Second Chance by Debbe Burke He couldn't say goodbye - it was too painful. In the last few weeks he had lost the two women most important to him, and he couldn't bear to lose his friends. Saying goodbye would be so final. If he didn't say goodbye, he felt he would still be with them and they with him no matter where he was. So Peter left Ballyk, vowing some day to return. He roamed for over a year, trying to make sense of things. He had told Father Mac that he was taking some time off, and he would contact him or his bishop in Manchester when he knew better what he intended to do. He had kept his word. Somewhere before he had left Ireland, he had made his decision. He still had a faith, but the vocation was gone. Always on the go, Peter stayed in one place only long enough to earn money to keep himself fed and a roof over his head. But something was drawing Peter back to Manchester. He didn't know what, only that he was supposed to be there. It was late afternoon when he returned to his old parish. He was hungry and entered the first cafe he came to. He found a table near the window and sat down. As he was reading the menu, a server approached him. He glanced up and immediately recognized Jerry, an old friend. Peter rose. "Jerry, how are you?" he said, offering his hand. "My goodness, Peter, how long has it been?" "I've been gone for four years, although it seems like much longer. Are you working here, or did you finally buy the place?" " I bought this place a little over two years ago. There's even an apartment for me upstairs. So tell me, what's brought you back here?" " It's a long story. Do you have the time to spare?" Jerry joined Peter and over tea and sandwiches, Peter poured out his soul. He hadn't really talked to anyone since he left Ballyk and he had a lot on his mind. They sat there for hours, talking and catching up on the last few years. "I feel something is pulling me here·that there is something or someone here that I need to be here for. I know it sounds crazy, but I don't know how else to explain it." "Peter, do you have a place to stay? You can always stay with me until you get on your feet. I do have an extra room upstairs." "Thanks Jerry, I'd appreciate that." "Do you have any idea what you'd like to do while you're here? The Community Center is always in need of good people. The director is a friend of mine. I can call him in the morning if you'd like." "Jerry, you really are a friend. I don't know how to thank you." "No thanks are needed. Anything else you need or I can do, just let me know. Come on let me show you where you can rest your weary bones." Peter slept well for the first time in months. When he woke, Jerry had gone down to the cafe. There was a note on the kitchen table - Tom Harris, 2pm, Community Centre. Jerry had made the promised phone call. Peter poured himself a cup of coffee, sat at the table and stared at the note. Is this what he wanted to do? Was this what seemed to be pulling him here? At least he could go and talk to Jerry's friend. Then he could make up his mind. Just before 2, Peter walked to the Community Centre. As he neared the building, he felt it again. That pull, it was there again. Maybe this was what he was here to do. This would take some thinking. The building was old, built in the early 1900's, but in good repair, at least from the outside. He walked through the heavy double doors. Right inside the door was a large bulletin board. A man in his late thirties was busy hanging notices on the board. He saw Peter and turned to face him. "Can I help you?" "Yes, you can. I'm looking for Tom Harris." "You must be Peter Clifford. I'm Tom. Thanks for coming." Tom held out his hand and Peter took it. "Come, we'll talk in my office. It's right around the corner." Tom's office was a small, cluttered room. Tom cleared off a chair and gestured for Peter to sit down. "Jerry told me some of your story. He told me you could use a job and that you liked working with kids. What he didn't say is why you might want to work here." "I can't explain it, but I feel I'm supposed to be here. Yesterday, I thought it was just here in Manchester, but now I feel it has something to do with this center. I know it sounds strange, but I don't know how else to put it." "At least you feel you need to be here. A lot of people I've interviewed just want a job. You have experience in counseling kids and teens from your previous job?" "You could say that. Didn't Jerry tell you that I used to be a priest?" Tom looked surprised. "I guess he didn't. I quit about a year ago - personal reasons." After talking for a while, Tom looked at Peter. "Peter, the job is yours if you want it. I don't meet people like you everyday. What do you say?" "I'd like that. When would you like me to start?" "There's a staff meeting starting in a few minutes, you can sit in on that if you'd like. If not, tomorrow morning would be great." "I'd like to sit in on the meeting, that way I'll have some idea of what I'm getting myself in for." "Sure, come with me. On the way, I can give you a quick tour." As they neared the staff lounge, Peter felt the pull again. This time it was much stronger than it ever was before. Three men and two women sat around a large table in the lounge. They were arguing over something Peter couldn't quite make out. They were loud and animated. No one seemed to notice Peter