Inside Their Heads
Part I (Alternative to ending of Episode 3.6)
To the reader: This may be an odd request, but please let me know if you originally wrote this story on another fanfiction site several years ago. I had it on my hard drive, hidden in some neglected folder I thought I'd written. I posted it as mine because i was convinced it indeed was, but three days later I'm beginning to doubt it because I like it more than mostof the stuff I write. It does look like my style and I know I wrote lots of BallyK fanfiction back in the day. But back then was a traumatic family time and lots of things I wrote got erased from my memory. BallyK fans tend to be more gentle than your run-of-the-mill TV fans, so I wouldn't think anyone would claim it if it weren't theirs, besides the fact that it's certainly not literature. Sorry if you really wrote this, but honestly, we didn't come up with the characters, setting, or basic plot. Anyhow, I apologize for saying this was mine if it's not.
This piece takes place after Assumpta and Leo have returned married. Peter is trying to keep Father Mac’s heart attack a secret. He’s living in the sacristy since a bankrupt Brian has rented out Peter’s home while he was on retreat to supposedly wipe Assumpta from his mind and heart. Peter is unable to sleep, struggling with his feelings. Assumpta, out looking for Leo who has disappeared again, sees him step outside and notices he’s upset, so she enters the church to offer a sympathetic ear.
“YOU DON’T THINK, DO YOU, ASSUMPTA?”
Peter raked his hands through his hair, his elbows on the lower lectern, looking away from her, his lips closing in a taut line, his nostrils flaring. Either she’s pretending, he thought, or this is a one-way thing. Both options made his blood boil. He was sick of the pretense, the cover-up. Perhaps lying for Father Mac had finally been the last straw.
“Excuse me?” Assumpta frowned, her temper rising as he took a tone with her he’d never done before.
Peter spun around and pounced with his words, his neck jutting out and his veins bulging with the effort of containing his raw anger.
“You just react! You put yourself and your opinions out there and don’t care what it does to anyone else, just so you get your say!” It was all he could do not to tell her why he was really upset, what he really thought of her marriage to Leo.
“So you’re in favor of letting men run everything and women never having any real power, no matter how bright or clever they might be?”
My God, he thought, we’re talking, yelling actually, about something which has no bearing on anything important. But I can’t talk about what’s important. She’s married. And obviously doesn’t love me anymore, even if she ever did at all. “This has nothing to do with other women. No one else in this town wants anything different. If you don’t like it, perhaps you should find somewhere else. I’m sure Leo would be happy with Dublin or even Belfast.”
That shut her up. Assumpta looked as if she’d become suddenly ill. “But I love BallyK…it’s my home…”
“Perhaps you should start treating your home as if you were a citizen, not a child.” He walked into the sacristy and closed the door.
In that small room, he had eaten, slept, prepared for Mass, and even counseled Assumpta’s husband to be patient with her. That’s what hurt the most, that he had been the primary means of encouragement to Leo. But if she loved him and was happy with him, he had to be happy for her. He had to pray for God to change his heart. But on retreat, he had prayed that very thing for a solid month with no relief from the constant ache for one thing, one other life, one other person.
“Assumpta…” he whispered as he heard her leave the church. He knelt there in the floor in front of his cot. “Kyrie eleison; Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy.” It was the prayer of a desperate man. He wanted Assumpta happy. But he wanted her happy with him, not Leo. And only a miracle could change present circumstances. She was bound to Leo and Peter could not consciously move to break up a marriage. Leo obviously was the man to make Assumpta happy, not him.
Somehow, though, Assumpta didn’t seem any happier than usual. Actually, she’d gotten right cranky since she’d returned. Perhaps she was so used to being alone it bothered her to have someone always underfoot. No, it was more than irritation. Suddenly, experience brought back the faces and symptoms of several troubled couples from marriage counseling. Assumpta was exhibiting all the classic signs of confusion and regret. He’d seen it plenty of times after “shotgun” weddings. And Peter was darned that, despite his profession, it gave him hope.
Suddenly, the door to the sacristy flung open and slammed against the wall.
“What the hell are you doing to my wife?” It was Leo, and he was raging. “She ran out of here crying. I know something’s on between you two; but I thought it was just her. Now I see you’ve had more to do with it than she has.”
Peter put up his hands, palms out, to show he meant Leo no harm. “Leo, she’s your wife. She came here on her own; I don’t have a notion why. She said she was concerned for me as a friend. Now, Assumpta may be a lot of things that the church sees as questionable, but a liar isn’t one of them. Don’t you trust her?”
“It’s you I don’t trust. You know she’s shaky and unsure of marriage. You know she has had a sort of crush on you, God knows why, and you’re taking advantage of that because no one would suspect the priest, would they?”
Peter started at the mention of any feelings Leo had sensed between them. Even Peter couldn’t put it into words, and here Assumpta’s husband had. Peter was speechless, and swallowed, trying hard to form words that would never come out.
“I’m right, aren’t I? You want my wife, and you are using her schoolgirl crush to get what you want. So you think you can have your church and my wife, too?”
“I have never touched your wife.”
“But you’ve wanted to, and that’s why I have to do this!” Leo hauled off and punched Peter in the gut. He doubled over, but had prepared himself and tightened his abdomen, knowing Leo was getting violent, and remembering his boxing from high school.
Peter stood up and put his hands up again. “Leo, this won’t solve anything.”
“But it’ll make me feel a hell of a lot better,” said Leo, giving Peter a swipe toward the jaw. Peter side stepped. Leo swung again. Peter caught his hand mid-swing.
“Leo,” said Peter, right in Leo’s face, “She hates me. Go home to her and work it out.”
“That’s just the problem, buddy,” Leo said, with another swipe that came pretty close, “She’s so confused right now thanks to you that she doesn’t know who she hates and who she loves. And you enjoy that, don’t you? She can’t be satisfied with me until she sees what she might have with you, and you play that up. You don’t say or do anything that looks like a come-on, but you’re there at the bar, every day. You glance her way, then look away just as she looks at you, to entice her. You stand a little close, talk a little longer. She needs help behind the bar, you’re there. There’s something going on in town, you bring it to the pub. You never go a day without going in there, do you? Maybe not even a few hours.”
“So why aren’t you there, Leo? Maybe she’s feeling a little left out. You’re off covering stories on what’s supposed to be your honeymoon and you’re out walking the streets at night like a vampire…”
“She said that to you, eh? So now she’s confessing to a priest. That is not the Assumpta I know. You are changing her, and it’s not for the better. You say you’re a man of God, but you’re really the opposite. You were going to sneak off behind the statues this evening, weren’t you? You tried to lure her into the sacristy, the one place that should be free of lust and deceit.”
Peter’s mouth fell open. This man was speaking from the pit of hell, and he wasn’t stopping. “You were going to have her in the very place you encouraged my marriage to her. What is it about the priesthood that attracts perverts and sexual sadists?”
Peter’s arm shot out of its own volition, totally apart from his brain. Instantly, Leo was on the floor. The feeling of knuckle on bone shocked Peter and he dropped to Leo’s side. Leo sat halfway up on his elbows and felt his jaw with his hand. “Mother O’ God. Knocked on the floor by a priest.”
Peter wasn’t smiling. “I’ll call Michael,” he said, “And get you some ice.”
“Don’t call the doc, I don’t want our business all over town.”
“He is the soul of discretion and I know my left hook. Your jaw needs professional attention before it sets like that.” He went to call.
When Leo got back to Assumpta’s apartment, she was lying awake in the dark. But she could tell he’d been hurt. She sat up and turned on her light.
“Leo, what in the…?”
“My jaw met Father Clifford’s knuckles and they didn’t get along too well…”
“He hit you? Peter?”
“Let’s just say your little priest has a bit of the Sadducee in him.”
Assumpta was speechless. Peter? What in the world could have brought such a peaceful man to such a violent act? She thought she knew Peter well. But this was something out of the blue. He could get angry. He could take sides. He could lose control of his emotions. He was not always rational. Somehow, that did not make him a monster. In fact, she had to hide a smile. They were fighting over her. She knew it was petty to feel flattered, but she felt it anyway.
