The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

 

Part 8

 

The golden sun hovered directly overhead, and the breeze was light, making the late spring day unseasonably warm. Hennessey Boudreaux walked at a brisk pace despite the heat, viewing the lovely Vermont prep school campus in the small amount of time she had. For reasons she couldn’t explain it was important to her to see the environment that Townsend had been living in, even if she had to do so at breakneck speed. It’s so beautiful here, she thought to herself. I can almost feel the sense of peace that Townsend spoke of during the winter months. It’s easy to see how nature became a substitute addiction for her. Mentally shaking her head, the tall, thin brunette thought, I don’t think Townsend will ever be free of addiction. But having a jones for the great outdoors is a heck of a lot healthier for her than drugs and alcohol.

Hennessey checked her watch and noted that it was nearly noon. She quickened her pace and soon arrived at the school’s rather lavish auditorium. After handing her ticket to an usher she breathed a sigh of relief when the young man informed her that she could sit wherever she liked. She had nothing against the Bartley's, but she thought her enjoyment of the day's events might be enhanced by keeping her distance as much as possible. Quickly scanning the crowd, she picked out Townsend’s mother. There was a crowd of parents and faculty members surrounding Miranda, and Hennessey silently thanked the school for allowing open seating. Miranda was a pleasant woman, but the brunette knew that being involved in the adulation would only tarnish her own status with Townsend. She settled into a seat about six rows back from Townsend’s parents and grandparents and spent the next few minutes trying to reconcile her mental images with the people she now perused.

Guessing that the fine featured, brown haired man was Townsend’s father, Hennessey searched in vain for any similarity between him and Townsend. After a while she admitted defeat and moved on to the older couple seated next to Mr. Bartley. She knew that Miranda’s parents were both still alive, but that neither of them was able to make the event. So the silver haired man and the dark haired woman had to be Townsend’s paternal grandparents.

When an attractive gray haired woman sitting in the row stood and turned around, Hennessey was stunned to see how much the woman looked like Townsend. I’m sure her great-grandmother isn’t alive. Maybe I’ve confused things, Hennessey thought. The dark haired woman must be Townsend’s aunt. She thought and thought, but couldn’t recall ever hearing of an aunt. Her confusion was magnified when the dark haired woman leaned over and kissed the silver haired gentleman. The kiss was nearly chaste, but there was something about the couple that made it clear they were lovers, rather than father and daughter. I guess I’m gonna have to ask Townsend a few questions about the relatives. Either her grandfather is married to a woman who’s still in her twenties, or the Bartley’s approve of incest. Knowing the family, I wouldn’t take a bet on which of the two is correct.

While she was studying the family dynamic, a chamber group began to play a soothing classical piece. At the conclusion, the audience stood for the procession of the faculty and graduates. Despite the bountiful grounds the class was quite small and Hennessey guessed that it contained only around fifty members. Townsend was in the first pair of students, and Hennessey was able to clearly see her smiling face as the group processed up the aisle and filed into a few rows of seats in the front of the auditorium.

The headmaster approached the lectern and began to speak, but Hennessey tuned him out immediately. She was there for one reason, and that was to show her support for Townsend.

The past few weeks had been incredibly hard on both of the young women, and Hennessey knew that her own studies had suffered because of the pain that she felt. I’m the one who decided that Townsend and I needed to focus on our friendship rather than having a physical relationship, but I’m still not sure I made the right choice. Gramma always told me that a decision was right if I could sleep well after I made it. So either this decision was totally wrong, or Gramma was totally wrong — ‘cause I have not had a good night’s sleep since the day we broke up.

She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to clear it. We did not break up, she reminded herself once again. It just became clear that Townsend was putting too much pressure on herself to please me, rather than doing what she needed to do to get and stay sober. Staring up at the coffered ceiling, Hennessey thought, Sometimes I don’t feel mature enough to make my own decisions, much less ones that affect another person so deeply.

The time passed remarkably quickly, and soon the headmaster called on the commencement speaker to take the stage. Hennessey winced a little, knowing that Townsend was violently opposed to her mother giving the speech. But as Miranda started to speak, the brunette was moved by the conciliatory words that the well-known author chose. Miranda spoke of how difficult it was to come of age in the late twentieth century, and of how much harder it was to resist the temptations that were so available to the well-heeled youngsters at the prep school. Much to Hennessey’s surprise, Miranda also said that she was afraid that many of the parents in attendance had not done nearly as good a job with raising their children as they might have. She clearly included herself in this group, and even shed a few tears when she admitted that she had let her child down in many ways over the years.

