The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

Part 7

The next morning, Hennessey woke up to a pair of cold feet pressing against her shins. Blinking slowly, she rolled onto her other side, and drew Townsend’s arm around her waist. "Nice," she murmured. "Feels good."

A warm face pressed against the back of her neck, and Townsend placed a kiss there. "Go to sleep, baby. It’s still early."

"Hug me tight," Hennessey murmured. "Don’t let go."

"I won’t. I promise I won’t," Townsend said, placing another kiss on her neck. "I’ll always hold you close."

* * *

The sunlight was streaming in the window when Hennessey woke again, and as she turned her head, she was greeted by Townsend — smiling warmly at her. "Hi. I thought you were gonna sleep all day, but I didn’t mind a bit. It’s so nice holding you this way that I wouldn’t care if we never got up."

"Oh, sure you would," Hennessey said, bounding out of bed. "Be right back." She made a mad dash for the bathroom, leaving a smiling Townsend to lie back down after rolling over to feel the warmth of the recently vacated spot. Expecting her partner to come back to bed for a more leisurely wake up, Townsend’s eyes narrowed when she heard the shower start. A few minutes later, Hennessey came out, rubbing her wet hair with a towel. "Shower felt great. You can use it now, if you want."

"I thought you might like to cuddle a little more," Townsend said, pouting.

"No. Once I’m awake, I’m ready to go. Besides, I have a lot of things on my agenda for today. It’s time to get rolling." She went to her small dresser and pulled out a pair of jeans and a bright red, fleece top. "Do you want to get in the shower, or can I have the bathroom again?"

"I’ll go," Townsend said, realizing that she wasn’t going to get her way.

* * *

Over breakfast, Hennessey gazed at her partner with a neutral smile and asked, "How are you going to go about finding a new sponsor?"

Shrugging, Townsend said, "I don’t really know. Sharon suggested somebody, but I don’t like him."

"Uh-huh."

Giving her a perturbed look, Townsend said, "I’m new to this stuff, ya know. I thought your sponsor was supposed to be reliable!"

Hennessey reached across the table and lightly gripped the blonde’s hand. "Sponsors are struggling with the same disease that you are, Townsend. They’re human, too."

The younger woman dropped her head into her hands and rubbed her face roughly. "I know that," she said, her voice sounding old and tired. "But I depended on Sharon. She let me down." Not saying a word, Hennessey gazed at her partner until Townsend’s head lifted. "I … let you down, too," Townsend said, her voice beginning to shake. "God damn me, Hennessey, I was so sure I could do this."

"You can and you will," Hennessey said. "But you’ve got to get comfortable with the fact that it’s not ever a smooth road."

"But what do I do?"

"You find a new sponsor — as soon as possible. Then, you start all over again. You go back to step one and start fresh."

Townsend’s lower lip started to tremble, and she sniffed, "I have to give my chips back, don’t I?"

With a gentle smile, Hennessey nodded. "You’ll have to earn them again, baby."

"They mean so much to me," Townsend said, beginning to sob. "I keep my six-month chip in my pocket and rub it when I feel tempted."

"I’m so sorry, Townsend. You have no idea how sorry I am that you had a slip."

"I didn’t have a slip. I had a crash."

"No, you didn’t," Hennessey said with conviction. "You can get up and start over. Nothing is broken; there’s no lasting harm. It was a slip."

Townsend wiped at her eyes and said, "Can we get out of here? People are staring at me."

"Sure. I’ll pay the check. You wait outside."

A few moments later, Hennessey took Townsend’s hand and said, "How are you planning on getting back to school on Sunday?"

"I have a late night flight. Why?"

"’Cause I don’t think we should wait until then. I think we should go today."

"Huh? Why?"

"’Cause you need to find a new sponsor, and it would be great if you could get that taken care of before school starts on Monday. I think we should spend the weekend trying to get you settled."

"But my school’s closed for break," Townsend said.

"Uh-huh. Like that would stop you if this were something you wanted to do," Hennessey said, giving her a wry smile. "You can buy us a hotel room."

"Damn, I know you’re serious when you let me pay for things," Townsend muttered.

"I’ve told you before, Townsend, I’ll never joke about your sobriety."

* * *

Even though the younger woman insisted that it wasn’t necessary, Hennessey urged her to call her mother and tell her of her change of plans. They agreed that Hennessey would drop Townsend off, and that Miranda would have someone come get the car when Hennessey returned to Cambridge.

Driving up the turnpike, Hennessey said, "Well, we’ve got a long drive ahead of us. How do you want to pass the time? I know," she said before Townsend could begin to answer, "let’s talk about what was going on in your head that made you want to drink."

"That sounds like fun," Townsend grumbled. "Are you always this lively on car trips?"

"Yep. Just my natural charm. Now, I know this is hard for you, but we haven’t really talked about it. It might help to get it off your chest."

"All right." Townsend curled up in the large, leather seat, tucking her feet under her body. Reclining her seatback, she faced her friend and stared at the side of her face for a long time. "I think better when I’m looking at something pretty," she explained when Hennessey gave her a puzzled look.

