The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

Part 15

From: Townsend Bartley <demonrum@loganlink.net> Sent: January 02, 2000

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi pal,

I hope you had a fabulous New Year, and that it’s not too depressing to be back in your overworked groove. I would thank you for the note you sent, thanking me for the thank-you gifts I sent to your daddy and grandparents, but we could go on like that for weeks <s>.

After a great deal of thought, I did something that seemed like the right thing, Hennessey. I hope I haven’t offended you, or stepped on your toes by doing it, and I trust you to tell me if I have.

I sent a check for $8400 to the South Carolina Department of Social Services and told them it was a donation — to be used any way they want. I recall that your mom was getting around $350 a month, and since she was entitled to twenty-four months of payments, I thought that was about right. I know that the present value of the future payments is really less than that, but I wanted to add a little something for administration — so I rounded up.

Here’s why I did it — full disclosure:

  1. I don’t want you saddled with one dime of debt that isn’t rightfully yours. I can’t bear to think of your paying off what will be well over $10,000 when you’re through with it. It’s just not right, Hennessey, and you can’t convince me otherwise.
  2. I owe you such a debt — and even though I know there’s no way to pay you back with money, in this case, money can help. If not for you, I’d be a wealthy version of your mother. Of course, it’s possible that someone else could have helped me find my way out — but I doubt that I would have lived to meet that person. You found me at my lowest point, sweetheart, and you alone helped pull me out of the depths. Paying the state back for your mother’s fraud is a bargain, compared to how much I should reimburse my insurance company for my various advertent and inadvertent suicide attempts. This is just one more way to make reparations — in this case for a fellow alcoholic.
  3. Doing something nice for you makes me feel good about myself.

There ya go, buddy. Full disclosure. If you want to, you can pay the state as well, but you’ll be double paying. I sent a cashier’s check and didn’t give a return address <beg>.

All my love,

Townsend

 

 

 

 

* * *

"Hi, buddy. Is this a good time to talk?"

"Townsend! What a surprise! It’s always a good time to talk to you."

"Well, uhm, I don’t want to interfere with the very limited time you have with Kate …"

"Hey, hey, Kate’s at the hospital, and I’m just hanging out. You don’t sound very good. What’s wrong?"

Townsend let out a long sigh and said, "Jenna and I are having … problems. Big problems, Hennessey. I think we might have to separate."

"Oh, sweetheart! What happened? I thought things were going well."

"They were. They are. Oh, Hennessey, I’m so confused about this."

"Tell me, baby. Tell me what’s going on."

Hennessey’s voice was so soft and soothing, that Townsend felt the words begin to tumble out. "I love her, and I’d be with her for the rest of my life … but she can’t commit to me. She won’t tell her parents, and she won’t even discuss the issue. She says that it’s out of the question. She seems to think that we can go on this way indefinitely ¾ but I can’t!"

She was crying now, and Hennessey had a hard time understanding her words. "Shh … shh … take it easy, baby. I’ve got all night. Catch your breath and slow down. We’ll work through this together."

"O … okay," Townsend said as a series of shuddering breaths came through the phone. "Here’s the whole thing. Jenna is a good Mormon girl, and she doesn’t now, and probably never will, feel good about being a lesbian. I feel good about who I am, Hennessey, and I’ve worked so hard to love myself that it feels wrong to be closeted. I’ve hung in here for so long, but I don’t see how this will ever be resolved. She told me tonight that she’s happiest when it’s just the two of us ¾ that she can forget that we’re both women when we’re alone. It just seems hopeless!"

"Oh, Townsend, maybe she just needs a little more time ¾ "

"No, no, that’s not it. I … I shouldn’t tell you this … but it’s driving me crazy. We’re not having sex anymore. At all. She says she can’t relax enough to be sexual, and she thinks that we shouldn’t focus so much on sex. Focus! We’ve had sex around five times this year! Is that normal for people our age? Jesus, Hennessey!"

"You poor thing. I had no idea."

