Title: What if... Author: Alice Cook Saturday 10 A.M. Sean's been slaving away in his office for the last week and a half finally, today, he's taking the whole day off. I've got snacks and toys packed for Kieran, a package to drop off at the post for Emma. As soon as Dad makes Saturday call to us we'll be off. 11:30 A.M. "Let's go down by the pond and let mommy read her book a bit." Sean takes Kieran's hand and off they go. Sleep or read. That's a tough one. I've been anxious to get back to the story but that sun is causing me to reconsider. A nap right now might be just the thing. I've been reading tons of books since the move to London. It's an amazing city but I get lonely. And depressed. And elated. One extreme to other. I love Sean dearly. Powerfully. He's the best person in the world. Treats me like a queen, and so tender. But it still hurts to think of Ambrose. And I only do something like a thousand times a day. And I know it's no easier for Sean, missing his wife. Sure the memories aren't so fresh, but here we are. Back in London where they lived, where Emma was born and raised. Good thing I'm pretty much in an up mood today or I'd be blubbering like baby by now. God, I hate doing that in public. Not something I ever was tempted to do til recently. Funny how life changes ya. Makes tough cookies soft, and soft ones tough. At times at least. The park is packed today and it's no wonder. But if I see another bobby I swear I'm going to make an ugly face at him and see if I can scare him off. Five in the last half hour. Don't they have any crime in London? Something else for them to do besides watch innocent folks enjoying the fresh air. The last one really got to me. Same height and build as Ambrose. Even the same gate. Thank God their uniforms vary a bit. But any uniform sends me back to the days of ironing those slacks and brushing lint from the jacket. And sure enough these things seem to hit at the same time that Sean sees or does something that takes him back to his past. London is full of ghosts, I swear. Well, I better get that book out while there's still a bit of time before they get back. They're not going to be gone long. Shoot. The bookmark fell out. "Kaitlin, don't climb on those!" Irish! Sounds like another Irish mum about. But gazing around I don't see her. Oh now I do. She was on the otherside of the crowd passing down the path. Oh my God! If her hair wasn't so short and reddish I'd swear it was Assumpta. But the chin is too pointy. The cheeks are too round. And she's got more meat on her than Assumpta ever had. But not that much..... And she sort of walks like Assumpta.... Now that's the power of imagination! Big time! The woman firmly took her daughter by the hand and sped up and took the path off to the right and was out of sight in a second. Well, I guess I've really let the ghost concept go to town for me. Feeling lonely? Depressed? Just invision you're dearly departed and you'll be cheered up in no time. Maybe I should see a shrink, I must be more depressed than I realized. This is the first I actually tried to talk myself into believing I've seen a dead person. Didn't even do that when mum died. ~~~~~~~~~ "Is something wrong?" Sean asked the gentleman in the jogging suit sitting on the bench. The man flushed a bit when he realized he'd been staring at the stranger's son. "Ah, no, no." "I've got a daughter about a year younger than him. I was just picturing what she'll be like next year." Sean smiled. "She'll keep ya hopping that's for sure! But enjoy it while they're this age. It's much more fun than when they start asking for car keys, or forgetting to tell ya where they're off to." he added with a bit of a chuckle. "Oh, so you have older ones, I take it." "One. Yes, I have a daughter who's 18. She's in Ireland presently. We're still sorting out what she'll do next fall. This is my step son. " The jogger nodded. "Your accent sounded like home to me." and gave a big smile. OK, Sean thought, this guy's not Irish what was that suppose to mean... "I lived in Ireland for a few years. Met my wife there. But we've been here in London now for almost four years. Ireland's very special to me. Where abouts in Ireland is your daughter?" "Daddy! Daddy! I got all these rocks to give mommy! Can we take them to her now?" "Sure, Kieran. This fellow has a daughter just a bit younger than you." "Oh." Kieran said gazing at the stranger sitting on the bench. "Well, we'll be moving on. Enjoy your afternoon!" Sean said as he helped Kieran with his handful of stones. "You too." said the jogger. He watched them leave and had a very odd feeling in his stomach as the little boy zigzaged up the path with his step-dad. For a moment he tried to think why the child seemed familiar, and how odd it was that he resembled the little fellow he had baptized several years ago. He reckoned it homesickness, and cast his gaze around the parkscape for the his wife and daughter. Sure enough they were heading down the path presently. ~~~~~~~~~~ 12:30 "These are lovely! Thank you." Niamh gave her son a hug and smiled at Sean. The sky was gorgeous, the air was full of wonderful scents and she had the best family in the world! Their smiles had dispelled all her ghosts for the time being. And being a live was absolutely grand. "Well, how does some food sound now? Let's go see what we can find." ~~~~~~ 12:50 Niamh studies the menu. Kieran insists that he can only eat ice cream after being at the park, he has no appetite for regular food. Sean glances over to the door that's opening. It's the jogger with his wife and daughter. The wife is poking him for some reason and he's laughing spastically. "Behave! or Kaitlin and I won't sit with you!" "Yeah, I know how long that will last... As soon as you two toss down your helpings of chips you both will be all over my plate!" They take a table catty-cornered to Sean and Niahm. "Mommy just don't order chips!" And the girl started giggling like it was the biggest joke in the world. The mom replied,"Aren't we smart! you figured that ought all by yourself did you?" Niamh's flesh went cold. Her hands were shaking. What was wrong? What was wrong?? She felt ill. She felt faint. Why? What? That