Fitzgerald's pub stood empty for once. It was just before noon on a Thursday – hardly prime drinking time – and even its landlady had abandoned it.
The dark, polished wood gave an aura of serenity to the place. Daylight filtered in through the sash windows and the brass beer taps glimmered in the afternoon sun.
All at once the silence was broken as the door shot open and in stormed a truly pissed off Assumpta Fitzgerald.
"I don't care what you have to say and I don't appreciate other people knowing my business"
"Since when do you care about Kathleen Kennedy?" Peter trailed in behind her.
"Are you trying to humiliate me?" Assumpta spat, new tears betraying her stern exterior. "An altercation in the village shop between the publican and the priest will feed the gossip-mongers for a month!"
"Altercation? All I did was ask if you were ever going to speak to me again?" Radio-silence for a week since their previous 'altercation' at Niamh's house had been too much for Peter. He'd put himself on the line for her, and all Assumpta could say was that she was sorry. Were they going to add this to their very own Pandora's Box of unspoken moments? Because this time Peter wasn't sure that he could.
Assumpta pursed her lips "It's amazing what these people find to talk about"
"Let them talk…" Peter offered, angrily.
"Let them … for god's sake Peter, you're meant to be a Priest"
"I am a Priest"
"Goes with the territory" Assumpta snapped, without thinking. Peter looked wounded by her cheap shot but not wanting to show any weakness, the landlady stormed into the kitchen.
Silently, Peter followed Assumpta. Her head was bowed, her arms poker-straight and holding onto the Aga in exasperation.
"For once, I'd just like not to be the target for the village gossip"
"Fat chance, huh" she jested.
A moment passed. The air was still thick with anticipation but things were decidedly calmer now. Serenity once again restored to Fitzgerald's pub.
"Well, as half the village now know we're not speaking, what did you want to say to me?" Assumpta jibed her eyes wide with expectation.
As Assumpta stared at him expectantly, Peter suddenly lost his words. What had he wanted to say to her? There were a million unspoken things of course. How he was sorry for propositioning her. How deeply he cared for her. How he wanted them to be friends again – but did he? After everything that had happened, would that be enough?
"I… err I just wanted to see if you were okay. If we were okay, after … you know"
Assumpta smiled benevolently. "Peter, we'll always be okay" she sighed.
Peter nodded. Back in the box it is then. "Good, I'm glad" he said, not entirely convincingly. "I mean, I'm glad this won't change anything" he added, nervously.
Assumpta nodded and stood up, as if to signal the end of this conversation.
"Unless…" From nowhere Peter spoke. He hadn't even realised he had said anything until Assumpta looked up at him expectantly.
"Unless you want things to change" Peter said finally. "Do you?" he added hopefully.
"I … what do you mean Peter?"
"In Niamh's kitchen … that wasn't a whim for me. I mean, yes it was a whim but it didn't come out of the blue" he rested his eyes on hers "There is backstory"
"Back story?" Assumpta snorted incredulously. "That's what you're calling it?"
Peter paused. Was he really going to do this? "We've been skirting around this for years and where has it gotten us? You stuck in an unhappy marriage and me…"
"And you?" Assumpta asked
"With a crisis of faith" he added eventually.
Assumpta digested what he had said and suddenly became incensed. "Oh, so this is my fault I suppose"
"Yes – in a way it is" Peter said.
For once, Assumpta was lost for words. The audacity of the man! How can Peter accuse her, in her own home no less, of having any part to play in testing his vocation. She had done nothing. Their backstory – pah! He'd been skirting around her for years. Holding her hand that night in the woods. Telling her he cared for her in this very kitchen, and then telling her nothing could ever come from it a few months later. Not forgetting his latest stint of course, kissing a married woman!
"Get out!" She was beyond angry now.
"I was fine, everything was fine" Peter began. "I was a newly ordained priest, on my way to my first church – my very own church." Still trying desperately to avert Assumpta's gaze, Peter stared intently at his own hands, twisting his fingers together as if fingering an absent ring.
"And then I saw you" he said eventually. "And then I saw you… and I couldn't look away" At last, Peter stared intently into Assumpta's brown eyes – still glistening from fresh tears. He pursed his lips to try and make her understand – understand what he was trying to tell her.
Assumpta let out a breath she didn't know she'd been keeping. He saw her? What does that mean? She remembered their first meeting intimately. She had been waiting at Cilldargan bus station following a meeting with one of her suppliers who was upping the price of Fitzgerald's stout. She'd worn some ridiculous summer dress in the hope of persuading him not to – the first and last time Assumpta would use her feminine wiles in order to get something.
But alas, it had failed. Of course her supplier had tried to take her to dinner but the price of the beer was non-negotiable. Summer dress or no.
