The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

 

 

Part 6

The next morning, Hennessey popped her head into Townsend’s room after knocking gently. "Hi," she said, smiling at the grumpy look her partner gave her. "I noticed that someone went shopping yesterday. I’m gonna go make breakfast and bring it back here. I can make anything you want."

"I want another two hours of sleep," Townsend muttered.

"Coming right up," the incessantly cheerful woman said. "I’ll eat my breakfast now and bring some to you in a couple of hours." She walked into the room and kissed the jumble of blonde hair that peeked from the covers. "I love you, Townsend. I love you more than ever for caring about me last night." With a gentle pat on the cheek, she turned and left, leaving Townsend to stew in her guilt, just as she had done through most of the long, dark night.

* * *

Surprisingly, Miranda offered to take the young women to dinner that night. She chose a very nice restaurant housed in a bed and breakfast, and the trio set off in the car — with Miranda driving.

Miranda was a charming companion: erudite, sociable and with a keen sense of humor. Hennessey was enjoying herself fully, and even Townsend seemed to be having a good time. But the evening turned bitter when Miranda said, "Townsend, did I mention that the headmaster of your school asked me to give the commencement address at your graduation?"

Townsend’s formerly sunny disposition darkened immediately. "What?"

Looking taken aback, Miranda repeated her comment. "Does that bother you for some reason?" she added.

"Fuck, yes, it bothers me!" Townsend spat. "Why didn’t you ask me first?"

Miranda blinked slowly, finally saying, "It didn’t dawn on me that you’d be opposed, honey. What’s the big deal? No one pays attention to what the speaker says anyway."

"It’s my God damned graduation! Not yours! If you’re there, everyone will know that you’re my mother!"

Chuckling softly, Miranda said, "Is that such a horrible crime?"

Townsend stood and fumbled in her lap for her napkin. Wadding it up, she threw it into her mother’s face, her own visage filled with rage. "Yes! It’s a fucking crime! Stay out of my life!" She violently pushed her chair against the wall, gaining the attention of the very few patrons who were not already paying rapt attention. Every pair of eyes followed the rage-filled girl stalking away, many of the diners covering their mouths to furtively reveal Miranda’s identity to their dinner companions.

To Hennessey’s astonishment, Miranda didn’t seem particularly upset. She was clearly embarrassed, but not angry, and Hennessey summoned the nerve to ask, "Uhm … are you all right, Mrs. Bartley?"

"Oh, of course, Hennessey. I’m used to it by now." Cocking her head slightly, she looked at Hennessey and asked, "Doesn’t she do that with you?"

"No, ma’am. I don’t think I’d be here if she did."

"Well, you can choose to leave, Hennessey. The state of Massachusetts frowns on parents abandoning their children — no matter how justified they may be." She said this with such wry good-humor that Hennessey was totally shocked.

"You act like it doesn’t bother you," she said, her puzzlement showing.

"She’s been like this since she was a pre-teen. One can get used to anything, Hennessey. Especially if one has to."

Hennessey put her head down and finished her entrée, not at all sure what she should do at this point. As soon as she had the last bite in her mouth, Miranda said, "If you want to go find her, go right ahead, honey. She’ll be walking along the shore. I’d guess that she’ll head north and then come back this way before she walks home. If you want to save the steps, you can just wait by the water. She’ll be along when she’s blown off some steam."

Hennessey nodded and gave her host a thin smile. "I think I’ll try to find her. If you see her before I do, tell her I went north first, okay?"

"I will, Hennessey. Now don’t take this too seriously. It’s happened more times than I can count."

"Yes, ma’am. I’ll try." Hennessey took a step, then turned back to the table. "I’m sorry for forgetting to thank you for dinner, Mrs. Bartley. It was a fantastic meal, and I truly enjoyed your company."

Miranda looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "Please don’t take this the wrong way, Hennessey, but what do you see in my daughter? For that matter, I can’t understand what she sees in you. She’s never, ever aligned herself with a person with manners." She chuckled softly and added, "She’d normally make fun of a young woman like you."

With a smile, Hennessey said, "She did make fun of me at first, but after a while, she recognized that we had to get along. I wasn’t going to let her win, Mrs. Bartley. There was too much at stake."

Nodding, the older woman said nothing. Her expression made it clear that she didn’t understand what Hennessey was talking about; but she indicated just as clearly that she wasn’t about to ask.

