The chain slipped beneath the neckline of Assumpta's top.
"Are you sure about this?" Peter asked as he fastened the catch.
Assumpta looked in the dressing table mirror, patted the apex of the chain flat and smiled, "Perfect!" Seeing his look of concern, "We agreed, didn't we? That it was prudent for us to wait,...at least try to make it work at home, before..."
"I know," he said, running his hands across her shoulders, "But, telling lies...it makes everything...sordid."
Assumpta turned and put her arms around Peter's neck."We aren't going to tell lies," she murmured, nuzzling his neck and walking him backwards to the bed."We're just going to be economical with the details of our time away."
Refusing to be distracted,"And if someone figures it out?"
"We tell all..." playfully pushing him back onto the bed. "Well, mostly all," she said climbing onto the bed beside him.
"Okay," Peter said raising his hands in surrender, "I just wish we could go back together, without all this cloak and dagger business."
Exasperated Assumpta sat up and looked at him a full 30 seconds. She couldn't believe they were going to rehash it all again. "If we were just some typical couple who had run off to Gretna Green...we could go home and confess all. And eventually everyone would just have to accept it. But we're talking about an entire village, not just an annoyed family. And we can hardly be called a typical couple, now can we Father."
A spark of anger flashed in Peter's eyes."I've asked you never to call me that."
"I'm sorry," she said contritely, knowing that she had overstepped the mark."If you're so against this when I go home tomorrow, I'll find an agent to sell the pub. We can start over somewhere else, where no one knows that you used to be a priest."
Peter closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "Okay, okay I see your point. I don't want to fight," he said putting his arms around her and pulling her close. "We'll try it your way."
"If it doesn't work, we could always emigrate," she joked. "I hear Iceland is very accommodating."
Assumpta caught the bus in Cilldargen.
Gerard, the driver greeted her warmly as she boarded. "Assumpta! How was your holiday?"
"Just lovely, Gerard. Come by the pub, I'll bore you with my snaps," she said sliding into the seat behind him. Gerard turned around to chat, taking advantage of the few minutes it took to load the other passengers.
"Anything happen while I was away?"
"New curate finally showed up. Bit of an odd duck, if you asked me...Fr Clifford certainly is going to be missed."
"Yes, he will."
"Makes you wonder though."
"What's that, Gerard?"
"What a priest does after he stops being a priest?"
"Guess it depends on the priest."
"You were friends, right?"
Assumpta looked at him suspiciously . "Right."
Gerard hesitated, "He ever tell you..."
"Tell me what?"
"Why he left the church?"
"No. Why he left Ballykay."
Maybe things were going to be easier than either of them had anticipated, Assumpta thought. "Peter really loves Ballykay, Gerard. I wouldn't be surprised if he showed again."
Gerard smiled genuinely pleased. "That would be great!"
"You don't think folks around here would have a problem with him, now that he has left the church?"
"A few might, but Fr Clifford has a lot of friends here. You tell him that."
"That I will." Assumpta patted Gerard on the shoulder as the last passenger boarded. She would call Peter as soon as she got home.
It was late afternoon when Peter parked across from Fitzgerald's.
He was very nervous. He hoped desperately that this bizarre plan wasn't
going to end up like the Lucy and Ethel scheme it felt like. He hated
the thought of pretending. They had done not
hing to be ashamed of. He knew he should just march over there and accept whatever, but he had promised Assumpta to at least try it this way. He finally worked up his courage and was reaching into the boot for his bags when he heard a familiar voice.
He turned to find a disbelieving but very pleased Niamh pushing Kieran's pram towards him. "Hello, Niamh."he said almost shyly. Looking into the pram, "Look how much he's grown!"
"Peter, don't be silly. You've barely been gone a month."
"May I?" he said gesturing to the baby.
"Of course you can."
Peter picked up the baby and tried to coax a smile from him, "You haven't forgotten your Uncle Peter, have you?" He asked the baby. Then almost thunderstruck, he looked at Niamh. "Am I?...still his Uncle Peter."
At first Niamh didn't understand his question. Then she leaned into Peter and hugged him. "Of course you are, always will be." For a second she thought she saw tears in his eyes, but he quickly recovered making noises at the baby.
