A breeze blew the dark strands of her hair into her eyes, and she absently reached up and put the wayward hair behind her ear. The world was quiet. The moon shone brightly on the Angel and sparkled as the water circled around the wet rocks. The hour was late and the pub was closed. She couldn’t sleep. She had tried. The bridge was cold as she leaned over, looking into the water. Her thoughts tumbling over and over trying to find some order to themselves. She had had too much to drink, of course. Niamh’s wedding day. A thoughtful combination of relief, joy, sadness and melancholy. The close call she had with Brian and the pub. She had won the race though. Peter had cheated for her. She felt her heart thud at the thought. She glanced up the road and saw the spire of St. Joseph’s. The memory of him sitting on the steps at Hendley’s. She had given him the signatures, insuring him a place in Ballyk. “What about you?” he had said. God, what about me, she thought? The wind whipped her hair into her eyes again. She turned and walked toward the pub. Maybe she would make a cup of tea. As she reached the door of the pub, she heard the sound of someone running. She turned and stared intently, watching as the dark form of the unknown jogger approached. There was something familiar about him. As he came closer, recognition played upon her face. He stopped, amazed at seeing her.
“Assumpta,” he said, breathlessly.
“What are you doing up at this hour?”
“Couldn’t sleep. What about you?”
“Me either………. Assumpta, I didn’t have a chance to thank you for getting the signatures on that petition.” He coughed. “I don’t know what kind of an effect it will have, but I know that the Bishop will have to realize that the people want me to stay here.”
“That was the general idea,” she said……… “I was going to make some tea, do you want some?”
He thought for a moment and was about to decline. She reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear once again.
“Yeah, that would be good,” he said, smiling.
The pub was warm and there was a fire in the fireplace. She told him to sit down and went into the kitchen for the tea. There was something quieting about the pub, especially, when no one else was there. The fire crackled and he really couldn’t think of anywhere else he would rather be……
Assumpta came in carrying the tea tray. She looked at him and he looked back. Sometimes there were occasions when words got in the way. This seemed to be one of them. The tea was hot and good.
She kicked off her shoes and sat opposite him.
“It was a great day,” he said, setting his cup down on the table.
“It was,” she smiled, thinking of all of the things that had happened that day.
“I think they will be very happy,” said Peter.
“I hope so.”
Her ease in his company came from the many hours they had talked, argued, battled and commiserated. They had worked together, fought against one another, defended each other…….But he understood her…most of the time…. and she understood him. It was an interesting relationship. But not always smooth.
“Ahhhhchooo,” said Peter. “Sorry,” he said.
Her brow crinkled up. “Are you ok,” she asked.
“Today was wonderful,” she said, laughing to herself, remembering the trouble Niamh and Ambrose had getting to this point.
Peter nodded. “Did I ever tell you about when they came for the classes,” he said, laughing.
An hour later, the fire was dying and Peter sneezed again.
Assumpta looked at him. She stood up and walked over to him and pressed her hand against his forehead.
“God, Peter, you have a fever,” she said, bringing her other hand up to his face. He looked at her. “I’m fine,” he said.
“No you’re not,” she said, walking over to the closet and getting out a sweatshirt. She tossed it to him.
“Put that on. You’re not walking home in that t-shirt.” She had put on her bossy attitude, so Peter didn’t even try to argue. He reached for it and pulled it over his head.
“I guess I’d better go. Father Mac would be livid, if he knew.”
Assumpta gave him her ‘who cares’ look.
“I’ll walk with you,” she said, putting on her jacket.
“No, Assumpta, I don’t want you to come out in this chill and I would worry about you walking back alone.”
“This is Ballykissangel,” she said.
“No,” he said, emphatically.
“Ok,” she said. “I’ll walk you half way.”
He just shook his head. He knew he had lost the argument.
They walked slowly up the deserted street toward St. Joseph’s. Once in a while her arm would touch his. He looked at her. She was so beautiful. Sometimes he thought about her beauty. He never let himself get lost in it, though. It was a struggle.
They got to the end of the row of houses and he said, “This is as far as you go. Go home now.”
She laughed. “Don’t tell me what to do,” she said, smiling and turning toward him.
“Assumpta, you promised.”
“Never once did I say the word ‘promise.’
“Look, you can call me when I get home,” she said. Grabbing his arm and walking toward St. Joseph’s. They walked the rest of the way. Getting to his door, he opened it and kept it opened for her.
