Davie wished Shannon hadn't talked so long on the phone. "We need to catch this next bus to Ballarat if we're going to make the connection there," he said, hurrying her along to a row of buses waiting outside the terminal.
He had been told there was only one bus out of Ballarat going through Clunes each day—scheduled to leave there at a certain time—so they needed to get on this one in order to connect with the one in Ballarat. They were the last passengers to climb on board. The bus was almost full, so he had to sit several rows behind Shannon .
Shannon thankfully didn't have to exchange conversation with Davie and could be alone with her thoughts. She hadn't been very comfortable on the plane, so was doubly grateful for the cloud-like ride on the big bus. It was similar to tour buses back home, with somewhat comfortable seats designed for leaning back in, stretching out your legs, and dozing a bit. Which is what she did off and on.
It was the middle of the day rather than rush hour to or from Melbourne , but it still took them over an hour to get to Ballarat. The bus detoured off the main highway and drove through every small town to let someone off at the designated bus stop, or pick up someone needing a ride. Sometimes no one got on or off, but they still had to drive through each town just in case . It reminded Shannon of driving through Nevada years ago, where vehicles were forced to drive through every small town just in case someone might want to stop and gamble. Interstate highways in Nevada never went around a town in those days.
They reached Ballarat and transferred to a smaller bus which went the remaining distance to Clunes. Shannon kept her camera around her neck, even though she knew she wouldn't be able to snap any photos other than from the bus window.
They arrived at the little country town of Clunes just after one o'clock and were the only passengers dropped off. They were left standing with their luggage on a corner in the center of town where the Post Office was located. It was hot and dusty in the early afternoon, and they didn't see a single soul walking along the elevated wooden plank sidewalks of the town. As the bus sped away, Shannon shifted her camera around her neck and wondered where her 'ride' was to take them to the inn.
The bus had arrived a little earlier than scheduled, so she sat down on the sidewalk to wait. Davie joined her. The sidewalk was shaded by a covered roof extending over it. She was comfortable enough in her loose-fitting jeans and over-large shirt not tucked in. She also wore her Aussie hat. But she felt sorry for Davie .
Davie had worn his dark suit and tie all the way from Melbourne . He made one concession as he sat down beside Shannon : he unloosened his tie and left it hanging around his neck, with the words, "It's bloody hot, isn't it?" For the first time that he could remember, he wished he didn't have to be so businesslike in the way he dressed—as per Mr. Bannister's instructions—and envied Shannon the clothes she wore. She looked so cool.
Shannon suddenly remembered that she was here a couple of days sooner than she should have been, so there was not going to be any 'ride.'
She told Davie , "Let's go into the Post Office and see if we can find a ride to the inn. We're here two days earlier than we were supposed to be. It looks like we're going to be hoofin' it, if we can't find someone to drive us. I don't see any taxi stands around here. Or even any other cars, for that matter. And I don't know where the B&B is, either." She said those last words for Davie 's benefit. She knew exactly where the B&B was located!
The Post Office was a single small room with one clerk—a bosomy woman—in attendance. She looked askance at them as they opened the door, walked in and set their luggage down. "Can I help you?" she said in an indifferent voice.
"I hope so," Shannon replied, putting on her best smiling face. "We're looking for the Willowbranch B&B . We're supposed to be staying there, but we've come a couple days early, so there's no one here to pick us up. They wouldn't be expecting us yet. Is there someone around here who could give us a ride? A taxi or something?"
The woman didn't drop a stitch—in a manner of speaking—sorting out mail as she talked. "Well, we don't have taxis here. Charlie is the only one in town with a car today, and he's gone over to Maryborough to get a new blade for his saw. He runs the butcher shop. Benjamin walks into town, 'cause he doesn't live too far from here. He runs the General Store. And Maylene lives in the back of the grocery store she owns, so she doesn't drive. Suellen runs the bakery, but her husband Matt drops her off and goes about his business elsewhere, so she only rarely has the car. The bank closed at noon today, so Herman isn't in town. And Tony, over across the way at the petrol station, can't leave because of customers coming and going all the time."
Shannon and Davie looked at each other. They had not seen a single car since the bus dropped them off!
"You're saying that there is no one in town who can give us a ride then?" Shannon asked.
"Yeh." The woman's answer was staccato and to the point. "Don't know of anyone else who would be willing to drive you up to the B&B . We have a lot of people who live here, but they don't drive strangers places."
"Well, how far is it to walk to the B&B then, Miss—?" Shannon asked. She remembered the woman's name from years ago, but asked because of Davie . He knew nothing of her having been in this town before. As far as she knew, no one in her present life, except Carly, knew about her previous trip to Australia ten years ago. Unless you could count that woman on the plane—Jo—who knew she'd been to Melbourne before. And it was unlikely she'd ever see her again.