Surprisingly, Miranda said that both students and parents were paying too much attention to college and not enough to the things that really mattered. She ended the speech by challenging both students and parents to make a commitment to learn more about each other and to try to find common ground to strengthen and reinforce family bonds.

The speech was very well received, and as soon as the applause died down the graduates were all standing, looking quite scholarly wearing the school colors — navy blue gowns and mortarboards for the men and maroon for the women.

Townsend’s was the second name called, and it was all Hennessey could do not to cause a scene. The dark-haired woman clapped so loudly that her hands hurt, and by the time Townsend made it to the stage Hennessey was wiping tears from her cheeks while maintaining her enthusiastic applause.

The young blonde woman confidently strode up to the stage and accepted her diploma, then shook the hands of the headmaster and the dean of the school. As Townsend approached the side of the stage, she reached up and moved her tassel to the left, showing that she was now a high school graduate. Not many people as bright as you are have had to work as hard to graduate from high school, Hennessey thought as her heart filled with respect for her friend’s efforts. If you can work as hard on your sobriety you’ll never touch alcohol again. Hennessey closed her eyes once more and offered up a silent prayer that Townsend’s troubles with substance abuse were now behind her.

* * *

At the culmination of the ceremony, the faculty and the graduates filed out, and Townsend gave Hennessey a wink as she walked past her. The audience followed, leaving from the back, as directed. Hennessey was no more than three feet from the steps when a hand grasped her arm and pulled her behind a tree. "What the ...?"

"Shh!" Townsend whispered. "Don’t say a word!"

Wriggling under the too-firm grip, Hennessey finally gave up and felt her friend’s hand loosen. In a few moments the Bartley family descended the stairs and began to walk towards the large lawn in the quadrangle. As soon as they were a distance that Townsend felt was safe, she took Hennessey’s hand and led her back into the auditorium.

"What in the heck are you doing?" Hennessey asked.

"I can not bear to spend another moment with those people," Townsend said, rolling her eyes as she spoke.

Wrinkling up her nose, Hennessey asked, "That bad, huh?"

"Worse. My grandfather has a new toy and he’s intentionally trying to annoy everyone in the family."

"Toy?"

"Yeah. A toy named Amanda. Do you have any idea how it feels to have your grandfather tongue dueling with a woman who’s only eight years older than you are?"

Hennessey tried to imagine the feeling, but the mere thought of her grandfather with a younger woman gave her a fit of the giggles. "I’m sorry," she said, trying to control herself. "The image in my head is not a pretty thing."

"That’s all right," Townsend said. "I know there’s nothing about my family that you can relate to."

"Ahh … not true," Hennessey said. "I know they all love you, even though they sometimes aren’t able to show their love properly. I can really relate to that." She leaned forward and wrapped her long arms around Townsend. "I know I don’t always love you well enough, but it’s never from lack of trying. Sometimes I’m just inept."

Townsend held onto the taller woman with all of her might, squeezing so hard that Hennessey could barely breathe. "Do you still love me?" she asked, her voice full of emotion.

"Yes, yes, yes," Hennessey whispered. "I love you with all my heart, Townsend. All I want is for you to have the time and the space to gain some confidence in your sobriety. I only want to take some of the pressure off of you."

"Is there any way I can change you mind?" Townsend asked. "Isn’t there anything I can say to show you I’m ready to make love with you?"

"No, baby," Hennessey said softly. "This isn’t only about your sobriety, it’s about my ability to stay separate from you. I want to make you stop drinking, to watch you to make sure nothing upsets you, to make sure that you can’t drink even if you want to. That’s not your struggle, baby, it’s mine."

Snuggling tighter against the woman she loved, Townsend asked, "Do you swear you love me?"

"I swear it," Hennessey said, her voice barely a whisper. "I love you, Townsend."

"Do you swear that you won’t forget about me this summer?"

"I swear." Hennessey pulled back slightly and looked into Townsend’s eyes. "I can’t stop thinking about you for an hour. How could I go a whole summer?"

"Can I have a kiss?"

In response, Hennessey bent her head and placed soft kisses on Townsend’s forehead and cheeks. "Someday we’ll kiss as lovers. Until then, I want you to know that my desire for you is as strong as it ever was. I want to kiss you more than anything, Townsend, but it’s too dangerous right now. Until we’re ready, I think we have to show our love and affection in safer ways."

Townsend rolled her eyes and said, "I hardly ever had safe sex before I met you. Now, even a kiss is dangerous. The playing field has changed completely, babe, but you’re worth waiting for."

