The Right Thing

By SX Meagher

Part 9

"Come on in," Townsend called out.

Hennessey opened the door to her friend’s dorm room and strode in. "Who missed me?"

"I did!" Townsend cried, running across the room to launch herself at her friend. "I missed you so much! And I thought of you on Christmas — wishing I could have some deep fried turkey."

"Mmm … it was good this year," Townsend said, smiling. "We had oysters coming out of our ears this year, too. It was a very good year for shellfish."

"How are your daddy and your grandparents?" Townsend pulled her friend over to the bed, then pulled her desk chair up close.

"Daddy was good this time. He was at home every night, and he wasn’t visibly drunk when I was there. I can’t say what he did when I was on Hilton Head, but things were good when I was actually at home. Granddaddy and Gramma are about the same — working too hard — worrying too much. I wish I could finish school so I could help them out, but that dream’s just gonna have to wait."

"So tell me about the workshop? Was it great?"

"It was great great," Hennessey said, grinning widely. "I went to a seminar that your mother gave, and she really impressed me. I think I’m gonna have to finally pull out some of her books and give them a read. She’s deeper than she seems, Townsend."

"Yeah, she probably is. I think she’s one of those tortured souls who has to medicate herself just to stay sane." She shrugged her shoulders. "I guess it runs in the family."

Hennessey reached out and gave her friend a generous hug. "You’ve never been more sane, buddy. You were crazy when you were drinking."

"Eh … maybe. It’s still too early to tell. So, what brings you over here in the middle of the afternoon? I thought you’d have class your first day back."

"No, we don’t start until tomorrow. And I’m here because I want to talk to you about something."

"Something good?" Townsend asked tentatively.

"It’s good for me, but it might upset you a little bit," the brunette said.

"Huh. I can’t guess what this is going to be, so go on."

Hennessey took a breath and said, "I have an opportunity to go to Europe next year. There’s a literature program that’s based in Paris — and they take students from all over the U.S. to participate. It’s very intensive, and it’s conducted entirely in French — so it’ll be very grueling. But I think it would be good for me — help to broaden my outlook a little bit."

"And you think I wouldn’t want you to do this?" Townsend gaped. "I think it would be marvelous for you, buddy. Is it over Christmas?"

"No, this is the part you won’t like," Hennessey said. "I’d be there for nine months. It would be my whole junior year."

Townsend leaned back in her chair and emitted a low whistle. "The whole year, huh? Wow."

"Yeah, I know, it would be hard for me to be away from you that long, but I think the program would be wonderful. It would let me really delve into another culture and gain an understanding of French arts and letters that I could never get in the States. As you know, I want to get my Ph.D. in literature, and having a cross-cultural curriculum like this under my belt would help me get into a good program."

With a small smile, Townsend said, "Hennessey, you have to do this. It would be good for you and good for your career. You can’t turn something like this down."

"Yeah, especially since I would only be able to go if I get a full scholarship. There aren’t many of them offered, but I think I stand a chance."

"I’m sure you stand a chance, buddy. You’re very gifted, and they’d be lucky to have you."

"Thanks," Hennessey said, smiling warmly. "Are you sure you’d be okay with me gone for the whole year? I know how much I’ve come to depend on you–"

"The same goes for me," Townsend agreed, "but your career has to come first. I’ve got some good friends here, and things are working out great with my sponsor. I’ll be fine, Hennessey. Don’t you dare let worrying about me stop you from pursuing something this important."

"Okay, I’ll apply," the brunette said. She gave her friend a playful grin and said, "Robin wasn’t nearly as supportive. She forbade me from leaving her to the vagaries of random dorm assignments."

"Oh, Robin’s so sweet, there’s no way she’d want you to pass up an chance like this."

"Nah, you’re right. She’s happy for me. But we’ve gotten to be very close, and it’s gonna be hard for her to live with someone new."

"Especially since she has the best roommate in the world," Townsend teased. "God knows, I’d love to live with you."

"I think you feel a little closer to me than Robin does," Hennessey said, smiling. "Hey, are we close enough to go get an early meal?"

Townsend inclined her head towards the pile of books on her bed. "No, I can’t. I've got a load of work to do." Smiling at Hennessey, she added, "Now if you want to stay and help me work on a short story …"

"No, no, I’ve got plenty to do. Besides, my food is included with my room and board. I shouldn’t throw money away if I’m going to have enough Euros to bring home some gifts for you next year."

