The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

Part 16

 

Townsend ran across the compound, the early morning sun just beginning to peek over the rooftops of the cabins. The day was cool, bordering on cold for Hilton Head, but Townsend had been running year-round in Boston for the past few years, and she found the day to be quite balmy and invigorating. She opened the door to her cabin, surprised to find Hennessey dressed and ready to go. "You were out cold when I left for my run," she said. Grabbing a towel to wipe her face and neck, she paused to take a careful look at her friend. "You obviously didn't sleep well, but how bad was it?"

Hennessey shrugged equivocally. "I conked out about ten minutes before you got up." She gave her friend a wry smile and added, "I guess I'll sleep on the bus."

"Don't be ridiculous. You don't have to take the bus. I'll drive you to Durham."

"No, no, I always take the bus. It's no big deal. I don't want you to waste the better part of a day."

"Hey," Townsend protested, "don’t be so melodramatic. You know I enjoy being with you."

Forcing a smile, Hennessey nodded her head. "Okay. If you want to drive me, I'd love to have your company. You just have to promise not to throw me out if I whine the whole way to Durham."

"I’ll give you until we reach the North Carolina border to whine. After that I can’t be responsible for my actions."

The brunette nodded and attempted to smile, "Sounds like a deal. I’ve been on the bus so many times that I think I could find a stop no matter where you boot my butt out."

"That’s reassuring," Townsend said. "Let me take a shower, and then we're off, after you make me breakfast, that is. Granola with a banana, some yogurt and some tea, okay?"

"You're drinking tea now?" Hennessey asked, brightening.

"Yes, Hennessey, you've gained another convert. Now get moving!"

* * *

They'd just crossed the bridge to the mainland when Hennessey sighed and said, "Even though I'm just going a few hundred miles, I hate to leave the Low Country. You wouldn't think there'd be a big difference between North and South Carolina, but there sure is."

"I know how much you love it here," Townsend said, smiling at her friend, "and I don't blame you a bit."

"You really do understand, don't you?" Hennessey asked.

"More than you might guess," Townsend said. She smiled brightly and asked, "I'm thinking about … staying."

"Staying for what? For how long?"

"Staying to work … at camp," Townsend said. "MaryAnn made a proposal the other day, and it sounds very appealing."

Hennessey’s face lit up in a radiant smile, and her voice rose nearly an octave. "Tell me!"

Townsend smiled at her friend's obvious enthusiasm and said, "Well, as you might imagine, I have some pretty impressive contacts in the world of letters." She was using her most refined Boston Brahmin accent, making Hennessey giggle. "MaryAnn knows I want to write, and she also knows that I love it down here."

"You love it?" Hennessey asked, her eyes wide.

"Of course I do! I love the weather and the plants and the slower pace of life down here. It reminds me of the Vineyard, but it’s nice all year." She cocked her head and asked, "What’s not to love?"

Slapping her thigh, Hennessey said, "That’s my point!"

"Well, you’re right. I like the whole Low Country, but I particularly like Hilton Head. I love to play golf, I’m a pretty good tennis player, and I love to sail. It has everything I like, along with some fantastic restaurants, great shopping and no bad memories. I could be happy here."

"God, Townsend, that would be so wonderful! I’d be able to see you every time I came home!"

"I’d love to see you, too, stretch. But I’m thinking about doing this for more than great weather and Hennessey sightings. MaryAnn would like to expand her winter program — "

"Expand it how? When? Why?" Shaking her head, Hennessey laughed at her own rapid fire interrogation. "Maybe I'd learn more if I shut up and let you talk."

Townsend gave her a quick look and grinned when she met her eyes. "It makes me feel so good to see how happy you are about this."

"Happy? This is the best news I've heard in years! Now tell me everything!"

"There's not all that much to tell," Townsend said. "MaryAnn was surprised and pleased at how lucrative the winter writing program was, and she said that it didn't make much sense to only offer it for a month, given how quickly it sold out."

"I agree completely!" Hennessey said. "People were crazy about the program."

"So … MaryAnn wants to run it for nine months. She worked her butt off to get the winter program going, so she knows it's more than a full time job for someone."

"You'll be the what … assistant camp director?"

"Nope." Townsend shook her head and twitched an eyebrow at her friend. "I'd be the director of the writing program for adults, and Maryann’d continue to run the camp, since that's her true love."

"Townsend, that’s great! You’d be so good at that!"

"Thanks. I think I would, too. I like Boston, and I’m getting along well with my parents, but it’s time for me to do something on my own. I need to start making my own way in life."

"Where would you live? In the compound?"

Townsend blushed slightly and said, "Well, I hate to act like I’m too good to live in the compound …"

"Multi-million dollar home on the eighteenth green of Harbor Town?"

Flashing a playful scowl at her friend, Townsend said, "I think that would be a little ostentatious, don’t you? A small house outside of a development would be ideal. I just need two bedrooms and room for an office."

