A SURPRISE

by Linda Suazo

Chapter 1

Scene: Pub door opens and Assumpta and Leo come in laughing.

                "Man, where did we go, anyway?" Leo said, looking in his wallet. Assumpta took her coat off and laid it over a chair.

                "Remember that drink that we invented during finals? The Terminator," she said, leaning against the bar.

                "Yeah, the Terminator."

                She walked around the back of the bar and started mixing the drinks. Leo went to sit down in front of the fireplace.

                She walked in with the drinks and placed them on the table. She sat down opposite Leo and lighted both drinks. The flames burned blue and red, and just as quickly she reached over and put them out.

                "Whoa, thatís a blast from the past," Leo said, setting the glass down.

                "Yeah," she whispered.

                When they had regained their ability to speak, Leo looked intensely at her.

                "I have never stopped loving you, you know."

                "Leo"ÖÖÖÖ.

                "I havenít, Assumpta," he said, softly.

                "I know," she said, avoiding his eyes.

                She reached for another drink. Poured herself one and reached over and poured another for Leo.

                "Leo"ÖÖÖshe began.

                "No, Assumpta, listen to me. What is keeping you here? Why donít you come with me." He reached for another drink.

                "Leo, too much time has gone by," she said.

                He got up and reached for her hand. He pulled her into his arms. "I love you, Assumpta," he said.

                "Please, Leo, donít," she said, trying to focus her thinking and gain control of the situation.

                "Remember how it used to be, Assumpta. Just you and me. It could be that way again," he said, starting to kiss her.

                She opened her eyes. "Oh, God," she said, as the light struck her eyes. She slowly opened them just a bit, holding her head and trying to remember where she was. She slowly got up holding her head and walked toward the bathroom. Her bare foot kicked something hard and she bent down to hold her toes. It was a shoe. A manís shoe. She looked up, trying to remember last night. She stood up, recognition playing upon her face. "Oh, My God," she said, standing still, looking at the shoes.

                She opened the door. Leo was covered up and snoring. Assumpta flung the shoes at him.

                "Whaa.a.." he mumbled, looking around and finding a very angry Assumpta. "What," he said, sitting up and covering himself with the blanket.

                "Did you sleep in my room last night?" she hissed.

                Leo was trying to remember who he was. Where he slept, had totally escaped him.

                "I donít know, Assumpta. Iím here," he stammered.

                "Well, what were your shoes doing in my room?"

                "I donít remember. Honestly, Assumpta, I donít remember." He tried to get up, but just couldnít make it. Assumpta stomped out of the room, slamming the door.

                Niamh opened the pub door. The remains of the party still by the fireplace. Assumpta was walking slowly down the stairs.

                "Boy you must have had quite a night," Niamh commented.

                "Letís not talk about it."

                "Well, did you have a good time with Leo, last night?" she said, ignoring Assumptaís last remark.

                "Niamh,"she said, shaking her head. "Stop trying to be a matchmaker."

                "Well, did you?"

                "It was alright," she said. "But heís leaving today."

                Niamh was visibly disappointed.

                "How can you let a good man like Leo, get away? You can see that he loves you."

                "Please, NiamhÖÖ..leave it alone?"

                Just then Leo came struggling down the stairs carrying both of his suitcases.

                Niamh looked at Assumpta, indicating that she should say something to him.

                Assumpta gave her a very dirty look. She walked over to Leo.

                "Well, Leo, have a safe trip," she said.

                He put his arms around her. "Why donít you come with me?" he questioned.

                "I canít Leo. Donít ask me."

                He looked disappointed and hugged her. As he reached down to pick up his suitcases, he said, "Think about it, Assumpta."

                She just smiled wanly and watched him walk out of the door.

                The pub was full. Music playing and several people engaged in chess. Assumpta was cleaning with Niamhís help. Her head still hurt, but she was managing. The pub door opened again and Peter walked in. Several people greeting him.

 "Hello, Father," echoed though the pub. He walked up to the bar and smiled at her.

                "Busy?" he asked.

                Avoiding the obvious, she said nothing.

                "What will you have, Father," asked Niamh.

                "Oh, a pint, I guess, Niamh."

                Assumpta swished by with a tray of plates and glasses. Peter looked after her.

                The phone rang. Niamh answered it.

                In the kitchen, Assumpta was making some sandwiches and stacking the dirty plates and glasses at the sink.

                "I have to go, Assumpta," said Niamh. "That was Ambrose. Heís been called away, so Iíll have to see to Kieran."

                "Ok," said Assumpta with a sigh. "Iíll manage."

                As the pub emptied, Assumpta looked around. Her head still hurt. "God, how much did I drink, last night?" she said aloud, wincing at the clatter of the plates and silver. Just then the door opened and Father Clifford came in, having left on an errand earlier.

                "Looks like you have a mess here," he said, surveying the room, and taking off his coat. She watched him hang his coat on the back of a chair. He looked questioningly at her, as he rolled up his black sleeves.

                "Where do you want me to start?"

                She gave him a wan smile. "Here would be good," she indicated the bar, cluttered with glasses, ashtrays and plates.