“I’ll get you some ice. Get in the bed. Did you see Michael? Did he give you any pain killers?”
“Oh, yeah, now he knows we had a fight.”
“Don’t worry, Leo, Michael is…”
“Yes, I know, Peter told me, ‘The Soul of Discretion.’ And yes, Doc gave me enough medication to drop a hippo, so I’ll be hiding out in the bed tomorrow.”
“What in the world did you say to him to get him so angry?”
“Oh, so now it’s my fault? He’s been courting you for three years in his subtle priestly perverted ways even after we’re married, and it’s my fault he punched me?”
Assumpta’s eyes flashed. “Courting me? Leo, he’s a priest. He doesn’t love me; he loves the church. OK, I admit, once I thought he cared for me, but he made it very clear that even if he has the feelings of any normal man, he chooses to put them aside because he’s given his whole life, every bit of it, to God.”
“So I’m leftovers, is that it? You couldn’t have the one you really wanted, so you settled for me?”
“Leo, I married you because I love you. But I’m a village girl and you’re a city guy. That’s our problem, not Peter. Peter has passed me over. I’m the one that’s left over, not you. Things sometimes happen for a reason, Leo. And if I hadn’t had this stupid crush on Peter, I never would have run back to you. Good things can come from confusion. Let’s try to put this behind us.”
“Then we need to leave here. If we want this to work, you need to meet me halfway. Let’s find a village outside of Dublin. You can buy a pub and make three or four times what you’re making here.”
“Sell Mum and Dad’s place?” Assumpta looked stricken.
“Time to move on with your life, Assumpta. They’d want that.”
Assumpta frowned and turned toward the kitchen. “I suppose.” She left to get an ice pack.
Outside, Peter walked the street. He saw the light in Assumpta’s bedroom turn on and stay on, then a few minutes later, he could see the kitchen light reflecting on the wall back of the pub. He literally ached for her. He couldn’t help the tears that fell from his eyes to his cheeks and down to moisten his sweater. He didn’t even wipe them away.
She got a plastic zip-lock bag from a drawer, then got a clean towel out of another one. Once again, she wished for an ice crusher, even though it didn’t happen often. Once or twice every summer she got a taste for a Margarita or a daiquiri, but no one else around here wanted that and she usually didn’t either. So she got out a mallet, put some ice cubes in the towel, folded it up, and began to hammer it. It made such a noise, she put it on the floor. But that began to put dents in the linoleum. She decided she needed a stone or cement surface. She went out front and started pounding. Once done, she got up and noticed a movement down the street. Peter’s door was just closing. Had he been watching her?
Was Leo right? Did he think he could be a priest and have her as his little side show? Normally, she would cheer someone thumbing their nose at the church. But with Peter, it was different. She didn’t want to think him capable of that sort of deceit. It disappointed her terribly. But after all, even priests are human.
She went back inside to apply the ice to the proof of that very fact.
The next day dawned ugly and rainy. Great, thought Peter, At least it suits my mood. Only the diehards slugged through the pouring rain to Mass at eight, and for Peter, it was just as well. He dragged himself to the altar an hour beforehand to pray the prayer of consecration. Halfway though it, he broke down. Why, Father? He asked. Why did I have to fall in love? Are you testing me, as Father Mac says, or are you telling me I’m not cut out for the priesthood? I know others have struggled with this. How do I know for sure? I want to do your will, but I can’t see what that is right now. I know I shouldn’t ask for a sign, but I’m desperate, and you always hear the cry of the needy, no matter what that need is. And it would be a lot clearer if I knew how she felt. If she…if she…loves me, I would know you want us to be together. Show me your will, Father. I believe you can and will show me. I can’t stay here around her if I am to remain a priest. But is this what my whole life will consist of, running away from women?
He got up from the railing and began pacing, praying the whole time, as if Jesus were standing right there with him. He continued, I mean, I didn’t love Jenny, but she knew she wouldn’t be the only one. She knew I was faltering. So do I leave the priesthood and BallyK? What would I do? Where would I go? Without Assumpta, anyplace would be…desolate. She married Leo, but she still looks at me the way she always has, with a mixture of amusement, surprise, and something else… wonder? She still tries to banter with me, and she came to the church last night completely unbidden, a married woman, because she sensed I was upset.
Peter waited for a reply in his heart, his head, or his soul, like he was used to getting, but none came, so he continued.
What other married woman has a male friend she goes to see in the middle of the night in order to find out what’s bothering him? And of course I’m not going to just blurt it out, ‘I’m in love with you and you married someone else.’ Boy, that’d go over like a lead balloon. I thought when she got married, it was a closed door, but she came back! Why? And she tries to talk to me as if everything’s friendly, but there’s this undercurrent in the way she checks my reaction to everything. If there’s a discussion at the bar, she doesn’t speak first anymore. She asks to hear my opinion first, then if hers is different, she softens it considerably, compared to her usual cat-like sparring. Am I just imagining all this?
He rubbed his head. God, I need you to throw open a window. Both the doors are shut. I have no idea whether which one has the lion and which one has the lamb. But my choice is clear – love or duty. I’m waiting on you for an answer.
Assumpta lay awake next to Leo in the morning light, who was snoring loudly, completely unconscious thanks to the pain meds. She smiled wanly. He’s so much like a tough little boy, she thought. I do love him. And he is really good in bed. Lots of practice will do that for you.
So why am I always thinking of Peter? Is it just because he’s “off-limits?” I’ve always pushed the envelope; is this just another of my rebellions trying to rear its head? Or do I really care about him, more than as a friend? OK, let’s not kid ourselves; at the very least, I have a crush on him. There, that’s not so bad. A crush. Intense, but short-lived. I can wait out a crush. But if it’s three years, it’s not a crush; it’s a torch. A torch. I am carrying a torch for Peter Clifford. There, I’ve admitted it. Now what?
I thought when he went on retreat and I got married, we agreed it was over. But neither time, space, nor matrimony have done anything to quell these feelings for him. It’s gotten worse since we both returned. He must feel something. I can see his animosity toward Leo. But what did he expect? Did Peter expect me to leave BallyK and my parents’ business when it was he who came in and changed everything? This is my hometown, not his. So why hasn’t he asked for a transfer? Father Mac would be only too eager for him to go.
And there’s the pattern starting to emerge. First Jenny, now me. Maybe he doesn’t really care about me; he just needs to get out of the priesthood and get a girlfriend. Maybe it’s what I represent that makes him stare at me when he thinks I don’t realize it. I’m the only woman anywhere near his age except Niamh. So why is he angry with Leo? Why did he pounce on me over something as simple as my women’s group? There’s something else there that has to do with me alone, and it’s not just about women in general. He could go into Cilldargen if that’s all he wanted, priest or not.
So let’s suppose for the sake of argument he leaves BallyK. What would that be like? No Peter to stick his head in and say hi as soon as I open, no Peter to come every afternoon and keep everyone on an even keel until closing, no Peter to hold Kieran and kiss his head and make him laugh like no one else can, no Peter to bounce ideas off when no one else will listen, no sea green eyes peering into mine, no crooked smile to put a little buzz in my day…oh, God, I’ve got it bad for a falling priest, and I’m married to another man.
Inside Their Heads II: Search Your Feelings
Peter somehow finished his homily at the eight o’clock Mass. It was as if his mind were wandering on a long drive, yet he somehow stayed on the road. He couldn’t remember how many or who was there. He went to Cildargen to visit Mrs. Post in the nursing home, then to sit with Kieran while Niamh helped at the pub. Around three in the afternoon after he’d put Kieran down for his nap, his stomach growled and he realized he’d forgotten to eat all day. He looked in the cupboard and found an unopened box of crackers. “Wholesome Goodness Wafers,” they were called. Niamh wouldn’t mind; he’d buy her a new box. He chewed one. Cardboard, or possibly even sheetrock. He sat down at the kitchen table and remembered his practicum in counseling at seminary. He had all the classic symptoms of depression: withdrawal from normal activity, lack of appetite, feelings of uselessness and hopelessness, a “flatness” in his outlook and perspective, a dirth of the ability to find joy in the everyday.
