He opened the door and walked in. Niamh was behind the bar. "Hi Niamh," he said smiling.
"Where is her Ladyship?" Peter asked, as he sat down.
"Ah, in the kitchen, Father." Just then Assumpta came through the kitchen
door, carrying some
glasses on a tray.
He looked at her. Looking at her was like food for his soul. Her dark
hair framing her face, her cheeks flushed. Her jumper
unbuttoned at the top. As she looked at of unrest.
He really didn't know what was happening to him. He had prayed and prayed for guidance. Nothing came. Why was he so restless? Sometimes he couldn't sleep. He would get up and walk back and forth, from window to window. Thoughts running through his head. The church. The priesthood. Assumpta! He would find himself thinking of her more and more. He even wondered what it would be like to kiss her. He wondered how she felt about him. Finally, exausted, he would crawl back in bed and sleep fitfully, until mid morning. Once Father Mac had come over, after one particularly grueling night and found him still in bed. You would have thought he had missed the second coming.
The pub was full. Brendan, Padraig, Siobhan, Doc Ryan, Eamon, Brian, Liam and Donal. Plus several carloads of tourists. Assumpta was scurrying back and forth between bar and kitchen. Niamh was helping, but both were kept busy.
Peter, all of a sudden, got up from the bar and went into the kitchen. Assumpta was washing up some glasses and jumped when he said, "Can I help?" Sometimes he wondered where these spur of the moment ideas came from.
"Sure," she said, drying off her hands and handing him some more glasses. "Wash these up, ok."
Off she went. As he was standing there, he had some time to think. He was glad to help. He wanted to help her as much as he could. Why was she so important to him? When had she become so important to him? Where was all of this going? How can a priest do his job faced with feelings like these?
Niamh set the tray down next to him with a crash! "Oh, sorry Father, the tray slipped." Assumpta hurried in and brought some plates and cups, and went to the refridgerator to make some sandwiches. She looked over at him, his black sleeves rolled up to his elbows, arms full of suds, and smiled. "You ok?" she asked
"Oh, yeah. I'm hurrying," he replied, rinsing some cups and setting them in the drainer.
"Well, don't break anything," she said. He looked over at her and she was smiling at him. He smiled back.
He had been in the kitchen for several hours. Almost all of the dishes had been done. He looked at his hands. Hmmm. Very clean. He heard the door to the pub close. Pretty soon Assumpta came in carrying a tray of glasses. "I've locked the door, so this is it," she set the last tray down. "Peter, you don't have to stay. Thanks so much for helping," she said politely.
"Well, I AM going to finish," he said indignantly.
The pub was clean. The kitchen was clean. They looked around. It was beautiful.
"Want some tea?" Assumpta asked.
"Yeah, that would be great." They went in by the fireplace. Peter sat down. She poured his tea. "Thanks," he said as she handed him the cup. He looked at her. She was so beautiful. The firelight flickered, lighting her eyes. She looked at him. Neither said anything for awhile. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence. It was very peaceful. Almost as if talking would spoil it.
She broke the silence. "Peter, what made you become a priest?" He set the cup down on the table.
"Since I was about twelve, I always thought I wanted to be a priest. I had an uncle who was a priest. I really liked him. Hero worship I guess. Then later on it became more. I guess I wanted to serve God."
"So, how do you feel now?" Assumpta asked, looking down at the floor and then back up at him. Boy, what was he going to say now? What? That he was questioning his priesthood? That he thought about her constantly?
"I still want to serve God. I just don't know...." What had he said? She stared intently at him. She didn't say anything. She just looked at him. That magic look! All at once, he got up.
"I'd better go now, Assumpta. Thanks for the tea." She got up. She stood in front of him.
"Running away again?" she said sarcastically. He felt the hostility.
"Assumpta, ahh." He really didn't know what to say. She was right. He was running. She turned to walk toward the door to let him out. He walked behind her. What did he want to say? What did he want to do?
She unlocked the door and turned to look at him. He just stood there. "Well," she demanded.
"Assumpta," it was almost a whisper. Her eyes flashed. The only light was from the fireplace and it reflected in her eyes. He hadn't realized that he had been staring. "Well?" she questioned again. He was standing very close to her. He could smell that scent that he dreamed about. He leaned over and slowly kissed her cheek. His lips against her soft, smooth skin. Her hand came up and rested on his chest. Never had he been so close to her. It almost took his breath away. "We'll talk tomorrow," he said, his hand touching the place he had kissed. She just looked at him, as he went through the door. Then slowly she closed it and locked it. She turned and leaned against the door. Her hand came up and touched her chest. She took several deep breaths.
Peter splashed water on his face. His heart was still beating fast. He looked in the mirror. His cheeks were red. He hoped he could sleep. Upstairs, he changed into his pajamas. Turned out the light and lay down on his bed. Then he got up and opened the window. It's so hot in here, he thought. He lay back down. He looked up at the ceiling. What was he goingto do? What did he want? He knew he wanted HER. Why? Because she was beautiful? No, it was more than that. He remembered how she was when Kathleen's house burned. She knew Kathleen didn't like her. But he saw the compassion in her eyes. She did much of the work, but got none of the credit. But she didn't seem to care. Time and time again, he had seen her heart. She, of course, tried to pretend that she didn't care about anyone. But that was easy to see through.
He looked out of the window. The moon was up. A soft light shone over everything. He wondered if she cared about him. He often caught her looking at him. But what did that mean? Oh, God! What was he going to do? He's a priest. Priests can stop being priests. But what would God think of him? He walked back to the bed and lay down. What if he was just imagining her looking at him? He got up again. He walked over to the window. He went over to the closet And took off his pajamas. He pulled his trousers on and grabbed a shirt. He slipped his shoes on as he was heading for the door. Run, I'll run this off, he thought.
Assumpta could still feel her heart beating in her throat as she lay in her bed. She could still feel his lips on her cheek. She heard his words, "I just don't know..." What did that mean? She got up and got a drink. She walked down the hall, listening to the quiet and the clocks ticking. She went back into her room. What is wrong with me, she thought. "Of all the people in the world for me to fall in love with, I have to pick a priest. I MUST BE CRAZY!" "He kissed me, he KISSED ME! Why would he do that if he didn't care for me? "Of course, he cares for me. Maybe like a brother.. No, I don't think so. She looked out of the window. She opened it. The cool air felt good against her warm skin.
Peter ran for about a mile. Breathing heavily, he stopped to rest. Did
he feel better? Yeah! Was he able to understand his feelings now? No! As
he stood on the road, looking at the field covered with moonlight, he thought
about her. Why can't I get her out of my mind? How do I really feel about
her? Something kept running through his mind, over and over again. "I love
her. I love her." Finally, he began to realize it. He said it out loud,
"I'm in love with her! Oh, God, I am in love
with her!" That was it!!!
Assumpta got out of bed. "Oh, God. I am so tired. But my brain is wide awake." She walked over to the closet and grabbed her jeans. She slipped them on and pulled her nightshirt off. She reached for her t-shirt and started heading for the door. Suddenly she heard a tapping. Someone was tapping at the front door. Who would that be at this hour? She ran down the stairs, pulling her shirt over her head, unlocked the door and slowly opened it.
Peter said "Assumpta, I have to talk to you. Now!" She backed away from the door and let him in, closing it after him. She looked at the clock in the dim light. 3:10 a.m. They walked over to the fireplace and she threw another log on the embers. Soon the flames were lapping at the sides of the log.
Neither one said anything. They just looked at each other. "Assumpta, I don't know where to start or what to s ir, and into his arms. He just held her for a moment. No one said anything. "Assumpta, I don't expect you to say anything. I just wanted you to know how I feel," he whispered against her ear. He could feel her arms around him. Then he could feel something wet on his shoulder. He held her away from him and he saw the tears streaming down her face. His heart was broken. He had made her cry. Assumpta! She never cried. "I'm sorry, Oh God, I'm so sorry," he said as he wrapped his arms around her again. Having her in his arms, was almost worth seeing her cry. But not quite. "I'm sorry, Assumpta," he said softly, not letting her go.
"I can't believe you said that," she said, backing up to look into his eyes and wiping the tears from her face with her hands. He kept his eyes on the floor. He hadn't meant to hurt her. " I have loved you for so long. I think almost from the beginning," she said reaching up with her right hand and wiping more tears from her face. He raised his eyes in astonishment. She smiled.