* * *

When she got to the ocean, Hennessey removed her shoes and socks and let the chilly water wash over her feet. She set off in a northerly direction as she’d said she would, but she walked very slowly. She knew that Townsend not only had a quick fuse, but that it took her quite a while to calm down after a flare-up, and she wanted to make sure her friend was calm by the time they met.

She walked for nearly an hour, feeling just a little sorry that Townsend’s exercise capacity had gotten so much greater. Finally, in the distance, she saw her — walking with her head down and her hands shoved into her pockets. Hennessey slowed down even more, knowing from Townsend’s posture that she was still angry.

When they approached each other, the blonde looked up in surprise, so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed Hennessey. Without a word, she fell into the larger woman’s arms, burying her head against her chest and sobbing pitifully. Hennessey merely stroked her head and rubbed her back briskly, taking her cue from Townsend and not speaking.

After a long while, the smaller woman pulled away and took Hennessey’s hand. They walked back to the house in silence, the trip taking over an hour, even at the quick pace they maintained. Once inside, both of them went to their rooms to change into their pajamas. When Townsend came down the hall, Hennessey was lighting a fire, her attention fully engaged.

When Hennessey stood, Townsend wrapped an arm around her waist and led her to the sofa. Without warning, the younger woman set upon Hennessey’s lips with a vengeance, kissing her so often and so voraciously that Hennessey instinctively pushed her away. "Hold on a minute!" she said, clearly irritated. "Don’t do that, Townsend!"

"Don’t do what?" the blonde asked. "Now I can’t kiss you?"

"Of course you can kiss me, but you can’t molest me! You’re coming at me like a dog on a meaty soup bone!"

"That’s called passion, Hennessey, but I guess you wouldn’t know anything about that! You only know how to say ‘no’ every time your clit starts to throb."

Stunned, the brunette gasped, "Where in the hell did that come from? Why are you angry with me?"

"I just want to fucking kiss you, Hennessey. But as usual, I have to beg for everything I get. My needs don’t count. Only yours do."

Looking down at the floor, Hennessey said quietly. "I don’t like to be kissed like that. If that’s your idea of passion, I … I don’t want it."

"Of course you don’t want it," the blonde sneered. "You don’t want it, and you don’t want me to want it."

"Townsend, I don’t think this is the night to get into this. I have no intention of getting into another scene like we had at the restaurant. Your mother wasn’t upset, but I was. That’s not how civilized people behave!"

"Oh, please! Now I’m not allowed to tell my mother what I think of her moronic plans. What else do you get to control, Hennessey? You’re already in charge of my drinking, my drug use, my nicotine use and my sex drive. Can’t I keep just one tiny thing that gives me pleasure?"

"Pleasure?" the taller woman gaped. "Yelling at your mother in public gives you pleasure? What kind of a person are you?"

Grabbing Hennessey by the lapels of her flannel pajamas, Townsend gave her a good shake. "I’m a fucked-up person from a fucked-up family. And you’re not going to be the one to fix me, Hennessey Fucking Boudreaux. You can take me as I am, or pack your God damned bag and go back to your God damned Ivy League school and suck on some socially acceptable pussy!"

Closing her eyes against the pain, Hennessey yanked away from Townsend’s strong grip and walked down the hall to her room, her tears obscuring her faltering path.

* * *

Hennessey didn’t sleep a wink; she merely lay in bed and tried to think of what to do. Hating to do it, but not having any better ideas, she picked up the phone and dialed the Al-Anon sponsor she’d just begun to work with. "Angela?" she asked, grimacing. "It’s Hennessey. I know it’s far, far too late to call you, but I’m in a terrible bind."

"It’s all right, Hennessey. Uhm … let me get up and get something to drink. Call me back in five minutes, okay?"

"Are you sure, Angela? I hate to do this to you ¾ "

"Hey, that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re having a tough time. Now, go get a mug of that tea you’re always drinking and call me back."

"Okay. Thanks, Angela. I really mean that."

* * *

After speaking to Angela for nearly an hour, Hennessey felt resolved about what she should do. Actually, Angela had merely agreed with the plan of action that Hennessey had decided upon, but it was very, very reassuring to have an impartial third-party support her. She knew that Townsend wouldn’t be asleep, so she put on her slippers and went down the hall, finding the fire low — but no trace of Townsend. Going back down the hall, she tried Townsend’s door, but found it locked. Well, maybe it’s best to wait until morning. Maybe she was able to sleep once she vented her spleen. Going back to her room, Hennessey lay in bed until it was nearly dawn, repeatedly singing a few old lullabies that her grandmother had lulled her to sleep with.

