Shannon was still deep in thought when she sensed Jo's eyes on her. She started fiddling with her camera, adjusting some settings. She resisted the temptation to turn her head and look at Jo again. She could feel her face getting very warm, and she started breathing more rapidly.
Jo had not turned back around in her seat. She kept looking at Shannon , feeling the stirrings of desire. God, she's more than attractive. She's absolutely beautiful! And she's hooked up with this Carly character? They don't exactly look like they would be a couple. Definitely a mismatch.
Shannon unbuckled her seatbelt and stood up suddenly. "I'm sorry, but I have to get up and use the restroom before we take off."
Jo moved her knees out of the way and helped Shannon climb over her. She again put a hand on Shannon's hip—playing roulette with her feelings—and unknowingly disturbing Shannon, as well.
Shannon started down the aisle and was stopped by a flight attendant who told her she had to sit back down in her seat because they were about to take off. Shannon told her firmly, "Look! If I don't get to the restroom right now, you're really going to have a mess on your hands here!"
Shannon didn't mean it quite that way, but the flight attendant caught her drift and backed out of her way. Shannon hurried off to the nearest toilet, sensing Jo's unsettling gaze on her back.
She returned to her seat, having regained her composure by splashing cold water on her face in the plane's tiny bathroom. Jo stood up and moved into the aisle so she could get by. Shannon noticed that Jo had removed her light jacket and had folded it neatly and placed it under the seat in front of her. She tried to keep her eyes off Jo's muscles which strained at the shoulders of her tight, short-sleeved shirt as she slid past her and sat down. She turned to look out the window, suddenly becoming very uncomfortable sitting next to this woman again. This is ridiculous! she told herself.
Jo was arching her neck to see out the window as the Boeing 747 became airborne. Her emotions had finally settled down while Shannon was gone to the restroom. But she wasn't having much luck seeing out the window.
Sensing Jo's chagrin at not being able to see anything, Shannon said, "Would you like to trade seats with me so you can see some of the scenery?"
Jo could hardly believe her ears! "Don't you want to see, too?" she asked Shannon .
"No. I've been to Melbourne before—a number of years ago. But this is your first time here. Come on, I'll trade seats with you."
"Well, if you're sure—" Jo hesitated. Shannon insisted, and they traded places.
Yes, I certainly have been here before, Shannon mused. Melbourne is where Kim and I parted and went our separate ways. She said she had to answer to a 'higher calling,' and I heard from her only once after that—six months later in a brief note with a Christmas card sent from Melbourne with no return address. And now here I am on my way to the same little town, to the same little inn where we stayed. Earl Bascombe said we would have our base of operations there. Is that just a coincidence—or what? I wonder if it's changed.
She looked over at Jo, whose face was now glued to the window—in a manner of speaking. She noticed the set of Jo's jaw, her dark-brown hair and thought of her dark-brown expressive eyes when she looked at her. She also thought of Jo's husky, sexy voice.
God, she reminds me of Kim, she thought, startled. But they say everyone has a double somewhere in the world.
She dismissed the thought and turned back around. She began fiddling with her camera, looking at the photos she'd just taken from the window of the plane and those of the previous day. She hadn't really snapped what she would call a decent picture since she'd got to Sydney . Even the few hours she and Davie had walked around downtown Sydney yesterday afternoon had failed to produce any photos that she could write home about. It wasn't entirely her fault, though. As she looked at the pictures she'd taken in Sydney , she remembered her almost disaster.
* * * * * *
After Davie had called and arranged to take her out to dinner her first night in Sydney , Shannon leisurely sat around in her towel, reluctant to get dressed. She'd had a great nap and was invigorated. She was ready to take on the town, but wasn't in a hurry, as it was only a little after noon and several hours before Davie was due to pick her up. She took a couple of sips of wine, noticing that the bottle was still half full. Delicious wine, she noted.
She realized she was famished, so called room service and ordered some crustless sandwiches. She hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast on the plane except for the fruit which came with the hotel room. And of course the wine. But the tiny sandwiches wouldn't spoil her appetite for dinner. When they brought the sandwiches, they also sent up another complimentary bottle of wine which she decided to save for tomorrow.
She dressed in some casual clothes finally, and wandered downstairs to see what the rest of the hotel looked like. She'd barely had a cursory look around when she registered. Like other hotels, there were people coming and going—a lot of foreign travelers. Nothing exciting was happening. She gravitated to a rack that displayed pamphlets of various tourist attractions and maps. She picked up pamphlets on The Rocks , the Sydney Opera House and a city map. She sat down on a comfortable sofa in the lobby for a few minutes and then wandered around and found the hotel's bar. Shannon hadn't intended to, but sat down at the bar and ordered a glass of wine. Such good wine , she thought to herself again.