"This isn’t the kind of thing I normally talk about with you. I wouldn’t say anything now, but she makes me feel like I’m being too demanding. I love her, Hennessey, and I want to express my love for her by touching her. How can that be wrong?"

"It’s not wrong, sweetheart. It’s exactly how you should feel about each other. You deserve to have your partner desire you and show you how much she wants you. You deserve that."

"I don’t understand this, Hennessey. I love her, and I know she loves me. She shows me how much she loves me by the way she treats me. But she doesn’t want to have sex. We kiss ¾ often, but as soon as she can tell I'm getting excited, she pulls away. She recently said that she thought we could move to Salt Lake City after she graduates and be part of her family if we stopped having sex and loved each other platonically."

"And that’s enough for her?" Hennessey asked quietly.

"Yes. She said that she can’t bear to think of being away from me again, but she also doesn’t think that we can have sex. She said she’d much rather give up sex than me."

"Are you willing to make that tradeoff?"

"No," Townsend said quietly. "I love her with all my heart, but I'll start to resent her if I can’t touch her again. I crave her body, her taste, Hennessey. I will never allow myself to feel guilty because of that."

"You shouldn’t feel guilty, Townsend. Your sexuality is a gift, and you shouldn’t sacrifice a part of yourself just to please Jenna. That isn’t you, baby."

"I know. I know. But how do I leave someone I love? Someone who loves me?"

"I don’t know the answer to that. I wish I did. Can the two of you get some therapy?"

"No. She doesn’t trust therapists if they aren’t Mormon, and she can’t talk about this with a Mormon therapist."

"That’s pretty circular logic," Hennessey said.

"Oh, I could go on for hours, but it’s her belief system and I refuse to belittle it."

"You’re a good partner, Townsend. A very good partner. And no matter what happens, I hope you know that."

"Thanks. You know your approval means a lot to me."

"Well, yours does to me, so that only makes sense."

"I’m gonna try to pin her down and see if I can force her to give me some hope. I don’t want to lose her, Hennessey. It’s breaking my heart."

"I know it is, baby. I know it is. I’ll do anything I can to help you through this. Anything. I’ll come to Utah if you need me. Just let me know, and I’m there."

"That helps more than you’ll ever know," Townsend whimpered. "I’d never ask you to do that, especially so close to finals, but to have you offer means the world to me."

"Hey, I wouldn’t make the offer if I didn’t mean it. Promise you’ll call me if you need me to come to you. Do you promise?"

"Ye … yeah. I promise."

"Good. Now, you get some sleep and call me tomorrow. I want to see how you’re doing. I’ll be home by 6:00."

"Okay. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Thanks for being there for me."

"I always will be, Townsend. I always will be."

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: July 01, 2000

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi buddy,

I’m back in Boston and working full time on not drinking. It’s been so long, Hennessey, but I’m so sad and so down that I crave some way to stop the pain. Thank God that Laura, my old sponsor, is available and willing to work with me again. I’ve been going to a meeting every day — sometimes twice a day. I will do whatever I have to do, but I’m not going to drink again. I’m not! I’ve worked too hard for too long to give up now.

Write to me, pal. I need all the support I can get.

T

p.s. The only good thing about being home is that I don't have to have a separate e-mail account to write to you. Note the old addy is back in service.

 

* * *

"Miss Townsend, you have a visitor."

Townsend looked up from the television program she was watching and shook her head to clear it. "Sorry. I was half asleep. Who is it, Lupe?"

"It’s a woman," the maid answered. Looking a little unsure of herself, she added, "She says her name is Stretch. Is that right?"

By the time the name registered in her brain, Townsend was off the couch, running for the hall. "Hennessey!" She got only a few steps before she slowed and called out over her shoulder, "Thanks, Lupe!" In her stocking feet, she slid the last ten feet just like a skier stopping at the bottom of a hill, coming to rest gently in Hennessey’s welcoming arms. "I have never been so happy to see someone in my entire life," she murmured, nuzzling her head into her friend’s chest. "You don’t know how much I needed this."

