DISCLAIMER: I wrote this story in 1 night somewhere in March 2001. It
is set somewhere during season 3. In my timeline Peter and Assumpta haven't
said anything about their feelings and Assumpta did not mayyr Leo, nor
even think about it. I apologise for any mistakes in the languages, because
you know English is not my native language and I'm not familiar with the
English terms for actions during Mass. Any tips herefor are more than welcom!
I also use a bit from "The Reckoning". Anyone who has seen this will recognise
it! Enjoy the best Christmasstory you've ever heard, this is:
Peter stretched his body and leaned back in his chair. From a distance he looked at the words he had already written down. It seemed a perfect preach to him. He put a final point after the last sentence and pressed at the print button. A few moments later his preach rolled out of the printer. Peter took a quick look at it, put it down at his desk and went out to the pub.
When he walked down the street a very happy feeling came over him. Almost every house in the street had lights in the windows and from far away he could see the famous Christmas tree above the door of Fitzgerald's, the local pub. He supposed all his friends to be there. He had been in Ballykissangel for three years now and this was his third Christmas to spend in Ireland. His mother had called and asked him to come home, but he didn't feel like going back to England. This was his home now and he wanted to spend Christmas with his friends this year in stead of with his family. Fortunately his mother had understood.
Peter arrived at the pub and he opened the door. As expected there was a busy crowd inside. At the right end of the bar sat the usual group of Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig, at the table in the corner by the window sat Liam and Donal and Niamh and Assumpta were behind the bar serving. It was exactly as he expected it to be.
"Hello, Father," Brendan said when he noticed Peter.
"Have you finished your preach?"
"Yeah," Peter answered while he walked over to them. "And I expect you all to be in church tonight to listen to it."
"You heard the man," said Padraig to Assumpta who put a pint of lager in front of Peter. "We're all expected to celebrate Christmas in church tonight."
"I heard the man, but not the calling from God and as long as He isn't taking me to church personally even at Christmas night I'm not going," Assumpta said.
"Bad luck, Father," Brendan said to Peter. "Maybe you should go back to the church and pray to God to order Him to send Assumpta to church."
"Please Brendan, don't tease the poor girl. Peace on earth, remember?"Peter laughed and raised his glass.
Padraig, Siobhan and Brendan raised their glass to all and cheered to the upcoming Christmas. But somewhere deep inside, Peter felt sorry for Assumpta not coming to church tonight. He knew perfectly well that she hated the clergy and everything that had to do with the church, but she didnt hate him. In fact, somethimes he had the feeling that she liked him even better that she was willing to admit.
"Father, you're alright?" Siobhan said suddenly.
"Erm, what?" the curate answered.
"Are you alright? You didn't laugh at Padraig's joke."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I was distracted."
"Still perfectioning your preach, weren't you?" Brendan laughed.
"His best preach will be the one of his own death," Assumpta said sarcastically.
"It's too bad you won't be around to hear it," Peter replied sharply and immediately felt sorry.
Assumpta just gave him a look and then disappeared into the kitchen.
"Padraig, you were saying?" Peter changed the subject.
Five minutes before the Mass would start, Peter took a look at the people that were already in. As expected it was crowdy. Almost everyone in the parish of Ballykissangel had came down to church to share together the joy of Christmas. But yet it felt empty. Like an important thing was missing and Peter couldn't find out what it was. He had had that feeling ever since he left Fitzgeralds earlier that evening. From the corner of his eye he saw Brendan coming up.
"Nervous?" Brendan asked.
"No," Peter answered surprised. "Why should I?"
Brendan understood that Peter had really no idea of what was going to happen.
"Nothing. Good luck."
Without waiting for a response, Brendan turned around and went back to his bench in the church.
Peter watched him walking away, the shook his head and disappeared into the sacristy. Therefore he didn't notice that at the back of the church the last church attendance came in, a young lady who didn't look comfortable.
