The Right Thing

Part II

Part I can be found here

 

S X Meagher

 

A well-shaped, long-fingered hand slid across a single sheet of paper, which rested on a small desk. Playing idly with the sheet, Hennessey Boudreaux folded it into thirds, then straightened it out and refolded it – fashioning it into an aerodynamic shape. Snapping her wrist, she caused the paper projectile to fly across her dorm room and land a good four feet from her intended target.

Muttering to herself about her lack of any useful athletic talents, the tall, raven-haired woman picked up the airplane and made another attempt – this time from barely three feet away. Missing again, she smiled to herself and walked back to her desk where she smoothed the paper out and read it one last time. You’re gonna be the death of me, Townsend. I swear it!

Picking up her roommate’s phone, Hennessey carefully keyed in her calling card number and waited for Townsend to answer. When the line was picked up, she spoke in her soft, slow, Carolina drawl. "You know I don’t like being dictated to, Townsend."

"I couldn’t help it! Mother said we could have the house in Martha’s Vineyard for spring break, but if I can’t give her a definite answer by today, she’s going to use it herself."

"The nerve," Hennessey said, drawing the word out to three syllables.

"I know," Townsend agreed, oblivious to her friend’s sarcasm. "So, what’s your answer, good-lookin’? I know you have the same time off that I do, I know you’re not going home, and I know that you miss me."

Hennessey lay down on her bed and stared at the ceiling, a slow, sly grin stealing over her features. "And just how do you know that?"

"Because I know you love me, and you have to miss people you love."

"Hmm … I guess that’s true," the older woman mused. "I miss my daddy and my granddaddy and my gramma somethin’ fierce."

"You miss me, too, babe," Townsend said in the low, sexy voice that Hennessey had quickly learned turned her usually steady knees to rubber.

Clearing her suddenly raspy throat, the dark-haired woman said, "I guess I do at that. It would be awfully nice to see you. I mean, I see you nearly every night … but my dreams are nowhere near as good as reality."

"You want to kiss me again, don’t you?" Townsend’s sexy voice asked.

"Unh-uh. I want you to kiss me. Just like last time – only longer."

"Oh, I’ll kiss you, Hennessey. I’ll kiss you on every inch of skin I can uncover." After a lengthy pause, the younger woman asked, "Hennessey? Are you there?"

"Hennessey can’t come to the phone right now. She’s lost the use of her central nervous system."

"So, can I tell Mother that we’ll take the house? Please?"

"Yes, yes, you can. I can’t wait to see you, Townsend, and I’m really looking forward to spending some time getting to know your mother."

"My mother?"

"Of course," the older woman said, barely stifling a snicker. "You’ve just reminded me of how much we need a chaperone, and since your mother wants to use the house that week, there’s no reason we shouldn’t all share it."

"But æ !"

"No buts, Townsend. It’s not a good idea for us to be alone."

"Oh, Hennessey, you can’t possibly mean to tell me that you plan on sticking to that ridiculous idea of not sleeping together until I’ve been sober for a year!"

With her voice taking on a very solemn tone, Hennessey said, "I’ve never been more serious about anything. I don’t want to merely sleep with you, Townsend. I want to love you and be in a relationship with you. I’ll understand if you don’t want the same thing, but this is what I want … it’s what I need."

There was a pause that was far longer than Hennessey was comfortable with. Townsend cleared her throat and asked in a very quiet voice, "Do you want it badly enough to lose me?"

The question caught Hennessey by surprise, and for just a moment, she felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach. But she examined her heart for a few moments and told the truth. "Yes, I do. I want it because it’s the right thing for both of us, Townsend. I can understand if you don’t want to wait – but I have to."

Obviously frustrated, Townsend sighed, "How can it be right to deny yourself something you want so much? I want you so badly that my body aches for you."

"I want you, too," Hennessey whispered. "More than I ever thought I could want anyone. But I will not set myself up, Townsend. Until you’ve been sober for a full year, we will not be sexually intimate. I will not risk your sobriety or my sanity."

"But I’m going to a meeting every day, Hennessey. Lots of people get into relationships after they’ve only been sober for a short while."

Believing she already knew the answer, Hennessey asked, "What does your sponsor say?"

Waiting a beat, Townsend said quietly, "Uhm … I don’t have a sponsor … right now."

"What? When did this happen?"

"This past weekend. Sharon fell off the wagon, Hennessey. It was only one day, and she’s back in the program, but she has to concentrate on herself right now."

"Oh, shit. What happened?"

"Uhm … she caught her boyfriend cheating on her. She … lost it, Hennessey. It … scared me."

"I bet it did," Hennessey sympathized. "It’s hard to stay sober, Townsend. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and it deserves your full attention."

"But half of my attention is on you, Hennessey."

"I know that. Sometimes I wish it weren’t so, but I know that it is."

"Having you in my life helps keep me sober, Hennessey; I swear it does."

Blowing out a breath, Hennessey said, "God knows that I hope that’s true. I don’t know what I’d do if I felt like you started drinking again because of me."

"I won’t, Hennessey. I go to my meetings, and I read The Big Book every night. I say those little affirmations you sent me, too. They’re so earnest they make me barf, but I say ‘em."

Chuckling softly at her friend’s disarming honesty, Hennessey said, "It’s obvious that you’re working hard, Townsend, but you’re not nearly out of the woods."

