The Right Thing
By SX Meagher
Nine months later
Townsend looked up into the brilliant sun and tossed her mortarboard as high as she could, laughing gleefully when hundreds of similarly propelled hats came falling down upon the graduates heads. She was still trying to catch her breath when her parents broke through the crowd to wrap her in a congratulatory embrace. "Were so proud of you, sweetheart," her father said into her ear.
"Thanks, Dad. Im proud of myself."
"Youve accomplished so much, honey," her mother added. "When you were in high school, I would have been the first to assume you'd never graduate from college. Im so happy to have been proven wrong."
"Townsends very good at exceeding expectations," a deep, melodic voice said from over the graduates shoulder.
Whirling around, the smaller woman threw her arms around Hennessey, hugging her tightly. "I had no idea you would come!"
"Ill never miss an important day in your life," Hennessey whispered. "I promise that."
"Why didnt you tell me you were coming?"
"Well, I wasnt sure how Id get here, or when Id get here ¾ so I didnt want to make a promise I couldnt keep. My term isnt over, and I had so much work piled up it was nip and tuck, but I lucked out and got an excellent last minute fare from one of those wholesale re-sellers."
"Oh, Hennessey, it means so much to me that youre here."
"It means a lot to me, too." She released the blonde and stepped back a bit. "Hi, Miranda, Tucker."
"Great to see you again, Hennessey," Tucker said. "Its been quite a while."
"How are things at Duke?" Miranda asked, not entirely sure that she had the correct school name.
"Things are great," Hennessey said, smiling brightly. "Ive still got a week left in my term, but I couldnt miss this big event."
"Oh, thats so thoughtful of you," Miranda said. "How long will you be staying?"
"I have a nine oclock flight tomorrow evening."
"I hope youre planning on staying with us," Miranda said. "Wed love to have you."
Townsend turned and gazed at her friend. "Will you stay, Hennessey? We really would love for you to."
The brunette shrugged her shoulders and said, "To be honest, I didn't make any plans. I was so fixated on getting here on time, I didn't think to make a hotel reservation."
"Then it's settled," Miranda said. "I have so many questions about the writing program at Duke that I can't wait to get you alone."
"Huh-uh, Mom. If I only get her for a day, Im keeping her all to myself. You can call her to ask her questions." Townsend said this with an impish smile, but everyone knew that she was completely serious.
* * *
Much to Townsends regret, her mother had planned a small celebration back at the house, and about two dozen relatives and friends of the family were waiting for them when they pulled into the drive. Internally, Townsend rolled her eyes, but when her mother turned and asked, "You dont mind terribly, do you, dear? I wouldnt have planned anything if Id known Hennessey was going to be here." She gave her a warm smile and said, "Of course I dont mind. Who would mind having someone go to the trouble of throwing her a party?"
* * *
Hours later, the last guest had been shown out, and Townsend tugged on her friends hand, leading her upstairs. "Lets go to my room and talk all night," she said, making Hennessey smile.
"If my memory serves me well, youve said that many times ¾ and yet, youre always the first to fall asleep."
"I havent had anyone to practice with," the blonde said. "How can I get better if I dont work at it?"
"Good point. Well give it another try tonight." Hennessey tossed her arm around Townsends shoulders and followed her into the spacious, beautifully decorated room. "Boy, I remember the first time we came here for the weekend. Id never been any place this nice in my whole life. I kept thinking back to what you must have thought when you visited my house."
Townsend gave her friend a generous hug. "I thought that I was in love with you ¾ and that any place you were was just perfect."
With a nervous chuckle, Hennessey pulled back and asked, "Mind if I put my jammies on? Im not used to being dressed up all day."
"Sure. Let me show you to your room. Do you prefer the blue or the green décor?"
"Blue. Definitely blue," Hennessey replied. "I like the view from that room."
"So do I. I would have chosen that one, but the morning light hits it far earlier than I used to choose to rise." She shrugged and said, "Maybe I should switch if Im going to be here for a while."
Hennessey opened her bag and took out a faded Harvard T-shirt and a pair of loose-fitting, gray, athletic shorts. "Be right back," she said, ducking into the bath. Moments later, she reappeared, and Townsend handed her a hanger for her dress.
"You looked lovely today," the younger woman said. "Ive only seen you in a dress once or twice, but you look wonderful in them."
"I dont mind getting dressed up, but I dont do it for pleasure ¾ only when the occasion calls for it."
"Window seat?" Townsend asked, already knowing the answer.
"Absolutely." The dark-haired woman climbed onto the wide seat, smiling when her friend handed her a few pillows.
"I know you like to be comfortable," she said. "Wait right here. Ill go put my pajamas on, too."
Townsend was only gone a few minutes, and when she sat down, Hennessey reached over and wiped a speck of toothpaste from the corner of her mouth. "Missed some," she said.
"I was in a hurry. Ive only got you for a few hours, and I dont want to waste a minute."
"I wish I could stay longer, but I just cant swing it."
"I understand. School has to come first. And Kate, of course. How did she feel about your coming?"
A tiny frown settled on Hennesseys face. "She wasnt overjoyed about it, to be honest. She had a weekend off ¾ the first one in months ¾ and she naturally wanted us to spend it together. Im not sure if she would have minded any other weekend, but ¾ "
"Oh, Hennessey, I dont want to cause trouble in your relationship."
