Assumpta has received her annulment from Leo. Peter has returned from Manchester following the death of his Mother. They both are careful to avoid saying or doing anything that would let the other one know their feelings.
But the encounter in Niamh’s kitchen has her reeling.
Her face was tear stained, and she was angry. She sat on the chair, staring at the wall. Her emotions running rampant. Brendan slowly opened the door. “You ok?” he said, carefully.
“Yeah,” she said, not looking at him.
“If there’s anything I can do……..” he said, quietly.
“Thanks,” she said, wiping her face with her hands. She was so sick of second guessing Peter. Sometimes she was sure he cared for her. Sometimes she didn’t know what to think. But this…………This was just too much to take.
She left the pub with Brendan, and walked quickly up the road to the parish house. He had kissed her neck. What the hell was he doing? And the polar bear thing. What was that all about? He wanted it both ways. That was it. The closer she got, the angrier she was. She walked up to the door and banged on it. She felt like punching him in the face.
“Assumpta…….,” he said.
“What are you trying to do to me?” she said, her eyes flashing dangerously.
He looked out the door to see if anyone was within listening distance.
“Come in,” he said, backing up to let her in.
“Oh, what! You afraid of the neighbors now?” she said, coming in, as Peter closed the door behind her and turned to look at her.
“What do you want me to say?” he said.
“What……………..?” She looked incredulously at him………... “What do you want from me?”
“It’s not that simple,” he said, looking down at the floor.
“Oh, yes it is,” she said.
“I’m a Catholic priest,” he said, lamely.
“It goes with the territory.”
“It’s the truth………For you and me, it’s the truth.”
“I just need some time to think,” he said, not looking at her.
“It’s not what’s in your head I need to hear,” she said, walking past him to the door. “It’s what’s in your heart……….” she said turning to grasp the door knob… He looked up and saw the tear stains on her face.
“Assumpta……” he said…… “Wait.”
She turned to look at him. He walked over to the door and reached for the hand that was on the door knob. “Assumpta,” he said, softly, putting his arms around her. With his face against hers, he said, “Please wait…… I have to talk to you.”
She didn’t say anything. He backed away from her so he could see her face. Tears were running from the corners of her eyes.
“Oh, God, Assumpta. Don’t cry. You’re breaking my heart.”
“What about my heart,” she said, angrily, reaching up to wipe the tears from her face…… “What were you trying to do?”
……….. “I wasn’t thinking…..I was just allowing myself to feel, for once.”
“Well………what did you feel?” she said……
“I’m not supposed to feel anything,” he said, desperately clinging to his dwindling resolve.
“I don’t care about what your not SUPPOSED to feel. What DO you feel?”
He held her tenderly.
“I think about you every minute of every day,” he whispered in her ear.
She looked up at him with her tear stained face. “What do you want, Peter?”
Now the tears came to his eyes. “You….. I want you.”
She reached up with her hand and touched the side of his face. He leaned down and kissed her softly on the mouth. “I want you….,” he whispered against her mouth. He held her tightly and kissed her again and again.
They lay next to one another on the sofa, wrapped in each others arms. He kissed her forehead softly. “You have no idea how long I have wanted to hold you in my arms.”
“Why didn’t you tell me,” she asked softly.
“I couldn’t even tell myself,” he said.
She touched his arm with her hand, and smiled to herself. She had known that there was chemistry between them, but didn’t realize how much. She was practically breathless being this close to him. This was like a dream. She hadn’t allowed herself to imagine too much, but sometimes she couldn’t help thinking about what it would be to kiss him. Yes, this was like a dream.
He kissed her again, softly at first and then more urgently. She was still waiting for him to realize what he was doing and jump up from the sofa. However, she was going to enjoy this as long as she could. He leaned back to look at her face. He reached up and brushed her hair back from her face. The firelight cast shadows all about them.
“Assumpta,” he whispered. “I love you,” he said, touching her face.
She reached up and pulled him to her. The kiss was long and passionate. All of the unfulfilled emotion of the last three years, playing into this physical communication between them. All at once, she pushed him away and jumped up off of the sofa.
