The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

 

Part 11

Damn it, damn it, damn it, why can’t I ever be on time? Townsend ran down the crowded aisles of the Delta terminal, cursing herself for not having allowed enough time to make sure she was at the gate to meet Hennessey’s plane. If I don’t find her getting off the plane, I won’t be able to find her until she returns for her departing flight. And I’m not wasting the whole day just to catch a glimpse of her. She was running so fast that she almost didn’t see her, but out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Hennessey running in the opposite direction.

What the...? Townsend stomped on the brakes and whirled around. "Hennessey!" But the lanky brunette did not hear her cry. Townsend took a few steps in the proper direction, then stopped dead in her tracks. Hennessey was not alone on her mad dash. She was holding the hand of a similarly tall, similarly thin blonde woman, and both of them were laughing wildly.

Townsend stood stock still for another moment, then took off after her friend. Hennessey had a good twenty yards on her by this time, and her long legs were eating up real estate much faster than Townsend’s could ¾ but that didn’t deter the younger woman. Townsend continued to lose ground, and by the time Hennessey and the other woman skidded on the smooth floor and turned right, she had nearly lost sight of them.

Panting heavily, Townsend reached the spot where she thought they’d turned. A quick perusal revealed nothing, and she was about to take off again when she calmed down and spent a moment looking at the line of passengers getting ready to board. There, in the crowd, she saw a flash of long, blonde hair, and before she could take a step towards the woman, she watched in shock as Hennessey wrapped her long arms around the blonde and began to kiss her.

Townsend was stunned, staring open-mouthed as Hennessey frantically placed kisses on every inch of pale, peach-toned skin that her lips could reach. She seemed to be trying to fill herself up ¾ to draw as much of the blonde into her own body as she could. The other passengers in the line were staring openly at the rapacious behavior, but it was clear that neither woman was concerned in the least. They seemed only aware of the frenetic merger of their lips and tongues and warm breath.

The line began to move, but Hennessey did not remove her mouth from her friend’s. Finally, they reached the gate attendant, and the blonde blindly thrust her ticket in the general direction of the nonplussed man. She then threw both arms around Hennessey and gave her a scorcher ¾ a kiss heated enough to warm a small village on a very cold day.

Stumbling slightly, Hennessey stepped away from her paramour and waved weakly, her hand barely moving. She managed to tumble into a plastic seat and sat, staring blankly at the door to the Jetway.

Townsend was nearly as breathless as Hennessey was, but summoning her courage, she walked over to the dark-haired beauty and sat down. "I see you’ve gotten over that fear of intimacy thing," she said.

Every emotion at her disposal flashed across Hennessey’s face. Finally, she dropped her head into her hands, mumbling, "Oh, fuck, Townsend, that’s not how I wanted you to find out."

"Well, I’d guess not," the blonde said. She slipped her arm around Hennessey’s back and asked, "Can I have a hug? I’ve missed you so much."

Lifting her head and giving her friend one of her dazzling smiles, Hennessey shifted in her seat and wrapped her arms around Townsend, murmuring into her ear, "I’ve missed you, too. I swear I thought about you every single day."

Smelling the other woman’s perfume on Hennessey’s body, Townsend kissed her friend’s cheek as she pulled away. "You didn’t spend all of your time thinking about me," she said quietly. "Wanna tell me about her?"

"Yeah, yeah, of course," Hennessey said, looking like she’d rather do anything but. "I’d kill for a decent cup of tea. I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane, and I’m toast."

"Come on. We can get you a little caffeine before you spill your guts." She stood and offered a hand to Hennessey, who gratefully accepted it.

Draping her arm around Townsend’s shoulders, Hennessey dragged her carry-on bag along the floor. "A lot of caffeine would be a better idea," the brunette said. "I’m running on empty."

"A lot of caffeine it is," Townsend agreed. She reached across Hennessey’s body and took the bag from her loose grip. "I know you’re tired when you don’t take care of your things."

"Tired. That’s the word. Tired."

* * *

Hennessey looked up with a half smile when Townsend placed her tea in front of her. "Before you start, I have a question," the blonde began.

"Sure. Anything."

"Why didn’t you arrange to fly into Boston? I know you could have if you’d wanted to."

Looking a little uncomfortable, Hennessey said, "Yeah, I could have, but Kate had to make a connection to Chicago, and coming to New York was the only way we could both get to our final destinations on the same day." Her head dropped slightly and she said, "I’m sorry, Townsend. I should have been more thoughtful."

"Do you have to get home today? Camp doesn’t start for a while, does it?"

"No, I guess I don’t have to. The weekend is the busiest time at the restaurant, and no one can come get me from the airport. Ideally, I would go home on Monday ¾ the day they’re closed."