“Father Mac would be furious,” he laughed.
She didn’t even answer. She went into the kitchen and put a kettle on.
“Go get your pajamas on,” she ordered from the kitchen.
In a few minutes the kettle was boiling and the tea was made. Peter appeared in his pajamas and robe.
“Sit,” she said, bringing in the tea. He noticed there was only one cup.
“Aren’t you going to have any?” he asked.
“No, I am going to go home, before anyone finds out I am here,” she said, smiling.
She reached over and felt his face again. Her hands felt cool on his warm face. She looked down at him. For a moment their eyes met. Then she looked away.
“Well, get some sleep,” she said, walking to the door. She closed the door and walked out into the chilly moonlit night. She walked slowly down the street. It was a beautiful night. Or morning, she thought.
She opened the pub door as the phone was ringing.
“Fitsgerald’s,” she said, laughing.
“Just checking on you,” he said.
“I’m here and I’m fine.”
“Ok, and thanks, Assumpta. Thanks for the tea………… and for being my friend.”
“You’re welcome.” She smiled.
“Goodnight, Assumpta,” he said, almost in a whisper.
The pub was busy. Several carloads of vacationers stopped. Some to stay. They kept Assumpta hopping. She finally called Peggy to come and help. She hadn’t seen Peter all day, and had tried to call him several times, but he didn’t answer. Some of the customers had left and that gave her a breather. But the more time she had, the more she worried about Peter. It was very unusual for him not to stop in at least once.
“Peggy, would you tend for a bit. I’m going up to see how Peter is. He didn’t feel good last night.”
“Yeah,” said Peggy, walking by with a drink for Brendan.
“Thanks,” she said, picking up her jacket.
As she walked out of the pub, she realized it was raining. “Oh, God,” she said aloud, putting up the hood of her jacket.
She knocked on the door. She waited. She knocked again. Finally she heard something from inside. The door slowly opened.
Peter stood there, in his robe. It was obvious that he was sick.
“Are you alright?” she said, pushing her way inside.
“I feel pretty awful,” he said, coughing out the last word.
“God, you look terrible,” she said, taking her jacket off.
Peter sat down on the sofa.
“Have you eaten anything?” she asked.
“I’m not really hungry.”
“I called you today, but you didn’t answer.”
“I was probably asleep,” he said.
“Did you call Michael?”
She walked over to the phone, picked it up and began to dial.
“Don’t bother him, Assumpta. I’ll be alright.”
She ignored him as she said “Michael, this is Assumpta. Fine, but I’m up at Peter’s and he is pretty sick………… I don’t know, but he looks terrible. Alright. Thanks.”
She went into the kitchen and put the kettle on. She started to clean up the mess of two days vintage. Pretty soon she brought out a tray.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“You were busy.”
She glared at him, just as a knock came at the door.
In a little while Assumpta was finished in the kitchen and Michael was through with Peter.
“He has bronchitis,” Michael said, packing up his bag. “But I have given him some medication and if he takes care of himself, he should be alright.” He turned to Peter. “I don’t want you to go outside for a few days.”
Peter just coughed.
Assumpta was visibly relieved.
Michael left, shutting the door firmly.
“Do you want to be down here, or upstairs?” Assumpta asked.
“I guess down here would be best,” he whispered.
She went up the stairs. He room was stark. It reminded her of a monastery. Not that she had ever been in one. But she imagined that that was how it was.
She came back down with a pillow, a sheet, and a quilt. She busied herself, making his bed on the sofa. When she was finished, she pointed to it. He obediently got up from the chair, and lay down. The sheet felt cool on his warm skin. She finished tucking in the covers about him. He reached up and grabbed her hand.
“Thanks…..” he said. She reached over and smoothed his forehead with her hand, and went into the kitchen.
When she came back, she had some soup for him. He sat up and she handed him the tray.
“I’m fine now, he said. “You can go back to the pub.”
She smiled. “Will you call me, if you need something?”
“I will,” he said, taking a spoonful of the soup.
“Ok,” she said.
The pub was heaving when she got back. “Oh God, Assumpta, I’m so glad you’re back,” sighed Peggy. “How’s Father Clifford?”
“Michael says he has bronchitis and can’t go outside for a couple of days.”
“Assumpta,” yelled Padraig, obviously drunk.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, walking over to him.
