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What Could Have Been

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Writing Prompt 832: Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.

Peter couldn’t help the grin from spreading through his features as he watched the woman behind the bar. How was it that even when she engaged in simple, mundane tasks, she had the ability to make his heart regularly skip a beat? He had thought about it countless times and yet, the solution had never come to the surface.

Assumpta Fitzgerald really was an enigma.

“Need some help?”

The brunette spun around, startled, before breaking into a smile. “Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.” She gestured for him to come inside as he shut the door behind him, “To answer your question: yes. Yes I would.” Shooting Peter an exasperated look - to which Peter had resist the urge to let a chuckle escape in response - she nodded in the direction of the glasses that were haphazardly placed on various tables, to which Peter mock-saluted in acknowledgement. Getting to work, he listened to Assumpta, who was in the midst of cleaning the bar as she spoke.

“I mean, for a bunch of old fogies they sure can make a mess. Plus there’s Brendan, Padraig and Siobhan, but they’re harmless.“ Placing a couple of empty glasses on the counter, Peter responded with a curious raised eyebrow. “Assumpta, you’re the landlady of an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day. What did you think was going to happen?”

Assumpta pouted. “I know that Peter, I’m not stupid. It’s just that… maybe I do need an extra hand around the place.”

Peter nodded in understanding as he continued to transfer the glasses. It had only been a couple of months since the accident and Assumpta was only just getting back to normal. All he had wanted to do at that time was help, however having the local priest (even though he had processed the relevant paperwork through Father Mac at that point) and the local publican be in a romantic relationship together was a little too raw then. So, he had obediently kept his distance while the two of them slowly began to become accepted as a couple in the community. That was partially why he had missed the Paddy’s Day party, after all.

“I’ll help.” He ignored Assumpta’s shocked glance as she proceeded to move from behind the bar to face him, rag still in hand. “I mean, surely enough time has passed by now and I,” he pulled her close to his chest, much to her surprise, “owe you for all the time I missed out on caring for you.”

Assumpta sighed as she glanced up at the ex-priest’s soft expression. “Well, I suppose you could be a good dish-washer… Plus, if you’re working for me, you’d probably have to move in too. You know, to make it easier when opening and closing up the pub and all that…” She desperately tried to keep an air of nonchalance about her, however her rapidly widening grin was her undoing. Peter simply smiled his trademark crooked smile, kissing her softly on the lips for a few minutes before breaking away.

“I love you, Assumpta Fitzgerald.”

He waited hopefully for her reciprocation, but it never came. Instead, she planted a delicate kiss on his forehead before replying, her trembling voice betraying her calm demeanor as she placed her hands on his cheeks.

“I love you so much, Peter Clifford, but I don’t want you to beat yourself up about this. Don’t live in your dreams. I know it’s only been a few months since I died and that you left the priesthood and Ballykissangel to lick your wounds and heal. I know that you’re desperately trying to move on from me by trying to push all thoughts of me away from your mind. But Peter, “ she matched his gaze as she stared into equally tear-filled eyes, “you’re all alone, in an Irish pub, in Manchester, on St. Patrick’s Day. What did you think was going to happen?“

“Sir? Sorry, mate, it’s closing time. Time to go… Hey, are you okay?”

The young brunette tapped the man on the shoulder, noticing the stray tears slipping down his features as he spun around, momentarily shocked. His haunted expression morphed into a look of acceptance as he stood up, grabbing his coat and began to leave. He made it to the doorway before he turned to face the fresh-faced girl, a crooked smile adorning his face.

“I just had a dream of what could have been.”

As he walked out into the cool British air, a line came to the fore-front of his mind. From where, he wasn’t sure.

It’s the what-ifs that’ll kill you.