The Right Thing
By SX Meagher
Hennesseys grandparents insisted that the girls go off and do something fun, so the brunette decided she wanted to take Townsend to her favorite place in Beaufort County. The day was a little cooler than the previous one had been, and they dressed in turtlenecks and sweaters, along with jeans. They stopped at a local diner and had a fantastic breakfast, with Townsend wondering why any of the locals were thin. "Is everything fried down here?" she asked, watching Hennessey eat fried cornmeal mush drenched in maple syrup.
"Unh-uh. Some things are made up entirely of sugar, and we dont usually fry that although there are exceptions."
"Im gonna gain ten pounds in two weeks, Hennessey."
"You might," she agreed. "But youll enjoy every minute of it."
* * *
They drove to the ACE Wildlife Preserve, with Hennessey going on and on about how the land came to be set aside, and how many acres it covered. She was a font of knowledge on the subject, and by the time they reached the land, Townsend felt like she could teach a course on it, as well.
They got out of the car and walked for a long while, hands loosely linked, neither speaking. "This is what the low country was like just one hundred fifty years ago," Hennessey said. "Hardwoods, pine forests, swampland just pure natural beauty as far as the eye could see. All sorts of wildlife alligators, herons, bald eagles you name it. But once it was discovered that Sea Island cotton grew well here, hundreds of thousands of acres were cleared to plant the crop. The cotton crop made a lot of landowners very, very wealthy it helped to build a lot of the mansions we saw down on Bay Street. But when the market went bust, all we were left with was a screwed up ecosystem and a lot of cleared land. Damn, some of those trees were hundreds of years old gone like that!" She snapped her fingers, while shaking her head.
"Conservation means a lot to you, doesnt it?" Townsend asked.
"Yeah, it does, but like most things in the South, I have decidedly mixed feelings about it."
"Meaning my family makes their living by fishing, and has done so for well over a hundred years. Fishermen fight tooth and nail to escape prohibitions and conservation measures, even though without conservation these waters will be fished out within a generation." She shook her head sadly. "Like the big fight thats gone on for years about the sea turtle. Shrimpers are the biggest culprits, Townsend. Im sure my father and grandfather have personally been responsible for unintentionally killing hundreds, maybe thousands of sea turtles by catching them in the shrimp nets. Theyre on the verge of extinction in some areas, and theres a simple gadget, called a turtle extruder device thats pretty effective at keeping them out of the nets. But the shrimp industry has been fighting on every front to avoid using them. On one hand it makes me crazy, but on the other hand, my family depends on shrimp to stay alive. I think its fairly obvious that were small time, and the margin we operate on is razor thin. Reducing our catch just ten percent could put my grandparents on welfare." She laughed bitterly and added, "Knowing my grandparents, theyd starve before theyd go on government assistance, and I mean that literally."
Townsend had nothing to say to her friends emotion-filled tirade. She just clenched her hand a little tighter, and walked with her trying to see Hennesseys beloved homeland through her eyes.
* * *
They walked for almost two hours without a word being exchanged. "This reminds me of the walks I used to go on with my granddaddy. We hardly ever said a word, but just holding his big, rough hand was reassuring to me in a way I cant explain."
"Hey, Ive only been here one day. My hands cant be that rough, yet."
"No, your hands arent rough, baby. Theyre about the softest things Ive ever felt in my life."
Snaking an arm around Hennesseys waist, the blonde teased, "Ive got a few softer spots. One day youll get to feel them."
"One day," Hennessey said. "Thats the key."
* * *
On the way back home, Hennessey grew quiet, not talking for quite a few minutes. This was not the same easy silence they had shared on the walk; Hennessey was obviously troubled. "Whats going on in that pretty head?" Townsend asked her.
"Mmm I was thinking that I should go visit my mother. I mean, it is Christmas and all."
"Thats okay, baby. You do what you have to do." Reaching over to pat her leg, she said, "Id be happy to go with you but only if you want me to."
"Would you really? Its never pleasant, Townsend. She usually winds up screaming at me or crying, and I always end up in tears."
"Im very good at drying tears," Townsend assured her. "At least, I think I am. Wanna try me out?"
Hennessey gave her a half-smile, and nodded. "Lets give it a whirl."
* * *
They headed out to the "bad side of town" as Hennessey put it, and Townsend wasnt able to dispute her claim. Hennesseys family was poor but proud, but these people had lost even their pride probably generations before. The level of poverty was shocking to Townsend, who thought shed seen poverty in the rough parts of Boston. But this was a whole new animal for her. And when this sort of back-breaking poverty was so close to the playgrounds of the very, very wealthy, it just made it all the more poignant.
They passed a grocery store that looked like it was gonna be the last one they saw for a while, so Townsend made a suggestion. "Why dont we stop and buy your mom some food, honey? You say she always asks for money why not beat her to the punch with a gift?"
Hennessey nodded. "Thats a good idea, sweet pea. I think Ive got about $15 on me. Thatll buy her a decent meal."
Once inside the store, Hennessey shopped carefully, trying to make her funds last. "Is there anything special we could get her? Kinda like a present?" Townsend asked.
"Well, I hate to contribute to her demise, but she does love to smoke. I could probably buy her some cigarettes." She shrugged. "If I bought her anything decent, shed return it and buy liquor. At least she loves cigarettes as much as booze."