"Yes, I did," Hennessey replied. "That’s why I’m here."

Looking up into the taller woman’s eyes, Townsend asked, "Was it very hard for you to get away? Is Kate okay with your being here?"

"She’s fine, Townsend. Don’t worry about me. Let me worry about you, okay? I’ve got three days, and I want to spend them tending to your every need."

"Damn, why don’t they make more women like you?" Townsend dropped her head once again and allowed herself a moment of sublime pleasure, experiencing the safety and security of the comforting embrace.

"I don’t know if there are more like me, but I’m here now. How do you want to spend our time?"

"I wanna go to the Vineyard. Is that okay?"

"Sure. Pack a bag, and let’s head out. Will your parents be there?"

"No, my father took a couple of weeks off, and he’s with my mother on a book tour in northern Europe. They’re making it a combined business trip/vacation."

Hennessey gave her friend a concerned look and asked, "Is it good for you to be alone, honey? Maybe you should have gone with them."

"No, they invited me, but it’s important for me to have some stability. I need to go to my meetings and focus on myself ¾ travel isn’t right for me just now."

"But … what about the Vineyard?"

"Oh, that’ll be fine. There are a lot of meetings there, and I can call Art, who's always good at making me feel more stable."

"Great. Let’s get packed and get going."

"You’re on."

* * *

"This is a very different place in the summer," Hennessey said that night as they walked along a very crowded street.

"Yeah, especially on the 4th of July weekend. It’s kinda nice, though. I mean, I don’t like to have to wait in a long line to buy an ice cream cone, but I love to go sit on the beach and watch the sun come up. When it gets warm, I strip off my clothes and go for a long swim, then I can lie down and bake in the sun until my suit’s dry. That’s hard to do before July."

"Yeah, I love to do that, too," Hennessey said. "But I can do it in March. One more benefit of South Carolina."

"The list is endless, isn’t it?" Townsend asked, giving her friend’s hand a squeeze. "Is Kate as crazy about the South as you are?"

Hennessey was quiet for a minute, and when Townsend looked up, she saw a slightly perturbed expression. "Uhm … no, she isn’t. She hasn’t come to love it, and given how my gramma’s been acting, it doesn’t look good."

"But she knows how you feel about it, doesn’t she?"

Hennessey gave her a wry smile and said, "She knew that within five minutes of meeting me. I should be the president of the South Carolina Visitors Bureau. And though she knows that I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else, she plans on applying to residency programs all over the country. It’s … been a bone of contention between us."

"Oh, damn. How long will she be in residency?"

"Four years. Four long, long years. More if she wants to do research."

"Fuck!" Townsend stopped in her tracks, causing the long line of tourists to have to move around them, grumbling as they did so. "Four years! You've barely been able to stand being in North Carolina!"

"I know that," Hennessey said, taking her friend’s arm and leading her down the street again. "But Kate makes a good point. She doesn’t have a great deal of control over where she’ll be accepted. If she gets into one of the top residency programs, she has to take it. I don’t know how we’ll manage, but we’ll just have to."

"Okay, if you understand her point, why are you two arguing about it?"

"Uhm … she … hurt my feelings," Hennessey said, blushing slightly. "She wouldn’t even apply to the Medical University of South Carolina. She said the program was third rate."

"Oh, you poor thing. No wonder that hurt your feelings."

"You know, it wouldn’t have hurt me as much if she ultimately wanted to go into research, but she wants to go into private practice. Your clients don't care where you served your residency. I doubt that they'd have any way of knowing! She could go anywhere."

"I’m sorry, Hennessey. I wish she shared your priorities."

"Yeah, I do, too, but she has a point. I could go anywhere in the country and write for a few years. I want to teach, but I’m not in a big hurry. It would actually make me a better candidate to have some short stories, or even a novel, published before I applied for a teaching position."

"If you moved with her for four years, would she move to South Carolina to start her practice?"

"Oh, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet. We’re both so overworked that we try not to have too many conversations about our future. We just try to get through each day, to be honest."

"Let’s walk down to the ocean," Townsend said. "There are too many people around here."

