The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

 

 

Part 2

The next morning, Townsend showed up right on time for her feedback session with Hennessey. "Hi," the teacher said. "Have a seat."

"Is there any coffee around here?" Townsend asked, running a hand through her disordered hair. Hennessey looked at her for a moment, noting the tremor in her hand, and the pasty white color of her skin.

"It’s not easy, is it?" Hennessey asked, softly, taking Townsend’s trembling hand in her own. She examined it carefully, rubbing her thumb across the faint yellow stains that marred the skin between her second and third fingers. "Stopping smoking and drinking in the space of two days must be very hard for you."

"Whose fault is that?" she retorted, her mood foul.

"Mine, I guess. How long have you been smoking?"

"About three years."

"Would you like me to buy some nicotine patches for you? I hate to see you suffer like this."

Her mouth dropped open, and she stared at the infuriating woman. "Why are you so fucking nice to me on the one hand, and then torturing me on the other? Why not just let me have my cigarettes?" She stood up and started to pace across the small office. "Why do you fucking care?"

"I’m not entirely sure," Hennessey admitted quietly, her accent as smooth and sweet as apple butter. "But I do. Not just because it’s my job to enforce the rules, either. I genuinely care about you, and I’m not going to let your nasty temper keep me from stopping you from harming yourself. I’m going to stay on the job until you learn how to stop on your own."

The blonde flopped down in the chair and stared at her. "Can I transfer to another bungalow?"

Hennessey laughed softly. "Do you honestly think anyone else would take you? I haven’t told the other house leaders about you, but word is spreading like wildfire. You’re persona non grata, sweet pea, and you’re my cross to bear – until August."

"I should live so long."

"You will if I have anything to say about it," Hennessey said. "Now, let’s talk about your paper."

"Oh, spare me. It’s too early in the morning."

"This is my job, Townsend. Now, I’ll go get you some coffee, but we’re gonna talk about this." She stood and asked, "Black, I suppose?"

"How’d you know?"

"It’s harsher than way. Seems like your style." And with that, the lanky young woman strode from the office, Townsend scooting her chair part way into the hall to watch her easy gait. Women with asses like that should not be allowed to wear baggy shorts!

When Hennessey returned, she handed her student a cup of coffee and kept a mug of tea for herself. "Now, let’s make one thing clear. I don’t expect you to be a carbon copy of your mother. I promise I will try never to compare you to her, okay?"

"Okay. You’ll be the first teacher I’ve ever had who didn’t, but I’ll give you a fair try."

"Great!" Hennessey beamed a smile at her, and Townsend found herself returning it with equal brilliance. "That being said, I’ll admit to being disappointed with this effort."

"No kidding? Fisting isn’t your cup of tea?"

"Earl Grey," she replied, hoisting her mug. "And I’m not talking about the content. I’m talking about the style. I specifically asked you to talk about something that moved you, Townsend, but you didn’t capture any emotion at all in this piece. I’ve never been in the position you were in – literally or figuratively, but I can only imagine that your emotions were on a roller coaster during that encounter. But this reads like a technical manual – not like the emotive piece I was looking for."

"Wait just a fucking minute," the younger woman said. "You don’t care that I wrote about being fisted … you only care that you couldn’t feel my pain?"

"Pain, excitement, fear, trepidation, desire, longing. I have no idea which of those emotions – if any, you felt while that woman was … fisting you. What did it feel like when she first asked you to go to her apartment? What did you expect? Did you have second thoughts while you were walking over there? Set the stage, Townsend! What was the night like? Cool, damp, warm, hot? Let me feel how your emotions matched or conflicted with the weather. Tell me something to let the excitement build while you’re walking over there."

"You’re serious," the blonde said, still disbelieving.

"Of course I’m serious. The piece needs to build, Townsend. If you’re going to do this in chronological order, it’s important to let the reader start to worry or get excited – let us feel what you felt.

"Dang, Townsend, I want to know how you felt when you realized she was going to put her whole hand into you. Didn’t you have even a moment when you were afraid that she might tear your vagina? It didn’t sound like you were very excited when she began – what was going on in your mind? Tell me what causes a girl to let a strange woman try to fist her when she’s not even sexually excited.

"I’m not looking for hearts and flowers, here. It was obvious that you didn’t care for each other – so go the other way and talk about how desolate you must feel to let a complete stranger violate your body that way. Hell, in my county a person would get life imprisonment for doing that against a woman’s will! Talk about how empty your soul has to be to give your body over to an unknown woman who might, intentionally or unintentionally, injure you. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer never to have to have my vagina stitched up. What’s it like to not even care?