“Assumpta, tell Brendan here that I can write as well as he can,” he slurred.
“Leave me out of it,” Assumpta said, wiping the bar, and deliberately taking his half-full drink away.
“Hey,” he said, reaching for the disappearing drink, but missing it.
“Take him home, Brendan,” Assumpta said.
“That will be the blind leading the blind,” said Siobhan.
“I beg your pardon,” said Brendan, arrogantly weaving up to Padriag and taking him by the arm. Everyone at the bar laughed.
Finally the pub was closed and Peggy left. Assumpta cleaned up and sat down by the fire. Her thoughts were about Peter. As usual. She was amazed and disturbed by how important he was to her. She never let anyone get this close. Occasionally her self-protective voice told her to leave Ballyk. Get out! Run!! But then the other voice would list the reasons she couldn’t. However, she never let herself think about how she felt, deep-down, and how impossible the whole thing was. She sipped her drink and warmed herself. She really should call him. Maybe she should go up there? She grabbed her jacket and closed the door behind her. It was still raining. What if he was sleeping? She should just let him sleep. But what if he really needed her? She knocked on the door and listened. Finally the door opened. She went in.
It was dark and cold.
“Why is it so cold here?” she demanded.
“I guess my heater isn’t working.”
“God, Peter, you can’t stay in here,” she said, walking into the kitchen.
“I’m ok,” he said. “I stay under the covers, mostly,” the last words were said with a cough.
“Just stay here. I will be right back.”
She ran the way home and grabbed the keys to the van.
She didn’t knock this time. She just went in.
“Come on,” she said, picking up his jacket and his blankets and pillow.
“Where?” he said, “What………?”
“Just come on,” she said, walking out into the rain, and opening the door to the van.
He followed and got in. On the way down, he said, “I’m ok Assumpta.”
“Michael said you were not to go outside in the cold. It was freezing in there.”
He knew better than to argue.
The van stopped in front of Fitzgerald’s. Assumpta got out and opened the door to the pub. Peter got out and hurried in. She settled him on the sofa and went out to get his things.
When she returned, he had put another log on the fire and it was blazing warmly.
“Thanks,” she said, setting his things down on the chair.
“Father Mac isn’t going to like this,” he said, coughing.
“Who cares what he likes,” she said, fixing the covers about him. He looked at her. She looked back. She reached for his face and felt it. “You’re still very warm.”
He said nothing, enjoying the feel of her cool hand on his face.
His thoughts were confused. Probably the fever. He didn’t remember her leaving. He woke suddenly. The fire was almost out. He got up and put another log on it. He went to the kitchen for a drink of water, walking softly so he wouldn’t awaken her. As he went in the open door, he bumped into her.
“Oh, God, Peter, I’m sorry,” she said, almost losing her balance.
He reached for her, to steady her. The touch of her cool skin, against his warmth felt so good. Before he thought of what he was doing, he put his arms the rest of the way around her. He felt her face against his.
She felt his arms around her. She knew she should move away. She couldn’t. From the deep recesses of her soul she was playing out the scene that she never allowed herself to imagine. Her arms slipped around him and she held him to her. His face against hers. He turned his head and softly kissed her face. In the dark…….this was just a dream. She would wake soon. She turned to him and their lips met, softly at first and then more urgently. “Assumpta,” he whispered. “Assumpta.” She reached up and touched both sides of his face. The warmth was shocking. The reality of the situation finally hit her.
“Peter,” she said, backing away from him. She took him by the arm and walked
him to the sofa. He said nothing…….. He’s just feverish. He doesn’t
realize what he has done……God, can I live through this? She tucked
him in and and brought him a drink of water. He didn’t say anything.
He just looked at her, through eyes too bright from fever.
She opened her eyes. It took a while to adjust to the bright light. What time was it? She squinted to see the clock. “Oh, God,” she said aloud. She got up and went into the bathroom. She looked awful. What time was it that she had finally fallen asleep? She looked in the mirror. She wouldn’t think about last night. She refused to think about last night. He was so sick. So feverish. He didn’t know what he was doing. She took a deep breath. He won’t even remember it…….but she would. She brushed her teeth and her hair and slipped her jeans on. Nope, she wouldn’t think about it ever again. She walked down the stairs. She could see him asleep on the sofa. She went into the kitchen and put the teakettle on. She would make him eat breakfast. All of a sudden he was there, behind her. She turned. “Hi,” she said, smiling. “How are you feeling?”
