Sorry it's taken a while! Uni has gone back, so I've been forced to write about the GDR, educational psychology, and other such inferior subjects :P But here it is. I hope you like it :)

Chapter Seven

Assumpta sat in the cold kitchen, staring hazily into a lukewarm cup of tea. She tried to keep her mind off the mess she had made... or, rather, the mess she and Peter had made together. But it was no use. Leo had become increasingly suspicious since she came home late the other night. He kept questioning her, but not pressing her too hard, like he couldn't quite decide if he wanted to know the truth. The air between them had grown hostile, and Assumpta could barely remember the last pleasant conversation they'd had. Mostly, they just worked in silence, like indifferent colleagues.

Assumpta felt terrible about how she'd treated Leo. He loved her. He wanted to marry her; he'd told her so. And she had let him believe that she felt the same. But the truth was... she didn't love him. Pretending she did was only making them both miserable. And Leo was beginning to realise that.

Sighing, she tipped her tea down the sink. Noticing that the rain had finally stopped, she grabbed Fionn's lead. Maybe she could talk it over with him. He seemed eager enough, and he strained on his lead as she brought him through the bar.

'Just going for a walk...'
Leo looked up from the pint glass he was wiping.
'Should be back in about half an hour.'
He put the glass down, and rushed around the bar.
'Assumpta, wait.'

She paused, Fionn now jumping up and down in anticipation of some exercise. When Leo reached her, he kissed her tentatively, then pulled away with a sad smile, which she returned. They were both thinking the same thing: this would probably be their last kiss.

The rain had stopped, but it was still freezing on the street. Assumpta pulled her coat tighter around her, and set off down the road, in the opposite direction, naturally, of Saint Joseph's. But she had barely gone ten paces before she met the postman, who was looking incredibly frazzled. It was no wonder; the mail had been backed up for weeks, since the bombings. Everyone was behind on their bills, and the postal service was copping the blame.

'How are ya, Miss Fitzgerald?' he said, pulling a large wad of envelopes from his bag.
'Fine thanks, Jim.' Assumpta lied.
She examined the letters; they were mostly bills, but one envelope halfway down the pile caught her eye. She hastily stuffed it into her coat pocket. Then, handing the rest back to Jim, she asked if he wouldn't mind dropping them in to Leo.

She wouldn't let herself take the envelope out again until she and Fionn were a good way out of town. They entered a field, where Assumpta let Fionn off his lead to play. She sat down on a rather damp log, where just enough sunshine was breaking through the clouds to allow her to read.

Removing the letter from her pocket, she traced over the postage seal with her finger. Sent from Dublin... three and a half weeks ago. He had written this before the bombings... before she had rushed to Dublin, expecting to find him dead... before they had held each other, forgetting the world, just thankful to both be alive... before he knew that she was back with Leo, that she wasn't going to wait around for him anymore... before the other night, when he had kissed her, reminding them both of the hopelessness of wanting what they just can't have.

She ripped open the envelope, took out the letter, and unfolded it. His writing was scrawled, like he'd written it in a hurry. It could have been her imagination, but she thought the words in some places were smudged by tears. She took a deep breath, and began to read.

Assumpta,

I barely know how to start this letter. I have so much to say to you, but how can I put it into words to make you understand? I'm only just beginning to understand, myself. So... sorry if it doesn't make much sense.

It's beautiful here, Assumpta. The main conference room at the seminary has these big windows, and you can see right out into the garden. Yesterday, there were these two little birds in the tree just outside. One of them tried to fly right through the window, not realising it was glass; he smacked right into it. He was okay, though; he flew right back up into the tree. We all had a good laugh. Five minutes later, he only went and did the exact same thing again... and the other bird, well, she was just sitting in the tree, cocking her head to one side, with this sardonic, amused kind of air about her, as if to say to him 'How bloody thick are you, you stupid git?' She made me think of you.

Not that it takes much to make me think of you. I don't think I've really thought about anything else in years. Lately, I've been thinking of your face when I told you I was going on retreat. I know I hurt you, Assumpta, and that haunts me day and night. I'm so, so sorry.

I know I was cruel when I told you. I had to be... because, if I had let myself start to be gentle with you, I never would have been able to stop. I wouldn't have been able to say what I came to say, and I had to say it. Do you know what I mean? But I never wanted to make you cry.

There's this priest here; his name is Father Gillan. I think even you'd like him... well, maybe. Anyway, I tried to pretend I was just like any other priest here, come simply to be refreshed, but he saw right through me. Before long, I'd told him everything... all about you. He told me about Aoife. He had fallen in love with her, see, years and years ago. But he ran away, left the parish. He was never the same after that. He told me he could never again serve God with his whole heart, because he had left a huge part of it behind with Aoife.

And it got me thinking, Assumpta, and it got me praying – really praying, not trying to pretend to God that everything is fine. And I realised that just because God put me on this road as a teenager, it doesn't mean He wants me on this road forever.

I've been like that bird, you know? I've been trying and trying to fly this one certain way, thinking it must be the only way that's right, but I just keep crashing into the window. And you're up in the tree wondering why I'm such an idiot, and God's up in heaven probably doing the same.

Am I getting through to you?

I'm trying to say that I was stupid. I was wrong. The simple truth is that I'm in love with you. I'm sorry it took me so long to realise it.

I know I don't deserve another chance, Assumpta. I know you've spent way too long waiting for me to sort myself out. But, if you're willing to forgive me, I'm ready to spend my life making it up to you.

Just think about it, yeah? I'll be home next week... maybe we can talk about it then?

Peter.

If the page wasn't already smudged by Peter's tears, it was now by Assumpta's. He had loved her; he had been going to give up the priesthood for her. But, like he had said the other night, she didn't give him a chance.

She had screwed everything up. Without knowing it, she had been so close to having all that her heart had been screaming to have for two years, and she had screwed it up. She had chosen to be with Leo... to use him to... what? Comfort her? Make Peter jealous? And now she had lost them both.

Wiping her eyes, she looked up with the idea of finding Fionn and going home. The clouds had thickened, now, and it was even colder than before.

She froze when she saw him standing there, halfway across the field, hands in his pockets, waiting for her to notice him. He must have followed her from town. Assumpta rose to her feet, as he crossed the field in large strides.

She tilted her head to meet Peter's gaze, which was unusually steady, though his voice trembled some as he said,
'I still mean every word.'
'Peter, I...' she sighed, 'I don't know what to say...'
And she really didn't. A million words were racing around in her mind – 'I'm sorry', 'I forgive you', 'You're an idiot', 'I'm an idiot'... 'I love you.'
But she didn't have to choose. As always, their eyes said it all.
He brushed the tears from her cheeks, and kissed her softly, before drawing her into his arms.

In the trees above, two birds chirped cheerfully, and, leaving their branches, soared heavenward.

The End :)