"I want you to strip away the veneer, Townsend. I don’t want to just know the technical details. It doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t know how to fist someone after they read your piece. What does matter is that they know what it feels like to let a stranger do whatever she wanted to a young girl who should never have been put in that situation. Let the reader feel what drives you to be so cavalier with your health and your safety. That’s what’s interesting."

The younger woman nodded vacantly, astonished by Hennessey’s words.

"Let the expression of your experiences help get some of your feelings out, Townsend. Use your writing to explore how you feel – then maybe you won’t have to spend the night in the hospital with some intern practicing his surgical technique on your vulva.

"Now, I want you to pick one of the pieces we work on this summer and really polish it. It doesn’t have to be this one, but keep that in the back of your mind. Pick one that really interests you, and apply the things you learn this summer to it. By the end of the summer I want to see at least one piece that reflects the fire I see in your eyes. You can do this, Townsend. I can feel the talent you have – just waiting for an outlet."

"Unrealized potential," she drawled, showing a wan smile. "I’ve been hearing that since first grade."

"Then it’s about time to start realizing it, isn’t it?" the infuriating woman asked, giving yet another of those mesmerizing smiles.

* * *

On Friday, MaryAnn caught up with Hennessey during the lunch break. "How goes it with Satan’s daughter?" she asked, giving her a wink.

"Well, I thought I’d outsmarted her. On Wednesday, I assigned them the task of writing about the most interesting museum they’d ever been to. Did you have any idea there was an antique vibrator and dildo museum in San Francisco?"

"Good Lord, Hennessey, I think you might have met your match here. This girl sounds like she’s got enough spunk to take on the whole camp!"

* * *

There was no school on the weekends, and each house leader had free rein to set up group activities as she saw fit. Hennessey decided to take her group on a long walk around the compound, pointing out the flora and fauna of the palmetto state. Most of the girls were fairly interested, few of them having been to the low country before. But, as Hennessey had feared, Townsend only had the stamina to make it halfway around the large compound. Her chain smoking and drinking had rendered her mostly incapable of sustained physical activity, and she begged off when they reached the beach. "Can I just lie here on the dock until you guys come back?" she asked, totally out of breath.

"Sure. Do you have sunblock on?"

"Yes, Mother," Townsend grumbled, rolling her eyes.

"Okay, we’ll be back in about an hour. Don’t roll off and drown," Hennessey said. "We’d miss you somethin’ fierce."

The rest of them took off again, and Townsend did just what she said she’d do – collapsed onto the dock and fell asleep in seconds.

When the group returned, Hailey scampered ahead to tell Townsend they were back. For some reason, much to Hennessey’s amazement, the shy, innocent girl had taken a liking to the surly young woman. But when Hailey reached the dock, she stopped and stared, obviously terrified. She pointed with a shaking hand, unable to get a word out of her mouth. Hennessey took off, sprinting the last fifty yards, and wrapped an arm around Hailey’s trembling shoulders. "What’s wrong?"

"Sp … spider!"

Indeed, there was a rather substantial sand colored spider perched on Townsend’s collar, and as the pair watched, it skittered along her neck, disappearing from view. That was enough for Hailey to sound the alarm, and she screamed with all her might.

Townsend flew into a sitting position, looking around wildly. "What the fuck?"

"Spider! There’s a big, nasty spider in your hair, or your shirt, or somewhere!"

The blonde leapt to her feet and yanked her shirt off, surprising all by her braless state. "Where is it?" she demanded, turning her back to Hennessey.

Hennessey stepped forward and ran her cool fingers along Townsend’s hot, sweaty neck, lifting her hair out of the way to examine her. Combing through her hair with her fingers, she found the spider and tossed it back onto the sand. "I got it. No problem."

"It bit her! It bit her! It’s poisonous!"

"Hailey, that was a wolf spider," Hennessey said. "They aren’t poisonous. Now, just calm down."

"Look! On her neck! It really bit her!"

Hennessey moved around to the front to get a better look, and brushed the hair from Townsend’s neck, taking a brief glance at the indicated mark. "That’s not a bite," she assured both girls. "It’s just a … bruise. Nothing to worry about."

Townsend had the decency to blush as she put her shirt back on, muttering, "Try to get a nap around here and all hell breaks loose." She strode off, tucking her shirt into her shorts, grumbling the whole while.

* * *

After they returned to the bungalow, everyone washed up and started to head over to the dining room for lunch. Hennessey caught Townsend’s eye and said, "I’ve ordered lunch to be delivered here. I’d like to talk with you … in private."

"Now what?" the blonde asked, falling onto the sofa.

"It can wait for a few minutes," Hennessey said. "Just relax while I go get the sand off myself."

When she returned, the girl was already digging into her lunch, her appetite much improved from when she’d arrived the previous weekend. Hennessey sat next to her and arranged her sandwich, then took a big bite. "Mmm … delicious."