“Much better, thanks,” he said.
“I’m making you some breakfast,” she added. “Come and sit down.”
He sat at the table and watched her. “I guess I was really sick.”
She congratulated herself on her decision.
“Yeah, you were,” she said, nonchalantly. She walked over to him and put her hand on his face.
“You seem much better this morning.” That wasn’t so bad, she thought.
I can do this. She put his plate down in front of him. He looked up at her and smiled. “Thanks for everything,” he said.
“What are friends for?” she said.
Assumpta was glad Niamh was back. They had returned from their honeymoon and Ambrose was back at work. Niamh had come over quite often to help. Assumpta smiled, remembering the last evening, when Father Mac had come in, still smarting from the petition that she had sent to the Bishop. Assumpta had smiled at him. Only her mouth. Her eyes did not smile. “What can I do for you, Father?” She emphasized the “Father.”
“I’ll have a pint, if you don’t mind, Assumpta,” he had said.
Assumpta said nothing. She brought him the drink and set it in front of him, with the smug air of a conquering hero. He said nothing, but looked very uncomforable.
That was enough for her. She did so enjoy winning against him. But more than that, she was relieved that the Bishop had rung Peter to tell him that his transfer had been cancelled. Father Mac had never mentioned anything to him about it. She smiled again. God that felt good.
“What do you want done with these?” asked Niamh, indicating the case of cola on the bar.
“In the cooler,” she said, leaning over the ledger, trying to balance the inventory she knew she had, with what was on the books.
“Hiya,” said Peter. His footsteps echoing in the empty pub.
“Hi Father,” said Niamh. “Are you better?”
“Yes, thanks, Niamh. How was the trip?”
“It was great, Father.”
Assumpta looked at him. He walked over to her and sat opposite her at the bar.
“What would you like, Peter,” she said.
“I think I will have a cola, please.”
She smiled, surprised at his choice.
As if in explanation, he said, “I’m still on medication, so I think I will be careful what I drink.”
“Good choice,” she said, setting the cola down.
They sat together, just looking at one another. It was a comfortable silence.
Niamh finished putting the cola in the cooler.
“I’m off home for a bit,” she said.
“Will you be back?” asked Assumpta.
“Yes, later, I think,” she said, as she headed for the door.
“So……you look better,” she said, looking at Peter.
“I feel better.”
Padraig came in and sat down. “A pint, please Assumpta.”
“So, Father, I heard you were sick,” he said, sitting next to Peter.
“Yeah, I was for a while,” he said, taking a drink of cola.
The phone rang. Assumpta answered it. “Fitzgeralds.”
“It’s for you,” she said, looking at Peter.
His eyebrows shot up. “Who?”
She didn’t say anything.
When he came back he drank down the rest of the cola and said, “Father Mac wants to see me. I wonder what for?”
She just looked at him as he walked out of the pub door.
Peggy walked in. “Can I talk to you, Assumpta?”
“Yeah,” she said uncertainly.
Peggy leaned over and whispered something in her ear.
“That’s great………. . When??”
“End of the month,” Peggy said, with a grin.
“When did he ask you?”
“You will have it here, right?”
They both looked at Padraig and didn’t say anything. Padraig feigned indifference.
The week flew by. She had been really busy. She was grateful for that. Less time to spend trying not to think. She hadn’t seen Peter for a few days. Unusual. Whatever! She couldn’t go there. Besides she had other things to think about. The hot water tank had blown up. What else! She thought. She had promised herself that she would never think about the kiss she and he had shared. But sometimes at night she dreamed it over again and woke up with her heart pounding. She balanced on one foot, trying to open the refrigerator with her toe, as her arms were full of groceries. “Oh, God,” she exclaimed, as the block of cheese fell to the floor.
“Here, let me help,” said Peter, bending over and picking up the cheese.
“Thanks,” she said, as he took some of the food from her and put them on the table.
He finished helping her and sat down at the table. She looked at him. He avoided her gaze.
“So…..what’s going on?” she said, her back to him, slipping a roast into the oven.
He didn’t say anything. She turned to look at him. “Well……………………
Finally he said, “I have been trying to make a decision,”…………………………
“About what?” she stopped and stared at him.
“I have an opportunity to go to Belfast.”
“Belfast! For what? For how long?”
……. “For good,” he said softly.
