'Is this it, then?' he screamed at the sky. 'Punishment? Punishment for something You did?' He grabbed at the white collar around his neck, yanking it from its place. He took one look at it before throwing it into the river. 'You say you're a God of love. What we had was love. A love you gave us.' Peter leant his head against the cold, wet bricks of the bridge. 'Why did you let me fall in love with her if You were going to take her from me? You're no God of love. You're just cruel,' he spat. He slowly pulled his head up from the bricks, the rage inside of him now uncontrollable.
'Bring. Her. Back,' he said quietly to the sky. 'I did nothing wrong. You bring her BACK,' he yelled, his voice rising at the end. There was silence as the rain continued to fall. He looked up to the sky, the arms he had raised above his head in anger falling back to his sides.
'Is that what you want? You want a priest who doesn't believe?' he whispered quietly. 'Because I don't. I believe in You, but I don't believe in the Church. Not anymore.' He shook his head and leant wearily against the bridge, his eyes closed.
'If you bring her back, I'll devote my life to You. The rest of my life. I promise. Just don't take her away,' he whispered.
Peter stumbled out across the road, his eyes blurred by the tears that kept coming. God wasn't listening to him. God had stopped listening to him. This was his punishment, and he had to bear it. He kept walking, one foot in front of the other. He had no idea where he was going, and he didn't care; he just had to keep moving. If he stopped, the pain would overwhelm him. He couldn't let that happen; it would kill him. He was vaguely aware of light, somewhere…getting closer. He turned around to see the headlights of the Ambulance. He just stared, dazzled. Maybe if he stood in the way, if he stopped it from leaving Ballykissangel, maybe she'd come back to him.
Before he knew it, Michael was at his arm. 'Peter!' Peter just stared at the approaching figure. 'Come on. Come on!' Michael tugged at his arm, and Peter allowed himself to be led. He was walking around the ambulance. Peter was vaguely aware of the rain falling; it was cold on his hot face. Michael led him around to the back of the ambulance and opened the door, pulling on Peter to get in.
His face cracked as a new wave of pain washed over him. He shook his head, pushing the doctor away. Michael grabbed at his jacket and shook him slightly, begging him to understand. Peter needed to do this. Someone needed to do this. She couldn't make this final journey alone. She couldn't leave Ballykissangel on her own.
'Stay with her.'
Peter looked at the doctor's face, recognising his own pain in the doctor's eyes. The doctor looked down, swallowing, patting Peter on the chest and nodding. Peter turned and climbed into the back of the ambulance, sitting on the bench opposite her body.
He couldn't bear to look at her, but he couldn't take his eyes off her. Her face was the only thing uncovered. Her beautiful, white face. It wasn't as white as he had somehow expected; she still had some colour in her cheeks, and the little remaining lipstick gave her lips a life-like realism. The tears fell from his eyes, but he made no sound. He just stared at her beautiful face, somehow scared he'd forget it, but knowing he never would.
He felt cheated. Cheated out of life. Cheated that he wouldn't get to study the lines on her face, the curve of her smile, her bright eyes. He'd spent months studying it already, but he had wanted more. So much more.
He slowly reached out towards her face. His fingers made contact with her skin, and he jerked them back. She felt almost warm, even now. He reached out again, and brushed the side of her face with his fingers.
'Assumpta,' he whispered, his voice barely holding. The tears continued to fall, faster and faster. He blinked them away, willing himself to stop crying. He needed to memorise her face. Her beautiful, white face. His fingers continued to trace the outline of her jaw, her cheekbone, her cheek.
He pulled his hand away. He couldn't do it. The pain was too great; he felt like his chest was going to cave in, or explode. His face contorted with the pain, but he knew he had to. He wasn't going to get another opportunity. He slowly reached out, touching her cheek, running his fingers along her soft skin to her lips. The lips he had never kissed.
He suddenly jerked his hand back.
No, he was dreaming. His desperation was driving him to hallucinations. He shook his head, wiping his face with his hand, his eyes never leaving her face.
No. It was desperation that was making him crazy. He was going crazy. He didn't really care, either.
Suddenly it hit him, like a fist to the chest, and he fell on his knees, holding his ear to her mouth.
'She's breathing,' he whispered. 'Oh God.'
'She's breathing! MICHAEL! SHE'S BREATHING!' he screamed, banging against the thin sheet of plastic between the cabin and the driver. The ambulance brakes slammed on, and he was thrown against the wall of the cabin. He scrambled to his feet, grabbed at the sheet covering her torso and threw it to one side. 'Come on, Assumpta,' he whispered, as he leant his cheek over her mouth.
He felt the slightest breath of air caress his cheek before Michael had pushed him heavily out of the way. Michael put his hands to her neck, feeling around for a pulse. His eyes widened as he looked from Peter to the Ambulance officer. 'Adrenaline, now!' he shouted, tearing his wide eyes away from Peter's equally shocked face.
He sat, shocked, in the corner of the cabin, watching as Michael and the Ambulance officer hurried around Assumpta.
