupid, Assumpta."
She was confused. "So where does simple end and stupid begin? You ask us, you tell us a lot of things that on the face of it are every bit as unbelievable as…"
He interrupted her, "I'll tell you where stupid starts. Stupid starts with people believing in a statue that doesn't move or breathe, that sweats."
She set his coffee down in front of him. "Well, that's pretty rich coming from you considering what you claim to do on a daily basis up there at the altar."
Peter was seething at being blind-sided. Slamming down the money for the coffee onto the bar, he said in a very quiet and deadly voice accompanied by a look that was ice, "I do not need this right now." He turned and left the bar in a fury. It would be quite a while before he visited again.
Siobhan and Brendan had heard the entire exchange (as had half of the people in the pub). Brendan opined, "Assumpta, that's his vocation you've just kneed in the groin."
Quickly telling Brendan to shut up, she busied herself at the opposite end of the bar knowing full well how deeply she insulted Peter without realizing it until the damage was done.
Peter stormed up to his house, slamming the door behind him. He had never felt so furious at anyone as he did right now at Assumpta as much for what she had said as for the fact that she may be right. How could one question shake the very foundation of his faith? He made himself some tea and proved wrong the adage of a watched pot never boils as he stared at it lost in thought.
An hour later, his anger had not dimmed one bit. But there were duties to perform, paperwork and accounts to sort up in the sacristy so he went to the Church to tend to those things.
Assumpta had realized immediately after the words were out of her mouth that she had treated Peter in the absolute worst way she could ever treat anyone. She had no right and no business saying what she did and resolved that the next time she saw him she would apologize. But he did not show up. Day after day went by and he was still absent. She tried on two occasions to locate him during that week, but he was not to be found.
The week went on with no more sweat from the statue but that did not
stop people from coming in to check on it. Every time Peter said mass that
week he admonished his congregation about the dangers of idolatry and why
the statue was no miracle. It didn't seem to deter anyone. In fact, the
crowds kept increasing further fueling Peter's anger. His only solace was
[The scene of Peter counting the money and subsequent encounter with Father Mac occurs as scripted.}
Peter walked back to his house even more furious than when he left the pub after Assumpta's words a few days ago. He could not and did not look at any of the people walking past to the Church. Once again, he slammed the door behind him and paced around his house in total frustration.
It was then that she left the pub in the capable hands of her assistant, Peggy, and went up to apologize. She spied Peter going against the tide of humanity into his house. She had never seen him so upset, so furious. Briefly debating if she should intrude, she felt he really needed someone to talk to, a friend. She knocked. Peter heard the knock and glared at the door wishing whoever it was would go away. The knock repeated and a voice called out. Assumpta. Although he was trying to keep his anger in check, it was still very visible as he opened the door and motioned for her to come inside. This time he just shut the door and followed her into the living room but, instead of looking at her, he stood at the window hands on his hips fuming at the scene outside.
She began, "Peter, I want to apologize for what I said in the bar. I was way out of line. To say something that cuts to the heart of what you believe in…"
His voice was distracted. "No, that's OK. You had every right."
She started to protest but he continued, pointing at the scene outside, "You know when I see this side of it, of what I do, I sometimes think there is a very fine line here."
She came up to him and said, "Please, don't…"
He glanced at her. "Why not? It's what you believe, isn't it?"
"It doesn't matter what I believe. Having a faith is a different matter."
Shaking his head, he looked at her sadly. "Right now I'm not sure what I believe in…people…me…you." He looked back out at the street.
She had never seen him so upset. Yet, at the same time, he made no attempt to hide his feelings of anger and frustration and almost despair. "Peter, you can talk to a friend."
He finally pulled himself away from the window and plopped down on a chair with hands on his temples as if trying to massage away a huge headache. "This is not why I became a priest."
She sat down on the small sofa assuming the role of silent listener, a role she did not play very often. She gazed idly around the room, waiting for him to continue. When she looked again at him, he was watching her.
"I did not become a priest to support an institution that openly violates God's Commandments. And you know what the worst part about this is? I cannot do one damn thing about it. Not one God damn thing!"
He so very rarely used profanity of any kind that she was startled.
"When I find out who is responsible for this sacrilege…" He did manage
to calm down somewhat. "Look, Assumpta, I accept your apology and I appreciate
your concern but I really want to be alone for a while. OK?" She nodded
[Doc Ryan reports the results to Peter and the episode ends as scripted.]