Hennessey nodded, her smile growing brighter. "It sounds like you’ve made up your mind. Have you?"

"Yeah, I think I have. There are a lot of good things about the job, but the best is how much free time I'll have. I'll have the entire summer off, and MaryAnn doesn't care what kind of schedule I set for myself."

"Damn, Townsend, that's a dream job!"

"I know! I couldn't have come up with a better job if I designed it myself."

"How's she gonna pay you, if that's not too personal a question."

"It’s a little late to start keeping secrets now, stretch. She's gonna pay me a salary that’s below the market standard, but she's sweetened the offer by giving me seven and a half percent of the tuition for each student — off the top."

"Is that gonna be enough money for you?"

"If I do well it is," Townsend said, a knowing gleam in her eyes. "There are ten cottages, and each sleeps six. If I could have those beds seventy-five percent filled for nine months at somewhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred dollars per week — I'd be doing all right."

"Are you sure about this, Townsend? I mean, the last thing I want to do is dissuade you, but have you really thought the numbers through?"

"Yep. I’ve done my homework. MaryAnn made me an offer, but I wasn’t happy with it. I know I’m just a year out of college, but this is gonna be a gold mine for her. Part of the lure in this program is gonna be the quality of the teachers. It’s my contacts that will get those writers in here. So that's what she’s buying, more than my current skills. I did some research and found out how much the average writing program director earns, and I built my negotiating strategy. I wanted to make sure I had a set amount of money coming in, even if the economy was doing poorly and people didn't have the money for extravagances like writing classes, so I wanted a salary. But I also wanted to be rewarded for working hard, and that's why I wanted a percentage of each camper's tuition."

"Damn, if someone offered me a teaching job, I'd just reach for a pen and sign the contract!"

"You can't do that, Hennessey," Townsend said, shaking her head. "You can't get screwed at the beginning of your tenure because you never catch up if you allow that."

"I'd have no idea how to do something like that," Hennessey said, clearly in awe of her friend's skills. "How'd you learn to do that?"

"We're WASP’s, Hennessey. It's in our genes."

* * *

Hennessey had been unusually quiet for the last half hour, and Townsend finally said, "Why don't you tell me what's going through your mind? I know this is weighing on you."

Giving her friend a smile, Hennessey said, "That's an understatement. It's not just that Kate is having doubts; I can understand that completely. It's that she's making these decisions on her own — and they affect both of us equally."

"But she's the one who has to do the work, baby. It's not fair to expect her to start her residency if she's not ready."

Hennessey gave her a perturbed look, then turned her face towards the window. Townsend wasn't sure what she'd done, but when she heard Hennessey's sniffling, she knew she'd hurt her.

Taking the next off-ramp, Townsend pulled into the parking lot of a gas station. "Sweetheart, how did I hurt you? You know I didn't mean to."

Not turning her head, Hennessey spoke quietly, her voice hoarse. "You didn't even acknowledge how much this throws my life into flux. I can't just put my career on hold, Townsend. I'm panicking here!"

Townsend laid an assuring hand on her friend's thigh, saying, "I'm sorry if you feel like I don't understand. Tell me more, honey. How does this affect you so much?"

The brunette turned to face Townsend, her eyes filled with tears. "It's not easy to get a teaching job at the university level. It's even harder when you're trying to get one in the same city as your partner's job. Now add the fact that she's applying for a match at one of three schools, and you see how uncertain things have been for me."

"I didn't know," Townsend said. "I'm sorry, baby, but you haven't been sharing these things with me. We talk about lots of things, but we don't usually talk about these kinds of details."

Hennessey nodded, saying, "I never feel like I have much to say about it, since I'm not doing anything except sending out resumes."

"How have you approached it?" Townsend asked.

"Well, Kate was planning on applying for a match with New York University, the University of Chicago, Mc Gaw Medical Center at Northwestern, Stanford and the Palmetto Health/University of South Carolina programs. So I've been applying to every university, college and junior college within an hour's drive of each of those hospitals."

"Ouch! That could be a hell of a commute!"

Hennessey's mouth puckered into a pout. "That's nothing. We decided that if I couldn't find anything, I was going to expand my territory and go two hours out. Then we thought that we'd get an apartment an hour away from both of our jobs. But now I'm screwed!"

"Why, honey? Why can't you just go ahead and find a job?"

Hennessey sighed and said, "Academia isn't like the business world. If I found a teaching job at the University of Chicago, I couldn't leave it after a year. And if Kate got a match with Stanford next year, I'd either have to leave or be a couple of thousand miles away from her. That's exactly what we're trying to avoid."

"That’s seriously fucked up."

Hennessey nodded briefly and tried to summon a smile, with little success. "I hope we can work it out. We always have, but I'm frightened."

"And angry," Townsend reminded her.

