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Episode 11: Amongst Friends 

-- [This starts out closely following the original episode
(with some of the same conversations) but with one major
difference -- she's alive! I'm not a script writer,
so this is written in story form.] Kara 9/99 

-- Part 1 

Daylight found Father MacAnally sitting in his study at the
Cilldargan Church, in deep contemplation of the events of
the last few days. Father Peter Clifford and
Assumpta Fitzgerald were at the center of his thoughts. He
had told Father Clifford that Ireland was full of Assumpta
Fitzgeralds, but he knew that was not true.
She was one of a kind. He had not cared for Father Clifford
as a curate but he knew he was a good man and seemed to be
loved by the people. Maybe it would be a
sad thing for Ballykissangel and the Church to lose him,
but it was very evident now, after what he had witnessed
last night, that there was no way he could change
Peter's mind. Peter Clifford clearly loved Assumpta
Fitzgerald, deeply. How ever long, whatever it took, they
would be together. It had touched Father Mac to see
such love on Peter's part. It reminded him of an earlier
time, a time when he... well, that was the past. It did not
suit him to dwell on the past. He shook off the
memory and stood up from his chair. It was time to go to
the hospital to see Assumpta. 

* * * 

Peter was sitting beside Assumpta's bed in the hospital.
Various tubes and cords connected her to an IV, oxygen, and
a heart monitor, which showed her heart still
beating strong, but she had not yet regained consciousness.
Peter's face showed the strain of the sleepless night. He
had not left her side since they had moved her
into this room. And he had not let go of her hand either. 

So many pictures and thoughts had played themselves over
and over again in his mind throughout the long night:
pictures of a white Assumpta lying still on a cold,
stone floor; thoughts of the last words they had spoken to
one another; thoughts of what if... those especially racked
his body with emotional pain and brought the
tears rolling down his face again. What if he had lost her?
What would he have done? When would she ever wake up! Peter
pressed Assumpta's hand against his
lips and whispered: 

"Assumpta. Wake up. Please wake up!" 

He did not hear the door to the room quietly open and it
was a few moments before he became aware that someone was
standing at the foot of the bed. He looked
up. It was Father Mac. "Father Clifford, you look awful."
Peter cringed. "You need to go home and get some rest. I
can sit with Assumpta for a while." 

"No!... I... I want to be here when she wakes up." 
"Have the doctors given any indication...?" 

Peter shook his head. "They say to give her time." 

"Then give her time, Father Clifford. Let me sit with her.
Go back to the Church and see to your responsibilities." 

"What?!" 

"To your flock. They need to hear from you how she is
doing. They need your reassurance. And then there is
Saturday to prepare for." Peter looked puzzled. 

"Kieran's christening." 

Peter cringed again and squeezed his aching, tired, eyes
shut for a moment. The christening. At a time like this...
life just keeps going on; the world doesn't stop
turning just because the woman you love is almost killed.
He had responsibilities. "The christening." 

"You still plan on doing it, then?" 

"I don't know how... I..." 

"Come Father Clifford, I know Niamh is depending on you.
You can't let her down." 

Peter struggled with himself to control his temper and
speak quietly. 

"I will talk to Niamh." 

"Father Clifford. Regardless of what has happened, and
regardless of what we discussed before it happen, you are
still a priest and should continue to act like one.
It is the best thing for you at this time to continue to
take care of your responsibilities. Come, man, I'm thinking
of you." Peter glared at him, but Father Mac
continued. 

"See Assumpta as often as you can, of course, but keep to
your routine. See to your responsibilites. It will be best
for you, best for everyone. Come lad, you aren't
the only one who is suffering, who loves her. Why, do you
know how many people in Ballykissangel have known Assumpta
virtually her whole life? Michael
Ryan, who saved her life last night - delivered her...
Brendan Kearney taught her as a child in school... Ambrose
Egan was at the National School with her...
Padraig O'Kelley..." 

"Allright, allright," Peter conceded. 

"You see, Father Clifford, long before you ever set foot in
Ballykissangel there were those who loved Assumpta
Fitzgerald." He looked down at her for a moment
before continuing. "I know your pain is real - but there is
a lot of it out there. You and only you, I believe, can
alleviate that pain. It will bring you comfort to do so.
You are amongst friends in Ballykissangel, Peter." 

Peter looked up at Father Mac and a moment of rare
understanding passed between them. He sighed and stood. 

"Allright, Father. You sit with her while I go to Ballykay
and talk to everyone -- take care of my responsibilities --
prepare for the christening on Saturday. But
nothing is going to change my mind about the future. After
Saturday, I'm leaving the priesthood. I can't continue to
do it anymore. It wouldn't be right in light of my
feelings now. I almost lost Assumpta. If I had the least
doubt before, that has clarified everything. My future is
with her. " 

Father Mac nodded. "I understand, and I will not try to
persuade you otherwise." 

"Thank you." Still holding Assumpta's hand, he kissed it
then leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "I will be
back soon," he whispered. 

After Peter left, Father Mac sat down in the chair beside
Assumpta's bed and looked at her quiet form for a long
moment.

"Ah, Assumpta, Assumpta. I have never seen you so still in
all your life! Where is your fire? Is it still within you?
For your sake... for his sake... I pray it is." 

* * * 

With Kieran in his baby carrier in the car, Niamh dropped
by Fitzgerald's briefly in the morning to check to see that
everything was secure before heading to the
hospital. In addition to her concern for Assumpta, she was
fully aware that Peter had not come home last night.
Neither had he called. She sincerely hoped that no
news was good news, but she had to know for herself. She
let herself in and looked around the dark, still room. A
quiet voice from behind startled her. "Hello
Niamh." She whirled around to see Leo McGarvey standing on
the stairs. 

"Oh, Leo! You scared me to death. What are you doing here?
I... I would have expected you to be in Cilldargan at the
hospital." 

He came down the stairs and walked to her. "I wanted to
talk to you first." 

"Oh? Did Ambrose tell you everything that happened last
night?" 

"The main points I believe, yes. You are Assumpta's best
friend, Niamh. What I want to ask you is... was the Priest
with her last night when it happened? Is he at
the hospital with her now?" 

"Yes. I believe so." 

"I'm going to ask you a question, Niamh. You don't have to
answer it - just don't lie to me, ok? Is there something
going on between Assumpta and the Priest?" 

"Is that what you think?" 

Frustrated, Leo shouted back at her: "Don't answer a
question with a question! Is there something going on?!" 

Niamh was startled and offended. "Don't speak to me like
that Leo," she warned. 

"I have to know." 

Niamh shook her head. "I don't know, Leo..." He looked as
though he was about to accuse her of lying and she cut him
off before he could say anything. "Look,
she didn't confide in me about that. Never. But I don't
think so. I don't think anything is going on between them.
And I believe I am as observant of them as
anyone." She didn't add that it was only yesterday that she
had observed something different about them. Last night she
had observed that Assumpta looked the
happiest she had seen her in weeks -- maybe years. And
Peter hadn't been able to keep a smile from his face
either. Something had happened yesterday, but she
was certain it wasn't what Leo was implying. 

"Okay, Niamh. Thanks." Leo walked out of the bar. Niamh
hated deceiving him. She liked Leo -- a lot -- and she
hated seeing him hurt. She ached for him and bit
her lower lip in thought. She watched out the door as he
climbed into his car parked just up the street. 

"Stupid of me not to have noticed his car before, " she
thought.

Leo started the engine, made a u-turn, and began to drive
down the street before Niamh suddenly remembered Peter.
What would happen when Leo encountered
Peter at the hospital? Niamh quickly climbed into her own
car. 

"Sit tight, Kieran. Mummy's on a mission!" 

* * * 

As Peter had ridden to the hospital in the ambulance, he
didn't have a way back to Ballykissangel, and it wasn't
time for the bus run. Outside the hospital he asked a
few people and managed to find someone who was heading that
way. He would have to walk a couple of miles but that might
do him good -- clear his head -- give
him time to think about what he would say to Brendan and
Niamh and all of the others -- his friends. After what they
saw and heard last night, they not only needed
to know how Assumpta was, they needed an explanation. 

Peter's ride let him off and, with his hands in his
pockets, he started to walk. As he walked he thought of all
the things he wanted to say to Assumpta when she
woke up... about how he knew now that she was his
destiny... 

His progress presently brought him to the site of the
roadside Madonna where Peter had once encountered Assumpta,
but he was so deep in thought that he didn't
notice. He did, however, notice a car approaching fast from
the direction of Ballykay. It abruptly swerved in his
direction and came to a stop just a few feet in front
of him. Peter was appalled to see Leo climb out.

"Great!" he thought at the look on Leo's face. "Just what I
need to deal with right now." Peter didn't mince words. "I
don't want your company, Leo." 

"I wouldn't choose yours either," Leo replied as he walked
toward Peter. 

"What do you want?" 

"Simple answer to a simple question. Did you lay a hand on
my wife?" 

Peter was startled. "Huh?!" 

Leo observed Peter's dishelved appearance, the blood-shot
eyes. "You look a wreck, Priest. Has my wife upset you ..
you know, almost dying and all?" He saw the
fire shoot into Peter's eyes. "Go for it, Father!" he
challenged. 

Leo wanted a fight. Peter didn't want to give him one, but
what choice did he have? --He could let Leo fight him but
he could choose to not fight back. He threw his
jacket to the ground. "Let's just get it done, Leo." 

"Fine by me." Leo hit Peter on one side of his face and
then the other, but Peter didn't fight back. "In case
you're wondering, Father, turning the cheek's fine by me
- I can do this all day."

"I haven't got all day," Peter replied tiredly. "Just get
on with it." 

But Leo didn't want a one-sided fight. He wanted Peter
angry. He then spotted the Madonna among the rocks. 

"Is this where you took her to be alone?" 

"What?" Peter followed Leo's line of sight and at last saw
the Madonna. 

"What did you do? Slip behind the Blessed Virgin?" 

This was too much! With a loud "Agggh!" and a quick move,
Peter smashed Leo in the face with one balled-up fist. Leo
fell flat on the ground, knocked out cold.
Peter hadn't noticed that in the last minute Niamh had
pulled her car up behind Leo's and gotten out. She ran over
to the two men. 

"No! That's enough," she cried. "Stop it! Are you trying to
kill each other?" She looked at Peter and observed his
bloodied nose and knuckles. She frowned. "Are
you going to give him his penance now?" 

Peter shook his head. "Don't start." 

Niamh bent down to Leo and patted the side of his face.
"Come on Leo - wake up - it's me Niamh." 