After Peter lashed out at Liam and Donal, he went back into the Church and addressed those remaining inside telling them what had happened and all but ordering them to leave. He locked the doors and began to clean up. The physical work was a welcome release. He did not dare to be around anyone. When he had the Church back to rights, he emptied the collection boxes and blew out the candles. Sitting in the sacristy counting the money, he felt every bit the false Pharisee, the moneychanger in the temple. There was more money in front of him than the Church collected in the entire year! No wonder Father Mac was so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Talk about tainted money! But he still was the dutiful, obedient priest, he told himself. They demand my silence, my complacency. And he dutifully recorded the amount of donations and obediently put it in the strongbox and silently shut the Church up for the night. But he had no taste for complacency.
Once back in his house, he paced from room to room in fury. `The name of the game,' Liam had told him. Preying on the gullibility of people only to make money. Assumpta was right to question the line between simple and stupid and faith and hoax. He was furious at Father Mac for openly exploiting the faithful for motives only slightly better than those two jokers. I should have taken the statue down anyway. It would have made Father Mac angry with me, but it was the right thing to do and I didn't do it. He went up to his bedroom and changed into civvies. He laid on his bed to think things through.
The phone rang. It was a reporter from the Cilldargen Democrat, interestingly not Padraig, who wanted some information about the statue incident. He confirmed that someone had been tampering with it by putting chip fat on it. The reporter asked if he knew who had done it. He declined to give names only to say that it was not someone connected with the paper.
Peter spent the rest of the evening alone, still too angry to trust himself within sight of Liam and Donal. He also couldn't help but hear Assumpta's voice telling him that he had no right to complain about idolatry `considering what he claimed to do on a daily basis up there at the altar'. She had eventually apologized for insulting his beliefs but the damage had already been done. He knew she would never share his beliefs but he never thought she would ridicule them to his face. Is she right? Is it all just the same thing and I've been too blind or too gullible to see it? He debated that for a time and came to no conclusion. His faith still seemed very real to him. As the night wore on, he became convinced that he had to take action, to somehow correct the damage that had been done by Father Mac. He managed a precious few hours of sleep.
The next morning there was a big article in the paper about the statue pseudo-miracle. It quoted Peter as confirming the allegations. It also quoted Father Mac as being unaware of events up in Ballyk. Peter was livid in the way that his parish priest turned the words around so he would still come out looking squeaky clean. At least, that was how Peter saw it. He sat down at his desk and collected his thoughts on paper. When the letter was finally finished, he enclosed it in an envelope and went to go mail it. It was then he realized the time, 3:45 Monday, just fifteen minutes before confession. He had not even gotten dressed yet. How time flew! After confession, he went for a walk to mail the letter and ended up in Fitzgerald's for dinner. Assumpta was surprised to see him and even more surprised when he just sat by himself quietly sipping his beer. When she served his dinner, she sat down for a brief time across from him to try and find out what was obviously bothering him. He just evaded her questions and finally, she let him be. He turned down a few invitations to join people and quickly left. She did not see him go and wondered what was going on, but it was a busy night and she could not leave to find out.
Peter knew full well what the aftermath of his letter would be. When it hit the paper two days later, he was immediately summoned to Father Mac's office. The battle was engaged.
"Well, Father Clifford, I asked you here to find out what your plans are."
He feigned innocence. "Plans for what, Father?"
"In what regard?"
"You tell me." Father Mac sat comfortably back in his chair, an amused expression on his face. Before Peter could answer, they were interrupted by a phone call. It was Bishop Costello calling to discuss what to do about the situation. The phone call ended and Father Mac turned back to Peter.
"No doubt you heard that was the Bishop."
"He supports what I was starting to tell you about your action. You defied the authority of the Church and must suffer the consequences."
"Father, I was only doing what I saw was right."
"That is no excuse, Father. You were wrong. You went against my very instructions and publicly took a stand against me. You broke your promise of obedience to the Church that you made when you were ordained. That is not allowed."
He paused before he said, "I have no regrets."
"Then perhaps you had better think about this then. I have also had reports about your late night departures from Fitzgerald's." Father Mac had the air of a leopard about to capture his prey.
Peter was confused. "What?"
Father Mac smiled, "Inappropriate conduct, Father Clifford."
"I've done nothing wrong. What kind of conduct are we talking about?"