"You love me?" he questioned.
"Yeah, what did I just say?" she said.
He wrapped his arms around her again and then he whispered in her ear,
"Can I kiss you?" She didn't answer. She just turned her head and covered
his mouth with hers.
He had held her in his arms. The emotion was so intense. She had felt so much love for him, she didn't think she could contain it all. "How long have you felt this way?" she had asked him. "I was attracted to you from the first minute you picked me up coming into Ballyk. I have always known that I cared very much about you, Assumpta, but I didn't know until tonight, that I was in love with you. Now that I look back I can't believe I didn't know. For three years, I have been getting to know you. You are the most wonderful, remarkable, beautiful woman in the world." He had kissed her forehead. They had sat by the fire, in each others arms, until almost daybreak. They had talked about the priesthood, his family, their friends, how much they loved each other. Finally, Peter said, "I guess I'd better go. I wouldn't want anyone to see me leave at this hour." "Can I come tomorrow and see you, alone?" he asked. She had reached up and touched his face and kissed his mouth. "Yeah," she whispered.
Assumpta turned over to see what time it was. "Oh, God, what am I doing?" She jumped up, grabbed her clothes. "Ten minutes," she pulled her jeans on and ran the brush through her hair, brushed her teeth, and glanced in the mirror. "Ahh," she said, shaking her head.
The phone rang. Once... twice, finally Peter turned over and realized the phone was ringing. "Hello," yeah. Yes, Father. I was going to get to that today. Yes, I want to see you as well.... It's ok, it can wait. Friday, yeah. Have a good trip then." He hung up the phone. ...He sat on the edge of the bed. "She loves me! She said so. I can't believe it." He sat, staring out the window. He thought about last night. He should feel guilty. He had kissed her. He had held her in his arms. But he didn't. Somehow, it didn't seem wrong. It was almost as if it was a gift. He knew he couldn't go on being a priest. He would tell Father Mac on Friday. God's greatest gift to man was love. Peter knew that. This WAS a gift. He got up and went to the closet. He took out some clothes and headed for the shower. "She loves me!"
Niamh came into the kitchen. "You look terrible," she said. "Oh thanks," replied Assumpta. "Aren't you feeling well?" "I'm fine, I just haven't had time to shower. Will you stay here, so I can shower?" "Yeah, go ahead," Niamh said.
Assumpta walked into her room from the shower, wrapped in a towel. She pulled her clean clothes out of the closet. The phone rang. She wondered if Niamh would answer it. She was probably busy. Assumpta picked up the phone. She heard voices. "Fitzgerald's!" "Hiya,... Niamh is that you?"
"Yeah, Assumpta's upstairs Father, do you want me to....."
"I'm here, Niamh."
"Ok," said Niamh. A distinct click as Niamh hung up the phone.
"Hi," said Peter.
"Hi," said Assumpta.
"I just wanted to hear your voice."
She sat down in the chair. Her heart started pounding again. "Are you there, Assumpta?"
"Yes, I'm here," she said softly.
"I love you, you know," he said.
"I know," she smiled.
"I just called to tell you that and that I'll be over later. I have a few things to do. "Ok," she said. "Peter."
"I love you," she said.
The pub was busy. Niamh was rushing around, when Assumpta came down. "Am I glad to see you," she said, as Assumpta came into the kitchen. "You look better." "Thanks for helping out, Niamh," Assumpta said as she picked up a tray of glasses. "I can stay for a while. Probably until the lunch crowd is gone." "Great." "Yeah, yeah," said Assumpta as Padraig yelled for her.
He was digging through some boxes. It was here somewhere. He took another box down from the closet shelf, and set it on the bed. He reached in and lifted some papers out and set them aside. There it was! He picked out a small box, opened it and walked over to the window. The emerald sparkled. His grandmother's ring. He put it on his little finger. It didn't fit, of course. He wondered if Assumpta would like it. He was very young, when his grandmother, who had come to live with them, gave it to him. He was her favorite and she took him aside one day and said, "Peter, this is all I have left of my possessions, and I want you to have it. Maybe some day you will give it to someone you love." His grandmother had died soon after and he treasured that ring. He WAS going to give it to someone he loved. He put the papers back in the box and set it back upon the shelf. He put the ring back in the tiny box and slipped it into his pocket.
Coming back from Cilldargan on the bus, Peter was reliving the night before. He stared out the window at the beautiful Wicklow hills, but he didn't see them. He saw Assumpta. He felt her in his arms. He felt her mouth on his. How could he have not known? When did it start? He remembered the day she picked him up. "Do you want a lift?" she had asked. "I'm going to Ballykissangel." He noticed that she was very pretty. He remembered saying, "Assumpta, that's a beautiful name." The conversation went downhill from there.
Even her hostility for him was different than the hostility she showed for Father Mac. There was always the lingering eye contact between them. There was a certain softness in her voice for him, when she wasn't insulting him, of course. He laughed to himself. He couldn't believe that he had never seen any of this. He remembered when she was considering selling the pub. He was so afraid that she would leave that he went over to the pub to ask her about it. He was very upset. She, of course, told him to mind his own business. But her eyes told another story, if only he hadn't been so stupid. And after Niamh's wedding when Assumpta produced all of those signatures. If he only had been honest with himself, he would have admitted that he wanted to take her in his arms, then, and hold her. What she thought, had meant so much to him. He never pushed religion because he knew she had her own relationship with God, and he respect ust then Assumpta came out of the kitchen. She looked beautiful. Even Padraig noticed it.
"Assumpta, you just get prettier and prettier," he said.
"Shutup Padraig," she responded. She looked at Peter. Their eyes locked. She smiled. Reluctantly she looked away.
The pub cleared out early. Peter and Assumpta sat at the bar. He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. Neither had to say anything. Just sitting there, touching hands seemed to be communication enough. The phone rang. Reluctantly she got up from the bar and answered the phone. "Fitzgerald's. Yeah. Ok, I'll look and if I find it, I'll put it away. Ok. Bye. "Niamh left her purse here, she thinks." She walked behind the bar. Reached down and brought out the purse. "Well, here it is." She walked over to the living area. She put the purse in the closet on the shelf. As she turned, Peter was right behind her. He reached for her and put his arms around her. "I've wanted to do this all day," he said. She reached up with her hand and brought his mouth to hers. "Hmmmm, "I've wanted to do that all day!" she laughed. He hugged her tighter and they both laughed. What joy it was to be so happy!
"Excuse me!" said Niamh, quietly. Peter and Assumpta both turned at once. He quickly took his arms from around her. "I came to see if my purse was here," she said, staring intently at Assumpta. No one said anything for a minute. Finally, Niamh said, "Would you like to tell me anything?" She was still staring at Assumpta.
"Yes, I guess we had better tell you," Assumpta said, looking at Peter.
"No, let me tell her," said Peter, stepping in front of Assumpta. "Come and sit here," he motioned for Niamh to sit in one of the chairs.
"I hope you will understand what I tell you, Niamh, because you are
very important to both of us,"he said sitting across from her.
Niamh looked intently at him. "Assumpta and I are very much in love with one another. I am giving up the priesthood." Niamh looked shocked. Peter waited for her to say something. He didn't really know where to go with this.
"How long have you known this?" she asked.
Assumpta said, "I've known that I have loved him for almost three years, Niamh. I didn't know he loved me, until last night."
Niamh looked at Peter. "You're a priest! How can you do this?"
"I know what you're saying, Niamh, and I know how you feel. I think you need to know how I feel. I didn't realize that I was in love with Assumpta, until last night. I knew I cared very much for her. When she hurt, I hurt. When she smiled, my heart would sing. I've known that I cared for her from the beginning. All of my experiences with her have led me to this moment. I have agonized over this, Niamh, but I need to be true to myself. What kind of a priest would I make, if all I ever thought about was her. I've tried everything I can think of. Prayer, fasting, nothing has changed my feelings. But last night, I was able to understand why. I love her with all my heart, Niamh. Do you understand?"
Niamh looked over at Assumpta and back to Peter. She nodded. "Yes," she said, tears beginning to fall down her cheeks. Assumpta went over to her and leaned down and hugged her.
"Oh, Niamh, you are so important to me. Please understand. Please understand how much I love him." She said starting to cry, herself. The emotion of the moment caught them up and they both cried. Niamh stood up, wiping her face and reached over to Peter. She hugged him and then hugged Assumpta. "This will take me some time to get used to," she said, smiling through the tears.