"Let’s go find your family," Hennessey said. "I’m sure they’re a little tired of waiting."

"Screw ‘em," Townsend said. "I’m sure my mother’s surrounded by a bunch of her fans. They won’t even notice I’m not there. Let’s just load up my car and take off."

Cocking her head, Hennessey gave her friend a half smile. "What do you think the odds of my doing that are?"

"Mmm …" Townsend closed her eyes and appeared to think for a few moments. "Million to one?"

"Not even close," Hennessey said as she tucked an arm around her friend and led her out of the building.

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: June 1, 1995

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject: Greetings from Beautiful Beaufort

Hi Townsend, I thought I’d drop you a quick line to let you know I got to Beaufort safe and sound. I don’t know why I’d never thought to go to the public library to use their Internet connection, but it makes sense that you’d think of it first, since you’re a prep school graduate <s>. It was fantastic to see you on the weekend, and I want to tell you again how proud I was of you. Seeing your face as you got your diploma was worth more to me than you’ll ever know. I know how hard things have been for you this past year, and seeing how you’d raised your GPA amidst all the troubles you’ve had was astounding. I clearly don’t know them as well as you do, but I think your parents weren’t merely relieved that you’d graduated — I think they were proud of you, as well. I also thought you did a masterful job of dealing with the added pressure of your mother’s speech. That was a prime drinking opportunity — don’t think I didn’t see your classmates passing around a flask <s> -- but you handled your feelings beautifully. Can’t talk for long. There’s a strange guy peering over my shoulder <g>, but I’ll write again. I leave for camp in two weeks, and once I’m there I’ll have much better access to e-mail. I’ll give my family your regards — Gramma says she’d love to have you come visit any time you’d like. The same goes for me, of course. Let me hear from you when you get settled in your nifty Vermont apartment — you independent thing, you <s>. Much love, H

 

 

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: June 9, 1995

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject: Greetings from Abstinenceville

Hey H, How’s life in the slow lane? Like I should talk! The most exciting thing going on around here is when Art, my sponsor, takes me for an ice cream cone after a meeting <s>. A year ago, I was drinking every day and sleeping with a different woman every night. You’ve ruined me! The new apartment is pretty nice. Mother sent a truck with all of the furniture from my room (think she’s trying to tell me something?) and a few pieces from the beach house. It looks pretty good, if I do say so myself. I haven’t used the kitchen for anything but popcorn, but I’ve promised myself that I’ll make at least one meal this summer. It might only be breakfast, but I’m gonna do it <s>. Art’s keeping a very close watch on me — but I guess he has reason to. I’ve been going to two meetings a day, and I’ve also dropped in on a few Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Much hipper crowd <s>. My writing class starts on Monday, and I’m looking forward to it. My mom bought me a sizzling hot new computer to write with. I didn’t really need it, but I think she was trying to show her support. I’m giving you my old laptop, and don’t even try to argue. I think I’ll come to visit you the week after your camp is finished, if that’s all right. Let me know so I can make a plane reservation. I’m feeling pretty good, H, except for the fact that I miss you more than I could ever begin to tell you. I don’t want to be too needy, but it would really help me if you could drop me just a short note every day from camp. I need a little connection from you to help me get through the night — the nights are the hardest times, Hennessey. Hearing from you before I go to bed would make a huge difference. But don’t stress if you can’t manage it. I can handle it, H — I’d just like it if you could help take the edge off. Take care of yourself, stretch. And let me hear from you once you get to camp. I hope you don’t have any campers who tax your patience like I did. You’ve suffered enough for one lifetime <s>. All my love, Townsend

 

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: August 9, 1995

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject: Your visit

Hi, Townsend I’ve told you this three times on the phone, but I can tell you’re still bothered by it, so I’m going to give the written word a chance <s>. I understand why you can’t come to visit, and I swear I’m not upset about it. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m disappointed, Townsend, very disappointed. But I think it’s a great sign that you’re putting your writing classes first. I know I wouldn’t have a good time if I were trying to finish a twenty page story during my vacation, and I doubt that you would either. It’s not a big deal, sweetheart, since I’ll be in Boston in two weeks. Since both of our colleges start on the same day I thought I’d try to get there on the Friday before classes start. Then we'd have a long weekend to spend together. How’s that? I know it’s not what you want, and it’s not what I want, either. But one of the sucky things about being an adult is learning how to delay gratification. Stick with me, pal, and you’ll know more about delaying gratification than any woman should know <bg>. I love you, Townsend, and I love the fact that you’re being so serious and diligent about your classes. Who knows? Maybe you’ll have enough experience so that you can be a writing instructor with me next summer. Wouldn’t that be great? Counting the days until I see you, Love, H  

 

 

* * *

"Come on in!"

