Christmas Sleigh

The Right Thing

by

S. X. Meagher 

sx_meagher@mindspring.com

Overall Challenge Vote Getter and 1st place in Premise 2!

Part 1

"I don't recall asking if you wanted to attend the camp, Townsend. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that your opinion carries weight in matters such as these." The refined Boston Brahmin accent that slipped from the lips of the elegant, impeccably outfitted woman was even more clipped than usual, the only evident sign of her growing pique.

The woman cast a quick glance at her daughter, who was curled up tightly against the opposite door in the rear of the limousine, staring out of the window as though she were transfixed. "I don't appreciate being ignored, Townsend. Now, I asked for your word, and I'd like to hear a response from you."

Turning her head slowly, her blonde hair skimming across her shoulders, the insolent young woman glared at her mother for a full minute. As usual, the older woman did not blink or avert her gaze - her spirit at least as indomitable as her daughter's. Her mouth curled into a sneer, and Townsend said, "You don't trust me any farther than you can throw me. Why is it so important to have my word?"

Raising an elegant brow, Miranda Jameson Bartley inclined her head and gave her daughter a wan smile. "I suppose you have a point. Your word obviously means nothing to you, nor does our family name. I wish I had a glimmer of a clue as to what makes you tick, Townsend, but I suppose that's merely a fantasy."

The younger woman turned her head again, choosing not to engage her mother in one of their endless, fruitless discussions. "Where are you going after you deposit me?" she asked the window.

"After I escort you to the camp," the woman corrected, "I'm going to Charleston for a book signing. Then I'm off to Europe. My publicist has me scheduled for nearly 40 cities in just over 2 months time. I'll need at least a month to rest after that nightmare."

"Sucks to be you," Townsend said, sounding as bored as possible.

"I think we can both use a vacation - from each other," Miranda sniffed.

"Yeah. The three months you were at home this year have been a little much. Of course, I was away at school the whole time you were home - so what's it been two, three weeks that we've been together this year?"

"I'd be happy to have you attend school in Boston, Townsend. However, there isn't a private school in the entire state that will accept you. If it weren't for my reputation, you wouldn't even be allowed to attend this camp. I'm just happy that they haven't heard of you down here in South Carolina."

"Oh, don't worry, mommy dearest, your name will be thoroughly tarnished by the time they expel me. By the way, where should I go when they throw me out on my dyke ass?"

"Must you use that disgusting term? Your psychiatrist has told you time and again that you're too young to have your sexuality determined yet. You might well find that you're as heterosexual as I."

"I'd kill myself," Townsend muttered, just loud enough for her mother to hear.

"Darling, I know that your predominant goal in life is to mortally wound me, but it's just not going to work. I'd prefer that you were at least civil to me, but that's obviously not to be. I personally think that you should spend your energies doing something more productive." She turned to her daughter and closed her eyes briefly, wondering how things between them had gone so horribly wrong.

"You didn't answer me," the girl said, still refusing to look at her mother. "Where should they ship my cage when they throw me out? Boston, or the Vineyard?"

The older woman sighed heavily. "Your father can't watch you while he's working, and I won't have you running wild on the Vineyard. I still have some people on the island who don't laugh at me behind my back."

"Don't be so sure of that," Townsend muttered, snickering at her joke.

"If you manage to make your stay shorter than planned, I suppose I'll have to hire someone to watch you. I'll put a call in to the Federal Marshals and see if anyone is up to the task."

The girl laughed softly, nodding her head. "That was actually funny. I must be rubbing off on you."

"I wish that we could each have some influence on the other," Miranda said wistfully.

The sullen young woman curled up even tighter against the door. "That makes one of us."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hennessey? You 'bout ready, baby?"

"Yes, Daddy. I'm set." The tall, thin, brunette hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and started down the stairway from the second floor. Walking into the kitchen, she wrapped her arms around a once equally tall, now slightly shorter, woman. The woman was of an indeterminate age, but her hair was still mostly black, and her skin was unlined and smooth. She wore an ancient pink nightie that covered her all the way to her knees, and Hennessey reflected that it was the only one she'd ever seen her wear. "Bye, Gramma. I'll try to find a way to come visit at least once."

"Now, don't you worry about that, child. Your granddaddy and me just want you to enjoy yourself. Don't give us a tiny little thought."

"I'll think of you every day, and you know it." Hennessey kissed her grandmother fondly. "Tell Granddaddy I love him."

"I will, String Bean. You take care and make your gramma proud."

The young woman flushed modestly and nodded. "Bye-bye, Gramma. See you in August."

"You ready, Hennessey? We're gonna be late."

"Coming, Daddy." The young woman dashed out the front door, her bag thumping against her hip.

Father and daughter climbed into the battered, aged pick-up truck, both holding their collective breaths, hoping that the temperamental engine would deign to cooperate. With a belching grumble, the truck fluttered to life, and Dawayne Boudreaux settled back and took in a breath. His daughter held her own breath as long as possible, always having to spend a few moments to acclimate to the malodorous truck. She had intentionally placed her bag in the bed of the truck, hoping in vain that the wide variety of offensive smells wouldn't infuse both her and her bag.

Dawayne twitched his head in the direction of the bed. "That all you're takin?"

"Yeah. We all wear uniforms, so I don't need much."

"Well, I guess you know the drill by now. This your fourth year?"

"Uh-huh. First one I've been a house leader for, though."

"How much you fixin' t'get?"

"Not much," she shrugged. "You know how it is, Daddy. They never pay kids much." In reality she was making a thousand dollars a week, but she was loath to reveal that bit of news to her father. Dawayne was a very proud man, and learning that his 17-year-old child was going to earn substantially more than he would over the summer was not the type of thing she wished to share.

They drove on in silence - or in as much silence as a truck with 210,000 miles and a holey muffler could provide.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"We're here, Townsend. Townsend. Townsend."

"What?"

"We're at the camp. I don't have much time, but I want to meet the headmaster before I leave."

"Go on." The girl moved not a muscle, staring blankly out the window.

"Fine." Miranda picked up her purse and opened the door. "I'm going to meet the headmaster, then I'm reclaiming this limo. If you're still here when I get back, you're going to Europe with me." She exited and closed the door crisply, striding down the drive with her usual confident grace.

"Fucking bitch." The girl looked into the rear view mirror and caught the gaze of the driver who was giving her a patently disapproving look. "Eat me," she growled, throwing the door open and stalking away from the limo, knowing that someone would take care of her bags.

,center>* * * * * * * * * * *

"Thanks for the ride, Daddy," Hennessey said as they pulled into the drive. "I'll see you in August, if not before."

"Take care of yourself, girl," he said, offering a rare show of affection - a rough squeeze of her shoulder.

"I will, Daddy. Good luck this summer. Full nets, cold beer and hot gumbo, right?"

"That's it, baby." He gave her a shy, boyish smile, and she gazed at him for as long as was polite, trying to memorize the expression to keep it close to her heart.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The moment Hennessey reached her bungalow, she stripped off her clothes, then put every stitch of her clothing in the washer, along with everything from her suitcase, and then added the nylon duffel. She stood in the shower, scrubbing herself roughly, trying to get the smell of fish off her body and hair. By the time she'd finished, and had slipped into her uniform, the living area was filled with 5 mildly anxious-looking faces. "Hi there," she said, smiling broadly. "I'm Hennessey Boudreaux, the house leader of Sandpiper House." Looking at the young women she said, "Looks like we're one short, so I'll save my speech for when we're all here. We're going to have a camp-wide meeting at 5 in the recreation bungalow, so let's meet everyone, then you can all wander around a bit until then." Turning to the girl on her far left, she said, "Why don't you each tell us your name, where you're from, and how old you are."

A shy looking brunette with big, brown eyes began the introductions. "I'm Missy Blaine. I'm from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and I'm 15 - almost."

The girl next to her said, "I'm Tamara Goodley. I'm from New York, and I'm almost 16." Tamara appeared to be surprisingly self-assured for someone not yet 16, but Hennessey knew that first impressions were sometimes misleading.

Next up, the redheaded young woman beside Tamara spoke. "I'm Devlin Cook. I'm from Chicago, and I'm 15." Hennessey wasn't sure what led her to this supposition, but she had a feeling that Devlin was going to need close supervision. She knew that the administration put at least one problem child into each bungalow, and something about the look on the girl's face indicated she might be the one.

A girl so shy she looked to be on the verge of passing out hesitated before stammering, "I I'm Hailey B B Brooks. I'm f f from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and I'm 15." Finished, she let out a massive sigh, getting a warm smile from Hennessey.

The last girl cleared her throat and said, "I'm Ali Monroe, from Palm Beach, Florida. I'm also 15."

"Great, great. It's nice to meet you all. I think we'll have a great time this summer, and all learn a lot."

