Sequel to "Reunion"

by Theodora McKee


It was a quiet morning, giving Assumpta some time to straighten out the kitchen larder, making notes as she went along to see what needed replenishing, replacing. At times like this, the pub seemed even more homelike to her. The only home I’ll ever have, she thought. My daughter too.

It was home, and a comfortable one at that, since Brian Quigley had renovated the upstairs when Niamh and Ambrose lived there. She and Bronnagh had their own rooms, and there was a sitting room as well. Books and music and a TV made it cozy for the child even when Assumpta had to work the bar, and it was a comfort to each to know the other was in earshot. Liam and Donal had rigged up a buzzer, so the little girl could summon her mother if necessary.

There was a nicely decorated guest room too, but the only one who ever stayed there was Jimmy, her ex-husband, on his occasional visits with Bronnagh. She supposed she could let it, if a suitable tourist turned up needing a room, a nice quiet older couple perhaps, searching for their roots. So far, it hadn’t been an issue. Most tourists were content enough to leave Ballykissangel once the pub was closed, and there were suitable accommodations in Cildargan. She was careful not to have anyone leave in a bad enough state to make the drive dangerous. Except the locals, she thought with a smile.

She was standing on a ladder, peering into an upper shelf, when the phone rang. She clambered down and answered a bit breathlessly, "Fitzgerald’s."

"Assumpta." The voice on the other end stunned her. Only one person said her name that way.

"Yes?"

"It’s Peter, " he said. "Peter Clifford."

"Yes, I know." She waited, calming herself.

"Assumpta, I know this is presumptuous, but I need?..I need to talk to you."

"So talk," she said.

"No, not on the phone. I need to see you. If I come to Dublin, or even Wicklow, could you meet me? It’s really important."

"What’s this all about?" she asked.

"I guess it’s a crisis. For me."

"Well, that does sound important," she said.

There was a short pause. "Yes," he said.

She thought over her schedule, the possibilities of getting someone to cover the pub.
"I guess I could get Peggy to work," she said. "You know she’s married, has a couple of kids, but she’s often willing to pitch in if I need her. Let me see what day she’d be available."

"Okay, " he said, "I’ll call back tonight, after 11, then. And, Assumpta?...thanks."

"Sure," she said, and hung up, wondering what on earth this was about. What was so important that he had to see her? Was it a mistake for her to see him again? She remembered how shook up she was after that chance encounter in London, and their lunch. Father Clifford. He had said that he’d be a priest all his life. Why did he "need" to see her now?

*****

Two days later, she drove to Dublin, to a quiet pub she remembered from her university days, a place she’d sometimes go to study. As she pushed open the door, he appeared beside her, and grasped her arm.

"Assumpta!" He leaned towards her and for a moment, she thought he was going to kiss her, and she backed away.

No, she thought. No.

"I really appreciate it, Assumpta, you driving all this way."  He led her to a table at the back, and went to pick up two coffees.

"Well, Peter, this better be good," she said, a smile taking the edge from her words.

"Can I just tell you a story, the story that precipitated all this?"  He looked so serious, and she nodded.

He took a deep breath. "I was working at the church one morning, wearing civvies, and a man came in, said he needed to talk to a priest. A baptism, I think. We chatted for a minute or two, and then I said I’d attend to him in a second, and I went into the sacristy to change. Just put on a black shirt and the collar, over my jeans, and came back to him, ready to make a joke about getting him a priest so quickly. He started right in, "Father," he said, and went on about the baptism. I realized that he had no idea I was the same man. All he saw was the collar. Now there may be priests, good men, good priests, who might think that was okay, better than okay, maybe a model for self-lessness. But I was horrified. I felt unreal, a non-person, as though I didn’t exist. I thought of the weak men I know in the priesthood, I thought of all the scandals. And the thought came, Is this what I gave her up for? I haven’t been able to think of anything else since."

She sat in stunned silence. He reached out and took her hand. "Assumpta, say something, please!"

"I don’t know what to say," she admitted.

"Do you think there is any chance? For us? Is it too late? Have I lost you all over again?"

"Peter!" she began. "It’s been seven years! Except for that one time last year; we haven’t even spoken to one another. Do you think you still know me? Do I know you?"

"I want to get to know you again. I know we’ve both changed. You got married, had a child, got divorced. We’ve both gotten older. I’m going to be forty! I want to be married, have children. With you!" He closed his eyes for a moment. "You have no idea how much I want that, how much I want you."

When she didn’t respond, he went on. "Assumpta, just think about it, please. We can talk, write to one another. I could visit Ballykissangel, let people get used to me as a person, not a priest." He smiled, seeming to remember something.

"What?"

"One of the first things I loved about Ballyk was how so many people did just that, called me 'Peter', not 'Father'. Separated the man from the job."

"And that got dangerous, didn’t it?" she said.

"I guess it did, for us," he said. "But Assumpta, would you be willing to try to get to know one another again? While I’m trying to get back to Ireland?"

"What do you mean, get back to Ireland?"

"Well, I have to figure out what I’m going to do…for a living. I’ve got some ideas. I want to work in Ireland, near enough Ballyk to see you. And then, if you agreed to marry me, we could stay in the village. You and me, and your little girl, and brothers and sisters that we’ll give her"

She shook her head. "I feel as though I’m dreaming," she said softly. She looked at him. "You’ve really thought about this, have you?"

"Yes," he said. "I want it to happen; I think I can convince you, maybe not today, but sometime soon." He took her hands again, held them tightly. "Assumpta, I’ve never stopped loving you, and if there is any chance you still have feelings for me? Last year, in London, I thought you were saying that you might."

"I guess…" she said, still hesitant about revealing her emotions. "But this is a big step, for both of us. I don’t know if it would work. You’re asking so much, not just of me, but of the village too! How do you know they’d accept you...accept us, if I’d agree to such a crazy scheme? You were their priest."

"I’ve spoken to a number of men who left the priesthood, and some of them stayed friends with parishioners. Brendan, Siobhan, Doc Ryan...surely they’d accept me as a friend."

"Maybe." She thought for a moment. "Yeah, they would. But I have a living to make, and there’d be others who wouldn’t."

They both laughed as they said in unison, "Kathleen!" He went on, "And the others, well where would they do their drinking? Socializing? Or has another pub opened?"

"No," she said, "I’m still the only show in town."

*****

By the time she drove him to the airport, she had agreed to at least consider his proposal. He said he would call her every day. "That’s pushing it," she said.

"Every other day? Every week? Twice a week?" he asked plaintively.

"Okay," she laughed. He insisted that he would write every day. "Well, I can’t stop you," she said.

"You’ll read them?" he asked.

"Yes."

She agreed to come to England for a day soon, and also to meet him in Dublin again. To herself she thought she was handling this whole enormous, terrifying, exhilarating thing, conceding very little, until they got out of the car. He took her face then in both his hands, and this time she didn’t pull away. It was clear, after their first kiss, that she did, indeed, still have feelings for him. He held her close for a long moment, then kissed her again. "Assumpta? I feel very hopeful. Am I right in thinking it’s going to work?"

She looked at him with an inscrutable little smile.  "Maybe," she said.

FIN