He needed more help than Father Mac could give him. Unfortunately, the nearest Catholic Family Services Unit, which is where the nearest clinical psychological therapist would be, was in Dublin. He called Father Mac and requested a couple of days off for an appointment. Father Mac was surprised the retreat hadn’t worked it all out, but realized the problem was deeper than a crisis of faith. Peter left on the 5PM bus for Dublin.
The morning after the fight, Assumpta opened the bar as usual, determined to take care of the beaten Leo until he got over the worst of the pain from the hairline fracture Peter had given him. Then Leo would be making plans for a move out of BallyK, she thought,and a feeling of dread swept over her. She pushed it aside. Grow up, Assumpta, she told herself. Peter is committed to the church. Even if he still has feelings for me, he would never renounce his vows. He'd have to become a different person. And that's too much of me to ask of him. All morning,whenever her mind turned toward Peter,which was every ten seconds, she turned it back to the pub, or to Leo,or to contemplating a life outside BallyK. It was exhausting work. Leo has no idea what kind of effort I'm having to make, she thought. Nor do I ever want him to know.
“Leo,” she said to him at noon, “You need to eat something with all that medication you’re taking. Here’s some toast and coffee.”
She put a tray on the dresser and helped him prop up, then arranged the tray on his lap. He was incredulous, speechless even, and smiling like a man who’d just won some money.
“Don’t get used to this,” she said, and pecked him on his non-fractured cheek.
“Too late,” he said with a full grin. Assumpta smirked and left to open up.
Later, she came up to collect the tray and he was almost dressed.
“Where are you going, Mr. So Full of Drugs I Can’t Drink My Coffee?”
“I need to get on the Internet to get us tickets to Dublin for this weekend and I can’t get a good signal from Bluetooth except near the damn church.”
“You are walking out of this room over my dead body. Now get back in the bed before you break something more important than your jaw.” She stood in the doorway with her arms folded.
Leo chuckled. “As if you could stop me. How much do you weigh, ninety?”
Assumpta’s eyes narrowed. “Haven’t you learned that women don’t like to be asked that question?”
Leo suddenly reached underneath her arms and lifted her off the floor briefly. “Not more than a hundred, certainly.”
Assumpta unfolded her arms. “Really, Leo, it’s not safe for you to walk around like this.”
“I can assure you, I have driven in a worse state.”
Assumpta’s jaw dropped. ”And you think that’s OK?”
Leo rolled his eyes. “And now the sermon begins. Let’s all turn to Assumpta Chapter five verse forty-seven: ‘And thus saith the Queen: Thou shalt not drive thy auto-mobile whilst thou hast consumed more than four drams of alcohol or six drams of morphine. Thou shalt count the drams beginning with the number one and continuing on to finish with the six…”
Assumpta pushed him back into the bed. He continued while she took off his shoes and belt. “Thou shalt not stop at two or three, neither shalt thou pause at four or five. Whenst thou countest to one, thou shalt proceed immediately to two and three, then verily shalt thou press onward through four and five…” She threw the morning paper to him and turned on the TV.
“Yeah, yeah, I get the Monty Python reference. Now you be a good little boy until Doc says you can get out.”
“But no Internet?” he whined.
Assumpta was already going down the stairs as she yelled back, “I remember doing without it in the 80s. It wasn’t so bad…sheesh, I’d rather deal with a screaming Kieran, you whiney-baby.”
Niamh had just walked in for her shift, but she had Kieran. Asumpta threw her head toward the stairs and rolled her eyes. “Sick men are worse than sick babies.”
“Want to bet? This one was up all night crying and running fever all night and all morning. Nothing will get rid of it, not even an afternoon with Uncle Peter, so I’m taking him to Michael. I’m afraid you’re alone for the rest of the afternoon. I’ll see what I can figure out for evening.”
Assumpta nodded and Niamh left. She didn’t want to bring up the weekend yet, especially if Kieran was sick. After the happy hour crowd came and went, Niamh came back by.
“He’s got some little virus, we guess. I need to get him home. I had hoped Father Clifford could sit while I work tonight, but Michael says he’s out of town again, this time to Dublin.”
“Dublin? What’s he got in Dublin?”
“Some appointment. I couldn’t get Doc to say, but he knows. You think he might be sick, or might be getting called up by the diocese?”
Assumpta sighed. “It’s useless to speculate. Anyway, it won’t make any difference to our situation tonight. Maybe I can grab Brendan before he gets too mellow.”
Niamh opened the door. “I’m really sorry, Assumpta.”
“You can’t help it that Kieran’s sick.”
“No, I mean the way everything has just gotten so – so twisted for you.”
Assumpta blinked. “Twisted? What do you mean?”
Niamh looked over her sunglasses at Assumpta. Assumpta looked away. Niamh left.
Leo convalesced for one more day, then he was up at the church trying to get a signal. Father Mac greeted him as he came to prepare for Wednesday Vespers.
“Ah, Leo, sending a story that will change civilization as we know it?”
Leo smiled, “It’s not a story, but it will certainly change this little part of civilization. I’m taking Assumpta to Dublin.”
“Business or pleasure?”
“With Assumpta and me, Father, it’s always pleasure. That’s where we’re going to live.”
A smile spread across Father Mac’s face. “Well done, my boy, well done. It’ll be the best thing for her and for you both. BallyK’s not big enough for a personality like hers. She needs more to see and do, new friends, and you need your work. Well, good luck to you both!” He walked into the church, whistling off-key.
Leo shook his head, smirked, and got back to ordering those train tickets.
Inside Their Heads III
Peter stormed out of the Catholic Family Services office. Imagine a trained clinical psychologist telling a priest suffering from depression that he needed to memorize more scripture instead of seeking therapy. What century did he crawl out of, the 13th?
So now Peter was back at square one. He had a phone card, so he rung up a priest in England he went to seminary with to see what he thought. The friend recommended a therapist in downtown Dublin who had studied with his former therapist. Peter called and was able, thanks to his friends’ recommendations, to see the doctor in three hours. He passed the time in a bookstore, browsing mysteries, which he enjoyed for sheer escape, and travel magazines, for the same reason.
The therapist, a Doctor Keegan, asked some preliminary questions, then went a little deeper. Peter could tell he was trying to do it gradually, but stopped him and said, ”Let’s just get right to it. I am completely in love with a married woman in my village and I cannot function as a priest any more. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the priesthood altogether, or ask for another transfer.”
raised his eyebrows. “Another?”
“Yes, I was attracted to another woman in Manchester, but it wasn’t this deep.”
“Sounds to me you don’t have depression, you’ve just got a case of life, my friend.”
When Leo got back, he was beaming. “Got the tickets; got the plan. We leave tomorrow morning at nine. I have to do an interview in Dublin at 5 PM, but after that, I’ve got three days free to apartment hunt with you! You don’t have to find a job right away; I’ve got a rainy day fund so you can find a pub you really like before you work there, or possibly buy it.”
Assumpta snorted. “Quigley’s not going to give me enough for Fitzgerald’s so that I can buy a pub in Dublin.”
“No, but it will be enough for a down payment, which is all you’ll need. You can have another Fitzgerald’s, only in Dublin! How’s that?”
Assumpta made herself smile. “Great! Wow! You think of everything!” It won’t be so bad, she thought. He loves me. I can’t go wrong with someone who loves me and wants what’s best for me.
“OH!” She looked at Leo. “Kieran has a flu virus and there’s no one to take the bar tomorrow.”
“Then close it.”
“Leo! On Friday night? What will the regulars do?”
“They will do what they should be doing every night – going home to their families. Now just put up a sign. You own the place.”