“What’s the matter,” he said, breathlessly.
“What in the hell are we doing,” she said, running her fingers through her tangled hair. She looked at him, her chest heaving up and down.
He took a deep breath and slowly got to his feet.
“Peter, we can’t do this,” she said.
“Come here,” he said, reaching for her hand.
She sat down next to him, the fire flickering and dancing on the walls and on their faces.
“I’m sorry,” he said, still breathless.
“No, Peter, I’m sorry. I should have stopped this.”
“I didn’t want it stopped.”
“I shouldn’t have come here,” she said, shaking her head.
“Look, Assumpta, I’m a grown man. I started the whole thing, anyway. I started it in Niamh’s kitchen. I was trying to tell you, in my own stupid way that I love you.”
He put his fingers up to her lips. “Let me finish, please.”
“You were right to come here. I can’t play this game any longer. I say Mass. I hear confession. Just words……The only thing I ever think about is you……Assumpta…..I love you. I want you in my life.”
She looked at him. “But, what will you do?”
“What I should have done a long time ago. See Father Mac and tell him that I am leaving the priesthood.”
She just stared at him. “Are you sure? ……Have you thought……..” He reached for her. He brought her face to his and kissed her. “I’m sure,” he whispered. He lay back down on the sofa and reached for her. She lay next to him, feeling the warmth of his body. She had never felt anything like this in her whole life. She trembled with the prospect of what was most likely going to happen. He leaned over her and kissed her, reached down and started to unbutton her shirt. A log snapped and the fire hissed.
She opened her eyes. She was confused. Then the memory came flooding back to her. She was in Peter’s room upstairs, in his small bed. She remembered. The incredible feelings as he had touched her, kissed her, made love to her. She could feel Peter’s warm body next to hers. It was dark and she listened as the rain thrummed on the roof of the parish house and ran gurgling down the drain pipe. Peter’s arm was around her waist. She could hardly bring herself to believe what had happened. She had never felt love like that from anyone in her whole life. Her mind went over it again and again. The emotion had been so strong……so enticing…..In her life she had never wanted anything as much as she had wanted him. She knew he felt the same way. At least he did now. God, what were they going to do? Just then she felt him move.
“You awake?” she whispered.
He leaned over and kissed her face. “Yup,” he said.
She turned toward him, his arm touching her shoulder. “ I’ll have to go home soon,” she said.
“Not in this,” he said, looking out of the window.
“Maybe it will let up soon.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” he said speculatively. “ You’d have to stay here with me….all morning and then on into the day……and then maybe it would still be raining into the night and then you would have to stay the night again………and then all night I would try to talk you into staying for the rest of your life…..”
She laughed. “And then Father Mac would come over to see where you were and why you weren’t at the church………” she laughed again.
He leaned over and kissed her softly.
“Besides,” she said. “ I don’t think I would be able to live with you here.” They both laughed. Their laughter ended with an embrace. He kissed her softly on the cheek.
“Assumpta. Am I dreaming?”
“Well, if you are, then I’m having the same dream.” She reached over and touched his face and traced the outline of his jaw, with her finger.”
The sound of someone pounding on the door, echoed up the stairs. “Oh, God!” Peter said, jumping up and grabbing his robe. The pounding continued. “I’m coming,” he shouted, descending the stairs. He opened the door to see Doc Ryan dripping with rain. “I’m sorry, Father,” he said, apologetically. “There’s been an accident about two miles out on the Dublin road. The phones aren’t working, or I would have called. I’m bringing you just in case.”
“Of course,” said Peter. “I’ll just go get dressed.”
Peter ran up the stairs, entered his room and went to the closet. As he was getting dressed, he stopped and walked over to the bed. He knelt down beside the bed and took her face in his hands. He leaned over and kissed her softly. “I have to go. There’s been an accident. Michael didn’t know how serious it was, so he wants me to be there.”
“Of course,” she said. “Be careful, Peter.”
He kissed her again, turned and went down the stairs.