"Let me buy her some, baby. Just as a little Christmas present from her future daughter-in-law."
"You know, I dont think I go more than five minutes at a time without smiling when Im with you. Youre very good for me, Townsend. Very good, indeed."
Townsend was more persuasive than she knew, and Hennessey allowed her to buy, not only two cartons of cigarettes, but a canned ham, some cans of tuna, peanut butter, jelly and a few boxes of crackers. At the checkout counter, Hennessey asked, "If I decide I dont want some of these things, can I bring them back?"
"Why on earth would you want to do that?" the clerk asked.
"I dont know. I just might not be in the mood for ham later on."
"No, honey, you cant return food unless theres something wrong with it and we check."
"Fine." Hennessey gave her a warm smile. "Thats just fine."
Townsend had added a roll of wrapping paper and a roll of tape, and they spent a few minutes wrapping the cigarettes on the trunk of the car. The blonde then produced a card that Hennessey hadnt seen her buy. It was a syrupy, sappy card that sang the praises of motherhood, and when Hennesseys eyes widened, Townsend said quietly, "Even though shell know its not true, it might make her feel better to think that theres a chance you feel this way about her."
Wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, Hennessey signed the card with the gold-toned pen that Townsend supplied. "Keep your eyes on your wallet, and that pen," she advised, her mouth set in a grim line. "Shes tried to take my wallet from my pocket while shes hugging me."
They got in the car and drove the rest of the way in silence, Townsend unable to think of a comforting rejoinder to Hennesseys comment.
* * *
"Well, here we are. The great trailer burial ground." With wide eyes, Townsend looked around. Most of the trailers looked like theyd been damaged in some way, or had been discarded by their previous owners. It wasnt exactly a trailer park more like an eclectic assemblage of the battered homes without much rhyme or reason.
"Do they have electricity?" Townsend asked.
"Yeah. They have hook-ups when they pay the bill. Half the time my mammas place is in the dark. Thank God theres a portable toilet over at the edge of the lot. Knowing her, shed go right in the middle of the rug when the water was turned off."
"Damn, we should have bought her some bottled water!"
Turning off the car, Hennessey sat quietly for a few moments, then leaned over and kissed Townsends forehead tenderly. She wrapped her in a hug and held on tight for a surprisingly long time. "I never thought anyone would understand," she whispered. "Ive always worried that the guy I fell for would run for the hills when he met my family. And here you, one of the wealthiest people Ive ever met, not only understand you want to make her life better. Thank you, Townsend. Thank you so much."
"I do understand," the blonde murmured. "I also understand that I could have ended up in her shoes if a certain blue-eyed girl hadnt helped me climb out of the hole I was in. You understood me," she said. "No one ever had."
Hennessey released her, then got out of the car, carrying the majority of the bags. As she trotted alongside, Townsend asked, "Should we keep our story straight, that were friends from Harvard?"
"Doesnt matter. She wont even remember we were here."
* * *
Much to her surprise, when Hennessey knocked on the door, her mother answered almost immediately, and upon quick inspection, appeared to be sober. "Hi, Mamma," she said, giving her a tight smile. "Just came by to wish you a merry Christmas."
"Hennessey! Get your self in here, girl!" They entered the ramshackle trailer, and Townsend now understood what the term "dirt poor" meant. The place was ghastly, and smelled absolutely awful, but Hennesseys mother was fully dressed and sober, so she counted her blessings.
"Mamma, this is my very good friend, Townsend. Townsend, this is my mother, Maribelle Pikes."
"Pleased to meet you," the woman said. Townsend parroted a reply, too taken aback by the womans appearance to say more. If Maribelle had been placed in a lineup with an African American, a Japanese, and an Inuit; and Townsend was charged with picking out Hennesseys mother, Maribelle would have been her last choice even if the others were men. There was not one hint, not one iota of resemblance between the women, and Townsend wondered if Hennessey could have been switched at birth. Maribelle was no more than five foot six, and as Hennessey had warned, she was dangerously underweight. Her hair was an odd, lackluster mousy brown, curly in spots, and wavy in others, and downright sparse in various places. Her eyes were close in color to her hair, and were as flat and lifeless as a dolls. With skin that looked as though it hadnt been exposed to the sun in years, blue veins were luridly visible, making Townsend a little sick to her stomach. But when Maribelle showed her teeth, the young woman almost lost it. Crooked, yellowed, a few noticeably missing, Maribelle had the look of a woman whod lived on the streets although with her pale skin, she must have only come out at night.
"We brought you a few things for the holidays, Mamma. I know times are a little tight right now."
"Oh, my, they surely are," she agreed, her accent much stronger than Hennesseys. "I was just down at the county office this morning just got back not a lick before you showed up. I told that man I needed an increase, but they dont listen. They never listen, you know."
"Im sure they dont, Mamma. Well, I know you like to have a little food in the house, so we bought you some things thatll last for a bit. Is your power on?" She looked pointedly at a lit candle, which provided the only illumination in the dim trailer.
"Why, of course it is, honey. Why wouldnt it be?"
"Oh, you never know. Anyway, I bought you a turkey and some potatoes. Since tomorrows Christmas Eve, I thought you might like to make a nice dinner for you and " She pursed her lips, trying to think of the latest man her mother had mentioned.
