Sequel to A Cottage by the Sea
by Jane Elliot
Jackson Square was amazing. Even after all of the sights he and Assumpta had seen on this trip, Peter was still stunned by the level of color and vibrancy and life they found as they walked around the outside edges of the park. On one corner a man entirely coated in silver worked magic with a glass ball, on another a woman juggled an odd assortment of objects of all shapes and sizes. In the mouth of one alley a man blew fire in front of a gasping crowd and in another a man performed tricks on a unicycle, while balancing books on his head. Acts of every shape and style filled the cobblestone streets, free but for a donation. Peter could only stare in awe and he assumed that Assumpta was doing the same.
Of course they couldn't spend all day watching the street performers, and when Assumpta started pushing him towards a caricature artist, Peter felt a suddenly overwhelming desire to tour the cathedral that sat on one side of the square. Assumpta groaned, but she'd given up talking him out of his love of cathedral visits back in Australia and merely waved him off as she sat down to have her portrait drawn. Peter watched her wistfully for a moment, but didn't bother trying to persuade her to join him. She'd made her opinion on the subject perfectly clear several times before.
St Louis Cathedral proved to be even more impressive than he'd expected: according to a plaque on the side of the building, it was the oldest cathedral in the United States and had recently been restored. Inside Peter found a vast open sanctuary with a balcony running along both walls, frescos covering the ceiling, and elegant chandeliers augmenting the bright sunlight that poured through the high windows. Truly a beautiful building and a testament to the glory of God.
Peter took in the peaceful ambiance and enjoyed the beautiful stained glass, and when a local priest came over to welcome him they shared a nice conversation. When talk turned to an offer to hear confession, however, Peter declined and soon made his excuses to leave. He wasn't ready for confession; he doubted he'd ever be ready for confession again.
Besides, he told himself, he could always confess directly to God.
He went through the park to get back to the artist, taking a few minutes to enjoy the flowers and sun and sky. As undeniably lovely as the cathedral was, standing tall like a sentinel watching over the park, these natural beauties, the flowers in the corners and the lush triangles of grass, were the true monuments to God. And it was here that he was able to find peace.
Back in the square, he found the artist nearly finished and he smiled to discover that Assumpta was beautiful even in caricature. She laughed when he told her that, but he was sure that she was pleased.
From the square, they went across the street to have chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde. The coffee was awful, but the square powdered sugar covered doughnuts were delicious and they managed to consume an entire plate and ordered a second. They made a mess of the snack and, since they were the only ones seated under the large outdoor patio, Assumpta took the opportunity to suck on Peter's fingers with the excuse of removing spare bits of sugar. Peter shook his head at her, but made no protest, and when she went to use the toilet, he hurried inside and bought a box of beignet mix. By the time she came back out, he had his prize safely tucked away in his rucksack.
From the cafe, they went to the French Market. Peter stopped in the farmer's market first and bought a punnet of strawberries. Assumpta griped about having to carry the strawberries around until she tried one. Then she had him buy a couple more pounds and take them back to their hotel while she got a head start on buying souvenirs.
By the time Peter made it back to the market, she'd already purchased trinkets for Ambrose, Kathleen, Brendan, and Siobhan. Peter dutifully admired the small porcelain mask broaches, the inexpensive but lovely costume jewelry, and the flamboyant domino mask covered in feathers. Then, somehow, Peter found himself helping Assumpta pick out a pair of silk scarves for Niamh in exchange for a promise that she'd do all of the rest of the shopping the next morning while he went to tour Notre Dame Seminary. The scarves were colorful and wildly patterned and even Peter had to admit that they were beautiful.
They returned to the hotel and shared a dinner of sandwiches and piles of fresh strawberries. Assumpta smirked at Peter and carried a large bowl of berries to the bed. Peter raised his eyebrows but followed along gamely, and only swallowed a bit harder than usual when she pulled out the scarves. "Uh, Assumpta, I thought we were giving those to Niamh."
"We still can," she said as she tied his hands to the headboard with a smirk. "I bet Ambrose would appreciate them."
And as Assumpta squeezed strawberry juice over Peter's chest and licked it off, Peter had to admit that she was probably right.
On the flight back over the ocean, Assumpta curled up under her blanket, her head resting on Peter's shoulder and a hand wrapped around his arm. It made it hard for Peter to turn the pages in his book with only one free hand, but he kissed her on the top of her head and made do, though he found himself more often looking down at her than at his book. He found it hard to believe that he'd ever considered turning away from this, that he could have gone his entire life without knowing what it felt like to have a relationship with Assumpta.
Contrary to all of his expectations and all of Father Mac's dire predictions, leaving the priesthood hadn't made Peter love God less. If anything, choosing to be with Assumpta just made him love God more. Certainly, he found far more reasons to be grateful, and he hadn't had a single doubt since the moment Assumpta woke from her coma. It was becoming more and more clear that the best thing he'd ever done for his faith was to leave behind the trappings of the church.
A couple of hours later, when the sun set and they turned off the lights in the cabin, Peter set his book aside. He reclined his seat enough that Assumpta's head slid down to his chest and she grumbled as she nuzzled her way back into a comfortable position. Peter just shook his head and murmured "I love you," and settled down to sleep with a smile.