Hennessey poked her head into the dorm room, smiling when she caught sight of the boxes that nearly surrounded Townsend. "I heard there was a woman around here in serious need of assistance."

"Hennessey! You’re not supposed to be here until late afternoon!" Townsend jumped over an open box and flung herself into her friend’s arms.

"I was at the airport early and got on an earlier flight. I came here without even stopping in Cambridge since I figured that you had the bigger task ahead of you. I was sure you’d need a ton of help getting settled."

"Oh, you sweet, sweet thing," Townsend murmured into the cotton of her friend’s sky blue T-shirt.

Releasing her, Hennessey said, "Well, all of my gear fit into two suitcases, and I had a feeling the same wouldn’t be true for you." She looked around the room and said, "I must be psychic."

"Thank God my roommate isn’t going to be here until tomorrow. She’d kill me if she saw all of this junk. I honestly don’t know where to start."

"Well, how did you get set up in your apartment?"

Smiling, Townsend said, "My mother had someone do it for me. She offered to have someone do it again, but I didn’t think it would look very good for me to have a decorator accompany me on my first day at my new college. I’ll make a bad impression on my own — when the time comes."

Hennessey gave her a half smile, otherwise ignoring the comment. "Well, I’m ready to work, so let’s get busy."

"Where do we start?" Townsend asked, looking around helplessly.

"It doesn’t matter where we start," Hennessey said, giving her a big, warm smile. "It only matters that we start."

* * *

"You’ve got to let me buy you dinner," Townsend said hours later when they’d wrestled the room into submission. "Anywhere you want to go."

Hennessey looked down at herself and gave her friend a smile. "I’m dressed for McDonald’s, but I have a hankering for a steak. Don’t know why, but I’m feeling carnivorous today."

"Your pants look fine, stretch. I’ll lend you a sweater and you’ll be set."

Laughing, Hennessey said, "That won’t work. You’re a medium, and I’m a large."

"Uh-huh. That’s why you’ll look fine, you big dope. Your clothes are all too big. Showing a curve isn’t a crime, you know."

"How do you think I’ve maintained my chastity for all of these years?" Hennessey asked. "The fact that I’m a woman is a closely guarded secret."

Giving her a sad smile, Townsend said, "You’re definitely a woman, Hennessey. No doubt about it."

* * *

Over dinner, Townsend didn’t attack her food with her usual verve. Reaching across the table, Hennessey placed her hand over her friend’s and asked, "What’s going on in that cute head?"

Giving her a slightly embarrassed look, Townsend said, "I’m worried about starting school."

"That’s natural, honey. I can’t imagine that every freshman doesn’t feel that way. This is a big step for you."

"Uhm … no, that’s not it. I’m not worried about the normal things. I know I’ll do well if I put my mind to it."

"Tell me," Hennessey said, gazing into her eyes.

"I’m worried about resisting the temptations. There’s a part of me that thinks I might do better in an apartment, where I have more control over the environment."

"Mmm … that makes sense. Why did you choose to live in the dorm?"

"Mainly because I want to have a real college experience. I want to try to fit in for a change, Hennessey. I want to act like an eighteen-year-old."

"I think it’s a good thing for you, honey. I know it’ll be hard to resist the drugs and alcohol that are going to surround you, but being with people your own age can help you reclaim a little bit of your youth. You missed out on so much by being drunk during your adolescence."

"Yeah, I know. My therapist said something that’s really stuck with me. She said that when you start drinking and taking drugs when you’re young, you get emotionally stuck at that point. In many ways, I’m just like I was when I was fourteen — but in other ways, I’m so fucking jaded. I feel like two different people, Hennessey."

"That makes sense," the older woman said. "You’ve seen a lot that most eighteen-year-olds haven’t experienced."

"Lucky for them," the blonde commented wryly. "I’m worried that I’m not going to be able to fit in, ya know?"

"Of course I know. I didn’t feel very confident when I started at Harvard. There aren’t a heck of a lot of Southerners around here, ya know, and I’m certain that I’m the only virgin in the whole school. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke. I had exactly the same problem you did — but from the other direction."

Townsend laughed softly. "I guess you did, didn’t ya?"

