The Right Thing
By SX Meagher
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 Townsends 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. Its still early."
"Hug me tight," Hennessey murmured. "Dont let go."
"I wont. I promise I wont," Townsend said, placing another kiss on her neck. "Ill 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 didnt mind a bit. Its so nice holding you this way that I wouldnt 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, Townsends 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 Im awake, Im ready to go. Besides, I have a lot of things on my agenda for today. Its 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?"
"Ill go," Townsend said, realizing that she wasnt 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 dont really know. Sharon suggested somebody, but I dont like him."
Giving her a perturbed look, Townsend said, "Im new to this stuff, ya know. I thought your sponsor was supposed to be reliable!"
Hennessey reached across the table and lightly gripped the blondes hand. "Sponsors are struggling with the same disease that you are, Townsend. Theyre 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 Townsends 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 youve got to get comfortable with the fact that its 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."
Townsends lower lip started to tremble, and she sniffed, "I have to give my chips back, dont I?"
With a gentle smile, Hennessey nodded. "Youll 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."
"Im so sorry, Townsend. You have no idea how sorry I am that you had a slip."
"I didnt have a slip. I had a crash."
"No, you didnt," Hennessey said with conviction. "You can get up and start over. Nothing is broken; theres 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. Ill pay the check. You wait outside."
A few moments later, Hennessey took Townsends hand and said, "How are you planning on getting back to school on Sunday?"
"I have a late night flight. Why?"
"Cause I dont think we should wait until then. I think we should go today."
"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 schools 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 youre serious when you let me pay for things," Townsend muttered.
"Ive told you before, Townsend, Ill never joke about your sobriety."
* * *
Even though the younger woman insisted that it wasnt 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, weve 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, "lets 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 havent 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 Im 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 dont know if youre the right person to talk to about this."
Hennessey gave her a puzzled look and said, "Its all right if you dont 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 isnt so involved ya know?"
"Of course I do," Hennessey said. "Thats why I want to make sure you have a sponsor. You need someone to talk to, honey."
"I get that; I really do. But theres something thats been bothering me, Hennessey, and as much as I dont want to talk about it, I think I have to."
"Go for it," Hennessey said. "Im ready."
"You might be, but Im not," Townsend grumbled.
"Come on, babe; if somethings bothering you, I want to know about it."
Townsend was staring at the ceiling, but she reached out and touched Hennesseys shoulder. "Okay. Here goes. Im 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. "Well get there, honey. You showed the other night that you understand that its important to wait until were both ready."
"I did not," Townsends quiet voice muttered.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"I didnt stop because I understand that its important to wait. I stopped because I felt that Id 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 youre as naïve as a child. Its incredibly easy to trick someone into going further than they want. Ive 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."
"Its 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, "Thats not what happened. You didnt push me at all, as a matter of fact. To be honest, that was the first time that I didnt feel like I had to be on guard."
"Oh, Hennessey," Townsend sighed, "thats when you have to be more careful. A user like me makes you feel like its your idea, but its not. I manipulated you to get you there its as simple as that."
"But but why would you do that to me?" Hennessey asked, her voice breaking. "You know I didnt want to go that far."
"But I did," Townsend said, her voice taking on the hard tone that Hennessey hadnt heard since summer. "I wanted to have sex with you, and when I saw the opportunity, I jumped at it."
"You dont do that to someone you love," Hennessey said. "You just dont."
"But I do love you," Townsend said. "I do, Hennessey."
The dark head shook slowly. "Love isnt what you say. Love is what you do. Trying to trick me into having sex wasnt a loving thing to do, Townsend. It wasnt."
"I know that," the blonde said. "Thats why I stopped. I couldnt go through with it. For the first time in my life, I couldnt go through with it."
Hennessey paused, then wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "Do you mean that?"
"That this was the first time in your entire life that you couldnt go through with having sex?"
"Uhm yeah, I guess I do," Townsend nodded, her shame nearly overwhelming her.
Suddenly, Hennesseys tears stopped, and she turned to her partner and reached out to touch her cheek. "Thats a very, very good sign," she said softly. "Whenever you break a habit like that, its a good sign, Townsend. Dont you see that?"
