Siobhan stormed into the pub, cursing under her breath as she surveyed the empty room. "Oona? Assumpta? Anyone?" A child emerged from the kitchen, her own child, who said "Mammy?"
"Aisling, where is your father?"
"I don't know, Mammy, he told me to come home with Josie, and he'd see me later," the little girl said.
Assumpta came out of the kitchen and shooed Aisling back in. "What's wrong, Siobhan?"
"That man!" her friend said. "Once, just once, I ask him to take Aisling home with him after school, and he dumps her on you!"
"Well, that's okay with us, you know that. C'mon inside, they're having cocoa and bread and butter. Want some tea?"
"Yeah, fine," Siobhan said, and the two joined the children in the warm kitchen. Assumpta handed the vet a cup and went back to buttering bread. Her three children and Aisling were chattering cheerfully, and that seemed to calm Siobhan.
"I wonder what he had to do that was so important," she said quietly to Assumpta. "He's been acting strange all week."
"Stranger than usual?" her friend quipped. "Sorry," she added, seeing the look on Siobhan's face.
The back door flew open, letting in a gust of rain. "Daddy!" the three Clifford children said as they ran to their father. Peter let down an armful of books and hugged them one at a time before moving over to where his wife stood.
"Hiya," he said, putting his arms around her. "Hello Siobhan, Aislin'. I think I got enough books to keep everyone happy for a while," he said. "That librarian in Cildargan is getting used to my weekly raid on her shelves. She was very helpful."
"Peter, do you know where Brendan is this afternoon?" Siobhan asked, as the children happily pounced on the pile of books.
He looked uncomfortable. "He had an appointment, he said."
Assumpta knew her husband well enough to know that he was trying to avoid telling a lie. "What sort of appointment?" she asked. Peter fidgeted, and Siobhan put a hand on his back and pushed him towards the door that led to the pub. Once alone, she asked again. "C'mon, you know something, where was he going?"
"He had a doctor's appointment, Siobhan."
"Wicklow? Some kind of specialist then? Peter, what's going on?"
"Siobhan, please," Peter said. "If he wants you to know, he'll tell you. Don't ask me to talk about it."
"Honestly Peter! You act like you were still in the confessional."
He looked down.
"It sounds serious," she said, a half question in her voice.
"Talk to Brendan," he said firmly.
When Brendan arrived home later that evening, he was surprised to find Siobhan's van parked at his fence. His door was unlocked, and when he tentatively put his head in the door, he smelled something good cooking, and Aisling ran out of the kitchen to greet him. "Hello, sweetheart," he said, hugging the child closely. "I guess your Mammy found you at the Clifford's."
They followed the fragrant smells and found Siobhan, in an oversized apron, taking a dish out of the oven. "We made your favorite dish, Daddy," the little girl said, "Colcannon".
"Well, what have I done to deserve such special treatment?" he asked, looking at Aisling, but speaking to Siobhan. He had thought she'd be angry with him.
"Ah, we just thought it would be nice to have dinner together on a night like this." She gestured. "Go wash up now, the two of ye, and I'll start dishing it out."
After dinner, Brendan helped Aisling with her homework while Siobhan cleaned up. The little girl then leaned against her father and, yawning, asked if she could sleep here tonight. They had arranged long ago for their child to have her own room in each of their houses, and the arrangement seemed to suit her. Daddy's house was where she went to read, study, ask questions. Mammy's was where she learned to cook, to help with the animals, to have her hair washed. It was probably at the Clifford's that she laughed, played games, had fun, being part of a large family. She was a bright, good-natured child, and both her parents doted on her. Brendan took her upstairs, and having supervised the brushing of teeth and the prayers, he went back down and was surprised to find Siobhan relaxing in his easy chair, with a cup of tea at her side, and one for him on the book-strewn table. "This looks cozy," he said, sitting down across from her.
"It is, isn't it," she said softly. They sat quietly for a while, then Siobhan looked at him and asked, "You gonna tell me about it, Brendan?"
"Well, your doctor's appointment in Wicklow, for starters."
He frowned. "Peter promised!"
"He didn't tell me anything, just that you were seeing a doctor. Told me to talk to you. Well, I'm talking. What about you?"
The next day, Siobhan came into the pub, looking for Assumpta, who had embarked with Oona on giving the kitchen a thorough clean-out. "Could I borrow the boss for a few minutes there, Oona?" Oona looked quizzically at the publican, who nodded.
"C'mon out here by the fire," Assumpta said, urging her friend into the closed pub. "What's up, Siobhan?"
"Well, it's as I thought. Brendan is sick, has a cancer of the prostate, and he has to decide on the course of treatment. The doctor outlined several possibilities, and apparently he was very thorough about the side effects and the prognosis of each one. I was surprised at Brendan. Once he started to talk, I think he told me the whole story. He's even agreed to let me do some research for him."
"Well, that's good," Assumpta said. "That he's talking to you, I mean, not the cancer."
"What's the but, Siobhan?"
Siobhan was silent for a moment. "Assumpta, what would you say to Brendan and me getting married?"
Assumpta reached out to take her friend's hand. "Oh, Siobhan, I think it would be lovely! I'd say it was time."