"No trouble, I promise," the larger woman said. "The timing just wasnt great. Kate wont be angry by the time I get home; she was just disappointed."
"Well, I cant say I blame her. Her schedule sounds horrible, and yours isnt much better."
"Hers is much worse. I dont think people realize how hard medical school students work. Its no picnic."
"How much time do you spend together?" Townsend asked.
"That depends on how you categorize it. Were in the same room quite often, but were usually both studying or reading. We usually have one afternoon a week where neither of us absolutely has to be doing something else."
"One afternoon? You cant be serious!"
"Oh, I am serious. She spends more time at the hospital than she does in class now. She only gets one day off a week, and sometimes thats when I have a deadline. Its been tough ¾ very tough ¾ to make time for each other."
"Hasnt that hurt your relationship?" Townsend asked, trying not to pry.
"Yeah, of course its harder this way. But thats what you get when you partner with a med student. Believe me, Townsend, it will only get worse. Well be lucky to see each other at all when shes a resident."
"Is it worth it?" Townsend asked, her voice soft.
"Yeah," Hennessey said immediately. "I love her, Townsend. I love her, and Im supportive of her ¾ just like she is of me. The next eight to ten years are going to be hard, but weve learned that we both have to do what we want ¾ what makes each of us happy. Im sure shed like it if I were there to tend to her every need when she isnt busy, but my work is as important to me as hers is." Hennessey adjusted herself, plumping her pillows up to better support her back. "Heres how I think of it. Some couples can be each others entrees. Their lives revolve around each other. Its not like that for me and Kate, and it probably never will be. Were both independent women who are very motivated and driven. Were more like the condiments in each others lives. We provide spice and flavor ¾ not the whole meal."
"And you like being a condiment?" Townsend asked, looking suspicious.
"Hey, I wont lie to you. There are times that I want to be the entrée. I had a bad cold earlier this year, and Kate was on a forty-eight hour shift at the hospital. I wanted her to sit by my bed and read to me and then make me soup and tea. But I had to take care of myself. I didnt like it one little bit, but thats the way it is."
"But isnt that what being in a relationship is all about? Being there for each other?"
"Yeah, sure it is. But thats not all it is. Its also about giving each other the space that you need to fulfill your dreams. Thats where we are now." She gave her friend a sad look and said, "They say that you cant have everything in life, and Ive come to realize how true that old axiom is."
"Is it enough for you, Hennessey? Are you happy?"
"I am," the larger woman said without a bit of hesitation. "I wish I had more of her, but the little bit I get is well worth the time we have to be apart. Shes an extraordinary woman, Townsend, and I love her and respect her and admire her. Those are all very significant parts of a relationship."
"Do you still love me?"
Hennesseys face softened into a warm, affection-filled smile. "Of course I do. I always will. I think I've finally gotten to the point where I'm able to love you platonically," she added. "It took me a long while, but I think I'm there."
"I hope so," the blonde said. "I don't ever want to come between you and Kate."
"You won't," Hennessey assured her. "Kate and I are permanently partnered. We're both committed to being together for the rest of our lives, which might not be too long if she keeps working herself to death!"
* * *
They continued to talk until their throats grew dry. Together they snuck downstairs to get something to drink, but wound up with ice cream instead. "I don't know why, but ice cream tastes better out of the carton," Hennessey decided, tapping her spoon against the rim of the container. "It's more indulgent somehow."
"What do you two do for meals? Do you cook for each other?"
"No, not very often. I love to cook, but I don't take the time to do it for myself. Every once in a while, I'll make a nice meal if we're both free on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, but I could count how often I've done that on one hand."
"And you're okay with that?" Townsend asked.
"No, I don't like it," Hennessey said. "But there are sacrifices we have to make for each of us to get our degrees. That's just one of them." She gave Townsend a lopsided grin and said, "Don't even ask me about my sex life."
Wincing, Townsend asked, "That bad?"
"Well, it's not that we never make love, it's just that Kate's usually in the mood when she's been on duty for thirty-six hours. It's one of the ways she likes to relax."
"So that's usually at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.," Hennessey said, laughing. "We have sex ¾ I'm just half-asleep."
Townsend patted her friend's hand and said, "Don't complain. I'd rather have it at 2:00 a.m. than not have it at all."
Nodding, Hennessey said, "I shouldn't have said that, bud. I know it's been hard for you."
"Yeah, it has been, but I think I'm finally ready to let go and start dating. I'm going to Europe with my mom for a while, and when I get back, I'm going to dedicate myself to finding someone who is completely indifferent to her creator of choice."
"Aw, there are some religious people who don't have to leave the country for two years," Hennessey said, smiling.
"I'm not taking any chances," Townsend insisted. "No devout Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, pagans, witches or devil worshipers." She laughed at herself, saying, "If I take out a personal ad, it's gonna be a quarter page long."
"You don't need to take out an ad," Hennessey said. "I know twenty women at Duke who'd love to go out with you."
"Hey, I've got money," Townsend reminded her. "I'll fly 'em in!"
* * *
"So, what are you planning on doing in Europe?" Hennessey asked when they went back upstairs.
Townsend looked away, a glimmer of indecision on her face. "Uhm "
Hennessey reached out and touched her arm. "I don't mean to pry, baby. You don't have to tell me."
