Shannon Brooks waited patiently at the air terminal in Sydney . She had already picked up her luggage, and now her eyes were in constant motion, roaming the crowds of people. She hoped to spot the person who was supposed to pick her up when her flight landed. They must have forgotten the time of her arrival, for the crowd began to thin and still no one came for her.
She found a place to sit down, fatigue beginning to settle in on her from the long trip from Los Angeles . She could still hear the after-hum of the jet's engines throbbing in her ears, and jet lag was catching up to her. She really needed to get to her hotel and lie down for a while so she could squelch the painful headache that came on suddenly with a vengeance and was threatening to overwhelm her.
She dug around in her tote-bag and pulled out her cell phone. A well-worn envelope came out at the same time. She opened it and took out a picture she had taken years ago. It was the picture of a boomerang that she'd recently hung on the wall of her photography studio. Why in the world did I bring this along? she questioned. It must have been in my bag when I packed it, and I just didn't notice it. Her mind began to wander as she focused on the picture.
* * * * * *
"Why won't you come with me?" Shannon said. She held the boomerang wrapped in its plastic bag tightly to her side.
"I can't," her lover said. "You have to trust me. I'm doing the right thing."
"Does this mean it's over between us?"
" Shannon , I don't know what the future holds. I can't promise anything. But I have to stay here for a while. I was hoping you'd understand. It's my destiny."
"I don't understand. I thought I was your destiny," Shannon cried.
When her lover never answered, Shannon wrapped her arms around her and started sobbing uncontrollably, hugging her tightly—not wanting to let go. The woman had given no indication that Shannon would be returning to the States alone until they arrived at the airport in Melbourne .
Shannon held on to her until the final boarding call. Then she pulled away and almost ran to the boarding gate. Before she entered the portal, she stopped and looked behind her, but her lover had already turned away. The last she saw of her was her long dark brown hair flowing out behind her. With mixed emotions, she proceeded up the passageway to the plane, wiping the tears from her eyes.
* * * * * *
Shannon smiled at the memory, a single tear making its way down her cheek. Feeling a tug at her heart as she wiped the tear away, she put the picture back inside the envelope and replaced it in her tote-bag.
Why haven't I found another lover? Why can't I erase the thoughts of Kim? Was I that much in love? Were we that bound together as lovers? I could have stayed in Australia . So why didn't I?
But it was ten years too late now, wasn't it? She casually glanced around, embarrassed that she had let her emotions get away from her. She hoped no one was looking. She determined she wouldn't come apart at the seams while she was working on this assignment.
She spotted a tall young man making his way toward her just when she started to punch in a phone number in Australia that was given to her before she left the States.
This might be my ride , she thought. She put her cell phone away and watched the man's hurried stride toward her. She saw he was holding up a placard with her name printed on it in bold letters.
Focusing on the present time, she smiled as the young man walked up to her. He looked first at the camera dangling around her neck.
Then looking her in the face and smiling back, he said, "Excuse me, miss. Are you Shannon Brooks, Professional Photographer, 'Have Camera, Will Travel' lady?"
He gazed expectantly into her deep and penetrating gray eyes, noticing her short golden-blonde hair in his peripheral vision.
"Yes, I am," Shannon replied. "I take it you are my contact for Scenic Visions ?"
"Right-o," the young man said, sticking the placard in his coat pocket. "I'm sorry I'm late. The traffic was heavy today, and it's so difficult to get around in this city."
His Australian accent was barely noticeable. Shannon thought he must have spent some time in the States.
"I had to leave my transportation quite a ways from here," he continued, "and took the shuttle bus in from the car park. Shall we go then? I'll find another shuttle bus to take us back out."
As Shannon stood, the young man grabbed up both pieces of her heavy luggage off the trolley and took off at a brisk stride down the corridor. She was amazed at how strong his thin frame was. She elected to roll her camera bag herself, however, when he started to pick it up, or he would have taken that, too. She almost ran to keep up with him, making her head pound even more.
