Title: Love is Pleasin'
Category: Pure old fashioned romance
Rating: Some adult themes and language
"I love you." He whispered.
"Ah would you take that thing off before you say things like that!"
"I cant help it."
"Assumpta!" shouted Padraig from the other end of the bar.
"I'm coming, Padraig." She shouted back. "God you'd think he'd been wandering in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights without any water."
"I wonder if he resisted temptation." Peter grinned
"Oh is that what I am – temptation?"
"I think you're a lot more than that." With a smile Assumpta turned to the bar to pour Padraig his pint and slammed it down on the bar in front of him.
"Oh is that the thanks I get for repairing your death trap of a fuse box?" he asked.
"What did you expect?"
Meanwhile Brendan had sidled up to Peter, "You're looking awfully pleased with yourself."
"The cat that got the cream." Interjected Padraig to which Assumpta raised an eyebrow.
"Actually," whispered Brendan turning serious, "I think I know why you're so happy." Peter couldn't help his panicked stricken face or the quick glance in Assumpta's direction, who was now regarding the scene with some interest.
"I think that's yours." Brendan said with a flick of his head and a smile when Peter looked again behind him to Assumpta.
"The cup! What do you think I meant?"
Peter with some relief smiled at Dr Ryan and Fr Mac who held up the cup to present to him. "Speech!" someone shouted, sounding suspiciously like Siobhan, and to which everyone agreed. Loudly.
"OK, OK. Well, ahem, firstly a huge thank you to everyone who cheated, which meant I won by default.
"God on your side eh Father?" shouted Liam.
"Something like that Liam. The best news is that we raised over £500 for the Hospice!" The crowd cheered in response. "Which," Peter continued, "couldn't have been done without all your hard work….well actually without Shamie's hard work."
"Good on ya Shamie!"
"Seriously, today has yet again proven how great this village is at pulling together." Peter paused as he regarded his friends, his family. "As you all know the last few weeks have been…somewhat difficult for me and don't think your efforts to cheer me up or keep me occupied have gone unnoticed." The crowd all smiled to themselves, no one can fool Peter Clifford.
"Life has the habit of pulling the rug from under you when you least expect it, but I'm lucky that I've got such good people around me to help me through it. I hope and pray that I will always have your friendship." Or at least your understanding Peter thought as he watched Fr Mac raise an eyebrow. "So if you will all raise your glasses – to Ballykissangel!"
Peter smiled at Assumpta as he drank his beer, yes understanding and friendship were going to be needed over the next few weeks.
As the last stragglers left bar, Brendan promised Padraig he would actually eat his stout pie and not feed it to Eamonn's pigs as he had originally suggested.
"Would I lie to you Padraig? You're my oldest friend."
"C'mon, have you no homes to go to?" ushered Assumpta
"No lock in tonight then Assumpta?" asked Padraig
"I think not Padraig O'Kelly," said Ambrose, "The Irish justice system has had as much as it can take from you."
"It was a PRIVATE party!" chorused Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig.
"Oh but the Priest gets to stay. That's favouritism that is."
"Brendan I don't recall you offering to help me clean up. Am I mistaken?"
"Ah nice one Peter – see you tomorrow."
With a laugh, Assumpta closed the door behind them and turned to look at Peter, "That was harder than I imagined."
"Getting them to go home?"
"Cute." She walked over to him where he was perched by the side of the bar. "I meant…gah you know what I meant."
"Yeah I know." He paused and looked at her somewhat nervously, "Too hard?"
"Nothing we cant handle."
Peter grinned, "If looks could kill you know, me and you would be 6ft under by now."
"Fr Mac? Yeah I'm surprised he didn't say anything to me."
"He wouldn't want a scene. He asked me to go and see him tomorrow. To finalise my decision."
Now it was Assumpta's turn to look nervous, "Are you –"
"How do you know what I was going to ask?" Peter grinned up at her and cradled her face in his palm.
"I know you. And in answer to your unasked question. I'm sure. Positive. 100% certain. I want you in my life and Ill do whatever it takes."
"Well, if that's the case – you can wash up."
It was dawn when Peter woke up. Leaving Assumpta last night untouched and unkissed was probably the hardest thing he ever had to do but they agreed. No funny business until he was relieved of his duties.
It was going to be a big day for them both. Assumpta was going to Dublin to finalise the annulment of her marriage to Leo (which they had started after she followed him to Dublin some weeks ago) and Peter was going to have his 'annulment' such as it was, from the church. Or at least from his priestly duties, he knew that he wouldn't be released from his vows officially for some time. Peter was surprised to find that didn't bother him. As far as he was concerned, when he made his decision to be with Assumpta, he felt released from his vows.
