The Right Thing
By SX Meagher
The next morning, Hennessey lightly shook Townsends shoulder. "Hi, sweet pea. Hows the melon?"
"Your head," Hennessey said. "Hows your headache?"
"Mmm years of alcohol abuse have prepared me well for this," she said, trying not to laugh, knowing that it would only make the headache worse. "Where am I?"
"At the hospital. The doctor said you can go home, but hed like you to try to get some breakfast down to make sure youre not nauseous."
"I think I can do that." She struggled to sit up, with Hennesseys assist. "Im still a little sick to my stomach, but Im sure Ill feel better if I can keep something down."
"Thats the girl." She placed the tray across her lap, and sat on the end of the bed. Townsend took a few bites of the cornflakes, managing to swallow and suffer no ill effects.
"Thanks for picking something simple."
"No problem. I know what you like in the morning." Quickly, she added, "I know what all of you guys like."
Running her foot under the covers, trailing it along Hennesseys leg, Townsend said, "Dont worry, pal. I know you dont feel like I do. Im just happy to have gotten a kiss."
"Aw, Townsend, dont say things like that. So much has happened to you in the last two months far too much to even think about loving someone."
"Who said anything about love?" she asked, trying to hide the hurt. "I just meant that Id like to fuck your brains out."
Laughing gently, knowing that Townsend was trying to cover, Hennessey nodded. "I do believe youd be able to. I think you could do anything you set your mind to, Townsend. Anything."
"Anything but you." The younger woman stared at her, not looking away until Hennessey replied to her statement.
"Look, youve been in recovery for just over a month. You just turned seventeen. Youre my student. Youre living in my bungalow. The only way a relationship with you would be more illicit is if I became a priest, or you were a goat! Come on, Townsend, look at the reality."
"I am," she answered quietly. "And I also paid close attention to your list. I heard all of the reasons why you shouldnt have feelings for me but I never heard you say you didnt have feelings for me. Am I all alone here, Hennessey, or do you feel something, too?"
Bright blue eyes focused on the floor. "Id really rather not answer that, Townsend. I know weve always been honest with each other but not this time."
"If you didnt have feelings for me would you tell me?"
The dark head nodded. "You know I would."
Reaching out with her hand, Townsend threaded her fingers with Hennesseys. "Knowing that you care for me even if its just a little, is enough for me. That alone gives me something to live for."
"Oh, Townsend, youve got so much to live for. Dont pin your future on one person. Not any person me or anyone else. If you dont love yourself, you cant possibly love another."
"Hennessey," she said, gazing into her eyes, "will you write to me this fall? I dont know why, but when you say things like that, it sinks in. Somehow I hear you in a way Ive never heard another person."
"I promise Ill write," she said. "And I wont critique your style."
"Thats a promise youll never be able to keep, chief. Now, let me get this breakfast down so we can get out of this dump."
* * *
On the last full week of class, Hennessey stood in front of her students and said, "Im very pleased to announce that The Scroll has decided to publish not one, but two pieces by members of this class. Theyve chosen to publish both of the pieces that we entered: Amys poem, and Townsends short essay. Lets hear it for them!" The rest of the class stood along with Hennessey and applauded for the blushing young women, then each of them gave the pair a hug.
"I know you all know the pieces as well as you know your own names," Hennessey teased, "since weve been critiquing them for the last two weeks, but it will still thrill you when you see them in print trust me."
They spent the rest of the class critiquing the papers of the girls whod chosen not to enter the competition. The dialogue was fast and furious, as it had been for the last month.
The girls had become a cohesive team, offering help and support to each other and Hennessey had been very pleased to find that Townsend had gone out of her way to help one girl who was still struggling a little. Finding Townsend acting as a leader both surprised and delighted Hennessey, and she realized she was gazing at the woman with an incredibly goofy look on her face.
Townsend gave her a smile, then signaled the other girls. They all walked up to the front of the room, where Townsend held out a small, neatly wrapped box. "Weve all enjoyed this class so much that we wanted you to know that each and every one of us wants to be teachers pet," she said, her eyes twinkling merrily.
"Aw you guys didnt have to do this." Hennessey was obviously delighted, but she tried to maintain her professionalism. "Its really not necessary to give me a gift. Im very well paid "
"Will you just open it and stop wasting time?" Townsend said.
Grinning sheepishly, Hennessey did so, opening the box to reveal a gold chain with a tiny, perfectly formed golden apple. "A permanent apple for our favorite teacher," Townsend said, charmed by the stray tears that rolled down the brunettes cheeks.
* * *
At the end of class, the girls were all still chatting, unable to keep the excitement from their voices. "Its a big day for you, Ms. Bartley," Hennessey said as they walked out. "Getting a piece published in The Scroll, and getting your sixty day chip tonight."
"Can we go somewhere to celebrate?" Townsend asked. "If you give me my charge cards back, I could take you to the best restaurant on Hilton Head."
