Assumpta sat on her bed, hugging her knees. She watched the curtain dance in the breeze. It was too cold, but she couldn't summon the energy to walk over and close the window. Shivering, she looked away. Her eyes darted around the room, searching for somewhere safe to rest. There was no such place. He was everywhere.
The book he'd leant her.
The jacket he'd put around her shoulders on a late walk by the river.
The simple note he'd slipped under her door the day he went to Wicklow for his mandatory meeting with the Bishop.
Get that look off your face.
Remember my promise?
I won't let you down.
It was strange, she thought. Just yesterday, these objects and the memories they held would have made her smile. Yesterday, the breeze would have been sweet, the air would have been light, the quiet would have been peaceful. The thought that Peter might walk in at any moment would have filled her with silly schoolgirl butterflies and smiles that simply would not concede to be wiped away. But today...
Everything was different.
Today, the memories wrung her heart like a dishcloth. Today, the breeze was ice against her skin, the air was grey, the silence was suffocating. Today, she hoped that Peter wouldn't come.
She brought her head to rest on her knees. She closed her eyes. She begged herself not to cry. She had to stay composed, in case Peter came. She had to let him think that everything was okay. She couldn't tell him. Not today. She couldn't tell him what she'd done.
She thought of his note, of his words by the river.
I won't let you down.
He hadn't. He'd been wonderful... even better than she'd imagined he would be. Sure, the last eight days had been hard – dealing with Father Mac, the Bishop, the shocked congregation... Peter had barely been around. But when he came, he would touch her face, quell her fears, whisper love. He would make her forget why she'd been mad at him all day, and it was infuriating but it was beautiful.
In all the chaos, Peter had never once wavered, had never shown any doubts, had never let her feel like she was anything less than everything. She had never dreamed of being so loved.
No, Peter hadn't let her down.
But she had let everyone down.
She was so close to being asleep that she didn't hear Peter enter the room. He sat down on the bed, and gently placed his hand on her arm.
He spoke only softly, but Assumpta jumped about three feet into the air.
'God, you scared me,' she breathed, clutching her chest.
Peter smiled. 'Sorry... You look exhausted. Hard day?'
Assumpta now sat cross-legged on the bed, staring at her hands folded in her lap.
'Well,' said Peter brightly, 'I know just the thing to cheer you up. I've got a surprise.'
Yeah, Assumpta thought humourlessly, me too.
When she didn't say anything, Peter continued, somewhat warily. 'I know we haven't got to spend much time alone together... So I've asked Niamh, and she said she'll manage on her own tonight. We're going for a picnic.'
'At Cill na Sidh.'
Cill na Sidh.
She looked up at Peter, just for a second. His eager smile nearly broke her heart. But she couldn't do it. She couldn't spend the night alone with him. She couldn't pretend for that long. Especially not there... not with so many memories. The fire, his touch, their ragged breath. The next day, the tears, her decision...
She jumped up, and headed for the door.
Confused, Peter followed her down the stairs.
'Assumpta, are you okay?'
'I'm fine, Peter; I just... I can't do a picnic tonight, okay?'
Face fallen, Peter stopped dead with three stairs still to go. He had been planning this for days. It was going to be perfect. Just the two of them, alone, with no one to interrupt but their old friend the owl. He had imagined her relaxed, smiling, snuggling up to him against the cold. He had imagined telling her that he loved her, and finally hearing her say the same to him in return. He had imagined –
Peter's despondent thoughts were interrupted by a loud clang as Assumpta, now acting busy in the kitchen, dropped a pan. He braved the rest of the stairs and spoke to the back of Assumpta's head as she leaned over the sink. 'What's going on, Assumpta?'
'Nothing. I just have work to do.'
'Well... Can't it wait?'
'No, Peter, it can't.'
'But I have everything planned.'
His voice was so small. Assumpta could feel his disappointment. She didn't want to hurt him, but how else could she get him to give up on this picnic idea? She bit her lip, struggling to keep her voice steady. 'I hear Brendan's fishing this evening. Why don't you join him?' she offered weakly.
Hurt and confused, Peter screwed up his face. 'I don't want to go fishing with Brendan. I want to spend time with you.'
'Well, I just can't tonight, okay? I have too much to do.'
'Fine,' Peter said bitterly, 'Well, I'd offer to stay and help with all this work, but somehow I get the feeling you'd prefer to be left alone.'
As he turned to walk out, Peter saw Assumpta's shoulders shake, and knew she was fighting tears. His bitterness immediately faded into concern. Something was wrong here. But he knew Assumpta. He could see that she wasn't going to tell him. Not today. She needed time, and she needed to know...
He walked gingerly up to her, placing his hand firmly in the small of her back. He kissed her hair. 'I love you,' he whispered.
'Yeah.' Assumpta let out a shaky breath. 'I love you too.'
Walking away from Fitzgerald's, Peter's heart was heavy. That wasn't how he had wanted Assumpta's first 'I love you' to go. That wasn't how he had wanted the night to go. He had wanted...
He placed his cold hand inside his warm pocket, and fumbled the small velvet box.