"Name's Emily, Postmistress of Clunes—the greatest little former gold-mining town in the State of Victoria ," she said proudly.
She went on with her work and had seemingly forgotten Shannon 's question. Shannon and Davie stood there patiently waiting for her to continue.
"Oh, it's close to a kilometer," she finally uttered, "But I don't think you'd get very far with those suitcases, as it's mostly uphill, too. And it's bloody hot today."
Shannon and David both looked at her with dismay and then looked at each other and shrugged. "Well, maybe we could call the B&B and have someone come and pick us up?" Shannon questioned the postmistress.
Emily never paused from her work. "That wouldn't do you any good. Rose and Fred, who own the place, are down in Melbourne right now, and there's no one else there."
She finally stopped what she was doing and looked up at them. "But I guess if you want to wait around, they'll be along shortly and you could catch a ride with them. They're picking up someone at the airport who's going to be staying with them for a while. They drive right by this corner, and they can't miss seeing you if you're standing outside—being strangers and all."
She went back to concentrating on her mail-sorting, ignoring them.
They went outside to sit on the sidewalk again. Shannon was glad Emily had not recognized her. Of course, how could she? Shannon had put on 25 pounds since she was here ten years ago. She wore her hair long then, but now it was very short and she colored it the golden-blonde it had always been in order to cover up the gray beginning to show. She also kept her sunglasses on. And...she wore her Aussie hat.
"This place is really remote and off the beaten track, don't you think so?" Shannon said, trying to strike up a conversation with Davie . She looked over at him. He just shrugged.
"Why would Mr. Bannister choose this place to stay?" Another shrug from Davie .
"It's almost like one of those little western towns that dot the countryside in Colorado . But you've never been to Colorado , have you?" She continued to look at him.
Davie just shook his head. He didn't want to talk because it was too bloody hot, and he didn't want to expend the energy.
"And it has buildings similar to some of the small Colorado mountain towns," Shannon continued, undaunted by Davie 's lack of response. I'm going to enjoy myself in spite of the hot day, she decided.
"Look!" she said, pointing. "Besides the little Post Office, there's a little General Store and some really old buildings. For instance, just look at that old bank down the street. And look at the church over there." She poked David in the side, trying to draw him out of his lack of enthusiasm. "It's absolutely beautiful!"
If Shannon had her choice, this town would be ideal to photograph as one of the small towns around Melbourne . When she had been here before, she had never given it a second thought. She had been head-over-heels in love and hadn't been interested in photography then.
" Davie , are you sure this is where Mr. Bannister wants me to stay?"
Davie shrugged his shoulders again and then guessed he'd have to say something, since Shannon persisted in asking questions.
"I just work for Mr. Bannister. I don't question what he decides to do or where he's going to stay." Come to think of it, Mr. Bannister hasn't told me a thing about what's going on with this assignment. I hope he enlightens me when he gets here.
Shannon looked sideways at Davie , wondering what kind of an assistant it was that didn't at least ask questions of his employer. "So you just do what he says without question?"
"That's about it."
Shannon continued to note their surroundings. "Oh, Davie , look at that beautiful building over there!" she said excitedly. She pointed to the opposite corner of the street where a square, two-storied, brightly shuttered building stood. She could see curtains in the windows, vines growing up one outside wall, and a covered arbor leading around to the back. According to a sign out front, it was called Tunney's of Clunes . There was also a 'For Sale' sign displayed next to that one.
"I wonder if that's a B&B , too. It sure looks inviting. I've got to get a picture of that, just for myself."
She knew perfectly well that it was a B&B , one of the three or four others around town. Tunney's of Clunes was owned by a couple of gay boys. So they're finally selling out, she thought. They were talking about it ten years ago.
The eves of the roof and around the door and windows of the B&B were strung with multi-colored Christmas lights. It's just like the gay guys to do it up royal. She looked around the town and noticed the bedraggled and worn strings of Christmas lights drooping from the roofs which extended out over the sidewalks. Inside the Post Office was a scraggly Christmas tree sitting on a small table. It tried to appear cheery through the Post Office's only window. Depressing , she thought, compared to what Tunney's of Clunes has done.
She stood up and took her camera from around her neck and snapped a zoom-in shot of the B&B . She proceeded to walk to the exact center of the intersection and decided to set up for a panorama shoot, photographing each corner of the town.
Davie followed her, noting that there weren't any cars to yield to, but with Jeff Bannister's words still ringing in his ears: "Don't let anything happen to her." He supposed if a car came by, he would have to throw himself in front of Shannon like a bloody martyr, so she wouldn't get run over!
"Wait here," Shannon said, and walked back to the Post Office. She retrieved her tripod from her suitcase and a wide-angle lens from her camera bag. Emily had removed herself to a back room, and Shannon heard the clinking of glasses and chinaware.