She had been at the bar for about an hour and nothing was going on there, either. In the early afternoon, there were hardly any customers. Not even anyone with whom she could strike up a conversation. She decided she'd better get back upstairs. She turned on the TV in her room and watched what Australia had to offer as afternoon fare.
Looking at the clock and realizing it was almost time for Davie to pick her up, she donned her best black dress slacks, a knee-length, multi-colored overblouse and was ready to go when Davie showed up. He was exactly on time.
"I know you'll love this place, Shannon," Davie said, taking her by the elbow as they went out the front door of the hotel. "They have the best seafood in Sydney !"
He noticed with a slight disapproval that Shannon was not really dressed for dining out in a fancy restaurant. He thought she would have at least put on a dress. But it was better than the jeans and short-sleeved shirt she'd worn when he first met her, so he didn't say anything.
The restaurant was situated on the Sydney Harbor waterfront. Their seats provided them with a beautiful view looking out over the harbor. Shannon wasn't familiar with the names of the gourmet dishes, so left it up to Davie 's recommendation. The couple of glasses of wine they had before the meal were excellent. She learned that a well-known Murray Valley winery, one of the best wineries in the State of Victoria , was the restaurant's supplier.
She began eating whatever it was that Davie had recommended—something he said she would really enjoy—as soon as the meal arrived. She was delighted that her appetite wasn't diminished in the slightest by the petite sandwiches she'd eaten earlier in her hotel room. And the wine she had drank seemed to heighten her hunger.
She'd taken only a few bites, however, and suddenly had a violent reaction. She began to choke and then could hardly breathe. " Davie —" she managed to gasp, "I can't...breathe."
Davie pushed away from the table and went to her side. " Shannon , what's wrong?" he said, concerned. She gasped again, pointing to the seafood, trying to catch her breath.
"Oh, my God," he said, looking around frantically. "Help!" he yelled to a server passing by. "Is there a doctor around here? This lady is having trouble breathing." The server rushed to put out an announcement on a loudspeaker asking if there was a doctor in the house.
Davie waited only a minute before deciding it was ridiculous to sit there and wait for a doctor, when there might not be a doctor in the restaurant at all.
"Can you make it out to my vehicle, Shannon ? It's only a little ways to your hotel, and I know there's a doctor on call there." The thought never crossed his mind to call an emergency unit to take her to the hospital. All he could think was Mr. Bannister's going to kill me.
Shannon gasped her assent, and Davie helped her up. He hurriedly tossed some money on the table to pay for their meals and then whisked her quickly back to the hotel where help was forthcoming the moment she stepped into the lobby. By that time, she had begun to break out in a rash on her throat and neck. The doctor immediately diagnosed it as an allergic reaction from what she had eaten and gave her a shot, which counteracted the reaction. Within a few minutes she could breathe easily again, and the rash was starting to disappear.
Between Davie and the doctor, they managed to get Shannon to her room where the doctor conversed quietly with Davie just inside the door. Shannon, sitting in the comfortable easy chair in the room, watched Davie 's head nod affirmatively from time to time.
"The doctor said you should go to bed and sleep it off, that you'll be much better by tomorrow," Davie told her after the doctor left.
"But Davie , I feel so much better now ," she answered in a somewhat disconnected voice, with her eyelids drooping. "I want to go dancing." And she did feel better. She could take a taxi to a lesbian club once she got rid of Davie .
But the scary episode was enough to thoroughly shake Davie up. "You need to sleep, Shannon , if you want to go touring The Rocks tomorrow."
He hoped Shannon would feel better tomorrow, and didn't know why he had to keep an eye on her. But he better not take any chances, or Mr. Bannister would have his hide!
"Pleeeze, Davie ," she said. "I'm okay." She could see the concern in Davie 's eyes. But she was determined to go dancing. "Why don't you just go away—get lost—and I'll go out by myself." She said this as gently as she could, noticing that her tongue kept getting in the way. "I don't need you along."
Davie continued to stand there looking at her helplessly. Shannon wondered why it was so difficult to get up out of her chair and get moving. Then as her head got heavier and her eyelids drooped even more, she realized she wasn't in any shape to argue with him for very long.
"Come on, Shannon," Davie persisted. "You really need to get some sleep—like the doctor said."
"Okay, Davie ," she relented. "You're probably right. I'll see you tomorrow."
With those words, she got up rather slowly and dizzily and then opened the door and almost pushed him out. She slammed the door behind him.