"You can have your charge cards and your money back," Hennessey said. "But I cant let you take me to dinner. I cant cross those kinds of lines, Townsend."
"Okay," she said quietly, thinking of another way to spend time together. "How about an ice cream?"
"All right. Ill buy."
"My fathers going to think Ive been in isolation," Townsend said. "Ive never gone more than two days without charging something."
"Ive never charged anything in my life," Hennessey said. "My gramma always said credit was the devils work."
"Wow." Townsend shook her head. "Just wow."
* * *
On Friday, Hennessey spent most of the morning saying goodbye to the girls from her bungalow as well as her writing students. Townsend was the last to leave, having decided to stay at an inn in Charleston to be able to spend a few extra hours alone with Hennessey before her morning flight. "Is there any way I can convince you to come stay with me tonight?" she asked, when they were alone in the bungalow.
"No, Townsend. Its just not possible."
"But youre not my teacher any longer, and youre not my house leader. Damn it, Hennessey, were barely a year apart, so it cant be the age difference!"
"Only chronologically," Hennessey said. "Theres a very, very big gap between us, Townsend. Call it experience, call it maturity, hell call it sobriety. But were not equals. I care for you I swear I do but I cant be with you. It was just three months ago that I was practically turning you over my knee for a spanking. Thats not how equals behave, baby. Ive worked far too long on my own issues to be in a relationship with someone where I have to be the adult and they get to be the child. I cant do that again. I just cant." She started to cry, and soon found herself wrapped in Townsends warm embrace.
"Can we be friends?" the soft voice asked.
"Yes, we can be friends. We can always be friends. I promise." Hennessey lifted her head and placed a remarkably soft kiss on Townsends cheek. "Youre my very good friend."
* * *
"Are you sure you cant give me a ride as far as your house? Its on the way to Charleston, isnt it?"
"No, I cant give you a ride, and yes, its on the way. We need to say goodbye here, sweet pea. Its best this way." The airport limo pulled up and Hennessey hoisted her friends bag into the rear of the van. "Ill write to you as soon as I get an e-mail address at school."
"Not until then? Thats weeks from now!"
"I dont have e-mail at home, Townsend. I dont have a computer."
The younger girl blinked at her, then shook her head. "Can I write to you snail mail? Im Im worried about staying sober without you to talk to."
"Of course you can write to me." She took the piece of paper that Townsend handed her and wrote down her address. "Write to me every day at the same time. Make it like an appointment, okay? And whenever you feel stressed go to a meeting. Theyve got them twenty-four hours a day in a big city like Boston. Youve got to start relying on the meetings to get you through this."
"I know. Can I call you?"
"Oh, Townsend, I just dont think thats a good idea. We wouldnt have any privacy, and my family would want to know what was going on."
"Can you call me?"
"No. I cant afford long distance calls. Im sorry, but I cant."
"I dont think I can do this without you," the young blonde whispered, trying to stem the tears.
"I know that you can. I have complete confidence in you, Townsend." She opened the van door and urged her to get in, then closed the door, waving as the van pulled away, struggling mightily to avoid crying. Thats the closest Ive come in years to having a complete co-dependent melt down. That girl could be the best and the worst thing to ever happen to me.
* * *
Once Hennessey was settled at Harvard, she and Townsend started writing to each other every day. Within a short time, they were writing twice, then three times a day; and by the end of September they acted as though they were roommates a few hundred miles apart.
Surprisingly, something began to happen as the weeks passed. Slowly, but surely, Hennesseys role began to change from mentor to friend. Townsend needed less and less of her reassurance, now relying on the sponsor she had managed to click with in AA. They spent more of their time just sharing the events of their lives and getting to know each other better as equals. Hennessey was incredibly busy, but finding just a few minutes to dash off a sentence or two to her friend kept her grounded. She found herself gravely disappointed when she went to her room and failed to see her mail icon but always, before another hour had passed, Townsend would check in with some short, but funny reflection, and all was well with the world once again.
By the beginning of November, the wheedling and begging had begun. Townsend was bound and determined to have Hennessey spend Thanksgiving with her in Boston, but no matter how much she begged, the dark-haired woman would not budge, even though she was going to be in Boston alone over the holiday. "Its too soon, Townsend. I have to maintain some boundaries with you. If I give in to staying at your home, I know the next issue will be sleeping with you and thats not going to happen."
"For the time being, you mean."
Hennessey sighed, "Yes, for the time being."
"Okay," Townsend said. "As long as I know that its still in the realm of the possible, I can live with that."
* * *
Hennessey turned on her computer on the day after Thanksgiving and found one of the most welcome e-mails shed ever seen.
From: Townsend Bartley <email@example.com> Sent: November 25, 1994
To: Hennessey Boudreaux <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"I got in! Im going to college in Boston, baby! Sooner or later youre gonna be mine!"
Im already yours, Hennessey sighed. I just cant admit to it while youre still struggling with your sobriety.