Leo opened his eyes and looked at her. "I know who you are
Niamh." He gingerly touched his bleeding lip and winced.
"Did he do that?" To Peter he added: "You
couldn't have done that - not on your own." 

Peter said simply: "You were out of order, Leo." 

Leo indicated Niamh with a nod. "What's she doing here?" 

Before Niamh could reply, Peter heard a baby cry out.
"Niamh - go back to Kieran." She looked at both men,
decided that their anger was now spent, and did as
she was asked. When she was back in her car, Peter said: "I
didn't bring Assumpta here Leo. I did meet her here once -
by accident - but not what you meant. She
told me that that was the most famous statue in Ireland.
'Cause no matter how long you stared at it - or how much
drink you'd taken - it will not moved one
millimetre."

Leo's head was splitting. "I wouldn't be so sure." 

Peter looked at him with some sympathy. "I think I've got
some aspirin my coat pocket -- from the hospital." 

"Forget it." Leo squared his shoulders. "I have to ask you
a question Father. I'd appreciate it if you gave me an
honest answer." 

"I'll try." 

"Do you love her?" 

Peter hesitated but a moment. There was no point in denying
it to Leo. "Yes." 

"Does she love you?" 

Peter was evasive -- and curious . "Is that what she told
you?" 

"You're doing what Niamh did -- come on!" 

Peter's reply was low: "I believe she does." He added: "Leo
- we never..." 

But Leo interupted: "And when she married me?" Peter
clearly saw the man's pain: he loved his wife. Peter didn't
want to hurt him further. "It's the best I can do.
She never said." 

The two men stood silent for a few moments, then Leo
collected himself and asked: "How is she?" 

"Still unconsious, as far as I know." 

"Is she going to be allright?" 

"I don't know, Leo." A long sigh escaped him and he turned
to pick up his jacket. "You'd better get along to the
hospital." It was clear that he himself would not be
going back today.

Without a further word Leo walked back to his car and got
in. When he pulled away, Niamh pulled her car up by Peter.
"Want a ride, Father?" 

"Yes. Please." He climbed in beside her and turned back
briefly to greet Kieran, then stared straight ahead. Niamh
thought he looked so tired, so dejected. If only
Assumpta hadn't married Leo... 

"How is Assumpta?" 

"Still unconscious when I left her." When he'd left her...
It sounded so final to him. 

"Father, did you get any sleep last night?" 

"...No." 

"You look it." 

"So I've been told." 

Niamh pulled a tissue from her purse and handed it to him. 

"What's this for?"

"Your nose, for Heaven's sake. You look bloody awful." 

"Oh! Sorry." Peter attempted to wipe away the blood but it
was already drying into place. He closed his eyes and
leaned his head against the headrest. 

"I'm taking you to my place and putting you to bed. You
need a good rest." 

Peter opened his eyes again and shook his head. "No. Take
me to the Church. There's work to be done." "What, exactly?
What's so bloody important that you can't
rest for a bit. You'll do Assumpta no good if you collapse
from exhaustion." 

Peter said to himself, "I can do Assumpta no good, anyway." 

"What? Peter, don't give up. If you believe Assumpta loves
you, don't give up. Just because Leo is back in town
doesn't mean that Assumpta will choose him now
over you." 

"He's her husband, Niamh! ...And I'm a priest." 

"For now, yes. But it can all change. Can and will." 

Peter laughed. "You do me good, Niamh." 

"Good. And now I'm going to see to it you have a rest."

"Very well. I'll have a rest."

A sound from the back seat brought another subject to
Niamh's mind. "Father, are we still on for Saturday? Do you
think we should postpone... until after..." 

"Hmm? No. We'll go through with Kieran's christening -- of
course. He shouldn't have to wait any longer. Unless... is
Assumpta to be a godparent?" 

"Well, I hadn't actually asked her yet. She is hardly fond
of anything to do with the Church, ...present company
excepted, of course. I was waiting till the last
minute so she couldn't back out. What shall I do?" 

"Wait, Niamh. See how Assumpta is in a day or two, but have
someone else in mind, just in case. Siobhan, perhaps?" 

"I suppose. She'll soon know all about mothering, herself."
They had by now reached Ballykay and it was hard for them
both to look at Fitzgerald's as they passed
it, so neither did. Niamh drove by and pulled the car up to
her house. Peter helped her into the house by carrying
Kieran's bag. Niamh put the boy down in his
jumper seat then showed Peter to the bedroom and the bath
next to it. 

"Here, Father. You can wash up in here, then you lay down
on the bed and have your rest. Kieran and I will be real
quiet. You won't hear a sound." Niamh handed
him a wash cloth and a towel. 

As Peter turned on the tap, he assured her: "Don't worry
about making noise. I'm sure I'll sleep regardless." But he
really doubted it. 

After she left him, Peter looked at himself in the mirror
over the wash basin. One side of his upper lip was red and
swollen and the same side of his nose was
bloodied. The blood was dried in place. He let warm running
water fill his cupped hands then he buried his face in the
water. It felt good, soothing. He gingerly
washed his tender nose. When he was finished, he gave
himself a long look. 

"You do look awful... You are a fool Peter Clifford. Jennie
was right. She said there would be a next time, and she was
right. What would she say now if she could
see the mess I've gotten myself into? Would she laugh at
me, mock me, or would she shake her head in sympathy? Oh,
how could she have known me so much
better than I know myself? What could I have done
differently? -- Nothing. This was my destiny. This is what
time, and God, have brought me to." 

Only yesterday these same thoughts had filled his mind
before he finally had the courage to admit the truth to
himself and to Assumpta. And it had felt so damned
good to admit it! To say to her -- I love you! "I love
you..." he whispered in thought.

Peter dried his face and hands and walked into the bedroom.
He slipped off his shoes, laid down on Niamh's bed and
pulled up a coverlet that lay folded at his feet.
He pulled it right up to his chin, and he closed his eyes. 

But Peter's mind would not let him rest at first. It was
full of insecure thoughts of the future. What if Assumpta
did not recover right away? What if Leo chose to
take her back to Dublin with him? He had every right, and
he could care for her well there. Peter had no right to
stop him. There was absolutely no justification --
no justification except his love.

What would he do without Assumpta if she left
Ballykissangel? What if he were to never see her again?
Could he go on being a priest, as if none of this had
happened? No. He had told Father Mac he was going to quit
the priesthood and he would. He could not continue in
priestly duties under these circumstances. No,
he would go through with what he had planned. And if worse
came to worse and he had to leave Ballykissangel without
Assumpta... Peter groaned. His face
contorted into a grimace and he pressed his fists against
his forehead. Destiny... why does it have such a cruel
sense of humor? 

After a moment Peter relaxed and his thoughts turned to
sweeter memories. He thought of the first time he saw
Assumpta when she picked him up in the rain on
the road to Ballykay. He remembered how her tone of voice
-- her whole attitude -- had changed when she learned he
was a priest. He smiled to himself at the
memory. 

And he thought to himself: "When I came to Ballykissangel,
I thought I was leaving trouble behind. Instead I was
jumping out of the frying pan right into the fire.
But when I realized it, I didn't care. I thought I could
handle it this time. Assumpta wasn't a sweet, trusting girl
like Jennie. She was a tough, independent woman. I
thought her dislike of the Church and the clergy was some
sort of protection for me. But I was wrong -- it drew me in
instead. And Assumpta wasn't as tough as I
thought. I didn't count on her frankness -- on her feeling
the same as I did. I tempted the fire to burn me." He
thought of Brendan and Padraig's play Ryan's
Mother. He had been so nervous -- afraid to allow himself
that one small freedom in rehersal. But at the same time he
had wanted so much... just to know what
Assumpta's soft lips tasted like... to drink in her
delicious scent. He still didn't know what she tasted like!
-- maybe now he never would. If only Father Mac and the
Bishop hadn't shown up... Yes, he tempted the fire. 

"Well, I got burned real good... Oh, Assumpta!" 

Peter quietly sobbed against the pillow until his nervous
energy was spent and finally he fell aleep. 

* * * * * 


Amongst Friends: Part 2 -- 
  

Assumpta gradually regained consciousness just before
noon.  She opened 
her eyes and frowned.  Blinking rapidly she looked around
her as images 
slowly came into focus.  Someone was sitting beside her,
holding her hand 
in their own warm ones.   Gentle eyes accented by long,
thick lashes 
(those bedroom eyes), dark arching brows, and a head framed
in dark curls 
that needed a trim, gradually came into clear focus. 
  

"Leo."  Her voice was soft and rough. 
  

"Hello love."  Assumpta's eyes focused more clearly and she
noted a cut 
lip and a bruised cheek. 
  

"What...  ...did you do to your face?" she asked. 
  

"Oh, this is nothing.  I banged into something.  The
important question 
is, how do you feel?" 
  

She thought about it.  "I feel... odd -- spacey.  My head
hurts, and my 
chest hurts when I breath."  She raised her left hand and
saw it was well 
bandaged.  "What happened to me?  Where I am?" 
  

"In hospital, in Cilldargan." 
  

"What..." 
  

"You don't remember?" 
  

She gently shook her head.  "No." 
  

"You had a bad electrical shock.  The fuse box in the
celler, at the bar. 
 Do you remember anything?" 
  

"The fuse box?  The lights kept going out.  I fixed it
once.  Padraig's 
going to rewire for me... but I don't have the money..." 
  

"Do you remember last night at all?" 
  

She frowned again.  "There was -- a food fair.  Chinese
food fair.  The 
lights went out..."  Her voice trailed off. 
  

Leo gave her good hand a squeeze.  "Ok, I'll go get the
doctor.  Let him 
know you're awake." 
  

When he left the room Assumpta felt anxious, unsure.  Leo
said it was 
just last night.  Last night she had felt so happy... Where
was Peter? 
Why wasn't he here?  "He's a priest, for God's sake!  He
should be by my 
side for lots of reasons.  Why isn't he?  Why is Leo here
instead?" 
  

The doctor walked in with a big smile on his face, followed
by Leo. 
"Well, Mrs. McGarvey.  Awake at last.  And how are we
feeling today?" 
  

"With my fingers."  The doctor chuckled.  Her wit was
certainly not 
damaged.  "Why does my chest hurt when I breath?" 
  

"That's because Doctor Ryan had to push pretty hard to get
your heart 
restarted.  It will be fine in a few days." 
  

Assumpta was stunned.  "My heart stopped?" 
  

"From the electrical shock.  Doctor Ryan saved your life. 
You are very 
lucky he was in the right place at the right time, or you
wouldn't be 
here now, young lady.  Foolish thing -- messing with fuse
boxes. Tsk, 
tsk." 
  