voice. That voice. Sean noticed her breathing funny. "Niamh are you OK.?" The other couple heard the question and instinctively looked over at that table. They couldn't believe it. It looked like Niamh! It looked a lot like Niahm. But where was Ambrose. The husband had the most context for what he was witnessing, plus the weird feeling he had when he met the youngster a half an hour earlier. She grabbed her husband's hand and shook her head 'No!' But with her eyes she pleaded him to tell her this wasn't real. The woman was looking at them now. She stood and grabbed the menus she and Sean had been looking at. she walked to their table, studying them carefully with each step she took. The man's hair was much shorter than Peter's had been. He looked older, a bit heavier. His hands were folded in front of his mouth. She looked at the interlaced fingers. For a moment the hair had thrown her, but the fingers, the hair on his hand. The eye brow which shaded his averted eyes. This was making no sense, but it seemed too painfully real not be true. She looked at the girl. Truly beautiful and full of zip and ornrieness. Took her back to the child who helped her dress up cats in doll clothes. The woman. She couldn't look at the woman. She would in a moment. She'd make herself. It must be that Peter's met someone who is just like Assumpta. I'll wish him well. She handed the menus to the adults at the table. "You might want these. The waitress went to the loo as soon she seated us. I think she's having a smoke. Don't mind me. I used to own a pub until quite recently and hate to see bad service." She spoke the words directly to a grease spot on the table cloth. The woman whom she refussed to look at bolted up, threw her arms on Niamh, and sobbed uncontrollably. Peter was crying as stood as well. Niamh pushed the woman away. "Who are you? What do you think you're doing??" She turned to Peter. "It is you. Isn't it? Tell me quickly, before I lose what little sanity I'm hanging onto at the moment." "Yes. Niamh it's us." Sean could not understand what was going on. "Who are you? How do you know Niamh?" He was clearly thinking that anyone who would upset his wife this much was to be reckoned a threat. "I'm Peter Clifford. I used to be Niamh's priest" "Oh, my God!" "Where's Ambrose?" Peter asked "Where's Ambrose?? Who gives you permission to inquire about Ambrose? Where were you when I needed a priest, Peter? Where were you when I needed a friend? Where were you when your friend was buried?" "yes, Niamh." Peter said after a moment. "It wasn't right to leave my friends." He bit his lip thinking of Ambrose. "O Niamh, Oh Niamh!!" Assumpta went pale with the sting of each of Niamh's statements. But her heart broke at thought of sweet Ambrose carrying little Kieran about, and taking all of Niamh's jabs and instructions. But a duller and more profound pain was choking her. Niamh would not look at her. "Niahm" the woman said in a gentle voice. "I'm not dead Niamh. I'm here. I'm alive." She gently reached for her friend's hand. Tentively it was recieved. "I faked my death. Peter relunctantly went along with it. He hated every moment of it. He hated the deception. He had the worse end of it. Seeing everyone for another 2 days almost killed him. See at first Leo said he would accept my seeking a divorce, then he turned nasty. He kept pressing me to admit that I had an interest in Peter. He called me before the food fair. He was very insinuating and obnoxious. I think he'd been drinking. I was sick of his remarks and I was feeling a bit on top of the world because Peter and I knew we were going to be together. So I said 'Yes, Leo. You may as well know now.. Peter's going to leave the priesthood. We love each other.' He said "really? Well I hope he does love you more than the church, more than all his friends in BallyK. Because I took pictures of you and Fr. Clifford. Pictures of you leaving the church at 12:45 one evening. Pictures of you two ought in the woods walking Fion. He had hired a private detective to tail me and took all kinds pictures from perfectly innocent situations, but cropped to look bad. In fact the walk with Fion was the day you dropped you sunglasses earlier and we all went out looking for them. So anyway, he was going to see it get publish as a feature in a yellow rag. And make sure everyone in BallyK got a copy of it. He said our friends should be informed of the tawdry business that was going on right under their noses." Assumpta began to sob. "I am so sorry. It was a rash decision. I wanted Peter, but I didn't want him to have pay that kind of expense in order to be with me. When I explained the situation to Michael he was willing to help us." Assumpta sobbed some more. Her daughter grabbed her leg to comfort her. "I don't expect you to forgive me. But I would ask you not tell anyone at home. Michael doesn't need to be punished for this, and he's the one who still has the most at risk." Peter put an arm around Niamh. "There hasn't been a day go past that we haven't thought about you. Whether it was a good choice, what we did, I don't know. On one hand I could never repeat it. On the other hand, I could never live without my wife and daughter. The black mail from Leo would do so much harm. Not just to my pride, cause I'd get over it. But to the church. Whether or not people believed it didn't matter. Because it would feed the cynicism and attack people's faith. I didn't want that, Niamh. I want to leave the parish at least no worse for me having bee there. I didn't want the spiritual health of congregation put in jeopardy. At this point Leo would have gone ahead with his attack whether or I left. That much I was sure of. Yes this was rash, but I was willing to do it." "Peter. I think I understand. Yes I do understand. You could never let anyone hurt BallyK if you could help it. I just never would have guessed in a million years....." and her gaze fell back on Assumpta as she reached for her friend. "Come here, you." Then after muttering "Thank God!" several times, she pushed her Assumpta back and gave her long look. "What?" Assumpta asked. "I like the red. It works." "Yeah? You think it should be darker?"