"Okay. That’s an invite I’ll never refuse. The ocean is my favorite place."

They walked along in silence, holding loosely onto each other’s hands. Reaching the water’s edge, they both removed their shoes and socks and padded along the beach, letting the cold water splash against their bare legs. "Uhm … you don’t have to answer this if it’s too personal, but are you happy that you’re with Kate?"

"Yes," Hennessey said, without a second’s hesitation. "I’m very happy that we found each other, and I know that we’ll have a good life together. There’s just one major problem."

"And that is?" Townsend asked, looking up at her friend.

"We’re … waiting for our life to begin again," Hennessey said, a thoughtful expression on her face. "What we had in Paris was so wonderful, Townsend. Kate is such an interesting, funny, bright woman. But we don’t spend enough time together to progress in our relationship. We've been together almost four years, and we’re not as close as we were during the first year. I’m not worried about it, because I know who she is, and I know that we’re right for each other. But I’m anxious to have time together again. You can’t deepen your love for someone if you don’t have lots and lots of time together. My only hope is that Kate can get into a residency program that recognizes that doctors are human, and that they need some free time and some time to be with their families. That’s why I thought it would be nice for her to be in a more laid-back residency program. If she gets into one of the big research institutions, I’m afraid it’ll be four more years of the same old shit."

"I wish things were going better for you, Hennessey. You deserve a good relationship."

"Oh, don’t get me wrong, Townsend, things are good in terms of quality. It’s the quantity we’re having problems with. It would have been better if we’d met after she had her medical degree, or after her residency, but you can’t time these things."

Looking up at her friend with a sad, resigned smile, Townsend said, "Timing is everything, isn’t it?"

Hennessey smiled gently and nodded. "It is."

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: July 22, 2000

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi buddy,

I wanted to send you one last good wish before you head off to France. I know this vacation is just what you two need, and I hope you make use of every moment to get reacquainted with one another.

I know that I’ve thanked you for both the lovely journals and the encouragement, and I wanted you to know that I’ve started to use them to write. I’ve been amazed at how much easier it is to express myself — especially my deepest, most private feelings — by using a fountain pen and journal. As you know, I’ve been writing little things for years now, and while some of them have been fairly accomplished, none of them have come from my guts. They’ve always been a little bare of emotion, a little reserved. I’m going to try to spend the rest of the summer getting some of these pent-up feelings out of my heart and onto a page. Thanks so much, Hennessey, for encouraging me to do this, and again, thanks for the journals. Every time I hold one of them in my hands, I think of you.

All my love,

Townsend

 

 

 

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: September 4, 2000

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Bonjour!

I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall …

What a lovely time we had, Townsend. I'm still giddy about our trip — so giddy that I don't even mind that I have to start school tomorrow <s>.

This trip reminded me of something very important — and that's that I can never let the small stumbling blocks that we have make me think the relationship is in serious danger. I love Kate with all my heart, and when we have uninterrupted time together, we're able to capture the magic again. I feel like I did when we were first together — like a doe-eyed girl who's fallen in love hard <s>.

I was sitting at my desk last night, getting some notes organized, and I found myself staring at her while she read. I have no idea how much time had passed, but I was utterly fascinated. I swear I could have spent the whole night just looking at her. But, as luck would have it, she looked up and saw me. I think my expression let her know I was thinking about her, and being the perceptive girl that she is, she came over and took me by the hand and led me straight to bed.

We're both riding a high from being together for a whole month, and I hope it lasts for a very long time <s>.

We're so good together when we're clicking, Townsend, and this trip reminded me of every reason that I fell in love with Kate. She's the right person for me, and I am surer of that now than I ever have been.

Forgive me for going on about this, but I'm so happy, I'm about to burst!

Hennessey (floating on a cloud of Parisian happiness)

 

 

 

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: November 15, 2000

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hey buddy,

You are never going to guess where I’m going to spend the month of January. Give up? I’m going to camp! That’s right, I said camp! Mother is going to participate in MaryAnn’s writer’s workshop again, and I’ve decided to accompany her. My classes here will be over by then, and I’m actually going to participate in the workshop. I’m quite certain that I want to be a writer, and I’m availing myself of every possible opportunity to learn the craft.