Assumpta closed the bar that night after telling everyone she and Leo would be gone for “a few days.” She didn’t dare ask Brendan or Padraig how Peter was, lest anyone should think she was interested. She just needed to sell this pub to Quigley and move. Best start her new life as soon as possible. A clean break- it would be very painful, but that’s all that could be done, and like pulling off a bandage, it’s better to do it quickly, without thinking. But that image only reminded her of when someone threw a ball through the church window – the one time she’d been in thirteen years – and Peter had yanked off her poorly applied one to clean the wound properly and put on a dressing that would actually enhance rather than hinder the healing process. That was the closest she’d ever been to him, even closer and longer than the near-kiss during play rehearsal. She could smell his faintly sweet but slightly musky “Peter-ness” as he worked patiently on her head, she saw the concern and concentration in those unbelievable eyes, and felt her eyes drawn to his lips…NO! This will not do, she thought. She felt herself getting dizzy and shook her head to clear it of him. A cup of coffee, she thought, that’s what I need, even if it is midnight. I need to pack, anyway. And besides, my dreams are always of Peter, and I just can’t take that tonight.
Inside Their Heads IV
Leo’s jaw was still sore, so he took a painkiller at night so he could sleep. Assumpta tried to pack by the light of a candle, but it was slow. She was worried about Peter, but could not bring herself to ask anyone about him. She knew if her marriage was going to have a chance, she needed to break all ties with Peter. She owed Leo every chance she could give him. He was compromising by living outside the city, she was compromising by moving close enough to Dublin so he could commute. But this pain over Peter was almost overwhelming. She had never felt such an urgency to hear someone’s voice or see their face, even to hear their name spoken aloud. Her arms literally ached. Her face had fixed itself into a neutral expression. It was all she could do to respond to other people, to pour the right kind of beer into the glass, to remember to kiss Leo and to do it on the lips, not the cheek. In the past week, her life had telescoped into a dry to-do list that she must get through every day. And at night, no matter how she tried to read something else before bed to suggest to her mind an alternate theme, here he appeared every night, unbidden, her subconscious self, crying out for Peter. Even when Leo, the master of bedtime pleasure, had come to her last night, she could only enjoy herself by thinking she was not with her husband, but with Peter. She knew it was wrong, but Leo could always tell when her heart wasn't in it, and she had to learn to pretend until she was fully away from Peter. Then he could fade into the background and Leo would come front and center, surely, after a time. One cannot sustain a dream if one starves it. So she would starve the thought of Peter out of her head, drive it away with Leo, who not only could rock a girl crazy in bed, but who also happened to be completely in love with her and knew her better than anyone. She hammered this thought home to herself as she folded sweaters. Loves me;great sex. Loves me;great sex. She repeated it over and over like a mantra, but it only made the pain worse.
She stopped to choke down a sob so violent she was afraid even the drugged Leo would awaken, but he didn’t even stir. It came anyway, and she ran down the stairs and out into the night of the back alley behind the pub. Luckily, her rental rooms were all empty, and no one lived within a hundred yards of her on this side of the road. Once there, she leaned her back against the wall and let herself cry. She hadn’t cried this hard since her parents died. Well, this is a death, she thought. My hope is dead.
Peter paced his rooms until he could stand it no longer. He was certain now he could no longer fulfill his duties as a priest. What mission God did have in mind for him as a layperson he would have to deal with later. All the unimportant alternatives fell away as he paced with only two clear ones left: he could tell Assumpta how he felt and risk her rejection, or he could leave BallyK and get a new job back in England. If he told her and she rejected him, the outcome would be the same as if he’d never asked her.
The time which elapsed between coming to that realization and his breathless appearance at the front door of Fitzgerald’s was approximately thirty seconds.
He tapped quietly on the door, then realized what time it was. Yikes, they could be up there having…but someone was crying out here. Behind the pub. He couldn’t get to it except by going around three other buildings, but he ran so quickly, and she was crying so hard, Assumpta didn’t notice him until he was there.
He couldn’t help but enfold her in his arms, and he didn’t even know what she was crying about or how it would look to Leo. He didn’t care; she was hurting and he felt it from his toes to the crown of his head. She leaned into him and sobbed, “I can’t do it, Peter, I just can’t do it. I’m trying so, so hard, but it hurts too badly.” As she pressed her face into his sweater, she thought, this will not solve anything; it’ll just make it worse but, oh God, he smells good and feels good.
He pulled her gently from his chest and looked at her face, blotchy red and moist, her nose running and her eyes still welling with tears continuing to overflow. She wiped her nose absentmindedly with the back of her sweatshirt. He pulled a clean handkerchief (A good priest always has a clean cloth hankie.) out of one pocket and dabbed at her eyes.
“What can’t you do, dear one?”
“I can’t do life. It’s too hard.”
“Did Leo upset you? What did he do?”
“No, Leo didn’t do anything except…(Here she hiccupped from crying so hard) he's just being Leo.”
He handed her the hankie and she blew her nose on it, started to hand it back, and then realized he wouldn’t want it.
“Leo’s a great guy. I mean, (Hiccup) he really loves me. I should be happy with that, right?” She looked at him as steadily as she could with
“Well, sure, if you love him.”
“I do (Hiccup) love him, just not as much as…” Hiccup. She looked down.
Peter didn’t move a muscle and held his breath. Peter felt his insides flip and his head swim. “I love you, Assumpta.”
Assumpta lifted her eyes back to his. Her mouth fell open, but no sound came out. She stepped back. Something in her head began to ring.
Peter plunged in. “You are all I think about. You consume my every waking moment. I think of you every minute of every day. I take a wedding, a funeral, I hear confession,; I say the words, but it’s you that I’m thinking of.”
Assumpta blinked and shook her head lightly. Peter continued. “I can’t sleep because you keep me awake. I can’t eat because I’d rather have you. I can’t live, really live, Assumpta, unless you are with me. This past week I’ve been working on autopilot, with no hope for the future, as if I’ve been told my life has been worth nothing. I can’t take it any longer; I had to tell you. There, now I’ve said it. It’s finally out.”
Assumpta listened to this with her mouth still open. She looked down once, a bit embarrassed at his confession, and she felt herself blushing. It was like standing under a shower head of Peter. She closed her eyes when he finished and swayed a bit.
He steadied her by taking hold of her shoulders. “Assumpta? You okay?” He felt her forehead, then found her pulse with his fingers on her neck. “It’s racing like you’ve been sprinting. Here, sit down.” He led her over to some steps that went up to the top of the wall.
When she sat, he squatted in front of her and took her hands. “Do I need to call Michael?”
She shook her head and looked down at his hands on hers. She almost began to cry again from the sheer joy of it. But he still didn’t know how she felt. How do I put it into words like he did?
“No, no, I’ll be fine.”
“So you're sure that the idea that you have your own personal psychotic fan doesn't make you want to pass out?”
She chuckled and looked back at him from the corner of her eyes. “I could ask you the same thing, Peter.”
A smile began to spread across Peter’s face. He moved next to her.
He moved in quickly but gently, sliding his left hand from her jaw line to the nape of her neck, catching her mouth in his, and bending her back against his arm behind her. He felt as if he’d done it a thousand times and he felt as if he’d never done it before. He gave in to the pull he’d been fighting against for three years as a thirsty man swallows water - he drank of her deeply and still wanted more.
Assumpta lost herself in him. She was unaware of where she was or how much time was passing. It could have been seconds or it could have been an hour. The hard cement steps and the brick wall dissolved until there was only Peter and his endless kisses on her mouth, her neck, her face, her ears. She let out a small gasp as he moved from her earlobe to her mouth, tasting her almost timidly at first, then more hungrily. His right hand moved from her back to her side. Then his thumb touched the side of her breast and she broke away.
“I’m sorry, Peter, we have to stop. I should have stopped sooner. I’m sorry.”
Peter withdrew like someone waking up. “Wha -?”
Assumpta took his face in her hands. “I’m still married. My husband is less than 15 feet away.”
Peter blinked, ran his hands through his hair, and wiped his face with them. “Right.” He frowned and took a deep breath. “Right.”
She stood up. “Ok, it’s not the end of the world, let’s regroup. OK, you love me, right?”