"You know, I haven’t asked much of you in the last year, Hennessey, mostly because you haven’t been here," she said with a small smile, "but I’m asking for something now. Stay here in New York with me until Monday."

"Uhm … how?"

"I took the train down from Boston, but I don’t have anything planned for the weekend. Come on, Hennessey. This is the only time I’m gonna get to see you until September. Please?"

The dark head nodded. "I’ll call my grandparents and tell them my plans have changed. Let’s go."

"How did you manage to be away from me for a year?" Townsend asked, inclining her head in question. "Who ordered you around?"

"It wasn’t easy. Believe me, it wasn’t easy."

* * *

Both women were quiet during the cab ride. Townsend was an anxious wreck, fixated on learning who the blonde was and what she meant to Hennessey, but her companion was so tired that she was dozing intermittently as soon as they left the airport.

They arrived at the hotel, and in minutes, they were shown to a spacious room that contained two queen-sized beds. Hennessey gave her friend a sad, knowing smile when she saw the layout, and if the bellman hadn’t been nattering away, Townsend would have burst into tears. It was impossible to believe that two years had passed since she had rented a room for them in Vermont and had managed to convince Hennessey to share a bed with her. But their physical familiarity was a thing of the past, and if Hennessey was as serious about her tall blonde friend as it looked like she was ¾ their intimacy would likely never be reestablished.

The bellman left, and both young women regarded each other with trepidation. "I guess I’ve got some explaining to do, huh?" Hennessey asked, fighting a yawn.

"I don’t think that explaining is the correct term," Townsend said. "But I am interested in what’s going on with you … and why you didn’t tell me." She looked away from Hennessey’s eyes and said, "That’s the part that hurts."

Impulsively, Hennessey took Townsend by the hand and led her to an overstuffed chair. She sat down and pulled the smaller woman onto her lap. For several minutes she didn’t say a word, she merely cried until she was gasping for breath. "I never, never meant to hurt you," Hennessey finally said. "I was so conflicted, Townsend. I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t want to do it in an e-mail. That seemed so cold. I still love you so very much," she sobbed.

"Oh, sweetheart, I know you do," Townsend said, smoothing the dark hair back from Hennessey’s face. "I know you love me ¾ just like I love you."

"Yeah … just like you love me," Hennessey murmured. "I didn’t want this to happen; I truly didn’t. But Kate and I started to click, and we finally found ourselves kissing one night. I was so confused, Townsend. I didn’t know what to do. But Kate and I talked about it for a long time. I told her how I felt about you and about how I wanted to wait for you."

"Hennessey, I didn’t expect you to wait for me ¾ "

"I know that. But I wanted to. I wanted you to be the only woman I’d ever loved. I wanted to look back on my life when I was an old woman and say, ‘It was always Townsend. Only Townsend …’" She started to sob again, her exhaustion making her more emotional than usual.

"Damn, Hennessey, damn it all to hell! How did this turn out so badly?"

"I wanted you to be happy," the older woman said. "With me or without me ¾ I wanted you to be happy."

Pulling the dark head forward, Townsend repeatedly kissed the soft, smooth skin of Hennessey’s brow. "No one could make me as happy as you do. No one."

"I know … I think … I think I know that," Hennessey said, looking thoroughly confused.

"Come on," Townsend said. "You need to get some sleep. You don’t look like you can put two sentences together."

"God, I’m tired," Hennessey conceded. "I’m not one of those people who can stay up all night and function. Especially when things are so emotional."

Townsend stood and helped her friend up. Hennessey fell onto the bed, still in her sweater, slacks, jacket and shoes. "Come on," Townsend said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Let’s get you undressed." She pulled off Hennessey’s loafers, then helped her sit up while she removed her jacket. It was a warm day, and the sun was coming in through the windows, making the room a little close. "Lift your arms." Hennessey did so without complaint, then looked up at her friend. She seemed so young and innocent that Townsend let her maternal feelings take over, and she set upon unfastening her friend’s belt and slacks. "Lift your hips, honey," she instructed, and Hennessey complied. Going to one of the bags, Townsend took out a roomy T-shirt and slipped it over Hennessey’s head. Next she unfastened her bra and slid it down her arms. After tugging the shirt into place, she cocked her head at the questioning look Hennessey was giving her.

"Will you lie down with me? I need to feel you close."

"Of course," Townsend said. She kicked off her shoes, then removed her slacks, cuddling up behind Hennessey in her golf shirt and panties. "How’s this?"

Hennessey took her friend’s hand and tucked it between her breasts. "Now I can sleep," she said, and almost immediately her heavy breathing showed that she meant it.

