The Right Thing
By SX Meagher
On a Friday night in May, Townsend poured a glass of juice for her friend and joined her on the couch. They clinked their glasses together, and the younger woman said, "Heres to the last regular meeting of the lonely hearts club."
"Hey, it hasn't been that lonely, and you don't know whats gonna happen. Jenna might surprise you."
"Shes surprised me quite enough for one year," Townsend said, making a face. "Traipsing off to the Philippines, coming home for Christmas and not inviting me to Utah, writing less and less frequently ¾ I think her surprises have all combined to give me a message that Im unwilling to hear."
"What do you think youll do?"
Townsend shrugged her shoulders and shook her head briefly. "I dont know. I just dont feel decisive about anything, pal. Im feeling so down."
"I know," Hennessey said softly. "Youve been a little down ever since the semester started, but it seems to be getting worse. Ive been worried about you."
With a small smile, Townsend said, "Ill be all right. I guess Ive been having trouble adjusting to the thought that Jenna wont be coming back, and you wont be coming back, either. I dont know how Ill get through next year." She had been struggling with her emotions, and now she lost the battle and started to cry.
Hennessey took her in her arms and rocked her gently. "Its going to be hard for me, too. As much as I love Kate, and as much as I miss her, being with you this year has made me very happy. I feel closer to you than ever ¾ and I didnt think that was possible."
"I didnt either," Townsend whispered, "but I love you more than I ever have." Her shoulders began to shake, and she sobbed, "Oh, Hennessey, I love you so much. I cant let you go! I cant!"
"My heart breaks every time I think of leaving you. I cant imagine what next year will be like. Ill be with Kate, and thatll be wonderful ¾ but not being able to see you whenever I want is going to be horrible."
"I know, I know. It feels like a major part of me is being taken away, and I dont know how Ill be able to cope."
Hennessey pulled away and looked at her friend with a very somber expression. "Youll go to more meetings, youll seek support from your sponsor. Youll get through this, Townsend."
Suddenly, Townsend stood and gave her friend a look that mingled shock and rage. "This isnt about drinking, goddamn it! Is that all that matters to you? Townsend cant drink! Townsend cant take drugs! I fucking know that, Hennessey. Ive known that for four fucking years! Ive had one fucking slip in four years! But you seem to think the only part of me that matters is my sobriety. Thats not all that matters, goddamn it! What about my heart? What about my soul!" She sank farther down into the couch, the fire slowly extinguishing itself. "Goddamn it, Hennessey. Goddamn you."
The older woman sat up and dropped her head into her hands. "Im sorry. I didnt mean it like that. I know you have needs, and most of them arent about drinking. Its just its easier for me to focus on your sobriety. I can I can assuage my conscience by feeling that I help you stay clean."
"Your conscience?" Townsend blinked the tears from her eyes and gave her friend a confused look. "Whats your conscience got to do with anything?"
"Nothing. I I dont know what the hell Im talking about." Hennessey got up and went into the bathroom, lingering so long that Townsend almost went to check on her. When the older woman returned, her eyes were red and puffy, and she looked very uncomfortable. "Uhm I think Id better go."
"You heard me," she said quietly. "Were both having a tough time with this, and we might be better off each dealing with it on our own."
"Since when?" Townsend was on her feet, staring up into Hennesseys eyes. "Whats wrong with you? You look like youre I dont know ..." She stared at her friend, finally coming up with the appropriate word. "You look like youre lying!"
Eyes shifting, never landing on Townsends face, Hennessey mumbled, "No, Im not. Im just tired. Its been a long week."
The blonde moved a step closer, and said just one word, enunciating it very clearly. "Bullshit."
"What?" Hennessey looked down into unblinking eyes, taken aback by the fire she saw in them.
"I said bullshit. Youre not tired, and it hasnt been a particularly tough week. Youre hiding something, and Im not gonna let you get away with it."
Townsend could almost see her friends hackles rise. She knew, better than most, that it was difficult to get under Hennesseys skin. And she also knew that the tall brunette didnt lose many tests of will.
"Im entitled to my private thoughts and feelings," Hennessey said, a nearly visible curtain closing behind those usually open and trusting blue eyes.
"Of course you are," Townsend agreed. "And Id never dream of invading your privacy ¾ unless it was two days before youre going to leave Boston, and your private thoughts obviously concern our relationship! Now, tell me whats going on."
"No." Hennessey went to the coat closet, opened it and pulled her coat out ¾ only to have it snatched from her grip and thrown across the room. "Id rather leave with my coat, but Ill leave without it," the older woman said, her voice flat and emotionless. She reached for the doorknob, but Townsend was right in front of it, blocking her attempt. "Townsend, dont be like this. Ill call you tomorrow."
"Youre not leaving," the determined blonde said.