"And angry." Hennessey gave her friend a smile and said, "I'm gonna try to get rid of the angry part by the time I get home. When I’m angry, Kate clams up, and that makes it impossible to get anywhere."

"You know her well, Hennessey, and you love her an awful lot. That's what'll pull you through this."

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: January 20, 2001

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi buddy,

Well, we haven’t resolved much, but the die has been cast. Kate is definitely taking a year off, and that leaves me in the lurch. We’ve talked and talked and haven’t been able to come up with a solution that we can both live with.

She's not even sure what she wants to do, which worries me more than I'm willing to tell her. She's never been so indecisive, and I can't seem to get her to tell me why she's so ambivalent about starting her residency. She just says that she's too stressed to continue right now.

Kate wants me to take a year off as well, but I can’t afford to. Her family is more than happy to support us, but I can’t live like that. I have to earn some money so that I can start helping to support my family — that’s a goal that I can’t put off any longer.

This is a very tough period for us, Townsend. I fervently hope that our love can pull us through. I’ve never had a moment’s doubt about Kate’s love for me, or mine for her, but we’re gonna need every bit of that love to help us now.

Yours,

H

 

 

 

 

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <tbartley@HiltonHeadWritersProgram.edu> Sent: February 1, 2001

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Dear Hennessey,

Please excuse my formality, but this is a business, rather than a personal letter.

As you know, I’ve been hired to create and manage a nine-month long writing program here at the camp. My duties will involve hiring instructors, creating a curriculum, advertising and securing publicity for the sessions, and making sure that the students are qualified to participate. Of course, I'll also be responsible for all of the finances involved and making sure that the compound is managed properly.

As the program director, I have full control over the budget, and I’ve decided that my first duty should be to hire an experienced administrator to help me structure the program so that it appeals to the widest possible audience.

Towards that end, I’d like to offer you the position of Academic Director for the writing program. The position would begin in June of this year, and our first session would take place in September. My goal is to have the program for the fall of 2000 in place by May of that year — so the position would, in essence, be a nine-month contract for subsequent years.

In addition to a generous base salary I can offer the additional benefits of medical and dental insurance for you and your spouse. You would also have the use of one of the staff bungalows at no charge. As a further incentive, you’ll receive a bonus of one percent of the tuition of every returning student — since the students’ positive impressions of the program will be largely due to your efforts.

Even though we are personal friends, our friendship is not the motivating factor for my offering you this job. I am doing so solely because I believe that you are the right person for this position. I understand that your future commitments may require you to relocate, but the first year of this project is the most important — and I want to make sure we start off on the right foot. I’m confident that you’re the person who can help me do this, Hennessey. I hope you’ll consider my offer, and respond at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

T

Townsend Bartley

Program Director

 

 

 

 

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: February 20, 2001

To: Townsend Bartley <tbartley@HiltonHeadWritersProgram.com>

cc:

Subject:

Dear Ms. Bartley,

Thank you so much for your kind and unexpected offer. While the position sounds extremely appealing, I’m afraid I will not be able to make a decision until I’ve met with you in person to discuss the particulars.

I can arrange to be in Hilton Head this coming Saturday. Would that be a convenient day to meet? I can make myself available any time after twelve noon. Please let me know if you’ll be able to meet with me then or if we should schedule another time.

Sincerely,

H

Stretch Boudreaux

Almost a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis on the language of England

 

 

 

 

* * *

A tall, dark figure nearly filled the doorway of Townsend’s small office. Looking up, the blonde saw her friend, her long arms braced against the frame. "You the lady what’s hiring?" Hennessey asked.

"Come in here, stretch. Give me a hug." Townsend stood and wrapped her arms around her friend’s trim waist. "How ya doin’?"

"A lot better now that I have valid job offer. My panic has abated to unbridled anxiety."

"I'm glad to hear that," Townsend said. "You’re not the kind of girl who can just hope for the best when things are spiraling out of control."

"No, I’m not," Hennessey said, laughing. "I wish that some of Kate’s calm had rubbed off on me, but I can’t stop worrying about next year."

"You don’t have to worry if you accept my offer," Townsend said, sneaking in a quick tickle while Hennessey tried to slap her hand away.

"Well, that’s why I’m here. I want to get all of my worries out of the way."

"Okay, I’m game. Let me whisk your worries away."

Hennessey looked around and made a face. "Any chance we could go for a walk? I hate to be inside on such a nice day."

Townsend smiled and nodded. "It is a nice day. Let’s make some use of it. Have you had lunch?"

"Nope. I had breakfast and got on the bus. This is my first stop."

"C’mon, stretch; I’ve got an entertainment budget that I’m dying to drain."

* * *

Seated at a table by the window of a quiet restaurant, Hennessey began to play with the salt and pepper shakers, moving them around until Townsend laid her hand over them. "You seem nervous, babe. What’s up?"