“For good?…………….That’s an opportunity?” she said, sitting down at the table.
“Father Mac asked me if I would be interested in taking a school in the inner city.”
……….. “Wouldn’t that be kind of dangerous?”
“I suppose it could be,” he said, not looking at her. “But it’s dangerous for the children that are there, as well. And they are in sore need of a priest willing to take the chance.”
She looked at him. To Assumpta, sadness, hurt, the stress of trying to control her feelings, the hopelessness of where she was, added to that, the belief that Father Mac had finally come up with a plan to get rid of him, equalled anger.
“So,” she said sharply. “What have you decided.”
He looked at her. “I don’t know, Assumpta. I just wanted to talk about it….What do you think?”
Her eyes flashed dangerously.
“I think you should do what you want to,” she said, quickly.
He could sense that she was angry.
Niamh walked through the door. “Hi you two,” she said, cheerfully.
She looked from one to the other, sensing the tension.
Peter said, “Hi Niamh.” He rose from the chair and turned toward the door. “Well, I’m off then.”
“Bye, Father,” said Niamh.
Assumpta said nothing.
“What did I interrupt?” she said, looking closely at Assumpta.
“Nothing, much,” she said casually, although her hands were shaking.
“Are you sure it’s fixed?” Assumpta questioned.
“Yeah, sure,” said Donal, picking up his jacket.
Assumpta reached in the till to pay him.
“It better be,” she said, thinking of the trouble she had had with that water heater.
Liam came down the stairs. “Well, that wasn’t too bad.”
Assumpta looked at him suspiciously
“What?” he said.
She didn’t say anything, reaching over to turn on the hot water. Although it was cold, she could see that the line was working.
“Ok,” she turned to Donal and handed him the money.
“Thanks, Assumpta,” he said.
Siobhan came in as the boys were going out.
“Hello, Assumpta,” she said, sitting down at the bar.
“Hi, Siobhan, what’ll you have?”
“Just a cup of coffee,” she said.
Assumpta put the cup in front of her.
“Assumpta…..did you hear that Peter was leaving Ballyk?”
Her heart started to pound. “Yes, I knew he was thinking about it.”
“Why didn’t you say?”
“Isn’t any of my business,” replied Assumpta, wiping off the clean bar.
“But he’s your friend.”
“He’s yours too,” she replied.
“I know, Assumpta, but you two were so close.”
“Maybe not, huh?”said Assumpta, walking into the kitchen.
The pub began to fill up. She didn’t have any time to think about it. As the night wore on people came and went. She had to throw two men out, for drunkeness and fighting.
Sometimes she wondered why she stayed here.
What a mess! She stacked the plates and ashtrays on a tray and walked into the kitchen. She was so glad everyone had left early. Padraig was the last to go. When she walked back in, there was Peter. He was sitting at the bar.
“Hiya,” he said.
“Hi,” she said, walking over to the door and locking up. It wouldn’t do to have Ambrose come in here and accuse them of afterhours drinking.
“Would you like something to drink? I have plenty in the refrigerator.”
“Yes, please. Some wine.”
She walked into the kitchen, poured two glasses and went back into the bar.
“So,” she said. “Have you decided what you’re going to do?”
He set the glass down and looked up at her.
“I really feel that I should take this position,” he said, looking at his drink.
She said nothing. She looked at him. If he could have read the message in her eyes, the decision might have been different.
He went on. “This small school is in the heart of the city. They have sent me a letter describing the few students. Many of them are orphaned and the school is their home.”
“When will you leave?” she asked, cutting, as usual, to the heart of things.
“Day after tomorrow.”
She said nothing, taking a drink of wine.
“Don’t Peter. Don’t say anything. Let’s just leave it where it is.”
He started to say something and thought the better of it.
“I’ll come by before I go,” he said, softly, finishing the wine.
Again she said nothing. The door closed. She stared after him.
This was the day. He was leaving. She had refused to feel anything,. When her thoughts had taken her there, she immediatedly turned to something else. But the dreams! She couldn’t control them. Oh God, she wished she could.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked Niamh.
“You’re not listening. What is on your mind?”
“I am too, listening, she retorted.
“I told you that Peggy called.”
“Oh, did she? What did she want?” she said, trying to focus.
“I told you…….she said she couldn’t have the party and the dance here. There are too many people coming. But she wants you to help her, though. She said that Padraig said she could use his shop. It used to be a dance hall, remember?”