"Kenneth, honey. Well, thats very, very nice of you. Im sure Kenneth would love a good meal." She went to the bags and started to paw through them. "Now, if I just had a little holiday cheer, you know, maybe some eggnog "
"Im sorry, Mamma," Hennessey said, actually sounding as though she were. "I didnt have enough money for anything extra." She extended the wrapped package and the card, and said, "But we did buy you a present. Its not much, but "
The paper was off the package before Hennessey could complete her sentence. "Boy, do I need these," Maribelle said, sounding genuinely pleased. "Thanks for thinking of your Mamma, baby." Townsend noticed that the woman didnt even give a thought to opening the card, and she tried to avoid looking into Hennesseys eyes, unwilling to see the hurt that she knew would be there.
"Well, I guess well be off, Mamma. Were gonna go help with dinner at the shack."
"You can stay and visit for a while if you want," she said, the invitation decidedly unenthusiastic.
"No, I know youre busy. Ill let ya go."
"You stop in and say hello again, all right? I hardly see you at all anymore. Where you been keeping yourself?"
"Im away at college, Mamma," she said softly, and Townsend made the critical error of meeting her friends eyes. She nearly burst into tears, but she knew she had to be strong for Hennessey, so she held them in.
"Oh, thats right. Where do you go again, baby?"
"Boston," she said, not wasting the breath to explain exactly where Harvard was.
"Thats right. You go to Boston." She started to walk them to the door, cocking her head to ask, "How do you pay for a plane ticket all the way to Boston, baby?"
Unable to witness another moment of this torture, Townsend twitched her head in the direction of the car and walked down the gravel path, trying to give her friend some privacy. She turned and watched the scene, seeing Hennesseys hands go to her back pockets as she rocked on her heels, a nervous habit. The dark head shook, softly at first, then more vigorously. Finally, she tossed a hand in the air in a poor attempt at a wave, and stalked away. Maribelle started to come after her, but when Hennessey heard her, she wheeled around and shouted, "Dont you dare ask her for money! Dont you dare!" She turned and started to jog, grabbing Townsends hand as she flew by. They ran until they reached the car, then Hennessey jumped in and peeled out so quickly that Townsend almost didnt get her leg in. As soon as they reached the dirt road that led to the place, Hennessey turned off the car and leaned against the steering wheel, crying so piteously that Townsend was unable to hold her own emotions in any longer. Eventually, they came together and held each other, their tears dropping onto each others shoulders.
* * *
As they made their way back to the house, Townsend said, "We may as well get all of the upsetting topics out at once. I noticed your father didnt come home last night again. Is that something youre worried about, too, baby?"
"No, not really. Hes a pretty good-looking guy. Its not uncommon for him to pick up a woman and shack up with her for a few days. Eventually, shell get sick of his act and throw him out. I cant imagine hes not impotent," she said, with no emotion in her voice. "Im not an authority or anything, but Id think that most women that picked up a good-looking, fairly charming man would be disappointed when he couldnt perform."
"Do you think of him as your father?" Townsend asked. "I dont mean that like it sounds, baby," she added when Hennessey gave her a stunned look. "I just wondered if he seemed more like an uncle or a much older brother."
"Oh. Well, I guess in a way thats what he seems like. It was always like my grandparents had two kids only I needed less watching over."
"He does know youre coming home, doesnt he?"
"Oh, sure. Hes still got a pretty good memory. Hes not nearly as bad as my mother is. Hes always been more of a binge kinda guy. He could be perfectly fine for months at a time, but something would set him off. My guess is that my coming home did the trick this time."
"But why ?"
"Hes a pretty smart guy, Townsend, he had a lot of promise in school. Gramma says there was talk of him getting a scholarship to U.S.C. But he knocked up my mother, and around here you do the right thing and marry the girl. That destroyed any chance he had at a better life. He started working with Granddaddy, and thats all she wrote. He didnt love my mother hell, I dont think he even liked her. She wasnt even his girlfriend to hear Gramma talk. But you know how guys are they hear about a loose girl and they all want a pop at her."
"I know; I was that girl," the blonde said quietly, making Hennessey want to bite her tongue for saying such an insensitive thing.
"Im sorry, sweet pea. I know youve made some of the same mistakes my mamma did. I just thank God that you stopped when you did."
"I do, too, Hennessey, believe me, I do, too."
* * *
They were once again forbidden from helping with the dinner crowd, so they sat in the restaurant, hanging out at a table in the rear, just watching the other customers and chatting when something struck one of them.
"We just have time to make the meeting, honey. Ready to go?"
"I think I had a meeting already today, Hennessey. Seeing your mother strengthened my resolve to stay sober more than a dozen meetings."
"All right. Im a little sick of seeing the effects of alcohol myself."
When there was a lull in the crowd, Hennessey went into the kitchen and came out with a big platter of fried shrimp and hush puppies, watching with delight while Townsend once more sang the praises of Chez Boudreaux.
Around 8:30, a very tall, ruggedly handsome, black-haired man came shuffling into the restaurant. "Hennessey, your fathers here," Townsend said quietly.
The young woman turned around and got up, going over to offer a tentative hug. The man returned it awkwardly, then walked over to meet Townsend. "Daddy, this is my good friend, Townsend. Townsend, this is my father, Dawayne."
Townsend stood and extended her hand, shaking the large, rough, callused one that Dawayne offered. "Its nice to meet you."
