I awoke in Geoff’s arms. He pressed a soft kiss to my lips.
“I’m really glad you stayed over.”
Geoff checked his watch.
“Do you have to go?”
“Yes, I’m sorry.”
“I wish that you could stay.”
Geoff gave me a last kiss, then scampered out of my bed. I took a breath, my chest rising and falling, as I propped myself up on my elbows. Geoff dressed himself in his police uniform, then departed for work, leaving me to walk out to the kitchen. Mum was there, preparing breakfast and looking coy.
“What?” I could read her face straight away. “Geoff and I haven’t had sex.”
“When I was your age, Nina, I said exactly the same thing to my own dear mother,” Mum informed me. “That was twenty-five years ago and nine months later, your older brother was born.”
I scoffed at her anecdote.
“I promise you, Mum, I swear on my life,” I hissed under my breath.
My eyes were widened in yet another attempt to convey the truthfulness in my words.
“Geoff and I just slept together, we didn’t have sex,” I stated again.
I held Mum’s hands.
“If or when that time comes, I promise that I’ll tell you beforehand,” I swore.
Mum sharply exhaled through rounded lips.
“I don’t necessarily expect that Nina,” she outlined, “Your relationships are your business. I’m your mother, so of course I like to know what’s going on, but I also understand if you need your privacy. However, I will set out some ground rules, if that’s OK.”
“Of course, it is,” I insisted.
“Thank you, Nina,” Mum began, “Firstly, if or when it happens, I’d like you to tell me. Before or after, when exactly, I don’t care, but it’s a big thing and you’ll probably need somebody to talk about it with, so I’d like you to tell me.”
“Alright,” I agreed. “Of course, I’ll tell you.”
“Good,” she answered, “Secondly, I don’t want you to do it for the wrong reasons. I want it to be a decision that you make because you’re ready to make it. When I made that decision--.”
“Mum,” I interjected.
Mum rolled her eyes.
“Nina, don’t tell me you don’t want to hear about your poor old mother’s sex life, we’re both grownups,” she insisted. “If you can’t talk about it, then you’re not ready.”
“You stole that line from my tenth grade PE teacher,” I retorted.
“Of course, I did,” Mum admitted, “I’ve always thought that it’s my responsibility as a parent, for both you and your brother, to deal with sensitive topics head-on in a positive manner.”
“I still remember when you first gave me the sex talk,” I recalled. “I knew that something was up because you started cleaning my wardrobe door.”
Mum and I both giggled sheepishly at the memory.
“With you it was in your bedroom while I cleaned your wardrobe doors,” she outlined. “With Mitchell, it was lying in the grass in the backyard after we’d done some hockey training together.”
I felt a burning ruby sensation creep into my cheeks.
“Have you had this conversation that we’re having now with Mitchell?” I probed.
“Which conversation exactly, Nina?” Mum enquired.
“The sex ground rules one,” I clarified.
Mum immediately blushed as she gasped, covering her widened mouth with her hands.
“I am not having this conversation with you about your brother’s sex life, Nina Margaret del Reyan!” she gushed after lowering her fingers from her lips.
“Why?” I pressed further. “Is Mitchell a virgin?”
Mum shrieked with outrage that I’d ask the question.
“Come on, Mum,” I cheekily continued. “I promise you that I am.”
Mum’s cheeks transformed into a dark shade of ruby. She sighed and glanced away.
“In confidence,” Mum muttered, “as far as I know, yes.”
“When did you last ask?” I queried.
“I don’t know,” Mum admitted in an exasperated tone.
“I know he was when he was eighteen,” I confessed.
“Really?” Mum finally looked at me. “You talked about it.”
“Yeah,” I answered, my voice turning sincere, “We did, just before his birthday.”
Mum didn’t say anything, but I could tell that she wanted to know more.
“It was the night before Mitchell’s birthday,” I elaborated. “We were talking about all of the new things he’d be able to do now that he was turning eighteen. We said that he’d be able to drink and smoke and vote and get married and go to war and the like.”
I realised that the pace of my voice was quickening as I happily recounted the story.
“I said that he’d also be able to have sex,” I added, “and he told me that the age of consent was actually sixteen, not eighteen. Therefore, we started talking about those sorts of matters. Mitchell told me that he hadn’t had sex.”
Mum was listening intently, so I continued.
“He said that he acknowledged the importance of both the intimacy and physicality of it,” I outlined. “Mitchell said that he reckoned he’d only have sex with someone that he didn’t love and really care about if he was doing it just for the physical reasons.”
“Wow,” Mum admitted, “As a parent, I’m not sure whether I should be impressed by how profound that sounds or be horrified by my child being so willing to have sex with someone just because he felt like the feeling.”