Niamh looked at his bags. "Are you home...for good?'
"I hope so." he said cradling the infant.
"Good! I haven't had a decent babysitter since you left."
Peter would have preferred to arrive at the pub after closing so that
he didn't have to face a roomful of people straight off. But he knew
his nerves would never hold out another 6 hours. He could feel his
heart beating in his throat as he opened the door
to Fitzgerald's and went in. What he saw caused him to drop his bags and stare. Leo McGarvey's arms were wrapped around Assumpta and he was swinging her jubilantly around the reception area to the extreme delight of the bar's patrons.
"Peter!!" Brendan exclaimed from his regular stool.
"Hiya." Peter said with a wave, his eyes never leaving Assmupta.
Her head turned at the sound of his name, her eyes went wide, she punched Leo in the shoulder and squirmed free of his embrace. "Peter!" she said weakly, touching the chain at her throat. A laugh echoed through the bar. She gave the offending party a withering glance,"Hyenas!"
"Fr Clifford. It's good to see you," Leo said trying to slip an arm around Assumpta. She side-stepped out of his reach, nervously watching the exchange between Peter and Leo.
"Covering another story Leo?"
"Not this time, Fr..."
"Please, just call me Peter." he interrupted.
Leo smiled and started to put his arm around Assumpta again. Her look froze it in mid air. He let it drop to his side. "I came to court the Belle of Ballykay and make her my own."
Assumpta colored, "I told you, to stop that."
"The course of true love, eh Leo," Padraig interjected from the far side of the bar.
"This is better than one of those Australian soap opera," chimed Siobhan.
Assumpta went behind the desk and took a key from the board. "Peter," she said starting up the stairs.
Peter picked up his bags,"Let me get settled, then it's my shout," he said to Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig.
"Good to have you back," Siobhan replied.
"It's good to be home," Peter said going up the stairs.
Assumpta waited for him at the top. "Sorry, I didn't know how to get rid of him." She closed the door behind them and went into Peter's anxious waiting arms. "Maybe you were right after all."
"No, I think you were. If we want people to accept us, we have to give them a chance to get used to me minus the collar. Then we can spring the rest of it on them."
"What are you going to do now?" Michael asked later that afternoon.
Peter shrugged, "I haven't gotten that far yet."
"Doesn't sound like you."
"Thought I'd better find out if I was welcome here first. Then..."
Michael put his hand on Peter's shoulder. "They're good people. Give them a little time. In a few months it won't matter to them that you used to wear that collar."
"Hope you're right." Peter said as he stared down the bar to where once again Leo was earnestly trying to talk to Assumpta.
"The first thing you should do is put a stop to that." Michael said pointing with his glass at Leo."
"Send Leo on his way."
Peter looked at Michael with surprise.
Leo stood at the end of the bar, nursing his drink, watching Assumpta.
She was at the end of the bar with the perennials, again. Something
was wrong. Things weren't working out the way he had planned.
For some reason she had seemed less than thrilled at his arrival this morning.
She had barely managed to find a moment for him all day. If it wasn't
three, it was Fr Clifford. She even found time for that old man that reeked so of sheep. Assumpta was wasted here. He remember how vibrant she had been in college. She should be in London with him. They could be so happy again.
"Assumpta," he called.
She said something to Padraig, they all laughed and she moved down the bar to him. "Yes, Leo"
"Assumpta, I was wondering if..." The phone rang interrupting him.
"Excuse me, Leo"she said reaching into the kitchen for it. "Fitzgerald's"
"I love you." Peter said.
Assumpta smiled warmly, then quickly looked to see if anyone had noticed. She retreated into the kitchen and closed the door. "Where are you?" She said softly.
"Down the street. I just needed to hear you voice."
Assumpta leaned against the wall and held the phone close. "I think this has been the longest day of my entire life."
"Then you wouldn't be interested in a walk along the river after closing."
"Meet you under the bridge."