"Good answer," the brunette said.

Townsend fidgeted in her chair, then reclined it significantly. Contorting her body into a series of interesting positions, she finally sighed and said, "I don’t know if you’re the right person to talk to about this."

Hennessey gave her a puzzled look and said, "It’s all right if you don’t want to talk about it now, but you should talk about it with someone. Soon."

"I know, I know. I … uhm … think I need to talk to someone who isn’t so involved … ya know?"

"Of course I do," Hennessey said. "That’s why I want to make sure you have a sponsor. You need someone to talk to, honey."

"I get that; I really do. But … there’s something that’s been bothering me, Hennessey, and as much as I don’t want to talk about it, I think I have to."

"Go for it," Hennessey said. "I’m ready."

"You might be, but I’m not," Townsend grumbled.

"Come on, babe; if something’s bothering you, I want to know about it."

Townsend was staring at the ceiling, but she reached out and touched Hennessey’s shoulder. "Okay. Here goes. I’m feeling like shit because of the way I treated you the other night."

"The other night?"

"Yeah … when we almost … you know."

Hennessey turned her head and gave her partner a smile. "We’ll get there, honey. You showed the other night that you understand that it’s important to wait until we’re both ready."

"I did not," Townsend’s quiet voice muttered.

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"I didn’t stop because I understand that it’s important to wait. I stopped because I … felt that I’d tricked you into going as far as we did."

"Tricked me? Townsend, what in the hell are you talking about? How do you trick someone into … that?"

Smacking her forehead with her open palm, Townsend moaned, "Damn, Hennessey, sometimes you’re as naïve as a child. It’s incredibly easy to trick someone into going further than they want. I’ve been doing it for years!"

With deep hurt showing in her eyes, Hennessey spared a quick glance at her partner. "You did that … to me?"

"Yes, damn it, I did that to you."

"Fuck," the brunette muttered. "Fuck."

Neither woman said another word, the silence heavy and oppressive in the car. At the first exit, Hennessey pulled off and stopped the car as soon as she found a quiet spot. She rolled the window down and relaxed her seatback, leaning back and staring out the window for a while. "Tell me what happened that night," she finally said. "I want to know everything."

"It’s not that complex. You seemed receptive, and I decided to keep pushing you until I got what I wanted."

Turning to face her partner, Hennessey said, "That’s not what happened. You didn’t push me at all, as a matter of fact. To be honest, that was the first time that I didn’t feel like I had to be on guard."

"Oh, Hennessey," Townsend sighed, "that’s when you have to be more careful. A user like me makes you feel like it’s your idea, but it’s not. I manipulated you to get you there — it’s as simple as that."

"But … but why would you do that to me?" Hennessey asked, her voice breaking. "You know I didn’t want to go that far."

"But I did," Townsend said, her voice taking on the hard tone that Hennessey hadn’t heard since summer. "I wanted to have sex with you, and when I saw the opportunity, I jumped at it."

"You don’t do that to someone you love," Hennessey said. "You just don’t."

"But I do love you," Townsend said. "I do, Hennessey."

The dark head shook slowly. "Love isn’t what you say. Love is what you do. Trying to trick me into having sex wasn’t a loving thing to do, Townsend. It wasn’t."

"I know that," the blonde said. "That’s why I stopped. I couldn’t go through with it. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t go through with it."

Hennessey paused, then wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "Do you mean that?"

"Mean what?"

"That this was the first time in your entire life that you couldn’t go through with having sex?"

"Uhm … yeah, I guess I do," Townsend nodded, her shame nearly overwhelming her.

Suddenly, Hennessey’s tears stopped, and she turned to her partner and reached out to touch her cheek. "That’s a very, very good sign," she said softly. "Whenever you break a habit like that, it’s a good sign, Townsend. Don’t you see that?"

"No. All I see is that I treated you like I treated every piece of street trash I’ve ever fucked."

"That’s not true," Hennessey said, her voice sharp and low. "You stopped to think about my feelings and how it would affect me. I think you stopped to think about your feelings, too," she added. "I don’t think you wanted that on your conscience."

"I don’t have a conscience," Townsend muttered.

"You’re developing one," Hennessey said. "The only thing that stopped us from having sex was your conscience — not mine. My conscience and my self-control were gone, Townsend. But your conscience was on the job — watching out for me … and for us." She leaned over and wrapped her arms around her lover. "That was a loving act. A very loving act."

"But it sure as hell wasn’t my first instinct," Townsend groused.

"No, it wasn’t, but consciences are developed. They don’t spring to life fully formed. You’ll get there, Townsend. I know you will."

"Damn," the smaller woman sighed. "Sometimes I think this is too much for me to handle. I have to worry about drinking and doing drugs and smoking and sex; and now I’ve got to develop a conscience. I don’t know how I’ll have time to sleep."

Hennessey pulled back a little and looked into her eyes. "I know it’s a lot. And you’re right; it might be too much to handle all at once. Maybe there’s a way to simplify things a little bit."

