I waited outside the library this evening, in the cold breeze.
“Hi, Nina,” Timmy greeted me.
“Hello,” I responded, “I’m waiting for the girlfriend of that young man who has disappeared in Sri Lanka. We met up on the weekend, because I had a dream about him”.
“Would you be willing to share that with the rest of the group?” Timmy asked.
“If Sofia permits,” I answered.
We heard footsteps along the concrete footpath and turned our heads to view her walking along. Sofia was rugged up in a tight black coat, with a knitted ruby scarf bulging out of her V-neck shirt. She was cradling a bottle of wine.
“Sorry,” Sofia apologised, “I thought I ought to bring something with me. Usually I would bake, but I was at uni all day today and unfortunately I just didn’t have time.”
“That is fine, wine is fine.” I gestured towards the doors. “Come inside.”
I led Sofia through into the library, where Timmy was finishing putting out the chairs.
“Hello everyone, this is Sofia,” I introduced, to those who were already there.
I noticed the thin band on the ring finger of Debbie’s left hand, adorned with five tiny silver balls on the front. It distracted me just long enough, for the silence not to feel so awkward. Timmy picked up the news bear from the floor next to his chair.
“This is our news bear.”
Timmy handed the teddy over.
“So, it’s kind of like the conch.”
“Yeah,” Timmy confirmed, without skipping a beat.
“But cuter,” Todd chimed in.
“Yeah, it is pretty cute, I guess,” Sofia surveyed, studying the bear. “So, I say my news now?”
“Yes, that’s how it goes.”
Sofia breathed out.
“I think that you all know about my boyfriend, Ashton.”
“My partner went missing twenty years ago. They’ve still never found his body. The police found his car within a few weeks, but other than that, nothing.”
“Was there anything that made you think—?” Sofia posed the question, then hesitated. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t pry.”
“No, it’s fine, pry away. Were you asking if there was anything which made me think that Jason was about to go missing?”
“Yes,” Sofia admitted. “That’s what I was thinking.”
Debbie leaned back in her seat.
“To be perfectly honest, no.”
The same was true for Mitchell, of course. My heart beat faster at the thought of his disappearance, with history repeating itself with Ashton going missing.
“You know, he sent me a text message.”
She breathed out, like she was trying to search for the words within her memory. I sighed.
“He told me that he’d see me soon.”
Sofia nodded her head, as if she was trying to convince herself that it was really true.
“We haven’t heard from him since.”
Finally, the news bear moved on from Sofia, to start making its way around our circle, to share our news of the week.
“I have some happy news, actually,” Debbie admitted, a smile coming onto my lips. “My daughter, Alana, has just gotten engaged.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. You must be so proud.”
“Well, Sam did all the right things, she came and spoke with me beforehand, got my blessing and everything. That was really sweet.”
“Oh, I remember that. My goodness, that takes me back.”
We settled in to hear the story about when Dean had proposed to his wife, all those years ago. It seemed like a tale from another age, but a very romantic one. All of a sudden, Dean dropped his mug. A stain of coffee exploded over his white shirt.
“Oh dear,” I remarked, bursting from my chair. “I’ll get a towel to go and get you cleaned up.”
“Thank you, that would be very kind.”
I scurried off to the staffroom. From the sink I grabbed a couple of dishcloths, returning them to Dean.
“So, where was I?” He breathed out, then eventually resumed his story. “I knew pretty soon that we were going to get married. It wasn’t that uncommon at the time that you’d just ask her father and propose.”
That seemed like it was a practice from another age.
“It’s been a long time since my children were little. Now, we have new challenges, but new opportunities, as well.”
Dean took a deep breath.
“Oh, we sent our children to the local public school. Some people at church would tell us we needed to send them to a private school, to a Christian school. We even knew one family who chose to homeschool, but that wasn’t something that we wanted to do. Both my wife and I worked, so we needed to send the children to school and it was good for them, too.”
I couldn’t imagine anything else other than going to a public school. Even once we headed outside, our chatter continued. I glimpsed the locked library doors, my own reflection looking back at me. Finally, I returned my attention to the conversation taking place around me. It wasn’t unusual for the meeting to continue into the carpark outside.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got to make tracks,” Lorelai farewelled. “I’ll see you again next week.”
I walked out to the car and unlocked it, opening the door. With a sigh, I dropped onto the driver’s seat. As I drove along Windsor Road, I screamed as loudly as I could. Eventually, I approached a red light. With another car pulling up next to me, I needed to calm myself down, my chest aching. Finally, the lights changed again, so I drove the rest of the way home and made my way in through the front door, heart thumping but lips silent.
“How was the support group meeting?” Mum wanted to know. “Did Sofia go?”
“Yes, she did,” I confirmed. “She’s really, really lovely. It’s good to meet her.”
There was a smile on my lips which felt misplaced, given the circumstances.
The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She has recently commenced a teaching degree at Macquarie University. Nina loves her family and friends and is deeply committed to finding answers and justice for the families of missing people.
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'.