* * *
Two weeks before Christmas break was set to begin, Hennessey screwed up her courage and wrote an e-mail to Townsend:
From: Hennessey Boudreaux <email@example.com> Sent: December 11, 1994
To: Townsend Bartley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ive been thinking a lot about the little dance weve been doing, and Ive decided that Ive been far too coy. I know you care for me, Townsend okay, Ill say it for you I know you love me. But you dont know me or, better said, you dont know all of me. You only know the woman I let people see. So, Ive decided that its time to let you see the real me. If you can manage it, Id like you to come home with me for Christmas. You dont have to come for the whole time I know your parents will want you home for the actual day, but whatever time you can manage would be just great.
Were from very different backgrounds, Townsend, and while I dont think youre shallow you might feel differently about me when you see where Im from. Ill always be a working class girl from the deep South, and when I graduate I want no, I need to go back there. I like Boston just fine but its not home. I need my home, Townsend, and if you want to love me, youll have to accept that. So, come with me to Beaufort, baby. Let me show you the South Carolina that I love so that you can decide if the whole package appeals to you as much as the pieces that Ive let you see.
The e-mail response time was no more than ten minutes.
From: Townsend Bartley <email@example.com> Sent: December 11, 1994
To: Hennessey Boudreaux <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"I spoke with my mother, and told her that Id met a wonderful woman from South Carolina and that I was in love. I said Id like to go to her home for the entire winter break, and she said that was just lovely. Im all yours, my little palmetto bug. You just give me the dates, and the airline, and were there."
* * *
A few days before they were scheduled to depart, Hennessey dropped another bomb on her friend.
From: Hennessey Boudreaux <email@example.com> Sent: December 20, 1994
To: Townsend Bartley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"If were going to travel together, I want to meet your family. Im eighteen now, Townsend, but youre still technically a minor. I want your family to know who I am, and that you and I wont be sleeping together on this trip. I want them to know that I respect you."
Townsend couldnt resist. E-mail was not enough; she had to speak to Hennessey about this one. Dialing her room she blurted out, "Are you mad? My mother didnt bat an eye when she found out that I was exchanging sexual favors for liquor! Ive been arrested six times, Hennessey, six times! Do you honestly think she cares about my virtue at this point?"
There was silence on the line for a few moments. Finally, Hennessey spoke softly. "I care, Townsend. I care about your virtue, and every other part of you. Im going to treat you with the respect you deserve until you begin to demand it for yourself. Now, you work out the logistics, but if I dont get to at least speak to one of your parents, you arent going with me. Thats final!"
* * *
Townsend ran down the hallway, nearly knocking a startled young woman onto her ass. "Sorry!" she yelled, not slowing a bit. She rapped on the door so sharply that her hand ached, but so intent was she on the goal fixed firmly in her mind, that she was oblivious to the pain. The door opened and Hennessey finally was standing in front of her, the slow, sexy smile lighting up her face in a way that made Townsends knees buckle. She fell forward, landing in the taller womans embrace.
"Not the most graceful girl in Boston, are ya?" she drawled, her breath against Townsends cheek making her shiver.
The blonde gathered her wits and regained her balance, standing under her own power, then threw her arms around Hennesseys neck, tugging her down to return the kiss that had been burning her lips for months.
"Unh-uh, sweet pea." Hennessey used her leverage to stand up tall, keeping her mouth away from the smaller, but fiercely determined woman. "We dont greet each other that way. Were friends, remember?"
"Hennessey! Were certainly more than friends! Were meeting each others families, for Gods sake!"
"Were courting," the brunette declared. "If, after an acceptable time period, we decide that we love each other then, and only then, do we kiss."
"Is this 1994, or 1894? Jesus, Hennessey, you act like were Mormons!"
"Having a little decorum isnt a bad thing, Townsend. Having a relationship with each other is a goal just like any other goal this is big stuff, pal, and its something we both have to work to achieve."
"Seems like Im the one doing all the work," Townsend grumbled, shuffling over to pick up Hennesseys small bag.
As Townsend walked past, the taller woman wrapped her in a tight embrace and squeezed her fiercely. Blue eyes bored into her captive like lasers as she said, "I have to struggle with all of my might to keep my hands off you, Townsend Bartley. I want you more than a possum wants grapes; and if I thought it was the right time, wed be rolling around in that bed like a couple of rabid muskrats. Dont you dare tell me youre doing all the work." She grasped the back of Townsends head and pulled it towards her, kissing her forehead, then both cheeks. "If I allow myself to fall in love with you, its going to be for the rest of my life. I can wait until were both able to make that choice."
Townsend gazed up at her, a blank look on her face. "Youre the only person in my life to have ever rendered me speechless."
* * *
They walked down to the car hand in hand, Hennessey allowing that courting couples were allowed to do so. To Hennesseys surprise, a driver got out and held the back door for them, then took Hennesseys bag and stored it in the trunk.
