"You two should both get to bed. Stop making me yawn, Assumpta!" chided Brendan.
"Yeah, that's it, I've got to go," said Peter, getting up from his bar stool and walking slowly towards the stairs.
The door opened, and Emma walked in. She looked around, and her eyes settled on Assumpta. "Have you seen Niamh?" she asked.
"Where is she? I'd like to talk to her."
"Sit down and wait, if you like. She should be back soon."
"Oh, OK, thanks." Emma sat down at the bar.
"What's your poison, Emma?" asked Brendan. "On me, providing it doesn't break any underage laws."
The door opened and Niamh walked in. "I'll take over from you, Assumpta," she said, walking behind the bar. "I think you deserve a rest."
"Umm…Emma would like a word with you first, I think."
Niamh looked around at Emma, who smiled awkwardly.
"Is Daddy going to be alright?" asked Kieran.
"Oh, yes," said Brian, placing a bowl of ice cream in front of the little boy. "Yes, Kieran, Daddy's going to be just fine. He got a bit cold, that's all, because he went out and he forgot his jacket!"
"Yes, he forgot his jacket! And then he fell over because it was dark and he twisted his ankle – he wasn't badly hurt, but because he'd twisted his ankle he couldn't walk, and that's why he got stuck out there."
"Do you understand, Kieran? He's fine. Completely fine."
"He looked brave on the horse."
"He looked brave on the horse! Yes he did, didn't he? All the people on the horses were very brave. Your mummy was on a horse too!"
"Mummy was on a horse?"
"I didn't see Mummy."
"No you didn't, did you, there were too many people!"
"Where is she now?"
"She just had to go and make sure that Daddy's alright. She came home early from her holiday just for that."
"What can I do for you, Emma?" said Niamh matter-of-factly, sitting down opposite the girl at one of Fitzgerald's' tables.
"Did you know my dad is leaving?"
"He's packing the house up right now. He said the estate agent's coming tomorrow morning. He's going to sell the house."
"He thinks you don't love him."
Niamh looked at the girl, her mind reeling, but her gaze constant.
"Do you love him?"
Niamh remained silent.
"If you don't, you should stay away from him. But if you do, you should go up there now and talk to him. You don't want him to move away, do you?"
"Did you know Father Mac was here earlier, Assumpta?" goaded Brendan.
Orla's body tightened in dread and she glared at him, then glanced falteringly at Assumpta, who was collecting glasses from the tables and not paying much attention to the regulars. "What?" she asked.
"Father Mac was in here. Drinking. When you were out."
"Why am I not surprised?"
"Peter didn't even seem to notice him. He did a double take as he was leaving, but that was it."
"Peter was very tired."
"Did you notice him?"
"I wasn't looking."
"Mmm. Turned a blind eye, you might say."
"Really?" said Siobhan. "So he's not barred anymore?" She looked around at Brendan and held out her hand. Brendan sullenly placed a five pound note in it.
"I didn't say that," said Assumpta. "But if he wants to be so childish as to refuse to follow the rules, then what am I to do about it?"
"Have you mellowed, Assumpta?" asked Brendan.
Assumpta looked around, an expression of sharp indignation on her face. Sharp, and possibly dangerous.
"No," said Brendan. "OK."
Niamh parked her car in front of Sean's house and got out. The door was open, but she couldn't see him anywhere. She slowly stepped up to the threshold and peeked inside. She could hear sounds coming from somewhere, scrabbling and scraping, and what sounded like the noise of paper scrunching.
"Hello?" she called.
The noise stopped abruptly, and Sean suddenly jumped up from below the kitchen bench tops. "Hi," he said.
"Hi," she replied, stepping into the room. There were two full boxes on the kitchen table, and another sitting on the floor by the sink, half full of pots and crockery wrapped in newspaper.
"Emma told me you were leaving town."
Sean winced. "Emma! I'm sorry. She…doesn't think!"
"Well it's a good job she did tell me, if you were planning on just slinking off and not telling me about it!"
Sean hung his head.
"First sniff of trouble and you run, is that it, is that what you're like?"