"Out with it, chief. What’d I do this time?"

"Well, even though I didn’t conduct a strip search – and maybe I should have," she drawled lazily, "I don’t remember seeing that mark on your neck before. I’d like to know who gave it to you."

Narrowing her eyes, the blonde snapped, "Why? So you can get one for yourself?"

"No, thanks. I don’t have to prove to people that someone finds me desirable enough to kiss. I prefer to keep my private life private."

"I don’t have to tell you who I’m fooling around with. I read that ridiculous list of rules, and it doesn’t say a damned thing about that."

"No, but it does say that a camper is prohibited from harassing or abusing another camper in any way. I want to make sure you’re not forcing one of the other girls to do something she’s not ready for."

Townsend looked as though she’d been slapped. "Are you accusing me of molesting one of these little creeps?" She leapt to her feet, her lunch hitting the floor as she did so. "Go fuck yourself, Hennessey. I don’t have to force anyone to do me!"

She ran to her room, crying so loudly that she sounded hysterical. Hennessey was right on her heels; and she sat down on the end of the bed, reaching out to gently touch her leg, Townsend yanked it away, then kicked out hard with it, knocking the larger woman to the floor. "Get out of my room, or I’ll tell them that you did it!"

Hennessey sat on the floor for a few minutes, uncertain as to how to proceed. She didn’t want to upset the girl any more than she already had, but she felt an obligation to find out who Townsend had been with – particularly if it was a younger girl. She started to get up, but her hand came in contact with a cool, glass bottle. Pulling it from under the bed, she shook her head when she saw the label. "This is the cheapest gin known to man. My mother wouldn’t even drink this." She paused, then said, "Well, she would, but no one with an intact stomach lining would. Why on earth would you stoop to drinking something like this? God damn, it, Townsend!" She stood up, and all at once it hit her. "Take off your shirt."

"What?"

"Take off your shirt." Hennessey was all business now, not a flicker of humor in her expression. Slowly, Townsend did so, holding the shirt to her breasts. "Let me see, Townsend. You either show me, or the doctor."

She lowered her shirt, and Hennessey looked her over briefly, then closed her eyes. She had noticed other marks on the girl’s body when she was on the dock, but didn’t look too carefully at the time, trying to respect her privacy. "Who did this to you?" Her voice was quiet and low, but there was a rage burning in her that was unmistakable.

"Nobody you know," the girl said quietly.

"Did he rape you?"

"How do you know it was a man? Lots of girls like to play rough."

"The skin around your nipple is broken, Townsend. None of the girls here did that to you. Please tell me." She reached out and touched her shoulder, gripping it lightly. "Please."

The girl stared at the floor, finally saying, "One of the guys that delivers laundry."

"Did he rape you?" Hennessey’s gaze was unflinching, penetrating.

"No. He … he said he’d buy me a fifth every week if I’d … you know."

"No, I don’t know. Tell me."

The fierce blue eyes bored into her, and Townsend heard herself telling all. "I stopped him at the gate. He seemed kinda … sleazy. Guys like that are always good for a bottle. He said he’d keep me stocked if I’d blow him."

Hennessey let out a breath, then said, "Maybe you do it differently than we do in the South, but how does a man nearly bite your nipple off while you’re giving him head? The geometry doesn’t work, Townsend. Now, please, tell me the truth."

"I am telling the truth. I had to let him paw me to get him hot," she said. "You’d think an underage girl would do the trick – but no, he had to suck and bite on me for ten minutes in the cab of that truck. Sick bastard. What kinda guy can’t get hard without making a girl scream?"

Hennessey stood and handed Townsend’s shirt back to her. "Get dressed. We’re going to go pay a visit to MaryAnn."

"Finally! My ticket out of this dump."

"No chance. We’re gonna go get that man’s ass fired from here to Sunday, then we’re gonna call the police and hopefully have him arrested. After that, we’ll call your parents, and then you and I will make a visit to the doctor to get you a tetanus shot and a pelvic exam, since I’m still not sure I believe he didn’t rape you." She stood over the girl, seeing the look of shame that darted across her face, only to be replaced by her usual scowl. "Having fun yet?" Hennessey asked, her tone lacking even a hint of humor.

* * *

They were unable to reach Mrs. Bartley, and after some serious begging from Townsend, they agreed to try her again the next day rather than notifying Townsend’s father. The day had been a long one, and quite draining for all concerned, and both young women were ready for bed by 9:00. Hennessey sat on the edge of Townsend’s bed, gazing at her with nothing but empathy. "I spoke to MaryAnn while you were making your statement to the police. We both think you need more help than we can give you. I found an AA meeting here on the island that’s primarily for teenaged alcoholics. You and I are going to go to the meeting tomorrow night."