Leo had noticed the way Assumpta had answered the phone. He began
to have an inkling and went up to his room. He spent the last half
hour before closing trying to plan the next step in his campaign to win
Assumpta back. He decided to take advantage of the late hour and
the empty pub. He had to do better without an audience. To
his surprise the downstairs was dark and empty. Leo went back upstairs
and knocked on Assumpta's door. No answer. Where could she
be. He was on his way back downstairs to see if Finn was in the kitchen,
perhaps she had taken him out, when his mind flashed back to the
curious call she had received earlier. There really was someone else. Was she meeting him. Leo was still on the stairs when he heard the front door open. He crouched down so he could see if it was her, but the pub was very dark. All that he was sure of was that two people had entered the pub. They stopped for what he assumed to be a long kiss. At first, he thought it must be another guest coming in late, but there were no other guests, only himself and the priest. She had brought the fellow home. Dejected Leo crept upstairs and into his room. After a few minutes he heard them on the stairs. He opened his door a
crack and peeked out. He had to know. The hallway was dark, but he was sure one of the figures was Assumpta.
"When Leo walked through the door this morning, all I could think of was what language do they speak in Iceland," she said softly.
The man laughed softly, "Do you have any idea how much I love you?"
They stopped for another long kiss before going into one of the rooms down the hall. Oh God! Leo felt sick to his stomach. Assumpta really wasn't coming back to London with him. She was in love with someone else. He was probably holding her in his arms right now. Maybe he was even making love to her. For one irrational second Leo thought about running down the hall and kicking in the doors until he found the right one. Bursting in on them, the outraged...the outraged what? He wasn't her husband, or her fiancee. He hadn't even been her boyfriend since college. It had been all his own idea to come down here. He had no rights, no claim on Assumpta.
Leo finished packing. It wasn't easy for him to admit defeat but last night had been proof enough of his folly. Still, it rankled realizing she was in love with someone else. He wished that she had just told him. What was the use of trying to keep secrets in a village the size of a semi colon. Everyone ended up knowing your business, eventually. The fellow must be married or... scenes began to flash through Leo's mind. Assumpta and Fr Clifford. It suddenly all began to make sense, 'their friendship' and when he was down to cover the election the way she had come unglued when he had asked the priest for advice about their relationship. Hadn't Niamh mentioned something about Assumpta just coming back from a long vacation. Fr Clifford had been away as well. And now he was staying at the pub. Very convenient! That duplicitous son of a ....You heard about this kind of thing happening, but Assumpta? Leo's blood began to boil, stoked by Assumpta's indifference. He knew he could quite easily show Mr High and Mighty Fr Clifford's true face to the entire village. And if Assumpta got hurt in the process...well, he had been hurt...No, he thought, beginning to calm down, he couldn't do that to her. Assumpta had meant too much to him, she still did. If he and Assumpta parted friends, he could still offer her a shoulder to cry on when the time came. And he was sure the time would come.
Leo carried his bags down the stairs and dropped them in front of the desk. Brendan, who was reading the paper and drinking his morning coffee at the bar, looked up and nodded at Leo and called, "Assumpta!"
A few seconds later she stuck her head around the kitchen door. "Yes Brendan."
Brendan pointed his paper towards Leo. Assumpta was relieved to see that Leo was apparently leaving.
She smiled warmly, "Going home, Leo?" she asked as she went over to him.
"Not much point in staying, is there?" he said, the hurt clear on his face. Assumpta softened, she really did care for him and felt badly that she had hurt him. She put her hand on his arm, "I told you a long time ago, that we couldn't go back."
"You know that if things ever change...with your situation, all you have to do is..." Leo heard the door behind him open. Assumpta looked towards it, the expression on her face changed completely. Leo looked back and saw Peter standing there smiling at Assumpta. It was so obvious, why hadn't he seen it before? Last night it had been Fr Clifford...Something in Peter's smile caused Leo to snap. He grabbed Assumpta's arm roughly and jerked to him. "How could you...?" Assumpta was completely taken by surprise. She tried to pull free, but Leo was too strong.
Brendan came quickly to his feet.
"Let go of her!!" Peter said.
Leo's face turned an angry red. He looked at Assumpta's arm, almost
surprised to see her arm vised in his fingers. He let go. She
quickly pulled away rubbing her forearm. Leo turned and without warning
punched Peter hard in the face. Peter hadn't
expected the assault and fell back against the stuffed blue chair.