"I know that." There was a pause that immediately set off warning signals in Hennessey’s brain.

"What happened?" she asked sharply.

"Uhm … nothing bad," Townsend replied. "I, uhm … had a little slip, but it wasn’t with alcohol."

Letting out a sigh, Hennessey asked, "What did you take, sweetheart?"

"Nicotine," Townsend mumbled. "I know I shouldn’t have, but I was so depressed about Sharon …"

"Tell me what happened, honey."

Her voice was so calm and non-judgmental that Townsend felt her anxiety start to fade. "We were supposed to get together for coffee on Saturday afternoon, before the meeting. She didn’t show up, so I called her house and she answered … drunk."

"Oh, baby, that must have been so hard for you to hear."

"It was. It really was, Hennessey. I know I shouldn’t have, but I went to a convenience store and bought some cigarettes. I, uhm … stared at the beer for so long that the owner came over and asked me what was wrong – but I didn’t buy any - I didn’t."

She was sobbing softly, and Hennessey wanted so badly to be there to hold her and comfort her, but all she could offer was her gentle voice and soothing words. "You had a tough time, baby, but you didn’t drink. That’s what counts. Trying to stop drinking and taking drugs and smoking all at the same time might be too much for you."

"But you don’t like it when I smell like smoke," Townsend whimpered.

"No, I don’t. But that’s not what matters. I think you should find another sponsor as soon as possible and discuss this with him or her. Maybe you need to wait a bit to work on your smoking."

"But you won’t want to kiss me," Townsend murmured. "Your kisses are all I think about."

"I’d kiss you if you had a big, nasty plug of tobacco in your mouth," Hennessey teased.

"But you wouldn’t like it," the younger woman said.

Hennessey took a minute to focus, then asked, "Townsend? Do you ever feel like you’re getting sober just for me?"

"Just for you?"

"Yeah. I need to know."

Taking in a few deep breaths, Townsend considered her actions of the past eight months and answered as honestly as she could. "At first, it was all because of you, baby. But not now. Now, I feel like I’m doing this for me and for you and for us. I’d have been dead before I was thirty if I’d kept going at the rate I was. Sharon always said, if you’ve gotta stop sometime – it might as well be now."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, of course I’m sure. Why do you want to know?"

"Because this isn’t going to work if you feel that you have to stay sober and stop using drugs and stop smoking all because of me. This has to be something that’s important to you – for you."

"It is, sweetheart. I want to live. I’ll admit that one of my main reasons for living is to be with you – but that’s not the only reason."

"Tell me the other reasons, Townsend. I need to know."

"Okay." Townsend took a moment, then said, "I’ve … I’ve started to enjoy life. For the first time in a long time, I’m happy to wake up in the morning. You’re gonna laugh," she said, "but I’ve started to become a nature freak – just like you."

Hennessey laughed, the sound so musical that Townsend felt a familiar chill race down her spine. "A nature freak, huh? How did that come about?"

"Well, Sharon has been urging me to get up early and go for a walk in the morning. She said it’s a nice way to clear my head and plan my day. I think about what I have to do and try to think of any situations I might be in that could tempt me. For the first few weeks, I didn’t even pay attention to where I was. I was just pissed off that it was 7:00 a.m. and I was out stomping around in the snow."

"Now that sounds like my girl."

"Nope. That was the old Townsend. The new, improved Townsend has discovered that Vermont is fucking beautiful!"

"Do tell?" Hennessey prodded, giggling softly.

"Yeah, it’s really pretty here. Maybe you could come see me before the year’s up, huh? I think you’d really like it."

"I hope that I can, too. Now, tell me what you like about your morning walk," Hennessey said. "My curiosity is really piqued."

"Uhm … I guess one thing I like is that it feels so good to be able to walk without being out of breath. My lungs don’t hurt anymore, and I don’t have that nasty cough that used to bother me in the morning. My sense of smell is better, too. I can tell if it’s going to snow just from the way the air smells."

"Mmm … that makes me so happy," Hennessey murmured. "I know just what you mean. I can tell you how hot it’s going to be and when it’s gonna rain just from smelling the air in the morning. It’s nice to get your senses back, isn’t it?"

"Yeah, it is. I’m actually starting to like snow for the first time in my life. I got some snowshoes, and on the weekends, I go for long walks in the woods – and think of you."

"I think of you much more than I should," Hennessey admitted. "Every short story I write has an adorable blonde in it. My creative writing teacher actually made a comment about it the other day. We were supposed to write a story about India at the end of British rule, and Professor Ring said, "You’ve got your work cut out for you, Hennessey. I don’t think there were many attractive, young, blonde women in India during this time period.""

Townsend laughed helplessly. "Oh, Hennessey, you must have been embarrassed!"

"Nah. I don’t care if all of Harvard University knows I’m hopelessly in love with a beautiful woman. As long as I’m more than five hundred miles from home, I’m a real rainbow flag waver."

"You’ll get comfortable with it at some point, honey. Don’t stress about it."

"That’s how I feel about your smoking," Hennessey said. "I’ll admit that it will be a little unpleasant for me if you’re smoking. It reminds me too much of my mother, and thoughts about her sometimes intrude when I’m around someone who smokes. But I don’t want you to feel that you have to quit because I’ve told you to. This relationship can’t work if I’m the adult and you’re only trying to please me."