Peter leaped into Assumpta's thoughts again.  "Oh, God,
Peter!  What have 
I done to you?  Where are you?" 
  

* * * * * 
  

Brendan, Padraig, and Siobhan were sitting on one of the
benches outside 
of a closed Fitzgerald's. 
  

Padraig shook his head once again.  "But I feel just
awful.  Its all my 
fault." 
  

"Oh, come on, Padraig," Brendan reassured.  "You didn't
know what would 
happen any more than Siobhan or I did." 
  

"But I knew what could happen.  I should have gotten that
rewiring done 
for her -- money or no money."  A thought suddenly occurred
to him and he 
sat upright.  "And I still can.  I'll do it before she
comes home from 
hospital -- with help.  You could both help me." 
  

Brendan and Siobhan looked doubtfully at one another. 
"Padraig, we don't 
know anything about wiring.  We could get us all killed. 
And that makes 
two for Siobhan," Brendan added, nodding toward her
stomach. 
  

"You don't have to.  You can help me tear out the old
stuff, drill a few 
holes, that sort of thing.  I'll do the actual rewiring." 
  

"Do you think Assumpta would like that?" Siobhan asked. 
  

"Sure.  She can have no doubt of the need -- now.  And as
for the cost, 
how about you two helping with that, too?  We'll all make
it a present 
for Assumpta -- a homecoming present from hospital.  We'll
get Brian to 
pitch in, too." 
  

"You'll get me to pitch in for what?" Brian asked
suspiciously as he came 
walking down the sidewalk. "What plans are you three
hatching?  Trying to 
get the bar opened?" 
  

"Yes.  No!  I mean, we want to get Assumpta's rewiring done
for her 
before she comes home from hospital.  I'll do the labour
but the supplies 
-- they cost money I don't have.  We could all pitch in
together on that 
-- share the cost." 
  

Brian's shrewd mind thought that one over, trying to see
how it would be 
to his advantage to help out their sceme.  He pursed his
lips and nodded. 
 "Real generous of you, Padraig.  I suppose I could do
that.  I suppose I 
could get this bar opened up, too."  Brendan's face
brightened and he sat 
up more straight.  This suggestion was definately to his
likely.  "All 
that work, you'll get thirsty," Brian continued.  "And I'm
feeling real 
thirsty myself just looking at the three of ya sitting out
here all 
forlorn.  I think I'll go talk to Niamh."  With his hands
in his pockets, 
Brian turned and walked toward Niamh's house, the one with
the Garda sign 
out front. 
  

Padraig and Brendan smiled at one another, then Padraig
gestured with a 
wag of his head. "Fancy a drive with me into Cilldargan? 
Go get wire." 
  

Brendan shook his head no.  "Got to get back to school.  So
much for my 
lunch break." 
  

"I'll go with you, Padraig," Siobhan told him.  Brendan
frowned.  He 
hated missing out on anything that seemed the least bit
more fun that 
handling a room-full of students.  He bid them goodbye and
headed uphill 
toward the school while Padraig and Siobhan headed for his
petrol 
station. 

* * * * * 
  

Brian called a hello to Niamh as he walked through into her
kitchen.  She 
was fixing Ambrose's lunch. 
  

"Hi Dad.  Want a sandwich?" 
  

"Fine.  Thanks.  Niamh, Padraig wants you to open up
Fitzgerald's for 
him." 
  

Niamh was incensed.  "What ever for?!  Can't he and his
cronies stand one 
day of not sitting their arses at Assumpta's bar?" 
  

"No!  It's not that.  He wants to rewire the place -- as a
homecoming 
present for Assumpta." 
  

"Oh...  That's nice.  Who's going to pay for it?  He told
Assumpta it 
would be fairly expensive.  That's why she hadn't gotten it
done yet." 
  

"He says he'll do the work free gratis and all her friends
can pitch in 
to cover the cost." 
  

"Well!  I am surprised.  I didn't know Padraig had such
generosity in 
him.  He must be guilt ridden." 
  

"Now, Niamh," Ambrose said with a smile as he came walking
into the 
kitchen, "Padraig has a lot of generosity in his good Irish
soul." 
  

"And do you know what we're talking about?" she asked, and
gave him one 
of her arched brow looks. 
  

"It so happens I do.  I just came from talking with him and
Siobhan down 
at his station.  He asked me to tell you, Brian, that they
are driving 
into Cilldargan for supplies even as we speak."  Ambrose
headed for the 
bathroom to wash up for lunch. 
  

"Well," said Brian turning back to Niamh.  "There you go. 
Guilty or not, 
he's doing the right thing and that's what counts.  Now the
rest of us 
will do the right thing, too." 
  

"Amazing." 
  

"What?" 
  

Just then Ambrose came wandering back into the kitchen with
his mouth 
open and a look of puzzled wonder on his face.  "Niamh,
what is Father 
Clifford doing sleeping in our bed?" 
  

"What?!" Brian reacted a bit too loudly. 
  

"Shhh!"  Niamh scolded.  "He is not in our bed, he's on
it.  And he's 
having a good rest.  He didn't get any sleep last night at
the hospital 
and he had a none-too-pleasant run-in with Leo McGarvey
this morning. 
Thanks to you, Ambrose." 
  

"Me?" 
  

"You're the one who called Leo." 
  

"And you're the one who agreed that I should!" 

Niamh didn't appreciate the reminder.  "Oh!  Here are your
lunches.  Eat! 
 And watch Kieran.  Feed him his lunch and keep him
quiet.  Don't bother 
Peter, either.  I'm going into Cilldargan to see
Assumpta."  And with 
that she wiped her hands on a towel, picked up her purse,
and walked out 
of the kitchen. 
  

"Hold up!"  Brian called after her. 
  

"What?!" 
  

"The keys to Fitzgerald's -- for Padraig."  Niamh fished
into her purse 
and handed a ring of keys to her father.  Brian held his
breath until she 
was truely out the door, into the car, and heading down the
street.  Then 
he smiled a little smile.  Ambrose knew that smile and he
was instantly 
suspicious of his father-in-law. 
  

"What are you up to, Brian?" 
  

"Up to?  Nothing -- nothing.  I've just gotten the keys so
Padraig can 
get started as soon as he gets back from Cilldargan. 
That's all.  Well, 
I've got things to do.  See you, Ambrose."  With hands
again in pockets, 
Brian sauntered out of the house and Ambrose shook his head
after him. 
He knew without a doubt, Brian Quigley was up to
something.  He just 
hoped it wouldn't be at Assumpta's expense. 
  

Brian walked casually across and down the street to
Fitzgerald's and let 
himself in.  The place was eerily quiet.  He went around
behind the bar 
and surveyed the room up and down, especially the tables. 
There were 
sit-down eating places for several people, but with a
little manouvering 
he could add even more.  Yes, this could work just fine. 
Brian nodded to 
himself and again smiled that satisfied little smile. 
  

* * * * * 
  

Half an hour later, Leo McGarvey was still sitting by
Assumpta's hospital 
bed, quietly talking with her about nothing in
particular.  He had been 
trying hard all morning to avoid talking about the one
subject that was 
foremost on his mind.  Assumpta had asked him earlier how
he happened to 
be here.  "Ambrose called me and told me about the
accident," he had 
replied. They had discussed the details of what he knew to
have happened 
last night.  She was very lucky to be alive and not have
any evidence of 
lasting effects from the experience.  The doctor had come
by again at one 
point to check on her and be sure that the pain killers
were still 
working. 
"When can I go home?" she had asked. 
  

"Let's see how you feel in the morning," the doctor had
replied. 
  

After the doctor had left, Assumpta asked Leo what he had
been doing 
since she had last seen him, just a few weeks before, and
whether he 
could get in trouble for dropping everything to come down
to the country. 
 He told her he had the day free -- no problem. Then he had
proceeded to 
tell her what details there were to tell about the news
stories he was 
currently pursuing.  Later, he asked her how long the
wiring at the pub 
had been acting up and she said just since she had gotten
back from 
Dublin, though she had known for sometime that it needed
replacing. 
  

"Then we will get it replaced for you." 
  

"Leo, you don't have to..." 
  

"Let me help, Assumpta.  I am your husband.  I can help you
out when you 
need it and you can help out when I need it.  That's what
relationship's 
are all about, even if they are a bit distant." 
  

"Leo, about that..." 
  

But Leo cut her off.  "Oh, did I tell you about Joe
McSorty's run in with 
the law a couple of week's ago?" 
  

Before he could continue, he was interrupted by a knock at
the open door. 
 It was Niamh.  "Hello, you two." 
  

Assumpta had never been more pleased to see anyone.  "Oh,
Niamh, come 
in!" 
  

"Assumpta, I'm so glad to see you are awake.  How are you?" 
  

"I'm feeling better by the minute.  Come sit by me."  Leo
stood up to 
give Niamh his chair. 
  

"Leo, I've got such a thirst," Assumpta said.  He started
to reach for 
her cup of water but she wrinkled up her face.  "I would
dearly love to 
have something stronger." 
  

He smiled.  "I don't think I can do much for you there,
Love.  How about 
a Coke?" 
  

"I suppose that will have to do.  Could you get me one?" 
  

He smiled again.  "Sure.  I'll go see what I can find." 
And he left the 
room. 
  

Assumpta grabbed Niamh's hand.  "Niamh!  I'm so glad to
have a moment 
alone with you.  Where's Peter?" 
  

"At my house." 
  

"Your house?" 
  

"Having a good sleep.  He didn't get any last night,
Assumpta.  He sat 
right here all night watching over you." 
  

Tears came to Assumpta's eyes.  "That's sweet.  Poor
love.  I must have 
scared him badly." 
  

"Assumpta, you scared us all badly!  We thought you were
dead.  Maybe you 
were.  But Doctor Ryan revived you, thank God." 
  

"And Peter?" 
  

"He was beside himself!  And he didn't care who saw it --
or else he 
forgot we were even there.  It was pretty clear the man is
in love with 
you, Assumpta!  What happened between you two yesterday?" 
  

"Oh... lots of things.  It started the other night
really.  At your 
house.  I showed up to baby sit and Peter was already
there.  He finally 
started to talk to me, Niamh.  To tell me know he felt.  We
went for a 
walk by the lake after the court hearing and talked more. 
Finally last 
night he told me he loved me and that he wanted me to be a
part of his 
life.  Oh, Niamh!  I've never been so happy -- then I go
and do this! 
Niamh, what am I to do?  Leo's here; I'm still married..." 
  

"Peter's a priest..." 
  

"The least of my worries, I think.  He said he would leave
the priesthood 
for me, Niamh." 
  

