They were both lost in their thoughts when she said: “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“I suppose,” Billy replied nervously not sure if he wanted to answer.
“Have you had another woman since Holly?”
No answer. Billy took a big gulp of wine and Jen did the same. He hadn't spoken about Holly to any other woman before.
“I owe you an honest answer; you have been forthright with me. The answer is no, for a lot of reasons. At first, it was pure sorrow. We loved each other so much, and we were such good friends, and Holly was so unique. I, all of us, missed her for a long time, maybe too long. By the time the pain ebbed years had passed. When I finally did pick my head up and look around everyone in the area seemed too close. They all knew Holly, and I felt her memory would get in the way of a new relationship.”
Jen was moved by Billy’s openness. She saw a side of him she would never have seen if they had not found a chance to talk away from the influence of the station and his family. She stifled the urge to touch him, to hold and comfort him. It would not be right, would it? They had been together for almost four weeks, but they didn’t know each other. Up until now, they shared little, other than courtesy with each other, and even that was circumspect. And now, well…
“Billy, I don’t know why I asked you that. There’s nothing I can do other than listen. I truly am sorry for your loss and I know how profound a loss it was for you. Do you feel the need for companionship? You could probably go online, possibly meet someone from another area who is not quite so close to your memories.”
“Frankly, I haven’t even felt that need until you showed up. I don’t know, maybe just having you in such close quarters is nudging me from my safe cocoon. I’m not used to this.”
“Oh, Billy! I didn’t mean to pry or to upset you. I hope I haven’t offended you.” Jen reached over and put her hand on his. It felt warm and was very calloused, a workingman's hand. He didn’t pull away but placed his other hand over hers and held it.
Their eyes met, and neither moved nor said a word. Jen’s heart fluttered. What is going on here? She thought to herself.
Suddenly the waiter appeared “Will there be anything else? Possibly dessert?” That broke the spell. They both pulled away as if they had touched something hot.
“Do you want dessert?” Billy asked.
“No thanks, I’m good,” Jen replied.
The walk back to the lodge was quiet, calming, and not uncomfortable. Jen slipped her hand in Billy’s as they strolled down the hill. Pausing outside the door she gave him a brief friendly hug and they went inside.
“How long is it to Sydney, Billy?”
“Just over three hours, why do you ask?”
“Because I have a surprise for you! I booked us an exclusive tour of Australian native wildlife at the Taronga Zoo. The tour starts at 10:00 so we need to be gone from here just before 6:00.”
Billy laughed. “I already know Australian wildlife. I think this tour is more for you Jen. I reckon you just wanted to see more sugar gliders.”
Somewhat offended, Jen became quiet. Billy noticed and backtracked. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I would love to go. Right now, I’m drained, and I need to get to bed soon. I’ll see you in the morning.”
With that, he went into his room and closed the door.
The next day they had a quick breakfast of coffee and scones and headed straight toward Sydney driving into the Taronga Zoo parking lot. Jen went up to the gatehouse to find out where the adventure tour began and was told to go through the gate on the far left.
“Hurry!” she urged Billy as she grabbed his hand and pulled him along, deciding to keep him busy walking to minimize the complaining he was prone to.
A zookeeper called the eight-people waiting for the tour and introduced himself.
“G’day! My name is Mitch and I am here to show you parts of the zoo generally off limits to most people."
The tour lasted an hour and a half. Mitch escorted the group through the zoo kitchen where people were chopping large amounts of fruits and vegetables. The venue was, as Jen expected, to provide up close experiences with koala bears, emus, wombats, echidnas, and bilbies, as well as the duck-billed platypus one of the weirdest creatures she ever saw.
Jen hand-fed the kangaroos and wallabies and made sure Billy took a picture of her in the koala bear exhibit. Most importantly she was once again given a favorable experience with the sugar gliders. Mitch showed Jen a three-month-old sugar glider joey that was venturing outside of mama’s pouch, explaining how to open the pouch to see another joey firmly attached to a nipple. Jen decided there and then she wanted gliders of her own.
Next blog: Quarantine Release
Taronga Zoo: Death From Down Under, Chapter 15