What the curate of St Joseph's didn't know either was that after he had left Fitzgeralds that afternoon, Brendan had taken Assumpta apart and spoke to her. Assumpta was in the kitchen making a tosti for a costumer when Brendan came in.
"Assumpta, why are you behaving so cruel against Peter?"
"Brendan, I'm busy."
"And I'm serious. Don't you see you're hurting the poor man?"
Assumpta stopped her work and looked at Brendan. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You're in love with him, aren't you?" Brendan blurted out.
Assumpta was astonished. She just stood there for a moment and then went back to the sandwich. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
"Come on, Assumpta. I know you. And I know Peter. And I know a crisis when I see one."
"You're not my father, you have no right to tell me what to do."
Brendan grasped Assumpta and turned her around.
"No, I'm not. But since you have no parents left, I feel responsible for you. I'm sorry, but I can't help it seeing you being so damn lonely at Christmas. And since I can't give you a warm family you need so desperately I know a man who can give you all the love and warmth you need. That is, if you weren't so stubborn to deny it. Put your pride aside Assumpta and talk to Peter. I know for sure that he feels the same way."
With those words he let her go, gave her a final look and then walked out.
Assumpta was still astonished. Then she got her sense back, grabbed. The way he spoke to her! Assumpta got angry, grabbed the plate and stormed out of the kitchen. She smashed the tosti down in front of a surprised costumer and then ran up the stairs to her bedroom.
In the bar Niamh, Siobhan and Padraig looked at each other questionly.
"What's with her?" Niamh said, turning to Brendan. "What did you say to her?"
"Nothing. I just delivered her the best Christmas she'll ever have. I hope."
But Peter didn't know all of this. He just took a
deep breath, rang the little bell next to the door and started Mass. At
the organ Kathleen Hendley started the first hymne of the night: Oh come
all ye faithful. Peter knew the words by heart so he didn't brought his
texts. That gave him the opportunity to take a look at the parishioners.
He knew almost evert face he saw before him. Especially that one! That
was Assumpta Fitzgerald! Peter tried to wake up but then realised he wasn't
dreaming. He saw
Assumpta Fitzgerald attempting Mass at Christmas Eve. Well, miracles do happen. The priest wanted to talk to her, but he had to say Mass. The hymne came to its end and Peter walked over to the microphone.
"Welcome everyone here tonight on this special evening where we celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus. May the Lord be with you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit..."
Involuntary Peter looked at Assumpta and saw her lips move. Peace came over him and he felt that this Mass was going to be the best he had ever said. Because he would do it for her.
And it went perfectly. The preach he had written that afternoon said exactly what he wanted it to say and people really paid attention. At Sunday's sometimes people fell asleep while he was preaching, but tonight they all sat up straight and seemed interested.
"And may this Christmas bring joy, peace and love to everyone. Amen," he ended.
"Amen," came the reply. Peter turned around to prepare for the Holy Communion while Kathleen played the organ. It was only now that he realised how well she was playing. Two years ago she once said she would never play the organ again after they hold a folk mass with and guitarist, Enda Sullivan. Enda. Assumpta had had a date with him once. No, he shouldn't think about that. It had been a mistake and it had all been forgiven.
The words of the Eucharisty came out easily. He had done this so many times, but today it seemed different. Peter realised that he felt nervous. Would she come up to receive her Communion? After all she was a Catholic even though she didn't attend Mass anymore. But she did came to church, so. No, not think, just talk, he said to himself.
By the time he reached The Lord's Prayer his glance had driven off to Assumpta again and he felt happy when he saw she was saying the words the Lord had given to humanity so many years ago.Then he took the chalice with the bread and followed the acolyte down the stairs do hand out the Communion.
The first row came, the second, the third...Suddenly she stood in front of him. She didn't say anything except the needed, but her eyes told him that she wanted to talk. He nodded slighly and then she was gone again.
