Assumpta didn't die, but things are not all plain sailing for the priest and the publican.
Fitzgeralds was quiet. Not unusual for this time of year. Assumpta busied herself stacking shelves, cleaning, anything to keep her mind from drifting to Peter.
You would have thought things would have got easier since their declaration. He loved her, my god, he told her often enough. Finally she had everything she'd spent the last three and a half years longing for… almost.
When he held her in his arms everything drifted away, the tiredness and the loneliness seemed things of the past and they were, but something was missing.
Lost in her own thoughts she drifted into the kitchen, not noticing the dark haired young woman quietly open the door marked accommodation.
Peter was beside himself. He'd never wanted to get to Fitzgeralds so desperately. Staying at Brendons' had provided the decency of living space both he and Assumpta needed whilst the gossips found something else to occupy their tongues. However didn't stop Peter spending every spare moment with her, she was after all technically his boss. He remembered the slave auction and admitting to Father Mac 'She owns me.' Never a truer word had been spoken. Now he had a letter in his hand that gave him licence to show her how much.
"Assumpta!" He shouted as he burst through the door then stopped in horror as a pair of earnest brown eyes looked up into his.
"Oh Peter!" She gushed, "I am so happy!"
Before he could finish Jenny crossed the distance between them, threw her arms around his neck and pressed her lips firmly against his, just as Assumpta opened the door.
"This is not what it looks like." He began, untangling Jenny from around his neck.
"Don't tell me, she was feeling faint and you had to give her the kiss of life?" Assumpta sniped.
"Funny… I can explain." Those green puppy dog eyes.
"Yeah, yeah yeah." With a final furious look at the both of them Assumpta turned on her heels and stormed back into the kitchen.
Peter ran a desperate hand through his hair.
"Jenny, what are you doing here?" He said, wanting to go after Assumpta but painfully aware of how many times he'd rejected Jenny.
"As soon as I heard I got the first flight across. I knew you would come to your senses, if I just waited long enough, gave you some time. And you did!" She clapped her hands excitedly like a little girl.
"What are you talking about?" Peter tried to take in what she was saying but ninety percent of his attention was on the kitchen door.
"Leaving the priesthood? You have left haven't you?"
"Yes, but that doesn't answer my question. Why are you here?"
"Isn't it obvious? Now we can be together."
Peter felt as though he'd been slapped.
"Jenny." He pleaded.
"Yes, my darling." She pressed forwards, but Peter was ready for her this time, he held her shoulders gently keeping her at arms length.
"You're not going to run away again are you?" She said suspiciously.
"I'm not." He replied, holding her gaze. "But I can't talk about this right now. I need you to give me some time, can you do that?"
"Haven't I given you enough?"
"We will talk, just not this minute!" Peter tried to keep the frustration out of his voice but not successfully enough.
Jenny lowered her eyes. "When?" She almost whimpered.
"Give me an hour, go for a walk, get settled in, anything, but please one hour?"
He handed her a room key. She took it unquestioningly.
"I suppose an hour isn't going to make much difference." She said with false brightness. "Will you come to my room?"
"No, I'll meet you outside." Peter moved quickly towards the kitchen door. An icy glare of dawning realisation followed his departing back.
In the kitchen Assumpta was assaulting the floor with the mop. She couldn't honestly remember the last time she felt this angry, even when he'd told her he was leaving, there could be nothing between them, and even then she hadn't felt this burning fury. But it wasn't just anger, it was jealousy, longing and her own frustrations. In the last six months he'd held her, kissed her hair, her cheek, his touch sending tingles through her, but nothing more than that, their lips had never met. If she moved for more intimacy he backed away. The rejection had been eating away at her and she only just this moment realised it.
From experience Peter took a deep breath before turning the handle.
"Assumpta?" he said quietly.
"All recovered is she? Loosened her clothing and made her comfortable?" She spat without even looking at him.
"I didn't know she was there." He said quietly.
"Attached to your face?" The floor took another battery.
"I can understand why you're upset, but she ambushed me!"
Deep within Assumpta there was a small part of her amused at the memory, Jenny hanging from his tall frame as he held his arms out with a look of shock on his face. It was soon quashed by a return wave of irritation.
"Making up for lost time? Take off that collar and they are all over you. The Casanova of Bally K. You'll be giving Enda a run for his money."
Assumpta knew she was being unreasonable but she just couldn't stop. The hurt in his eyes caused her to wish she'd bitten her tongue.
"You know I love you." He said gently.
"Don't." She growled, her eyes flashed angrily as she turned on him." Don't you dare!"
"What have I done now?"
"Use those words as if they excuse everything."
"At least I use them, at least one of us does." Peter knew he shouldn't be goaded, but this was unfair.
There stared at each other, Assumpta unusually speechless.
He wanted to get away. With Jenny and now this he couldn't guarantee to keep his temper.
"Peter!" Assumpta called out as he slammed the door behind him.
An hour later he was walking by the river with Jenny. He'd spoken barely a word as he'd ushered her out of town conscious of prying eyes. He was aware she kept glancing towards him, waiting for him to speak.
"Peter?" She said quietly.
Involuntarily he thought of the last person to say his name. He shook his head, he had to concentrate.
He stopped, turning towards her.
"It's been years. Why would you come back, I thought I explained?"
"You had feelings for me, powerful feelings, you told me. They don't just go away. The only thing between us was your collar and now it's gone, there is no reason…"
He interrupted. "Jenny, you shouldn't have come."
"I think I'm beginning to see that." She replied.
They continued walking.
"Why her and not me?" Jenny asked evenly.
"Don't treat me like an idiot, Peter. The landlady of the pub. It's her you left the priesthood for isn't it?"