By the way, you’d love the character development class I’m taking now. My instructor is fabulous, and she’s very, very easy on the eyes <s>. For the first time in months, I’m looking at a woman with lust in my heart again, and I’m thinking about asking her out when the class is over.

So, things are looking up for me. How’s it going with you? I know that Kate had to have all of her residency applications in by today, and I was wondering if you two had reached an accord on where she applies. I, of course, think she should come to Boston, but my motives are entirely selfish <s>.

Let me know if you’ll be home during your winter break. I’ll have a car, so I’ll come to see you, or bring you up to Hilton Head for a weekend. Of course, I’d love to see Kate, too. I don’t think we’ve spent more than an hour together in all these years, and since you and she are a permanent item, I think it’s time we got to know each other a little better.

Love you,

T

 

 

 

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: November 16, 2000

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

Cc:

Subject:

Hi bud,

Well, don’t that beat all? (as they say in S.C.) I think it’s wonderful that you’ll be attending the writer’s workshop with your mom, and I’m even more delighted to hear how dedicated you are to perfecting your craft. There are times I wish I’d chosen your path and just learned how to be a better writer, but I’m too far down the academic track to stop now. Besides, the chances of supporting myself as a writer are slim, and it’s important for me to be able to provide a little help for my grandparents as soon as humanly possible. But like you, I see myself as a writer, and I’ll never stop writing, even if I have to sleep for only four hours a night to find the time.

I have some good news about Kate’s plans. She applied to Stanford, Columbia, The University of Chicago, UCLA and the Medical College of South Carolina <yay!>. As you can see, we could wind up anywhere in the country, but we’re resolved to have a long talk and make the decision that’s right for both of us — for the long term. Having that time in France has continued to pay dividends for our relationship, Townsend. I feel like we’re rock solid now and both committed to the same goals. We’ve been to France twice, and each time has changed our lives. Paris must be our lucky city! I just wish it were in South Carolina <s>.

Sadly, Gramma is still unwilling to have Kate accompany me home for Christmas. I haven’t had the time to spend with her to get her more used to the idea of my being a lesbian, but the good news is that Kate isn’t angry about it this year. She’s going to Chicago to see her family, and I’m going to fly to Chicago the day after Christmas. I’ll stay with her for about a week, then come back to Beaufort for the rest of my break. Mine is longer than Kate’s, so she’ll go back to Durham on her own. You’re welcome to come to my house at any time, buddy, but I would like to come to camp as well. I miss MaryAnn and would love to see her again. We’ll firm up plans as the time draws near.

Things are looking up for both of us, honey, and if your writing instructor plays her cards right, she could be a very, very lucky woman. <s>

Love,

H

 

 

 

* * *

Hennessey took a long, leisurely lick of her ice cream cone and cocked her head at her friend. "Do you remember the first time we came here?"

Townsend took a protracted look around, seeing the red and white striped lighthouse, the small shops and cafes, the calm waters of the Atlantic lapping against the sea walls. "I was just thinking the same thing. It doesn’t look very different ¾ but we do."

"A lot of years have passed," Hennessey said, a warm smile playing on her lips.

Townsend nodded reflectively. "How did they slip by so quickly?"

"They didn’t all move quickly," Hennessey said. "College went by much quicker than grad school. This last year seems like it’s lasted three years for me. But now that the end is in sight, time is flying by again."

"How do you feel about having run out of degrees to earn?" Townsend asked, giving her friend a playful wink.

"Good. I’m more relieved for Kate, though. We both have more things to do, but in some ways, the hardest part is over for her. One of our top goals is to have her do her residency at a program that doesn’t require twenty-four-hour on-call shifts. Those are not only inhumane, they compromise patient care ¾ and that makes Kate crazy."

"I can see why," Townsend agreed. "So, what does a resident do when she’s on call?"