The headlights shredded the wet pavement. Michael pulled his car up on the side of the road. They both got out and hurried over to the group of people assembled around the car. Michael pushed his way through and Peter followed. Two people lay on the ground, covered by coats, obviously contributed by the crowd. The car was a mess. Peter glanced over to the car and was amazed that anyone was still alive. Michael called to Peter. “I think you had better attend this one,” he said, pointed to a woman that was lying so still. He brought his things from the car and placed the oil on the woman’s head. She moaned softly. He said the prayers and when it was over, he set out to comfort her. She kept whispering something. He leaned down closer to hear.
“What about the car?” he asked, trying to keep her talking.
“She…………she……” she kept saying. Peter covered her carefully and got up to walk over to the car. The gardai were there, discussing how to deal with the up-ended car. Peter looked in the car. Everything was tumbled in disarray. More sirens were coming….splitting the air with their shrill sound and colored shards of light. Peter looked down into the car once again, and back at the woman lying upon the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move. He leaned down and reached for a pile of clothes and felt something warm. He removed the clothing on top and saw a tiny hand. “Oh God,” he said, as he reached in with both hands and lifted a tiny baby from the tangle of clothes and carefully out of the window. “Michael,” he shouted. “Michael,” he shouted again. Michael appeared, his shirt front covered with blood. Peter thrust the tiny child into his arms.
“What do we have here?” he asked, not expecting any answer.
“I just found this in the car,” Peter said. Michael checked the baby for wounds and found only a scratch on the tiny face.
“She seems to be fine,” he said.
“She?” said Peter.
“Yeah, I checked.”
“Oh,” said Peter.
Michael handed the baby back to Peter. “I have to go in the ambulance. Can you bring the baby to the hospital,” he said, handing Peter the keys to his car. “My hands will be full taking care of the woman.”
“Let me show the mother,” Peter replied.
He took the baby over to the ambulance closest to him. The attendant opened the door and helped him in.
“See………see,” he said to the woman, as he gently shook her awake. “See…..here is the baby.” She opened her eyes briefly and smiled at Peter. Her hand came up and touched the tiny bundle…
Peter put the baby on the back seat, thinking it was probably safer. He stopped the car in front of his house. He opened the back door and picked up the baby, who had fallen asleep. He opened the door to his house and went in. “Assumpta,” he called softly. He heard someone come from the kitchen.
“I’m here,” she said. She was dressed and had her jacket on.
“Were you going to leave?” he questioned.
“Weren’t you going to wait for me to come home?”
She walked over to him. “I didn’t want anyone to find me here.”
With his one free arm, he reached out to her and kissed her mouth.
“Who’s this?” she asked, touching the baby’s head.
“The mother and father were in the accident. Nobody knew there was a baby in the car until the mother came to, a bit and kept saying ‘the car….she…she. I couldn’t figure it out until I saw something move down amongst the clothes. So I dug down, and found her. Michael wants me to bring her to hospital.”
“Oh God,” she said, stroking the tiny head.
“Come with me,” he said, touching her face.
“Sure,” she said.
“The parents are pretty bad,” he said, handing her the baby.
Assumpta held the baby in her arms. Touching the tiny face. “God, what a start in life,” she said, more to herself than to Peter.
“The mother is in pretty bad shape, and I’m not sure about the father.”
They pulled up in front of the emergency room and Peter parked beside the ambulance.
They entered the emergency room with Assumpta holding the baby.
“Ah, Assumpta,” said Michael. “Thanks for helping out.” Then to Peter he said, “The woman is dead, and they have taken the man to Intensive Care.”
Peter sighed. He couldn’t speak for a moment.
“What about the baby?” he said, finally.
“We’ll have to do some investigation, to find out who they are, and where the next of kin can be found. I’ll have Ambrose start looking right away.” Michael looked at Peter hopefully.
“Do you think you might take her until we can locate someone?”
Peter looked at Assumpta and Assumpta nodded.
Assumpta walked up and down the quiet hallway, holding the baby and waiting for Peter. He had felt as though he should attend to the man as well.
They drove home in silence, after having raided the hospital pharmacy for bottles, nappies and several other items. It was 4:00 in the morning. Peter was lost in thought, marveling at the change in his life over the last twenty-four hours.