"Being too friendly with a woman."
"Who is it I am too friendly with, Father?"
"Oh, come now. Assumpta Fitzgerald."
"Father, we discussed this…"
"As I said, we live in a small community, Father. People notice things. People notice when my curate leaves the pub at all hours of the morning."
"Father, Assumpta and I are friends. I have given you my word that nothing has happened. That is still the case." And after her crack about my faith, I doubt that anything ever will.
"Oh, yes, I know you can resist temptation until hell freezes over, but I have to consider appearances as well. Your behavior in this regard leaves much to be desired. Therefore I ask you again what your plans are."
Peter was still dumbfounded and uncharacteristically at a loss for words. "Father, I did nothing wrong."
"Your actions alone give the impression of misconduct." Peter started to say something but Father Mac just glared at him. "That behavior coupled with your letter leads me to only one action --- you will be transferred out of this parish."
Peter sat there in stunned silence. He knew that this time Father Mac was holding all the cards. It has finally come to this.
Finally, in a quiet voice, he asked, "Where, Father?"
"Very well, I will tell you what lies in store for you. You are being transferred effective the first of next month. There are three choices --- you could go back to England, to your home parish; you could accept a posting to another parish in Ireland; you could accept a posting in Dublin at the Archdiocese. The option that is not open to you is to remain as curate of St. Joseph's. You will leave Cilldargen parish. Do I make myself clear?"
This was very hard for Peter to swallow. "Father, how can you do this? I enjoy Ballyk. The people there signed a petition wanting me to stay. How can you transfer me?"
"Easily. I've just said why and how. You tell me where, Father." Father Mac was trying hard to keep his delight out of his voice. He wasn't entirely successful. "And bear in mind one important thing. This will be written up as a transfer at your request unless you protest it. In that case, the Bishop will write you up as having to be transferred with cause namely insubordination and misconduct. Think of the consequences of that on your record."
Peter was silent.
"Father Clifford, you will be on leave from this parish `til the end of the month at which time you must have vacated your house. Kindly let me know what your choice is by tomorrow. Here is the letter confirming our discussion. That will be all."
Peter took the letter and just stared at the envelope. He got up and left the room without even looking at Father Mac again.
Peter drove back to his house. He did not feel angry at all, stunned perhaps. I did what was right and I would do it again. I just didn't think the ax would fall this quickly. The reality of leaving Ballyk hadn't quite set in yet.
He went into the Church to pray. Part of him had known what the price of his letter might be. His days in Ballyk were over, as least as far as his position as curate was concerned. He realized he needed to determine just what, or who, was his tie to the village. Assumpta? Could he, should he pursue it? Would he rather leave the priesthood or Assumpta? It was time to be honest with myself. That was something he wasn't used to doing. He knew he would soonhave to face reality since he was now forced to finally realize the mess he had gotten himself into both professionally and emotionally. Time to get my life back on track. I can't keep going like this. It's just not right. He had kept to himself in St. Joseph's sorting things out.
His meditation was interrupted by the sacristy phone. It was the Archbishop's office requesting his presence in Dublin the next day. For the rest of the day, he wondered what all that could be about and knew that it was not going to be good news for him.
But that meeting didn't go at all like he had feared. After hearing Peter's point of view of the statue incident, the Archbishop seemed to come to a conclusion and told him, "Well, Father, I think it is time for a change. You have made a positive impact in Ballykissangel even if Father MacAnally would never acknowledge it. Both Bishop Costello and myself have noticed and have been impressed by your abilities and your dedication. You have the potential to go far in the Church and I would like to help you develop it. However, I think the relationship between you and Father Mac has been irretrievably shattered by this incident, so it makes no sense to keep you in Cilldargen Parish. Instead, I would like you to come here to Dublin to join my staff."
Peter was amazed. He had figured the end result of the conversation was that he would be admonished for disobedience and most likely sent back to his home parish if not Outer Mongolia. But to Dublin on the Archbishop's staff? It was quite enticing. Upon realizing that some sort of response was in order, he thanked him for the offer and asked for more details. He would start in two weeks.