"In most hospitals, the resident on call deals with any emergency during the night. She would be called if a patient in the ER was acting psychotic or volatile ¾ the usual psychiatric stuff. Plus, she’d be called if one of the in-patients was having psychiatric symptoms during the night."

"I bet that most of her patients are very, very troubled."

"Oh, yeah, but that’s what you expect during your training. By the time you’re in private practice ¾ you’ve seen it all."

"Do you think she’ll like being a psychiatrist? Does it fit her personality?"

"Uhm … I think it’s a compromise for her, to be honest. If there were forty hours in a day, she’d like to be a trauma surgeon. But she wants to have a regular home life. We want to raise children together, Townsend, and if you’re going to be a top-flight surgeon, you have to devote your life to it."

"I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned in the last seven and a half years," Townsend said, smiling. "Life’s all about compromises. Sucks, doesn’t it?"

"Sometimes it does," Hennessey agreed. "And in our case, Kate’s going to be called on to make the majority of the compromises. I hope it doesn’t get to be too much for her."

"Just keep talking about it, babe. You two can work out anything if you’re both honest about your feelings."

"Agreed. Now, let’s go on back to camp and see if we can talk your mom into going out to dinner with us."

"That shouldn’t be hard to do. She still thinks you’re a living saint."

"Damn, she’s perceptive," Hennessey chuckled. "That must be why she’s such a good writer."

* * *

A week later

"Hi there, Mrs. Boudreaux. How are you?"

"What in the world?" The older woman walked over to Townsend and wrapped her in a hug. "Does Hennessey know you’re here?"

"Nope. I thought I’d surprise her. I stopped by the house, but no one answered."

"Oh, she won’t be back for quite some time, honey. She went fishing with her daddy and her granddaddy this morning."

"Darn, I wish I had called her. I would have loved to go out with them."

"Oh, nonsense! You don’t want to smell like fish all day!"

"Well, no," Townsend admitted, "but I’ve never been on a commercial fishing boat. I think it would be interesting."

"Have you ever been in a commercial kitchen?" Blue eyes so familiar that they caught the blonde by surprise twinkled at her, and Townsend found her head shaking. "That’s pretty interesting, too. Why don’t you take off that pretty sweater and put on an apron? I could use some help."

Smiling warmly at the woman, Townsend did as requested, glad that she’d worn a T-shirt under her heavy sweater.

Since Townsend was a neophyte, she was given the simplest of tasks, but because the lunch rush was over, they weren’t bothered by many customers, and the work went quickly. They hadn’t spoken much ¾ Townsend having to concentrate to avoid cutting her fingers off while she chopped vegetables for soup. But after a couple of hours, the older woman said, "Have you met this girl that Hennessey’s interested in?"

"Yes, I have." Putting down her knife, Townsend looked at Mrs. Boudreaux. "She’s more than interested in her; she’s in love with her, and they plan on living their lives together."

The older woman's expression hardened, and her grimace was so tight that her lips nearly disappeared. "I don’t like it."

Townsend walked over to her and put her hand on the stiff, tension-filled back. "That’s what Hennessey tells me. She wishes it were different. She really does. She loves you and her granddaddy and her daddy more than you'll ever know."

"But why does she have to be like that, Townsend? She’s such a pretty girl, and she’d make a wonderful wife and mother. Any man would be lucky to have her."

"She’s not interested in men. I don’t think she ever was. Didn’t you think it was a little odd that she didn’t have a date all through high school?"

"No, I did not. I thought she was just a good girl, and trying to avoid trouble."

"She is a good girl. Hennessey is just about the best girl on the planet, and it will break her heart if you can’t accept her as she is."

Giving Townsend a narrowed stare, Mrs. Boudreaux snapped, "I accept my baby girl exactly as she is! I just don’t want that other one around here."

"You know what that means, don’t you?" Townsend asked softly.

Mrs. Boudreaux didn't speak. She just shook her head briefly.

"Hennessey will come home less frequently. She loves you dearly, but she won’t be away from Kate for long periods of time."