Sean stepped forward and looked into her eyes. "Niamh. I thought you were… I'll do whatever you want me to do. That's all I wanna do, just…anything for you. But I think that I shouldn't ask you to do what I want you to do. I'm expecting too much of you, I'm putting you in a very difficult position, and… You said you'd always feel ashamed about yesterday – well, I'll always feel the opposite, whatever the opposite of ashamed is, but I can't handle… I think either way I should leave, because – haha, I'm really quite stupid, aren't I, I've just spent nearly two years trying to re-establish myself here and trying to get people to like me, after they treated me so unfairly for so long. I finally achieved it – or at least, they liked me enough to help me remove a tree from my house, which was a pretty big job. Finally I was doing alright with them, and then I decided to break up the most popular family in the village!" Sean shook his head and collapsed into a chair at the kitchen table. "That's a horrible thing to do. I deserve whatever I get for that."
"Most popular?" said Niamh, sitting down opposite him.
"Yeah, I think so. Everybody loves the gard and the publican."
"I'm not the publican any more."
"Well, whatever. They all love you and…I love you and…I shouldn't be putting you through this. Plain and simple. So I'm going to go away, and if you miss me you can come and find me, but if you don't miss me, then…just forget about me."
Niamh breathed in and out, looking into his sad eyes, studying his face with concern. "I'll always feel the opposite of ashamed too," she said. "I feel guilty, yes, for what happened to Ambrose, but what I said to you…I was upset, I was just letting off steam. I'm sorry."
"You didn't mean it?"
"You do know me, don't you? I am prone to be unreasonable every once in a while. If you don't know how to deal with it, I suggest you ask Peter for tips."
"Peter's very good at dealing with unreasonable women."
"So are you still going to leave, then?"
"That's up to you."
"Well…We might have to leave together, mightn't we?"
"Not too far away because of Kieran, but…I do think that being away from all the judging and gossiping…and the look on Ambrose's face, and Imelda's…I think that would be best. It would allow me to find a way to be less unreasonable about things."
"It's up to you, Niamh. I'll do whatever you want."
"Don't sell the place, though! We might wanna come back!"
"Are you alright to stand, love?"
"Yeah yeah, just pass me the crutches."
"Here you are."
Ambrose grabbed hold of the crutches and slowly swung himself onto his feet. His foot was bandaged, and he had iodine over a couple of scratches on his face, but otherwise, he looked healthy. Imelda's arm wavered under his as he steadied himself on the crutches. Ambrose began slowly hobbling towards the door of the ward.
"Are you sure you don't want to use the wheelchair?" said Imelda. "The nurse said you could have it as far as the front door, at least!"
"No no, I'm fine," Ambrose replied.
Imelda smiled at the woman waiting at the door. "Thankyou for coming to get us, Assumpta," she said. "I didn't think until afterwards – ambulances don't do return trips!"
"No, they don't."
"And he's hurt his foot – he can't drive!"
"My ankle, Mammy, not my foot."
"Your ankle, love. It was a very bad sprain, the doctor said – all three ligaments broken."
"Yeah, I did that once," said Assumpta. "It hurt quite a bit."
"Anyway, thankyou for coming, dear. I thought you'd be busy running the pub!"
"Well, I've dropped Orla in it!"
"And Peter's having a nap, is he? Poor dear. I'm surprised you don't want a nap too – out all night!"
The three continued moving slowly along the hospital corridor.
"Is this your jacket, Assumpta?" asked Ambrose.
"You put it on me in the forest?"
"Yeah. Sorry, I should have grabbed you one of Peter's before I came up here – that one's a bit small for you!"
"It's warm, though. Does it make me look pretty?" He managed a smile.
"What, being a feminine jacket?"
"It's not that feminine. It just looks like it's your jacket that's shrunk in the wash."
"Didn't I tell you, Ambrose, when you were a boy," said Imelda, "never to go out without something to keep you warm!"
"Yes you did, Mammy."
"I told you you'd catch a cold, but I never thought you'd get hypothermia!"
"Yes, well. It wasn't my smartest hour last night."
"No, it wasn't."
"Well, thanks, but I'd rather just forget about it because I feel rather an idiot, and I'm very sorry for causing all this trouble."
"No trouble, Ambrose," said Assumpta, yawning. "That's what we're here for."