"Same here," he said, smiling gently. He actually looked a little sheepish and more than a little shy, and Townsend could see why women would be drawn to him. He had retained his good looks, his constant exposure to sun making him look tan and healthy, even if he wasnt. "Mamma and Daddy in the kitchen?"
"Gonna see if I can scare up some supper. Ill be right back."
He left, with Townsend looking after him as he walked. "Gosh, you look just like him, honey."
"Yeah. I guess I do. When I was little, I used to hear about some child or another being born and no one knowing who the daddy was. I used to dream that no one knew who my mother was that I belonged to just my daddy."
"So, hes been pretty consistent with you?"
"No, nothing like that. Hes completely unreliable. But when he was home he was always pleasant and quiet. He acted like he knew he should be a better father he at least has some remorse."
"He doesnt drink at home?"
"No, no, no! There isnt a drop of alcohol in the house. Never was, never will be. My granddaddy had a habit when he came home from the war, and my gramma put a stop to that immediately. They say you cant force someone to stop drinking, but Gramma did. I dont know how she did it, but he hasnt had a drop since oh 1970 or so."
"I guess theres an exception to every rule," Townsend said, smiling.
"Thats Gramma. Shes an exception to a lot of rules."
* * *
After the kitchen was cleaned, both women were wrung out. When Hennessey came out of the bathroom, Townsend was lying on the box spring, just as they had agreed.
When Hennessey was settled, the blonde turned to her and asked, "You know, in all this time Ive never asked you who you were named for. Is Hennessey a family name?"
"Uhm wanna tell me?"
"Yeah I guess. Uhm my mother had rather romantic notions when she was a girl. Shed been trying to think of a name for me while she was pregnant, and she wanted it to be something classy. She wasnt having much success, and my daddy was no help at all. So, on the day she gave birth, they were traveling down some country road on the way to the county hospital where they could have me for free." She gave Townsend a tight smile and continued. "They came upon a billboard for Hennessey brandy Heck, I think its still standing, whoever owns it obviously forgot about it. Anyway, it was a picture of a man and woman, toasting each other with brandy snifters. The man had on a tuxedo, and the woman was in an evening gown, with her hair all done up. Apparently, my mamma thought that was about the classiest thing shed ever seen. Daddy didnt have any objection, so Hennessey it was whether I was a girl or a boy."
The story was vaguely humorous, but it was also so deeply poignant that Townsend felt incredibly sad. Sad for the young woman who dreamed of a life far beyond her station; sad for the baby named after the substance which would destroy her relationship with her mother; and sad for the shame she could hear in Hennesseys voice.
"You know what?" Townsend asked, softly. "Im feeling a little raw. Could I impose on you for a friendly, definitely non-sexual hug?"
"How about a cuddle?" Hennessey climbed onto the box spring and folded her long body up behind her friend. Both women sighed as their bodies molded together, and after a long while Hennessey heard herself say, "Did I promise this was a non-sexual cuddle, or did you?"
"That was me," Townsend giggled. "Youre free to do as you please, sweetness."
"Id like to kiss the back of your neck, then get onto that mattress before my hormones change my mind for me." She lifted Townsends pale hair and tenderly brushed her lips against the soft, smooth skin. "Delicious." Climbing off, Hennessey lay quietly for a moment then said, "Wanna know a secret?"
"At camp, when I pulled that spider from your hair, I found myself having the fleeting thought that Id like to kiss your neck. I pulled your hair away, and your neck looked so tasty and sweet That was the first time Id ever felt that way. It scared me."
"I still remember how cool and gentle your hands were. I should have been frightened to have a big spider crawling on me, but once you touched me I knew I was safe."
"Can you sleep on your tummy?"
"If you can sleep on your tummy, you could dangle an arm down, and we could hold hands while we sleep. Does that sound like a good idea?"
Townsend rolled over onto her belly and dropped her arm, smiling when Hennessey grasped it and then placed a gentle kiss on her pulse point. She held the warm hand in both of her own, and murmured, "I feel safe when I hold your hand. Safe, and warm and secure. Like nothing can hurt me."
* * *
Hennessey had big plans for Christmas Eve. She was bustling around the house by the time Townsend came downstairs, and the blonde cocked her head and asked, "Are we going somewhere?"
"We most certainly are!" A pile of gear was blocking the front door, and Townsend looked from it to her friend. "Were going to the beach to have a big-ass picnic. Youre gonna love it."
"Well, Im sure I will. What should I bring?"
"Warm clothes and a hearty appetite," the brunette said, grinning.
* * *
After stopping at the local seafood purveyor since Hennessey was loath to dig into her familys meager catch, they drove to a completely deserted beach on one of the islands that made up Beaufort County. Sitting on the blanket that Hennessey had brought, Townsend watched, laughing, as her friend tried to fight the brisk wind and keep a rather poor quality box kite up in the air. The kite was made of paper, and after struggling for nearly a half hour, the exhausted woman ran back to the blanket and collapsed. "Damn, that was hard work! No wonder you dont see many people with kites."
"You did very well for yourself," Townsend assured her. "You can give it another try if the wind dies down."
"Dont think thats gonna happen," Hennessey said, surveying the sky. "Actually, Im a little chilly. How about a fire?"
"Oh, dont look to me for help. I was a Campfire Girl drop out."
"Didnt like the uniform?"
"No, it wasnt that. Too much structure," she said, wrinkling up her nose.
"Couldnt follow orders even as a little girl, huh?"