She went back to her chair, eyeing the half-bottle of wine. Well, if I can't go out dancing, I can certainly finish off this excellent wine. Damn! And I hardly ate a thing. Oh, well—
She turned on the TV and tipped up the wine bottle from time to time while watching a funny program. When the wine was finished, she suddenly fell exhausted. She flicked off the TV, took off all her clothes, and collapsed onto the bed. She didn't bother to cover up her nakedness and felt the wonderful, cool air-conditioning spread all over her body. It felt so good.
She fell into a sound sleep. The last thing she remembered thinking about what was that her evening with Davie had turned out to be a rather unpleasant experience—in fact, downright disastrous! And to top it all off, she didn't even go dancing! What a bummer!
The phone rang, waking Shannon . She slowly sat up in bed, surveying her throbbing headache, fuzzy mouth, and blurry eyes. She looked waveringly at her watch, her head swimming. It was nine o'clock. Reaching for the phone at her bedside, she knocked it off the table and fell off the bed reaching for it again. Lying there on the floor, she voiced a muffled "Hello?" into the mouthpiece.
"How are you this morning?" Davie questioned seriously, without even a ‘g'day' before he began.
"Well, good morning to you, too, Davie ," Shannon said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. "How am I this morning? Well, I'm lying here naked on the floor beside the bed, where I usually am this time of the morning, just waiting for you to call." Then she yelled, "How the hell do you think I am?"
The last sentence caught Davie unawares. "I'm sorry," was all he thought to say, after a short silence. He wondered what he had done wrong this time, as Shannon sure was upset about something.
"Actually, I have a bit of a headache," she told him in a quieter tone. "I don't know if I'm up to walking around The Rocks or not. What in the hell did that doctor give me?"
"It was a little concoction to counteract your allergic reaction to the seafood. He said it would make you drowsy and probably give you a hangover. And he said not to drink any alcoholic beverages, as that would make it worse."
"What? He didn't tell me that, Davie ! He must have told you . And why didn't you tell me? I drank the other half of the bottle of wine that was in my room. No wonder I feel hung over. It's a good thing I never opened the second bottle."
"God, I'm sorry, Shannon . I had no idea you liked wine so much."
"Well, I don't usually drink like this. But I'm in Sydney , and isn't that what people do in Sydney in the summertime?"
"Oh yes—it's their favorite beverage.”
"Yeah, that's right." She nodded to the phone. "I seem to recall that was what I read in a travel brochure. But why do they have so damn much good wine!" She was yelling a second time. She stopped herself, knowing she had no excuse for getting after Davie , but she felt so damn rotten!
There was silence on the other end of the line. Shannon shifted herself on the floor and then sat up and leaned against the bed.
" Davie , call me back in a couple of hours, and I'll let you know how I'm doing then. Okay?"
"All right." He hung up.
Shannon got up off the floor and crawled back onto the bed and fell asleep again. God, I just need to get rid of this headache!
She awoke three hours later to a sharp pounding on her door. She got out of bed, pulled the sheet around her—still a little wobbly, but feeling much better—and opened the door a crack. A perky young female—probably no more than 18 years old—stood there, presumably one of the hotel clerks who worked in this fancy establishment.
"Yes?" Shannon said, looking at her through half-closed eyes. "Can I help you?"
"I wonder if I might talk to you a moment, miss," the young woman said.
"Is it that important?" Shannon asked.
"Yes, ma'am. If I could just have a word—?"
"All right. Come in." Shannon opened the door and the young woman stepped inside, leaving the door open behind her.
"I'm sorry to bother you, miss, but there's a young man down in the lobby who is very upset that you haven't answered your phone. He says he knows you and was worried about you. He wondered if you were all right. Ordinarily we don't come knocking on someone's door, but he seemed very agitated."
"Oh, that must be Davie . He was going to call, but I guess the phone was off the hook. And I fell asleep again. Was he tall, slim and boyish-looking, with wavy brown hair?" Shannon asked.
"Yes, ma'am," The woman smiled and blushed at the same time.
"Well, tell him....What is your name?"
"Tell him, Yvette, that I'm all right and that I'm going to take a shower and I'll be down shortly. I'm sure he can wait a while longer."
Shannon started to turn away, but the woman never moved. "Was there something else, Yvette?" Then she noticed the woman's open palm and said, "Oh yes—" She walked over to her tote-bag and pulled out a tip—an American five-dollar bill—and handed it to her.
The woman smiled as she took the tip, but still stood there.
Shannon said again, "Was there something else, Yvette?"