"You can’t make me do that, Hennessey," the young woman said, her eyes burning.

"Well, I can’t carry you in and strap you to the chair, but I’m going to take every privilege away until you agree to go. No more TV, no more MP3’s, no more CD’s and no more Internet. You can either sit in this room alone every night, or you can go to the meeting. I’ll even buy you an ice cream cone when it’s over."

"Don’t do me any favors," she snarled.

"Okay, then I’ll buy myself an ice cream cone. We leave right after dinner."

* * *

They reached Mrs. Bartley in Paris the next morning, and the woman, while concerned, was not shocked in the least. "I think you should let Townsend decide whether she wants to press charges against the man," she decided. "It certainly sounds like she lured him into it."

MaryAnn blinked her eyes slowly, her surprise evident. "Well, I’d agree that she did, but it’s still a felony, Mrs. Bartley. I don’t think Townsend gets to choose whether to pursue it. The police have been notified."

"Oh, of course she does. If you tell the district attorney that she won’t testify, they don’t have a case. We’ve been through this type of thing before. You can’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do."

After deliberating with Townsend, the young woman decided that she didn’t want to testify against the deliveryman. Hennessey thought that was a very poor choice, but she was unable to sway her. He lost his job with the laundry company, but Hennessey knew that he would likely prey on another child, and it made her sick to her stomach to think that Townsend’s decision could enable that.

* * *

The first two weeks of AA meetings were hellish. Hennessey silently cursed Townsend’s name more times than she could count, but through coercion alone she got her to attend fourteen consecutive meetings. On the way home in the school van after the fourteenth meeting, Townsend looked at the house leader curiously and asked, "Why do you go to these with me? Couldn’t some employee just drop me off?"

"Yeah. But I don’t trust you to stay. You haven’t proven yourself to be very reliable, Townsend. I want to make sure you go, and as long as you’re going, I might as well go, too."

"But what do you get out of it? Why not wait in the car, or go have a cup of that tea you’re always drinking."

"I don’t go to Al-Anon meetings much anymore, but I find it helpful to remind myself that this is a disease – and see how hard people have to struggle to escape it. It gives me more empathy for the alcoholics in my life."

"More than your mom?" she asked tentatively.

"Yeah. My dad, too." Hennessey didn’t say any more, and she was giving off vibes that led Townsend to believe she was through revealing her secrets.

"I guess you have to add me to your list, too, huh?"

Surprised to hear Townsend refer to herself as an alcoholic for the first time, the older woman smiled, sparing a glance at her passenger. "Yeah. You’re my immediate concern."

* * *

The next week went significantly better. The stories that Townsend chose to write were neither prurient, nor obscene, and Hennessey was pleased to see that she was starting to unleash some of her creative talents.

On Saturday night they were heading back to the Academy when Hennessey asked, "Hey, would you like to go over to Harbor Town and have some coffee? It’s such a nice night, and I’d like to be around some adults for a change. I really love the lighthouse when the sun goes down."

"Do I qualify as an adult? I don’t even have a driver’s license," Townsend smirked. "I got caught driving without a permit, and now I can’t get one until I’m eighteen."

"You might be young, but you’ve got an old soul." Hennessey said this with equal parts humor and sorrow, both emotions reflected in her eyes.

* * *

Sitting outside of a small coffee bar near the Harbor Town Golf Links, watching the dying rays of the sun, Townsend sipped at her coffee and broke the silence. "Since I’m masquerading as an adult, can I ask you an adult question?"

"Sure. You can ask me anything. I won’t always tell you what you want to know, but you can always ask."

The blonde laughed gently, shaking her head. "You really are an adult, aren’t you?"

"Yep. You’ve gotta grow up early when your parents are children."

"Right. Well, uhm … what I wanted to know was … are you … straight?"

"And why do you want to know that?" Her eyes were twinkling as she held her mug to her lips, and looked at Townsend through her long, dark bangs.

"Just curious. No special reason," Townsend said. "You just know so much about me and my … proclivities. I thought it was only fair to know about yours."

"Well, Townsend, I normally wouldn’t answer that question, but you’re right. I know more about you than I do most of my relatives – so I’ll share." She put her mug down and tilted her head. "I am … a chaste … celibate … heterosexual … to the best of my knowledge, that is."

"Pardon me?"

"You heard me," she said, smiling gently. "I’ve never had sex, so I guess I can’t be entirely certain that I’m straight, but I am attracted to men rather than women."

"You’ve never … ever … had sex?"

"Mmm … I think I’d recall," she said dryly. "No, by my own choice, I never have."

"Why?"