"No. All I see is that I treated you like I treated every piece of street trash Ive ever fucked."
"Thats 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 dont think you wanted that on your conscience."
"I dont have a conscience," Townsend muttered.
"Youre 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 wasnt my first instinct," Townsend groused.
"No, it wasnt, but consciences are developed. They dont spring to life fully formed. Youll 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 Ive got to develop a conscience. I dont know how Ill have time to sleep."
Hennessey pulled back a little and looked into her eyes. "I know its a lot. And youre right; it might be too much to handle all at once. Maybe theres a way to simplify things a little bit."
"Im 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."
"Wouldnt that be nice?" Hennessey said, her voice taking on a wistful tone. "I wish it were that easy. You dont 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 didnt 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. "Its the nicest place in the area."
"I would think so," Hennessey said, nodding agreeably. "So, whats on the agenda?"
"Uhm I think youre the one with agenda," Townsend said. "Wed 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. Shes usually home on Saturdays. Then what?"
"Lets 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. Ive missed the morning meeting, and the other ones at 5:00."
"Cool. That gives us a lot of time to work with. You make your call. Ill wait down in the lobby."
"You dont have to "
"Sure I do. You and Sharon deserve privacy, honey. Come get me when youre 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. Im frustrated. Sharon was no help at all."
"Oh, she said she thought I should talk to Art before I made up my mind. Shes certain that hes the right kind of guy for me but I cant stand him, honey. He irritates the shit out of me!"
"Hmm I wonder why shes so sure that hes the right guy for you."
"I dont know. I think she just doesnt know anyone else."
"Do you have his number?"
"Why dont you call him and talk to him. Maybe theres a good reason that Sharons urging you to try him out."
Townsend rolled her eyes. "I knew thats what youd say, and I already did it. Were meeting at three oclock. He said that you should come, too."
"I love a woman who can read my mind," Hennessey said, smiling brightly.
"I cant read your mind, Hennessey. Youre just totally predictable and thats 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 shed seen of the Beat Generation writers of the fifties.
"Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Art," Townsend said. "Ive had a bad week, and I really need to get back on track."
He gave her a neutral look. "I dont want to talk about anything too personal right now, Townsend. If we talk, and I decide I can work with you, then well 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 Townsends hackles start to rise, but she didnt 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.
"Im very serious about staying sober," the blonde said, her face turning a shade darker. "Ive been sober for nine months. Or I had been," she admitted. "I guess now I should say that Ive 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?"
"Im Townsends lover," she said.
"Lover, huh? How long have you two been together?"
"We met last June, and weve been involved since August."
Art furrowed his brow, then said, "Math isnt my thing, but doesnt that mean youve 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. "Shes the only good influence Ive ever had in my life."
Art gave Townsend a half-smile and said, "I guess everyone deserves one in her life."
"Well, Hennesseys mine," the young woman said, a note of defiance in her voice.
"Uh-huh. Tell me something about yourself, Hennessey."
"Well, Im from South Carolina, and Im 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 dont mind talking about this," Hennessey said. "Townsend is my first lover. Shes the first person Ive ever even kissed."
This revelation didnt seem to surprise Art, but then, nothing did. "So, a girl from an alcoholic home chooses an alcoholic to partner with. Thats a first."
"Look," Hennessey said, "I know it looks like Im following the usual pattern, but Ive spent a lot of time in Al-Anon, and Ive gotten back into it recently. Im 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."
"Im sure thats true," the brunette admitted.
"Now lets talk about you," Art said, turning to Townsend. "Ive seen you at a lot of meetings, and I bet youve heard the warning about not getting involved with anyone during your first year of sobriety. What makes you think youre exempt?"
"Im not exempt," she snapped. "Hennessey and I knew each other while I was still drinking. It was a natural evolution. I didnt get involved with her after I stopped it was concurrent."
"That doesnt make it right, and that doesnt 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! Thats ridiculous! Hennessey supports me; shes 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 shes not. Shes 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, "Arts right, Townsend. We shouldnt have gotten involved when we did. I blame myself for that. I knew better but I couldnt resist."
"So you regret being with me?" the blonde sobbed.