Giving her friend a thoughtful look, Townsend said, "I don't think she'd mind if I told you." She smiled and said, "My mom is checking into a chemical dependency unit in Switzerland. She told me that she's so impressed with my recovery that she can't ignore how her addiction to pain-killers is dulling all of her senses." Her smile grew wider and she said, "I've never been a positive influence on anyone, Hennessey. It makes me feel great."
Hennessey reached out and drew her into a warm hug. When she pulled back she said, "You've influenced a lot of people. I've been to meetings with you where I've heard you tell your story. I know that many, many people have been encouraged and strengthened by you. Plus, you've been a positive influence on me for years. Just because I didn't have a problem with alcohol, didn't mean I wasn't screwed up. You've helped me make a lot of changes, buddy."
"Not as many as you've helped me make," Townsend said.
Hennessey extended her hand and said, "Let's call it a draw and agree that we're both saintly, okay?"
Townsend gave her a playful whap with one of her pillows. "Don't say the s word in my presence! Too religious!"
* * *
From: Townsend Bartley <email@example.com> Sent: July 20, 1999
To: Hennessey Boudreaux <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Well, I'm home, and I wanted to thank you again for writing to me so often when I was in Europe. I love Switzerland, but it was pretty darned lonely to be there for over two months. The only time I saw my mother was on Sundays, when family members are allowed to come for group meetings, but I needed to be there for her. I've been in rehab before, and I know what it's like to be ignored on visiting days. Luckily, my father came to visit twice, and my mother's sister, Julia, came for a week. Julia and my mom have been on the outs for years, but they've managed to get closer since my mom isn't using. It seems that Julia had been on her for years to admit that she had a problem, and my mom didn't want to hear it. It's nice to have my aunt back in my life; she's a nice person, even though she's a little new age for my tastes. By the way, shouldn't new age be old age by now? <bg>
Mom is doing well, and she's determined to go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting every day for at least ninety days. I plan on going with her for a while. Luckily, I can relate to almost any kind of compulsive behavior, so I should get something out of the meetings as well <s>.
I have what I think is good news to relate <s>. Apparently, Jenna has been trying to contact me for over a month. She didnt leave a message when she called, but the maid mentioned that a young woman called every week while I was gone. Knowing that Jenna would be the type to not leave a message, I called her, and she admitted she was my phantom caller <s>.
Shes back from the Philippines and ready to return to college. The great thing is that BYU didnt admit her, so shes going to go to Utah State in Logan. You might wonder how its good news to be dinged by a school. Well, Jenna tells me that she was rejected mostly because of her essays. The little devil intentionally screwed them up so she wouldnt have to go to school with the Mormon majority <bg>. She said all sorts of blasphemous things on her essays like how she was questioning her Mormon faith, and that being in the Philippines had shown her that living in a Mormon community wasnt necessarily a good thing.
Luckily, she tried hard on her applications to the University of Utah and Utah State. Shes decided on State because they have better skiing <s>, and its two and a half hours from her parents. She claims that she wants to be as far away as she can so that she can live more openly.
Heres the good news: she wants me to come to Utah to live with her! I was stunned as you might imagine! I thought she was going to give me the heave-ho as soon as she got back, but she swears that she was unable to be any more open in her letters because her roommate questioned her constantly about why she didn't have a boyfriend back home. Apparently, you're viewed with suspicion if you don't have a boyfriend, but if you do have a boyfriend, you're not supposed to be sexual with him. Not too much pressure on the wedding night, huh? <s>
Anyway, she claims that she loves me more than when she left, and that the last two years have only served to convince her that being in a lesbian relationship is right for her. I hope with all of my heart that thats true, Hennessey, and I think the only way to find out is to go to Utah. I dont have any firm plans of my own, as you know, but I want to take some more writing courses. I suppose I can do that in Logan as well as anywhere, right?
So, were going to meet up in August and rent an apartment. Im pretty excited (Okay, Im very, very excited!), and I hope youre excited for me. As you know, I tried my best to move on last year, but I never met anyone who appealed to me as much as Jenna did. If we can work out some of our issues, I think we can make it. Wish me luck, buddy!
* * *
From: Hennessey Boudreaux <email@example.com> Sent: July 29, 1999
To: Townsend Bartley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Well, this is a week of unexpected surprises! I just got back from a long weekend with my grandparents and I came out to everyone! I stopped first at camp and had a long talk with MaryAnn as a kind of warm up. Then, on to Beaufort. In order, I talked to: my father, then my grandfather and then my grandmother. Yes, I took the easy route, but youll be glad to know that none of them tried to strangle me <lol>.
Actually, Daddy and Granddaddy didnt have much to say one way or the other, and since I guessed that would be the result, I chose them to be first. By the time I got to Gramma, Id told three people and was beginning to feel like an old hand. She wasnt happy about it, by any means, and shes not ready to have Kate come visit again, but when I left, she told me that she loved me as much as ever. Thats all that matters to me.
I know it will take the three of them some time to get used to this, but at least Ive taken the first step. I know Im at least three years behind, but I wasnt ready until now. I guess I should have gone to see my momma, but shes recently moved or been dispossessed and no one knows exactly where she is. Im sure I could have tracked her down if Id tried hard enough, but I wasnt in the mood for a guilt trip. Im poorer than Ive ever been, and Ill be damned if Id give Momma my last few dollars, so the visit would have been painful for both of us.