* * *

Townsend woke slowly, slightly disoriented. She wasn’t sure what time it was, but the sun was no longer shining in through the window and her stomach was trying to get her attention. She moved a little, tightening her hold around the long, still lean, but now slightly sturdier woman.

With a soft, but fully awake voice, Hennessey asked, "How can I love both Kate and you? I thought love was something you could only feel for one person."

"Oh, Hennessey," the smaller woman said. "When you learned about Jenna, did you feel that I’d stopped loving you?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I did. I mean, I knew you loved me in a platonic way, but I thought you’d fallen out of love with me."

Squeezing her friend tightly, Townsend said, "Never. I will always love you, and I will always be in love with you … even if we never consummate our love. You’re the first person I’ve ever truly loved, Hennessey, and I won’t ever let you go. Not ever."

"That’s how I feel," the brunette said, her voice rough with emotion. "But I’m so confused, Townsend. Does loving you take away from my feelings for Kate? What about you and Jenna? Is it fair to them?"

"They both know the truth, don’t they? I mean, they know how important we are to each other, right?"

"Yeah, Kate does. But I don’t think she’d feel very good to know I was still in love with you. I think she thinks that’s in the past."

"Jenna probably thinks that, too," Townsend admitted. "But loving someone doesn’t mean they own every bit of your heart, Hennessey. You can’t change the way you feel ¾ you can only change the way you act."

"Speaking of which, Kate wouldn’t like my lying in bed with you. How about Jenna?"

There was a pause, then Townsend said, "I’m not sure what’s going on with Jenna right now. She went to Utah for the summer."

Hennessey sat up and looked at her friend for a moment. Scooting up the bed, she propped a couple of pillows behind her head and said, "That sounds pretty ominous. I thought she was going to work at your father’s firm again."

"That’s what I thought." Townsend got out of bed and put her pants back on, then went to her bag and took out her brush. While brushing the tangles from her hair she said, "I know she loves me, Hennessey. She treats me so well and is so concerned and caring. When we’re alone, I’m … well, I’m loved, and I feel loved. But it’s been a year now, and we’re still entirely closeted. I’ve been pushing her a little, and that was probably a mistake."

"A mistake how?" Hennessey held her hand out and Townsend handed her the brush.

"Her parents called her right before the term ended and said they thought she’d been away from home too long. She’s a very dutiful daughter, so she canceled her plans for the summer and went back to Utah."

"And?" Hennessey asked. "Maybe she just wants to make them happy."

"Oh, she does. She definitely does," Townsend agreed. "We haven’t been able to speak on the phone, but she sends me a long e-mail every day. A couple of days ago she said that her parents suggested that it might be best for her to get her mission over with now, so that she can be ready to marry if she meets someone."

"Marry!?!"

"Yep. Marry."

"Jesus, Townsend, who wants their kid to get married this young?"

"Mormons," Townsend said with resignation. "They don’t believe in having sex before marriage, so they tend to get married pretty young. If Jenna goes on her mission now, she’ll be twenty-two when she returns. They think she should transfer to BYU then, so she can meet a husband."

"Oh, Christ." Hennessey rubbed her tired eyes and asked, "What will she do?"

Townsend sat down on a chair and put her shoes back on. "I need to get something to eat. Room service?"

"Yeah. I don’t feel like going out."

Taking the menu from a drawer, Townsend said, "Take a look while I pee, will you?"

"Sure." When Townsend came back, Hennessey had made her decision and the order was called in. "Do you mind if I don’t get dressed quite yet? I think I’ve got another good nap in me."

"No, that’s fine." Townsend sat down in the upholstered chair and put her feet on the bed. "What will Jenna do … That is the question, isn’t it?"

"Do you think you know?"

"Yeah, I know. I wasn’t sure at first, but over the months, it’s become clear to me even though it doesn’t seem clear to her." She sighed. "Her religion and her family are gonna get her back."

Alarmed, Hennessey asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I’m sure. As I said, she’s still struggling, but I know she can’t break away. She’d lose everything but me ¾ and I’m not enough for her."

"Oh, Townsend, are you sure her family would abandon her? You were so sure they loved her."

"They do, Hennessey, but their faith is such a big part of their lives that things would never be right again. I know that now."

"Shit." Hennessey shook her head while she gazed at her friend.

"Yeah, I fall in love with someone who isn’t completely fucked up, but she loves Jesus more than me. Damn, Hennessey, I should have seen this coming when she kept talking about going on her mission. She was always clear that she was going to go."

"How has she reconciled your relationship with her faith?" Hennessey asked. "Does she realize she’s being a little inconsistent?"