"I dont want to push you out of the way ¾ but I will."
A pair of verdant green eyes stared up at her. "Youre not leaving."
Shaking her head, Hennessey tried to move her friend, exerting just enough pressure to accomplish her goal. To her surprise, Townsend wasnt as light as she looked. Pushing harder resulted in little success, but Hennessey wasnt about to give in. She put both hands on her friends waist and pushed with all her might, moving her obstinate friend a few inches. But Townsend wasnt going to give up any more easily than the taller woman, and she placed her hands on Hennesseys hips and gave an equally hard push.
To her amazement, Hennessey found herself stumbling backwards, the coat closet keeping her from losing her balance. She could feel her anger rise as Townsend gave her a superior smirk. Gathering all of her spirit and her strength, she bull-rushed her, trying to knock her off balance. But Townsend saw her plan, lowered her center of gravity and dropped her head, sticking it right into Hennesseys belly.
The taller woman let out a gasp and felt herself being propelled back into the living room. Digging in, she put her hands onto Townsends shoulders and started to grapple with her.
They pushed and pulled and tugged on each other, but neither was making any headway. Their efforts were so intense that both women were out of breath in mere moments, managing to vocalize only grunts.
Townsends thumbs were hooked through the belt loops of the larger womans jeans, and Hennesseys hands remained locked upon the blondes shoulders. Even though Hennessey was taller, Townsends lower center of gravity and her quickness allowed them to fight to a near draw.
Hennesseys height did allow her a very slight advantage, though, and she would manage to move Townsend a few inches in any given direction before the smaller woman could dig in again. But she wasnt able to plan her moves ¾ and she inadvertently pushed Townsend into the sharp edge of the coffee table, causing the blonde to cry out in pain when the wood dug into her calf.
Instinctively, Hennessey pulled her friend towards her, just as Townsend was making another push. They flew back a few feet, landing relatively softly upon the couch before they slid onto the floor, arms and legs entangled.
Hennessey was on the bottom, Townsend looking down at her as they both struggled to catch their breath. The taller woman felt Townsends full weight resting on her body, felt the firm breasts pressed against her own, the slightly open lips so close, so accessible. Without censoring herself, Hennessey found her brain shutting down as her soul told the truth. "I want you," she said, her eyelid s fluttering closed.
Townsend stopped breathing. Her chest no longer moved against the taller womans rib cage, but her heartbeat increased dramatically ¾ the pounding reverberating through Hennesseys body. "What?" she finally managed.
"I know I shouldnt tell you this ¾ especially now. I know I shouldn't, but I cant lie any longer. I want you, Townsend. I've wanted you all along."
"But I we both agreed that we didn't feel that way anymore!"
"No, we didn't," Hennessey said quietly. "You said you didn't feel that way, and I didn't disagree."
"Ever since I returned from Paris, Ive been fighting with myself. I didnt know it was possible, but I swear that I love you and Kate equally. Ive Ive focused on your sobriety because thats the only topic I feel safe with."
Townsends eyes closed, and she took in a deep breath. She nuzzled her face against the soft, well-worn cotton that covered Hennesseys chest and murmured, "Why didnt you tell me?"
"Because its not fair ¾ to either you or Kate. I cant tell her how I feel about you ¾ its just plain wrong to tell her something like that. And I was just as determined not to tell you ¾ but youre too damned strong to resist." She reached down and patted Townsend on the thigh, smiling as she asked, "When did you get so damned strong?"
"You know Ive been running every morning and going to the gym. Do you think I do that just to see the Charles River?"
Hennesseys expression turned serious and she asked, "Can you forgive me for telling you?"
"Are is that it?" Townsend asked, her eyes wide. "Youre just going to tell me that you love me as much as you love your girlfriend and then drop it?"
"Yes," Hennessey said. "I cant do anything else."
"Yes, you can!" Townsend said, rolling quickly off the brunette. "We have to talk about this! You can't just throw this at me and leave it at that."
"There's no point in discussing it, Townsend. I'm committed to Kate, and that's the end of it."
"Jesus, Hennessey! I know you're in your first relationship, but it's not a good idea to love two women."
"I can't help it," the brunette said. "When Im with her, I love her completely, and Im very, very happy that were together. But when Im with you, I feel the same way. I didnt miss her nearly as much as I should have this year. I was perfectly content to be with you." She shook her head and said, "I didn't realize that until we went to Gloucester and you asked me if I missed her. Damn, I've been nearly obsessed with this ever since then."
"Then maybe your feelings for her have changed," the blonde said gently.
"No, they havent," Hennessey said. "When I was in Paris, I felt the same way about her that I now feel about you. I was totally happy with her, Townsend; to be honest, I didnt spend much time thinking about you ¾ in that way. I missed you, of course, but just like I missed my daddy and my grandparents. I honestly feel like I love you both equally ¾ but Kate and I are committed to one another."