Anyway, Im happy that I got it over with now Ill just have to spend a few years getting them used to it <s>.
Enough about me; lets talk about you. Im very, very happy to learn that youre going to make another effort to be with Jenna. I care for her a lot, and you know how much I care for you. If you two can make each other happy, youll be making me happy, too.
I hate to think of you all the way over in Utah, but with my schedule I guess I couldnt have come to Boston to visit you very often, anyway. Let me know your plans and how I can best stay in contact with you.
* * *
From: Townsend Bartley <email@example.com> Sent: August 29, 1999
To: Hennessey Boudreaux <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Greetings from Utah!
This isnt the best place in the world to get a drink, but Logan is a very pretty spot!
Weve been here a week and managed to find a nice apartment. Youll be glad to know that its a two bedroom, and were making the second bedroom a guest room. Its available any time for you, stretch.
After getting settled, and getting our utilities turned on (note new e-mail addy), we decided to investigate a little. Jennas never been here before, so its a new experience for both of us. Shes so darned happy to be back in the U.S. that shes like a kid in a candy store <s>. I dont think she realized how wonderful this country was until she left it. Life is like that sometimes, though. You dont know what you have until its gone. Im glad she has her country back and Im glad I have her back.
We started our exploration of the area with a long-ass hike up Naomi Peak. Its a four-mile hike, rising to an elevation of ninety eight hundred feet. I was amazed at how easy it was for me. I guess all that running has paid off, huh? Jennas in great shape, too, although shes lost a lot of weight. I liked her baby fat, but shes just as pretty as ever. Shes a lot more muscular but mostly in her legs. Walking her ass off all over the Philippines saw to that <s>.
Anyway, we walked up this craggy trail, and we were the only people there. I was amazed to see miles of wildflowers stretching across the meadows: lupine, columbine, mountain daisies and other stuff that I dont know the names of <g>. It was warm out, and we had such a magnificent view that we sat right down in the middle of this wildflower-rich meadow and drank some of our water.
Sitting there on that hill, I looked at Jenna and was stunned by the love I felt for her at that moment. This wasnt about lust, it wasnt about sex, it wasnt about attraction. It was love, Hennessey. I realized that I love her enough to do anything to stay with her. I wasnt sure of her before, but she seems so much more mature, so centered now. She seems to know what she wants, and much to my delight she wants me.
We stayed in the meadow for a long time, kissing and holding each other. I couldnt hold her tight enough, Hennessey. Damn, she means so much to me! Some other hikers came by, and I was astounded when Jenna didnt freak out. We stayed right there, and she kissed me again right in front of other people! Now, thats progress!
On to academic matters, now. Jenna will be taking a full class load, and Im taking two classes. One is at Utah State, and its an upper division creative writing course. The other is a little more touchy-feely <s>. Its at a local place that offers writing workshops, and Im taking a class in how to find my creative voice. It might be bullshit, but Id really like some help in learning how to vent some of my feelings in a creative fashion. Ill let you know how it goes.
I know your classes start soon, so Ill send good study vibes your way. I hope you and Kate get more time together this year, but I know thats unlikely. I suppose you have to make the most of every minute you have, stretch, and I know youre up to the task.
Anyway, it looks like were both in good shape for a change, huh? Youre out and youre proud <s>, and even Jennas out to strangers on a hilltop in Logan. Lets hope the good times keep rollin.
p.s. You're the only person I'm giving this e-mail address to. I need to be able to talk freely with you, and I don't want to have to worry about Jenna reading my mail. She's not a snoop, but things happen.
* * *
From: Hennessey Boudreaux <email@example.com> Sent: November 30, 1999
To: Townsend Bartley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
First, I want to apologize for being such a horrible correspondent. I dont know where the time goes, but by the time I have a minute to myself, I fall asleep. You know how I need my eight hours, and there arent many nights that I get that. Having Kate working such ridiculous hours doesnt help much, cause I try to stay up to spend a little time with her if shes supposed to be home before 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. Usually, of course, Im sound asleep on the couch, and I dont even know how I got into bed when I wake up the next morning <s>.
I do have some good news, though. After many, many, many hours of discussion, Kate has decided on her specialty. It's not her first choice, but she's decided to go into psychiatry. Shell have a regular schedule and be able to be home for dinner every night. Well even be able to start a family something we both want to do. She'd prefer to go into something a little wilder <s>, but she agrees that we need to have time together to make our relationship work. I am so thankful that she's willing to make a sacrifice like this for me it's a very clear sign of how committed she is to our partnership.
The bad news is that until she finishes her residency its gonna be brutal. Sometimes its hard very hard to keep our eyes on the prize, but thats our only option. Theres no way to do this in an easier way, and it means so much to her that Id never dream of complaining. The poor thing is always tired and stressed out, and shes working with a resident who seems to delight in humiliating her so its been very rough for her, too. Every time I feel like I have too much to do, I look at her sitting at her desk after twelve hours at the hospital working to make sure shes prepared for the next day. I know people think that doctors make too much money, but giving up eight years of your life should be worth it financially! Boy, dont I already sound like a doctors wife? <s>
I love Kate, Townsend; you know I do. And one day well be able to spend all day lazing around our big, expensive house <bg>. I can put up with an awful lot to make her happy, and I hope this turns out to be exactly what satisfies her. I know Id resent her if she tried to interfere in my professional life, so Ill never do that to her. We can only be happy together if were each happy individually.