Assumpta was quiet as well. She looked down at the baby. Poor little thing. Baby without her mother. She was grateful that she had had her mother until she was grown. She glanced up at Peter. Her heart overflowed with love for him. He was so compassionate, so caring, so loving. What an emotional night!
They pulled into Ballyk and headed for the parish house.
“Maybe you should stay at the pub,” Assumpta said, quickly.
“Would you rather?” he asked.
“I think people would talk less if you stayed at the pub.”
He looked at her, reached over and touched her face.
He turned the car around and headed back to the pub.
Assumpta held the crying baby in her arms. Peter came in with the bottle. “Poor little creature,” he said, handing the bottle to Assumpta.
Assumpta rocked the baby and hummed a Irish song her mother used to sing. Peter watched her. He got up and walked over to her, got down on his knee and kissed her softly. She kissed him back.
“What’s going on here,” said Father Mac.
Assumpta blinked, wondering for a moment were she was. Then she realized that she was still in the rocking chair and had the baby in her arms. Peter was asleep on the sofa and jumped up at the sound of Father Mac’s voice.
“Father Clifford. Don’t you have a home to go to?” he said, angrily.
“Ahhhh,……….sorry Father. We had to take care of the baby for Michael.”
“Yes, I am sure,” he sneered. “Michael Ryan told me that I might find you here. I would like to see you in my office at your earliest convenience.”
Assumpta just looked at him, daring him to say anything to her, which, of course, he didn’t.
“I suggest, Father, that you seek a more appropriate place to sleep, in the future.”
Peter didn’t say anything to him. And he turned on his heels and walked out the door.
Peter looked at Assumpta and let out a sigh. Just then the door opened again. This time it was Michael.
“Get much sleep?” he asked, picking up on the tension in the room.
“Father Mac was just here,” Peter said, by way of explanation.
“Oh,” said Michael, rolling his eyes.
“Well, I came to tell you that we have located the baby’s grandmother. I have her address in Belfast. I’m hoping you can bring the baby up there. She doesn’t have any transportation.”
“Of course,” said Peter.
“Good,…..good. Come around to the office and I will give you her address.”
“Ok. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Michael left and Peter turned to Assumpta. “Will you come with me?”
She looked at him carefully, trying to read something.
“I’d better not,” she said, hesitantly, still smarting from Father Mac’s visit. “I’ve got to stay and take care of the pub.”
“Of, course,” he said. He walked over to her and kissed her.
Assumpta was busy in the kitchen. The door opened and in came Niamh.
“You look awful,” she said, casually.
“Thanks,” Assumpta said, continuing to clean the kitchen floor, and realizing that Niamh hadn’t a clue about anything that happened since yesterday.
“I heard that there was a bad accident out on the Dublin road last night.”
“This morning, really,” corrected Assumpta.
“Ambrose told me some things, but I haven’t seen much of him since last night.”
Assumpta told her the story over tea, eliminating the encounter with Peter. When she got to the part where Father Mac came in, Niamh shook her head. “Some times I wonder about that man. So how long will Peter be gone?”
“I don’t know. Probably not long.”
Niamh was well aware of the friendship between the two of them. She often thought that it was too bad that he was a priest. Assumpta never became that close to anyone. Any man, anyway.
It was dark and quiet. She lay in her bed, going over and over everything. All of the conversations…all of the interaction between them. She was trying to imagine what he was thinking. Was he sorry for what happened? Was he ashamed? She had watched him taking care of the baby and the man. He was so compassionate. He was such a good priest. Was she coming between him and what he was meant to do and be? How selfish would that be?
The phone rang. She jumped. “Fitzgerald’s.”
“Hi,” she said, her heart pounding.
“I love you,” he said.
For some reason she couldn’t say it. She certainly felt it, but she couldn’t say it.
“How was your trip?”
“Fine…..I brought the baby to the Grandmother. She was very nice. Heartbroken for the loss of her daughter. We talked for a long time. I think she felt better when I left. She was so glad to have her granddaughter.”
“I’m glad it turned out as well as it could.”
