by Carole Mortenson



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Ararat was known as the 'gateway' to The Grampians . Road signs indicated that The Grampians Scenic Tour Drive to Halls Gap began here. Halls Gap was a small tourist town at the eastern edge of the national park. The road wound around some hills as they began to gain elevation, and there were sheep everywhere. When Jo mentioned it, Shannon told her that in spite of large herds of sheep, they probably wouldn't be eating lamb, ram, sheep, or mutton at the Willowbranch B&B . It was so expensive. The average Australian—like the Hamuses—couldn't afford to buy it, but tourists could still find lamb on the menus of most high-class, expensive restaurants. Sheep were raised in Australia mostly for wool exports.

They watched The Grampians come into view with anticipation, because it was the nearest thing to mountains in the part of the State of Victoria . Mt. Washington in the Mt. Victoria Range of the park was the highest point at 600 kilometers above sea level—about 1500 feet. It would get a little snow in the winter, and in a few hours' time the snow would all be gone.

It was wintertime rains that were so destructive to the infrastructure of the park. Four-wheel-drive tracks were impossible to maintain in the winter because flood waters rose dangerously high at times. Unfortunately, foolhardy, independent people kept coming into the park during the winter and tearing up the tracks with their 4WD vehicles in spite of the rain and flood waters—sometimes creating hazardous rescue operations. The park finally had to completely close the four-wheel-drive tracks during the winter months with heavy barricades in place to dissuade any motorists from using those tracks. They were off-limits to everyone during the winter. Very few roads through the park were bitumen because the park was still so new. Then when the rains tapered off and summertime approached, they moved the barricades aside and went in and repaired the tracks where the most damage had occurred from high water and washouts. They did only a minimum of repairs, however, as they wanted to keep these tracks for four-wheel-drive vehicles and keep the park a wilderness area as much as possible for as long as possible.

Shannon pulled into a parking slot in front of the Tourist Office in Halls Gap, located right on the main street in the middle of town. They noted as soon as they walked in the door that the tourist center was well-supplied with information on any place in Australia —not just this little tourist town. There was also a display that had information on places to stay overnight or for extended vacations in Halls Gap. It ranged from B&B s to Caravan parks and a few campground sites within the park designated tents only . There were no modern conveniences at these camping spots, and they could be accessed only by 4WD vehicles or by backpacking in.

Shannon told the lady behind the counter that she and Jo were here to do a little hiking and asked for maps of the area. "Is there a way we can get up to this point where there is a trailhead?" she asked, putting her finger on a certain place on a map they had spread out on the counter. "We wouldn't have to walk up to there from here, would we?"

The woman, whose name was Mabel--according to the patch sewn on the pocket flap of her shirt—looked at the map where Shannon 's finger was placed.

"That's the last trailhead drop off for hiking off the Moora Track," she said. "Do you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle?"

"No, I'm afraid not," Shannon replied.

"Well, you can only get there by 4WD. But you're in luck," Mabel said. "One of our park rangers is going to be heading out in that direction in about an hour, and I could ask him to take you girls up there in his 4WD if you want to wait. He's waiting for a tow truck to come up from Hamilton to help a stranded motorist who tried to take a road-hump a little too fast and busted an axle. Bloody fool. To begin with, his vehicle wasn't high enough off the ground."

"Would it be safe to leave our car in the parking lot around back?" Shannon asked.

"Oh, yeh," the woman replied. "A lot of people who go on walks leave their car behind the building. No one ever bothers anything. Hikers, campers, people who come here on holiday all respect one another's property. We've never had any problems."

Mabel looked at the map again. "This isn't a very good place to hike, actually. The trail goes down only about three kilometers and then comes to a dead end, so it isn't much of a hike. You have to turn around and come back up the same trail to the road. There aren't any other trails branching off from it."

"Well, I think that will be enough hiking for today," Shannon told her. "Maybe tomorrow we'll take another trail." She folded up the free map and stuffed it in her day-pack. "We'll wait for the ranger, if that's okay."

"I'll tell Hayden you'd be wanting a ride up to the last trailhead," Mabel said, "so he won't run off and leave you behind. He stops in here to check first before he goes anywhere in the park. Could you be back here in an hour?"

"Yes. Thank you," Shannon said. "Is the Emu Café still around?"

Mabel nodded her head. "Still in the same place it's always been—just down the street."