I dont know what your plans are for the holidays, but if you have some time, Id love to have you come to Beaufort for a while. Kate is going to Europe with her parents for ten days, and they very generously offered to take me with them, but I need to spend some time with my grandparents. Youre probably going to be with Jenna, skiing all over Utah, but if by chance you have a few days Id love to have you. Jennas welcome too, of course, but I dont know how shed feel about spending her vacation with me. Please be sure to tell her that I really do like her and would love to see her again.
Let me know, buddy, and again, please forgive me for being so self-absorbed.
* * *
"Damn, Hennessey, I forgot how much I love it down here." Townsend tightened her lightweight coat around herself and reached for her friends arm, wrapping her hand around it. "I also forgot how chilly it can be at this time of year."
"Its been five years since you were here for Christmas," Hennessey reminded her. "Although I do not know where the time went. It seems like it was just a short while ago."
The younger woman nodded reflectively. "In a way it does, but it seems like a lifetime as well. Weve both been through a lot since then, havent we?"
"Yeah, yeah, we have." Hennessey grasped her friends hand and held it gently. "One thing hasnt changed, though, and thats how totally comfortable I feel with you. Every time we get together, it seems like its been just a few days since weve seen each other."
"That's the nicest thing," Townsend agreed, smiling warmly. "So, since youve been such a poor correspondent, I want you to fill me in on everything thats happened since the last time we were together."
"Damn, thats been since summer. My memory isnt that good!"
"Hey, were going for a long walk on the beach. Weve got nothing else to do, so spill it, Boudreaux. I know youve got a mind like a steel trap."
"Yeah, I guess I do." Hennessey took a deep breath, which Townsend could hear even over the gentle roar of the sea. "I didnt tell you the whole truth about why Im here."
"Huh? Arent the people who fed us breakfast really your grandparents? Wasnt that good-looking guy your daddy?"
Laughing softly, Hennessey nodded. "Yeah, theyre the same old bunch, but what I didnt tell you was that Gramma didnt want Kate to come home with me. Kates parents came up with the European trip just to provide us with an alternative."
"Ouch!" Townsend didnt say another word; she merely gripped her friends hand a little harder.
"Yeah. Things were pretty tense around the apartment for much of this month. You know," she said thoughtfully, "I try never to talk about the problems we have ¾ I dont think it's fair to Kate or to you. But Id like to talk about this one just to get some feedback."
"Sure, babe. You know Ill help if I can."
Hennessey reached into her coat pocket and extracted a covered elastic band, spending a few moments pulling her hair back into a ponytail. "Ill never get a comb through this mop," she said, shaking her head. "Okay, heres my position. See if it makes sense."
"Im all ears."
"My gramma is more important to me than Ill ever be able to express. But shes an older, hard-headed woman, and frankly, shes more than a little prejudiced. Luckily, shes not antagonistic to racial minorities, but shes intolerant of religious, cultural and sexual deviations from what she considers the norm. Im not going to be able to change her mind about lesbianism in the near future. In fact, I doubt that Ill ever be able to do that. But that will not stop me from loving her and spending time with her. I owe her my life, Townsend, and thats a debt Ill never be able to repay."
"I know that, sweetheart," Townsend said. "I understand your perspective, but Id like to hear Kates, too."
"All right. Kate has never had to struggle with being out ¾ until now," Hennessey said. "Shes not taking it very well, and I think this thing with Gramma is making it worse for her."
"What is she struggling with?" Townsend asked.
"Her advisors have made it clear to her that being out at the hospital will hurt her career," Hennessey said, wincing as the words left her mouth. "Shes not at all happy with that assessment, and its been wearing on her. Most of her classmates know, but the attending physicians dont, and shes afraid to let the resident shes assigned to find out. Shes getting a taste of what its like to be in the closet ¾ and she hates it more than youd believe."
"Oh, God," Townsend sighed. "I thought Duke was pretty progressive."
"It is," Hennessey said. "Im completely out, and no one blinks an eye. But its a different culture in medicine. There are some very conservative guys at the medical school, and its vital that Kate impress them. I think she feels like shes compromising her principles to play the game ¾ and thats why shes so intolerant of my gramma. Its bad enough when you have to play this game professionally ¾ she thinks our families should support us totally."
"And thats not gonna happen."
"Not for a good, long while," Hennessey agreed.
"So, what does Kate want you to do?" the blonde asked.
"She wants me to tell my gramma that we're a pair. We come home together, or we don't come home at all."
Townsend stopped dead in her tracks. "Hennessey! You could never stop seeing your grandparents!"
A slow, crooked smile settled on the older womans mouth. "I know I couldnt. Thanks for knowing that about me."
Grabbing a handful of her friends jacket, Townsend asked, "Are you saying Kate doesnt know that about you? How could she not?"
With a slight furrowing of her brow, Hennessey shook her head. "She knows, but its more of a conceptual knowledge. She doesnt understand it on an emotional level. She truly believes that when someone loves you, that person loves you exactly as you are. And if youre not loved that way, its not genuine love."