"A few simple reasons," she said, ticking them off on her fingers. "One, my mamma was pregnant when she was fourteen, and I swore on a stack of bibles that was never gonna happen to me. Two, abstinence is the best form of birth control, and a guarantee that you won’t catch an STD. Three, I’m not gonna wind up married to someone from Beaufort. It’s a lovely town, but I come with a lot of baggage. No one of any quality would be caught dead dating, much less marrying a Boudreaux, and I’m not gonna marry somebody who isn’t my equal – intellectually, at least. It just seemed to me that the best way to make sure I didn’t fall for some local yokel was to never go out with any of them."

"You … a woman as gorgeous as you … have never been on a date?"

"Nope. The good ol' boys thought I was a stuck-up bitch, and the classy boys thought I was trailer trash – only good for a quick roll in the hay. I’m not about to give my body to someone who doesn’t deserve it – and that’s that!"

"Bu … but how do you deal with the … need? You do have needs, don’t you?"

"Everyone has needs, Townsend, and we’re not going to discuss how I handle mine. That’s your bailiwick. I’m sure your next essay will be an in-depth look at your masturbatory habits."

"Ah hah! You do masturbate!"

"I said that you did," Hennessey said, tweaking her nose. "That is, when you’re not occupied picking strangers up in bars."

Her words were teasing, and her smile gentle, but Hennessey’s words cut through the younger woman like a scalpel. Her hurt showed clearly on her face, and Hennessey reached out and took her hand. "Hey, I’m sorry. Did that hurt your feelings?"

Biting her lip, Townsend nodded quickly, tears leaking out of her eyes.

Chafing her hand between her own, Hennessey soothed, "I’m sorry, sweet pea. I was just teasing you."

"I know," she sniffed. "It just … it just makes me sick to think of doing that. I never would have done that if I hadn’t been drunk." She lay her head down on the table and sobbed. "I’m such a whore, Hennessey. No decent woman will ever want me. I’ve done everything there is to do. There’s not one virgin part of me left."

Stroking her back, Hennessey scooted close and whispered in her ear. "Have you ever truly been in love?"

"N … no. Never."

"Then you’ll have something very, very special to share with someone someday, Townsend. You’ll be able to give the woman you fall in love with your heart."

* * *

Things had been too quiet, and Hennessey knew that could only mean trouble. It was mid-July, and Townsend had not been in a significant scrape in almost two weeks – meaning she was well overdue. After they returned from their AA meeting, Townsend said she was heading over to the recreation bungalow to surf the Internet, but when Hennessey went over there she found only four of her charges – Townsend and Devlin notably missing.

Devlin had been a puzzlement to her from the beginning. The young woman was a little quirky and a little obstreperous, but otherwise she hadn’t given Hennessey any trouble at all. She was in the art program, so Hennessey didn’t have much contact with her except around the bungalow – and when she was at home she was usually in her room drawing. To Hennessey’s knowledge, she and Townsend were barely acquaintances – but something about their concurrent disappearances gave her pause.

She checked all of the usual spots, but neither young woman turned up. It was only 9:00, and since it was Saturday night, they didn’t have a curfew. Quite a few of the girls stayed in the rec bungalow until midnight or one, watching videos and acting like typical adolescents. But she was uneasy enough that she couldn’t rest until she found the pair.

Looking all around the compound, her worry grew until she was about to call security to help her search. She was headed back to her bungalow when she saw movement by the boat dock. The old powerboat was seldom used, but kept under padlock, just to avoid having a camper harm herself. Suddenly the ancient engine coughed to life – spitting fire. Hennessey started to run, going as fast as the deep sand would let her. By the time she reached the dock, all she saw under the light of the full moon was Townsend’s backpack, obviously left in haste. She picked it up and searched it, finding a set of tools wrapped in a soft leather case. Well, I’ll be damned! She’d read enough detective novels to know what she held in her hands – a set of burglary tools, complete with files, a pry bar and a lock pick.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The girls didn’t know they’d been spotted during their escape, and Hennessey sat on the end of the dock, whiling away the time thinking of appropriate punishments for the pair. Ruling out the rack, the lash, the whip and the iron maiden, she decided to bar both of them from the recreation bungalow for a week. That was a fairly severe sentence – especially for Townsend, who was an Internet junkie – but being out on the ocean at night was a very serious crime, and she was bound and determined to make them pay for it.

When the boat sputtered home over an hour later, she was surprised to find Devlin crying and Townsend glowering at the younger girl.

"It’s her fault!" Devlin cried. "She talked me into going, the whole thing was her idea, and then she … she … tried to rape me!"

"Oh, grow up," Townsend grumbled. "You wanted to play around, too. I just tried to go one tiny step further than you wanted to, and all of a sudden I’m a rapist. You’re a big, whining, baby!"

"And you’re a big, dyke rapist!" Devlin leapt from the boat, running across the sand and crying loudly enough to be heard over the roar of the surf.

