Down At the Billabong
They were watering the horses one day down at the billabong, having just completed a walk around Far Away Downs' parameter, searching for signs of cattle rustlers when something occurred to Sarah. She had known The Drover for four months and had loved him for almost as long and she was surprised that it had never occurred to her to ask about his real name. But then again, her priorities had changed drastically since she had come to the Australian outback; a year ago if anyone had told her she would be living unmarried with a man, she would have scoffed.
Sarah watched, the questions on the very tip of her tongue, as Drover squatted down by the water's edge and splashed the sun warmed water across his tanned face, rinsing away the dirt and the sweat. She slid down off of her horse and went to his side, squatting down next to him until they were shoulder to shoulder. "Drover," she began, her eyes trained on his face, "something rather interesting just occurred to me."
"Oh, and what's that?" he asked, water droplets gathered on his beard as he turned his neck to see her properly, resituating his hat back on his head as he did so.
"I just realized that I don't know your real name—surely it can't be Drover."
Sarah watched as his body stiffened minutely, responding to her question negatively as a sudden, faint blush appeared on his weathered, tan skin.
"Are you blushing?" she questioned incredulously, suppressing the laughter that was bubbling up in her throat; in all of her time knowing the man, she would never have imagined he could blush.
He groaned. "Ah, crikey," he muttered softly, wiping the rest of the water off his face with his sleeve.
"What, is it embarrassing? Come now, it can't be that bad," Sarah tried, her curiosity building the longer he withheld the information.
Finally he sighed and spoke, his tone resigned. "Promise ya won't laugh."
Sarah nodded, the dusty blonde hair that stuck out under her hat bouncing with the movement of her head.
"My dear ole' Mum, she had a fancy for books and when I was born she named me…" Sarah watched him swallow, stalling just a little longer. "…Meriwether Charles Darcy Fitzgerald." He said this all a very fast, his disgust for his given name clear in his voice while he shuffled his feet, evidently nervous.
Sarah, even though she tried, couldn't hold the laughter in and let it spill out, her whole body shaking with her laughs. Her legs couldn't hold her in the squatting position while she laughed and she fell on her arse, her arms encircling her stomach as her insides began to ache with her hearty laughs. With tears of mirth running from her blue eyes she choked on a laugh as she was suddenly lifted high into the air.
"Drover, put me down!" she cried out in surprise, her legs flailing.
"You promised 'ya wouldn't laugh. I think the boss needs a cooling off now." Sarah glanced wildly at his face, and was relieved when she realized he wasn't really mad, he was only acting that way for fun.
He waded out to the middle of the billabong and, realizing what he was going to do, Sarah clenched her eyes shut and took a deep breath, holding it in. And then, without further ado he let her go and with a big splash she landed in the water, almost sinking to the bottom of the shallow lake before she floated back up to the top. When she resurfaced she blinked the water out of her eyes and looked up, finding her lover roaring with laughter at her soaked state. She glared up at him, her eyes narrowing as she reached for his left hand and tugged hard, sending him down into the water with her.
Drover's hat came up first, floating on the surface of the water, before his head appeared, his face still split in a grin. "You got my hat wet," he uttered, stating the obvious, pulling her towards him until their bodies were flush. She watched as his eyes grew soft, like the first time he kissed her against the boab tree; it was times like this, when he looked at her like she was the most precious thing in the world, that Sarah let herself hope that maybe he felt as strongly for her as she did for him.
"My hat's wet too, and it's your fault," she whispered, hands grasping his shoulders.
His head tipped down and he nuzzled her neck, kissing her skin and licking the droplets of water off with the tip of his tongue. "You're the one that laughed," he murmured against her ear, making her shiver and her fingers dig into his shoulders. Drover chuckled. "Best not get into a wrong sided business out here Sarah, Nullah'll catch us and
then we'd be in big trouble." His voice had grown husky and she pushed herself away before Nullah did catch them, the little boy often frequented the billabong.
Drover stole just one kiss, his lips making her stomach flutter, before they waded over to the edge and he helped her out of the water. They got back on their horses and trotted off for home, drying in the hot Australian sun as they rode.