She walked back to an open-mouthed Davie standing in the middle of the street and set up her tripod. She adjusted her camera for a shot, glad she had chosen a wide-angle lens. It was better to take fewer pictures than many pictures because it was so hot standing in the street.
Before she could snap the first photo, a car roared around the corner and a man inside waved to them as he went by. He smiled good-naturedly as he yelled out from the car window, "You need to watch out for the heavy traffic around here!"
Then he screeched to a halt and backed up. Davie automatically stepped in front of Shannon before the car came to a stop a bare six feet away from her.
"You must be Americans," the man said, talking out the window. "I see you're taking pictures. Are you staying somewhere around here?"
Shannon thought this sounded like a friendly voice and answered back, "Yes, we're staying at the Willowbranch B&B , but we've come earlier than we were expected. Emily, over there at the Post Office," she said, pointing, "told us we could wait for some people named Rose and Fred to come by, and they would give us a ride."
The man turned the engine off and got out of the car right in the middle of the intersection. He walked up to them and said, "Well, this is your lucky day. I'm Fred, short for Alfred. Me wife Rose is in the car." He reached out an arm and shook hands with both of them.
"I have a passenger with me," he continued, "so I don't have room right now. But I'll deliver me wife up to the house, and I'll be right back and pick you up. I don't remember hearing anything about a man staying with us, though. I understood it was two ladies." He eyed Davie up and down with suspicion.
"There's been a change of plans," Shannon said. "I can explain when you come back for us."
"No worries then. I'll be back shortly." He got back in the car, started it up, and tore up the street like he was on a drag track.
Jo had marked her declarations card on the plane before landing in Sydney . Because she had never flown international before, she was unsure what to mark down in some places. As she followed the route to the baggage carousel after reaching Melbourne, she saw signs along the corridor that told people to DUMP IT if it was illegal to bring in to Australia or be responsible for it—such things as fresh fruit, plants, and anything that was not duty free . She became a little nervous, as she had not marked down her medication that she carried with her for migraine headaches. But the security guard looked at her declarations card, examined her carry-on and waved her through without hesitation.
Other passengers were crowded around Carousel 4 when she got there, picking up their luggage and going on their way. A woman security guard with a German shepherd on a leash walked around her backpack that she'd set on the floor. As the dog sniffed around it, Jo reached down to pet it. The woman said gruffly, "Don't pet the dog." Jo pulled her hand back abruptly. The woman then asked to see her declarations card.
As the woman looked at the card, Jo watched another security guard calmly leading a man away from the carousel, his hands handcuffed behind his back. He was putting up no resistance. An additional security guard was following, carrying a suitcase. I wonder if he brought something illegal into Australia , Jo thought. She pictured a banana and laughed to herself.
She put the declarations card back in her shoulder bag and looked around to see if Shannon was still there. Jo wasn't surprised that she never saw her, since she was one of the first passengers to get off the plane. She edged closer to the carousel as passengers retrieved their baggage and moved off. She was concerned that her suitcases hadn't come into sight yet. God, I hope they're not lost. Another security guard came by and asked to see her yellow declarations card again, so she dug it out a third time.
Finally, her luggage came around, and as she pulled her two pieces off the carousel, she realized she had to go to the bathroom. She asked one of the female security guards where the nearest one was located. The woman pointed to a door on the other side of the carousel and asked to see her declarations card. This is ridiculous , she thought, and told the woman, "This is the fourth time I've had to show my declarations card." The woman never cracked a smile or even hinted that she heard Jo's remark as she looked the card over.
Passengers in the airport had been told repeatedly through loudspeakers not to leave their possessions unattended. So even though there was absolutely no one else in the restroom, she had to bring all of her possessions into the toilet stall with her, which was not an easy feat!
When she was finished, she came back out to discover there was not a single soul to be seen around the baggage area. Not even one of the security guards that had been so prevalent. She didn't know which direction to go in order to exit the airport. What do I do now? she thought. She audibly sent out a question, "Is there anyone around here who can tell me where the exit is?" Her words echoed through the empty baggage area. No one answered.
She looked toward the opposite end of the long room and saw a green neon sign in the distance. There was also a brilliantly lit Christmas tree there. Well, that has to mean something , she thought as she struggled toward the light with her two suitcases, backpack and shoulder bag.
There's the exit at last ! She rejoiced gratefully, as the green sign became more distinct. She showed the security people her yellow declarations card—again—and they passed her luggage through a screening machine. But they kept her card this time and waved her on through. She asked, "Can I leave now?"—wondering if it was safe to do so. The guard at the exit door nodded his head.