"I’m ready to start having sex any time you are," Townsend said, a small smile twitching at her lips. "That would take care of one item."

"Wouldn’t that be nice?" Hennessey said, her voice taking on a wistful tone. "I wish it were that easy. You don’t know how much I wish that."

* * *

Hennessey had decided to be as agreeable as humanly possible, knowing that this was going to be a hard weekend for her partner. She not only didn’t say a word when Townsend directed her to a very opulent country inn, she kept her discomfort to herself when they were shown to their room. "Nice bed," she said, sitting on the edge of the queen-sized mattress. "Nice room, too," she added, looking around the beautifully appointed place.

"This is where my parents stayed when they had me committed here," Townsend said. "It’s the nicest place in the area."

"I would think so," Hennessey said, nodding agreeably. "So, what’s on the agenda?"

"Uhm … I think you’re the one with agenda," Townsend said. "We’d still be in Boston if I were running the show."

"Good point." Hennessey patted the bed, urging Townsend to join her. "I think you ought to give Sharon a call and talk to her at length about finding another sponsor. See if she has any suggestions for other people … maybe see why she thought the first guy she mentioned was tops on her list."

"Okay. She’s usually home on Saturdays. Then what?"

"Let’s see what comes of your discussion. Then we can decide what to do next. Oh. What time is your regular meeting?"

"I usually go to two on Saturday. I’ve missed the morning meeting, and the other one’s at 5:00."

"Cool. That gives us a lot of time to work with. You make your call. I’ll wait down in the lobby."

"You don’t have to …"

"Sure I do. You and Sharon deserve privacy, honey. Come get me when you’re done."

* * *

Nearly a half hour later, Townsend flopped down on the settee, startling the contemplative Hennessey. "Damn! You really do make an entrance," the brunette said, patting her racing heart.

"Sorry. I’m frustrated. Sharon was no help at all."

"What happened?"

"Oh, she said she thought I should talk to Art before I made up my mind. She’s certain that he’s the right kind of guy for me — but I can’t stand him, honey. He irritates the shit out of me!"

"Hmm … I wonder why she’s so sure that he’s the right guy for you."

"I don’t know. I think she just doesn’t know anyone else."

"Do you have his number?"

"Yeah."

"Why don’t you call him and talk to him. Maybe there’s a good reason that Sharon’s urging you to try him out."

Townsend rolled her eyes. "I knew that’s what you’d say, and I already did it. We’re meeting at three o’clock. He said that you should come, too."

"I love a woman who can read my mind," Hennessey said, smiling brightly.

"I can’t read your mind, Hennessey. You’re just totally predictable — and that’s not something you should be so damned proud of!"

* * *

When they walked into the quiet coffee shop, Townsend gave an unenthusiastic wave to a bearded, bespectacled, beret-wearing man who was sitting at a table in the back of the restaurant. When they approached, Townsend said, "Hi, Art. This is Hennessey. Hennessey — Art."

Hennessey extended her hand, and it was quickly enveloped in a large, muscular, callused hand. "Hi, Hennessey. Have a seat."

Hennessey spent a moment looking at Art, guessing he was in his mid to late forties. He looked quite a bit like a beatnik, or what Hennessey guessed a beatnik would look like from the pictures she’d seen of the Beat Generation writers of the fifties.

"Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Art," Townsend said. "I’ve had a bad week, and I really need to get back on track."

He gave her a neutral look. "I don’t want to talk about anything too personal right now, Townsend. If we talk, and I decide I can work with you, then we’ll go into detail. But right now, I want to get to know you a little bit. I want to see how serious you are about staying sober."

Hennessey could see Townsend’s hackles start to rise, but she didn’t say a word. She knew there was nothing she could do to make this easier for Townsend, so she bided her time and sat back to observe.

"I’m very serious about staying sober," the blonde said, her face turning a shade darker. "I’ve been sober for nine months. Or … I had been," she admitted. "I guess now I should say that I’ve been sober for two days."

"Uh-huh," Art said, tossing his mostly gray ponytail over his shoulder. "I take it you had a slip."

"Yeah. A big one," Townsend admitted, staring at the table.

"All right," he said. Turning to Hennessey, he asked, "How do you fit in here?"

"I’m Townsend’s lover," she said.

"Lover, huh? How long have you two been together?"

"We met last June, and we’ve been … involved since August."

Art furrowed his brow, then said, "Math isn’t my thing, but doesn’t that mean you’ve been together ever since Townsend stopped … or tried to stop … drinking?"

"Yeah, it does. We were together when she stopped."

"Hennessey helped me stop," Townsend volunteered. "She’s the only good influence I’ve ever had in my life."

Art gave Townsend a half-smile and said, "I guess everyone deserves one in her life."

"Well, Hennessey’s mine," the young woman said, a note of defiance in her voice.

"Uh-huh. Tell me something about yourself, Hennessey."

"Well, I’m from South Carolina, and I’m in Boston going to school."

