I scurried up the couple of steps in the split-level restaurant in Crows Nest, and spotted Geoff’s Uncle Sandy sitting at a long table, accompanied by his wife, Aunty Mithali, and their three young children, who were Geoff’s cousins.
“Hello, hello,” Uncle Sandy greeted.
They rose to their feet. The three families approached, bidding each other end-of-year greetings while embracing and kissing each other on our cheeks. Eventually, we sat down, and I was sandwiched between Mum and Aunty Mithali, who had their three-year-old daughter Isabella sitting on her lap, sipping at a popper of orange juice.
“Well, are we ready to look at the menu?” Dad asked.
Uncle Sandy nodded. Greg retrieved the menus from the metal holder at his end of the long table. As soon as we all held menus, we unfolded them. I chose quickly what I’d have. Aunty Mithali smoothed her hair back behind her shoulders.
“How have you been, Nina?”
“Yeah, alright, thanks,” I answered.
While we waited for our food, the kids pulled out books and started reading, even little Isabella whom I would have thought was too young. Uncle Sandy leaned down the table. He’s been mostly bald for pretty much as long as I can remember.
“How did first-year teaching treat you?” Uncle Sandy wanted to know.
I made eye contact, realising that he was talking to me – who else?
“Yeah, good. I’ve got my results back, and I passed everything, so that’s good.”
“What else would you expect?” Aunty Mithali responded.
She smoothed the fabric on the skirt of her dress, to pull down the hemline.
“Well, of course.”
I sat up straighter, appreciating their confidence in me. Uncle Sandy winked, then resettled himself in his seat. The waiter arrived at the table with our meals. I chowed into my burger, burning the top of my mouth. Reaching for a glass of water, I tossed some down to suppress the heat. I breathed out through my nose, taking a minute before finally eating the rest of my dinner. Dad arched his back.
“OK, alright, that was nice.”
I stretched, then stood up from the table. Heading for the counter, we paid for our meals, Mum and Dad shouting me as they often do. I lingered back with Geoff.
We departed the restaurant. Dad drove the four of us across the city, from one suburb to the other. He parked in the basement carpark, next door to the radio studios in the adjacent skyscraper. I breathed out, and got out of the car, following my family. We arrived at Aunty Mithali’s office, from where we’d be watching the fireworks. Isabella fetched a plastic cricket set, which had been a Christmas present. I noticed a couple of framed photos on Aunty Mithali’s desk. One was from their wedding. Younger faces beamed back at me. Uncle Sandy turned on the television, flicking through to the ABC concert, then dialled the sound down low. Aunty Mithali fetched bottles of wine and lemonade, pouring out drinks as we requested them.
“Well, Merry Christmas.” We clinked glasses. “Happy New Year, too.”
I took a sip, of lemonade rather than wine. Uncle Sandy sat back in his chair.
“You know, I’ve got that diving gear. Would you like me to come over and test it out in your pool at some stage?”
“You could come tomorrow,” Dad mentioned, “if you don’t have anything on.”
“Oh, that’s next year.”
Dad’s brow furrowed, until he got the joke.
“Yes, mate, that would be great,” Uncle Sandy confirmed.
I found myself staring into space, until I reorientated myself of being in that well-lit boardroom.
“This was my year of being eighteen. Next year is my last teenage year and I feel like--.”
“This will always be our year without Mitchell. I think we need to be really kind to ourselves when we look back on that.”
“If I may,” Aunty Mithali asked, “have you been getting professional help with your mental health?”
“Yeah, I’ve been seeing a counsellor at uni. She’s been really great.”
“I’m proud of getting through the year. Sometimes I didn’t think that I would.”
Finally, the time came. Uncle Sandy walked across the office to flick off the lights. I wondered whether the kids would be frightened by the loud noises, but I shouldn’t have worried. They climbed up onto the windowsills. Faintly we could hear the bangs as colours burst up into the dark and glittering evening sky. Geoff planted a kiss to my hair, while we watched the fireworks explode.
“I’m so glad we found our way back to each other,” he murmured.
“I am too.”
In a brutal year, my relationship with Geoff served as an unexpected ray of light. Once the fireworks were gone, only puffs of grey smoke remained. We decided not to hang around for the midnight fireworks. The kids had been troopers, but they were starting to fade, so we hugged and kissed each other goodbye and headed for our cars to drive home.
“See you in the new year.”
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.