"Merry Christmas to you, too!" she said as she went out the doorway, loud enough for anyone within a hundred-foot radius to hear. She was finally free from the airport confines after having shown her declarations card five times to one person or another.
She came out under an open-air space with a roof over the top. People were standing next to a metal railing, greeting passengers as they exited the airport. Jo was the last person to come through the door. She looked expectantly around for her pen pal. She thought one lady fit her description, but that lady was greeting another couple and never turned to look at her.
She started walking alongside the railing, carrying her luggage and looking at people, and all of a sudden there was her friend! Rosalie Hamus came barreling down on her and gave her a big hug. Ooof! Which caused Jo to drop her luggage! Then she gave her another big hug. Rosalie was a big woman, and when she hugged, they were bear hugs! She introduced her husband Alfred, who shook her hand and gave her a half-hearted hug. Jo wasn't really expecting it from him. He was a small man alongside his wife, with steely gray hair and a broad smile. Jo warmed to him almost immediately.
"I didn't think I would recognize you, Rose," Jo said.
"Oh, dearie, I recognized you right away!" Rose said, beaming from ear to ear.
"Me car is quite a ways from here," Alfred Hamus said. "I pulled into the first available slot I could find, because I didn't want to get tied up in the traffic. I try to avoid Melbourne if I can. It's too big. And there was no standing in front of the airport because we didn't know for sure when your plane would get here."
"Have you been waiting long?" Jo asked, concerned.
"About two hours," Rosalie said, woefully. "Me feet are killing me!" she emphasized. "We didn't hear till we got here that the plane was overdue."
Jo apologized and said she had no way of contacting them to let them know the plane would be late in arriving. She explained it was late because they had to wait in Sydney for another late-arriving flight from San Francisco which connected with her flight.
Alfred grabbed up the larger of Jo's two suitcases, Rosalie took the smaller one, and off they went. They walked through a parking garage and detoured around a construction zone where more undercover airport parking was being built. Jo tried to keep up with them, carrying just her backpack and shoulder bag. The backpack soon became unbearably heavy! After the long plane rides and a bare minimum of exercise over many hours, she hadn't gotten her wind back. The sweat was running down her back and legs by the time they finally reached the Hamus' vehicle. She chastised herself for being so out of shape. She was a yoga teacher, and a walk like that shouldn't have been so exhausting.
Then she realized her ultimate undoing was the climate change. She had come from 30 degrees back home in Colorado in December to a sweltering 90 degrees in Melbourne . It was summertime in the land down under. Melbourne was right on the ocean, so the humidity was extremely high, also. In addition, she was still wearing the light jacket that she had kept on most of the time because of air-conditioning on the planes and in the airports. She'd taken it off only on the plane trip from Sydney to Melbourne . She could feel the heat pressing in all around her now that she was out-of-doors and away from air-conditioning.
She stood there patiently waiting while Alfred unlocked the car door. Then she took her jacket off immediately and threw it into the back seat. He said he'd put her two suitcases in the boot and they'd be on their way. Jo knew the 'boot' was the Australian word for 'trunk' in America . She knew this only because from time to time, Rosalie would mention certain things in e-mails, and Jo would question her. She kept her backpack with her in the back seat, as there wasn't enough room in the 'boot.'
Rosalie was quite tall as well as being very large, so she sat in the front seat of the small Toyota Camry with Alfred while he drove. Jo was relegated to the back seat out of necessity. Her knees were cramped up like they had been on the plane, and there was no air-conditioning in the car. She kept the windows wide open and at least got some air, even though it was warm .
Jo said to Rosalie as they left the airport, "I can't believe that I'm actually in Australia !"
Rose said, enthusiastically, "I'm so glad you got to come. We're going to have such fun. You'll be able to meet our whole family, as we're having Christmas dinner at our house this year."
Jo could see her smile beaming in the rearview mirror.
They wound their way through the city, and Jo could only see out the side windows unless she sat up and leaned forward. She noticed the Christmas decorations lining the streets of Melbourne and in shop windows and thought how exciting it was to spend Christmas with her friend. She would just have to get used to it being so warm.
Finally, they were on the outskirts of the city. As the open countryside came into view, Jo sat back as best she could and tried to enjoy the trip to Clunes. Even though she was uncomfortable and sweaty and cramped up, she found herself drinking in all the scenery she could out the side windows.
Rolling hills graced the landscape, much like the area around parts of eastern Colorado not far from the mountains. And there were gum trees in abundance! Never had she seen so many eucalyptus trees in her life outside of southern California where she had grown up. There were no trees in Colorado similar to these magnificent entities. There seemed to be nothing but gum trees covering the whole land, with a sprinkling of other kinds of trees thrown in—all foreign to her.
It's a whole new continent, she thought to herself. What a wonderful country, this Australia . I'm even more determined to write a book about it, and Rose and Fred will be a part of it.
