Time Line

by Mollie and Jason Lundy

Peter hadnít felt so free in years. The sun was out and the sky was clear. There was a beautiful scent of spring in the air. Yesterday he had told Fr Mac that he was leaving the church. For several hours the older priest had tried to change his mind. Now with each breath he was more convinced of his decision.. After mass he had taken himself up in to the hills, walking for hours. He had never been so aware of the beauty that was Ballykay. A single line of an American sonnet came to mind, ĎO world, I cannot get thee close enough.í As he passed one of Eammon's wooden sheep, his thoughts as they so often did, turned to Assumpta. He still hadnít discussed his decision with her. He prayed it would be what she really wanted.

Kathleen was the only one in the shop later when Peter entered. After Fr Mac she was his least favorite person in Ireland.

"Iíll take a KitKat bar and I believe Iíll take a chance on the lottery this beautiful day, Kathleen."

Disapproving as ever Kathleen said, "Priests gambling, itís disgraceful. You should be ashamed of yourself Father Clifford."

Peter sighed deeply, "Kathleen it hasnít escaped my notice that in my 3 years as curate here, I have yet to do a single thing that you approve of."

Kathleen scowled. "Thatís as may be."

Peter slipped the lottery ticket into his pocket and smiled, "Perhaps the new curate will be more to your liking." Peter was nearly out the door before Kathleen understood what he had said. "Youíre leaving us, Father?"

Knowing Kathleen the news would be all over the county by tomorrow. He has to speak to Assumpta now, and without a bar full of onlookers. He should have kept quiet until he had seen her but the urge to shock Kathleen had just been to strong.

Steaming around the corner Niamh almost ran right into Peter.

"There you are Peter, Fr Mac has been calling all over town for you." Expecting another attempt to change his mind Peter asked, "Will he never give up?"

Niamh was confused by Peterís unusual attitude, "He said it was urgent, call your brother William."

Kathleen didnít get the chance to spread the news of the new curate, instead the news of Peterís motherís illness went through town in record time. Many of the people of Ballykay included Peter and his mother in their prayers. Assumpta seemed  particularly subdued. For days there was no news. On Tuesday the pub was closed at lunchtime causing grumbles from the regulars. Leo McGarvey was seen in town that afternoon. Assumpta stood for no comment. Always busy, Assumpta became a flurry of activity. She was washing the windows again as Michael Ryan drove up to the front of Fitzgeralds.

"Assumpta!"

Assumpta dropped her sponge and leaned into Michaelís car. "Michael, sorry we donít do curb service."

Michael had on his serious doctorís face and Assumptaís attempt at humor didnít change it. "I just spoke to Peter."

Assumpta swallowed hard. "Oh!"

"His mother just died."

Assumptaís stomach fell. Peter was much closer to his mother than she had been to her own, and her motherís death still haunted her. How devastated he would be. She tried to cover her emotions but Michael knew her too well. "I think he would appreciate a call." Michael handed her a folded piece of paper.

"But Michael..."

"You are his closest friend, Assumpta. Promise me youíll call."

"Okay" as Michael drove off Assumpta looked from the paper to the receding car and back again. Fear and dread permeated her as she walked back into Fitzgeralds. Poor Peter. She knew too well the struggle he had been having for months. It had
been difficult for her as well. She picked up the phone and began to dial, a severe case of nerves forced her to hang up. She calmed herself with the thought that at least she wasnít having to do this face to face. When she tried to dial again her heart began to race and her hands to tremble. She hung up again. She leaned her head against the wall. ĎI am such a coward,í she thought. The ringing of the phone startled her so badly she actually jumped.

"Fitzgeralds"

Very softly Peter said, "Assumpta."

"Peter."

"Itís so good to hear your voice."

Assumpta said, "Iím so sorry Peter."

"I donít think I can handle this alone," he said with his voice breaking.

"Your family will see you..."

Peter interrupted "I need your strength."

"Peter it would cause a lot of talk."

"I need you here Assumpta."

With resignation Assumpta said, "Alright."

The news that a winning lottery ticket had been purchased in Kathleenís shop rocketed around town. It was the topic of the week. One by one the residents confided ĎIt wasnít me.í Even Fr Mac was questioned on the phone by the Bishop. "No your grace as far as I know the winner hasnít stepped forward yet...of course if the winner is from here Iíll be sure to mention the desperate need of the church. Speaking of the church do you think we could advance the arrival of the new curate? I know that Peter Clifford was to have been here until the end of the month but since his mother..."