She had noticed Peter at the bus station – of course she had, they were the only two under 50 there. He seemed fairly nondescript at the time – grey checked shirt two sizes too big; ill-fitting jeans and army boots. Clean-shaven with neatly-trimmed hair and kind eyes, wide with wonder – almost definitely a foreigner she'd guessed correctly at the time.
It was only when Assumpta felt Peter's eyes on the nape of her neck as they queued to board the bus that she felt a kind of quickening in the pit of her stomach. A quickening that has refused to go away every day since – a quickening that she almost certainly felt now Peter's kind eyes were bearing down at her.
He took a quick breath and lifted a hand to her face before stuttering "You must … you must know how I feel about you?"
Silence. Where had her voice gone? Here the object of Assumpta's only real desire in this world has said the words – the words she'd longed to hear since they first boarded the bus all of the those years ago, and here she was, stumped for something to say.
Peter lowered his hand – feeling foolish – and ran it through his hair. "Say something, please" he begged, his gaze shifting nervously between the two tear-stained eyes staring intently back at him.
"How would I know?" Assumpta eventually spoke, her voice faltering slightly.
"How would I know" she offered again, breaking Peter's gaze and pacing back and forth across the room. "I had no idea" she presently said. "I mean, do you think I'd have gotten married if I'd known how you felt"
Peter's eyes darkened. "If you loved him, sure – why not". Noticing the hesitation in Assumpta's demeanour, he proffered "You did love him, right?"
"I liked him" she whispered, finally admitting the truth to herself. Assumpta gripped the Aga behind her, hoping it would give her courage to say what she was about to say. "I thought…" she stuttered "I thought that in time, he might drive you out of my head"
She raised her head, now willing Peter to understand what she was trying to tell him. He almost certainly had because in a heartbeat, Peter had crossed the room, grasped her face between his palms and kissed her so intently Assumpta was afraid her knees might buckle beneath her.
As the kiss deepened, Peter's hands found their way into her hair. Assumpta ran her fingers along Peter's broad back, then shoulders before eventually settling them on his waist. She gripped his belt loops on either side, drawing him closer, causing Peter to let out a hungry sigh into her mouth. This was getting out of hand. He had to stop, Peter realised. But just as he was about to pull away, Assumpta subconsciously ran her left leg up his thigh, pulling him towards her.
This was quickly reaching the point of no return and Peter wasn't entirely certain that he wanted to stop it. As he slid his hands down to Assumpta's waist in order to prise himself away, she let out a delicious sigh which goaded Peter further to kiss her deeper, slower.
He was rock hard – Peter's jeans, once loose, were now taut and uncomfortable. As if oblivious to this, Assumpta gently, rhythmically rocked against him. The feeling was unbearable. Years of longing, wanting and anticipating were about to culminate to this – sex against the kitchen counter. He needed to do something – now.
"I'm sorry" Peter forcefully pulled himself away to the other side of the room. "I'm sorry – oh god". With shallow breath, he turned his body against the kitchen sink and gripped the sides shakily.
Assumpta regained her composure and after a beat, climbed off the kitchen counter and gently placed a hand on Peter's hunched shoulder.
"I just … I can't, not like this" Peter said, his voice thick with emotion.
"Sssh" she offered "It's okay". She gingerly patted his back, careful to maintain a safe distance not wanting to aggravate the poor man any more than she had.
"I want to" he presently said. "God, I want you more than you'll know, but no, not like this. I won't cheapen this" Peter gestured, his eyes wide with longing.
Assumpta sighed and ran her fingers through her tangle of hair and noticed completely horrified that her bra was undone – how on earth did he manage that? A Priest no less!
"Sex in Fitzgerald's kitchen isn't my romantic ideal I guess" Assumpta said, with a wry smile.
Nervous by her candour, Peter offered "No, I guess not"
Neither spoke for a minute – still reeling from what had just happened, what could have happened. Wanting to fill the silence, Assumpta eventually spoke
"We'll figure it out"
Peter could tell Assumpta wasn't satisfied by what he'd just said, so he tried again "We will. Figure this out. I just first need to figure out what 'this' is"
"We both do" Assumpta quickly added, not wanting to relinquish the upper hand.
"I should go" Peter said, reluctantly. He nodded decisively, as if to pull himself together and moved purposefully towards the door. He reached for the handle and, as if realising his mistake, quickly added "You know I do too, right?"
Assumpta searched his eyes inquisitively.
"Can't-drive-you-out-of-my-head" Peter added nervously with a wistful, boyish look on his face.
Assumpta smiled. "I know" she whispered.
Peter smiled back. He couldn't quite believe his luck. No matter what unchartered territory they were about to enter into, how tough things were about to become - which they invariably were - he was now armed with the most important thing he'll ever need: Assumpta.
He made a fist and knocked on the jamb of the door twice in triumph and beamed at Assumpta. His Assumpta. "See you later?"
"Definitely" she said, smiling from ear-to-ear as she closed the door behind him.