"That girl's the one who put these notions into my baby girl's head. She's the one who's talked her into this nonsense, and she's the one who's trying to lure her away from here."

"I don't think that's true," Townsend said. "But even if it were true, you’re going to have to learn to welcome Kate into your home if you want Hennessey to come visit."

Giving her a dismissive look, Mrs. Boudreaux sniffed, "Big doctor from Chicago wouldn’t want to come to a place like this. Traipses off to Paris at the drop of a hat. Got more money than she does morals. Besides, what’s down here to interest a girl like that?"

"Hennessey is," Townsend reminded her. "Hennessey’s happy here, and Kate loves her. Kate wants her to be happy, Mrs. Boudreaux. Don’t you?"

The older woman took off her apron and threw it to the table, turning her back on Townsend and stalking from the kitchen in a huff.

* * *

Not long after the abrupt departure, Townsend heard the horn of a boat that was drawing near. Peering out the window, she saw the Boudreaux’s boat gliding through the water, the engine idling roughly. She dashed out the back door and was standing on the dock when Dawayne leapt from the boat to grab the line that his father threw to him. Hennessey was piloting, and she was concentrating so hard that she didn’t look up to see Townsend. My God, I’ve never seen a more beautiful woman, the blonde thought as she stared at her friend. This was Hennessey in all her glory: on the water, helping her family earn a living. She looked happy and relaxed and confident and competent ¾ every one of her very appealing qualities standing out in vivid display.

Townsend was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear steps approach, and she jumped a bit when a hand fell onto her shoulder. "I love that girl more than she’ll ever know," Mrs. Boudreaux said, her voice catching. "I want her to be happy."

Townsend impulsively wrapped her in a hug, squeezing so hard that the woman gasped for breath. "She knows that. I swear she does. She’s a very patient woman, and she won’t rush you, but it would mean so much to her if you made an attempt to welcome Kate."

"I will," the older woman said, her voice taking on a steely resolve. "I’d do anything for that child."

* * *

After dinner, the pair sat out on the dock, watching the bobbing lights of boats returning to shore. "You’ve had a pretty good day," Hennessey said. "You’ve learned how to be a prep cook, and you’ve convinced my gramma to give Kate a chance. What else do you have up the sleeve of that sweater?"

Giving her friend a playful bump to the shoulder, Townsend said, "It wasn’t hard to get your gramma to see the light. She loves you so much, Hennessey. She could never bear to cause you any pain."

"I know she does," the older woman said. "But I still appreciate that you made some progress with her. I’m very grateful to you for that."

Over the soft sounds of the water lapping at the pier, a voice called out. "Hennessey, telephone for you."

"Be right in, Daddy." The tall woman got up and brushed off her jeans. "Who could be calling me?" Her smile faded and she started running. "It has to be Kate."

Townsend followed her into the cramped kitchen, the place bustling from the late dinner crowd. Hennessey looked very uncomfortable, and she was trying to speak quietly. Townsend caught her eye and pulled out her cell phone, mouthing, "Use my phone."

With a relieved look, Hennessey nodded and said, "I’ll call you right back, Kate." Looking at her father, she said, "Daddy, I’ll be at the house if you need me."

"Okay, baby. Are you staying over, Townsend?"

"I wasn’t planning on it, but I might."

"We’re always glad to have you, honey," Mrs. Boudreaux said.

"If I don’t stay, I’ll be sure to come and say goodbye," she said, following Hennessey out of the room. Running to catch up with her, she tugged at the back of her jeans just as the taller woman was dialing the number. "Hey, wait a minute, babe."

Hennessey stopped and looked at her, blue eyes wide. "She said she’s not applying for a match!"

"What?"

Waving her hand, Hennessey said, "It’s complicated. I’ll tell you later."

"Babe, I have to get going if I’m going to drive back to Hilton Head. I have some things to do tomorrow, and I can’t really afford to stay overnight. I’ll give you my calling card, and you can call Kate from your home phone."