Sighing, Hennessey said, "I want this job so badly that my teeth ache, but I have to make sure that you’re not just doing this because I need it. I’m very worried about my relationship, Townsend, and the stress of having to find a teaching job is just about to drive me over the edge. But no matter how desperate I am, I have to know you’re doing this for the right reasons."

"Hennessey, you know I love you and that I’d do anything for you," Townsend began, "but I wouldn’t waste MaryAnn’s money. I have too much respect for her and for you. I know I can handle the administrative and marketing aspects of this job. But I’m not well-versed enough in the writing process or in literature to put the programs together. I need someone who can do the whole thing — without much input from me. I could do a job search, but why should I when I know and trust a Ph.D. from one of the best schools in the country?"

"But I don’t have any experience at this type of thing."

"And I do? Hell, Hennessey, sometimes you’ve gotta jump off the bridge first, and learn how to swim on the way down. Look at the bright side. We’ll be able to come up with innovative ways of running this program — we won’t have any preconceived notions."

"Well, that’s true," Hennessey agreed. "And I’ve been to enough writing seminars to know what works and what doesn’t."

"Of course you have," Townsend said. "You’re perfect for this job, and it’s as close to your home as you’re gonna get. You can spend weekends with your grandparents and your daddy, helping out in the restaurant. Heck, this could give Kate a chance to get to know them. I’m sure she’ll like them if she gives them a chance."

"If I take it, Kate won’t be coming with me," the brunette said, staring at the table.

"What? Why?"

"Because she wants to go to France. She wants to take a course at the Psychoanalytic Institute to become a psychoanalyst. She thinks it would be a good adjunct to her psychiatric training."

"But why France? How will that help her here?"

"The U.S. recognizes analysts trained in other programs. That’s not a problem. Besides, she loves France, and she thinks it would be a good place for us to get closer."

"But you won't be with her if you take this job," Townsend said, cocking her head while she tried to understand.

"I know that. I thought that Kate might change her mind when I told her about this job, but she seems intent on going through with her plans, no matter what I do."

"That doesn’t sound like a very good sign, baby," Townsend said, stating the obvious.

Hennessey looked up at her friend, her eyes revealing her confusion. "I know that. Kate seems so restless and irritable. She’s been under a tremendous amount of pressure, and I think she just wants to chuck it all and run away to France for a while. Honestly, Townsend, I don’t think she has any interest in being an analyst; I think it’s just an excuse so she won't look so wishy-washy about not starting her residency."

"Doesn’t she want to be a doctor?"

"Oh, yeah, she’s still very much in love with medicine, but … hell, I don't know! I know she wants to be a doctor, but I'm absolutely in the dark about why she doesn't want to continue right now. Maybe she's being honest, and she is just tired. God knows I am, and I haven't worked half as hard as she has."

"Are you sure she wants to be a psychiatrist? Maybe that's the problem."

Giving her an unhappy look, Hennessey said, "I wish I didn't agree with you, but I do. I think she wants to be a surgeon. That’s her personality, Townsend. She’s a work hard, play hard kind of girl. She loves the pressure, the life and death aspect of surgery. When she was on her surgical rotation, she was as happy as I’ve ever seen her. She was so alive. She couldn’t wait to go to work in the morning."

"Oh, Hennessey." Townsend reached across the table and covered her friend’s hand. "I know that’s not the kind of job you want for her."

"No, it’s not. But I’d never stand in the way if that’s what she wanted. We’d have to find other ways to achieve our goals."

"What about a family?" Townsend asked.

"We could always adopt an older child after we’re both settled in our careers. I’d love to have a baby — but it’s not a life goal for me. I wouldn’t have a baby if Kate wasn’t able to share the responsibilities, and as a surgeon, she wouldn’t be a reliable helpmate."

"Have you told her that?"

"Of course I have," Hennessey said, giving her an annoyed look, "but she's made the decision to be a psychiatrist, and she's determined to see it through." She clicked the salt and pepper shakers together and said, "I don't know if she's doing this for me or herself, but I wish I could get it through her head that I'll only be happy if she's happy."

Townsend looked at her friend for a long time, then said, "You love her an awful lot, don’t you?"

"Yeah, I do. I’d sacrifice almost anything for her, Townsend, and I’m trusting that she’ll do the same for me."

"How does she feel about your taking this job?"

"Not good. Not good at all. She wants me to go to Paris with her, and she’s unable to understand why I can’t. We’re going through a very tough time right now, and part of me thinks that a separation could help us. It might let us re-dedicate ourselves to each other."

"It could also help you to break up," Townsend said. "I hope you’ve thought that through, baby."