"Oh, but I want to please you," Townsend said in that incredibly sexy voice. "I want to please you so much that every nerve will beg for mercy."

"Uhm … I could be wrong, but I think I was talking about smoking, and you were talking about something completely different."

"Oh, I can make you smoke," Townsend giggled. "But don’t worry about me, babe; I think I’ll be all right. I smoked about ten cigarettes in a row and made myself so sick, I threw up right into a snow bank. Do you know how nasty vomit looks on snow?"

"I’m from South Carolina, honey. We throw up in the ocean, like self-respecting people."

"Do you still love me, Hennessey? Even when I’m weak and give into temptation?"

"I do. More than ever. I love you, and I respect you for trying so hard to conquer your demons, baby."

"You were teasing about having Mother come with us, weren’t you?"

"Honey, I never tease about your sobriety. I’ll only come if your mother or father is there also. And I swear, if I get there and find out you’re alone, I’ll leave. I’m not kidding, Townsend."

"I know," she said glumly. "You never tease when I want you to."

***

After hanging up, Hennessey got out the phone book and perused the pages in the front of the tome. Several hours later, she found herself in a familiar setting, even though she’d never been to the church auditorium before. When it was her turn to speak, she cleared her throat and said, "Hi, I’m Hennessey, and I’m falling in love with an alcoholic."

***

Several more conversations followed the first, and eventually Townsend resigned herself to the fact that Hennessey was intractable. And so, on a bright, cool Saturday morning in March, Hennessey was waiting on the steps of her dorm, grinning widely when a large, black Mercedes pulled up. Townsend jumped out and threw her arms around the larger woman, murmuring, "God, I’ve missed you. Three months without touching you is an eternity!"

Dropping a soft kiss on the top of Townsend’s golden hair, Hennessey said, "Let’s go, honey. I don’t want to keep your mother waiting."

"Good Lord," Townsend grumbled, stooping to pick up Hennessey’s bag, "I’ve had hotter kisses from my grandfather."

***

"Good morning Mrs. Bartley," Hennessey said when she entered the car.

"Hello there, Hennessey. How have you been?"

"Very well, thanks. I’m glad that winter’s just about over, though. This is the first time I’ve ever been in truly cold weather, and my thin Southern blood could use a good shot of anti-freeze."

"Well, I don’t know if you’ll be much happier in Martha’s Vineyard," the older woman said, smiling at Hennessey. "We get a very brisk breeze at this time of year."

"I’ll keep you warm," Townsend said, winking at her friend.

"I brought long underwear and wool sweaters," Hennessey replied, giving Townsend a superior smile.

***

The drive was a lovely one, and Hennessey found her attention divided between listening to Townsend and her mother and watching the scenery. "Have you been to the shore before, Hennessey?" Mrs. Bartley asked.

"No, I haven’t. I haven’t ventured very far out of Boston, to be honest. Actually, I don’t leave Cambridge very often, but my roommate is from Brookline, and I’ve been to her home for dinner several times."

"Well, this should be quite an experience for you then. I think you’ll love the sea."

"I have a great deal of experience on the water, Mrs. Bartley. But the Atlantic is fairly tame where I’m from."

"Oh, that’s right! You’re from South Carolina. How forgetful of me. Now, what line of work is your father in, dear?"

"He’s a shrimper," Hennessey said. "My father fishes, and my grandparents run a small restaurant that uses his entire catch."

"I’ve told you all of this, Mother," Townsend said in an irritated voice.

Turning to her daughter, Miranda said, "I’m sure you have, but I’m interested in hearing what Hennessey has to say. You don’t mind, do you, Hennessey?"

"Not at all, Mrs. Bartley. I could talk about my family all day."

"I’m sure you’ve told me, but remind me again of what your family situation is."

"I live with my father and my grandparents."

"Are your parents divorced, dear?"

"Yes," the young woman said. "They split up when I was a baby. My grandparents raised me."

"Oh." There was a long, uncomfortable pause, then Miranda asked, "Do you see your mother?"

"Yes, ma’am. She lives close to us. Even though she didn’t raise me, she’s still my mother, and I love her very much."

"I see," Miranda said, wondering what was going on behind those clear, blue eyes.

"I told you about the fabulous food that Hennessey’s grandmother makes," Townsend said, trying to divert attention from her friend.

"Yes, I recall that you did," Miranda said. "You’re from Beaufort, Hennessey?"

"Yes, ma’am," Hennessey said, giving her a warm smile.

"I wonder if I’ve ever dined at your family’s restaurant. I’ve been to Beaufort many, many times. I set one of my novels there, you know."

"No, ma’am, I didn’t know," Hennessey said. "I wish I had time to read for pleasure, but I’m afraid that will have to wait until summer."

"Maybe you’ll have a little time this week. I have copies of all of my books at the beach house."

"God damn it, Mother. Hennessey doesn’t want to read your books; she’s just being polite!"

Before Miranda could say a word, Hennessey jumped in. "Townsend, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t speak for me. I’m perfectly able to decide what I’ll read, and when I’ll read it." Turning to Miranda, she said, "I’m not merely being polite, Mrs. Bartley; I’d love to read one of your books. You can advise me which one would be best to start with."

Townsend sank into the corner of the roomy seat, scowling at both of her fellow backseat passengers.