"Peter!" cried Assumpta as she knelt beside him.
"How long has it been going on FATHER? Is she the only one you're playing musical beds with?"
"Get out of here Leo!"
Peter moved Assumpta out of the way and got to his feet.
"Leo, it's not what ...."
Assumpta pushed between Leo and Peter. Leo took her by the shoulders and roughly threw her aside. As she stumbled out of the way, Leo threw another punch at Peter. Peter dodged the fist and landed a blow of his own on Leo's chin. Leo staggered back several feet.
"You can't hide behind that collar now.."
Brendan had crossed the pub unnoticed, his hand landed on Leo's shoulder and gripped hard to get his attention. He turned quickly ready to extend the fight. Brendan's size and the serious expression he wore, dissuaded Leo.
"Don't you know what he's been doing?"
Brendan increased the pressure on Leo's shoulder. "Get your things. What does he owe you, Assumpta?"
Assumpta shook her head, "Just go."
Leo looked at them all with distaste, picked up his bags and left without looking back. Assumpta put her hand to Peter's face, looking closely at the lump rising quickly under his eye.
"Are you okay?"
Peter nodded. "You?" he asked as he put his arms around her. She nodded, and put her head on his shoulder and drew a ragged breath.
"I never meant..."
Peter kissed the top of her head. Brendan stood awkwardly for a few seconds, reluctant to intrude, then he cleared his throat. They startled apart, embarrassed.
"Better get some ice on that eye."
"Brendan, what Leo said..."
"Thank you." Assumpta said awkwardly.
Brendan ruffled her hair. "Just like old times."
Niamh had come out of Kathleen's shop just in time to see Leo throw his bags into the boot of his Saab. "Leo" she called.
He turned, anger etched on his face."Niamh."
"You're not leaving?"
"That I am." He said slamming the boot.
"But just yesterday you told me..."
"Yesterday was a long time ago."
"But I thought you and Assumpta.."
"So did I...but that was before I found out about her and that slimy bastard she's having an affair with."
Niamh couldn't believe her ears. Assumpta having an affair! Never! Besides who was there to have an affair with. "What are you talking about?"
"You're her closest friend, don't tell me she didn't tell you about the PRIEST."
"Fr Adian! He's only been here two minutes. They've hardly met!"
"No...Not Fr Adian, Fr Clifford. That lousy..."
"Peter! Peter and Assumpta!" She said with surprise that quickly melted away, making her realize that maybe there was something between them after all. But an affair. Never!
"You see, it's not so impossible after all. Is it. How long have they been sneaking around?"
"You've got it all wrong, Leo. Assumpta wouldn't do that, and I don't think Peter would either. Besides, Peter isn't a Priest anymore."
"He's not..." Leo got into the Saab and ran a hand through his hair. He realized that he had just made a colossal fool of himself. "Goodbye, Niamh..." he said pulling away quickly.
Michael pulled into the spot Leo had just vacated. He put his 'Physician on call' sign on the dash board. "How's he doing?" Michael asked climbing out of his car.
"Peter. Assumpta said there had been a fight."
"A fight! Peter!" Niamh turned quickly to see Leo's car
disappearing. Niamh rubbed her temples as they went into the pub.
She felt as if she had just fallen down the rabbit hole. Brendan was standing
by the door and looked up quickly as if he were
expecting someone else. Peter was sitting in one of the blue chairs, his head tilted back. Assumpta held an ice pack to his face. Niamh looked first at Peter and then at Assumpta, Leo's words ringing in her ears. Could it be true? Niamh didn't think she had ever seen Assumpta so nervous and uncomfortable. As Michael examined Peter's bruised face, Assumpta stood
behind his chair, biting her lip and unconsciously running a ring back and forth on the chain she wore at her neck.
Michael had an amused look on his face. "Not quite what I had in mind when I gave you that advice."
Peter smiled, then winced in pain. "Me either."
"Nothing's broken, but that's going to be a lovely shiner."
"Better take a look at Assumpta's arm while you're here, Michael." Brendan said.
Assumpta looked at her arm, surprised to see several dark red welts.
As Michael examined her arm she noticed Niamh was staring at her.
Assumpta waited for the inevitable questions to start, but they never came.