"You didn't say where you're from, or how old you are," Devlin reminded her with a touch of a challenge in her voice.

"Oh. Well, I'm from near here. Beaufort, South Carolina, to be exact, and I'll be 18 in October. I just graduated from high school."

"That's not very old to be in charge of us. I've got brothers older than you, and they're worthless." Devlin was giving her another pointed look, and Hennessey mentally rolled her eyes.

"This is my fourth year here at the Academy, and I think I've proven myself to the administration. They know me - and trust me. Over time, I think you will, too." She looked around the room, cocked her head and asked, "Any other questions? No? Then feel free to explore. But I want you all to be in the rec bungalow by 5. Do you all wear watches?"

5 heads nodded and she excused them, going over to her things to check her roster. Frowning, she called the administration bungalow and queried the secretary who answered. "Hi, Dorothy, it's Hennessey. I'm missing a camper - Townsend Bartley. Have you heard from her?"

"Well, her mother was here just a few minutes before you arrived, Hennessey. I'm sure she's in the compound."

"Great. She must be lost. I'll take a look around and see if I can scare her up. I'll try to be on time, but if I'm not, will you explain to MaryAnn why I'm late?"

"She'll know you have a good reason, Hennessey," the secretary said. "She knows that she doesn't have to worry about you."

"Thanks, Dorothy. I appreciate that."

"See you later, Hennessey; and don't worry, the Bartley girl will show up. She might just be a little homesick."

* * * * * * * * * * *

It took her over a half hour, but Hennessey finally found her charge - a cute, young blonde woman of average height, sitting on the edge of a fishing dock at the far end of the compound. She was leaning back on her braced arm, smoking a cigarette, and listening to what Hennessey assumed was an MP3 player.

Striding to the end of the dock, Hennessey stood next to the young woman, and crossed her arms over her chest. "Are you Townsend Bartley?" she asked, her ire showing.

The blonde head did not move, so the house leader leaned over and tugged the headphones from her ears. "Are you Townsend?"

"Uh-huh. Who wants to know?"

"I'm Hennessey Boudreaux - the head of the house you'll be staying in. Didn't you get the message that you were supposed to report to the house?"

The younger woman shrugged, then turned slightly and took in the woman who was addressing her.

She was tall and thin, but with hints of wiry strength in her lanky frame. Her skin was surprisingly dark - the young woman having obviously spent too much time in a tanning booth. But after a moment, Townsend decided that the copper color suited her, setting off her bright blue eyes and white, even teeth. Her long, black hair shone in the sunlight, the hair so dark that even the highlights were blue. Her face was probably quite lovely when it wasn't scrunched into a perturbed frown, much as it was now, and Townsend spent a moment regretting that she'd likely never get to see the woman smile.

She wore a sky blue, short-sleeved shirt with an insignia of some sort over her breast, and a pair of chalk-colored shorts, neatly cinched with a light blue web belt. Both articles of clothing were a little large for her, and Townsend guessed that she had to wear a larger size than her width required, just to cover her length. She should have those clothes tailored. I bet she's got a smokin' body hidden under there.

Once her examination was complete Townsend sighed, deciding to let the games begin. "I didn't read any of that crap. I figured someone would tell me if any of it mattered."

Hennessey sat down next to the camper, facing the ocean, a contemplative look on her face. "It's all important. A lot of people spent a lot of time preparing those materials. You'd be well served to read it - all of it."

"I think I'll wait until the Cliff Notes come out." She flicked her spent cigarette into the ocean and leaned back on both hands. "Anything else?"

"Yep. We're having a camp-wide meeting at 5 o'clock in the recreation bungalow. You should be there."

The young woman shook her head, then took out her cigarettes, lighting one with practiced ease. After taking a long drag, she blew the smoke out in a series of perfect rings. "Look, Hennessey is it?" At the woman's nod, she continued, "I don't do group things. I'm not a joiner. Now, just let me go about my business, and we won't have any problems."

"That's just not going to happen, Townsend." Hennessey looked as though she were filled with regret. "You're my responsibility, and I take my responsibilities very seriously."

"Ya know, that charming sentiment would have more kick to it if I had the slightest interest in staying here. You've got no power over me, chief. I'd like nothing better than to be on the first plane out."

The tall woman's rather pronounced accent, and her slow, soft, alto voice made it seem as if she were in slow motion. Townsend was used to the nearly frantic speech patterns of her native Boston, and she felt a moment of sympathy for the slow Southerner that she was facing off against. This would be more fun if we were more evenly matched. How am I supposed to have a battle of wits with an unarmed woman?

As Townsend was contemplating her own superiority, Hennessey reached over and plucked the pack of cigarettes from the girl's breast pocket, crumpling them in her fist. "Well, you're mine until you're on that plane, and as far as I know, the next plane isn't until tomorrow. Let's go." She grasped the collar of the camper's shirt and tugged firmly, Townsend rising with her in self-preservation.

"You can't toss me around like a rag doll! And you can't take my cigarettes! I have rights!" She was struggling fiercely, but not making much headway against the taller woman who still had hold of her shirt.

"No smoking in the compound. Period." She started to walk, pulling Townsend right along with her. "And, just for the record, you have no rights. Your parents have charged us with your guardianship for the summer. You can think of me as your temporary mom."

"Fuck you, Mom! Let go of me!"

"Will you come with me to the meeting?"

"Fuck!" She tried one more time to wriggle out of the hold, but was entirely unsuccessful. "Yes, damn it!"

Hennessey let go, and to her surprise the younger woman didn't take off, or slug her. She walked right alongside, looking up at the house leader with a mixture of loathing and curiosity. "Do you get paid for each one of us you manage to hold on to?"

"Nope." Hennessey chuckled lazily. "I'd get the same if I had six or one. My life would be much easier with one, by the way."

"Then why do you care? What's it to you if I smoke, or skip a stupid meeting? I'll just do something that gets me thrown out of here tomorrow. The more rules I know, the more I'll break. Believe me, it's better to keep me in the dark."

"Then we'll just have to deal with that tomorrow, won't we?" They had arrived at the large recreation bungalow, and Hennessey held the door open for the younger woman. "Here we are," she said. "Enjoy!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as the group meeting was finished, Hennessey sought out the headmaster of the Academy, MaryAnn Teasdale. "MaryAnn!"

"I had a feeling I'd be getting a visit from you, Hennessey. Walk me home."

They left the building together and walked the short distance to a small, but well appointed bungalow. Entering, MaryAnn asked, "Something to drink? I have some iced tea."

"Sure. That'd be nice." Hennessey sat in one of the padded wicker chairs and waited for the older woman to return with two glasses.

As MaryAnn sat down, she said, "I'm no psychic, but I have a feeling you're here to talk about Townsend Bartley."

"I see her reputation precedes her," Hennessey said dryly, taking a sip of the cold, sweet drink. "She wants to go home, and given how she acted today, I have a feeling she's gonna get her wish."

MaryAnn looked at her for a moment, then said, "I hope you don't mind that I put her in your cabin, Hennessey. I know I expect a lot from you, but Townsend is one little reclamation project that I'd really like for you to take on - if you're willing, that is."

"Have I angered you in some way?" the young woman asked, her mouth quirking up in a grin.

"Of course not. Townsend is - well, she's a very troubled young woman, Hennessey, and I'd love to be able to help her get her life on track. Her mother made it clear that she won't blame us if we have to send her back to Boston, but she said she'd have to hire a stranger to watch her if we do - she's going to be in Europe all summer on a book tour. Mrs. Bartley was popular before, but now that they've made that movie from one of her best-sellers her popularity has gone off the charts."

"Her mother is Miranda Bartley?" the young woman gasped. "I I had no idea!"

"She sure is. And if we can keep the little devil here all summer, Miranda promised to offer a series of lectures next year - as a thank you."

"Wow! I'm not a fan of her work, but it sure is popular. That would really draw some attention."

"Yes, it would; but you know that's not how I do business, Hennessey. I'm more concerned about the girl than I am about her mother's promise. I honestly think she could learn something from being here all summer, and having you as a role model could give her something to aspire to."

"I think you're giving both of us too much credit, MaryAnn. She seems bound and determined to get out of here, and I don't think I can change her mind."

"Will you try, Hennessey? You can bend the rules anyway you need to - figure out what she likes and reward her when she does something well. Do whatever you have to do, but don't let the little hellion win again. I'm afraid that winning this time might destroy her."

"Why are you so worried about her, MaryAnn? She's just another spoiled kid that will be spoiled once again as soon as she leaves here."

"She almost died a few months ago, Hennessey," MaryAnn said quietly. "She drank so much that she went into a coma. She claims it was an accident, but after talking to the headmaster at her boarding school, I'm not so sure. I think she's lonely and frightened - not just a bad kid." MaryAnn reached out and patted the younger woman's leg. "I know you've put in a lot of hours at Al-Anon meetings, Hennessey, and I thought that out of everyone - you might have some ideas about how to handle her."

