Apologies for the very, very long wait for this instalment. I will try to do better in future!
"Assumpta and the Priest?" Ambrose sounded incredulous.
"This is Assumpta Fitzgerald we're talking about here? The same Assumpta who wouldn't set foot in a church unless you paid her? That Assumpta?"
"How many other Assumpta's do we know, of course that Assumpta."
"Don't sound so shocked Ambrose. Don't tell me you hadn't noticed the... spark between them. Didn't your gardai instincts give you a clue?"
Ambrose was affronted. "Oh, so you knew all about this did you? Didn't think to mention what the Priest that's christening our child was up to..."
"No." Admitted Niamh sulkily. "She never told me a thing. And I'm supposed to be her best friend!" When sympathy from Ambrose was not forthcoming she continued "and anyway, it's not been 'going on' for long. They only just talked about it."
"So what, he's just going to leave the priesthood, just like that?"
"So Assumpta says."
"But he's a Priest!"
"And your point is?"
"He made vows Niamh, he can't just leave."
"Says me, and so does everybody else."
"Oh yeah, you going to tell him that are you?"
"I might just."
"That's my line."
"Not any more." Assumpta grinned. "There's some paper hankies in the glove box."
Peter rummaged around in the glove box of the blue van and found what he was looking for. He took a tissue and wiped his nose.
"I don't know, maybe I could delay telling Father Mac until after the Christening," he pondered doubtfully.
"Ah." Assumpta grimaced. "I kinda already told him."
"What?" Peter's head shot round.
"Hey it not my fault!" said Assumpta defensively, "he barged into my bar and started lecturing me on how I was leading you astray. What was I supposed to say?"
Peter groaned and rubbed his face with his hands.
"Sorry," said Assumpta, grimacing "but look on the bright side..."
Peter looked doubtfully at her.
"He won't be your boss for very much longer!"
Peter half returned her hopeful smile and then turned to watch County Wicklow go by.
After a few minutes of companionable silence. Assumpta said, "Do you realise where we are now?"
"On the road to BallyK?"
"Well obviously, but, we just passed the spot where we first met."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Really?"
"Oh yes, I think of it every time I pass by. The day I picked up that soaking, but quite attractive, young man." She gave him a sly sideways look ,"and he turned out to be a soaking English Priest."
"Hmm. Sorry about that."
"Good job you had your civvies on, or I'd have left you there."
He smiled in response but said nothing. She looked at him again and asked "you OK? You seem a bit...".
"Yeah, yeah fine. Just a bit cold. Nothing some dry clothes won't fix. So, apart from my being, wet, English and a Priest, what kind of first impression did I make?"
"...and umm, I though you looked about twelve."
He huffed a laugh, "charming!" he said in mock offence.
"... for a priest..." she softened " ...and I thought Fr Mac would eat you alive."
"He might yet."
"Didn't think you'd last a week."
"Are you glad I did?"
"Weeell... there have been moments when I wished I'd never clapped eyes on you, but on the whole... how about you? Do you wish you'd gone straight back to Manchester when Fr Mac tried to send you?"
"Not in a million years."
He said it with such warmth that she temporarily took her eyes from the road and took a good look into his big green ones, brimming over with sincerity and affection. (Fortunately none of Eamonn's sheep happened to be wandering across the road at that moment, or they might have ended up with another number plate stuck to them, or worse.) She flushed scarlet and dragged her eyes away again trying to compose herself.
"I thought you were beautiful," said Peter.
"When we first met. Beautiful and just a bit scary."
She chuckled. "Was I that bad?"
"'One thing we need is priests from England' you said and I wondered what on earth I'd got myself into."
They turned a bend and Ballykissangel appeared in view. Lights were flickering on in the half-light and the spire of St. Joseph's was silhouetted against the last embers of the sunset. The town resembled a sparkling jewel nestled in the rolling landscape and it took their breath's away.
The little blue van made the familiar journey down into the town and over the bridge towards a darkened Fitzgerald's. Peter shivered.
"You can drop me off here if you like."
"No chance. Not when you're in that state, and besides..."
"You have electricity at your place."
They pulled up outside the curate's house, which was also dark – Brian must be out somewhere. Peter clambered out of Assumpta's van, looking warily about him.
"Still worried about the neighbours?" she asked, but she was glancing around herself as he let them in through his front door and turned on the lights.
She had been in his house before of course, even one memorably long night when they stayed up watching a baby together. She smiled at the thought. A golden memory. It never ceased to amaze her, though, just how sparse the house was kept. She looked around and saw a few things of Brian's scattered about. Then her eye fell on the bed linen folded neatly by the sofa.
"Peter, is he making you sleep down here?"
"Well, yeah, but..."
"He has no right!"
"It's his house," shrugged Peter, "anyway I'd er better go and..." he pointed upstairs, "...make yourself at home."
'Tea ' thought Assumpta, and went through to the kitchen to make a couple of cups for them both.
Peter came back down the stairs wearing jeans and his grey knitted jumper. His hair was still damp and unruly where he'd tried to dry it with a towel. He followed the sound of clattering to the kitchen and found Assumpta searching for teaspoons.
"Ah, they're over here," he said, gently placing a hand on her waist as he showed her.
She jumped slightly at his touch, but turned towards him and looked appraisingly at him. "That's better," she said, patting his chest, "no suit". She smiled up at him and he down at her. They were standing very close together and looking very pink. Tentatively she reached up and touched his damp hair and the side of his face. He closed his eyes and caught her hand in his own. He held it reverently like he had that memorable night at Kilna Shea. This time he brought it to his lips and kissed her fingers, like he had so wanted to that night. She caught her breath and leaned in closer, feeling intoxicated by the nearness and the realness of his lips on her skin.
He stiffened, turned away and... "aaachew!"
"Well that ruined the mood," she remarked dryly, "you OK?"
"Sorry, yeah," he said sheepishly, looking around for his hanky. "Kettle's boiling."
The front door opened and Brian let himself in. "Evening Father," he called "Father Mac's been looking for you."
"Hasn't everyone?" murmured Assumpta darkly.
"We're in here," called Peter to Brian, as Assumpta glowered.
"We?" replied Brian with interest, coming to see if "we" meant who he thought it did (it did). "Oh, hello Assumpta, I'll have an Earl Grey if you're making one."
Assumpta frowned at him. "We're not in the pub now, Brian, get your own damn..."
"Here," said Peter, handing Brian the cup she'd made for him. "I'll make another."
Assumpta rolled her eyes at him. "No you won't, give it here," she said, demanding he pass over the kettle.
"Thanks," he said, looking her in the eye and smiling in that way that always threatened to make her knees give way.
Brian watched all this shrewdly and remarked, "what a picture of domestic bliss. Speaking of which, I haven't seen much of your husband about here lately Assumpta. Chasing a big story is he?"
There was a clatter as Assumpta dropped Peter's tea cup. Sploshing boiling liquid over her hand.
"Brian!" admonished Peter, really quite angry, "that was uncalled for."
"What, what did I say?" replied Brian in mock innocence.
Assumpta was cursing and nursing her scalded hand, the one Peter had been kissing, it was now red and blotchy.
Ignoring Brian, Peter came to her and took her hand saying, "here, let me look... ouch, that looks sore. Better run it under the tap." And to Brian, "pleased with yourself?"
Brian, unmoved, looked at the pair of them. "I hope you know what you're doing. And...", he muttered under his breath as he left the room, "that you're not doing it in my house."