"Let's go get a cappuccino, Jo," Shannon said, as they walked out the door. "I think you'll like this little café. It's one of a little group of shops set back from the road in kind of a semi-circle. We'll walk there and move the car around back when we're ready to go with the park ranger."

Jo hadn't said a word since they'd arrived in Halls Gap. It was about 11 o'clock now. She knew Shannon was focused on getting to a certain place, and she was content to let her take the lead, hoping she would explain a little bit more as they went along.

The Emu Café was halfway down the line of shops. White metal tables and chairs were scattered about outside on the walkway. Off down the grassy hill from the walkway was a small lake, and Jo could make out the large-lettered sign posted in front of a gigantic gum tree next to the lake: Don't Feed the Kangaroos . There were a lot of tourists here.

Jo kept her eye on a table that had just become vacant. So while Shannon went into the small adjacent café and bought cappuccinos for them both, she hurried along quickly and snatched it up before another couple headed in the same direction got there first.

Jo was the first to breach the silence after they had settled in at the table with their drinks. She couldn't stand not knowing something any longer. "How long did you know Kim?" she asked.

"Three months. I met her at the Denver Zoo, of all places. All I knew about her at the time was that she was into animals . She was watching the kangaroos they had there, taking a short break from her job as an assistant zookeeper when I first saw her. We were instantly attracted to each other. Kim started driving down to the Springs, and we got to know each other better and fell in love. She told me she wanted to visit Australia , so we came here together and spent a glorious month in this country. We stayed at the B&B in Clunes for two weeks and then at a little B&B next to The Ice Cream Parlor in Daylesford for two weeks. And then I came back to the States, and she stayed in Australia . End of story."

But that was not the end of the story for Jo. " The Grampians must have been one of the last places you visited while you were in Australia , then—” she prodded.

"It was absolutely the last place we visited. We'd planned on three or four days here, but we only stayed two days. Then we went back to Daylesford and before I knew it, I was on the plane back to the States without Kim."

"But if Kim stayed in Australia and became a shaman, why would you want to come back, anyway? She undoubtedly has her own life now. And she's probably not here in The Grampians . She could be anywhere ."

"Yes, Jo, she is here!" Shannon interrupted emphatically. "I know she is!"

Jo knew that Shannon was not going to change her mind about that. "Why have you come back to Australia , then? Outside of your photo assignment, that is?" She persisted in getting to the truth.

"As far as knowing why I came back, Jo, that's something I can't explain. It was not the photo assignment as such. I felt the pull to come here even before I was approached with this assignment from Mr. Bannister. Then when I discovered it would be during the Christmas season and I'd be staying at the same place where Kim and I stayed—the Willowbranch —this strange feeling came over me that I just had to come back to Australia . It was overpowering! There is a reason, I'm sure of it. I've loved Kim all of these years, and maybe that's why I came back. Maybe it's just an overwhelming desire to try and get back something of the past, to see her again, and reconnect with her. Or maybe it's a desire for closure."

Jo was sitting silently, sipping at her cappuccino, while Shannon was trying to explain herself. Her emotions were flip-flopping around and doing a number on her. She was having a hard time believing that what had happened between them back at the B&B was no more than an urgent need to have someone close for a while, to satisfy a biological desire innate in human beings. Shannon meant more to her than just a passing lustful encounter. And she was sure she meant more to Shannon than just a sexual urge that longed to be fulfilled because she had been without sex for so long. Shannon couldn't have been faking it. And Shannon said she loved her. So why was she talking about still being in love with Kim?

"So that's why we've come here to The Grampians —if you're so sure Kim is here?" Jo said solemnly. "So you can try and recapture a lost love? Because you think you and Kim might reconnect, and you want to get together with her again?" She couldn't believe she was saying those words!

"Jo, I'm sorry. I don't know that's the reason. I honestly don't know. God, I honestly don't know." Shannon buried her head in her hands and her shoulders were shaking as tears overcame her. She looked up at Jo. "I don't know, because you came along, Jo. And I've fallen in love with you ! And I don't know what's happening to me anymore."

Jo slid her chair closer and put her arm around her. Shannon leaned into her shoulder, sobbing softly. She needs me, Jo thought. And she's said she needs me. How can I abandon her at a time like this? No matter what the outcome will be.