"Do you have much experience in dealing with alcoholics?" he asked.

With a pained look, she said, "Too much. Both of my parents are alcoholics. Neither has ever been in recovery."

"Uh-huh. How about your past relationships? What kind of people have you been with?"

Clearly irritated, Townsend interjected, "Is Hennessey the one looking for a sponsor?"

"No," Art said, his patient, laid-back demeanor obviously driving Townsend mad. "I just want to see the whole picture."

"I don’t mind talking about this," Hennessey said. "Townsend is my first lover. She’s … the first person I’ve ever even kissed."

This revelation didn’t seem to surprise Art, but then, nothing did. "So, a girl from an alcoholic home chooses an alcoholic to partner with. That’s a first."

"Look," Hennessey said, "I know it looks like I’m following the usual pattern, but I’ve spent a lot of time in Al-Anon, and I’ve gotten back into it recently. I’m working with a sponsor now, and I think I can maintain my boundaries."

"Everyone thinks that, Hennessey. Not many can, but everyone thinks she can."

"I’m sure that’s true," the brunette admitted.

"Now let’s talk about you," Art said, turning to Townsend. "I’ve seen you at a lot of meetings, and I bet you’ve heard the warning about not getting involved with anyone during your first year of sobriety. What makes you think you’re exempt?"

"I’m not exempt," she snapped. "Hennessey and I knew each other while I was still drinking. It was a natural evolution. I didn’t get involved with her after I stopped — it was concurrent."

"That doesn’t make it right, and that doesn’t make it good for you," Art said bluntly.

"Yes, it does," Townsend insisted. "I could never stay sober without Hennessey!"

The older man was quiet for a moment. Then he looked from one woman to the other. "I rest my case."

"No! That’s ridiculous! Hennessey supports me; she’s always there for me, and she always urges me to do the right thing!"

"Uh-huh. That would be fine if Hennessey were your sponsor. But she’s not. She’s your lover. And if you two break up — and you probably will — your sobriety goes with her. Does anything about that seem intelligent?"

"No," Hennessey answered, surprising Townsend.

"Hennessey! How could you say that?" Townsend burst into tears, sobbing so loudly that the other patrons stared at her.

The larger woman put her arm around her partner and murmured into her ear, "Art’s right, Townsend. We shouldn’t have gotten involved when we did. I blame myself for that. I knew better — but I couldn’t resist."

"So you regret being with me?" the blonde sobbed.

"No, no, not in the least. But we can’t act like this is an ideal situation. It’s not. I’m only trying to be honest, Townsend. We have to be honest."

"Do you love me?" Townsend asked, her voice shaking.

"Yes, of course I do. I always will," Hennessey promised. "But that doesn’t mean that everything will be smooth and easy. It’s going to be hard for us — and harder for you to stay sober."

Townsend buried her face against Hennessey’s shoulder and cried quietly while Art spoke. "You two have set this up in a pretty shitty way, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to failure. You do have to know, though, that you’ve made it much harder for yourselves — in every way."

"I know that," Hennessey said.

Art looked at the still-sobbing blonde and said, "Look, I’ve made every mistake there is to make. I was a heroin addict, a drunk and a chronic dope smoker. It took me years to get all of my addictions in order, but I finally did. I was a tough case, and I like to work with tough cases. I think Townsend qualifies," he said, smiling. "Hennessey, why don’t you go for a walk? I want to talk to Townsend for a while."

"Okay," she said, prying her lover’s fingers from her shirt. "Where should I meet you?"

Art cocked his head and looked at her for a moment. "Why don’t you come to the meeting with us? It’s at the VFW hall right down the street. It starts at 5:00."

"Okay, I’ll see you then." She leaned in and gave Townsend a kiss on the cheek. "I’ll see you soon, sweetheart. Stay strong."

* * *

When Hennessey arrived at the meeting, she was saddened to see that Townsend had been crying again. From the looks of her swollen eyes and mottled face, it appeared that she hadn’t stopped in the last hour. Sitting down next to her, Hennessey slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Tough day, huh?"

"Yeah. Very tough. But I feel better now that you’re here."

"I do, too."

The meeting began and eventually it was Townsend’s turn to talk. "Hi, I’m Townsend, and I’m an alcoholic," she began, her voice quieter and less confident than normal. "I had nine months of sobriety, but I had a major slip this week." Her shoulders began to shake, and Hennessey put her arm around her again to encourage her to continue. "I feel like shit about it ¾ and about myself," she added. "I was so sure that I had a handle on all of this … but I don’t." She sniffed and wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands, until another woman reached over with some tissues. "Thanks," she said. "I thought I’d brought enough, but I underestimated how many tears I had stored up."

Hennessey gave her a gentle squeeze, and she lifted her hand to cover her lover’s. "Uhm … I’ve been thinking about what made me slip, and I think it was the same old thing." She looked up at the crowd, each of whom was listening intently. "I felt invisible." She said this quietly, so quietly that Hennessey could barely hear her, but several heads in the room nodded in understanding.