"That’s the kind of planning I like to see," Townsend said. "Now, go get organized, and I’ll see you on Friday — same as always."

"It’s a date," Hennessey agreed, giving Townsend a soft kiss on the forehead while holding her gently in her arms for a few moments. "See you then," she said, reluctantly pulling away.

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: March 1, 1996

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

I refuse to accept the fact that a whole year has passed since our memorable trip to Martha’s Vineyard, so humor me and agree that both of our schools are giving us some time off in a few weeks for no reason at all <s>.

I might be tempting fate, but I thought you might like to give the Vineyard another chance. Although I’m certain your memories are less than fond, this might be the ideal time to turn your frown of remembrance upside down <I’m actually turning into a fucking Girl Scout!>

If Jenna decides not to go home, she’s going to come, too, so even if I turn towards the devil again, it’ll be two against one <s>. So, whadda think, stretch? I know I should have asked you in person when I saw you last night, but I thought you might not say no immediately if you had some time to think about it first. Yes, I am always plotting, but you’ve told me that’s a good thing.

My extensive team of mental health professionals all agree that I’m ready to try this little experiment one more time. I’ve been working hard to come to terms with my mother over this past year, and I’m sure I’m making progress. I haven’t mentioned this, but when she’s in town we have dinner once a week. Sometimes my father accompanies her, and it’s been going very well. I haven’t said anything, because I don’t want to jinx it — but I’m willing to risk a jinx to try to convince you that this year will not be a repeat of last. So, give it some thought, buddy, and let me know.

All my love,

Townsend

 

 

 

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: March 2, 1996

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi there,

I’m writing instead of calling because Robin couldn’t afford the bills and had her phone cut off, and I can’t bear to talk to you from the hallway. I need privacy when we speak.

The good news is that I concur with every thing you say about how you’ve changed. I think it’s fantastic that you’re trying so hard to make peace with your parents, Townsend. I know all of you will benefit from your efforts. I also know how hard you’ve worked to maintain your sobriety, and I’m confident that you’ll continue to do so.

The bad news, well not bad news, but bad timing, is that my break isn’t at the same time as yours. I’m a week later, and since I have some major projects due during your break I couldn’t think of leaving town. But if there was any way to do it, I’d be there in a second. And, just for the record, I don’t think you should consider going to the Vineyard as a second chance. You’re just living your life, baby, and you’re doing a great job of it.

I hope Jenna’s able to go with you, but if she isn’t, don’t let that dissuade you. It might be nice to spend some time alone with your mom— given how little time she’s awake during the day, it isn’t really that much of an investment <s>.

Just remember to make sure your mom doesn’t spill the beans about your past if you haven’t revealed those things to Jenna. You’ve always been very open, and you mom might not guess that you want to keep some things private.

Talk to you soon,

Love,

H

 

 

 

* * *

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: March 16, 1996

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi,

Just got back and I need to talk to you. Call me, e-mail me, send a carrier pigeon. Just let me hear from you.

Townsend

 

 

From: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com> Sent: March 16, 1996

To: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hey, where are you? I dragged my sweet butt over to Cambridge looking for you, since I can’t call you any longer.

Would you be terribly offended if I bought you a cell phone? There are times I need to speak to you, Hennessey, and even though you seem to prefer e-mail, I don’t. Let me know if you would be able to tolerate a phone — only remember, it’s not a present for you — it’s for me <s>.

Well, since I can’t talk to you like I want to, I guess I have to do it like you want to. This seems to be a theme in our relationship — have you noticed? I wanna have sex, you don’t. I wanna get drunk, you don’t. I wanna do handfuls of drugs, you don’t. I honestly think it’s my turn to get something I want that isn’t bad for me <s>, so I’m buying you a phone.

Back to business -- I’ve got so many things going on in my head that I have to get some of them out, so get ready for a mind-dump.

The week was a qualified success. In fact, I would have thought it was a tremendous success if it hadn’t been for the last day. My mom was remarkably civilized, even managing to switch her screwy schedule so that she was awake to take us out to lunch a few times. My mom and Jenna don’t have a lot in common, but they both went out of their way to try to converse with each other. You know, my mom said something to me at one point when we were alone. She said that even though she’s proud of me for not drinking, she thinks the biggest change I’ve made in my life is that I’m now choosing healthy friends who help me stay healthy. I think she was including you in that group, stretch <s>.