The end of Mass came in sight. Only the "Silent Night" and then it would be over. He nodded to Kathleen that she could start the introduction. As always near the end of the first couplet he walked down the stairs and up the aisle to the exit while he sang along: "Sleep in Heavenly peace, sleep in Heavenly peace."
When he came out, it was cold. Thousand of stars twinkled in the sky and a lots of little lights shone in the village and the houses in the hills. Peter loved the sight of this.
The parishioners came out and shook his hand. They all wished him a very Merry Christmas.
"Father," Niamh said when she came out with baby Kieran in her arms. "You're coming to Fitzgerald's too, right?"
"Of course he is, Niamh," said Ambrose. "He wouldn't miss the party for the world."
"Yes, I'll be there, Niamh," Peter answered. "After
I've changed." He shook little Kieran's hand. "And a
Merry Christmas to you too, sweety."
"Thank you, uncle Peter," Ambrose said with a tiny
voice. They all laughed and then made room for the
rest of the people.
When everyone had shaken his hand and he had bid
them goodnight, Peter went back in to clean up
and chance his clothes. In the first pew sat a woman. It was Assumpta. When she heard him come back in, she turned.
"I need to talk to you, Peter," she said. "After you've changed."
"Okay," Peter answered simply. He went into the sacristy. He just pulled his gown over his head when he heard: "Have you heard the polar bear joke?"
Peter turned around and saw Assumpta in the doorway. "No."
Assumpta came in and sat down at the single chair in the little room. She put her elbows on her knees and folded her hands. She took a deep breath. "Right. Well, I'll tell you. There is a little polar bear and she's in the sea. One day she climbs out and runs across the ice up to her dad and she says: "Dad, am I a polar bear?" Her dad says: "Of course you are a polar bear. You have with fur, you eat fish, you're a polar bear. Don't be silly, go back into the sea." So she does, but she's not comtempted. She climbs out and runs across the ice, this time to her mom and says: "Mom, am I really a polar bear?" Her mom says: "Of course you are a polar bear. You have with fur, you eat fish, you're a polar bear. Why do you ask?" And the baby bear says: "Because I'm freezing.""
Assumpta looked at Peter meaningfully while tears swelled in her eyes. "Why do I always think of you?"
Peter reached out and arm. "Assumpta, come here." Assumpta got up and threw herself in the arms she had longed for almost all of her life. Just two arms that held her tight and that belonged to a person that loved her. Assumpta felt Peter's love and let her tears run.
"Shh, it's alright. I won't let you go," Peter said softly. He stroke her hair and soflty kissed the top of her head. Without realising Assumpta had said exactly what he wanted to say. It had been said at that was all that mattered. Peter took her chin in his hand and lifted her face. With his other hand he wiped her tears and then brought her lips to his and kissed her.
Assumpta opened her eyes. She felt the sunshine on her face. Something woke her, but she couldn't remember what it was. Faintly she heard churchbells ring. "Argh!" she said. "I hate those stupid bells. Will they never allow you to sleep long on a Sunday morning?" She pulled the sheets over her head and turned around. Then she remembered this was no ordinary Sunday morning. It wasn't Sunday at all. Today was Wednesday and it was Christmas Day.
"Argh!" she said again. Christmas was the last she wanted right now. Suddenly she reached her arm to the place next to her and felt a body. At the touch of her hand the body turned around and two green eyes looked into hers.
"Merry Christmas," she whispered.
"Merry Christmas, Assumpta," Peter Clifford said. He put his arm around her shoulders and kissed her.
"Did you sleep well?" Assumpta asked.
"I slept like an angel. For the first time in three years actually that I got a good night sleep." He released her and got out of bed. He picked up a T-shirt that hung over the chair and pulled it over his head.
"Where are you going?" Assumpta asked.
"Just stay where you are, I'll be right back." He blew a kiss to her and then left the room.