Giving her a wry smirk, Hennessey said, "I've spent a lot of years trying to stop being co-dependent with the alcoholics in my life. Now you want me to take on a new one?"

"Not if it will be too hard for you, honey," MaryAnn said softly, looking deeply into the young woman's eyes.

"Nah. I can hold my boundaries with her. It won't be fun, but I'm sure being paid enough to put up with some aggravation. I'll give her my best."

"You always do, Hennessey. That's one thing I'll always rely upon."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Hennessey returned to the bungalow, she poked her head into the room being shared by Townsend and Hailey. Hailey was sitting on the edge of her bed, watching the older girl unpack. The blonde removed two cartons of cigarettes, a fifth of vodka and another of gin, setting her contraband on the bedside table. "One word out of you, and I'll cut your tongue out," she growled, not even bothering to turn to see if the younger woman was watching her.

Hennessey was standing in the doorway observing this little interaction, and Hailey's eyes grew wide as the house leader swooped into the room and gathered up all of Townsend's treasure trove in her long arms. "Thanks for making this so easy," she said brightly. Grabbing a pillow from the bed, she shook the pillow out, and used the case to hold the illicit booty, all the while feeling a pair of green eyes staring holes through her. "Now, what else do we have here?" She whisked Townsend's bag from her, and removed her MP3 player as well as her CD player. Next came all of her CD's, and her handheld organizer. "Nice one," she said. The last item was a very tiny, handheld computer, which Townsend was loath to let go. She attempted to snatch it back from Hennessey's hands - to no avail.

"You can't take my fucking computer! How can I communicate with anyone?"

"We're people too, aren't we, Hailey?" Hennessey smiled at the girl who was frozen in place. "Townsend can talk to us, right?"

Her head moved up and down, but it was clear that she feared for her life.

"You can have some of these things back - when I've decided that you deserve them. Of course, you'll never get the liquor back. Let me thank you, in advance, for the headmaster. She likes to have a nice gin and tonic once in a while." Hefting the pillowcase over her shoulder, Hennessey started to leave the room, a sputtering Townsend glaring at her. "Be back in a few, guys. I have to go see the headmaster. Time to replenish the bar."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that night, Hennessey poked her head into each of the double rooms, checking on each pair of girls. When she reached Hailey and Townsend's room she looked at the sullen young blonde, sitting on her bed fully dressed. Hennessey walked over to her and held out the CD player. "I appreciate that you made it to dinner on time, and came back to the bungalow by ten. I think that merits at least one CD." She held out the pile of disks, but Townsend just turned up her nose.

"Don't do me any favors."

"'Kay." Hennessey turned and left the room without another word, the younger woman once again glaring impotently after her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Rise and shine, guys. First class is at 9. You'd better get going if you want breakfast."

"Go fuck yourself," Townsend grumbled, pulling the covers over her head.

"Nice to see you, too, sunshine." Hennessey closed the door, chuckling to herself. You're having too much fun here, girl.

As the door closed, Hailey came out of the bathroom. "Your turn, Townsend." The very grumpy woman stumbled to her feet, more in need of the facilities than breakfast. Trying to break the ice with her cranky roommate, Hailey found the courage to ask, "Hey, what are you here for? Music, writing, art?"

"I have no idea," she grumbled.

"Huh? This is an arts camp. How can you not know what you're here for?"

"I'm here to avoid prison. Now get dressed and get out!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Only by going to the classroom building and checking the class lists was Townsend able to be on time for her writing class. She flopped down in a chair, gazing at the other students listlessly. At 9 on the button, Hennessey strode in and perched on the edge of the desk at the front of the room. "Hi, I'm Hennessey Boudreaux. Welcome to "Finding Your Voice."

"I've found my goddamned voice!" Townsend stood, fuming. "Why in the hell is some kid trying to teach me how to write? Do you have any idea who my mother is?"

Hennessey crooked a finger at the irate woman, beckoning her to follow her to the hallway.

The camper was still sputtering. "Those kids couldn't be more than 14 or 15! I'm going to be 17 in a week!"

"Townsend, you're in this class because of your writing sample. We looked carefully at each of the samples submitted, and tried to group students so they'd be with others with similar skills - not just by age. Most of the girls here are very talented at their craft, but we also have introductory courses for girls who want to explore art, or music or writing for the first time. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but your sample didn't show much skill or much promise. You write more like the girls just entering high school than a senior."

"I didn't know that I was supposed to do a good job!"

"Townsend," Hennessey said, quirking a slow smile, "you should always do a good job. Hasn't anyone ever told you that?"

The blonde stormed back into the classroom, determined to be on a plane by the end of the day.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Okay, I think that's enough for this morning. We'll probably keep to this schedule unless we see it doesn't work for us. We'll meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 until noon, then you'll have the afternoons to work on your assignments. We'll meet individually on Tuesday and Thursday so I can give you each some special attention. Those meetings will last about an hour or so. So, you'll have plenty of time to write and reflect. We give you lots of time during the day to work, since we want this to be fun for you. Evenings should be for socializing - not working. We won't have anything specific to discuss tomorrow, so feel free to ask for time if there's anything you'd like to talk about. Other than that - I'll see you all on Wednesday morning. Are we clear on the assignment?"

A young woman named Marissa raised her hand. "We can write about anything at all?"

"Yes, anything that has moved you emotionally, Marissa. I want each of you to think hard about something that happened to you in the last year that really moved you or touched you in some way. It could be the death of a pet, the night you went to a concert by your favorite group, staying up all night to see the sun rise - anything at all, as long as you write from your heart." She looked around again, saying, "Okay. See you on Wednesday."

The six young women shuffled out, Townsend trailing the group. "See you later, sunshine."

"Kiss my ass."

I think she's starting to like me.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that night, returning to her bungalow after watching a movie with a few of her charges, Hennessey saw the orange glow of a cigarette not far from the edge of the building. Shaking her head, she went inside and rooted through Townsend's room, finally pulling her mattress from the box spring to find a nice, fresh carton of cigarettes, one pack notably absent. Returning the mattress and bedding to their proper order, she lay down upon the bed, resting comfortably until Townsend came back into the room. "Hi, there."

The young woman started briefly, caught unawares by the house leader. "What do you want?"

"I want to know who you coerced into buying you cigarettes. It was obviously an employee, since no one else has a car to get into town, and I'm sure you didn't walk."

Townsend strode over to the bedside table, her confidence firmly back in place. Hennessey caught the smell of smoke on her clothing as she walked by and deposited the pack onto the table. "It's not hard to talk one of these underpaid slobs into doing you a favor. All it takes is a few bucks."

"Then I guess I have to take the bucks away." Sitting up, the house leader opened the top drawer of the bedside table and removed the wallet she found there. Removing every bill and every charge card, she counted the money, then sat down at Townsend's desk and made out a detailed receipt. "Here you go. Don't count on getting this back until August."

As she left the room, money, credit cards and cigarettes firmly in hand, something loud and heavy crashed into the door as she closed it behind her. Someone seems a little grumpy. Must be the nicotine.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next day things were remarkably calm - so calm that Hennessey was a little nervous. Townsend worked on her paper, showed up for every meal, and, after using the computer in the rec bungalow for a couple of hours, she got up and stretched at 9 o'clock, announcing that she was going to bed - a full hour before she was required to be in. Something's fishy, Hennessey said to herself as she watched the blonde leave the rec bungalow. She stealthily followed her back to the cabin, waiting outside until the girl had entered. Giving her a few minutes to let her get settled, she went in, then stood by Townsend's bedroom door for a few minutes, sniffing for smoke. When nothing appeared awry, she decided that the young woman must have just been tired, and headed off to bed herself.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, Hennessey dutifully knocked on each bedroom door, then went to pack up her things for class. She walked over to the dining room, had a leisurely breakfast, then went to her room early. As the sweep second hand passed the 12, Townsend came barreling in, obviously having risen moments earlier. Her hair was askew, her shirt was buttoned incorrectly, and her eyes were so red she looked as though she'd had a severe allergic reaction. "Are you all right?" Hennessey asked, slightly concerned.

"Fine," she grumbled, dropping inelegantly into a chair.

"Okay!" Hennessey clapped her hands loudly, noting that Townsend flinched as though she'd been hit by lightning. "I thought we'd spend some time having each of you read your stories. I know this can be a little intimidating, but it's the best way to gain confidence in your writing. If you're nervous, just remember that we're here to help you find your voice. You'll never be criticized in this class. Now, who wants to start?" She looked at the six blank faces, pointed to a girl who was trying to sink into her desk and said, "Yes, Alison. Thanks for volunteering."