Peter stared at her. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“And I love you…to the point of dizziness. Do you know that for the past five weeks one of my lager suppliers has been charging me double and I didn’t even notice?”
Peter’s eyebrows shot up. “No wonder you’ve been so low on funds. Hey, next time I need some money, I’ll just stare at you long enough and I could probably empty the till.”
“Don’t make jokes, this is serious. We’ve got to figure out what to do. And quietly!" She jabbed an index finger at the top window and began pacing in front of the stairs, frowning.
Peter stared at her, unable to do any clear thinking after he had finally had a taste of her. He smiled groggily. She glanced up and her frown deepened.
"Peter! Be serious!"
He chuckled. "You're kidding,right? Are you standing there telling me you can be rational right this minute?" He licked his lips and looked at hers.
Assumpta groaned and closed her eyes. "Auugghh! Don't DO that! I surely can't think when you're sitting there in your-your...Peter-ness, all comfy and sexy."
Peter grinned. Assumpta covered her face with her hands. "I'm not looking. I'm not looking. Oh, shit, Peter, I thought I was going to have to be dead the rest of my life because you couldn't be can I think of what to say to Leo when you are giving off waves of Peter vibes?" She removed her hands from her face. "It doesn't matter if I can see you or not. If you're here, I can't think."
Peter cupped his hands over his mouth and Panned Darth Vader. "Assumpta, you FEEEEL my presence. Search your FEEELINGS."
Despite herself, Assumpta let out a laugh, but then glanced up,afraid she'd made too much noise. "How can you be so flippant? I need to talk to Leo, and it’s going to be very rough. I can’t blame him for being angry. I messed up and I know it. It’s going to hurt him really badly, and it’s all my fault. He may do something rash; I don’t know, but don’t show your face around here until I call you. I mean don’t even walk this way. He could really make a scene.”
Peter leaned against the building and crossed his arms. “I'm not being flippant; I'm in love. I've held back from you for so long that now that I know you love me, nothing else matters."
He reached over and stroked a piece of hair that had fallen out of a clip. She swallowed as a wave of magnetic energy moved from her hair down to her feet and back up,settling in her middle. He smiled and her knees went rubbery.
Peter stepped back,aware that he was very close to taking advantage of her in her back alley, only 15 feet from her husband. "I really don’t care at this point if Leo makes a scene, but I don’t want to torture him. I can stay away now as long as he needs to pack his bags and leave. I know you love me. You, Assumpta Fitzgerald, love me, Peter Clifford, a soon-to-be ex-priest. It’s uncanny; no, it’s a miracle.”
Her eyes got wide for a moment when she realized what he was doing for her. Then she smiled without a trace of sarcasm, her face relaxed, and her eyes so soft Peter felt he could melt into them – they’d never looked this way before.
“It is a miracle, Peter.”
Inside Their Heads V
When Assumpta went back up to the apartment, Leo had the light on. He had been crying as he sat there in the bed. Assumpta panicked, thinking he might have walked downstairs and peeked outside.
“Leo, what is it?” She stayed in the doorway, not willing to come any closer if he knew what she’d just done.
Leo hung his head. “It’s not going to work, is it, Love?”
She took a step forward.
He continued. “You don’t love me anymore. I’ve tried to ignore it. I thought since you married me you would eventually forget him, but you’re not going to.”
“Leo, I’m trying…”
“It doesn’t matter. You can’t make yourself love someone. And I can’t take watching you try; it’s too painful.”
Assumpta walked toward the bed and sat down beside him. His tears began to fall again. He looked in her eyes. She felt a stab as she saw the longing and the hurt she had caused him.
He continued, looking down again and sniffing. “I appreciate your trying, I really do, but I can’t take this. You know I love you, but when I fall for someone, it’s for keeps.”
She took his hands in hers. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He patted her hands and put them back at her sides. “Now we’ll have none of that. You’ll start me spewin’ again. But I’ve been doing some serious thinking since I’ve been up here convalescing.”
He took several deep breaths and paused. She waited. Eventually, he spoke again, much more slowly this time.
“I’ve spent most of my life thinking about myself, Assumpta; I know that. But I am ready now to spend my life thinking about someone else. I need the love of a woman who will love me – love me - deeply. You just can’t do that.”
He got out of the bed and opened the armoire. He pulled out his traveling satchel.
Assumpta closed her eyes. “Leo, it’s the middle of the night. You should wait until morning.”
“And why should I? I’ve made up my mind to go, I’ve got a job in Dublin, and you know I drive better at night anyway. Besides, what would we do the rest of the night, sit here and apologize some more? No, thanks; if it’s all the same to you, I’ll be going.”
He began stuffing clothes from the drawers of her dresser into his satchel.
“At least let me make you some coffee.” She went downstairs to the kitchen. Peter was peering in the rear window. She motioned angrily for him to leave. He gave her a wink and disappeared. She rolled her eyes. He’s like a teenager, she thought.
She started the Mr. Coffee with the free trade Costa Rican blend that Leo had brought from London. Soon the rich aroma filled the kitchen and she poured a cup for herself as well. Leo shuffled in after about five minutes.
“That was quick,” she said.
“Not much here. I never meant to spend more than a few days here, you know.”
“Yeah. I know. City boy,” she said playfully, as if those words were sinful.
“Village girl,” he said simply.
There was an awkward silence as they sipped the coffee. She took a deep breath.
“Leo, I really don’t know how to explain myself. This thing with Peter…”
He held up his hand. “Save it.” He shook his head and sighed. “I really, truly do not want to hear it.”
He strolled to the front door and held up the mug.
“Keep it,” she said.
He opened the door. “Have a nice life, Assumpta.”
She suddenly hugged him with one arm. “Good luck, Leo.”
“Yeah, I got the ‘friend’ hug. Time to go.”
He unlocked the trunk, threw the satchel in, and cranked the car. With one last look, he blew her a kiss, and took off. She didn’t want to watch his taillights turn the corner, so she closed the door.
Inside Their Heads VI: After Leo Left
As soon as she closed the door, Assumpta felt the full weight of Leo’s pain fall on her. The heaviness descended upon her head, her arms, her feet, and she leaned her back and head against the door. There were no tears left in her, only an ache for what she had done to someone who loved her. She slid down to the floor and stared at the wooden boards. The early morning gray filtered through the windows, revealing a floor needing serious attention. Filthy. Crumbs lay in between the ancient slats, glued there permanently by years of sticky beer concentrate which had eluded the mop by hiding in the cracks. Someday she must get a knife and clean it all out. Then maybe the place wouldn’t smell so fermented. She looked around. Come to think of it, the whole place was really nasty. Why hadn’t she noticed until now? She was doing business in a pig sty. She wasn’t a real business woman; she was a goal-less drifter just filching off what her parents left her. And then she used one man to take her mind off another. Used him, spit him out, and tossed him aside. She was a killer of dreams, a destroyer of souls; she was a black widow.
There was a tap on the back door and Peter stepped in. Assumpta didn’t move or even look up. Her hair hung down, hiding her face. He wanted to scoop her up, take her upstairs, and make her forget what just happened, but that might make her feel worse. He’d counseled couples with troubles, and only half of those marriages were salvageable. In the half that failed, if they didn’t end up wanting to kill each other, they were consumed with guilt.
Peter rather expected Assumpta to be the fighting kind. This broken Assumpta saddened him deeply. She wasn’t crying like she was earlier that night. And she wasn't glowing like after he'd kissed sat staring at the floor. He backed up against the door and without knowing took the same route down it as she had five minutes earlier. He started to hold her hand, but hesitated, not wanting to add to her pain.
“Hiya,” he whispered.
Peter searched for words to fit this situation. There were none.
“May I give you a hug?”
She took a deep, ragged breath. “I don’t feel very huggable right now.”
“It wouldn’t matter to me if you were covered in spines. All I want is your consent for a hug.”
She sighed. “I guess.”
Peter patted his lap. She finally, slowly brought her face up to meet his.