Assumpta lay back and put her hand behind her head. This was the most strange Christmas morning she had ever had. But it was a happy one, that was for sure.
Five minutes later the bedroom door opened again and Peter came in. He carried a tray with toast and tea.
"Breakfast is served," he said. He sat down at the edge of the bed and bit in a piece of toast.
"I'm sorry, but I can't stay," he said. "I have to say Mass."
"I know," Assumpta smiled. "I might even join you."
"You join me in church? Again?" Peter teased her.
"I'm afraid I have to get used to it again," Assumpta said.
"Assumpta, darling, I love you the way you are. You don't have to go to Mass if you don't want it. it's your choice."
"Oh, good," Assumpta said relieved. "I was afraid I had to go every day." They both laughed.
"You'd better go. Kathleen'll kill you if you're late, " Assumpta said.
"Kathleen will kill me anyway. If she finds out about us." He bend over to kiss her again.
"I've got to run. Enjoy your breakfast and I expect coffee ready when I get back."
Kathleen Hendley was about to leave her house when the pub door opened. She saw Peter come out. Without looking he hurried to the church. Kathleen imediately looked up to the upperleft window of the pub where the curtains were half open and Assumpta's face appeared. Kathleen kept staring. When Assumpta's eyes met Kathleen's she quickly pulled back her head. At the same moment she realised it was useless. Kathleen knew and that meant that Fr Mac would know soon enough. Well, at least that saved them the trouble of telling.
Assumpta took the dirty plates and took them down
to the kitchen. Someone knocked at the door. Assumpta hesitated for a moment.
She wore only her nightshirt and that wasn't really something to open the
door in. Then she raised her shoulders. It was probably someone from town
and she knew everybody perfectly well. Assumpta unlocked the door and a
fresh wind blew in.
Kathleen was at the door.
"Did I just see Father Clifford leaving?"
"You might have, yes."
"And did he spent the night here?"
"Kathleen, I run a guesthouse. Everybody is free to spend the night here."
"I see," Kathleen said but she didn't seem like she believed a single word Assumpta said. Kathleen nodded shortly at Assumpta and then walked away, heading for church.
Assumpta watched her walk away. She shivered and closed the door. She already knew Kathleen wouldn't approve her relationship with Peter, but that was her business. Assumpta had other business to take care of. She went back upstairs to take a shower and get dressed. She just came out the bathroom when there was another knock at the door. Assumpta tied her towel around her head and went to her bedroom window. She opened it.
A young lady in her early thirties looked up. "Excuse me," she said with a very English voice. "I arrived a bit earlier than expected. I'm Martha Clifford, the priest's sister."
Assumpta frightened. Peter's sister, here, on Christmas Day? She wasn't even dressed yet! "Yeah, right, well he's saying Mass at the moment and we're actually closed. Erm, I'll come down to let you in, just a moment."
She pulled her head back and quickley put on her trousers and sweater that were hanging over the chair. She threw the towel on th bed and ran down the stairs.
"Come on in," she said. "I'm Assumpta Fitzgerald..."
"The publican, I know," Martha said. "Peter told me about you."
"Oh yeah?" Assumpta replied surpised. "I hope it was only good stuff."
"It was, believe me, it was."
Assumpta lead Martha to the chairs by the fireplace.
"Please sit down. Can I get you anything?"
"Tea please. And can I use your phone?"
"The phone is over there." Assumpta pointed to the reception. She went into the kitchen to boil some fresh water. She heard Peter's sister making her phonecall.
"Mum, it's me, Martha. I've arrived savily. No, I haven't seen Peter yet. He's saying Mass at the moment, the publican said. Yes, I'll greet him from you. Will you tell Dad that I'm okay? Yes, I'll see you on New Year's Eve. Bye."
Martha turned and looked around. The pub had fully been decorated for Christmas but the normal decorating hung still in it's place. Assumpta had to wait for the water to boil so she came out the kitchen. Martha turned to face her.