Michael acted as if Peter getting
a black eye was an everyday occurrence. Brendan hung about, saying little but she knew he was watching the door. Always her protector. Niamh went into the kitchen and made herself busy. Assumpta followed her. Unable to find the words she just stood there nervously sliding the ring back and forth on the chain at her neck. Niamh watched her for a moment.
"I spoke to Leo outside."
Assumpta closed her eyes.
"What he said...It wasn't like that. Was it?"
"No." Assumpta said very softly.
"I didn't think so."
Assumpta smiled half-heartedly. "Niamh, I..."
"Niamh reached out and took hold of the ring in her hand. "And this..." Assumpta flashed her a quick surprised look. "Why didn't you tell me?" Niamh said, hurt.
"I wanted to, I just didn't know how...Are you mad?"
"Furious." Niamh said putting an arm around Assumpta. "How long were you going to keep it a secret?"
"A month or two."
Niamh rolled her eyes. "You're off to a great start."
Fr Mac was at his wit's end. What on earth was the bishop trying to do to him? Fr O'Connell was the least suitable curate in a long line of unacceptable priests the bishop had foisted on him. Reluctantly he began to show the wide-eyed cleric around St Joseph's. It became clear very quickly that Aidan O'Connell was a very different kettle of fish altogether from his predecessor.
One thing you had to say for Peter Clifford, he had known his job, not that he ever stuck to it, but he had definitely known his job. This man didn't even own a watch! And as for money...someone was going to have to lead him by the hand. Thank heavens for Kathleen Hendley. Fr Mac needed a drink, a stiff one. He shepherded his young charge down the road to Fitzgerald's. Shame it was the only pub in the village. He would have enjoyed making a point of going to another pub. Fr Mac opened the pub door and watched Fr O'Connell walk uncertainly in. He wondered if it was the first time the young priest had
ever been in a pub.
Eammon nervously took a drink of his diet coke, "Afternoon, Fathers."
"Eammon," acknowledged Fr Mac. "Fr O'Connell, let me introduce a few of your congregation, sweeping his hand towards the regulars. Eammon Burns, one of our local farmers."
Eammon bobbed his head at the priest.
"Siobhan Meeghan, the vet."
"Padraig O'Kelley runs the service station."
Padraig raised his glass. "Father."
"And Brendan Kearney is one of the teachers at..."
The kitchen door opened and Assumpta walked behind the bar. Fr Mac stared disapprovingly. Assumpta looked at the two priests and then over at the regulars.
"Well, if no one is going to introduce us, I'll have to do it myself," she said offering her hand across the bar. "Assumpta Fitzgerald."
The young priest took her hand, "Aidan O'Connell."
Fr Mac watched in stony silence.
"Your's is scotch, isn't it Fr Mac?"
He inclined his head condescendingly.
"What about you, Fr O'Connell?"
"A pint, please."
Assumpta smiled sweetly at the young priest. She set the drinks on the bar and stood in front of Fr Mac, hand out, waiting expectantly. After a pregnant pause he reached into his pocket and noisily slapped the money down on the bar. Assumpta picked it up and turned her back on him to put it in the till.
"I understand that Peter Clifford has finally given up the ridiculous notion of remaining in Ballyk and has gone back to England." He said smugly.
Assumpta swallowed hard, just as she was about to answer Eammon interrupted.
"It's is mother Fr Mac, she's very ill."
Fr Mac was slightly taken aback. "That's unfortunate. Still if he has any sense he'll stay in England, where he belongs."
Assumpta turned and slapped the change on the bar, "His room is waiting for him."
Fr Mac huffed and threw back his drink in a single swallow. Casting his scorn on the innocent beside him, "Hurry up man, we can't spend the whole of the afternoon in here."
Fr O'Connell wasn't much of a drinker and had only taken a single sip of his pint. He hurriedly took another and set it back on the bar. "Right you are, Father." He smiled brightly at Assumpta.
"Nice to meet you, Fr O' Connell. Come back anytime."
"Thank you Miss Fitzgerald. I hope I'll see you at St Joseph's." He raised a hand to include the others.
Fr Mac barked out a laugh as he opened the door.