"My mother is pretty prominent in her field, and the headmaster of my school asked her to speak at my graduation in May." She bit her lower lip and continued. "For the first time in my life, I’d started to feel good about something that I’d accomplished. I’ve always been proud of myself for getting kicked out of school, but this year, being sober has allowed me to genuinely put myself into my schoolwork — and it’s felt wonderful," she admitted, a ghost of a smile on her lips. "It’s something that I did for myself — only myself." She took in and let out a massive breath. "Having my mother come to the school will make my graduation about her. I’ll disappear," she said in a mere whisper. Her shoulders started to shake, and Hennessey held onto her tightly. "I felt myself disappearing the other night, and no one … no one understood," she choked out. "I felt so alone, so scared … I couldn’t bear feeling that lonely. So, I did what I always do. I went to a bar and let a bunch of creeps buy me drinks. The guys are vermin, and they only want me because I’ll let ‘em do what they want — but they’re consistent. They know what I want, and they’ll give it to me as long as I give ‘em what they want. It’s a fucking sick bargain, but I can count on it — no matter what." Her whole body shook, then she leaned back against Hennessey, muttering, "That’s it."

* * *

Late that night, the pair lay in bed, Townsend curled up against Hennessey’s larger body. "It’s been a hell of a week, hasn’t it?" the blonde asked.

"Yeah, it has. I know you and I might see things differently, but I don’t think it’s been a bad week, Townsend. I think it’s shown us some of the pitfalls we’re gonna have to be on the lookout for. I think it’s been helpful in many ways."

"Uhm … we haven’t talked about the night I … got drunk," Townsend said.

"No, we haven’t talked about it much. Do you want to?"

"No, not really ¾ but there is one thing I want you to know. Nothing happened with those guys, Hennessey. I was just stringing them along so they’d buy me drinks."

"It’s all right. I know you weren’t in your right mind. You fell back into your old habits — I know that’s not how you want to live any more."

"Do you believe me?" the blonde asked softly.

"Sure, I believe that you didn’t have to put out to get what you needed. But if I’m gonna be completely honest, I believe you would have done whatever you needed to do to get your fix that night. Let’s face reality, honey."

"I don’t … I don’t want to be like that anymore, baby, I don’t. I want to be yours alone."

"I know you do. I believe that you do."

Townsend snuggled up tight and whispered, "Thanks for believing in me."

"I do believe in you, and I always will," Hennessey said. "But I know how many things you’re trying to change. You’ve got a laundry list here, honey, and most people would be overwhelmed by it. I admire how much effort you’re putting in."

"Thanks."

"You know," Hennessey said, "you’d have a full time job just coming to terms with how you feel about your mom, much less all of the other things you’re doing."

"Aw, she doesn’t affect me much. She annoys me more than anything."

"Uhm … Townsend, didn’t I hear you tell the group that you started drinking again because of how she made you feel? That’s a little more than annoying!"

"It’s not a big deal, Hennessey. I don’t care for her enough to let her get to me very often."

"I know you’ve been in therapy since you could walk, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve spent much time talking about your mother," Hennessey said. "What’s up with that?"

"Oh, I’ve been in therapy forever, but I’ve never been very serious about it. I think I’m on my eighth therapist. I’m trying for the record."

Hennessey pulled away and looked at her partner for a moment. "Who does that hurt?"

"What?"

"You heard me. Who does it hurt when you waste your time in therapy?"

Townsend was quiet for a moment, then said, "I guess it hurts me."

"Yeah, I guess it does," Hennessey said, clearly irritated. "Damn, Townsend, you’ve had so many opportunities, and you not only let them slip by — you throw them away! You’ve got to learn how to care about yourself more."

"Hennessey, I can’t do everything at once. Please stop adding to my list every ten seconds."

Letting out a sigh, Hennessey said, "I’m sorry. There are just some building blocks here that I feel you’ve skipped over. I know you don’t have time to build any trust with a therapist in the little time you have left in Vermont, but you’ve got to find someone to work with once you get back to Boston. It’s going to be very stressful when you’re back on your home turf, baby, and you’re going to need some support."

"I’ll have you," Townsend said, giving her partner a warm smile.

"Of course you will, but I’m not a substitute for a therapist. You need to work on the things that everyone goes through with her parents, Townsend, not just your addictions."

"Okay, okay, I’ll put it on my list. Now can we kiss for a while? I don’t think I’ve gotten one little nibble on those sweet lips today."

"I need that, too," Hennessey said, giving her a warm smile. "Come here and let me hold you for a while."

Surprised, Townsend did as her partner asked, crawling onto her body while Hennessey’s hands trailed all over her cotton-clad form. "I’m glad we’re sharing a room," Hennessey said softly. "I need to do this. I need to have the feel of your body imprinted on my soul."

Townsend lay quietly, the feel of Hennessey’s hands making her body and her heart ache. "The very worst thing about falling off the wagon is knowing that you won’t make love to me this summer," the blonde whimpered. "I dream about it every night, Hennessey. It’s the one thing … the one goal in my life that has been important enough for me to strive for."