The station was very busy and her mind was in turmoil so she didnít see Peter until she was right in front of him. She dropped her bag in surprise as he threw his arms around her. They held each other for sometime. When he finally released her he took her face in his hands. They both thought that he was about to kiss her. "Assumpta!!" He pulled her close for another embrace. "Iím so glad youíre here." When he finally released her, she noticed a tall sandy haired man watching them with interest.

"Everythingís going to be okay."

He said, "Now that youíre here."

With one arm still around her Peter picked up her bag and they began to walk out. Almost as an afterthought Peter stopped in front of the sandy haired man. "Assumpta, this is my brother Terence, Terence this is Assumpta."

Assumpta swallowed hard, trying to replay their embrace in her mind. She suddenly became aware of Peterís arm across her back and the warmth of his hand at her waist. What must Terence be thinking? As she shook his hand she became very light headed. Terence smiled. "Good of you to come." Looking deeply at Peter, "Sheís everything you said."

The whole day was confusing. Assumpta met the rest of Peterís family at the funeral. She couldnít put her finger on it but something was strange. While everyone was very interested in them, no one seemed to view their relationship as anything odd. Surely they werenít that good at hiding their emotions. Maybe she had just lived in a small town too long, too many busybodies like Kathleen. Mercy, if Kathleen ever got wind of this.

A reception was held at the family home. A large crowd of friends and neighbors attended. Peter stayed very close to Assumpta, holding her hand like a lifeline. Peterís brothers William and Terence stood watching them from the diningroom. William said, "They do make a very striking couple."

Terence nodded. "How long do you think itís been going on?"

"Peter told me, he knew the day he met her, but you know Peterís ethics. I wouldnít bet heís even told her yet."

"Then thatís not his ring sheís wearing?"

"What ring!" asked William.

"Assumpta is wearing a very nice engagement ring."

Gulping his drink, William said, "Oh lord! Thereís someone else. It will kill him."

Reassuringly, Terence said, "I donít thing itís as bad as that. Look at the way she looks at him. She may be trying to convince herself that there is someone else but thereís only Peter."

Terence was the last to leave the reception. At the door he embraced Peter. "Youíll be okay now." Then whispering, "Tell her how you feel before itís too late." Then he turned to Assumpta and hugged her. "Thank you for coming, he really needed you to be here."

Later Peter stood in the middle of the room staring at his motherís chair, the needlepoint basket just as she left it. He didnít see Assumpta come in carrying two drinks, "After hours drink?" Peter looked at her as if he didnít understand. Very gently,  Assumpta said, "Peter sit down." Obediently Peter went to the couch. Assumpta put the drinks on the table and joined him.

"Itís so strange being here without her."

"I know, after my mother died the rooms seemed so empty."

Suddenly overwhelmed, Peter put his head in his hands. She touched his arm and he broke down completely. She put her arms around him and let him cry. After a time he stopped. When he looked in her eyes it was like a magnet drawing them together. The kiss caught them both off guard. So did the next one. When it finally broke they sat with foreheads touching, very much lost in the moment.

"I need you so much."

"Peter, youíre confusing your emotions."

With determination Peter said, "Not anymore. I canít go back to the way it was. Pretending."

Assumpta couldnít believe what she was hearing, actually hearing Peter say he cared just seemed to melt all her resistance. Even if he changed his mind tomorrow it wouldnít matter. Right or wrong he love her. Assumpta brushed her fingers across his cheek and kissed him. He caught her hand, looked at it and froze. Barely above a whisper he said, "Whatís this?"

At first Assumpta didnít know what he was talking about. Then she saw it. Leoís ring. Embarrassed she said, "Leo asked me to marry him."

"You canít mean it!"

"Peter--"

Angrily, "Do you love him?"

Very softly Assumpta said, "No."

With great difficulty Peter said, "I love you Assumpta, I thought, I hoped you loved me. Why would you marry him?"

Defensively Assumpta said, "Peter you are a Priest. What kind of future could we have?"

"The only question is, do you love me?"

"Yes Peter."

"Then tell me youíre not going to marry Leo or anyone else."

Assumpta put her head on Peterís shoulder and began to silently cry. Peter held her closely.

Assumpta said, "You win. You always do. I do love you, and nothing else matters."

Peter pulled the ring from her finger and tossed it on the table.

Niamh was behind the bar pouring Siobhan an orange juice.

"So was it you, who won the lottery Niamh?"

"Do you think Iíd be here if it was? What about you?"

Siobhan shook her head, "I didnít even remember to buy a ticket. Maybe it was Assumpta."

Laughing Niamh said. "She could certainly use it. This place is falling about my ears. Have you heard about Peter?"

"His mother do you mean?"

Niamh shook her head. "Heís left the church."

"Never!"

"Fr Mac told my dad."

