By AssumptaFan (a.k.a. CallMeButLove)
It had been six weeks now, and Peter Clifford was still uncertain of his path. Six long, quiet, sad, sulky weeks since the marriage had been annulled. Yet he still could not take real action. There was no doubt of his feelings for Assumpta Fitzgerald, but could he ever be forgiven for turning his back on the life he'd chosen so long ago? Could he ever have spiritual peace knowing that he'd failed to uphold the vows he'd sworn? Would the parish accept him as a man and not a priest? More than that, would they accept his love for Assumpta? He had held back speaking to Fr. MacAnally again, and for that Assumpta was angry. So was he, it was just so overwhelming. It was becoming difficult to think, to walk, to eat, to breathe. He had religiously avoided the Pub since his row with Assumpta. She'd asked him to tell her exactly what his intentions were, and he had faltered. It was unbearable now to think of the pain in her eyes, when he had confirmed his love, but had been unable to tell her for certain that they would be together. It was not something he could stand to ever see again, so he had stayed away. He had requested that Fr. Mac relieve him of his duties temporarily, so he would have time to think. But no formal decision had been made.
This was all he had thought of, prayed for, dreamed of for weeks. Assumpta was everything Peter had ever needed only he somehow couldn't face taking the final step. It was safer to hide behind the collar, and robes, safer for his inexperienced heart. After all, he had never been in any kind of real romantic relationship, Jennie had been dear to him, but he was never really in love with her. He had seen the results of break-ups and failed romances so often in Manchester, and he had seen multiple near misses in Ballykay as well. What would happen if things fell apart with Assumpta? He knew that he could never, never live without her now. Not ever. It would be the absolute and final straw, which would break him irreparably. How could he go on? He couldn't, even as a man of deep faith, nothing could support him through the loss of Assumpta.
On the other hand, if he did not take the risk the result would be the same as if they failed- he would die. If they tried, he could finally experience the taste of her lips on his, hold her hand, and drown in her eyes, and never surface again. Sweet Mother of God, he could spend the rest of his life holding her, kissing her, and making love with her. They could have children, and raise them. Dear Lord how could he not risk his heart, his life for that matter for the chance to give Assumpta all those things? The things she had spent her life waiting for, that he'd only just realized he wanted with her. As he walked over the hills back into Ballykay, just as he'd entered nearly three years earlier he felt a rush of sheer pleasure looking down on the little village that had become his home – followed immediately by an overwhelming sense of panic. For he had finally resolved to tell Assumpta, Fr. Mac, the village, and the world that he intended to marry her, and make a new life with her there, right there in their not-so-perfect world of Ballykissangel- whether anyone else liked it or not.
As expected, Fr. MacAnally had taken the news rather badly, and had even disparaged Assumpta by implying that she was easily replaced, and no better than common. Peter tried to be understanding of the older man's feelings, but the insulting remarks only served to strengthen his resolve. He would hold onto the woman he loved, no matter the cost. Nothing could deter him now; his choice was made. When he said as much to Fr. Mac his only reply was the steely gaze that seemed to fillet his heart, search its contents and when all was revealed, cauterize the opening with its intensity. He said not a word, simply walked into St. Joseph's and sitting at his desk, began drawing up the necessary papers to give Peter his freedom. In the interim, Peter was compelled to speak to Assumpta, to hear her voice. He walked to the nearest telephone box, and dialed the number. When she answered with her customary 'Fitzgerald's', his heart nearly choked him.
"Apparently you're everywhere- all over the country. I don't think so, I think there is only one of you, and I can't let you go. I love you. I want you in my life. I'll do whatever it takes, whatever you want. Just don't run away from me."
There was an agonizing pause and then she spoke.
"Would I have to go to church?"
When Peter returned to Fr. Mac's office to sign everything, he was met with ice-cold efficiency. As much as he had tried he could not resist the desire to say something in defense. He looked up from his signature and spoke quietly, but with control.
"When that young woman came here looking for her mother, I never said a word."
"She is your daughter, and you let her walk away. I never said a word about it, but now you sit there judging me when you've faced the same choice. Yours left a woman to raise a child alone, and ultimately cost another a chance at having a father."
"How dare you? What would you have me do, tell her that I am her father, a priest? What would that have done to her after learning the truth about her 'auntie'? Especially since it would change nothing, why put her through it?"
"I'm only saying that even though our courses of action are different, you've been where I am. You've loved a woman that much. You have a daughter. You may not agree with my choosing Assumpta, but you must understand the feelings."
"I do understand Peter. I, it's only that I feel you are an exceptionally talented priest. I may not always agree with the methods you employ, but you have a way with people, and the parish will feel the loss. So will I."
"Thank you Father. It means a lot to hear that from you. I have always respected and admired you, and I appreciate all the help you've given me- very much."
"Yes well, I will inform you when these are official. In the meantime you will resume your normal duties, and should expect to adhere to the same standards as always. No exceptions. When the papers are processed you'll be responsible for a final Sunday Mass, during which you will say your goodbyes to the parish. When the service is completed, your obligations will be fulfilled, and your ordination will be terminated."
"Thank you Father. Will I see you at the Food Faire?"