and Tom walk in. Tom was visibly annoyed and embarrassed. "They usually aren't like this," Tom said turning to Peter. "They're usually much better behaved," he said, his voice rising as he spoke. With that, the room was suddenly quiet. "Good, now that I finally have your attention, I'd like you to meet our new staff member, Peter Clifford. Peter, this quarrelsome group is my staff. This is George, my right hand man. Next to him are Tony and Kenneth. On the other side of the table are Rebecca and Maggie. You'll find that George and Rebecca very seldom, if ever, agree on anything. It makes my job so much more interesting keeping these two from each other's throats." George was about 50 with what seemed to Peter to be a permanent scowl on his face. He was too busy giving Rebecca nasty looks to even look at Peter. Tony was younger and at least smiled at Peter. Kenneth smiled, stood and offered his hand in greeting. Maggie smiled and nodded. Rebecca sent one last dagger at George and turned to greet Peter. She was in her late twenties with blond hair and blue eyes. When she smiled, she practically melted Peter's heart. "Alright. What was the argument about this time?" "George thinks that bingo will pack them in here on Friday and Saturday nights. We disagree," Maggie said. "Rebecca, are you the other part of we?" Tom asked. "Of course. This place is so empty on the weekend that the 12 apostles would be a full house in here. George, I have a question for you. Who is it we need to get off the streets on the weekend? Is it the adults, with bingo, or the teenagers?" George was silent. Peter cleared his throat, trying to decide if he should speak up. "Peter, do you have something to say?" "I know I just got here, but, when I was in Manchester 4 years ago, it seemed almost every teenage boy was in a band of some kind. The only work they ever got was playing for each other. Why can't we use these groups to play here? We could charge a small admission, take our expenses off the top and give the rest to the band that played that night." "It could work. There would be a lot involved to get this started. How do we pick the bands to play? I mean, I've heard some of them play and some are awful." "We could hold auditions. I'm willing organize that if I can get some help. Peter, it's your idea·would you help?" Rebecca asked. "Sure, why not. We'll talk later." "Great. Peter, I think you'll do fine here. Keep me up to date on your progress. Now, what else do we need to discuss?" The meeting was finally over. The squabbling between George and Rebecca continued throughout most of it. Those two didn't get along at all. Now that Rebecca had agreed to work with Peter on the band program, Peter felt he started off on the wrong foot as far as George was concerned. At least Tom and the rest of the staff liked his idea. "Sorry you had to hear all that fighting. We really do get along. We usually agree to disagree. Tom asked if I would give you the grand tour. We can discuss this project while we walk. You look very familiar to me, have we met before?" "I was here 4 years ago. Maybe you saw me then." "No, I moved here about 6 months ago. Before that I lived in London. Maybe you remind me of someone. I'll remember who·I always do." They toured the centre, talking about the auditions. By the time Rebecca had shown Peter around, they had all the details ironed out. It was so easy to work with her, he thought. "Officially you're on staff tomorrow? I have some ideas for a poster. I'll work on it tonight and show you then. Tom asked that you stop by his office before you leave. It's nice to meet you, Peter." She patted Peter on the arm and turned and left. It's strange, he thought, I feel like I've met her before, too. The next day was spent getting to know his way around. He had paid more attention to Rebecca the day before than to the tour she was giving. The centre was an old building with many small rooms and one large gym/auditorium. This would be where they would hold the auditions and then the dances. She found him later in the day talking to George. "Still planning that big bingo night, George?" "Come on Rebecca, give him a break. It wasn't that bad of an idea." "Right." George left without saying anything to Rebecca. "Rebecca," Peter groaned. "Can't you show him some respect? He does have a few years on you." "Yeah, in a parallel universe. I've been looking for you most of the day. What do you think of my poster?" He took the poster from her. "It's good. I like it. But the question is, will it bring in the bands? I guess we'll have to wait and see." The week they posted the notice, over 20 bands had signed up to audition. This was more than they had expected at least to start. All the staff made an appearance, even George. He showed up to hear the swing bands play. Everyone gave their opinion on the ones they had seen and heard. Two weeks later, they had a schedule of bands worked out. The first dance was to be the next week. Peter had never worked so hard. He and Rebecca worked together every day. One night as he was about to leave, he rounded a corner and ran smack into Rebecca. She was carrying a pile of papers and hadn't seen him at all. As she started to fall, he grabbed her. "Sorry, are you all right?" "Peter, I'm fine. You can let go of me now." "Ok," but he couldn't seem to remove his hands from her arms. It