"Oh, Hennessey, anyone can see how much your gramma loves you. Anyone!"
Shaking her head a little more forcefully, Hennessey said, "Not Kate. Shes always had such support ¾ such complete support ¾ that she doesnt understand that most people can only offer conditional love. She truly doesnt understand it, Townsend, and its caused a lot of problems for us. Shes hurt that I chose to be with my family instead of her, and Im hurt that she cant see my perspective."
"Damn, I can see why this has been hard for you," the blonde murmured. "It sucks."
"Yeah, it does," Hennessey agreed. "But theres one good thing about it. Kate loves me unconditionally, and were both completely confident that well get through this. Its a problem, but its not fatal."
"God, youre lucky to have that confidence," Townsend said, wrapping her arm around her friends waist and hugging her tight.
* * *
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Hennessey asked as they drove down a narrow, curving lane in a neighboring country.
"No, Im not, but if you want to see your momma, Id like you to do it while Im here. I know how hard it is for you, baby, and I want you to be able to talk to me about it afterwards."
"Thanks." Hennessey gave her friends knee an affectionate squeeze. "That means a lot to me."
They drove on in silence, Hennessey obviously tense and a little irritable. She quietly cursed the numerous potholes in the poorly maintained street, and Townsend knew that cursing didnt come naturally to her old friend.
At the end of the street, Hennessey parked the car and peered around, checking addresses. Letting out a sigh, she opened the door and said, "Lets go."
"Are you sure this is right? The note said 715 and that house is 713 and the one next to it is 717."
"This is right," Hennessey said, a grim tone in her voice. She walked up the long driveway that lay on the south side of 717, occasionally kicking one of the surprisingly large rocks that littered the way.
Townsend looked at the piece of broken picket fence that someone had hung by chicken wire from one of the eaves of the garage, marked with a free-hand painted legend ¾ 715. She shuddered, the feeling rattling deep in her soul, and jogged a few steps to gently hold Hennesseys hand.
A seriously out-of-plumb door on the side of the garage beckoned them, and Hennessey knocked soundly. In moments, her mother came to the door, looking very happy to see her daughter. "Hi, Momma," the tall woman said, giving her mother a warm smile. "You remember my friend, Townsend. She came with me when I visited you a few years ago when you lived over on Riggs Road."
"Oh, sure," the woman said, with no recognition whatsoever dawning in her muddy brown eyes. "How are ya, honey?"
"Im well," Townsend said, smiling on cue. "How have you been, Maribelle?"
"Just fine, fine and dandy." She gave Townsend a wide smile, and with regret the younger woman noticed that a few more teeth had gone missing since their last encounter. "Why dont you two sit down " Maribelle looked around the garage, noticing, as if for the first time, that there was only one chair resting on the oil-stained concrete floor. The décor was rounded out by a double bed mattress and box spring ¾ also on the floor ¾ a small, painted dresser, and the type of space heater that the fire department warns against every Christmas.
"No, were fine," Hennessey said. "It was quite a drive to get out here. Why'd you leave Beaufort?"
"Oh, you know how expensive everything is over there. If you don't play golf, there isn't a decent place to live."
Hennessey nodded politely knowing that the only time her mother would live near a tended lawn was when she was laid to rest. "So, how do you get around?"
Maribelle shrugged her shoulders and said, "Lemont has a car, so its no trouble."
"Lemont?" Hennessey asked.
"Oh!" For some reason, Maribelle looked nervous. "Hes hes the fella who owns the house. Real nice old man. Youd like him."
"Im sure I would," Hennessey said, rocking on her heels with her hands in her pockets. "Uhm what exactly did you want to see me for, momma?"
"Oh, just to catch up. It seems like we never see each other any more."
"Well, it has been a while," Hennessey agreed. "But I don't get home very often."
"Right." Maribelle nodded, pausing just an instant. "Now, youre in school for how much longer, baby?"
"A year and a half ¾ then I have to write my dissertation. But I dont need to be in Durham to do that."
"Right Durham. Ive heard its nice there," she said with a wistful sigh as if she were speaking of Florence or Paris.
"It is. I miss home, though," Hennessey said. "Theyre both Carolinas, but the southern one will always be where my heart lies."
"Thats cute," Maribelle said, letting out a little giggle. "They are both Carolinas. I never thought of that." At that moment, Townsend became dead certain that Hennesseys intelligence did not come from her mothers side of the family. "So, what do you do for fun, honey?"
Hennessey gave her a puzzled look, having not had her mother ask her a personal question in years. "Uhm I study a lot, I teach a couple of undergraduate courses ¾ "
"Dont you have a boyfriend yet?" Maribelle gave Townsend a wry look and said, "I dont know what shes waiting for. I had an eight-year-old by the time I was her age."
"No, Momma, I dont." She hesitated for a moment, and Townsend could just see her mind working. Obviously deciding that she had nothing to hide, Hennessey said, "I wont ever have a boyfriend, Momma. Im a lesbian. I have a lover named Kate whos in medical school at Duke. Shes part of the reason I decided to go to school there."
The womans eyes grew wide, and she looked like she might faint. "A doctor? You shacked up with a doctor?"
Blinking slowly, Hennessey said, "Shes in medical school. She wont be a doctor for two more years, and then shell be in training for another four years or so."