"Yeah, I did. Luckily, Robin, my roommate, and I got along very well, and I was able to meet some other people who were a little sheltered, too. Harvard has an international student body and I tried to make friends with foreign students. I figured a Japanese accent and a Southern accent were equally hard for Bostonians to understand. If you look around, I’m sure you’ll be able to find some kindred souls."

"That’s the problem, Hennessey, kindred souls seek me out like moths to a flame. I want to meet people who aren’t like me." Her face gentled into a warm smile and she said, "I want to meet people like you."

"Well, I’m one of a kind, buddy, and the good news is that I’m just a short ride away. Actually, I was thinking that we should set up a regular time to get together."

"Really?" Townsend’s face brightened dramatically.

"Of course. How about Friday nights? We’ll be finished with school for the week and we can decompress a little."

"Friday would be great. I heard about a meeting in Cambridge that a lot of college-aged people go to, and it’s at 5:00 on Friday. We can get together on your turf."

"Works for me. Let’s make it a permanent thing — every Friday night we’ll do something fun -- go to a movie or out to dinner or something."

"Just being with you is fun," Townsend said. "And having something to look forward to will really help me out."

"Speaking of helping … are you looking for a new sponsor?"

"Yeah. I’ve got a few leads, and I’m going to start making calls tomorrow. I’m not letting Art go, though. We’re gonna stay in touch until I’m comfortable with the new person."

"You’re doing this in just the right way, Townsend. I’m proud of you."

"Thanks, Hennessey. That still means way too much to me, but I’m not gonna fight it. Now, let’s head back to my dorm so I can give you your new laptop."

"Aww … you really don’t have to do that …"

"I want to. I don’t need two of them, Hennessey, so either you take it or I give it away."

"Well, when you put it that way, I guess I’m in. Thanks, Townsend. I truly appreciate the gift."

"I’ll admit it’s partially selfish," the younger woman said. "Now, you have no excuse for not e-mailing me every day."

"You’ve always got an angle going, doncha?" Hennessey asked, smiling warmly at her friend.

"Yep. I’ve learned it pays to think ahead."

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: September 30, 1995

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

 

Hi there, Just wanted to drop you a note to tell you I had a nice time yesterday. Jenna seems like a great friend for you to have made, and leave it to you to find a Mormon in Boston! Did you put an ad in the student newspaper asking for people who’ve never tasted the demon rum? <s> Seriously, Townsend, I admire you for seeking out people who don’t share the habits you’re trying to break. I’m very sorry that your roommate is acting out so badly, but it’s all too common for people away from home for the first time. From the way it sounds, she’d do well to attend a few meetings with you, but I doubt that she’d be amenable. Hang in there as well as you can, and if things get really uncomfortable, you can always request a room change. I’m sure someone else would give anything to switch at this point of the term. Robin says to tell you that she enjoyed finally getting to meet you. I think she was afraid I was making you up, after the way I talked about you constantly last year <s>. She liked Jenna as well, and suggested we all get together for a movie. I think that would be fun, as long as it doesn’t interfere with our Friday night date. That’s sacrosanct <s>. Gotta run. I’ve got a quiz in my history class and I can’t be late. Later, H

 

 

 

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: September 30, 1995

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi there yourself. <Just wanted to drop you a note to tell you I had a nice time yesterday. <Jenna seems like a great friend for you to have made, and leave it to you <to find a Mormon in Boston! Did you put an ad in the student newspaper <asking for people who’ve never tasted the demon rum? <s> Very funny! I didn’t take out an ad, I hired a private investigator, smart ass! No, Jenna and I met in English composition class. I picked her out when I saw her blush whenever the instructor used a naughty word <s>. As you could tell from our conversation yesterday, she knows about my drinking — I think she loves the fact that I’ve quit — it’s like a victory for her side <lol>. To be honest, though, I haven’t told her about any of my other … issues. I really like her, and I want to keep her as a friend. I think I’d scare her off if she knew of my sexual history — and I don’t mean just the lesbian thing — although that alone would probably be enough. So, I’d like it if we didn’t talk about my and our sexual history when she’s around, okay? I don’t like to lie to people, but in this case I think I have to. I enjoyed meeting Robin, and Jenna did, too. We’d both like to hang out with some brainy Harvard chicks, so give us some clear, easy to read directions, making sure you use small, monosyllabic words, and we’re there <lol>. Well, I’m off to a meeting. Things are working out great with Laura so far. She’s a good sponsor, and once again, she won’t take any shit from me. It seems like everyone has my number. Have you been talking? All my love, Townsend

 

 

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: October 1, 1995

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi Townsend,

<Snipped for brevity's sake>

<As you could tell from our conversation yesterday, she knows about my

<drinking — I think she loves the fact that I’ve quit — it’s like a

<victory for her side <lol>. To be honest, though, I haven’t told her

<about any of my other … issues. I really like her, and I want to keep her

<as a friend. I think I’d scare her off if she knew of my sexual history —

<and I don’t mean just the lesbian thing — although that alone would

<probably be enough. So, I’d like it if we didn’t talk about my and our

<sexual history when she’s around, okay? I don’t like to lie to people <anymore, but in this case I think I have to.