"I’m not sure what she does with this in her head, to tell you the truth. She’s got pretty strong powers of denial. I think she assumed that she’d be able to be a very, very good Mormon and that would somehow make up for the fact that she’s having sex with a woman." Townsend shrugged her shoulders and said, "It doesn’t make sense to me, either, but I can’t make another guess."

"She’ll break your heart if she goes away, won’t she?" Hennessey asked softly.

"Yeah. Definitely. I love her, Hennessey. She’s so easy to love." A slow smile came to her face, and she said, "We’ve been sleeping in a twin bed for most of the year. You get close to a woman when you do that."

"I’d suppose so," Hennessey agreed, smiling back at her friend.

"She sleeps on the outside, and most mornings, I wind up with the wall in my face," Townsend said, chuckling. "But she lifts my hair out of the way and wakes me by placing tiny, soft kisses all over my neck." Looking at her friend with tears in her eyes, she asked, "How can you not love a woman who does that?" There was a sharp knock on the door before Hennessey could answer. "Cover up those long legs," Townsend sniffed, wiping at her eyes. "The room service guy’s only human."

* * *

They were fairly quiet while they ate, both of them ravenous. After Hennessey picked up the spent plates and cleaned all of the crumbs off the bed she asked, "Ready to hear my story?"

"I’ve been ready for a long time, pal."

"I’m not really sure where to start, Townsend. How much do you want to know?"

Townsend took a drink of her Diet Coke, giving the question some serious thought. "I want to know everything. I want to know how you met, how you got to be close, how it is between you. I know this will be hard for me to hear ¾ but I need to know, Hennessey, I really do."

Hennessey nodded, then said, "I’ll tell you everything, but if it’s too much, please let me know. I’d do anything in the world not to hurt you."

"I know that," Townsend said. "That’s one thing that’s never, ever been in doubt."

"Okay, here goes." Hennessey was lying on the bed, and she made herself a little more comfortable by propping pillows all around her body. "We met on the first day we were in Paris. The people who ran the program were very methodical, and they organized us alphabetically. Her last name is Brill, and she sat right behind me."

"Is she Jewish?"

"Uh-huh. Well, her father is. Her mom is a lapsed Catholic, and they raised the kids in the Jewish faith."

"Oh, she's the one whose parents went to France for Christmas, right?"

"That's her," Hennessey nodded. "Her mother was born there."

"Uhm … how religious is she?" Townsend asked. "I’m only worried about her moving to Israel or something ¾ I don’t want you to get burned like I did."

Hennessey laughed softly and said, "She goes to temple on high holy days, but that’s about it. She grew up in a very liberal atmosphere, so I don’t think I have anything to worry about on that front."

"Is she out to her parents?"

"Oh, yeah. They’ve known ever since she began to question her sexual orientation. They’re very open with each other. Kate gets a tremendous amount of support from them. She had the least traumatic coming out in history."

"Wow, that’s rare! Where’s she from, anyway?"

"Chicago. Her dad’s a doctor, and her mom teaches French at the University of Chicago. They’re cool people. Her mom was born in Cannes and has the most adorable accent you’ve ever heard. When I met them during Christmas, they just could not have been nicer."

With a frown settling on her face, Townsend asked, "Were you together during Christmas?"

"No, no, not by a long shot." Hennessey smiled at her friend and said, "I could do this chronologically, but you keep asking questions."

"My bad. Go ahead. You’ve just met."

"Yeah, we’ve just met." Hennessey stopped to think for a moment, then said, "We hit it off immediately. She’s not as naïve as I am, but she’s serious and studious and very goal-oriented like me."

"But you like to have fun, too," Townsend reminded her.

"Yeah, I do, and so does Kate. She works hard and plays hard ¾ and that’s something I’d like to be able to do a little more of. She’s helped me loosen up a little bit ¾ to not always think about my obligations first. She’s shown me that having fun is a reward for hard work, and that it’s something I deserve."

"I like her already," Townsend said, giving her friend a small smile.

"Yeah, you would," Hennessey said. "She’s a good person. Anyway, she’s two years older than I am, and she’s going to medical school in the fall."

"Why was she in Paris? I didn’t know you could spend your senior year abroad."

"You can’t. She graduated last year. She was doing this for fun. I think she did it as a small concession to her mom, to be honest. Her mom is supportive of her going to med school, but she knows what a long haul it is. She wanted Kate to have a year where she was able to relax and learn something just for fun."

"That’s not a bad idea," Townsend agreed.

"Yeah, I think it was very good for her. She worked just as hard as I did, and she wasn’t even being graded. As I said, she’s very determined."

"Okay, I think I’ve got that part," Townsend said, smiling. "Then what?"