Not that he was without some regret. He had agonised over his vocation, he knew what he was giving up when he entered the Priesthood. He'd felt sure it was the right path. To be walking away now, after all this time, there was a small part of him that felt he had failed. But he had made his peace with God of that he was sure. His faith was as strong as ever. His just couldn't say the same for his Catholicism.
He smiled, Assumpta would be pleased with that. He couldn't imagine forcing her to marry in a church, he wasn't sure he would want to. A Roman Catholic ceremony for a former priest who had wrestled with many of the Catholic Church's teachings for some time and gave up his vows for the woman he loved. Unlikely.
Maybe a wedding outside, above the lake where they had finally admitted their love for each other. His old Parish Priest would agree to do the ceremony, a blessing maybe….
Don't get ahead of yourself Peter, he checked himself. There's still a long road in front of you. And two great big obstacles in Fr Mac and Leo McGarvey.
Assumpta was having similar thoughts as she pulled out onto the Dublin Road just after dawn. Having Peter leave her untouched and unkissed was nearly her undoing, which shocked her. Normally she was cool calm and collected when it came to men. Treating them almost clinically, going through the motions. At least that's what it had been like with Leo. With Peter the passion she felt was frightening. Here she was, willing to turn her whole life upside down for a man. And not just any man, a Priest. If the situation wasn't so serious she'd be on the floor laughing.
Leo. She couldn't help but think of him with regret and guilt. He'd done nothing but love her and try to be her friend. When she followed him to Dublin a few weeks ago she tried to explain why she did what she did. It was difficult because she wasn't sure herself. Leo, as ever, knew the answer before she did.
"Because you loved him," he had whispered to her his voice breaking. "And you couldn't have him. You loved him and couldn't have him so you chose me."
She had apologised but she felt she couldn't apologise enough. If she were to ever have any regrets about her and Peter, it would be the unfair victim she had made of Leo. He didn't deserve it.
"I think we should seek an annulment." He said, "I don't think either of us can call this a marriage. An annulment would be the best thing for both of us." Assumpta had to agree. The marriage that never was, Niamh had said on her return. If only she knew.
God Niamh, another person she couldn't think of without regret. She had never confided in Niamh about her feelings for Peter. There were times when she thought she might suspect but Niamh never vocalised her suspicions. How on earth was she going to explain all this to her?
"So Father. You have made your decision?" Father Mac enquired, although Peter felt it was a more rhetorical question than Fr Mac made it appear.
"Yes Father. I wish to be relieved of my duties and, ultimately, released from my vows."
"For Assumpta Fitzgerald." Fr Mac sneered, his head shaking.
"Yes for Assumpta. But most of all for me. You know perhaps more than anyone my dissatisfaction for some of the church's teachings. The sweating statue just might have been the last straw."
"Father. I'm not here to get into another theological discussion. Especially one that we have had many times." Fr Mac looked up at Peter, surprised at his forthrightness.
"Assumpta and I are going to be married and I –"
"She's a married woman." Fr Mac interjected
"And I'm a Catholic Priest." Peter deadpanned.
"Win double." Fr Mac said with distaste.
"Father, forgive me but I'm finding your tone a little hard to deal with especially when we both know that my situation is not uncommon and certainly not uncommon to you."
Fr Mac was shocked at this, never had Peter Clifford ever mentioned his situation with Naincie.
"Father I'm not sure what you are suggesting but if you think-"
"I don't think anything Father. I know what happened in your situation and I will not make the same mistake. I would appreciate your help in getting the Bishop's agreement to relieve me of my duties and petitioning the Vatican to release me from my vows. That is all I require from this conversation."
If Fr Mac was incandescent with rage before, now he was apoplectic. "I will have your respect Father, or have you forgotten that you are still my curate."
"Father," Peter started, trying to find his last shred of patience, "All I ask is for your respect in return. Respect for my decision."
Fr Mac let out a sigh, the emotions too much for him to handle, the memories of feelings he had long buried too hurtful. "I will speak with the Bishop today and arrange your paperwork for you to sign this afternoon. I think it best if I relieve you from your duties at once."
"I had hoped Father that I would have the opportunity to say goodbye to the congregation and there is Kieran's christening to consider."
"I think given the circumstances that it is best you leave at once. I do not want you standing at the altar giving communion when you are not committed to the teachings of the church. I will conduct the Egan child's christening."
"That is my final decision, Mr Clifford." He held out his hand, at first Peter thought he wanted to shake his hand but the look in the Parish Priest's eye quickly dismissed that idea. He pulled his collar from his shirt and handed it to Fr Mac.
Well, thought Peter as he left the building, that could have gone worse. He was disappointed about the christening; he had hoped….oh God, Niamh. How was he going to explain this to her?
In the end it all came down to the simple flourish of a pen. A signature on her part in the cold and lifeless office of a Dublin solicitors.
Leo was silent throughout the process, but she noted a slight hesitation when it came to his signature. How could he ever forgive her for this?