***

Hennessey wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting, but even with no particular expectations, the cottage was hard for her to get her mind around. She’d known that Townsend was from a wealthy family, but she honestly didn’t have much of a frame of reference for what substantial wealth could buy.

This cottage, used infrequently, was bigger, more lavish, and more beautifully appointed than any home she’d ever been in, and she began to feel uncomfortable while they were still in the foyer. She knew that she was being silly, so she tried her best to keep her discomfort to herself.

"You have a lovely home," she said to Miranda, putting on what she knew had to be a staged-looking smile.

"Oh, it’s nothing too special, Hennessey. Just a place to get away for a few days. It’s nice to rough it a little." She laughed softly, and Hennessey saw so much of Townsend in the woman’s expression that her own smile grew genuine and bright.

"I’ll show her around, Mom," Townsend said, taking Hennessey’s hand in her own and pulling her towards the wall of French doors in the back of the living room.

"Where are we going?" Hennessey asked when they reached the back yard.

"We’re going to the guest house. That’s where I always stay," Townsend said.

Stopping in her tracks, Hennessey’s dark head started to shake. "Not a good idea. Your mother won’t hear my screams when you try to molest me."

"Oh, Hennessey, you’re so goofy. My mother medicates herself so thoroughly that she’d never hear your screams, regardless of where we were. You’re gonna have to defend yourself, sweetheart."

Her face growing serious, Hennessey said, "I mean it, Townsend. I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be alone. I’d rather sleep in the main house."

For several seconds, Townsend stared at her friend, then shook her head and started down a stone path, heading towards the two-story guest house. Hennessey watched her go, then stepped back into the house.

Miranda came out of the kitchen and gave Hennessey a quizzical glance. "Do you need something, dear?"

"Uhm … I … uhm … don’t know where I should sleep. Is there a guest room?"

"You’re not sleeping in the guest house?" the older woman asked. "I assumed you’d be more comfortable there."

"I don’t … I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but I need to have my own room, Mrs. Bartley."

"Have you two had a fight?"

"No … well … maybe a small one. But that’s not the point. We’re trying to take this slowly, Mrs. Bartley. We’re not uhm … being intimate, yet."

The older woman blinked in surprise, then asked, "Still? Why ever not?"

You’re not in South Carolina anymore, Hennessey. Try to keep up. "Well, I think that Townsend should focus on staying sober. Getting too involved at this point might hurt her focus."

"Huh." Miranda shook her head, smiling to herself. "You are just as earnest as Townsend says you are."

Blushing, Hennessey nodded. "I know I’m not your typical eighteen-year-old, Mrs. Bartley. But Townsend needs some help with staying sober. I don’t want to supervise her, but I also don’t want to tempt her."

Eyebrows furrowing, Miranda asked, "Do you really think she’ll stay sober? Lord knows I want her to, but I can’t imagine that she can do it."

"I believe in her," Hennessey said, her confidence reflected in her eyes.

"I can see that," Miranda said, giving the girl a small smile. "I hope you’re right."

"I hope so, too." Lifting her bag, Hennessey asked, "Guest room?"

"Oh! Well, there are a few rooms on the second floor, but I’m planning on writing this week, and my schedule’s a little odd. I’m often nocturnal, and I have the stereo on rather loud. I’m sure you’ll be happier in the guest house."

"But …"

"You can lock your door, Hennessey," the woman said, giving the girl a puzzled smile. "I don’t think Townsend has an ax with her."

"Oh. I didn’t realize there was more than one room," Hennessey explained.

"There are three bedrooms in that house, dear. You can have an empty room between the two of you, just to be safe."

"I feel like an idiot," Hennessey mumbled. "And I hurt Townsend’s feelings."

Laughing wryly, Miranda said, "Her feelings are always hurt, Hennessey. You’ll get used to it."

***

Tentatively cracking open the door to the guest house, Hennessey stuck her head in, hoping that Townsend wouldn’t hurl anything at her. Spotting the blonde sitting on a white duck sofa, she asked, "Can I come in?"

"If you must," Townsend answered, not making eye contact.

Hennessey walked through the entryway and set her bag down. Approaching Townsend, she sat down next to her and said, "I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I should have asked what the accommodations were, and what you and your mom had already worked out. I’m really sorry, Townsend."

Giving her a curious look, Townsend asked, "Do you want to be here, Hennessey? Do you want to be with me?"

"Yes! Of course I do!"

"It’s mid-March, and I haven’t seen you since January 3rd. You keep me at arm’s length – like you’re half-in and half-out."

Scooting closer to her friend, Hennessey said, "That’s not true. I’m all in, Townsend. I’m 100% into this – into you. But I know this year has been, and is going to continue to be, hard for you, and I want to give you the space to learn how to be your own person – the you who doesn’t abuse her body and her mind."

Townsend nodded and sat quietly for a few moments. She was staring at the fireplace, her eyes twitching over the gnarled wood that had been neatly stacked on the hearth. "Would you stop loving me if I drank, Hennessey?"

Hennessey answered without a moment’s hesitation. "No, I wouldn’t. I’d still love you, Townsend, but I couldn’t be with you if you decided to start drinking again. I can’t do that to myself, honey. I can’t watch my daddy and my momma and you all slowly kill yourselves. I can’t."

Townsend reached up and gently wiped at the tears that were slipping down Hennessey’s pink cheeks. "I won’t ever drink again, Hennessey. I promise I won’t."