"Let’s go," Hennessey growled, grabbing Townsend’s backpack. She marched across the sand, refusing to reply to Townsend’s repeated questions. Once at the bungalow, she breathed a sigh of relief that none of the other girls were back yet, then she got to work. With Townsend standing by mutely, she tore her room apart bit by bit. She examined every item in the room, going to the point of tossing Townsend’s tampons out of the box and checking that each one was still sealed.

The search took over an hour, and when she was finished she had discovered a pint of vodka – a good quality brand at least – and a bottle of OxyContin, a powerful narcotic prescribed for Mrs. Bartley. Taking the drugs, the alcohol and the burglary tools, she left the room, leaving a stunned Townsend standing in the middle of the mess, tears rolling down her cheeks.

An hour-long discussion with Devlin revealed that she had, in fact, wanted to sneak away with Townsend. She admitted that she had also wanted to kiss her, but that Townsend had unhooked her bra, and had frightened her by doing so. Hennessey had the impression that Devlin was afraid word would get out about her agreeing to the kissing – so she tried to counter that with the overblown accusation of rape. The girl finally calmed down to the point that she agreed to keep the matter private, and she promised to apologize to Townsend for going to extremes.

As Hennessey left Devlin’s room, a contrite Townsend was sitting on the floor in the hall in front of Hennessey’s room. "Can I talk to you?" she asked, her voice trembling.

"No." Hennessey took out her key and unlocked the door, stepping over the younger woman to enter. "I’m not up to it tonight, Townsend. I need some space to avoid saying something that I’ll regret." With that, she closed her door, clicking the lock sharply.

* * *

The next morning, Hennessey found a hand written note that had been pushed under her door. Opening it, she read,

I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ve ever said those words and meant them – but I mean them this time. I betrayed your trust, and that’s something I’ve never had from another soul. I’m so sorry for destroying it, Hennessey. I don’t know how to make it up to you, but please, please give me the chance.

I need to be here, I need to stay in AA, I need to be away from my friends at home to stay sober. Please, please don’t send me home, now. I’m begging you – for my life.

Townsend

Hennessey read the note three times, then went to the young woman’s door and knocked softly. Hailey was already up and gone, probably to flee the mess that still littered the room. For some odd reason, Townsend had slept on the mattress on the floor, the contents of her suitcases strewn around her.

Kneeling, then sitting on her haunches, Hennessey reached out and stroked Townsend’s hair, watching as the morning light caught the strands, glowing like spun-gold. "Townsend," she whispered.

The sleepy eyes blinked open, and immediately began to fill with tears. "Don’t make me leave," she sobbed, throwing her arms around Hennessey’s waist and nuzzling her head into her lap.

"Hey … hey … I’m not going to make you leave, sweet pea. I told you that at the beginning, and I meant it. We’re stuck with each other for another month and a half. Let’s make the best of it, okay?"

Looking up at her with tears running down her cheeks, she asked, "I don’t have to leave?"

"No, of course not. You can’t use the rec bungalow for a week, though."

"A whole week?"

"Seven days, buddy. Both you and Devlin. Starting today. Now, let’s get this room cleaned up. Hailey must have thought you had a localized hurricane in here."

"I did," Townsend said quietly.

"I’m sorry I was so angry," Hennessey said. "I know that you’ll have slips … everyone does. But I just lost it when I found the liquor and the pills. I felt like you’d been lying to me the whole time. That hurt, Townsend. You’re going to have to tell your AA group about your slip. You’ll have to give your thirty day chip back, too," she said, a little sadness showing through.

"I haven’t been lying," she said softly. "The seal’s still on the bottle, and you can count the pills. The number on the bottle is exactly how many are in there. I just needed them for … insurance," she mumbled.

Hennessey grasped her chin and looked into her red-rimmed eyes. "No, you don’t. You’ve got all the insurance you need in here," she tapped the blonde head, "and here." Gently, she thumped the skin over the smaller woman’s heart. "You can do this, Townsend. There isn’t anything in the world that having that alcohol in your room will do except drive you deeper into your disease. It will only ensure that you won’t stay sober when times are tough."

"I feel so … alone without it," she whispered. "I thought about it all night, Hennessey. When things were really hard, I could always tell myself that if they got worse I could take a drink. Now what do I have?"

"You have your own strong spirit … and my complete support," Hennessey pledged, wrapping the smaller woman in a hug that soothed deep into Townsend’s very soul.

* * *

That night, driving home from the AA meeting, Townsend asked, "You know, in all of this time, I’ve never asked you what you’re going to do after camp is over. I assume you’re going to college?"

"Yep. Sure am."

"Where are you going?"

"Boston … well, Cambridge, to be precise."