Niamh's face was full of wonder.  "Oh, Assumpta..!  Just
don't let him do 
it before Saturday." 
  

"Saturday?" 
  

"Kieran's christening." 
  

"Oh! Of course." 
  

"Speaking of which, Assumpta, I want you to be one of
Kieran's 
godparents." 
  

"What?!  Niamh... I wouldn't know what..." 
  

"Assumpta Fitzgerald.  You are perfectly capable of being
his godparent." 
  

"But Niamh, a godparent has to make promises -- one of
which is that the 
child will be brought up in the Church if anything happens
to you. 
Niamh, I don't go to Church.  I can't raise someone else's
child in the 
Church when I don't believe in it!" 
  

"Oh, I don't care.  And nothing is going to happen to me or
Ambrose.  You 
are my best friend, Assumpta.  I want you to be Kieran's
godmother." 
  

"The fairy godmother!  Niamh, I'm in hospital, in case you
haven't 
noticed." 
  

"Well, you look good to me.  I'm sure you will be out by
Saturday." 
  

They heard someone walking toward the room.  "I'll think
about it," 
Assumpta said, then lowering her voice added, "Niamh, I've
got to see 
Peter.  Please tell him." 
  

"But Leo... they've already had one fight." 
  

"What?!" 
  

But there was no more time to talk.  Leo walked through the
door carrying 
three cans of Coke. 
  

"Here we are.  One for each of us." 
  

Niamh stood.  "Thanks, Leo, but I've got to go.  Errands to
run, Kieran 
to get back to.  Assumpta, I'm so glad to see you looking
so well.  I'll 
convey your greetings to everyone.  Remember what I asked,
Assumpta." 
  

"Remember yourself, Niamh." 
  

After Niamh left and Assumpta explained about the
christening, she 
reached out a hand for Leo's, and said: "Leo, we've got to
talk." 
  

* * * * * 
  

Kathleen Hendley was standing in her shop gossiping with
one of her older 
lady customers, the widow Mary O'Casey.  Mary wasn't her
favorite partner 
for her favorite past-time -- she had too sympathetic a
nature -- but she 
was someone new with whom Kathleen could yet again discuss
last night's 
happenings. 
  

"Well, I think it's disgraceful," Kathleen was saying. 
"Assumpta 
Fitzgerald nearly dead of shock and the Priest making a
spectacle of 
himself over her.  I always thought they were much too
friendly.  She has 
been a bad influence on him -- not surprisingly.  I
wouldn't be surprised 
if something has been going on between those two behind
closed doors! 
And her a married woman!  I'll not step foot in St.
Joseph's again, as 
long as HE is the curate!  I plan to register my complaints
with Father 
MacAnally." 
  

"Now Kathleen.  Even priest's are human.  I think he's a
nice young man, 
for an Englishman, and he's been a good curate -- very kind
and 
considerate to me.  And Assumpta is lovely, really.  If
they do care for 
each other, then I think its fortunate that they discovered
their 
feelings now, before anything really happened -- I'm sure
it hasn't. 
We've had too much scandal in the Church of late -- on far
higher levels 
than a curate.  Better that this not get further out of
hand.  And now, 
under the circumstances, we should be kinder toward
Assumpta." 
  

"Well -- still, I..." 
  

Something caught Kathleen's attention outside the window --
more 
specifically across the street at Fitzgerald's -- and she
did a 
double-take. 
  

"What are those two boys up to now?"  Mary and Kathleen
moved closer to 
the window to have a better look.  Donal was standing in
front of 
Fitzgerald's, peering down the street with a pair of
binoculars.  Liam 
was coming down the sidewalk with a small table and two
chairs stacked 
together and held balanced on his head.  Suddenly Donal
reacted and said 
something to Liam and they both dashed, with tables, into
the bar and 
shut the door.  In less than a minute Niamh Egan drove by
in her car. 
  

"Well, whatever it is," Kathleen decided.  "I don't want to
know about 
it.  I don't care to know anything further about Assumpta
Fitzgerald's 
affairs, or her bar." And with that the two ladies turned
away from the 
window. 
  

* * * * * 
  

When Peter awoke later in the afternoon, he was disoriented
at first, not 
recognizing where he was.  Then he remembered, and he sat
up and looked 
about him.  It was amazing what a woman's touch did for a
room.  Compared 
to his spartan quarters, this was much more homey and
comforting.  And to 
think he had believed he could live his life without a
woman's influence 
-- without love -- in his life.  Assumpta perhaps wasn't as
domestic as 
Niamh, but that mattered little.  He looked at the clock. 
Two-thirty in 
the afternoon!  He was surprised to realize how long he had
slept -- 
nearly five hours.  And he had thought he wouldn't be able
to sleep.  He 
stood and straightened the bed and re-folded the coverlet
at the foot. 
Then he walked out and down the hall to the kitchen where
he found Niamh. 
  

"Well!  You really did sleep, didn't you?" 
  

"I can hardly believe it." 
  

"I'm glad.  You needed it." 
  

"Niamh, have you heard how Assumpta is?" he asked, anxious
once again. 
  

"Yeah, she's awake -- and anxious to see you!" 
  

"She is?!"  He tried but failed to conceal his joy and
relief at the news 
and Niamh was filled with pangs of sympathy for him. 
"That's wonderful 
news.  I'll go right away."  Then he gently touched his
upper lip. 
"Hmm-- What about Leo?" 
  

"He was there when I left, but it doesn't matter, Peter. 
She needs to 
see you!" 
  

Peter smiled.  "Thanks Niamh, for everything." 
  

* * * * * 
  

Part 3 

Peter walked out of Niamh's house (and Garda station) and
immediately his 
eye was caught by something going on down the road at
Fitzgerald's.  Liam 
and Donal were perched on ladders on either side of the
front door to the 
bar, and they were struggling to hang a large banner.  As
Peter 
approached, he could hear them arguing. 

"You've got it twisted!" 

"Well, give me a chance to get a better hold of it!" 

They didn't hear Peter as he walked up behind them. 

"Just what are you two boys up to?!" 

Donal jumped with fright and nearly lost his balance on his
ladder. 

"Father!  You shouldn't come up and scare a man like
that.  I could have 
fallen and broken my neck!" 

"Hold that banner up so I can read the thing.  Liam,
straighten it out 
there." 

They pulled the banner straight and taut, and Peter read: 

FRIENDS OF FITZGERALD'S 
TONIGHT -- COME TO THE REWIRING PARTY -- 5 pm to Closing 
FREE BEER! (limit two per customer) 
AND FREE CANDLELIGHT GOURMET DINNER 
COURTESY OF PEKING DUCKS R US CHINESE RESTAURANT 
!!LET'S HELP ASSUMPTA!! 

Peter felt more than a bit angry.  "Where is he?" 

"Quigley?  In the bar," Liam answered with a nod of his
head. 

Peter walked into the bar and found it crowded with neat
sets of small 
dining tables and chairs set about the place.  The tables
were all 
covered in clean white clothes and decorated with Chinese
fans and 
candles in holders.  Peter walked on through to the back
and found 
Quigley in the kitchen with Shamie, the Irish/Chinese cook
from his 
restaurant. 

"Brian, what is going on?" 

"Peter!  Good to see you.  Padraig is going to rewire the
place for 
Assumpta.  I figured the more help he had, the quicker he
could get the 
job done.  Thought I'd create a little incentive for the
helpers to show 
up." 

"And a little business for yourself?" 

"Now, Father.  Did you read the sign?  The dinner's free --
on me, 
tonight.  The restaurant's off to a slow start.  If this
helps people to 
discover how good Shamie's cooking is, and they come back
to the 
restaurant on their own next time, then that's good for
business." 

"For you.  What about Assumpta?  She doesn't know about
this and I doubt 
she would like it.  Whose paying for the free beer?" 

"Well, I could hardly ask her, now, could I?  It would
spoil Padraig's 
surprise.  Besides, if the rewiring's costing her nothing,
don't you 
think she'd be willing to hand out a few free beers? 
You'll notice I'm 
limiting the number.  Any more and they'll have to pay for
them.  That 
will bring money to Assumpta that she wouldn't get if the
place stayed 
closed." 

"You have all the angles figured, don't you, Brian?" 

"Sure!  Now tell me it's not a good idea?"  But Peter
couldn't. 

"Are you sure Padraig wants the help?" 

"Padraig's fine with the idea.  He'll find a way to put
people to work, 
and if there's too many, they can stay here in the bar and
add to 
Assumpta's profits." 

Peter just shook his head and smiled.  Brian Quigley truely
never missed 
an opportunity, but this time Peter approved.  He couldn't
see the harm 
in it, and if it benefitted Assumpta, then that was what
counted the 
most.  He would make sure he was back tonight to keep an
eye on things. 

* * * * * 
  

Peter went home to wash up, change into some clean clothes,
and pick up 
his car.  During the drive into Cilldargan he was again
alone with his 
thoughts, and once again he had to fight against nagging
doubts. 
Assumpta had asked to see him, he reminded himself.  That
was the most 
important thing -- but Leo was there.  Did he have a right
to come 
between a man and his wife?  A mortal sin, in the eyes of
the Church. 

What would Assumpta have to say?  What more would Leo have
to say?  What 
could he himself say to them both?  He had failed Assumpta
so many times 
by backing down when they could have -- should have --
discussed what was 
happening between them.  Peter remembered once when
Assumpta had needed 
to talk and he, not realizing her need and feeling a little 
uncomfortable, had made his excuses and left her.  Had he
sensed she was 
going to say something he wasn't ready to hear -- or
couldn't handle? 
She had been angry with him afterwards.  Then he remembered
the cold 
night they had sat in his car guarding the Kilnashee Wood
for Brendan. 
Assumpta had a way of constantly disconcerting him. 

"We don't really have a lot to say to each other do we?"
she had honestly 
remarked. 

Trying as always to keep it simple between them, to feign
ignorance of 
her direct meanings, he had replied, "Don't we?" 

"No." An owl was heard in the night. "The owl's quite
chatty though." 
Then she laughed. 

"What?" 

"I was just thinking back to when I was 16.  There was this
Priest in the 
parish who'd sneak up on parked cars and shine a torch
through the 
window." 

"Looking for..?" he asked. 

"What do you think?" 

"Oh yeah."  He felt foolish. 

She gave him a long intense look that made him
uncomfortable.  "What?" 

"Just thinking." 

"What?" he insisted. 

"What would you do if Father Mac shone a light through our
window?" 

"Tell him to mind his own business," he replied with
certain conviction. 

She gave him another look.  "You surprise me." 

"Do I?" 

"Constantly." 

