"Um, hi. It's Assumpta."
Peter sat up in his bed, ruffling his hair as he squinted to make out the time on the clock face. Just gone half two in the morning. Mid-yawn, he masked his confusion with humour.
"Oh, so it's your turn to ask for late night chauffeur duties, is it?"
There was momentary silence on the other end of the line.
"Not exactly… To be honest, I'm not even sure why I rang you, it's not li–"
"Assumpta, what's wrong?"
She was starting to worry him, she could hear it in the tone of his voice. She needed to stop running to Saint Peter of Ballykissangel whenever life got tough. Especially now.
"You know what? It doesn't matter. Forget it."
The line went dead.
And so, here he was, knocking on the back door of Fitzgerald's. It didn't take long for her to let him in, rambling on about how he didn't have to come. Regardless, she poured him a glass of red wine and topped up her own - which Peter noted had most likely seen multiple servings before he had arrived.
She must have seen him glancing around nervously because she began to speak, her voice dripping with either sarcasm or bitterness - he wasn't quite sure which.
"Don't worry - Leo isn't here. He's in Dublin - chasing some wild goose chase. Drugs bust or something. Whatever it is it's important. According to him at least. The next big thing. His big break - yet again."
So that's what it was.
"Don't 'ah' me, Peter. You're the one who decided to come here in the middle of the night."
"Only because you rang me in the middle of the night."
Assumpta sighed and drank. Peter followed suit, although less than his sparring partner. He was in the midst of having the weirdest sense of deja-vu at the sight before him. At least Father Mac was taking care of Masses this time around.
"Whatever. You're here now so I suppose you'll do. I mean, you're supposed to be an expert with comforting the lost and all that crap."
He was about to speak when Assumpta beat him to it - an event that was quickly becoming a habit of hers.
"You know, it's just…" She paused to take a swig of wine. "I just have this ache here," she gestured to her sternum - to which Peter had to resist the urge to drift his line of vision ever-so slightly to her breasts - "and it won't go away."
"I can ring Dr Ryan if you wa–"
Assumpta slammed her glass on the counter with a bang.
"Peter! Jesus, would you just listen to me for once?"
"Fine. I'm listening."
She continued after a moment.
"I just have this ache here and it won't go away. It's like someone has their hand right there and they just won't stop pressing down." She prodded at her own chest. "Making it hard to breathe. Suffocating me over and over again. But I'm Assumpta Fitzgerald, you know. So I get up every day, open up this place and keep it running. All the while, my oh-so loving husband is making passive-aggressive comments about how Dublin's the best thing since flippin' Brennan's bread or even worse still, he's not even here! He's up in that God-forsaking city, taking whatever jobs he can to stay away from the village he hates! He loves me, I know that. It's just, every now and again, it's nice to know that the person who says that they love you, actually loves you. Like really loves you. Is that so much to ask?"
Another massive swig from the half-empty glass.
"So here I am, talking to a bloody flippin' priest about my stupid marriage problems. How ironic."
She paused for a moment, emptying the last few drops of the bottle into her glass. Her voice was quiet as she spoke, gazing up at Peter.
"Remember the day we met? When you told me about being the new priest?"
"Yeah? What about it?"
"I thought you were kidding. I kind of wish you were. At least we wouldn't be in this mess then."
Her voice was quiet but the full impact of her words weren't lost on Peter. Not at all. He had just about formulated a response when Assumpta stood up suddenly, pushing past him.
Peter spent the next half-hour holding Assumpta's hair back as she threw-up the contents of her pity party.
"You're ok, you're ok. I've got you."
Assumpta wanted to say so much but couldn't find the words, so instead she settled for a seemingly innocent option.
Cleaning herself up with toilet roll, she turned her head slightly to face Peter, a sad smile adorning her features.
Peter took a deep breath and held back the words on the tip of his tongue.
Even after sticking her face down a pub toilet and hacking up her guts, Assumpta Fitzgerald still looked absolutely and utterly beautiful.
Without thinking, he pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her body. He rested his head on hers.
She was stunned for just a moment before speaking, her speech muffled slightly from where her head was positioned, resting on his chest. The remaining alcohol in her system gave her a phantom confidence.
"Can't you stay here for the night?"
Peter knew what he had to do, as much as he hated it. He had to be the good guy.
"Come on, you need some sleep."
And so, he carried her up the carpeted stairs of Fitzgerald's, tucked her into bed, placed a plastic washing bowl beside her (just in case she needed it) and began to leave.
He turned around at the doorway, leaning against it slightly as he matched her gaze.
"What is it?"
Assumpta smiled sadly.
"Thank you. For everything."
Peter smiled back. A smile that barely reached the sides of his features.
"You're welcome. After all, what are friends for?"