"We don't want anyone to know about this until after Friday, when I speak to Father Mac," he said.
"Ok, I won't say anything," she said.
The rest of the night was quiet. They both worked to clean up the bar and the kitchen. He didn't know what to say to her. He didn't want to come between them. He didn't know what she was thinking. Maybe she would be sorry. He sat at the kitchen table, folding napkins for her. He had to keep busy.
She came into the kitchen carrying some towels. She set them down on the counter. His back was to her. She came up behind him and slipped her arms around his neck. She kissed his cheek and whispered, "Are you sorry?" He turned to look at her.
"For what?" he asked.
"For loving me," she replied.
"What? Sorry? You must be joking," he said, standing up and reaching for her. "You know," she said, "I don't ever want you to do something you will regret."
"I never will, Assumpta, I promise you that. Now can we not talk about
"Ahem...Assumpta. Can I have a diet cola, please," said Eamon.
"Oh, yeah, Eamon. I'm sorry," she said, remembering that he had already asked once. She set the can on the bar in front of him.
"You must be thinkin about somethin, Assumpta," he said as he reached for the drink. Assumpta didn't answer him. Siobhan and Brendan were at the end of the bar, talking about something intently. She was glad they hadn't heard Eamon's comment. She was having a hard time keeping her mind on the pub.
The pub door opened and Niamh came in. She walked into the kitchen, and Assumpta followed. Assumpta looked at her and said nothing. Niamh set her purse down and turned to Assumpta. "Assumpta, I've thought about this all night. I couldn't get to sleep. I really should have seen it coming."
"Yeah, so should I have," Assumpta interjected.
"But listening to Peter, last night...he loves you so much, Assumpta. How can you turn your back on those kinds of feelings?"
Assumpta smiled. "I can't," she said.
Niamh hugged her, "I'm happy for you, Assumpta," she said.
"He sees Father Mac tomorrow, and I am so nervous," Assumpta said, picking up some towels.
"What are YOU nervous about?" asked Niamh, also picking up some towels.
Assumpta leaned against the stove, "I'm so torn between worrying that Father Mac will change Peter's mind, and worrying that Peter will be unhappy about choosing to leave the priesthood." "Oh, God, Niamh, I don't want him to make a decision that he will be sorry for."
Niamh looked at her and smiled. "This is his decision, Assumpta, and he knows how he feels. So stop worrying."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
The phone rang. Peter picked it up. "Yeah. I'm glad you returned my call. Will you tell Mum that I am coming home for a few days? Yeah. No, just somethings I wanted to talk over with her. On Friday. Yeah. Oh, no, I'm fine. Yeah. See you then." Heavy sigh. What was he going to say to his mother? Well, it had to be done.
He picked up the phone and dialed. "Hiya! You busy? Would you like to
go for a walk?.... Do you think she will? Ok, call me back. He wanted to
see her, but they couldn't really spend too much more time at the pub.
He wanted to do this the right way. He realized that his feelings for her
were so intense that spending time alone with her at the pub,
wasn't a good idea.
The sound of the phone brought him back. "Hello. Great. Do you want to walk up this way? It's less likely that anyone will see us if we walk from here. Ok, see you in a bit."
He shut the door firmly. He turned to see Assumpta walking up toward him. She had on jeans and a navy blue jacket with a hood. With her dark hair framing her face, she looked beautiful. But then, when did she not look beautiful to him? "Hi", he said. She smiled. They turned and walked across the road. The path led along side of the meadow and wound around until it came to the Angel. The sun shone brightly and the sky was blue, but there was a chill in the air. He was glad he had brought his jumper.
When they had gone a ways, he reached for her hand. She looked at him. They walked hand in hand in silence. When they came to the river, he found a large rock for them to sit on. They didn't need to say anything. Just being there together, was enough. He sat behind her and put his arms around her waist. He kissed her neck and her cheek. "I love you," he whispered.
She reached her hand up and touched his face. "I love you, too," she whispered back. Then she turned around and he kissed her mouth and he held her tightly.
"I can't come to th are you thinking?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said quietly.
"I won't be gone long," he said, tightening his arms around her.
"It's fine," she said.
He stood up and reached for her hand. She stood up and put her arms around his waist and held him. As he kissed the top of her head, he said, "I don't know how I will stand to be away from you, but I have to let my Mum know what I have decided to do." She nodded her head.
"Yes, I know." They turned and walked along the river, knowing it would be a long while before they would be together again.
"Where's Assumpta?" asked Brendan
"She won't be long," said Niamh.
"Yes, but that doesn't tell me where she is," he remarked.
"Well maybe it's none of your business," said Siobhan, sitting down at the bar. "I'll have a pint, Niamh, she said, glaring at Brendan.
"She's been acting very strangely, lately. Doesn't answer when you ask her a question. Doesn't bite your head off. What is it, Niamh?" he said, setting his drink down on the bar.
"I don't know what you're talking about," answered Niamh, wiping the bar off and making him move his arm.
Assumpta and Peter walked up to the door of his house. "We'd better not be seen together," said Peter, as he glanced down the street.
"Well, I'll go now," she said. "Niamh is probably going crazy over there."
"Wait," he said. Turning the lock, the door opened. "Come in for just a minute," he looked at her. She was going to refuse and then thought the better of it. Peter closed the door after her. "Would you like a cup of tea, before you go," he asked.
"No, Peter, I'd really better get back to the pub." He walked over to her and took her in his arms. They stood there, holding each other.
Finally, Assumpta said, "Peter, I have to go now." He leaned down and kissed her softly. He couldn't say anything. He just watched her walk through the door and out on to the street.
She was glad the day was over. Now if she could just make it through the night. Trying to keep her mind on what was going on in the pub earlier was impossible. Niamh stayed to help her, except for a couple of hours she needed to take care of Kieran and see to dinner. It was 2:00am. She looked out of the window. It was another clear night. The moonlight was enchanting. How was she going to stand him being gone? What was Father Mac going to say? What was his mother going to say? She had a lot of things against her. She lay back down. She loved him so very much. So much that she would rather not have him, than have him be unhappy. She had no idea what the outcome of this was going to be. The phone rang. Her heart started pounding even before she answered it. "Hello," she said, sitting down in the chair.
"Hi," said Peter. "Were you sleeping?"
"No," she answered.
"Me either. I don't know how I will stand to be away from you, Assumpta?"
"I love you, Peter. You need to do what you have to do. I'll be here, when you get back."
Peter stuffed the last of his clothes into the bag. He wasn't as afraid of telling Father Mac, as he was of telling his mother. He left the bag on the sofa.
He walked up the front steps of the church. He hadn't called Father Mac on purpose. He wanted this to come as a complete surprise to him. He didn't want him to have time to prepare. It was going to be hard enough as it was.
"Father Clifford, I was just going to call you."
"Father Mac, how was your trip?"
"Oh fine, Father, just fine. Father Mac sat down at his desk, followed by Peter. "You wanted to see me?" Father Mac said.
"Yes, I did, Father." No one said anything for a few minutes.
Finally Father Mac said, "Well?"
Peter took a breath. "I am giving you notice, Father, that I am leaving the priesthood, as of today."
"What!!" he said, his face getting a little red. Father Mac thought for a moment. "What have you been doing, Father?" he said derisively.
Peter wasn't going to get into a shouting match with him. "Today will be my last day as a priest. Did you want me to call the bishop or will you?" Peter asked him quietly.
"May I ask what brought on this decision?"
Peter looked him directly in the eyes. "My life seems to have taken a different path."
"I'll bet I know what path that would be," he shouted.
"I'm not going to argue with you, Father. That is what my decision is."
"What about your vows, Father?" he scorned.
"My vows are between me and God, Father." Father Mac stared at him. His face was very red now, and Peter hoped he wouldn't have a heart attack.
"Very well, if that is your decision."
"It is, Father, it is."
Peter walked up to his house. Walked in the door and collapsed into the chair. He felt relieved. He felt free. He felt frightened. He was feeling like a boat cut loose from its mooring. He grabbed his bag and stepped outside. He gazed toward Fitzgerald's. He wanted to be there with Assumpta so badly. He turned and shut the door tightly.
The bus was on time. He got on. As the bus passed Fitzgerald's, Peter felt like someone had punched him in his stomach. His eyes following the sign, until it was too far away for him to see it.