"No, baby. Please don’t talk like that. It’s only gonna get you into trouble. Just try to stay sober right now. Don’t worry about tomorrow."

"Okay," the blonde nodded. "I’ll try to."

They rested against each other, their bodies slowly molding together. "What does a girl have to do to get a decent kiss around here?" Hennessey’s syrupy sweet voice finally asked.

Without a word, Townsend shifted in her friend’s embrace and pressed her lips against the ones she’d been dreaming of for the past two and a half months. Letting out a guttural groan, she wrapped her arms around Hennessey and sank into the delicious sensation of kissing those beautiful, full lips.

"Nice," Hennessey purred, pulling away. "Nicer than my dreams."

Reaching for the back of her partner’s head, Townsend found her efforts rebuffed when Hennessey slithered out of her grip.

"Time for some lunch," the brunette said. "I’m starving." She leaned forward for one more buss, then started to get up.

But Townsend had other ideas. Tackling the larger woman, she soon found her lap filled with one hundred thirty-five pounds of soft, warm, luscious Hennessey. "I need more," Townsend growled, placing a flurry of kisses on Hennessey’s face, neck and ears. "I need you so badly," she murmured between ragged breaths.

Gently but firmly pulling away from Townsend’s rabid embrace, Hennessey got to her rubbery legs and took a deep, calming breath. "Too much," she managed to get out. "That’s too much, baby."

Townsend leaned back against the cushions, then ran a hand through her hair, a wan smile on her face. "Can’t blame a girl for trying."

"I admire your persistence," Hennessey said, smiling warmly. "Your determination is what’s gonna see you through this." She extended a hand and Townsend started to grasp it, but Hennessey pulled it away at the last second. "Fool me once…" she said, laughing as Townsend stuck out her tongue and got to her feet. Draping an arm around the slightly narrower shoulders, Hennessey dropped a kiss onto the top of Townsend’s head as they left the building their laughter quickly absorbed by the sounds of the sea.

***

Miranda didn’t wish to go into town with the young women; she merely asked that they bring her some form of hearty salad when they returned. "Wanna ride bikes?" Townsend asked.

"Sure. Do you have two?"

"Uh-huh. Follow me." Townsend led the way to a very deep garage that could easily house four cars, if they were parked in tandem. There was a Mercedes SUV parked in the back of the space, and Hennessey noted all sorts of beach, fishing, clamming and other assorted paraphernalia stacked around as well. Townsend moved a few things and produced two simple beach cruisers.

"These are great," Hennessey said. "Just perfect for the beach."

"Yeah, it’s too sandy to ride a proper road bike out here. These work just fine."

"Helmets?" Hennessey asked, looking around.

"Be wild," Townsend urged. "Live on the edge for just a moment."

"I don’t know, Townsend," the older woman mused. "I might have nightmares about this. I’ve never done anything this daring."

"Move out," Townsend smirked. "I want to see that cute ass in front of me the whole time."

"Don’t you dare look at my ass!" Hennessey said in mock horror. "We’re not formally engaged."

Townsend gave the ass in question a firm swat, and the pair set off on their short jaunt into town.

***

"Damn, this place is so charming, it’s almost cloying," Hennessey teased.

"Yeah. Martha’s Vineyard is truly a New England seacoast village – and most of the buildings are original. It’s just that now they’re filled with gourmet ice cream and coffee shops rather than fishing supplies."

"Well, it’s damned cute. Where do you want to eat?"

"What are you in the mood for?"

"Mmm … not fish. I think we’ll get plenty of that this week. Let’s get a nice, big cheeseburger and a chocolate malt."

"Okay, but I’ve already put on five pounds since I stopped smoking. You could fatten me up to the point where you’re not hot for me anymore."

"Never gonna happen," Hennessey proclaimed. "There’d just be more to love."

***

Hennessey licked a gooey glop of chili off the edge of her hamburger bun and giggled when Townsend reached over and wiped at the corner of her mouth with a napkin. "I can’t have you looking like a slob. I have a reputation around here, you know," the younger woman reminded her.

"I’ll just bet you do. Maybe I should sit at the next table so the police don’t put me on their ‘watch list.’"

"Funny," Townsend snickered, touching Hennessey’s nose with the dirty part of the napkin.

Hennessey wiped the tip of her nose and said, "You know I’m kidding. I’m very proud to be with you, Townsend." Blowing her a kiss, she added, "You make me happy."

With her fingers creeping across the tabletop like a tarantula, Townsend slid her hand into Hennessey’s. "So, you won’t mind it if I kiss you in public? Hold your hand?"

"I’d mind it if you didn’t," Hennessey assured her. "But first, I’ve gotta eat this burger. Then my hand is yours."

Townsend had already finished, and she braced her chin on her hands, watching her friend eat. "You sure can put it away for such a skinny woman."

"I’m not skinny," Hennessey sniffed. "I’m lean. Big difference."

"Your dad is built like you, isn’t he?"

"Uh-huh. Long and lanky."

"I like long and lanky. I like those curves you try to hide under your baggy clothes, too."

"They’re not baggy," Hennessey gently said. "They’re cut generously. I like to be able to move in my clothes."

"I’d like to move in your clothes, too. I think there’s just enough room for me to join you in that sweater."

"Your head would never fit through the collar," Hennessey said, chuckling.