I wouldn’t dream of talking about our history with anyone, Townsend. What we had and what we have is too precious to me to share with anyone but you. I know you like to be totally honest with people, and while it probably isn’t a good thing to hide too much of yourself, I can see that doling out the information slowly is probably a good idea. Jenna seemed more naïve than me, and that’s a feat unto itself <lol>. So, don’t worry, buddy. Your secrets are forever safe with me.

Much love,

H

 

* * *

Hennessey unexpectedly had to spend a Wednesday afternoon in Boston and rather than head back to Cambridge she decided to drop in on Townsend and see if she was available for an impromptu dinner. When she arrived she found both beds in Townsend's room filled with clothes and books. "What's going on? Early Spring cleaning?"

"Nope," Townsend said, giving her friend a hug. My roommate hated me and so did Jenna's. They met each other recently and decided to dump both of us. She's been dragging her stuff over here all afternoon."

"Wow, you were really dumped, huh?" Hennessey asked. "Did that upset you?"

"Nah," Townsend said, shaking her head. "She wanted someone to party with, and so did Jenna's roommate. We were just passed because we were in the slow lane." She giggled softly and asked, "Who would ever guess that I'd be in the slow lane."

"I think you're right where you belong." Hennessey said. "Where's Jenna now? Does she need any help?"

"Her old dorm is clear across campus. I just brought another load over while she got the next one ready." She gave Hennessey a curious look and asked, "Would you mind helping out?"

"Not at all. Let's get her organized and then we can all have dinner together."

Townsend threw her arms around Hennessey and gave her a robust hug. "You're the best friend in the whole world, stretch."

"Nah. Surely there's a better friend somewhere in the world. I haven't met her, but it's a very large planet you know–" She was cut off by a giggling Townsend tugging on her sleeve and firmly pulling her out the door.

* * *

On a cold Friday night in November Hennessey braved the elements to go into Boston to visit Townsend. For most of the fall Townsend had been attending an AA meeting not far from Harvard, but she had found a good group closer to her school and had recently made the switch.

When Hennessey arrived she was nearly frozen and Townsend gasped when she saw the ice-covered woman. "My God! I didn't know it was snowing!"

"It's n…n…n…not," Hennessey said, shivering mightily. "It's sleeting."

"You poor thing! Come in here and get warm."

"I don't think I'll ever be warm again," Hennessey said. She shuffled into the room, barely moving her knees or ankles. "I stepped into an icy puddle that must have been a foot deep. I can't feel my feet."

"Jesus! Take those boots off!" Townsend bent down and saw that Hennessey's jeans were drenched nearly to her knees. "And the pants!"

"My turtleneck is wet, too," Hennessey said. "The wind was blowing so hard that ice got into my coat."

"I'll get you some sweats, honey. Go into the bathroom and take everything off."

"I'll bet you say that to all the girls," Hennessey teased.

"Yeah, I do, but most of them scream and run. I'm counting on your stiff joints to keep you from scampering."

The taller woman bent and kissed Townsend on the cheek, her lips so cold that it felt like an ice cube had been placed on the spot. "I'll take whatever you have, buddy. I don't care if it fits or not. Just warm me up."

"I can handle it," Townsend assured her.

A few moments later Townsend knocked on the bathroom door and handed Hennessey a roomy fleece sweatshirt, a pair of sweats and two pairs of socks. "You can take a hot shower if you think it'll help," she added.

"No, I'll be fine as soon as I'm dry. Can you turn the heat up?"

"No can do, bud. We don't have individual thermostats. It's usually pretty warm, but when the wind blows like it is tonight I realize how many gaps there are in the window frame."

"Then chop up your furniture and start a bonfire. I'm sure no one will mind."

"Come out here and I'll warm you up," Townsend said.

"If anyone can do it, you can," Hennessey agreed. "Be right out."

* * *

A short while later the pair was snuggling on Townsend's bed, getting ready to watch a movie that Townsend had rented. "Have you ever seen "The Incredible True Life Adventures of Two Girls in Love?" she asked.