It was the perfect opening.  It was his chance to be as
frank with her as 
she was with him.  They could have talked, expressed their
feelings, come 
to some understanding.  But he didn't know how to begin and
he was 
scared, unsure of himself, so he let the moment pass -- as
usual. 
Frustrated, he saw her shiver and he asked, "Are you cold?"
and took 
ahold of her hand. 

"Yeah - no," she replied in surprise and confusion. 

"You feel cold." 
  

"No," she insisted, but he kept hold of her hand and she
let him.  He 
held her hand in both of his to warm it.  He wanted to
press a warm kiss 
to her cold fingers but he settled for bowing his head and
resting his 
forehead against their joined hands.  He was aware all the
time that she 
continued to stare at him, and for her part, Assumpta was
too stunned to 
think clearly.  She just waited -- and wondered what was
going on inside 
his head. 

So many confused and frustrated feelings were whirling
around inside him. 
 What should he say -- what dare he say?  He was trying to
work up the 
nerve to say something -- to express some of what he was
feeling, what 
was tearing him apart inside -- when Brendan and the others
returned and 
the moment was lost. 

With one last look, they both got out of the car.  When
Brendan teased 
Peter that maybe he hadn't been keeping such a good eye on
the woods, he 
protested too strongly -- another attempt to deny what was
going on 
inside of him.  Assumpta said she was leaving and gathered
up her things. 
 Desparate to salvage the moment, Peter hurried to join her
by her van. 
In his eyes was all the turmoil he was feeling inside.  He
strained to 
begin but the words wouldn't come and he got off to a bad
start. 

"Assumpta ..." 

"Goodnight," she told him, but he moved closer -- so close
that their 
bodies touched and their faces were only inches apart.  She
brushed the 
wind-blown hair from her face and waited, giving him
another chance. 

"I'm a Priest," he started, trying to convey so much
meaning in those few 
words.  But Assumpta wouldn't make it easy for him. 

"That's fine. Be a Priest," and she climbed into her van
and drove away, 
leaving Peter aching with frustration and longing. 

Finally in the last couple of days Peter had faced his
reality -- with 
Assumpta's help.  Last night he had finally expressed his
love.  But 
Assumpta had not -- not in words.  But could he be in doubt
of them?  He 
thought of the day when he made his decision to take Father
Mac's advice 
and go on retreat to reaffirm his vocation.  When he told
Assumpta she 
said, "So, that's it, is it?" 

And he replied, "Yes.  That is... it."  The look that
passed between them 
said all that he could not say: "It is over.  The feelings
that have been 
building between us must end.  We can never be anything to
one another 
but friends."  But when he saw the look on her face and the
struggle she 
was having with her emotions and the tears that threatened
to burst 
forth, it tore at him and he struggled to maintain his own
composure and 
determination.  Surely that had been evidence of her
feelings. 

The retreat had done for him what he had hoped when he
left.  He returned 
renewed and assured that he could control his feelings.  He
was 
determined to put some emotional distance between Assumpta
and himself 
when she returned.  He would throw himself into his parish
work and be a 
less-frequent visitor to Fitzgerald's.  Everything would be
fine; he was 
strong once more. 

But as soon as Niamh told him that Assumpta had run off to
London and 
married Leo McGarvey, all his resolve had crashed around
his feet.  He 
had never actually put it into words, but the thought had
been there: 
that he could remain celibate as long as Assumpta did
like-wise.  How 
selfish could he have been?!  But at the same time he felt
angry and 
betrayed.  How could she do that to him?  Was it possible
that she didn't 
feel the same as he -- that she loved Leo?  He gave
Assumpta such a hard 
time when she tried to explain things to him -- and clearly
put his anger 
and torment on display at the same time!  The sleepless,
dream-filled 
nights returned with a vengeance. 

He tried to stay away from Fitzgerald's (it was too painful
to be there) 
and give Assumpta and Leo their space.  He remembered the
night of the 
Battle of the Bars.  He was having a bad time of it, just
being there. 
Then the words of Aisling's song, and the look that passed
between him 
and Assumpta while she sang it, had shaken him to the
core.  He was 
shaken again when he stood in the dark outside the Garda
Station and 
watched Leo arrive home late, knowing he was heading up to
Assumpta's 
bed.  That had cut Peter where it hurt the most. 

Still, he thought he was doing a pretty good job of hiding
his feelings. 
But he was fooling himself.  Leo stunned him badly when he
made it very 
clear he knew how it stood between Peter and Assumpta. 
That's when he 
decided the dogs in the street must know!  Going on retreat
had resolved 
nothing.  It had only made things many times worse.  Bad
mistakes had 
been made; misunderstanding had existed on both sides.  But
no more. 

Peter remembered what Assumpta had once said:  "When two
people are meant 
to be together, there's no force on earth that will keep
them apart.  If 
it's meant to happen, it will happen."  He was convinced
now that they 
were meant to happen.  God had brought him to
Ballykissangel, had brought 
them together, and no force on earth -- no retreat, no
Father Mac, no 
electrical fuse box -- nothing could keep them apart. 

Peter pulled the car into the hospital carpark full of
determination to 
face Leo.  But still, he approached Assumpta's room with
caution and 
waited just outside to listen for the sound of voices.  He
heard nothing, 
and he looked around the door frame. 

Assumpta appeared to be sleeping.  She looked much as he
had left her 
that morning -- then not at all the same.  Instead of a
straight, still 
form with her arms to her sides, she lay with her head
turned to one side 
and her bandaged hand on the pillow beside her face.  Gone
were the 
oxygen mask, the IV, and the heart monitor.  She looked
beautiful and 
peaceful.  Peter was overcome by love for her.  He moved
quickly across 
the room and took her other hand in his.  Assumpta
immediately opened her 
eyes and turned to look at him with a smile. 

"Peter.. at last."  He sank into the chair beside her
bed.  Assumpta 
freed her hand from his and cradled his face in both her
hands.  She saw 
the bruised lip and nose and smiled with under-standing. 
She leaned 
toward him while gently pulling him closer and said: "Peter
-- I love 
you." 
  

To finally hear the words that he had longed to hear -- had
dreamed of 
hearing -- Peter was overcome with emotion.  He began to
sob tears of 
relief and joy.  Startled by his reaction, Assumpta pulled
him into her 
arms and let him cry against her shoulder as she had
before, in Niamh's 
kitchen.  "Peter, it's okay.  Oh, Peter..." 

As happened before, Peter was engulfed by a very sensual
awareness of 
Assumpta.  As he abandoned his tears and gave into his
feelings, he 
whispered her name and began to nuzzle, then to kiss her
neck.  But this 
time there were no barriers between them.  This time she
did not pull 
away but gave herself up to the enjoyment of his kisses and
the racing 
emotions they invoked throughout her body. 

Peter's mouth found Assumpta's, and their first kiss was
all they had 
both dreamed of:  deep, full of passion, full of months of
suppressed 
emotions, longing, and desire.  As the kiss grew more
urgent, Peter 
gathered Assumpta into his arms and held her so tight that
she cried out 
in pain.  He immediately released her. 

"I.. I'm sorry!  I hurt you!" he groaned, but Assumpta
laughed and 
reassured him. 

"It's okay, Peter, really!  I'm a little sore from the
work-over Michael 
gave me, but I'll be fine in a couple of days.  Then you
can hold me all 
you want.  And I would definately like to be kissed like
that again!  You 
certainly know your way around a kiss -- for a priest!  You
sure you 
didn't learn a thing or two from that girl Jennie?" 

"Never!  I have never felt for anyone what I feel for you,
Assumpta 
Fitzgerald."  He leaned in and briefly kissed her again. 
Then his smile 
changed to a questioning frown.  "Assumpta, where's Leo?"
he asked. 

"Gone -- back to London." 

"What...?" 

"We talked.  I told him we should never have married.  That
I'd married 
him for all the wrong reasons.  I told him I was sorry -- I
hadn't meant 
to hurt him.  I asked him for my freedom, Peter -- and he
told me he 
would let me go."  Leo hadn't protested, hadn't argued. 
He'd given up so 
easily that Assumpta had nearly cried.  She didn't love him
as she loved 
Peter, but she did care about him and always would.  It
hurt -- to hurt 
him.  Assumpta sighed.  "So... what happens next, Father
Clifford?" 

Peter made a face at her then smiled.  "Hmm...  First, we
get you out of 
this hospital and back home again.  Then, after next
Saturday, I will no 
longer be Father Clifford." 

"Saturday?" 

"Kieran's christening." 
  

"Oh."  Assumpta dropped her eyes and Peter grasped the
moment. 

"Did Niamh talk to you about Saturday, Assumpta?" 

"Ah... yes." 

"And?  You can do it, Assumpta.  It means a lot to Niamh,
and you love 
Kieran." 

"Of course I do, but to be his godmother, Peter... the
Church..." 

"Assumpta.  If you're going to marry me..."  He stopped and
looked a bit 
stunned by his own words.  "Assumpta Fitzgerald, will you
marry me?" 

She smiled.  "As soon as I'm free to do so -- yes, Peter
Clifford, I will 
marry you."  Peter returned her smile with a huge one of
his own and 
leaned in again to give her another warm, lingering kiss. 

"I could do this all day!" he declared. 

"Me to!" she agreed and laughed. 

Then Peter gave her a serious look.  "We have to marry in
the Church, 
Assumpta.  No registry office for us." 

She pursed her lips and took a deep breath.  "I'll marry
you in the 
Church, Peter -- on one condition:  Father Mac doesn't do
it." 

Peter shook his head.  "I don't think he would agree to it,
but it 
doesn't matter because I would never ask.  We'll find
someone else to do 
it."  And in a slightly teasing tone he added, "It won't be
so bad, 
Assumpta.  You can get through it." 

She brightened and wrapped her arms around his chest, which
felt warm and 
strong and comfortable.  "I believe I can get through
anything, now," she 
said, "as long as I have you."  And just so there could be
no further 
doubt, she added: "I do love you, Peter Clifford!" 

With a heart so full that he couldn't reply, Peter again
demonstrated 
just how much he loved Assumpta Fitzgerald! 
  

* * * * * 
  

Just before five o'clock, Niamh walked across the street to
open 
Fitzgerald's up for the evening crowd.  She stopped dead in
her tracks 
when she saw the banner.  "What the...?"  She stormed into
the pub and 
straight to her father behind the bar.  "What is going on,
Dad?!" 
  

"It's all part of my plan, Niamh." 

"What plan?!" 

"My plan to get this place rewired for Assumpta as soon as
possible and 
have a bit of fun in the process.  It brings in the helpers
and rewards 
them with a good dinner.  What's the harm in that?  Padraig
approves and 
so does Father Clifford." 