"I wouldn’t want my head to be out of the collar. The good parts are all hidden inside."

"Good Lord, Townsend, must you make me blush every fifteen seconds? Surely we have something to talk about other than sex."

With her green eyes roaming idly around the room, Townsend shook her head. "Nope. Just sex."

Laughing, Hennessey said, "Well, I have other topics on my list. What can we expect this week? Will we have dinner with your mother?"

"I guess it’s possible, but I wouldn’t count on it."

"Really? Why?"

"Uhm … when she comes here, she comes to write. She’s got her wacky schedule, and she doesn’t like to disturb it. The last time we were here together I think the only times I saw her were in the car on the way up and the way back."

"Speaking of the car, where did our driver disappear to?"

"Oh, he’s around. Mother puts him up at a place in town, and then pages him when she wants him. Sometimes he gets a week’s vacation. Other times he’s driving over to the house six times a day. With us here, he’ll probably get a nice vacation. We’ll be running the errands."

"She doesn’t go out? See any friends?"

"Nope. I’m sure she hasn’t told any of her friends she’s here. When she’s here to write – she writes."

Hennessey’s brows narrowed, and she asked, "How does she write if she’s, uhm … medicated … as you put it?"

"Oh, she’s a morphine addict," the younger woman said casually. "It doesn’t affect her much as long as she has access to her drug."

Hennessey’s eyes were so wide, they nearly popped from her head. "She’s a morphine addict?"

"Uh-huh. I’m not sure she knows that I know, but she’s been on Vicodin and OxyContin for years."

"That’s what I took from you at camp," Hennessey said quietly.

"Yeah. I didn’t take it often, but it was nice to have a little stash. I thought my stupid camp counselor would believe it was a legit drug. Just my luck I had to get a sharp one."

"Just your luck," Hennessey agreed, smiling at her. "So, how does the morphine affect your mom?"

"It really doesn’t. I mean, I’m sure she has to increase the dosage periodically, but as long as she can continue to get it, she won’t have to kick for a long time."

"Damn," Hennessey said, shaking her head. Looking at Townsend, she asked, "Doesn’t it bother you?"

"Mmm … not as much as your parent’s alcohol abuse bothers you. She doesn’t act like she’s on anything, so it doesn’t get in the way."

Looking pensive, Hennessey asked, "How do you feel about her, Townsend? Do you hate her?"

"Hate her?" The younger woman looked surprised at the question. "Hate her? No, I don’t hate her. Why would you think that?"

"Well … you don’t act very fond of her. You hardly ever say a kind word to her. Heck, I’ve never heard you say please or thank you to her, Townsend. That’s not the mark of a young woman who’s fond of her mom."

"Huh." Townsend shrugged her shoulders. "I don’t think about her very often, to be honest. I don’t dislike her, but I don’t know her well enough to like her much, either."

Gazing at her friend for a long while, Hennessey said, "She’s your mom, Townsend; how can you not know her?"

"We’ll see how well you know her at the end of this week," Townsend said. "Then you might understand what I’m talking about."

***

As predicted, Hennessey couldn’t stop herself, and at dinner, she indulged in a few of her favorite seafood dishes. "You know, I’ve become quite the connoisseur of clam chowder," she said. "This one is particularly good."

"Yeah, it’s never too floury here. Lots of clams, too."

"I think I’m gonna like it here," Hennessey said. "It’s kinda like home – but with funny accents and more expensive houses."

"Yeah. Those Massachusetts accents really do stick out," Townsend agreed, making a face at her friend. "Speaking of home, do you want to call your grandparents while you’re here? Feel free, if you do."

"No, I don’t think I will. They have the number if they need me." She looked a bit embarrassed and said, "I’d like to be able to relax and not have to worry about them for a week. I can always tell when things aren’t going well, but there’s almost nothing I can do."

"I know, honey. I know how hard it is for you."

"At least when I’m home, I can help out. All the way up here, I’m truly powerless. It’s hard sometimes."

"I understand," Townsend said.

"So, let’s just have fun this week, okay?"

"That’s what I’m best at," Townsend assured her.

***

Late that night, the pair walked along the beach, the wind brisk and cold, their hair blowing wildly. "It’s never like this in South Carolina," Hennessey muttered, her teeth chattering.

"Massachusetts doesn’t hold a candle to South Carolina, does it?" Townsend asked.

"No, no, it doesn’t," Hennessey said. "I never want to be far from home, Townsend. I hope you understand that."

"I do," the smaller woman said, nodding. "I like the Northeast, but I’m not in love with it. I’m in love with you, Hennessey, and I’m sure that I’ll like anywhere we end up."

"Think Beaufort," Hennessey said, burrowing against Townsend’s greater warmth.

***

"How about some hot chocolate?" Townsend asked when they returned to the guest house.

"I’d love some. Can we make it here?"

"The kitchen’s fully equipped, but it’s not stocked with food right now. I’ll run over to the main house. Be right back." As she started for the door, Townsend asked, "Can you build a fire?"

"Can I build a fire," Hennessey muttered to herself as she got up and began to do just that.

A few minutes later, Townsend was back, chuckling at Hennessey’s perfectionist streak. "Will you have that ready by the time we go to bed?"

"It’s ready now, for your information," Hennessey said. "If you build it right, you don’t have to fuss with it much."