"Mom, this is Hennessey Boudreaux. Hennessey, this is my mother, Miranda Bartley."
Hennessey put on her most winning smile, then leaned forward, reaching for the beautifully manicured, baby-soft hand. "Very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Bartley." She had rehearsed the meeting several times, and had decided not to mention the womans celebrity. She didnt care for her books, and she didnt want to fawn over her just because she was famous.
"The pleasure is mine, Hennessey. Im very pleased to meet the young woman who has so captured my daughters heart."
"Shes captured mine as well, Mrs. Bartley," Hennessey admitted, blushing adorably.
"Well, tell me about yourself, Hennessey," Mrs. Bartley asked as the car glided down the road. "Townsend tells me youre from Beaufort. Ive been there many, many times. Its one of the loveliest cities in the Southeast in my opinion."
"Oh, it is that, Mrs. Bartley."
"But, its a rather small town, isnt it?"
"Yes, maam, about ten thousand people in Beaufort proper."
"Do you know the Kingsleys?"
"How about the Hutchinsons? They run the newspaper, I believe."
"No, maam, I havent made their acquaintance."
"Mom, do we have to go through your Filofax?" Townsend asked, getting peeved.
"I just thought we might have some mutual acquaintances," Miranda explained.
Hennessey cleared her throat. "Mrs. Bartley, Im quite sure you and I wouldnt know the same people. Ive heard of the families youve mentioned, but my family doesnt live in one of the big mansions in Beaufort. Were just working class people trying to get by."
"Oh!" Her eyes widened, and she said, "Im sorry, Hennessey. I I just assumed with your going to Harvard and all "
"Full scholarship, Mrs. Bartley. Ive worked since I was twelve years old to buy myself some nice clothes and have a few luxuries, but were dirt poor. Im afraid Townsend is going to be quite surprised at just how poor we are."
She felt her hand being tenderly squeezed. "I dont care if you live in tents and go dumpster diving for dinner. Youre the best catch in the whole South. You dont need a dime to enhance your worth."
"Hennessey, youve helped my daughter make some changes in the past six months that a legion of psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors and acupuncturists havent been able to accomplish. Just keeping Townsend out of jail for six months is more than Id hoped for."
The young woman looked at her friend, her eyes blazing. "Oh, shes capable of so much more, Mrs. Bartley. Im already very, very proud of her, but someday shes going to accomplish things that will make her very proud of herself. That will be the happiest day of my life."
* * *
As they neared the airport, Hennessey cleared her throat and gave Miranda the message that she was determined to impart. "I care for your daughter very much, but until we make a commitment to each other, were not going to be physically intimate. You dont have to worry about her, Mrs. Bartley. Ill treat her with the respect she deserves."
The older womans mouth opened, then snapped shut, then opened again, but no words came out.
"Were courting, Mom," Townsend sniffed. "Im reclaiming my chastity." She gave Hennesseys hand a squeeze, then added a wicked smile. "That part is all her idea, by the way. I think chastity is highly overrated."
* * *
When they were in the air, Townsend noticed that Hennessey grew more and more quiet the farther they traveled. "Youre nervous, arent you."
"Yeah. Lil bit. Im worried about what youll think of them and vice versa."
"Tell me how you want me to act," Townsend asked. "I can be any way you want me to be."
"I want you to be yourself up to a point that is. I just know that my family is very distrustful of outsiders particularly ones with money. Its gonna take them a while to warm up to you."
"Who do they think I am to you, I mean. Do they know Im madly in love with you?"
"Ahh no," Hennessey said, shaking her head. "I thought wed ease into this. On this trip they can get used to the fact that youre a Yankee and you have money. Next time, we can let them know youre not Catholic. Then we can spring the fact that youre a lesbian. Finally, years from now, we can tell them that Im one, too. Then, after my grandparents are both dead, we can tell my daddy that were lesbians together."
"Hennessey, at the rate were going, by the time were lesbians together everyone in your family will be dead of old age!"
* * *
Since it was a workday, Hennesseys father wasnt available to pick them up. After a great deal of negotiation, they agreed on renting a car. They chose the smallest, cheapest model available, but for the two weeks theyd be in South Carolina the total was $150. Hennessey gulped when she saw the figure, but she insisted on paying for it since Townsend was her guest. "Ive told you before, baby, guests dont pay for things when they visit. We Boudreauxs are poor as church mice, but weve got enough pride to blanket the county."
"Im beginning to get that impression," Townsend said, trying to wedge her suitcase into the smallest car ever manufactured.
Shortly after leaving Charleston airport, the city disappeared, replaced with some of the most unspoiled, time-forgotten space that Townsend had ever seen. "This is the low country," Hennessey said, fondly. She rolled her window down part way and demanded, "Fill your lungs with the smells, baby. Theyre divine."