                "So, is Leo gone?" Peter said, as Assumpta passed by on her way to the kitchen.

                "Yeah, he left this morning," she said, trying not to remember what she thought she remembered of the night before.

                "He seems to care about you a great deal," he said, raising his voice a bit as she went into the kitchen.

                She said nothing.

                When the kitchen was clean, she turned to him. "Want a cup of tea??"

                "Yeah, sounds good," he said, folding the towel.

                They sat in front of the fire. The warmth of it felt good. They talked about unimportant things, laughed a bit, but she was careful to avoid talking about Leo.

                Peter was telling her about something that happened that morning and as he looked over at her, he saw that she had fallen asleep. Quietly, he went upstairs and got a blanket. He woke her gently and helped her to lie down. Softly he tucked the blanket around her, put another log on the fire, and set the screen tightly against the opening. He looked down at her. She looked like an angel. He leaned down and kissed her forehead, softly.

                In his room, he thought about the evening. How much he enjoyed helping her. He cared for her a great deal. Sometimes she was so helpless. Of course, he couldnít tell her that. He really couldnít tell her anything that he felt, about her at least. They talked at length on every other subject. She was very opinionated, but always cut to the heart of any discussion and always listened patiently to his opinions, even though he got the impression that she was just biding her time, waiting to pounce on him. ĎEndearing and enchanting and ÖÖÖÖirritating,í he smiled to himself. Thatís is how he saw her. Yes, he cared a great deal for her.

*                         *                             *                         *

                Assumpta came down the stairs. Niamh was behind the bar. She walked into the kitchen, carrying a basket of towels.

                "You ok,?" questioned Niamh.

                "Yeah."

                "You donít look so well."

                "Iím fine," she said, starting to fold the towels.

                "You have been so quiet, lately. Whatís the matter, Assumpta?"

                "Iíve been thinking about going to Dublin."

                "Dublin? What for?"

                "I think I need to get away. This place is driving me crazy. Iíve got another leak in the water heater. I just donít make enough money to be able to run this place properly."

                "But what will you do in Dublin?"

                "A friend of mine wants me to go into business with her," she said, putting the towels on a tray.

                "What will you do with this place?"

                "Only rent or lease it. I donít really want to sell it. It is my home."

                "Oh, God, Assumpta, what will we do without you?"

                "I think you will be fine. No one is indispensible," she said, picking up the tray and going through the door into the bar.

                Niamh followed her. Assumpta put the towels under the bar and stood up.

                "Ohhh," she said, leaning against the bar.

                "Assumpta are you all right," Niamh said, grabbing her arm.

                "Oh, GodÖÖÖ.. Iím ok, Niamh," she said.

                Niamh stood looking at her. "What is going on, Assumpta?"

                Assumpta turned around and walked into the kitchen. Niamh followed her.

                "Assumpta, whatís wrong?"

                "Oh, God, Niamh. Iím pregnant."

                Niamh looked as if she had been slapped. "Pregnant?"

                "Yeah."

                "WhenÖÖÖ.who?"

                Assumpta sat down at the table.

                "Do you remember when Leo was here, a couple of months ago?"

                "Yes."

                "And do you remember the night I went out with him?"

                "Yes."

                "Oh, God, I hate to remember it. We had a whole lot to drink that night. And to tell you the truth, I hadnít remembered any of it until I got up in the morning and found his shoes in my room." She looked at Niamh, despairingly.

                "Leo is the father?"

                "Who else?"

                "What are you going to do?"

                "Have you told him yet?"

                "No, and Iím not going to."

                "Assumpta, itís his baby too. Why should you go through this alone?"

                "Donít you see, Niamh. I donít want a relationship with Leo. If he knows about this, he is going to insist upon coming down here and being with me. I donít want that?"

                "Why not. Leo is a good man, Assumpta."

                "I donít love him. Donít you see how unhappy that would make him? Having a wife that doesnít love him, and resents every minute of his presence."

                "Yeah, I guess I can see that. But donít you think you might change your mind?"

                "No, I wonít."

                "So, why leave here, Assumpta? You will need your friends now more than ever."

                "How can I stay? I mean think of what people would say. ĎOh letís go down to Fitzgeralds and see the pregnant publican. I wonder who the father is?í No, Niamh, I donít want to go through that."

                "Have you told Peter."

                "No way."

                "Why not. He is your friend."

                "I canít bring myself to tell him."

                "Assumpta, this is what friendship is all about. Helping each other when there is a need."

                Assumpta shook her head. "No, I have to do what I have decided to do."

                Niamh shook her head, turned and walked toward the door.

                "Thanks anyway, Niamh."

                The door closed.

                Assumpta was in the kitchen when she heard the pub door open and close. Peter came into the kitchen just as she was opening the door.

                "Assumpta, can I talk to you?" he said, keeping the door open.

                "What about," she said, giving him a cold stare.

                "I heard that you were thinking of leaving Ballyk," he said.

                "Boy, word gets around fast."

                "Are you?"

                "The thought has crossed my mind."

                "Why."

                "This is not any of your business, Peter."