"By the way, my name is David Westmore," the young man said, looking back at her. "You can call me Davie . Everyone does. I'm the go-fer for the studio. That includes picking up important people like you at the airport." He gave her a wink.
Shannon chuckled at his referring to her as important. She ignored the wink. She was a professional photographer, but didn't think she was that important. As they hurried down the corridor, her thoughts drifted back to how she came to find herself in Australia at this time.
* * * * * *
A MONTH EARLIER –
Shannon hollered to her assistant, who was busy at the back of the photography studio unpacking some recently arrived inventory. " Nancy , do you have any idea where those two work orders are that we wrote up on Friday before we closed?"
"I think they're at the end of the counter with those other papers," Nancy replied. "But if they're not there, I wouldn't know where else to look."
Shannon leveled the boomerang she had just hung on one wall. That's an eye-catcher , she thought to herself. She felt an uncanny thrill go up her spine. She shrugged it off and walked over to the pile of papers.
"I'll be glad when we get some more customers," she said, shuffling through the papers. "We need to bring in some good money, or we'll have to close up shop before we've barely started."
Four months ago seemed like the perfect time to open her photography studio—right in the middle of summer—but business was slow getting off the ground. She imagined it was that way with any new entrepreneurial venture. It was mid-November already, and even though business had picked up slightly, her overhead expenses piled up faster than her customers.
"Where do you want these lenses?" Nancy said, walking up behind Shannon with an armful of boxes.
"Here, let me help you," Shannon said, letting the handful of papers fall back on the counter as she relieved Nancy of some of the boxes. "Why don't you clear some space and put them inside this glass counter? They'll be too tempting for someone to run off with if they're out in the open."
Shannon set the boxes down on the counter and then went back to shuffling through the papers. Her hand stopped moving. She pulled a work order from the pile—looking strangely at it.
" Nancy , what is this? I don't remember seeing this work order before."
Nancy stopped rearranging items on the glass shelves and looked over Shannon 's shoulder at the piece of paper. "Oh, I forgot to tell you. A fellow came in before you got here this morning and left that work order and said he'd be back in a week or so and talk to you about it."
"But there's nothing here except a name and address."
"I know. He said he'd fill in the details when he talked to you."
Shannon didn't expect any further contact with the person written on the order. JEFF BANNISTER. SCENIC VISIONS. VICTORIA , AUSTRALIA . Potential customers who said they'd come back seldom followed through. Nevertheless, a thrill went up her spine again when she read the name a second time and then glanced over at the boomerang she had just hung on the wall. She pinned the blank work order on the bulletin board behind the counter.
True to his word, a short, pudgy man came into the studio precisely one week later and held his hand out to Shannon . "Earl Bascombe. Sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner. I had some other things to attend to while I'm here in the States. I'm with Scenic Visions , out of Victoria , Australia . "
Shannon recognized his very pronounced Australian accent as she grasped his hand. "Oh yes, the work order that has nothing written on it," she said, nodding her head and chuckling. She pulled the paper off the bulletin board. "I must admit, I am curious."
Curiosity was not exactly what she'd been feeling the past week, however. From time to time, she'd catch herself looking back and forth between the boomerang and the blank work order, thinking about Australia .
The man began to outline a photography assignment for her in Australia . Shannon 's eyes grew wide with unexpected interest, and that uncanny thrill went up her spine for a third time. She faltered a bit when the man said his boss wanted her to fly to Sydney in three weeks. He would go into more detail about her assignment when he got together with her there. That was in the general time-frame around Christmas. Shannon hesitated because they were getting more customers now. She wondered if it would be worth it to close up the studio and fly overseas at this time.
When Mr. Bascombe told her what she would be earning for only a couple of weeks' work, however—and pulled out his U.S. checkbook on the spot—she accepted without giving it another thought. Never would she have expected such a generous offer from an overseas client.