The door opened. Peter walked in.
“Hello, Father,” said Niamh.
“So you’re leaving us, then,” she said.
“I’m afraid so,” he said, looking at Assumpta, who was not looking at him.
“Well, Father, write to us, won’t you?” Niamh said, walking over to him and hugging him. “I’d better get back home. I’ll be back later. Safe trip, Father.”
He turned and looked at Assumpta. She still wasn’t looking at him.
“I’ve said goodbye to everyone else,” he said, softly. “I wanted to save you for last.”
She still couldn’t look at him. He walked over to her and put his arms around her.
“Assumpta, there are so many things I want to say……but I can’t.
She felt the warmth of his arms.
“I know,” she said.
“You have been my best friend, Assumpta. I will never forget you.”
“Will you write to me?” he asked, brushing her hair from her eyes.
She took a deep breath. “Sure…….what are friends for?”
"Move that over here," shouted Brendan, to Donal, carrying a huge box of decorations.
They had been working on Padraig's building all week. Assumpta was there occasionally to direct and give orders. They had only another few days and Peggy's wedding and party would be here and she was related to half the town. Assumpta had been busy at the pub or she would have spent more time there.
"Here?" asked Donal.
"Yes," said Brendan, pointing to the spot.
Padraig had moved out all of the bikes and tools. They had hung great globes from the ceiling that caught the light and many colored sparkles shown about the room. Assumpta set up the bar in one corner. She was almost excited. Niamh and Siobhan had helped and even Kathleen had offered to contribute. Peggy's family, of course, had been in and out, bringing things and offering suggestions.
Assumpta carried the dirty plates from the table into the kitchen. The pub had been busy and several people were still there. Some, playing chess, some watching the telly.
"I'll have a pint, Assumpta," said Siobhan, coming in to sit at the bar.
"What's going on over there?"
"Brendan and Padraig have Liam and Donal putting up the decorations and setting up the sound system."
Assumpta walked over to the end of the bar to turn down the television. The three at the end of the bar were talking to one another and not listening, so she thought nobody would mind if she shut it off. It was the news. She really never watched it. It made her nervous.
"A bomb has gone off in central Belfast, killing three and wounding one."
She reached up and snapped it off. She held her breath and slowly let it out.
"Siobhan, will you watch the pub for a while?"
"Yeah, where are you going? Are you all right?" She looked curiously at Assumpta.
Assumpta grabbed a jacket and walked out the door. She walked up the street and past St. Joseph's. There was a new priest there now. A Father Aiden O'Connell. Father Mac had brought him into the pub and introduced him to Assumpta. She was afraid that she wasn't very nice. To either of them. But she had seen Aiden several times since then and she was starting to warm to him. He seemed so very kind. He had been a monk. Certainly, nothing like Father Mac.
Her steps took her up past the grotto where she had met Peter, the day he had told her that Father Mac was sending him home. She sat down on a large rock. She put her face in her hands. God, what was she going to do. All she could do was think of him. She worried about him incessantly. The news was usually grim from Belfast. My God, an English priest in Belfast. If anything happened to him, she would blame Father Mac, entirely. She really couldn't go on this way. She probably would have to leave Ballyk, just to get away from the memories. She'd think more of it after Peggy's party. Sometimes she thought of the kiss they had shared. She could almost feel his mouth touching hers. How long would she feel the pain? As she sat there, it started to rain. Softly. She didn't move. She just wanted the pain to drip off of her with the raindrops. She never allowed herself the full reign of terror that she knew she felt somewhere in her deepest self. She always stopped just short of it. Tonight was no exception. She would walk back, in the rain. She would go back to work and push it all into that little corner of her soul.
Peter touched her face. He leaned down and kissed her. He put his arms around her and she could see the man outside the window. She couldn't see it, but she knew he had a gun. She wanted to scream. But she couldn't. He turned and she saw his face, contorted with anger. She watched his hand come up and she heard the gun fire as she turned and looked at Peter. She saw the blood trickle down his face and she saw his eyes close. Her own scream must have awakened her. She sat up in the bed. Her heart was pounding. "Oh God," she said, almost prayerfully. The room was dark. As she got out of bed, her hands were shaking. She didn't know how much more she could take. Why was she dreaming those awful dreams? She rinsed her face in cold water. She had never told anyone else about the dreams. Not even Niamh.