                ÖÖ.. " I know, Assumpta, but I care about you."

                Assumpta looked at him. Her look softened.

                "Peter, when I decide for sure, I will let you know," she said.

                He smiled slightly and turned and went out.

                Oh God, what now. How can I leave? How can I stay? The tears came.

                Peter put the rest of the dishes away, turned out the light. His heart was heavy. What if she left? What would he do? He couldnít imagine life with out her here. He was so used to the way things were, he hadnít supposed they would ever change. It had been comfortable. No decisions to make.

                He heard the door. He walked quickly and opened it. Assumpta stood there, her face tear stained.

                "Come in, whatís the matter?" He closed the door.

                The tears were running down her face. His heart couldnít take that. He put his arms around her.

                "Whatís the matter, Assumpta?" he said, stroking her hair.

                "Oh, God, I donít know where to start?" she said.

                "Come over here and sit down. Maybe you should start with why you want to leave Ballyk. Can I make you some tea??"

                "No, I just need to tell you something. I have no idea, how to tell you this."

                He reached for her hand.

                "Donít," she said, pulling her hand away from him. "After I tell you what I have to tell you, you wonít want to even talk to me."

                "What is it, Assumpta?"

                Peter splashed water on his face. He needed to get some sleep, but didnít think that sleep would come. Assumpta had just left. She stayed for nearly two hours. What a predicament! Well, he would do whatever he could. He cared a great deal for her. How could she think that he would stop caring about her because of this? His feelings were so conflicting. Anger, sorrow, jealousy. Where did that come from? She was his best friend, here. Actually, she was his best friend anywhere, if he were being honest with himself. It made him very angry that Leo would do this. But then his anger softened, thinking that they both had been drinking. Oh God! Life can be so difficult.

*                     *                         *                      *

                Niamh walked in. Assumpta was in the kitchen.

                "How are you feeling?" she asked, opening the kitchen door.

                "Fine," she said, picking up a case of soda.

                "Here, let me do that," she said. "You really shouldnít be lifting heavy things."

                "Oh donít start. I have to do things for myself, you know," she carried the case past Niamh and into the bar.

                The pub door opened. Peter came in and seeing Assumpta carrying the case, looked horrified.

                "What are you doing, Assumpta."

                "Oh, not you too," she said, exasperated.

                "I told you that I would come over and carry anything you needed," he said, walking around the bar.

                "I canít call you for everything," she answered, holding the small of her back.

                "I just came to tell you that I canít come tonight, Assumpta, but I can help you tomorrow," Niamh said, looking hopefully at Peter.

                "Well, donít worry about her tonight, I will be here," he said.

                "You donít have to worry about me, either one of you. Iím not the only woman to ever have a baby."

                Niamh smiled and shook her head, looking at Peter.

                Peter softly said, "Assumpta, I promised you that if you stayed here, I would help you every minute I could."

                She smiled at him. What a wonderful man he was.

                "Sit here," he demanded, pulling a chair out for her.

                "Oh, Peter, please."

                "Sit."

                She sat down, and watched him carry the case of soda over to the cooler.

                "Do you want any more in here?" he said.

                "No, that should do it," she said.

                "Iíll be so glad when this baby gets here," she said, moving a chair out with her foot, for him to sit on.

                "Do you want something to eat," she said.

                "If I did, I would get it for myself."

                "Do you want something," he said.

                "Not hungry. No room for food in here," she patted her belly.

                He just smiled at her. If the truth were known, he would have to admit that he couldnít wait for this baby. It had almost become his baby. Father Mac, had railed on him many times for his attentiveness to Assumpta, but Peter didnít care what he said. It came to him slowly that this was really what life was all about anyway. Love, and new life. The love part he had finally realized. He loved her. He had never told her that, but he knew it as sure as anything he had known in his life. Caring for her these last seven months or so, had made him understand the old adage Ďyou love whom you serveí.

                "I think you should go lay down for awhile, Assumpta," he said. "You look kind of pale," he said, standing up and reaching for her hand. She let him help her up and walked over to the fireplace and sat down on the sofa. Peter walked up the stairs past the room that they had fixed for the baby. He looked in. He was still proud of the job that he and Niamh and Assumpta had done. It was beautiful. When he got to Assumptaís room, he picked up a quilt. Returning downstairs, he put the quilt over her and sat down beside her. She looked at him.

                "So, have you decided what we should name the baby?" she said.

 He smiled at her. "I was thinking that if it is a girl, we could name her Maureen."

                "What do you think?"

                "Thatís nice. And what if it is a boy?" she asked.

                "I donít know. Nothing comes to me when I think of boyís names. I guess it will be a girl." He laughed.

                Just then she sat straight up. "Ohhh," she said.

                "What!" he said. "What!"

                "Oww," she said. "That hurt."

                "Should I go get Michael?"

                She let out a breath. "NoÖÖitís ok, now."

                He looked warily at her.

                "What," she said.

                "Do you think the baby is coming?"

                "Itís not due for two more weeks," she said, uncertainly.

                Just then another wave of pain hit her and she cried out.