Before she left the studio that day, she was already beginning to make plans. She wouldn't have to close the studio because she could leave it in Nancy 's capable hands. And her girlfriend would be so surprised when she broke the news that they were going to Australia ! It would be a terrific vacation for both of them.
Joanna Lynn Campbell thought to herself for the third time: I can't believe I'm really going to Australia ! She settled comfortably into her aisle seat in Row 42 and buckled up as the seat belt light came on and a woman flight attendant announced they were preparing for takeoff. The flight had been delayed for half an hour, waiting for several more passengers on a late-arriving flight from another city to board while the airlines transferred their luggage.
"Excuse me, but I believe you're sitting in my seat."
Jo looked up into the dark eyes of a tall, attractive woman—fortyish—with curly black hair, who was thrusting a boarding pass stub in her face: Seat 42H. Jo dug her ticket stub out of her shoulder bag and looked at it: Seat 42G.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I thought this was seat G."
The woman was not the least bit polite as she said, "I specifically requested an aisle seat because I have to get up and walk around every hour. My doctor said the only way I could go on this trip was under those conditions."
She was perturbed that Jo had not gotten up immediately and scooted over so she could sit down. She was leaning into her to move over, and Jo hadn't even unfastened her seat belt yet.
"Hold your horses, lady," Jo said, "and I'll move my stuff."
My travel agent told me I had window seats all the way to Australia and back. She assured me.
Jo had flown in a small commuter plane to LAX from Colorado Springs and sat in the next to last row at the back of the plane—on the aisle. It was cold and drafty. Now on this Boeing 747 flight to Australia from LAX she had just been told to move by this assertive woman from at least an aisle seat in the middle section of the plane to a seat even closer to the middle where she was squeezed in on all sides. She couldn't see out of a window on either side of the plane! It was a good thing she wasn't claustrophobic.
Wait'll I see Donna when I get back! I should give my business to another travel agent!
The woman was pushing against her again.
"Can you wait just a minute?" Jo said as she unbuckled her seat belt, trying not to lose her cool. "It takes me a little while to move my stuff over."
The curly-haired woman then sat down with a thud in the seat Jo had vacated and hurriedly buckled up after she stuffed her magazines and other things into the seat pocket in front of her. The flight attendant patiently waited beside her to make sure she was secure.
The plane had taxied out to the end of the runway and was revving up for takeoff before Jo finally got comfortable again. She silently wished she had taken either an earlier flight or a later one. Truth be known, maybe she should have delayed it for a while, because of what was going on back home.
* * * * * *
A MONTH EARLIER –
Jo had come to view Paige Donahue as sort of a friend, but definitely not what she had in mind. She was going through the checkout line at a large member warehouse where Paige was the checkout clerk when she saw her for the first time. She was about four inches taller than Jo, kind of slim, with thick, short cut, curly brown hair, a beautiful smile, and a low, sexy voice.
"So you think this package of meat is not stamped properly?" Paige asked her.
"Yeah, it sure looks like it," Jo said. "I mean…who would sell a pound of sirloin for $1.39?"
"Well, I'll give you credit for being honest, but why don't you just take it and let the store absorb the loss? I'd never say anything."
"Really?" Jo couldn't believe her good fortune. Steaks were a luxury item on her meager budget. Her mouth was watering from the minute she eyed the richly marbled piece of meat. She couldn't pass it up. But she also had a conscience. "I couldn't do that, though."
"Your choice, I guess," Paige said, thinking it was a dumb decision. She called a supervisor over, who immediately took the package of meat and had a new label put on it.
Jo regretted her decision when the package came back and she looked at the premium price for the premium steak. She almost changed her mind. But it looked so good! And it was large enough that she could cut it up into four pieces and have four meals. She went ahead and bought it along with her other purchases.
Paige gave her a big wink and touched her on the shoulder as Jo turned to leave. Jo just had to follow up on that. She had been lonely far too long, and her Gay-dar seemed to be working.