"Nope. Im positively docile now compared to how I was then. Ive always been a trouble-maker."
"Thats part of your appeal," Hennessey told her honestly. "Thats what gives you the fire in your personality. I hope you never lose that."
"Much to my surprise, being sober hasnt changed my personality. Its let it emerge. Thats been a nice thing to discover."
"I couldnt agree more, Townsend. When we first met, you were so angry that I only saw tiny little snippets of your personality. I feel like Ive just started to know you since youve been sober."
"Ive just started to know myself," she agreed. "Now, show me how to start a fire, hot stuff. Its never too late to be a Campfire Girl."
* * *
They didnt do much during their time on the beach, but neither woman minded. Mostly they talked, and watched the surf, and talked some more. Hennessey was being very affectionate, and was now leaning against a huge piece of wood shed managed to find. Getting settled, she pulled Townsend against her, letting the smaller woman nestle between her long legs. "Comfortable?" she asked, her lips close to her friends ear.
"I am now. A nice, big fire, a nice, big girlfriend. What more could a woman want?"
"I think Ill order up the nice big fire with a slightly smaller girlfriend. I like having you fit against me like this."
"Agreed. Lets stay just like we are right here forever."
"Oh, no, baby, we cant miss a meal!" She pulled the cooler over and took out a big plastic bag filled with oysters and clams. "How about a little lunch?"
"Mmm I love oysters. Are they local?"
"Not very, but theyre delicious. Wanna shuck?" She said this with a decidedly sexy voice, her breath warm against Townsends chilled ear.
"Im not even gonna nibble on that one, Hennessey. Youre just trying to incite me, now."
"Ill shuck myself, then," the larger woman teased. She had to scoot back a little to operate, but Townsend praised her efforts, adding a bit of the tangy cocktail sauce to each of the mollusks as she held the shell to her lips and let the meat slide down her throat.
"Damn, these are fine! So far I havent found one thing about South Carolina that I dont like," the blonde decided.
"Lets hear you say that if we come in the summer. We dont have screens on the house," warned Hennessey. "The mosquitoes feel like theyre gonna pick you up and carry you out the window."
"Honey, I can take care of myself. I might have to sleep in mosquito netting, but I can manage. If youre in the immediate vicinity, all of my needs will be met."
* * *
Theyd been cuddling for hours, neither woman willing to move the gentle hugging so reassuring to both of them. "Ive been thinking about something you said yesterday," Hennessey said. "You dont have to talk about this if it upsets you, but I wondered about the comment you made about being the girl that the boys all wanted to date."
"Fuck, honey. They didnt want to date me. Why waste ten bucks on a movie ticket and popcorn if you dont have to?"
"I uhm I dont even pretend to know much about this but why were you sleeping with boys? I got the impression youve always thought you were gay."
"I dont know what I was. I guess I was just lonely. I was left alone a lot with just an employee to watch me. And when I was a freshman in high school, I started to mature physically, at least. The boys in school started to show some interest in me something that had never happened before. Just the year before Id looked like a little kid but now they were treating me like a woman. I didnt have good boundaries; I guess I never have. I uhm had sex with the first boy who asked. I didnt care for it at all, Hennessey. Not at all. But almost immediately everyone wanted to go out with me. I just wanted the attention, I guess. If I had to fuck a guy to get the attention well, that started to seem like it was just the price of admission."
"You poor thing," Hennessey soothed, tightening her hold around her waist.
"No, thats not true. I got what I deserved." She was quiet for a moment, then said, "Hennessey, I need to tell you something, but Ive been petrified to do it. I Im afraid youll lose what little respect you have for me."
"Sweet pea, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you. You can tell me anything; I wont judge you, I promise."
Hennessey could hear her swallow, then, in a very quiet voice Townsend said, "I got pregnant."
"Oh, baby, Im so sorry," Hennessey murmured.
"I told my mother on a Monday morning, and that afternoon I had an abortion. I didnt even know where we were going when she picked me up from school. I found myself in a doctors office, and before I knew it they had given me a shot of something. When I woke up, it was gone." Her voice was flat and lifeless, the trauma obviously still fresh in her mind.
"Is that when you started drinking?" Hennessey asked softly, still holding her tightly.
Townsend leaned her head back against the taller womans shoulder and looked at the fluffy clouds in the Carolina blue sky. "I I guess it is. I dont remember drinking or doing drugs before then. I wow, thats weird."
"Sweetheart, you were violated. The boys who had sex with you violated you, and your mother violated you by not letting you have a voice in what became of the baby. Im not saying that having an abortion was the wrong choice for you, but you didnt get to make that choice. No matter how young you were, it was still your body, Townsend. It was your baby."
"Do you hate me for killing it?" she asked, tears streaking down her face.
"No, of course not. I could never hate you, Townsend. Im sure your mother did what she thought was best for you. I know youve been in therapy; have you talked about this?"
"No," she mumbled. "Ive always been too embarrassed to admit to it. Youre the first person Ive ever told."
"Look, Townsend, I want you to find someone that you can talk to about this when you get back to Vermont. You need to get your feelings about this out, with someone safe."
"Okay," she said softly. "Ive been tormented about it ever since Ive fallen in love with you."
"Really? Why do you think that is?"
"Mmm cause I think of what it would be like to have a baby with you, and then I think that I already had my chance and I destroyed it. I worry that I wont ever have another opportunity, that I dont deserve one."