"I have. But I have to work, Townsend. I can’t get a work permit to work in France, and Kate will only get a small stipend. Her parents can easily afford to support us, but that's not how I want to live my life. I've worked hard to get this degree, and I want to use it. I need to start earning some money and helping my grandparents. Jesus!" She dropped her head and ran her hands through her hair. "Do you have any idea how bad the commercial catch was this year? With all of the new golf courses being built on formerly vacant land, there's been a massive runoff of fertilizer. It's screwed up the ecosystem of the fishing waters something terrible!"

"It'll be okay," Townsend said, trying to soothe her.

Hennessey looked at her and shook her head. "No, it won’t. I have to start helping out. I'd love to be able to hang around in France for a year, but I don't come from that kind of family. I have to work! If Kate can’t come to understand that …"

"Okay." Townsend patted her hand and let out a sigh. "Let’s get our business taken care of, shall we?" She took out a contract and handed it to her friend. "You can have a lawyer look this over if you want."

Hennessey took a pen from her notepad and signed the bottom of the three-page document without even bothering to read it. "You’d never ask me to sign something that wasn’t in my best interests. I trust you completely, Townsend. And I’m more grateful to you than I will ever be able to express."

"Knock it off, stretch. I'm not doing you any favors. You're the right woman for this job. Period."

* * *

Townsend pushed on the partially open door and called out, "Anybody need some help unpacking?"

"Come on in!" Hennessey said.

Walking inside, the smaller woman smiled while looking around the bungalow. "You should be in the military, stretch. You could move out of a place in fifteen minutes."

"I like to travel light," Hennessey said, crossing the room to wrap her friend in a hug. "I had a lot of books, but I thought long and hard and decided to sell the ones I could and donate the rest to the library. I’m gonna wait until we own a home to start amassing my personal library."

"I’ll buy you a leather-bound collection of the works of Shakespeare as a housewarming present." Townsend pulled back from Hennessey’s loose embrace and said, "I like that you said ‘we.’ I hope that means that you and Kate are back on solid ground."

Hennessey gave her a curious look. "You’re perceptive about people. What did you think when you were in Durham for graduation?"

"Besides that I’d never seen anyone look cuter in a cap and gown?"

"Yeah," Hennessey said, smiling warmly, "besides that."

"I thought that you and Kate seemed very happy together. I sat next to her at your graduation, and she was smiling so brightly when they announced your name that I’m surprised she didn’t dislocate her jaw. She had tears rolling down her cheeks, Hennessey, and you can’t fake that kind of joy. She looked like a woman who loves you with all her heart."

Blushing slightly as a smile lit up her face, Hennessey nodded. "She does. I feel the same about her."

"Really?" Townsend teased. "If you’d introduced her as Dr. Brill one more time, I was going to strangle you!"

"Hey, I’m proud of her," Hennessey said.

"Proud is one thing," Townsend said. "You were gloating, but I’m very happy that things are going better for you guys."

"They are," Hennessey agreed. "As she neared graduation, she let go of a lot of her stress, and it got easier to work things out. When I took her to the airport yesterday, I felt better about us than I have in months. God, it was hard to let her go."

"It’ll be all right, baby. She’ll come back to you in a year, and you two can finally start your lives together. I promise it will all work out."

"God, I hope so," Hennessey said. "I love her so much."

* * *

"Hey, buddy," Townsend said, early the next morning when she arrived at Hennessey’s bungalow. "Wanna go house shopping with me today?"

"House shopping? Really?"

"Yeah. I’ve decided to take the plunge. I was a little worried about sinking a lot of money into a house, but I think I can do as well in real estate as I could on another type of long term investment."

"Damn, sometimes I think you and Kate should be together. You two have much more in common than she and I do."

"Not my type," Townsend said, smiling rakishly. "I prefer lanky brunettes. Now, will you go with me?"

"Sure. Let me dress up a little more. I don’t want you to look like you hang out with the po’ folks."

"You class up any place you enter, Hennessey Boudreaux. Now, let’s grab a bite to eat and take off."

* * *

On the way to the real estate agent’s office, Townsend gave her friend a quick overview of her plans. "Now remember, the agent is here to show me houses, but she's also here to guide me towards buying a house that she's the listing agent for. She makes more money that way," she added, after seeing Hennessey's blank look. "She'll try to make us think she's only interested in my needs, but that's bull. She's a salesperson just like every other salesperson. She wants me to find something I like, but her main goal is to get me to buy something — as soon as possible."

"I thought that real estate agents worked for you," Hennessey said.

"They do. But they're also working for themselves. Now, if I let her know I'm interested in something, she'll really put the pressure on me. I don't want that," Townsend said. "I want to play it cool — icy cool, buddy, and I want you to play along with me."

"I'm not very good at this sort of thing, but I'll try," Hennessey promised.

* * *

They looked at so many houses that they were both a little glassy eyed by mid-afternoon. But Townsend had brought her digital camera, and Hennessey took a copious number of pictures while Townsend made notes on every house with her PDA. They pulled into yet another driveway, but this time, both young women shared a look when they reached the house. The look silently said, "This one has possibilities."