"I guess we better get back," Shannon said finally, blowing her nose on a napkin. "That park ranger is probably there by now."

They left their coffee cups on the table, as the waitress inside had directed them to, and walked back to the Tourist Office . The ranger was just climbing out of his vehicle parked at the curb when they got there. He opened the door for them and followed them inside. Mabel told him what was afoot with the two women.

"The tow truck I've been waiting for is just down the street. So if the two of you want to grab up your gear, I'll meet you outside after I check with Mabel for an update," he told them.

Shannon and Jo got in their car and pulled it around to the back of the building and parked and locked it and then carried their day-packs with them around to the front just as Hayden was emerging from the Tourist Office . He noticed the excited expressions on their faces, mixed with a little bit of apprehension. He had been a park ranger here for as long as the park had been in operation, and could read tourists pretty well. Usually some conversation would set them at ease.



"Are you two ladies from around here?" Hayden asked. He maneuvered around and squeezed his barrel of a stomach into the driver's seat behind the steering wheel. The seat was pushed back as far as it could go. He had made his passengers secure in the back seat with their packs before they took off.

"No. We're from America . Just out doing some sightseeing. We're staying in Clunes." Jo had chosen to answer, as Shannon was still deep in thought.

"There's no better place to come to this time of the year," the ranger went on, as they drove up into the hills on a bitumen road. The tow truck followed at a reasonable distance.

"It's a beautiful place to visit on holiday. This wilderness area was established as a national park in 1984, so it's fairly new. Used to be a huge cattle station. When they made it a national park, they rounded up all the cattle and moved them out, and there's not been a single cow seen here since that time. Plenty of kangaroos, though. They know it's safe around here. Like animals in the wild are safe in your national parks, I've heard."

"Do you have any koalas here?" Jo asked curiously.

"They're mostly around Halls Gap and up by Silverband Falls . Not where we're going. Have you ever heard the sound a koala makes?"

"No," Jo replied.

"They sound like pigs, at night. Deer sound like that, too. Along in the 1980s the State of Victoria introduced red deer into the area, about 450 of them. They're thriving now—along with the kangaroos."

It didn't seem like any time at all until they turned off onto a gravel road. That turned almost immediately into a bumpy-rock-strewn dirt track with humps built across it from side to side at approximately one-hundred-foot intervals. The tow truck behind them was navigating the humps well, as it was high off the ground like the ranger's vehicle. Shannon had recovered her composure and was listening with awareness to the conversation now.

"Well, here we are, ladies," the park ranger said as he pulled up to the trailhead marker. They had driven a couple of kilometers down the dirt track. "I can come back by this way in about three hours and pick you up, if you'd like. Right now I need to head on up to that stranded motorist another kilometer from here."

"I'm not sure we'll be come back to town that soon," Shannon replied. "We might come back up and find another trail to hike. We have a map with us. But if we decide we need a ride, we'll just start walking and probably meet someone who's going back down, and we can hitch a ride with them. It doesn't seem that far back to town."

Hayden was not sure about leaving them at the trailhead. But it was their choice. "All right, you two. Stay safe." He left them standing in the road, holding their day-packs at their sides by the shoulder straps.

"There it is," Shannon said, stretching out her arm and pointing after the park ranger had driven out of sight. The Fortress . Isn't it awesome?"

Jo followed her gaze.

Off in the distance to the south, a jagged mountain range of bare rock rose up from the surrounding dense forest of scrub, brush, and trees. It stretched for many kilometers to the east and west. A slight haze had settled over it from a temperature inversion. Jo thought it might not be as far away as it looked. Through the haze she could see that it was carved into peaks with deep crevices and gorges. A considerable part of it was sheer wall—straight up!

Formidable, indeed, Jo thought. And inaccessible.

"That's where we're going, Jo," Shannon said. She looked at her watch. It was shortly after noon, and the sun was high overhead, already blistering with heat.

"Let's go." They both adjusted their hats on their heads and made sure their sunglasses were on tight. As a final precaution against the blazing sun, Jo put Chap Stick on her lips and then handed it to Shannon, who did the same.

Shannon hoisted her day-pack onto her back and started down the trail. Jo adjusted her own day-pack's straps and followed.

* * * * * *

"What do you mean you lost them?" Jeff Bannister hollered into his mobile to Harv. "You bungling idiot! You've been following them since they left the B&B . How could you lose them?"