Shaking her head slowly, Maribelle breathily said, "A doctor."
"Yep. A big, ol lesbian doctor. Just rollin in greenbacks." Hennessey was clearly more than a little annoyed, and Townsend was afraid she was going to cause a scene.
"Youve always had the breaks, Hennessey," the older woman said, looking jealous and a little resentful.
"Yeah, my life has been sweet." Maribelle didnt notice the derisive tone, and Townsend wasnt going to be the one to point it out, so a strained, lengthy silence reigned in the musty room.
Maribelles head cocked as if shed heard a sound, and she said, "Wait right here, honey. Ill be back in a second." She scampered across the floor before either woman could say a word, and in a few seconds she was speaking with someone in the driveway.
"Havin fun?" Hennessey asked, giving her friend a grim smile.
"No. I dont come to see her, and I dont expect to have fun. Im here for you."
Now a genuine smile settled on the handsome face. "I have to remind myself that no one makes me come here, and if Im gonna do it, it has to come from a loving place ¾ or its a waste of time. Thanks for reminding me of that, pal."
"Anytime. That's my job."
The door opened, and a man with a forty-six inch waist and thirty-eight inch pants entered. He was wearing a tight, whitish, short-sleeved polyester dress shirt and a narrow tie. "Pensoneau," he said, extending his hand. "Are you Hennessey Boudreaux?"
"Yes." She gazed at him quizzically and started to ask who he was, but he got another question out before she did.
"Is Maribelle Pikes your mother?"
"Are you receiving funds from a relative other than your mother?"
"What? No, Im not, but why do you care?"
"Look, kid, my jobs hard enough. Dont be diddlin me. Are you a full time student?"
"Yes, but ¾ "
His voice grew louder, and he persisted, "How many years of school do you have to complete?"
"Two, but ¾ "
"Thats all I need. Thanks." He turned and left the room, and as Hennessey started to go after him, Townsend grabbed the pocket of her jeans.
"Is it really worth it?" she asked quietly, holding on tight.
She felt the tension in the material ease, and Hennessey shook her head. "No, I suppose not." They heard the man start to walk back down the drive, and Hennessey went out into the warm sun to stand next to her mother. She watched the man get into his vehicle, clearly marked "State of South Carolina." With a lightning quick move, Hennessey snatched an envelope from her mothers hand and quickly turned her back when the older woman tried to snatch it right back. Moving and dodging the flailing hands, Hennessey pulled a check from the envelope in the amount of $352.00. She turned around and held the check in front of her mothers eyes, asking in a very unkind tone, "How did my presence here today help you get this?"
"Thats none of your business, Hennessey. Now just run along. Youve got a long drive back."
Placing both thumbs and forefingers on the center of the check, Hennessey threatened to tear it in half. "Youd better tell. They wont cash it if its been taped together."
Townsend walked out and came up behind her friend, putting her hand on her back, feeling coiled tension and heat.
The move distracted Hennessey just enough to allow Maribelle to grab the check from her, and she shoved it into her shirt. "I told you this heres none of your business, young lady. Now, just get into that fancy car and take off!"
"Fine, Ill just call the Department of Social Services. Im sure theyll be glad to investigate a little fraud."
"You dont know what youre talking about," Maribelle scoffed.
"When a state employee asks me questions about my parentage, my support and my education ¾ Im involved. And if Im involved, youre committing fraud. So I do know what Im talking about, Momma. I suggest you tell me the truth, or the state will."
"Fine!" She said this so forcefully that a spray of spittle flew out of the gaping hole where a bicuspid should have been. Hennessey wiped her face and stepped back, leaning against Townsend, who put an arm around her waist. "I dont know why it matters to you, Miss High and Mighty North Carolina, but Im starving to death down here. Somebody told me about a way to get a little help, so I took it."
"How am I involved?" Hennessey asked.
"I had to get a birth certificate saying you were sixteen," the woman answered, unashamed. "I knew the man was coming today, so thats why I had you come over."
Hennessey laughed, despite her anger. "How stupid was that guy? I look older than I am!"
Her mother gave her a look that indicated just how gullible she thought her daughter was. "I had to slip him a couple of Jacksons to get him to go along. Everyones a cheat," she muttered.
"Thanks for telling me the truth," Hennessey said. "If that is the truth." She took Townsends hand and started to walk down the drive.
"Are you gonna tell them?" Maribelle demanded.
Stopping in her tracks, but not turning around, Hennessey said, "No, Im not gonna tell them. How long can you get the benefits?"
"Two years. The cheap motherfuckers only give you two years."
"Fine. Thanks." She continued to walk, gripping Townsends hand tightly.
"Promise you wont tell!" Maribelle called after them.
"I promise," Hennessey replied, her voice breaking as tears slipped down her cheeks.
* * *
An hour later, they were sitting on the dock at Boudreaux Shrimp Shack, and Hennessey was lazily skipping stones across the calm waters.
Townsends voice broke the silence. "How ya doin, buddy? Feel like talking?"
Hennessey smiled at her friend and said, "Sorry Ive been so withdrawn. She she never ceases to amaze and disappoint me."
"I know that, sweetheart, I really do."