"Well, we got to be friends. She told me almost immediately that she was a lesbian, and I told her that I was somewhere around there, too, but that I was pretty confused."

"And … she helped clarify things for you?" Townsend asked this in a seemingly neutral tone, but Hennessey caught the innuendo.

"It wasn’t like that, Townsend. It wasn’t."

The blonde got up and took off her pants again, then climbed into bed next to Hennessey. "Would you mind if we’re close while we talk? I might not be so snotty."

Hennessey paused before she answered, and when Townsend could see how deliberately she was considering her reply, she demurred. "It's not important. I know you're uncomfortable ¾ "

"No, I'm not," Hennessey said. She pursed her lips and said, "I know Kate would be." She looked at Townsend and said, "I don't feel right about stopping how I interact with you just because I know she wouldn't like it." Townsend didn't say a thing; she merely waited for Hennessey’s internal monologue to reach its conclusion. The brunette nodded to herself, then said, "I will always be faithful to Kate, but I have to be myself. It feels right to hold you right now, Townsend, so c’mere if you still want to."

"I do," Townsend admitted, "but I don't want to do anything to harm your relationship, buddy."

"Don't worry about it. As long as my behavior is innocent, I shouldn't worry about what Kate would think if she were here."

Townsend shrugged her shoulders and lay down next to her friend. Hennessey wrapped her arm around the blonde and cuddled her close. "Comfy?"

"Very. When I'm close to you, I feel able to control my sharp tongue."

"It's not so sharp," Hennessey said, chuckling when Townsend stuck it out at her. "Okay, here's the rest of the story." She took a breath and ordered her thoughts, saying, "Over time, Kate did help me figure out that I was a lesbian. We talked and talked and talked, and I finally realized that I was just frightened. I figured out that I’d been afraid of the power of my sexuality and of what releasing it might do to my plans."

"Your plans?"

"Yeah. It felt so powerful when you and I kissed, Townsend. It was so easy for me to lose control. I felt like I had to either maintain my distance or give in and let it take over my life. I know it sounds strange, but I think that’s what was on my mind."

"And Kate helped you figure this out?"

"Yeah. She told me that my sexuality was probably so powerful because it never got released. She assured me that once I fell in love with someone and made love with her, it would just become another part of my life ¾ it wouldn’t have to take over."

"You were really worried about that?" Townsend asked, thoroughly surprised.

"I didn’t know I was," Hennessey explained, "but Kate has a way of getting to the heart of a problem. She’s very perceptive ¾ she knows how to get inside."

"Okay, so you realized that you were frightened of your sex drive. Then what?"

"We spent a lot of time together over Christmas break. It was so nice to see her with her parents ¾ they’re a nice group to be around. Her younger brother came along, too, and even though he’s my age and as cute as a bug, I realized that I had to be a lesbian because the only Brill I was interested in was Kate."

"Uh-huh," Townsend said quietly. "What did you do about that discovery?"

"Nothing. Well, nothing at first." Shifting slightly, Hennessey reached over and tilted Townsend’s head up so that she could see her eyes. "Are you sure you want to know all of this? How will it help you?"

"No, I don’t want to know this, Hennessey, but I need to. I need to know that you’re happy. I need to know that she’s right for you. It might … it might help me to let go a little bit."

Smiling gently, Hennessey ran her finger down the crease that had formed on her friend’s brow. "Can’t you just trust me to know that I’m happy?"

"No. I wish I could, but you’ve never done this before. I’ve made every mistake in the book, and I might be able to help you to avoid repeating some of them."

"I’m not making a mistake, Townsend. I know this is right for me."

Pouting slightly, Townsend nodded. "Okay. Let’s drop it."

Hennessey leaned over and kissed her friend on the top of her head. "I’ll tell you everything, if you’re sure you want to hear it."

"Yes. I do," Townsend murmured.

"All right, baby. I’ll tell all." She sighed and said, "Part of what attracted me is that Kate is more mature than I am." She gave Townsend a sad look and said, "I’ve had to be an adult my whole life. I’m my parents’ parent ¾ and to be honest, I’m sick of it. I want to act my age for a change, and I can do that with Kate." Townsend laid her head back on Hennessey’s breast and nodded. Neither woman mentioned the fact that Hennessey had, for a long time, been the adult in their relationship too ¾ neither had to. "She takes care of me, Townsend, and only my grandparents had ever done that. She doesn’t boss me around or anything ¾ she just helps me figure things out; she guides me."

"That must feel wonderful for you," Townsend said quietly.

"It does; it really does."

"So, did she guide you to bed?" Townsend asked, trying to keep the rancor from her voice.