Niamh gave her father one of her critical, distrusting
looks, which 
gradually turned to a smile.  "Okay Dad, but I'm in charge
of the bar." 

"Fine." 

The patrons began arriving almost immediately and Niamh
counted heads as 
they came in.  When the number matched the number of places
they had for 
dinner, she called them the "A" crew and asked the others
to come back at 
7.  The "A" crew was told they would work first and eat
later.  Padraig 
found among them a couple of men who had done some rewiring
and put them 
in charge of teams.  The three teams worked to pull all of
the old 
wiring.  At six they sat down to a candlelight dinner. 
Peter arrived 
shortly after six and made his way through the crowded room
to Niamh at 
the bar (where she was keeping a close eye on the
distribution of free 
drinks). 

"Father Clifford!  How's Assumpta?" 

"She's doing fine, Niamh.  The doctor thinks she'll be able
to come home 
tomorrow." 

Padraig overheard.  "Tomorrow?  What time tomorrow?  You've
got to make 
it afternoon.  There's lots of work to be done here." 

"I'll do my best, Padraig.  How's the work going so far?" 

"Good.  I'm hopeful.  It's nice to see everyone coming
together for a 
good cause.  Community spirit isn't dead in Ireland." 

"I'm glad of that, Padraig.  I never really doubted it." 

The "A" crew was moved out about 6:45 and told to come back
at 9 for a 
wrap party.  The "B" crew sat down to dinner just past 7
and went to work 
about 8.  By the time the "A" crew returned at 9 for the
party, the work 
was definately progressing well, and Peter was delighted. 
In addition, 
when closing time finally came, Fitzgerald's had made a
very good profit 
on the evening.  While Liam and Donal cleared away the
dirty dishes and 
returned the extra tables and chairs to Brian's restaurant,
Peter helped 
Niamh with the washing up in the kitchen. 

"Well, Father, Assumpta should be very pleased.  I think we
made enough 
to give Dad something for all of the food, and still leave
Assumpta more 
than she makes many a night.  What do you think?" 

"I think -- your father had an idea I could actually
support for once.  I 
think Assumpta will be pleased, too.  Thank you, Niamh, for
looking out 
for her best interests." 

"And ah... what about mine?" 

"What?" 

"Did you talk to Assumpta about Saturday?" 

Peter nodded.  "I did.  She'll do it.  You might say she's
taking a 
renewed interest in the Church!" 

"Thank you, Father.  I'll miss you being the curate, when
that time 
comes." 

"Thank you, Niamh.  I'll... miss it to." 

Niamh gave him a long look with concern.  "Are you sure...
you won't come 
to regret your decision?" 

Peter gave Niamh a reassuring smile in return.  "I love
Assumpta, Niamh." 
 Though she knew it to be true, it was a bit odd to hear
him say it, and 
it was a bit odd for Peter too, to be voicing it for the
first time to 
someone other than Assumpta.  He blushed and cleared his
throat.  "It's 
taken me three years to admit it to myself, but I think I
fell in love 
with her from the first day I met her.  Assumpta is
incredible." 

"That she is," Niamh agreed. 

"I couldn't continue being a priest now, not after all
that's happened. 
Our feelings are finally out in the open and its time for
me to move on. 
It will be an adjustment, I know -- a total redirection for
me, but its 
worth it to have Assumpta in my life, Niamh." 

"Oh, Peter."  She was overcome with emotion to have Peter
share his 
feelings with her, and so happy for Assumpta.  She walked
over to him and 
gave him a big hug. 

"I've worried about Assumpta for such a long time.  I
wanted her to have 
someone in her life, someone to love, like I have
Ambrose.  She's so 
independent," Peter nodded his agreement, "but I felt she
was lonely. 
You remember how I tried to get her together with
Enda..."  Peter nodded 
again and Niamh saw that it didn't please him to
remember.  "Well, bad 
choice, I know, but my intentions were good.  I could
hardly have pushed 
your cause, now could I?" 

Peter smiled and gave Niamh back a hug.  "Assumpta has been
very lucky to 
have you as a friend, Niamh.  Thank you for watching out
for her." 

"That's your job now, Peter." 

"And thankful I am that God has seen fit to give me that
chance.  Things 
could have gone far differently last night, and I thank God
for 
preserving her life.  Now I just want to make her happy." 

Niamh gave Peter a reassuring wink.  "Oh, I believe you
will.  I have no 
doubt of that.  I've never seen Assumpta happier.  You
either, for that 
matter." 

"That's because I've never been happier." 

Just then they heard Padraig and the last of his crew
discussing the 
progress of their work as they came up from the celler. 
They were 
calling it a night.  Niamh folded their dish towels and
laid them aside. 
"Well, that's that, then.  Its time I got home to my
husband and baby." 

Padraig came into the kitchen.  "What time do you think
you'll have 
Assumpta home tomorrow, Father?" 

"She's checking out of hospital at eleven and I'll be
there, but I'll 
find a way to delay her homecoming for a little while."  A
smile passed 
between him and Niamh.  "How would two suit you?" 

Padraig shrugged.  "It'll have to do.  So... we'll be
done." 

"And I'll have the bar decorated for her homecoming," Niamh
added. 

"Then two it is." Peter gave them both another smile and
they walked out 
of the pub together. 


Amongst Friends Part 4 - Conclusion

When Peter entered Assumpta's hospital room just before
eleven the next
morning, he found her arguing with a big, bulky nurse who
was standing
with feet planted apart, one hand on her hip, and the other
on the handle
of a wheelchair.  Assumpta was sitting on the side of her
bed.

"I do not need a wheelchair!" Assumpta snapped at the nurse.

"What's going on here?  What's the matter?" Peter asked
before the nurse
could reply.

Assumpta was greatly relieved to see him, but she didn't
stand to greet
him.  "Peter!  You're here -- finally!"  She reached out a
hand to him
and he went over and took it in his.

"I'm sorry.  I had some business to take care of this
morning." He didn't
tell her that he had dropped by the pub to find Padraig and
a small crew
already busy at work.

"What kind of business?"

"Parish business.  I'm still a priest, Assumpta."  She gave
him a 'look'
and turned away to glare at the nurse, who looked to Peter.

"It is hospital policy, Father."

"What is?"

"That Mrs. McGarvey leave this hospital in a wheelchair."

With a look on her face that would make the Devil cower,
Assumpta hissed
at the nurse, "First of all, I have asked you to call me
Miss Fitzgerald,
and second of all, I will walk out of this hospital on my
own two feet! 
Peter?"

Several years of priest's training and practice were not
wasted on Peter.
 His natural gift for compromise and negotiation kicked in.

"Nurse, would I be permitted to push the wheelchair if Miss
Fitzgerald
consented to sit in it?"  Assumpta started to protest but
Peter pressed a
finger to her lips and she was immediately silenced by his
touch, which
also brought a smile to her lips.

"Well, I suppose that would be alright."

"Thank you."  Peter walked around the chair, grabbed the
handles and
wheeled it closer to Assumpta.  "There you go, Miss
Fitzgerald, your
chariot awaits you."

Assumpta started to stand but immediately sat down again. 
"My... one leg
still feels a bit wobbly.  If you'd help me, Peter..."  He
was
immediately by her side and put his arms around her.  With
his help she
made it into the chair and he grabbed hold of the handles
again.  He
started to push her toward the door when the doctor
appeared.

"Ah, Father Clifford."

Peter nodded.  "Doctor.  Is her paper work all complete? 
Can she go
home?"

"Indeed it is and she can.  But you have to mind my advice
now, young
lady," he told Assumpta.  "You promised me that if I let
you go home
today you would stay off of your feet for a couple of
days.  Take it
gradually until your muscles get their full strength
back.  Till then
you'll be a bit unsteady and it would not do for you to
take a fall. 
Father...?"

"I'll see to it, Doctor.  She'll have constant care --
round the clock --
to be sure she does what you tell her."

"I'm concerned she'll be tempted to get behind that bar of
hers."

"Don't worry about it, Doctor.  I promise you she'll be
well looked
after.  She has a lot of friends who care about her."  He
bent his head
to smile down at her and she looked up at him with a smile
of her own,
and he saw that his words had both touched her and
embarrassed her. 
Assumpta had never been one to let people 'do' for her. 

Peter wheeled Assumpta down the hallway after bidding the
doctor thank
you and goodbye.  The nurse accompanied them all the way to
Peter's car
then walked away with the wheelchair once Assumpta was
safely in the
front passenger seat.  When Peter climbed in beside her,
she let out a
long sigh.

"I have never been so glad to be rid of a place.  That
nurse was a
dictator."

"She's just doing her job, Assumpta."

"Well, she can do it on someone else, now.  Oh Peter, I am
glad to see
you."  He leaned over and gave her a warm, lingering kiss.  

"And I you.  You have no idea how much!  Assumpta, do you
mind if we
don't head straight back to Ballykissangel?  I'd like to
have you to
myself for a bit.  There'll no doubt be a crowd at the bar
when you get
home."

"Do you think so?  Then, I would LOVE to have some time to
ourselves,
Peter.  Time away from others, well-meaning or not.  Time
for just you
and me."

"Hungry?"

"A bit."
"Let's get a bite to eat first, then we'll go park by the
lake.  We can
just sit and talk for a while -- or something..."  

"Hmm.  I like the sound of that."


They had lunch in one of the nicer restaurants in
Cilldargan.  When
Assumpta saw where Peter was heading, she protested that it
was too
expensive, but he insisted that it was a special occasion.  

"Today is a special day," he told her.  "You are alive and
well, and this
is the first day of the rest of our lives -- together.  Two
good reasons
to celebrate."  So they had their special lunch in a
special restaurant,
tucked into a quiet cozy corner, holding hands and sipping
wine.  And
after lunch Peter drove them to the shore of the lake. 
Gray clouds were
gathering over the mountain peaks to the west and a breeze
was picking up
and rippling the dark surface of the lake. He drove along a
rough dirt
path that follows the shore until they were around and
behind a bit of a
rise that shielded them from view of the main road and
allowed them some
privacy.  Peter stopped the car and turned to Assumpta.

"Hmm.  I remember the last time we sat in a car alone
together.  I feel
completely different."

"How so?"

"I was nervous, tongue tied, emotionally torn.  I wanted to
say so much
to you, yet didn't dare. You have no idea what a relief it
is to have
that indecision behind me!"

"I believe I do.  Its a relief for me too, you know.  But
Peter..."

"Hmm?"

"Are you sure?"

"Sure about what?  Leaving the priesthood? --Yes.  Sure
about my
feelings? --Yes, I'm sure I love you and want to spend the
rest of my
life with you.  Sure about you? --You tell me."

