Ambrose raced through the doors of the hospital and up the stairs, taking them two at a time. As he rounded the corner he saw Niamh; she was standing against the wall, her arms folded. As he pelted down the corridor, she looked up and gave a cry. She rushed to him, his arms open, and he enveloped her in a hug. She sobbed into his shoulder while he patted her hair.
'Shhh, it's ok. It's ok. It'll be ok,' he whispered soothingly. When she'd calmed down a bit, he pulled back to look at her red, tear-stained face. 'What happened?' he asked gently. She shook her head, trying to speak, but nothing came out. She buried her face in Ambrose's shoulder again.
Ambrose saw the doctor come out of Assumpta's room, and called out to him.
'Doctor! What happened, Doctor?' The doctor shook his head.
'I'm not sure,' he started. Niamh gave a small cry. 'We're running some tests. At best, she simply had a large panic attack. We've sedated her for now, and I'd like to keep her that way for a few days. Do you know where Mr McGarvey is?'
'He went home to get some sleep. I was sitting with her, and she woke up, and we were talking…' Niamh started on a fresh round of tears.
'What were you talking about?' the doctor asked. Niamh looked up at Ambrose.
'I tried to avoid it for as long as possible…I knew she'd be upset…' Ambrose realised what she was talking about. 'I couldn't lie, Ambrose, I couldn't,' she cried, and Ambrose pulled her in tight.
'It's ok. She'll be fine. It's ok.'
The doctor turned to Niamh, putting a hand on her shoulder. 'Whatever it was, it was a shock. Her heart isn't strong – it's still recovering. She can't take any more surprises, or bad news, in the next few weeks. She needs to remain calm for a while.' Niamh nodded, and to doctor smiled.
'She's a fighter, your friend. Don't give up hope.'
Peter arrived early at the Community Centre the next morning, his eyes sore and his head pounding. He'd had a rough night; nightmares had plagued his sleep, again. He hadn't had a good nights' sleep in…well, since long before he left Ballyk. Now her face haunted his dreams. Her pale, sleeping figure, lying dead on the basement floor, her red lips standing out in her pale face. In his dreams she doesn't wake up; she doesn't survive. He screams, begging people to listen. He shakes her body, but her eyes don't open. He eventually wakes, screaming her name. More than once Mark had crashed through his door just as Peter had woken, drenched in sweat.
He hadn't confided in anyone about her – about what had happened that night – but he knew Mark was going to ask soon enough. Peter sighed to himself. Father Mac had suggested counselling before Peter had left, but he hadn't been in a frame of mind to listen to anything Father Mac had had to say that morning. Maybe it would be good to talk to Mark about him. Mark knew his brother, and well, and he could be trusted to keep a secret.
Peter just wasn't sure he could trust himself.
Peter walked up the stairs to the door. He thought he'd make some notes about the place, maybe get the Bishop to fork out for some paint, at least. As he approached the door, his heart sank.
The door was already open, the lock on the ground. Peter closed his eyes for a second. Just what I need.
He slowly walked up the stairs, listening for any noise from within the centre, but it sounded fairly empty. He slowly poked his head in the door, pushing it open gingerly. 'Hello?' he called out.
A crashing sound caused him to turn his head towards the storage room. Sure enough, the bolts lay in pieces on the floor. He quietly walked over to the door, and listened. He could hear the urgent whispers of young boys terrified of being caught. Peter knew he couldn't handle more than one, maybe two of them. He looked at the door; the handle was still intact.
Peter had an idea.
Sam roared with laughter as he looked at the storage room door. 'Brilliant, Peter. Brilliant.'
A loud banging interrupted Sam's praise. 'Oi! Let us out!' a muted voice cried.
'Not until the Police get here!' Peter yelled back. He turned as he heard voices from over near the door; the Police had arrived. Peter headed over to the entrance to greet them.
'Peter Clifford,' he said, as he shook the two officers' hands.
'Father,' they both replied. 'Can you show me where you've got them?'
'Sure can,' Peter replied, 'although you can probably hear them.' Peter led them across the hall to the storage room door, where the boys were still pounding on the door, but Peter's leather belt was holding nicely. The officers took one look at the belt and smiled wryly, shaking their heads.
'I see you're no stranger to Manchester, Father.'
'How's the Community Centre going, Father?' the Bishop asked as he sipped his tea. Peter smiled.
'It's going well, actually. It's been…an interesting few days,' he said, a wry smile on his face. The Bishop chuckled.
'Yes, I've heard. You're a local hero, Father.' Peter shook his head.
'I doubt that.'
'Well, it sounds like you're off to a good start at least,' the Bishop replied. 'What can I do for you, Father?'
Peter took a deep breath in. 'Have you been to the centre lately, your Grace?' he asked. The Bishop shook his head.
'I have to admit I haven't. But it passes all the Health and Safety regulations, you know,' the Bishop said with a knowing look. Peter nodded.