"Yes, you do, baby. You deserve another chance. You were in a tough situation, Townsend. You may have fared better by having the child and giving it up for adoption, but thats no easy decision, either. God knows that you were too young to raise it yourself, and its clear that your mother didnt consider raising it for you. All of your choices were bad, baby. You did the best you could. Now you have to learn how to let go of the guilt."
"Thats always the hardest part," the young woman murmured.
* * *
After having another little snack, they lay down on the blanket, spooning with each other, Townsends head resting on Hennesseys arm. "This is divine," Hennessey murmured. "I had no idea it could feel this good to just hold someone."
"Hennessey?" the blonde asked hesitantly. " Uhm you said something last night and it was the first time youd ever really said anything like that "
"What is it, baby?"
"Uhm you said you were feeling sexual about me. Was that true?"
"Yeah, that was true," she quietly admitted. "Ive had the clamps on my sexuality for so long that it caught me by surprise when it happened. I definitely felt something and it was decidedly sexual."
"How do you feel about this, honey? I mean, you told me just four months ago that you were heterosexual. Is this a lot to absorb?"
"Mmm not as much as I would have thought. Its odd, Townsend, but I really mean it when I say that I just closed off my sexuality. I tried never to think about it. I just went to school, and studied my ass off, and worked in the shack every spare moment I had. Its true that if you stay busy enough you dont really have time to think about sex. Most nights Id be so tired that Id fall asleep before I even got my teeth brushed."
"Most nights?" Townsend asked, a slight tease in her voice.
"Yes, sweet pea, most nights. Every once in a while Id get the urge, and it just wouldnt go away until I took care of it."
"Did you fantasize about boys when you touched yourself?"
"No, but I also didnt fantasize about girls. I just felt how good it felt to touch myself like that. It was very soothing."
"Do you have orgasms?" Townsend asked, intensely curious.
"Yes, honey. Everything works down there. Ill be able to answer the call when the time comes."
"So do you think youre a lesbian?"
"Oh probably. I guess well find out someday, huh?"
Townsend turned her head, seeing the teasing smile. "Ill pop you one if I spend all this time with you only to find that you dont care for it."
"Oh, I think Ill care for it." She cuddled up a little tighter and said, "The last few times Ive touched myself I found myself dreaming about an adorable blonde woman, with the prettiest green eyes Ive ever seen. The last time it wasnt so soothing it was very, very exciting."
"Ooo, baby, youre making me shiver. Dont even talk like that. I want you so bad my teeth hurt."
Hennessey gave Townsend a squeeze. "Patience, baby. This is a long-term goal. Weve got to work for it to make it what we both need."
* * *
It was nearly dark when Hennessey stirred from the light doze shed fallen into. She was still wrapped tight against Townsend, and she lay still for a few minutes, just feeling the connection that continued to grow between them.
Speaking softly, she asked, "Ready for some dinner, baby?"
"Mmm " Townsend stretched languidly, rubbing her butt against Hennesseys lap for a moment, making the larger womans heartbeat pick up. "Yeah, I could eat. What are we having?"
"Low Country boil," the brunette said with glee. "A Christmas Eve tradition."
"Honey, should we go home and have this with your grandparents? I mean, dont we have to go to church or something?"
"Lord, no! We celebrate Christmas tomorrow, honey. Well have a nice, big, deep-fried turkey."
Townsend gripped her arms tightly, turning to stare at her. "Youre kidding."
"Uhn-uh," she said, looking entirely serious. "We always fry our turkey. Its fantastic." Hennessey had a look of such intense pleasure on her face that Townsend decided to believe her.
"Well, what about church?" Townsend asked again. "I dont wanna upset your gramma."
"Were staunch Catholics, Townsend, but none of us have seen the inside of a church, save for funerals and weddings, since I was born."
"Well, thats a religious practice I can live with. I guess Ill be Catholic, too."
* * *
The fire was just about perfect, and Hennessey began to assemble all of her ingredients. "Sausage?" Townsend asked.
"Yep. Andoullie. Nice and spicy. Youll love it." She tossed the sausage and some new potatoes into the big kettle which she had filled with water that theyd lugged with them. Then she added cayenne pepper, cloves, garlic, a couple of bay leaves, the ever-present Tabasco, and some Old Bay seasoning.
"Hey! We use this in New England for clam bakes."
"We use it for almost everything. One more thing we have in common." They sat quietly watching the gentle surf and the crackling fire. Hennessey was a very laid-back cook, not bothering to even check the food for a good, long time. She wriggled out of Townsends embrace after a while and tested the potatoes, pronouncing them perfect. She then added some cut up squid and some of the ubiquitous shrimp. "Gramma wouldnt approve of the squid," she admitted, "but this isnt crab season, and I need something with a little bit of chew to it."
"Oh, are there local crabs here?"
"Honey, I could regale you with stories about crab until the cows come home. This is definitely crab country. This is where we should come for spring break soft shell season is my favorite time of the year."
"Spring break, huh? Sounds like Im beginning to convince you." Townsend wiggled her eyebrows, making Hennessey chuckle.
"Youve been very well behaved so far, sweet pea. Although I do find myself touching you much more than I had planned."
"I think thats okay for couples when theyre courting," Townsend decided. "Its a nice way to get to know each others bodies without getting into too much trouble."