                "Oh, God," said Peter. "Iím calling Michael."

                "I donít think we have time to get to Cilldargan," Michael said, as he patted Assumpta on the hand. "I guess your baby will be born at home, just like you were," he smiled.

                "Iíll get Peter. I have to go back to my office to get some things and I will be right back."

                As Peter walked into her room, he noticed how pale she had gotten. He couldnít tell her how terrified he was. He had never seen a baby born before. Niamh was not home and he didnít know where she was. He sat on the side of her bed and held her hand.

                "Are you ok?" he asked.

                "Well, I hurt, if thatís what you mean?"

                "I wish we could have gone to the hospital," he said.

                "I was born here, Peter. It will be alright."

                "Owww," she moaned. "God that hurts."

                Michael came in, much to Peterís relief.

                "Ok, you wait outside, while I get her ready, then you can come back in."

                When Peter came in, Assumpta was having a pain. He didnít know if he could take this.

                He went over to her and sat down beside her. Taking her hand in his, he mustered up all of his courage.

                "Itís going to be ok, Assumpta. Iím here with you."

                "Peter," she whispered.

                "What,"

                "If itís a boy, I want to name him Peter."

                He didnít say anything. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. He leaned over and whispered in her ear. "When this is over, Assumpta, will you marry me?"

                She looked at him in amazement, tears forming in her eyes.

                "ButÖÖÖÖ you canítÖÖ"

                "Oh yes I can," he said, stroking the side of her face. "I love you."

                Just then Michael came back. Assumpta looked up at Peter. Another wave of pain swept over her.

                Peter looked at the clock. He didnít know how much more he could stand. He almost felt the pains with her. "Oh, please God," he said aloud.

                "Here it comes, Assumpta, push," Michael said.

                She held his hand so fiercely that his palm started to bleed.

                Then, the sweet soft cry of a baby was heard. Michael smiled. "Sheís a beautiful girl, Assumpta." Assumpta began to cry. Peter held her and looked at that beautiful baby. "Oh, she is beautiful. Look, Assumpta, she looks just like you." He kissed her cheek, as Michael put the baby in her arms.

                "Oh, God, she is so beautiful," she said, stroking her face.

                The door opened. Niamh came rushing in.

                "Oh," she said, as she saw the baby in Assumptaís arms. She came over and sat on the other side of the bed. "Oh, Assumpta, she looks just like you."

                Michael finished washing up and said, "You both need some sleep now," looking at Niamh hopefully.

                "Oh, yes, I will stay," she said.

                "I want to be near, so is it ok if I sleep in one of the rooms?"

                "Both Niamh and Assumpta said yes, simultaneously.

                Peter stayed for awhile until Assumpta was asleep, then he excused himself and told Niamh to wake him if she needed anything.
 

Chapter 2

                Assumpta opened her eyes. The early morning light filtered into the room, through the curtains. Her eyes came to rest upon Peter. He was sitting in the rocking chair, holding and rocking the baby. Her heart swelled and tears came to her eyes. How was it, that this good fortune came to her. He loved her. He told her while she was in labor. He asked her to marry him. Oh, God. She loved him so much. She remembered him pleading with her to stay in Ballykissangel. But she hadnít known that he loved her then. But she knew how she felt about him. And to think that this baby had brought them together...and it wasnít even his. She wished it was.

                She heard him softly humming to the baby. Oh, God, he was so amazing.

                "Pretty little Mauri," he sang, over and over again.

                Mauri. He called her Mauri. She was glad that she had let Peter name the baby. He had been so good to her. Helping her in the pub. Going to Cilldargan to get whatever she needed. Telling Kathleen Hendley to mind her own business. She smiled at that.

                "Hi," she said.

                Peter turned his head.

                "Hi. How do you feel?" he asked, continuing to rock the baby.

                "I feel fine. Niamh only had to wake me a couple of times to feed her."

                "Oh, thatís great. Assumpta, she is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen," he said, smoothing the babyís dark hair.

                "I think you might be a bit prejudiced," she laughed.

                "Iím serious, Assumpta. She looks exactly like you. Maybe that is why I love her so much."

                Assumpta reached over with her hand and touched his face.

                The baby started fussing a little and Peter handed her to Assumpta.

                "Iíll go and get you some breakfast, while you feed her."

                Assumpta took the baby. She had never been interested in the breast feeding aspect of raising babies, or any other aspect of it either, except in an abstract way. She was too impatient. And yetÖ..here she was. This precious little girl, at her breast. Feelings that she couldnít put any words to.

                Peter came in carrying a tray with eggs and toast and orange juice.

                "Iím not really hungry," she said.

                "You still have to eat, to feed her," he said, putting the tray on the table.

                Seeing her feed the baby, awakened feelings in him that he couldnít describe.

                He loved them both so much. He wondered if Assumpta would ever love him. Sometimes he thought he felt love from her. But he was never really sure. And certainly she had never said. She hadnít even really answered him, when he asked her to marry him.

                "Let me take her, now, and you eat," he commanded.

                She smiled and handed him the baby.

                "Assumpta," called Niamh, as she opened the door to the pub.