"Right that's it. Thank you for coming all this way Ms Fitzgerald. It makes the process so much easier."
"No problem." She whispered – it was the least she could do.
As she and Leo stepped out into the Dublin sunshine, she was suddenly lost for words.
"Coffee?" She managed, surprised at the sound of her own voice.
"No. I won't thanks. This cosmopolitan has a ticket to London."
"Don't." He said sharply, "There's nothing left to say." He followed, more softly this time. He grabbed her in a quick bear hug and then he was gone. Out of her life for good. It didn't escape either of them that the hug was the most physical demonstration of their feelings for each other since they got married.
As she watched him walk away with a heavy heart, she knew then that while she would probably get the odd Christmas card, she would never see him again.
I'm free. The thought came unbidden but with a sense of relief and release. Tears pricked her eyes. Peter was right, how can something be so exhilarating and so depressing at the same time? But it was both of those things. Despite the guilt and regret and hurt, there was the knowledge that she was finally getting what and who she truly wanted. She could never regret that.
She wondered how Peter was faring with Fr Mac and quickly decided to get home as soon as possible. She could make it back from Dublin in less than two hours. Never before had she been so eager to get back to BallyK.
For the past three hours Peter had wandered around Cilldargen, finally ending up in his second favourite watering hole. His disappointment at Fr Mac's decision not to let him conduct Sunday Mass or the Christening was great, even if a part of him understood Fr Mac's reasoning.
Was it fair to Kieran or his parents to have him Christened by a soon-to-be-ex Priest who intended on living in sin with the woman he loved before the water used to baptise him was dry?
It was for selfish reasons really. He wanted to be the Priest which baptised Kieran and he wanted to leave on his terms, with an explanation to the congregation. He wanted them to understand why he was leaving the church. He thought, rather naively, that if they heard it from him maybe they would not judge him or Assumpta so harshly.
Ultimately, he wanted what he could not have. The human condition.
Well that's it, he realised, he's just been demoted.
"Do you ever want what you can't have?"
"What's stopped you?"
"What are you afraid of?"
"I'm afraid I have to say Mass at 8."
Peter smiled ruefully at the memory. Well he wont have to be afraid of that anymore.
He remembered how hurt she had looked the next day, how angry she had been when she barred him and threw him out of the pub. He couldn't understand at the time what he had done wrong. No that was not true – be honest now Peter – he didn't want to understand what he had done wrong, what had got her so upset.
Those moments of truth between them, so few and yet so, so powerful. Where desire and love were so screwed up inside they were barely recognisable. God couldn't forsake him, he'd been a goddamned Saint for holding out this long.
But while he was resisting temptation and basically lying to himself, he had hurt Assumpta in the process. Never more so than when he had left for retreat.
"So that's it?"
"Yes – that is it."
Her tears had nearly been his undoing, but he had left. Reconnected with God, a refresher course if you will; made his peace with his vocation and strengthened his faith.
All of which lasted a few hours back in BallyK until Niamh's quiet voice.
"You remember Leo?"
He remembered Leo alright.
"He's gotten married."
"Yeah? Who to?"
Niamh's silence was enough and the truth came crashing down on him, suffocating him and preventing any meaningful response while Niamh spoke of her dissatisfaction with a registry office wedding with no family and friends.
"Assumpta's a grown woman. She can make up her own mind."
He had tried for a dignified quick exit but looking back, he didn't think Niamh was fooled one bit. Flashes of memories, of previous conversations, the first time he met Leo in Fitzgerald's and the conversation in the sacristy.
"I don't think I've ever loved anyone else."
Well snap Leo, he had thought bitterly.
He had broken her heart when he left for the retreat. And she broke his right back. But they were on their way to being mended now, and really, that was all that mattered.
After a pint and some contemplative moments it was not long before he found himself back inside Fr Mac's office.
"The Bishop is, of course, disappointed in your decision." Peter hung his head, he respected the Bishop greatly. "But we agreed a quick and clean break was the best way forward. There will be more paperwork, of course. The petition to the Vatican will take some months, if not over a year. But you are released from your duties."
"Thank you, Father." Peter said softly, truly appreciative that the ordeal had been dealt with so quickly.
Fr Mac misjudged his tone and asked with some surprise, "Regrets?"
"A few." Peter admitted, "But then again too few to mention." He smiled but quickly schooled his expression when he realised that Fr Mac wasn't amused.
"Well Father," Peter started, "I guess this is it, it's been a pleasure."
Fr Mac looked at him sceptically with a raised eyebrow, "It has indeed been an experience."
"Thank you for sorting this out so quickly." Peter said truthfully to which Fr Mac gave a quick nod of the head.
"I'll be off then."
"Goodbye Mr Clifford."
"Goodbye Father. Maybe see you at Mass some time." And before Fr Mac could respond he made a sharp exit.