Assumpta brought a tray full of dishes into the kitchen. Niamh said, "You ok?"
"Yeah, I guess so," she said.
Niamh put her hand on Assumpta's shoulder. "I'll stay tonight and help." Assumpta looked at her gratefully.
"Thanks, Niamh," she said.
The pub was unusually full. Some tourists, but mostly townfolk. Assumpta
came out from the kitchen with some sandwiches for
Brendan and Padraig. She set the plates down in front of them, trying to avoid their eyes.
"Thanks, Assumpta," said Padraig
"Yeah," said Brendan, as he reached for the food. Just then Father Mac came in. Assumpta looked up to see him glaring at her.
"Well, Father," she said, mockingly, "What can I get for you?"
"Some of your time, please, Assumpta," he said smiling. Assumpta smiled back,
"Sorry, Father, too busy, I'm afraid," she said, exaggerating her smile.
"Oh, I'm sure Niamh can handle things for a few minutes." Assumpta's eyes were flashing dangerously.
"Go on Assumpta, I can take care of things for a bit," she said.
She walked into the kitchen ahead of him. Then she stopped and turned around. She didn't want him to get too comfortable. "Well?" she said folding her arms.
"I had a little talk with Father Clifford, this afternoon," he began.
"Oh, Yeah," she said. "How nice."
"It seems that he wants to leave the priesthood." He looked at her for a reaction.
"Don't you think you had better discuss this with him, Father?"
"Well, I think you just might be involved in his decision?"
"Oh, yeah, in what way?"
"Come on Assumpta, I'm not stupid." Assumpta just raised her eyebrows.
"If you are involved in any way, Assumpta, I just want you to know, that you will be hurting him very deeply."
"Well, Father, I'll certainly keep that in mind," she said walking toward the kitchen door. He followed.
"I hope you remember what I said, Assumpta." She closed the door.
"Oh, God, I hate him." She said to herself. But it was too late for the anger. The tears fell. She leaned against the wall and wept. He knew just what to say to her. How she hated that man. Was he right? Would she be responsible for causing Peter pain? She could hardly stand the thought. Just then Niamh came in.
"Are you ok?" she said. She could see the tears running down her face. "What happened, Assumpta?" Assumpta just wiped her face.
"Is he gone?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Mum, you sit down, I can wait on myself," he said, getting up from the table.
"Don't be silly," she said. "Sit down, I'll make you some tea." He sat down.
She set a place for him and brought out some orange marmalade and put some bread in the toaster. She had remembered what he liked for breakfast. His heart hurt as he thought about what he had to tell her.
"Thanks, Mum," he said, as she handed him the tea. She sat down and looked at him. He tried not to look directly at her. Eventually he had to look up.
"What is it, son, this pain I'm seeing?" He looked down at the table.
"Would it help, if I try to guess?" she said softly.
"No, Mum, I need to tell you." He paused and took a breath. "Mum, I.....
"It's alright, Peter. I think I know already." He stared at her.
"It's a woman."
He looked at her. "How do you know that?"
"I haven't lived all these years for nothing."
He looked down. How could she have known that?
"Peter," she said. He raised his eyes.
"Am I wrong?"
He shook his head.
"Tell me?" she said, reaching for his hand.
Assumpta came down the stairs. She held her head. "Ohhh." She was ashamed
of herself. Did she have to drink so much, when things got tough? Well,
she wouldn't do that again. She slowly started preparing for the crowd.
She couldn't think about it anymore. She had no idea what Father Mac had
said to him. Nor had she any idea what his mother had said to him. Did
she love him enough to give him up without a fight? She would never fight
the church. She knew that. Because she
knew if she won, it would be a hollow victory. No, this had to be all his decision. What a helpless feeling! Oh, God, her head hurt!
She heard the door. Niamh came into the kitchen.
"How's your head?" she smiled.
"I don't want to talk about it.... Did I say anything stupid?" she looked at Niamh anxiously.
"No more stupid than usual," Niamh said laughing.
She hadn't heard from him for four days. She had gone beyond worrying to a fatalistic (when he gets home, he will be sorry he ever started this, and I will have to go back to being his friend only). How she would do that she had no idea. Maybe she would leave Ballyk. Maybe she would call Mary and see if she could stay with her for a while. The pub door opened. Michael Ryan came in.
"Hi Assumpta, Niamh", he said.
"Hi Doc", said Niamh.
"I just got a curious call from Peter. It seems he is in Manchester. He said he tried to call you, Assumpta, but there seems to be something wrong with your phone. "Did you know he was gone?"
"Yeah", said Niamh. Assumpta said nothing. She walked over to the phone and lifted the receiver. "It's dead," she said replacing the receiver.
"Anyway," Doc Ryan continued, "it seems his mother is in hospital. He sounded quite upset. He wanted me to come and tell you that, Assumpta. He said he would try to call you later."
"Thanks, Michael," she said, as he turned to leave. She began to pace back and forth. "God, Niamh, what if he told her and she was so upset that she got sick. He will never forgive himself or maybe me either."
"Now, don't jump to conclusions," Niamh said. Assumpta sat down, stared out the window for a minute.
"Niamh, will you take the pub for a few days?" she asked.
"What are you going to do?"
"I think he will need me," Niamh.
"Alright, maybe I can get Peggy to help, I have no idea what Ambrose will say."
"I'm sorry, Niamh, but I have to go."
"Yeah, I know."
The hospital in Manchester was on a quiet street, lined with trees. Assumpta hated hospitals. They reminded her of when her mother died. She walked up the front steps. What was she going to do? What would she say? She wanted to be there for him, but what if he had changed his mind? What if he didn't want her there? She had to force herself to walk in. It seemed like a week ago that she had left Ballyk instead of just yesterday. She went up to the information desk.
"Do you have a Mrs. Clifford here?" she asked the gray haired lady sitting at the computer.
"Well, let me see," she said smiling at Assumpta. "Yes, she is up on
2nd floor, but she is in the intensive care unit, so you probably
won't be able to see her, unless you are family."
"That's fine, thank you," she said.
She got off the elevator on the 2nd floor and saw a sign that said Intensive
Care with an arrow. She was so apprehensive as she
approached the ICU waiting room. Her heart was pounding. She walked through the door. No one was there. There was a phone on the wall, two sofa's, two stuffed chairs, and several tables with magazines. High up on the wall was a television set, but it was off. The room was very quiet. She really didn't know what to do. She sat down and looked out the window. Just then a nurse came in. "Oh, I didn't realize anyone was in here waiting," she apologized.
"I just got here," Assumpta said.
"Who are you wanting to see?" the nurse asked.
"Well, I'm really just waiting for Peter Clifford, who is probably in seeing his mother."
"Oh, yes,. Clifford. Wait just a moment and I will see if he is there."
"It's...." The nurse left before Assumpta could tell her that she would just wait for him.
She sat down again. She really hated hospitals. It was so quiet. She could hear the sound of the clocks ticking, interspersed with the overhead call for various Doctors.
All of a sudden the nurse swished in. "No one is in there now, so you may go in."
She had obviously mistaken what Assumpta had said and thought she wanted to see Mrs. Clifford. The nurse hustled her down the hall, giving her no time to explain.
They walked through the door in the ICU unit. The sounds of the beeping and whooshing made her slightly sick. They walked to the end of the room. There was a curtain pulled and as they walked around it Assumpta saw a white haired lady, lying with her eyes closed. "Oh God, what will I say to her? Maybe she is asleep."
The nurse leaned over her and said, "Mrs. Clifford, here she is."
Assumpta didn't know what to say. She just looked at Peter's mother. "Here she is," still ringing in her ears.
She had beautiful blue eyes, and a lovely cross around her neck, with tiny stones that sparkled with the overhead lights. Mrs. Clifford turned to look at her. "Come here, dear,"she whispered. Assumpta walked up to the bed. The old woman reached up and touched Assumpta's face and pushed some strands of hair out of her eyes. "My, you ARE beautiful."
Assumpta didn't say anything. The old woman took her hand and held it. "I'm glad you have come. I wanted to talk to you."
"Do you know who I am?" Assumpta asked, still holding the woman's hand.
"I think I would know you anywhere," she said, smiling at her.
"Do you love him?" the old woman asked.
......."Very much," said Assumpta, softly.