The young woman said, "Are you sure you're all right, ma'am? You look kind of pale....I don't know—"
Shannon looked her squarely in the face and said, "Yes. I'm all right. And if you don't turn around and leave right now to convey my message to Davie , I'm liable to drop this sheet and then you can see for yourself that I'm all right!"
Blushing profusely again, the woman said, "Yes, ma'am," and then turned and went into the hallway.
Shannon gently closed the door behind her, chuckling and wondering what the young woman would have done if she had dropped her sheet. I need to have some fun—since I didn't go dancing last night.
An hour later, dressed in a pair of loose cord pants and a pair of sandals, with a long-tailed, short-sleeved shirt hanging out, she found Davie sitting in the lobby reading the Sydney newspaper. She told herself to relax, and with her camera strapped around her neck, she sat down next to him on the divan. She leaned over him, looked at the newspaper, and said, "Anything exciting?"
Davie noisily put the newspaper down and faced her. He was clearly upset. " Shannon , I've been worried sick about you! I tried to call you again, but your phone was disconnected. I finally convinced these hotel people that your condition might be serious and they should check on you. D'you know you looked like bloody hell last night!"
" Davie , I'm sorry," Shannon said, genuinely apologetic. "I guess I forgot to hang up the phone after you called. I went back to bed to try and get rid of my headache and fell asleep. But don't you think that perky young hotel clerk was cute?"
"That's beside the point," Davie said, looking at his wristwatch. "It's already well after noon and a little late for touring The Rocks . If you'd really wanted to walk around The Rocks , we should have gotten started earlier, Shannon . It's too hot outside now."
"I'm sorry," Shannon said again. She thought Davie was taking a long time to calm down. This is not a day I'm looking forward to, she decided.
Then Davie looked seriously at her. "Are you sure you're all right, Shannon ?" He wanted to make certain and hoped Mr. Bannister wouldn't get wind of what had happened. He knew he should have told him about the incident over the phone this morning, but he didn't want to be out of a job, either.
"Yes, Davie , I'm fine," she assured him, glad he had finally quit fuming at her. "So what's on the agenda for today since I'm not going to tour The Rocks ?"
"We're going to have some lunch, to begin with, here in the hotel," Davie said, now in a lighter mood. "Then I'm going to take you shopping for a wide-brimmed hat and boots and some proper rugged gear for our shoots. Compliments of Mr. Bannister."
"Really! It sounds like we may be going to the middle of the Outback or something," she said. "He's really serious about this, isn't he?" a rhetorical question.
Davie looked at her kind of funny. He didn't think the town of Alice Springs was on his boss's agenda, but he never knew what Mr. Bannister would wind up doing. He said, "You're not going to take your camera with you right now, are you?"
"David," she said, not using his nickname, "if my camera doesn't go, then I don't go." She held her camera up. " This goes with me everywhere , so get used to it, my young friend."
"I just wondered," he said sheepishly. Shannon had the final word—again. But her manner toward him was so different from Mr. Bannister's heavy hand that he didn't mind at all.
"And how am I going to carry all these clothes to Melbourne that Mr. Bannister is going to buy for me?" Shannon asked. "My suitcases are already stuffed to bursting."
"We'll buy another suitcase," Davie said, recovering from the rebuff, "and I'll see that your stuff gets to where you're going, posthaste."
Two hours later, her four shopping bags full of clothes crammed into the new suitcase they had bought, and with an Aussie hat riding on top of her head, Shannon was ready to head back to the hotel. Her headache was back with a vengeance, and she wished she had eaten something cold for lunch instead of hot veggie soup. She had been sweating profusely in the heat of the day.
But she'd also had a chance to take a few photos while they walked the streets of downtown Sydney . Davie carried the suitcase around, freeing Shannon 's hands to handle her camera.
This city is just too big! she thought, snapping pictures. I'm glad Davie is along, or I'd be lost. It's changed so much in ten years.
Back at the hotel, Shannon wanted to wash and freshen up, so Davie said he'd meet her at the hotel bar. He said he wanted to talk to her about something. She left her hat and camera in her room before she came down to the bar—there was no reason to bring it.
"Shannon, I've been wanting to talk to you about something all afternoon," Davie said, as she seated herself next to him with an icy mug of root beer, "but I wanted to get the shopping done first."
"What is it, Davie ?" Shannon asked. "Are you still worried about what happened to me last night? I can assure you I'm all right."
She had sat down often on city benches scattered about while they walked the streets of Sydney , feeling like she might still be recovering from the allergic reaction. She had refused to hop on a city tram, as Davie suggested, because she didn't want to miss anything.