As Jo opened the door to her apartment, carrying her two bags of groceries, her cell phone rang. Hold your horses! Why does the phone always have to ring just when I can't get to it?
She raced to the kitchen, plunked her sacks down on the kitchen table and reached for the cell phone on her belt. "Hello?" she said questioningly, not recognizing the caller ID number.
"Hello, Jo!" said a booming voice on the other end. "This is Rosalie—your pen pal."
"Rosalie?" Jo said, taken aback for a second. "What a surprise!"
"I'm calling you to invite you to stay with us for a while, if you can come. It's getting close to Christmas, and we—Alfred and I—thought you might enjoy having Christmas over here with us in our Willowbranch Bed and Breakfast. If you don't have family there. We have a huge family, as you know. 'Course we don't have any snow. It's the middle of summer."
"Well, Rosalie, I don't know what to say," Jo replied, "except thank you. I'd love to come and join you for Christmas. I'll have to check my teaching schedule—and my bank account. But I'm sure I can swing it. I got a passport a couple of years ago, in the event I might some day do some travelling. Not getting any younger, you know."
"That's great then," Rosalie said, her voice still booming out on the other end.
Jo thought, Some people haven't realized yet that in this modern technological era you don't have to shout into the phone like you did in the early days of the telephone.
"Let us know when you'd be coming, love," Rosalie continued, "and we'll meet you at the airport in Melbourne . Bye."
Rosalie hung up before Jo could speak further. She knew that overseas phone calls were expensive, and it was better to say what was needed to be said than to dawdle on trivialities.
For the next four weeks, Jo was running around in circles. She had been writing to Rosalie for almost nine years and had wanted to see Australia since she was a child. She'd been saving a little bit of money over the years from her yoga teaching, hoping to travel somewhere some day. After checking on ticket prices, she looked at her bank account to make sure she had enough for a plane ticket before she made definite plans. It wouldn't be hard finding a substitute teacher who would take over her yoga classes while she was gone. Finding someone to sit with her persnickety cat, Duffy, was a little more difficult, however. When all other attempts failed, her next-door neighbor finally said she'd take care of Duffy.
During the weeks before she left, she also pursued Paige via Paige's checkout line when she went shopping at the warehouse. She changed the hours she had been used to shopping, and started going there in the evening, as that was when Paige worked. Each time she saw her, Jo felt they were getting closer. Flirting was definitely going on between them.
So when Paige told her she had a second job during the day—a hotdog catering service in front of the county courthouse—Jo went to spend the lunch hour with her one day. They spoke only in generalities at the beginning and then Jo decided she would put an end to this silly game they seemed to be playing. She made her move.
"You know I'm a lesbian, don't you?" she said, as both of them sat together on the courthouse steps. It was only natural that she expected Paige to respond in kind.
"Oh, I'm not gay!" Paige said, throwing up her hands, vehemently denying it.
Jo jumped up suddenly. "I thought you were," she said, surprised. "From all that we—”
"No!" Paige interjected, interrupting her firmly. "I'm not!"
Jo could have sworn Paige was a lesbian. She would never have revealed her own sexual orientation otherwise. Her hopes dashed, she recovered her equilibrium quickly, saying, "Well, we can still be friends, can't we?"
"Oh, sure," Paige responded and then started talking about something else. The subject of lesbianism was never brought up again.
After Jo left Paige at the courthouse that eventful day—only a few days before she left for Australia —she began to rationalize. Why did Paige say she was not gay? Surely my Gay-dar isn't screwed up. But she must have had her reasons.
She gave Paige the name and address of the B&B where she would be staying. She would be gone for three weeks and told Paige to write to her if she wanted to. It usually took a week for ‘snail-mail' to get from the U.S. to Australia . Paige told her bon voyage , gave her e-mail address to her and said she'd see her when she got back.
* * * * * *
Jo glanced over at the woman seated next to her on the plane. She hoped she wouldn't have to put up with this woman's rudeness all the way to Australia .