With her eyes nearly popping from her head, the 14-year-old stood and began to read, her voice thin and quaking. She managed to get through it, but she was clearly on the verge of hyperventilating during the entire ordeal.

"Excellent!" Hennessey's voice boomed out. "Just great, Alison! Now, does anyone have any feedback to offer?"

One young woman raised her hand and said, "I love Dave Matthews, too. His last CD was the bomb!"

"Well, that's something we can all agree on," Hennessey said, smiling encouragingly. "But what about the writing? Anyone?" She looked around again, six pairs of eyes staring at the floor. "All right. There's no requirement that we give feedback - but it can be very helpful to hear from your peers. You'll get plenty of comments from me, but you'll learn a lot from each other if you'll take the risk. Well, let's move on. Townsend?"

The blonde looked at her for a moment, then said, "I'd rather just hand mine in."

"I can understand that. It's a little nerve wracking to read your thoughts aloud. But it's one of the ways we learn."

The girl gave her a lethal glare, then said, "No, it's not that. You don't want me to read this."

"Yes, I do," she insisted. "We're here to learn from each other."

"You coulda told us we had to read 'em aloud, you know."

"I didn't want you to be nervous. Now, let's give it a try, Townsend. It won't be that bad."

"Your funeral," the girl said, getting to her feet. She cleared her throat, looked around at the assembled young women, then rolled her eyes and began to read,

The Day The Earth Moved, by Townsend Jameson Bartley.

I didn't know her name. All I knew was that she was hot - sizzling hot.

5 pairs of eyes shot open and each of the younger girls sat up a little straighter in their seats.

She picked me out as soon as she walked into the bar. She bought me a drink, but that was just to waste time. She lived close by and we went to her apartment. My clothes were off by the time we reached her bedroom, and I was on my back - my favorite position, she said, snickering softly.

I don't know how old she was - she probably should have been in college, but she didn't look like college material. She smelled a little like gasoline, and there was grease embedded in the skin around her fingernails. Her hands were callused and rough, and she was rough with me, too. No flowers, no candy, no conversation. She had me on my back with my legs open wide within minutes.

The room was so silent that a pin dropping would have sounded like a bomb. Everyone but Hennessey was shocked to the core, but the older woman just sat on the edge of her desk - as usual - paying rapt, studied attention: her face composed, her expression alert.

She spent a little time getting me ready - but not as much as I would have liked. She played with my tits, then worked on my clit for a minute. Not very exciting stuff. I was about ready to get up and bolt, figuring I could go back to the bar and find someone better if I hurried, but she brought this massive bottle of lube out and started to coat her fingers with it. That was interesting enough to make me give her another chance, so I waited until she slipped a finger into me. I swear I don't know what she did, but this woman knew how to finger-fuck."

One of the young women let out a startled gasp, and Townsend gave Hennessey an "I told you so" look, but the older woman just looked at her rather blankly, then gave her a half smile, encouraging her to continue.

With her finger working in and out of me, I started to get into it, and she popped another one in. That felt even better, and I didn't even think of stopping her when she forced the third one in. It was a little tight, but I loosened up eventually, and when she put her little finger in - it sure didn't feel little. She laughed wryly, looking around to find her classmates staring at her as if she were speaking in tongues. But, much to Townsend's disappointment, Hennessey hadn't moved or changed her expression.

She squirted a gob of lube onto her hand, and I felt my mouth go dry - having a pretty good idea of what she was gonna do.

"What was she gonna do?" a timid, yet fascinated voice called out.

"I'm getting to that," Townsend sniffed. "All will be revealed." She cleared her throat and continued.

I was sure I couldn't take it, but I got the impression that I didn't have an option, so I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes. Suddenly, the woman spoke. 'Don't tighten up, bitch! Take a deep breath and try to push me out - that'll open you up.'

I did what she said, trying to squeeze her out of me. Amazingly, I opened up like an oyster shell and she tucked her thumb against her palm and slid in. I screamed, but I think it was shock as much as pain. Actually, it didn't hurt much at all, much to my surprise. The most I'd ever had in me was three fingers - so this was a pretty big accomplishment.

I was just lying there, feeling like I was part of her arm, when she started to pump into me. Damn! It felt great to have that big, rough hand inside me, but when she started to move it I thought I'd die! It felt like she was fucking my whole body - not just my pussy. I started shaking all over, and before I knew it I came like I'd never come before.

It hurt like hell when she tried to pull out, but after she waited for me to stop spasming, she got out without tearing anything. I've never had a baby, but giving birth to that fist was enough for me to cross that idea off my list entirely.

I've never been fucked that hard before or since - but that night, that grimy fingered, gasoline scented-woman really rocked my world.

She smiled sickly at Hennessey, then said, "The end," and sat down in her chair.

"Wow, powerful stuff, Townsend. Thanks for sharing it with us. I know how hard it can be to share personal things like that - I'm very pleased that you took the risk." Looking around at the stunned faces she asked, "Any comments? I'm sure Townsend would appreciate them. No one? Okay. I guess we'll move on. Tiffany?"

Townsend sank lower into her chair, attempting to stare a hole through her unflappable teacher/house leader.

* * * * * * * * * * *

She waited until the end of the day, having mulled the situation over in her head for hours. "Hi, MaryAnn," she said rather sheepishly when she knocked on the headmaster's door after dinner. "I've got a problem I don't think I can handle."

"Well, that's why I'm here, Hennessey. Come on in and let's talk about it."

The younger woman walked into the house and sat down, her posture reflecting her discomfort. "I feel like I've let you down, MaryAnn," she said softly. "I just don't think I can handle Townsend."

"What's wrong, Hennessey? Tell me what happened."

Instead of relating the incident, Hennessey just handed her the paper that her student had written. The older woman read it, an eyebrow rising occasionally, but no other expression on her face. When she finished, she handed it back and let out a sigh. "What was the assignment? Tell us your most disgusting experience?"

"No, they were supposed to write about a recent event that moved them emotionally."

"Well, other than being poorly written - there's no emotion at all in this piece; this seems like little more than a cry for help."

"I think so, too." Hennessey's brow was furrowed and she shook her head. "I think she's too troubled to even be on campus, MaryAnn. I'm afraid that she'll continue to do things like this and ruin camp for the other girls. That just doesn't seem fair."

MaryAnn got up and walked over to her wet bar. "You don't mind if I have a drink, do you, honey?"

"No, not at all. It's only when people have to drink the whole bottle that I have any objections." She said this with a smile on her face, but there was a sadness in her eyes that was impossible to miss.

MaryAnn poured her drink, a stiff gin and tonic, then sat back down. She took a long sip, then smacked her lips and looked at the glass curiously. "I did put gin into this, didn't I?"

"Yeah. A pretty hefty dose." The young woman shrugged her shoulders and said, "Old habit. I always watch to see how quickly the bottle will be gone."

MaryAnn went to the bar and opened the bottle, sniffing at the contents. "Well, Hennessey, either Townsend brought a fifth of water to camp, or someone managed to remove the gin and switch it out with water. Do you have any thoughts as to whom the culprit might be?"

Hennessey dropped her head into her hands. "Great! She's not only out to drive me crazy, she's a cat burglar."

"I had my door locked," MaryAnn nodded. "Granted, these aren't the best locks in the world, but you'd need some experience to get in without leaving a trace."

"What do we do, MaryAnn? We can't have her robbing people."

"Look, Hennessey, I don't want to put you into a position that you don't feel able to handle, but I can't think of a person in this camp better equipped to try to get this kid to see what this kind of alcohol abuse can do to her. I'm not ready to give up, yet, and I hope you'll take another stab at her."

"That's exactly what I'd like to do," the young woman grumbled. "With an ax."

"I can see how frustrated you are, really, I can. But part of my mission here is to reach kids that most need the help."

Hennessey nodded. "You did that for me."

"I hope we did, Hennessey. Now, I'm not asking for a quid pro quo here; I'm just asking you to give it another try."

"But what about class? I can't have her exposing the younger girls to this kind of smut."

"Then make your topics more specific. Give them a topic where they don't have as much latitude for going off the deep end. Don't let this little scamp get her way again, Hennessey. You're smarter than she is, you're more resourceful, and you're more empathetic. I have complete confidence in you."

"I hate it when you try to make me feel like I'm better than I really am," the young woman groused, unable to hide a grin.

"I've yet to do that, Hennessey. You're every bit the woman that I think you are."

* * * * * * * * * * *

She took a long walk around the compound, trying to decide how to let Townsend know she was aware of her latest prank. It was almost 9 when she found herself back at the bungalow, still unsure of her plan. The light was on in Townsend's room, and after a brief knock, Hennessey entered.

The younger woman was sitting on her bed, drawing on a large sketchpad. Hennessey sat on the edge of the bed and looked over the top of the pad. "I didn't know that you could draw."