Alfred said it would take them about two hours to get to their place. Because of the type of asphalt that was used, road noise reverberated loudly inside the car, so that when Rosalie or Alfred said something, Jo had to lean forward to hear. She caught only half of what was said. She needn't have worried, though, as Rosalie talked almost continually, no matter if she got a response or not. She was one of those types that just loved to talk.
They stopped at a BP station and filled the tank with petrol—gasoline—and Jo had a chance to use the restroom and buy a bottle of Diet Pepsi. Rosalie loaned her some Australian coins until she could get her American money exchanged. After another stop at a small town to pick up some fresh fruit, they were on their way down the two-lane road again.
Alfred filled her in on some history of the land, describing the drought and the farming and other bits of trivia. Although Jo was very tired, she did her best to nod her head and smile once in a while when Rosalie turned to talk to her about something.
Jo finally gave in to exhaustion. She leaned back and tried to listen while Rosalie and Alfred kept up a steady stream of conversation back and forth among themselves and sometimes including her. She closed her eyes for just a minute and fell asleep. As she was dropping off, she vividly saw Shannon 's golden-blonde hair and gray eyes and felt the exquisite touch of her lips. She dreamt that she and Shannon were on a romantic getaway—journeying together on an adventure by camel caravan.
Jo sat up abruptly in the back seat of the Toyota when Fred slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt going around a corner in Clunes. She had been sleeping soundly.
She peered out the window to see what was going on and rubbed her eyes to make sure she was seeing properly. Shannon came into her vision, along with a young man standing beside her. Fred was shaking their hands and talking with them. As Jo continued to stare, wide-eyed now, Fred got back into the car and they took off up the street as fast as his old Toyota could go.
That was Shannon . I'm sure of it, Jo thought. What is she doing here? And who is that man with her?
They pulled into a long driveway leading down to the B&B , and a large country house came into view. It was a single story, no basement, with flowers lining the yard, the driveway and virtually all over. A huge weeping willow tree grew to one side of the driveway just before the open-ended carport. Jo imagined that was how the B&B came by its name— Willowbranch . Fred pointed out some huge roses growing on rose bushes that Rosalie had planted a few years ago. "She loves roses," he said, turning to smile at Rosalie. "Fits her name." Rosalie smiled back.
Christmas lights were strung around the eves at the front of the house, and as Fred drove around to the back, Jo noticed the lights wrapped completely around the house. He got out, opened the trunk and began taking her luggage out.
"Follow Rose," he said to her, "and she'll get you settled in."
Jo hitched her backpack over her shoulders and followed Rosalie as she led the way across the covered, glass-enclosed veranda which stretched across the back of the house. She unlocked the door at the far end of the veranda. It led into the washroom. Rose turned and looked back at Jo as she stepped from the washroom into the kitchen and said, "Let me unlock the door over here so Fred can bring in your luggage."
She walked over to another door that opened directly onto the veranda from the kitchen dining area. "This door only unlocks from the inside. That's why I had to bring you through the washroom."
Fred brought in all of her luggage and then said, "I'll go pick up those other people and be back in a little bit." He hurried back to the car.
"As soon as Fred comes back with that other couple," Rose said, "we'll decide what room we're going to put you in."
That other couple? Jo thought. That other couple—meaning Shannon and that guy Fred was talking to? Oh, my God! Is Shannon going to be staying here, too? That's too good to be true! But who is that guy ? Are they a couple? No—that's not possible.
Holding down her excitement surfacing in spite of unanswered questions, she wearily slid her backpack off onto the floor next to the kitchen table and put her shoulder bag on top of it. She looked around, and first noticed a Christmas centerpiece on the kitchen table which consisted of a floral arrangement with a candle in the middle. She glanced into the living room next and saw a huge artificial tree decorated with Christmas ornaments. Christmas was only a little over a week away, and the thought of the holiday caught her by surprise. She still couldn't reconcile Australia with Christmas because it was summertime here, and there was no snow.
"It's so good to finally meet you!" Rosalie exclaimed. She rushed over, interrupting Jo's train of thought, and gave her another gigantic hug—which Jo was powerless to return, as her arms were pinned to her side.
"Would you like a ‘cuppa'?" Rosalie asked, turning back around to the kitchen sink.
"A whatta?" Jo responded with her head still in the clouds and road noise still in her ears.
"Some tea. Or perhaps you'd like coffee."
"Yes, I think I'd prefer coffee. If it's no trouble."
"Oh, no trouble at all. Let me just get the pot boiling." She filled an old metal teapot with water, set it on an electric stove and turned it on. Then she took two cups from the cupboard and set them on the counter that conveniently served as an eating place. It effectively divided the cooking area from where they ate at the kitchen table. She spooned some instant coffee in one cup and dropped a tea bag in the other.