"No, she’s not like that." Hennessey’s tone was a little sharp, and Townsend reminded herself to back off. "It was Easter, and I was telling her about the Easter egg hunts we used to have back home and reminiscing about the candy we used to eat. Suddenly, she got up and took my hand, and we went to a little shop that made the best chocolate candy I’ve ever had in my life. She bought so much of it, I’m sure it cost her a fortune, but she was so happy to do it for me." She smiled, and even though Townsend couldn’t see her face, she knew the smile was there. "We went back to her room and started eating this fabulous stuff, but it was so rich that I could only eat a few pieces. We both collapsed onto her bed and just lay there for a few minutes. I’d never been that close to her physically, and I started to … want her."

She paused for so long that Townsend finally said, "Go on, please."

"Okay … she was obviously feeling the same, because she rolled over and touched my cheek ¾ turning my face towards hers. Lying there that close to her took my breath away. She’s so beautiful, Townsend. She’s … she’s beautiful inside and out."

"So you made love," Townsend said, wanting to get past the inevitable.

"No, we didn’t. She said that she’d been wanting to do something since the day we’d met, and that she couldn’t hold off any longer." Hennessey gave her friend a hug and said, "We kissed. Gently … slowly. For a long time. A very long time. It was … it was wonderful."

"Why didn’t you make love?" Townsend asked in a very quiet voice.

"Because as soon as I got my wits about me, I burst into tears," Hennessey said, laughing softly at herself.

"You what?!?"

"You heard me. I started to cry, and I told her that I couldn’t be with her … because of you."

"Oh, Hennessey, no!"

"Yep. Like I told you, she’s very understanding. We got up and went out for tea ¾ she likes tea, too ¾ and I told her everything about you. Well, not the struggles you’ve had, but how I felt about you."

"Hennessey, it’s okay if you tell people about my past. It would help her to understand you better."

"No. I’ll never do that, Townsend. Your secrets will always be safe with me. I promised you that, and I will keep that promise."

Giving her a squeeze, Townsend said, "I appreciate that. But if you need to tell her, you have my permission."

"Okay. I won’t, but thanks."

Lightly rapping on her friend's head, Townsend said, "Hard head."

"Yep. That’s kinda what Kate said when I told her that you’d been in a relationship for almost a year."

"I can imagine," Townsend said, chuckling softly.

"I told her what you’d said about how we both might need to experiment a little."

"And she said …?"

"She didn’t say a thing. She just lifted one of her beautiful blonde eyebrows and stared at me. She stared at me like she could see right through my clothes. I nearly passed out," Hennessey said, laughing at herself.

"Sounds like a smart girl," Townsend said.

"She is smart ¾ smart enough to know not to pressure me. It was my decision, and I told her that I thought we should think about it overnight. I wanted her to understand what you meant to me ¾ I didn’t want our libidos to be in charge."

"Jesus, Hennessey, you have to let go! You have to let your libido be in charge once in a while."

"I know that," the older woman said. "It's taken me much longer than it should have, but I know that now."

"Well, when did you let your libido be in charge?"

"The next day. It was Easter Sunday, and she showed up at my room early in the morning with a bouquet of flowers." Hennessey smiled. "I got the impression she’d decided she wanted to go forward despite my ineptitude. She took me out to breakfast ¾ just my usual tea and bread with jam ¾ but it tasted better than I could ever remember. My senses felt so alive."

"You were ready to open up," Townsend said.

"Yeah, I was. But I was nervous, and it didn’t take a psychic to figure that out. Kate took me to a lovely little park, and we watched the swans swim in a small lake. There was no one around since it was still quite early, and we started to kiss again. It didn’t take long for me to lose my nervousness ¾ and if I weren’t such a good girl, we would have done it right there."

"When you get going, you only have one speed," Townsend said, recalling the passion that lurked just beneath the surface of her friend’s calm demeanor.

"Yeah, that’s about it. We went to my room, since my roommate was away for the weekend, and … we made love. It wasn’t just sex, and it wasn’t just experimentation, and I knew that as soon as we started. I was in love with her, and I had been for a long while ¾ I just hadn’t let myself know it."

"Did you feel that she loved you, too?"

"Yeah," Hennessey smiled. "You don’t touch someone like Kate did if you just want her for sex. She touched me so lovingly, so gently. It was a wonderful first time, Townsend; it really was."

"And the second and third times?"

"Well, those were all on the same day, but if you’re wondering ¾ we get along very, very well. She’s shown me that you can be loving and passionate and a little wild all at the same time. She’s a very good lover, and I’m … I’m making progress," Hennessey said, blushing pink.