The house did indeed have possibilities, and Townsend felt her heart begin to beat a little faster as she got out of the car. Her first impression was that they were in a nice, older, established part of Beaufort rather than Hilton Head. The house was a frame one — a weathered gray cedar. Three gables stretched across the second floor, and the roofline sloped gracefully, but the thing that caught and held Townsend’s attention was the wide, covered porch, just begging for a warm night and a swing.

She cast a look at Hennessey and saw the excitement in her friend’s eyes. Leaning over, Townsend said, "Take as many pictures as you can manage, and don’t let the agent see you!"

The agent, Gloria, was babbling away, listing the amenities of the home. Townsend followed her inside, while Hennessey took pictures of the outside. "I don’t know," Townsend said, looking as bored as she could manage. "It’s pretty traditional, isn’t it?"

"Yes, it is, but many people love this ‘Low Country’ style. You’ll see it all over South Carolina."

"That’s true," Townsend agreed, "but I didn’t see another example of this style anywhere in the best parts of the island. Most of those homes are much more contemporary. Maybe it's because this house isn't part of a development." She added, "Actually, I think this is the only house I've seen that isn't part of a development. It must be harder to sell an older house that isn't connected to a golf or tennis facility." Townsend was surreptitiously looking around the interior, and she said, "Let’s take a quick look upstairs. No sense in wasting a trip."

A few minutes later, she and Gloria walked outside, where they found Hennessey sitting on the porch railing. "This place reminds me of my home," the brunette said.

"Oh, where do you live?" Gloria asked, smiling brightly.

"On the wrong side of Beaufort," Hennessey informed her. "My daddy’s a shrimper, and we live down by the docks."

Gloria’s smile faded, and she started to walk towards the car. Hennessey asked, "Y’all don’t mind if I go in, do you? I love houses like this."

"No, go ahead, Hennessey. I think we’re done for the day, don’t you, Gloria?"

"I’ve shown you everything I have in your price range," the woman said, dejection in her voice.

"We’ve seen so many properties today — I’d like to look over the pictures we took and see if we liked anything well enough to take a second look."

"All right," Gloria said. She looked at her watch and said, "Should you

go check on your friend?"

"No, she’ll be along soon. She’s been away from Beaufort for a while, and she misses the old place. Let her reminisce."

* * *

As soon as the pair got out of the car, they walked casually into Townsend’s bungalow before the blonde let out a whoop. "I’m buying that house!" she crowed.

"Wasn’t it cool?" Hennessey asked, as excited as her friend.

"I absolutely loved it," Townsend said. "I could just picture sitting out there in the evening, having a glass of lemonade while I watched the sunset."

"Oh, me too," Hennessey sighed. "That’s exactly the kind of house I’d love to have one day."

Giving her a long look, Townsend said, "You know, there’s no reason that you couldn’t move in with me. The house has three bedrooms and two full baths. We’d both have our privacy."

Hennessey turned to her friend. "As much as I’d love to, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Kate trusts me, Townsend, but moving in with you wouldn’t make her feel very secure."

Nodding, Townsend said, "I wasn’t thinking. I … I’m sorry I brought it up."

"Hey," Hennessey put a hand on her friend’s arm, "I appreciate the offer; I really do. And I’ll be at your house so often, you’ll want to kick me out. But living with you isn’t the best thing for my relationship, Townsend, and I always have to put that first."

Townsend absently patted her friend's arm, her brow furrowed in thought. "I know you do. Sometimes I forget how other people perceive us, though. Kate must feel awkward at best about having you here."

Shrugging, Hennessey said, "This wouldn't have been her first choice, but not specifically because of you. She’d prefer that we both pretty much cut off contact with our ex-lovers. She thinks maintaining a close relationship with an ex creates a tension that we don’t need."

"And just how many ex-lovers do you have?"

Hennessey gave her a sheepish look and said, "Well, there’s you …"

"Uh-huh. But this isn’t about me, right?"

"Maybe just a little bit," Hennessey admitted.

"Are you sure it’s a good idea to be here, Hennessey? I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but …"

"I have to live my life by my own moral code, Townsend. There are things that I want that Kate isn’t able to do, and things she wants that I’m unable to do. This is one area where we’ve agreed to disagree."

"She was very cordial to me at your graduation."

"She likes you, Townsend. That’s not the problem. Kate knows how much you mean to me, and she’s a little worried about having us together while she’s in Europe. I’m not worried in the least, but I think it’s harder for the person who leaves."

"Hennessey, I’ve lied to you many times, but not since I’ve been sober. I swear to you that I would never, ever do anything to try to create tension between you and Kate. I see how happy she makes you."

"I know that. I wouldn’t have accepted the job if I’d thought you were anything less than supportive of us. It’s just that Kate doesn’t know you like I do. She’s never had a close friendship with someone she love — or, in my case, loves."