"You’re kidding me! You’re going to Harvard?"

"Don’t act so surprised, sweet pea. Behind this slow, Southern accent is a pretty sharp brain."

"Oh, that’s not what I meant, and you know it. I just can’t see you in New England. You’re such a Southern girl. But, other than that, I can’t believe you’ll be in my home town!" Her face fell as she said, "Of course, I’m there for about two weeks a year."

"Where do you go to school?"

"Vermont. I worked my way out of Massachusetts by the time I was through with eighth grade. It pisses me off that all of those schools share their little bits of gossip."

"Do you want to go back to Boston?"

"Hell, yes! I love Boston! Vermont’s good for one thing – maple syrup."

"Well, make that a goal. Impress the people at your current school so that they’ll give you a good recommendation so you can go to college in Boston. Gossip goes both ways, you know."

"Hmm … I’m not familiar with that concept," Townsend chuckled. "Besides, my parents would have to donate a dozen new buildings to get Harvard to let me in."

"There are other schools in Boston, Townsend. And no, I don’t mean MIT. You’re going to have to set some realistic goals. You know, my whole life revolves around goals, and they’ve given me the structure that I’ve needed to mature. I’m where I am today because of goals I set when I was fourteen."

"Yeah, well, I’m more of an extemporaneous kinda person. I do better free-stylin’."

"Life happens to you, Townsend. If you don’t try to make things happen your way, you’re just buffeted by the fates."

"I’ll give that some serious thought, Hennessey. First chance I get." The look on her face indicated that chance would be far in the future.

* * *

On the first of August, Hennessey stood before her class, a wide smile on her face. "For the first time, the editors of The Scroll have asked our class to submit pieces for publication."

"What’s The Scroll?" someone asked.

"Oh. I thought you were all familiar with it. It’s the publication the Academy puts out to commemorate the summer class. The Scroll is for the writing program, The Lyre is for the music program and The Palette is for the art program. These publications are widely read, and having your work included is a great honor. Normally, the more advanced classes fill the available space, but they’ve decided that’s not fair to the other classes. So, they’ve asked you all to submit a short piece. They won’t necessarily publish them all – they might only have room for one piece from us. It can be prose or poetry, whatever suits you. For the prose there’s a limit of five hundred words. As you know, that’s not much space, so every word will have to count. Now, I know I told you at the beginning of the term that you could work on one of you essays and hand it in again, but you might want to consider doing this project instead. Of course, if you’re not interested, that’s okay, too. This is only for those of you who are interested in trying."

"Can we see one of the old issues?"

"Sure. They’re over in the office the editorial staff works out of. Drop by and look at the library."

"So, we don’t have to do this?" Townsend asked.

"Nope. No pressure, guys. If you don’t have time, or you’re not interested, don’t bother. But I can guarantee you that if your piece is accepted, you’ll be in one of the more advanced classes if you return next year."

"Will you be here next year, Hennessey?" The quiet voice asking the question was Townsend’s, and it was accompanied by a shy glance.

"I hope to be. I’d like to come back each year until I graduate from college. I love it here," she said, smiling warmly.

"I like it, too," Townsend heard herself saying, surprising everyone in the room – save for Hennessey.

* * *

 

"Who’s up for horseback riding today?" Hennessey asked on the first Saturday of August.

She received six affirmative nods, the Saturday morning ride having become a bit of a tradition over the last month. They set off, with Hennessey on her massive stallion, Tobias, carrying the saddlebags filled with emergency supplies. They trotted along the beach, the horses kicking up sand as they ran through the light surf. After dashing up and down in the surf for a while, they headed inland, making their way through the pine and hardwood forest. There wasn’t much forested acreage on the island anymore, most of the trees having fallen victim to loggers, and then developers.

Hennessey loved the inland portion of the trail, having seen so much of the natural beauty of Beaufort County lost in just her short lifetime. They’d gone about halfway when Devlin’s horse threw a shoe. That wouldn’t have been such a problem on the sand, but the uneven, root-studded trail was far too dangerous for a horse to traverse unshod.

Townsend slid off her mount, a well-mannered filly that responded very well to her, and walked over to Devlin. "I can shoe her for you."

"You can?" the young woman asked dubiously.

"Yeah. I’ve been riding since I was in diapers. No problem."

Hennessey watched the interchange, preferring to let the girls take care of things on their own, if possible. She’d seen Townsend’s competence around the horses, so she felt very comfortable letting the young woman perform this task.

Townsend reached into the saddlebags and removed a horseshoe, a hammer and a few nails. She set to work, with a few girls helping to hold the horse still, and the others keeping her hoof in position for the shoe. Everything was going well, with Hennessey just observing, until a harmless brown snake slid across the path. Hailey screamed and the horse spooked, kicking out powerfully, and knocking Townsend into the air, where she fell in a motionless heap.