"Well, sir, we all wound up here in The Grampians at Halls Gap about the same time. We saw Ms. Brooks' car was parked in front of the Tourist Office . And we saw her and her friend walking down the street toward a group of shops. Probably looking for a café to get some coffee or something."

"And I don't suppose you thought to follow them, did you?" Mr. Bannister asked. That would be too much to ask for, he thought dismally. He was right.

"No, sir," Harv replied. "Stacy and me thought we'd get something to eat. It was close to lunch time and we didn't eat much at McDonald's in Ararat, so we were hungry."

"Didn't I tell you not to let them out of your sight?" Mr. Bannister said.

"We thought they were just going to get something to drink. We didn't think they'd go anywhere else. So Stacy and me went to the Roo Bar and Grill up at the other end of the street and had a couple of beers and some lunch. When we came out, Ms. Brooks' car was gone. I swear we never saw them leave. We looked around and her car was parked behind the Tourist Office . Locked up. We don't know where they are."

"Where could they go? They were there, weren't they?" Jeff asked angrily.

"Yes, sir. They are here somewhere. We overheard Ms. Brooks talking at the McDonald's when we stopped for breakfast. We didn't hear all of the conversation because we were seated quite a ways away, and they were almost whispering. But she said she was sure Kim was here —that is, in The Grampians —whoever Kim is. But we don't know where she and her friend could have gone from here in Halls Gap. But they'd almost have to be on foot somewhere, wouldn't they? Seeing's as how their car is still here—" Harv's words trailed off.

Harv heard a string of curse words coming through his mobile and held it away from his ear as he turned to Stacy and said, "I think he's kind of angry."

"Harv! Harv! Can you hear me? If you can hear me, you stupid idiot, why don't you just get the hell back down to Melbourne ! I might have known I couldn't send another boy to take care of a man's job. I know where to go now, and I'll just handle it myself!"

Harv heard Mr. Bannister's phone click as he ended the call. He told Stacy, "He says for us to go back home. I'm glad he paid us in advance."



" Davie boy, I don't know why you're so upset just because Shannon and Jo aren't here," Rose said. She looked at the clock—it was shortly after noon, and Davie had slept the morning away.

She was watching Davie pace the kitchen floor with a second bottle of beer in his hand. She thought it was a little early for drinking, but Davie was highly agitated, and she didn't want to say anything harsh to him that would make him angrier.

Carly and Paige were sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying the remnants of the chocolate cake that Rose offered them as a late-morning snack, washing it down with cold glasses of milk.

"You don't see us getting all riled up, do you?" Carly asked him, looking over at Paige.

"You people just don't understand!" Davie said angrily. "I was supposed to go with Shannon . And now you guys don't even know where she is! What kind of a place is this, anyway, that you can't even keep track of your own guests?"

Rose looked at him helplessly. It wasn't their task to keep track of their guests. They were their guests, not their children.

Davie 's voice was rising, and he knew it. He also knew Mr. Bannister was going to be very upset with him for not doing his job—that is, not doing what his boss told him to do. But he also felt it was not his job to keep an eye on Shannon . His job was photography!

" Davie ," Fred said softly, "I think you need to calm down. Sit down here, and let's have a little talk, shall we?" He looked over at Rose, who nodded her head.

Davie sat down next to Fred. He tightly grasped his bottle of beer and finished it off in two deep gulps. Rose excused herself and disappeared into her bedroom. Carly and Paige sat quietly at the table, hurriedly picking crumbs of chocolate cake off their plates. Then they got up and went back to their bedroom.

Fred put his hand on Davie 's arm. "Why does Mr. Bannister want you to keep an eye on Shannon ?" he said.

"I don't know, Fred," Davie replied, jerking his arm away. "He just told me to go with her wherever she goes and to not let anything happen to her. When we were standing in the road taking pictures in town the other day and you came by, I felt almost like I had to throw myself in front of her so she wouldn't get run over! It's what Mr. Bannister expected of me."

"But you don't know why , Davie ?" Fred asked.


"Hmmm," was all Fred could think of to say. He was at a loss, too, but he knew Mr. Jeff Bannister was up to no good. He could feel it in his bones. "Well, they'll probably be back shortly, so let's not get too upset about it, all right? They're big girls, and I'm sure they can take care of themselves. They must have had a good reason for taking off without telling anyone." He thought he had put the matter to rest with those words.