"Well, I think we should limit it to when were fully clothed. Snuggling up against you when you only had on your pajamas was too dangerous for me. It was all I could do to not reach around and touch your breast."
"I hate to say this, but I wouldnt have stopped you, honey. I have no willpower at all."
"Thats the most ridiculous statement Ive ever heard out of you," Hennessey said. "What on earth are you using other than willpower to stop drinking or smoking, or having sex. Come on, baby, give yourself a little credit."
"Okay," she said softly. "Ill try."
Hennessey leaned over the bubbling stew and sniffed approvingly. "Damn, I wish we had some corn, but I wont buy that frozen stuff they sell in the winter. This is a whole nother experience with fresh crab and corn on the cob. But, I still think youll like it."
She ladled out a healthy portion, putting it into just one big bowl. "I thought we could share." She filled the spoon and blew on it a little to cool it down, then eased it into Townsends mouth.
"Good God, I havent had anything that good since yesterday! Youre as good a cook as your gramma, Hennessey."
"Nah. Shes got me beat by a mile, but I do have a certain talent," she admitted.
They shared the stew, along with some crusty hard rolls that Hennessey had picked up, both eating more than was wise. "Im as full as a tick," Hennessey moaned. "I might have to unzip my jeans."
"Need some help?" Townsend wiggled her eyebrows, flirting shamelessly.
"I think Id better stay buttoned up. At this point, I think your willpower is greater than mine." She stretched out on the blanket and looked up at the stars. "I think I feel so relaxed when Im home that all of my emotions are close to the surface including the naughty ones."
"Theres nothing naughty about the way I feel about you, Hennessey. My feelings for you are almost sacred." She lay down next to her friend and tucked an arm around her waist, while she rested her head on her shoulder.
"I uhm have a Christmas present for you," Hennessey said softly.
"Hey! No fair! You made me promise not to buy you anything."
"Well, its for you but in the future. Im gonna keep it for a while."
"Thats an odd definition of a present, but go on," Townsend said, smiling warmly.
Sticking her hand in her pocket, Hennessey pulled out a thin gold chain, with a small, gold disk attached to it. It was too dark for Townsend to see it well, and Hennessey wasnt ready to let go of it, so the smaller woman waited patiently.
"Ive given this a lot of thought, Townsend, and one thing I know is that its always a mistake to get into a relationship before youve had a year of sobriety. Thats a precept thats proven to be true for a lot of people, baby, and Im not going to test the theory. Not with you. Youre too precious to me to risk having this blow up in our faces."
"But we are in a relationship, Hennessey. How can you deny that?"
"It puts a whole different dimension to it when we add physical intimacy, Townsend. Right now were very good friends, who care for each other deeply and are trying to learn as much as we can about each other. I truly think we need to keep it right here until youve been sober for a year."
"But thats six more months," she said, her eyes growing wide.
"Yes, it is, and I know that seems like a long time, but it really isnt, baby. Weve known each other for six months now, and the time has gone by in a flash. We can do this, I know we can. When youve been sober for a year, we can start to move forward, if you want to, that is."
"Start to move forward ? What does that mean?"
"Well, Im gonna be back at the Academy, and I have a feeling you might like to come back, too. I wont feel comfortable having sex with you if youre a student even if youre not my student."
"What if I were an employee? Wed be equals then, wouldnt we?"
"Well, yeah, but what would you do? I know you have promise, baby, but MaryAnn would never hire you to teach without some experience."
"I dont care what Id do, Hennessey. Ill work in the kitchen, Ill clean the bungalows. Hell, Ill just sit in your room all day, waiting for you to come home. No one has to know Im there. Ill be your secret stowaway."
"Well, that would give me something to look forward to," Hennessey said with a smile, "but thats not how I conduct myself, baby. Ill have to tell MaryAnn the whole story and see if she even wants me back."
"Shell want you back. Shes crazy for you and so am I. Ill do anything to be with you, Hennessey anything."
"Ill speak with MaryAnn. I was going to go see her before I go back anyway. Maybe shell have a creative way around this."
"Youre such a good teacher, Hennessey, maybe you could teach two classes, and not work as a house leader."
The brunette thought about that for a while, "You know that might work. I got $750 a week to teach, and $250 to be a house leader. Damn, if I could make $1500 a week Id be able to start putting money away for graduate school."
"And we could live off of the compound," Townsend suggested. "I could easily afford to rent us an apartment or a townhouse."
"Wait wait hold on. Theres a lot to cover here, baby. Lets take it one step at a time. Ill talk to MaryAnn about teaching two classes and tell her about my lifestyle enhancements."
"I like being an enhancement," Townsend said.
"So," Hennessey said, "all we have to agree on is that we dont go any further until youve had a year of sobriety." She turned her head and looked deeply into Townsends eyes. "It will be hard for you, baby, but I know that eventually youll get sober and stay sober. I just want you to understand that Ill be patient with you even if you have a slip. Eventually, youll be able to stay on the path I believe in you."
Townsend hugged her tight, squeezing her until Hennessey let out a yelp. "It feels so wonderful to have your trust."
"You do." She held out the chain and placed it in Townsends hand. "This is a one year chip. I dont want to put pressure on you, so Im not going to give it to you, yet. Im going to keep it to remind myself of what were working towards. Well get there, Townsend, and when we do, Ill put that necklace on you, and kiss your sweet neck. Then, Ill kiss a few other things Ive been dying to put my lips on."