"I can't. I just play around with it." For a change, Townsend was relaxed and unguarded, her protective shell nowhere to be seen. She took a swig off her liter water bottle, and Hennessey twitched her head in the direction of the bottle.

"I just went on a very long walk and I'm parched. Can I have a sip?"

"Uhm no, no, I uhm think I'm coming down with a cold. I'll get you a fresh bottle from the refrigerator."

Reaching out quickly, Hennessey said, "I have a very good immune system. I'll risk it." She lifted the bottle to her lips and let a few drops trickle in. Handing the bottle back, she asked, "Not even a mixer, Townsend?"

Looking at her with a bored expression, the blonde said, "Should I pack now or wait until the morning?"

"That depends. Since you're gonna have to walk to wherever it is you're going, you might want to travel light."

"Come on! You have to kick me out! I broke into the headmaster's house!"

"Uh-huh, you sure did. You should have seen her face when she mixed herself a nice, big water and tonic." The smile on Hennessey's face was gentle, and warm, thoroughly confusing the younger woman.

"Is my mother paying extra to keep me here? What in the fuck is going on?"

"We agreed to teach you a few things this summer, Townsend. We fully intend to do that. You'll be going home - in August, with everyone else."

"Why are you torturing me? I don't want to be here!"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem like the kind of woman who doesn't want to be anywhere. You remind me just a little bit of my mom."

"Lucky you."

"Not really," she said. "It's painful to see someone your age who looks to be in so much turmoil. At least my mom's 32."

The girl did the math, looking at Hennessey dubiously. "You mean 42, don't you?"

"Nope. She's 32. Just past her 15th birthday when she gave birth to me."

"Fuck," Townsend mumbled. "Why didn't she get an abortion?"

"Thanks," Hennessey said dryly. "It's nice to know you're so pleased with my presence on the planet."

"Oh, that's not what I meant. I don't know much about you, but where I come from no one would let their 15-year-old daughter have a baby."

"Well, that's what the state thought when they severed her parental rights," Hennessey agreed. "Of course, they had a good reason. The house was on fire and she was passed out, dead drunk, on the sofa. Her lit cigarette had dropped onto the floor and started a smoldering fire. Good thing the carpet was so threadbare. It didn't go up as fast as it would have if it had been plush. Luckily, the fireman ran back in the house when the neighbors told him there was a baby there."

"Jesus, fuck! How old were you?"

"Mmm I think I was a month old, maybe a little less."

"Damn, Hennessey! Where were her parents?"

"At their house, I guess. My parents were married when I was born - they had a little place on the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks. 'Course that's the one that burned down. So after everything got settled, my daddy and I moved into his parents' home. My grandparents raised me."

"Shit," the younger woman mumbled. "Don't they have some minimum age for getting married down here?"

"Yes, Townsend, even down here there is an age of consent. But it's only fourteen with parental consent. Where I'm from, having an illegitimate child still bears a stigma."

The blonde actually looked contrite for a moment, then muttered, "I'm sorry. Do you see your mother at all?"

"Oh, sure. Right before I left, she came to see me and say goodbye. 'Course, she tried to wheedle ten bucks off of me. Said it was for food - as usual, but the only food she ever buys is 80 proof. I'd be amazed if she weighs 90 pounds, and she's at least as tall as you are."

"God damn you must hate her."

Hennessey's eyes opened wide. "I most certainly do not! She's my mamma, I'll always love her. I just can't save her from herself."

"But how can you love someone who treats you that way? Jesus, she almost killed you!"

"She has a disease, Townsend. She's so far gone in her illness that I'm quite sure it'll kill her - probably before she's 40. But how can you hate someone who already hates herself so badly? Yes, she breaks my heart; yes, I'd give anything to have had a real mother when I was growing up; yes, I wish she hadn't come to my grade school, blind drunk, begging me for my milk money in front of the other kids; yes, there have been times when I wished she had never been born. But she was, and I was, and we just have to make the best out of it. I swear I'll miss her when she's gone."

Townsend was quiet for a while, looking everywhere but into Hennessey's eyes. "Why do I remind you of her?"

Reaching out with a gentle hand, Hennessey touched Townsend's chin and lifted it until they were facing each other. "Because you're the age she was when she was hospitalized for drinking herself into a coma, and I can only guess that you must somehow be bedeviled by the same kind of pain." She saw the young woman flinch at this revelation, obviously reminded of her own recent hospitalization. Hennessey stood up and took the liter of gin. "It's not too late, Townsend. You're right on the cusp of addiction. It's a hell of a lot easier to turn back now than it will be later. Don't go down that path." She closed her eyes for a moment, then added just one word, spoken in a hoarse voice. "Please."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, Townsend showed up right on time for her feedback session with Hennessey. "Hi," the teacher said. "Have a seat."

"Is there any coffee around here?" Townsend asked, running a hand through her disordered hair. Hennessey looked at her for a moment, noting the tremor in her hand, and the pasty white color of her skin.

"It's not easy, is it?" Hennessey asked, softly, taking Townsend's trembling hand in her own. She examined it carefully, rubbing her thumb across the faint yellow stains that marred the skin between her second and third fingers. "Stopping smoking and drinking in the space of two days must be very hard for you."

"Whose fault is that?" she retorted, her mood foul.

"Mine, I guess. How long have you been smoking?"

"About three years."

"Would you like me to buy some nicotine patches for you? I hate to see you suffer like this."

Her mouth dropped open, and she stared at the infuriating woman. "Why are you so fucking nice to me on the one hand, and then torturing me on the other? Why not just let me have my cigarettes?" She stood up and started to pace across the small office. "Why do you fucking care?"

"I'm not entirely sure," Hennessey admitted quietly, her accent as smooth and sweet as apple butter. "But I do. Not just because it's my job to enforce the rules, either. I genuinely care about you, and I'm not going to let your nasty temper keep me from stopping you from harming yourself. I'm going to stay on the job until you learn how to stop on your own."

The blonde flopped down in the chair and stared at her. "Can I transfer to another bungalow?"

Hennessey laughed softly. "Do you honestly think anyone else would take you? I haven't told the other house leaders about you, but word is spreading like wildfire. You're persona non grata, sweet pea, and you're my cross to bear - until August."

"I should live so long."

"You will if I have anything to say about it," Hennessey said. "Now, let's talk about your paper."

"Oh, spare me. It's too early in the morning."

"This is my job, Townsend. Now, I'll go get you some coffee, but we're gonna talk about this." She stood and asked, "Black, I suppose?"

"How'd you know?"

"It's harsher than way. Seems like your style." And with that, the lanky young woman strode from the office, Townsend scooting her chair part way into the hall to watch her easy gait. Women with asses like that should not be allowed to wear baggy shorts!

When Hennessey returned, she handed her student a cup of coffee and kept a mug of tea for herself. "Now, let's make one thing clear. I don't expect you to be a carbon copy of your mother. I promise I will try never to compare you to her, okay?"

"Okay. You'll be the first teacher I've ever had who didn't, but I'll give you a fair try."

"Great!" Hennessey beamed a smile at her, and Townsend found herself returning it with equal brilliance. "That being said, I'll admit to being disappointed with this effort."

"No kidding? Fisting isn't your cup of tea?"

"Earl Grey," she replied, hoisting her mug. "And I'm not talking about the content. I'm talking about the style. I specifically asked you to talk about something that moved you, Townsend, but you didn't capture any emotion at all in this piece. I've never been in the position you were in - literally or figuratively, but I can only imagine that your emotions were on a roller coaster during that encounter. But this reads like a technical manual - not like the emotive piece I was looking for."

"Wait just a fucking minute," the younger woman said. "You don't care that I wrote about being fisted you only care that you couldn't feel my pain?"

"Pain, excitement, fear, trepidation, desire, longing. I have no idea which of those emotions - if any, you felt while that woman was fisting you. What did it feel like when she first asked you to go to her apartment? What did you expect? Did you have second thoughts while you were walking over there? Set the stage, Townsend! What was the night like? Cool, damp, warm, hot? Let me feel how your emotions matched or conflicted with the weather. Tell me something to let the excitement build while you're walking over there."

"You're serious," the blonde said, still disbelieving.

"Of course I'm serious. The piece needs to build, Townsend. If you're going to do this in chronological order, it's important to let the reader start to worry or get excited - let us feel what you felt.

"Dang, Townsend, I want to know how you felt when you realized she was going to put her whole hand into you. Didn't you have even a moment when you were afraid that she might tear your vagina? It didn't sound like you were very excited when she began - what was going on in your mind? Tell me what causes a girl to let a strange woman try to fist her when she's not even sexually excited.