"I know,’ the larger woman murmured. "It’s been important to me, too. Too important," she added.

Townsend turned her head and started to kiss Hennessey’s trembling lips. She didn’t rush or push her this time. Fighting her instincts, she used her lips and her tongue not to excite, but to show her love for the beautiful woman who lay beneath her.

Hennessey seemed to detect the change, and she responded in kind, rolling onto her side — taking Townsend with her. Facing each other, their bodies touching all along their lengths, they spent hours exploring each other in the most gentle and tender fashion. Hennessey had a hard time deciding where she stopped and Townsend started, but she honestly did not care. This was nothing like the wild frenzy of sexual need that she’d felt earlier in the week ¾ this was a sacred physical and emotional communion ¾ her mouth and Townsend’s … merging and sharing their hopes and their dreams and their promises.

Neither woman was aware of how tired she was, and each hoped they could continue to luxuriate in the comfort of each other’s arms until morning. But just before dawn, Hennessey woke to find herself still pressed against her lover, their lips less than an inch from each other’s. She let out a sigh and kissed the pouty lips one more time, then tightened her hold and went to sleep once again, feeling safe and sure and confident.

* * *

Townsend had no intention of getting out of bed, despite Hennessey’s best efforts. "Come on, honey, I’ve got to get some breakfast and then get on the road. I didn’t get a thing done this week, and I have a major writing assignment on Wednesday. I’ve got to get a little work done today."

"Call the desk and ask them to bring us breakfast. They’ll be happy to." She looked up at Hennessey with her most plaintive expression, and the dark-haired woman gentled her stern look and capitulated.

"Okay. As usual, you win."

"Ha! If I ever won, I’d be happily nursing a hangover after having kept you up all night making love."

"We were up most of the night," Hennessey reminded her, "and if what we did last night wasn’t making love, then I obviously don’t know what love is." She walked over to the phone and made the call, then came back to bed and slid in.

"It was making love," Townsend agreed. "It was one of the best nights of my life."

"Mine, too," Hennessey said, smiling warmly.

"How long do we have to wait until we can make love with our clothes off?" Townsend asked. "You’re not going to make me wait three hundred sixty-two days, are you?"

Hennessey gave her a half-smile and said, "I’ve been thinking about that a lot, honey, and I think that arbitrary date has been part of our problem."

"Huh? What problem?"

"The problem that led you to a bar on Thursday night," Hennessey said. "I think we’ve set this whole thing up to make it harder for you, rather than easier."

Letting out a wry laugh, Townsend said, "Well, it sure as hell feels hard, so maybe we have. How do we fix it?"

"I think we have to remove the one year rule," Hennessey said.

"Now you’re talkin’!"

"Uhm … I don’t think you’re going to like the alternative," Hennessey said. "Don’t get too excited."

Immediately, Townsend gave her a wary look. "What do you mean, I won’t like it?"

"Just what I said. I think the one year rule is a set-up, and I think we should abolish it. I think we have to wait to be intimate until we’re both ready — emotionally. I guess it’s possible that could happen in a few months — but I don’t think it will. I think it will take a much longer time. But I don’t see any options."

"Much … longer … time?" Townsend asked. "Do you honestly think I’m going to wait years to have sex again? I’m a very sexual person, Hennessey. I need it! I don’t have any intention of waiting until I’m twenty years old to have it again!"

"I’m not suggesting that you should," Hennessey said, giving Townsend a look that the blonde was unable to read.

"Then what are you suggesting?"

Hennessey rolled out of bed and walked across the floor to answer the light knock on the door. Taking the tray from the young man, she placed it on the coffee table and sat down on the couch. Townsend was about to pull her hair out, but Hennessey went about the usual, methodical routine she used for making her tea, then sat back and looked at her partner. "I’m suggesting that we’ve been rushing things ¾ "

"Rushing! I’ve got both feet on the brakes! How’s that rushing?"

"We’re rushing for me, Townsend. No matter how it feels to you, I’m not ready to go any further, and I don’t think I will be for quite a while."

"Since when? You were all over me the other night, and we would have been fucking like mad if I hadn’t stopped you!"

"That’s part of the problem," Hennessey said quietly. "I don’t want to fuck like mad. I’ve never made love before, and I don’t want my first time to be rushed and frantic. I want to make sweet, tender, passionate love with a woman who wants the same thing."

"I want that!" Townsend insisted, jumping out of bed to rush to Hennessey’s side. "I want that, too."

"Not consistently," Hennessey said, her sorrow showing in her eyes. "You have too many problems to work out to be able to devote yourself to working on our relationship, Townsend. I can’t be with you until we’re both at the same place emotionally — if we ever can be."

"Jesus, God, Hennessey! Are you breaking up with me? Please, please, don’t do this!"

"No, I’m not breaking up with you; I’m just telling you that it can’t go on like it has been. This isn’t working for me."

"How is that not a breakup?"