Townsend did as she had been directed, but she wasnt sure about the divine part. The smells were similar to the ones shed noticed on Hilton Head, but there was something indefinable, and very earthy and primal, about the scents that floated into the window. Shifting in her seat, Townsend took a moment to observe her friend. "You know, I dont think Ive ever seen you look happier. You truly love it here, dont you?"
"I do," Hennessey said wistfully. "The low Countrys in my bones, Townsend. Boudreauxs have been here since 1755, and even though the welcoming party was a little frosty, its our home."
"Why werent you welcome? I thought settlers were always welcome back then. Heck, there wasnt even a United States then, was there?"
"No, there was no United States, per se. Each colony had a government, of course. The South Carolinians didnt cotton to a bunch of French-speaking rabble-rousers, though. Wed already been expelled from Canada, and many of the colonies were bound and determined to keep us out. It was pretty stupid, really. We would have been a big help in the Revolutionary War, but we were always viewed with suspicion. The folks in South Carolina thought wed side with the Indians, so they did their best to stick us back on boats and send us packing."
"Youre ancestors were French?"
"Of course, baby. Did you think Boudreaux was Irish or Swedish?"
"I guess I never thought about it."
"Were Cajuns, baby." Townsend noticed that the farther down the road they traveled, the thicker her friends accent got, and the normal twinkle in her eyes had become a low, flickering flame. "You've got yourself a Rajun Cajun, sweet pea. Sure you can handle me?"
"I I actually, Im not sure about that," she admitted, feeling that Hennesseys powerful personality was about to suck all of the oxygen out of the car.
"Were a rough bunch, Townsend. Spicy food, wild music and wilder women."
* * *
They drove on in silence, Hennessey giving her friend time to absorb the landscape, the smells and the simple beauty of the low country. They arrived in Beaufort just after 2:00, and Townsend was suitably impressed with the lovely little town. "My God, Hennessey, it looks like something out of Gone With The Wind!"
"Yeah, I suppose it does," she nodded. "At least this part of town does. Weve got a ways to go, yet." To give her a feel for the place, Hennessey drove along Bay Street, pointing out some of the grandest mansions, then meandered up and down the narrow, magnolia-lined streets in the center of town. "Nice, isnt it?"
"Very! It reminds me just a little bit of Nantucket, to be honest. Narrow streets, historic, beautifully restored homes, a bustling, seacoast town."
"Ive never been to Nantucket. Maybe you can take me one day."
"Ill take you anywhere you want to go, Hennessey. How would you like to sneak away with me to our home on Marthas Vineyard over spring break?"
"Well see, sugar pie. First, I have to see how well you behave yourself. Im not gonna play with you if you cant keep your hands to yourself. Youre still a minor."
"Hey! I meant to tell you something, smarty-pants. I looked up the age of consent for sex, and its fourteen in South Carolina!"
"Youre not a South Carolinian. Youre a Massachusettser, or whatever yall call yourselves."
"Wrong again. The age of consent is sixteen in Massachusetts."
"Nope. I looked it up, too, and for you its eighteen."
"Its illegal to have sex with a woman under eighteen in Massachusetts if shes a virgin." She gave Townsend a quick glance and said, "Youve reclaimed your chastity, remember? That makes you a virgin, Townsend. Youve gotta read the fine print, baby."
Rolling her eyes, the blonde fumed, "You are the most infuriating woman!"
"Same thing I said about you for the first two months I knew you. Turnabout is fair play, honey pie."
* * *
It seemed theyd left civilization behind quite some time before, and Townsend was beginning to wonder if the car would make it over the rutted out dirt road. She saw a sign that read, "Boudreauxs Shrimp Shack", and at her raised eyebrow, Hennessey nodded. "The family business."
"Are we going there or to your home?"
"Just about the same thing, Townsend. I hope you like the smell of shrimp."
They reached a fork in the road, and through the dust Townsend saw another sign for the restaurant with an arrow pointing to the left. But Hennessey turned to the right, and after another one hundred yards she pulled up to a very, very, very modest home.
The place was two stories, but the top floor wasnt perfectly lined up with the bottom. Trying to think back to her earth sciences class, Townsend wracked her brain, trying to recall if South Carolina experienced earthquakes. The place could have used a coat of paint thirty years ago but there were curtains in the windows and the few sparse patches of grass were neatly mowed. Small, well-kept flower beds bracketed the front stairs, and a stately magnolia tree stood right in the middle of the front yard. Looking at the place, Hennessey gave her a crooked smile and said, "Too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash."
Townsend cocked her head, but Hennessey waved it off. "Old expression my gramma uses. It about sums us up, though." She got out, and Townsend followed suit. As she did, she was nearly knocked off her feet by the smell of something. "Fish." Hennessey said, shrugging her shoulders. "By tomorrow you wont be able to smell it. With any luck," she added.
They each carried their own bags, and when Hennessey opened the door, Townsend asked, "Its not locked?"