"I'm not looking for hearts and flowers, here. It was obvious that you didn't care for each other - so go the other way and talk about how desolate you must feel to let a complete stranger violate your body that way. Hell, in my county a person would get life imprisonment for doing that against a woman's will! Talk about how empty your soul has to be to give your body over to an unknown woman who might, intentionally or unintentionally, injure you. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer never to have to have my vagina stitched up. What's it like to not even care?

"I want you to strip away the veneer, Townsend. I don't want to just know the technical details. It doesn't matter if the reader doesn't know how to fist someone after they read your piece. What does matter is that they know what it feels like to let a stranger do whatever she wanted to a young girl who should never have been put in that situation. Let the reader feel what drives you to be so cavalier with your health and your safety. That's what's interesting."

The younger woman nodded vacantly, astonished by Hennessey's words.

"Let the expression of your experiences help get some of your feelings out, Townsend. Use your writing to explore how you feel - then maybe you won't have to spend the night in the hospital with some intern practicing his surgical technique on your vulva.

"Now, I want you to pick one of the pieces we work on this summer and really polish it. It doesn't have to be this one, but keep that in the back of your mind. Pick one that really interests you, and apply the things you learn this summer to it. By the end of the summer I want to see at least one piece that reflects the fire I see in your eyes. You can do this, Townsend. I can feel the talent you have - just waiting for an outlet."

"Unrealized potential," she drawled, showing a wan smile. "I've been hearing that since 1st grade."

"Then it's about time to start realizing it, isn't it?" the infuriating woman asked, giving yet another of those mesmerizing smiles.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Friday, MaryAnn caught up with Hennessey during the lunch break. "How goes it with Satan's daughter?" she asked, giving her a wink.

"Well, I thought I'd outsmarted her. On Wednesday, I assigned them the task of writing about the most interesting museum they'd ever been to. Did you have any idea there was an antique vibrator and dildo museum in San Francisco?"

"Good Lord, Hennessey, I think you might have met your match here. This girl sounds like she's got enough spunk to take on the whole camp!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

There was no school on the weekends, and each house leader had free rein to set up group activities as she saw fit. Hennessey decided to take her group on a long walk around the compound, pointing out the flora and fauna of the palmetto state. Most of the girls were fairly interested, few of them having been to the low country before. But, as Hennessey had feared, Townsend only had the stamina to make it halfway around the large compound. Her chain smoking and drinking had rendered her mostly incapable of sustained physical activity, and she begged off when they reached the beach. "Can I just lie here on the dock until you guys come back?" she asked, totally out of breath.

"Sure. Do you have sunblock on?"

"Yes, Mother," Townsend grumbled, rolling her eyes.

"Okay, we'll be back in about an hour. Don't roll off and drown," Hennessey said. "We'd miss you somethin' fierce."

The rest of them took off again, and Townsend did just what she said she'd do - collapsed onto the dock and fell asleep in seconds.

When the group returned, Hailey scampered ahead to tell Townsend they were back. For some reason, much to Hennessey's amazement, the shy, innocent girl had taken a liking to the surly young woman. But when Hailey reached the dock, she stopped and stared, obviously terrified. She pointed with a shaking hand, unable to get a word out of her mouth. Hennessey took off, sprinting the last 50 yards, and wrapped an arm around Hailey's trembling shoulders. "What's wrong?"

"Sp spider! Sand spider!"

Indeed, there was a rather substantial sand colored spider perched on Townsend's collar, and as the pair watched, it skittered along her neck, disappearing from view. That was enough for Hailey to sound the alarm, and she screamed with all her might.

Townsend flew into a sitting position, looking around wildly. "What the fuck?"

"Spider! There's a big, nasty spider in your hair, or your shirt, or somewhere!"

The blonde leapt to her feet and yanked her shirt off, surprising all by her braless state. "Where is it?" she demanded, turning her back to Hennessey.

Hennessey stepped forward and ran her cool fingers along Townsend's hot, sweaty neck, lifting her hair out of the way to examine her. Combing through her hair with her fingers, she found the spider and tossed it back onto the sand. "I got it. No problem."

"It bit her! It bit her! It's poisonous!"

"Hailey, that was a wolf spider," Hennessey said. "They aren't poisonous. Now, just calm down."

"Look! On her neck! It really bit her!"

Hennessey moved around to the front to get a better look, and brushed the hair from Townsend's neck, taking a brief glance at the indicated mark. "That's not a bite," she assured both girls. "It's just a bruise. Nothing to worry about."

Townsend had the decency to blush as she put her shirt back on, muttering, "Try to get a nap around here and all hell breaks loose." She strode off, tucking her shirt into her shorts, grumbling the whole while.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After they returned to the bungalow, everyone washed up and started to head over to the dining room for lunch. Hennessey caught Townsend's eye and said, "I've ordered lunch to be delivered here. I'd like to talk with you in private."

"Now what?" the blonde asked, falling onto the sofa.

"It can wait for a few minutes," Hennessey said. "Just relax while I go get the sand off myself."

When she returned, the girl was already digging into her lunch, her appetite much improved from when she'd arrived the previous weekend. Hennessey sat next to her and arranged her sandwich, then took a big bite. "Mmm delicious."

"Out with it, chief. What'd I do this time?"

"Well, even though I didn't conduct a strip search - and maybe I should have," she drawled lazily, "I don't remember seeing that hickey on your neck before. I'd like to know who gave it to you."

Narrowing her eyes, the blonde snapped, "Why? So you can get one for yourself?"

"No, thanks. I don't have to prove to people that someone finds me desirable enough to kiss. I prefer to keep my private life private."

"I don't have to tell you who I'm fooling around with. I read that ridiculous list of rules, and it doesn't say a damned thing about that."

"No, but it does say that a camper is prohibited from harassing or abusing another camper in any way. I want to make sure you're not forcing one of the other girls to do something she's not ready for."

Townsend looked as though she'd been slapped. "Are you accusing me of molesting one of these little creeps?" She leapt to her feet, her lunch hitting the floor as she did so. "Go fuck yourself, Hennessey. I don't have to force anyone to do me!"

She ran to her room, crying so loudly that she sounded hysterical. Hennessey was right on her heels; and she sat down on the end of the bed, reaching out to gently touch her leg, Townsend yanked it away, then kicked out hard with it, knocking the larger woman to the floor. "Get out of my room, or I'll tell them that you did it!"

Hennessey sat on the floor for a few minutes, uncertain as to how to proceed. She didn't want to upset the girl any more than she already had, but she felt an obligation to find out who Townsend had been with - particularly if it was a younger girl. She started to get up, but her hand came in contact with a cool, glass bottle. Pulling it from under the bed, she shook her head when she saw the label. "This is the cheapest gin known to man. My mother wouldn't even drink this." She paused, then said, "Well, she would, but no one with an intact stomach lining would. Why on earth would you stoop to drinking something like this? God damn, it, Townsend!" She stood up, and all at once it hit her. "Take off your shirt."

"What?"

"Take off your shirt." Hennessey was all business now, not a flicker of humor in her expression. Slowly, Townsend did so, holding the shirt to her breasts. "Let me see, Townsend. You either show me, or the doctor."

She lowered her shirt, and Hennessey looked her over briefly, then closed her eyes. She had noticed other marks on the girl's body when she was on the dock, but didn't look too carefully at the time, trying to respect her privacy. "Who did this to you?" Her voice was quiet and low, but there was a rage burning in her that was unmistakable.

"Nobody you know," the girl said quietly.

"Did he rape you?"

"How do you know it was a man? Lots of girls like to play rough."

"The skin around your nipple is broken, Townsend. None of the girls here did that to you. Please tell me." She reached out and touched her shoulder, gripping it lightly. "Please."

The girl stared at the floor, finally saying, "One of the guys that delivers laundry."

"Did he rape you?" Hennessey's gaze was unflinching, penetrating.

"No. He he said he'd buy me a fifth every week if I'd you know."

"No, I don't know. Tell me."

The fierce blue eyes bored into her, and Townsend heard herself telling all. "I stopped him at the gate. He seemed kinda sleazy. Guys like that are always good for a bottle. He said he'd keep me stocked if I'd blow him."

Hennessey let out a breath, then said, "Maybe you do it differently than we do in the South, but how does a man nearly bite your nipple off while you're giving him head? The geometry doesn't work, Townsend. Now, please, tell me the truth."

"I am telling the truth. I had to let him paw me to get him hot," she said. "You'd think an underage girl would do the trick - but no, he had to suck and bite on me for ten minutes in the cab of that truck. Sick bastard. What kinda guy can't get hard without making a girl scream?"

Hennessey stood and handed Townsend's shirt back to her. "Get dressed. We're going to go pay a visit to MaryAnn."

"Finally! My ticket out of this dump."