"No," Davie answered. "I think you'll be all right now. But I talked to Mr. Bannister this morning before I called you at the hotel, and he's purchased a ticket for you to fly to Melbourne tomorrow morning at eight o'clock. He faxed the confirmation paper to my hotel."
"What?" Shannon said with surprise. "What do you mean? You said it would be a week, maybe longer, before shooting would begin."
"I guess things are moving along quicker than expected, Shannon . Mr. Bannister sets up the schedule. He said if you didn't think you could make this flight, then the deal was off and he'd see to it that you got back to the States as soon as possible. Of course, you would have to return the money he advanced you for the assignment, since you wouldn't be completing it."
"Well, Davie , he doesn't mince words, does he?" She shook her head and took another long pull of her iced drink. "So he isn't meeting with me in Sydney at all, is he?"
Davie was as surprised as Shannon about the change in itinerary. "I don't know what to tell you, except that Mr. Bannister told me to take care of this business for him when I talked to him over the phone."
Shannon was disgusted with the whole arrangement already. She placed the icy mug of root beer against the side of her face. Damn, it's so blasted hot today! she thought. "And what does he expect me to do about my friend who will be arriving here sometime tomorrow?" she inquired, looking Davie in the eyes.
"I don't know, Shannon . You're the one he hired, not your friend." He remembered that his boss said he wouldn't pay the expenses for Shannon 's friend. So he guessed her friend was on her own.
"You mean after all the money he's already paid me, and now the clothes he's just bought for me, he would just up and throw it all to the wind if I wasn't on this flight to Melbourne ?"
"Money is secondary to Mr. Bannister." Davie didn't know this to be a fact, but threw it in for good measure. His boss surely must have money because he brought a photographer over from the States instead of hiring one locally. That didn't come cheap. But he could be lying about that , too. Davie started to sweat. He wished he knew more of what was going on, so he wouldn't have to make things up as he went along. Mr. Bannister had left him with few answers to Shannon 's questions.
"He is very serious about whom he hires for his photo shoots, just like some film directors are about the actors they want for their films." At least he knew these latter words to be a fact. Mr. Bannister was very picky .
"So you're telling me I don't have a choice, then? Either leave for Melbourne tomorrow morning at eight o'clock or go back home?"
"I'm sorry, Shannon , but that's the way it is. He did say, though, that he didn't think you were the type of person who would back out of a deal once you've committed to it."
Davie was just passing on what Mr. Bannister told him to say, though he was completely confused and in the dark. He gave Shannon a moment to let his words sink in.
When she looked back at him and didn't say anything, Davie took that as a 'yes' and pulled out a folded paper from his back pocket which he handed it to her. "Here's your flight confirmation. I'll see that this suitcase full of your new clothes," he said, pointing to the luggage on the floor by his feet, "gets to Melbourne as soon as possible."
Shannon slowly walked back to her room, declining the evening out with Davie. She wanted to make sure what had happened last night didn't happen again. She kept her modest dinner to some more petite sandwiches and a slice of lemon meringue pie from the hotel kitchen—and a cold glass of milk! No more wine for her!
I have to seriously think about this. Do I really want to go through with this deal? I don't think Mr. Bannister has been quite honest with me. Of course, I wouldn't have to worry about what to do with Carly now—we wouldn't be spending a week or longer in Sydney! Or even the couple of days we'd planned. But she's already in the air, so I can't contact her. We can still vacation in Melbourne, though.
She hated the idea of returning the money she'd been paid already. But she also couldn't shake the thrill that travelled up and down her spine when she thought of being back in Australia again. That, more than anything else—even more than the money—helped her to make up her mind to stick it out. And Mr. Bannister was right. She was not the type of person who would back out of a deal once she was committed.
Jo had hoped to see the Sydney Opera House as they flew over the city, but Shannon said she would have to wait until she flew back home to the States. It was not in their viewing area going to Melbourne. Banking to the left, they followed the coastline for a while, peering out the window at what appeared to be expansive white beaches. Then they were out over the water and saw nothing but the ocean from their side of the plane.
They turned inland again shortly and saw a ribbon of many more beautiful white beaches all along the coastline. They flew over the Snowy Mountains, almost bereft of snow because it was summertime. Shannon told her they had skiing there in the winter, although it definitely was not like the ski resorts in the Colorado Rockies or the High Sierras of California. Below them, what appeared to be salt flats was actually a spectacular view of dense clouds at low level. Their altitude was not as high as it had been cruising over the Pacific Ocean.