He has no idea what he’s getting himself into, she thought. He is so child-like and naïve. I could destroy him, too. She looked at his face. Those gentle, dancing sea green eyes made her smile in spite of herself. His broad shoulders in that old ratty gray sweatshirt called out to her, ”Comfort! Comfort!”
Peter lifted that one eyebrow. “You know you need a hug, even if right now you don’t want it. C’mon, take your medicine.” He spread his arms out their full six and a half feet wide.
She climbed into his lap and those branch-like arms enfolded her against his chest. She pressed her face against it, taking in deep, long breaths of his smell, feeling herself surface again, as if she had been near drowning and he had come just in time.
Peter did the same. Assumpta in his lap was like holding a hummingbird - full of energy, passion, and aggression, but in some ways, quite fragile. He just held her, while the light turned from gray to beige to golden to white.
Niahm pushed at the door. It was jammed. No, she saw it moving at the top and the sides, and there was always that ridiculous half inch of air between the door and the threshold. Something was propped up in front of the door. She went around to the back.
When she walked out of the back and back into the street,she was almost run over by Siobhan in her truck. Siobahn screeched on the brakes, and Niamh jumped.
“So we’ve got a death wish, now, do we Niamh? You look like you just saw a dead man.”
Niamh’s eyes were still wide. “Close enough,” she said, but kept walking. Siobahn followed her in the truck, coming up along side her as she walked toward the garde house.
“Aren’t you going to open up? I was about to stop in for a sandwich before me afternoon rounds.”
Niamh stopped in her tracks. The truck continued forward, so Siobahn had to brake, then reverse back to Niamh.
“Niamh, what gives? Is there something fishy at the pub?”
Niamh’s eyes got wider. “Oh, no, no, it’s only Assumpta didn’t clean up from last night and I won’t be able to open until I can get it clean. Could be an hour or two. Come back tonight, Siobahn, and it will be ready. Sorry about your sandwich.” She walked away.
“Niamh, why are you walking home? The dirty pub’s that way. And why don’t you just tell Assumpta and Leo to get it clean? Niamh!”
Siobahn drove to the pub and parked in front. Where was Leo’s car? Probably off on some story again. Some honeymoon for Assumpta. She got out and peeked in a window. The place was spotless, even more than usual. Siobahn chuckled. Niamh couldn’t lie to save her life. Then she caught sight of a shoe…a leg…a man’s leg. Maybe there was a dead body in there! She ran around to the back. Thankful Assumpta had been clean but forgetful enough to leave the door unlocked, she sneaked in.
In thirty seconds she tiptoed quickly out, grinning ear to ear, and ran to her truck. She rummaged in the back and ran back in. In another minute she was backing her truck and on her way to her afternoon rounds, which she would take care of by way of Cilldargen.
When they opened the bar that afternoon, they were both a bit groggy. Peter had made arrangements to talk to Father Mac tomorrow, but Father Mac had a good idea of what would transpire and Peter knew he would not make it easy on him. All the better, Peter thought, he’ll get to see just how deeply I’ve thought about this.
Assumpta still felt bad for Leo. She also wondered if she deserved Peter. I don’t deserve him, she thought, but I do need him. I need him. She had never needed anyone before, so the realization left her slightly dazed. She looked over at him, filling Padraig’s pint again. He caught her eye and winked at her. She felt herself blush. I’m behaving like a fourteen-year-old, she thought, but smiled and shook her head. Medicine, indeed.
Around half past nine that night, Peter noticed the Stooges gathering in the keeping room off to the side of the bar. He glanced at Assumpta, who had also noticed. She shrugged. Brendan clapped his hands for attention – there were perhaps fifteen other people in the bar – and cleared his throat.
“Quiet, everyone, quiet,” he yelled in his best headmaster voice, “We have a little something to bring to everyone’s attention. As you may know, our publican has of late been undergoing some domestic unhappiness. This has made all of us sad, not only because we knew Leo was not the one for her, much as we like the lad, but because we’ve not seen her smile in such a long time. And everyone in Ballykissangel lives for Assumpta Fitzgerald’s smiles. They may be few and far between, but like the red blooms of the clover, they remind us where we are and why we stay here. To Assumpta’s smiles – may they always stay in Ballykissangel where they belong!”
He raised his pint. Everyone else raised theirs. Then in came Siobhan with a large, framed, black and white photo of Peter and Assumpta asleep against the door of the pub. Peter’s face was buried in her hair and a smile played about her lips as her head rested on his chest.
Assumpta put her head in her hands on the bar. Peter blushed and shrugged. So much for keeping things quiet until he was out of the priesthood. Then Assumpta lifted her head and the fire was back in her eyes, “Siobahn, in the kitchen. Now!” She stomped in and slammed the door. Peter suppressed a smile. Siobahn had just cut his interview time with Father Mac in half. It would be intense and ferocious, but it would be brief and possibly quite entertaining if taken in the correct frame of mind. He must remember to buy Siobahn a drink after she delivered the baby.
Inside Their Heads VII: So What Now?
Assumpta slept so late the next morning that it was nearly noon when she awoke. Immediately, she wondered what Peter was doing at that very moment, as she did every day, only this time she allowed herself to continue thinking about it while brushing her teeth, dressing, and shuffling absent-mindedly down the stairs. The aroma of coffee hit her halfway down.
“Niamh? Didn’t you go to church?”
“Ah…no. I’m not allowed anymore,” said Peter, suppressing a grin. He couldn’t wait to see her face at that pronouncement.
She almost tripped over herself getting in the kitchen, where Peter stood bathed in the warm glow of the sunlight and the yellow walls, smiling despite what he said. Her words formed apart from her heart, which was bursting with joy.
“Father Mac threw you out of your own church?” Wait, she shouldn’t be smiling when she said that. But her soul wouldn’t behave.
“Yup, If words were a razor, I’d be bald as Patrick Stewart. But I think he rather enjoyed it. I warned him to consider his heart. He said he’d been working out five days a week and his heart could take more than mine could, thank you very much, so I just let him run on. Might have been worse if he’d kept it in. So all in all, let’s see: today I have 1) Left the priesthood 2) become unemployed, homeless, and possibly poverty stricken, 3) prevented myself, at least for the time being, from taking part in the most important ritual in my life, Holy Communion, and 4) saved my ex-boss’ life by making him very angry.”
She reached for the mug he handed her. “My, my, you’ve already put in a full day and I just woke up.” She sipped the coffee. “Mmm, perfect! OK, I know who’s going to be making coffee here from now on.”
Peter narrowed his eyes. “Are you offering or demanding?”
She dipped her pinky in the coffee and then absentmindedly and slowly sucked it off.
“Oh, God,” said Peter, entranced.
Assumpta winced. “I’m sorry; that was thoughtless of me. I wasn’t thinking. I was reacting.” She whirled around with one hand slapped against her face. “Oh, you make me so crazy!”
He stepped over to her and ran his fingers through her hair. She almost fell over. “I like crazy. I l-o-v-e crazy. I’m the crazy boy.”
She stepped back. “Peter, we’ve got to stop this, or put down some rules or something. I don’t even have a divorce yet. It may be a month. We don’t want to thumb our noses at the beliefs of the entire town and you not officially out of the priesthood.”
“Nothing’s ever stopped you before. What’s your problem now?”
Assumpta’s eyes widened and she just stared at him. ”OK, now I know you’re thinking with your little bishop, because the Peter I know would never do something that made anyone think he did not at least respect their beliefs, even if they were different from his. If we carried on the way we would love to, it would be like giving everyone in this whole town the finger. And why would we do that when we love them and want to stay here? We do want to stay here, don’t we?”
Peter softened. “There’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.”
Assumpta nodded primly. “So, then. No touching except the head, face, shoulders, and waist.”
Peter frowned. “What?”
Assumpta folded her arms.
Peter shook his head and looked down. “OK.”
Assumpta continued. “And no kissing below the neck.”