The sense of liberation was beyond description, and Peter could not go home. Instead he walked, and walked, and walked until he could not go any farther. He then turned around, sat down and looked behind him. He realized just how far he'd walked then. Clear up to Brian Quigley's Hut on the mountain. There's no wonder Brian loved coming here as a young man. The view was spectacular! He would bring Assumpta here soon and show her the world as he saw it now- beautifully peaceful, quiet, warm, and full of love. A love that she alone had brought to his heart and one that would never, ever die. He did not realize the time, and unknown to him the Pub was teeming with Food Faire Contestants all wondering where the winner of the competition was. Assumpta was becoming a bit anxious, because Peter had sent his entry along with Siobhán, but had not arrived. She had not seen or heard from him aside from his astounding, and loving words over the phone. Suddenly, the door opened and cheers erupted as Peter arrived at last. He was bewildered, but rallied when Brendan held up the trophy, and indicated Peter's dish. He looked across the bar at Assumpta, and saw the love in her eyes. After a brief bit of conversation, he managed to casually call her away from the crowd.
"I love you."
"Ah, would you take that thing off before you say things like that?"
"I can't help it."
"I know. Listen Peter,"
"Assumpta, I've made my decision, but I don't want to talk here. I have the perfect place. Just wait until the Faire is through, I'll explain everything."
"Are you going to get to heaven or aren't you?"
"Sorry? Oh yeah, the song. If that's the only condition, then it's a sure thing."
"It better be."
All the punters had gradually ambled out into the night, with full stomachs, and light hearts. Niamh had stayed, with Peter to help Assumpta clear up, and when they'd finished she had gone home. Neither Peter, nor Assumpta noticed the gleam in her eyes as she glanced over her shoulder at her two nearest friends. Something was about to happen, that much was certain.
After they had determined that everyone would now be at home, the pair left Fitzgerald's by the back door and walked out into the night. Peter led Assumpta up, and up, over the rise of the hills clear to the top of the mountain overlooking the village. As they moved through the cold night air, they spoke very little, and Assumpta began to wonder when the other shoe would drop, and he'd finally say he'd chosen the Priesthood. When they did reach Brian's little hut, and stopped, she was so keyed up that as soon as he opened his mouth she rounded on him with all her pent up anger, pain, and fear.
"You do realize that dragging me all this way won't make it any easier. You could have told me back at the bar, so at least I could throw some glasses at you. I can't believe the way that bloody church has you all done up. You can't even think for yourself. I knew it was all too good to be real...."
As she spoke tears began streaming down her cheeks, but she didn't pause at all. Peter was completely baffled, but she just went on and on. So he did the first thing that came into his head to shut her up. Her kissed her – hard, and full on the mouth. When he stopped she hit him – hard, and fast on the mouth. He staggered back a step, lost his footing and fell, nearly cracking his skull on a large rock. Assumpta let out a yelp, and sprang to help him, but in reflex he recoiled at her touch.
"Peter! Oh god, are you hurt? I am sorry, god. I'm so sorry, please let me help you, you're bleeding."
"No! I mean, Assumpta how could you?"
"I know I should never have hit you, but I got riled thinking you would leave me, and oh, god. I'm sorry."
"I'm not talking about your hitting me; I mean how could you think I wouldn't choose you? After everything that's happened, everything I said at the lake meant nothing? I've told you I love you, that hasn't changed; only now I've taken the official steps necessary. It's only a matter of time. I brought you up here to tell you that we are finally going to have a chance. I have to wait for the papers to come back, give my 'goodbye' sermon to the parish, and then it's done. I'll be free- to love you openly, and without condition, or end. I could never live without you. Not ever again."
"Oh. Peter I don't know what to say, I thought... well I got scared, and I couldn't bear losing you either, so I overreacted. I'm sorry. I only just love you so much that I..."
"Shut up and look out there will you? Just look at that. That's all ours, every last tree, house, stone, blade of grass. It belongs to us – it's home. That is what I'm offering you, and expecting from you. That out there, a beautiful, sometimes cold, and harsh world that may challenge us, but that will always be home. Do you want it?"
"Are you asking me to share it with you?"
" Course. There's no one else that could make my days start like this."
"Right then. I want it, all of it and more."
As they watched the stars begin to fade over Ballykissangel, Peter and Assumpta felt love, and peace wash over them like a waterfall, bathing them and preparing them for the days to come. Nothing had ever felt better. As if by some internal clock Peter turned to his love, and spoke.
"We'd best be back before 5 o'clock. Kathleen and Fr. Mac are early risers."
"One more thing Assumpta, I have to be a priest right up to the end, OK? I mean I'll be doing the Christening, and confessions, and mass until everything is final, so I have to act like a priest as well."
"In other words, if I want to kiss you now's the time, right? Uh, huh. Come here."
Assumpta reached up and pulled Peter's lips down to hers in a firm, and passionate kiss. They held onto the moment for as long as their lungs could allow, and finally parted, breathless. Peter was in shock, and grinning like he'd just won the lotto and Assumpta basked in the glow of knowing the power in just her kiss. Silently she hoped he couldn't see just how much his kiss had undone her it'd ruin her mystique.
"Let that keep you warm until you take that dog collar off for good, eh?"
She whispered the comment low, and seductively up at him, and he smiled down at her happier than he had ever been. As they walked back down the mountainside, their hearts were full of love, and heads full of dreams of the future they would share. Neither could predict the events to come that would change their lives forever.