From time to time, when Jo asked a question about something she saw down on the ground—striving to keep her voice steady—Shannon would lean over her to look out the window with her. When she reached across to brace herself against the wall or on the seat in front, it seemed as though she was trying to keep her voice steady, too, as she answered Jo's questions. Now and then Shannon would brush against Jo's arm, or her face would come exceedingly close to her, and Jo could smell the soft scent of Shannon's light perfume. It was sending an unbelievable thrill up and down her spine. To be so close, and yet so far—
When Shannon pulled back to sit in her seat the last time after looking out, she lifted her hand up from the seat in front of them to place it in a better position to brace herself. But her hand missed the seat entirely when she brought it back down, and she found herself trying to grasp anything. And was met with thin air. "Oh—" she said when her hand finally found a place to land—squarely on Jo's breasts. When she saw what happened, she looked into Jo's eyes and moved her hand downward. That compounded the matter as her hand then landed on Jo's crotch! She stayed there for an instant longer than she should have. Her hand then applied pressure to the seam of Jo's cargo pants at her crotch as she pushed herself back up.
The tingle that was going up and down Jo's spine became agony as it shifted down to her throbbing groin when Shannon touched her. She had become so aroused by all of this touching , that she knew she had to do something quick. Jo turned away from her briefly, gasping and swallowing her gum at the same time and muttered under her breath, "Oh, baby—"
As Shannon started to settle back in her seat, mumbling something that sounded like an apology, Jo said to her, "I need to use the restroom." She climbed over Shannon hurriedly and without further ado. I have to take care of myself before I have an orgasm right here in my seat!
When she got back, sexually relieved, she decided she better settle down and quit looking out the window and asking questions. Shannon's nearness was sending her emotions into a tailspin. And here they were, sitting in an airplane, and she couldn't do anything about it. But there wasn't a vacant seat anywhere around that she could move to and be by herself in order to get away from Shannon's presence—even if she wanted to. Which she didn't. So she decided she'd just start a conversation and stop thinking of what ifs . She had no idea the same thoughts were coursing through Shannon's mind.
She said to Shannon, "So you're from Colorado Springs, too. Carly told me."
"Oh, is that where you're from?" Shannon replied, having calmed down from her own emotional turmoil while Jo was in the restroom. What is wrong with me! I've just met this woman!
When Jo nodded her head, Shannon continued, "Isn't that a coincidence! What part of town do you live in?"
"South. Down by the World Arena."
"Oh, really! That's where my photography studio is located. Just off Lake Avenue, up on one of the hills across from the school district administration building. Close to the World Arena."
"Oh, yeah, I know where that is. Well, that is a coincidence. We might have run into each other and not even known it." Jo paused for a moment, wishing she had run into Shannon. "But your girlfriend Carly said she was from San Jose."
"Yeah, she is. I've known Carly for years and years," Shannon responded. "I was sort of her mentor when I was in college, and she was just starting high school. I was on a psychology field trip for some training with troubled kids in summer camp one year. She was really a troubled kid back then when I first met her. I guess that's why she's so ornery now . When she finally graduated from high school and decided not to go on to college, she moved out to San Jose with her boyfriend—whom she never did marry. In fact, she never did get married. And neither did I. But we've kept in touch all of these twenty-five years. She's lived in San Jose all that time—for the most part—and I stayed in Colorado Springs. Once in a while we'll get together and take a trip. When she had her hip replaced a few months ago and was feeling so depressed, I thought a complete change of scenery would do her good. I was going to fly out to San Jose at Christmas and we would go somewhere. But then I got this photo assignment in Melbourne and talked her into coming with me. So here I am, on my way to Melbourne without her, and there she is stuck in Sydney without me . She's probably really ticked off about now."
Shannon looked over at Jo, who had remained quiet all this time. "Well, here I am carrying on, telling you my life story, and the only thing I know about you is that you're from Colorado Springs and sat next to my girlfriend Carly on your trip from L.A." She reflected a minute. "I don't even know your name."
Jo smiled at her. "My name is Jo, short for Joanna." She reached out to shake Shannon's hand, which was grasped warmly. They held on just a little bit too long for it to be called a casual handshake.
Reluctantly releasing Shannon's hand, Jo said, "And there's nothing to tell about me , really. I've never been married, either. I started writing to this woman in Australia several years ago, through my sister's neighbor in California, and we became pen pals. I'd been saving money for quite a few years, so when she called and invited me to Australia a few weeks ago to spend Christmas with them, I couldn't pass it up. I'll be staying with her and her husband for three weeks. I teach yoga to put food on the table, but my passion is writing. I hope to have some good adventures to write about while I'm over there. That's me in a nutshell."
They both became silent and leaned back in their seats and closed their eyes.
