Leo had already left by the time Assumpta returned. She'd slipped away from Peters a little before dawn. He looked so peaceful as he slept, she didn't have the heart to wake him.
As she exited the chapel, hoping desperately to make it home unnoticed, a wave of giddy excitement overcame her. She felt ashamed to admit it but it was nice to have a secret. Although the alternative would be far preferable, Assumpta appreciated the clandestine nature of what she had with Peter.
A married woman and a catholic priest. She smirked. Whatever would the locals say?
Assumpta unlocked the back door and crept quietly into the kitchen, noticing immediately that Leo's jacket and car keys were missing. Ashamed as she was to admit it, a wave of relief swept through her. She needed to work on changing Leo's mind about the annulment but it nice to forget about that for a moment and bask in the memory of the previous night.
True to his word, Peter didn't lay a finger on her last night. They slept, entwined like ivy, barely moving an inch until she awoke this morning. As l lovely as it was, Assumpta couldn't help but wish things had gone a little differently last night. The beginning of their relationship, if that's what you could call it, had been so fervent, so full of passion, it seemed almost deflating that their past few encounters had resulted in no more than a lingering touch.
Be patient. Assumpta told herself. The time has to be right.
Just when that would be felt frustratingly far from her reach.
A knock at the door broke Assumpta's reverie. She looked at the clock: 6.27am. Too early for the beer delivery. Pulling her cardigan around her, the landlady opened the door.
"Yes" she snapped impatiently.
The boy on the doorstep jumped back in surprise. It was Old Man Tooley's nephew, Dermot. Last time Assumpta had seen him, the lad was no higher than a post box. Today, his large frame towered over hers.
"Mrs Macgavery?" Dermot stuttered. His freckled brow was caked in sweat. Had he been running?
"What is it, Dermot?"
"Mr Macgarvey, he thought I might be of some use to you" he began.
Surveying the mop and bucket in his hand, Assumpta twigged. We could get a cleaner.
"I don't know, Dermot. I mean, the place isn't so bad..."
The boy's face fell. Assumpta remembered hearing that he had been struggling to find work since he'd left school. Mr Tooley had intimated at some undisclosed health problem. Give the lad a break - a voice inside of her said.
"Why don't you start collecting glasses and we'll go from there"
Peter spent the next few days researching marriage law. Hardly an appropriate way to spend his remaining time in the priesthood but the curate couldn't help himself.
Last night had been, well, wonderful. It had given Peter a taste of what a life with Assumpta would be like. It had awoken a part of him that the Priest had thought he'd lost forever.
It had made him even more determined to make Assumpta his.
There had been cases in the past where a Parish priest could grant an annulment. Exceptional cases, where one or both parties hadn't been of sound mind when the union occurred. By her own admission, Assumpta hadn't been thinking straight when she said 'I do' to Leo. I thought he might drive you from my head, she had told Peter. Surely that was enough?
Certainly not enough for Father Mac. Convincing him to agree to an annulment would be harder than convincing Leo. Peter slammed the book shut. Maybe this was a lost cause.
Peter hadn't spoken to Assumpta in days. He was all too aware that she was bearing the full burden of their predicament. He'd essentially told Assumpta there could be no future for them while she was still married. Part of Peter wished he could let go, just for a moment; to act on the impulses that filled his brain.
With a groan, the Priest ran his palms over his face and reopened the book.
In exceptional cases, or if the Parish Priest should so decree it, an annulment can be awarded with the consent of one party.
Peter repeated the phrase back to himself.
...or if Parish Priest should so decree it.
A thought entered his head. The only way Father Mac would annul a marriage was if he was given no choice. What if Peter gave him no choice? A plan began to form – a dark, self-serving plan that under any ordinary circumstances the Priest would never entertain. But these weren't ordinary circumstances and this plan – this decidedly un-Christian plan – could be his only chance to release Assumpta from her vows.
He glanced at the clock. 3pm. She'd be closing the pub after the lunchtime rush about now. She'd be alone. He had to see her. Without a moment's hesitation, Peter closed the door behind him and headed in the direction of Fitzgeralds.
Assumpta had to admit it, Dermot had been a help. In a matter of days he'd progressed from cleaner to glass collector to bar man. Hardly the dizzying heights but Dermot seemed content. The lunchtime rush had been, well, rushed and her new bar man had coped admirably.
"You might as well head off" The landlady smiled at the boy. He really had taken the stress off.
"I'll just finish these glasses, Mrs Macgarvey"
"Dermot, for the last time. It's Assumpta"
The boy smiled shyly. "Assumpta"
The landlady returned the smile and headed into the kitchen.
Waiting against the Aga, a familiar face beamed at her.
"Peter!" She exclaimed, with surprise. "How on earth..."
Assumpta was going to enquire how the Priest had managed to find his way into the kitchen through a locked door, but his lips silenced hers as they closed over her mouth. As he kissed her, deeply and fervently, Assumpta was too stunned to reciprocate. Hadn't he told her just the other day that this was out of bounds?
As if hearing her thoughts, Peter smiled against her mouth.
"I think I've found a way..." He began.
"What? How?" Assumpta managed, still giddy from the kiss.
Peter released her from his arms for a moment, grinning widely.
"You don't have to worry about petitioning Leo for an annulment. I can do it for you – well the Parish can"
Assumpta studied him sceptically. "The Parish?" She started, before realisation hit her "you mean Father Mac."
It was a cruel blow. All at once her spirits had been lifted then dashed. If Leo wasn't going to give her an annulment, Father Mac definitely wouldn't.
"Relax. I have a plan."
"A plan? I should think you'll need a bloody miracle..."
"Assumpta" Peter held his palm out to her "you have to trust me. I know what I'm doing"
The Priest smiled. Assumpta wore a look of trepidation, her forehead wrinkled into a frown. Despite her doubts, he was certain that this was going to work.
"Okay..." She began, not entirely convinced.
"Okay." He repeated, moving his palm towards her cheek. "I have to go", he added, unexpectedly.
"Already?" Assumpta tried to hide her disappointment.
"I want to catch Father Mac before he leaves" Peter paused "I'll call you after"
As he turned to leave, Peter felt compelled to feel her lips against his one more time. "I love you" he whispered, half to himself, as he pulled her towards him.
For a moment, every thought left Assumpta's head as Peter held her in his gaze and slowly embraced her.
How could they know that they were being watched? How could they know that it was because of this kiss, this single, solitary act their lives would come crashing down around them?
Of course they couldn't.
For now, all they had was this moment. And so all they could do was kiss.
There you have it guys - another chapter! So sorry for the delay. Pathetically, I was getting cold feet with continuing this. But then I re-read your lovely comments and it's given me the courage to continue!
Keep 'em coming!