Peter nodded slowly. "I didn't mean for it to happen." He half laughed. "If two people are meant to be together then no force on this earth will keep them apart."
"And you think that's what it was."
"I do, I don't. It's very complicated." He realised it sounded trite but how could he explain.
"She was just in the right place at the right time."
"No! That definitely isn't it. Assumpta is…We are… I love her, I could never let her go." It was the best reason he could give.
"And you didn't love me? You let me go, pushed me away."
Peter paused for a moment. "It wasn't that… I was very fond of you."
"But not love?"
Peter shook his head. "I don't think so, no."
Assumpta glanced towards the door for the hundredth time that evening.
"Expecting someone Assumpta?" Brendon said teasing.
"No. I am just extending my normal welcome." She said tersely.
"I thought Peter was working tonight?"
"Shut up Brendon."
"There it is, feel the love." Paidrig cut in.
They were spared any more affection as Jenny opened the door.
Assumpta fixed a cool smile as the other woman took a bar stool, Peters' usual seat.
"Glass of white wine please." She said, smiling brightly.
Assumpta poured the wine, her stomach churning. If Jenny was here, where was Peter? He should have been working tonight and he'd never let her down before, in any way.
"It's lovely to be back." Jenny gushed. "And to see Peter again. Being in Ireland has really agreed with him."
She glanced at Assumpta, checking for a reaction. The two barflies held their breath.
"He's happy here." Assumpta said.
"I suppose, but it's not his home is it, not his roots. And it must be difficult especially after his decision. I know Peter and he can't stand to disappoint people, eats away at him. Then he leaves."
Assumpta felt physically sick.
"He talks to me of course. When he was our curate we were very close friends. I understand him." Jenny sipped her wine, her eyes on Assumpta.
"I didn't think Priests had those kinds of friends?" The words were simple, but each one held the weight of an anvil.
"We had a very special relationship. We still do." Jenny finished the rest of her wine. "I'll be getting off to bed now, early start in the morning."
Assumpta returned Jennys' gaze dagger for dagger.
As soon as the woman was out of sight Assumpta looked to Brendon.
"I will look after the bar, and if you aren't back I will lock up. Would you like me to be on the inside or the outside?"
"Just don't drink me dry." She snapped, grabbing her coat and heading out into the night.
To Assumpta it seemed an age that she was pounding on Brendon's door. Perhaps he wasn't here? She was just about to turn away when the door opened.
Peter still had shower wet hair, he looked vulnerable, like the young man she'd picked up in the rain the first day he arrived, that seemed a lifetime ago, before she knew what was to come.
"Assumpta." He said visibly tired. "I know, I should have been there tonight. I just didn't think you'd want to see me. If you've come for round two, could it wait until tomorrow, I can't do this right now."
"I haven't come to fight Peter, I wanted to apologise?" He raised his eyebrows. Opening the door he let her come inside.
"I, err, overreacted earlier and I want to say that I'm sorry. Oh and that you're an eejit and I should have broken that mop over your stupid head." The words seemed to rush over themselves.
"You do understand the meaning of not fighting don't you?" He said seriously.
"Will you ever bog off?"
"It's no good you coming up here trying to sweet talk me." He was grinning now. He wrapped his arms around her, kissing her hair. "We both said things that we shouldn't have done. I'm sorry too."
Assumpta clung to him like a life raft.
"There is something else?" He asked. "Assumpta, what is this really all about?"
"You're not going to leave me are you? You don't think you made the wrong choice?"
"What ever gave you that idea?"
"Well it's just that you never… you've never even tried to…" Words failed her, how could this be any more humiliating.
"Jenny and the kiss?" He said saving her.
"You've never even tried to kiss me." There, she'd said it. It made her feel like a jealous twelve year old girl but it was done. No going back now. "I thought, you know, when the annulment came through, perhaps it was because I was another man's wife, the married woman and the priest, but still every time we get close you back away. I don't understand."
"You've never kissed me either." He tried to lighten the mood.
"You're the man!"
"I've been promoted."
Assumpta wasn't sure what to say, surely he wasn't going to try and ignore this.
"You remember that night in Niamhs kitchen?" He was guarded as he asked.
"So do I. The way you looked at me. You were disgusted, with me, with yourself. It was horrible."
"I was shocked!"
"You may have given up guilt, but guilt hasn't necessarily given up you." He was trying to be gentle.
Assumpta looked into those green eyes and felt she was drowning.
"I never wanted to see that in your face again." He continued. "I didn't want to be the one to cause you that pain."
"I tried to be as affectionate as I could, but there was a line. I was just careful not to go over it."
"You stopped you? And you didn't think about me in this?"
Peter sighed. "I only thought about you. I couldn't put you through it."
"But when I was free?"
"I was still a priest, albeit one off the road."
"Was a priest?"
"That was what I was coming to tell you this morning before you bit my head off. I had a letter today. It's the approval I've been waiting for to release me from my vows. I am now officially out of the god bothering business."
Assumpta took a moment for it all to sink in. "So now you're free too?"
"I think you're getting the idea."
"There's something I have to tell you." She said suddenly serious.
"You've changed your mind and you're running off with a rabbi?"
She tapped him playfully. "No! You were right what you said earlier, there are three little words that I've been lax in saying. It's just I've never felt… like I do now… and wanted to say… I…"
Peter dipped his mouth towards hers, their lips barely met gently sending tremors through them both. He brushed her lips again causing her knees to buckle, as a wave of longing rushed to her head.
"You're shivering." He nuzzled her ear.
"So are you."
He kissed her again, deeper, the pressure of his lips against hers sending her further into oblivion.
Trying to breath, Assumpta sighed. "I just wanted to say I…"
"This time Assumpta Fitzgerald, you do not get the final word." He whispered, deftly finding her mouth again. "I already know."