Townsend stretched a little, then got up. She walked over to the mini-bar and took out a Diet Coke. Slowly, she went to the window and stared out at the New York traffic. "Why could you let go for her and not me?"

Hennessey slipped out of bed and started to walk over to Townsend, but she felt uncomfortable in just a T-shirt, so she put her pants back on. Padding over to her friend, she slid her arms around her and held her gently. "I've thought more about that than is probably wise," she said. "I've talked to Kate about it a lot, too. I think I finally understand."

Turning to face her, Townsend's chin lifted just enough so that she could look directly into Hennessey's eyes. "Tell me."

Townsend looked like a dog that was about to be kicked, and Hennessey tried to reassure her. Tightening her embrace, she said, "It's not a question of desirability. I've been incredibly attracted to you since I first saw you."

Townsend gave her a sad smile and nodded. "I know that. I'm … I'm afraid you're going to say that you weren't able to trust me, and that's gonna break my heart."

Hennessey smiled at her ¾ a warm, loving smile. "Nothing could be further from the truth. I trust you with my life, Townsend. I didn't trust you three years ago, but I do now. It had nothing to do with that."

"Then what is the reason?"

The brunette blinked slowly, trying to make sure she explained herself properly. "When Kate first kissed me, she acted like she was kissing a soap bubble." She laughed at her description and continued. "Honestly, she was so gentle and careful with me, Townsend. After every kiss she pulled back and looked into my eyes, making sure that I was all right. It was just right for me. Just perfect."

"Go on. I know there's more."

"Okay. Her pace was very slow, but she was never tentative or hesitant. She seemed so in control, and that made me feel safe."

With her blonde head shaking, Townsend said, "That's what trust is, Hennessey."

"No, no, it's not. I trust you, Townsend. Believe me ¾ I do. But Kate made me feel … like I was in control. Somehow that made all the difference."

Her brow furrowed and Townsend said, "I thought you said that she was in control."

"That's the thing," Hennessey said. "We were both in control. She was so deliberate and careful that I knew I could let go a little. But at the pace we were going, I knew I could regain control if I needed to. It never felt overpowering for me."

"Never?" Townsend raised an eyebrow.

"Not the first time we made love," Hennessey said. "It was loving and sweet and gentle but not overpowering. When we were finished, I felt like I'd been held and rocked by someone who loved me, not like I'd been ravished."

Townsend blinked, and before Hennessey could say another word she started to cry.

"Hey, hey," Hennessey soothed. "Don't take that the wrong way, baby. All I'm saying is that every time we started to get serious about sex, I would lose control and feel like I couldn't get it back. Each time felt like I was falling off a cliff, and that made it too scary for me. You didn't do anything wrong, and I didn't do anything wrong, honey ¾ I just didn't know how to communicate my needs."

"How did you tell Kate?" Townsend asked, still sniffling.

"I didn't. She just knew."

Townsend rolled her eyes and said, "So I'm punished because I'm not intuitive enough to know what you want?"

"You're not being punished," Hennessey said. "And you are intuitive. When you describe how you were with Jenna, it sounds just like Kate was with me. How did you know to be gentle and slow with her?"

"She acted like she was afraid," Townsend said. "I wanted to make her feel safe and protected."

"That's the same thing Kate did," Hennessey said.

"But you never acted like you were afraid," Townsend said. "You always jumped in and started pushing me ¾ hell, you acted like you were the one with all the experience!"

"I know, I know!" Hennessey said, her excitement showing. "But Kate listened to me talking about how it had been between you and me, and she figured out that she had to slow me down. That first night, I kept trying to pull her to me or push her onto her back, but she wouldn't let me. She forced me to go slowly, Townsend. I'm not sure how she knew it, but that was the key. She forced me to go slowly."

"Fuck me," Townsend said. "I lost you because I couldn't figure that out."

"No, no, please, don't think of it like that. You're not to blame, baby. It just worked out between me and Kate, and no one can know if it would have worked even if you'd done the same things. Things just happen."

Townsend nodded, then walked over and sat down on the upholstered chair. "So now what? When will you see her again?"

"Uhm … soon. She’s gonna come to South Carolina for a week before I start camp."

"Are you going to tell your family?"

"I’m not planning on it ¾ at least not right now. My grandparents are good people, but it’s gonna take them a while to get used to the fact that I’m friends with a Jewish woman ¾ much less that she’s my girlfriend."

"Oh, wow, are you shitting me?"

"No. I don’t think my grandparents know any Jews. It’s gonna be an adjustment. They’re still suspicious of you for being an Episcopalian."

"Unbelievable," Townsend said.

"Yeah, we’ve got our work cut out for us. But I will tell them. I can’t love Kate and hide it from the people I’m closest to. That’s not fair to any of them."