"No, no, not in the least. But we cant act like this is an ideal situation. Its not. Im 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 doesnt mean that everything will be smooth and easy. Its going to be hard for us and harder for you to stay sober."
Townsend buried her face against Hennesseys shoulder and cried quietly while Art spoke. "You two have set this up in a pretty shitty way, but that doesnt mean youre doomed to failure. You do have to know, though, that youve made it much harder for yourselves in every way."
"I know that," Hennessey said.
Art looked at the still-sobbing blonde and said, "Look, Ive 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 dont you go for a walk? I want to talk to Townsend for a while."
"Okay," she said, prying her lovers fingers from her shirt. "Where should I meet you?"
Art cocked his head and looked at her for a moment. "Why dont you come to the meeting with us? Its at the VFW hall right down the street. It starts at 5:00."
"Okay, Ill see you then." She leaned in and gave Townsend a kiss on the cheek. "Ill 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 hadnt 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 youre here."
"I do, too."
The meeting began and eventually it was Townsends turn to talk. "Hi, Im Townsend, and Im 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 dont." 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 Id 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 lovers. "Uhm Ive 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, Id started to feel good about something that Id accomplished. Ive 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 its felt wonderful," she admitted, a ghost of a smile on her lips. "Its 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. Ill 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 couldnt 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 Ill let em do what they want but theyre consistent. They know what I want, and theyll give it to me as long as I give em what they want. Its a fucking sick bargain, but I can count on it no matter what." Her whole body shook, then she leaned back against Hennessey, muttering, "Thats it."
* * *
Late that night, the pair lay in bed, Townsend curled up against Hennesseys larger body. "Its been a hell of a week, hasnt it?" the blonde asked.
"Yeah, it has. I know you and I might see things differently, but I dont think its been a bad week, Townsend. I think its shown us some of the pitfalls were gonna have to be on the lookout for. I think its been helpful in many ways."
"Uhm we havent talked about the night I got drunk," Townsend said.
"No, we havent 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 theyd buy me drinks."
"Its all right. I know you werent in your right mind. You fell back into your old habits I know thats not how you want to live any more."
"Do you believe me?" the blonde asked softly.
"Sure, I believe that you didnt have to put out to get what you needed. But if Im gonna be completely honest, I believe you would have done whatever you needed to do to get your fix that night. Lets face reality, honey."
"I dont I dont want to be like that anymore, baby, I dont. 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 youre trying to change. Youve got a laundry list here, honey, and most people would be overwhelmed by it. I admire how much effort youre putting in."
"You know," Hennessey said, "youd have a full time job just coming to terms with how you feel about your mom, much less all of the other things youre doing."
"Aw, she doesnt affect me much. She annoys me more than anything."
"Uhm Townsend, didnt I hear you tell the group that you started drinking again because of how she made you feel? Thats a little more than annoying!"
"Its not a big deal, Hennessey. I dont care for her enough to let her get to me very often."
"I know youve been in therapy since you could walk, but it doesnt sound like youve spent much time talking about your mother," Hennessey said. "Whats up with that?"
"Oh, Ive been in therapy forever, but Ive never been very serious about it. I think Im on my eighth therapist. Im trying for the record."
Hennessey pulled away and looked at her partner for a moment. "Who does that hurt?"
"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, youve had so many opportunities, and you not only let them slip by you throw them away! Youve got to learn how to care about yourself more."
"Hennessey, I cant do everything at once. Please stop adding to my list every ten seconds."
Letting out a sigh, Hennessey said, "Im sorry. There are just some building blocks here that I feel youve skipped over. I know you dont have time to build any trust with a therapist in the little time you have left in Vermont, but youve got to find someone to work with once you get back to Boston. Its going to be very stressful when youre back on your home turf, baby, and youre going to need some support."
"Ill have you," Townsend said, giving her partner a warm smile.
"Of course you will, but Im 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, Ill put it on my list. Now can we kiss for a while? I dont think Ive 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 Hennesseys hands trailed all over her cotton-clad form. "Im glad were 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 Hennesseys hands making her body and her heart ache. "The very worst thing about falling off the wagon is knowing that you wont make love to me this summer," the blonde whimpered. "I dream about it every night, Hennessey. Its 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. "Its been important to me, too. Too important," she added.