But evidently not, as Davie got up and stomped out the back door. He strode down to the bungalow with a fresh beer in his hand, muttering to himself.

Davie had had two beers already. He was not used to drinking and was feeling woozy when he wandered into the living room. He noted by the clock in the kitchen as he passed by that it was after noon already, and he wondered when Mr. Bannister was going to call him.

He sat down on the divan, set his beer on the little table in front of him and decided he'd have a short nap. His phone soon jangled him abruptly out of his deep sleep. He reached for his beer and took a couple of swallows and answered.

"Hey, Davie boy, how's it going?" Mr. Bannister said jubilantly.

"Hey yourself, Mr. Bannister," Davie said back to him, slightly slurring his words. He walked into the kitchen as he talked and looked at the clock. He'd been asleep only a few minutes and his stomach was saying, "Feed me." The beers were not sitting well. And he'd not had breakfast, either.

"You sound different, Davie . What's the matter?"

"Oh, I've just had a few beers is all," Davie answered. He walked back to the living room and sat down on the divan again.

" Davie , I have a feeling this is not good news coming from you," Jeff Bannister said. "I know you don't usually drink. What's wrong?"

"Well, Mr. Bannister, I hope everything is going as scheduled down at your end. It's not going well up here at all. In fact, it's bloody awful!"

Mr. Bannister started to say something, but Davie continued.

"I don't know where Shannon is. No one knows where Shannon is. She and her friend Jo took off early this morning before anyone else was up and didn't tell anyone where they were going. And no one knows when they'll be back. And furthermore, the four women went to take pictures yesterday and I have no idea where they went. You said Shannon could go and take pictures, and for me to go with her, but I couldn't because there wasn't room in her car. So I don't know where they went. They were gone all day ! And they wouldn't tell me where they'd been when they got back! And I know you told me to keep an eye on Shannon , and to not let anything happen to her, but that's impossible for me to do, Mr. Bannister." Davie was starting to blubber into the phone. He took another swig of his beer, which had turned warm by now.

"Let me see if I understand this....You mean you don't know where Ms. Brooks is right now ? Is that what you're telling me?"

He halfway expected Davie would know where Ms. Brooks and her friend went after getting to Halls Gap. Maybe he knew some additional information that would help him find her—information that Harv couldn't supply. That's why he called Davie . But now he knew he would never be able to count on the boy for much of anything.

And perhaps it was an impossible task for him. But after talking with Harv, I know where she is—or at least, in Halls Gap somewhere—so it really doesn't matter. It would have been nice to pinpoint her location. Now I'll just have to go there myself and hunt her down.

"No, I don't," Davie said. "I don't really care anymore, Mr. Bannister. And furthermore, I don't think it's my job to keep an eye on Shannon . My job is photography . And I'm tired of lying for you. And if you want to keep an eye on Shannon—and I'll call her Shannon if I want to—you can bloody well come up here and keep an eye on her yourself ! I quit!"

Davie snapped his mobile shut. After a few seconds, it rang again.

"Now, Davie boy, let's talk about this," Mr. Bannister said after Davie pushed the talk button. "I'll be up there day after tomorrow and we can sit down and discuss it."

He didn't know exactly when he would get there, because of what had happened in Halls Gap. But he wanted to assure Davie that they would talk. He wasn't expecting the boy to just up and quit on him. He had his good points, and with a little encouragement, perhaps he could be of some help to him.

"I quit! Q-U-I-T quit!" Davie shouted and closed his mobile. He stood there looking at it, expecting Mr. Bannister to call again. But his phone remained silent.

Davie drank the rest of his beer—thinking he should go up to the main house and get something to eat to settle his stomach. He stretched out on the divan again instead.

I'll figure out a way to get back to Melbourne . I'll stay at my aunt's house till I decide what I'm going to do. GOOD-BYE, Mr. Bannister! was his last thought before sleep engulfed him.



"I think we'll wander down to town," Carly said to Fred as she and Paige came out of the red room. They had heard the back door slam when Davie left and decided it was safe to come out. They didn't want to get involved in what was evidently a very touchy subject. "I probably shouldn't walk, but Paige and I just want to get out of here for a while."

"If you'd like a ride, I'm going that way," Fred said. "I need to talk to Ben at the General Store about some fertilizer for the yard."

