I found this story much more difficult to write than Flying Through the Storm. I fear there's a bit more talking and less action in it, plus the ending and plot twists are bound to be more controversial than Flying Through the Storm, so I hope you still like it! I had particular difficulty figuring out how to end it…which is why it just kind of stops…if you can think of a better ending, let me know!
This story is a bit different to Flying Through the Storm, in that it is not all my own creation. In chapters 4 to 10, it takes great swathes of dialogue from the original scripts of the episodes The Final Frontier and Two Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. These were written by Robert Jones and Ted Gannon respectively, and a damn good job they did. I give them full credit for the original storyline and for those wonderful dialogues. I used them in my story to set the scene and to show that most of the things that happened in those episodes still happened in my story, because I think that it was a very good story line (if lacking in build-up) and I see no reason to change it. All I wanted to do was to write in two extra characters, Peter and Assumpta, because we all know that they should have been there.
Niamh's face changed in an instant. The wide-eyed anxiety, the fear and loneliness were swept away by a bright, and slightly overdone, grin as she saw her friends step through the doors into the arrivals lounge. She rushed towards them, nearly knocking Assumpta off her feet.
"Whoah, take it easy there, Niamh! You only saw me two weeks ago!"
"Sorry." The grin was still there, but it was awkward now, and there were tears in her eyes. "Hi, Peter." She gave him a more subdued hug, and he could feel the tension in her shoulders as she gripped him tightly.
"Are you OK, Niamh?" Peter asked as she pulled away.
The overdone grin came back. "Yeah! Yeah, tell me, how was the honeymoon? I am so happy to see you, and I am dying to know everything." She turned her back to Peter and looked knowingly at Assumpta.
"Well, all in good time, Niamh, but I told you, you didn't have to pick us up, aren't they charging you a fortune for parking out there?"
"Oh, and that's the thanks I get." The smile fell instantly.
"No, I just mean -"
"I wanted to come and get you, OK, is there something wrong with that?"
"No, of course not – Niamh!"
Niamh tried to bring the smile back, but her eyes wouldn't do it this time. "Sorry," she said.
"Thankyou for coming and getting us," said Assumpta gently, giving her friend a hug.
"You're welcome," said Niamh abashedly. "And you're really…you're really back this time?"
"Yes." Assumpta nodded with finality.
"Oh thank God. I've been going crazy without you. Seriously, there's no-one else who's sane in Ballyk."
"Ha! What have they been doing now?"
"Well we nearly had another wedding – nearly…"
"Siobhan and Brendan."
"They pulled out at the last minute, changed their minds. This is after I'd organised a reception for them, mind you."
"But why would they get married anyway, they're not…"
"Tax or…pension or something. I thought it was more, but…"
Assumpta's face had twisted into an amused grimace. "Oh!" She began to laugh. "That is hilarious!"
"It's not funny."
"Oh. It is. Brendan getting married for tax purposes – ha!"
Peter re-appeared behind them dragging two suitcases and looking rather the worse for wear for it, especially seeing as he also had a large backpack on his back and a pillow and a newspaper under his arm.
"Oh, honey, why didn't you get a baggage trolley for those?" said Assumpta.
Peter looked around at the baggage trolleys, which were only ten metres away. "Oh," he said. "Didn't think of that."
Peter slept with his head cocked awkwardly on the pillow, which was balanced on the top of the back seat in Niamh's small car. His left shoulder was jammed up against the window and his knees were sticking in somewhat syncopated directions in the gap between the front seats. The two women in the front barely noticed he was there. They were deep in conversation.
"Come on, Assumpta, I told you every detail of my honeymoon!"
"No you didn't, you just complained -"
"Well, you know, you kept asking my advice about…stuff."
"Oh, 'stuff', yeah. That's the stuff I want to know about."
"Come on, I told you everything."
"Yeah, because you were asking for my advice! I don't need your advice!"
"What? I don't! And I don't kiss and tell!"
"Lucky you." Niamh glanced in the rear view mirror. "Ah, would you look at him."
"Your husband asleep in the back there."
Assumpta turned around. "Aww! He looks so cute!"
"You sound like you're talking about a puppy dog."
"He is so gorgeous, look at him!"
The car stopped outside Fitzgerald's with a jerk that sent Peter's pillow tumbling off its perch, and his head cracking painfully onto the back of the seat.
"Oh, if only that car had headrests, Peter!" said Brendan jovially as he yanked the car door open.
Peter grunted, blinked and looked around.
Assumpta was being pulled out her door by an excitable Orla, who was saying, "How was it? How was it?" many times over.
"Good. Really good," was the only reply she got.