Townsend turned her head and started to kiss Hennesseys trembling lips. She didnt 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 shed felt earlier in the week ¾ this was a sacred physical and emotional communion ¾ her mouth and Townsends 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 others 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 others. 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 Hennesseys best efforts. "Come on, honey, Ive got to get some breakfast and then get on the road. I didnt get a thing done this week, and I have a major writing assignment on Wednesday. Ive got to get a little work done today."
"Call the desk and ask them to bring us breakfast. Theyll 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, Id 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 wasnt making love, then I obviously dont 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. "Youre not going to make me wait three hundred sixty-two days, are you?"
Hennessey gave her a half-smile and said, "Ive 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 weve 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 youre talkin!"
"Uhm I dont think youre going to like the alternative," Hennessey said. "Dont get too excited."
Immediately, Townsend gave her a wary look. "What do you mean, I wont 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 were both ready emotionally. I guess its possible that could happen in a few months but I dont think it will. I think it will take a much longer time. But I dont see any options."
"Much longer time?" Townsend asked. "Do you honestly think Im going to wait years to have sex again? Im a very sexual person, Hennessey. I need it! I dont have any intention of waiting until Im twenty years old to have it again!"
"Im 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. "Im suggesting that weve been rushing things ¾ "
"Rushing! Ive got both feet on the brakes! Hows that rushing?"
"Were rushing for me, Townsend. No matter how it feels to you, Im not ready to go any further, and I dont 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 hadnt stopped you!"
"Thats part of the problem," Hennessey said quietly. "I dont want to fuck like mad. Ive never made love before, and I dont 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 Hennesseys 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 cant be with you until were both at the same place emotionally if we ever can be."
"Jesus, God, Hennessey! Are you breaking up with me? Please, please, dont do this!"
"No, Im not breaking up with you; Im just telling you that it cant go on like it has been. This isnt working for me."
"How is that not a breakup?"
Hennessey sighed and closed her eyes. "Okay, I guess it is a breakup. But its not a permanent breakup." She turned to face Townsend and said, "Ive never lied to you not once and Im not going to start now. I want to be with you in every way more than Ive ever wanted anything. Id 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 couldnt see straight." She took in a breath and continued, "But wed break up within the year. Id either start being your supervisor and youd start to resent me, or Id keep my mouth shut and let you make your mistakes all the while hating you for them. I cant I wont 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. Ill write to you every day, Ill call you whenever I have the money, Ill see you often when you move back to Boston. But I cant claim to be your lover, Townsend. We havent 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 cant make that decision for you. All I know is that Im not attracted to anyone else. I have no plans to pursue anyone else. Youre the woman I want I just cant have you yet."
"You could have me for the rest of your life, and you know it, Hennessey Boudreaux."
"Thats not true," the brunette stated firmly. "If I thought that was possible, Id do it." She sat up and tossed her hair over her shoulders. "Look. I know that a big part of the problem is me. Ive never dated anyone, Townsend. Im so inexperienced that its criminal. I wish Id been casually dating for a few years, and I wish Id had some relationships before now, but I havent. Being with you isnt a casual thing. It requires my full commitment. Im eager to do that but I cant do it if Im not confident it will work out. I know that you have to take a leap to fall in love but I cant take that leap if Im sure all that awaits me is rocky ground! Im not going to have this relationship destroy all of the work Ive 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. Weve been with each other for less than a week, and youve had a major slip and landed in jail. Is that a sign of good things ahead?"
"No, of course it isnt," she said softly. "But if we were together all of the time, things would even out. It would be easier, not harder."
"Thats not true, Townsend. I wish it were, but thats not true."
"Fuck." The younger woman rested her head against the back of the sofa. "So, thats it? I get the big kiss-off, and you go back to Boston?"
"Yeah, thats 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. Townsends soft voice stopped her. "I know youre going to say no, but I know Ill never get another chance."
Cocking her head, Hennessey looked at her friend, waiting for her to continue.
"Can I see your body?"