“Oh, come on, for crying out…”
She pointed a finger in his face. “Hey, deal or no deal? Take it or leave it, buster. You know I’m right this time. I’m standing on the high ground and you’re down there about to take the slippery slide to hell. Well, I’m not going this time, mister. So drag yourself back up here with me and stick it out or I won’t ask Niamh to let you stay in their spare room until you are officially without a collar and I am officially without a husband.”
He sighed so hard and looked at her so longingly, she almost gave in. But she closed her eyes, gulped her coffee, and flipped on the radio, which was playing a wonderful jig. She began dancing around the small kitchen, and soon he was as well.
I’m in heaven, he thought. This is what heaven is like. All this and Jesus, too. God, she is the most incredible gift I’ve ever received. Please help me be the best man for her.
Why now, she thought, when I’ve done everything in my life to blot you out, do you present me with this treasure of a person? Why me? I know it’s nothing I’ve done, that’s for sure.
“Grace,” said Peter, catching her up by the waist and spinning her around three times.
“What?” She was dizzy, but not because of the twirling.
He stopped her mid twirl, stepped one foot out wide, and suddenly leaned her backward, off her feet, her upper back almost parallel with the floor.
“Grace is never earned. It is a holy, sacred gift, a window to the heart of God.”
Assumpta’s brow wrinkled. “Me? A means of grace from God?”
Peter brushed the hair off her face and looked at every perfect part- skin, eyes, hair, ears, nose, lips…
He closed his eyes and moved his mouth only millimeters from hers. “Most assuredly,” he whispered, and then his lips caressed hers with kisses so soft she found herself taking the lead, opening her mouth wider, letting her tongue have its way with his. He bent his legs and brought her to cradle in his arms as he sat cross-legged in the middle of the kitchen floor. She traced her fingers around his ear, then dropped her hand to his chest, his stomach, his waistband –
Peter pulled away. “Don’t be a tease.” He stood up. “This isn’t going to work. We can’t be around each other and not get physical. I need some distance until you can get things ended with Leo and I hear from Rome.”
Assumpta scrambled to her feet. “But we’ve done it for three years, Peter; we can do a month.”
Peter raked his hands through his hair and paced the small kitchen. “Possibly a month. It could be longer if there are a lot of priests in love.”
Assumpta smiledbriefly, but then blinked and searched for words. “But…where would you go? What would you do? How could I take that? How far away is ‘away?’”
“Maybe just to Cilldargen. I could rent a cheap room and tend bar somewhere if I can find that. Or wait tables, or work in a market. Just a job, temporary until I can come back.”
Peter looked at her. She looked doubtful.
“You’re angry with me for teasing you and you’re punishing me,” she said.
Peter stepped over and took her head to his chest. “Why would I punish you for doing everything exactly the way I would have it done? Assumpta, you talk a loose game, but there’s a huge rock of solid values underneath all your supposedly renegade ways. Otherwise, you would never have given me a glance.”
He kissed the top of her head, put his hands on her shoulders, and looked into those doe-like eyes.
“Now, I’ll just run into Cilldargen this moment and see what’s stirring at the good pubs. Who knows? I could make enough in one month to buy a car that actually runs. That is, if I stay in a complete dump of a room.”
“Peter, I can’t bear it.”
“Assumpta, yes, you can. I’ll be twenty minutes away! Get in your truck one morning at nine and you can visit and get back before you open at two!”
“But it won’t be the same as you being here in my bar sitting on your stool and coming in for a nooner to warn me when Father Mac is on the warpath and cooking up projects with Brendan, Padraig, and Siobahn, and having words with Brian and you saying something so churchy one minute and so Peter the next…”
He touched her cheek with the back of his hand. “No, Assumpta, it won’t ever be the way that it was before. But I believe it will be infinitely better.”
He blew her a kiss and left the pub. She walked behind the bar and looked it up and down. No Peter in here for a month or more. She saw the dirt in the floorboards again. She smelled the stale beer. What if he went to Cilldargen and met someone else? He loved her, she knew that, but he was so fragile now, and his parish priest had disowned him. If she told everyone exactly the reasons why he left, they’d either hate them both for the situation they put themselves in, or they’d try to convince Peter that he never should have been a priest in the first place, which would insult him and hurt him even worse.
Later that afternoon, she told the others he’d gone to Cilldargen to look for work and a room because Father Mac had barred him from Communion and he couldn’t take that. That cast a pall on the entire evening. Everyone left an hour early, when it was still light, even before she turned the indoor lights on. The golden streams coming through the window had turned to blue, then gray. Assumpta stood there behind the bar, elbows propped up, her chin in the heels of her hands, and watched the light fade. She took a deep breath, sighed, and walked in the dark up the stairs to her room.
Inside Their Heads VIII – Love in a Five Pound Note
Four days later, in the wee hours of the morning, Peter was sweeping up after closing a Kelsey’s Bar in Cildargen. As the new hire, he got the grunt jobs and minimum wage. But he had a room and he made enough money to eat twice a day. After spending too many evenings in Fitzgerald’s, he’d put on a few pounds and could stand to miss some food.
He’d gotten into somewhat of a routine, backward as it was from what he was used to. He’d arise around eleven and have a pastry on the way to the pub. Then, he’d help do inventory and ordering and whatever stocking needed doing before they opened at two. It was steady until after five, when he’d be mixing and pouring drinks faster than he could think, and he’d suddenly feel his stomach growl and it would already be nine. He’d call Mac from the kitchen to stand in for him while he grabbed a sandwich. Then it was back to bartending until closing time at two. Then to his room to shower and fall on the bed.
After seven straight days of this, he was allowed one half day off. He slept until three in the afternoon, and then wondered why Assumpta hadn’t looked him up. But he couldn’t afford a phone, so she couldn’t have even if she’d tried. At four, he took the bus back to BallyK. When he got to the pub, Niahm was there, but not Assumpta.
“She’s gone to pick up the stout. Won’t be back for another two hours.”
Peter winced. “I’ve got to be back at work at eight. I shouldn’t have slept.”
Niamh eyed him. “It doesn’t look like you have.”
Peter chuckled. “New job. Plus, no Assumpta.”
Niahm smiled. “Fath- ah, Peter, she’s faring no better. She pretends to stay busy, but she’s got her head elsewhere.”
Peter closed his eyes briefly and leaned his head back. “Sometimes it seems everything’s against us.”
Niamh eyed him steadily, then shot her eyebrows up.
She threw her towel down on the bar and said with a blank expression, “So why don’t you two just go for it?”
Peter’s head snapped to attention. “Excuse me?”
“What do you care what others think? You’re not a priest anymore, and Assumpta has certainly never had any sort of affinity for convention.”
“Niamh, what are you suggesting?”
“Shackin’ up, that’s what. You’re both adults; you know about birth control and all that. She doesn’t love Leo and he knows it too. You don’t need some judge and a piece of paper to tell you who you can and can’t love.”
Peter’s face was a mass of shock and confusion. He slapped both his hands on the bar. “I don’t believe what I’m hearing. I mean, it’s one thing to give in to the passion of a moment when your guard is down, but it’s quite another to plan to commit a sin.”
She rolled her eyes and picked up her towel again. “That’s such a cop-out, Peter. If you put yourself in a situation where you can be tempted, then it’s the same thing as planning it beforehand. So why not go ahead with it if you know it will eventually happen anyway?”
He shook his head. “No, I disagree; it is not the same thing. Besides, and you should know this, being married. I’ve heard that it’s better when it’s spontaneous.”
“For some, maybe. But personally I can relax more when I know I’ve done all I can to prevent pregnancy.”
“Precisely why we must stay apart until she gets a divorce. No birth control is always effective.”
“Oh yeah? I had one at 100 for six weeks at my house until I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“If it was so effective, why’d you stop taking it?”
“She went home. It was Ambrose’s mother.”
Peter rode back to Cilldargen on the bus, pouting. He had looked so forward to seeing Assumpta's face and hearing her voice, just being in her presence for an hour. Now he was tired and disappointed and hadn’t even gotten to work yet.