Hennessey sighed and closed her eyes. "Okay, I guess it is a breakup. But it’s not a permanent breakup." She turned to face Townsend and said, "I’ve never lied to you — not once — and I’m not going to start now. I want to be with you — in every way — more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I’d give everything I have to be able to have you share an apartment with me next year. Nothing would make me happier than to come home at night and make love to you until we couldn’t see straight." She took in a breath and continued, "But we’d break up within the year. I’d either start being your supervisor and you’d start to resent me, or I’d keep my mouth shut and let you make your mistakes — all the while hating you for them. I … can’t … I … won’t … do … that."

Dropping her head into her hands, Townsend asked in a very tired voice, "What in the hell does all of this mean?"

"It means," Hennessey said, "that I have to go back to where we were last summer. I have to concentrate on being your friend and helping you in any way that I can. I’ll write to you every day, I’ll call you whenever I have the money, I’ll see you — often — when you move back to Boston. But I can’t claim to be your lover, Townsend. We haven’t earned that right yet."

Townsend looked at her, her green eyes piercing into Hennessey. "Are you going to wait for me? Am I supposed to wait for you?"

The wide shoulders shrugged. "I can’t make that decision for you. All I know is that I’m not attracted to anyone else. I have no plans to pursue anyone else. You’re the woman I want — I just can’t have you yet."

"You could have me for the rest of your life, and you know it, Hennessey Boudreaux."

"That’s not true," the brunette stated firmly. "If I thought that was possible, I’d do it." She sat up and tossed her hair over her shoulders. "Look. I know that a big part of the problem is me. I’ve never dated anyone, Townsend. I’m so inexperienced that it’s criminal. I wish I’d been casually dating for a few years, and I wish I’d had some relationships before now, but I haven’t. Being with you isn’t a casual thing. It requires my full commitment. I’m eager to do that — but I can’t do it if I’m not confident it will work out. I know that you have to take a leap to fall in love — but I can’t take that leap if I’m sure all that awaits me is rocky ground! I’m not going to have this relationship destroy all of the work I’ve done to maintain my boundaries. Jesus, part of the reason you drank this week was because of how guilty you felt about trying to trick me into having sex. We’ve been with each other for less than a week, and you’ve had a major slip and landed in jail. Is that a sign of good things ahead?"

"No, of course it isn’t," she said softly. "But if we were together all of the time, things would even out. It would be easier, not harder."

"That’s not true, Townsend. I wish it were, but that’s not true."

"Fuck." The younger woman rested her head against the back of the sofa. "So, that’s it? I get the big kiss-off, and you go back to Boston?"

"Yeah, that’s exactly what I said. Thanks for listening so carefully." Hennessey stood up and went into the bathroom, the sharp snap of the lock making Townsend jump.

After one of the longer showers in history, Hennessey emerged, barely glancing at Townsend as she started to walk by her to pack up her things. Townsend’s soft voice stopped her. "I know you’re going to say no, but … I know I’ll never get another chance."

Cocking her head, Hennessey looked at her friend, waiting for her to continue.

"Can I see your body?"

"Pardon me?"

Townsend blushed, a very uncommon occurrence for her. "I know you won’t understand, but I know I’ll never get to see it. I want … I want to have something to remind me of how badly I fucked this up."

"Oh, Townsend," the older woman said, walking over to her. "This isn’t the time to get all fatalistic. I believe in us … and I wish to hell that you did, too."

"Please?" the blonde asked.

"No, I can’t," Hennessey said. "I won’t participate in this, Townsend. If you want to see my body, you’re going to have to earn the privilege. I will not have you using me to torture yourself." She turned and went back into the bathroom, leaving Townsend to shed another batch of tears which seemed to spring from an unlimited source.

* * *

An hour later, the pair stood next to the entrance to Townsend’s dorm. "I don’t think I can stay sober without you, Hennessey. I know I should be optimistic, but I can’t be."

Hennessey placed her hand on her friend’s cheek and gently rubbed her thumb across the soft skin. "Townsend, this is hard for me to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. If I’m the only thing that’s keeping you from drinking, then you might as well start again. I can’t supervise you; I can’t be your conscience. You’ve got to do this for yourself — any other reason dooms you to fail."

"Then I guess I’m doomed," she said softly.

"Look," Hennessey said, "you’re probably going to have another slip or two. Hell, you might have a couple of dozen. But if you make up your mind, you will win this battle. It’s your battle and your battle alone. I can support you, but I can’t fight it for you. No one can do this for you, baby."

"I know," she said. "I know it; I just have a hard time thinking about how I’ll be able to stand not having you as my reward."

"Townsend, I’ve said this every way I can think of. When we’re both ready, I would be the happiest woman in the world to be your lover. My feelings for you are very deep and very genuine. I know what I want, and what I want is a sober, mature, Townsend Bartley. I won’t settle for anything less, and you shouldn’t either."

"All right," Townsend said, nodding briefly. "Uhm … I decided to give Art a try as my sponsor. I thought about some of the things that have gone on this week, and I decided that I’ve got to start listening to the people I trust. Sharon wouldn’t have recommended him if she didn’t feel strongly about it."