"Yes, I can see that." She sighed and closed her eyes
"You know, they won't be back till late this afternoon," she said conspiratorially.
Niamh was clearing up after the lunch crowd. Peggy had gone home. Boy this was more work than one person could do. The door opened and shut. Ambrose came in carrying Kieran.
"How is it going," he said.
"Ok," she said as she reached out to take Kieran.
"When is Assumpta coming back?" Ambrose asked.
"I'm not sure, soon though," she said, kissing Kieran and handing him back.
"Why did she have to go to Dublin?" he asked, sitting at the bar.
Her eyes looked toward the kitchen. "Business, I guess." She picked up some glasses and headed for the kitchen.
"She didn't even tell you why?"
"Well, you know Assumpta." She walked through the door into the kitchen. She hated to lie to him, but she had promised Assumpta she wouldn't tell. She heard the pub door open and close again.
She thought Ambrose had gone. She walked out and Father Mac was sitting at the bar. She took a deep breath.
"Hello, Niamh. You seem to be on your own here," he said, smiling. "Where is Assumpta?"
"She's in Dublin, Father," said Ambrose, smiling. Father Mac looked over at Ambrose.
"Is she now? It must be quite busy without her." He looked at Niamh.
"Well, we are managing, Father," said Niamh.
"When will she be back?"
"I'm not sure, Father, soon though. Would you like a drink?"
"No, no thank you. I guess I'll be saying Mass tomorrow," he said.
Ambrose looked at Father Mac. a. "I don't think you should be here for him right now.
Assumpta looked at her. "Why not," she said, surprised.
"Because, my dear, he needs to go through this alone. The decision he has to make is very difficult and he needs to go through the 'refiners fire' so to speak."
Assumpta thought about this for a moment. "Yes, I see your point. But I can't stand for him to go through any pain, especially alone."
Mrs. Clifford smiled and patted Assumpta's hand. "Pain builds strength,"
she said, taking a deep breath, and he is going to need
all of the strength he can get. Do you see..?" She closed her eyes again.
Assumpta leaned over close to her and kissed her on the cheek. "I do see," she said quietly. The woman opened her eyes again.
"I had better go now, if I want to leave before he finds me here," she said, looking for her jacket and purse.
"Assumpta," she said. "I want him to do what ever makes him happy."
"So do I", Assumpta said, picking up her jacket.
The old woman reached for her hand. She lifted Assumpta's hand to her lips.
Assumpta walked down the long corridor. The tears flowed freely down her face. As she got to the door, she heard her name being called. "Miss Fitzgerald." She turned to see the ICU nurse hurrying down the hall.
Almost breathless, she said, "Mrs. Clifford asked me to give you this."
She held out her hand and in it was the beautiful cross.
"Father MacAnally, this is Bishop O'Brian."
"Yes, your Grace, what can I do for you?"
"I wanted to talk with you for a moment about your Ballykissangel priest."
"You mean, Father Clifford."
"Yes, well, I understand that he is planning to leave the priesthood."
"Yes, that is what he told me on Friday last, your Grace."
"You realize that this will be the second priest to leave the parish, within the last three years?"
"Yes, your Grace, I realize that," said Father Mac, rolling his eyes.
"Well, may I mention that this is not going to look good for you."
"Yes, your Grace." (heavy sigh)
"And then, it's not going to look good for me either."
"Yes, your Grace."
"Well, I suggest you do what you can to rectify the situation, before it goes any higher."
"Yes, I understand, your Grace." (heavy sigh)
He knew it. Now comes the pressure. How can they expect a parish priest to actually control someone? A person can do just so much. There really was no point in talking to Assumpta. He had never been able to influence her. But Father Clifford. He used to be obedient. Not easily influenced, however. But when there was a woman in the works... different story.
Peter and William walked into the waiting room. Peter picked up the phone. "Hello, we'd like to see Mrs. Clifford." He set the phone down.
In a few minutes a nurse came in. "You may come in now," she said, turning and walking into the hallway.
She was sitting up, with pillows behind her. Her cheeks were flushed and she smiled at them.
"Hello, Mum," said Peter, leaning over and kissing her. "You look great, today."
"Yes you do, Mum, said William.
"What has the doctor said?" Peter asked her.
"Well, they are moving me to another room. He said that my heartbeat is stable now and so he wants me to be out of here soon."
"Oh, that's great, Mum," said William, relief showing on his face.
"Listen, Mum, I have to be downtown in about 10 minutes, so I will come back and see you later," said William. "But Peter will stay here with you."
"I don't need tending, you know," she said. But he could tell she was pleased that Peter was staying.
As William left, Peter pulled up the chair and sat next to her.
She reached out and took his hand.
"Tell me about Assumpta," she said.
"No, Mum, I don't want to talk about it with you. Remember what happened last time?"
"Are you thinking that you caused this?"
"Well, if I hadn't told you about what I wanted to do, perhaps it wouldn't have happened."
"Peter, I need to tell you something. I have had these spells for a
couple of years now. They don't have anything to do with you or
anyone else. I just want you to know that."
"Why haven't you told me before, Mum?"
"Because I knew that you would worry," she said. "Besides I have never had to go to hospital before with it."
"Mum, what do YOU want me to do?" he asked, patting her hand gently.
"I'm going to tell you something, and I want you to apply it to your
whole life, Peter. What I want for you, is to do what will make
you happy. If you were selfish, or mean spirited, I would never give you that advice. But you're not. Your heart is good and kind and I never have to think that your choices will be thoughtless or self serving. So, Son, what you do will have to be something you choose for yourself."
"Now tell me about her."
She didn't know what she would do without Niamh. The lunch rush was over and the pub was quiet. They sat there, sipping tea.
"So, what happened?"
Assumpta was quiet for a moment. She didn't know how much to say, not that she ever would be afraid of Niamh telling anyone else, if she asked her not to.
"I didn't see him," she said.
"I thought you had come back rather fast."
"I did see his mother, though," she smiled.
Niamh's eyes grew wide. "What happened?" she asked.
As evening came, the rain set in. Niamh and Assumpta were still sitting in the gathering gloom. Assumpta reached into the neck of her shirt and pulled out the cross.
"Oh, Assumpta, how beautiful," she exclaimed.
"I haven't worn a cross since I was fourteen and I cried all the way home," she admitted. "I think she likes me, Niamh."
"I'll say, she likes you." "Do you think she will tell him that you were there?"
"No, she doesn't want him to know. She wants him to make up his mind without any influence. Although I'm sure he will have plenty from the church. But she is right. Even though he has made the first admission that he wants to leave the priesthood, he is going to have plenty of opposition. And, Oh, Niamh, I don't imagine what the outcome of all of this will be. The one thing that I know, is that I want him to be sure of his decision. Nothing will be good between us if there is even the slightest question."
"You're right, you're right."
Father Mac looked out the window. Slowly he walked back to his desk
and sat down. He put his face in his hands. He sighed heavily. He got up
and turned out the lights. Slowly he walked up the stairs to his room.
The room was stark and bare, with one lone crucifix hanging on the wall
above the bed. A dim light created shadows as he walked in and over to
the dresser. He reached up and pulled the top drawer out, rummaged about and pulled out a packet of envelopes.
Assumpta sat at the bar alone. What a night! Of course, she would never complain about that much business. But she was glad it was over. She began cleaning up. She brought a tray of plates and ashtrays into the kitchen. She knew that his mother liked her, but she also knew that she wanted what was best for Peter. She hadn't talked to him for a week... Maybe he was sorry he started this whole thing. Not knowing was worse than anything. Her heart ached. She thought about his mother. Assumpta cared very much for her, and she hardly knew her. Maybe it was because she missed her own Mum so, or maybe it was because she was Peter's mother. Or maybe it was because she was so sweet and held her hand. You know, she thought, a person doesn't have any control over what happens to her heart. It's like this thing has a life of it's own. Reason doesn't come into it. She felt like a victim of some virus. "Oh God, I'll do this tomorrow."
She couldn't sleep. She worried about his mother. She worried about what both Bishop's would say to him. And even if she could, she knew she wouldn't do anything to influence his decision. But sleep didn't come easily. She wished he would at least call her and let her know how his mother was.
She should have cleaned up last night, but she wasn't in any condition to do it. She tossed and turned most of the night. She looked in the mirror as she walked by carrying cups and glasses. Her eyes were red.