Carlotta Piper was afraid of flying. Once they were in the air, she was okay, but she dreaded the plane getting off the ground more than anything else. She just knew the jet would run out of tarmac before it got up enough speed to become airborne. She was white-knuckling the arms of her seat with her eyes tightly closed as the plane vibrated with increasing speed. Carly could feel her teeth rattling just before the plane lifted off the ground. Then the vibration ceased, and she heard the wheels being retracted.
"You can open your eyes now and let go of my arm," Jo said quietly.
"Oh, God, I'm sorry," Carly said, releasing Jo's arm. "I didn't realize—”
Unknowingly, when she had gripped the armrest, Jo's arm was there, and she had been holding on for dear life during the takeoff.
"I take it you're afraid of flying?" Jo asked, shaking out her numbed arm.
"Yeah," Carly admitted. "If I wasn't convinced this was the vacation of a lifetime, there is no way I would have left safe, secure San Jose . I took the bus from there to Los Angeles and thought I wasn't going to make it to the airport on time. Lucky for me—or unlucky—this flight was delayed because of another plane that was late. Now I'm on my way to Australia , and I really don't know what the hell I'm doing here! I'm so afraid of flying!"
* * * * * *
A MONTH EARLIER –
"I wish you could come," Carly said, after a third call to Shannon in as many days. "I couldn't have waited any longer to have this hip surgery. I was hurting so much. But I didn't realize I would have this much pain two months after the surgery."
"I'm so sorry you're still hurting, Carly," Shannon said. "I wish there was something I could do. But I don't have the money to come out there right now. I just got my studio going, and I'm barely managing to pay the bills as it is. I can't possibly take off now."
"I know. But I don't have anyone here, Shannon," Carly said, hoping there was enough pleading in her voice to persuade Shannon to change her mind. Surely, after three phone calls—
Shannon thought for a moment. "Carly, I'll tell you what. Give me another month or so. Do you think you can wait till Christmas? Maybe I can fly out to San Jose then, and we can take a trip somewhere. I'll find the money somehow. Your hip might not be hurting so much by that time, and you'll be able to enjoy going on a trip. Would that be okay? You can always call me on the phone from time to time between now and then."
I don't know how I'm going to swing it, because the studio is barely getting off the ground. I'm not exactly doing a booming business. But Carly sounds so dismal. It's the least I can do. I'll try and save up between now and then. Now, where can we go and have a nice week's vacation—that's not too expensive—in the middle of winter?
"Oh, God, Shannon, that would be wonderful!" Carly forced herself to sound enthusiastic. She knew she shouldn't feel so depressed and knew Shannon 's new business was naturally first and foremost in her thoughts right now. But darn it, she wanted Shannon around for a while. They lived miles apart and hadn't seen each other for such a long time. Her hip was really hurting, and Shannon was so compassionate. They'd been best friends for years. Yet a month wasn't really that far off, was it? She supposed she could wait. Meanwhile, she could still talk to her over the phone.
"I've got to run," she said. "My boss is almost breathing down my neck. It's a wonder I still have this bookstore job after taking six weeks of sick leave after the surgery. I haven't been able to get around as easily as I thought I would when I started back to work. I'm not able to lift a lot of books yet, so I better not push my luck."
"Okay, Carly. Take care," Shannon said sympathetically.
"Yeah. You, too," Carly replied. "And good luck on your studio. Talk to you soon."
A week later, Carly got a call from Shannon . "Hey, you! Want to go to Australia next month?"
"What?" Carly registered shock.
"I just landed a contract to do some shooting over there—a big contract. I already bought a ticket for you, so you can't say no."
"Well—” Carly hesitated.
"Come on, girl," Shannon persuaded. "It will be the trip of a lifetime." I hope she doesn't chicken out, she thought. "I have reservations booked into a plush hotel in Sydney , and we can do some sightseeing before we go to Melbourne and I start shooting. It'll be nice and warm there because it's summertime down under. It'll be a good vacation for us both."