It sounds like Carly and Shannon are not partners, Jo mused . Carly has had a boyfriend. I doubt that Shannon would be coming on to me like she is if they were lesbian girlfriends. And there's no doubt in my mind that she is attracted to me. And, oh God, am I ever attracted to her!
Jo's stomach felt like fluttering butterflies as her arousal grew again and made its way down to her groin. She couldn't help herself as she slowly reached her hand over and entwined her fingers in Shannon's—knowing instinctively that Shannon would make no attempt to resist her.
Shannon squeezed her hand back lightly as she held on. She had reluctantly bowed to Mr. Bannister's wishes in Sydney—knowing, ultimately, that she really didn't have a choice. She was glad now that she decided to go ahead with her assignment, thinking how fortunate she was to be sitting next to Jo.
The seat belt light came on and a flight attendant announced they would be arriving at Melbourne in fifteen minutes. Jo and Shannon released hands and buckled up.
As they started their descent to land in Melbourne, Jo first noticed the hills covered with green. Not the green of pine forests, but the gray-green of eucalyptus groves! Many of the roofs on the houses as they approached Melbourne were a shade of orange. Jo later learned that these were made of terracotta tile, used a lot in this part of the country. Jo was enthralled with everything she saw. It was so different from Colorado. She wanted to take pictures out of the window, but she had just a plain, ordinary, point-and-click camera, and it didn't take very good pictures when the scene was moving. Not like the professional camera Shannon used.
"Well, Jo, maybe we'll run into each other again," Shannon said, getting up from her seat after the plane landed, "somewhere around Melbourne."
Jo moved out into the aisle. I wish this plane trip were longer, she thought. Shannon felt so soft when I touched her, and then holding hands....I wish I had more time.
"You never know." Jo replied. Though she was fairly certain Carly and Shannon were not intimate now—though they might have been at one time—it didn't make any difference. She would probably never see Shannon again. A brief interlude, a passing moment with a beautiful woman who had set her senses and body on fire. That's all it could be. She couldn't very well ask Shannon to stay in Melbourne, as she had a photo shoot to attend to. And Jo's pen pal was meeting her in Melbourne this very instant.
Jo easily pulled Shannon's twenty-five-pound carry-on out of the overhead bin for her. Shannon thanked her and wished her well. She started to leave and felt Jo's hand cover hers on the rolling bag handle. She turned around and looked into Jo's dark-brown eyes.
"I wish this didn't have to end," Jo said, looking longingly at her.
"Oh, Jo," Shannon replied. "I know. So do I." She put her other hand on the side of Jo's head, closed her eyes and then brought her lips up and kissed Jo softly, but fully, on the mouth. She lingered there for just a moment. Then she pulled back, set her Aussie hat firmly on her head and hurried off as quickly as she could. Jo looked after her in amazement, her contact with Shannon's lips so unexpected. The electricity of that kiss caused her to tremble.
* * * * * *
Shannon wanted to be one of the first in line at the baggage carousel. She knew what a hassle it was when there were a lot of people trying to grab their luggage all at the same time. Even though the thought of Jo's lips was on her mind—with a smidgen of regret—she intently walked over to where she would pick up her luggage, rolling her camera bag along behind her. A man stood up from his seat in the waiting area and blocked her way. She bumped into him, her Aussie hat almost knocked off her head. She looked up with annoyance into a face she immediately recognized.
"Davie! How in the world did you get here?" Shannon exclaimed with delight, despite her misgivings in Sydney. She adjusted her hat back on her head at an angle. "And what are you doing here?"
"You didn't think you'd get rid of me that quick, did you?" Davie replied with a broad grin. "Actually, I took a Quantas flight out earlier this morning and then just hung around in the airport waiting for your flight. Mr. Bannister told me not to let you out of my sight."
"Well, that's a little extreme, don't you think? I have a ticket on the bus up to this little town where I'll be staying. I don't think I'll get lost. Isn't that where I'm supposed to be going? Or has Mr. Bannister changed his mind about that, too?" At this point, she was aware that almost anything might change in her itinerary!
"No. You're still going there. And he'll meet you up there as soon as he can get away from the studio. But he says I'm supposed to come along and keep you company for now. So, here I am! Suitcase and all. Plus your suitcase, with everything in it that we bought yesterday in Sydney."
"What did you do with your vehicle?"
"Oh, that was just on loan. I left it at the airport in Sydney."
"Well, you're dressed fit to kill," she said, looking at his dark suit and tie. "Aren't you a little over-dressed in that suit, though? It's pretty warm outside from what I've heard." She looked down at her own relaxed jeans and over-large shirt, cool enough for summertime heat.
"Mr. Bannister likes his employees to look their best, and this is my best," Davie replied. He looked her up and down as he said those words, disapproval clearly written on his face.