When the two agreed to a ride, Fred threw them a broad smile. He was more than happy to take them downtown. The two women had been no trouble at all ever since they'd arrived at the B&B . They more or less stayed by themselves when Shannon and Jo weren't around. And since Carly had a hip operation a few months ago, it wasn't wise for her to walk all that way into town. He didn't know how Carly was going to manage walking back uphill coming back, however, as he didn't know what he was going to be doing when they were ready to come back. He might not be able to go and get them.

"Did you want to go anywhere special?" he asked.

"Probably just to The Bakery ," Carly said. " Shannon says they have air-conditioning there. And we can walk around a while after that and look the town over. Paige has to leave shortly, and she should see a little bit of something before she goes home."

Paige felt she should continue the fabrication of her mother's death and said, "My mother's funeral is Tuesday—in Melbourne —and then I'll be heading back to the States. That's all the time I could take off from work. I'm glad I got to see Jo a little bit, though."

Yeah, like Jo really wanted to see me! she thought. She's wrapped up with that Shannon woman. But I've met Carly, and that's worked out very well! I hope we can continue to be friends.

She had told Carly of her deception in getting to Australia , but Carly dismissed it promptly, because she might have done the same thing herself under the circumstances. She knew Paige had to continue the charade as long as they were at the B&B .

"You both live by yourselves?" Fred asked.

"Yes," they said at the same time, looking at each other.

"Too bad," Fred responded. "You're too young to live alone. And too good-looking," he added with a wink.

Rose had come back out of her bedroom with an armload of material and was spreading quilting pieces out on the dining room table when the three of them walked out of the kitchen. She was so engrossed with sorting out different fabrics, thinking of what quilt pattern she wanted to use this time, she never noticed when Fred and his passengers drove out the driveway with his little two-wheeled trailer in tow.

Fred returned quite a bit later with the trailer heaped with sheep manure. He pulled into the front yard and started shoveling it out, throwing it out on the lawn in huge arcs.

It was two o'clock when Davie came back up to the main house and walked into the kitchen. "What is that horrible smell?" he asked Rose, wrinkling up his nose.

"Oh, that's sheep manure Fred is spreading on the front yard." She wasn't the least bit perturbed that the small was permeating through the whole house. "You'll get used to it. We have to do this so our yard will stay healthy throughout the summer."

Davie resigned himself to the smell and pulled a fresh cold beer out of the fridge and sat down at the kitchen table. He wondered how he could approach Rose about something to eat, since he had apparently missed lunch. She was pulling all sorts of dishes out of the cupboard.

Rose had been the only one in the main house when lunch time rolled around, so she had grabbed a quick sandwich and continued with her quilting project. When Fred got back with the manure, she quit working with her material, pleased that she was lining up the pattern so well already. Even thought it was still early, she thought she should start getting things ready for dinner. She didn't know how many people would be here tonight, but was preparing enough for all of them, in case everyone showed up. Leftovers would get eaten quickly in any event.

"Rose, I've quit my job," Davie said.

"Really?" Rose looked at him in disbelief. "Why?"

"Mr. Bannister called me a few hours ago, and I told him off. I said my job was photography, not looking after Shannon and watching her every move. And I was tired of lying for him. So I quit."

He seemed all right with his decision now after he'd had another nap. And Mr. Bannister had never called him back a third time.

"Well!" was all Rose could think of to say.

"Do you think there might be something I could eat before dinner? I missed lunch because of my nap." He looked around the kitchen to see what Rose was fixing. "I'm really hungry."

"Here," she said, tossing a loaf of bread towards him. "There's some pork in the fridge you can eat—left over from yesterday. It will make a good sandwich."

"I need to get back to Melbourne ," Davie said, as he fixed his sandwich. "I think I'm going to stay with my aunt for a while till I figure out what I'm going to do. Do you know the quickest way I can get there?"

"The bus that comes into Clunes has already been here. It's a once-a-day thing. And it won't be back till tomorrow around 1 or so. Fred could probably drive you to Ballarat, and from there you could take the bus to the V-Line in Deer Park , and transfer there and take the train into Melbourne . But you wouldn't get to Ballarat in time today, as the train stops running at three o'clock because there are very few commuters on Saturday, and it's just about that time already. Other than that, I guess you'll have to wait till tomorrow and take the bus out of here. But come to think of it, that's Sunday, and the bus isn't even running then. So I don't know what kind of connections you can make for anywhere ." She was trying to think of options for him.