Hennessey ran to her, examining her before she moved her an inch. Townsend was unconscious, with a bit of blood running down her neck, seeming to come from her ear. "Oh, no, no, no, no! " Looking up, she shouted, "Go get help. NOW!"

Three girls jumped onto their horses and took off, going as quickly as the narrow path would allow.

The two remaining girls stared at Townsend’s still form, Devlin finding the voice to ask, "Is she gonna die?"

"Jesus, no! I think she might have a fractured skull, though. The damned horse must have kicked her right in the head. Take anything you can find, and if you can’t find anything, take off your shirts. Go to the ocean and wet them, then come back as fast as your legs will carry you. I need something cold to keep the swelling down."

Both girls took what they could find from the saddlebags, then ran back towards the ocean. With her pulse pounding so hard that she felt like her heart would explode, Hennessey did what she could – murmuring to Townsend, and promising that help was coming. "Come on, sweet pea, hang in there. Please, hang in there. Please, Townsend – you can do it, baby."

Miraculously the green eyes fluttered open, and the young woman looked up at Hennessey vacantly. "What happened?"

"You got kicked by the horse. Don’t move, sweetheart. I’m afraid you have a head injury."

"Fuck," she muttered. "I haven’t had a headache this bad since I stopped drinking." Looking up at Hennessey, she asked, "Am I gonna be all right?"

"Yes. Definitely. Not a doubt. Without question."

"That bad, huh?" she asked, smiling weakly.

"I’m afraid your skull is fractured. You’re bleeding from your ear. That can be bad, baby."

"I’m scared, Hennessey," she whispered. "Will you … will you hold me?"

"Oh, Townsend, I’d love to hold you, but I don’t want to move you."

The look the blonde gave her melted her heart, and Hennessey lay down on the trail, tucking an arm around the smaller woman and holding her as close as she dared. "You’re gonna be fine. Just fine, sweetheart."

"For the first time in my life I have something to live for," Townsend muttered. "Just my luck to kill myself."

"You are not going to die," Hennessey whispered fiercely. "You’re gonna be just fine."

Townsend’s hand went to her head and she felt around her ear. "Hennessey?" she asked softly, her eyes going unfocused again.

"What, sweet pea? What is it?"

"If I make it, will you do me a favor?"

"Yes, yes, anything, Townsend."

"Will you kiss me?"

Hennessey paused just a second, then leaned in close and whispered, "I’m so confident that you’ll be fine, that I’m gonna pay up in advance." She hovered over the injured woman for a moment, then dipped her head and kissed her, putting all of her heart and all of her hopes into the tender embrace.

As Hennessey pulled away, she heard the roar of an engine coming across the sand. The doctor whose office was located just outside the compound jumped off the vehicle and rushed over to examine Townsend. "What happened?"

"Horse kicked her in the head. I’m not sure where he got her," Hennessey said, hearing the tears choke her voice.

Swabbing away the blood with some alcohol-soaked gauze pads, the doctor let his fingers linger over an egg-sized knot on the side of Townsend’s head, just behind her temple. "Here’s where he got her," he said. "Was she unconscious?"

"Yeah. For about four minutes. Her eyes keep losing their focus."

"Looks like a concussion. We’ll get her transported as soon as the ambulance arrives."

"But the blood … her ear …"

"Oh, that was from the wound over her ear. I seriously doubt that she has a fractured skull. She’ll be just fine."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Hennessey asked, "How will the ambulance get in here?"

"I can walk with help," Townsend said.

"No. We’ll ride," Hennessey said. She went to her horse and quickly removed his saddle, then stepped onto a fallen tree and threw her leg over Tobias’ broad back. Guiding the horse over to the all-terrain-vehicle, she asked, "Can you help her stand on the seat, Doctor Flanders?"

He helped Townsend to her feet, then held her as she stood on the seat. Reaching over, Hennessey pulled her aboard, then cradled her against her chest. "Where did you tell the ambulance to go?" Hennessey asked.

"Right where the forest path meets the highway," the doctor said.

"We’ll be there in a few. Will you call them and tell them we’re coming? Oh, and have one of the girls come get my horse. I’ll tie him to a tree there."

Holding Townsend tightly, Hennessey urged Tobias forward, keeping him at a very slow, gentle pace. "Are you all right? Not too jarring?"

"I’m fine." After a pause, she asked, "That doctor wouldn’t let me get on a horse if I were gonna die, would he?"

Chuckling softly, Hennessey said, "I don’t think so. I think you’re gonna be right as rain."

"Thanks, Hennessey," she said softly, nestling against her. "Thanks for everything."

* * *

Continued in Part 3

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