"Are you hungry at all?" Rose inquired. "Did you eat breakfast?"
Jo replied no to the first question, yes to the second, and sat down at the counter on one of the two stools. Actually, she was more tired and sleepy than anything else. And now her excitement at maybe seeing Shannon again had her mind in a turmoil.
Rose, not to be deterred by Jo's answers, dug around in the pantry and came out with a plastic bag and said, "These are me favorite biscuits." She stuffed one after another in her mouth as they drank their beverages.
Jo finally realized that these were what Rose had talked about when she'd e-mailed that she was going to bake some biscuits that day. Jo had a picture in her head of biscuits and gravy like she would have for breakfast now and then. But as she took a bite of one of Rose's ‘biscuits' into her mouth, and savored it, she thought, I wouldn't want to pour gravy over these delicious sweet cookies!
* * * * * *
"Well, that was quick," Shannon said, watching Fred drive up the street. "Let me finish taking this panorama, Davie , and then we can go back and sit in the shade and wait for Fred."
Shannon took her pictures, allowing at least twenty percent overlap for the photos. She would have to take approximately twelve different shots, swiveling the camera and setting the exposure each time to accommodate the different slant of the sun's rays. But that was better than twenty shots with a regular lens . Davie patiently stood next to her in the sweltering sun, mopping his brow with his handkerchief now and then. Shannon turned and looked at him. She knew he was hot in his suit.
"Why don't you go back and sit down in the shade," she suggested.
"That's okay," Davie replied. "I'm all right." I wish she'd hurry up , he thought.
Finally, Shannon felt so sorry for him that she plunked her Aussie hat, which she had worn all the way from Sydney , on top of his head. "Don't sweat too badly in it," she said. "I'll just be a few more minutes."
She didn't feel she needed to explain anything to Davie about what she was doing, as he should know what was going on because he worked for a photography studio. He should know how exacting this type of photography was.
The minute she finished up, she hoisted the tripod and camera over her shoulder and walked back to the covered sidewalk. She then dismantled the tripod and put it back in the suitcase inside the Post Office. Hanging her camera around her neck, she joined Davie , who was already sitting down on the sidewalk in the shade. He handed her hat back with a mumbled thanks.
They heard some clinking and looked up to see Emily walking out of the Post Office carrying a tray of icy glasses of lemonade for the three of them. She sat down on the other side of Davie and passed the glasses down.
"Thought you might like something cold on a hot day," she said.
Shannon was surprised that Emily's earlier gruffness had turned to friendliness. She and Davie thanked her and took deep gulps of the frosty lemonade. The heat had started to get to Shannon , too, and she could feel her clothes sticking to her.
I'll be glad to take to take a shower when we get to where we're going. Poor Davie . He must be feeling awful in that suit. I don't know why he doesn't at least take his suit coat off.
Shannon knew there was no restaurant in town with air-conditioning where they could have relaxed in some comfort. Ten years ago was a long time, but it didn't look like things had changed much. Except for what appeared to be a new bakery up the street, according to the folding free-standing sign on the sidewalk.
"Are you two married?" Emily asked.
"Oh, no," Shannon replied, chuckling. The age difference between her and Davie should have been obvious. Of course, Emily didn't recognize who she was, or she never would have asked the question. "We're just traveling together," she went on. "He carries my luggage, and I take pictures."
"Yeh. I noticed you from the window," Emily said.
It was highly unusual for Emily to see a woman dressed in jeans and a shirt, with an Aussie hat on her head, standing in the middle of the street with a man in a suit and tie and a camera on a tripod. She herself was dressed properly in the official Post Office uniform. Marriage was the only answer she could come up with that might account for such an odd-looking couple.
They had just finished their drinks when Fred pulled up. He loaded two of the four suitcases in the boot. Shannon's camera rolling bag and the other two suitcases went in the back seat with Davie . He had insisted that Shannon ride up front. Davie was glad it was only a short distance to the B&B . With his long legs and the suitcases piled up on top of and around him, he couldn't move.
Jo and Rosalie had finished their refreshments when they heard Fred returning with his two passengers. They all came in through the door off the kitchen carrying suitcases. Shannon recognized Jo as soon as she walked in, and her throat tightened as she stifled a gasp. She thought it was better that she didn't acknowledge she knew Jo. An unexpected thrill coursed through her body as she remembered their plane flight from Sydney .
Jo lifted her eyebrows when Shannon walked in, to also show recognition when Shannon glanced her way. Her heart started beating rapidly. But she wasn't going to say anything. She stayed seated at the counter, pretending to take sips of coffee out of her now empty cup. Her hands shook while her mind raced with anticipation.