Anyway, Jenna seemed to be enjoying herself, even though our lifestyle is quite different from hers. One thing I’m sure of is that she loved the island. It was a very big change from her home in Utah, and I think she could grow to be an ocean junkie if given half a chance.

We talked a lot about what we wanted to do after college, and I suggested she stay on the East coast for a while since she seems to like it so much. Regrettably, Boston isn’t filled with eligible, young Mormon men, so she’s pretty sure she’ll head back to Utah after we graduate. I learned something totally whack, Hennessey, and it was all I could do to not ask her if she was nuts. She has to go on a two-year mission to some place or other to spread the faith, and she’ll probably do that right after graduation. She could be sent anywhere in the world — the Artic, Australia, Haiti, Sweden — anywhere. I don’t know about you, but I could never let anyone tell me where I had to live and what I had to do for two years … but you probably know that about me already <s>. Well, that’s enough about her — let’s talk about me <s>.

As I said, things went very well until the last day. On Saturday I had to go to my AA meeting, and she wanted to go into town with me. So she had an hour on her own to wander around the shops. She was in a good mood when I left her — and we made plans to have lunch after I got back.

Now, you may have noticed that the folks on the island are not particularly fond of me <s>. I don’t know if Jenna heard the citizenry calling out the alarm to lock up their daughters or what, but when I got back she was … different. That’s the only word I have for it, Hennessey. She was different.

She didn’t want to have lunch, and for the rest of the day, I could hardly get two words out of her. Even Mother couldn’t get her to talk, and you know how good she is at things like that. Jenna went to bed as soon as we got back from dinner, and she was very quiet on the trip home today. When we got back to the room, she gave me some lame excuse and took off, and I haven’t seen her since.

I know you can’t possibly guess what’s bugging her, but I’d really appreciate it if you could help calm me down. She’s a very good friend, Hennessey, and I really don’t want to lose her. You and Jenna are my only true friends and I need both of you. I’ll be in my room, waiting for one of you to come to my rescue.

Townsend

 

 

* * *

"Hi," Hennessey said over the cacophony near the entrance to the library. "Do you want me to come over?"

"Uhm … no, now’s not a good time," Townsend said, being very circumspect. "How about dinner? Can you swing it?"

"Yeah, sure. Shall I come by your dorm?"

"No, no, I’ll come to Cambridge. I’ll go to a five o’clock meeting, then I’ll come by your dorm. I’ll be there about 6:30, okay?"

"Sure. Are you okay? You don’t sound good."

"Uhm … yeah. I’m fine. I’ll see you then, okay?"

"It’s a date," Hennessey said.

* * *

When Hennessey opened the door to her room, Townsend thrust a tiny cell phone at her. "Don’t argue with me," she said. "I’ve already bought it and had it programmed, and I can’t take it back now. I added you as a member of my family plan — so we’ll share minutes. You can use it whenever you want -- as long as you’re calling me." She gave her friend a sly smile, and Hennessey knew that things were better with Jenna.

"I’ll take the phone, but I need a proper hug," the taller woman said. Townsend snuggled up against her, holding on for a long time.

When she pulled away she straightened her hair and said, "I don’t know what in the hell happened, but Jenna seemed close to normal when she got back to the room. She’s not completely over whatever was bugging her, since I caught her staring at me with a very puzzled look on her face when she didn’t know I was looking, but she’s at least talking to me."

"Damn," Hennessey said, releasing her friend. "She must have heard something that confused or upset her." Hennessey looked at the floor, trying to decide how honest to be. "Uhm … you have made some enemies in town, baby. And in any small town people love to gossip. The day you were in jail I spoke to a number of people when I went looking for you. From what I heard you must have pissed some people off — big time."

Townsend sat down on her friend’s bed, nodding briefly. "Oh, I have. The Kennedy kids have been behaving themselves for quite a few years now, so I’m the island pariah now. It sucks," she said, dropping her head. "I can’t believe I used to be proud to watch people cross the street so they didn’t have to walk next to me. I want to be liked now, Hennessey, but I think the chances of that are slim."

"Nah, don’t talk like that," Hennessey said. "People can change, and everyone loves to see a young person rehabilitate herself. Over time, they’re gonna start liking you. It’s impossible not to like you when you let someone know you."