The morning was bright. Niamh opened the pub door. Assumpta came through the kitchen door.
"Are you going to close the pub, tonight?"
"Yeah, everyone will be at the party."
"What are you going to wear?"
"I don't know, hadn't thought about it. Been too busy."
"I think you should wear your black dress. It's sexy."
"Now, who do you suppose I need to impress, here?" she said, sarcastically.
"Well, it wouldn't hurt for you to go out once in a while. You know, with a man. Someone might be there," she said.
"Oh, stop, Niamh."
"Well, I'm just looking out for you."
"Thanks, but no thanks."
"But will you wear the black?"
"Oh, alright. It doesn't matter what I wear, anyway," she said resignedly.
"Good," said Niamh. "Well, I'd better go do a few things," she said, walking out.
Assumpta picked up the mail on the bar and walked upstairs. She walked
into her room and put the mail on the nightstand. She lay down on
the bed and closed her eyes. She would really have to make some changes
after this party, or she was going to go completely mad. She sat
up and looked at the mail. Bills! And something else. She picked
up the stack of letters. One from Belfast. She tore it opened,
but stopped to check the date. Mailed over a week ago. Her
hands were shaking. She carefully opened the pages.
Dear Assumpta, First of all I want to tell you that I am ok. I know that you were worried, even though you never said anything. I have gotten to know you so well, over the last few years, that I could tell that you were afraid for me. I miss you a great deal. Sometimes I glance out the window and think I see you walking down the street. I miss Ballyk too. The quiet, the people. It really was home to me. I have gotten to know the boys here quite well in just a short while. When children live with uncertainty and danger, it seems they take short-cuts to what is really important. I don't know how long I will be here. Two priests and a child were killed not far from here just last week. I have heard that they may close the school and send the boys to St. Patrick's school close to Donegal. I guess I don't know what they will want me to do then. I don't know what else to tell you. I hope you will tell everyone that I am thinking about them. And, Assumpta, please know how very important you are to me. Please take care and please write to me.
She folded up the letter. The tears welled up in her eyes. She let them fall freely.
"You ready?" yelled Niamh.
"Assumpta," she yelled.
"Yeah," came the reply from upstairs.
"You ready?" she yelled again.
Niamh went up the stairs.
"Zip me up," Assumpta said.
"You look great," she said, zipping the dress up.
"Hmmm," said Assumpta, looking in the mirror. She did look fairly ok, she thought.
The long black dress, with the slit up to her knees, was pretty sexy. What a waste, she thought.
"I'll be glad when this is over," she said, brushing her hair.
"I think it will be fun," said Niamh.
"I suppose so," said Assumpta, putting the finishing touches to her makeup. "Is it raining?"
"No, it's warm outside."
They walked together to Padriag's. They were a bit late, but it was ok. The party would probably last all night. Ambrose was on duty, so he wouldn't be there until late. They went in just as the band started playing again. Assumpta was impressed. Brendan had done a great job of decorating. The globes turned slowly, sending shards and sparkles all around the huge dance hall. The place was heaving. She and Niamh walked over to the bar. Peggy's uncle was bartending. They got their drinks and wandered around the outside of the dancers. Brian bumped into them carrying two drinks.
"Watch out Dad!" said Niamh.
"Oh, sorry ladies," said Brian, trying to avoid the dancers.
They found a place to sit. The table had six chairs and Siobhan and Brendan were in two of them.
"I'm impressed," she said to Brendan, looking around at the decorations.
"Thanks, Assumpta," he said.
She turned and noticed someone by her side. She looked up. Danny O'Hara reached out his hand to her.
"Dance with me?" he said, hopefully.
........."Sure, why not."
Niamh turned to Brendon. "Heard anything?"
He shook his head.
"You look gorgeous," said Danny.
"Thanks," said Assumpta, not looking at him. She liked him alright, but she didn't want him getting any ideas. She didn't like him like that.
The hour was late.....or early, depending on one's point of view. Those who had had too much to drink had already left. Those who were still working on it, remained. The place was still packed.
"Don't you think the band is good?" asked Niamh.
"It's fine," said Assumpta. Ambrose had finally gotten there and was up getting drinks.
Someone touched Assumpta on the shoulder. She had already danced about ten dances with Danny. She was becoming bored with his company. She turned to look.
He reached out his hand. She stared for a minute and then gave her hand to him. They walked out onto the dance floor. "What are you doing here?" she asked in amazement.