"Why don't you two sit down at the table," Fred said, motioning to Shannon and Davie , "and we'll figure out what rooms we're going to put you in."
Rose rushed over to them before they had a chance to sit. "I'm Rose," she said, reaching out a hand, which Shannon shook briefly. "And you are—?"
"I'm Shannon Brooks. And this is David Westmore," she said, sitting down at the table and motioning for Davie to sit beside her. "He prefers to be called Davie ."
"Oh…" Rose said, "you're the one with that photography studio, aren't you?"
"Yes," replied Shannon . "And this quaint little town of Clunes is one place where I hope to take a lot of photos."
"It has quite a history," Fred said, still on his feet. "Maybe one day, if you're not too busy, I could give you a tour. Over a thousand people live here, but most live outside of town."
"Oh, I'd love to see the town!" Shannon replied with enthusiasm.
"This is a friend of mine from the States, too," Rose said, walking over and putting her arm around Jo. "Her name is Joanna Campbell, but we call her Jo."
"Pleased to meet you," Shannon and Davie said at the same time. Shannon smiled broadly. Jo nodded her head in reply and smiled back.
"We weren't expecting you for a couple more days," Rose said. "But—luckily enough—we don't have any other guests at this time." She waited for Shannon to reply to the question she never asked.
"I didn't expect to get here this early, either. But there was a sudden change of plans," Shannon said. "This young man with me"—she pointed her thumb at Davie —"came at the insistence of my client, Mr. Jeff Bannister, who said I had to be here today . I guess he didn't think I could manage by myself. So Davie 's been sticking to me like glue, if you know what I mean." She uttered a little chuckle and mumbled something else under her breath.
"You told me in the car that a friend of yours was coming day after tomorrow?" Fred asked Shannon . He wanted to make sure he was on solid ground.
"And it's another woman, you say?"
"Oh, yes," Shannon replied. "My friend Carlotta—Carly for short. We were supposed to be coming together, but with the change in plans, she was left stranded in Sydney ."
Jo was listening intently, hanging on to every word that Shannon uttered and smiling to herself. She even heard the mumbled remark that Shannon said after mentioning Davie and glue: "Sticky icky." No one else noticed.
Shannon took a deep sigh as she slid her camera off from around her neck and set it on the table. "It's such a relief to sit at a regular kitchen table again—with normal chairs," she exclaimed. "I can't wait to start taking pictures, though." She smiled at her hosts, her eyes darting briefly to Jo and then back again.
"With just you three ladies, Alfred and I had planned on moving down to the little bungalow out back and giving each of you a private room up here. We didn't expect another guest," Rose said, looking at Davie . "Do you have plans to stay somewhere else, young man?"
Davie looked surprised and stuttered, "Well...uhh...I was hoping there would be a room here. But if you can't put me up, I guess I'll have to look for somewhere else to stay." He glanced at Shannon, who just shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, we do have the room. That is, if you wouldn't mind staying down at the bungalow. It would be easier for you, being as young as you are, to make the trek back and forth to the house than it is for us older folks. And we'll just stay in our own bedroom."
"No, I don't mind. Whatever works out best for you," David said hastily.
What a stroke of luck, he thought . I won't have to find somewhere else to stay like Mr. Bannister thought we might.
Rose went on, "Then I'll put two of you girls in one bedroom and the other girl in the other bedroom. Would that be all right with you two?" she indicated to Shannon and Jo.
They nodded and shrugged at each other, and Rose started giving instructions.
"Fred, dear, would you mind taking young Davie down to the bungalow and see that he gets settled in? But both of you come right back. I'll have a snack ready. Just something to tide us over till dinner."
Fred nodded and steered Davie out the door with his single suitcase in hand.
"Come on, girls," Rose said. "Follow me."
She picked up a piece of luggage that was on the kitchen floor and started down a short hallway. Shannon grabbed up her camera, and she and Jo followed. Jo didn't know where she was going, but Shannon knew exactly where she was!
"This is what we call the blue room," Rose said as she went into one bedroom and set the suitcase on the floor. "It has two beds, as you can see—a queen-size and a single. The other room over there across the hall," she gestured, "has a double bed. We call that the red room. I'll leave it up to you to decide who wants to sleep where. There are three beds between the two rooms, so each of you girls will have a bed. And it's nice and quiet on this side of the house so you won't be disturbed by noises coming from the rest of the house."
Jo saw why it was called the blue room. The deep, plush carpet was midnight blue in color, the curtains were medium blue, and the walls were painted a light pale blue. She wondered what the red room was like, but her imagination ran away with her, and she decidedly like blue better.
"I think I'd like to stay in this room. Which room do you like?" she said to Shannon .
"I haven't seen the red room yet, but I prefer blue. Is it all right if I bunk in here with you? Carly can stay in the other room when she gets here."