"Ive been thinking about it," Hennessey said, "and Ive decided Im going to have Kate help me make up a spreadsheet and figure out how much money my mother's stealing. Im gonna pay it all back ¾ no matter how long it takes me."
"I knew that would be your instinct," Townsend said. She slipped her arm around Hennesseys waist and gave her a squeeze. "Youre such an honest, mature woman. Are you absolutely certain you and Maribelle are genetically connected?"
"Yep. Daddy would have noticed," Hennessey said, laughing softly.
"Well, this is one more example of why you justifiably love your gramma so much. She and your granddaddy are the people whove made you the woman you are. If youd been left with your momma, youd be helping her figure out ways to defraud the government rather than ways to pay the money back."
"Yeah, she's certainly not a person I'd like to model my life after." She sat quietly for a few minutes with Townsend letting her set the pace of their conversation. "You know," Hennessey began, "this is part of the problem for Kate. We have a difficult time communicating about things that are more emotional than logical."
"Yeah." Hennessey skimmed another stone across the water. "Kate is very logical, very linear. She likes to look at the benefits and drawbacks of a situation and then decide how much of her time and energies to invest in it. I understand that's how she is," Hennessey said. "I really do." She put her hands behind her, resting them on the dock, then leaned back, looking up at the sky for a moment. "But she doesn't seem to be able to do the same for me."
Townsend lightly scratched her back and asked, "How do you mean, baby?"
"I don't mean to make Kate sound cold, because she isn't," Hennessey said emphatically. "She's kind and generous and very supportive of me ¾ as long as I'm not doing something that she thinks will only hurt me."
"Ahh so part of it is that she's protective of you," Townsend said.
"Yeah. That's all of it, really. She wouldn't care if I was just wasting my time ¾ it's my time to waste. But she doesn't understand why I'm connected to people who hurt me, people who don't understand me, people who don't support me completely."
"And I'd guess that your mother is at the top of the list of people who hurt you."
"Yeah, she's pretty much number one," Hennessey agreed. "Kate wants me to set a limit with my grandparents to coerce them into accepting our relationship, but she wants me to cut my mother off ¾ permanently."
"Oh, Hennessey, you could never do that," Townsend said, giving her friend a warm smile. "You'd visit your momma in jail if she took a shot at you!"
"Thanks for understanding," Hennessey said, laughing softly at her friend's example. "That means a lot to me."
"I understand how you feel about your family and your home, Hennessey. I also know that the two are interwoven for you. This land, these people, this ocean." She threw a stone as far as she could and added, "The combination is your home. Youll never be happy if youre too far away from any of them."
Hennessey didnt say another word. She rested her head on her friends shoulder and cried for a long while with Townsend slowly trailing her hand down the shaking back.
* * *
The next day they went out to the nature preserve and spent the better part of the morning walking around, trying to identify the profusion of native plants and animals. Hennessey did significantly better at the game than Townsend, but the blonde was so happy to see her friend in such a relaxed, upbeat mood that she didnt allow her competitive spirit to interfere.
"You seem like you feel pretty good today," Townsend said. "No hangover from yesterday's visit?"
"No, not really," Hennessey said. "When I'm not with her, I have the ability to summon my empathetic side and see how tragic her life really is. It's just when I'm with her that I feel like strangling her." She gave her friend a sad smile and said, "You know, you sure didnt have much to say about why you were free to come down here. Is everything going okay with Jenna?"
Shrugging, Townsend said, "Yeah. At least I think it is. She needed to go home, and she didnt feel comfortable taking me. She was sure her family would notice how we act around each other ¾ and Im sure shes right."
"And that doesnt bother you?"
"I wish she would come out to them and get it over with, but shes making progress. Ive made it my business to meet some lesbians in Logan, and she feels comfortable socializing with them. Heck, we even hold hands in public ¾ on deserted streets," she added, laughing. "I cant make her go any faster than shes comfortable with ¾ even though I wish I could."
"I wish Kate felt like you do," Hennessey said. "Shes not the most patient person in the world."
"Honey, shes gonna be a doctor. If you wanted patient, you should have gone for a poet or a sculptor!"
"Yeah, good point," Hennessey said, chuckling. "I guess she cant have every trait that I want. Heck, Im sure I fall short in a lot of areas for her, too."
"We all do," Townsend agreed. "It only matters that the important traits are there."
Looking at her friend just long enough to make her slightly uncomfortable, Hennessey asked, "Does Jenna have everything thats important to you?"
Thinking about her answer for quite a while, Townsend finally nodded. "Yeah. She does. Shes kind and generous and thoughtful and patient with me. She rarely says a bad word about anyone, and she makes it a point to help others. Shes been a very good influence on me, and Im grateful for that." She smiled impishly and said, "And shes a hell of a kisser. Very few miles on those sweet lips."
"Theres a glimmer of the old Townsend," Hennessey said, laughing heartily. "I miss your raunchier side sometimes."
The blonde shrugged, coloring a little as she did. "Jennas such an innocent woman that I intentionally tamp that part of myself down. I guess I have to be away from her for a few days to let it come back out. Sometimes I feel like the reformed town prostitute living with the preacher."
"I hope you know that I love every part of you, Townsend ¾ old, new, mature, immature. Every part of you is just right."
"Thanks. The same goes for me. It always has, and it always will."
* * *
Continued in Part 15Return to the Academy