                "Iím in here," she called from the kitchen.

                Niamh opened the door and went in. The baby was sleeping in the cradle and Assumpta was getting things ready for the dinner crowd.

                "Here, let me help."

                She took off her jacket and layed it over the chair and began to help. Every so often she would stop by the cradle and talk to Mauri. With her bright eyes and dark hair, she was a lovely baby. "Hello, sweetheart. Aunty Niamh will pick you up in a moment," she said cooingly. The phone rang. Assumpta went to pick it up. In a few minutes she came back and said to Niamh, " Will you watch Mauri, while I go and give Peter a message?"

                "Sure," said Niamh.

                The night was cool and Assumpta hurried up the street toward the Church. She knocked on Peterís door. No answer. "Maybe heís at the church," she said to herself.

                Oh, God. Father Macís car was parked outside. For a moment she thought to turn and go back, thinking she would tell Peter later. No, she better go in. The phone call sounded important. She opened the door. She could hear voices. As she got closer, she heard Father Mac, his voice raised.

                "Have you thought about this, Father," he shouted.

                "Yes, I have," came the quiet answer.

                "So what you are telling me is that, after all those years at seminary, and all of those vows you made, you are willing to give up everything, for aÖÖÖ.. publican?"

                Peter just glared at him.

                "There are thousands of Assumpta Fitzgeralds, the length and breadth of Ireland, Father," he said, still shouting.

                "And youíre willing to give up the promises you made to God, and your family, for one of them," he said, disgustedly.

                Assumpta turned and walked quietly out of the door. Tears falling down her face. She didnít care what Father Mac thought of her, but she was afraid he was right. Niamh was in the bar when she walked in. "Are you alright?" she asked.

                "Yes, I am. Just a little tired, Niamh, would you mind watching the bar tonight. I am going to try to get some rest.

                "Sure," she said, looking questioningly at her.

                Assumpta went into the kitchen and picked up Mauri. She slowly climbed the stairs. The tears fell. Father Mac was right. How could he abandon everything he worked for, for her? She hated Father Mac. ButÖÖhe was right.

                Peter opened the door. Assumpta was sleeping. He didnít want to wake her. He checked Mauri. Sleeping too. He quietly shut the door.

                Assumpta opened her eyes. They were red and swollen. What was she going to do?

                God, she couldnít even think.

                Peter opened the pub door. Niamh was behind the bar. She looked quietly at him.

                "Hi," he said. She said nothing.

                "You, ok," he said. Still she said nothing. She reached under the bar and took out an envelope. Her eyes looked intently at him as she reached across the bar and handed it to him.

                He looked at it. It said Ď Peter.í

                He opened it carefully, questioningly. He read.

                He looked up at Niamh. "WhatÖÖÖ..?"

                "Sheís gone."

                "ÖÖÖÖ.Why," he stammered.

                "I donít know, Father."

                He turned and walked out, holding the envelope in his hand.

                He sat down on the sofa, and opened the letter. Ď Dear Peter, I am writing to you, because I think it will be better if I donít see you. Leo is coming for me. He wants to see the baby, and I am going with him to Dublin. He loves me, and I think it would be better for both of us, if I went with him. I do care about him, you know. By the time you get this, Mauri and I will be gone. Please try to understand. I want you to be happy. Love, Assumpta.í

                "Happy. She wants me to be happy?" He shook his head, and put his face in his hands. What is she thinking of? I love her. She knows it. How could she do this?

                The tears slid down his face. "My little Mauri," he sobbed.

* * * * *

                He thought about the last six months. How much pain he had gone through. His mom dying. His little Mauri gone. Assumpta gone with Leo. Oh, God. He had been drinking more than he should. He really needed to stop for a while. But at night, when he was alone, the pain would grip him like a vise and sometimes drinking was the only thing that would ease the pain.

                Someone was at the door. He got up slowly and opened it. Niamh came in, bringing him some food.

                "I brought you some dinner," she said. He pointed to the table.

                "You have to eat. You donít eat enough, and you drink too much," she said.

                "Yeah."

                "And you need to talk about this, with someone."

                "Who, God!!"

                "No! Me." She said, sitting down on the sofa next to him.

                "Peter, itís been a long time. You canít do this to yourself."

                He looked off into space for a bit. "I donít understand what happened. If I could understand, maybe it wouldnít hurt so badly."

                "Peter, I know how you felt about her."

                He looked at her. Didnít say anything.

                "A person would have to be blind not to see that."

                "I thought she cared for me too," he said.

                "She did," said Niamh.

                He just shook his head.

                "I donít know what happened either. The night she came back from telling you about the phone call, she looked tired. She told me to look after the bar and she took the baby and went up to bed."

                "You mean the night before she left?"

                "Yeah."

                "But she didnít tell me about a phone call. I didnít see her that night. When I went back to my house, my brother called me and that was when I found out that my mother was ill."

                "But she did leave to tell you. I was here and she asked me to watch the baby."

                "How curious," he said, shaking his head. "Well, no matter, itís been almost seven months now and I imagine she and Leo are happy."