Assumpta looked at Peter and he looked back for one l-o-n-g
moment.  He
was just beginning to become uncomfortable, to feel a stab
of
uncertainty, when she finally and quietly replied.

"Yes, Peter.  I'm sure I love you and want to spend the
rest of my life
with you, too.  But I admit I'm a little concerned for the
future."

Peter was surprised.  "Why?  How?"

"The other day you asked me what you were going to do for a
job, after
you leave the priesthood.  You asked whether you could help
at the bar. 
I've thought about that, and I don't believe that will
work."

"Assumpta..."

"No, let me say what's on my mind.  After you left the
hospital yesterday
I thought about it a lot.  Helping me run the bar will
never do for you."

"Assumpta..."

"Peter, let me finish!  You have been a priest all of your
adult life. 
And you are a good one.  You relate to people and they to
you.  You
aren't condescending and distant like Father Mac.  You
would be wasted
behind the bar, doling out advice to the regulars. You..."

"Assumpta, I agree with you."

"You... what?"

"That's part of what I wanted to talk to you about, why I
wanted to sit
and talk for awhile.  I've thought about it too."

"And... you agree with me."  Assumpta hadn't expected him
to agree, and
it suddenly worried her to hear it.  But Peter smiled
reassuringly and
took her hands in his.

"I have to be doing something I feel is worthwhile,
Assumpta -- to feel
like I'm contributing to the community -- helping people --
like I did
with that girl from Cilldargan and her baby.  A family was
kept together,
and that was important.  That's the part of being a priest
that I find
worthwhile -- that I would miss.  The rest of it --
officiating, hearing
confessions, dealing with church rules and regulations,
keeping my
superiors happy -- I really won't miss!"  Peter sighed and
shook his
head.  "Actually, part of the officiating I will miss.  I
like marrying
couples and baptizing babies, seeing the joy in people's
faces.  The rest
I definitely will not miss.  But, I want to continue
helping people --
and serving God, Assumpta.  Those are the reasons I became
a priest and
they will always be important to me."

"I know they will, Peter.  You wouldn't be you -- the Peter
I love -- if
you stopped caring and wanting to help."

"But there are other ways to help, and to serve God,
besides being a
priest.  I thought... maybe I could get into social work. 
Catholic
Services maybe.  And I could be a Deacon in the Church. You
wouldn't mind
that, would you, Assumpta?  I mean, for a marriage to
work... for our
marriage to work, we have to accept each other as we are
and accept that
there will always differences.  That's true of any
couple.  Can you
accept that -- accept me under those conditions, Assumpta?"
 
Peter waited for her to reply.  For another long moment she
looked at him
with a look on her face that was part concern and part --
sympathy?  He
fought down the rising panic and willed himself to remain
silent.  At
last she removed her hands from his and placed them on his
face.  She
leaned forward and kissed him, sweetly, tenderly.  "I love
you for who
you are, Peter," she whispered.  "I wouldn't want you any
other way."

She kissed him again, deeply and passionately, and Peter
wrapped his arms
around her and she wrapped hers around his neck.  For
several moments
they enjoyed the pleasure of each other's lips.  Then Peter
broke away to
bestow kisses on Assumpta's face, her eyes, her ears, her
soft curved
neck, on the soft spot behind her ear-lobe, and the hollow
above her
collar bone. Then he kissed as much of her collar bone that
was not
covered by the scooped neck of the knit top she was
wearing.  

Assumpta made soft sounds of pleasure and whispered his
name.  He felt
disconnected -- apart from reality -- in a world made up of
only the
pleasures of Assumpta.  Any will-power he might have had to
control his
rising passions fled from him and left him with only one
desire.  One
hand began to roam her body then quickly moved to tug her
shirt free of
the restraint of the waistband of her jeans.  

The distant rumble of thunder over the mountains reached
Assumpta's ears
and snapped her back to reality.  She was immediately
filled with concern
for what was happening to them here and now.  Peter's was a
small car,
and she had no desire for their first sexual encounter to
take place in
the cramped confines of his car.  It was soon going to come
down raining
and she wanted to be tucked into the cozy comfort of her
own bed -- with
her arms and legs wrapped around Peter's warm body! 
Assumpta broke free
from his embrace and pushed him away.  Peter was startled
back to
reality; a dazed look was on his face.

"Assumpta...!"

"Not here, Peter.  Not this way."

Peter shook the cob webs from his brain and took a deep
calming breath. 
"Of course.  You're right.  I'm still a priest."  Assumpta
looked at him
sharply.  That wasn't what she had considered and she
wasn't happy that
the thought had occurred to him.  As big drops of rain
began to hit the
car windows and rivulets to run down, they washed away the
sweet thoughts
from her mind and left her feeling petulant. 

Peter glanced at his watch: it was ten minutes to two. 
With another deep
breath, he started up the car and drove back along the dirt
path. 
Glancing in both directions along the empty road, he pulled
the car on to
it and headed again in the direction of Ballykay.  

* * * * *

Back at Fitzgerald's, Niamh glanced at the clock on the
wall and saw that
it was nearly two o'clock.  For the past half-hour a small
crowd had
begun to gather in the bar.  Padraig and his crew had been
there all
morning.  The other regulars -- Brendan, Siobhan, Michael,
Liam and Donal
-- were there, along with Ambrose, Eamonn, and Brian, and
even Kathleen
and Father Mac had just arrived.  And many who had been
there to work and
have dinner the night before were back.  Just about anyone
who knew
Assumpta was there.  The place was crowded, drinks were
flowing, and
there was excitement in the air.  Cars had been parked down
the street
across from the church so as to not be too obvious.  

Finishing touches still needed to be done to the electrical
work in the
cellar, but the work was done in the bar and there were
even new light
fixtures.  A banner that read "Welcome Home Assumpta!!"
hung high on the
wall behind the bar.  Everything looked nice and Niamh
hoped Assumpta
would be pleased.  You could never be completely assured of
her reaction
to anything.      
Niamh leaned over the open trap door to the cellar. 
"Padraig!  They'll
be here any minute.  Come on up."  She heard him call back
that they
would be right up.  Donal was by the window where he could
see the road
over the bridge.  Suddenly he called out above the noise of
the crowd. 
"Here they come!  Here they come!"  As Padraig and his crew
scrambled up
out of the cellar, Niamh ushered the crowd to the far end
of the bar away
from the sitting room, where she thought it most likely
that Assumpta and
Peter would enter.  With lots of shushing, the noise
dropped to whispers
as the car pulled up outside of the bar.

Assumpta looked out the car window at the front of her
establishment and
home.  Everything looked quiet and normal.  She vainly
hoped there
wouldn't be a great fuss made.  She suddenly felt tired and
wanted Peter
to hold her in his arms again.  Peter pulled up in front of
the pub, got
out of the car, and came around to her door and opened
it.  He reached in
and took her extended hand.  As Assumpta stood to her feet,
she was
overcome by a sudden dizziness and began to sink back
down.  But Peter
moved quickly, slipped one arm under her knees and the
other behind her
back, and picked her up in his arms.  

Assumpta was annoyed by her weakness.  "Oh Peter.  Put me
down.  I'll be
all right in a minute."

"I will not."  He kicked the car door shut with his foot
and carried her
over to the hotel entrance to Fitzgerald's.  Shifting her
weight, he
struggled to get the key into the lock and Assumpta reached
out to turn
the handle.  Peter shoved the door open with his foot and
ducked as he
carried Assumpta through the doorway.  

Suddenly, from the far end of the bar, a great shout
erupted.  "Welcome
home, Assumpta!"  Startled, Peter and Assumpta looked in
surprise and he
laughed as the crowd surged forward toward them.  "Put me
down!" Assumpta
gruffly whispered.  Peter obeyed, but held her securely in
his arms as
Niamh reached them and planted a kiss on Assumpta's
cheek.  One after
another, her friends came forward and gave her hugs and
kisses and told
her how glad they were to see her and how well she
looked.  Father Mac
did not kiss or hug her but took her hand into his.

"Assumpta, welcome home.  You look much better than the
last time I saw
you.  How are you feeling?"


"Very tired, but glad to be home."

Padraid, who had been holding back, now stepped forward and
kissed her
cheek.  "Welcome home, Assumpta.  I have a little surprise
for you."

He proceeded to excitedly tell her all that had been
accomplished in the
last two days as Peter guided her through the bar to admire
the new light
fixtures and wall switches.  Assumpta was surprised and
pleased, but the
excitement was exhausting her more by the minute.  Finally
Peter guided
to her to the stuffed chairs by the fireplace, and she
gratefully sank
down into one of them.

"Padraig, I can't thank you enough for all of this.  How
can I ever repay
you?"

"You don't need to Assumpta.  I should've done this long
ago.  And you
don't owe me anything.  The cost has all been covered -- by
your
friends."  He emphasized the last with a sweep of his arm
that took in
everyone in the bar, who responded with a chorus of 
"You're welcome" and
by lifting their glasses to her.

"Thank you.  Thank you, everyone."  Padraig saw the tears
that welled up
in her eyes and so did Peter, who stood and raised a hand
to the crowd.

"This has been a wonderful home-coming.  Everyone is
welcome to come back
later, but for now Assumpta has got to get some rest. 
Doctor's orders." 
Peter pulled Assumpta to her feet, and with Niamh on one
side of her and
Peter on the other, they made their way upstairs to her
room.  The noisy
chatter faded as the crowd filed out of the bar, and when
Assumpta
reached her bedroom, a peaceful quiet filled the room.  She
looked at the
flowered comforter on the bed and nearly collapsed as she
sank down on
the side.

"Assumpta, you poor thing," Niamh said in sympathy. "Would
you like some
nice soothing herbal tea?  There's some downstairs that
says its for
helping you sleep." 

"Niamh, I would love some."

"I'll go make some.  Peter?..."  She indicated that she was
leaving
Assumpta in his hands.

"Thanks, Niamh.  I'll get her into bed."

When Niamh left, Peter knelt at Assumpta's feet and slipped
off her
shoes.  Quickly, without allowing himself to think about
what he was
doing, he unfastened her jeans and supported her body as
she raised
herself up and pulled them down over her bottom. Then he
pulled them off
her legs and threw them over the back of a chair.  

"What do you sleep in?"

She nodded toward the bed pillows.  "Night shirt."

Peter reached under the pillows and pulled out a soft,
over-sized, pale
yellow tee-shirt.  When Assumpta started to pull her knit
shirt off over
her head, Peter averted his eyes and mentally cursed
himself for a
coward.  When he looked back, she had the night shirt on
and her knit
shirt and bra lay on the bed beside her.  He added those to
the chair
then pulled back the bed covers. Assumpta slipped her tired
body between
the cool sheets and sighed with relief.   Just then, Niamh
returned with
the tea.