Reaching out to ruffle her friend’s hair, Townsend gave her a bright smile. "Thanks. You’re so damned good for my ego."

"You’ve got an adorable ego," Hennessey said. "It just needs a little propping up once in a while. Now, let’s go grab some food and I can tell you about my week. We haven’t talked about me nearly enough."

Standing, Townsend linked her arm with her friend’s. "I can’t believe you can tolerate the way I treat you. You should always, always come first, Hennessey."

Dipping her head to kiss the crown of Townsend’s blonde head, Hennessey said, "Now you’re talkin’, it’s all about me."

* * *

"How can it be this cold in March?" Townsend asked as they walked along the bustling streets of Cambridge.

"I d…don’t know," Hennessey said, shivering noticeably.

"Jesus! I know you have a warmer coat than this one," Townsend said, tugging on a thin sleeve. "Where is it?"

"I packed up all my heavy clothes and sent them home," Hennessey admitted. "I didn’t think I’d need them any longer, and I had some free time during break. I came with two suitcases, but I’ve got more than that now, and I thought this was the most efficient way to move my stuff home."

"Yeah, it’s efficient, but it’s a little premature!"

"Now you tell me," Hennessey said. "Where were you when I needed a consult?"

"Let’s take the bus back," Townsend said. "We’re almost a mile from your dorm."

Hennessey was so cold that she didn’t put up a minute’s fuss. She trotted for the first bus shelter and huddled in the corner, the icy cold wind making her teeth chatter.

A large gap in the Plexiglas seemed to strengthen the wind, rather than cut it, and Hennessey was on the verge of hailing a cab — normally an unthinkable extravagance.

Townsend came jogging up to her, panting only slightly. "You look like you’re gonna freeze into a big, Southern Popsicle," she chided her friend.

"C…c…cold," Hennessey agreed, her lips turning blue.

"C’mere." Townsend opened her shearling coat while indicating that Hennessey should sit on the tiny seat designed to provide the most basic level of comfort for patrons. The brunette did so, looking up at her friend with a question in her eyes. "Put your arms around me," Townsend instructed, and Hennessey followed her order.

The smaller woman stepped closer, then wrapped her coat around Hennessey’s shoulders, enveloping her in the soft, buff-colored wool.

"Oh, God, this feels so good," Hennessey mumbled, her voice obscured by Townsend’s body and her clothing.

Townsend stroked her friend’s back, and soon the brunette stopped shivering. "Feeling better?" Townsend asked gently. She kissed the glossy dark hair, lingering for a moment — letting her lips rest against Hennessey’s head.

"Yeah. I feel … good," Hennessey said.

Something about her voice puzzled Townsend, and she pulled back to look into her friend’s eyes. There, for the first time in a year, she caught a glimpse of longing in the beautiful orbs, and before she knew what she was doing she bent slightly and captured the full, pink lips with her own, thrilling at the soft moan that slipped from Hennessey’s open mouth.

Without pausing to reflect, Townsend straddled her, frantically pulling her close. They grappled with each other, trying to mold their bodies tighter, while Hennessey sucked hard on Townsend’s lips.

Suddenly, Hennessey’s mouth was filled with Townsend’s tongue, and they began to squirm and press into each other, moaning insensibly. The bus came, paused, and left — neither woman having the slightest awareness of its passing.

Hennessey’s hands ran up and down Townsend’s back, her fingers digging into the flesh as she tried in vain to pull the smaller woman closer to her. Craving complete merger, Hennessey held her friend so tight as to bruise her, and Townsend winced in pain.

"Oh, shit," Hennessey groaned, her speech thick and slow. "Did I hurt you?"

"Yeah," Townsend panted, her eyes half closed. "Hurt me again. Now!"

Blinking in surprise, Hennessey once again followed instructions to the letter. They continued to wrestle, both gasping for breath until slowly the pace of their kisses turned from frantic to blatantly erotic.

Townsend held the dark head in her hands, and looked into the depths of Hennessey’s eyes. Seeing nothing but arousal and desire she bent to touch the pink lips with the slightest pressure. Using the tip of her tongue, she gently urged Hennessey’s mouth to open. She slid into the slick, warm mouth, feeling like she was finally at home. Hennessey’s tongue fluttered along Townsend’s, her pace slow and sensual.