"How committed are you if you feel this way about me, Hennessey?"
The lanky brunette got up and walked into the kitchen where she got a glass of water. She came back into the living room and sat next to Townsend when her friend beckoned her to join her on the couch. "I'm pretty confused I suppose that's obvious. But I do love Kate. I'm deeply committed to this relationship, Hennessey, but I can't stop myself from feeling desire for you. It's just not possible."
"What are we going to do?" Townsend asked.
Hennessey wrapped her in a hug and said, "We move on, sweetheart. Kate will be here tomorrow morning, just in time for graduation, and were leaving Sunday afternoon. I have to move forward ¾ with her."
"Can you do that, Hennessey? Can you love her and put your feelings for me aside?"
Hennessey shrugged her shoulders. "I guess I can. I've done it all year."
"You poor thing," Townsend whispered. "This must have been so hard for you."
"It was, but I wouldn't change a thing. I've had one of the nicest years of my life, Townsend. I couldn't have asked for a better senior year. I can go back to the South now and feel like I got to enjoy my last year with you. I couldn't have done it if Kate had been here. It's it's a form of closure for me, I think."
"Are you sure, baby?"
"Yeah, I think so. I'll admit that I'm pretty confused sometimes, but it's usually because I'm keeping something to myself."
"I'm glad you told me," Townsend said.
"I feel like it was a very selfish thing to tell you," Hennessey asked softly. "Should I have kept it to myself?"
"No, no, you did the right thing," Townsend said. "Its nice to know that you love me ¾ even if we cant be together. It's always nice to be loved," she said, her smile growing brighter. "Especially by someone who's so loveable."
"I'll always love you, Townsend, even if I don't always desire you."
"I feel the same, and I hope you know it," Townsend said.
Hennessey ruffled her hair and said, "Now, you get to bed so you look pretty in the thousands of pictures my gramma will take tomorrow."
"Magna cum laude from Harvard is nothing to sneeze at, hot stuff. And I bet I take more pictures than your gramma does. Im very proud of you, Hennessey. Very, very proud."
Hennessey nodded, looking a little embarrassed, then started for the door. She picked her jacket up off the floor and paused. Looking into Townsends eyes, she asked, "Can I kiss you goodbye? We wont have any time alone tomorrow."
Townsend chose to ignore the unspoken truth ¾ that once Kate arrived, things would shift, and Hennesseys heart would once again belong exclusively to her lover. "Yes, of course you can kiss me," she said. Expecting their usual brief brush of lips, Townsend was shocked to the core to have Hennessey take her in her arms and kiss her fervidly, holding on so tightly that she could hardly take in a breath. The kiss went on and on, their tongues touching tentatively, then sliding against one another as Townsend unconsciously let out a low growl. Hennessey remained latched to her friends lips, and they both stumbled slightly, crashing against the door with a thud.
Hennesseys large hands slid through Townsends hair, holding her head still while she kissed her with an intensity that the smaller woman had never felt from her friend. This was the true, unbridled essence of Hennessey: mature, decisive, full of passion and need and power ¾ and Townsend had never, until that very moment, known exactly what she had lost.
* * *
Durham was in the throes of a late summer heat wave, and most of the students scurrying around campus took advantage of the opportunity to show off their summer tans.
One student, a long-legged brunette, walked out of her final class of the week and immediately pulled her hair back into a ponytail, then clipped the thick strands to the back of her head with a tortoiseshell clip. She struggled to heft her book bag over her shoulder, then began to walk. She hadn't gotten five yards when a voice called out to her, "Hey, stretch."
Hennessey's eyes popped wide open, and she spun around, trying to find the speaker. Finally, her eyes lit upon Townsend, and her incredulity quickly gave way to a bright, shining smile. "What in the world ?"
Townsend sprawled rather lazily against the bench she was sitting on, cocking her head at her friend. "Just came to see how my best friend was doing."
Shaking her head, Hennessey sat next to her and draped an arm around her shoulders, saying, "We have phones down here, buddy, and you have my new number."
The smaller woman snuggled into Hennessey's loose embrace. "God, it's good to see you," she said. "I know that I could have, and probably should have, called, but I wanted to see you, Hennessey, not just talk with you. I've been worried about you."
Hennessey looked at her friend carefully and said, "We've been exchanging e-mails all summer, and I never got that impression. What are you worried about?"
Townsend gave her a lopsided grin and said, "Well, now that I'm here, it sounds kinda stupid." Her smile grew wider and she said, "Actually, it sounds like I'm really full of myself."
"What in the devil are you talking about?"