Hennessey kicked it shut with her foot and twitched her head in the direction of the door. "No lock on it," she indicated. "Gramma always says if someones poor enough to rob us, they surely must need what we have more than we do."
"Interesting perspective," Townsend nodded. She looked around the simple space, trying not to be too obvious. A well-worn sofa, a recliner covered with some form of man-made material with a poor patch job on the seat, a small table on each end of the sofa, and a pair of mismatched lamps. That was it not another hint of decoration or adornment in the room.
"Remind you of your home?" Hennessey asked, her voice a little tight.
"Hey, knock it off." Townsend stood in front of her friend and gazed into her shifting eyes. "Dont you dare be ashamed of where you come from. Believe me, Hennessey, if my family had started out from the same place yours had, wed have starved to death. Theres no honor in having money especially when youve been given most of it."
The taller woman sat down on the sofa, plucking at the threadbare arm. "Ive never been away from home for this long," she said softly. "I think I forgot how little we have. I walk around Cambridge and I see the row houses selling for two million dollars, and the baby stores with $300 dresses for infants, and I forget."
"Look, pal," Townsend said, sitting next to her and trying to not flinch when a spring pinched her ass. "You were born to teenagers drunken teenagers, I might add. Through nothing but hard work and perseverance, youve managed to attend the most prestigious school in the country. I, on the other hand, was born into old money then had my mother have the great good luck of making millions off pretty poorly written books just because she appeals to the romantic notions of housewives at the checkout counter of the grocery store. And yet, with all of this wealth and privilege, Ive just barely gotten accepted to one of the worst four year colleges in the Boston area and I found out that was only because my father promised a sizeable gift to upgrade the sports facilities. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Hennessey. I do."
"Im sorry," Hennessey whispered. "I dont normally feel sorry for myself. Its just a lot to take in after the ivy-covered walls of Harvard."
Townsend cuddled up next to her and said, "I always feel better when I get a hug. How about you."
"Yeah, I guess I do, too." They held each other for a long time, both of them soaking up the affection with equal greed. "Im about to fall out from hunger," the brunette murmured. "Wanna go meet the family?"
"Sure. Will they be at the restaurant?"
"Shack, honey. Its called a shack for a reason."
They set off down the dirt road, the smell getting stronger as they drew near. "Uhm I dont want to ask you to lie, but if Gramma asks, Im gonna say youre a friend from Boston. If she knows how we met, shell be madder than a hornet, and you dont want that, babe."
"I dont mind lying, Hennessey, but why would she be mad?"
"She doesnt think I should associate with the girls who can afford to attend the Academy. She dislikes rich Southern girls much more than rich Northern girls. I guarantee shell be much friendlier if she thinks were classmates."
"Well, Ive always wanted to go to Harvard. Nows my chance."
* * *
They walked to the rickety-looking building sitting alongside an equally haphazard looking dock. "Here we are, sweet pea. I hope you dont have a shellfish allergy." Hennessey threw open the screen door and yelled into the empty restaurant, "The baby girls back from the big city!"
"Hennessey, you get in here, you scalawag!"
Grinning widely, Hennessey led Townsend into the kitchen, a small space reeking of grease and fish. "Gramma!" she called out, and dashed the few feet to wrap the older woman in a bear hug. When she stepped back, Townsend watched with delight as Hennesseys grandmother went over her body like shed just been in an accident and was checking for damage. Reddened, rough hands trailed down her arms, tickled her waist, and slid down her legs, finally landing on her butt. "Sit down and eat something, child! Youre skin and bones."
Ignoring the teasing, Hennessey said, "Gramma, I want you to meet my friend, Townsend Bartley."
"Pleased to meet you," the older woman said, a decided note of formality coloring her voice. "Welcome to South Carolina, Townsend. Have you been here before?"
"Oh, just on vacation. Im from Boston, and dont have much chance to come down the coast."
"Well, I hope you enjoy your visit." She grabbed a bowl and filled it with a rich looking fish stew. "You need to put on a little weight, too, Townsend. Go sit down and start to work on this. Ill send Hennessey out with something more substantial in a minute."
Realizing she was being dismissed, Townsend gave the older woman a warm smile and did as she was told. As soon as they were alone, Hennessey looked around and noted a decided lack of fish in the kitchen. At this time of the day her grandfather was usually furiously peeling shrimp for the dinner crowd, but he was nowhere in sight, and his truck was missing, also. "Daddy didnt have a good day?"
"Didnt come home last night," her grandmother said, shaking her head. "Your granddaddy just went out to try to buy more fish. We had a hellacious crowd at lunch."
"Can I help, Gramma?"
"No, honey, you just go sit with your friend. Theres nothing to do here until your granddaddy gets back. I just hope he doesnt have to go to the grocery store. At those prices we might as well shut down for the night."
"Im sorry about Daddy, Gramma," Hennessey said quietly.
"Im the one responsible for the boy," the older woman said. "Its not your fault he cant pass a bar without drinkin it dry."