* * *

When Hennessey woke, it was after 11:00, and she felt as if she had a massive hangover. Hungry, thirsty and grouchy, she took a shower and got dressed, then checked on Townsend. The door was still locked, but she didn’t have the patience to wait any longer. With a soft knock, she said, "Townsend, it’s time to get up now."

When her gentle prodding received no response, she increased the force and the frequency of her rapping until she was pounding on the door. "Townsend, I’m not fooling around. Either open the damned door, or I’ll kick it in." You know you don’t have the strength to kick in a door, you idiot, and she knows it, too. "Fine. Just stay there and pout. I’m going to get something to eat."

Stomping loudly out of the house, she snuck around to the back of the structure and stopped in shock when she saw that Townsend’s window was wide open. Shimmying behind a huge lilac bush, she poked her head in the window to find the room empty. Great! Just great! How in the hell long has she been gone?

Jogging to the main house, she prowled around the first floor, seeing no evidence of Townsend’s having been there. Now what? Walking upstairs, she found only one door closed. Knocking on it but getting no response, she opened it, nonetheless, to find Miranda sound asleep, the blanket pulled up to her neck. "Mrs. Bartley," she said softly. Going closer and closer and speaking louder and louder, Hennessey found herself shaking the woman while calling her name loudly.

Finally, the muzzy green eyes opened halfway. "What?" she managed to get out before the eyes closed again.

"Mrs. Bartley, have you seen Townsend? She’s missing."

"Oh." The woman sat up as well as she could and blinked her eyes a few times. "Missing, huh?" Miranda smacked her lips together, while Hennessey tried to restrain herself from grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her roughly. "Don’t worry, she always does this after a fight. She’ll show up at some point. Don’t let her worry you — it doesn’t do any good."

"Not worry me? Not worry me? Jesus Christ, Mrs. Bartley, don’t you know how hard it is for her to stay sober?"

"I told you that the odds weren’t good, Hennessey. She’s always been a self-destructive child. I think you’re wasting your time, to be honest, honey."

"Yeah, I obviously am," Hennessey grumbled, heading for the door.

* * *

Deciding to be systematic, Hennessey started at the far end of town. She locked up the bike and started to survey every business that was open. Since it was now past noon, most were either open or just opening.

Going into a café, she showed the woman at the front a picture of Townsend and asked if she’d seen her. "Oh, I know her, but I haven’t seen her lately. What’s she done now?"

Letting out a resigned sigh, Hennessey shook her head. "Nothing. She’s my friend, and I’m worried about her."

"You should be," the woman said, giving Hennessey the same look Miranda had.

The next dozen businesses provided no clues, and Hennessey sucked in a breath and steeled her nerves when she entered a dark, run-down bar. She hated to enter this kind of place, mostly because it reminded her of long evenings looking for her father when he hadn’t returned home for a day or two. Approaching the grizzled, gruff-looking man at the bar, she held up the picture and asked, "Have you seen this woman recently?"

"Not since 2:00 a.m.," he said, continuing to polish the thick, old beer mug that his ministrations were having no visible affect on.

"She was here until you closed?" Hennessey asked, feeling like she would either vomit or cry.

"No, she was here until I called the sheriff. The little slut was hiding in the corner, getting soused. A pretty little whore like her can always find a couple of dunces to buy her drinks all night."

"She’s seventeen years old," Hennessey said, her voice shaking with anger and sorrow.

"Hell, I know how old she is. Everybody on the island knows how old she is. That’s why I called the cops. I’m not about to lose my license over that piece of shit."

A large part of Hennessey wanted to climb over the bar and make him regret what he’d said about Townsend, but another part knew that the man probably had good reason to think so poorly of her partner. Feeling more defeated than she could ever remember, Hennessey asked, "Which way to the sheriff’s station?"

The bartender put down his mug and his rag and looked at Hennessey for a few moments. "Why would a nice-looking girl like you want to get mixed up with the likes of her? Do yourself a favor, honey, and let her sit until one of her parents goes to get her. You can find better friends on this island."

Hennessey looked him right in the eye and said the words she’d never said to anyone but Townsend. "I’m with her because I love her."