There was a knock at the door. Before hours. Who could that be?
She opened the door.
Father Mac stood in the doorway. "May I speak to you, for just a moment, Assumpta," he said. The usual smirk gone from his face.
"I'm busy," she said abruptly.
"Please," he said, putting his hand on the door that she was shutting on him.
She lifted up her eyebrows. Please? Hmmm. What was he up to?
He walked in and said, "Do you mind if I sit down, Assumpta?"
She said nothing, but indicated a chair for him to sit on. She remained standing.
"I want to talk to you, Assumpta," he started. "Peter is a good man, and a good priest."
She was ready for a fight. Bring it on, she thought.
"I know you love him, Assumpta. I've known that for a long time."
She said nothing, wondering where this was going.
"I know he loves you. I've known that for a long time, as well."
Assumpta was astonished. She still said nothing.
I know I should have transferred him long ago. But I didn't and now it's too late.
I'm supposed to talk some sense to him. Orders from above..., and I don't mean God."
She looked at him.
"But I'm not going to. He doesn't need me to tell him how he feels... or even should feel..... I just wanted to tell you that, Assumpta."
She was dumbfounded. "What caused the change?" she said. "That isn't how you felt last week."
He got up from his chair. He looked tired, she thought.
"There was something that I had to remember....and I remembered it," he said, walking toward the door.
She closed the door. She wondered what he was talking about. What in the world would cause him to change his mind? She sat at the bar, thinking about what she had just heard. She could make no sense of it.
Peter restuffed his bag. He would do his laundry when he got home. It
had been so wonderful to see his mother. He loved her so much and she was
so wise. Now he had to face Bishop Richards and then Bishop O'Brian. He
wasn't looking forward to either. He walked over to the phone. He dialed
the pub. Still busy. He knew there must be a problem
with the phones.
He walked up the steps of St. Mary's. Sometimes he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Of course, this was a problem of his own making. He knocked on the door. "Come in."
On the plane to Dublin, he sat looking out at the clouds and gloom. He would be so glad to have this all behind him. Of course, what Bishop Richards had said made a lot of sense, but he had never cared much for Bishop O'Brian. He really didn't want to hear what he had to say. But there were procedures.
Brendan and Siobhan were the last to leave. With everything that had happened, Assumpta was glad to be alone. She felt her face. It was on fire. She cleaned up the bar and started on the kitchen. She didn't feel really well. Maybe she would do this in the morning. She dried her hands and turned the lights off.
As Peter walked down the steps of the church, his jaws tightened. He new he hadn't liked that man. It was men like him that caused problems for the church. He walked downtown and found the bus stop. It was starting to drizzle, so he picked up his pack and went to find a telephone. He would call her and let her know that he was coming home. Coming home! That sounded so good. He said it several times more.
The line was busy. He wasn't sure when the bus would be here, so he left the phone and went back to wait for the bus.
Slowly she walked upstairs. She hadn't heard from him since she had been back. She changed into her nightshirt and splashed some water on her face. She knew it was over. Her dream. What would she do now? If only he hadn't felt the same way. Maybe she could have lived with it. But now...she loved him so very much. She knew she couldn't stay in Ballyk. Oh, God! She looked into the mirror. Her eyes were too bright. She pulled the neck of her nightshirt down. The cross lay sparkling upon her chest. Tears filled her eyes. She walked over to the window and opened it. She needed to cool the room. It was too warm.
The sheets felt cool against her skin. There was so much pain in her world. "God, I think I was happy before the priest got here."
She slept fitfully. Once she opened her eyes and saw the clock. 3:30. Her dreams were confused. Someone was pounding somewhere. There was shouting. She didn't know what the noise was all about. Then Peter was there. She was in his arms. He was carrying her. After that she didn't remember her dream.
Her eyes opened. She felt so different. The heat and the pain were gone. She felt cool. She was in her bedroom. The sun was shining through the opened window. The door opened and Niamh came in carrying a tray. She looked at Assumpta. "Oh, God, you're awake," she said, setting the tray down. She came over and felt her head. "Oh, you're cool now."
"What's happened, Niamh?"
"You've been delirious with a fever, Assumpta. You've been sick for three days.
Doc Ryan has been here every day to check on you. He said that you haven't taken care of yourself."
"When did I get sick? I remember not feeling well and coming upstairs. Then I had a dream of.....I don't know, someone pounding somewhere."
"That was Peter. He found you. He has sat with you until this afternoon, when finally Doc Ryan made him go to bed."
"He's here?" she asked.
"Yeah, he's in the room down the hall."
"Niamh, do you know how his mother is?"
"He said that she is better, Niamh said, fluffing up the pillow.
"Oh, God, I'm so glad."
Just then Doc Ryan came in. "Well, how's the patient?" he said, smiling. "You're looking much better, Assumpta. You've been a pretty sick girl."
"I feel much better, Doc."
"Well, you've had some good people to take care of you," he said, feeling her head.
He looked at Niamh. "I would like you to feed her something, and let her go back to sleep."
"Thank you, Doc," said Assumpta. He patted her hand.
Niamh helped her with her shower. She really was very weak. She looked pale in the mirror. Niamh made her some soup and she had eaten almost all of it. She felt very tired again.
She opened her eyes. It was dark. There was moonlight coming in the window. She got up and walked to the door. The hall was dark. Maybe Niamh was downstairs. She remembered that Peter was here. She walked down the hall. The floor was cold on her bare feet. The door was slightly ajar. She looked in and saw someone in the bed. She went in. As she got close, she could see his dark hair against the pillow in the moonlight.
He turned. "Assumpta, is that you?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Oh, thank God!" He reached up and pulled her down on to the bed. "You were so sick."
He held her in his arms. He touched her face and brushed the hair back. He left his hand on the side of her face and kissed her mouth. Her arms went around his neck and she whispered in his ear. "What did you decide?"
He looked into her eyes. "About what?" he questioned.
"About us." She said.
"Decide about what, Assumpta? About me loving you?" She nodded. "What are you talking about? Did you think I had changed my mind?"
He went on. "Assumpta, I am no longer a priest. I haven't changed my mind about anything. Is that what you thought?" he said softly.
She didn't say anything. She could feel his heart beating.
"I saw Bishop Richards and then I went to see Bishop O'Brian. I was late but he saw me anyway. And then I came right here, because I couldn't wait to see you. It was late when I got here, so I tried to wake you up. I went around to the back door, and you had left it unlocked. Then I got scared and ran up the stairs. You were in bed, but I couldn't wake you up, so I carried you over to Doc Ryan's. Oh, God, Assumpta, you frightened me so badly. I thought you were dying."
She was lying beside him. He kissed her forehead. They lay there, wrapped in each other's arms. He felt her warm body against him. The wonderful smoothness of her skin. Her lips so soft against his. It was as close to heaven as he had ever been. He knew it was time to get her up out of his bed.
He helped her up from the bed and with his arms around her, he helped her get into her bed. He sat beside her and stroked her face. Something shiny caught his eye. He looked at the chain around her neck. He pulled it out. His eyes widened. "Where did you get this," he exclaimed.
Assumpta looked at him..... "From your mum," she said, hesitantly.
He looked at her with his mouth opened. "When?"
"When I found out that she was in hospital, I left Niamh here and went to Manchester to see you, because I thought that you might need me. Your Mum found out that I was in the waiting room to see you and she told the nurse to bring me in. So I spent the afternoon with her and she convinced me that it was better for you, if I let you sort this all out by yourself. As I was leaving, the nurse brought me this and said your mother wanted me to have it."
Peter got down on his knees and put his arms around her. "I asked my mum where her cross was, because she had worn it ever since I can remember and when they moved her to the other room, I noticed that she didn't have it on. It had been a gift from my father. Do you know what she said to me, Assumpta?.....She said that she had given it to someone she loved."
The tears came. She couldn't stop them. The stress, the tension, the
illness, the happiness. He held her and she cried. And he cried too.
"Kathleen, what can I do for you?" she said, surprised at seeing her there and setting the coffeepot down.
"Nothing, I'm sure," she said, sourly.
"Well, then, if you'll excuse me," said Assumpta, turning around to return to the kitchen.
"Just a minute, if you please," Kathleen said, haughtily.
Assumpta turned and looked at her. She said nothing.
"I have just heard a rumor and I can't bring myself to believe it."
"Well, good, then, it shouldn't cause you any problems," Assumpta remarked.