"Shit!" Lips pursed, Hennessey said, "I have a feeling this is going to be a long night. Can I go to Hilton Head with you? I don’t want my family hearing this conversation."

"Sure. I’ll drive you back home whenever you want. Besides, I’d like a little company tonight. I’m feeling tired."

"You go tell my family, and I’ll get ready," Hennessey said. "I’ll be right over."

* * *

Three hours later, Hennessey poked her head into Townsend’s bungalow and said, "I killed your battery and your spare."

The blonde looked up from the TV program she had been devoting twenty-five percent of her interest to and said, "You look like you need a walk."

"That would be nice," Hennessey agreed. "Are you up for it?"

"Sure I am. Let me get a heavier jacket. I’ll get you a sweater, too."

* * *

Walking along the wide, sandy beach, their path lit by a bright, full moon, Hennessey held Townsend’s hand and said, "I don’t know if she’s frightened of taking this next step, or if she really needs a break. This is the first I’ve heard of this idea, and it scares the hell out of me."

"Back up, stretch. I’m so in the dark, I haven’t a clue."

"Oh, shit. I forget that you don’t know everything I know."

"I'd like to know everything that you know, but that's just a fantasy," Townsend teased.

Hennessey ruffled her friend's hair and said, "Let me start from the beginning. I told you that Kate had applied to several places for a psychiatric residency."

"Right. That much, I got."

"Well, that’s only one part of the process. There’s a system that was developed to make sure every residency gets filled, and every qualified student gets placed ¾ as quickly as possible. That’s the thing that Kate’s decided not to participate in."

"But why?"

"In effect, she’s decided not to start her residency in July. She says she needs at least a year off. But since she’s never even hinted at this, it’s throwing me for a loop. It’s not like her to do something impulsive, and if it’s not impulsive, I’m angry with her for not telling me earlier. The deadline is tomorrow, and she’s not going to list her preferences. That means that even if she changes her mind, she won’t be able to find a decent residency program."

"Jesus, she sure didn’t give you much time to react."

"That’s why I’m angry," Hennessey said, her voice rising in frustration. "I’m sure she didn’t decide this tonight. I hate to be left out of decisions like this, and she knows that full well. This affects both of us, and it pisses me off to see her act like this is just about her."

Gripping her friend’s hand a little tighter, Townsend said, "There has to be more here than she’s letting on, baby. Don’t be angry with her until you find out exactly what went on in her mind. If you ask me, it sounds like she’s frightened. And the last thing you want when you’re afraid is to have your partner angry with you."

Hennessey took her hand away and draped her arm across Townsend’s shoulders. "You’re right. As usual." She laughed softly and said, "It’s probably best that I’m not home right now. We’d be up all night arguing, and that’s not good for either of us. I’m sure I’ll be a little more sympathetic by tomorrow."

"Well, in Kate’s defense, she’s the one who’ll have to do the work. If she’s not ready for it ¾ "

"It’s not the fact that she wants a year off that bothers me. It’s that she didn’t tell me she was having doubts." The taller woman stopped and faced her friend. "If we don’t trust each other to share our doubts and fears, what’s the point? Being in a relationship isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and one of the most rewarding aspects of it is having the support of your partner when you’re having a rough time. It really bothers me and worries me that she didn’t tell me sooner than this."

"Maybe it was in the back of her mind and just hit her when the deadline was near," Townsend suggested.

"That’s not how Kate thinks," Hennessey said. "She’s very, very methodical. I’d be the most surprised woman in the world if this just came up. But I suppose anything’s possible, so I should let her explain it more fully when I get home."

"When will you go home?" Townsend asked.

"I was going to leave next Sunday, but I’m heading back tomorrow instead. Gramma’s not gonna like it, but I’ve gotta go. Kate needs me."

"You’re a good partner, Hennessey. I know you two will work this out. I’m sure of it."

Hennessey nodded. "I’m sure we will, too. I just wish we'd already worked it out. Getting there is not gonna be fun."

* * *

Continued in Part 16

Return to the Academy