* * *

"Hi," Hennessey said to the neatly turned out young woman sitting at a desk in the small station.

"Good afternoon. Can I help you?"

"Are you holding Townsend Bartley here?"

The deputy sheriff’s eyebrows shot up so quickly that they nearly disappeared under the low, wide brim of her hat. "Yes, we are. Are you her …?"

"I’m her friend. How do I go about getting her released?"

"If you’re not her attorney or her parent, I’m afraid you can’t. We can’t just let her sleep it off this time," the woman said with what looked like true regret. "Driving without a license, falsifying her age, public intoxication and possession of a controlled substance." She shook her head. "We can’t let her walk away from this one. Do you know how to reach her parents?"

Fighting back tears, Hennessey nodded. Surprisingly, the woman pushed a side chair towards Hennessey and said, "Have a seat."

Hennessey did so, shaking visibly. The deputy handed her a tissue and said, "She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?"

"Yes," Hennessey got out as the tears started to fall.

"You must be Hennessey," the young woman said. "She’s been calling for you and apologizing all night long. First time I’ve ever heard her do that."

"We love each other," Hennessey said, unafraid of the woman’s reaction.

"I can see that," she said gently. Leaning forward, she asked, "Do you know how troubled she is, Hennessey?"

Nodding, the younger woman said, "I do."

The deputy reached out and gripped her shoulder, giving it brief, but firm pressure. "I hope things work out for you, but it’s gonna be a very tough road. This girl needs help — lots of help. She’s determined to kill herself — the hard way."

"I know it’s going to be hard," Hennessey admitted, the magnitude of the difficulty that faced them hitting her with full force, "but I believe in her."

The older woman gazed at her for a minute and gave her a half-smile. "Maybe that’ll be enough." Standing, she said, "I can let you see her, but her parents are going to have to come bail her out. Is her mother at their home?"

"Yes, but she’s sleeping. She won’t wake up until about 4:00."

Once again the deputy’s eyebrows popped up to the tan felt of her hat. "Well, I’ve left many messages. I guess she’ll get them then."

"Can I stay with her?" Hennessey asked.

Looking at her watch, the woman said, "I go off duty at 6:00. I can let you stay until my replacement comes in. He wouldn’t like my giving Townsend any special favors."

Wiping at tears again, Hennessey asked, "Doesn’t anyone on this island like her?"

"Not many good people have reason to, Hennessey. The ones who do like her aren’t the kinds of people you’d want her to associate with."

Nodding slowly, Hennessey followed the woman into the lock-up, staring at the crisp crease that ran down the back of her tan uniform shirt — concentrating hard so she wasn’t tempted to cry again.

* * *

There were two cells, and only one was occupied — by a slight, frail, pale body. Townsend was wearing only a set of hospital-green scrubs, and her color nearly matched the tone of the fabric. There wasn’t another thing in the cell save for a bare mattress. The young woman looked cold and ill; Hennessy’s suspicion was verified when she saw the nearby clear, plastic container that held some of the contents of her lover’s stomach. Hennessey turned to the deputy with a stunned expression. "She’s sick and she’s freezing!" she whispered, trying not to wake Townsend up.

"I know that, but I was afraid she was a suicide risk, given how she was acting. I’d rather have her cold than dead."

"I’ll be with her," Hennessey said. "Can you please get her a blanket?"

"Sure. I’ll get one right now. Just sit tight." She went to the far end of the hall, leaving Hennessey to stare at her lover. Never had Townsend looked worse, and for a few moments, Hennessey wished she hadn’t come — to the lock-up; to the beach house; to Boston. But she swallowed her disappointment and dread and tried to put on a positive front for Townsend.

The deputy returned with the blanket and Hennessey gratefully accepted it. "How long ago did she vomit?"

"I’ve been checking on her every fifteen minutes, so not very long. I’ll bring her a new cup in case she needs it."

"Is there anything you can give her? Something for her stomach?"

"No, we’re not allowed to. It’s probably best for her to get rid of everything, anyway. I’m sure she’ll be all right."

"Could I go to the store and buy her some Gatorade, or something like that? She’s got to be dehydrated."

Making a face, the older woman hesitated, then found herself unable to refuse the earnest young woman’s request. "Okay. Just don’t bring any kind of medication back with you. No aspirin — nothing!"

"I won’t," Hennessey promised, running out of the station as quickly as she could.