On the drive back to Ballyk, he reflected on that conversation. It was
a definite promotion from humble country curate to a staff position. The
position also sounded quite intriguing as well working with Youth Outreach
Ministeries. He felt very strongly that the Church wasn't doing all it
could to reach the youth of today. This position would let him correct
that problem. But could he really leave his friends in Ballyk? On the other
hand, the Archbishop was right…He could not remain. Father Mac has finally
won the battle but I may have won the war. He was trying very hard to swallow
his pride although, after all the grief that inanimate idol put him through,
he did allow himself to indulge just a wee bit. But where did Assumpta
fit into this? Characteristically, he shoved that question aside for now.
(Peter has been trying to get himself excited about his new position but has not been too successful. He hasn't mentioned his transfer to anyone because he wanted to avoid confronting his feelings for Assumpta. Brian's construction goes as scripted with Siobhan, Brendan and Michael protesting. Peter is feeling unwanted and unappreciated which is beginning to convince him that it is time for him to move on, as the Archbishop had told him. The protestors are out on the site, at night, and Peter and Assumpta end up out there with sandwiches. The scene continues as scripted until she leaves.)
Peter watched her drive away. Once she was out of sight, he walked back to his car, full of frustration. Throwing the backpack and thermos in the back, he quickly brushed off the items on the dash and drove away to his house. Once inside, he busied himself putting away the food and cleaning up the kitchen. Afterwards, he walked out into his living room and sat down in front of the fireplace, idly stoking the blaze. He was trying to find a way to deal with these feelings for Assumpta, feelings that he could no longer ignore. Try as he might, he couldn't put those conversations out of his head. What game was he playing at? He was attracted to Assumpta, of course. He did love her but he knew he could never act on that love. The tug of war had begun, love of a woman vs. vocation. There had been skirmishes before but now it seemed the real battle has been engaged.
He knew the easy way out of this dilemma was simply to have an affair. After all, he knew more than a few men that had done just that and everyone looked the other way. Even he did as well not feeling at all comfortable about exposing his brother when he himself had the same problem, longing, temptation. Let he who is withoutsin…But it wasn't in him to use people that way. No, he had to do the right thing…whatever the right thing was. Either he left the priesthood for her or he stopped these feelings of love for her…somehow. Distance may be the only answer.
He thought back to other relationships he had had, trying to figure out what was different about this one. It didn't require much brain power to come up with the answer. With all the others he was able to maintain a distance. He remained behind his shell; the same shell that existed long before he became a priest. After ordination, it had been much easier to deal with these inappropriate feelings because, instead of explaining himself, he could invoke the collar. But now? If he were honest, this relationship was different in many ways from any one he had had before. He came to Ireland feeling his wings clipped because of what could have happened with Jenny. He truthfully felt blindsided by her and never did acknowledge that he was part of the blame. The collar should have been enough, but, for her, it wasn't and he almost lost everything. But he realized what was happening in time and left.
He went to Ireland and ended up in a bigger mess than he ever could have envisioned. When Assumpta first offered him a ride that rainy afternoon, he about turned tail and ran. She was so beautiful that she snared a piece of his heart right then and there. If she hadn't been so visceral towards priests and the Church, she might have claimed the rest of his heart. But she launched into her anti-clerical routine and Peter found himself relaxing. No temptation here, after all. So he stayed.
He stayed. They became friends. Many an afternoon, he could be found sharing a cup of coffee with her. Frequently in the evening, it was a pint with the regulars. Part of the highlight of his day was simply talking with her or even just waving to her as he went by on other duties. She had talked of leaving only a few months ago and that shook him to the core so much so that he finally admitted to her that he cared for her, that there are different kinds of families, different kinds of love. At least, that's how he convinced himself it was…Now? After what had (almost) happened, he had to confront his feelings for her honestly and openly which he had never done in his life. What he saw made him extremely uneasy and extremely frightened. He was deeply in love with her and not as a brother towards a sister. More and more frequently, he was finding himself daydreaming about her, wondering what she was doing right then, what it would feel like to hold her, to kiss her, to… Idle fascination?
Somehow he didn't think so. But Father Clifford remained strong and kept lecturing him about controlling his emotions and watching his behavior. What was the point of getting involved with a woman when you knew damn well you couldn't deliver and you knew damn well you wouldn't deliver? You would be leading her on, using her with no intention of committing yourself to her. Then when you were discovered, and you would be one day, she would be left with nothing but heartache because you never will leave the priesthood. It was every bit as wrong as those priests who preyed on children. Your quarry was older and more socially acceptable, but that was the only difference. It was wrong. But he loved her. He wanted her. It seemed to be more than a case of hormones. Was it only loneliness? He was in a foreign environment but felt welcome for the most part. True, right now he felt like he was only window dressing. The solution for that? Transfer somewhere where he was wanted, needed. The Dublin position was a perfect solution. But he really didn't want to leave Ballyk. Why? She was the reason.