"Here’s your chocolate, babe."

Hennessey lit the fire and stood up, watching it spring to life. She took a sip of her drink, made a slight face and asked, "Microwave, huh?"

"Yep. That’s the best you’ll get from me. Do you mind?"

"Yeah, but not to worry. I’ll teach you how to cook."

"Uh-huh. That’ll happen. I think the odds are better that we’ll hire a cook."

Hennessey started to speak, but thought better of it. "We’ll work it out," she said, smiling warmly. "One day at a time, baby."

They sat down on the sofa, leaning against each other, while they watched the well-made fire crackle. "Nice, isn’t it?" Townsend asked softly.

"I guess there’s something to be said for cold weather," Hennessey agreed. "Getting warm is pretty darned nice."

Townsend placed her mug on the table, then smiled knowingly and removed the one in Hennessey’s hand. "I can warm you up in a hurry." Taking the larger woman in her arms, she began to kiss the lips that joined with hers. "God, I love you," she whispered between kisses.

"I love you, too," Hennessey murmured. "Being held and kissed like this feels so wonderful."

"I could kiss you all night."

Hennessey let herself melt into Townsend’s arms, allowing her body to press against the delightful softness. Slowly, she opened her mouth and purred when Townsend’s tongue immediately entered.

Suddenly, she was being pushed firmly, and she started to sink into the cushions. Using all of her strength, she pushed back, not relenting until she was fully upright. "Someday. But not tonight." Hennessey pulled away and placed a few soft kisses on Townsend’s brow. "I’ve missed you so much, and fantasized about being with you so often, that my resolve isn’t what is usually is."

"Oh, Hennessey, don’t leave me so soon. It’s been months!"

"I have to, baby." She fell to her knees and wrapped her arms against her visibly frustrated partner. "Please don’t be angry with me. We’re going too fast, and you’re pushing me a little harder than I’m comfortable with. I know I’m going too slowly to please you, but this is all I can do right now."

Sighing, Townsend said, "It’s okay. I just … I just want you so badly."

Hennessey placed her forehead against her partner’s and whispered, "Be happy with what we have. I am." After an emotion-filled hug, she got up and turned to walk down the hall to the far bedroom, quietly locking the door behind her.

***

The pair did nothing of note on Sunday, but they both had one of the most enjoyable days of their young lives. Merely being together and sharing the small, normally insignificant parts of the day had new meaning when viewed through each other’s eyes.

After a fun, relaxed dinner at a quiet cafe, they walked along the streets of the town, with Hennessey chattering away incessantly, like she did when she was completely relaxed and happy. Townsend looked up at her and felt such an overpowering feeling of love that her heart seemed to skip a beat. She had never in her life felt so safe, so whole, so connected to another person, and it was all she could do to stay grounded. Gripping Hennessey’s hand with strong pressure, she leaned against her and whispered, "You make me so happy."

Smiling warmly, the edges of her mouth curling up in the way that made Townsend’s knees weak, Hennessey said, "It makes me happy to make you happy. Pretty good pairing, huh?"

"The best," Townsend sighed, pulling Hennessey’s arm in front of her and holding on as if it were a precious keepsake.

***

Back at the guest house, Townsend came into the main room, wearing her pajamas and slippers. "Good job on the fire," she said, smiling at a pleased-looking Hennessey. "You look cute in those pajamas, by the way.

"I splurged," she admitted. "I didn’t have any proper ones – just sweats and T-shirts. But I didn’t know what the set-up would be here, and I thought I should look presentable."

"You look more than presentable," Townsend said. "The sky blue color nearly matches your eyes, and those white clouds make you look like the angel you are."

"That’s me," Hennessey said, grinning. "The angel Hennessey."

Townsend had been brushing her hair, and she walked around to the back of the sofa on which her friend was sitting . "I’ve always wanted to brush your hair. May I?"

"Uhm … sure. It probably needs it after all of that heavy sea air."

The younger woman set to work, gently untangling a few strands, then gliding the brush through the long, dark locks. With a sexy moan, Hennessey lay her head back against the sofa and let Townsend work her magic. "God, that feels good. No one has brushed my hair since I was a little girl. I’ve forgotten how wonderful it feels."

"Shh … relax and enjoy it, baby. Feel the brush where it tickles your scalp and pulls just a tiny bit when it slides through your hair. Isn’t that nice?"

"Uh-huh. So nice." Hennessey spread her long arms along the back of the couch and was soon pressing against the brush to make sure it reached every part of her head.

Townsend marveled at the pure, sensual beauty of her partner and realized that Hennessey was acting freer and more openly sexual than she’d ever seen her. It’s because I’m not pushing her, she marveled. How stupid am I? She’s like a big, fluffy pussycat when I let her come to me. Having some useful experience with recalcitrant cats, Townsend gentled her touch even more, with Hennessey turning her head this way and that, seeking the elusive pressure. Without a sound, Townsend set the brush down and began to use her fingers on the sensitized scalp, her knees nearly buckling at Hennessey’s guttural groan.

With gentle, loving care, Townsend trailed her fingertips in long, unpredictable paths all along Hennessey’s arms, leaving her mark on every inch. The larger woman followed her fingers, nearly rising from her seat when Townsend pulled away a few inches. Oh, she’s so compliant when she’s treated tenderly.