A few minutes later she was back, and Hennessey dutifully showed the deputy that she’d brought only a quart of an orange-flavored sports drink. "I left the cell open," the woman said. "Go on in."

For some reason, Hennessey felt better to have the confident older woman by her side, but she smiled nervously and went back, approaching the cell with trepidation. Townsend hadn’t moved, but the cup had been replaced with a new one. Hennessey knew that she should wake her lover, but she was dreading the morning after the promises and self-recriminations that she’d heard far too many of during her short life. So she tucked the thin blanket around Townsend’s shivering body and quietly sat down on the other bed. Townsend instinctively hugged the blanket to her body, looking so frail and broken and young that Hennessey started to cry again. She cried for Townsend and for herself and for her father and her mother and all of the millions of others who were affected by this crippling, soul-killing disease. Nearly an hour passed, and Hennessey’s tears were nearly exhausted when Townsend moaned loudly, then dropped her head over the side of the squeaky bed, grasping for the plastic container.

In a moment, Hennessey was at her side, holding her stringy hair up and out of the way, while the younger woman retched pathetically, choking up nothing but the last remaining ounces of her stomach acid.

Townsend fell back onto the bed, her body now covered in sweat. Panting from exhaustion, she managed to focus and mutter, "Hennessey?"

"Yes, honey, it’s me," the older woman murmured. She took off her sweatshirt and pulled Townsend into an upright position, then removed the sweaty, green, oversized top from the ill woman. Wiping at her pale, nude body, Hennessey managed to dry her off, then slipped the warm, clean shirt over her head. "Can you put your arms through the sleeves, baby?"

"No," Townsend said in a voice that sounded like a child’s.

Hennessey helped her with the task, then smoothed her hair back and lowered her to the bed. "You rest for a minute. I’ll get you a clean cup in case you’re sick again." Hennessey was gone for just a moment, and when she returned, she had not just a new cup, but a cool cloth. Working gently but efficiently, she used the cloth to wipe the younger woman’s fevered brow, then cooled her down by wrapping it around the back of her neck. "I’m gonna help you to sit up, and then you’re gonna to drink some of this stuff," she said.

"Oh, God, I can’t," Townsend moaned. "I’ll throw up again."

"You might, but at least you’ll have something in your stomach. That last batch was just stomach acid, baby."

Townsend didn’t argue; she just lay limply in Hennessey’s arms while the larger woman gently poured a small amount of the liquid into her open mouth. Abruptly, she sat up, proclaiming, "It’s coming right back up." Her stomach lurched, and she gagged soundlessly for a full minute, but nothing else came out of her mouth. Soon she was lying in Hennessey’s arms, once more drenched with sweat. "Oh, God, I’m gonna die."

"No, you’re not," Hennessey said firmly. "Not on my watch, you’re not."

Blinking at the older woman, Townsend finally realized where they were and why they were there. The tears then began, and Hennessey hugged her tighter, knowing they were in for a very long afternoon.

* * *

At 5:45, the deputy came in and announced, "I’m going off duty in fifteen minutes, Hennessey. You’re going to have to leave."

"Has her mother answered yet?" Hennessey asked.

"No, I just tried again."

Summoning all of her strength, Townsend stopped sobbing and asked, "Have you called my attorney?"

"Uhm … no, you didn’t tell me you had one."

"James Callaghan," she said. "He’s in the book."

"Oh, I know his number," the woman said. "I’ll see what I can do." Hennessey gathered up her things, taking the empty sports bottle and looking regretfully at her shirt. "You’d better give me back my shirt. The new guy won’t like it."

Townsend looked down and nodded, crying once again. Taking off the large shirt made her look so young and yet so old. She slipped the huge scrub shirt back on, then looked up at Hennessey helplessly. "I’ll wait outside until your attorney comes," Hennessey said. "Hang in there, baby."

"How … how can you still love me?" she asked, her voice shaking roughly.

With her face filled with sorrow, Hennessey gently stroked the pale, trembling cheek. "How can you not love yourself?"

* * *

Mr. Callaghan dutifully arrived no more than fifteen minutes after he’d been called. Hennessey sat on the rough, weathered stairs of the station after having been given a chilly reception by the deputy sheriff who’d just come on duty. A short time later, Townsend emerged, looking rumpled and grouchy and in pain. She was followed by her attorney, a distinguished looking older gentleman, wearing an immaculately tailored blue suit and a gold and navy rep tie. "Well, Townsend, this little scrape will require quite a few feathers to be smoothed, but I don’t anticipate too much trouble."