Pressing against Hennessey’s stomach, Townsend ground her hips into her partner, moaning softly when a pair of large hands cupped her breasts and squeezed. "Ohhh," the blonde purred, "That feels so fantastic."

Emboldened by the response, Hennessey filled her hands again, massaging the firm flesh while her tongue darted all around Townsend’s open mouth.

Without warning, the brilliant glare of a searchlight hit them, and Hennessey pulled her arm from around her friend to cover her eyes. A disembodied voice spoke. "Any further, and I’m running you two in. You’re about two minutes from public indecency."

Still shielding her eyes, Hennessey’s shaking voice called back, "Yes, sir. I apologize, sir. It won’t happen again."

"Uh-huh," said the officer, knowing it would happen a time or two on this particular shift alone. He shifted his car into gear and slowly cruised away, leaving two frustrated, and one mortally embarrassed woman in his wake.

Hennessey rested her head on her friend’s chest, taking in deep, even breaths until she could feel her heart start to calm.

"It’s okay, baby. We’re fine," Townsend soothed. "There’s a hotel not far from here. Come with me." She stood and extended her hand, but this time Hennessey did not comply.

Eyes filled with panic, the dark woman said, "No, no, I have to go back to my dorm. I have to!"

"What? Why?"

"Because this just happened!" she said, as though that were explanation enough.

Blinking in confusion, Townsend asked, "What in the hell are you talking about? Of course this just happened. We decided we'd wait until we were ready, baby. We agreed that we wouldn’t try to meet a timetable. Don’t you remember?"

"Of course I remember, but we’re not ready for this, Townsend. We’re not! Our bodies are more than ready, but our brains aren’t. I know that … I do!"

"Oh, Jesus, Hennessey, not this again!" The blonde climbed off Hennessey’s lap and dropped onto one of the hard, plastic slats. "You can’t mean that!"

Squatting down and running her hand through the soft, blonde hair, Hennessey looked at her friend with deep pain in her eyes. "I do mean it. I wish to God I didn’t. God, I wish I didn’t!" She began to cry, hot tears streaking down her chilled cheeks. "I want you so badly, Townsend, but we’re not ready."

Townsend looked at her, trying to see what was going on inside that dark head. Unable to read the conflicting signals she was receiving, she said, "I am. I’m ready, Hennessey, and I know what I want. I want you, and I want you now."

"I know that," Hennessey said softly. "I’m … I’m sorry, Townsend, but my conscience won’t let me do this. I wish it would shut up and let me do what every other part of my body wants to do — but it won’t. And I won’t make love with you until I’m sure. I can’t do that — to us."

Townsend took in a breath that sounded like it would suck half the oxygen from Cambridge. "I won’t waste my time trying to convince you otherwise," she said. "It’s not worth the energy. When you make up your mind I don’t have a chance." She stood again and gave her friend such a cold look that it hit Hennessey like a blow. "The time is right, Hennessey. I’m more mature and I’m more certain than I’ve ever been that you’re the woman for me. I’ve made gigantic strides in this last year, and you claim that you see them, too. But I think those are just words you use to placate me. If you really believed in me and in my maturity …" Shaking her head, she started off in the other direction, putting up her hand in a dismissive gesture when Hennessey called after her.

"Please don’t leave," Hennessey cried. "Please stay so we can talk about this."

"There’s nothing to talk about. We’ve talked until I’m nauseous. It’s time to let our feelings flow, Hennessey."

"Please, Townsend, please don’t leave. I love you!"

"Not enough, you don’t," the younger woman ground out, her words carried by the cold, dry wind.

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: March 17, 1996

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Hi,

I don’t know a lot about cell phones, but I know enough to understand that you’ve blocked my number. I don’t blame you, Townsend, I really don’t. If I were in your position I’d be incredibly hurt — and it would take me a long time to get over it.

But please let me talk to you. I can’t stand to be shut out this way, baby. I know we can work this out if we can talk.

Hennessey

 

 

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: March 17, 1996

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Since my number is still blocked I have to resort to e-mail again. Look, Townsend, I know you’re hurt, but you have to give me a chance to explain. After all we’ve been through I think I deserve that.

 

 

 

* * *

Hennessey stood in front of Townsend’s dorm room, shifting nervously from foot to foot. A pair of women walked past her and she couldn’t delay any more, so she knocked. Seconds later Jenna answered.