And then there was that other nagging issue…If he believed that marriage vows were life long, and he did, then how could he justify breaking the vows he took when he became a priest? They were every bit as binding if not more so… But how could he continue? Where was the strength going to come from? Those were the questions he was seeking answers to. Those were the questions he had not dared to voice out loud to anyone. Those were the questions that kept him awake at night and the lack of sleep was beginning to take its toll on him physically. Could he give up his vocation for her? Would it work out or is this just a temptation as Father Mac would probably term it? The most frustrating part of all of this was that there was no way to be sure. He did not have the luxury of dating her, courting her. It really was all or nothing and he wasn't sure enough of himself and what he wanted to decide.
Finally there was the question of his faith. Priest or not, he would still be a devout Catholic, that much he knew. She would never be. Did it matter? The answer to that was unfortunately, undeniably, yes, it does matter…A lot. It was an endless loop.
Sleep did not come to him that night. He never even went upstairs to try. When the sun rose, he grabbed a soda and walked out under the bridge to sit by the river searching for the answer. It wasn't there either. With a sigh, he walked back up to his house to change and prepare for mass. He went through the motions and soon it was over.
After doing some busy work around the place, he went down to his house to eat something. Then Ambrose got injured and he spent the rest of the time at the hospital consoling Niamh and Brian and minding Kieran. When he finally got home that evening, he ate a few sandwiches and then went to bed managing a few hours of sleep before a recurring dream awakened him.
He was with her somewhere. It was only the two of them. They ended up in each other's arms and began kissing. Passion escalated until… That always woke him up with such an intense feeling of pleasure coursing through his body. When it subsided, though, the guilty feelings started. These were sensations that were sinful, he had been taught. Especially for a priest. These were supposed to have been put behind him, no longer a part of his life. But he couldn't stop the dreams. And he usually did not get back to sleep afterwards.
As he lay awake in the early hours of the morning, he finally realized that his only choice was to accept the new assignment in Dublin and pray fervently that distance would put an end to these feelings, these thoughts, these dreams. There was no other option. His decision had already been made years ago and he knew that one day he might live to regret it. That day had now come. But those promises were made fully aware of that possibility and he firmly believed that one should keep their promises, if they can.
In the afternoon, he finally got up the nerve to see Assumpta for the first time since that night in the car. It wasn't easy but he did manage to put into words what he had decided to try to do about the unspoken feelings he had for her. It went as well as could be expected…until she mentioned something about making the right decision.
"What decision?" Peter asked Assumpta.
She did not reply but left to serve customers. Peter stood there unable to control the varying emotions going through him…shock, sadness, longing, despair. Not knowing what else to do and not having the strength to leave, he sat down on the sofa and thought about her reaction to the news of his transfer. He did not think she would react the way she did because he never wanted to believe that the feelings he had for her might just be mutual. Now, there could be no doubt of that. He saw the tears in her eyes. He heard the tears in her voice. Tears he was responsible for.
Assumpta went to serve Brendan, Siobhan and Michael. It was clear that she was upset about something. When Brendan asked, she ignored him. Padraig started telling a joke which drew Siobhan and Michael in, but Brendan silently watched Assumpta getting the drinks. He had never seen her look so sad. He wondered what Father Clifford had to say to her (as though he couldn't guess) and he wondered where he had gone.
She served the drinks and then busied herself with tidying around the pub, picking up glasses, emptying ashtrays, doing whatever she could to avoid talking to anyone. Returning to the kitchen was not a top priority for her. She really did not want to see anyone but could not avoid it because of her pub.She couldn't believe that Peter would leave her. After all, she wasn't asking for anything more than friendship. Now he was even withdrawing that. She had always respected his position. She treasured his friendship more than anything. Now what? She knew he cared for her. Wasn't he the one who kept talking about `different kinds of love'? He had been upset a few months ago to find out she was thinking of leaving then. She decided not to, mostly because of him. But lately, he had seemed so distant especially since the incident with the sweating statue. He seemed so preoccupied even when they were together in the car. He acted so strangely that night that she did not know what to do. She was very scared that he might say or do something that he would later regret. That's why she left him.