"Yeah, that loves part would probably bother me, too."

Hennessey nodded, nibbling at her lower lip for a moment. "I've never told her I'm still in love with you, but she's too astute not to sense it."

"I've wondered if you'd ever told her," Townsend said. "I don't think I would have."

Hennessey chuckled. "There are some things that you just don't want to rub in. I can't help loving you, but I can stop myself from ever betraying Kate. That's what counts."

"But Kate would worry if she knew, right?"

"Yeah, I think so, but I can’t give in to her fears. She has to know me well enough to trust me. If I can trust her all the way over in Paris, she can trust me with my best friend."

"She can definitely trust you with your best friend," Townsend said, giving the taller woman a hearty poke.

* * *

They were so busy getting the office set up that both women were amazed when they realized that the next day was the 4th of July. "I don’t know where the time has gone," Hennessey said, staring at the calendar on her desk.

Townsend tossed a plastic paper clip at her friend. Their desks were arranged in an "L" in the large room, and the blonde delighted in launching the clips, particularly enjoying it when one of them became tangled in Hennessey's long, thick hair. "We’ve been working like dogs, Boudreaux. Neither one of us has had a day off since we started."

"I guess that’s true," Hennessey mused. "It’s been just what I needed, though. I only have time to miss Kate when I’m lying in bed, and I’m always so tired that I still fall asleep almost immediately."

"I’m glad that you’re not pining away for her," Townsend said. "To be honest, you seem happier than I thought you’d be."

Hennessey quirked a grin. "I am happy. This is the work I think I was meant to do, Townsend. It’s caught me by surprise how much I love it."

With a puzzled expression Townsend said, "I’m glad … obviously I’m glad, but I’m surprised. I thought that teaching was your thing."

She stretched her arms over her head and let her head roll back to get some of the tension out of her muscles. "You know, I taught for three years at Duke, and I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I’d enjoyed teaching here at the camp. The motivation of the students is very different, and that makes a huge difference for me. I like to teach people who want to learn — people who have a thirst for the subject. I’d probably feel different if I were teaching grad students, but at the undergraduate level, most of the people are just looking for a grade. It was rare to find a few students who had any fire about them."

"I didn’t realize that," Townsend said. "It makes perfect sense, but I’d never thought about it in that way."

"Yeah, it didn't become clear to me until I was here. I would have been so sick of teaching undergraduates for years and years as I worked my way up the academic ladder."

"Then I'm glad you don't have to do it," Townsend said.

Hennessey had warmed to her subject, and Townsend listened as the larger woman leaned back even further in her chair and continued to talk. "I love having authority here," she said. "I wouldn’t have had this kind of autonomy until I was a department head in a university. And that would take a minimum of fifteen years — or it might never happen. Universities are so filled with petty politics that I was already ready for a break from all that. And this has been the perfect respite for me."

"It’s made my life easier, too. I would have been lost without your help."

"It’s worked out for both of us," Hennessey agreed. "And even though I think you’re paying me too much, I’m not about to argue. I was able to pay for some repairs that Daddy’s boat has needed for five years, and this coming weekend, we’re gonna do some repairs to the dock."

"Would you like some help?"

Hennessey smiled at the blonde. "Sure, but it’s not gonna be fun. A lot of the damage is under the dock. We need to scrape off all of the crud and replace a lot of the boards."

"I’ll do what I can," Townsend offered. "I don’t mind being under a dock."

"You’re a trooper," Hennessey said, grinning. "I’d love to have you."

"What about tomorrow? Do you have plans?"

"No, since I didn’t know it was a holiday. I guess I could go home, but that seems like a long drive for one day."

Townsend brightened. "Let’s have a barbeque!"

"Sounds good to me. I’ll bring the fireworks."

"Fireworks?!? You can have fireworks here?"

"You betcha," Hennessey said, grinning. "One more benefit of living in South Carolina."

"You'll lose an eye! We’ll be thumbless!" Townsend cried.

"I won't get anything lethal," Hennessey said, laughing at her friend's alarm. "Just some firecrackers and sparklers and stuff. Don't be a baby!"

"I don't know," Townsend said, finally smiling. "I've never even seen firecrackers. They're illegal in Massachusetts."

"Too many Puritans," Hennessey decided. "South Carolinians love to live dangerously."

"Well, when in South Carolina …"

* * *

"Townsend Bartley, you have turned into a fine cook," Hennessey said late the next afternoon. "I’ve never had a hamburger with blue cheese cooked right inside, and it was scrumptious!"

"The Boston baked beans were pretty darned good, too, weren’t they?" the blonde asked, her nose wrinkled up.

"They were superb. Everything was delicious, Townsend. Truly delicious."

"I’m glad you enjoyed it," Townsend said. "Now, we should go for a long walk on the beach before people start shooting at us with cherry bombs."