"It's a lovely place. Do you run it all by yourself?"
"Mostly," Assumpta said. "But at nights my friend Niamh helps me. And the regulars know their way around too."
"Why did you come to Ballykay, Ms Clifford?"
"Please call me Martha," she said. "I wanted to surprise Peter. He hasn't been home in three years and Mum was worried about him."
"He called a few days ago that he wasn't coming home. But he sounded like he want to but was afraid he might sound childish. Mum got worried that there was something wrong with him. She couldn't come herself, so I offered to go. I've always wanted to see where my little brother ended up."
"And do you like it?"
"It's even better then I imagined,' Martha smiled.
The kettle started whistling and Assumpta went back to the kitchen. Martha followed her. She leaned against the table and folded her arms under her chest. She watched Assumpta pour the water in the cups.
"Do you know why Peter doesn't want to come home anymore?" Martha asked carefully.
Assumpta looked up. "How am I supposed to know?" she said more angrily than she meant.
Martha nodded. "I thought so." She unfolded her arms and left the kitchen.
Assumpta stared at her, then raised her shoulders
and finished the tea-making. She put the cups on the tray and went to
the livingroom. Martha sat in on of the chairs, facing the pub. Assumpta put the tray down and put one of the cups in front of Martha. Then she picked up her own cup and sat down in the opposite chair. She held the cup against her lips and then lowered it again.
"I'm sorry," Assumpta said. "I didn't mean what I said."
Martha nodded. "It's alright." She sighed and looked around. Then she focused on Assumpta again.
"It's you, isn't it?" Martha asked. "You're the reason Peter is staying here instead of spending Christmas in Manchester?"
Assumpta nodded. She could tell Martha.
"We're in love, but we've only known since last night. I mean, we were in love since the moment we met but we never confessed it to one another. Not until last night." She looked Martha in the eyes and added: "I really love him. Don't be angry."
But Martha just smiled. "I know my big brother. He was so convinced of becoming a priest but when he had that job with Jenny and left Manchester I knew he was still a man. You know Jenny, don't you?"
"Unfortunately. She came here a few weeks after Peter arrived. I never liked her but it was only jealousy, I presume."
"Peter never cared about girls when he was little. First we thought he might be homosexual, but it seems he's not. Mum was so happy when he told her he wanted to become a priest. He actually studied astronomy but he's a priest by heart. Mum won't like him leaving the church, but if you're happy..."
"We are, Martha."
Assumpta sighed and drank her tea.
"Tell me about Peter, will you? How he was when he was little? He never speaks about his family."
"Well, I told you he never cared about girls. He
was always in the fields playing football with his friends. When he attended
school, that became his loving. He was a very smart boy. He went to grammar
school and loved science. He looked a bit like a professor actually. Peter
was small and had very dusty hair in those days. To Dad's grief he preferred
football over cricket. Anyway, after school he started college in Manchester
and studied astronomy. Dad would have liked him to become a doctor too
and Mum wanted him to be a priest. But Peter wanted to be an autronout.
Fortunately he discovered he had a vocation to the
priesthood and went to the seminary in London. His first parish was in Manchester, but you know what happened there. So he asked for a transfer and was sent to Ireland. And now you tell me what happened here," Martha smiled at her.
"I wish I knew," Assumpta sighed.
"Well, when did you first met him?"
"The day he arrived I had been to Cilldargan to do some shopping. On my way back it started to rain cats and dogs. Halfway home I saw a man walking. He was soaked and carried a heavy bag. I offered him a ride, but I didn't know who he was. I don't like the priesthood, you know. The church ruined my life, but that's a different story. I guess I fell in love with him the moment I saw him walk down that road. But I also knew it could never work out. I mean, he is a priest for God's sake!" She sighed again. "I don't know. Did we make the right decision?"