It couldn't be true. It couldn't be real. Peter stared at the once lifeless body of Assumpta Fitzgerald, the woman he loved. She was alive.
Michael thrust the keys to the Ambulance in Peter's face. 'Can you drive?' he said urgently. Peter just nodded dumbly. 'Drive us to the hospital in Cildargan. I'll ring and tell them we're coming,' Michael said loudly and deliberately. Peter nodded, scrambling past the two men and around the Ambulance. He climbed into the front seat and thrust the keys into the ignition, turning them roughly. The engine sprang to life, and he planted his foot to the floor. The ambulance lurched forward, and he heard a crash. He turned around briefly to see what had fallen, but he couldn't see much through the plastic. He turned around and focused on driving. He clenched his jaw, the tears no longer a problem.
'You win,' he said angrily, to no one in particular.
Assumpta eyes felt heavy. She didn't want to open them. She just wanted to sleep more. She started to slip back into unconsciousness when she realised the sounds around her weren't familiar. She'd heard them before, she knew, but they hadn't really registered. She'd just gone back to sleep, her eyes too heavy to open. But this time was different.
She slowly cracked her eyes open, only to shut them again. It was bright. She considered just going back to sleep – that was the easy option – but her curiosity got the better of her. She forced herself to open her eyes again, this time allowing her eyes time to adjust to the light before she opened them further. There was a window in front of her, with white curtains. The walls were cream, and there was a painting of…
This wasn't her room. She tried forcing her eyes open further, but they resisted, and she closed them. Instead she opened her mouth to speak.
'Peter…' she mumbled, almost silently. Peter would know what was going on. 'Peter,' she tried again.
She heard footsteps, and a voice. 'Assumpta? Assumpta, are you awake?' the voice asked.
Assumpta felt the tiredness overwhelm her, and she succumbed to the darkness.
Leo raced out the door of the hospital room over to the nurses' station. 'She just said something,' he cried, and the nurse looked up at him. 'She just spoke,' he explained. The nurse quickly put down the paper she was holding, and followed him back into the room. She looked at the monitors; the heart rate had increased a few moments ago, but was slowly going back down again. The nurse looked down at her patient.
'Something happened, yes.' Leo clenched his jaw.
'I heard her speak,' he said, frustrated. The hospital had been very clear. Assumpta was not likely to wake up, they'd told him. She'd been dead too long. The brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long. If she did wake, she'd be a vegetable, not able to do anything for herself. Certainly wouldn't be walking and talking.
Leo had refused to believe them. He knew Assumpta; she would fight.
She had to fight.
He couldn't lose her again. He'd lost her once, and he was determined to win her back. All he needed was the opportunity.
The nurse gave him a small smile. 'What did she say?' she asked. Leo looked at the ground. He'd heard what she'd said, and was like a punch to the guts. But she'd spoken. At least he had something to work with.
'Just a name. Of a friend,' he added. 'Simple words.'
The nurse nodded. 'That's a positive sign, then. I'll let the doctor know,' she'd said, almost pityingly. Leo watched her leave, the frown still on his face.
'She said something?'
'That's what Leo said.'
'Well, there you go,' Brendan said, the self-satisfied smile etched on his face. 'I told you so.'
Niamh sighed. 'There's still a long way to go, Brendan,' she said, her voice filled with caution. Brendan's smiled dropped.
'Where's your faith? You know Assumpta. She'd be fighting with God, telling Him she can't go just now,' he said, the smile returning. Niamh gave him a wry smile in return, grabbing the tea towel from the bench.
'She'll be home any day now, you'll see,' Padraig said. 'To Assumpta!' he cried, raising his glass. They'd all taken to raising their glasses to Assumpta lately, and anything was an excuse. Any mention of her name saw at least three glasses charged, and often more. Niamh had fled the bar in tears one night when Padraig had shouted a toast to Assumpta to the full bar, every one of the patrons responding, standing with their glasses held high. It was their way of keeping their spirits up, she knew, but her heart was still raw, and it had been too much for her.
She wiped the bar down, removing some of the dirty glasses. She heard Sioban's quiet question to Brendan. 'Have you heard anything?'
She assumed the answer had been negative when the conversation failed to continue. Her shoulders slumped. Peter had left only a couple of days ago now, just after Keiran's christening. They'd all left the church and had congregated at Brian's for a celebration, but Peter had never arrived. Brendan had arrived late saying nothing more than that Peter had left Ballykissangel for Manchester at Father Mac's command. She suspected there had been more to it than that, but Brendan was not forthcoming. She'd known there was something going on; Assumpta hadn't been that happy in years. But she hadn't had time to ask before everything all went horribly wrong.
She scrubbed the glasses, pushing everything out of her mind. The less she thought about it the better.
That's all for now! I'll upload the next chapter in the next day or two. I won't keep you in suspense for long.
If you'd like, I'd appreciate a comment. Compliments and constructive criticism both welcome.