Shannon knew what she was dressed in was not her best, but it was her normal attire for work. She wasn't going to switch clothes to make Mr. Bannister happy—with whom she was already displeased.
She thought about Davie's other words, too. Why does Davie have to come along to keep me company? I'm a grown woman. Doesn't Mr. Bannister know that I wouldn't just disappear on him? After all, he paid good money for me to take photos, and I'm not about to renege on that.
They hurried to pick up Shannon's luggage, which were among the first pieces to be unloaded. Davie put her two suitcases and his two on a trolley and wheeled it to the exit. Once again Shannon chose to roll her camera bag along behind her. As they went through the declarations line and out the exit from the airport, Shannon stopped.
"Davie, I understand we have a 70-mile trip on the bus ahead of us," she said, pulling out her cell phone, "and I'd like to get there as soon as we can. But first, I have to call Carly. I didn't know she was arriving at the airport in Sydney at the same time I was waiting to board my flight, or I could have talked to her then. She's probably at the hotel by now. Could you hang on just a moment?" She turned away without waiting for Davie's answer and retreated into an alcove in a corner of the building where she would have a little privacy.
"Shannon, where in the hell are you?" were the first words that greeted Shannon when the hotel connected her with Carly's room. "What in the world's going on?" Carly was more than a little angry. She was outraged! It was all Shannon could do to resist shouting back at her over the phone. So she softened her voice as much as she could.
"Carly, sweetie, I'm sorry. I didn't know I was going to be leaving for Melbourne till late yesterday afternoon after the person who hired me said I had to be on this flight or the deal was off. I couldn't wait for you. I had no choice. At first they told me it might be longer than a week before we'd start shooting, and I was pulling my hair out wondering how you were going to afford to stay in Sydney with me that long. And I didn't know when Mr. Bannister was going to meet me in Sydney, either. So I didn't know what to do."
"Why didn't you call me as soon as you found out you were going to Melbourne today?"
"Carly, how could I? You were up in the air somewhere!"
"And I forgot to bring my cell phone, anyway," Carly conceded. "Well, what am I supposed to do now, Shannon? I'm in Sydney and you're in Melbourne." She was clearly exasperated.
"Look, I called to tell you to use your ticket to fly to Melbourne in two days like we were both going to do, and just take the bus from the airport up to that little town I told you about. We can still be together. We just won't be sightseeing together in Sydney. It's no big deal. We'll have plenty of vacation. I just have to start shooting earlier than I expected."
Carly was finally placated and agreed to do what Shannon told her. It would mean not sightseeing in Sydney. She would probably be sitting in a hotel room for two days, because she didn't dare go out walking alone with her hip hurting like it was. If Shannon had been with her, she would at least have had some support. Shannon had been in Australia before and would know where to take her where she wouldn't have a problem walking so much. I knew I shouldn't have come! But maybe I can take a taxi, at least, to see the Opera House.
"Well, I'm going to move to a different hotel," she said, pouting. "I don't like this place."
"What don't you like about it? It's top-of-the-line. You couldn't ask for a better place to stay." It was all Shannon could do to keep from losing her cool. That was one of the reasons they were only friends and not lovers. Their temperaments were totally different. "So what's bugging you, girl? Here I go all out for you—putting you up in a top-notch hotel with me that was arranged by my new client, and you don't want it?"
"It's just too fancy for me," Carly answered. "You know I like things plain and simple. I feel out of place here. It's too expensive."
This woman is never happy, Shannon thought . But since I'm not there, whatever she wants to do—
"Carly, the price shouldn't matter. You're not paying for it. If you move to another hotel it's your money you're going to be spending, you know."
Carly was silent.
Shannon continued. "But, I don't care where you stay in Sydney. Just keep in touch and use that plane ticket to get to Melbourne and then take the bus up to where we'll be staying. Okay? I'll look for you in two days."
Without waiting for Carly's answer, she folded up her cell phone and walked back over to her patiently waiting escort.
"I guess I'm ready, Davie," she managed with a slight smile. "There's nothing more I can do for Carly right now. She'll just have to get here on her own. She has a plane ticket to Melbourne, and taking the bus from here should be easy for her. But if she does run into a problem, she'll just get mad and argue her way out of it! So I'm not really that worried about her. She can take care of herself."
At this point, Shannon didn't even care if Carly had enough money to move to another hotel. Maybe after she thought it over and counted her pennies, she'd stay put where she was. She sighed deeply.Davie looked at her with curiosity, but didn't ask questions. He looked at his watch and knew they'd have to hurry to catch the bus.
To be continued...
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