"I know, Gramma, but Im still sorry." The older woman hugged her again, and Hennessey smelled the reassuring scents of grease, shrimp, spices and sweat that had permeated her skin and clothes. "Let me grab a bowl of soup, before I faint." She ladled a healthy portion for herself and went out to sit next to Townsend at a white-painted picnic table.
"This is the best damned seafood chowder Ive ever tasted, and believe me, Ive tasted a lot of it."
"Thanks. Tell Gramma. She wont accept a compliment to save her life, but she remembers every person who doesnt give her one." Taking a big bite, Hennessey sighed with pleasure. "Damn, shes a fine cook. I sure as heck cant find a decent seafood chowder in Boston and Ive looked."
"Its the spices," Townsend decided. "This has much more gusto than anything I get at home."
"Yeah, I guess thats it. Ive got to load up while were down here. This has to last me until summer."
They were still eating when a tall, thin, rugged, weathered man entered through front door. "Granddaddy!" Hennessey jumped up and ran to him, hugging him with one arm while she removed some of his bags with her other. "How was the catch?"
"Just fine, Baby Girl. Thibodauxs still had some shrimp, and they had enough frozen crab to last us for tomorrow. Saved me trawling all over the damned ocean. Now all Ive got to do is clean em."
"No way, Granddaddy. Im gonna teach my friend how to clean shrimp. I guess wed best start right now."
He gave her a smile that melted Townsends heart, so reminiscent was it of Hennesseys. She got up and approached the man. "Hi, Im Townsend."
"Hey, there, Townsend. Welcome to the shack. Glad to have ya."
"Thanks Mr. Boudreaux. Im glad to be here."
"You girls are dressed awful nice to be cleanin shrimp. Youd best go change."
"Be right back," Hennessey called out, already dashing out the door, Townsend hot on her heels.
Townsend hadnt brought her shrimp cleaning clothes, so they ran up to Hennesseys room to find suitable attire. The room was extremely orderly, with Hennesseys few personal articles placed just so on her white painted dresser. Her bed was small so small that Townsend wondered how it contained her long body. "Youre not cold, are you, Townsend?"
"No, its lovely here," she said. "It must be seventy degrees. Why?"
"I think my shorts will fit you best, but I can find something else if youre cold."
"No, thats fine." She waited while Hennessey opened a drawer, revealing at least ten pairs of shorts each pair one of the chalk colored ones from the Academy.
"I think I still have the ones I got when I was a freshman in high school," Hennessey said, reaching into the bottom of the drawer. "Yeah, here they are." She handed them over, then went to another drawer and pulled out a T-shirt extolling Habitat for Humanity. "This ones old, too, so it shouldnt be too huge on you."
"Did you work on one of these projects?"
"Uh-huh. There was a project way out in the sticks when I was a sophomore in high school. Damn, the people out there were poor!"
Townsend tried to hide the look that was trying to jump onto her face. How much poorer could you be than this? That thought was followed closely by, This isnt the sticks?
* * *
After an hour of instruction, Townsend felt capable of shelling shrimp with her eyes closed. She also firmly believed that shed smell like shrimp for the rest of her life, and might possibly never eat another one. But Hennessey was in her element, talking more than Townsend had ever heard, sitting on the edge of the dock, chattering about nothing at all. She would occasionally launch into a short song, usually about fishing or drinking, her voice surprisingly melodic.
"Youve been holding out on me, Hennessey. I had no idea you had such a beautiful voice."
"Oh." She looked a little embarrassed, then said, "I only sing when Im really happy. I didnt even realize I was doing it."
"Well, you were, and you can sing for me anytime, baby. Did you sing in school, or at church?"
"Huh-uh. Just for myself. Its too personal to do on command."
"Ill never command you, Hennessey, and if you ever sing for me Ill just enjoy it."
"Deal," she said, grinning toothily.
* * *
Townsend didnt have to test her newly-acquired fear of shrimp. Hennessey had a taste for a crab sandwich, so her grandmother defrosted just enough crab for the two of them. The young women sat on stools in the kitchen and watched as Mrs. Boudreaux chopped the crab into tiny bits, then mixed it with seasoned breadcrumbs, red peppers and plenty of garlic. Just before she formed it into patties, she added just a sprinkle of a black powder. At Townsends raised eyebrow, Hennessey said, "Cajun spices. Even I dont have any idea whats in it." Mrs. Boudreaux tossed the crab patties in the deep fat fryer, and in a few moments they were ready. Hennessey scooped them out and put them on the freshly toasted, chewy buns, slathered with spicy tarter sauce. "Good Lord, this is the best sandwich Ive ever eaten," Townsend said, her mouth nearly full. "I could live on that chowder and this."
"Oh, thats nothin," Mrs. Boudreaux scoffed. "I can cook something thatd curl your toes, girl, but I dont have time for that kinda thing anymore."