"Hi," she said, her expression giving nothing away.

"Hi, Jenna. Is Townsend home?"

"No. As a matter of fact I’m not sure she came home last night. I assumed she was with you."

"Oh, shit," Hennessey said, closing her eyes tightly to stop herself from crying. "Uhm … would you call her cell phone?"

"Sure. Come on in, Hennessey, and I’ll try to find her." Both of them walked into the room and Jenna picked up the phone, speed dialing Townsend’s cell number. After a moment she smiled and said, "Hey, Hennessey’s here looking for you. Did you come home last night?"

Hennessey paced around the room, trying to occupy her mind by looking at the ticket stubs and menus neatly tacked to a cork board above Townsend’s desk. She heard Jenna pause to listen to Townsend then say, "Oh. Uhm … sure. I can do that. I’ll ahh … see you later, okay?"

Jenna hung up and cleared her throat. "She’s at her parent’s house. I didn’t know she was going home for the weekend, but she won’t be back until Sunday night."

Hennessey gave her a tense smile and said, "Thanks, Jenna. I’ll see you around."

"Okay," the young woman said, a false note of cheer in her voice. "See you."

As the door closed behind her, Hennessey rested her cheek against the door and let the tears flow. People passed by, but she didn’t care if they saw her. Nothing mattered but Townsend.

* * *

From: Hennessey Boudreaux <hboudreaux@freemail.com> Sent: March 17, 1996

To: Townsend Bartley <myrealname@teaparty.com>

cc:

Subject:

Dear Townsend,

I know that it’s going to take a while, but I hope to God you can forgive me, and that we can be close once again. You mean so much to me, sweetheart. I love you with all of my heart, and the fact that I can’t be sexual with you right now is hard for me, too. I swear to God that I’m not rejecting you, Townsend. I lay awake last night thinking about why I reacted like I did, and I think that it’s not you this time — it’s me who’s not ready. That doesn’t mean that I never will be — but I’m not ready right now.

I believe you when you say you’re ready to have sex, baby, but we both have to be in the same place. I promise that I’ll try to figure out what’s stopping me from showing you how I feel, but I can’t guarantee how long that will take me.

Please, please don’t give up on us. You’re my future, Townsend, and I can’t imagine my life without you.

I hope you can contact me soon.

Hennessey

 

 

 

* * *

"Come in."

Townsend stuck her head into Hennessey’s dorm room, and noticed Robin sitting at the computer. "Oh! Hi, Townsend. Hennessey’s not here right now."

"Uhm … do you know where she is? This is our normal night to go out to dinner."

"Well … ahh …" Robin gave her an embarrassed half-smile and said, "I don’t think she was expecting you. She’s … she’s been very down this week, Townsend. She thinks you hate her."

Townsend sighed and sat down on the bed. "I could never hate her, Robin. Never." She closed her eyes and raked her hands through her hair, then lifted her head and asked, "Do you know what’s going on between us?"

"Not really. All she told me was that you were angry with her and wouldn’t speak to her."

"That’s about it," Townsend agreed. "I was very angry with her, but I could never hate her. I’m frustrated, and I’m still pissed off, but I know we can work it out."

Robin got up and walked over to sit next to Townsend. Placing a hand on her leg, she said, "She cares for you so much. You can’t imagine how much pain she’s been in his week. I was about ready to call her gramma and ask for advice on how to cheer her up."

"Oh, fuck me," Townsend muttered. "I should have stayed in contact with her, even though I was mad at her."

Robin shrugged her shoulders, then said, "The hardest thing for her was when you blocked her e-mail. I think she understood that you didn’t want to talk on the phone, but not allowing her to talk to you at all was pretty harsh."

"I know, I know. I was just …" She blew out a breath and asked, "Do you know where she is?"

"No, I don’t. I can tell you all of the places she normally hangs out if that’ll help."

"Yeah. I’ll go find her, one way or the other. Will you call my cell if she gets home before then?"

"Sure. No problem. Uhm … you don’t have the hall phone number blocked too, do you?"

Wincing, Townsend said, "I unblocked her on Wednesday. I guess she just didn’t try again."

"She’s not the type to do that, Townsend," Robin said as she handed her a sheet of paper listing Hennessey’s favorite haunts. "She told me that she slid a note under your door telling you that she wouldn’t try to contact you again. Once she tells you something, you can depend on it."