"We've got the pub all ready for you," said Niamh as she pushed open the door. "We've cleaned the upstairs so it's spick and span, and Ambrose and I are back in the gard house of course, and I've done up the guest bedrooms too if you want to open them up again, and -"
"Would you like a pint?" said Orla.
"Err, no thanks - tea would be nice though, but -"
"I'd like a pint!" said Peter, breaking into a grin.
"Right you are!" Orla rushed behind the bar.
"Here, I'll take these up for you," said Ambrose, picking up the suitcases which Brendan had deposited on a table.
"Oh, they're heavy, Ambrose, let me help." Peter tried to take one.
"No no no, sit down!" Ambrose smiled, but his eyes weren't in it. He hurried towards the stairs.
"I hear you almost got married as a tax dodge," said Assumpta, taking a seat next to Siobhan.
"Oh, you heard about that, did you? No prizes if I guess from whom."
Assumpta couldn't hide her amusement.
"Well don't worry, we didn't, so you're still the bride of Ballyk!"
"Oh, hey, it's no skin off my nose."
"It wasn't about tax, it was pensions and life insurance. We thought it would've been easier on Aisling, but…well, that's not what marriage is about, is it?"
"Ehm…" Assumpta looked at Peter, who was cooing over Aisling. "No." She grinned.
"So how is it, then?"
"Good." Assumpta nodded vehemently, still grinning. "Really good. Ooh, thanks, Orla." She accepted her mug of tea and took a sip.
"Usual, Siobhan?" asked Orla.
"Me too!" announced Brendan, arriving next to them.
"Assumpta, can I show you something upstairs?"
"Ehm, not now, Niamh, I'm kind of enjoying sitting drinking tea at the moment."
"OK, Peter, then."
"Umm…" Peter looked surprised as Niamh took Aisling from him and plonked her into Brendan's arms. She began to cry.
"Oh, Niamh!" protested Brendan.
Ignoring him, Niamh grabbed Peter's arm and dragged him towards the stairs.
"Where's Kieran, anyway?" he asked her.
"Dad's got him this afternoon."
"Oh, OK. What do you want to show me?"
They disappeared up the stairs.
"Brendan, will you take her outside please?" said Siobhan over Aisling's cries. "She's a bit loud in here."
Brendan looked at her in incredulity. "Me?"
Assumpta snorted. She was starting to see what Niamh meant about everyone in Ballyk being insane.
The cries faded as Brendan stepped through the door.
"She wasn't half upset when we decided not to get married," said Siobhan.
"No, Niamh. She was really upset. You should have a chat to her."
"What do you mean?"
"Well we didn't mind, we turned the reception into just a regular party and had great fun, but she'd made us a wedding cake and everything – I didn't ask her to, mind, I told her not to tell anyone, that we didn't want any fuss, but… She did all that, it was like she was living vicariously through it, and then, when we dashed that…"
"She disappeared for a whole day last week, too," said Orla. "Nobody knows where to. To the sales in Dublin, Ambrose said, but he didn't know. She just upped and left. You got landed with Kieran, didn't you, Siobhan?"
"Yeah, I felt really bad about that – I had to work, and..."
"It's OK, I hear he had a whale of a time with Brian."
Assumpta frowned. "Niamh left Kieran?"
"Hey Peter, you're neglecting your pint!" Orla called loudly as Peter and Niamh appeared on the stairs.
"Oh, sorry Orla, I got, err…waylaid."
"I think I might join you!" Orla took the glass over to Peter on the other side of the bar and began pouring another.
Siobhan leaned towards Assumpta and said in a low voice, "When she was upset about the wedding, we were talking about marriage, and…she said, 'I don't know what it means anymore.'"
Assumpta looked at Siobhan in alarm.
"Maybe you should have a chat to her. See if she's OK."
Assumpta came into the bedroom to find Peter getting into the bed in checked blue pyjamas. "Oh," she giggled. "Cute."
"I haven't seen those before."
"My mother gave them to me."
"Oh! Right. I see."
"What are you wearing, anyway?"
"These are my pyjamas!"
"That's an old shirt that's way too big for you and a pair of boxer shorts!"
He grinned and snuggled up against her as she slipped into the bed. "I won't make fun of your pyjamas if you don't make fun of mine."
"Well, I don't see how you possibly could make fun of my pyjamas - I mean, my pyjamas aren't…"
She looked at the checks and scrunched up her nose. "I don't really know what the word is…"
"Are you saying that you don't like my pyjamas?"
"Maybe I like you better out of them."
He met her piercing gaze, and leaned in to kiss her. His lips were strong and sweet, but she pulled away. "Hang on," she said. "I want to ask you something."