As Assumpta turned to leave, Kathleen said, "I have just heard that Father Clifford is leaving the priesthood." She looked accusingly at Assumpta.
"Yes, I have heard that myself," Assumpta said evasively.
"I think...." Just then the door to the pub opened and in walked Peter, interrupting Kathleen's next sentence.
He looked at Assumpta and then to Kathleen and back again, figuring out what had been going on.
Assumpta smiled at him, "Kathleen was just asking me about you."
"I see," said Peter, smiling back.
"Oh, listen, Kathleen, will you do me a favor," Peter asked, not waiting for an answer.
He took out of his pocket a small box. He opened it and took out it's contents. He then handed the box to Kathleen. "Would you hold this for me, for a moment, Kathleen. Thank you." Again he didn't wait for her answer.
Peter walked over to Assumpta. He reached for her hand. "Assumpta Fitzgerald,.... will you marry me?" Neither noticed the gasp coming from Kathleen. Assumpta looked at the beautiful emerald. "Peter! This is beautiful," she said as he slipped it on her finger.
"This was my grandmother's. She gave it to me years ago, telling me that I should give it to someone I love....... I guess that would be you," he said, putting his arms around her. He kissed her. No one heard the final gasp from Kathleen, nor her exit from the pub.
"Well?" he said, in her ear.
"Yes, I'll marry you," she said kissing him once again.
They looked over to where Kathleen had stood. On the table was the ring box. They both laughed.
Niamh came in. "Did I just see Kathleen come out of here? She was in an awful hurry. Does she know?'
Assumpta was still in Peter's arms. Neither one said anything.
"Oh, I'll bet she knows now," said Niamh, smiling.
"If you two want some time, I'll tend the bar."
"Thanks Niamh," said Peter. He picked up Assumpta and carried her into the kitchen, amid cries of "Peter, put me down!"
He put her down, but he didn't let her go. "I didn't know I could love anyone as much as I love you," he said softly in her ear.
Brendan and Padraig walked into the pub and sat down. Niamh walked over to them. "What will you have?"
"I'll have a pint of stout," said Padraig.
"Same," said Brendan. "And why weren't you at Mass this morning?" he asked, pretending to be indignant.
Niamh looked at him. "I was busy," she replied, setting both glasses down.
"You missed the big announcement," Padraig said, taking a drink.
"And which one would that be?" she said.
"The one about Father Clifford leaving the priesthood," Brendan answered.
Just then the pub door opened and in walked Siobhan.
"Hello, gentlemen," she said sitting down next to Brendan.
"So what did you think of the announcement?" asked Brendan.
Niamh turned to Siobhan. "What'll you have, Siobhan?"
"I'll have a cup of coffee, Niamh, thanks."
"I wasn't surprised," said Siobhan.
"I wasn't either," remarked Brendan.
Padraig looked from one to the other. "You weren't surprised?" he said.
Siobhan took a sip of her coffee. "No," she answered him. "I saw them awhile ago, walking from the church across the field to the river. He reached over and took her hand. But I had suspected that there was something between them even before that."
"Who?" said Padraig.
"It was pretty hard to miss the emotion floating around when they were in the same room together," Brendan remarked.
"Who?" said Padraig. "What emotion?" he said.
"God, Padraig, where have you been?" laughed Brendan
The pub began to fill up. "Assumpta!" Niamh yelled.
Assumpta came out. "Yeah."
"I'm getting busy here," said Niamh.
Assumpta reached for the pencil.
"Let me see your hand, Assumpta," she said, reaching for her hand.
"Oh, that's beautiful!" The emerald sparkled in the light from the window,
"Thanks," she said, smiling.
Siobhan said, "Let me see too.... When did you get it?"
"This morning," said Assumpta smiling.
"Congratulations," said Brendan.
"What?" said Padraig.
Peter walked up the steps of St. Joseph's. How strange it felt not to be the resident priest. How, within a few weeks, was it possible for a life to change so drastically? It didn't take them long to get the new priest. Peter knocked on the door.
The door opened. A man about Peter's age stood there. He obviously was a priest. "Hello," he said.
"Hello," said Peter. "I'm Peter Clifford," he said reaching out his hand, not knowing what kind of a reception he was going to get.
The priest took his hand and smiled. "How are you?" he asked. "You're the former priest, yeah?"
"I have heard quite a bit about you," he said. Peter wondered what he had heard.
"I'm Father Aiden O'Connell. I've just been assigned here. Everyone just calls me Father Aiden. So please, you can too."
"Yes, Father Aiden," Peter said, smiling.
Father Clifford was leaving the priesthood. Why? Eamon walked along the road. He had never known a priest that had left the priesthood. But that is what Father Mac had said at Mass this morning. Of course he had heard tell of that happening. He guessed he'd go into Fitzgerald's and have a diet cola. As he walked in the door, he could hear the sounds of many people. People laughing, the sound of glasses clinking, it sounded like a party. He smiled and shuffled in. Liam and Donal were sitting at a table. Siobhan, Brendan and Padraig were at the bar. Niamh was helping Assumpta. Brian and Doc Ryan and Father Clifford! Father Clifford was behind the bar helping Niamh and Assumpta. Eamon guessed he would ask him.
He shuffled up to the bar.
Peter smiled at him. "What'll you have Eamon?"
"I'll have a diet cola, Father."
"Father," he said..as Peter put the can in front of him.
"Father," he said louder .leaning closer to him.
"Eamon. You don't have to call me Father anymore. Peter will do."
Eamon didn't know if he could call him Peter. It just wouldn't come out. "Fath...
Ummm..could I have a word.
"Sure," said Peter.
"Why aren't you going to be a priest anymore?" he lowered his voice not wanting anyone to hear, just in case they didn't know.
"Well, Eamon," he thought for a moment. "You know how priest's aren't supposed to marry?"
"Yeah," said Eamon. "Of course I know that," he said taking a drink of his diet cola.
"Well, I have found someone I want to marry, so I had to choose."
"Do you understand, Eamon?"
"Sorry?" said Peter.
"Who did ya find?"
"Me," said Assumpta, leaning over the bar next to Peter.
"You?" said Eamon
"Yeah, me," she said smiling.
"Yeah, her," Peter said.
"Oh," said Eamon.
What a day! She had been very busy all day. She guessed everyone wanted a glimpse of the priest who was leaving the priesthood. And they all seemed to know where he would be. Everyone was very polite about it, though. Just a few had any questions or at least had the nerve to ask them. Their friends all seemed to have known how they felt about each other, except Padriag, but no one had ever said anything. Everyone loved the ring. Peter had been so wonderful all day. He helped clean and made sandwiches, poured tea and told everyone who asked, about his decision. Occasionally she would look up and find him looking at her. Sometimes she looked at him. She watched him with admiration and respect. What a wonderful man! And he loves me, she thought. I must have done something right.. sometime.
Niamh stayed and helped Peter and Assumpta finish cleaning up. "Ambrose will really be glad when you two get married." Assumpta looked at her questioningly.
"Then I can spend some time at home," she laughed.
"Thanks, Niamh," said Assumpta as Niamh reached for her jacket.
She closed and locked the pub door. Peter finished putting the glasses away. "I hope this is where you want them," he said, turning to look at her as he came into the kitchen.
"Yeah, that's fine."
"I went to see the new priest," Peter said, looking to see what her reaction would be.
She turned and looked at him. "What about?"
"I wanted to meet him and I wanted to ask him something."
"What is he like?" she asked.
"He's really a kind soul, Assumpta. He was a monk. Very unworldly. But very kind."
"What did you need to ask him?" she said.
........"If he would marry us."
She looked at him for a moment. "What did he say?" she said, apprehensively.
"He said he would be glad to. I don't know what Father Mac will say about that, though."
"I don't think he will say anything," she remarked.
He looked over at her. What a curious thing for her to say, he thought.
"So, when will you marry me?" he said, looking at her intently.
She put a cloth down on the counter and turned and walked over to him.
She put her arms around his neck and whispered in his ear. "Anytime you say," she said, kissing him. He held her tightly and said, "How about Friday?"
"This Friday?" she asked, surprised.
"Yeah," he said.
"This isn't going to be a big deal, is it? I mean, I just want a small wedding," she said.
"No, Assumpta, this will be just how you want it. Ok?"
She smiled at him. "Friday's fine," she said.