She gathered up the dishes and went into the kitchen. After setting them in the sink, she turned around and was startled to find him still sitting there, elbows on knees, staring at his hands.
"I thought you left."
"No, you did," he answered still staring down at his hands.
She waited for him to continue. He didn't so she said, "What do you want, Peter?"
Taking a deep breath, he said, "I want to know what decision you've made." She walked towards the door. He looked up at her and said, "Please don't run away from me. I need to know. Please."
She stopped at the door and closed it. Taking a deep breath, she turned back to him and said, "I am leaving Ballyk for a while."
"To try and make some sense of my life. Isn't that what you're going to do?"
"No, I suppose not. The Church has your life all planned for you." The bitterness was obvious in her voice.
He sighed and settled back into the sofa looking back down at his hands. "Assumpta, please can we talk?" He knew he needed to be honest with her and himself about what he had been feeling these past weeks. He prayed he'd be able to give her his confession and explain why he had to leave Ballyk.
She sat down on the sofa and regarded him. "Ok, what about?"
"The other night…"
"Peter, forget about it. It's ok."
"No, it is not. You left before I could say what I wanted to say. You ran away."
"I didn't want you to do anything you would regret."
"Do you really think I was? No, I wanted to tell you what I had been thinking and feeling but they came back before I could and then you left…Can I tell you now?"
He took a deep breath. "Right…Well…I was going to say that I am a priest who happens to be in love with you and it scares me because I can't seem to control it and I don't know what to do about it."
Although she expected something like this, still the revelation came as a shock. "I don't know what to say."
"Assumpta, please, this isn't easy for me. I love you but I can't love you. I want you in my life but I can't have you. I want you always by my side but that can't be. I can't even do the job I'm supposed to be doing because all I think about is you. Every time I try to talk to you, I get confused as to what to say and I can't get any words out. I can't get you out of my head…Am I getting through to you?"
She shook her head in disbelief. "Then why are you leaving?"
He threw his hands up. "What can I do? I can't continue like this but I don't want to leave you. I want you in my life but I can't give you what you deserve because I'm a priest and I can't give that up because I can't see myself as anything else."
Slowly shaking her head, she reminded him, "Peter, you're a priest. You're a good priest. I know how important that is to you.You are supposed to be celibate. I did not choose celibacy. You did. Perhaps it is necessary to put distance between us, to see if it truly is what you want."
He closed his eyes. "I just don't know what to do because I don't know if it would ever work out with us. Not for the long term."
Confusion. "Why wouldn't it?"
Taking her hand, he told her in a soft voice, "Because I keep hearing your voice telling me about simple vs. stupid and that I shouldn't be upset about sweating statues considering what I claimed to do on a daily basis up there at the altar."
"Peter, I apologized for that. I had no right to question your beliefs."
"But don't you see? Every time I think about what it would be like to have you always with me and I get to the point of deciding that that is exactly what I want, that voice keeps running in my head and I just don't think it would ever work out with us and I'm back to that damn fence again. Our beliefs are too different and we are both too stubborn to change that."
"Peter, I would never interfere with your faith."
"How can you say that? You don't share it at all. My faith is a major part of my life. It always has been even before I entered the seminary. How can two people share a life when there is an area of major importance to one person that is never discussed?"
She watched him as he spoke. She knew he was right. "It doesn't have to be me or God, Peter."
He shook his head. "How can it be any other way? I'd ruin both our lives and I think you know that as well. And I don't understand why I can't accept that and go on with my life and leave you to yours. But I can't. I think my dad was right after all, I am living in a fantasyland but I don't know how to escape out of it. For months now, it's like I've been holding on to two balloons. They both pull me up but in different directions. I know I have to let one go, but I can't and now I'm in serious trouble because they've lifted me way too high off the ground and now I don't have the strength to hold onto either one and I've had to let both go so I'm in freefall with no idea how to stop. Does any of that make any sense?"
It did, but… "It is your decision."
Perhaps another approach. "When you think of me, what do you think of?"
She almost blushed but held her composure. "That you are a good, honest man, willing to help others, giving, considerate, damn fine looking."
"And the priest part?"
She was oddly trying to keep things light. "Well, nobody's perfect."