"Follow your heart, Assumpta. If your heart says it's alright, it's alright." Martha glanced at her watch. "Say, it's almost eleven o'clock. You're not celebrating Christmas like that, are you?" she said pointing at Assumpta's crumpled jeans and sweater.
"My God! And my hair!" Assumpta jumped up. "Peter said he'd come back here after Mass. He spent the night here," she added shyly.
"You go upstairs and change and I'll start your coffee machine and wash up. I worked in a pub when I was in college," she explained to Assumpta's worried glance. Assumpta nodded and went upstairs.
Martha watched her go and smiled. Assumpta was a nice girl. Peter couldn't have chosen a better woman, she thought. She knew Mum wouldn't approve Peter's relationship, but Assumpta made a good chance to win their mother's sympathy and approval. Martha started to prepare the pub for the celebration of Christmas Day. She had no idea what to expect, but she had a feeling this was a day she would not easily forget.
In church, Father Clifford ended his Mass by wishing everyone a merry Christmas. Somewhere deep inside he was sorry that Assumpta hadn't come. But, he told himself, he told she should only come if she wanted to and he knew she hated the clergy and everything that had something to do with it. Except him, obviously.No, Assumpta was home making coffee and preparing the pub for their annual Christmas party.
The first tones of the last hymn sounded. Peter headed for the exit to bid his parishioners goodbye. They didn't know this was propably the last time he had preformed Mass. But he wasn't to tell them. Not yet.
After everyone had left, Peter hurried to his house to change his clothes. He took off his clerical and threw it in the washing basket. "I'll never wear that collar again!" he said to himself. "From now on, I'm gonna live my own life the way I want it to."
He opened the closet and took out a smoking. He had bought it years ago for a special occasion. The occasion had never come, but today was the right day for it. Tody and his wedding day. Wedding day! Would Assumpta marry him? It was all he wanted at the moment but immediately he realised it was too soon. Too soon. Three years of unsaid love. Was it too soon? Oh, how he wanted to have someone here to talk to about this. People always came to him when they needed advice, but no one ever came to him when he needed someone to talk to. Peter sank to the bed, filled with so many questions and doubts. What would his mum say for example? Or his brothers and sisters? And his dad? What was he going to do for a living? Running Fitzgerald's? And what about the people in Ballykay? There would be talking. But then again, people already talked."Come on, Peter," he said to himself. "Together we can make it. Together."
He got up and dressed himself. He tried three times to knit his tie and nodded to himself. Christmas, here I come.
Martha had poured herself a cup of tea. She went to the toilet, so she didn't notice Peter come in.
"Assumpta?" Peter called.
Peter went up and to her bedroom. Assumpta stood in front of the mirror. Peter gasped at the sight of her. She looked like a dream. She wore a long black dress that fitted perfectly. The perfect shape of her body was extra accentured by a cord that was tied on her back. In her hair she had two little diamant hairpins that sparkled like stars.
"My God," Peter whispered. "You're beautiful!"
Assumpta smiled and that made her look even more beautiful. Then she caught sight of his lop-sided tie.
"Come here, sweety, I'll tie you up," she smiled.
She quickly untied his stock and tied it up again.
"You're a natural," Peter said.
"My dad was as hopeless with those as you," she explained.
Seeing her face so close he grabbed her head and kissed her gently. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."
"We'd better go down before the others arrive," Assumpta said.
Peter grabbed her hand and together they walked down. When they came around the corner in the stairs, Martha came round the bar.
"Martha!" Peter said.
Martha looked up. "Hello Peter."
Peter let go of Assumpta's hand and kissed his sister. "What are you doing here?"
"We were worried about you not coming home again. But now I know why and I can't blame you!" she smiled.
"You've met Assumpta?" Peter reached for Assumpta. She stood a little behind them Peter took her hand and pulled her forward.
"I came here about an hour ago," Martha said. "We drank tea together." She smiled at them both again.
"You made the best decision you could ever make. Merry Christmas to the both of you."