"Here you go, Love.  Nice and warm, but not too hot, I
hope."

Assumpta sat up and Peter arranged the pillows behind her
back.  She took
the cup of tea and sipped it.  It felt so good and soothing
going down.

"Hmm.  Wonderful!  I feeling positively spoiled."

"You deserve to be," Niamh assured her.  "Well, I think I'm
going to go
home now.  Kieran should be about finished with his nap. 
So, I'll leave
you in Peter's capable hands."

"Thank you, Niamh."  Assumpta squeezed her hand.

"See you two later," she said, and left the room.  

Peter took the cup of tea from Assumpta and set it on the
bedside table. 
"Time to get some sleep."  She nestled back down into the
covers and
Peter tucked the comforter snugly around her neck.  He bent
over her and
kissed her lips, but when he started to pull away, Assumpta
grabbed his
hand.

"Peter, stay."

"Assumpta, you need to rest."

"I will, but I don't want you to leave yet.  Stay with me
till I'm
asleep.  Please."  She pulled on his arm and he sat down
beside her.  She
rolled over in bed, pulling his arm around her.  Peter laid
down beside
her on top of the covers, tucked his arms tightly around
her, and rested
his cheek against her soft hair.  Neither of them said
another word.  He
silently listened as her breathing relaxed and become the
soft rhythm of
sleep.   

Peter was not tired. Lying beside Assumpta, feeling the
warmth of her
body through the covers, pressed against his own, he
couldn't have slept
if he wanted to.  Thoughts filled his mind.  When had he
ever felt as he
did now?  When had he ever desired a woman as he did now? 
Never.  His
desire for Assumpta pained him and he had to fight to
resist kissing her
hair, touching her body, waking the desire within her.  

He squeezed his eyes shut then opened them again and looked
around the
room.  Gradually other thoughts intruded -- thoughts of
Leo.  Leo had
lived in this room, had slept in this bed, made love to
Assumpta in this
bed. A stab of pain shot through Peter at the thought.  But
it didn't
matter, he told himself.  Nothing mattered but now and the
future.  The
past was past forever, and Leo was going to free Assumpta
from that sham
of a marriage.  

A question came unbidden into Peter's mind.  So, when? it
asked.  When
what?  When are you going to allow yourself the pleasures
of love at
last?  When are you going to allow yourself to share this
bed with
Assumpta, to enjoy the pleasures of her body, to give
yourself to her
entirely?  When, Peter?

Peter groaned within himself.  Next week he would no longer
be a priest,
but she would still be a married woman.  He knew she didn't
care, but he
did.  In spite of how much he wanted her, he cared.  How
could he go from
being a priest who professed to believe in the sanctity of
the holy bonds
of matrimony to one who openly flaunted those beliefs? 
Gulping back a
sob that came to his throat, Peter carefully slipped his
arm out from
under Assumpta and got off the bed.  He looked down at her
peacefully
sleeping form for a long moment.  Then, reaching up to wipe
away a tear
that had begun to slip down his cheek, he left her.  

* * * * *

When Niamh returned to the bar to open up for the evening
customers, she
first went upstairs to check on Assumpta and found her
bedroom door shut.
 She felt uncertain whether or not to open it.  She
listened first at the
door and heard no sound.  Carefully, softly, she opened the
door and saw
Assumpta still sleeping peacefully.  Peter was gone.  She
quietly shut
the door again and went back downstairs to put a 'Closed'
sign on the pub
door.

* * * * *

Peter was in the sacristy of the church, preparing for the
6 o'clock
mass, when Father MacAnally walked in.

"Father Clifford."  Peter looked up but didn't reply.  "I
didn't expect
you to present the mass this evening so I came over to do
it.  I'm glad
to see that won't be necessary."

"I'm still a priest.  As you requested, I will continue to
act like one,
until Saturday."

"What about Sunday?"

"No.  You'll have to get that one."

"Very well.  And will you be here, Sunday -- to say
goodbye?"

Peter was thoughtful.  "I don't know.  I haven't thought
about it."

"I think you owe it to your flock.  They need to know."

"I would think they all know by now."

"But they need to hear it from you.  Plan on being here
Sunday, Father
Clifford."  He turned and walked out.

* * * * *
  
Assumpta awoke on Saturday morning to the soft light of
dawn filtering
through her bedroom curtains.  She smiled and stretched. 
It felt so good
to be alive.  She was infused with happiness.  She sat up,
swung her legs
out of bed and stood up.  No dizziness or weakness. 
Good.  She walked
into the bath and washed and dressed, then went downstairs
to the
kitchen. 

The pub was quiet and cold.  Assumpta got the Aga going and
it soon took
the chill from the room.  She made herself some coffee and
buttered
toast, and sat down to eat her simple breakfast.  As she
nibbled the
toast and sipped the steaming hot coffee, she thought about
yesterday. 
Yesterday she and Peter had spent the whole afternoon
together, walking
and talking, making plans.  She had not been surprised by
his expressed
wish to not sleep together until after her divorce was
final.  We'll see,
she thought now, and smiled.  Yesterday she had been amused
by the tone
of his voice and the obvious difficulty he was having
convincing himself
that was what he really wanted.  Her heart had warmed to
him.  Thinking
of it now, she was filled with such love for him.  

Assumpta was amazed at the transformation that was
occurring in her.  She
had never felt so happy, so satisfied.  Even in London when
she and Leo
were first married, before they returned to Ballykissangel,
she had not
felt this way; not close.  Nothing seemed to upset her
since leaving the
hospital.  Even Father Mac didn't get to her when he came
into the pub
last night and said that he would be sad to see Father
Clifford go, as
though Peter was one of Father Mac's favorite curates. 
Assumpta chuckled
and was suddenly filled with an overwhelming desire to see
Peter.  She
finished off her breakfast and left the pub.

Early Saturday mornings the streets of Ballykissangel are
usually
deserted.  Assumpta didn't see another soul as she quickly
walked up the
street to Peter's house.  She didn't knock before trying
the door handle
and finding it unlocked.  She quietly slipped into the
house and saw
Peter in the kitchen.  He was standing at the stove with
his back to her.
 Assumpta tipped-toed across the room and slipped her arms
around his
chest to hug him.  Peter didn't even start.  He turned
around in her arms
and wrapped his own around her.  Their kiss was long and
deep. 
Afterwards he rested his chin against her hair and Assumpta
sighed with
satisfaction.

"This day is going to be beautiful," she said.

"Is it?"

 "Yes.  Its going to be the best day."  She looked up into
his eyes.  "I
love you, Peter Clifford."

Peter picked her up and swung a laughing Assumpta around
the room, then
sat down in a chair with her on his lap.  For several long
moments they
kissed until Peter forced himself to break away.  He was
breathing hard
and his heart was pounding in his chest.

"Assumpta Fitzgerald, you are making this so hard for me."

She started to say  "Its hard for me, too", but stopped
when she saw the
pained look of longing on his face.  "I know," she replied
softly.  "I'm
sorry.  I'll go and get ready for the baptism, " even
though it was still
nearly three hours away.  With another quick kiss, she was
gone.

Peter remained sitting in the chair, staring at a shaft of
bright morning
sunlight streaming in through the window.  Feathery specks
of dust
drifted in the light and he stared so long and hard that
his eyes started
to tear up.  

He spoke aloud toward the light, "God, I love her so
much.  Thank you for
bringing us together.  Thank you for preserving her life. 
Thank you so
much for what you have blessed me with in my life.  I know
you don't
begrudge me my choice to leave the priesthood.  Truly
loving someone and
making them happy is also a divine calling.  And I promise
you I will
make her happy."  Overcome with emotion, Peter buried his
head in his
hands and cried.

* * * * * 

The baptism of little Kieran Egan went beautifully.  Far
from seeming
hesitant, Assumpta beamed with pride when she accepted her
responsibilities as godmother to the boy.  Brendan Kearney
accepted the
responsibility of being godfather.  All of the remaining
assembled
congregation pledged before God to support the parents in
their efforts
to raise the boy faithfully in the Church, and Kieran was
baptized in the
name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Amen.

Following the ceremony, Peter stood in his raiment by the
door of the
church as the congregation filed out and made their way
down the street
to Fitzgerald's where the christening party was to be
held.  Father
MacAnally was the last to come out, and he stood by Peter
for a moment as
they watched Assumpta walk away carrying Kieran, with one
of his parents
on each side of her.

"Well, Father Clifford.  This is both a joyful day and a
sad day."

"How's that?" Peter asked, though he knew the answer.

"It is a sad day in that it is your last as an acting
priest, of course."

"I would think you would be glad to see me go.  We have
never seen eye to
eye."

"I am never glad to see a priest abandon his vocation,
Father Clifford. 
And you are no exception.  We may not have always seen eye
to eye, but as
I have told you before, you have been a good priest.  I
hope that you
might consider serving as a Deacon in the church. You would
be an asset
to any parish in that capacity of service."

Peter was surprised, and he smiled a dubious, crooked
smile.  "Why thank
you, Father MacAnally.  I have considered doing just that."

"And how do you think Assumpta will take to the idea?"
Father Mac asked.

"She knows of my feelings and my desires to go on serving
God and the
Church, and she would not have it any other way."

It was Father MacAnally's turn to be surprised.  "Well,
Father Clifford. 
You may be a miracle worker, indeed.  God works in
mysterious ways, his
wonders to perform.  I will never cease to be amazed till I
die."  He
started to walk away but turned back.  "I will get the
Bishop's signature
on your release papers this afternoon then put them in the
mail.  You
should hear back within days.  See you down at
Fitzgerald's."  And with a
wave of his hand he walked down the sidewalk.
 
Peter watched him go and took a deep, cleansing breath of
fresh air.  He
felt no sadness, only joy.  The church stood on a rise, and
from his
vantage point he could see much of Ballykissangel, the
River Angel -- a
silver ribbon under the mid-day sun, and (from behind
Kathleen Hendley's
shop) part of the bridge that crossed over it.  His eyes
followed the
road as it wound its way through the green Irish hills
toward Cilldargan,
now and again disappearing behind those hills.  In the
distance were the
mountains.  

This country, this village, had become home to him, and its
people his
family. He knew that not everyone would accept his decision
at first, but
he believed they would come to accept it, just as over the
past three
years they had to come to accept him as one of their own. 
He would
always be the 'Englishman', but he would be the 'Englishman
of Ballykissangel'.

THE  END