The look on his face was all seriousness. "This is what I'm talking about. I would add a little phrase about being a devout Catholic." He stood up and started pacing as if debating with himself which was exactly what he was doing. And he knew how it had to be. What was uncertain was whether or not he could accept it. "Maybe you're right. Perhaps it's good to put some distance between us. I can't continue like this. I can't even sleep at night because you keep me awake." He stopped and turned to her. "I do love you. I wish things were different. I'm sorry." He came over to her and offered his hands for her to stand up. She did and she let him hold her as tears welled up in her eyes. "Assumpta, I'll always love you, you know that. The last thing I want to do is let you go but there is no other option. I'm sorry." He kissed the top of her head and idly stroked her hair before pulling away. They stood for a time with eyes locked before she broke the spell and moved aside and let him walk out of her life. With one last look, he walked out the door and quickly out of the pub up to his house.
It was only after going inside that he let the tears flow. He stayed in his house for a while before venturing out to hear confession and say Mass.
Brendan noticed Peter's abrupt departure and could guess the reason behind it. After waiting five minutes for her to come out, he excused himself and went into the kitchen. "Are you all right?"
She raised her face and the answer was written there.
"Reality." It was all she could say.
But Brendan understood. "What are you going to do?"
She sighed. "He's been transferred."
"To the Archbishop's staff in Dublin."
"Why?" As if he didn't know.
"Because we are too close to each other, Brendan. He's in love with me, did you know that? But he can't do anything about it… Damn it all. Of all the men in the world, I have to fall in love with a Catholic priest! Ironic or what?"
He sat down beside her and let her cry on his shoulder.
Two hours later, Brendan found Peter up at St. Joseph's seemingly lost in prayer. After perhaps fifteen minutes, Peter got up to go into the sacristy when he saw Brendan and stopped to greet him.
Brendan got straight to the point. "Assumpta tells me you've been transferred."
Peter had a good idea where this conversation might be heading but could find no way to avoid it. Motioning for Brendan to sit down beside him, he said simply, "Yeah."
With a sigh, he offered the party line, "Because the Archbishop feels that the relationship between myself and Father Mac has been irreparably damaged by the statue incident and that it is time for me to move on." He didn't look at Brendan at all during this preferring to focus on the altar.
"And that's what you want."
"What I want doesn't come into it."
"You go where you're told."
"And how do you feel about that."
He shrugged. "…That it probably is the right thing for me."
"Wouldn't you prefer to stay here?"
"It's not an option, Brendan."
"But, surely we could get another petition going…"
He was firm. "No."
"So you want to leave then."
He was resigned. "Not really."
"We'll miss you. You do realize that."
Peter finally turned towards Brendan. "And I will miss you and this place very much. I was very happy here but life goes on…"
Brendan was quiet for a time. "Does this have anything to do with Assumpta?"
Peter gave him a sharp look as he wondered whether or not to open up to Brendan about certain inappropriate feelings that he was once again running away from. He turned back to the altar and quietly said, "She is part of it…You know, before I was ordained, I prayed and prayed to be sure that this was the right path for me. I knew what I was giving up but it seemed to be the right thing for me. I also knew that there could come a day that I would regret taking the vows but I prayed that it would never happen…"
"Only now it has, hasn't it?"
A sad nod. "And I can't tell you how awful I feel right now after seeing the tears in her eyes this afternoon. But I don't know what I could have done differently. God, I tried to do the right thing. But I think I never acknowledged to myself that she might also have feelings for me. I didn't want to believe that at all. I have accepted that I will love her for the rest of my life and that I have to live with the pain of not having her…"
"Ah, Peter the martyr, is it?"
A cynical laugh. "No, Peter the pompous, selfish, self righteous ass more like. I allowed these feelings to grow because I was convinced that I could control them. That this was just my problem. But it never occurred to me that the attraction was mutual…well, maybe it did, but I didn't want to believe it. I suppose my dad was right after all." Noticing Brendan's questioning look, he added, "He never thought I'd last. That I'd never be able to settle down. That celibacy would do me in."
There was that sheepish grin. "Well, I wasn't born a priest."
"Tell me more."
He shook his head and laughed. "No, I don't think so."
"So why leave then? Why not stay here with her?"
"Because of the transfer?"
He reluctantly answered, "No, because of the vows I made six years ago to become a priest."
"Other men have left."
Peter looked at him with sad eyes. "Don't you think I know that? I keep asking myself why should I stay when all I feel like is bloody window dressing here. All I do is perform rituals that most people only want because of tradition not faith."