"Darned good idea." The pair went through the house, out the front door and started to walk, reaching the ocean in a matter of minutes.

"Hey, I was wondering if you have a place in the curriculum for my creative writing teacher from Boston," Townsend asked. "She was very good, and she might like a brief change of scenery. She’s an expert at helping students break through their emotional barriers to unleash their creativity."

"Sure. I’m sure I could use her. You wouldn’t have an ulterior motive, would you, Ms. Bartley? As I recall, you were going to ask her out on a date."

"Yeeeeeesss," Townsend said. "I haven’t met anyone down here, so I thought I’d start importing women. If this doesn’t work out, I’m gonna start shopping on the Internet. I hear that the Chechen's are very eager to move to the U.S."

Hennessey gave her a hip bump and chided her, "Unless a woman comes to your door looking for love, you’re not gonna hook up. You’re either at work or with me. Actually, you’re always with me!"

"I guess that’s true," she said. "I just hate the thought of looking for dates."

"Where would you go?" Hennessey asked.

"A lesbian bar, I guess. I don’t really know."

"Is that wise, Townsend? I mean … You know what I mean."

Giving her friend a perturbed look, Townsend said, "I think I could be in a bar and not leap the counter to drain all the bottles."

Hennessey gripped her arm and pulled her to a stop. "That’s not at all what I meant, Townsend. I only meant that you don’t always meet the crème de la crème at a bar. I think you’d do better to seek out some social groups. I know," she said, a note of excitement in her voice, "why don’t we arrange a short evening seminar on lesbian fiction? We could discuss some current works, and all of the participants would probably be lesbians. We could target the Hilton Head area — fill the class with locals. It wouldn’t have to be an expensive seminar — just a fun thing for the townies. And it would give me a chance to teach this summer. I really do miss it," she admitted.

She was beaming a smile, and Townsend once again found herself mirroring it. "Good idea, stretch. The woman who’s never had to search for a girlfriend comes up with a masterful idea. As usual, you amaze me."

* * *

A few hours later, they were sitting on the porch swing, rocking slowly while they watched the occasional bottle rocket streak towards the ocean. "Not much of a party," Townsend mused. "I’m used to the Boston Pops playing a concert and a multi-million dollar fireworks show."

"I'll have you know that our fireworks cost fifteen whole dollars," Hennessey said, earning a pinch. "But be serious, babe; do you miss Boston at all?"

"No, not really. I guess I should, since my family has lived there since the 1600’s — but I don’t think about it very often. Boston is just another big city to me. I mean, it has a lot of history, but when you live in a place like that you don’t take advantage of it very often. It’s not like … here," she said. "South Carolina gives me a real feeling of place. It’s much more unique than Boston is, for one thing. Boston’s no different than Chicago or New York or Philadelphia. It might have been at one time, but now it’s just mini-malls, fast food and chain stores. There’s something so damned homey about South Carolina, Hennessey. It gets under your skin."

Hennessey didn’t say a word. She reached over and grasped her friend’s hand and brought it to her lips, kissing it tenderly.

Townsend could feel a little moisture on her lips, and she knew, without looking, that Hennessey was crying silently. The blonde linked her fingers with her friend’s and rested their joined hands in her lap, settling down to watch the tiny, sweet, extemporaneous fireworks show.

* * *

On the first night of the "New Trends in Lesbian Fiction" class, Hennessey looked out at the twenty-five eager faces and spared a slight wink for her friend, seated in the back row. Townsend assessed her classmates carefully, seeing a number of women she wouldn’t mind getting a phone number from. I sure hope Hennessey remembers to mention that we can continue the discussion in the main bungalow after class. That’s my best chance of getting to know some of these women. And I’m going to get to know some of these women!

* * *

Hennessey was grinning like the Cheshire cat when Townsend walked into their shared office the next morning. "So …?"

"So what?" Townsend asked, putting down her bag and trying to look uninterested.

"I saw you leave the bungalow with that cute brunette last night. How’d it go?"

"Brunette? Let’s see … did I leave with a cute brunette …" Townsend tapped her chin with her forefinger and said, "I guess I did spend a little time with a cute brunette last night. And I’d say it went … darned well."

"So, are you gonna see her again?"

"Yep. We’re going on a little sail tonight. She has a boat that she races, and if it’s calm enough, we’re gonna take it out and have a little dinner."

"Well, well," Hennessey said, looking very pleased, "don’t you work fast?"

"Hey, I’m not getting any younger. I check women for liquor on their breath and any ostentatious religious jewelry, then it's time for me to hook up."

"Oh, I think you’ve got a few good years left. But I would like for you to find someone to love. You deserve it."

Townsend gave her a racy smile. "If I can't find someone to love, maybe I can find someone to love me — at least for a night."

* * *

Continued in Part 17

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