“But I have some bad news,” he continued.
“What………….” she said.
“Father Mac called me at the Grandmother’s house and told me that my brother Andy was in the hospital.”
“What happened,” she said.
“He has a heart problem. He has had it since he was a child, but it never gave him any trouble. He had an attack of some sort yesterday, and is in hospital. I will need to go to him. With Mum gone, I really need to be there. So I won’t be coming home right away.”
“Oh….of course,” she said.
“But I will call you when I get there.”
“I love you…….do you believe me?”
“…….let’s talk about this when we can be together.”
“……………ok,” he said.
Her heart ached.
Brendan sat at one end of the bar, reading the paper. Siobhan sat at the other end. Neither spoke a word. Assumpta walked in bringing things to put away. “You two are so boring, I can’t believe you can stand your own company. I can’t,” she said, walking back into the kitchen.
When she went back in, after doing a few chores, they were both gone. “Good,” she said.
Just then Niamh came in with Kieran. “Give that baby here,” said Assumpta, taking Kieran from Niamh.
“What a day,” said Niamh, sitting down on a barstool.
“What’ll you have?” asked Assumpta, switching Kieran to her hip.
“Just tea, Assumpta. But make it strong.”
Assumpta set the cup down.
“So, have you heard from Peter?” asked Niamh, taking a sip.
“Not since last week.”
“When will he be home?”
“He didn’t know. Andy is home but he doesn’t want to leave him alone just yet.”
“He’s been gone so long. God, almost six weeks,” said Niamh.
Padraig walked in.
“A pint, please, Assumpta,” he said, sitting down in his usual spot.
“What’s with Brendan and Siobhan?” he asked.
“Who knows,” said Assumpta.
“I just saw Brendan and I asked him to come and have a drink with me. He nearly bit my head off. Then I saw Siobhan getting some petrol and she was even nastier than he was.”
“I don’t know what their problem is. I hope they work it out before they come back in here,” said Assumpta.
Kieran started fussing and Assumpta handed him to Niamh.
Assumpta hadn’t been able to sleep very well for weeks. Her thoughts always kept her awake until the small hours of the morning. Tonight was no exception. Remembering their night together, made her pulse race. She knew that he loved her. But was that the best thing for him? God, he was a good priest. He loved being a priest. Could she really come between him and that, and feel ok about it? She got up. It was warm. She opened the window. She hated the Church. But he didn’t. He loved it. She sighed.
Peter had been in Manchester for more than a month. His brother was fine. He had been delaying his return to Ballyk. But now he was on his way home. Home. It really had become his home. He had picked up his car at the airport, phoned Father Mac and was on his way. Father Mac had installed a new priest at St. Joseph’s while Peter was away. A Father Aiden O’Connell. A monk. It might make his decision easier. When he pulled into Ballyk and crossed the bridge, it was after ten. Parking in front of the pub, he walked in. Niamh was behind the bar. The bar was almost empty. Unusual for this time of night. “Father. So good to have you back. How’s your brother?”
“Much better, thanks Niamh.”
“What’ll you have, Father?”
“Cup of coffee, thanks.”
Niamh brought the cup and set it before him.
“Where’s Assumpta?” he said, trying to sound casual.
“She’s gone to Dublin for a while, Father.”
“Yes. She said she had some things to take care of and would I take care of the pub for awhile.”
“For how long?”
“I’m not sure, Father. She left about two weeks ago. I really thought she would be back by now.”
“I tried to call her a couple of days ago, but there was no answer,” he said.
“Well, that would be why, then.”
“Do you have a phone number?”
“Yeah, somewhere here, Father. Let me look for it and I will run it up to you.”
“Thanks, Niamh,” he said, finishing his coffee.
He sat in his living room, lights out, remembering that night, so many weeks ago, when he broke his vows and gave himself, heart and soul to Assumpta Fitzgerald. He was so afraid that she didn’t feel the same way he did. Never once had she said “I love you.” But then again, that was her way. Wasn’t it? Maybe she had second thoughts about a relationship with a priest. Of course, she said she had never thought about him as a priest. And she had come to him, wanting him to make a decision. What if he had waited too long? What if he was supposed to stay in the priesthood? After all, God was really in charge, when He wanted to be. A knock at the door. He got up and opened it.