"I think my toes are curling," Townsend insisted. "Really."
A tiny grin twitched at the older womans lips. "You two just eat your supper. Ive got work to do; I cant stand around here gabbing all night."
* * *
Mrs. Boudreaux steadfastly refused Hennesseys offer to stay at the restaurant and help with the dinner crowd. "We run this place every other week of the year, child, what makes you think we need you now?"
"Okay, Gramma," Hennessey said, kissing her cheek. "Well go into town and see what trouble we can get into."
"Have fun, now," she said, "but not too much."
* * *
Once they got back to the house, Hennessey said, "You know what? I dont really feel like doing much. Uhm I looked up a few things on the Internet before we came and found there was an AA meeting at 7:00 not too far from here. Wanna go?"
"Uhm yeah. I thought I could go without for a few days, but my sponsor says thats the first step off the mountain. Lets do it. Therell be plenty of time to do all there is to do around here."
"Honey, we could do all there is to do in a long weekend. Im not here for excitement. Im here to be myself."
"And Im here to learn more about your sweet self so Id say were in synch."
Hennessey showed Townsend how to wash her hands while holding a stainless steel spoon, helping to remove the worst of the shrimp odor from her skin. Once they were cleaned up they took off, and when they reached the church auditorium Hennessey sat quietly next to Townsend, beaming with pride at the self-assured young woman who told her story with such easy grace. Townsend was the youngest person in the room by at least twenty years, and she probably had more money on her than the other twenty people combined, but she fit in, in a way that frankly amazed Hennessey. Several people wanted to chat with Townsend after the meeting, and Hennessey grabbed a chair and just watched her. The blonde was unfailingly polite, even to the men who looked like they just wanted some attention from a pretty young woman. Finally, the church hall was cleared and Townsend winked at her companion. "Did ya have fun, baby girl?"
Hennessey stood and gazed at her for so long that Townsend grew a little uncomfortable under her stare. "Ya know, I really did. Seeing the woman youve become in just a few short months just takes my breath away, Townsend."
"Enough to sleep with me tonight?"
"One track mind," Hennessey said, grinning. "Some day, its gonna be put up or shut up time, big talker."
"Baby, this is the longest Ive gone without sex since I was fourteen. Youd better believe I can put up out any old way you wanna do it."
"Well, I havent had sex since I was born. So Ill either be spectacularly good, or spectacularly bad at it."
"I have my suspicions," Townsend drawled, in a reasonably good imitation of Hennesseys accent. "I think youre gonna be my Rajun Cajun."
* * *
When they arrived back home it was nearly nine. "Im gonna go help clean up," Hennessey decided. "Theyll get home earlier that way."
"Hey, Ive got an idea. Why dont we both do it? They can sit down and talk to us like we did while your gramma cooked."
Hennessey stopped in her tracks and stared at her friend. "Youd really do that?"
"Of course! Your grandparents have been working all day. Jeez, Hennessey, how old are they?"
"Uhm theyre really not all that old. Grammas only fifty-five, and Granddaddy will be fifty-nine in January. Theyre just tired," she said. "I I have a dream, Townsend. I dream about making enough money so that they can retire and enjoy life a little bit. My granddaddy served in Viet Nam, and since he got home, he hasnt left the county. I dont think my gramma has ever been outside of South Carolina. All they do is work."
"Hennessey, if thats your dream, then I know youll make it happen. And Ill help you in any way I can."
* * *
Later that night, after another round of trying to remove the smell of seafood from her body, Townsend emerged from the bathroom to find Hennessey putting her mattress onto the floor. "Whats going on here, chief?"
"Youre the guest, so you get to choose. Either the mattress on the floor, or the box spring. Try em both."
"Lets trade off. Ill take the floor tonight, then tomorrow you can have it."
"A logical solution. Good job!" Hennessey pulled a blanket over herself, and fluffed her pillow. "You know what Im gonna do when I start to make a little money?"
"Im gonna buy myself a damned bed thats long enough for my body. My feet have been hanging off the end of this thing since I was fourteen!"
"Its almost too short for me," Townsend chuckled. "I have a fantastic bed on the Vineyard. Maybe youll get to see it or sleep in it sometime. Like oh, I dont know spring break?"
"Youve got two weeks worth of good behavior to get through before we discuss that again, pal. Lets see how things go. Ive obviously got to be in charge of my virtue as well as yours."
"How about a tiny, itsy, bitsy goodnight kiss? You gave your gramma and granddaddy one."
"Were kin," Hennessey said. "But seeing the smile on Grammas face when we cleaned the whole kitchen is worth a lot to me, so Ill give you a teeny, tiny kiss." She leaned over and placed a quick kiss on the top of Townsends head. "Thanks for everything. This has been one of the nicest days Ive had in months."
"Me, too," Townsend smiled. "And I can hardly smell the fish anymore. You were right, as usual."
* * *
Continued in Part 4