"Yeah, but will he?"
Assumpta laughed. "You mean you haven't proposed to him yet?"
"Well, you know, I'm afraid he'll think it's a pity thing. You know? I mean, we tried it once, the wedding idea, and we both thought it a bad one!" She laughed, a bitter little laugh. "I mean, what's changed? Is it just because he's sick?"
Assumpta thought for a moment. "Siobhan, I have seen the two of you together for years now. And I saw Brendan when you had your cancer scare. Neither of you seems to want to admit it, but I think you love one another."
Siobhan looked surprised. "You do?"
"I do! Maybe not the young-love-head-over-heels kind of love. Which you know, is a case of temporary insanity anyway. You and Brendan are more like a couple that's been together for years, comfortable, most content when the other is around. You have those insider jokes, the looks you give one another when Aisling does something wonderful, all that kind of thing."
"I remember that I wanted him to comfort me when I was afraid I had cancer, but I shut him out. I'm afraid he'll do the same. And I realized how much I do care for him, how much I'd want to take care of him. I don't want him to go through it alone. I mean, I'd respect his privacy, but I want to be there for him!"
"There ya go, then, Siobhan. Go for it! Tell him all that, just as you told me. I think he'll see it's not pity at all. I mean, he is an intelligent fella, isn't he?"
Siobhan smiled. "About some things," she said.
It was only a few days later that Brendan came to the house, wanting to talk to Peter. Assumpta discretely left them alone, going upstairs with the children.
"A whiskey?" Peter asked.
"Yeah, sure, just a little." Brendan took the small glass and sipped at it. "Peter, it turns out that Michael's suspicions were true, and I'm going to have to decide on a course of treatment. It seems as though the least invasive one is also the most successful, so I'm going to go with that. It's not going to be easy, but I've decided against surgery."
"Well, that's good, Brendan. I'm glad you're going to be in good hands. Michael was very positive about Dr. Kennedy."
"I did like him; he was very direct, didn't pull any punches. But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about."
"No?" Peter found that he had fallen into an old, familiar posture, hand at his chin. He smiled inwardly, recognizing his old habit from the confessional, ready to hear confidences.
"Siobhan asked me to marry her."
"Good for Siobhan! It's about time, isn't it?"
"Is it?" Brendan asked. "I'm just afraid it's all about pity, because of this cancer thing."
Peter stood up. "Now listen, Brendan. Try to remember how you felt when Siobhan thought she might have cancer. You agonized over her not letting you in, you told me then that you wished you were married, so she couldn't shut you out. Man, it is clear to everyone else that you two love one another."
Brendan smiled. "Siobhan told me that's what Assumpta said. And you know, it made sense in a way. She was very persuasive, Siobhan was. Said we could continue to keep both houses, and any time either of us needed to be away, we'd have a place to retreat to. She promised not to fuss over me too much; asked me what kind of example we'd be giving Aisling if we acted like nothing important was happening."
"So did you say yes?" asked Peter, grinning.
"No, I said I'd think about it. But I have talked to Vincent, and he said we could have a quiet little ceremony in the church. If I decide to do it, Peter, will you and Assumpta stand up with us?"
Peter pulled his friend to his feet and hugged him. "You know we will! You're our closest friends! Congratulations!"
"Now, hold on! I haven't said yes yet, I'm just exploring the options."
That weekend, a small group gathered at St. Joseph's. Assumpta, Peter, their children, Aisling, Niamh and Sean and Kieran, who'd come from London for the event, Emma and Danny and the baby, Avril, Father Mac, Eammon in a wheelchair. Brendan and Siobhan came out of the sacristy with Father Sheehan, who proceeded to perform a short, sweet service, and there they were, married. They adjourned to the pub, where Oona had prepared a modest celebration, and it was clear that both bride and groom were….well, happy. When Brendan reached for her hand, Siobhan didn't pull away, and they were able to laugh at some of the teasing.
"Is there to be a honeymoon, then, Brendan?" That from Sean.
"Yeah, in the hospital in Wicklow. Very romantic."
"Romance, Brendan? Is that what we're seeing here?" Danny.
Assumpta rose to her feet with a glass in her hand. "This is a romance, and don't anyone here underestimate it! I salute Mr. and Mrs. Kearney, and toast to their health and a long and happy marriage! To Brendan and Siobhan!"
"Brendan and Siobhan!" everyone echoed.
A party of sorts began, some music, several people dancing to a slow, sweet song. Peter took Assumpta`s hand and led her to the floor. "One more thing you taught me," he said in her ear.
"Driving, dancing, cooking...….and a few other things," he said, laughing as he saw the blush on her cheeks.
"Peter!" she chided.
Suddenly their three children surrounded them, frowning. "What's the matter?" Assumpta asked them.
"Aisling was at her parent's wedding. And Kieran was at his. Why weren't we invited to yours?" asked Josie in a loud, clear voice. She frowned as those in earshot laughed.
"Well, kids, you know, most people do this in a different order. They get married first and then they have children. Uncle Brendan and Auntie Siobhan never did get it right!"
Aisling took her parents' hands. "They got it right now!" she said,
and the room was filled with applause, long, lingering, approving.