                "You know, I know that she didnít love Leo. That is what makes it so hard to understand. Nothing in seven months except a cryptic letter, telling me to take care of the pub and she would let me have the profits. She didnít even tell me how she was."

                Peter looked at her. "Thanks for the dinner," he said. She got up and walked to the door. "Donít drink anymore."

                He smiled wanly.

                He awoke a little past three. Insomnia was part of his life now. But something was bothering him. He couldnít quite put his finger on it. What did Niamh say??

                Assumpta came over to tell me about the phone call, but I didnít see her. Where was I? Oh, God, I was at the church. Father Mac was there, yelling at me. I remember. He said some pretty awful things. Of course, I said some pretty awful things back. I hope she didnít hear what he was saying. He went back to bed. He lay there trying to piece together the things that were running through his mind.

                What if she heard Father Mac? What if that were the reason she left, and went with Leo? He got up and got a drink. He drank it down. What difference does it make now, he thought. She has made a choice and Mauri wouldnít know him anyway. He poured another drink. He didnít know what he was still doing in Ballyk. Trying to relive the past?? He was no longer the resident priest. He wasnít a priest at all. What was he? A fool!! He drank the drink down and went upstairs.

                He shut the front door. It was good to be back in Manchester. Maybe he would stay here. His mom was gone, but the house was still in the family. It was nice to have a place to stay. His brother William and he took turns cooking. He had only been here a week or so, but memories of Ballyk were fading a bit. He had quit drinking so heavily and began to feel better. The nights were still hard. He pictured little Mauri in his mind, trying to do a bit of age enhancement. She would be one, soon. He tried to think of other things, but most of the time, he couldnít help himself.

                He was going to the interview. This would be a good job. He hoped he would get it.

                It would mean traveling a lot. Good! He thought. Seeing new places and people might be what he needed.

                William met him at the airport. "Hey, you look good," he said, picking up Peterís suitcase.

                "You donít look so bad yourself," Peter remarked.

                "So, how was Switzerland?"

                "Cold," he smiled.

                "Listen, Peter, Niamh Egan called for you. Said it was important. I told her you were coming home today, and that I would have you call her."

                "I hope everything is ok," he said, his heart starting to pound a bit.

                They walked in the door. Peter went right to the phone.

                "Hi, Niamh. Are you ok?" he said, not waiting for polite conversation.

                "Yes, Peter, weíre fine here. How are you?"

                "Iím ok. Got a good job now."

                "Thatís good," she said, hesitating.

                "What is it?"

                "I found out where Assumpta is, Peter. I thought you might like to know."

                "Where," he said, a little too quickly.

                "She is in London, living with a friend of hers."

                "Not with Leo?"

                "I guess not," she said.

                "How did you find out?"

                "Eamonn went to visit one of his grandchildren and he saw her. She talked to him and she told him that she was fine. He came right over to the pub when he got home and told me."

                "Do you know where she is staying?"

                "I think she is with Mary. Thatís just a guess."

                "Do you know Maryís address?" he asked, his heart thudding in his chest.

                "I think so, let me get it."

                He parked the car and sat looking at the building. Should he go home? Should he go in? Was she married? Divorced? Was he opening up the old wounds? He slowly got out of the car and walked up the stairs to the door. He could hear footsteps inside, responding to his knock. The door opened. A woman of about 35 years, opened the door.

                "Yes?" she said, pleasantly.

                He took a deep breath.

                "Is Assumpta here?" he asked.

                She looked questioningly at him. Then quietly said, "No she isnít."

                "Is this where she lives?" he asked.

                "ÖÖWho wants to know?" she said, suspiciously.

                "I am a friend of hers," he said.

                "What is your name?"

                "Peter Clifford," he said, expecting her to shut the door on him.

                "PeterÖÖÖ. Oh, do come in. She isnít here, but she will be soon."

                "I have heard about you. But Iím not all that sure she will want to see you. But I think she should. Please come in and sit down."

                Peter walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa. The woman offered to make him some tea, but he was too nervous. "No thanks," he said.

                "She should be home soon. When she leaves the baby, she always comes home quickly."

                "The baby is here?" he said, turning to look around the room.

                "Yes, she is in the other room. Do you want to see her?"

                "Oh, yes, I would love to," he said.

                The woman left and he heard the sound of little footsteps coming back.

                "Here she is," she said, holding the tiny girlís hand and walking slowly beside her.

                "She has started to walk fairly early and doesnít like to be carried anymore," she said.

                He stared at her. There was that beautiful little girl that he remembered. So big. Walking. She smiled at him and her eyes twinkled merrily and her dark hair curled around her face, just like her mothers.

                "Hello Mauri," said Peter. She smiled a wary smile.

                "Can you say hi to Peter, Mauri?" said the woman. "She says hi now. She does chatter a lot," the woman said as she walked the baby over to Peter. He didnít want to scare her, so he didnít reach for her, which is what he wanted to do. She looked up at him. Oh, she was so much like Assumpta!

                "Hi Mauri. Do you remember me?" he said softly.

                She grinned, showing four little teeth on the top and four on the bottom. His heart nearly jumped out of his chest.