"Huh uh, but I've wanted to. I don't think it ever made it to Beaufort," Hennessey said, chuckling. "Nothing I really want to see ever does."

"Well, you're in the big city now, bud. Scoot over so I don't fall off the bed, will ya?"

"Why do dorms always put such tiny beds in the rooms?" Hennessey asked.

"So they have room for a pair of desks that are too small for kindergarteners," Townsend replied. "My bathroom at home is bigger than this room."

"I know that," Hennessey said. "And I think it's great that you chose to live here. Just another example of the excellent decisions you've made this year."

"Stop complimenting me and eat some popcorn," Townsend said, grinning. "The movie's starting."

The movie had been playing for about a half hour when the phone rang. Townsend answered it, saying, "Hey. What's going on?" She looked puzzled, then asked, "Is it really that bad?" After another short pause Townsend said, "No, I think you should stay. Hennessey's here and she'll probably stay over. Mind if she uses your bed?" She smiled and nodded, then said, "Take care, buddy. See you in the morning." She hung up and said, "Jenna says the weather is so bad that she's gonna stay over at her friend Sheila's dorm. You're here for the night, pal."

"Thank God," Hennessey said. "I was dreading having to go out in this storm, but I knew you wouldn't want me to stay if Jenna was here."

"Then you lucked out, didn't you?" Townsend asked, tweaking Hennessey's nose. She twitched her head and asked, "If you want to lie on her bed you can."

Hennessey's eyebrows knit and she asked, "Do you want me to? I kinda like it here if you don't mind."

"Yeah, I'm all about getting you out of my bed," Townsend said, jumping onto her friend and sneaking her cold hands up under Hennessey's shirt.

The brunette shrieked and fought to remove the cold digits from her warm skin. Townsend gave up quickly, then snuggled up to Hennessey's side and rested her head against a convenient shoulder. "I like you here, buddy. You're a very nice pillow."

"Thanks," Hennessey said. "I aim to please."

It struck the taller woman that this was the first time they'd been physically close since the previous spring. I hope I'm not giving Townsend the wrong message, she thought. I know it's hard for her to keep a distance and I don't want her to think that the rules have changed. Watching the movie with half of her attention, she let her mind wander, asking herself, Why haven't the rules changed? Townsend could be the poster child for AA! She hasn't had one slip since March of last year, and she was sober for nine months when she got drunk that time. She's developing a much better relationship with her parents and is working so hard in therapy. Why aren't we changing the rules?!?

Using one of her mental tricks, Hennessey forced herself to stop wondering about the question, deciding that she couldn't think about it when she was with Townsend. She needed some solitude to consider such a big issue, so tonight she wanted to clear her head and merely enjoy the movie.

The movie was definitely heating up and the young women were in a situation eerily similar to the one that Hennessey found herself in. The high school aged girls from the movie were spending their first night together, sleeping at one of the girl's homes while her mother was away. Damn, that's the age I should have been fooling around with girls, Hennessey thought. Yeah. Right. You can't do it now, what makes you think you could have done it then. Sighing, she reminded herself, I thought we were going to table this issue until tomorrow.

Once again she tried to focus, but the girls were undressing each other and kissing each other exactly like she wanted to kiss Townsend. God, I want to kiss her, she thought, tipping her chin so that she could breathe in the floral scent of Townsend's shampoo. She smells so good, so sexy. And I know she'll be such a good lover. Sighing heavily and shifting a little, she thought, She'll be a great lover, and you know it. So, what's the problem?!?

Deciding that she couldn't avoid the issue, Hennessey let herself dwell on it. I want her, and I know she wants me. I see the way she looks at me sometimes when she doesn't think I'm looking. I see the way her eyes light up when I see her on Friday nights. She looks at me like she wants me, like she desires me. So why can't I just let go?

Searching deep within herself, Hennessey came to the only conclusion that made sense to her. I'm so fucking afraid of falling in love with an alcoholic. I never should have gotten involved with her in the first place! My Al-Anon sponsor is always warning me about how easy it is for me to want to take care of Townsend, rather than let her live her own life.

But what in the hell do I do? Can I get over my fears? I can't keep Townsend hanging on if I'm never going to trust her. That's unbelievably cruel, and I can't allow that to happen. So how do I move on? She fidgeted on the bed until Townsend started patting her thigh to calm her down, but that only made her more aware of the warm, soft body curled up against her.