Townsend nodded, then grimaced, regretting the sudden motion. "Thanks, Jim. I’ll be sure to tell my grandfather how helpful you’ve been."

He smiled at her and patted her gently on the back. "Take care of yourself, Townsend. I’ll let you know how everything turns out."

She gave him a weak wave as he glided down the stairs and strode along the wooden sidewalk. "I would have introduced you, but I hope we never have to see him again," Townsend said, her voice filled with fatigue.

"That’s all right," Hennessey replied, even though she would never have failed to introduce anyone she knew to Townsend. "Ready to go home?"

"No. I can’t bear to." She looked up at Hennessey and asked, "Could we possibly go back to Boston? I feel safer there."

"All right," Hennessey said without hesitation. "Where do you want to go?"

"Is your roommate gone?"

"Yeah. She’ll be back Sunday night."

"Let’s go to Harvard," Townsend suggested.

Hennessey wasn’t sure why she did it, but she agreed. "Let’s go get our things."

"Leave ‘em," Townsend declared. "I’ll have Mother bring them back with her."

Hennessey gave her partner a long look, then said, "My entire winter wardrobe is in that bag, Townsend. I’d really like to be able to change clothes before Sunday."

Blinking slowly, Townsend grimaced and said, "I’m sorry. I didn’t think …"

"S’all right," Hennessey said. "But I need to go back, and you need to tell your mother that we’re leaving."

"She won’t care ¾ " Townsend began, only to be stopped by Hennessey’s sharp look.

"I care. And you should, too." Squaring her shoulders, she began to walk down the sidewalk, leaving Townsend in her dust.

* * *

Their departure was much quicker than Hennessey could ever have imagined leaving her own home, but the Bartley’s were so little like her own family that it was hard to make meaningful comparisons between the two groups. Miranda allowed them to take the Mercedes that Townsend had driven into town the night before, not even caring to ask what had happened to cause them to leave so abruptly.

Hennessey drove, even though Townsend maintained that she’d been driving without a license since she was sixteen, and that the previous night had been the only time she’d been caught. The older woman didn’t comment on the fact that Townsend could have had a license at sixteen if she’d not been caught driving without one at fifteen.

Hennessey had to concentrate on her driving, since traffic was fairly heavy and she didn’t know the way. But after the car was on the ferry to Woods Hole, there were no excuses for the complete silence that reigned.

"How angry are you?" Townsend asked after staring at the water for many minutes.

"Angry? I’m not angry," Hennessey said, giving her friend a perplexed look.

"Oh, come on, Hennessey. Anyone in her right mind would be angry with me. Come on, be honest!"

Hennessey shook her head in an irritated gesture. "I am being honest. Don’t try to put emotions onto me that I’m not feeling."

"Fine." Townsend walked to the stern and stood alone, not moving until it was time to reclaim the car. The whole process took quite a few minutes, but the women did not break the tense silence. Just moments after departing, however, Hennessey pulled the car into a parking lot and turned off the engine.

"Come on, let’s go for a walk. We need to talk a little bit."

"We could have talked on the ferry," Townsend grumbled.

As soon as they were both out of the car, Hennessey took the younger woman’s hand and looked deep into her eyes. "Townsend, I care about you, and I care about your privacy. I would never have a personal discussion like that aboard a crowded boat. Now come on, have a little more self-respect."

"I didn’t even consider that," the blonde mumbled, looking away from Hennessey’s penetrating stare.

"Let’s take that walk," the taller woman said, draping her arm around her friend’s shoulders.

* * *

As they walked along, Hennessey began to speak in a quiet, reflective voice. "I have an uncle — my mother’s brother Cletus - who’s schizophrenic." Townsend gave her a curious look, and Hennessey laughed softly. "I don’t think I have the best genes for procreating. I think I’d better adopt."

"You have wonderful genes, baby. And yours must be dominant for you to avoid some of the problems that your family members have."

"Yeah, well, I don’t know about that," the taller woman said. "But back to my uncle. He does fairly well most of the time, but every once in a while he starts acting crazy. Sometimes there’s no warning at all, sometimes he’s forgotten to take his meds for a couple of days, and sometimes it’s a sign that his meds need adjustment."

"Uhm … I guess that makes sense," Townsend said. "But why are we talking about this now?"