"What about next year?"

"Well," Hennessey said, "Kate got into three schools: the University of Chicago, Penn and Duke. I’d been talking up the South so much that she finally decided on Duke."

"Plus, she figured that she’d be sleeping with you by the time she got there," Townsend said.

"I can’t guess about that. She might have had a master plan, but I prefer to think that I’m just a good salesperson for the South."

"That’s probably true," Townsend agreed. "So, it’s gonna be a lonely year for you, huh?"

"Yeah, somewhat. But I’ll have you close by, and you’re never a consolation prize. This will likely be our last year living in the same city, Townsend, unless I convert you to the South, too. So let’s make the most of it."

"You’ve got it, babe. If Jenna and I break up, we can start our own little lonely hearts club."

"I have a feeling you won’t be single for long," Hennessey said, smiling.

"I don’t know how I’ll handle it. I’ve never had my heart broken … except by you," Townsend said. She started to cry again, her sobs so forceful that Hennessey knelt in front of her and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. Townsend pressed her face against Hennessey's chest and cried, her body shaking. Hennessey joined her, her tears sliding down her face and into Townsend’s golden blonde hair.

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: July 30, 1997

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi buddy,

Well, Jenna finally made up her mind. In September she’s going to the Missionary Training Center in Provo. She’s not sure where she’ll be sent ¾ it could be anywhere in the world, but she’s been told that it will be in a warm climate. I guess that’s good ¾ but it will probably be subtropical. Her clothing list didn’t even include a sweater or a coat. She’s going to have some adjusting to do. She’s not allowed to wear slacks or jeans or golf shirts or T-shirts for the duration. Her mission is eighteen months, but she has to stay at the training center in Provo until they decide she's ready.

She sent me the schedule for the training center, and it was brutal. They study and pray for up to twelve hours a day. She’ll only have about an hour of free time, and she won’t be able to spend it talking to me. They want her to get used to being away from home, so they discourage phone calls.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but you probably know that the Mormons have very strict rules about sex before marriage. They also have very negative views on homosexuality. One of the ways they "help" people lead a pure life is to have everyone keep an eye on everyone else. She showed me a long document that she was given on how to avoid the temptation of masturbation. One of the suggestions was to make sure you were never alone when you felt tempted. I have a feeling that Jenna won’t have a moment alone for a long, long time.

I can’t guess how long she’ll be at the training center, but Jenna’s gonna have to learn Spanish or Tagalog or Portuguese, and since languages aren’t her best thing, they may keep her a while <s>.

I don’t know how I can bear to include a smile in this message. My heart feels like it’s broken in two. She claims that she loves me as much as ever, but that this is something she has to do. She also says that she’ll figure out a way for us to be together when she’s finished ¾ but I don’t see how that’s possible. They’re going to be beating Mormonism into her for twelve hours a day, and when she’s on her mission, she’ll be expounding on it all day for eighteen months. How can you walk away from almost two years of negative messages about same-sex relationships and jump right back into one?

Jenna is so very special, Hennessey, but she’s not the kind of girl who puts her own needs first. I know she feels torn right now, and I know she believes we’ll be together again ¾ but I don’t. I don’t know how she managed it, but she’s talked her parents into letting her meet me in Aspen for four days next week. I’m sure this will be our last four days together, and even thinking about it makes me cry. I don’t know how I’ll let her go, Hennessey. She means so much to me. I’ve loved two women, and I’ve lost them both. The problem doesn’t seem to be with the women ¾ so it must be me. What is it, Hennessey? Do you love me enough to tell me what I’m doing wrong?

Townsend

 

 

 

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: August 01, 1997

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi sweetheart,

Your note just about broke my heart. I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to learn that Jenna won’t be with you this year. I know how much you care for her, and I fervently hope that she’s able to keep her promise to return to you.

Class starts soon, and I haven’t had breakfast, so I don’t have much time. But I have enough time to tell you one very important thing. There is nothing in the world wrong with you, Townsend. And I’m certain that Jenna would agree with me. We both love you ¾ circumstances have just prevented each of us from being with you. It was a timing problem for you and me, and Jenna’s just following the path that has been set for her since she was born. There’s a chance that she’ll be able to choose her own path, Townsend, but even if she isn’t able to, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love you ¾ it only means that she was unable to make the brave choice. Give her some time, baby. Let her see how the separation settles for her. Her feelings for you might actually strengthen because of the distance; you won’t know until you see what happens. Don’t give up yet, Townsend. You’re not a quitter ¾ you’re a winner.

All my love,

Hennessey

 

 

 

* * *

Continued in Part 12

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