"Did I say something wrong, Fr?" hurrying to catch up.
"You won't be seeing that heathen at St Joseph's. And if you take my advice you'll steer well clear of her."
Fr O'Connell looked back at the pub mystified. Assumpta had seemed a perfectly nice person to him.
"She's the reason your predecessor is no longer in the church."
Aidan looked back over his shoulder as they walked away.
Buses filled with tourists had swamped the pub all week. To her surprise the new priest had done Assumpta a favor. He had a sister that was experienced behind the bar and was looking for a job. Between Orla and Assumpta they had coped nicely. Assumpta was grateful that they had been busy, not only for the money. She could always use that. Staying busy gave her less time to think. It was only after closing that she allowed herself to think, to worry about Peter and the ordeal he must be going through. She had wanted to go with him but since his family had barely accepted his leaving the church, now didn't seem the appropriate time to spring their marriage on them.
"Assumpta! Phone." Orla said from the kitchen door.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"He didn't say, but he sounds cute."
Brendan, Padraig and Siobhan hooted from the end of the bar. Assumpta colored and left Brendan's half-filled pint under the tap and went into the kitchen.
Brendan took exception to his pint being abandoned, "Assumpta!"
Her head popped back through the doorway, a very stern look on her face. She pointed a finger in Brendan's direction and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Sumpta," Peter said with a sigh.
"Peter!" she said looking at her watch, "Your mother's not..."
"No, no there's been no change..."
There was something in his voice that belied strong emotion. "What's wrong?"
"I just...I just needed to hear your voice. Pretend that I'm home for a few minutes."
"I miss you, I thought you were going to call tonight when you got back to the house."
"That's one of the reasons I called. I'm not at the house anymore. I'm staying at a B and B."
"Why? I thought your whole family was staying at the house...what happened?"
"It's not important. I just wanted you to have the new number."
After a long pause "Peter, what happened?"
"People say things under stress that they don't really..."
"Say what, Peter?"
"There was a scene this morning...my sister-in-law, Maureen, Jim's wife..."
"What did she say, Peter?"
"She said it was my fault that Mum was ill...the stress of my leaving the church...."
"Peter..." she whispered, "you can't believe that..."
A subdued Assumpta returned to the bar, finished Brendan's pint and set it on the bar in front of him.
Concerned Brendan caught her hand in his, "Not bad news I hope."
Assumpta smiled sadly, patted his hand . "Sorry that took so long," and turned to fill waiting orders.
Brendan watched her cautiously over the top of his glass and began to worry about what was happening in England.
Maureen paced nervously back and forth across her mother-in-law's hospice
room. She wanted a cigarette desperately, but there was oxygen in
use. Peter and her husband, Jim, sat by the bed. Peter was reading
aloud from one of his mother's favorite books. Every time she looked
at Peter, resentment began to bubble in her chest. Once, he had been
her favorite in-law. It had been due to him that she had become so
involved in her own parish. And then without explanation he had just
walked away. Maureen felt betrayed. She was sure in her own
mind that his mother must have felt the same, the shock bringing on
this latest attack.
The doctors had told the family two weeks ago, it was only a matter
of time. Now their nerves were stretched so thin that they had begun to
strike out at each other. The scene yesterday between Maureen and
Peter had been devastating. As Peter had gone upstairs to pack, Jim
had realized that Maureen had unknowingly hit on Peter's own unspoken fear.
Peter was truly
afraid he had been the cause of his mother's illness. Jim had tried to intercede but as always with Peter, he had failed. Poor Peter, he had always been the odd man out in the family. Of course Mark and Jim had already been in school when he was born. They had been busy with friends and sports, too busy for a baby. They had been fond of their baby brother, but they never really connected. Strange that, because a few years later when the girls were born both Jim and Mark had absolutely doted on them, still did for that matter. Even after Peter went to university he seemed different from his siblings. Jim remembered how much their Dad had been against Peter going into the church. To him it had seemed a natural choice. He wondered what had changed Peter's mind. All Mum had said, was that they had talked it over and he had decided to leave the church, and she didn't want anyone asking questions. Peter would explain or not, in his own time. Jim shuddered as he thought about life without their mother. He knew as hard as it would be for the rest of them, it would be so much worse for Peter. The others had each other and their families, but who did Peter have? Mother had fallen asleep.