"You don't think Fred could—?" Davie left the question unfinished, as Rose was already shaking her head. "So it might be Monday before I could get out of this town?" Davie asked instead. "Mr. Bannister will probably be here before then. He said he was coming day after tomorrow. And I don't want to be here when he comes."

"I don't know what to tell you," Rose said. "I don't know of any other way for you to get to Melbourne ."

Suellen walked in the back door with Carly and Paige just at that instant

"Hi, mum," Suellen said, giving her mother-in-law a hug. "I saw these two ladies walking toward the B&B , so I gave them a ride. Matt left me the SUV this morning so I could run over to Daylesford and pick up some bakery supplies."

"Thank you, Suellen, for the ride," Carly said, Paige nodding at the same time.

"You're welcome. Me and Matt are going to Dandenong tomorrow to see Tamara, mum," Suellen said. "She's not doing so well—kind of down in the dumps. We told her we'd bring little Austin back with us for a few days. They'll be coming up for Christmas, anyway, so we'll keep him till then. Is there anything you'd be needing down that way? We'll be going right through Ballarat and such."

"I don't know of anything, but Davie here could use a ride down to Melbourne . He's quit his job and wants to leave here as soon as he can. Could you maybe take him?"

Suellen addressed Davie , "Well, we won't be going through Melbourne . We swing out around to the east to Dandenong." Then, seeing his saddened look, she hastened to add, "But you can catch a bus from there into Melbourne . There's always busses running through that little town because of the tourists who flock there in the summertime, especially on Sunday when they'll all be out. It's only about an hour from the city. That's what Carly and Paige are going to do."

"Oh," Rose said with surprise, looking over at them. "You two are leaving, too?" They nodded at her. "Well, what do you think, Davie ?" Rose asked, turning back to him.

"That would be great, Suellen," Davie said, his spirits picking up slightly. "What time are you leaving?"

"Probably around 8 or so."

Rose was stirring up a cake by then, working as she talked. "Will you be leaving Jacky and Gerri with us, then? There's hardly room for all of you."

"Yeh," Suellen responded, "if you wouldn't mind. They don't like to go on long trips, anyway. We'll be back in the early evening."

"Oh, that'll be fine," Rose said. "I don't mind having them for a while. I don't get to see them very often now that they're getting so grown up and have friends of their own."

"Thanks, mum," Suellen said. She gave her mother-in-law a hug good-bye. "I'll stop by out front and say g'day to dad before I go over to Daylesford." She waved as she went out the back door. "See you three at 8 in the morning."

"I'm sorry you two girls have been stranded here," Rose said. "I know there's nothing to do, and with Fred so busy all of the time, he just can't be hauling you around, either."

"We figured if we got a ride to Melbourne," Carly said, "we could spend some time there before and after Paige's mother's funeral—ride the tram, and see some things that there wasn't time to see when we were there yesterday. Then Paige has to leave to go back to the States. She won't have to rely on someone to take her to the airport, since she'll be right there. I'm planning on going back to the States, too. Might as well. Who knows when Shannon will be back?"

"Even if Shannon did get back tonight," Paige said, "we thought this arrangement for getting to Melbourne would be the best all around. Shannon will be gone on photo shoots, anyway, and we don't want to bother her."

"Well, I'm sure you're making the right decision. You too, Davie ." She nodded in his direction.

Davie was hanging his head over his beer, still feeling somewhat dejected and listened only halfway to Carly and Paige, until he heard they'd been to Melbourne yesterday.

So that's where they all went! Why didn't they just tell me that? Why was it such a big deal? Then I might not have blown my stack at Mr. Bannister.

But deep down inside, he knew he probably would have quit, anyway. He was not cut out to work for a man like that. So he was triumphant, but at the same time felt very small. He had finally managed to muster up some courage—albeit under the influence of a few beers—and told Mr. Bannister how he felt. Now he wondered what sort of repercussions would follow and what he was going to do with his life.

Rose turned back to the girls. "Do either of you know where Shannon and Jo might be? And when they'll be back?"

Carly and Paige both shook their heads. "We have no idea where they went," Carly said. "They never said a word to us." She wished Shannon had at least told her—her best friend! —where she was going.

To be continued...

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