Suddenly, he got out his wallet and borrowed a pen from another passenger. In the time it took to go back, he had written the most mushy, the gushiest love letter ever penned on the back of a five pound note. With a smile, he returned the pen to its owner, got off the bus, bought a stamp and an envelope, and mailed it. That night he made a killing in tips, thanks to The Bartender’s Bible, borrowed from the local library.
The next morning, in the hour he had before work, he bought Assumpta a pair of silver and pearl earrings, very delicate. The rest of the money he put at the bottom of a cereal box.
When Niamh saw the letter from Peter, she breathed a sigh of relief. She watched Assumpta practically run into the kitchen to read it. So Peter finally said something. Why were men so slow to talk and so quick to act? Assumpta had been dragging around for days. It got worse yesterday when Niamh told her he’d been there while she was out and didn’t leave a message. If Leo would just go ahead and send the stuff to sign, already! The tension in the whole village over Peter and Assumpta couldn’t begin to resolve itself until they were truly together. She’d let Assumpta tell her about the letter in her own time. If she pressed her now, Assumpta might retreat into herself as she often did. Assumpta needs me as a friend, thought Niamh, now more than ever. She’s so childlike in a way with our friendship. We’re not much alike, but we learn from each other. Never thought when I was at the National School that I could ever be friends with Assumpta Fitzgerald. Then a customer walked in for a pint to awaken Niamh from her reverie.
Assumpta recognized the handwriting at once, even before she took the letter from Niamh’s hand and tore it open eagerly while walking toward the kitchen.
“Can you watch it for a minute,” she asked Niamh, but didn’t wait for an answer.
First, she scanned it quickly to make sure he wasn’t saying goodbye or dying. No problems there. In fact, the words that stuck out on the first scan were “love” about forty times, “ache,” “heart,” “soul,” “kiss,” “face,” “lips,” and “always yours.” By the fourth read it had yielded favorites like “Your porcelain skin begs to be caressed (At this she had to briefly stop to laugh),” “I still can’t sleep because the only rest I’ll get is when I’m finally, completely with you,” and her absolute favorite, which she was thinking of having cross-stitched on a disgustingly frilly pillow, was “Your eyes are the sea; your hair is the wind. And I am the boat going sailing again.”
This was an old-fashioned, corny, unabashed, blatantly head-over-heels love letter.
Assumpta had never received a love letter before - well, unless she counted the one from Casey O’Hara in the third grade, which was smeared with snot and dirt and asked her to check a box yes or no whether she liked him.
She felt herself blushing and a flame went off somewhere inside her and lit her whole self so that she felt she was incandescent. She read it over and over again, feeling his words as if they were pouring out of his very mouth. Because even though she had never seen him evangelize in the traditional sense, she was certain he was moving her toward an epiphany. It was like nothing she had ever heard from him before, yet it was so Peter-esque.
She got paper and pen out of a drawer and sat down immediately to write him back.
Inside Their Heads IX: Assumpta’s Reply
The letter of the twenty-fourth has me a bit confused. It is written in Peter Clifford’s handwriting, but I’m afraid I am quite suspicious as to its author. The Peter Clifford I know, though sweet and thoughtful, has never ventured to express any emotion nearly so violent as those professed in the aforementioned letter. I’m afraid that I will have to assume for the present that this letter was plagiarized from some tawdry Gothic text until I see Peter Clifford with my own eyes and hear Peter Clifford with my own ears declare that he composed it alone.
If he is using you as a Cyrano, tell him this Roxanne will not stand for it. I will be in Cildargen for business on his next day off and will call on him at the bar.
Peter grinned as he read the reply. Assumpta would never make anything easy, but then, that’s one reason he was so drawn to her: she challenged him on so many levels.
His next half day off was in five days, as he had told her. He wished she wouldn’t meet him at the bar. He’d not be able to keep his mind on his work. Well, hopefully she’d come toward the middle of the day when no one much was there so he could have time to at least talk to her.
Of course, she showed up at ten PM, when it was hopping busy and Peter had three deep at a twenty foot long bar with only one other bartender. He smiled at her, but couldn’t stop, and she found an empty spot on the wall at the back to lean against and watch him work. As Peter mixed drink after drink – not too many just wanted beer since they’d found out he could do wonders with liqueurs, juice, and anything fermented. Besides, the beers they served here were mostly German and American, which he didn’t favor. He’d rather go down the street to the microbrewery and get something very local. She wouldn’t like them either. He felt her eyes on him as he turned around to pour from the vermouth, or the gin, or the tequila. They were like a thin but weighty cloth on his body as he opened the cooler to get out the strawberry mix or the lime juice, or the ice. They tickled his fingers like feathers as he put his hand on the top of the blender as it whirred, and they felt like water flowing down his arms as he poured it into a glass and served it. Instead of slowing him down, her staring focused him. He flew through the orders, filling twice as many in the same amount of time as the other bartender. His tip jar had to be emptied three times.
At midnight, she caught his eye and waved goodbye. Panicked, he asked Mac to cover for him and ran out after her, but her truck was nowhere. She had left. Why had she come at ten when she knew he didn’t get off until two? And this was her busiest time, too; why wasn’t she in her own bar making some money she really would need? He thought she’d probably come early tomorrow morning and stay until one when she had to go back to open. Then they could spend the whole day talking, walking in and out of the quaint shops in the market area, he could give her the earrings, and then he could recite the words to the letter, which he’d spent forty-five minutes memorizing yesterday, to prove to that saucy wench he’d written it himself. Once again, Assumpta had dashed his hopes. Is this what life with her would be like? Always on her terms, never a compromise or agreement?
He tried to let go of his preconceived ideas with her, but he was so charged by her he could not control where his mind went nor how his imagination set up all the possible scenarios for their relationship. This particular one was the tamest of the lot. Time for Plan B. He went back in the bar to finish his shift.
When she heard him opening the door of his apartment, she held her breath. The citrus candle she had brought and placed on a plastic storage box next to his bed cast her shadow in profile on the bare wall. She stood freezing in a thin gown borrowed from Niamh’s trousseau, the final papers from the court in London in her hand. As he stepped in, his jaw fell open. Moving slowly as if he were in water, she saw him remove his jacket, then walk to her, taking so long he could have been on the other side of town.
Then he stopped and said, “Assumpta, I don’t have any protection for you.”
She pointed to several small foil squares on his pillow.
“Thank you,” he whispered, and she began to breathe again.
“I’m officially single,” she said.
He stepped forward and put his hands on her waist, looking her up and down as if he’d never seen her before.
“Not for long,” he said.
“Peter Clifford,” she said, kneeling, “Will you marry me?”
He knelt down in front of her and took her hands. “Yes, Assumpta Fitzgerald, I will marry you and love you and challenge you and spoil you rotten. I will mop the pub floor ‘til it shines like Angel Lake in the sun. I will let you sleep late when you’re pregnant and make you artichoke ice cream if that’s what you want. I’ll change nappies and do midnight colic walks. I’ll help you with the books and our taxes. I’ll cook. I’ll take the kids to music and football practice and the library. And when your hair turns white and I don’t have any, you’ll still be the most precious gift God has ever given me.”
Before he realized what he was doing, he had swept her off her feet and had lain her on the bed. She smiled.
“Are you sure it’s been so long since you’ve done this?”
Peter said, “Oh, Assumpta, you have no earthly idea just how long.”
In the early morning light, she studied him, taking in the sight of him as she’d never allowed herself to do. His face was completely relaxed, mouth open near her breast, as if he were an infant fallen asleep after nursing. His shoulders and his chest were broad and smooth, amazingly muscular for an ex-priest. Of course, he did help her move kegs every day from her truck to the pub,where they would be going back together this morning to start a new life and Rome be hanged. She chuckled softly to herself. He didn’t fit on this small twin cot. He overflowed it and his feet stuck off the ends. This crummy little room and crummy job was no place for a man like this. He had done all of it just to be with her. This man, , who a few hours ago had whispered every line of that ridiculously passionate letter word for word in her ears and she had eaten it, savored it, like expensive dark chocolate, this Peter Clifford, was her soulmate.