They sat together in front of the fire. She wanted to stay there, in front of the fire beside him forever. She didn't want to be away from him for even one moment. She had never felt like this before. What a strange feeling. Peter looked at her and smiled. He touched her face. She laid her head on his shoulder. They didn't have to talk. No words were necessary. It was as if, during that quiet communication, their souls were filled.
"You've got to be kidding, Assumpta. When?" said Niamh.
"Friday," said Assumpta.
"How are we supposed to put together a wedding in three days?" asked Niamh.
"You're not! I don't want to make a big deal out of this, Niamh."
"Assumpta, this is your wedding we are talking about."
"I know, but I just want a small wedding. Just our close friends."
"Well, that's fine, but we have to do some things."
"What about a wedding dress?" said Niamh.
Assumpta turned and went toward the stairs. "Follow me."
"They went upstairs to Assumpta's room. She opened the trunk at the foot of the bed. She lifted out several things and then she lifted out a white satin dress.
"Oh, I had forgotten that you had this," said Niamh.
"This was my mother's, remember?" she said, unfolding it and holding it up. It was plain, with straight lines, long sleeves and brocade roses. The neckline was square and the cuffs had the same brocade roses on them. There was no train and no veil. It was a soft cream color.
"Assumpta, that is beautiful!"
"I love it because it's simple. Since I was a little girl, I always
thought I would be married in it, if I ever got married at all. Oh
God, Niamh, can you believe that I am getting married. I never thought it would happen."
She hung the dress up. " All it needs is steaming."
Siobhan parked the car outside of Hendley's. She took a deep breath, and walked up the front steps. As she opened the door, the bell rang announcing a customer. Kathleen came out from the back wiping her hands on a cloth.
"We have to talk, Kathleen," she said, pointing to the back of the store.
The pub was full again. A lot of people that didn't usually go there. Just curiosity, she thought. Brendan and Siobhan came in together.
"Assumpta, Brendan has something to ask you," said Siobhan.
Brendan indicated that he would like to go into the kitchen. Assumpta turned and went in.
"Um Assumpta, I've been thinking that you may need someone to give you away. So I thought I'd volunteer.
........"I don't know what to say, Brendan," she said.
"Well, you could say yes."
"Yes, yes, Brendan, thank you," she said hugging him.
She went through her jewelry box. Her mothers ring and her father's ring. They would have them. She was so glad that her father's ring had fit Peter. She put them aside. She would give them to Peter, when he finally came home. Brendan, Padraig, and Doc Ryan had taken him to Cilldargan for a bachelor's party. Maybe she would wait and give them to him tomorrow. She hoped they would be careful driving home. Tomorrow was the day. She couldn't believe it. She loved him so much. And now she was marrying him. She opened her window. A cool breeze came in. Just a month ago, it was all so hopeless, and yet she had been willing to live with the pain she had felt. "Thank you, God," she said softly.
She woke up. The clock said 3:25. She walked down the hall to his room, thinking maybe he had come home and she hadn't heard him. She softly opened the door. The bed was still made. No Peter. The oppressive worry covered her like a cloak. Where could they be at this hour? She went downstairs. Fixed a cup of tea. She couldn't sleep anyway. The pubs were all closed. "Oh, God, please," she said aloud.
As she walked up the stairs, she heard the door open and close. She turned and set the tea on the small table at the top of the stairs.
She heard footsteps coming up the stairs. "Hi," she said, with relief, as she saw the familiar jacket appear from the gloom on the stairs. "How's your head?"
"I'm fine, but I had to take them home. Had a little too much," he laughed.
"What are you doing up?" he asked.
"I woke up and you weren't here. I was worried."
"I'm sorry," he said, putting his arms around her.
"I didn't want to call you, because I thought you might be asleep."
She felt his arms around her. She was always amazed at the intensity of her feelings for him, whenever he put his arms around her.
"I have the rings, Peter. I was going to give them to you tomorrow, but let me get them for you. I wasn't sure what condition you would be in, tonight," she said, turning into her room.
He followed her. He had memorized the inside of that room, when he sat beside her, when she was so sick. The pictures on the wall. Her parents pictures on the dresser. The white curtains at the window. Soon it would be his room too.
She picked up the rings and handed them to him. He held out his hand and quickly put them into his pocket. He reached for her again, taking her in his arms.
"Assumpta," he whispered. His mouth covered hers. He ran his hands down her bare arms. The warmth of her body and his great capacity to love her was nearly more than he could bear. She felt the passion rising in her also. "Tomorrow, Assumpta...tomorrow I will sleep here,... and for the rest of my life."
"Yes," she said, against his mouth. "Yes, tomorrow."
This was the morning. Oh God, she was nervous. Two hours to go. She heard the door of the pub open and close. Probably Niamh. Someone knocked on her bedroom door. "Assumpta," it was Peter's voice. "Assumpta, are you awake?"
She opened the door. "Peter, you're not supposed to be here."
"I'm just not supposed to see you in your dress," he said. "Come downstairs."
She had her jeans and t-shirt on.
She walked downstairs. There stood Peter's mother. "Oh," Assumpta said. She quickly walked over to her and put her arms around her. Mrs. Clifford held her and kissed her cheek. Then she whispered in Assumpta's ear, "You have made me very happy." Assumpta's eyes filled with tears. Peter helped his mother to a chair. Then he put his arm around Assumpta and guided her toward one of the two tall men that had come in with him.
"Assumpta, this is my brother William," he said.
"I'm so glad to meet you," he said, hugging her and looking at Peter, his green eyes twinkling. "When you said she was beautiful, you weren't kidding," he said smiling at her.
"And, my brother Paul," he indicated the other man. Assumpta noticed that Paul looked a great deal like Peter. Paul put his arms around her and gave her a hug. "It's nice to finally meet you. His letters have been full of you for years." She glanced over at Peter.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
Just then Niamh came in. Peter introduced Niamh to everyone and then they excused themselves to let Assumpta get ready.
Father Aiden was whispering to Peter. The music was playing softly. Beautiful music from a CD that Assumpta had bought in Cilldargan. She hadn't wanted the Wedding March. The church was quiet. The flowers were beautiful. Siobhan and Kathleen had done them, after Siobhan had told Kathleen who had done most of the work in fixing up her home after the fire.
Just a few people were there. Their friends, and his family.
It was almost time to start. Peter waited nervously in the front and
to the side of the altar. He heard the sound of the Canon in D. It was
so beautiful. He looked and saw Assumpta walking down the aisle with Brendan.
That beautiful music was nothing compared to her. She took his breath away.
Her dark hair was in soft waves with white flowers woven in it. Her face
was radiant. The cross his mother had given her hung about her neck and
lay upon her breast, sparkling in the light from the
stained glass windows. She was going to be his wife. As she walked down the aisle she looked only at Peter. As they met, he took her hand and they knelt in front of Father Aiden. "In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," he began...
WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING.
She opened her eyes. It was dark. She looked out of the window. The stars were still out. She didn't know what time it was, but she knew it was early morning. She could hear the morning birds starting to call to one another. She could hear Peter softly breathing. She was careful not to move. She didn't want to wake him. She smiled remembering the last few days. Her wedding had been beautiful. She really never expected it to be as perfect as it turned out to be. In her whole life she had never been this happy. She guessed in order to be this happy, you had to marry a priest. She laughed to herself. What a marvelous man he was. So loving. So caring. So unselfish. So funny. So everything. Peter was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She intended to be the best thing that ever happened to him.
So this was love, was it? She had always wondered what it would be like.
To be so close to someone and to give to him everything
you had to give. She was remembering the first night they had spent together. How gentle he was. How loved, he made her feel. Making love was such a natural conclusion to the incredible passion that they had felt for one another, that she hadn't been afraid or apprehensive, but had been willingly swept away on the wings of that passion.
"Assumpta, are you awake?" he said softly.
"Yeah," she said turning over to face him.
Their faces almost touching, he reached up and touched the side of her face. "I love you Mrs. Clifford."
"And I love you, Mr. Clifford," she said, smiling.
He gathered her in his arms and kissed her softly.
"Assumpta, I want to tell you something.... Nothing will ever mean as much to me, as your loving me does, and I thank God every day that He has let me have you in my life."
He kissed the side of her face. She didn't say anything. She reached up with her fingers and touched his lips. Sometimes there weren't any words to describe what she was feeling.