"Yeah? OK." He pulled back and patiently waited for her to speak. She smiled. She always had his undivided attention.
"Have you noticed anything…strange," she said, "about Niamh and Ambrose?"
"Anything different. I'm not saying I have, I just want to know if you have."
Peter shrugged. "Niamh's very excitable…but that's Niamh. Ambrose is…quiet, but that's Ambrose."
"I guess they might be…more than usual. Actually, yeah, I did notice that they were a bit strange at our wedding; like at the reception, for example, they didn't dance together. Niamh was dancing, but not Ambrose. I asked Ambrose if everything was alright and he said it was fine …"
"Yeah. I didn't even notice. I mean, she was…emotional, but she just kept saying, 'I always cry at weddings.'" Assumpta frowned. "Does she always cry at weddings?"
"Do you think something's wrong?"
"Siobhan does." Assumpta sighed. "She'd know more than me, I guess. I haven't been here."
"I did think something was amiss with Niamh this afternoon. You know, when she took me upstairs to show me stuff?"
"Oh yeah, what did she show you?"
"Just some things they'd moved, it wasn't a big deal. I wondered why she was fussing about it."
"Fussing over that instead of something else, maybe?"
"Yeah, maybe. Do you want me to speak to them?"
"No, no, I'll speak to Niamh. I just wanted to ask you if you'd noticed anything because you're good at picking up on things like that."
"Well, I haven't been here either."
Niamh opened her eyes and sat up in bed. There was no use, she thought. There was no sleep to be had, and it was nearly morning anyway. She looked at Ambrose lying beside her. Happily sleeping. Nothing ever bothering him. Always being the same. She didn't understand it. But she did envy it.
She got out of bed, dressed quickly and left the room.
Ambrose opened his eyes.
"Good morning!" said Orla brightly as she swept into the pub's kitchen.
Assumpta nearly jumped, but managed not to. "Morning person, are ya?" she said.
"Well," Orla paused. "That depends on what I've been up to the night before."
"Ehm," Assumpta frowned and looked down at the notebooks and papers she'd been poring over. "Are you on some kind of roster? Is it in here?"
"Oh, I don't know if Niamh's got that written down or not, I usually work it out directly with her, but I'm guessing that now I'm gonna have to work it out with you? Is that right?"
"Yeah, well, I don't really know how that's gonna go yet. Might be a bit crowded with four of us, but I'm just looking at the accounts and they look good. Really good."
"I kept telling Niamh to get a computer to type them all up. There's programs that'll do your maths for you and everything. Brian said we could use his -"
"I am not having Fitzgerald's accounts on Brian Quigley's computer!"
Orla smiled. "That's what Niamh said."
"Well, look, I'll let you know about a roster or something but I think today I'll be fine without you."
"Niamh didn't roster you on, did she?"
"No, she said as of today it's all up to you. She looked kind of relieved, to be honest."
"OK, well, I'll let you know."
"OK. See you later!"
Assumpta looked awkwardly after her.
"Kieran! Hey, there's my man!"
Kieran giggled as Peter picked him up. "Unkoo Peter," he said.
"It's so good to see you, mate, I've missed you!"
"Actually, Peter, would you mind looking after him for a bit?" said Niamh. "I'd like to talk to Assumpta."
"Sure, no problem - that'd be fun, wouldn't it, Kieran? I've got a present for you!"
Niamh stepped into the kitchen. The smell of baking greeted her. The accounts books were still open on the table.
"Hi!" said Assumpta, turning around from the stove.
"That smells good!"
"Oh yeah, I'm having a great time – cake, shepherd's pie, and I've got the soup on the go as well – I never thought I'd miss this, but I did. Having control over my own menu, my own…workplace…"
"Weren't you a manager where you were working in Manchester?"
"Yeah, but that's not the same as being the boss. Anyway, it was a chain pub, it was all standardised."
"I've been having a look at the accounts, they look fantastic. The place is actually turning a proper profit!"
"I was hoping you'd be pleased."
"Oh God yes, I was worried I wouldn't be able to afford to keep Orla, but if the place is turning a profit then maybe Peter and I can have more time to ourselves and she can do the work!"
Niamh smiled. "Good."
"Thanks." Assumpta looked like she meant it. She gave her friend a hug.
"Oh, it wasn't just me, it was Orla and…Ambrose. And my dad helped a bit."
"Just as long as he wasn't fingering the profits."
"No, he just gave me some tips on business management."
Assumpta turned back to the stove.
"Actually, umm…" Niamh faltered.
Assumpta put the lid back on the pot of soup and turned back around. "What?"
"I was wondering -" The words caught in her throat.
"Do you want to talk about something?"
Niamh nodded. "Yeah."