"No chance. We're gonna go get that man's ass fired from here to Sunday, then we're gonna call the police and hopefully have him arrested. After that, we'll call your parents, and then you and I will make a visit to the doctor to get you a tetanus shot and a pelvic exam, since I'm still not sure I believe he didn't rape you." She stood over the girl, seeing the look of shame that darted across her face, only to be replaced by her usual scowl. "Having fun yet?" Hennessey asked, her tone lacking even a hint of humor.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They were unable to reach Mrs. Bartley, and after some serious begging from Townsend, they agreed to try her again the next day rather than notifying Townsend's father. The day had been a long one, and quite draining for all concerned, and both young women were ready for bed by 9. Hennessey sat on the edge of Townsend's bed, gazing at her with nothing but empathy. "I spoke to MaryAnn while you were making your statement to the police. We both think you need more help than we can give you. I found an AA meeting here on the island that's primarily for teenaged alcoholics. You and I are going to go to the meeting tomorrow night."

"You can't make me do that, Hennessey," the young woman said, her eyes burning.

"Well, I can't carry you in and strap you to the chair, but I'm going to take every privilege away until you agree to go. No more TV, no more MP3's, no more CD's and no more Internet. You can either sit in this room alone every night, or you can go to the meeting. I'll even buy you an ice cream cone when it's over."

"Don't do me any favors," she snarled.

"Okay, then I'll buy myself an ice cream cone. We leave right after dinner."

* * * * * * * * * * *

They reached Mrs. Bartley in Paris the next morning, and the woman, while concerned, was not shocked in the least. "I think you should let Townsend decide whether she wants to press charges against the man," she decided. "It certainly sounds like she lured him into it."

MaryAnn blinked her eyes slowly, her surprise evident. "Well, I'd agree that she did, but it's still a felony, Mrs. Bartley. I don't think Townsend gets to choose whether to pursue it. The police have been notified."

"Oh, of course she does. If you tell the district attorney that she won't testify, they don't have a case. We've been through this type of thing before. You can't make her do anything she doesn't want to do."

After deliberating with Townsend, the young woman decided that she didn't want to testify against the deliveryman. Hennessey thought that was a very poor choice, but she was unable to sway her. He lost his job with the laundry company, but Hennessey knew that he would likely prey on another child, and it made her sick to her stomach to think that Townsend's decision could enable that.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The first two weeks of AA meetings were hellish. Hennessey silently cursed Townsend's name more times than she could count, but through coercion alone she got her to attend 14 consecutive meetings. On the way home in the school van after the 14th meeting, Townsend looked at the house leader curiously and asked, "Why do you go to these with me? Couldn't some employee just drop me off?"

"Yeah. But I don't trust you to stay. You haven't proven yourself to be very reliable, Townsend. I want to make sure you go, and as long as you're going, I might as well go, too."

"But what do you get out of it? Why not wait in the car, or go have a cup of that tea you're always drinking."

"I don't go to Al-Anon meetings much anymore, but I find it helpful to remind myself that this is a disease - and see how hard people have to struggle to escape it. It gives me more empathy for the alcoholics in my life."

"More than your mom?" she asked tentatively.

"Yeah. My dad, too." Hennessey didn't say any more, and she was giving off vibes that led Townsend to believe she was through revealing her secrets.

"I guess you have to add me to your list, too, huh?"

Surprised to hear Townsend refer to herself as an alcoholic for the first time, the older woman smiled, sparing a glance at her passenger. "Yeah. You're my immediate concern."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next week went significantly better. The stories that Townsend chose to write were neither prurient, nor obscene, and Hennessey was pleased to see that she was starting to unleash some of her creative talents.

On Saturday night they were heading back to the Academy when Hennessey asked, "Hey, would you like to go over to Harbor Town and have some coffee? It's such a nice night, and I'd like to be around some adults for a change. I really love the lighthouse when the sun goes down."

"Do I qualify as an adult? I don't even have a driver's license," Townsend smirked. "I got caught driving without a permit, and now I can't get one until I'm 18."

"You might be young, but you've got an old soul." Hennessey said this with equal parts humor and sorrow, both emotions reflected in her eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Sitting outside of a small coffee bar near the Harbor Town Golf Links, watching the dying rays of the sun, Townsend sipped at her coffee and broke the silence. "Since I'm masquerading as an adult, can I ask you an adult question?"

"Sure. You can ask me anything. I won't always tell you what you want to know, but you can always ask."

The blonde laughed gently, shaking her head. "You really are an adult, aren't you?"

"Yep. You've gotta grow up early when your parents are children."

"Right. Well, uhm what I wanted to know was are you straight?"

"And why do you want to know that?" Her eyes were twinkling as she held her mug to her lips, and looked at Townsend through her long, dark bangs.

"Just curious. No special reason," Townsend said. "You just know so much about me and my proclivities. I thought it was only fair to know about yours."

"Well, Townsend, I normally wouldn't answer that question, but you're right. I know more about you than I do most of my relatives - so I'll share." She put her mug down and tilted her head. "I am a chaste celibate heterosexual to the best of my knowledge, that is."

"Pardon me?"

"You heard me," she said, smiling gently. "I've never had sex, so I guess I can't be entirely certain that I'm straight, but I am attracted to men rather than women."

"You've never ever had sex?"

"Mmm I think I'd recall," she said dryly. "No, by my own choice, I never have."

"Why?"

"A few simple reasons," she said, ticking them off on her fingers. "One, my mamma was pregnant when she was 14, and I swore on a stack of bibles that was never gonna happen to me. Two, abstinence is the best form of birth control, and a guarantee that you won't catch an STD. Three, I'm not gonna wind up married to someone from Beaufort. It's a lovely town, but I come with a lot of baggage. No one of any quality would be caught dead dating, much less marrying a Boudreaux, and I'm not gonna marry somebody that isn't my equal - intellectually, at least. It just seemed to me that the best way to make sure I didn't fall for some local yokel was to never go out with any of them."

"You a woman as gorgeous as you have never been on a date?"

"Nope. The good ol' boys thought I was a stuck-up bitch, and the classy boys thought I was trailer trash - only good for a quick roll in the hay. I'm not about to give my body to someone who doesn't deserve it - and that's that!"

"Bu but how do you deal with the need? You do have needs, don't you?"

"Everyone has needs, Townsend, and we're not going to discuss how I handle mine. That's your bailiwick. I'm sure your next essay will be an in-depth look at your masturbatory habits."

"Ah hah! You do masturbate!"

"I said that you did," Hennessey said, tweaking her nose. "That is, when you're not occupied picking strangers up in bars."

Her words were teasing, and her smile gentle, but Hennessey's words cut through the younger woman like a scalpel. Her hurt showed clearly on her face, and Hennessey reached out and took her hand. "Hey, I'm sorry. Did that hurt your feelings?"

Biting her lip, Townsend nodded quickly, tears leaking out of her eyes.

Chafing her hand between her own, Hennessey soothed, "I'm sorry, sweet pea. I was just teasing you."

"I know," she sniffed. "It just it just makes me sick to think of doing that. I never would have done that if I hadn't been drunk." She lay her head down on the table and sobbed. "I'm such a whore, Hennessey. No decent woman will ever want me. I've done everything there is to do. There's not one virgin part of me left."

Stroking her back, Hennessey scooted close and whispered in her ear. "Have you ever truly been in love?"

"N no. Never."

"Then you'll have something very, very special to share with someone someday, Townsend. You'll be able to give the woman you fall in love with your heart."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Things had been too quiet, and Hennessey knew that could only mean trouble. It was mid-July, and Townsend had not been in a significant scrape in almost two weeks - meaning she was well overdue. After they returned from their AA meeting, Townsend said she was heading over to the recreation bungalow to surf the Internet, but when Hennessey went over there she found only four of her charges - Townsend and Devlin notably missing.

Devlin had been a puzzlement to her from the beginning. The young woman was a little quirky and a little obstreperous, but otherwise she hadn't given Hennessey any trouble at all. She was in the art program, so Hennessey didn't have much contact with her except around the bungalow - and when she was at home she was usually in her room drawing. To Hennessey's knowledge, she and Townsend were barely acquaintances - but something about their concurrent disappearances gave her pause.

She checked all of the usual spots, but neither young woman turned up. It was only 9; and since it was Saturday night, they didn't have a curfew. Quite a few of the girls stayed in the rec bungalow until midnight or one, watching videos and acting like typical adolescents. But she was uneasy enough that she couldn't rest until she found the pair.