"I thought that Peter liked it here." It was quiet for a minute and then Siobhan asked, "How do you think Assumpta will take the news?"

"Doesnít pay to think about it, I might be stuck here until Kieran goes off to University."

Padraig came in from the lavatory, his shoes soaking wet. "You know that thing is busted again, water everywhere."

"Great!" Niamh said as she raced to the phone.

The last few days had been the hardest and the brightest of Peterís life. He felt the loss of his mother acutely. He knew that Assumpta was the real reason he had made it through. They had spent almost every waking hour together, much of the time talking, about the past, about now, nothing about the future. Two hurdles had to be passed before the future could be planned. Leo and the church.

Assumpta arranged to meet Leo at a pub after work. Peter and Assumpta sat at a small table in the back until Leo came in. As Leo joined them Peter patted Assumptaís hand and excused himself. "Must be bad new if YOU bring a Priest for moral support." Peter smiled weakly and took a seat halfway across the room. He watched. Assumpta broke the news, Leo was stunned. Assumpta put the ring in his hand.

"Iím sorry Leo."

"I donít understand. Why did you change you mind?"

She motioned for Peter, when he was beside her she took his hand.

"Assumpta, heís a Priest. You know how it will end."

"Goodbye Leo."

It was official, Peter was no longer a priest. He had thought it would have been more wrenching. Yet what he truly felt was liberation. Only a few more things to do, then they could plan a life together. Taking a plastic bag he went into the closet in his room. Time to pack away his clerical clothes. Check all the pockets, fold neatly and into the bag. He found some change, the notes for a sermon he would never give, a lottery ticket and one of Kieranís pacifiers. Assumpta had said a ticket from Ballykay had won, wouldnít it be funny. He could just imagine Fr Macís face.

Beginning the morning after the funeral, Peter made a habit of going to Assumptaís bedroom to wake her with a cup of coffee. It was a wonderful way to start the day. She was so pretty in the morning. As they drank their coffee Peter took a small box from his pocket and toyed with it trying to work up his nerve. Assumpta watched him with some amusement. Finally he opened the box and placed the ring on her finger. Assumpta looked at him and said, "I thought you said..."

"This one is different. This one is from me."

She said nothing for a moment, only looking at him.

"Put me out of my misery."

With a smile she said, "Thereís no fun in that."

Desperately Peter said, "Assumpta are you going to marry me?"

Assumpta held out her arms and Peter went into them. Assumpta whispered "YES!!"

"After you get dressed I have another surprise for you."

"Is it as good as this one was?"

"Almost."

Brian was trying to go over some financial papers at the kitchen table. His financial situation had gone from bad to worse. Niamh was on the phone. She seemed very pleased about something. Niamh hung up. "Dad, weíve had an offer on the land."

Brian couldnít believe his ears "How much."

"Full asking price."

Brian jumped up, grabbed Niamh and spun her about, "Weíre saved."

Hiamh hugged him, "Yes we are."

"Do we know the buyer?"

Trying hard to reign in her smile, "You could say so!"

"Who?"

"Peter Clifford."

"On the level? Where would he get that kind of money?"

"The lottery."

"That was him? Well done, but what does he want with our land?"

"He and Assumpta plan on building a house."

"Assumpta!!"

"Yes, they got married this morning."

Laughing Brian ran his hand across his forehead, "Itís about time."

Peter and Assumpta had timed their arrival in Ballykay for midnight. There would be enough commotion tomorrow at Kieranís christening. By ten in the morning Niamh had called twice. After the second call Assumpta come back into the bedroom to find Peter struggling with a tie. She watched for a moment ad then went to his rescue.

"So, is this the real reason you became a Priest?"

"Exactly."

Peter kissed her forehead and put his arms around her pulling her close. "Iím so nervous."

"Youíve done lots of christenings."

"But Iíve never stood godfather before. Besides half the village will be there watching us."

"I know but nerves or not we canít let Niamh down."

"Arenít you even a little nervous?"

"Petrified."

At a quarter to eleven they made ready to go. Assumpta was standing outside looking at the large ĎClosed For Renovationsí sign that ran across Fitzgeralds. Kathleen came down the steps of the village shop. Assumpta smiled and said brightly "Morning, Kathleen."

Kathleen replied with a slight chill as always "Assumpta."

At that moment Peter stepped out, locked the door and said cheerily "Kathleen!"

Kathleen stared open mouthed as they walked off hand in hand. Several houses away Assumpta said, "That went well.."

St. Josephís was very full by the time Peter and Assumpta arrived. As they started up the aisle it was apparent that their secret was not very well kept, but well received.

End Roll Credits