“Hi Father. Here it is,” Niamh said, handing him a folded piece of paper.
“Thanks, Niamh. Would you like to come in?”
“No, Father, I have to get home to Kieran, but thanks anyway,” she said, turning and walking down the path.
Peter closed the door. He looked at the number. His stomach felt as if someone had punched him. He looked at the clock. Half eleven. It was late. Maybe she was sleeping. God, he couldn’t wait. He dialed the number. A voice he didn’t recognize answered.
“Hello, is Assumpta Fitzgerald there?”
“No, she isn’t.”
“When do you expect her back?”
“I guess within the hour,” said the voice. “Can I give her a message?”
“This is a friend of hers, will you give me your address?”
He wasn’t the least bit tired. The road to Dublin was clear and it was a pretty, moonlit night. The woman hadn’t wanted to give Peter the address, but when Peter told her that he was Assumpta’s priest, she was glad to give him the address. Probably hoping that Assumpta’s association, or lack thereof, with the Church was changing. He felt a little guilty about the deception.
He walked up to the door. He could hear the bell ringing. The door was opened by a tall woman with short dark hair.
“Hello,” she said, smiling.
“Hi. Is Assumpta in yet?” He straightened his collar.
“Yes, won’t you come in, Father,” she smiled. “I didn’t have a chance to tell her you were coming. I’ll go get her.”
Peter’s heart was pounding. A door opened and closed and he heard footsteps to match the beating of his heart.
There she was. She looked at him. She went to him and he put his arms around her.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I had some things to sort out,” she said.
“Is there somewhere we can talk,” he asked.
“There is a garden out back. We could sit out there. It’s very private.”
They walked out into the garden.
“I called you a few days ago, but you weren’t there.”
“I’ve been here for almost two weeks.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Trying to sort out my life and get some answers,” she said, looking up at him.
“Answers to what?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Assumpta…….I have to know how you feel about me.”
She looked at him. “What don’t you know?” she asked, not understanding.
“I don’t know if you love me? I don’t want to impose myself on you…..”
“What are you talking about?”
He reached up and held his hand against her face. “My life is changing, Assumpta. I want to know how you feel about me. My feelings for you haven’t changed. If yours have I want to know…….
“God, Peter, is that what you think?
“I don’t know what to think. You left Ballyk and didn’t tell me. Are you running away from me?”
She looked at him. She leaned over and put her arms around him.
“No……I’m not running away from you,” she said against his face. “ I just had to decide something, that’s all.”
She sighed and looked down at the floor.
He looked at her, barely understanding what she was saying.
“Yes, Peter. I’m pregnant. You do remember that night?”
“Of course I remember. I’ve thought of little else since.”
“You’re pregnant……” He smiled…then he laughed out loud. He grabbed her and held her so tightly, swinging her around. Finally he set her down. She looked at him, questioningly.
“Assumpta, I went to see Father Mac and told him that I was through being a priest. On the way up here, I asked God if He would send me a sign that I had made the right choice, even though, in my heart I knew I had. “Yes, yes, yes!” he shouted. “Thank you, God!”
On the way home, they talked. He held her hand and every once in awhile, would lift it to his lips.
“So tell me what you were doing in Dublin.”
“I had to choose, first of all, if I was going to have this baby, knowing what it would do to your chances of continuing in the priesthood. Then I knew that I had to have this baby. It was yours. Then I was trying to decide where to go. I couldn’t go back to Ballyk. It would ruin your life.”
“God, Assumpta, you went through this all alone?”
“I’m so sorry that you didn’t feel you could come to me.”
“You weren’t here,” she said.
“Why didn’t you call me? You knew where I was.”
“I didn’t want you to make any decisions about me, based on the fact that I was pregnant,” she said, looking out the window.
He stopped the car and took her into his arms.
“What a test!……. . Did I pass?”
“With flying colors,” she said, kissing him softly.
“I love you.”
He smiled as he pulled out onto the road.