While Shannon was filling her in on the details, Carly could see how excited her friend was. "Okay. What the hey….I'll take the time off somehow. The boss is going to kill me, though. How long will we be gone?"
* * * * * *
Carly looked over at the woman next to her on the plane. "Hi. I'm Carly," she said, reaching her hand out to Jo. She was sorry she had gotten onto the woman's case for not moving out of her seat sooner and thought she might as well try to make the best of it.
Jo looked at her, raised her eyebrows and then took her hand. "Jo," she said, not smiling.
"Jo. Is that short for Josephine or—?” The woman released her hand and proceeded to get more comfortable.
"Joanna. I'm surprised they don't call you Annie. You look like an Annie."
The only Annie Jo knew was of comic book fame, with the curly red hair, the cute smile and who had a little dog. I'm definitely no Little Orphan Annie . To begin with, I don't have red hair. Mine is dark brown. And I own a cat, not a dog. Where does this woman come off thinking I look like an Annie?
When Jo never said anything in return, Carly thought, I guess I stuck my foot in my mouth again.
Jo finally retorted, "Carly. Is that short for Charlotte or—?”
"Carlotta," the woman said, thankful the woman next to her was at least talking to her now. "But my mother took a liking to Carly Simon about the time I was born, so everyone calls me Carly now. That's a lot better than Lottie! Can you imagine anyone being called Lottie?"
She chuckled and then turned her head to look at Jo with a little smile. "Sorry if I seemed kind of pushy just now," she continued. "I just had to get off my feet. My hip was killing me! Thank God I only had one hip replaced a few months ago."
Jo looked at her differently after those remarks, realizing she actually might be trying to be friendly.
"That's okay," she replied, smiling back slightly. "For future reference, though, just remember I don't like to be pushed." She punctuated her words with raised eyebrows, her smile lingering.
Carly knew she could be difficult at times, but she realized that the reason she had been so terse with Jo was probably because her hip was hurting. "Deal," she said. They shook hands again.
I wonder if I should talk to her about Australia , Carly thought . Not that I know anything about it. I wonder if she's been there before. This is the first time I've been there. She probably wouldn't be interested, though. She looked closely at Jo. Oh, well, it wouldn't hurt to strike up some conversation, as long as I don't go into ‘motor mouth' mode. It's going to be a long flight. Maybe I can ignore the pain in my hip by talking.
"Shannon's supposed to meet me in Sydney ," Carly continued. "She had to fly there two days ahead of me to meet a client—some bigwig business deal with her photography studio. The guy wanted her to meet him on a specific date. Can you imagine? I'd have turned him down flat!" She turned to Jo for a reaction.
" Shannon ?" Jo responded.
"That's my long-time girlfriend," Carly answered. "She's doing a shoot of some small towns around Melbourne . But we're taking a couple of days to relax first in Sydney and then we're going on to Melbourne together. She's arranged for us to stay in a small town north of there while she dashes around on her photo shoots. It's not the ideal vacation, that's for sure. If I'd had a choice, I'd have opted going to a national park in the States somewhere. But I'll take what I can get."
She paused for a moment to let her words sink in and then continued. "I wish I could have taken off work earlier. I could have met her at LAX, and we could have flown to Australia together. But it's the Christmas rush, and the bookstore where I work didn't want to let me take my vacation at all right now. I haven't been back from sick leave very long because of my hip operation. But they know I'm one of their top sales reps and that if I didn't get my vacation now , they could take their job and shove it. I told them I'd be back sometime after the New Year."
Oh, great! thought Jo. A regular non-stop talker. Is this going to go on all the way to Australia ?
"You know, Shannon is really lucky she works for herself," Carly went on. "She's got a top-of-the-line photography studio in Colorado Springs , which—”
Jo was hearing right off the bat more than she really wanted to know at the beginning of this long flight. She wasn't in the mood to hear about someone else's lesbian relationship when she was having so much difficulty finding a lover herself . Paige was a possibility, but that was on hold now. So she tuned Carly out for the most part.