"It's a long story," said Peter. He put his arms around her and held her closely. She was sure he would be able to feel her heart pounding. Their faces touched and something akin to electricity swept through her. When the music stopped, she took a step back.
"What are you doing here?" she repeated.
"Let's stay for a few more dances, and then let's leave. I want to talk to you."
She just nodded her head, as he reached for her once again.
They walked back to the table.
"Well, Father, it's about time you got here," said Brendan.
Assumpta looked questioningly at Brendan.
"Hello, Father," said Ambrose.
"Yes, Father, what took you so long?" said Niamh.
Assumpta looked from Brendan to Niamh.
"You knew he was coming?" she asked.
"Oh, didn't I tell you?" said Brendan.
"Never mind Assumpta, would you go for a walk with me?" asked Peter.
She didn't answer. She just stood up and walked beside him to the door.
The night was beautiful. The moon was full, bathing everything in its mellow light. Peter walked alongside her, beside the Angel. She really didn't know what to say. He didn't have his priest's garb on. He had a dark suit and dark shirt. He looked devastatingly handsome.
"Why are you here, Peter?" she asked, looking up at him as they walked.
"It's a long story. Are you upset that I am here?"
"No.......I'm just wondering. I got your letter today."
"I wrote that a lifetime ago," he said.
"So........what has happened?"
"Well, I told you that the boys at the school might be transferred." She nodded. "And I wasn't sure about what they would want me to do. Well, the day after I wrote the letter, they took the boys. I was sorry to see them go, because I had become fond of them, but I realized that it was for the best, for them." She stood facing him. "I told you that I had seen someone that reminded me of you, do you remember?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Well, the afternoon of the day that the boys left, I was walking to the store at the end of the block and I saw her again. She really looked a lot like you. She wore the same type of clothes.......it really was disturbing to me. And then, as I was turning to go into the store, I heard the squeal of brakes and I turned. She had been knocked down by a car. I rushed over to her, to see if I could help. Someone had seen the accident and had called the ambulance, so I waited there with her. She was unconscious, so I stayed with her until the Gardai and the ambulance came. I felt so helpless. Anyway, I gave my statement to the garda and then left to continue what I was doing. But, Assumpta, I couldn't stop thinking of you. I thought, 'what if something happened to you and I wasn't there.'
She could see that he was very emotional. She wondered if she should tell him about her dreams. They walked on a ways. The breeze blew her hair into her eyes and she reached up to tuck it behind her ear. Peter quickly reached over and tucked it for her. She looked at him. What was he trying to tell her?
"Anyway, I thought about you all day and night. I couldn't get you out of my mind. In the early morning, I woke and I knew what I had to do. I hope you won't laugh at me, Assumpta, but I knew that I had to come here, to see you, and perhaps to .......stay."
He looked at her, hopefully.
She looked at him. She started to smile.
"What?" he said. He looked at her. She was so beautiful, with the moonlight shining on her hair and in her eyes.
"Peter, I can't think of anything I would rather have, than you, staying here in Ballyk."
He put his hand up to her face.
"But what would Father Mac say?"
"He already knows. Besides I am not a priest, anymore."
"What!" she gasped. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm trying to tell you something, Assumpta...............After that night, I decided that I knew that I had to come back here. And not as a priest. I had to come here and tell you....... how much I loved you. And hope that you wouldn't be too offended."
He looked at her. She reached up and touched his face with her hand.
"You thought I might be offended?"
"Well, you know......a priest, telling you that he loves you."
"Peter,......you've never been a priest, to me. You've always been my friend."
"I remember one night, I dreamed that I kissed you. I have thought of little else since then," he said, brushing her hair away from her face.
She looked down at the ground and then back up at him. "That wasn't a dream ............."
Peter looked at her. "When.....................................
"It was that night that you were so sick and running a fever. It just happened, Peter. You bumped into me in the kitchen and you kissed me. I have never forgotton it either."
"But in my dream, you kissed me back," he said, questioningly.
"Couldn't help myself," she said, smiling.
He looked at her in amazement. He leaned down and kissed her softly. She responded. He stood back and looked at her. The grin on his face, made her laugh.
"I can't believe this," he said.
"Because I didn't know you cared for me."
She reached up with her hand and pulled his head down and kissed him. "I love you, my friend," she said softly, as he wrapped his arms around her.