"You do much more than that. You're there when people need someone to help them understand their problems. You're always ready to lend an ear or a hand no matter what."
There was a brief smile at the compliment. "I've gotten my life in such a terrible mess that I can't even see what is the right path anymore. But I know I need to leave here so that she can forget about me and go on to live her own life." His voice had dropped way down and his head and eyes followed.
"But what is wrong with loving someone?"
"For a priest?"
"For anyone. Peter, there is a special magic in the air when you two are together. It seems to have been there from the very beginning. Why fight it?"
"Because I Am A Priest, Brendan. It is not possible for me."
"I don't understand."
"Clearly." He got up and began to walk away then suddenly stopped and turned back to him. Motioning to the Church around them, he continued, "This is all I ever wanted…my own Church, my own congregation, a community to serve. This is exactly what I always dreamt of when I thought about being a priest. I have been very happy here. I love this village and came to consider it as my home. But it's all gone now. I have to go where I'm told…"
"But you're talking about the priesthood more as a noose than a dream."
"Right now it feels like a noose…"
"So why stay?"
"Because I took the vows. Do I break them just because the going is rough right now? Flee at the first sign of trouble? No, I don't think so."
"But you two would make a great couple."
"Brendan," he growled but then changed his tone. "I'm not so sure. I'll admit I've often thought about what our life together would be like and at first it seems so wonderful but it all seems to fall apart once I consider the practical side. What would I do for a living? Publican? No thanks. Ask her to give up her pub? Yeah, right. What other jobs are there around here? And there is that matter of religion." His voice mimicked her sarcasm, "Something about what I claim to do on a daily basis up there at the altar…" He was quiet for a time before continuing in a normal voice. "I knew she never shared my beliefs, but, until that moment, I really thought she would respect them. I never thought she would ridicule them…So, what happens months after we've been together and she becomes resentful of the time I spend practicing my religion? I can see myself leaving the priesthood but I would still be a devout Catholic and I don't think she would accept it in the end. Prayer is important to me. Can you see her sharing that? …And yet I love her more deeply and more completely than I have ever loved anyone in my whole life."
"Have you talked to her about this?"
"And?" he prodded.
"I asked her to describe how she viewed me. She didn't mention the priest part. When I called her on it, she told me that nobody's perfect implying that it wasn't important. She sees the collar but she doesn't realize that it is also a strong part of Peter the man… Brendan, if I thought it would work out between us, I'd shed this collar in an instant. But, it won't."
"You're convinced of that then?"
"That's your right." He looked off into the distance.
"You're cutting yourself off from a wonderful experience."
"This from a lifelong bachelor. Why have you never married, Brendan?"
It was his turn to shrug. "Never found the right woman, I suppose."
"We're good friends."
"So, no thoughts of marriage there."
"No." Brendan was beginning to see where Peter was leading him.
"You make a good couple from what I can see, Brendan."
"I get the point, Father."
"Brendan, I don't want to leave but I don't see how I can continue. I can't continue being a priest here when my feelings towards her are well known. Nothing ever happened between us, but I know the gossips will never accept that. My status here has been compromised by my own behavior. Ballyk deserves a priest that can serve his community with all of his heart. I am not that priest. I can't do the job I'm supposed to be doing because all I think about is her. And I have finally realized that I'm ruining her life as well which is the last thing I want to do. Leave the priesthood? I'm just not ready to do that, yet, Brendan. I'm not sure enough of myself and what I want out of life. I can only pray that distance will yield an answer to this dilemma. I don't know of any other way."
"When are you leaving?"
"A week from today."
"I think you're making a mistake."
"I may be making the biggest mistake of my life…or I may be avoiding the biggest mistake of my life. I just don't know. So, I'm going to do what I've become quite adept at…run away and start anew somewhere else and pray that I remain a proper priest instead of the cardboard cutout I feel like I am right now."
Although I enjoyed watching the rest of the third season play out (with one exception), I did have a hard time accepting that Peter would leave his vocation and that Leo would just give up on his marriage without making any effort to try for a resolution. Both of those men seem to have lost their fire.
Anyway, there is more along this line and I may change it around a little bit because the thought has occurred to me, "What if that conversation at the Cillnashee woods was monitored by Liam and Donal who had been equipped with a parabolic mike so that Quigley would keep abreast of what the protestors were planning? And suppose their conversation went just a little bit further?" It could be amusing…