                "Oh, God, she is so beautiful," he said aloud, more to himself than to the woman.

                She smiled, "Yes, she is." Just then the phone rang. The woman left to go into the other room. Peter sat there staring at Mauri. He was so taken by her. He slowly reached out to her imploring her to come into his arms, which she did.

                He sat there, holding Mauri, letting her play with his watch and speaking to her in soft tones. Occasionally she would look up at him and smile.

                He was so occupied by her, that he didnít hear the front door open and wasnít aware of anyone, until she was standing in the living room and he heard a quick intake of breath.

                "Assumpta," he said.

                Mauri looked up and grinned and said, "Mama," but made no effort to get down from Peterís lap.

                "Assumpta, I hope you donít mind that I came to see Mauri," he said, apologetically.

                "How did you know I was here?" she said, stunned.

                "Well, I understand that you saw Eamonn a while back and he told Niamh."

                "And of course, Niamh told you."

                "Yes," he said, still holding the baby, who was fascinated by his watch.

                Assumpta sat down on the chair. He looked at her. She was the same. A little older, perhaps. The same eyes. She made no attempt to take the baby from him.

                She smiled softly at him. "Sheís gotten big," she said.

                "I canít believe it. But she looks exactly the way I pictured her," he said, looking intently at Assumpta.

                He saw the sadness in her eyes. "Iím sorry, Assumpta, if it was something I did?"

                "Peter," she whispered. "Iím the one whoís sorry. I felt so selfish taking you away from the life you worked so hard for."

                "You heard that conversation with Father Mac, didnít you?"

                "Yes."

                "I thought if I told Leo about the baby, he would come and get me. And he did."

                "AndÖÖÖ? Said Peter.

                "He wanted me, all right, but he wasnít happy about Mauri."

                "So what happened?"

                "I told him that I wasnít interested in a relationship with him. He had a girlfriend anyway, so Iím sure he wasnít too upset."

                "So, what have you been doing all this time?"

                "I got a job over at the college and I have been working, mornings, so that I can be here with Mauri. Mary works afternoons, so she tends when Iím at work."

                "What about you?" she said. "Are you still in Ballyk?"

                "No, I am in Manchester right now, and working for a company that does work for the government. I stayed in Ballyk for a few months, hoping that you would come back. Helped at the pub, and worked a bit for Brian."

                She looked surprised. "Youíre not a priest?"

                "No, Assumpta. The night that you heard the conversation, I told Father Mac that I was quitting the priesthood, that I loved you and no matter what he said, that this was a more important calling than being a priest. You should have stayed a little longer."

                Assumpta looked at Peter. She saw the sadness in his eyes. Tears came, but she said nothing. Mauri was still playing with Peterís watch. He looked down and kissed her head.

                "Peter, will you come to dinner on Sunday?" she asked.

                "Yes, thanks, I would love to." He held Mauri in an embrace and kissed her cheek. She giggled and he handed her to Assumpta. He walked toward the door and turned to look at her. "Iíll see you then," he said.

                "Yes," she nodded.
 

Chapter 3

                Assumpta picked up Mauri and held her. She kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear. Mauri looked at her mother. Smiled and whispered something back. Sunday! He was coming back on Sunday. She really didnít know what to think. Her feeling for him hadnít changed at all. But she felt a change in him. He loved Mauri, that, she knew.

                "MamaÖÖ.down," said Mauri, as Assumpta put her down. Off she went into her bedroom.

                Mary wandered in to the living room. "So, what is going on?" she said, smiling at Assumpta.

                "Nothing," answered Assumpta.

                "I like him," said Mary, sitting down on the sofa.

                "Yeah?" said Assumpta, sitting down, as well.

                "This is who you were running away from?"

                "I wasnít running away from him," said Assumpta, quickly.

                "Who were you running from then?" she asked.

                "I wasnít running!"

                Mary just smiled at her. "Really?"

                "I donít want to talk about it," she said.

                "You need to talk about it," said Mary.

                All of a sudden tears came to Assumptaís eyes. She put her face in her hands. Mary was so amazed by this show of emotion that she got up and sat next to her. She put her arm around her shoulders. "Talk to me," Mary said.

                "For Godís sake, Assumpta. You left him because of what the other priest said?" she said, incredulously.

                Assumptaís face reflected the pain she was in.

                "IÖÖ.thought he should have time to think about what he really wanted?"

                "Well, I donít know how he feels about you now, Assumpta, but I can tell you that he loves that baby."

                "I know," she said, quietly. " By the way, heís coming to dinner on Sunday."

                Mary smiled. "Good."

* * * * * *

                "No," said Mauri, shaking her head.

                "Please, Mauri," said Mary, holding the spoon and hoping she would take a few more bites.

                "No, pees," she said, still shaking her head.

                "Your mummy is going to be upset that you didnít eat everything."

                Mauri wasnít interested. She pointed to Peterís watch, sitting on the table.

                "Mine," she said, pointing a chubby finger at the watch.

                "Thatís Peterís watch," said Mary.

                "No,Ö.mine," said Mauri, emphatically.