'Yes, I've heard.' He stopped. 'It's just so…run down, your Grace. It's not a place kids would want to actually spend time, and isn't that the purpose of the centre?' he reasoned. The Bishop nodded; he could see where Peter was headed.
'Funds are low, Father,' he replied, 'but I'm sure I could find some money for some paint or something,' he added before Peter could interrupt. Peter smiled satisfactorily.
'Thank you, your Grace.'
'What are you going to do about the young men who broke into the Community Centre?' the Bishop asked. Peter shook his head.
'The Police want to know if I want to press charges, but I don't really want to take it that far. On the other hand, I don't want them to think they can get away with stealing,' Peter said. 'What do you think?' The Bishop frowned.
'I think the world would benefit from a little more grace.' Peter nodded.
The Bishop sighed. 'I should tell you now, I suppose,' he started, changing the topic. 'I'm retiring in a couple of months,' he told Peter. Peter was surprised and a little disappointed, and it was evident on his face.
'Your Grace?' The Bishop shook his head.
'I'm old, Father. And I think it's time I hung up my boots, so to speak,' he said thoughtfully. Peter frowned; he didn't know Bishop O'Connell very well, but he got the sense that he was a good Bishop. The Catholic Church needed more like him.
'You will be missed, your Grace,' Peter said, a little forlorn. The Bishop smiled.
'I like to think I've made an impact,' he said meditatively. He turned his keen eyes on Peter. 'I suspect you would like to think the same thing about yourself.'
Peter frowned, a little taken aback. 'I think every priest would like to think they made an impact, your Grace,' he said, not quite sure where the Bishop was heading.
'I don't think it's only priests who think that, Father.'
Peter realised what he'd said. 'Of course, I only meant…' he trailed off. The Bishop smiled.
'Of course, Father. Just make sure you remember that.'
Peter walked down the road towards the Centre, deep in thought, when a car pulled up beside him.
'Want a lift, Father?' a voice yelled out the window. Peter turned to see William Jones. 'I'm heading that way,' he said.
'Uh, sure, thanks,' Peter got in the car; probably the most expensive car he'd ridden in, he thought.
'How are you, Father?'
'Good, thanks. Yourself?'
'Oh, I'm fine. Heard anything about the boy?' Peter shook his head.
'Not recently, no. I haven't seen him since the hospital released him that night.'
'Ah.' The car pulled up outside the centre. Both men got out and headed up the stairs.
'Is there something I can do for you, Mr Jones?' Peter asked, confused as to why William Jones would be hanging around in this neighbourhood.
'Call me William,' he replied. He looked around the hall contemplatively. 'I don't think this place has had a lick of paint since I was boy.' Peter stared at him.
'You spent time here?' Peter was incredulous.
'Yep.' William looked over at Peter. 'Didn't grow up here, no. Ran away from home once, stayed with some friends around here for a while.' William fingered the dirty wall. 'Spent many an afternoon in here, playing football, mostly.'
Peter watched as he ran his hand along the wall, and turned to face him.
'Father, I've got a proposition for you,' he said. Peter eyed him carefully.
'I'll have this place done up for you, for free.' Peter raised an eyebrow. He'd heard those kinds of statements before.
'What's the catch?' he asked carefully.
'What? No, no catch. I'd just like to put up some advertising. You know, for business,' William said, shaking his head dismissively. Peter nodded; that was the catch.
'That's a very generous offer, Mr Jones – William – but I'll have to get permission,' Peter replied noncommittally. 'You know, from the Bishop,' he added. William looked unperturbed.
'Ah, the Bishop won't mind. But I understand, get it in writing,' he said, waving his hand, and heading for the door just as Sam walked through it.
'Father,' he said, passing Sam out the door. 'Think about it, Father Clifford,' he yelled back as he walked down the stairs. Peter grinned wryly, shaking his head. Sam looked at where William was, and back to Peter.
'What's up?' he asked, curious.
'Oh, nothing much. Mr Jones just reminds me of…someone I used to know,' he added at the end, the grin fading from his face. He sighed.
'Peter?' Sam asked. 'Everything ok?'
Peter shook his head and plastered on a smile. 'Sure, fine.' Sam didn't buy it. His new charge was like a bird with a broken wing. He wondered what had broken it, but he knew now was not the time to ask. Peter looked increasingly exhausted by the day; it was clear to Sam he wasn't sleeping well. He wondered what could have happened to the young curate to cause him so much anxiety and pain. He needed help, for sure, but he sensed today was not the day.
'I came to see how your meeting went,' he said instead.
'Oh, thanks. Really well. I will have paint,' Peter replied. Sam nodded.
'Good, good.' He looked around the hall. 'Are you going to paint this place all by yourself?' he asked. 'Because I can help, but I won't be able to do much.'
Peter frowned, until suddenly a thought popped into his head. He smiled.
'No, Father, I think I will have some help.'
And another one down.
Again, feedback - positive and negative - is always appreciated.