Looking all around the compound, her worry grew until she was about to call security to help her search. She was headed back to her bungalow when she saw movement by the boat dock. The old powerboat was seldom used, but kept under padlock, just to avoid having a camper harm herself. Suddenly the ancient engine coughed to life - spitting fire. Hennessey started to run, going as fast as the deep sand would let her. By the time she reached the dock, all she saw under the light of the full moon was Townsend's backpack, obviously left in haste. She picked it up and searched it, finding a set of tools wrapped in a soft leather case. Well, I'll be damned! She'd read enough detective novels to know what she held in her hands - a set of burglary tools, complete with files, a pry bar and a lock pick.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The girls didn't know they'd been spotted during their escape, and Hennessey sat on the end of the dock, whiling away the time thinking of appropriate punishments for the pair. Ruling out the rack, the lash, the whip and the iron maiden, she decided to bar both of them from the recreation bungalow for a week. That was a fairly severe sentence - especially for Townsend, who was an Internet junkie - but being out on the ocean at night was a very serious crime, and she was bound and determined to make them pay for it.

When the boat sputtered home over an hour later, she was surprised to find Devlin crying and Townsend glowering at the younger girl.

"It's her fault!" Devlin cried. "She talked me into going, the whole thing was her idea, and then she she tried to rape me!"

"Oh, grow up," Townsend grumbled. "You wanted to play around, too. I just tried to go one tiny step further than you wanted to, and all of a sudden I'm a rapist. You're a big, whining, baby!"

"And you're a big, dyke rapist!" Devlin leapt from the boat, running across the sand and crying loudly enough to be heard over the roar of the surf.

"Let's go," Hennessey growled, grabbing Townsend's backpack. She marched across the sand, refusing to reply to Townsend's repeated questions. Once at the bungalow, she breathed a sigh of relief that none of the other girls were back yet, then she got to work. With Townsend standing by mutely, she tore her room apart bit by bit. She examined every item in the room, going to the point of tossing Townsend's tampons out of the box and checking that each one was still sealed.

The search took over an hour, and when she was finished she had discovered a pint of vodka - a good quality brand at least - and a bottle of OxyContin, a powerful narcotic prescribed for Mrs. Bartley. Taking the drugs, the alcohol and the burglary tools, she left the room, leaving a stunned Townsend standing in the middle of the mess, tears rolling down her cheeks.

An hour-long discussion with Devlin revealed that she had, in fact, wanted to sneak away with Townsend. She admitted that she had also wanted to kiss her, but that Townsend had unhooked her bra, and had frightened her by doing so. Hennessey had the impression that Devlin was afraid word would get out about her agreeing to the kissing - so she tried to counter that with the overblown accusation of rape. The girl finally calmed down to the point that she agreed to keep the matter private, and she promised to apologize to Townsend for going to extremes.

As Hennessey left Devlin's room, a contrite Townsend was sitting on the floor in the hall in front of Hennessey's room. "Can I talk to you?" she asked, her voice trembling.

"No." Hennessey took out her key and unlocked the door, stepping over the younger woman to enter. "I'm not up to it tonight, Townsend. I need some space to avoid saying something that I'll regret." With that, she closed her door, clicking the lock sharply.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, Hennessey found a hand written note that had been pushed under her door. Opening it, she read,

"I'm sorry. I don't think I've ever said those words and meant them - but I mean them this time. I betrayed your trust, and that's something I've never had from another soul. I'm so sorry for destroying it, Hennessey. I don't know how to make it up to you, but please, please give me the chance.

I need to be here, I need to stay in AA, I need to be away from my friends at home to stay sober. Please, please don't send me home, now. I'm begging you - for my life.

Townsend"

Hennessey read the note three times, then went to the young woman's door and knocked softly. Hailey was already up and gone, probably to flee the mess that still littered the room. For some odd reason, Townsend had slept on the mattress on the floor, the contents of her suitcases strewn around her.

Kneeling, then sitting on her haunches, Hennessey reached out and stroked Townsend's hair, watching as the morning light caught the strands, glowing like spun-gold. "Townsend," she whispered.

The sleepy eyes blinked open, and immediately began to fill with tears. "Don't make me leave," she sobbed, throwing her arms around Hennessey's waist and nuzzling her head into her lap.

"Hey hey I'm not going to make you leave, sweet pea. I told you that at the beginning, and I meant it. We're stuck with each other for another month and a half. Let's make the best of it, okay?"

Looking up at her with tears running down her cheeks, she asked, "I don't have to leave?"

"No, of course not. You can't use the rec bungalow for a week, though."

"A whole week?"

"Seven days, buddy. Both you and Devlin. Starting today. Now, let's get this room cleaned up. Hailey must have thought you had a localized hurricane in here."

"I did," Townsend said quietly.

"I'm sorry I was so angry," Hennessey said. "I know that you'll have slips everyone does. But I just lost it when I found the liquor and the pills. I felt like you'd been lying to me the whole time. That hurt, Townsend. You're going to have to tell your AA group about your slip. You'll have to give your 30 day chip back, too," she said, a little sadness showing through.

"I haven't been lying," she said softly. "The seal's still on the bottle, and you can count the pills. The number on the bottle is exactly how many are in there. I just needed them for insurance," she mumbled.

Hennessey grasped her chin and looked into her red-rimmed eyes. "No, you don't. You've got all the insurance you need in here," she tapped the blonde head, "and here." Gently, she thumped the skin over the smaller woman's heart. "You can do this, Townsend. There isn't anything in the world that having that alcohol in your room will do except drive you deeper into your disease. It will only ensure that you won't stay sober when times are tough."

"I feel so alone without it," she whispered. "I thought about it all night, Hennessey. When things were really hard, I could always tell myself that if they got worse I could take a drink. Now what do I have?"

"You have your own strong spirit and my complete support," Hennessey pledged, wrapping the smaller woman in a hug that soothed deep into Townsend's very soul.

* * * * * * * * * * *

That night, driving home from the AA meeting, Townsend asked, "You know, in all of this time, I've never asked you what you're going to do after camp is over. I assume you're going to college?"

"Yep. Sure am."

"Where are you going?"

"Boston well, Cambridge, to be precise."

"You're kidding me! You're going to Harvard?"

"Don't act so surprised, sweet pea. Behind this slow, Southern accent is a pretty sharp brain."

"Oh, that's not what I meant, and you know it. I just can't see you in New England. You're such a Southern girl. But, other than that, I can't believe you'll be in my home town!" Her face fell as she said, "Of course, I'm there for about two weeks a year."

"Where do you go to school?"

"Vermont. I worked my way out of Massachusetts by the time I was through with eighth grade. It pisses me off that all of those schools share their little bits of gossip."

"Do you want to go back to Boston?"

"Hell, yes! I love Boston! Vermont's good for one thing - maple syrup."

"Well, make that a goal. Impress the people at your current school so that they'll give you a good recommendation so you can go to college in Boston. Gossip goes both ways, you know."

"Hmm I'm not familiar with that concept," Townsend chuckled. "Besides, my parents would have to donate a dozen new buildings to get Harvard to let me in."

"There are other schools in Boston, Townsend. And no, I don't mean MIT. You're going to have to set some realistic goals. You know, my whole life revolves around goals, and they've given me the structure that I've needed to mature. I'm where I am today because of goals I set when I was 14."

"Yeah, well, I'm more of an extemporaneous kinda person. I do better free-stylin'."

"Life happens to you, Townsend. If you don't try to make things happen your way, you're just buffeted by the fates."

"I'll give that some serious thought, Hennessey. First chance I get." The look on her face indicated that chance would be far in the future.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On the first of August, Hennessey stood before her class, a wide smile on her face. "For the first time, the editors of The Scroll have asked our class to submit pieces for publication."

"What's The Scroll?" someone asked.

"Oh. I thought you were all familiar with it. It's the publication the Academy puts out to commemorate the summer class. The Scroll is for the writing program, The Lyre is for the music program and The Palette is for the art program. These publications are widely read, and having your work included is a great honor. Normally, the more advanced classes fill the available space, but they've decided that's not fair to the other classes. So, they've asked you all to submit a short piece. They won't necessarily publish them all - they might only have room for one piece from us. It can be prose or poetry, whatever suits you. For the prose there's a limit of 500 words. As you know, that's not much space, so every word will have to count. Now, I know I told you at the beginning of the term that you could work on one of you essays and hand it in again, but you might want to consider doing this project instead. Of course, if you're not interested, that's okay, too. This is only for those of you who are interested in trying."

"Can we see one of the old issues?"

"Sure. They're over in the office the editorial staff works out of. Drop by and look at the library."

"So, we don't have to do this?" Townsend asked.

"Nope. No pressure, guys. If you don't have time, or you're not interested, don't bother. But I can guarantee you that if your piece is accepted, you'll be in one of the more advanced classes if you return next year."

"Will you be here next year, Hennessey?" The quiet voice asking the question was Townsend's, and it was accompanied by a shy glance.

"I hope to be. I'd like to come back each year until I graduate from college. I love it here," she said, smiling warmly.

"I like it, too," Townsend heard herself saying, surprising everyone in the room - save for Hennessey.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Concluded and vote in Part 2...


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