"Because I’m trying to explain to you why I’m not angry with you for having a slip."

"Go on," Townsend said warily. "Although I don’t think I want to know that you think I’m mentally ill."

"I don’t, Townsend," Hennessey said. "But the fact is that both you and my Uncle Cletus have a disease. You both have to be very vigilant to make sure you’re taking care of yourselves and monitoring your medication — but even when you do that faithfully, you’re going to have a long period of trial and error until you get it all sorted out."

"My medication?"

"Yeah, your medication is working your program faithfully. Your meds got screwed up when Sharon had her slip. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have gone on vacation together right after you’d lost your sponsor. That was a set-up, baby, and I regret that I didn’t recognize it before it happened."

With her voice breaking, Townsend said, "But it meant so much to me to see you, Hennessey."

"I know that, baby, but look what happened. You had a major slip, you got arrested and now you feel like shit about yourself. Was it worth it?"

"It’s … it’s worth anything I have to do to be with you, Hennessey. Anything."

Squeezing her shoulders, Hennessey said, "I had a feeling you’d say that." She dropped a soft kiss on the crown of Townsend’s head and said, "We’ve got a long drive back to Boston. We’d better get shakin’, huh?"

"Okay." Townsend faced her partner and draped her arms around her waist. "Are we going to be all right?"

"Yeah," Hennessey said, smiling confidently. "We’ll be fine."

* * *

Hennessey was driving more aggressively than her usual laid-back style, and Townsend finally commented, "Are we in a hurry?"

"Uhm … yeah," Hennessey said, quickly checking her watch. "I want to make my meeting. It’s at 8:00."

"Your meeting?"

"Uh-huh." She shot a quick glance at Townsend. "I’ve started to go to Al-Anon meetings. I’ve just started to work with a sponsor, and I could use a little boost tonight."

Townsend was silent for quite a while, taking in the impact of Hennessey’s words. "This is as hard on you as it is on me, isn’t it?"

"I don’t know," the brunette said. "I’ve never been in your position, Townsend. I only know what it’s like to love an alcoholic — not be one."

"Have you ever been drunk?" Townsend asked.

"No, no, I haven’t, and I never will be. I’ve had a beer with a good oyster bake, but that’s it. With a pair of alcoholic parents, I’m not ever going to take that risk."

"I wish I hadn’t," Townsend said wistfully.

* * *

 

Once they were in Hennessey’s small room, Townsend put her bag on the bed that didn’t hold the large teddy bear she had sent Hennessey. "Is it okay if I sleep here?"

"Sure. I’ll wash the sheets before Robin comes back. She won’t mind."

"Do you mind if I crash while you’re gone? I’m not feeling so hot."

Hennessey hesitated, then stopped herself from saying what she’d wanted to say. "Sure. You just take it easy. I’m sure you’re wrung out."

"Do you want to get some dinner after your meeting?"

"Uhm … I need some time with my sponsor, babe, and if she can spare it, I’m going to ask her to stop for a snack. Besides, you shouldn’t have much in that raw tummy of yours. I’ll bring you back some dry cereal or a bagel."

Townsend shrugged. "Okay." She lay down fully clothed, and by the time Hennessey was ready to leave, the younger woman was already breathing heavily.

"G’night," Hennessey whispered, blowing her a kiss.

* * *

Angela and Hennessey sat in an all-night diner not far from the church hall where the meeting had been held. "If anything else could have gone wrong this week, I’d hate to know what it was," Hennessey said, stirring some cream into her tea.

"It sounds like hell, Hennessey. I’m really sorry you had to go through that."

"Yeah, I am, too, but I’m more sorry for Townsend. When she starts to deal with her slip, she’s gonna be very hard on herself."

Raising an eyebrow, Angela asked, "She hasn’t started dealing with it yet?"

Hennessey shook her head, staring into her tea. Angela didn’t say a thing, so Hennessey finally broke the silence. "I wanted her to go to a meeting, but I didn’t want to push her." She looked across the room, unable to meet Angela’s eyes. "Neither of us went to a meeting this week."

The silence ticked on for what seemed like minutes, but was likely moments. "You have to decide how serious you are about her, Hennessey. If you’re truly serious, you’d better get your butt to a meeting every day. Hell, twice a day isn’t out of the question. Fighting your urges to take care of this woman is going to take every bit of your resolve."

"I know," she said, her head bowed. "I know that now more than ever."

* * *

Continued in Part 7

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