"That’s my girl," Hennessey said, beaming a grin at her friend. "I think you’ll be a good match — he seems like he’s the type who can keep up with you."

"Why do you think I resisted?" Townsend said, giving her first genuine smile of the day.

"I love to see that spark in your eyes," Hennessey said. "It’s your feistiness that’s going to get you through this, baby. I know that in my heart."

Townsend slipped her arms around Hennessey’s waist and gave her a gentle hug. "Will I stay in your heart?"

"Always. Always, Townsend. I swear it."

Looking up and staring into Hennessey’s eyes, Townsend asked, "Will you kiss me goodbye?"

"Of course I will. I’ll kiss you the same way I do the people I love the most." She placed a tender, brief kiss on Townsend’s lips, then pulled away and said, "That’s how I kiss my grandparents. You mean as much to me as they do, honey, and that’s the biggest compliment I can give you."

Hugging her tightly, Townsend whispered, "Don’t forget me, Hennessey, please don’t forget me."

"I won’t, baby, I promise I won’t." She pulled back and gave her friend one brief kiss, then got into the car. "I know this week didn’t turn out like we’d planned, but I honestly think we’ve got a better chance of making it now than we did last Saturday. Have faith in yourself, Townsend, and in us."

"I have faith in you, Hennessey. That’s gonna have to tide me over for a while."

"I can do that," the brunette said. "I can carry you for a little while. Then, one day, we’ll be able to walk … together."

Townsend reached into the car and slipped her fingers through Hennessey’s. "I don’t think I can let you go," she said, the tears starting to flow again.

"I don’t want to go. I wish … I truly wish that we could be together for all of the days of our lives." She blinked the hot tears from her eyes and said, "I pray to God that one day we can."

"I love you, Hennessey. I always will, no matter what happens. You’ve given me a second chance at life, and I will never, ever be able to show you how grateful I am for that."

"You can show your gratitude by living well," Hennessey said, smiling through her tears. "That’s all I want for you."

"You’re the only person who’s ever loved me in spite of my faults," Townsend said. "I need that so badly, Hennessey."

"Baby, I don’t love you in spite of anything. I love the whole you — the pretty parts and the not so pretty parts. They all come together to make you who you are. I wouldn’t change a thing."

"Now you’re lying," Townsend said, managing a smile.

Giving her friend the crooked grin that always went straight to Townsend’s heart, Hennessey said, "Maybe just a little. I’d change you so you saw yourself like I see you. Then you wouldn’t want to hurt yourself any longer. That would make me very, very happy."

"I’m gonna try hard, Hennessey. I swear I will."

"I know you will. Now, make sure you save me a ticket for your graduation. I wouldn’t miss that for the world."

"When do you leave for home?"

"The day after you graduate. I have to spend some time with my family before I leave for camp."

"Damn, I wish I could have gone, too."

"You’re too old to be a camper, honey, and you haven’t proven yourself enough to be a counselor. I think you’ll do better staying close to home and working with Art. Maybe you should consider staying in Vermont this summer. Your friends in Boston haven’t been the greatest influence on you."

"That’s an understatement," Townsend said, rolling her eyes. "I’ve been thinking about doing that, you know. There are a bunch of good writing programs here, and some of the classes are open to the public."

"That’s what I’d recommend," Hennessey said. "Focus on yourself and your creativity. You’ll be ready for whatever they throw at you when you start school in the fall."

"Could I come visit you in Beaufort before school starts? I’d love to see your grandparents again."

"Yeah, I think we could manage that. When you know what your school schedule is, we’ll talk."

Townsend gave her friend a long, contemplative look. "You really will stay connected to me, won’t you?"

"Without question. You are my best friend, and you always will be."

"I’d like to have all of you, Hennessey, but some of you is much, much better than nothing."

"You’ll get more than some," the brunette promised. "You’ll get the best I have to give."

"I can’t believe I’m the one to say it, but you’d better get going." Townsend bent over and kissed her friend lightly on the lips. "Hold me in your heart, Hennessey. That’s the only place I feel safe."

Placing her hand over her breast, Hennessey said, "You’re right here. Right where you’ve been since last summer. Right where you’ll always be."

Each woman tried to put on a smile, but neither was very successful. Their lips curved in the appropriate way, but both sets of eyes were filled with tears. "Goodbye, Hennessey."

"Bye, sweetheart. I’ll see you in May."

Townsend nodded and stepped back, but she didn’t release her death grip on her friend’s fingers. The car started to roll away, and Townsend ran a few steps, her hand refusing her brain’s order to release. Finally, Hennessey’s fingers loosened, and Townsend’s hand started to slip away, leaving a fraction of a second where the tips of their fingers connected.

Hennessey couldn’t bear to look in the rear view mirror, since she knew the mere sight of her friend would break her heart. Instead, she brought her fingers to her mouth and kissed them gently, then placed her hand on her shoulder, hugging herself tightly as she drove away.

* * *

Continued in Part 8

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