"Oh, damn, why cant the days move faster?" the blonde sighed.
"No, we need this time, baby. We both need it to grow up some more. You need to work on your sobriety and keep your grades up, and I need to work on letting my libido come out and play a little more. Its time to start letting my body feel pleasure so Im ready for you when youre ready for me."
"Do you love me, Hennessey?" the blonde asked softly. She was hovering just above her friend, watching the faint moonlight reflected in her eyes.
"I do. I love you, Townsend, with all my heart."
"I love you, too, sweetheart." She placed her head on her friends chest and held on tight, feeling Hennesseys rapidly beating heart against her cheek. "You told me before that once we were sure we were in love that we could start to kiss. Is that still true?"
"Uhm " The heartbeat picked up even quicker as the woman struggled with her thoughts. "I dont think I can kiss you and not want to go further, baby. I just dont think Im that strong. But I want to God, do I want to."
"Well, its Christmas, and youre the best present Ive ever received. Maybe we should celebrate that with just one kiss. One kiss to carry us until June."
"Until you have a years sobriety," Hennessey reminded her. "Dont be too fixated on the day thats an easy way to lose the path, baby. You really do have to take it one day at a time."
"Okay, youre right. Why dont we kiss to celebrate Christmas and our love."
"Yeah, just one, but its gotta be a good one. No cheating like you usually do, with those little pecks on the forehead. I need a real kiss to last me until I have a year of sobriety whenever that may be."
"Good girl," Hennessey beamed. "Okay, I guess this is a pretty momentous occasion. Want me to start, or would you rather lead?"
"You start. You need the practice."
Smiling, Hennessey pinched her firmly on the waist, then turned onto her side, taking Townsend with her. She paused over her for just a moment, then blinked slowly and whispered, "I love you, Townsend." Leaning in just an inch, she pressed her lips to the incredibly soft skin, moaning a little when her mouth opened to Townsends probing tongue. Townsend rolled her onto her back, then pressed their bodies together, needing to feel her flesh compress against Hennesseys. The kiss went on and on, with Townsends hands going to Hennesseys hair to hold her still.
Hennesseys hands roamed up and down the smaller womans back, pausing to cup her ass just briefly, then giving it a squeeze. All the while, the kiss continued, their tongues darting and swirling in each others mouths. Hennesseys heart was beating so hard she was sure it would burst, but she could feel an equally wild beat from her partner, and somehow that reassured her. Finally, and with great reluctance, Hennessey began to pull away, her libido on the verge of pushing her rational mind aside. But Townsend held on tenaciously, slipping a leg between Hennesseys thighs and pressing against her, making the brunette groan loudly. Those long legs compressed against Townsend and Hennessey shifted her hips gently, purring as she did so. Knowing that they were on the verge of combusting, Townsend gathered her wits and severed the kiss, panting softly as they broke apart.
"My, God! Is it always like that?" Hennessey gasped.
"No, no. Its never been like that for me. That was magical."
"How can I be so hot on such a cool night? I feel like taking my clothes off and jumping into the ocean."
"Thats called sexual excitement, honey. Get used to it, cause I plan on feeding you a steady diet of it for the rest of your life."
"Thank God we go to school in different states," Hennessey moaned. "Now that Ive felt that, I could never keep my hands off of you for six more months." She grasped the hem of her sweater and fanned it up and down, trying to get some cool air on her heated skin. "Uhm just for the record, do most kisses involve a knee to the groin? I mean I didnt mind, but I wanna be prepared next time."
Townsend rolled on top of her, getting very used to the sensation. Her eyes were twinkling when she asked, "How would you prepare?"
Chuckling, Hennessey said, "I have no earthly idea. But Im beginning to understand how people get carried away even when theyre just kissing."
"That was some kiss," Townsend sighed. "Absolutely the best one Ive ever had. How about you?"
"Yeah, Id have to agree. Much, much better than Gramma and Granddaddy ever give me," she said, her eyes twinkling.
Sitting up and staring at her, Townsend gasped, "Youve never kissed anyone?"
"Just you, sweetheart. And this is the first one that counts, since the other one was a dying womans last request."
"Secret?" Townsend asked, grinning impishly.
"When the horse kicked me I knew my skull wasnt fractured. Id had a concussion before, and it felt just like that. I knew the blood wasnt coming from my ear, either. I could feel it pouring out of the cut and dripping into my ear."
"Why you little faker! I was so worried I was sick!"
"Im sorry, honey, I just didnt think Id ever have another chance. And I had to kiss those pink lips. From the first day I saw you, I knew you were the woman for me I just didnt think youd ever realize it."
"I realize it now," Hennessey said, beaming a grin. "And Ive never been happier. Merry Christmas, Townsend."
"Merry Christmas, Hennessey." She leaned forward and tried for another kiss, but Hennessey was on to her tricks, and she turned her head at the last second, presenting her cheek.
"No more kisses until this necklace is settled right between those cute little collar bones. I love you enough to say no to you, Townsend."
"You know," the blonde said thoughtfully, "I think thats the greatest present Ive ever received. Saying no to someone can be a bigger gift than saying yes. Thank you, Hennessey. Thank you for loving me enough to do whats right rather than whats easy. Thats the best Christmas gift Ive ever received.
* * *
Continued in Part 5Return to the Academy