"I know that’s true," Townsend said softly. "But sometimes she, like everyone else, makes promises she can’t keep."

* * *

"I should have known to start at the library," Townsend said when she found her friend over three hours later. The blonde sank into a chair next to the startled woman and shook her head. "I’d make a terrible detective."

Hennessey’s calm lasted for less than a minute, before tears were forming in her eyes and her arms flew around Townsend’s body. "I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry."

"Shh … shh," Townsend soothed. She ran her hands through Hennessey’s thick, black hair, whispering softly to her. "We’ll work this out. We will."

"Are you sure?" Hennessey’s trembling voice asked.

"Of course we will. We’ve been through worse, haven’t we?"

With a wan smile, Hennessey nodded. "I guess we have."

* * *

The pair found a quiet spot near the library and settled down on the spring-green grass. Hennessey was obviously nervous and still teary. Townsend leaned against a tree and pulled the larger woman to her. Like a child, Hennessey cuddled against her friend, nuzzling her face into her neck.

Softly stroking the dark hair, Townsend whispered, "I’m sorry I hurt you, baby. I'm very, very sorry."

"S’okay," Hennessey murmured. "I hurt you, too."

"Yeah you did," Townsend agreed, "but you didn’t intend to. My shutting you out was just cruel."

"Thanks," Hennessey whispered, beginning to cry again. "I … knew you were hurt, but you broke my heart when you cut me off."

"I’ll never do that again," Townsend said. "I promise you that, baby."

Sniffling, Hennessey asked, "Where do we go from here?"

Townsend was quiet for a long while, ordering her thoughts and censoring the ones she knew would be met with a quick rejection. "Uhm … I think you need to do some soul searching, honey, and figure out whether you want to be my lover, or my friend."

Hennessey sat up, her eyes wide with alarm. "I want to be your lover! I swear I do! I’m … just not ready."

"Then you need to find out why you’re not ready. I think you need to get some counseling, Hennessey. You need to find out what’s holding you back."

The dark head nodded and Hennessey said, "I went to the student counseling center on Monday. I was really hurting and I needed some help to stay grounded."

Her expression suffused with pain, Townsend whispered, "Oh, baby, I’m so sorry for what I did. I never meant to hurt you so badly."

"It’s really all right," Hennessey said. "Gramma always says that you learn your lessons through your tears."

Townsend smiled at her friend. "I normally agree with your grandmother, but I hate to have you cry. Do you think you'll go back to the health service? It really might pay off if you talked to someone about your feelings."

"I did," Hennessey said, giving Townsend a puzzled look. "I got some things off my chest, and I'm feeling much better."

The blonde gazed at her friend for a few moments, struggling with her emotions. Deciding that trying to talk Hennessey into going to therapy would never be productive, she merely nodded. "I'm glad you're feeling well, stretch, and I'm very sorry that I hurt you."

"I hurt you too, Townsend. Let's try to put this behind us and make a new start."

Townsend managed a smile, but knew in her heart that Hennessey was no more ready to make a new start than she had been on the night she kissed her.

* * *

Two weeks later, Hennessey lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling of her room. "Did you have fun tonight?" Robin asked.

"Uhm … yeah, I guess. It’s … it’s not the same, but I still enjoy being with her."

"What’s not the same?"

"Our relationship," Hennessey said. "Townsend doesn’t share things with me like she used to. It’s … it’s like she’s afraid to be vulnerable around me any longer. She’s … guarded."

Robin sat down on her desk chair and rolled it close to her friend. "You can’t really blame her, Hennessey. She wants something from you that you’re unable to give her. How is she supposed to act?"

"I don’t know," the dark-haired woman mumbled. "I just miss her. I miss her so much, Robin. I’ve never been as close to anyone that I wasn’t related to, and losing that closeness is about to drive me mad."

"Maybe she’s protecting herself a little bit," Robin guessed. "I mean, in less than two months you’ll go back to South Carolina, then you’re off to Paris for a year. To be honest, Hennessey, I don’t blame her for pulling back a little. It’s obvious she’s not going to get what she wants for another year — at least. That’s a long time — especially to someone like Townsend. She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who’s fond of biding her time."

"No, she’s not," Hennessey agreed. "I guess you could be right. Maybe she’s just trying to protect herself a little bit. God, I hope that’s all it is."

 

* * *

Continued in Part 10

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