felt so right to be able to hold her. "Eh, Peter?" "Oh, right." Reluctantly Peter released her. "Can I buy you drink? I'd like to make up for my clumsiness." "Sure, I was about to leave. Let me get my coat. I'll be right back." As he watched her walk away, again he had the feeling that he had met her somewhere before. He couldn't figure out where, he just knew that somewhere he had. As they walked, Peter decided to find out if there was any chance they could have met before. "You've said you felt like we've met before. Have you ever been to Ireland?" "No, not in the last few years. It is strange, isn't it, that we both think we've met and can't figure out where we could have met. How about you, have you been to London lately?" "No, again." "You never said what you did there or why you left." "How long do you have?" He opened the door and they entered the pub. "I'll get the drinks. You get us a table. Is ale all right?" "Sure. There's a table over by the window." "Right." Rebecca sat down at the table and soon Peter was there with the drinks. "You were about to tell me about your time in Ireland." "Right." Peter hesitated. He wanted to tell her everything from the time he had first laid eyes on Assumpta to him leaving Ballyk. But he knew that that would be too much to tell her all at once. She was waiting for him to speak. He didn't know where to begin. "Peter? You can tell anything to a friend." He was stunned. Assumpta had said that to him once, not that long ago. It had to be a coincidence. "I was a priest," he began, "a British priest, in Ireland. Someone had a sense of humor with that one. I was there 3 years. There was a young woman. She owned the local pub. For most of the time, we fought how we felt about each other. We never told each other what was in our hearts. She even went as far as marrying her college sweetheart to try to get over me. We finally talked, and decided that we would do whatever it took to be together. I was going to leave the priesthood. The wiring in the pub was old and acting up. That night, there was a storm and the lights went out. She went down into the cellar to replace a fuse and..." She took his hand in hers, "Oh, Peter. I had no idea. I'm so sorry." "I left a few days later. For almost a year I roamed Ireland and England ending up here. A friend of mine knew Tom and got me the job at the center." They were quiet once more. They drained their drinks. Rebecca felt that Peter needed to be alone. She stood and started to put on her coat. "I'd better go. I'll see you tomorrow." "No, please. Don't go. At least let me walk you home." On the way, Rebecca was quiet. She was thinking, trying to put things together in her mind. When they got to her door, she spoke. "I have one more question, Peter. When did she die? What was the date?" "April 22. Why?" "I think you better come in and hear what I have to say. It might be hard for you to grasp. I know it is for me." As they entered her flat, she took his coat. "In here. Have a seat. I'll make some tea." The room was sparsely furnished. There was one thing that struck Peter. In one corner, in a chair was a large, stuffed polar bear. He stood, staring. It can't be. Just as he was about to say something, Rebecca entered with the tea. "Peter, where do I begin? I said I came from London. I came here after I recovered from an auto accident. My boyfriend was driving. A drunk driver hit the car. He died on impact. I was taken to the hospital. It was touch and go for a while. Then, one night, I remember seeing my body from above, like I was floating above it. There was a presence with me. Don't ask me to describe it, I can't, I just know it was there. Then a spirit rose from the body below·my body. The spirit and the presence were gone. The next thing I remember, I woke up, several days later. My brother was there, but I didn't recognize him at first. He had that enormous polar bear. He said I kept mumbling something about polar bears, so he bought me the largest one he could find." Up until now, she couldn't look at Peter. When she finally did, she could see the shock on his face. "That's not all. The night that I had that experience floating above my body - Peter, the date was April 22. I know because that was the date that the doctors thought they had lost me." Peter had sat down in a chair, too numb to know what to feel. She knelt in front of him and took his hands in hers. "I know it sounds strange, but I don't know what else to think. Can it be? Could it be? Could I be Assumpta?" "Assumpta? How do you know her name? I never mentioned it..." "Don't be angry with me." She started to cry. He wiped her tears away. "I'm not angry. It's a little much to absorb all at once." He took her face in his hands and kissed her for the first time. "I never did get to kiss you, you know." "That I do remember, that I do." She kissed him back. In those few seconds, it seemed like they had never been apart. As they ended the kiss, Peter said, "You said once that when two people are meant to be together there is no force on this earth that will keep them apart. If it was meant to happen, it will happen. I guess we were meant to be together." Two months later, they were married. For a honeymoon, there was a short trip, to where else, but Ballyk. Rebecca wanted to see where she had grown up, where she and Peter had met and fell in love.