Jim put his hand on Peter's shoulder, "Why don't you go get some rest, Peter."
"Peter you've hardly left this room for two weeks. Get some rest. She won't be alone."
Peter looked uncertainly at his brother, closed the book and kissed his mother's forehead. "You'll call if ..."
Peter was drained as he unlocked the door to his room and went inside.
"Hiya" Assumpta said from the stuffed chair.
For a second Peter couldn't take it in. She really was there.
"Sumpta!" he said in amazement as she went into his arms.
Peter and Assumpta hurried down the hall to his mother's room.
Inside the whole family was gathered at her bedside. A priest finished
giving the last rites. Jim felt guilty for sending Peter away earlier
and could only hope that he would get back now before it was too late.
The door opened, every one turned to see who it was. Peter took in
everything in at a glance and then
made his way to his mother's bedside. He leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek.
"I'm here, Mum."
"She's right here, Mum." He said pulling Assumpta closer to the bed.
Jim was surprised. Why had Peter brought a stranger to his mother's death bed? And that his mother was asking for someone he didn't know. Who was she and how did she know his mother?
Assumpta took Mrs. Clifford's hand.
"I'm glad you're here, Peter is going to need you....Peter...promise me...no more secrets."
Mrs. Clifford closed here eyes and the cardiac monitor sounded. The doctor turned it off. The priest began to pray again. Peter stared at his mother's hand still in Assumpta's, tears began to roll down his cheeks. Assumpta laid Mrs. Clifford's hand gently on her chest, and kissed her cheek. With tears rolling down her own cheeks she turned to Peter. He brushed away the tears and pulled her close.
"I'm so sorry." she whispered.
Peter's face crumbled, his composure vanished. He cried silently on her shoulder. After a moment Jim went over and put his arms around them both. One by one the family embraced. Peter stood by his mother's bed, he put his hands on top of hers. He looked at Assumpta and at Jim.
"I uh..." he swallowed hard, trying to control his emotions, "I just promised Mum...no more secrets." He reached out for Assumpta's hand.
Orla had just served lunch to the regulars. Padraig took a taste of his soup. "Did I tell you I thought I saw Assumpta's van this morning?"
Brendan picked up his sandwich, "Not out there now."
"Gone to Cilldargen." Orla said.
"So, her ladyship has finally come home."
Brendan smiled, "You must be glad she's back."
"Thought I was going to have a heart attack."
"Well, I didn't know, did I? So, I stumble into the kitchen this morning dressed in my favorite t-shirt and fluffy slippers."
"Assumpta must have been surprised."
"It wasn't Assumpta, was it? It was a strange man."
"Man?" exclaimed Padraig.
"What man?" asked Siobhan. "Who was he?"
"Well, that was what I was asking myself, but it was pretty early and I wasn't clicking over very fast. All I was thinking was why was the burglar making tea and should I run screaming for the Garda before or after I got dressed."
Siobhan chuckled, "So who was he?"
"Assumpta's husband." Orla said casually.
Padraig choked on his soup.
"Assumpta's what?" Siobhan asked pounding Padraig on the back.
"Her husband, you mean I wasn't the only one that didn't know?"
Assumpta walked in the door.
"Assumpta!!!" they said in unison.
Padraig and Siobhan rushed over and hugged her. "What's this about a Husband?"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
"Where is the lucky man?"
"Hold on,"she said genuinely pleased, "One at a time. It's good to see you all. And I haven't had a chance to tell anyone anything. And he'll be right in." Assumpta looked towards the door. "He was right behind me."
The door opened, everyone looked expectantly at the man that entered. Aidan O'Connell looked back in surprise.
"Fr O' Connell?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Have I done something?"
"No, Father we were just expecting Assumpta's husband."
"Oh, he's having a word with Kathleen."
"Oh lord, should I send for the rescue squad."
Aidan put his hand on Assumpta's arm reassuringly. "I think she just wanted to say how sorry she was about his mother. Peter didn't seem to..."
Brendan walked over and put his arm around Assumpta and whispered in her ear, "Well done."