After touching and teasing and caressing her partner, Townsend let her fingers slip below her collar – to stroke Hennessey’s incredible skin, trailing over her neck and the slope of her wide shoulders. The flannel pajamas were a slight impediment, and to her amazement, Hennessey opened a couple of buttons and exposed her shoulders completely, the fabric slipping down her body to barely cover her nipples. Good God, why didn’t it dawn on me that this is how she’d be? You can’t be aggressive with a woman who’s never had sex before! Don’t screw this up, Townsend … Even though you want to rip her shirt off – take it easy. It’s been a long time since you’ve been with anyone who was even partially innocent – try to remember what it was like.

Suddenly, Hennessey’s hands were sliding up Townsend’s arms. When they reached her neck, gentle pressure urged the blonde down, and she accepted the invitation by tenderly nuzzling on the perfect, smooth skin. She kept her touch light and soft, trying to make Hennessey ask for what she wanted and, hopefully, what she needed. With a whisper-like kiss, Townsend slipped her lips across the expanse of Hennessey’s shoulders, occasionally smoothing her path with a light swipe of her tongue. Hennessey did nothing but moan and writhe against her, but those two actions were everything that Townsend could have hoped for.

When the blonde began to delicately lick and suckle on an earlobe glowing pink with arousal, Hennessey had reached the breaking point. "Kiss me," she whispered, her voice so sexy and warm that Townsend felt faint.

Yes! Yes! She finally asked for what she wants! I knew she could do it! Townsend walked around to the front of the couch and gasped softly while she took her lover in. Hennessey was splayed out against the sofa, her shirt half open, a pair of small, perfectly formed breasts peeking out of the fabric. Her legs were spread wide as she slumped against the sofa, and every possible outward sign of her arousal was glaringly obvious.

Townsend sank to her knees, nestled between her partner’s legs, and reached out with both arms, making Hennessey close the gap. The larger woman did so without hesitation, though her shirt hampered her reach. Without a thought, she pulled it over her head and tossed it aside, then wrapped her heated body around Townsend and kissed her with a passion that the smaller woman had never dreamed of.

Hennessey let every bit of her self-control fade away as she held onto her partner for dear life, kissing her with every bit of her body and soul. For the first time in a very long time, Townsend heard a small voice in the farthest reaches of her brain. She wasn’t sure who the voice belonged to, but it had elements that reminded her of her own. This isn’t what she wants. You tricked her into this. You tried to get her to submit to you – and now she has. Happy?

The frantic brunette was sucking on Townsend’s lower lip as her fingers fumbled with the buttons on the cotton pajamas. Frustrated, Hennessey grabbed the roomy shirt and whisked it off Townsend’s body – just as one would do to a three-year-old. Her warm, slightly damp hand reached between their bodies and started to massage Townsend’s breast as Hennessey once again latched onto her partner’s lips.

Holding on to the brunette with a firm grip, Townsend pulled back just enough to look into Hennessey’s smoky eyes. She could see that the beautiful woman was acting on passion alone – there wasn’t a hint of thought or control in those almost-vacant eyes. "Hennessey," she heard herself say. "Hennessey."

"Huh?"

"Is this what you want?" Townsend asked, knowing what the answer would be if Hennessey were in her right mind.

Something snapped, and a spark of the normal intelligence came back into the blue eyes. "Want? Uhm … don’t you?"

"Yes, of course I do. I’ve wanted this since the first time I saw you. But is it what you want? Do you want this now, honey?"

"Do I want … now?" Shaking her head, Hennessey slowly ran her hand along Townsend’s bare back, then passed the same hand down her own chest, drawing back in shock. "Oh, God, what are we doing?"

"We’re about to make love," Townsend whispered, resting her head on her lover’s shoulder so she didn’t have to see the confused look in her eyes.

"Fuck," the larger woman muttered, now fully aware of her actions. They held onto each other for a long time, Hennessey’s hot body pulsing against Townsend. Finally, something dawned on the larger woman, and she pulled her head up and gazed at Townsend, then let her mouth curl into a gentle smile. "Thank you. Thank you for taking care of me." Bending her head once again, she gave Townsend a kiss that was filled with the dying embers of her passion and an equal portion of her love.

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

"Good afternoon. Can I help you?"

"Are you holding Townsend Bartley here?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Can I stay with her?" Hennessey asked.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

"Has her mother answered yet?" Hennessey asked.

"No, I just tried again."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is your roommate gone?"

"Yeah. She’ll be back Sunday night."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My medication?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

"Your meeting?"

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

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

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

"Have you ever been drunk?" Townsend asked.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

"Uh-huh."

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

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

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

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

"But what do I do?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have a late night flight. Why?"

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

"Huh? Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

"Good answer," the brunette said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The other night?"

"Yeah … when we almost … you know."

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

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

"Huh? What do you mean?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mean what?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You don’t have to …"

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

***

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

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

"What happened?"

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

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

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

"Do you have his number?"

"Yeah."

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I’m Townsend’s lover," she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," Hennessey answered, surprising Townsend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know that," Hennessey said.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

"I do, too."

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Thanks."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

"Okay. As usual, you win."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Huh? What problem?"

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

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

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

"Now you’re talkin’!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Then what are you suggesting?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How is that not a breakup?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Can I see your body?"

"Pardon me?"

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

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

"Please?" the blonde asked.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"When do you leave for home?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued


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