I don't know how I'll know I can trust her, but I know I'm not there yet. I know it's selfish of me, but loving another alcoholic will kill me. There's no way that I could survive if we got together and Townsend started to drink. I have to see her go through some tough times and not give into temptation. She hasn't had a difficult situation since last spring break, and as soon as I hurt her feelings she immediately got hammered. Shaking her head, Hennessey reminded herself, She isn't the same woman she was then, and you know it. She's maturing at an incredible pace, and her sobriety finally means as much to her as it does to you. She's close, Hennessey, and there's a good chance that you'll be able to trust her soon. She breathed in the delightful scent of the woman who lay in her arms and tightened her grip, trying to press Townsend's soft breasts into her own. God, I hope it's soon!

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: November 29, 1995

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hey studly!

Congratulations on being selected for the winter writing program at the camp! I still find it hard to believe that you’re going to spend more time with my mother over winter break than I am, but you really deserve this, Hennessey, and I’m proud of you. I think MaryAnn was a little surprised at how much pull my mom has with other writers, but when she puts her mind to it she’s quite persuasive. I think part of the reason my mom worked so hard to get this together was because of how grateful she is to you, buddy. I had dinner with her last night, and she was full of compliments — something I haven’t heard from her in many, many years. Of course, I haven’t given her much to compliment me on … so I can’t really blame her. But she made a point of mentioning how wonderful an influence you’ve been on me, and I can’t disagree <s>.

Don’t worry about not being home long enough for me to come visit. I think I’ll take Jenna up on her invitation to go to her family’s home in Salt Lake City. I’d love to ski some of those mountains that the Olympics will be held on, and thankfully, Jenna is a good skier, too. It’s gonna be weird to be surrounded by people who don’t drink or smoke. Hell, I’m gonna have to smuggle in some Diet Coke! I wonder if I’ll be able to find an AA meeting there. Just kidding — there are alcoholics in every town big enough for a bar <lol>.

Talk to you tomorrow, buddy — I just wanted to congratulate you as soon as I heard.

All my love,

Townsend

 

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: January 15, 1996

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hey, I know you won’t be home for a few days, but I couldn’t wait to tell you all about my trip. I don’t use that word indiscriminately, Hennessey, it was a trip! I’ve seen happy families on TV and in ads my whole life, but I was always certain that only an actor or a model could pull it off. You can imagine my amazement when I actually encountered what appears to be a happy family. I was suspicious, of course, and I probed carefully, trying to expose the dark underbelly of this seemingly functional family. But much to my surprise, I wasn’t able to find the evil hidden within. I honestly think that the Markham’s might be the real deal. At first, it was scary, to tell you the truth. I kept waiting for Mr. Markham to sneak into my room and make me watch him jerk off — not because of anything he did — he just seemed so normal! It was freakish, Hennessey! And Mrs. Markham cooked all of the meals we ate — with her own hands! I thought you had to work in a restaurant to do that, but apparently there are mothers who cook meals for their own children. Trippy, huh? Jenna is the oldest, and she has four younger sibs — two girls and two boys. They seemed like normal kids, but when they’d start to fight or argue, Mrs. Markham would, in a very calm voice, ask them to stop — and they would! I didn’t hear a curse word all week; no one got drunk; no one got yelled at; and Mrs. Markham wasn’t driving the kids to therapy all week long. They went to church together a couple of times, but they didn’t try to pressure me into going with them — no one tried to convert me. Maybe they were smart enough to recognize a hopeless case <s>. Anyway, as the week went on, I started to see that they weren’t just acting like they were a normal family — they really were! Mr. Markham got frustrated with the kids a few times — but he told them why he was upset and what he wanted them to do. And Mrs. Markham wasn’t too happy about having to make dinner again when Jenna’s sister came home late from soccer practice. But after telling her that she expected her to call next time, she cooked for her! No guilt trips! The girl apologized, and she actually looked sincere! I don’t know what all of this means, Hennessey. I’m being serious. Is it really possible to live with people and not try to drive each other crazy? God, I thought of the way I speak to my mother, and it made me ashamed! I mean, my mother is no Mrs. Markham, but I treat her like she’s a sack of shit — maybe that’s part of the reason she doesn’t want to spend time with me. I’m really pretty confused about all of this, pal. Call me when you get home and maybe you can help me sort it out. I’m starting to have a glimmer of hope for the basic goodness of people, and I need you to dissuade me of this notion before it lodges in my brain! By the way, the skiing was fabulous! Jenna’s got a little wild streak in her when she gets on a snowboard — who would have guessed? <s> Counting the days until you’re back in Boston. All my love, Townsend

 

 

* * *

Continued in Part 9

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