She was curious about something, however, and interrupted Carly in mid-sentence by changing the subject, remembering what Carly had said when she first started to talk. "I thought this flight was going directly to Melbourne . I didn't know it was stopping in Sydney first ."
"Well, you have to stop in Sydney and go through customs there before you can go on to other destinations in Australia . That's what Shannon says. No big deal. She says literally everybody stops in Sydney and then changes planes to fly to other places."
Carly grew quiet after that, sensing she should shut up for a while. Jo didn't seem to be very interested in what she had to say. She settled down in her seat and pulled out a magazine from the pocket behind the seat ahead of her and started reading.
"Did you have any problem getting through customs?" Davie asked, jarring Shannon 's thoughts back into the present time.
"Actually, I had no trouble at all," Shannon replied. "They were very polite and quick about it all. I produced documentation that I was here on business. I suppose they have travelers like me all the time."
"There are a lot of tourists right now, too," Davie said, "because it's summer and close to Christmas."
Christmas, Shannon reflected. There was snow on the ground when I left home. And it's summer here! I'll have to get used to hot weather for a spell.
She wondered why her client had chosen her for their photography assignment. She was an older woman who had realized a passion for photography later in life. She had been in her new studio less than six months. Except for a high-end photo shoot in Colorado shortly after she opened the studio—which had focused on some small mountain towns—she was relatively unknown. The Photography Journal had thought the photos were so good that they had devoted an entire spread to them. It was presented along with write-ups on the history of the towns written by one of their journalists who had accompanied her. There were only two other photographers displayed in that issue.
She was delighted that she had been able to acquire a new and modern rolling camera bag before she left on this trip. It accommodated all of her camera equipment and laptop, except for her tripod, which she packed in one of the suitcases. Along with the equipment, the camera bag weighed 25 pounds and was a regulation carry-on for the airlines. She was glad to have her equipment with her at all times. The rate of camera equipment stolen out of luggage was extremely high, and she would never have shipped everything.
She had previously put her professional equipment in a camera backpack when she went on a shoot. But her backpack had become unbearably heavy for her the last time she traveled to a site in New Mexico . They'd had to pack in over a mile before they reached some ancient Native American ruins, and it just about did her in. Many professional photographers would have welcomed help with carrying their equipment, but Shannon was kind of quirky about that, and never turned over her back pack to anyone . If someone were to drop her camera and equipment—
Although she brought her camera equipment with her to Australia , she didn't know all the parameters of her assignment yet. So she had inquired about photo shops in Melbourne and discovered there were many places where she could buy or rent equipment if she needed to in that city of over three million people.
As she mulled over what her assignment was supposed to be—photographing small towns—Davie broke in on her thoughts again as they walked down the corridor.
He turned around and looked at her questioningly, slowing down a bit. "You know, of course, that we won't be ready to start shooting for another week, don't you?"
"What? Davie , I understood it would be no more than four days before we'd go on to Melbourne ," Shannon replied. "Why did your boss want me here so early then? And would you please stop walking for a minute so I can talk to you?"
He stopped in his tracks.
"If we're not going on to Melbourne in four days," she continued, "maybe I should talk to Mr. Bannister himself and find out what's going on. I've made other plans according to what I thought was supposed to happen—actually, what we agreed was going to happen. And now this change in itinerary is thrown at me without warning."
"I'm sorry. I thought you knew," Davie said, innocently. "What did you have planned?" He set her baggage down and pushed the shock of wavy brown hair back from his forehead.
"My friend Carly is flying in from Los Angeles and meeting me here day after tomorrow, and we planned on doing some sightseeing for a couple of days before we flew on to Melbourne together. A short vacation for us both in Sydney before I start working. I never intended to be in Sydney for a whole week. Our agreement was that I would be in Sydney for only four days."