                Mary laughed. "Ok, itís yours. That is until Peter realizes he left it and comes back to get it." She wiped Mauriís face and set her down on the floor.

                "Mine," said Mauri again, pointing up to the table where the watch was.

                "I hope itís not a Rolex," said Mary, handing the watch to Mauri.

                The door opened and Assumpta came in.

                "Itís raining," she said, dripping water from her umbrella.

                "Mama," yelled Mauri, running to her.

                Assumpta reached down and picked her up, and gave her several wet kisses.

                "Howís my baby?" she said, laughing.

                "Well, she wouldnít finish her dinner, but she has been very good. However, I donít hold out much hope for that watch."

                "Sweetheart, that is Peterís watch. I donít want you to break it," she said, reaching for it.

                "No, mine," said Mauri, with tears in her eyes.

                Assumpta looked up at Mary.

                "Sheís really very gentle with it," said Mary. "For a baby."

                "Ok, Mauri, but please be careful."

                "Ok," said Mauri, sucking the tears back in and smiling.

                "Do you have any idea when Peter will be back from Italy?"

                "No, he didnít say, when he called to cancel dinner that Sunday," said Assumpta, taking off her wet coat.

                "That was nearly a month ago," said Mary. "I would have thought he would have called?"

                Assumpta became quiet.

                "Come on Mauri," said Assumpta, "Mummy will get your pajamas on."

                Mauri held out her hand to her and Assumpta walked slowly with her down the hall and into the bedroom.

                Assumptaís eyes opened. She didnít know what woke her up. Mauri was sleeping beside her. The small nightlight cast a glow about the room. Someone was rapping on the door.

                "Yes," she said.

                Mary opened the door. "Someone is here for you, Assumpta."

                Assumpta looked puzzled. She looked at the clock. It was 11:30. She grabbed her robe and wrapped it around her, and followed Mary out of the room.

                The living room was dark, except for a small lamp that lighted one corner. As she entered, Mary went down the hall, to her own room. Assumpta walked over to the sofa and took a sudden intake of breath.

                "Peter," she said, sitting down on the chair next to the sofa. As she looked at him, she could see a bandage on his arm, and a scar on his face.

                "What happened to you?" she said, getting up and sitting next to him.

                "Peter, are you all right?" she said.

                "Iím fine," he smiled. "Iím sorry to wake you, but I just got in and wanted to see you and Mauri so badly. Please forgive me?"

                She swallowed, and stood up. She reached out her hand and he took it. She walked slowly, as he had a limp as well. She pushed open the bedroom door and walked over to the bed. He looked down. There was Mauri. Her dark hair curled around the side of her face. Her beautiful eyes closed, sleeping softly.

                "I have missed her so much," he said. Kneeling painfully down next to the bed, he put his hand on her hair and reached over to kiss her. Assumpta nearly cried. He got up again and whispered to Assumpta, "letís not wake her." She helped him and shut the door softly. He walked over to the sofa and sat down.

                "God, what happened to you?" she said.

                "I was in an accident in Rome and was in the hospital for awhile."

                "Why didnít you call? You seemed to care so much for Mauri."

                "Assumpta, I love her. She is like my own child. I didnít call because I knew I was going to be all right and I didnít want to worry you."

                Assumpta put her face into her hands. "Peter, can you ever forgive me?"

                "Assumpta, I know why you did what you did. You did it for me." He took her hand. "I only love you more, for it."

                Just then Mauri came into the living room. "Mama?" she said.

                "Yes, sweetheart, Iím here."

                Mauri came pattering over with her little bare feet.

                "Oh," she said, seeing Peter. "Daddy,"a smiled lighted her face.

                Peter looked at Assumpta. Assumpta smiled.

                He reached for Mauri. "Yes, Daddy is here," he said, lifting her up onto his lap. He looked at Assumpta questioningly.

                "She carried your watch around with her all the time. She was very careful with it, but she had such a feeling for you. She asked about you all of the time. We started calling you ĎDaddy.íÖÖÖ.. I knew that you loved her, or I would never have done that. I knew you were her daddy."

                Mauri got down and went into the bedroom.

                "What about you?" he said, softly.

                "What do you mean?"

                "How do you feel about me?" he asked.

                She reached over and took his hand. "I love you," she said. "I have loved you since I first saw you on the road in the rain, that day."

                "You do? You have?" he stammered.

                "Of course, I have loved you. You are my best friend. You were my protector, my confidant, my conscience. You were always there when I needed someone. How could I not love you?"

                Peter reached for her with his good arm. He pulled her to him and kissed her mouth softly. "Letís see, where were we? Oh, yes, Assumpta, will you marry me?"

                This time she whispered Ďyesí before she kissed him again.

                Mauri came out with the watch.

                "You can give him back his watch now, Mauri," she said.

                "NoÖÖ..mine," said Mauri, looking, pleadingly at Peter. He reached over and picked her up. He kissed her softly on the cheek.

                It is hers, Assumpta. I gave it to her when I was here before."

                He put his arm around Assumpta. She kissed him.

                "It was worth the wait," he said.