She giggled sheepishly and nervously.
“I’m going to choose the former,” Mum decided, “I’d never want to shame my children for their sexual choices, as long as they consider the feelings of the other people which they may choose to engage in sexual behaviour with.”
“Mum,” I mentioned as I quietly laughed, “Sexual behaviour with someone else was how you ended up with children, unless there’s something you’re not telling me.”
Mum’s face bloomed into a grin as she nodded.
“Yes, yes, you’re quite correct, you clever girl,” she confirmed.
Suddenly, Mum’s tone turned from jovial to sincere.
“What did Mitchell say about drinking?” she asked. “Did he say anything about that?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, he talked about all of the topics,” I supplied. “Of course, this was six years ago. Mitchell said that he was eager to try it, just because he hadn’t yet, but he wasn’t that interested in getting blind drunk all the time.”
“Good,” Mum stated. “I know he’ll have a beer every now and then. I know he likes a glass of wine of an evening, sometimes, but it’s a relief to think that nothing’s happening without my knowledge.”
I noted the amazing way in which we were conversing about Mitchell like he could have been right there in the kitchen, drying the dishes as he so often did. Maybe we’d convinced ourselves so many times that he wasn’t really missing that we could allow ourselves to pretend that everything was normal. Perhaps Mum was just using such a present tone to keep up appearances, but was really breaking into little pieces inside as the words so naturally exited her lips. I wasn’t brave enough to ask her.
“What did Mitchell say about smoking?” Mum so freely continued her line of questioning.
“Was really, really, really uninterested,” I provided. “You could have guessed that.”
“Yeah, yeah, I could, I guess,” Mum admitted.
“Relieved, much?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mum replied plainly. “What did Mitchell say about voting?”
“He couldn’t wait,” I recalled. “He wanted to participate in democracy."
Mum laughed and ran her hand through her hair.
“That’s so corny,” she squeaked, “but it’s such a Mitchell thing to say."
“Idealistic and sweet and wonderful and compassionate,” I listed, “That’s my brother and your son that we’re talking about.”
“Yeah,” Mum agreed sadly, glancing away, “We are.”
We both fell silent for a moment.
“What did Mitchell say about getting married?” Mum eventually piped up, sounding cheery once again.
I hummed in thought, trying to remember that conversation many years prior.
“He said that it was definitely something that interested him,” I mentioned. “He appreciated that connection. He said that he thought that you and Dad had been a really good example of what it’s like to be married.”
“That’s really nice of him to say that,” she commented. “It makes me feel really good.”
I grinned as well.
“What did Mitchell say about going to war?” Mum asked.
Her voice was now sincere and solemn.
“He said that he wished he never had to,” I confessed, “but he thought that the people who did were very, very brave."
“I wonder,” Mum mused, “about that, sometimes. I wonder that maybe he’s gone to fight.”
It made no sense, and it made perfect sense. Mitchell had always been a very passionate person. He had always believed in standing up for the right thing. It seemed like such a foreign idea that Mitchell would go to war; that he’d reject the ideal of peace in such a way. Yet, it wasn’t so strange after all, if what he was fighting for was something that he truly believed was worth it.
“Maybe,” I breathed.
I really had no explanation.
“Alright, I’ve got to go to work.”
Mum departed. I was at home for the rest of the day, until it was time to get ready. I slipped my feet into boots, then stood, feeling taller than usual. In times gone by, Mitchell would have walked into the doorway. I would have come up to a higher section of his body. It would have been different, but it would have been perfect, my certainty crystallised by loss. When I stepped into the foyer of the television station building, Olive Brennan was approaching. Her pristine face was still caked in the layers of makeup required to counteract the harsh lights of the studio.
“Hello, Nina,” Olive greeted. “How have you been?”
Her voice was rich in sincerity. We stopped in front of each other. I breathed out.
“We got a dog from the RSPCA,” I revealed, “so she’s preoccupying us at the moment. We haven’t had any news about Mitchell, but it was his birthday last week.”
Olive pressed her lips together.
“We went up to our holiday house at Shoal Bay with the family that we share it with, a week or so ago,” I mentioned.
Glancing down, I noticed Olive’s dress was figure-hugging. I wondered for a moment if she was pregnant, not that it would have been any of my business either way. Olive nodded her head empathetically.
“Are you here to see Clara?”
“Yes, I am,” I confirmed.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“It was good to see you, Nina. Can I give you a hug?”
“Yeah, of course.”
We hugged, then Olive headed off. I scampered over to the lifts and popped in. The elevator music was driving me spare, but I had nobody to mention that to. Finally, the doors opened with a ping. I passed through onto the new floor, where Clara was waiting for me. She gave me a big hug, then we filmed the piece to camera about Mitchell.
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'.