"No worries, love. Mr. Bannister likes for the people he hires to have pleasure mixed in with business. Actually, pleasure before business. And it may be a bit longer than a week, love, before we start shooting. I don't know why the delay. I just work for him, and he does have other clients, you know. But don't worry about expenses, love. You'll be reimbursed."
At least, I think she'll be reimbursed. Surely Mr. Bannister wouldn't leave her to pay her own expenses for that length of time. And why did I say Mr. Bannister likes people he hires to have pleasure? I don't know that. I wish he'd tell me what he's going to do. And why did I say it may be delayed longer than a week. I don't know that , either. I think I better just shut up and not say any more, or I may get myself in trouble—
Shannon thought, Don't worry? I'm getting the message that maybe I should have asked more questions before I accepted this assignment.
She was frustrated, and at the same time she was upset that Davie used a popular Australian vernacular. She decided to put a stop to it before it went very far.
" Davie , before we go much further, you need to know that I am not your 'love.' I'm considerably older than you in the first place. And in the second place, I don't like to be called 'love,' unless it's by someone who is truly my love. So you can address me as Ms. Brooks, or call me Shannon. Got it?"
She never meant to pounce on him, but her equilibrium was shaken already, and she felt like lashing out at someone. He was the closest one at hand.
"Uhh...well...I just thought—" Davie stumbled on his words. "Actually, I don't know what I thought." He looked down at his feet.
"All right, now that we've got that straightened out, shall we continue on to find a shuttle bus?" In the final analysis, she didn't feel at all guilty about getting after Davie . She was a professional and felt she had to act like one. There was a difference between being friendly and getting cozy .
God, what am I going to do about Carly? She's due here day after tomorrow, and I know she can't afford to stay longer than two days in Sydney . I could pay her way, but she wouldn't want that, since I already bought her plane ticket. Or I could send her on to where I have reservations in that little town north of Melbourne . But what good would that do, if I don't know when I'm going to be there? I need to figure something out.
The shuttle bus dropped them off precisely in front of Davie 's transportation, which turned out to be a Caravan—similar to a motorhome in the States. Shannon carefully seated herself in the passenger's seat up front and strapped into her safety harness as Davie stowed her luggage on the floor in front of the couch.
As she settled in for the ride to the hotel, Shannon thought about her studio. She had high hopes that this photo assignment would help her photography studio financially to where she wouldn't even have to think about closing down. In addition to an exorbitant amount of money for her services, Mr. Bannister was basically footing her whole trip to Australia , including the plane tickets, places to stay, meals and other transportation. She was to keep an account of her other running expenses and would be fully reimbursed. She couldn't have asked for a plushier job!
She felt justified in being upset, though, because of Mr. Bannister's change of agenda—wholly unacceptable to her. Now she would have to call Nancy and tell her she had no idea when she would be coming home, because she didn't know when she'd start shooting. The news probably wouldn't set too well with her assistant. Nancy hadn't exactly jumped up and down with joy at having to take care of the studio while Shannon was gone—although she realized how important this was for the future. But Shannon planned on assuring her there was a hefty bonus in it for her and was sure she could unruffle Nancy 's feathers when she talked with her.
But what am I going to tell Carly? Mr. Bannister was not paying for Carly's vacation, and she'd personally have to deal with it. Life was becoming very confusing all of a sudden. She didn't like things to unravel like they appeared to be doing.
Davie dropped her off at the rather elaborate hotel not far from the airport where she had reservations. He said he would call her later in the day, in order to give her a chance to catch a nap and refresh herself.Shannon didn't waste any time thinking about the refreshing part after she viewed the luxurious bathroom. It invited her in for a warm bath. She hung a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the outside of her room's door and then shed her clothes all the way to the bathroom. On the way, she grabbed up the bottle of wine that welcomed her in the room, along with a piece of fruit. She took her time to soak and use the Jacuzzi and partake of the wine and fruit. When she finally emerged from the tub, she left her towel on and collapsed onto the king-sized bed. She instantly dropped off to sleep, exhaustion overtaking her.
To be continued...
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