Townsend blushed, a very uncommon occurrence for her. "I know you wont understand, but I know Ill 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 isnt 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 cant," Hennessey said. "I wont participate in this, Townsend. If you want to see my body, youre 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 Townsends dorm. "I dont think I can stay sober without you, Hennessey. I know I should be optimistic, but I cant be."
Hennessey placed her hand on her friends cheek and gently rubbed her thumb across the soft skin. "Townsend, this is hard for me to say, but Im going to say it anyway. If Im the only thing thats keeping you from drinking, then you might as well start again. I cant supervise you; I cant be your conscience. Youve got to do this for yourself any other reason dooms you to fail."
"Then I guess Im doomed," she said softly.
"Look," Hennessey said, "youre 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. Its your battle and your battle alone. I can support you, but I cant 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 Ill be able to stand not having you as my reward."
"Townsend, Ive said this every way I can think of. When were 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 wont settle for anything less, and you shouldnt 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 Ive got to start listening to the people I trust. Sharon wouldnt have recommended him if she didnt feel strongly about it."
"Thats my girl," Hennessey said, beaming a grin at her friend. "I think youll be a good match he seems like hes 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. "Its your feistiness thats going to get you through this, baby. I know that in my heart."
Townsend slipped her arms around Hennesseys waist and gave her a gentle hug. "Will I stay in your heart?"
"Always. Always, Townsend. I swear it."
Looking up and staring into Hennesseys eyes, Townsend asked, "Will you kiss me goodbye?"
"Of course I will. Ill kiss you the same way I do the people I love the most." She placed a tender, brief kiss on Townsends lips, then pulled away and said, "Thats how I kiss my grandparents. You mean as much to me as they do, honey, and thats the biggest compliment I can give you."
Hugging her tightly, Townsend whispered, "Dont forget me, Hennessey, please dont forget me."
"I wont, baby, I promise I wont." She pulled back and gave her friend one brief kiss, then got into the car. "I know this week didnt turn out like wed planned, but I honestly think weve 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. Thats 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, well be able to walk together."
Townsend reached into the car and slipped her fingers through Hennesseys. "I dont think I can let you go," she said, the tears starting to flow again.
"I dont 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. Youve 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. "Thats all I want for you."
"Youre the only person whos ever loved me in spite of my faults," Townsend said. "I need that so badly, Hennessey."
"Baby, I dont 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 wouldnt change a thing."
"Now youre lying," Townsend said, managing a smile.
Giving her friend the crooked grin that always went straight to Townsends heart, Hennessey said, "Maybe just a little. Id change you so you saw yourself like I see you. Then you wouldnt want to hurt yourself any longer. That would make me very, very happy."
"Im gonna try hard, Hennessey. I swear I will."
"I know you will. Now, make sure you save me a ticket for your graduation. I wouldnt 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."
"Youre too old to be a camper, honey, and you havent proven yourself enough to be a counselor. I think youll do better staying close to home and working with Art. Maybe you should consider staying in Vermont this summer. Your friends in Boston havent been the greatest influence on you."
"Thats an understatement," Townsend said, rolling her eyes. "Ive 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."
"Thats what Id recommend," Hennessey said. "Focus on yourself and your creativity. Youll 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? Id love to see your grandparents again."
"Yeah, I think we could manage that. When you know what your school schedule is, well talk."
Townsend gave her friend a long, contemplative look. "You really will stay connected to me, wont you?"
"Without question. You are my best friend, and you always will be."
"Id like to have all of you, Hennessey, but some of you is much, much better than nothing."
"Youll get more than some," the brunette promised. "Youll get the best I have to give."
"I cant believe Im the one to say it, but youd better get going." Townsend bent over and kissed her friend lightly on the lips. "Hold me in your heart, Hennessey. Thats the only place I feel safe."
Placing her hand over her breast, Hennessey said, "Youre right here. Right where youve been since last summer. Right where youll 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. Ill see you in May."
Townsend nodded and stepped back, but she didnt release her death grip on her friends fingers. The car started to roll away, and Townsend ran a few steps, her hand refusing her brains order to release. Finally, Hennesseys fingers loosened, and Townsends hand started to slip away, leaving a fraction of a second where the tips of their fingers connected.
Hennessey couldnt 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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