"Look, I've been anxious ever since your graduation. This is the first time in our relationship that something big has come up, and we havent been able to talk about it face to face." Hennessey didnt reply. She tilted her head and stared more intently at her friend.
"Ive been worried that you're not over me," Townsend said. She rolled her eyes and added, "Not that I have a cure for you if you're not." Her brow knit and she said, "I guess the truth is that I start school next week, and I can't bear to think of being in Boston without you or Jenna. I miss you." She looked up at Hennessey with her eyes misting over, and the larger woman gave her a warm hug.
"I miss you, too," she said. She placed a soft kiss on her friend's cheek and said, "I'm a little disoriented myself. It seems funny to be back here in the South. People talk so slow," she added, chuckling softly. "I'd finally gotten used to the Boston accent, and now I have to get used to this North Carolina twang."
Townsend slapped at Hennessey's bare legs. "Stop teasing. I'm being serious."
Hennessey met her gaze and nodded. Her voice was soft when she said, "I know you are. I guess this isn't the time to avoid the topic, is it?"
"No." Townsend squeezed the tanned thigh and said, "I want to make sure you're okay. I want to make sure that you're happy."
Hennessey looked at her for a few moments, then asked, "What will you do if I'm not?"
The pair stared at each other for a while longer, then Townsend scratched her head, looking a little embarrassed. "I hadn't gotten that far. I guess I should've had a better plan, huh?"
With a warm smile, Hennessey gave Townsend another hug, whispering into her ear, "I'm glad you're here. You don't need a master plan to visit me. I think it's wonderful that you cared enough to come."
"I do," Townsend said. "I care for you so much, stretch. It'll kill me if you're unhappy."
"I'm not unhappy," Hennessey insisted, then rephrased. "I'm happy. I really am."
"I just I just can't stop thinking about what happened between us the night before you graduated," Townsend said. "It goes through my mind nearly every day."
Hennessey gave he friend another long look. She pursed her lips and asked, "Have you changed you mind? Do you want to try again?"
"No." Townsend looked down at the ground. "I still love Jenna, stretch. I don't know what it is about that woman, but she brings out something in me that I don't wanna lose."
"Good," Hennessey said with enthusiasm. "I'm glad to hear that."
"Yes, of course I am. When I made a fool out of myself this past spring, I thought I made it clear that I was happy with Kate. I don't want you to be pining away for me. I want you to do your best to get Jenna back when she comes back home."
"You really do?"
"Yes. Yes," she insisted when Townsend continued to look unconvinced. "This is what makes sense for each of us, baby. I told you that I was committed to Kate, and I meant it. I don't want you to think that this is some commitment that I wish I could get out of, either. It's not. I swear it's not."
"Promise?" Townsend asked, leaning her head on Hennessey's chest.
"I promise," the larger woman said. "I love you both, but I'm happy that I'm with Kate. She understands me, she comforts me, she treats me so well. She's very, very loving, Townsend, and I just hope that Jenna comes to her senses and realizes how much she loves you, too."
"I don't think that's gonna happen," Townsend said, "but that's not going to stop me from wanting her."
"You're not the type to give up easily," Hennessey said, looking at her friend with obvious admiration.
"No, I suppose I'm not. Even when I should."
"Hey, don't talk like that. You don't know what's gonna happen."
"No, I don't," Townsend admitted. "I guess what I said before is really the truth. I'm just freaked about going back to school."
"Understandable," Hennessey said. "We were a pretty tight pair last year."
"Yeah," Townsend said, her voice sounding wistful and sad. "It's not gonna be the same without you."
"I know. I know." Hennessey put her arm around her again and hugged her tight. "It feels odd to be here, too. Every Friday night this summer, I'd feel like I should be going to your apartment."
Townsend gave her a sad smile and said, "Friday's are gonna be hard."
"Well, today's Friday, and I think we should make use of it. I'll take you to dinner at the nicest place I can afford. Boy, Kate's gonna be surprised!"
"Will she be home?"
"No, not until late." She looked at Townsend and asked, "You're staying with us, aren't you? We dont have a spare bedroom but ¾ "
"I wish I could, but I only have time for dinner. My mom had to give a lecture at UNC, and we're flying back tonight. I have to be back in Chapel Hill by 11:00."
"What airline flies to Boston after 11:00 p.m.?" Hennessey asked.
"We came on a private jet, honey. Mother doesn't like to wait in lines."
"Nobody does," Hennessey said, laughing softly. "Most people just get over it."
"My mom isn't most people," Townsend said. "And neither am I. I'm taking you to dinner, stretch. And I don't want to hear an argument."
"I'm a very easygoing person," Hennessey said, smiling brightly. "Especially when one of my favorite people wants to buy me dinner."
"You'll always be one of my favorite people too, Hennessey. Always."
* * *
Continued in Part 14Return to the Academy