"That's good for me," Jo answered, hardly believing her ears.
Seeing that the two girls had come to an agreement, Rosalie went back out to the kitchen, with Shannon and Jo following like automatons. When Rose picked up another suitcase, they both took the hint. Shannon grabbed up a suitcase and her rolling camera bag. Jo picked up the other suitcase along with her backpack and shoulder bag. They carried everything down to the blue room.
"You two might want to freshen up a bit," Rose said. "The bathroom is right over there opposite this room. So when you get settled in, come back out to the kitchen. You're probably famished. I'll fix us a little something to eat. Fred will be back with that young man shortly, too. I won't be starting dinner for a while, as it's too hot this afternoon. I'll wait for it to cool off. It was probably a long trip, wasn't it?"
Without waiting for a reply, she left, closing the door behind her. Shannon sat down on the queen-sized bed and Jo sat down on the single bed.
"Well…we meet again," Shannon said, smiling at Jo. She looked over at the closed door.
"Looks like it," Jo replied, smiling back and looking at the closed door, too. "Are you happy about that?" She raised her eyebrows.
"What do you think?" Shannon replied, still smiling.
They started laughing at the coincidences that brought them to the same small town, to the same Bed & Breakfast , and from the same city in Colorado .
"I suggested that Carly take the other room, because I know for a fact that she'll want a room to herself," Shannon said with confidence. "With her hip the way it is, she'd be up and down all night, moaning and groaning, and neither of us would get any sleep. I know you said yes for me to bunk in the same room as you, but are you sure that's okay?" Say yes, say yes, Shannon kept repeating in her mind.
"Are you sure you're okay with that?" Jo questioned. "I mean, I could take the red room, since you and Carly are friends and all—"
"I'm absolutely okay with that," Shannon said without hesitation. "I'm sure Carly won't mind. So is it okay if we just keep it like it is?"
"That sounds all right to me," Jo said. She could barely hide her excitement that she would be sleeping in the same room with Shannon .
"So how are we going to determine who's going to sleep where?" she inquired.
Shannon looked back and forth between the two beds. "You want to toss a coin?"
"That's all right," Jo said. "I'll take the single bed. It's against the wall, so I won't fall out of bed. Unless you'd rather have it."
Shannon remembered falling out of her hotel bed the other morning— under-the-influence-of— but she agreed to take the queen-sized bed. "Actually, I like to spread out," she said. Her voice was starting to tremble as she looked at Jo. She didn't think she'd be drinking anything stronger than coffee on this trip from now on and didn't plan on falling out of bed again.
"And I'm used to close quarters," Jo countered, sounding as nonchalant as she could. "I run into that all the time at yoga retreats."
* * * * * *
"Well, young man, I think you'll be comfortable here," Fred said, after showing Davie around the bungalow. "If you need anything more than what you see here, come on up to the house anytime and get what you need. In fact, Rose is expecting us back up there right now so she can feed us."
He grinned, and Davie smiled back at him. He didn't realize he was hungry until Fred mentioned eating.
"I'll be right there," Davie said. "I want to wash up and change into some other clothes. This suit is so bloody hot!"
"No worries. See you up at the house then," Fred said. He closed the door behind him as he left.
Davie looked around again at his surroundings. It was a nice little bungalow, with all the amenities. He suspected that Rose and Fred let it out when the big house was full, like it was now. It had a kitchen with stove, table and chairs, and refrigerator; a bathroom with shower; a living area with a huge wood-burning fireplace. And the bedroom had two full-sized beds, already made up. Everything was furnished, down to the dishes and towels. Someone could stay here for much longer than just overnight.
Good, thought Davie . This will work out great. Mr. Bannister will have a place to sleep, too, when he gets here. I better call him and let him know we've arrived.
He pulled his mobile out of the inside pocket of his suit coat and dialed the number of the studio in Melbourne . It wouldn't connect. Shoot , he thought to himself. I never thought about there not being a transmitting tower this far north of Melbourne . My mobile doesn't even register! I guess I'll have to use the phone up at the main house. I was hoping for some privacy.
He changed into a pair of jeans and a short-sleeved summer shirt. He hung his suit carefully on a clothes hanger over the closet door to let it dry out from the sweat it had accumulated while he was standing out in the hot sun watching Shannon take pictures.
No sense in sending it out to be cleaned, he mused. I probably won't be wearing it again. And I doubt there is a dry cleaner in this little town, anyway.
When they got down to business in the field, Davie thought jeans and light-weight shirts would be good enough. He didn't think they would be meeting the public where he'd have to dress up. Of course, that would be up to Mr. Bannister, who was liable to change his mind about most anything—at any time.He put his shaving kit in the bathroom, washed up and then walked back up to the main house.
To be continued...
Return to the Academy